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Wines for Spring 2009

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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


wines for spring - 74334555.jpgSan Antonio whites

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.

  • Miramar Vineyard Riesling 2007 (£13.99, www.southamericanwinesonline.co.uk) is made at Casa Marin by the dynamic, sparrow-like Maria Luz Marin. It has a wonderful tension between the rich and aromatic rhubarb and plum flavours and the zesty citrus spine. 
  • EQ Chardonnay 2005 (£10.75, Stone, Vine & Sun) from Matetic is a refined, juicy Chardonnay with a nutty, oatmeal character to its lithe yet spicy tropical fruit flavours.

Southern Italian reds

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’

  • D’Angelo Sacravite Aglianico 2006 (£9.99, Majestic) from Basilicata is a powerful, peppery wine, with a wealth of dark, plummy flesh, a hint of chocolate and a lively spicy finish. It makes a good foil for aged Cheddar cheese.
  • Masseria Monaci Eloquenzia Copertino 2004  (£5.95, The Wine Society) from Puglia is more mellow. This Negroamaro is certainly deep in colour, with smoky damson intensity, while the bitterness shows in a slightly sour cherry edge. Supple, friendly and great value.

English wine

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.

  • Meopham Valley Sparkling Rose 2005 (£19.99, www.waitrosewine.com and selected stores) from Kent is a fresh, elegant wine made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes with gentle red berry fruit and a pleasant biscuity finish.
  • Chapel Down Bacchus 2007 (£9-10, English Wine Group, Tesco, selected Waitrose) is made with a grape created in Germany in the 1930s by crossing Müller-Thurgau with another grape that was already a crossing of Silvaner with Riesling. It sounds as if it should taste Germanic, but in the hands of Chapel Down’s Owen Elias, what emerges is something more akin to Sauvignon Blanc, with tangy gooseberry and elderflower characters and a pithy finish.

Rhone-Y whites

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.

  • Cairanne Blanc Reserve des Seigneurs 2007 (£7.29, Lay & Wheeler) is a 50/50 blend of Clairette and Roussanne. Frédéric and François Alary of Domaine de l’Oratoire St Martin in the southern Rhône are better known for their red wines, but this example shows that they’re dab hands with whites too. It’s rich and almost creamy in texture, but there’s also plenty of musky pear and peach flavours, plus a long tangy finish.
  • Qupé Bien Nacido Marsanne 2006 (£16.50, Berry Bros & Rudd, Corks of Cotham, Hailsham Cellars) is remarkably restrained for a Californian white, with a honeyed edge to the orange and nectarine characters, and a tense, almost smoky finish. Bring on the belly pork.

Lesser-known red Burgundies

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.

  • Chorey-les-Beaune Marvine 2006 (£12.45, www.fromvineyardsdirect.com) is made by Pierre Janny and brims with attractive, earthy raspberry and strawberry flavours. Although it has the freshness and structure to last for another five years, it is already drinking very well.
  • Domaine Chevalier Ladoix Rouge 2006 (£13.99, Majestic) is from one of the most northerly appellations in the Côte de Beaune. If the Chorey is the sturdy Pommard wannabe, then this is apprentice Volnay, lighter and more floral, but no less fruity, with red cherries to the fore and red berries in the background. Once again, it won’t object to time in the cellar, but when it’s so attractive now, why wait?

Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Spring 2009

« Wine - Styles & regions made simple