2023’s edition of the SuperValu Italian Wine Sale runs from Thursday 18th May to Wednesday 7th June, so that’s 3 weeks to pick up a few bargains with your weekly shop. Or, if you’re like me, you might stock up on a few in advance of barbecue season.
Millefiori are now in their fifth generation of winemakers in Puglia. They have invested in modern premises to vinify their grapes from Salice Salentino and Manduria, and produce wines in a modern style. Here are two of their entry level bottlings:
Millefiori Puglia Pinot Grigio 2022
Most Italian Pinot Grigio is grown in the north of the country where it produces light, fruity and fresh wines that are omnipresent in pubs and restaurants of the UK and Ireland. Some of them can be a little on the neutral side, as flavour is lost in favour of higher yields.
This example comes from the warmer climes of Italy’s “heel”, Puglia, where it is a relatively recent newcomer. The nose is great, full of ripe orchard fruits. The palate is a little more subdued; those orchard fruits appear again on the mid-palate, but are replaced with linear acidity and archetypal Pinot Gris texture on the finish. Wait, Pinot Gris now? This does have some commonality with drier versions of Alsace Pinot Gris, so for me that’s a positive.
If you like Pinot Grigio from Italy – or elsewhere – then this is definitely worth a try. If you normally avoid Pinot Grigio then this could be one to change your mind!
Millefiori Puglia Primitivo 2021
Primitivo is of course the same grape as California’s Zinfandel, though it is often quite different in style. In Italy it can be somewhat rustic, even a little earthy, compared to the jammy fruit bombs of California. This Millefiori Primitivo is actually a dead ringer for the Cali style, with exhuberant dark fruits on the nose then an explosion of red, blue and black berries on the palate. There’s a touch of earthiness still, but it’s just a single note among the cacophony of fruit. There’s definitely a little residual sugar here – as in the norm for commercial Zinfandels – so it would be great for marinated barbecue. This is a real crowd pleaser than really punches above its price.
With the current restrictions on being able to visit restaurants in many countries, eating – and drinking – at home has become the new dining out. As we have been lucky with the weather in Ireland so far this summer the siren call of the barbecue has been heard throughout the land.
How should we choose the wines to drink with our charcoal cooked food? For me there are a few key criteria:
Drinkability: this doesn’t mean a dichotomy between wine that is either palatable enough to be drunk or wine to be poured down the sink, it means a BBQ wine should be approachable, gluggable, and not austere.
Robustness: barbecue food has lots of strong flavours and needs wines that can stand up to it and take it on. There’s little point drinking a delicate Tasmanian Pinot Noir with flame-grilled burgers or sticky ribs
Affordability: barbecues are an informal affair – you’re often eating without utensils, possibly on paper plates, and quaffing multiple glasses, so reasonably priced wine makes the most sense.
Here are a couple of wines I tried recently that perfectly fit the bill – and as it happens they are both from Puglia in Italy.
Disclosure: Both bottles kindly provided as samples, opinions remain my own.
Old True Zin Barrel Aged Zinfandel Salento IGT 2018
The name and label design of this wine are more reminiscent of a beer than a wine, and using the better known term Zinfandel rather than its Puglian name Primitivo give it an American image. Is this misleading? Perhaps a little, but the most important aspect of any bottle of wine is the liquid, and its that which I am assessing.
The bright purple colour in the glass gives you an idea of what you’re in for. The nose showcases an intense collection of fruits – plum, black cherry, blackberry and blackcurrant among them – plus notes of coffee and chocolate – mocha anyone – and vanilla from the barrel ageing. The flavours on the palate are a continuation, so no surprises there, but even given the richness of the nose the full-on explosion of flavour might take you back. It’s the richness and sweetness together which make this such a mouthful.
On reflection, if this wine suggests that it is a Californian Zinfandel then that it is fair enough as it is exactly in that style!
Stockists: Mortons, Ranelagh; Listons Camden Street; Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Gleeson’s, Booterstown; Molloys Liquor Stores; The Old Orchard Off Licence, Rathfarnham
Bacca Nera Negroamaro Primitivo Salento IGT 2018
The Bacca Nera is from the same place as the Old True Zin and is the same vintage, but differs in two main respects; firstly, it has (attractive) conventional packaging with an Italian name, and secondly that Puglia’s other main grape: Negroamaro. It’s a little less deep in colour than the Zin, but we’re not talking Pinot Noir here.
