Three reds from the old world

Tempranillo (pronounced temp-rah-nee-oh) the grape varietal

Spain’s top selling red wine, made famous by Rioja (rhee-yo-ha), where wines are classified (in part) by how long they age in oak. What’s amazing is that a well-made Tempranillo ages for over 20 years.

Primary flavoursCherry, Dried Fig, Cedar, Tobacco, Dill.

Taste profileDry/Medium-full Body/Medium-high Tannins/Medium-high Acidity/13.5–15% ABV.

HandlingServe: 15-20°C. Decant: 1 Hour (really helps open the wine characters). Cellar: 10+ years.

Food pairingBolder, aged Tempranillo wines pair nicely with steak, gourmet burgers and rack of lamb. Fresher styles match well with baked pasta and other tomato-based dishes.

Fun facts about Tempranillo wine

  • Tempranillo has many common synonyms. For example, in Portugal, it’s also known as Tinta Roriz and Aragonéz.
  • Well-crafted Tempranillo wines age for two or more decades.
  • Tempranillo is a major blending grape used in Port (and called Tinta Roriz).
  • There is a very rare white mutation of Tempranillo called Tempranillo Blanco (found in Rioja Baja).
  • In the fall, Tempranillo vineyards turn brilliant red!
  • It’s possible that Central and Southern Italy has more Tempranillo than we think. Some vineyards thought to be ‘Malvasia Nera’ turned out to be Tempranillo!
  • While Tempranillo is not the deepest-coloured red, a higher quality, youthful example will have a deep ruby-red hue with a bright red rim.
  • Expect tannin levels to be high, and acidity should also be noticeable (to complement the tannin).
  • Fruit flavours are generally in the red fruit spectrum (red cherry, black cherry, raspberry) with subtle savoury fruit notes (dried tomato, red pepper, etc).
  • Top level Tempranillo wines often age in oak (American or European oak) for at least 12 months.
  • While the body does not get as rich as Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo is very complex with layers of flavours from start to finish.

Where Tempranillo grows

A popular theory about Tempranillo’s origins is that the grape was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Phoenician civilisation. Today, the grape is well-distributed and known throughout Spain and Portugal and included in many top regional wines such as Rioja, Port, and Ribera del Duero. Beyond Spain and Portugal, Tempranillo is hard to find. It’s planted sparsely in Argentina, Southern France, Australia, the United States, and Mexico. Tempranillo vineyards enjoy sunny climates in elevated, protected, mountainous valley regions.

Tempranillo terroir

There are many other great places for Tempranillo wine. Here are some interesting observations about what makes great Tempranillo ‘terroir’. Tempranillo is moderately drought-resistant and very productive. Thus, the best sites have moderately poor soils to naturally limit this productivity.

It’s known to produce higher tannin and deeper colour when grown in clay-based soils. (Although, high yields will reduce intensity.) Cooler night-time temperatures cause Tempranillo bunches to stay tight, which helps with tannin structure and acidity as it ripens. Tempranillo is a sensitive, thin-skinned grape, and generally likes protection from windy locations. It does loves the sun.

Gamay (pronounced gam-may) the grape varietal

A fruity, floral and sometimes earthy light-bodied red that is the main variety planted in Beaujolais. Outside of France, Gamay has a tiny but devoted following. The Hunter Valley had Gamay planted by Len Evans at Loggerhead and is continued still today.

Primary flavoursPomegranate, Blackberry Bramble, Violet, Potting Soil, Peony.

Taste profileDry/Medium-light Body/No Tannins/Medium-high Acidity/10–11.5% ABV.

Handling – Serve: 12-15°C. Decant: 30 minutes. Cellar – 3–5 Years (some individual regions will go for 10 years).

Food pairingOne of just a few red wines that pairs with all manner of dishes from sweet and sour salmon steaks to beef stroganoff to sesame tempeh.

Beaujolais Nouveau the world’s fastest wine!

Some say it’s divine and others think Beaujolais Nouveau is a scam. But don’t call it Burgundy although technically it is but the Burgundians hate this fact.

Regardless of what people say, we simply scratch our heads in amazement. How do they produce and ship 30 million bottles of wine around the world within ~60 days of being grapes in a vineyard? Beaujolais Nouveau began as an early release wine, drunk by vineyard workers, to celebrate the end of harvest. Its official date is the third Thursday of November.

Gradually, the early release wine started to appear at local cafés and bistros in Lyon, France and other towns around the Beaujolais region. Then, the Parisians discovered Beaujolais Nouveau and the race was on. Who could deliver the new vintage harvest to Paris first? This then jumped the English Channel and was just as big in London as to who served the first glass of Beaujolais.

In the early 1960s some of the local vignerons, like Georges Duboeuf, saw potential in the easy-going tipple and decided to promote the wine with a contest to see who could get the first bottle to Paris. From there it spread throughout Europe, and by the 1980s North Americans had joined the party, followed by Asia in the 1990s. 

It’s so popular that one third of Beaujolais’ production is dedicated to the Nouveau style. There are over 35 million bottles produced and distributed to 110 countries.

