When you get deep enough into the world of wine, you start to find yourself geeking out about it, following the fashions, the trends and getting excited about the next up-and-coming wine-maker, or the next region to 'make it'. We're no different and with the wine industry moving so quickly these days, it can be hard to keep up! In 2018 we were blown away by the huge variety and breadth of wines that we tried, and we felt like we were barely scratching the surface. However, some stood out more than others and we were very fortunate to find some very exciting, relatively undiscovered producers who are making brilliant wine and, better yet, often not charging large sums of money for them! Don't forget that many of the most desirable and expensive wines on the market today were once affordable, before everyone discovered them and...well....
So, at the risk of blowing up our own treasure chest of producers, we'd like to give you a heads up on our Top 10 Wine Producers to Watch in 2019. Some are new, some are established but all offer great value for money and all produce world-class wine. We hope the list is of value and if we manage to expand your horizons and introduce you to something you really love, we'll consider ourselves very happy indeed!
To kick off our list, we'll venture to the continental plains of Ribera del Duero in Spain, to meet Francisco Barona, one of the regions youngest and most exciting talents. Francisco is native to Ribera del Duero but studied wine-making abroad in Bordeaux, before embarking on a trip that would see him make wine all over the world. On returning with his savings, he started to invest in old, difficult vineyards that most wineries didn't value highly due to the intensive labour that would be required to make them productive again; most of the vines are between 60 and 100 years old! The vineyards are managed organically and gently, and the first release of his only wine, a powerful red made from these vineyards, didn't come about until the 2014 vintage, making Francisco brand new on the scene.
At the moment Francisco Barona is the name of the only wine produced, and it's a beauty! Powerful, dark fruited and wrapped tightly in spicy oak, this will take a few years to unravel and reveal itself, but what a joy is it to drink already. So much fresher and livelier than many wines from Ribera del Duero, with soft, velvety tannins and a long, long finish. We're convinced that Francisco is a future superstar of the region and we expect the prices of his wines to climb significantly over the next decade. Grab a bottle before it all disappears!
Staying in Spain for the moment, this time we're heading to the cooler north-west of the country, to Rias Baixas in Galicia. This is the spiritual home of the Albariño grape and some of the countries very best white wines hail from this Atlantic-swept corner of Spain. In particular, we were very taken by a small, almost 'garage' producer by the name of Bodega Fulcro. This tiny operation is producing some of the most exciting, mineral Albariño we've had the pleasure of tasting and despite the small volumes produced, we noticed that we weren't alone in our admiration; from Sarah Jane Evans MW to several Spanish commentators on the wine industry, these remarkable wines have already won several fans!
Manuel Mendes is the man behind the wines, and he produces a small range of Albariño wines from old vineyards, usually on different soil types. The wine we want to highlight is the incredibly affordable flagship wine, Fulcro, a 100% Albariño wine, grown on inhospitable, granitic soils and aged in old oak barrels for 12 months. The result is a hugely charismatic wine, full of the ripe peach and citrus fruits of Albariño, yet so, so precise. The acidity picks up on the palate and never lets off, carrying the flavours into a long, mouth-watering finish. We had the pleasure of enjoying a bottle of this with a home-cooked paella (not by us!) and it remains as one of our absolute favourite food and wine pairings. Grab it whilst it's affordable; it shouldn't be!
Over to Italy now and one of the countries best, relatively undiscovered talents is certainly Andrea Occhipinti. Andrea makes wine on the slopes of Bolsena, a lake in Lazio surrounded by volanic soils, very close to the border of Tuscany and just north of Rome. He apparently fell in love with the area whilst he was studying agriculture and he even wrote his masters thesis on the soil types of the vineyards in the area. Then, the moment he could, be bought 4 hectares on the slopes of an old volcano overlooking the lake, 450m above sea level. He works exclusively with the indigenous varieties of the region and brings out something magical in them.
