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Sarah Abbott MW reviews old vine wines

Last Monday, Swirl attended a party with a purpose – the Old Vine Conference’s 2022 launch, co-hosted by our founder, Sarah Abbott MW. Here, Sarah shares her personal notes on the wines featured on the evening. If you’d like to know more about how you can support this initiative, visit the Old Vine website.

Vecchie Viti, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore 2020, Ruggeri

80-100 year-old vines

I really loved this wine. I like the surprise value of a Prosecco really highlighting the long viticultural heritage of the the Conegliano Valdobbiadene region. It’s a UNESCO agricultural heritage site thanks to the centuries of viticulture carved out by man in these very steep hills; because of the way these vines are traditionally grown on really unique grass terraces, and with a really deep interaction of farming and land. It’s a side of Prosecco almost ignored – even denied – by the mainstream. That’s why it’s so great that Ruggeri, a great producer, are maintaining these old vines when absolutely everything must be done by hand. They feel so passionately that this is a link to their heritage and the highest quality aspirations of what Prosecco can be. It’s an absolutely delicious sparkling wine – brilliantly fragrant with this lovely stone-fruity quality, and a really delicate texture and fine mousse.

Sparklehorse 2018, Ken Forrester

48 year-old vines

This is a Cap Classique traditional method wine, made working with really old Chenin – and people loved it. There’s almost a kind of prejudice against traditional method sparkling wines which use what are considered to be ‘aromatic’ grapes. It’s like it’s a dumbing down. I absolutely resist that assumption – it’s not true. I loved the interplay between the savoury autolysis on this wine with the gorgeous ripe quince, classic Chenin aromatics. An absolutely stunning wine.

Centenaire 2021, Domaine Lafage

95-100 year-old bush vines

This wine is made from 100 year-old bush vines in the craggy, wild Catalan terrain of far southern France. Winemaker Jean-Marc is from this area, and he’s a very smart switched on business man and winemaker. Having worked globally, he’s now returned to build up his family’s domaine as well as a highly respected negotiant company. This is from the domanie vines. He’s given them a new lease of life by making this absolutely delicious, peachy, sort of sneakily aromatic dry white wine.

Malvasia 2020, Abel Mendoza

35 year-old vines

This is a white Rioja from old Malvasia vines. I loved the understated freshness and intensity of this wine. It’s a great example of the really resurgent and strong old vine movement which is really taking off in Rioja. It’s absolutely cracking value for money and really shows that white Rioja can be one of the fine wines of the world.

Vineyard Collection Carignan Gris 2020, Domaine Jones

Over 100 year-old vines

Cariangn Gris is an unusual variety, relatively rare. This wine is from really old vines, over 100 years old – I find that there’s something very exciting about the old vine quality in white wines. It gives really pure depth. A cracking wine, with only 800 bottles made and, again, it really shows the freshness and tension which old vines bring to wines from this rich, historical area of southern France.

Ossian 2018, Ossian

Up to 200 year-old vines

Spain has so many great old vineyards, but it also has so much pressure to abandon or dig up those vineyards, which is why growers like Ossian are so important in Spain. This is from extraordinary un-grafted, pre-phylloxera 200 year-old vines. The soil here is so sandy that phylloxera can’t get to the root of the vine. A really unusual plot – and what an interesting and delicious wine. So full of tension and this delicious paradox between very exotic pear and this lovely green, grassy, almost oxidative notes. But it’s still so fresh. An absolutely unique style of Verdejo, and it really goes to show how great old vines show a whole other side of grape varieties which are otherwise overlooked or dismissed.

Optenhorst Chenin Blanc 2020, Bosman Family Vineyards

70 year-old vines

From 70 year old vines – some of the oldest Chenin vines in South Africa, planted in 1952. They only make 260 cases. They were acutally planning to dig this up, but the winemaker said to the owners – let me give this vineyard a try, let me bottle is separately. And since then they’ve kept it going. It has this incredible combination of richness and depth and freshness.

Domaine de Cébène, Belle Lurette 2020, Brigitte Chevalier

80-100 year-old vines

Gorgeously aromatic but refined southern French wine from Faugères. It really shows that old vine quality isn’t just about body and concentration – its’s about a certain complexity and a kind of serenity.

Vagabond Grenache 2020, Thistledown Wines

80-100 year-old vines

An amazing wine from a superb project initiatied by Giles Cook MW and Fergal Tyan MW, working with growers in the McLaren Vale. They go in and identify these great old vine parcels, making single vineyard wines from this old vine fruit which was otherwise disappearing into blends. They’re able to pay the growers more for the fruit, and work with them to help them improve their viticulture. This is a wine which shows the incredible elegance and kind of lift old vine fruit can give to a wine. It’s one of the best Grenaches I’ve had for a while. It’s interesting that Grenache, like Carignan, is one of those varieties which can be overlooked. They’re kind of like delinquents which come good with some maturity.

Vieilles Vignes Cinsault 2019, Domaine des Tourelles

50 year-old vines

Cinsault was one of the original ‘settler’ vines in Lebanon. Lebanon has really long old vine heritage. It was one of the centres of viticulture in Roman Empire. That really indigenous viticulture was severely disrupted when Lebanon became part of the Ottoman Empire. But in the 1800s, Jesuit settlers brought and planted Cinsult from Algeria, so Cinsault is the second generation of native vines of Lebanon, if you like. This is from vines 50-100 years old. Again, it’s a wine which combines a rich perfume with a delicate texture. A real favourite of people on the evening, combining that gorgeous Lebanese exoticism wth freshness and balance.

Les Vignes Préphylloxérique 2013, Plaimont

150 year-old vines

An incredible piece of viticultural history, this is another pre-phylloxera vine wine. It’s from a single vineyard, planted in 1871 – it was so rich and intense and sort of sedimentary, filled with lovely dark dark blackberry fruits. Very compacted but fine grained tannins. A really incredible wine, but still a baby so I’m looking forward to seeing how it ages.

100 Year Old Vine Carignan 2018, Alchemy Wines

100 year-old vines

This wine had a lovely, welcoming, juicy, rich concentration with a lovely peppery finish. It’s incredible value for money.

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