Le Sud-Ouest – delights from south west France

Recently I have led some tastings of wines from France’s south west,the south west of France, or le Sud-Ouest.

I have written this region of France before, but a another mention will not go amiss as it is a very misunderstood place.

Map of Southwest France including the A.C.s of Bergerac – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of Southwest France including the A.C.s of Bergerac – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

For starters, many people get confused by the term and imagine it includes the Languedoc – it doesn’t. The south west is a wide area mainly to the south of Bordeaux and never straying further east than the delightful town of Millau in the Aveyron department of the Midi-Pyrénées region near the Auvergne. The most northerly wine areas are way over in the north east around the town of Rodez, also in the Aveyron department. Here the rarely encountered wine regions of Entraygues – Le Fel and Estaing with just 20 hectares of vineyards each are attempting to bring themselves back to life after decades of decline. The nearby region of Marcillac is already doing well with some 200 hectares that produce delightful red and rosé wines that are well worth a try. The landscape here is quite beautiful with steep south facing slopes:

Domaine du Cros - photo from the winery.

Domaine du Cros – photo from the winery.

marcillac-domaine-du-cros-lo-sang-del-pais2012 Domaine du Cros Lo Sang del Païs
A.C. Marcillac

This is a delightful, if earthy and rustic wine made from 100 % Fer Servadou, or Manses to the locals and here known as the blood of the country or Lo Sang del Païs.
It is a dry, lean red, quite light bodied, but with a freshness of raspberry and cherry fruit in a rustic Pinot Noir kind of way that makes it an excellent wine with lighter foods.
This will not be for everyone, but it is a fascinating glimpse of classic French wine that many people no longer see, perfect with steak frîtes – 87/100 points.

From £8.50 a bottle in the UK from The Wine Society, Joseph Barnes, Les Caves de Pyrène & The Smiling Grape Company.

The next thing to realise about the south west is that grape growing is so spread out it barely counts as a single wine region. As so few of the wine producing areas touch each other or have much in common it is more a region of convenience, or a wine region in name only. grape growing and wine production in these places has struggled since a nineteenth century heyday, so many of them produce tiny amounts of wine with viticulture dwarfed by other forms of agriculture. In many ways it is better to regard each wine producing area as a region in its own right. The climate varies across the whole place too with most of it enjoying a relatively dry maritime continental climate although a little Mediterranean influence does creep in further east. This shows itself in the choices of grape variety, with Bordeaux grapes holding sway in the west and a gradual progression through to Syrah in the east, it seemingly never gets warm or dry enough for Grenache here.

Gaillac
This delightfully sleepy part of France, near Albi, has much to offer in the way of wine. The slightly fizzy Gaillac Perlé was quite popular in the 1960s and I think deserves to be rediscovered as all the examples I have tried are lovely white wines. My favourite so far is:

Château Clement Termes

Château Clement Termes in Gaillac – photo from the winery.

HT_FD_F23A_00901628_NC_X_EC_02012 Château Clement Termes
Gaillac Blanc Perlé, A.C. Gaillac
A blend of the local Loin de l’Oeil / Len de l’el and Muscadelle  aged on the lees over winter. At only 12% this is delightfully light and fresh with high but not tart acidity, scented and herbal with green tinged fruit and a nettle-like, stony character. If you enjoy Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet or Picpoul, then I cannot imagine you not falling for this wines delicate, linear charms, certainly I think it is an excellent classic French dry white. That tiny hint of spritz keeps it fresh and emphasises the savoury side too, which makes it a lovely aperitif or perfect with classy fish and chips – the back label proclaims it to be ‘indispensable with fruits de mers’ and I would love to try it with goats cheese some time too – 87/100 points.

From £8.99 a bottle in the UK from Marks & Spencer & The Smiling Grape Company.

10273803_isGaillac though is also an excellent, if unexpected source of red wines and this  next wine thrilled everyone at my tastings:

2009 Domaine Rotier Renaissance Rouge
A.C. Gaillac
This is a sumptuous, supple blend of 40% Duras – a local grape grown nowhere else, with 25% Braucol – the local name for Fer Servadou - & 35% Syrah aged 12 months in barrel. I loved the inky intensity, the delicate smoke notes and the touch of savoury, fresh compost on the nose. The palate was supple and dense with rich black fruit and compact, chewy tannins that were very smooth and pleasurable. A terrific wine that pleased everyone who tried it and would be superb with all manner of meat dishes  – 90/100 points.

I can no longer find a stockist for this wine, but the same producer’s very similar Les Gravels Rouge is available in the UK from The Wine Society at £9.50 per bottle.

Saint Mont

Saint Mont is in the Basque lands of Gascony with ancient links to the Pilgrim's route to Santiago in Spain.

Saint Mont is in the Basque lands of Gascony with ancient links to the Pilgrim’s route to Santiago in Spain.

Previously known as Côtes de Saint Mont, this exciting region is an enclave carved out of the Côtes de Gascogne and using many of the same grapes as Madiran and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh. All the wines I have ever tasted from here are made by the excellent Plaimont Producteurs cooperative. If there are other producers then I have yet to find them, but these guys do a superb job.

I have a particular liking for the tasty white wines of the area and Plaimont have gone to great lengths to bring the traditional grape varieties and blends of Arrufiac, Petit Courbu, Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng back to life in recent years:

retrouv2011 Saint Mont Les Vignes Retrouvées
Plaimont Producteurs
Made from a blend of 60% Gros Manseng, 20 % Petit Courbu and 20% Arrufiac, this is an exciting wine, dry, medium-bodied and tangy with a rich citrus acidity and a richer stone fruit and pithy citric palate with texture and a juicy succulence – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK at around £11.00 per bottle from Les Caves de Pyrène & The Smiling Grape Company.

LN_574506_BP_a_42011 Saint Mont Le Passé Authentique
Plaimont Producteurs
Another deliciously tangy blend of Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac. Gros Manseng always reminds me of tangly pithy grapefruit, so if you enjoy Sauvignon Blanc this could be a good style for you. It is aromatic, dry, citric and vibrant with a rich texture, lots of freshness, all in all a lovely wine – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK from Waitrose at £9.99 per bottle – £7.49 until 20/04/14.

The red wines of Saint Mont are made from blends of Tannat, Pinenc - yet another local name for Fer Servadou, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and are rather good too, especially this one:

empreinte_de_saint_mont_rouge_2008_hd_300dpi2010 Saint Mont L’Empreinte de Saint Mont
Saint Mont
Plaimont Terroirs & Châteaux
This blend of Tannat and Pinenc – yet another local name for Fer Servadou – is concentrated, weighty, but soft, supple and richly fruity. In fact the key word is soft, it is also very smooth with no obvious tannin feel and very drinkable, as there is also a freshness running through it that stops it being jammy – 87/100 points.

