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Neil Sowerby's May Wine Column

Mr Sowerby goes to church for a drink and then finds three wise men

Published on May 9th 2012.

Neil Sowerby's May Wine Column


THE North West Spring Wine Fest yielded many treats, once you had
accustomed yourself to a certain chill inside the austere venue that is St Peter’s Church. It certainly meant that the reds weren’t chambré, demanding a cupping of the tasting glass to warm them up.
That aside, it was well worth the trip up to deepest Ancoats. If the number of wine merchants exhibiting was small, the quality made up for this – and there were was an eclectic mix of food stalls from the Manchester Eggman to fresh breadstuffs from The Bakerie.
This new Lever Street bakery-cum-wine bar also revealed itself as a potent retail wine source with the arrival of ex-Oddbins manager Dale Meakin. You can now take out an exemplary array of wines from their tasting store – along with the in-house baked bread. Or you can sample
by the glass from a serving system they claim is a first for Manchester. Watch next month’s column for a full evaluation of their range (the wine, not the bread).

North West Spring Wine FestNorth West Spring Wine Fest 

The star wine of the Fest for me, though, was Albillo Picarana, Bodega Maranones 2010 (Harvey Nichols, £17.50). The albillo grape is a rarity, usually only found in blends, but here, vinified alone, it is a full-bodied riot of honey and vanilla with an underlying herby minerality that reminds me of white Chateauneuf. Serious stuff from 40 to 80 year old vines, organically farmed in uplands near Madrid. It would be lovely to see how it develops in the bottle over a number of years.
I also enjoyed its red neighbour on the HN stand – Rioja Reserva Decenio, Bodegas Las Orcas 1999 (£14) – savoury old style 100 per cent Tempranillo Rioja benefiting from a couple of years in older oak and a deal of bottle age. From a small family-run winery in the Alavesa, it is beautifully balanced, slightly smoky-spicy with blackberry and damson upfront. A bargain for this quality.

Harvey Nichols gemsHarvey Nichols gems

Corks Out (www.corksout.com) next door offered another excellent reserva Rioja, Vina Palaciega Reserva 2006 (£11). Very elegant, leather and dried herbs on the nose, with a more restrained fruit than the Decenio, this has years of development left in it, but would be a lovely accompaniment to game dishes.
Best value red of the day also came from Corks Out, who have stores in Alderley Edge, Chester and Stockton Heath. Carlotta Nero d’avola (£6.50) is pure Sicily in a glass. It smells of ripe plums and cherry, and tastes warm and dense with a hint of bitter chocolate. 
Hanging Ditch (www.hangingditch.com) offered a range of their wines at a Fest rate of £12.50. Two of the most attractive were a white Rioja, Navajas Blanco Crianza 2008, a traditionally made but subtly oaked example that had me swooning with its toastiness and nuttiness, and their big-selling  Azamor 2008. This Portuguese multi-grape red blend, from a family-owned estate in the Alentejo, is an absolute charmer, all ripe blackcurrants and chocolate, with soft and lingering tannins yet some heft. 
Pacta Connect was a Fest discovery for me. The company website, www.pactaconnect.co.uk, reflects Trevor Long and Judith Burns’ love affair with Croatia, in particular the Istrian peninsular and its winemakers. Their favourite appears to be an ex-restaurateur from Trieste called Giorgio Clai, the biodynamic godfather of Istrian viticulture. “The family’s land at Krasica is in the perfect position in those Buje hills; the mixture of air from the Adriatic sea and the Učka mountains meeting in the Mirna valley produces a perfect microclimate for the vines and olive trees,” they write. On the evidence of one of Giorgio’s complex white blends he’s taking full advantage.

