Monday 30 November 2009

Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine

We always read Jancis Robinson in the Financial Times of a Saturday and have her original book on Vines and Grapes as well as her Oxford Companion to Wine. We can't afford to subscribe to her website but frequently look at her free for all pages which are pretty generous.

The main point about Jancis is her unbelievable work ethic and capacity to taste and write informatively and succinctly about thousands of wines which she herself has tasted, considered, evaluated and fairly judged without exhibiting any discernable prejudices or blind spots that we can make out. She is also able to encompass everything from the most rarified and elite of the wine world (and here we are dealing with an almost unimaginable degree of elitism) as well as the punter in need of a bottle on his or her way home from work or faced with a wall of wine at the supermarket.

Just as an excercise, Slotovino thought we would try to match Jancis Robinson's recommendation of 30 white wines for Christmas in last Saturday's FT from all the whites we had encountered since this blog began in June 2008. In fact on her website, Jancis's recommendations for Christmas Whites this year are 75 in number taken from almost 10,000 tasted in the last year alone.

Slotovino only just made it to match the reduced number in the print version! Here are our 30 best white finds from that 17 month period in no particular order with an extra one for luck. We would have been hard pressed to find a 32nd, but you may be sure Jancis would have been able to repeat the trick any number of times. There is only one department in which we exceeded the Robinson count and that was grape varieties (Jancis's top 30 fielded about half of Slotovino's) but then she is not primarily devoted to pleading for diversity:

1. Blanco joven Doradilla & Moscatel, Sierras de Malaga, Spain

2. Torrontes Etchart, Argentina

3. Don Pascual Sauvignon Blanc/Sauvignon Gris, Uruguay

4. Mouras de Arraiolas Reserva Branco, 2008 (Antao Vaz), Posrtugal

5. Quinta dos Roques Encruzado, Dao, Portugal

6. Cotes du Luberon Bastide Claux Cuvee Barrabau 2007, France

7. Quintas de Melgaco ‘QM’ Alvarinho (Vinho Verde) 2008. Portugal.

8. CARM Branco Reserva 2007 (Verdelho, Siria, Rabigo & others) Douro, Portugal

9. Follies Loueiro/Trajadura, Portugal

10. Chardonnay Pierre Overnoy, Arbois Pupillin, Jura, France

11. Schatz Chardonnay, Tierras de Malaga (Ronda), Spain

12. Pinot Bianco, Manzocco, Collio, Italy

13. Russiz Superiore Pino Grigio, Collio, Italy

14. Livon Fiulano, Collio, Italy

15. Picech Friulano, Collio, Italy,

16. Berlioz Chignin, Savoie, France

17. Brin de Chevre, Menu Pineau, Touraine, France

18. Tocai Gredic, Brda, Slovenia

19. Tornai Furmint, Somlo, Hungary

20. Tornai Keknyelu & Olaszrizling, Somlo, Hungary.

21. Vilana Peza Olimpias, Creta, Greece

22. Cusumano Insolia, Sicilia, Italy

23. Lieb Pinot Blanc, new York State, USA

24. Bovard Epesses, Terre a boire, Fendant, Valais, Switzerland

25. Schloss Proschwitz Goldriesling, Meissen, Germany

26. Gran Sasso Pecorino, Tere di Chieti, Italy.

27. Caves Labastide de Levis, Loin de l’oieul & Mauzac, Gaillac, France.

28. Torbato Stella e Mosca, Sardegna, Italy

29. Pongratz Welschriesling, Austria

30. Clos des Rochers Auxerrois, Luxembourg

31. Tyrrells Old Winery Semillon, Hunter Valley, Australia

Sunday 22 November 2009

Spain, again

To Sevilla for an opera at the Teatro Maestranza. Nearby we found what was described as one of the city´s best Bodegas, "La carte des vins".

