SCOTLAND’S strong links with France stretch back to the Auld Alliance of 1295 when the two countries signed a treaty to help each other against the military threat from the English.
Scottish mercenaries fought for the French and, in part payment, Scots enjoyed the first pick of the wines produced in Bordeaux.
Fast-forward seven centuries to 1984 and another Frenchman, Christian Bouteiller, was reigniting Scotland’s links with France by founding a wine importer with Jonathan Kennett – and calling it Alliance Wine. The company, which is based at Beith in Ayrshire, has a branch in London and is now toasting its 30th birthday.
Having started with only 50 wines on its list, today the firm imports more than 1,000 from 18 countries. Alliance is now led by two Masters of Wine – chief executive Fergal Tynan and wine development director Giles Cooke – while Bouteiller is executive chairman.
The team has scooped a host of awards, including the International Wine Challenge Wine List of the Year trophy, and supplies wines to a range of restaurants, from the Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow to the Tate Galleries. It is also very strongly represented among Scotland’s independent wine merchants.
Alliance prides itself on working with “individual but uniformly inspirational vignerons”, and Norrel Robertson, another Scottish Master of Wine, certainly falls into that category. Known as “The Flying Scotsman”, he has worked around the world and now makes wines in Calatayud in Spain. Robertson’s fresh and layered 2011 The Cup and Rings Albariño (£13.95 at The Bon Vivant’s Companion, Edinburgh) is an excellent example of his skill, with an appealing mineral backdrop and attractive ripeness which emerges as a slightly sweet edge. There are also flavours of apple and nectarine, with a lemon tang, savoury spice and a long briny finish.
If Albariño is now one of Spain’s most celebrated white grapes, Torrontés has certainly acquired that title for Argentina – one of six or more countries where “Made by Alliance” wines are created in partnership with passionate, local producers. One such result is the pleasingly aromatic 2014 Santuario Chenin Torrontés (£7.95 at The Fine Wine Company, Edinburgh). This puts Torrontés together with Chenin blanc to generate a smooth and light wine with complex flavours of apple, cloves, honey, lemon, mint and peach, which merge and mingle before leading into a delightfully clean finish.
Another example of Alliance’s Masters of Wine lending a hand to producers can be found with the 2013 Thorny Devil Old Vine Grenache (£15 at Cornelius Beers and Wine, Easter Road, Edinburgh). Tynan and Cooke worked with Peter Leske at his Revenir winery on the edge of the Barossa Valley in Australia to create this light and smooth red with a twist of tannin, but also bright raspberry and cherry fruit enhanced by chocolate, mint and vanilla embellishments.
Back to Spain, and 2011 Luis Cañas Rioja Crianza (£12.99 at Henderson Wines, Edinburgh) made by Juan Luis Cañas, who has helped his winery become one of the pace setters in Rioja Alavesa. His smoothly textured crianza is dark, with toasty aromas on the nose leading to red cherry, mint and liquorice on the palate, but with everything capably supported by balanced acidity and firm but proportionate tannin.
So let’s raise a glass to this modern take on alliances – no longer just with France, but now with winemakers around the world.
2009 Taste the Difference Vinedos Barrihuelo Rioja Crianza Spain, 13.5 per cent
This bright, intense Rioja has smooth plum and cherry fruit which is given depth by earthy beetroot touches and enlivened by vanilla and other spices. The 12-plus months a crianza spends in oak has mellowed and softened the tannins significantly.
Down to £6 – from £8 – until 18 November at Sainsbury’s
2013 Camillet Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc France, 11.5 per cent
In the hullabaloo about Lidl’s “claret offensive” this smooth, soft white from the same region could be overlooked. It has appealing rounded tangerine fruit with a fresh, lime-based citrus edge and well-judged underpinning texture.
£5.49 at Lidl