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AG Wines

by Tom Cannavan

I am delighted to have tasted my way through this mixed case from Alan Gale of AG Wines. Alan has been a regular visitor to wine-pages for many years, and last year took the plunge to join the wine trade after years in the financial services industry. As well as continuing to stock a great range of Cape wines, he has added some fabulous stuff to his portfolio that seems to have been chosen with real passion and care. Names like Cheval Blanc, Craggy Range, Fonterutoli, Pesquera, Quinta do Noval and Zind Humbrecht show the quality that Alan is building. Alan's slogan is a simple one: "Great wines and good service at fair prices."

I was impressed by the wines I tasted from AG Wines. This is a really well-chosen, knowledgeable selection from someone who obviously loves his wine. But Alan's pricing is also very competitive, he has no minimum order, and the fact that delivery of one to 12 bottles is a flat £6.99 makes for a really interesting buying opportunity.
  

Sparkling

Pierre Gimonnet (France) Champagne Premier Cru NV
This Blanc des Blancs (100% Chardonnay) comes from Premier Cru vineyards on the Côte des Blancs, and is given extended cellar ageing for almost three years before release. Gimonnet is that rare thing in Champagne: a family-owned house that owns all of its own vineyards. Using reserve wines from 2004, 2002, 2000 and 1999, it pours with a stream of pin-prick bubbles, and offers a nose of lemon and fresh orchard fruits, as well as a little bit of nettle in the background. In the mouth it is vivacious and lively, with a frothy mousse and very crisp, refined, and pure flavours. An aperitif style, this is all about freshness and elegance, with razor-sharp acidity zipping through to the finish. £17.99, AG Wines.

Sweet

Maculan (Italy) Dindarello 2006
My first tasting of this new vintage from an old favourite, Maculan of the Veneto in northeast Italy, who make a whole range of superb sweet wines, including this one - 100% Muscat grapes (Moscato fior d'arancio) dried for 3 months before pressing. With only 11.5% alcohol this is all about delicacy and refinement, with beautiful jasmine and Earl Grey tea-scented aromas, and a honeyed, fig and nectarine fruitiness. Despite the fact that this sees absolutely no oak, there's a just suggestion of toastiness too. On the palate this is quite full, rich and unctuous, but the sweet, mouth-filling quince and nectarine fruit is cut through by a shimmering core of orangy acidity keeping this fresh and vital. Delightful stuff to serve with fruit desserts or maybe foie gras and brioche as a starter. £13.99, AG Wines

White

Uva Mira (South Africa) Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2006
I've been saying since my first visit in 2002 that South Africa's Sauvignons Blanc are vastly underrated, with some vibrant and expressive wines from the likes of Vergelegen and Springield setting the pace. This is another fine example from 8 - 17 year-old vines planted at 620 metres on the slopes of the Helderberg mountains. It has a pungent and vivacious nose, with masses of gooseberry and elderflower aroma, a huge nettly streak and some ripe nectarine and passionfruit juiciness too. On the palate this is a nicely made wine, with a hint of sweetness through the ripe, though subtle tropical fruit, and the quite steely lemon acidity holding a racy, firm line through the middle. This will please fans of the Marlborough style, but those who prefer it on the slightly more restrained side. £7.99, AG Wines.

McHenry Hohnen (Australia) Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2005
Murray McHenry and David Hohnen are the men behind this family winery in Margaret River (they are brothers-in-law), but Hohnen in particular needs little introduction as the hugely experienced winemaker who in 1976 started Cape Mentelle in Margaret River, before going on to establish Cloudy Bay in New Zealand, where he stayed until 2003. This 50/50 blend weighs in at a refreshing 12.5% alcohol, and quite simply bursts from the glass with a fabulously aromatic, vivid and spiky character, with lemongrass and gooseberry, a big streak of something herbal and grassy, and hints of an intriguing sesame seed nuttiness. On the palate it is equally vigorous and fresh, with masses of crisp, tangy, mouth-watering citrus fruit and razor-sharp lemon-pith acidity powering through in the finish. £8.49, AG Wines.

Te Mata (New Zealand) Woodthorpe Chardonnay 2005
Te Mata is a Hawkes Bay estate whose wines have always impressed me over the years, and they say that 2005 was an exceptionally good vintage for them. This single vineyard wine comes from the low-yielding Woodthorpe vineyard, and was fermented and aged part in tank and part in barrel, with just eight months maturation in oak. It has a very attractive nose with a touch of honeysuckle and Brazil nut, some creamy oatmeal, and a really clean, elegant pear and apple fruit character with a hint of lemon zest. The palate is fresh and expressive, with those orchard fruit flavours joined by more fleshy melon and peach, and then a cool, precise lemon and grapefruit acidity tightens and extends the finish. The oak is really nicely handled, adding creamy, nutty weight without becoming at all dominant. £9.49, AG Wines.

Pazo de Barrantes (Spain) Albariño 2006
Regular readers will know I'm a big fan of Albariños from Rias Baixas, the crisp, dry white wines made in this cool corner of northwestern Spain. The 2006 Pazo de Barrantes (owned by Marques de Murrieta of Rioja) has a typically fresh and inviting nose, with a breezy whiff of the seaside immediately followed up by delicately peachy and nutty fruit, with just a little touch of nettle and plenty of tight, waxy lemon rind too. On the palate this is very Riesling-like, with a fruity but intensely dry character of crunchy, crisp apple and pear, and a shimmering core of pithy acidity bracing the whole picture. On the mid-palate this develops just hints of that peach and nectarine juiciness, but the cool, crunchy character of this elegant wine never really budges. Long, savoury, balanced and utterly delicious. £11.99, AG Wines.

