“Wine should be an exciting experience from beginning to end – from the packaging to the story to the taste.” This comment, from the owner of an excellent new wine shop in the centre of Manchester, England, started me thinking. It can be so easy to fall into the habit of drinking the wines you know you like, from producers you know you can trust. I’m certainly guilty of that far too often. And if we do step out of our comfort zone, we tend to look to the New World for the most exciting young winemakers.
But one of the perks of my job is discovering wines that I might never have come across if they hadn’t been lined up in tastings run by importers or retailers, so I am highlighting here some of the most exciting young winemakers from old Europe. Some are from well known regions that can often be dismissed, such as Beaujolais, and others from emerging areas that deserve to be better known.
Vilosell, Tomas Cusiné, Costers del Segre 2006 (£12.50)
A great label, like a Paul Smith shirt, and definitely a wine where the taste is as exciting as the presentation. Wonderfully fragrant from the first sniff, this comes from a small DO located at 2,300 metres above sea level in the Catalonia region of Spain, Costers del Segre. It was the spot that Tomas Cusiné, a winemaker who has been quietly gaining plaudits over the past 20 years, chose when he decided to found a winery under his own name in 2003. The wine itself has new oak, plenty of vanilla, and it is sweet and smooth but with a really spicy edge. Its silky tannins make it highly easy to drink, without belying the clear quality of the winemaking.
Domaine Jean Marc Burgaud, Morgon Cote du Py, Beaujolais 2006 (£11.50)
If ever there was a wine region that needed to listen to a more dynamic, younger generation, this is it – and growers like Jean Marc Burgaud are exactly what Beaujolais needs. Young, talented and ambitious, Burgaud has mae a wine with a finesse that is more typically associated with Burgundy. But that is not to say that this is a difficult wine to enjoy – it still has the classic sour cherry taste of a Gamay from this region, and at 13 percent it has a light-weight mouthfeel that makes it a great early evening livener.
La Legua Roble, DO Cigales 2006 (£7.10)
Emeterio Fernandez’s winery is located in DO Cigales, in the Castella-León region to the north of the more acclaimed Ribera del Duero. This is by no means a start-up winery – they have been producing wine here for around 300 years, but all the same, things are changing fast. A modern winery has recently been built on top of the old underground cellars, and the chief winemaker, Adolfo Gonzalez is one of the youngest and most acclaimed in the area. On the palate, there is an attractive toast from the new oak that is never overpowering, and it is packed full of bright brambly fruits. A mix of Tempranillo and Grenache, this is a sleek, vibrant wine that is asking to be shared with good friends.
Martin Codax, Cuatro Pasos, Bierzo 2005 (approx £10)
A slightly unusual wine from a co-operative cellar in Leon in northwest Spain. Mencia is the indigenous grape variety of the region, and it makes up 100 percent of this wine, from 80-year-old vines set at altitude in the Bierzo mountains. But enough background – this is a wine that you want to get on with drinking, right from the moment you see the distinctive paw prints on the label. It is almost black in colour, and at 14 percent does pack a punch, but it is so smooth and soft that you barely notice the alcohol. This was again a very popular choice in the tasting, full of rich plums and vanilla from the American oak.
Chante Cigale, Vignes D’Alexandre, Vins de Pays Mediteranee 2007 (approx £9)
Winemaker Alexandre Favier took over the family estate in the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape from his father Christian when he was in his early 20s, and is now just 27 years old. In five short years, he’s managed to win the regional Rhone trophy at the International Wine Challenge and clock up numerous other garlands from various critics and competitions. Definitely a young winemaker to watch. There is a slight red blush to this, from the red-skinned Roussane grape, blended with Clairette and Grenache Blanc. It is well restained and unoaked, rounded out with rich apricots and white pears. A real slugger, this was perhaps the most popular wine around the table during this tasting.
GD Vajra, Dolcetto d’Alba, Piemonte 2007 (approx £14)
Proving that even the established appellations can hide some of the most exciting new winemaking, this is a seriously wonderful wine from the Barolo region of Italy. Right now it is way too young to really do itself justice, but there is such depth and opulence in this wine that it will be worth the wait. The son of the current winemaker is taking over here from this vintage, and he’s extremely passionate about the future. The wine itself is vibrantly purple, full of brambly fruits, with tight dense tannins and plenty of layers to unpick at your leisure. Definitely one to leave open for a few hours before tucking in.
Podere 414, Morellino di Scansano 2006 (£13.50)
Podere 414 is an estate that straddles a river in the western part of Tuscany towards the sea and near the town of Scansano, with a rocky soil where pretty much nothing would grow but vines. Owned by Simone Castelli, the son of a well-known Tuscan oenologist, with his wife Mara. Just over 85 percent Sangiovese (the name of the DOC is in fact a synonym for the grape variety), with the balance made up of Ciliegiolo and Grenache. The first thing that strikes you is the quality of the fruit – this is full of ripe young blackberries and whole clusters of luscious black cherries. The tannins here are very light, so it’s ready to be drunk despite being so young, and at just 13.5 percent alcohol, a highly seductive wine.