MARSALISCOUS.

CATCH A GLIMPSE OF THIS SICILIAN BEAUTY.

Marsala. Garibaldi Dolce. Pelligrino. (£10.00, Sainsbury’s).

Delia Smith boosted sales of Marsala years ago when she poured the amber liquid into one of her famous dessert recipes. Sadly, since then you rarely hear of this under-rated sweetie. That is, until now; you’ll be pleased you’ve caught a glimpse of this Sicilian Beauty.

Marsala is a fortified wine that, like Port, was strengthened with alcohol to help it survive the long sea journey to England way back in the eighteenth century. Marsala, named after the picturesque Sicilian coastal town, was a star on the shelves back then.

Like many Italian grapes, the varieties for Marsala are difficult to pronounce but if you follow the Italians and use your hands, Grillo, Cataratto and Inzolia just slide off the tongue! The DOC Wine Laws (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) for Marsala were revised in 1984 to control yields and allow additional grape varieties, namely Pignatello, Nerello Mascalese, Damaschino and Nero D’Avola. Now you see how important it is to use your hands!

Making Marsala is a complex business. The grapes are left on the vines in the near-African sun past the normal harvest date to produce higher sugar levels. The fermentation is stopped by the addition of high strength grape spirit which stops the fermentation stone dead, thus retaining the natural sugars and boosting the alcohol to a heavyweight 17–19% by volume. The fortification procedure depends on the desired level of residual sugar in the finished wine.

Then comes the unusual bit as two sweetening agents can be curiously added.

The first is called ‘mistella’ which is a blend of semi dried shrivelled grapes and wine alcohol. The second is called ‘cotto’ which is a strange concoction of cooked grapes … the smell of these grapes cooking in copper caldrons on the island is fantastic. How much of these sweetening agents is added again depends on the degree of sweetness of the final wine style. There are three sweet and two dry styles. ‘Told you that is was a complex business.

The first sweet style which goes under the confusing title of ‘fine’ is the ‘basic’ Marsala which has to have a minimum alcohol content of 17% and a minimum ageing period in wooden barrels of one year. The next is Marsala Superiore, (18% and 2 years ageing), whilst the next level up is Superiore Reserva that requires 4 years barrel ageing.

Image result for pellegrino marsala vineyard photos free

If you want to be different you could serve one of the dry Marsalas as an aperitif; look out for Vergine Soleras and Soleras Reserva. They’re ‘dry’ as none of the ‘gloopy goodies’ are added, only high strength spirit – the former requires 5 years ageing whilst the Soleras Reserva requires 10 years in the barrel to carry the prestigious label.

You have to be careful when choosing your preferred Marsala style. For example, Secco or dry, can carry up 40 grams per litre of residual sugar so is not actually ‘dry’, Semisecco, (semi-sweet) has 40 – 100 grams per litre, whilst Dolce has a tooth rattling 100 plus grams per litre of sugar. In these difficult times I can’t help but think that a simplification of Marsala styles would boost sales enormously but hey, nobody listens to me.

Matured in large oak casks for two years, Pellegrino’s Garibaldi Dolce (sweet) is rich, dark, and smooth and boasts 18% alcohol by volume. Marsala is not the flavour of the month so you may get some odd looks as you sneak the bottle off the shelf but it’ll all be worth it as you sit back, relax, sip and enjoy a glass of this luscious Sicilian beauty.

 

MY WINE OF THE WEEK.

POSH POMEROL.

Chateau Petit-Villages 2012. Pomerol. (£40, Fine & Rare).

I’m just back from another trip hosting wine events in Australia ….. ‘can’t get enough of Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide and tasted some fab. Aussie wines …… Mount Mary Quintet 1996, Penfold’s 1999 Bin 407, Tahbilk’s Marsanne 2010 to name a few ….. so I thought that I’d push the boat out and crack open an Old World red to celebrate being back in Blighty. From the wonderful Pomerol vineyards on Bordeaux’s ‘right bank’, Chateau Petit-Villages 2012 hit the spot.

