The Wine Wanderers were recently on the Amalfi coast in search of the world’s finest lemons. We found them, in droves(or should that be groves?), but what we also stumbled across, quite unexpected…
The Wine Wanderers were recently on the Amalfi coast in search of the world’s finest lemons. We found them, in droves(or should that be groves?), but what we also stumbled across, quite unexpectedly, were some of Italy’s best and least-celebrated wines.
Campania was not known for its winemaking skills as recently as a decade ago, but boy, have they come a long way in this land of fine mozzarella, fabulous seafood and, indeed, superlative lemons. They are making excellent fiano, falanghina, Greco di tufo and aglianico in Campania, as well as some excellent white blends – and the Wanderers were lucky enough to be staying at two of the best hotels in the region, where some serious thought has been given to showcasing Campania on the wine list.
First stop was the Santa Caterina in Amalfi, where we tasted that superb aglianico. The Wanderers first tasted this sumptuous, inky red in neighbouring Basilicata, where it has an AOC, and did not realise production was more widespread. A Donnaluna 2011, actually 90 per cent aglianico tempered with 10 per cent primitivo, was a voluptuous drop to accompany an inventive dish of burrata, poached egg and asparagus; the Greco di tufo “Devon” from Cantine Antonio Caggiano Taurasi which preceded it was crisp, dry and refreshing.
Sitting over the sea next day with an excellent seafood risotto, it was fitting to be served a splendid falanghina from Feudi di San Gregorio. But even better was a Furore blend of 60 per cent falanghina and 40 per cent indigenous biancolella. Furore is named for a wine village just up the coast from Amalfi; this very excellent example came from from Cantine Marisa Cuomo.
On to Sorrento and one of the world’s oldest and grandest grand hotels, the exemplary Excelsior Vittoria, where they actually have a live pianist serenading guests in the breakfast room every morning. Dinner is served in the Michelin-starred Terrazza Bosquet, where maitre d‘ Luciano gave us more Campania whites which knocked our socks off. With scampi from the Messina Straits in Sicily we had the smokiest and most minerally fiano de avellino Colli di Lapio from Cleria Romano. And a Per Eva Costa d’Amalfi falanghina blend from Tenuta San Francesco stood up beautifully to a dish of orzo risotto perfumed with black garlic and candied zest of Sorrento lemons from the hotel garden beneath a bed of delicate white cuttlefish.
Although the blue lobster with bisque reduction sauce and caulifower foam must be the finest dish cooked anywhere on the Amalfi coast, we couldn’t blame Luciano for serving us a chardonnay from hundreds of miles north in Cortefranca,Lombardy. Ca‘ del Bosco is one of the best chardonnays in all Italy and possibly the world; it can stand side by side with Montrachet, big, buttery with a lemony nose and altogether gorgeous.
The Wine Wanderers rarely choose Italian wines outside Italy, yet they never fail to surprise and delight us in their country of origin. You have to be more careful with what you pick up in the British supermarkets, but Sainsburys does a pretty decent Aglianico del Vulture from Basiiicata at £8. They also have a drinkable Greco di Tufo on offer till May 17 at £8(normally £10), but the Wanderers preferred a somewhat more elegant version of this varietal from Tre Fiori, £10.99 at Waitrose. Wine Direct has that fine Feudi falanghina for £13, and Mad About Wines has the Furore for £21.85, the kind of price Campanian winemakers could not have dreamt their wines would fetch a decade or so ago.
This past month the Wine Wanderers have been mainly drinking Bordeaux. This is an unusual state of affairs, as while we’ve had our socks knocked off in the past by exquisite swigs of Pauillac, Ma…
This past month the Wine Wanderers have been mainly drinking Bordeaux. This is an unusual state of affairs, as while we’ve had our socks knocked off in the past by exquisite swigs of Pauillac, Margaux, Pomerol and Saint-Emilion, it’s been 20 years since we felt like investing a small fortune in a famous-name bottle.
The reason is that the elegance of these wines from houses which have been in the wine-making business for hundreds of years has led to many becoming investment vehicles which are now horribly over-valued. The wine may be good, but not so great that you can’t find much better value from star winemakers in other parts of France, not to mention Spain, Italy, Israel and the New World.
Nevertheless, we jumped at the chance to taste a few glasses of Chateau Angelus, one of the most famous Saint-Emilions, whose wines command three figures per bottle. One Wanderer had already met Stephanie de Bouard-Rivoal, the eighth-generation chatelaine now taking the helm at a house established in 1782. That was in Bordeaux itself; this time it was in London, at a Connaught lunch to launch a handsome tome Angelus has produced about its history.
