(A Few Personal) 2021 Highlights from Wine Director Tom Harrow

In January a series of virtual Burgundy Wine Therapy sessions – “Stalwarts”, “Challengers” and “Trailblazers” replaced our usual En Primeur tasting at 67 Pall Mall, introduced the 2019 vintage, and gave scores of wine lovers across the country some light relief as lockdown continued. I was honoured to be included (for a fourth year) in the SPEARS 500 (2021 edition) Top Private Client Advisors.

February, still largely focussed on Burgundy En Primeur, saw illuminating Wine Therapy Sessions with Jane Eyre, Romain Taupenot and Brian Sieve from De Montille. Meanwhile Premier Club Manager Luke passed his WSET Diploma (with Merit). Well done Luke!

In March Honest Grapes won the Independent #IndyBest Online Wine Merchant 2021 (for the third year in a row). We were excited to launch Brunello 2016 and 2015 Riserva (the best ever back to back vintages from Montalcino… so far) and thrilled (and more than a little relieved!) to pick up five barrels of the top Nuit- Saint-Georges 1er Cru ‘Les Didiers’ cuvée for syndicate members at our first Hospices de Nuits auction. Wine Therapy Sessions with Jonathan Maltus (featuring a first ever four-vintage Pontet Labrie vertical), Florence Cathiard of Smith Haut-Lafitte and Anselmo Guerrieri-Gonzaga of San Leonardo (the latter prior to our exclusive pre-launch of the 2016 vintage) kept club members entertained and educated whilst still stuck at home.

Hospices de Nuits

In April we were joined by Lilian Barton and Damien Barton-Sartorius of Langoa and Leoville Barton and Nicolas Glumineau, Managing Director of Pichon Lalande, for inspiring Bordeaux Wine Therapy Sessions and also Francesca Nicoli from club members’ favourite La Giaretta in Valpolicella.

Bordeaux 2020 samples (in bottles, half bottles and 100ml tubes) began arriving in early May in preparation for a highly anticipated En Primeur campaign and we hosted our second Bordeaux Summit, “A Sustainable Future?” with guests Gavin Quinney, Wine Lister COO Chole Ashton, and Nicolas Audebert, Châteaux Director of Canon and Rauzan Segla. Cheval Blanc fired the starting gun with a well-judged release which was rapidly snapped up, and other chateaux began to follow as the campaign cranked in to life. Outside Bordeaux, the visionary Telmo Rodriguez held us captivated and challenged perceptions in a Meet the Grower Rioja Wine Therapy session and the latest Priorat wines from our friends Ester Nin and Carles Ortiz sold through quickly. On the other side of the equator the new vintages from Eden Valley “Winery of the Year” Henschke were well received. Congratulations to Nathan and long term partner Alfred who finally tied the knot!

June was dominated by Bordeaux releases as usual, and even with prices starting to move up from the previous year, demand for this stellar vintage largely kept pace. Wines we considered worthy of buying a few extra cases included St Estephe stalwarts Montrose and Phelan Segur and Pauillac powerhouses Pontet Canet and Pichon Baron. From further south Chateaux Palmer, Pape Clement and my perennial value pick Malartic Lagraviere are all worth topping up with, whilst on the Right Bank Quintus, from the Clarence Dillon stable, and a newly resurgent Troplong Mondot should not be missed.

Moving in to July, Kit’s Coty Chardonnay stole all the headlines at the Wine GB Awards 2020, adding Best Single Varietal White & Top Still Wine to their already overflowing cabinet of Gold Medals. A longstanding Honest Grapes favourite and until recently the only real English challenger to white Burgundy, we are delighted to see the rise and rise of English still wines this year. Giovanni Mazzei’s launched the second vintage (2016) of his ambitious IPSUS which “Very clearly [has] the potential to become one of Italy’s most important wines” declared Antonio Galloni, whilst James Suckling awarded 98 points. Meanwhile we launched our next crowd funded syndicate project – three specially selected barrels of Beckstoffer Missouri Hopper Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 made by Jonathan Maltus out of his World’s End winery in Napa.

August saw the later released Valdicava 2016 and 2015 Riserva Brunellos (98-100 points) and we were thrilled for Christophe Briotet of Maison Edouard Delauany who picked up IWC “White Winemaker of the Year”, having been awarded “Red Winemaker of the Year” the previous year – a unique achievement.

