Wine of the Week 36 – an amazing sweet Muscat

There’s always a time for a dessert wine, they are often the most popular wines at tastings and that proved to be the case recently when I tutored a tasting on Navarra wines at Dulwich Wine Society – although all the wines met with great approval actually.

By the way, if you live anywhere around the Dulwich area by the way, it is well worth joining this august wine tasting group. They meet weekly, which is very impressive, I don’t know of any other such society that meets more than once a month. They are nice people, full of enthusiasm and they seem to like having me round to tutor tastings. This my 18th tasting for them in 22 years, I was only just 28 when I first presented to them and have recently turned 50! How that time has flown.

So, my topic was Navarra, that wonderful, half forgotten wine region that neighbours Rioja in the north of Spain. I visited Navarra not long ago and was very impressed by many of the wines, excited about them even and am still astonished that so few are easily available to the UK wine consumer.

Map of Navarra – click for a larger view. High-res non-watermarked versions of my maps are available by agreement.

Map of Navarra – click for a larger view. High-res non-watermarked versions of my maps are available by agreement.

If wine drinkers have a mental picture about any sort of wine that Navarra produces at all, it is probably the rosés / rosados made from Garnacha / Grenache, but that is just a tiny part of what Navarra produces. While I was there I tasted magnificent Chardonnays – like this one and this one too, superb Cabernet and Merlot blends – like this one and this one, and tasted stunning Tempranillo blends – like this one and this one.  I also got taste wines that I was not expecting at all, like the wonderful old vine Garnacha / Grenache wines that they make in Navarra. They grow these vines high up in Navarra, in the mountains, where the air is cool and the climate is dominate by the Atlantic rather than the Mediterranean. I found this created the most amazingly different Grenache with freshness, acidity and elegance, they really are something special and I have written about different examples here and here. So, there is lots going on in Navarra, many different styles and a big variety of grapes being grown – the list above barely scratches the surface.

Perhaps it is this very diversity that is Navarra’s problem? It is possible that because people do not know what to expect from a bottle of Navarra? That they don’t look on Navarra wine as an old friend as they often do the products of neighbouring Rioja. That’s only my theory, but it might in part account for Navarra’s lack of visibility on wine shop and supermarket shelves.

Whatever the reason, it is a great shame as Navarra produces superb wines in a wonderful array of styles – even dessert wine and one of those wowed the good people of Dulwich Wine Society the other night, and so I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Capricho de GoyaMoscatel Capricho d’Goya
Bodegas Camilo Castilla
Corella
D.O.Navarra Ribera Baja sub-zone
This wine is bonkers! It is amazingly concentrated and ripe with deep prune, fig and raisin characters, rum, caramel and nutty toffee too. It is made a bit like a Madeira, being aged for 3 years in glass demijohns on the roof of the winery. They leave it out in all weathers, to concentrate in the searing summer heat and the snows of winter. After that it spends a further 4 years in barrels developing rich, figgy, molasses-like characters before being bottled.

Capricho d'Goya ageing in old barrels - permission of the winery

Capricho d’Goya ageing in old barrels – permission of the winery.

Capricho de Goya ageing in glass demijohns outside

Capricho d’Goya ageing in glass demijohns outside – permission of the winery.

This wine is so, so lovely, like sticky toffee pudding in a glass – who needs the dessert? In style it is like a joyous cross between Pedro Ximénez (PX) and Rutherglen Muscat with more freshness and salinity. It is intensely sweet, but also has an intense savoury richness, a seam of refreshing acidity and great complexity that makes it a joy to just sip and contemplate. This truly is a great wine – 93/100 points.

Available in the UK from Greys Fine Foods @ £15.755 per half litre / 500cl.

This is a superb sweet wine, one of the best Muscats that I have ever tasted, probably the very best in fact. It deserves to be more widely known and appreciated, as does the Navarra region and all the wonderful wines that it produces.

 

 

Wine of the Week 35 – all change in Chile

Recently I presented a tasting that I found exciting and that seemed to go down rather well with the attendees. My topic was Chile’s emerging Regions and Styles and it was  a wide ranging – or at least as wide as you can get in 8 wines – look at how Chile is changing.

For a long time Chile has been regarded by many consumers as a safe option. They made reliable wines at good prices, offering good value for money and lots of pleasure and you would have thought that might be enough for Chilean wine producers. However no one with any ambition wants to just be seen as a safe option for ever and this especially true of Chile’s new generation of talented winemakers.

