It's that time of year: wine tastings for a thirsty crowd. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy showing off new discoveries and some of the wines that have started to come round at last. The preparation is the trickiest part - you never know who will be coming or how many people will show up so it's hard to gauge which wines to put in (or which to leave out). Experience has taught me to avoid too much in the over £10 bracket but, still, I could not resist showing a Barbaresco and a Chateauneuf this weekend.
At the Norwich tasting last week, there was a consensus that Italian wines are generally overpriced. I would counter that they need food, without which they are easily misunderstood. A little salami and cheese, perhaps, wasn't enough to convince them of this. The whites went down well with the Manzone "Rosserto" proving especially popular.
Filippo Gallino's Barbera always goes down well - juicy fruit and not overly complex (although the totally contrasting Ruge from Crissante Alessandria was the most popular wine at the Dulwich tasting). It's a lovely food wine with that slightly sour quality that is so essential in these wines. Also from Piedmont, I was surprised that the Nada Giuseppe 2009 Barbaresco was so much more popular this weekend than last. I put it down to travel sickness - the wines had only arrived in the UK a week before the Norwich tasting - although this is not something I have much experience of with such young wines. The fragility of Nebbiolo, perhaps. That said, at the post-tasting supper this weekend, a magnum of Grasso Fratelli's 2000 Barbaresco "Sori Valgrande" was magnificent.
The French seem capable of producing more wines that are actually good in the sub-£10 bracket than the northern Italians. Fair enough that Nebbiolo, like Pinot Noir, is a tricky grape and can never come cheap (there are some decent Nebbiolo d'Alba wines under £15 but that's about all) but there really should be more Barbera and Dolcetto around £8-£10. Still, the Gallino, Manzone and Nada wines cover this perfectly well for me.
In France, one of the best QPR whites remains the Domaine des Anges Ventoux Blanc: it has plenty of fruit but good minerality too and acidity that cuts in nicely just where it's needed. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the "house" Sauvignon from Moulin de Gassac though. Understated, zingy and fresh with quite citrusy/gooseberry fruit - neither blousy like some New World examples nor paintstripper as all too many other Languedoc wines can be. This one gets it - refreshingly - right.
Also from the Languedoc, Domaine Treloar's One Block showed exceptionally well: richly fruited, almost like a savoury Christmas cake, this will be fine with Christmas dinner. That said, Raymond Usseglio's 2005 Chateauneuf exudes class. If only we didn't live in the plastic age, I would be able to flip a coin!