22 July 2014

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What to Drink Now


Fancy something a bit different? Simon Woods picks out some notable off-the-beaten-track wines, from a Croatian rosé to a German Pinot Grigio.

A summer spent celebrating sporting achievements by Olympic teams from across the world has inspired a spot of globetrotting for this winter’s wine selection. But we’re heading slightly off the beaten track.

Portuguese whites and Croatian wines of any colour deserve a wider audience, and while reds from the USA are more mainstream, the country’s excellent, food-friendly Syrah isn’t usually the first port of call. Something similar could be said about Germany, too – you’ve tried the Riesling, but what comes next? You’ll find some suggestions opposite. Along with two quite different but equally fine (and rare) styles of sherry – one dry, one decadently sweet, both perfect for chilly evenings – it’s a medal-winning seasonal line-up.

what to drink now_autumn 2012 - AutumnWine.jpg

Portuguese Whites

There’s been a surge in interest in red wines from Portugal in recent years, but what about the whites? The country has several fascinating local varieties that deserve a wider audience; and those of you looking for a crisp yet full-flavoured style with a distinct terroir imprint will enjoy these two beauties – especially with monkfish and other fleshier fish dishes.

Two to try:

2010 Luis Pato, Vinhas Velhas Branco, VR Beiras, Portugal

Full in flavour but nimble on its toes, this tangy young wine, based on the Bical grape, combines a musky, gingery perfume with crisp apple and pear flavours, a touch of honey and a river pebble-like mineral note.

2010 Quinta de Chocapalha, Arinto, VR Lisboa, Portugal

With its clean, citrusy flavours and zesty backbone, the Arinto grape does a very convincing impersonation of Riesling. This version is wonderfully fresh and lemony, with green apple and herb notes to add further interest.

Croatian Wines

In the 20 years since Croatia became an independent nation, progress on the wine front has been rapid. The country is now home to a growing band of passionate producers who, using both local and international grape varieties, are making some extremely interesting wines of all colours.

Two to try:

2009 Bolfan Primus, Rajnski Rizling, Zagorje, Croatia

Croatia isn’t the first port of call for lovers of Rajnski Rizling, aka Riesling, but this dry yet fleshy, citrusy white, with its honeyed floral overtones, shows just what potential it has. Gutsy enough for goose, duck and other full-flavoured poultry dishes.

2010 Roxanich, Rosé, Istria, Croatia

No lightweight pink here; this is serious, solid stuff reminiscent of mature red Burgundy with a dollop of something riper and spicier from the Rhône. No surprise, then, to learn that the Borgonja grape from which it’s made is a relative of the Gamay grape of Beaujolais. Try it with coq au vin.

German Whites

While Riesling remains the trump card of German wine, there are several other grapes now making a splash, especially those of the Burgunder family. Spätburgunder, Grauburgunder and Weissburgunder aren’t the most familiar of names – but you probably know them under their French monikers of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris/Grigio and Pinot Blanc…

Two to try:

2011 Villa Wolf, Pinot Blanc, Pfalz, Germany

With more body than its 11.5% alcohol would suggest, this herb-scented white has lush peach and nectarine flavours kept in check by appley freshness. Butch enough for turkey with all the trimmings, but also good by itself.

2011 Palataia, Pinot Grigio, Pfalz, Germany

Forget wimpy Pinot Grigio – this vibrant youngster from Pfalz packs in flavours of apple, pear and melon, adds in a smoky mineral note, and finishes in ripe but pithy style. I polished the bottle off with spaghetti marinara – yum.

American Syrah

There was a time in the 1990s when it seemed that Syrah/Shiraz was going to challenge Cabernet Sauvignon for the West Coast wine crown. No more: the grape has fallen from favour. It’s a puzzle to see why, as many of the wines have been excellent, diverse in style and capable of making wine just as profound as King Cabernet.

Two to try:

2009 Chateau Ste Michelle, Syrah, Columbia Valley, Washington State, USA

With its herb and olive aromas, there’s an almost Mediterranean edge to this spicy young red. Slosh it around in a jug to let the oak calm down, then sit back and enjoy the plush, chocolate-tinged berry fruit, ideally with a rare rib-eye.

2008 Wind Gap, Syrah, Sonoma County, California, USA

The smoky, gamey blackberry and cherry flavours, twist of black pepper and tangy, minerally finish perhaps speak more of the northern Rhône than stereotypical California. Intensely flavoured yet surprisingly elegant, it’s excellent now (venison, please), but good for another five years.

Palo Cortado and PX

While I won’t be refusing a decent fino or manzanilla over the next few months, this is the season when fuller-bodied sherries come into their own. Palo Cortado starts off life as a fino, but then (due to the demise of its blanket of flor) develops into something like a cross between amontillado and oloroso. Pedro Ximénez is a different beast entirely. Intensely, almost painfully sweet, it’s as decadent as wine gets. A little goes a long way.

Two to try:

Waitrose Solera Jerezana, Palo Cortado, Jerez, Spain

Rich yet dry, this is lively and fresh, with walnut, raisin, orange peel and date flavours, and a long, tangy finish. Ideal with your pre-dinner nibbles, but it’s also excellent with long-cooked meat dishes, especially if you add a little to the sauce.

González Byass, Noe, Pedro Ximénez Viejo, Jerez, Spain

Distil a top-notch sticky toffee pudding, add in the plump fruit flavours and heady spices of Christmas cake, pour in a touch of espresso and you’d get something like this magnificent sherry. Brilliant with – and dribbled over – good vanilla ice cream.

This feature was published in the autumn 2012 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.

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