The twice yearly Ely Big Tastings are a highlight of the consumer wine tasting calendar. With so many fantastic wines on show it’s pretty much impossible to taste them all, but it’s fun to try. Here are a mere handful of the reds which stood out for me:
Serradenari Barolo La Vetta 2011 (14.5%, RRP ~ €48, On The Grapevine)
Barolo is such an enigma, and can be made in such different styles that you really need to know the producer to know what you are getting. This is one to add to the “thumbs up” list! The vines are in the highest part of Barolo, giving a longer growing season and plenty of acidity and minerality, but above all plenty of fruit! Yes there’s enough tannin to go round, but it frames rather than hides the fruit. I’d imagine that this will improve over the next decade – and continue ageing gracefully after that – but it’s delicious right now.
Frères Laffitte Le Petit Gascoûn Rouge 2016 (12.5%, RRP ~ €13.50, Febvre)
Like its white counterpart that I tried earlier in the year, this is an accessible, easy-drinking wine that is very well made for the money. Le Rouge is a blend of 80% Tannat (better known as the backbone of the tannic Madiran) and 20% Cabernet Franc. Seeing that blend on paper would have given me pause for thought, but it’s actually full of soft summer fruits and isn’t the tannin monster that some Madirans can be. My friend Michelle who tasted it with me said she could imagine herself quaffing this in the back garden on a summer’s day.
Domaine de Montcy Cheverny Rouge 2016 (11.5%, RRP ~ €23 Grapecircus)
The French Appellation d’Origine Controllée system has a lot to answer for (a discussion for another time) but one of its upsides has been preserving traditional grapes and blends, especially in lesser known areas. Cheverny is a small AOC in the Loire for reds, whites and rosés. The reds are a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, sometimes with a little bit of Malbec (Côt to the locals) thrown in – and this bottle has all three of the Loire’s main black grapes: 60% Pinot Noir, 35% Gamay and 5% Malbec. As you’d expect it’s a light wine, but it’s also one of the most alive and vital wines I’ve ever tasted.
Milan Nestarec Klasika Dornfelder 2015 (13.0%, RRP ~ €25, Vinostito)
Dornfelder has an interesting family tree (see below) and is interesting as a grape because it is one of the small number of crossbred varieties that have been successful from both a viticultural and flavour perspective – too many experiments created grapes that could cope with frost or mildew (for example) but whose wines just weren’t that nice to drink. Dornfelder is the second most planted black grape in Germany and has also been successful in other regions with similar climates – Switzerland, England and cooler parts of the USA.
From the name you might have guessed that Milan Nestarec is not German – he is in fact Czech, though his vineyard lies only 14km from the border with Austria. It’s a young winery, founded by Milan Nestarec Sr as recently as 2001. Located in Southern Moravia, it is run organically. This Dornfelder is from their middle Klasika range and has the variety’s typical deep colour, rich mouthfeel, moderate tannins and perky acidity.
Niepoort Bioma Vinha Velha Vintage Port 2015 (21.0%, RRP ~ €120, Wine Mason)
Vintage port accounts for a very small proportion of total production and is only released by the Port houses in the best years when they “declare” a vintage. Maceration and fermentation are done as quickly as possible so that the grape spirit can be added promptly. As an alternative, in years when a Port house doesn’t declare a vintage because they don’t have the required quality of grapes across their holdings, they may release a Colheita port. This will be from a single year but will be a different style as it will have undergone far more ageing in barrel before bottling.
A third way is this wine, a single vineyard vintage port made from old vines where the wine has spent around three years in barrel before bottling. In style it’s somewhat reminiscent of the older style where Port shippers transported large barrels (known as pipes) to London for bottling. Whereas vintage port is highly tannic, sweet and intensely fruity in its youth, this is remarkably drinkable. Yes it has the big fruit – blackberry, blueberry and blackcurrant – but they are accessible rather than being in your face. Who knew young vintage port could be this accessible?