‘BECOME more exper-imental” is surely a long overdue New Year resolution for wine drinkers. Because timid shoppers cling desperately to what they know, some fantastic wines go largely ignored.
So here are a few suggestions for those of you prepared “to boldly go”, even if only sometimes. To source them, I have turned to the French wine trade’s engine room of innovation: Languedoc.
First up, then, is 2012 Domaine Les Yeuses Vermentino (£7.50, Lea & Sandeman), which uses a grape often associated purely with Sardinia: Vermentino. In fact, the variety is widely planted across Italy and France and there are 15,000 hectolitres of it produced in Languedoc alone. Being relatively late ripening, however, it does need a warm and sunny climate. This particular example is a light and bright white with fresh lemon acidity to enliven its rounded, tropical fruit flavours, but it is the underlying components that are especially noteworthy. A pithy, herbal and savoury finish – with clear suggestions of minerality – provide a complexity that is rare indeed at this price point.
Petit Manseng certainly meets all the criteria for unusual Languedoc grape varieties, not least because well under 100 hectolitres are produced in the entire Pays d’Oc IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée). Despite some experimentation in other countries, this is largely a grape for the south-western corner of France and is most commonly encountered in the sweet wines made a little further west in Jurançon. In 2012 Domaine de Valensac Entre Nous (£7.49 and arriving shortly at C2C Wines), however, the wine is even more unusual because it is blended with sauvignon blanc. The result is a delightful white with textured, minty peach and slowly developing, juicy, orange flavours that are given vibrancy, clean, grapefruit influences and an alluring fringe of lime.
Moving on from whites, we must sample the region’s dry and delicate rosés which, unlike so many “modern” examples, are dry enough to be legitimate food wines. With its pliable tannins and pale colour, it is no surprise to find black grenache widely used for those rosés. But in 2012 Gerard Bertrand Gris Blanc (£9.99 at www.strictlywine.co.uk, where minimum purchase rules apply), there is also a contribution from the much rarer grenache gris. The resulting wine has all those typical dry, light and savoury characteristics but builds them around fresh, perfumed strawberry and white currant flavours that instantly take you back to summer lunchtimes in a garden somewhere sunny.
Finally, then, to a red that contains a slightly unexpected grape variety in its cast list. France does blending well – peaking perhaps a little further north and east with ChSâteauneuf du Pape (where no fewer than 14 varieties are permissible blending partners). 2012 Côté Mas Rouge Intense (£6.49 instead of £7.99 until 3 February at Majestic, where minimum purchases also apply) only uses five, but what is slightly unusual is that they include merlot. Each variety, however, plays its part in orchestrating wine that is chewy and quite full yet shrewdly balanced by well-judged levels of tannin and acidity. That structure is made more attractive by the plum and bramble fruit and the graphite, liquorice and herbal influences that support it.
So, even if resolutions are too passé for you, perhaps this brief round-up will encourage you to try something different – and possibly start a minor New Year revolution!
2011 Macon Villages Burgundy, France, 13 per cent
Classic entry-point white Burgundy at a good price with this current promotion. It has a nice apricot edge to give depth and ripeness to the traditional apple-centred acidity and zesty lemon touches of Mâcon, but here they are all supplemented by a spice and mint finish. £6.49 instead of £9.49 until Wednesday at M&S
2012 La Umbra Merlot Dealurile Munteniei, Romania, 13 per cent
This part of Romania – towards the Ukraine border – is producing some really good wine at present and I particularly enjoyed this red’s rich bramble and dark plum fruit with spicy chocolate depth and soft tannins that is much more robust than many of the merlots currently available. £5.99 at Waitrose