“Right Bank?”, I hear you say. It’s Wine Trade lingo that, surprise surprise, is quite useful. It means  that if you’re sailing up the Dordogne River towards the Atlantic through the Bordeaux vineyards, guess what, the “right bank” is on your right hand side! Even after a few glasses of Claret (that’s just an old name for Bordeaux red wine by the way) we can work out that the so-called “left bank” vineyards, (such as Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac and St. Estephe), are on the left hand side as the Dordogne flows into the Gironde River on its way to the ocean.

The famous ‘right bank’ vineyards of Pomerol, a neighbour to St. Emilion, boast some of the world’s most expensive wines. Le Pin (next to Petit-Villages) and Chateau Petrus are probably the most famous (and expensive) but look out for Chateaux Vieux Chateau CertanConseillanteL’EvangileLafleurTrotanoy, NeninBeauregard, Feytit-Clinet and Le Gay. It’s useful to know the names of the chateaux as Pomerol is the only Bordeaux appellation that is not formally classified. That said, the heady price tags on Petrus and Le Pin do elevate these illustrious vineyards.

Pomerol is the smallest of Bordeaux’s major appellations with about 150 producers working approximately 800 hectares of vineyards where Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are king. The Petit-Villages 2012 is a blend of  80% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. Interestingly, unlike most of Bordeaux’s regions, Pomerol has many small producers some of which produce only about 1000 cases a year.

Pomerol’s vineyards may not be the most photogenic but the uneventful, gently elevated plateau does hold the key to the quality of these amazing wines. The best vineyards lie on the famous blue clay in the centre of the plateau; on the sides of the plateau the soil becomes sandier and the wines lighter. Chateau Petrus is unique as the vineyards lie wholly on the circle of blue clay that sits in the north east corner of the plateau. Petit-Village’s vineyards comprise gravel with sand, chalk and clay, which is said to give the wine ‘truffle’ flavours. My scribblings notes didn’t mention truffle but simply juicy black cherry, velvety tannins, a touch of liquorice and a pleasing spicy blackcurrant finish.

For those of you who are a bit skint I’ve found a red Bordeaux that’ll surprise you; Chateau Pey la Tour Reserve 2011 (£11.50, from The Wine Society) fights well above its ‘Bordeaux Superieur’ label. The property lies between St. Emilion and Bordeaux city where the clay-limestone soils support a cepage (blend) of Merlot (90%), Cabernet Sauvignon (5%), Cabernet Franc (3%) and Petit Verdot (2%). The result is a blackcurrant pleaser with friendly tannins and a spicey plum finish that’ll bring a smile to your face.

It’s a pity I didn’t have these two Bordeaux reds with me in Sydney to compare to the top Australians. Tasting notes are fine but there’s no substitute for tasting wines side by side, preferably with a couple of mates; one Aussie, one English would guarantee a noisy but really enjoyable taste-off!

WINE OF THE WEEK.

 

I was hosting wine dinners and events in Australia during October and Wakefield’s Jaraman Shiraz was a firm favourite with my Melbourne, Geelong and Sydney audiences; we tasted it against Guigal’s St. Joseph, a Syrah from France’s Northern Rhone Valley. Don’t forget Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape. For all my Aussie readers, your ‘Taylor’s’ label goes under the ‘Wakefield’ banner in the UK.

Wakefield’s Jaraman is everything a good Aussie Shiraz should be; rich, crisp yet concentrated, with supple tannins, (the stuff from the skins that puckers and dries your mouth), a good depth of colour and packed with dense blackberry fruit.

The wine is called ‘Jaraman’ after the Australian Aboriginal word for ‘seahorse’, a classy logo that features on all the Wakefield (and Taylor’s) labels. Founder Bill Taylor and his sons discovered the fossilised remains of tiny seahorses in the soil during the excavations of the first vineyard on their Clare Valley estate back in 1969, “the area was once an ancient inland sea and confirmed that the ‘terra rossa’ soils were uniquely fertile”, he recalled.

The fruit in the Jaraman 2013 comes from two famous vineyard regions of South Australia, namely McLaren Vale and Clare Valley, “to create a single varietal yet multidimensional wine which reflects the individual qualities of both terroirs”, is Wakefield’s official line.  Outside this flowery wine talk though, this wine really does have layers of black fruit flavours on it’s lingering “finish”, (that’s how long the flavours stay in your mouth after swallowing by the way).  Just check it out, and remember, the length of the ‘finish’ is a really good indicator of wine quality.

