Cruz de Piedra Garnacha 2000 Calatayud
If you are in Europe, you will be freezing. If you are almost anywhere in the 17 countries from which subscribers to my purple pages come, you will probably be feeling rather poorer than usual. This week's wine has been chosen with both these things in mind, for it is extremely inexpensive and packs a considerable punch. If I liked and used the phrase, I would certainly call it a winter warmer.
Spain can field all sorts of a deeply sweet and juicy reds from out-of-the-way corners such as Calatayud, which is south-east of Rioja and just west of Cariñena. Garnacha (Grenache) can produce some quite stunningly welcoming wine here, but tends to be rather scorned by the Spaniards themselves in favour of Tempranillo which they see as nobler (but not nearly so good at producing wines for early enjoyment).
Cruz de Piedra is made by Bodegas Virgen de la Sierra and is a steal at the price that Lea & Sandeman of London are offering it. It is a no shy retiring flower at 14 per cent alcohol from bushvine fruit. It does have a very slight dryness at the back of the palate in the same way as so much southern Rhône Grenache does but it is a far more interesting and satisfying wine than the price tag of £3.95 suggests. It is almost unheard-of for a posh independent such as Lea & Sandeman to be offering good wine at this price. They are based in London SW10, W8, NW3 and SW13 and their head office tel no is 020 7244 0522.
The superior British supermarket Waitrose are selling another Garnacha from Calatayud, also from bushvines, about 40 years old in this case. Viña Fuerte 2000 (£3.99 Waitrose) is made at Bodegas San Gregorio with help from British-based, Australian Master of Wine Alistair Maling. This is full, sweet and unadorned with lots of life, very slight fizz and all in all is extremely Côtes du Rhône-like.
WineSearcher lists Sam's of Chicago as a stockist of Viña Alarba 2000 Calatayud at an equally bargain price, and the useful www.everywine.co.uk run by Booths of Preston. Keep your eyes peeled for others!
Subscribers to purple pages click here for Victor de la Serna's comments on more Garnachas.
I have chosen this particular wine from the hundreds of 2000 burgundies I have been drowning in this week and last – so overwhelmed by them last week was I, in fact, that I completely forgot to post a wine of last week. Many many apologies for this lapse, the first of its kind on this site. (Detailed tasting notes and ratings will start to go up on purple pages from Saturday 26 January.) I happen to have chosen this particularly exciting example but I was in fact spoilt for choice of excellent 2000 whites from the Mâconnais. The fruit is ripe but the winemaking is possibly even more exciting: the many young turks of this rapidly improving region managing to inject real excitement into these wines by preserving their terroir differences. Some are intensely mineral, others almost tropically fruity, others again smoulderingly smoky.
Smokiness in a wine can cometimes come from heavily charred barrels but there is none of that at this domaine in Davayé which is an entirely oak-free zone. This makes the intensity of flavour and impressive structure in this wine all the more admirable. The domaine is run by two brothers in their thirties, Richard Martin (as in 'Riche-ah Marr-tan', French not British) who makes the wine and his younger brother Stéphane who looks after the 21 hectares of generally calcareous vineyards (of which more than 16 are in St Véran). Having taken over the domaine in 1990, the two pursue a policy of limiting yields which results in wines of this concentration. Les Rochats is full yet tightly structured. There's a rigid framework under the attractive flavour of ripe pears, that lovely open fruit of a well-made St Véran. Ideally this wine should be drunk from about 2004 for three to four years.
The Martins' regular St Véran is also very impressive (£10 less per case in bond at O W Loeb than Les Rochats and much more open and superficially fatter). Les Rochats is £69.50 a case in bond from O W Loeb of London SE1 (www.owloeb.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org). For a duty paid price in the UK including VAT, you'll have to add about £27 a case, just over two pounds a bottle.
Worry not if you can't track down this particular wine. There are dozens, if not scores, of great 2000 whites from the Mâconnais. Look out for forthcoming specific recommendations. They're delicious and not at all expensive.
If you like your red burgundy really full-blown, a head-on immersion in violets, charm and gorgeously ripe fruit rather than oak and tannins, then this domaine should not be overlooked.
