Wine of the Week 40 – a southern Spanish sensation

As some of you who read these pages regularly will be aware, I love Spanish wine. I think Spain is a great wine producing country that makes exciting wines in all styles. In truth I think Spain is underappreciated given the quality and value that it produces. It pains me that so many people still just think, if it’s Spanish it must be Rioja. Spain is so much more than just Rioja – great wine region though Rioja is and much as I love good Rioja wines.

I really enjoy introducing drinkers to new regions of Spain, as the wines always seem to go down well and it is always fun seeing someone taste and enjoy a wine for the first time – and often it isn’t only just a new wine, but new region and grape variety too!

Well the other day I showed a red that summed up exactly why I find Spain so exciting. It was a lovely, warming Winter wine that is so delicious to drink and such great value that I made it my Wine of the Week.

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

mas-delmera-monastrell-reserva2008 Mas Delmera Monastrell Reserva
Bodegas Mas Delmera
D.O. Jumilla
Albacete, Spain
Historically the Spanish wines that became famous were all from the north where it is cooler and the conditions less wild. In the south the weather is so hot and the land so wild and rugged that in the past it was very hard to make good wine – the exception is Sherry of course which was fortified in order to preserve it. Other wines did not have the advantage of being fortified, so did not keep as well and were generally considered to be less fine than the wines from the north, especially Rioja. I well remember tasting a Jumilla red in the early 1970s, I was very young so my palate would not have been used to red wine at all, but it was foul. Even my father poured it away, and he drinks anything!

Jumilla is a hot region of southern Spain, midway between the city of Murcia and Albacete in Castilla-La Mancha – the wine region (Denominación de Origen / D.O.) straddles the border. In the past the wines tasted dirty and stewed, because the wineries were filthy places and bacteria got into the wine. It didn’t help that in this region of Spain they used to ferment in clay tinajas – these are often erroneously called amphorae and are making something of a comeback, especially in Chile and for natural wine. In Spain these were huge jars, usually buried in the ground and they were impossible to clean properly, so the bacteria in them would have made the wine unstable. The upshot of these problems, and many others, was that by the mid 1970s Jumilla was on its knees as a wine region, with only the locals drinking the wines. Clean, bright, fresh wine was freely available in Spain, usually from Rioja and Penedès – take a bow Miguel Torres, so consumers were put of the hot, brackish, stewed and often murky wine of Jumilla. In fact such were the region’s woes that it was only created as a D.O. in 1996, once the region’s potentially bright future had been glimpsed.

And what a bright future it is. Producers have worked so hard, replacing the aged tinajas with clean stainless steel tanks and making sure the wineries are so clean you could eat your dinner off the floor. The fermentations can now take place at low temperatures, so the wines are fresher and brighter and the clean winemaking ensures they stay vibrant and fruity too. What’s more the growers have worked hard too, by finding sheltered and high, cool places to plant the vines so that the grapes do not turn to raisins in the fierce sun. By doing this they turn the heat to their advantage. The place is so arid that the vines barely grow to any height above ground, but put down very deep roots below ground. This means the vine produces a tiny crop of concentrated, flavoursome grapes, so the finished wines are rich and full-flavoured.

Monastrell vines growing in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Monastrell vines growing in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Harvesting Monastrell vines in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

Harvesting Monastrell vines in Jumilla. Photo courtesy of Bodegas Juan Gil.

For me the key Jumilla producer is Bodegas Juan Gil who makes a dazzling range of wines with bright, vibrant fruit backed up by an elegant structure that makes them a real delight – do try some of them if you get the chance, UK stockist information is here, US here, but there are other producers too, as my Wine of the Week shows. 

This wine is made by the wonderful Pamela Geddes, who is a Brit with long experience of making wine in Spain. The blend is 90% Monastrell, which the French call Mourvèdre and the Aussies call Mataro, and there is 10% Tempranillo too, which spends 3 months in oak just to firm up the wine and give it a bit more elegance.

