JUST as simple labelling and fruit-forward flavours assisted the rise of New World wines in the 1990s, so imaginative experimentation with unfamiliar regions or grapes in Europe could help the pendulum swing back.
After all, Italy’s nutty and aromatic fiano wine is now a major success story, appearing on many mainstream wine lists after narrowly escaping oblivion.
Falanghina, like fiano, was an old grape variety from southern Italy that was facing extinction. But it, too, has been rescued and now gives the world gentle white wine with excellent lime-based acidity that, like sauvignon blanc, will go well with shellfish. I found three versions on the high street. The 2010 Via Collina Falanghina Puglia (£8.99, Waitrose) had the sharpest zestiness but complemented that with appealing celery and spice undertones and touches of pear to mellow those long, lime-based flavours. Finest Falanghina Puglia 2010 (£5.99, Tesco) is a notch rounder, courtesy of hints of ripe melon and nutmeg, without compromising the crisp and floral lime and pear fruit and rhubarb-style tanginess. These wines are from the heel of Italy whereas the softer 2010 Falanghina Beneventano (£5.99, M&S) is from nearer Naples. It nevertheless has zingy green apple influences, nicely supplemented by a minty freshness that drifts into a faintly orange finish.
Among the hearty reds of Languedoc, we find the white wine oasis of Picpoul de Pinet – and another comeback story. The revival of the picpoul (meaning ‘lip-stinger’) blanc grape in today’s acidity-friendly world is understandable – regardless of its low yields and propensity to disease. Since its main UK stockists are still trying to establish its place on the wine radar, it was no surprise to find that all four high street examples I tried were well made.
The lightest in texture and clearest in minerality is 2010 Picpoul de Pinet (£7.29, M&S). Though there are touches of orange, the main influences are clean melon flavours with a distinctive flinty backdrop. A little less mineral-based is 2010 Domaine Felines Picpoul de Pinet (£8.49, Waitrose), which is more substantial yet still delivers some sharp, prickly, grapefruit-based flavours. However, 2010 Finest Picpoul de Pinet (£7.29, Tesco) is a smoother and softer version, with restrained lemon and lime acidity, gentle kiwi fruit flavours and an attractive flowery backdrop.
Finally, I sampled the newly arrived 2011 Villemarin Picpoul de Pinet (£6.49, Majestic), and this too was a rather soft wine with, given its youth, surprisingly rounded tropical fruit flavours.
Of course, newcomers are not restricted to white wines, as evidenced by the rise of Priorat – not a grape variety but a region just over the Spanish border from Languedoc. These Catalonian wines made a step change in quality when the full potential of its slate and quartz terroir was recognised, about 30 years ago. The harsh, rocky conditions not only make the wine concentrated (because yields are so low) but also seem to add complexity and an underlying tingle of minerality. That high quality and the small size of the region (and of its harvests) means prices can be high. The Wine Society has several vintages from Clos Mogador for around £40 a bottle, but for an inexpensive idea of what it’s all about try 2008 Taste the Difference Priorat (£9.99, Sainsbury’s). It has powerful and structured black cherry and bramble fruit with pronounced touches of chocolate on the finish.
So, for anyone with ‘trying something new’ among their New Year resolutions, this could be a good time to head for the shops.
• 2010 Canyon Creek Merlot Lodi, California, 13.5 per cent
This excellent-value, soft, fleshy and smooth red has classic New World intense, blackcurrant-centred flavours and associated acidity. £4.99 (half price until 5 February), Morrisons
• 2008 Organic Chablis Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis-Prehy, France, 12.5 per cent
It costs a little more than most selections here but this beautiful chablis is clean and smooth with excellent buttery and lemon-based fruit and a balanced yeasty backdrop. £12.99 (down £2), M&S
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Friday 24 May 2013
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