Think – and drink – outside the box

Think - and drink - outside the box

I HAVE constantly savoured the frisson and sense of exploration I associate with discovering a little-known area. Last year it was high-acid Txakolí/Chacolí from Spain’s Basque country, and more recently I was truly amazed recently by Tillingham’s fascinating, Qveri White 2020, which is made from partially skin-macerated grapes fermented in Georgianstyle clay vessels buried underground in Peasmarsh, East Sussex.

Granted, it’s a wholesome (if expensive) undertaking to understand the ‘classics,’ but it’s also vital to think outside the box, rejoicing in – and savouring – the unfamiliar. This week, having worked hard on my ampelography skills (and at the spittoon in the capital), I give the lowdown on three impressive wines made from lesser-known grape varieties. They are mainly from less well-known places, that are guaranteed to help you break out of your wine rut. These superb out-of-the-ordinary bottles outshone many of the usual suspects at last month’s portfolio tastings and are well worth getting to know. Cheers!

James’ picks:

1) Full-flavoured Gascon white that’s very much worth a place in your weekend trolley

Tesco Finest* Saint Mont White 2019, Southwest France (Tesco, £6.50, Alc 13%, Buy 6 or more Save 25% Clubcard Price)

One of the finest facets of my ‘job’ is finding unusual bargains, affordable vinous gems that stand out from the crowd. This superb, unusual Gascon white is made from a scintillating mix of the mouth-filling grapes Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu, Arrufiac and Petit Manseng and is unoaked, so it also has a freshness and ease about it. Think pink grapefruit, quince, white peach, Cox’s apple, beeswax and marzipan. A lovely accompaniment to roast chicken and light fish/seafood dishes, it’s produced by the ever-impressive dynamic co-op, Producteurs Plaimont, which straddles the under-the-radar appellations of Côtes de Gascogne, Madiran, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and Saint-Mont in southwest France like a titan. It’s fresh, juicy and tangy, with a good texture. Top notch buying from Tesco, the country’s largest wine supplier.

2) Lip-smacking Chilean red from old-vine Carignan

Viña Indómita Gran Reserva Carignan 2019, Maule, Chile (Co-op, £8, Alc 14%)

Carignan is a thick-skinned, late-ripening variety – with a VERY long growing cy¬cle – that retains high levels of acidity even when harvested in late autumn and it can make interesting wines when yields are kept in check, especially from older vines. Unsurprisingly, it is grown most successfully in warm, dry climates – it’s widely planted in Languedoc (ACs Fitou and Corbières have lots of it) and, to a lesser, extent in Spain, especially in Cataluña (in DOs Monsant and Priorat). It’s also a top performer, as with this fabulous Co-op red bargain, in Maule, Chile’s breadbasket. With crisp acidity, beautifully managed, polished tannins, aromas of violet, liquorice, lavender, prunes and rich black-and-red cherry fruit all working seamlessly together, this lip-smacking old-vine Carignan gets my vote. I urge you to track it down and try with a burger, chicken Balti, cassoulet, or Poulet Basquaise (Basque-style chicken). Decant for fifteen minutes to release flavours. See you at the Co-op…

3) An eruption of flavour from a Sicilian grape that’s often quite neutral-flavoured

Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante 2018, Sicily, Italy (The Wine Society, £18.50, Alc 12.5%)

If you cannot go to Sicily this autumn, bring Sicily to you. When did you last drink a high-altitude Carricante? This stunning example of the crisp, late-ripening, Sicilian white variety, is an absolute joy and one that bowled me over at the recent press tasting at 67 Pall Mall. It’s a spectacular rendition from one of Sicily’s premier producers and made from Carricante grapes (with a soupçon of Riesling) planted at 800m in the Sciaranuova vineyard on volcanic sandy soils derived from lava flow deposits laid down to the north of Mt Etna in 1614 (the longest ever eruption recorded, lasting ten years no less). A very distinctive and utterly delicious Carricante with lime and orange blossom aromas, a mineral-accented palate and touches of pear, aniseed and green apple. Long, pristine and exquisitely formed, this is classy stuff. Consider me suitably impressed. One for Arancini, sashimi, herb-focused dishes (hello pesto) and oily fish such as mackerel and sardines.


Vive la différence! 

4 must-try uncommonly good wines from Aldi’s revamped new Autumn Winter range:

These four top leftfield wines impressed my taste buds at Aldi’s bustling ‘Autumn Winter’ Press tasting at the Tate Modern last month. You have the scoop. Kudos to Aldi.

  • Red (biodynamic): Le Nez Français Cabernet Franc 2015, Languedoc, France £10.99. Keep checking online as it’s a bio stunner! Available soon
  • Fizz: Specially Selected Sparkling Nebbiolo 2017, Piedmont, Italy, £12.99
  • Dessert: Specially Selected Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2017, Tokaj, Hungary £12.99 (50cl) – one for your favourite blue cheese & fruit/cream desserts
  • Port: Outstanding Christmas Wine Gift – Fletcher’s 40-Year-Old Tawny Port, Portugal £34.99 – just plain uncommonly incredible value for such an old wine! 

Viner’s producer to watch for vine hunters in a wine rut: turn to Tenerife: Suertes del Marqués, Tenerife |

At a latitude of 27-29°, the remote archipelago of the Canary Islands is the southernmost territory of Spain and (therefore) Europe and it has an extraordinary and unique mosaic of vineyards. Very low rainfall and intense labour in habitually out-of-the-way sites help to explain the island’s low yields. Sensational Tenerife producer Suertes del Marqués crafts exceptional wines from unusual varieties (including Baboso Negro, Listán Blanco, Listán Negro, Vijariego and Tintilla) and ungrafted – phylloxera failed to reach the shores of the islands – old vines planted up and down the slopes of volcanic Mount Teide, Spain’s highest peak. True ‘Atlantic soul’! One for jaded palates. Imported by the UK’s top Spanish specialist Indigo Wine. Salud!

Follow James on Twitter @QuixoticWine

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