McLaren Vale is located inland from Adelaide where its shallow red sandy soil (overlying beneficial limestone) vineyards enjoy moderate temperatures thanks to its proximity to the sea and the cooling winds from the adjacent Gulf of St. Vincent, (well named as Vincent is the patron saint of wine!). It wasn’t so long ago that McLaren Vale was looked upon as ‘generally warm’ but a new generation of winemakers has realised that this complex valley has aspects, altitudes and slopes that create myriad microclimates. These individual plots, expertly matched to different grape varieties and soils are now highlighting McLaren Vale’s true potential.

On the other hand, Clare Valley, north of Adelaide, (red loam over limestone for the trainspotters), is cooler, which adds a crisp, mouthwatering acidity to the blend, the result of vineyard altitudes and afternoon breezes that herald an evening chill,  just perfect after a day of wonderful sunshine. OK, it’s not the cheapest Aussie Shiraz on your local shelf but if you’re feeling flush it’s well worth a pull.

If you’re feeling very rich after the festive season, or hit lucky on the lottery, search out a bottle of Taylor’s ‘The Pioneer’ Clare Valley Shiraz 2012. It’s named in honour of Bill Taylor, the family patriache and Clare Valley pioneer and is one super wine, mind you, it should be at AUS$200 a pop! With its crisp, rich blackberry, mulberry and plum fruit, grippy yet ripe tannins, overtones of chocolate spice and long, long finish it will set you back about £80 in the UK. so it’s not for the fainted hearted wine lover.

Here’s a question for you. There’s one thing with Taylor’s top wine that won’t worry the Aussie wine enthusiast one iota but will send shock waves through most UK. consumers. What is it? Even with an £80 tag, it’s not the price. The answer? This exceptional wine comes with a screwcap! I’m a big fan but I know that many UK consumers can’t quite get their head around top wines coming under screwcap. Will we ever see Cru Classe imagesBordeaux in screwcap I wonder? Will pigs fly? Anyway, if you get the chance to ‘click’ the screwcap on ‘The Pioneer’ you’ll be a very happy drinker.

My best wishes for a Vintage New Year!

MY SPARKLER OF THE WEEK.

Blanc de Blancs N.V. Champagne Henriot. (£38.70 at Oddbins).   

I’ll put my cards on the table; I’m a big fan of Henriot Champagne. I was at lunch with clients at Henriot’s winery in Reims recently and tasted their Blanc de Blancs as an aperitif. It’s not surprising that many see this as Henriot’s flagship wine; ‘think you’ll agree as you sip this 100% Chardonnay Champagne.

The history of Champagne is fascinating and every House has a tale to tell; we all know the story of the widow (veuve) Cliquot and the different ‘versions’ of who actually discovered the Champagne Method of ‘bubble production’. Henriot’s history is no less gripping.

Champagne Henriot started way back in 1794 when Nicolas Henriot, a wine merchant in Reims married Apolline Godinot, a local beauty and vineyard owner. Sadly, after 14 years of marriage, Nicolas died leaving Apolline to become one of the regions’ famous widows founding ‘Veuve Henriot Aine’ in 1808. The House has been in the family ever since.

Over the years the family built up an impressive portfolio of vineyard plots but in 1985 Joseph Henriot sold much of the estate; it’s reported that 125 hectares went to Veuve Clicquot in return for a reasonable chunk of Clicquot shares. He ended up running Veuve Cliquot within the L.V.M.H. (Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy) Group establishing himself as a Champagne  visionary along the way but, in 1994 he returned to the fold and appointed his eldest son Stanilas to run the family business. In 2010 his younger son Thomas took the steering wheel as success followed success. Henriot’s present prowess owes much to the inspirational winemaking and vineyard management of Chef de Caves Laurent Fresnet who joined in 2006. He deservedly won the International Sparkling Winemaker of the Year Award this year.

My regular readers know my oft-quoted adage that ‘you can’t make good wine from bad grapes’ and Champagne is no exception. All the Champagne vineyard villages carry a quality tag, be it cru, premier cru or grand cru status within the three main vineyard areas of  Montagne de Reims, the Vallee de la Marne and the Cotes de Blanc.