2008 vintage available in the UK at £14.99 per bottle from Vinopic. The white Saint Mont L’Empreinte de Saint Mont is delicately oaky and quite superb too and is stocked by The Wine Society & Adnams Celler & Kitchen.

Irouléguy

Domaine Brana in Irouléguy - photo from http://www.winesofsouthwestfrance.com

Domaine Brana in Irouléguy – photo from http://www.winesofsouthwestfrance.com

Irouléguy is a beautiful mountainous region in the basque lands with a wine making history that goes back to Roman times and steeply sloped vineyards at heights that range between 100-400m above sea-level. They cling to the French side of the Pyrenees at a place where they wiggle a bit, so run north to south rather than the expected west to east. This means the vineyards face south and south east giving them much more sun than seems logical – if like me you foolishly assumed that the Pyrenees went in a straight line from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean that is. For those cheese fiends amongst you, Ossau-Iraty comes from around here too.

In truth although the region has a long history, like many of the other bits of the south west it almost stopped producing wine after phylloxera and the industry had to be rebuilt to make the good quality modern wines that we now experience. The grapes are classic from this part of the world, but often given their Basque names: Bordelesa Beltza / Tannat, Axeria / Cabernet Franc, Axeria Handia / Cabernet Sauvignon, while the whites are somewhat more exotic: Izkiriota / Gros Manseng, Izkiriota Ttipia / Petit Manseng and Xuri Zerratia / Petit Courbu.

The local coperative, La Cave Irouléguy, is the producer that I have encountered the most, but my favourite wines so far come from Domaine Brana.

Jean and Martine Brana farm 22 hectares of steep slopes in a non interventionist, partly biodynamic way – but not totally biodynamic since 2003 – and the care they take really shows in the finished product. They do not seek to make blockbuster wines, but more elegant wines with medium weight and plenty of elegance.

Domaine-Brana-blanc2011 Irouléguy Domaine Brana Blanc
Irouléguy
This is a classy, elegant and refined blend of 50% Gros Manseng, 30% Petit Courbu and 20% Petit Manseng. It has lovely complexity and richness, tangy mouth-watering acidity and a creamy texture together with a dash of savoury minerality. All in all a very fine wine indeed – 91/100 points.

Sadly I can no longer find a stockist for this wine, but The Wine Society used to stock it, so keep an eye out if they get some more.

Domaine-Brana-rouge2009 Irouléguy Domaine Brana Rouge
Irouléguy
An elegant blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Tannat. A developed and beautifully integrated wine showing dried fruit, caramel and mocha oak and hints of leather. The palate has medium weight with intense flavour concentration with lovely intensity of fruit and balancing freshness. There is still a touch of fine grain tannins too giving lovely balance and an elegant restrained feel – 91/100 points.

Available in the UK from The Wine Society at £19.00 per bottle.

Sweet Wines
This part of France has a great tradition of producing desert wines of course Sauternes and Barsac are not far away, while Monbazillac and Saussignac produce very similar wines from the same grape varieties in nearby Bergerac.

The speciality regions for sweet wines in the Sud-Ouest proper though are Jurançon, which uses the wonderful Petit-Manseng to great effect, and the nearby region of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh. This PDO / AOC covers the same territory as Madiran, but is only for white wines made from Arrufiac, Courbu, Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Petit Manseng. Wines labelled Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec are dry. The areas odd name apparently means ‘vines supported on stakes in the old country’ in the local dialect, which is how the vines are grown, which was historically quite rare in France, but is of course very common today.

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Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh & Madiran vineyards – photo courtesy of winesofsouthwestfrance.com.

1790-vin-pacherenc-du-vic-billa-saint-albert-75cl2011 Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Saint-Albert
Plaimont Producteurs
A late harvest wine made from a blend Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Petit Courbu left to ripen on the vine until 15 November – Saint Albert’s day. It really is delicious as it seems very fresh and lively with the sweetness keeping in the background, there are some orange marmalade notes, apricot and something more exotic about it too and the acidity keeps the luscious sweetness from dominating your palate. A lovely, beautifully balanced dessert wine, not massively complex, but very attractive. Everybody loved this precisely because it has so much freshness and is not as intense as some other dessert wines – 90/100 points.

Available in the UK at £13.95 per 50 cl bottle from Corney & Barrow.

All the tasters have been very impressed by the wines that I have shown them from south west France, so if you want to try something a little more unusual and interesting, it might be an excellent place to try for some delicious wines. Think of it as less of a wine region and more of a voyage of discovery.

 

 

Spanish Delights

As many of you are aware, I love Spain, Spanish culture and Spanish wine. I really do think that Spain is one of the most exciting wine producing countries right now. It isn’t all Rioja or Rioja look alikes either, the place makes wonderful wines from so many different regions, in so many different styles and from a broad palette of grape varieties that there is bound to be something for everyone.

Recently I have tasted a few very exciting Spanish wines that I thought I would share with you.

 

Bruce Jack -  - photo courtesy of La Báscula

Bruce Jack – - photo courtesy of La Báscula

La Báscula – which means weighing scales – is a range of wines sourced across many Spanish regions and was created by Ed Adams M.W. and winemaker Bruce Jack. I have bumped into Ed a few times in my time and he is a likeable guy who knows Spain like the back of his hand, while Bruce is one of the most interesting and engaging winemakers I have ever come across. I first met him in his native South Africa, where he is the founder and winemaker of  the excellent Flagstone Wines. He always makes good wines, so I was thrilled when he teamed up with Ed and spread his wings to make wine in Spain too.

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Wine map of Spain – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

The range seems to tour the country taking in many famous and some not so well known wine regions. They produce wines in Rioja, Rueda, Jumilla, Yecla and Alicante as well as Terra Alta, the amazing region in Catalunya’s deep south, inland from Tarragona and the more famous Priorat and Monstant. From the examples I have tried recently, this region really deserves to be much better known and positively sought out as a source of great wines at good value price points and great quality too.

The rugged Catalan landscape.

The rugged Catalan landscape.

Terra Alta means High Land and is a place of extremes, searingly hot in the summer and often freezing cold in winter. It is dry, mountainous and rugged, with the extreme heat of the growing season tempered by the altitude and the influence of the Ebro River, although the vineyards are only moderately high at 400 metres above sea level.

Excitingly the region has made the Garnacha Blanca, white Grenache, its speciality grape and I think this – along with Grenache Gris – can make delicious white wines. Terra Alta claims to produce 90% of the world’s Garnacha Blanca / Grenache Blanc – Grenache is originally a Spanish grape, so really ought to always be called Garnacha in my opinion.

