After some delicious whites the evening moved to the reds, but we stayed with Austria for the Pittnauer 2008 St. Laurent Dorflagen, a 13% Qualitätswein Trocken from the Burgenland region.
Likened, and genetically related, to Pinot Noir, the St. Laurent (or Sankt Laurent) is an early ripening grape producing aromatic, deeply coloured wines. It is believed to have originated in France but is now a signature Austrian variety and also the most planted red grape in the neighbouring Czech Republic.
This £13.95 offering was another from The Wine Society and had a strong purple colour, a smoky nose with some underlying red berries. It was quite lean at the front but rounded out into a lightly tannined finish with a fair bit of acidity, showing decent complexity for a light/medium bodied wine – not really my style but well received by the group as a whole.
Italy once more for the Torre Guaceto Sum 2007 by Racemi from Puglia, a simple Vino Rosso da Tavola designation for a lovely 14% wine for £9.95 from The Wine Society, made entirely from the Susumaniello grape (related to Sangiovese).
There was a dash of liquorice on the nose which was warm, sweet and spicy. The taste was somewhat jammy with warm flavours including dried fruit – reminiscent of a fortified wine – and it was heading a little towards being too hot but stopped just short, getting close to 4 stars which, for the price, made it a bargain as well as a pleasure to drink.
Our second Greek wine of the night was the Alpha Estate Vielles Vignes 2007 Xinomavro, again from Macedonia made by Angelos Iatrides from 86 year old bush vines. This wine was the only one of the night not purchased in the UK, but instead from the Duty Free section of a Greek airport for £14.00.
There was a strong tar and liquorice nose which led into a textured wine with smooth, fine grain tannins of moderate length. There was a lean, acid components throughout, especially around the edges of the palate, living up to the literal translation of Xinomavro to “black acid”, however, this was a decent wine which lasted another 48 hours without deterioration after I rescued the remnants from the meeting along with the next wine, which sees us move even further east.
Note that both these bottles were ridiculously heavy, an unecessary waste of glass in an attempt to infer quality (and you should have felt the punt!)Georgia is regarded by many as the cradle of winemaking and is a country I’ve tasted on several occasions before, including it’s most famous grape, Saperavi; a hardy variety, able to handle extreme cold, which produces deeply coloured (the name means dye) high acidity, ageable wines.
For £15.99 Waitrose was the source of the 12.5% Orovela 2004 Saperavi which, for me, was a subtle, restrained wine with smooth, fine tannins, good acidity and a fragility which I savoured – there were no big flavours but also nowhere for faults to hide and I found none. Unfortunately I was in a minority with many describing it as rustic and uncomplicated (still, it meant I could also rescue this one as well and enjoy it the next night at home!).
And so the evening came to a close with our final wine, once more from Italy, a country with a host of indigenous varieties many wine drinkers are blissfully unaware of. Once more we were in Puglia, Italy’s “heel”, for the Graticciaia 2005 Negroamaro, made in the appassimento style with the selected grapes air dried on mats to concentrate flavours and sugars ahead of vinification. Negroamaro is thought to be derived from two words meaning black, the Latin “negro” and the Ancient Greek “maru”, although amaro is also the Italian for bitter.
This was a thick wine with a dense tar and enamel nose, very sweet fruit at the front with a complex mid-palate, solid tannins and a long, savoury finish. No-one in the room could deny the quality of this (over-) extracted 14% wine, a 4 star offering from The Wine Society, but at £35.00 the price was steep and difficult to justify.
Looking back over the reds my favourite was the gentle Orovela Saperavi, which I’d happily take 2 bottles of over a single (albeit decadently enjoyable) Graticciaia Negroamaro, however, in the QPR stakes it was the Torre Guaceto Sum Susumaniello that blew them all away at less than £10.
For the entire evening it was a close competition between Waitrose and The Wine Society but I’d have to just give it to Waitrose for their Rotgipfler, Saperavi duo ahead of the Sussumaniello, Pecorino tag team.
If you are one of the majority of wine drinkers who rarely venture away from the “Big 6” (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon) then why not be a bit more adventurous in the future – pound for pound a grape you’ve only vaguely heard of is more likely to be much more interesting than one everyone knows because the winemaker has to try that little harder in quality to complete. OK, the really unusual ones can get more expensive because they’re so rare, and maybe Rotgiplfer and Sussumaniello is a step too far for most, but at least consider those rows of Roussanne, Verdejo, Arneis, Nero d’Avola, Touriga and countless other grapes just crying out for a taste.