Henriot have about 35 hectares of top vineyard plots dotted around these three main areas, including Ay, a grand cru in the Vallee de la Marne, Avenay, a premier cru in the Montagne de Reims and Chouilly, a grand cru in the Cotes de Blancs.

These vineyards supply about 15-20 per cent of Henriot’s needs (they produce about 1.5 million bottles a year), the rest of the grapes come from trusted growers who own top premier and grand cru vineyards. The vineyards of the Cotes de Blancs, which include the Top Johnny villages of Avize, Oger, Cramant and Vertus are particularly cherished as the Cotes de Blanc is the home of Chardonnay, the Champagne grape that emphasises the creamy yet crisp Henriot style.

As well as being made from top grapes, Blanc de Blancs is aged for 4 – 5 years; ‘pretty impressive when you consider that most non vintage wines are lucky to get 18 months ‘on the lees’ (the dead yeast sediment) in the bottle, following the second fermentation.

In keeping with their insistence on quality, Henriot’s entry level non vintage Brut Sovereign (£34.00, www.thedrinkshop.com) is aged for a slow, cool 3 years on the lees.

By the way, our lunch at Henriot was prepared by Olivier Mezzarobba, a top Reims’ chef. If you ever get the chance to eat with him …. ‘just do it! One of our party, a seasoned gourmet t’boot, announced, “the best lunch I’ve ever had”. Praise indeed!

 

SWEETS FOR MY SWEET, SUGAR FOR MY HONEY.

MY WINE OF THE WEEK.

“Lion de Suduiraut” 2011. (£22, slurp.co.uk & Fine & Rare).

There are hundreds of sweet wines but if we had a survey to name just one, bet your bottom dollar that Sauternes would be top of the list. This famous French sweetie is served at posh dinner parties and top restaurants around the world, usually in those silly little ‘thimble’ glasses but hey, let’s talk about the wine itself for a minute.

The Sauternes region is about an hour’s drive south of Bordeaux city, very close to the river Garonne at the southern tip of the Graves region. In these unique vineyards, Bordeaux’s main white grapes Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, (sometimes with a touch of Muscadelle), produce reputably the best sweet wine in the world.

Believe it or not, the key to Sauternes’ quality is rotten grapes. To the uninitiated, they would go straight in the skip but to the winemaker they’re liquid gold. Getting technical, the rot is caused by botrytis cinerea – that’s ‘noble rot’ to you and me – it attacks and shrivels the grapes and in driving out the moisture produces intense sweetness, heady lemon apricot flavours and attractive honey overtones.

The grapes are left on the vines into the autumn when mists, caused by the cool spring-fed waters of the Ciron River meeting the warmer tidal Garonne, envelope the vineyards to promote the growth of noble rot. The thin skinned Semillon grapes are easily attacked by the rot and give a waxy lemon character to the wines whilst Sauvignon Blanc chips in with its citrus flavours and typical crisp acidity, (that’s the stuff that makes your mouth water), so important to balance the wine’s natural, high sugar levels. Because the botrytis attacks individual bunches willy-nilly throughout the vineyard the pickers have to pass through the vineyard several times (tries) to pick the fully rotten grapes; an expensive, delicate and messy process.

For my anorak readers, the Sauternes appellation consists of 5 communes; Barsac, Preignac, Bommes, Fargues and Sauternes itself. Barsac is also an appellation in its own right which can be confusing. As a mate in my local wine bar queried, “if it’s from Barsac how come it’s called Sauternes?” The answer is ‘very French’. The rules say Barsac can be called Sauternes but Barsac can only come from Barsac. Don’t ask. I told you that it was ‘very French’!

Sauternes was so important in the 19th century that when Bordeaux Medoc reds were famously classified in 1855, Sauternes and Barsac merited their own classification. Unlike the Medoc, which had five levels of classified status, there was only two levels in Sauternes; First Growth and Second Growth. Eleven chateaux were awarded First Growth (1er Cru) status whilst fifteen were classed as Second Growths. That said, when it comes to Sauternes, Chateau d’Yquem is considered to be in a class of its own. Mind you, at about £100 a bottle, class does not come cheap!

