My Summer Wine Part 2 – Welsh Riesling?

The weather has changed and Summer feels a long time ago now, but I thought you might well be interested in these wines that I was able to try when the weather was a little better.

I love trying new things, so I was thrilled to be able to taste some Welsh wines during the Summer. I suppose I knew there was some Welsh wine, Sweden can make it for heaven’s sake, and so Wales certainly can. However, tasting Welsh wines was a first for me and although they were not actually made from Riesling, but I can never resist a pun. I wish they did grow Riesling in Wales, how could a grower pass up the chance to label a wine as Welsh Riesling?

Monnow Valley Vineyards by kind permission

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My Summer Wine Part 1 – Biarritz

So, September has started and the summer is pretty much over. I haven’t written very much on Quentin Sadler’s Wine Page this summer because there has been so much going on. Quite apart from my work teaching people about wine I have visited some amazing wine regions, learnt a huge amount and been planning articles in my head.

However, I thought that I ought to mention a few things I tasted over the summer before you all completely forget about me. Back at the beginning of August I spent a few days in Biarritz for the first time since 1968 – when I was a very small boy. In those days I was more interested in the beach, pretty nice even now, than wine, but I was hugely excited by the local wines this time around.

The lovely old harbour in Biarritz

Biarritz
Biarritz is a splendid coastal town in south-west France that surrounds an old fishing and whaling harbour. I was really won over, it is lovely with a real feeling of grandeur, faded and real about it. Biarritz was put on the map in the 1850s by that fascinating character Emperor Napoleon 111 who bizarrely managed to be both France’s first president and last monarch. He and Empress Eugénie had planned to retire there – although is transpired that the Prussians had other plans – and the house they built still dominates the town as the glamorous Hôtel du Palais - and no, I didn’t stay there. Continue reading

Vinho Verde – lovely wines and not always what you’d expect

Vines at Quinta de Aveleda – old and new training systems

Some of the most famous wines and wine styles seem to stay in fashion for ever, others fall in and out of favour with consumers. Sometimes it seems really unfair that certain things have broad approval when others do not – I for one will never understand the Pinot Grigio craze, much as Westlife’s popularity puzzles me.

Along time ago amongst my first ever wine memories German wines, Beaujolais and Vinho Verde from Portugal were all considered excellent choices to serve your guests. Since then, in the late 1960s-early 1970s, they have lost a lot of popularity – indeed mere mention of German wine often produces the same sort of hilarity associated with photographs showing relatives in bell-bottomed trousers and safari suits. And while it is true that a choice few German wines and Beaujolais Crus have rekindled a sort of following, Vinho Verde has remained unloved by the majority of UK wine consumers.

Unfairly in my opinion as I have long thought there are some terrific wines being produced in Portugal’s Minho region where Vinho Verde wines come from, but until recently I had never seen the place for myself. Well I recently returned from the region and my liking for the wines has been reinforced by meeting a wider range of producers and seeing the myriad of styles that are available.

You see that is part of the problem for Vinho Verde, many people think they know what these wines are like and assume they do not like them – anymore. Traditionally and typically a basic Vinho Verde will be very light in alcohol – 10-11 % – very light bodied and fresh with a slight fizz or petillance to accentuate the freshness and very high acidity, which is often balanced by a little sweetness. All of which sounds very 1970s, but actually modern grape growing and winemaking can make this sort of wine much better than many people remember, very pleasurable and refreshing to drink.

There are many very affordable versions available, every supermarket has an own label version which will be perfectly enjoyable as long you buy the youngest vintage. However there are some more ambitious producers who lead the way and show what can be done with this apparently unassuming style.

Map of Vinho Verde – click for a larger view

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Wine and Spicy Food

I spent last week-end leading tutored tastings at the West Dean Chilli Fiesta. This is a terrific event that happens every August in the middle of the South Downs just north of Chichester and it celebrates all things spicy – mainly the chilli itself, but also everything connected with it. There are stalls with chilli sauces, chilli dips, chilli plants, paintings of chillis, models of chillis, shirts emblazoned with chillis, pots, pans and chilli ice-cream. There is a plethora of spicy foods to enjoy; Mexican, Jamaican, Indian, Singaporean, Indonesian, Thai and American all washed down by the products in the delightfully English beer tent and made even more fun by the variety of live Latin American music, including salsa and Mariachi.

chill-i out room at West Dean Chilli Fiesta

As far as wine is concerned though it was just me and my colleagues. My job was to lead 6 tutored tastings a day about the wines of Viña Errazuriz who are one of Chile’s top producers – you see what we did there with Chilli/Chile? I covered quite a few topics, different regions of Chile, winemaking styles, I even compared different Syrahs from around the world with one from Viña Errazuriz.

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Give País a Chance

Grande Descabezado volcano in Maule Valley

Recently I have been lucky enough to try two very different examples of País, it is not exactly the most important grape in the world, but it is crucial to the history of wine in Chile, as well as being interesting in its own right.

It seems that País (pronounced Pie-ees) – along with Argentina’s Criolla and California‘s Mission – is directly descended from the grape that the Spanish Conquistadors took with them when they stumbled across the new world. The original grape has for long been called the ‘common black grape’ and until recently we had no idea what it was, but it seems that research has now shown it to be the Palomino Negro / Listan Prieto which now pretty much only grows in the Canary Islands. For two or three hundred years País was, along with Moscatel, the work horse grape of Chile, but was eventually supplanted by the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon and relegated to an invisible rural existence.

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A week with Torres

I recently spent a week on the Miguel Torres Wine Course in Vilafranca del Penedès and Barcelona, so thought I should pull my thoughts together and tell you about the experience.

