Wine of the Week – A Bit of Australian Hedonism

South Australia vineyards.

Australia is a great and exciting wine producing country and I discovered lots of amazing things on my tour there last year. One of the refreshing things going on down under is groups of independent, young, fearless winemakers making boutique wines in rented winery space in unlikely corners of Australia’s vineyards. In many ways they resemble the bands of hip craft brewers that seem to roam east London, New Zealand and the US.

These are often made in unusual styles and from grape varieties not normally associated with Australian wine. I tasted a good few of that sort of thing, for instance there is quite a fashion nowadays for Spanish and Italian grape varieties from Australia. I have tried some excellent Tempranillo and Garnacha from the Barossa Valley, Fiano from the McLaren Vale, Vermentino from all sorts of places and most recently a delicious Montepulciano from Riverland in South Australia.

In fact it was so delicious that I made it my Wine of the Week.

Map of South Eastern Australia, this wine comes from eastern Riverland, near the state border – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

2016 The Bullet Dodger Montepulciano
Delinquente Wine Company
Riverland
South Australia

Not a grape you often see in Australia, but the the guys at Delinquente – pronounced ‘dellin-qwentay’, it’s Italian for delinquent – seem to like being different. The driving force is the wonderfully named Con-Greg Grigoriou. They use Italian grapes and one of their team, Jason Ankles, draws their striking, if somewhat disturbing labels.

Riverland is not a glamorous wine region. It is one of the big irrigated regions of Australia that traditionally produces work horse wines rather than the boutique wines, Berri Estates, Banrock Station and Angove’s are all nearby. However, Con-Greg loves the place. He grew up here by the Murray River and is utterly convinced that it can makes wines as good as anywhere else in the country – on this showing I would have to agree.

Con-Greg Grigoriou amongst his Riverland vines.

Montepulciano is widely grown in Italy, in fact it can be used in over 40 different DOCs or DOCgs. The most famous wine it makes though is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo on the Adriatic coast of Italy. These are usually attractively fruity, inexpensive, easy drinking wines with soft tannins, but there are more ambitious versions produced as well as some impressive Montepulciano and Sangiovese blends from the Conero DOCg in the Marche region near Ancona.

The fruit is all from a single vineyard, owned by Bassham Wines in Barmera. It was originally planted with Chardonnay, but was top grafted- i.e. in situ – in 2009 with more adventurous grape varieties and it is farmed organically. It is fermented in stainless steel and sees no wood at all. The aim appears to be to capture the pure, vivid, ripe fruit and he succeeds in that. The palate is succulent, juicy, creamy and generous like a smoothie of rich plum, black cherry and blackberry together with a little spice. The tannins are very soft, so the wine has no astringency and I defy anyone not to enjoy it. This is utterly delicious and comforting in a richly hedonistic way – 92/100 points.

Available in the UK from £14 per bottle from: The Good Wine Shop, Forest Wines, Kwoff, Unwined in Tooting. More Information is available from Indigo Wines, the UK distributor.

I’m not very good at drinking red wine without food, but this could do the trick. It would also be perfect with a barbecue, or almost any meaty or rich food actually, but I enjoyed my bottle with a curry, it was a great match.

Normally with my Wine of the Week, I talk about a specific wine, but use it to inform my readers about that region and style, so that they can try other wines from that place or grape regardless of whether they can find the specific wine. With this it is bit more tricky and I suppose the real message here is to drink widely and to experiment.

New Wine of the Week – a delicious and very drinkable southern French white

When thinking of wines from France’s deep south – I am talking Languedoc-Roussillion here – most people automatically think of the reds. Picpoul de Pinet  is really the only white wine from the region that has managed to carve out a niche for itself.

Which is understandable as the reds are often very fine indeed and frequently underrated. However, many of the whites from these regions are really excellent and deserve to be more widely known. I tasted a wine recently which is a case in point. It is a white wine from Corbières, which is a PDO / AOC in the Aude department, which in turn forms part of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region. It’s a big and important part too, producing just under half of all the PDO wine of the region.

I have always liked Corbières wines as they frequently offer great value and often very high quality too – see my article about Château Haut-Gléon here. I have yet to visit the region, which I intend to put right soon as it appears to be very beautiful. What’s more, excitingly it is Cathar country and is littered with the ruins of castles destroyed during the crusades against this obscure Christian sect. The local speciality dessert wine – actually more correctly called a mistelle  – is called Cathagène to honour the Cathars, so readers of the The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code should make sure they keep a bottle handy.

Anyway, this white Corbières impressed me so much that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Map of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, click for a larger view.

