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22 December 2021

Festive wines of the mo

Rancio Sec Arnaud de Villeneuve, Côtes Catalanes, France (16% abv) - This very dry rancio style is an old-as-time Catalan speciality - although made elsewhere in France and Spain (and Europe) in similarly tiny quantities - and is distinctly different from other traditional cask-aged bottlings from the Roussillon, which is well-known for its mostly red, fortified sweet wines. This tasty 'commercial' example is made by one of the region's biggest (if not the) co-operative wineries... Which has huge experience in this kind of ageing technique, shaped by very ripe Grenache blanc and Macabeu grapes (hence the elevated natural alcohol level, not fortified like a so-called Vin Doux Naturel) fermented then matured for five years in oak barrels in an 'oxidative' environment. This promotes development of all those wonderful pungent roasted hazelnut and walnut tones with rich dried-fruit palate although tangy dry bite and underlying freshness despite the marked aged characters. Great with say anchovy pizza, seafood tapas, chorizo-type sausage or cured ham, mature cheeses. It's a little like an aged (oxidised) Fino sherry in the style of Palo Cortado, or traditional dry Amontillado but with tangier yeasty notes and lighter body. €15 in France; appears to be distributed in the US (or similar products): MN/NY/NJ based Haus Alpenz would be a good place to start.

Croft Original Pale Cream Gonzalez Byass, Jerez Spain (17.5% abv) - This celebrated sherry brand is worth rediscovering as a little retro-chic, a small amount at a time. It's made from 100% Palomino grapes and starts off as a Fino style with flor yeast maturation and lower alcohol fortification (15.5%), then it's sweetened and strengthened after three years in cask. Hence the much paler colour than cream sherry and lively tangy nutty characters but with sweet full-bodied aftertaste. £11 a litre Tesco clubcard price, and similar offers at other supermarkets and retailers. Keeps in the fridge easily for a few weeks.

Sánchez Romate 'Maribel' Medium Dry Amontillado (19% abv) - Apparently one of the Wine Society's own special blends, this delicious sherry is a mix of wines that probably (lack of specific info on their site and the winery's) started out as Fino then made into Amontillado due to a deeper colour and slightly richer aroma by increasing the alcohol fortification, which would kill any remaining protective flor yeast in the barrels thus prompting further oxidation; and finally a tad sweetened. Amber - brown colour with pungent oxidised nose suffused with baked nuts (Brazil, pecan) and almost savoury dried fruit, textured powerful mouth-feel with lingering tangy bite, intense flavours and medium finish. £9.25

Two good buys from SuperValu Ireland's Christmas offers, both for €10, include the Cono Sur Organic Pinot Noir 2019 from Chile (14% abv) and André Goichot Macon-Lugny 2020 from southern Burgundy, France (13%). The soft maturing Pinot is better than Cono Sur's basic one with appealing tannins and aromatic sweet berry yet savoury fruit characters. And the Macon is a delicious juicy unoaked Chardonnay with citrus and peachy fruit, creamy nutty undertones and refreshing finish.

Another tasty Chilean Pinot Noir is Leyda Reserva 2020 (13% abv) from the Valle de Leyda lying to the west of Santiago. This silky unoaked Pinot is perfumed and fruity with tangy berries and cherries layered with enticing savoury tones (that elusive Pinot thing), elegant but concentrated too. New at Tesco for £12 although appears to be out of stock already: I got it for £9 net with their 25% off six deal. Continuing this varietal duet theme and also from Chile is The Society's Chilean Chardonnay 2020 (13.5% abv) sourced from the Limarí zone a fair distance to the north of Leyda. This unoaked pear and peach fruited Chardy is made with subtle winemaking touch by winery giant Concha y Toro, lending juicy yeast-lees tones to its refreshing yet deceptively full-bodied palate. Bargain £7.25.

One more flavoursome well-priced white wine from Chile (Maule Valley), this time a nicely judged blend of characterful southern French grape varieties, is the Undurraga Cauquenes Estate Viognier Roussanne Marsanne 2020 (14% abv). Quite big and bold but attractively perfumed juicy and zesty with honeysuckle apricot and peach notes, fairly dry refreshing while rounded too. £6.95 on offer / £7.75.

Coming back to Chardonnay (as I often do), Bouchard Finlayson's 'Sans Barrique' Chardonnay 2018 (12.5% abv) was being sold off for £9.50 by the Wine Society (soz, it's all gone), which is a most acceptable price for this classy South African Chardy, beautifully unoaked as its French name states. Like a quality maturing Chablis with sunnier southern hemisphere fruit, lovely elegant buttery and savoury nutty finish. Their vineyards are in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley in the southern Western Cape. And the something-a-little-different Vasco and the Explorers 2020 Verdelho (14% abv) is also from SA (Paarl found inland from Cape Town) and is produced by world-famous winery Nederburg. The name allegedly refers to a 15th century Portuguese explorer, who may or may not have brought vines with him ('print the legend' then, as the misquoted movie line tells us). Exotic and honeyed with green plum hints, full-bodied oily texture yet zingy dry finish. £8.50 / £9.50.

Cantine Paolini Grillo Vino Biologico 2020, Terre Sicilia (12% abv) - One of several Sicilian Grillos from the Wine Society (£7.25), this organic dry white is aromatic with orange peel and apricot notes, crisp dry and light on the palate with lingering spicy floral and nutty characters. Less exuberant and weighty than other examples made from Sicily's superb Grillo grape variety, but nevertheless this has plenty of appealing flavours while being fresher and zestier. Now out of stock - a note on yet another Grillo will follow in a future post. A further slightly obscure and enticingly flavoured Italian white is (or rather was, another one that's 'gone baby gone' I'm afraid) Falerio 2020 made by Saladini Pilastri (13% abv, organic) in the far south of the Marche region from a cunning juicy fruity zingy and nutty mix of Trebbiano, Pecorino, Passerina, Chardonnay and Fiano (was just £6.95).

Moving on to two aromatic French white wines from Alsace, both rather different although similarly well-matched with e.g. Chinese or Thai food, seafood or cheesy dishes. Muscat Pfaff Tradition 2019 from the Cave de Pfaffenheim (12% abv) is light and floral giving off sweet grapes and delicate citrus but is crisp and dry with some maturing roundness too; drink up now. £9.50 at the Wine Society. And Sainsbury's Gewurztraminer 'Taste the Difference' 2020 is produced by Cave de Turckheim in their usual impeccable perfumed lychee and rose water way with exotic full-on mouth-feel (14% abv), even if this vintage seems more medium than dry compared to previously. £8.50 on offer / £9.

Finishing with some proper rosés from the Wine Society (they have quite a lot), apart from household favourite Viña Zorzal Garnacha Rosado from Navarra featured in that post, Italy's answer to this chunky style could be Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo 'Contesa' 2020 (13.5% abv, 100% Montepulciano) from an elevated estate called Vigna Corvino on the Adriatic coast of this well-known central Italian region. Rich colour and red berry fruits, zesty yeasty tones on its full-bodied dry palate. £7.25 / £8.25. And Domaine des Echardières 2020 Touraine Rosé is worth a taste as well (£7.50 / £8.95), as would be RK Spätburgunder Rosé by Von Kesselstatt in Germany, a classy elegant pink Pinot (although quite expensive at +£10) which I might have had the last bottle of (now disappeared from their site alas).

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