‘Tight and tidy’, ‘all bases covered’, ‘classic and leftfield’, these are the things that a wine buyer looks for in a portfolio. When the wines also all speak of where they come from then that is massive plus, as winemaker and writer Chris Wilson discovered at Alliance Wine’s annual portfolio tasting. Among the ten wines that Chris highlights are two English sparkling wines, a Mâconnais style Chardonnay from the Languedoc, a Spanish Muscat a Petit Grains and the only Spanish 100% Malbec, South African Pinot Noir and a Grenache from Alliance Wine’s own label.
“Most expected bases are covered, but crucially the Alliance Wine portfolio is studded with the kind of interesting, cutting edge wines which are increasingly likely to break through and punctuate the more daring wine list or indie shelf,” writes Wilson.
At the top of the stone stairs which wind down to the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square a chorus of muttering and tutting can be heard. I wonder if I’m in the right place, then as I get closer I can hear what all the fuss is about; the Café in the Crypt is closed for the day for a ‘private event’ and the disgruntled visitors are none-too-happy about being turned away.
The ‘private event’ is Alliance Wine’s portfolio tasting, so just imagine how further annoyed the coffee and cake seekers would be if they discovered they were missing out on vino rather than Victoria sponge.
With a nod to the doorman I go down into the crypt to discover what gems are in and among the 450+ wines on show today.
It’s an impressive space and perfect for showcasing Alliance’s tight and tidy portfolio, which is a mouth-watering mix of old and new world, classic and leftfield; those seeking orange wines will be just as satisfied as those in search of a decent Burgundy.
What’s clear from an initial skirt around the room and a first taste is that there’s no fat on the bone here, everything is on the list for a reason and each wine and producer demonstrates a true sense of place, each one bringing something different to the party.
Most expected bases are covered, but crucially the portfolio is studded with the kind of interesting, cutting edge wines which are increasingly likely to break through and punctuate the more daring wine list or indie shelf.
Here’s ten worth seeking out
Roebuck Estates, Rosé de Noirs, 2016
This blanc de blancs rosé comprises 95% Pinot Noir and 5% Frühburgunder (known in Sussex and beyond as Pinot Noir Précoce). It’s so pale you could easily mistake it for a white wine under a certain light, but don’t let that detract from its key rosé attributes; summer fruits and hint of sweetness (6 g/L here). This wine does that wonderful thing of opening up all lush and rich and closing with a lean, sappy, fizzing finish. Delightful.
All Angels, Classic Cuvée, 2014
Sometimes English Sparkling Wine can really benefit from a dash of residual sugar. This nudging up of the dosage can make the fruit sing. The Classic Cuvée from Berkshire estate All Angels is a case in point; this is bright and full with a highline of tropical fruit – apricots and pineapple – and a waxy, bready undercurrent to fill in the bottom end. This has 8 g/L residual sugar and four years on cork and you can tell, it’s elegant and mature with a delicious off-dry tang.
Terres Fidèles, Montsablé Chardonnay, 2020
Made in a ‘Mâconnais style’ this 100% Chardonnay from the Languedoc was one of the finds of the day, and offers incredible value at a list price of £7.49 (ex-VAT). There’s some oak here, but it’s cleverly used and the result is a rich and long wine with white peach and nectarine notes and a creamy, smooth underbelly. What really sets it off is its waxy, hot-plastic-car-seat edge which acts as a tertiary foil to all that ripe fruit.
Produttori Di Manduria, Zin Fiano, 2020
Herby and alive this blend of Fiano (85%) and Fiano Minutolo (15%) from Puglia begs for a side dish of seafood. It’s full and fresh with green apple, lime and sea spray (like licking a freshly scavenged shell), and on second glance even a hint of pine needles… certainly something herbaceous. Bring forth the oysters!
Bodegas Altolandon, Doña Leo, 2019
Among a rich selection of Spanish wines at the tasting – both classic and esoteric in style – the wines from Bodegas Altolandon really stood out. Located inland to the north west of Valencia winemaker Roselia Molina produces an array of wines from indigeous and international grapes. Doña Leo is a reimagining of the unfashionable Muscat A Petit Grains grape, and it’s a thing of wonder. Tropical, floral, almost sweet on the nose it opens up in the mouth to a dry, textured and saline wine with pear purée notes, incredible precision and a light but lingering lemon zest acidity.
Iona, Kloof Chardonnay, 2018
It was a pleasure to chat with Iona owner Andrew Gunn as he poured six wines from his Elgin estate. What was interesting was hearing how Iona has changed since the first vines were planted in 1998; back then the thought was that this site would benefit from planting a majority of Bordeaux varieties but it’s since proved to favour Burgundy. Gunn says it’s the coolest vineyard site in South Africa and Iona now specialises in Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The Kloof Chardonnay is a single site expression and it’s tropical with a candied richness. There’s a lovely purity here, a green bite of acidity and a sea salt finish. A really classy wine.
San Polino, Brunello Di Montalcino, 2016
All three wines on show from Tuscany’s San Polino stable impressed, but this one just edged it on the day. Fermented wild it shows redcurrant fruit, tart raspberry jam and tar, with a liquorice-tinged bite of tannin. Then comes that classic Tuscan acidity; biting with lots of top end. So smooth and sculptured, almost like wearing a corset. A delight.
Bodegas Altolandon, Mil Historias Malbec, 2019
An original imagining of this grape, and this is the first planting of Malbec in Spain (1998). Winemaker Roselia Molina says it’s the only 100% Malbec made in Spain, and it’s a real joy. Wood smoke on the nose gives way to a blast of ripe red fruit – baked strawberry, plum – and a high note of steely wet stone. Made with a light touch and intelligent oak integration it wears its 14% alcohol very well, almost shrugging it off in favour of fruit and texture.
Thistledown, Vagabond Grenache, 2021
Thistledown is a winery owned by Alliance and when it comes to reds the focus is on ‘pure, precise’ Grenache with a number of excellent Shiraz wines in the collection too. This was the stand-out Grenache, a broad and balanced beast with black cherry and pomegranate fruit, bubble gum and blossom. There’s a slight marijuana note (hash rather than weed) on the nose and a creamy lick on the finish, both of which nicely bookmark all that ripe fruit.
Iona, Pinot Noir, 2018
This has all the hallmarks of a cool climate Pinot and is easily one of the best red wines at the tasting. There’s black pepper on the nose, redcurrant jelly on the palate and a meaty, butcher’s apron note on the finish. So clean with a stark purity of fruit and a delicate, confident poise.
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