"I'm a King Kong Man, I'm a voodoo Man, oh I'm a Grape Man."
Ray Davies, Kinks (often misheard)


By Martin Brown.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

2012 in Wine

This, in plastic, was fantastic (see October).
Whether of wine, women, songs, marketing or men’s torsos, these end-of-year lists always at the very least flirt with being cultural mould. I know: the churning nature of it; the increasingly algorithmic ennui. It’s a bit like being asked to read a disposable contact lens.

But I did meet some amazing wines in 2012. My palate is sharper for them, but it’s up for debate whether my turn of phrase is. Here they are, for what they may be worth.

January
Château Trotanoy
is not a Morgan as much as a Caterham Seven: it has an enthusiastic following and the chances to imbibe casually are rare. The 1995, tasted with Edouard Moueix, showed why people get so excited. Seductive, yes, but I also loved its fustiness. It’s a wine fit for any banqueting table but it doesn’t shy from the barnyard either.

February
Tasting Auguste Clape’s Cornas was as much a privilege as it was a treat, and the 2008 managed to silence a room full of some of the UK’s best palates and liveliest table-talkers. It offers a taste you can’t really find anywhere else: a rustic bruiser yet with a lightning-quick nervous system, sticking two fag-stained fingers up at the reputation of its middling vintage. Bravo.

March
A visit to Champagne, the vinous highlight being Roederer’s vin-de-garde Cristal 2002 in magnum. How many bottles of this will have been sprayed on plush-leather sofas and the nubile-riche before it hits its stride properly? It does not bear thinking about. One of the most exciting white Burgundies I have ever tasted came in the shape (and shape is the operative word) of Henri Boillot Puligny Montrachet Clos de la Mouchere 2008.

April
An old-vine Loire Romorantin, Marionnet Provignage Vin de Pays du Loir et Cher 2010, gave me a shock. A trip to Chile and Argentina, and the cementing of a love affair with the latter’s Weinert. With its combination of guts, utility and personality, Cavas de Weinert 2004 is a Dogo Argentino of a red and represents stunning value.

May
The month of Muscat, as I started to get my head around this sense-scrambling Alsace speciality. Having first tried it with Marc-André Hugel, I took a bottle of Hugel’s £11 'Tradition' Muscat 2010 to a heatwave-celebrating veggie barbecue, where it wiped the floor with a £60 Champers.

June
With leather patches on its elbows and a song in its heart (probably Status Quo or something), a jolly old bottle of Château Beychevelle 1986 (my wife’s birth year) capped off a first reccy of our wedding venue in rainy Dumfries perfectly. Quintessential friendly-yet-clever claret. Even better is the fact she is teetotal, meaning there was more for me.

July
The wettest British summer for a century was lent some colour by a thundering bottle of Ridge Monte Bello 2001 – my highlight of an extraordinary tasting – and the rasping, genre-redefining Bellbird Spring Block Eight 2010: the Tom Waits of Kiwi Sauvignon.

August
Met ‘the in-mouth equivalent one of those dramatic advancing UFO shadow shots from an alien invasion film’: Chave Hermitage Blanc 1989, which topped a humbling bevy of Chaves.

September
I broached the last year of my 20s with some semblance of dignity and a haunting bottle of Grati Rosso di Toscana 1991. I did not get the chance to jot anything down about this (largely unfiltered) Chianti Rufina that fell foul of DOC regulations on behalf of it being made with 100% Sangiovese (outlawed until 1995, apparently). Then again, it is a difficult wine to do justice to.

October
The finest Aussie Chardonnay to pass my lips: Cullen Kevin John 2009 was born in what Vanya Cullen called her ‘Mozart vintage’ – everything was in harmony. It was mesmerising when tasted with her in posh glassware; the dregs even sang when consumed out of a plastic cup in the rather disharmonious environs of Clerkenwell Green (the least green Green in the world). A well-priced, gloopy yet glitzy glass of Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2005 was a beautiful way to celebrate choosing the wedding rings, and made me forget about the resulting penury for a few moments.

November
None of the wines served at my wedding were as good as a holy trinity of Château Suidiraut 2001 (an ethereal, sweet-and-savoury, multi-layered headscramble of a wine), Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2006 (a classic, leatherbound Barossa that ranks among the best Australian Shiraz wines I’ve tried) and Dom Perignon 2002, which affirmed all the praise I’d heard heaped upon it with its incredible mixture of citric, tantric tension and baker-shop brawn.

