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May’s Sunday Best Selection

Thursday is the day we go beyond the website’s “core business” (identifying great value wines for informal everyday drinking) to explore broader aspects of the world of wine.

Some weeks that focuses on a region, grape variety or retailer that deserves special attention – but every six weeks or so we offer our “Sunday Best” selections.

Even during bizarre times like these, there is a place for buying, considering – or just dreaming about – special occasion bottles that may cost a little more than we normally spend on wine.

Some of these wines are best secured online but that is something we should perhaps begin to get used to doing.

Starting with Trailbazers

Unbelievably, it is 40 years since the first viognier was planted in South Australia – and – of course – those pioneers were … Yalumba, who are still the superstars at teasing the best out of this tricky variety and giving it a distinctive southern hemisphere twist.  

Aromatic with the variety’s classic viscous depth, 2019 Yalumba Y Series Viognier (from £7.49 at Majestic and 13.5% abv) has soft peach and ripe melon fruit with firm mandarin orange acidity and a rich spicy finish. 

But heading further east

Across the Tasman Sea, Yealands delights us with their standard sauvignon but, here, we take the next step up their ladder with this “Reserve” from the Awatere Valley in Marlborough where the especially complex geology and cooler climate seem to yield real dividends.

Fragrant with classically assertive Marlborough acidity, 2019 Yealands Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (£11.59 at Waitrose and 13%) delivers grapefruit, gooseberry and melon fruit with grassy and green pepper touches and a spicy finish containing a neatly contrasting suspicion of nectarine.  

Staying in those parts

Along from Marlborough’s Awatere Valley is the Wairau Valley, home to the brilliant Dog Point wines, which here bring us a top of the range oaked sauvignon.

Aging for a year and a half in oak adds smoothness and complexity to the wine yet, in this case, never suppresses the grape’s zippy freshness and shows clearly why it secured 92 points from Wine Spectator.

Despite its substantial price tag, there is so much to enjoy in 2016 Section 94 Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc (£25.49 at www.tivoliwines.co.uk and 14%) from its slightly smoky apricot and orange fruit to its vibrant lime and grapefruit acidity and beyond to the counterbalancing honey richness and background savoury hints with suggestions of butter and ginger.  

So to one of its neighbours

It is also in the Wairau Valley (on the Waihopai river in fact) that Brent Marris created his Marisco winery where this silky chardonnay (and his The Ned series wines) are conceived.  

Smooth with a long finish, 2018 The King’s Legacy Chardonnay (from £11.99 at Majestic and 13.5% abv) has a creamy textured, baked apple and pear backbone with hints of tropical fruit and lively acidity but, above all, is an object lesson in the use of oak – giving the wine skilfully judged additional vanilla, butter and toffee elements.

Let’s move continents

South Africa’s Banghoek Valley is a small ward within Stellenbosch where this appealing and really well priced 3:1 chenin to chardonnay blend is produced and which is sold here by a retailer who, enterprisingly, has used lock-down to radically revise its website.

I especially like the way that creamy depth (with a touch of honey) pithy grapefruit acidity and a green apple foundation all come together in 2019 Oldenburg CL White Blend (£13.95 at www.jeroboams.co.uk  and 14%) and unite with allspice, ginger and pie crust components to create a delightful blend where the totality really does exceed the sum of the parts.

Not forgetting impressive sweet wine 

Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh is a sweet wine from Madiran in South West France and, with this example, the acclaimed Plaimont operation has created an excellent version using local grapes (manseng and petit courbu) that would cost much more if it was from classic sweet wine country.

Aromatic and richly textured 2016 Saint-Albert Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh (£19.95 at www.corneyandbarrow.com and 12%) brings us mellow orange, mango and peach fruit with zesty lime freshness and an appealing honeycomb centred background.

Next some reds

Given the superstar status of Burgundy, it is amazing that so few folk have realised how fantastic the wines of nearby Beaujolais have become – especially in the terroir driven area that makes up the prestigous 10 Crus of Beaujolais which, of course, include Morgan.

Marvel at the softness of 2018 Chateau de Grand Pré Morgan (£16.68 at www.strictlywine.co.uk and 13%) where cherry and blackcurrant fruit merge harmoniously with the wine’s minty depth, edge of sweetness and good acidity. Classic quality Beaujolais.

Heading south

We move next to a great value option from Portugal’s Alentejano region – close to the Spanish border – which has seen a massive expansion of wine producers in the last quarter century, and here provides excellent red wine crafted from classic varieties like touriga nacional and tempranillo.

Textured yet with very soft tannin, 2017 Esporao Monte Velho Tinto (£9.99 at www.ocado.com and 14%) brings us long, plum and mulberry fruit with persistent acidity and touches of beetroot, black pepper, clove and liquorice.

Keep going south

Here is another blend, this time using essentially classic Bordeaux grapes, but from South Africa – and named after a former owner that created (and did much to enhance) this estate in the central part of Stellenbosch

Enjoy the dark and intense 2017 John X Merriman Rustenberg (from £15.99 at Majestic and 14.5%) with its aniseed infused blackcurrant, mulberry and plum fruit, lively acidity, firm tannin but concluding graphite bite with suggestions of coffee and mint.  

Staying put for the moment

Let’s follow that up with another South African Bordeaux blend that this time actually uses five different grape varieties including malbec and petit verdot and comes from Durbanville on the periphery of Capetown itself.

Smoky with menthol depth, 2017 Diemersdal Private Collection (£18.95 at www.jeroboams.co.uk  and 14.5%) has bramble and plum fruit, firm acidity, smooth tannin all supplemented by a cocktail of cumin, baking spice and chocolate elements.

And to an actual Bordeaux blend

Several hundred years ago Fronsac, on the Right Bank, was one of the most prestigious parts of Bordeaux and, even though the pecking order has changed significantly since then, still produces distinctive wines.

Here, the family of a major figure in the region, has taken over this chateau and is producing stunningly good wines but, since the area remains less than fashionable, at excellent prices.

Luxuriate in the soft smoothness of 2015 Chateau Tour du Moulin (£19.95 at Lea & Sandemann and 14.5%) where ripe bramble and blackcurrant fruit comes together with gentle tannin, modest acidity and hints of mint and clove to show what classic claret does so well.

Spain is our next calling point

Many say that its cool nights make wine from tempranillo grapes in Spain’s Ribera del Duero region particularly lively and bright – and real rivals to Rioja as the country’s No.1 red wine region – but let this excellent example help you decide which you prefer.  

Long and deep, 2014 Bodegas Resalte Crianza (£22.50 at www.strictlywine.co.uk and 14.5%) delivers cherry and bramble fruit enlivened by good acidity but well supported by firm tannin, hints of clove and an attractive savoury edge.

Finally finishing with fizz

I shall taking a closer look at the sparkling wines of Rathfinny – positioned near Alfriston in Sussex – later in the summer but here is a taster from the upcoming release by the go-ahead operation that Mark and Sarah Driver have created there and which brilliantly underlines just how good English sparkling wine has become.

This certainly compares favourably with vintage blanc de blanc from champagne.  

Very lively at the outset 2016 Rathfinny Blanc de Blancs (around £38 and available via the winery’s website from a week today) provides biscuity substance yet a delightfully smooth and clean mouthfeel that ably supports the green apple and ripe pear fruit, chalky depth, vibrant lemon acidity and underlying suspicion of coconut.

Back on Monday guys with suggestions from the new Lidl promotion and two bottles, in particular, that I think you will enjoy.


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Comments

6 Comments

Jonathan

Some nice wines here Brian.

A couple of questions if you don’t mind; is the Oldenburg oaked? I really like both grapes and preferably when they’re oaked. I find that especially so with the better Chenin Blanc wines from SA.

And do you know how long the Kings Legacy spends in oak?

And secondly, how long

Brian Elliott

Good question Jonathon … and I share your warm feelings about South African chenin and oak. Pioneers like Ken Forrester have really shown what delights it can induce. Here is what I can discover so far about the two wines you mention: Oldenburg is “matured for 8 months in 17% new French oak barrels but 40% of the wine was not oaked”. As for the Kings Legacy, After harvesting “the clear juice was racked to French oak puncheons, a combination of 35% new and 65% old, for fermentation and ageing……… weekly lees stirring helped to build mouthfeel and partial malolactic fermentation helped to soften the acids. Assemblage occurred in March before final filtration and bottling”.

Chris Scott

Great read as always Brian with some lovely Sounding wines along the way. Fronsac has always been a favourite since discovering a few years back and like you say I struggle with my preference of Rioja or Ribera. Both wonderful wines and can be enjoyed whilst pondering over the lovely mountain areas that Spain offers to the eye…..
Stay safe and happy drinking

Brian Elliott

Which of those two Spanish “R-words” I prefer is a good problem to have. It may be my fancy but I sense that in the country itself Ribera is beginning to get the nod but – hey ho – why not enjoy them both as you imply

Dave Cronin

Nice selection of wines again Brian, Yalumba is always reliable as is the excellent ‘Kings’ range from Marisco which I’ve bought many times.
Rioja or Ribera now there’s a question, as Chris says both wonderful wines, Ribera (which gets more sunshine) usually giving it a more intense, riper and vibrant flavour with generally higher alcohol and Rioja with it’s red fruits, sweetness and dusty character, both have their merits. I love them both, then I would.
I always have a bottle of John X Merriman to hand, don’t tend to drink a lot of Fronsac but when I do I’ve always enjoyed it .

Brian Elliott

Thanks Dave. As you suggest, surely the best answer to the question Ribera or Rioja is ……. “Both”!


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