When I worked at Berry Bros & Rudd 20 years ago, I had a wonderfully eccentric customer who liked to ring up during bathtime. He was a confirmed claret lover and, although he longed to broaden his horizons, he could never quite muster the courage to do so.
We would spend 20 minutes or so discussing tasty alternatives from the Rhône, Spain, Italy or the New World, but his nerve always failed him and he’d retreat guiltily back to the safety of Bordeaux. He promised faithfully to be more adventurous next time, although we both knew he wouldn’t be, and I would go through the motions of giving him the prices of a Chianti or Crozes-Hermitage.
‘Hang on,’ he’d boom from the bathroom. ‘Don’t rush, just jotting this all down in the steam on the mirror.’
I’m certain, though, that I’d have got him beyond the confines of Bordeaux with this excellent and commendably quirky selection of wines from Berry Bros. According to Mark Pardoe MW, Berrys’ wine-buying director, Italy and Spain are the new frontier where wines have recently moved from admirable to delicious, thanks to a new generation of enlightened young growers and well-travelled winemakers.
It took Mark and me an age to whittle the original selection down to the following six and there are some really great wines here.
The 2012 Louro do Bolo, Rafael Palacios (1) from Valdeorras in northwestern Spain is made from 35-year-old Godello vines grown at some 600 metres. The resulting wine — aged for four months in oak foudres — is gloriously fresh and creamy, with a lovely savoury, salty tang and a zesty citrus kick. Godello seems to be the new Albarino and this is a cracker. £14.41.
The 2010 Mountain White, Telmo Rodriguez (2) from Sierras de Malaga is 100 per cent Moscatel with an exuberantly flowery, honeyed nose but a long, dry concentrated finish. Telmo Rodriguez is something of a wine-making legend in Spain and, at £15.09, this goes some way to explaining why he’s so feted.
The sole Italian white in our selection is the 2012 Cornarea Roero Arneis, Gian Nicola Bovone (3), from the superior zone of the Roero, north of Alba in Piedmont. It’s wonderful stuff, full of herbs, lemon balm, lime and peaches and, at just £14.24, ideal for a sunny spring evening aperitif.
I just love the 2011 Cientruenos, la Calandria (4) from Navarra. It’s 100 per cent Garnacha (aka Grenache in France) from 100-year-old vines. It’s concentrated and intense, with a creamy sweetness at the outset which develops in the mouth into a long, serious, complex dry finish. It’s soft, smooth and ridiculously drinkable — not unlike a very sophisticated and expensive old-vine Shiraz from Australia — and, at £11.43, the bargain of the offer.
Our two Italian reds are both mountain wines, one from Basilicata in the instep of southern Italy, the other from the slopes of Etna in Sicily. The 2009 Aglianico del Vulture, 400 Some (5), is late-picked and beautifully structured. It’s fresh and vibrant with notes of chocolate, spice, sweet-sour cherry and blackcurrant. I just long to drink this with an enormous, juicy T-bone steak and potatoes roasted with garlic and rosemary. It’s only £15.26.
Finally, the remarkable 2011 Etna Rosso, Alberto Graci (6). Old Nerello Mascalese vines grown at high altitude give freshness and remarkable concentration of fruit and this is an absolute beauty. It has strawberries, raspberries and plums on nose and palate with a gratifyingly earthy and savoury backbone. You cannot help but want to drink out of the bottle and it’s perfect with slow-roast shoulder of lamb or kid. Down to £16.96.
These are all fascinating, individual wines that you’d just never find in the supermarket. They make a great alternative to Bordeaux ’n’ Burgundy and the mixed case is only £174.76, a full 15 per cent off the RRP. And that’s well worth jotting down on the bathroom mirror.