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The UK is the biggest export market for Champagne, second only to, if much smaller than, the big home market. Of course the big brands will make up much of the export numbers. Champagne is an expensive purchase and most people are going to buy something they have heard of before. But in many ways the real excitement starts with the discovery of the smaller houses and growers’ own champagne. A tasting in February 2013 allowed a good range of these wines to be compared.
Brut NV –Simple quite powerful lemon-flavoured fruit, attractive, good value at £27 a bottle.
A Chauvet, Vintage 2005 – powerful, yeasty, even meaty nose, good fruit on the palate, impressive and powerful, rather than super refined
I have been really impressed by the Tarlant wines in the past and this single example is no exception:
‘Zero’ Brut Nature – never mind the technical stuff, this is like a dip in a mountain stream. Pure, super dry, mineral, racy, brilliant. Made from equal parts of Champagne’s three grape varieties, vinified in stainless steel with an unspecified proportion of reserve wines matured in oak.
Carte blanche Brut NV – 60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Meunier, 10% Pinot Noir. Noticeably dry on the palate with crisp, mineral and lemon notes to the fore with a good depth of fruit and some yeastiness. Pleasantly austere.
Rather a different style with moderately powerful citrus (more lime than lemon) on nose and palate, then fine toast and bakery notes. A lot of character for a NV.
The archetypical growers’ Champagne house as all the fruit is from their own 11 hectares of vineyards in the Aube region, 80% of which is Pinot Noir. A mild mannered NV style with a peachy nose and a soft palate, easy to drink, would appeal to many who find Champagne overly aggressively acidic.
A wine from the historic Jacquesson portfolio, the firm dating back to 1798 with a claim to be the oldest independent Champagne house. The fruit for the house’s Champagnes is 85% from their own vineyards, though you can be sure that the NV will be more than 15% bought-in fruit as they will keep their own mainly Grand Cru vineyards for the top wines. In this case, the Cuvée number 736 is not just a marketing gimmick but the actual cuvée number of the NV since the house was founded – though they only started publically numbering them from 728 on. See the profile on The Wine Doctor
Cuvée 736 NV – a really classy entry on the nose, superb toasty, savoury aromas and flavours, presumably on account of a long stay on fine lees. The palate broadens out with good quality citrus and apple fruit and the length is very good for a non vintage wine. Very good indeed. Berry Bros stock this at £37.
NV Brut Tradition – you can’t argue with a wine which is made in a village with a name as attractive as Chigny-les-Roses, named to commemorate the garden of Louise Pommery who had a summer house here. Just a touch of Chardonnay (10%) in what is really a Pinot Noir/ Meunier blend. A light, attractive, refined and refreshing wine, moderate depth, but would make a very good aperitif.
Brut Grand Cru – 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay with the bonus of being from the village of Bouzy; super precise peach and green apple fruit overlaid with brioche and yeastiness. Classy, great value at £24 and much raved over in the press – Jane MacQuitty and Fiona Beckett for example.
Brut Tradition - a three-way blend dominated by Pinot Meunier at 75%, plus 15% and 10% respectively of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Subtle melon, apple and lemon fruit with fine tertiary notes. Impressive. Good use of often despised Pinot Meunier.
Thiénot are the owners of the much more widely distributed Canard-Duchêne. As a result the grower’s own wine has to be kept very distinct from the commercial brand. The Brut is 45% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 20% Meunier, with 20% reserve wines being added to assure quality and consistency. The predominant note is rounded attractive fruit with plenty of finesse. The Vintage 2005 is in a similar vein if with more fruit intensity: 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. At this tasting this did not really shine.
Cuvée Prestige – a rather grand number, wood fermented with 50% Grand Cru Chardonnay from Mesnil and 25% each of Pinot Noir and Meunier. Beautifully integrated fruit and oak, subtle and seamless, not the most intense but sophisticated. For a great profile of this couple and brand, click here.
Brut Cuvée Special – biscuity, nutty, lovely balance of crispness and ripe fruit from Pinot Noir and Meunier, so a Blanc de Noir.
Brut Reserve – 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, 10g dosage so quite rounded with a hint in the direction of off-dryness; rich peachy and nutty nose, very attractive fruit on palate; apparently fermented and aged in stainless steel before its time in the bottle.
