A warming bargain from Italy

What is it about simple suppers around a blazing log fire that evoke such heightened appreciation of wine?

We had a pretty busy day on Saturday; without burdening you with the minutiae I’ll simply say that we ended up getting back from Maidstone about seven on another bitterly cold evening to find that our troublesome boiler had let us down – again. So I set about trying to coax it back in to action whilst Mrs Burns got the fire going and headed for the kitchen.

Half-an-hour later with the first signs that the radiators were warming up and the fire crackling away the supper appeared on a tray in the lounge – sliced, succulent, cold chicken breast and homemade chips – an all too infrequent speciality from Mrs Burns’ range of gastronomic delicacies –  how mouth-watering is that? On the side was a plate of Stilton and Gruyère cheeses.

Unusually, and without prior consultation, Mrs Burns had selected the wine – a 2007 Camillo de Lellis Biferno Reserva from the Wine Society – a rather aristocratic sounding red wine for such a modest meal, I thought – but not for the first time I was wide of the mark!

None the less, as soon as it was in the glass those brick-red and garnet tones caught the eye and already I was intrigued -18 months in oak barrels and then tank-aging had certainly worked their magic.

We are talking here about a ‘rustic’ wine (winespeak for traditional and a bit old fashioned), hailing from Molise, an obscure winegrowing region in Italy’s deep-south on the Adriatic coast. It is made from 70% Montepulciano and 15% each of Aglianico and Trebbiano Toscano grapes. Now, it has to be said that these are not grapes, neither individually nor collectively, to stir the heart of your average wine buff – and the Trebbiano, being a white grape, is especially frowned upon.

But for me there was something about the velvety texture on the palate and the warming elderberry and blackberry flavours that marked it out as a winner – thank goodness there was plenty left over for the cheese. And so our makeshift supper was transformed into a lovely treat.

It was not until the next morning that I thought I go to my Wine Society list to check on what we had been drinking and how I had acquired such a gem – and here perhaps is the best bit – we had been drinking and thoroughly enjoying a £6.95 bottle of wine! Please, don’t let it ever be said that the Wine Society does not cater for every taste and every budget.

I had felt sure Mrs Burns had allowed her hand to drift over to the right-hand side of our modest ‘cellar’ where I keep ‘the good stuff’, but no, this was clearly from the everyday-drinking side!

I guess I must have ordered it in early January when, by custom and after the indulgences of Xmas I stock-up with, shall we say, the more modest offerings of the wine trade. But what a bonus to find in these straightened-times that there are bargains out there that can bring real pleasure and surprise.

If you are not a member of the Wine Society, you can by the wine from Great Western Wine based in Bath or through their web site. Apparently the estimable Butler’s Wine Cellar of Brighton did stock it at one time, but it appears, no longer.


After writing this blog I checked on the internet to see what others may have written about the wine; here’s what the saintly Jancis Robinson had to say about Camillo de Lellis – very scholarly, as you would expect. If you manage to get hold of a bottle or two, I hope it lives up to Jancis’ recommendation – I’m sure it will.


4th March 2013.

Biferno Rosso Reserva 2007

Hécula 2009 Famillia Castraño

If the average wine drinker knows anything about the red wines of Spain they will know and recognise Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat. It is possible they may also know that wines from Yecla and Jumilla are to be avoided – after all they are the kind of ‘bulk’ wines that end up on the ‘3 for £10’ shelf in your supermarkets, right?

Well, no actually! That’s not been the case for some time and, insofar as we continue to believe this we have all been seriously misinformed.

We had a lazy night-in last night – having enjoyed a convivial lunch at The Sloop Inn there was no need for cooking. So we settled in front of the telly for some cheese, hummus, chorizo, olives, and pizza fromPaolino’s in the village.

Choosing the wine would be simple – something red from the left-hand-side of the wine rack, i.e. the everyday drinking side. It was looking a bit sparse on account of a fresh delivery being due today, which made the job even easier.

My eye was caught by a metallic blue neck foil/capsule; when I pulled it out the first thing that struck me was the weight of the bottle – usually an indication of a quality product.

But this was a £9.95 bottle of Hécula 2009 produced by Famillia Castraño, based in Yecla, made from the Monastrell variety of grapes and grown in Jumilla. I had bought it a couple of months previously fromSouth Downs Cellars in Lindfield.

I was immediately intrigued since Irene and I had spent New Year there enjoying some winter sun with our Swedish friends Mona and Olev.

The holiday had included a special trip to the high mountain vineyards of Jumilla, near Murcia, to see for myself the massive advances that have been made in winegrowing – especially with the Monastrell variety – in this hot climate, and still undervalued, region of Spain. Believe me we were not disappointed – especially after enjoying a fabulous (and very affordable) lunch, including local wines, in a popular Jumilla restaurant afterwards.

However, I digress – what I want to tell you about is the Hécula 2009.

According to controversial wine critic Jay Miller (quoted by South Downs Cellars), the wine is aged in French and American oak, is outstanding value and will be perfect for drinking over the next 4-5 years.

What’s more it tastes great with rich blackberry and bramble fruit flavours on the palate – spiced-up with ginger and wild herbs on the nose. This is a real winner and at under a tenner an absolute bargain.

It’s true that Monastrell grapes are still grown in vast quantities in Spain, using the bushvine method, i.e. no trellising, neither of which are usually happy omens. But bear in mind that, as Mourvèdre, which is the grape’s French name, it has been making top-quality wines in Southern Rhone, Languedoc and Bandol for 50 years, so it’s pedigree is sound.

This is a grape that loves the sun and one that, for all its sensitivities, the winegrowers of Jumilla have amply demonstrated can not only be tamed, but is capable of being crafted in to a true star of southeast Spain. I give it 17 out of 20.


13th February 2013

Hecula 2009


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