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WINES OF THE MONTH - SEPTEMBER 2017

 

John Ducker writes:-

One cannot help feeling a little powerless in the face of natural extremes, witness the recent temperatures in Italy’s Mezzogiorno and particularly in Sicily where 43deg. C was registered across the vineyards – an unbelievable 109.4 degrees in Fahrenheit terms. An unheard-of early to mid-August battle there, obviously, to get the harvests in before the grapes lose valuable acidity, let alone start cooking on the vine. A situation compounded by the fact that harvesting hours had to be severely limited as daytime temperatures were simply too hot for the grape-pickers themselves, restricted in many estates to harvesting either very early in the day, or very late, or both. One wonders what the wines resulting from this exceptionally freakish 2017 vintage will taste like once vinified and on the wine merchants shelves. Watch this space!

Acidity is again the key in our wine choice for September, Brissaia DOC Ansonica  2016 which comes from the Maremma, Tuscany’s former coastal wetlands behind the Gulf of Argentario.  In a successful bid to defeat the incidence of malaria this formerly difficult area had long since been drained and is now healthily the wild home of buffalo, wild horses, cowboys Italian-style and, well… productive vines.  In terms of wine, plenty of quality can be found in the Maremma from a DOC established only twelve years ago, but the grape variety locally called Ansonica (as here) is very possibly the better-known Inzolia, an ancient vine variety thought to have originated in Sicily.  It appears successfully in unfortified blends elsewhere ‘down south’ in Italy and is a key component of the island’s fortified Marsala wine.

Pictur of Magliani House
 


This month’s wine choice from the Tuscan Maremma area is at the unfortified end of the scale: fresh and clean as a whistle, bio-dynamically raised and the progeny of vineyards set on hillsides of sandy clay at around 300m overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Breezy minerally un-oaked Brissaia could almost be called a seaside wine in itself.  My own tasting notes speak of a light herbaceousness on the nose, a delicate mix of nuttiness over stone fruit characteristics within, capped by a fresh acidity. There’s even a wisp of a salty finish, too, making it ideal as a wine to match with shellfish.  I’ve written elsewhere of the reticence of Italian wines, be they red or white, to interfere negatively with the taste of their local cuisines, and having put Brissaica to the test alongside a fritto misto di maremyself I can confirm that it was a very happy pairing indeed.

Salute tutti!  While what’s left of the summer lasts!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN            Italy (Tuscany)

NAME OF WINE                     Brissaia Ansonica  2016

STYLE                                  Food-friendly bio-dynamic dry white

PRODUCER                           Fattoria di Magliano, Serpeti.

ALCOHOL                             12% abv.

RETAILER                             Lea & Sandeman Ltd.

PRICE                                  £ 15.95 (bottle) £14.50 (case)



TO READ JOHN'S PAST RECOMMENDATIONS. just scroll down.

August 2017 - France (Savoie) - Mondeuse,'Le Coteau d'Albert, Domaine de l'Idyle.
July 2017 - USA (California - Monterey) - Fog Head Reserve Pinot Noir.
June 2017 - France (Alsace) - 'Zind', Zind-Humbrecht
May 2017 - France (Loire Valley) -Le Petit Chambord, François Cazin.
April 2017 - Chile (Leyda Valley) -Sauvignon Gris, Secano Estate + Recipe.
March 2017 - Italy (Tuscany) -'Heba', Morellino di Scansano, Magliano + Recipe.
February 2017 - Spain (Priorat) - 'Lot 6' Garnacha, Escala Dei.
January 2017 - France (Lirac) - Cuvée de la Reine des Bois Blanc, La Mordorée.
December 2016 - Hungary (Eger) - Late Harvest Kadarka, Gróf Buttler Estate.
November 2016 - France (Southern Rhône) - 'Réserve du Mistral', Famille Perrin.
October 2016 - France (Southern Rhône) - 'La Tabardonne', Domaine Saint-Amand.
September 2016 - Chile (Aconcagua Valley) - Terrapura Pinot Noir.
August 2016 - France (Loire Valley) - Saumur Rouge, 'Les Plantagenets'.
July 2016 - Italy (Abruzzo) - Passerina, Terre di Chieti.
June 2016 - France (Loraine) - Les Gryphées, Château de Vaux.
May 2016 - Australia (South Australia) - Cabernet Sauvignon, Axis + Recipe.
April 2016 - Portugal (Douro) 'Drink Me', Vinhos Niepoort + Recipe.
March 2016 - Germany (Rheinhessen) - Weissburgunder, Dautermann + Recipe.
February 2016 - USA (Oregon) - Planet Pinot Noir + Recipe.
January 2016 - Australia (Clare Valley) - Pike's Hills & Valleys Riesling.
December 2015 - Spain (Galicia) - ‘O Rosal’, Terras Gauda.
December 2015 - Italy (Tuscany) - Morellino di Scansano, Poggio Argentaria.
N ovember 2015 - England (Surrey) - 'Element 20', Litmus Wines at Denbies.
November 2015 - France (Loire) - Bourgeuil 'Les Racines', Frédéric Mabileau.
October 2015 - Hungary (Tokaj) - Dry Furmint.
September 2015 - France (Alsace) - Pinot Gris, Trois Châteaux, Kuentz-Bas.
September 2015 - Chile (Central Valley) - Waitrose ‘Soft –Juicy’ Chilean Red.
August 2015 - France (Champagne) - Blanc de Noirs, E. Barnaut.
August 2015 - Italy (Piedmont) - Dolcetto d'Alba, 'Bric del Salto', Sottimano, Nieve.
July 2015 - France (Alsace) - 'Les 7' Pinot Noir, Réserve, Trimbach.
July 2015 - New Zealand (Martinborough) - 'The Edge' Pinot Noir, Escarpment Wines.
June 2015 - Italy (Lombardy) - Franciacorta ‘I Due Lari’ Brut, L & M Gatti.
June 2015 - France (Languedoc-Roussillon) - Fitou, Domaine Jones.
May 2015 - France (Gascony) - Sauvignon/Gros Manseng, Domaine Horgelus.
May 2015 - Chile (Maiten Valley) - 'Block 1' Pinot Noir, Secano Estate.
April 2015 - Portugal (Vinho Verde) - Vinhão, Colheita Selecionada, Quinta da Raza.
April 2015 - Italy (Tuscany) - Vin Santo del Chianti, Poggio Bonelli.
March 2015 - Madeira - 10-Year Old Sercial, Henriques & Henriques.
March 2015 - Brazil (Serra Gaúcha / Rio Grande do Sul) - Brazilian Merlot.
February 2015 - Portugal (Beiras) Nossa Calcário Tinto.
December 2014 - Hungary (Tokaji) Dry Furmint, Royal Tokaji Company.
December 2014 - Italy (Piemonte) Barolo 'Bricat', Giovanni Manzone.
November 2014 - France (Loire) - Cour-Cheverny, ‘Le Petit Chambord’.
November 2014 - Argentina (Salta) - Colomé Estate Malbec.
October 2014 - Spain (Rias Baixas) - Albariño, Martín Códax.
October 2014 - Spain (Navarra) - ‘El Patito Feo’, Bodegas M&Z, Azagra.
September 2014 - Austria (Kamptal) - Riesling, Fred Loimer.
September 2014 - France (Languedoc) - Le Paradou Grenache
August 2014 - Spain (Cataluna) - Okhre Natur Cava, Josep Pinol.
July 2014 - Australia (Barossa Valley) 'Chook' Chardonnay.
June 2014 - Italy (Abruzzo) - Passerina Terre di Chieti, C.V.S.C.
June 2014 - Italy (Tuscany) - Cardaelis Alicante Toscana, Bicocchi
May 2014 - Portugal (Douro Valley) - ‘Old Vines in Young Hands', Vila Real.
April 2014 - Georgian Republic - Rkatsiteli, Château Mukhrani.
April 2014 - France (Beaujolais) - Morgon Côte du Py, Jean-Marc Burgaud.
March 2014 - Spain (Ribera del Duero) - 'Momo', Bodegas Bohorquez.
February 2014 - Italy (Piemonte) - Langhe Arneis.
February 2014 - France (Bordeaux) - Chateaux d’Aurilhac.
January 2014 - France (Aude) - Crémant de Limoux, Antech.
January 2014 - Portugal (Alentejo) - Vila Santa.
December 2013 - Spain (Cava) ‘Elyssia’ Gran Cuvée Brut, Freixenet.
December 2013 - Portugal (Douro) Quinta do Côa Tinto.
November 2013 - France (Alsace) - 1er Cru 'Engelgarten', Marcel Deis.
November 2013 - France (Beaujolais) - Fleurie, Domaine Chignard.
October 2013 - Italy (Lugano) - Peschiera del Garda, Zenato.
October 2013 - France (Bordeaux - Fronsac) - Château Mayne-Viel.
September 2013 - France (S. Rhone) - Costières de Nimes, Château Vessière.
September 2013 - Chile (Colchagua Valley) - Grande Réserve, Los Vascos.
August 2013 - France (South-West) - Le Gaillac Perlé, Cave de la Bastide.
August 2013 - France (South-West) - Gallien, Domaine de la Chanade.
July 2013 - France (Loire Valley) - Quincy, Henri Bourgeois.
July 2013 - France (The South West) - Cahors, Triguedina.
June 2013 - Portugal (Setúbal) - Colheita Selecccionada, Adega de Pe.
June 2013 - Argentina (Mendoza) - Bonarda, Puerto Ancona.
April 2013 - Portugal (Alentejo) - Viognier, Terra d’Alter.
April 2013 - France (Languedoc) - St.Chinian, Domaine Raynier.
March 2013 - Spain (Jerez) - Manzanilla, Herederos de Argüeso
March 2013 - France (Languedoc) - Ch. Flaugergues.
February 2013 - Slovenia - Jeruzalem Ormoz Pinot Grigio.
February 2013 - Australia (Margaret River) - Moss Wood 'Amy's Blend'.
January 2013 - New Zealand (Marlborough) - Cloudy Bay 'Pelorus'.
January 2013 - France (Loire Valley) - Chinon, Domaine de la Semellerie.

August 2017

Last month I mentioned my having led a tasting in which a very successful example of a wine featuring the Mondeuse grape variety, albeit from Mount Veeder, California, and not from its native stamping ground in alpine eastern France. Naturally I was curious to contrast the American version I had recently tasted with ‘the real thing’ – so to speak – and as I have just received a wine merchant’s promotion of such a wine from the Savoie region of France I thought it worthwhile to bring it to your attention as our ‘Wine of the Month’ for August….Savoie Arbin Domaine de L’Idylle ‘Coteau d’Albert’ Mondeuse 2015 – a nice mouthful in more ways than one, and from vines planted on calcareous slopes in 1925 by a forerunner of the Tiollier family whose property is pictured on a very attractive label. Arbin itself is a little commune lying in the shelter of mountains south-east of Chambéry, and the origin of the Mondeuse grapevine itself trails back into the mists of time.

With a complicated pedigree to say the least, its DNA parentage has long been the subject of uncertainty and dispute in the world of oenology. It has even been confused (mistakenly) with the Italian grape Refosco. The version I’m sampling in the glass is Mondeuse Noire, although its mutations as Mondeuse Blanche and even Mondeuse Grise can also be found in the Rhône-Alpes region of France. Too much information? Cut to the chase - how does the wine perform in the glass?

The example I have shows clear translucency yet its mulberry-dark appearance suggests plenty of skin contact, the back palate revealing a gentle touch of developed tannin. The nose is quite delicate and subtly figgy, and a writer elsewhere has likened the character of Mondeuse as ‘somewhere between Gamay and Cabernet Franc’ - an indication of a lighter-weight style, perhaps, rather than taste as such. The wine’s freshness and food-friendliness is not in doubt, and I can quite see how confusion might have arisen between its own identity and that of the ‘bitter-cherry’ Italianate Refosco. Whistle-clean on the tongue, sappy, and relatively light in alcohol, this is a lovely summer-drinking red which despite its relative obscurity deserves your investigation. The only fault I can find, if fault it is, it finishes a little short.


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France, (Savoie)

NAME OF WINE Arbin Domaine de ‘l’Idylle ‘Le Coteau d’Albert’ Mondeuse 2015

STYLE Firmly-structured sappy summer red

PRODUCER Domaine de l’Idylle, Cruet

ALCOHOL 12% abv

 

July 2017

On the ‘Value for Money’ wine front one lives and learns! I had been commissioned recently by an exclusive Surrey wine club to furnish them with an upmarket tasting of Californian wines. I had been given a suitably generous budget into the bargain in the light of where the weaker pound currently sits alongside the well-fleshed US dollar.

My wine choices ranged widely from notable Napa Valley ‘names’ to attempts by idiosyncratic and innovative lifestyle winemakers living in ‘La-La Land’ to turn wine into arcane philosophy! Alongside these I injected a sprinkling of wines that I hoped would prove interesting regardless of reputation or quirkiness, though one of these was certainly a rarity - a Mondeuse – an ancient vine variety originally from the French Dauphiné region, translated (with success) to the Mount Veeder AVA of Napa Valley - impressively ripe thanks to Californian sunshine. A couple of wines in the lineup were certainly beyond my own personal pocket and, in order to inject a little ‘wine-cost-versus-value’ perspective into the tasting, I included an entry-level blockbuster red blend, and an accessible Pinot Noir from Monterey. The latter, obtainable in the UK from Waitrose, found great favour with my audience who, having tasted their way through the ‘price-tag’ wines pitched it nem. con. as costing far more than the relatively modest £15 at which it sells over here. Maybe you won’t be surprised that it is my recommendation as July’s ‘Wine of the Month’.

Price-differentials? Many non-wine factors jostle with wine factors in the cost of the bottle on the shelf: actual production and distribution costs, obviously; wine-hype in the press; the wine merchants’ ‘lift’ as they must make a profit too. Then there’s the rarity value vs. volume production equation to consider let alone the cherished reputation of a notable estate or producer – and, classically, the inescapable hierarchical pricing of fine Bordeaux and Burgundy vintages, moving inexorably upwards, or so it seems. A category, I suggest, beyond the everyday target of the most cost-conscious wine drinker.
What, then, is value for money? Does it relate to the factors above or simply to ourselves? Is the VFM factor any more than a wine that you’ve discovered you like very much and feel well able to afford? Fortunately we all have our own particular tastes and preferences – and if they are tailored to the depths of our pockets then so be it. After all there’s much to be said for ‘evaluating’ what we have in the glass rather than drinking it thoughtlessly, so here’s my sixpenny-worth on this month’s choice:

Fog Head Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 from California’s relatively cool foggy Pacific-influenced region of Monterey.

A waggish member of my audience who had lived and worked around the Bay area suggested that the wine might taste of sardines, a local speciality, but luckily we found this was far from the case! On the eye, the wine has the reassuring colour, limpidity and transparency of Pinot Noir but as the grape variety is so clonally diverse it is sometimes difficult to know what to expect of its taste. Stylistically Fog Head Reserve is on the ripe side. The nose is attractively complex – red-fruited notes alongside the gentlest oaky spice and warm earthiness – very inviting. The palate is mid weight and well balanced, the influence of oak is well integrated and the classic Pinot Noir character seems perfectly true to type, with its usual charm – the 2013 vintage having allowed time for development of softness and complexity overall. One can understand why Californian wine drinkers forsook Merlot and embraced Pinot Noir – which reminds me to catch up again with the film ‘Sideways’ via. YouTube!


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN USA (California)

NAME OF WINE Fog Head Reserve Pinot 2013

STYLE Ripe warm climate Pinot Noir

PRODUCER Fog Head Wine Cellars, Manteca. CA

ALCOHOL 13.5%abv

RETAILER Waitrose Ltd. (also Telegraph wine)

PRICE £15.00 - unless discounted

(VFM factor? A no-brainer! )

June 2017

‘'Zind’.....What hides behind that name? Certainly the reputation of one of the longest-serving wine families of Alsace, the Humbrechts, who have been active in the region since around 1620 and whose wines, today, have gained not only organic but certified bio-dynamic status. Based in Turckheim, and following the marriage of Leonard Humbrecht to Geneviève Zind in 1959 the Domaine has been known to the wine world thereafter as that of Zind-Humbrecht. Today’s guiding spirit behind the extensive family estates is their son Olivier – incidentally the first French MW!

The present Domaine has vines in four of the Alsace Grands Crus as well as half a dozen named single vineyards devoted principally to the classic ‘noble’ grapes of the region, Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer and Riesling…. all of which qualify for AC Alsace status.

‘Zind’, however, is something slightly different. The wine’s distinctive and fine qualities are owed here to the preponderance of the (Burgundian) Chardonnay grape, and is a cunningly crafted blend of 2/3 Chardonnay and 1/3 Auxerrois. Being made outside the strict AC Alsace rules it has to default to recognition simply as a ‘Vin de France’.

Auxerrois, which rides shotgun here, flourishes under different names in different places but is otherwise a perfectly respectable scion of the extensive Pinot family and is a common constituent of the sparkling ‘Crémant d’Alsace’.

Clear and star-bright on the eye, the wine has a very pleasing citrus edge balanced with weightier stone-fruit elements on the mid-palate which suggest an ideal partnership with food. Single varietal wines speak for themselves, properly made, but blends call exceptionally for the skill of the blender. No problem here, as this has exemplary balance, and the wine has that attractive cleanness overall which, to me, seems typical of the Alsace style.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Alsace)

NAME OF WINE ‘Zind’ 2014

STYLE Classy clean-cut white blend

PRODUCER Domaine Zind-Humbrecht

ALCOHOL 12.5% abv

RETAILER Waitrose Ltd

PRICE £ 17.99


Any classic wine surely deserves a classic regional dish to accompany it, and I recently chose to make something typically ‘Alsacienne’ – the impressive looking Tourte de la Vallée de Munster. It certainly went down well. By any other name this substantial dish could probably be called ‘pork pie - not as we know it’ as it is cooked in a deep quiche tin. ‘Tourte’, therefore, rather than ‘tarte’. The short pastry base and puff pastry top classify it as a genuine pie. Perfect for a summer lunch, served warm, or even sliced cold perhaps with some pickles alongside, to take on a picnic. Keep tuned to the weather forecast!

INGREDIENTS

100g stale white breadcrumbs
6 tbsps milk (for softening)
2 onions, chopped fine
3 fat cloves garlic, smashed
25g butter, for cooking onions etc. and greasing the quiche tin
800g pork loin with some fat, or equivalent weight pork chops
1 ½ tsps. mixed spice (‘quatre épices’- or Chinese ‘five spice’)
salt and pepper
2 eggs
3tblsps chopped parsley
300g fresh shortcrust pastry
225g fresh puff pastry
salt and pepper

METHOD

1. Begin by soaking the breadcrumbs in the milk and chopping the onions and garlic finely.
2. Soften the onions and garlic in butter and set aside
3. Chop the pork fairly finely, or put through a coarse mincer

In a large bowl mix together the soaked bread (squeezed out), the onions and garlic, the minced pork, the spices and plenty of seasoning with salt and pepper. Mix in the chopped parsley.
At this stage, beat together the two eggs and add almost all to the mixture in the bowl, combining it thoroughly. Keep back a little beaten egg for glazing the pastry at the end.

For the tourte base, roll out the short-crust pastry to allow an overhang of about three centimetres all round a deep 10” quiche tin. Add the pork mixture to the tin, doming it up towards the centre, and then brush the pastry overhang with water prior to adding the rolled-out puff pastry on top to make a lid.
Try to match the size of the puff overhang with that of the shortcrust pastry, trimming it evenly all round with scissors. Press the two pastries together and roll them over inwards to make a raised edge around the circumference of the pie.

Paint the remaining beaten egg onto the pastry surface as a glaze and make a hole in the centre of the pastry top in order to allow steam to escape as it cooks.

You’ll need an oven temperature of 200deg C (Regulo 6), and a baking time of 45 minutes to an hour. Once cooked, it is a good idea to let the pie rest for half an hour before serving.
Accompany with crisp salad greens including some rocket…. and perhaps a chilled glass of ‘Zind’ !

 

May 2017

The reason for my wine choice for May has rather complex roots. Last year I was invited to lecture on a cruise ship the itinerary of which would enable the passengers to visit the Loire valley where I would speak on some of the local wines relevant to our vineyard visits. Given that the engine room of the ship caught fire during its mid-channel crossing it resulted in its being laid-up in Cherbourg for three days with a full complement of passengers, rescheduled to points of interest within the unadvertised Cotentin peninsula but crucially missing the Loire visit opportunity altogethe.


As a fan of Loire wines myself, and that now (elections permitting) we are almost in sight of what passes in our own neck of the woods for ‘summer’, I thought I’d introduce you to a pretty exclusive wine from that wonderfully diverse region of France. Exclusive? Yes, literally, as the grape variety involved in my wine choice appears nowadays in only one single small appellation, Cour-Cheverny, just south of Blois and abutting the great former royal hunting grounds of Solange. (This is not to be confused with the wines from the neighbouring appellation of Cheverny itself which is a blend based usually on Sauvignon Blanc.) The vine concerned is called Romorantin, a grape variety of some antiquity - 16th century?, the jury is out - that today is recognized to have a shared parentage between the Burgundian Pinot Teinturier and Gouais Blanc, its DNA presumably being open for yet further argument and discussion. Whether, as the locals will have it, the grape was introduced to the immediate region by Francis I of France who was born in the area himself must qualify as a matter of romantic conjecture. What does remain however is that Romorantin is confined nowadays to a particularly beautiful spot within the Loire-et-Cher region as a whole, one adorned by impressive Renaissance Chateaux such as Cheverny, Chambord, Azay-le-Rideau et. al.


Although this rare variety may be regarded as a minor grape it does have some worthwhile characteristics of its own which remain typical of its localised microclimate and terroir. A somewhat shy ripener, Romorantin needs plenty of sunshine to show itself at its undoubted best. Cooler vintages can sometimes produce rather sharp wines – but this can be true of all wines produced north of a Mediterranean climate. The example I have chosen, Cour-Cheverny ‘Le Petit Chambord’ 2014 from François Cazin, is hand harvested, is quite dry, and has a pleasing balance of a deliciously refreshing ‘top’ mineral acidity alongside a complex of subtle internal flavourings including an intriguing smokiness over ripe apple (malic) notes. The Wine Society refers to ‘crab-apples’ as part of the sensory bargain but it is so long since I have tasted those old-fashioned semi-wild fruit that I daren’t express an opinion myself. A shortish finish is no great hang-up here and, all in all, the wine has characteristic ‘dry white’ Loire typicity though I understand Romorantin can be pressed into service as an off-dry late harvest tipple. ( I have yet to try this riper style, though I guess examples may possibly be relatively hard to find.) The berry clusters, although green in their comparative youth can display in maturity an attractive light honey colour with a few freckles!


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Loire)

NAME OF WINE ‘Le Petit Chambord’ 2013

STYLE Dry food-friendly minerally white

ALCOHOL 13deg/abv

PRODUCER François Cazin à Cheverny

RETAILER The Wine Society

PRICE £ 10 . 95


I don’t propose that this wine should partner a specific fish recipe from the Loire, but any good white fish might benefit from the ideal sauce which originates either from Nantes or from Angers on the Loire - Beurre Blanc.

INGREDIENTS

60ml good white wine vinegar
60ml dry white wine (Romorantin, peut être?)
2 shallots, chopped fine
4 black peppercorns
150g chilled unsalted butter, in pieces
2 tblsps lemon juice
salt
fine ground white pepper

METHOD


1. Boil together the vinegar, the wine, the chopped shallots and the pepper over a medium heat and allow the liquids to reduce to about 2 tblsps. (3 minutes or thereabouts).

2. Strain the liquid residues into a small pan and discard the solids.

3. Put the pan over the lowest heat and add the chilled butter piece by piece, whisking each one in until melted before adding the next one. NB it is absolutely essential to introduce each piece of butter very cold – if too warm, the risk of the sauce splitting is heightened.

4. Once all the butter has melted into the concentrated reduction add the lemon juice and taste-test to see if any further seasoning is required. Pour over or serve alongside your (preferably) freshwater fish.

Your simply cooked fish will thank you for its elevation to classic Loire status!

April 2017

My wine choice for April has all the freshness of a spring shower about it – OK, we’ve possibly had more than our fair share of those, but this may be more welcome - and it comes from one of a clutch of clonal variants of Sauvignon Blanc: Sauvignon Gris. You may possibly have come across it in the Loire where it is grown in an arc from the Muscadet country in the north right through to the Central Vineyards – (not actually central to the Loire vineyards throughout their length but central to France itself). Wearing its French robes the variant is known alternatively in the Loire as ‘Fié Gris’ and although not permitted in Sancerre it seems to have become quite fashionable, even having lent itself as an increasingly successful adjunct to Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux. Elsewhere, given the well known zippy style of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris has recommended itself to local winegrowers as adding a slightly exotic and more fragrant touch to their mainstream production based on their distinctive clonal choices of the well-known parent vine. (Look up ‘methoxypyrazines’ online and you’ll get what classic NZ Sauvignon is all about in terms of its unique taste).


I dare say I am not equipped to discuss the intimacies of the parentage of the Sauvignon Blanc varietal in detail here, but we’re safe to say that Sauvignon Gris is a well-accepted, useful, if less familiar scion of the Sauvignon family as a whole. This possibly touches on the complex and controversial question of clonal selection in general, in which my own view must sound a trifle simplistic but, put understandably, vine growers overall will tend to plant the most suitable clonal cultivars of whatever vine types they are raising to meet the local conditions of climate, situation, soil type, general vigour and disease resistance prevailing within their own areas of production to give the best flavour profiles and yields possible in their own specific circumstances. Not exactly genetic engineering perhaps, though in terms of yields that topic was raised recently by the Princess Royal on the BBC’s Farming Today programme, but – as agriculturalists worldwide are increasingly aware - it is a matter of making commonsense choices in ‘what works best’ in giving a more specifically targeted result.


My own choice this month offers individuality at an affordable price in an attractive white wine which will certainly come into its own as warmer weather begins to head our way: Secano Estate Sauvignon Gris 2014. This is a wine tailored exclusively for Marks & Spencer Ltd which comes from vineyards of a well-known estate in the Leyda Valley in Chile. The natural benefit here is the closeness of the Pacific ocean and its cool Humbolt current, a factor offering slower ripening of the vines resulting in a greater intensity of the fruit flavours. This star-bright wine’s fragrance on the nose in combination with an immediate and juicy acidity on the palate reveals gently exotic and slightly orangey aromatics lying beneath, the off-dry background notes suggesting an ideal partnership with lightly spiced Asian food alongside, or sea-food dishes, particularly those featuring lobster or crab. (See recipe below)


As a footnote, you might be interested to know that Chile’s cultivation of Sauvignon Gris arose as the result of an importation mistake….apparently many years ago they had requested further stock of Sauvignon Blanc vines from France to furnish their expanding vineyards, and were sent ‘Gris’ in error. A stroke of luck now firmly embedded in Chilean wine culture.


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Chile, (Leyda Valley)

NAME OF WINE Secano Estate Sauvignon Gris 2014

STYLE Fresh un-oaked aromatic white

ALCOHOL 14%abv

PRODUCER Secano Estate, Chile

RETAILER Marks & Spencer Ltd. (exclusively)

PRICE £ 9.50


CRAB AND FRESH TARRAGON TART

Ingredients: (pastry) (filling)

200g plain flour 500g crab meat, white and brown
175g chilled butter 3 eggs
1 egg yolk 300ml double cream
2tbsp ice-cold water 2 tsp French mustard
1 heaped tbsp fresh tarragon leaves
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese

Method:

1. Blend the pastry ingredients together and set aside to chill for about an hour.
2. Roll out the pastry thinly to line a 24cm tart tin. Prick the bottom with a fork and put a lining of baking paper or foil on top of the pastry and add either ceramic baking ‘beans’ or dried beans as a weight to keep the lining in place. Chill again for 15 minutes and then bake ‘blind’ in a gas 5 / 375degF / 190degC oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and allow to cool completely then remove the beans and lining paper.
3. For the filling, separate the eggs. In a bowl, mix the yolks with the cream and add seasonings of salt and pepper, the French mustard, the Tarragon leaves, chopped, and finally the crab meat. Stir gently to combine. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks and fold them gently and evenly into the crab mix using a spatula or a metal spoon.
4. Pour the mixture into the cooled pastry case and finish with a sprinkle of the grated Parmesan cheese.
5. Bake the tart in a gas 5 oven for 25-30 minutes. Once cooked the centre of the tart should remain very slightly wobbly. Allow to cool a little.
6. Serve warm with an accompaniment of watercress or salad leaves of your choice.


March 2017

In these reviews I know I have aimed principally towards wines most easily accessible on the high street with occasional forays to The Wine Society or to other well-regarded wine merchants like Berry Bros, Lay & Wheeler or Lea & Sandeman whose upward beat tends towards the fine wine market, at prices to match. No difficulty in finding the ‘big name’ treasures there. However I recently covered a tutorial for a fellow wine-teacher who works for a small independent wine outlet buried in the heart of the City of London, a well-stocked cave of wine supportive of the best of the small top quality independent growers whose production is insufficient to furnish the high street’s supermarkets or bigger chain suppliers.
In common with ‘The Good Wine Shop’ whose wines I have featured on occasion, this undiscovered treasure trove was a real revelation. It was therefore most refreshing to run a tasting based entirely at the artisan end of winemaking as against the ‘commercial’ wine-store spectrum where, perhaps inevitably, a certain limited predictability of choice prevails.

My choice for March takes me to the Maremma, Tuscany’s wild west (yes, they have cowboys and even rodeos there) and a wine grape named Morellino -‘little cherry’- being one of more than a dozen alternative sub-regional soubriquets for the classic Sangiovese grape, the senior partner in wines such as Chianti Classico. HEBA Morellino di Scansano DOCG finds itself as one of seven different varieties of wine vinified at the Fattoria di Magliano which is not merely a winery but a centre of agriturismo, boasting a hotel and a restaurant serving its own wines to match the food.


HEBA 2014 may sound a bit anonymous as a member of this individual grouping, but wine critic James Suckling gives this Morellino a score of 90 points and, for me at least, this is a marvelously true reflection of the lighter end of what Sangiovese is all about. An everyday wine maybe, but offering a true and ‘untweaked’ reflection of Tuscan viticulture at its best.
A bright, vibrant and transparently clear ruby colour in the glass, the wine shows ample but not aggressive acidity – the palate offers a vibrantly clear cut taste of its Tuscan origins – the ‘cherry’ reference of Morellino not overly pronounced - and a finish that has the merest hint of bitterness which makes it, all in all, a great foil for a wide spectrum of savoury dishes. As many Italian wines are intended to offer service to the delights of the table, here is just one of the multitude of deliciously though relatively uncomplicated Italian wines offering a textbook partnership to the local protein whether it be cheeses or meats. Great not only with salumi – the salamis and cured sausages of its home region, but also with lighter meats like chicken and guineafowl through to mushroom-based dishes, porcini perhaps. And, why not dare say it….to be enjoyed simply for its deliciously sappy and moreish self. Heba 2014 seems to promote itself as one of those wines you want to keep by for regular drinking assuming you already like the style of Tuscan wines. It is certified as organically produced.


I’ve added a prizewinning recipe below that would be well served by a wine such as this…..meanwhile here are the usual statistics:


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Italy (Tuscany)

NAME OF WINE 'Heba', Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2014

STYLE Sappy lighter weight Tuscan red

PRODUCER Fattoria di Magliano

ALCOHOL 13%abv

RETAILER Lea & Sandeman Ltd

PRICE £ 14.95 (£12.95 case rate)


FRICASSEA di FARAONA (Guineafowl fricassee)

SERVES 4

INGREDIENTS

1 guineafowl, cut up in convenient pieces
1 tsp vinegar
1 stalk of celery, cut in pieces
1 clove of garlic
2 carrots
a large onion
4 or 5 green olives
6 capers
6 sage leaves
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
1 Italian (or Toulouse) fresh pork sausage
2 slices of pancetta (or unsmoked bacon)
2 tbsp olive oil
5 fl oz dry white wine
juice of half a lemon plus a small strip of its zest
1 small tot of grappa or brandy.

METHOD

1 Put the guineafowl pieces in a bowl of water acidulated by the vinegar and allow to steep for about half an hour.
2 In a separate bowl put the following items, all chopped fairly small: carrots celery, garlic, capers, herbs, pancetta and sausage. Mix together well.
3 Heat the olive oil in a fricasee pan. Drain and pat dry the guineafowl pieces and put them in the pan alongside the other chopped ingredients. Let them take colour over medium heat then reduce the temperature under the pan. Turn the ingredients from time to time and let them cook gently together until pale gold in colour.
4 Stir in the white wine, the lemon juice and zest and the grappa. Cover the pan and allow to simmer on a very gentle heat until the guineafowl pieces are tender – round about 20 minutes, but check progress.
*
This recipe of mine was submitted some years ago to a competition run jointly by the BBC and Zanussi, the fridge and freezer maufacturers, and as the winner my prize was out of all proportion to the effort of invention: a gastronomic long weekend for two with Antonio Carluccio at the Cipriani Hotel, Venice!

February 2017

Showing my age, maybe, but I’m remembering Kenneth Williams as the sage gardener character William Fallowfield (inter alia) in the comedy series ‘Round the Horne’ on BBC radio. No matter what question he was asked, his reply was always “The answer lies in the Soil”. This is certainly true of my exceptional wine choice for February which depends as much on the unique structure of the Llicorella soils of Catalonia’s DOQ Priorat as its reliance on the full flavours of Garnatxa (Grenache) and Carinyena (Carignan) as the region’s principal grape varieties.

Priorat itself, lying south west of Tarragona, is a tortuously twisted and steeply terraced vineyard area in Catalonia where lower yields seem inevitable and where the back-breaking harvesting is not for the faint-hearted.

Here, varieties of weathered broken Llicorella slate topsoils over a fissured solid limestone base permit vine roots to search deeply for valuable moisture. The result of this rugged combination? Sturdy red wines that impart both juicy-jammy depth and an identifiable minerality. My choice this month being Lot 06 Priorat DOQ 2014, not simply that I regard it as a high quality bargain from a renowned region at a surprisingly modest price but as a wine to warm the heart across the darker days of a British winter until the positive signs of Spring begin to appear.

Formerly a region producing rough-edged rustic reds ‘as they come’, the Priorat DOQ has now gained a highly respected profile in its own right, regarded nowadays as one of the niche areas of Catalan Spanish viticulture, selling wines ranging from characterful ‘winter warmers’ to rewarding collectors’ items with considerable cellarage potential at up to ten times higher price points than the modest £9.99 asked for the numbered-bottle limited release Lot 06 by Aldi.

On the eye, although a dark garnet with purple reflections, Lot 06 is less densely coloured and more translucent than I’d expected from this first encounter, instantly throwing up a clear veil of glycerines to the sides of the glass that betray its 14.5deg. alcohol by volume. An inviting brambly-jammy nose with black fruit notes predominates through to the palate where there is a surprising approachability showing a fine balance between good fruit acidity and that special Priorat minerality in the background together with well-developed ripe tannins. A lingering seamless finish is a flavourful follow-on. Just the job…. snows are forecast as I write this! Whereas top Priorat wines from the lowest-yield ridges at altitude can be pretty impenetrable in their youth, this February choice of mine from small parcel vine sites at lower levels (presumably) has an attractive balancing freshness and is already fairly forward, though it certainly shows some further cellarage potential. Great value wine making here. Yum!