2005 Reserve - in effect a Blanc de Blanc as it is 100% Chardonnay; rich, toasty and elegant, not savoury; very fine.
These wines, tasted at the SITT tasting in February 2013, were a great introduction to the really high quality growers’ champagnes now available in the UK, especially via independent wine merchants. There is no excuse to buy dull Champagne.
I am delighted and rather surprised to be awarded the WSET/Champagne Board’s 2013 Champagne scholarship as part of my WSET Diploma studies. Part of the surprise was that I did not know that the Wine and Spirit Education Trust gave scholarships, so I was a long way back when the scholarship secretary rang me to ask whether I was prepared to come to an interview. Some questions are not difficult to answer however. Having been to a few Champagne events, I was not as surprised to find that the ‘interview’ was to be held in the Artesian Bar of the now very smart Langham Hotel. Here Matt Glynn (Bibendum) and I, competing for the scholarship because we had both got high marks in the Sparkling Wine exam, were lightly interrogated while consuming a fair quantity of Ruinart Blanc des Banc followed by Lenoble, accompanied by prodigious quantities of finger food. That the Champenois entertain lavishly was not a surprise.
A few days later, we learnt that Francoise Peretti of the Champagne Board had not been able to choose between us and so had generously decided, exceptionally, to award two scholarships. This was a very happy outcome and Matt and I and our partners were invited to the annual WSET bash at the Guildhall at the heart of the City of London. Once a year the school hires the Great Hall to give out diplomas to those who have successfully completed their professional qualification and awards to the brightest and best (or at least those who know how to do well in exams). Despite having had an academic career, I was never very good at exams. It was really only in my fifties that I understood that you really are supposed to learn all this stuff! So I can count myself a slow learner on two scores – half a century to respond to the the obvious and then being at an age when learning factual material is doubly hard work. But it was a real thrill to be given the award and to have one’s hard work and capability recognised.
The actual award ceremony was an impressive evening too. I can take or leave the ancient Guildhall and the whole business of taking ourselves quite seriously. But there were impressive performances by Ian Harris, chief executive, and Jancis Robinson, honorary president, which carried us through the evening. Ian as the master of ceremonies was a model of economy, efficiency and good humour. It is not easy to keep people’s interest while giving out 150 diplomas to those present. The awards are easier as we all want to know ‘who’s won what’. Jancis looked brilliant in her classy red dress and was welcoming, human, real, with every last person … She wears her pre-eminence lightly.
It was a particular pleasure to meet Hugh Johnson at the reception and to be able to thank him in person for his brilliant wine atlas. There will be another new edition this autumn. The atlas and the Oxford Companion to Wine have been my constant companions for the last two years. Interestingly, the atlas gives the really fundamental information which every Diploma student craves – geology, soils, climate – more consistently than the OCW.
After the ceremony we repaired to a local Italian restaurant with my children. Jonathan was able to come to the ceremony itself. As a newly established academic he already has quite an experience of graduations and a career full of them to look forward to! Jeremy and Laura, with Adam, joined us for supper at the admirably straightforward and affordable, Rucoletta. The celebration meal had to be on an Italian theme and not just because of my debt to the wine of Italy. I did well in the sparkling wine exam in the first place because in the theory section one of the three, all compulsory, questions was on the sparkling wine zone, Franciacorta. Last spring, after a few false starts in terms of possible destinations, Janet and I went on a sparkling wine tour of north and north east Italy a couple of months before the exam. First stop, for four whole days was … you’ve guessed it, Franciacorta. That was quite a difficult question for your average Diploma student and an absolute gift to me. And so all my Italian friends will be delighted to hear that I won a Champagne scholarship because of Franciacorta. And, finally, it shows that just ‘learning the stuff’ is not the only way to do well in exams. Sometimes you have to get out there and do your learning on the ground. People, place, wines – that is what this website is about. Studying with the WSET enriches and give a framework to this experience.
And, the ‘scholarship’? A custom made trip to Champagne, to our choice of houses, organised and laid on the Champagne board … I can feel a whole new set of Champagne pages coming on.
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It has been a demanding week – work has been full on, Diploma viticulture and vinification exam on Wednesday evening, Christmas hovering closer. So instead of lots of words, here is a list and a pictorial version of the ‘bring a bottle club’ for December. Normal service will be resumed shortly!
Don’t miss the picture of the best use yet of a spittoon.
