Viognier is a tricky grape to get right. Pick it too late and it can be flabby, pick it too early and it lacks the texture and richness that are its hallmarks. Laurent Miquel is one of only a handful of people outside the northern Rhône Valley who consistently gets the variety spot on. This single parcel expression from the lieu-dit of La Vérité has textbook flavours of ginger, apricots and cream with a hint of oak spice and perfectly judged acidity for balance.
South Africa’s white blends are some of its most distinctive wines, even if they remain comparatively difficult to sell, given most consumers’ preference for varietal Chardonnays, Chenins and Sauvignon Blancs. More’s the pity! This is a superb five-way blend from one of the best white wine producers in Stellenbosch, dominated by almost equal parts Roussanne, Chenin Blanc and Grenache Blanc, with lesser amounts of Viognier and Chardonnay Mixing oak and concrete egg-fermented portions, it’s creamy, herbal and citrus-driven, with subtle wood, honeysuckle and baking spice aromas and flavours of peach, pear and quince.
Verónica Ortega worked in Burgundy (at Domaine de la Romance-Conti, no less) before she set up her own winery in Bierzo in 2010. This hauntingly delicate wine isn’t made from Pinot Noir, but it wouldn’t look out of place in a line up from Chambolle-Musigny. Sourced from seven parcels at 750 metres on slate soils, it sees no wood (only amphoras) and is wonderfully poised and balletic. Raspberry, tobacco pouch and wild strawberry flavours are complemented by rose petal aromas and a nip of sinewy tannin. You may have trouble tracking this down right now, although I’m assured that UK agent Vine Trail will have some next spring.
The intriguingly named Kinki is a very unusual Bierzo for several reasons. First, it’s a co-fermenteation of Mencía with Alicante Bouschet and 30% white grapes (Godello, Palomino and Doña Blanca); second it has only 11.2% alcohol; and third it is fermented and aged in a combination of amphoras and larger barrels. Pale, delicate and elegant, with some clove spice from 100% whole bunch fermentation, flavours of watermelon, wild strawberry and pomegranate, racy acidity and a hint of reduction. Bierzo meets the Côte de Beaune.
Cal is one the most exciting wines I’ve tasted this year and ranks among Spain’s very best whites. Made entirely with Godello grown on rare (for Bierzo) limestone soils at 650 metres in San Juan de la Mata, it’s fresh and light bodied, but with remarkable density and concentration for a wine with only 12.5% alcohol. Lees, chalky and saline, this is like a cross between a Chablis and a Rías Baixas Albariño, with aromas of white flowers and sea salt and notes of fresh bread, wet stones and lemon zest. Stunning.
This Grenache Gris vineyard was the first that Katie Jones bought back in 2009 before she set up her brilliant business in the Languedoc-Roussillon. Every bit as good as the 2017, it’s wonderfully herbal and fresh, with notes of greengage, aniseed, thyme and lemon zest, benefiting from the concentration of old vines and finishing with length and elegance.
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.
Trane, named after jazz legend John Coltrane, comes from a 70-year-old vineyard at 300 metres on shallow granite soils with silt and stones. Fermented with 30% whole bunches, it has medium colour, aromas of wild strawberry and Turkish Delight, juicy red berry fruit of raspberry and bramble, subtle reduction and classic Itata grip and understated intensity.
Master of Wine Liam Stevenson wrote his dissertation about Priorat and was inspired by the white wines of the region to produce a Garnacha Blanca in nearby Terra Alta. This is made in partnership with another MW, Mark Pygott, and is excellent value. Leesy, intense and very lightly wooded, it has grapefruit and lemon peel flavours, a dusting of baking spices, stony minerality and top notes of jasmine and hawthorn blossom.
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.
Coastal Alicante – with a marked marine influence – is the source of this stunning, amphora fermented and aged, old-vine Moscatel de Alejandría from the region’s most exciting producer, Pepe Mendoza. Fresh, tangy and salty, with mouthwatering acidity, flavours of pear, citrus and orange water, amazing focus and some grip from partial skin contact.
Production is small on these Pequeñas Vinícolas wines, alas, but the quality is very impressive indeed. This is an experimental cuvée of Macabeo and Merseguera, aged in amphora under a veil of the flor yeast. It’s an engagingly complex white with notes of wild flowers, camomile tea, tangerine peel and a hint of sea salt. Yeasty and long, it’s one of Spain’s greatest Mediterranean whites. Utterly delicious.