Wine of the Week – a Happy Affordable Red

El Lloar in Western Priorat – photo courtesy of Turisme Priorat.

We all love a bargain, I know that I do. What’s more sometimes you just want a nice, drinkable bottle of wine that makes you happy. Well I have just tried a bottle that does exactly that. The fact that it comes from one of the world’s greatest wine regions is just an added bonus. What’s more it is utterly delicious and delivers outstanding value for money.

The wine comes from Priorat, that wild, rugged mountain region of Catalunya in north east Spain. Priorat is a little inland from Tarragona and is one of jut two wine regions in Spain to be awarded the highest quality status of Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa), or more correctly the Catalan Denominació d’Origen Qualificada (DOQ) – Rioja is the other DOCa.

Wine map of Spain, Priorat is the tiny yellow speck near Barcelona – click for a larger view

Priorat and neighbouring Montsant in a little more detail – map courtesy of Turisme Priorat.

Priorat wines are mainly red, although some wonderful whites are made there, and are often eye-wateringly expensive as production is small and there is huge demand. Generally speaking I would urge people to try the neighbouring wines of Montsant – this small region is equally rugged and surrounds Priorat like a doughnut, or nearby Terra Alta. However, unusually this Priorat is an absolute bargain. What’s more it is delicious, so I have made it my Wine of the Week.

The wonderful landscape of Priorat – photo courtesy of the Consell Regulador.

2014 Vinya Carles Crianza
Bodegas Reserva de la Tierra
DOCa / DOQ / PDO Priorat
Catalunya
Spain

As so often the case with supermarket wines that are not established brands, it is difficult to get much information about this wine. The name Vinya would suggest that this is a single vineyard wine, however in truth I know almost nothing about it. I do not even know what grapes are in it. Priorat is normally a blend based on Garnacha / Grenache and often has some Carignan and perhaps some Syrah or Cabernet too, but I have no idea what this is – except that it tastes good.

I do know that it’s a Crianza though, so it has spent some months in oak.

Ok, so it is a bright, purple tinged garnet showing both its youth and that touch of barrel. The nose is crushed red and black fruit, fragrant vanilla and sweet baking spice, while the palate is smooth and velvety. The tannins, such as they are, are so soft and ripe and sweet that you do not notice them. The fruit is generous and upfront like a summer pudding, while a little structure is given by the spices, the vanilla oak and a touch of black pepper.

The rugged terrain and bush vines of Priorat – photo courtesy of Turisme Priorat.

I have to warn you, this wine just slips down and bottles empty willy-nilly. It is in the end a pretty simple wine, but very, very drinkable and delivers a great deal of enjoyment for not much outlay. It’s very versatile and soft enough to drink on its own or with easygoing dishes like sausage and mash, pies, pizza or pasta. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s the best sub £6 red wine around right now and what’s more it gets better if let open overnight too – 87/100 points. I have marked it up a bit because it delivers such pleasure and deliciousness at a low price.

Perhaps it doesn’t exactly show you very much about Priorat, but it is a very nice glass – or 3 – of wine.

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

If you are after trying Priorat’s more ambitious wines then a good starting point could be the rather lovely Salmos made by Torres at their relatively new, dedicated Priorat winey. It is a legal requirement that Priorat wine must be made and aged within the boundaries of the DOQ / DOCa. This wine on a completely different scale and is a terrific example of what the region does really well.

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.

Wine of the Week 69 – a sumptuous red for winter

Winter seems to be in the air, so my thoughts are turning to red wine again.  I am still hoping for a late Indian Summer though, which would give me a chance to get out some of the mouthwatering white wines that are sitting in the rack looking up at me expectantly.

Regular readers will know of my love and fascination with all things Iberian and Spanish – especially the wines. Recently I presented a tasting of the less usual wines of Spain and everything I showed went down very well. Indeed a couple of the wines have already been Wines of the Week and they are really good – click here and here.