Pepe Fuster (centre)

Pepe Fuster (centre) – photo courtesy of La Báscula

Both of these wines come from Terra Alta, although you will look in vain for the D.O. on the red, indeed they both come from the Celler Comes d’en Bonet winery in Gandesa some 90 km inland from Tarragona. This 30 hectare estate has been owned by the Fuster family for over 60 years and viticulturist Pepe Fuster is a passionate champion of this land and its traditional grape varieties, but is equally keen to experiment and do something new. Around half the estate is currently farmed organically with the rest in transition.

catalan-eagle-white_bg-2012-22013 La Báscula Catalan Eagle Organic Garnacha Blanca & Viognier
DO Terra Alta
60% Garnacha Blanca, 25% Viognier & 15% Rousanne with no oak.
I have tasted a previous vintage of this and although I liked it I was not overly excited, but with the 2013 this white has really come of age.
The nose is clean and mineral with enticing apricot and nectarine, blossom and honey notes.
The palate is soft and textured with a fine balance of acidity making it fresh and lively, but not crisp, while the fruit really dominates the mid palate and the finish has a minerality and purity to it that kept me coming back for more. Delicious, versatile and so very drinkable – 89/100 points.

£9.99 a bottle in the UK from D.Byrne & Co, Highbury Vintners, John Hattersley WinesNoel Young WinesWoodwinters Wines & Whiskies, more stockist information available from Boutinot.
Distributed in the US by Fairest Cape.

no-stone-unturned_bg2012 No Stone Unturned Old Vine Garnacha Tinta & Cariñena
DO Terra Alta (but not mentioned on the label)

62% 50 year old Garnacha Tinta, 23%Cariñena & 15% a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah all aged 10 months in French oak.
The deep, opaque ruby red colour is very enticing.
Rich lifted brambles, damsons, blackberry, dark cherry vies with sweet spice and fresh red earth notes on the nose.
The palate is intense, but smooth with supple tannins and a soft texture, almost creamy.
The sweetly ripe fruit is a blast from start to finish giving rich plums, morello cherries and blackberries with a rich inky intensity, delicately smoky oak and a firm, but gentle tannin smear on the finish. there is sweet spice and liquorice and a lovely freshness. The wine is rich and interesting, but pristine too.
This is one of those wines that you could keep for a while, but the fruit and supple texture are so delicious now, why would you want to? Very food friendly wine that would go with almost any meal, grab a bottle and take it to your local BYO …91/100 points

£15.99 a bottle in the UK from D.Byrne & Co, Noel Young Wines, Viader Vintners, more stockist information available from Boutinot.
Distributed in the US by Fairest Cape.

If you like Rhône Valley wines then you will enjoy these, but they are not copies of anything else, but exciting and beautifully made wines in their own right. What’s more they are deliciously modern, vibrant and full of fruit.

 

Birth of a Region

We live in a golden age for wine, it has never been better made, more exciting or as affordable as now.

I often think though how much more thrilling it must have been to have been around while the great regions were emerging and while their reputations were being originally earned. All the truly great wine regions that we talk about in reverential and hushed tones – in the old world anyway – were established long ago and so now have something of the past about them. This is not to be critical by the way, merely acknowledging that these places are often steeped in tradition.

Of course what constitutes a great wine region can vary from opinion to opinion, but I am pretty sure there is a broad agreement about the very best wine regions. They must produce wines that talk of that place, be terroir wines, they must produce complex and layered wines that can be aged – whether you do age them or even want to is another matter. They must be wines that command a following and a premium price – after all that is one of the key criteria for the Cru Classé of Bordeaux and the Grands Crus of Burgundy.

Taking all of those points into account, there is one leading, world class wine region in Europe that at first glance would seem to be as old as any of them, but is actually a pretty recent phenomenon.

That region is Portugal’s Douro Valley.

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

Of course the Douro has existed for ever and has produced wine of a sort since records began. However for many complex reasons, the place developed a particular style of wine – sweet and fortified – that to some degree sets it aside from places like Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône, Tuscany and Rioja.

Unfortified table wine from the Douro though has only been produced in relatively recent times, certainly in any quantity and to a world class standard. It was not really until 1979 that they received any recognition at all, with the creation of the Douro D.O.C..

Baron Forrester of course famously championed the production of table wines and advocated the Port producers stop ‘adulterating’ their wines with spirit, a fact that led to many conspiracy theories about his untimely death.

Before phylloxerra unfortified wines from Port country were known as ‘consumo’, which certainly implies that they were simple wines drunk quite quickly after production and their market was limited to Portugal and Brazil. It seems that after phylloxerra they nigh on disappeared with the bulk of the grapes being used to produce the spirit for Port.

The beautiful Douro.

The beautiful Douro.

The Douro remained purely a region for fortified wines until 1952 when Ferreira produced the first vintage of Barca Velha. It wasn’t made every year, but I well remember how this wine acquired almost mythical status and a high reputation which had a knock on effect on other producers causing them too to use surplus port grapes to make a table wine – often just on an experimental basis. It took well over 20 years for such wines to become anything other than a novelty.

Portuguese membership of the E.U. had an enormous effect on wine production, massive investment in the 1990s transformed many wineries and the entire outlook of the country. Huge strides were made and development was so fast that by the turn of the 21st century Douro wines were well established.

What is astonishing though is that at some point within the last dozen or so years the Douro has clearly and unambiguously taken its place amongst the great wine regions of the world and overtaken all its Portuguese rivals. Obviously this is no overnight success, but it is a remarkable achievement none the less.

I have been excited by the wines for many years, indeed I used to sell a couple of Douro reds in the mid 1990s when they were still a rarity, but I have been thrilled by the amazing development I saw on a recent trip to the Douro as a guest of the Discover the Origin campaign and at the New Douro tasting in February.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

There were many highlights, but these producers stood out:

Domingos Alves de Sousa were among Douro’s table wine pioneers and produce exciting reds and whites .

Alves de Sousa Reserva Pessoal BrancoTheir 2007 Alves de Sousa Reserva Pessoal Branco is a very individualistic sort of wine, full of character and depth. For this dry white they decided to make a wine with some of the personality and intensity of a white Port. To achieve this it was fermented (on the skins for the first 48 hours) in new French oak with hyper-oxidation and hard pumping over and a further 6 months in new French oak. The result is extraordinary, full flavoured, concentrated and quirky with barley sugar, caramelised orange, rich apricot, spices and honey, in fact it sort of tastes like a very rich Sauternes, but is bone dry. It put me in mind of those new wave amphora aged wines and orange wines, but unlike most of those it is utterly delicious – 93/100 points.

The Abandanado Vineyard, these ancient vines create an extraordinary wine.

The Abandanado Vineyard, these ancient vines create an extraordinary wine.

Their top red is the Abandonado crafted from an 80 year old vineyard that was abandoned for many years – hence the name – before being nurtured back to life. I tasted the 2009:

Abandonado2009 Abandonado
Field-blend of old vine Tinta Amarela, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and some other grapes too and aged for 18 months in new Portuguese and French oak.
Lovely nose, a red fruit and black fruit melange, smoky too, with stewed plums, sugar plums, herbs, some eucalyptus and tar.
Lovely palate, great weight, fruit, tar, earth, slate, minty, supple texture with fine smoky wood and fine grain tannins.
Superbly integrated and balanced, quite brilliant – 92/100 points.

