Argentina’s Torrontés

Torrontés: a singular white grape …

When it comes to wine, Argentina is best known for reds and Malbec in particular. But the country is no one trick pony. If you dig a bit deeper you will discover other good red wines, especially red blends, while the best whites in my view are those made from the Torrontés grape.

Argentinian Torrontés is unique and although it has been difficult to establish its exact origin, it is not the same grape as the Torrontés of Spain’s Galicia. Recent studies suggest that Argentina’s grape is a cross between a white variety known as Criolla Chica which was brought to the country by Spanish settlers in the 16th century and Muscat d’Alexandrie, a fragrant variety found around the Mediterranean region and generally used to make sweet wines.

Most Torrontés wines are produced as dry, tangy, fresh wines with no oak influence and they are best enjoyed in their youth. Good examples are intensely perfumed and full-bodied with hints of lime, tropical fruit, white peach or perhaps a touch of quince. Your mouth should be watering by now…

Although there are significant amounts of Torrontés vines planted in Mendoza, Argentina’s main wine producing region on the eastern side of the Andes, the best wines come from vineyards further north and two regions in particular: the San Juan province of La Rioja 168km north of Mendoza and the Cafayate Valley in Salta, the remote outpost for wine production some 1110km north of Mendoza.

In both regions the vineyards are situated at 1000m or more above sea level. That is significant for white grapes as, at such altitude, the temperature drops significantly at night allowing good acidity levels and flavour to develop in the grapes in the weeks before harvest.

If you like richer styles of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Viognier, you’ll probably like Torrontés. The wines range from lighter styles to more intensely flavoured styles. Here are my recommendations; they are all from the 2011 vintage but you might find some 2012 vintages from the same producers very soon:

Salta Torrontés wines:

Finca Domingo, Cafayate Valley, Salta, vintage 2011, £10.99, www.hispamerchants.co.uk

A fine example of the depth of flavour that you can find in a Torrontés wine from the heady heights of Salta’s vineyards (1750m in this case). Rich, tangy lemon and greengage fruit with a silky texture, this is a wine for food; try it with a chicken tagine.

Crios, Chalchaquies Valley, Salta and Mendoza, vintage 2012 (the same wine can also be found under the ‘Zohar’ label), £8.99 from Majestic

Winemaker Susana Balbo makes a particularly zesty style of Torrontés. The grapes are sourced mostly from Salta and blended with a small amount from Mendoza “to give the wine a steely edge”. Delicious with or without food.

Alta Vista Premium Torrontés, vintage 2011, £10 www.pauladamsfinewines.co.uk

A rich style with well balanced acidity and delicious lychee fruit.

La Rioja Torrontés wines:

Tapiz, Famatina Valley, vintage 2012, £9.49 www.hispamerchants.co.uk

Delicate and fresh with mouth-watering citrus flavours. A wine for late summer and well into autumn.

La Riojana Tilimuqui Single Vineyard Fairtrade Organic Torrontés 2011, Waitrose, £7.19

This is a lighter Torrontés and a particularly food-friendly style with green apple and white pear fruit. It makes a refreshing aperitif wine and a good match for baked fish dishes.

The Co-operative Fairtrade Torrontés/Chardonnay 2011, £4.99

Vibrant, fruity and great value for money – you can’t go wrong with this blend from the Riojana winery.

English wines: sparkling, rosé and white

English wines: five good wines to try

I have visited quite a few wine producers on my home turf this year including Rathfinny Estate in Sussex, where I saw the estate’s first vines being planted back in the spring. We’ll have to wait until 2016 to taste the first sparkling wines from this newcomer, but in the meantime there are plenty of other wines to enjoy. Thankfully it is now also easier to find them in wine shops and restaurants. Here are my current favourites:

Chapel Down Flint Dry 2011

Made by the Chapel Down winery at Tenterden in Kent, this unoaked dry white is a blend of Chardonnay and traditional grapes including Huxelrebe, Schonburger and Bacchus. The 2011 vintage is unusually rich and structured thanks to the particularly warm weather leading up to harvest (remember the glorious Indian summer last year?) which resulted in low yields and perfectly ripe grapes. Its delicious peachy fruit and a hint of orange zest make it a lovely white wine for a summer lunch.

Stockists: Waitrose and Majestic, approx £9.

