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  • SOUTHERN ITALY

    Tristan explores the ancient indigenous sun-kissed vines of Southern Italy

    Whether you’re heading there on holiday, or just looking for some great alternative summer wines to add to your shopping list, this month’s column explores a few of southern Italy’s ancient indigenous grape varieties.

    Fiano has been cultivated in southern Italy for two thousand years. Volcanic slopes surrounding Naples in Italy’s Campania region are the grapes traditional home, producing one of Italy’s great white wines, Fiano di Avellino, but Fiano does well in other regions, too. Mandra Rossa Fiano 2016 from Menfi in south-west Sicily is one of my top tips for a reasonably priced summer white wine.

    At the risk of sounding like a wine toff, this really does taste like Sicilian sunshine in a glass. A refreshing well-balanced medium-bodied white, where ripe exotic tropical fruit flavours are tempered by a refreshing lick of basil-like herbs and an edge of citrus to make your mouth water. Deliciously drinkable and good with all manner of simple summery fish, vegetable, pasta or chicken dishes.

    Indigenous to eastern Sicily, Carricante has been grown the slopes of Mount Etna, for over a thousand years. Etna is Italy's largest and most active volcano, and the Planeta 'Eruzione 1614' Carricante 2015 is named after her longest eruption in 1614 which lasted over 10 years. Made from vines planted at 800m on Etna (Carricante performs best at altitude) by Planeta, one of Sicily's most respected and pioneering winemaking families, this is a remarkably fine, stylish, fresh and elegant wine.

    Pretty floral aromas pull you in for a mouth-watering sip where the intense sensation of minerals marries with crisp green apple and lightly honeyed citrus flavours, carrying the wine to a satisfyingly long, fresh and dry finish. Utterly delicious. I could happily enjoy a glass of this on its own in the heat of summer, but it'd also be great with grilled white fish, seafood risotto, crab linguine or pan fried scallops.

    You’ll be hard pushed to find a better value Italian red than Biferno Rosso Riserva DOC Palladino 2012. The wine comes from Southern Italy’s second smallest region, Molise, on the other side of the ‘leg’ from Naples, nestled between neighbouring Abruzzo and Puglia and flanked by the Apennine Mountains and Adriatic Sea. Molise is rustic, agricultural, and relatively ‘undiscovered’ in terms of both tourism and wine - meaning there’s great value to be found here.

    Made from Montepulciano, one of southern Italy’s superstar grapes, blended with the ancient dark Aglianico grape for extra depth and richness, the wine ages for three years in big old Slavonian oak barrels to soften it and add complexity. Full of slightly dusty rustic charm, with mouth-watering sour cherry flavours, a hint of spice and refreshing savoury herbs. Smooth, quenching and interesting enough to enjoy on its own, but with enough boldness to pair with grilled meats, pizza, and hearty meat or aubergine based pasta. A fantastic staple wine to stock up on, and well worth the money.

    Discover more at Tristan’s Southern Italy & Islands tasting on 12th July at Great Western Wine. Tickets are £15. Click here to book now >

  • NEW ZEALAND

    Beyond Marlborough Sauvignon

    Since the first commercial wines were released in the 1980s, New Zealand’s pungent, herbaceous, tangy, tropical-fruited style of sauvignon blanc has proven to be a smash hit, now accounting for three-quarters of NZ wine production and around 85% of wine exports - with the most famous and productive region, Marlborough, leading the charge.

    However, New Zealand is 1000 miles long with a latitude equivalent of Bordeaux to southern Spain, a diverse geography and geology (mountains, coast and volcanic plateaus), and a wide selection of grape varieties - so there’s plenty more here to be discovered.

    Central Otago is located in the south of south island. It’s the world’s most southerly wine region, plus New Zealand's highest altitude and most Continental (no vineyard here is more than 80 miles from the sea). Spectacularly beautiful - adorned with dramatic snow-capped mountains and blue lakes, this is also one of the world’s top spots for Pinot Noir, which thrives here. Relatively warm daytimes with high UV levels bestow the grapes with plenty of ripeness and flavour, which is locked in place by cool night temperatures - producing characterful wines full of vibrant ripe fruit flavours, depth and balancing acidity.

    I like the Mohua Pinot Noir 2014 from Peregrine wines, with lovely floral and fruity aromas and a juicy, quite rich, yet smooth palate where cherry and black fruit flavours combine with a savoury edge and a touch of spice - just the ticket for early summer drinking.

