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As we emerge from the cold, dark days of winter, is it time to give your wine cellar a boost? Simon Woods suggests some reds, whites and rosés from lesser-known grapes and regions that will spice up your spring drinking
In red wine-dominated Chile, the region of Casablanca – between the capital Santiago and Valparaiso on the coast – was for several years the country’s great white hope. But now it has a rival for that title in the form of San Antonio, a region that is cooler than Casablanca as a result of being closer to the coast. Like much of central Chile, it’s dry here, and with no rivers running through the region, water has to be pumped 70km from the Maipo river to irrigate the vines. This limits the scale of development: so far there are only four wineries, although a number of others source grapes from the area. But the producers that are here are among the country’s finest.
Southern Italy has made wine for centuries, even millennia, but it’s only recently that the region has managed to get its act together and show its mettle to the rest of the world. It has been helped in this task by a portfolio of grape varieties that deserve much wider attention. Arguably the finest of these is Aglianico, a variety from Basilicata – Italy is shaped like a boot and Basilicata is the ankle. At its best, Aglianico can offer all the fragrance and intensity of the more renowned northern Italian grapes Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. Negroamaro is another southern star – literally meaning ‘black and bitter’
The era when English (and Welsh) wine was a cottage industry run by well-meaning hobbyists and ex-servicemen has now passed. In its place is something that is far more professional, and while there are still some wines of the grin-and-be-patriotic variety, there are also some others that are seriously good. Arguably the best of these are the sparkling wines. English vineyards are not all that much further north than Champagne, and where they are planted on the same chalky soils, and with the same grape varieties, the wines can do very credible impersonations of France’s finest. But do try the still wines, as these can be excellent too.
The buxom, peachy Viognier, the grape responsible for the heady delight that is Condrieu, has sprung to prominence in recent years, and is now being planted with great enthusiasm in many vineyards around the world. But it’s far from being the only white variety in the Rhône Valley. And where once the typical Rhône white was a rather lumpen, fruitless offering, today’s wines have far more freshness and fragrance to go with their weighty flesh. In the northern Rhône, the Marsanne grape in partnership with Roussanne is responsible for the magnificent, long-lived whites of Hermitage. But transfer the grape to California and it also performs well.
With the pound currently floundering against the euro, it’s becoming even more of a struggle finding red Burgundy at down-to-earth prices. Canny buyers know that the best value is often found not in the famous appellations but in places slightly off the beaten track. Elegance is not the forte of Chorey-lès-Beaune, but this tiny village to the east of the town of Beaune can be a great source of honest chunky wines.
Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Spring 2009