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As the leaves fall and the nights draw in, Simon Woods turns his attention to warming reds and fortified wines, as well as a few bottles to toast the festive season
While the cooler months aren’t a time to abandon white wines entirely, I don’t think I’m alone in raising my intake of reds as temperatures drop. Two styles that I’m especially looking forward to drinking over the next few months are the hearty, spicy reds of the southern Rhône, and the more subtle but still heat-infused Cabernets of Chile’s Maipo Valley. For extra inner fortification, I’m lining up some Madeira – perfect for nightcaps, but also surprisingly versatile with food. Equally versatile are the often-neglected Rieslings of Austria, which, with their combination of flesh and freshness, cope perfectly with many festive foods. And while Champagne is many people’s traditional tipple for a Christmas morning, why not inject some patriotism into your celebrations and offer some English fizz?
The quality of our own home-produced sparklers is improving so rapidly that we can now buy British without compromising on quality. The vineyards of the south downlands of England are just 80 miles north of those of Champagne, and many share the same chalky soils. Plant the same trio of grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and – surprise, surprise – the results can be hard to tell apart from the real thing. These two rosé sparklers are great as aperitifs, but are also delicious with smoked salmon.
NV Coates & Seely, Britagne RosE, Hampshire, ENGLAND (Coates & Seely, Lea & Sandeman)
The first release from a promising new venture in north Hampshire is a fresh, lively young wine with lush, gentle strawberry flesh and a touch of sherbet balanced with taut appley acidity. Released in the summer, it’s mellowing very nicely in the bottle.
2008 South Ridge, CuvEe Merret, Traditional Method Sparkling RosE, Sussex, ENGLAND (Laithwaites)
From the excellent Ridgeview Estate just north of Brighton, this combines a fresh citrus tang with a softer strawberries-and-cream character.
Why don’t we drink more Austrian wine? The only problem I had when tasting my way though several candidates for inclusion here was limiting the final selection to two wines. Both are from the steep
vineyards overlooking the Danube in the Wachau, where the producers have their own system of categorising the wines. Those coming in at 11.5% alcohol and below are labelled Steinfeder, those with
up to 12.5% are Federspiel, while those of 12.5% and above are called Smaragd, after an emerald-green lizard that is often found basking
on the sunniest slopes of the vineyards.
2010 DomAne Wachau, 1000-Eimer-Berg Riesling Federspiel, Wachau, AUSTRIA (Waitrose)
Like a clear mountain spring, this has wonderful grapefruit and lemon tang backed up by a stony river-pebble freshness, with a touch of herbs on the side. Sprightly young wine for seafood starters.
2009 FX Pichler, Loibner Steinertal Riesling Smaragd, Wachau, AUSTRIA (Bibendum Wine, Uncorked)
A much fuller, fleshier style, still with a citrus bite, but with richer, peachier flesh, a strong mineral undercurrent and a peppery finish. Possesses the weight, flesh and acidity to cope well with the Christmas goose.
There’s little debate over which is the top-dog appellation in the southern Rhône – Châteauneuf-du-Pape comes top of virtually everyone’s list. But with decent Châteauneuf at under £20 now having all but disappeared, those in search of spicy southern fare might care to look at two appellations that – at their best – can nip at the heels of their more famous neighbour, namely Gigondas and Vacqueyras. Both use a similar blend of grapes, with Grenache taking the starring role, ably assisted by a supporting cast that usually includes Mourvèdre and Syrah. Both the wines below are perfect for substantial winter stews, but also go down well with hard cheese.
2009 Domaine de la SoleIade, Vacqueyras, SOUTHERN RHONE, FRANCE (Theatre of Wine)
There’s a meaty/tomato note to this buoyant young red. It has bags of bold berry fruit, plus hints of liquorice and tar, with classic spice and herb notes.
2009 Tesco Finest Gigondas, SOUTHERN RHONE, FRANCE (Tesco)
A rustic cockle-warmer with a herby tang to its soft berry flavours. As with the Vacqueyras, this will be delicious at any time over the next three years.
The tiny rock off the coast of Africa called Madeira makes some of the world’s most intense wines. The top tier of wines is split into four levels of sweetness, each named after the grapes used to produce them, namely (in ascending order of sweetness) Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey. As basic wines fermented straight after vintage, they’re nothing remarkable, but then they’re fortified and put through a process of gentle heating, which transforms them into heady delights that, at their best, can last for well over 100 years.
2000 Barbeito, Single Harvest Meio Seco, MADEIRA (Amps Fine Wines, Butlers Wine Cellar, Reserve Wines, Selfridges, Uncorked)
This is made not from one of the top four grapes but from Tinta Negra Mole, which is usually used for rather basic fare. However, thanks to careful winemaking – it’s spent nine years gently ‘cooking’ in a warm warehouse – here it’s been transformed into a dense raisiny delight, with a touch of barley sugar and a hint of peatiness à la malt whisky. Great with mature cheddar.
1991 Blandy’s Colheita Bual, MADEIRA (Halifax Wine Co, Slurp, Vintagemarque.co.uk)
A lovely combination of almonds, walnuts, raisins and cherries pepped up with cinnamon and cloves. Aromas akin to old mahogany furniture and iodine. Great with hard cheeses, but also with strongly flavoured pâtés and terrines.
In the shape of Carmenère, Chile has a high-class grape found hardly anywhere else in the world. Moreover, the country has impressed in recent years with Pinot Noir and Syrah, often from regions with little history of growing grapes. With such goings on, it’s easy to forget about both Cabernet Sauvignon, the variety that first brought the country’s wines to public attention, and Maipo, the region where it first made its name. This is a shame, as the wines offer deep flavours, along with a touch of elegance often absent in warmer regions.
2009 Pirque Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo, CHILE (Marks & Spencer)
A vibrant young wine, with a touch of mint and even something more exotic like pomegranate to go with the laid-back berry and blackcurrant flesh. And where some reds seek to overwhelm you with power, this is refreshing and tangy, just the thing for a Boxing Day turkey sandwich.
2008 Santa Rita Medalla Real, Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo, chile (Majestic)
Very classy wine – a cross between a ripe Bordeaux red and something warmer from the Languedoc. The initial toasty oak notes soon fade, allowing the intense blackcurrant fruit tinged with mint and garriguey herbs to emerge, while the juicy but slightly chewy finish hints at a promising future for those who can wait. Very roast beef-friendly.
This feature was published in the Summer 2011 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.