Leslie Williams: Wines from a valley you've never encountered before

Ireland’s wine drinkers have fully embraced the big bold Malbec wines from Argentina but this week I’m recommending a couple of Pyros Wines from a valley you have probably never encountered before.

Leslie Williams: Wines from a valley you've never encountered before

Ireland’s wine drinkers have fully embraced the big bold Malbec wines from Argentina but this week I’m recommending a couple of Pyros Wines from a valley you have probably never encountered before.

The Pedernal Valley is an isolated self-contained region about 100km north of Mendoza in the foothills of the Andes. The valley is a sub-region of San Juan and the grapes grown here were often blended into other wines from the region but, given the unique combination of soils and altitude here, it was only a matter of time before they got their own appellation.

The name Pedernal comes from the Spanish word for flint and the fire reference in Pyros pays tribute to this. The soils are rocky and of little use for growing food crops but are perfect for vines. This is a warm region but the fact it is 1,200-1,400m above sea level easily compensates, with the added bonus that the glacial soil here has large amounts of limestone making it one of the highest limestone wine regions in the world.

Claude and Lydia Bourguignon are two of the most influential people in the wine world due to their expertise in soil and an endorsement from them can send land prices skyrocketing. On a recent visit they lauded the region, waxing lyrical about the mix of calcium and fine minerals and the loose nature of the soil that allows vines to dig down several metres in search of water and nutrients — expect to see more from this region.

Limestone soils give a wine texture and flavours and assist in grape ripening — they retain moisture in dry weather and offer good drainage in wet cold weather and famous examples include Chablis, Champagne and the Southern Rhone. All the Pyros wines have rich fruits but also freshness and elegance and I recommend my two favourites below, however do watch for the Syrah and the single estate Malbec also.

Cahors meanwhile, the original home of the Malbec grape, also has some nice calcareous bedrock with clay and limestone soil to influence its wines. Cahors once had around 80,000 hectares under vine in the 19th century but after the double whammy of powdery mildew followed by phylloxera the region was devastated and there is now just 5,000ha planted. Cahors is often a little more rustic than the malbecs from Argentina but that is changing and one of my favourites is recommended below.

BEST VALUE UNDER €15

Santa Rita 120 Early Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Chile — €8 (normally €12.50)

Stockists: SuperValu exclusive

The first wine of 2018 has arrived and of course it is from Chile. Made with grapes from the Maule and Colchagua valleys using only free-run juice and cool-fermented at 16C to preserve acidity and freshness. This is disarmingly aromatic on the nose with citrus and pineapple fruits and bursting with juicy crispness on the palate.

Hornhead Malbec 2017, France — €9

Stockist: Centra stores nationwide

Centra has a good little selection of drinkable fruity wines and the two Hornhead wines are among the best. The Sauvignon Blanc is bright and crisp with zingy green apple flavours and this southern France Malbec has rich dark fruit aromas with a touch of mocha and ripe soft fruits on the palate. This could be drunk a little cooler and would work with barbecue.

Callia Pinot Grigio, Argentina — €14.50

Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, World Wide Wines, Bradleys, Mannings, 1601 Kinsale, Baggot St. Wines, McHughs, Coach House Ballinteer

You may have sensed this page does not have a lot of love for Pinot Grigio, certainly not the washed out entry level versions. I did like this however, mainly because it is packed with floral peachy aromas with a pleasing textured and ripe fruity palate and some decent freshness on the finish.

BEST VALUE OVER €15

Pyros Barrel Select Malbec, Pedernal Valley 2014, Argentina — €19.95

Stockists: Bradleys, Mannings, World Wide Wines, Vintry, O’Donovans, Noffla member outlets

Grapes for this are from a cool limestone-influenced vineyard 1,400m above sea level. Smoky ripe dark fruit aromas — blackcurrants hit the palate first followed by mouth-filling juicy blackberry fruits but with admirable freshness followed by a long finish.

Pyros Special Blend Vineyard Malbec 2014, Pedernal Valley, Argentina — €40

Stockists: World Wide Wines, Bradleys, Mannings, 1601, O’Donovans, O’Driscolls, Vintry, Sweeneys, Martins

A blend of 70% Malbec with 22% Syrah and a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon with blackberry and spicy dark fruit flavours and a lovely minty freshness — a happy mix of complexity and elegance and despite the big flavours this is supremely drinkable.

Château du Cèdre Extra-Libre 2015 Cahors, France — €24.99

Stockists: Bradleys, World Wide Wines, Greenman, Le Caveau

I’ve mentioned the excellent du Cèdre wines before but not the extra-libre version of their standard wine which is made with no added sulphur. This is softer than the standard wine but equally generously fruited with more fine pure fruit flavours — soft plums at first followed by juicy sweet prunes on the finish with good elegance and balance.

Contact Leslie Williams at wine@examiner.ie

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