Top Wines + Spirits of 2019: FINE+RARE Staff Picks

By

Dec 18th, 2019

This year the team at FINE+RARE encountered some astonishing bottles on our quest to source the finest wines and spirits from around the world. We asked our colleagues to highlight some of their favourites from 2019...

Corentin Margier – Head of Buying

Unicorn Wine/Spirit of the Year (something you are unlikely to taste/ experience again): Clos Vougeot 1937, Maison Leroy

The wine of the night from the F+R Domaine Leroy dinner. This wine is a real piece of history, the complexity was outstanding. Constantly evolving and developing over 45 minutes in the glass with no sign of drying out despite the age. I'm sure it would have lasted longer but I couldn’t stop myself from drinking it!

White Wine of the Year: Chateau Gilette 1959 & Chateau Yquem 1959

Tasted these with the Cheval Blanc team at the Clove Club after an amazing dinner. We all knew the crazy potential of both of these sweet wines but this was a rare opportunity to taste them side by side. So different in style, the Gilette much drier with amazing savoury complexity. The Yquem the archetype botrytis-driven sweet wine – both magical.

Red Wine of the Year: 1929 Chateau Beychevelle

This was as much about the atmosphere than the wine, enjoyed on a long summer night with close friends at my family home in the Northern Rhone. It was a beautiful bottle, maybe not perfect but a highlight on one of my most favourite nights of the year.

Lightbulb Moment of the Year (most surprising wine/spirit you tasted this year): Bourgogne Aligoté Sous Chatelet 2010, Domaine d'Auvenay

I couldn’t believe Aligote could deliver such complexity! It was an incredible bottle that would outshine some of the most highly regarded Chardonnay sites in the Cote de Beaune.

Favourite Restaurant Experience of the Year: Casadelmar

The only 2* Michelin restaurant in Corsica overlooking the bay of Porto Vecchio. It was the perfect summer night, great wines with good friends and a stunning sunset!

David Massarella – Senior Sales Manager

Unicorn Wine/Spirit of the Year: Krug Grande Cuvee N.V. (bottled mid 80s).

Ok, I’m cheating a bit here as it was actually enjoyed over Christmas 2018 but too late to make last years list. Sourced from our stocks by an old colleague I had been holding onto this for a while. At over 30 years old, this was unbelievable – exactly what you want from an aged Grand Marque champagne. Still retaining some of its bubbles, this vinous, bold, full and rich Champagne from my personal favourite Champagne house, was a treat. Shame I had to share it, as it is never to be seen again! Merry Christmas indeed! (*its all about the sharing Dave! 😉)

White Wine of the Year: Saint Aubin Le Banc 2016, Pierre-Yves Colin Morey:

Not PYCM’s top cuvee by any stretch but this, found for less than 30 quid on a list in Annecy, was the perfect accompaniment to an amazing Fondue with great friends. PYCM is on fire at the moment and this bottle showed just how good a domaine it is from the bottom up.

Red Wine of the Year: Vosne Romanee Les Beaux-Monts 2011, Domaine Leroy

Wow, just wow! This was a joy to taste, I understand why this Domaine is so sought after! Even in vintage better known for white, this 2011 transcended this rule of thumb! Each mouthful lasted for minutes afterwards and I wanted more and more.

Lightbulb Moment of the Year: Stratus Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Niagra, Canada:

A long standing client and now friend who hails from Canada organises an annual Canadian Wines Tasting here in London each year to which he generously invites me along to, as his guest, I have been in attendance for a few years now and the wines are only getting better and better. This year, one wine stood out above the rest – a delicious Cabernet from Niagra. A bold concentration of damson, dark berry fruit with a wonderful elegant balance, a real showcase of what can be made in the cold of Canada!

Favourite Restaurant Experience of the Year: Trois Gros, Ouches, France;

A birthday treat which didn’t disappoint! This 3 Michelin Star restaurant is the single best place I have had the pleasure of dining in. Not overly pretentious, not overly showy, a perfect balance of class, sophistication and legendary cuisine that stopped me in my tracks for the 5 hours I was there! If you can, make an effort to go there – a more perfect dining experience is impossible to find! I’m going back next year, I see it becoming an annual pilgrimage!

