Lorenzo Barbareschi

Lorenzo Barbareschi

THERE is more to Chianti than the now rarely used classic bottle in a straw basket - known as a ‘fiasco’ -  that was made famous by Italian restaurants in the ‘70s.

An Italian red wine, Chianti derives its name from the Tuscany area known for its landscapes, art and food where different types of soil and micro-climates result from rolling hills with altitudes of 250 - 610 metres. 

To retain its name it must be produced in the Chianti region and made from at least 80 per cent of Sangiovese grapes, with possible blends of Cabernet, Merlot or Syrah to soften the finished wine. 

Following the Second World War, with an emphasis on quantity over quality, the reputation of Chianti plummeted. But over the last 30 years it has been revived with the introduction of modern and innovative wine-making techniques.

Today, most Chianti falls under two major designations: basic level and the Chianti Classico DOCG which produces the largest volume of DOCG wines in Italy.

Basic level Chianti has medium-high acidity and tannins with minimum alcohol level of 11.5 per cent and juicy fruit notes of cherry, plum and raspberry. This wine reaches peak drinking quality between three and five years after vintage. 

Chianti Classico can age from six to 20 years with a predominant floral and cinnamon spicy bouquet and aromas of tobacco with minimum 12 per cent alcohol and seven months ageing in oak.

Other higher end versions are: Chianti Classico Gran Selezione,  Riserva and Superiore. 

Chianti’s acidity makes it flexible with food pairing, particularly with Italian cuisine that features red sauces as well as beef, lamb and game.  

It can range in price from €3 to upwards of €30 for high-end versions.

Happy tasting. 

AIRÉN, an old Iberian white grape, represents about 30 per cent of all Spanish varieties and is the world’s third most grown.

Unknown to many and predominantly grown in the south, central and western regions of Spain, its production is now declining and being replaced with red varieties including Tempranillo.

The grapes - late to bud and ripen and very resistant to drought and diseases - are perfectly adapted to the harsh arid climate of La Mancha with its calcareous soils and vineyards 700m above sea level.

Airén is also known under the many synonyms, including Aidén, Blancon, Forcallada, Forcallat blanca, Forcayat, Laeren del Rey, Layren, Manchega, Mantuo Laeren and Valdepenera blanca.

A relatively neutral taste and flavour and high acidity has made Airén the production choice for alcohol used as the base for Brandy, thus limiting its use to develop blended or varietal wines. 

Additionally due to processes used including fermentation in terracotta vats, Airén wines do not always receive favourable publicity. 

In general, Airén wines are characterised by a pallid colour with yellow iridescences and an alcoholic content of about 12 - 14 per cent making it quite pleasant and easy to drink, with mature fruit scents including banana, pineapple or grapefruit.

To get the best out of it, pair Airén wine with grilled sardines with green pepper, garlic prawns or something spicy.

Better label Airén wines including Castillo del Moro;  Sendas del Rey by Felix Solis and Don Octavio by Bodegas Villarrobledo are priced €4 – €6, though some can be found for just over €1.

Happy tasting.

A happy wine

January 04, 2018

WHILE Lambrusco is not among Italy’s best wines it is one of the leaders in export sales and can be found in wine shops and supermarkets throughout Spain. 

Lambrusco is the name of an Italian red grape and the wine from Emilia Romagna and Lombardy has a history dating to Etruscan’s times.

Most Lambrusco is made from more than one variety and often blended to a maximum 15 per cent with other grapes, including Ancellotta, Marzemino, Malbo Gentile and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Mostly frizzante (slightly sparkling), Lambrusco  can be secco (dry), amabile (semi-sweet) and dolce (sweet). 

It is typically made using the Charmat process with a second fermentation conducted in a pressurised tank. While the grape is not particularly sweet, most commercial Lambrusco is sweetened with the addition of grape must.   

Lambrusco denominations are:

Grasparossa di Castelvetro: From the smallest producing region, typically dry, full bodied, tannic with a deep purplish-red colour. 

Mantovano: The only Lambrusco from Lombardy, either dry or semi-dry.

Reggiano: The most exported and made from up to four types of Lambrusco grapes: Maestri, Marani, Montericco, and Salamino with up to 15 per cent Ancellotta. 

Salamino di Santa Croce: Consists of at least 90 per cent of Salamino grapes; frizzante, light in colour and body and semi-sweet or dry.

Di Sorbara: Regarded as the highest quality; fragrant, with high acidity and berry flavours with deep ruby colour. 

Generally inexpensive with little complexity and easy to drink, unfortunately the quality of exported Lambrusco rarely equals that found in its native region.

Salute and happy tasting.                              

An emerging hope

December 29, 2017

GODELLO, described by critics as “a sleeping giant of a variety waiting to be properly discovered,” is a Spanish white variety of grapes.

Produced in the north-west  particularly in Valdeorras, Ribeira Sacra, Monterrey in Galicia and Bierzo in Castilla y Léon, its 19th century origins are from Godella in Valencia where this variety was first planted, only being transported to Galicia later by a trader.  