The beautiful Quinta do Noval

The beautiful Quinta do Noval

Quinta da Noval is justifiably famous for both ports and wines and I was excited to stay there last year and enjoyed tasting their whole range. Everything was good, but my stand out wine was the 2009 Quinta do Noval:

quinta_do_noval_2007_douro_doc_3__39102_big2009 Quinta do Noval
A blend of 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Touriga Franca.
The colour was a lovely opaque and intense cassis, while the very rich nose offered liquorice, earthy mineral notes, wild herbs, mocha and a hint of spice.
The palate was very smooth and supple with fine grain tannins, fleshy black fruit to the fore, a supple texture and touches of warm granite, clean earth, leather and eucalyptus. I really loved this wine, it was rich, concentrated and pretty full-bodied, but still had plenty of freshness and elegance – 93/100 points

The view from Niepoort.

The view from Niepoort.

Ramos Pinto is a family owned Port house that has been around since 1880, but has been at the forefront of the Douro’s table wine revolution. Which is hardly surprising given that the current owner’s father created Barca Velha. Their table wines are called Duas Quintas because they are a blend of fruit from 2 different estates, but I am sure that you could have worked that out for yourself.

The 2011 Duas Quintas (cask sample) was as reliable as ever with rich fruit, supple tannins and that slatey minerality to the finish. The 2011 Duas Quintas Reserva (cask sample) was more intense with richer fruit and more concentration.

Duas2009 Duas Quintas Reserva
50% Touriga Nacional, 40% Touriga Franca & 10% Tinta da Barca with 18 months barrel ageing.
This great wine was equally intense, but more developed, smoky and earthy and mineral with some leather touches and rich raisined fruit giving a slight Port-like feel. Incredibly concentrated, but vibrant and modern in a really delicious and stylish way – 92/100 points.

Available in the UK from the Wine Society @ £25.00 per bottle.

 

More of the beautiful Douro.

More of the beautiful Douro.

Symington Family Estates is of course one of the firms that dominates the Port business – amongst other brands they own Cockburn, Warre’s, Dow’s and Graham’s. I visited them at Graham’s Lodge in Porto and was very impressed by what I tasted – dinner in the new Vinum Restaurant at the Graham’s Lodge was rather stunning too and Johnny Symington was a charming, entertaining and informative host. Renewing acquaintance with their wines at the New Douro tasting in London I was wowed all over again – even their relatively humble Six Grapes Reserve Ruby Port was delicious.

Johnny Symington

Johnny Symington

The Symingtons main table wine brand is Altano and even the standard wine is very good, with rich fruit and a distinctive minerality, but I really enjoyed the

Organic2011 Altano Quinta do Ataide Organic
This blend of organically grown Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca grapes was cold fermented and aged in second fill French oak for 10 months.
This offers great concentration and depth and wonderfully vibrant fruit and a slatey minerality, it gives lots of pleasure and is sinfully drinkable. This is stunning quality for its price and should be more popular – 90/100 points because of the great value.

Available in the UK from Waitrose & Ocado @ £9.99 per bottle.

The 2009 Altano Reserva Quinta do Ataide is a bit more serious and concentrated still, showing a little ageing, but the fruit is still intense and it has that spicy, earthy, mineral and inky character that reminds me of Priorat’s licorella and which I have come to identify with the Douro – 91/100 points.

quinta-do-vesuvio-2008-red-wineThey also produce a pair of deeply impressive wines at their Quinta do Vesúvio estate in the Douro Superior zone. The 2009 Quinta do Vesúvio was my favourite red wine of 2013. It is intensely ripe, fragrant and floral, concentrated and so gloriously fruity that the complexity and structure is a little hidden, but it’s there, with silky tannins, mocha tinged oak and that rocky herbal, slate minerality on the finish. This is a magnificent wine and was the most impressive Douro I tried on my trip, perhaps only by a whisker, but I loved the intensity of the fruit, the concentration, the supple tannins and the incredible spectrum of flavours – 93/100 points.

The second wine, the 2009 Pombal do Vesúvio is very good too, just that bit lighter and more stony in character – 91/100 points.

The Symingtons also produce wines in partnership with Bruno Prats at Prats & Symington which is based on the fruit from Quinta de Perdiz and Quinta de Roriz, which are close together midway between Bonfim and Malvedos. Unusually, given that these properties are bang in the middle of premium Port country, it is Douro table wines that is the focus here and so the best fruit is selected for that, although a little vintage Port is also produced. The company was formed in 1998 with wines following in 2000, so it is all still very new, but also very assured. The principal wine is called Chryseia which means gold in Greek – Douro also means gold. The 2011 Chryseia promises much, being intense and concentrated with plush fruit and lots of that licorella-like minerality. It isn’t just big though, there is freshness and balance too making it very fine.

chryseiaThe 2007 Chryseia is 50% each of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca and showed more development. It is beautifully supple and richly fruity, but with more dried fruit showing now. The minerality is still there giving an almost bitter twist like tapenade and strong espresso to the finish, while the tannins are just beginning to be silky – 93/100 points.

There are two second wines, the 2011 Post Scriptum has bags of fruit and an elegant juiciness. While the 2011 Prazo de Roriz too had lots of fruit, it was more earthy, mineral and savoury with a bitterness reminiscent of unsweetened dark chocolate.

In Conclusion

The schist soil in the Douro Valley.

The schist soil in the Douro Valley.

All the wines I had were very good. Some were bargains, many offered great value, while others were great at any price, but in all of them there was elegance and a sense of place. That mineral, slate or licorella taste was always there giving a true taste of the Douro. The water is drawn up through these schist soils and whether that directly effects the wine or not they do have this slatey schistous flavour profile that makes them very distinctive indeed.

It seems to me that any tasting of the Douro will reveal wines worthy of rubbing shoulders with the best. They scream of their terroir – you can taste the wild slate hillsides in the glass. The better wines are certainly layered and complex and can age, while many of them now command and indeed deserve eye watering prices.

These wild, barren, sun-soaked slate / schist hillsides seem to be able to produce extraordinary wines with great depth and often real complexity. What’s more the region has its own grape varieties – used to make Port in the past, but now clearly capable of producing world class dry wines. So if you want classic European wines, but with new flavour profiles, the Douro is a good place to turn. If you like Tuscan wines, Priorat or the wines of the Rhône then these really could be wines for you.

I am certain that we have just lived through the birth of a truly great wine region, they are not yet widely popular or sought after, but as Paul Symington confidently told me, their time will come.

