“Wow!” was my one-word tasting note when I initially sipped this remarkable dry Furmint from Hungary. The Tokaji region is best known for its delicious sweet wines, but that’s changing thanks to producers like Balassa Bor. Intense, stony and lightly wooded, this jauntily named white has citrus, fresh dough and aniseed flavours, wonderful purity and focus and racy, palate-cleansing acidity.
If you love Pinot Noir, then the chances are that you’ll appreciate its slightly more rustic Sicilian cousin, Nerello Mascalese. This comes from volcanic soils at 800 metres on the northern slopes of Mount Etna and is appealingly floral and intense, with rose petal and a hint of earth on the nose, lots of tangy focus and grip, very subtle integration and a lovely combination of sinewy tannins, wild strawberry and red cherry fruit and a dusting of Mediterranean herbs.
I have to admit that I did a double take after I’d sampled this wine. £9.75 for something as complex as Pepe Mendoza’s equal blend of Monastrell and Giró? The Wine Society must have made a typo, surely? But that is indeed the price of his stunning cuvée. Somewhere between a northern Rhône Syrah and a high-altitude Spanish Garnacha in style, despite being produced next to the Mediterranean, it’s peppery, spicy and intense, with a hint of oak, wonderful red berry zip and freshness, appealing acidity and fine-grained, stony tannins. Ludicrously good at under £10.
We Pinot Noir lovers are always looking for great value examples of our favourite red grape, but I think it’s fair to say that we don’t often find them in California. That’s what makes this example from Schug Cellars in the sprawling Sonoma Coast appellation such an exciting discovery. Bright, spicy and enticingly perfumed, with a hint of oak, red cherry and wild strawberry fruit, tangy acidity and textured, fine-grained tannins.
Chile is not as well known for Chardonnay as it is for Sauvignon Blanc, but it should be, given the quality of what’s being produced in places like Casablanca, Malleco and Limarí. This unoaked version from the country’s biggest winery, Concha y Toro, is ludicrously good value, with taut, tangy, chalky freshness, notes of lemongrass and melon and a creamy mid palate from time on its fermentation lees. Watch out, Chablis.
Aligoté used to be regarded as something of a second-class grape in Burgundy – fit for Kir Royale or impoverished white wine drinkers on a budget – but climate change is altering its status in a region where Chardonnay sometimes struggles to retain acidity in earlier, hotter vintages like 2020. This unoaked example is wonderfully fresh, taut and mouthwatering with no oak to clutter its pure, citrus and green apple flavours and some added texture from malolactic fermentation.
I wouldn’t normally recommend a Viognier with a few years of bottle age – it’s a grape best consumed in its blossomy, intensely perfumed youth – but this unoaked example comes from a very special site in the Chilean Andes, located at 1,600 metres, and has improved over the last 12 months. There are still plenty of creamy ginger spice and apricot flavours on offer, but they’re balanced by stony freshness and minerality. Delicious.
I wish I’d known about someone like Gilles Bonnefoy when I lived in Clermont-Ferrand back in the 1980s, when good local wines were rare in the Massif Central. This is a wonderfully crunchy, sappy summer red grown on the volcanic soils that are a feature of the region. Made from Gamay, it’s a stony, unwooded delight, with plum and wild strawberry fruit and a satisfying, mineral-edged core.
Ahead of Sauvignon Blanc day tomorrow, I’ve been enjoying a few glasses of this Kiwi example from the brilliant Craggy Range. Most New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc comes from Marlborough, so this is something a little different, not least because a part of the wine was fermented in foudres and smaller oak barrels, but also because it comes from Martinborough, a region best known for its Pinot Noirs. Tangy, zesty and complex, with lime, passion fruit and nectarine flavours, racy acidity and a dry finish. The mid-palate is textured and slightly salty.
Light-bodied Alpine reds are some of my favourite wines: bright, tangy and intense with tremendous perfume and vitality. This pure Mondeuse from Jean-François Quénard is a case in point. Fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel and concrete eggs, it’s pithy, zesty and lip-smackingly fresh, all violet, rose petal and white pepper aromas, intense bramble and raspberry fruit, tangy acidity and more underlying tannin and structure than you expect.
Calling all Burgundy and Barolo drinkers in search of a bargain! Greek Xinomavro has become one of my go-to wine styles over the last year and this is a delicious example of its charms from a traditional producer. Benefiting from a few years in bottle before release, it’s pale, scented and enticing, with aromas of rose petal and rosemary, savoury red cherry and tobacco leaf flavours, sinewy tannins, understated wood and thrilling freshness and minerality.
I have a deserved reputation as someone who doesn’t like Pinot Gris, but there is Pinot Gris and Pinot Gris, or rather Pinot Grigio and Pinot Grigio. The ones I avoid are those that taste of nothing, but that’s certainly not a charge you could level at this full-flavoured, just off-dry example from superstar winemaker Olivier Humbrecht MW. It’s weighty, textured and perfumed, with notes of quince, peach and pear and more than enough acidity to freshen and lengthen the finish. Great with lightly spicy food.