Latin Lessons: sommeliers taste old grapes from the New World

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The growth in Italian and Spanish grape varieties has been one of the biggest developments in New World winemaking over the last 10 years. Clinton Cawood joins a team of sommeliers to see how Tempranillo, Sangiovese et al are performing outside their European heartland


It is one of the great paradoxes of New World wine: that while there are a vast number of European grape varieties out there, only a handful have succeeded in achieving international status.

But that could all be about to change. A growing number of boundary-pushing New World winemakers are no longer satisfied with the usual (mostly French) suspects, and are now looking elsewhere in Europe – particularly at Spain and Italy – for their divine inspiration.

Tempranillo, for instance, is no longer just Spain’s (and particularly Rioja’s) go-to grape, for example; while Fiano, too, seems to be settling in quite nicely outside of Italy.

Often these grapes show different sides of their character in their new homes, and in the best cases they have been known to reflect their new environment while paying tribute to their Old World origins.

Clearly, there’s plenty of experimentation left to do. But which varieties are doing best, and how might you be able to use them in your venue? We called in a selection of what’s available in the UK, and put them in front of a team of sommeliers to find out.

Panel and comments

How it works

We asked UK agents to submit examples of New World wines made with Spanish and Italian grapes – the only proviso being they were available exclusively to the UK on-trade and independents. Wines were tasted blind, with tasters only aware
of grape variety and price.
Scores were collated to give percentage scores. All prices are ex-VAT

Before we present the full breakdown of scores, we give you our judging panel, and what they had to say about the Latin-leaning selection.

FABIO AGUZZI, CALDESI RESTAURANT CAFÉ

‘Consumers don’t often know these indigenous Spanish or Italian grapes, so it’s a good thing if the New World is introducing these, and not just the well-known international grapes. The soil gives these some original complexity, but you can recognise the most important characteristics of the grapes.’

LEONARDO BARLONDI, SHANGRI-LA

‘I was curious to see how these grapes worked differently in the New World. The Sangiovese, for example, had a particularly different character.’

FERNANDO CAROCHA TEIXEIRA, SOCIAL WINE & TAPAS

‘New World winemakers are clearly still experimenting, and there were some good examples here, particularly when it came to the red Italian grapes. That might be to do with a similar climate, or terroir. Price-wise, there was some excellent value for money to be had here.’

CLINTON CAWOOD, IMBIBE

‘It was impressive to see how often winemakers were able to hit the sweet spot between varietal typicity and regional expression.’

TIMOTHY CONNOR, CORE BY CLARE SMYTH

‘In Australia you often get more herbaceousness, which means terroir is showing, rather than a winemaker reproducing something tasted in Europe.’

MAURANE EL MOKKEDDEM, TRINITY RESTAURANT

‘Some of these grapes, such as Nero d’Avola and Tempranillo, express themselves well in the New World – particularly in a blend. In general these wines were very food-friendly, and there were a lot of different styles, so there’s lots of food matching potential here.’

MICHAEL FIDUCIA, COWORTH PARK, ASCOT

‘Australia as a region is still learning, but there’s a crossover, with the Old World learning from them too.’

MIKAËL HANNEQUIN, SADLER’S WELLS

‘I was impressed throughout with how winemakers were able to retain acidity, resulting in wines that were really moreish. These were very food-friendly wines too. Even at the higher end, price-wise, you could sell these. They tasted worth that price.’

BARNY INGRAM, GORGEOUS GROUP

‘It was interesting to see how some varieties shone here, and were able to do something different. I thought the Tempranillos were doing something special, as were the Nero d’Avolas. These are both grapes that can probably handle warmer climates.’

JACOPO MAZZEO, THE PIG HOTEL

‘These varieties have their own character, but some producers are clearly trying to make wines that more represent their terroir. Ultimately, consumers still look for classic grape varieties, and wouldn’t know Fiano, for example, so one of these would be entirely new to them.’

VALÉRIEN PRIEUR, QUAGLINO’S

‘UK consumers are open to wines from around the world, but a lot of them still look to the Old World, so offering something different like this is interesting. The varied climates and soil really brought something new to these grapes.’

MATTIA SCARPAZZA, PETERSHAM NURSERIES

‘The Spanish reds were my favourite. They were expressive, and had typicity, but also had some New World character. The Italian whites, too, were very well made, and with respect for their origins. Overall, there was a lot of good value for money to be had here too.’


