This year the team at FINE+RARE have encountered some astonishing bottles on our quest to source the finest wines and spirits from around the world. We asked members of the team to highlight some of their favourites of 2018. Our categories include Unicorn Wine of the Year - that once in a lifetime opportunity to taste something you are unlikely ever to try again - and Lightbulb Moment Wine of the Year - a wine that really flicked that cerebral switch and surprised you. We have also added in some top restaurant picks too, since food, wine and spirits create the perfect matrimony...
Steve McNeill, Senior Account Manager
Unicorn Wine of the Year: 1972 Domaine Romanee Conti Grands Echezeaux – tasted with several like-minded colleagues in the summer and absolutely spectacular. Still vibrant and complex, and from a bottle that looked like it might have been through the wars! This was a triumph and certainly one of those unforgettable moments.
White Wine of the Year: 2016 Rafael Palacios As Sortes Godello - A wine I’ve been meaning to get hold of for a couple of years. Getting all the plaudits it deserves, really well priced and shows that Spanish white wines should not be an afterthought.
Red Wine of the Year: 1968 CUNE Imperial Gran Reserva, just pulled out from the cellars at CUNE and tasted at the winery. An insight into how top Rioja GR can age – with grace and elegance – and enjoyed in such an atmosphere was a very special experience.
Lightbulb Moment Wine of the Year: 2014 Venissa Bianco – sublime, unique, like nothing else I’ve ever tasted. That this wine was made from a grape variety grown nowhere else and in such an against-the-odds environment, makes it all the more remarkable. A wonderful story and fantastic wine.
Favourite Restaurant Experience of the Year: (and one of my all-time favourites) – Mirador de Ulia in San Sebastian. Incredible views over the city and beach, outstanding service and stunning food. It slips under the radar in comparison to some of the more lofty names in the area, but this is really worth seeking out. You’ll never want to leave.
Chris Kelly, Head of Trading
Unicorn Wine of the Year: 1952 Cheval Blanc. Had no right to be this youthful and fresh. Amazing concentration and showed beautifully, such class.
White Wine of the Year: 1982 Krug Collection. A fantastic bottle. Perfectly mature and all about secondary and tertiary character. Nutty and developed in the glass and deeply satisfying.
Red Wine of the Year: 2015 Levensohn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. A brilliant wines and everything that top Napa should be. Huge fruit and epic power but so well balanced with excellent acidity to hold it all together. A great example of the direction in which all of the best Napa wines are heading and a real revelation it was a wine we’d never tasted before.
Lightbulb Moment Wine of the Year: 2017 Ausone from barrel. Shows you just how amazing this terroir really is. In a vintage where some struggled, this was effortless and easily a match for the magnificent 2016. Hard to fault and impossible to spit.
Oldest Wine of the Year: Quinta do Mourao 90 Year old white Port. An astonishing drop, layered, complex and sweet but so well balanced and with so much acidity. The finish is endless, a joy to taste.
Spirit of the Year: WhistlePig Boss Hog. Well-rounded, super smooth and full of character.
Favourite Restaurant Experience of the Year: Il Boccan di Vino in Richmond. No menu but course after course of whatever they choose to cook. So authentic and always an amazing atmosphere.
Martina Fiorino, Italian Buyer
Unicorn Wine of the Year: Barolo Monprivato 2004 Giuseppe Mascarello – Although being 14 years old, this Barolo is still a baby. Sweet florals, cherry, spice aromas on the nose. The palate seduces with dark cherry, herbs and tobacco. A bright acidity and very fine tannins. Simply a gorgeous wine.
White Wine of the Year: 2007 Meursault Les Perrieres 1er Cru Domaine Potinet-Ampeau – this wine is drinking beautifully now with reminiscent aromas of lemon peel, smoky flint and toasted hazelnut. Minerality driven with a broad structure.
Red Wine of the Year: 2008 Toscana IGT Soldera – What an extraordinary find! This wine is complex and incredibly perfumed with rosemary, sage, tobacco, leather, dark red fruits notes.
