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.
Formerly sold as plainer Blanc de Scala Dei, this rare and unusual white hails from an east-facing site at 700 metres, planted with Garnacha Blanca and Chenin Blanc in the late 1960s and 1980s, when the idea of climate change was unheard of. Co-fermented in cement tanks, before ageing in wooden foudres, this 80/20 blend is taut, refreshing and leesy, with stony intensity, citrus and wild flower notes, a drizzle of beeswax and a long intense finish. Should age well too.
Sourced from parcels on slate and red clay soils, this entry-point Garnacha is all about what Ricard Rofes calls “fruit, freshness and easy drinkability”. Fermented with 15% whole bunches, it’s a juicy, bouncy, unoaked delight, with stony minerality, cranberry and raspberry flavours and a whiff of wild Mediterranean herbs.
The Pisanos are among the most famous wine families in Uruguay, as well known for their asados (barbecues) as their Tannats. This is a really good, well-priced introduction to the joys of the country’s signature grape, relying on fruit rather than oak for its impact. Focused and aromatic, it has classic Atlantic freshness, plum and black cherry fruit and a racy, stony finish. The tannins are way less forbidding than on some French examples of the variety from Madiran.
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.
The four friends who run this small, yet hugely exciting winery in the hills of Ribeira Sacra specialise in hunting down tiny vineyard plots and turning them into refreshing, refined, palate-cleansing reds. This is potpourri of at least five local grapes – Mencía, Mouratón, Garnacha Tintorera, Caiño and Bastardo – and is a like a Spanish take on Beaujolais mixed with a little Syrah and Cabernet Franc, albeit with a personality that is all its own. Scented, peppery and elegant, it has notes of rose petal, tangerine and red berries with crunchy acidity, granular tannins and a long, spicy finish. Utterly delicious.
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.
ROC was the first wine Veronica Ortega ever made, back in 2010, and comes from two old-vine parcels at 400 metres in Valtuille de Abajo. It’s firmer, riper and more structured than her other reds, with more colour, backbone and extract. Showing the very low yields of the first-hit 2017 vintage, this is dark and grippy, with damson and blackberry fruit, plenty of tannin and some added texture from 50% whole bunches.
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.
Wonderfully fresh, juicy and appealing, Quite is a reference to Verónica Ortega’s father, the famous bullfighter Rafael Ortega (the term is used when someone lends a helping hand in the bull ring), and is all about perfume and fruit. There’s good underlying concentration here too – the vines from which it comes are all over 80 years’ old and combine Mencía with Alicante Bouchet, Palomino and Doña Blanca – with notes of violet, raspberry and black cherry, a hint of stony reduction and a bright, mineral-edged finish. Aged in amphora and old wood.