Although tasted today as an ideal match alongside a lunch of pork ribs baked with a sticky-savoury aromatic sauce, I can envisage similar Grenache-friendly pairings might include chourico sausage or other piquant salamis, although I add a recipe for an idiomatic partner dish below.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Spain (Catalunya)

NAME OF WINE DOQ Priorat Lot 06 Garnacha 2014

STYLE Individualistic dry aromatic red

ALCOHOL 14.5deg. abv.

PRODUCER Escaladei

RETAILER Aldi Ltd., in-store or online.

PRICE £ 9.99

‘Recipe - 'Porc Guisata amb Fruita Seca’

Prior to the introduction to Spain of tomatoes in the 16th century courtesy of the Conquistadors, fruit of other kinds was often added to meat dishes – a legacy that persists in Catalonia and other regions of Spain to this day, hence this local version of braised rolled pork shoulder with dried fruits….perhaps with the obligatory glass of a Priorat wine alongside?

INGREDIENTS

1 boneless shoulder of pork, around 1.5 kilos
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
3 tblsps olive oil
a medium sized onion, chopped
12 small shallots, or use pickling onions
a carrot, chopped small
a splosh of Catalan brandy – or Cognac
2 cups of (ideally) Priorat – or other Grenache-based wine
1 cup chicken or pork stock
1 handful of semidried sour cherries
1 handful of soft-dried apricots, halved
finger-sized sprig of rosemary
2 medium bay leaves
a ‘star’ of Star anise
½ teasp powdered cinnamon

salt
pepper


Set oven temperature to around 330deg.

METHOD

Start with the rolled shoulder of pork, rubbing it all over with the smashed garlic and then salt.

Heat the oil in a deep flameproof casserole until a haze rises from it, and add the pork shoulder. Brown the shoulder well on all sides, then remove to a dish and keep warm.

Add the chopped carrot, the small shallots and the chopped onion to the pan and brown them well, stirring to make sure this happens evenly.

Once well browned, splosh some brandy over them, and let this volatilize completely before adding the stock and the wine, then add the cherries and apricots, the cinnamon, the bayleaves and the rosemary.

Check seasoning at this point.

Return the pork shoulder to the casserole. Cover it tightly and place it in the oven to bake for 1 ½ hours or thereabouts.

After this time, if you have an instant thermometer spike which when inserted into the meat gives a reading around 165deg. you’ll know that the pork can be transferred to a warmed plate and covered with foil.

Now place the casserole back on the stove top having removed the bayleaves and the sprig of rosemary, and let it cook over high heat for a minute or so until a bit syrupy.

Cut the pork into slices and dish it up attractively, pouring the sauce with its fruits and vegetables over it. Serve up at table.

January 2017

Now January is here I make no apology for writing-up a wine that qualifies as my very best drinking in 2016, though discovered too late for inclusion as a ‘wine of the month’ for December.

I have always enjoyed the wines of the Rhône Valley, white or red, though my personal budget doesn’t always allow me access to the top Domaines of, say, Châteauneuf du Pape as part of my regular drinking. And yet one could well be fooled into thinking that, tasted blind, Lirac AoC Cuvée de la Reine des Bois Blanc, Domaine de la Mordorée falls into that elevated category. Sun-baked limestone terraces of the garrigue are common to all the local wines around Lirac and neighbouring Tavel, as is the warm Mediterranean climate,

Only about 5% of Lirac AoC wine is white. Proportions of the grape assemblage varies between producers and doubtless the conditions of each harvest, however in this case the blend is led by Viognier with five further supporters, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Clairette, Marsanne and Roussanne.


The producers, the Delorme family, now celebrate a decade since their property’s status moved up a notch from from the agriculturally sustainable culture raisonnée to fully organic, the Domaine covering around forty separate parcels on varied soils in both the appellations of Châteauneuf du Pape and Lirac itself.

As one of the most precisely balanced wines it has been my pleasure to encounter, this white Lirac offers a wealth of very subtle complexity. Though the initial impact seems dry there’s Viognier flesh on the palate with an array of ripely succulent fruit and (almost) a hint of herbal honey in the background. Put to the test alongside Christmas lunch the wine’s acidity provided a brilliantly judged ‘cut’ alongside the richness of roast goose, and I am told its complexity shone equally alongside the lobster au beurre enjoyed by a non-meat eating family member. Other reviewers have used even more expansive terms in writing up this truly exciting and very sophisticated triumph from the winemaking Delorme family – they are not wrong! La Mordorée? It’s the French for woodcock, denizens of the local vineyards and forests, an image of one of which appears on both the bottle label and neck capsule of the Domaine’s wines.


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Rhône Valley)

NAME OF WINE Lirac AoC, Cuvée de la Reine des Bois Blanc, Dom. de la Mordorée 2015

STYLE Complex biologically-grown Rhône white

PRODUCER Famille Delorme, Lirac

ALCOHOL 14%abv

RETAILERS Berry Bros & Rudd, Lea & Sandeman Ltd

PRICE £20 - 23

December 2016

You might consider that the attention that wine educators and writers get from wine merchants and suppliers is an embarrass de richesse. Endless promotional emails, invitations to tastings, catalogues of the latest ‘must try’ wine discoveries come flooding either through the ether or the letterbox with unfailing regularity. It may come as a surprise, however, that some of the bigger trade tastings one attends can be extremely hard work! With virtually the whole world of wine on show, where does one start unless one has a game plan to help one narrow one’s focus? Yes, the ‘sniff, taste, spit’ routine is vital in keeping one’s head clear, and a spot of necessary discipline is more than helpful when in a room bursting with myriad tempting wines crying out to be tasted.

However, looking back across a year of the wine trade tastings I attended I was greatly impressed by one wine which I thought I’d save to tell you about as a real ‘Christmas Cracker’- a most unusual and delicious dessert tipple from Hungary, made from The Kadarka grape variety. This classic red grape variety used more commonly to be incorporated inter alia into Egri Bikavér, (the relatively well-known dry red blend called ‘Bull’s Blood’) – though much less so nowadays as the grape’s natural prone-ness to rot has been recognized as a disadvantage. In a late-harvest wine this is much more of a ‘plus’ factor however, and Kadarka performs superbly well in the wine I am suggesting you try - Egri Kadarka Late Harvest 2007.


This wine, the product of the Nagy Eged vineyard, is a real rarity as it is only very seldom made. The vineyard itself is often swathed in cloud, hugging the highest hillside vine site in the whole of Hungary at 501metres above sea level. The terroir is absolutely ideal: gritty soils on calcareous limestone, with full southern exposures on slopes between 8-35% gradient offering the exceptional benefits of ideal drainage and ample ripening conditions on its sun-soaked autumn slopes. Add to this the benefit of a unique microclimate which offers plenty of humidity and yet constant movement of air. Sweetness level? 22-24g/litre residual sugars.


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Hungary (Eger)

NAME OF WINE Late harvest Kadarka 2007

STYLE Unfortified organic red dessert wine

PRODUCER Gróf Buttler Estate

ALCOHOL 15%abv

RETAILER www.finewinetome.com

PRICE c. £20 (50cl bottle)


It may seem a little perverse of me, but my habit across Christmas dinners past has been to serve a classic Summer Pudding rather than the more heavyweight (and unashamedly calorific) delights of traditional Christmas pudding. After the toll of the preceding hearty fare the freshness and cleansing acidity of this alternative and well loved summer dessert does wonders to restore a little balance at the Yuletide feast … or so I believe… let alone being a promise of a summer to come (eventually) out of the depths of the winter. It always seems to meet with general approval and although a recipe is hardly necessary I add the one I use here, admittedly using frozen fruit mixes given a prevailing winter season. Obviously use fresh in the summer months.

INGREDIENTS

About 10 slices of crustless fresh white bread
120g Caster sugar
700g Mixed frozen summer berry fruits


METHOD

1. Put the sugar plus a cupful of water on a very gentle heat, letting the sugar dissolve while stirring it.
2. Add the fruits and bring up to simmering point again, allowing the fruit to simmer for around 10 minutes. Remove from heat, saving a little of the juice.
3. Line the base and the sides of a 1.25l (2 pint) pudding basin with the bread slices, ensuring that there are no significant gaps.
4. Add about half the fruit mixture and cover the top of it with further slices of the bread.
5. Add the rest of the fruit mixture, and finish the top surface with the remaining bread slices.
6. Put a matching sized plate over the top surface of the interior of the bowl, placing a weight on top, and chill in the fridge overnight.
7. Turn out onto a plate, and pour a little of the reserved cooked juice to cover any white patches that may have resulted. Decorate the top with fresh strawberries or raspberries – or as you wish.

A dollop of crème fraîche goes well alongside.

November 2016

“All is safely gathered in - Ere the Winter storms begin” at least as far as most of the vineyards of France are concerned, and with more definite signs of Autumn mists and mellow fruitfulness on our own shores my taste buds begin their annual craving for the warmth and spicy/fruity depths of wines from the Côtes du Rhône. My own choice of wine for this month is perhaps hardly surprising – Rèserve du Mistral Vinsobres AoC 2014, a wine that would sit very happily at table alongside the richness of the classic recipe from the Auvergne I offer further below. The village of Vinsobres is admittedly in a bit of a backwater of the southern Rhône valley and is celebrated almost as much for its wines as for the olives that grow thereabouts.


Vinsobres wines celebrate a decade since their elevation to their specific full appellation controlée status, having previously been lumped-in as one of the wider grouping of Côtes-du-Rhône Villages wines. The rules that apply to the AC Vinsobres cépage require at least 50% Syrah plus the remainder made up in varying proportions by Grenache and Mourvèdre depending on the direction of the individual producer. As the name on the label suggests, the wine’s production area in the southern Rhône Valley area suffers the drying Mistral wind which can blow for upwards of 200 days a year. There’s one advantage at least, vines avoid suffering bunch-rot that some less well-aired vine sites can succumb to. Produced by the Perrin family who have interests across a full range of southern Rhône wines there’s a tie-in here with M&S-sponsored winemakers, in this case Belinda Kleinig who has crafted this medium weight red wine. There’s an appealing softness of berry fruits on the nose, a whiff of woodsmoke too, perhaps – an attractive autumnal tinge. Overall, there’s a light touch here: the wine being delicately balanced to show off its subtle complexities, and the gentle dryness on the palate and the lightest dusting of tannin on the back taste are just the foil one needs to offset the richness of the seasonal fare at table. Handily, the wine can be accessed at your local M&S.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France – Southern Rhône.

NAME OF WINE Rèserve du Mistral Vinsobres AC

STYLE Dry food-friendly red

PRODUCER Famille Perrin, Orange.

ALCOHOL 13.5%abv.

RETAILER Marks & Spencer Ltd.

PRICE £ 15 . 00

 

Recipe - Chevreuil en Ragout

Serves 6

There is a fashion in some nouvelle cuisine restaurants these days to serve venison as it stands, without marinating, but for this traditional French classic it is essential to allow the meat to soak overnight (at least) in a marinade that not only adds its own pungency and depth of flavour to the meat but tenderises the flesh at the same time. A labour of love getting everything together maybe, but the guarantee also of a memorable result. Autumnal magnificence at table? Nothing daunted…here goes!….


For the marinade:

1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 carrot, sliced up
1 medium onion, studded with 2 cloves
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 ‘eschallion’ shallots or 3 round shallots, in quarters
600 ml of sturdy red wine, preferably Syrah
1 teasp. crushed coriander seeds
1 tbsp. crushed juniper berries
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp. of redcurrant jelly
salt . black pepper


For the venison:

1.25 kg boneless loin of venison, cubed
150g lardons of unsmoked bacon
2 tbsps vegetable oil
1 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsps red wine vinegar
4 shallots, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf


METHOD: (Marinade)

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the prepared vegetables with a seasoning of salt, cover it and cook, shaking the pan from time to time for about 8 minutes. Pour in the wine, and raise the temperature to bring it up to boiling point, then reduce the temperature and put in the coriander, the thyme and the juniper berries. Simmer very gently together for 10 minutes.

Allow to cool completely.

Having arranged the venison pieces in a large bowl, pour the marinade over and add a grinding of black pepper, stirring briefly to ensure all the pieces of meat are covered.

Leave overnight in a cool place.

When you are ready to cook the venison, lift the pieces out of the marinade with a slotted spoon and dry them on kitchen paper. Strain the marinade into a jug and reserve it to be added later. Also reserve the marinade vegetables separately.

METHOD: (Venison)

Using a large frying pan, brown the venison chunks in batches in the oil over a brisk heat, stirring to ensure each of the sides takes colour. Once all the venison is evenly browned, transfer it to a heavy casserole. Add a little more oil to the frying pan and add the flour, stirring it in well and scraping up the cooking residues. Once the flour has browned add both the strained marinade and the vinegar, stirring all the while. Bring to the boil, and keep boiling for about a minute. Pour this into the casserole and stir in the marinade vegetables along with the fresh chopped shallots, the garlic and all the herbs, together with seasonings of salt and pepper.

Cover the casserole tightly, and allow to cook gently for 1 ½ hours until the meat is quite tender.

At this point, sauté the bacon lardons in a small frying pan with a little butter for about 4 minutes, then transfer them to a dish. Likewise add the mushrooms to the same pan (plus a little more butter) and sauté them for 4 minutes. Add both the bacon and the mushrooms to the contents of the casserole, mixing them well in. Test seasoning at this point. Add more salt and pepper to taste as necessary. Put the lid back on the casserole and simmer very gently for the final 15 minutes. Serve.

October 2016

I was momentarily tricked recently when noticing a bottle label bearing the prominent name ‘Saint-Amant’ into believing that this was an obscure French appellation I’d somehow overlooked. Maybe I had subconsciously confused it in my mind with the Burgundian ‘Saint Amour’, one of the ten Beaujolais ‘crus’. Further examination revealed that the name referred simply to a family-run Domaine in the general neighbourhood of Gigondas, their wine in this particular case being a Viognier blend falling into the general appellation Côtes-du-Rhône Villages.

I’ll admit I’m writing this on the hottest day in south-eatern Britain since 1911, so I’m wondering if London is currently exceeding some of the regular autumn temperatures in the frequently baked area of the southern Côtes du Rhône responsible for Domaine Saint-Amant ‘La Tabardonne’ 2012. An open question perhaps as the vineyards for this predominantly Viognier-based white wine lie at altitude a stone’s throw from Les Dentelles de Montmirail.

This dramatic jagged outcrop, a geological ‘lacework’ of multifolded Jurassic limestone in Vaucluse boasts the mountain ‘St Amand’ as its highest point, rising to around 730 metres asl. In high summer I dare say one could grill a steak on the rocks surrounding the sun-trap vineyards of the region in general, though altitude has a moderating effect on temperature. ‘La Tabardonne’ 2012 is composed of 90% Viognier and 10% Roussanne, the vines up here basking on terraces of relatively fertile but very free-draining scree and sand/limestone soils at altitudes between 350 and 500 metres that force vine-roots to dig deep in search of precious moisture. Yields are consequently low. Let’s simply say that ripeness and higher levels of alcohol are pretty well assured in the wines from these parts.
But let’s put this particular example to the test.

On the eye the wine is limpid, the palest honey colour, and the nose is truffly with a complex of aromatic undertones – herbaceous, peachy, with hints of vanilla in the background, all of which are carried forward to the mid-palate which also reveals a lovely creaminess of texture, that, and the smidgen of vanilla in the total picture presumably being the result of oak maturation. ‘La Tabardonne’ is certainly a well-structured wine with plenty of personality and, I’d say, a wine that could be enjoyed either for itself or as the perfect partner for a wide range of food. Foie gras leads the pack in my view, but terrines and charcuterie, poultry dishes ( a suggested recipe below), a wide range of cheeses - firm-textured white fish like monkfish or swordfish, and even lightly spiced dishes like tagines. As an ‘International Wine Challenge’ prizewinner the wine’s price point is surprisingly modest given the faithfulness of its taste to its terroir, and it certainly qualifies as my wine choice for October.


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France – Côtes-du-Rhône

NAME OF WINE ‘La Tabardonne’ 2012

STYLE Dry food-friendly white

ALCOHOL 14% abv

PRODUCER Domaine Saint Amand

RETAILER Waitrose Ltd

PRICE £ 14.99

A dish to echo the light spicing of ‘La Tabardonne’:

POULE AU RIZ AU SAFRAN -o- Poached chicken with saffron rice.

INGREDIENTS

For the chicken:
1.5 kg boiling fowl (ideally), or substitute free-range chicken
an onion spiked with 2 cloves
2 carrots, cut up very roughly
2 cloves garlic
a bouquet garni – thyme, parsley, bayleaf, celery stalk, plus a couple of stems of tarragon
300 ml white wine
1 litre chicken stock or water
seasonings
1 tbsp. olive oil

For the saffron rice:
250g long-grain rice
a pinch of saffron strands, steeped in a few tbsps. of boiling water
an onion, chopped fairly fine
For serving:
Either grated Parmesan, Comté or Gruyère cheese


METHOD

Chicken


Truss the bird with string and put in a large pan together with the onion, carrots and bouquet garni. Pour in sufficient chicken stock or water and white wine to cover – add seasonings – and bring up to a boil on the hob. Once boiling, cover the pan and reduce the temperature to a trembling simmer, skimming the surface from time to time to lift off any impurities.
Allow this to happen for around an hour (longer if using a boiling fowl of the same weight rather than a chicken). You’ll find the bird is tender only by piercing the thigh with a fork. It should come out perfectly clean.
When done, remove the bird from the pan, untruss it, discard its skin and cut it into neat serving pieces. Reserve them, and keep them warm.
Skim any excess fat from the cooking liquid in the pan, strain it into a clean pan and reduce it by fast boiling until you have about 750ml of a more concentrated stock. Check seasoning.

Saffron rice

Heat a tbsp. of oil in a heavy-based casserole, add the chopped onion and cook at a low temperature, stirring until translucent, not browned.
Add the rice, and continue stirring until it, too, becomes transparent, having absorbed the oil. At this point add the reserved reduced cooking liquid, the saffron and its own liquid, and add seasoning of salt and pepper.
Cover the casserole, and simmer over a very gentle heat for about 20 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed into the rice.
Remove the casserole from the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes, covered, while the rice continues to plump up.
Add the chicken pieces to the rice in the pan, cover and reheat gently for a minute or two.
Serve hot from the casserole, optionally adding a sprinkling of grated cheese to each dish.

September 2016

A ‘fine dining’ experience I really enjoyed recently became more than the sum of its constituent parts for argument given that I invited the restaurant’s sommelier to pick wines ‘by the glass’ to accompany my own food choices from the menu. Why not, considering that these highly trained arbiters of taste are well acquainted with their own particular establishment’s list? I mention this purely on the grounds that on this occasion our own tastes did not well agree, which raises the question not only of personal preferences but the subjectivity/objectivity balance across the palates of two quite separate tasters of experience. No real complaint, of course. I had assumed that the sommelier’s suggestions would have been offered enthusiastically in perfectly good faith, and the fact that the wine choices seemed off-beam as partners for what I had ordered for my plate reflected simply our own personal idiosyncrasies of taste. I guess, given the rigour of the sommeliers’ training that neither of us was ‘wrong’ – just different. Rest assured that this is not designed merely as a precautionary tale. To those of us either embarking on or continuing our personal journeys through wine tasting, all I can say, I think, is ‘keep practicing’ across as wide a spectrum of wines as your pocket can afford, and never be afraid of establishing your own personal expertise in sorting your own potential ‘sheep’ from ‘goats’ as taste matches with food at table. As tasters, we ourselves may wobble occasionally as we experiment– but be assured of this: wine will always tell the truth about itself! (So will food, of course.)

Rest assured I wouldn’t have you think that ‘Brexit’ has caused me to look away from Europe as a political gesture in making a wine choice for September, but ‘by their fruits shall ye know them’ – and I have found something I regard as particularly delicious to tell you about.

Chile may well have earned its reputation as South America’s leader in the field for its cooler-style red wines, so this month it may come as something of a relief that I am not offering one of the well known ‘fruit-bombs’ produced elsewhere in that part of the wine world…no disrespect meant to some of Argentina’s vinous Arnold Schwartzeneggers based on Malbec - impressive though many of them are. For me at least, Chile, under clear South American skies, is ideally placed to offer ‘almost’ European styles of wine – rivals in blind tastings (and sometimes overtakers) of a number of trusted big name Pinots closer to home. My suggestion for this month Terrapura Pinot Noir 2015 is a wine that exhibits the virtue of expert craftsmanship with that potentially wayward grape variety. The fact that the wine’s origins in Chile’s Aconcagua Valley are often affected by the fogs that roll off the Pacific thus tempering the microclimates thereabouts proves, if proof were needed, that the classic Pinot Noir thrives there very well indeed.

Equally, of course, the Pinot family overall is clonally very diverse, and what you find in the Chilean context, despite Pinot Noir’s usual hallmarks of taste, has every chance of differing quite markedly from the same grape variety grown in the ‘terroir’ of its Burgundian homeland. So what do I find? Well-fruited ripeness, principally, where a good extraction has offered a relatively dark colour (for Pinot) in the glass. The alcohol index here of 13.5%abv gives no sense of undue ‘heat’ – which again I count as a plus factor, and the wine is well balanced and certainly more-ish and with sufficient ripe fruit and ‘flesh’ to make it extremely food-friendly, particularly alongside simply grilled meats. Harvesting in this case takes place in March. This wine has the name Alfonso Undurraga in its production background which, given the wine’s quality and balance, is not surprising in the circumstances.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Chile

NAME OF WINE Terrapura Pinot Noir 2014

STYLE Soft, savoury red

PRODUCER Vinos Terrapura

ALCOHOL 13.5%abv

RETAILER Lea & Sandeman Ltd.

PRICE £ 8.75 / 7.95 (case)

August 2016

One never knows one’s luck. A couple of months ago I had been assigned to lecture on a cruise sailing from Dover to Lisbon to cover ‘en route’ the wines of the Loire, Bordeaux, and Portugal. Accompanying my trip as a fellow lecturer was Prof. Brian Williams (first and foremost a Welshman), a geologist whose deep knowledge of and sheer passion for his subject was quite infectious, particularly in respect of the bedrock of vineyards and ultimately the implications of geology to the overall stylistic ‘build’ of wine itself. Consequently, when I next give comparative tasting sessions, I’m duty bound to refer more closely to the sub-structure of the relevant wine-lands I cover when offering a general picture of each specific region as a relevant element of its ‘terroir’. There are different schools of thought on what the word ‘terroir’ encompasses but it is now generally accepted to cover everything including climate and microclimate, vagaries of weather, vineyard exposures, soils and drainage, grape varieties, potential yields etc. etc., in fact any natural circumstance affecting the wine we eventually come to taste in bottle. My shipboard journey took me from the cool, trim, orderly vine rows of the Loire smallholdings right through to the precipitous, well-nigh unworkable terraces of the summer-baked Douro Valley where in both cases ‘terroir’ certainly makes its individual mark.

My choice of summer drinking for August hails from a 40-grower strong co-operative winery on the Loire, upstream of Anjou, which produces a range of local wines including Saumur Rouge AC ‘Les Plantagenets’ 2014.


The wine is 100% Cabernet Franc, crafted in a cool and relatively straightforward style untroubled by oak treatment. Freshness and purity are the keys here, with ‘black cherry’ on the nose, a well-fruited yet lightweight palate and a classic sappy finish that marries perfectly with charcuterie or soft cheeses or that can graduate effortlessly to match simple roasts of poultry or lamb. Although a red wine this Loire example is probably best appreciated served at cellar temperature, simply to emphasize its inherently ‘cool’ style. I know it met with favour both when being shown at one of my onboard talks and also at dinner when a wider number of passengers remarked on its quality and individuality - and, back home again, I was delighted to see it also featured as a summer recommendation in a recent copy of ‘The Guardian Weekend’ - so get some in while stocks – and what we have left of the summer - last!


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Loire Valley)

NAME OF WINE Saumur AoC ‘Les Plantagenets’ 2014

STYLE Juicy, fresh, classic Loire red

PRODUCER la Cave de Saumur

ALCOHOL 12.5%abv

RETAILER The Wine Society

PRICE £ 6. 95

July 2016

The summer’s heat of the Italian Adriatic provinces may well stand in sharp contrast to the cool and distinctly soggy day that finds me writing this, but lets hope the British July will provide at least some glimpses of solidly blue skies and suitably balmy weather in which to enjoy the crisp refreshment that a bottle of Passerina IGP 2015 can provide. (The Europe-wide wine designation IGP indicates an intermediate status below DOC ).

An unfamiliar name maybe and a real rarity, Passerina is a large-berried, almost seedless white grape variety grown in the southern Italian ‘Adriatic’ provinces of Marche, Abruzzo, Molise, and maybe patchily elsewhere ‘down south’. In fact I remember having first encountered local wines made 100% from this grape variety on a holiday in the Marche region of Italy more than a few years ago.

Passerina Vineyard

I hadn’t seen the wine for sale in the UK which is hardly surprising given that a couple of reference books in my possession on Italian wines ignore it completely, consequently I hadn’t thought about the name Passerina since. Imagine, then, my surprise and delight to find it recently on the wine shelves as a new introduction to the Tesco ‘Finest’ range at my local branch. An instant sale! Could my purchase even bring back memories of my visit to the wine’s sun-baked homeland? The thought struck me as I unfurled my umbrella in order to get across the car park to prevent my being rain-soaked to the skin.

So can it? Here it is – gently chilled in a glass in front of me. Prior to unscrewing open the bottle I had imagined the colour of the wine to have been enriched by the action of sunlight on grape-skins in its local vineyards, the hallmark of its aromatics to be as robust and ripe as the day-long warmth its Adriatic vineyard sites provides …. but no, this example from the Abruzzo’s Terre di Chieti region is a very crisp and cool customer indeed. Amazingly pale though the wine may be on the eye – barely coloured at all – it is certainly interesting, reflecting the most delicate of greenish nuances.

I find that the nose hints very delicately of almonds, the palate having an equal lightness of touch with fleeting suggestions of white peach, following on to a shortish but pleasantly dry finish. Airy freshness, delicacy and cleanness are the keynotes here as this particular example is very much a wine to be enjoyed in its first flush of youth – so there’s not much point in looking for great complexity or any evidence of oak treatment….if you’re me, you’ll want to sample its direct deliciousness straight away and not let it hang around! Chilled down properly, this is ideal summery drinking either simply by itself or as a friendly partner for light-tasting dishes of poultry or fish, to which end I offer a recipe below that might well match it.

The name ‘Passerina’, incidentally, is shared with that of a small brightly-coloured bunting, a bird which apparently enjoys eating ripening Passerina grapes off the vine. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of them left for ourselves…. newly on the wine shelves at Tesco!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Italy (Abruzzo – Terre di Chieti)

NAME OF WINE Passerina IGP 2015

STYLE Crisp, youthful dry white

PRODUCER CVSC. (Abruzzo Co-operative)

ALCOHOL 13% abv

RETAILER Tesco Stores

PRICE £ 8.00 (Tesco Finest range.)


SOGLIOLE at TIMO

Given the crisp simplicity of the wine above I’m suggesting the following totally uncomplicated recipe which has a warmly herbal taste-twist:

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

4 Dover Sole, cleaned, skinned and trimmed.
150 ml extra virgin olive oil (allow a little extra for drizzling)
Juice of ½ lemon
2 tblsps fresh thyme leaves
salt
pepper


METHOD

Put the prepared fish in a deep-sided frying pan, add cold water just to cover together with a pinch of salt. Bring up just to boiling point then immediately lower the heat substantially and allow the fish to poach very gently until tender.
Remove and drain the fish, transferring it to a serving dish and drizzle lightly with olive oil and lemon juice. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile put the thyme leaves and a pinch both of salt and pepper into a bowl and progressively stir in the remaining olive oil. At the point of serving the dish spoon this ‘sauce’ over the fish. Serve the dish cold with a crisp salad alongside, together with some good crusty bread.

June 2016

Almost every email I seem to receive nowadays is wine-related, excitedly promoting this or that unmissable new discovery, a formal tasting opportunity, or perhaps offering the chance to invest in the latest vintage of a world classic. Given the vinous onslaught it is no wonder that I and maybe my colleagues in wine education can feel ourselves ‘drowning’ in the sea of publicity for the stuff we love. However venturesome we may be in making new discoveries for ourselves, on occasion the process of buying wine can be a disastrously expensive exercise unless one is wary. For example, the direct phone assault: an unknown voice at the other end of the phone line treats you as their oldest friend – “Hi John, its Tony - don’t you remember me” ?- and then asserts verbal strong-arm tactics to wrench money out of your bank account in the interests of laying-down (and paying upfront) for stocks of fine wine that probably don’t exist in the first place. Caveat emptor is a pretty good watchword in such cases.

Given the invitations we frequently receive to formal or informal tastings across the range, at least we can more fairly assess potential wine purchases for ourselves on the spot, regardless of any ‘hype’ surrounding them - hence the Wine Education Service tutored tastings with which you may already be familiar. As far as the jamborees of the huge international trade tastings are concerned confusion can lie in wait: there is just so much to taste from seemingly everywhere that it seems essential to adhere to a pre-determined tasting plan for oneself, one that won’t confuse the palate. My recent visit to the London International Wine Fair being a case in point I decided to target English sparkling wines on this latest occasion…an interesting exercise as it happened as I found plenty of contrast between the ‘chalk’ wines of Hampshire and Sussex, and the ‘Kimmeridgian clay’ sparklers of Dorset!

I digress, however…more later, perhaps!

It is time for me to point out a cool (in every sense) and classy wine as my choice for June – in this case a delicate aperitif-style white, “les Gryphées”, Ch. De Vaux 2014 – a biodynamically produced blend of 30% each of Auxerrois, Muller-Thurgau and Pinot Gris with 10% of Gewurtztraminer riding shotgun. The wine hails from the now brilliantly revived vineyards of Lorraine, the most northerly region of France nudging Luxembourg, lying across the Vosges mountains from Alsace.

Chateau de Vaux Label


Pale and interesting? Certainly. Star-bright to the eye and gently floral and peachy to the nose, the wine is as dry, pure and fresh as befits a good aperitif, with a finish that gives an impression of a riper roundness and ‘flesh’ in the background. Excellent summer sipping, I think, particularly when the sun is shining from azure skies! Suitable for vegans too, I gather, no animal products being used in the vinification process.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Moselle)

NAME OF WINE “Les Gryphées” Ch. De Vaux 2014

STYLE Delicate ‘white flower’ fragranced dry white

PRODUCER Les Vignobles Molozay, Ch. De Vaux.

ALCOHOL 12%abv

RETAILER The Wine Society

PRICE £ 9 . 50


I can imagine this wine sitting perfectly alongside an equally classy summer starter – Feuillités aux asperges – asparagus spears in puff pastry with tarragon butter sauce. Gone are the days when I used to sit in the warm glow of self-congratulation at having made successful puff pastry myself. Today I cheat, using shop-bought refrigerated puff pastry – the results seem no less acceptable and are a considerable saving in the preparation time. The asparagus season is now under way and will continue until midsummer.

INGREDIENTS (Serves 6)

1 kg / 2lb Asparagus – either tender thin ‘sprue’ or standard green or white.

THE SAUCE

Juice of ½ lemon
250g/8ozs chilled butter, cut up into pieces
3 tbs chopped fresh tarragon leaves
salt
white pepper

METHOD

(Pastry) On a floured work surface, roll the pastry into a rectangle measuring 52/x25 cm/ 21x10inches. Trim the edges. Cut the rectangle in two lengthwise, then cut each strip diagonally to achieve 3 diamond shapes . Turn the diamonds over and put them on a baking sheet that has been lightly sprinkled with water, and press them down very gently.
Brush with a glaze made from an egg yolk, a tiny drop or two of water and a pinch of salt.
Now lightly slash the surface of the pastry diamonds with the point of a knife into a criss-cross lattice pattern and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.

Preheat your oven to 240degC /475degF/Gas 9.

Once rested, bake the pastry for 5 minutes until it just starts to brown, and then reduce the oven temperature to 200degC/400degF/Gas 6 for a further 15 minutes. Once cooked, split the diamonds horizontally so that you now have a set of lids and bases. Keep them warm until needed.

(Asparagus) Depending on the thickness of the stems and their woodiness you may need to peel them with a vegetable peeler. Assemble them into six tidy bundles, each tied with kitchen string, lining up the tips and trimming the ends with a knife. Depending on the thickness of the spears they may take anything from 5 minutes to 12 minutes to cook in boiling salted water. Following their immersion, immediately reduce the temperature to simmering level. Drain, refresh briefly in cold water, drain again and keep them warm.

(Tarragon butter sauce) Using a heavy-based saucepan, melt 30g/1 oz of the chilled butter with the lemon juice, whisking continuously until the butter softens. Now whisk the remaining butter into the sauce a few pieces at a time. Lift the pan off the heat occasionally being careful not to let the temperature rise too much, which would turn the butter to oil! Once the sauce has thickened a little, incorporate the chopped tarragon and then season lightly to taste.

Arrange the bottom halves of the feuilletés onto warmed individual plates, snip away the strings around each asparagus bundle and lay them on the pastry base so that the tips overlap at one end. Spoon the sauce over each bundle and then set the lids attractively askew on top. Serve immediately.

May 2016

Having recently spent a fortnight with a lively group of people attending a couple of weekend conventions in Australia, some other organized activities were looked for on ‘days off’. A lunch in Melbourne with my Australian host was already booked in my diary the following day, however the notice of a (clashing) organized tasting down in the Mornington Peninsula had been posted under my hotel room door during the previous night. An opportunity, I reflected ruefully, that I’d now have to miss. Considering I had already visited vineyards there on a previous visit to Australia, a ‘duty’ lunch in Melbourne didn’t seem too great a hardship after all. Imagine my surprise and delight when on meeting my host at the appointed time he suggested we had lunch a winery ‘nearby’. “Its not far from the City” he told me, “besides which I’m sure your tasting muscles could do with a bit of exercise.” One learns very quickly that words like ‘nearby’, or phrases like ‘just down the road’ take on a completely different meaning in Australia.

Our lunch destination turned out to be some 20 miles distant from Melbourne down the M1 towards Geelong, in this case the Shadowfax Winery in the coastal flatlands around the Werribee Park, but this is not a review of their wines, a range of which we sampled before tucking in to a wonderful Mediterranean-style lunch spread at their top-rated restaurant. I did learn one surprising wine-making innovation here, however: Matt Harrop, the chief winemaker, takes care to play loud music 24/7 in the close proximity to the vats of his fermenting musts simply in order to create beneficial vibrations in the infant wine. “Don’t the neighbours mind?” I asked. “No worries” he says, “our nearest neighbours are well over three miles away”. Yes – Australia = space! And that’s no more than the truth.

My wine choice for May is equally Australian, though not from Victoria but South Australia’s Limestone Coast – and notably good value too if reports I have already read of it are correct.

