Wine of the Week – a Chardonnay to win everyone round

Robert Oatley's beautiful Margaret River vineyards - photo courtesy of the winery.

Robert Oatley’s beautiful Margaret River vineyards – photo courtesy of the winery.

It pains me that so many UK consumers go around thinking that they shouldn’t drink Chardonnay. I meet scores of wine drinkers who tell me that they don’t like Chardonnay and that fashion has moved on, so we shouldn’t drink it. Which just astonishes me.

Chardonnay is one of the great grape varieties of the world, certainly, together with Riesling, one of the best white grapes of all. What makes Chardonnay great is that it is capable of producing wines of incredible depth, finesse and variety. You can make every style of wine from Chardonnay, through fresh and lively Blanc de Blancs Champagne, to crisp Chablis, soft Mâcon, complex Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet to elegantly rich Sonoma Valley, New Zealand and Australian Chardonnays. It’s a hell of a grape and should not be underestimated or poo-pooed.

Recently I have tasted a Chardonnay that might well change the mind of many a passionate ABCer – Anything But Chardonnay – in fact I liked it so much that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

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

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

Robert Oatley's beautiful Margaret River vineyards - photo courtesy of the winery.

Robert Oatley’s beautiful Margaret River vineyards – photo courtesy of the winery.

image-12014 Robert Oatley Signature Series Chardonnay
Margaret River
Western Australia

Robert Oatley was an amazing man who had many business interests and passions. He famously owned the racing yacht Wild Oats XI and created Hunter Valley’s Rosemount Estate in 1968, making him a true Australian wine pioneer. After he sold Rosemount, Robert and his family set up Robert Oatley Vineyards in 2009 by purchasing the old Craigmoor Estate, which was founded in 1858 and was the first winery in Mudgee. They are based there, but also farm and make wine from grapes grown in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in South Australia, the Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley in Victoria and Pemberton, the Great Southern and Margaret River regions of Western Australia. They aim to show the diversity of Australian winemaking and all the wines that I have tried show that their quality is very high. Sadly Robert died earlier this year, but the winery that bears his name lives on and produces wines that convey a real sense of place and so encapsulate what fine Australian wine is all about.

Margaret River is one of Australia’s great regions, cooler than South Australia, but with a very reliable climate that produces very high quality premium wine. As a consequence the wines are often amongst the most expensive Australian wines around, but this one shows that good value can be found there.

This elegant Chardonnay is made from grapes grown across the region, aged for a few months in French oak barrels, 20% of which were new – which helps with a creamy texture. I assume there is some lees ageing and stirring too as there is a lovely, delicate creamy quality. The wine undergoes no malolactic fermentation, which helps to keep it fresh and lively.

A text book example of a lovely, well made and very drinkable Chardonnay – and drink it I did! It has some delicate, white peach richness and a lightly creamy texture and touch of nuttiness from the oak, but the light citric freshness from the acidity and a little tingle of minerality keep it clean and pure and light enough to relish. Delicious and seductive on its own or with fish, white meat dishes, creamy sauces and softish cheeses – 91/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £12-£14 per bottle from the Co-opCambridge Wine MerchantsLaithwaite’s Wine (2013 vintage), The Halifax Wine Company, OddbinsWine Direct, Bon Coeur Fine Wines, The Oxford Wine Company and Islington Wine.
For US stockists, click here.

An invaluable book on winemaking – all the detail, but never dull

The beautiful vineyards of Lavaux.

The beautiful vineyards of Lavaux in Switzerland.

Recently a really useful and fascinating wine book came my way and so I thought that I would share it with you.

bookWine Production and Quality, 2nd Edition
Keith Grainger & Hazel Tattersall
ISBN: 978-1-118-93455-5
March 2016, Wiley-Blackwell

I am ashamed to say that I am not at all scientific. My understanding of science is pretty limited and so my love of wine is much more emotional than technical.

As a consequence I often struggle to understand the more complex aspects of wine.

For a long time now I have sought to solve this problem by finding a book that explains everything. So far my purchases have all seemed far too daunting and scientific for me to get to grips with and enjoy.

Luckily for me though, it now seems that help is at hand. Fellow Association of Wine Educators and Circle of Wine Writers members Keith Grainger and Hazel Tattersall, have recently published a book called Wine Production and Quality. It’s a handsome volume, well laid out and very readable.

Keith & Hazel 2

Hazel Tattersall and Keith Grainger.

I say volume, but actually it is two of their previous books, Vine to Bottle and Wine Quality: Tasting and Selection, updated and brought together in a single edition.

