Tag Archives: Rioja

Summer in a bottle – gorgeous golden pinks from Provence and surprises from further afield

5 Jul

In a midsummer made for pink wine drinking, the Wine Wanderers have challenged themselves to reconsider roses made outside the South of France.   It was a wrench; it’s hard to turn away from the beautiful golden-pink wines which characterise Cotes de Provence and have a quality mostly absent from pinks made elsewhere.  It’s what Jean-Michel Deluc, former head sommelier of the Paris Ritz, speaking of the Clos de l’Ours CdP he sells through Le Petit Ballon, so aptly describes as “a stony minerality”.

Our prejudice against deeper-pink wines which often lack any hint of minerality has been fed over the years by some horrid Rose d’Anjou and even nastier “blush” zinfandel first encountered when the Wanderers lived in California.   It was a shock to return to these shores and find that white zinfandel had followed us – but we were close enough to France to pick up endless five-euro bottles of Cotes de Provence in French supermarkets which never disappointed, despite the bargain basement price.

CdP has now made it on to UK supermarket shelves, riding the crest of a wave of Brits’ preference for pale pink roses, but costs twice as much here as it does in France, thanks to the duty.   The Wanderers enjoyed Laithwaite’s gorgeous golden-pink Domaine Les Gres(£10.99 or £9.89 if buying 12) but felt it was a bit pricey.    At least both Sainsburys and Waitrose, whose own label CdP’s are decent value on promotion if also pricey otherwise at £8-9, have ramped up their range of pinks in light of sales of tens of million bottles every year and made some good finds elsewhere.

It’s not only in Provence where a preponderance of grenache makes for a great drop. Having established on a visit to Langedoc-Roussillon how good winemakers there are at blending this grape with syrah(viz. the excellent value L’Or du Sud by Foncalieu, £5.49 at Lidl), we ventured further north, enjoying a £6 Winemaker’s Selection Cotes de Rhone from Sainsburys, which also blends grenache with Syrah.  Ditto an £8  Barrihuela Rioja Rosado – here the grenache is spelled garnacha – perhaps a little finer than the excellent value £4.99 Rioja rosado from Lidl.

Laithwaites’ Pillastro Rosato from Puglia presented the first challenge to our prejudiced palates, not only because it was a slightly suspect strawberry pink, but because the grape was primitivo, the progenitor of zinfandel.   While not as sweet and nasty as the “blush” zinfandel we used to drink in California, the Pillastro was still too jammy for our taste, and a reminder that primitivo/zinfandel does have an inherent sweetness which is subsumed by the alcohol when it appears as a joyous red.    Similarly, we love red pinot noir, but not the New World pink pinot noirs tasted from various sources – a bit sweet and a bit fizzy for our tastebuds.

Specially worth mentioning is a great rose from Greece we approached with anticipation, remembering a wonderful cheap as chips rose enjoyed with barbecued pork in a remote corner of Mykonos.   Twin Sails, a Waitrose exclusive, is made from the xinomavro grape, another variety usually reserved for reds but this one performing perfectly as a fragrant pink with not a hint of unwanted sweetness.   Fabulous value at an everyday price of £5.99, all you should really have to pay for a wine that looks and tastes like summer in a bottle.

From Rioja to Leeds with love – an extraordinary red, a delicious rose and a Montrachet taste-alike

22 Mar

Leeds may seem an odd place to discover a range of beautiful and unusual Spanish wines, but there is a link between the city of muck and brass and Luis Alegre of Rioja.   That’s the local importer who has introduced this maverick winemaker to The Foundry, an award-winning wine bar in the canal-side  complex which has extended and revitalised the city’s dining and entertainment scene.

I was impressed enough that The Foundry offered  Cotes de Provence rose by the glass – always, for me, the perfect aperitif, even far from the Med on a bitterly cold day – but Phil Richardson, Foundry co-owner who clearly knows his bottles, suggested I try Alegre’s rosado instead.  It was crisp, dry and delicious, in spite of being a pale strawberry colour which doesn’t, for me, hold a light to the golden pink of Cotes de Provence.  It did, however, remind me that we’ve never been disappointed yet by a rose sipped in Spain.