Axis Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 hails from one of Australia’s most famous early classic vineyard areas. Originally a very small region, Coonawarra’s reputation especially for its ‘Bordeaux-style’ Cabernets from vineyards on iron-rich terra rossa soils has now led to an inevitable expansion beyond its heartland strip and consequently to legal contests over the rights to the usage of the Coonawarra name beyond it. Nothwithstanding this outward push and the vast sums of money spent on lawyers, the wider Coonawarra style still remains a consistent factor as terra rossa outcrops are fairly extensive here in what is largely reclaimed swamp land.

Coonawarra Terra Rossa Soil><br>
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Now closer to home, and having secured a bottle to taste on your behalf, my glass shows an immediate swirl of clear ‘tears’ above the garnet-coloured liquid below, and my nose encounters a very attractive aroma suggestive at first, if very subtly, of chocolate-coated mint creams! The palate is quite dry and seems at first less characterized than the wine’s nose suggests. The weight and substance in the mouth ticks the ‘light to medium’ box, and there’s gentle fruit with a good acidity, backed by a frame of softly grainy tannins. The wine exhibits a very good balance overall and, remembering that classic Cabernet Sauvignon (at least in terms of a Bordeaux blend) takes a little while to knit itself together in bottle, this particularly youthful South Australian ‘screw-cap’ single-varietal example has obviously been constructed for shorter-term drinking. As the wine begins to open up and reveal itself in its true colours I find that the Cabernet essentials of flavour show more roundly and, happily, the wine finishes well. Axis Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 certainly deserves its recent good press as a Coonawarra ‘original’ in a lighter style – let alone for its surprisingly good value for money.

As a food-wine varietal I have always valued Cabernet Sauvignon as an ideal partner for dishes of lamb, particularly those warmly comforting ‘fall off the bone’ slow-cooked daubes and stews – but then maybe I’ve simply confused our relative seasons during my time away. Australia is currently heading into winter when such comforts might be needed, and surely here in the UK we should be concentrating on an influx of British summer recipes (winter warmers like daubes and stews, maybe?). Plus ça change!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Australia (South Australia)

NAME OF WINE Axis Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

STYLE Medium weight dry red

PRODUCER Axis (Multi-region Brand)

ALCOHOL 14%abv

RETAILER Lidl Supermarkets

PRICE £ 6.49

Listen out to the weather forecast!

Here’s an easy-cook lamb dish that adapts very well to a summer barbecue – just add a crisp salad alongside.

BBQ Marinaded Lamb with mint and lemon dressing.

Ingredients: (Marinade)

2 tbsps soft light brown sugar
8 tbsps balsamic vinegar
125ml olive oil
juice and zest of a lemon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tbsps fresh mint leaves, chopped
salt . pepper

4 lamb leg steaks or two neck fillets of lamb, trimmed to suitable portion lengths

Method:

Combine all the marinade ingredients, reserving half of it to use as a sauce on the cooked meat. Cover the meat with the remainder in a deep non-metallic dish, turning it occasionally and allowing it to soak happily for at least an hour in the fridge.
When ready, shake off any excess marinade from the meat and cook on a medium-hot barbecue or a ridged griddle pan, allowing 3 to 4 mins on each side – or more if you like your lamb less ‘pink’. Add salad alongside – your choice!

April 2016

Curioser and curioser! I recently found myself encountering, like Alice through her Looking-glass, a bottle marked ‘DRINK ME’. Again, like Alice, I approached with caution, but as there was no label saying ‘poison’ I felt emboldened to take her own cue:

“Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice, (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast,) she very soon finished it off.”

I can’t comment on what she described for herself, but the DRINK ME bottle I had discovered proved to be a very approachable red wine from the Douro valley in Portugal which hasn’t caused me to feel that I was ‘folding up like a telescope’ as a result of drinking it….as otherwise happened to Alice!

Drink Me 2014, Douro DOC, shipped by the well-known Dutch house of Port producers, Niepoort, is in fact a revelation of what early harvesting along Portugal’s Douro river can provide before extensive ripening and higher alcohol levels kick in. The result here is a softly ripe, harmonious and eminently food-friendly table wine at 12.5% abv. with all the classic Douro taste yet distanced by freshness from a wine that suggests the ‘heft’ of fortified Port.

The grape blend employed here is that traditionally used for Port production encompassing Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Amarela ‘and others’ – the latter indicating perhaps a vineyard field blend incorporating grapes from odd plantings whose true identities are now lost to posterity. In any event the vines used for this blend range from 10 to 40 years maturity.

Vineyards On Terraces In Douro Valley

Mechanical harvesting on the steeply terraced vineyards that twist along the course of the river is impractical, and I’ve little doubt the traditional manual harvesting common along the Douro valley must be back-breaking work. Both the 2013 and 2014 harvests were early in the Douro, however the yield from 2014 was down in some vineyards by up to 20% due to a physiological condition in the vines preventing successful transformation of some of the flowers into fruits. Less quantity obviously, but greater quality – the reds showing exceptional balance and freshness.

The evidence here? A deep rich purple throwing clear glycerine adhesions up the glass. The nose suggests an immediate raisiny warmth with balsamic top-notes that lead to subtle hints of ripe cooked plums (with allspice?) in the background. Quite fresh and shapely on the palate, with a balanced acidity and focus on fruit, and with just the merest touch of tannin on the finish. Medium weight, and already approachable as an excellent partner for food, the wine’s flavour is likely to soften further and broaden in the medium term without losing its edge of freshness. Quite delicious drinking as it currently stands, though.

Niepoort also being innovaters where graphics are concerned, the bottle’s arresting wrap-around label evokes two ‘indoor’ worlds: nursery shadow-play and card games….eye-catching stuff.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Portugal (Douro)

NAME OF WINE Drink Me, Douro DOC, 2014

STYLE Red table wine

PRODUCER Vinhos Niepoort SA

ALCOHOL 12.5% abv

RETAILER Lea & Sandeman Ltd.

PRICE £13.50 (bottle) £12.50 (case)


Why not match it alongside this traditional Portuguese recipe for guineafowl?


ARROZ DE PINTADA À PORTUGUESA (SERVES 4)


1 Guineafowl, jointed in pieces
90gm chouriço sausage (or Spanish chorizo)
90gm bacon lardons
200gm risotto rice
chicken stock
2tbsps fruity olive oil
1 tbsp wine vinegar
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped fine
salt . pepper


METHOD

Sweat the chopped onion in the olive oil over gentle heat until soft and golden, then raise the heat and add the bacon lardons and the guineafowl pieces and sauté, turning in the pan, for 5 minutes.

Add about 150ml of water acidulated with the vinegar, the parsley and the seasonings and cook further until about half done. Taste for seasoning and then add the rice and enough hot chicken stock to cook through. (As a rough guide you’ll need roughly 2.5 times the amount of liquid as the rice – and keep an eye on the pan to see that it doesn’t dry out. Add more stock or water as need be, as there should be plenty of moisture in the finished dish. ) Meanwhile cut the chouriço sausage into smallish chunks, adding it to the dish about 5 minutes before the end of its cooking. Serve up immediately onto warmed bowls.

All a bit approximate – but the taste is authentically Portuguese!

 

March 2016

The wine choice for March offers some really fresh and delicious drinking with a spring in its step, and shows off another face of one of the world’s most diverse families of grapes.

Last month’s choice was a Pinot Noir from Oregon – this month I’ve been attracted to another relative within the Pinot family, Pinot Blanc. It is actually quite difficult to keep a precise track of this highly mutable grouping of grapes, so many variants occurring with so many different taste characteristics depending on where they are grown and how they are vinified. Wine writers can sometimes be a little dismissive of Pinot Blanc as a kind of understudy to Chardonnay or as a grape variety only performing well with strictly limited yields, though most agree that whatever clonal gear-shifts the grape may muster it can often perform with distinction in Alsace, particularly in that region’s softly sparkling crémants.


There’s distinction too in this month’s ‘pick’ from a century-old family vineyard in the Rheinhessen in Germany, although the rather prosaic label description ‘Weisser Burgunder’ simply announces the grape’s colour and the erstwhile origins of Pinot Blanc in Burgundy….fortunately the bottle contents prove there’s rather more to it than that.

Wine Village In Rheinhessen

Winemaker Kristian Dautermann now celebrates a decade as manager of the 13.5 Ha. family property in Ingelheim am Rhein having previously benefitted from winemaking experience across a number of other vineyards, first in his homeland and latterly in New Zealand. His other wines aside, Weisser Burgunder 2014 has instant appeal from start to finish, pointing up the fact that that there is some very careful winemaking here. The beautifully grassy nose shows floral, even apple-blossom hints, and the wine’s expression on the palate is almost ‘spring-loaded’ with a balance, definition and tautness about it. The wine is additionally labeled ‘trocken’ (dry) – and although the mid-palate is certainly on the dry side there is a hint of real ripeness too, particularly in the wine’s finish. This may well be a cooler face of the ‘useful but not exciting’ Pinot Blanc (as Jancis Robinson puts it). Damning with faint praise is all very well, but there is plenty of sensual excitement here in this particular glass with a really fresh, lightly-textured wine bursting with attractive nuances of flavour, added to which its ‘usefulness’ is unquestioned: this crowd-pleasing Pinot Blanc from the Rhine valley is as much a perfect accompaniment to food as a wine simply to sip on the terrace under spring-like or summer skies….when they eventually come!

Unusually for Rheinhessen wines the traditional German ‘flute’ bottle shape is dispensed with here – there’s a shapely nod towards Burgundy instead.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Germany (Rheinhessen)

NAME OF WINE Weisser Burgunder 2014

STYLE Fragrant, lightly spiced dry white

PRODUCER Weingut K&K Dautermann, Ingelheim am Rhein

ALCOHOL 12%abv

RETAILER Lea & Sandeman Ltd

PRICE £12.95 (bottle) £11.75 (case)


Why not try it with this traditional German recipe featuring both trout and cured raw ham:

FORELLE mit SCHWARTZWALDER ROHSCHINKE

Ingredients (For four):

4 Brown trout, cleaned
30g flour
60g butter
2 shallots, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped
60g diced raw smoked ham or prosciutto
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp fine chopped curly parsley
salt . pepper

Method:

Trim the fish tidily, cutting off the fins and trimming the tails to a deep ‘V’ shape (if desired) – then wash the fish and pat them dry with kitchen paper.
Season the fish well with salt and pepper and then coat with the flour, shaking off any excess. Heat the butter in a large frying pan and sauté them for about 4 minutes on each side when they should have become a golden brown. Remove them from the pan and keep them warm.

Now add the shallot to the pan and sauté briefly until translucent and soft. Add the ham and the garlic, and cook together for about a minute.

Finally add the vinegar and the parsley (watch out for spluttering from the pan), and then pour this still-foaming mixture over the fish.

Serve immediately.

Small steamed potatoes like ‘la Ratte’ would be a good accompaniment to this dish.

 

February 2016

Perhaps echoing the grumbling of the Euro-sceptics on our own shores, the vignerons of France seem none too happy with the latest wine edict from Brussels which came into force on January 1st this year.

The new EU liberalization that now extends to the whole of French wine production allows a brand-new category of wines to be sold from non-region-specific areas – potentially undermining (or so is the fear) the entire and treasured Appellation Controlée System - the painstakingly fought-for criteria of quality wine production involving suitability of grapes, terroir, soil, vine site and exposure, let alone strictly enforced planting regimes. The planting and growing of ‘whatever’ previously unauthorized grapes for wine production ‘wherever’ across the board will now be summarily regarded as legal, unless the EU authorities accept on appeal that there’s good reason to stop it.

Stiff opposition against what the winemakers themselves see not only as the risk of an inevitable glut in the market but also as a debasement both of quality and tradition has forced the hand of the EU authorities to limit production of ‘Vin Sans Indication Geographique’ (VSIG) wines. These are currently limited to the equivalent of the existing stock – just 1%. – though French fears for ‘mission creep’ by Brussels remain fairly lively. ‘Storm in a wine-glass?’ – or Brussels ‘tail’ now unfairly wagging the pedigree French wine dog? Watch this space!

Meanwhile, rest easy: we’ll continue to show you some of the best traditionally-produced wine on an international basis from vineyards which have classic, specific, and officially named status – and although French VSIG wines may have made the headlines here, they would be excluded as candidates for this ‘Wine of the Month’ page for this very reason!

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My February choice, though not vinified in France itself, is Planet Oregon Pinot Noir 2013 from the cool, fertile Willamette Valley region of Oregon in the USA.

Vineyard in Oregon

This officially recognized natural Pinot Noir-growing territory has a well regarded reputation for fine wines based not only on Pinot Noir itself but also on Chardonnay. Distant stylistic echoes ‘across the pond’ of Champagne and Burgundy, perhaps? Maybe you became better acquainted with this grape variety at the Wine Education Service tutored tasting in Holborn, held in January.

For all its fine, highly sought-after qualities when produced under ideal circumstances, the clonally diverse Pinot Noir is known familiarly by winemakers as ‘the heartbreak grape’. The vine’s tendency to bud and ripen early in northern climates makes it vulnerable to damage by spring frosts, and it is notoriously prone to attacks of mildew. In hotter climates it often comes forward too quickly and, being thin-skinned, the grapes can quickly shrivel or burn under hot sun. Wherever it is grown, the delicate Pinot Noir is always a challenge…. and when that challenge is met, as in temperate Oregon where nowadays there is a much wider range of clonal material to play with than formerly, there’s a real opportunity for an American classic wine to shine, offering real pleasure in the glass.

For the fullest background details of Planet Oregon Pinot Noir 2013, I can do no better than refer you to the producer’s website: www.sotervineyards.com - one of the most comprehensive and informative wine websites I can remember seeing and which includes downloadable tech-sheets on all their wines. Well worth a visit.

The wine’s appearance in the glass is a beautifully soft rich cherry colour, tapering to a clear edge at the extreme margin, and with the overall translucency typical of classic Pinot Noir - the wine throwing up a light clear gylcerine swirl on the sides of the glass, prompting me to look at the label to check the alcohol level – no more than 13% abv. here. The nose offers some very persuasive macerated cherry/red berry-fruit nuances, and the fragrant palate follows directly in tandem, displaying not only shapeliness but also a very fresh, youthful pure-fruited character with nothing ‘confected’ in any way. There’s no hint of overstatement here, this is a wine with both class, restraint, and pin-sharp balance, focused on presenting the most unaffected expression of Pinot Noir. Given the wine’s freshness of character I think it probably comes into the 3-5 year drinking bracket.

Food matches? The traditional French ‘steak-frites’ might be one suggestion, but equally I think Planet Oregon 2013 Pinot Noir would be a perfect match for a classic veal dish such as the one given below:

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN USA (Oregon- Willamette Valley)

NAME OF WINE Planet Oregon Pinot Noir 2013

STYLE Youthful 100% Pinot Noir wine

PRODUCER Soter Vineyards

ALCOHOL 13% abv

RETAILER The Wine Society

PRICE £ 16.00


RECIPE

Veal Escalopes with Smoked Ham and Comté Cheese

A slightly simplified version of a recipe originating in the Franche-Comté region of France:

SERVES 4

Ingredients:

2 eggs, beaten
2 tblsps oil
30g flour
150g breadcrumbs
salt . pepper
*
4 veal escalopes x 120g each (beaten out very thinly)
4 thin slices Comté cheese
4 thin slices cooked smoked ham
150g butter


1. Season the flattened escalopes well with salt and pepper and lay thin matching sized slices of cheese, then smoked ham on top of each one , pressing down well.

2. Dust all over with the flour, shaking off any excess, then dip into beaten egg, then finally coat each side well with breadcrumbs.
3. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill for about 10 minutes.

4. Heat a third of the butter in a large pan, and add the breadcrumbed escalopes one at a time, cooking them over a gentle flame for about three minutes on each side until they take on sufficient colour and the cheese melts properly.

5. Drain each one on kitchen paper and keep warmed through while dealing with the remainder.
6. Melt the remaining butter in a small pan and cook over a gentle flame until it has turned nut-brown. Pour over the escalopes on the serving plate.


A purée of celeriac or parsnips goes very well alongside this dish.

January 2016

The word ‘unprecedented’ has been used more than ever just recently to describe the worst the weather can throw at significant parts of north Britain, and clearly (whatever your own views on global warming) there seems to be plenty of evidence to show that the world’s climate is becoming ever more capricious in its apparent quest to undermine the ‘status quo’. The wine world, unsurprisingly, is not immune from this syndrome, witness the fact that Taittinger Champagne’s search for cooler vineyard space finds it recently buying-in to the production of sparkling wine in southern England.

The venture may sound somewhat revolutionary unless you take the occasionally held view that, historically, Champagne-style wines originated over here in the first place. Let’s face it, the chalky terrain of, say, Kent or Hampshire is not dissimilar to that of La Champagne itself. Meanwhile a part of the southern Champagne appellation, the Aube, is now regarded by local growers as becoming progressively too warm to induce the acidity required to produce a really successful Champagne, as had obtained in the region formerly.

My initial wine choice for 2016, however, seems to be a triumph of grape variety over climate. I have chosen a white wine from what many might not think was a first choice in supporting arguably the world’s most ‘cool’ patrician white grape variety, Riesling.

Riesling Grapes

That Germany leads the field as the world’s most prolific producer of Riesling wines is an indisputable fact, accounting for around 60% of total market share. What is far less well realized is that Australia is runner-up in the volume stakes… and the general quality is not to be sneezed at, either.

You’d be excused for thinking that Australia, particularly South Australia, (a region which has only recently suffered an ‘unprecedented’ outbreak of damaging bush fires) offers far too sultry a climate in which to nurture a vine variety better acquainted with the damp, misty river valleys of its fatherland – but a little history is involved. Many of the earliest vine growers and winemakers of South Australia originated in Silesian Germany, bringing with them cuttings of the best vine they knew…..Riesling …. an essentially cool-climate grape variety. Until supplanted in the volume stakes of Australian white wine by Chardonnay some dozen years ago, Riesling held an honorable place as the most planted white grape varietal in Australia as a whole. Historically (and climatically) the heartland of Australian Riesling production has been ‘down south’ in the shadow of the Mt. Lofty Ranges in the less heat-stressed Clare Valley region.

So what can I say about my recent discovery, Pikes Hills & Valleys Riesling 2014 except, perhaps, that it made its mark on me at a pre-Christmas tasting I attended at Australia House in London.

The vineyards first established by the Pike family some 130 years ago in the Polish Hills area of Clare Valley were revitalized in 1984 by the brothers Andrew and Neil Pike and are home nowadays to no fewer than sixteen different varietals, whites and reds, most of the vines being grown ungrafted. True, the summers in the region are fairly hot, but crucially both the spring and the autumn – important times in vine growth – are relatively cool. The local geology is helpful too, the soils thereabouts being relatively low in vigour potential – an encouragement for vine roots to dig deeply into their sandy clay oxide base in order to seek out nourishment. Equally beneficial perhaps, the vineyards have an easterly/south-easterly aspect that avoids the full burden of hot afternoon sun.

Pike Winery

Although the Riesling in question, made by ‘rising star’ winemaker Steve Baraglia, is not certified as an organic wine it is certainly a minimum-intervention one, the more delicate whites, particularly Riesling and Viognier being monitored carefully to avoid any incidence of oxidation in the wines.

But to the proof on the nose and palate: the nose is pretty immediate, lemony-limey, citrusy-ripe, and the general style on the palate is just off-dry – (you certainly couldn’t confuse this with one of those aristocratic steely Rieslings from, say, the Rheingau!). The top ‘hit’ of the palate speaks of citric acidity somewhere in the lime-flavour spectrum, but beyond and behind that some complexity creeps in – a slowly-opening palette of softer, riper malic notes, apple, stone fruits, almost a lily fragrance. There’s gentle texture, too. All in all the aromatics are very subtle, and the finish is well held into the bargain. Delicious stuff in its own right as an aperitif, or to serve with a spot of cold chicken or perhaps a creamy twice-baked soufflé like the one featured below.

However you may wish to treat this wine, the recommendation comes with best wishes for 2016, and happy tastings ahead.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Australia (Clare Valley)

NAME OF WINE Pikes Hills & Valleys Riesling 2014

PRODUCER Pikes Wines, Polish Hills S Australia

STYLE Off-dry gently aromatic white

ALCOHOL 10.5%abv

RETAILER Oxford Wine Company

PRICE £ 12.99

May I suggest the following as a pretty reasonable food-match?

Twice-cooked Pimento Soufflé‘Suisesse’

Ingredients (to serve 4):

½ of a fresh red Pimento, finely diced
150 ml milk
25g butter
½ clove garlic
25g plain flour
1 tblsp Parmesan cheese
2 eggs, separated
150 ml double cream
parsley, finely chopped
salt
pepper

Method:

1. Heat the milk with the diced half pimento to scalding point, the whizz in a blender to combine.

2. In a pan, melt the butter and the flour together. Add the seasoning and the Parmesan cheese and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.

3. Pour on the milk/pimento mixture. Beat together well and then allow to cool slightly.

4. Add the separated yolks of the two eggs, and beat well to combine.

5. Whisk the egg whites until stiff, and then gently incorporate them into the cooled mixture.

6. Divide this mixture between 4 well-buttered ramekins, and cook them in a bain-marie filled with boiling water sufficient to come up to halfway up their sides at gas 7 - 425F/220C – for 20 minutes.

7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool down sufficiently to handle, then turn each one out on to ovenproof serving dishes. *

• At this stage each individual soufflé can be stored prior to further cooking nearer the point of service.

8. Before serving them, pour over a little cream, sprinkle with a little more Parmesan, and then bake in a hot oven for 6 minutes. Serve immediately.

 

 

December 2015

It is perhaps difficult to equate the popular image of sunny ‘holiday’ Spain with that of a country capable of producing coolly elegant, crisp, aromatic dry white wines – but if you know the country’s attractively rugged coastal province of Galicia which sits atop Portugal’s northern border, then you’ll remember that the picture is rather different. The humid Atlantic climate which promises around 50 inches of rain a year offers a marked contrast to what obtains inland. Here one is far from the Spain of the ‘Costas del…’ whatever. The name of the official wine region itself, Rías Baixas, relates to Galicia’s low estuarine coastline, permitting sea breezes to penetrate inland. Wine production aside, due to its exposed position on the northwestern tip of Spain, Galicia has for many centuries been closely associated with fishing and shipping – Galician fishing boats venturing far out into the Atlantic. Mussels, razor clams, langoustines, oysters – whatever is caught - find ready buyers worldwide at the fish auctions in A Coruña or Vigo…. and the wine style thereabouts seems well in accord with Galicia’s world-acclaimed chief exports.....

The high quality grape variety renowned for the ‘cool’ qualities I mentioned in starting is the Albariño (syn. Alvarinho over the Portuguese border). Known and grown by the name ‘Rosal’ in Galicia itself, it is the principal player in Terras Gauda ‘O Rosal’ 2014 D.O. Rías Baixas – the white choice for December.

 Rias Baixas Vines Traned High

The patrician Albariño was one of the first batch of Spain’s quality grapes officially allowed to be bottled in its own name, and it certainly deserves the rave notices it gets. A good swirl, and my tasting glass initially offers citric elements and an attractive light spice on the nose, opening out further to reveal an attractive wider bouquet of white flowers. The first sensation on the palate is of a bracing lemony acidity, but there is shapeliness and depth too, and the light spicing I picked up on the nose is echoed on the palate, persisting all the way to the finish.

Delicious served chilled as an aperitif, or with goat’s cheese, you’ll already have guessed that Albariño is wonderful alongside shellfish - some grilled gamberones perhaps, – or why not partner it with the simple Galician recipe I offer below:

Caldeirada con ajada - classic Galician fish stew with garlic sauce

1 kg. potatoes, thickly sliced
1 Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
a bayleaf
salt
1 kg. assorted white fish fillets – turbot (very much a local speciality), hake, monkfish, sea bass etc.
pepper

Ajada (Garlic sauce)

6 tblsps olive oil
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
½ tsp sweet paprika
pinch of hot paprika (to taste)

METHOD

*Bring the sliced potatoes, onion and bayleaf to the boil for 20 minutes with 1.5 litres of water.
*Cut the fish into bite-sized pieces and place on top of the cooked potato and onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook covered for 10 minutes.
*Drain, reserving 1 cup / 250ml of the cooking liquid for the ajada. Discard the bayleaf.

Meanwhile, for the ajada, pour the olive oil into a thick-bottomed saucepan and let the peeled garlic cloves take a little colour over moderate heat. Once browned, remove them from the oil and discard. Now add a ladle of the reserved cooking liquid, the sweet paprika and the hot paprika (to taste) and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Pour the resulting sauce over the fish stew and serve immediately.


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Spain (Galicia)

NAME OF WINE: Terras Gauda ‘O Rosal’ 2014 D.O. Rias Baixas

STYLE: Crisp aromatic white

PRODUCER Bodegas Terras Gauda S.A. Pontevedra

ALCOHOL: 12%abv

RETAILER: The Good Wine Shop
www.thegoodwineshop.co.uk

PRICE: £ 18.50 (£ 17.00 web)

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It is hard to imagine another quality grape variety worldwide that has so many ‘aliases’, so will the real Sangiovese please stand up? It certainly seems to do here as a delicious ‘red’ choice for December. I have always loved the wines from this warmer part of Italy and ‘Bellamarsilia’ Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2014 from southwest Tuscany’s coastal strip, the Maremma, is a newly-discovered favourite.

Widely variable in its nature, habit and style, the classic grape variety Sangiovese, regarded by wine cognoscenti as Tuscany’s mainstay red grape, has the reputation as being a bit of a chameleon. The origins of Sangiovese are obscure enough in the first place: some say Calabria, others say Tuscany itself….perhaps even elsewhere. More learned pages have been written and more opinions have been divided on the subject of its celebrated clonal diversity that it is hardly surprising that the identities of several entirely separate grapes have been confused with it. Sangiovese at its peak is celebrated in central Italy’s most serious and age-worthy wines, particularly from hilly Montalcino where it stars in ‘Vino Nobile di Montalcino’ DOCG and, possibly in its ultimate concentration and cellar-worthiness, under the name Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Equally, Sangiovese usually takes the lion’s share of the blend for the wines of Chianti DOC and Chianti Classico DOCG. Off piste, around the community of Scansano in the former coastal ‘bad-lands’ of the Maremma in Tuscany’s wild and woolly west, Sangiovese is grown and sold as ‘Morellino’ – a name describing either the shade of brown of the wild horses thereabouts or that of the colour of dark Morello cherries. Take your pick.

To the south-west of Tuscany with the town of Grosseto as roughly your target, Bellamarsilia Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2014 comes from Poggio Argentaria, a two-centre wine estate with vineyards both in the hills and on flatter land at a sea-level, albeit a little inland from the coast. Bellamarsilia occupies the latter, with vines planted some thirty years ago.

Maremma Landscape


The climate in this southern part of Tuscany is more Mediterrannean than Continental, as prevails further north and inland, and the composition of this wine is a blend of 85% Sangiovese and 15% Ciliegio. Although Sangiovese adapts brilliantly to oak-maturation, at Poggio Argentaria the musts are fermented and matured with native yeasts in stainless steel in temperature-controlled vats, and given the methods of farming here the results are certified as ‘organic’. This particular wine has already attracted several awards, particularly from the Gambero Rosso ‘slow food’ organisation – a ‘tre bicchieri’ accolade, no less.
I have always liked Morellino di Scansano wine. Direct, fresh and uncomplicated, partly because it is a wine that usually requires relatively little ageing, displaying both the true taste of Sangiovese and also a clear echo of its place of origin. (Maybe I’m just yearning for a bit of remembered Tuscan warmth in the heart of a British winter.) Recalling that the Italians make wine as essentially the servant of food rather than always for its own sake, the locals tend to partner this particular style alongside game, wild boar or hare, but having sampled it on your behalf I can say that the ‘cut’ of this fresh, fruity and particularly taste-friendly wine would go exceptionally well with roast turkey too. A hint, perhaps, as a possible choice of accompaniment for the Christmas dinner ahead? It’s a thought.


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Italy (Tuscan Maremma)

NAME OF WINE: Bellamarsilia Morellino di Scansano DOCG
2013

STYLE: Un-oaked juicy mid-weight organic red

PRODUCER: Poggio Argentaria SA

ALCOHOL: 14%abv

RETAILER: The Good Wine Shop
www.thegoodwineshop.co.uk

PRICE: £ 13.50 (£12 web)

November 2015

Ah, memories of those dear dead schooldays! My earliest lessons in science come flooding back in the first of my wine choices for November: the curve between acidity and alkalinity faithfully revealed by a little scrap of litmus paper. So what have we here? A wine from Litmus, revealing Element 20 in the periodic table - Calcium! Yes, I’m sure you already knew that the gentle alkalinity of chalky soil underpins not only the vines grown in Champagne and other notably fashionable fine wine areas, and also, by extension, that chalk is the bedrock of some important vine-growing territory in southern England ….. in which case the label ‘Element 20’ from Litmus Wines rather explains itself.

This rather elegant English wine might possibly be said to have a French accent having been crafted by the Loire’s Matthieu Elzinga in association with award winning winemaker John Worontschak at Denbies Wine Estate at Dorking in Surrey. This state-of-the art winery allows itself to be what Savile Row is to tailoring, and Litmus can call itself a ‘bespoke’ wine, no less, ‘made to measure’ from classic materials.

Litmus Winery At Denbies

Winemaker Matthieu Elzinga had started in wine at the tender age of fifteen as a hands-on apprentice at his family’s estate in the Loire Valley. Later, having studied in Champagne and having done duty winemaking both in Margaux and in Piemonte, he became his family’s chief winemaker back home in the Muscadet region. Currently, Matthieu heads up the day to day winery operations for Litmus Wines on the Denbies Estate.

The ingredients of Element 20 are from low-yielding hand-harvested vines: a blend of both the early ripening Bacchus grapes and Chardonnay, (48% of each), with 4% Pinot Gris to make up the balance. Star-bright in the glass once the myriad microscopic bubbles created by the pouring disappear, the wine exhibits a dazzlingly clear light lemon colour with fleeting greenish reflections. Given the wine’s cépage the expected aromatics on the nose are quite restrained, but the feel in the mouth is very fresh, with a subtle and elegant grassy palate showing a good balance of crisp acidity. There is substance, too, perhaps derived from the Chardonnay in the blend. The wine also finishes well, making it seem altogether very complete.

Although perfect as a delicious aperitif wine, my scribbled tasting note suggests ‘shellfish’ as the wine’s ideal partner at table. I dare say ‘Element 20’ would do equally sterling service alongside top-of-the-line white fish too, say, Dover sole …. or even a spot of cold chicken.


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN England

NAME OF WINE ‘Element 20’ 2012

STYLE Medium weight dry white wine

PRODUCER Litmus Wines at Denbies Wine Estate

ALCOHOL 12%abv

RETAILER Waitrose Cellar

PRICE £ 16.99

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I had originally wanted to show you an autumn ‘warmer’ as the colder days of winter threaten to advance, and to that end I had ordered ‘sight unseen’ from one of my favourite wine merchants a fine red wine from the Rhône Valley. Sadly, to my own palate, that wine’s sheer size and weight of alcohol made it a real challenge to drink, even alongside food where it rightly belonged. It had to go back.
Instead, may I recommend a classic alternative, a red wine that well demonstrates the virtues of the ‘cool’ Loire Valley style.

Bourgeuil AOP 2013 “Les Racines” from Domaine Frédéric Mabileau.

The vineyards of the Bourgeuil appellation like those of neighbouring Chinon across the river are rather unusual in the Loire context as producing principally red wines, classically from 100% Cabernet Franc (a vine locally called ‘Breton’ – though the name is not to be confused with Brittany). Frédéric Mabileau, whose properties encompass a range of local Loire appellations is a younger vigneron whose winery is based at Chouzé-sur-Loire in the heart of Bourgeuil’s St. Nicolas terrace.

Here then is his ripe but ‘cool tempered’ Bourgeuil AOP, a wine crafted from the ‘Breton’ vines planted by his grandfather forty-one years ago. The grapes hailing from vineyards nearer the river, the ultimate style of “Les Racines” – (‘the roots’) – is governed by a soil of type the French call ‘argilo-siliceux’ , i.e. siliceous clay- in contrast to the embedded ‘tuffeau’, or tufa-based soils common to many vineyards in the Loire hinterlands, further from the river margins. Local opinion suggests that Cabernet Franc wines produced within sight of the river exhibit a berry fruitiness coupled with a firm dry finish with hints of licorice behind the top-line flavours as a result.

My own opinion? In terms of tasting, I’d suggest approaching this wine at ‘cellar temperature’ in order to maximize its fresh edge of fruit. Fairly dark hued in the glass, the wine’s nose reveals primary aromas with attractive berry characteristics plus a gentle warm touch of spirit. The alcohol is well-controlled, unsurprising perhaps in this cooler northern part of France. The back label of the bottle spells out the traditional treatment the wine has received across the entire process from harvest to wine, so there are no fireworks, merely the assurance that it has been made purely according to time-honoured local practices. Given the combination of the factors thus indicated the wine seems, and tastes, reflective of its ‘roots’ and its terroir. Dry, yet smooth-textured and well-fruited, with an attractive balance. If I suggest that this is ‘a wine-drinker’s wine’ it is simply to point out that any of the more pushy crowd-pleasing virtues displayed by the ‘show-stopper’ I mentioned earlier are happily absent.

I consider it a real winner alongside patés, terrines, or charcuterie. It would be the perfect partner, too, for a little rack of French-trimmed lamb cooked a bit ‘pink’ and served up mounted on some celeriac purée, with some buttered haricots verts ‘riding shotgun’. Santé!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Loire)

NAME OF WINE Bourgeuil AoC 2012

PRODUCER Frédéric Mabileau

ALCOHOL 12.5%abv

RETAILER The Wine Society

PRICE £ 13.50

 

October 2015

Come to think about it, if you were to ask most wine-drinkers to name as many Hungarian wines as possible off the top of their heads, I guess a few of them might nominate ‘Bulls Blood’ and Tokaj …. and then have to give up. This is hardly surprising perhaps, as we are not exactly over-exposed to Hungarian wine in the UK. We don’t see much of that country’s more interesting examples other than through a very few specialist importers, though happily the high street chains like Majestic and M&S are beginning to increase their slender ranges, usually with generic bottlings of Hungarian-made wine produced either from recognizable international grape varieties, or perhaps from the country’s indigenous grapes hidden behind a generic or an Anglicised label identity.

Relative rarity on British wine merchants’ shelves aside, many of Hungary’s grape varieties and the designations of their scattered vineyard sites have unpronounceable names that don’t exactly trip off the tongue. A further disincentive to buy Hungarian wines perhaps, unless, of course, you happen to be in that country yourself – consequently much of the new and vibrant winemaking scene that is modern Hungary still remains shamefully out of sight here at home. For years British budget-conscious wine drinkers trawling the supermarket bottom shelves have adjusted to the availability of standard generic bottlings of Cabernets, Merlots and Pinot Noirs produced by countries like Romania and Bulgariaand apart from Hungary’s ‘star’ dessert wine, botrytised Tokaj, the far wider range of Hungarian wine remains in relative obscurity.