In September we saw a return to live events, hosting a series of tastings to celebrate Honest Grapes’ 7th Birthday. We started with an extraordinary line-up of the brand new Icon releases at tailors Grey Flannel, Chiltern Street, which included 97-point Testamatta, 98-point Galatrona and 99-point Siepi and a raft of high 96-99 points scoring from the Americas too. A Premier Crew night followed at our dear friend and club member Karen Howes’ stunning interiors studio Taylor Howes where we introduced new wines from “Lafite of the LanguedocMas de Daumas Gassac, “winery to watch” (Vinous) Donnachiara, “the new Clos RougeardDomaine Guiberteau from Saumur and “The Rolls Royce of CorsicaYves Leccia. Later in the month we were back at Taylor Howes for our first “hybrid” tasting – with guests and hosts both live and virtual, to enjoy Benoit Landager, of revered Domaine de Pousse d’Or in Volnay, present a selection of his fabulous wines. We also launched our 2021 Kosher wine syndicates with partners Domaine de Montille and JCP Maltus – our continuing mission to make great wines – that happen to be kosher, rather than kosher wines – that happen to be drinkable.

The Icons releases dominated September’s offers including the first ever offerings from Spain – Yjar and Vivaltus. The Icons campaign is growing every year as wine lovers aim to diversify their collections and more estates globally seek the recognition of being offered through La Place in Bordeaux. I enjoyed a few days tasting in Tuscany during Bolgheri Divino, which culminated in a spectacular 1000-person dinner (Covid passes required!) on a 1km table set up along the Viale dei Cipressa leading up to Bolgheri, surely the most ambitious wine event of the year??

Fine Wine

In October our new Head of Sales & Marketing, James Matthias, introduced our first rare whisky offer and this and subsequent ones have been very well received so expect more sought after Malts in 2022… Meanwhile we launched our Hospices de Beaune 2021 syndicates and sold our first tranche of allocations from the late release 2019 Domaine Prieure-Roch in less than 12 hours. Similarly popular were the 2018 wines from “Grand Cru of Gualtallary” Per Se, Argentina’s most thrilling high altitude winery. I was back in Tuscany hosting the first Belmond “Curiosity Circle” weekend at the stunning Castello di Casole, which was sufficiently successful that we have 2-4 new dates planned for 2022 at the group’s 5-star properties around Italy. Towards the end of the month it was great to be back at Holland & Holland to celebrate the launch of the Second Edition of Sorrells’ Connoisseur Cellars and to catch up with friends and clients for the first time in 18 months.

In November we were delighted to be joined by “The Armand Rousseau of Bloody Hill” Timo Mayer for a Wine Therapy Session showing off his singular wines from the Yara Valley. There followed Burgundy grower visits for Nick and Nathan and myself and a successful if nail-biting Hospices de Beaune auction where we were delighted to come away with our first ever Grand Cru barrel (Corton) as well as two barrels of a beautiful Savigny-Les-Beaune for syndicate members. These will complete their élévage with RVF Winemaker of the Year Jane Eyre, whose expertise with these sites is second to none. The celebrated 2020 Mosel vintage and other late releases from our friend Clemens Busch ensured Riesling fanatics got their fix and our Christmas Market at Soho’s China Exchange was another great opportunity to finally meet with members and clients and share a glass or five!

We opened the doors on December literally, presenting The Wine Show’s Advent Calendar in conjunction with Sorrells (the last door opens today…) which has been a fun collaboration and we’ll see where this might lead next… Our small but perfectly formed Rhone 2020 En Primeur offer is still live and worth revisiting if you missed it previously. The vintage is exceptional for the North in particular and Vincent Paris’ different expressions of Cornas (93-98 points for £125-£220/6) and Yves Cuilleron’s Condrieu should be in every cellar. For Châteauneuf lovers the ever trusty Vieux Telepgraphe weighs in with 96 points from Decanter’s Matt Walls). As we come to the end of the Christmas break I won’t linger on Burgundy 2020 as the campaign is only in its infancy with the bulk of releases still to come, accept to say it was great to see a number of you join our Fireside Chat on Wednesday evening and hopefully you all got the message about loading up with all the whites you can asap! Three wines however out already that I’d particularly recommend are: Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis Grand Cru ‘Vaudesir’ (91-94 points AM), Jane Eyre Savigny-Les-Beaune 1er Cru (91-93 points NM) and Domaine de Montille Volnay 1er Cru ‘Brouillards’ (91-93 points NM) which is now a cuvée exclusive to Honest Grapes in the UK.

Throughout the year we have been able to offer rare back vintage large format verticals ex-estate from Bordeaux First Growths Latour, Margaux, Mouton and Lafite as well as Tignanello’s top wine Solaia. We also thinned out the cellars of a handful of clients, whose owners were keen to move on some of their excess maturing wines to make way for new vintages. Hosting private and corporate events – virtual and actual, as circumstances allowed, ensured the Honest Grapes Wine Gurus were kept busy and in regular contact with clients and club members.

There are some extremely exciting releases and campaigns coming next year and we have a full roster of tastings (virtual and actual – fingers crossed), and grower dinners, as well as “Curiosity Circle” weekends with our partner Belmond in Italy, plus trips to Bordeaux and Burgundy for Club Pontet Labrie and Hospices Barrels Syndicate members. All in all an exciting year ahead.