Wine of the Week – a Happy, Happy Syrah

Tain-l’Hermitage – photo courtesy of Maison Les Alexandrins.

Personally I think a lot of talk and writing about wine – and I am guilty of this myself – focuses on how fine, interesting or different a wine is rather than how much pleasure it delivers.

Which is really very strange as wine is all about pleasure isn’t it? If a wine does not give you pleasure, then what is the point? I certainly think about the pleasure a wine offers while I am tasting it but do my descriptions and writing about a wine always convey that? I am not sure.

All of this flashed through my mind recently when I tasted a wine that in more normal circumstances I might well have ignored.

For a start it is made from Syrah, or that is what it says on the label anyway. Be prepared to gap in astonishment, but I am not especially drawn to Syrah, or don’t generally think I am anyway, so rarely seek it out – although that seems to be changing.

Secondly the wine is not from an appellation contrôlée / AC / appellation d’origine protégéeor / AOP / PDO or not even a Vin de Pays / PGI, but is a humble Vin de France. This most basic quality level of French wine replaced Vin de Table a few years ago, with similar changes right across the EU.

Fundamentally what changed was that they were given the right to state the grape variety, or the blend on the label. They are also allowed to show the vintage, which means that we can be more selective, choosing the better vintages and perhaps also the fresher years – especially useful with white wines, but a good idea with most modern red wines too.

The vast majority of Vin de France are, as you might imagine, pretty basic, everyday wines – which is why I would normally pass on by. However, as with the Syrah that I tasted some producers use this level to make something altogether more interesting and worthwhile. Certainly this Syrah is a lovely wine – so good in fact that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

The stunning Northern Rhône Valley – photo courtesy of Maison Les Alexandrins.

2016 Syrah
Vin de France 

Maison Les Alexandrins is a very interesting project that produces some rather good wines. It is another example of a thoroughly modern phenomenon – a micro-négociant that focuses on high quality wines. It grew out of the Domaine Les Alexandrins and is a joint venture between Nicolas Jaboulet, formerly of the eponymous winery in Tain and now the head of Maison Nicolas Perrin, winemaker Guillaume Sorrel and viticulturalist Alexandre Caso. The aim is to give Nicolas Perrin a presence in the Northern Rhône and they aim to buy really good parcels of fruit from top growers across the area and to craft expressive wines from them. Eventually they will have a permanent base as they are building a new winery in Tain-l’Hermitage.

Wine Map of France, the Northern Rhône is just south of Lyon – click for a larger view.

This is the bottom rung of the wines they make, but don’t let that bother you. It comes from a great vintage and the quality shows, but so does the skill of the winemaker.

The fruit comes from younger vines across the Northern Rhône and although the label calls it a Syrah, there is actually 8% Viognier in there too, co-fermented with the Syrah. There was a cold soak to extract flavour before the fermentation which was in stainless steel. Half was then aged in tank for 6 months and the other half was aged in barrel, but from the taste of it I would say very little new wood at all.

Everything about this wine is bright and fresh. The colour is a vivid cerise – like a sorbet. The nose gives bright cherry and blackberry with lightly creamy notes, some spice and a little touch of freshly turned earth.

The palate just delivers pure pleasure. It is fresh, fleshy and juicy and cram packed with bright cherry, cranberry and plum fruit together with bright, refreshing acidity and just enough soft tannins for interest. It is beautifully balanced, perfectly judged, delicious and dangerously hedonistic. All in all it is a fine bottle of really well crafted happy juice.

This is a lithe, fresh and punchy red that will go with almost anything and is a very attractive wine to drink on its own too. Personally I think its charms are mainly upfront in the fruit, but it might be interesting to see what it’s like in five years or so as underneath all that pleasure I am sure there is a more serious wine trying to get. This is so delicious, so drinkable and made me so happy that I will award it 90/100 points – it earned extra points for severing extreme pleasure.

Available in the UK for around £13 per bottle from South Downs Cellars. More stockist information is available from Liberty Wines the UK importers.

Frankly the only mystery about this wine is why it does not have more stockists. Sealed with a screw cap it would make a perfect restaurant wine too.

Classic Wines at GREAT Value Prices

A couple of times over the years I have mentioned Aldi in these pages because I really like their Toro Loco Tempranillo red and Toro Loco Bobal Rosado / Rosé from the Spain’s Utiel-Requena wine region. They are extremely good quality wines, deliver loads of pleasure and will disappoint no one at the £3.69 asking price.

