As we head for what in our case will be a welcome Christmas break (the usual pre-Christmas colds have reared their heads like the four horsemen this year), I thought I’d be totally predictable and forego a list of Christmas wines. What to drink with the turkey…there won’t be one… Instead it’s high time I gave you another batch of the best wines I’ve been drinking at home, especially as my last lot were two months ago.
Ivag 2015, Cascina degli Ulivi, Piemonte – This is one from Stefano Bellotti, and I think it was sadly the last of his bottles I have in the cellar. I’m sure you’ve spotted that it is cryptically named after that much maligned (often with reason) DOCG on the eastern edge of Piemonte. This is bottled as a mere table wine.
The grape is Cortese, and few do Cortese better than Stefano. Biodynamic, no additives, the nose is marvelously complex and the palate is so fresh, almost spritzy on the tongue yet there is no visible CO2. Citrus acidity and a herby dryness. It has a certain touch of weight and richness beneath the acidity, and we drank it with a risotto of butternut squash and mushrooms. Only the weather failed to transport us to Novi Ligure.
Stockist: Les Caves de Pyrene
Sergentìn 2009, Fabrizio Battaglino, Roero – I mention this wine mainly to give a plug to the Roero region as an alternative source of Nebbiolo. Lord knows, we need one with prices going sky high in the two “B’s”. There were no real signs of age, either visibly or on the nose here. The palate showed it was young and as it was was drunk before going out I didn’t have time to splash it into a decanter.
Yet real Nebbiolo character is here in this wine. I’m so often unable to find that “tar and roses” thing in its pure form with Barolo, but I was getting that here, along with black pepper. It just needs time. Hopefully there’s time for us to explore Roero further before the Barolo boys catch on.
Stockist: Big Red Wine Company (current vintage 2011)
7 Fuentes 2015, Valle de la Orotava, Suertes del Marqués, Tenerife – This gets a mention because as an entry level wine, and as an introduction to the wines of Tenerife, it is excellent. It is based on Listán Negro, an under appreciated variety, though its white form, Listan Blanco, is none other than Palomino Fino. The minor component is Tintilla, which most readers will know better as Trousseau.
Initially there is some reduction and a whiff of volatility, which some people have said has put them off (though I’d not suggest you get it with every bottle). But using a carafe soon sorts it out. The key to this wine is freshness, but with that sort of textured freshness you get from volcanic soils. Sappy, simple, but sensuous, it slips down easily.
Stockist: widely available via importer Indigo Wine
Furmint Vogelsang 2014, Michael Wenzel, Rust – Sometimes you buy something and stick it away and somehow it almost gets forgotten. This happened here. Michael Wenzel’s family grow grapes around Rust on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee. This bit of the lake is historically known for Furmint, grown on gneiss/quartz and mica schist, and Vogelsang was the first vineyard the family purchased in the 1980s. But the grapes were virtually smuggled in from then Communist Hungary, because the variety had almost disappeared from Austria (the border is only a relatively short cycle ride south of Rust, and in fact you can ride the “Iron Curtain Trail” here).
We all buy wine with positive expectations, but sometimes even high expectations are exceeded, and this was the case with this Furmint. Elegance, minerality, character, finesse and presence are what I’d rather say about this bottle than a string of fruit etc related descriptors. This is brilliant, though very sadly all gone. I understand that just 800 bottles of the Vogelsang were made in 2014.
Stockist: all gone, but Newcomer Wines are the people to hassle for the next vintage
Kalkundkiesel Rotweincuvée 2015, Claus Preisinger, Gols – Here we are just moving around the lake from Rust on the western shore, to Gols, more or less on the northerneastern shore. Claus is a regular in these lists of recent wines, but I have tended to drink more of his reds. This beautiful red is an experimental blend of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent with added white grapes.
There is around six weeks skin contact (other vintages have had longer) for most of the fruit, although some is direct pressed juice, all blended at the end, but the wine is quite smooth and not so textured. The bouquet is of rich darker fruits and spice, quite Christmassy. There’s plenty of acidity, keeping it fresh, and a bit of bite on the finish.