Part 1 concerns with wine production from the vineyard to the bottling line.
So if you want to understand degree days or grasp the differences between various soil types, this book might prove useful to you,

It crams a great deal into its 300 odd pages. There are chapters, or sections, dealing with everything you need to know, from the basics to the niggly little details that everyone except me seems to understand when winemakers mention them.

This was the most useful section of the book for me and I was glad to be able to get to grips with topics like yeast nutrients, the different methods of extraction, must concentration, reverse osmosis and oxygenation, whether micro, macro or hyper. The chapter on oak certainly extended my knowledge too – for instance I had never heard of the 205 litre Pièce Champenoise and feel enriched for having now done so. Also, and I don’t really know what it says about me, but I found the section on fining, filtration and stabilisation to be strangely fascinating.

Part 2 covers the arcane art of assessing wine quality, so a large section deals with wine tasting in real detail. This would be an excellent guide for someone just starting out in wine and can even provide some good revision for the rest of us.

It goes on to study the PDO system, classifications, ISO 9001, yields and planting density, wine faults and flaws and all manner of subjects that are incredibly useful and yet it is so hard to find them defined in a straightforward way.

I feel better informed for having read the book and comforted that it is on my bookshelves ready for when I need to refer to it. What I particularly like about it is that the book is divided up into manageable bite size chunks. They are never very long, often just a single succinct paragraph and so are very east digest.

Be warned though, they are quite moreish, so it is very easy to look something up and then to find yourself reading a few other interesting nuggets of information.

Anyway, I am happy – or at least as happy as I can be post Referendum – because now I can get to grips with details of wine production that I sort of know, but want to understand in greater detail.

So, thank you Keith and Hazel, you have filled a gap in my book collection that really needed to be filled and hopefully you have also filled gaps in my knowledge to give me a better understanding of the scientific and technical aspects of wine.

I highly recommend this book if you want to get more technical in your appreciation of wine, or if you just want to be able to look up all those niggly little things that people often mention when talking about wine. I, for one, will find this book extremely useful.

Wine Production and Quality, 2nd Edition is available from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and Wiley-Blackwell.

 

Wine of the Week – a delicious & great value Priorat

Beautiful vineyards in priorat.

Beautiful vineyards in priorat.

The other week I was wandering around the Three Wine Men event in London and I found myself trying the wines on the Lidl stand.

Many of you will know that I have a lot of time for Lidl. They offer very interesting products and, like Aldi, they seem to be able to put some excellent wines on the market at very good prices. Whether or not these great prices survive our leaving the EU remains to be seen, but right now they offer some staggering value.

The beautiful Priorat landscape. Photo courtesy of Oficina de Turisme del Priorat.

The beautiful Priorat landscape. Photo courtesy of Oficina de Turisme del Priorat.

All the Lidl wines I tried that day were pretty good, but the star was something that absolutely astonished me. It was a red wine from Priorat, one of the very best wine regions in Spain, which normally produces some of Spain’s most expensive wines, but this one is an absolute bargain.

Wine map of Spain, see Montsant in the north east - click for a larger view

Wine map of Spain, see Priorat in the north east – click for a larger view

The beautifully rugged Priorat landscape.

The beautifully rugged Priorat landscape.

vinya_carles2011 Vinya Carles Crianza
Bodegas Reserva de la Tierra
DOCa / DOQ / PDO Priorat
Catalunya, Spain

Priorat – Priorato in Castellano, or proper Spanish – is one of Spain’s great regions and it produces many of Spain’s most famous, most expensive and sought after wines. Indeed Priorat is one of only two Spanish regions – the other being Rioja – that is labelled with the prestigious PDO status of Denominación de Origen Calificada / DOCa – Denominació d’Origen Qualificada or DOQ in Catalan. This is a rank above most other Spanish wine regions, which are labelled as Denominación de Origen or DO, and the regulations are more stringent.

It is a wonderful place, beautifully rugged and mountainous with an amazing backdrop of the Montsant Mountains. It is most famous for the fine, spicy reds made from blends of Garnacha and Cariñena, often together with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, although some fascinating, rich and herbal white wines are made too.

I am afraid that I know nothing about the wine, not definitely anyway, as the technical sheet I was sent says that it is a 50/50 blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, while the back label on the bottle says it is a Grenache, Carignan / Garnacha, Cariñena blend. I think I believe the back label, as it doesn’t feel as though there is any Cabernet or Tempranillo here.

