Weird and Wonderful

  • Wednesday 20 June 2007

Look hard enough, even in the most unlikely of wine regions, and there’s a voyage of discovery waiting for you. We asked our contributors from around the world to let us in on their secret discoveries by nominating the most unusual wines worthy of a wider audience…

Look hard enough, even in the most unlikely of wine regions, and there’s a voyage of discovery waiting for you. We asked our contributors from around the world to let us in on their secret discoveries by nominating the most unusual wines worthy of a wider audience…

White

Berthet-Bondet, Château-Chalon 1998

The first time I tasted a vin jaune from the Château-Chalon appellation was in 1973, when I was poured 1935 Gustave Chambard in a smart French restaurant. Knockout! It was complex, with an array of nutty and dried fruit flavours, even sherry tones, with deep-seated but subtle richness. Berthet-Bondet makes 8–10,000 bottles a year from its precipitous 1980 Savagnin vineyard, and expects a wine of great finesse, such as the 1998, to live for 30 to 50 years. Foie gras, smoked fish, chicken in a cream and morille sauce, curries and local Comté cheese are all suitable matches. (JLL) £27.50; WSo

Cantina Valle Isarco, Sylvaner della Valle Isarco, Italy 2005

With Albariño and Gruner Veltliner now ubiquitous, maybe it’s time for Sylvaner to come under the spotlight. This one, from the prime white wine-producing area of the Alto Adige in northeast Italy, is green apple-crisp with a long, persistent finish that would stand up well to subtly spiced southeast Asian food. Up to 2008. (FB) £7.03; CPy

Cave du Vin Blanc e de la Salle, Blanc de Morgex e de la Salle, Rayon, Valle d’Aosta, Italy 2005

Blanc de Morgex is from Prié Blanc grapes grown in Europe’s highest vineyards, on the Alpine border between Italy and France. The highly organised, quality-oriented Cave du Vin Blanc cooperative has been instrumental in rescuing the wine from oblivion through technical support to growers and impeccable winemaking. Rayon is the top selection. Delicate and floral nose; crisp and bone dry on the palate. Drink the youngest vintage available. (RB) £9.45; CpC

Domaine de Bellivière, l’Homme, Calligramme, Jasnières, France 2004

By the 1960s the Chenin Blanc vineyards of Jasnières and the Coteaux du Loir had been all but abandoned, and Eric Nicolas typifies the eccentricity and determination needed to revitalise a historic wine. From very old vines, this spent 18 months in oak. Pale gold, it has rich, forward aromas of apples and pears and a lactic element, which is then superseded by intense minerality. Already showing complexity with excellent Chenin honey and floral expression, intense and broad on the palate, multi-layered and structured with a long finish, it will improve for well over a decade. (SS) £24; DeF

Domaine de la Source, Bellet blanc, France 2005

The tiny appellation of Bellet is perched on a hillside above Nice, and one of its smallest growers is Jacques Dalmasso at Domaine de la Source. He has a 0.5ha (hectare) vineyard, where he grows his Rolle vines – you may know the grape better as Vermentino. This broad, elegant wine carries the herbal connotations of Provence around the mid-palate, with some lime-citronelle fringes. A full year such as the 2005 is excellent with grilled fish, salade niçoise or as an apéritif. 3–4 years. (JLL) £16.25; Yap

Domaine Rotier, Renaissance, Gaillac Doux, France 2005

Ever heard of the grape variety Len de L’Elh, or, as it’s sometimes known, Loin de l’Oeil? It’s native to Gaillac in southwest France and this is a sweet, fully botrytised form (195g/l of sugar). It’s an opulent but beautifully balanced wine with sumptuous texture, notes of quince, marmalade and pineapple and a confit, citrussy finish. Up to 2015. (JL) £10.95 (50cl, 2004); VTr

Dominio del Plata, Crios de Susana Balbo, Mendoza, Argentina 2006

A standard-setting specimen of Torrontés, Argentina’s premier dry white. This floral, citric, spicy version incorporates the traits of young light Riesling, Albariño and Viognier. Its kaleidoscopic effects are most appreciated when the Torrontés, lightly chilled, is drunk young. (HGG) £5.99; Hed, Maj, Pip, TSW