    'Central' also produces world-class chardonnay, and Carrick Chardonnay 2015 is a splendid example. Complex, elegant and fine. Deliciously ripe tropical fruit flavours and a lemon-like acidity are complemented by creamy, nutty notes and a lick of spice from fermentation and ageing in French oak. Classy and very much worth the money, it'll keep and develop in bottle over a couple of years, too.

    Around the art-deco Mecca of Napier in north-island is NZ’s oldest and second largest wine region, Hawke’s Bay. A relatively large and diverse area, but perhaps best known for its age-worthy red blends made with classic Bordeaux grapes. The Crossroads Winemaker’s Selection Cabernet/Merlot 2011 uses top fruit from the acclaimed Gimblett Gravels sub-region. Yes, it’s big and pretty concentrated - but not heavy. Juicy blackcurrants and plums supported by a toasty complexity from French oak barrels. This would be perfect with roast lamb/beef or a juicy steak.

    The superb Man ‘O’ War Dreadnought Syrah 2013 hails from another large and diverse wine region surrounding NZ’s largest city, Auckland. It’s a warm and relatively humid here, but Dreadnought is produced a short boat ride away from the mainland on the winemaking island of Waiheke, where the climate is drier and the warmth is tempered by the cooling effects of the sea. This stellar Rhone-style syrah had me at first sip. Concentrated and rich, yet elegant, fine and balanced with a mineral touch. The seductive smoky and meaty/savoury characters mingle with blueberries, blackberries and black pepper spice. Awesome and age-worthy - if you can keep your hands off it.

    Tristan is hosting a NZ tasting on 14th June at Great Western Wine - tickets £15: Click here to book now >

    - By Tristan Darby - Bath Magazine -

  • When wine meets chocolate

    "Its a tough job, but someones got to do it" is the phrase that sprung to mind when I set off on a quest to find out whether wine and chocolate could live together. Easter is looming and that means chocolate, and lots of it, so it seemed the right time to put this to the test.

    Can the two co-exist? I'm delighted to say that the answer is yes, but choose with care. Just like wine there is great chocolate, but there is pretty horrible, gloopy muck, full of greasy cocoa butter, and not much else too - if that's what rocks your boat, I'd stick with a cup of tea to accompany it.

    There is a world of exciting, artisan-crafted chocolate out there - from all over the world. I recently co-hosted a wine and chocolate pairing evening, with Spencer Hyman, who is as passionate about chocolate as I am about wine, and has set up an online subscription business for true choc lovers called Cocoa Runners. He and his team whizz around the world sniffing out the best bean producers and also the best chocolate-makers; his range is vast, encompassing chocolate bars from Brooklyn to Budapest, Cleethorpes to Saigon.

    For wine, it's all about the grape, the soil, and how you make it; with chocolate it's pretty much the same, which is why Great Western Wine have teamed up with Cocoa Runners to stock a wide range of chocolates, matched with specific wines. The chocolate range is broad, ranging from the darkest, most intense and highest cocoa content bars, to fudgy, creamy and unctuous milk varieties.

    So what works? The old adage is that you need to drink something sweeter than the chocolate itself - easily done, but a bit predictable. After an exhaustive and extensive afternoon of wine and chocolate-matching (I did say it was a tough job), here are my recommendations for you to enjoy the ultimate in indulgences - and yes, red wine can work with chocolate, and does so rather nicely, if you pick the right one. So throw your preconceptions aside and try a few of these with your Easter chocolate fest...

    Dark Chocolate

    This has over 70% cocoa solids, with depth and intensity, it's sweet yet has a balancing bitter note - think oozingly rich chocolate fondant. Rich, spicy red wines can work well here, as the balance between the sweetness and the bitter edge in dark chocolate marries well with an intense, voluptuous drink. Chilean Carmenere can be great, Viña Falernia Carmenere Syrah, 2014 (£13.75) was spot on. In this wine, one third of the grapes are left to dry out to a raisin-like state, which means the wine is richer and takes on an 'amarone' type of intensity, with truffly, mocha notes, powerful enough to balance the brooding intensity of dark chocolate.

     

    Milk Chocolate

    The world's favourite style; here, the milk content adds to the sweetness and luxuriously creamy texture. Australian-style Muscats generally work well, but can overpower with their exuberant personalities, but my two favourites in this category are lesser well-known sweeties. First up, a glorious sweet red, somewhere between a dessert wine and port. Bertani Recioto 2012, 50cl (£23.00) from Italy is my go-to choice. Its mix of cinnamon, spice, and candied peel, is silky, sumptuous and utterly indulgent. My other top choice was PX Belle Luna (£8.95) - almost syrupy in texture, sensuous and swooningly enchanting, with its decadent raisin, dried fig and toffee character.

