Wine of the Week – a stylish Italian sparker

I have recently returned from a fascinating trip to the Soave region of Italy. It is a very beautiful and tranquil area centred on the wonderful city of Verona. There were many wines that impressed me and many experiences that stood out and I will write in more detail soon.

The beautiful landscape of Colli Berici just to the south of Lessini Durello.

However one group of wines did surprise me. The sparklers. This is because I simply had no experience of them. In the UK only one Italian sparkling wine seems to be important – Prosecco – and while it is dominant even in Italy, there is so much more.

Everywhere I have been in Italy recently there have been excellent quality sparkling wines. Sparkling Falanghina in Campania, sparkling Carricante on Sicily, Verdicchio in the Marche, sparkling Lugana in the Veneto and Lombardy, Franciacorta in Lombardy, Nebbiolo – both white and rosé – in Piemonte, Chardonnay in Trento DOC and many other I am sure. So I was excited to find yet one more – I find that life is always better with a bit of fizz.

Prosecco of course can be made over a very wide area, principally in the Veneto region, but also outside in Friuli, while most of these other sparkling wines are produced in much smaller regions and mainly using the traditional method.

Whilst touring around Soave though I was made much more aware of another sparkling wine from Veneto that has a great deal to offer.

Wine map of northern Italy. Lessini Durello is immediately to the north of Soave and Colli Berici – click for a larger view.

DOC Lessini Durello is a smallish PDO just to the north of Soave in the Monti Lessini, which is a lovely area that forms part of the prealps. Somewhat confusingly the grape they grow here is actually called Durella – the wine must contain at least 15% of this and can also include Chardonnay, Garganega, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero.

Riserva wines must be made sparkling by the traditional method followed by 36 months ageing on the lees, while standard – non Reserve – examples is only made by the tank – or Charmat – method, so the second fermentation, which produces the CO2 that makes the wine sparkling, takes place in a tank before the wine is bottled.

I tasted quite a few of these wines and was impressed. The only problem being that thy do not generally seem to make it to export markets. So I was very excited to taste one that does and have made it my Wine of the Week.

Settecento33 Brut
Cantina di Soave 
DOC Lessini Durello

I loved visiting the Cantina di Soave, they are the big cooperative producer in the area, but make some superb wines. 

There is nothing too fancy about how this wine is made, it’s just very technical, clean and precise and that is pretty much how the wine tastes. It is made from 100% Durella.

One of the beautiful buildings belonging to the Cantina di Soave.

Everything about it is clean and fresh. The nose is floral and citrussy while the palate is pure and lively with a bracing acidity that makes the wine lively and refreshing. It feels more taut and classic than most Prosecco which gives it a feel of elegance and finesse. This is a very attractive easy drinking and versatile sparkling wine. It makes a great aperitif, goes well with light dishes, pesto and tortellini with sage and butter – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK for £10.00 per bottle from:

So you see, Italian fizz does not have to be Prosecco!

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.

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

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.

New Wine of the Week – Prince Ştirbey Negru de Drăgășani, a fine Romanian red

Typical traffic in rural Romania - snapped through the coach window.

Typical traffic in rural Romania – snapped through the coach window.

My visit to Romania last year impressed me very much – and you can read all about it here. I had no idea what to expect at all, not from the country, its culture, food or wines. What I found though was very exciting indeed. The countryside was fantastic, Bucharest a beautiful city and all the wineries that I visited were really passionate people with amazing drive and commitment. What’s more I did not taste a single wine that wasn’t decent and most were much better than that.

My only gripe with Romanian wine – and it is aimed at the UK wine trade, not the producers – is that it is very hard to buy the good ones here in the UK. Most stockists carry an affordable range of wines from Romania, you will see that many of the cheapest varietal wines are actually from Romania if you study the label closely. At the top end though it is very hard to find them, so I am really delighted to share this wine with you. I showed it in a tasting of Romanian wines that I tutored for Dulwich Wine Society the other week and it was one of the favourites on the night. It was a wonderful tasting, although I say so myself, what’s more it was 23 years to the day since I had first appeared at Dulwich – that can make you feel old you know. Just as on my trip to Romania, all the wines found favour, indeed they all went down very well with the tasters and I will mention more of them over the coming weeks.