Phillipe Michel, Crémant de Jura 2007 – sparkling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from an unusual source
L’intruso, Bianco Veronese IGT, Buglioni, 2010 – in effect out of zone Soave
Vasse Felix, Heytesbury Chardonnay Margaret River 2007 – cool climate Auz Chardonnay
Secateurs, A A Badenhorst, Swartland, 2010 – very good quality, great value for money Chenin Blanc from S Africa
Ch. Rayas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Reserve, 2002 – classy white wine from a famous red appellation, half Grenache blanc, half Clairette
Rioja Gran Reserva, Vina Real, Cune, 1999 – the richness of Gran Reserva
Valbuena 5º, Bodega Vega Sicilia, Ribera del Deuro Riserva, 1995 – fully mature example of the second wine of Spain’s most famous winery, tempranillo, merlot, cabernet sauvignon
Duckhorn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 1994 – positively venerable bottle from prime Napa producer
Campo Montecristo, IGT Toscana, Serraiolo 2009 – overly young Merlot from the Tuscan coast
The Baroness, Irvine, Australia, non vintage – multi-vintage (1998-2001) multi-zone Bordeaux blend red from Barossa and Eden Valleys
Corte Sant’Alda, Recioto del Valpolicella, 2002 – moderately sweet red wine from the Verona area
Dow’s Vintage Port 1983 – it must be Christmas if people are producing bottles like this, the Ch. Rayas and the Valbuena, indeed the whole series of reds!
Here in Hampshire the harvest has been going on over the last couple of weeks. Tim and Julie from Grape Expectations and I had a perfect day on Saturday at Danebury Vineyards helping to finish off their harvest. I went on my bike which was slightly eventful as when I got to the hill fort I discovered that the lane the Google map showed as taking me on directly to the estate is in fact a rough track and not suitable for a townie bike like my beautiful Brompton … I then chose the wrong option to go around the hill fort and added a few unnecessary miles to the journey!
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But it was all more than worth it. The sun shone, the grapes were on the whole in a good condition, the hospitality was excellent. We finished early and were treated to a wine tasting and great lunch with owner Ernst Piëch and his wife, and the estate manager Simon. For those of us who live nearby, it would be good to go as a group another year and do our bit – picking the grapes (easy) makes you feel that you have justified all your drinking of the resulting product!
People may be surprised that the 2011 harvest seems promising, given our miserable apology for a summer. But that is not the whole picture. We had an excellent, unseasonably warm spring and a warm, even hot, late summer/early autumn, both of which have helped grape growers. The key challenge in the main summer months was high humidity and therefore the danger of rot. Danebury appear to have dealt pretty well with this.
Danebury produces a number of white wines, with its sparking, bottle fermented Cossack, probably being the (wait for it) best of the bunch. Tim stocks the wines in his Andover shop and will have a special offer for the sparkling for this Christmas. We tasted:
Danebury Madeleine Angevine 2008 - From Austrian stock planted in 1997. Aromatic, moderately fruit nose and palate – hedge row, acacia – dry and light.
Danebury Schönberger 2007 – from an unusual year with warm days and nights and therefore low acidity. For this reason, the estate made no sparkling wine that year. Dry, floral, with some green leaf notes, greater complexity, quite a full flavour on the palate, good length. Very good with fish pie (we had an excellent one to prove this!) or with cream-based sauces.
Danebury Reserve 2010 On the whole Danebury only produces single varietal wines but are now experimenting with some blends. The first pressing of the Auxerrois goes into the sparkling wine, and now the second goes in with everything else (Madeleine, Schönberger, Ruländer) into this wine. Good nose with some spice and floral notes, green apples on the palate, moderate length, slightly unrefined finish. I am not sure about the use of the term ‘reserve’ for this wine but it is a perfectly drinkable table wine.
Danebury Cossack 2002 As the company’s website states:
‘Cossack sparkling wines are made from a blend of the Auxerrois Blanc (Auxerrois Blanc is a cross between Gouais blanc and Pinot noir, the same ancestry as Chardonnay) and Rulander grapes (A German synonym for Pinot Gris). It is made using the traditional bottle fermentation method and aged for at least 5 years on its lees.’
So we are talking about a wine made with a grape mix related to those which make Champagne, grown on similar chalky soils, and made exactly like a vintage Champagne – though of course we are rightly not allowed to call it that! This older bottle had rounded aromatics, ripe fruit and some attractive mushroom aromas due its five years on the lees and a nearly five of further ongoing development in the bottle. Drink now. A good example of the sort of complexity English sparkling wine can develop.
