It’s only taken a few warm days over the recent holiday weekend and my wife and I immediately took to drinking rosé. OK, it wasn’t just the weather (although that helped), but the Michelin-starred pub where we were staying had one of Domaine Maby’s delicious Tavel rosés on their list.
I’ve bought that producer’s wines – red, white and rosé – many times before and know them all to be good. The current Wine Society list has their rosé for £11.50; sadly, at dinner, we had to pay more than 3 times that amount. Justified? I don’t think so but it’s typical of restaurants nowadays and if customers – including me – are willing to pay that excessive mark-up without protest, then can we really blame business owners for pricing wines at that level?
So, although the cost may have left a sour taste in the mouth, the wine certainly did not. Tavel is, without doubt, the outstanding village in France’s southern Rhône region for rosé wines and Maby’s example is a crisp but full-bodied (14% alcohol) blend of local varieties including Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. The grapes are selected from 3 different vineyards, each giving their own character to the wine and from vines averaging almost 50 years old. The wine itself is bone dry but with lovely flavours of strawberries and redcurrants and a persistent, fruity finish. Although it’s a wine I would happily drink on its own, it really shows best with food and was a perfect match with both my wife’s risotto of young spring vegetables and my roast breast of guinea fowl.
While a warm spring or summer day is undoubtedly the obvious time for rosés, wines as good as this are worth opening at any time and for any occasion.
Mention dessert wines and most wine lovers will immediately think of Sauternes – the famous golden nectar from Bordeaux. And why not? But Sauternes is only one of hundreds of sweet wines which, incidentally, aren’t just marvellous accompaniments to the pudding course; they are often equally delicious partnering a blue cheese or a rich paté. And, of course, don’t ignore how good some sweet wines can also be as an aperitif!
But, in general, this style of wine is designed to go with the dessert, and, if trying to match the two, it’s always a good idea to ensure the wine is sweeter than the food; the other way round and the wine will be drained of much of its sweetness and may taste sharp and thin.
I opened a dessert wine at a dinner party with some good friends recently – not one from Sauternes but from an estate in the less well-known Côtes de Gascogne, about an hour’s drive south.
Domaine du Tariquet’s Dernières Grives (Wine Society, £15.50) is, perhaps, a little less sweet than a typical Sauternes yet has a lovely delicacy and charm – thanks to only 11.5% alcohol. That makes it a perfect partner for a lighter pudding – the apple fool that we served or a crème brulée or some fresh strawberries are other possibilities that come to mind.
The wine is mainly made from the local Petit Manseng grape (a variety that lovers of the wines of Jurançon would be familiar with), left on the vine late into the autumn to over-ripen and then picked (as the producers note on their website) before the local birds, especially the thrushes, get to them! They even name the wine after the birds – dernières grives is the French for last thrushes.
This is a delicious alternative sweet wine – without the power or richness of a Sauternes, but beautifully balanced and fresh and a simple delight at the end of our enjoyable, sociable meal with friends.
In Wales, the surname ‘Jones’ is very widespread. Add in the fact that successive generations of a family often share the same first or given name, distinguishing between one Jones and another can become a little difficult. As a result, the habit arose to refer to people by their job; so, you get ‘Jones the Teacher’, ‘Jones the Butcher’ or ‘Jones the Farmer’. But, I suspect, rarely ‘Jones the Winemaker’ (although Wales has always had a few vineyards – a number that has expanded rapidly in the last few years).
But, there is a ‘Jones the Winemaker’, albeit in the south of France, rather than in Wales. After emigrating from the UK and working there for a few years, Katie Jones bought a vineyard in the Languedoc and began to make her own wine. She now has around 12 hectares (30 acres) spread across a number of small sites in the hillier, inland part of the Fitou Appellation. Following the classic recipe for making great wines, she has focussed on patches of low yielding old vines planted on very poor rocky soils.
As a result, life hasn’t been easy, particularly in 2013 when Katie lost her entire white wine production after some vandals opened the taps on her tanks, but, happily, she has fought back and her wines reflect her dedication.
Her Fitou (Wine Society, £15.50) is typical; a rich, savoury blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah – some from vines over 100 years old – giving a lovely spicy mouthful of hedgerow fruits, liquorice and leather. The label says 14.5% alcohol, and, although a big wine, this is beautifully balanced. Definitely needing food to show at its best – something full and robust: venison or other game, perhaps, or a mushroom- or aubergine-based dish spring to mind.
Jones the Winemaker is definitely a name to follow.
How do I choose the wines I’m going to include in a Blog? The answer is simple: like many wine lovers, when I find a wine I really like, I want to share it with others who might appreciate it. And, if there’s a story to tell about the producer, the grape variety or where the wine comes from as well, so much the better, as that, hopefully, makes the piece more interesting to read. Also, I buy all my wines from shops or on-line and, apart from any case discounts that would be offered to any customer, I never accept ‘incentives’ to include a particular wine in this Blog.
Recently, I’ve been lucky (or chosen well!) as almost everything I’ve opened has been worth sharing and Blogging about. Here are a couple of the nicest:
I’d previously enjoyed Robert Oatley’s Finisterre Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River in Western Australia (WA) and that producer’s Syrah from the Great Southern region of WA (Wine Society, £17) is just as good. The wine showed the same subtlety and restraint that I’d liked in the earlier bottle but with Cabernet’s typical blackcurrant flavours replaced with delightfully fragrant black cherry and hedgerow berries. More reminiscent of a Syrah from the northern Rhône than a typical Australian example, it is interesting that Oatley has chosen to use the European version of the grape’s name, in preference to Shiraz.