Map of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, click for a larger view.

The winery of Cave d’Embrès et Castelmaure.

The winery of Cave d’Embrès et Castelmaure.

Blanc Paysan
2014 Blanc Paysan
PDO / AOC Corbières
SCV Castelmaure / Cave d’Embrès et Castelmaure
Embres & Castelmaure
Aude
Languedoc-Roussillon
France

Cave d’Embrès et Castelmaure is a co-operative that was founded in 1921 and serves two hamlets that have been joined together to form one village. Embrès et Castelmaure is a about 25 km north of Perpignan and sits roughly on the border between Languedoc and Roussillon. As a consequence their website offers both the Catalan (as spoken in Roussillon) and Occitan languages, as well as French itself. The website also plays some very Spanish sounding flamenco music to you which then morphs into some very French jazz. It’s an interesting combination, give it a listen by clicking here.

They farm some 400 hectares and although clearly forward thinking and ambitious, they cling to old ways. They still use the concrete vats installed in the winery in 1921, as they regulate the fermentation temperatures very well. They also have very cannily used all the old perceptions of their problems to their advantage. The region is hot, wild and rugged, so gives low yields, while the slopes are inaccessible by machine and tractors, these things held them back in the past when the only game in the Languedoc was the production of bulk wine. Today the wines have to be good, concentrated, terroir wines and so all that works to their advantage. They farm sustainably and harvest by hand.

This white wine is an unoaked blend of Grenache Blanc with some Grenache Gris, Vermentino (aka Rolle) and Macabeu (aka Macabeo and Viura).

I love the label as it shows a Renault 4 climbing a near perpendicular slope. It seems that the Renault 4, while never the icon that the 2CV was, was actually the main car of French farmers in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and many more of them were made than the more famous and more loved Citroën. The label made me smile as I have memories of being driven up similar slopes in the back of a beige (who else remembers beige cars?) Renault 4 by a Spanish builder in the early 1970s.

The wine is crystal clear and lemony to look at, while the nose offers wild flowers, herbs, pithy grapefruit and a slight, attractively waxy note. The palate is a lovely mix of rich and fresh, with wild herb flavours mingling with citrus and more succulent stone fruits. There is plenty of acidity – from the Vermentino and Macabeu I assume, while the Grenache gives that richness and herbal quality that are so delicious and evocative. A lovely wine with lots of tension between the zestiness and the richness and loads of flavour too. Delicious, refreshing and very easy to drink, this could help wean addicts off Pinot Grigio I think. What’s more it is an utter bargain – 87/100 points.

Try as I might I cannot think of anything that this would not be good with. It is delicious on its own, with fish, chicken, charcuterie, spicy food, cheese – you name it. I loved it with baked camembert.

Available in the UK at £6.50 per bottle from The Wine Society.

 

Wine of the Week 28 – Saint-Chinian, excitement from the Languedoc

The rugged, but beautiful landscape of Saint-Chinian.

The rugged, but beautiful landscape of Saint-Chinian.

Recently I was on a trip to the Saint-Chinian area of France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region. I had always been aware of the place and the wines that bore its name, but was unaware of what sets them apart from all the other wines of the Languedoc.

In many ways I still am. All the appellation / A.O.C. / P.D.O. wines from this part of the world have much in common. There is huge overlap in the palette of grapes they use, so the flavours of the grapes are often similar as are the terroir characteristics. Wild herbs aromas and flavours are often quite dominant in this part of the world – the French call these flavours garrigue, which is the name of the dense scrubland found all around the Mediterranean area. Garrigue includes lavender, thyme, sage and rosemary amongst other things and it is true that these characteristics are often found in the wines of the Languedoc, as well as the Southern Rhône. The grapes used for the red wines are Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault. So even now I would be hard put to single out what makes a wine taste like a Saint-Chinian – as opposed to a Faugères say, but I did find many of the wines to be very good indeed.

It was wonderful to immerse myself in a pretty small wine region and to taste a large number of the wines from this beautiful landscape. As you might imagine, some were finer than others, some were more exciting, but all of them were acceptable or better. At the top end they were very fine indeed and there was some wonderful innovation going on too.

Chateau Les Carrasses nestling among the vines.

Chateau Les Carrasses nestling among the vines.

My trip was really to see how wine tourism was coming along in the region, which is something that Europe is really only just beginning to take seriously, so it was marvellous to experience what was happening. It was quite marked how many of the trail blazers in this field were from outside the region, and many from outside France. I stayed in the Irish owned Chateau Les Carrasses, which is a perfect Second Empire mansion set amongst the vineyards. It is a very beautiful place and incredibly restful with an excellent restaurant, lovely bar, an amazing pool and sumptuous rooms, as well as gîtes – whole houses in fact – available for rent. They even have their own wine and can organise wine visits for their guests.

