Robert Parker 98
This is the best vintage of Ao Yun to date and also the highest-scoring Chinese wine I have ever reviewed. It, therefore, requires a more detailed account to understand why. The 2019 Ao Yun is a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 10% Syrah and 6% Petit Verdot (this latter emanating from the village of Sinong). Notably, Merlot did not make the grade in 2019, which was less to do with vintage but, according to winemaker Maxence Dulou, more a function of Merlot vines at an adolescent stage of development (at five to six years of age, Dulou feels Merlot doesn’t produce the most interesting fruit compared with younger or older vines). The relatively cooler and wetter winter prior to 2019 gave the vines decent reserves, but the drier and warmer than expected spring meant some irrigation was required around budburst and flowering. Overall, across Ao Yun’s different villages sites—Xidang, Sinong, Shuori and Adong—2019 witnessed a warm, healthy growing season and not too warm autumn with yields at their lowest to date (around 16 hectoliters per hectare rather than the average of 20-22 hectoliters per hectare). The long harvest commenced in Xidang on September 9th and finished in Adong on November 21st. Of the varieties above, the proportion of fruit was drawn from the villages in order of elevation as follows: 23% from Xidang, 21% from Sinong, 32% from Shuori and 24% from Adong. In the harvest as a whole, only 53% went into Ao Yun’s top wine, with tiny percentages being used for the Villlage Cru reds (6% each) and 2% for the 2019 Chardonnay. Thus 33% of the harvest was not used for Ao Yun at all.
Anticipated maturity: 2023-2039
James Suckling 98
Very scented, complex and layered with a classy nose full of ripe currants, smoke and sweet tobacco leaves. Graphite, charcoal, exotic herbs and cigar box. A hint of black truffle and tapenade, too. Full body with fine, silky tannins that highlight the juicy aspect of this wine. Dusty tannins gradually build up on the palate in a crescendo, following through to a juicy, precise and lengthy finish. Super-polished and refined. There is still cabernet verticality on the palate. The finest Ao Yun so far? It has a finish that lasts almost two minutes. 67% cabernet sauvignon, 17% cabernet franc, 10% syrah and 6% petit verdot. This is a blend of 23% of Xidang village, 21% Sinong, 32% Shuori and 24% Adong. Already drinkable now, but should hold until 2026.
Anticipated maturity: 2023-2026
Jane Anson 96
Immediate impact of scented herbs, with waves of iris and chalky violet, this is intense and concentrated with gourmet edges of chocolate and liqourice root, but everything seems chiselled, hewn, precisely constructed. It has been a pleasure seeing this wine develop since its inaugural vintage, and here it feels far much more quietly confident than the early years when oak impact was more evident. What you get here instead is a nuanced complexity that reflects a true fine wine with sinewed muscles and plenty of ageing potential. 2019 saw a cool winter with a late bud burst, then the driest, warmest Spring since the project began followed by a cooler summer, with an extended harvest from September 9 to November 21, 72 days in total (compared to an average of 54 days) and a low yield of 16hl/h. 30% Chinese stoneware jars, 35% oak barrels, 35% new oak barrels for ageing, final blend done at sea level in Hong Kong. The introduction of the village crus last year to the Ao Yun range has helped finesse the selection from the four villages, and you feel the impact here – 53% of production is in this wine from 28ha of vines set across 727 plots.
Anticipated maturity: 2025-2060