From Tasmania to Somerset and Greece, Terry Kirby finds wines from regions not usually associated with producing great grapes
A few weeks ago, this column highlighted some excellent wines from countries with little or no reputation for wine making, such as China. Today, we are in countries that have significant reputations for wine making, but go off the beaten track to regions less well known or just emerging as wine making areas.
An example would be Somerset. The land of cider and cheddar cheese was not hitherto known for sparkling wine production which in England has been largely concentrated on the chalky hillsides of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. But ten years ago, Guy Smith and Laura Evans found a south facing limestone hillside near Langport, smack in the middle of the county and a few miles south of Glastonbury, planted the classic varieties of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier and now produce a garlanded sparkling wine, the Smith and Evans Higher Plot Sparkling 2013 (£28.99 waitrosecellar.com) with all the floral, aromatic freshness and finesse on the palate of fine English sparkling, bookended with toasty aromas and a long finish. A lovely autumnal celebration wine.
Still with sparkling wines from unheralded areas, we move swiftly to the other side of the world to the remote Australian island of Tasmania, which has a growing reputation for cool climate wines. I’ve previously recommended the Janz Rose but now try the pinot noir-only Jansz Premium Cuvee NV (£15.50 henningswine.co.uk; £15.75 winedirect.co.uk) a lovely, light bodied, party sparkler. And applause to Aldi for recently introducing a range of Tasmanian varietals, including the pinot noir mentioned here a couple of weeks ago and the excellent Artisan Chardonnay (£16.99 aldi.co.uk) with just the right amount of creaminess, coupled with a vibrant minerality and bright flavours of white peach and green apples. Great for simple white fish dishes.
Back in Europe and specifically Greece, the Idaia Ocean Thrapsathiri (£13.38 corkingwines.co.uk; £15.85 wineandthevine.co.uk) is one of the Cretan wines that make their way to the UK – only a handful despite the fact that wine making has been an island tradition since ancient times and is now thriving again. Made from an indigenous grape, grown at high altitude, it’s a real find: fresh and citrussy, with a light, almost ethereal feel. Good with shellfish and oily fish dishes, such as grilled mackerel and salads. And can we see more such Cretan wines made from native varieties like this here, please, somebody?
With France, everyone knows the principal, celebrated regions – Bordeaux, Champagne, etc. But such is the ubiquity of French wine making, some areas become overlooked, an afterthought on wine lists and entirely absent from supermarket shelves because they don’t tick the familiar boxes and/or cannot manage large volume production. In the mountainous Jura in northeastern France, their fabulous wines – toothsome light reds, sparkling cremants and some really individual whites – are mostly consumed locally rather than exported. You will struggle to find Jura wines on the high street and will have to go to reliable online retailers such as Tanners, who have the gorgeous, characterful Champ Divin Cuvee Castor 2016 (£19.50 tanners-wines.co.uk) a biodynamically created blend of chardonnay and the local savagnin grape (no relation to sauvignon blanc) which combines rich fullness with some vibrant concentrated citrus flavours. A very food friendly wine, try it with smoked or white fish, simpler chicken dishes and lighter cheeses.
Now some reds, just right for the coming winter season, whether it is everyday casseroles or even Christmas meals. Arcos de la Frontera is claimed to be one of the most attractive towns in Spain in an area close to the so-called "sherry triangle" around Jerez and is an area therefore not known for its red wines – it’s a long way from Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Reds have long been produced there, however, and the Finca Moncloa (£12.71; normally £16.95, until October 30; ocado.com) is a ballsy, attractive red – a blend of mostly syrah and cabernet sauvignon with some splashes of petit verdot, merlot and the local tintilla de rota. But you will have to move fast to take advantage of the discount. Further north, from the equally unheralded Montes de Toledo hills, almost right in the centre of Spain, comes the MV Dehesa del Carrizal DOP 2013, (£12.60 genesiswines.com) another food friendly, robust, lip smacking blend of syrah, cabernet, with elements of merlot and/or tempranillo – depending on the year – and packed with brambly fruits and earthy spiciness. If you are having a barbecue on Bonfire Night next week, this would do the business very nicely with grilled sausages.
Over the border, Portugal is now as much appreciated for the quality of its table wines as its ports from the Douro, with areas such as Alentejo and the Dao gaining a good reputation. Now the Lisboa region, to the north of the Lisbon, could be joining them, with wines such as the bold, dinner party red the Memoria Reserva Tinto 2013 (£17.95 davywine.co.uk), an elegantly powerful blend of touriga nacional and syrah, with black fruits, some balsamic and spicy hints, shot through with balancing minerality. One for the roast beef or venison and a revelation to anyone who thought Portugal was just about port and vinho verde. And it just goes to show where you end up when you seek out wines on the road less travelled.