My own first brushes with Hungarian wine were in the days when the country’s light wines seemed to have had as much subtlety and sophistication as could be expected from that country’s then-Communist bulk wine-producing State … again, in a second-hand bookshop I recently saw the first edition of Oz Clarke’s “Wine Book” dating from 1987, a volume of around 250 pages in which less than half a page was dedicated to the writer’s then very disparaging review of Hungarian light wines.

Startling improvement doesn’t happen overnight, though. Back in 1960 a slow beginning was being made within Hungary itself to improve the former picture, and over thirty yearslater in 1993 Hungarian wines finally entered the bloodstream of the EU Member States - a real revolution! Enhanced funding became newly available and the new generation of growers and winemakers suddenly found themselves with wider horizons, having learned as much from the New World as from the best traditions of their own Old World.
The Hungarian wine scene as exists today is unlike anything that went before. Hungarian wine is experiencing a complete make-over, and nowadays so many more of the country’s characterful wines can stand competition from anywhere….I just find it a bit frustrating that we don’t have better access to more of them.

Why not put it to the test this month with one of the country’s most honoured vine varieties, Furmint, a staple of Hungary’s world famous dessert wine, Tokaj? Traditionally, the late-ripening Furmint was grown in the Tokaj region under quite separate identities – szamorodni i.e. to furnish a quality wine ‘as it comes’, and the aszú – the famously ‘assisted’ dessert wine from a basis of late harvested botrytis affected grapes. In both styles the Furmint grape’s heightened acidity comes to the fore, witness the exciting initial tingle on the tongue revealed by my October choice, the dry Furmint Tokaj 2013 available from M&S in your local high street or online. Furmint vinified simply as a dry table wine is a relatively new innovation in Hungary dating from as recently as 2000. My own ‘pick’ shows a definite clean-edged personality backed by a satisfying weight and texture, with a palate hinting of apricots and ‘raw’ honey. Though dry, the wine shows an attractive ripeness, too – the Tokaj vineyards tend to benefit from the extra reflected light and warmth thrown upby the rivers Tisza and Bodrog which run across the region.

Bunch of Furmint Grapes

In this particular case the Furmint grapes have been vinified out-of-region by Hilltop, a well known state-of the-art winery northwest of Budapest, one that has penetrated the UK marketplace with some notable success. Great food wine, with a well judged balance and structure – worth pairing with paprika chicken maybe, or even something even spicier as detailed below.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Hungary (Tokaj – Hegyalja region)

NAME OF WINE Tokaj Furmint 2013

STYLE Dry, gently aromatic white

PRODUCER Hilltop Winery , Neszmely, Hungary

ALCOHOL 12.5% abv

RETAILER M&S Wines

PRICE £ 10.00

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RECIPE

FERAKH-AL-HARA - MOROCCAN CHILLI CHICKEN

Morrocan Chicken Dish

The ‘heat' of this simple dish can be varied according to the quantity of hot chilli powder used. The following recipe is only moderately hot which would allow my October choice ofwine, gently chilled, to show its paces to advantage.

INGREDIENTS (SERVES 4)

5 tblsps. olive oil
juice of a lemon
1 teasp. chilli powder, salt, pepper
1 heaped teasp crushed garlic
1 free-range chicken, jointed
garnish of lemon wedges

METHOD:

Mix the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, chilli powder and seasonings together in a bowlPut the chicken pieces in a fireproof baking dish and cover with this basting mixture.

Bake for 25 minutes in an oven at Gas Mk 5 (375deg.F), basting the chicken for the first 15 minutes only.... the idea is that the surface skin of the chicken should be reasonably crisp when cooked.

Accompaniments: Rice pilaf, crisp green salad, a wedge of fresh lemon, and Arabic bread.

(NB: If you have a steamer, put 5 ozs of rice, a teaspoonful of cumin seeds previously dry-fried for a few moments, and 10 fl ozs of water in a bowl, and steam for 25 minutes until all the water is absorbed and the rice is fluffy and fragrant - alternatively boil rice in the usual way, with the addition of a little spoonful dry-fried cumin seeds.)



September 2015


Here’s a surprise. I have just read the blurb in a top wine merchant’s catalogue that their house brand of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc suggests among others the aroma - or perhaps the taste? - of ‘cordite’…..could this be a bit of a blockbuster?

While I am perfectly prepared to accept this finding at face value, I can’t help wondering quite how helpful this description can be to most wine-imbibers who have never encountered a whiff of that dangerously explosive stuff themselves. This being said, it is true that wine wordsmiths sometimes have to stretch their imaginations in pursuance of accuracy and the ‘mot juste’ in describing the aromas and tastes they encounter, nonetheless I can’t help feeling that in this case, for clarity’s sake, their choice of description though arguably within the catalogue writer’s own personal experience, ought to seek to target a more widely understood domain of appreciation.

Wine merchants’ catalogues can sometimes be guilty of more generalized word-embroidery: perhaps that a specific bottle just oozes ‘real class’. A handy bait for a prospective purchaser, no doubt, but what exactly does the expression mean? How do you bottle ‘class’? What are its parameters? What, if anything, does class taste like? Is the use of the word anything more than pure ‘hype’? Quite often the wine thus described is produced by a reputable/fashionable winemaker and is from an excellent vintage of which high expectations might automatically follow, but this is not always the case.

My question arises here as a result of my having just tasted a richly dry and remarkably food-friendly Pinot Gris ‘Trois Châteaux’ 2013 from a top independent Alsace producer, Kuentz-Bas - a wine to which I reckon the word ‘classy’ certainly might apply in the sense in which I personally understand that word. So what do I imagine lies ‘between the lines’ to push it into this elevated bracket? Obviously any wine thus described must be absolutely true to type and, I’d suggest, be typical of its specific vintage conditions, but there’s even more beyond fine-tuning: there’s an almost indefinable sense conveyed by the liquid in the glass that encompasses both an immediate deliciousness coupled with hint of dignified restraint. The inherent suggestion of ‘power in hand’- or the potential for development, informed inevitably by the fine balances detectable on the palate. The issue of a wine’s cellar potential aside, at least there’s the recognition that what it currently offers the drinker is not something placed blatantly in the forefront of its shop window, waving gaily for all to see. A deeper interest prevails in the background, and the wine tells you that it has a perspective of further secrets to reveal. An astonishing result in the glass, perhaps, when you consider that all wine starts simply as sap inside a vine-stick planted in the ground! In this particular case, however, if all you know is the ubiquitous and sunny Italian Pinot Grigio then you’ll find the beautifully textured Alsace model belongs to a different world – this one is serious stuff for grown-ups!

Autumn in Kuentz Bas Vineyard

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Alsace)

NAME OF WINE Pinot Gris, Trois Châteaux, 2013

PRODUCER Kuentz-Bas, Colmar

STYLE Buttery rich medium-dry white

ALCOHOL 13.5%abv

RETAILER The Wine Society

PRICE £ 15.50

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Random thoughts above on the usage of wine-words aside, if the Alsace Pinot Gris is my ‘white’ choice for September, the ‘red’ is in a much humbler bracket – a real surprise discovery from the hinterland of a supermarket bottom shelf! There’s no elevated classiness here, merely good value at a bargain price, and I can’t see anything wrong in that. One is probably right to be a bit suspicious of any wine selling in the £5 bracket– but my discovery certainly avoids any pejorative suggestion of its being ‘vicarage mouthwash’ … sorry, vicars, though I confess my own father was one. In terms of the wording on its house label the wine ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’: Waitrose Chilean Soft & Juicy. A Merlot-led blend from that country’s Central Valley, a wine which turns out to be a dependably honest partner for simple grills of meat, lamb especially, I’d guess. The smaller percentage of Cabernet riding shotgun in the wine gives the wine an initial firmness, but the overall impression that eventually develops in the mouth is of the fleshy soft juiciness advertised, with suggestions of a chocolatey depth of fruit on the back palate. One doesn’t expect much complexity at this price point, neither does one find any, but this bargain ‘find’ has a good typicity of fruit and the wine is well assembled. Honestly made short-term drinking – generously coloured, and with a typically rounded taste that even boasts a good finish too - and all for just a fiver a bottle. Enough said.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Chile (Central Valley)

NAME OF WINE Waitrose ‘Soft –Juicy’ Chilean red.

STYLE as described above

ALCOHOL 13%abv

RETAILER Waitrose Ltd.

PRICE £ 4.99

August 2015

When the word ‘Champagne’ is uttered we normally think of it in broad terms as the ultimate celebratory wine to be brought out at weddings, Christenings, or at least at times of special achievement…. even as a blatant badge of total extravagance when shaken up and sprayed in a foamy stream over racing cars and their triumphant drivers. The Champenois themselves and not a few wine lovers elsewhere might consider this latter use of the wine a sacrilege. Even though wine consumption levels in France have gone into freefall across recent years the French have long accepted the wider concept of drinking Champagne as part and parcel of a meal as something perfectly natural. A tradition alien to our own culture, perhaps, although the expense of the wine might well be the determining factor within this country’s lingering climate of austerity.

The right of ‘Le Champagne’ to its own exclusive identity is firmly, nay, jealously protected in law although its classic method of production is much emulated worldwide. Although unique among sparkling wines, the range of styles that can be produced within the borders of the sprawling region that is ‘La Champagne’ is surprisingly varied and subtle – bubbles and finesse aside, perhaps, this is one of the wine’s key strengths.

Basic factors? An overarching cool climate befitting the northernmost vineyards of France, a mineral-rich permeable chalky bedrock underpinning the vineyards, the exclusive palette of classic grape varieties led by Chardonnay and the Pinots Noir and Meunier, and a time-honoured method of elaboration. Perfect vintage conditions may yield wines that can be heart-stoppingly fine and highly prized – less so, understandably, when leaden skies prevail and ripening is delayed across the growing season when excess acidity in the fruit can present a problem that has to be dealt with. Fortunately the méthode Champenois itself, i.e. yeast action during refermentation of the wine within its own bottle, may help mitigate any tendency to leanness to a degree – though sadly not always.

The wine I have chosen, Champagne Barnaut Grand Cru. NV, is made from grapes grown on south-facing slopes above the village of Bouzy on the Montagne de Reims. It is a blanc de noirs, falling into the non-vintage category ‘BSA’, (Champenois for brut sans année, to distinguish it from vintage, millésimé ). No Chardonnay involved here, simply the clear-run juice of 100% Pinot noir from grand cru vineyards…and with great effect too. Stylistically this a ‘big’ wine with a hallmark Pinot weight on the palate to distinguish itself from the lighter, airier notes of the blanc de blancs made exclusively from Chardonnay. I find the wine’s well-developed bready nose an attractive precursor to what follows: though dry, there is plenty of real substance and fruit on the palate. The finish is satisfyingly long, round and rich, showing plenty of evidence of a gently completed yeast autolysis in bottle, the wine being perfectly balanced by a fresh edge that makes it a wonderful partner for food. Is a fine tranche of turbot or monkfish on the menu? Well, I could wish! A cream or mushroom sauce might be good served alongside too.

barnaut shopfront

This thoroughbred Champagne from the Barnaut stable is produced from Grand Cru vineyards around Bouzy, an apt-sounding name for a wine village! (The distinctive still red Pinot Noir wine Bouzy Rouge AOP is produced here too.) While the Champagne from this producer has been my own house ‘bubbly’ for many years I believe a certain Mr Parker Jr. counts it rather good too: “better than Bolly!” or so he says…..but then I certainly wouldn’t dare to comment, save to reflect that M. Barnaut’s wine comes at a more slender price.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: France (Champagne)

NAME OF WINE: Champagne Barnaut Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru. NV

PRODUCER: Edmond Barnaut á Bouzy, France

STYLE: Rich, complete, blanc de noirs Champagne

ALCOHOL:12.5%abv

RETAILER: Lea & Sandeman Ltd.

PRICE: £ 27.95 (bottle) £25.75 (case)

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With summer eating in mind I’ve chosen a very characterful red wine from Piedmont, Bric del Salto 2013, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC as a fruity and wonderfully cool partner (in every sense) to open-air foods – especially char-grills of meat. The early ripening Dolcetto grape translates itself as ‘the little sweet one’ – and though the wine is classically dry it is certainly true of its velvety feel in the mouth. Dolcetto offers a naturally low acidity, although unless carefully controlled by short macerations the grape’s thickish dark skins can yield an elevated degree of tannin. No so here, fortunately. Bric del Salto is prettily attractive on the eye, too, with a naturally vibrant cherry pigmentation. Though more broad-shouldered versions of the wine can be achieved, particularly from old vines, most Dolcetto is synonymous with wines offering freshness, elegance, and uncomplicated drinking in the shorter term. Plantings are scattered in nearly a dozen regions and sub-regions around Piedmont, the origin of my own example being the vineyards lying high on a gentle ridge northeast of the town of Monforte d’Alba.

Andrea sottimano

Andrea Sottimano - Winemaker

For me, food-friendly Bric del Salto offers a clear picture of what Dolcetto is all about: an intriguing contrast of freshness and soft fruitiness underlaid by a mineral-informed shapeliness … a classic Italian red wine well worth serving slightly chilled, or certainly cellar-cool, on a hot day. Buon’ gusto!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Italy (Piedmont)

NAME OF WINE Bric del Salto 2013, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC

PRODUCER Az. Agr. Sottimano, Nieve

STYLE Approachable fresh classic Dolcetto

ALCOHOL 12.5% abv

RETAILER Lea & Sandeman Ltd.

PRICE £ 13.75 (bottle) £12.50 (case)

 

July 2015

This month is a ‘compare and contrast’ featuring a couple of Pinot Noir wines grown and vinified thousands of miles apart, both of which are informed by cooler climates, though their vineyard conditions are dissimilar. Setting qualitative judgement aside – the temptation to suggest that one might have greater virtues than the other - I simply thought it might be instructive to compare different styles while acknowledging their separate contexts.

Pinot Noir, that most capricious grape in the vineyard, presents a challenge for winemakers the world over, and yet its finest expressions result in some of the subtlest wines imaginable. I am starting in Alsace, a region one automatically associates with white wines to the extent that no concession is made to the bottle shape for the far smaller percentage of red wines produced there. They all come in the traditional slim-line Alsace ‘flutes.’

Pinot noir is actually the oldest recorded grape variety grown in the region – predating Riesling in Alsace by many centuries. The accepted regional tradition of white grape growing is beginning to get a bit of a makeover: the vine-friendly shelter of the Vosges mountains together with increasing global warming is prompting an increasing number of Alsace growers to focus more enthusiastically on classic red vine varieties alongside their mainstay of whites. After all, there are soil types to suit all comers in Alsace, this part of northeastern France having suffered a prehistoric ‘collapse’ to form a complex rift valley, offering many different exposures.

Pinot Noir Réserve Cuve Les 7 2013 comes from Maison Trimbach, a distinguished Alsace property established as long ago as 1626, based at Ribeauvillé, north-west of Colmar.



Trimbach Family

Three Generations Of The Trimbach Family

Although the overall crop levels of the 2013 vintage in Alsace were greatly diminished, some really fine, concentrated wines were produced following the year’s exceptionally slow start both to bud-break and flowering in the vines.

So how does my first choice perform in the glass in front of me? An attractive translucent mid-cherry-red colour, with fresh clean hints of ripe cherry and raspberry rising from the glass, to be followed by an elegant and supple palate perfectly poised between a light fresh acidity and a well-rounded ripeness….with a true pinot noir flavour developing once the wine has opened a little in the glass. One can almost detect the cooler climate in this attractively balanced mid-weight wine – delightful now in its youth but maybe with five years drinking ahead of it. Tradition dictates that huge wooden foudre barrels are used to mature this wine, but there is no detectable wood influence on the palate – across their years of use the barrel interiors become coated with tartrate crystals, preventing the wine’s contact with the wooden shell itself.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: France (Alsace)

NAME OF WINE: 'Les 7' Pinot Noir, Réserve, 2013

PRODUCER: Maison F & E Trimbach

STYLE: Youthful cherry/rsberry fruit. Soft, supple, good balance and lenght

ALCOHOL 13.0% abv

RETAILER: The Wine Society

PRICE £ 16.50

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Fans of New World styles of pinot noir will not be disappointed by the 2014 vintage of ‘The Edge’ from one of New Zealand’s top pinot noir specialists, Larry McKenna, at Escarpment Wines in Martinborough. This single-vineyard wine naturally takes its name from its situation on the edge of an escarpment overlooking the Huarangarua River in the cool-climate area of Martinborough at the southern tip of North Island NZ, where exceptionally free-draining alluvial soils amply covered with beds of gravel permit deep rooting of the vines. Cool growing conditions are necessary for fine pinot noir, and the Martinborough Terraces, perhaps equally with Central Otago at the southern tip of South Island have a notable reputation for distinctive NZ pinot noir styles. 2014 proved to be a very dry growing season in Martinborough with plenty of concentrated fruit and a sunny ripeness to be captured in bottle. By the same token there’s generous alcohol, too, although the lively freshness of my tasting example belies that fact on the palate. I’m tasting it just as the British cherry season is coming into full swing, the wine’s colour in the glass matching exactly the dark glossy red hue of the cherries in the bowl in front of me as I write. Perhaps a little deeper than a classic Burgundian pinot noir colour, this, but then my example hails from another hemisphere, and in any case this grape variety has more clonal variations worldwide than you can shake a vine stick at. As New Zealand pinot noir specialists like Larry McKenna say – “who needs Burgundy anyway?” (Well that’s one point of view!)

Larry McKenna

Larry McKenna

Approachable now in its youth The Edge 2014 has an immediate and attractive appeal. Admittedly the wine’s degree more of alcohol compared to that of the Alsace example is noticeable both on the nose and in the finish. Whereas the ‘old-world’ wine is more subtle and restrained, a touch cooler in tenor and therefore more suited to tasting just by itself, there’s the faintest suspicion of smoky oak in the background of this New Zealand wine: an added ‘up-frontness’ of firmness and length, all of which may suit it better to accompany a wide range of well-flavoured dishes at table.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: New Zealand (Martinborough)

NAME OF WINE: The Edge'' Pinot Noir,, 2014

PRODUCER: Escarpment Wines

STYLE: Soft ripe round red fruit aromas and flavours wint a hint of smokey oak.

ALCOHOL 14.2% abv

RETAILER: Waitrose

PRICE £ 14.99

June 2015

Let’s raise a glass! June starts with a classic sparkle, at least in this column, as we inspect a top class Italian ‘bubbly’ from Franciacorta in Lombardy. Franciacorta ‘I due Lari’ DOCG Brut. This wine is to be confused neither with the often delicious, airy Prosecco from the Veneto, bottled after its re-fermentation in tank and furnished by the delicate-tasting Glera grape, nor the Moscato-based ‘Asti Spumante’ from Piedmont – both of which fit comfortably into the category of northern Italy’s widely exported ‘Grapes of Froth’.

My own choice for June ‘ups the game’ with a less familiar Italian classic !

In the compact hilly region of Franciacorta in sub-Alpine Lombardy a kind of Francophilia is alive and well: well-heeled local producers thereabouts have long experience of crafting ‘lookalike’ French classic wines….Champagne being no exception. To its great credit Franciacorta was the first DOC to specify that all its sparkling wines should be made using the metodo classico – i.e. refermentation in bottle employing the méthode Champenois rather than the ‘tank-fizz’ I’ve mentioned elsewhere, and not a few of the designated local vineyards reflect this homage in plantings of Chardonnay (85%) and Pinot Nero (15%). Alongside these are serried ranks of Cabernets and Merlots to furnish the region’s equally fashionable Bordelais ‘dead-ringers’, plus, for the local ‘red’ – Terre di Franciacorta Rosso - traditional Italian varietals like Barbera and Nebbiolo find their way into the DOC blend. Franciacorta lies in the province of Brescia, snugly protected from the harsher Continental climate by the foothills of the Alps from which glacial moraines have been progressively washed down to provide vineyard conditions of free-draining pebbly/sandy soils over limestone. The climate thereabouts is also tempered by the presence of large lakes – the birthplace of my own wine choice being the southern shores of the extensive Lago Iseo.

franciacorta vineyard


Given the wine’s method of elaboration, coupled with its performance in the glass, there is a natural temptation for me to compare it automatically with true Champagne – but I must resist this and remember that it stands in its own right and with its own regional characteristics behind it, the product in this case of 100% Chardonnay as an Italianate ‘bianco di bianchi’. Result? An attractive clear light gold in the glass and with a gentle persistent mousse, my own initial reaction on putting my nose to the glass suggested ‘lemon curd on toasted brioche’, following directly through to the palate. The wine’s clean lines and its inherently delicious fresh appeal are supported with some welcome mid-palate Chardonnay flesh, and there’s a perfectly seamless finish. A sign of some very good value winemaking here, especially at the price being asked ‘on the shelf’. Recalling a Champagne tasting I recently attended I found even some well known cuvées less attractive on the palate than the subject above – but oops! I see I have just broken the crucial rule about cross-referencing I just made for myself! (Am I hopeless, or what?)

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Italy (Lombardy)

NAME OF WINE Franciacorta ‘I Due Lari’ DOCG Brut.

PRODUCER Laura e Matteo Gatti

STYLE Fresh-tasting bottle-fermented sparkler

ALCOHOL 12.5% abv

RETAILER Marks & Spencer Ltd.

PRICE £ 19

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Going solo’ as a winemaker is not for the faint-hearted. Hats off next to Katie Jones, a remarkable English lady who has upped sticks from rural Leicestershire to take on the local vignerons deep in the Languedoc….with hard-won success backed by more than twenty years experience in the region.

Katie Jones Winemaker

As if the life of any winemaker without the deepest of pockets is not precarious enough, the admirable Katie encountered serious local vandalism of her wines in 2013….. allegedly ‘sour grapes’ on the part of unwelcoming and uncompetitive neighbours. In view of her unfortunate plight her business was saved from ruin by financial backing from no fewer than 2,500 ‘angels’ - clients of a well known customer-funded wine business – ample proof to any detractors that she was doing something right!

There is evidence aplenty of the quality of her produce in the bottle in front of me. Katie’s own special Fitou AOP 2013 is from vines grown on her small plots in a rugged hilly area in the shelter of Mont Tauch. (The wine production area of Fitou, incidentally, was the very first officially delimited appellation of the Languedoc).

The chief player in the Fitou mix is usually Carignan, a grape originally found in Spain but very much at home in the schistous soils of the Bassin de Tuchan-Paziols where Katie holds sway. The supporting cast, maybe 30-40% of a variable blend, can be local regulars like Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah.

Compared to the Italian ‘sparkler’ I detailed above we are right at the other end of the taste-scale here, and the powerfully dark, fragrant Fitou wines are rightly recognized as vins du garde i.e. ‘keepers’ with plenty of depth and structure and possibly a decade of life ahead of them in bottle.

In this particular case the wine’s extract of colour is impressive, the deepest ‘peony’ red, even darker at the core, with scents arising from the glass suggesting, initially, semidried figs or raisins, with hints both of licorice and wild ‘garrigue’ herbaceousness in the background. There’s a soft juiciness on the well structured blackberry-fruited palate, a ‘velvet glove’ hiding a generous alcohol level. A fine balance has been struck, too, between those elements that will help enhance the wine’s longevity, acidity and tannin, the latter just the merest dusting on the wine’s finish in the mouth.
An ‘improver’? Certainly. Too elegant for the barbecue in my view, this would be a great partner to a juicy peppered steak, ‘proper’ roasts of meat – or those well-ripened French cheeses like Époisses, or the Pélardon of its own locality.

The Domaine has a website : www.domainejones.com - where you can even arrange a vineyard visit to see and taste for yourself what Katie did.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Languedoc-Roussillon)

NAME OF WINE Fitou AOP 2013

PRODUCER Domaine Jones

STYLE Complex southern French red

ALCOHOL 14.5%abv

RETAILER Majestic Wine Warehouse

PRICE £ 14.99

May 2015

Thanks to a recommendation by my wine educator colleague Pippa Hayward, I have been introduced to a real ‘find’ to share with you this month which, tasted blind, would immediately have had me scurrying around my wine notes on top New World Sauvignons. As it happens I needn’t bother as the month’s first choice comes from an entirely unexpected quarter – the extensive Côtes de Gascogne in southwestern France – Armagnac country.

Gers Vineyard View

The experience behind the production of the age-old Gascon brandy apart, this region is now beginning to embrace state-of-the-art wine technology for its light wines, and the young winemaker Yoan Le Menn at Domaine Horgelus is well able to demonstrate his skills across a range of grape varieties from the lightest Colombard right through to the sturdiest Tannat.

Domaine Horgelus Sauvignon/Gros Manseng Côtes de Gascogne IGP 2014 is, for me at least, a wine that ‘sings’. Star-bright clarity on the eye in the glass, a wonderfully full-frontal tropical-yet-zesty Sauvignon nose, and on the palate a sheer purity of fruit, with a real depth of flavour born of the powerfully characterized Sauvignon’s blend with 40% of the thicker-skinned Gros-Manseng, the staple of Jurançon wines. The winemaking technique employed has sought to maximize aromas and keep oxidation almost entirely out of the picture, some harvests starting as early as 3 a.m. and finishing well before noon in order to preserve the ripe grapes at their very freshest. This wine’s immediacy and integrity speaks volumes for itself and its élèvation, and I find it very impressive.

A sunny ‘aperitif’ for ‘alfresco’ occasions (if you’ll excuse the language clash!) but also a wonderful partner for fish of all kinds, though the bottle back label goes so far to proclaim ‘this elegant and harmonious vintage will perfectly accompany your entire meals’ - well I suppose in this case there’s nothing wrong with stretching a point! Both this wine and the Domaine’s Colombard-Sauvignon blend have won silver and gold medals at the Concours Général Agricole in Paris (2013), and were recommended in the ‘Guide Hachette 2014’. Awards aside, it offers an exciting glimpse of the new face of a region known principally hitherto for its classic spirits.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: France (Gascony)

APPELLATION: Côtes-de-Gascogne IGP

NAME OF WINE Sauvignon – Gros Manseng 2014

PRODUCER Domaine Horgelus (Famille le Menn)

STYLE Zesty Sauvignon blend with attitude

ALCOHOL 12% abv.

RETAILER The Good Wine Shop (www.thegoodwineshop.co.uk)

PRICE £10 (£9 via web)

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I guess the vibrant flavours of the wine above would be a good match for the following recipe:

FENNEL-SMOKED BROWN TROUT with FENNEL and CHIVE SAUCE.

INGREDIENTS

4 brown trout fillets (or 1 Sea trout) cleaned and boned
Extra-virgin olive oil
Seasoning
Good bunch of fennel stalks

SAUCE (to be made first)

1 banana shallot, chopped fine
1 small fresh fennel bulb, chopped fine
15g butter
150ml fish stock
150ml dry white wine
150ml double cream
squeeze of lemon juice
heaped tblsp chopped chives

Melt the butter in a saucepan and sweat the shallot and fennel together until softened. Add the fish stock and the wine, bring up to the boil and allow to reduce over heat by 50%. Add the cream at this stage and boil down again to reduce by half. Add seasonings and, if necessary, a few drops of lemon juice to sharpen. Reserve, covered, ideally in a bain-marie or over very low heat.

Now deal with the smoker:

In this recipe the delicately-flavoured fish fillets are only very lightly smoked, their cooking being completed in the oven, and you don’t need to use a dedicated smoker for the purpose – simply a large frying or roasting pan with a lid, and a trivet or a rack that will fit inside it. Place the fennel stalks evenly over the bottom of the pan, cover with both the rack and the lid and place on the hob.
Wait for a steady stream of smoke to appear between sides of lid and pan.

During which time deal with the fish:

Cut the cleaned fillets into two if they are very big, rub them with the olive oil and seasonings and then, once the prepared smoker is ready add the fish fillets to the rack, skin side down. Replace the lid while the fish smokes, turning the heat down a little. Smoke it for 2 minutes only, and then on the other side a further minute.
Transfer the fish to the preheated oven for just a couple of minutes to cook through, remembering that fish tends to cook quite quickly.

Serve surrounded by the sauce to which at the last moment you have added the snipped chives.

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A choice of red? Hereabouts the sap appears to be rising everywhere, so my quest has been to match the season with a really good-value juicy wine with a bit of class about it, hence my choice of Secano Maiten Valley Block 1 Pinot Noir 2013 from Chile’s cool coastal Leyda Valley. Pinot Noir itself is a notoriously wayward grape to grow and vinify, thin-skinned, exceptionally reflective of its terroir, sensitive, clonally variable, prone to rots in wet harvests…..and yet, given a suitable climate and site, ideal growing conditions and careful winemaking it can yield wonderful results. No wonder it is known in the trade as the ‘heartbreak’ grape.

chile leyda valley view

Crafted by the winemakers on Secano estates in association with New Zealander Jeneve Williams, one of M&S globetrotting consultant winemakers, the performance of this single vineyard cool-climate Pinot Noir from Chile’s Pacific coast is not only redolent of an ‘old-world’ type but is absolutely delicious. A classic clear tawny-rosy colour in the glass, the scent is of gently smoky red fruit together with a delicate whiff of ‘sous-bois’ (the common French descriptor which hints at an echo of damp leafmould on a forest floor). I detect well-ripened strawberry hints in there somewhere too – with an overall impression of gentle softness on the palate.

Given the difficulties inherent in producing well balanced (i.e. not over-extracted) Pinot Noir the team has triumphed. Result? A very classical example of good Pinot Noir…. not easily achieved. One doesn’t expect a complex internal structure given the combination of the wine’s relative youth and its final price point, but it is certainly very well made and there’s the bonus of a delicious medium-length finish. The deceptively handsome alcohol of 14.5% is well handled too. All in all, very good value.

Food matches? Simply grilled meats - Beef Stroganoff – Fermented French cheeses – Brie, Époisses etc.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Chile (Leyda Valley)

NAME OF WINE Maiten Valley Block 1 Pinot Noir 2013

PRODUCER Secano Estate

STYLE Food-friendly ‘old world’-style Pinot Noir

ALCOHOL 14.5%abv

RETAILER Marks & Spencer Ltd.,

PRICE £ 12.9

April 2015

Before embarking on this month’s wine choices let me refer you to a salutary comment I read recently that applies to everyone reviewing, writing about, or being influential in the purchasing of wine.

It would be good to think that wine drinkers actually purchased what they enjoyed rather than what they think they should enjoy. It is not always healthy for one person to have too much influence on others’.

I can easily chime in with this thought, written in the context of the news that the highly influential critic Robert Parker Jr. is to step down from reviewing Bordeaux wines ‘en primeur’ to concentrate on writing a retrospective overview at a decade’s distance of the highly sought after 2005 vintage. I hardly equate myself with the formidable Mr Parker of course, but given my own position as honorary wine writer on this section of the website it does raise the question of one’s own responsibility as a peddler of opinion. Knowledge equals power, of course, and it is understandable that the discretion of a trusted guide rather than a benevolent dictator – (and I don’t refer to the guru above) - can prove useful to purchasers as they tread a pathway through a jungle where the thickets are densely populated by wine hyperbole. Whose opinion is to be trusted as ever more unmissable ‘discoveries’ hit restaurant or merchants’ wine lists at prices to match?

I have been lucky across the years in having been allowed free rein to share and communicate my own wine discoveries on this page, and regular readers should have no difficulty in discerning ‘where I am’ with wine in general. Needless to say, perhaps, any credence you may place on my own specific findings should ideally be subject to your own empirical test – tasting and evaluating my own wine choices for yourself.
The ‘bottom line’ is that I write entirely independently about the wines I have discovered and (mostly) happen to like in the hope that you might like them too – maybe you’ll tell me if you don’t – meanwhile I try to set them not only in the context of their elaboration or place of origin, but also their place at table alongside good food…another passion of mine! C’est tout!

If you remember Kermit the frog then you’ll recall his plaintive song ‘Its not easy being green!’ – strangely enough the same might almost be said of Portugal’s well known ‘green’ wine Vinho Verde … some of which, including my own tasting example, is red!
The adjective ‘verde’ in this case refers simply to the wine’s jeunesse and ‘zip’ of fresh acidity rather than to a colour. Though an assortment of traditional local red grapes are permitted to be pressed into service for the dark version, my own choice, Vinho Verde DOC, Vinhão, Quinta da Raza 2013 enjoys single varietal status being crafted from 100% Vinhão grapes – a speciality, apparently, of the Basto sub-region of Portugal’s northerly Minho district nudging up to the Spanish border. Grapes for Vinho Verde grow almost everywhere here in this fertile and damp part of the country. Harvesters need ladders in this rainy region too where vines, usually trained high off the ground, are often encouraged to scramble up poles and trees to help minimize rots setting in when the grape bunches are ripening.

Vinho Verde Country



Formerly the red version of Vinho Verde stayed pretty much within its region, a rustic tipple favoured by the locals and traditionally drunk from small white ceramic cups which showed off the depth of colour of wines that were rapidly extracted during tank fermentation. Across the years the local red wine production declined to ‘also-ran’ proportions in favour of the more marketable white Vinho Verdes, the darker cousins having only reappeared fairly recently as serious wines worth exporting, perhaps with a nod towards the popularly accepted theory that drinking red wine is better for one’s heart. In Portugal - no surprise perhaps in a nation weaned on bacalhau - they’ll even drink red Vinho Verde with salt cod! The back label on my bottle even goes so far as to suggest lampreys as an alternative partner of choice on the plate, should you care to lay your hands on some.

Tasting the wine for itself, (minus bacalhau or lampreys) and having essayed the time-honoured local ceramic test above I can confirm that the colour is a rich, very densely extracted ‘neat Ribena’ purple, bidding fair to stain the sides of the white cup into which I have poured a little of the wine …. Quite dramatic. So far so good. Both the nose and palate suggest fresh blackcurrants, and the sensation on the tongue is one of a wine at the outset of its shortish career in bottle, with a lively acidity and a tell-tale suspicion of a gentle prickle suggesting that its fermentation can barely have finished. The mid-palate is softly fresh, dry, yet fruit-laden, and the finish is fairly light. Yes, a really ‘green’ red wine as befits its designation. Having tasted and enjoyed it with a pork dish against which it sat very well I can almost imagine the salt cod nexus working effectively too.

Lampreys? Believe me, the jury is out.


COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Portugal (Vinho Verde DOC)

NAME OF WINE C, Vinhão, Colheita Selecionada 2013

PRODUCER Quinta da Raza www.quintadaraza.pt

STYLE Fresh ‘juvenile’ red.