The nose is delightfully spicy at first, then revealing dark berry fruits. In fact “Bacca Nera” means “Black Berry” according to google translate, so the name is apt. On tasting this wine is a big mouthful – round and powerful with sweet and rich fruit – very more-ish. The fruit flavours are both red (strawberry, raspberry and red cherry) and black (blackberry and black cherry), tamed by a touch of bitterness (that would be the Amaro) which adds interest and partially offsets the sweetness.
Stockists: Mortons Ranelagh; Listons Camden Street; Barnhill Stores, Dalkey; La Touche, Greystones; Gleeson’s, Booterstown; Molloys Liquor Stores; The Old Orchard Off Licence, Rathfarnham
These wines both fit the bill perfectly. There’s little to choose between them in quality and just a slight difference in style. With my BBQ ribs I would narrowly choose the Bacca Nera! Now where are my coals…
The wine market in Irish supermarkets is a tough one to get right, balancing what consumers think they want, what they actually want, and trying to stock better and/or more different wines in a low margin, competitive environment.
One key trend – which is not unique to the Irish market – is the preference among many consumers for richer red wines. At the lower end of the market, many of these wines contain significant amounts of residual sugar, but consumers think they only like dry wines – and what they don’t know can’t hurt them, I suppose. It’s not for me to tell people their tastes are wrong, it’s just that I don’t share them.
Here are some of the delicious reds that I tasted recently at SuperValu’s Secret Garden Party:
Trisquel Family Collection Magnum 2013 (14.0%, RRP €49.99, currently €20, at SuperValu)
This is top of the bill for a very good reason – the special offer! Unlike many wines with such significant reductions (Hardy’s Crest, I’m looking at you), this is actually worth the full price and isn’t a label that just exists to be discounted. The wine is built on Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (20%) and Petit Verdot (8%), with a little Rhône included for interest in Syrah (12%) and Petite Sirah (10%). The nose is just amazing, luscious black fruit, chocolate, coffee and exotic spice. On the palate it is a little restrained, so it could play a good role with food as well as on its own. I’m dropping a few hints to the family about a bottle for myself!
Albert Glas Pfalz Pinot Noir Black Label 2014 (13.5%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)
Like the equivalent Riesling (see part 2) the Black Label Pinot Noir from Albert Glas is made with premium fruit and fermented in local oak barrels. Thankfully, the oak isn’t overdone so there is only a little noticeable on the palate. Instead, the oak adds textures and depth to the plush red fruit. For my money this is nicer than most Burgundy at the same price.
Dona Ermelinda Reserve Palmela Red 2015 (14.5%, RRP €85 for 6 at SuperValu, will be on offer at €50 for 6 from 20th August)
The Palmela region is close to Lisbon and best known for its reds. Here local grape Castelão is the mainstay with 70% of the blend, and the international Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon make up the balance with 20% and 10% respectively. This is a proper Portuguese red, with rich and powerful black fruit framed by tobacco notes and soft tannins. An excellent wine for a barbecue!
Nugan Estate Langhorne Creek Single Vineyard Zinfandel 2015 (15.0%, RRP €16.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)
California’s Zinfandel is of course also known as Primitivo in Puglia and (the harder to say) Tribidrag and (the even harder to say) Crljenak Kaštelanski in Croatia. All of these are warm climate areas, so why not also in South Australia? It’s a big and bold wine, lots of fun and nicely straddling the red and black fruit border. There’s a touch of sweetness on the finish but the tannin stops it becoming too jammy.
Although the French wouldn’t like to hear it, there are some high level similarities between the USA’s AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and the French Appellations d’Origine Controlées (AOCs), namely that the most prestigious delineated areas are small and sit within larger areas, sometimes with multiple layers – for example, just as Puligny-Montrachet is a part of the Côte de Beaune and then the larger Burgundy area, Russian River Valley is part of Sonoma County, then the North Coast and finally the general California area.
Confusing? Perhaps, but the relative size of an appellation within a region is one (of several) indicators to a wine’s quality. Here are three wines from Cline Cellars – a producer I hold in high regard – that illustrate this.
Cline Cellars North Coast Viognier 2013 (14.0%, €17.99 at jnwine.com)
The North Coast AVA is illustrated on the map above – it contains the world-renowned Napa and Sonoma plus other great areas such as Los Carneros. If a producer uses grapes from one of those prestigious areas then s/he will use that on the label, but if the vines lie outside them or the wine is a blend from different regions then North Coast will be used.