December
Served blind after a thrilling line-up of Grenache single-varietals and blends, the mellifluous, bejeweled Château Rayas 1990 was a room-silencer. Turkish delight, an entire spice rack’s worth of complexity, beautiful soft texture and a finish that makes you realise why you commute for four hours every day to write about fermented grapes.

On that note, it’s Christmas. Have a good one.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A Bevy of Chaves

Or Chaves: The Lionisation of the Drinking Class. For when I was foolhardy enough to ask Twitter for a suitable collective noun for the finest of all Hermitage wines, a lot of chav jokes came back. I still think the best choice would be 'a bevy'. 'A charm' of Chaves wins special plaudits too. Moving on.


To enthusiasts, Chave’s wines require no preamble. Their standing as perhaps the greatest of all Rhônes, red or white, continues to be assured by Jean-Louis Chave’s masterful tenure, having produced a consistent run of very highly regarded recent vintages. 

Many of the vintages below will go under the hammer tomorrow at Christie's. There is of course much skepticism towards expensive wine, particularly in these straitened times, and one of the questions anyone in the trade is asked most often is whether bottles such as these are ‘worth it.’ This is impossible to answer when the context of the market is so alien to the sentiments of most. All I can say of these was that, while a couple of the white wines were a little out of sorts (arguably par for the course perhaps given the esoteric, sulky and peculiar type of wine they are), the majority were astounding: unflustered, elegant, peacock-tailed wines, and in a line-up where iconoclastic triumphs from lesser vintages rubbed shoulders with vinous idols, this was as educational as it was gratifying stuff.

The best examples are still, of course, physically ephemeral and expensive, but psychologically they are timelessly rewarding and stimulating experiences. If this is the type of gratification you’re after then yes: you can bankrupt yourself with confidence here.

Hermitage Blanc

1989

Gorgeous, vivid aromas: wild honeysuckle, peach, green apples, white pepper and hazelnuts all leaping out. The persistency and delineation of the 89 are remarkable and its weight and intensity creep up on you as it slicks its way across the palate, the in-mouth equivalent one of those dramatic advancing UFO shadow shots from an alien invasion film. It fans out into a long and remarkably persistent finish. A little alcoholic heat in evidence, but it manages merely to tickle the back of the throat rather than smudge the flavours. The little tease. What a beautiful wine.

1999
 
Cerebral, multidimensional and at present, it must be said, slightly sulky. On first snout more like an elegant Chardonnay than a classic gung-ho Hermitage, with well-defined aromas of butterscotch, white flowers and a touch of mint. Svelte in texture, more so than expected, but like the 89 the wine then spreads its tail feathers into an intricate, opulent finish that was as surprising as it was stupendous. This is a great wine and its best is still to come.

2000
 
A puzzle. Despite some gorgeous hints of white peach and some odd but not unwelcome notes of prune and a slightly undergrowth-like character, there’s a hole in the nose where most of the fruit should be. The palate is unbalanced, closed and hot with a slightly unpleasant petrolly character. Out of sorts.

2002 
Finesse and length, but the alcohol is sadly an errant interference rather than a team player, and there is an astringent feel at the end of the palate. Like the rest of the wines, this was tasted some 24 hours after opening: perhaps it would have been better the previous day.

2003

The heatwave 2003 was a revelation, combining the signature opulence one would expect of the vintage with startling poise and subtlety. Remarkably, the alcohol feels far less conspicuous on the nose than in the case of both the 2000 and the 2002, taking in its stride all manner of intense and complex flavours (peach, blossom, plum...). Not sure whether this is one for the ages, but it’s lovely now. An extroverted and expressive wine that always manages to keep itself in check somehow, maintaining a sense of restraint and modishness.

2004 
Tasting oddly like a more mature version of the 2003 in some respects; in others, the 2004 evinces a more traditional style of white Hermitage. Its vigour and life are so manifest as to quiver the nostril hairs, while the palate is rich, viscous and incredibly persistent. Wonderfully wild and rustic, it tastes somehow like someone has distilled the essence of a hedgerow. Succulent peachy fruit as well. Ready to drink now and utterly brilliant.

2006
 
Still has more to give, particularly on the nose, where it feels ever so slightly muted and unbalanced. The palate just throbs with class – one of the most scintillatingly well-balanced white wines I have tasted, with a full and rounded texture and pitch-perfect acidity. The finish is monumental, scattering extraordinary, layered flavours all over the palate with such virtuosity I gave up trying to note them down.