One of the highlights was meeting Miguel A Torres, he really is a giant figure in the wine business. Perhaps as my early experiences of wine were all in Spain he looms larger to me than my British counterparts, but I well remember my first taste of Viña Esmerelda and being astonished by how very different it was from anything else in Spain – still broadly true.

It is impossible to exaggerate Torres’s influence on Spanish wine. He helped introduce all sorts of modern techniques that we all now take for granted – stainless steel tanks, cold fermentation and the use of international grapes were all either introduced by him or helped on their way by him. It is impossible to be sure as he is genuinely very modest and  seemed to always deny being the first at anything, saying that someone else did it before him. However, I have noticed that the genuinely successful are often not the first to do something, but are usually the first to perfect it – which would be very Torres. Continue reading

The Diversity of Spain – hidden gems & old friends

The other day I presented a tasting to Thanet Wine Appreciation Society, I called it the Hidden Gems of Spain, because I had dug deep to find interesting and great quality wines from as wide a range of Spanish wine regions as I could.

I really like going to address Thanet as the meetings are so large – there were 120 people there, most wine societies have 30-50. It was great fun and they seemed to really enjoy the wines on show. More satisfyingly the tasting introduced many of them to wines, regions and grapes they had never tried before.

I have a sort of theory that many UK consumers expect all Spanish wine to look and taste like Rioja, so – much as I love Rioja – I enjoy showing wines that are as different from Rioja as they can be, in order to show the great diversity of wine produced in Spain.

At first the wine society were unsure if they wanted a Spanish tasting, as they had one last year. However, I won them round when I explained that I could make it an annual event and never repeat myself and made sure that I showed nothing at all from the same regions as the previous year’s tasting.

In truth my problem was not what to show, but what not to show – I only had six wines plus an aperitif. It is hard to give an overview of how exciting Spain is in seven wines, so I kept pencilling wines in and then crossing them off the list again.

For the whites, surely I had to include a Godello from Valedeorras or Monterrei, a Malvasia from Arribes or Toro or an Alella? Sadly Verdejo from Rueda was out as they had tasted one last year. Continue reading

Koshu

Many of you are aware by now that I get excited by new wine experiences and often seek out the unusual. A few of you may even have read my write up of a Japanese wine made from the Koshu grape, if not please give it a go.

Well, the other day I was fortunate enough to be able to build on that lone experience and, under Jancis Robinson’s guidance, taste more Japanese wines made from Koshu, which is a fascinating grape. It doesn’t grow anywhere else in the world other than Japan, it is at least 98% Vitis Vifera and as far as we are aware is unrelated to any other grape variety.

Koshu grapes

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Very drinkable great value wine

Most of the cheap stuff on the UK market nowadays seems to be the big brands that operate at the lower ends of the quality spectrum; Blossom Hill, Kumala etc. I am sure most of these find favour with someone, but I always presume that they sell rather more because of marketing budgets than on wine quality. So, I am always on the look out for honest and well made wines that can compete at low price levels.

 

vineyards just outside Requena

It seems that I found a bit of a winner recently – and it promises a great deal right from the start, with its modern packaging, screwcap and a Decanter World Wine Awards Silver Medal sticker.

The only visual negative is that at first glance I assumed it was from Toro – one of the very best Spanish wine regions for good value – the design even resembles some Toro wines.

 

Map of Spain’s wine regions, Utiel-Requena is just West of Valencia – click for a larger view

I like Utiel-Requena, I was there a few months back and it is a beautiful place. Administratively it is part of Valencia, but geographically and historically the region is more like La Mancha – they don’t speak Valenciano and the area is a plateau quite unlike the coastal conditions. I really enjoyed visiting Requena itself, the town is very Spanish with no hint of the costas about it – and the prices of most things are cheap . It is surrounded by lovely countryside – mostly flat and covered in vines, but there are always hills in the distance and the landscape gets a bit more bumpy inland from Utiel.

The quality of the modern wines was a revelation too and as a consequence they are now more widely seen on Spanish supermarket shelves as well as creeping onto the UK market.

The Bobal grape is the traditional speciality here, but this wine is made from the much more famous and respected Tempranillo, which produces the great wines of Rioja as well as Ribera del Duero.

2009 Toro Loco Tempranillo
DO Utiel-Requena, Spain

There is nothing to dislike about this wine, unlike most at this sort of price it is not dilute, it is not over-extracted, it is not sweet, confected or jammy and at a modest 12.5% it is not over aclcoholic either.

It is soft with minimal tannins, a tiny waft of spice and lots of gluggy blackberry fruit characters. I found it most agreeable with some sausages – 88/100 points.

Available at £3.49 from Aldi - which must make it what Parker strangely calls ‘a value’ and what I call great value for money.

I have reviewed the same producers excellent dry Bobal Rosé before, but for the 2009 vintage the have  revamped the packing to Toro Loco and lowered the price to just £3.49.

These are amongst the very best cheap wines that I have tasted in a long time and I think they provide a much more pleasurable experience than most in their price bracket.

Don’t Judge a Wine by the Label…

On a hot day I almost always shy away from red wine and head for a white or, especially when I am on holiday somewhere hot, a rosé – sometimes even a beer

However, recently I was fortunate enough to try a red wine from Spain that was delicious on a hot day and was hugely enjoyable with a light meal of steak and salad.

This bottle was from a terrifc bodega in Rioja Alavesa, Bodegas Remírez de Ganuza which really is producing some of the most exciting Rioja around at the moment and is building a huge following and growing reputation for its great wines – in my opinion they make one of the very finest white Riojas there is.

The wine I tried this time was their most basic red: Continue reading