The six best wines you’ve never tried
Author: Paul Keating
As the New Year unfolds, so too should a new perspective on the world of wine. I’m sure we all know our Chardonnay from our Sauvignon, our Cabernet from our Pinot. However, what if I was to ask you what styles of wine are produced in the Huanlong Province of China, or what characteristics the Cretian Dafni and Plytó grape varieties have? For those looking to challenge their palate, and perhaps intrigue their mind, I have compiled a selection of the slightly more unusual wines in our range.
Okay, so I admit, we have probably all heard of Chassagne-Montrachet. It is one of the most prestigious wine appellations in the world. Such is its reputation for white wines, in particular those from its illustrious Grand Cru vineyards, that it is often forgotten (outside of dedicated wine circles) that any red wine is produced there at all. Quite to the contrary, almost a third of wine production within the appellation is red, equating to around 700,000 bottles annually.
This Chassagne Rouge from Jean-Noël Gagnard is all about elegance. It is a beautiful clear purple in colour, and the Pinot fruit is pure and crisp. It is still young and quite vigorous, and would certainly benefit from a year or two in bottle to develop fully.
When I think of professions that go hand in hand, I don’t immediately think of a vigneron and classical pianism. Yet I find myself recommending this stunning Syrah, from Bulgaria, produced by renowned Bulgarian pianist Ivo Varbanov. Bulgaria has a long and storied history of wine production, dating back nearly 3,000 years. In fact, the Roman author Pliny the Elder states that the first European winemaker was from Thrace (modern day Bulgaria/Greece). For a short period after the Second World War, Bulgaria was also the second largest wine-producing country in the world.
This particular wine is fascinating from the off. It has Syrah’s trademark purple hew at the rim, but is so deep it is almost ink black in the centre. The nose opens to be wonderfully intense, flaunting Syrah’s classic black bramble fruit aromas, ground black pepper and balsamic. The quality continues on the palate, with rich, concentrated flavours. This wine is a real showstopper for me. Consider pairing with slow roasted venison, or keep it simple with a traditional T-bone steak.
Yes, Juhfark is the grape variety and not in fact a random profanity written on the bottle. Pronounced “ewe-farq”, this is one of Hungary’s least common native grape varieties, and currently there is only 100 hectares under vine. Royal Somló Vineyards was established in 2006 and is situated in the Hungarian wine region of Somló, in the west of the country.
This wine is intriguing. Juhfark can be neutral in its youth, with its true potential showing here after spending a year in incredibly old 400-litre oak barrels. It is certainly a wine for the thinker as opposed to the drinker, as its minerality develops into a creamy palate, laden with stone fruit. I suggest giving this a go if you are a fan of Riesling or Pinot Gris.
What makes this wine unusual lies not in geography, but purely in the eclectic blend from which it is made. Larry has taken a grape as uncomplicated as Pinot Grigio, added one as ostentatious as Gewürztraminer, given a sprinkling of Sauvignon Gris (a pink clonal mutation of Sauvignon Blanc), and then thrown in some Riesling for good measure. The grapes are mixed and co-fermented, so the exact proportions of the blend remain unknown.
As you’d expect from this blend, the nose is highly perfumed, with pronounced aromas of rose petals. The palate has delicate peachy fruit but is broad textured and weighty with a long, spicy finish.
Wine has played an important role in Greek culture. They were, from what I could uncover, the first civilisation to worship a god of wine (Dionysus), a practice which is now consigned to history, for some unfathomable reason.
Today, wine is produced in a variety of areas across Greece and her islands. Domaine Lyrarakis is located in the mountainous region of Alagni on the island of Crete, and has established a reputation for bringing indigenous Cretan grape varietals back from the brink of extinction, and using them to craft superb wines. Nowhere is this more evident than in this Plytó. Grown at an altitude of around 400m, and from relatively low-yielding vines, the result is a wine with wonderful minerality, and beautifully concentrated white orchard fruit. This would make a lovely pairing with seafood tapas.
Although ice wine has only become commercially popular in the last decade or two, there is some evidence to suggest that frozen grapes were used in wine production dating back to Roman times. Put simply, the production of ice-wine involves allowing grapes to freeze on the vine before picking them. Usually, temperatures of minus eight degrees Celsius over a duration of roughly eight hours should be sufficient to freeze the water content in the grapes. The fruit is then hand harvested and pressed immediately, with the subsequent juice having a more concentrated sugar content due to the water being frozen (and therefore not pressed out).
If asked to guess what sort of wine is made in the Golden Ice Wine Valley, you’d be hard pressed to get it wrong. There are currently 5,000 hectares of vineyard planted in the Golden Ice Wine Valley, with the primary grape being Vidal. This wine is made by China’s oldest and largest wine producer, The Changyu Pioneer Wine Company, more commonly known as Château Changyu.
With the popularity of ice wine on the rise, this wine is a must for any budding wine aficionado. Being made from healthy, albeit frozen, grapes, the resulting wine is fresh and pure. Citrus and tropical fruit dominate, with a touch of creaminess and lovely flavours of honey and blossom. Pair with crème brûlée or blancmange.
All of these wines are available to purchase on bbr.com, here.