The colour shows it age with a little garnet around the edge, but is mainly a dark, opaque ruby.
The nose betrays the heat of Jumilla, you can smell hot rocks, wild herbs and rich, ripe fruit; blackberry, blueberry, rich strawberry and some deep plum too. The palate is full-bodied and very smooth, with loads of fruit, it has some age now so it isn’t the bright fruit of youth, but the broader flavours of older wine, plums and prunes as well as blackberry. There is some earthiness and leather from the ageing too, as well as some caramel, mocha and espresso from the touch of oak. All in all a lovely crowd pleaser of a wine, smooth, full-flavoured, full-bodied and with some nice maturity on it too, grab it while you can – 87/100 points.

 Available in the UK for £10.50 a bottle from Great Western Wine.

If you have never tasted a wine from Spain’s deep south, then this is a perfect place to start. You will really enjoy them if wines from the Rhône are your thing, or if you like Malbec, or Shiraz, or just good red wines. This delicious red wine would be perfect with roast lamb, a rich casserole or even a comforting shepherd’s pie or a burger.

Wine of the Week 39 – more deliciousness from south west France

Saint Mont

Saint Mont vineyards.

Recently I presented a tasting of wines from the south west of France or le Sud-Ouest. I really enjoy showing wines from this disparate region as there is so much variety, so many different appellations, or sub-regions and so many different grape varieties – many not seen anywhere else. I have written about the south west at length before, so rather than bore you again, I will just point you to my earlier articles for background information if you don’t mind – click here and here if you want to read them. The whole place is really a collection of regions rather than a single entity and they all have their different traditions and styles, some of them are well known to wine enthusiasts – such as Cahors and Madiran – while others remain obstinately and strangely obscure.

QS South West France watermark 2015

Wine map of the south west of France – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

I say strangely obscure, because it seems to me that the quality is very good from these parts and that the wines should be more widely known and enjoyed. Sadly though it appears that not many wine merchants agree as the wines are pretty hard to buy, which is a great shame because it means so many wine drinkers are missing out on the pleasures of south west France. All the wines I showed were very good indeed, some of them were spectacularly good and I have chosen one of those as my Wine of the Week – what’s more it is great value for money.

empreinte-blc2011 L’Empreinte de Saint Mont Blanc 
Plaimont Producteurs
A.C. Saint Mont
Plaimont are widely considered to be one of the most dynamic cooperatives in France and certainly all the wines that I have tasted from them have been very good, with this wine being one of the very best. They seem to do 2 things very well at Plaimont, firstly they make excellent wine that people want to drink and secondly they celebrate the local traditional grapes from the 4 regions in which they work, Côtes de Gascogne, Saint Mont, Pacherenc du Vic Bilh and Madiran. These regions are all in the in the Basque country and once formed part of the Kingdom of Navarre, so are steeped in history – indeed the Camino de Santiago goes right through this land on its way to Spain, so has been an area known to travellers for hundreds of years and an 11th century Benedictine monastery still dominates the village of Saint Mont itself.

Intended to be the definitive white from the region, hence the name ‘imprint of Saint Mont’ and the label bears a thumb print, this is a blend of grapes that are indigenous to here, 75% Gros Manseng with 10% Petit Manseng and 15% Petit Courbu. It is all cold fermented in tank to keep it fresh, apart from the Petit Manseng which is barrel fermented in second use barrels, this gives a kiss of roundness and extra complexity without lots of oak taste. This portion of the wine also undergoes lees stirring to develop a richer creamier texture. The rest is aged on the lees for 6 months without stirring, this too gives more complexity.

The colour is bright, appealing and silvery. The nose here is startling, with rich pithy and zesty grapefruit aromas together with some floral and honey and very delicate spice notes. The palate is nicely rich, but with wonderfully vibrant acidity cutting through the fat and balancing it beautifully. Rich grapefruit and apricot dominate together with some spice and the merest touch of creaminess. All in all it is rich, but fresh and balanced too, what’s more it is very drinkable and quite delicious – 91/100 points

Try it with fish, chicken or pork in creamy sauces and it is also superb with Ossau-Iraty, the French Basque sheep cheese and I like it on its own too.

Available in the UK from The Wine Society at £11.50 per bottle.

Celebrate Chinese New Year with Style

Chinese New Year is looming and so it’s always fun to celebrate with a good Chinese meal. I have already had mine, because the nice people who promote wine from the Loire Valley’s Central Vineyards area, or Centre-Loire as they call it, sent me some bottles to judge for myself how well they go with Chinese food.

