Preamble Tasting April
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.
2. Virginie Roussanne, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France, 1999
Slightly harsh, but very
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
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
3. Brown Brothers Dry Muscat, 12.5%, Victoria,
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.
4. Quinta das Setencostas, Alenquer, 12.5%,
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
5. Primitivo Salento , 13%, Puglia, Italy, 1998
colour. Not a huge nose; slightly "warm". Very nice,
smooth, simple but good, and good value - as quite a lot of Primitivo is
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
6. Ravenswood, Vintners Blend, Zinfandel, 13%,
Sonoma, California, USA, 1998
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.
"fingerprinting" (see above) has established that Zinfandel is
identical to Primitivo of S. Italy – and may have been imported from
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.
in Sonoma, features as one of the more prestigious producers
7. Bodegas Rosca Shiraz, Riserve, 13.5%, Argentina,
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.
8. Zenato Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore, 1997, 13%,
Superb wine; one
of my current favourites and (luckily) I recognised it.
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
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
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.
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.
offering from the Languedoc, this is a Bordeaux-Rhone mix of tastes and
reflects the "fluidity" of the regions wine makers.
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
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
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.
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