With Liberty Wines’ strength in Italian wine, there is no surprise to see that country well represented in my review of their red wines, but Chile and Australia also fly the flag for the southern hemisphere.
Vignetti Zabù “Il Passo” Nerello Mascalese 2017 (13.5%, RRP €19.99)
Extra richness in Italian reds has become a major trend over the past few years, often with a degree of drying the grapes before fermentation to give extra alcohol and / or sweetness in the finished wine. Like many trends in wine there are volume manufacturers who jump on the bandwagon but, for all the boxes ticked by the wines they are often unbalanced and unsatisfying.
After getting my fingers (palate?) burned a few times I tend to stay clear of these wines, but this is one that really breaks the mold and hangs together really well. The increased concentration is achieved by partially cutting the vines and letting the grapes dry by around 15% before harvesting and fermenting. The finished wine has 9 g/L of residual sugar, but the acidity from the Nerello Mascalese grape balance it perfectly.
There’s also a version made from 100% Nero d’Avola and there was previously a blend of 60% Nerello Mascalese with 40% Nero d’Avola, but this is the one that really does it for me.
With cherries, chocolate and coconut it instantly reminded me of my favourite chocolate bar from Australia – Cherry Ripe!
Principe Pallavicini “Rubillo” Cesanese 2016 (13.0%, RRP €19.99)
Cesanese is a new grape for me, though like many Italian varieties it has an ancient history and could date back to Roman times. It is one of the best grapes indigenous to the Lazio, the region which includes Rome. Here it is very smooth, but interesting rather than bland – in fact it’s drop dead gorgeous. Its ripe red and black fruit make it perfect for a winter tipple.
Donnafugata Sherazade Nero d’Avola 2017 (13.0% RRP €22.99)
Donnafugata are one of the premier producers in Sicily and retain a special place in the heart of all those who taste their wines. The Sherazade is a bigger, smoother, juicier Nero d’Avola than most in the Irish market. The price means that it’s perhaps a weekend rather than weekday treat, but its spicy black fruits are well worth your consideration.
Outer Limits by Montes “Wild Slopes” Apalta CGM blend 2016 (14.0%, RRP €31.99)
Montes are a leading producer in Chile, managing to make everyday wines that are very drinkable plus their premium Alpha range wines which have long been a favourite of mine. The Outer Limits wines are more premium still, but are in a finer, more ethereal style than the Alphas. This is a blend of 50% Carignan, 30% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre – which might be termed a “Languedoc Blend” for want of a better term – all from the company’s own vineyard in Apalta.
On pouring and even before tasting, berries jump right out of the glass. It’s a big wine (14.0%) but not humongous – the fruit is fresh and complemented by restrained oak. If you know anyone that “doesn’t like Chilean wine”, let them try this blind!
Balnaves Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (14.5%, RRP €42.99)
Coonawarra is in South Australia, not too far from where the border with Victoria hits the sea. The southerly latitude and greater exposure to coastal breezes give the area a significantly cooler climate than the Barossa Valley which is 250 miles / 400 kilometres further north (a short distance in Australian terms!) Add in the famous iron-rich red Terra Rossa topsoil over limestone, and you have probably the best place for varietal Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia – and a candidate for best in the world. Keep your eyes peeled for a forthcoming in-depth feature on the area.
This 2012 is showing a little maturity and lots of great Cabernet character – black fruit with graphite and tannins. In fact it’s probably more Cabernet than stereotypically Coonawarra in character, with mint and eucalyptus notes definitely in the background. Gorgeous wines like this show why Coonawarra is my favourite red wine region in the world!
San Polo Brunello di Montalcino 2013 (14.0%, RRP €63.99)
Brunello is one of those wine regions which really needs some time to be understood – and given the premium prices, that’s well worth doing. San Polo is owned by Marilisa Allegrini of the Valpolicella producing family – she has undertaken significant investment to further improve quality. For me this wine isn’t really about Tuscany or Sangiovesi, it’s about power with finesse – just a very accomplished wine.
Montes “Purple Angel” 2015 (15.0%, RRP €68.99)
Whether this says more about the (necessary) drawbacks of such tastings or my lack of familiarity in appraising such wines is debatable, but after being open for over 24 hours this angel really spread its wings. Consisting of 92% Carmenère (Chile’s signature grape) with 8% Petit Verdot, this is a big, oaky wine that’s set for the long haul. Intense black fruit has a halo of violets and mocha – a combination that might sound strange but really works. Probably the best Carmenère around?
The Free Pour Series: