Preamble Tasting April  2001 
Harkin Blind
Mick Harkin

Thanks to Mick for the extensive notes, and for a great selection.  The evaluations are, as usual, mine.

1. Martin Codax Albarino,Rias Baixas, 1999, 12%, Galicia, Spain, 1999 
A very nice, limey fresh wine.  Had no idea what it was. Albarino is a high quality grape variety grown in Galicia, NW Spain. Rias Baixas is located just north of the Spanish Border (the grape is called Alvarinho in Portugal and grown in the Vinho Verde region). Albarino produces a white wine with distinctive, aromatic, peachy – almost Viognier like – characteristics and has been accorded something approaching cult status in Spain in recent years. It is a thick skinned grape which can withstand damp cool climates that can result in wine which is high in acidity, alcohol and flavour. It is also one of the few Spanish white grape varieties which is produced as a varietal and which is encountered on the label as such. Sometimes blended with Loureiro, Treixadura, Caino. Rias Baixas is the leading DO (Denominacion de Origen) in Galicia producing some of Spain’s most sought after dry whites. Eleven different vine varieties are officially permitted in Rias Baixas but Albarino accounts for 90% of the vinyard area.
Oddbins, £8.92

2. Virginie Roussanne, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France, 1999
Slightly harsh, but very good. 
Rousasanne is a fashionable white Rhone grape, often blended with Marsanne but produces a finer wine than Marsanne – which is more widely planted. Roussanne is an irregular yielder due to a tendency to Powdery Mildew and Rot, and was almost erradicated until better clones were selected. Its chief attribute is its "haunting" aroma and likened to refreshing herb together with acidity.
It is preferred to Marsanne by a minority of producers, such as Jaboulet; it is one two varieties permitted into the white versions of northern Rhone red wine appelations (Hermitage, Croz Hermitage, St Joseph) and one of four varieties (Marsanne not included) allowed into white Chateauneuf de Pape. It is being produced increasingly in Laguedoc-Roussillon, and blends well with Chardonnay. There is also some production in Tuscany, Australia and California.
Vin de Pay d’Oc: Vin de Pay ("country wine") is a category of wine superior to basic vin de table, and offers some stamp of regional authority. There are now more than 140 different Vin de Pays, all carrying some geographical designation, subject to certain conditions – must not be blended, produced in limited quantities, minimum alcoholic strength, etc. There are three level of Vin de Pays – regional, departmental and locally specific. Vin de Pay d’Oc refers to the Languedoc, a regional level.
Languedoc: the Languedoc takes its name from the time when its inhabitants spoke Occitan, the language in which "oc" is the word for "yes" hence "langue d’oc"(the language of yes)! It is regarded as France’s best value and most fluid region and is the most important single vin de pays and prime French source of varietal wine. The Languedoc (which was elevated from VDQS to AC statues as recently as 1985) only produces some 10% of France’s AC wines, but is the principal producer of vin de table and produces more than 80% of the intermediate category, vin de pays. The region is also France’s most anarchic and some important producers ignore the AC system completely and put their efforts into producing high quality vin de pays. Its relative freedom from vinous regulations has led it to be known as France’s New World. It is often bracketed with the region to its immediate south, as in Languedoc-Rousssillon.

Mitchell £6.70

3. Brown Brothers Dry Muscat, 12.5%, Victoria, Australia, 1999
Great whiff of citrus on the nose. Tropical fruit, acid.  Very refreshing but I wouldn't drink too much of it. At least I guessed the grape right.
Muscat is one of the world’s great and historic names, both of grape and wine. Muscat grapes – of which there are four principal varieties - are some of the very few that produce wines that actually taste of grapes.In the hot Australian climate, Muscat Gordo Blanco (actually Muscat of Alexandria) produces good yields and sweetness, and the wines tend to be strong, sweet and unsubtle – but can be harnessed to produce aromatic, dry and low alcohol wines. The grapes, depending on demand, are also used to provide table grapes, raisons and alcohol. They are typically used for blending with and softening other more glamorous grape varieties, and are also grown for wine making in Spain, Portugal, South Africa and Chile.

£7.44, Mitchell

4. Quinta das Setencostas, Alenquer, 12.5%, Portugal,  1999
Very odd. Slightly medicinal.  Smoky, heathery; hint of Gamay but much heavier.  Interesting but not great.
Quinta is a Portuguese word meaning "farm", which may also refer to a wine producing estate or vinyard.  Alenquer is one of the six wine regions of Estramadura, north of Lisbon. Estramadura produces more wine than any other part of Portugal and the region is beginning to emerge as a maker of some quality wines.
Grape varieties: these are all indigenous varieties - Periqueta, Camarate, Tinta Miuda, plus some Preto-Martinho.
£6.93, Oddbins

5. Primitivo Salento , 13%, Puglia, Italy, 1998
Lovely orange-red colour.  Not a huge nose; slightly "warm".  Very nice, smooth, simple but good, and good value - as quite a lot of Primitivo is now.
Primitivo is the name of a red grape variety mainly in Apulio (Puglio, S. Italy – which is the major wine producing area after Sicily; the best wines (notably Negroamaro) are produced in the Salento peninsula. Primitivo is very extensively grown (9th after Negroamaro).
A strong similarity between Primitivo and Californian Zinfandel was noted, and DNA typing ("fingerprinting") has unequivically identified them as being the same grape variety. Most wines labeled "Primitivo" are notably alcoholic. The grape was traditionally used to add weight to northern reds but is now being promoted as a varietal rather than as a blending ingredient.

