Though China, Israel and India may not be the first places that spring to mind when thinking of great wine regions, Liberty Wines is out to prove that they can hold their own in the wine world. The leading merchant has added wines from these three countries to its offerings, presenting them to the on-trade at its annual portfolio tasting earlier this week.
The additions from these lesser-known wine countries left the trade pleasantly surprised, as Liberty’s strengths lie in its representation of renowned regions such as Veneto, Tuscany and France.
The quality of the new wines, however, justified the choice. ‘We weren’t looking specifically for Chinese and Indian wines, just for good wines from anywhere. When we tasted them we thought that were very good,’ David Gleave MW, managing director of Liberty Wines, told Imbibe.
‘Funnily enough, we've sold more Indian wines to non-Indian restaurants and retailers than we have to Indian restaurants. Those are wines that stand up in their own right.’
Unexpected offerings from China, India and Israel
Kanaan Winery is based in China’s principal fine wine region of Ningxia and is run by female winemaker Wang Fang. Its wine lineup consists of a clean and light Riesling (£25.99), which shows notes of peach, green apple and pear, and the imposing Pretty Pony Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (£42.99), characterised by a marked sour/sweet element, ripe and soft tannins, great length and a full body.
Meanwhile, the India-based vineyards of Fratelli are located in the western state of Mahārāshtra. The producer's M/S labels (all £14.99) are the result of a collaboration between acclaimed wine writer Steven Spurrier and world-renowned winemaker Piero Masi.
Of these, the Sauvignon Blanc shows clear varietal character, with hints of bell pepper and a pleasant herbaceousness, while the Sangiovese/Cabernet Franc/Shiraz blend (60%, 20%, 20% respectively) is satisfyingly full in body, savoury, and displays an appetising spiciness.
Rounding out the new additions are the wines of Segal, which are made in the Judean Hills region of Israel and are certified kosher. Liberty stocks a white (Colombard, £12.99) and a red.
The red, labelled Levant, is made with the local Argaman grape – a cross of Carignan and Souzão. It’s creamy and gently tannic, with spicy aromas of cinnamon and cloves and hints of red berries. Priced at £12.99, it gives excellent value.
Playing to its strengths
Of course, these three off-the-beaten-track names weren’t the only new agencies in Liberty’s tasting booklet – the merchant has also grown its offerings in more traditional wine regions.
For instance, Liberty has increased its French portfolio with the addition of 10 new agencies: Causse du Théron from Cahors; domaines De L’Enclos, Vrignaud and Daniel-Etienne Defaix from Chablis; Moron Garcia, Le Hauts de Milly and Domaine Tollot-Beaut from Burgundy; Frédéric Berne from the Beaujolais; Château Montgrand-Milon from Bordeaux; Château du Rouët from Provence; Domaine de Bréseyme from the Rhône; and Château Haut Blanville from the Languedoc.
It has also taken on the Uruguayan agency Bodega Garzón.
‘I know [winemaker] Alberto Antonini very well, we’ve been friends for 30 years,’ said Gleave. ‘When they were looking to change merchants I was very keen to talk to them. I’ve never tasted a Tannat so supple before, and I really like what they’ve done, matching variety with site.’
One of the most compelling Garzón wines is the Albariño Reserva (£19.49), a beautifully perfumed interpretation of the grape, with a vibrant tropical, citrus and floral character.
Liberty’s strengths won’t change in the foreseeable future, and there are no plans to dilute its offering: ‘Verona, Piemonte and Tuscany remain very strong,’ said Gleave.
However, the merchant does want to continue to expand its horizons. ‘There are probably certain areas that we should be looking into more. We’re doing quite well with southern Italy generally, but my feeling is that we should be doing more in Sicily,’ he explained.