Veuve Clicquot launched their two 2004 vintages wines – white and rosé – with an interesting comparison. What is the effect of bottling these wines in a normal bottle size, a magnum and a jeroboam?
Apart from making a very pretty picture, the answer in a wine of this quality is that there is a marked difference. The smaller the bottle the more you notice the yeast and mushroom aromas of bottle ageing. By contrast, the large bottle preserves the fruit flavours. Either way, these are subtle, highly drinkable and pleasurable wines.
We do not normally associate vineyards with high technology. Vine growing is basically specialised agriculture and all the usual factors for farming apply: soil condition, fertility, drainage, seasons, rain fall, hard work. If you walk through a vineyard on a bright sunny day it is difficult not to be affected by romantic feelings combining perfect order and ‘natural’ growth – but usually this is usually completely false! Modern science and computers have had been applied to the vineyard just as to every other field of commerce. Those very straight lines that you see in the vineyard are perfect because a laser beam was used to guide the tractor. The soil in a new vineyard will have been tested scientifically for its nutrient composition and ‘corrected’ before a vine is planted.
Thirty years ago three village cooperatives in Gascony, nearer Toulouse than Biarritz, came together to form Plaimont, now a group committed to combining the factors unique to their locality and the best methods of contemporary viticulture. The group has grown to 42 villages and 1200 hectares in the Saint Mont AC. The locality gives them:
- an Atlantic influenced climate;
- rain in abundance in the first half of the season and then near drought to mature grapes perfectly;
- big day-night temperature difference to maintain freshness;
- three soil types – pebbles and clay, fawn colour soil, limestone and clay – resulting in subtlely different wines;
- some parcels of pre-phyloxera vines, even up to 200 years old with trunks a foot across;
- local grape varieties of real individuality and character – Tannat for powerful reds and Gros Manseng for robust, aromatic whites.
But on their own these factors would not of themselves produce quality contemporary wines. You could end up with super tough reds and eccentric whites. However, Plaimont are determined to make their mark with the best of up-to-date viticulture and marketing. One of their approaches has been to a comprehensive mapping of the territory and plotting of the soil composition, an enterprise their ancestors could not have dreamt of. Enter ARP, Automatic Resistivity Profiling, a wizard device that can be trailed by a tractor and which enables you to check the homogeneity of the soil two metres below the ground, without having to dig a single hole. This technology has been borrowed from archaeology and applied to viticulture. A low level of resistivity points to clay, a high reading to sand and pebbles. And you don’t stop there: a total of six parameters can be fed into a computerised model – angle of the slope, altitude, exposure, the extent to which the land is convex or concave, theoretical water accumulation, and the aforementioned soil homogeneity. From this model you can advise your growers which plots are worth persisting with, which varieties to grow in a variety of sites and where the potential for expansion lies – and more, importantly, where it doesn’t lie. Olivier Bourdet-Pees, not only sports the company’s mandatory beret, he is jolly impressed with the results of all this high tech plotting.
The wines certainly speak for themselves – it is difficult to imagine products less confected or less made to a predetermined consumer model. L’empreinte de Saint Mont, Grand Vin, AC Saint Mont comes in white and red, the white being 80% Gros Manseng, filled out with Petit Manseng and Arrufiac. The 2010 vintage has a powerful floral nose, with melon, herbaceous and grapefruit flavours on the palate, excellent acidity and body, and a salty finish. This is wine full of local character and assertiveness. My tasting note finished with the simple: ‘brilliant’. Its red sibling is an overgrown teenager – it just needs to be studiously employed somewhere else for five years and it will turn into a model and long-lived citizen. The 2008 vintage was made from 80% Tannat, 10% Pinenc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. It features dense but elegant red fruit, a pronounced minerality, robust acidity and fine if powerful tannins – as you should expect at this stage of its development.
Plaimont shows that there can be a real excitement in marrying serious science to robust local traditions.
When we think of Italian wine, we have established regions in mind – Valpolicella, Soave or Sicily if we are stood in front of a supermarket shelf, Barolo, Montalcino or Montepulciano, perhaps, if we are talking to a specialist wine merchant. In these contexts it is inevitably the regions which produce high volume at low cost or the really famous regions – Piedmont and Tuscany – which are going to be to the fore. But Italy is a country of 20 regions, all of which produce wine at various quality levels. For example, among the less well known, Emilia-Romagna produces huge amounts of acceptable table wine, while Friuli has a highly specialised top quality production, most of which is consumed in Italy.
