Aldi wines – some impressive, some not

For a supermarket with a relatively small selection, I think Aldi have a very interesting and eclectic range of wines, which I have been exploring recently, sometimes trying recommendations from others, and sometimes just taking a punt on what looks interesting. I must say that the recommendations have been the more successful wines for me so I am hoping here to pass on some of that success for others to enjoy. If you don’t have an Aldi store nearby that stocks them, you can buy online and get any quantity of wine delivered for £4.95. (I have BTW paid for all the wines reviewed here, and have no commercial relationship with Aldi other than as a customer.)

Impressive

Let’s start with the impressive wines – ones that I would recommend.

Firstly, I would remind you of the Spanish Bobal wines I reviewed back in 2019. Aldi are still selling the organic one for the same price of £4.99 (but a different label), and I having been ordering and drinking it with enjoyment throughout that period. Not every day, but it is a staple that I always like to have available at home, and of the people I know who have tried it, all like it. It is admittedly a very small sample, but remarkable in that it covers a wide range of wine lovers with different levels of knowledge and experience. So that is definitely on my list of recommendations. Just to be clear, it is the Toro Loco Spanish Organic Red.

Next up is another wine that was recommended to me and I have recommended. And all the reactions, including my own, have been positive. This is Aldi’s Greek Assyrtiko for £6.99. If you have been following my blog for some time you will know that the home of the Assyrtiko variety is the Greek island of Santorini, but this wine is from north of mainland Greece, in Amyndeo, a region better known for its red Xinomavro wines. Nevertheless, this is the most Santorini-like Assyrtiko I remember tasting that is not actually from Santorini. I’d say it is comparable to a low-end Santorini, but at less than half price. If you are wondering what that is like, here’s my tasting note: Intense, fresh, mineral and citrus. High acidity. Dry, but ripe fruit. Decent length. A hint of liquorice edginess, which I like. Refreshing and clean ****. On re-reading my note, I am not sure how typical liquorice is of Santorini to be honest, but I wouldn’t get too hung up on that – it was after all only a hint I found.

Finally in my impressive category of Aldi wines is Specially Selected French Jurancon, also at £6.99. But be warned that I have only so far had one bottle of this, though I definitely intend to buy more. Also be warned that it seems to be a bit of a Marmite wine. Myself, I love it, but some others are not so keen. My very brief tasting note is: Intense citrus – lime and orange. High acidity. Dry ****. So the overall effect is that of a very tangy wine, but without the lemon citrus notes that often accompany that style. I am not very familiar with Jurançon Sec, but from my limited experience the Aldi wine certainly conveys the correct feel, but with the volume turned down a little – you cannot have it all for £7.00. In my opinion it is just a pleasure to have such an interesting wine readily available at a supermarket for a very reasonable price.

Indifferent

Now for a brief mention of the more indifferent wines I have recently tried from Aldi. These were all OK, and the low price encourages exploration. I don’t feel motivated to return to buy more, but do try them if you are tempted.

Dealuri Romanian Feteasca Regala £4.99: Intense, pear-drop mainly. Medium acid. Off dry, maybe a little residual sugar but certainly sweet aromatics. Not unpleasant, but simple, and maybe a bit cloying **.  This is a Romanian wine from a good quality Romanian grape, but in my opinion totally lacked any character – it may as well have been a cheap Pinot Grigio.

Castellore Italian Frappato £6.49: Cherryade. Medium acidity. Low but detectable tannin. A touch of bitterness too, and it’s certainly not flabby. I think this is just off-dry. Pleasant in a childish sort of way ***. The Sicilian variety Frappato can make glorious wines, with vibrant crunchy red fruit, but this is not one of them. And while I did see some varietal character, I really would prefer to pay considerably more money to get something better.

Italian Aglianico £6.99: Vague dark berry fruit. Oak. Medium acid. Medium tannin. Very restrained. Perhaps some floral notes. Oakiness that gets stronger as the wine warms – I prefer it close to cellar temperature ***. I was a bit conflicted about this. I do like restrained wines, and this certainly was restrained, to the point of a fault. And I also appreciated that it was not made in an obvious crowd-pleasing style. But on the other hand Aglianico is one of the great Italian varieties, and this showed barely a hint of that greatness. If it were £4.99 I may have been more forgiving, but at £6.99 I felt I needed more, however irrational that might be.

Bad

There were no bad wines amongst the ones I tried 🙂

Glinavos Paleokerisio 2019

If you are at all adventurous in your taste for wine, you really must try this one.

As the label is all Greek, let me start by deconstructing it to the best of my ability. Paleokerisio is the name of the wine, and it is produced by Ktima Glinavos, where ktima means estate. It is a mere 10.5% ABV, and comes in a crown-capped 50cl bottle (which is a pain to stack in a wine fridge as the bottles teeter worryingly on top of each other due to the barrelling in the shape). Merchants seem to interpret the “19” in the lot number as the vintage indication, and I’m sure that is correct, but formally speaking this is a non-vintage wine.