Chile is most definitely on the move and you can see it wherever you look at Chilean wines. New grape varieties are the most obvious personification of this change, but scratch the surface a little and you can see it everywhere. Lots of things are going on in Chile right now, including:

Earlier picking is resulting in wines with more zip and freshness – something that only confident grape growers who know exactly what they are doing can pull off.

Less use of new oak – and less American oak too – is very apparent in recent vintages of Chilean wine, again confidence is behind this, they do not feel the fruit needs as much help – or masking – as it did in the past.

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

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

New regions are emerging – or becoming established in some cases – which help the grape growers and wine makers to match a grape variety or wine style with a specific terroir that suits it. Included in this roster would be these regions to the North of Santiago; Limarí, Elqui (over 500KM north of Santiago) and Choapa in the north, although the Atacama region even further north is beginning to produce exciting things too. In the area around Santiago you have the Aconcagua Valley which includes the new Aconcagua Costa as well as Valle de Leyda – both cool places by the ocean for white wine, Pinot Noir and Syrah production. The new regions in the south would include the Itata and Malleco Valleys.

Parallel to this is the move to categorise Chile’s wine regions as Coastal / Costa – where the cool conditions from the Pacific suit Chile’s hugely exciting white wines. The Andes zone is a less established move to plant vineyards higher up in the Andes than is traditional in Chile, the results look promising and not just for white wines either. Between these two is the Entre cordilleras zone between the Andes and the Coastal Mountain range which includes much of the Valle Central as well as many of the emerging regions.

Another fascinating example of creativity in Chile is the current widespread delight in finding the pockets of truly old vine material that the country has. For the last 30 years or so Chile has focussed on giving the world the grapes they want – and that sell – so the vineyard regions around Santiago, the traditional heart of Chile’s wine industry have very few old vines, hardly ever older than 20 years in fact. Chile does though have old vines, especially in the more rural south of Curicó, Maule and Itata where time has stood still somewhat as the vineyards are owned by smallholder farmers down there who cannot afford to uproot their vines as trends change, with the result that they have plenty of old vines, but of grape varieties that has not interested Chile’s producers until recently. The main grapes that fall into this category are País, MoscatelCinsault and Carignan, together with a little Mourvèdre and they are producing some astonishingly good wine.

Actually all the wines I showed were very good and seemed top meet with approval from most people there, but the majority agreed on what was the wine of the night and so I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Maule Valley Vineyards.

Maule Valley Vineyards.

Eclat bottle2008 Éclat Old Vine Blend
Viña Valdivieso
D.O. Valle de Maule

Valdivieso are an old established winery who originally set out to be Chile’s sparkling wine specialist, but who turned to red wines from the 1980s onwards with spectacular results. Always seeking new challenges, their chief winemaker, the charming Brett Jackson – a kiwi living and working in Chile and who introduced me to the delights of drinking Caipirinhas one wonderfully drunken evening – decided to create a wine using the old vine Carignan that can be found in the Maule Valley and that has traditional been used for everyday wines that does not get exported. Brett saw the potential and produces a wine that is quite unlike what people expect from Chile, but that is really superb. The blend changes, but this vintage is 65% Carignan – dry farmed / unirrigated 80 year old plus bush vines with 20% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah. The finished wine is aged for 12 months in French oak barrels.

Although Carignan is really a Spanish grape and should be called Cariñena, the grape arrived in Chile from france in the twentieth century and so is always called Carignan there. A whole group of producers have now seen the worth of these old vines and have created a group called the Vignadores de Carignan, or Vigno to market these wines and to give some rules for their use. For instance to be a member the wine must have at least 65% Carignan in the blend. The vines must be at least 30 years old, they must be dry farmed bush vines and must be aged for at least 24 months – in bottle, barrel (old or new) or amphoras / tinajas.

On a night of good wines, this stood out to me. It was still a youthful deep, earthy ruby to look at with no browning yet. The nose was concentrated and spicy, with floral tones, earthy, leathery and coffee too, as well as quite a whack of alcohol – the wine is 14.5%. The palate was medium bodied and smooth with rich dried fruit, even some dried fruit sweetness there as well as a lovely fresh, bracing lift of acidity. There was mushrooms and truffles, together with a smoky, leather quality, that touch (just a touch, but I like it) of mocha and a firm touch of tannin on the finish that tightened the wine up in a way I like, but which also shows it could age for longer. If you like Shiraz or Syrah wines or Rhône style blends then this is a wine you should try – 91/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £15 per bottle from – stockists information here.
Available in the US for around £30 per bottle from – stockists information here.

