Vineyards Less Travelled: Fine Wines Beyond Bordeaux

By Serena Sutcliffe on February 08, 2017

The highways and byways of a Master of Wine’s drinking habits might surprise some, but there has to be occasional respite from downing the finest offerings of Bordeaux and Burgundy. Even with unlimited money – unusual for a Master of Wine – the sheer joy of exploring vineyards and regions is not to be missed. It does involve the occasional skirmish with something boring, but it is often very rewarding.

As an avowed Champagne addict, I always feel a twinge of treachery when I ease the cork off other sparkling wines. However, that would be to deny such delicious English sparklers as Nyetimber, Gusbourne, and Hush Heath Estate’s Balfour Rosé. My absolute go-to bubbly is Ca’ del Bosco. Its owner, Maurizio Zanella, produces wondrous Franciacorta, crafted in a way that impresses the grandest of Champenois. His top brew, Cuvée Annamaria Clementi, is divine: astonishingly refined and moreish.

Another wine from Ca’ del Bosco that has completely won me over is Carmenero, made from the Carmenère grape, a variety that was planted widely in Bordeaux, so I have not strayed too far from the classics. There, Carmenère was largely abandoned as it was prone to degeneracy (an ailment from which a Master of Wine never suffers); here in Lombardy though, it flourishes. I love the luscious tannins, cassis, and cinnamon of this wine.

At the other end of Italy, and with my Puglian orecchiette pasta and turnip tops, I am thoroughly enjoying a lusty red: Sampietrana ‘1952’ Brindisi Riserva. A great mix of Negroamaro and Montepulciano grapes, this wine’s date refers to the year the cantina was founded, not the vintage, which is probably a good thing.

I always scamper off to Greece with my husband in the summer, so am predisposed to lap up Greek wines – not a hardship, as they have improved beyond measure in the past decade alone. Santorini has its gulpable white Assyrtiko, of course, but northwestern Greece’s Florina region is the home of Alpha Estate, a remarkable operation producing truly majestic whites and reds. I sometimes refer (out of earshot of Château Margaux owner Corinne Mentzelopoulos) to its barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc as the Greek Pavillon Blanc. The estate’s red Xinomavro is similarly full of personality: a stunning mouthful of blackberries and liquorice. Alpha also makes a wine from the Tannat grape, of Madiran (in southwestern France) fame, and I much prefer this to Tannat wines from Uruguay, which is slightly off my sat nav. And down in Nemea, in Greece’s southern Peloponnese region, Dijon-trained George Skouras makes tempting, juicy reds from the Agiorgitiko grape, also known as the St George variety.

A complete contrast to southern sun is the Silvaner from Bürgerspital, a wine estate in Franconia’s Würzburg. I have always adored this grape variety, and used to indulge in it from Alto Adige, in northern Italy, and Alsace. It is now rare indeed, except from these steep German slopes. The Bürgerspital has just celebrated its 700th anniversary, so they know what they’re doing – and are doing it very well indeed, as I discovered at the celebration. Apart from the zingy, mouth-watering taste of these Silvaners, when I drink them I am contributing to the care the institution provides to senior citizens through Bürgerspital’s eight residential and nursing homes – a double pleasure if ever there was one.

The first area in France I ever visited, at the tender age of 14, was the Loire Valley. As well as speaking the purest French, the locals also produce marvellous wine. After exploring all the splendid châteaux and their gardens this spring, we popped in to Yannick Amirault, my favourite grower of heavenly, sappy Cabernet Franc reds from the appellations of Bourgueil and Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil. The single-parcel Le Grand Clos went down very well while we swapped restaurant names with Amirault. And did we miss Cabernet Franc-influenced Bordeaux crus classés? Not at all.

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