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New year, new wine… Allow Simon Woods to guide you through a range of styles that deserve a wider audience and make 2012 the year you expand your wine repertoire beyond the familiar
When even the most basic of wine shops offers in excess of 200 wines, it can be tough not to feel overwhelmed by the choice and get sucked into buying the same old bottles over and over again.
If you feel like you’re in a wine rut, why not make it a New Year’s resolution to try at least a couple of things you wouldn’t normally drink each month. For example, if in the supermarket you normally fill one of those cardboard six-packs, how about buying five tried-and-tested favourites plus something entirely new? Or why not ask your (hopefully) friendly local wine merchant for advice.
If neither of those options appeal, here are some wine styles that I think you’ll enjoy over the the coming year. They’re arranged in roughly seasonal order, but don’t be afraid to try later recommendations earlier in the year. Come autumn, chances are that some of these vintages will no longer be available, but as they come from producers I trust, the follow-on vintages are unlikely to disappoint.
Any Bordeaux winemaker who didn’t make something decent in 2005 might as well quit and take up pottery. Nature conspired to give the region a fabulous vintage, and the best wines now command equally fabulous prices. But this was a year that offered quality at all levels, and you don’t need to shell out major money to enjoy the riches. After a few years in bottle they’re just hitting their stride this year and are excellent with roast meats.
Chateau Lezongars Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux
(£12, Bacchanalia, Bibendum, Last Drop Wines)
A humble appellation, but this gentle, refreshing wine combines plummy redcurrant flesh with toasty notes and a savoury, almost salty, note on the finish.
Chateau La Croix Taillefer Pomerol
(£25.99, selected Waitrose)
Lovely, succulent, fleshy fodder, but behind the plush plummy fruit, there’s a backbone of gravelly minerality and fine tannins.
Pauillac de Pauillac
Classic blackcurrant flavours, polished cedary elegance and freshness, and a long, fine finish – tasty now but good for another five years at least.
Ask someone to spend £30 on a bottle of Champagne and they won’t bat an eyelid. Ask them to spend half that much on cava and they’ll think you’ve gone mad. While few would suggest that cava ever reaches the heights of France’s finest, there are many wines that are seriously good and deserve a more appreciative audience.
2008 Codorniu Reina Maria Cristina Blanc de Noirs
Made mostly from Pinot Noir, this manages to pack in plenty of bumptious fruit flavours – apple, citrus, raspberry – but retain the cava freshness and earthiness. Rich but reined in, and very tasty.
2005 Can Rafols dels Caus Gran Caus Brut Nature Gran Reserva
(£15.95, Harvey Nichols, Whole Foods, Wine Therapy)
Extra ageing has given this plenty of yeasty, oatmeal-like complexity, but there’s still some fresh fruit character, and aromas of almonds and yeast.
2006 Cava Recaredo Brut Nature Gran Reserva
(£22.50, Les Caves de Pyrène)
An intriguing style that benefits from being opened an hour or two before serving. Has a smoky oak edge, touches of toffee and preserved lemons, and a dry earthiness – think old-fashioned white Rioja with bubbles.
Dismissing Australian Chardonnay as just big, ripe and oaky is like avoiding all Riesling because you think it’s sweet. Yes, a few Dolly Parton wines still exist, but the rise in prominence of cooler regions along with more considered winemaking mean today’s crop of Chardonnays is increasingly elegant, tasty and fish-friendly.
2008 Ngeringa Chardonnay, Adelaide Hills
(£24.60, Les Caves de Pyrène)
Heading for its fourth birthday, this is still on the youthful side. Some spicy oak, plus a nutty oatmeal character, but it’s the tangy citrus, white peach and just-ripe pear flavours that carry the wine.
2011 Taste the Difference Wild Ferment Chardonnay, Yarra Valley
From the Yering Station winery, this is a taut, tangy young wine, combining touches of zesty citrus flavour with a more exotic melon flavour. Very classy for own-label.
2009 Stella Bella Chardonnay, Margaret River
(£15.99, Alliance Wine)
The richest of this trio, but still tender and subtle, with a nutty edge to its bruised apple and plum flavours, with subtle oak adding some toastiness to the finish.
Sancerre & Pouilly-Fume
With so many countries now enjoying success with Sauvignon Blanc, it can be easy to forget the original role models of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé in France’s Loire Valley. So if you fancy a change from the New World, these fit the bill. Try them with fish dishes or goat’s cheese.
2010 Taste the Difference Pouilly-Fume
Fresh, classy style, with leafy lemon and lemongrass flavours plus an aromatic, elderflower-like lift that approaches but stays just the right side of the feline.
2010 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre
(£18, Harrods, Last Drop Wines, Roberson Wine Merchants, Sipp London, Slurp.co.uk, Soho Wine Supply, Whole Foods Market)
Mouth-watering style from one of the Loire’s most dynamic companies, with herb-infused lemon, lime and greengage fruit backed up by a taut, stony mineral character.
2010 Francis Blanchet Pouilly-Fume Les Pernets
(£12.75, Stone Vine & Sun)
Lively young wine with vibrant lemon flavours, a peppery, floral edge and a taut, minerally finish that shows classic gunflint character and a touch of slate.
Just as southern Italian whites have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, so too Greek whites have improved immeasurably. Forget retsina, here are three examples of seafood-friendly wines that make a welcome alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.
