The new year is upon us and at this time of year I always find myself a little betwixt and between — torn between the past and the future, memories of the year just passed, mixing with the anticipation of the one to come.
In wine terms, this means reliving some of the emotions I felt when confronted with extraordinary scents and flavours during the year.
From discovering that ‘natural’ skin-contact orange wine matches brilliantly with bitter radicchio lettuce in Ballymaloe House, to that 100-year-old sherry straight from its original cask in the cellars of Gonzales Byass in Jerez.
The latter was a wine for smelling not for tasting (the sip I took tasted mostly of charred oak) but the aroma brought to mind everything from fresh-baked bread to Christmas cake to dusty auction rooms and the smell of old mahogany.
My suggestions this week are all grapes or regions you are unlikely to know (or know well). My hope is that the optimism of the new year will encourage you to be open to new experiences. One that I hope you will pursue is sherry, which you will be hearing more about in 2016 as the sherry revival is likely to continue apace.
Palo Cortado is the rarest of all sherries and the example below is produced exclusively for Marks & Spencer by the great Sherry House of Lustau. Palo Cortado is difficult to explain — it begins its life as a Fino aged under flor yeast but is then fortified a little more and spends the rest of its life ageing as an Oloroso.
The aromas are closer to aged Fino (Amontillado) in character but the texture of the wine (the viscosity) is clearly that of an Oloroso. Some of the most memorable wines I drank in 2015 were Palo Cortado and if you are interested, there is now a movie all about it, Sherry and the Mystery of Palo Cortado. You can see a trailer and more information online by typing the following short link into your browser exa.mn/sherry.
The film was screened at last year’s Galway Film Fleadh, and l’Atitude 51 wine bar on Union Quay in Cork hope to show it later in 2016 — watch this space!
BEST VALUE UNDER €15
Very Rare Palo Cortado, Jerez, Spain (375ml) — €11.99
Stockist: Marks & Spencer
As part of your New Year’s resolution to try new things and improve your health and humour, I recommend a glass of this every day. There is no more complex wine available for less than €20. Huge aromas of blanched almonds, citrus and raisins, rich and silky on the palate with a finish of toasted almonds with a hint of charred oak. Remarkable.
Tesco Finest Teroldego, Trentino IGT, Italy — €12
Teroldego is an ancient grape from Trentino in the Dolomites in Northern Italy bordering Austria. The grape’s revival is well under way, typified by Tesco Finest’s endorsement. Distinct aromas of smoky black cherries, very crisp and fruity with huge acidity (for which the grape is famous) and perfect for spicy food or pizza.
Tesco Finest Grechetto, Umbria, Italy — €12
Grechetto is most famous for being a small part of the blend for Orvieto, a wine that was once commonplace in Ireland but seems to have all but disappeared (probably because they were all rather dull).
This has a distinctive chalky-citrus aroma with a textured floral palate which develops into something more intense and mineral on the finish. This would cut nicely through some spaghetti carbonara.
BEST VALUE OVER €15
Amaru Torrontés 2014, Calchaquies, Argentina — €15.99
Stockists: Matsons, Ardkeen, No. 21 Listowel, Whelans Dublin
Torrontés is Argentina’s distinctive white grape variety that could easily be mistaken for muscat in a blind tasting.
Hugely fragrant with peach and muscat aromas but salty lemony acidity on the finish. Well-made wine.
Oriol dels Aspres Negre 2014, Empordá, Spain — €18.50
Stockists: O’Driscolls Ballinlough, Cases Galway, Hole in the Wall, Dublin
Empordá, in the far north-east of Catalonia, has grown grapes since the 5th Century BCE. Garnacha, Carignan, Merlot and Cab Sauvignon-based, this is rich, fruit-driven and complex with solid-structured but supple fruit on the palate and lingering ripe cherry pie fruits on the finish.
Jurancon ‘Clos Uroulat’, Charles Hours — €26.99
Stockists: Bradleys Cork, Le Caveau Kilkenny, Listons Camden St D2, Green Man Wines, Fallon and Byrne
Jurancon is south of Gascony in the foothills of the Pyrenees and from good producers can be as fine as middle-rank Sauternes. The grapes are Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng and this version has beautiful ripe honeyed apricot fruit and clean, bright acidity leaving the mouth completely refreshed.
Try with blue or strong cheeses or with fruit desserts.
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