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Wines of the Year 2009

by Tom Cannavan

Red: Vega-Sicilia, Unico 1969, Spain
Espresso coffee and sweet balsamic aromas flood the nose of this wine, which retains a little ruby at the core amongst some tawny tones. There is plenty of voluptuous, spicy oak, but the fruit has a strawberry softness, with touches of plump Agen prune and some liquorice or caraway seed. The palate has truffle and damp, sweet earth, a touch of something animal, and a mentholy, black fruit sweetness. More of that espresso builds on the finish, with fully resolved, suede-like tannins and perfectly tempered acidity. A balanced and utterly beautiful wine. 96/100. See all stockists on

White: Weingut Prager, Riesling Klaus 2007, Austria
This wine from Wachau was tasted in a line-up of 21 of the world's top Rieslings, and pipped everything else into top place. It has a fantastically oily, viscose weight on the nose with peach kernel and ripe, fleshy stone fruits. Minerality comes through decisively on the palate, a big rush of something herbal and steely, with the weight and the flesh coming through equally powerfully. Long and explosive stuff and indestructible I'd have thought. 94/100. See all stockist on wine-searcher

Budget red: De Bortoli, Gulf Station Pinot Noir 2008, Australia
This excellent mid-range Pinot from De Bortoli delivers the goods vintage after vintage. The 2008 edition has a winning formula of freshness and poise, allied to ripe, attractively full flavour. Brimming with smoky, swirling, tobacco and strawberry pulp aromas, there's a schisty, earthy edge and plenty of complexity. On the palate the fruit is intensely sweet - really pinging across the mid-palate with its concentration - and yet the spice, warm, truffle and woodsmoke complexity and structural line of the tannins and acidity never waivers. Truly great Pinot at its price this, and I have to say it would be pretty damn good if it cost twice as much. 91/100. £9.99, Sainsbury's. See all stockist on wine-searcher

Budget white: Fontana Candida, Frascati Superiore 'Vigneto Santa Teresa' 2008, Italy
This wine, a blend of 30% Malvasia del Lazio, 30% Malvasia di Candia, 30% Trebbiano and 10% Greco, was tasted at the winery and has been chosen here not only because it is a very fine wine from a selected vineyard parcel in the locality of Santa Teresa, but because I also tasted the 1997 and was stunned by how beuatifully this wine had aged over a decade. This doesn't have the immediate freshness and floral zing of the some Frascati wines, but has more herbal and mineral quality. The palate has a hint of sweeter, riper and more peachy fruit, with plenty of apple and citrus cut and acidity, and a gently bitter almond finish. Persistent and concentrated, and makes up in intensity what it loses in aromatics. Fascinating stuff. 89/100. Around £7 - £8, see all stockists on

Sweet: Mount Horrocks, Cordon Cut Riesling 2008, Australia
One of my favourite Australian stickies is still bang on form. Winemaker/Proprietor of Mount Horrocks, Stephanie Toole, makes this dessert Riesling in the Clare Valley by cutting the canes of the vines, but then leaving the bunches hanging there to concentrate naturally as they raisin. In a fantastic vintage for the Clare, this has gorgeous marmalade and honey aromas, a touch of leaf tea and a lime fruitiness underpinning the whole picture. The clarity and quality of the fruit never gets lost amongst the gorgeous sweetness and opulent weight of glycerine richness on the palate. Fantastic stuff and a very special wine. 93/100. See all stockists on

Sparkling: Champagne Roederer, Brut Premier NV, France
I tasted many more expensive Champagnes than this during the year, and I confess many that scored higher like the magnificent Dégorgement Tardif wines from Jacquesson or the brilliant Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 2002. But Roederer's NV gets my vote for the sheer polish and elegance of the wine and its reliability. Mostly however, I love the fact that it drinks so beautifully straight from the bottle when so many houses seem to be releasing their Champagnes too young. It has a pale golden colour that streams with miniscule bubbles, and a nose rich in nutty, toasty tones set against pristine orchard fruits; all Cox's Pippin and crunchy pear. On the palate it is a sumptuous style of NV this, tasting mature and deep, yet with dazzling acidity. A star. 93/100. RRP is £34.99, but look for deals in Waitrose, Majestic, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason. A bargain. See all stockists on

Fortified: Grant Burge, 10 Year Old Tawny NV, Australia
This 18.5% abv Port-style wine has a fabulous nose, flooded with walnut and raisin, with a bit of spice and quite bold, solid fruit beneath. A Grenache, Mataro, Shiraz blend, the palate has beautifully mellow fruit but fantastic intensity, a great weight of chocolate and masses of cappuccino coffee lingering into the finish. AbFab stuff and the price for a full bottle is a steal at around £15.00. 93/100. See all stockists on

Dud: Charles Joguet Chinon 'Les Varennes du Grand Clos' 2001, France
I have tasted this wine on three occasions over the past three years or so, each time noting too high a level of Brettanomyces. Tasting again in September 2009, and the passage of time hasn't helped. This is just too damned stinky. Somewhere in here is pure raspberry fruit and a silky tannin structure demonstrating the fantastic potential of terroir and fruit. It is not without it charms, but this should be 93-point wine, not an 86-point one, so given the spoilage Brett and the fact that the price is substantially more than when I tried it last time, it's impossible to love. See all stockists on

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