Friday, 6 July 2012

New balls please

With our exit from the Euro a couple of weeks back – what, you didn’t know? Yes, we lost to Italy on penalties in the quarter final. Oh THAT Euro, you say. This column has a proud history of hanging out in the shallow end of the pool of intellectual and political import, and it’s not about to change now and start providing incisive and telling insights into the economic woes of the Eurozone.

No, I merely remark that, once booted out of the Euros, we turn our sporting attention and wine goggles from footballs to tennis balls and Wimbledon, SW19.

Some sports lend themselves to stereotypes and the football versus tennis clash provides a rich source of inspiration. Tennis seems so much more refined, well-mannered, dare I say it, so much more Surrey darling, than football. Tennis players are undoubtedly athletes making great physical effort on the court – yet you don’t find them spitting on the grass between points, or doing that nasty footballer hold-one-nostril-while-blowing-out-of-the-other noseblow as they trot back to their chairs at a change of ends. And in general tennis players don’t question the personal habits or parentage of the umpire if a call goes against them.

The drinks that we associate with the two sports reflect these differences too. Years of hooliganism and drunken bad behaviour mean football fans at the ground itself are denied the pleasure of knocking back a bevy as they watch. But if they could, it would be hard to imagine them passing round pitchers of Pimm’s, being sure to get plenty of cucumber, strawberry and mint in their glasses. OK, maybe at Chelsea.

To my knowledge there has never been any crowd trouble when Wimbledon kicks out at the end of play, despite many spectators having consumed gallons of Pimm’s, on top of a few shared bottles of Champers over lunch. Mild irritation that public transport really could be better co-ordinated, outrage at the cost of strawberries and cream (“For what you get it must work out at over a pound per strawberry.”), wishing those women players wouldn’t shriek and grunt like pigs in labour, and so on seems to be as far as tennis goes in terms of aggro.

Assuming you are in the comfort of your own home and not stuck at Wimbledon itself, forced to shell out a fiver for a pint of sickly sweet Pimm’s, what is a suitable tipple to have by your side as you sit comfortably while the athletes in white disport themselves on a tennis court for our enjoyment?

If there were ever a wine whose style fits this on-off, so-so summer weather, it’s Beaujolais. These mostly red wines (but see below) are full of vibrant, juicy fruit, yet are light of body and tannin. Always give them a bit of a chilling to heighten the refreshment value.

Beaujolais-Villages, Combe aux Jacques, Louis Jadot 2011 – from around £9.99 at Waitrose, Tesco, Budgens, Spar and Booths
This is the Beaujolais equivalent of Gordon’s Gin – the reliable standard that all others are measured against. Good balance of refreshing, juicy raspberry and cranberry fruit, with the tannins giving the palate texture. Textbook stuff.

Chiroubles, Georges Dubeouf 2011 - £9.99 at Waitrose (currently the 2010 vintage)
As you climb the Beaujolais quality ladder, the word Beaujolais itself is left behind and instead you find one of the ten “crus” or sub-regions on the label – in this case, Chiroubles. Remembering all ten is a wine-lover’s alternative to the pub quiz stalwart of naming the Seven Dwarves. The various crus reflect differing soils, aspects, altitudes – all those things which can be neatly summed up in the word terroir. Georges Dubeouf is one of the biggest names in Beaujolais, whose face, memorably likened to a “haunted parking meter” by Anthony Rose, each year launches millions of bottles of Beaujolais onto the market. This Chiroubles has perfumed fruit with generous black cherry and raspberry fruit flavours that scream summer drinking.

White Beaujolais 
A few years back, a (non wine trade) friend asked me if I’d ever tried white Beaujolais. I looked for a sign in her eyes that she was winding me up. Was this some kind of test? Was this the wine equivalent of being sent to find some sky hooks?

A quick scramble to check reference books taught me that such a thing does exist and now, finally, I’ve tried some for myself. Made from Chardonnay, it represents only 1% of production from the region, so it’s not the kind of thing you’ll stumble across regularly. Beaujolais the region lies immediately south of Burgundy, the spiritual home of Chardonnay. Neighbouring regions fashioning white wines from the same grape they may be, but a casual drive from one to the other will tell you that they feel quite different. Where Burgundy is built on limestone, Beaujolais’ bedrock is granite, which informs the flavours of its wines. Here the Chardonnays feel softer and rounder, often with subtle herbal flavours alongside the ripe honeydew melon. If Scotland had the climate for wine-making, this is how I imagine its wines would taste.

They are not the easiest wines to track down, but if you put the effort in, you too can try the “What do you think of white Beaujolais?” question on someone - and watch them squirm.

Beaujolais-Villages Blanc, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Arnaud Aucoeur 2011 - £10.95, current vintage is 2010, from Yapp Brothers (
Fresh and youthful aromas redolent of sea breezes lead onto a gently rounded palate with aniseed-tinged fruit.

Beaujolais Blanc, En Fût, Jean-Paul Brun 2010 - £12.95 from Ox House Wines ( for the 2008 vintage
Ambitious and Burgundian in style, this barrel fermented and aged wine has flint and angelica aromas, fine acidity and great length.

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