This really is a lovely wine and if some of the recent developments in Chile have passed you by, then this could be an excellent place to start experiencing them.

Wine of the Week 34 – your own personal summer, in a glass

Funny time of year Winter. The weather gets pretty cold, here in the UK anyway and the days swing between being fiercely cold and crisp with clear blue skies, or dark, damp and grim. Those days in particular get to me and spoil my mood, which is especially bad for me as my birthday is in January. The 17th january in case you were wondering and I am 50 this year, which just does not seem possible at all. There I was happily getting on with my life and suddenly I am half way to 100!

Anyway, at this time of year my thoughts often focus on the weather and I find myself hoping for Spring and Summer to rush towards me and make everything seem better. Well, help is at hand. We no longer need to wait for the weather to turn, we can just open a bottle and get our very own personal early Summer in a glass.

I recently tried this delicious white wine made by Miguel Torres in Chile – in many respects it is the partner to the exciting red wine I featured here – and it just seems so bright and enjoyable that I have made it my Wine of the Week:

Miguel Torres Chile, vineyards. Photo courtesy of the winery.

Miguel Torres Chile, vineyards. Photo courtesy of the winery.

DoS2013 Days of Summer Moscatel
Miguel Torres Chile
D.O. Valle de Itata

Miguel Torres is nearly important to the story of Chilean wine as he is to the Spanish. Torres was the first outsider to come to Chile, in 1979 and he was the first to bring true modern winemaking concepts to the country and the results are clear for all to see. He was a trailblazer and his influence can be widely seen in the country. Just as in Spain though, where Torres started out as the standard-bearer of the new – especially of international grape varieties – and has now become the champion of traditional and indigenous grapes, the Torres winery in Chile has changed enormously since its early days. It still produces exemplary Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Cabernet, of course, but the focus has changed slightly to the grape varieties that Chile’s wine revolution has left behind. What’s more he is at the forefront of the sustainable viticulture movement in Chile.

Chile was ruled by Spain for hundreds of years, yet how many of Chile’s wines reflect that cultural past? Very few indeed, yet planting of Spanish grapes do exist in the country and are slowly being brought back into the mainstream. In recent years Torres have nursed Cariñena / Carignan plantings back to life, as well as the long neglected País and now Moscatel / Muscat.

Muscat has been grown in the country since the Spaniards first arrived and I doubt if there is a more Spanish grape than Muscat? Very few Spanish regions do not produce a sweet style of Muscat in one form or another and increasingly some dry examples too.

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

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

Chile’s so far little known Itata Valley, a long way further south than most of the famous vineyard areas, is home to much of Chile’s old vines material and so tends to have grape varieties that are not as famous r international. So it is here that much of Chile’s Cinsault  – or Samsó – can be found, as well as some of that old vine Moscatel. John Byron, the future Admiral and grandfather of the poet, was shipwrecked off the south coast of Chile in 1741 and wrote about his experiences of leading a group of survivors north to Santiago and a ship home. He wrote glowing reports about the wines of Chile, especially the Muscats / Moscatels (scroll to the bottom of this piece to read a bout a wonderful and very old fashioned style of Muscat of the sort Byron might have drunk) which he compared favourably to the wines of Madeira. Given that it is certainly on the way to Santiago, then it is entirely logical that Byron was in Itata at the time.

This wine is a real delight – and I don’t always like Dry Muscat. The aromas are light, fresh and lively with flowers, grapes, apples and honey as well as a cut of lemon – it smells like wild flowers. The palate is also light and fresh – the alcohol is 12%, but feels lighter – with green apple, grape and the merest touch of tropical fruit – pineapple – too. What really makes this work so well is the acidity, there is plenty of it making it fresh and lively and giving a touch of grapefruit to the wine, whilst a tiny bit of sweetness stops the wine from being watery and inconsequential. Clever winemaking and lots of style and finesse make this a delight. Try it with any light dishes, salads, fish or chicken, as well as with oriental food, spicy food or just drink it as aperitif – 89/100 points.

Available in the UK for £9.99 per bottle from Majestic Wine Warehouses.

It has to be admitted that this is a perfect Summer wine, but why wait? A drop of this gives you your own personal Summer in a glass.

Happy New Year & 3 Wines of the Week…

Well, here we are at the start of 2015 and still not a jet pack, hover mobile, silver jump suit or meal consisting solely of pills in sight. How wrong all the soothsayers were!