Craig Norton - Sales Director

Unicorn Wine of the Year: Chateau Beausejeour Duffau Lagarosse 1990

Right bank perfection, very challenging to find quality bottles of this legendary wine today, so sexy, sumtous, ripe, rich and dense dark fruit with complex mocha, chocolate and smoke. Very polished and persistent. A perfect bottle.

Red Wine of the Year: Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1982

A perfect bottle. Astonishing aromatic profile backed up with intense concentration, deep, fine structure and freshness. All the is special about top Bordeaux from a great vintage.

White Wine of the Year: Krug 1979 (from magnum) Truly, genuinely stunning. The wine has aged at a glacial pace, still vibrant and youthful but with huge depth and underlying tension. From magnum, extra special, capable of another 50 years evolution easily.

Lightbulb Moment of the Year:

Realising just how special becoming a Master of Wine is, when my better half achieved the qualification this year!

Spirit of the Year: WhistlePig Boss Hog The best rye whiskey, silky mouthfeel, rich, dense complexity with the characterful bite on the back palate that the rye grain provides. Moreish and sexy, absolutely loved it.

Gavin Smith – Head of Fine Wine

Unicorn Wine(s): Petrus 1897 / Petrus 1971

Both of these wines I'm likely to never see again. The 1897 as verified as it could be, was the oldest in a line up of 27 vintages of Petrus in the ultimate unicorn tasting. The 1971 was the stand-out wine of the night for me, incredibly complex, so deep, so much energy. An evening I will never forget.

Sparkling Wine of the Year: Krug 1979 (from magnum)

Krug 1979, my birth year and arguably one of the all-time great vintages of Krug, totally lived up to its reputation. The vinosity of the wine, its lush richness, fully developed yet bristling with energy was mindblowing! The ultimate benchmark for aged vintage Champagne.

White Wine of the Year: Montrachet 1988 – Marquis de Laguiche (Joseph Drouhin)

A lot of these wines are “blue-chip” classics but these top picks really lived up to their lofty reputations. No more so than this Montrachet. Incredibly balanced, ethereal, silky and effortless on the palate. The texture was sublime, almost weightless. This is great mature Montrachet, that on this occasion lived up to its revered reputation.

Red Wine of the YearBrunello di Montalcino, Poggio di Sotto 2005

Poggio di Sotto has such a unique style of Brunello di Montalcino, so elegant, ethereal and when its this good, stirs the emotions as much as any top Burgundy. This 2005 vintage now fully mature, really convinced me how special this winery is. Enjoyed on a very memorable night in Franciacorta.

Lightbulb Moment of the Year: Meursault 1966 Collection Bellenum

Nicolas Potel, surely one of the most connected guys in Burgundy, has a great habit of discovering some unique aged Burgundy parcels. The 1966 village Meursault was the highlight of an amazing tasting earlier this year. You have to pinch yourself that this is a basic village wine at 53 years of age. Incredibly fresh, pure and pristine, it was hard to believe!

Favourite Restaurant Experience of the Year: Pot d’Etain

This restaurant is epic for all the right reasons, an astonishing wine list, well priced, unpretentious and located in a peaceful sleepy village in the middle of nowhere France. Sitting in their courtyard, sipping Charmes Chambertin Rousseau without crying at my bank balance, paired with a simple plate of local cheeses is about as good as life gets in my book!

Spirit of the Year: Glenfarclas Whisky  - 2nd fill Sherry Cask 1989

A memorable visit to Glenfarclas, tasting from barrels untouched for decades left me speechless and fairly intoxicated! This particular cask was so unique, its richness and texture were on another level. How could it have aged so differently to its neighbouring casks. The magic of élevage!?