GRAPE VARIETY/IES Vinhão

ALCOHOL 12deg. abv

RETAILER The Good Wine Shop - www.thegoodwineshop.co.uk

PRICE £ 11.50 (online), £13.50

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Looking back across my written contributions I see that I have neglected dessert wines somewhat shamefully, and I begin to make amends with an old favourite from Italy. Vin Santo. A famous Tuscan dessert wine with a history, yet made with relatively humble grapes – Trebbiano Toscano or the more fragrant Malvasia. Yet, almost problematically, there’s plenty of stylistic choice depending on how individual producers interpret the classic model, i.e. from bone dry to unctuously sweet, and although historically the Vin Santo heartland has always been Tuscany’s Montepulciano region, the style and even the name can be found in a few other Italian winegrowing areas too. The Tuscan ideal involves ripe grapes laid out on racks or mats to dry for between two to four months which, having substantially increased their sugar content thereby, submit to a lengthy fermentation followed by maturation in small oak casks – result, classic perfection at usually around 15%abv. There are others, usually labeled liquoroso, which are fortified and which are by no means to be equated with the real thing, natural wines crafted from semi-dried grapes. I’m tasting the admirable Vin Santo del Chianti DOC 2007 , Poggio Bonelli which seems the ideal partner to nuts, dried figs, dates and aged hard cheeses at the end of a meal…. and as the receiver myself of an unbiased opinion of this wine from a trustworthy source I can do no better than simply pass it on: “pale orange, delicate burn and rancio. Not that sweet but so clean! Almonds. Stunning.” (Jancis Robinson MW). Hyperbole kicked deftly into touch, where it belongs!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Italy (Tuscany)

NAME OF WINE Vin Santo del Chianti 2007

PRODUCER Poggio Bonelli

STYLE Fragrant vintaged dessert wine

ALCOHOL 16deg. abv.

RETAILER Lea & Sandeman Ltd - www.leaandsandeman.co.uk

PRICE £ 18.95 (50cl. bottle)



March 2015

A recent ship-board lecturing opportunity has enabled me to stop off briefly in Funchal, Madeira, hence the first of two of my wine choices for March. Admittedly the long-established firm of Blandy’s was on the excursion trail – partly because Blandy’s doubles as the onshore shipping agents for visiting cruise liners, and their attractive old Wine Lodge is as much of a visitor centre as anything else, lying within easy reach of where the big ships berth.

My aperitif for March, however, is Sercial - the driest style of Madeira. (Not from Blandy’s in this case but from another distinguished producer established on the island as early as 1850, Henriques & Henriques.)

Classic Madeiras can be made from a variety of permitted grapes and at different levels of sweetness or richness, and my own choice of Sercial lies at the driest end of the overall sweetness scale. Sercial is a white grape variety of lively acidity which was once erroneously thought to be related to Riesling, but in Madeira (as in mainland Portugal) is now officially identified as Esgana Cão – aka. the ‘dog-strangler’ grape!

Fortified Madeira wines are quite exceptional. As their traditional elaboration involves lengthy cooking they are unquestionably the most stable and spoilage-resistant wines in the world, being generally capable of long keeping. Formerly the wines were carried in barrel across the tropics on the decks of early trading vessels when they were subjected to lengthy periods in baking heat, and latterly most wines enjoy an officially controlled three-month heating process in estufas onshore in Funchal, replicating the time-honoured voyages across the tropics, before being aged further in cask.

Sercial Madeira - the perfect aperitif? Not for me to judge, of course, but habitual fans of drier Sherries might enjoy the change of style, let alone the subtle complexity of aromas and flavours captured within the glass, particularly of a wine 10 years in cask….and the intriguing, off-dry, nutty, lightly ‘cooked’ taste is perfectly balanced by a fresh, cleansing acidity which also makes it a more than acceptable foil for cheese at the end of a meal….so I guess it’s a sure-fire each-way bet!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Madeira

NAME OF WINE Sercial Madeira (10 yr. old)

PRODUCER Henriques & Henriques – Vinhos S.A.

STYLE Nutty, richly dry fortified wine

GRAPE VARIETY/IES Sercial

RETAILER The Wine Society Ltd

PRICE £ 19 . 00 (50cl. bottle)

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Back in the 16th century the ambitious Portuguese extended their possessions beyond the island of Madeira to bigger things - Brazil. This proved an excellent move, as cheaper and better sugar canes could be grown there, boosting established Portuguese interests in sugar trading. Vines arrived with the earliest settlers too, though climatically the country proved unsuitable for wine production except in the south, particularly in the elevated hilly area of Rio Grande do Sul where it is relatively cool and lush. Winters can be hard here, and they’ve even produced ‘ice-wine’! In contrast, Brazil now sports a few vineyards a mere 9deg. south of the equator so, uniquely perhaps, the country can engage in a wine harvest twice a year!

Brazil was further settled in the 19th century by both Germans and Italians, the latter’s legacy of winemaking being strongly evident in the country’s wine industry today. Yes, nowadays you can even buy a very decent Brazilian prosecco! Any serious trading of Brazilian wine was forced to mark time until the late 1970s however, when big international companies like Moët & Chandon began to realize the country’s potential and when serious injections of capital meant that wines of export quality could be produced.

Hence this month’s further ‘pick’, a Merlot from an 1100-grower strong co-operative based in Brazil’s southerly Serra Gaúcha region near the border with Uruguay.

Brazilian Vineyard

If you are expecting a soft, deeply structured Bordeaux style wine in the St. Emilion mould then think again. Same grape, yes… but wearing (almost) the stylistic ‘hat’ of a north Italian Merlot, perhaps from the Veneto. Softly fragrant, yes… but cherry-dark, upfront and sappy too, and ideally adapted to drinking alongside simple roasts, sausages or barbecue foods. Roundly soft on the palate as befits the grape variety, and yet with sufficient acidity to make it distinctly moreish. In short, well worth investigating!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Brazil (Serra Gaúcha / Rio Grande do Sul)

NAME OF WINE Brazilian Merlot 2013

PRODUCER Vinicola Aurora Ltda.

STYLE Youthfully soft, sappy BBQ red wine

GRAPE VARIETY/IES Merlot

ALCOHOL 12% abv

RETAILER Waitrose (Exclusive)

PRICE £ 8 . 99




February 2015

Some years ago I joined a number of fellow wine educators on a comprehensive trip to the vineyards of Portugal and was privileged to meet (and taste alongside) the legendary ‘rebel’ winemaker Luís Pato whose reputation for innovation in the vineyard and winery has been solidly confirmed in some of that country’s starriest wines. He had followed the footsteps of his father João who in 1970 became the first established winemaker in the then newly demarcated Bairrada region. Like father – like son – and now like daughter, Filipa, who started making ‘authentic wines without makeup’ (sic) herself a decade ago but, perhaps inheriting the same rebellious and adventurous streak as her father, chose not to harvest from the family’s plots in Bairrada but further afield in the Óis do Bairro ‘terroir’ and under the wider Beiras IGP. There, together with her husband William, she has been producing her own distinctive range of fine wines from local grapes.

Nossa Calcário Tinto 2011 celebrates the exceptional chalky-limestone minerality underpinning one of their vineyards.

As is to be expected from a wine made 100% from the region’s tiny berried, thick-skinned Baga grapes, the extract of colour in the glass is dark and dense – ‘crushed blackberries’, perhaps, showing a gentle viscosity. The nose is equally deep and smokily perfumed, revealing hints of chocolate, allspice, perhaps even licorice. Then on the palate, two surprises! A fresh acidity is the first thing one meets, and there’s a lively grapiness on the mid palate too.

The next surprise is that the normally highly tannic Baga has been tamed to relative softness, more as a contributor to the wine’s firm structure rather than as a ‘stand out’ element in itself. Quite a feat! This is certainly a wine made to partner food – roast duck, perhaps, given the name ‘Pato’ behind it - or perhaps darker game birds like pigeon or partridge which seem to be favourites with Portuguese palates. This wine aside, the customary hardness of tannic reds fades into insignificance in the presence of tasty protein, when the wine shines brilliantly in its true colours. Unusually perhaps, Filipa suggests drinking the red Nossa Calcário 2011 decanted and at a cellar temperature simply to emphasise the freshness and minerality of the wine.

NB: Filipa also produces a white partner wine, ‘Nossa Calcário Branco’, from Bical grapes – peachy smooth, with gentle fennel hints.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Portugal (Beiras IGP)

NAME OF WINE Nossa Calcário Tinto 2011

STYLE Dry food-friendly red

ALCOHOL 13% abv

PRODUCER Filipa Pato & William Wouters

RETAILER The Wine Society

PRICE £25


December 201
4

I am always keen to try a wine that is new to me, or at least I feel that I ought to have tasted across my years of enjoying and teaching wine and yet I somehow managed to miss. Lo and behold, Waitrose Cellar is offering a rarity, a fully dry white wine from freshly harvested Furmint grapes that would otherwise (in their wizened, over-ripe botrytised form) go into the production of luscious Hungarian Tokaji….a world classic dessert wine distinguished enough even to be celebrated in the Hungarian National Anthem!

Obligingly, the back label of my first December choice, Tokaji Furmint Dry, Vineyard Selection 2011 sets out the stall for newcomers to the style:
In exceptional vintages Royal Tokaji produces a limited quantity of Vineyard Selection Furmint, the ultimate expression of this unique variety. The 2011 vintage is a blend of selected wines from the Mézes Mály, Betsek, Urágya and Szt. Tamás vineyards which have combined to produce an intense and full-bodied wine with clean minerality and a velvety finish. This wine has been fermented in new oak barrels for 6 months.

My curiosity sufficiently whetted, the description is quite enough of an incentive to lead me to sample the wine on your behalf and report back, especially with a view to its capability of matching traditional Christmas fare.

First impressions? A very attractive wine in the glass – a light golden colour, crystal clear - the contents of the glass showing a touch of viscosity when the wine is gently swirled….the smoothness of this apparent texture being felt on the palate once tasted. The nose of the wine, though delicate, is quite complex, with the most gentle herbaceousness in the background. Regardless of the wine’s relatively soft texture the palate is bright, very clean, showing an initial firmness and a good supportive acidity, finishing a touch dryer on the back-palate than at the outset. The primary flavours are in a subtle apple-apricot spectrum, and the new oak, as mentioned above, is beautifully integrated - rather more a contributor to the wine’s overall mouth-feel and finish than as a separate flavour element to contend with. A medium-long finish completes the picture, hinting at lingering touches of apricot and spice.

Conclusions? A ‘significant’ dry white wine with real individuality of style, its generous level of alcohol coming as a surprise. Ideally matched at table to dishes of feathered game (a ‘terrine’ of partridge, perhaps?) or perhaps guineafowl. Great value, and certainly worth investigating for the Festive Season ahead!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Hungary.

NAME OF WINE: Tokaji Dry Furmint, Vineyard Selection 2011

PRODUCER: Royal Tokaji Zrt.

STYLE: Textured dry white

ALCOHOL: 14.5 abv.

RETAILER Waitrose Cellar (online) + major stores

PRICE £ 12.99

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As we’re now well into the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ my next choice of grape variety, Nebbiolo, translates as ‘the foggy one’, simply because Piedmont, the hilly region of Italy where it is grown, is prone to such weather conditions at this time of year. The tiny DOCG region of Barolo produces the eponymous wine which is considered to be at the pinnacle of what this noble thick-skinned grape can achieve in the vineyard and winery. Market Forces prevail – the old story of miniscule supply over connoisseur demand means Barolo prices are always elevated….. but the rewards in the glass are considerable, particularly at ‘riserva’ level. I am inspecting nonetheless a wine at ‘normale’ level, which at the bottle price given below saves me from appearing too much of a cheapskate!

Just a word about the production of Barolo wines. Under relatively recent regulations, as part of the qualification for DOCG Barolo status the basic level wine has to be aged for at least three years before release – almost five years for a ‘riserva’ – but many local producers consider these rules are completely unrealistic and that, at bottling, the wine should be totally undrinkable, only beginning to peak at around twenty years cellarage and lasting maybe for a further twenty….or even more. I hesitate to raise Market Forces once again, but there is nowadays an understandable reluctance by some producers to make Barolo that is only drinkable decades into the future – and so the Barolo Modernists have arrived, macerating the musts for shorter time periods and maturing the wines in smaller casks in order not only to progress ‘drinkability’ in the wines, but to make earlier sales backed by the reputation of one of the topmost wine ‘names’ of Italy. Traditionalists consider this a sin, and bewail the fact that nowadays much Barolo is drunk too young.

This caveat notwithstanding, here are my personal findings on Barolo DOCG ‘Bricat’ 2009 from Giovanni Manzone, a distinguished grower whose estate of really old vines is based in the very heart of the Barolo region at Monforte d’Alba.

Happily – very happily in this case – the wine I am tasting is already approachable, although it will certainly repay further cellarage. An attractive, limpid garnet colour in the glass, the initial impression on the nose suggests the wine’s spirit is quite forward, perhaps, as yet, at the expense of the soft echoes of strawberry fruitiness beneath which will need further time to develop. There is impressive power on a palate backed by the softest ‘dust’ of tannins, yet a reserve indicating that a complex of flavours is yet to show to best advantage. The finish hints both at nuttiness and gentle spice. In short, the wine is where it should be in its life to date. A bottled ‘work in progress’, should you have the patience to wait for the wine’s optimum expression across the next few years.
Food matches? Piedmont is as famous for its seasonal truffles as for its starry wines, so mushroomy flavours are worth considering here alongside the region’s classic beef dish, Brasato al Barolo. Cost-conscious cooks may like to know that the Nebbiolo grape is also the staple of less high-profile wines like Carema, Gattinara or Spanna, so if you are interested in the classic recipe below, then the dish could be re-titled to suit your available budget.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Italy (Piedmont)

NAME OF WINE: Barolo DOCG ‘Bricat’ 2009

PRODUCER Giovanni Manzone

STYLE Classic age-worthy dry red

ALCOHOL 14.5deg. abv

RETAILER Lay & Wheeler Ltd

PRICE £ 36

BRASATO AL BAROLO

For the marinade:
1 bottle Nebbiolo-based wine
2 carrots, sliced
2 onions, sliced
1 stick of celery, sliced
sprig of rosemary
6 fresh sage leaves
1 bay leaf
12 black peppercorns
salt

Main ingredients:

1 kg. topside of beef (in a piece, trimmed and trussed)
3 tbsps olive oil
40g butter
40g chopped prosciutto fat, or bacon fat

Method:

Choose a non-reactive (i.e. non-metal or enamelled) dish big enough to hold the meat and marinade, put in the meat and add all the marinade ingredients. Allow the meat to soak for between 6-8 hours, turning it if necessary, then remove it from its marinade and pat it dry with kitchen paper. Reserve the marinade and its vegetables. Put the oil, butter and prosciutto/bacon fat in a large casserole and over a high heat brown the meat well on all sides, turning it regularly. Season with a little salt and add the marinade along with its herbs and vegetables. Lower the heat, cover the casserole and allow to simmer very gently for 1 ½ hours or until the meat is tender. Remove the herbs from the cooked marinade liquid and transfer everything else to a blender. A short ‘whiz’ – and you have a sauce! Remove the trussing strings from the meat, cut it into slices, and pour the sauce over.

November 2014

Celebrate any hours of daylight we may still enjoy at this time of the year with a real rarity - a crisp wine from an exclusive ancient vine variety grown in northern France; and then warm the cockles of the heart as winter approaches with a classic Argentinian red from some of the world’s highest vineyards.

The Loire Valley is rightly hailed as one of the glories of France, a sylvan and gently undulating landscape flanking the lazy river, dotted around here and there by fairytale châteaux evoking the country’s rich mediaeval past. The region’s history as the rural seat of former French royalty aside, the wide valley’s gentle rolling slopes are home to some particularly distinctive wines. The Loire style features a variety of grapes, predominantly white, ranging from dry and crisp to unctuously sweet - the long-lived late harvest dessert wines from the versatile Chenin Blanc being considered world-beaters.

This month’s recommendation of a white wine roused my curiosity. I love celebrating individuality in wine, but I don’t recall having tasted this one before, even on my visits to the region. It is a distinctly obscure local Loire grape variety called Romorantin, originally thought (minus any hard evidence) to have been introduced in the XV century by King Francis I to provide wine for his estates. Good historical wine ‘PR’ perhaps, and that’s what the back label of Cour-Cheverny AoP ‘Le Petit Chambord’ 2011 confidently promotes!

The vine’s actual origins are somewhat clouded, however. Modern DNA profiling suggests it may be related to a member of the wider Pinot family – Pinot Teinturier. No matter…. very little is produced nowadays principally because Romorantin is confined exclusively to a small appellation nestling within a wider appellation – Cour-Cheverny AoP, within Cheverny AoP , the vineyards occupying a closely defined area just west of Blois and within hailing distance of Francis I’s magnificent ‘hunting lodge’ the château of Chambord.

Whatever Romorantin’s parentage the vine must be counted as something of a survivor, particularly as it is somewhat of a challenge to grow. Cooler vintages tend to produce wines with an extra degree of tartness, but equally the wine can provide a certain roundness and richness, even in the ‘curate’s egg’ – good in parts - Loire vintage of 2011 – hence the first of my November choices.
My own findings?

A clear, light appearance in the glass with some green reflections. A delicate nose of fresh green grapes, and a surprisingly mouth-filling texture on the palate underpinned (against expectations) by only moderate fresh acidity. While there is some grapey richness on the palate the follow-on seems almost to change gear and show the wine as quite dry, equally quite lengthy on the finish with an aftertaste almost redolent of sultana grapes – though without their semi-dried sweetness. A brilliant foil, perhaps, for the gentle sourness of goats’ cheese, and certainly for trout or perhaps freshwater crayfish. Individual? Certainly. My own reckoning? A surprisingly worthwhile discovery.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Loire)

NAME OF WINE Cour-Cheverny AoP ‘Le Petit Chambord’ 2011

PRODUCER François Cazin

STYLE Dry white

ALCOHOL 12.5% abv.

RETAILER The Wine Society

PRICE £ 9.95

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It is hard to imagine a sharper contrast between the manicured vineyards of the Loire, ‘the Garden of France’, and those perched at 2,300 metres asl. in sight of the mighty snow-capped peaks of the Andes, yet each can offer their own vinous delights. My red choice for November comes from the Calchaquí Valley, Argentina and, unsurprisingly perhaps, is a winter-warming Malbec.

Mention Malbec to a wine enthusiast these days, and ‘Argentina’ seems automatically to come to mind, the popularity of that country’s Malbec style seeming to have eclipsed that of the original native from southwestern France. Traditionally Malbec has been grown for centuries around the town of Cahors where the locals know the grape as ‘Cot’ and have long enjoyed its sturdy ‘black wine’. The flavour-packed Malbec grape is still officially permitted in the cépage of the major red Bordeaux appellations.

Argentina may not have the lion’s share of the world’s plantings of Malbec, but the country has some significant advantages when it comes to wine production – vines planted on their own roots (no phylloxera); a dry climate preventing rot in the vineyards and therefore increasing yields, copious sunshine and the clarity of altitude to aid photosynthesis; irrigation from the snowmelts of the Andes….plus an increasing market demand for the inherited grape variety that the Argentinians seem to have made their own. These are advantages celebrated by winemaker Thibaut Delmotte, a Burgundian who has charge of the biodynamically grown vineyards and wines of the newly restored Hess Family Estate in the Calchaquí Valley, Salta which includes vines up to 160 years old. The result here? Colomé Estate Malbec 2011.

I am looking at the wine now: dense, dark and solidly impenetrable in the glass – the deepest plum colour imaginable, yes, almost ‘black’, with clear glycerine tears streaking rapidly upwards from the rim indicating the wine’s handsome 14.5 deg. alcohol content. The deep fruit cake nose is richly complex, with fleeting hints of tobacco, wood smoke – even licorice –and the silky smooth-textured ripely savoury palate finishes with the gentlest grip of ripe tannins. Carefully managed winemaking by any standard, partly because the wine fights shy of being a total ‘blockbuster’, occupying a fine balance between power and restraint. I was surprised to find the finish a little shorter that I’d initially anticipated.

Positioning Colomé with food I’d suggest game, perhaps partridge, or venison. Alternatively pork dishes cooked with a sauté of potatoes spiked with a little juniper and with some wild mushrooms alongside. Hard cheeses would be excellent too.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Argentina (Salta)

NAME OF WINE Colomé Estate Malbec 2011

STYLE Rich classic Argentina Malbec

ALCOHOL 14.5% abv

PRODUCER Hess Family Estates

RETAILER Waitrose Ltd

PRICE £ 17.49




October 2014

Both my wine choices this month come from Spain, the first from the Rias Baixas, a viticultural area in northwestern Galicia where ocean breezes and a relatively cool climate dictate the style of the wines – and in my glass is northern Spain’s star player – the low-yielding white Albariño grape.

This high quality centuries old variety is grown with particular success in this cooler demarcated area of northwestern Spain literally within sight and smell of the Atlantic where it was the very first quality white wine grape in Spain thought important enough to be labeled by its varietal name. The grape’s origins, however, are said to be ‘across the border’ in the Minho region of northwestern Portugal where it is known as Alvarinho.

Although of some antiquity, the highly regarded Albariño adapts well to modern winemaking, and beyond its homeland is grown nowadays in a number of other countries where local climatic conditions and different soil types raise subtly different flavour profiles. You’ll find it as far afield as the USA, Canada and Australia, grown with notable success.

Albariño is certainly a versatile wine grape, adapting well to oak treatment on occasion , so broad-brush descriptions of the taste of this wine might simply read as anything from ‘crisp and delicate’, or ‘no awkward corners’ to ‘peachy-spicy, almost Viognier-like, with good ageing potential’, depending on where and how it is vinified.

So here I am, looking at the relatively youthful Martín Códax Albariño 2013 from vineyards around the cool estuaries of the Rias Baixas denominacion where this grape has proved so popular – and marketable - inasmuch as there are literally thousands of small producers working with it. (The Martin Códax bodega itself is in fact a co-operative enterprise with over two hundred and eighty members.)

The youthful example I am tasting has gentle floral notes on the nose and is clean, crisp and vibrant within, with light appley fruit, a good balanced
structure and an almost creamy finish with, in this case, no obvious signs of oak treatment. Unsurprisingly it is an ideal partner for fish of all kinds, having grown up almost within sight and smell of the sea. Try it, for instance, with grilled sea-bass spiked with fennel butter. Magic!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Spain (Rias Baixas)

NAME OF WINE Albariño 2013

PRODUCER Bodegas Martín Códax

STYLE Crisp dry floral white

ALCOHOL 12.5%abv

RETAILER Majestic Wine Warehouse

PRICE £ 12.99 (currently 25% discount for multiples)

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My second Spanish choice finds me a little further south in the ancient kingdom of Navarre. … the reason? I have lighted on a recent addition from there to the wine shelves at Waitrose. This time it is a blend of two grape varieties, Graciano and Garnacha, the first of which is arguably less well known than the second. Garnacha, though, is a grape that lovers of southern Rhône red wines will find familiar – aka Grenache. A Spanish winemaker once told me, half-jokingly, that the less fashionable Graciano is known familiarly thereabouts as the ‘no thank you’ grape – “Gracia(s) No!” – but you should see the results when applied to the brilliantly crafted 100% Graciano wines from the Bodegas Contino in the Rioja Alavesa….there’s much to be thankful for there!

So to my red choice : the label proclaims ‘el Patito Feo’ Graciano/Garnacha 2013. Can the wine really be true to its Spanish name as ‘the ugly ducking’? Not at all in this case, except that the excellent Navarre region of Spain from whiit comes has long felt itself something of the kind when compared to its winemaking neighbour, Rioja, next door.

This particular ‘duckling’ is a wine with classified denomination which would be perfectly at home in any tapas bar in Spain or elsewhere as accompaniment either to cold meats: salcicción etc. or to dishes of pork or (especially) beef…. Great with really juicy beefburgers, I suspect!

The colour is a limpid clear ruby – very attractive on the eye when swirled in the glass - there’s a broad-spectrum red fruits perfume on the nose, but no indication of any wood treatment – so I anticipate the wine will act as ‘servant’ rather than ‘master’. Yes, a youthful taste profile confirms this too – plenty of blueberry fruitiness and freshness – the tannins are gently perceptible, holding the picture in the frame, so to speak, and the wine’s soft suppleness and completeness on the palate hints that it is ideal for shorter-term drinking, particularly with the prospect of food on the table. In all, I find this a very good value wine without any great pretentions or complexity. Here in the UK we are steadily losing our warmer days, but once they return I can even envisage this wine faring well drunk at cellar temperature or even slightly chilled in the manner of the lighter styles of Beaujolais . Will el Patito Feo develop over time into a magnificent ‘swan’? Perhaps not – so grab it for the simple enjoyment and value it represents …. It is what it is, and very nice too, and that’s fine by me!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Spain (Navarra DO)

NAME OF WINE ‘el Patito Feo’ Graciano/Garnacha 2013

PRODUCER Bodegas M&Z, Azagra

STYLE Youthful fruity dry red

ALCOHOL 13% abv

RETAILER Waitrose Ltd

PRICE £ 7.99

September 2014

With the gentle approach of autumn the September recommendations start with my favourite white grape variety – Riesling. Regarded by many in the wine world as the noblest of the white grape varieties, Riesling has an enviable ageing potential and can present subtly different faces of itself depending on where it is grown. There is a resurgence of interest in this classic cool-climate grape at present so I am particularly keen to share my own enthusiasm for it in my September selection. At its finest and from the best-favoured vineyard sites Riesling is unmistakeable - whistle-clean and almost aristocratic. (Sorry, Chardonnay lovers….!)

Perhaps of all the white grape varieties grown anywhere in the world Riesling has an effortless ability to reflect the minerality of the various different soils on which it is raised and yet not lose any of its own remarkable individuality of character. As a dry wine its cleansing fresh acidity when young hides the fact that Riesling grapes contain a high degree of residual sugars, when they can also be vinified to produce show-stoppingly opulent sweet wines, some of which are collectors’ items and which can last and improve with age to an extraordinary degree.

My choice for this month is a relative youngster, Loimer Riesling 2012 (Kamptal DAC) from a premium growing area northwest of Vienna. If you are unfamiliar with Austrian wine the country has a particularly exciting and evolving wine culture and a well-deserved reputation for producing great value crisp whites at the entry level of the market, world-class dry Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs, plus its own secret weapon – Grüner Veltliner - one of Europe’s most amazingly adaptable dry white quality grapes. Reds aren’t forgotten either, witness the country’s unique swathe of highly individual and juicily food-friendly wines from indigenous vines.

Where Riesling is concerned, however, and to prevent any suspicion of confusion, the Austrians, as indeed the Germans, may occasionally refer to the variety as ‘Johannisberg Riesling’ simply to distinguish it from the inferior but widely-grown ‘Welschriesling’ - a prolific cropper with neither the same antecedent pedigree nor the classiness of true Riesling itself.

So to my own wine notes on Riesling Kamptal 2012 on an initial tasting: Pale straw colour in the glass with evidence of a light texture when gently swirled : a delicate nose of citrus blossoms : the first impression on the tongue is of immediate freshness: a steely wine with fleeting hints of lime and tart apple as background notes. The production ‘stats’ indicate only 3.0 gm/ residual sugar, so accordingly the wine tastes quite dry, however there is nothing insubstantial here. The overall impression is one of finesse, delicacy and poise – fitting perhaps the expression ‘nerveux’ as used by the French, (their quaintly apt descriptive word commonly employed for their own wines of this type). There is plenty of good minerality here too, the vineyard soils being principally of gneiss - and the fruit, from vines aged between fifty and fifteen years of age gets a proper chance to shine without an irrelevant overlay of oak.

In terms of food pairing I’d suggest simple preparations of top quality white fish, ( Dover Sole or Monkfish comes to mind) , although the wine would be equally happy alongside Asian-influenced foods, maybe prawns in Tempura batter or perhaps scallops with a touch of coriander, scallions, and judicious hints of oriental spice etc.

Finally, and drinking it simply for itself, I’d suggest the best way to enjoy this wine is in its relative bloom of youth. An aperitif on the veranda? Why not – assuming you have a veranda to hand on which to sit and appreciate the wine’s crisp refreshing delights… it is not compulsory, though!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Austria (Kamptal DAC - Niederösterreich)

NAME OF WINE Riesling Kamptal 2012

STYLE Classy delicately dry Riesling

PRODUCER Fred Loimer

ALCOHOL 12.5% abv

RETAILER The Good Wine Shop www.thegoodwineshop.co.uk

PRICE £ 17 . 50

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A bit of a ‘stop press’! I don’t want to rush too prematurely into the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ but I have just been introduced to a great value easy-drinking unoaked red wine that shows a beautiful berry softness and which would well suit the kind of dishes that anticipate the arrival of Autumn. People don’t need letters after their name to validate them as good citizens and neither does this wine, crafted outside the bureaucratic constraints of the AOC system and therefore classified simply as a basic ‘Vin de France’.

This choice, from the wider stable of Le Paradou branded wines, is 100% Grenache and hails from sustainable vineyards in the western Languedoc in the general region of Minervois although obviously not within an area officially designated for AOC wines. My own view is that this is a real ‘find’ at a respectable price: although relatively simple and uncomplicated there’s a gentle burst of ripely soft, sappy Grenache fruit on the palate together with plenty of depth. True, many indifferent wines may be produced under the ‘Vin de France’ label – but Le Paradou Grenache 2012 is a very attractive and well-made exception. Here the grapes enjoy a relatively brief maceration period of 10-15 days, followed by a very gentle pumping over at regular intervals in order to maximize the purity of the fruit. A short stay in steel or concrete follows prior to bottling. Don’t expect complexity - simply enjoy the wine for itself. This appealing wine speaks truthfully of its grape variety and its origins and shares something of the warmth and typicity of its ‘senior’ neighbours from the officially designated AOC vineyards around the sun-soaked Languedoc. No wonder The Good Wine Shop tells me they sell it as their recommended budget House ‘Red’. Splendid for barbecues and an ideal partner to rustic cooking, too – with this wine alongside just rustle up a gigot d’agneau cooked with herbs and book me in for dinner!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Languedoc)

NAME OF WINE Le Paradou Grenache 2012 - Vin de France

STYLE Soft well-fruited southern French Grenache

PRODUCER Le Paradou

ALCOHOL 13.5% abv

RETAILER The Good Wine Shop www.thegoodwineshop.co.uk

PRICE £ 9.50

August 2014

For some, inexpensive sparkling Cava simply equates with anonymous-tasting ‘fizz’ imbued with the party spirit, and yet there is also Cava with some real quality behind it that pushes it upwards a notch or two in a wine-drinker’s estimation. Given the current summer weather conditions I haven’t been slow to trace an example of the latter to communicate it to you.

Admittedly the description ‘Cava’ once used to be pretty broad-brush in specifying the number of suitable regions in which the grapes could be grown and in which these sparkling ‘metodo tradicional’ wines could be elaborated, (originally, as the name suggests, in caves). More recently EU rules were put in place to limit production to more defined designated areas, the lion’s share being around the town of San Sadurni d’Anoia in Catalunya, the birthplace of my August choice Okhre Natur Cava NV.

Just as Champagne is based on three classic grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier, Cava sparklers generally derive from the trio of the delicately flavoured Macabeo, the more earthy Xarel-lo – most detectable on the wine’s occasionally ‘stony’ finish - and the elegantly textured Parellada, the latter vines carpeting the higher vineyard slopes of the Catalan hillsides. Chardonnay has progressively earned an honourable place in some producers’ final blends, too. So to my selection, and if you think you know Cava inside out then think again: Marks & Spencer has brought in a really dry and quite classy version, Okhre Natur Cava from elevated vineyards to the west of San Sadurni d’Anoia where there is a high calcium content in the local soils. Unlike many ‘cheap’ Cavas where fruitiness is replaced merely by an initial and rather unsubtle ‘hit’ of yeast followed by a rather empty middle and a shortish finish, my light honey-coloured choice for August has real character, with peachy fruit at its centre and a freshness and purity that speaks of organically grown grapes and the absence of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The wine spends nine months on its lees in bottle , and the clue to the dryness level is on the label, the wine being marked up as ‘Natur’ – in other words with the lowest official maximum sugar levels for the Brut category, 3gm/litre of natural residual sugar (i.e. not added sugar). Don’t let that put you off, however, the delicious freshness of Okhre Natur Cava makes it ideal aperitif drinking, and the pleasant surprise of finding some subtle fruit on the palate makes this wine stand out somewhat from the generality of the region’s sparklers let alone making it welcome as a food partner too, perhaps alongside white fish or light poultry dishes. Compared to the price of Champagne as an alternative it won’t exactly break the bank! Salud!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Spain (Catalunya)

NAME OF WINE Okhre Natur Cava

STYLE A ‘wine-drinker’s sparkling non-vintage organic Cava

PRODUCER Celler Josep Piñol S.A.

ALCOHOL 12% abv.

RETAILER Marks & Spencer Ltd. (Exclusively)

PRICE £ 10.99


July 2014

My July wine choice, a soft, ripe and exotic Barossa 'Chook' Chardonnay 2008 is summer drinking with an Australian accent that will have had the benefit of oak treatment all very fine in itself, but before I put it under the spotlight it is worth expanding a little on the mysterious  subject of wood and wine…more than simply a marriage of convenience.

It is worth bearing in mind that the first use of wood casks was simply to aid  transportation from the wine's point of origin to wherever it was to be sold. It was only when négociants realised that wines that had undergone sea voyages in barrels tasted more complex at their point of arrival than when they left their point of origin that lessons began to be learned, and that for certain types of wine a period of time spent in wood was realised as beneficial, regardless of transportation issues.

Just a few questions, perhaps:

HOW?

What happens to wine across its wood-influenced interim in cask is  basically the result of a very slow oxygenation occurring through various thicknesses of wood fibre whereupon the astringency of the tannins present in the wines becomes softer and rounder, affecting not only the wine's inherent stability but also its taste and to some extent its keeping potential.   There's a phenolic interaction too, as the wooden barrel staves can impart their own individual signature to enhance the flavour, let alone affecting the keeping potential of the wine over its due time in cask.

WHO?

The maker of the barrel is all important and needs to be celebrated as a crucial part of a wine-making team, working sensitively with the winemakers in order to build barrels of the correct specifications to achieve harmonious results.   This is all very well as a principle but the art of the cooper (barrel-maker) is to know when to be self-effacing with respect to the contents of the barrel.  What is at stake is balance; a balance between the fruit inherent in the wine and the effect that the barrel maturation has upon it.  Nowadays, with so much renewed focus on individuality of 'terroir' in wine - that almost aetherial extension of the basic accidents of climate, vine site, viticulture and vinification - it would be counterproductive to mask those subtle indications by carelessness in the oak treatment of wines.

The production of wine casks, incidentally, involves firing the wood in order to bend the staves to fit within the barrel hoops, and the precise degree of 'toast' on the inside of the barrel is hugely important, and a subject of choice for the winemaker regarding 'the balancing act' I mention above.
                                                                         
In my remembered visits to California now over forty years ago, hyper-oaky Chardonnays seemed much in vogue, their scent in the glass suggestive almost of a sawmill rather than of fruit, and their unsubtle taste was as the result of overenthusiastic wood maturation. The only question one could fairly ask was "where's the fruit?"  Unforgettable wines, maybe, but possibly for the wrong reasons, and hard work to reach in the glass let alone to pair with food.  Don't worry.  The all-important lesson that oak should complement wine, not aggressively to dominate it, seems finally to have been taken on board by most respected winemakers worldwide.

WHAT?