Lightbulb Moment Wine of the Year: 2013 Venissa Bianco – Beautiful nose with sweet aromas of honey, white peach, apricot, and a touch of minerality and salinity. Everything is perfectly balanced by a bright acidity and velvety texture. It goes on for minutes.
Oldest Wine of the Year: 1978 Volnay Domaine Potinet-Ampeau - this wine’s elegance and finesse impressed me. Mature on the nose with mushroom and forest floor notes but holding strong with its youth and fruit driven palate.
Favourite Restaurant Experience of the Year: URI Sapori Condivisi – a very cosy restaurant located between the hills of Roddino (Langhe, Alba, Italy) managed by two young chefs who cut their teeth in two Michelin starred restaurants. They combine the traditional Piedmontese cuisine with a South Korean touch and the result is utterly delicious, a beauty for your eyes and palate.
Gavin Smith, Head of Fine Wine
Unicorn Wine of the Year: 1955 Bonne Mares, Domaine Georges Roumier - Whilst I love a wine in that middle ground between primary fruit and tertiary development, when very mature wines are in perfect condition they can be truly profound. No more so than when tasting the 1955 Bonnes Mares alongside Christophe Roumier, brought from his personal cellar. Unmoved for 60 years the wine was in pristine condition, so vibrant, so full of energy and yet still had fruit - it was extraordinary.
White Wine of the Year: 1996 Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot, Domaine Raveneau - I have always been a big fan of aged Chablis but the 1996 Blanchots was really the best aged Raveneau I have ever had – again in pristine condition, much better than the 1995 which was more oxidised, the ’96 was full of poise and crisp salinity yet had that wonderful roundness in texture that only comes from age.
Red Wine of the Year: Hermitage 1989, Jean Louis Chave - The consistency of Chave’s Hermitage through the ages was a real eye-opener but if I had to choose, I would go for 1989 which sat in that perfect mid-aged window between fruit and development.
Lightbulb Moment Wine of the Year: 2008 Soldera - My first ever Soldera was texturally mind blowing and another unforgettable experience.
Oldest Wine of the Year: Seppeltsfield Tawny 1917 - Tasting an Australian wine from 1918 was pretty unique – it redefined the term viscous!
Favourite Restaurant Experience of the Year: Tentazioni Restaurante. One of my favourite meals this year was in a new restaurant in Bordeaux run by a young Italian couple. Their food has the lightness of haute cuisine but the depth of flavour you get from 'proper' Italian food. Their langoustine ceviche with caviar and rhubarb sorbet with small dollops of clotted cream are probably the best plates of food I ate all year.
Katie Reading, Buyer
Unicorn Wine of the Year: 2013 1902 Centenary Carignan from Mas Doix. Probably the smallest production wine I have drunk this year – only 846 bottles produced in total from 115 year old Carignan in Poboleda, northern Priorat, by a family winery that soldiered on through the troubles that beset the region post-Phylloxera. Beautiful, terroir-expressive wine. Can’t wait to try the 1903 – even lower production old vine Garnacha launching early next year!
White Wine of the Year: 2015 Tement Zieregg Sauvignon Blanc So many to choose from but as an all-occasion, go-to favourite from a fabulous vintage. The most delicious, complex, beautifully textured Sauvignon Blanc from my home country, Austria. It was even delicious post-accidental-freezer thaw!
Red Wine of the Year: Toss-up between 2009 Chateau Lafleur and 2008 Soldera – neither require much explanation, just pure vinous bliss and enjoyed over fabulous dinners.
Oldest Wine of the Year: 1905 Oloroso, Perez Barquero – liquid caramelised hazelnuts: yummy.
Lightbulb Moment Wine of the Year: 2016 Giodo Alberelli – a revelation from Etna: so refined and elegant – with fruit, body, perfume, freshness, minerality and structure in perfect balance.
Favourite Restaurant Experience of the Year: Best meal of the year probably at Pollen Street Social, creative, delicate, satisfying food pairing menu matched with delicious Dom Ruinart.
