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Neil Sowerby's April 2012 Wine Column

Manchester's Big May Wine Festival And For The Love Of Malbec

Published on April 23rd 2012.


Neil Sowerby's April 2012 Wine Column
BY the time you read this the bunting will be down, Malbec World Day will have passed. But I’m going to continue toasting this characterful red grape variety.
The name comes from a Georgian tale in which the hero claims that only a wine beyond measure could make a pheasant cry tears of joy. Quite soon I hope to be hosting National Saperavi Awareness Day. Join me.
Like a puppy not just being for Christmas, Malbec is definitely for the other 364 days of the year, particularly when there’s a steak to be partnered. 
 
Grown in France for centuries, it was primarily the grape for making Cahors, the moderately famous 'black' wine of the South West.
Often unyielding tannic stuff whose fruit didn’t match its beguiling aromas of violet, cherry, liquorice and for fanciful terroiristes,  the local black truffle. Auxerrois and Cot were other names for it, but like Malbec rarely mentioned on the label.

Cahors and Le Pont Du Malbec - or something like thatCahors and Le Pont Du Malbec - or something like that

 
Much has changed over the past decade with even the Cahors vignerons quick to trumpet the Malbec name after Argentina’s annexation of the grape in the public eye. There’s even a site www.cahorsmalbec.com to link the French original with it plusher, fruitier South American cousin. 

Cuttings were brought over in 1850 from Bordeaux, where it was primarily seen as a workhorse grape, but it flourished in the Mendoza vineyards as a perfect match for Argentine beef – and chocolate.

Malbec central in Manchester is Gaucho, which has more than 50 different bottles of the stuff in its cellar. This Argentine steakhouse off Deansgate never fulfilled its promise to open a branch here of its retail outlet, Cavas de Gaucho but you can order (at under half the price) any wine you enjoyed with your meal. For prices, visit here.

Neil Sowerby (left) is shown round Gaucho in central Manchester by a waitress with a moustacheNeil Sowerby (left) is shown round Gaucho in central Manchester by a waitress with a moustache

 
Try a middle range bottle such as Vina Patricia Malbec 2009, which is £10.70 a glass, £42.50 a bottle in the restaurant. From Gaucho’s own Mendoza vineyards and named after the owner’s wife, it is smooth on the palate with discreet oak, definite plummy spice and a hint of chocolate.
 
The winemaker is a dynamic local winemaker called Mauricio Lorca, who just happens to be 'Winemaker of the Month' at Barrica, the award-winning merchant just outside Preston - click here for details of this guild-year must visit destination shop. Owner Jane Cuthbertson is partial to Malbec and regularly stocks the fabulous biodynamic examples from Jean Bousquet. This April, though, is offering a special £10.95 price for the whole Lorca Fantasia range.
 
The Lorca Fantasia Malbec 2011 smells of blackcurrant and violets and is firm and velvety in the mouth. Great value.
 
Nearer home, Reserve of West Didsbury also participated enthusiastically in Malbec World Day. Zuccardi Serie A Malbec (£10.50) is a more restrained, modern-Cahors like than its more exuberant compatriots, with perfumed complexity and good aging potential. Reserve have several other interesting Argentines at higher prices.
 
Vinalba Reserva Malbec 2009/2010 is more upfront with chocolate and vanilla on the nose, great lingering redcurrant and blackberry fruit flavours and a 14.5ABV count. At Majestic it costs £10.99, while the more Bordeaux-like Vinalba Gran Reserva Malbec is £14.99 (save £4 on two).
 
I chanced upon a Languedoc take on Malbec in an unlikely setting. In the Smithfield building on Tib Street next to FYG deli there’s a convenience store, whose groundfloor doesn’t seem to live up to its SuperStore title. Venture into the basement, though and there’s a terrific booze selection from Anchor Steam Beer to Sipsmith London Gin at competitive prizes. The wine shelves are stocked from top-notch importers Boutinot.
 
Their winemaker responsible for France’s deep south, Eric Monin, has sourced Les Volets Malbec Haute Valee de l’Aude (£7.50), with scents of parma violets, licks of soft raspberry fruit and a typical dark chocolate hit. It transcends its humble Indication Géographique Protégée (Protected Geographical Region) status, which replaced the old vin de pays categorisation.
 