Loire Map QS 2015 watermarked

Wine map of the Loire Valley – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

This sub-region of the Loire Valley is very beautiful and is a cool climate area that is most famous for producing crisp white wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, which is supposed to come from around here. In fact though, there are 7 appellations here – 8 if you count Pouilly-sur-Loire separately (these white wines are made from Chassellas grapes) – and only 2 of them are just for white wines: Pouilly-Fumé and Quincy both only use Sauvignon Blanc, while Menetou-Salon, Sancerre and Reuilly also use Pinot Noir to make red and rosé too. The Coteaux du Giennois also makes Sauvignon Blanc whites, but can also use Gamay in its red and rosé wines, while the more obscure Châteaumeillant only makes reds from Pinot Noir and Gamay.

Sancerre.

Sancerre.

The line up of wines was really interesting, with a Pouilly-Fumé, a red Sancerre and a Rosé Sancerre as well as a pair of whites from 2 slightly lesser known appellations; Reuilly and Coteaux du Giennois. The 3 Sauvignons showed differences too, which made for some interesting interaction with my Chinese take away.

Which brings me to the food. I ordered the meal from an excellent Noodle place I know and I stuck to really traditional dishes too – traditional British Chinese food that is, whether it’s authentic Chinese food or not, I have no idea. The starters were Peking Dumplings complete with their vinegar dip, Crispy Prawn Dumplings with sweet chilli dip and Chicken Satay in the classic spicy peanut sauce – I know that isn’t really chinese, but all Chinese restaurants seem to do it nowadays. Then there was a course of Crispy Aromatic Duck complete with pancakes, spring onions and Hoi-Sin sauce. The mains were very traditional, Chicken with Cashew Nuts, Szechuan King Prawns – in a spicy sauce – and Sweet and Sour Pork which I ordered for nostalgic reasons as well as to see how it went with the wines. There was also a spicy Singapore Noodle and some Egg Fried Rice.

My Chinese New Year meal, not the most elegant in its little cartons, but it tasted really good.

My Chinese New Year meal, not the most elegant in its little cartons, but it tasted really good.

The food was very good actually, the first Chinese food I have had in a long, long time and it reminded me how much I can like this cuisine. What’s more I was pleased with the selection as I had ordered a good cross section of flavours and styles, some of which I suspected would challenge any wine.

Here are the wines and an idea of how they worked with the food:

PF2013 Pouilly-Fumé Champalouettes
Caves de Pouilly-sur-Loire
A.C. Pouilly-Fumé
This was the most traditional style on show and reminded me of how Pouilly-Fumé used to be.
The colour was very pale, but very bright too, a silvery lime in a way that most modern wines are not – they are usually deeper.
The nose was stony and mineral with some lime, hints of orange and wafts of stone fruit too. There was also some green pepper and herbaceous notes too.
The palate was taut and very lemony, with very high acid, grapefruit and elderflower. It was overwhelmingly green and quite nicely mineral, but just a little bit dilute, but then it was a tricky vintage. All in all a nice wine, but lacking a little depth – 84/100 points

With the food: Because this was a very light style, it suited the lighter dishes very well indeed. It was perfect with the Chicken and Cashew Nuts for instance and it was also very good with the dumplings. It even coped with the acidity of the vinegar dip – acid with acid always seems to work. It came a little unstuck with the richer flavours of the sweet chilli dip, the satay sauce and the Hoi-Sin of the duck, as well as the tangy sweetness of the sweet and sour, it seemed to me that it just did not have enough weight of fruit to cope well with these dishes. It was lovely with the prawn crackers though.

Conclusion, keep this for the aperitif, with fried things, crisps, scampi, fish and chips, but best of all delicate fish dishes and the local Loire Valley cheese.

Available in the UK from Sainsbury’s at £13.00 per bottle.

Gien in the Coteaux du Giennois.

Gien in the Coteaux du Giennois.

MS_FD_F23A_00902823_NC_X_EC_02012 Domaine de Villargeau Sauvignon Blanc
Domaine de Villargeau
A.C. Coteaux du Giennois
Strangely, although this wine was older, it was more lifted and aromatic, with rich lemon and lime citrus aromas.
The palate has good weight, with some orchard fruit and even a touch of cream and then refreshing, but not tart high acidity and citrus. It came over as being lovely, cleansing and pure, but with very attractive richness and good concentration of fruit. The finish was very long and I thought this was a very good wine – 89/100 points.