The colour is a deep, opaque, vibrant purple. The aromas are of warming, spicy, herbs and rich berry fruit; blueberry, mulberry and cooked strawberry together with rich pear and wafts of sweet liquorice and sweet coconut and vanilla from the oak – presumably American oak.

The palate is very juicy and supple, with plump fruit, smooth, ripe tannins and a twist of spice. It is nicely concentrated, richly fruity and very enjoyable indeed. It isn’t very complex, but it is delicious and pretty full-bodied. I cannot imagine anyone failing to be seduced by its charms. This wine over delivers for anything like the money, it was terrific just tasting on its own, but with a venison burger and a salad it gave me a huge amount of pleasure – 87/100 points, I originally gave it 85, but as the bottle went on, I marked it up for the pleasure it gave me.

Available in the UK from Lidl for £5.99 per bottle.

Me talking about Languedoc wine

Screen-Shot-2016-06-23-at-1.19.49-PMHere is an interview that I gave to Jamie Drummond of Good Food Revolution. He is a lovely guy and I admire what he does, so it was a great pleasure to meet him in Carcassonne earlier in the year and talk about all we were experiencing. We were both on an immersive trip to discover as much as we could about the wines of France’s Languedoc region.

It was a superb trip where I met many fascinating people and tried lots of terrific wine; look here, here, here, here, here and here.

I am sorry that the wind is so strong that it catches my words at times.

 

Quinta da Leda – a great Douro wine and my Wine of the Week

The beautiful Quinta da Leda - photo courtesy of the estate.

The beautiful Quinta da Leda – photo courtesy of the estate.

Many of you will know that I really admire the wines of Portugal‘s Douro Valley. It is a world class wine region that is of course most famous for being the home of Port, but over the last two decades or so has really made its mark in unfortified table wines too. The quality can be very high, at many different price points and there are some seriously good producers whose wines are well worth seeking out.

One of which is Casa Ferreirinha, which grew out of the A. A. Ferreira Port house which was famously run by Dona Antónia Ferreira – often known as Ferreirinha – during the nineteenth century. She was a close friend of Joseph James Forrester, Baron Forrester, who before his untimely death in 1861, had apparently campaigned for the Douro Valley to start making unfortified wine rather than sweet and fortified Ports.

Perhaps that relationship planted a seed that was finally acted upon nearly a century later in 1952, when Casa Ferreirinha produced the first vintage of their occasionally released and legendary Barca Velha. That was the first non fortified red from the Douro for a few centuries and the first one to be commercially released and it was a hit, achieving cult status to equal Spain’s great Vega Sicilia. They don’t make it every year, in fact only 18 vintages have been released so far in total. When they don’t make Barca Velha, the finest barrels they produce make the almost equally illustrious Casa Ferreirinha Reserva Especial. Both of these wines are aged for a long time in oak before release.

The beautiful Quinta da Leda - photo courtesy of the estate.

The beautiful Quinta da Leda – photo courtesy of the estate.

In 1979 Casa Ferreirinha bought the promising, but unplanted  Quinta da Leda estate in Almendra just a few kilometres from the Spanish frontier. To see whether it lived up to their expectations they planted 25 hectares of Tinta Roriz – aka Tempranillo -, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cão vines. This is one of the great joys of Portugal, and especially the Douro, great wines that can rub shoulders with the most famous and most expensive from anywhere, all made from indigenous grape varieties.

Wine map of the Douro, Quinta da Leda is just to the west of Barca d’Alva on the south bank of the Douro near Spain. Click on the map for a larger view.

Within a decade they could see that their hopes for the plot had been exceeded and from the 1980s the vineyard had become the main source for Barca Velha and Reserva Especial, as well as producing Single Quinta Port. In the end the site was just so good that they decided to make a single vineyard wine from it, but only in the in the better years. The big difference with Barca Velha, apart from being a single vineyard wine, is that Quinta da Leda is aged for a more normal 12 months or so in oak, which makes it a fresher style and it can be enjoyed younger too. Sadly I cannot comment as I have not yet tried any Barca Velha, despite owning a brace of bottles of the 1982 vintage. The project has been a great success and a dedicated winery was built in time for the 2001 vintage, making these true domaine bottled wines.

Recently I was fortunate enough to attend a tasting of Quinta da Leda wines that ranged from that very first 1997 vintage to the as yet unreleased, but precociously delicious, 2014.

The beautiful Quinta da Leda - photo courtesy of the estate.

The beautiful Quinta da Leda – photo courtesy of the estate.