After decades of decline, plantations have increased since the mid-80s as Godello has grown steadily more popular due to a small group of dedicated growers and producers. The wines are sometimes made solely of Godello, though can additionally be blended with local grapes including Treixadura and Albariño, thus providing similarities with Chardonnay.  

The Godello grape is versatile and somewhat neutral, greatly reflecting in its aromas and flavours the methods and techniques of the winemaker. Producers in Bierzo favour ageing Godello in oak barrels, making richer, fuller wines; those from Valdeorras tend to be aged in steel tanks, giving them a fresher, livelier quality. 

Overall Godello wines are clean and fresh with deep rich mineral and fruit flavours that are ripe and savoury.  Ageing well, some last up to a decade, gaining complexity and depth with time.

Seafood is an obvious choice of food to match with Godello, especially heartier choices including lobster, scallops, crab, and halibut, though salads and lighter chicken dishes also pair well.

Known producers in the area are Santa Maria, Vina Godeval, Soto del Vicario, Castro de Lobarzan and Pazos del Rey. 

As always with white wines, drink lightly chilled but not icy cold.  

Happy tasting!

Serious fame seeker

December 21, 2017

RIOJA may be the most famous national wine region, but Ribera del Duero is no slouch. 

A Spanish Denominacion de Origen (DO) located within Castile and León, Ribera del Duero is one of several wine-producing regions along the Duero river where the mainly flat and rocky terrain undulates between 750 and 911 metres above sea level. 

The rainfall is moderate with long dry summers and temperatures of up to 40c, followed by harsh winters.

Viticulture arrived in the region with Benedictine monks in the 12th century although wine was produced locally 2,000 years ago.

Ribera del Duero DO wine is derived almost exclusively from red grapes, in particular Tinto Fino (local name for Tempranillo), and often complemented with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot.

These well-ageing, full-bodied and deep ruby colour wines with aromas of strawberries, fresh tobacco, leather and often highly oaked are excellent with grilled vegetables and red meats.

Whereas Rioja and Ribera del Duero are distinctive as a result of the different terrains, both regions produce wines selected for long ageing with complex vinification procedures.

These lead to intense, extremely long-lived wines. 

The ageing requirements for Ribera del Duero are the same used in Rioja. Wines labelled as Crianza must age two years with 12 months in oak; Reserva for at least three years with at least 12 months in oak while Gran Reserva must spend five years ageing prior to release, including two in oak.

Famous regional producers are Viña Sastre, Vega Sicilia, Bodegas Arzuaga Navarra and Dominio de Pingus, with the British Royal family among customers.

Happy tasting!


Sparkling success

December 14, 2017

CONTINUING in the festive mood, Prosecco is an Italian white wine named after a village near Trieste and produced in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. 

First mention of the name is attributed to the British explorer Fynes Moryson, when he visited Italy in 1593.

The most popular Prosecco is spumante (sparkling), but there is also frizzante (semi-sparkling), and the rarely exported tranquillo (still). Depending on sweetness, Proseccos are labelled Brut, Extra Dry or Dry. 

Prosecco is made from Glera grapes, but up to 15 per cent of other grapes may be included, including Verdiso, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir. The bulk of Prosecco DOC is grown on low-lying plains, while the higher quality Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG is produced exclusively in a small area on hillside vineyards. 

Growing in popularity over the last 40 years, Prosecco exports have been increasing by double-digit percentages since 1998. Approximately 150 million bottles are produced annually, with the UK the biggest importer consuming 25 per cent of all production.

Unlike Champagne, Prosecco is produced using the Charmat-Martinotti method, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks instead of in the bottle

Served chilled it should be drunk preferably within three years of its vintage, with only exceptional quality bottles aged longer.

Meant to taste fresh and light, its aromatic and crisp flavour brings apple, pear, peach and apricot to mind.

Prosecco is usually drunk as an aperitif, but Brut can be paired with Parma, mild cheeses, sushi, seafood and dim sum, while the extra dry goes well with Panettone, sponge cakes, macaroons, mousses and parfaits.

It can also be used in cocktails including Bellini plus Spritz, and substitute Champagne in the Mimosa.

Cin cin and happy tasting!

Spanish sparkle

December 12, 2017

WHAT better way to celebrate Christmas and New Year than to POP open a bottle of cava with friends?                           

 A sparkling wine with Denominación de Origen (DO) status from Catalonia, cava can be produced throughout Spain, though about 95% is from Penedes (near Barcelona) with Codorníu and Freixenet the major and best known among about 200 manufacturers.

Cava in Catalan means "cellar" with the name officially adopted in 1970 to distinguish it from French champagne, though only wines produced in the champenoise traditional method may be labelled cava.

The primary grape is Macabeu with faint floral aromatics and slightly bitter finish;  Xarel·lo has stronger floral and fruity aromas while Paralleda has high acidity and citrus flavours, creating a balanced fruity sparkling drink closer to Champagne than Prosecco.