Well, Aldi seem to have noticed as they recently sent me a few of their other bottles for me to try:

Gavi2012 Gavi ‘The Exquisite Collection’
D.O.C.g. Gavi, Piemonte, Italy
Made by Fratelli Martini Secondo Luigi / Casa Sant Orsola

I like Gavi and think it is one of the best of Italy’s traditional dry white wines from indigenous grapes – of course recently I have discovered the wonderful whites of Etna and Campania. This had the little bit of weight, almost creaminess like a Mâcon, that I associate with good Gavi and a slightly nutty character, fresh acidity and was just a tad richer than crisp making it very attractive and enjoyable.
Extraordinaryly good wine for £4.99.

The beautiful rolling hills of Piedmont - photo courtesy of Made by

The beautiful rolling hills of Piemonte – photo courtesy of Fratelli Martini Secondo Luigi.

Albarino2011 Albariño Rías Baixas ‘The Exquisite Collection’
D.O. Rías Baixas, Galicia, Spain
Made by Bodegas Martin Codax

Another stunning value bottle of wine made by one of the top producers of the region. This is not the finest Albariño I have ever tasted – it lacks a little acidity, minerality and poise for me – but only a little and it is a lovely and enjoyable dry white wine. It is concentrated and tasty with some succulent fruit and some freshness from the acidity. An excellent aromatic, floral and peachy dry white wine  and a good Albariño for beginners. And the price is just £5.99!

Macon2012 Mâcon-Villages
A.C. Mâcon-Villages, France
Henri de Lorgère

I like Mâcon wines and think they can be really very attractive indeed, provide value and sometimes really great quality too. Well, this is a nice wine, it is very classic and European – not a fruit bomb – there are discrete apple and pear notes, nice acidity and flinty minerality even. This is very much on the light end of the Mâcon spectrum, but it isn’t dilute, it is fresh, very dry – verging on crisp –  and just medium-bodied, so refreshing and gently rounded too, but clearly unoaked. It is nice and great value, but the Gavi is better – £4.99.

Rosé(2012) Côtes de Provence Rosé ‘The Exquisite Collection’
A.C. Côtes de Provence, France

I don’t often choose to drink a Provence rosé – I don’t really know why, I just never think of it, so did not know what to expect from this Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah blend. It looked attractive having deeper colour than I often associate with Provence and was in the classic curvaceous bottle. Incidentally I have been informed that this was from the 2012 vintage, but I searched the bottle in vain for that information. This is a very drinkable rosé – judging by how fast the bottle emptied – very fresh and lively with good acidity and a core of juicy  red currant, cranberry and strawberry fruit. A great deal of pleasure for just £5.99.

Pinot(2011) Pinot Noir
Vignobles Roussellet, Vin de France

To be honest I put off trying this. Cheap / inexpensive Pinot always makes me wary and Vin de France is roughly what used to be called Vin de Table, so it theoretically pretty basic stuff, but I tried it in the end. Again you will scour the label in vain for the vintage, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is the wine and this is quite remarkably good, soft, juicy and fruity. It has the soft tannins and bright fruit of a nice Beaujolais, but some Pinot-like earthy fruit quality too. It is not a great Pinot by any means, but it is a very good Pinot for the price and a nice drop of easy drinking, soft red wine. Amazing value and very versatile, with food, without food, room temperature, chilled, even mixed with lemonade and all for £4.49.

ChampagneN.V. Champagne Veuve Monsigny Brut No: 3
Champagne, France
Made by Champagne Philizot & Fils

I was half looking forward to this and half dreading it. Somedays I thought it was going to be ok and others undrinkable. Well it was better than both those thoughts. This is genuinely a nice bottle of Champagne, fresh, lively and very appley with a soft mousse and palate. Frankly for the £12.99 price tag it is stunning!

The only odd thing about really is the back label, where it claims; ‘Ageing in cellars 5 years more than the legal minimum has enhanced its complexity.’ Really, this spent 75 months on the lees – the legal minimum is 15 months for Champagne – it doesn’t taste like it, which is a good thing I think in this instance and it would cost an enormous amount to do that!

The vineyards of Champagne.

The vineyards of Champagne.

I haven’t given these wines any points as that would be, er well… pointless actually. All of them are just right, absolutely what you want, extremely well made and very good value for anything like the price. So, if you want nice wines and no surprises – except for the low price tag – then it seems to me that Aldi can offer much more pleasure at their normal on the shelf prices than most of their competitors do with their special offers.

Aldi didn’t only send me wine by the way, there was also a bottle of Oliver Cromwell London Dry Gin in the box and as I type this I am enjoying a rather good Gin and tonic made with it. As a republican – American readers note the small ‘R’ – and admirer of Cromwell, given the times he lived in, I could not resist trying it and I am glad that I did because it really is pretty good, nicely perfumed and aromatic with a good depth of flavour and at just £9.65 per bottle it is a steal for a properly made gin – where the botanicals have been redistilled in a pot-still with the base alcohol.

You can find your nearest UK Aldi branch here.