Tag Archives: Wine Notes

Pazo de Villarei Albariño, 2015 – a wine for #SpanishLitMonth

Seeing as July is the month for all thing Spanish (see here for a link to Richard and Stu‘s Spanish Lit Month), I thought I would take the opportunity to post a short note on an Albariño I tasted recently. It doesn’t take much for me to get excited about Spanish whites as they constitute much of my summer drinking along with Italian whites and Provençal/Corsican rosés.  The wine in question is the Pazo de Villarei Albariño, 2015, from the Rías Baixas region in north-west Spain. (I’ve already written about a previous vintage of this wine, but the 2015 is the latest release.)

It’s a lovely wine; lemony, minerally and very refreshing. Plus it has a slight spritz that gives it a sort of joie de vivre which seems perfect for this time of year. If you’ve never tried Albariño before, the Villarei would make a good introduction to this grape variety, a staple of the Galicia area of Spain. This is a fresh, zingy, unoaked white wine which is light on its feet yet satisfying too. Shellfish or sea fillets would make a nice partner. As for a suitable book match, I have just the thing in mind: The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán, a Spanish classic set in Galicia. A review will follow later this month.

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Most of my favourite Albariños seem to clock in at the £12-14 level – Pazo de Señorans and Fefiñanes are terrific quality, but at > £10 pb they might not be everyone’s idea of an everyday wine. Up to until last year, I’d struggled to find a reliable Albariño at the sub £10 level, but the Villarei is keenly priced at £8.50. I think it’s great value for money.

I bought this wine from The Wine Society (I have a link to The Society, so the vast majority of my wines are purchased there). Alternatively, you can use Wine Searcher to look for stockists. If you can’t find the Pazo de Villarei, then the Pazo de Señorans and Fefiñanes are truly excellent wines, albeit a little more expensive.

My notes on another couple of favourite Spanish white wines can be found here, The Gaba do Xil is an unoaked Godello from Galicia while Las Olas is a Verdejo from the Rueda region. Enjoy.

Spanish Wines for #SpanishLitMonth: Albariño from Galicia

Last summer I wrote about a couple of favourite Spanish white wines to tie in with Richard and Stu’s Spanish Lit Month: an unoaked Godello from Galicia and a Verdejo from the Rueda region. This year I thought I would focus on another favourite from Spain, wines made from the albariño grape variety grown in the Rías Baixas DO (Denominación de Origen) in Galicia, north-west Spain. Albariño wines taste of stone fruits, typically peaches, with a squeeze of lemon juice; sometimes there’s a slightly salty, mineral note from the sea air.

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Most of my favourite albariños tend to fall within the £12-£14 per bottle price range, but earlier this month I discovered a new one, slightly more modestly priced at £8.95 pb. It’s the Pazo de Villarei Albariño from the Salnés Valley in the heart of Rías Baixas. The Pazo de Villarei is textbook albariño: pure, clean and refreshing with plenty of lemony citrus flavour. This is an excellent introduction to the albariño grape, a wine that would suit lovers of unoaked white wines who are looking to branch out from Chablis, pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc.

As far as food matches go, albariño is the perfect partner for simple seafood dishes, but there’s enough richness here to cope with slightly stronger Mediterranean flavours too (garlic and olives, for instance). Seared tuna, paella or seafood risotto would also make excellent matches.

Wine stockist: I bought my bottle of Pazo de Villarei Albariño, 2013 from The Wine Society, priced at £8.95 per bottle. (No longer available, but the 2014 vintage is in stock, priced £8.50.) Or you can check alternative stockists via wine-searcher.

For the record, my other favourite albariños are made by Pazo de Señorans and Palacio de Fefiñanes, both come highly recommended.

Cà dei Frati Lugana – a wine match for Rendezvous in Venice by Philippe Beaussant

Last month I reviewed Rendezvous in Venice by Philippe Beaussant, a beautiful novel of love, art and Venice. (You can read my review by clicking on the link.) I don’t need much of an excuse to open a bottle of Italian wine, so I rummaged through the bottles at home in search of a suitable match. This Cà dei Frati Lugana caught my eye. It comes from a family-run estate on the south banks of Lake Garda near the northern Italian town of Sirmione – the vineyards are situated about 150 km from Venice, so that’s near enough for me.