With the food: Because this was a richer style with more succulence and concentration of fruit giving that sort of fruit sweetness to the wine, it went very well with everything, even the sweet chilli and Hoi-Sin – to my surprise.

Conclusion, a perfect wine to go with a wide array of dishes, just as you get in a Chinese meal.

Available in the UK from Marks & Spencer at £9.99 per bottle.

Nathalie2014 Nathalie Reuilly 
Domaine Claude Lafond
A.C. Reuilly
This is the Lafond’s top cuvée and is named for Claude Lafond’s daughter Nathalie, who is the winemaker of the operation. It’s a lovely wine too, very much at the mineral end of the spectrum though. The colour is that pale silvery lemon and the nose is very gooseberry and nettle – I think, I’m not actually sure that I’ve ever eaten any, but you get the picture. The palate is very refreshing with gooseberry, lemon, elderflower and the sensation of sucking pebbles. There is just a touch of blackcurrant leaf too. All in all a very good and elegant, mineral wine – 88/100 points.

With the food: Because this was lighter than the previous wine, it did not go with everything so well, but it was  little richer than the first wine and was just able to cope with the sweet chilli, so it was perfect with three quarters of dishes.

Conclusion, if this was my only bottle I would have selected lighter, fresher tasting dishes, but it was still good with most of the meal.

Available in the UK from Majestic Wine Warehouse at £11.99 per bottle.

Sancerre rose etienne de Loury2013 Sancerre Rosé 
Domaine Etienne de Loury
A.C. Sancerre
This wine showed me that I just do not drink enough Sancerre Rose. The colour was a delicate strawberry and rose petal hue that was very enticing, while the nose of delicate red fruits, strawberry, raspberry and cranberry, with the merest touch of red jelly sweets and rose petal jam. The palate was overwhelmingly red cherry and delicate strawberry, with very good, refreshing acidity keeping it all in check. A lovely wine that feels both casual and sophisticated – 88/100 points.

With the food: That little touch of sweetness of fruit was enough to make this a perfect partner with all the dishes, even the sweet and sour and the Hoi-Sin sauce with the duck, while its refreshing acidity made it a good foil to the fried stuff too.

Conclusion, a good all rounder, enjoy it with everything or just on its own as an aperitif.

Available in the UK from Oddbins at £17.00 per bottle.

Sancerre rouge2013 Sancerre Rouge au Bois de l’Épine 
Maison Foucher Lebrun
A.C. Sancerre
A light and delicate red wine that is very attractive indeed. The nose is of soft red fruit with a touch of fresh earth and minerality too. The palate is smooth and quite light, with very soft tannins, but really nice plump, soft, ripe cherry and raspberry fruit.  There is just a touch of chalky tannin on the finish, which makes it more structured and elegant than if it was just all about fruit, as does the fresh acidity – 88/100 points.

With the food: The sweetness of the fruit made it work very well with the duck and the richer dishes, but the intensity of the wine, light though it was, was not so perfect with the lighter dishes. Chilling it made it much more versatile though.

Conclusion, best with the richer dishes, but a good all rounder once chilled.

Available in the UK from Marks & Spencers at £15.00 per bottle.

So in conclusion here, the combination of Chinese food and the wines of the Loire’s Central Vineyards seems to work very well and give enjoyable combinations.

What’s more, if you are still hungry after all that Chinese food, you could try some cheese from the Loire with the wines too. There are 6 appellation controlée cheeses in the Loire and they are all made from goats milk; Valençay, Crottin de Chevignol, Chabichou du Poutou, Pouligny St. Pierre, Selles-sur-Cher and Sainte-Maure de Touraine. Legend has it that when the invading Arabs were defeated at the Battle of Tours in 732 they left their goats behind. Whether that is true or not the cheeses are perfect with the local wines and guess what year it is is after 19 February? Yup, you’ve guessed it, The Year of the Goat, so you see, so it all ties in quite nicely and shows just how versatile food and wine pairings can be.

Wine of the Week 38 – a real winter warmer

I don’t know how it is where you are, but this winter feels pretty cold here in the UK. Not Siberia cold, but at between 0˚ and 2˚ C in the night and hovering at around 7˚ in the day it’s quite cold enough for me. In fact it makes me want hearty stews and rich red wines. Well, the other day I tasted a red wine that is a real inter warmer and indeed I did make a hearty stew to accompany it.

