Ducru-Beaucaillou, owned by the Borie family since 1941, has been a byword for elegance, finesse and longevity since the 1950s, with only a blip in quality between 1985 and 1990 because of a cellar problem.
Léoville-Poyferré, a very famous part of the Léoville trio of vineyards in the early part of the 20th century, went off the boil then took on new momentum with the arrival of Didier Cuvelier in 1978. He made major changes to the vineyard, completed in 2000, and the property has since been making consistently fine wine.
1996: Real Médoc class and charm, just beginning to open and will be better still in five years. Big success in this year. Elegance rather than power. Now–2040.
1998: Elegant, stylish with an old-fashioned touch of freshness from less fully ripened fruit. At its best now but will keep to 2020.
2000: Wonderful potential but closed. Satin-like texture. Serious quality but not ready. Keep till 2020–2050.
2001: Fresh, elegant, scented and open. Why wait? Perfect now. Now–2035.
2004: Potentially a huge crop, so half the grapes were cut off in the vineyard to concentrate the rest. Classic cedary Saint-Julien to drink now. 2015–2040.
2005: Sensational bouquet. Fresh, beautifully balanced. Like 1961, you can drink it young but it will be better left 15 years. 2020–2050.
1996: The cabernet sauvignon was excellent giving a lovely supple texture. Still youthful but some irregularity with bottling.
1998: Fresh, a bit strict and a touch dilute. The merlot was great but the cabernet was a bit fluid. The 1999 is better balanced. 62% cabernet sauvignon, 38% merlot.
2000: Great year for merlot. A rich powerful, massive wine with lots of matter and fully ripe tannin. 65% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Will keep and improve. Now–2020.
2001: 65% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Balanced, fine, ripe, round and charming. Lovely now. Now–2020.
2002: 80% cabernet of excellent quality. Great now but still a baby. A much underrated vintage in the heart of the Médoc. Now–2022.
2004: Open, ripe, ready to drink. Generous if relatively uncomplicated. Balance is good and wine is ready. Now–2024.
2005: Wonderful bouquet. Lots of sunshine and light but never too much. Fresh too. Decant four hours in advance if you drink it now but better to keep. 2010 is in the same mould. 2017–2030.
Sebastian Payne MW
Delicato grows grapes and produce wine across most of California (The Society’s Zinfandel comes from vineyards in the Central Valley and Monterey) and in Napa they have an estate (Black Stallion) and winemaking facilities. Although there has been some damage, fortunately there have been no significant injuries. We wish them well in dealing with the aftermath.
As I’m sure you are all aware, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.0 occurred near American Canyon at 3:20 a.m. yesterday, and violently shook the southern Napa area. I am relieved to be able to tell you that all of our employees and their families are safe. While there is a considerable amount of damage done and a good amount of clean-up required in homes, thankfully there were only a few cuts and bruises suffered.
Black Stallion Winery came through the quake with only minor damage. As would be expected with such a significant earthquake, damage was limited to a few broken pipes, some loose stones in the façade and some broken glassware in the tasting room, but fortunately no barrels fell and no tanks fractured. We are beyond fortunate compared to many of our neighbors.
At Delicato Napa Bottling, closest to the epicenter, fire sprinkler lines shifted from their original position, a small amount of flooring buckled, and there was some damage to the sheetrock and ceiling tiles. Damage, however, was not as bad as might have been feared and the line is running this morning bottling Black Stallion Los Carneros Pinot Noir.
The Napa office suffered minimally as well. Most of the loss was limited to wine racks that fell over with some broken bottles, but no structural damage.
Our sincere thanks go to everyone who quickly responded after the earthquake to check the facilities and ensure that all equipment and wine was secure. During times of unexpected crisis, families come together to support and help rebuild and repair — and Delicato is no different. We will work together to clean up and repair what was damaged and remember to offer a helping hand to our colleagues who may need our support.
We have been delighted with members’ response to our first-ever offer of Austrian wines.Explore Austria is available until Sunday 31st while stocks last (and some are already running out!) features a wealth of new discoveries selected by our new buyer Sarah Knowles, aiming to shine a light on this exciting and oft-underrated wine-producing country.
If you’re not sure where to start, Sarah has written a new guide, How To Buy Austria, while the below reviews from The Wine Gang (a collective of top wine writers Tom Cannavan, Joanna Simon, Anthony Rose, Jane Parkinson and David Williams) may also be of help.