Produced in varying levels of sweetness, the driest cava is brut nature, progressing  through brut, brut reserve, seco, semiseco to dulce which is the sweetest.

Dating back as early as 1851, cava can be white (blanc) or rosé (rosat), which is produced by adding small quantities of red wines: Cabernet  Sauvignon,  Garnacha or Monastrell. 

Though some regard cava as an aperitif or a drink served for a toast, in fact it is highly versatile when food pairing as it can be light and refreshing all the way up to full-bodied.

Its acidity and effervescence will compliment a whole range of foods including poultry,  cured and smoked meats, fish and seafood in addition to light desserts and spicy Asian dishes.

Cava prices range from a few euros per bottle to €30 for a Gran Reserva, though in all cases I do not believe you will be disappointed.

Happy tasting.         

Spanish value

November 30, 2017

TORO is a Spanish Denominacion de Origen (DO) for wines produced in the Castile and Léon areas of Zamora province.

The DO takes its name from the town of Toro  with wines made locally since 100 BC and where King Alfonso IX 1300 years later granted lands to religious orders with the obligation to plant vines. 

Many of the 40 churches that still exist in Toro - which sits above the Río Duero and boasts medieval architecture and the site of Spain’s first university - were built through wealth generated by the wine trade.

Producers established underground bodegas to ensure more effective temperature control, as many vineyards sit at 600 - 750 metres above sea level amid sand, clay and calcareous soils that suffer climate changes from winter lows of -11c to summer highs of 37c. 

Due to the protection provided by the sandy soils, Toro vines were not affected by the phylloxera louse at the end of the 19th century, and many vineyards 80 to 100 years old are now the source of grapes for special cuvées. 

Tinto de Toro, which is synonymous with Tempranillo, is an early-ripening grape with small berries and thick skin translating into intense, deeply coloured, full-bodied, tannic and excellently valued wines that pair well with meat dishes. 

Most of Toro’s best wines are 100 per cent Tinto de Toro, although those with just 75 per cent of the variety and blended with Garnacha, also qualify for DO status. 

Tempranillo Colegiata by Bodegas Fariña (100 per cent Tinto de Toro) and Caño Tempranillo-Garnacha (Blend) by Bajoz are among my recommendations. 

Happy tasting.

MY recent comments on Tempranillo led to requests from readers for additional information which I am happy to provide.

It is useful when buying Tempranillo to understand the four legal ageing terms listed on most Spanish wine bottles as they affect quality and flavour.

• Vin Joven: rarely aged in oak, they are released young, intended for immediate consumption, and are not very common outside Spain.

• Crianza: reds aged for two years with six months in oak, traditionally American which is stronger than other types (ie French).

• Reserva: reds aged three years, with one year in oak, resulting in a higher quality with richer, round flavours.

• Gran Reserva: exceptional vintage wines, aged a minimum of five years with 18 months of oak ageing.

Depending on the region, Tempranillo is known under various names: Tinta del País in Ribera del Duero, Tinta de Toro in Toro, Ull de Llebre in Catalonia, Cencibel in Valdepenas where it is the predominant red grape and Tinto Fino in other regions.

Tempranillo is most commonly blended with Garnacha, Mazuela, Merlot, Monastrell and Cabernet Sauvignon; is the major component of the typical Rioja blends and constitutes 90-100 per cent of Ribera del Duero wines.

Reasonably-priced labels of Tempranillo ‘vin Joven’ include Rioja 2016 Pagos del Rey by Castillo de Albai; Crin Rioja; and Senorio de Los Llanos by Garcia de Carrion.

Recommended to serve at 15ºC, this can be achieved by putting the open bottle into the fridge 15 minutes before pouring.

Happy tasting.

THIS year’s Beaujolais Nouveau will by now have been heralded in various parts of the world after being held in bonded warehouses for release at one minute past midnight (CET) today, the third Thursday of November.

A red wine from Gamay grapes grown in the Beaujolais region of France, nearly 4,000 vineyards produce the 12 officially designated types of Beaujolais Nouveau.

Initially meant to celebrate the end of the harvest and intended only for local consumption, around 70 years ago producers saw the potential for marketing Beaujolais Nouveau and the idea of a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage was consequently born.

This attracted wide media coverage, and by the 1990s it had become an international event. The wine - from grapes which by law must be picked by hand - has a short fermentation period and is bottled only six to eight weeks after harvest.

Purplepink, fresh and very low in tannins, Beaujolais Nouveau’s fruity flavours include banana, figs and grapes. Definite variations between vintages are an early indicator of the quality of the year’s regional harvest and it is recommended to serve Beaujolais Nouveau slightly chilled to 13ºc (55ºf), ideally with light meals, and within six months from harvest.

While connoisseurs do not regard it as a great wine, I feel it is worth trying.

Sante’ and Happy tasting!

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