Crasto Superior (also Wine Society, £14.50), a full-bodied red from Portugal’s Douro region, is altogether richer and more intense and needs to accompany robust food to enjoy it at its best. Made from a blend of local grapes including Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, this spends 12 months in French oak barrels resulting in lovely spicy flavours adding to the attractive sweet fruit.
Two wines that I’m happy to share with you. I hope you’ll enjoy them, too.
The Spanish DO (designated wine area) of Ribeira Sacra isn’t at all well-known – even among keen wine lovers. In fact, in Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine (nicknamed the ‘Winelovers’ Bible’ with good reason), it merits just 2 lines. And the Wine and Spirit Education Trust ignores it completely until students reach ‘Diploma’ level. But, based on the wines I’ve tasted from there, it’s certainly an area worth exploring – and not just for the adventurous.
So, where is Ribeira Sacra? Look to Spain’s far north-west where you find the cool, Atlantic-influenced region of Galicia, which is becoming increasingly popular due, in particular, to the high quality Albariño grape. This white variety thrives near the coast but, go just 50 miles or so inland, and it’s a local red grape, Mencia, that dominates in ancient, almost impossibly steep rocky vineyards; you’ll see the words ‘viticultura heroica’ on the label pictured. Growing vines here is heroic viticulture indeed!
But, if you’d expect Regina Viarum Mencia (Wine Society, a bargain at £11.50) to reflect this harsh, uncompromising landscape with a wine of a similar character, you’d be wrong. It’s a wine that, for me, had the same silky smoothness of a nice Pinot Noir – interesting as some thought that Mencia might be related to that grape, although apparently not. This classy example is delightfully fresh with lovely slightly bitter cherry aromas and flavours. Completely unoaked, the pure fruit shows through to give a refreshing and very satisfying red wine. Food-friendly as you might guess – but nothing too big or robust: partridge or duck, perhaps.
Ribeira Sacra’s production is tiny and wines from there may be difficult to find but, next door, in Bierzo, they also grow the Mencia grape and Majestic have a good example in Pizarras de Otero (£7.49).
Either way, this is a grape and a region worth getting to know.
We human beings are often creatures of habit. And that can be especially true when we’re buying our wines. We’ve enjoyed a bottle in the past, so let’s buy it again. Why take the chance of trying something different, which might not be as good? I understand that although, if I’d taken that view, I’d probably still be drinking the Black Tower Liebfraumilch and Mateus Rosé that I first tasted more years ago than I care to admit!
But the world of wine is changing and perhaps, more importantly, our own tastes may be changing (see the Liebfraumilch comment above!). Maybe it’s time to look again at a wine that we didn’t like previously?
Happily, someone on a recent course of mine did just that. She’d hated Australian whites in the past because they were too alcoholic and oaky but booked in on ‘Wines of Australia’ anyway. The result? She discovered how much has changed. Indeed, of the list of wines she noted to buy again, four were white. Being open-minded and prepared to experiment has opened up a whole new area of enjoyment for her.
Interestingly, one of her new white likes was a Riesling – a grape variety that would benefit from a re-think by many wine drinkers. For too long wrongly associated with low quality sweetish German wines, there are now some delicious dry examples around. And not just from Germany.
Peter Lehmann’s Wigan Riesling from Australia’s Eden Valley (Wine Society, £12.50) is delightfully dry, crisp and zesty with lovely lime-peel aromas and a delicious honeyed palate. And, with only 11% alcohol and no oaking, it’s just the sort of Australian white that more of us should be discovering.
You just need an open mind.
Bordeaux’s reputation rests mainly on its Cabernet and Merlot dominated red wines and its luscious sweet Sauternes. But, as we found when we visited the city a couple of years back, there are some attractive dry whites produced there, too. These are usually made from Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc or a mixture of the 2 (occasionally with some Muscadelle added for a little grapey interest), but not always. We recently opened a bottle that was a much rarer blend of Sémillon with Colombard – and really enjoyed it.
Château de la Grave Grains Fins (Wine Society, £10.50) is deliciously refreshing with lovely pineapple and peach flavours and a long clean finish. The peachiness reminded me a little of Viognier but that’s not an approved variety in Bordeaux so, in this case, the taste was most likely as a result of the inclusion of the Colombard.
Although not a particularly well-known grape variety, Colombard has been grown here for many years but, perhaps more significantly, slightly further north in the Charente region, where it, along with Ugni Blanc, is used in the production of the brandy known as Armagnac. Sadly, demand for Armagnac has declined sharply in recent years and the producers are increasingly diverting Colombard into good value white wines; look in your supermarkets for Côtes de Gascogne or Charentais where the grape’s peachiness adds to the attraction of these crisp, easy-drinking bottles.
But, back to the Château de la Grave. Despite the ‘Grave’ name, it’s not from that area of Bordeaux. Instead, it comes from the Côtes de Bourg, an interesting but not highly-regarded Appellation slightly further north overlooking the Dordogne River. As with the rest of Bordeaux, white Bourg wines are of secondary importance to reds but, at their best, both can be really drinkable as well as extremely good value.