They note that ‘Prices per bottle are all modest by Austrian standards (where £9 or so is entry level) but this is a really solid set of 87- to 90-point wines that would make a fine introduction to the country’s main red and white wine grapes and styles.’
Here are some of their reviews:
Rainer Wess Wachauer Riesling 2013 (£11.50)
There’s a tinge of gold to the colour here that immediately suggests ripeness and concentration. On the nose it has depth, with touches of straw and grapefruit, and lots of character. On the palate it is off-dry – just – with so much ripeness and hint of sugar playing against a blast of orange and grapefruit bittersweet fruit and rushing acidity. Gorgeous stuff, with length and delicate spices around that shimmering finish. What a class act for cooling down on balmy August days. 91/100
Bernhard Ott Am Berg Grüner Veltliner 2013 (£10.95)
Founded in 1889, Bernhard Ott is a family-owned company and the current Bernhard is the fourth generation of the family to run the business. This is an extremely pale, delicate, sherbet and floral scented take on GruV, with a palate that is racy and Riesling-like, with cool minerals, tart apple and cleansing lemony acidity. A hint of spice adds more interest to a very appealing, long and balanced wine. 90/100
Schloss Gobelsburg is the estate of the Cistercian monastery at Zwettl which has produced wine for more than 800 years. Singingly crisp, citrus nose with real brightness, a touch of star fruit and crunchy Asian pear. On the palate this is light, clear and refreshing, with a hint of mid-palate sweetness before a rush of cleansing, summery acidity. Lovely aperitif or white fish style. 89/100
Hannes Sabathi Scheurebe 2013 (£8.95)
Styria is a relatively new quality wine region in the south of the country, where Sauvignon Blanc has been a big success. But Hannes Sabathi are masters of aromatic varieties, and this Scheurebe is peachy and floral, flecked with green herbs, and succulent. It is really quite dry on the palate despite the floral enticement of the nose, quite full bodied, but long, lemony and tangy. Refreshing and different. 87/100
Hans Igler Zweigelt Classic 2011 (£9.50)
Zweigelt is Austria’s other important indigenous red grape, actually a cross between Blaufränkisch and Sankt Laurent. Brimming with clove and cheery, and the loveliest floral nuances of freesia and violet, the aromatic fireworks give way to a juicy palate, all tart cherry and cherry skins, spices and an earthy, dusty gravel dryness with grippy tannins and relatively high acidity to add freshness. Serve lightly chilled with tomato-based dishes. 89/100
Tinhof Noir Burgenland Zweigelt & Co 2011 (£9.50)
A blend of Austria’s three principle indigenous red varieties, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St Laurent, this is both spicy and boldly fruity, with a nice overlay of cedar on ripe berry fruit. On the palate there is sweetness and ripeness, a softer structure than some of the straight varietals in this Wine Society offer, but a nicely spice-touched, firm note in the finish. 87/100
With temperatures getting to reasonable heights, at least for part of the summer, many of us have been breaking out the barbecues and grilling for all we’re worth. I thought I would ask my colleagues which bottles they had chosen for their BBQs so that they might share sure-fire winners with members. As the long weekend approaches, I’m sure some of you will be planning barbecues, despite the return of more traditional Great British August Bank Holiday weather and I hope the following inspires.
‘The wines I have been serving are both terrific value, making them perfect for breaking out when a crowd gathers in the sunshine. Baccolo Appassimento Parziale, Rosso Veneto (£5.95 per bottle) was enjoyed very lightly chilled beside some barbecued butterflied leg of lamb with chilli and mint as well as the usual blackened fare, and its juicy yet plush cherry fruit showed ripeness and refreshment in perfect harmony. At 12.5% abv and lightly cooled, as opposed to chilled, it went down singing hymns on a hot sunny afternoon. Everybody loved it.
The other wine that has been a particular success is Bleasdale Langhorne Creek Sparkling Shiraz (£12.95). I know that this choice might appear a bit left-field but it worked an absolute treat with some ribs in a sticky, sweet and smoky BBQ sauce and even better with some melting belly pork with Chinese five spice rub. The wine is full of berry fruit, spice and chocolaty depth leavened with a touch of sweetness and sprightly bubbles. Try it with a chocolate brownie for an eyebrow-raising wine moment.’