Post Script

The view from Vinum

The view from Vinum

Last year I enjoyed a stunning dinner at the Vinum Restaurant housed in the Grahams Lodge in Villa Nova de Gaia. It is a wonderful place with great food and lovely views across the river. Everything was perfect and as I said above, the 2009 Quinta do Vesúvio was my favourite red wine of 2013. Well as this superb meal drew to a close Johnny Symington set yet another bottle down on the table and some was poured for each of us. I could not have believed that things could get any better at that moment, but they did, because we were about to taste the

Cut-out-bottle-shot11952 Graham’s Single Harvest Tawny (Colheita) Port which was bottled to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Now I love Colheita Ports, I think they are a fabulous and underrated style, but the quality of this took even my breath away. These old wood aged Ports – and this wine has lain undisturbed in wooden pipes for 60 years – lose that opaque colour and look quite brown and nutty. This was fragrant and perfumed with molasses, dried fig and salty caramel aromas. The palate was sensuous and rich with liquor orange, dried apricot, dried figs, sticky toffee pudding and candied pumpkin characters. The finish was long and nutty, but balanced by a nice cut of refreshing acidity to cleanse the senses. A stunning, stunning wine and without a doubt the best thing I drank in 2013 - 96/100 points.

Quality, convenience & a great deal of pleasure

Time was when your local corner shop was the last place you would turn to buy a bottle of wine. I well remember how they used to be, a jumbled assortment of wines with no apparent selection process, vaguely arranged on the shelves with price tags guaranteed to make you wince.

Well it seems that that might all be in the past, at least at Spar stores. We all take Spar stores for granted, there they are on most shopping parades all over the country supplying us with emergency bread and milk and a few other bits and pieces. Well recently I have tasted quite a few of their wines and I have to say that I have been impressed.

The range that I tried consisted of smart, well sourced and sensibly priced wines that hit the spot time and time again. It seems to me that the quality of the Spar wine offer now means that they will no longer be the wine shop of last resort, but somewhere customers can rely on as to provide some really very good bottles of wine.

What’s more they have their 5th Annual Wine Festival coming up which will allow you to try their wines at specially reduced promotional prices.

Red

Modesta Grenache Syrah Mourvedre2012 Modesta Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre
D.O. Valencia, Spain
Opaque purple damson colour, bright.
Plummy, fragrant, bright and fruity.
Chunky fruit, some spice and a feel of happy freshness. The texture is satisfyingly chewy with a sappy quality.
Soft tannins and rich fruit make this very enjoyable and very versatile. Extremely drinkable with or without food – 86/100 points.

Available from Spar shops at £7.00 – on promotion from 20th March – 7th May 2014 for £4.00

SPAR Chianti 20122010 Spar Chianti
D.O.C.g Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
Nose of damsons, rich cherries and red berries with a touch of smoke, fragrant spice and flowers.
The palate is smooth and discretely juicy with lovely ripe red plum and cherry fruit supported by soft tannins, subtle oak and a seam of fresh, cleansing acidity. This was either a delight or I seriously wanted a drink! Perfect with pasta and a multitude of Italianate dishes – 87/100 points.

Available from Spar shops at £7.29

Print2009 Valle Vento Barolo
D.O.C.g Barolo, Piemonte, Italy
Made by the lovely people at the Araldica cooperative this is a very modern and fruity Barolo.
Deep ruby colour, not opaque, with a slightly orange rim.
Nice earthy nose, orange peel and savoury mushrooms, even some meat notes.
A very supple palate, smooth and very drinkable. The astringent dryness comes through on the finish much more as do the rose petals and earthy characters. The tannins are there, but not harsh, for a Barolo it is very fruity and upfront, which makes it very attractive and enjoyable – 87/100 points.

Available from Spar shops at £14.99 – on promotion from 20th March – 7th May 2014 for £12.00

White

XXXX SP_Gavi label design_22011 Gavi
D.O.G.g Gavi, Piemonte, Italy
This was also made by the splendid Araldica cooperative this is a nice, easy drinking Gavi.
Citrus and orange blossom aromas lead to a gentle palate with soft acidity and a touch of almond about it. There is a touch of minerality and a slight creamy feel that makes it feel quite elegant. A very enjoyable, user friendly dry white wine – 86/100 points.

Available from Spar shops at £7.29 – on promotion from 20th March – 7th May 2014 for £6.00

Sancerre - La Valle des Vignes2012 Sancerre La Valle des Vignes
A.C. Sancerre, Loire Valley, France
Fresh, citric, grassy and elderflower nose.
Green tinged palate with quite rich, soft ripe green fruit and the merest hint of apricot and a juicy palate.
Nicely made, modern, bright and drinkable, not really crisp but very attractive and very drinkable – 87/100 points.

Available from Spar shops at £11.99 – on promotion from 20th March – 7th May 2014 for £9.00

Sparkling

PrintNV Perlezza Prosecco Brut
D.O.C. Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
I’m not always a fan of Prosecco, they can often be a bit simple and somewhat sweeter than I want, but this is a very nice sparkling wine. Unusually dry and not too cloyingly aromatic, it is elegant, refreshing and crisp with a steely edge and taut appley fruit.
Incredibly versatile and clean as a whistle – 87/100 points.

Available from Spar shops at £9.00 – on promotion from 20th March – 7th May 2014 for £6.00

These were all good wines that I tasted on their own and again with food. They were well made, stylish and very enjoyable, perhaps not the most profound wines or finest and most complex examples of their type, but they were all very enjoyable to drink – I know I certainly derived a great deal of pleasure from drinking them.

So next time you are in your local Spar, stick a bottle of Prosecco in your basket as well as the milk and the hobnobs.

Languedoc – innovation & surprises

It is a strange fact of life in the modern wine world that many times each week I am told that France has been overtaken as a producer of good wines by the new world giants of Australasia and South America. It is wine consumers who tell me this, people who want straightforward wines that deliver a lot of character, punch and fruit – people who more often than not drink wine without food.

I find it remarkable that people can seem to just write off the delights of all French wines. All those great wines and much great value too, but then I know people who claim not to like cheese or fish, which also seems a bit of a sweeping statement to me.

Of course there is some truth in the view that France somehow gives out a very traditional image as a wine producing nation and to many consumers appears to be very complicated. Whereas Australian and New Zealand wine is very simply presented, often easy to understand and sports an image of exciting, cutting edge winemaking.

The truth is much more mixed and balanced. In reality there is excitement in every wine producing country just as much as there is stodgy conservatism. So to dismiss France should be impossible for any real lover of wine. France has exciting and innovative wine makers in all her regions and they come in many guises, from new kids on the block in traditional regions to out and out mavericks creating something new.

Languedoc map QS 2011 watermark

Map of the Languedoc-Roussillon – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

I was very excited recently to try two wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon region – in France’s deep south on the Mediterranean coast – that were truly astonishing as it had never occurred to me that anyone would or could make them. Both wines were made from aromatic grape varieties. One is Iberian in origin and although one of them is famously used in Alsace, I have never come across it from other parts of France before.

The first wine I stumbled across at the Vinisud wine fair while a guest of Les Vignobles Foncalieu, which is a union of cooperatives who produce many different ranges of wines from entry level to premium, varietal to classic A.C. and blends to single estate wines,  but who always show flair and imagination in all they do. I will be writing more about them soon.