The wine is designated PGI Ionnina, and thus comes from a mountainous region in north-west Greece. The region does not extend as far west as the coast, but has Albania to the north, and the Greek regions of Macedonia and Thessaly to the east. It is around 100km north to south, and 75km east to west, and thus has a wide range of growing conditions. Sadly, I do not know which part this particular wine comes from.

It is made from 97% Debina, and 3% Vlachiko, which are both varieties local to the region. Debina is a green grape, and Vlachiko red.

The name Paleokerisio means “like the old times”, which is the first hint at why you might find this wine is particularly interesting – it is made in the old style of the region. This means the grapes are fermented on their skins, and the wine is semi-dry and semi-sparkling. But the viticulture is not organic, and the second fermentation is in tank, so its production is maybe not quite as old-style as you might think. Nevertheless, it is interesting and, more-importantly, delicious. Yes, it’s an orange wine, though the small percentage of red grapes seems to give the amber colour a ruddy tinge.

I’d describe the colour as a deep ruddy-amber, or a palish ruddy-brown. The nose is not intense, but has some of that phenolic character you tend to get on orange wines. It is very slightly sparkling, off-dry, has highish acidity, and a slight astringency and bitterness. I repeat: it’s delicious. The sharpness, astringency and bitterness adds a refreshing edge to the wine, but is nicely balanced by its slight sweetness *****

Generally I like orange wines at cellar temperature, but I think this one benefits from being properly fridge-cold. It is great to drink by itself, and also with food from the eastern Mediterranean, from Greece to the Middle-East, or even with spicier Indian food. Yes, I know that is a pretty broad brush, but I think the wine is very flexible. As I see it, the main exceptions are that it would not work so well as an aperitif, nor with very delicate fish dishes, or dark meats in a heavy sauce.

If you are interested in buying some, I suggest you google “Glinavos Paleokerisio”, and expect to pay £12-14 for the 50cl bottle.  I got my last lot as a case from Pure Wines, for £12.50 each. Prior to that I used Wine and Greene, but the last time I looked they no longer had it in stock. If you make my suggested search, you will also find Julia Harding’s review of the wine, which I only noticed after I writing my tasting note. I was pleased to see that she too was enthusiastic about it, but we differ on the ideal serving temperature.

In addition to the label and my palate, information for this post came from merchants’ websites, The Wines of Greece by Konstantinos Lazarakis (also recommended), and Google Maps.

Intoxicated by Matrobela?

Serious wine tasters are supposed to spit, to avoid intoxication. However, as this Georgian wine producer chose the name Matrobela (Georgian for intoxicating), I decided to actually drink these wines. Shocking, I know.

Matrobela is a recently established producer from 2015, and I have not been able to find much information about it. But it is based in Kisiskhevi, a village in Eastern Georgia, not far from the Kakheti regional capital of Telavi, and right next door to Tsinandali village. It has a modern winery with large stainless steel tanks, and a so-called château with qvevri and space for tastings and other events – a successful combination of the traditional methods and the best experience of modern wine making, as it says on their website.

I first encountered Matrobela at Georgian wine tastings in the UK organised by Sarah Abbott’s Swirl Wine Group, and always found their wines to be of high quality. So I thought I would buy a few bottles from Taste of Georgia in order to get to know them better.

I give the Taste of Georgia’s normal prices below, but actually got a couple of pounds discount on each bottle, so if you are lucky with the timing of your purchase you might too. You might also note that I mention below the Georgian PDOs of Tsinandali and Mukuzani – if those names are new to you, you might like to take a look here.

Mtsvane, White Dry, 2018, 13.0%, £15.50
The back label says this was grown in Kakheti, which is where most Georgian wines come from.  Mtsvane is the grape variety.
Very pale greenish straw. Herby, and somehow seems to have a heavy low-register nose – unusual and difficult to describe. On the palate, medium-high acidy. Fully dry, but with ripe fruit. Full-bodied, a little hot even, but in an OK sort of way. Intense aromatically, like nose but perhaps with some orange peel or blossom too. Overall it is very flavoursome and makes a big impression. Unusual, but I like it.

Rkatsiteli, Amber Dry, 2018, 13.0%, £17.00
Here the grape variety is Rkatsiteli. On the back label we find that this is fermented and macerated in qvevri, with 6 months skin contact, and unfiltered. Also, amongst the other details, it says that the vineyards are in the Appellation Tsinandali. So is it claiming to be Tsinandali PDO or not? I would guess not. It is also strange that qvevri are not mentioned on the front label. There is something that looks like a qvevri logo there, but the labels of the three other wines have a much more prominent qvevri design element, even the ones that are presumably made in stainless steel.
The wine is a very pale shade of amber, and there is very little sediment. Perhaps, although it had 6 months of skin contact, not all the skins were present? Also, if it is unfiltered it must have been very carefully racked and fined. The nose is subtle and nicely balanced, with citrus fruit as the main aroma – orange, lemon and lime I think. And gentle phenolics from the skin contact. Medium acidity. Dry, and low but detectable astringency. Drink now. Balanced and nuanced. There is nothing at all here to frighten the horses, and even the most hardened orange-wine sceptic might find something to love about this wine

