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December Wine By Neil Sowerby

Burgundy bliss and more from the troubadour of grog

Published on December 3rd 2012.

December Wine By Neil Sowerby

THE Burgundies of Vallet Freres are fixtures on north west merchant and restaurant lists – in main due to 30 years of vigorous championing by Gatley-based importers Boutinot. Gordon Ramsay’s a fan, too – they are stocked at his Michelin-starred eateries. 

There are hints of peach and smoke on the nose, while there is cream and vanilla on the palate with some tangy acidity. The understated elegance is mirrored by the classy austere label. 

Brothers Bernard and Jean-Christophe Vallet have stuck to a traditional winemaking philosophy of “minimum intervention”. Their reward –  being named French Wine Producer of the Year 2012 in the International Wine & Spirit Competition. 

I could see why when I lunched at Zinc in The Corn Exchange with the avuncular Bernard (pictured here later that day when the editor had taken him for a pint of Holt's bitter at the Hare and Hounds, Shudehill). The three accompanying wines – a Meursault, Chassagne Montrachet and a red Beaune Premier Cru – were sublime and Bernard was buzzing... 

“We believe the award is recognition of the quality we can achieve in Burgundy if we stick to the traditional methods of whole bunch vinification in open-top fermenters using only natural wild yeasts and pigeage for our reds, without needing to resort to cold maceration nor once-fashionable massive extractions,” he said. 

The trio of wines we tasted are stocked by Zinc and all the Piccolinos and Restaurant Bar Grills owned by the Individual Restaurant Group (click here, prices are per their lists). 

Vallet et Freres, Chassagne MontrachetVallet et Freres, Chassagne Montrachet

Vallet Freres Meursault 2010 (£57.95). Wonderful concentration from grapes hand-picked from low density vines, then without de-stemming or temperature control gently pressed in open wooden casks and left on the lees for an extended period, before it was passed into French oak barrels for maturation. It was even bottled by gravity. There are hints of peach and smoke on the nose, while there is cream and vanilla on the palate with some tangy acidity. The understated elegance is mirrored by the classy austere label. 

Pierre Bouree Fils Chassagne Montrachet 2008 (£85)Bouree is the parent company name dating back to 1864, the Vallet family joining in 1945. This is more opulent, with hazelnuts and honey on the nose, almost buttery on the palate, the new oak well integrated. 

Beaune Premier Cru Epenottes 2007 (£49.95). Classic Pinot Noir aromas of red berry and spice. Supple sour cherry juiciness but with gaminess and some soft tannins. A few more years of development and it will be even lovelier. This is available at £23.89 from David Byrne of Clitheroe, who stock a range of Vallet wines. 

That red would be a perfect match for the Christmas bird as would another Boutinot fave, Cairanne La Cote Sauvage, made by Eric Monnin in Boutinot’s own vineyard in the Cotes du Rhone offering oodles of Grenache-driven fruit. Byrnes stock the 2007 and 2009 vintages, while Reserve of Didsbury, currently celebrating their ninth birthday, stock the 2008 at a bargain £12.50. 

IF your budget is a little tighter here are a couple of sturdy, fruity sub-£8 reds. 

Viñalba Reserva Cabernet Malbec Merlot 2010 (Sainsbury’s down from £9.99 to £7.99 between December 12 and January 1) from Argentina has surprising elegance and structure but above all lots of spicy dark fruit. 

Réserve Combes AOP Saint-Chinian 2011 (Waitrose, £ 7.49). A silky blend of 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache grapes from the Languedoc. Excellent casserole wine with its ripe blackberry and liquorice aromas and soft spicy, palate. 

VergelegenVergelegenMore complex is the just-released South African Vergelegen Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2009 (Majestic, £10.99) – a classic  Bordeaux blend with, unusually more than a quarter of Cabernet Franc. It’s a grape that can struggle for ripeness but benefited from a long mild growing vintage. The result is a lovely marriage of oak and berry fruit with a long finish.   

The Wine Society was named 2012 International Wine Challenge Specialist Wine Merchant of the Year for Portugal. To celebrate The Society has put together a Portuguese offer for members (a lot of whom live in the Manchester area judging by a recent tasting at the Freemasons’ Hall). The mixed cases in the offer, available until December 17, include:  Everyday Favourites (£72); Everyday Portuguese Reds (£84); The Portuguese Exploration Case (£72 for 6 bottles); cellar-worthy Douro Reds (£119 for 6 bottles). 

Portuguese pickers modelling next year's head 'thing'Portuguese pickers modelling next year's head 'thing'

I tasted a couple of entry level wines in the offer, both of which were distinctive and good value... 

Monte Velho, Alentejo, 2011 from Herdade do Esporão (£6.75). Deep magenta in colour, smoky on the nose, smooth and damsony on the palate.

Quinta da Espiga Branco, Lisboa, 2011 from Casa Santos Lima (6.50). Fragrant, fresh dry white blend of Portuguese varietals Fernão Pires, Arinto and Moscatel, with some Sauvignon.   

Coming soon my Christmas Bubbly recommendations. Watch this sparkling space.

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