Monthly Archives: January 2017

Down Mexico Way!

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There has been so much in the papers recently about Mexico that, when I noticed a bottle of their wine on Marks & Spencer’s shelves, I decided to try it – especially as it had one of the most eye-catching labels I have seen for a long time featuring a stylised bird dating back to Aztec times.

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Mexico has been making wine for almost 500 years since the days of the earliest Spanish settlers, yet domestic consumption has always been patchy and so the wine industry has never really thrived there. This is a shame as much of the country has an ideal climate, similar to that found in parts of the Mediterranean.  Baja California, the long peninsula off America’s west coast that reaches out into the Pacific, is particularly well-suited.  Here, the cold currents and coastal fogs that make California’s Napa Valley such a premium wine region are also at work, moderating an area that would otherwise be far too hot to grow grapes for quality wine. 

The bottle I bought, Quetzal’s Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc blend (£6.75) comes from the northern part of this coastal strip – the Guadalupe Valley.  It’s a clean, fresh, quite aromatic white, ideal on its own as an aperitif or with seafood – the label suggests seared scallops and I wouldn’t disagree.  The wine has plenty of attractive tropical fruit flavours and the13% alcohol gives it some richness and body.  All in all, quite a bargain at less than £7 and a good example of the unusual and interesting bottles that are now regularly appearing on Marks & Spencer’s wine shelves.

I’m sorry that, if the much talked about wall gets built, my American readers may not be able to buy this, or, indeed, any other Mexican wine; on the evidence of this bottle, your loss is our gain!

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Educating a Wine

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There are many ways a label can tell customers that the wine in the bottle has been influenced by oak: the mention of barrel, barrique or cask, the French élevé en chêne (raised in oak) or simply the word oaked or some similar reference.   It can also be implied by the use of spicy or smoky, although neither of those is definitive.  But some words I saw on a red Bordeaux label recently gave a whole new meaning to oak ageing and its purpose: rather than using ‘élevé’, this producer said that his wine was ‘éduqué en fûts de chêne’ (literally, educated or brought up in oak barrels).

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By doing this, he is comparing the ageing of his wine to the bringing up of his children.  Is that a reasonable comparison?  I’d say yes.  I often tell groups that wine is a living thing; good wines, especially, go through a distinct youthful stage, followed sometimes by difficult teenage years, then a comfortable middle age, when the wine is at its peak, before reaching old age and, if you keep it too long, extreme old age.

So, the upbringing analogy is a good one.  The producer has taken his newly made wine, full of bright young fruit and probably quite firm tannins, and put it into oak barrels.  What happens in those barrels is interesting: oak is slightly porous – not porous enough for the wine to leak out, but porous enough for tiny amounts of air to get in.  The air reacts with the wine, softening the tannins and making the wine more rounded and harmonious.  In addition, if the barrels are new (or reasonably new), they might also impart an oaky or smoky flavour to the wine, changing it further.

In this way, the raw young wine is transformed into a rounded, characterful bottle ready to take its place at table.  Just like turning a brash infant into a mature adult.  So, a wine, like a person can, indeed, be ‘éduqué’.

 

Not just Soave: Classico

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The Italian white wine, Soave, hasn’t got the best of reputations: thin, acidic, cheap and nasty would be common descriptions – and, for some examples I have tasted, I would say that description is entirely justified.  So, why would I choose to open a bottle to accompany a starter of pan-fried scallops in ginger and garlic on a special occasion recently?  The answer: the majority of Soave you see on supermarket shelves is in no way typical of the flavours and quality of true Soave.

To find the good – I might even say great – bottles of Soave, firstly, you need to look for the word ‘Classico’ on the label.  Let me explain.

Like many of Italy’s famous name wines, Soave has suffered from its fame.  Many years ago, producers outside the area originally designated as Soave started to use the name illegally.  Sadly, the authorities did nothing to stop them and the practice spread until, eventually, Soave had expanded to 3 or 4 times its original area onto flat land completely unsuited to producing quality wine.

Eventually, the producers in the original area decided they had had enough and protested.  Yet, with a true Italian compromise, the authorities simply confirmed the use of the name Soave in the wider area.  The one concession – and a very important one – was that those producers in the hills that formed the original area were allowed to add the word ‘Classico’ on their labels.  Which makes that word key to finding the best Soaves.  The same word is important for finding quality in a number of other Italian famous names – Chianti, perhaps, the best known of all.

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But, back to Soave, and, for me, some of the best of the Classicos come from the producer, Pieropan.  Their top bottling is La Rocca (around £20 but worth it) with wonderful – almost white Burgundy – richness.  But, even their entry level wine, simply labelled Soave Classico (Avery’s £13.99), is a real treat and it was this that we opened – and loved – on our special occasion.

Yes, you pay rather more for a good Soave but isn’t life too short to drink ordinary wine?