The other Sauternes chateaux to look out for are Climens (Barsac), Suduiraut, Rieussec, Sigalas- RabaudCoutet (Barsac)de FarguesCh. Lafaurie-PeyragueyCh. Doisy-Védrines (Barsac)Chateau Partarrieu and La Tour Blanche. For the record, other regions in Bordeaux, like Cadillac and Loupiac, also produce sweet wines but none achieve the complexity, purity or balance of Sauternes.

As you can guess, First Growth Sauternes carries a pretty hefty price tag. “How much!”, my friend screamed when I told him that a bottle 1er Cru Rieussec could set him back about £50. Luckily I had a ‘sweet’ answer to hand. Rieussec, like several other chateaux produce a ‘Second Label’ wine; Carmes de Rieussec (Rieussec) carries a friendlier £25 price tag.

The other second labels to look out for are Cypres de Climes (Chateau Climens), Castelnau de Suduiraut (Suduiraut), Le Cadet de Sigalas (Sigalas- Rabaud), Chartreuse de Coutet (Coutet) Chateau Partarrieu and Les Charmilles de la Tour Blanche (La Tour Blanche).

With Sauternes losing favour in the global marketplace over recent years, to their credit, some of the region’s winemakers are looking to innovation to boost sales. Suduiraut for example, has created “Lion de Suduiraut”, a ‘new style wine for the younger drinker’. Technical Director Pierre Montégut gets the very best out of his varied granite, sand and clay soil vineyards to create his ‘Lion’ assemblage, (‘blend’ to you and me) that’s in the order of 90% Semillon and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. At about £20 this latest addition to their portfolio is less sweet, fresher and fruitier than the chateau’s traditional fare which, slightly chilled, makes for a cracking aperitif…. no matter how old you are!

So, with a Sauternes to match every pocket and taste there’s never been a better time to look again at Bordeaux’s sweet heart. Going back to the wine glasses, serve these wonderful sweeties in normal fine wine glasses not those silly little thimbles. You can then clock the incredible colour, swirl and sniff the amazing aromas ….. before quietly sipping a little bit of honeyed heaven.

CAVA WITH ATTITUDE.

Cava Brut Nature Gran Reserva “Terrers 2008”, Recaredo. (£25.80, Les Caves de Pyrene). 

Christmas menus are already starting to engage the minds of chefs and one of them asked me last week for a wine match with his special recipe Christmas cake. I surprised him by suggesting Cava … not any old Cava but one with a £25 price tag. “Twenty five quid! What, for Cava? You’re ‘aving a larff” he smiled. I have to confess that until a recent trip to Spain’s Cava Country I hadn’t tasted many top drawer aged Cavas; yes, they’re expensive but some really hit the spot. If you don’t fancy paying £25, try Anna de Codorniu (£11 at Oddbins) with the festive cake.

Cava’s image has slipped over recent years and this, together with Prosecco’s amazing sales boom has helped sharpen Spanish minds. The result is a dedication to improved Cava quality at all price levels. Cava is also responding with a global marketing campaign, “the message is getting through but we have a long way to go”, adds Gramona’s winemaker Jaume Gramona.  Watch this space, they’re on the case!

Cava has an impressive history to build on. The wine was born way back in 1872 although it was known as ‘Champan’ (Champagne) then. The name Cava appeared for the first time in 1959 when customers asked for ‘cellar’ or ‘cave’ wine, hence Cava. About 95% of Cava is made in the picturesque Penedes region of Catalonia, just south of Barcelona. For the record, the remainder is produced in small vineyard pockets dotted across Spain.

Traditionally Cava is made from grapes that sound like the midfield trio Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho should sign in the next transfer window, namely Xarello (acidity), Macabeo (soft, floral) and Parallada (richness). The international classics Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have recently joined the team resulting in a healthy discussion between Traditionalists and the New Order, “to Chardonnay or not to Chardonnay, that is the question”. Recaredo’s Terrers 2008 is a blend of Xarello (46%), Macabeo (40%) and Parrellada (14%), “we only use traditional grapes at Recaredo”, insists Director General Ton Mata.

The Penedes vineyards are influenced by the Pyrennes to the north and the Mediterranean to the east; the higher altitude plots bringing crisp acidity, the warmer coastal vineyards adding richer fruit into the Cava equation. “We start the harvest looking for acidity not sugar; that’s why we’re often the first to harvest”, notes Codornui’s CEO Arthur O’Connor.

