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Warm weather calls for light, refreshing wine to match the flavours of the season. Simon Woods recommends some favourites
While the forecast suggests that water might be in short supply in the coming months, there’s no reason for a wine drought this summer. If you’re a fish and seafood fan, two styles that you’ll enjoy are Albariño from Galicia in north-west Spain, and the underrated whites based on Gros and Petit Manseng made in the wilds of south-west France. For fuller flavours suitable for cold cuts and summer picnics, it could be time to rediscover just how grown-up Australian Chardonnay has become, while for celebrations – anything from weddings to passing an eye test – you’ll find a couple of ambitious Proseccos. And because we can’t drink white all the time, there are also a couple of Pinot Noirs, even if they are from a country not readily associated with this alluring grape variety.
Australian Chardonnay is making a comeback. As both the vineyards and the winemakers have matured, the overoaked, syrupy fruit bombs of the mid-1990s have given way to far more palatable wines which offer more flavour than Pinot Grigio, more complexity than Sauvignon Blanc and more variety than Riesling. It’s the cooler-climate regions that are leading the way. Where once you could taste the sunshine and not much else, today there are crisper, lighter wines that go well with a variety of foods – try these with crab salads, ham terrines and char-grilled lamb chops.
2008 Leeuwin, Estate Prelude Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia
(£20.50, Domaine Direct)
The baby brother of renowned Leeuwin’s Art Series Chardonnay is delicious, with a refined mix of richness and restraint, and combining sappy apple and nectarine flavours with the creamy nuttiness from sympathetic barrel-ageing.
2008 Xanadu, Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia
This comes from vineyards close to those of Leeuwin, but while it has a similar tension between ripeness and freshness, it’s quite a different style, with flavours more in the citrus and green apple spectrum, plus a wilder, funkier, spent-match character reminiscent of some top-notch white Burgundies.
Proof that Rías Baixas Albariño is no longer a new kid on the wine block can be seen by the presence of an example in Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range – and rather good it is, too. Equally encouraging is the evolution in style of the wines over the past few years, from something that sought simply to be fruity and aromatic, rather like an apprentice Viognier, into something where the character of the vineyards is now making its presence felt. Yes, these are still some of the world’s finest wines for seafood, but now they offer more complexity and intrigue.
2010 Zarate, Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain
(£16.50, Bottle Apostle; £15.75, Harvey Nichols)
It comes from Spain, but with its slight spritz and touch of bracing Atlantic saltiness, this could almost pass for high-class Portuguese Vinho Verde. Regardless of origin, this is excellent young wine, with a mineral tang giving extra interest to the clean, fresh apple and apricot flavours.
2009 Eidos de PadriNAn, Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain
(£13.95, Lea & Sandeman)
An extra year in bottle, but none the worse for it, this is more fleshy and exotic with peachy mango and tropical-fruit flavours kept in check by the citrus acidity and briny tang. Have the Zarate with shellfish, and this with fuller, richer – even creamy – fish dishes.
If you ever find yourself in a wine rut, try venturing into south-west France. Beyond Bordeaux and the neighbouring (and undervalued) region of Bergerac, you’ll find yourself in a world of grape varieties you’ve never heard of and – if you stray into the Basque country – labels that can be hard to read. I’ll save the goose-fat friendly reds of Cahors, Madiran and other spots for a colder time of year. Summer is a time for whites, and this pair, made mainly from Petit and Gros Manseng, are perfect for oily fish such as sardines off the barbecue.
2010 Domaine Bellegarde, JuranCon Sec, South-West France
(£11.95, Yapp Brothers)
Wonderfully sprightly young wine that offers a lovely balance between Sauvignon-esque flavours of flint and citrus, and slightly headier, herbier peach and fennel, all the while underpinned by a spine of zesty acidity. Tastes great now, but for those who like a touch of honeyed richness in their wines, will happily keep for another three years.
2009 Arretxea, Hegoxuri IroulEguy Blanc, South-West France
Biodynamically produced wine that is richer and more relaxed than the Bellegarde, with the herby peach notes being joined by more exotic mango and almond flavours. Once again, that backbone of tangy Manseng, which runs through the palate like a taut violin string, will help to keep it fresh for a few years to come.
Frothy and friendly, it’s hard to dislike Prosecco, but does it ever rise above the merely pleasant and become something a little more profound? Just as with another famous Italian wine style, Pinot Grigio, the answer is ‘yes,’ but you have to do a little searching. But find a superior producer with well-sited vineyards and you’ll discover something not only too good to be made into a Bellini but also a rather fine match for mushroom risotto and simple chicken dishes.
2010 Bisol, Crede, Prosecco Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy
As you advance up the Prosecco ladder, the simple juicy peachy fruit takes more of a back seat. This cuvée from the large but quality-minded Bisol offers plenty of fresh young fruit – Prosecco is generally a wine to be drunk young – but also packs in more zesty citrus character, along with an almost volcanic tang.
2009 Nino Franco, Vigneto della Rive di San Floriano, Prosecco Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy
(£16.90, Sommelier’s Choice)
Nino Franco’s single-vineyard wines represent the more profound side of Prosecco. Forget kiss-me-kwik wine, this is clean, dry and precise. While there’s no shortage of fruit (apple, lemon, lychee and more), the smoky, herb-like floral notes and almost ashy mineral characters play just as much of a part, and the finish keeps you coming back for more. Classy wine.
As a first port of call for decent Pinot after Burgundy, New Zealand and the cooler parts of the USA’s west coast are probably the first places that spring to mind. South Africa? It doesn’t feature on too many people’s radar at the moment, but the southern end of the country, where sea currents bring chilly air up from Antarctica, are impressing more and more with each vintage.
2009 Newton Johnson, Pinot Noir, Upper Hemel En Aarde Valley, South Africa
(£18.24, Bibendum; £19.30, SA Wines Online)
From a ward in the Walker Bay region, this offers the wildness and untamed savoury characters that many Pinot lovers seek. It’s still on the young side, but give it time to unfurl and you’ll find heady red-berry fruit and a herb-rich finish. A good partner for seared tuna.
2009 Bouchard Finlayson, Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, Walker Bay, South Africa
(£22, SA Wines Online; £22.50, Lea & Sandeman)
A more baroque style of wine, immediately attractive with its plush blackberry and plum and silky texture, but there’s also an earthy undercurrent that speaks of the soil, plus sufficient structure to make it cold roast meat-friendly.
This feature was published in the summer 2011 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.