ALBARINO2013 Foncalieu Albariño
IGP d’Oc from vineyards around Carcassonne.
This is the first vintage of Albariño as the grape has only been permitted in the region since 2009. I have never tried this grape from France before, only from Spain, Portugal (where it is called Alvarinho) as well as Virginia and California, but nowhere else in Europe.
The aromas are quite rich and peachy with floral honeysuckle notes making it seem quite rich, yet aromatic.
This carries on to the palate with a slightly oily texture and rich peach fruit making it feel very succulent, while a moderate amount of apricot and pear drop acidity freshens it up to provide balance. This is a pretty good effort for the first vintage and it was lovely to drink, I have certainly had less enjoyable examples from Spain. Great on its own as a wine bar wine, or with a wide array of lighter dishes – 86/100 points.

This is a new wine, so as yet there are no stockists of which I am aware. More information is available from Clementine Coummunications Ltd.

The second wine to tell you about is similarly unexpected from France’s deep south. Again it is made by a large dynamic company, but this is a negociant and winemaker rather than a cooperative:

maison-vialade-gewurztraminer2012 Maison Vialade Gewurztraminer
IGP d’Oc made by Domaines Auriol from fruit grown between Narbonne and Béziers.
Again this is the first vintage as the grape has only been permitted since 2011. To retain some freshness and acidity 7% sauvignon Blanc is blended in to the fatter, richer Gewurztraminer.
Heady aromas of peach juice and peach skin, cooked apricot and touch of more exotic lychee too.
The palate is soft with very low acid and some residual sugar making it textured in the mouth.
The finish is like succulent orchard fruit, this is very nice stuff, medium dry, well made and great fun. A good alternative to lower end Alsace Gewurztraminer – 86/100 points.

Available from The Smiling Grape Company @ £8.99 per bottle. More stockist information is available from Myliko International Wines Ltd.

So you see, the next time someone tells me that France isn’t innovating in wine or is being left behind, I really will have to set them right.

Bergerac – enjoying the road less travelled

Some wines cling to their fame and clearly belong to the Premier League of wine regions. They remain sought after and a byword for style. Bordeaux and Burgundy would both fall into that category.

However France is stuffed full of delights from other places that most of us would enjoy very much if we could just stop focussing on the great wine regions for a bit. Bergerac’s fame mainly rests with its popularity as a tourist destination, many British people visit the area, have houses there or drive through on their way to the south and a great many of them must enjoy the local wines while they are there, but seemingly few of them remember the wines with anything other than a passing affection.

Which is a great shame as there are very good wines to be had from this part of the world. I suppose one problem might be that this is overwhelmingly inexpensive wine country. When you stay there you can get bottles of wine for around €1 or €2, which while unexciting are perfectly serviceable – I know many people who go there buy wine from the local co-ops in bulk bag-in-box containers. However enjoyable or adequate as these might be, they might not get lodged in your memory as a wines worth seeking out. Whereas day trips to nearby St Emilion might well reinforce your mental picture of Bordeaux as a fine and expensive wine region, so the bottles to be remembered and taken home might well be from Bordeaux even though your holiday was in Bergerac or the wider Dordogne region.

Bergerac is in the Dordogne, which is part of Aquitane and is really part of the south west or Sud-Ouest, but from a political point of view the wines of Bergerac are no longer considered wine of the Sud-Ouest, but a region alone.

Map of Southwest France including the A.C.s of Bergerac – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of Southwest France including the A.C.s of Bergerac – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

This whole area is achingly beautiful and full of gorgeously scenic little towns and villages full of lovely local restaurants serving the most marvellous food – the region is famous for the black Périgord truffles and foie gras. Bergerac is an agricultural area whose population has been in decline since 1850, so the landscape feels empty and rural and the towns small and quiet – a world away from the bustle of Bordeaux.

Bergerac neighbours the Bordeaux region with the eastern boundary of Bordeaux’s  Libournais district – St Emilion, Pomerol, Côtes de Castillon etc. –  giving way to the Côte de Bergerac vineyards. As you might expect the climate is similar to Bordeaux, as are the clay and gravel soils and they even use the same grape varieties to produce wines that are not dissimilar to a wide spread of Bordeaux styles.

The reds are overwhelmingly made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, although Malbec and Cabernet Franc are used, while Fer/ Fer Servadou and the local Mérille also get a look in at the lower end of the price spectrum. The white wines are also made from the Bordeaux classics with the better examples being Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon blends, although again Muscadelle, Ondenc, Chenin Blanc and Ugni Blanc are also permitted and find their way into much of the lower priced wines.

Where Bergerac differs from Bordeaux is that the production is much more mixed with red, rosé, dry white, slightly sweet and full on dessert wines produced across the region, however there are sub-divisions to emphasise the local specialities and this has resulted in many different appellations.

These Appellations of Bergerac
Bergerac – Bergerac Sec, Bergerac Rosé, Bergerac Rouge – this is the basic catch all appellation that covers the whole region.
Côtes de Bergerac - Côtes de Bergerac Rouge, there are no slopes here, so this A.C. covers the same area as Bergerac, but the wines have a degree more alcohol, which makes this the appellation used for the finer reds of Bergerac. Côtes de Bereac Blanc can be either Sec, Demi-Sec or Moelleux / semi-sweet.
Monbazillac – a great dessert wine appellation for wines made from botrytis affected Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle grapes. These wines are perfect with the local foie-gras, blue cheese or fruit based puddings.
Montravel – this westernmost outpost of Bergerac surrounds the commune of Lamothe-Montravel and makes both reds and dry whites of high quality, sadly not often seen in the UK. The reds must include at least 50% Merlot and are very similar to the nearby Côtes de Castilon wines.
Côtes de Montravel – white wines in a rich semi-sweet style, at between 8 and 54 grams per litre of residual sugar they are not really dessert wines and would normally be labelled as Moelleux.
Haut- Montravel – just like Côtes de Montravel
Pécharmant – a red only appellation widely considered to be the finest in Bergerac.
Rosette – another Moelleux style wine
Saussignac – another dessert wine appellation, from  Sémillon, Sauvignon, Muscadelle, Ondec and Chenin Blanc this time. The wines must have at least 18 grams of residual sugar, the best examples are much sweeter and very like the best Monbazillacs.

I have recently been fortunate enough to taste a few Bergerac wines that are available in the UK.

The Whites & Rosé

1237782012 Grande Reserve Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon
A.C. Bergerac
A very nice dry white wine,  with a slightly fat style from the Sémillon, but underscored by crispish acidity. The aromas are bright with a touch of herbs and a honeysuckle floral quality. Green fruit and a little zing make this very attractive, if undemanding. The nose is gently aromatic with herbs, grassy and goosebery with a soft acidity. Very enjoyable and attractive stuff – 86/100 points.

