Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Fortify yourselves for Sherry

If I say Sherry, what comes to mind? Something sweet, dark and strong? If so, read on as your pre-conceptions are going to take a battering.

Some Sherry styles are sweet, for sure, but there are many dry options. The sweeter styles do make a great end to a meal, but the drier ones can make fine food matches with savoury dishes. In Jerez, Andalucia, whence Sherry hails, there is a saying: “If it swims, serve a Fino; if it flies, serve an Amontillado; if it runs, serve an Oloroso.”

Sherry styles
Manzanilla – the lightest and driest style of Sherry. This pale, almost water white wine is a perfect aperitif – a real palate sharpener. Serve with olives (anchovy stuffed for me).

Fino – still very light and dry, with a little more oomph than Manzanilla. Perfect for party nibbles and tapas style browsing.

Fino and tapas

Amontillado – deeper colour and more nutty, savoury flavours. It all starts life dry, but can be dry, medium or sweet, thanks to the addition of some concentrated grape juice or sweet wine made from sun-dried grapes.  Dry Amontillado is wonderful with roast salted almonds; I like to keep a bottle of medium dry Amontillado in the house in the winter months – a little glass of it is as good as a log fire for keeping off the winter chill.

The rich amber colour of Amontillado

Oloroso – the darkest, deepest-flavoured sherries are Christmas in a bottle. There is dried citrus fruit, nuts, spice and caramel aplenty. Most of what we see in the UK is sweet (and this is not a problem for me) and would happily stand up to Christmas pudding, mince pies, chocolate – you name it. Dry Oloroso is great for game (especially furred game, if the Andalucians have it right).

Palo Cortado – a sort of hybrid style that usually smells like an Amontillado, but tastes like Oloroso.

Recommended sherries
Supermarket own labels are the ones to seek out – they offer fantastic quality and value for money. Waitrose’s Solera Jerezana range is particularly good. If you’d like a “name”, then look no further than Tio Pepe Fino (widely available for around £10) and Matusalem Oloroso (£19 for a half bottle from Waitrose) to make Christmas go with a swing.

Tio Pepe - a classic Fino

Other fortified wines
If Sherry suffers from a bad reputation, then Madeira doesn’t have one at all. Don’t save it just for cooking; the sweeter ones have the rich spice and caramel style of Sherry, but with great freshening acidity. Blandy’s are the biggest name in Madeira – but also look out for Barbeito (their Single Harvest is £18.99 from Waitrose), Henriques & Henriques and Justino’s.

French Vin Doux Naturel
An odd misnomer this – Vin Doux Naturel means natural sweet wine, but refers to wines whose fermentation has been halted by adding grape spirit (in the same way as Port). No matter, France is home to a rich hoard of these sweet, fortified treasures. Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is probably the best known, but I am particularly fond of the VDNs of Maury and Rivesaltes.

Mas Amiel is the name to look for in Maury – their deepest purple Vintage Rouge 2013, made from Grenache Noir (£23.50 from Caves de Pyrène in Guildford) is a wonderful match for rich, dark chocolatey things.

Parcé Frères Rivesaltes 1996 (£13.50 a bottle from The Wine Society) is a beautiful amber coloured wine with sweet layers of spice, nuts and preserved fruit and a hint of the medicinal tang the French call rancio (trust me, this is a good thing). Have it with Christmas pudding or try it with the cheese board.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Don't pass (by) the Port

If you’ve ever paid the slightest heed to what I write here, you’ll know I’m a big fan of fortified wines – those still largely unfashionable drinks Sherry, Port and Madeira, plus a myriad of variations on that theme from around the world.

Usually I include a recommendation for one or other of them for Christmas. But I’m trying to do them more justice this year by focusing on them alone, before they get overlooked in the festive frenzy. I’ll start with Port this week and move onto Sherry next time.

Terraced vineyards line the steep sides of the Douro Valley

Port – the bluffer’s guide
Port comes from the Douro valley, northern Portugal. Ripe grapes are harvested, then fermentation gets underway, with plenty of tannin and colour rapidly extracted either by means of foot-treading, or robotic machines doing the same job, or in a kind of mechanised tank.
Traditional stone "lagares" where grapes are foot trodden
The modern version with computer-controlled mechanical "feet"

Fermentation is brought to a premature halt by adding grape spirit; yeasts cannot exist in this high alcohol environment and die off. This results in an intensely fruity, deep purple liquid, quite high in alcohol and sugar.