La carte des vins

There a very well informed young woman, Hanael Maciá soon cottoned on to what we were looking for and came up with the first of the winners we found on this trip: Dominio do Bibei ´Lalama´2005 Ribeira Sacra (13%).
We nearly passed up on this on the grounds that it was a Mencia, Brancellao Garnacha blend but the lure of trying to get an idea of the intriguing Brancellao even in a cuvee got the better of us. We were glad it did. Whatever contributions each variety made the result was outstanding. The bottle cost €15.95 + 16% VAT.

Ribeira Sacra is in Galicia, North West (Green) Spain near the Portuguese border and has the river Miño running through it. It shares some of the interesting characteristics of the Portuguese Minho including unique local grape varieties.

Ms. Maciá´s other suggestion was an Albillo from Castilla y Leon, ´Valdebonita´2007. This was half the price and the Albillo struck us as perfectly pleasant without suggesting itself as a major find.

La carte des Vins,
Garcia Vinuesa 25,
4001 Sevilla,
Tel, 952 210 398

The next day we drove to Malaga and happened on the Museo del Vino which is actually an institution which promotes only the wines of Malaga but none the less welcome for that since as we have seen it is difficult enough to find these wines even in the area where they are produced.

Museo del Vino, Malaga

Pedro steered us towards two fascinating inexpensive wines, both great discoveries: ´ál Lagar de Cabrera,Sierras de Malaga (12,9%) made from a red grape previously completely off our radar - Tinto Romé.
This turned out to be a delicious, light food wine perfect with pasta. It was perhaps reminiscient of a Corvina. Definitely worth seeking out and very reasonably priced at €5.30 inclusive of tax.

The white was a Blanco Joven Doradilla and Moscatel blend by Montespejo at an even cheaper price, €4.00.
at 11.5% this was a find which ticked all the boxes. Doradilla is a variety not found anywhere else than in Tierras Malaga. Great.

Museo del Vino,
29008 Malaga,
Tel, 952 288 499

Pedro recommended an Enoteca just 200m along the road as one of Malaga´s best wine shops selling wines from all over Spain: Cropani.

It was closed and we didn´t manage to return on this trip but will definitely check it out next time. Through the windows it looked clean, modern and cool.

Vinoteca & Enoteca Cropani
(Antonio Pacheco Cropani)
Palacio de Cropani,
Calle Alamos 7,
29012 Malaga

Having taken John Radford´s book ´The New Spain´with us we took a look at some unfamiliar wine styles and grapes including Rueda/Verdejo - a wine everyone else seems to know but not us,
having previuosly sampled only uninspiring supermarket examples of Verdejo from Australia Radford describes Verdejo as "a grape waiting for technology to catch up with it" and recounts how the Marques de Riscal and his advisors discovered how to prevent its oxygenation during fermentation. We sampled for the first time the Marques de Riscal Rueda/Verdejo (the 2009 as it happens) and found it pleasant but no more overwhelming than a cleanly made Sauvignon Blanc and rather less exciting than Albariño or even the Doradilla/Moscatel we had discovered in Malaga.

We spent the rest of the time trying to find any of the following indigenous varieties mentioned in Radford but soon discovered from several sources that wine from such varieties is usually not seen outside their areas and in our experience, perhaps frequently not even there. This is a great pity although not all or even a majority will be worth the effort. We found a 100% Zalema from the Contado de Huelva (Cadiz) called Castillo de la Andrade (2007). This provided an instant recall of a vin ordinaire c. 1960 sold in demijohns. This style of wine is called ´Afrutado´ but oxygenation was more in evidence than fruit.
At Casa Pablo's in Marbella we presented these lists to the presiding genius and he produced one of those sad expressions to which we have become so accustomed, producing the memorable exclamation "in Spain, Tempranillo is king". Casa Pablo

Casa Pablo,
Calle Ramón Gómez De La Serna 2
29602 Marbella, Spain
+34 952 77 00 24

