Wine of the Month: 2012 Podere 414 Morellino di Scansano

This month’s wine feature is a continuation on last month’s Italian theme, although this time, the wine comes from Vini Vivi on Mill Lane, the third in our exploration of independent wine shops in West Hampstead.

414 podere morellino di scansano2014 Podere 414 Morellino di Scansano

When deciphering an Italian wine label, the place name is absolutely key; in this case, Scansano. Scansano is a town and commune of medieval origin in the district of Tuscany known as Grosseto, in a smaller subsection known as Maremma, an area with a substantial sea coast. Morellino is the name of the wine (thus Morellino from the town of Scansano), as it is actually the local name of the grape otherwise known as Sangiovese. Having said that, Morellino di Scansano does not have to be 100% Sangiovese; it needs to be a minimum of 75% Sangiovese. The Podere 414 Morellino happens to be 85% Sangiovese; the remaining 15% is a blend of Ciliegiolo, Alicante, and Colorino. And because I know you’re now wondering, 414 refers to the number assigned to the farm during the land reform in the 1960s; so it is the designation of a plot of land.

The Morellino exhibits a dark ruby colour, with hints of violets and tea leaves on the nose. In the mouth, one marks a delightful medium weight, which makes for enjoyable drinking, as one’s mouth and senses are not overwhelmed. Happily, the wine does not seem to have spent any time in new oak, meaning that the flavours of dark cherries and light herbs are easily distinguished. Were this a Riserva wine, it would be required to spend a year on oak; however, because it isn’t a riserva, any tannins that one may notice are naturally occurring from the skins and not overly perceptible. Characteristic of Sangiovese, the wine has a pleasant level of acidity that makes it a good match with a variety of foods that one would associate with Tuscany, including many vegetables and fruits. Overall, it displays a sense of harmony and balance between fruit and acidity that should please any number of wine drinkers.

Considering its Tuscan homeland, we paired it with grilled boneless lamb chops marinated in harissa, and it was a gorgeous match. Owing to its blend of peppers and spices, harissa can carry some heat, but the Podere 414 handled it beautifully, precisely because it hadn’t spent considerable time in wood: an oaky tannin-bomb would have confounded the unique flavours of the dish, and moreover would have made the heat feel even hotter.

If you’re looking for an expression of Sangiovese other than Chianti, head over to Vini Vivi and ask for this supple wine (£18). Invite some friends over and enjoy!

If you’d like to recommend a wine shop or restaurant’s wine list for this WHL feature, please tweet me @kevinjruth.

Wines of the Month: Pipoli Aglianico del Vulture & Villadoria Gavi di Gavi

For August’s wine column, I’ve looked at two wines, both Italian but from different regions. Both are available from Brooksby Wines on West End Lane.

Aglianico2012 Pipoli Aglianico del Vulture
Dark purple on the pour, the nose of vanilla on this £11.99 Aglianico suggests new oak, balanced by dark fruits and violets and complemented by some spice. The dark fruits brighten a bit with some time in the glass, reminiscent of bing cherries. The mouth-feel is medium to heavy-bodied, and its sumptuous aftertaste lingers on the palette for almost a full minute, teasing with notes of licorice and stone fruits. Also noticeable are dried herbs and a soupçon of dust, not an unpleasant characteristic in a wine such as this one from Basilicata.

Aglianico del Vulture comes from volcanic soils in southern Italy that are rich in minerals. A red grape varietal, it possesses thick skins and a naturally high acidity, making for a perfect food wine. It requires an extended growing season, and is harvested in very late autumn, the timing of which accounts for its richness, full body, and deep flavor. Its tannins are firm, but not stringent. There is a decent complexity to the wine, bordering on it being almost a bit brooding. A proper question to ask is whether it is a proper vino di meditazione. Surely, it comes very close! Excellent on its own, this wine sings with food, and it certainly would be enjoyed with a ripe cheese and excellent company. At 13.5% alcohol, it is somewhat New World in style, especially with the vibrant oak, yet it is a wine that could be put aside for several years so that one might enjoy its coming complexities.

Our food match was homemade pizza with crusts of spelt flour, featuring various toppings from spinach and ricotta to roasted beets and goats cheese, all representing a good test for the versatility of the wine. Of particular interest is that it did not shy away from a Greek salad of lovely vegetables and a lemony vinaigrette, as the wine’s natural acidity allows for this kind of versatility. The Pipoli Aglianico is a very approachable and food-friendly offering that is sure to keep you coming back for more!

