IT WAS Einstein who suggested that education is what is left when everything you learned has been forgotten. That would resonate with two ex-pat Scottish winemakers I encountered this month.
Scott D’Arcy, from Penicuik, was an engineer at university but now makes wine in Greece, while Spanish wine specialist Norrel Robertson, a son of Forfar, studied politics. Nevertheless, you can see the part played by disciplined and enquiring minds developed by academia. That is presumably what old Albert had in mind.
It was the sudden death of his brother-in-law that forced D’Arcy to become a winemaker. By then he had moved from project-managing dams to a key role in the management of his in-law’s wine business in Greece, but its survival depended on someone quickly filling the gap this family tragedy had created. That he did so successfully is illustrated by the first-rate indigenous whites the winery makes, which build on the foundation created by their award-winning retsina. For example, 2010 Kontoyianni Savatiano (£9.99, Penicuik Wines) is a nicely balanced white with fresh grapefruit flavours, underpinned by something more tropical and a whisper of minerality.
D’Arcy, however, was itching to go further and took himself off to Bordeaux to learn how to make claret-style wines. Applying his engineer’s mind to the project, he quickly developed 2008 Unfiltered Kontoyianni Merlot (£11.99, Penicuik Wines). It is a typical Bordeaux-style red with real depth and substance, attractive blackcurrant-centred acidity and a vanilla-influenced finish with just enough tannic grip to work brilliantly with food. Both of these wines are available in several other Scottish independent wine merchants.
The issue for Greek wine is its price. As land is scarce and expensive, labour costly and there’s little room for mechanisation, cheap entry-point wine is an economic non-starter. This denies the industry the ‘trading up’ platform that for most countries builds a following for their mid-priced wines.
By contrast, the progress of Norrel Robertson is gradual. After Oddbins, he worked as a ‘cellar rat’ in Tuscany before making wine in Portugal, Australia, France and Chile. Along the way, he acquired the coveted Master of Wine award. He finally created his El Escoces Volante (Flying Scotsman) venture in Calatayud to produce wines that are distributed in the UK by Alliance Wine, the Ayrshire-based wholesaler.
Using resilient yet terroir-sensitive local garnacha grapes and vines that can be 70-plus years old, he created the rich and concentrated 2009 Garnacha La Multa Old Vine El Escoces Volante Calatayud (£7.25, Vino), with earthy, ripe berry fruit and touches of minerality.
Another venture involves what Laura Boyce at Alliance calls “a Scotsman’s Spanish take on a Rhône classic”, with 2009 El Escoces Volante Dos Dedos de Frente Shiraz Viognier (£21.75, Vino). This new wave Spanish award-winner co-ferments about five per cent viognier with the shiraz to stabilise its colour and add floral touches. It has spicy, black cherry fruit with oak and chocolate on the finish.
Making his own wines is not the whole story, though. Robertson also acts as a consultant and has helped develop some excellent, inexpensive Spanish wines for the UK market. He has acted as midwife to successful wines such as the rich tempranillo and lively, fruit-forward verdejo in Tesco’s Finest range. Other attractive wines that bear his hand-writing include the 2010 Toronegro Mazuelo Shiraz (£6.99, Co-op), which uses the mazuelo grape.
These quite different stories re-affirm what a resourceful race the Scots can be in any walk of life.
• 2010 Pouilly Fumé Les Charmilles Loire, France, 12.5 per cent
This is a terrific Pouilly at a superb price, with soft, clean and pure touches and smooth lemon fruit supplemented with hints of orange. £7.99 (down from £12.99 until 3 January), Co-op
• 2010 Rigal, The Original Malbec Lot, France, 13 per cent
France reclaims malbec with this excellent, smooth, dark and juicy red, which builds good acidity into its soft, red plum fruit but with most of its tannin worked through. £5 (down from £7.67), Asda