Steve McNeill – Senior Sales Manager

Unicorn Wine/Spirit of the Year: Teeling 24 Year Old Irish Whisky

Irish whisky has been a revelation this year and one that is leading the way, and my favourite dram of the year, is Teeling 24 Year Old. So much elegance yet power, it’s like an iron fist in a velvet glove, layers and layers of flavour and seriously outstanding value for money.

White Wine of the Year: Vintage Champagne 1999 Bereche et Fils

I’m a real sucker for a great Champagne – and one that will stay long in the memory is a magnum of 1999 Vallee Grand Cru by Bereche – intense, fresh yet mature, biscuit and fresh fruit, long length. Barely any of these were produced so it was a special moment to open one.

Red Wine of the Year: Castillo Ygay Reserva Especial 1925

This caught me off guard – I am a huge fan of mature Rioja and from an estate that is capable of such quality, this didn’t disappoint. Almost an edge of old Burgundy, sweetness from the spice, and super elegant. Memorable.

Lightbulb Moment of the Year: Collares Reserva Tinto 1969, Jose Gomes

The westernmost vineyards in Europe, made from the Ramisco grape, this was a standout of a line-up that included First Growth Bordeaux. Sandy soils, phylloxera can’t make it here and the wine was certainly memorable thanks to it’s time-defying acidity and intensity of flavour. A revelation.

Favourite Restaurant Experience of the Year: 104 Restaurant in Notting Hill, London

Visited only last week, it was one of the most unique, intimate and high quality dining experiences of recent times. Chef Richard and Front of House Matt have enviable experience across the fine dining stratosphere and have distilled this down into a tiny corner of fine dining paradise. I hate to let the secret out, but I fear you’ll hear about it before too long.

Katie Reading - Buyer

Unicorn Wine of the Year: Gaja's Alteni di Brassica Sauvignon Blanc 1986  & Remy Martin Louis XIII

Sipping Louis XIII before lunchtime on a Tuesday (thanks to very generous Napa proprietor) not likely to happen again any time soon! Also very privileged to have tasted a Gaja Alteni di Brassica Sauvignon Blanc 1986, one of the last magnum, bottles from the family’s private reserve on our summer visit to Gaja. A stunningly preserved Sauvignon Blanc, unexpected and a real beauty.

White Wine of the Year: Montrachet 2004, Marquis de Laguiche (Joseph Drouhin)

The highlight of an extensive vertical Montrachet tasting in the Spring . The 2004 was so alive and young, fresh grapefruit, pineapple and lemon, beautifully floral, herbal and smokey, so enveloping and enjoying a fabulous moment.

Red Wine of the Year: Brunello di Montalcino 2006, San Giusto a Rentennano

A birthday bottle of 2006 seemed to be right in the zone. Deep, bright, beautiful. It really felt like the right place and the right time and a real pleasant surprise.

Lightbulb Moment of the Year: Assyrtiko 2017, T-Oinos

Assyrtiko from Santorini from T-Oinos to wash down a delicious meal of fresh fish and octopus at Estiatorio Milos (Fantastic Greek restaurant in London), the second and third bottles were even better than the first!!

Favourite Restaurant Experience of the Year: Galvin at Windows

Galvin at Windows. Pleasantly surprised by Galvin. A restaurant I had always wanted to visit but until this year never visited. Old school charm, great atmosphere, and food that actually surprises and delights at every bite.

Judith Abbott – Commercial Editor & Sales Analyst

Unicorn Wine/Spirit of the Year: Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Les Beaux-Monts 2011 Domaine Leroy

This was delicious – there’s a depth and complexity, fruits, savoury hints, and yet somehow this really felt like drinking silk. So elegant.

White Wine of the Year: 4 Palmas En Rama Fino Sherry, Tio Pepe

A 55 year old sherry, this started life as a fino before being aged oxidatively for years. It’s amazingly fresh, with a full body and fino hints of apples, almonds and hints of salinity before caramel and sweet spices emerge. If you like sherry, this is one you can’t miss.