Many of you will know about Priorat, one of Spain’s – and the world’s – greatest wine region and certainly one of the most expensive. This amazing, rugged landscape specialises in producing richly mineral red wines that are usually made from blends based on Grenache, or Garnacha as the Spanish call it and Garnatxa as the Catalans call it. A few of the red wines are Carignan  / Cariñena / Samsó dominated blends, while a small number of producers craft superb white wines from grapes like Garnacha Blanca and Macabeo, as well as Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.

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

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

Priorat is one of only two regions to hold Spain’s highest classification, Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa) – it is Denominació d’Origen Qualificada or DOQ in Catalan. The only other region to have this so far is Rioja.

Priorat is tiny and the wines expensive, but luckily for us it is almost completely surrounded by another wonderful wine region – Montsant. This region is only a relatively humble DO or Denominación de Origen – but then so is Ribera del Duero – but it can produce wines of real quality. Recently I tasted a superb Montsant, that was so good I showed it at my tasting and everyone loved it so much that I decided to make it my Wine of the Week.

Montsant's rugged, but beautiful landscape.

The Joan d’Anguera estate in Montsant’s rugged, but beautiful landscape.

Joan and Josep Anguera.

Joan and Josep Anguera.

Planella2012 Planella Montsant
Joan d’Anguera
D.O. Montsant
Catalunya, Spain

The story here is an old and familiar one, the d’Anguera family have farmed these wild hillsides for centuries, scratching a living by providing grapes for the cooperative. However in the 1970s Josep d’Anguera decided to get more ambitious, perhaps he was influenced by the Priorate pioneers, or perhaps he just realised the potential of his land, but he planted Syrah and that had a really positive effect on his wines. It certainly made them easier to sell, but also tamed and softened the more rustic grapes in the blends, although now they are reducing the amount of Syrah in their blends in favour of the traditional local grapes. Today the estate is run by Josep’s sons, Josep and Joan and they too are forward thinking and ambitious and from 2008 to 2012 they were in conversion to biodynamic viticulture – 2012 was their first biodynamic vintage.

50% Cariñena / Samsó / Carignan, 45% Syrah and 5% Garnacha / Garnatxa / Grenache. Fermentation in concrete vats using indigenous yeasts. Aged for 12 months in old French oak barrels.

The colour is rich and opaque, while the nose gives lifted aromas of sweet dark fruit, warming spice, wild herbs and smoke. The palate is mouth filling, mouth coating and wondrously smooth. The texture is very seductive, as is the intense ripe fruit, blackberry, mulberry and nuggets of raspberry and cherry.  Savoury, spicy, smoky characters balance the fruit, together with a light touch of spicy oak and a seam of slatey minerality. The tannins are very smooth and ripe, adding to that seductive, sumptuous feel. This is a terrific wine that will wow anyone who tastes it – 91/100 points.

This is a lovely food friendly style, try it with anything meaty or hearty, especially cassoulet, pot roasts or slow roast garlicky lamb.

Available in the UK for around £13-£16 per bottle, from James Nicholson (NI), Forest Wines, Harvey Nichols, L’Art du Vin, No 2 Pound Street, Prohibition Wines, Salusbury Wine Store, St Andrews Wine Company.
For US stockists, click here.

Wine of the Week 65 – a delicious, fresh tasting Grenache

My Wine of the Week this week is a really exciting red Grenache, or as it comes from Spain I should say Garnacha. Grenache is a Spanish grape and so should really have the Spanish name of Garnacha.

I have come to Grenache relatively late, but am making up for it as I am now tasting many delicious and exciting examples. Of course the grape is largely responsible for the famous wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France’s southern Rhône, but Spain makes a lot of very fine examples too. The most famous and widely praised must be from Priorat in Catalunya, but regular readers of these pages might be familiar with he sublime wines of Domaine Lupier in Navarra.

Anyway I have recently tasted a Garnacha that is actually not produced in any recognised wine region, so it is simply labelled as a Vino de la Tierra, similar to Vin de Pays in France – my second Spanish Vino de la Tierra Wine of the Week in a row. Don’t let that lowly classification put you off though, the wine is superb.

Map of Spain showing approximate position of the Moncayo Massif - click for a larger view.

