Tag Archives: Waitrose

Spain’s Unloved Hills

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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 vinumUnde 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). 

amphorae at frederic magnienI 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.

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A Week in Bristol – Part 2

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Now that my crowded week of 4 tastings is behind me, it’s time to reflect on the final 2 events that I couldn’t fit into my Blog last time.

The first continued with the theme of Spain and Portugal with the added interest that my client asked me to choose wines from the ‘Hidden Corners’ of these 2 fascinating countries.  In fact, for many UK wine drinkers, most of Portugal and much of Spain (except, perhaps, Rioja and Cava) are ‘hidden’, so I had plenty of scope to make my selections.

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An early favourite was the Casal de Ventozela Alvarinho from northern Portugal (£9.99 – all the wines for this tasting were from Majestic).  Alvarinho is the same grape as Spain’s Albariño and this delightful, fresh white showed lovely peach and citrus flavours and a long fragrant finish.

But, it was a pair of Spanish reds that attracted the most praise – both for their quality and for their amazing bargain prices.  Pizarras de Otero (£7.49) was intensely fruity with aromas and flavours of ripe strawberries, plums and blackberries.  Made with the Mencia grape variety, local to the Bierzo district in north-west Spain, this reminded one taster of a young Pinot Noir.

The striking label on Matsu’s ‘El Picaro’ (£8.99) from Toro in the west of Spain (left-hand bottle, above) lists the grape variety as ‘Tinta de Toro’, but this is simply a local name for Spain’s best red grape, Tempranillo.  Bigger and richer than the Bierzo and with a little smokey spice and chocolate added to the black fruits, this would have been far more expensive if it had come from one of the better-known Tempranillo areas.

The last tasting of the week was another of my Saturday classes at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Adult Education Centre.  This time, my theme was ‘Anything but Chardonnay, Anything but Cabernet’.  Despite the title, we did taste 2 examples of each of these grapes to explore their diverse flavours.  But it was one of the Cabernet alternatives that was unanimously voted as best wine of the day. 

20181117_152855_resized (2)Ironically, in view of the focus of my week, it came from Spain: Baron de Ley Rioja Reserva 2014 (Waitrose, £9) was beautifully mellow and spicy from 20 months ageing in oak but still young enough to allow the soft red fruits to show through.  A real delight at a very reasonable price, and a deserved winner.

As for me, after my busy week, it’s time to relax with a nice glass of wine

A Wine Secret

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We all love a mystery, don’t we?  So, when I read that a certain wine was from a secret vineyard location, I was intrigued.   Add in some exclusivity – only 1200 bottles were made (the equivalent of just 4 Bordeaux barriques) and that the wine was intended for the producing family’s own use – and I was properly hooked!  It’s a great marketing story and, of course, it might be true (although the cynic in me is doubtful), but true or not, the ploy worked and I bought a bottle.

And, did it live up to the hype?  Absolutely it did!

QT Carmenere2De Martino’s ‘On the QT’ Carmenere (Waitrose, £19.99), from a ‘tiny plot of special vines tucked away in Chile’s Isla de Maipo’, was full of delicious black fruit flavours and the oak ageing was subtle and just right – in short, it was the best Carmenere I’ve tasted by some way.  Until now, I’d thought it was a grape variety that produced perfectly drinkable medium-bodied reds, but nothing exceptional.  After this, I’m certainly revising my opinion.

Carmenere, itself, is a bit of a mystery grape.  Widely grown in Bordeaux before the phylloxera devastation towards the end of the 19th century, it was mainly ignored when the replanting took place and is now only found in a few isolated spots there.  But, about 20 years ago, it was ‘discovered’ in Chile in some vineyards previously thought to be Merlot (the original cuttings for these vines are said to have come from Bordeaux).  As a result, Chile now has the world’s largest planting of the grape and a unique selling point to offer alongside their real Merlot.

For lovers of mysteries, Waitrose have other bottlings in their ‘On the QT’ series: a Malbec, Gruner Veltliner, Fiano, Grenache and Chardonnay from Australia and even a port.  I’ve not tried any of them yet but, if the Carmenere is typical, they are worth seeking out – if you can find them.

Austria’s ‘Groovy’ Grape

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Ask a wine lover about Argentina’s most important grape variety and the answer will, most probably, be Malbec.  The same goes for New Zealand and Sauvignon Blanc and Germany and Riesling.  Although each of these countries grows other varieties, they are all best known for one grape, which has become a ‘signature’ variety for them.  Interestingly, only 1 of these (the Riesling) is actually native to the country concerned.  But there’s another pairing of this kind that has attracted increasing interest in recent years: Austria and Grüner Veltliner.  Some find the grape name difficult to pronounce and so it sometimes gets shortened to Gru V (groovy!); it should sell well to those who remember the 1960s! 

Gru VGrüner Veltliner is planted in about a third of Austria’s vineyards, making it easily their most common variety.  Given that, it’s inevitable that some examples will be better than others but, in my experience, you rarely find a bad bottle.  At the cheaper end, it makes a simple, pleasant everyday drinking white with hints of citrus and, often, an attractive white pepper tang.  But, in the hands of a skilled producer, such as Domaine Huber (Waitrose, £10.79), Grüner Veltliner can really shine.  Lovely pear flavours and hints of peach make this very moreish and, although only 12.5% alcohol, it has the body and richness to go with a range of dishes – fish, poultry, white meat – particularly those with a light, creamy sauce.