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Lugana is a white wine is made from a grape variety known locally as Turbiana (previously thought to be Trebbiano di Soave). The Cà dei Frati is a personal favourite, the best example of a Lugana I’ve tasted. It’s fresh, rounded and very moreish – think baked apples, a squeeze of lemon and a whiff of thyme. Perfect for a warm summer’s evening and a vicarious trip to Venice/the Italian Lakes.

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Wine stockist: I bought my bottle of Cà dei Frati Lugana, 2013 from The Wine Society, priced at £12.50 per bottle. (No longer available, but the 2014 vintage is in stock.) It’s relatively widely available elsewhere – you can check stockists via wine-searcher.

Rendezvous in Venice (tr. by Paul Buck and Catherine Petit) is published in the UK by Pushkin Press.

A Corsican rosé – a wine match for Transit by Anna Seghers

Last October I read Transit by Anna Seghers, a haunting novel of shifting identities, questions of destiny and the quest to secure safe passage from France during the German occupation in WW2. It’s a remarkable story inspired by Seghers’ own experience as a refugee as she fled from Europe in the early 1940s. (If you’re not familiar with this novel, I’d encourage you to take a peek at my review – it made my end-of-year highlights.)

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A sizeable chunk of the novel is set in Marseille where the narrator Siedler (or is it Weidel?) and his companions dine on slices of pizza, all washed down with copious quantities of rosé wine. I had intended to write about rosé at the time, but winter was fast approaching and to my mind this style of wine is best enjoyed in the sunshine. We’ve had some decent weather in the UK over the last week, so I opened my first rosé of the year, a wine from Corsica.

I get a bit annoyed when people dismiss rosé as “girly” or “not a serious wine”. (Even terms like “pink drink” set my teeth on edge a little.) There are some very sleek rosés around these days. My favourites include the pale and delicate rosés from Provence, wines from producers like Domaine Houchart and Domaine Rimauresq.

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Earlier this week I tried a different rosé, the latest vintage of a favourite wine from Corsica: The Society’s Corsican Rosé, 2014. This is a delicate and elegant wine, a crushed-berries-and-cream rosé made from Nielluccio (Sangiovese) – there may be a touch of Sciaccarello and Grenache in the blend, too.  It’s dry and refreshing, with a slightly creamy note that balances the acidity of the fruit. A delightful wine, possibly the best vintage yet.

It’s produced by Clos Culombu, and I’ve enjoyed their wines for several years (they also make a delicious, slightly herby white from the Vermentino grape).

Transit gives few details about the wine Siedler/Weidel and his companions drink in the Marseille pizzeria, but I’d like to think that any of the rosés mentioned here would make a fitting match.

Wine stockist: I bought my bottle of The Society’s Corsican Rosé, 2014 from The Wine Society, priced at £8.95 per bottle.

Transit by Anna Seghers (tr. Margot Bettauer Dembo) is published by NYRB Classics. Source: personal copy.

Weekend Wine Notes: Hatzidakis Santorini

There has not been much in the way of wine writing on here in recent months so I thought I would post a short note about a favourite wine – it’s a white wine from Greek islands, perfect for the spring sunshine we’ve been enjoying the UK.

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Hatzidakis Santorini is a brilliant showcase for the assyrtiko grape, native to the Greek island of Santorini. This wine is quite full, minerally, almost tropical in style with melon and stone fruit and a slightly herby aroma, but there’s enough lemony citrus acidity to cut through the richness leaving a clean finish. This is a food wine, a great match for salmon with herb butter, and worth trying as an alternative to Chardonnay.

Wine stockist (UK): I bought my bottle of the Hatzidakis (2012 vintage) from The Wine Society. The Society has now moved on to the 2013 vintage priced at £11.50 per bottle. Also available from Waitrose £12.99 pb. Alternatively, if you are interested in finding this wine, you could use Wine-Searcher to check availability in other countries.

(Please feel free to ignore these posts if they are of absolutely no interest to you, it’s just a place for me to record a few wine notes!)