So much so it is also known as Aldepenas, Aragones, Aragonez Da Ferra, Aragonez de Elvas, Arganda, Arinto Tinto, Cencibel (Castile La Mancha, Madrid, Aragón, Extremadura, Murcia), Cencibera, Chinchillana (Extremadura), Chinchillano, Chinchilyano, Cupani, Escobera (Extremadura), Grenache de Logrono, Jacibiera (Castile La Mancha), Jacivera, Juan Garcia, Negra de Mesa, Ojo de Liebre, Olho de Lebre, Sensibel, Tempranilla, Tempranillo de la Rioja, Tempranillo de Perralta, Tempranillo de Rioja, Tempranillo de Rioza, Tinta Aragones, Tinta de Santiago, Tinta de Toro, Tinta Do Inacio, Tinta Monteira, Tinta Monteiro, Tinta Roriz Da Penajola, Tinta Santiago, Tinto Aragon, Tinto Aragonez, Tinto de la Ribera, Tinto de Madrid (Toledo, Cantabria, Salamanca, Soria, Valladolid, Madrid), Tinto del País (Castile/Leon, Rioja), Tinto de Rioja, Tinto de Toro (Zamora), Tinto del Toro, Tinto Fino (Castile/Leon, Madrid, Valencia, Extremadura, Rioja), Tinto Madrid, Tinto Pais, Tinto Ribiera, Tinto Riojano, Ull de Llebre (Catalan for "Eye of the Hare"), Valdepeñas, Verdiell (Catalonia) and Vid de Aranda (Burgos). And that's just in Spain.

Here's that list of local grapes according to Radford:


Albarin Blanco
Cayetana (= Jaen Blanco)
Garrido Fino
Jaen Blanco
Maturana Blanca
Mollar los Palacios
Planta Nova
Tempranillo Blanco


Albarin Negro
Cabernet Montcabrer
Carrasquin Tinto
Coma dén Pou
Juan Garcia
Juan Ibañez
Listan Negro
Maturana Parda
Maturana Tinta
Miguel de Arco
Monastel de Rioja (no relation to Monastrell or Moristel)
Prieto Picudo
Verdejo/Berdejo Tinto

We also found an excellent site which gives an even more comprehensive list.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

A guest writes

It can be gruelling to be constantly bombarded with propaganda about the wonders of new world wines which so often suffer from that cloying ‘oaked’ taste. What a pleasure then, during a recent lunch at Tate Britain, to be confronted by the soft and perfectly balanced tones of a half bottle of claret – one of a few incomparable treats our world has to offer.

The first in an occasional series. prizes for the first reader to guess the identity of the guest (conditions apply).

Monday 2 November 2009

Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil

Our debut in South America! Due to a characteristic Slotovino cock-up we failed to set foot in Chile this time but will remedy the omission hopefully next May.

From Buenos Aires, Colonia and the Montevideo airport duty free in Uruguay and Rio de Janeiro plus a side-trip to Sao Paolo in Brazil we dipped into this vast continent’s wine scene. According to Christopher Fielden’s ‘The Wines of Argentina, Chile and Latin America’ we need also to case Bolivia, Cuba, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Venuzuela. Nothing if not intrepid in our search for diversity, we might visit these countries too one day.


Varietal choice was more drastically limited here even than in the USA with not only Malbec but Malbec from Mendoza dominating the Argentinian lists. Of course this reflects the overwhelming position of Mendoza as Argentina’s biggest wine-producing area but can it be that consumers want to spend their entire lives comparing different wines from the same grape in one single area, however large?

In ‘Decanter’s’ supplement on Argentina 2009, admittedly a ‘Sponsored Guide’, our hopes had been raised by mention of other areas such as Salta and Patagonia with attempts to differentiate parts of Mendoza such as the Uco, Pedernel and Famatina valleys, talk of lighter unoaked Malbecs, and mention of Bonarda, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Merlot and Torrontes and even Friulano as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in the whites the reality was overwhelmingly the familiar powerful style of Malbec from Mendoza.

It was therefore interesting to read in the 2003 edition of Fielden that ‘Argentina is richly endowed with possibilities, but seems to have chosen the Malbec for red wines…’ What seemed in 2003 is in 2009 almost a hegemony.

