Tag Archives: Argentina

Big black wines to see winter out

3 Mar

Just when we thought an early spring had arrived the weather turned brutal again, and the Wine Wanderers have been getting through the last of winter with some big, black wines we don’t drink at other times of the year.
Not to say we eschew rich reds altogether – we always enjoy a good syrah with a hunk of lamb – but there are wines which pack so much punch we approach them with caution, including our beloved Barolo, reserved for special occasions.

Biggest and blackest of all wines is malbec, too rarely tempered with a soupcon of anything, which we tired of for a while after tasting more than 70 in a week on a visit to Argentina(wine-makers here are doing much more interesting things with other varietals), but have now acknowledged the need to revisit.

Malbec, however much the Argentinians claim it for their own, was the pride of Cahors in south-west France before the wine-makers of Mendoza decided to get seriously stuck into it.   While always big and in the hands of the Argentinians pretty reliable, it can be a one-note wine devoid of any subtlety.   However, the Wanderers got the chance to appreciate its finer nuances courtesy of Chateau de Mercues, a distinguished domaine which makes some very fine bottles indeed in the Cahors region.

The Wanderers thought the Prestige Cuvee 6666 2014 was as good as it was going to get at a recent London tasting until the very special Icone WOW 2009 from sister domaine Chateau de Haute-Serre was poured – simply sumptuous.   Annoyingly, there is not yet any UK distribution for these bottles and vintages, but Dulwich Vintners does sell Mercues’s slightly less elevated Grand Vin at prices from £18 per bottle, depending on the vintage.  One delightful way of getting Mercues’s top wine would be to visit the vineyard, which is attached to a Relais & Chateaux hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant, and pick up the 6666 for 28 euros a bottle, the Icone an eye-watering five times as much at the cellar door.

Encouraged by how fine a malbec can be in the hands of good winemakers, we decided to sample an award-winning Argentinian example from Aldi, their Exquisite Collection Malbec, which has bagged a Which? Best Buy award as well as winning Silver in competition.   It was fine, but paled into insignificance beside an astonishing big black bottle from France Aldi is currently fielding.   Bonfleur Languedoc Reserve 2011 may not contain any malbec whatsoever, but for a syrah/grenache/mourvedre blend, always a good bet for body and flavour, it is absolutely huge, positively forcing you to sip and savour rather than quaff.

The secret is the age – this wine was found lying around the chateau by the new owners of the domaine, Mas des Belles Eaux.  It had somehow been forgotten for four or five years, and has gained enormously in complexity during that time.   Tasting as good as a bottle three times the price, this £6.99 wonder is one to bag now before the limited stock vanishes forever; note Aldi offer free delivery and allow you to make up your own case in the unlikely event you wouldn’t want to buy at least six of these(we are about to order our next half-dozen, if there are any left).

Another limited edition offering is from Lidl – an inky-looking syrah which somehow has been listed in their “Naturally Light” range.  That’s because their MW taster found “freshness” in Cave du Tain, a rich Rhone with a deep colour and slightly gamey taste.   But unlike some malbecs, it only looks inky and doesn’t actually taste of black ink!

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Lisa McGuigan puts a new spin on a famous winemaking name with sumptuous Aussie reds and whites

28 May

Lisa McGuigan puts a new spin on a famous winemaking name with sumptuous Aussie reds and whites.

Lisa McGuigan puts a new spin on a famous winemaking name with sumptuous Aussie reds and whites

28 May

The WIne Wanderers summoned up all their energy for an evening of rich wines and serious steak at the Gaucho in London last week.   We always feel you need as much stamina to survive an evening at the loud, dark, intensely macho Argentinian steakhouse as a whole weekend in Buenos Aires.

But this was the Gaucho with a difference – a rare private enclave  in a ground-floor glass box at the Charlotte Street branch where daylight was allowed to seep into the proceedings and, for once in a lifetime, the wines were not from Argentina.
Lisa McGuigan, daughter of the legendary Australian winemaker, chose the Gaucho as the venue to launch her own range of wines to fashionistas mainly because she sees the place as a reflection of her personal style.   As in lots of black, silver and Gothic-style glamour – McGuigan herself is a grown-up Goth who has never reneged on the style of her youth, and who believes wine can, even should, be a fashion accessory.

“If I’m going to take a bottle of wine to a friend’s house for dinner, I want it to look as good as it tastes,” she explains, brandishing a bottle of her Silver Collection.   This mid-priced range was handsome, but less pleasing to our palate than the entry-level Wilde Thing  blends or the sublime Platinum Collection top-end range, but it was certainly the most elegantly-packaged.

Earthy McGuigan seems like the kind of lady who would only ever drink red wine, a perfect partner for the Gaucho’s sumptuous steaks, but she is actually an advocate of chardonnay.  She audaciously blends the grape with pinot grigio to make an entry-level Wilde Thing blend coming to  your local NISA soon, while in her more upmarket collections she fields both an unoaked Chardonnay – not so much to the Wine Wanderers’ taste, as we are Meursault-loving dinosaurs, as her delicious lightly oaked take on this noble white grape for the Platinum Collection.  It was a perfect complement to starters of shrimp ceviche and creamy brandade – who says the Gaucho can’t do fish?