I hope your Christmas and New Years were relaxing, fun and memorable and that you enjoyed plenty of good food and wine. I’m sure you noticed that I took a bit of a break from writing these pages, I hope that you didn’t mind or begrudge me the time off.

Like you I drank a fair amount, mainly good sparkling wines and half decent Champagne if truth be told, but I did indulge with a few select bottles including the 3 that I am about to mention to you. Indeed if I had not taken a break from writing they would have been my Wines of the Week numbers 31, 32 and 33 – so here they are, better late than never eh?

Wine of the Week 31

Christmas seems to be a time for indulgence, when we consume the sorts of things – and the sorts of quantities – that we deny ourselves the rest of the year. Certainly as soon as the grind is over – about halfway through Christmas Eve I find – I do relax more and start drinking at all sorts of odd times of day that I just would not normally. Nothing gets me into a Christmas mood as much as a Panettone and a bottle of a light Moscato for an early Christmas tea – fine Prosecco is also superb with Panettone and I did indeed drink a superb Prosecco just the other day, but you will have to wait a while to hear all about that magnificent wine.

 

Moscato vines growing on Piemonte's rolling hills.

Moscato vines growing on Piemonte’s rolling hills.

image_2711702_full2013 Elio Perrone Sourgal Moscato d’Asti
Casa Vinicola Elio Perrone
Castiglione Tinella, Piemonte, Italy
D.O.C.G. Moscato d’Asti

Moscato d’Asti is less fizzy than Asti itself, but tastes very similar and is similarly light light in alcohol – 5% in this instance. This very lightness makes it a gentle way into the indulgences of the Festive season as it doesn’t make you too tipsy and you can drink rather a lot of it too. That all misses the point somewhat though, I like this style os wine because when they are well made – as this example is – they are utterly delicious. Sourgal by the way is the name of the vineyard, as this is a single vineyard wine.

The wine is very pale, with just a little lemony, sherbet colour and the CO2 gives a lovely lacy look to the surface of the wine – gently frothy is another way of putting it. It is the aromas of these wines that get me every time, they smell of delicate candied fruit, especially lemon peel, with the merest touch of brioche too – yes they really do smell of panettone, which is why they go so well together. There are other gorgeous aromas too, touches of orange, flourishes of acacia and white peach, all of which makes it scintillating and joyous to sniff. The palate is soft and very light, lightly effervescent and very fruity with flavours of grapes, peach and lemon peel. The sweetness is there, but it is beautifully balanced and just comes along for the ride rather than dominating. All in all this is delicious and so, so drinkable, enjoy it on its own or with something lightly sweet like fruit or that panettone – 88/100 points.

If you are labouring under the impression that Moscato d’Asti is an old fashioned wine, or that you won’t like it, just try it with an open mind. These wines deliver pure, uncomplicated pleasure and joy to the drinker, go on, you know you want to try it.

Available in the UK for £7.50 a bottle from The Wine Society.
Stockist details in the US are available here.

Red Bordeaux

Bordeaux map QS 2011 watermark

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

Funny thing Christmas. Lots of us are quite happy drinking wines from across the globe throughout the year, but come Christmas we come over all traditional and start thinking thoughts of Claret. I love Claret, red Bordeaux was my second wine love – after Spain – and the wines continue to excite me, or perhaps I should say are exciting me again as I have made a conscious decision to reengage with Bordeaux wines in recent years.

Well over the festive period two rather splendid Clarets came my way, both were from the superb 2009 vintage, so they were probably too young, but that did not stop them from being hugely enjoyable and impressive, so I have made them both Wines of the Week. What’s more I have only ever stayed in 2 Bordeaux Châteaux and it was these two (but with nearly 30 years between each stay) – coincidence?

Wine of the Week 32 – right bank revelry

Saint-Émilion is a delightful town.

Saint-Émilion is a delightful town.

In my mind I have always really been more of a left bank, Médoc kind of guy than a lover of right bank wines. Something about the firm tannic structure of the Cabernet Sauvignon dominated Médoc style appeals to me. Or so I used to think, but don’t people always say that we move to the right as we get older? Well I was most agreeably surprised on 2 recent trips to Bordeaux to find myself falling for the fruity charms of the Saint-Émilion style, as well as the place. Saint-Émilion is an utterly gorgeous town to visit, as long as there are not too many tourists and I was with a group that were put up in a charming and very old Château called Cantin. Most of the properties in Bordeaux are nineteenth century confections rather than genuinely fortified residences, so – much as I like the Second Empire architectural style – the seventeenth century Château Cantin was a bit of a delight. Sadly I did not take many photographs of the Château itself, but if you look at the bottle below, see the label? In the picture the Château has a single turret with a window. Well that was my bedroom and I did take some pictures of the view from it.

