Wines for Spring 2016

The chalky, dry soil of this vineyard in Languedoc, France is ideal for cultivating grapes.

The chalky, dry soil of this vineyard in Languedoc, France is ideal for cultivating grapes.

Wines for Spring 2016

This season’s drinking has yielded two excellent wines to accompany a roast on slightly special occasions; a rather exciting red at the lower end of the mid-range, and cheap but very quaffable reds and whites.

My top pick for value has to be that outstanding mid-range red, Monastier Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 IGP Pays D’Oc, which uses grapes from the Languedoc region of France, with its limestone and clay-rich soil. A fairly sophisticated bottle immediately bodes well – as does the premium selection gold award on the front. The colour is a deep ruby heading towards pinkness at the edges; and the wine has a nose that is powerful, if quite high and sharp, but there are sweet violets in the aroma that temper the more astringent red berry fruits. The taste is sweeter, warmer and lower than the nose indicates – although one should note that the wine does need to breathe a while before it fully comes into its own. The initial taste is surprisingly and pleasantly sweet – full, mainly, of ripe plums. Then there comes a burst of black bramble fruits along, at the back and sides of the palate, with the darker, grumbling and mature tones of some ash and tar and a bite of black pepper in a long finish. On the whole, this is a complex and surprising wine, and quite a delight. Available from the House of Townend (www.houseoftownend.com) RRP £7.99.

Another very good quality red is the Grey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from the Chilean producer Viña Ventisquero, named after the Grey Glacier in Patagonia. Made from 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot grapes grown and hand-harvested in the Maipo Valley, it is a wine in which the maker has left as much to nature , with as little interference (thus no filtration or clarification), as possible, leaving it to age in French oak barrels for over 18 months. This results in a dark and opaque wine – almost black in appearance. The nose is also dark and strong – full of tar and black berry fruits. The initial taste is quite high and sharp – full of tannins, and then opens out on the tongue to provide bitter ash, tar and a touch of tobacco at the back of the palate and sharp black woodland fruits at the sides of the tongue. This wine is an inpenetratable dark woodland thicket – dangerous and dense but exciting nevertheless…. Available from slurp.co.uk at £13.49.

Both the Grey Cabernet Sauvignon and Penfolds Bin 8 would be superb choices to accompany a roast, beouf bourguignon or fine steak. The Australian producer, Penfolds, believes strongly in multi-regional and multi-varietal blendings, so the Bin 8 accordingly is 60%Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Shiraz , and from grapes selected from vineyards and growers across Australia, including the famed McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley, as well as Padthaway, Langhorne Creek and Adelaide Hills. One is immediately impressed by the very colour as one pours it from the bottle (into the decanter, of course!) – a deep, rich purple colour, and pleasingly thick. The nose at once proffers smoke, and promises very black berry fruits. On the palate, we have a burst of sweetness complementing those very dark flavours, of blackberries, blackcurrants and damsons, along with hints of ash, tar and oak, yet with an underlying smoothness, softness and roundness that tempers what could otherwise be quite harsh elements. The tiniest intimation of smoke adds an intriguing element to a satisfying and complex wine. Available from Waitrose, priced £19.99.

When a less pricey wine is called for, Heavenly Malbec 2014, IGP Pays D’Oc is a robust, hearty and rustic wine to accompany stews and red meats. It is made from grapes grown in the Limoux area, blessed with Mediterranean sun and breezes, with a small portion of the grapes being aged with oak staves for extra backbone and texture. The wine is a good ruby colour, albeit slightly opaque, and has a nose high and fruity; full of red berries. The wine needs to breathe – it’s slightly tart, harsh and sharp at first, but the flavours open up on breathing and one finds good red berry and forest berry fruits along with an aftertaste of liquorice and a little tar, which add suavity and sophistication.

Limoux vineyard

Limoux vineyard

Both this and its white counterpart have a rather basic label in terms of information and design – the font itself for Heavenly is fairly sophisticated but the images (of what look like bilberries, for the red) are rather plain and simple. The image for the white, a Sauvignon Blanc 2014, IGP Cotes de Gascogne, is a volute shell; I’m not sure why – perhaps the wine is subject in some way to an underlying mathematical progression (harmonic? arithmetic?) to which the description does not make the drinker privy; or perhaps it is merely a reference to the recommendation to “enjoy this easy drinking [sic] wine with scallops, smoked salmon or other light seafood dishes and salads”. The wine is very light in colour – a pale straw – and is rather dry, as one might expect. There is plenty of grapefruit on the nose, with underlying notes of lemon and a hint of hay. The initial impression upon tasting is of a rather light, perhaps even superficial wine; but further back the grapefruit makes its presence felt very strongly, accompanied, rather surprisingly, by a redolence of melon; and there is a warming tingle to the flavour which ensures a longer-lasting linger than a first tasting may lead one to expect. Not, perhaps, a wine of great complexity, but a pleasant and rewarding beverage for enjoying by itself or with light foods. Both are available from Wine Rack and Bargain Booze at £5.99.

A pricier white, but perhaps less good value, may be had in McWilliams’s Tumbarumba. Tumbarumba is situated at a high altitude in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains in Australia’s New South Wales. It is the coolest wine region in Australia and vineyards have only relatively recently been planted here – yet these grapes have proved ideal for clean, crisp Chardonnays. This is a clear wine, very pale gold in colour (almost straw), with a slightly musky nose, with figs very close to the surface; white peaches are also present, though less obviously.

Vineyards, Tumbarumba

Vineyards, Tumbarumba

The initial impression upon tasting is rather acidic, with a biscuit-y dimension, too; further back, the flavour separates into a fruitier taste, with peach and lime particularly evident. The taste, though, is not as long-lasting as one would wish for, particularly not for a wine with this price-tag; one might hope for rather more complexity and a longer finish than is found here. On the whole, a pleasant and inoffensive wine, although perhaps slightly on the superficial side. Available from Marks and Spencer at £12.

Em Marshall-Luck is QR’s Food and Wine Critic

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