     

    White Chocolate

    People either love or hate white chocolate. Its a mix of mainly cocoa butter, milk and sugar, often flavoured with vanilla. This is where traditional dessert wines work well, with their gentle, honey and caramel edges. Patricius Late Harvest Tokaji 2015, 37.5cl (13.95) from the majestic Tokay region of Hungary is the style to fit the bill here, with its notes of acacia honey, honeysuckle and dried, candied oranges.

    To sum up, wine + chocolate = happiness!

     

     

    By Angela Mount - Bath Life Magazine

  • Marvellous malbec & Argentinian abundance

    Argentinian wine is on the crest of a wave right now, picking up ever-increasing momentum, with wine drinkers seduced by the rich, brooding charms of its flagship grape, Malbec. Four years ago, Argentina was languishing outside the top 20 wine countries selling into the UK; now it’s on course to crack the top ten barrier, with over 2 million cases of Malbec now sold a year on our shores.

    Argentina also happens to be spectacular, with charisma, beauty and passion oozing through its DNA, from its people to its landscapes. Flying into Mendoza, the country’s wine capital, from Chile, the majesty and imperious glory of the Andes, the longest mountain range in the world, are truly breathtaking. The colossal Aconcagua mountain, which shelters some of the country’s most prized vineyards, in its foothills, is the highest in the western hemisphere, only 6200ft shy of Everest’s peak.

    Mendoza is a vibrant city, full of tree-lined boulevards, and pavement cafes; the surrounding area is home to many of the country’s best wineries. The vineyards themselves sprawl for miles, weaving higher and higher into the foothills of the towering Andes. Sitting outside, on the terrace of a winery, with an empanada and a glass of wine in hand, with the sizzling sounds and aromatic scents of an ‘asado’, on the barbecue, whilst gazing out at the snow-capped peaks, is an experience not to be forgotten.

    And thus it was with Trapiche, one of Argentina’s largest vineyard owners and producers, whom I have been fortunate to visit several times.  Founded in 1883, the winery is housed in an elegant, Florentine-style building, built in 1912. Trapiche was one of the pioneers in the early days of high quality wine production; with over 1000 hectares of vineyards, the winery has impressive scale, but with a total focus on quality, regardless of the price level.

    Malbec is of course the star of the show, and probably the only Argentinian wine that many UK wine drinkers know. It’s highly successful – but the danger is that many people view it as a one trick pony – one style, big, rich, hefty. Yet, there are many nuances and variations in Malbec, as in any grape, depending on how and where it is grown and made.

    Let’s start with Trapiche Melodias Malbec 2015 (was £7.95, now £6.95) – bright, juicy and soft, this is Malbec on it’s lighter, but equally delicious scale. Bursting with perfumed, succulent cherry and ripe plum fruit aromas, it’s a delightful mid-weight red, full of moreish, smooth, berry fruit, with a hint of herbs, but most importantly a bright, lively style; and at 13% alcohol it’s a lot fresher than many of the Malbec blockbusters. This would be great with charcuterie, midweek pasta and cottage pie.

     

    Moving up a gear in intensity and depth is Don David El Esteco Malbec 2014 (was £11.50, now £9.95) from the pioneering El Esteco winery, which has been pushing the boundaries in terms of grape and wine production, exploring high altitude vineyards in the north west frontiers of Argentina, namely the Calchaqui valley, a land of desert scrubland and ravines, which home some of the highest vineyards in the country. Rich and voluptuous, this dark and brooding delight brims with exotic richness, and dense, ripe black fruit, overlaid with layers of spice. Look no further for your perfect steak or roast beef red.

    But there’s more to Argentinian wine than Malbec; two lesser known wines worth discovering  are made from the country’s most prolific red and white grape varieties.

     

    First up, Bonarda, a grape variety which plays second fiddle to Malbec’s leading violin, but is the country’s most prolific grape and one of my favourites in this instance, Trapiche Estacion 1883 Bonarda 2014 (was £11.95, now £10.50). Less macho, more seductively feminine is an inference that comes to mind; scented with violets and super-ripe forest fruits, this is sumptuous, and soft as velvet with a gently spiced and bitter chocolate edge. Great all rounder for chillier days, perfect with rich stews and spicy chilli.

     

    Argentina is less well-known for its whites, yet they can also shine. The country’s leading white grape is Torrontes, with its  spicy, aromatic, honeysuckle and lychee-drenched characteristics, still relatively undiscovered over here. As with all grape varieties, there is a multitude of styles – I was impressed with the fresh, zesty lime peel and citrus tang of Don David El Esteco Torrontes 2016 (was £11.50, now £9.95), with its vibrant, mouthwatering fruit and lively freshness. As we tiptoe towards the balmier days of Spring, this is a perfect mid-season white, equally at home with spicy thai prawn curries and simple tapas and salads.

