Warm yourself with glugs of Spanish grenache wines

Honoro Vera wine review grenache

WELL, what a week of snow. You may have escaped it , but if you didn’t I bet you couldn’t wait to be tucked up at home in your onesie. Don’t worry, that will be our secret.

Once the door is locked fast against the cold, is there a more satisfying way of thumbing your nose to the snow and ice outside by tucking into winter warming casseroles and glugs of peppery, juicy red wines?

It wasn’t planned this way, but two wines I’ve enjoyed most with my comfort food in the past wintry days were both Spanish, with garnacha at their heart.

The grape is known as grenache in France and is mainly found in blends in the south of the country. In both countries it is seen at the heart of luscious reds, distinctive rosés and in the southern Rhone, as a key grape in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

I’ve warmed to this grape, native to Aragon in Spain, over the past few months. It has matador strength alcohol and dances flavour flamencos. It makes tempting, gluggable, juicy wine; but its alcohol levels can easily lead you astray. This is no subtle cool climate grape.

Wine expert Tim Atkin – often seen on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen show – ran a masterclass at a recent Three Wine Men event I attended and he described grenache as “a very old grape which loves sunshine. If it could walk it would be the first to the sunbeds”.

My first winter warmer was Honoro Vera (£14.99, Morrisons, 14.5 abv). It’s a bold rustic red from the Calatayud wine region in Zaragoza.

The tannins were soft and it tickled and teased with sparky white pepper notes and stewed plums.

Apart from anything, it had the most beautiful artwork on the label. A mysterious eye tantalised as I sipped.

The previous vintage Honoro Vera 2010 (by producer Bodegas Ateca) won gold in the International Wine Challenge Awards. The 2011 I tried was one of the best 110 wines in the 2012 Wines from Spain Awards. Judges – coincidentally Honoro Vera wineheaded by Tim Atkin – described it as a “rich red colour, meaty, spicy, with explosive bright sweet strawberry fruit”.

(You can find a full list of the Wines from Spain 2012 awards at www.winesfromspain.com)

My second Spanish warmer: Taste the Difference Priorat (Sainsbury, £10.49, 14.5 abv) is 40% syrah, 40% garnacha and 20% carignan and has powerful black fruit on the nose, and cocoa-edged vanilla. It has concentrated fruit to taste with a juicy, sultry finish.

Priorat comes from Catalunya and alongside Rioja is one of only two wine regions in Spain to hold the prestigious classification Qualified Denomination of Origin (DOCa).

Grapes grow on old vines on steep, rugged terraces in red slatey, mineral soils known as llicorella. The soil keeps the vines warm, helping grapes to ripen. The vines fight hard to seek the nutrients they need, resulting in grapes with concentrated flavours. Together with oak aging, Taste the Difference Priorat is a rich, complex wine.

Drink garnacha with big meaty dishes; braised or roast beef; especially with big bowls of casseroled lamb. Even torn chunks of rustic bread and slithers of Spanish Manchengo cheese can make an indulgent winter wine wonderland.

This column first appeared in the Liverpool Post on  February 21 2013

Start off New Year by stepping out of wine comfort zones

Max Ferd Richter Mülheimer Sonnenlay Riesling 2011

HAPPY New Year. Your resolution was to stop drinking for a month? And you gave in eerrm … about 8pm last night?

Never mind. Change that 2013 resolution to exploring the world of wine. Don’t stick to what you know – that same bottle on the same shelf – but ring the changes.

I asked for thoughts from some people in the know – go on, be daring this New Year.

Jon Atkinson from Wine Time at Scatchards on Great Howard Street, told me: “Most consumers rarely venture far from their “comfort zone”.

“Pretty much every wine-producing country will produce varieties that you might not have encountered before; for me Italy & Portugal do this more frequently than most. Italy: The best value is to be had in the South and if you like your reds big and bold then Primitivo is worthy of further investigation.

“For Portugal, I’m a huge fan of the indigenous white Arinto which is particularly good when grown in the northerly Vinho Verde territory – if you can lay your hands on a bottle from Quinta da Raza you’ll not be disappointed.”

Dan Harwood, Business Development Manager at Vinea on Albert Dock says: “Our wines of 2013 are those from the Somontano region of north east Spain.

“These progressive and consumer conscious producers are making characterful wines for intriguing varieties as well as old favourites. We will be celebrating their wines at a tasting in March.” (Details at www.vinealiverpool.co.uk)

Devin Stewart, from R&H Fine Wines on Queen Avenue, told me: “If all those who switch to autopilot and ask for sauvignon blanc or rioja considered north west Spain – Rias Baixas, Ribeiro, – and grapes like treixadura, albarino and mencia, I’m quite confident they would find a new world of wine wonder.”

I have to agree – I tasted The Flower and the Bee Treixadura 2011 (£11.99 www.randhfinewines.co.uk) with Devin. This white is from Ribeiro and it was almost full bodied, with a freshness of a stream trickling over pebbles, with glints of lemons and apples.

Gray Simpson is the manager of Corks Out in Heswall. On one of the wine trade’s busiest days – New Years Eve – he took time out to tell me: “Fiano is my grape of 2013. Sunshine in a glass from Sicily.” Corks Out sells Canapi Fiano 2011 for £9.99.

Finally, my thoughts on new tastes. Next week I begin another course at Liverpool Wine School (www. liverpoolwineschool.co.uk) which is an approved provider of Wine and Spirits Education Trust qualifications. They are used by the trade but for those of us who’ve “got the bug” the insight into the world of wine is fascinating – and huge fun too.

In my glass

if you failed to cut out wine, you might want to reduce the alcohol content.

Germany, with its cooler climate, is well placed to produce quality wines with lower alcohol.

Max Ferd Richter Mülheimer Sonnenlay Riesling 2011 review

The Max Ferd Richter Mülheimer Sonnenlay Riesling 2011 (£10.99, www.laithwaites.co.uk) is 10.5% but has a good balance of fruit and cleansing freshness. It is off-dry and minerality is matched with citrus and stonefruit. It was poured on transatlantic flights in the Zeppelin heyday – the wine is still marketed with an Art Deco label.

Winemaker’s Selection Vinho Verde (£3.98, Sainsbury’s) is only 9%. It has a light, citrus sparkle and although it doesn’t deliver massive punches on the nose and palate, it’s a refreshing glass to assuage the guilt of failed New Year resolutions.

Published in the Liverpool Post January 4, 2013