Chris Neilson, Member Services Adviser
‘I think the Temporada Malbec (£6.25) ticks a lot of the barbecue boxes, especially if you need to cater for a group and just want something cheapish to keep everyone happy. It really is good value for money.’
‘Versatility is the key when it comes to choosing wines for barbecues to match the variety of foods and flavours that are often available, particularly pertinent when taking bottles along to friends’ houses when you might not know the menu. If we are hosting I serve Blind Spot Gundagai Shiraz (£8.50) slightly chilled pre-barbecue (it’s surprisingly light and refreshing for an Oz shiraz) and by the time food is served and the bottle has reached room temperature, it’s perfect with grilled, smoky meats.’
Helen Murtagh, Digital Content Manager
‘I’m really enjoying the Rosé d’Anjou (£6.95) from the Bougrier Family at the moment with just about anything but it went particularly well with a seafood platter the other day!’
Simon Mason, Tastings & Events Manager
‘My wine of choice would be Undurraga TH Maule Carignan 2011 (£12.50) with a boned leg of lamb, flattened out and smothered in chermoula and cooked quite quickly over glowing coals I use Diana Henry’s recipe for Chermoula Lamb with Hot Pepper & Carrot Purée. It’s absolutely delicious. The purée with it (not on the BBQ) also worked great with the fruit element of the wine. This red is one of my discoveries of the summer – the usual grip of carignan has been tamed but not totally removed. Lovely black fruits but not in any way OTT as Chile is sometimes wont to be.’
When buying wine for drinking at home, I have become conscious of a feeling of guilt.
Not for the impending amount of alcoholic units that I’m about to stack up, nor even for the effect on my bank balance. No, my guilt comes from that creeping feeling that by choosing my select few I’m missing out on so many other great wines.
I would normally consider myself a decisive person but when this nagging feeling of missing out sets in I experience a type of paralysis. Am I wrong to have chosen my favourites again? Am I drinking myself into a rut, albeit a delicious one? Of what delights am I depriving my taste buds? Which regions have fallen off my wine radar just waiting to be rediscovered?Recently I’ve been lucky enough to have been working on a project involving the wines of the Loire Valley with buyer Jo Locke MW, a region which certainly hasn’t been on my wine radar for a very long time but after some exploration and education is set to refresh my list of usual suspects.
The odd thing is that, looking back, I always used to be a fan of these wines but at some point I simply stopped drinking them. Perhaps the tidal wave of good-value, refreshing whites from the Southern Hemisphere turned my head; or the start of my love affair with vinho verde and all things Portuguese cast a shadow over them. Whatever the reason, it has been some time since I seriously considered the Loire as a candidate for regular drinking.
But why should the wines of the Loire demand attention in a wine world where we have so many quality wines, wine regions and world class producers competing for our hard-earned cash? It seems as if not a week passes where the Chileans haven’t discovered a new valley perfect for one grape or another, for instance.
By contrast, the wines of the Loire don’t shout. They don’t scream of innovation or trends or of multinational branding. In most ways these wines are restrained – even understated.
That doesn’t mean they’re dull or out of date – far from it. I’d forgotten the staggering diversity available from the Loire. From bone-dry sauvignon blanc to great-value sparklers, fresh, fruity rosés (often with an appealing touch of sweetness) to full-blown luscious dessert wines, it covers a lot of ground, both metaphorically and physically (the Loire River runs for over 600 miles, after all).
Could be that this restraint is the Loire’s strong suit as well as its Achilles heel? When overwhelmed palates tire of overtly gooseberry-laden sauvignons or Fifty Shades of Citrus from the new world then the beautifully balanced flavours and precise purity of the wines from the Loire suddenly look very attractive.
I heard recently someone describe the Loire as producing ‘pretty much everything but monster reds.’ I’m quite thankful for this refreshing alternative, and whether looking for an energising white (think nicely chilled Muscadet) great-value sauvignon blanc (look to Touraine) or something classy and serious (top Vouvray and Sancerre), the Loire has most bases covered.
It’s just a shame that’s it taken me so long to remember!
Marketing Campaign Manager
The Society’s current online offering, Discover the Loire, is now available, featuring a wide range of wines to explore and a wealth of useful information on the region, its grapes and winemakers. We hope you’ll take the plunge and discover, or rediscover, this special wine region.
