YOU CAN STAND OUT ON THAT HIGHWAY, LOOK AS FAR AS YOU CAN SEE, BUT WHEN YOU GET TO THAT HORIZON, THERE’S ALWAYS SOMEPLACE ELSE TO BE, – STEVE EARLE – “IT’S ALL UP TO YOU”
Have you ever seen wines labelled as ‘Old Vines’, ‘Vieilles Vignes’, ‘Viñas Viejas’? It’s one of those terms that can be used freely on a bottle of wine as no one has yet determined how old vines need to be in order to gain the plaudit. As vines get older they will expand their root system and burrow deep into the soils, which is a good thing. They will also start to regulate themselves better and become more hardy as they do so. With advanced age vines will become less productive, but I suppose that happens to most of us! That drop in production could mean the vine puts the energy into ripening fewer berries, thereby ensuring a more concentrated juice. The term itself is on the rise and is often seen as a badge of quality, but the fact there is no regulation around it makes it more of a marketing term. That said, I have had many wines labelled as ‘Old Vines’ that do show a remarkable concentration and balance.
What really caught my eye was a wine that proudly proclaimed on the label it was produced from ‘Young Vines’. Wow! I’m not sure I would have the courage to admit to that. My slight apprehension was immediately quashed as soon as I tasted the wine, the Seven Springs Pinot Noir from South Africa.
The Pinot Noir vines were only planted in July 2008 in the beautifully named ‘Hemel en Aarde’ Valley (Heaven and Earth), near Hermanus. The vines yielded their first ever vintage in 2011, made by 29 year old Riana van der Merwe and it is simply gorgeous. With the fruit doing all the talking rather than the oak, this was a sheer joy of juiciness. Ripe cherries and strawberries, vibrant in its innocent youth. Not so much an unruly teenager as a well-balanced, vivacious character that already shows complexity well beyond its age and knows its way around a wine glass. Hats off, not just for the wine, but for having the gumption to label it as young vines and making a feature of it. It will be interesting to watch this one over successive vintages and see how it develops into a thirty-something.
Seven Springs is not all about Pinot Noir either. The delicate, apple-scented Sauvignon Blanc is lovely and pure. There are a couple of Chardonnays with the unoaked being my favourite and a sumptuous Syrah, again coming from younger vines and gently oaked in older barrels.
My blog-o-thon has slowed a little over the past week but the running is still going strong. So far I’ve clocked up just over 100k in the 5×50 Challenge and most of the time it really is quite enjoyable. Today’s incessant rain makes it a rather damp affair, ‘drenched’ being the operative word.
Today marks day 18 of the challenge, but it is also Malbec World Day. The day is significant in Malbec’s history as it was 160 years ago on April 17th, that Malbec officially takes root in the Mendoza region in Argentina. The variety originates in South-West France. It is one of the permitted grapes in Bordeaux as well, although these days it isn’t planted widely there. The region of Cahors is generally seen as the birthplace of Malbec. It is its wide recognition as the grape of Argentina that really put Malbec on the map and has prompted its wider planting in many other countries, particularly in the new world. But this popularity also means a more recent resurgence of popularity in its native land under the Appellation of Cahors, but interestingly the name of the grape is usually included on the label these days. Malbec typically produces concentrated, dark wines with intense black fruit flavours, often with a herbal or meaty character. The intensity and concentration ensure the wines are fantastic with beef, especially when barbecued or grilled.
Malbec is very easy to get hold of, so pop into your favourite retailer and pick up a bottle. I’m a great fan of the Zuccardi range, yet my personal favourites tend to come not from Mendoza, but from the higher altitude vineyards of the Salta region. Bodegas Colomé and its sister estate Amalaya make some brilliant wines and I’ve had very enthusiastic reactions to Michel Torino’s ‘Don David’ too. Recently I’ve also been quite taken with another area; Patagonia, in Argentina’s far south produces some fantastic examples, notably the Malbec Estate from Humberto Canale. A wonderful freshness combined with that trademark intensity of black fruit, owing to the long ripening season, make this a great choice too.