The wine, made by one of the young Turks who is changing the face of Rioja as we know it,  went down a treat with chef Shaun Davies’s white onion and Stilton soup, and had enough body to stand up to my thick, beautifully-seared veal chop, the shade of whose rare middle it exactly matched.  But Richardson had other ideas, pouring me a glass of Alegre’s Koden 2010 – and that’s where the wow factor really kicked in.

The strange name is apparently an Aztec term to describe a woman in her prime, and that was certainly true of this blend of this far from classic tempranillo aged in new French oak for six months.  What you get is a marriage of sumptuousness and elegant restraint in a rich ruby package which seems astonishing value at £6.25 a glass.

The Koden was a fabulous match for the earthiness of the ceps and other wild mushrooms garnishing the chop and the rich marsala cream sauce, and I would happily have left with only two great new wines to tell you about.  But Phil insisted I take home a bottle of the Alegre white Rioja 2011 to see if I agreed it resembled an old-fashioned French Burgundy.

I had my doubts that a concoction of 90 per cent Viura and 10 per cent Malvasia grapes could in any way approximate 100 per cent Chardonnay; indeed, the first tentative sip brought sour apples to mind.   But how the wine changed with food; it does indeed become reminiscent of a Montrachet, which may be a lot to do with the nine months it spends in oak from the Troncais forest.    This unusual wine won’t be for everyone, but it’s worth a fiver a glass to investigate when you’re in Leeds and want to try wine and food Michelin has recommended for six years running.

As for Alegre, you can’t miss the winery if you happen to be in the Rioja Alavesa, where it’s one of two very distinct and futuristic buildings on the horizon.   The one by Frank Gehry which looks like a mini-Guggenheim Bilbao belongs to Marques de Riscal, the makers of much more traditional Rioja.    The circular one on the hill resembling a flying saucer is Alegre’s

“The New Spain” – Rioja, Albarino,Verdejo and the usual suspects, but not as we know them

27 Oct

“The new Spain” seems to be what everyone is talking about in the wine world.  It was certainly what the chaps from Bibendum were talking about when they invited aficionadoes to taste no less than 15 unexpected vintages at the Boundary restaurant in Shoreditch this week.

What “new” means in Spanish wine varies from familiar names that have come to taste different from traditional expectations to new names which have started supplanting them altogether.   The Wanderers started discovering “new” Spanish wines on a trip to Bilbao for Food And Travel magazine a couple of years ago.   We heard  much talk then of a new style of wine-making in Rioja – though that seemed to be the last thing anyone was drinking, given the prominence at the time of Ribera del Duero on wine lists.

At the Boundary we had a taste of some of that, and also of the Albarino we first tasted in its native Galicia, where we feasted on spectacular seafood and some of the best beef in the world.  The fresh, crisp Albarino we enjoyed with a lunch of barnacles and razor clams by the sea was a far cry from the sumptously fragrant and raisiny versiion from the Bodegos Castro Martin poured at the Boundary, though it came from Rias Baixas, the scene of our seafood feast.

Other wines we sampled which ran contrary to type were a Verdejo from Agricola Castellana, fruity, herbal and powerful, and a splendidly fresh and elegant white Rioja from Bodegas Dinastia Vivanco.    Vivanco’s red Rioja Riserva was gorgeous, too, but the star of the pre-dinner tastings was the Garnacha from Bodegas Bernabeleva near Madrid – intense, toasty and full of red fruit.     It even beat the Ribera which was the last of 15 wines we tasted with our beef cheeks(dinner consisted of old-style Spanish fare, oddly, considering Spain is at the cutting edge of gastronomy, and “the new Spain” was the theme of the evening).   The Bodegas Tabula 2006 Rivera was not to be sneezed at, full of lovely minerals and notes of cinnamon, chocolate, toffee and liquorice.

Talking of the new Spain, there was no sighting of Don Ferranti at the Boundary, in spite of it winning 83 prizes at the China Wine Awards last month.    Welshman Gwyn Jones, who grows Garnacha, Carinena, Tempranillio, Shiraz and Macabeo in an obscure south-east corner of Catalonia, won a double gold  and “best wine of Spain” award for his Don Ferranti Red 2009 from Terra Alta.  The Wanderers are looking forward to tasting it this weekend, along with the 2010 white, which took silver.