It was a delicious wine and what’s more it was a Grenache, or Garnacha as they call it in Spain – after all it is really a Spanish grape. I seem to like Grenache more and more in all sorts of styles and Spain certainly produces some stunning examples. I was came from Spain, from a region that is not very well known, but that really ought to be as to makes some excellent wines. The region is Madrid, or as the wine region is called, Vinos de Madrid and I have written about the region here as well as wines from nearby here and here. It might seem strange that Spain produces a wine that I can describe as a winter warmer, but do remember that Madrid is the highest capital in western Europe and it can get pretty cold there. What’s more, this wine comes from just to the west of Madrid itself and is really grown in the eastern fringes of the Sierra de Gredos and they get pretty high, 2592 metres at their highest point, so it can be pretty cold up there in winter too. This wine though is produced in the town of San Martín de Valdeiglesias and the vineyards sit at 850 metres above sea level, which is pretty high.

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

San Martín de Valdeiglesias.

San Martín de Valdeiglesias.

That height is a good thing too, because although winter around here is cold, summer is blisteringly hot, so that altitude ensures the grapes are growing in cooler air which means the finished wine will be fresher than it would otherwise be. The town is about 70 kilometres west of Madrid and the name, Valdeiglesias, means Valley of the churches because there are a great many churches there. The region has made wine for centuries and Goya’s cartoon called The Grape Harvest is thought to depict the area. the wines of the place also get a mention in Captain Alatriste, Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s swashbuckling novel.

Vineyards at Viñedos de San Martin.

Vineyards at Viñedos de San Martin.

I really enjoyed the wine, especially after it had been open for about 6 hours. It was very drinkable and I thought that lots of people would enjoy it, so made it my Wine of the Week:

las_moradas_de_san_martin_senda_20092009 Senda Las Moradas de San Martín Garnacha Crianza
Viñedos de San Martin
DO Vinos de Madrid
100%  Grenache / Garnacha, hand harvested and aged for 10 months in French oak.
The nose was rich with fruitcake aromas of raisins and spice. You do notice the 15% alcohol, which gives a touch of a dry Port like character – smelling a wine like this you can see why the aussies used Grenache to make their ‘ports’.
The palate delivers the sweetness of dried fruit, especially prune and fig, some fresh strawberry and cherry fruit too, spice, quite a punch of warming alcohol, touch of white pepper, leather, tobacco, an earthy minerality and a touch of brown sugar or caramel. The palate is very smooth, almost creamy and mouth filling with soft tannins that have a sweet ripe, fine grain character.
I like this wine, you can taste the heat, but the palate recovers its balance and the finish is long.
It really quite is quite delicious, a bit of a monster and not my normal style at all, but it has bags of personality and I think a lot of people would like this very much indeed 89/100

Try this with a heart meaty casserole or cassoulet type dish.

Available in the UK from Grey’s Fine Foods at £11.75 per bottle. Greys also sell a wonderful range of Spanish foods, so you could always order some Jamón too!
Available in the US from Saratoga Wine Exchange.

Wine of the Week 37 – a terrific & Great Value California Cabernet

Recently I took part in a wine tasting debate that was all about Cabernet and Merlot blends. My job was to champion the wines of California while other wine educators championed Bordeaux and Australasia.

It took place at the West London Wine School where I do quite a lot of teaching as well as events like this, so keep an eye on the web site, there are more of these debates to come.

Well, I was really thrilled to be able to show people good some really good California wine, the state makes great, great wine that somehow gets ignored, by and large anyway, over here in the UK. I think most UK wine drinkers only ever see the cheap, simple, overly fruity mass market, branded bulk wine examples and assume that is what all California wines are like.

Nothing could be further from the truth and it is a shame that UK wine drinkers don’t often get the chance to try California wines that are a little more complex and interesting as there is plenty of good stuff to be found. It is widely believed, of course, that the good stuff from California is all very expensive and while wines from California can cost a lot of money, that does not mean that you cannot find good value.