Mukuzani, Red Dry, 2018, 13.5%, £18.50
This is a Saperavi varietal wine, and aged in oak barrels for 12 months according to the back label. And from the prominent use of the word Mukuzani on the front label, I think we can fairly assume this is Mukuzani PDO.
Intense purple. I have seen more intensely coloured Saperavi, but this is still pretty dark. Intense, fresh, sharp dark fruit. Sweet and fruity blackberry rather than blackcurrant. No obvious oak, which is nice. High acidity. Medium astringency, maybe medium-high. Intense aromatics as per nose. Intense and lip-smacking. Like a slap round the face, in a good way. Good length and a slightly bitter finish – again, something I see as a positive. This is good to go, but I would see no problems keeping it for a few years at least.

Saperavi, Red Dry Qvevri Wine, 2018, 12.5%, £18.50
As with the Rkatsiteli, we are told that the grapes come from the Tsinandali Appellation, which sounds a bit silly. They may well come from the Tsinandali area, but it is a white wine appellation. Also on the back label, it says that this has 4 weeks of skin contact, and is unfiltered.
Intense ruby-garnet with purple tinges. Yes it really does seems to have elements of lot of shades of red! As with the Mukuzani, it is not nearly as dark as many Saperavis. And again, no sediment, which is surprising for an unfiltered wine. Fresh, sharp, dark fruit. Hint of blackcurrant boiled sweet  esters, but also some pleasant complexity. Medium-high acidity. Medium tannin. Nice ripe tannins, but with a texture you can almost chew. Thanks to the texture, this is full-bodied effect despite the moderate alcohol level. The flavours are light though, so it does not feel heavy and brooding.  Some bitterness, especially on finish. Drink now I think. A good, all-round, nicely balanced wine.

Perhaps it does not come out strongly enough in my tasting notes, but I was very impressed with these wines, which each got a ***** rating from me. They are all unusual enough to be interesting to a western palate, and yet they are also of high quality according to international standards, showing good intensity, balance and complexity. They also showed no faults, and neither did the ones I encountered at earlier tastings – something which you certainly cannot say about a lot of Georgian wine production as soon as you move away from the large-scale brands. In my experience, even the prevalence of something as undisputably faulty as cork taint seems to be higher in Georgian wines, so I was pleased to note that Matrobela uses Diam corks.

Having said all that, I do not want to sound too critical of the more artisanal and natural end of the Georgian wine spectrum. There are many such wines with “challenging” flavour profiles that I enjoy, and they can be the wines that give me most pleasure. In that regard, I like many wines that others might dismiss as faulty, and also the massively tannic Saperavis from Kakheti.

But these  Matrobela wines are different – they are easy to like. I have been intoxicated by Matrobela, literally and figuratively.

Edit 24th October 2020 – A few days ago I opened another bottle of the Mtsvane. I don’t know whether it was me, the wine or the occasion, but I enjoyed it a lot less this time round. It seemed less flavourful, and the high alcohol was quite obtrusive – definitely hot, and more like a fino Sherry than anything else, but not as refreshing. I would need to try more bottles before I could recommend this wine.

La Cosa, Alfredo Maestro – yet another Marmite wine

At least this divided opinion in my COVID-19-restricted tasting group of two. I absolutely ****** loved it, but my wife was not so sure. And even its newest greatest fan had to admit that the style was a tad challenging.

It was La Cosa, The Thing, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y Leon, 100% Muscat of Alexandria, produced by Alfredo Maestra, 11.0%, 2018. It is available in half-bottles for around £14, imported by Caves de Pyrene, and available from CdP and Buon Vino – and I thought other places in the UK, but they seem to have disappeared from Wine-Searcher in the last few days.

It is a medium-deep amber colour, and cloudy with a fine haze. That haze did not bother me, though the last half-glass of the bottle was uglier – a haze that was more brown, and also with larger floaty flakey bits – something I would have preferred to leave in the bottle.

On the nose you start to get a real feeling for the wine. It is intense, and redolent of botrytis – barley sugar and fresh apricot. We are not meant to be able to smell acidity, but this one actually seemed to smell sharp. In the same way, I guess, that we cannot smell sweetness, but some wines still smell sweet. This one definitely did not smell sweet.

On the palate the adjective that springs to mind is huge. It is hugely sharp, and hugely flavourful. Yes it is sweet too, but the balance is definitely on the acidic side, with the sweetness only taking a little off its edge. In addition to the botrytis notes I got on the nose, there is also a hint of cider, something I do not normally like, but this aspect is not dominant here, and there is a certain complexity, and a bitter twist in there too. Despite being full of flavour, this has a very light-bodied feel, which adds to the refreshing quality of the wine, and leaves the palate feeling clean. Not cloying in the slightest

Overall this is not what I would expect from a sweet Muscat – it is much better. Some might find it challenging, but I rose to the challenge and loved it. Just wow!