One of several up-and-coming stars in Gevrey-Chambertin, Vincent Pansiot took over from his father in the early 1980s and has been gradually making better and better wines from some excellent holdings of vines, some of them very old, around the village. He uses 30 per cent new oak for all his wines, even for his Charmes Chambertin, and he recently acquired a new cuverie which is presumably another factor in the delightful upward curve of quality here.
This domaine's wines shone out in last year's tastings of the 1999s, and the 2000s are no disappointment whatsoever. His Vieilles Vignes Cuvée of village Gevrey is quite lovely for drinking relatively early, and seems excellent value at under £20 a bottle including VAT from UK importers Howard Ripley of London SW18 (tel 020 8877 3065). The Premier Cru Poissenot also seems surprisingly forward and may not make old bones but, hey, we're living in an age when early drinkability is a virtue, aren't we? And the Charmes Chambertin will take us through very gloriously into the next decade, but quantities are of course extremely limited.
See purple pages later this week for detailed notes on these wines. Géantet Pansiot wines are also imported into the UK by Domain Direct of London, EC1 (tel 020 7837 1142). Those outside Britain should look up the many references for Géantet Pansiot (just search for Pansiot) on WineSearcher.
Towards the end of last year I tasted a great slew of – I was about to write 'fine' but perhaps 'ambitiously priced' would be more accurate – Californian wines. There were some interesting ones and detailed notes on them will appear on purple pages almost as soon as I have a long flight on which to edit them (next Wednesday night, to South America – all this travelling is still a reaction to two years' slaving at home over the new 5th edition of the World Atlas of Wine).
The name that kept coming up as producer of extremely fine wine that spoke eloquently of place was Viader, a producer of Meritage estate bottled wine on Howell Mountain, on the eastern slopes of the valley. At a tasting at Christie's before their rather disastrous Napa Valley wine auction in November I met the owner, Dr Delia Viader, for the first time. She is a glamorous blonde in fur-trimmed black and, I gathered, a strong personality.
I was so impressed by her wines and how they so obviously tasted like the produce of mountain rather than valley floor vineyards that I asked her why she chose to label them simply Napa Valley rather than the much more specific and, I would have thought, more distinguished Howell Mountain. She didn't like the idea at all of helping to illuminate us wine drinkers as to the characteristics of this Napa subregion. No, what she's selling is Viader, not Howell Mountain. We both realised, I think, that this was a clash of cultures (this particular Delia is Argentine by birth apparently – and, like mine, her academic qualifications are in Philosophy, so perhaps we should have prolonged the discussion).
ANYway, enough of this pedantic appellation business. What are the wines like? Very fine is the answer. The precise blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and dear old Cabernet Franc varies every year according to how ripe and pleasing Dr Delia finds the Cab Franc. (Like me, she is a Cheval Blanc fan – we're soulmates!) These steep, volcanic-based vineyards are particularly well-drained and, like any self-respecting modern Napa Valley vineyard, closeplanted.
The 1995 (47 per cent Cab Franc) is drinking beautifully now and will continue to do so for at least another four years, I would have thought – a much longer-term bet than many a Californian Cabernet. The 1998 (35 per cent Cab Franc) should also drink well over the same period, with some herbaceous notes on top of the minerally mix, but nothing remotely underripe about it, and the recently shipped 1999 (39 per cent Cab Franc, a typical proportion) is looking very good indeed – possibly the best release to date. It's relatively delicate for a Napa Cabernet yet is beautifully balanced with lovely spiciness as well as the trademark mineral undertow. Drink any time over the next 10 years.
These wines are not facile blockbusters, as some Californian Cabernets can be, and nor are they ridiculously overpriced, as most, it has to be said, are. Harrods have been selling the 1998 at £56.50 a bottle, but UK importers Domaine Direct N1 of 6-9 Cynthia Street, London N1 9JF (tel 020 7837 1142) have been charging just £41.12 a bottle for the 1998. They have practically run out of the 1998 and their 10 six-bottle case allowance of the 1999 arrived in bond yesterday. They have just confirmed that the price of the 1999 will be £47 a bottle or about US$66. Yes, this is a lot more than Blossom Hill Cab, but it is much better value than it, and better value than about 90 per cent of all California produced today.