Red Wine of the Year: Chateau Angelus 2006

It’s beautiful – an elegant, velvety texture in the mouth, incredibly refreshing and melding together the black fruit notes perfectly with the mature notes of leather, mushrooms and earth. Tasted alongside the 2005, which, while delicious, needs a few more years in the cellar – the 2006 will continue to age beautifully, but for me is a top choice for drinking now – at the perfect point of development.

Lightbulb Moment of the Year: Command Shiraz 20015, Elderton, Barossa Valley

2005 Elderton Command Shiraz from Barossa Valley. My first experience of mature Aussie wine and really eye-opening. It’s rich, deep and full-bodied and still refreshing while showing intense primary fruit, and a multitude of more savoury notes, hinting at mature-Bordeaux like complexity. Clearly has a long life ahead of it but for now, one to savour with food.

Favourite Restaurant Experience of the Year: Medlar (Chelsea)

Delicious, elegant dishes inspired by France to go alongside an extensive wine list. The sommelier is extremely knowledgeable and happy to confer about wine choices with you – somehow managing to find a wine that matched four very different mains. The restaurant has a lovely, relaxing atmosphere and it was a great way to spend a Friday night after a long week.

Antoine Ninot - Buyer

Unicorn Wine of the Year: 1989 Chambertin, Domaine Denis Mortet

Have drunk about 40 bottles so far and all have been exceptional, lying done in the family cellar since my family bought the barrel on my birth year. Still 180+ bottles to go. It is an absolute beauty – Still extremely fresh nose, this Chambertin lives in between many layers, a light copper nose with elegant raspberry on the first few minutes, but leaving the glass to rest and more red fruit colours appear with a nice Paris Mushroom back note. Once, in the palate, it is silky and feminine. The more you leave the wine the better it tastes. Really lucky to have access to such a beautiful collection. I don’t know if we will be able to drink it all before we pass away!

Red Wine of the Year: Chambertin 2010, Domaine Armand Rousseau

Too young I know, but it’s so good! Drunk this summer with the family in 35*C heat in Beaune town centre! The balance between tannins, fruits and oak was so incredible, we opened a second by the pool.

Lightbulb Moment of the Year: Castillo de Mendoza Reserva Rioja 1A 1994

This immaculate provenance is reflected in the complex array of dark berry fruits, balsamic hints with a whisper of mocha, roasted meats and truffle. Fully mature, yet still alive, this is silky, elegant, complex and rewarding; a great rare wine.

Favourite Restaurant Experience of the Year : Brat, London

Definitely deserve its Michelin Star. This place is casual but very refined at the same time, with the massive BBQ in the middle of the restaurant, the atmosphere is warm after the first aperitif (apple mijoto). The wine list is beautiful and well priced and the food is simply beautiful. We shared a beef Sirloin and a Whole Turbo for two. It was incredible. Way too much food but as they know the art of eating/dinning we were not rushed and 3 hours later the food was all gone. The place to go, if you are looking for a good lunch/dinner with high quality product and an outstanding wine list. We had the Gevrey Chambertin Les 5 Terroirs from Denis Mortet and Thomas-Collardot, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru ‘Hameau de Blagny’: Fantastic!

David Walters - Spirits Buyer

Unicorn Spirit of the Year: Karuizawa Pearl Geisha 37YO My unicorn whisky of the year would have to be the Karuizawa Pearl Geisha 37YO. 3 – 5 years ago, my choice perhaps wouldn’t have been the same, however a result of the phenomenon that is the Karuizawa collectors market is that fewer and fewer bottles are being opened, severely limiting the opportunities to taste. This opportunity only arose after securing it’s release exclusively to F+R clients and as far as tasting samples go, I had little more than a thimble full to work with.

The sample size was compensated however by the surroundings and overall experience. It was the day after the Old & Rare Whisky Show Glasgow and I was staying at the idyllic Highlander Inn, Craigallachie, home to a world famous whisky bar. The owner, Tatsuya Minagawa, is an ex-Suntory Brand Ambassador so after asking for a couple of Glencairn glasses I shared opinions of a true unicorn of a whisky, in the perfect setting, and shared with one of the most highly respected figures in the industry.    

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