John Ducker writes:-
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.
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 Quinta da Raza, Vinhão, Colheita Selecionada 2013
PRODUCER Quinta da Raza – www.quintadaraza.pt
STYLE Fresh ‘juvenile’ red.
GRAPE VARIETY/IES Vinhão
ALCOHOL 12 deg. abv
RETAILER The Good Wine Shop – www.thegoodwineshop.co.uk
PRICE £ 11.50 (online), £13.50
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)