Two delicious whites – a Pinot Gris and White Rioja

I popped into Vagabond this week and tried a couple of delicious whites – the Bodegas Ontanon Vetiver white Rioja and the Awatere River Pinot Gris from New Zealand.


The Rioja region in Spain is of course better known for its reds. Indeed the production of whites is pretty minimal in comparison. The grape variety is Viura (known as Macabeo elsewhere in Spain) and the traditional style of white Riojas would often be extremely heavily oaked with an almost oxidised aroma to it. The Bodegas Ontanon Vetiver has none of this; it is relatively restrained and paired back for a Rioja allowing its fresh fruit characteristics to shine through. The nose is lovely and creamy due to the 6 months spent in American oak; a very well-balanced wine. The suggested food match would be a crab lasagne or paella.

tasting notes

The Rioja was good but the Awatere River Pinot Gris was fantastic. Hailing from Marlborough in New Zealand it had a luscious, apricot nose with a hint of spice. The body was full, off dry with a wonderful intensity of flavour and a very good length. It also came with the most brilliant food match suggestion – pork fillet stuffed with apricot and spinach – which I have to say, sounds like it would go perfectly. So much so that I bought a bottle (not cheap at £13.95 but worth the money I thought) and will have to imagine up said dish some time soon.

Vagabond – I’ll let you know how it goes!!

Spain. But without Rioja

We had the second instalment of our Wine Club last week – what a rowdy bunch! I think having the very good excuse of drinking lots of wine for ‘educational purposes’ provoked a little too much excitement in some folk! Chosen topic of the night was Spanish wines; we decided to leave out Rioja because, let’s face it, everyone drinks Rioja and Spain has so much else to offer. It is a country that has a very traditional history of wine making but which is gradually starting to accept  more modern styles and techniques. Although known for its reds, it produces some outstanding whites and sparkling wines which are now appearing more and more on the international market. The whites went down a storm actually with the Ribera del Duero winning out as the clear favourite among the reds…

Codorniu Brut NV 

Cava is big business in Spain. Over the last couple of decades it has suffered from a bad reputation due to the poor quality product that was often produced. These days there are some really really good Cavas around and they always offer good value for money. Unlike Prosecco they are made using the same method as Champagne and so are often much more similar stylistically. You will often be able to pick out the slightly biscuity notes and even honeyed aromas that you may associate with a much more expensive bottle of Champagne. The key difference, aside from where it comes from, is the grape varieties – Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-Lo. The Codorniu Brut is excellent value, very easy going in style with subtle hints of citrus and apples.

Cuatro Rayas Verdejo, Rueda

Verdejo is sometimes described as Spain’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc; honestly I quite often prefer it. Although dry and with fresh acidity it is much softer than Sauvignon Blanc and with a fuller body. These are great wines to drink by themselves due to this approachable nature and display flavours of stone fruits, pears and minerals.

Albarino Martin Codax, Rias Baixas

A few years ago it was almost impossible to get hold of Albarino. It’s a fantastic grape and widely grown in Galicia but local demand is high and few producers made enough for it to be worth exporting. Martin Codax makes fantastic wine and if you’re ever in that part of the world they are very hospitable towards visitors at the winery. I spent a few days here in 2008 helping with the vintage (grape picking in the sunshine) and it was just brilliant. In terms of style, Albarino is not a million miles away from Viognier; crisp and fresh on the palate but with a real aromatic character of stone fruits and ripe apples. This is a perfect match with the local dishes which mainly revolve around seafood and shellfish.

Escondite Perfecto Mencia Bierzo

Bierzo is being recognised more and more as a quality wine region producing wines from the little know Mencia grape. Honestly I was a little disappointed with this wine. When made well wines from Bierzo can display fantastic depth of flavour and character but sadly this is exactly what this wine lacked. It was perfectly pleasant with lots of upfront fruit and plummy flavours, but that was about it. The alcohol stood out too much and for the £9.99 it cost me I thought it was overpriced.

Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero

Ribera del Duero is a region that is seriously giving Rioja a run for its money. It has the same rules as Rioja regarding the different styles (Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva) and uses the same grape variety – Tempranillo. The high altitude of this region, combined with the warm days and cool nights, mean that the wines produced have fantastic fruit concentration without giving away any of the aromatic complexities that make them the success story they are. As I said – this was the star of the night; dark fruit and dark chocolate are complemented by a smooth texture and upfront yet silky tannins. This will be delicious with barbecued or flame grilled red meat.

Acustic Cellars Ritme Priorat Tinto

This was the interesting one of the night for me. I had to hunt around a bit to find a Priorat but it was definitely worth the effort. Priorat as a region produces some truly outstanding wines and its reputation has continued to grow over the last decade or so. The principal grape varieties tend to be Carinena and Garnacha but some international varieties are also often used. Although it was a little young it nonetheless displayed fantastic complexity; the initial cherry fruit opened up and gave way to a slightly more dried fruit / raisiny character. Its length and complexity were worthy of its £18.99 price point – a lot of money I know but this is the kind of wine you buy as a treat. A great option for an Easter Sunday lunch for example – perfect with spring lamb!



The French, The Spanish and the Not-So-Great Pig

Having just gone public with my blog (when I say public I mean having actually coughed up my blog address to people that actually know me) I’m feeling a modicum of pressure today. Not least because I have no doubt that any factual or grammatical errors will be repeated back to me within minutes. This is also going to be my first entirely wine-based post – yes it really has taken me 5 posts to finally get to the point…

Albariño really is a fantastic wine and we are slowly starting to see more of it available in the UK. It comes from the Rias Baixas region in Galicia and is immensely popular both locally and in the rest of Spain. As with so many other wines this goes brilliantly with the local cuisine which is seafood and shellfish. The one I’ve tried today is Sainsbury’s Albariño from their Taste the Difference range – although I bought it in Sainsbury’s Local for £8.49 it is available from bigger Sainsbury’s at £7.99 (more fool me). Pale lemon in colour this wine has an unbelievably fresh nose of lemon-sherbert, peach and stone fruits. It is medium bodied, retains the stone fruit flavour on the palate but with a much more apply character. It is given structure by it’s stoney minerality, fresh acidity and an ever so slight spritz. It is often said that Albariño is a great alternative to Chardonnay but I know that will put a lot of people off. It has more body than you’d expect for a wine with otherwise delicate flavours and is definitely one worth trying if you haven’t before.  Continue reading…