I loved them all and would happily drink any of them with a slow roast shoulder of lamb, but it was remarkable how I kept really loving the wines that came from great Port vintages – the 2007 and the 2011, stood out especially for me, but so too did the 2001, which is an underrated Port vintage, mainly being a source of Single Quinta Ports. However, without a doubt my favourite was the 2011 and so I have made it my Wine of the Week.

bottle2011 Quinta da Leda
Casa Ferreirinha
Sogrape Vinhos
DOC / PDO Douro
Portugal

A single vineyard blend of 45% Touriga Franca, 40% Touriga Nacional and 15% Tinta Roriz. The grapes were destined and fermented in stainless steel tanks before being aged for 18 months in 225 litre French oak barrels, 50% of which were new.

The wine is currently an attractive opaque purple, deep, but bright and alive.
The nose offers intense, spicy sugar plums and blueberry, as well as cedar and earthy, spicy, savoury notes. There is a touch of cigar smoke as well as some mocha and herbs.
The palate is pretty full-bodied, but has a lovely texture, with concentrated, lush sweet black fruit together with some refreshing acidity and minerality. The tannins are taut but not overwhelming and there is a dusting of black pepper, while that smoke, spice and mocha vie with the lovely sweetness of the fruit on the long finish. All in all it is very concentrated, very exciting, beautifully balanced and utterly delicious with a touch of something pretty about it that helps to balance the power and the 14.5% alcohol – 94/100 points.
Available in the UK from £35 per bottle from Slurp, Lay & Wheeler, Farr Vintners, Corking Wines, The Wine Library, Hedonism, Harrods and AG Wines.
For US stockists, click here.

I actually really liked the wine as it is now, I loved the slightly tight feel of the tannins and the mocha-like oak, but it will develop beautifully too and become more complex over time. So you see, it isn’t only the 2015 Clarets that you should put in your cellar this year.

Alto Piemonte – Italy’s Hidden Treasure from Alpine Piemonte

The beautiful vineyards of Gattinara.

The dramatic vineyards of Gattinara.

When a wine lover thinks of Piemonte, or Piedmont, then the chances are that their very next thought is of Barolo. This small area of wine production south of Turin is capable of producing sublime red wines from the local Nebbiolo grape. They come at a price though. Barolo can be very expensive indeed and even the everyday examples are approaching £20 a bottle nowadays. That being said, those basic examples of Barolo are now generally much better than they used to be some ten or fifteen years ago.

Nearby the wines of Barbaresco, also made from Nebbiolo, can also be wonderful, and often much more charming than Barolo, but are often also very highly priced – and prized.

Wine map of Piemonte - click for a larger view. Non watermarked, high resolution versions are available for a fee.

Wine map of Piemonte – click for a larger view. Non watermarked, high resolution versions are available for a fee.

A glance at my map will show you the geography of Piemonte. Turin sits in an ampitheatre surrounded by the Alps that mark the frontiers to the south, west and north and so the flatter south eastern part of Piemonte is historically the most productive. Together the Langhe, where you will find Barolo and Barbaresco among other wines, and Monferrato, where many wines including Asti are produced, account for over 90% of Piemonte’s wine production.

It wasn’t always like that though. The wine growing areas on Piemonte’s northern fringes, Alto Piemonte, were once very imporatnt. Many have long and noble histories that predate Barolo by several centuries, and could possibly be famous again.

I have recently returned from a fascinating trip to Piemonte, one that focussed solely on these more northerly and less well known wine areas. Not for us the well worn path to Barolo and Barbaresco and the rolling Langhe Hills. No, our little group of wine writers was whisked north of Turin to the very foot of the Alps. Here, over the course of several days, we visited vineyards and sampled the wines from twelve wine producing areas, only two of which were known to me beforehand. I even tasted a grape variety that I had never, ever heard of before – which is always an exciting experience.

Many different grape varieties are grown in Piemonte, but for the really famous reds, it is Nebbiolo that is considered to be the true aristocrat. Indeed together with Sangiovese it is traditionally regarded as one of the noble black grapes of Italy. The grape gets its name from the thick fogs – called Nebbia – that descend from the mountains in the late Autumn, just before harvest, and so causing ripening problems for this famously late ripening grape variety.

The beautiful views from Gattinara.

The beautiful views from Gattinara.