No, this is not about the 75cl bottle, nor indeed the ghost road through Dumfriesshire. This is about the amazing and often beautiful stretch of motorway that winds its way through the centre of France.
There are a number of ways to drive to the south of France and I think I’ve done them all, including routes nationals, but the A75 is easily the most attractive, enjoyable and at times, spectacular with two of the world’s greatest bridges to admire.
Most French motorways have names. The most famous, the often overcrowded A6, is the ‘Autoroute du Sud’. The usually empty A26, incidentally which runs from Calais to Troyes, is called ‘Autoroute des Anglais’, a sort of extended Promenade des Anglais, complete with English-speaking gendarmes waiting to catch us those of us trying to speed back to the Chanel!.
I digress. The A75 is ‘La Méridienne’ and cuts an elegant swathe through the Massif Central from Clermont Ferrand to Beziers in the Languedoc. And for most of the time, it’s free, and usually free of heavy traffic.
Leaving Clermont southbound, the first point of interest, at least to historians and lovers of Asterix, is the Plateau de Gergovie, a setting for a resounding Roman defeat at the hands of the Gauls. From the road, it is difficult to see that this is also vineyard country. The Veyre-Monton turnoff quickly leads to the admirable Saint Verny Co-operative, the largest producer of wine in the Auvergne which is currently enjoying a period of real rebirth.
The Auvergne is an old wine-producing region but its size coincided with expansion of Clermont-Ferrand, and then, as with so many regions, receded after phylloxera. Traditionally the wines were light reds and at one time made from pinot noir, locally called auvernat noir. Gamay came to replace it and is now the majority variety. Others have been added including chardonnay and even syrah, but gamay still dominates for both red and rosé wine.
Not far from the co-op is the village of Corent which is especially known for its light and refreshing rosé. The 2013, which we stock (£8.50 per bottle) is absolutely delicious. The reds are almost as light and can be enjoyed cool with charcuterie, for example. And, of course, there is also cheese. Another short detour will take you to Saint Nectaire which makes a rich and creamy cheese which goes well with the red.
After a short winding passage alongside the Allier (beware of the much reduced speed limit and camera), the road starts to climb to its cruising altitude of around 800m. The remarkable thing about this motorway is that so much of it is at high altitude, twisting between the hill tops and leaping over valleys on ever more impressive bridges. About 50k of the route is over 1,000m, including two passes at around 1100m. The first of these is just before the exit to the historic medieval town of Saint Flour with its Gothic Cathedral perched high up on a volcanic spur. This is always a good place to stop over, breath the fresh mountain air, eat the local charcuterie washed down with a gamay. Should the air be not bracing enough, the road to Aurillac, capital of the Cantal Departement, crosses the Monts du Cantal, with two peaks, plomb du Cantal and Puy Mary on either side of the road and both eminently scalable. The summer months are the time for cheese making and two of France’s oldest and greatest cheeses come from around here. There is Cantal and in my view the more complex salers. Both are hard cheeses made from cow’s milk. Salers has to be made only from milk from the salers breed of cow. Both cheeses are best with age and both have a certain similarity to Cheddar.
A little to the south of Saint Flour is one of the two great engineering masterpieces along this route and is probably best seen from the lay by off the motorway. This is the Viaduct de Gabarit, a single track wrought iron railway bridge built in 1884 by Eiffel. Only one train a day uses it in each direction during the tourist season and going on it remains an unfulfilled ambition!
After leaving the Cantal, the road cuts through the Aubrac, home to another breed of cattle, the Aubrac, but this is now beef cattle and very fashionable too in all the top restaurants of Auvergne and the Languedoc.
And talking of animals, this is where the beast of Gévaudan used to roam. From the 1760s onwards came tales of a horrific Hound of the Baskervilles type of creature that terrorised the population, eating its victims and forcing the government to act. This is what Robert Louis Stevenson had to say in his essential book, Travels on a donkey in the Cevennes:
For this was the land of the ever memorable Beast, the Napoleon Bonaparte of wolves. What a career was his! He lived ten months at free quarters in Gévaudan and Vivarais; he ate women and children and shepherdesses celebrated for their beauty; he pursued armed horsemen; he has been seen at broad noonday chasing a post-chaise and outrider along the king’s high road, and chaise and outrider fleeing before him at the gallop. He was placarded like a political offender, and ten thousand francs were offered for his head. And yet, when he was shot and sent to Versailles, behold! A common wolf and even small for that.