    If you can find a reason to visit Argentina do – you’ll fall in love with the place, the people.. and the wines.

    By Angela Mount - Bath Magazine

  • INTRIGUING IBERIANS

    This month is all about the profusion of vinous delights that emerge from the vast and varied Iberian peninsula; from sun-baked plains, to wild and wet mountainous terrain, Spain and Portugal’s wine regions offer up a veritable smorgasbord of styles, colours, and price levels. But you won’t find one mention of Rioja, Cava or Port in this column; these familiar names are already well-established;  instead I want to take you on a Hispanic wine tour outside your comfort zone – trust me.

    Nestled amongst the arid fields between Madrid and Valencia, lies Cuenca, best known, to date, for its sheep farming.  Cue a white wine with, appropriately, a sheep on the label; Oveja blanca Dry Muscat 2015 (was £10.75, now £9.46) is the brainchild of a family wine producer who has brought in the expertise of an internationally renowned Master of Wine and roving winemaker, has thrown the rulebook away and is playing around with new styles. This is dry Muscat, and when it says dry, it really is; floral, fragrant, it smells of pink grapefruit and fresh green table grapes, with a hint of delicate acacia honey. For those who love super-dry wines, don’t be put off by the Muscat name – this is bone dry, with ripe peach fruit and a searingly crisp finish.  I tried this with a Lebanese sweetly-spiced fish dish, and a platter of Middle-eastern mezze with tahini dip – spot on, and fabulous value.

    Skipping over the border to Portugal, let’s head first to the northern region of the Minho.  Now, the words ‘Vinho Verde’ may cause shudders in some readers who remember the old guard of Mateus Rose and insipid sweet Portuguese whites. Track forward three decades, and true, authentic Vinho Verde is making a welcome comeback. Crisp, bone dry, with an edge of spritz, these wines are at their best drunk very young, very fresh, and with the added bonus of being far lighter in alcohol than most dry whites. Quinta da Lixa, Vinho Verde 2015 (was £8.95, now £7.88) sits at a refreshing 10.5% alcohol, and is as fresh as a daisy, with lipsmacking lemon and lime crispness and the crunch of granny smith apples.

    Staying in Portugal, but moving south, the Dao, one of the country’s oldest, most traditional, but now frequently-overlooked regions, lies south of Oporto and the  more famous Douro Valley.  Until recently the red wines had a reputation for being tough and chewy, but now styles are softening, as exemplified by International Wine Challenge Silver medal winner A Descoberta 2013, Casa da Passarella (was £10.50, now £9.24). This gorgeously rich, voluptuous red is enveloping in its irresistible warmth and charm.  Dark, rich and brooding, flavours of ripe blackberries, sweet mulled wine spices, black cherries and dark chocolate, trip across the tongue. I can’t think of anything better with slow-cooked roast lamb and rich game dishes at this time of year.  Portuguese red wines are still often undervalued and underrated – let this one seduce you.

    No wine piece about Spain is complete without including Sherry, one of the most misunderstood and underrated drinks around. Sherry is having a well-deserved revival, especially in tapas bars, after years of being relegated to the drinks cupboards of great aunts and grannies. From Jerez, in the deep south, the land of Flamenco and heat, and close to Seville, this golden wine is totally unique.  There are several styles – Fino and Manzanilla are searingly dry, and simply the best aperitifs on earth, to be drunk icy cold – ideally with a bowl of olives, salted almonds or a  prawn or two.  Best bought in half bottles, to keep it at its freshest,salty, tangy, characterful and unique La Guita Manzanilla NV(was £5.75, now £5.06) is mouth-wateringly crisp – once smitten, never forgotten.

    Luscious, treacly-sweet La Luna PX (was £8.95, now £7.88 for 37.5cl)  is just one other fabulous Sherry, as intensely sweet as the Manzanilla is dry.  If you fancy a spot of wine and chocolate matching, come and try this, amongst other wines of all styles, at an early evening tasting, at the Igloo, Abbey Hotel, where Spencer Hyman, founder of artisan chocolate company Cocoa Runners, and I will be proving the point that these two favourite treats can work extremely well together.  For anyone who loves both wine and chocolate, don’t miss this - Click here to book tickets online

    Salud!

    All Spanish and Portuguese wines will have at least 12% off the normal price throughout February, with 20% off case purchases.

    By Angela Mount - Bath Magazine, February 2016

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