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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Beaujolais Nouveau day may have passed you by last month – it certainly did me – but you don’t have to pay much more to get hold of something infinitely more serious from one of the region’s ten “crus”. Moulin à Vent tends to make some of the most structured examples of the Gamay grape, and that’s the case here. Spicy, peppery and refreshing, it has good structure and weight, succulent raspberry and red cherry fruit and just a hint of oak. A lip-smacking delight.