After the excesses of December and January, it’s back to work. And at this time of year wine needs to be affordable. Here are a couple of whites that fit the bill perfec tly.
One of the best regions for everyday quaffers is Puglia (anglicised name Apulia), located in the very southeast corner of the ‘high heel’ of Italy. It stretches about 320km along the Adriatic coast, as far as the Salento Peninsula, protruding into the Adriatic and Ionia Seas.
Puglia is a beautiful place with sun-bleached landscapes, stunning coastline, olive groves and of course vines. Despite the attractions, people seem to pass through the region rather than making it their destination. For centuries armies, pilgrims, traders and crusaders have trudged through on their way to richer pickings and nowdays it’s tourists on their way to and from Greece. I remember passing through the coastal town of Brindisi many years ago on my way to Corfu, oblivious to the beauty I was missing in Puglia.
The name Puglia comes from the Roman a-puvia or ‘lack of rain’ and it is a very hot, dry place. But fertile soil, coupled with the cooling effect of water on three sides, makes the region perfect for ripening grapes. There are about 250,000 acres of vines which, according to the Oxford Companion to Wine, puts Puglia on a par with Sicily and second to Veneto in terms of Italy’s overall production. Despite the prevalence of vines, olives dominate, with Puglia responsible for half of Italy’s olive oil!
In years gone by, Puglia’s reputation (like most of southern Italy’s) rested on bulk blending wines. But the region has undergone significant change over the past few decades and the wines are a step up from the commercial stuff of old. They’re bright, clean and fresh. Gone are the tired and over-ripe characters and in their place are wines characterised by sunny fruit and Italian savouriness. Now deliciously drinkable, there has been a corresponding dramatic increase in their popularity, as wine lovers get wise to not only the style, but particularly the value of this region’s wines.
One estate that exemplifies this change in Southern Italy is A Mano. It combines the charm, rusticity and flavour of Puglia with freshness and modernity.
‘A Mano’ means ‘hand made’ and is the work of Californian-born winemaker Mark Shannon and partner, northern Italian wine marketer Elvezia Sbalchiero. Mark initially studied medicine before deciding on winemaking at the University of California. After several years working in The States, it was a job in Sicily that not only got him hooked on southern Italy, but introduced him to Elvezia.
The couple established A Mano in 1997, embracing the slow pace and traditions of Puglia, while bringing to it Mark’s experience as a new world winemaker. After so many years as a technical winemaker, Mark says he’d forgotten the right way to make wine - the old fashioned way, “with love.” A sentimental view from someone with such technical expertise.
The estate is located outside the town of Gioia del Colle, right at the top and in the middle of the Salento Peninsula, mid-way between the Ionian and Adriatic seas. The DOC (appellation) of Gioia del Colle extends around the town on the Murge Plateau. This limestone plateau rises to a height of 450m and provides some respite from the fierce heat of the southern Italian sun. While the appellation is predominantly red, with Primitivo (known as Zinfandel in California) its mainstay, white wine is also produced, usually based on Trebbiano.
Just a year after the estate was established, the 1998 vintage of A Mano Primitivo was awarded the Gold Medal at the International Wine Challenge in London and was subsequently named Red Wine of the Year for 2000! Since then the estate has continued to go from strength to strength with a terrific range of wines that includes red, white and rosé.
A Mano Bianco 2015
Mark and Elvezia describe this wine as “the most unusual white wine that you will try from Puglia, maybe even all of Italy”. And it’s not just interesting… in recently won a Gold Medal at the InternationalSommelier Wine Awards 2016.
It’s a blend of Fiano Minutolo 60%,Falanghina 30% and Greco 10%, with the fruit sourced from low yielding vines aged 20-40 years. The wine was fermented using natural yeasts in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to retain freshness. Interestingly, a small portion of the Fiano grapes were dried for several weeks before being blended back into the wine at the end of the ferment. A Mano refers to this component as “super-juice!” While the blend is of regional character, it doesn’t comply with the appellation’s strict varietal regulations, so it’s labelled as a generic IGT wine.
Loving the wine but knowing nothing of the varieties, I got in touch with Elvezia. She sent me a note saying the “Fiano gives the wine its white peach floral aromas. Falanghina is a beautiful match adding citrus blossoms, muscles and minerality to the already heady Fiano. Greco is a wonderful grape coming from a very old, non irrigated, sandy hillside vineyard and adds a grapefruit component. It also adds structure to the blend”.
“Fragrant and complex. Aromatic nose, super-fresh and packed full of stone fruits. Cheerful and lively, and great value for money”. Judges tasting notes.InternationalSommelier Wine Awards 2016.
“Pear and pear drop aromas, intense palate with pithy notes of grape fruit and kiwi on the finish”. Laurent Richet MS (Master Sommelier).