Jenkyn Place Brut, 2007

One of the more complex English wines thanks to 30 months ageing on the lees, this fine sparkling wine is very Champagne-like. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier - the classic Champagne trio - it comes from south-facing vineyards on Hampshire’s North Downs.

 Stockists: Vinoteca, Caviste, Berry Bros & Rudd and Sparkling English Wine; price approx £26

Gusbourne Estate, Blanc de Blancs 2007

 Kent’s Gusbourne Estate is a relative newcomer to the English wine scene – this is only the second vintage – and the wines are impressive. The Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) makes a delightful aperitif with its delicate lemony fruit and freshness but there’s enough complexity to make it a good match for a seafood starter.

Stockists: Slurp, Sparkling English Wine and Vagabond; price approx £25

Hush Heath Balfour Brut Rosé 2009

A particularly delicate and light sparkling rosé wine from Kent, the pale salmon pink coloured Balfour Brut Rosé has a hint of redcurrant fruit, a silky texture and very fine bubbles. A perfect sparkler for the aperitif and a versatile wine for food, especially fish and chicken dishes.

Stockist information: www.hushheath.com

Ridgeview Victoria Rosé 2009

Located in Sussex on the South Downs, Ridgeview is currently on great form and this producer offers various styles of sparkling wines. I particularly like the ‘Victoria’ sparkling rosé which makes its debut this year. A blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the wine has perfumed red fruits on the nose and elegant fresh raspberry notes on the palate with a hint of brioche. Delicious with some smoked salmon paté.

Stockist: Berry Bros & Rudd, £26.95

Horse power: Mas Amiel and Maury

I find it rather therapeutic when I occasionally see horses being used in the vineyard, particularly in Europe where machine power has long been the norm. Some producers are reverting to using horses (or mules) in  Priorat in Spain and other regions where steep terraces makes the use of machines almost impossible. Horses have also been adopted by those practising biodynamic viticulture where using a tractor goes against the grain.

Mas Amiel* is the largest producer of sweet Maury wines in the Roussillon region in the far south of France. Here horses have been reintroduced to work in some of the estate’s oldest vineyards where vines, mostly Grenache, were first planted early last century. The reason for the move is to protect old vines: the roots of very old vines tend to be closer to the surface making them more vulnerable if a tractor is used so using horse power can be a better bet.

When I visited the region last month, two of Mas Amiel’s horses (including Angelo, pictured, top) were pulling ploughs by early morning. They are managed by a team of young vineyard workers, male and female, who have been encouraged to work in the vineyard by owner Olivier Decelle (pictured, below left).

The aim is to tease the best possible quality out of the vines for wines which, in some cases, are destined for ageing over many decades – Mas Amiel’s oldest current release is the 1969 Classic Maury.

When the harvest comes round, typically in early September, the vineyard team works closely with winemaker Nicolas Raffy to establish when each parcel is ready to be picked. For natural sweet wines, the grapes are fermented for 15-30 days in stainless steel tanks which are wider at the top than the bottom (unlike those typically seen for dry wine vinification these days where the reverse is the case) to encourage a wide and thin crust on the surface of the wine. The next step is to stop the fermentation as quickly as possible in order to capture as much aromatic character as possible and this is done by the addition of alcohol which breaks through the thin crust. Once fortified, the wines are aged according to the style desired.

Mas Amiel’s sweet wines are offered in three different styles:

 Sweet white wines

Muscat de Rivesaltes, 2010: This wine, the lightest of the Mas Amiel sweet wines, is made predominantly from the citrusy Muscat à petits grains with the richer Muscat de Alexandria adding richness and body. Try it with fruit tarts, fruit mousse and tropical fruit salads.

Sweet Red Wines: Maury Rouge

Made from Grenache Noir, these wines include:

Mas Amiel Vintage Maury, 2010: A delicious, youthful wine with rich summer fruit flavours.  This wine is a great introduction to the sweet Maury wine style and it pairs well with tiramisu.

Mas Amiel Vintage Charles Dupuy, 2008: A delightfully fresh wine with rich black fruit and long lasting flavour. Delicious with a chocolate dessert.

 Sweet Red Wines: oxidative wines

These wines are aged for a year in the open air in glass ‘bonbonne’ demijohns before long ageing in large traditional oak casks. Current releases include Cuvée Speciale 10 ans, a blend of Grenache (90%) with Carignan and Maccabeu. This complex wine offers a mixture of fruit and spice flavours. It also pairs well with chocolate as well as foie gras and blue cheese.

 To find these wines in the UK contact Bancroft, www.bancroftwines.com

 www.masamiel.fr

* Note: Mas Amiel also produces an impressive range of dry wines but only a limited selection is available in the UK to date.

 

 

Galicia: the new Spain

The wine regions of Galicia in north-west Spain are well worth exploring for an increasingly diverse range of whites led by Albariño and Godello while the region’s red wines made almost exclusively from local grapes such as Mencía are also coming to the fore.

My feature in the May issue of The Drinks Business titled ‘Oceans of Promise’ looks at recent developments and some of the producers shaping the future for these food-friendly Atlantic wines. It can be found in the ‘About’ section on this website.

Sherry is a hit at the AKT tasting

I love Sherry! These were not my words although I am very fond of Sherry. This was a phrase that I kept hearing during a Spanish wine tasting that I gave in London last week in aid of the Albert Kennedy Trust (www.akt.org.uk) *.

The conversation turned to Sherry as we were setting up: I looked down at the table to see two decent wine glasses sitting alongside the tiniest Sherry glass. This prompted a conversation with Tim Sigsworth of the Albert Kennedy Trust who likes a glass of Sherry especially at Bar Pepito (www.camino.uk.com), a Sherry bar in King’s Cross. He often meets friends or family off the train and welcomes them to town with a chilled glass of fino.

But back to the tasting… We started with Codorníu’s refreshing Selección Raventós Cava which is a blend of Chardonnay, Xarello and Macabeo. We then moved on to a couple of vibrant wines making their debut from the 2011 vintage – the deliciously fruity Marqués de Riscal Verdejo white from Rueda and Marqués de Cáceres Rosado from Rioja which was brimming with red berry fruit.

After a break to enjoy some tapas, and with the party in full swing, we continued with the red wines. Urban 2009 from O. Fournier in Ribera del Duero was an instant hit with its generous Tempranillo fruit and a touch of oak while the estate Rioja El Puntido 2008, a contemporary wine from the region, offered great depths of flavour and, we agreed, a wine which will be even better over the coming years.

Finally Lustau’s Old East India Sherry took a bow. This Sherry is an ideal choice to end a meal as it has some sweetness; it is a blend of dry oloroso and sweet, dark Pedro Ximénez Sherry. Slightly chilled, this is a Sherry to savour at the end of a meal on its own or with blue cheese or crème brulée.

The tiny Sherry glasses were left to one side. This Sherry’s wonderful aromas, mahogany tones and long dried fruit and candied orange flavours were fully appreciated in a wine glass. Sherry won a few more fans that evening.

 *An auction following the wine tasting raised £19,000.

 Other places to enjoy Sherry and good Spanish wines in and around London:

 Barrafina: www.barrafina.co.uk

Capote y Toros,  www.cambiodetercio.co.uk

Copita,  www.copita.co.uk

Ibérica, www.ibericalondon.co.uk

José,  www.joserestaurant.co.uk

Moro,  www.moro.co.uk

Salt Yard, www.saltyard.co.uk  

Tapas Brindisa, www.brindisa.com

Trangallán, www.trangallan.com

Spanish wines for spring: Cavas and whites

I’ve tasted some impressive Spanish wines lately, some made from grapes that I haven’t previously heard of. Here are the ones that have most impressed me together with a few other favourites…  

Cavas:

1. Conde de Haro NV, Bodegas Muga, Rioja, £15

A delicious sparkling wine based on the Viura and Malvasía grapes, the classic Rioja white blend.Available from: Portland wine cellars (Lancashire), Ultracomida (Aberystwyth, Narbeth), Les Vignerons de St George (Surrey),

2. Elyssia Gran Cuvée Brut NV, Freixenet

An elegant Cava with good structure made from Chardonnay, Macabeo and Parellada. Available from: Waitrose and Tesco.com, price guide £14.99

3. Reina Maria Cristina Blanc de Noirs Reserva 2008, Codorníu    

A decidedly modern style of Cava and very polished. Made from Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay.  Available from: Majestic plus independents (Dickens House, Taylors Fine Wine, The Halifax Wine Company, Aughton Wines), £14.99

