A New Grape

Stirbey (2)

It’s not often that I can say I’ve tasted a wine from a grape variety that’s completely new to me, but I did so recently. The grape was Novac and the wine came from the Romanian producer Prince Stirbey (Wine Society, £13.95). A little research showed Novac to be a cross between another Romanian variety, Negru (which I had also never met before), with the rather more common Saperavi, widely found in vineyards in Russia, Georgia, Moldova and Bulgaria. To add to its mystery, it seems that Prince Stirbey own the only vineyards planted to Novac in the world.

This is a shame because the example I tasted had lovely fresh, juicy red fruit flavours and an attractive smoothness. Not too heavy – in fact, it’s one of those rare reds that could quite happily be chilled for a brief while to make a really refreshing summer glass.

Romania may not be the first place you think of for quality wines, but much of the country has a favourable Mediterranean climate and vine growing in the region dates back more than 4000 years. Indeed, the family of Prince Stirbey first owned vineyards in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps near Dragasani around 3 centuries ago. The present generation reclaimed the historic family property in 1999 and have since worked hard to restore its former high reputation, installing modern equipment but concentrating on traditional local grape varieties. Apart from Novac, the delicious, fragrant, but almost unpronounceable white variety, Tamâioasa Româneasca is certainly worth looking out for and is also available from the Wine Society (£10.50).

Romania and Prince Stirbey are both names to remember, especially if you are looking to find new grapes and new and exciting flavours.

Wine with Goat

We noticed some goat meat on sale in our local butcher’s recently. It’s something you rarely see in the UK, but we’ve enjoyed it in restaurants while we’ve been on holiday, particularly in Spain and Portugal, where Cabrito Asado – roasted young goat – is a familiar sight on menus.

So, we decided to buy some and cook it for ourselves. A quick scan of the internet revealed quite a choice of recipes but the one that most caught our eye involved braising our goat chops with fennel, spices and the juice of an orange. An interesting mix of flavours there, so a bit of a challenge to find a wine to match it. Red, of course, but which one? Thinking back to our travels, I would certainly have ordered a wine local to wherever we were – possibly a Rioja or a Mencia-based bottle in Spain and a Douro or Dão in Portugal. And all of those would work well with plain roasted meat. But here, I was tempted to look for something more characterful to match with the aniseed flavour of the fennel, the spices and the sweetness of the fruit juice. I settled on Luigi Einaudi’s Dogliani from Piedmont in north-west Italy (Wine Society, £11.50).

Dogliani (2)

Made with the local Dolcetto grape, this has the delicious richness I was looking for but is also quite soft and harmonious. Lovely black fruits come through with a hint of garrigue herbs and a long, dry, slightly earthy finish. Einaudi is one of the most famous and historic producers of the region, once owned by a former Italian president who helped establish the reputation of the Dogliani DOC – one that is certainly upheld by this really attractive and good value red. It worked perfectly with the goat, but, if goat’s as scarce with you as here, it would be great with some lamb, too.

Terroir in Chile?

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.

terroir cab fThe 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’.

 

An Elegant Aussie Shiraz

‘When you find a wine you like, keep buying it’ sounds like good advice.  But things aren’t always as simple as that.  Weather variations might mean that next year’s bottle will taste very different to this year’s.  Also, winemakers move on and their replacement may have other ideas and, over time, styles and fashions change.  And, of course, so might your own taste as you sample more widely.  As a result, the wine you loved a few years ago may not be the wine you want to buy now.

But there’s another reason for abandoning an old favourite:

Langi Ghiran Shiraz

I first tasted Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz more than 20 years ago and loved it instantly.  Although a big, concentrated wine, it was far more elegant than any other Australian Shiraz I had ever tasted.  And, for a good reason: rather than coming from the Barossa or one of the other warm regions noted for the grape, this was from the much cooler, high altitude Grampians region of Western Victoria.  The lower temperatures meant that the grapes ripened slowly, picking up more flavours than would otherwise have been the case, and could be picked at lower potential alcohol levels, resulting in the style I was so taken with.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only person who found Langi Ghiran attractive and, over the years, the price has consequently gone through the roof.  A bottle that could once be (almost) every day drinking is now £50 plus – a figure I only stretch to for very, very special occasions.  But, thanks to the Wine Society, I can still enjoy a Shiraz made by Langi Ghiran: the Society’s Exhibition Victoria Shiraz (the 2014 vintage is currently available for £16) is made by the same producer and, whether it is made from younger vines or bought-in grapes, I don’t know.  But it does give much of the taste and style of the estate wine – at an affordable price.

We recently opened a bottle of the 2012 vintage that had been sitting on a rack under our stairs for a number of years and it was quite delicious with some venison steaks marinaded in sugar and orange juice and with a gin and juniper berry sauce.  It was, however, only just ready to drink (after several hours decanting) so, if you buy the 2014, as I will, do leave it for a couple of years at least before you enjoy an outstanding wine and a real bargain.