Ghosts by César Aira and a Zaha Malbec wine match

On Friday I read Ghosts, a novella by the acclaimed Argentine writer César Aira (first published in 1990 and translated in 2008). It’s a strange little book, and I’m not sure what to make of it. Nevertheless, something about it caught my eye. You’ll see why later, but first I should introduce Ghosts, albeit briefly.

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The novella is set on a construction site; more precisely, in a half-finished building of high-end apartments for the well-heeled inhabitants of Buenos Aires. As the building is still under construction, the only human inhabitants are Chilean night-watchman, Raul Viňas, his wife and children who run around the structure hiding in nooks and crannies – the children that is, not Raul and his wife. But there are other dwellers besides the Viňas family, and they are the ghosts of the title. Aira’s creations are not your typical ghosts though. They are like naked men, big, boisterous and raucous, and come covered in fine cement dust:

They were listening too, but only as a pretext for bursting continually into fierce, raucous laughter. Or not so much laughter as vehement, theatrically sarcastic howling. […] The naked men shouted louder and louder as if competing with each other. They were dirty like builders, and had the same kind of bodies: rather stocky, solid, with small fee, and rough hands. Their toes were spread widely, like wild men’s toes. They were behaving like badly brought-up children. But they were adults. (pgs. 9-10)

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not sure what to make of the story as a whole, but there’s a dry humour to it which I enjoyed, especially in the first half of the book. My difficulty came at the halfway point where I got more than a bit lost as Aira slipped more deeply into philosophical territory.

What I loved about the story though was the following passage about wine, and I couldn’t resist posting it here. The Viňas family are living without the benefit of a fridge, but Raul (a ‘prodigious drinker’) has discovered an inventive method for keeping his wines cool – it’s desperately hot in their part of the building:

It consisted of resolutely approaching a ghost and inserting a bottle into his thorax, where it remained, supernaturally balanced. When he went back for it, say two hours later, it was cold. There were two things he hadn’t noticed, however. The first was that, during the cooling process, the wine came out of the bottles and flowed like lymph all through the bodies of the ghosts. The second was that this distillation transmuted ordinary cheap wine, fermented in cement vats, into an exquisite, matured cabernet sauvignon, which not even captains of industry could afford to drink every day. But an undiscriminating drinker like Viňas, who chilled his red wine in summer just because of the heat, wasn’t going to notice the change. Besides, he was accustomed to the wonderful wines of his country, so it seemed perfectly natural to him. And, indeed, what could be more natural than to drink the best wine, always and only the best? (pg. 29-30)

What indeed. And how fortunate to have that kind of ghost nearby…

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Well, I didn’t have any Argentine (or Chilean) Cabernet Sauvignon to hand on Friday, but I did manage to find a bottle of Zaha Malbec in the cupboard by the stairs. That’ll do nicely, I thought. The Zaha (which stems from the word ‘heart’) comes from the Altamira district of Mendoza, a cool-climate area where the grapes are grown at high altitude. Inky purple in colour, with a whiff of eucalyptus and a flavour profile of blackberries and liquorice, it’s unmistakably a New World wine. The grapes are mostly Malbec (90%), but I think there’s a touch of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in the blend for additional interest and complexity. Not a bad match for the Aira, and a very good wine without the need for any interventions from ghosts.

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I read Ghosts to link in with Richard’s celebration of Argentine (and Uruguayan) Literature of Doom. All comments are welcome here, whether they’re about Aira, Ghosts or wine. And if you’ve read any of Aira’s books, I’d love to hear from you…

Ghosts is published in the UK by Hamish Hamilton, tr. by Chris Andrews. Source: personal copy. I bought the Zaha Malbec, 2011 vintage, from The Wine Society (no longer in stock).

Weekend Wine Notes: Spanish Whites for #SpanishLitMonth, Godello and Verdejo

I‘d intended to write a post on a couple of favourite Spanish white wines to coincide with Richard and Stu’s Spanish Lit Month in July, but alas, time got the better of me. And then our hosts decided to extend their focus on Spanish Lit by a couple of weeks, so here we are in August, and I’m still in time for the tie-in!

