Rare Red Squirrels



I recently attended a tasting held by Nik Darlington of Red Squirrel Wine for the Oxford Wine Club. Nik’s philosophy is pretty much 100% aligned to mine, and the tasting entitled “Rare & Native Grape Varieties and Forgotten Wine Regions” sounded exciting.

We had four whites and four reds to get through, ranging in price from £11.99 to £24.99 at list, so all should have had something to offer.The first white was a 100% Xarel.lo from Alella. To my taste, the strong citrus tones were at the cost of a slightly unripe feel, and I didn’t mark it particularly highly. Xarel.lo is a key component of most Cavas, and I was expecting more on the nose and the palette. Nonetheless a well made, clean wine that would accompany most seafood.

The second white was an Encruzado from Dão in Portugal. I hadn’t had an Encruzado before to my knowledge. This had subdued pineapple, citrus and rose petals with a mineral finish that stayed around just long enough. It was interesting, but not revelatory.

Which contrasted with the third white which was very exciting. Again it was my first experience of the grape – Pigato – from Liguria. I’ll leave the experts to argue the Pigato vs Vermentino origin of the grape. It had bags of crisp acidity, great length and would hold its own with the richest seafood dish. This was a new-born star that the Italians have obviously been hiding.

From such heights we dipped a bit to the final white – a Mauzac from Gaillac. I love “standard” Gaillacs and reckon them under-rated. This wine caused highly polarised views around our table, with some loving, and others, me included, not convinced. Apparently the secret is to drink it with cheese to see its best side.

The reds started with a real novelty. A Cabernet Gernischt from Inner Mongolia. We were all on new territory with this one. To me, green stems predominated and a general feeling of unripeness. Whether that was due to the grape, location or year I have no idea, but I’m sure China will do much better.

Not in the order posted, the next red was a Tannat from Mendoza in Argentina. The reference was Uruguay, but I had also tried other Angentinian Tannats which gave me another reference point. This was deep ruby, with licorice, plums/prunes and a heathy level of acidity fending off any flabbiness. A very pleasant drink, but unlike the other wines on show, perhaps not as unique.

The Nerello Mascalese from Mount Etna however, was unique in pretty much every way. Standing out for me was stewed strawberries and cream, red cherry with nice ripe and smooth tannins and really good length. There is no doubt that volcanic soils are capable of producing some really interesting wines, in this case coupled with a little known grape variety, albeit a relative of the well known Sangiovese.

For the final wine we were back in Liguria, but this time for a refugee variety – Touriga Nacional. What the great grape of the Douro was doing this far east I’m not sure, but the result was really enjoyable. A bit of farmyard, bubblegum and boysenberry with reasonable length left a very good impression.

My thanks to the OWC and to Nik Darlington. I am always delighted to try truly novel expressions. Amongst the wines presented there were many more hits than misses, and all deserved a hearing on account of their producers taking the risk of trying something different.

Who is Andy McLeod

I'm a grape grower and wine maker in both the UK and Spain, a profession I fell into because of my love of wine and a desire to understand how I could produce a drink that was both good and different.