Today seeking out the Beast is of course just a wonderful excuse for further exploration of the stunning countryside.
Time for more vineyards. At Séverac, there is a turn off for the town of Rodez, about an hour away and a visit to the spectacular vineyards of Marcillac. Philippe Teulier is the key man here who almost single-handedly resurrected this near-extinct appellation. Most of the wine is red made from the local fer servadou grape, and we currently stock Marcillac ‘Lo Sang del Pais’, Domaine du Cros 2013, available for £8.50 per bottle. This is a deeply coloured, gutsy red, always fresh and never high in alcohol and it goes perfectly well with the local dish which would be a slice of Aubrac steak with a spoonful of aligot. Aligot is the sort of dish made for hill walkers. Mash potato with plenty of garlic and combined with cheese to create a fondue like texture. Delicious though almost indigestible!
Back to Séverac and the A75. The road now climbs back to over 800m with another pass before giving the option of going down into the town of Millau or continuing on. Millau itself is attractive enough with plenty of options for staying the night and good places to eat too. There is a local wine called Côtes de Millau and I’ve tasted one or two good examples. Personally, I believe Marcillac is the better buy.
Millau used to be famous as a centre for glove making, especially from sheepskin, and nearby is where Roquefort cheese is made. The cheese remains world famous but Millau itself has become world famous for the eponymous viaduct. This was designed by Norman Foster and opened in 2004. It is 2,460m in length and crosses the Tarn River, some 200m below. The highest pier is 343m tall, 19m more than the Eiffel Tower and the whole thing looks like a magical silvery sailing ship, often cutting through mists and clouds.
The A75 goes over it and there are plenty of places where one can stop and admire its beauty, either from a lay-by off the motorway or from below.
With the bridge behind, the landscape changes to one of arid scrubland. This is the plateau of the Larzac, known for its sheep, Roquefort cheese, Templar fortress and the activist José Bové who challenged the government over the extension of a military base and who was more famously still among those who set fire to a McDonalds restaurant in Millau.
Service stations on the Larzac are a good place to stock up on cheese and honey, and maybe a pair of sheepskin gloves, and then comes the great descent. Suddenly, the speed limit is reduced. They’re cameras everywhere; the road starts to twist and turn and plunge quite steeply. This was the hardest section of the A75 to build and it collapsed once during its construction. The pass is called Pas de l’Escalette and it marks the separation between the Massif Central and the plane of the Languedoc. The road goes through a tunnel at that point and very soon reaches down to the plain.
The landscape changes completely and often too does the weather. So often the Larzac is crossed in mist or drizzle which suddenly clears to blazing sunshine down in the plain. Now of course there is vineyard everywhere but for a final stop, the village of Montpeyroux lies just off the motorway.
Montpeyroux is a vigneron village with a growing reputation for its wines and especially for its reds. Sylvain Fadat of Domaine Aupilhac is the leading light in the area but there are others too like Pascale Riviere and Alain Chabanon which we also buy from. All the growers are busy working on turning Montpeyroux into a cru, which would be well deserved.
The A75 carries on past the town of Pezenas, with its link to Molière and Clive of India who gave it his recipe for mince pies, known locally as petit pâtés de Pezenas, and which actually does contain meat as mince pies used to.
The beautiful Prieuré Saint Jean de Bébian with its Australian winemaker, Karen Turner, is nearby as is the Chartreuse de Mougeres where the excellent wines are made by Nicolas de Saint Exupéry. Peter and Deborah Core, two expatriates from the City make excellent wines at their bijoux winery, Mas Gabriel in the village of Caux.
Soon, the journey is over and the A75 merges with the A9 to go either towards the Rhône Valley or Toulouse, or indeed, the Spanish border. Gone is the peace and quiet and welcome instead three lanes of incessant traffic, trucks and caravans!
My Damascene moment with Italian wine was in November 1987, some 12 years before I joined the wine trade, over a bottle of Amarone della Valpolicella on a date with the then future Mrs Murray who, charitable as ever, was driving that night. While a memorable encounter (and date, come to think of it) with a bottle can greatly enhance the enjoyment of wine, there’s nothing like meeting the people who makes the stuff to really start understanding what it’s all about, and to encourage further exploration.