We could have stopped as soon as we tasted the quite heavenly pinot gris also from the Platinum Collection, not at all what the evening was supposed to be about but a show-stopper, nonetheless .   When we started with the reds – and the meaty courses in a divine tasting menu – a very drinkable cabernet shiraz blend came out with a proper Argentinian empanada – a mini beef pasty – but the pure shiraz was an even greater treat, particularly the Platinum from Australia’s Limestone Coast, which a few inspired speciality wine-sellers will stock at north of £20 a bottle, according to distributors Copestick Murray.
Just as the fillet steak the Wanderers bathed in a perfect chimichurri of olive oil infused with coarsely chopped coriander and chile, was better than the Gaucho’s much-vaunted top rib, Lisa McGuigan’s understated pinot noir was a quiet treat after the in-your-face voluptuousness of all that shiraz.

Thanks to Lisa and her dad, whose McGuigan wines are now publicly owned, we can all enjoy very palatable Australian wine at a fair price.  The Wine Wanderers always snap up a bottle of McGuigan’s grey label when it comes on £5 half-price promotion at Tesco or Sainsbury’s, and Lisa McGuigan’s Wilde Thing red and white blends will soon be offering great value at your local corner shop for £7.    The Silver Collection will come in at about £11 a bottle, but for a real treat splurge on the Platinum if you can find it.

Picture 229

Picture 229

Lisa McGuigan Silver Collection

Voluptuous viognier – perfect sipping for warm summer evenings

27 May

When spring starts to segue into summer, a different style of wine is called for – one with a bit of fragrance that seems to mark the change of seasons and with enough personality to work as an aperitif as well as with food.

Viognier, which fits the bill to a T, was once a secret for connoisseurs.  The grape variety was brought to the Rhone Valley by the Romans, and the tiny appellation known as Condrieu, made of 100 per cent viognier, has long been prized for its perfumed nose and elegance.  Until relatively recently, viognier was left to the French, and to the Rhone rangers in particular.    Then wine-makers all over the world started experimenting with the fragrant grape, and there has been an explosion of viognier in the past 10 years.

Not all of it is good – this is a difficult grape to grow, which can produce “oily” or overpoweringly perfumed wines when badly made.    But in skilled hands, the results can be stunning, and great value for wine of this quality.

Unsurprisingly, one of the best viogniers comes from the very borders of Condrieu territory.  Pierre Gaillard’s Les Gendrines is a gorgeous drop from Berry Brothers & Rudd with all the Rhone Valley elegance you would hope for- and at less than £15 a bottle when you buy a case of six.      Equally fine value is a divine Israeli viognier from Dalton at around the same price. It has notes of peaches, honey and sunshine without being in any way overblown

Yet both these premium wines have serious competition from a couple of contenders able to produce good viognier at almost unbelievable prices.   For around  £7 a bottle you can pick up Domaine de Mandeville viognier Pays d’Oc from Marks and Spencer or Trivento viognier made in the Tupungato region of Argentina from Waitrose.       The former is richer and more serious, the latter quite deliciously playful, with a lovely hint of lemon.

Both work beautifully with salmon or other fish in a buttery sauce, and the Trivento is lovely to drink on its own.    Watch out for promotions on the Trivento in Waitrose – the current offer of £5.59 is about to expire, but there’s every chance it will  be back before summer’s out.

Viva Zapata!

2 Dec

Silence from The Wine Wanderers as running round Israel tasting that country’s finest wines is followed immediately by running around Argentina doing the same.  And there is a link – at least one winemaker in each country producing elegant, complex chardonnay that rivals the best produced in Burgundy and dismissing the myth that in other hands this white grape is crudely processed into a sledgehammer Page Three wine.

Chardonnay probably earned the page three epithet because of the seductive power of the grape, and it is easy to be seduced by Eli Ben-Zaken’s Blanc de Castel. Ben Zaken, a self-taught winemaker who started life in Israel as a chicken farmer, makes the country’s  finest chardonnay, and I was delighted to be offered a glass of it at the country’s best seafood restaurant, Mul Yam in Tel Aviv, where it perfectly compemented a divine dish of razor clams cooked in lemon butter with a judicious sprinkle of samphire and pink peppercorns.

A week later both Wine Wanderers were being seduced in Buenos Aires by a chardonnay named Angelica Zapata, alas a non-export brand of the esteemed Argentinian winery Catena Zapata.   It was so good that even when the meat course arrived at swanky Casa Cruz in Palermo, we didn’t want to switch to red – this is one wine it was hard to stop drinking.

As my fellow Wine Wanderer will reveal when he recovers from a cold caught riding in the foothills of the Andes, Catena Zapata first turned us on to Argentinian wines several years ago, and it’s surprising to find they are a huge winery.   Their fourth-generation winemaker, Laura Catena, was not one of the two dozen we met personally during our week in Salta, Cafayate and Mendoza, but we did get one final glug of her chardonnay.   Back in Buenos Aires at trendy Sucre, we were treated to a few bottles of D.V. Catena – not quite as addictive as Angelica, but almost as good.

The good news for Brits is that the multiiples are getting in some great chardonnay from this winery at astonishing prices.   Both the Tupungato from Marks and Spencer and the Catena chardonnay from Waitrosse are grown at high altitude like the bottles we drank in Argentina.  The first is named for the area it’s grown in and the second is made from grapes grown both in Tupungato and Lujan de Cuyo.   The cheaper Tupungato is actually headier, if a tad less complex, but both are easier to love than the Torrontes which Argentina fields as its own special white wine, which can be as variable as chardonnay, and will stand up to the Christmas turkey.