Map of Spain showing approximate position of the Moncayo Massif – click for a larger view.

Moncayo2014 La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo
Vino de la Tierra Ribera de Queiles
Garnachas de España
Aragon, Spain

This wine is part of the Garnachas de España project which is attempting to reclaim garnet as Spain’s noble grape, to popularise it and to also bring Spain’s unused old Garnacha vines – the wild (salvaje) vineyards – back to productive life. Many vineyards were abandoned after phylloxera, some were considered too difficult to farm once tractors and other automative advances came in, in some cases families simply left the land and moved to the city. Whatever the reason, and there are many, old unused vines can be found all over most wine producing areas. This project is seeks to use this wonderful resource, just as Domaine Lupier did in Navarra.

The vineyards are grown on the north facing slopes of the Moncayo massif which is located between the Zaragoza in Aragon and Soria in Castilla y León – it straddles the Castile/Aragon border. The vineyards are high on infertile rocky soils that contain a lot of slate. So conditions are relatively cool with big temperature drops between night and day, even at the height of summer.

The grapes were handpicked and fermented in stainless steel tanks to retain freshness and fruit. The wine then ages in new French oak for 5 months, which smooths out the wine and softens the tannins.

The colour is relatively light and a vibrant crushed raspberry and blackberry colour. The nose is dominated by the fruit, bright fresh raspberry and cherry notes together with a twist of orange and soft spices. The palate is soft and lively with lots of freshness and crunchy red fruit. The tannins are soft and smooth with just a gentle smear of chalkiness on the finish and there is a little touch of minerality too. This is a happy, happy wine, soft, joyous and utterly delicious – 88/100 points.

Serve lightly chilled with almost any Mediterranean style food and you will have a very good time. I think it would be wonderful with Turkish lamb kebabs, it would even be nice to drink on its own.

Available in the UK from £6.95 to £10.49 a bottle from The Wine Society and Majestic Wine Warehouse.
US stockist information is available here.

 

 

Wine of the Week 57 – a delicious Priorat that will not break the bank

The beautiful landscape of Priorat.

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

As many of my regular readers know, I love Priorat wines. It is without question Catalunya’s most prestigious wine region and apart from Rioja is the only area to be granted Spain’s highest wine classification; D.O.Ca or D.O.Q. in Catalan – Denominación de Origen Calificada.

Everything about this tiny region appeals to me. It feels very wild and isolated when you are there, it’s quite a journey just getting to it in fact. There is only one road and as it winds up into the mountains the terrain is ruggedly beautiful and the views are staggering. Miguel Torres once told me that it was completely different world in Priorat, and he was quite right.

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

Once you are up in this amazing place, the air is clear and it feels very peaceful – I would urge anyone to visit, even if you are not that keen on wine. The villages are all lovely – there are no towns exactly – and while there are no hotels, there are some superb restaurants.

What really sets this lovely region apart though is the wine. Priorat specialises in blends, usually based on Garnatxa / Garnacha / Grenache, but they can include Samsó – Cariñena / Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The land is made up of licorella soil, which is decayed slate. It seems that this sort of soil is the same one that creates the great wines of the Douro in Portugal and simply rises to the surface again all the way over here.

Priorat has a great history dating back to the early middle ages when the land was given to the Carthusian monks of the Monastery of Scala Dei. The Abbot ran the region as the feudal lord until the early nineteenth century when the locals rose up and sacked the monastery, its ruins can still be seen. The land was then nationalised and parcelled out to smallholders.

Oficina de Turisme del Priorat

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

The wines of the area fell in to decline then until well into the twentieth century and it was not really until the 1970s when a group calling themselves the Priorat Pioneers started trying to create fine wines worthy of the local terroir. They enjoyed quick success and Priorat has gone on to be regarded as one of the great wine regions of the world. In fact so rosy has the view of Priorat become that the only problem, for most of us, is the eye watering prices that many of the wines fetch.