I remember my delight when, during one of the blind exam tastings for the WSET Diploma a few years ago, I was faced with three wines sharing a common grape variety. The very first whiff told me I was dealing with Riesling. The task was to work out where each of the three wines came from. Fortunately they were textbook examples and I recognised the bone-dry Australian Riesling with its trademark high acidity and that typical lime-like and characteristic petrolly smell. The richer and rounder Alsace Riesling stood out for its remarkable balance and finally there was the lighter, peachy sweetness from a Mosel Riesling, which was balanced with a lively, lemony freshness on the palate, owing to the ever-present acidity in the wine as well as a little bit of a sparkle.
It’s that Mosel style I absolutely love but I’m acutely aware of the association this has in many people’s minds. Sweet German Riesling equals Liebfraumilch I seem to hear all to often. Let’s put that one to rest. Although Riesling is allowed in the blend for Liebfraumilch, in practice this is much more likely to be dominated by a grape like Müller-Thurgau, which has nowhere near the nobility of Riesling. Frankly, most Liebfraumilch is not much more than sugary water, made from overcropped vines on the flat lands, quantity over quality. Compare that to the steep, slate-covered slopes facing the Mosel river, where Riesling finds its characterful side.
German Riesling comes in a multitude of different styles and these days the dry Rieslings (look out for ‘Trocken’ on the label) are increasingly popular. One thing that can provide a key is the level of alcohol. If it’s around 12% you’re more than likely dealing with a dry version, below 9% and it’s almost certainly sweeter. Invariably I try to convince people of the merits of German Riesling, with mixed success, but I was absolutely delighted with the reaction when I presented a sweeter style from the Mosel with a chicken and mushroom paté starter served with toasted brioche at the Wine Unearthed workshop in Edinburgh this weekend. I don’t know if it was the wine itself, the combination that worked so well, or if the tasters just had an open mind. The wine, Dr Loosen ‘Blue Slate” Riesling from the Mosel (around £11, Bibendum), is from one of the top producers in the region, which clearly helped. The name refers to the steep blue slate slopes the grapes were grown on. Quite a sweet style, but its fruity freshness and zippy character worked beautifully with that paté as well as the sweetness of the toasted brioche. Combine with that the gentle 8% alcohol level and it made for a perfect lunchtime wine.
I’m sure I won’t be able to convince everyone of its merits but you should really make time in your wine calendar for this amazing grape. It might just pleasantly surprise you.
The sales figures speak for themselves. Prosecco is hugely popular and seems to be going from strength to strength, outperforming those of Champagne. Perhaps it is a sign of the times but I would like to think the recent tightening of the laws, enshrining Prosecco into the DOC(G) system has done it now harm whatsoever even though it has taken the cheapest versions away from the market. There is still some dreary stuff that carries the name Prosecco, but if you’re willing to pay a little bit more you can get some truly interesting wines.
I’m one of those people who loves Prosecco but I see it very much as a simple, fresh, lightly sparkling wine that is at best a refreshing aperitivo and a good party drink. But a serious wine able to cope with a variety of foods? Boy, how wrong was I.
When I caught up with the importer of producer Nino Franco recently, the venue was not entirely random. HIX Soho is a hip and happening place and the menu seems almost too perfectly matched. The pork crackling “Mark Hix style” is something to behold, the crispy texture and saltiness crying out for a fresh, soft wine with that little touch of sweetness that takes any sharp edges away. It’s where the Rustico comes in. If you’ve never had oysters with a Prosecco, I’d urge you to try this too. No good if you don’t like oysters, but I’m pretty certain scallops would do nicely too.
The revelation arrived with the slow cooked veal. The single vineyard wine we tasted is a Prosecco the like I’ve never tasted before.
