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Richard Mark James' wine, food and travel blog.

07 February 2019

Winter 'wines of the moment'

This long overdue mini-feature (there's no money in a wine blog so that's the unfortunate reality) takes a look at a gaggle of loosely recommended wines, which happened to have been bought, tasted, consumed and enjoyed over the last couple of months or so with a variety of food. There's a mix of themes here, from less obvious retailer offerings to favourite and more obscure grape varieties.
Lidl appears to be maintaining their penchant for buying special batches of rather good Italian white wines in particular, such as: Vermentino Toscana 2017 'Sassi del Mare' (12.5% abv) - Very tasty dry white made from the star Med white variety Vermentino, offering rich fruit and zingy mouth-feel at the same time. £8.99
Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2017 'Corte alle Mura' (13% abv) - Another sexy V grape from Tuscany, it's a nutty aromatic and zesty example of this now quite well-known white. £6.99
'Albente' 2017 Feudi di San Gregorio (13% abv) - A new-ish 'brand' I think coming from this consistently deliverable winery based in the hills east of Naples and shaped by the local Falanghina variety. Also £6.99 (seems a good price point for Aldi's better wines). All three are suitably tasty matched with various fish, pork or vegetable dishes.
Ribolla Gialla 2017 (12% abv) from Trevenezie in north-eastern Italy - there's a little of this rare local variety grown over the border in Slovenia too - which is elegant, light and aromatic with banana notes and zingy dry finish (£6.49).
There's another new dry Italian white from the Campania region on the way to stores apparently, a Falanghina del Sannio priced at, you guessed it £6.99. Lidl often has a tempting selection of Alsace whites (a mixture of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and sometimes Gewurztraminer) on and off over the year, displayed with their other posher bottles in those stacked wooden boxes; perfect with Indian or Thai dishes (not vindaloo though...).
Talking of Riesling, there's also an enticing example, one of their Winemaker's Selection range, in store for £7.99 from Australia's Clare Valley, 2017 vintage and a refreshing 11% abv although still fairly dry, zesty and lively with lime notes and attractive 'oily' Riesling aromas. I was quite impressed, for the money, by a one-off purchase Portuguese red from Lidl too, a 2016 Douro Reserva for, drum roll, £6.99; this bottle wasn't the same one as on their site, with a black label at £5.99, as I'm sure it had a white label. Made from the Port grape varieties but as a 'table' wine, this was fairly smooth and powerful (14-ish% abv) with attractive maturing fruit tones and subtle oak touches. Good with lamb steak.
Which leads on perfectly to some other flavoursome reds that should make you smile (no warranty provided):
Bellingham Pinotage 2017, Stellenbosch, South Africa (14% abv) - Structured and powerful needing a little air to open up (tasted better the next day actually), this conjures up those Pinotage 'sweet and sour' characters offering some lush fruit and oak countered by a 'crunchier' side. Great buy at £8 on offer at Tesco (usually over £11). Bellingham's Chardonnay is recommended as well, for fans of a richer yet lightly toasty style (same offer price).
Origin Pure 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon 'Organic wine, no sulphur added' (13.5% abv) - Dense and fruity youthful red style also from South Africa, this has some dry tannin firmness yet chunky black fruit finish. €7.99 Lidl Ireland.
Pinot Noir Gran Reserva 2017, Valle de Aconcagua, Chile (13.5% abv) - One of Sainsbury's often very good 'Taste the Difference' range, in this case made by immensely reliable winery Vina Errázuriz, this Pinot won't disappoint fans of the variety offering lovely aromatic sweet/savoury red berry/cherry fruit with truffle tones and soft juicy finish. £7 on offer, £8 usually. Try it with calf's liver. Another worthwhile 2017 Pinot Noir from Sainsbury's 'TTD' school, also costing £8, hails from the Rheinhessen area in Germany and is a tad lighter (12.5% abv) and fresher in style with similar attractive Pinot characters though.