Craig Norton, Sales Director
Unicorn Wine of the Year: Without a doubt, Soldera’s 2010. I was lucky enough to be invited along to a charity auction hosted at Harry’s Bar in Mayfair. To have the pleasure of trying this lost vintage, with so much history and meaning attached to the wine and the vintage, will stand as one of my most treasured wine moments ever. An honour.
White Wine of the Year: 2001 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos, Domaine Raveneau (from Magnum) – show stoppingly good. A generous old friend of mine brought to Sunday lunch, it quite literally silenced the room. Rich, dense texture with enormous Grand Cru depth, well balanced with huge freshness and acidity. Blossomed with air, and from larger format, delivered a whole new dimension. Power with elegance.
Red Wine of the Year: 1971 Musigny, Georges Roumier – ex-cellar bottling direct from the Domaine, captured perfectly the ripe sweetness of the vintage, balanced by a firm and bright freshness that defied its age. A perfect bottle in every way.
Lightbulb Moment Wine of the Year: Visiting Venissa, the island vineyard of Venice, and getting to understand the philosophy and ethos of this amazing estate. It was exciting to present this to our customers, the white in particular, was an experience all on it’s own – pure, concentrated, fresh with a saline minerality.
Oldest Wine of the Year: 1929 Clos Vougeot in Beaune, old negociant bottling – drank with Mr Burgundy himself, Allen Meadows. I had fairly low expectations as the condition of the bottle was less than perfect, but I was shocked at how much life this old bottle had retained at nearly 90 years of age. Stunning depth and purity, unlikely to be encountered ever again.
Favourite Restaurant Experience of the Year: Caprice in Four Seasons, Hong Kong, truly remarkable gastronomy. The service from start to finish, was exceptional. Chef Guillaume Galliot’s signature dish – crab laksa, is quite simply one of the most special and singular dishes I’ve ever encountered. A complete masterpiece.
Dave Walters, Spirits Buyer
Revelation of the Year: 2003 Long Pond, Jamaica Pure Single Rum and the Premium Rum category. With demand growing, for the first time in its history The Whisky Show London created a dedicated Rum area. Long Pond 2003 is a 3,129 bottle release of 9 barrels blended together and embodied why many whisky drinkers are exploring this category. High strength, high ester, it delivers intense flavours which are not for the faint hearted. For me and perhaps other fans of Islay Scotch whisky, it provides endless enjoyment when adding touches of water and revisiting the distillate as it evolves in the glass. An exciting new world to explore.
New World Whisky of the Year: Starward 10th Anniversary Single Malt Whisky. For the world of whisky, it has never been a more exciting time. With the explosion in world-wide demand over the last 5-10 years, distilleries have popped up everywhere from East London to Tel Aviv. Based in Melbourne, Australia are Starward who celebrated their tenth anniversary with a special edition created with a mix of 8 cask types used across the company’s history. Unsurprisingly the brand are huge in Australia and I was intrigued as they specialise in wine cask matured whisky, so attended a London tasting with founder David Vitale. His aim is creating whisky to drink and enjoy and this was one of the best value drinking whiskies I tasted all year. If it wasn’t a limited edition its one I wish could always feature in my drinking whisky cabinet.
Unicorn Whisky of the Year: Highland Park 1902 Whisky. What can I say, finding this at all came as a shock but to then be offered a sample from an already opened bottle was something dreams are made of. I’ve tasted numerous Cognacs and Armagnacs of greater age but as far as single malt whisky is concerned the earliest distillate I’d tasted before was a 1939 Mortlach from Gordon and Macphail. This was distilled a full 37 years prior. The emotive experience of tasting what I knew would likely be the oldest whisky I’d ever try, was as equally enjoyable as the whisky itself. Bottled in the early 1950’s it spent over 50 years in barrel and displayed a viscous fruitiness not found in modern era whisky. 2019 will have a tough job eclipsing this.