2010 Hatzidakis Assyrtiko, Santorini
(£10.99, selected Waitrose)
Assyrtiko is a terrific grape, especially on the island of Santorini – think Riesling minerality, Sauvignon citrus edges and Semillon pithiness. Great seafood wine with a steely backbone.
2010 Santorini Winery Assyrtiko, Santorini
(£12.50, Bibendum, Ellis Wharton Wines, Wild Ferment)
A richer, more exotic style of Assyrtiko, with pithy lemon flesh joined by rounder, peachy fruit. Notes of nutty vanilla, honey and beeswax, but still with a spine of minerality.
2010 Moraitis Sillogi, Paros
(£9.95, The Wine Society)
A blend that combines the pithy citrus tension and floral edges of Assyrtiko with a more fleshy, spicy, ripe red apple and peach character from another local grape, Malagoussia.
The subtle side of Argentine Malbec
Where wine’s concerned, there’s big, and then there’s too big. Currently, it seems as if too many of the more ambitious Argentine Malbecs are following the ‘bigger is better’ mantra. But look around and fresher, lower octane versions can be found. What’s more, they won’t overwhelm your food – so bring on the beef!
2010 Achaval Ferrer Malbec, Mendoza
(£14.59, Corney & Barrow)
Not a light wine, but the intensity derives from sheer depth of flavour in the vineyard. The dense berry and blackcurrant flavours have freshness and joie de vivre, while the earthy Parma violet character combines with the spine of tannin o impressive effect.
2009 Altos Las Hormigas Valle de Uco Malbec Terroir, Mendoza
(£14.99, Liberty Wines)
A charming, fresh style. Black cherry and blackberry to the fore, vanilla and violet behind. Confident yet never brash, and very tasty.
2008 Mendel Malbec, Mendoza
(£17.99, Hispamerchants, Majestic)
Plenty of sprightly plum, blackberry and loganberry flesh, with smoky oak and fragrant earthiness adding further nuances. Still youthful, but don’t be afraid to drink it now.
While Portugal is making great efforts to tell the world about its fascinating wines, only the Douro Valley has really achieved any global recognition. Shame, as the wines produced just to the south in Dão and Bairrada – which together form the Beiras region – can be superb, especially with suckling pig.
2008 Sogrape Callabriga DAo
(£12.95, Berry Bros & Rudd)
Portugal’s largest wine company also makes some of the country’s best wines. This has a spicy white pepper freshness, juicy dark fruit with a savoury edge, and chewy, fat-friendly tannins.
2007 Quinta da Falorca T-Nac DAo
T-Nac is short for Touriga Nacional, the high-class grape that plays a major role in many Portuguese wines. Here, performing solo, it’s been fashioned into a punchy, powerful yet still fresh wine, with meaty plum and berry flavours and a grippy, peppery finish.
2005 Filipa Pato Beiras Lokal Calcario
(£26.60, Bottle Apostle)
Made from the Baga grape, this offers relaxed, fragrant raspberry and strawberry flavours, hints of tar and liquorice, and a lively finish. Mature but still with bags of life.
Despite regular rumours of a revival, Riesling still features on too few people’s wine radars. For those looking to delve into the pleasures of this distinctive grape, Alsace is a great place to start, as the wines combine Riesling’s citrusy spine and terroir-driven flavours with decent amounts of fruity flesh.
2008 Domaine Weinbach Riesling CuvEe ThEo
(£21.17, Justerini & Brooks)
Elegant, confident style sporting taut citrus and mineral flavours, richer toasty/bready characters and smoky notes on the finish. Lots of body and personality, but never too shouty.
2009 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Riesling
Another Riesling that provides a fascinating mix of richness and tang, its citrus bite joined by fleshier custard apple and ripe pear notes. Young and promising, but already very appealing.
2004 Charles Schleret Alsace Riesling
(£12.50, Yapp Brothers)
Age has mellowed the fresh citrus into something more mature, like crystallised orange, and there are also peachy burnt sugar and apple pie flavours. Poised, elegant and perfect with lobster.
The top wines of Barolo and Barbaresco testify that Nebbiolo is a great grape. However, it’s also rather temperamental, and historically hasn’t travelled well, even within its Piedmont home, where it makes intense wines that are perfect for gutsy red meat dishes. But the signs are that this is changing, with growers both in Italy and elsewhere succeeding in taming a once savage beast…
2006 Marco Marengo Nebbiolo d’Alba Valmaggiore, Piedmont, Italy
(£17.17, Justerini & Brooks)
A sprightly, fragrant wine with haunting floral aromas and dainty red cherry and berry flavours. Lovely accompaniment to chicken liver risotto.
2009 Bricco Maiolica Langhe Nebbiolo, Piedmont, Italy
(£13.95, Lea & Sandeman)
A more dense and savoury wine, but still aromatic, with nuances of tobacco, coffee and woodsmoke on top of the fresh and friendly plum and cherry flesh.
2007 SC Pannell Nebbiolo, Adelaide Hills, Australia
(£36.99, Liberty Wines)
Bigger in body than Italian Nebbiolo, but this Aussie version captures those savoury rose petal and tar aromatics, iron-tinged cherry flavours and vibrant freshness. Benefits from decanting.