The wine we were most smitten with was his incredible Arcaico Rosso, a blend of 50% Aleatico and 50% Grechetto Rosso; neither were grapes we'd ever even heard of before! A vibrant, cherry-red colour in the glass and really quite aromatic, although delicately so: ripe cherry fruit, damsons, violets and crushed rocks with just a hint of sweet herbs. The same characteristic yet restrained profile comes out on the palate with lovely red fruits, supple, chalky tannins and refreshing acidity. A beautifully made wine; so simple yet so wonderfully in balance.
If you read our article on The Top 10 Under-Rated Wine Regions of the World, you'll know that we're Chianti Classico fans. There's something about the tangy, red fruits, the dry herbs and the utterly refreshing nature of the wines that so appeals to us. There's a lot of producers to be excited about here, but one that has consistently exceeded our expectations is Monteraponi, nestled in the gently rolling slopes of Radda in Chianti Classico.
These wines are a very pure expression of what Sangiovese is really all about, farmed organically and then vinified in concrete and old oak. The Monteraponi Chianti Classico is the sort of wine that transports you immediately to where it's produced, and we can smell the dusty, herbal scents just thinking about it. Bright ruby in colour with some depth, and already singing on the nose. Sour cherry, strawberries, bay leaves, dried herbs and a light smokiness on the nose, but the real beauty lies on the palate. Refreshing, integrated acidity lifts the sour cherry flavours and the charm of the transparent wine-making becomes immediately apparent, with the fruit doing all the talking. Firm, grainy tannins still need time to soften and integrate, but it’s hard to keep your hands off a wine this good. Delicious.
Zuccardi are a traditional, Argentine, wine-making family and have been doing so since the early 1960's, yet in the last decade, they've become one of Argentina's rising stars. Under the guidance of Sebastian Zuccardi, the family name has become synonymous with terroir-specific wines and they've helped put a whole new generation of Argentine wines on the map. Whilst their traditional base is in Lujan de Cuyo, Zuccardi have finished constructing a brand new winery, deep in the Uco Valley, designed to help keep their wines fresher by having the grapes travel less distance. Almost entirely concrete and cement is to be found in the wineries these days, with some old oak and amphorae; it's an exciting time for the Zuccardi family!
All this momentum and change isn't a fad, however. It's a push towards more transparent wine-making and the results are often spectacular. Our recommendation is to drink through as much of the Q Series and the A Series as you can, but even better is the Polignos range of wines; wines made from different varieties on different soil types, from different communes in Mendoza. Their spicy, scented Cabernet Franc is particularly fantastic!
If you were to ask a South African wine-maker where they thought the most exciting place was to be in the country for wine at the moment, they'd likely answer “The Swartland”. If you then asked them about the best wine-makers in the country, Eben Sadie would no doubt be close to the top of that list! We're headed to the warm, dry region of Swartland for our next recommendation, and the justifiably world-famous wines of The Sadie Family. Eben Sadie started the project in the early 2000s, purchasing plots of old, Rhone varieties in a region better known for sand-mining than quality wine production. A bold move, but it's paid off handsomely and these wines are now in huge demand around the world, even if most wine lovers have never heard of them before!
The premise of the wines is that they're made from whatever grapes can be found in individual plots. As a result, some of the white wines are incredible blends made up of 8 or more different grapes, with the powerful, slightly wild character of the Chenin Blanc usually dominating the profile of the wines. However, our recommendation is something a little different; try the Pofadder wine, a 100% Cinsault from old, bush vines. Ripe cranberries, raspberries, smoke, earth, anis, dried violets and oregano all mingled together in a very Mediterranean style, yet the fruit is precise and delineated. The sort of wine you want to spend a whole day with. Fresh and vibrant on the palate but with softer tannins than I expected and the same lovely red fruits, herbs and subtle smokiness. Spicy, Mediterranean and yet still so elegant.