The cost of lavishly entertaining wine writers and drinks buyers at meals cooked by Michelin-starred chefs is part of keeping these big names alive at a time when wine-lovers are gaining confidence no longer seek a prestige name as a badge of approval. Although the reds of Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, which rely heavily on merlot, are less likely to disappoint those shelling out than the left bank wines of the Medoc peninsula which are based much more heavily on cabernet sauvignon – one of the five permitted grapes in a classic Bordeaux blend along with cabernet franc, petit verdot, merlot and malbec. The result of cab sauv domination is lots of structure and ageing potential, but also heavy tannins which can take years to soften and become approachable.
One answer is to explore the“diffusion” wines of the grand chateaux, like the Carillon d’Angelus 2012, a mere snip at £42 per bottle, the Wanderers would happily have chosen to imbibe over the grand 2008 and 2006 vintages which followed, and which command three-figure sums. Angelus has a distinctive character, thanks to an unusually large proportion of cabernet franc; it is more elegant but less seductive than most right bank wines, which are almost universally voluptuous.
A good way to explore Bordeaux without breaking the bank is to invest £10 to £20 in a bottle from the high street, where superior buying power can bring the cost down a tad. Lidl, who made headlines a couple of years ago with an affordable “claret offensive”, is fielding a decent enough Chateau Jean de Gue Lalande de Pomerol 2012, £14.99, but more sumptuous is Marks & Spencer’s Moueix Saint-Emiliion at £14. Extraordinary value this month is Watirose Saint-Emilion, normally £13.49 but a positive steal on promotion at £9.99 from March 16 to April 12 – the perfect partner for your Easter lamb.
M&S also fields a lovely Margaux – Chateau Notton 2012 – but while a great special occasion bottle, it’s not exactly everyday drinking. That’s the thing about Bordeaux; mostly you have to pay dear for it, and you have to like that slightly austere inkiness which is the opposite of the easy-drinking, fruit-driven wine we have all become used to quaffing for single figures.
What to drink with Valentine’s Day dinner? Marketing hype says it ought to be fizz, still or sparkling pink or at the very least a red or white with a heart on its label.
So far, so cliched; what you really want is a sexy wine which will perfectly complement the aphrodisiac feast you plan to serve – or to enjoy as an aperitif before a dinner out. In respect of the former, pink sparkling wine is hard to beat; generally less acid than white, it immediately creates a festive air and provides a feast for the eyes as well as a tickle for the tastebuds.
Champagne is no longer de rigeur now that we’re growing our own fizz, and it’s hard to beat a sparkling rose from Chapel Down. But if the real thing is desired for its ooh-la-la cachet, Lanson rose is a bargain this week on promotion at £25 from Sainsburys.
Still rose is always a joy when well-made, particularly the gorgeous pale golden pinks from Provence. You’re unlikely to find any of the Miraval made by Brangelina till spring- inevitably this small production sells out every year – but you could try the delicate violet-pink Pure from the similarly-named Mirabeau at Waitrose; not cheap at £12.99 but elegant.
Mirabeau is owned by an English couple, ironic considering that the English are doing a pretty good job with still rose themselves. The Wanderers enjoyed the Broadwoods Folly, £7.99 at Lidl who have added three English wines to their selection for the first time.
Although rose is an apt partner for chicken, white meats and spicy food, if you have your heart set on oysters, you’ll want a decent white. One Wanderer believes nothing but Chablis will do for oysters, but the other thinks the money would be better spent on Sainsburys Taste the Difference Sancerre, a sensational example of the genre at £13. It will also work with asparagus, the other most-touted aphrodisiac food, which M&S have managed to get from their British growers in time for this year’s Valentines weekend.
A bottle with a heart on the label which would also partner asparagus is the Bordeaux sauvignon blanc known as Good Ordinary White from Berry Brothers & Rudd, who got Paul Smith to design a special Valentines Day label for this and their Good Ordinary Claret. While the white is lovely, the red suffers like most claret under £10 from being too young for full enjoyment. To accompany steak or duck, better to splash out a fully developed voluptuous wine from southern Europe – the excellent Ribera del Duero by Condado del Hazo, £15 at Sainsburys or the austerely elegant Terre del Barolo from Waitrose, £18.79. These are pricey treats, but decent reds from the New World are available at Lidl for less, including Lodi zinfandel from California, £4.99, and Axis cabernet sauvignon from Margaret River in Australia, home of great reds, for £6.49.
For value and reliability, you can’t beat the “i heart” range which is a lynchpin of convenience store shelves. Despite the rather naff label, most are eminently quaffable and true to variety, with the exception of the sauv blanc, which tastes suspiciously sweet – added sugar to please girly palates? A nice enough drop for an aperitif, but keep it away from the oysters!