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.
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.
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.
This Grenache Gris vineyard was the first that Katie Jones bought back in 2009 before she set up her brilliant business in the Languedoc-Roussillon. Every bit as good as the 2017, it’s wonderfully herbal and fresh, with notes of greengage, aniseed, thyme and lemon zest, benefiting from the concentration of old vines and finishing with length and elegance.
So much Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc tastes as if it’s come out of the same bottomless tank, that it’s a pleasure to come across something that restores your faith in the quality of New Zealand’s most popular wine style. Made by Master of Wine Liam Stevenson, this was picked early (by hand, not machine) and fermented with lots of solids in old French oak barrels. Dry, savoury and complex, it has appealing notes of gunflint and elderflower with subtle oak and a hint of passion fruit. Very smart.
Master of Wine Liam Stevenson wrote his dissertation about Priorat and was inspired by the white wines of the region to produce a Garnacha Blanca in nearby Terra Alta. This is made in partnership with another MW, Mark Pygott, and is excellent value. Leesy, intense and very lightly wooded, it has grapefruit and lemon peel flavours, a dusting of baking spices, stony minerality and top notes of jasmine and hawthorn blossom.
For local grape varieties make up the blend here – Arinto, Folgazão, Rabigato and Viosinho – sourced from vineyards on the southern side of the Douro Valley in their Quintas de Ervamoira and Bons Ares. An appealing counterpoint to the more powerful reds and fortifieds of the region, this has lovely freshness, aromas of fennel, citrus and oatmeal and a youthful, tangy, deftly wooded palate. Should develop further in bottle.
Coastal Alicante – with a marked marine influence – is the source of this stunning, amphora fermented and aged, old-vine Moscatel de Alejandría from the region’s most exciting producer, Pepe Mendoza. Fresh, tangy and salty, with mouthwatering acidity, flavours of pear, citrus and orange water, amazing focus and some grip from partial skin contact.
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.
Made with organic grapes grown on granite soils in the little-known Sierra de Salamanca at 700 metres, this is a very rare Spanish white with incredible texture, focus and minerality, especially at only 12.5% alcohol. Salty, yeasty and beeswaxy, with a bracing, mouthwatering finish. No oak, just fruit intensity and texture.
The vines used to produce this impressive, well-priced Verdejo from the go-ahead Cuatro Rayas co-operative are “only” 40 years old, but that would be considered ancient in some parts of the world. Rich and almost exotic, with notes of lychee and white peach, some subtle oak from 20% barrel fermentation in 500-litre barrels and zesty, crunchy acidity.
Made with a selection of the co-operative’s most venerable vineyards, this hails from plots that are all over 100 years’ old. It’s an oxidatively handled style that will appeal to fans of traditional white Rioja, with a mix of French and American oak, lots of toast and spices and flavours of pear, saffron and beeswax underpinned by salinity. Developing nicely in bottle.