Tasting Port in the Douro Valley

Different fates that now await the proto-Port:

  • -      Wines destined to become vintage Port will spend the next couple of years in large oak barrels, before being bottled while still youthful, deep-coloured, strong and tannic. These Ports can age for decades and over time will become softer, more complex and somewhat lighter in colour. Very generally, this is the only form of Port which will improve with age in the bottle.
  • -          Lighter bodied wines will have a brief period of wood maturation, before being bottled as ruby Port – the most basic (and cheapest) form of Port, and the kind of thing we all tend to buy a bottle of at Christmas. They retain a youthful deep purple colour, rich fruit and a spirity character.
  • -          Still other wines will be given an extended period of wood ageing, sometimes up to 40 years or more, to produce a tawny Port. These are then bottled, most often as a blend with an average age, sometimes as a single vintage, or colheita Port. The wood ageing gives these Ports a lighter hue and a less winey flavour, with nuts, caramel and spice flavours coming to the fore.
  • -          Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is the product of a single harvest which, as its name suggests, has spent longer in wood (ie bottled later) than vintage Port. An innovation dating from the 1970s, they are not to be confused with true vintage Port, will not improve in bottle and tend towards the character of ruby Port, but with greater depth and complexity.

Ports for Christmas
A bottle of 2011 vintage Port from one of the great houses would make a fine present, but
Vines at Sandeman's Quinta do Seixo
has a long life in bottle ahead of it and shouldn’t be drunk now. For something to enjoy this Christmas search out a single quinta vintage, such as Sandeman’s Quinta do Seixo, Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos or Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas (around £30).

Tawny Ports are easy to find nowadays. Graham’s 10 year old (around £20 for a bottle) and Warre’s Otima 10 year old (around £10 for 50cl) are widely available (and generally on offer pre-Christmas). Reddish mahogany colour, with a slightly mellow, caramelly spiciness, a wee nip sitting by the fire (or radiator) on a dark November evening is comforting and warming. You can also try them chilled at the end of a meal.

Taylor's 20 Year Old - with Oporto in the background
If you get a taste for tawny, you’ll find more of what you like in the longer matured versions. I have a fondness for Taylor’s 20 year old (currently around £34 a bottle); Sandeman is renowned for the quality of its tawnies – Waitrose has its 20 year old for £37.50 (though currently on offer for £29.99). Ramos Pinto is a less familiar name, but well worth seeking out as they include small amounts of really old wines in their tawnies, giving great depth and complexity. Their 30 year old (£59.50 from thedrinkshop.co.uk) should give you an idea.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Wines for these golden moments

Is Autumn always this good? Driving through Surrey woodlands recently it has felt like someone has turned a giant golden light on, so vibrant are the autumn leaf colours. I love the warmth and light of summer, but there is something immensely appealing about the slightly melancholy slide into Autumn, with the promise (or threat) of Winter not far behind.

These are the kinds of wines that suit this turn of the seasons.

Vine leaf colours in a Surrey vineyard

White wines
Whites need more heft to do well in the cooler months. Obviously they will be drunk chilled, so must somehow communicate warmth and richness.

La Métropole Cuvée Classique 2013 - £5.99 from the Co-operative
A good value blend of Grenache Blanc, which gives weight and a herbal note, along with Macabeu, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier. There’s also a red version, mostly Grenache (Noir this time) and Syrah, which is soft and fruity.

Domaine Jones Grenache Gris 2014 - £13.30 from The Wine Society
A step up in quality, from old Grenache Gris vines in Roussillon, this has aromas of flint and pear and a rich but dry palate with a spicy finish.

Ghost Corner The Bowline 2014 - £21.50 from The Oxford Wine Company
If you haven’t tried a South African white wine for a while, you could be in for a surprise – and a treat. This blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon has a winning combination of mouth-watering citrus and stonefruit with a rich toastiness. With a name like the bowline, it also makes a perfect gift for a sailing enthusiast or former Scout.

Kleine Salze Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 - £17.99 from The Wine Reserve (Cobham) and other independent merchants
It’s quince season and Chenin is the grape variety that, if sufficiently ripe and concentrated, has unmistakeable aromas of this beguiling and slightly exotic fruit. There is also honey (though it’s dry) and spice. A budget option would be Maison des Princes Chenin Blanc 2014 from the Loire (£6.99 from Waitrose).

A sea of yellow vine leaves in Alto Adige, northern Italy

Red wines
Reds come into their own now; look for warmth and spice – Syrah fits the bill perfectly.

