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As the days shorten and the weather turns cooler, Simon Woods recommends some richer wines to savour and makes an early start on a festive tipple
The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is a time when wine lovers move away from the crisp flavours of summer and turn to richer, softer fare. It doesn’t mean abandoning white wine entirely: France’s Languedoc is adept at producing some very acceptable wines for the cooler nights. But it does mean we can begin to revisit some styles that were just too forceful for summer, such as New Zealand Syrah, Washington State reds and Nebbiolo from Piedmont. And it also means we can enjoy a glass or two of that heart-warming festive favourite, port.
New Zealand used to be regarded solely as a source of white wine, and Sauvignon in particular. But over the past 15 years, the land of the long white cloud has begun to flex its red wine muscles. Pinot Noir has been the major success story, but more recently, Syrah, especially that from Hawke’s Bay in the North Island, has been gaining much critical acclaim, with wines that have more in common with those of the northern Rhône than with the Shirazes of Australia. As both the vineyards and the winemakers mature, the wines just keep getting better – try these two with goose and similarly full-flavoured game.
TWO TO TRY:
Vidal Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2008, Hawke’s Bay (£10.99, Halifax Wine Co, Trina’s Wines, Waitrose)
Gimblett Gravels is making its name for several styles of red wine, including Syrah. This example is young and lively, with bouncy blackberry and black cherry flavours, touches of black pepper and a vibrant juicy finish.
Craggy Range Single Vineyard Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2008, Hawke’s Bay (£17.99, Waitrose)
Classy wine, big but never brawny, with a fragrance of violets and pepper, and a herby, roasted meat-like edge to its dark fruit flavours. Beautifully balanced, and could pass for a top Crozes-Hermitage.
California dominates the wine scene in the USA, with more than90% of the country’s total vineyard area. Washington State, two states to the north (Oregon lies in between), comes a distant second in the league table of production. While it cannot compete on quantity with the Golden State, it’s a place that is capable of producing wines every bit as good as those from the likes of Napa and Sonoma, especially from the Bordeaux family of grapes.
TWO TO TRY:
Powers Merlot 2006, Columbia Valley (£10.99–£11.49, Bottle Apostle, Handford Wines, Wines of the World)
Nicely mature wine that manages to be full and ripe in flavour while retaining some leafy freshness. The flavours of blackcurrant, currant and slightly baked berry tinged with tar and tobacco would go very nicely with roast lamb.
Andrew Will Champoux Vineyard 2006, Horse Heaven Hills (£40, Berry Bros & Rudd)
A blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this is a young, vigorous and very classy wine, with smoky oak, intense plummy berry and blackcurrant flesh, and a refreshing briny note in the finish. Delicious now, but even better in a couple of years’ time.
Why aren’t Languedoc wines more popular? The past 20 years have seen wine quality soar throughout southern France, and it’s now one of the world’s prime sources of sensibly priced wines with a real sense of place. Even when those international jet-setter grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay are planted here, they can still speak eloquently of where they’re planted. But my favourite wines are those made from the local grapes, and while the reds are probably better known, the whites also deserve attention.
TWO TO TRY:
La Difference Viognier-Muscat 2009,IGP Pays d’Oc (£5.99, Tesco)
The La Différence range is one of the best examples of what is possible at the value end in southern France. The herby, peppery Carignan is brilliant, and this tangy young white is almost as good. It combines the rich oily/peachy edge of Viognier with the grapey freshness of Muscat to give a delicious, fresh and honest aperitif-style white.
Domaine Belles Pierres Les Clauzes deJo Coteaux du Languedoc Blanc 2007(£10.95, Stone Vine & Sun)
A barrel-fermented blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. Decanting does wonders for it, as it dispels the initial oakiness and brings out the aromas of fennel, herbs and honeysuckle. Add in the wealth of musky pear, peach and tropical fruit flavour, and the pungent, minerally finish, and you have a super, belly pork-friendly wine.
Nebbiolo at its best, in the great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, can be fabulous. Unfortunately, its scarcity, combined with the clamour for the best bottles from wine lovers the world over, means that the prices can be fabulous too. Truffling out Nebbiolo at everyday prices is a challenge, but not an entirely fruitless one, provided you stay away from the famous names. Mushroom risotto, ideally with a few shavings of white truffle, would be the perfect foil for these two.
Gemma Barolo 2005 (£13.99, Morrisons)
I approach Barolo at this price with some degree of caution, but this came as something of a pleasant surprise. It’s a little old-fashioned in style, with an ever-so-slightly jammy edge to its warm cherry and red berry flavours, but it also has some of the classic rose petal and tar aromas of Nebbiolo, plus a firm but refreshing finish.
Marco Porello Nebbiolo d’Alba 2008 (£11–£12, Roberson, www.everywine.co.uk)
A firmer and fresher style than the Gemma, this is a vigorous young wine from a town better know for its Barbera. However, the fragrant rose-petal aromas and the earthy cherry kernel character, pepped up with an almost iron-like note, show that Nebbiolo thrives here, too.
While I’ve been enjoying the occasional glass of chilled tawny throughout the summer months, I have to confess that my annual port consumption really takes off when the clocks go back at the end of October. I’ll most certainly be opening a few bottles of vintage port over the next few months, but I’ll also be sinking a few glasses of some less prestigious wines. Here are two on my current list of favourites.
TWO TO TRY:
Noval Black Port NV, Douro (£14.99, Harvey Nichols, Ocado)
Sleek in packaging and equally sleek in flavour, this new port from one of the most famous producers was created to have an image and style that will attract younger wine drinkers. This is port at its most vibrant and juicy, with a bouncy, Tigger-like quality to its plump, plummy berry and cherry fruit. There’s also a hint of chocolate, and indeed it would go down splendidly with a rich chocolate pudding.
Niepoort LBV 2005, Douro (£16.99, Lea & Sandeman, Philglas & Swiggot)
A more relaxed and mellow style of port, but still brimming with dark fruit, especially the violet-scented roasted dark berry and blackcurrant aromas you find in a port quinta at vintage time. Add in more savoury notes of leather and tar, and you have a wonderful winter warmer that’s lovely by itself, but also excels with blue cheeses.