Feudi di San Gregorio, Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Italy 2005

Campania, ancient Rome’s hilly vineyard, resurrects itself with offbeat wines such as this one, a silky, aromatic white, unique, not quite tasting or smelling like anything else – intriguing hints of herbs, resin, hazelnuts, pears. No malo, no oak, no problem: Enjoy now. Considerably. (BSP) £9.99; Wai

Giaconda, Aeolia Roussanne, Beechworth, Victoria, Australia 2005

Giaconda Chardonnay is rightly considered Australia’s greatest example of the classic grape, but I would argue that its remarkable Roussanne deserves equally breathless praise. A flawless exercise in restrained power, it is a tightly woven yet opulent feast of honeysuckle aromatics, deeply creamy texture and granite-firm minerality. 2–3 years. (MA) £47.95; You

Jean-Paul Brun, In Extremis, France NV

This eccentric Beaujolais producer makes a wine that is a kind of homage to Tokaji. He adds pressed late-picked grapes (presumably Chardonnay) to a new wine from the same grape to provoke a second fermentation. The result is copper-gold, with aromas of caramelised oranges, and a delicate sweetness backed by high acidity. Not really a dessert wine, but a good aperitif wine, since it finishes dry. Drink now. (SB) £12.50 (50cl); Sav

La Strada, Clayvin Vineyard Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand 2001

Better known for its perfumed Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough is also home to one of the New World’s best Chardonnays. Indeed, Swiss-owned Fromm Winery Chardonnays offer glimpses of Burgundy. Mid-gold in complexion, the aroma is a complex web of vanilla, aged apple cider, sandalwood, cinnamon and stones and minerals on a hot day. Nearly full bodied, the fruit is intense and long. (CPT)

£22.95 (2002/3); NZH

Luigi Bosca, Gala 3, Argentina 2006

If £14 sounds like a ridiculous sum to spend on an Argentinian white wine, don’t panic: this is really quite special. It’s a super-stylish blend of Viognier, Chardonnay and Riesling that makes one wonder why more producers don’t try this kind of thing. This wine just picked up the trophy for best white blend in the Wines of Argentina awards (see p6 of this month’s Argentina guide), so chances are it won’t remain undiscovered for much longer. Buy and drink now. (BB) £13.95; HBa

Peter Lehmann, Reserve Semillon, Barossa, Australia 2002

The Hunter Valley no longer has a mortgage on great Australian Semillon: this beat a lot of fancied Hunters for top gold medal in its class at the 2007 Sydney Royal Wine Show, which would have astounded a lot of Hunter people – but the chairman of the jury was a leading Hunter Semillon maker! From the Barossa and Eden Valleys, the wine does a good Hunter impersonation. (HH) £9.49; Por

Pierre Boniface, Apremont, Savoie,

France 2006

Beautifully fruity and light, this dry Alpine white from Savoie in eastern France provides warm-weather relief par excellence. Produced from the largely unknown Jacquère grape and bottled young, it is liquified joie de vivre. Drunk lightly chilled, it invites a second glass and, reasonably, a third. (HGG) £8.57; Evy

Roc d’Anglade Blanc, Vin de Pays du Gard, France 2005

This dry white combines weight, depth and texture with bristling acidity and herby, lime flavours. The producer is Rémy Pédréno, an admirer of Gérard Gauby of Roussillon, and his secrets to success here are Chenin Blanc – rare in the south of France – very low yields and vinification in barriques. Up to 2010. (JS) £15.27; ABt

Red

Alberto Longo, Le Cruste, Puglia Rosso, Italy 2004

Alberto Longo is a new estate in Puglia’s north – it’s not a region with a great reputation, but Longo is making impressive wines. Le Cruste is 100% Nero di Troia, oak aged. The wine is deep and silky with perfumed damson and blackcurant fruit, smoky oak, silky tannins and a long, fresh finish. Up to 2010. (JS) £14.75; L&S