Vineyard soil analysis is now common practice. Casellroig have identified twelve soil types across their estate, (chalk, clay variations) and found three or four differentials with depth at each location, “we pick and vinify these different plots separately”, explains winemaker Marcel Sabate. Codorniu now hand pick single rows of grapes for individual vinification. To their credit, the Cava Crew are taking this quality stuff very seriously.

Cava’s made in same way as Champagne with the second fermentation in the bottle producing a little more alcohol and carbon dioxide – the fizz. For those who like lower alcohol wines, Cava’s typical 12% by volume will make you smile.

As with all sparklers, the time the wine spends on ‘the lees’, (the dead yeast cells) following the second fermentation in the bottle is a further important quality and taste factor. For Cava, the minimum time any wine can spend on the ‘lees’ is 9 months; to gain Reserva status it needs 15 months and for Gran Reserva it needs to spend a minimum of 30 months. The Recaredo Gran Reserva Terrers 2008 spent nearly six years on the lees; the result is a nutty, crisp, citrus beauty that brings the very best out of the festive fruit cake.

Other top scoring Cavas from my tastings in the Penedes’ sunshine were Castellroig’s Sebate i Coca Reserva, Gramona’s Argent 2010 (100% Chardonnay), Juve & Camps Xarello (100%) and Segura Viudas’ delicate Reserva Heredad Rose 2012 (100% Pinot Noir).

There’s a spelling mistake in the above text. Any anorak spotted it yet? The mis-spelt word is Xarello. The correct spelling is Xarel.lo. Note the full stop. Oh, and if you want to impress your mates even more, the Spanish pronounce it ‘Charello’.

Better still, you can also impress by cracking open an aged Cavas with your Christmas cake. A match that will bring a little sparkling Spanish sunshine into a chilly December day.

SWEET SWEET SHERRY.

 

 

Sherry. El Candado. Valdespino. (£9.95 for 37.5 cl., www.leaandsandeman.co.uk)

“OK”, my mate said, “what’s the sweetest wine you can think of?” I’d just visited the Sherry vineyards so PX slipped off my tongue very easily. If you like sweet, you’re gonna love this dense, rich, complex, caramel, nutty, raisiny, figgy .. I could go on but I’m sure you get my drift. It’s a fascinating sip and, as an aside, it’s delicious poured over vanilla ice cream.

PX is the grape by the way; it’s a Wine Trade abbreviation for Pedro Ximenez. I know it sounds like Real Madrid’s expensive centre forward but it’s a variety found in ‘Sherry Country’ in southern Spain around the white walled town of Jerez.

Valdespino - Pedro Ximenez El Candado NV

Forget the naff closure with the little gold lock and key on the El Candado, crack open the bottle with a few friends and you’ll be met with silence ….. whilst they get their heads around this wine’s sweetness and intensity. In case you’re wondering, the wine is named after the lock (candado) in memory of an old member of the Valdespino family who used to lock up barrels of this wine because he thought it was too good to share!

Coming from the ‘hot south’ the acidity (that’s the stuff that makes your mouth water) is only moderate which emphasises the wine’s treacly sweetness even more. The PX’s deep mahogany colour and viscosity on the pour prepares your taste buds for the tasting explosion that’s about to hit your mouth.

PX is made in the traditional Jerez method where the late-picked sugar rich grapes are dried on straw mats in the baking sun for about two weeks, a process that drives out the water to leave raisin-like, ultra sugar-rich grapes.

The fermentation of these grapes starts slowly but then, just as it starts to get up a head of steam and reaches about 5 degrees of alcohol on the dial, the wine is fortified with grape spirit. The result of this glug, glug, glug? The high strength spirit kills the fermentation stone dead, boosting the total alcohol and, importantly, retaining all the natural sugars. The result is a very sweet, high alcohol beauty. For my anorak readers the sugar is an amazing 400 grams per litre whilst the alcohol weighs in at a heavyweight 17 degrees by volume.

The wines go through what the Spanish call a ‘solera system’ where younger wines are added to slightly older wines over many years in a cascade arrangement; the younger wines adding vitality to the older, complex wines. The final (solera) wine is therefore an aged, blended beauty; the El Candado PX has an average age of 10 years.