First up is an old favourite, a Spanish white I’ve been buying ever since it first grabbed my attention three years ago: Gaba do Xil Godello, an unoaked godello from Galicia (godello is the grape variety), made by a very talented winemaker, Telmo Rodriguez. This godello reminds me a little of a white Burgundy, but it’s more interesting than many unoaked chardonnays; there’s a mineral note here, a touch of something herby and a refreshing squeeze of lemon. A very well-balanced wine with sufficient body and interest to stand up to seafood, garlic and a bit of chilli heat. If you like this style of white wine but have never tried godello, do give it a go.

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And moving on to a new discovery: Las Olas Verdejo, from the Rueda region, northwest of Madrid. Another unoaked white, this verdejo has a lovely aroma. At the risk of sounding like something out of fabric softener commercial, the aroma of this wine reminds me of an orchard in summer: slightly grassy, ripe pears and lemon (again). This verdejo tastes a little like sauvignon blanc, but without the stinging acidity that accompanies some wines made from this grape variety; it’s also more flavoursome than many sauvignon blancs. Las Olas (which translates as ‘wave’) is a very interesting wine and great value for money at £7.95 per bottle; another Spanish white for my re-buy list.

Wine stockist: I bought both wines from The Wine Society. I tasted the 2012 vintage of the Gaba do Xil Godello The Society has moved on to the 2013 vintage, priced at £9.50 per bottle. Las Olas Verdejo, 2013 is £7.95 per bottle.

If you’re interested in my Spanish Lit Month reviews, click here for a round-up with links.

Have you tried any Spanish white (or red) wines recently? Do you have any personal favourites?

Weekend Wine Notes: A Tale of Two Chardonnays

A couple of weeks ago I returned to an old favourite, an unoaked chardonnay from the Mâconnais region in Burgundy: Saint-Véran en Crêches, Domaine Nathalie et Jacques Saumaize. I’ve been buying this Saint-Véran for years, and it never fails to deliver vintage in, vintage out. I’m not a big lover of oak as far as chardonnay is concerned, and I suspect this is one of the reasons why I love this wine. There’s plenty of refreshing lemony acidity here, and a lovely creamy note on the finish – it’s so well balanced and elegant. Everything I want from a chardonnay at this level. In fact, it leaves me wondering why I ever bother buying other examples. But then again, that’s part of the fun of wine, isn’t it, to try different things? How else to discover a new gem?

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Speaking of which, here’s a new wine from one of my favourite producers, GD Vajra: Dragon Langhe Bianco, Luigi Baudana (2012 vintage). Listed by The Wine Society as a chardonnay, the Dragon is a mercurial creature indeed – I’ve been reading Angela Crater’s Nights at the Circus, and this wine would be a fitting match. The Dragon hails from Serralunga d’Alba in the Piedmont region in North-West Italy, and it certainly feels quite European. On the nose, it’s quite floral with some stone-fruit notes, too, but if served blind, I doubt I’d mark this wine as chardonnay – it’s more complex and characterful than that. My initial thought was ‘assyrtiko’ from Greece, but the more I sampled this wine, the more it cried ‘Alsace’, especially as it warmed up. This wine is a beguiling mix of citrus (lemon oil), savoury and minerally flavours with a long, mouth-watering finish. Crying out for food, this wine would be lovely with salmon or a robust seafood dish – it’s got enough body and a slight oiliness to cope with something substantial.

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In fact, the Dragon isn’t just a ‘straight’ chardonnay. It’s a blend: 80% chardonnay, 20% sauvignon blanc, riesling and local grape, nascetta. Whatever it is, the Dragon is a winner, one that punches well above its price point of £9.95. More, please!

Wine stockist: I bought both wines from The Wine Society. I tasted the 2011 vintage of the Saint-Véran en Crêches, Domaine Nathalie et Jacques Saumaize – The Society has moved on to the 2012 vintage now, priced at £12.50 per bottle. The Dragon Langhe Bianco, Luigi Baudana, 2012 is £9.95 per bottle.

A German riesling from von Kesselstatt – a match for ‘The Mussel Feast’

As you may have gathered by now, I’ve been reading the books longlisted for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and one of the shortlisted titles is Birgit Vanderbeke’s The Mussel Feast, translated by Jamie Bulloch. Although The Mussel Feast missed out on the prize itself, I was delighted to learn that the judges honoured this book with a special mention.

