Round Italy in 10 Wines

How do you choose just 10 wines to represent Italy – a country that produces almost ⅕ of the world’s wine each year? That was the problem facing Graeme Ewins of Great Western Wine who hosted a recent meeting of the Bristol Tasting Circle. His solution? Avoid the obvious like Chianti and Barolo and focus on producers who are creating something interesting and distinctive.

That is certainly true of Roberto Anselmi from the Veneto region.

20200210_193121His deliciously rich, medium-sweet I Capitelli (£25 per half bottle) was a bold start to the tasting with its intense flavours of orange, peach and honey from the often bland Garganega grape (think Soave).

Next came Lambrusco, that (justifiably) much-maligned lightly sparkling red.

20200210_194005But Sassomoro (£14.95) is quite different with its refreshing bitter cherry and blackberry fruit, this would perfectly cut through any fattiness in a plate of dried or cured meats, which just happen to be a speciality of the region of its production.

My favourite wine of the evening was Antonio Caggiano’s Bechar,

20200210_200337a lovely crisp, fresh, slightly smoky Fiano di Avellino (£18.95) from the hills inland of Naples. Good to drink on its own but even better as a food wine – a creamy risotto springs easily to mind.

Among the reds was an incredible bargain:

20200210_202526Palladino’s Biferno Riserva from the east coast (£9.50) is a blend of Montepulciano and Aglianico giving a wonderfully quaffable wine full of smooth, jammy black fruits. Not greatly complex but oh so drinkable.

Rather more serious was the final red, Varvaglione’s Primitivo di Manduria (£22.50).

20200210_205217A big mouth-filling wine in every way (14.5% alcohol) but with the blackberry fruit and spicy, smoky oak all in complete harmony. A wine for full-flavoured robust winter dishes – a game casserole, perhaps?

So ended a fascinating trip round the wines of a country full of delicious surprises. Special thanks go to our guide, Graeme, for pointing us towards bottles that, before this evening, many of us would have ignored.

Midsummer Madness!

AldwickA guided tour of a local vineyard followed by a wine tasting and a light supper. What better way to spend an evening in June? My wife and I quickly signed up for the Bristol Tasting Circle’s summer outing: a visit to Aldwick Estate vineyard, a few miles south of Bristol. We were looking forward to it but, as ever in Britain, the weather can spoil the best laid plans. And, on this particular evening in June, it was as far from summer as you could imagine: cool and with rain lashing down – more like November.

But, the trip went ahead and, after a welcoming glass of Aldwick’s Jubilate fizz, most of the group were happy to ignore the rain and go to see the vines – my wife was more sensible and stayed behind! So, along with Sandy Luck, the owner, we donned our wellies and waterproofs and stoically walked round the vineyard hearing about the varieties planted, the different methods of vine pruning used and the threat to the fruit from badgers.

Back in the warm and dry, we tasted 3 of the estate’s wines.   Bacchus is becoming quite a common variety in English vineyards and ripens well in our relatively cool climate. Aldwick’s example was delightfully fresh and showed all the aromatic, elderflower character that is so much of Bacchus’ attraction. Next up was Mary’s Rosé, named after the owner’s mother and already a medal winner from the International Wine Challenge. The blend of the rare Solaris grape, together with Pinot Noir and Regent produced a delicate but flavoursome strawberry-fruited dry wine that I sense would be quite food-friendly. And finally, just to prove how far English wines have developed, we were served the estate’s attractive, peppery red made entirely from their Regent vines.

With delicious charcuterie and cheese boards to follow, you could almost forget the weather – until, of course, the time came to leave for home!

Wine Going Green

For some time now, parts of the wine industry have gained a reputation for not paying sufficient attention to environmental concerns. Overuse of pesticides in the vineyard, long road journeys between grower and customer and – my own personal hate – unnecessarily heavy bottles are just a few of the accusations that have been made. And, sadly, for a significant number of producers, the verdict must be Guilty.

Not all, of course. An increasing number of growers are turning to organic – even biodynamic – practices and I know of several who are using horses rather than tractors to work their land.

But one UK importer has taken the carbon-neutral agenda to a whole new level. Xisto Wines are not only using sailing ships to bring their wines over from Portugal but the vans they use for distribution within the UK are run on Bio-fuel made from used oil collected from the restaurants they supply!