It’s not a variety that’s exclusive to Austria – I’ve seen, but not tasted, bottles from the Czech Republic and Hungary and there’s also a lovely, herby fresh example from Yealands Estate in New Zealand’s Marlborough region (Great Western Wine, £13.95).  But, for now, you’ll most frequently see Grüner Veltliner from Austria and, from my experience, it’s a combination you can buy with confidence.

50 Years On

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What were you doing in 1964?  I guess that many who are reading this weren’t even born then.  I was at school at the time and my main interest was the Beatles, then the most famous pop band in the world.  As for wine – I doubt that I’d ever tasted any by then and I certainly knew nothing about it.  But an Italian company, Masi, did; that was the year that they launched a new wine, Campofiorin – a wine that has subsequently become an iconic name and whose 2014 vintage, currently in the shops (Waitrose, £12.99) celebrates the brand’s 50th Anniversary with a specially designed ‘50’ label.

Campofiorin 50

Although sold as a Rosso Verona IGT (IGT is the Italian equivalent of the French term ‘Vin de Pays’), Campofiorin is effectively a high quality Valpolicella in disguise.  It’s made using the traditional grapes from that DOC – Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella – the main difference here is that the grapes are slightly dried before fermentation.  This concentrates the sugars in them and so produces a wine with more body and power than a normal Valpolicella – a technique borrowed from the prestigious Amarone wines from the same region.

Here, the method gives a lovely deep coloured wine with aromas of bitter cherry, prunes and spice. The same flavours, especially the spices, carry through to quite a rich and full palate with hints of chocolate, figs and vanilla on an attractive, long finish.

With good Amarones fetching £20 and more, this really is a bargain for those who like this chunky style – I admit it’s not to everyone’s taste – and no surprise that it is still on the shelves in its 50th vintage. 

Shame about all those wasted years listening to the Beatles and drinking something else!

2 Sides of Alsace

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Alsace is a region that looks two ways.  When you visit, the architecture, the food, the local dialect and many of the place names all suggest you are in Germany, which lies just a few miles to the east across the River Rhine.  This view is supported by two of the most widely planted grape varieties there being Riesling and Gewurztraminer.  But despite times under German rule in the past, today Alsace is firmly in France – although many of the locals would probably say that they’re from Alsace first and France second. 

The climate, too, is not quite what you’d expect: lying around 48˚N (similar to Champagne and more northerly than Chablis), and with Riesling and Gewurztraminer thriving, you’d be thinking it would be decidedly cool.  Yet, thanks to the shelter of the Vosges Mountains to the west, Alsace is often one of the sunniest and driest regions in the whole of France, allowing more warmth-loving varieties such as Muscat, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir to ripen, if planted in the right spots.

And Domaine Paul Blanck has certainly found those, with vineyards ideally situated around the village of Kientzheim, just north of Colmar. 

Alsace P NoirHis Pinot Noir (Waitrose, £14.99) is especially recommended.  It’s a grape variety that can be very fussy – thin and tart if under-ripe, jammy if over-ripe – but Blanck has got it just right: quite restrained on the nose but with lovely ripe raspberry and cranberry flavours on the palate leading into a long fresh finish.  The only sign that this comes from a relatively cool site is the modest (12.5%) alcohol, but, for me, that, too is a plus giving the wine elegance and style and making it really food-friendly: duck or turkey certainly, but the lowish tannin would also point to pairing it with some robust fish dish, say a tuna steak.

Although Pinot Noir is most famously grown in Burgundy, it’s also found (as Spätburgunder) in parts of Germany and this example from Alsace is, for me, closer to that country’s style.  One more sign, perhaps, of this region looking two ways.

 

Syrah? Shiraz?

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Syrah and Shiraz: two grape names recognised by most wine lovers, but it’s surprising how many don’t know that they’re actually the same variety.  Native to France’s Northern Rhône region, the grape there is always known as Syrah while, in Australia, where it was among the first vines introduced by James Busby soon after the initial European settlers, it’s generally called Shiraz. 

The reason for the 2 names is unclear although a very early spelling of the grape seems to have been ‘Scyras’ which the French might pronounce ‘Syrah’ whereas Australians might be more likely to say Shiraz.  Believe that or not as you like, but the 2 names are probably here to stay. 

And, while, in the past, most New World growers tended to use the name Shiraz for all their wines, more recently, there has been a split: those aiming for a powerful, fruity, high alcohol wine continuing to use Shiraz, while producers looking for a more spicy, lean ‘European’ style adopting the French version of the name.  I wouldn’t rely on that division entirely but I’ve certainly tasted some bottles labelled Syrah recently that tend to support the theory. 

One is Lammershoek’s ‘The Innocent’ Syrah from Swartland in South Africa (Waitrose, £9.99) – love the picture of the sheep on the label! 

Innocent SyrahThis is beautifully soft and restrained with flavours of cooked blackberries and a definite savoury edge to it.  The grapes were selected from unirrigated bush vines up to 50 years old, blending from 3 separate vineyard sites to give complexity.  Following fermentation, part of the wine was aged in large old wooden barrels, again to broaden the palate of flavours, yet always with restraint and subtlety being to the fore.  

Perhaps, not a wine for lovers of the big, chunky Shiraz style, but, for those who enjoy, say, a Crozes Hermitage or a St Joseph, there’s much to like here – and at a very reasonable price.