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Two glasses, 19 years apart

Two glasses, 19 years apart. Colheita Port is perhaps the closest one can get to the full single year Port experience without removing a significant wedge from the wallet. The fun doesn’t only reside with declared vintages however and tasting Krohn’s 82 and 01 side by side proves so.

Founded in 1865 by two Norwegians, the Krohn house boasts an unusual heritage, predominately shipping to Scandinavian and German markets rather than traditional British importers.

While Ruby, Tawny and LBV Ports are easy to come by, Colheitas are much rarer. Despite them routinely benefiting from a considerably longer sojourn, they must be matured in wood for at least seven years. It is not unusual for them to be bottled just before sale.

Partnering one against the other made for curious inspection. The 1982 was impressively complex; fruit, power but also the more mature edges of hazelnuts and raisins emmerged. It’s silky in the mouth, textured and balanced with delicate notes of ginger, fig and orange rind. A few more slaps of fruitcake reveal it is quite simply, Christmas in a glass.

The 2011 is no less festive. Just younger, more boisterous and devoid of those nutty nuances that come with time. Plum and raisin sit with lively acidity and the enveloping, spirited warmth. With 19 years apart the evolution fascinating.

Dry Zibibbo : Marco de Bartoli’s Pietranera

Sicily’s stickies have been favourites among sweet wine lovers for some time; a modest following of these low production labels from the island of Pantelleria, or the towns of Noto and Siracusa has been gaining momentum for years now.

Consumers are attracted to the intensely rich aromas of orange peel, honey and citrus and the often luxuriously but naturally sweet palate of mango, lychee and candy.

Rarely though has this winemaking success translated into the courage to ferment the Muscat de Alexandria grape, or Zibibbo as it is known in western Sicily, to full dryness; creating a dry and structured white wine from this variety has always been seen as craziness.

Perhaps it is. But Marco de Bartoli’s ‘Pietranera’ however is one such example of the quality that can be achieved with a little risk and know how. Famous for producing one of Sicily’s truly magnificent sweet wines, (the Bukkuram Passito di Pantelleria), he has been working away at this wine since 1989.

Just 2500 bush vines per hectare are planted on three hectares in Contrada Cufurà on the island of Pantelleria and are now almost 60 years old. North facing so as to curb the risk of over ripening, Zibibo is hand harvested in the first half of September and destemmed before undergoing a cold maceration. Two thirds of the resulting wine is aged in steel tank while the remainder is aged in French oak to facilitate additional complexity.

Marrying the zesty character of the nose with a complex, mineral driven palate, this is a truly interesting wine. Aromas of concentrated lemon gushes from the glass while in the mouth, the distinctive aura of Pantelleria’s black volcanic soils comes through strongly. The wine is indeed dry, but nevertheless, quenching. One sip provokes contemplation, and then undoubtedly requires another.


2014: A tough vintage in Macedonia

Popova Kula picked their white varieties just before heavy rains.
Popova Kula picked their white varieties just before heavy rains.

So, I’ve been on the road in Macedonia for the last twelve days, tasting fermenting Temjanika and dodging thunder storms. 2014 has not been for the faint hearted or panic prone. As in other areas of the Balkans, it’s been an incredibly tough year for growers.

In the districts of Veles and Tikveš, the majority of producers got their white varieties in before the early September rains but the reds have been a different story. Rot is the big issue. Additional sprayings have been needed throughout the year, Bordeaux mix mainly against powdery and downy mildew, but torrential rains on the eve of harvest have drenched and damaged the fruit.

While oenologists nervously pace around their cellars, peaking out at the vast grey expanse above, Chardonnay, Temjanika, Sauvignon Blanc and Žilavka are undergoing fermentation. They shouldn’t be too bad this year though. Brix levels were fairly normal as they went to press and tasting from the tank, the evolution of the varietals looks promising. Even the very first Viognier in the country, from young vineyards in Ovce Pole, is full of floral and stone fruit character.

Popov Winery were also fermenting whites when the heavens opened.
Popov Winery were also fermenting whites when the heavens opened.

Such sheltering from the elements presents an opportunity to taste last year’s reds. Depending on the style, decisions on when to bottle and when enough oak is enough are being made. Vranec, the main red grape planted in Macedonia is starting to soften, it’s sharper edges polished. It’s a variety that is notoriously boisterous; acidity, colour and tannin are the hall marks of this somewhat confusing offspring of Primitivo. With time though, ripe berry, damson, plum, chocolate and coffee emerge to cult acclaim.

Experimentations with different types of oak have led to interesting comparisons. Macedonian oak (from Berovo) shows interesting aromatics of cinnamon and spice, although finding high quality cooperage can be a challenge. Consequently, the majority of producers are still weighing up the merits of either French or American oak – spice or vanilla. Results from Serbian and Bulgarian barrels will be equally exciting when there is enough to analyse.

It’s too early to tell what will ultimately emerge from the 2014 vintage, but while the whites should be fresh and aromatic, it may well be a year for earlier ripening reds such as Pinot Noir, Merlot and Stanushina.