Results

Fiano

83 Fox Gordon, Princess Fiano 2016, Adelaide Hills, Australia
‘Lime and grape on the nose, leading to good concentration and some stone fruit notes on the palate, with a creamy texture and a long finish, not to mention a satisfying mineral note too,’ JM. ‘This is a really punchy Fiano – what I’m looking for from the New World! The first sip is like a dry Riesling, but then slowly shows Fiano character, with some jasmine and basil notes,’ TC.
£15.49, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

82 Chalmers, Fiano 2014, Heathcote, Australia
‘Lovely red apple, honey, melon and floral notes give complexity to the nose, as well as some sweet vanilla-like spice. ‘The palate shows a complex profile of melon, banana, stewed apple and walnut. The acidity’s in balance, and this has excellent length too. Drinking very well now,’ BI. ‘Dense and oily on the nose, this leads to a fresh and mineral palate, with good acidity, and lots of white peach and green apple notes, all leading to a good, long finish,’ FT.
£16.58, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

74 Larry Cherubino, Laissez Faire Fiano 2016, Frankland River, Australia
‘Darker in colour than the other Fianos here, there are oak flavours, as well as some almond notes. More almond follows on the palate, along with some dried-fruit notes, and a long, expressive finish,’ MM. ‘This opens with apricots and some tropical fruit notes, as well as some very subtle vanilla nuances. The palate continues to open up into a warming, rounded, toasty fruit bomb,’ MF.
£14.63, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

73 Coriole, Fiano 2015, McLaren Vale, Australia

‘Limes and grapefruit on the nose, with an underlying smoky note. The palate reflects the nose, with even more dry citrus elements,’ MF. ‘Soft and gentle to start, there’s good extraction on the palate. Real value for money and a good food wine too, with all the acidity it needs to tackle some fatty dishes,’ CC.
£11.50, Seckford Agencies, 01206 231188

Other whites

77 Chalmers, Vermentino 2014, Heathcote, Australia
‘A lemony and mineral style, leading to a quite deep and rounded texture on the palate’, MH. ‘There’s lots of complexity here, with notes of wet stone and lemon zest, leading to crisp acidity on the palate. This would be an excellent
by-the-glass offering,’ MS.
£13.64, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

73 Trentham Estate, River Retreat Moscato 2015, Murray Darling, Australia
‘Moscato done well. This has a punch of lychee, with a good balance of sugar and acidity to make for a light, refreshing wine – just what you are expecting,’ TC. ‘A balanced bouquet of rose and lychee on the nose, layered over some grape notes. Medium sweetness on the palate carries the floral and tropical fruit flavours well. This would pair well with Asian dishes that have a little spice,’ BI.
£6.20, Seckford Agencies, 01206 231188

70 Berton Vineyard, Winemakers Reserve Vermentino 2016, Riverland and Riverina, Australia
‘A crisp, dry style, with good minerality, and some vibrant acidity, leading to notes of stone fruit or green apple,’ FT. ‘Young, fresh and fruit-forward, this is crisp, with good acidity and balanced bitterness. Would be very interesting with oysters
or light fish dishes,’ VP.
£9.17, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

70 Coopers Creek, Albarino 2015 Gisborne, New Zealand
‘Like a fresh sea breeze… The nose is salty and clean, with some lime notes, leading to a palate that’s mineral, with lime and grapefruit. There is good acidity on the long finish,’ MM. ‘An attractive wine, with lime and green tea to start. There’s depth on the palate, with balanced acidity. A must with pan-fried John Dory and buttered leeks,’ MH.
£11.27, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7609 4711

Nebbiolo

88 Steenberg, Nebbiolo 2014, South Africa
‘Opening with liquorice, cranberry and redcurrant notes, this is reminiscent of Pinot Noir. Great acidity and extraction, and undoubtedly food-friendly. This is easily worth the price,’ CC. ‘Fresh fruit expression, together with a touch of oak, alongside some rustic aromas, and some tobacco too. This leads to smoky tannins on the palate.’ MM.
£19.24, Bibendum Wine, 0845 263 6924

81 Henschke, Rose Grower Nebbiolo 2013, Eden Valley, Australia
‘With its rose petal, cranberry and cherry notes, plus soft, fruity and rounded palate, this is a brightly shining example of a well-made wine,’ MF. ‘This opens with a fruit-dominated nose, accompanied by a touch of spice and leather. On the palate, it’s a surprisingly easy-to-drink Nebbiolo, with vanilla, red fruit and some chocolate notes,’ BI.
£27.58, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

75 Trentham Estate, Nebbiolo 2015, Murray Darling, Australia
‘Lifted aromas of cranberry and cherry are followed by a very fruity palate, that eventually leads to a tightly-structured finish,’ MF. ‘Some appealing, light red fruit is joined by some peppery spice on the palate, finishing with a touch of liquorice. This represents excellent value for money too,’ CC.
£8.25, Seckford Agencies, 01206 231188

70 Casa Freschi, Ragazzi Nebbiolo 2015, Langhorne Creek, Australia
‘Quite a fresh and lively wine, with good balance between fruit and oak. There are dark plums and berries on both nose and palate, leading to a long and lingering finish,’ FT. ‘The palate is to-die-for with its complex tannin structure. I’d recommend a medium-rare rump of beef, bone marrow and some garlic-buttered green leaves,’ MH.
£10.50, ABS Wine Agencies, 01306 631155