So, it was fascinating to hear Anton Mann from the company at a Bristol Tasting Circle evening recently – and his selection of Portuguese wines were certainly worth tasting.

BTC Xisto 2Among my favourites was the Quinta de Gomariz Alvarinho (£16), a delicious crisp white with a lovely lemon-peel nose. Quite floral and citrusy on the palate and richer in body than many Vinho Verdes, this has excellent length and is really good value at the price.

BTC Xisto 1My choice of the reds was Lagar de Darei’s Sem Abrigo Tinto from the Dão region (£16). Made from a blend of native Portuguese grapes including Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (the same variety as Spain’s Tempranillo), this has attractive raspberry fruit on the nose and spicy, jammy blackberries and smoky hints on the palate.

If you want to be part of the move towards greener wine, these and other wines from Xisto are available, either direct from the supplier or from local independent wine merchants Clifton Cellars and Grape and Grind.

 

A Turkish Delight!

Turkish tastingIf history had turned out differently, Turkey might, by now, have been one of the great wine producing countries of the world.  Some of the oldest known relics of winemaking have been found near its border – in Georgia and Armenia – and, with the moderating influence of both the Mediterranean and Black Seas, a number of areas of the country have an ideal climate for grape growing.  Indeed, Turkey has the 5th largest vineyard area of any country in the world.  Unfortunately for wine lovers, its cultural and religious heritage means that most of its grapes are harvested to sell for eating or as raisins or sultanas; only 3% of the crop is made into wine – and barely 1 bottle in 10 of that is exported – a shame as many critics have noted that Turkey has some really interesting native grape varieties.

I was able to find out for myself recently as the Bristol Tasting Circle organised an evening dedicated to Turkish wines.  And, sure enough, alongside the familiar names – Cabernet, Syrah and Sauvignon – were wines made from Emir, Narince, Kalecik Karasi, Çalkarasi and Ökügözü.

The first 2 named, both local white varieties, were blended to produce one of my favourite wines of the night: Cankaya, an attractive, soft, peachy white made by one of Turkey’s largest producers, Kavaklidere (£8.99, available, as are the other wines mentioned in this blog, from www.tasteturkey.com).

Of the reds, Kayra Alpagut’s Ökügözü (£19.99) had the sort of tangy, herby flavours that reminded some at the table of a nice Loire Cabernet Franc but I preferred the mellowness of Vinkara’s subtle, red-fruit flavoured Kalecik Karasi Reserve (£18.45, although the Wine Society have the same producer’s non Reserve bottling of the same grape at £9.95.  Is the Reserve worth nearly twice the price?  I tried the other some time ago and, for me, the cheaper wine is the better buy).

Turkey is clearly producing some interesting, attractive wines but, because amounts exported are small, they will never be cheap and may be hard to find.  But, if you’re looking for something a little different, why not try a bottle – it may prove to be a Turkish Delight!

 

 

 

Carmenère – the Clear Winner!

2017-11-13 18.25.40In the minds of many who enjoy a glass of wine, Chile is the place to look for something fresh, fruity, easy-drinking and not too expensive – the sort of wines the Australians used to call ‘sunshine in a glass’.  But that’s only part of the story: Chile is full of ambitious young winemakers eager to break away from the ‘cheap and cheerful’  tag and experiment with something more interesting that will appeal to those prepared to pay a little more. 

Typical of this trend is the Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon I blogged about earlier this year but, for a much wider selection, I joined  a tasting organised by the Bristol Tasting Circle recently and supported by ‘Wines of Chile’.  Committee member and wine educator, Tim Johnson’s choice included wines from all the main international grape varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Pinot Noir.  A particularly nice example of the latter (Falernia’s Reserva from the Elqui Valley, £14.95 from Great Western Wine) got my top mark of the evening.  

Among the less well-known was Huaso de Sauzal’s País (also Great Western Wine, £22.95).  País was brought to South America by the Spanish in the 16th century and, after decades, even centuries, of neglect, has recently attracted the attention of a number of winemakers who are coaxing lovely red and black fruit flavours out of this formerly unloved variety.

These days, no tasting of Chilean wines could be complete with examples of Chile’s ‘own’ grape, Carmenère.  Once thought to be Merlot, it has been embraced enthusiastically since the error was discovered in the closing years of last century and, appropriately, provided the overall joint winners of the evening from Santa Ema (Tanners, £12.80) and Los Vascos’ Grande Reserve (Slurp, £13.95).

