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15 January 2021

White wines of the cosmos

'Here we are in the ship of the imagination...' Remember that awe-inspiring space travel programme 'Cosmos' back in the 80s by Carl Sagan (paraphrasing one of his most cosmological lines)? Don't know why I thought of that though: stellar white wines of the split-atom millisecond perhaps? Sounds more out-there than international or global, especially as these words are usually stranded with media-nouns like crisis, conflict or pandemic; or similar marketing babble (e.g. brand, product).
Photo from amazon.co.uk
Just for a change of scenery, these 50-something white wine recommendations sampled over the past several months are listed by retailer (mostly UK with some in Ireland, Germany and the US) rather than grape variety or country. By the way, this is a Sauvignon Blanc-free zone and features an unapologetic amount of Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay, as well as sexy Italian, Mediterranean and Eastern European varieties.

Finest Torrontés 2018, Salta, Argentina (13% abv) - A little old but still surprising in an aromatic yet mature oily Riesling-esque way. Good but look out for the 2019 or 2020 vintage. Made from this underrated unknown variety by the usually very good Catena family winery grown in high altitude vineyards. The vines I mean, not the family. £7 (£ = GBP).
Finest Gewurztraminer 2018, Alsace, France (14%) - From the Maison Arthur Metz co-op winery, this vintage probably needs drinking up but it offers all the rich Turkish Delight and lychee flavours you might like. It's medium-dry so try with spicy food.
Gewurztraminer de Colmar 2019 (14%) - This 2019 Gewurz has replaced the above being fairly new at Tesco: plenty of smooth drinking oomph, rose water honey and spicy lychee notes but maybe drier than the old Finest one although with unctuous mouth-feel. Too easy to drink although essentially a food wine e.g. King Prawn Nasi Goreng. Made by Domaine de la Ville de Colmar, and full marks to them as it seems to be getting harder to make good Alsace Gewurz for under a tenner: £9.
Finest Greco di Tufo 2019, Campania, Italy (12.5%) - Superior Italian dry white made from a superior southern grape, Greco, by the well-known Feudi winery. Nutty and zingy with oily yet crisp mouth-feel. £9
Finest Gavi 2019, Piemonte, Italy, Fratelli Martini Secondo Luigi (12.5%) - Produced from Cortese in northwest Italy, this was perhaps a little less zesty and exciting than previous vintages but still worth a go. £8.50
Finest Pinot Grigio 2019, Trentino, Italy (12.5%) - Produced by the very reliable co-op winery Ca'Vit in the far north of Italy (Austria is the other side of the mountains, and some of the locals there even speak a dialect of German), whose Pinot Grigio is always more flavoursome than many other wishy-washy ones from Italy. £7
Finest Passerina 2019, Abruzzo, Italy (13%) - The winery is Codice Citra whoever that is based in this central-southern region next door to Lazio on the Adriatic side. You don't see the Passerina variety (apparently named after the wee bird featured on the label) much outside of there and perhaps in the Marche to the north, and it delivers a tasty white balancing ripe and peachy with honeyed edges and refreshing finish. £7
Finest Soave Superiore Classico 2018, Veneto, Italy, Cantina di Monteforte (Garganega variety, 13.5%) - Another good example (and this accomplished co-op cellar too) of well-known with knobs on; for not much more money, what's the point in buying cheap Soave. This was quite lush and full-bodied in fact with nutty oily texture (supposedly part-aged in oak but it doesn't taste of it luckily) and very ripe fruit; nice and mature: watch out for any older badly rotated vintage (we were delivered a 2017 which was past it), or better still the 2019. £7.50
Fiano 2019, Sicily, Italy (Fiano, 12.5%) - A constant bargain at £5.75: aromatic and fresh with attractive rounded texture and white peach fruit.
Verdicchio di Matelica 2019, Marche, Italy (12.5%) - Easy-drinking Verdicchio from the eastern central hills (this variety is often seen from the more famous neighbouring Castelli dei Jesi area, and in the same distinctive amphora bottle, which is probably more expensive hence Tesco switching supply?) with peach and pear fruit and refreshing finish. £6.50
Wairau Cove Chardonnay 2019, Gisborne, New Zealand (13%) - Not the most spectacular southern hemisphere Chardy you can find, but this is one of a range from NZ that Tesco has shipped and bottled in the UK. Good for the price though and refreshingly unoaked with light buttery notes crossed with zingy citrus. £7
Viñalba Chardonnay 2019, Valle de Uco, Mendoza, Argentina, Bodegas Fabre (13%) - Classy 'Argie Chablis' (oops) mixing up elegance and restrained winemaking with pure unoaked and lightly creamy pineapple fruit. £10
Bellingham Chardonnay 2018 Stellenbosch, South Africa (13.5%) - Partly barrel-fermented with lees-stirring but not too oaky at all adding butterscotch and spice to its ripe fruit and weighty palate. £8 on offer / £10. Bellingham's stylishly different Bernard Series Chenin Blanc is also available in selected stores and at the same offer price at the moment.
Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2019, Chile (12.5%) - Not as rich, lighter and perhaps less dry than previous vintages but still a nice quaffer for those who like the exotic flavours of Gewurz at a lesser price! £7.50 / £6 on offer. It's often £6 on promotion at Asda too, usually £7.25. Their Viognier 2020 vintage is now out though, and a return to form with perfumed spicy apricot, quite lush and oily moth-feel (with weightier 13.5% abv too) and zesty finish.
Cono Sur Riesling 2018 Reserva Especial Valley Collection, Bío Bío, Chile (12.5%) - Lovely example of where Chile is at with the Riesling variety: aromatic intricate and oily with chalky lime notes on the finish. Currently out of stock (?) but was about £9-£10: or perhaps they've switched to Cono Sur's regular Riesling, a not-bad substitute (£7.50 / £6 on promo).