Many UK wine drinkers either forget, or never knew, how important  California is in terms of wine. It has a long history of making premium wine and it makes a lot of it to. California would be the fourth largest wine producer in the world if it was a separate country. I love the history of the place, but will leave that for another time. It’s cultural importance as a wine producer really began in the 1960s when a group of pioneers – I was lucky enough to meet many of them early in my career, including Bob Mondavi, Joe Heitz, Paul Draper of Ridge, Warren Winiarski of Stag’s Leap, Jamie Davies of Schramsberg and Frank Woods of Clos du Bois – started to seriously make ambitious wine. Of course they were building on those that had come before them, but they realised the potential in this sunny state that had dry conditions and a Mediterranean climate. Really they created the modern world of wine. Before this we had never seen wines that were so technically well made – it helped that UC Davis had become one of the world’s preeminent agriculture and viticulture research stations by this time – and what’s more they were amongst the very first wines sold with a simple grape variety name on the label – new world wine as we know it was born.

California map QS 2015 watermarked

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

Well, my love of California wine clearly rubbed off on to the tasters on the night of the debate as I won, but in truth the credit goes to the wines. I showed 3 wines at 3 different price points, the first 2 both came from the Napa Valley, which is perhaps the most famous A.V.A. (American Viticultural Area, the US equivalent of a P.D.O. or P.G.I.) within California for Cabernet Sauvignon:

Napa map 2015 watermarked

Wine map of The Napa Valley – click for a larger view. High-res non-watermarked versions of my maps are available by agreement.

Napa Valley - high above the fog line.

Napa Valley – high above the fog line.

Cain-Five-2004-bottle-lg

2008 Cain Five
Cain Vineyard & Winery
Spring Mountain District A.V.A.
Napa Valley
California

This is a single vineyard blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot grown high up – at 450–675 metres above sea level, it may interest you to know that Napa itself is only at 5 metres! – in the Mayacamas Mountains that define the border between Napa and Sonoma. This wine is astonishingly complex and fine and is far from the fruit bomb of popular imagination for California wines. The fruit is beautifully ripe making the wine rounded and supple, but there is so much more here too. It is a beautiful and very fine wine – 93/100 points.

UK stockist information is here.
US stockist information is here.

At about half the price we tasted the very nearly as fascinating:

Napa Valley - looking West from St helena towards the Mayacamas.

Napa Valley – looking West from St helena towards the Mayacamas Mountains.

BLX_NVCab_new pack hero_HR_nv2010 Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Beringer Vineyards
Napa Valley A.V.A.
California

Another exciting blend, from several vineyard sites across Napa this time, including Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain District and the original Beringer vineyards in St Helena this a superbly supple and complex blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot and 1% Merlot. The concentrated fruit dominates a bit more here in the classic Napa style, but the finish is savoury, while the fine chalky tannins and touch of minerality add to the finesse and balance. I used to sell Beringer wines a long time ago and am really pleased to see that they are even better now – 91/100 points.

UK stockist information is here.
US stockist information is here.

Both od these wines were superb and a lovely treat, but I also wanted to show that California could turn out out top notch affordable wine – and I did just that witht he first wine I showed at the tasting. It is so good and such good value for money that I have made it my Wine of the Week:

Napa Valley vineyards.

Napa Valley vineyards.

3vineyard-cab-sauv2012 Pedroncelli Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
Pedroncelli Winery
Dry Creek Valley A.V.A.
Sonoma
California

Although labelled as a Cabernet, this too is a blend; 76% Cabernet Sauvignon (wines from the US only need 75% to be a labelled as a single variety, most places are 85%) 16% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petite Verdot. As you might imagine the Pedroncelli family are Italian in origin and they have owned this land since 1927, obviously because of prohibition they had to wait a few years before they could make wine – honest officer. They consistently produce wines of very high quality, but which are affordable and very drinkable too. This is a lovely easy drinking, very fruity style of Cabernet, but it has a nice touch of acidity to balance the rich fruit together with very gentle oak which just softens the already smooth tannins, what’s more the fruit, rather than the normal blackcurrant of Cabernet, feels much lighter and plum and raspberry-like. A very happy bottle of wine that is marvellous value for money – 88/100 points.

UK stockist information is here.
US stockist information is here.

So the next time you want something utterly delicious and rewarding to drink, have a think about California, there is fantastic quality there and often great value for money too.

 

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.