It was a credit therefore that the Real Italian Wine Tasting in London in October 2011 focused on the less well known southern regions. You would have searched a long time for a bottle from Tuscany or Piedmont – because there weren’t any. But if you wanted to discover the wines of the south – Sardinia, Sicily, Puglia, Abruzzo, the Marches – this was the perfect tasting. The Sardinian authorities had clearly made a big contribution to this day as there lots of Sardinian tables, with the island’s great range of reds, whites and sweet wines well represented. For the other regions, it was a bit more hit and miss, but with still plenty to explore. In the somewhat incongruous setting of the Church of England’s General Synod chamber, this was a broad church indeed.
The tasting was the real Italy in another sense too – these were mainly the wines of the ordinary small if quality-minded producer. There are of course industrial scale wineries in Italy and there world-famous producers creating great wines. But both of these groups are hugely outnumbered by small, family owned wineries, people with 10-15 hectares, making a living by selling wine locally, regionally, and then sometimes in other Italian regions and of course for export. Apart from earning a living, these producers are in the business to enhance the name of their village and region: they believe passionately in the local but they want the world to know about it. It’s a great driver for improvement – and it makes it worth it to spend €1000+ on a day out in London to bring your name to an important foreign market.
And the wines? I will pick just a few. Marramiero was the single producer from Abruzzo, rather surprisingly given that this region is a great source of inexpensive, mainly red, wine. By contrast, this winery produces reds, whites and uniquely they tell me, the only source of bottle-fermented sparkling wine in Abruzzo. The classic white grape of the area is Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, thought not to be a relative of its dull Tuscan cousin but in fact Bombino Bianco, typical of the northerly part of adjoining and more southerly Puglia. The standard, unoaked version (Anima 2010) had a beautiful citrus and apple palate. But the star wine for me was Altare 2008, the oaked Trebbiano d’Abruzzo – a pretty deep gold in colour (see above), honeyed and herbal on the nose, then an attractive full palate, with a slightly bitter finish. A complex wine which pulled off the ‘fermented and aged in barrique’ trick with aplomb. What with Anima and Altare, this company will have felt at home in Church House!
In the toe of Italy the region of Calabria is more famous for its beaches and, sadly, its version of the Mafia, than for quality wine. Cirò is a name that Italian wine buffs may have heard of – looking across the Gulf of Taranto to Puglia – but that’s about it. On the opposite side of the region, facing Sicily, Statti have a large concern with a 100 hectares under vines and a mission to promote their local grape varieties. The most recent initiative is a top wine made from the Gaglioppo variety and launched last May under the name of Batasarro, 2998, IGT Calabria – but it seems that it is so new it has not made the company’s own website yet! The oak ageing here has been sensitively done, with 50% of the wine aged in traditional large barrels and 50% in second and third use barriques. The result is fine racy fruit in the raspberry to ripe plum range, subtle oak effects, with very good depth of flavour and length. If there were more wines of this calibre, we would hear much more about Italy’s most southerly mainland region. But that is the joy of real Italy – there is just so much to discover.
Through the generosity of friends on New Year’s Eve, we got to taste a rather grander Claret, Clos du Marquis. Those of us who live in North Hampshire will immediately feel positively disposed to this wine as its name graces the very good French restaurant in the former pub on the Stockbridge road which all the locals still know as the Leckford Hut. Despite being named after – and of course stocking – the famous Claret, the restaurant specialises in the gloriously rich food of the South West. But that’s another story.
Clos du Marquis is AC St Julien, so classic Left bank, Médoc. It is a slightly unusual wine in that it is often described as the second wine of Ch. Léoville-Las-Cases. However, it is not a second wine in the normal sense (ie made from younger vines or from fruit rejected for the grand vin). Rather, in a more Burgundian way, the fruit comes from its own vineyard. The 2000 which we drank more than showed that it can stand on its own feet: quite a dense nose of ripe fruit, strong hints of clove and toast and then a great seam of blackcurrant to plum fruit. Its quality showed in the still deep ruby colour with hints of orange at the end and in the youthfulness of the fruit. A few more years yet and it will settle down to a comfortable mid-life. In 2003 Robert Parker noted that the 2000 could compete with many of the classed growths in this very good year.