Spanna – Nebbiolo in the North
Further north Nebbiolo is also widely grown, but in the past they often called the grape Spanna up there. Although it is Nebbiolo, it is a different clone of the grape and so gives subtly different results, a bit like Tempranillo and Tinto Fino. I remember seeing Spanna on wine labels in my very early days, but as far as I can see true Nebbiolo has either taken over in the areas where Spanna once ruled supreme, or is just treated as though it and Nebbiolo are completely the same. Certainly – again much as with Tinto Fino and Tempranillo – some growers told me that Spanna and Nebbiolo are identical, just different names for the same thing, while others were certain they were different. Whatever the case, I am sure that Nebbiolo is easier to sell than Spanna, just as Malbec is easier to sell than Cot and Tempranillo than Tino Fino.

Centuries ago this area was much more important than it is now, with the wines enjoying more fame than those of southern Piemonte, but all sorts of things changed that. Phyloxerra devestated the vineyards and it is much harder to replant high up than on the low rolling hills of Langhe. It is also much harder to scratch a living in more dramatic terrain, where transport costs are high, so many people left the land. Some emigtrated to the United States or Argentina, while others just went as far as Turin or Milan to seek work. After the depression and two world wars even those who had stayed were tempted to get steady jobs in the local post war textile industry that boomed for several decades . The consequence of all this is that the wine revolution passed the place by and so they couldn’t pull out of the downward spiral of decline that had gripped the place since the 1930s.

The richer Langhe region had more money to invest in vineyards and wineries, so as the post World War II modern wine revolution bit, those wines were perceived to be finer, richer, rounder and fruitier. More professional viticulture and hygeneic winemaking was completely normal in the south, but took far longer to reach the more impoverished north.

This was all new territory to me and it was tremendously exciting. We visited three districts, with Piemonte being the region. These districts had PDOs and also contained village level appellations – Crus in the same sense that Fleurie is a Cru of Beaujolais and Pouilly-Fuissé a Cru of Mâcon. The Italians producers themselves seem to only use the word Cru in the specific vineyard sense, as in the Grand Crus of Alsace.

Your author amongst the vines at Tenute Sella.

Your author making notes amongst the vines at Tenute Sella.

Coste delle Sesia
Our first visits were to the Coste delle Sesia. This DOC – or PDO – covers vineyards near the River Sesia in the Provinces of Vercelli and Biella. One white can be made from Erbaluce, a new grape for me, but from what I saw it was the reds that rule supreme here and these must contain at least 50% of Nebbiolo, Bonarda (Uva Rara), Vespolina, Croatina or Barbera.

I tasted a few excellent wines from this appellation, but the real excitement came from the examples that had a grape variety on the label too. I was very impressed by some of the Coste della Sesia Nebbiolo as well as the few examples of the deliciously spicy Coste della Sesia Vespolina that we got to try. As far as I can see, Vespolina is a very appealing grape that only grows arpound here and a little over the border in Lombardy.

Recommended producers: Tenute Sella, especially their Orbello red and Majoli rosé.
Pietro Cassina, especially his delicious Coste della Sesia Vespolina.
Travaglini, who really produce Gattinara, but who use their younger vines in an excellent Nebbiolo Coste della Sesia

The Communes of the Coste delle Sesia
Wholly contained within the Costa delle Sesia are three commune – or village – appellations, Cru if you like. Many of these had a very hard twentieth century and are desperately trying to come back from that near death experience. A mixture of Phyloxerra, follwed by mass migration to America and Argentina, wars, depressions and then the rise of the local textile industry – it was relief for the locals to earn a steady wage working in the textle factories after so much instability, so they lefy the land in droves – all took a toll and nearly killed off wine producing in these parts.

Climate wise the area benefits from being south facing, so good sun exposure and having a long growing season, just what Nebbiolo needs. There are also big night time temperature drops which helps retain acidity and finesse in the grapes, as does the cool air that descends from the Alps, tempering the summer heat.

P1160908

The beautiful vineyards at Tenute Sella.

Lessona DOC is a tiny PDO which only makes red wines and as far as I can see deserves to be better known. Fundamentally they are made from Nebbiolo – 85% minimum, but a little Vespolina and the wonderfully named Uva Rara is permitted. The wines must be aged before release for a minimum of 22 months, 12 in wood, usually big old 3000 litre wooden foudres or botti rather than barriques. Riserva wines are aged for at least  46 months, 30 of which are in wood.

Once upon a time the area had hundreds of hectares under vine. Now most of those have returned to forest and by the mid 1990s there were only 6.5 hectares of grapes left, but a modest rennaisence is underway and there are now somewhere around 23 hectares with a few new producers just getting started as well, which bodes well for the future.