Stockist: another one from Newcomer Wines
Corbières Blanc “La Bégou” 2015, Maxime Magnon, Languedoc – Magnon is a bit of an insider producer and as you are all insiders you might not need me to tell you that he makes exceptional white (and red, of course) Languedoc, which does not always bring to mind this southern region. More, on account of the finesse in this bottle, fine White Burgundy. Funny that, as Maxime is originally a Burgundian. He worked with Jean Foillard in Beaujolais, but his southern influences come via his friendship with Didier Barral.
Based at Villeneuve-des-Corbières, the blend of grapes in La Bégou is 90% Grenache Gris and 10% Grenache Blanc. The bouquet is floral, and this is reflected on the palate, along with pears and a dry stony mineral texture on the finish. The vines here are at least fifty years old, on limestone and schist. Maxime uses biodynamic practices, though I don’t think he’s certified. Very impressive indeed, and even at £30 we are in the territory of a bargain for the quality.
Stockist: Solent Cellar might still have the odd bottle of Magnon’s wines if you are swift
Poliphonia 417 2016, Pheasant’s Tears, Kakheti, Georgia – Few recent wines have filled the mouth with such concentrated sappy deliciousness as this wine. It’s quite unusual, and may well be the most grapes I’ve had in a blend, ever – 417 of the estimated 525 autochthonous red and white varieties in Georgia. They come from a small vine library in Kakheti.
This isn’t complex but that dark fruit coats the mouth. Lip-smacking might be an apt choice of adjective. Not your typical qveri wine as it majors on the fruit more than texture. If you see a bottle then grab it. About £21 retail.
Stockist: also Solent Cellar via Les Caves de Pyrene
Madiran 2004, Château d’Aydie – It has been a good while since I’ve drunk a Madiran. When I was younger I had a bit of a thing for the wines of Southwest France, especially Irouléguy, Cahors and Madiran. Of course all Madiran is not cut from the same cloth. The best is pretty much 100% Tannat and, although micro-oxygenation was more or less invented here to soften these brutes, a good Madiran is generally an old Madiran.
This wine, judging from the back label, is pure Tannat. It won a DWWA Trophy (Decanter) in 2007, but the tasters must have found it hard and difficult to judge if my experience of three year old Madiran is representative. This is still dark and only just showing a crimson rim. The nose is lovely though, broody plum, red fruits and spice/pepper. There are still tannins here, slightly dusty, and enough structure to suggest this is still not fully resolved (though as with Nebbiolo, you don’t always know). But it’s damned good. It really comes into its own with food, a rich sausage and vegetable roast with a little chilli posing no difficulties. With 14% abv it didn’t taste alcoholic, just rich.
Stockist: you may find this in Barcelona or the US Virgin Islands according to Wine-Searcher, but it’s basically long gone
Blanco 2016, Bodega Cauzón, Andalucia – We finish here with a gem from one of the finest estates of Andalucia, though it is little known. The man behind these vibrant natural wines is Ramón Saavedra, who farms a few hectares high in the Sierra Nevada at Cortes-y-Graena. When I say “high” I mean it – between 1,100 and 1,200 metres altitude in this case. But this is not a blend of weird autochthonous Andalucian grape varieties, discovered by Ramón whilst walking the dog. It’s a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and Torrontes.
The colour is a beautiful yellow. The bouquet is of fresh orchard fruits, plus peach and citrus zest. When you glug this it is ridiculously fruity, in fact it’s real fruit juice for adults. Somewhat worryingly, there is no indication whatsoever than this contains 13% alcohol when you knock it back. Ramón goes his own way but his wines are delicious.
It’s a rather nice way to end this roundup of recent wines because it’s just simple pleasure in a glass, and who cares that I’m drinking a Spanish white in December when three quarters of the country is blanketed in snow (though not my bit). You’ve probably seen the fine wine (sic) I’ve been drinking at lunches and dinners these past months, but this is no less pleasurable, and when the flavours are unexpected, such a wine is just as exciting too.
Stockist: Otros Vinos
Have a great festive holiday break, if indeed you have one. I aim to be drinking moderately and sleeping as much as possible over the next week. I hope to be back in the New Year, but in the meantime, as they say, have a good one!