Normally I would say that the best way to try the wines without spending a fortune is to drink the wines of the equally tiny and very similar Montsant region which surrounds Priorat, but recently I tasted an excellent and great value Priorat itself, so I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Priorat2013 Noster Nobilis Priorat
DOQ Priorat
Catalunya, Spain

A typical blend of 65% Garnatxa, 20% Samsó and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in French oak barrels for 6 months.

The colour is a deep garnet, while the nose gives off rich brambely fruit and spice. You can almost smell the heat, with richer raisin and liquorice notes. There is a wild herb note too, similar to the French garrigue.
The palate is rich, smooth and warming with wild herbs, dry peppery spices and rich red fruit, fresh, dried and cooked. there is also the distinctive local minerality that tastes like the licorella slate. This is an excellent introduction to the delights of Priorat that over performs for the price – 89/100 points
Available in the UK from Asda and Asda Wine Shop for £7.98 – it is not an own label and does not mention Asda at all.
I cannot find any US stockists, but as Wallmart own Asda that may be a good place to start. If they do not have it, they certainly have this wonderful looking book on Priorat.

Try this wine with slow roast lamb with garlic and rosemary, or even a barbecue and do not be afraid to stick it in an ice bucket on a hot day – the Spanish would.

I hope some of you try this, it is an amazing wine for the money, let me know what you think.

Wine of the Week 56 – a delicious and refreshing Godello

I know that Albariño gets all the fame and much of the plaudits, but in the general run of things I am much happier drinking that other great white grape from Galicia, Godello.

Albariño is a wonderful grape, but I often find that it disappoints unless it is very fine and costly. For a grape variety whose reputation is for high acidity, poise, elegance and being crisp, the cheaper versions can frequently be a bit soft and nondescript. Godello however is much more reliable and produces attractive wines at many different price points. I have always been drawn to Godello, but at the moment I seem to be liking it more and more.

What’s more, we are fortunate to have the grape at all, as Godello very nearly went extinct as a consequence of Franco’s agricultural policies – his government guaranteed prices for agricultural goods, wine amongst them. One result of this policy is that as vineyards were replanted they replaced quality grapes with grapes that produced quantity more than anything else. I assume that Rioja and Tempranillo avoided this potential fate as it already had an international market.

Godello is principally grown in the Valdeorras region of Galicia and Bierzo in Castilia y León – the 2 regions were historically both in Galicia and use the same grape varieties and have broadly the same conditions. Godello is also grown in Monterrei and Ribera Sacra to great effect.

Given that it has survived and we can now enjoy Godello, I would love for it to be more popular – and Spanish white wines in general actually, which are often very good quality indeed.

Anyway recently I tasted an excellent Godello that was delicious and great value for money, so I made it my Wine of the Week.

Map of the Wine Regions of North West Spain including Galica – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Map of the Wine Regions of North West Spain including Galica – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Las Médulas

Las Médulas, a World Heritage Site in Bierzo that was once the most important gold mine in the Roman Empire. Valdeorras, the Valley of Gold, gets its name form these gold mines.

bolo2014 Bolo Mountain Wine Godello
DO Valdeorras
Galicia, Spain 

This wine is made by the great Rafael Palacios, whose brother Alvaro is one of the movers and shakers in Spain’s great Priorat region. Rafael fell in love with Godello in 1996, when it was incredibly rare – I think I am right that there were only 7 producers of it in the world by that time – and went on to piece together a 21 hectare estate of Godello grapes in the beautiful Val do Bibei high in the mountains near the village of Bolo. What he fell in love with was the bright, cool Atlantic influence, but also the extra depth and weight that Godello has over the region’s other grape varieties. He was also fortunate in that the vines he managed to get his hands on include some seriously old material, some of it nearly 100 years old. The Bolo Mountain Wine is his straightforward , unoaked take on Godello, he makes 2 more serious examples, but I still think it is a lovely wine.
A supremely fresh and lively dry white. It is light and easy to drink, even with a slight petillance on the palate, which I find very enticing.
The nose is honeysuckle and gentle peach, while the palate is soft and fresh and reminded me of some of the Swiss wines I was tasting near Montreux the other day. The acidity doesn’t dominate, so there is a softness and creaminess, but it is still very fresh with a core of minerality that gives the wine real poise and elegance. Overall the wine has a real mountain feel, there is a purity about it that I love and what’s more is is sinfully drinkable – 89/100 points.
Available in the UK for around £10 a bottle from The Wine Society. More stockist information is available from Indigo Wine.
Available in the US for around $12 a bottle, stockist information is available here.
I would urge you to try this wine, it is superb quality, great value and very versatile indeed. It is lovely as an aperitif, but equally good with fish, poultry, pork, creamy cheeses and spicy food. I think that I will drink a fair amount of it this Summer.