So putting this aside we tried to seek out what else might be on offer. Bonarda was an interesting possibility especially on learning from Fielden that (at least in 2003) ‘this is the most widely planted quality grape variety in Argentina.’ He goes on to say that ‘there is surprisingly little information about it. One of the reasons for this is that many of the vines are very old and there is some confusion as to what they really are. There is no doubt that there has been some inter-mingling with the Barbera, which gives a higher class of wine.’ We read elsewhere that Bonarda in Argentina is not the Bonarda Oltrepo Pavese which is actually Croatina, nor even the Bonarda Piemontese or even Novarese but Corbeau, aka Douce Noire, a southern French variety or even Charbono. Curiouser and curiouser, but all the more interesting for that. Bonarda now only the second most planted quality variety in Argentina after, you have guessed it, Malbec. It was always more frequently found in blends but now it is almost impossible to find a 100% Bonarda in Argentina and wine merchants wear a pained expression when asked for it. We found only one example by Nieto Senetiner from Mendoza and had to pay dearly for it.

We tried Cabernet Franc and Merlot in restaurants but were not impressed with the examples we got.

We then attempted to find examples of the most widely planted (presumably ‘non-quality’ grapes of all; Criolla Grande, Criolla Chica and Cereza but no one admitted ever having heard of them.

Of the other varieties mentioned by Fielden; Barbera, Nebbiolo, (‘historically planted together with the Malbec and…often sold as such’), Tintorero Italinano (Grenache), Verdot (sic), Cinsaut and Lambrusco (actually Refosco), hardly a trace. A Gamay was advertised one one restaurant’s list but was out of stock.

Only about 1/3rd of Argentinian wine is classed as ‘fine wine’. Perhaps these varieties find their way into the cheap vin ordinaire we found in supermarkets and the bulk wine Argentina seems to sell in great quantity to Japan and other markets. On the subject of this vin ordinaire, we tasted a bottle of Bianchi’s ‘Nuestro Margaux’ which we bought for under 10 Pesos (£1.50).

It was not as bad as one might have thought: almost drinkable, but with an unusual taste. Maybe this was the fabled Criolla which is thought to have been the original wine brought over by the missionaries. Known as Pais in Chile, there is an example on sale from Artisan & Vine in London, Huasa, Clos Ouvert, Maule. At £23,
presumably not ordinaire. There were other doubtful wines on the lower shelves of supermarkets including another offering from Bianchi, this time a ‘Borgogna’ and a wine proudly stating that it had been made from 12 different grapes.

In the white wines the story was similar but Argentina’s speciality Torrontes (probably a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and our old friend Criolla and nothing to do with the Torrontes of Galicia, Spain) was not at all ubiquitous and in fact we can claim our first discovery with the examples grown in Salta in the world’s highest vineyards. These were nothing whatsoever like the cheap and not very cheerful examples of Torrontes to be found on British supermarket shelves. The Torrontes of Etchart who pioneered the variety in Cafayate, Salta was a complete and delicious surprise.
The wine is complex and bursting with flavour. We bought a 2008 Torrontes called San Pedro de Yacochuya from the Valles Calchaquies, Cafayate (13.5%), reported to be the world’s very highest vineyard bar none.
We found this at a shop called ‘Grand Cru’ on the Avenida Alvear in Buenos Aires. It was rather refined - a huge contrast with the glass of Torrontes Cinco Tierras we drank at the Hotel Faena one evening.This was positively funky, but very interesting for all that.

At Buenos Aires’ Jorge Newbery airport we found a $10 bottle of Petit Verdot by Trumpeter (a range produced by Rutini) which is reported to have been drunk with pleasure by its recipient in London.
However, practically none of the other varieties said to be planted (excepting Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc of course) were to be found in purezza: Pedro Gimenez (which is not Pedro Jimenez), Ugni Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, Pinot Gris Gewutztraminer although there does exist a Friulano which was not in stock at the Enoteca next to our hotel in the Avenida Saenz Pena, Buenos Aires or at ‘The Winery’ in the same street.

We chose one Malbec out of the many we sampled: Don David (13.9%) from Salta.