2008
 
Stunning perfume: blossom, honey, candlewax, liquorice, orange and quince with a touch of white pepper. The palate is a little foursquare and restrained at first before revving up and coating the mouth with graceful, confident and gorgeously well-defined peachy fruit. A salty tang here, a touch of elderflower there and a hint of crème caramel at the end. Terrific showing, but perhaps worth waiting for a little (not a long) while yet.


Hermitage Rouge

2002
 
How Chave produced a wine like this in a vintage where the hallowed terroir of the Rhône was reduced to rock-festival-like levels of mud and mould is beyond me. It must have taken a stupendous amount of work in the vineyard. The nose is generous and pure Syrah: dark cherries, bramble and both white and black pepper soaring in unison. Silky, refined and well knit, with a cherry-filled finish that is light yet luscious and so refreshing and vital. There is a very slight ‘hole’ in the back palate, but you would have to be pretty fussy to let that detract from your enjoyment. In its way, perhaps the most impressive of all the wines here, thumbing its nose as it does at the challenges of this maligned vintage.

2004
 
There is an effortlessness about this wine that makes it bewitching: an unassuming comfort in its own skin, not needing to shout in order to be heard. Everything is elegant, poised and precise: clarity, depth, balance and irresistible fruit, which whips up into a peppery kaleidoscope without breaking sweat or offering anything resembling a bum note or hard edge. Delicious now, but no hurry.

2007
 
Born in one of the region’s greatest vintages, the 2007 is fabulous but, predictably, foetal. On the nose it’s an abyss: hollow, dark, eerie and evocative. By contrast, there is so much happening on the palate it’s an effort to spit the stuff out: a convoy of cohesion and complexity, with all kinds of dark fruit notes mingling with black olive, tar, graphite, leather and glycerol. Retains gorgeous freshness and finishes remarkably long, albeit squashed a little by its alcohol. This needs an awful lot of time, but it is difficult to imagine it being anything other than monumental.

2008 
A suave, leathery and eminently likeable wine that encapsulates its regional character well. Saddly sandalwood notes mingle with the black, slightly tart, boisterous fruit, but it’s all a bit tight now, with the tannins slightly astringent. The fruit gets darker and more pronounced on the finish with hints of olive paste coming through at the death. Another excellent effort from a tough vintage that will be ready to drink fairly soon.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Kiwi Sauvignons For British Downpours

Ivan Sutherland
Tardy on my part, but earlier this summer I had the privilege of trying Dog Point’s newest wines with Ivan, Margaret and Matt Sutherland. A blog post can be found on Society Grapevine.

In it, I mentioned that their distinctive and distinguished Section 94 could well be New Zealand’s finest Sauvignon Blanc. One of my learned colleagues calls Kiwi Sauvignon the gin and tonic of our time, and in most instances I agree wholeheartedly. As a result of it fulfilling this commendable purpose in people’s lives, many highbrow voices tend to enjoy dismissing its charms as copybook rather than complex.

That is to say, a wine for empty-headed sunny days rather than the drizzly contemplation we are so fond of on these isles.

And so in this, the wettest British summer for 100 years, more ‘serious’ examples like Section 94 have been rather welcome. It’s a great wine, but it’s also got texture. It goes with casseroles and stews. It feels warmer.

Of course novelty does not always breed nobility, and some wackily made Kiwi Sauvignons have made me yearn for a chilled, uncomplicated glass of the grassy status quo. But when it works, as if someone's snuck a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins number in a Marvin Gaye playlist.



Pressed whole-bunch before being fermented and aged in old oak, Bellbird Spring Block Eight Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is a wine that rasps where others croon: the Tom Waits of New Zealand Sauvignon.

I could smell citrus fruit, but instead of being crisp and sweet it was defiant and sour. I could taste tropical fruit, but of crystallised and baked rather than the ‘freshly squeezed’ kind. There was intensity and juiciness, but also mouth-puckering, stone-sucking minerality and echoic length.

Bonkers, vital, complex, different, it was what a lot of people either think Kiwi Sauvignon shouldn’t be or is incapable of being, and I loved it all the more for that. These more unusual wines are comparatively expensive. But sunny days are easy: rainy ones can require a greater splash. The damp and the intrepid will reap the benefits.



Photo of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins by Memi Beltrame.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Black Metal and White Muscat



Never judge a book by its cover, so the cliché goes. Whilst it is certainly as boring as most clichés, it is not quite as true as most. ‘Be wary of judging a book by its cover’ may be a more appropriate, if less catchy truism, for in many cases (another, better cliché coming up) the exceptions prove the rule.

