The Finest Wines Available to Humanity V: Suertes del Marqués Trenzado

To Tenerife, then, for the latest Finest Wine… And refreshing it is to be able to associate this Canary Island with fine wine rather than Brits abroad and Sexy Beast suntans.

Suertes del Marqués is a small, family-run winery in the Valle de la Orotava in Tenerife. The soil here is basically volcanic, like on Etna, with more clay the closer to the coast you go.  Trenzado is made from grapes from five different plots located in different parts of the valley.

The word ‘Trenzado’ means ‘braided’ and refers to the unique cordon vine training system used. The wine is made mainly from Listan Blanco (aka Palomino) and Pedro Ximénex – both grapes more commonly associated with sherry.

For vinification, all the grapes are destemmed, then about 40% of them (so skins included) are transferred to concrete tanks for fermentation; about 60% are pressed and the juice is transferred to French oak barrels.

Fermentation happens naturally with wild yeasts and no sulphur is added until bottling. There’s no racking either. Winemakers often choose not to rack because ageing on the lees (yeast residue) can help to develop flavour and ‘body’ in a wine.

Lees-ageing is also helpful for minimal-intervention (‘natural’) winemakers because certain enzymes released during lees ageing prevent oxidation which is, more or less, a wine’s death.

The result in the case of Trenzado is particularly interesting. The wine is very striking on the nose, obviously well-made, focused, rich, layered and with lingering flavour.

Apart from a fresh, light, slightly salty fruit, there’s a clear smell of just-struck match. I’m thinking of this sort of match:


Why would a wine smell like a Cook’s match? Because of a chemical process called reduction. Reduction is basically the opposite of oxidation – chemical reactions that occur in an anaerobic environment rather than an aerobic one, and which create certain volatile smell compounds grouped as sulphides.

Whereas oxidation is irreversible, reduction can be reversed simply by exposing the wine to oxygen – swirling in a glass will usually be enough. Another way to reverse it, and to make your friends think that you’re some kind of wine sorcerer, is to drop a copper coin into the glass. The copper will react with the reduced wine and any reductive smells (can be sulphur/struck-match, can be burnt rubber, can even be cooked vegetables) will vanish.

Coming back to the Trenzado, what’s interesting with this wine is that it is deliberately made in a reductive fashion. This is partly because of the winemaker’s minimal-intervention principles, but also because, with certain grapes, in certain conditions, it makes for a more interesting wine.

When I first tried the Trenzado, I was immediately put off by the reductive element, but there was such a nice wine behind the struck-match aroma that I went back for more. And then more. Eventually I started to like that smell and to enjoy the way it interacted with the other aromas in the glass. Other associations than Cook’s matches began to form – salty popcorn for instance.

So now I love the stuff.



The Finest Wines Available to Humanity IV: Bressan Schioppettino

I’m in a wine bar just off Regent Street in central London and choose a Schioppettino 2007 from the list. I don’t know the winemaker, Fulvio Bressan, but the one time I tried schioppettino (means ‘little shot’; also known as ribolla nera) before, at a Friuli tasting, it was really, really good.

I take a big sniff of this Bressan 2007 and it’s breathtaking, one of the most perfectly poised and distinctively perfumed wines I’ve had the pleasure to try. The nose has something like pine singing over the fruit, then it’s more like pungent oregano oil.

Then it does that thing that all special wines do, namely having you climbing up the wall in frustration at not being able to connect an aroma to some long-undisturbed memory, an agonising something “that should be firm but slips, just at the fingertips”.

Is it frankincense? I imagine a priest swinging his clinky thurible down the church aisle (though I’m not a Catholic and never went to church). Then these aromas resolve into something… more homely – and I have it: lavender bags – those muslin lavender bags placed on pillows in certain impossibly cosy and settled homes.

These were the aromas rising so hypnotically from this glass of Bressan 2007 Schioppettino.

Really amazing.

Then I googled ‘Bressan wine’.

The first word you see in connection with ‘Bressan wine’ is ‘racist’.

