Friday, 3 August 2012

Fifty Shades...and other guilty pleasures

I don’t need to fill you in on the subject matter of the Fifty Shades series of novels I’m sure.  In any case I haven’t read any of them so, in the interest of journalistic integrity, I will not pretend that I have, even for the purposes of an almost entirely spurious wine-based pastiche of the guilty pleasure genre.

Sometimes I want to read something challenging, absorbing, demanding and densely written which will stay with me long after the book has been finished.  Other times I just want a page-turner to while away a few hours:  it will grip at the time but I’ll barely remember having read it in a few days.

When choosing what to eat, sometimes I will relish the prospect of spending time in the kitchen, lavishing attention on what I hope will be a delicious result.  At other times, a takeaway curry will do nicely thank you.

I think you get the drift here. 

Drinking wine should always be a sensory pleasure, but sometimes it is also an involving, almost intellectual exercise.  I have enjoyed some of Bordeaux’s finest wines, and at their very best they can offer an almost transcendent drinking experience.  But equally they can have an austerity that requires attention and appreciation from the drinker.  What I’m saying is that I do have to be in the mood to appreciate them.

When I don’t want to make that effort, what do I reach for?  What is my wine equivalent of a few pages of Fifty Shades?

Sweet and bubbly
Liking sweet wines does feel like an intellectual failing – these are wines for the novice and the young; a childish appetite that should have been lost along the way to becoming a fully functioning adult.  Sweet AND bubbly – well, I can practically feel the noses being looked down.

I am not alone in my love for moscato, as it has become the fastest growing wine style in the US.  Sweet, fizzy, sometimes even pink to boot, it is the most unreconstructed of guilty pleasures.

Asti, in Italy, produces sparkling Asti by the lakeful (or, more accurately, tankful).  It used to be called Asti Spumante (meaning sparkling) but the spumante has now been dropped.  If Beverly of Abigail’s Party were going to offer you something fizzy, it would surely have been this.

Regular Asti, with its sweet, fizzy grapiness is great for sloshing onto a fruit salad, but it does have a slightly more well-groomed, but still fun-loving cousin in Moscato d’Asti.

Moscato d’Asti is usually made by smaller producers, in a rather more artisan way.  It is still sweet and fizzy; in fact it is often higher in sugar than regular Asti, though it doesn’t taste it.  It is more lightly sparkling and has wonderful aromas and flavours of ripe pear.  Allied to low alcohol, this is a great wine for rounding off a lunch party – with or without fruit salad.

Recommended moscatos (moscati for sticklers)

Moscato d’Asti 2011, Elio Perrone - £6.50 from The Wine Society
Just 5% alcohol means this is barely wine, but it has plenty of grapey, aromatic fruit to satisfy a sweet toothed wine lover.

Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato 2011/12 – around £6.50-6.99 for a 37.5ml bottle from, Guildford Wine Company
Not content with being sweet and fizzy, this adds being pink to its list of crimes against good taste.  A half-bottle with a beer bottle style crown cap it may be, but you won’t find many men propping up the bar with this in their hand.  No matter, they will miss out on the hints of rose petal and red fruit that burst out of this perfect picnic fizz.

Blanquette de Limoux
By the time the Champenois documented their method for making sparkling wines in the late 1600s, the locals of Limoux down in the Languedoc had been making wines with fizz for over a century.  Unfortunately they didn’t get a patent lawyer onto the case and it is Champagne that has become the global brand, rather than Blanquette de Limoux.

Most Blanquette de Limoux is dry, but there is a small production of sweet Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale.  This “ancestrale” method involves a second fermentation in the bottle, like Champagne.  Unlike Champagne, some sweetness remains and the alcohol is lower.

Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale NV - £9.50 from The Wine Society
The Mauzac grape used to make this has a real appley tang, making this taste like superior Appletiser for grown ups.  It may only be 6.5% alcohol, but probably best to keep an eye on the kids with this super quaffable stuff around.

Brachetto is not half of an Italian cross-dressing comedy duo, but the name of a grape.  This is a step further towards a red wine from the Pink Moscato above, but it is still light, frothy and sweet, with strawberry flavours.  I’ve recommended a fairly pricey and relatively serious (for the style) Brachetto here, but look out for cheaper versions too.

Contero Brachetto d’Acqui 2011 - £15.99 from Virgin Wines
Red fruits, rose petals and only 5.5% alcohol make this a fun fizz on its own, but you could try it with one of those pretty French patisserie glazed strawberry tarts or even as a foil to things chocolatey.

Just as man (or woman) cannot live by bread alone, or indeed read only the most edifying of literature, sometimes a little of what you fancy….well, you know the rest.

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