Another unlikely source of quality wines is a tight little shop on a bad bend north of Bolton. In my last column I mentioned I’d be seeking out Turton Wines. I have done and loved the world tour of eclectic wine regions. Brett Dawson began his groundbreaking wine business online but established the Darwen Road, Turton shop a year ago. 
 
His true love appears to be that unsung cradle of viticulture – Georgia. Not the US state that hosts the Masters, but the former Soviet satellite in the Caucasus.

Georgia - it's where the whole drunken mess beganGeorgia - it's where the whole drunken mess began

I bow to Brett’s blurb: 'Georgia is now thought by archaeologists to have been the first country in the world to discover how wild grape juice turned into wine when it was left buried throughout the winter in a shallow pit: carbon-dating of grape-pips has shown that they were making wine as long ago as 7000BC a tradition which has continued unbroken ever since. 
 
'Farmers still store wine in giant cone-shaped clay jars, buried in earth and topped with a wooden lid, as they did 4000 years ago. Some linguists believe the word ‘wine’ itself comes from the Georgian word ‘gvino’.'
 
Feeling adventurous, I forked out £22.45 for his favourite gvino, Telavi Marani Satrapezo 2007. Hand-picked Saperavi grapes from old vines are lightly crushed then fermented in traditional clay amphoras (kvevri in Georgian), buried underground. Once the first fermentation is complete, the young wine goes into French oak barrels to complete its malolactic fermentation and then mature. 
 
The unfiltered result is as black/red as a Cahors of yore and, surprise, surprise, has the characteristics of a Super Malbec. Soft oak masks the power and structure there but it is silkily appealing with whispers of liquorice and vanilla beside the whack of chocolate and dark fruits. A revelation. An Aussie flying winemaker has welded modern techniques to Georgia’s traditional feats of clay here.
 
Another Turton Wines Georgian sounds more hardcore. I may well return to test my tastebuds on Pheasant’s Tears Saperavi Living Black Wine 2007 (£17.95). It’s organic, aged again in clay vessels, lined with organic beeswax.

The name comes from a Georgian tale in which the hero claims that only a wine beyond measure could make a pheasant cry tears of joy. Quite soon I hope to be hosting National Saperavi Awareness Day. Join me.
 
Bizarre wine lover’s fact: The new editor of the Manchester Evening News, Rob Irvine, co-owns a wine shop with his partner. Bizarre? Well, it’s rather a haul from the MEN’s HQ next to Morrisons, Hollinwood, and the bijou but well-stocked Vinomondo on Conwy’s steep High Street. When I was covering the Welsh seaside town’s food festival I attended a wine tasting they co-hosted with legendary weathergirl Sian Lloyd.
 
Check out their website and – sticking to my task – you’ll find an excellent example of a modern Cahors, Chateau La Pineraie 2007 at £10.49. The Malbec is softened by the addition of 15 per cent Merlot. Unlike an Argentine Malbec it’s quite earthy but has an abundance of cherry and characteristic liquorice.
 
The 2006 Pineraie is on the list at The Mark Addy in Salford – £5.20 by the glass, £22 the bottle. Jay Rayner, reviewing, raved about the wine, causing quite a run on it when his Observer followers ventured across the Irwell to Rob Owen Brown’s hardcore hostelry.
 
DON’T forget The North West Spring Wine Fest 2012, to be held in the appropriately Italianate setting of St Peter’s Church, Ancoats, Saturday and Sunday, May 5-6.
  
Participating wine specialists include Hanging Ditch, The Bakerie, Origin Wines and Spirits, Tour de Belfort, Pacta Connect, Harvey Nichols, Fyg Deli and The Co-operative. Food will come from independent cheesemakers and other artisan suppliers.
  
Over three sessions, the Fest aims not only to showcase a first class bounty of fine wines and independent merchants, but to also explore the relationship between Manchester and wine - what this much loved tipple means to its inhabitants. Accompanying it will be walking tours of this historic area, once known as Little Italy.
  
To book tickets visit  here.  

Cutting Room Square and St Peter's Church in the backgroundCutting Room Square and St Peter's Church in the background

 
OH and the following Saturday evening, May 12, my new fave shop, Turton Wines is holding an Argentinian  tasting. Tickets are £16 each. Expect a fair share of Malbecs.
You can follow Neil Sowerby on Twitter here.

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