While this is great now, I see no reason why it wouldn’t age, and possibly improve. I would suggest you drink it alone – without food and, if you can manage to sneak away with the bottle, by yourself, and at any time of day.

I wrote at the end of my tasting note that it should be enjoyed on its own terms. It is uncompromising. Be warned!

A couple of Bobal blends from Aldi

In the past I have sensed that some people assume I only write reviews of wines I would unconditionally recommend. But that is not the case, so please read on – it’s not a long blog post.

I recently noticed a few recommendations for Toro Loco wines at Aldi, and as my local store had a couple of their shelves, I thought it would be interesting to compare them side-by-side. Both were initially tasted, and drunk with food, at a middle-eastern BYO restaurant. Here are my tasting notes…

Superior 12.5% 2018 £4.00
(Tempranillo and Bobal)

Medium ruby. Thin, austere fruit. Cherry. Medium acid. Medium low tannin. Drink now **

Orgánico 12.5% 2018 £5.00
(70% Bobal, 20% Tempranillo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon)
Medium ruby. Tad more purple. Dark fruit. More full and soft. Cherry again. Medium acid. Medium tannin. Drink now. A good solid ***

Firstly – kudos to Aldi for stocking wines from the little known Utiel-Requena region near Valencia, and with the little known Bobal grape as a major component. Bobal has a reputation for being a rustic variety but, as is so often the case, if it respected with careful winemaking it can deliver characterful and high quality wines.

To be frank, I would question the quality of the first of these wines, and neither would be my first choice if I wanted a crowd-pleasing fruity red wine, but with food their character made them a pleasant alternative to those crowd-pleasers. The Orgánico was a much better wine all-round when viewed critically, and well worth a fiver, but for quaffing with food the so-called Superior worked too. Faint praise perhaps, but I think I am being fair.

If you are tempted to try Bobal at a more serious level, I would suggest Aranleón Sólo (£9 at The Wine Society), or Cien y Pico En Vaso (available at a few places for a similar price). Some might find these wines a little challenging – dark, heavy and tannic – but if you occasionally like that sort of thing they will not disappoint.

Château Ksara in Manchester

On the afternoon before a Château Ksara wine-trade dinner at Comptoir Libanais, I was invited by Rachel Davey to drop by at the same venue to taste some Ksara wine. There I had the pleasure of meeting George Sara, co-owner and board member of Ksara, and Michael Karam, the author of Wines of Lebanon, and enthusiastic champion of Lebanese wine. George (leftmost in the image) very clearly, yet with a soft touch, communicated his pride in what Ksara had to offer, while Michael enthusiastically contributed with a broad range of views, opinions and insights into Lebanon and its wines, from the very general, to the specific wines we had in front of us.

Château Ksara is the oldest and largest winery in Lebanon. It dates back to 1857, when Jesuit monks inherited some land and started to farm it. In the 1860s the monks made their first dry red wines there; prior to that it was only sweet wine for sacramental purposes. Under the Jesuits, the business grew to the point where it was producing the vast majority of Lebanese wine, and in 1973 Ksara was sold to a consortium of Lebanese investors lead by Jean-Pierre Sara. The winery lies in the Bekaa Valley, which is more of a mountain plateau than what most of us would think of as a valley, and the grapes for most wines (with one exception, mentioned below) also come from the Bekaa Valley region.

I describe the wines below in groupings suggested by George after the tasting, disregarding the order in which they were actually tasted which followed the usual progression of white wines, through rosé, to red. The prices are rough UK retail prices gleaned from Wine-Searcher, but I was unaware of the prices when tasting and making notes.

Lebanese heritage wines

These are all made from varieties that have been in Lebanon for a long time. Not all of them are native to the country but, if not native, they have most definitely been adopted by the country, and can produce wines that are distinctively Lebanese.

Blanc de l’Observatoire, 2018, 13.0%, £12
Obeidy 30%, Muscat 30%, Clairette 30%, Sauvignon 10%.
Fresh. Citrus and apple. High acidity. Dry. Aromatic. Drink now ****

Merwah, 2018, 12.5%, £15
There is no other varietal Merwah wine in commercial production, and 2018 is only its second vintage, and the first one to be imported into the UK. The 60-year-old low-yield vines are grown on the slopes above Douma in north Lebanon (not the Bekaa Valley) at an altitude of over 1,500m. The grapes are hand-harvested, and the wine is made with low intervention techniques.
Complex nose. Citrus, violets, biscuity. Medium-high acidity. Dry. Drink now *****

According to Michael, DNA analysis has shown that the Obeidy variety used in the Blanc de l’Observatoire is not, as thought by some, the same as Chardonnay, or any other grape. However, tests on Merwah to confirm or deny its identity with Semillon are still ongoing. For what it is worth, I recognised a fleeting aroma on the Merwah that I find quite distinctive and have before found only on Semillon wines. I can best describe it as Nez du Vin – the smell you get when you open the box of a Nez du Vin kit. What more proof does one need?

Edit 06/11/19: On the jancisrobinson.com forum José Vouillamoz has just confirmed that he has DNA-profiled samples of Merwah, as well as Obaideh (AKA Obeidy), and that neither is identical to any other known variety. However, studies are ongoing, and nothing is officially published yet.

One more comment on the Merwah, which occurred to me only after the tasting: why is it bottled in clear glass? There seems to be an increasing awareness of lightstrike faults and, even if the wine has been kept in the dark, the clear glass bottle will be sounding alarm bells for some consumers. Is the wine’s colour really such a strong selling point, as it is supposed to be for rosé wines?

Gris de Gris, 2018, £13
Carignan and Grenache Gris.
Pale salmon. Strawberry. And something else a bit more punchy – spice or rubber? Medium acidity. Drink now ***

I wasn’t too keen on the Gris de Gris, and rosé is not my favourite style anyway, but George persuaded me to try some with a mouthful of Fattoush. I must admit it seemed to improve the wine for whatever reason. As with all the wines, I find it difficult to arrive at definitive conclusions after only a brief taste.

Le Prieuré, 2017, 13.5%, £12
Cinsault and Carignan, with some Grenache and Mourvedre. Fermented in concrete tanks that were installed at the time the monks ran the winery.
Medium pale violet. Soft berry fruit reminiscent of Beaujolais.  Medium acidity. Low but detectable astringency. Drink now *****

Michael enthused about Le Prieuré being the taste of the Bekaa valley. So if you’ve ever wondered about typicity for Bekka Valley wines, you could do worse than try some of this.

Lebanon meets Bordeaux

In these wines we have a nod towards Bordeaux, but the wines are not intended to be imitations, and include non-Bordeaux grape varieties.

Blanc de Blancs, 2018, 13.0%, £13
Sauvignon 55%, Semillon 25%, Chardonnay 20%.
Refreshing. Medium-high acidity. Reminded me very much of white Bordeaux.
Drink now *****

Reserve du Couvent, 2016, 13.5%, £13.00
Syrah 40%, Cabernet Franc 30%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30%. Oak-aged for 12 months.
Medium purple. Seemed to have some of the same quality of fruit as Le Prieuré, but with spice, and a bigger tannin kick on the palate. Medium-high acidity. Drink now *****

Reserve du Couvent is Ksara’s flagship wine, and a bestseller in Lebanon. I thought it was good now, but was told it should keep 5-10 years

French-style from Lebanon

These wines are intended to be true to their French originals of White Burgundy and Claret.

Chardonnay, Cuvée du Pape, 2017, £20
Aged in oak barrels.
Medium pale gold. Medium acid. Oak. I could easily believe this was a white Burgundy. Drink now *****

Château, 2016, 13.5%, £21
Veilles vignes. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 10% Petit Verdot. 12 months ageing in oak, old and new in equal parts.
Medium pale purple. Dark berry fruit. Pencil box. Medium acidity. High tannin. Good fruit and spice. Needs more time. Was told would keep 10-20 years *****

In summary

While I have tasted quite a wide range of Lebanese wine in the past, for some reason the only Ksara wine I had tried prior to this tasting was the Reserve du Couvent, so I was pleased to get to know Ksara better. Overall it was a good and varied set of wines, and all were showing well. I see I gave most of them very good star ratings and wonder, as I often do, if I was not over-generous. However, they fairly represented my subjective opinion at the time, so I will not go back to adjust the ratings.

And generally the wines were very reasonably priced too in my opinion. However, while the Chardonnay Cuvée du Pape and Château wines may have been fairly priced, I am not sure what they offered that could not be bought from Bordeaux or Burgundy for similar money or less. George commented that Ksara’s cheaper wines tended to sell best to export markets, which I think will continue to be the case, while the more prestigious French variety wines were more favoured in Lebanon.

I really must try to revisit some of these wines to gain a better appreciation, but from my exposure to them so far I think the Merwah was the most interesting and attractive white, while the Reserve du Couvent was my favourite red, for being a good all-round solid performer.

Update 28/08/20: Since writing this post, I have been drinking more Ksara wine, and Le Prieuré has become established as one of my firm favourites – a nice soft touch with gentle red red fruit, but also a little bitterness and astringency, which provides structure, and makes it more serious wine that works well with food. I have been using a shop with a good range of Ksara and other Lebanese wines: All About Wine.

Gotsa Family Wines back home in Blighty

You may remember I have already posted about our visit to Gotsa Family Wines, and I mentioned in that post we were able to bring four bottles back with us. It is often the case that wines taste so much better in their place of origin (see image below), so how well did those four perform in a Manchester winter? Not so bad, it turned out.