Mas de Lunès 2012 - £12.99, or £9.74 as part of a mixed 6 from Majestic
The reds of Languedoc-Roussillon really do well in the role of warming, fireside wines. This Grenache/Syrah blend has juicy fruit, with earthy and herbal overtones.

Terre de mes Ancêtres 2014 - £5.95 from The Wine Society
This Cabernet/Merlot blend has bags of fruit and personality for the price – ripe, slightly tart fruit in an easy drinking style. This could be your Autumn house red.

Cono Sur Bicicleta Merlot 2014 - £7 from Morrison’s
Mostly Merlot with a cocktail of other varieties which gives plenty of density of fruit.

Château Maris Les Vieilles Vignes 2013 - £10.99 from Waitrose
Syrah-dominant red from Minervois that showcases the beguiling perfume and density of the variety, leavened by some lively Grenache. When in Waitrose, also look out for Paul Mas Grenache Syrah 2014 (£8.79) which is in a similar vein; and Les Domaines Auriol 2014 (£7.49), a Grenache, Syrah, Carignan blend from Corbières.

Château Caronne Ste-Gemme 2010 - £14.99/£13.49 as part of mixed 6 from Majestic; also from independents
The weight and seriousness of claret harmonise with the season – and with the kind of food that we all crave at this time of year. In a sea of Bordeaux, Caronne Ste-Gemme is one of my tried and trusted names.

M Signature Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2013 - £14 from Morrison’s
Châteauneuf for under £15 is a bit of a gamble, but this, from the user friendly 2013 vintage is a safe bet. It has characteristic richness, ripe but fresh berry fruit, depth of flavour and a tangy minerality.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Apples and pears

It’s not often I am drawn to deviate from my abiding fascination with wine, but at the recent Big Apple day at Much Marcle (yes, ‘tis real, not an Agatha Christie invention) I had my head turned by cider – and perry.

Cider apple and perry pear orchard

First things first – cider is made from apples and perry from pears. Both can be either still or sparkling. And, just as wine can encompass the most anodyne mass markets blends to the small and artisanal, so it is with cider and perry.

Cider is enjoying a renaissance in popularity in the UK, but the drivers are the mass market brands like Strongbow, Magners and Koppaberg. In my early years I was a sucker for a glass of off-dry Woodpecker cider and as a student thought Merrydown had a certain cachet. However, just as many of us are now taking more of an interest in how and where our food came to be, so there is a growing interest in learning about the origins of what we drink. The craft beer scene is burgeoning, can craft cider be far behind?

Perry pressing at Gregg's Pit

Although I’ve just said that cider is made from apples, in fact, legally, cider and perry only has to be made from a minimum of 35% fruit – with the rest being made from sugar (often corn syrup) and water. And with large-scale producers, this is pretty much what you are getting – sugar and water are a lot cheaper and easier to get hold of than actual fresh apples and pears.

An ancient Gregg's Pit pear tree

I visited Hereford cider and perry producer, Gregg’s Pitt and got the chance to walk through the perry pear and cider apple orchards with the co-owner James Marsden. These orchards are part of our rural heritage: large, sometimes ancient trees whose size and unkempt air are a world away from commercial eating apple and pear orchards. Gregg’s Pitt itself is the name of a unique perry pear which originated on this one farm.

James Marsden

James speaks a language I’m familiar with from listening to winemakers: he revels in the individual character given by vintage variation, the mix of varieties used and the wild yeasts which naturally provoke fermentation – all those elements that are unique to their site and together make terroir.

So has my palate moved on from my early Woodpecker infatuation? I must confess that I still find most truly artisan cider a bit of a challenge, with its grippy apple tannins. But Gregg’s Pitt sparkling perry, a blend of the varieties Blakeney, Butt and Oldfield I was quite won over by. It’s light and refreshing, with a good balance of fruit flavour, acidity and grip – not unlike wine in fact.

Perhaps grapes are not the only fruit after all.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Wine-ding down the Loire

When I am asked what my favourite wine region is, I pull a fast one and often say the Loire. Because of course the Loire is not really a single region at all, but a succession of them, stretching all the way from the maritime Pays Nantais that produces Muscadet, through the Chenin Blanc based wines of Anjou, the sparkling wines of Saumur, the delicious whites of Vouvray and elegant reds of Chinon and Bourgueil and the crisp Sauvignon Blancs and juicy reds of Touraine and on to the classic Sauvignon Blancs of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé.

