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2018 Ao Yun, Shangri-La, Yunnan Province, China

Edward Ragg MW 95/100
The 2018 Ao Yun is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, 7% Syrah and 4% Petit Verdot. 2017 was the first vintage where Merlot was included in the blend, and the higher proportion in the 2018 vintage is partly a reflection of vintage conditions but also a sign of Ao Yun’s increased interest in the variety (I saw new Merlot vines being established in an amphitheater-like vineyard in the village of Sinong in May 2021).

The 2018 Ao Yun is very deep purple and very much in the emergent "Ao Yun style" showing lifted, perfumed Cabernet-dominated fruit, here with plenty of crushed blackberry, cassis and black cherry with ripe green bell pepper and other pyrazine notes and some toasted new oak with hints of smoke and clove. Full-bodied with that Ao Yun puissance of coating, fine-grained and chewy tannins, robust but well-integrated 14.5% alcohol and some lively acidity, especially in this cooler vintage (note also that, at this altitude, Ao Yun naturally comes in around pH 3.35-3.45). As such, the wine has an affinity with Mendoza Cabernet, at least structurally speaking.

This is indeed much more of a "cooler vintage" expression rather than the more "solar" 2015, but do not think this equates to something like a cooler vintage in Bordeaux. There is abundant fruit achieved through rigorous selection and also picking at optimal ripeness aided by plenty of UV light (intense sunshine here). So, the 2018 has some similarity with the 2017 in terms of weather and fruit expression, and on this first tasting, albeit at high altitude at Ao Yun itself, quality is similar to the 2017 and 2015, but actually even better than those two vintages on this first showing. Note also that this is a baby of a wine that will need tasting again in the future. Supremely youthful, it would be worth waiting a year or so before broaching this. The 2018 will undoubtedly repay long-term cellaring.

Having tasted the 2018 Ao Yun for the first time in May 2021 at high altitude in the village of Adong (where the Ao Yun winery is located), it was fascinating to retaste this vintage much closer to sea level in Beijing on December 2, 2021. This proved to be a useful comparative opportunity too, having only a few hours earlier shown the 2017 vintage in a tasting of various Shangri-La wines in Beijing the evening before. The 2018 Ao Yun is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot, 7% Syrah and 4% Petit Verdot. As observed in my note from May, this blend shows increased confidence in some of the other varieties coming more online in Ao Yun’s four village sites of Xidang, Sinong, Shuori and Adong (with Merlot playing an increased role). The 2018 Ao Yun maintains its very deep purple appearance. On the nose, albeit youthful, there is already open and abundant super-ripe cassis, black cherry, mulberry, blueberry and black plum fruit with less pyrazine observable in this bottle (although this becomes more overt on the palate). That core of fruit is complemented by subtle new oak notes of clove, toast and smoke. On the palate, the 2018 Ao Yun has abundant, fine-grained and coating tannins with some lively acidity and well-integrated 14.5% alcohol, these structural elements being well-knitted together with the vibrant core of fruit, touch of herbaceous character (sage, mint) and subtle new oak notes. With its long length and marked concentration, although youthful, the 2018, tasted closer to sea level, has the kind of approachability similar to some Napa Cabernet blends. But it is unquestionably super youthful and is taking on entirely its own identity as the very best blend of these four remarkable village vineyard sites (each at different altitudes).

The 2018 is just nudging ahead of the 2017 and 2015 in terms of quality. It will be fascinating to see its evolution in bottle. Drink 2023 - 2033

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£1,260.00 per 6 bottles

1998 Ornellaia, Bolgheri, Toscana IGT

Aldo Fiordelli, 99/100
Part of What makes a wine collectible?
1998 is most likely the best vintage ever for Ornellaia. Petit Verdot was not yet used in the blend. Evolved bramble fruits meld with forest floor, helichrysum and Mediterranean herb aromas. On the palate this wine dazzles with the vibrancy of the best Pomerol-like minerality, with a tight-knit structure of velvety yet lively tannins amongst the fruit, and delicate acidity pushing a slightly pyrazinic finish with long, dark notes of Marmite and cigar-box supported by some citrus notes. Drink 2019 to 2030, Tasted Feb 2019

Jancis Robinson MW 18/20
Dark crimson and healthy glow. Aromatic, almost Cabernet Franc-like aromas. Very fresh rather than big and warm. Still lively, fine tannins. Pretty wine for food. Sept 2019

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Good vintage for Bolgheri compared with inland Tuscany which needed a warm autumn. Made by Andrea Giovanini who made the wine immediately before Thomas Duroux arrived in 2001. Hand-harvesting of the Merlot started the first week of September and continued until mid September, followed by the Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc which was completed by the beginning of October. Destemmed and crushed before fermentation in wood and stainless-steel tanks at a temperature not exceeding 30 °C. Maceration continued for a period of 20–25 days after which the wine was introduced into new French oak barriques (50%) and second-use barriques (50%) where it completed its malolactic fermentation. Each grape variety and each vineyard lot was aged separately. The wine remained in barriques for a period of 18 months after which time the wine was then blended and bottled. A further refinement period of 12 months in the bottle followed, prior to release.

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£1,500.00 per 6 bottles

1995 Ch Ducru Beaucaillou, 2ème Cru Classé, St Julien

Neal Martin, 95/100
The 1995 Ducru-Beaucaillou, matured in two-thirds new oak, has a very refined bouquet with blackberry, raspberry, rose petal and cedar aromas, very focused and sophisticated. The palate is well balanced with sour red cherries, balsamic and cedar notes, vibrant and full of energy, though you might well argue it doesn’t quite have the panache and complexity of ensuing vintages on the finish. But it is certainly ageing well and is drinking perfectly now. Tasted at the Ducru Beaucaillou vertical at the château. Drink 2021to 2040 Reviewed July 2022

Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, The Wine Advocate 95/100
Proprietor Bruno Borie noted this was a somewhat unusual blend this year: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. After this vintage, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot would no longer be included in the blend. Medium to deep brick in color, the 1995 Ducru-Beaucaillou explodes from the glass with bombastic notes of Indian spices, plum preserves, fruitcake and dried figs with nuances of potpourri, star anise, bouquet garni and espresso. Medium to full-bodied, the palate is chock-full of exotic spices and preserved black fruits, framed by firm, finely grained tannins and bold freshness, finishing with epic impact and length. Mature and drinking well now, there's still a good 12-15 years of kick left in this thoroughbred. Drink 2020 to 2035 Reviewed August 2020

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£2,100.00 per 12 bottles