Wood maturation  means what?  In the wide world of wine, oak is not the only wood used for barrels, though it is almost universally accepted as standard, being carefully matched to the type of wine that will eventually be nurtured by it in barrel.   France probably leads the way with oak staves principally from the Limousin, Tronçais, Nevers and Allier forests, each of which has its own individuality and signature based on the cell structure of its fibres …. then there is the wider-grained American oak which gives its own individual profile.   Some years ago when visiting Bodegas Contino in  the Rioja Alavesa I learned that winemaker Jesus Madrazo uses barrel wood from a variety of sustainable European sources including Hungarian oak, Slavonian oak etc. on a  ten year sustainable supply basis in order to provide not only a continuity of forest growth but a stylistic continuity for his wines.    There again, new oak barrels can impart more phenolic qualities to wine than pre-used ones which winemakers often use in proportion to new in order to lend simply a gloss and  a texture  to wine rather than imparting any woody flavour. In the case of pre-used barrels there may even be a build-up of tartrates on the inside of the staves whereby the wood/wine interaction is nullified.   The use of oak barrels involves a considerable capital expenditure for wineries when you consider a single 225 litre Bordeaux barrique can cost over £400.

But beware!  If you see the weasel word 'oaked'on a bottle label it may mean that there has been no beneficial interaction between wine and barrel across a period of time, merely that the basic 'four-square' oaky taste has been imparted by the use of oak chippings shovelled into the steel maturation cask. In this case the wine itself, although ostensibly tasting 'oaky' will always be an inferior product compared to wine that has interacted over time with its wooden shell.   Perhaps the worst case scenario, which we hope you never have to meet, is when oak flavours are imparted to wine merely through 'tea bags' of finely ground oak dust suspended into the wine vat.    It is safe to suggest that this is horrid!

WHEN?

Assuming the winemaker wants to produce a wine in oak rather than a non-reactive container, the authorities in some of the world’s classic wine areas specify the minimum amount of time premium wines must stay in cask before bottling, which is all part of the jigsaw of quality control….and a kind of a guarantee to the consumer.  I am forcibly reminded of these very necessary legislative restraints by virtue of a happy accident: I was once invited to make an unexpected visit to arguably the top Bordeaux château where I was offered cask samples of their latest vintage prior to an assemblage of the grape varieties for the eventual blend.  An awesome experience, particularly as the inky-dark Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted was completely closed and utterly impenetrable.  True, given further years of development in bottle a truly magnificent wine would be the likely result …  consequently I was greatly in awe of the predictive skill and experience of the winemaker in fine tuning the infant cuvée to achieve that greatly desired end.   (Incidentally, the  current asking price for a 12 bottle case  of Ch. Mouton-Rothschild 1er Cru 2012  is around £,3,000 just in case you are slipping out to pick some up for the weekend).

So now to my much less expensive wine choice for July - a characterful biodynamically grown, hand-crafted,  Australian oaked Chardonnay for, yes, under £7 -  extraordinary value for money, given its complexity and purity of style.

The biodynamically grown Barossa 'Chook' Chardonnay 2008 is vinified, as the name suggests, in the Barossa Valley, South Australia, although the fruit is sourced from selected plots in the hills of the Eden Valley, Barossa's cooler neighbour, and marketed under the general heading of 'Terroirs of Australia'.  The state-of-the-art Maverick winery, the wine's place of vinification, is also biodynamic - all its electricity is self-generated by solar panels -and all the surplus materials from the winemaking, stems, pulp (marc) and so forth is composted on site in order to replace and renew the organic matter taken out of the vineyards at each vintage.   Barossa 'Chook'is a 'star-bright' wine in the glass, the colour of new-polished brass, with a rich visible body texture when swirled prior to tasting.  A complex array of heady tropical scents meet the nose, equally fruity, floral and herbaceous, followed by a silky/creamy texture on the palate.  My! Does Chardonnay love oak?  The evidence of oak here is not only in the wine's evident 'polish' but also on the back notes of the taste which speak of the use of new casks, however briefly.  The overall impression shining from the glass is of purity, timely development, and of the best standards of minimum intervention winemaking.

Australian sunshine has provided the ripeness of this wine - it is not crafted in a lean cool-climate European 'aperitif'style - and it would adapt excellently to quite robustly spiced food - ideally 'Pacific-rim' or Thai cuisine (or, for that matter the humbler British fish'n chips with which I am introducing myself to this wine for the first time!) .
 
Finally, 'Chook' ?  Apparently the word relates to the chickens that have free range over the estate's Eden Valley vineyards.  All part of the overall biodynamic picture, I guess.
 
Even though oaked New World Chardonnay is not essentially my 'thing',  the value for money factor here seems more than evident.  I have tasted far more disappointing wines than this at three times the price, hence my enthusiastic recommendation.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:                   Australia

NAME OF WINE:                            Barossa 'Chook'Chardonnay 2008

STYLE:                                         Oaked Chardonnay

ALCOHOL:                                    13.2%

RETAILER:                                    Lea & Sandeman Ltd.

PRICE:                                         £ 6. 95

June 2014

As I write the dark skies above me have just opened, and I can't actually see across my garden for the current drenching deluge of hail and rain, so I must assume the English Summer has arrived!   Time to highlight some more worthwhile seasonal drinking - so I'll exercise a little optimism and imagine that further warm sunny days may eventually come along when  I can  safely recommend a couple of Italian wines, a white and a red, straddling that country, east and west.

The crowd-pleasing white wine I have chosen won't break the bank. Currently on offer at Waitrose until early June at an introductory £5.99*, after which it reverts to £6.99.    Get in quick - it could be a good budget option if you are catering for a garden party.  It is Passerina Terre di Chieti IGP 2013, from a classic if minor grape variety grown locally for centuries on Italy's Adriatic coast.   This particular example of Passerina is crafted at a co-operative Cantina in the Terre di Chieti province of Abbruzzo, and comes within the basic catch-all denomination embracing a wide range of other single varietals both red and white. Although Passerina may perhaps consider itself an 'also-ran' in the great grape race it reveals a characterful yet unpretentious personality as a rounded dry white - delicately 'peachy-peary' to the taste with just a smidgen of grape sugars evident on the palate but not enough to call it 'off-dry'. Apparently Passerina is versatile enough to be vinified at both ends of the style spectrum, i.e. as in both fizz and the dessert passito style, i.e. from semi-dried grapes.  As it stands here in my glass the wine is very lightly textured, and there is enough fresh acidity on the finish to leave an overall impression of some shapeliness, if there's perhaps not much of a finish.   Tasted under summer skies though, and at its modest price point, it is delightful.  Everyone should be more than happy!
  
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:                    Italy  (Abbruzzo - Terre di Chieti)

NAME OF WINE:                              Passerina Terre di Chieti   IGP

PRODUCER:                                   C.V.S.C- Ortona .  Italy

STYLE                                            Peachy dry white

ALCOHOL                                       13% abv.

RETAILER                                       Waitrose

PRICE                                            £5.99    (£6.99)*

Still keeping in optimistic vein weatherwise and if you fancy this kind of style, my next choice is a chillable light red hailing from Tuscany's 'wild west', the Maremma.  Traditionally grown,  Cardaelis Alicante IGT 2012  has organically produced certification and is crafted by one of the leading older properties in Massa Marittima.  'Cardaelis' is a take on the Latin name for goldfinch, and yes, there's one pictured on the label of this wine which comes into the more relaxed category below DOCG and DOC, that of IGT:  indicazione geographica tipica.  The family-owned Cantine Bicocchi is situated about eight miles inland from the Tyrrhenian Sea coast and identifies its range of wines with unusual soubriquets, of which this particular 'goldfinch' is made from 100%  'Alicante'.   Things are not quite as they seem, however.  If you are expecting the French grape crossing Alicante Bouschet in your glass then the label might mislead you.  So what on earth is it?   My heavyweight volume on vine varieties is silent - there's no other kind of Alicante listed!    Looking elsewhere I find that 'Alicante' is the name used locally in the Maremma region for Grenache. aka 'Alicante Toscana'.  Ah yes, the taste's more identifiably on target now, so mystery solved!

The wine enjoys a skin soak of twelve days and a brief fermentation period of just ten days in stainless steel wherein it sits for six months 'affinamento' before bottling. Given this treatment, the wine tastes tremendously fresh with barely any perceptible tannins - smooth as silk. The wine's appearance in the glass is as close as a really dark rosé gets to full red.  Drunk chilled, the definition of the wine’s delicate cherry flavoured profile becomes a little muted – but the fruit has superb purity and freshness,  the wine showing impeccable balance.   It is what I call a two-way bet - perfect drunk slightly chilled in a glass just by itself under summer skies, and perfect with the right kind of food -  maybe a good white fish roasted with herbs, or lamb cutlets cooked Italian-style, i.e. dipped in grated parmesan then egg and breadcrumbed, then fried, perhaps to be joined by steamed baby new potatoes, with a crisp salad alongside.  No, the suggestion's not compulsory…just a thought!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:                   Italy  (Tuscany / Maremma)

NAME OF WINE:                            Cardaelis Alicante Toscana  IGT

PRODUCER:                                 Azienda Agricola Francesca Bicocchi

ALCOHOL:                                   13.5% abv.

RETAILER:                                   Lea & Sandeman Ltd.

PRICE:                                        £11.95 single  -  £10.95 case

May 2014

Now here’s a thing! Some years ago the authorities responsible for Port wine production decided that the image of their time-honoured fortified tipple needed to be taken out of its dowdy ‘pin-stripes’ and be given a modern facelift. Lighter, more accessible fortified styles began to appear, including ‘Otima’ from the Warre stable, followed similar styles from other shippers. This innovation in traditional fortified Port styles went hand in hand with the greater production overall of light table wines from authorised Douro grape varieties – surprising perhaps when you consider the climate of the Upper Douro valley where sweltering summer temperatures tend to hover around 45 deg. C….nonetheless, backed by modern expertise, light Douro wines are making significant headway these days.

So to my wines of the month!

With ripeness and high sugars pretty much guaranteed in the grapes at harvest in this baked area of Portugal one might be surprised that my recent light wine discoveries include a vibrant, far-from-‘cooked’, sappy red, and a cool fragrant white, neither of which show excessive levels of alcohol. “Old Vines in Young Hands” (sic) is a deftly-turned brand name for a couple of new wines available from The Wine Society which are crafted at Adega Vila Real, a long established Co-operative in the upper reaches of the Douro valley. Consultant winemaker Rui Roboredo Madeira (a name synonymous with the cutting edge of Portugal’s ‘new wave’ winemaking) has been overseeing its production alongside the Adega’s chief winemaker Luis Cortinhas. What is it they say? ‘Wine is made in the vineyard’, so my twinned wines for the month, a ‘tinto’ and a ‘branco’, are derived from field blends of whatever old vines had traditionally been planted high on the terraced vineyards of the Upper Douro. In more than a few instances the winemakers themselves have lost track of the identities of the vines of their vineyards. Here, though, TOURIGA NACIONAL, TOURIGA FRANCA, MALVASIA FINA, TINTA RORIZ (Tempranillo), RABIGATO and VIOSINHO may have been pressed into service.

Beyond classic field blends from venerable old vines, the Douro region’s further trend towards making ‘new wave’ light wines purely from single grape varieties has been slower to take off and has had to overcome two significant stumbling blocks, firstly the traditionally hard economics of the region as a whole, and secondly a potential to compromise the strict vine identity accreditation required by the Port Wine authorities. Clearly few Douro wine producers can afford seven years loss of income pending their newly planted blocks of vines for lighter wines reaching full maturity, so as matters currently stand ‘Australia has come to the rescue’ with the introduction of that country’s own typical viticultural technique of field grafting suitable vine scions onto mature existing classic vine rootstocks. So far even the tradition-hugging authorities governing and protecting Port production have been kept happy.

So with a few deft cuts of a knife and a swift binding of twine, New meets Old.
The ‘Young Hands’ have crafted a ‘tinto’ that is cherry-coloured, well fleshed and cheerful, delicately smoky on the nose and at what could be called Beaujolais-weight on the palate, yet hinting at the deeper warmth of Douro ‘spice’ behind. I don’t have any technical details to hand, but I suspect as I sip it that the wine’s fresh style may have been due to a partial carbonic maceration of the grapes, à la Beaujolaise. Then there’s the white ‘branco’ which appears almost colourless within its slender slightly blue-tinted clear bottle but which pours as a very pale straw into the glass, revealing fragrant notes on the nose and a gentle clean herbaceousness on the palate. Both wines offer hugely enjoyable uncomplicated drinking, either with or without simply prepared food – and at a coolly affordable price, too.

Ideal summer wines, methinks…. Not long to wait now. (I may even have to order more!)

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Portugal - Upper Douro Valley

NAME OF WINE(S): ‘Old Vines in Young Hands’ Branco and Tinto 2013

PRODUCER: Adega Vila Real - Vale Fria Folhadelo.

ALCOHOL: Both wines at 13.5% abv.

RETAILER: The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com

PRICE: £ 5.95

April 2014

My first ‘pick’ for April comes from what is now the independent CIS State of Georgia where the story of wine began. Yes, there is plenty of ancient historical evidence to back up the fact that the world’s first systematic viticulture and wine making was practised at the eastern end of the Black Sea. Once the great Biblical flood had receded some allege that this is where Noah first planted grapes … but then, who can say for sure?

Never knowingly having sampled it myself before, Georgia’s most widely grown white grape variety Rkatsiteli comes up for inspection. The grape is thought to have been a direct descendant of the wild vines that grew thereabouts in antiquity….we’re talking about 3,000 years BC here. Jancis Robinson’s ‘Wine Grapes’ helpfully points out that the word is a combination of ‘rka’, meaning vine shoot, and ‘tsiteli’, meaning red – but I guess that must refer to the shoots rather than the grapes which, though producing clear juice, have variable pinkish/russet skins somewhat similar to those of Gewurtztraminer grapes. As a work-horse grape variety Rkatsiteli is pretty virtuous: highly productive on the vine with relatively high sugar levels when fully ripe, allowing it to be vinified across the range of styles from fully dry to quite sweet, the latter being seemingly the preferred style of wine-drinkers in China where it is also widely grown.

It is not hard to imagine that in its dryer guise (as in my April choice) the delicately tropical hints of Rkatsiteli might be perfectly suited to Chinese or Thai gastronomy – think lemon-grass, think seared scallops, perhaps.
Tasted without food Chateau Mukhrani Rkatsiteli offers a good mouth-feel and comes just barely off-dry. The nose offers the attractive fragrance of honeysuckle and melon, with its palate revealing a balance of delicate light spice behind those elements. There’s an attractive acidity too which gives the wine an enlivening freshness overall… and the taste lingers on. Having said this, the wine shows its cards quite patently - perhaps one shouldn’t anticipate Rkatsiteli to reveal the ultimate in complexity as it opens in the glass - but then it makes excellent short-term drinking for its price … hence my good value recommendation!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Georgia (CIS)

NAME OF WINE Château Mukhrani Rkatsiteli 2012

STYLE Dry/ripe white wine

PRODUCER J.S.C. Château Mukhrani Mtskheta

ALCOHOL 13% abv.

RETAILER Marks & Spencer Ltd.

PRICE £ 9.99 (£9.49 multiple)

-oOo-

I’m back on more familiar territory with a ‘grown-up’ Beaujolais as my second recommendation. Forget bubble-gum scented watery Beaujolais ‘Nouveau’ and sample a remarkable wine from the top end of the line, Morgon AC Côte du Py, Domaine Jean-Marc Burgaud, 2012.

I admit my own recent tasting notes below relate to an earlier vintage (2009) from the same appellation, although from a negociant supplier rather than a viticulteur like Jean-Marc , but I have no hesitation in promoting the general Morgon style. It has its own very special and highly-regarded individuality.
The Morgon AC (AP) is one of the ten Beaujolais ‘Crus’ – each of them possessing a different character according to their respective vineyard exposures and –importantly - the local geology. The hillier northern part of the Beaujolais is based principally on weathered granites but the schistous soils of the Morgon appellation contain a high proportion of shale and ‘blue’ gravel. The keynote of the terroir is a distinctive minerality derived from iron oxide and manganese in the soils, thanks to a rather unusual outcrop of broken rock. The highest point around the village of Villié Morgon is the hump of the Mont du Py, itself a much reduced extinct volcano, with vineyards sprawling across the slopes of two valleys around it.

Jean-Marc Burgaud’s wine is the product of 50 year old Gamay vines, from which whole bunches of the grapes undergo the classic Beaujolais-style carbonic maceration for around 14 days to give structure and concentration to a wine that has keeping potential. “The fruitiness of a Beaujolais with the charm of a Burgundy” – as they say in those parts.

My previously tasted example of an older Morgon vintage – for self-education purposes only, you understand - had not only vibrancy and minerality, but also the distinctive hallmark scent suggestive of cherries – perhaps even cherry liqueur or Kirsch – with fleeting blackberry echoes on the fruit-laden palate too. Well-structured Beaujolais wines like AC Morgon from the ‘climats’ of the Côte du Py ask to be paired at table with well-flavoured terrines, leg of spring lamb, or even the obligatory coq au vin. Bon appetit!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Beaujolais)

NAME OF WINE Morgon, Côte du Py, 2012

STYLE ‘Serious’ sappy Beaujolais with cellar potential

PRODUCER Jean-Marc Burgaud

ALCOHOL 13% abv.

RETAILER The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com

PRICE £ 12.50

March 2014

It is always a pleasure to make acquaintance with a wine of exceptionally good value which outperforms its peers in a regional tasting line-up….and I am more than happy to recommend ‘Momo ‘Vendimia Seleccionada 2009, from Bodegas Bohorquez in the Ribera de Duero region of Spain as my March choice.

High and dry in northern central Spain the relatively new denomiacion of Ribera del Duero has nothing like the lengthy history, say, of the Rioja, and until the catalyst provided by Don Eloy Chaves’ Vega Sicilia estate which had imported Bordelais elaboration techniques the region furnished merely artisanal-style wines for local quaffing…and the recovery therefrom. The sheer quality of the output from Vega Sicilia – arguably the classiest wine in Spain - rapidly attracted not only wider attention to the potential of the region as a whole, but also galvanized local producers to ‘up their game’ – and this relatively revamped area of Spanish wine now finds itself firmly on the top quality map, aiming to rub shoulders with its neighbouring ‘star’ performer.

So where is it?

The D.O. region Ribera del Duero hugs the R. Duero itself and extends widely over four Castilian provinces: Burgos, Valladolid, Segovia and Soria. Official classification here extends to red and rosado wines only...there is no local tradition of producing whites. The vineyards are high and dry at around 750 and 800 metres above sea level, and the dramatic ‘see-saw’ of daily temperature variation from <40deg C > 20deg C across the summer and early autumn allows vines to conserve their energies at night. (Many of the other consistently hot regions of Spain find vines working 24 hours a day). This virtually alpine climate allows nutrients required by Ribera del Duero vines to remain in the soil to be consumed during daylight hours, the vines having ‘shut down’ overnight to pick up nourishment the following day. Additionally this temperature variation stimulates the esters within the grapes, producing intense flavour, and an extra degree both of colour and tannin may be expected from dry grapes with thick skins.

These, then, are the conditions that inform my red choice: ‘Momo’ Venemmia Seleccionada 2009, a crianza-level tinta del pais (i.e. Tempranillo) from Bodegas Bohorquez, itself only a low profile winemaking operation but with vineyards on the high Pesquera plateau, nudging 800 metres above sea level, with vines planted at double the density customary elsewhere in Spain in order both naturally to reduce yields and also to maximise concentration in the grapes.

What impresses first is the fullness of the wine’s deeply fruit-laden aroma, with the customary hints of vanilla in the background indicating its having been ‘nursed’ in oak for a year. Baskets of soft, deeply ripe fruits on the palate, and just a hint of the warmth of sun-soaked earth, too - though no lack of a needful ‘frame’ of acidity. There is well handled, confident modern winemaking here which offers, I believe, super value. Given the climatic circumstances of its birthplace the alcohol is held to a sensible level, and a seamlessly consistent arch of flavour across the array of tastes in the glass is well achieved through to a lingering and satisfying finish. Balance? The wine offers the true local depth and warmth of a Tempranillo without its being a blockbuster. A recommendation for shorter-term drinking – say perhaps to 2016.

Whether this well-crafted wine ‘discovery’ will stay at this price level much longer, I cannot say, but at present it seems quite a remarkable bargain!
The Wine Society suggests Steak & Kidney Pudding as an appropriate food match, and I don’t doubt that ‘Momo’ would also be a fantastic adjunct to good roasts of beef. Manchego cheese with its slightly salty/waxy character seems also an idiomatic ‘bulls-eye’ in terms of a match. (Maybe that should be ‘sheep’s-eye? Discuss!)

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Spain (Ribera del Duero D.O.)

NAME OF WINE: ‘Momo’ Vendimia Seleccionada 2009

PRODUCER: Bodegas Bohorquez S.A.

STYLE: Medium weight ripe, food-friendly red.

ALCOHOL: 13.5% abv.

RETAILER: The Wine Society

PRICE: £ 9.50

February 2014

My first February choice, Langhe DOC Arneis 2012 , offers a modern treatment of a slightly unfamiliar ancient white grape variety. Arneis, though known by a somewhat different name since the 15th century became virtually extinct some forty years ago but, fortunately, was rehabilitated in the 1980s at a time when a market resurgence for white Piedmontese wines began to take hold. Its restoration now gives it a justifiable foothold as one of the classic dry white wines of the Italian north-west.

My second recommendation is a mature and very food-friendly Cru Bourgeois Claret Ch. d’Aurilhac 2004 from the Haut-Medoc which offers exceptionally good value from one of the well-regarded but cooler Bordeaux vintages.

-o0o-

Piedmont is rightly regarded as one of the finest wine areas of Italy, though generally synonymous with sturdy reds with great names like Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera.

Historically, white Piedmontese grape varieties never really took starring roles, and the earlier ripening Arneis was sometimes grown in the greatest Barolo vineyards in order to attract hungry birds away from the still-ripening and precious Nebbiolo vines. ‘Arnèis’, I gather, is a dialect Piedmontese word meaning an untrustworthy scoundrel – a reflection, perhaps, of the fact that before modern viticultural and winemaking technology kicked in, the white Arneis grape variety was a member of ‘the awkward squad’, unpredictable both in its growth and its yield.

Given the advantage of improved viticultural techniques Arneis as grown and vinified in the Roero district of Piedmont around the river Tanaro, qualifies for the ‘top’ status of DOCG ; plantings on the Langhe hillsides, however, retain the regional denomination of DOC.

I had greatly enjoyed this wine some years ago, but such is its relative rarity that it has only just resurfaced to show its paces in the wider marketplace: your local high street, for example. This wine, from the distinguished producers Ascheri, proves just how worthwhile the renaissance of this localised grape variety can be to the general palette of white wines of this part of the world. Light straw in colour, with an appearance offering a little viscosity in the glass, the nose suggests (to me) lime-blossom – certainly something floral with a gently exotic citric touch to it. The palate is beautifully textured, dry and firm, with a good depth of subtly spicy stone fruit flavours beneath …and there’s elegance here too. A wine which, with all the modern trappings of top class viticulture, punches well above its weight. (A Silver Medal at the International Wine & Spirit Competition 2013.) The finish is equally satisfying with a good length of residual flavour enfolding whatever appropriate food is put beside it, be it chicken or, say, white fish in creamy sauces, perhaps with some mushrooms to add a bit of depth. The briefest technical detail: no oak, and grapes harvested from vines aged around 20 years.

COUTRY OF ORIGIN Italy (Piedmont)

NAME OF WINE Langhe DOC Arneis 2012

STYLE Elegant dry food-friendly white

PRODUCER Ascheri

ALCOHOL 13.5% abv.

RETAILER Marks & Spencer plc.

PRICE £12.99

-o0o-

There’s a received wisdom that wine lovers can never have enough Claret ‘under their feet’ – though my own cellar is limited in size – but I suggest a lovely candidate from the cooler 2004 Bordeaux vintage, Ch. d’Aurilhac , a Cru Bourgeois that has reached its ‘plateau’ of mature drinking, on which I report below.

It might be helpful to explain the status of the original Crus Bourgeois of the Medoc: The awards of the Paris Exhibition of 1855 to five top rankings of wine Chateaux left a large number of producers excluded from the magical ‘A’ list. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the many runners-up sought redress as they felt that their own wine should have been up there on the podium too. There was a lot of bad feeling! ‘Sour grapes’ aside, there were obvious quality differences within the wines of the ‘other ranks’, and it wasn’t until 1920 that a Syndicat des Crus Bourgeois et Bourgeois de Medoc was finally set up in order to classify them specially. Sadly, the syndicat was little more than an excuse to vent off hot air, and nothing was actually done to bring these lesser wines into the fold until 1932, when five senior Medoc winebrokers (‘courtiers’) whittled the list down to the following:

In the Haut-Medoc:-

6 Crus Bourgeois Superieures Exceptionnels
100 Crus Bourgeois Superieures
250 Crus Bourgeois

In the Bas – Medoc:-

87 Crus Bourgeois

Despite their good intentions the brokers had acted too slowly: the wine prices of the day were crashing and for many estates the listing had come too late as many of them were forced to sell up and, with the advent of WW2, the Syndicat had become a dead duck.

It was not until 1962 that the issue of the Crus Bourgeois was considered once again, but this time to include Bordeaux as a whole and not merely the Medoc alone. By this time only 110 of the Chateaux in the original syndicate remained – a few didn’t bother renewing their memberships, and a few new members came in. In 1966 the Syndicat held official tastings and made internal awards of gradings based on a review held every ten years. The label of the 2004 vintage of Ch. d’Aurilhac indicates that the wine fell into the classification decreed in 2003, one that was officially annulled in 2007. Classification thereafter was suspended until 2010 when a single new and overarching ‘Crus Bourgeois’ listing for Bordeaux was reinstated on the merits of the wines themselves rather than their Chateaux.

A dark-centred garnet in the glass with some substance, and deep plummy red fruits on the nose with hints of woodsmoke and balsam. A light tannic ‘grip’ to the palate which is fully developed and dry but supportive of the wine’s fruit. A classic Medoc style, and very pleasurable at its current peak, and equally without some of the slightly ‘green’ characteristics found in some lesser wines of that cool 2004 harvest.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Bordeaux – Haut Medoc)

NAME OF WINE Chateaux d’Aurilhac Cru Bourgeois 2004

STYLE c. 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend

PRODUCER Ch. d’Aurilhac et La Fagotte

ALCOHOL 13.5% abv.

RETAILER The Wine Society

(N.B.: Lea & Sandeman Ltd have the 2009 vintage)

PRICE £12.5

January 2014

Happy New Year!

Regardless of the fact that the nation turned to Prosecco rather than Champagne to see in the New Year (Tesco having reported a 70% hike in sales of the wine over the Christmas period) I make no apology for staying firmly in France and choosing not Champagne itself but Cuvée Eugenie, Crémant de Limoux NV as our aperitif candidate to remind us, perhaps a bit distantly now,of the distant fizz of Christmas as we all head into 2014. As we know, life isn’t all Champagne - or even Prosecco - but then as my first pick for the year hails from the foothills of the Pyrenees, neither is this. Le Champagne (from la Champagne) is unique of course and has much to commend it, but elsewhere in France you can find some worthwhile and individual styles of bottle-fermented sparkling wine, some of which can come under the umbrella designation of ‘crémants’, or ‘creamy’ sparklers, as here in the Languedoc. Wines for the budget-conscious too.Although made by the méthodeChampenoisethis gentler kind of fizz usually has around half the bottle pressure of true Champagne which can clock in at a hefty 6.5 atmospheres i.e. theequivalenttyre pressure of a bus!Thank goodness for strong bottle glass.

You may already be aware of the three broad conditions that are required for making classic bottle-fermented sparkling wines worldwide, but there is no harm inmy re-stating them here:

1: Clean healthy grapes with a naturally high ripe acidity;

2: Absence of strong grape aromatics. Relative neutrality is seen as a ‘plus’ in the base wine in order to allow subtleties of flavour to arise through subsequent yeast autolysis in bottle and, of course, across storage time;

3: Only very moderate alcohol in the base wine itself. Yeast-infused secondary fermentation in bottle adds not only a little complexity and ageing potential but may also boost the initial alcohol level by up to 1.5%.

So to Crémant de Limoux. The appellation lies south of Carcassonne in Languedoc-Roussillon where the white wines used to be made almost exclusively from ‘Blanquette’, a synonym for the Mauzac Blanc grape of the immediate region whichoften exhibits an attractive apple-y note on thepalate, perhaps with what label-writers call ‘a charming gentle rusticity of character’. Little known fact? The sparkling wines of Limoux predate Champagne by some centuries – the ancient méthodeancestralestill being employed by a number of local producers to this day. Nowadays, perhaps with an eye to raising the wine’s export market profile,the local rules for Crémant de Limoux have relaxedby permitting higher proportions of both Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc in the total blend – so in the modern style of Cuvée Eugenie Chardonnay is the leading grape, Chenin adds its own fresh acidity, and Mauzacis relegated to a slender 10% of the assemblage .The cuvée spends at least 18 months on its lees prior to disgorgement, the label bearing the name of the first woman ever to manage a vineyard in the Languedoc, Eugenie Limouzy. The subsequent marriage of her niece to a fellow winemaker, Edmond Antech in 1931 gives rise to the name of the production house through which the wine appears.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France, (Aude)

NAME OF WINE Crémant de Limoux ‘Cuvee Eugenie’ NV

PRODUCER Maison Antech

STYLE Subtly floral light aperitif sparkler with fresh creamy acidity

ALCOHOL 12% abv.

RETAILER Berry Bros. & Rudd (sold as Berry’s Antech-Limoux) www.bbr.com

PRICE £11.95

Notwithstanding the spring-like character of the above wine, winter’s chilly dampness still haunts us, so the choice of red wine offers a welcome touch of warmth with an example well fitted for robust seasonal game dishes: Vila Santa Reserva, Vinho Regional Alentejano 2012 from J.Portugal Ramos at Estremoz in the Alentejo region of Portugal.

Here, in thisextensive southerly swathe of the country there are extensive horizons and wide skies, and to drive across the Alentejo today one is aware of the gentlest of undulating landscapes as far as the eye can see. The topography of this part of Portugal is based on a prehistoric ocean bed – not difficult to appreciate as one drives across the region. There are wheat fields and vineyards aplenty here and, also dotted around, orchards of cork oak trees (quercussuber) which are important for the local economy, stripped into service to provide cork on an industrial scale – not least for many of the world’s wine bottle closures. In low evening sunshine the orange-ochre brightness of the freshly bark-stripped trees is an astonishingly dramatic sight against darkening sky. My ownintroduction to the region was initially as a holiday visitor when my wife and I stayed at thecastle of the Queen-Saint Isabella at Estremoz,built from locally quarried marble and now one of Portugal’s foremost Pousadas. This imposing edifice even features on the label ofVila Santa Reserva, viewed across the moderate distance from J-P Ramos’1,250 acre property (See photograph) which was established in 1993.

Today, Joao-Portugal Ramoscelebrates twenty-one years of production to find himself a major player in the region with an annual output of 2.5M bottles from various local vineyards embedded on russet-pink coloured schist and limestone-clay soils (see the further vineyard photo). Combining traditional and state-of-the art winemaking, he has even set up his own personal ‘fun’ winery alongside his purely commercial one.

Vila Santa Reserva 2012 is a blend comprising 25% Aragonez (Tempranillo); 25% Alicante Bouschet (known in neighbouring Spain as GarnachaTintoreta); 20% TourigaNacional; 20% Syrah; and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon….part of the yield being foot-trodden in traditional Portuguese marble troughs, or lagares. The wine is aged 9 months in new French oak prior to release. The wine itself appears as intense dark garnet in the glass and the substantial palate is drily velvety with spiced dark red fruits. This particular vintage is beginning to show good integration and the generous alcohol of 14%abv is well managed so one doesn’t feel overwhelmed. The finish shows good length, with soft powdery tannins on the back palate. I’ve mentioned game as a food partner already – perhaps partridge, as beloved of the Portuguese - but as this is the season in which good roasts and rich hearty stews are welcome, the wine will certainly strut its stuff alongside to good effect. It has good cellarage potential too.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Portugal (Alentejo)

NAME OF WINE Vila Santa Reserva 2012

PRODUCER Joao-Portugal Ramos

STYLE Food-friendly oaked, mature dry red

ALCOHOL 14.0% abv.

RETAILERS Prestige Wines www.prestigewinesportugal.com. Tanners Wine Merchants www.tanners-wines.co.uk

PRICE Around £12

December 2013

As if there wasn’t a thick enough jungle of wines out there, there is an equally tricky pathway through ‘wine-words’ – many of which can mislead or cause confusion. For example, what is meant by the expression ‘Old Vines’? And how old is ‘old’ anyway. What criteria exist, if any, for allowing this descriptive expression to be used legitimately?

I know I was greatly impressed when I first came to London in the 1960s by seeing the great old vine at Hampton Court Palace, planted in the 18th Century from a cutting of the dessert Black Hamburgh grapevine by ‘Capability’ Brown. A monstrously huge rambling plant, still (astonishingly) productive, obviously worthy of regard as ‘venerable’.

Given the right circumstances a vine can have a productive life of beyond a century, as witness many gnarled old vines poking out of the ground in the Rhône, the Midi, and elsewhere in old-established vineyard sites. However when it comes to hard and fast definitions for what constitutes ‘old’, the French themselves do not appear to have any formal rules for wine other than locally adopted ones for slapping the wording ‘Vielles Vignes’ on a label. – I have even heard the term applied to vines that are a mere 25 years old. In the New World too there are wines from historical plantings around Tanunda in the Barossa Valley ( and elsewhere in Australia) which have an obvious documentary status as ‘old’….so less trouble there.

Benefits? We generally understand that ‘old vine’ wine is made from vines that are physiologically mature and that have forced their roots more deeply into the bedrock than their juniors, but it is perhaps a mistake to assume that greater quality always flows as a result – maybe ‘difference’ is a better descriptor…but then one would have to taste the same wine from younger vines alongside to make a fair comparison in every case. Admittedly, really old vines become progressively less productive of grapes, so any shortfall of quantity at harvest may be compensated for by the wine’s greater concentration and expression – affecting the eventual price on the merchant’s shelf. No guarantees, but I guess the vines used for my December red wine choice are pretty old too – in any event they come from the world’s oldest officially delimited vineyards.

The other weasel-word seen on labels that needs clarifying is ‘superieur’, or ‘superiore’ etc. – so how awe-inspiring is that? Disappointingly perhaps, all this generally means is the wine has naturally achieved at least half a degree more alcohol than the statutory minimum laid down by the local regulations. Taking Bordeaux as an example, the stand-alone appellation ‘Bordeaux Superieur’ (known familiarly by the British wine trade as “Bordeaux-Soup”), covers both white and red wines across the whole of the massive region, the white wines achieving slightly higher sugar levels at harvest than the ground-level statutory requirement. True, the regulations also permit the wines to be matured a little longer than the basic entry-level AOP Bordeaux in order to develop a little more complexity. Other wine descriptors, too, need a bit of unpacking to understand them properly, and I may deal with them at a later stage. Enough for the moment - My wine recommendations for December await!

