Sourced from the Cantina di Valpantena, the sort of place that could give Italian co-operatives a good name, this is a superb, well-balanced cuvée of Corvina and 30% Rondinella. Made from dried grapes in the classic Amarone fashion, it has plenty of power and depth, just a touch of sweetness, plum, fig, Christmas cake and liquorice flavours and lovely supporting acidity.
Called Heretge (heretic) because it’s made, unusually for Priorat, with just Cariñena, this is produced with grapes from two vineyards, planted in 1908 and 1918, that face north and south-east respectively on classic slate soils. Grippier and more savoury than the other Scala Dei wines, but this is still refreshing, stony and red-fruited, with some underlying grip and tannin and notes of bramble and red cherry. A stairway to hell rather than heaven perhaps?
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.
Pepe Mendoza is one of the best producers in the historic region of Alicante, bringing bags of energy and creativity to the denominación de origen. Called “poison” because of the strong character of the bush vine vineyard that supplied it, this pure Monastrell is fresh, bright and intense, with plum and black cherry fruit, some spices from 50% whole bunches, very subtle wood and tannins that are grippy but not overwhelmingly so.
Xinomavro is one of those grape varieties that ought to be wider known, but isn’t because it’s mostly confined to northern Greece. Crafted by the talented Apostolos Thymiopoulos, this example from Naoussa is way less toothsome than some examples, partly because it’s made with fruit from young vines. Peppery, spicy and scented, it’s like a cross between a Gamay and a Nebbiolo. with rose petal aromas, red cherry and raspberry fruit, tangy acidity, hints of liquorice and mint and a nip of underlying tannin. Ludicrously good value at only £10.95.
Frenchman Hervé Joyaux Fabre makes some of the best value Malbecs in Argentina, as well as some equally smart top-end wines in Mendoza, Patagonia and back in Cahors. This red from the excellent 2019 vintage is entirely unoaked, leaving the variety to sing at the top of its lungs. Floral, enticing and juicy, it has supple, undulating tannins, zesty acidity and a core of bramble and blackberry fruit. Just the thing to cheer you up now that the clocks have gone back.
Stellenbosch struck gold in 2017, with one of the best ever red wine vintages in the Cape. This refined, well-structured Bordeaux blend, made at one of the most historic properties on the Simonsberg, is unbelievably good value and would wipe the winery floor with similarly priced wines from south-west France. Cassis, black cherry, graphite and cigar box notes are framed by fine, age worthy tannins and bright, refreshing acidity. Some retailers may be on the very good 2018, but the 2017 is the one to go for.
This impressive wine is sometimes described as a ‘mini Châteauneuf-du-Pape” but it’s much better than that. In fact, it’s superior to many supermarket CNDPs and cheaper, too. Made by the Perrin family who own Château de Beaucastel, it’s a poised, scented, integrated cuvée of mostly Grenache with 15% each of Syrah and Mourvèdre, with fine red berry fruit, a dusting of Mediterranean herbs, understated wood and a refreshing, medium-bodied finish.