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Travel in a Glass from Bordeaux’s Historic Mastery to Assyrtiko’s Contemporary Charm

Today the spotlight goes on a rising star among Greek whites and on the perpetually popular region of Bordeaux.

Something of a journey through time today.

First, we experience the centuries-old allure of Bordeaux, where craftsmanship and expertise has created a global benchmark for red wine.

Over time, long standing traditions, inspired blending skills and a very special geology and climate have all come together brilliantly.

Then we move on to a white.

Here, we come bang up to date with the discovery in relatively recent times of the food-friendly nature and overall appeal of the assyrtiko grape.

Even in the youthful example featured today, few can fail to appreciate the crispness, complexity and nod towards its volcanic homeland it offers us.

I hope you get a chance to sample both wines.

Once again, pictures are included where possible to make it easier to track down the wine in question.

The classic face of Bordeaux

2020 Chateau Vieux Manoir (£7.25 at the Co-op and 14.5% abv):

This week and next, I look at that elusive creature – inexpensive claret.

For today’s selection, the focus is on an example of the classic style containing those savoury elements for which Bordeaux is noted.

Next week’s choice will be a more fruit forward version, so perhaps you lovers of fruity, ripe reds can be patient for another seven days.

Traditional in style but with only limited tannin, Ch Vieux Manoir does encompass a lively acidity that gives freshness to its prune, elderberry and dried herb flavours.

Those components are presided over by touches of graphite and mocha that provide the savouriness mentioned at the start of this item.

NB: The price of this wine may be about to change.

From ancient to modern

2022 Athlon Greek Assyrtiko (£6.99 Aldi and 12%):

As interest in wine grew world-wide, so versions from more and more countries started to demand attention.

With its unique indigenous grapes and diverse terroir, Greece has been one of the more successful new arrivals.

Here is an example of their hugely impressive assyrtiko white wine grape.

Avoid chilling it too fiercely, though, since that can over-emphasise this version’s mineral savouriness.

Once around 8°C, any slate influences soften to allow assyrtiko’s lemon acidity, herbal hints and sense of purity to shine through brightly.

That provides the perfect background to the wine’s polished pear, nectarine and apple flavours.

If you have not tried this grape variety, here is a great introduction to its charms – that are skilfully built on as you encounter more expensive versions.

Join me again on Thursday when I take a final, lingering look at red wines that particularly excel in summer.

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15 Responses

  1. I note that the 2020 Chateau Vieux Manoir is 14.5%, indicative of the general rise in alcoholic strength – usually attributed to better viticulture and climate change. I used to be wary of higher alcohol wines, and would generally choose a lower alcohol wine from candidate bottles. But at a large tasting of clarets earlier this year I found that my preferred wines happened to be those with higher alcohol. My tentative conclusion was that, provided there was a reasonable acidity (I.e. not “flabby”), I preferred to drink the wines that had ripe fruit and ripe tannins – and at that tasting those were the ones with higher alcohol. Indeed some of the lower alcohol bottles were a touch “green” or mean.
    So, certainly with claret, I am no longer wary, perhaps even enthusiastic, for higher alcohol bottles! Ideally of course I await recommendations from Brian or other respected wine reviewers.

    1. Really interesting post Richard and you got an equally provoking reply from Brian. It’s a breath of fresh air that savoury wines are back in! I got overweight, decided to do something about it and finally after a health scare decided to avoid sugar and strictly limit carbs. Savoury wines therefore appealed to me.

      Changing the subject slightly, Brian I’m combing my local COOP’s for Vieux Manoir as in the 60’s and 70’s Bordeaux also used to be a savoury wine.

      Changing things again, I’m just sipping an absolutely beautiful savoury wine from Italy, it’s at the top of my price range but way in on the points scored and on taste; it’s just what I want. It also reminds me that some wines are clean and some are confused and others are very muddled and confused.

      Oak and Tannin is very often a double edged sword in any wine whereas what we want is minerality and fruit. The grape variety is most important however the terrain matters so that the roots of the vine go deep. A struggle helps.

      I’m asking someone to take a look at Etna Rosso, Genazione Mille898, Lidl, it’s fairly unresolved and now 4 years old and it’s kicking around in Lidl’s remainders bins at £9.99

      The wine has structure, balance and is already rated by Decanter at 91 points. The medium Tannins are already lifting and liquorice flavours appearing over red berries, herbs and spices. Yum Yum!

