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.
There’s something about this time of year that makes me want to drink claret. I’m generally far too busy enjoying less classic fare to think about the Gironde, but red Bordeaux is just the thing with the turkey. This marriage of Merlot with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, curated by ace consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, is entirely unoaked, relying on fruit purity, fine tannins and supporting acidity. It’s just tipping over into middle age, with tobacco and autumn leaf aromas and fleshy red berry and fruitcake flavours. Really delicious at the price.
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.
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.
Imaginador comes from four different sites in the coastal-influenced sub-region of Guarilihue and encapsulates everything that is most appealing about Itata Valley Cinsault. Spicy, fresh and stony, with classic granitic focus and tannins, it has a hint of Asian spices from partial whole cluster fermentation and a core of raspberry and summer pudding fruit sustained by acidity and zip.
A Pencopolitano is a native of Pedro Parra’s native city of Concepción, where it is surprisingly difficult to find examples of the local wines in restaurants. (I know, I’ve tried.) This is a blend of Cinsault with 33% País and has more structure and acidity than the pure Cinsaults in which Parra specialises. Dry-farmed vineyards in Guarilihue and Portezuelo supply the grapes here, with 30% whole bunches adding some spice and structure to the raspberry, redcurrant and red plum flavours. The finish has some sinewy grip.
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.
Pedro Parra is best known as a French-trained ‘terroir specialist’ who consults to many of the top wineries in South America, but he is increasingly turning his weathered hands to producing his own wines. This deliciously refined País comes from a 100-year-old vineyard on granite soils in Portezuelo and will definitely appeal to fans of Pinot Noir. Pale, playful and refreshing, it has pomegranate and raspberry fruit, a hint of savoury tannin and a long, tangy finish.
I enthusiastically recommended the 2017 release of this wine, but I make no excuse for doing the same thing with the 2018. Schiava, otherwise known as Vernatsch, is the grape variety behind this wonderful, old-vine red from a brilliant co-operative in the Italian Alto Adige. Showing the Alpine freshness of a vineyard at 400 metres, it has top notes of rose petal and summer pudding, a core of redcurrant and wild strawberry fruit, racy, palate-tingling acidity, stony minerality and a long, textured, refined finish. Something to remind you of the last days of summer.
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.
At its most basic, Vinho Verde is Portugal’s quaffing white, but it can also aspire to more profound things. This is a case in point. Made solely from the Loureiro grape, it combines freshness and lightness of touch with concentration and profundity. Crisp, saline and wonderfully aromatic, with notes of fresh pine, gala melon and lemon zest, no spritz, and a long, chiselled finish. The perfect drink for a hot summer’s day.