The Furmint story beyond Aszú
My second visit to Tokaj was during the Aszú harvest season. The rare chance to walk through the volcanic vineyards, cherry-picking those sticky, shrivelled berries coated with furry, brown botrytis was fascinating.
The eye-opening trip also introduced me to the region’s wide range of styles beyond Aszú. Besides the zingy, rarely leesy traditional-method sparklers such as Barta, Furmint Pezsgő 2017 (bartapince.com), the dry Furmints, such as Balassa Bor, Betsek 2019 (balassabor.hu), are gaining popularity with their bouquets of yellow fruits, textured palate and mineral acidity. The drier version of Szamorodni (made using whole bunches that carry both healthy and botrytised berries) is another hidden gem that deserves more attention. Samuel Tinon, Dry Szamorodni 2003 (samueltinon.com) was mind-blowing; aged under flor, doughy on the nose, with layers of citrus and honeyed flavours, and a long, nutty finish. But the true legendary wines of Tokaj still lie in Aszú, which was further demonstrated by a regional vertical tasting going back to the 1950s.
The Patricius, Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2008 (£39.99/50cl Museum Wines) and Disznókő, Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2002 (Berry Bros & Rudd) were living examples of the incredible complexity these golden nectars can develop as they age, while maintaining the delicate balance intrinsic to Furmint.
New York takes the stage
New York has been producing wine since the 17th century, when other major wine regions in the US were literal unknowns to European settlers. The success of California, Oregon and Washington’s viticulture has sometimes left New York out of the conversation it very much belongs in. A recent comparative tasting hosted by the New York Wine & Grape Foundation made that much abundantly clear. New York’s wines can and do go toe to toe with the country’s other major regions. Each of the wines was impressive, but none made as good an impression as Macari Vineyards’ Bergen Road. This is a profoundly pretty red wine.
The 2020 vintage is the most recent release, as the wine is only made in what the Macaris deem premium years. The blend is nearly equal parts Merlot (48%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (47%) with Malbec (5%) – these come together to approach perfection. Aromas are elegant and bright, with fresh flavours of early-season blackberry, savoury white pepper, and pleasing red plums.
Brits Charles and Ruth Simpson have been producing wine at Domaine Sainte Rose, in the Languedoc, for 20 years. Attracted by a dynamic winemaking scene and the exciting, New World style wines, they settled at Domaine Sainte Rose in Hérault. Ten years later they started to produce three traditional-method sparkling wines there, and at the same time bought three vineyard sites in Kent to produce English sparkling wine, at Simpsons Wine Estate.
In the French Simpsons of Servian, Blanc de Blancs 2020 (£15.99 Naked Wines) and Pinot Noir Rosé 2020 (£16.99 Naked Wines), you can taste the sunshine of the Languedoc – these are fun and fruity, ripe and juicy crowd-pleasing wines, with a touch of autolysis. The White Cliffs, Blanc de Blancs 2018 and Flint Fields, Blanc de Noirs 2018 (both £44 The Finest Bubble), are made in a reductive style and have aged for far longer on lees, disgorged with 6g/L dosage. Delicious expressions of the fantastic 2018 vintage, these show complexity and structure. The Simpsons are excited about the 2022 vintage, too, predicting stunning wines from a warm and dry year, with half the usual rainfall.
Desert wines from Chile
The team at Viña Ventisquero must enjoy a challenge: there aren’t many wineries that decide to plant a vineyard in an actual desert. Winemaker Alejandro Galaz is at the helm of this unusual project, from vineyards planted in 2008, in Chile’s northern Atacama desert.
A retrospective tasting of Tara Atacama included the inaugural Pinot Noir 2012 and Chardonnay 2012, still showing lively acidity and freshness, alongside evolved toasty, nutty notes. The project began when a viticulturist noticed that olive trees were flourishing in the area – and where olives grow, vines can also grow. In fact, the soils in the Atacama are limestone: a rarity in Chile.
Millions of years ago the entire region was under the Pacific ocean, so its soils retain a high degree of salinity, which was a particular issue and caused initial plantings to fail. Today that problem has been solved with individual sprinkler irrigation for each of the vines in the 13ha site, but there is still a signature lip-smacking saltiness to the Tara wines, including the newest arrival: Tara, Sauvignon Blanc 2021. This is focused and intense, with bright citrus and tropical fruit underpinned by chalky, salty minerality. Alongside the Tara, Pinot Noir 2020, a blend of fresh cherry and raspberry fruit with more savoury herbal notes, these are wines that vividly display a unique sense of place.
Sicily’s Mo Farah
‘I am one of the few who doesn’t make single-contrada wine,’ said Federico Graziani, former AIS best Italian sommelier (1998) and proprietor of Etna estate Fedegraziani, whose first vintage was 2010. ‘I’m not Sicilian but I fell in love with this terroir.’ At a tasting of his small range of wines organised by UK importers Oeno in October, he explained that ‘I like the idea of wine with good, nervy acidity’, adding that he harvests slightly before full phenolic maturity in order to create his distinctly elegant style, and works solely with Sicily’s distinct alberello (bush vines). ‘You don’t have a wall of leaves, we can demand just 1kg-1.5kg per plant… this is very important for balance and harmony.’
The Profumo di Vulcano 2019 (£72 Tannico) is from two centenarian plots at 600m in Passopisciaro, vinified separately since 2018 in steel before blending and oak ageing for a minimum of 24 months in tonneaux. A blend of Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Alicante and Francisi, it features delicate balsamic red and black cherry and underbrush scents and flavours with a stony mid-palate, very fine and silky tannins and a juicy finish. ‘I produce my wines as a marathon runner, not a sprinter: all bones; skinny,’ concluded Federico.