After listening to Pavarotti and glorying in the silky tones of ‘Nessun Dorma’, I was reminded recently of bitter memories of England’s footballers at the 1990 world cup. So it is with my wine style of the month, Amarone, which is Italian for impressive bitterness. Again I am prevented from giving you ‘real’ tasting notes thanks to the Covid lockdown restrictions, so I acknowledge with thanks the below notes.
The Corvina grapes are the backbone varietal for the Northern Italian wine blend Valpolicella, with Rondinella and Molinara added to make that dark-cherry coloured wine. Now it was noticed that by leaving the picked grapes to partially raisin in the sun, a richness and fullness was added to the wine and the style was called ‘recioto’, after ‘orrechio’ the Italian for ear, because originally only the riper upper lobes of the bunch, which apparently looked like ears, were selected. Only later were whole bunches used for drying, but the auricular term had caught on by then; Recioto della Valpolicella added sweetness and body to Valpolicella and this improved port-like style caught on.
Now yeast cells cannot ferment grape sugar to alcohol when the alcohol concentration rises above 15.5%. In some fermentations, regarded then as faulty, the amount of yeast added to grape ‘must’ would consume all of the extra concentration of sugar formed by the drying process (or ‘appassimento’), before the extra alcohol had switched off the fermentation. Thus the residual sugar concentration would reduce, the wine would appear to lose its sweetness and become drier in style. This was called ‘recioto scapata’ or ‘ear-like one which had escaped’. As fashions changed the new drier, bitter-sweet style was preferred, and perfected to chocolatey goodness with barrel ageing. It was called Amarone and went on to make millions.
My choice of wines are all dry style Amarones, from the hills near Verona; the wider region of Valpolicella, the upgraded Valpantena area, and finally the highest quality central ‘classico’ region, since the 2010 vintage, all part of the Valpolicella della Amarone DOCG appellation. The more complicated manufacture using the appassimento process does push up the price, so these are necessarily special wines for special occasions.
First up at entry level is Rocca Alata Amarone Della Valpolicella at £15 from Tesco, ‘a very intense wine, it releases rich aromas of ripe cherry and wild red berry, concluding on a note of luscious chocolate’ to get you in the mood – thanks to Messrs. Kiem and Staffler at Falstaff Magazine (translated from German). My next choice is a step up in quality: M&S’s Cantina Valpantena at £18, and thanks to Wine Enthusiast magazine ‘here's a fresh and slightly rustic Amarone with earthy notes of tobacco and used leather set behind tones of dried flower and candied blueberry’, a bitter-sweet message – oh Gascoigne, oh missed penalties!
Finally my best value aspirational wine, (and there are wines that are considerably more expensive), is Masi Amarone Classico 'Costasera' 2015, at £33 per bottle when buying six bottles from Majestic, or £37 per bottle. Messrs. Kiem and Staffler again excel themselves: ‘Filigree-elegant nose after ripe forest berries, chocolate, in reverberation slightly after cigar box. On the palate, the sweet enamel towers, build up wide and in many layers, elegant, in the second part always juicy and balanced, wonderfully harmonious until the long finale’. A lot to distract you here, but with a nice glass of red to hand, you won’t need to mind. Just drink and think of Pavarotti and drink a health to our gallant footballing heroes. Cheers!
At a recent meeting of the clan, several good bottles were presented from my son’s recent foray into Provence. An area which since Roman times has been a ‘go to’ destination for those in search of the ‘good life’ due to a certain amalgamation of geography, climate and history. Provence’s most famous wine style is Provençal rosé. These wines are made from black skinned grapes such as Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. Over time the French vignerons came to realise that a more concentrated red wine would result from removal of some of the must (white pressed grape juice) early in the fermentation to increase skin to must ratio, resulting in a richer style of red wine. What was left became rosé and the actual process involved the red streaked must being decanted off, which garnered the term ‘saignée, which is French for ‘bleeding’ method. This reminds me that the English could not have come up with as natural a way of description as the French – it being translated, with reference to my Cockney Dictionary, as 'bleedin’ method - hardly gastronomic!
The modern way to make rosé is reducing skin contact in the fermenting black grape juice to a short duration, just enough to give the wine extra flavour while keeping the colour as light as possible; some say an ‘onion skin’ colour is the ideal for the Provençal style. The great thing about rosé wine is that is goes with a lot of summery food, like seafood, raw and lightly cooked shell-fish, grilled fish, cold cooked poultry, light salads and rice dishes. When over in France, I loved the way rosé is served as an aperitif with ice cubes, a habit I often prefer when the sun decides to shine – very refreshing! Provençal rosés generally have a savoury finish. In contrast, rosés made from Pinot Noir, from Tempranillo (Spanish rosado), Sangiovese (Italian rosato), and the New World have a more fruity finish.