Marks & Spencer
Merinas Organic White Wine Airen - Viura - Verdejo 2019, Spain (12.5%) - A new good-value white from Spain, not very demanding with zesty citrus and pear. Could be one of the options in their meal deal? £7
Macon-Villages 2018, Burgundy, France, Vignerons des Grandes Vignes Prissé (12.5%) - Very reliable tasty unoaked Chardy from southern Burgundy, ripe and creamy with juicy finish. £9
Coteaux Bourguignon 2018, Burgundy, France, Collin-Bourisset - Another good Chardy in similar style to above, perhaps a little steelier and classier. Couldn't find it on Mark's site though, so perhaps they don't stock it any more.
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2019, Marche, Italy (13%) - Another one that's 'no longer available' but that could just mean online. Again, a tasty well-made example of this Italian dry white as detailed above.
Mineralstein Riesling 2019, Pfalz, Germany, Gerd Stepp - This lovely modern and fairly dry German Riesling is now labelled with Mark's new M&S Classics label: zesty and stylish. £9.50
Baron de Hoen Gewurztraminer 2018 Grande Réserve, Alsace, France - This wine has also been revamped under the M&S Classics moniker (that Baron de Hoen label was fairly ghastly in any case), and the 2019 now on shelf is produced by Cave de Turckheim, so it should be perfectly sound. £10

Farmers of Wine Organic white wine, Italy (12.5%) - The virtually information-free packaging comes in the form of a suitably earthy recycled brown paper bag: all it says is Vino Bianco from Italy and it's bottled in Bardolino in the north. Not the most exciting of several Asda dry whites from Italy purchased in recent times, but perfectly enjoyable for only £5 a bottle!
Lugana 2019, Lake Garda, Italy, Tenuta Roveglia (13%) - On the other hand, this delicious Lugana is one of Asda's best Italian whites, if not the best given how many bottles we've had delivered over the past few months! Made from the Turbiana variety, which is the local name for Trebbiano di Lugana that apparently is a very close relative of Verdicchio rather than the usually rather insipid Trebbiano found elsewhere in Italy in huge volumes. Concentrated ripe peachy fruit, quite full and rounded with nutty citrus finish. £9.50
Languedoc Blanc 2018, Languedoc, France (12.5%) - Produced by the huge Vignerons de la Méditerranée co-op group based in Narbonne, this tasty quite richly textured dry white is made from the southern grapes Grenache blanc, Marsanne and Bourboulenc. However, the recently arrived 2019 is a bit oaky though in an intrusive way. £7
La Chasse Chardonnay Viognier 2019, Languedoc, France, Gabriel Meffre (12.5%) - Another super-consistent easy-drinking southern French wine (Meffre is gifted at that) blending lively citrus with more tropical fruit and roundness too. £6
Chablis 2018, Burgundy, France (12.5%) - Lovely example from the Chablis co-op winery of steely yet buttery unoaked Chardy. Appears to be temporarily out of stock (disappeared from their website), but it was something like £12 a bottle or £9-£10 on offer. Hopefully not a post-Brexit casualty.
Zalze Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2019, Western Cape, South Africa (13%) - Chenin always makes a change from Chardy or Sauvignon: tropical melon fruit, chalky and refreshing mouth-feel. £6
Zuncho Chardonnay Viognier 2019, Colchagua Costa, Chile, Luis Felipe Edwards (13.5%) - Weightier and more tropical than the Meffre but similarly unoaked and lively; it disappeared off Asda's site for a while but is back again. £7
Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2019/2020 - See Tesco above.
The Wine Atlas Feteasca Regala 2019, Romania (11.5%) - This well-made version of an obscure native grape variety is very good value and a refreshing zesty and light alternative to Sauvignon blanc, although more interesting frankly! Versatile with food too. £5.25