Valdespino are members of the Grandes Pagos de Espana, an association of top single Spanish wine estates, “equivalent to the Grand Crus of Bordeaux and Burgundy”, according to President Carlos Falco. There are 30 members scattered across Spain; you can check out the other members at www.grandespagos.com or look out for their square black logo on the back label. On second thoughts, don’t bother, the logo’s far too small; you’re better off spending your time sipping the PX with a few friends.

MY WINES OF THE WEEK.

EVERYTHING’S COMING UP ROSES.

The sun’s out and then you realise, it’s September; this could be your final BBQ of the year. Phone your friends quickly. They’re up for it and as they arrive and the BBQ’s getting a healthy glow on you can serve your favourite charred, skewered prawns. But what to pour on this delightfully warm afternoon with this cracking starter? It has to rose or, better still, share a few roses from around the world with your mates.

As rose sales soar, more and more winemaking countries are, I’m pleased to say, taking this wine style far more seriously, giving us wines that are now more than just a pretty face. The ‘sad let-down’ days of big colour and no flavour are long gone – thanks to the sun blessed New World wines that introduced vibrant fruit flavours and backbone to match the exciting colours. Happily the Europeans followed suit.

Cleefs Classic South African Selection Rose, (£8.49, www.sawinesonline.co.uk) made from Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage by the respected Kleine Zalze winery in South Africa’s beautiful Cape vineyards will get the afternoon off to a flying start. With its pale salmon hue and crisp cherry raspberry flavours although dry it has a creamy richness of flavour to match its colour and the prawns head on. Quick Tip; serve it chilled, but not too cold, to get the very best out of the partnership.

“How does rose get its colour?”, I hear you say. The colour of red wine and rose comes from the grape skins so for rose the winemaker keeps the skins in contact with the juice for a shorter time than for reds to extract the desired colour, be it delicate salmon or bold fairground pink.

Rose is so popular that most wine countries are now on a bandwagon that gathers speed year on year. So, grab your passport and we’ll match a few more roses with the prawns and the warm September sunshine. First to France’s Rhone Valley and vineyards south for Jean-Luc Colombo’s Mediterranean sourced ‘Les Pins Couches’ Rose 2013, (£9.99). A blend of Syrah (40%), Cinsault (40%) and Mouvedre (20%), these classic Southern Rhone varieties give a touch of spice to this light, subtle, red fruit rose.

Staying in Europe, Ramon Bilbao’s Rosado 2014 (£9.95, www.nywines.co.uk) is made from 100% Garnacha grapes harvested around the high altitude Rioja villages of Cardenas, Canas and Berce in the foothills of the Sierra de la Demanda. An attractive delicate pink, the fruity strawberry, lemon, watermelon flavours are also a great match for the prawns. Winemaker Rodolfo Bastida notes that “our region has been making ‘clarete’ wines for decades but never exported them. The cool climate gives a lower colour intensity to the Garnacha but all the light floral notes you want from a pale, dry, elegant Rosado”. ‘So there you go.

Villa Maria is now a well established label so the Private Bin Rose 2014 (£10.25, Majestic) will no doubt fly off our shelves. Made from Pinot Gris and Merlot picked from the “east coast vineyards of New Zealand” it has a crisp red fruit richness that will lift the conversation wonderfully.

Your guests will love it if you open and compare a few international roses. They may have different opinions when it comes to their favourite wine but they’ll all agree that you can keep on drinking roses throughout the cold months ahead. A little bit of summer colour in our chilly winter will go down a treat.

CHARLES DICKENS, JANE AUSTEN & ME.

CHARLES DICKENS, JANE AUSTEN & ME; WE ALL LOVE THIS SOUTH AFRICAN SWEETIE. 

VIN DE CONSTANCE 2008, Constantia. (£40 for 50 ml., Majestic).

I’ve been flicking through some pictures of the South African vineyards, to my mind the most beautiful vineyards in the world. I’m going back soon; one sip of the Vin de Constance took me straight back to Cape Town, it’s amazing mountain and the city’s historic Constantia vineyards.