      Brian did you recommend this wine or was it a similar wine?

  2. It has been a star for a while now Jonathon and, as you say, great value – and an ideal introduction to the grape. I have been drinking some excellent Santorini versions recently and these are quite a bit more money – although superb wines. Anyone hesitant about spending big on one of them would be well advised to try this Aldi one first to see whether the style suits them. If it does, those more expensive options are absolutely lovely in my book.

  3. I agree with you Brian that this Aldi Assyrtiko is really good. Very soft. Smooth. Light. Maybe the lighter alcohol helps some of the characteristics. The opposite of what Richard found with his tasting of Bordeaux.

    In general, still very much enjoying all your newsletters and the comments which do add value. Thank you. Keep up the good work. Someone’s got to do it!

  4. Aldi did a superb Nemea Assyrtiko for £9.99 over a year ago and it was sold out in weeks .This grape will feature more in future because of global warming.It can grow in hot dry conditions, yet retain perfect balance .
    The 50 year old roots can reach up to 18m deep on the black ash soil of Santorini producing great minerality.
    The Wine Society’s Exhibition Santorini Assyrtiko is expensive but has concentrated lime zest and peach with oomph and a mineral saline finish.Heavenly with prawns or salmon.

  5. Oh, that eternal search Brian for quality claret here, at a reasonable price.

    They produce so much of the stuff yeah, as is evidenced by the Foire aux Vins d’Automne every year in September in French supermarches where we can’t move for cases of the stuff they are trying to shift!

    I think it suffers more than most, vintage by vintage and the variances we meet. And indeed by the fact it all gets lumped into ”Bordeaux” or ”claret” here often doesn’t help the customer unless we know our ”right and left banks”, appellations, etc. and therefore what exactly might be in the bottle. Are the merlots better or less variable than the cabernets? Where can we get more of a predominance of cabernet franc or petit verdot in the cuvées! It’s a minefield without lengthy study!

    I had the Lidl Cheval de Montenac last week and it was ok-drinking. But I wouldn’t bother to have it again. And that’s the case with so much claret drinking I’ve found over 45 years of shopping for it both here and across there. And yet my inquisitiveness does not stop me from continuing to try. Expectation, determination and pleasure or disappointment all rolled into a single bottle of wine!! It’s still fun …

    My usual go-to here these days is Asda’s Montagne Saint Émilion, lightly oaked, mainly merlot, it is for me enough to satisfy my preference for typical tradition. Currently £9.25 … used to be £8.50 … many’s the time down to less than £7 then on a 25% deal just over a £fiver and stock up on a few bottles. It does have Decanter and IWC endorsements.


    1. Thanks for the Asda tip Eddie – must try some. One problem for Bordeaux is the variable climate making it unpredictable which varieties will ripen best in any specific year. The brilliant blending skills there help to compensate but, as you say, you need for more background knowledge to find good claret than you do for most wines from other countries. Get it right though and life has few greater epicurean joys.

    1. Thanks Claire – good to hear from you – and even better to see yet more love heaped on that pleasurable assyrtiko.

  6. Interesting stuff, Richard; thank you. One often finds that because ripe fruit has more sugar that is then converted into alcohol, ripeness and higher abv’s do go together. But then along comes that Vieux Manoir with highish alcohol but a traditional savoury base. So – as is often the case with wine – I guess each bottle must be taken on its merits. It does seem true, however, that the savoury “green” side of Bordeaux does not resonate as well with today’s wine drinkers as it did with their parents.

  7. Thanks for your kind words, Julian and good to hear from you again. Possibly the ripeness of the fruit used is less critical with white wines because their acidity is such a key factor. Who knows!
    However, what we both know is that assyrtiko ticks so many boxes. Perhaps, as is beginning to happen with albarino, versions like this will “staircase” us up to more expensive and complex assyrtiko.

  8. Yes, I remember that Paul and, as you say, it was indeed excellent. Good point about climate change and interesting to see that the Barry family have taken assyrtiko to Australia. Nevertheless, versions from Santorini still seem to provide the “gold standard” options.

    1. Hi Brian,
      Very much agree on the Santorini gold standard.It is interesting that the average annual rainfall in Santorini is only 12 inches and is so windswept that the grape vines are grown close to the ground in a basket weave fashion.Such an improbable wine making area!

  9. Trusting to memory (seldom a wise decision these days) I think the one I recommended was the Frappato Syrah back in January but I may be missing something.

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