Vina Esmeralda 2018, Catalunya, Spain, Torres (11.5%) - A light aromatic and off-dry blend of Muscat and Gewurztraminer offering grapey lychee notes and fairly zingy aftertaste.
Louis Jadot Macon-Villages 2018, Les Petites Pierres, Burgundy, France (13%) - This reliable quality unoaked French Chardonnay is widely available in fact including Tesco, Majestic, Asda and independent stores, and only worth getting at Winemark (NI) if you buy two bottles as part of a money-off deal otherwise it's too dear (like most of their single bottle prices). Soft creamy and quite concentrated with balanced fresh finish. The 2019 is now on-shelf and nicely retains its pure Chardy-fruit class in a 'cheaper and less acidic than Chablis' way. Have since purchased several bottles of the 2019, simply a very tasty unoaked Chardonnay. About £9-£10.

Taste the Difference Gewurztraminer 2019, Alsace, France (13.5%) - As usual, talented co-op winery Cave de Turckheim comes up trumps with a spot-on Gewurz mixing up zestiness, lychee and rose water flavours and a bit of oomph. Try with smoked salmon risotto. £8.50
Rocca Murer Pinot Grigio 2019, Trentino, Italy (12.5%) - Superior PG from the Ca'Vit winery (same producer as the Tesco Finest wine) with more depth and flavour than most and juicy honeysuckle tones. £7
The Bernard Series Whole Bunch Roussanne Limited Release 2019, Wellington, South Africa, Bellingham (13.5%) - Special occasion full-bodied white from top producer Bellingham (see Tesco) with subtle oak handling adding weight and yeasty edges to its distinctive floral herbal notes, then richer lingering spicy pineapple and peach flavours. £10.25
Montagny Signé Bourgogne 2016, Burgundy, France - I doubt they have any 2016 left but buy the oldest vintage you can find, honestly: it has lovely mature buttery fruit, although don't keep it long. £10
Not too many wines from Sainsbury's recommended here because they forgot to bring all of the wine (disaster) as part of a screwed-up online delivery! Pity as the JS range is good. Plus we got chocolate bars dated Christmas Day 2019 and sausages (Tesco's in fact can you believe!) two days past the sell-by date. Well done JS, never again. It doesn't help either that my nearest store's staff is generally un-customer-friendly and seemingly Covid oblivious.

Giuseppe & Luigi Traminer Aromatico 2018, Veneto, Italy (12.5%) - Appealing lighter drier type of Gewurz from north-eastern Italy with floral zesty finish. €9 or €10 at Lidl Ireland (€6.99 in Germany).
Gewurztraminer Reserva Especial 2019, Valle Central, Chile (14%) - Bargain at €7.50 reduced to clear, with plenty of aromatic tropical Gewurz style although dry as well.
Casal Montani Frascati Superiore 2018, Lazio, Italy - Another one-off in their Irish stores I think (looks available in Germany and the Netherlands though), this was a surprising example of a sometimes neutral wine with fair amount of character and depth of flavour for the price.

