Tag Archives: Wine Society

Ribeira Sacra – for the adventurous

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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!

MenciaBut, 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.

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An Open Mind

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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.

Oz RieslingPeter 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.

 

 

 

Try Bordeaux’s Whites too

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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.

bourg whiteChâteau 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.

Terroir in Chile?

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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’.

 

Wine and Sharing

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May I begin by wishing all my readers a Happy and Peaceful New Year and, in this, my first Bristol Wine Blog of 2019, I’d like to share with you a brief summary of some of the delicious wines my wife and I enjoyed over the holiday period. 

Greek pair 

Many were old favourites including 2 Greek wines I’ve mentioned before in this Blog: Domaine Sigalas’ Assyrtiko/Athiri blend from Santorini (£20.40) is wonderfully rich and mouth-filling yet still crisp and citrusy and with a clean, long, long finish – undoubtedly one of our favourite whites – while the lovely fresh and elegant, black-fruited Alpha Estate ‘Turtles’ Syrah from the northern, Florina, region (£16.70) fills a similar place for us among the reds.  Both are available on-line from Greek Specialist, Maltby & Greek.

Pieropan Calvarino

I’ve also praised Pieropan’s range of Soaves previously but this was the first time I’d tasted their single vineyard, Calvarino, bottling (Wine Society, £18).  Less full-bodied than their superb ‘La Rocca’, this is still light years away from any standard Soave.  Quite restrained but with an attractive herbiness and, again, a seriously long finish.

Borthwick PG 

A new name to me is the New Zealand producer, Paddy Borthwick.  His Pinot Gris (Grape and Grind, £14.50) is just off-dry and with attractive tropical fruit flavours; definitely a grower to look out for.

Moulin a Vent

And finally, for lovers of reds, a stand-out Beaujolais: not in the light and quaffable style but much deeper and more intense.  Louis Boillot’s Moulin-a-Vent (Wine Society, £15.50) could easily be mistaken for a good village Burgundy – quite savoury and with earthy black fruit flavours; very much a food wine and one to be savoured.

So, in welcoming the New Year, I’d like to think that wine and sharing might help the world become a calmer and more tolerant place in 2019 than it seems to have been of late.

A Little Bit of Magic

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Conde Vimioso 1When I first saw the name on the bottle, Conde Vimioso, I thought it sounded like a magic spell that might be invoked in one of J.K.Rowling’s famous Harry Potter books.  But, no!  It’s a delightful, really juicy, everyday quaffing Portuguese red, full of flavours of sweet ripe blackberries, with some soft tannins and a longer finish than you could possibly expect from a £7.25 wine (available from The Wine Society).   

So, how can the producers make a wine of this quality at the price?  Perhaps part of the answer is that it’s only a Vinho Regional – the same level as Vin de Pays in France – and, as such, would be considered less prestigious than DOC, the local equivalent of Appellation Contrôlée. 

It comes from the Tejo region, which stretches inland from the capital, Lisbon, along the River Tagus (Tejo in Portuguese) and is an unusual blend of 4 varieties – 2 local: Touriga Nacional and Aragonez (also found in Spain as Tempranillo) – plus some Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  The wine even gets 6 months barrel ageing and here, in an important area for oak trees, it really does mean ageing in barrels, not oak flavouring using oak chips as more commonly found in wines at this price.

So, regardless of the Harry Potter-like name, this wine’s unfashionable origin means that we can taste a delicious wine for a barely believable price.  Now, that really is a little bit of magic.

Dealing with a Dumb Wine

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Maby 5

I opened a bottle of Domaine Maby’s La Fermade Lirac Blanc recently (Wine Society, £10.50) and, as usual, immediately had a sniff of the wine to check for any faults.  No obvious problems – no smell of corkiness or oxidation.  But wait!  There was also no smell of any fruit or spice or any of the aromas I expect from a nice southern Rhône white.  The nose of the wine was completely dumb and, when I tasted it, there wasn’t much coming through on the palate, either.  This surprised me as, although I’d never bought this wine before, others from the same producer had always been excellent quality. 

I decided to decant it, not something I often do with a white, but, by aerating it, I hoped to ‘wake it up’ and let it show what it had to offer.  But, all through dinner, my wife and I kept tasting it and still got very little. Then, later in the evening, I decided to try again – there was plenty left in the decanter as neither of us had poured much up to that point.  Suddenly, all that I’d hoped for from this wine came out: lovely flavours of cooked apples and spices backed by a real richness. 

Did it continue to improve?  I can’t say.  Perhaps it might have been perfect about 2am the following morning but that was too late.  By then, my wife and I were safely asleep! 

Fast forward to dinner the next evening, when there was still enough left for a glass each.  Fully 24 hours after first pulling the cork, there was, understandably, a touch of oxidation (I hadn’t bothered to vacuum seal the wine as I normally would), but the wine itself was perfectly pleasant, although it had, once again, lost its fruit.

This certainly isn’t an everyday experience, especially not with a white wine, but it does show that, for certain wines, decanting early is the only way to develop the flavours the winemaker intended.  But, to avoid our initial disappointment, it would have been helpful if the label had suggested it!