Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Bottle shots by the producers
Delightful Spring Wines
The British Isles have been known for producing excellent beer, mead and whisky. Up to now, they have never been known for producing wine.
Well… thanks to Global Warming, interesting wines are now produced in Old Albion.
Hattingley Valley, a family owned wine business is located in Hampshire and produces sparkling wines in the traditional method (méthode champenoise). The vineyards are planted on chalky soil, a soil very similar to that of the Champagne region, and the growing season is long but mostly cool. A small portion of the must is aged in oak barrels while the majority is aged on the lees in stainless steel tanks prior to bottling and the secondary fermentation. That makes the sparklers creamier and softer.
I had to wait a couple of months to receive the sample sent from the UK and it, unfortunately, arrived in the middle of the new vintage sampling period, so I did not have a chance to taste the wine till now as other samples had arrived prior to the Huttingley Valley bottle. But, I’ll admit I’m not disappointed!
As I mentioned, the palate is creamy, with hints of green apple and stone fruit; there is plenty of acidity that gives the wine a considerably crisp finish. The nose also shows stone fruit, especially fresh apricot with some vanilla hints from the oak in the background. I would rate this wine at 89/100 points
Another interesting wine sample that showed up recently is Cameron Hughes’ Lot 671, 2016 Meritage from Napa Valley.
I have to confess that the “garagistes” i.e. individuals that made wine in their garages of the 1970s and 1980s and the tannic and oaky wines produced in California to get high marks from a very specific wine critic have ruined California wines for me. However, thankfully, the excesses of the past no longer apply to much of the current California production.
Cameron Hughes is a “négociant” in other words a wine trader that acquires quality wines from different good California and Oregon producers (as well as other wine producing areas of the world) in bulk, barrels and even unlabeled bottles and either blends them in proprietary blends or just bottles and sells the best vintages under the Cameron Hughes name. There are 30 or more assorted wine releases each year, the recently received 2016 Meritage, for example, is a red blend from a top Oakville estate.
I had first tasted a Cameron Hughes blend at Costco, where it used to be sold as the Costco house wine. It was a descent wine whose quality, compared to the price, was high. That was just after the time when Trader Joe also sold a descent red, for the incredibly low price of US$2 when the moniker “two buck Chuck” was coined. Since then, I had not had a chance to taste any Hughes wines, so when the samples came, they were welcome.
Even though Cameron Hughes owns no vineyards, they produce numerous wines, red and white, both monovarietal and blends. Each vintage and batch is marked by a different lot number, for example Lot 291 is a 2010 Lodi Zinfandel; Lot 670 is an estate grown 2015 Santa Ynez Valley Meritage; Lot 658 is a 2016 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc etc. The prices vary from $10 per bottle to $75 MSRP for their 2011 Red Napa Private Reserve.
I enjoyed the 2016 Meritage bottle, though I found it very young and in need of further cellaring. I have two more bottles that I’ll keep in the cellar and will report after a year on their progress. I paired the wine with a grilled London broil and a salad of sliced Romaine lettuce with lots of fresh dill, extra virgin olive oil and juice of a lemon. The wine was mid-bodied, with a nose of berry fruit, plums and black cherries and an interesting hint of tobacco at the long end. At its current state I would rate it at 88/100 points but, if given more cellar time, the rating could probably reach 90 or even 91 points.
A third interesting sample that recently appeared at the office was El Vínculo 2013 Crianza, a red from La Mancha imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, one of the better wine importers in the United States.
The wine has an exceptional nose of plum and violets, and is considerably spicy and smoky making it a perfect foil for barbecued pork ribs and game dishes. The palate has lots of black forest fruit and notes of dark chocolate and espresso with hints of tobacco, cedar and nutmeg. Considering the quality, it is a rather inexpensive ($19 MSRP), highly aromatic Tempranillo bottle from vineyards with soil that is a mixture of clay and sand. Once the grapes are manually harvested, they are taken to the winery and destemmed before they are transferred to stainless steel vats. There they undergo maceration and alcoholic fermentation. After the end of fermentation, the wine spends at least 18 months in American oak barrels, and rests another 6 months in bottle before being shipped.
It is not a wine for everybody, but if you like complex wines with great personality from Central Spain this is a wine you would enjoy. I rate it at 90/100 points.
To your health!
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