From one end to the other, the Loire’s wine regions produce almost every conceivable style of wine, from elegant bone dry whites, to fresh and lively sparkling wines, via sappy red wines, dry and off-dry rosés and deliciously, lusciously sweet dessert wines. You can see why I bagsy this as my favourite can’t you? It’s a region that appeals to the naturally inquisitive – and to the naturally greedy.

Autumn seems to me the perfect time of year to enjoy the Loire’s wines. There’s an affinity between the fruits of the season – ripe apples and pears, truffles and mushrooms – and the flavours of the wines. Here are some of my perennial Loire favourites and some new discoveries:

Vouvray Brut “La Dilettante” Pierre Breton NV – Excel Wines £17 (min 6 bottles), D&D wines £20.50, Caves de Pyrène £18.60
Fizz lovers, pin back thy lugs as this concerns you: sparkling Vouvray is something that you really should get acquainted with. Made from Chenin Blanc and usually on a small, artisan scale, they combine lively, fresh acidity with riper, appley fruit than you find in Champagne and a certain gentleness. Also look out for Champalou Vouvray Brut NV (£13.95 from slurp.co.uk, £16.45 at Caves de Pyrène).

Château de Fesles Chenin Sec 2011 - £13.99 (down to £10.99 from 14 October) at Waitrose
Château de Fesles is famous for its delicious sweet wines, but this dry version is pretty special too. Rich but dry, with flavours of quince and a whiff of honey. Try this with pork and apple.

Saumur Champigny, Domaine des Roches Neuves “Terres Chaudes” 2013 - £19.95 (min 6 bottles) from Excel Wines and £21.70 from Caves de Pyrène
Saumur Champigny is the name of an appellation making red wines from Cabernet Franc. Thierry Germain of Domaine des Roches Neuves is a really talented winemaker who manages to combine seriousness with enjoyment in his wines. Here you’ll find cherry and black cherry fruit with an edge of smokiness – what could be more Autumnal?

Côteaux du Layon Philippe Delesvaux “Les Clos” £18.75 for a 50cl bottle from H2Vin
If you are planning on making an apple tarte tatin any time soon, then a sweet Côteaux du Layon wine, from the versatile Chenin grape, is the perfect match. Rich baked apple fruit, with honeycomb and beeswax, but always a clean as a whistle finish thanks to crisp acidity, it’s a match made in heaven.

Loire wine lovers will want to get involved with Stars of the Loire, a month long festival celebrating some of the best wines from the region at a range of D&D restaurants such as Le Pont de la Tour, the Orrery and The Almeida in London. Wine lists at the restaurants will feature hidden gems from the Loire as well tastings and wine dinners running from now until 25 October. All the details are here: http://www.danddwine.com/campaigns-and-partnerships/loirestars/

Reader offer - I have a pair of tickets worth £45 each for Arts and Culture of the Loire talk and dinner hosted by Channel 4's Wendy Meakin at The Almeida on 21 October. Details of this event can be found here: http://www.danddwine.com/whats-on/events/arts-culture-of-the-loire-wine-dinner/  To be in with a chance of winning, please email me your name and postal address to heather@redwhiteandrose.co.uk. Entrants will be added to my mailing list.

Winners will be chosen at random and the usual terms and conditions apply: the offer is open to UK resident over 18s and relates to the dinner only - you will be responsible for getting to and from the venue. There is no cash equivalent and my decision is final. Closing date for entering is Friday 16th October 2015.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Champagne - what's your style?

For many drinkers, a glass of fizz is just that. Something sparkling to sip while you’re busy concentrating on something else: chit chatting, maximising your canapé intake, that sort of thing.

However, I feel that, once one reaches a certain age, it really is time to give the matter more thought and to have a favourite Champagne. If it’s good enough for James Bond (we all know he’s a Bolly fan), then it’s good enough for the rest of us.

But how to know which Champagne is for you? Well the bad news is, you might have to try a few different bottles in order to be really sure – I know, you’re just going to have to put on a brave face and get on with it.

You could do what I did and buy a few different big name Champagnes and get some people round to help you drink them. If you are also as cruel as I am, you could make it a blind tasting, so that they (and you) can taste without knowing which is which, thereby avoiding any innate bias. Don’t say I don’t know how to have fun.

Tea time!

Tackling the vast subject of how Champagne house styles differ from each other is not really within the remit of this short article. But to help you in your endeavours here are some pointers to get you started.

Piper Heidsieck
Piper is a good “beginner’s Champagne” with masses of crunchy fruit and sherbetty acidity. It’s a perfect aperitif Champagne, which is easy to drink.