Not an expensive wine, it exuded class and finesse unlike so many other Malbecs. It comes from Cafayate, Salta – need one say more?


Our experience of Uruguay was much more limited but paradoxically more encouraging. We spent a day over the Rio de la Plata in the old Portuguese town of Colonia where we discovered a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc/Sauvignon Gris blend by Don Pascual,
the everyday wine range from Establacimento Juanico S.A. At Carrasco airport (Montevideo) there was a promotion for Uruguayan wines with several on tasting, supervised by a knowledgeable young woman. We tried a Tannat
and a blend called Monte Vide Eu both by Bodegas Bouza. The 100% Tannat (14.5%) was quite a revelation; infinitely better than any Uruguayan wine we had found in any UK supermarket and praised by Jancis Robinson. The blend (Tannat, Merlot and Tempranillo) was good but less interesting.
We bought a bottle of Tannat by Bodega Ariano which was slightly lower in alcohol.

From this preliminary skirmish with Uruguayan wines, we had the impression of a much more varied and interesting scene than that of Argentina or Brazil especially considering the size of the country (only half as big again as the UK) and population (3m). Their signature grape, Tannat appears to be capable of almost as great things as Malbec in Argentina and there is an interesting list of varieties grown including Folle Noire now named Vidiella in honour of Francisco Vidiella, one of the founders of the Uruguayan wine industry, who brought this excellent variety (used in Bellet, the wine of Nice) together with Gamay Blanc in the 1880s. Marsalan, Nebbiolo and Marsanne are also planted as well as all the usual suspects.

A footnote: on our Pluna flight to Rio de Janeiro, we bought a half bottle (yes, 375cl complete with a proper cork) of Uruguayan Merlot ($5) – better than the Argentinian Merlot we had had in a B.A. restaurant and possibly the best red wine we had ever been served in economy class.
It is made by Viñedos y Bodegas Filgueira and goes under the brand name Casa Filgueira.


If Argentina is rather self-obsessed about its wines, Brazil is somewhat apologetic with Uruguay somewhere in the middle. It was really difficult to find ‘Nacionale’ wines in restaurants, supermarkets or wine merchants. We had arrived with the intention of finding more Ancelotta wines (see our Blog of 1,12,08) but came away with only the same bottle as we had been sent nearly a year ago. Don Laurindo is fine but we would have liked to have found ones by Caves Marson, Identitade, Casa Valduga, Casa Perini, Dal Pizzol. Vinicola Milantino and Laurentis.

One can see that Ancelotta is a Brazilian speciality now that it is all but impossible to find in its native Italy. Perhaps Brazil should have this variety as its calling card like Malbec in Argentina or Tannat in Uruguay? Goodness knows there is nothing else which merits this function. We found an excellent bottle of Touriga Nacional by Dal Pizzol;
much better than the Virginian Touriga Nacional we found in Washington DC (qv) but the rest was only so-so.

According to an interesting site,, Brazil grows a very diverse range of grapes. We thought it of interest to name them here given our comments on the less than riveting choice of Brazilian wines. NB. Ancelotta (aka Ancelotti) is not even mentioned in Fielden:


Malvasia Bianca
Malvasia di Candia
Malvasia Prosecco
Moscato Giallo
Muscat Canelli
Riesling Italico
Sauvignon Blanc
Seyve Villard Blanc


Alicante Bouschet
Bordo (aka York-Madeira)
Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Sauvignon
Petit Verdot
Pinot Noir
Seyve Villard noir
Tempranillo (aka Tinta Roriz)
Touriga Nacional

PS. Nowhere in our travels in S. America did we see a screw cap!

Sunday 1 November 2009

On the trail of the lonesome Virginia Nebbiolo

We can’t trace the idea that Nebbiolo thrives in Virginia and was likely to become the state’s signature wine but we read it somewhere. So on a trip to Washington DC we expected to pick up several examples and taste a range of others. Unfortunately we were thwarted – completely.

