Beyond Bordeaux: yea


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

This month two members of our Fine Wine team battle it out over whether one should seek the comfort of classic regions, or – as Martyn Rolph argues here – constantly push ones vinous boundaries in search of something new.

As Forrest Gump once said – or at least Tom Hanks in an amicable southern drawl said, “My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.””

Well, “Momma’s” saying is certainly applicable to wine. There is simply so much of it out there awaiting our discovery; different regions, grapes and styles which offer varied flavours, nuances and, ultimately, experiences. For me, wine is about enjoyment and discovery. I’m a firm believer that there is a wine for every occasion, and so I have a cellar that can only be described as eclectic.

Of course there is plenty of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Côte-Rôtie from the Rhône (a particular favourite), traditionally-styled Rioja and Ribera del Duero. While these regions account for some of my most treasured vinous possessions, there is much more beyond the ‘established’ regions.

There is security in opting for Margaux and Meursault; these wines are – more or less – a known quantity. If one goes beyond certain vinous boundaries, you are stepping into the unknown. The idea of “You never know what you’re gonna get” can strike fear in the hearts of a Claret Quaffer; but isn’t this sense of adventure part of the fun? My 12 years in the wine trade have taught me that there are many wonderful wines to be found just off the beaten track, wines which often carry a lesser price tag.

“Give us some examples,” I hear you cry. In Spain (away from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat etc), I would highlight a couple of areas in the north-west, Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra. The terrain here is mountainous and the red grape variety is Mencía; the wines offer pure, red fruit with a spicy, rustic edge and fine, mineral acidity; these are not heavy wines, but beautifully poised. Dominio do Bibei is a personal favourite of mine from the region.

Looking to south-west Italy, Campania is located on the volcanic soils surrounding the city of Naples. Although wines have been produced here since Roman times, it’s an area which is often overlooked. The wines of Taurasi are superb, and provide perhaps the finest expression of the Aglianico grape; focused with lots of depth and dark, ripe fruit. The finest riserva wines often show hints of chocolate and sweet spice.

If you seek the refinement of Burgundy’s Pinot Noir or Piedmont’s Nebbiolo, the Blaufränkisch grape offers characters reminiscent of these classic wines; Moric produces particularly excellent examples.

Away from Europe, the New World is – rather ironically – still rather unexplored. Today a host of producers are planting in unmapped areas, for example Mornington Peninsula in South Australia. The vineyards are surrounded on three sides by water, creating a cooler maritime environment – which produces exceptional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the Crittenden Estate wines are a particular favourite of mine).

The examples listed here represent a miniscule fraction of the vinous “box of chocolates”. There are so many fantastic wines to be found away from the more famous wine regions, and I would encourage all to seek them out – it’s a risk, but one worth taking.

Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s piece posturing that the grass (or grape) isn’t always greener on the other side.