JWL Issue #080: Best wines of 2019

December 17, 2019

I started this newsletter back in May 2018. It was off the back of completing my first WSET course and wanting somewhere to share some of the insights I’d had. I remember really clearly a moment during studying when it all clicked.

Beforehand, I had struggled to grasp quite why one bottle of Fleurie tasted so different between years. I was frustrated that almost any ‘Châteauneuf-du-Pape’ I bought in the supermarket was never as good as one I had had in Provence one year. Mostly, I was buying wine each week without much understanding of why sometimes I was disappointed by it, and sometimes I loved it.

Then one moment during studying it all clicked.

Wine is the UK’s most popular drink. It’s regularly consumed by half of the adult population. And there’s six million wine drinkers who wish they knew more about it. And yet, only 20,000 people a year study the WSET like I did.

That’s why I started this newsletter: to help share these insights, tastings and bitesize lessons with more people.

Fast forward to August 2019, and I launch The Wine List. The next evolution in this journey. The mission remains the same: to help level up those six million people who want to learn more and were left with similar frustrations that I had. But it’s taking everything a step further.

This year, that’s meant a subscription where you get four bitesize wine lessons, focused around two bottles of wine you get delivered. It was the first version and we’ve had 100s of you join up this year to start your journey.

Next year, that means evolving into more of a structured wine course. When you join as a subscriber, you’ll get a 12 month wine course allowing you to learn the fundamentals of wine as you go. By the end, hopefully you too will be able to understand how to choose better wine in the supermarket. (And you’ll have had some great wines along the way).

This has all started with you – the reader. Without you, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am today. So I want to thank you very sincerely.

This is my last newsletter of the year, and will be returning bright and early in 2020: I hope you all have a fantastic Christmas.


Best non-supermarket wines of 2019

This is organised roughly by order of price at the time of purchase.

  • Gran Cerdo is becoming a popular house wine on some of London’s better pub wine lists. Their white is available for about £10 retail, and about five quid a glass at the Victoria in Peckham. You get citrus and peach all brought together with a decent mouthfeel that makes it stand up on its own without food. Well worth buying if you see it.
  • Biddenden’s Gamay Noir 2018 (£15) remains one of my favourite English reds. This sits between village and cru-level Beaujolas. Endlessly quaffable, fresh, with ripe red cherries singing throughout.
  • And yet, it’s their Lou Payral Blanc which I fell in love with. Cloudy, golden, saliney, nutty, honeyed, with a wonderful texture. Hints of stone fruit, but it’s not because of its fruit that this wine sings. Both available for about €10-12, and a true shame they aren’t available in the UK.
  • Tinedo’s Runrún is a captivating wine. White grapes, aged in red wine barrels for a long time, gives this an incredible deep pink colour. I drank this recently at Good Neighbour and it was absolutely delightful. Refreshing, fruity, but also interestingly complex. It’s a white wine that looks like a rosé: every part plays tricks on you. Whatever it is, try this, it’s delicious. (Fine Wine Co. have it at £15 but you have to buy a case).
  • Tillingham White (£17 from Pull The Cork) is a real delight. Winemaker Ben Walgate wanted to test as many different wines out as possible in his first years and so far is really hitting a stride with his low intervention, natural Sussex wine. The Tillingham White has a flinty smokiness, lashings of apples, and a textured palate.
  • I love Rhone whites, and Chateau des Roques Vacqueyras 2017 (£19 from Davy’s) was no exception. Hay, peach, melon, and white pepper all came together nicely in this rich and rounded mouthfeel of a wine. Yet, despite its richness, there was still a surprising bolt of acidity in here that slowed you down without food.
  • Tamesis (£19) is the first wine since Roman Times to be both grown and produced in London. Grown at Forty Hall and produced by Blackbook, this is an incredible display of bacchus. This has fresh minerality, a welcoming body, and a balanced aroma of elderflower, white pepper, and some stone fruits.
  • At £21, Grappin’s Bourgone Aligoté is not an every day bottle, but nor is it an unaffordable luxury. Six months lees contact gives this some wonderful buttery texture, but it’s still got that mineral elegance that you expect from aligoté. I can never have too much of this in my life.
  • The wine list there too is worth a visit for. Here we drank Marie-Pierre’s Chevassu Fassenes Savagnin from Jura (£22 from Terra). Jura wines are fascinating to explore if you haven’t yet. This was deeply complex with an immediate nuttiness, the warming texture of oak, white flowers, and some saltiness. A brilliant introduction to how well made Jura wines can be.
  • Dunleavy is a Somerset vineyard known for its rosé. But last week, I was lucky enough to try their new sparkling red. Sparkling red?! That’s right. This is rondo – a red grape I often struggle with. But it's treated well here. There’s strawberries, rhubarb and cherries in abundance. It’s under £30, and if you’re looking for an aperitif sparkler for anything this Christmas, you honestly couldn’t go wrong with this.
  • The first thing you notice about Au Bon Climat’s Wild Boy Chardonnay 2017 (£27 from BBR, £29 from Hennings) is the artwork. With a photo that looks like Bill Bailey mid acid trip, Wild Boy wants to stand out. While this has lashings of tropical fruits, it feels like a Santa Barbara ode to Merusault. This is endlessly rich, and charming. Also love the fact it’s titled shortens to ABC.
  • “This is my favourite English sparkling wine I’ve had so far,” said a friend who has a very good level of English wine knowledge. The wine in question? Denbies Cubitt Blanc de Blanc 2013 (£33.50), and it is is indeed well worth searching out. Brioche, apples, and vanilla sing in harmony here, without some of the tartness you usually find in English sparklers.
  • Szeremi Szerelem by Oszkar Maurer joins the ranks as one of the hardest wines to pronounce. Which meant I went straight for it when I saw it on the list at Sager + Wilde last week (£8 a glass). I wouldn’t be surprised if this was produced in qvevri. This had orange peel, hazelnuts, and honey in abundance. A moment of delight for a white that arrives like your favourite song coming on late at night. Origins seem hard to place. I made a note of Serbian, but some post-Googling indicates Hungary.

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