Only 8 wines received Ben’s ★★★ Outstanding Wine accolade in 2023. Here’s the 8 bottles that made the cut and that you should seek out in 2024.
For this year’s round up, as there are only 8 coveted trophy winners, I’ve laid it out like a menu – or at least in the order I would love to drink them in. Given they all have food pairings, which I’ve recalled here, you could, if you manage to find the bottles and vintages, recreate something of a dream meal.
A quick recap on wine scores. I’m not a huge fan, largely on the basis that I would struggle to define the difference between a wine that scores 87pts and one that scores 88pts – at least in any way that would keep me excited about the wine I’m reading about. Therefore I have a simple system. I don’t review wines I don’t like because life’s too short. The first rating is ★ Good meaning it was enjoyable and worth buying. The second is ★★ Great, which you should seek out because it was memorable to drink. Finally, and this is what we’re going to cover here, we have ★★★ Outstanding, reserved purely for the truly special wines I’d write home about. Let’s meet those.
2005 Chinon ‘Les Graviers’, Johann Spelty
I’ll start with the 2005 Chinon because, actually, this wine might be my favourite of the year – and because I want to kick-off this dream dinner with a glass or two of it and some fine slices of Iberico ham. 100% Cabernet Franc and masterfully handled, this was the definition of balance with dried berries mingling over lightly smoked tannins. It is a light but memory-making wine full of charm. The only sad thing is I can’t seem to find any more of the 2005 anywhere!
2015 Vorberg Terlaner DOC-Gebiet Pinot Bianco, Cantina Terlano
Maybe it was the stunning views of the Positano coastline that did it, or maybe it was the canny thinking of the Italian somms that sat on the Cantina Terlano 2015 Vorberg just long enough for it to reach its delectable heights. Regardless, this stunning lime gold Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige still gives me dreams of how delicious it was. Seek it out and pour a glass alongside baked chicken thighs on a bed of Mediterranean veg. Yum.
2002 Julius Riesling, Henschke
The second white wine on the list is this beautifully aged Riesling from Australian producer Henschke. I love Riesling and drink quite a bit of it, so I was surprised to discover this was as old as 2002 because it tasted so alive and electric. Viscous and fruity on the palate with a marvelous finish, it is Riesling to turn anyone into a Riesling fan. I had it with Thai Green curry and rice noodles, so a little bowl of that as a starter would be delightful. You can still get the 2002 in a pack of 3 bottles for £130 (around £43/btl).
2021 Pinot Noir, Riverview Crouch Valley
Why do all “wine people” love and bang on about Pinot Noir? It’s because when it’s done well, it is extraordinarily good. I wasn’t expecting my 2023 Pinot moment to be with an English wine but growers Umut and Kate Yesil, along with Sarah Massey at Lyme Bay Winery, have struck gold. Late harvested with malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels and ageing for 12 months, the 2021 Pinot Noir envelopes the tongue followed by a long but light finish. I described it as being like ballet, a beautiful experience that manages to be both delicate and leaves an impression. Pinot Noir this good will go with everything, but let’s dive into a glass with sautéed morels in cream sauce and long strands of egg fetuccine.
2009 Vina Tondonia Rioja Reserva, Lopez de Heredia
My most recent three star rating was a Vina Tondonia. I know that’s not very original, but there’s a reason why these wines have so many fans. I’ve tried a few Tondonias and had varying levels of pleasure, often needing them to open up and I don’t always have the patience, so it’s gone before I could really enjoy it. For 2009, I caught it perfectly. It was salivating in the way only the best wine is. Tertiary elements like tangy pomegranate pips, truffle and mushroom umami intertwined with juicy strawberries rolled in black pepper. This wine loves a grill, so while I mentioned steak in the review, I’ve a wine that’ll do that better later, so for this one let’s get out the lamb chops, rosemary and buttery new potatoes and have a posh grill up.
2016 Bodegas La Horra Corimbo 1 Reserva, Bodegas Roda
This was a surprise, as it came in a tasting selection from The Online Wine Tasting Co. and I drank it from a pouch. Nevertheless it was a class act. I’ve loved Rioja wines since I started in the trade (something I inherited from my non-wine-expert but wine-loving parents) but Ribera del Duero is every bit as special. This varietal Tempranillo comes in at a bold 14.5% abv, but it is special, oozing with damson plums, sticky cassis, spicy clove and dark chocolate. I know you should pair wine with the local food, but drink this with a silky sauced, slow-cooked lasagne and it’ll go down beautifully.
2012 Mataro Mourvedre, Vignobles Boudinaud
This bold gutsy red was a real treat, opened by winemaker Thierry Boudinaud on a visit to his home and vineyard. It is a varietal Mourvedre from a single plot selection and it has aged majestically. Somehow layered and intense with blackberry and spice but then bright and ethereal. Everyone bangs on about Malbec and steak but if you can find one of Boudinaud’s aged Mourvedre wines, you’re going to have an experience like no other if you serve it up with a thick cut ribeye and chunky thrice baked chips.
NV Oloroso Jerez de la Frontera, Diatomists
I had mentioned gushing over this wine in my review. I am a sherry fan, but I have tended to reserve it for tapas restaurants pretty much exclusively. It was a joy to meet the Diatomists guys and taste a sherry that is, in its own right, an outstanding wine. Aged for 12 years and packed with flavour, it would pair with sticky BBQ pork ribs handsomely but, in the spirit of this meal, I’m going to pair it with some sweet and tangy Tuxford & Tebutt Blue Stilton, with a drizzle of honey and some crackers. The sherry retails for around £19 for 37.5cl, which is a steal.
What was your favourite bottle in 2023?