John Ducker writes:

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


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.

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JOHN’S PAST RECOMMENDATION LIST:
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August 2014 – Spain (Cataluna) – Okhre Natur Cava, Josep Pinol
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June 2014 – Italy (Tuscany) – Cardaelis Alicante Toscana, Bicocchi
May 2014 – Portugal (Douro Valley) – ‘Old Vines in Young Hands’‘, Vila Real
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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
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December 2013 – Spain (Cava) ‘Elyssia’ Gran Cuvée Brut, Freixenet
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