Château Cantin - the view from the window in the turret that you can see on the label. That was my bedroom.

Château Cantin – the view from the window in the turret that you can see on the label – that was my bedroom.

Chateau Cantin2009 Château Cantin 
Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
St. Christophe des Bardes, Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux

Although the building is old, Cantin was in the doldrums for a long time and did not really start making any reputation for itself until the Group Les Grands Chais de France took over the management of it and started investing heavily in the vineyard and winery. 2007 was the first vintage of this new regime and the results have been extraordinary. I watched the harvest come in in 2013 and they seem to take the utmost care with everything. It’s all done by hand with 3 selections to make sure only the good grapes get in. The fermentation takes place in a mix of stainless steel and concede vats and the wine is aged for 12 months in barrel. The blend is something like 80% merlot with 10% each of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The property was originally built by Benedictine monks as a summer residence for the Canon of Saint-Émilion and the name comes from the Latin word cantio, which means song, perhaps after all the evensong that was sung here?

It strikes me that this is a very modern Claret, the colour is an intense, opaque purply, plum black.
The nose is scented with spice, cinnamon and coffee, with rich plum, blackberry and cooked strawberry notes together with dried cranberry and blueberry too.
The palate is medium to full bodied, dense and velvety with loads of ripe, sweet red to black fruit and supple tannins. It really is wonderfully rich and concentrated while being deliciously drinkable, it’s let down just a tad by the alcoholic heat on the finish – it is 14.5%, but the fruit is so lovely you can forgive it. A terrific wine though with rich savoury development characters just beginning to emerge through the puppy fat of its ripe fruit, more complexity will emerge if you age it for another 4 years or so – 90/100 points.

Available in the UK for £24.99 per bottle from Waitrose & Waitrose Cellar.

Wine of the Week 33 – left bank lusciousness

My other Christmas Claret came from Bordeaux’s left bank and more specifically the famous commune / village of Saint-Julien.

The Haut-Médoc's gravel soils and the Gironde estuary in the distance.

The Haut-Médoc’s gravel soils and the Gironde estuary in the far distance.

Ch lagrange 20092009 Château Lagrange
Troisièmes Grand Cru Classé
Saint-Julien, Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux

I stayed at this beautiful, and more classic Second Empire style Château on my first ever trip to Bordeaux back in 1986. In those days I stayed in the grape pickers dorms, whereas nowadays I get a proper bedroom, so some things are looking up! The winery was extensively modernised from the 1980s onwards – when the Japanese Suntory Group purchased it – and this has resulted in the wines becoming brighter, bolder and better in my opinion – I have been fortunate to taste vintages back to 1970.

The blend is 73% Cabernet Sauvignon with 27% Merlot, fermented in stainless steel tanks and then aged for 20 months in oak barrels, 60% of which are new.

I was very impressed by this wine, the colour was deep, crimson-black and opaque. The nose had lifted sweetly ripe cassis, blackberry, black cherry and blueberry as well as smoke, cedar and espresso notes. There was even a fresh floral quality to it which lightened the load somewhat and gave balance. The palate is concentrated sure, but medium-bodied. The fruit however is very concentrated and would easily satisfy those seeking full on full-bodied wines. Clearly there is plenty of oak – the oaky / espresso quality follows through on to the palate – but there is so much ripe fruit – blackcurrant, blackberry, black cherry – that they balance each other beautifully, neither dominates the other. The tannins too are very ripe and seductive, so they do not seem astringent, but they are there, so the wine will age. There is a little of acidity and minerality too, which also show that it will age if you want to keep it and which freshen up the palate and stop it cloying. Right now though it that richness and softness and sweetly ripe rich fruit that the wine is all about and it delivers almost sensual pleasure and delight. A terrific Bordeaux that is joyous now or will repay cellaring for a good number of years – 92/100 points.

Available in the UK for £39.99 from Lidl.
US stockist information is available here.

Both of these Clarets were a real treat and put a smile on the face of everyone who tasted them, so if you need something a little special, Bordeaux can deliver the goods at prices that are not too outrageous – leave a little space for the Moscato though…

Happy New Year to you all and let’s hope that 2015 is a good one with peace breaking out everywhere and a modicum of sanity returning to the world.