Moët & Chandon
The first thing to know is, you do pronounce the “t” – it’s Mo-ett rather than Mo-ay. And Moët can claim to be amongst the most improved NV cuvées in recent years. This is a good all-rounder, with creamy mousse (that’s bubbles), citrusy fruit and a slightly savoury finish.

Veuve Clicquot
This and Moët are the two biggest selling Champagnes in the world. Veuve (or “the widow” to its fans) appeals to those who enjoy a bit more substance to their fizz, thanks to its higher proportion of the red grape Pinot Noir.

Louis Roederer
A favourite at my own blind “tasting” (OK drinking), this combines depth of flavour, fruitiness, elegance and creaminess in one very accomplished package. Classic and classy.

Although undoubtedly an iconic Champagne, it will not be to everyone’s taste, so if you don’t like it, please don’t give up on Champagne altogether. Bollinger stands out for its use of oak ageing and its rich, spicy, savoury style, which can stand up to a surprising range of food.

And finally – to help you find the best price for your chosen bottles bookmark this site: https://www.bringabottle.co.uk/. It’s a handy reference for tracking prices for all these Champagnes and more, so that you can make sure you’re not paying over the odds.

If you’d like to share your Champagne experiences with me, I’d love to hear from you: heather@redwhiteandrose.co.uk.

Italy - the sweet and the serious

One of the many things I love about Italian wines is that the most serious, ageworthy ones can rub along in close proximity with the fun, light and frivolous. UK wine lovers can have a tendency to revere the serious and to view anything sweet and fizzy as not worthy of their attention. Italian drinkers, it seems, have no such qualms. My summer holiday this year in Piedmont provided a wonderful example.

Piedmont is most famous for the twin (or at least sibling) regions of Barolo and Barbaresco either side of the picturesque town of Alba, famous for its truffle market. They produce big-boned, long lived red wines from the Nebbiolo grape which, as they age, can develop haunting aromas of English rose and tar, but with tannins which continue to exert a firm grip.

But a mere grape’s throw away, in villages around the small city of Asti, are Muscat vines which go to make Asti (Asti Spumante as was) and Moscato d’Asti.

Asti tout court is a fully sparkling wine with lowish alcohol, definite sweetness and a musky grapiness. It’s a completely valid style of wine, but the ones we tend to see in this country are made by the big producers and can be rather basic.

Moscato d’Asti is lightly sparkling, deeply fruity and sweet, but with alcohol of around just 4.5-5.5%, generally made on a more artisan scale and have more interest and character as a result.

They can be hard to find – not least because retailers tend not to put them on the shelf with other sparkling wines; and they come in standard bottles and corks, so don’t stand out amongst the still wines either. However, there are some to be found – independent merchants are a happy hunting ground for this kind of thing – and here are a few pointers to get you started. One final tip: you’ll notice these are all 2014 vintage and Moscato d’Asti is a prime example of a DYA (Drink Youngest Available) wine.

Contero Moscato d’Asti di Strevi 2014 - £12.95 from slurp.co.uk and independents
Elio Perrone Moscato d’Asti 2014 - £7.95 from The Wine Society
Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2014 - £13.99 – The Wine Reserve Cobham and other independents
Marco e Vittorio Adriano Moscato d’Asti 2014 - £9.75 (case price) The Good Wine Shop Esher
Piasa San Maurizio Moscato d’Asti 2014 - £11.50 – (case price) The Good Wine Shop Esher

Friday, 28 August 2015

Wines to get you all fired up

It’s a Bank Holiday weekend – think barbecues, bangers and bottles.

How to choose the right wine to accompany your burnt offerings? The golden rule is to forget anything delicate, subtle or complex, as these qualities will literally be wafted away on the summer breeze – or at the very least be obliterated by the smoke from the barbecue. What you want is big, bold and beefy (how long can I keep up this b-fest?).

Red wines
The Rhône varieties Syrah and Grenache, alone or together, have flavours that complement smoky barbecue fare. Here are some from the Rhône and beyond.

Château Pesquié Terrasses Ventoux 2012 - £12.75 online or as part of a mixed case of six from The Good Wine Shop (branches in Esher, Kew and Chiswick), £14 from R&B Wines, also at Bordeaux Index
Ventoux, a large wine region in northern Provence, has a low profile compared with nearby Southern Rhône stars like Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape and, it must be said, quality is mixed. However, there are some really good wines to be found, like this blend of mostly Grenache with some Syrah. Dark, rich berry fruits mingle with liquorice in the mouth. This will stand up to any meat lover’s barbecue.