4. Parxet Brut Reserva 2009 Cava, £12.95

A Cava with some maturity; delicious apple and pear fruit with a savoury dryness – try it with food. www.winetraders.org.uk

White wines:

5. Albariño de Fefiñanes Joven 2010, DO Rías Baixas, £15.95, 13%,

A fine Albariño from one of the oldest producers in the region. www.winetraders.org.uk

6. Señoráns Albariño 2010, Pazo de Señoráns, DO Rías Baixas,13%, £15

A focused style and a consistent performer. www.Rhone2rioja.co.uk

7. Albariño Leirana 2010, Forjas del Salnés, 12.5%, £17.95, from some of the oldest vines in the region www.carteblanchewines.com

8. Coto de Gomariz Blanco 2010, Coto de Gomariz, DO Ribeiro, £13.75, 13%

A blend of Albariño, Godello, Loureira and Treixadura from Ribeiro, in Galicia, which is re-emerging with a quality wine offering. Unoaked, vibrant and zesty. www.indigowine.com

9. Louro 2010, Bodegas Rafael Palacios, Valdeorras, 13.5%, £11.94,

A fine example of Godello carefully aged in oak from a talented winemaker. Available through Georges Barbier of London 020 8852 5801

Three wines from Monterrei, the smallest DO region of Galicia:

10. Grego e Monaguillo 2011, Godello, 13%, £10.50

Very pure and fresh – a delightful wine for spring and summer.

Available from: Ballantynes of Cowbridge, Christpher Piper (Devon), Highbury Vintners (London), the Leamington Wine Co., Vins De Bordeaux (Oldham)

11. Alma de Blanco Godello 2010, price guide £7.50, Oddbins.com

Fresh with bright white peach fruit – a welcome new addition to the Oddbins range – www.oddbins.com

12. Pazo de Mariñan 2010, Bodegas Tapias Mariñan, 13% £10.50, 13%

Godello, Treixadura and Albariño come together in a stylish blend.

Available from: George Hill (Loughborough), Highbury Vintners (London), Mill Hill Wines (London), Partridges of Sloane Square (London), Ultracomida (Aberystwyth, Narbeth), Vins de Bordeaux (Oldham), Wines of Interest (Ipswich), York Beer and Wine shop, Wine Appreciation (Doncaster)

13. Tierra Fidel Rioja Blanco 2009, Agrícola Labastida, Rioja, 14%, £25

Mostly Viura, Garnacha Blanca and Malvasía with Mazuelo Blanco, Moscatel and the rare Rioja variety Calagraño making up the rest. When Rioja whites can be as good as this the region doesn’t need Chardonnay…   www.carteblanchewines.com

14. José Pariente 2011, Bodegas José Pariente, Rueda, 13%, £8.58

Fresh from the 2011 vintage – a rich yet balanced Verdejo with delicious hints of quince fruit. One of the best producers in the region in my view. Available through Georges Barbier of London, 020 8852 5801

A fine glass for the New Year

I’m becoming far more selective about the kind of glass that I use or like to be offered, especially for particularly good wines. Elegant glasses with no frills and fine lines tend to catch my eye and, although my personal selection is far from extensive, I try to use a glass to suit a wine style be it Champagne, sherry, a fine white Burgundy or a richly aromatic Pinot Noir.

Recently I was invited to a presentation by glassware makers Riedel to mark the launch of its new tasting kit – The Key to Wine. Comprising five glasses of different shapes and sizes, the kit is designed to show how the choice of glass can really make a difference to the enjoyment of wine. See what I wrote about it for Wine Business International’s latest issue in the About section of this website.

Here are a few more tips on glassware:

1. I personally prefer clear glassware which allows the wine to be totally visible.

2. Though delicate, thin glass is more elegant and the glass should be tapered towards the rim to trap the aromas.

3. If you are only using one glass, choose one that is a reasonable size.

4. Wash fine glassware by hand and rinse well. Dry glasses with a clean dry cloth.

My Christmas wines

I love Christmas Eve: the hard work is over, the family is about to arrive, the fridge is well stocked, the Champagne is chilling and it’s time to start cooking.

This morning the smell of chocolate wafted through the house – we’re having chocolate pot (see below for the recipe) to go with the fantastic dessert wine Maury 1928 Solera, a dark fortified wine made from Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris and Carignan by Les Vignerons de Maury in the Roussillon.

