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10 food-friendly wines from The Beautiful South
Wine writer Matt Walls picks out his favourite wines from Chile, Argentina and South Africa from last week's Beautiful South tasting
"I’m in a restaurant, I’m in a hurry, so I don’t have time to look at the whole wine list. It’s laid out by country of origin, so I’m forced to generalise somewhat. Do I turn straight to Chile? How about Argentina? South Africa? Well I suppose it depends what I’m eating... but it’s unlikely I’ll turn to any of these countries first. It’s not that they don’t make good wines, or that I don’t enjoy them – it’s just that when I’m looking for wines to go with food, they’re not usually my first port of call.
If I’m looking for a wine to match with my lunch or dinner, there are a few criteria I’ve got in mind. I’m looking for refreshment, balance, and something that will work in harmony with the food – so usually something savoury, and not too intensely flavoured. These are things I’ve more commonly found elsewhere – often in wines from countries with cooler climates, which push acidity and tannin to the fore, rather than fruit and flavour.
The Beautiful South tasting at Olympia in London last week brought together over 300 producers from South Africa, Chile and Argentina all in one place. It was the perfect opportunity to hunt for food-friendly wines to see if I’ve been missing out. Here are 10 wines that stood out for their food-matching versatility.
Argentina does power with aplomb. Surging Malbecs and impressively concentrated Cabernets are still the rule it seems. But when it comes to food, what do you match them with? They stomp all over everything but the most powerfully flavoured dishes. And sadly in the UK we can’t all eat two steaks a day.
I was on the lookout for more refreshing, lighter styles. These were still the exception, but I enjoyed the Viñalba Patagonia Reservado Malbec 2012 from Rio Negro (14.5%, £12.99, Buckingham Schenk). Patagonia is a region shared by Argentina and Chile in the cooler, southern end of South America. Compared to their standard Malbec, it was lighter, with less noticeable alcohol and more acidity making it feel less intense but more drinkable.
The Achaval Ferrer ‘Finca Bella Vista’ Malbec 2008 from Lujan de Cuyo (14.5%, £69.80, Hedonism Wines) also hails from a cooler region, but it’s not just this that provides its finesse, lightness and spice. The vines are over 100 years old and give exceptionally low yields (it takes three plants to make a single bottle of wine). European Brand Manager Jevgenijs Suscinkis explains this helps them “try to balance the power of South America with the elegance of Old World wine” – and I’d say they’ve succeeded. This is a brilliant Malbec – but it had better be at nearly £70 a bottle. Both this and the Viñalba are relatively versatile and would work with fillet steak as well as fattier cuts of beef.
Even among the whites competitive bodybuilding is still in evidence, but the Terrazas de los Andes ‘Terrazas Selection’ Torrontés 2011 from Salta, (13.5%, Hailsham Cellars, £11.49 for the 2010) was restrained, refreshing and displays plenty of citrus flavours alongside its classic floral aromas. Dry and well balanced, it would work brilliantly with aromatic spices and seafood – a Thai green curry with king prawns would be ideal.
From the start I suspected South Africa would be a fruitful hunting ground for fresher, more drinkable wines – and it didn’t disappoint. The cooler coastal areas such as Walker Bay, Overberg and Elim are brimming with exciting wines.
Cederberg’s new Ghost Corner ‘The Bowline’ Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2012 (13.5%, £17.95, Bancroft Wines) uses fruit from cooler Elim and is well worth checking out. A blend of 52% Sauvignon and 48% Semillon, this thrilling wine has a sappy citrusy tang, vibrant intensity and a long balanced finish. It would pair well with simply cooked sea bass with a salsa verde.
For dry, savoury, mineral Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, Crystallum have no weak links in their range. Their ‘Clay Shales’ Chardonnay 2012 from Overberg (13%, winedirect.co.uk, £23.95) is particularly fine. It’s an intense and focussed wine with a long mineral finish, given roundness by even-handed use of oak. This Burgundian-style Chardonnay would give many village Puligny-Montrachets a run for their money. Try it with roast chicken with lemon and tarragon.
Swartland may not be a cool climate area, but sea breezes create marked differences between day and night temperatures which help give fragrance and balance to the wines. The medium-bodied, peppery Mullineux Syrah 2011 (13.5%, Handford Wines, £19.99) is quite simply a brilliant wine. Dry, savoury, measured and fresh, it would go well with a simply cooked rack of lamb with green beans.
Chile for me was the big surprise of the tasting. It’s blessed with a huge variety of different terrains, and increasingly extreme areas are being planted, sometimes with extraordinary results.
Tabalí is based in coastal Limarí, an area which is getting attention for the quality of its lean, mineral Chardonnays. Talinay is the name of their new range of wines, this time planted even closer to the sea (just 12km) on 100% limestone. Their Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are both very good, but their Pinot Noir 2011 (14%, Stone Vine & Sun, £15.75 for the 2010) in particular is worth tracking down. It has an attractive wild strawberry nose, a firm, dry, intense finish and just enough fat to place it in the New World. A versatile wine for food – great for game birds.
A little further south in Aconcagua is San Antonio, another cool climate coastal area that is coming out with some restrained, pure, fresh whites and reds. Matetic ‘EQ’ Syrah 2011 (14%, winedirect.co.uk, £16.95 for the 2010) is made here, and it was the best Chilean Syrah I tasted. Medium-bodied, with a soft silky texture, superfine tannins, bright acidity and fragrant red and black berry fruit, this would be a great match with lamb, sirloin, or other fatty red meats.
Another good tip for finding freshness is to look south – far from the equator so naturally cooler. Sebastian De Martino of De Martino Wines aims to make “gastronomic wines” from his holdings in Itata. His ‘Viejas Tinajas’ Muscat 2012 (13%, Les Caves de Pyrène, £11.52) is fermented in large earthenware amphoras with six months of skin contact. The result is a highly individual wine showing beeswax, lanolin and dried apricots on the nose, but with enough acidity and florality to keep it fresh and lively. It would be lovely served with guinea fowl with wild mushrooms.
Cono Sur claim to be the biggest single producer of Pinot Noir in the world. But it’s their snappily titled Single Vineyard Block 23 Rulos del Alto Riesling 2012 (13.5%, £11.80, New Street Wine Shop) that caught my eye. From Bio-Bio, even further south than Itata, this clean, dry Riesling had concentrated satsuma and lime skin flavour and would be a great match with a crab and grapefruit salad.
Overall I was impressed by the value for money displayed by many of the wines coming out of Chile and South Africa. Although the more subtle, leaner styles that I was looking for aren’t always the cheapest on offer, their prices compare favourably with a similar level of quality in France or Italy.
As all three countries explore new regions, and the newly planted vines mature, hopefully we will see an increasing focus on how their wines match with food. Sebastian De Martino explains “there’s a trend towards cool climate, but not necessarily towards food-friendly wines”. Thankfully, from what I tasted, the two go hand in hand.
Matt Walls writes about wine, runs tastings and works with restaurants to create wine lists. He blogs at www.mattwalls.co.uk and tweets @mattwallswine.
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