Located on the rear flank of Table Mountain, the vineyards are home to the famous wine estates of Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia. (That’s ‘big’ and ‘small’ Constantia in English money). The estates are next door to each other and both produce world class wines but for the renowned Vin de Constance sweetie you have to ‘go Klein’.

The Constantia estate was established on the gently sloping valley overlooking False Bay by the Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel way back in 1685. Before too long the estate’s Vin de Constance wine acquired a fine reputation and it soon became a favourite of European kings and emperors. Frederick the Great once told me he loved it, and Napoleon ordered a few cases online from his exile on St. Helena.

Towards the end of the 19th century, however, the dreaded phylloxera (hungry bugs that chew away at the vines’ roots) disease arrived at the Cape, causing devastation in the vineyards and bankruptcy to the winemaking families. There was a happy ending to this tragedy though for in 1980 Klein Constantia was expertly redeveloped with strict reference to Simon van der Stel’s early records; a cunning move that included the careful selection of vines which, in all likelihood, came from the original vine stock used in Constantia 300 years ago.

Being barely 10 kilometres from False Bay, the Muscat de Frontignan grapes thrive in warm vineyards wafted by cooling sea breezes, just part of the ‘terroir’ that contributes to the excellent growing conditions needed to produce the high sugar concentrations of this naturally sweet wine.

In Edwin Drood Charles Dickens tells of “the support embodied in a glass of Constantia and a home-made biscuit”, while Jane Austen told her forsaken heroines to try a little Constantia for “its healing powers on a disappointed heart”. So, I’m in good company in loving this golden, luscious, hugely aromatic, orange marmalade sweetie. Not cheap but wow, you’ll love it too!

WINE OF THE WEEK.

THAT SWEET SMOOTH STYLISH ITALIAN.
CROCIANI VIN SANTO DI MONTEPULCIANO 2006. (£19.49, 37.5 cl, www.waitrosecellar.com)

 

Vin Santo is not so well known and it’s not cheap but boy, it’s good!! This unfortified sweet white wine is produced in the vineyards of Pomino, Carmignano, Bolgheri, Chianti Classico and Montepulciano in Italy’s picturesque Tuscany region. Take a sip of the Montepulciano Vin Santo …… you’re in heaven!

The wine is a passito, which means that the wine has been made with grapes that have been left to air dry on mats which results in the grapes becoming raisin-like and sugar packed. In general, the grapes used for Vin Santo are Trebbiano and Malvasia; that said, the Crociani is made from 100% Malvasia.

After drying, the grapes are then crushed and put into very small (generally 50 litres) oak barrels called ‘caratelli’ together with the ‘madre’; a little wine left over from the previous year, which itself contains a tiny quantity of wine from the previous year …. and so on. After a slow, a very slow, fermentation, the juice stays sealed in the caratelli for years; 3 to 6 years is not unusual. Impressively, the Crociani spent 8 years in caratelli before bottling! During these long years the white juice deepens to gold as it becomes amber nectar.

If you want another impressive statistic, it took 100 kilos of Malvasia grapes to produce just 11 litres of this Crociani Vin Santo di Montepulciano! What’s more, the Crociani Vin Santo is fermented in less than a dozen ‘caratelli’ each year; now you’ll understand why it’s 20 quid for half a bottle.

Vin Santo means ‘The Holy Wine’, a name that was borne in Italy’s northern Trentino region. Vin Santo’s still made in Trentino but there are a couple of differences between the “V.S” sweeties of Tuscany and Trentino.

Firstly, the winemakers of Trentino call their wine Vino Santo, (not Vin Santo) and whereas the Tuscans dry their grapes on mats, in Trentino the grapes are generally left on their bunches to hang-dry in airy wineries, traditionally until Holy Week, just before Easter. Hence the religious link.

But be careful, there is very little consistency when it comes to Vin Santo as each winemaker has his or her own way of making this little piece of heaven. It may be sweet, medium sweet or even dry but don’t worry, the Crociani is definitely sweet. Beautifully sweet, and crisply, beautifully balanced.

Vin Santo’s apricot, nut, honey, almond, fig and caramel flavours will take you right up those golden stairs and through the pearly gates. Quick tip; try your Vin Santo with one of those wonderful Italian almond biscuits; bet you can’t resist dipping it into the Vin Santo! ‘Think you’ll be allowed to dip up there too!

 

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