My new year’s resolutions – and I know I am not alone in this – usually start out by resolving to drink less. Luckily, a few moments later, I remember my job and resolve, instead, to drink more – but more wisely.
In the spirit of this, and that other popular resolution of trying new things, I wanted to take a look at a number of wine regions, closer to home than those usually lauded, that promise to make an impact. This means Europe, and a suggestion of one established and one emerging producer for four regions that have so far managed to be always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
I suggest when tracking these down that where possible you make use of your independent wine merchant. Exploring unusual regions or grapes is usually best done though specialist shops that may not carry an enormous range, but know their producers and can make recommendations. Nothing beats developing a ‘most favoured’ status with a specialist, and allowing him or her to expand your palette and, very possibly, your command of geography.
Hardly emerging, but if you haven’t yet strayed beyond the excellent Austrian Rieslings, make this the year you do so. Austrian reds have been among my favourite recent discoveries, particularly the richly spiced Blaufrankisch, one of Austria’s most planted and colourful grapes, the more subtle Pinot Noir-style Saint Laurant or Zweigelt, a slightly weightier, but still delicate cross between the two.
Established: Alois Kracher
Prager, Hirtzberger, Pichler and Schloss Gobelsburg are all making great Austrian wines, but Kracher, undisputedly one of the world’s best sweet white winemakers, is always worth following. His range of dry whites and reds from his 15 hectare estate in the wine village of Seewinkel, on the shores of Lake Neusiedl, ably demonstrate that he can turn his hand to an array of styles.
Suggested bottle: Weinlaubenhof Kracher Illmitz Zweigelt 2003 (£8.99). Subtle but richly layered with cherry, plum and spice, I always enjoy the reaction that this wine gets. Casually serve this at a barbeque with grilled chicken, and watch everyone salivate.
Emerging: Fred Loimer
His newly built winery has caused quite a stir – fiercely modern, uncompromisingly to the point. His wines, from 30 hectares of the best sites in the Langenlois (part of the Kamptal region) are very much the same. I can’t suggest highly enough that you try his Rieslings (grapefruit and peach) and Gruner Veltliners (white pear, honeydew melon, citrus). I drank one at dinner last night that made the Chablis that followed seem heavy and distinctly unfashionable.
Suggested bottle: Loimer Langenlois Gruner Veltliner, 2003 (£7.99) Lightly peppered, lovely acidity and mouthwateringly fresh fruit. More please.
I know. You’ve been meaning to try English wine, but never quite get around to it. Me too. There are just 340 vineyards in England, and that number has come down from a high of almost 500 10 years ago. English producers are finally not trying to emulate wine from other countries (think clumsy addition of sugar to disguise the acidity), but to embrace the climate that gives English wines their crisp, tart distinction.
Established: Chapel Down
I was very tempted to go with Camel Valley here (and their ‘Cornwall’ sparkling wine; ‘If they call Champagne after the region, then so should we’), but in the end I’ve gone with the largest producer of English wines in the country, Tenterden Vineyards (who bottle most of their wine under the Chapel Down label). All white and sparkling wines are whole bunch pressed; a technique common in good quality sparkling wines the world over, and one that helps avoid the bitterness that can result from too much skin contact.
Suggested bottle: Chapel Down Bacchus, 2004 (£6.95). Deftly aromatic, this is the kind of refreshing wine that you know can get made in the English climate, but so rarely is.
Nyetimber is the classic English sparkler, but you would do just as well to look at RidgeView, who have won countless medals at home and abroad, and make consistently excellent wines.
Suggested bottle: Ridgeview Merret Bloomsbury, 2002 (£15.75).
Against global competition, this blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (the traditional Champagne grapes) was awarded the World Wide Trophy for Best Sparkling Wine in the International Wine & Spirit Competition, 2005. It’s the yeasty, biscuity aromas that have fooled so many blind tasters into thinking it’s from Champagne itself.
Portugal has been undergoing a quiet revolution in recent years: plenty of investment in wineries, improved quality control and a real determination to produce wine that can finally move out of the shadow of port. Many producers have succeeded – and are making exciting bottles that the rest of the world just keeps on failing to notice.
Traditional: João Van Zeller
The Van Zeller family makes celebrated ports at Quinta de Roriz, one of the oldest estates in the Duoro, often in partnership with their cousins at the Symington Family Estate. Today, the winery makes two Douro red wines that are consistent examples of what this region can achieve.
Suggested bottle: Quinta do Roriz Reserva, 2001 (£9.95). Portuguese reds often need decanting to fully appreciate their sweet edge. Once opened, this has nutmeg and spice, with minty undertones, and would make a great Christmas wine.
Emerging: Rui and Celso Madeira
This father and son team have been making increasingly well-regarded organic wines in the beautiful vineyard of Casa Agricola Roberedo Madeira. Not so long ago, these vineyards were olive groves, but luckily for us, the land has been given over to making rich, fruity, well-balanced reds from Touriga Nacional Tinto Roriz and Touriga Franca grapes.
Suggested bottle: 2003 Quinta do Coa, Douro (£9.99). A fragrant and spicy red, with blackberries and brambly fruits. Do yourself a favour, get the fire on, the goats cheese out and the corkscrew ready.
The trade, by and large, have been convinced by the quality of many new Greek wines. The public remain less so. But give these another go, you just might be surprised. The fortified Muscats from Samos can also be eyewateringly moreish.
This is the oldest winery on Cephalonia (the family date back to the 1780s, although the Gentilini vineyards were first planted in 1978, sixty meters above sea level to catch the cool summer breezes). The imposing heights and cooling effect of Mount Aenos together with the rocky limestone soil brings real flair to the wines.
Suggested bottle: Gentilini Robola, 2004 (£6.05). An excellent example of an indigenous Greek grape, giving acidity, a distinct minerality and tons of white flowers. Bright and vivacious.
Emerging: Domaine Tselepos
Yiannis Tselepos studied oenology at the University of Dijon, and worked in Burgundy for a number of years before returning to the Peloponnese, where he now makes highly acclaimed wine.
Suggested bottle: Tselepos Moschofilero Mantinia, 2003 (£6.75). Wonderful with seafood, this spicy, floral wine from the moschofilero grape (same lineage as muscat) takes me right back to the summer I spent working on Rhodes (although I never drank anything as good as this). Don’t feel you have to limit it to salads – Greek or otherwise – I often pair it with a spicy seafood linguine. I have even been known to try it with tom yum soup, although that may be less of a recommendation, more of a dare.