The hallmarks of the festive Christmassy sparkler I have chosen are brightness, softness and delicacy – Freixenet ‘Elyssia’ Gran Cuvée Brut NV. This is a classic Cava made with the usual combination of Catalonia’s Parellada and Macabeo grapes plus the Champenois Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The lively mousse that tried to escape from the bottle as I opened it sang gently of almonds, and the palate offered white stone fruit, though the finish reminded me more of freshly cut dessert apples – the fragrant ‘Pink Lady’, perhaps, though without too much sweetness. With a softly dry finish overall, the wine has the benefit of lightness and zesty freshness about it – celebratory stuff, certainly, and at £14.99 it clocks in some way below a ‘starter’ price-point for the most basic aperitif Champagne. The bottle itself looks discreetly festive too, having a distinctively svelte shape, adorned by a smart gold ribbon as a part of its habillage.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Spain (Penedes)

NAME OF WINE Freixenet ‘Elyssia’ Gran Cuvée Brut NV

PRODUCER Freixenet Cia.

STYLE Premium Cava sparkler

ALCOHOL 13% abv.

RETAILER Waitrose / Waitrose Wine Direct

PRICE £ 14.99

I am still in Iberia, although much further westwards, for my choice of warming December ‘red’. QUINTA DO CÔA 2008 DOC Douro.

The Quinta do Côa property is in its own valley near the Portuguese town of Almendra in the hottest part of the Douro Superior, eastwards towards Portugal’s border with Spain. In terms of wine production the estate extends to 115 hectares of vines adorning the steeply terraced valley sides amid 200 hectares of olive groves. Although this is primarily Port production territory, my choice here is an unfortified wine. Winemaking in this hard-to-work, semi-barren outpost of the Douro Valley requires the ultimate in dedication and grit from the local farmers, and the property - Casa Agricola Roboredo Madeira (CARM) was ancestrally an estate of family-owned smallholdings, bought up some 50 years ago by the engineer Celso Madeira whose son Rui is now in charge of winemaking. The estate’s vines and the olives are certified as organically grown, with the droppings of sheep as the only fertiliser. Rainfall in this part of the Douro is scanty, summers are fearsomely hot, winters are cold, the soils are schistous and dirt-poor – and by those same tokens the yields from the indigenous vines are understandably very low. The lead players in this blended wine are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) – plus an assortment of un-named others dotted around the estate. Around 50% of the wine is matured in fine-grained American oak, the remainder in stainless steel.

So what might we anticipate from the wine? Given the harsh local conditions one might expect the result to end up as a toughly tannic high alcohol ‘fruit-bomb’, yet the fact that alcohol is held (miraculously) to 13.5%abv allows for a greater expression and purity of fruit.

Taste: Textured, with a ripe taste-array of dark fruits, mulberries, blackberries, blueberries, with fennel, herb, smoke and wood-spice….a great partner for venison or other game dishes or hearty, warming winter stews.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Portugal (Douro)

NAME OF WINE Quinta do Côa Tinto 2008

PRODUCER Casa Agricola Roboredo Madeira (CARM)

STYLE Dry medium-weight darkly fruited red

ALCOHOL 13.5% abv.

RETAILER Philglas & Swiggot

PRICE £ 13.15

November 2013

Now what should I choose this month? There is ‘wine’, of course, and there is also what is usually referred to as ‘Fine Wine’. So what is the difference? Is the latter simply wine that has been ‘hyped’ to the skies, carrying bags of pretension and with a price tag to match? Or are fine wines simply examples of the pinnacles of the winemaker’s art? At one end of the spectrum their aura of sheer exclusivity can sometimes lead to a severe hole in one’s bank balance. I note for example that one very reputable London wine merchant/ broker is currently offering the 2010 vintage of arguably the stand-alone ‘top’ Burgundy, Chambertin Clos de Bèze, at £12,500 a case …. that’s equivalent to £1,041 a bottle …sadly no BOGOFs here either, as it was Napoleon’s favourite tipple, and the merchant’s cellars are not likely to be packed floor to ceiling with this precious commodity. Alexandre Dumas was a fan of Chambertin too, claiming that the future never looked so rosy as through a glass of it. Never having afforded a drop of it myself, I recall that when I was last in the Côte d’Or I got to visit merely the outer wall of this exclusive ‘clos’, its manicured vineyard visible through the bars of a firmly locked gate.

There’s no need to rush out for lottery tickets though, as price is not the only criterion of fine wine. Rest assured that bottles can certainly earn the accolade ‘fine’ well below this Olympian price tag, though it has to be said that recent demand for the top ‘labels’ in China and the Far East is now helping keep their market price spiralling ever upwards.

How should we define this slippery term ‘fine’ in any case?

Point scoring aside, maybe American wine guru Robert Parker Jr. can be helpful here. He describes fine wine as having: “the ability to please both the palate and the intellect, to hold the taster’s interest, to offer both intense aromas and flavors without heaviness, to taste better with each sip, to improve with age and finally, to offer a singular personality.” That sounds fair enough to me, although in the price of the example I quoted above, the law of supply (miniscule) against demand (overwhelming) comes heavily into play. One pays not only for topmost quality and complexity but also for the ‘cachet value’ of one of the greatest names - the most revered and iconic ‘clos’ in Burgundy. Arguably of greater importance to the buyer though is the wine’s significant investment potential! Like racehorse ownership, perhaps, if you’re looking to buy a winner, then breeding is everything.

Perhaps it is understandable that fine wines in this stellar category can be said to have crossed the boundary between wine-to-be drunk into simply an investment commodity with an increasing market value for ‘selling on’ for profit at a later stage in their development in bottle. Even at less exalted levels, LiveX market records show that fine wine has proved worthy of its own ‘liquidity’ across the years as a reliable investment. One can safely buy or sell through specialist brokers whose knowledge of fine wine is sound and who will take their commission, or alternatively buyers might ‘take a punt’ at a reputable auction house.

Buying fine wine in the latter case is always a matter of ‘caveat emptor.’ The purchase of parcels of older fine wine at auction can occasionally be something of a gamble, when clear evidence of traceability should be sought at point of sale regarding the wine’s previous good cellarage and market track record. Regardless of label, reputation or notional pedigree one could be buying an expensive item in poor or at least unknown condition, the wine possibly having travelled more air miles back and forth across the auction houses of the world than is strictly good for it. Bottles bearing famous labels are all very well, but how many previous owners? Yes, the question doesn’t only apply to second-hand cars!

Bearing in mind Mr Parker’s very reachable comments quoted above, I think my first recommendation for November ticks the boxes of a ‘fine’ wine without the slightest difficulty - and at a relatively affordable price….. the biodynamically grown 1er. Cru d’Alsace “Engelgarten” 2010, Domaine Marcel Deiss.
The highly regarded Domaine Deiss at Bergheim adopts an old local tradition which respects the diverse soil variations of the immediate region. Different authorised grape varieties are planted all together in selected hillside spots to be harvested as a ‘field blend’ which will then be vinified, bottled and labelled under the name of its characteristic vine site, as here – “The Angel’s Garden’. In distinct contrast to the soils of its neighbouring Grand Cru sites, Grassberg and Schoenenbourg, the vines of Engelgarten are embedded on fine gravel particles which allow not only deep rooting to let the different grape types all ripen together, but which also afford the wine a very distinctive minerality. The cépage here is 50% Riesling, with Muscat and three of the Pinot family, Blanc, Gris and Noir to bring up the total.

The wine certainly stood out for its exceptional focus at a recent press tasting I attended, having a lively freshness of fruit and a distinct gravelly minerality. The palate shows an assured balance and elegance: citrus notes at the top together with the controlled mid-palate ripeness Alsace blends often afford. I think the words ‘complex’ and ‘exciting’ sum it up pretty well, but you may care to access the Domaine Deiss website to find Jean-Michel Deiss tasting and commenting on his “Engelgarten” 2010 himself in a video clip. (French dialogue.) Yes, this is certainly fine wine that well demonstrates the gravelly ‘terroir’ of an exceptional individual site, and one which has equally a promising bottle life ahead of it.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Alsace)

NAME OF WINE “Engelgarten” 1er Cru d’Alsace 2010

STYLE Crisply elegant, fruity dry Biodynamic white

PRODUCER Domaine Marcel Deiss

ALCOHOL 13% abv

RETAILER Lea & Sandeman Ltd

PRICE £ 27.95 single (£25.50/Case)

In Spring and Autumn, London is awash with wine tastings for the trade and press, and both my November selections are the result of my visit to ‘Absolutely Cracking Wines from France’. This comprehensive tasting, sponsored by SOPEXA, proved a real treasure trove. Over 150 really interesting wines from right across France (even Corsica) had been selected by a galaxy of top wine writers, together with sommeliers from notable ‘starred’ restaurants, to be drawn together in one place.

Sampling selectively across the range there was so much that I could recommend to you, but on tasting a particularly expressive fruit-laden Beaujolais, Domaine Michel Chignard, AOC Fleurie, Clos ‘Les Moriers’ 2011, I thought it well worth honourable mention. Anyway this being November, the month when the Beaujolais vin de l’année hits our shores, it seems appropriate to pick a lovely example from AOC Fleurie, now drinking very well.

2011 was a Beaujolais vintage that winemakers pray for: a warm Spring offering early flowering, with just a little rain at the end of July and beginning of August, but with the return of warm dry weather thereafter when harvesting was generally very early. Result? A wonderful colour and an unexpected depth to the Beaujolais vintage overall. The Fleurie ‘cru’ itself is synonymous with fruitiness and freshness, and this vibrant example from Domaine Michel Chignard is bursting with glorious red fruit scents and flavours. ‘Les Moriers’ is a well favoured ‘lieu-dit’, a named enclave of the Fleurie appellation which rubs shoulders at the top of its granite hill with a distinguished neighbour, AOC Moulin á Vent – often regarded as providing the most ‘serious’ style of Beaujolais. This lighter-hearted Fleurie, however, clearly reflects the exceptional terroir of ‘Les Moriers’ let alone the winemaking skills of Michel’s son Cédric who is newly on board. The wine’s purity of limpid, fresh Gamay fruit makes it immediately enjoyable not only for itself, although it would also be put into a delicious perspective alongside a good plate of charcuterie, or with either soft cream cheeses like Vignotte or the slightly sour French goat cheeeses like Crottin de Chavignol….not forgetting to have some good fresh-baked crusty bread to hand.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Beaujolais)

NAME OF WINE AOC Fleurie, Clos ‘Les Moriers’ 2011

STYLE Fragrant ‘baskets o’ fruit’ Gamay, dry

PRODUCER Domaine Michel Chignard / Cédric Chignard

ALCOHOL 12.5% abv

RETAILER Berry Bros. & Rudd

PRICE £ 15.95

October 2013


Two choices for this month, and a recipe!

My October ‘picks’ start with one of my favourite northern Italian white wines, and the red – an echo, perhaps, of Sandy Leckie’s Bordeaux tasting at Holborn on 30th September - an example of the really good value that this key region of France can provide.

The single grape variety of my first wine choice for October, Lugana DOC ‘Villa Flora’ 2012 has been a puzzle. Indicated as ‘Trebbiano di Lugana’ on the bottle’s back label, there has been a good deal of confusion among the experts regarding its authenticity. Experts in the field had largely decreed that any association between the clonally differentiated Trebbiano ‘family’ and Lugana wine was nonsense: surely the grape was ampelographically related to Verdicchio – the classic white grape of the Marche. Question settled, surely! However, it seems that some new evidence has emerged…

Today, thanks to recent researches at Milan University, DNA profiling reveals the grape as an obscure and purely local varietal: Turbiana! I looked it up in the latest and most massive scholarly volume on wine grapes in my possession….in vain! Obscurity notwithstanding, this time-honoured grape variety had been planted for centuries on the hillsides overlooking the southern shoreline of Lake Garda, and is assumed to have adapted itself genetically to local conditions across the hallowed years of its use. The Turbiana vines obviously benefited both from the gentle, lake-influenced climate, and also from sticking their feet into the gravelly yet fertile soils broken down from the moraines of the local hills. Recognizably distinct, the wines of Lugana came very early to official D.O.C. status in Italy when in 1967 its tiny area of production at the foot of the lake was legally defined, together with rules governing vineyard yields, permitted alcohol levels, etc.

So what makes the wines of the Lugana DOC special? Generalising may be a sin, but save for a few notable aromatic exceptions including Italy’s Moscato and Gewurtztraminer, more than a few Italian whites exhibit dryness and a relative neutrality of taste. Reluctant to up-stage food, which most Italians seem to recognize as ‘the main event’ - they humbly throw the plate-laden heroics of mediterannean flavours into the best possible perspective.

So it is…and then some… with the sample of Lugana I have beside me for ‘research’ purposes! A bright straw yellow in the glass, its perfume has a clean grassiness about it….meadow hay, perhaps. The surprise - for me at least - comes on the palate, where beyond the gentlest grassy flavour there is a comforting suppleness, a reassuringly food-enfolding weight and texture. (Not something I ever remember from Trebbiano per.se.) Dry though it is, the wine has an appealing freshness too and a great balance, allied to a good firm finish. Wines defined as ‘Lugana Superiore’ DOC, i.e. from lower yields than my own example, can even age well into the bargain…not a common feature of all Italian whites.

Arguably the best local food matches for Lugana wine are the freshwater fish swimming ‘on the vineyard doorstep’, to mix a metaphor. Lake Garda itself supports over thirty varieties including eels, pike, coregone and trout. The following dish is traditionally served with polenta.

LUCCIO ARROSTO alla SALVIA (roast Pike with sage)

INGREDIENTS:

1 whole pike, about 2 kg. weight, scaled and cleaned
good handful of fresh sage leaves, bruised and chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper
lemon wedges, for serving

METHOD:

Heat your oven to around 375 degrees (Gas 5), meanwhile wash and dry the gutted pike inside and out, then dry it with paper towels.

Cut some diagonal slashes in both sides of the fish to help allow the heat to penetrate fully during cooking. Coarsely chop the sage leaves and tuck them into the slashes and also into the cavity of the fish. Transfer the fish to an oiled roasting pan and sprinkle the surface with olive oil, followed by salt and pepper.

Roast in the oven, brushing it occasionally during cooking with more olive oil to help brown the skin to a crisp finish.

Let it roast for around 30 minutes, checking then to see that the flesh of the fish is no longer transparent … allow up to a further 10 minutes further cooking if this is not the case.

-o0o-

During the cooking of the fish I’d suggest you make a HERB BUTTER, using a combination of any fresh herbs you like.

Soften 175 g. of unsalted butter to room temperature and, using a fork, mash half a cup full of chopped herbs of your choice into it, plus salt, pepper and the juice of half a lemon. Turn this mixture out onto clingfilm – roll into a sausage shape, twisting the ends, and chill in the fridge until needed. Cut off a slice to adorn each individual portion of the fish once it is served. Bring on some soft polenta too – and Lugana wine – and if you have memories of this lovely part of northern Italy they’ll flood back!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Italy (Veneto)

NAME OF WINE Lugana DOC 2012

PRODUCER Zenato – Peschiera del Garda (Va)

STYLE OF WINE Food friendly dry white

ALCOHOL 13% abv

RETAILER Waitrose Ltd. (widely available elsewhere)

PRICE £ 9. 99

-o0o-

How traditional Bordelais winemaking has upgraded itself across the last few years! Nowadays GPS satellites map warmer/cooler spots within vineyards to the ‘n’th degree of accuracy to aid ideal planting regimes; sophisticated optical scanners mass-sort only the ripest berries for vinification; in some places ‘egg’-shaped maturation vats of concrete sit alongside traditional oak barriques to allow greater complexity and roundness in wines – and this is only a part of the innovation currently taking place in Bordeaux where winemaking has never been so technically controlled and where, they say, wines have never been better made. There is a rush, too, towards organic production, with ever more properties converting to be ‘greener’ in the interests of purer wines.

The results are in the glass! A recent masterclass I attended was an eye-opener, offering plenty of evidence of Bordeaux’s ‘new wave’ conversion across examples from three reputable properties: a colleague described one wine we tasted as ‘High definition Blu-Ray’ in terms of the clarity of its fruit. Even though tradition still holds sway, I get the overall impression nonetheless that consumers are demanding earlier-maturing Bordeaux wine than formerly…and the Bordelais seem to be obliging the market in consequence.

Thinking back to Bordeaux’ glory vintages ‘the appliance of science’ was hardly in evidence at all in the stunning results of 1947 or 1961, or of 82/83 when vignerons may simply have tested ripeness levels by chewing on grapes in the vineyard. Were those phenomenal vintages purely accidents of nature? Possibly – though meticulous grape selection and ideal growing conditions provided perfect results in the longer term, with breeding, complexity, and above all longevity. Will today’s fine Clarets live as long? The aspirations of top Châteaux aside, will their wines reach the same giddy heights? Has the ‘appliance of science’ now raised the general quality of production to a standard where although the ‘lows’ are never so low, the ‘highs’ may not peak to offer quite the same individuality or excitement, quite the same exceptional brilliance? Perhaps only time will tell.

So, to my October red choice from the right bank of the R. Gironde: Ch. Mayne-Viel AC Fronsac 2010. I wrote about one of its hillside neighbours, Canon-Fronsac AC, in June last year, q.v. The Fronsac appellation lies just west of the town of Libourne, occupying a limestone bluff overlooking the confluence of the rivers Isle and Dordogne….and in common with near neighbours St Emilion and Pomerol the main grape variety grown here is Merlot, with Cabernet Franc (locally ‘Bouchet’) and Malbec, plus a little Cabernet Sauvignon. My chosen wine is almost entirely Merlot from 35 year old vines, and made in an entirely traditional way by owner/winemaker Bertrand Sèze. So what of the wine? A dark garnet colour in the glass, my first impression on the nose was of ‘baskets of really ripe red fruit’ – 2010 was an amazingly good vintage, with fantastic ageing potential coupled to high alcohols and tannins, yet with a balancing fresh acidity. No surprise therefore that Ch. Mayne-Vieil clocks-in at 14.5% abv. (It is worth noting that with global warming in mind Bordeaux is now introducing less ‘alcoholic’ clones of Merlot in the interests of producing more balanced wines across the board.) The wine’s ripeness is certainly engaging on the palate and the tannins are quite supple, so the wine makes for very appealing drinking at (I believe) an affordable price. With cooler weather upon us, this is a wine to bring on with good roasts or casseroles … but do leave some to accompany a cheese course especially if you are putting on some good Coulommiers, Camembert or unpasteurised Brie. Highly recommended!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Bordeaux)

NAME OF WINE Ch. Mayne-Vieil AC Fronsac 2010

STYLE OF WINE Food-friendly textured dry red

ALCOHOL 14.5%abv

RETAILER The Good Wine Shop www.thegoodwineshop.co.uk

PRICE £13.50


September 2013

The first of my September choices takes me down to Costières de Nîmes AC , the most easterly appellation of the Languedoc occupying the northwestern fringe of the Rhône delta and only a stone’s throw from the wild flatlands of the Camargue to the south. I dare say one can easily throw the stones that litter the vineyards down here, too, as they share something in common with those of Châteuneuf-du-Pape upstream, where galettes of big sun-reflective pebbles act as nocturnal storage heaters to the ripening grapes. Here, much further downstream, the vineyard floor pattern persists, together with brownstone alluvial deposits and gravelly moraine from the R. Rhône as it winds down its last lazy miles into the Mediterranean Sea. So the recipe is heat, pretty constant sun, amazing photo-synthesis, inevitable ripeness….and the kind of grape varieties that enjoy basking in these conditions. Reds predominate in the Costières de Nîmes, and many local producers will also offer Rosé wines. Whites are definitely a bit of a rarity, representing a bare 5% of production overall. One doesn’t have to slap on factor 50 sun-block to enjoy these wines at home, though, nonetheless in writing this I’m already feeling just a little parched. There are twentyfour communes altogether in the Costières de Nîmes which, although lying in the Languedoc département of Gard, are administered (presumably for geographical convenience) from Avignon (Rhône).

My September white wine choice comes from St Gilles, one of the biggest villages of the appellation. Although the production is not certified as ‘organic’ the seventy hectare property of Château Vessière produces wines according to the lute raisonée principle, with the barest minimum of chemical intervention only when conditions absolutely dictate. The key player in this Rhône-style white wine is the Roussanne grape, at 85%, the balance being of Grenache Blanc, both varieties harvested from south-facing vineyards located towards the north of the appellation. Somewhat unusually perhaps, this wine is bottled in clear glass embossed with the name of the appellation itself under a badge featuring what looks a bit like a Dachshund passing through a vineyard….odd! But let’s look at the contents of the bottle: now here’s a really big surprise!
Bearing in mind what I’ve been saying about the heat of the region, my mistaken expectations had been for an overtly-styled Southern wine - a foil for spiced foods or well-flavoured or even smoked fish, red mullet, anchovies etc…. but no….there’s a very refreshing lightness and restraint about what I find in the glass. The nose is delicate, suggesting the uncloying perfume of spring blossoms, and the palate, though dry, is well-fleshed, topped with white peach, with a little background of grassiness following through to a medium-length finish. Supplementing this delightful wine’s purity of fruit there is an admirable balanced acidity, underlining a delicious freshness overall.

Food matches? An array of simply cooked fresh white fish. Soft creamy cheeses.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Gard)

NAME OF WINE Château Vessière 2010 Costières de Nîmes AOC

STYLE Fragrant fresh dry white

PRODUCER Philippe Teulon, Château Vessière

ALCOHOL 12.5% abv

RETAILER Lea & Sandeman Ltd.

PRICE £ 8.75

Chile is often regarded as the ‘Bordeaux’ of the southern hemisphere, and my choice of red wine for September is very much in the Bordelais style. Los Vascos Grande Reserve 2010 is a Cabernet Sauvignon-led blend, classically crafted under the label of Domaines Barons Rothschild on a 580 hectare estate near the centre of the highly regarded Colchagua Valley, about a hundred miles or so south of Santiago. The technical director of Ch. Lafite has oversight of the winemaking operation down here, so the wine’s pedigree speaks for itself, but don’t worry, Los Vascos Grande Reserve won’t break the bank! In the Colchagua Valley, some hundred miles or so south of Santiago, Bordelais grape varieties abound in the sheltered vineyards, lying within a stable Mediterranean climate rather than the risk-prone, capricious Atlantic one which informs the general area of the Gironde in France. Under brighter southern skies in the lee of the Andes mountains vines are grown ungrafted, ‘mainlining’ into sandy-clay soils over decomposed granite. Arguably more beneficial conditions than obtain in the rain-prone Medoc where vines are necessarily grafted onto bug-resistant rootstocks best suited to the local free-draining gravels. As a vine, Cabernet Sauvignon has never liked getting its feet too wet. Transplanted to a more comfortable southern home in Chile, and specifically to a region that has earned a glowing reputation for top quality, Cabernet is seamlessly joined in this blend by three other French grape varieties: the Bordelais Carmenère, (10%) ; Syrah, originally from the Rhône (10%); and Malbec (5%), the original ‘black’ grape of Cahors, France and nowadays the flagship ingredient of top Argentinian red wines.

At first sight and smell the wine could pass for a ripe Claret: the colour is right and the dark-fruited perfume has a cedary touch, the wine having enjoyed a year in 50% new oak before release. The palate is of medium weight, with an intriguing complex of black currants, cherries and other dark fruits, and the warmth of fresh-cracked black pepper. There’s elegance too, hardly surprising perhaps in the circumstances of its elevage – the whole ‘picture’ being surrounded and supported by the softest tannins. Though drinking very well now, the wine has ageing potential, and would be interesting to see again a few years down the line. A rack of lamb with a spiking of rosemary would be a wonderful food partner here, helping underline the hints of herbs shyly revealed behind the fruit of the palate….oh yes, it would also be great with mature cheeses too.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Chile (Colchagua Valley)

NAME OF WINE Los Vascos, Grande Réserve 2010

STYLE Bordeaux-style mid-weight dry red

PRODUCER Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite)

ALCOHOL 13.5%abv.

RETAILER Lea & Sandeman Ltd

PRICE £10.95 (£9.75 by the case)


August 2013

So you think my wine write-ups are consistent? Think again! I’m bold enough to include a couple of hopeful selections for August below, but in the light of a recent report in ‘The Guardian’, you take my recommendations at your own risk! The next paragraph could throw any tasting expertise I may imagine I own into a sober perspective:

Over the decades, Robert Hodgson, a Californian winemaker who regularly puts his finest wines into tasting competitions has come up with incontrovertible evidence that tasting panels can’t judge wines accurately. Worried that experts hand wine prizes out in a random fashion, he has proved across many years that trained professional panels simply can’t get it right with any consistency when handing out awards, and that the science behind tasting is ultimately flawed. Red wines in particular seem particularly to divide expert opinions as to their quality and prize-worthiness. Sour grapes on Hodgson’s part, you might imagine? Apparently not.

Should we assume that there actually IS a science behind tasting in the first place? By the very nature of tasting, the sensory evaluation of wine is likely to be influenced by more than a little degree of subjectivity. Writing ‘WINE OF THE MONTH' ‘blogs’ of recommendations may be fun for me to research, yet it calls for an appropriate degree of rigor on my part in evaluating the subject in front of me. That being said, is my approach to it ‘scientific’, let alone unbiased? Taken overall, I suspect not.

I have been called upon occasionally as a wine judge at the ‘Decanter’-sponsored International Wine Challenge, though admittedly at a ‘triage’ stage when, together with a panel of fellow-tasters, we have submitted ‘blind-tasted’ wines that we felt particularly noteworthy for scrutiny by a further panel composed mainly of MWs. Faced with a row of maybe a dozen masked bottles labelled only by their grape variety, or perhaps simply by their general style, our noses and palates are submitted to an enormous challenge…noses particularly, as they tire so easily and yet are so crucial in the tasting process. There is usually far more concentration shown on the part of the judging team than perhaps evidenced in some of the wines themselves! Admittedly, tasting wines ‘blind’ without the guidance of labels removes any expectation of quality as, understandably, a little psychology comes into play once we know we have a ‘Grand Cru’ in front of us. So how easily can we be misled?

At the ‘fun’ rather than the ‘serious’ end of the tasting scale I remember hosting an occasion some years ago when helping raise funds for a national charity (ironically ‘Red Nose Day’). A colleague and I challenged the public to come and be blindfolded themselves. They paid a pound for a taste, and would try to identify the glass of wine they were offered either as ’red’ or ‘white’. If they were correct in their judgement their money was refunded, if not, their pound went to the charity. Needless to say the charity did well that day!

Even when we can actually see the wine in the glass in front of us our judgement may be tempered by all kinds of different stimuli: the occasion itself; the kind of mood we are in; how well we feel; or by a multiplicity of other pressures. Tasting the very finest mature wines introduces us to perhaps an even greater minefield, when tertiary aromas, i.e. the far more complex and etherial range of subtle age-related scent and taste sensations may come into play. I believe the revered Christie’s wine auctioneer Michael Broadbent MW was once asked if, during the span of his remarkably distinguished career in wine, he had ever mistaken mature Burgundy for mature Claret. “Oh yes”, he responded airily . “at lunchtime today!”…. so even the most practised palates may be susceptible to occasional error.

Tasting descriptions on back labels of wine bottles can be a minefield too – how reliable are they in reflecting the genuine taste and style of the wine? If we assume whoever wrote them was being scrupulously honest in their intentions, they may have tasted the wine at a different stage in its development, and in any case the dynamic of what they write is always that of a sales ‘blurb’ to show the product in the best possible light. One wonders sometimes if the label-writer had even tasted the wine at all in the first place.

You may well ask how any wine writing can be consistent, and not be simply bullshit.

My own justification? Training and practice aside, I think I can only explain that my general approach follows a clear pathway. I am particularly lucky that an important section of my ‘non-wine’ life has been devoted to making judgements on a systematic and structured basis – a studied approach to thinking, perhaps, that I hope I may have also put into effect consciously or unconsciously when evaluating and writing about wine. So many questions! What is the evidence this bottle brings to the table? The wine will always tell the truth about itself – the wine writer’s job is to report that evidence and communicate it as honestly as possible. Appearance, colour, weight, nose, palate and finish, together with an appraisal of the wine’s style and its overall typicity bearing in mind its origins, and only then of its perceived quality relative to its market price. Beyond this systematic dissection, of course, subjectivity creeps in! Admittedly I am not tasting ‘blind’, so what do I already know of the producer’s reputation? Could it possibly affect my judgement? Ultimately, what’s my own estimate of the wine’s worth purely in the enjoyment it provides me as its taster? Ah, there’s the rub! Many stages, many shades of factors, heaps of room for subjective ‘misdirection’!

Lest you think this is all a bit serious – I believe that, above all, wine tasting should be fun, and it certainly shouldn’t include pretentiousness. After all, the subject of wine is so wonderfully diverse, and the discovery of good wine is itself one of life’s great pleasures.

There! I’ve cheered myself up enough to scout around for yet more bottles we can share and enjoy – so – accurate or not - here are my August suggestions, both of which hail from the Gaillac appellation, an area around Albi and the River Tarn in the French south-west.

Fun, indeed, is the keynote of Gaillac Perlé from the Cave de La Bastide, a light, fresh wine which leaves a smidgen of a prickle on the tongue. Based on the ancient grape variety Mauzac, with another uniquely Gaillacoise grape, Len de L’el, plus a smaller proportion of Sauvignon Blanc to add a fresh touch of acidity and ‘bite’, the wine seems to have been created with the sole purpose of providing refreshment. No, it is not a sparkler in the true sense, but it is bottled before malolactic fermentation is fully complete, to leave what look like tiny seed ‘pearls’ – a modest array of bubbles, clinging to the glass. No wonder I enjoyed it chilled during July’s heat wave. The ‘white peach and jasmine’ on the nose, as described on the Cave’s website, is perfectly accurate… and the balance between the wine’s aromatic ripeness and fresh acidity seems well judged. A modern ‘twist’ given to the indigenous grapes from one of the oldest wine regions in the whole of France. A lovely partner, too, for seafood of all kinds.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Southwest)

NAME OF WINE Le Gaillac Perlé 2012

PRODUCER Cave de la Bastide, Gaillac (Tarn)

STYLE Elegant, gently sparkling bone-dry white wine

ALCOHOL 12% abv.

RETAILER The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com

PRICE £5.95

Wine was being made around the R. Tarn even before the Romans systematised viticulture in the Midi and this month’s red choice is another happy ‘find’ from the sun-soaked Gaillac appellation, available to buy down your high street! Galien, Domaine de la Chanade 2010 leads with one of the locally named red grape varieties, Braucol, alongside the more familiar Syrah planted in the region…. an 80/20 split from thirty year old vines in each case. I dare say Braucol is better known elsewhere in southern France as ‘Fer-Servadou’, but that may not be much help. This very balanced wine has a wonderful affinity with simply grilled meat and with well flavoured cheese: a dark garnet colour in the glass, with ripe berry characteristics and gentle vanilla hints, the result of 24 months spent in wood. The Braucol grape variety may be a bit of a country cousin and a descendent from ‘wild’ parents, but I find the gentle hint of rusticity it offers very pleasing. Tannins appear only moderate, and the structure of this wine is sound, finishing well. Ripe n’ ready, and this still being summer, this would do good service at a barbecue…and beyond, as an adornment to roasts and composite meat or game dishes.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Southwest)

NAME OF WINE Galien, Domaine de la Chanade 2010

PRODUCER Domaine de la Chanade, Gaillac (Tarn)

STYLE Soft, ripe, oaked dry red wine

ALCOHOL 13% abv.

RETAILER Marks & Spencer Ltd.

PRICE £9.99

July 2013

C’est extraordinaire! For France, a country that is synonymous with wine, the likely full implementation of their government’s proposed ban on promotional wine writing seems ‘incroyable’! With a key part of the French economy fuelled by winemaking, and with thousands of jobs nationwide dependent on wine promotion, hundreds of French wine journalists currently face the prospect of being silenced by the reintroduction in full of ‘Loi Evin’, a Draconian anti-alcohol law first introduced four years ago, though subsequently ‘watered down’.
Needless to say, perhaps, a lively campaign has been set up to counter the threat of this blanket ban, effectively entitled ‘Keep your hands off my vigneron!’.

Admittedly wine promoters everywhere need to be mindful of cautioning their readers against the abuse of alcohol, and rightly so, but I can see a sentence coalescing in front of me that includes both the words ‘baby’ and ‘bath-water’. After all, what’s the future for wine if one is forbidden to talk about it and share enthusiasm for its wonderful diversity?

As I haven’t (yet) spotted any ‘wine police’ on the beat around where I am writing, I’ll take courage to continue with my own personal wine choices for July:

Faced with the onslaught of bright, sometimes brash versions of Sauvignon Blanc from trend-setting New Zealand I thought it might be worthwhile to have a look at this vibrantly-flavoured grape variety as it appears in its more classic form along the banks of the Loire.

Flinty wines from the appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume are perhaps the hallmarks of the wider region of the Central Loire Vineyards, but I’m opting for the distinctively softer, amiable style of Quincy, the second oldest wine appellation in France after Chateuneuf-du-Pape. Originally planted and tended by monks at the Abbey of Cîteaux who introduced Sauvignon Blanc vines to the immediate region during the Middle Ages, the Quincy vineyards had been set down on a long gravelly plateau on the right bank of the Loire tributary, the River Cher. The wines became sufficiently well known to have been ‘adopted’ subsequently by the city of Bourges. After World War II, though, the official ‘modern’ Quincy appellation, a bare ten years old, almost disappeared altogether. The younger inhabitants of the village had little option but to move away to find work in Paris, and many of the older growers retired. Today, though, the appellation is in good heart, and its wines are fully dry. I mention this as in earlier times the preferred style of the wine had sometimes showed a spot of residual sugar. The Quincy Appellation Protegée permits plantings of both Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris in the vineyards– the latter occupying up to 10% of the space, where strict rules apply across a number of factors including planting densities, yields (max 65 Hl/Ha), and canopy management to ensure maximum ripeness at harvest. It is worth reporting that the vines in the Quincy vineyards, planted on ‘hot’, light-reflective and well-drained soils ripen about a week earlier than those in Sancerre. Trellis training, and the local combination of light-textured relatively poor sandy/gravelly soil over a marl and limestone base helps tame the exuberant vigour of Sauvignon vines which, if not properly managed, would romp away regardless. My wine choice therefore is Quincy A.P. “Haute Victoire” 2011. The producer, Henri Bourgeois, is a big name in this part of the Loire Valley, with the boast of ten generations of winemakers behind him. He certainly seems to know how to handle Sauvignon Blanc! Nowadays his ‘empire’ extends even to a distant outpost in New Zealand’s Marlborough region where a ‘Clos Henri’ is produced!

So what did I find in may glass? The wine shows the palest clear gold, with a nose of meadow flowers and white peach, backed by the most delicate herbaceousness redolent of the scent of box bushes and meadow hay. The initial palate is beautifully textured, with the classically ‘elderflower/gooseberry’ Sauvignon element more apparent on the back palate than at the front, showing with admirable restraint. The acidity is beautifully balanced between freshness and ripeness, and the wine shows a lingering and attractively floral finish. I recommend this wine as an ideal partner not only for the local goat’s cheese of the immediate region, the dumpy Crottin de Chavignol – or any of those gently sour ‘pyramid’ French goat cheeses elsewhere.