Beaujolais Nouveau is just clever marketing

Now many will dismiss the wine as simply a marketing campaign; but tell that to the over 120 villages in Beaujolais that celebrate the wine. The town of Beaujeu, after which Beaujolais is named, has a five-day festival called Les Sarmentelles revolving around the beverage. In Lyon, fireworks light up the night sky. The wine itself is fun and simple – a fruity red wine made from handpicked Gamay grapes grown in the regions of Beaujolais and Beaujolais Village. It’s made using the process of carbonic maceration and bottled a mere 6-8 weeks after harvest. This method produces a wine that is very low in tannin with high acidity. Look for lush, juicy aromas of grape, light raspberry, cranberry, candied fruits (bon-bon), fig, banana, and even bubble gum.

What is ‘carbonic maceration’?

Carbonic maceration is a form of whole bunch fermentation, when whole bunches of uncrushed grapes are used in fermentation of red wines. It is most commonly associated with the Gamay grape and Beaujolais wines, although not exclusively. Some key flavours associated with carbonic maceration would be: bubble gum, Kirsch.

Chateauneuf du Pape wine blend – Drink like the Pope

TasteFruit Raspberry, Black Currant, Blueberry, Strawberry, Earth, Dust, Violet, Rose petal, Thyme, Oak Flavours Smoke, Leather, Tobacco, Cedar, Clove, Vanilla, Toast.

Grapes used for the blends – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Bourboulen, Cinsault, Clairette Blanche, Counoise, Grenache Blanc, Muscardin, Picardan, Piquepoul Blanc, Roussanne, Terret Noir, Vaccarèse.

All about Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine – the blend, the taste, and how to find great wines and awesome values from the Southern Rhône region.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is worthy: the name comes from a fascinating period in Catholic history (when the Pope moved from Rome to Avignon). It’s been name-dropped by the Beastie Boys (Mike D!), and it’s freaking delicious. Yet, it’s not cheap. A combination of reputation, limited supply, and some expensive techniques means that even the most basic Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines will cost you upwards of $40 (and over $100 for the good stuff). Fortunately, there are a number of similar wines around the area (the Southern Rhône) that offer comparable flavour and complexity at a fraction of the cost.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines tend to have slightly higher alcohol at 14% ABV. The appellation permits just a touch of residual sugar (RS), which adds body to the taste. Because Châteauneuf-du-Pape has moderately high acidity, you usually can’t taste any sweetness.  

The first thing to realise about the Southern Rhône is that virtually all the wines made there are blends. Grenache is the most widely planted grape, followed by Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Cinsault. While single-varietal wines can be found, the vast majority follow the GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre) template. It’s a natural pairing, since Grenache is vigorous and flavourful, but also thin-skinned and lacking pigment. Hence, the darker, more powerful Mourvèdre and the fruitier Syrah are blended together to achieve a more complex, enjoyable wine.

Southern Rhône is hot. We’re talking long, hot summer days, with only Le Mistral (the summer wind) whipping in off the Mediterranean to keep things from getting too cooked. As a result, you get a lot of ripe, developed flavour in the wines of the area, and also relatively high alcohol levels. So, if you like big, intense Aussie Shiraz, the Rhône is another place to look. Yet the better wines from the region have a savoury, smoked meat quality that places them firmly in the Old World.

Understanding the hierarchy of the Southern Rhône wines is essential for finding quality at a good price.

Basic level: The most basic designation for wine from the region is Côtes du Rhône, and the grapes can come from anywhere within a very large region. Sometimes great values can be found, but most base-level Côtes du Rhône are lighter, unstructured reds suitable for easy quaffing and little else.  

Mid-level: Moving up the level a bit brings us to Côtes du Rhône-Villages wines. These wines originate within one of the 18 most highly regarded communes within the Southern Rhône, and winemakers there can append the ‘Villages’ tag to their labels, as well as the name of the specific village.

Top level: Occasionally, a specific village will be judged to produce wines of such a high quality that they are elevated to their own AOP (the top tier of French wine classification). This happened with two separate Southern Rhône villages, and they’re the source of the best combination of value and quality in the area. Vacqueyras and Gigondas are both neighbours of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and both offer similar wines at a much more approachable price point. Like their famous cousin, they pack tons of flavour, body, and structure into a package that starts with lush black and red fruits, mouth-watering savoury aromas of cured meats, herbs like sage and rosemary, and even green olives. Silky on the palate, these wines finish with a hint of dusty red earth and a bit of acidity.

Don’t fear the funk nose

The wines of the Southern Rhône have a (justifiable) reputation for…well…funkiness. If you like that sort of thing, you might call it ‘gamey’ or ‘barnyard’. If you don’t, well then it’s more ‘horse butt’ or ‘manure’. In either case, those aromas are the product of a yeast (Brettanomyces) that’s ambient in most wineries in the region. Some people like the added complexity that it seems to give to wines, and others find it disgusting. Different wines will have lower or higher levels of ‘Brett’, as it’s commonly referred to, and if the wine is allowed to sit open for an hour or so, most of the strongest aromas will dissipate, but it’s something to know about Southern Rhône wines. (In Australia we consider the Brettanomyces as a fault of unclean winery practices and poor winemaking, but a small element can add another layer of character to the wine).

So that’s your lot for Christmas drinks. I’m hoping to find some time to keep it rolling in 2024 with some new aspect, approaches and taste sensations. Have a safe Christmas and New Year.

Michael Quirk