The Mussel Feast is a modern German classic, first published in Germany in 1990, but only recently translated into English and brought to us by Peirene Press. It’s a great little novella, one which packs much nuance and depth into its 100 pages.

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In the opening scenes, a mother and her two teenage children, a girl and a boy, are waiting for the imminent arrival of their father. Mother has spent hours scrubbing four kilos of mussels in ice-cold water and preparations are underway for a feast of mussels as they are her husband’s favourite meal. She doesn’t care for mussels herself, but her husband has been away on a business trip, one which was destined to be the final step on his path to a big promotion. The novella is narrated by the daughter and it soon becomes clear that all is not well within this family. While they wait for father to return, the three members of the family start to talk, expressing thoughts they’ve never dared to mention before.

As time passes, they grow restless, rebellious even, so they open a bottle of one of father’s favourite wines. It’s a riesling, a Spätlese meaning ‘late harvest’. As the wine flows, mother and her children start to let their hair down and the story of their life unravels.  I won’t reveal any more of the narrative, but if you’re interested, you can read my review of The Mussel Feast here.

The Mussel Feast got me thinking about riesling. It’s one of my favourite grape varieties, and I love its chameleon-like nature. Some rieslings are dry, others intensely sweet, and it can successfully straddle the middle ground between these two ends of the spectrum, too.

Last week I returned to a favourite German riesling, a bottle of Nies‘chen Riesling Kabinett (2012 vintage) made by the von Kesselstatt estate. This wine is a Kabinett, so it’s a little less concentrated and lighter in body than a late-harvest Spätlese, but it was the only German riesling I had to hand at the time. (Note: Kabinett and Spätlese are different styles of German wine; these terms form part of the Prädikatswein system that categorises German wines by the ripeness, or ‘must weight’ of the grapes.)

The grapes that go into this von Kesselstatt riesling hail from an estate-owned vineyard in the Ruwer where the soil is hard and slatey and this gives the wine a slightly mineral note. On the nose, this wine smells quite floral – elderflower with some zest of lime, too. This riesling is medium dry (or off-dry), with a good balance between the acidity and sweetness. In terms of taste, the wine offers a succession of different sensations; an initial wave of acidity followed by some sweetness, and then more acidity to give a long, mouth-watering finish. It’s a bright and refreshingly light wine, but there’s plenty of passion fruit and citrus flavour here.

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It’s a very pleasant wine to drink now, but I think it’ll be even better in another two or three years from now, once it’s had sufficient time to develop a little more flesh and richness. ‘I’d like a few more curves’ say my notes. Earlier this year, I tasted the 2009 vintage of this von Kesselstatt riesling and it was a richer, more rounded wine. Given time, I’m sure the 2012 will head the same way.

Would this von Kesselstatt Kabinett be a fitting match for The Mussel Feast? While it’s not a Spätlese (as featured in the book), it is made from riesling and this grape variety certainly works well with seafood. And if the mussel broth contained a decent kick of chilli, something to counterbalance the edge of sweetness in this wine, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be worth a shot.

Wine stockist: I bought the Nies‘chen Riesling Kabinett 2012 from The Wine Society.

The Mussel Feast is published in the UK by Peirene Press. Source: personal copy.

Weekend Wine Notes – Viña Zorzal Graciano, Navarra

Graciano, a black grape variety grown Spain, is sometimes used in small quantities to add an extra dimension to red wines from Rioja – Tempranillo is the main grape variety here. Varietal wines made solely from Graciano are harder to find, often expensive, and opportunities to buy affordable examples in the UK are rather few and far between. Therefore, when I saw Viña Zorzal Graciano retailing at £6.95 per bottle, I couldn’t resist buying one to sample this grape for myself.

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This wine has a lovely spicy aroma, full of mulberry and loganberry fruit with a dash of balsamic to boot. In terms of taste, it’s deliciously warming – spicy stewed plums, more mulberries and plenty of acidity to balance the fruit. There’s a very attractive, slightly rustic quality to this wine, which I like very much.

The Viña Zorzal Graciano easily makes it onto my re-buy list. At £6.95 a bottle it’s a steal, and a terrific opportunity to experience this grape variety on its own terms.

Wine stockist: I bought the Viña Zorzal Graciano (2011 vintage) from The Wine Society. Price: £6.95.