I’m honoured — and nervous — to be following in Simon Hoggart’s colossal footsteps in these pages. Simon, God rest his soul, was not just one of our greatest political journalists; he was one of our best wine writers and his Life’s Too Short to Drink Bad Wine is a classic. I know that this column, which he made his own, is something of an institution for its readers. If I can bring a smidgeon of Simon’s wit and perspicacity to the Spectator’s wine club, I will be doing very well.
Happily, our old friends Tanners of Shrewsbury have come up with a mighty tasty selection with which to start off the year. And, mindful of the fact that many of us will be tightening our belts somewhat, they’ve kept the prices low and only one wine costs more than a tenner. The mixed case is just £118.40 and don’t forget that delivery, as ever, is free.
With record exports last year, Austrian wines are finally getting the recognition they deserve, and the 2012 ‘Little J’ Grüner Veltliner (1) is an absolute charmer at just £8.50 a pop. It’s apple fresh on the nose and palate, with a zesty, citrus backbone and a long, dry, savoury finish. Grüner, with its Sauvignon Blanc-like acidity and Pinot Gris-like roundness, is always great with food, and although the obvious match would be something fishy, I can vouch for the fact that it goes jolly well with a juicy, rare steak too.
The 2012 Baboon Rock Unwooded Chardonnay (2), is made at La Petite Ferme, in Franschhoek, South Africa, widely celebrated for its truly tip-top restaurant. Fermented with wild yeast, the wine is a little shy on the nose, but has plenty of concentrated fruit in the mouth with touches of honey, pears and citrus. If you’ve no smoked snoek pâté or ostrich bresaola to hand — as served at La Petite Ferme — try it with some smoked eel or pot-roast chicken. £9.45.
And for a French take on Chardonnay, how about the beautifully balanced 2012 Mâcon-Vergisson, Les Rochers (3) from husband-and-wife team Maurice and Nadine Guerrin? It’s lovely stuff and quite Chablis-esque in style with keen minerality and lively acidity (thanks to grapes grown at 1,000 ft above sea level), and soft, creamy fruit (thanks to carefully judged ageing on the lees). There’s plenty of bland, anonymous Mâcon produced these days and this is anything but. Enjoy with creamy chicken dishes or whole baked salmon and fennel. £10.
The reds are equally enticing. Indeed, the 2010 Rioja Vega Crianza (4), at £8.80, is probably the pick of the selection for me. A very decent Crianza at a reasonable price (with 50p lopped off the usual Tanners listing), it’s from a well-established but recently revamped Rioja estate.
Made chiefly from Tempranillo and Mazuelo with a touch of Garnacha, and aged for 12 months in American oak, it boasts soft, mellow, vanilla-scented, cherry-ripe fruit and a silky-smooth finish. It’s one of those rare old-world reds that can be drunk happily on its own, so soft and supple is it, although I reckon it deserves some slow-roast shoulder of lamb or confit of duck to enable it really to show off.
If you like your reds a touch more robust, then the 2011 Marquès de Borba Tinto (5) from the Alentejo in southern Portugal should fit the bill. João Portugal Ramos is an excitingly modern winemaker in really rather a fascinating region and this quirky blend of local varieties — Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez and Touriga Nacional — and rather more mainstream ones — Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah — is intense and concentrated with spicy, succulent damson jam fruit and a long, tannin-cloaked finish. It’s big stuff, all right, and cries out for a rare rib of beef or saddle of venison. £9.20.
Finally, there’s the even bigger-boned, brooding 2009 Montefalco Rosso, Rocca di Fabbri (6), at £13.25, a real treasure rootled out by James Tanner on his travels in Umbria a couple of years ago. The previous vintage was such a success for Tanners that JT promptly snapped up this 2009 too. A blend of 65 per cent Sangiovese, 20 per cent Montepulciano and 15 per cent Sagrantino, it’s crammed full of rich, spicy, dark cherry fruit and pepper, wrapped in gentle tannins. It’s no shrinking violet, at 14.5 per cent alcohol by volume, and is best served in decanter, carafe or jug to allow it to flex its muscles. Simon would have called it ‘plumptious’.
Delivery as ever is free, there is a sample case containing two each of the non-house bottles.
Prices include VAT and delivery on the British mainland. Payment should be made either by cheque with the order, payable to the wine merchant, or by debit or credit card, details of which may be telephoned or faxed.
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