And guess what - there's yet another very enjoyable lighter red wearing the JS 'Taste the Difference' colours, this time a 2017 Zweigelt, apparently 'now the most planted red grape in Austria', made by top winemaker Markus Huber, which delivers lovely spicy cherry flavours and reasonable mouth weight nevertheless (13% abv): on offer for £8 (down from £9). Back to Tesco's 'Finest' label, there's a not lighter Valpolicella Ripasso 2015 (13.5% abv) made by the Cantina di Valpantena from local grapes Corvina, Rondinella and Corvinone, which delivers gorgeous Italian dried cherry, berry and liquorice fruit with balsamic edges: a hearty winter food red. £9 on promo / £11 a bottle, in half-bottles as well at £6.99 I think.
Marks & Spencer's delicious Val Rhona Sparkling Brut is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay by South African fizz maestro Graham Beck, which was briefly a bargain at a tenner (used to be £15, maybe has now been delisted though): not quite as toasty, rich and sexy as the rosé version, but this fine SA Champagne-style is complex and full of flavour. From South Africa as well at Marks is the fairly sumptuous Honeycomb Journey's End Chardonnay 2017 by Lourensford wine cellar in the Stellenbosch region, which deftly balances ripe fruit, creaminess and very subtle toasted edges. Leading Lebanese winery Château Musar has created a label for Marks called Levantine, a lush soft and maturing blend of 80% Cinsault and 20% Grenache produced in the Bekaa Valley. It's quite expensive, towards £20 a bottle (?), and might be out of stock at the moment, but look out for it if you're searching for something special and different.
Coming back to whites, I actually never stopped loving Chardy, and here are no less than four French ones worth trying especially when on offer as these were...
Bourgogne Chardonnay 2017 (13% abv) from the Buxy co-op winery at Marks (£8 / £10) - a good all-rounder with different Chinese dishes actually.
Chablis 2017 by Brocard (13% abv) was recently on promo at a mere £7 at Sainsbury's - rare to be able to buy Chabbers for less than a tenner nowadays - but it all disappeared quickly, surprise surprise. Fairly classic steely style of this unoaked Chardy but a touch riper than usual.
Pouilly-Fuissé 2017 Louis Max (13% abv) - buttery and oaty but not oaky, pretty classy wine especially for £8 at JS! The price appears to have tumbled from £19 and, so far, not many seem to have noticed. Being cleared maybe?
Louis Jadot Macon Villages 2016 (12.5% abv) and 2017 (13% abv) - You might still find both vintages at Tesco: the 17 is a little fuller, the 16 a bit more mature obviously, but both are tasty examples of unoaked French Chardy, also from the south of Burgundy (£7.50 / £9).
Returning to South Africa, one of Tesco's 'Finest' and/or 'Fair Trade' ranges (the label appears to have changed recently so not entirely sure which) that's eminently quaffable, and a little different from Sauvignon or Chardy, is their Chenin Blanc 2018 (12.5% abv) sourced from the Breede River Valley region (£6 / £7). And JS stocks Stellenrust Chenin 2018, which is fuller (13.5% abv) yet still zesty and honeyed; very nice with fish and chips (£7.50 / £8.50).
Staying at Sainsbury's and back to Germany, they stock a 'modern' Pinot Blanc 2017 from the Pfalz region (13% abv) made by Weinkellerei Klostor, which might surprise with its fairly full-bodied style although is aromatic and lively. A dearer classic German Riesling appears to be on the clearance list at JS, Dr. Loosen's 2015 Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett, a traditional off-to-medium-dry single vineyard Riesling delivering a delicate 8% alcohol level yet loads of enticing aged Riesling character and still pretty fresh acidity underneath: actually a surprising match for a chillied king prawn dish, sag aloo and cauliflower curry sides. £10.50 but worth it.
Finally, out of several good dry rosés I've tried recently, it's the Santa Julia Argentinian Malbec rosé at Sainsbury's that I remember, which nicely balances fruit, crispness and weight. Good all-rounder with Chinese or Indian food, and any kind of fish. As well as the succulent Rioja rosado Faustino VII 2018 (13% abv), which Asda has on promotion at the moment for £6: very appealing mix of zestiness, creamy red berry fruit and a bit of mouth-feel too; it was a decent match for a spicy pasta Bolognese. Reminds you that northern Spain is one of the best places to look for good rosé.