Wine of the Week 41 – an approachable and attractive Aglianico

Firstly, my apologies for not publishing a Wine of the Week last week, I was in Italy’s Campania region and I just could not make the internet work. I was a guest of the wonderful Campania Stories event that aims to immerse wine writers and wine educators in the wines of the Campania. Naples is the local capital, so as you might imagine, it is a beautiful and fascinating place and I was able to taste a great many terrific wines while I was there. I will write about it at some length soon, but by way of a teaser, my Wine of the Week is made from Campania’s classic black grape – Aglianico.

wine map of southern Italy - click for a larger view

wine map of southern Italy – click for a larger view

Aglianico can produce all manner of wines from rustic and earthy, through bright and enjoyable to classy, serious and elegant. If you have never tried an Aglianico – the g is silent by the way – then you have a treat in store. Be warned though, Aglianico can pack quite a punch of tannins and has equally high acidity, so is almost never a wine to drink without food. At its best I think the wines made from it, which include Taurasi and Falerno del Massico, as well as Aglianico del Vulture in the nearby Basilicata region, are among the most delicious and exciting in the world. They are usually pretty big wines, think Priorat or the red wines of Douro, what’s more they have very hard edges in their youth, so need a fair amount of ageing to soften the tannin and to let their complexity show. The effort is worth it and I will be writing more about some of the region’s fine wines soon. However, luckily for us some producers are also now making more approachable examples of Aglianico, so we can enjoy this exciting grape without waiting for them to soften.

Here is one that’s juicy, drinkable, widely available and great value for money, so I made it my Wine of the Week.

P1120129

Marco Giulioli, the talented and engaging winemaker at La Guardiense.

Aglianico

2013 Marks & Spencers Aglianico
IGT Beneventano
La Guardiense
Benevento
Campania, Italy
This wine is not a DOCG, or even a DOC, but a more humble IGT which means it is made in a less classic wine region with fewer rules and regulations about how it can be made. Benevento is quite a large IGT production area in the east of Campania, north east of Naples and near the border with Puglia. The first winery visit I made in Campania was to the superb La Guardiense cooperative who make this as well as their own higher quality and more serious wines under the Janare label, one of which was my first ever Wine of the Week.

The nose gives off lovely red plum fruit, soft spice and herbs with a note of rich red earth that lends it an attractive savoury character, it smells very Mediterranean in fact. The palate is smooth, with firm, yet supple tannins and refreshing acidity that makes it perfect with food. It tastes of plum and blackberry together with black pepper and a smoky, earthy flavour. The fruit dominates this Aglianico and there is no oak here, which makes it a perfect example for beginners to this extraordinary grape. It’s drinkable and delicious, yet gives a pointer to what this grape can do. 86/100 points.

Try it with charcuterie and all manner of pastas, the acidity makes it very good with tomato based dishes, as well as barbecues, shepherd’s pie or bangers and mash, actually any informal meal.

Available in the UK from Marks and Spencer for £6.50 per bottle.

Aglianico can be a difficult grape to grow, that can produce wines that are difficult for some palates to enjoy as they are often very serious wines, very dry, tannic and savoury. They need food frankly, which is how the locals enjoy them. This wine from Marks and Spencers though shows the grape’s softer, gentler side and will make a perfect starting point in any discovery of Campanian reds.

Do try an Aglianico soon, anyone whole loves red wines would find them worthwhile.