£7.44, Mitchell

6. Ravenswood, Vintners Blend, Zinfandel, 13%, Sonoma, California, USA, 1998
Slightly brownish.  Smooth, some tannin, well balanced, fruity. Typically Zin flavours (of the better kind).
Zinfandel: Exotic black grape variety of European origin cultivated predominately in California. Thought to be introduced in 1829 from Vienna by George Gibbs of Long Island and on to Boston, from where it was transported to California following the Gold Rush in 1851.
DNA "fingerprinting" (see above) has established that Zinfandel is identical to Primitivo of S. Italy – and may have been imported from the USA.
Very popular the 1980s and was regarded as California’s own "Claret" – the most often planted black grape variety (similar to Shiraz in Australia), has been required to transform itself into every style and colour of wine that exists. It ultimately fell into disrespect in the 1900’s but since the 1990s it has seen a revival in the production of premium wines. It is a difficult grape to produce - difficult to get even ripening and may have to be picked over three times to ensure grape quality; requires a long cool season, and requires restricted yields to ensure good wine quality.
Ravenswood, located in Sonoma, features as one of the more prestigious producers

£12.85, Mitchell

7. Bodegas Rosca Shiraz, Riserve, 13.5%, Argentina, 1999
Quite jammy, big, black wine. Initially thought it was Malbec. Quite a lot of pepper, though.  Lots of tannin; needs a few years.  Very good, especially at this price.
Shiraz: grape variety originally associated with the Rhone (Syrah) and more recently with Australia and South Africa.
Argentina, the most important wine producing country in South America, has improved its wine quality in recent times through increased investment and improved technology. Its most important grape variety is Malbec, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon; Shiraz beginning to gain ground.

£7.22, Oddbins

8. Zenato Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore, 1997, 13%, Italy
Superb wine; one of my current favourites and (luckily) I recognised it.
Valpolicella: red wine of extremely variable quality from the Veneto region. It is a blend of grape varieties: Corvina (for "personality"), Molinara (acidity) and Rondinella ("neutrality").
Ripasso is the Italian term for "repassed" – the technique for adding extra body, flavour and alcohol to Valpoicella by adding the (ideally) unpressed skins of Amarone wines after these dried grape wines have finished their fermentation in Spring. It is a technique used by the better producers for reinforcing standard Valpolicella wines and converts them into a Valpolicella Superiore. Although this procedure adds body and character to the Valpolicella, there may be a downside - it may also input some oxidised and botrytis flavours, and additional tannins.
Amarone: dry red wine made from dried grapes – same grape varieties as for Valpolicella, same region.
Recioto: sweet red wine made from dried grapes – same grape varieties as for Valpolicella, same region; historic speciality of Veneto.

£12.99, Searson (and elsewhere)

9. Castelli del Remei - Gotim Bru, 12.5%, Costers del Segre, NE Spain, 1998
Very nice, seemed to be hint of Pinot but way too dark.
Grape vars: Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Castelli del Remei hails from Costers del Segre, a small wine zone in NW of Barcelona (near the town of Lerida). This is a very hostile territory for horticultural or viticultural exploitation: the climate is severe, and ranges from below freezing point in winter to above 35% C in high summer; annual rainfall reaches a mere 15 inches (200mm). The river Segre, after which the DO is named, is a tributary of the Ebro and is little more than a seasonal stream.
The transformation of the area to a region fit for vine planting is the fascinating history of one estate – Raimat, which now covers about one third of Costers del Segre; it took over 50 years of planting cattle fodder, pine trees and cereals to convert the infertile abandoned salt plains into a terroir suitable for vines. A labyrinthine irrigation system, designed to control temperature extremes, permits imported vine varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay flourish alongside indigenous vines such as Tempranillo, Parellada and Macabeo.
Along with Raimat, Castelli del Remei and L’Olivera are quality conscious producers.

£9.49, Searson

10. Camplazens L'Ermitage, Vin de Pays d'Oc, 13.5%, France, 1998
Really dark red, very tannic, big, murky.  Good.
Grape vars: 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Granache, 10% Syrah, 10% Carrignan.
Another adventurous offering from the Languedoc, this is a Bordeaux-Rhone mix of tastes and reflects the "fluidity" of the regions wine makers.

£8.92, Oddbins

11. Valtellina Sforzato, Pietro Nera,  14.5%, (Nebbiolo), Chiuro (N.Lombardy), Italy, 1995,
Initial verdict was Pinot with a medicinal flavour.  Disappointing, with a harsh metallic mid-palate.  Dried grape process.
Sforzato: the name for a dried grape wine made in the Valtellina - the northernmost zone of Italy.
The grape variety is Nebbiolo (locally known as Chiavennasca) and the wine is dry and must have an alcohol minimum of 14.5%; it is regarded as the region’s most prestigious product. Interesting comparison with the Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore!

£19.65, Searson

12. Yalumba/Oxford Landing Grenache (Limited Release), 14.5%, S. Australia, 1998
Light strawberry.  Leathery biut not unpleasantly so.Grenache!  Very nice.
Grenache: the world’s second most widely planted grape variety. As Garnacha, it probably originated in the northern province of Aragon, Spain.
Australia: its ability to withstand drought and heat made it a popular choice with New World growers, and it was Australia’s most planted black grape until the mid 60s when it was overtaken by Shiraz, and by Cabernet Sauvignon in the early 90s. It has had been degraded and over-exploited in heavily irrigated vinyards where it has been expected to produce large quantities of wine for basic blends. Only a handful of producers, mainly in the Barossa valley, take it seriously enough to emulate Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

£9.50, McCabes

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