Benanti, Etna Rosso Serra della Contessa, Sicily, Italy 2003

Etna Rosso has the strongest identity of all Sicilian DOCs, but it is only recently that new investments have begun to exploit the incredible resources of the densely planted old vines on the slopes of the volcano. Benanti was the first to believe in the area’s potential and this wine amply repays its efforts. Vigorous acidity, but also soft tannins and ripe fruit. Long, rich and highly complex. 2008–20. (RB) Approx £9.99; Rev

Bodegas Ribera de Pelazas, Vino de Calidad de Arribes VCPRD Abadengo, Spain 2003

A classic example of the new and unexpected wines coming from Spain these days. Made near Salamanca, this red is from the little-known Juan Garcia grape variety. It’s not for the faint-hearted, packing in plenty of charred herbs, yeasty, cinnamon flavours and a full, grippy palate with dense black fruit and fresh meat flavours. Up to 2008, preferably with a hearty meat broth. (PR) £7.69; Odd

 

Brown Brothers Tempranillo, Milawa, Australia 2004

They say that the test of a ‘noble’ variety is how well it does in foreign parts, and winemakers in Oz have been working overtime with Tempranillo, which does very well in these slightly cooler-climate vineyards. Fantastic value. Up to 2 years. (JR) £6.74–8.99; DWS, Evy, Pip

Bruñal, Ribera del Pelazas, Arribes,

Spain 2003

There are only 2ha of this vine (120 years old) in the world, in two small plots beside the Duero in Arribes. They were allowed to go wild as yields were so pitiful but Urugayan winemaker Julio Gallo Favout rescued them and made his first vintage in 2002. The result has stunning power and ripeness. Up to 10 years. (JR) £61; F&R

Chandredi Vineyard, Orovela, Georgia 2004

The 40ha Chandredi Vineyard, planted at 520m altitude in Georgia’s Kakheti region, was bought by London-based Giorgi Sulkhanishvili in 2001. Orovela is Georgia’s first super-premium red wine. Plummy, deep velvet ruby, rich and lush small blackberry fruit, ripe on the palate with Saperavi’s firmness kicking in to provide length and balance. This is both smoothly sophisticated and robustly full bodied and perfect for the table at only 12.5%. (SS) £11.25; CPy

 

Colpetrone Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG, Italy 2003

Found only in a small patch of Umbria, this swaggering, dark wild card in the world’s wine deck is a bit of an outlaw, but with rakish charm. Burly tannins overlay considerable blackberry-jam fruit; pleasantly bitter, persistent, savoury finish. 2008–13. (BSP) £24.99–26.99; ICS, See

Domaine Berthoumieu, Tanatis,

Madiran, France

The inventive Didier Barré has fortified late-picked, part-fermented Tannat to create a port-style Madiran. It’s astonishingly successful and an instant dessert wine classic – dense, midnight-black wine with creamy-sweet fruits freshened by a fine tannic undertow. The port giants should check it out… (AJ) £6.99; CPy

Domaine de Rimauresq, Cru Classé, Côtes de Provence, France 2003

Those seeking novel red wine flavours could do no better than acquire a bottle of this dark, sweet, sun-baked Provençal red. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache, to me it has a similar exotic quality to Chateau Musar. Perfect with grilled lamb with rosemary or with a lamb tagine. Up to 2009. (FB) £9.99; Bcn

Domaine la Colombette,

Cabernet Franc, Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Libron, France 2005

Domaine la Colombette is making excellent wines from so-called international varieties (as well as the odd Lledoner Pelut). This Cabernet Franc brings together the best of what might be termed the Atlantic and Mediterranean faces of French red wine – it’s fresh and savoury yet also ripe, round and rustic. Aromas of leather, red fruit and fennel flow into a food-friendly palate with hints of tobacco and clove. Up to 2008. (PR) £8.85; LSF

 

Domaine Pierre Cros, Pierre Henri, Vin de Table, France 2004

Pierre Cros is better known for his Minervois but also produces this extraordinary Pinot Noir. Naturally low yields (15–20hl/ha) due to poor, stony soils gives the wine unusual concentration. Cherry notes might help identify the variety but there’s also a hint of crème de cassis and liquorice as well. Good acidity helps balance what is a powerful wine. Up to 2010. (JL) £18.90; HoP