£8.99 a bottle from Sainsburys - sometimes 2 for £12.

chateau-des-eyssards-bergerac-blanc-sauvignon-blanc-semillon-2012-12012 Château des Eyssards Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon
A.C. Bergerac
I have known this estate for many years and it consistently makes excellent quality wines with more finesse than you would expect. This is aged on the lees which adds a touch of richness that balances all that freshness and zing and that subtle touch of riper, almost tropical fruit. An outstanding example – 89/100 points.

Around £9.50 a bottle from The Wine Reserve & The Oxford Wine Company.

LN_066114_BP_a_42012  Les Parcelles Foncaussade Rosé
A.C. Bergerac

This 50/50 Cabernet and Merlot blend has an enticingly bright medium deep strawberry colour with an elegantly restrained nose of strawberry and rose hip.
Soft, rounded mouthfeel with ripe fruit and soft acidity keeping it fresh enough.
Attractive and pleasant without being great or bracing, but great fun and very enjoyable.
Nice straightforward wine, perfect with anything light and simple, I had it with a lovely piece of Catfish and a salad - 86/100 points.

£7.99 a bottle from Waitrose.

The Reds

640492010 Mon Plaisir Edition Limitée
Château Montplaisir, Bergerac
Pure Merlot blended from 2 different sites on the estate and aged for 12 months in oak at Laithwaite’s beautiful Le Chai au Quai.
An impressively concentrated wine with a deep garnet tinged ruby colour.
The nose gives rich plums, spice, espresso and cocoa notes.
The palate is fleshy with a lovely balancing freshness. Red fruit and leafy herbaceousness melds into the savoury spicy, earthy and coffee characters of oak and age. The tannins are fine, ripe and smoky. The finish is long. A very good, savoury, subtle Merlot with a real touch of finessse especially from the lovely freshness that runs all the way through the wine. A full flavoured, medium-bodied wine with a long finish, this is very good, very drinkable and great value too – 89/100 points.

£9.99 a bottle from Laithewaites.

1150912011 Château des Eyssards Rouge
A.C. Bergerac
This estate never fails me and this is a lovely, serious yet supple red wine. The medium bodied and full flavoured red is a blend is 50/50 Cabernet and Merlot, yet good use of oak keeps the tannins smooth. The touch of spicy oak just adds another dimension and is well integrated with the rich dark plum fruit. Excellent with all types of meals, yet fine enough to grace the dinner party table too – 88/100 points.

Around £8 a bottle from Waitrose.

And finally something sweet

0849362010 Château les Sablines
A.C. Monbazillac
In another life I used to sell this wine and it always pleased me as it offers superb quality and great value for money. Although very similar, I believe that Monbazillac wines are usually richer and more intense than Sauternes at a similar sort of price, so deliver lots more character. The humid conditions here seem to be perfect for botrytis or noble rot to develop which results in richly honeyed, luscious wines like this. The nose and palate are dominated by a rich orange marmalade character and barley sugar flavour while a seam of fresh acidity and a slightly bitter finish stops it from being cloying. Just delicious with all manner of things, roquefort cheese, foie-gras and especially irresistible with Panettone bread & butter pudding – 89/100 points.

£9.99 a bottle from Waitrose.

Personally I think that consumers are missing a trick by not drinking more Bergerac wines and by not demanding more either. The wines from this region are classic French wines and seem to be made to a high general standard, an offer some very good  drinking and deliver great value for money too – what’s not to like?

In praise of sparkling wine

I have been musing quite a bit about Sparkling wine over the festive period which seems so long ago now – where does time go?

I love Champagne, it is one of the greatest wine styles and wine regions in the world, but sadly I cannot often afford to drink it. Nor do I always want it as many other sparkling wines are wonderful wines that give a great deal of pleasure in their own right.

Which brings me on to my theme here – sparkling wine in restaurants. Very few eateries seem to want to sell me a bottle of sparkling wine, while they all want to sell me a bottle of Champagne, but of course never from the affordable end of the spectrum. It’s always big names and famous brands, which is all very nice, but a bit beyond most of us except for a special occasion. But here’s the thing – restauranteurs take note – my finances will not stretch to Champagne at restaurant prices very often, so on the very few occasions that I order Champagne I almost never order another bottle as well. If the restaurant listed a good quality sparkling wine at a fair price though I would almost certainly start with a bottle of that AND have a bottle of wine afterwards – surely I cannot be alone in that?

Few other sparkling wines quite reach that level of finesse or complexity that Champagne can reach. Few have that sensation of tension and utter purity that the chalky soils and cold climate of Champagne can achieve – even some very good value Champagnes, but there are many very good sparkling wines around that deliver all sorts of other pleasures and they deserve a fair hearing and not just to be dismissed as something ‘lesser’. In truth a good sparkling wine is different, not inferior and can make a lovely aperitif or partner the starter, fish dishes or Chinese and Thai food beautifully as well as many other dishes.

In recent months I have tried many excellent sparkling wines and I often wonder why so few of them are available on restaurant wine lists. I have tasted lovely examples from France, Sicily, Austria, Germany, New York, Chile, California, South Africa and Spain amongst many others, here are a few that really stand out, whether for sheer quality, drinkability or value for money, they are all are non vintage unless specified and all made by the traditional – or Champagne – method, so Prosecco will be covered another day:

prod_370121Perle Noire Crémant d’Alsace
Arthur MetzLes Grands Chais de France, Alsace, France

I am always drawn to Crémant d’Alsace, it seems to me that the region makes very good fizz, albeit very different from Champagne. Mostly I favour the ones made from Pinot Blanc and Riesling, but Chardonnay is allowed too, this super example is made from 100% Auxerrois, which being a cross between Gouais Blanc and Pinot Noir shares the same parents as Chardonnay, but originates in Lorraine and is widely used in Alsace where it is normally blended into wine labelled as Pinot Blanc.
This wine has a lovely apricotty nose with the merest touch of richer raspberry and some brioche notes too. The palate is soft and the mousse slightly creamy and has nice orchard fruit characters. The wine is delicate and delicious and soft, rather than being elegant and poised, but is a very enjoyable bottle of fizz. I wish I could find this in the UK, I would love to buy it and order it in restaurants too – 87/100 points

B052241Benanti Brut Noblesse
Azienda Vinicola Benanti, Etna, Sicily, Italy
This is a delightful sparkling wine made from Carricante grapes, grown at between 950 and 1200 metres above sea level, plus some other local grapes to add a little richness to the acidic, taut and mineral citrus notes of Carricante. It was quite delicious and hit the spot rather well before climbing up into the vineyards. A small portion of the wine is barrel fermented and it is aged on the lees over the winter before the second fermentation takes place the following Spring. After bottling it was aged for 18 months on the lees before disgorging. An attractive and enjoyable sparkling wine of excellent quality and finesse, if not great complexity – 87/100 points.

brut_hd1Donnafugata Brut Metodo Classico
Donnafugata, Sicily, Italy
This fine Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blend was my favourite Sicilian sparkling wine of my trip last year and interestingly the grapes are purposely grown on high north-east facing slopes which protect the grapes from the sun and so preserve the grape’s acids. It was nicely balanced with good fruit and acidity as well as complexity from 28 months ageing on the lees, a beautiful label too – 89/100 points.

