July Wines of the Month: an Alentejo Amphora Red & McLaren Vale Mencia
Iberian red varieties impressed me this last month, as did these two producers (check out my notes on a Rocim Antão Vaz vertical and watch out for my report on Wine Australia’s Alternative Variety Tasting). My July Wines of the Month are both summery reds. Which might surprise you given their regions of origin – Alentejo and McLaren Vale. Here are my notes on this impressive duo:
Herdade do Rocim Amphora Red 2015 (Vidigueira, Alentejo DOC)
This exciting red, which I showed at an Alentejo masterclass last week, is a stellar example of Portugal’s ‘third way’ winemaking. It is a clever synthesis of modern winemaking and tradition. Modern in the sense that Rocim’s philosophy is, as much as possible, to preserve the fruit. Traditional because it comes from a 50-60 year old field blend vineyard planted to Aragonez, Trincadeira , Moreto & Tinta Grossa and was fermented and aged on skins in amphora (or talha as these increasingly popular vessels are known in Alentejo, which you can read more about here and here). Its vibrant fruit and freshness and low alcohol (12.5%) was much remarked upon and somewhat unexpected given that it was aged for six months in amphora with no adds or corrections to the must. This is a pretty red. In many ways, quite simple of expression. Direct is, perhaps, the better word. You feel the freshness and purity of its sylph-like red berry fruit. A quality which is accentuated by a dash of salinity. As unvarnished as they come and thoroughly charming for it. 12.5% It is imported into the UK by Portal Wines & Spirits.
Oliver’s Taranga Vineyards ‘Small Batch’ Mencia 2016 (McLaren Vale)
I spotted this Gold-medal-winning Mencia among the roomful of unmasked bottles after the close of judging at The Australian Alternative Variety Wine Show last year. It was news to me that Australia had planted the Iberian grape. Mencia is best known for its perfumed, hyper floral, elegant wines from Bierzo, Spain (of which I am a big fan). In Portugal’s Dão region it is known as Jaen. You only occasionally find it flying it solo, when it tends to produce rounder, riper-seeming, orange-peel and red liquorice scented wines which don’t reach the aromatic heights of Bierzo. Sourced from Yalumba’s nursery, the variety was planted at Oliver’s Taranga in 2011 and, based on this red and its companion rosé, it evidently thrives there. With a hint of orange peel to the nose and red liquorice on the palate, initially, I thought this Mencia was going towards a Dão style, but the florals build headily and muskily on the palate. Made in a ‘joven’ style (i.e. lightly oaked) and with well-integrated acidity, plush but persistent red and black berry fruits linger. Fine tannins make for a fluid finish. Delicious. Oliver’s Taranga wines are imported into the UK by Wanderlust Wine.