I have a deserved reputation as someone who doesn’t like Pinot Gris, but there is Pinot Gris and Pinot Gris, or rather Pinot Grigio and Pinot Grigio. The ones I avoid are those that taste of nothing, but that’s certainly not a charge you could level at this full-flavoured, just off-dry example from superstar winemaker Olivier Humbrecht MW. It’s weighty, textured and perfumed, with notes of quince, peach and pear and more than enough acidity to freshen and lengthen the finish. Great with lightly spicy food.
Faugères is one of the Languedoc’s great secrets, a small appellation that deserves to be much better known. Julien Seydoux makes this superb organic red from a blend of Syrah with 35% Grenache, 15% Carignan and 5% Mourvèdre, ageing the result in large wooden foudres and stainless steel tanks. Named after a local stream, it’s appeallingly subtle, floral and refined, with notes of pine and lavender, sweet bramble and red berry fruit, sinewy tannins and a long, mineral-edged finish. Perfect winter drinking.
You can only applaud a winery – especially one as famous as Kanonkop – that makes 1.7 million bottles of a wine of this quality. Dominated by Pinotage, with the remaining 63% made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, it’s a floral, textured, well-structured cuvée with notes of mint and dried herbs and a core of cassis and raspberry fruit.
Based on Garnacha, with the remaining 35% made up of Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Prior is what Ricard Rofes calls a “key in the door of Priorat”, in that it introduces you to the different zones of the denominación. Wild, savoury and intense, with floral black cherry and damson fruit, a herbal undertone, pithy minerality and some clove spice from 30% whole bunch fermentation. One of the most structured wines in the range.
“I love stems,” says Ricard Rofes of this marriage of Garnacha with 20% Cariñena, fermented with 60% whole bunches and sourced from the best sites in the northern part of the estate. This historic red, first made in 1974 and marking the rebirth of the area, is taut, spicy and complex, with refreshing acidity, classic Priorat minerality and some tobacco spice. The tannins are savoury and granular framing the scented red berry fruit.
Formerly sold as plainer Blanc de Scala Dei, this rare and unusual white hails from an east-facing site at 700 metres, planted with Garnacha Blanca and Chenin Blanc in the late 1960s and 1980s, when the idea of climate change was unheard of. Co-fermented in cement tanks, before ageing in wooden foudres, this 80/20 blend is taut, refreshing and leesy, with stony intensity, citrus and wild flower notes, a drizzle of beeswax and a long intense finish. Should age well too.
Sourced from parcels on slate and red clay soils, this entry-point Garnacha is all about what Ricard Rofes calls “fruit, freshness and easy drinkability”. Fermented with 15% whole bunches, it’s a juicy, bouncy, unoaked delight, with stony minerality, cranberry and raspberry flavours and a whiff of wild Mediterranean herbs.
The Pisanos are among the most famous wine families in Uruguay, as well known for their asados (barbecues) as their Tannats. This is a really good, well-priced introduction to the joys of the country’s signature grape, relying on fruit rather than oak for its impact. Focused and aromatic, it has classic Atlantic freshness, plum and black cherry fruit and a racy, stony finish. The tannins are way less forbidding than on some French examples of the variety from Madiran.
The four friends who run this small, yet hugely exciting winery in the hills of Ribeira Sacra specialise in hunting down tiny vineyard plots and turning them into refreshing, refined, palate-cleansing reds. This is potpourri of at least five local grapes – Mencía, Mouratón, Garnacha Tintorera, Caiño and Bastardo – and is a like a Spanish take on Beaujolais mixed with a little Syrah and Cabernet Franc, albeit with a personality that is all its own. Scented, peppery and elegant, it has notes of rose petal, tangerine and red berries with crunchy acidity, granular tannins and a long, spicy finish. Utterly delicious.
2018 is rightly regarded as one of the best Chilean red wine vintages of the last 30 years, so it’s no surprise that the latest release of Don Melchor is so special. Made from 181 lots covering 151 different vineyard parcels, it’s a pure, refined expression of the Andes-cooled Puente Alto terroir. This is only the second time that the blend has included all four Bordeaux varieties on the estate – it’s 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot – and the wine is suitably nuanced and well balanced. Scented and floral, with some wild herb top notes, it’s an icon that marries energy with power and grip. The tannins are polished, the fruit intense, with cassis and red berry flavours complemented by fresh acidity and scented coffee bean oak.
Wonderfully fresh, juicy and appealing, Quite is a reference to Verónica Ortega’s father, the famous bullfighter Rafael Ortega (the term is used when someone lends a helping hand in the bull ring), and is all about perfume and fruit. There’s good underlying concentration here too – the vines from which it comes are all over 80 years’ old and combine Mencía with Alicante Bouchet, Palomino and Doña Blanca – with notes of violet, raspberry and black cherry, a hint of stony reduction and a bright, mineral-edged finish. Aged in amphora and old wood.
So much Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc tastes as if it’s come out of the same bottomless tank, that it’s a pleasure to come across something that restores your faith in the quality of New Zealand’s most popular wine style. Made by Master of Wine Liam Stevenson, this was picked early (by hand, not machine) and fermented with lots of solids in old French oak barrels. Dry, savoury and complex, it has appealing notes of gunflint and elderflower with subtle oak and a hint of passion fruit. Very smart.