WC_SparklingWine_PD5_ePhilippe Michel Crémant de Jura Brut
Jura, France

This pure Chardonnay sparkler is an easy and affordable way to try something from the tiny Jura region of eastern France and it is very good, much better than the modest price tag would lead you to think. It is pure Chardonnay and crisp with a lean apply structure, the merest hint of toast and tends towards the firm, taut texture of Champagne, although some flourishes of subtle tropical fruit soften the plate somewhat – 85/100 points
An amazing bargain from Aldi @ £6.99

bw_26661_49bec9c1be734a9e6e6be89610319ec0

Arestel Cava Brut
Cavas Arestel, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Catalunya, Spain

I know nothing about this producer at all except that they appear to be a proper Cava House, not just a label and they supply Lidl with their Cava and it seems really very good for anything like the asking price, certainly a cut above most cheap Cava and perfect when you just want to keep drinking fizz in quantity! It is soft, dry and apply  in flavour with a touch of pear too, but has a nice mouthfeel with none of that soapy quality cheap fizz can have – 84/100 points, this scores especially well for value, but really it is very well made.
Another amazing bargain this time from Lidl @ £4.79

brutMiguel Torres Pinot Noir Brut
Curicó Valley, Chile
I am always amazed by how little sparkling wine there is in Chile, most of the fizz drunk down there comes from Argentina, but there are a couple of stars, Cono Sur‘s delightful tank method sparkler and this beauty from Miguel Torres. This is a lovely traditional method wine with good depth of peachy orchard and raspberry red fruit, a lovely golden hue and fragrant brioche notes and flavours. Works very well and is the best Chilean fizz I have ever tasted – 88/100 points.

rmc_255x4542011 Codorníu Reina Maria Cristina Blanc de Noirs Brut
Bodegas Codorníu, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Catalunya, Spain
I have long been a fan of Codorníu, small bottles of their Cava – their Benjamin – were my first drink as a teenager in the discos of Spain. They invented Cava in 1872 and continue to make a wide range of delicious and high quality Cavas, but this is in a different league from most caves available in the UK. Recent vintages of this impressive wine have been pure Pinot Noir and it is that which gives the red fruit richness and depth to the palate, while floral freshness dominates the aromas. 15 months on the lees lend a touch of brioche and creaminess to the wine. If you have only tried cheap Cava in the past you owe it to yourself to give this a go – 91/100 points.
Great value for money from Majestic @ £14.99 – sometimes £9.99 when you buy 2

Sparkling-Pinot-Noir-Chardonnay-nv-150x464Grant Burge Pinot-Noir Chardonnay
Barossa Valley, Australia
I love showing this wine at tastings as it is really very good indeed, full of character and fruit, but also elegant. The fruit comes from vineyards in the cool Adelaide Hills and Eden Valley, so there is plenty of fresh acidity, while the ripeness and the 70% of Pinot Noir – there is even a dash of Pinot Meunier – gives it a lovely deep colour with hints of red fruit. Then 30 months or so on the lees gives a richness and biscuity character that is quite delicious. Not a cheap fizz by any means, but fine, tasty, elegant and drinkable too  – 90/100 points.

26548-250x600-bouteille-domaine-vincent-careme-ancestrale-blanc--vouvray2011 Vouvray L’Ancestrale
Domaine Vincent Carême, Vouvray, Loire Valley
In truth I am not often an admirer of Vouvray’s charms and Chenin is far from a favourite of mine, but this is stunning, which is quite a feat given that Vincent created his domaine from nothing in 1999. He now farms 14 hectares of organically grown Chenin and his wines are always interesting and often delicious, and this might well be my favourite. It is from older vines and the second fermentation takes place without the addition of any sugar or yeast, so takes a long time – 18-24 months apparently, so the flavours build slowly. The palate is rich and appley, even apple pie at times and the finish has a touch of sweetness that blanches the acidity beautifully and adds to the feeling of richness. A real hedonists wine – 91/100 points.

domaine-saint-just-domaine-saint-just-cremant-de-loire-blanc-blanc-2056-994Crémant de Loire Brut
Domaine Saint Just, Saumur, Loire Valley
Wouldn’t you know it, in one breath I tell you how little I like Chenin Blanc and here I am telling you about another superb wine made from it – hey ho that is the beauty of wine I suppose – although in this case 40% Chardonnay adds more elegance I think. This wine is beautiful too, poised, elegant and refined with rich fruit, zesty citrus acidity and some delicately honeyed, biscuity, richness on the long classy finish. If we could prise some of this away from the French and Chinese I think it would prove very popular in the UK – 92/100 points.

IDShot_150x300Tesco Finest Blanquette de Limoux Cuvée 1531
Limoux, Languedoc-Roussillon
It isn’t always easy to try this wine in the UK, which is a shame as it can be very good indeed. Limoux is in cathar country near Carcassonne and claims to have been making sparkling wine longer than Champagne has. This Chardonnay, Chenin and Mauzac – aka Blanquette – blend is pretty classy and elegant with a herbaceous character, from the Mauzac and lovely citrus acidity, apply fruit and yes a bit of toast too. This example is just off-dry – 87/100 points.

0003BB761E64012008 Loridos Bruto
Bacalhoa Vinhos, Portugal
Portugal isn’t often seen as a good fizz producer, but really should be, the few I have tried have been very good indeed. Bacalhoa produce some very good examples at the beautiful Quinta de Loridos near the fabulous town of Obidos near Lisbon. The Chardonnay  Brut is very good too, but my favourite is this Castelão and Arinto blend. Castelao is a red grape, while Arinto is a superb high acid white grape and together they give a lovely taut red apple character and real depth. A very good wine – 90/100 points.

ImageWine.aspx2010 Villiera Brut Natural Chardonnay
Villiera, Stellenbosch, South Africa
This is a wine very dear to my heart, my good friends Dave and Lorna Hughes live right next to the vineyard these Chardonnay grapes come from and I have often enjoyed a few glasses with them while in Stellenbosch. It is very good, very elegant, very refined, delicate, mineral and crisp apple fruit. Again the second fermentation takes place without the addition of yeast or sugar and the wine is aged for  3 years on the lees – 91/100 points.
Superb value for money from Marks & Spencer @ £10.99

In Conclusion
Of course I could carry on, but you get the picture, there are lovely sparkling wines produced everywhere, so don’t get stuck in a rut, it does not have to be Champagne every time – restauranteurs take note, sommeliers please listen – nor does every alternative have to be Prosecco. Be adventurous, find something new and exciting.