Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for October, 2010

Gonzalez Byass – but not sherry

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Gonzalez Byass, famous for their fine sherries, have assembled an impressive portfolio of wine estates from other parts of Spain. Here are notes on wines from three of them.

The Gonzales family bought top quality Cava producer, Vilarnau in 1982. The wines are very good indeed – as they ought to be at prices well above the average for Cava.

Vilarnau Brut Nature (rrp £9.99). A blend of Macabeo, Parellada and Chardonnay, with 24 months age and just 3 g/l sugar: fine and yeasty with considerable complexity on the nose, fresh and dry in the mouth with a bready finish.

Vilarnau Brut (rrp £9.99) – a similar blend but a dosage of 10 g/l and 12 months aging: more floral and fruity, and though still yeasty, it has a soft, slightly earthy flavour.

Vilarnau Gran Reserva Brut Vintage 2006 (rrp £16.99) – the same three grapes, with 26 months aging and again, just 3 g/l sugar: lovely and delicate, creamy and long with almost peachy fruit.

Vilarnau Demi-Sec (rrp £9.99) – a blens of Parellada and Macabeo with 30 g/l dosage is a big wine with lemon curd-like fruit, soft and slightly earthy.

Vilarnau Brut Rosado (rrp £9.99) – a blend of Trepat and Pinot Noir, aged for 12 months is extremely attractive – a big, full-bodied, soft fizz with abundant flavours of red fruit.

Albert de Vilarnau Chardonnay Brut Nature (rrp £25) includes a fair dollop of Pinot Noir and is aged for 36 months. Big and fruity, it’s stylish and buttery, with good freshness, length and minerality.

Albert de Vilarnau Barrel Fermented Chardonnay (rrp £25) includes some Macabeo and Parellada. Very big and rich, with lemony fruit, it’s powerful, complex, slightly earthy and nuanced by creamy oak.

Vinas de Vero, the Somontano winery bought in 2008, has been a pioneer in this exciting region in the Pyrenean foothills.  There is a wide range of grape varieties and of wines, but I was especially struck by two:

La Miranda de Secastilla Garnacha Blanca 2009 (rrp £9.99) is big and spicy, with peachy fruit and a soft, fruity flavour with a a mineral finish.

Secastilla Old Vines Garnacha 2005 (rrp 19.99) is a real discovery. It is complex and long with  great depth of spicy red and black fruit aromas, with very ripe juicy red fruit in the mouth. I like it very much.

Bodegas Beronia, founded in 1973 became  part of the Gonzalez portfolio since 1982. I recently tasted and much enjoyed their rosado and was keen to try other wines in an extensive an innovative range of Rioja. I also hope that they will soon prove a little easier to find.

Beronia Viura 2009 (rrp £7.99). A fresh, clean, quite soft but appley dry white, with a spicy finish.

Beronia Crianza 2007 (rrp £8.99). Nicely done – balanced with plenty of juicy, plummy fruit and good integration of oak.

Beronia Reserva 2005 (rrp£12.99). Good freshness – an elegant wine, with plummy, slightly raisined fruit.

Beronia Reserva 2005 (rrp£12.99). Quite eveloved and spicy, richer, softer and more chocolatey than the 05.

Beronia Colleccion Viura Frementado in Barrica 2007 (rrp £10.99) – 5 months in oak. Rich, buttery dry white, with crisper acidity than the simple 09 – a surprise.

Beronia Colleccion Graciano 2007 (rrp £12.49). Quite vinous and chunky; big and grippy with plummy fruit. A bit rustic.  A bit of a disappointment.

Beronia Colleccion Tempranillo Elaboracion Especial 2008 (rrp £10.99). Utterly true to the variety, with spicy, plummy fruit and though soft, quite chewy.

Beronia Colleccion Mazuelo Reserva 2004 (rrp £17.99). Open and rich, with lots of raisiny fruit – powerful, strong, herby and a little earthy.

Beronia IIIAC 2004 (rrp £65) 15 months in French, Hungarian and US oak, a blend of Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo. Deep and spicy wih plummy fruit – huge in the mouth, oaky, soft, and I couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit stewed.

The most remarkable wines from Bodegas Beronia are their Gran Reservas – a style that is far less popular than it used to be, but when as done as well as it under the skillful guidance of Matias Calleja, who treated us to a brilliant master class/tasting with vintages of Gran Reserva from 2001 back to 1973. I’ll report on this separately, soon – probably in The Journal.

A gem from Chile

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

I’ve had the pleasure of tasting De Martino El Léon, single vineyard Carignan 2006 three times now over the past four or five months. Each time it has impressed me enormously. It has a a huge spicy smell of black cherry with a hint of herbs and a deep, chewy, hugely satisfying flavour of damsons, black cherries, with the rich fruit lifted by juicy acidity and rounded off by firm, ripe tannins.

It was made in the Maule Valley, quite near the coast, from unirrigated vines planted after the catastrophic earthquake of 1939  in an attempt to rebuild the economy by providing the local growers with something more interesting than Pais. The full story was told by Chilean journalist Eduardo Brethauer at a seminar for members of the Circle of Wine Writers in London in May. Unfortunately these vines all but forgotten until in 1995 the quality of the fruit was spotted by a  local winery. There are now around fourteen Maule wineries producing high-end Carignan. It is, I think, one of the most exciting flavours to have come out of Chile in recent years, and a fascinating counterpoint to the elegance of some of the wines emerging from the newer cool climate sites.

Until recently the wines have been hard to find, but this gem is now available in Marks and Spencer at just £10.99 – a gift.