This is a 100% Viognier, the aromatic grape that was once almost lost apart from a few plots in Condrieu in the Northern Rhône. It manages to be freshand rich at the same time, with typical Viognier aromas of flowersand stone fruit such as apricotand peach. It has a little oilinessin the mouth and more body than many whites. Viognier is a grape that I don’t always get on with, but this is the best Californian Viognier I’ve tried to date – and great value too!
Sonoma Coast is the part of Sonoma County that lies – you guessed it! – on the coast. This obviously makes it a cooler climate area than inland Sonoma (it also receives more rain than the rest of the county), so it’s more suited to varieties such as Pinot Noir. That being said, at 14.5% this is no shrinking violet of a Pinot – you’d never wonder if it was actually a rosé rather than a red, like some Pinots! It has a lot of body and power, but it’s no monster either, as there’s plenty of acidity to keep it in balance, and although it feels silky and voluptuous in the mouth there’s no alcohol burn on the finish. In line with the experience there’s an abundance of bold black fruitand a twist of exotic spice. It’s an all-round impressive wine!
Cline Cellars Contra Costa County Big Break Vineyard Zinfandel 2011 (16.0% €29.50 at jnwine.com)
Based on my somewhat basic understanding of California’ geography, Contra Costa County is actually just outside the North Coast wine area, right at the bottom of the map at the top. This is a single vineyard wine, so perhaps some sort of equivalent of Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Folatières? Well, that might be a bit fanciful, but the (unirrigated) vines here are a century old and produce impressive concentration. The sun beats down fiercely during the day but the nearby Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers provide cooling breezes at night which allow the grapes to rest.
Okay, there’s no hiding from the size of the Big Break Zin (named after an old levee in the area which broke decades ago) but you don’t have to – it’s approachable and cuddly rather than intimidating. It wears its 16.0% well, just like its little brother Pinot, all down to balancing acidity. In fact the acidity comes through in the type of fruit tasted on the palate – fresh black cherry and blackberry, with hints of cinnamonand other spices.
Of course the comparison between AVAs and AOCs can only go so far – the latter can be incredibly prescriptive in terms of varieties, yields, vine training, irrigation, alcohol levels and many other things, whereas AVAs are primarily just based on vineyard location. But I think that the wines above do show that there are different quality levels and that smaller is generally better. It could just be down to the nature of the grapes for each wine, but above all paying more definitely brings the rewards of higher concentration in the glass.
This series of articles each covers two wines that have something in common, and most likely some point of difference. Compare and contrast is the order of the day – so make mine a double!
Vigneti del Salento I Muri
The I Muri Negroamaro has been a firm staff and customer favourite at Sweeney’s of Glasnevin (Dublin) for many years – it even featured as one of my favourite reds from their wine fair earlier this year. Now Sweeney’s are also stocking its twin, with a very similar looking label (don’t ask me the colour difference, I’m partially colourblind).
So where are they from and what is the difference?
Salento is the south eastern part of Puglia (technically Apuglia in English I suppose), the heel of Italy. This peninsula separates the Adriatic Sea from the Ionian Sea, and thus no point is ever more than 30 kilometres from the sea.
The wine here has often been quite fiery – powerful but rustic – and was historically used to (illegally) beef up the paler reds from further north in Italy. The grapes most planted are the local specialities Primitivo and Negroamaro – and that’s exactly what we have here.
Winemaker Filippo Baccalaro is the driving force behind Vigneti del Salento, owned by the Farnese group. He likes producing fresh whites and soft, approachable reds with as little intervention as possible.
Vigneti del Salento I Muri Primitivo IGT Puglia 2013 (€16.50, Sweeney’s and other independents) 14.0%
After years of guessing it was finally proved that Primitivo is the same variety as California’s Zinfandel. Some Puglian producers are now even using oak to make their wines in a pseudo Californian style and using Zinfandel on the label for exports. Further research showed that the impressively unpronounceable Crljenak Kaštelanski from Croatia is the same grape, before finally (for now) finding the oldest ancestral name of Tribidragdown the Dalmatian coast a little.
This Primitivo is far from rustic – it has the expected dark colour, full body and firm tannins but delivered in a smooth package, where each of the components are well balanced. There’s a milk chocolate character to the texture, topped off by blueberry and red berry fruit.
Vigneti del Salento I Muri Negroamaro IGT Puglia 2012 (€15.95, Sweeney’s and other independents) 13.0%
Even a basic proficiency in Italian will give you a clue as to how Negroamaro tastes – black and bitter. But not so bitter that you can’t drink it; like many Italian wines there is a certain tartness or bitterness to the fruit, but all the better for it. Who would choose tinned black cherries over fresh ones?