Tsitska, 2016, 11.3% (tasted 20/11/18)
Medium pale amber. Intense. Slightly phenolic on the nose. Smokey, and some apricot I think. Medium high acidity. Dry. Saline perhaps. Gives a bracing impression. A serious wine. On initial tasting scored it higher, but for some reason it did not keep my interest when drinking with food so ****

Chinuri, 2016, 12.0% (tasted 12/01/19)
Medium amber gold. Delicate. Fresh. Dried apricots. Phenolic. High acidity. Bone dry. Intense on the palate. Medium-low astringency. Excellent length. Mouth-filling finish. Drink now. My favourite of these four wines, and it was my favourite of the three we drank at the producer’s in Georgia *****

Saperavi, 2015, 13.2% (tasted 12/01/19)
Tasted 12/01/19. Opaque purple. Intense, smoke, leather. Brett. High acidity. Medium high tannin. Intense, sharp blackberry and blackcurrant. Acidity and fruit largely obscures any brett on the palate. Good now, but could well improve. Just about ****

Rkatsiteli Mtsvane, 2016, 14.0% (tasted 15/01/19)
Copper hues. This is described as an amber wine on the label, unlike the Tsitska and Chinuri, which were called white. Intense, phenolic and bracing on the nose, with dried apricot and nut. Medium high acid. High, rasping, astringency – not at all a bad thing as far as I am concerned. As nose. excellent length. Good now, but would doubtless keep a few years at least ****

Sadly, as far as I know the wines are not available in the UK, but they would probably retail at a little over £20.

Thymiopoulos wines from Naoussa and Rapsani

I first came across Thymiopoulos in 2015, on a press trip in Northern Greece. They had a modest table in the corner of a walk-around tasting of Naoussa producers. At the end of a long day of eating well, drinking and tasting, my palate was jaded, and the rest of me felt a bit out of sorts too. Yet somehow the Thymiopoulos wines grabbed my attention. In contrast to most Xinomavro wines in the room, which seemed hard work for me at the time, those of Thymiopoulos stood out for their approachability. Under other circumstances, the other wines may well have been more appealing – I am certainly not averse to austere and astringent wines – but in my fragile condition that particular evening no thank you.

According to The Wine Society, the Thymiopoulos family has been growing grapes for generations, but only in 2003 did they start making their own wine. Since then they have considerably expanded their range and have converted to biodynamic viticulture, all the time building up an excellent reputation for quality. In The Vineyards and Wines of Greece 2017 by Yiannis Karakasis MW, the winemaker Apostolos Thymiopoulos is said to be considered “one of the stars of Greek winemaking” and “is credited with having shifted the flavour tone in Naoussa with his wine Earth and Sky by achieving that elusive combination of a strong tannin structure with a rich palate and fruity depth”. In the same book, Thymiopoulos is listed as one of the 6 best producers in Greece, and Earth and Sky is one of the top 10 indigenous Greek red wines. Jancis Robinson has also recently been praising Thymiopoulos wines, selecting the Jeunes Vignes in her recent Wine of the Week feature (only available to subscribers).

Back in the time I visited Northern Greece, even though Thymiopoulos were making a cheaper Naoussa for Marks and Spencer, the availability of their wine in the UK was quite restricted. But now things are looking up, and currently The Wine Society stock a particularly good range. So, for a local tasting group, a couple of weeks ago I bought five Thymiopoulos wines made exclusively from the Xinomavro grape – four reds of the Naoussa PDO, and one rosé. Also two Rapsani PDO wines, red wines made from roughly equal parts of Xinomavro, Krassato and Stavroto. Here is the bottle line-up (click on the image to enlarge and see the labels more clearly).

I was pleased to note that most of these wines were sealed using Diam corks. Only Earth and Sky and Karavas, the most expensive wines of each PDO, used natural cork, and as far as I know they were also the only two oak-aged wines. I double-decanted all wines a couple of hours before tasting. They all had some fine sediment that was difficult to remove by decanting, but the sediment was so fine, and there was so little of it, that it was not noticeable when tasting. As usual, the scores below are indicative solely of how much I liked the wine at the time of tasting.

Rosé de Xinomavro, Macedonia IGP, 2017, £10.95
Late harvest and unfiltered. Quite intense for a rosé. Pink, verging on a copper-amber colour. Sharp and fresh. Almost vegetal. The fruit on the nose reminded me of a childhood fizzy drink, but I am not sure which. Pleasant, but not classy or classic. Medium high acidity. Dry. Aromatics assertive and intense, and very much as nose. Considering the tannic nature of the grape, I thought there may be some astringency, but no. A strange one. I am not usually a rosé drinker, but I think I liked it ****

Xinomavro, Jeunes Vignes, Naoussa PDO, 2017, £10.95
Medium pale garnet. Intense, mature and complex. Was this really as young as 2017? Medium acidity. Medium astringency. Aromas as nose. Elegant and understated. Drink now. Very pleasant drink. It might have got 5 stars, but initially it felt a tad watery ****