It turns out that Fulvio Bressan is a very intense man with military pretensions and rabidly racist tendencies. In 2013 his grotesque social media tirade against a black Italian politician caused such outrage that some wine industry people called for a boycott of his wines. One London chef, Jacob Kenedy, of Bocca di Lupo, even made a social media show of smashing his entire stock of them:


Several commentators, Guardian restaurant critics Jay Rayner and Marina O’Loughlin among them, expressed their support for Kenedy’s actions. It caused a big stir in the normally staid world of Italian wine.

So we have an amazing wine and a morally repugnant winemaker. Tricky. It’s funny that this comes just after I’ve written about another disgusting racist, Philip Larkin, and about the importance of separating the man from his art.

I would like to say that the same applies to Fulvio Bressan. It does to the extent that I can call his Schioppettino 2007 one of the finest wines available to humanity, but not to the extent that I will be drinking it again soon.

Disgusting public outbursts like this (note that Larkin’s racism was not public and he’s dead now) and what they represent, do call for a sort of protest, no matter how fine the wine is.

The Finest Wines Available to Humanity III: Setteporte Etna Rosso

Here’s another one that could easily be mistaken for a pinot. It’s a blend of nerello mascalese (95%) and nerello cappuccio, both grapes of the Etna DOC in Sicily.

I always go for reds with a special sort of purity of fruit expression (ie, wines whose flavours are clearly defined, that aren’t oak-aged or full of sulphur or brett, such as the COS Pithos Rosso). Unmistakably the Setteporte Etna Rosso has that.

The grapes are grown 650-800m up the south-facing slope of Etna, where the volcanic soil, high altitude and Mediterranean sun create a unique habitat for intriguing, elegant and very, very drinkable wines.

It’s limpid in the glass, invigorating on the nose and on the palate, with mouthwatering acidity, cherry and wild strawberry fruit, and a smoky mineral note that seems to be a special characteristic of nerello macalese when grow on the slopes of Etna.

There’s no oak used here (though there is on the equally limpid and delicious Etna Rosso 100% nerello mascalese, which costs about a tenner more, but still worth the splurge), just a vibrant expression of the grapes and the terroir.

Cheers to The Sampler for uncovering this one. Please keep your Italian shelf well stocked.



The Finest Wines Available to Humanity, Part II: Birichino Grenache

This is a fine wine. It’s a grenache that’s doing a very good impression of being a Burgundy pinot noir. It has that light, ethereal fruitiness (wild berries… rosehip…)-come-earthiness of Burgundy pinot, but then it has this lovely white-peppery prickle on the finish which gives it away as being something else. As being a grenache, in fact.

It’s a really lovely wine. I’ve never had a grenache like it before. Forget the dense fruit and bullying alcohol of your typical warm/hot-climate grenache, this has a delicacy and complexity that comes from a totally different place.

The grapes grow on old vines on the rocky slopes of Santa Cruz on California’s Central Coast. This is how the winemakers at Birichino describe it (with added definitions of wine-techy terms):

“We minimize punchdowns [that’s where they push the ‘cap’ of grape skins that rises to the top of the fermentation vat down into the juice to keep it wet and to encourage extraction of colour and tannin] and extended macerations that risk over-extraction in favor of partial whole cluster fermentation with native [ie, ambient, naturally occurring] yeast, and the inclusion of a small proportion of Grenache “rested” for 8 days in picking boxes placed before fans. The latter is a practice of Barolo [big, tannic, Piemonte red wine made from the nebbiolo grape which gives rich, heady flavours of cherry, rose, tar, tobacco, ash, chocolate – all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff] producer Armando Parusso; a shortened apassimento [drying, which is sometimes done to grapes to dehydrate them and concentrate sugars] to allow the stems alone to dry, and when subsequently fermented whole cluster, they contribute an entirely different set of complex wild peach and vivid winter spice aromatics. After 10 months in neutral barrel [ie, not new oak; large-volume oak barrels (‘botte’ in Italian) are fairly neutral; small barrels tend to become neutral after the third or fourth use], we blended this special lot into the main cuvée before bottling, unfiltered. Its vibrant yet delicate hue recalls pinot and cooler vintages, yet the flavors are more candied and expressive of brambly wild raspberry and kirsch.”

You can buy Birichino Old Vine Grenache from The Sampler (one shop in Upper St, Islington, a second in Thurloe St, South Kensington) for, I think, £20. It’s so worth it.