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As the days get warmer it’s time to try some crisp, food-friendly whites, as well as lighter reds that are perfect for summer drinking, says Simon Woods.
A drought summer? In the garden maybe, but not on the wine front. This is the season for chilled wine, with reds as well as whites benefiting from a spell in the fridge. In the red department, I’ve chosen a couple of New Zealand Pinot Noirs – which, to be honest, would be fine at any time of the year – and a pair of quite different Valpolicellas. If Valpol is a much-maligned name, then so too is Chablis. But don’t ignore this famous wine – there are some terrific examples in our supermarkets, as you’ll see below. My other whites are slightly weightier, in the form of Pinot Gris from Oregon. Save the Chablis for the shellfish, and bring out the Pinot Gris with fleshier fare. And finally, a couple of rosés, not still in this instance but sparkling, and from places that are not usually associated with pink fizz…
The state of Oregon produces some of the best Pinot Noir to be found outside Burgundy. What is less well known is that it also does a rather good job with another member of the Pinot family – Pinot Gris. The role model is the broad, rich style found in Alsace, but some of the best wines add a touch of the mineral crispness of top-end Pinot Grigio from Friuli in north-east Italy. Try the two below with salmon.
2010 WillaKenzie Estate, Pinot Gris (The Wine Treasury)
Classy wine that offers tangy citrus and nectarine flavours, and notes of smoky vanilla. Rich in flavour, and quite full-bodied, but still vibrant thanks to the citrus bite and pumice-stone-like minerality.
2010 Sokol Blosser, Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley (Les Caves de Pyrène)
A fuller, more rounded style, with plenty of plush peach and musky pear flavour, and a creamy oatmeal note, yet still with a backbone of zesty acidity to stop it going wobbly. The perfect partner for lobster.
Is it fair to think of Valpol as an Italian version of Beaujolais? Yes and no. No, because when made from dried grapes in the form of Amarone and Recioto, the wines can be some of the most sumptuous around – not for no reason are they called vini da meditazione. But yes, in that when made in regular fashion, the wines are bright, breezy and refreshing, excellent for summer, and not averse to half-an-hour in the fridge.
2011 Allegrini, Valpolicella (Highbury Vintners)
Succulent, tangy young red from one of the superstars of Valpolicella. It may seem light, but it has masses of juicy cherry and cherry-kernel flesh pepped up with a note of marzipan and a sour twist to the finish.
2009 Bertani, Secco, Valpolicella Valpantena, Veneto (Great Western Wine)
Softer and deeper in flavour than the Allegrini, thanks to the ripasso method, in which the wine is literally ‘repassed’ over grape skins from a previous fermentation. As well as the sour cherry, this has rich berry and blackcurrant flavour, but there’s still plenty of bounce and freshness to it.
Fancy something that’s pink and fizzy, but isn’t Champagne? Australia and New Zealand offer some excellent wines in the Champagne vein, and rosé Cava can be good, too. But here are two examples that you might not have considered, and which are definitely worth looking out for.
Bisol, Desiderio Jeio Cuvée Rosé, Vino Spumante NV, Veneto, Italy (Bibendum)
This refreshing sparkler comes from Bisol, one of the top producers of Prosecco. Indeed, once upon a time, this would have been called Prosecco, but as it’s made from Merlot and Pinot Noir rather than the Glera grape, it now has to be labelled Vino Spumante. However, it shares Prosecco’s soft gluggability, and its apple and red-berry flavours make it an excellent picnic fizz, at home with smoked salmon or fresh strawberries.
2011 Innocent Bystander, Moscato, Victoria, Australia (Philglas & Swiggot)
Packaged in a half-bottle with a crown cap, this is one of the most invigorating wines you’ll come across. It’s sweet, yet wonderfully zingy. Just 5.5% alcohol and brimming with flavours of strawberry juice, rose-hip syrup and barley sugar, it’s a better partner for wedding cake than most Champagne, but would also excel with tropical fruit salads.
A famous name, but one that many people take for granted, Chablis is surely due for a revival. This is Chardonnay at its freshest and liveliest – light in body, unhampered (usually) by oak yet full in flavour, sleek and slender, but with a creamy roundness. It’s a great drink for summer, especially with a large pile of fruits de mer as accompaniment, and while there are some terrific examples from small growers, the good news is that you’ll also find decent wines on most of the UK’s supermarket shelves, too.
2010 Taste the Difference Chablis (Sainsbury’s)
Sourced from the Cave des Vignerons de Chablis (La Chablisienne), this is a bracing young wine that starts off with sprightly rhubarb, apple and lemon flavours before opening up to reveal a richer, mealier side.
2011 Waitrose ‘In Partnership’ Chablis (Waitrose)
Another cuvée from La Chablisienne, this feels richer, with classic nutty, creamy notes, but also more backward, with the fruit needing time to come out of its shell. But the wait is worth it, as there’s a delicious citrus and red-apple flavour, backed up with precise mineral freshness.
While Burgundy still produces the world’s best Pinot Noir, it also makes some very ordinary stuff at prices that are hard to fathom. For reliability, honest flavour and value, New Zealand is currently the place to head for. Central Otago, Martinborough and Marlborough are already making fabulous wines, and healthy rivalry between these three regions is pushing quality ever upwards. Here are two wines that have fruit, flavour and class aplenty. Try them with cold meats, seared tuna, or the season’s first grouse.
2010 Tesco Finest Pinot Noir, Central Otago (Tesco)
From the Sacred Hill winery, this is classy fare, offering the bold berry, plum and black-cherry fruit for which Otago is known, but also adding in some of the earthy mushroom and truffle notes and chewy backbone more common in Burgundy. A bargain.
2009 Dog Point Pinot Noir, Marlborough (Berry Bros & Rudd)
One of those great enigmatic wines that changes with each sniff, this combines relaxed red-cherry and red-berry fruit with an earthy freshness and a note of grilled meat. Compelling and well structured.