Fatascià, Aliré, Sicily, Italy 2002

Nero d’Avola is Sicily’s great red grape, and Syrah the new international crowd-pleaser. Fatascià, a label devoted to innovation, has blended them with remarkable success. It has been oaked in new barriques, but isn’t excessively oaky. It’s super-ripe and opulent but not jammy or fatiguing, and there’s enough spice and lift to keep the wine fresh and long. Up to 2010. (SB) £9.95; L&S

Hans, Montepulciano, Secret of Marlborough, New Zealand 2004

Herzog in New Zealand but Hans in the UK, this Swiss-owned, boutique winery makes a series of fine, handcrafted wines based on biodynamic principles from stony vineyards next to the Wairau River. Planted in 1996 and first made in 1998, the Montepulciano has an aromatic Italianate nose, while the opulent richness of fruit is rounded by subtle oak and cut by cleansing fresh, damsony acidity, creating a powerful food wine. Up to 2012. (AR) £22.34–24; Evy, GpJ, You

Heartland, Dolcetto-Lagrein, South Australia 2005

It was hard to imagine what was going through star winemaker Ben Glaetzer’s South Australian head when he decided to blend a variety from Piedmont with one from Trentino and age the result in French oak. But it works, delivering a lush plump wine that would be like a warm bath were it not for the spicy finish. Drink now. (SB) £8.95; GWW

Jean-René Germanier, Cayas, Syrah du Valais, Switzerland 2002

The most interesting, and delicious, Swiss wine I’ve come across – well known in Switzerland but virtually invisible elsewhere, it is fine and lean, ripe but not heavy, crisp but not green. Balanced, elegant and appealingly austere – perfect food wine. Up to 6 years. (BB) £25; R&B

LA Cetto, Nebbiolo, Private Reserve, Guadalupe Valley, Mexico 2002

The elder brother of what I reckon is at present the best £4.99 wine in British retail, Cetto’s 2002 Petite Syrah. Don’t think Piedmont; instead this mariachi Nebbiolo is like a wonderfully OTT Pomerol or Châteauneuf: low acid, voluptuous and fat, with sweet pulpy-ripe plum fruit and ample, brilliantly cossetted tannins. I’d love to see the Mexicans have a go at Mourvèdre. (AJ) £8.95; Bin, Tan

Peter Lehmann, Mentor, Barossa Valley, Australia 2002

Known more for its prowess with Shiraz, the Barossa can also stun with Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is very cassis. There’s also green peppers and a hint of mint. The blend is 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 10% Shiraz and 8% Malbec. It confirms how great the 2002 vintage, perhaps the coolest on record, has been. (CPT) £15.99 (1999); Che

Pondalowie Vineyards, MT Tempranillo, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia 2005

This gorgeous, generous, warm-hearted red is arguably the truest varietal Australian expression yet of the great Spanish red grape: plush, blackcherry richness floods the mouth, lifted by an alluring, spiced fruit cake complexity. Delicious now – but also worth cellaring for a couple of years. (MA)

A lovely fruity, unwooded, early-drinking Tempranillo from an exciting young winery. Not only is it a lovely drink in its youth, it displays Tempranillo fruit unadorned, in all its glory. (HH)£12.50; Tes

 

Steenberg, Nebbiolo, Constantia 2004

Nebbiolo and the Cape may seem unlikely bedfellows but a strong Atlantic influence in Constantia makes it one of the coolest regions in South Africa’s winelands. Barolo it ain’t, but Steenberg’s unique example of the Piedmontese variety hints at spice, sweet plum and strawberry fruit with tannin and acidity nowhere close to Barolo levels. Very much a food wine, especially with vitello tonnato or tagliatelle. Up to 4 years. (AR) £11.67; Arm

As recommended by:

AJ Andrew Jefford; AR Anthony Rose; BB Beverly Blanning; BSP Brian St Pierre; CPT Ch’ng Poh Tiong; FB Fiona Beckett; HG Howard G Goldberg; HH Huon Hooke; JL James Lawther MW; JLL John Livingstone-Learmonth; JR John Radford; JS Joanna Simon; MA Max Allen; PR Peter Richards; RB Richard Baudains; SB Stephen Brook; SS Steven Spurrier

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