Most of us can recall the concept taking shape in childhood, perhaps an act of kindness or courtesy that put into doubt the ‘don’t talk to strangers’ gospel of one's school teachers – or a confected drink that was bright blue but somehow tasted red.

If you’ll permit the digression, I’ve noticed a similar tendency within the much-maligned genre of black metal music. Like many music scenes that propagate non conformity there is a firm predisposition towards the exact opposite, with bands that do not adhere to the ‘traditional’ dress code being ridiculed and written off by aficionados, seemingly irrespective of what they sound like. The sight of a band like Deafheaven, for example, who (shock, horror) do not wear ‘corpse paint’ and spiky boots, being dismissed as artistically frivolous is as interesting as it is flat-out hilarious.

Life is peppered with deceiving appearances and incorrect first impressions, and we react to them differently. In wine, the ‘nose-palate disconnect’ means different things to different people. If a wine tastes completely different to what your first impressions tell you it should, is it brilliant individuality or a flaw? Should it even matter? Either way, it’s certainly interesting.

A reliable way to find this sort of disconnect is to sample a grape usually used for sweet wine, but that’s been picked early and fermented until bone dry. This is what some in Alsace are doing with Muscat – specifically the strain of the grape used in the fortified Muscat Beaumes de Venise. Sounds weird. But several examples are not only gorgeous, they have a culinary dexterity few wines can match.

Hugel’s Muscat Tradition 2010 (c.£12) smells uncannily as though it’s going to be a sweet wine. Drinking it is a bit like going from the dessert to the aperitif: a single sensorial flick of the switch and the candied and honeyed suddenly becomes the crisp and verdant.

This might not sound like a crowd pleaser, but at a recent barbecue it was the star of the show among non-wine-geek clientele, overshadowing a flashy bottle of vintage Champagne on account of its peculiar but gratifying cut-off between nasal expectation and gustatory reality. It’s a kind of double bluff, and it gets people talking.

Better still is the way in which it goes with food; chameleonic, versatile and even able to stand up to arguably the ultimate wine-killer.

When the notoriously eccentric Michel Chapoutier was asked what wines one should serve with asparagus, he replied mordantly, ‘my competitors’.’ If these competitors happened to be purveyors of good Alsace Muscat, he might have talked himself out of a job.

All told, there’s enough for a black metal concept album here, though of course I’d need to study a photograph of the band before deciding whether or not to take it seriously.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Double-Decantin’ Blues: Ridge Monte Bello & Santa Cruz/Estate

Has anyone else in the UK noticed that the weather hasn’t been too good recently?


With it has come a foray into enclaves of the wine rack that are usually preserved for winter, with heftier reds forming the order of the day. This was continued in some style yesterday when I volunteered to prepare a remarkable selection of Ridge Cabernets for a tasting.

It was grey, it was wet, it was Stevenage and what’s more, it was Friday 13th. It was a bluesy sort of morning.


Workin’ for a soupcon. I got the double-decantin’ blues.


There are a few wineries in this world with sufficient money, resources and eccentricity that they like to play music to their grapes (Ridge is not among them). Generally, it’s the ilk of soothing Mozart, pomp-filled Baroque and the like.

Much as I love classical music, I think these people have got it all wrong. Vines need to be stressed in order for them to give of their best: the plants need to be in something of a clamour, focusing their energy on producing fruit, in the hope that their species might then be propagated away from their nerve-racking surroundings.

If you’re going to play music to them, then I say make it the blues. If I ever do own a vineyard, I pledge to employ an elderly Delta guitarist to sit in it, speckling the grape skins with saliva as he hollers at the fruit in his raw Mississippi drawl.

The devil’s gonna macerate you…

I digress. The wines were all from the Monte Bello vineyard: the eponymous flagship and the erstwhile Santa Cruz Cabernet, which has been re-named ‘Estate’ as of the 2008 vintage. To call it a ‘second wine’ would be to miss the point: it has a character all its own, which is intended for an earlier and more immediate experience - the Howlin' Wolf to Monte Bello's Son House.

For more about Ridge, a write-up of the tasting I attended with Ridge’s CEO and winemaker Paul Draper can be found here. The notes below may however be of interest to Ridge’s many fans.




SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS / ESTATE

2008 (c.£35)

This was surly at first and was giving away little, but after some swirls of the glass a compote of black fruit started to appear, complemented by walnuts, hazelnuts and a faint whiff of cinnamon. The palate is muscular but extroverted with tasty, grainy tannins. Very fine, but shorter on the finish than I expected. Jelly Roll Morton.

2007 (c.£35)
A light, elegant first impression. The nose is very pretty, with currants and damson jam to the fore with very appealing hints of pencil lead and a whiff of shoe-polish-oak. Medium-bodied and upfront, showing off with a punnet of blueberry and raspberry flavours before broadening in the mid-palate with richer black-cherry fruit and liberal chewy mocha. Delicious, fresh finish. An invigorating, stylish wine. Memphis Minnie.

2006 (c.£40)
Sweeter than the 2007, even on the nose; a more coquettish and fun wine with lots of cherry fruit and not so much of the burly coffeed flavours. The finish is very long and admirably complex. Blind Willie McTell.

2005 (c.£50)
A stonking whiff of cassis out of the decanter. Bold and forward in the glass, the nose dominated by boysenberry and blackcurrant with a leathery complexity. The palate is all plums and cherry liqueur, quite syrupy in texture with a bit of heat on the end and not as many secondary flavours as I’d hoped. Snooky Pryor.

2004 (c.£40)
Also very powerful on the nose, this time with black-cherry gateaux and bramble aromas that seem to sear out of the glass. This is totally in its stride and seamlessly polished. Charming and cherry-dominated, robustly structured, superbly delineated. Wonderful, honest wine. Lightnin' Hopkins.

2001 (c.£50)
Like the 2004 in a gravel pit: a super wine of real elegance, though a little splotch of alcohol towards the end of the palate lets it down vs the 2004. Still an excellent bottle of wine. Hound Dog Taylor.

2001 Barrel Sample
A curiosity from Michael Schuster’s cellar. Ironically, this incarnation of the 2001 Santa Cruz’s alcohol was, I thought, in better harmony, but it has tired a little in bottle and the fruit is turning in on itself within quite a dusty structure; nonetheless, it is a minor miracle that this 11-year-old barrel sample has stood up so well. Howlin’ Wolf’s electric album.


MONTE BELLO

2008 (c.£150)

The nose screams ‘away!’ at first; this is seriously young. A few swirls eke out a stunning mixture of cherries, mahogany, sandalwood and scorched earth. The palate is utterly beautiful. Relatively tight on entry, then opening into bramble, damson, cloves and a touch of raisin, fanning out with stunning delineation into a finish that goes on and on. Embryonic but incredible. Big Bill Broonzy.

2006 (c.£110)
A gorgeous nose, alive with primary black fruits at the core with eucalyptus and aniseed dancing round them. The palate is very backward and tannic, giving little besides big gateaux flavours. It fans out nicely at the end, but is smudged somewhat by alcohol. Blind Lemon Jefferson.

2005 (c.£120)
A nose to fall in love with, but for now the palate has not caught up. The 2005 smells so harmonious. Can ‘silky’ be attributed to a smell? It really is something: complex forest fruit notes with smoke and coffee beans, all wonderfully restrained and melded together. In the mouth the wine has a lighter texture than expected, medium/full-bodied with an exuberant attack and a slight hole in the mid-palate; it then conjures up a flurry of aniseed-tinged flavours that show the greatness in the pipeline. It will be spectacular, but it needs a lot of time. John Lee Hooker.

2004 (c.£110)
Stunning nose: soaring dark cherry aromas over a wonderfully interknit mix of blackberries, lead, graphite and dried raisins. The palate sparkles with raspberries and plums before a big, oak-framed fanning out of spices, coffee beans, mocha, all delineated with gravely tannins. This is a charming, excellent wine. Muddy Waters.

2001 (c.£190)
Thunderously powerful and concentrated, this leaps out of the glass, sour cherries and graphite hovering on top of the more generous brambly cherry fruit notes. The palate is glorious: all the elements are in harmony, with big-hearted black fruits, chocolate and raisins, with all the vim and vigour to see it through decades more ageing. There is an austere, bitter, carob-like edge to the finish that complements the sweeter flavours beautifully. The finish goes on forever. Brilliant. Blind Willie Johnson.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Cuttings from the Grapevine


A busy day job, a 4-hour daily commute, wedding preparations, flat hunting.. I don’t want to hear it either. I’ve been guilty of neglecting this and will flagellate myself as soon as this train gets in to Croydon. We’ve seen worse things happen there.