31/01/02 – updated 11 February 2002
I can't remember the last time I really, really enthused about a pale pink wine. Of course they're useful – indeed possibly the only thing – for quenching the palate fire of an aïoli. But this wine is a beautiful thing in its own right. For a start it is the most fetching pale, pale strawberry colour – just deeper than Krug Rosé for you sybarites. It's made from a blend of two-thirds Mourvèdre and Syrah and one third light-skinned Vermentino (the same grape variety as Rolle, Pigato and Favorita for you ampelographers) which gives it a really interesting mix of flavours.
It was vinified by Jean-Luc Colombo whose efforts to blast Cornas into the 21st century have not caused me unalloyed joy, I must admit (too much new oak often). But these vines come from a very special and dramatic corner of western Provence just west of his native Marseilles, on a bluff overlooking the Mediterranean near the little seaside village of Carry-le-Rouet due south of Marseilles airport and all those refineries on the Etang de Berre. Colombo calls this patch of very old vines La Côte Bleue, which sounds pretty, and he has named the wine Pioche et Cabanon (spade and fisherman's hut) in honour of his father who used both.
The wine is sufficiently alcoholic for it not to taste bone dry, but this is ripeness not sweetness. It is gentle but insistent. And in fact the aspect of it that completely sold it to me is its texture. It caresses the palate so luxuriously, so seductively that I thought it might make a suitable wine for Valentine's night next week, should you be so inclined.
You therefore have a week to get hold of it. Lay & Wheeler of Colchester (www.laywheeler.com, tel 01206 764446) are currently selling it for £8.95 a bottle. Those outside Britain might like to test their claim to be 'International Wine Merchants', or consult this list of importers supplied by Columbo wines.
07/02/02 – updated 14/02/02
The 2000s in the southern Rhône Valley are looking extremely delicious and this is one of the more sophisticated. It comes from that exciting duo, Dominique Laurent a pâtissier-turned-new-wave-burgundy-negoçiant and Michel Tardieu. Their southern French negoçiant business has grown enormously since its beginnings in 1994 and the wines have been characterised by exciting depth of fruit, real structure for ageing and in the merest handful of cases a tendency to over-oak.
This red Côtes du Rhône is quite delicious already, although it will doubtless be even better in a year and will still give pleasure in the middle of this decade. It looks awfully snazzy. No Gothic text here, and no visible relationship to Burgundy either except for shape of the bottle. It's a thumpingly fruity mouthful made from a blend of low-yield Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah with all the broad spiciness we want from a fine southern Rhône wine.
In the UK Tardieu Laurent wines have been offered most prominently by La Vigneronne of London SW7 (tel 020 7589 6113) but this particular bottling is sold by The Wine Society of Stevenage (tel 01438 741177) of which you have to be a member to buy. They have the 2000 vintage on their list at the perfectly reasonable price of £9.50 a bottle or £112 a dozen including duty, VAT and delivery to any address in the UK.
Queen's wine merchants Corney & Barrow of London EC1 (www.corneyandbarrow.com tel 020 7539 3200 ) seem to be taking over British distribution of the firm's wines, however, and are currently offering the 2001 vintage of Les Becs Fins at £96 a case in bond, which works out at £129.16 a case plus delivery (free for two cases or within the M25).
For stockists elsewhere, see WineSearcher.
Regular visitors to this site may have noticed that I, unlike most of the rest of the wine-drinking world, am not great fan of Australian Shiraz. So many of them just seem far too unsubtle to me, wearing their added acidity and, all too often, added tannin like spiky adornments rather than part of their essential being.
