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Wines of the Year 2008

by Tom Cannavan

Red: Château La Mission Haut-Brion (France) 1945
One wine from an extraordinary vertical tasting of this château, staged by Prince Robert of Luxembourg to celebrate 25 years of his family's ownership of the estate. The 1945 was still beautifully bright and clear, and still had some ruby colour, but pale. Absolutely engrossing nose, layered with smouldering embers, Sandalwood and deep-set briary fruit. The fruit on the palate has beautiful texture and depth, with the fabulous sweetness of the blackcurrant fruit. The tannins are chocolaty and supple, the acidity still quite bold and precise, but the overall balance is what sets this apart. Fantastic wine. 97/100 See all stockists of La Mission Haut-Brion on wine-searcher.com

White: Olivier Merlin (France) Pouilly-Fuissé 'Terroir de Vergisson' 2006
Merlin has produced a humdinger of a Pouilly-Fuissé here from the hill of Vergisson, with lots of butter and sweet, unctuous fruit, with obvious ripeness in honey, quince and fig notes. On the palate, however, this becomes tight and focused, the minerality really taking a grip, with smoky and nutty notes and a wonderfully long Raveneau-like finish. Outstanding. £21.95, Berry Bros & Rudd

Budget red: Julien Schaal (South Africa) Merlot Petit Verdot 2006
This is an intriguing wine from an intriguing estate. Young winemaker Julien Schaal produces wines both in Alsace, northern France, and in South Africa's Cape. In South Africa his wines are made at the Newton Johnson winery in the cool, coastal Hermanus region, but he uses fruit from various other cool climate areas, including Elgin, the Cape's Riesling heartland. This blend (80% of which is Merlot) is aged in large, 900-litre barrels from Burgundy. Nicely schisty and smoky on the nose, there is a racy black fruit quality that has a suggestion of complex depth, showing some tobacco and fennel notes. It is quite racy and crisp on the palate too, with refined tannins and a taut core of acidity, but the plummier depth of the fruit swells on the mid-palate, and the warming background depth of oak also adds a more plump, mellow appeal. Lovely stuff this, and very carefully thought through. £10.85, Handford, Ethical Wines, Ballantynes, Everywine. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Budget white: Château Saint Ferreol (France) Viognier 2006
Most attempts by winemakers around the world to emulate the great Viognier wines of Condrieu have failed miserably in my opinion. Even in Condrieu and other appellations of the northern Rhône, many Viognier producers cannot avoid a certain flabbiness that can make 'serious' Viognier wines tiring to taste, let alone drink. This Languedoc-Roussillon wine is an absolute star however, and I would put my neck on the line and say possibly the best Viognier I have tasted outside of Condrieu - indeed one of the best full stop. It is a fantastically aromatic example that moves this variety up to another plane. The nose has masses of herbs and downy peach skins, little floral notes, and lots of exotic tamarind and lychee. The palate has lovely grapefruity tang, with freshness allied to a little vanilla smoothness and weight. A great Viognier. £11.95, Berry Bros & Rudd.

Sweet: Domaine Bellegarde (France) Jurançon Cuvée Thibault 2004
I am a huge fan of the sweet white wines of Jurançon, and for me this is one of the stars of Wine Discoveries' impressive portfolio. Hand-harvested in November, there are several 'passes through the vineyard to select only raisined, but perfect grapes. It is vinified in barriques, about 40% of which are new. It has a simply gorgeous nose, flooded with nectarine, honey and marmalade, with nuances of leaf tea and roasted sesame seeds. On the palate it is medium-bodied, and has a beautiful balance between the sweet, honeyed and glycerine fruits, and a precise core of orange acidity. The subtle support of delicate oak just adds a layer of creamy texture and flavour. Exquisite. £11.99 for 50cls, Wine Discoveries.

Sparkling: Krug (France) Champagne Clos du Mesnil 1998
Well, what can I say about a Champagne at this price? You could buy 40 bottles of very respectable Champagne for the same price, and still have enough left over for a pack of Alka Seltzer. But this is an absolutely extraordinary wine from a tiny, walled Grand Cru vineyard, which if you have the money and inclination, will also cellar for generations. The nose is very fine, with bruised fruit and lots of orangy, intriguing herbal qualities. A little touch of buttered toast and a distinctive minerality comes through. The palate has huge acidity and wonderfully linear, laser-like precision. It's the sheer focus and brooding sense of depth that impresses. 97/100. £500-£700, see all stockists on wine-searcher.com.

Fortified: Rozès (Portugal) Vintage Port Quinta do Grifo 2003
About 70% Touriga Nacional, made totally in Lagars, and only 5,000 bottles produced. Nose is very tight and densely muscular, with deep-set spices and dark berry fruit. Beautiful fruit on the palate - fantastic dense, sweet, ripe plum and cherry, but with a great chocolaty, cocoa-dusted core. The tannins are very sweet and ripe, and the thick, rich texture is mouth-filling. Fine length and massive concentration, with tingling spice and acidity, and definitely one for the long haul. 94/100.

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