Saturday, 30 July 2016

Best wines for summer barbecues and parties

It’s always tricky, working out when to recommend wines for hot, summer days, when so often summer itself can be a slippery concept. Nevertheless, the schools have broken up, the Olympics loom: the calendar points to summer, regardless of what the weather might be doing.

Don’t be afraid of the fridge for reds
Refreshment is a key aspect of wines for drinking at any time, but never more so than on a hot day. Don’t be afraid to chill any red wine for a short while (say 30 mins) before serving it. Reds are generally designed to be drunk at rather less than modern room temperature, and much less than the ambient temperature on a warm day, so a quick chill will make it both more refreshing and bring out the more delicate flavours.

Le Monferrine Asti DOCG - £5.50 at Morrison’s
Here’s a guilty pleasure. It’s sweet, it’s fizzy, with a rich grapey flavour that you can serve really chilled to go with picnic-y fruit puddings…or instead of.

Cava Juvé & Camps Selección Reserva 2013 - £11.49 from Waitrose
I’m the first to admit that I’m not a huge Cava fan, but I have a soft spot for this producer, renowned for ageing their Cavas for longer (much longer than the law dictates) on the lees – over 24 months in this case. Apple and citrus fruits combine on the palate, which has lovely freshness.

If refreshment is what you’re after, then two white wine styles readily spring to mind: Chablis and Sauvignon Blanc.

Chablis William Fèvre “La Maladière” 2013 - £13.49 mix six price at Majestic
This is “proper” Chablis. Fresh, light and incisive, but in no way short of flavour. It’s not so much about the lemon and green apple fruit as the texture and feel of the wine. This will quench any thirst.

Dog Point Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 - £13.50 from The Wine Society; £15.50 from Winedirect; £19.99 from Laithwaite’s; also available at independent merchants
This Sauvignon Blanc has developed a dedicated fan base – and with good reason. At a comparative tasting of Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs earlier this year, Dog Point stood out as the most classic expression of the style. It has expressive but balanced flavours, with grapefruit and white pepper.

Pure de Mirabeau Côtes de Provence Rosé 2015 - £12.99 from Waitrose
A quintessential Provence rosé, yet it is made by Brit abroad, Stephen Cronk. This is delightfully pale in colour, light and elegant, but with body and flavour. A delight for a sunny evening. Rosés are a great match for all manner of salads, coping admirably with the sharp/oily combination of vinaigrette dressings.

M Signature Champagne Rosé - £20 at Morrison’s
Sometimes you just have to have Champagne and, to capture the spirit of summer, it also has to be pink. You can quickly empty your wallet on rosé Champagne, but here’s one that’s more friendly to those of us who are more flash than cash. Morrison’s own label Champagnes are both good value and classy and this rosé would make a lovely accompaniment to nibbles/smoked salmon and the like.

Waitrose Southern French Grenache 2015 - £6.49 from Waitrose
Hardly an inspiring name for a wine, but this is well suited to a summer barbecue with its ripe, sweet-tasting fruit. I would definitely give this a quick blast in the fridge before cracking it open on a warm evening.

Recchia Bardolino 2015 - £7.99 from Waitrose

Bardolino is a hugely unfashionable style of red wine: pale red colour that is almost rosé and with very light body. Often in the mass produced versions it can also mean sharp acidity and an unappealing weediness. But this, with its pale ruby colour and soft, cherryish fruit is just made for summer picnics. In other words, a perfect summer red.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Taking Le Tour through wines

Looking through my archives I find that almost exactly four years ago to the week I was writing that England had crashed out of the Euros and that it was time to train our beer (or wine) goggles on Wimbledon. Plus ça change, eh? Though we now face an altogether more serious exit from Europe, rather than just a sporting one.

The wine trade was (is?) broadly pro-Remain and there’s no doubt that imported wines will become more expensive in the coming months, thanks to the falling value of the pound against the Euro (that word again) and other currencies.

Is there something more positive to focus on? As I write, Andy Murray has yet to complete his semi-final match, so I can’t know whether Wimbledon has been a case for celebration or disappointment.

But the annual Tour de France still has a while to run and there is actual British success in the form of multiple stage winner Mark Cavendish and the prospect of more from Chris Froome in the overall classification.

So it’s time to drinkalong-a-Tour with my handy guide to some of the main contenders and what to drink while cheering them on:

The Froome Dog - UK
English sparkling wine’s top dog seems a fitting tribute to the two-time Tour winner.
Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2009 - £35.95 from, RRP £41 from independent merchants
Beautiful baked apple fruit with a hint of cream and honey – but with fine acidity holding it all together. Truly delicious.

Alejandro Valverde – Spain
I’ll side-step the obvious choice of Rioja and plump instead for something off the beaten track.
Cien y Pico Doble Pasta 2011 - £12.99 from The Wine Reserve (Cobham) and other independents
This is not a wine for the fainthearted. From old bush vines (Cien y Pico, meaning one hundred and something apparently refers to their age) in the almost desert-dry conditions of central Spain comes this intensely coloured and flavoured red. It packs a punch of Intense blueberry fruit with plenty of flavour and structure (and 14.5% alcohol).