The ‘Grave di Stecca’ has been given a little ageing in tank but on the lees, the deposit formed by the dead yeast cells after the fermentation. This gives the wine an extra depth and complexity that was completely unexpected and was unbelievably tasty with the veal. Deliberately left unclassified, the word Prosecco never appears on either the front or back label. The vineyard is walled, something of a rarity in the area, and the vines, by all accounts, are ancient. I suspect that means they were never affected by the phylloxera pest that blighted most of the world’s vineyards in the 19th and 20th century. That story reminds me of the ‘Vieilles Vignes Francaise’ from Bollinger, so perhaps Nino Franco is the Bollinger of Prosecco?
Two of the wines also make pretty smooth dessert matches. They are not really dessert wines but the sweeter styles each have around 35 grams of residual sugar, a bit like demi-sec Champagne and both the Prosecco Primo Franco and Superiore di Cartizze work well with my saffron infused custard tartlet and rhubarb compote, but the apple fritters might be an even better match here. It may seem like quite a bewildering array of wines but putting them into the context of food really shows off their uniqueness and excellent quality.
And the quality is undisputed. Nino Franco is one of the oldest producers of Prosecco in the heartland of the region known as Valdobbiadene. Third generation Primo Franco seems a trailblazer for Prosecco and a stickler for detail. By all accounts he’s not a great friend of the ‘flute’ glass, preferring to drink the wine from a white wine glass to fully appreciate its intricacies.
These wines are really worth searching out and if you can, go for the ‘Grave di Stecca’, it may well change your whole perception of Prosecco. It certainly put a smile on my face.
Thanks to Tim McLaughlin-Green from importer Sommeliers Choice and Dacotah Renneau for introducing me to the Nino Franco range.
Just a quick update today as I’m a little busy. Got my 5k run in early and although still a bit cold the sun felt wonderful soothing. Spring has been a long time coming. My head was still a little fuzzy from a late night. After a meal out with family we got back home and got stuck into the chocolate Easter eggs and a gorgeous bottle of Calvados. Not just any Calvados, might I add. All too often it is more like rocket fuel, but not this one. It has a beautiful sweet smell of apples, very clean and powerful. Smooth on the tongue with a nice amount of warmth and complexity. This is more like a good Cognac.
L. Dupont Calvados du Pays d’Auge comes with its own ‘appellation controlee’, similar to many wines. The type of apples used (more than 40 different types are allowed) and where they are grown are all important as well as how it has been distilled and matured. Here it has more in common with Cognac than with other fruit-based eau-de-vie. This one certainly tastes like no corners were cut. Proper Calvados has to come from Normandy and the Pays d’Auge forms the heartland of the Calvados region. All Calvados has to be made from apples, however if you see one labelled ‘Domfrontais’ it will have pears in the blend as well. Sip it neat and at room temperature from a brandy glass and savour it.
Have you worked out what class you belong to yet. I had a go and was really upset to find out I didn’t belong to the ‘Elite’. Clearly that must be because of my chronic lack of money and the fact that the survey didn’t even bother to ask what kind of wine I drink. Fortunately it did ask about my exercise regime, which is probably what lifted me out of the ‘Precariat’ section, that and the fact I don’t watch Jeremy Kyle.
Talking about exercise, the 5×50 Challenge is going well so far. Six days and counting, a solid pace and a lack of injuries are all good. The wine-blog-o-thon is also going reasonably well. I thought I would run out of inspiration after two days but I have surprised myself. I just hope someone is reading it, I wouldn’t want to do it for nothing you see!
You might have gathered from the ramble that I am ‘established middle class’. Really? I’m from the Netherlands, surely that makes me classless! What wine do you need to drink to be established middle class? Probably something under a tenner, as we are the ‘squeezed middle’ you know. Maybe something from the ‘new world’, France is too elitist, so I’m opting for Chile. I duly went to M&S, which I thought was suitably middle class, and picked up a bottle of the CM Carménère from the Elqui Valley for £7.99. Just the thing with a nice Indian curry. Is that middle class enough? Only I didn’t have curry because the Spanish tapas were on special offer, but it worked anyway. Quite an intense nose, almost port-like, with a lot of dried fruit character, prunes and even coffee. It doesn’t quite translate to the palate where it feels a bit hollow, quite hot and lacks a bit of freshness on the finish. I also didn’t find it as smooth and supple as it promises. Still, it is decent for the money if you like the dried fruit characters, but only if you’re middle class.
