Marcelo Retamal is one of the most exciting winemakers in South America at the moment, crafting wines that are as refreshing as they are restrained. This delicious Cinsault was fermented in old terracotta amphorae, eschewing the oak that marrs too many Chilean reds. The result is a wine with refreshing, cherrystone and raspberry flavours, subtle tannins and impressive palate length. Chile should be making more wines like this.
De Martino’s Viejas Tinajas project is producing some of Chile’s most interesting wines at the moment. This savoury, aromatic white has a touch of grapeskin bitterness to it that adds structure as well as a layer of complexity. It’s not a typical Muscat by any means: you can taste the grapey notes of the variety but they are subtle and restrained rather than overt.
“Martinborough in a cool year on a razor’s edge,” is how Lance Redgwell describes the growing season that produced this impressive Syrah from the southern end of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s got the classic, cool climate notes of black pepper and smoked meat, combined with notes of incense, iodine and subtle oak. Spicy and intense, yet refreshing at the same time, it’s the kind of wine that makes you wonder why the Kiwis don’t plant more Syrah.
There aren’t many wineries in the world that have successfully combined Pinot Noir with Syrah, but this biodynamic blend is so successful that I wish more people would follow suit. Pinot tames the peppery, iodine-like notes of Martinborough Syrah, adding a softer, more “feminine” touch. The oak is very understated, while the flavours of clove spice, red fruits and a hint of forest floor revolve around a core of bright acidity. Unusual, but very tasty indeed.
Alaverdi only produce around 20,000 bottles a year, and they had already run out of the 2010 vintage when we visited in November 2012. This 2011 Qvevri sample needs another year for the rather brutal tannins to resolve, but the purity and focus of the dark, berry fruit is evident. There’s some attractive ginger spiciness, terrific freshness and what Charles Metcalfe describes very aptly as a “balsamic hint”.
This is the wine that first won me over to the charms of the qvevri – the most astoundingly complex nose of tea leaves, baked apples, jasmine, herbs and plum compote (and bear in mind my description does not remotely do it justice). Very much an amber/orange style, with chewy but perfectly ripe tannins – and yet the fruit shines through effortlessly. Outstanding.
Alaverdi’s Kisi spends 6 months in the Qvevri, the skins and stalks lending it its deep amber colour, with fine-grained but persistent tannins. The aromas are intensely herbal, almost medicinal with hints of caramel and musk. Quite full bodied, with peachy, cooked stone fruit dominating the palate. Hugely complex, but needs food to show at its best.
Vinicola Benanti is one of the most established quality producers in the Mount Etna region. Their Rovitello vineyards are on the Northern slopes, and the slightly cooler ripening conditions are reflected in this elegant, mineral and smoky Nerello Mascalese/Nerello Capuccio blend.
This wine has the kind of taut, fresh yet delicate feel that I associate with high altitude – and Etna Bianco Superiore wines can only be made in the commune of Milo, with Carricante grown between 900-1100m above sea level. This is superior by name, and by nature. Scents of white flowers and acacia lead to generous, rather sauvignon-like fruit. The finish is mineral and flinty with an attractive bitterness that makes it very thirst quenching and rather morish.