A very good afternoon to you all, and the warmest of welcomes to those who’ll be joining us for tonight’s edition of TWSTaste at 8pm; the subject of which is of course…
Italian Summer Wine Champions!
I am rather gutted to be missing out on joining you all tonight but given that I took part in the 2019 the Wine Champions tastings with our buyers, @laura has asked me to kick things off by posting some info about the wines you’ll be tasting this evening.
For the uninitiated, our annual Wine Champions offering (now in its 19th year) sees our buyers taste their way through a huge range of wines (a record 897 this year) to find members the best of our best for drinking now.
Italy was one of the real stories of this year’s tastings (do look out for some very special reds in our Fine Wine Champions, which will be offered in the September Fine Wine List). As it happens, the idea of Wine Champions was dreamt up in 2000 by our Italy buyer for many years, Sebastian Payne MW, so it’s rather nice that the fermented fruits of his labours did so well in the year he passes the reins for buying Italy to Sarah Knowles MW.
Here is a little info on the two you’ll be enjoying.
WINE 1: Puglia Bianco, A Mano 2018 (£9.50, 12%)
Founded in 1998, A Mano is owned and run by Mark Shannon and Elvezia (‘Elvie’) Sbalchiero, and is located in the Puglia region which makes up the heel of Italy’s boot. A Mano means ‘by hand’, and this is a fitting name for a property at which the wines are made with painstaking craftsmanship and passion. Mark – a Californian – had been working as a ‘flying winemaker’ when he met Elvie, a wine marketer from the Friuli region in north-east Italy, in 1997. They’d only intended to visit Puglia as a holiday in 1998, but when they landed, they fell head-over-heels in love with the vineyards, and the light and colour of the region.
This wine is made from the local fiano minutolo clone, greco and verdeca, grown in Valle d’Itria, in the heart of Puglia. The valley provides a constant airflow from the Adriatic Sea to the warmer regions of Puglia further inland. The fresh breezes lower the night time temperatures, encouraging the development of the lovely perfumes in the grapes. The soils are well-drained on a soft rock base. Ripe grapes were pressed and fermented in temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks for 10 weeks. In the winery, the aim is to preserve the character the vineyard, and so Mark always ferments at cool temperatures to retain the grapes’ natural fruitiness. A small portion of the fiano grapes were dried until the end of October, after which they were pressed and the juice was blended into the wine at the very end of fermentation.
The result is an extroverted, peachy wine with an irresistibly sunny personality that shone through in our tasting.
In the tasting room:
Unlike in previous years, the 2019 Champions tastings were carried out over an intense 3-week period with at least one session held every day. This was for several reasons, but one was to ensure the gap between the tastings and the wines being offered to members was shorter than in the past. Great news for members (and our dentists!). It was a tad gruelling on some days (I can just see the looks of pity on your faces…), but our team of hardy professionals is used to such things, and the enamel-chastening experience of the Dry Whites round was actually one of the most enjoyable sessions. Split into two parts, this mammoth tasting saw us try 144 wines.
Looking at my notes, I see A Mano was wine number 45 in the 81-wine morning session. In terms of how we score the wines, a buyer may award two points for a wine they think is a Champion, one point for a close contender or zero.
And there were no half measures with A Mano – nobody scored it with a single mark and it was given a full ‘Champion’ 2-point score by (if I can read my writing) Freddy Bulmer, Tim Sykes, Sebastian Payne MW, Pierre Mansour, Sarah Knowles MW and Marcel Orford-Williams (who was moved to announce ‘I loved it!’ during the scoring). A strong performance indeed! What do you think?
WINE 2: Basilicata Rosato Le Ralle, Alovini 2018 (£8.95, 13%)
Our second Italian winner for tonight is made by the Roxan co-operative, who are also responsible for our much-loved fellow Champ, The Society’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
Sebastian Payne MW recalls that The Society first looked to buy wines from them after Edoardo Valentini, the brilliant but eccentric local winemaker and one of the most influential figures of his generation, sold his surplus grapes to it. Valentini was fiercely secretive, shunning wine critics and the wine establishment in general, yet this particular co-operative was the only one he trusted to turn his grapes into good wine. He died in 2012, but his son continues his estate, and upholds his father’s trust in the Roxan co-operative.
The winery itself is located in the town of Rosciano, near Pescara.
The wine is made from a blend of montepulciano and aglianico, and is designed to be dry, but not too dry; a wine that doesn’t shy away from the full-flavoured sunny character of these varieties. As wine writer Joanna Simon said back in June, ‘Provence rosés have done such a clever job of persuading people that pale rosés are both drier and more sophisticated than dark rosés that deep pink wines are beginning to look like an endangered species. Don’t let it happen! There’s room for all shades of pink, and vibrant pinks aren’t necessarily less dry… [this] has enough body and flavour for a barbecue, whether prawns or lamb cutlets, and works well with spices, herbs and chargrilled or roast veg such as red peppers, tomatoes, aubergines and shallots.’
In the tasting room:
Assembling and tasting the fresh new-vintage rosés requires agility as well as organisation, and as such this was the last session of the 2019 tastings. Buyer Marcel Orford-Williams (who looks after our rosé range) lined up a gargantuan array of samples for a pre-tasting before the rest of us tasted through those that have been put forward by him for consideration: 36 to be precise.
This was wine number 7 and it received full marks from Tim Sykes, Marcel Orford-Williams and Toby Morrhall. It also picked up one point each from Freddy Bulmer, Sebastian Payne MW, Sarah Knowles MW and buying trainee Matthew Horsley, making it the highest-scoring wine out of the session. We loved its full, ripe fruit and agreed that on the day it was the best of the bunch. See what you think!
Over to you. The tasting begins at 8pm. Have fun!