The rougher edges of the grape have been rounded off by four months in French and American oak (not much of which was new, I suspect). Black cherry and blackberry fruit are accompanied by spice and dark chocolate. Acidity is prominent to keep it fresh but not so much that it tastes sour.
Comparison and Preference
This is very much a question of style and preference rather than a difference of quality; do you prefer dark chocolate or milk chocolate? Tasted side by side at a barbecue hosted by D, a fellow DNS Wine Club member and a food blogger, the group was almost evenly split on which they preferred – and everyone liked both of them, with just a minor preference for one.
So my advice is: buy both, and choose according to your mood!
Part one of my report covered some delicious sparkling and white wines. Now it’s time to focus on the red wines that I really liked at the James Nicholson Christmas Portfolio Tasting:
Vignobles Alain Maurel Château Ventenac La Réserve de Jeanne 2012 (€15.45)
An unusual (officially speaking) but traditional (entirely off the record) blend of Bordeaux and Rhône varieties, this typically consists of Cabernet Franc (30%), Merlot (30%), Syrah (35%) and Grenache (5%), though the precise assemblage is vintage-dependent. There is a long tradition of using robust and fruity wines from the Rhône to add a bit of oomph to Burgundy and fruitiness to Bordeaux. In Australia the Shiraz-Cabernet blend is an established part of the winescape, but only recently have premium multi-region blends started to reappear in France.
Vignobles Alain Maurel is based near Carcasonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Domaine Ventenac is used for everyday-drinking varietal wines whereas Château Ventenac is for terroir-driven more complex wines under the Cabardes AOC.
Vinification is in large stainless stell tanks. The grapes are cold soaked for five days then fermented at 28°C. The juice is pumped over every day for the whole 35 days of the process. 10% of the blend spends 12 months in American oak barriques and 90% spends 12 months in slightly porous concrete tanks.
Although in the south of France the aspect of the vineyards enables the wines to be kept fresh rather than jammy. This wine exhibits lots of herb and spice characters, particularly liquorice, with acidity keeping it interesting. An absolute steal at this price!
I couldn’t decide which I preferred of this pair so I put them both in! Produced in the “other” top wine area of Piedmont’s Langhe (the more famous being Barolo) this is a 100% Nebbiolo. If you are interested in the differences between the two areas then Kerin O’Keefe’s new book “Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine” is a great place to look further.
The winery was founded by Piero’s father in 1953 and is still a family affair – his wife Lucia, his daughter Emanuela and his son Pierguido are all intimately involved in the vineyard and the winery. Fermentation is in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and then maturation is 18 months in large oak barrels with a further 6 months in bottle.
The biggest difference between the two wines was explained as the altitude of the respective vineyards; the Mondino is at 190 M whereas the San Stunet Stefanet M. The obvious implication is that temperatures tend to be cooler at higher altitudes and the wines are “cooler” as a consequence. On tasting, both wines showed power and tannin but finesse. The Mondino was more feminine in character, and the San Studet Stefanetto was definitely masculine. For Bordeaux lovers, Margaux v Pauillac is something of an illustration.
So which would I chose? I’m not sure the San Studet Stefanetto is worth the price premium for my palate so I’d buy the Mondino – but if someone else was paying then definitely the former!
I was lucky enough to taste this wine when James Nicholson had a table at the Big Ely Tasting (keep your eyes peeled for the post(s)!) and liked it so much that I was very keen to try it again at JN Wine’s own tasting.
Based in California’s Sonoma County, Fred and Nancy Cline started out by restoring old vineyards planted with Rhône varieties, then adding Zinfandel and later Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. They produce several different quality levels, from “California Classics” up to more premium “Single Vineyard” bottlings.
This is their excellent version of a “cool climate” Pinot Noir, though “cooler” would be more fitting as it still manages to hit 14.5% abv. The alcohol level is not apparent when tasting as the wine is so well balanced. It’s big and powerful, yes, and more Central Otago than Marlborough, but it’s savoury and smooth rather than jammy.
Cline Vineyards Big Break Zinfandel 2011 (€29.50)
Another fine Cline wine – and if you thought the Pinot sounded big, it’s but a baby brother to this Big Zin which boasts 16.0% abv! It is a huge wine but it’s not monstrous, it’s well balanced and tasty. Black fruit rules here, with stewed, dried and fresh plums, black cherry and blackberry, along with toasted notes from the oak, and framed by firm tannins.
It’s not a summer afternoon wine, but now winter is upon us it very much fits the bill of what I want in my glass.
If you liked this post then why not subscribe to my blog – see above to the right of the post title.