I like normal wine produced in the age-old way with a typical taste for the region on the label. When I pick up a glass of Rioja I expect it to taste like Rioja, similarly when drinking a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc I look forward to that familiar zesty tang. Recently in Saturday Kitchen presenter Helen McGinn poured a bottle of rosé wine called Belle & Co which contained no alcohol. She mentioned pointedly that the wine got its striking pink colour from organic carrots. Belle & Co sparkling rosé is produced by a German company, under the auspices of North South Wines. It originates from grape juice so officially it can be called wine. If their de-alcoholization process while working to lower %abv strips out part of the colour, which then has to be replaced before sale, what other organic compounds does it remove? What products of fermentation are missing apart from alcohol! To my way of thinking alcohol provides a role in the overall structure of wine. It alters the solubility of more complex compounds of fermentation, builds structure and aids digestion. Removing alcohol changes the physicochemical properties of the wine and thus changes the structure. Has any producer made an alcohol-free wine that matches the quality of real wine? I would be interested to know.
In thinking about this month’s wine topic during a period of lock-down while the news each day brings figures of Covid19 deaths that shock and frighten and for some of us even sadden in grief of lost loved ones, I find the idea of coping with a pandemic an appropriate topic – showing how we can get through it all in the end and still enjoy the simple pleasure of a good glass of wine.
In the 1860s a pandemic called phylloxera caused decimation of the European wine industry, when vines were attacked by small sap-sucking insects, related to aphids, feeding on the roots and leaves and killing off their defenceless hosts. The agent of this destruction was Daktulosphaira vitifoliae originating from North America. There the indigenous vines had developed a natural resistance and perpetuated a stable ecosystem. But in a similar scenario to the global pandemic of today, over-enthusiastic travel and sharing spread the potentially hostile agent to unsuspecting shores. Between two-thirds and nine-tenths of all European vineyards were destroyed.
One of the countries that had a charmed life was Chile. Whether the soils were slightly more sandy or conditions dry enough to disrupt the life-cycle of the infection is of historic interest but to this day Chile is one of the few major wine-growing countries where European Vitis vinifera vines grow comfortably on their own and don’t have to suffer the inconvenience of having a phylloxera resistant North American root-stock grafted onto their underside (for that was the way to defeat the infection). Today’s ungrafted grapes of Chile are mainly the international varieties like the white and black grapes of Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and one French variety that found a natural home in an Andean setting - Carmenère.
My choice of the month therefore are the wines from ungrafted vines that sing out strongly for Chile. A well-known producer Errazuriz runs the successful Costa Estate in the Aconcagua Valley east of Valpairiso, their Errazuriz Costa Sauvignon Blanc at £8.99 from Waitrose is all ‘tingling gooseberry fruit and lime acidity, … a fantastic partner to grilled halloumi’. (Because of lock-down these wines haven’t been personally tasted for you - unfortunately. I rely on the taste-buds and flowing rhetoric of others this time.)
Don Maximiano's Errazuriz Estate in the Aconcagua Valley
For the reds I choose Con Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir at £14 available at Morrisons; a fantastic commercial success story for Chilean wine made on the sandy granitic slopes of the Colchagua Valley south of Santiago and since 1998 is certified sustainable. Congratulations to Cono Sur for keeping the local ecology in balance while making great tasting Pinot Noir that offers ‘rich red berry flavours … topped off with a warm, smoky hint, upping its deliciousness another notch or three’; the men with the scores on the boards are out again!
My final choice is the signature grape of Chile, Carmenère, spelt with an accent to show off its historic Bordeaux origin. My choice is De Martino Legado Carmenère at £11.99 from Waitrose. Here is the grape that was rejected by the Bordelais yet found redemption in the sandy soils, amiable climate and pure mountain meltwaters of Chile. It’s green pepper and gamey characteristics sound fine and with clever winemaking De Martino get some lively peppery and cassis notes as well as a balanced richness, which sounds great on paper. But it’s all in the drinking – and the toast could be ‘to the end of the pandemic’.
Clear Wine Co. Founder, shares his latest wine-based musings and expertise to get your taste buds tingling.