© 2009-2011 Quality Eating and Drinking London Ltd

 

© 2009-2011 Quality Eating and Drinking London Ltd

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White wines from red regions

A number of weeks ago now, I promised on these pages that I would be reviewing some white wines from natural wine specialists Aubert and Mascoli “in a day or two”. Hmmm. Can I get away with great wine takes time as an excuse? Thought not. Anyhow, here’s a pair of wines connected by their both being natural, and both being white wines produced against the grape (as it were) in overwhelmingly red wine regions.

Valli Unite Colli Tortonesi Ciapè 2009

Cortese, the white grape of Gavi, has managed to achieve great fashionability amongst the Piedmontese, the white wine of choice when they're not drinking barbera or barolo. Like all fashionable wines, it can be both over-priced and a big let-down. In the cause of research, I’ve been sampling a cortese or two just to see how Ciapè compared.

No comparison.

The research bottles shall remain anonymous though I’m sorely tempted to reveal all so that you can steer well clear. Their failings? Principally that they exhibited what I call “crushed paracetamol”, a disgustingly nasty chemical bitterness on the palate — a by-product, I presume, of an obsessive quest for freshness, an exclusion of oxygen to the point of flavour strangulation.

Ciapè is in a completely different league. It achieves that sought after freshness, the lean steeliness that cortese should display; but manages to do so whilst letting its flavours blossom. Its nose is startlingly flowery and zesty — a spray of apple or pear juice through freshly punctured fruit skin. The palate has depth, roundness and minerality as well as an edgy acidity. Subtle. Complex. It flies the flag for cortese in a way not always managed by other makers, even though it’s a humble co-operative wine, albeit under the watchful eye of Ottavio Rube. And natural wine that it is, it won’t be giving you a headache. No need for that crushed paracetamol then, and Ciapè doesn’t have it.

I like it a lot.

Valli Unite Colli Tortonesi Ciapè 2009: £13

My next wine flips us from north west Italy to south western France and demonstrates the ways in which smells and flavours can reawaken long-buried memories.

St Chinian “Les Eminades” blanc 2009

While for Proust, it was madeleines and lime blossom tea that triggered memory, for me the other day it was a bottle of St Chinian blanc from Aubert and Mascoli. No sooner had I taken a sniff than I was transported over fifteen years back in time to a bottle of fêted winemaker, Olivier Jullien’s “Les Vignes Oubliés”, enjoyed with much-missed South Ken wine gurus, Mike and Liz Berry of La Vigneronne fame.

Jullien was determined to resurrect the charms of the grenache blanc, which formed the backbone of his forgotten vines. The St Chinian “Les Eminades” blanc 2009 is based on the same grape — one neither readily encountered here in the UK nor in its native France. White wine only accounts for a measly 5% of wine production in the St Chinian appellation, and not much of that is grenache blanc. Like Olivier Jullien, winemaker Luc Bettoni stumbled across some old and unloved parcels of vineyard and realised their potential. Grape varieties like these deserve much wider appreciation and certainly shouldn’t just be left to wither into extinction.

On the nose, “Les Eminades” blanc offers a complex combination of tropical fruit mixed with subtle vanilla and the spices that tight-grained new oak imparts: cinnamon, nutmeg, a touch of cloves perhaps. On the palate it feels ultra smooth, despite ample acidity, and has a broad weight that is never heavy or clumsy. Restrained oak, elusive soft orchard fruits and a nutty roundness combine attractively, and the wine has great length. It feels very classy indeed, reflecting the care that has gone into its making. Organically cultivated, it’s handpicked, and undergoes a rigorous triage before fermentation proceeds spontaneously from indigenous wild yeasts. It’s matured on fine lees in barrels for 11 months and is allowed to clear naturally without fining or filtration.

I hadn’t imagined that I would taste the like again.

St Chinian “Les Eminades” blanc 2009: 80% grenache blanc, 20% marsanne: £15.