Chilean Chardonay is on a roll right now, especially when it’s from vineyards in the cooler areas of the country close to the Pacific or way down south, which is the case here. The brilliant Marcelo Retamal buys the grapes for this world-class white from Francisco Baettig’s increasingly famous vineyard in Malleco. There was a little rain during the growing season, so the wine has a little bit of “noble rot” (botrytis) character, which adds a drizzle of honeyed complexity to its chiselled, racy, well-balanced palate, exhibiting flavours of cashew nut, citrus and wet stones. The oak is very understated, which is the case with all the De Martino wines.
Mas Deu comes from a single vineyard at 800 metres planted on clay and limestone soils and is a stunning expression of Mediterranean Garnacha. Floral and alluring, with notes of thyme, rosemary and white pepper, chalky minerality, redcurrant and raspberry flavours and a long, tapering finish. One of the best wines in Catalunya.
St. Antoni is on of the oldest vineyards at Scala Dei, dating back to the late 17th century and planted in a natural amphitheatre at 600 metres. First made as a single release in 2010, it’s the essence of higher altitude Priorat Garnacha, justifying the variety’s name as the “Pinot Noir of the south”. Fermented with 100% whole bunches before ageing in founders, it’s a refined, delicate red, despite its 14.5% alcohol, with raspberry and wild strawberry fruit, graceful tannins and a stony flourish.
“I love stems,” says Ricard Rofes of this marriage of Garnacha with 20% Cariñena, fermented with 60% whole bunches and sourced from the best sites in the northern part of the estate. This historic red, first made in 1974 and marking the rebirth of the area, is taut, spicy and complex, with refreshing acidity, classic Priorat minerality and some tobacco spice. The tannins are savoury and granular framing the scented red berry fruit.
2018 is rightly regarded as one of the best Chilean red wine vintages of the last 30 years, so it’s no surprise that the latest release of Don Melchor is so special. Made from 181 lots covering 151 different vineyard parcels, it’s a pure, refined expression of the Andes-cooled Puente Alto terroir. This is only the second time that the blend has included all four Bordeaux varieties on the estate – it’s 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot – and the wine is suitably nuanced and well balanced. Scented and floral, with some wild herb top notes, it’s an icon that marries energy with power and grip. The tannins are polished, the fruit intense, with cassis and red berry flavours complemented by fresh acidity and scented coffee bean oak.
Spanish retailers appear to be on the 2016 vintage of this wine at the moment, which I haven’t tasted, but this is well worth waiting for and needs more time in bottle in any case. VO used to come from the lower part of the ROC vineyard, but because of the frost in 2017, Verónica Ortega sourced the grapes from an old parcel at 650 metres on slate and sand soils in Villabuena instead. Fermented with 100% whole bunches, it’s an intense, well-structured, very lightly wooded red with notes of fresh tobacco, incense, liquorice and black cherry, impressive focus and the concentration and structure to age further.
Verónica Ortega worked in Burgundy (at Domaine de la Romance-Conti, no less) before she set up her own winery in Bierzo in 2010. This hauntingly delicate wine isn’t made from Pinot Noir, but it wouldn’t look out of place in a line up from Chambolle-Musigny. Sourced from seven parcels at 750 metres on slate soils, it sees no wood (only amphoras) and is wonderfully poised and balletic. Raspberry, tobacco pouch and wild strawberry flavours are complemented by rose petal aromas and a nip of sinewy tannin. You may have trouble tracking this down right now, although I’m assured that UK agent Vine Trail will have some next spring.
Cal is one the most exciting wines I’ve tasted this year and ranks among Spain’s very best whites. Made entirely with Godello grown on rare (for Bierzo) limestone soils at 650 metres in San Juan de la Mata, it’s fresh and light bodied, but with remarkable density and concentration for a wine with only 12.5% alcohol. Lees, chalky and saline, this is like a cross between a Chablis and a Rías Baixas Albariño, with aromas of white flowers and sea salt and notes of fresh bread, wet stones and lemon zest. Stunning.
Hub is named after jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and is my favourite in the Pedro Parra range. The 80-year-old vines here are at 300 metres and face north-west on very poor granitic soils, yielding a wine with more colour than the rest of the line up, wonderful, sappy vivacity and intensity, a spicy undertone and vibrant red cherry, blackberry and raspberry coulis flavours. Fresh, long and satisfying, it’s a Grand Cru expression of Itata Valley Cinsault.
Monk – a tribute to jazz pianist Thelonius Monk – is a superb varietal Cinsault from a 70-year-old vineyard at 300 metres in Guarilihue. Fermented with natural yeasts and one-third whole clusters, it’s a dense, slightly smoky red from granitic clay soils, showing impressive depth and richness, notes of gunflint, red plum and wild strawberry and a long, balanced finish. Chilean Cinsault at its best.
Production is small on these Pequeñas Vinícolas wines, alas, but the quality is very impressive indeed. This is an experimental cuvée of Macabeo and Merseguera, aged in amphora under a veil of the flor yeast. It’s an engagingly complex white with notes of wild flowers, camomile tea, tangerine peel and a hint of sea salt. Yeasty and long, it’s one of Spain’s greatest Mediterranean whites. Utterly delicious.
One of the most ambitious Rueda whites, this comes from a selection of pre-phylloxera vineyards and is built to age. The oak is better integrated than on the 2015, which is also available in the market right now, supporting a wine with amazing intensity and focus. Nutty and intense, it has flavours of pear, citrus and marzipan, with undertones of fennel and cinnamon, good structure and racy, palate-cleansing acidity.