Earlier in the summer, as a prelude to our current Italian offering, several of our favourite Italian growers came to London and Chester with our ever-itinerant Tastings & Events team to give a tantalising taste of the joys of this most fascinating of wine-producing countries. With well over 300 indigenous grape varieties, there is always something new to discover. Vespolino, drupeggio, falanghina and nerello mascalese… the list goes on. These tastings allowed me to reacquaint myself with some of these very ‘local’ varieties.
The flamboyant Barberani family have been producing Umbrian gems since 1961. Sales director Bernardo, brother of winemaker Niccolò, poured their single-vineyard Orvieto Classico Superiore Castagnolo 2013. The grechetto grape has great flavour within a light and crisp structure, but the addition of a touch of chardonnay and a smidgeon of riesling add roundness and fragrance respectively, enhancing rather than detracting from the Italianate whole.
Winemaker Giuseppe Vajra and his sister Francesca were representing the family estate of G.D. Vajra, run by father Aldo. Their Nebbiolo Langhe 2012 was one of the stars of the tasting, redolent of Barolo’s famous tar and roses, yet so much more immediately drinkable than some of the bruisers from that region that need years to come round.
Graziano Nicosia’s family has been selling wine in Trecastagni on the slopes of Mount Etna since 1898. It was his father Carmelo who decided that they should grow their own grapes some 30 years ago, and they are already exemplary producers of both white and red wines. Etna Rosso Fondo Filara 2011 with its blend of nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio is beautifully elegant and if you’re a pinot noir fan you will find some similarities in character and texture, yet with an unmistakable twist of Italian sunshine and ripeness of fruit.
If my introduction to Italian wine came via Amarone, it was the wines of Puglia, and one in particular that brought The Wine Society (two years before I started work here) sharply to my attention. For my 40th birthday in 2001 my best mate and very long-standing member of The Society bought me six bottles of the 1996 vintage of Graticciaia, made by Vallone. Not dissimilar in style to the Amarone (both are made from deliberately raisined grapes, those for Amarone hung on racks, those for Graticciaia laid on bamboo mats, or graticci), the richness created by the winemaking technique and the slight bitterness of the negroamaro grape combine in beautiful harmony, like a suspended orchestral chord resolving itself with exquisite timing. Having tasted every vintage since, and after having had Giuseppe Malazzini pour the wine into my glass at both tastings, I can report that Graticciaia 2009 is no exception to the rule.
Public Relations Manager
How many of my fellow members suffer an auto-correct function with a mind of its own, I wonder?
Not content with Americanizing (sic) my colorful (sic) prose, mine has developed a sinister form of mission creep. For instance, when I typed a Castillian gem called Torremilanos into my laptop, I found myself insidiously relocated to a very similarly spelled Costa Brava location, synonymous in the Seventies with egg and chips, warm, flat bitter ale and other delights favoured by those of my compatriots for whom the sole purpose of a holiday abroad was a change of weather. Times have changed since a sense of adventure was displayed by drinking the water or eating something with garlic in it, but just in case, I am pitching my virtual tent this month at a safe distance from the costas.
You certainly couldn’t get much further inland than Ribera del Duero. Iberia’s third-longest river, the Duero, rises in the Picos de Urbión and snakes through Castile y Leon to become the mighty Douro as it crosses the Portuguese border. The name, which will immediately resonate with customers of Welsh Water (Dwr Cymru), is thought to be Celtic in derivation. On its way from Picos to Port, it takes in lovely spots like Segovia and Burgos and Spain’s ancient capital, Valladolid (which still retains the attitude, if not the official status, of Centre of the Hispanic Universe) before driving its way determinedly between Spain and Portugal, through strikingly beautiful canyons with deserved national park status.
The banks of the Duero are also home to some of Spain’s most collectible reds outside Rioja, notably a remarkable wine enterprise called Peñalba, a family business that has vertical integration down to a fine art, demonstrated by the combination of 198 hectares under vine, a portfolio of wonderfully diverse wines (from 140 different soil types!) and a gorgeous stone-built and beautifully appointed boutique hotel and a serious restaurant. This is Torremilanos (watch that spell-check!) just about an hour’s drive north of Madrid, and a handy weekend bolt-hole for city folk with a taste for good wine and food, as well as for this very fortunate employee of The Wine Society, on a fact-finder off the beaten track.