In a tight field though, this lovely wine stood out just a little, as not only was it delicious, but it is also available to buy, which many of the others were not. I loved it so much that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Sketch wine map of Romania – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Sketch wine map of Romania – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Baroness Ileana Kripp of Prince Ştirbey.

Baroness Ileana Kripp of Prince Ştirbey.

Vines at Ştirbey.

Vines at Ştirbey.

prince_stirbey_negru_de_dragasani2011 Prince Ştirbey Negru de Drăgășani
IGP Dealurile Olteniei
Domeniile Ştirbey

The Ştirbey estate is in the south of the country – about 130 km West of Bucharest – on a narrow ridge overlooking the River Olt. The estate has a long history that goes back over 300 years and their wines were considered to be some of the country’s finest in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. They were even available in the dining car of the Orient Express during that golden age and they still have some fascinating advertising material from the 1910s and 1920s.

The estate was nationalised by the post-war Communist government, but in 1999 Baroness Ileana Kripp, the great-granddaughter of Prince Barbu Ştirbey, together with her Austrian lawyer husband, Baron Jakob Kripp, set about reclaiming her family’s long lost property. They were successful and by 2001 were producing wine, with the help of Oliver Bauer a modest and jovial winemaker from Württemberg in Germany. Today they farm 25 hectares and produce around 100,000 bottles.

I like their wines – they make a particularly fine traditional method sparkling wine from the indigenous Crâmpoşie Selecționată grape. It is called Prince Ştirbey Vin Spumant Extrabrut and is available from company in Germany – click here.

My Wine of the Week though is their fine Negru de Drăgășani. As its name might imply, this grape comes from this region of Romania and is a crossing of  Negru Vartos, indigenous to southern Romania, and the Saperavi from Georgia. The grapes were handpicked, carefully selected and then de-stemmed before being fermented in stainless steel tanks. It was then aged for 12 month in 300 litre Romanian oak barrels.

The colour is gorgeous, like freshly crushed blueberries, while the nose is aromatic and intensely fruity with a soft spice and gentle smoke. The palate is rich and concentrated, bursting with ripe blackberry, cherry and blueberry fruit. There is spice here too, black pepper and something softer and exotic like clove. There is some nice freshness that makes the wine feel very balanced, while the tannins are really velvety and smooth, which gives the wine an almost creamy feel. In many ways this reminds me of a very fine and ambitious Barbera and gives us a relatively rare chance to try a top-end Romanian wind – 91/100 points.

Try this with charcuterie – Romanians eat a lot of things like that – and with rich warming casseroles, even spicy chilli con carne would work.

Available in the UK at £14.50 per bottle from Oddbins.

Wine of the Week 15 – a fine Picpoul as last of my summer wine

Lean-Luc Colombo in the vineyard.

Lean-Luc Colombo in the vineyard.

Well, the summer is drawing to a close and the weather, in the UK anyway, is not very good, but I have the antidote. I enjoyed a wine last night that was a pleasure to drink and made me happy.

I was especially pleased as the wine seemed to be very good with scrambled eggs. I say scrambled eggs, but more accurately the dish I cooked should be called huevos revueltos. It is a dish of roughly scrambled eggs into which I put prawns, asparagus and lots of garlic and served it on a bed of crispy roast potatoes. It is a typical Spanish dish and worth trying when in Spain, other classic versions incorporate black pudding and often they include little eels as well, not my thing but very popular in Spain. The best version, other than my own, that I have tried was in Restaurante El Botin which is in Madrid and is officially the oldest restaurant in the world.

Eggs are notoriously difficult to partner with wine, as is asparagus actually, but I decided to match the weight of the dish and the fresh Mediterranean flavours of the prawns and the garlic rather than the eggs, and it worked brilliantly. It might have helped that I served it with a lovely Insalata Caprese and that went superbly with the wine too.

The pairing came to me as a flash of inspiration, so I was delighted that the food and the wine all went so well together. The wine was a particularly good example of a something that has managed to break through the Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc stranglehold to become quite trendy and popular – Picpoul de Pinet. This is a white wine within the Languedoc appellation, which overwhelmingly produces red wines, and has its own sub region appellation.

I really like and enjoy Picpoul, at least Picpoul Blanc which is the version we normally encounter and the only one I have knowingly tasted – both black skinned Picpoul Noir and pink skinned Picpoul Gris also exist, but in tiny amounts. The wines made from Picpoul Blanc might never be the most complex and profound, but when they are good they can give a great deal of pleasure. Like Gavi they have a reputation for being more crisp and acidic than most of them actually are.

Laure Colombo

Laure Colombo

image-12013 Picpoul de Pinet Les Girelles
AC Picpoul de Pinet / AC Languedoc Picpoul de Pinet
Jean-Luc Colombo
Jean-Luc Colombo is really a Rhône Valley winemaker who is based in the Northern Rhône area of Cornas, but he makes wines across the Rhône Valley. It is a new business, only having been founded in 1982, but has enjoyed remarkable success in this short time. I really admire their style as they seem to be able to make very elegant wines with fabulous fruit concentration. In recent years Jean-Luc has been joined in the business by his daughter Laure, who has proved herself to be a superb winemaker in her own right. They have also expanded their production to Coteaux d’Aix en Provence and IGP wines from the beautiful landscape near Marseilles as well as Picpoul de Pinet and Rivesaltes in the Languedoc. 

The colour is a lovely burnished copper like peach skin, in the glass it looks viscous and enticing.
The nose gives attractive floral notes, wild herbs, nuts and fresh peaches, whilst remaining delicate and offering a faint whiff of the sea.
The palate is fresh, yet succulent at the same time. Juicy and clean, so poised between being racy and being rich, which suits it too. There is an apricot fleshy succulence to the palate, a crack of white pepper – not unlike Grüner Veltliner – clean, refreshing acidity and a touch of minerality. I like this very much indeed, there is good concentration, it’s delicious and a lot of fun to drink. There is purity and richness, lightness and weight, freshness and richness. It feels like a glass of sunshine to push away the Autumn blues – 89/100 points.

Available in the UK from Oddbins and a range of other outlets at around £9.99 per bottle. Jean-Luc Colombo wines are distributed in the UK by Hatch Mansfield.
Jean-Luc Colombo wines are distributed in the US by Palm Bay International.

If you have never tried a Picpoul de Pinet, or perhaps been disappointed by one in the past, then do try this. It is an especially good example, brilliant on its own or with prawns and all manner of seafood, as well as Mediterranean cuisine from Provencal, Spanish, Italian to Greek and Turkish. It would be perfect with Mezze or Tapas as well as being with, scrambled eggs and asparagus, either together or separately. Oh, and it is an utter delight to drink, a little burst of sunshine in your glass.

In the interests of total disclosure I must mention that I do some work for both Hatch Mansfield and Jean-Luc Colombo, but the views expressed here are my own genuine ones and totally unsolicited.

Exciting drinkable and affordable wines

It has been quite a couple of weeks for finding new and exciting wines and I find that is what makes wine really interesting. It might seem strange to some people, but to me wine is only partly a drink, it is also a constant voyage of discovery into places, people, culture and traditions – as well as seeking out delicious flavours.

Most of the time that does not mean that the wines are weird, whacky or odd in any way, just that they are slightly off the beaten track, made in places and from grapes that are a little less well known than they ought to be. It is for those very reasons they often reward trying as they can frequently offer better value than more well known wines, as well as an enormous amount of pleasure.

I have written before about how the majority of consumers seem to only drink wines from a very narrow range of wine styles and grape varieties, which is a real shame when there is so much good wine out there that often passes people by.

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