Nero d’avola

79 Chalmers, Nero d’Avola 2015, Heathcote, Australia
‘This has some pronounced flavours to go with its deep colour – cloves and vanilla, as well as some baked blackcurrant fruit and a savoury forest-floor note. A full-bodied wine with ripe tannins and a soft finish, plus some ripe fruit,’ MS. ‘Bramble fruit and sandalwood aromas carry over to a silky, opulent mouthfeel. This is a very approachable wine with good length,’ MF.
£13.64, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

76 Fox Gordon, Dark Prince Nero d’Avola 2016, Adelaide Hills, Australia
‘This opens with a fruit-forward nose that’s dominated by red fruit, and with a subtle touch of spice. This leads to a pleasant, fruity palate, with red and blue berries, plus grippy tannins,’ BI. ‘A sumptuous example of top-end Nero d’Avola. The palate’s complex and moreish, with plenty of life. Pair with duck breast with plum sauce,’ MH.
£15.49, Hallgarten Druitt & Novum Wines, 01582 722538

75 Coriole, Nero d’Avola 2016, McLaren Vale, Australia
‘Big and herbaceous to start, with a touch of ashy minerality too, the palate follows with blackcurrant and liquorice, as well as some attractive pepperiness. Very moreish,’ CC. ‘A fresh and fragrant wine, with herbal notes and red berry fruit. It’s also showing some good acidity on the palate,’ JM.
£9.50, Seckford Agencies, 01206 231188

Tempranillo & blends

85 Sons of Eden, Selene Tempranillo 2013, Barossa, Australia
‘This is deep in colour, with a complex nose, and well-balanced notes from the wood. It has good body – elegant and rich – and impressive freshness, considering its age,’ FA. ‘This has sweet ripeness of fruit, combined with some cedar box and a toffee apple note, bringing a supple, rounded mouthfeel. Finishes with reasonable length,’ MF.
£15.25, ABS Wine Agencies, 01306 631155

79 Chaffey Bros Wine Co, Battle for Barossa: La Conquista! (Grenache/Tempranillo/Graciano) 2015, Barossa, Australia
‘The aroma is floral at first, with some spice too, leading to a fruity palate with cherries and raspberries. I get some cinnamon, and very smooth, well-integrated tannins,’ LB. ‘A very enjoyable wine, with good concentration of red and black fruit on a nicely rounded palate. Low acidity and tannins,’ JM.
£12.57, Negociants UK, 01582 797510

79 Pawn Wines, Tempranillo En Passant 2015, Adelaide Hills, Australia
‘A rustic expression of Tempranillo, with herbal and vegetal notes that are blended with some oak character, as well as a fruity raspberry note,’ MM. ‘This is elegant and fragrant, with some winter spices coming through. It’s showing some excellent varietal character and would be an excellent match for roasted meats,’ JM.
£11.50, Seckford Agencies, 01206 231188

78 Running With Bulls, Barossa Tempranillo 2016, Barossa, Australia
‘Raspberries and some darker berries on the nose are followed by a medium body with some good acidity, all leading to a good finish, with some toast and tobacco leaves,’ FT. ‘There are some attractive, concentrated cassis notes on the nose, leading to a rich and full palate with cooked dark cherries and chocolate, plus some dry woody notes on the finish. This would be a good match for smoky pork ribs,’ MH.
£10.83, Negociants UK, 01582 797510

73 Swinney Vineyards, Tirra Lirra Red Blend (Cabernet Sauvignon/Tempranillo/Grenache) 2014, Frankland River, Australia
‘Black fruit and spice to start, leading to a well-balanced palate with light tannins, and with a nice, lingering finish,’ VP. ‘More Cabernet than Tempranillo, this is full-bodied, with lots of ripe cherry notes, as well as some vanilla,’ FA.
£15.50, Bibendum Wine, 0845 263 6924

72 Logan, 2016 Weemala Tempranillo, Mudgee, Australia
‘Ribera-style Tempranillo, with rich, almost baked fruits, and a creamy style overall, leading to a long finish with good fruit expression,’ MM. ‘A Tempranillo with great fruit and herbal notes – elements that stand out more in the New World. ‘This is a great wine to demonstrate what you can expect from this grape: full-bodied, ripe fruit and lots of tannin. Great for big steaks,’ TC.
£8.97, Castelnau Wine Agencies, 020 7751 2490

Other reds

85 Lethbridge, Negroamaro 2014, Heathcote, Australia
‘This goes more towards the red fruits than to the black, as well as offering some great herbal notes too. A nice fruity wine showing the terroir of the New World, while also staying true to the name of the variety, with a slightly bitter finish,’ TC. ‘A beautiful wine, with sweet and sour notes, plus a slight bitterness to the finish. There’s some spice in there too, as well as some elegant fruit expression overall,’ MM.
£20.97, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020 7609 4711