It would work, equally well, with dishes involving freshwater fish, be it trout or (if you can get it) pike cooked ‘en quenelle’. Freshwater crayfish would be a wonderful match too, as would rillettes either of pork or rabbit. My own memory of eating Loire gastronomy ‘in situ’ is still crisp, although now sadly somewhat distant. Clearly I must catch up. In any event I heartily recommend this classy, and absolutely classic, version of a Loire Sauvignon Blanc, and let’s hope the July weather will play its part in allowing you to enjoy it fully for yourself.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Central Loire)

NAME OF WINE Quincy A.P. 2011

PRODUCER Henri Bourgeois

STYLE Dry, elegantly classic Loire Sauvignon Blanc

ALCOHOL 12.5%abv.

RETAILER The Good Wine Shop www.thegoodwineshop.co.uk

PRICE £ 13.50


Swapping the R. Loire for the R.Lot I have discovered a very modern ‘take’ on a distinguished wine from the Midi-Pyrenées – Cahors A.P., a wine originally exported via Bordeaux in the Middle Ages to parts of northern Europe when it was widely known as ‘The black wine’ on account of its darkly impenetrable colour. The grape variety is Malbec, locally known as Cot. Here it is planted in vineyards which follow the meanderings of the R. Lot which occupy equally gravelly/silty soils as those in Quincy, although there is some terracing here overlooking the river. Apparently the fortified town of Cahors was once a staging post in the pilgrims’ journey across the Pyrenees to the tomb of St. James in Compostela, and the name of the vineyard ‘Triguedina’ refers to the local hospitality, translating roughly in the Occitan dialect as “I’m looking forward to my dinner!”

On tasting Malbec du Clos ’Triguedina’. Cahors A.P. 2011 (Jean-Luc Baldès) on your behalf I must confess I was surprised how very soft it tasted, as classic Cahors wines had a reputation for being rather unyielding and tannic. I sipped away at this dark plummy wine, with its attractively earthy edge, and the word ‘micro-bullage’ came into my head as being the likely modern production method employed to tame the expected rough edges I had expected. This is basically a slow, gentle oxygen-diffusion technique which involves an extremely limited amount of the gas being introduced to the bottom of the fermenting vat, the resultant effect being not only to refine the tannins but also to stabilise the colour of the wine. In short, perhaps, a method of making the wine taste more developed without it having to spend a lot of time otherwise in wood. My limited detective skills paid off! My subsequent visit to the producer’s website revealed this to have been exactly the case in his production of this velvety, ink-dark wine. Technique aside, the wine has much to recommend it. In its winter dress it would be a perfect partner for rich stews or for hearty game dishes; in its summer dress (assuming we actually get a hint of one this year) it would do good duty alongside spiced cold meats or, especially, summer barbecues of steaks or spicy sausages. I guess the wine has some development potential too, maybe across the next 5 years or so when further subtleties of aroma and palate may well develop.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Midi-Pyrenees)

NAME OF WINE Malbec du Clos, Cahors AoC 2011 ‘Triguedina’

PRODUCER Jean-Luc Baldès

STYLE Velvety, ripe, dry red

ALCOHOL 13.5% abv.

RETAILER Waitrose Ltd.

PRICE £ 9.99

June 2013

Before I dive in to my personal wine choices for the month, a brief word about bottle closures. I was going to head my remarks “Wine – Putting a Stop to It!” – but that looks more like an exhortation that could well be misunderstood, my not having yet joined the Temperance League.

Clearly everywhere one looks, ‘screw-cap’ closures have gained ground massively over the once ubiquitous cork. Not so very long ago one might have guessed that a screw-cap, or ‘Stelvin’, to give it its trade title, indicated a cheap ‘n cheery wine under its guardianship, nothing special, possibly a mass-market commercial blend. In the early ‘Stelvin’ days wines under these closures were possibly a thirsty hotel guest’s delight, to be smuggled in from the off-licence down the street to the bedroom, representing considerable savings over the high mark-ups of the room’s mini-bar. No need to go to reception to ask sheepishly for the loan of a corkscrew! My recent visit to Australia, though, confirmed to me that screw-cap closures now seal many of that country’s very best, most sought-after wines. I make no comment on the screw-capped wine provided in the bedrooms of one well-known Australian hotel chain, not having quite dared to sample it, but I have a feeling that despite its extravagant cost on the mini-bar menu it might not have had aspirations to greatness.


Nowadays wine producers worldwide seem no longer scared that the bottles of their own ‘premium’ wines might look down-market in consequence of being given a Stelvin closure. There are exceptions, of course, particularly in Bordeaux and Burgundy where ‘tradition’ holds sway – and, I dare say also in industrially self-interested Portugal and Spain, both of which are the principal centres of cork production worldwide.

Plastic closures have been another barrier against wine-taint, and my own corkscrew has engaged in many tussles with this fearsome foe. I’ve even heard pronouncements from more elevated palates than mine about ‘plastic taint’ - but on that subject I guess the jury is still out. Austrian and German wine bottles occasionally feature glass stoppers including a plastic O-ring…these absolutely inert Vino-Lok closures form a complete seal between wine and air, but are relatively expensive to produce compared to the alternatives.

Why, though, are inert closures preferable to cork? I have been a champion of cork to ‘stop’ my bottles in the past not simply because of the aesthetic, when drawing a cork results in a satisfying ‘pop’- but because cork closures are unique. Each individual cork could be said to match each individual wine as a work of nature. Corks have their own variable porosity, interacting (especially) with fine wine – to admit miniscule amounts of air across a prolonged period of time to enhance the subtleties arising from the wine’s ageing process. Cork has always presented a problem, though, as the preparatory cleaning of the basic material is crucial to its success as a risk-free wine closure. Currently the ‘stats’ show the risk of cork taint hovering between 0.5 and 1%... negligible, you might think, but as most of the world’s finest, most expensive wines are still under cork, then the risk factor becomes more significant.

With those attractive cork orchards in mind, is it entirely by chance that my first wine choice for June hails from Portugal? Adega de Pegões Colheita Seleccionada 2011 is an equal blend of four white grape varieties, three of them: Arinto; Fernão Pires and Antão Vaz being local to Portugal, plus ‘international’ Chardonnay. The vineyards lie on flat land on unique sandy/alluvial soils that settled progressively across the millennia, dividing two completely unspoiled nature reserves around the Tagus estuary and the R. Sado.

The Adega de Pegões itself is a modern co-operative winery producing a range of characterful award-winning wines, both red and white, principally from local grape varieties. It is dangerous to suggest that my white choice for June ‘has everything’ – but it is a real find, made in a clean, fresh modern style with peachy, even honeysuckle notes on the nose. Although a fresh, dry wine, a creamily textured mid-palate hints at custardy notes with the merest hint of lemon thyme in the background. The finish is quite long, with delicate gingery/spicy notes. This wine is probably equally at home as a genial white aperitif as it is well-targeted for food. Its open, very natural personality has a clear partnership affinity to fish. In its homeland I have little doubt that it would do great service to the multiplicity of ways the Portuguese serve ‘bacalau’ – but if salt cod is not your thing I’d suggest scallops (particularly), or any dish of white fish from a finely served tranche of turbot to seafood linguine, even to simple fish n’ chips. Above all, perhaps, this sunny blend is a shining example of the kind of value one can expect from Portuguese wines these days. I hope you’ll agree.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Portugal (Vinho Regional Península de Setúbal)

NAME OF WINE Colheita Selecccionada 2011

PRODUCER Adega de Pegões

STYLE Round, gently aromatic versatile dry white

ALCOHOL 13%abv

RETAILER The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com

PRICE £ 6.75

MY COMMENT Quite astonishing value …the wine sells elsewhere online
at around £10.

CLOSURE Under cork…as might be expected!

My red choice for June is a forwardly fruity number from Argentina where there has been a longstanding history of ‘Italian’ –style wine production from growers whose families settled around Mendoza in the 19th century. ‘La Posta’ 2010 utilises Bonarda, a grape originating in Piedmont. It was often used in traditional Piemontese blends to soften the harder tannins in Nebbiolo based wines, though frequently produced, as here in Argentina, as a single varietal in its own right.

The wine hails from the Estela Armando Vineyard in Mendoza, a discrete family plot developed in 1963 but harking back to the days when her great-grandfather used to sell his wines to workers developing the Trans-Andean railroad. The Italian connection is maintained in the wine being a ‘Laura Catena Selection’, the originally Italian Catena family being a byword in modern Argentinian wine production. The wine itself? A rich black-cherry purple, offering softly spicy/smoky characteristics on the nose, atop a depth of ripe black fruit. The palate is medium weight - soft, round, textured, and ripely-fruited in the cherry spectrum, with very soft tannins on the finish, making it an ideal partner for pasta dishes, pizzas, or grills of meat. Beautifully integrated as a wine, the food matches suggested on the label ‘hit the spot’ completely… (I don’t always agree with what label-writers suggest!)

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Argentina (Mendoza)

NAME OF WINE ‘La Posta del Viñatero’

PRODUCER Puerto Ancona S.A. Mendoza

STYLE Soft, savoury, well-fruited dry red wine

ALCOHOL 13.5% abv

RETAILER Majestic Wines

PRICE £9.99

May 2013

It must be nearly my lunchtime, and on the chilly spring day in London as I write this, my senses crave the warmth and hearty simplicity of Mediterranean food. An imagined olive or two – ‘a taste as old as the taste of cold water’ - and I am mentally in Sicily with a spread before me of ‘arancini’ – the little fried, stuffed, rice balls; perhaps then with some prospect of an operatically-inspired ‘'Pasta alla Norma’ to follow, infused with its ripe tomato and fried aubergine sauce. Have I room afterwards, like many a Sicilian, for those tempting herb-scented local sausages I fancy I smell cooking? But wait a minute! Am I not putting the cart before the horse? Shouldn’t I give due respect to the wine first? Ah, but this is Sicily where wine is made for food – so what better than a gluggable glassful of Frappato 2011 as my servant at the feast? Frappato is the name of an indigenous grape variety that thrives in the sunny vineyards principally around Ragusa and Trapani in southern Sicily and which provides a deliciously drinkable fruit-laden wine, the colour of clear garnet. If there’s a single word for it, then ‘juicy’ will do nicely, hinting, subtly perhaps, at really ripe strawberries. Down here we’re not essentially in risotto country, but in the trattorie they might well call it the perfect wine for pizzas or pasta dishes. There’s little tannin to worry about, the grapes naturally having quite thin skins. Not that should be any confusion between the two, Frappato possibly equates stylistically as Sicily’s answer to Beaujolais in terms of its weight and presence in the glass. There’s nothing too serious or complex here, but there’s a soft roundness to be enjoyed, a moderate alcohol, and seamless fresh-tasting sun-ripened fruit – can’t say fairer than that. Elsewhere in the locality Frappato adds its charms in strict proportions with the island’s more four-square premier red varietal Nero d’Avola to furnish Sicily’s first wine at DOCG quality level, Cerasuolo di Vittoria. My wine choice for the Merry month of May, however, offers you Frappato at 100%.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Italy (Sicily)

NAME OF WINE Frappato IGT 2011

PRODUCER Cantine Paolini Baccarìa, Marsala

ALCOHOL 12.5% abv.

RETAILER The Good Wine Shop

PRICE £ 7.50 (current discount)

April 2013

Food without wine is a corpse; wine without food is a ghost; united and well-matched they are as body and soul, living partners.

André Simon

Perhaps the most natural thing in the wine-making world is the fact that across centuries, vineyards have grown up alongside seas, rivers, crops and cattle, and wine has grown up alongside the food produced therefrom. It is worth noting that in southern European culture food almost always features first in the partnership, with wine as a wonderful ‘servant’, throwing the riches of the table into a perspective that enhances both partners in the equation.

It is good to be reminded of the consistently high quality of wine that Portugal now produces – and my white choice this month takes me to the elevated hillsides in the north of the Alentejo near Portalegre. Here, under the direction of Peter Bright, Terras de Alter own three vineyards and make four different ranges of wines: blends of local red and white grapes at Regional level; Reservas from older vineyards with extended barrel ageing; and a Premium range with the accent on selected vineyards where the ‘terroir’ is particularly influential.

My April white choice, a classy minerally Viognier, falls into the Vinho Regional category – a Portuguese echo of both the grape and the terroir of the northern Rhône. (It is notable that Syrah also features significantly in plantings in this part of the Alentejo.) The style of Terra d’Alter Viognier 2011 is admittedly less voluptuous than the Viognier ‘matrix’ you’ll meet in, say, Condrieu, but its fruit is very pure, with hints of apricot and quince on the mid-palate and with an intriguing minerally finish that reflects the granite bedrock of its vineyards. Why not try it with the recipe below?

***

ARROZ de GALINHA à PORTUGUESA

Chicken Rice, Portuguese Style

Although the Portuguese are famous for handling bacalau (salt cod) in 365 different ways, the country’s diet remains bathed in simple rusticity for the main part, with an emphasis on the word ‘simple’. Flavours are direct and usually uncomplicated.

This is one of the easiest all-in-one dish to prepare and serve, though an additional green vegetable or mushrooms might not come amiss alongside.
Quantities given here serve 4-6, so multiples shouldn’t be too difficult when prepared for a tasting.

INGREDIENTS:

1 medium free-range chicken, cut up into serving pieces
3 ozs (90g) Spanish Chorizo sausage (in lieu of the ‘real thing’, i.e. Portuguese chouriço )
3 ozs (90g) bacon lardons
14 ozs rice
2 tblsps. fruity olive oil
1 tblsp. wine vinegar
1 large onion, chopped
1 tblsp. flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt
pepper

METHOD:

In a large pan, first fry the onion until golden, and then put in the lardons of bacon and the chicken pieces. Sauté for around 5 minutes, turning.
Add around ¼ pint (150 ml) of water, the vinegar and the chopped parsley, plus salt and pepper and cook very gently until half done.
Taste for seasoning and then add the rice and enough boiling water - or better still, use chicken stock – to cook it. (A rough guide is to use about 2 ½ times as much liquid by volume as the rice). Allow to cook gently until the rice is nearly tender adding slices of Chorizo sausage about 5 minutes before the dish is ready to serve.

The finished dish should be slightly wet, so have some further cooking liquid available if you think any needs to be added at the end.

***

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Portugal (Alentejo)

NAME OF WINE Terra d’Alter Viognier 2011

PRODUCER Terras d’Alter C.V.

STYLE Subtly fragrant dry white

ALCOHOL 13.5% abv.

RETAILER Lea & Sandeman

PRICE Around £ 10

My red choice for April would adapt equally well, I think. Here at home I look around occasionally to find a reliable ‘house’ red to adapt well to the range of dishes I try to cook, and I can’t resist a bargain! Rightly, as an objective educator The Wine Education Service has no interest in wine promotions or sales. This ‘promotion’ is my own, simply illustrating a recent discovery at the low end of the price scale– at a pitch where, wine-wise, quality is not always assured!

Completely without pretentions, St Chinian AP 2011, Domaine Raynier is a simple mid-weight Languedoc red for everyday drinking which certainly adapts to a accommodate a fair range of foods at table. The cépage features both Carignan and Grenache, so you can anticipate some spicy warmth on the palate.

So if you head down to the Languedoc on Route A9 heading for Béziers, take a short detour to the north west, and you’ll find the ancient village of St.Chinian around which wine has been produced since the 14th century. The appellation itself covers around twenty little communes occupying a plateau rising to around 200m above sea level on the lowest foothills of the Massif Centrale. The vineyard area of around 3,000 Hectares is backed to the north by the scrubland of the Espinouse hills, and the orientation of the land is exposed southwards to admit a tempering climatic influence from the Mediterranean Sea. Geologically St-Chinian lies across a fault offering two quite distinct soil types: schists on the higher slopes, permitting a more expressive style of wine with a good acidity, and a limestone bedrock towards the south, furnishing firmer styles of wine.

Apart from the Carignan and Grenache I mention, the appellation permits a number of ‘usual Languedoc suspects’ in the vineyard including Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvédre, plus the rarer Lladoner Pelut Noir (a sub-variety of Grenache), a grape variety which may also feature in the wines of Minervois. Single-varietal ‘old-vine’ Carignan is also a speciality of the vignerons hereabouts, though it can only be sold as a declassified wine.

Back to my choice and, imagining an ancient honeyed-stone farmhouse and ‘cuvier’ basking in the sunshine of the Midi, my search for “Domaine Raynier” proved rather frustrating – to the point where I suspected that there might not be any ‘bricks and mortar’ in the name at all! I wasn’t wrong. The name is merely a marketing tag by Les Producteurs Réunis de St-Chinian, the co-operative who make it….a position I confirmed subsequently. No matter – this attractive dry wine shows a lovely dark garnet colour and offers light herby-spicy characteristics on the nose with a follow through to a well-balanced middle-weight palate suggestive of dark berry fruits with a bit of ‘garrigue’ thrown in for good measure. A good balance of acidity too – I wasn’t faced with drinking a glass of ‘jam’. At this price level I didn’t expect a lengthy finish or a lot of complexity, neither did I find it, but as everyday drinking ‘Domaine Raynier’ has oodles more integrity than a number of other more well-known ‘branded’ wines I might care to mention, consequently I consider this a good-value ‘pick’ with versatile adaptability where food is concerned.

In its homeland (or even where you are) a traditional white bean cassoulet might take a bit of time to prepare, so why not drum up some good herbed sausages or a simple platter of charcuterie and cheeses, when the wine will ‘sing’ alongside with equal gusto.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Languedoc)

NAME OF WINE St.Chinian AP Domaine Raynier 2011

PRODUCER Les Producteurs Réunis de St-Chinian

STYLE Dry middle-weight Languedoc red

ALCOHOL 13.5% abv.

RETAILER The Wine Society

PRICE £ 5.95

March 2013

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DOC!

My wine choices for March follow, but first, despite the title above, I am not sending greetings to my doctor, nor am I looking forward specifically to November this year when DOCTOR WHO celebrates its 50th anniversary. No, I’ve noticed that it is now 50 years since the Italians issued Decree # 930 as part of law No. 11 of 1963, i.e. the legislation governing Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or D.O.C. - regulating and protecting the classification of the country’s wines.

When you consider that Bordeaux crafted a hierarchy for its wine producing châteaux as long ago as 1855, and that the embryonic French ‘Appellations d’Origine’ came fully into being in 1937, steered by Baron Pierre LeRoy, co-founder of the Institut Nationale des Appellations d’Origine, – Italy seems to have lagged behind a bit in creating legally binding definitions of origin for its wines which nowadays undergo legislative review every two years. France, as a result of a recent EU ‘clarification’ of regional origins, is now even more up to date, having replaced the familiar ‘appellation controlee’ with new designations for all its wines following the 2011 harvest.

For all the undoubted benefits and good intentions of their introduction, Italy’s DOC rules proved subsequently to be a bit of a strait-jacket in places. A few growers, tied down to working with the ‘authorised’ grapes and under conditions where their land proved less than ideal for the permitted varieties, began to complain; others wanted the freedom to plant non-standard vine types and create quality wines of their own to maximise revenues without the shame of having their ‘illegal’ produce automatically declassified as ‘vino di tavola’ – the lowest category. Under pressure, the authorities relented, and in 1992 introduced a more liberal second-tier denomination, IGT, an ‘umbrella’ below DOC for good quality wines which still had ample production rules to obey and yet still retained a local typicity. I am asked occasionally if DOC wines, or more specifically the topmost tier of ‘guaranteed’ Italian wines labelled DOCG, i.e. those produced under the most exacting regulations from previously recognized DOC sites, are always better than those from lower categories….. of course the answer in the broadest terms must generally be no. I explain that good wine is good wine whatever its status – and that the ‘right’ letters on the label do not necessarily provide a guarantee of good taste. The designations refer simply to the fact that the wine has been produced in accordance with the rules, no matter whether they be stringent or more relaxed. Issues of ‘red tape’ and ‘wine as you find it’ aside, I believe it is important that such definitions and categories exist, particularly as a spur to the raising of quality standards wherever possible. Italian wine as it manifests itself today has shown astonishing improvements across the last half century, particularly at the hand-crafted level. So Happy 50th birthday, DOC !

Now to my wine choices for March:

I regard dry Sherry as ‘the best aperitif in the world’, and regret the fact that it is less fashionable than it used to be. Visions of half empty bottles of the stuff festering on auntie’s sideboard awaiting a visit from the vicar have hardly helped the wine’s image, and yet at its best it remains one of the great wines of the world, the Sherry process transmuting a fairly ‘ho-hum’ grape variety (Palomino Fino) into something really special across a range of different styles. My March choice is at the lightest and driest end – Manzanilla – the produce of the seaside town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, the coolest of the three Sherry centres of Andalusia. Perfect with tapas or simply with salted almonds Herederos de Argüeso Manzanilla NV is a mouthful in more than one sense! There’s a delicate yeastiness on the nose of this, the palest of Sherries, and beyond the exciting tang of one’s first sip, the gentle, dry, oxidised style finishes almost with a sense of salt-laden sea air. Jane McQuitty, writing in the Sunday Times, reckons it is one of the best Manzanillas around…. I’ve known it for a long while myself, and I firmly agree. Do drink it chilled…. and keep it in the door of the fridge…it is certainly not one destined to languish on auntie’s sideboard!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Spain (D.O. Jerez-Xeres-Sherry)

NAME OF WINE: Manzanilla

PRODUCER: Herederos de Argüeso S.A.

STYLE: Very dry, light, fortified aperitif wine

ALCOHOL: 15% abv.

RETAILER: Great Western Wines www.greatwesternwine.co.uk

PRICE: £ 10.50 (75cl)

With chilly blasts from the arctic outside as I write, it is good to be able to suggest the contrast of a robust red from vines grown in the Mediterranean warmth of the Languedoc: Cuvée les Comtes, Château de Flaugergues 2009 . The majority of the property’s 40 hectares of vineyards sit on ‘La Méjanelle’, one of the twelve soils of the Coteaux du Languedoc, sandstone in this case, including free-draining pebble debris derived from the Rhône delta. Yes, we’re not far from the sea down here which offers a moderating influence to the otherwise hot climate overall. The core of the property itself is situated on the outskirts of Montpellier and is a great deal more than a flourishing winery. It is an historical monument – a flamboyant château built in the 18th century with parkland and ‘English’ formal gardens and, today, all the trappings of a busy visitor centre including tasting rooms and a Michelin-listed restaurant. The cépage of ‘Cuvée les Comtes’ is typical of the region for red wines. Here the blend is left un-oaked, led by Grenache noir, with Syrah and Mourvèdre – and very successfully too, allowing the fruit characteristics in the wine to shine to the full. Sitting darkly in the glass, a smoky/black cherry perfume leads to a firm palate of ripe, mature berries with a touch of chocolate, and there’s a light sensation of tannin ‘grip’ behind it too, thanks possibly to the inclusion of Mourvèdre. Unusually, perhaps, the handsome bottle is topped with a screw-cap rather than a cork. It is a ‘steal’ for a supermarket wine, and unlike ‘Cuvée Sommelier’, its senior partner, Cuvée les Comtes is designed for relatively early drinking. As applies to many wines selling on the high street, it could be termed a ‘two-way bet’ i.e. a ‘drink now’ or ‘leave to mature’ for two years option. The Grenache element in this warm-hearted deeply fruited wine contributes to its ‘whack’ of 14% alcohol.

Food matches? Graphically, and rather enchantingly, the Château website suggests ‘a stew of bull’ – but yes, stews and casseroles of all kinds, especially when laced with herbs, olives or mushrooms; roasts of meat – barbecues too, if you’re prepared to wait for the summer. Why not even try it with a hunk of barbecued or grilled tuna? It’s a valid suggestion.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: France (Languedoc)

NAME OF WINE: Cuvée des Comtes, Ch. Flaugergues 2009

NAME OF PRODUCER: Ch. Flaugergues

STYLE: Spicy food-friendly dry red

ALCOHOL: 14% abv.

RETAILER: Marks & Spencer plc.

PRICE: £ 9.99

February 2013

There is something uniquely satisfying about tasting mature wine, especially when it transcends the barrier between the merely very good and the quite exceptional. Thus it was recently when I attended a food and wine-pairing session based on Krug Champagnes. Yes, of course, a glass of Krug would be my ‘star’ recommendation for this or for any month you care to name, although it falls well beyond this column’s ambit of regular drinking affordability!

Depending on a wine’s provenance , cépage and general style, I think we can accept that it will fall into either the ‘primary flavour’ bracket, i.e. the relatively direct nose and palate of fruits of some kind, or is perhaps enhanced by hints of ‘secondary flavour’ due to its treatment, when the taste and effect of oak maturation or oxidation (as in Sherry etc.) is present. ‘Tertiary aroma’, i.e. the third layer, reflects the bouquet and palate of significant maturity in old wine, casting its own very subtle patina across the picture of the wine as a whole. No matter how clever today’s winemakers can be at achieving balance and complexity in their cuvées, this phenomenon cannot be achieved by anything other than natural bottle age. So it was with a couple of examples at the tasting I attended where the Champagnes both I and my colleagues drank had the benefit not only of ‘tertiary’ depth, but also an enhanced subtlety within their distinctive vintage variations, and yet an astonishing purity and freshness for their years spent in bottle. Meanwhile a talented chef had created a range of canapés crafted specifically to match the styles of the wines at hand….quite an occasion.

Even if we don’t have venerable bottles of wine stashed away, at least we may be able to take advantage of offers of good vintage bottles sold ‘en primeur’ which , assuming we have the patience not to broach until they attain a decent age, might handsomely repay their initial cost in enhanced pleasure, let alone added value.

So, from the expressively sublime from one of the world’s top Champagne houses to – (well, hopefully) - my acceptable albeit more affordable choices for February:

My white choice, Jeruzalem Ormoz 2009 is by contrast a relatively simple everyday wine based on Pinot Grigio. The wine almost proclaims its grape variety in its colour, which shows a delicately soft, pale gold, perhaps there’s even an apricot tinge imparted by a little skin contact from its naturally russet-coloured grapes. I enjoyed a glass of it the other day with a lunch of fish n’ chips, which it partners beautifully, so no great pretentions, but a good match across the board for simply cooked fish or poultry. This very useful candidate for regular household drinking is characterful and honest wine that transcends the merely rustic, coupled with a taste I’d have guessed ‘blind’ had originated in north-eastern Italy… Friuli, perhaps, or the Veneto. I’m wrong!… its pear-y, even peachy notes on the palate together with its low to moderate acidity derive from the sunny, sheltered terraced hillsides of Stajerska, i.e. Slovenian Styria (to the south of the Austrian border), just a few kilometres south-east of Bled. The wine even won itself a ‘Decanter’ Bronze medal in 2012. So, ‘ Dobro zdravje!’

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Slovenia

NAME OF WINE Jeruzalem Ormoz Pinot Grigio 2009

PRODUCER Jeruzalem Ormoz

STYLE Grassy-peachy good-value dry white wine

ALCOHOL 12.5% abv.

RETAILER Waitrose Ltd.

PRICE £ 7.99

NB: Screw-cap closure

Bordeaux – or Not Bordeaux? That is the question. My red choice for February comes from the northern sector of Margaret River in Western Australia, itself a premium wine region affording classic-style Cabernets and Syrahs ripened by long, baking autumns. The area is known to some in the trade as Australian wine’s ‘Doctors’ Corner’ on account of the original plantings in the 1960s by enterprising medical men. Dr Tom Cullity at Vasse Felix was the first to establish premium vineyards in the area, followed by Dr Kevin Cullen at Cullen Wines and Dr Bill Pannell at Moss Wood… whence Amy’s Blend 2010 hails. This Bordeaux lookalike features Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Petit Verdot (32%), Malbec 12%, and Merlot 5%. I have in my glass beside me as I write. Differences both of hemisphere, climate and ‘terroir’ aside, this quintessential ‘left-bank’ Bordeaux grape blend has a greater preponderance of the spicy Petit Verdot than usually applies nowadays in the Gironde. The ‘Amy’s’ label covers two slightly different cuvées: ‘Amy’s Blend’ and ‘Amy’s Vineyard’ – plus a separate cuvée solely from Glenmore Vineyard. Each grape variety is pressed separately, its already fermenting ‘crush’ being allowed to rest in contact with the skins in stainless steel vats for up to a fortnight, during which time a malolactic fermentation takes place. Once fermentation is complete, the all-important varietal blending takes place to create the style required, when the wine is then transferred to barriques for maturation. ‘Amy’s Blend’ 2010 will have seen over a year in oak before being egg-white fined and sterile-filtered to bottle.

A true ‘Bordeaux’ colour in the glass, on opening the bottle the scent of the wine had a suggestion of ‘Black Forest Gateau’ about it: black cherries and chocolate combined….and now that the wine has had some air a spicy richness begins to emerge in the glass. Beyond the soft, dark berry assembly there are other fleeting impressions on the palate too: eucalyptus? Mulberries? There is also a pleasing texture in the mouth – the tannins being very soft and fine. This being said, the wine is furnished in a firm modern style and is already quite forward and ready to drink, and I suspect that it is not one to allow to languish in your cellar over too long a period of time….the producers themselves suggest a 5-10 year ‘window’. Roasts or grills of lamb or beef would be worthy food partners. As this wine has both spice and a good balance of acidity, game dishes would suit well too.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Western Australia (Margaret River)

NAME OF WINE Amy’s Blend 2010

PRODUCER Moss Wood

GRAPE VARIETY ‘Bordeaux blend’

STYLE Oaked New World red

ALCOHOL 14% abv.

RETAILER Laytons. Waitrose Ltd.

PRICE around £ 15

NB: Screw-cap closure

January 2013

Having weathered the soggy rush of Christmas, and having found myself, wife and family still in one piece after ‘The End of the World’ according to the Mayan calendar I feel the need to restore the equilibrium a little. A refreshing sparkler suggests itself, so I kick off the New Year with a bottle of arguably New Zealand’s best known ‘fizz’ from Marlborough, to follow up with the clean sappy red fruit flavours of one of the most long-established appellations of the Loire Valley.

It struck me quite forcibly during a visit to New Zealand last year just how geologically emergent the country is: and I was lucky to have missed the Christchurch earthquake which had happened shortly before my visit. Awesome to think that the Southern Alps are still rising by a few centimetres a year. Where better to start my wine choices than with New Zealand in the relative Spring of its existence on the face of the earth. An unvintaged “Pelorus” Brut sparkler kicks off the year’s wine ‘picks’, from arguably the best-known wine company in Marlborough, Cloudy Bay.The Marlborough region itself is almost chessboard-flat – a wide sunny valley through which the fast-flowing Wairau River and various little tributary streams run and which was the birthplace of the iconic ‘kiwi’ style of Sauvignon Blanc first launched on the world by the Marlborough producers in the mid-‘70s and by Cloudy Bay Winery itself back in 1985. As a grape variety, the punchy aroma of NZ-style Sauvignon Blanc is properly regarded as having too high a flavour profile to make successful sparklers, and “Pelorus” in both its vintage and non-vintage formats is made from the traditional cepage of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, sourced from growers in a number of different areas within the valley whose vines grow on a range of different soil types from free-draining gravels to sandy clay. No ‘Champagne’ chalk here!

The climatic variation between hot days and much cooler nights in Marlborough is an added advantage, resulting in long ripening periods for grapes. Back in the winery the grapes for the base wines for the Cloudy Bay sparklers are pressed sufficiently to allow free-run juices to flow and, once settled, a strain of Montrachet yeast is added to start an initial fermentation either in stainless steel, large wooden fermenters, or standard barrels. A spontaneous malolactic fermentation is allowed to occur, and the wine is allowed to sit on its fine lees for eight months prior to being blended in November. The all-important secondary fermentation in bottle with a ‘prise de mousse’ yeast follows in February, the bottled wine then being aged for two years before being disgorged.

Having just opened a bottle myself (purely in the interests of research on your behalf, of course) I was delighted by the yeasty aromas which immediately arose. A substantial mousse on pouring settled quickly to find a slow, lazy progression of smallish bubbles rising to the top of my glass. The bouquet of the wine itself offers an intriguing and fleeting combination of apple and – am I imagining it? – tangerine - somewhere in the background … maybe simply a twist of lemon after all. There are also some restrained bready aromas such as one might expect with a little yeast autolyisis in bottle. Dry as befits the ‘brut’ designation, the wine shows a pleasingly firm profile on the palate, too. Next time round I must try Cloudy Bay’s vintage ‘Pelorus’ which is given a greater degree of bottle age before release. ‘Pelorus’ certainly isn’t Champagne, nor would one expect it to be, but it is clever stuff in the classic mould, and very engaging nonetheless - well worth seeking out.
*
Trivia: The force with which the Wairau River runs into its bay creates such a turbulence of mud that the name of the winery seemed an automatic suggestion. As the label will tell you, the name ‘Pelorus’ relates to a dolphin. Enough said.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN New Zealand (Marlborough)

NAME OF PRODUCER Cloudy Bay Winery

NAME OF WINE Pelorus Brut NV

STYLE Chardonnay-led sparkler

ALCOHOL 12.5% abv.

RETAILER Widely available

PRICE c.£ 20.00


One of my pre-Christmas wine purchases was made on the basis of wanting a fresh, sappy red wine in the hope of looking forward to next Spring – assuming we have one. Bought untried, I was not disappointed at all to find that Chinon AC Domaine de la Semellerie 2010 hits the spot exactly, offering a great purity of Cabernet Franc fruit. The bulk of the vineyards (30 Ha.) are south-facing, on pebble-strewn high ground looking across the Vienne Valley, with an additional parcel of land (9 Ha.) on alluvial terraces nearer the river Loire itself. I assure you it is not laziness on my part, but I’d like to direct you to Richard Kelley’ s ‘Definitive Guide to the wines of the Loire’ for a complete profile of the wines of the Delalande family at Cravant-lès-Côteaux, a relatively unknown family property insofar as the UK market is concerned. Richard obviously knows the property at first hand and you’ll find the relevant write-up on www.richardkelley.co.uk/chinon_semellerie.htm.

The cuvée I have chosen, ‘Fabrice Delalande’, from vines aged up to 35 years, is the mainstay of the production, unoaked, and designed for everyday use. Other cuvées produced at the Domaine include a rosé and an oak-aged ‘vielles vignes’ from 70-year-old vines called “Kèvin”.

Foodwise, the back label suggests a ‘catch-all’ – that the wines of Chinon are fit accompaniments for ‘toute la cuisine familiale’ - so what have I found on a trial tasting? Yes, certainly a ‘food’ wine, with a hint of licorice on the nose, clearly defined capsicum flavours upfront, and with the most delicate pepperiness on the back palate. Soft and very supple in the mouth, too. The freshness, purity and directness of this Cabernet Franc can be targeted perfectly towards lighter roasts, say, lamb or pork…and is suitable equally to a wide range of cheeses and charcuterie. Maybe (who knows?) the famous pork rillettes de Tours or the rabbit rillettes d’Orléans grew up naturally alongside this wine style across the centuries – the fat content of each being a perfect foil for the classically delicate astringency of their region’s Cabernet Franc wines. So, here’s to ‘le crunch’ of Spring…….when it comes!

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Loire)

NAME OF PRODUCER Domaine de la Semellerie

NAME OF WINE Chinon AC 2010, Cuvée Fabrice Delalande

STYLE Unoaked sappy food-friendly red

ALCOHOL 12.5% abv

RETAILER The Wine Society

PRICE £ 8.25



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