Rioja to Galicia

Anyone who enjoys a glass of Rioja will surely be familiar with the producer generally known as ‘Cune’.  Their wines are reliable, good value for money and readily available in most supermarkets and many wine merchants.  But, although the wines are sold under the name Cune, the company behind them is actually CVNE (or Companiá Vinícola del Norte de España to give it its full name).

Whatever we call them, their wines aren’t limited to Rioja; they have vineyards and wineries in several regions across the north of Spain (as you might guess from their name).  They produce Cava, reds in Ribera del Duero and one of their newest projects is in Galicia in the far north-west of the country.  I’m a big fan of Galician wines and this is a region that is now becoming rightly fashionable as the source of crisp, fragrant whites from indigenous local varieties such as Albariño and Godello grown on cool, Atlantic-influenced slopes.

But CVNE’s Galician involvement is based further inland, in the more continental climate of Valdeorras, where, apart from a delicious Godello, they also produce an attractive red from the local Mencía grape.

I opened a bottle of the latter recently, sold under the brand name Maruxa with its striking label (Majestic, a bargain at £10.99). 

A red that would appeal to lovers of New World Pinot Noir, this is delightfully floral on the nose and full of lovely, upfront bitter cherry fruit.  Quite food-friendly – we paired it with some pan-fried duck breasts and it worked really well – but this is a wine that opens up and develops in the glass over time so is well worth decanting.

So far, the Valdeorras region and the Mencía grape variety are less well-known than Galicia’s whites but, on the evidence of this bottle and others I have tasted previously, wine lovers looking to explore new ground and different flavours should certainly be seeking out these flavoursome local reds.

A Versatile Red

I was chatting to a friend about Italian wines when my wife called over to me ‘don’t forget to mention those lovely Sardinian whites’.  I agreed and duly passed on the recommendation for the island’s very drinkable and often good value Vermentino-based wines.

I must have still had Sardinia on my mind when I was choosing a wine to drink with dinner that night as I picked Isola’s Cannonau di Sardegna (Novel Wines, £13.99) out of our wine rack. 

For those not familiar with the name ‘Cannonau’, it’s the islanders’ name for the grape more commonly known as Grenache – part of the blend in Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf du Pape or the ‘G’ in Australia’s GSMs.  (It’s also called Garnacha in Rioja and generally in the Spanish-speaking world).

Whatever you call it, this one was a delicious, silky smooth unoaked medium-bodied red full of attractive black fruit flavours.  I tasted damsons and plums together with some peppery spice and even hints of chocolate (which may have been a nudge to what was to follow).  The finish was medium length and the tannins very soft and restrained.  It worked really well with a game casserole made from a mixture of pheasant, partridge, venison and who knows what else from our local butcher.

But the wine had a surprise for me.  As I often do, I left a little in my glass after dinner to sip throughout the evening.  When it came to coffee time, my wife and I split a bar of bitter chocolate and I tried the wine again.  I found the chocolate bringing out some lovely cherry fruit in the wine that I hadn’t noticed earlier.  I know some reds do go well with dark chocolate (Argentinian Malbecs, for example) but I wasn’t expecting this pairing to be so successful.

Which just proves that food and wine matching is far from an exact science; some of the most unlikely combinations can sometimes deliver the most pleasant of surprises.

Not So Traditional

When I see a wine with the word ‘Tradition’ in its name, I get an immediate sense of the taste I expect when I open the bottle.  And that’s particularly true when the label is as classic and restrained as that pictured above.  Depending on where the wine is from, I’m thinking of an old-fashioned style of claret or Burgundy or, perhaps, a Rhône. 

Domaine Richeaume’s Tradition (Wine Society, £16.50) is none of those.  It comes from Provence, in the south of France, North-East of Marseille, an area best known for rosés and simple, everyday drinking reds.  But it’s neither of those either!  In fact, it’s so far from the traditions of the area that it can’t claim any of the local ‘Appellation Contrôlée’ designations, being sold, simply, as an IGP Méditerranée (part of the category formerly known as ‘Vin de Pays d’Oc’).

But it’s far from a simple wine; it’s a delicious, full-bodied (14% alcohol), rich, spicy red packed with lots of juicy black berry and attractive dried fruit flavours, hints of leather and a long savoury finish.  A lovely food-friendly wine just crying out for a good rare steak.

So, why do the producers call it ‘Tradition’ when, as I’ve suggested, it’s nothing of the sort?  My guess is that they’re trying to get over the fact that everything is done carefully by hand, the grapes are harvested at very low yields to maintain intensity of flavour and quality and that the Estate is fully organic (which all vineyards would once have been before the introduction of artificial fertilisers).

On the other hand, they’ve ignored 2 of the most important traditional local grape varieties – Carignan and Cinsault – and the only ‘native’ grape that appears in the blend is Grenache (and that comprises only 15%). Instead, we have Syrah as the key component (widely planted in the south of France now but originally from the Northern Rhône) mixed with more recent arrivals from Bordeaux in Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the definitely untraditional (to this area) Tempranillo – a grape from over the border in Spain’s Rioja region. 

Clearly, I didn’t get the wine I was expecting from a quick look at the label, but I did get something delicious and at a ‘buy again’ price.

Nelson: Small but Diverse

My wife and I loved New Zealand wines even before we were lucky enough to visit there a few years ago.  Of course, we dropped in at a few vineyards as part of our sightseeing (and enjoyed plenty of tasting!).  But New Zealand is a larger country than many in the UK realise and, although we managed to get to several of the more famous wine regions, Nelson, in the far north-west corner of the South Island, is one we missed.  That is a shame because, even though it’s one of the smallest of the regions and dwarfed by Marlborough, its better-known neighbour to the east, its warm, maritime-influenced climate and poor, stony soils are ideal for vine growing.  And, despite its size, it’s home to as diverse an array of different grape varieties as you’ll find anywhere in New Zealand. 

One local company, Waimea Estates, alone, grow, at least 9 different varieties and Majestic Wines often have a selection of their bottles in stock.  I’ve particularly enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc and Gruner Veltliner in the past so, when I saw the same firm’s Albariño on the shelf recently (£10.99), it was an obvious buy.

Albariño is a white variety native to Galicia in north-west Spain and to Portugal (where it is known as Alvarinho) and it’s only in the last decade or so that it has started to be planted more widely.  That’s a trend I hope will continue. Waimea’s example is beautifully clean and fresh with lovely floral aromas, peach and melon flavours and a long, attractive finish.  Drink it as an aperitif or team it, as the Galicians and Portuguese would, with grilled sardines, but it’s more versatile than that and I’m sure it would work well with a wide range of fish dishes.

I can only remember tasting one bottle of Albariño from New Zealand previously – an equally delicious example from Stanley Estates in Marlborough – but this quality variety clearly thrives in the conditions there and I’m looking forward to it becoming a common sight in vineyards across the country.