For now, however, here are two pieces I wrote recently for Society Grapevine that might be of greater popular interest than the usual esoteric vinous prattle.

How to Host Your Own Blind Tasting
Blind tastings are what you make them, and work just as well vs a night down the pub (i.e. drinking) as they do an academic assessment of oenological wisdom (i.e. spitting). To the curious, I get the chance to say, ‘Here’s something I wrote – I hope it helps.’

I respectfully urge you to put the fizz away for this Wimbledon tournament: a chilled glass of Sauternes is an extraordinary match for strawberries, with or without cream. In this pie-eyed feat of pun resistance, we tried to explain why.


By way of a final flourish, here is a wonderful piano piece from James Blackshaw, a remarkably gifted guitarist by trade, but one who has many ivories as well as strings to his proverbial bow. Many great, ageworthy wines take an unpredictable arc as they mature, giving us such varied intellectual and sensory pleasure; and in spite of myself I found myself thinking how well Blackshaw's latest album, Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death, encapsulates the main stages therein. It begins with tightly wound, intricate guitar pieces and even passes through an awkward middle stage courtesy of what I think is his first ever recorded collaboration with a vocalist. And then. Mature, perhaps fading somewhat in complexity, but beautiful, melodic, unforced and complete.


Thanks to Grape Man readers for your continued emails, tweets and nicenesses about this blog. I am flattered and encouraged, and will write more soon. 

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Dogo Argentino: Weinert

Synthesised from a rogue’s gallery of the canine world’s butchest blue-collars (including the St. Bernard, Mastiff, Pitbull and Great Dane), the Dogo Argentino was bred with the intention of hunting and killing pumas and wild boar.

They’re banned in the UK (an ideologically specious position, but I concede this is a blessing of sorts given the amount of land a dog like this requires, let alone the obvious safety issues). A visit to a breeder outside Cordoba a couple of weeks ago to meet some of them was a revelation. Like my first encounter with a pitbull, I found myself completely amazed by how friendly these physically enormous dogs were (right down to the charming Latin swagger).


The Dogo’s power is obvious and arresting, but it also distinguishes itself for utility and, as it turns out, affability. So it is with the country’s quality red wines, the tasting of which occupied much of the remainder of my trip; yet frustratingly it took some digging in the supermarket ranges in order to find this canine combination.

On the basis of those wines I tasted, it is a little disheartening to note that the appetite among the bigger brands for oak does not seem to have diminished. Most of the cheaper, more widely available reds are, in their way, comparable to a Dogo in unscrupulous hands: a status dog rather than a companion.

A woody wine for a rare steak is one thing, but the abundance of vanilla and toffee oak flavours in so many wines meant that it was often the second Argentine national foodstuff that I found myself being reminded of – dulce de leche.

This caramel-like spread is transcendentally delicious – the dying General Péron is rumoured to have been bribed with a few spoonfuls of the stuff in order to get his last few documents signed and sealed – but not as a main course.

Culinary prerequisites, image de luxe marketing or whatever else it may be, by and large the big names make big wines. I’m not knocking that per se. I like a lot of them. But this herbivorous gringo could only digest so much wood.

My proverbial bacon was saved by Bodega Weinert, whose reds – allowed to swim freely in a big French-oak barrels rather than having been swaddled in American barriques – I found myself seeking out more and more.

Having existed since 1890, Weinert enjoys a reputation for bucking the trends that have emerged around it in recent years. Carrascal (c.£7.50) is a fine introduction to the style, while the 2004s of both the Cabernet Sauvignon (c.£10) and the Cavas de Weinert (c.£12) transcend the relatively small price increases, offering real, noticeable, ascendant quality. The latter, made from 40% Malbec, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot, is a particularly good buy.

Barrique’ is a filthy word at Weinert, and at all prices the wines feel freer for it. They are cerebrally structured, but let their fruit take centre stage as well. That is the crux of what sets these and a few other notable exceptions apart among the more famous affordable brands.

Bordeaux-like? Perhaps, yes. But making a wine that tastes more like the grapes in the vineyard than the wood in the winery is not necessarily a ‘French’ thing to do. In spite of the grape varieties themselves and historical precedence, I do wonder about pigeonholing phraseology in the trade and press when it comes to Weinert and similarly-minded wineries.

The wines are made with, and taste of, Argentina-grown grapes – thus logic dictates that these wines must be more ‘Argentine’ than many a caramelised oak-bomb. Mercifully, it is these sorts of claims to Argentine nationality that I spent my time talking about whilst there.