Map of the Languedoc-Roussillon region showing saint-Chinian just inland from Béziers. Click for a larger view - non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of the Languedoc-Roussillon region showing saint-Chinian just inland from Béziers. Click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Many of the  wines impressed me. There were excellent everyday examples – and far finer too – from the local cooperatives and the flashes of brilliance were not exclusively reserved for the boutique producers, some of the larger wineries were excellent too. Laurent Miquel‘s Cazal Viel makes superb and widely available wines both as part of the Saint-Chinian appellation and outside. Another large producer in the region is Lorgeril, whose wines I have admired for many years – I used to love selling their wonderful Château de Pennautier from nearby Cabardès and Domaine de La Borie Blanche Minervois La Livinière – who now also make some superb Saint-Chinian at 2 estates. I was also hugely impressed and excited by  Domaine du Mas ChampartDomaine du Sacré Coeur – especially their Cuvée Charlotte made almost entirely from 100 year old Carignan vines – and Château Soulié des Joncs which was one of the very first organic producers in the Languedoc. Equally exciting, in a completely different way, is the Belgian owned Château Castigno, which is suitably surreal and Magritte-like, but whose wines are magnificent.

Incidentally although the place is best known as a red wine region, I found the white wines to be really exciting too, especially Domaine du Mas Champart and Château Castigno, Clos Bagatelle and Château Coujan. The whites are blends of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Vermentino.

Whilst there I heard about an outfit called Calmel & Joseph, who operate as a micro-negociant, buying fruit from privately owned vineyards across the Languedoc and crafting them into an impressive line up of wines. Laurent Calmel and Jérome Joseph have been in partnership since 1995 and not only have all the wines that I have tasted from them been delicious, but they also seem to have a charmingly irreverent and quirky style – which is quite unusual for French wine.

The first wine I tasted from the Calmel & Joseph stable was the Saint-Chinian, which strikes me as being a superb introduction to this exciting wine region, so I have made it my Wine of the Week:

stchinian2012 Calmel & Joseph Saint-Chinian
A.O.P. Saint-Chinian
Languedoc, France
I haven’t tasted all their wines yet by any means, but Calmel & Joseph claim to select cooler vineyards to ensure their wines have freshness and elegance and I must say the wines that I have tasted from them have been very drinkable as a consequence. This 50% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir and 20% Carignan wine is unoaked, but aged for 18 months in concrete vats.
The colour is a bright, deep vivid purple like a cassis coulis.
The aromas delivers lots of ripe, fresh fruit, like a rich compete and also offers herbs, spices and brambles and fresh earth.
The palate is a revelation! Sumptuously fruity with a lovey touch of freshness lightening the load. Delicious, fresh and lively but with rich, ripe, deep blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, black cherry and dark plum fruit. There is a little dark chocolate too. It really delicious stuff and sinfully drinkable – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £10 a bottle from Daniel Lambert Wines (Bridgend), Red & White Wines (Devon), Press Wine Services (Canterbury), Underwood Wines (Warwick), Vino Wine Shop (Edinburgh), Perfect Friday Wine (Maidenhead), Art is Vin (Eastbourne), The Smiling Grape Company (St Neots) and Richard Granger Wines (Newcastle).

You can also order Saint-Chinian wines direct from France here.

If you cannot get to any of the stockists listed for the Calmel & Joseph Saint-Chinian, then never fear, you can still try one of their other lovely wines, which will be a Wine of the Week quite soon. Waitrose stock their superb Languedoc Terrasses du Larzac wine – the place is marked on my map, just to the West of Montpellier.

The Cinque Terre – a hidden land

I have long wanted to visit the Cinque Terre, it is a place that has captured my imagination, so the other week I seized my chance and visited this tiny wine region.

The place is named for the five towns – Cinque Terre which sit in a spectacular landscape of intricately terraced agricultural land covering steep cliff faces all the way down to the sea. The towns themselves cascade down the cliffs in the most amazing way that makes them achingly picturesque – especially in the sunshine.

Manarola

These towns sit at the head of small valleys, ravines really, which means they can be at sea level rather than on the cliff tops – historically these lands were quite isolated and, before the railways, the main form of communication between them would have been by water. Even today the best way to see the vineyards is by boat as they are dispersed away from the towns and getting around is still hard. Corniglia is the one exception, it sits on the cliff-top and has no harbour.