But just to prove that I have nothing against high-alcohol Barossa Shiraz when everything is in balance, I give you Tower Estate's 1999 vintage – not cheap but a very fine wine indeed. This wine has all of 14.5 per alcohol, normally too much except in the hands of a very skilled winemaker. Most wines with this amount of alcohol leave an uncomfortably hot sensation at the back of palate making the drinker wary of any naked flames. This one is so beautifully balanced I could enjoy drinking it straight away – in fact I have. And then returned to the inch or two left in the bottle two or three weeks later and it was still impressively structured on the palate, even if it had oxidised slightly and lost that whack of savoury deep flavour on the nose. This is old-vine Barossa Shiraz given the Hermitage (as in Rhône Valley) treatment with top quality French oak and no excess of manipulation. It doesn't have that saltiness, syrupiness or oiliness that put me off many a concentrated Australian Shiraz (though I tend to love the Lehmann way with Barossa Shiraz too).
Tower Estate is a relatively new outfit put together as wine producer and Hunter Valley tourist and conference destination by Len Evans and others on land owned by Fay McGuigan of the family behind Wyndham Estate et al. The winemaker is Dan Dineen, ex Brokenwood, an impeccable Hunter Valley producer. Fruit comes from all over the place as Evans breathes heavily down the phone to his old mates. The first set of releases I tasted struck me as rather overpriced but I'm won over by this one.
In the UK Reid Wines of Hallatrow near Bristol (tel 01761 452645) sell this by the single bottle at £17.33. Laithwaites (www.laithwaites.com), the outfit behind the Sunday Times Wine Club and virtually every other direct mail wine business, are offering it by the case at £199.95 a dozen (the equivalent of £16.66 a bottle) and Noel Young of Trumpington near Cambridge (www.nywines.co.uk) have listed it at rather more than either of them.
In Australia you can order direct on www.towerestatewines.com.au while here are the email addresses of importers outside Australia:
This gorgeous Italian white, made by Alvaro Pecorari, has even more names than it has layers of flavour. Make sure you go for the bottling with the white label and the word Gris on the label rather than the (perfectly acceptable but not quite as exciting) regular Pinot Grigio from this fine producer in the far north-east of Italy.
If you're anything like me, Pinot Grigio is a name associated with tart Italian whites of virtually no flavour or colour and occasionally just a whiff of paint-stripper. But we're way out of date, of course. There are some lovely, genuinely fruity and/or smoky examples from producers such as Felluga, Schiopetto and Vie de Romans, but this Gris is the most opulent example I have come across.
Admittedly the 2000 vintage was particularly hot and the grapes therefore particularly ripe. This is not a wine I would keep for the acidity level is relatively low. But for sophisticated drinking with food (I enjoyed it with a saffron and seafood risotto at an FT Lunch at the Glasshouse by Kew Gardens station recently) it is difficult to beat. With its dried apricot flavours and attractive tang, it would make a great dry white for entertaining, at less than half the price of a comparable white burgundy.
I'm including the first of this year's Rieslings now because in the northern hemisphere spring is in the air and in much of the southern, autumn is and you need one last reminder of summer. Not that Riesling is a summer-only drink – oh dear me no. But it does bring to mind buds popping, shoots shooting and verdant resonance.
I've chosen this particular wine because I think this producer is on a roll at present, their almost-organic 15 hectares producing wines of extreme purity and definition. The 2000 is much cleaner than the average Rheingau 2000 with lovely honeyed purity and real definition of finely etched fruit flavours that smell like essence of spring. Watch out, however, for the 2001 which is just as pure and even finer: cool, beautifully balanced, more silkily textured and mouthfilling. For the moment it tastes like the sort of Granny Smith apple juice you'd expect to be served in heaven and will be bottled next month. Both wines will become even more interesting with up to five years in bottle (probably more for the 2001 and you could happily serve either of them as an aperitif, or with the sort of snack-like assortment of cheeses and charcuterie that constitute such a high proportion of lunches and light meals in my experience anyway. It contains only nine per cent alcohol but masses of flavour – a winning combination.
Warning: this wine contains some, not much, stuff capable of giving enormous pleasure and of instigating intense scorn – sweetness.
The British supermarket Waitrose currently offers the 2000 on Waitrose Direct (www.waitrose.com tel 0800 18881) at £9.99 while the 2001 will be on offer from its UK importer Charles Taylor of London, SE1 (tel 020 7928 8151) later this year.