Recommended producers: Tenute Sella, this producer’s top wines are all from this PDO. With a history going back to 1671, Sella has long been the commune’s beating heart and the wines are very impressive.
Pietro Cassina is a new producer, but his previous profession as an architect seems to have given him an eye for detail that ensures his wines are very good indeed.
La Badina, especially their Lessona Riserva 2010.

Massimo Clerico, my new favourite drinking buddy makes very good wines that age pretty well – his 2005 is perfectly mature.
Proprietà Sperino, an exciting producer created by Paolo De Marchi whose father founded the Isole & Olena estate in Chianti Classico.

Bramatera DOC is another miniscule PDO that makes good Nebbiolo – or Spanna – wines. Again they are oftem blends with a maximum of 30% Croatina, 20% Uva Rara and / or Vespolina.

The wines must be aged for a minimum of 22 months, 18 in wood, again normally foudres or botti rather than barriques. Riservas are aged for at least 34 months, 24 of which are in wood.

Recommended producers: Tenute Sella, I know it’s repetitive, but they make very good wines and have vineyards in three different PDO areas.

Looking down on gattinara from

Looking down on gattinara from the vineyards.

Gattinara DOCG is perhaps the most famous of all the PDOs in the northern part of Piemonte. Once upon a time it was more highly praised than Barolo. Indeed it was famous before Barolo had even decided to make the wines as we know them today. I saw old photographs which showed the hills to the north of Gattinara town to be completely covered in vineyards. This was only in 1906 – just four years before my aunt was born – but today just 60 hectares remain.

Huge barrels at Nervi.

Huge barrels at Nervi.

Old vintages in the cellar at Nervi - my birth year is far right and no, despite many hints they didn't open one.

Old vintages in the cellar at Nervi – my birth year is far right and no, despite many hints they didn’t open one.

In Gattinara it’s normal, and traditional, to soften the potentially hard edged Nebbiolo – or Spanna – with up to 10% Uva Rara and 4% Vespolina. The wines have to be aged for at least 35 months, 24 of which are in wood. Riserva wines receive at least 47 months, of which 35 are in wood and sometimes a proprtion are aged in barrique – 225 litre barrels. Like a good few of the PDOs around here, Gattinara has some volcanic soils in the mix which can often boost acidity and produce elegant wines.

Our little group hard at work.

Our little group hard at work.

From what I experienced, the quality here is very high. I was hugely impressed by the wines that I tasted, they had real class, elegance, finesse, whatever you want to call it, but they were very good wines indeed.

Looking towards Gattinara from Nervi's vineyards.

Looking towards Gattinara from Nervi’s vineyards.

Recommended producers: Nervi, the oldest producer in the area is now under new ownership and appears to be in fine fettle. I loved their wines, which seemed to have the merest touch of modernity to them. The whole range was first rate including their standard Gattinara, but the Valferana and Molsino Cru wines from specific vineyard sites were maginificent – only a tiny proportion of the very best parcels of the Crus are bottled seperately, the rest is blended in to their Gattinara. I also greatly enjoyed their traditional method pink sparkling Nebbiolo called Jefferson 1787 and really regret not buying a bottle now.

It was particularly fascinating to taste the 2013 Molsino Cru from 4 different wooden vats, Austrian oak, Slavonian (Croatian) oak, Swiss oak and Vosges oak from Alsace. The same wine went into the 3000 litre wooden vats, but 4 entirely different wines came out, which got me seriously wondering about terroir! For me the Slavonian oak was the clear winner, as it really tamed Nebbiolo’s firm tannins.

Finally a decent sized bottle - being held by Cinzia Travaglini, the founder's great grand-daughter.

Finally a decent sized bottle – being held by Cinzia Travaglini, the founder’s great grand-daughter.

Big wooden barrels at Travaglini.

Big wooden barrels at Travaglini.

Travaglini is not quite as old as Nervi, it was founded in the 1920s, but is still run by the original family and appears to be more traditional and, I thought, sees itself as the keeper of the flame of Gattinara. Whether that is true or not, I loved their wines which are all produced from their own fruit grown on the slopes of Gattinara. Real passion came through into the glass and the whole range shone. The standard Gattinaras are very fine, while the Riserva really thrilled me. Travaglini chose not to bottle the Crus seperately, but to blend them all together as they believe that gives the best expression of the region.

I also fell for their white sparkling Nebbiolo. Named Nebolé Brut, they have only made one vintage so far, but it was voted best sparkling in Italy last year by a Sommelier’s association – not a bad start. The wine was pure and mineral and fine and sadly we drank the last bottle. I would also recommend the salami they make that is flavoured with their Gattinara, it is delicious.