Continue reading

V is for Viognier…and a lot more besides

Viognier vines at Veritas Vineyards in Virginia with the Blue Ridge in the background

Whilst contemplating wine I often think how remarkable it is that quite so many white grapes have names that begin with a ‘V’. Some of them may seem a tad obscure, but here is a list of all the ones that sprang to mind – with a few that I looked up:

Viura
Verdicchio
Vernaccia
Verdelho
Verdejo
Verdejo Tinto
Vaccarèse
Valais
Valdiguie
Valentin
Vilana
Verdea
Verdello – not the same as Verdelho, in case you were wondering.
Verdiso
Verdeca
Verduzzo (Friulano)
Vermentino
Vernaccia – in fact there are a few of these, all unrelated.
Vertzami
Vespaiolo
Vespolina
Vidal
Vien de Nus
Villard Blanc
Villard Noir
Vinhão
Viosinho – sometimes called Veosinho Verdeal for good measure.
Vital
Vignoles
Vranac
Vugava
and finally the most famous of all – Viognier. Continue reading

A Taste of the Languedoc-Roussillon

A

Eric Aracil popped over the other day, for a bit of relief from a snow-bound Perpignan and to tutor a tasting about the wines of his native Languedoc-Roussillon.

Eric is Catalan and normally concerns himself solely with promoting wines from the Roussillon region, but he was branching out. The new umbrella identity for the whole Languedoc-Roussillon is now the Sud de France and it includes the Gard and Côtes du Rhône areas as well as the Languedoc-Roussillon itself – although confusingly not Provence, which is what leaps to my mind when I hear the phrase ‘the south of France’. Continue reading

Nascetta, naturally

A new grape variety in Barolo!

Perhaps I have a short attention span and crave the new, perhaps I feel that the best and most interesting wines are still out there? Whatever the reason I love stumbling across a new grape variety.

dsc_0043Yesterday I found one from Piedmont that is pretty exciting. Piedmont is by and large famous for red wines, there are good whites that have some fame; Moscato in Asti and Alba, Sauvignon and even some Riesling in Langhe. Langhe though has more success with Chardonnay, particularly unoaked versions in my opinion – they are wonderful with cheese. There is also the Favorita and the Arneis of course, I want to like these grapes as I love the idea of them, but they really leave me cold when I try them.

Of course the most famous dry white wine of the region from indigenous varieties is Gavi and Gavi di Gavi made from the Cortese grape. The flaw with this is that traditionally Gavi was part of Liguria, seemingly it is only in Piedmont for modern political reasons and in truth Gavi as a quality wine only dates back to the 1960s anyway.

So then, what did people in the village of Barolo do in the past when they wanted to drink something that was not red and tannic? Well, it seems that they sipped some Nascetta.

This is a grape variety indigenous to Barolo itself and is seemingly related to the Vermentino. Back in the past growers were less fussy about what grapes they grew, if indeed they knew at all and it is often surprising to a modern consumer how recent the relationship between some Italian regions and their key grape really is. So, before Nebbiolo was considered the only grape to be grown in Barolo it appears that Nascetta shared the hallowed ground.

It has since virtually died out, but was kept alive for experimental reasons by the University of Turin and is currently enjoying something of a very modest renaissance and has been replanted by 6 growers within Barolo. Of course it cannot be called Barolo, so the D.O.C. of Langhe is available to it, but at the moment Nascetta is not a permitted grape, so it is labelled as a Langhe Bianco. I understand that from the 2010 vintage Nascetta is a permitted varietal in the Langhe D.O.C.

I was fortunate enough to get to try the example made by Rivetto, they create some superb Barolos and Barbera, as well as Nebbiolo d’Alba, but it was the Nascetta that captured my imagination yesterday:

matireokRivetto Matirè 2008

Langhe Bianco, 100% Nascetta

The Matirè vineyard was only planted in 2005 and the 2008 is only the second vintage and the first to be exported

The nose is delightfully fragrant and honeyed with mineral notes and wafts of ripe melon.

The aromatics put me in mind of a very good Albariño or even a steely Riesling.

The palate is well structured with good weight and texture, succulent and fleshy white peach characters balanced by lovely fresh acidity. It is very well balanced with the touch of oak just adding richness and complexity rather than obvious oaky characters.

This is a very attractive and expressive wine with a pure minerality on the finish.

I genuinely liked this wine very much indeed and would love to try it with a meal. The whole wine struck me as being somewhat akin to a very fine Godello, but with more minerality and finesse.

89 points.

Available from Ellis of Richmond.