The aim of the three Peñalba-Lopéz brothers, Ricardo, Juan-Pablo and Vicente, is to challenge the traditional tough user-unfriendliness of DO Ribera del Duero with wines that are more approachable without losing the legendary pedigree of the region, which is, after all, also home to the abuelito of all Riberas, Bodegas Vega Sicilia. One senses that the mantra here, though, is that wine should thrill the senses without overtaxing patience.
It’s a sentiment amply expressed by the estate’s flagship white, Peñalba Blanco, which, this being red-only denominación, is merely (!) Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon. Just 6,000-odd bottles are produced, a blend of 40% white tempranillo, 40% sauvignon blanc and 10% each viognier and chardonnay, all fermented in barrel and kept there for about nine months, until assemblage and bottling. This is like a white Burgundy in style, stylish and richly oaked and perfect with a plate of sizzling scallops.
The essence of Ribera, though, is its tempranillo, from juicy and appealing young-vine Vinlara to Colección, a 100% tempranillo from vines averaging 60 years of age, enriched by a 30-month stint in oak. Again, this is a limited edition, with only about 6,500 bottles made, and an excellent cellaring prospect. It’s not all tempranillo, though. Dashes of merlot and cabernet sauvignon may be found in a number of the many premium cuvees produced by the estate. What they all have in common is real Ribera classicism here, overlaid with irresistible charm.
Moving to the restaurant, this place is famous for its cheese croquetas and they were indeed, fluffy, perfectly seasoned, moreish and improbably light despite what must surely constitute an horrific deposit in the calorie bank. Little lamb chuletitas reminded us that Ribera is prime sheep country too. The star turn for me, though, was a platter of grilled vegetables, including green asparagus, rather than the more usual white variety, soft, sweet, slightly charred onions and strips of green pepper, which always seems to me to get a bad press. Less sweet, as well as visually exciting than their red or yellow counterparts they can certainly be tricky and metallic and that sensation often crops up in less-than-flattering wine tasting notes. Roasting or grilling does much to temper their undoubted bitterness, but the best antidote, tried at Ricardo’s insistence, was to roll the strip of pepper around a chunk of morcilla. These blood puddings abound throughout Spain but here, they are made with rice, cumin, cinnamon and cloves. The sweetness of the morcilla combined with the acidity of the green pepper was nothing short of a revelation and a perfect match with the young tempranillo.
It was at this point that I noticed that one of my companions on this trip was ignoring the lamb and greenery and tucking into a plate of huevos y patatas fritas, with a side order of morcilla. Eggs, chips and black pudding? Where is that auto-correct when you need it!
Janet Wynne Evans
Peñalba Lopéz Blanco 2011 (£12.95) can be found in The Society’s August Fine Wine List.
Our Wine Without Fuss subscribers will already be familiar with Vinlara 2012 while a small and precious allocation of Colección 2009 is presently slumbering in our archives for future offering. Watch this space!
‘My advice: just ask for Gruner (‘Groo-ner’) and don’t panic!’
The Society launches its first-ever Austrian offer at a time when the gruner veltliner grape has become the darling of the sommelier world. Easily quaffable as a pre-dinner drink and pairing wonderfully with many styles of food, from delicate seafood dishes to spicy curries, it’s easy to see why.
Recently I visited Vie Vinum – Austria’s annual wine trade show held in the opulent Palace Hoffburg – and I have to say that having tried around 400 wines over the two days all but a handful were taut, fresh, fruit-driven and thought-provoking wines. Selecting just 18 or so for our inaugural Austrian offer was difficult as I could have listed many more.
However, I was able to meet a number of our producers at the show; so without further ado, let me introduce you to the winemakers whose wines are now available.
Society Buyer for Austria
The Society’s first-ever Austrian offer is now available.
We were delighted to see last week’s look back to 1914 so well received. More than one asked whether there was anything else of interest in our archives, whence, as we celebrate The Society’s 140th birthday, the below.
Reprinted many years ago for our annual review, this excerpt from a 1913 Society List outlines the story of our founding from what was a more contemporary viewpoint.
It also includes the ‘Objects of The Society’, which first appeared in Lists in 1883: