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■ For the Extraordinary Form calendar go to www.lms.org.uk and look under Find a Mass
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Volume 266 No. 8928 ISSN: 0039 8837
FROM THE VINEYARD
Riojas on a roll
IF YOU WERE hoping for something new, exciting and different on the shelves for Christmas, I think you may have been disappointed. I have to say that there were meagre pickings to suggest to you, and for me to try to indicate prices just at the moment would be unfair; prices seem to vary almost from day to day and it’s not possible to know how long the “special offers” will last. And so it looks as though most of the supermarkets simply went for familiar labels at reduced prices. Pity.
However, there were a few pleasant surprises and just one or two new names, or old names returning. One new white that appeared in Waitrose was a wine from Campania in the south of Italy, made of three local grapes and called Triade. The grapes – falanghina, fiano and greco – each make good wines by themselves, and I’m fairly certain that you could find them all on the shelves quite easily, and most at good prices.
I wondered, then, what was the virtue of blending them, and would the combination of the three make a better product than its component parts? The answer is that it is certainly an extremely attractive wine; it’s lively, bright, fruity – “bursting with tropical fruit”, the label claims – and reasonable value at £8.99 (as I write). But otherwise Waitrose was disappointing. Let’s hope for better in the new year.
Last month I mentioned a Rioja reserva (2006) from Tesco that was selling at a bargain price; it has now gone back to its original price.
On the same Berberana label is also a gran reserva from 2004, but this is selling for a fairly hefty £12-plus. If you don’t want to risk quite that much and you have access to an Aldi store, then there might be a very good
Rioja gran reserva from 2004, selling for just less than £10. Apparently 2004 is being referred to as “outstanding” and certainly this would support that claim. It was filled with fruit and very smooth, but with much more weight than you might expect from a Rioja. If you can get it, do.
But staying with Rioja, I found an amazing bargain in Asda, also a gran reserva from 2004 – as you might know, Riojas are styled simply as either crianza (one year in cask, one in bottle), reserva (one year in the cask and two years in the bottle, at least) and gran reserva (two years in cask, three in bottle). Some producers are making things simpler, however, by just putting the date on. So this 2004 from Asda, selling at £4.98 at the time, was a bargain. The label is Albali, a reliable name, and though it did not have the structure or weight of the Aldi bottle, it was very good indeed.
Sainsbury’s Rioja in its “Taste the Difference” range was a little disappointing. The label is Viñedos Barrihuelo, and for a 2007 vintage it is as much as one might hope (not a great vintage). It was fruity and soft and improved after a few hours, but there are better bargains. Making welcome returns are Lidl’s lovely and soft Ciró from the gaglioppo grape in Calabria in the toe of Italy’s boot, and Tesco’s Roero arneis, a “spritzy” white from just south of Piemonte. Picpoul de pinet has also reappeared alongside it, and also on the shelves of Marks & Spencer. Tesco’s is a better bargain, by £2, but if Tesco’s special offer ends they will both sell for just over £7. Perhaps things are not so bad after all.
■ N. O’Phile is The Tablet’s wine critic. He is also a senior Catholic priest.
Glimpses of Eden
YOU HEAR them first: a haunting, two-note cry searching the sodden fields of winter wheat and rapeseed. And often that’s all you know, but sometimes you’ll see them too: a dense, fast-flying flock thrown over the land’s shoulder, wings flashing white.
Every year these mysterious birds have wintered here and, to my unceasing, increasing frustration, we’ve never been able to identify them. Until this week. Out walking we happened to hear the familiar mournful call. It sounded nearer, more sorrowful than usual. I swept the horizons with the binoculars. Nothing. I tried again. A blank. Then a movement in the sun 50 yards away caught my eye.
The mystery flock was in the rapeseed. Glowing as a tawny owl, upright as a thrush, the birds were revealed at long last as golden plovers. Breeding in the uplands, golden plovers winter in lowland farmland, often feeding by moonlight. We watched them eating until something put them to flight, and they rose, their white under-wing pronounced.
In the past their melancholy call gave rise to the superstition of the six whistlers, who search the face of the earth for their lost companion. When they find it, disaster will befall us, the world will end. Just to reassure you, as we walked home we could still hear the golden plovers on their endless search, no nearer to finding the seventh whistler.
32 | THE TABLET | 7 January 2012