In fact it seems the only producer even growing the grape, Barboursville Vineyards, no longer produces it as a varietal but is for the moment at least, only using it in blends. Quite a disappointment.

So what is left in Virginia? Quite a lot actually. The state was the first to see an attempt at the cultivation of noble varieties when Thomas Jefferson in the 1770s sponsored an Italian Phillip Mazzei to produce wine at Monticello which, for our story is co-incidentally sited in the region of Piedmont. This failed as everyone knows but a wine industry has since sprung up in Virginia and some outstanding wineries have emerged. The signature grape might be Viognier rather than Nebbiolo and again, by coincidence, it transpires that Viognier and Nebbiolo are ampelographically cousins. On a recent visit to Barboursville vineyards Michael Broadbent found their 2004 Viognier Reserve to have the “quality and flavour to match - even exceed – Rhone’s finest Condrieu.”

Not having the time to go to any cellar doors in Virginia, we had to make do with DC’s wine shops and merchants. Here we found a distinct lack of enthusiasm for Virginia wines. Where they were to be found they were often on a small shelf together with a couple of New York State wines. Restaurant wine lists were even less inclined to offer the local wine. Wine buying opportunities in Washington are not anything exceptional. There are a few shops, each good in their separate ways. They included

Best Cellars
Calvert Woodley
Schneider’s of Capitol Hill

From these and others we assembled the following to take away;

Barboursville Virginia Barbera Reserve 2004 (13%)

Barboursville Virginia Cabernet Franc Reserve 2006 (13.5%)

White Hall Vineyards 2005 Monticello Touriga

White Hall Vineyards 2006 Monticello Petit Verdot
Linden Hardscrabble 2006 Virginia Chardonnay (13.3%)

This last, a rarity for Slotovino was bought as a present for a friend whose address is Hardscrabble Road, Hardscrabble being the epithet George Washington used for a particularly difficult march during the war of independence.

We will no doubt try these wines for Thanksgiving. Watch this space.

Concerning the wine merchants, we would just like to commend Best Cellars for the way their shop was laid out and how their wines were described on labels below each wine.
Firstly they organise their wines based on their taste and style, rather than grape type or place of origin. Then they give excellent information about the wine and list ‘5 reasons to buy this wine’ . Given that not even a Master of Wine could know exactly what is in any given bottle of wine, this seems an admirable way of solving the perennial problem of how to inform the customer. Only if the public is informed can they make decisions which might include something out of the ordinary.

Unfortunately Best Cellars was not the most visited shop we entered. That title could be applied to either of the other two establishments listed above. Their selection was larger and perhaps they were longer established but at Calvert Woodleywe were told they had nothing much in the way of rare grape varieties before perseverance and a second visit lead us to a 50/50 Corvina/Corvinone blend from the Veneto (Corvinone is a separate variety of which we had been completely unaware) called Costalago (Lake Garda), Rosso Veronese 2007 by Zeni (13.5%), ‘produced by the double fermentation technique’.
A Washington State Blaufränkisch from Shooting Star (13.5%),
an outfit dedicated to producing ‘a varied selection of interesting, eclectic and occasionally off-the-wall bottlings, all at a reasonable price.’

Schneiders had a particularly helpful staff and was thronged with buyers picking up ‘something for the weekend’.

And Nebbiolo? The last heard of it was the 2005 Barboursville version, rumoured to be available only from the Cellar Door;

Footnote. At Dulles Airport, the most amazing sight.Suddenly at 'C' Gates (between C3 and C4, an appraition, where it was least expected, called 'Vino Volo'.
Nothing less than a wine bar cum restaurant with 'Flights of wine' (geddit?) including, for $10 Franquier County Three Fox Cabernet Franc Alouette 2007, Green Co. Gadino Cellars Viognier 2006, Roanoke Co. Amrhein Wine cellars Syrah/Cabernet Melange 2006. What a great alternative to Burger King! Unfortunately our flight was departing before they opened but we could see that the food areas looked serious ('from $5'). This great institution exists also at

and EWR.

We will plan our next trip to the US accordingly.