Other UK stockists
Charles Taylor Wines, London
Waitrose Ltd, Bracknell,Berks
Tanners Wines Ltd, Shrewsbury
new £10.95 La Réserve of London SW3, SW6, NW3, W2 and SW11 (tel 020 7589 2020) – 26 Mar 2002
Dade Thieriot, Dee Vine Wines, San Francisco, California
Dale Sharp, The Wine Box, West Hills, California
Gregory Moore, Moore Brothers Wine Company, Pennsauken, New Jersey
Boston Wine Co, Somerville, Massachusetts
Vins Alemanys, Girona
See WineSearcher for stockists elsewhere.
07/03/02 – updated 26/03/02
With the emergence of so many new, small wine producers in Australia (especially in McLaren Vale and Hunter Valley), it's easy to forget gold standards of Australian wine such as this one. The relatively tiny Coonawarra region in the cool far south-east of South Australia was the first Australian region to establish an affinity for a specific grape variety, Cabernet Sauvignon. And this estate, founded by John Riddoch who planted the first vineyards in 1891 and developed by David Wynn whose son Adam runs Mountadam in the Eden Valley, is the grandaddy of them all. Needless to say it fell into the hands of Australia's giant Southcorp many years ago – so is now part of the Rosemount-Southcorp monolith – but is sufficiently far off the beaten track to have been allowed to get on with winemaking without too much corporate interference.
The 1998s were particularly successful in Coonawarra and this vintage of the famous Black Label Cabernet was beautifully made by Sue Hodder, long before the current big exodus of personnel from Rosecorp/Southmount/Whatever. It's so isolated here (the population of Coonawarra is just a few hundred – which is why the big companies have been so keen on minimal pruning) that it's difficult to see how she got her inspiration, but this is a lovely example of the concentrated if slightly austere style of Coonawarra Cabernet, definitely set for long-term ageing as well as being perfectly capable of giving pleasure now. (It is four years old, after all.) The nose is essentially mineral – as befits a wine made so definitively on a little strip of terra rossa soil – and the fruit fully ripe, much more subtle than blackcurrant, dry rather than sweet, and maturing nicely with good oak integration, as winemakers say, already. This is sophisticated rather than massive and would suit claret lovers.
I'm including it this week because the British chain of wine shops Bottoms Up and Wine Rack have a great offer until March 25: two bottles for just £15 when it normally sells for £10.99 – which latter price is certainly no more than it usually sells for in Australia without all the transport and excise duty.
Best price according to the 30 possibilities on Wine Searcher appears to be Binny's Beverage Depot in Chicago at US$9.99. The Manitoba Liquor Control Board can offer it at about Canadian $17 plus GST which is not too much higher (though I have to confess ignorance of Manitoba's GST rate). Australians are in general forced to pay more.
To find stockists elsewhere log on to www.wynns.co.uk.
This is a most exciting newcomer from Chile. Not one of those bottlings devised by an existing wine company that decides it has to have an expensive bottling at the top of its thinly-spread tree, but a delicious, limited production wine from a family with a fascinating history.
Jean Paul Valette loved Chile and farmed there for many years before being brought back to Bordeaux in 1966 to run the family's properties, chiefly Chx Pavie and Pavie-Decesse in St Emilion. I never met him but he is described in Robert Parker's invaluable Bordeaux – a comprehensive guide (3rd edn 1998 Simon & Schuster/Dorling Kindersley) as 'one of the friendliest and kindest men in St Emilion'. Having eventually sold off these properties to the energetic modernist Gérard Perse, Valette returned to Chile fulltime in 1998 to realise his dream of producing truly fine wine there.
He joined up with Chilean landowner Jorge Fontaine to plant 54 hectares of the former Hacienda El Principal in the golden triangle of Maipo near Pirque where Alma Viva and Concha y Toro are located. Vines were first planted in 1994 and the result was this really very fine, ripe, ready-to-slobber-over Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated charmer. It's deep and gorgeous with just a little bit of tannin at the end to suggest that cellaring it would be a good idea – though it's hard not to enjoy it this minute. It does taste as though it is made from exceptionally low-yielding vines; it does not taste as though 100 per cent new Demptos barrels were used.