Colline Novaresi
East of the Sesia River is the Colline Novaresi – Hills of Novara – which does a similar job to the Coste delle Sesia in the west. Again the white wines must be 100% Erbaluce with the reds made from a minimum of 50% Nebbiolo, Barbera, Vespolina, Croatina or Bonarda.

Recommended producers: Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo, especially their Villa Horta Vespolina and Abate di Cluny.

There are four commune PDOs here; Boca DOC, Sizzano DOC, Fara DOC and Ghemme DOCG. Sadly I only have experience of Ghemme, but the others are so tiny in terms of production that it would be very unusual to find them in the outside world, indeed, I didn’t even get to try them there!

Our little group in Ghemme.

Our little group in Ghemme.

Ghemme DOCG is yet another miniscule PDO of just 60-65 hectares. The wines must be at least 85% Nebbiolo – or Spanna – with up to 15% Uva Rara and / or Vespolina. The standard wine must be aged for at least 34 months, 18 in wood, while the Riservas must be aged for at least 46 months, with 24 in wood.

At around 400 metres above sea level, the vineyards are the highest on this side of the Sesia River, while the soils are very mixed, but are not volcanic, so the wines can feel a little fatter than in Gattinara.

Recommended producers: Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo, especially their Ghemme and Collis Breclemæ Cru Ghemme.
Torraccia del Piantavigna, make a wide range of wines, but it their standard Ghemme that shone out for me, although their Gattinara was pretty good too.

The beautiful little town of Carema, nestling amongst vine covered mountainsides.

The beautiful little town of Carema, nestling amongst vine covered mountainsides.

Carema DOC
Our last Nebbiolo visit was to Carema, a place I had heard of and I had even tried the wines, but never visited before. It is an astonishing place, right on the border with the Valle d’Aosta, that tiny Italian region sandwiched between France and Switzerland. We are truly Alpine here, indeeed the landscape reminded me of Switzerland’s vineyards to some degree.

Most of the vineyards in Carema are trained on Pergolas. This keeps the vine away from the damp, humid soil and ensures maximum sun exposure in this difficult landscape. It also allows for the precious land to be used for cultivating other crops or livestock.

Most of the vineyards in Carema are trained on Pergolas. This keeps the vine away from the damp, humid soil and ensures maximum sun exposure in this difficult landscape. It also allows for the precious land to be used for cultivating other crops or livestock.

Tending the land under the Pergola in Carema.

Tending the land under the Pergola in Carema.

It only makes red wines in the DOC and they are made from pure Nebbiolo. Standard wines have to be aged for a minimum of 24 months before release, 24 of those in wood, while Riservas have to be aged for at least 36 months, again 12 in wood. These times have been seriously reduced recently, which I suspect has done the wines no end of good. I found the oak to be well integrated and the tannins very well controlled.

The place is extraordinary however you slice it. The vines grow at between 300 and 600 metres above sea level, making them amongst the highest in Europe. There are only 16 hectares grown – roughly 32 acres – and bear in mind that in my mid 1990s copy of The Oxford Companion to Wine, Jancis Robinson MW states that there were then 60 hectares, then a lot have been lost very recently.

Beautiful Carema vineyards.

Beautiful Carema vineyards.

What’s more, 14 of those 16 hectares are controlled by the excellent local cooperative, Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema, which has 78 members, so each holding is miniscule as well as being almost perpendicular. The only other producer – yes only two companies make this wine – is Ferrando Vini.

In the past there were many more vineyards, but such back breaking work doesn’t appeal to younger generations, and hasn’t for decades, so people have left the area for an easier lifestyle. However I am willing to bet that the wines have never been better. I tasted the co-op’s Carema Classico, black label and their Riserva, white label, and I was seriously impressed. The wines were lighter perhaps than the other Nebbiolo wines that I tasted on the trip, but they were at least as complex as the Gattinaras and had great concentration of fruit as well as silky tannins. Like the wonderful wines of from Etna DOC in Sicily, I believe these are worthy of DOCG status.

Alpine Piemonte
All in all it was an excellent trip and really fascinating to discover a part of this hidden corner of Italy. The quality of the wines was very high and the passion and commitment of the producers was very clear. They struggle though, as they don’t have the simple clear message of success that their colleagues in the Langhe enjoy. In many ways, with the possible exception of Gattinara – which has a little fame, they have no clear message to make their wines accessable to the outside world. We had a round table conference about this and I tried to help. I came up with the phrase Alpine Piemonte, which I think does give a clear message, certainly more than Alto Piemonte. As long as you know what Piemonte is and know what Alpine is, then surely it’s clear? I would be willing to let them use the slogan for some fair renumeration, a holiday home in Carema perhaps?

Anyway, I urge you to try the wines, I think you will be surprised and excited by their quality and often by the value they represent as well. We visited a few other wine districts too and tasted some really interesting white and sparkling wines that I will write about another day.

Stockist information for the UK:
Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema and Ferrando Vini are imported into the UK by Austrum Wines.
Travaglini are imported into the UK by Austrum Wines.
Nervi are imported into the UK by
For Proprietà Sperino stockists click here.

Stockist information for the US:
For Tenute Sella stockists click here.
For Cantina dei Produttori Nebbiolo di Carema stockists click here.
For Travaglini stockists click here.
For Nervi stockists click here.
For Proprietà Sperino stockists click here.

Wine of the Week – a perfect Summer wine

Quinta de Azevedo - photo courtesy of Sogrape Vinhos.

Quinta de Azevedo – photo courtesy of Sogrape Vinhos.

If my itchy eyes and sneezing are anything to go by, then Summer is finally here – in the UK anyway. It has taken a long time, but finally we can feel warm and dry for more than one day at a time.

As a consequence my thoughts turn to lighter, fresher styles of wine to accompany the salads and fish that I start to cook in the warmer weather.

Recently I have been giving some very well received seminars on Portuguese wines – come along to one at Cheltenham Food & Drink Festival 10 June – where I show a wine that I have really enjoyed over many years and the recent vintages have become even better. It is a style of wine that people might not think of trying, but once they do, they seem to love it. It is always very popular at the seminars. I love it so much and it is so perfect on a Summer’s day, either on its own or with some fish, shellfish or a salad, that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Map of Vinho Verde - click for a larger view

Map of Vinho Verde, Quinta de Azevedo is roughly midway between Barcelos and Braga – click for a larger view

2015 Quinta de Azevedo
Sogrape Vinhos
DOC / PDO Vinho Verde
Portugal

Vinho Verde is a terrific and underrated wine style and this is one of the best available. It is made by Sogrape who really made their reputation by taking this local style of wine, and introducing modern grape growing and squeaky clean wine making to it. At first the results must have been startling as before that Vinho Verde was traditionally made by farmers for their own consumption and that of their friends. Even now the landscape is very rural and beautiful with lots of old fashioned grape growing on pergola systems, some are even still trained higher up still in the trees. Sogrape were among the first to introduce modern training techniques which help achieve much better ripeness and so tames the high, often tart, acidity that this cold wet region used to achieve and was only tamed by keeping some sweetness in the wines. If your mental view of Vinho Verde is that they are old fashioned and a little sweet, then this wine will be a wonderful revelation to you.

Quinta de Azevedo - photo courtesy of Sogrape Vinhos.

Quinta de Azevedo – photo courtesy of Sogrape Vinhos.

Sogrape bought this beautiful historic manor house in 1982 and completely renovated the 40 hectare estate and winery. Today they farm in a sustainable manner, actually being organic in this wet landscape is really hard. One of the most exciting things about Portugal is the wonderful array of indigenous grapes and this wine is a blend of 5% Loureiro and 5% Pedernã / Arinto grapes – Loureiro is the most important and widely planted Vinho Verde grapes, while Arinto is another great Portuguese white grape that has wonderful acidity. By the way Sogrape also make the excellent Morgadio da Torre Alvarinho, which could also be a Wine of the Week.

The wine is pale and silvery lemon with an enticing orange blossom, floral aroma, together with ripe citrus notes, especially lemon. On the palate the wine is very light in body, but has lots of flavour. The overwhelming sensation is of freshness – if you like Sauvignon Blanc you will enjoy this – and there is merest hint of fizz, or petulance, that emphasises that freshness. There is plenty of refreshing acidity, but it is not tart and there is minerality as well, which adds to that feeling of purity and freshness – I swear there is even a touch of the sea, which adds to that bracing quality. There is plenty of ripe lemon, crisp green apple skin, light peach and melon on the palate, together with an attractive herbal quality and a long finish. A lovely, drinkable, refreshing and versatile wine with lots of flavour, but only 11% alcohol – 89/100 points.

Perfect as an aperitif in the garden, or try it with shellfish, fish, salads, soft cheeses, or even with Chinese and Thai cuisine.

Available in the UK at around £8-£10 per bottle from Waitrose, Waitrose Cellar, Oddbins and Majestic.
For US stockists, click here.

There are many other Vinho Verdes available, but this example is really very well made and quite delicious.