The Cubist Old Vine Garnacha 2013, Calatayud, spain - £9.99 from Waitrose
Spain is a good source of big, ripe reds with the right kind of profile for outdoor eating. This has plenty of concentrated black fruit, along with a spice-herb-pepper combination on the side.

You could also try Cruz de Piedra Seleccion Especial Garnacha 2013 - £8.25 from The Wine Society.

Falernia Reserva Syrah 2011, Chile - £9.95 from Great Western Wine, £12.95 from Slurp.co.uk, also from independents
Chile makes some lip-smacking Syrahs that combine clean, ripe fruit flavours with a refreshing pepperiness. This is a real crowd-pleaser of a wine with bags of ripe, sweet fruit before the black pepper kicks in on the finish.

In the same vein, but with a bit more elegance is long-time Chilean Syrah superstar Matetic EQ Syrah 2012 - £16.50 from The Wine Society (2013), £17.95 from Slurp.co.uk (2011).  

White wines need to have plenty of personality if they are to stand up to outdoor drinking - this is not the time to uncork your best Pouilly Fumé. Go for wines with plenty of fruit, some weight and, if there’s spice involved, a bit of sweetness too.

A Mano Puglia Bianco 2014, Italy - £7.95 from The Wine Society, £8.95 from Slurp.co.uk and other independent merchants
This refreshingly different white, made from a blend of varieties including the aromatic Fiano, has bags of character and a certain soft weightiness with a food-friendly saline lick.

Cono Sur Reserva Especial Riesling 2012, Chile – on offer at Morrison’s for £5.99 (usually £8.99)

A little sweetness here makes for a good match with chilli, though the balancing acidity and zippy lime fruit mean that you won’t feel like you’re drinking anything sweet. And at this price, you can’t go wrong.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Wines for a game bird

The 12th of August, “the Glorious Twelfth”, marks the official start of the game season in the UK. From now, for a few short weeks, our native red grouse can legally be shot over the grouse moors of the landed gentry of northern England and Scotland.

Birds and Burgundy
Pinot Noir is the natural choice to accompany your feathered game, so there’s no better place to head for than Burgundy. A good rule of thumb is that early season birds will be more tender and delicately flavoured and will match well with younger, fruitier wines.

As the season goes on, the birds develop more flavour as well as becoming more sinewy – and birds will have been hung before sale to help tenderise the meat, resulting in a “gamey” flavour. For these birds it makes sense to choose a more mature wine which will have developed a similar gaminess.

Domaine Maillard Père et Fils 2013 Chorèy-lès-Beaune - £16.99 from Waitrose
Reds from the Côte de Beaune are generally lighter than those from the more northerly Côte de Nuits and this has soft, supple ripe red fruit with a smooth, silky feel.

La Grille Pinot Noir 2013 - £8.99 (or £6.74 as part of their mix and match offer) from selected Majestic stores
OK, not from Burgundy, but game lovers on a budget can get some idea of the fruity, fragrant style of Pinot Noir without breaking the bank.

Game for a white?
Red wine is undoubtedly the natural wine choice for game, but not everyone likes red, so I have been giving the matter some thought.

Pheasant’s Tears Rkatsiteli 2011 - £15.95 from Slurp.co.uk, Hawkshead Wines and other independents

If you can bear the emotion, this would make a great match – and not just because of the name. From Georgia (the country, not the US state), it’s a white wine that is made somewhat like a red wine, the crushed grapes left to macerate with the juice before pressing and fermentation, resulting in a deeply coloured white wine with some of the grip and body of a red. It is richly flavoured but dry, with walnuts, blossom and a hint of honey wafting around.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Summer wine survival kit - part 2

The Ray Mears of wine is back. Last time I gave some recommendations for rather posh rosés; now I turn my attention to white and red wines.

Refreshing whites
Even those of you who are resolutely red wine people must find yourselves drawn to something cold and crisp at this time of year. Here are some ideas to help you explore beyond Kiwi Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio.

Hofman Weisser Burgunder Trocken 2014 - £13.95 from slurp.co.uk
Sort of familiar, soft of not. It’s not quite Pinot Grigio, but its sister (brother?) grape Pinot Blanc and it’s from Germany not Italy. Not a showy wine, but with refreshing stone fruit it has the substance to stand up to food.

