Friday, 28 February 2014

Spring is here - or is it?

Pity the poor wine writer. As I pen this column, the weather is looking fairly Spring-like. I can hear birds tweeting (“our” Greater Spotted Woodpecker was heard for the first time this year a couple of days ago), the snowdrops and hellebores are in full swing and the buds of the first daffodils are swelling. Skies may be grey but the rain, thankfully, has let up and the sun, when it appears, has a growing warmth to it.

However, what the weather will be doing by the time you read this is anyone’s guess.  Spring may have well and truly sprung and we could be seeing signs of incipient Summer to come; or the battering of Atlantic storms may have returned; or we may have been given a dose of the proper Winter weather that failed to arrive at the usual time – or indeed anything in between.

Pity me, then, having to make suitable wine recommendations for this time of year. I know, in all our preoccupation with flooding , storm damage and potential loss of life, no-one (quite rightly, before you get a lynch mob together) stops to think of the impact on wine writers – even ones with their tongues firmly in their cheeks.

So when is Spring, officially? In calendar terms, the year is divided into the four seasons, each lasting three months, with Spring spanning the beginning of March to the end of May. This is solid enough logic, though I cannot remember when we last had a Summer that lasted from the beginning of June until the end of August.

The Spring Equinox, on or around 21st March, is the point at which we reach equal amounts of daylight and night-time in a 24-hour period, so there is a case for making this the official first day of Spring. Ecologists apparently add in a couple of extra seasons to cover those in-between times of the year which are neither one thing nor t’other, referring to the “prevernal” period following the “hibernal” (winter) and preceding the “vernal” (Spring). We must be getting at least prevernal by now I feel.

No matter what the weather is doing, the days are getting noticeably longer and nature is getting on with the business of springing back into life after the cold and wet (OK mostly wet) Winter. Ergo, it is, I reckon, Spring. Sort of.

Springtime-ish drinking recommendations

Peter Yealands Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 – usually £9.99, but currently on offer at Sainsbury’s (until 4th March) at £7.49
It can jar a little to see a 2013 label, when we’ve only just said goodbye to that year in this hemisphere. Downunder, of course, they’re ahead of us in wine terms and are now thinking about getting ready for the 2014 harvest.

This Sauvignon Blanc is made by gifted young winemaker (and fellow glases wearer) Tamra Washington, whose wines for Yealands Estate have garnered many an award recently and show a restraint that is unusual in Marlborough. This wine manages to combine the typical vibrancy of Kiwi Sauvignon with the fine acidity and class of Loire versions. Aromas of elderflower and tropical fruit pave the way for a crisp palate with juicy acidity and mouthfilling fruit, with an edge of blackcurrant leaf. In short, all the verdant freshness of Spring in a glass, even if Spring itself has gone AWOL.

I remember being looked at askance by a French sommelier when I and my fellow diners asked for a bottle of rosé to accompany our lunch. It was early March, the sun was out and the temperature had hit 18⁰C – bingo! Rosé time, we thought. Except, we were in Provence, where, as far as they were concerned, this was still woolly jumper and warming red wine weather; the sommelier advised us that they had not yet taken delivery of any rosé that year, so we tugged our metaphorical forelocks  and ordered a bottle of Vacqueyras. The shame!

However, in this country, days like that are rare enough to warrant being greeted with open arms and a glass of the pink stuff, so you should ensure you have some suitable rosé squirreled away.

M de Minuty Côtes de Provence Rosé – currently £10.99 if you buy 2 bottles at Majestic (usually £14.99) for the 2012. Taurus Wines of Bramley will be getting their consignment of 2013 in soon, which will have more freshness  - and Surrey Advertiser readers can benefit from a special reader offer of £10.99
I have a soft spot for the pale negligée pink rosés of Provence, whose gentle colours and herb-tinged flavours are so redolent of summer days.  M de Minuty is one of the most consistently enjoyable Provence pinks that I’ve tried over the years and has a loyal following in this country – and it comes in one of those curvy “Bardot” bottles.  

Torres Viña Sol – widely available at around £7
The sun in the name and on the label make this eminently suitable for this time of year, when we yearn for the sun to brighten and warm the days. This venerable wine was made for the first time back in 1963 (when it was labelled “Spanish Chablis”; those were the days) by the then young gun Miguel A Torres. Viña Sol was intended to bring modern winemaking to Spain and was made then, as now, without oak, the Grenache Blanc and Parellada grapes fermented at low temperature to preserve freshness and fruit. Crisp Granny Smith apple flavours combine with the weight and white pepper of the Grenache to make a delicious lunchtime wine (especially as it’s just 11.5% alcohol).

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