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Red Wine to Die For?

More joys from Alsace plus terrific Ribera today, along with a bit of a warning.

Today’s Sunday Best segment steps up to a stunningly good red from Ribera del Duero that, admittedly, is more expensive – but is so worth it.

Meanwhile, there is another look at Alsace when the Friday Treat switches from the wine featured last week to an even less well known variety – pinot blanc.

An extra feature today, however, adds a slightly less positive general note.

We have seen how climate change seems to have given English sparkling wine (and Loire chenin for that matter) a welcome boost.

Well, there is another side to that coin.

More southerly regions are becoming hotter and that may be bad news for grape varieties that currently thrive there.

I look at one variety that does seem especially vulnerable – and, believe me, it is a major player in the wine world at the moment.

Once again, pictures and hyperlinks are included where possible to make it easier to track down the wine being considered.

Friday Treat

Continuing from last week

2020 Pinot Blanc, Dopff & Irion (£9.99 at House of Townend and 12.5% abv):  

  • A seriously underestimated grape.
  • It combines weightiness with freshness.
  • Apple, quince and almond flavours.
  • Straw aromas and hints of sweetness.
  • Sharp lemon acidity too.

Last Thursday I was praising a pinot gris from Alsace, so let’s stay in that region for a few days longer.

There is a change to one aspect of colour though, as we move from the grey part of a well-known grape family to the white branch.

Pinot blanc is a seriously underestimated grape that gives us crisp, zippily fresh (but often weighty) white wine that, here, combines useful versatility with textured depth.

Clean and delightfully bright, it brings us apple, quince and almond flavours embellished with sharp lemon acidity.

It also provides unusual straw aromas as well as a background that nimbly unites savoury components with just a hint of sweetness.   

Remember, though, that wine bought online may attract delivery charges.

Sunday Best          

Easily my best Ribera of 2023

2018 Montebaco Parcela Cara Norte (from £22.19 from Vinissimus and 14.5%):

  • Shows why Ribera wines are so revered.
  • Intense cherry, loganberry and bramble flavours.
  • Good acidity and skilfully balanced tannin.
  • Also has mocha, fig and clove components.
  • Not cheap but well worth its price.

OK, I know it is at the top end of the usual price range but this is the best Ribera I have tasted this year – and for much of the last one for that matter.

It perfectly illustrates how Ribera del Duero has, in 40 years, risen from almost obscurity to rival Rioja as Spain’s top wine region.

The brightness and freshness that its high ground location provides seems to be reflected in the region’s wines and the tempranillo grape responds brilliantly to the conditions there.   

Aromatic and rich, this particular example delivers intense black cherry, loganberry and blackberry flavours supported by good acidity and balanced tannin.

Complementing components include mocha, fig, clove and tobacco along with just a hint of sweetness.

NB:- The image is of a previous vintage but it is the 2018 version that I tasted.  

A Cautionary Tale

Tricky times may be ahead for what is a “go to” grape option for many people.

Climate change is increasing average temperatures and bringing drier conditions to many parts of the world including France.

That country has a high volume of merlot vines and the variety is especially vulnerable to these changing conditions.  

Heat ripens all grapes more quickly and, in doing so, more acidity within the grapes will be converted to sugar.

With low-ish initial acidity anyway, merlot will probably suffer more than many – resulting in wines that are less lively and fresh.

It is that freshness that can make the variety so popular.  

Equally, drought conditions can induce “water stress” and heatwaves in general often reduce yields.

All that is bad news for merlot fans, as we can expect to see versions from areas like Languedoc becoming less common.

One glimmer of hope though; merlot is expected to remain a big player in Bordeaux where the climate is less extreme.

Even there, however, we can expect a greater use of other blending partners (cabernet franc, petit verdot and even malbec) as conditions make life more difficult for merlot.

Now may be the time, though, for merlot lovers to start a little contingency planning.

After today’s glimpse of more expensive wine, it’s back to budget (but great value) fare in Monday’s Top Tip selections.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Brian
    I understand you like to cover a range of places to discover good value wines, however I wonder if you might consider featuring a particular supermarket each week for a short period. This would allow you to recommend different wines at different price bands and make life easier for some of us! More focus, less need to roam, and a bit of a change. .
    Just a thought.

  2. Thank for getting in touch John and for the idea. That would neatly supplement the Discounter Discoveries pieces I run on Aldi and Lidl – they are always hugely popular with subscribers. Let me try to work through the details ….. Best ……….Brian

  3. Hi Brian, it is great that you are highlighting Alsace. I was in France last week and had the opportunity to taste the 2022 vintage in Alsace from several producers. I honestly don’t think I found a dud. There is great value to be found and the example you’ve reviewed is well worth the £9.99 asking price.

  4. As you suggest Dan., distinctive wine, well-crafted and good value – albeit little at bargain basement prices.

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