Gavi di Gavi2013 Villadoria Gavi di Gavi
The antithesis of Aglianico, the £12.99 Gavi di Gavi (this being the name of the commune in Piedmont from whence it originates), which is entirely from the white Cortese grape, is almost transparent on the pour, yet complemented by a gorgeous floral nose. Its palest-straw color and intense nose make for a sensorial episode.

Tastes of melon (honeydew?) and freshly-cut apple highlight its crispness and tartness, which somehow balance nicely in a 12% alcohol wine that is far too easy to imbibe! Thankfully, the wine spends no time on new oak, which would simply destroy its floral and fruity characteristics; instead, the experience is intense, yet satisfying and, at times, delicate. If this wine has a fault, it is that it is too easy to quaff!

It proved the perfect foil for a gorgeous bed of rocket toped with sautéed mushrooms; shrimp marinated in olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes; and the slightest touch of green chili. A pleasant surprise was a hint of candied fruits on the palette, after the bottle had breathed for awhile. All in all, a very nice example of Cortese di Gavi, and a pleasure to drink during the summer we’ve been having! The Villadoria Gavi is certain to convert die-hard red wine drinkers to the hedonistic pleasures of northern Italian whites!

If you’d like to recommend a wine shop or restaurant’s wine list for this WHL feature, please tweet me @kevinjruth.

Wine of the Month: Quinta das Setencostas

With a bustling farmer’s market and a vibrant food/restaurant scene here in West Hampstead, it seemed only fitting to launch a feature dedicated to wine, as not only is it fun to imbibe on its own, it truly sings with food.

In offering this new West Hampstead Life column, I hope to share my years of experience in wine retail, which includes tasting myriad wines in situ and learning from those who grow the grapes and oversee all aspects of wine production. I’ll be looking at what West Hampstead has to offer for wine drinkers, from wine shops to restaurants.

QuintaDasSetencosasFor the first feature, I popped into Oddbins on West End Lane. Red wine was on the docket for a weekend meal and after searching through a nice selection of reds from all over the world (kudos to Oddbins for the diversity of its portfolio), I decided on a bottle of 2010 Quinta das Setencostas at £8.50.

This Portuguese wine is from Casa Santos Lima in the appellation of Alenquer, a valley near Lisbon. It is a red blend of four grape varietals: Castelão, Camarate, Tinta Miuda, and Preto-Martinho. The grapes are grown in clay and limestone soils, which benefit from the moderating influence of the Atlantic. The Setencostas is the result of a long maceration, traditional fermentation, and aging in oak barriques, with alcohol at 13.5 degrees.

In the glass, the Setencostas shows a dark, ruby color, with a nose of dark fruits, light spices, and vanilla. It has a mellow mouthfeel for a relatively weighty wine, showcasing dark and stone fruit (black cherries and plums), violets, and a hint of wild brambles, smoothed out by tannins that are very gentle. It took some time to distinguish which fruits I was tasting, perhaps due to the wine spending too much time in oak that was heavily toasted, a common practice that can hide some wine faults.

Happily, there appear to be no discernible faults in this wine: it possesses the correct acidity and weight, and the fruit is rather clean-tasting, meaning that the grapes were harvested at the right time. No amount of oak can hide the taste of fruit that has been harvested too late, which appears as taste of stewed fruit. In this case, I think the Setencoastas has simply spent too much time on oak in order to meet the taste requirements of all those wine drinkers who have become accustomed to the heavy oak of New World wines.

We had it with a stir-fry of beef and snap peas that had some Asian flavors – oyster sauce, sesame seed oil, and soy sauce, as well as julienned carrots and yellow peppers. We could have done with some hoisin, but didn’t have any! It would be highly disappointing to pair a tannic red wine with this Asian dish, but the Setencostas proved a worthy foil with its focus on forward fruit, rather than tannins. A such, the wine was smooth and enjoyable, highlighting the flavors of the dish rather than obfuscating them. That complementarity is the hallmark of a good food-wine pairing.

The Quinta das Setencostas is a veritable bargain, which makes it all the more attractive. Why not drop by Oddbins and try a bottle yourself?

If you’d like to recommend a wine shop or restaurant’s wine list for this WHL feature, please tweet me @kevinjruth.