Red

Uva Mira (South Africa) Cellar Selection Merlot - Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Based in the Helderberg mountains, Uva Mira's vineyards are all at considerable altitude - between 420 and 620 metres. This wine is composed of 74% Merlot and 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, and it spent 15 months in French oak barrels, only 25% of which were new. It has a very supple and elegant nose, with creamy black fruit balanced by a cedary oak component, and a gentle, herbal earthiness. On the palate this is dry and savoury, with fairly chunky, rustic tannins taking a hold, and a solid core of black berry fruit. It is a fairly firm style considering the Merlot dominance, with that cooler climate raciness in evidence. This is a rustic, big red wine with a supple, savoury character, crying out for a chunk of grilled steak. £8.99, AG Wines.

Beresford (Australia) McLaren Vale Shiraz 2004
This wine, which picked up 91-points from Robert Parker, is the nearest thing to a 'blockbuster' in a fine 12-bottle selection I tried from AG Wines. But then that's what Australia's McLaren Vale does with Shiraz, ripening grapes perfectly to create chocolate-rich, peppery wines. I confess that this example surprised me: although big and plush, it doesn't betray that it spent 18 months in new American oak. The nose is hugely velvety, with exotic Sandalwood spices and cracked black pepper joining a deep pool of blackcurrant and plush, plummy fruit. On the palate it if flooded with rich, sweet, juicy bramble and black berry fruits, with plenty of depth and liquoricy heft, and that pepper and spice coming through strongly. Tannins and acidity add a nice bit of grip and cut, and the impression into the finish is of a fairly massive, but balanced and savoury wine. £9.99, AG Wines.

Bruno Giacosa (Italy) Dolcetto d'Alba 2006
Bruno Giacosa is one of the stars of Piemonte winemaking, and this Dolcetto from Alba has a glorious nose, crammed with crushed red berry fruits and rose-hip, violets and crunchy redcurrants. There are all sorts of smoky and mineral nuances in this wine too, in a lovely, fragrant profile. On the palate the zippy, crisp, light-bodied red fruit just dances across the tongue, with plenty of kirsch-like cherry brightness and tang, and that gently drying tannic background suggesting cranberries and redcurrants keeping the whole picture savoury, fresh and moreish. With impeccable balance, there's just a rounding hint of old wood cedar and woodsmoke into the finish of this gloriously sippable and food-friendly wine. £10.99, AG Wines.

Alejandro Fernández (Spain) Pesquera Tinto 2004
I recently opened both the 1994 and 1998 of this wine from my own cellar, and both were drinking beautifully so opening this 2004 is hardly doing it justice. That being said, this is an extremely classy Pesquera that has picked up 93-points from both the Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate, and which is already showing its class. 100% Tempranillo grapes aged for 18 months in new American oak (as always for this wine), it oozes creamy blackberry and vanilla sophistication on the nose, with a touch of dark soy sauce and espresso, and a certain bloody, gamy streak. On the palate it is mouth-filling, sweet and ripe, with a flood of tobacco and chocolate-tinged black fruit, swirling with smoky and exotic spices, and with a rich brambly depth. That bloody, mineral quality is there too, and the tight, supple tannins and cherry acidity give it freshness and grip. This will obviously benefit from a few years in the cellar, and winemaker Alejandro Fernandez says '2004 offers the most concentrated Pesquera since the mid-1990s and will rank with the 1975, 1982, 1986 and 1994 vintages for longevity.' £13.99, AG Wines

Craggy Range (New Zealand) Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006
I visited Craggy Range in 2006 and have rarely come across a more meticulous operation, with their beautifully manicured and landscaped vineyards and show-piece winery in Hawkes Bay. It would be easy to be cynical about this very slickly marketed and positioned company, and yet the wines across the range were quite superb. Amongst my favourite wines were the Pinots from Martinborough, on an escarpment that is the top vineyard site of the region. This wine, aged nine months in French oak about 35% of which is new, is an absolutely typical example of their sumptuous style. The nose is layered with floral and spicy notes, little hints of gamy Pinot character, but the whole picture suffused with rich, sweet, black plum and mocha coffee aromas. The palate is equally hedonistic, a deep, swirling pool of ripe black fruit, woodsmoke and earth, and that espresso richness. But the wine also keeps light and shade about it, with that floral, lightly spicy character and a refined tannin and acid structure. A delicious and delightful Pinot this, that proves Martinborough can still give Central Otago a real run for its money. £17.99, AG Wines.

Domaine de Chevalier (France) Pessac-Léognan2003
Domaine de Chevalier is a fascinating property in Pessac-Léognan, always regarded as amongst the elite along with Haut-Brion, Pape-Clément and rest. But drastic action was taken in the late 80s to upgrade and extend the property, including extensive replanting. Those young vines led to some fairly uninspiring wines in the 1990s, but as the vineyards have matured Domaine de Chevalier has hit a rich seam of form, especially with their engagement since the 2002 vintage of super-consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt. This 2003 is ripe and full, with a bloody streak and the fine mineral earthiness that marks this terroir. Rich and thick on the palate too, Derenoncourt's technique of lees ageing in a Burgundian style gives a voluptuous, mouth-filling texture and plenty of expressive cedar and blackcurrant fruit. There's no shortage of approachable fruit here, but a good tannic structure and sufficient acidity also gives balance to one of the stars of the vintage. This is an exceptionally good price for this fine Bordeaux. £20.99, AG Wines