Then my choice of the month; not the well-known brands championed by Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and the Holywood set, but more affordable quality quaffs available in local supermarkets. For a Provençal style, try classy Château De Rouet; it comes in a lovely sinuous bottle, available from the Co-op at £8.50 for a 50 cL pour – lovely raspberry and nectarine fruit with spice from the Grenache grape, or my favourite, Moncigale Côtes de Provence (actually near Aix-en-Provence!) made in the wind-swept limestone hills of the Bouche de Rhône East of Arles – glowing with red fruit, minerality and spice (and a touch of tarragon they say) available from Morrisons at a bargain £9.00. Here the blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and the white Rolle grape give a complex, aromatic and wonderfully balanced quaff, just made to be enjoyed at significant meetings – a reminder of holidays when the sun always shines.
An ‘Anjou Blanc’ style of wine, chosen earnestly and with some trepidation, was lucky enough to have met the approval of my lovely wife on our wedding day. We remember the light, fruity and pleasing taste which had a little more complexity that the others we tried. I was reminded of this following a plan recently for a virtual tasting with old college friends – something positive that has come out of this enforced lockdown.
The three wine regions of Anjou, Saumur and Touraine roughly bordering each other and described as a ‘microcosm of the Loire Valley’, bring a unique power and range to these northern French wines, nurtured by the gravel, clay and porous calcareous ‘tuffeau’ soils, warmed by an equitable continental climate and tempered by the far-reaching, maritime influence of the broad river Loire.
The Angevin capital at Angers was the seat of Plantagenet power ruled by Henry II, king of England from 1154. Saumur upriver was then an outpost which had been fortified by Henry in the war against France, whereas the castle of Chinon, further east on the tributary of the Vienne river in Touraine, was the strongest fortified city of its day. These citadels and chateaux are now tourist destinations for all who love to visit the Loire.
Here they use essentially the same grape varieties - Chenin Blanc for white wines and Cabernet Franc for the reds. I have, in my choice of the month, focussed on five wines that represent the Anjou region, which includes Saumur, Touraine and the famous brands Chinon and Vouvray. (I have resorted again, due to logistical difficulties during lockdown, to third-party tasting notes, duly acknowledged with thanks.)
To experience these my choices of the month, in order of progress up-river firstly Anjou, Cheninsolite Organic Chenin Blanc, from Domaine Cady (my virtual tasting wine) at £13.99 from Waitrose, is all ‘lovely honeyed tones, a hint of cream and vanilla and bright toffee-apple fruit’, (thanks to Richard Hemming MW, amazing notes for a dry wine style); I’m reminded of a trip to the fairground maybe?
Further upstream I’m pushing the boat out with Bouvet Saphir 2017 Saumur Brut (sparkling Chenin Blanc) at £16.99 from Majestic, this is from one of the oldest producers in the Loire, a ‘fragrant wine … ripe with hazelnut and peach flavours’ according to Wine Enthusiast magazine.
Reaching Chinon, my next Loire wine choice is Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon 'Le Temps des Cerises' at £12.95 from Portland Wine Company. This Cabernet Franc red is cherry-flavoured ‘all fruit, perfumed, fresh and crisply textured’ – (thanks again to Wine Enthusiast magazine).
Further up river is Touraine, and my choice from here is Mabileau Les Rouillères Organic, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil at £13.99 from Waitrose, ‘silky Cabernet fruit with a bit of crackling freshness’ according to the doyenne of good taste Jancis Robinson.
And to a final destination, Vouvray is noted for its sweet wines and sparklers, but this time my choice is a dry version, Domaine Careme Vouvray ‘Spring’ Sec, at £14.99 from Waitrose. This négociant harvests mostly organic Chenin Blanc grapes, all grown sustainably, which is good to know as you drink. The wine is ‘instant mountain-stream freshness, with delicate notes of apple, blossom and citrus’ (thanks to Tom Cannavan), wine which is carefully marketed as a ‘Spring’ to look forward to; maybe a reminder of present brilliant spring weather. These Loire wines are nice enough to drink any time in the coming Summer either in virtual tastings or in the company of friends. Cheers!
Clear Wine Co. Founder, shares his latest wine-based musings and expertise to get your taste buds tingling.