Kayafaz, Single Terroir, Naoussa PDO, 2016, £15.50
According to TWS, a tiny-batch experiment. Medium ruby garnet. Intense. Tar and violets that I associate with Nebbiolo. More primary than the Jeunes Vignes. Medium high acid. High astringency. Intense, as nose. Excellent length. Young and punchy. Good now, but will easily keep going for a few years *****

Earth and Sky, Xinomavro, Naoussa PDO, 2016, £21.00
Old vines, 18 months in large oak barrels, and unfiltered. Another medium ruby garnet wine, but more ruby than the Kayafaz. Medium intense. Hints of one of the components of the Kayafaz aroma, but not the full range. Some oak and coffee. Medium high acid. High astringency. Intense aromatically on the palate. Probably will be better in a few years time, or if I had decanted the bottle earlier. But as it was –  ****

Xinomavro Nature, Naoussa PDO, 2016, £14.50
Another experiment according to TWS, this time in low-intervention winemaking, with minimal sulphur and filtration. But I do wonder how that is to be contrasted with the other wines, some of which claim not to be filtered at all. Medium ruby garnet. Nose very similar profile to the Kayafaz. Medium high acid. High astringency. Aromatically, if anything maybe a bit more elegant and supple than the Kayafaz. Note that although this is apparently marketed as a natural wine, it has none of the characteristics you might associate with that; neither weirdness nor vibrant fruit. Nevertheless this is a beautiful wine, and I think my favourite so far. Drink now  *****

Terra Petra, Rapsani PDO, 2016, £20.00
Grown on schist, and unfiltered. Medium ruby garnet. Intense tar and violets. Medium acid. Sweet, soft and gentle aromatically. Medium high astringency. As nose. Drink now *****

Karavas, Single Terroir, Rapsani PDO, 2016, £28.00
Indigenous yeasts, and 18 months in French oak. Medium ruby garnet. Tar and violets again, but this time with noticeable oak. Medium acid. Smooth. Vanilla. Medium astringency. Classy wine, with the mark of oak. Good now, but considering the price I hope it will improve. Pleasant enough, but I think I prefer the grape to shine more clearly through the oak ****

All the red wines showed aromas that I associate with the Xinomavro grape – aromas that also remind me of Nebbiolo and which I think of as “tar and violet”. I am however prepared to concede that the description is my rather lazy shorthand for something I have difficulty putting into words. The “violet” bit seems relatively accurate, even if I believe other people use “rose” for the same thing. But the “tar” metaphor is rather over-the-top for a slightly piercing mineral (i.e. not animal or vegetal) note. Another similarity between Xinomavro and Nebbiolo is that, to my taste at least, both share a certain savoury nature, and show relatively little fruit. If all that sounds negative, it is not meant to be. I like both grape varieties very much.

Naoussa wines must be 100% Xinomavro, but Rapsani additionally has Krassato and Stavroto – normally all three varieties in roughly equal parts I believe. I am not sure about the varietal percentages in these particular Rapsani wines, but I cannot say I particularly noticed the influence of the non-Xinomavro varieties.

My notes were written as I tasted the wines, and shown above in that order. But I did return to taste and drink the wines a few times, and on the return tastings I must admit I got more and more uncertain about the differences between them. However a few differences continued to stand out. It was clear that the Earth and Sky remained tight and unyielding. Also that both the Earth and Sky and the Karavas showed oaky notes, and they remained the wines I liked least for current drinking. The other three Naoussas seemed to get more similar to each other, becoming equally delicious, with the Jeunes Vignes standing out in terms of value for money.

Overall it should be emphasised that we all enjoyed all these wines when tasting them, and later when we drank them with food. Perhaps there is something to be learned about the relative popularity of each wine from the left-over quantities? Well, the rosé remains were taken home by someone, but on the basis of the left-over volumes the order of popularity for the reds (most popular first) was: KaravasJeunes Vignes, Kayafaz, Nature, Terra Petra, Earth and Sky. The people have spoken!

Tsigani Gogo, a Georgian wine by Laura Siebel & Niki Antadze

For several reasons I found this wine both interesting and distinctive. Delicious too.

The first impression is the striking label, presumably depicting a tsigani gogo (gypsy girl), and the unusual blue bottle with a red wax seal. Now blue is not a bottle colour I associate with good quality wines – quite the reverse in fact – but I must admit the overall effect is rather classy. Then you might notice that the wine is the result of a collaboration between Laura Siebel, of Domaine de la Pinte in the Jura, and Niki Atadze and his winery in the Georgian region of Kakheti. Turn the bottle round, and you will see that the combination of grapes varieties used in this wine is as unlikely as the winemaker partnership. It is in fact a blend of the red variety Saperavi, and the white Mtsvane. Well, I say Saperavi is red, but it is a teinturier variety and often gives wines that are so dark as to be nearly opaque.

I do not know the percentage of Mtsvane used, but judging by the wine’s medium-pale red and its aromatics I would guess it is substantial – a lot closer to 50% than the 5 to 10% of Viognier that is typically added to Syrah for example. Neither do I know the degree of skin contact this wine had, but if either Saperavi or Mtsvane is made in the traditional Kakheti style, with the must fermenting and ageing on all the stalks and skins, you can get an extremely astringent wine. While Tsigani Gogo did have fair degree of astringency, it was not extremely high, so I would guess the stalks were discarded after crushing, perhaps along with some of the skins. What I do know about the production is from the UK importer Caves de Pyrene: “Fermentation, vinification and ageing in qvevri. No punchdown, no press wine, all wild and ambient. No filtration and no sulphur”. The absence of punching-down is another departure from traditional Kakheti practice, and that too would reduce the wine’s astringency. Caves de Pyrene also say that the Antadze Winery has organic vineyards, so I guess all together that means this is a natural wine – should you care about that sort of thing. Tasting note follows…

Tsgani Gogo, Laura Siebel & Niki Antadze, Pomegranate-color wine from Saperavi and Mtsvane, 12.5%
It is apparently from the 2016 vintage, but not stated on the label. I paid £28.44 from Caves de Pyrene, including a 10% discount. Medium pale ruby. Intense, fresh, and aromatic. The nose reminds me a lot more of Mtsvane than Saperavi. Medium high acidity. Maybe slightly sweet? Tingly on tongue, from both acidity and I think dissolved CO2. Lazy bubbles on the side of the glass also indicated a high CO2 content. Medium astringency. Very bracing from the acidity, and astringency. Fresh red berry aromatics, and sharp apricot perhaps from the Mtsvane. Drink now. Instantly likeable for me, and what I think is called glou glou. This is not a wine for serious and respectful sipping, but its structure makes it nevertheless feel quite grown-up *****

Georgian wines from M&S and Waitrose

After having written quite a bit recently about Georgian wines that are not easy to get hold of in the UK, and sometimes frankly impossible, I thought I should investigate two that you can pick up in supermarkets. In fact, as far as I know these are the only Georgian wines you can buy UK supermarkets. And I was very impressed by them. As with any country really, there is a lot of low-end Georgian wine that I find unpalatable, but here the buyers seem to have done a pretty good job at finding decent quality at a sensible price.

Let’s start with Tbilvino Qvevris 2015 12.0%, which was £10.00 from Marks & Spencer.

Perhaps the first thing to point out is the remarkably low price. OK, there are no claims made about organic viticulture or low-intervention winemaking, and Tbilvino makes wine on an industrial scale. But even so, this particular wine was according to the label made from grapes fermented in qvevri – large clay pots buried in the ground – and that itself is a relatively expensive small-scale batch process. The next cheapest qvevri wine in the UK is over £12.00, and most are closer to twenty.

This is an orange wine, the colour being due to the must of white grapes being fermented on their skins. It was made in Kakheti (Eastern Georgia) where the tradition is to add stalks as well as skins, and to keep punching down and agitating the skins and stalks in the fermenting wine, all of which usually results in robust tannins. But this wine is altogether much more gentle, and while definitely having the character of an orange wine it is a lot more approachable than many, thus serving as a good introduction to the style. The grape is the Georgian variety Rkatsiteli, which is the most common white variety in Georgia, and highly regarded.

Medium pale amber. No obvious sediment. Slightly phenolic. Vague bitter orange notes on the nose. Highish acidity. Medium low astringency. A very slight apparent sweetness that might just be ripe fruit aromas. Whatever it is, it takes a little off the edge of the acidity and astringency, whilst still leaving the wine relatively fresh and bracing. A pleasant and undemanding wine ****

The next wine, Orovela Saperavi 2008 13.0%, is available from Waitrose for £16.79.

Orovela is a smaller producer than Tbilivino. They certainly used to make several different wines but now, according to their website and social media at least, seem to be focussing more on their Saperavi sales at Waitrose. Like Rkatsiteli, Saperavi is a common and highly regarded variety in Georgia. However it is a red grape, or to be more precise an extremely dark purple one, and also has red flesh, so it often gives very dark wines.

No qvevris used here – it’s conventional winemaking with oak ageing. But the special thing about this wine as far as I am concerned is the considerable bottle age. In fact, at 10 years, I think it is the oldest Georgian wine I have ever tried. Georgian wines are often said to age well, but my impression is that in practice they are usually drunk young – by English standards at least.

Intense purple ruby. Intense nose. Some dark fruit. Also a little vegetal, in a good way, which I think here is the first hint at the complexity of age. Highish acidity. Medium tannin. Excellent length. The maturity imparts some lightness and freshness to what could otherwise be a wine with a very heavy feel, and it is starting to soften and round with age too. It seemed to improve during the time it took to drink with a meal. An all-round, somewhat mature, good wine *****