For me, early March, when the days become perceptibly longer and the weather perceptibly milder, is a time of hope and optimism, a prelude to the opportunities of a new year after the cold seclusion of winter.
Longer days and warmer temperatures mean a scarf and gloves are not always required when stepping outside, which in itself becomes more appealing and leads to a greater chance of bumping into a friend or acquaintance somewhere.
It is a time to start making plans for the rest of the year – summer holidays, Easter breaks and, for those of us with small children, half-term get-aways.
Despite all the plans and optimism, though, it can still be a chilly old time and so this month’s wines are all warming, spicy reds.
Domaine de Fondreche, Cotes du Ventoux Rouge, ‘Mas de Fondreche’ 2009 – £8.99 Joseph Barnes Wines
This 2009 Ventoux from Joseph Barnes is from village of Mazan in the Ventoux region of the eastern Côtes du Rhône and made from an unoaked blend of Grenache and Syrah. Whilst very palatable on first opening, really benefits from a decent amount of aeration – I tried it over three days and it was still improving even as we were finishing it off.
On the nose, there are aromas of plum, black cherry and elderberry, with hints of spice, liquorice and undergrowth developing over time.
On the palate, there is more dark fruit, cool mintiness and, increasingly with air, a wonderfully soft and texture and a rounded acidity.
With a grippiness on the palate, it feels very well-made and pure, if not especially complex, with a persistent finish.
Match with dark plain-roast meat, such as lamb or beef.
Orcia DOC Malintoppo 2006 Simonelli-Santi – £13.99 Cambridge Wine Merchants
This Sangiovese from the Orcia DOC in Tuscany is an altogether classier proposition, if priced accordingly.
At six years of age, it is brick red in the glass with cherry fruit and complex spice, cigar box, liquorice and undergrowth on the nose.
The palate shows a lively if slightly stewed cherry fruit acidity (that’s 14.5% alcohol for you), a soft but firm texture and an incredible depth of complex flavour.
It has the mellow harmoniousness of its age and a long finish with peppery grip.
This really is a class act and although the price is well into “special occasion” territory, it is worth every penny given the quality and age.
Whilst drinking well now, it still improves with air after decanting and I’d be seriously tempted to buy a case of this to see how it continues to evolve.
Match with slow-roast beef or darker game such as duck, pheasant or venison.
Opawa Pinot Noir 2010, New Zealand – £10.49, Noel Young Wines
Although best known for Sauvignon Blanc, with its cool climate New Zealand is becoming Pinot’s second spiritual home after Burgundy.
NZ wines are typically technically well-made with good, pure fruit and this wine is no exception.
Pale ruby in the glass, on first opening, this wine shows ripe, red cherry fruit, with more-typical Pinot aromas of woody mushrooms developing with air.
On the palate, the fruit is ripe and pure with a soft, sensual texture, a good depth of savoury flavour and a balanced, lingering finish.
Whilst it may lack some typically Burgundian vegetal, farmardy aromas and food-friendly sour-cherry acidity, this is a lovely wine and provides a good mid-level introduction to what this grape can do in NZ.
Although Pinot is one of the few wines I never decant, as its ephemeral aromas rarely benefit from significant aeration, this wine is still showing well, if not even a little better the following day and I recommended it via Twitter to fellow blogger and Pinot / self-doubter Charles Saunders as an example of what Pinot Noir can be.
Match with game such as duck and pheasant or a Burgundian stew.
Pascual Toso Malbec 2009, Mendoza Argentina – £8.99, Bacchanalia
If Pinot is a dreamy, sensual hedonist, Malbec is a Blue-Collar hero – a macho, peppery, steak-eating, cattle-wrangling gaucho in open check shirt and leather chaps.
Dark in the glass, this Pascual Toso Malbec shows lots of ripe up-front bramble and blackberry fruit with liquorice and vanilla spice on the nose.
The palate is full and ripe with more sweet cassis fruit and spicy, leathery earthiness. There’s plenty of aromas on the finish too and, if it’s a little rustic, it is at least polite enough to wipe its feet on the doormat before enquiring if it left its boots under your bed, ma’am.
A spicy, warm-hearted Big Red with bags of crowd-pleasing, easy-drinking appeal, match it with a juicy steak.
This is a really good set of wines and all are worthy of investigation – however, this month’s winner is the Malintoppo from Cambridge Wine Merchants for its depth of flavour, mellowness and value for money as a really well-made, aged Tuscan wine drinking nicely right now for just over £10 with case discounts.
Mas de Fondreche reviewed by Tom Cavanan – http://www.wine-pages.com/temp/osud.htm
Malintoppo reviewed by Vinoremus – http://vinoremus.blogspot.com/2011/07/general-tasting.html
Main image credit – http://www.galenfrysinger.com/cambridge.htm
Copyright Tom Lewis 2012
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