80 Chalmers, Sagrantino 2012, Heathcote, Australia
‘A good, fruit-forward wine, with blueberries, cherries and blackberries, plud good oak integration, with an interesting coconut note. High tannins and good acidity suggest some ageing capability too,’ BI. ‘Black pepper and cloves join some blueberry notes on the nose, while on the palate the high tannins balance well with some rich fruit. This has been made with respect for this relatively unknown variety,’ MS.
£19.58, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

80 d’Arenberg, Cenosilicaphobic Cat (Sagrantino/Cinsault) 2011, McLaren Vale, Australia
‘This is a muscular wine, with good concentration, showing some nice maceration and some sunshine too. There’s a complex range of flavours here,’ MH. ‘On this evidence, Sagrantino seems to be doing well in the New World. This has some confected fruit, alongside some great spice. Would be great for barbecued food,’ TC.
£13.76, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

78 Chalmers, Aglianico 2011, Heathcote, Australia
‘There’s some ground coffee, black berries and spice notes on the nose and palate here, alongside some soft tannins. A pleasant freshness on the palate,’ JM. ‘Classic Aglianico characteristics in the New World. Intense dark fruits on the palate, plus some farmyard notes – ultimately this is a well-balanced wine that shows good structure. It’s a good quality wine,’ FT.
£19.58, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

76 Heartland, Sposa e Sposa (Lagrein/Dolcetto) 2014, Langhorne Creek, Australia
‘A floral nose of dried petals, leading to some medium-to-high tannins on the palate, along with red berries and chocolate, plus good acidity and a touch of spice,’ LB. ‘Packed with light, fun red-berry fruit. There’s redcurrant on the palate, with good acidity, a touch of ashy minerality and a slight liquorice note to finish. Interesting, well made and at the right price too,’ CC.
£10.32, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161

73 Payten & Jones, Valley Vignerons Series Sangiovese 2015, Yarra Valley, Australia
‘Deep, pungent woody notes to start with, leading to a palate that has plenty of noteworthy elements, including lovely rounded tannins and excellent, moreish acidity,’ MH. ‘This opens with good complexity on the nose and some wild berry fruit, leading to a juicy palate that is supported by good tannins and offers a lingering finish that calls for charcuterie or red meat,’ VP.
£12.45, ABS Wine Agencies, 01306 631155

72 Some Young Punks, The Squids Fist Sangiovese Shiraz 2016, Clare Valley, Australia
‘A punchy aroma of black fruit, cloves, cassis and blackcurrant, leading to some soft tannins on the palate, alongside some nice acidity,’ VP. ‘This is what I love about winemkaing in the New World; blending two well-known grape varieties from different Old World countries, and making something that has natural spice, great fruit and is well-balanced. With that Sangiovese acidity, I think this would be really great paired with cured meats,’ TC.
£13.54, Bibendum Wine, 0845 263 6924

71 Heartland, Foreign Correspondent (Lagrein/Dolcetto) 2016, Langhorne Creek, Australia
‘A great blend of two grapes that are rarely seen together. A fruity character with ripe red cherries and redcurrants. There are soft, ripe tannins, all with some good fruit and freshness,’ MS. ‘There’s a very pleasant freshness from the raspberry and cherry notes here. ‘The palate is packed with fruit, as well as some delicate spice, not to mention some soft tannins. Strawberries and cream in a glass! I’d pair this with pork served with a fruit coulis,’ BI.
£11.50, Enotria&Coe, 020 8961 5161


Conclusions

  • The scores speak for themselves. With nothing scoring below 70%, these New World pioneers are clearly doing something right with these traditionally Old World grapes
  • Agents could submit wines from any New World country, but almost every submission was from Australia. It’s clear who the pioneers are when it comes to experimenting with Old World grapes
  • Fiano achieved the highest scores among the white wines, while Nebbiolo and Tempranillo were the hits amongst the reds. Sagrantino took the prize for least-known variety with the highest scores, and a great option for introducing to adventurous customers
  • Overall, these wines were at their best when they reflected the terroir of their new environment, while still retaining some varietal typicity
  • Panellists acknowledged that most consumers wouldn’t be familiar with many of these varieties, which, combined with their overall food friendliness, makes them a useful tool in any sommelier’s arsenal
  • Almost all in the £10-£20 range, these weren’t especially cheap, but nor were they over-expensive, and, crucially, our panel considered them to be worth the money

About Author

Clinton Cawood

Clinton has been writing about drinks since landing in the UK in 2006 from his native South Africa. He's partial to all things agave, and is dependent on good coffee. He's still not a morning person. Follow him on @clintc.

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