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24 July 2014

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What to drink this spring

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With days that are warm but nights that are still on the cool side, spring is a time suited to a wide variety of wines. Those looking for lighter whites should seek out wines made from the excellent Verdejo grape in the Rueda district of Spain’s Castilla y Leon region. For something a little heartier and fleshier, France’s Rhône Valley has some excellent and unusual flavours that deserve a wider audience. While for reds, Chianti Classico is a region that provides a happy hunting ground for those in search of classy flavours at not too high a price. Don’t be afraid to give some of them a light chill if the weather is on the warm side. If, however, the evenings turn cooler, then reach for some Malbec from Argentina, and dream of that South American sunshine…

Palestra - palaestra_for_web.jpgRUEDA VERDEJO

Spain’s best white grape variety? The first choice for many people would be the Albariño of Rías Baixas, but a very convincing case can be made for Verdejo, which thrives in the Rueda region close to Ribera del Duero. It’s a grape that, with its herbal citrus tang, can sometimes resemble Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s a little richer and muskier. It also takes very kindly to oak ageing, although these two examples are more in the young, fresh, ‘bring me some garlicky prawns’ vein.

2011 Tesco Finest Palestra, Verdejo, Rueda, Spain (£7.99, Tesco)
Packed with fruit – green apples, lemon and pears – and with added interest in the form of nutty, herb and fennel notes. If you know Jurançon, think of that mixed with Sauvignon

2011 Bodegas Naia, K-Naia, Verdejo, Rueda, Spain (£8.99, allaboutwine.co.uk)
This smells fresh and grassy, but it is fuller in body than you expect, with quite voluptuous tinned pear, rhubarb and plum flavours, and vibrant citrus acidity to bind it all together.

cote_de_rhone_web.jpgRHONE WHITES

White wines make up less than 5% of the total in the Rhône Valley, but they’re definitely worth exploring. Some flavours will be familiar – Condrieu, the star of the northern Rhône, is made from Viognier. Others, especially those from further south, are blends that may feature Viognier, but could also include less-well-known grapes such as Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Clairette and Marsanne.

2010 Pierre Gaillard, Les Gendrines, Côtes du Rhône, Rhône, France (£19.90, Berry Bros & Rudd)
Made from vines grown just outside the Condrieu appellation, this is heady, fragrant Viognier, with plush nut-kernel, peaches-and-cream and dried-apricot flavours. Lovely by itself, but also excellent with rich fish dishes.

2010 Domaine de la Mordorée, Cuvée de la Reine des Bois Blanc, Lirac, Rhône, France (£20.50, Lea & Sandeman)
From the southern Rhône, this has a similar peachy richness, but there’s more of a floral blossom character alongside the rounded pear flavours. Splash out on a bottle and try it with lobster.

Castallare - castallare_for_web.jpgCHIANTI CLASSICO

Brunello di Montalcino may be the sexy name in Tuscany, but those in search of undervalued wines should look to Chianti, and in particular to the Classico heartland of the region. The best wines offer the classic dark-cherry fruit of the Sangiovese grape with a touch of herbal wildness. Excellent with spring lamb or mushroom risotto.

2010 Castellare, Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy (£15.95, Bibendum)
A wine that manages to be plush and plummy but also refreshing, this has a slightly sour twist to its tobacco and Morello-cherry flavours. Medium in body but full in flavour, this is a delicious, sprightly young wine.

2009 Barone Ricasoli, Rocca Guicciarda, Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany, Italy (£16.99, Sainsbury’s)
A richer style than the Castellare, with just the right amount of toasty, vanilla-scented oak and a hint of a French accent from the small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the blend. But it’s still the savoury berry and cherry of Sangiovese that take centre stage in this powerful yet elegant red.

Malbec - malbec_for_web.jpgARGENTINE MALBEC

Where once upon a time it used to be Australian Shiraz that I could recommend almost without hesitation, regardless of who had made it, today it’s Argentine Malbec that offers an excellent combination of reliability and consistency. Some can be a little too full-bodied, but this pair offers a good combination of brain and brawn.

2010 Hacienda del Plata, Zagal, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (£10.95, Cupari Wines)
The lighter side of Malbec, this bottle isn’t short of spicy berry fruit, but with a lifted herby fragrance to add some freshness. In Argentina you would drink this with beef, so buy a juicy steak and tuck in.

2008 Trapiche, Villafañe Single Vineyard, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (£24, Laithwaites)
Trapiche’s Single Vineyard range is a set of Malbecs commemorating the three growers whose vineyards have produced the best wine each vintage. Federico Villafañe came out on top in 2008, with this lively, complex wine, which combines savoury dark berry and plum flesh with a perfumed elegance. Excellent with duck confit, and if there’s any left, try it with hard cheeses.

This feature was published in the spring 2013 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.

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