Tyrrell’s Lost Block Semillon, Hunter Valley 2013 – around £12.49 from winedirect.co.uk and independents
This is in the same mould – a light (just 11%) wine that is all lemon/lime flavours and suited to drinking on its own, but with a surprising ability to stand up to vinaigrette-drenched salads.

Château Bel Air Perponcher Réserve, Bordeaux 2014 - £8.50 from The Wine Society
Sauvignon blanc fans, it’s time to get the white Bordeaux habit. This fruity, fresh and easy-drinking example is a blend of Sauvignon blanc, with some Semillon and a little Muscadelle that says “drink me”.

Lip-smacking reds
A summer wine’s first duty is to refresh – something that is easier for a chilled white or rosé to achieve. But reds can still find a place in the summer months.

Tesco Beaujolais 2014 - £4.49
Lightly-chilled (in fact I wouldn’t recommend letting this get up to room temperature) on a sunny day, you can’t ask for more for under a fiver. Plenty of juicy, crunchy fruit and a brush of tannin make this a great Gamay for a picnic. For a taste of more “serious” Beaujolais, seek out Domaine Lagneau Régnié, “Cuvée Gérard Vieilles Vignes” 2013 - £11.25 from Stone Vine & Sun.

Bradshaw Pinot Noir 2012 - £4 from Asda
This has to be one of the best wine bargains around, in fact I think it’s almost criminally underpriced. Behind the beautiful peacock Art Nouveau-style label is a Pinot Noir from Romania with, at this price, astoundingly good, fragrant, cherry fruit. Chill lightly and drink up! 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Summer wine survival kit

I do hope that writing about wines for summer weather will not put the kybosh on any sightings of the sun from now until September.
Now and next time I’ll provide you with a handy list of wines that should see you through summer for all sorts of occasions. Use that wine rack attachment in the fridge for its intended purpose and you’ll be ready for anything. This week: pinks to quench your thirst.

Think pink
Nothing says summer like rosé and, thanks to our enthusiasm for the style there is now a wider choice to buy than ever. Cheap rosés are in plentiful supply, but some guidance on the more pricey ones might be appreciated. I had the chance to taste (blind) some rosés ranging in price from £12 to £100 and these were some of my favourites.

Whispering Angel 2014 - £16.99 from The Wine Reserve, Cobham and other independents
A lot to pay for a bottle of rosé? Somehow we seem to think that rosés can never scale the heights of truly fine wine in the same way as white and red wines. Is rosé just too frivolous? Well try this and see what you think. This Provence rosé is pale and pretty, a blend of Grenache, Rolle (aka Vermentino, a white grape) and rosé specialist red grape Cinsault. I found it to be herbal and delicate, but with presence and length.

I also rated Château Léoube, Rosé de Léoube 2014 - £14.50 from organic specialists Vintage Roots; £14.95 from slurp.co.uk; also independent merchants. It typifies the “don’t try too hard” charm of Provençal rosés and has enough depth of flavour combined with freshness to make for great balance. 

Albury Silent Pool Rosé 2014 - £15 or thereabouts for stockists including Taurus Wines, Bramley and The Wine Reserve Cobham, see www.alburyvineyard.com
Made on the south-facing chalk slopes of the Downs near Guildford, 2014 is the best vintage yet of this organic wine. Made from classic Champagne varieties Pinots Noir and Meunier, it has lovely red fruit characters, citrussy acidity and real depth of flavour.

Williams Chase Rosé 2014 – £14-15 from The Good Wine Shop, Corks Out and Harvey Nichols, £13.50 from Tanners – also look out for magnums
This beautifully packaged rosé sounds English, but is very definitely French, from the Lubéron (Peter Mayle country for those old enough to remember him). I found a beguiling mix of asparagus and rose petal aromas with lovely freshness on the palate.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

AWEsome wines - or how to buy better wines

How do you know if you’ve paid a fair price for the bottle of wine you’re drinking?

Supermarkets, some online retailers and High Street multiples like Majestic have fed our appetite for discounts to such a degree that we no longer feel we know what the “real” price is of many of the wines we buy.

Read on and I may be able to help.

When I am not writing about wine, I am, very broadly, educating people about it. I am a member of the Association of Wine Educators (AWE), a grouping of 90 or so professional wine educators primarily based in the UK, but with members as far away as Hong Kong and Brazil.

We have just published a list of 100 AWEsome Wines (see what we did there?) – 100 wines chosen by our members on the basis of quality and value for money. These are wines that we, with our combined many years of wine buying, tasting and enjoying experience, are happy to recommend.