Well before that we’ll be opening a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Ultra Brut. My boyfriend’s mother, Françoise, is a Champagne loving Parisian. She says that she’s never knowingly tried an Ultra Brut Champagne and I’m sure that she’ll like this one which is bone dry yet rich and toasty. I think that the Ultra Brut style, zero dosage (no added sugar), is the ultimate aperitif and I particularly liked Billecart-Salmon’s take on the style.

I’m cooking duck on Christmas Day and my two red wine choices for the Christmas dinner hail from Spain and Italy respectively and both are made by family producers. We’ll be opening Ochoa’s Mil Gracias Graciano (2007 vintage) which was made by Adriana Ochoa at Olite in Navarra (northern Spain). This wine is simply superb and it’s deep black inky fruit and freshness matches dark game perfectly.

Equally fine and perfect for this time of year is Allegrini’s ‘Corte Giara’ Amarone della Valpolicella 2008, a slightly richer red with enticing black cherry fruit and great length.

Between Christmas and New Year I’ll be cooking pheasant and I’ve got a rather different wine in mind to go with it: Roxanich’s Antica 2007, a Malvazija (Malvoisie in France and Malvasia in Spain). I tasted this Croatian wine at Green & Blue wine merchants in East Dulwich along with Trevor Long and Judith Burns, importers of Croatian wines (www.pactaconnect.co.uk). I was seduced by the wine’s great depth and spicy flavours as well as its beautiful texture. Pheasant or Guinea fowl will surely have the flavour profile to go with it. Happy Christmas!

Chocolate Pot

150 gr dark chocolate

300 ml single cream

1 egg, beaten

A touch of vanilla essence

A drop of brandy

Method:

Melt small pieces of chocolate in the cream being careful not to overheat. Pour into a blender, start to blend and add the remaining ingredients. Pour into six pots, cool and chill. Decorate with seasonal fruit.

Magnums make a great gift

A few years ago I started to give magnums (the equivalent of two standard bottles of wine/1.5litre) to my family and friends at Christmas and other times of the year. I’ll be doing the same this year for the following reasons:

1. The magnum bottle is often described as the ideal size for wine maturation favouring quality.

2. Producers generally select some of their best vintages or stocks for magnums so you can expect the quality of the wine to be good.

3. A magnum makes an impression and raises a smile.

Most good wine merchants stock more magnums at this time of year as well as half bottles (37.5cl) which make great stocking fillers and additions to hampers. Here’s my guide to where to find a good selection:

Berry Bros & Rudd is offering around 200 magnums coving Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux, German Riesling, Italian Barolo, Rioja, Port and one or two top drops from Australia. Prices range from £29.90 to over £2,000. www.bbr.com

London wine merchant Lea & Sandeman has a varied range of wine, Champagne and ports in magnum with many priced under £50 although you could splash out on Krug Grande Cuvée Brut for £355. www.leaandsandeman.co.uk  

Majestic lists 10 magnums of Champagne and wine starting with the very drinkable Viñalba Reserva Malbec 2009 at £17.99. www.majestic.co.uk  

Waitrose has a range of magnum gift sets from £40 to £120.  www.waitrose.com

Corks Out, with several branches in Cheshire, has a good choice of Champagne in magnum and other wines including 2001 and 2000 vintages of Lebanon’s Château Musar. You can also find a magnum accessory set here for £13.36. www.corksout.com

The Secret Cellar lists 26 magnums from France, Spain, Champagne, Australia, South Africa and California . www.secretcellar.co.uk

Stevens Garnier has a good range of magnums and half bottles including Spanish and French wines. www.stevensgarnier.co.uk

Last but by no means least Oddbins has magnum bottles of Château Jaumard 2009 on shelf for £15. If you like a drop of easy-going claret at this time of year try this, it’s great value for the price. www.oddbins.com

2011 harvest report for Spain

My extensive report on this year’s harvest in Spain can be seen at: www.winesfromspainuk.com

I collected comment from producers and regional representatives in both well known and up-and-coming regions to find out about the challenges that they faced and their early predictions for the wines of 2011. We will start to see the first wines next spring when young whites and rosés come onto the market followed by young reds and, sometime later, oak-aged reds when they have completed their maturation in both the barrel and the bottle.