But Jean Paul Valette died during the 2000 harvest, so will never see the results of his vision. Fortunately his son Patrick, one of several of his five children who were born in Chile, is a dedicated professional winemaker, with as much interest in the vineyard as the cellar. He selected the best vats for this 1999 El Principal, rejecting the Carmenère as being too herbaceous for a grand vin. This has resulted in an extremely supple second wine in memory of his father Memorias 1999 which is Cabernet with 40 per cent Carmenère which I also recommend, though for current drinking.
According to Patrick Valette – who makes the wine at Ch Berliquet in St Emilion, has a new project in Ribera del Duero (doesn't everyone?) and used to own Ch La Prade in Côte de Francs – the 2000 and 2001 vintages at El Principal are even better. They should certainly be worth looking out for. The following are international distributors: UK
Robert Rolls of London EC1 – El Principal £29.95
Lay & Wheeler of Colchester – El Principal £29.95
The Wine Society of Stevenage – El Principal £29.95
Tanners of Shrewsbury – Memorias £16.35, El Principal £22.95 (so this last is the one to head for)
NB This wine has been reduced to £19.95 in Lay & Wheeler's summer sale (although for some reason, unusually, they don't give the original price in their sale offer). This is a Good Deal. - updated 2 July 2002 USA
Andrew Gold Wines NY
Transat Trade Co CA
Gute Weine France
Batallaird & Cie AG
Fine Wine Gold
Wein & Co Hong Kong
Nathan Fine Wines
There are all sorts of reasons for recommending this wine – not least as a particularly suitable memorial to the talented Daniel Thibault who created this, arguably the Champagne region's most distinguished label. Most champagne houses present us with the same label for their Non Vintage blend year in and year out, leaving us to guess at its age and likely characteristics. Since the 1992 Mis en Cave release, however, Charles Heidsieck have had a clear policy of telling us when their most important cuvée was bottled, indicating that about 60 per cent of the wine comes from the previous vintage and has been blended with about 40 per cent of older, Reserve wines of between three and eight years. This means that the Mis en Cave 1997 is dominated by the extremely fruity, powerful and generally very delicious 1996 vintage, notable for reaching exceptional levels of both sugar and acidity in the grapes and one that will make some very great champagne indeed. The Mis en Cave 1997 (a wine that will be even better than the Mis en Cave 1996, itself a very fine wine) is dense, smoky and intriguing on the nose, insisting that you take notice of it. While still very youthful it already has a seductively honeycombed texture and hints at some of the nuttiness that is already apparent on the nose of the Mis en Cave 1996. The latter, based on the more open wines of the 1995 vintage, is also deep-flavoured, very lively and has a lovely texture on the palate. There is no question with either of these rewarding yet pleasurable wines of any corners having been cut, which is quite remarkable for champagnes made in this quantity. Fine wines by any measure, the Mis en Cave 1996 can be enjoyed straightaway, while the Mis en Cave 1997 could safely be stashed away by fathers of truculent teenage daughters to wait until they turn conventional and ask for a white wedding. (The Mis en Cave 1995 is well made, but tastes more youthful than the Mis en Cave 1996 and will never overtake it in quality, being more brutal and aggressive.)
These champagnes are widely available around the world and are very fairly priced relative to similar quality wines from other producers (check out WineSearcher and www.winealert.com). In the UK you can find the Mis en Cave 1997 at £23.49 at larger Waitrose stores, www.waitrose.com and Waitrose Direct (tel 0800 188881) with discounts of five per cent on purchases of six bottles. The price may even come down to £19.99 on promotion in June. This is said by Charles Heidsieck to be the same wine that the Unwins chain of stores are currently offering at £23.99 but the recently decimated head office staff (Unwins seems to have decided it can do without wine buyers) was unable to confirm this as their computer describes the wine merely as 'Charles Heidsieck NV'. I think perhaps they do need wine buyers.
The Mis en Cave 1996 is available from larger Tesco and Oddbins stores at £23.49. But look out for special deals. Tesco's Wine Festival, for example, offers a full 20 per cent off any French wine or champagne from April 24 until May 5, with a further five per cent off purchases of six bottles or more, which would bring the price of this beautiful wine down to just £17.62.