Nairo Quintana – Colombia
A more tricky proposition, this. Colombia is known for a few things, but wine is not one of them. The national drink is Aguardiente (from the Latin for fire water- be warned) a blend of sugar cane spirit, anise and water, making it something akin to Pernod or Ouzo.
If you’d rather stick to wine, a compromise on something from the high altitude vineyards of Argentina seems apposite for a master climber like Quintana.
Catena Malbec 2013 - £9.99 mix six price at Majestic
Catena were the pioneers of high altitude wine making in Argentina and their wines are still modern classics.

Warren Barguil, Thibault Pinot (nice name) and Romain Bardet - France
These three riders are the home nation’s best hopes for success. The biggest success story in French wine right now is Provence rosé and you’ll be spoilt for choice on merchants’ shelves.
Mirabeau Côtes de Provence Rosé 2015 – usually £9.99, down to £7.79 until 26 July at Waitrose
This delightful pale pink has delicate fruit flavours and is light yet flavoursome with a slightly savoury finish. And it’s just scooped a Gold Medal at the International Wine Challenge, making it something of a bargain.

Tejay Van Garderen
The man with possibly the silliest name of the Tour hails from the US. And you can’t get more American than Zinfandel.
Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel 2013 £12.99, down to £9.69 until 26 July at Waitrose; £11.50 at The Wine Society
For a grape that is renowned for making big-boned, powerful almost Port-like red wines, this has a surprising delicacy and freshness to it – but don’t worry, it also has plenty of blackberry fruit with a dash of vanilla, as well as 14.5% alcohol.

Now you’re all set. Allez allez allez! 

Monday, 4 July 2016

That's the way to do it - building a French wine brand

If there’s one thing that French winemakers can’t do, it’s create big successful brands, right? Well, maybe not…

It’s true that French wine is traditionally governed by the dictates of the Appellation Contrôlée laws, so that AC (or AOP nowadays) wines are labelled according to their geographical origin. This is fine for really well known ACs/AOPs like Bordeaux and Champagne which are, in effect, brands which transcend the geographical nature of the regulations.

But what about  AOP Côteaux du Giennois? Or AOP Côtes de Toul maybe, or AOP Tursan? A good number of the over 300 wine AOPs in France are househould names, but many more, like these ones, are not. Consumers (and even wine trade folk) cannot be expected to know where they all are and what style of wine will be in the bottle. And why should understanding wine be such a difficult business anyway?

Building a commercial brand often means departing from the strict regulations of the region’s AOP. Consumers want to see a name that they are familiar with, which provides a feeling of comfort and security - without the need to understand French wine law.

The Vin de Pays category, so successful in the 1980s and 90s, did act as a kind of brand. The vast majority were from that huge swathe of vineyard areas in the south, collectively known as Languedoc-Roussillon. Vin de Pays d’Oc was a boon to wine drinkers: often varietally labelled, usually good value red, white and rosé wines that were easy to understand and appreciate.

Now, however, Vin de Pays is no more and wines should instead be labelled as IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée). Though Languedoc-Roussillon producers can also put the words “Pays d’Oc” on the label, as a nod to the good old days of Vin de Pays d’Oc.

French producers who want to include grape varieties outside the rules of the AOP can often use the IGP as an alternative. For those who want to blend between regions, something that is common in the New World, the catch-all Vin de France category is a useful support. And yet thus far, there have been few truly successful French wine brands.

One French wine company which is doing better than many at building brands is Badet Clément. You may not have heard of the name, but you may well have seen their Les Jamelles wines in the Co-op; or perhaps come across one of their Abbotts & Delaunay range on a restaurant wine list. They also have a range of other brands which are more directed towards other markets across Europe and beyond. Their total annual production of 15.6 million bottles gives you an idea of the scale of their operation.

Surprisingly, perhaps, all this is the work of a husband and wife team, Laurent and Catherine Delaunay, who recently celebrated the twentieth anniversary of their business. Of course Badet Clément is more than Laurent and Catherine, who now employ 50 people and boast a shiny new winery to facilitate even further growth in future.

Their Les Jamelles wines are a neat range of varietally labelled wines (all IGP) with plenty of easy-going consumer appeal at keen prices.

Les Jamelles Viognier £5.99 until 12 July (usually £6.99) at the Co-op
A Viognier for people who don’t like the variety’s richness and weight, which can tend to flabbiness. This has good fresh acidity and juicy fruit with just a hint of peach.

Les Jamelles Syrah - £5.99 until 12 July (usually £6.99) at the Co-op
Soft, ripe Syrah with a mix of red and black fruit characters that speaks of the warm south, but with a good brightness and freshness too.

Les Jamelles Réserve Mourvèdre £7.49 at the Co-op
My favourite of the range, this has bags of brooding, black fruit with some herbal character in the background.