Quality and value don’t necessarily mean cheap – we have some bargain wines in the under £10 red and white wine sections, but also wines for more special occasions in the £10-25 bracket, as well as some sparkling wines.

Here are a few wines from the list to whet your appetites. You can download (and print if you wish) the entire list from the AWE website here: http://www.wineeducators.com/100-awesome-wines/

Domaine de Mandeville Viognier, Pays d’Oc 2013, France – £8 from Marks & Spencer
M&S continue to quietly slip interesting wines onto its shelves. Viognier needs good winemaking to show off its perfumed intensity and soft, rich palate. Domaine de Mandeville introduces the grape brilliantly at a price that continues to amaze. (chosen by Kevin Ecock, Republic of Ireland)

La Grille Pinot Noir 2012, France - £8.99 at selected Majestic stores
Delicious and affordable fruity and fragrant Pinot Noir, bursting with redcurrant, strawberries and zippy acidity. Wonderful lunchtime red; light bodied, uncomplicated wine that can be enjoyed chilled. (chosen by Lindsay Oram, UK)

Hatzidakis Santorini 2013/4, Greece - £12.99 from Waitrose
Lemony, minerally, floral nose, dry with mouthwatering acidity, an excellent example of Greece’s best white grape Assyrtiko from the extraordinary volcanic island of Santorini. A perfect match for fish and seafood. (chosen by Christos Ioannou, UK)

Philippe Michel, Crémant du Jura, France - £7.29 from Aldi
100% Chardonnay, this clean, crisp, apple and lemony sparkler has great flavour and persistent bubbles. Quite possibly the best value sparkling wine in the UK. (chosen by Laura Clay, UK)

Download the full list and all your wine purchases can be AWEsome!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Franciacorta - the other Italian fizz

A frothy, fruity, lightly sweet tidal wave of wine from Italy has been rushing over the UK in the past ten years – and its name, of course, is Prosecco.

But Italy always has more tricks up its sleeve and if you are feeling the urge to explore its fizz further, Franciacorta could be your next destination.

Franciacorta doesn’t have a long history as a sparkling wine region. The first sparkling wines were made in 1961 and official DOC status came in 1967, followed by top of the tree in Italian wine law DOCG status in 1995. It lies in Lombardy, northern Italy, between the city of Brescia and the almost impossibly picturesque Lake Iseo (little brother to the more famous Garda and Como).

Commitment to quality is the hallmark of this small region. The wines are made in the same way as Champagne, with the sparkle deriving from a second fermentation in the bottle. The varieties grown are predominantly the classic Champagne varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with a little Pinot Blanc. Maximum grape yields are lower and maturation time of the wines on their lees are longer (both factors considered important for wine quality) than they must legally be in Champagne.

You can see that this is an “aim high” strategy and quality is definitely there in the wines – to use a very broad brush, they have the elegance of Champagne, but with greater ripeness of fruit thanks to their more southerly location. These are wines that all sparkling wine lovers should look out for.

Franciacorta wines in the UK
Exports to the UK are still relatively small, but seek and ye shall find:

Berlucchi Cuvée Imperiale NV – Majestic £19.99, currently £13.32 a bottle as part of their mix and match offer
This is the biggest selling Franciacorta anywhere and it makes for a great introduction:  a fairly typical blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir, it is light, pretty and zippy with elegant fruit - and incredibly good value.

Ca’ del Bosco’s Cuvée Prestige NV is in the same stylistic mould, but with more nuanced flavours of lemon, green apple and melon and is a touch drier. Available from independent merchants at around £30 a bottle, £39.99 from Selfridges.

Bellavista completes the trio of big producers of Franciacorta and their Cuvée Alma NV is £28.95 from slurp.co.uk and a range of independent merchants. Time on the lees gives it a lovely biscuit and savoury dimension, which, combined with the baked apple fruit, is beguiling and moreish.
La Valle Franciacorte Rosé NV - £22.49 from italyabroad.com
This small producer makes only 50,000 bottles a year, so distribution here is understandably restricted. But I would happily recommend any of their wines that you come across (and online merchants italyabroad.com seem to be the sole importer to the UK).

So often the rosé versions of sparkling wines, and especially Champagnes, offer no more enjoyment than the regular cuvée, yet we cough up a good few quid more for them. In contrast, I was particularly struck by the quality of rosé Franciacorta.

La Valle’s rosé is 100% Pinot Noir and combines a food-friendly broad spiciness mid-palate, with succulent fruit and a delicate finish. Quite delicious.