The blend is around 70%Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
All sorts of things motivate wine drinkers – quality, rarity, price and, let’s be straightforward about it, palatable alcohol. If you can combine at least three of these, you are on to a winner. I haven’t done a proper search on the best relationship of quality to price for the wines I have tasted or drunk in 2010, but I doubt there would be many contenders to challenge the wine featured in this post. In fact it’s interesting that this key relationship is far less prominent in the UK wine trade than in Italy. Decanter magazine tends to lead on quality or even rarity. Until very recently in its large tasting articles, in addition to featuring all the 5, 4 and sometimes 3 star wines, it had a little box for best value with one wine in it. For those of us on limited budgets that was a really helpful feature – particularly if the article was about pricey Bordeaux, Burgundy or Barolo. But I notice that in the new look magazine, launched for January 2011, they have dropped this! – even if they have retained the tiny little £-sign for good value wines. By contrast, a magazine such as Il mio vino takes il rapporto qualità-prezzo extremely seriously. If British supermarkets did as well on the quality-price ratio as as they do on discounting, we would have a much more interesting set of bottles to choose from on an everyday basis.
Of course that is why the consumer should visit an ‘independent’. We in the UK do have a problem of language and perception here. Consumers tend to associate the term ‘wine merchant’ with expensive bottles and snobbery; ‘wine shop’ doesn’t really exist in spoken English; and ‘off-licence’ means lager, cider, spirits and an awful selection of wines. Into the linguistic void come the independents.
So top marks to my local independent, Andover’s recently established Grape Expectations for providing real competition for even the best of supermarkets. Tim Pearce has had many years in the trade and knows his market perfectly – interesting wines of quality at an everyday price, with a decent range of more expensive bottles for special occasions or those with deeper pockets. Yesterday I bought a few Spanish bottles and one was outstanding at its price: a small drum roll for Castillo de Manzanares, Tempranillo, DO La Mancha, Reserva 2003.
This wine is typical of what is going on in Spain at the moment. Although Tempranillo is grown all over Spain, the famous and more expensive wines come from Rioja and Priorat or Ribera del Duero. By contrast this comes from the vast, inland, central plateau of La Mancha, more ‘famous’ for its brandy industry than its table wine. But, alongside the planting of international grape varieties around Spain, there is real value to be had in its own varieties planted in less famous areas. This wine is now in its best middle years (like, I hope, the author of this post). With its seven years of ageing it shows a mid garnet colour. The nose has a great combination of fruit, more dark cherry and plum than the expected strawberry (it was a very very hot year) and leather, smoke and even roses, from ageing in barriques. The palate is excellent too, with some additional strawberry notes. It’s a genuinely interesting, properly aged wine, only moderately persistent but … you get all this for £6.20. In terms of quality to price, have you bought a better bottle this year?
This weekend has given the chance to taste two bottles of Valpolicella Ripasso (you can add Classico Superiore if you wish). Most Valpolicella is made for quick and easy drinking and there is a huge jump up to Amarone, made from semi-dried grapes, and thus far weightier and hopefully more complex. In between is Ripasso. The clue is in the name – once you have made your Amarone, you ‘pass’ the basic wine over the spent skins of the Amarone with a view to enriching the basic wine. The idea is to produce a wine with some greater complexity, but definitely one for drinking and to go with food. Amarone by contrast is a ‘meditation wine’.
Both these wines are a nice, clear ruby red. Both come from the 2008 vintage. The Fabiano is £12.50 from Grape Expectations, Andover; the Waitrose/Recchia offering normally £10, currently on offer at £8. On the nose they offer red fruits from the Corvina grape and then some pleasurable hints of dried fruit and a little bit of tar or smoke from old oak. The palates vary.
The Fabiano is on the face of it the ‘better’ wine. It’s a bit more expensive and it is far, far richer. I enjoyed it but I couldn’t help wondering if it wasn’t Ripasso made for a market used to the big fruit flavours of the New World. That would be a surprising conclusion but one that may be right. By contrast, the Recchia (sold under the ‘Waitrose in partnership with’ label) just creeps in to the Ripasso category – that is, the notes of dried fruits and balsam are very subtle. I am not sure I would have spotted them if I had tasted it blind, but there is a lot more here than just new fruit.
At the end of the day it is of course a matter of style. The less substantial Recchia is just, well, more vinous. It doesn’t jump out of the glass at you but its quality is in its properly astringent finish – it refreshes the palate and is surprisingly long. It has that characteristic slight bitterness which is so prized in Italian cooking and its wines. By contrast the Fabiano is luscious, fruit driven and powerful. For my taste that doesn’t entirely go with the proper high level of acidity in the wine. Good but not typical.