I’ve mentioned before in Bristol Wine Blog how much Spain has improved the quality and diversity of its wine over the last couple of decades. Yet, I regularly meet wine lovers who, with the likely exception of Rioja, have still not caught up with the change and continue to think of Spain as just producing simple, mass market wines.
And, I’m guessing the one region of Spain that, they believe, this comment most applies to is the hills in the south-east of the country overlooking the Mediterranean. It’s an area that, in the past, was the source of much cheap ‘plonk’ sold to undemanding tourists holidaying along the beaches of the Costas and, no doubt, these bottles still exist. But, look a little more carefully and there are some delicious wines – mainly reds – produced from old vineyards of Garnacha (also known as Grenache), Monastrell (Mourvedre) and the very local Bobal. DO names (Spain’s equivalent to France’s AC) including Jumilla, Yecla and Utiel Requena are among those to seek out.
Unde Vinum (Waitrose, £13.99), a Bobal from the last named DO is a typical example of all that’s best from this area. Soft and harmonious and full of attractive black fruit flavours, there was also a lovely freshness about the wine reflecting, perhaps, the fact that the grapes were from vineyards some 800m (2500ft) above sea level; the altitude nicely offsetting the extreme summer heat often found in this area.
Interestingly, the wine was aged in a mixture of barrels and tinajas (clay pots – see below on the right of the cellar).
I saw these pots in use in Burgundy a couple of years ago where they were thought to age the wine more gently and preserve the fruit flavours. They’re certainly not a cheap option and their use in Unde Vinum shows the sort of wine the producers of this wine, and others in this still unloved part of Spain, are aiming for.
Talk about wine to anyone in France and, before long, you will hear the word ‘terroir’. The local climate, soil, slope of the land and grape variety or varieties planted all contribute to the terroir and some include local traditions and winemaking in the mix, too. In that broader sense, terroir is what makes one wine different from another.
Given that, it’s surprising that you rarely hear the word used by growers outside France. They’re aware of it, of course – anyone who has ever tried to grow anything, either professionally or for fun, knows that certain plants grow in certain places and not in others – they just don’t seem to use the word.
So, I was interested when, a few years back, the Chilean producer Undurraga introduced a range of wines under the ‘Terroir Hunter’ name. Was this simply a bit of marketing or was there something behind the name? The first example I tried – a Grenache blend, I think – showed clearly that these were quality wines and I’ve looked out for them ever since.
The latest is a blend of 85% Cabernet Franc with 15% Merlot (Wine Society, £14.95) from the Catemito vineyard described on the back label as being on shallow, sandy clay soil on an alluvial terrace overlooking the Maipo River. The terroir concept continues by noting that the local climate is temperate with cool breezes encouraging the slow ripening of the grapes.
And the taste? A lovely herby, green pepper nose greets you (my wife thought ‘spearmint’) followed on the palate with rich, dark blackberry and chocolate flavours. There are still some well-integrated tannins there even though the wine is already more than 5 years old and a super, long, dry finish. One slight reservation: the 14% alcohol shows through a bit making the wine a little ‘hot’ but, with the right food – red meat, game, mushrooms, aubergines or tasty hard cheeses all spring to mind – and decanting in advance to clear the sediment, this is a real winner and a credit to the use of the term ‘terroir’.
I’ve also praised Pieropan’s range of Soaves previously but this was the first time I’d tasted their single vineyard, Calvarino, bottling (Wine Society, £18). Less full-bodied than their superb ‘La Rocca’, this is still light years away from any standard Soave. Quite restrained but with an attractive herbiness and, again, a seriously long finish.
A new name to me is the New Zealand producer, Paddy Borthwick. His Pinot Gris (Grape and Grind, £14.50) is just off-dry and with attractive tropical fruit flavours; definitely a grower to look out for.
And finally, for lovers of reds, a stand-out Beaujolais: not in the light and quaffable style but much deeper and more intense. Louis Boillot’s Moulin-a-Vent (Wine Society, £15.50) could easily be mistaken for a good village Burgundy – quite savoury and with earthy black fruit flavours; very much a food wine and one to be savoured.
So, in welcoming the New Year, I’d like to think that wine and sharing might help the world become a calmer and more tolerant place in 2019 than it seems to have been of late.