IT’S true that Rome was not built in a day – and it took three centuries to develop the elements of the chianti wine appellation into what it represents today.
Full marks, then to the Somontano producers in Spain’s Aragon region. They have created a range of inexpensive, serious wines despite only acquiring Denominación de Origen status in 1984.
Far from trying to replicate the classic wines from other parts of Spain, Somontano’s producers opted for fruit-forward, new world styles right from the off. Admittedly, the area’s substantial temperature variations (between summer and winter and between day and night) lend winemaking a hand here. Those conditions help keep sugars and acidity nicely in balance. To experience the type of freshness this harmony can create, try the soft, juicy but still relatively rich red, 2010 Finest Somontano (£6.99, Tesco).
Typical of the progress in Somontano are the attainments of the area’s flagship winery – Vinas del Vero. It has produced impressive fare like its 2011 Vinas del Vero Gewürztraminer (£10.50, www.tanners-wines.co.uk). Its excellent acidity makes it much livelier (and more versatile with food) than flabbier gewurz. That same acidity lives on in older versions such as the 2001 Vinas del Vero Gewürztraminer Coleccion. There, however, it is enhanced by honey and smoothly perfumed touches.
Further up the quality ladder comes 2005 Secastilla Old Vines Garnacha (£22.99, www.thospeatling.co.uk). This is a concentrated, spicy red created from ancient garnacha vines in a high vineyard. Even more startling are the results from the superb winery built at Blecua around 15 years ago specifically to develop top-level reds. The seven best vineyards were selected and additional quality screening applied. The outcomes include masterpieces such as the 2004 Blecua with its meaty but fresh cherry and blackcurrant flavours that linger on the tongue – and in the memory. In the UK, Thos Peatling is still working on the similarly impressive 2002 vintage but the labour-intensive production techniques do make prices of over £60 inevitable.
Associations between this area and good living are not confined to wine because Blecua is also truffle country. I joined one expedition in the juniper-covered hills led, in theory, by a gnarled truffle bagger. In reality, the power was exercised by his ageing but super- sensitive dog, Tito.
The morning’s harvest – half a dozen pungent, walnut-sized truffles – formed part of that evening’s 17-course banquet Michelin star chef Carmelo Bosque had assembled. That Blecua came into its own with a beef dish but lighter items on the menu were matched to the smooth, apricot-centred 2008 Vinas del Vero Clarion (£13.92, www.thedrinkshop.com). The exact components of the blend vary from year to year but it is consistently impressive.
Having been the midwife of such eye-catching progress, Vinas del Vero became part of the Gonzalez Byass group in 2008. There it joined partners as diverse as New Zealand’s Jackson Estate and Tio Pepe sherry. The group is adroit at spotting wine-related potential. Consider, for example, the rich and structured 2008 or 2009 Finca Constancia (both £8.81, Exel, Perth), which expands an orthodox Bordeaux blend to include syrah and tempranillo.
Along with excellent projects like Constancia, the winemakers of Somontano neatly demonstrate just how people with a vision can quickly build something special. It is amazing what adaptability, determination and a readiness to use the latest techniques can produce – even from a standing start.
2010 Stone Rock Sauvignon Blanc Bordeaux, France, 12 per cent
Like sophisticated Marlborough versions, this sauvignon has real depth (in the form of zingy, balanced tangerine fruit) to add complexity to its fresh, grapefruit headline flavours and the hint of sherbet they embody. £7, Oddbins
2009 Wakefield Estate Merlot Clare Valley, Australia, 14.5 per cent
Another big, classy and great-value red from the Taylor family, with dense prune and cherry fruit, a soft, chocolate finish fortified by touches of nutmeg and vanilla. £9.99 (down from £10.99 until April), Majestic