The wine is a clear, bright gold and bursting with aromatics. On the nose, lychee, white peach and kiwifruit notes mingle enticingly with honeysuckle. On the palate these delicate aromatics are offset by zingy lemon sherbet and pineapple notes. Give this wine time to breathe and it only becomes more intense with blossoms and aromatic thyme. All the while these characters are balanced by an assertive streak of lime acidity that makes the wine super clean, crisp and refreshing, as well as giving it structure. Too easy to enjoy. 12.5% alcohol.
Elvezia suggests "it's a perfect match for seafood, chicken and salads." Or indeed, late night Thai takeaway. Grab a few to get through the heat of summer.
I can offer it for $22 a bottle. SOLD OUT
For me, the other go-to place for affordable wine has always been the Loire Valley and it seems others are starting to agree. “Wine from the Loire is predicted to be one of the main wine trends for 2017,” Decanter Magazine, 18th Jan 2017.
As a wine region the Loire is often divided into 3 areas:
The historic town of Saumur sits astride the Loire River, surrounded by the appellation of the same name. The geography is a bit complicated here, but Saumur is upstream from Savennières and surrounded by bits of Anjou. The town is home to France’s national equestrian school and its famous elite riding squad, the Cadre Noir. It was also the birth place of Coco Chanel in 1883 and presiding over the town sits the magnificent Château Saumur.
The appellation is a significant producer of and best known for sparkling wine, made using the same technique as Champagne. Saumur also produces white wine predominantly from Chenin Blanc and red wine from Cabernet Franc, one of the best examples of which is from the obscure Clos Rougeard, which if ever you get the chance to try will change your perception of Cabernet Franc forever.
I’ve written about Chenin Blanc a few times in the past when offering Vouvray, and Savennières. The variety is not well known in Australia but in the Loire it’s used to make dry, sweet and sparkling white wines. Jancis Robinson MW describes it as “probably the world’s most versatile grape” and in her book Vines, Grapes and Wines(she classifies grapes of the world as classic, major or other), Chenin achieves classic status.
“Chenin Blanc is the Loire’s most fascinating and diverse grape variety…” Decanter Magazine, 18th Jan 2017.
Within Saumur there are several sub-appellations, one of which is Saumur Blanc, a white wine made from at least 80% Chenin Blanc, with the balance usually Chardonnay or sometimes Sauvignon Blanc. When made well Saumur Blanc offers fresh, dry wines offering great value and one producer making such wines is Maison Langlois-Chateau.
The House of Langlois-Chateau was created in 1912 by Edouard Langlois and his wife Jeanne Chateau, with the house specialising in sparkling wines. Edouard was tragically killed in 1915 during WWI and subsequently awarded the Military Cross. Jeanne took over the running of the estate, aided later by her son and son-in-law.
In the 1970s, the estate’s well positioned vineyards and quality wines caught the eye of Champagne heavyweight Bollinger, who at the time was wisely looking to expand it’s empire beyond Champagne. In 1973 Bollinger acquired majority ownership of Langlois-Chateau and since then has invested heavily to improve the estate. In 2007 the historical headquarters overlooking the Loire were significantly enlarged and upgraded, with all aspects of production moved there. The winery boasts all the bells and whistles, with state of the art pneumatic presses, temperature controlled tanks and high quality oak. There have also been significant changes and improvements made to the vineyards, with Langlois-Chateau one of the first estates to obtain the Terra Vitis label, a French benchmark for sustainable vineyard practices. The estate has 71 ha of its own vineyards, located in Saumur and Sancerre, and sources fruit from vineyards in several other surrounding appellations.
The house’s reputation still rests predominantly on sparkling wine, but it also produces an excellent range of red and white still wines from several Loire appellations. In the Oxford Companion to Wine, Langlois-Chateau is one of only three estates referred to by name in Saumur where “the quality of winemaking is high.”
The estate is a long-time supporter of both the French equestrian school in Saumur and the nearby Le Mans 24 hour classic (for car nuts).
Maison Langlois-Chateau Saumur Blanc 2015
The wine is 100% Chenin Blanc, sourced from the estate’s own Terra Vitis certified vineyards in Bron and St-Florent. The fruit was handpicked and pressed - the juice then fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with cool ferments to protect delicate aromas/flavours. After ferment, the wine spent around 4 months on fine lees (the dead yeast cells that sink to the bottom of the tank). They’re stirred every now and again to add a little bit of extra weight, texture and complexity.
“Light yellow colour. Intense nose, with aromas of white flowers and exotic fruit. Sharp at first, fruity and full-bodied on the palate. A citrus fruit finish.”Winemaker's notes.
The wine is a clear, light greeny-gold and a far more subtle affair than the A Mano above. On the nose and palate you'll find fresh melon, green apples, citrus and tropical fruit. A subtle hay/grassy character makes it just a touch like a Hunter Semillon. Medium-to-light-bodied with crisp tart green apples on the finish and a hint of Euro savouriness and minerality.
This is why many regard the Loire as the home of great value drinking. Perfect mid-week French tipple.
I can offer it for $25 a bottle. Order new vintage here