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It’s time for bargain Burgundies, native Italians and tantalising rosés – not to mention a seriously surprising Lambrusco. Top taster Simon Woods shares his recommendations for warm-weather drinking
It is theoretically possible to buy a sizeable plot of decent vineyard in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or – providing your family has lived there for several generations and you have squillions of euros (land in the top areas costs more than in Manhattan). But those vignerons looking to establish a new domaine or expand their existing one generally have to look elsewhere, and the place that many are currently focusing on is that warmer southern outpost of Burgundy, the Mâconnais. Traditionally, this has been a region that, apart from the occasional decent bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé, offered little to set the pulse racing.
But in recent years there has been a general pulling-up of chaussettes among the locals, plus further stimulus from investment here by Côte d’Or superstars Lafon and Leflaive.
For good-value Burgundy, it’s now a first port of call.
Denis Jeandeau St Veran 2007 (£17.99, Adnams Cellar & Kitchen) is a ripe yet restrained Chardonnay from a producer who hails from the Loire with hints of dried apple and citrus, and a savoury, almost briny edge to the finish.
Christophe Cordier Macon Milly-Lamartine ‘Clos du Four’ 2008 (£11.99/£10.99 – if you buy two, Majestic) is a rich yet tangy wine from one of the top domaines in the region. It’s a league removed from Mâcon wines of the past, showing plush rhubarb and stewed-apple flavours.
In case you haven’t noticed, rosé has been in vogue for the last couple of years. True, its rise in fortunes has largely been driven by demand for the spineless sugar water that is white Zinfandel. And it’s also true that the average standard of the wines still lags behind that of whites and reds – can you think of a winery where the rosé is the best wine? But no matter. Quality is on the up, good examples are increasingly easy to find, and blokes no longer have their masculinity questioned when they’re seen drinking pink. And while we’re now drinking it all the year round – decent rosé copes as well as anything with a traditional Christmas dinner – it excels as a summer tipple.
Mud House Rosé 2008 (£9.99-£10.99, everywine.co.uk, Planet of the Grapes, Quaff, Reid Wines, Wimbledon Wine Cellar) is made with Pinot Noir from the trendy Central Otago region on New Zealand’s South Island and is awash with aromas and flavours of roses, red berries and pomegranates, plus an intriguing hint of something like cough candy.
Quinta da Falorca Rosé 2007 (£11.75, Armit) is made from the Touriga Nacional grape, best known for producing sturdy Portuguese reds. This herb-scented, strawberry-rich beauty from the Dão shows how the grape can also be pressed into service for remarkably tasty rosés. Perfect for Sunday lunch.
Admittedly, Italian white wines are still outnumbered and outclassed by the reds, but their improvement over the last 15 years has been dramatic, and those whose knowledge of them begins and ends with Pinot Grigio are missing out on a world of intriguing wines. As with the reds, there are plantings of well-known international varieties, but the true treasures are with the indigenous grapes, of which Italy has literally hundreds.
Sartarelli Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2008 (£8.99/£7.19 case price, Oddbins) illustrates how the Verdicchio grape performs at its best on the steep slopes of the Marche region, producing plump, peachy wines that can age brilliantly, but which are also very attractive when young. This is friendly, nutty white wine, rich and creamy, but with a smoky, pear-like note that keeps it fresh.
Contesa Pecorino 2007 (£9.99, Marks & Spencer) is nothing to do with the cheese! Rather Pecorino is a grape that is undergoing something of a resurgence in the Abruzzi. It’s crisper than the Verdicchio, but there’s also plenty of plush citrus and ripe red apple flavours, plus a minerally tang to the finish.
The USA makes some fabulous wines, but most of them are guzzled up by thirsty patriots. Finding great examples that make it to these shores is tough, and finding ones that come with sensible price tags can be a real challenge. But these two certainly won’t break the bank and they’re more than gluggable.
Powers Merlot 2006 (£9.99, Wines of the World) is not from California but from the Columbia Valley in Washington State, home of some of America’s finest red wines. This isn’t as complex and structured as the big boys, but it’s a very appealing wine, with generous berry fruit backed up by an earthy finish and a touch of vanilla.
Scotto Old Vine Zinfandel 2005 (£8.25-£9.99, Adnams Cellar & Kitchen, Balls Bros) shows why we really should see more Zinfandel, the grape that hails from southern Italy (where it is known as Primitivo) but which the Californians have made their own. This version from the Scotto family, who are originally from the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, is backed with gutsy bramble and spice flavours, and is archetypal barbecue wine.
Serious wine drinkers aren’t supposed to drink cider and Lambrusco, so what are they doing here? Read on…
Camillo Donati Lambrusco (£12.99, Les Caves de Pyrène) is proper Lambrusco, a world away from the mass-produced pap that so often masquerades under the name. Insipid, it is not. Indeed, there will be some who struggle to come to terms with a bone-dry, 13% alcohol, semi-fizzy red wine with intensely earthy, graphite-tinged dark fruit flavours (and a beer-style crown capsule rather than a cork). Others, however, will swoon, especially if they drink it lightly chilled with a plate of charcuterie.
Domaine Leduc-Piedimonte Ice Cider 2006 (£25/375ml, Top Selection) is pretty unique. There is cider, and then there is Ice Cider, and it’s as different from conventional cider as Ice Wine is from regular wine. It’s made only in Quebec, where winter temperatures in the orchard fall as low as -25ºC. The apples are allowed to freeze on the trees and then are picked and crushed, yielding tiny amounts of sugar-rich juice, which is then fermented. The result is a heady, concentrated appley nectar, massively intense, but with a tangy, smoky finish to keep everything fresh. Wonderful – and perfect with Stilton.
Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Summer 2009