Drink a lot of Muscadet? We didn't either until recently, and it was one of our best discoveries of 2018!This cool, Atlantic-influenced region at the mouth of the Loire Valley is famous for producing Muscadet, a tight, refreshing, textural white wine made from Melon de Bourgogne and often aged for significant periods of time on its lees, usually over the entire winter to add extract, weight and texture to the wine. Like any region, there's a lot of relatively basic wine here but then there's also producers like Domaine de la Pépière. Mark Olivier runs the show here, producing a variety of excellent, fresh Muscadet with far more flavour and interest than most, something he puts down to a huge amount of care and attention in the vineyard; absolutely everything is done by hand.
Muscadet is rarely a 'big' wine and most clock in at somewhere between 11 and 12.5% alcohol, yet they can be so persistent and full of flavour. One of the very best wines produced by Mark is his Clos du Briords, made from 80 year old vines on granitic soils. Tight, nervy and yet with incredible depth on the palate, full of ripe lemon, sweet herbs and chalky, mineral notes. The acidity just goes on and on.... drinking this by the sea in Nantes, with a plate of fresh oysters? Heaven.
Staying in France, this time we head east, to the long, continental strip of vineyards known as Alsace. Some of France's most famous names are to be found here, and many of its best white wine-makers, yet Domaine Schoffit seem to fly under the radar. A tradition father-son team, Bernard has recently taken over the reins and transformed Domaine Schoffit, taking a gamble on a smaller plot of land in one of the regions most highly regarded Grand Cru vineyards; Rangen de Thann. The plots in particular were so steep that no other winery wanted to put in the effort to make it commercially viable and, having seen the vineyard, we can see why! It really does look like a lot of hard work, all year round.
Fortunately for us, Bernard is made of sterner stuff and his Grand Cru Riesling from this vineyard is one of Alsace's greatest wines. Full of ripe citrus and stone fruits, the wine practically vibrates with energy as the acidity matches the richness of flavour and a small amount of sweetness. Long, powerful and full of absolutely endless flavour. A delicious wine when young, but the patient will certainly be rewarded!
Despite being one of the oldest estates in the world of wine, originally founded back in the early 10th century, Immich-Batterieberg remains a producer relatively unknown to the world at large and even fans of dry Riesling! This wonderful estate was in the hands of the same family for over 500 years and, although that long tradition has sadly ceased, it's now in the very capable hands of one of Germany's best wine-makers, Gernot Kollman.
The steep slopes that make up the small plots of land owned by Immich-Batterieberg are very much in line with the Mosel Valley at large; steep, unforgiving and incredibly difficult to work. From the wines produced here, Zeppwingert is our personal favourite, 100% Riesling grown on red slate and widely regarded as one of the Mosel's most qualitative sites. Lime zest, green apples and white flowers, with just a hint of slate and kerosene peeking through. Outrageously precise and vibrant on the palate - delicious and wonderfully poised; a delicious Riesling!
The final choice in our producer recommendations take us to Austria, to the Wachau and to one of the countries brightest talents; Peter Veyder-Malberg. Located in the cooler reaches of the Wachau, Peter focuses, more so than almost any wine-maker we've ever before, on the effect of his terroir on the wines. Biodynamic or organic viticulture seem like inappropriate titles, considering how far he has taken this understanding, and his vineyards are some of the most carefully tended in the entire world.
The beauty of Veyder-Malberg's wines lies in their subtlety and persistence; these aren't wines to jump up and shout at you, but are well worth taking the time to discover to the fullest extent. Grab a bottle, drink it over a whole evening, by yourself! Our favourite wine from the selection is the Liebedic bottling of Grüner Veltliner, a blend of 5 vineyards, including riper grapes from the famed Kreutles, and a wonderfully tangy, refreshing wine. Lime peel, green fruits, white pepper and a delicious note of bitter almonds; softly aromatic but considerably more intense on the palate. A top quality Grüner Veltliner!
Narrowing this selection down to just 10 producers was incredibly difficult; we think we could have easily gone on for another 20 or 30 more profiles without pausing for breath! All the producers we've listed are top quality estates and even if you're trying their entry level wines, expect to get something quite special in return! We hope this adds to your drinking pleasure in 2019 and hopefully we've given you some producers to hunt down and add to your collection. Safe travels and Happy Drinking!
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