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.
Hub is named after jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and is my favourite in the Pedro Parra range. The 80-year-old vines here are at 300 metres and face north-west on very poor granitic soils, yielding a wine with more colour than the rest of the line up, wonderful, sappy vivacity and intensity, a spicy undertone and vibrant red cherry, blackberry and raspberry coulis flavours. Fresh, long and satisfying, it’s a Grand Cru expression of Itata Valley Cinsault.
For local grape varieties make up the blend here – Arinto, Folgazão, Rabigato and Viosinho – sourced from vineyards on the southern side of the Douro Valley in their Quintas de Ervamoira and Bons Ares. An appealing counterpoint to the more powerful reds and fortifieds of the region, this has lovely freshness, aromas of fennel, citrus and oatmeal and a youthful, tangy, deftly wooded palate. Should develop further in bottle.
Made with organic grapes grown on granite soils in the little-known Sierra de Salamanca at 700 metres, this is a very rare Spanish white with incredible texture, focus and minerality, especially at only 12.5% alcohol. Salty, yeasty and beeswaxy, with a bracing, mouthwatering finish. No oak, just fruit intensity and texture.
Something of a tribute to the fortified wines that were traditionally produced in Rueda – and dominated the region’s production until the 1980s – this is a Sherry-style, solera-aged cuvée of Palomino and Verdejo. Pale, nutty and dry, it’s like a lighter version of a Palo Cortado, with yeasty complexity and a salty, refreshingly tangy finish. Unusual and complex.
Superb, lightly wooded Verdejo from 100-year-old vines that shows both concentration and freshness. Pink grapefruit and wild herb notes combine thrillingly on the palate with a salty finish and a hint of vanilla spice.
Sometimes called Pájaro Rojo because of its distinctive red bird label, this entry-point Mencía from Losada’s winemaker Amancio Fernández Gómez is a wonderful example of a distinctive Spanish grape. Produced from old vines on clay soils – not the slate that’s more common in Bierzo – this is plush, lightly oaked and comparatively ripe, with softer tannins and lower acidity than many of its competitors, but showing the variety’s classic red berry fruit and herbal undertone. Appealingly refreshing for a wine with 14.5% alcohol.
I’ve been fortunate enough to taste a few of Elías López Monetero’s wines from Argentina, but until this week I was unfamiliar with the magic he’s working in La Mancha, the world’s most extensive wine region, known for bulk plonk rather than wines like this. Production of this amphora-fermented and aged Albillo Real (with a splash of Albillo Mayor) is small at 9,000 bottles, but it’s an intriguing, low-intervention white with some bottle age. Low in alcohol, but not in flavour, it has notes of quince, almonds and fresh pastry with a salty dry finish and the complexity and focus to age further.