I enthusiastically recommended the 2017 release of this wine, but I make no excuse for doing the same thing with the 2018. Schiava, otherwise known as Vernatsch, is the grape variety behind this wonderful, old-vine red from a brilliant co-operative in the Italian Alto Adige. Showing the Alpine freshness of a vineyard at 400 metres, it has top notes of rose petal and summer pudding, a core of redcurrant and wild strawberry fruit, racy, palate-tingling acidity, stony minerality and a long, textured, refined finish. Something to remind you of the last days of summer.
Rediscovered as recently as 1994 – people used to think it was Merlot in Chile – Carmenère is a controversial grape, often criticised for being a little too green and vegetal. But in the right spots – and Peumo is definitely one of them – it can make very individual wines with a sense of place. This is a fantastic value example from Concha y Toro, which marries Carmenère with 14% Cabernet Sauvignon for extra structure. Deftly wooded in a combination of French and American wood, it’s smooth, plush and well-balanced, with notes of blackberry, graphite and sweet spices and just the right amount of balancing acidity.
If Michael Brajkovich MW were a Burgundian rather than a New Zealander, he would be among the most celebrated white winemakers in the Côte de Beaune, right up there with the likes of Dominique Lafon, Pierre-Vves Colin Morey and Jean-Marc Roulot. The good news for us is that we can buy his amazing Chardonnays at ludicrously cheap prices. This is only his entry-point wine, but is typically well balanced, refreshing and focused, with just a hint of oak spice, leesy complexity, some struck match undertones and a chiselled, refreshing finish. A Kiwi wine that’s better than many Puligny-Montrachets.
Aldi has a deserved reputation for sourcing very drinkable wines under £5 – much harder than you think given exorbitant duty rates in the UK – but this is something else altogether. I’ve tasted much less exciting Viogniers at three times the price. Classically smooth and voluptuous, with flavours of peaches, cream and nectarine and just the right amount of supporting acidity. Outrageously good at the price.
Part of the generally impressive new Classics range from Marks & Spencer, this reminded me what cracking value Chianti can deliver under £10. Made by Cecchi, it’s Sangiovese based with 30% Colorino and a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon for extra backbone. Very lightly wooded – what do you expect for £8? – it’s bright, aromatic and savoury, with the classic Italian combination of racy acidity and some tannic grip and layers of red cherry and raspberry fruit. Refreshing and well balanced, it’s just the thing for early autumn drinking.
Oh to be sitting in a bar in Santorini drinking a glass of this amazing wine. But sipping it in London’s still a pleasure, reminding me of the lure of the Greek islands. Made from old, ungrafted bush vines grown on volcanic soils, it’s a stunning white from Matthew Argyros, demonstrating Assyrtiko’s classic combination of salty, briney aromatics, crunchy minerality and flavours of preserved lemons and wild herbs. Long, focused and beautifully balanced.
Sometimes called Pájaro Rojo because of its distinctive red bird label, this entry-point Mencía from Losada’s winemaker Amancio Fernández Gómez is a wonderful example of a distinctive Spanish grape. Produced from old vines on clay soils – not the slate that’s more common in Bierzo – this is plush, lightly oaked and comparatively ripe, with softer tannins and lower acidity than many of its competitors, but showing the variety’s classic red berry fruit and herbal undertone. Appealingly refreshing for a wine with 14.5% alcohol.
La Rioja Alta is one of the most traditional wineries in Haro’s Barrio de la Estación, famous for producing wines that are good to drink on release, but also age beautifully in bottle. This new Gran Reserva, made from Tempranillo with 6% Graciano for added backbone, is very much a reflection of the cooler, more “Atlantic” 2014 vintage. La Rioja Alta didn’t make its top two Gran Reservas – 904 and 890 – in 2014, so all of its best grapes were used for Viña Arana. Fine and elegant, with vibrant acidity, notes of coconut and cinnamon from the American oak and a core of savoury, refreshing tobacco leaf and red berry flavours framed by fine, caressing tannins. Old-fashioned Rioja at its glorious best.
Gascony used to be regarded as foie gras and Armagnac country (not necessarily at the same time) until the Producers Plaimont co-operative came along and changed the image of the region’s dry reds and whites. Le Faîte is their top white blend, made from a trio of local grapes – Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Petit Courbu – and is a stunning cuvée, somewhere between a Spanish Albariño and a Greek Assyrtiko in style. Pithy, saline and very complex, with quince, apple and grapefruit flavours, mouth-watering acidity and the concentration to age brilliantly in bottle.
I’ve been fortunate enough to taste a few of Elías López Monetero’s wines from Argentina, but until this week I was unfamiliar with the magic he’s working in La Mancha, the world’s most extensive wine region, known for bulk plonk rather than wines like this. Production of this amphora-fermented and aged Albillo Real (with a splash of Albillo Mayor) is small at 9,000 bottles, but it’s an intriguing, low-intervention white with some bottle age. Low in alcohol, but not in flavour, it has notes of quince, almonds and fresh pastry with a salty dry finish and the complexity and focus to age further.
At its most basic, Vinho Verde is Portugal’s quaffing white, but it can also aspire to more profound things. This is a case in point. Made solely from the Loureiro grape, it combines freshness and lightness of touch with concentration and profundity. Crisp, saline and wonderfully aromatic, with notes of fresh pine, gala melon and lemon zest, no spritz, and a long, chiselled finish. The perfect drink for a hot summer’s day.
Made from old vines grown at 750 metres in the village of La Seca, this is a brilliant value Verdejo from Bodegas Naia, which tastes every bit as good it looks. Combining unoaked and lightly wooded components, both of them aged on their lees for four months, it has a winning combination of pear and citrus fruit framed by subtle oak spice and a taut, chalky, mineral-edged tang.