Istrian joyIstrian joy

Pacta’s roster of fresh whites on offer, from Malvasia to Muscat to Chardonnay, was impressive, the reds less so. The Vineyard at Ramsbottom (www.thevineyardwineshop.co.u) apparently stocks a selection.
A bottle of Pinot Grigio retailing at £16.50? Pinot Loco! Well, think again. PG doesn’t have to be the insipid plonk that’s sadly the Brits’ safe bet white. It can be a ethereal fruity treat from its honeydew melon aromas through to a palate of rip pear and peach. Hail the (entry level) Lis Neris Pinot Grigo 2010 from Friuli Berry Brothers Rudd sent me recently to promote a quartet of attractive wines with the slogan Spring is Sprung.
Even better was the 2010 Beaujolais Villages Le Tracot from Domaine Dubost. 2010 is proving the equal of the wonderful 2009 vintage in the right hands and Jean Paul Dubost has produced a dense hit of fresh black fruit with a touch of acidity that is quite beguiling at £9.95.
If you buy a six-bottle case there  is a saving of £9.90 and £6 respectively. For more news on these and the Sancerre and generic Bourgogne Rouge in the outstanding offer visit www.bbr.com/spring.
Next, a lovely southern French quaffing red best served slightly chilled. Majestic stalwart Cuvée de Richard Red 2011 (£5.29) is a blend of traditional Languedoc varietals Grenache and Carignan with a touch of merlot. Concentrated and soft.
From the same producer, Alain Grignon, comes a Burgundy-inspired newcomer – Monte Vallon Chardonnay (Majestic, £7.99, in promotion at buy two save £2 until September 3, 2012). It’s from one of the few winegrowing areas in the Languedoc with pebbly soils. The stones retain the heat of the day throughout the night. Night harvesting, low-temperature fermentation and some oak treatment result in a round, juicy white, surprisingly complex for the price.
Still as the weather continues to be unseasonal I’m sticking to my reds. One particular favourite, at a terrific price, is Doña Dominga Petit Verdot Gran Reserva 2009. This varietal gets neglected in its native Bordeaux but in Chile’s Colchagua Valley the Casa Silva folk transform it into a succulent, chewy dark fruit treat with a long finish. Go towww.tesco.com  and you can £45.54 for six-bottle case, equivalent to £7.59 a bottle.

Dona_Dominga_Petit_Verdot[1]Dona Dominga Petit Verdot

Stablemate Doña Dominga Single Vineyard Shiraz 2010 (Waitrose, £7.49) is a spicier, plummier red from old vines, a splash of Malbec adding complexity. Straightforward, good barbie wine (for when the weather picks up). 
Real Wine Month
In conjunction with The Real Wine Fair (www.therealwinefair.com), which is taking place in London from May 20-22, restaurants across the UK are being invited to take part in Real Wine Month, and give their customers the chance to try natural wines by the glass.

Natural wines are made from organic or biodynamic grapes with minimal intervention in the vineyard or the winery. Real Wine Month seeks to highlight and celebrate these wines in restaurants and independent retailers by making them widely available for consumers to taste.
Up to 200 restaurants are expected to participate around the UK, and newly confirmed in Manchester are: Market Restaurant (www.market-restaurant.com/), The Bakerie (http://bakerie.co.uk/) and Selfridges (http://style.selfridges.com/store/manchester-exchange-square/). Many more are signing up each day and retailers too are holding promotional events.
Throughout May, each will offer at least one white and one red natural wine by the glass. All the featured wines will be produced by a winegrower attending The Real Wine Fair, which will take place at  6 Victoria House, Southampton Row, London WC1B 4DA. 
Win tickets for the Three Wine Men
IT’S a busy time for wine events. The visit of the Three Wine Men was a highlight in last year’s wine tasting calendar. Now Oz Clarke, Tim Atkin and Olly Smith’s roadshow is back at the Museum of Science and Industry in Castlefield on May 26 and 27. Alongside the keen-palated trio there’s a whole raft of interesting exhibitors, including Wines of Portugal, Majestic, Roederer Champagne. Riedel Glass and many more.
For full details of sessions visit http://threewinemen.co.uk. Tickets cost £20 a head but you can get in for free. I have three pairs of tickets to give away for the Sunday afternoon session. For your chance to win name Oz Clarke’s co-star in the BBC series The Big Wine Adventure. Mail your answer to neil@neilsowerby.co.uk. Closing date: Monday, May 21.

Three wine menThree wine men

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