No wines were harmed in the writing of this post, but some may have been offended at being called middle class.
I was working with one of my clients at the Cross Stobs Bottle Shop last night. Surely being surrounded by wine should be enough to provide plenty of inspiration. I wanted to pick out a couple of wines I will be using in a tasting next week and decided to go for a new wine, the La Multa Blanca, Old Vine Garnacha.
The red version of this wine has been one of my longstanding favourites and so far I’ve had a very enthusiastic response to the white as well.
It smells peachy with a blossom-like character. Fairly full-bodied, peachy flavour, slightly honeyed and pretty complex, particularly for the money (just under £8). The finish is dry and fresh, leaving you craving the next sip.
La Multa is Spanish for ‘the fine’ and the label has that semi-official look of one too many parking fines, acquired by Scottish winemaker Norrel Robertson in the course of his winemaker travels. He is known as ‘El Escoces Volante’ (Flying Scotsman) and has found his niche with old vine Garnacha in Spain, particularly in Calatayud. His wines all have that sumptuous and smooth, easy-going character and at the upper end the El Puño is worth looking out for.
As I struggle to get going on my next run for the 5×50 Challenge (and it’s only day 4!) I’m looking for a wine that can provide a real ‘pick-me-up’. Something with a spring-like aroma and a fresh, zesty taste. I opt for wine I often use in the Wine Unearthed workshops as the opening gambit.
The Amalaya Torrontes from Argentina has a wonderful balance. Torrontes can get a bit big and blowsy but this one is all ripe citrus with a subtle elderflower scent. The grapes are grown at altitude in an area called Salta, and the vineyards are amongst the highest in the world. This has quite a dramatic effect on the climate and does wonders for the resulting grapes. Dry, desert-like conditions and a big variation between day and night temperatures lengthen the ripening season giving real depth of character to the grapes. The other reason this wine has such a delicate balance of ripe grapefruit and zesty freshness is the addition of about 15% Riesling to the blend, giving it a wonderfully fresh finish.
The word Amalaya comes from an old indigenous Andean language and means ‘hope for a miracle’. That seems very appropriate under the circumstances and I keep hoping for a miracle to see me through 46 more days of keeping the legs as well as the inspiration going.
Find your local stockist here and expect to pay around £9.
Day 3 of the 5×50 challenge and I’m feeling the excesses of the Easter weekend as I complete my run slightly more sluggish than I should. Last night’s tasting with the Cafe Gandolfi wine club gives me plenty to choose from but the red wine that won the day reminds me of a piece of advice I regularly give to wine consumers at my tastings, how to find value in your wine purchases.
The winning wine is a rather beautiful bottle of Cotes du Rhone Villages. It may not sound that special at first but this is one of those wines that reinforces my advice. It centres around paying a bit more for a lesser name. This wine retails around £12-£15 which is quite steep for a Cotes du Rhone. It is an indication we are dealing with a wine that is likely to deliver more than your basic plonk. Now think about spending £10 or £15 on a Chateauneuf du Pape. It’s a very popular wine from the appellation that finds itself right in the middle of the Cotes du Rhone area. However, with its elevated name it attracts a considerable premium, so your Chateauneuf is at the bottom end of the price range. In short, unless you’re willing to pay a decent price for Chateauneuf, you’re much better spending your £12 on a good Cotes du Rhone. It means you’re paying top end for that name and that should give you a cracking wine.
The proof was definitely in the tasting with this wine and if you want to try it for yourself, Domaine de la Renjarde, Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux 2010 is all ripe fruit and spice and quite structured, which makes it very food friendly. A nice hearty stew or a juicy steak. It is available from BBR or, if you’re in Glasgow, the wine is April’s wine of the month in Cafe Gandolfi.