So, sunshine in a glass?  Yes!  But a whole lot more, too!

If you would like to join the Bristol Tasting Circle and enjoy tastings like this, please leave your details in the comment box below and I will pass them onto the membership secretary.

 

Lebanon’s Bristol Connection

lebanon-btcLebanon isn’t one of the world’s largest wine producing countries nor, for many consumers, one of the best-known, but it’s certainly one of the oldest with a history going back to ancient times.  During the Middle Ages, Lebanese wines were highly regarded and widely traded but, once the region was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, winemaking was restricted to that needed for religious purposes only.

Thanks to the Jesuits, things improved during the latter half of the 19th century and wine was again exported.  But it wasn’t until an event in Bristol – yes! Bristol – that Lebanese wine really hit the headlines internationally. 

The date was 1979 and, at Bristol’s Wine Fair that year, Serge Hochar took a stand to promote his wine, Chateau Musar.  At the time, no-one in England had heard of Musar, but influential writer Michael Broadbent tasted it and declared it the ‘discovery of the Fair’.  That opened the gates for Lebanese wine and they have been open ever since.

So, when the Bristol Tasting Circle announced that writer Michael Karam, surely one of Lebanon’s best wine ambassadors, was to host a tasting, I knew it was not to be missed.  And, just to prove that Lebanon is so much more than just Musar, he brought along wines from 6 other estates.

The whites were more aromatic than might be expected from the warm latitude in which they are grown but the Bekaa Valley stands at an altitude of over 1000m (3000ft) which clearly has a cooling effect.  Blends mainly involved well-known grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Viognier and Muscat, although local speciality Obeideh added spice and a certain exotic character where it was used.

The reds were generally based around southern French varieties – Syrah, Cinsault and Grenache – plus Cabernet Sauvignon and, while mainly quite chewy and robust in style, all showed good depth of fruit and an attractive lightness of touch.

It was difficult to pick a favourite from so many delicious wines but, perhaps Ksara’s Reserve du Couvent Red just edged it for me.  But, in truth, the real winner on the night was Michael Karam, himself, whose justifiable passion for his country and its wines shone through for all to see.

A Dream Comes True

I guess that many Bristol Wine Blog readers have lists of ‘dream’ wines – bottles that they’d love to taste at least once in their lives.  Sadly, by their very nature, ‘dream’ bottles are often either fantastically expensive or incredibly rare – frequently both.  So dreams remain dreams.

But, just once in a while, an opportunity comes along and a dream becomes reality.  And that’s what happened for me recently thanks to a tasting organised jointly by the Bristol Tasting Circle and the West of England Wine and Spirit Association.  Our speaker was Christian Seely, Managing Director of AXA Millésimes, who brought along a selection of wines and ports from their multiple award-winning estate, Quinta do Noval, including one of my dream wines, Nacional Vintage Port.

noval-ports

What’s so special about Nacional?  It’s produced from a single, wonderfully sited vineyard of just 2 hectares (4½ acres) where all the vines still remain on their own rootstocks (so, not grafted onto American rootstocks, as most vines are, to guard against the deadly phylloxera bug).  Output of Nacional Port is tiny – just 3100 bottles of the 2003 vintage – the one we tasted – were produced and demand always exceeds supply many times over.

Did it live up to my dreams?  You bet it did!  Although still young (good ports can easily last 50 years), it showed marvellous concentration of fruit – damsons, plums, cloves and just so much more.  Truly, a once in a lifetime treat!

And though my attention was, understandably, on the Nacional, it wasn’t the only superb bottle on show: we also tasted the regular 2003 Vintage Port (from other Noval vineyards) and a tawny from the same year; either would have been the star of most tastings, as would Noval’s Douro red wine: unfortified and made from the same grape varieties as the ports, this would be a perfect match with robust food.  But the Nacional was just in a different league.

And just a mention for Bristol readers: the Douro will be one of the subjects of ‘Wine Rivers of Europe’, a 5 week course (Wednesday evenings) at Stoke Lodge starting in November during which we will be talking about (and tasting, of course) a selection of wines reflecting the title.  For more details: http://www.bristolcourses.com