Exquisite Collection Padthaway Chardonnay 2019 (Taylor's Wines aka Wakefield?), South Australia (13.5%) - Consistent favourite unoaked Chardy offering ripe juicy melon peach and pineapple with creamy fruity palate while deceptively full-on yet well-balanced. Lidl Ireland €7.99, UK £5.99.
Pinot Gris 2020, Gisborne, New Zealand (13%) - Not sure if this was in the same range or a different label, but it cost €8.15 and was juicy and Brazil nutty with dry-ish finish; good with Chinese or Thai king prawn dishes.

Virgin Wines
I've included each wine's (my favourite whites from a pick and mix type case ordered) full price here but did have a big discount voucher making them very reasonable (you probably wouldn't pay their full slightly inflated prices in any case); and apparently you'd get a discount if you became a Discovery Club member. Virgin has a US wine site too with a similar range.
Vitalita Falanghina 2018, Puglia, Italy (12.5%) - Has some attractive character and maturing fruit with fresh mineral finish. £9.99
The Last Stand Chardonnay 2018, Victoria, Australia (12.5%) - Appealing start with lightly creamy and ripe juicy fruit, not too heavy although the overly zippy finish jars a little. Good price though £8.99.
Kuehn Muscat 2019, Alsace, France (12.5%) - One of the best in my case, this elegant perfumed DRY Muscat is great with Malaysian dishes. £11.99
Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer 2019, Ernst Loosen, Pfalz, Germany (12%) - Pricey but flavoursome Gewurz, more subtle lighter leaner and drier than its French counterparts although still aromatic with 'sweet' spice. £12.99
Velea Malvasia 2017, Salento, Italy (12.5%) - Malvasia is a secret star variety: complex oily mature tones (but it wasn't too old though surprisingly) with floral peachy fruit and a 'salty' tang, different. Reduced to £9.99.

James Nicholson Wines
The prices stated include 10% off the full list price for a 12 bottle delivery. JN Wine also sells in the Republic of Ireland (see website for Euro prices).
Quinta de Chocapalha Arinto 2019, Lisboa, Portugal - Arinto is one of several fab Portuguese white grapes: intense with yeast-lees notes, floral grapefruit and crisp dry finish. £10.35
Domaine Gayda Flying Solo Grenache Blanc Viognier 2019, Languedoc, France - Probably not the most exciting white from the talented Gayda winery, but attractive and easy-going with freshness and a little weight too. £8.10
JN stocks Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer as well (see Virgin above) but for less: £10.35 including the 10% case discount.
L’Effet Papillon Grenache blanc & Macabeu, IGP Côtes Catalanes (13%) - This tasty aromatic white is one of a less expensive trio made by Domaine Roc des Anges in the Roussillon, southern France: read all about them in my book. Enticing juicy pear fruit with yeast-lees and almost wild herbal notes, subtle soft lingering flavours. £10.35
Pajzos T Hárslevelű 2018, Tokaji, Hungary (12.5%) - Something really original, this flavoursome dry white is made from one of the Tokay region's classic sweet wine grapes (the tricky to pronounce one). Fragrant floral with oily aniseed undertones, juicy intense and dry. £9.45

A trio of dry whites enjoyed, noted and photo-ed while on the beautiful island:
Isoletta Vermentino 2019, Cantine Settesoli (organic) - Fragrant and zesty/lees-y with citrus and aniseed undertones.
Aura Antiche Cantine Rosso 2019, IGT Terre Siciliane (13.5%) - Made mostly from sumptuous Sicilian grape variety Grillo (with a splash of Fiano) by a small organic producer in Ragusa province, this natural-edged deep-coloured wine is rich exotic and quirky with stewed apple and yeast notes, long dry finish.
Barone di Bernaj Grillo 2019, Cantine Madaudo - A different style of Grillo bought in a supermarket: more typical Grillo character with perfumed apricot, full rounded palate and fresh finish.

Finally, yet another Gewurz found in a wine store in Leamington Spa (England), although I can't remember which one.
Kuhlmann-Platz Gewürztraminer Cuvée Prestige 2017, Cave de Hunawihr, Alsace - Aromatic lush fruity and spicy, pretty classic off-dry style. The 2018 is available at Majestic for £12.99/£10.99 (if you buy 6 bottles).

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.