Tag Archives: malbec

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!

Exciting wines from Chile? A reality, thanks to Aurelio Montes

1 Apr

I was privileged to take wine recently with Aurelio Montes, a legend in his own Latin American lifetime.  A free thinker who believes his grapes and the men who tend them benefit from spiritual sustenance like beautiful music while they work, Montes is that rare creature among Chilean wine-makers, a risk-taker.

If Chile has been missing a mention in these pages, it’s because their wines tend to be so darn bland.   Reliable, yes – you’ll rarely find a £5 bottle of Chilean which is undrinkable(with the exception of some carmeneres) – but rarely exciting enough to write home about.   The Argentinians on the other side of the Andes have been making most of the wild experiments with varying degrees of success, but the result that much more excitement has been coming out of Mendoza than Casablanca, Colchagua and the Central Valley.

Montes, named 1995 Chilean Winemaker of the Year, has shown faith by expanding the Chilean terroir, planting grapes in a coastal valley where no wine-makers have attempted to cultivate before.   Namely in the hinterlands of Zapallar, a little Pacific beach resort where summer sea breezes and morning fog inform the wine, as does slow ripening during a cool autumn.

The Outer Limits experiment has worked; these are terrific wines, even given their hefty price points(around £17 for the beautiful, grassy but full Sauvignon Blanc, £27 for the  pinot noir, heady with violets, and the somewhat more austere CGM – carignan spiked with grenache and mourvedre).

The Icon range is an even riskier venture in a recession; for £30-plus per bottle, the drinker has a right to expect something out of the ordinary.   Folly. which commands £40,  is certainly an outstanding Syrah, with all the complexity the grape can offer; it would be hard to find a better partner for red meat.    However, I  take issue with Montes on Purple Angel.   Chile has embraced carmenere as its own, but there’s a reason it disappeared from European vineyards 150 years ago, and it may well be that austere aftertaste of burnt coffee.

However, Montes is to be applauded in every other respect – not least for making very drinkable wines at the £12.99 level; in this Alpha range, the Chardonnay is to be particularly recommended, with unusual apple and pineapple notes which lend it extra liveliness.   And he makes an entry-level range at £7.99 I will be prepared to take on trust if I come across it.

Montes says the secret of his wines is that he lays out the barrels on feng shui principles and plays Gregorian chants to them 24/7 while they mature.   It sounds daft, and is bound to have taken an extra investment in the winery.  But it’s all part of what makes Montes wines much more worth drinking than the average bottle of Chilean plonk – you can taste the investment.

Incidentally, Montes is now growing in Argentina, too, and bottling under the Kaiken label.  Naturally, there’s a Malbec, but I think I prefer his Chilean Malbec overall for its subtety, ditto Montes’s Chilean chardonnay to the Kaiken, which does not display the old-fashioned white Burgundy sumptuousness Argentina’s Catena Zapata winery has brought to this much-mistreated grape.