Wines for Spring

In the first of our seasonal guides to wine, Simon Woods recommends styles that are perfect for drinking in spring

As the weather warms up in the spring months and London becomes lighter and brighter, it’s natural to start looking for wines that are a little less heavy than the hearty winter warmers you’ve been downing since December. There’s also a variety of seasonal food that’s at its best at this time of year, from fresh wild salmon and crab to asparagus, which all call for an ideal wine match. So try spring cleaning your wine rack with a few of these recommendations…

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc has been on a roll for several years, and its success shows no sign of abating. The arrival of warmer spring weather also coincides with the appearance on these shores of one-year-old wines from the southern hemisphere. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, New Zealand was the undisputed king of the heap. The wines continue to impress, with several producers looking to add extra nuances by using a dab of oak or blending in a touch of Semillon. However, this decade has seen not only Australia begin to get Sauvignon right, but also the emergence of some excellent wines from Chile and South Africa. While the Aussies unashamedly pursue the Kiwi style, the best Chilean and South African versions offer a more restrained, pithy style that is winning many friends among those who find New Zealand too boisterous.

  • Quando 2007 from Robertson in the Cape (£7.99, Flying Corkscrew) combines depth of flavour – lime, lemon and nettles – with pithy restraint to impressive effect.
  • Casa Marin Cipreses Vineyard Sauvignon 2007 from San Antonio in Chile (£13.99, Bacchanalia) is richer and more exotic, but still has gorgeous, sappy citrus, gooseberry and herb flavours that will go perfectly with the asparagus that comes into season in May.

Pinot Noir

It may still boast the most expensive examples, but Burgundy no longer has the monopoly on top-class Pinot Noir. After many years of experimentation, a number of places around the world seem to have finally cracked the Pinot code, and while at times the wines can rise to grand cru prices, there are several that fall firmly into the everyday drinking bracket. What the best wines share is their sheer yumminess. Where Cabernet Sauvignon is stern and serious, Pinot Noir has something of the come hither about it – it should bring a naughty smile to your face. With new season lamb on the menu, spring is an excellent time to move on from the heavy, stew-friendly reds of winter and rediscover Pinot Noir. New Zealand, and especially Central Otago (home to the world’s most southerly vineyards), is currently a happy hunting ground, but Oregon and the cooler parts of Australia and California also have several great Pinots – and watch out for Chile in the very near future. For now, try

  • Wild Rock Cupid’s Arrow Pinot Noir 2006 (£9.95, from Otago, which gushes with berry and cherry flavours backed up by hints of herbs and smoky oak.
  • A step up is Elk Cove Pinot 2005 from Oregon (£22.25, Oddbins), with its seductive aromas, velvety texture and warm berry flavours.

Dry German Rieslings

The dry German Rieslings of the 1980s are remembered more for their severe dryness and buttock-clenching acidity than for any pleasure. They were touted as great food wines, but in reality they just tasted less bad with a meal. Thankfully, the winemakers have moved on since then and today’s dry wines minimise the pain and maximise the pleasure. Yes, the wines still have that spine of zesty acidity, but wrapped around this is plumper, plusher fruit, often with intriguing earthy, mineral notes, as well as a teeny bit of sweetness – the laws for ‘dry’ wines permit a small amount. If you like, the wines have moved from a gawky size 0 to a more appealing size 10 or 12, sleek but with more curves. And this time round they are genuinely food-friendly. Fish dishes and fragrant (rather than very spicy) pan-Asian food make perfect partners, but the wines’ crispness also makes them an ideal foil for sweeter, fattier meats like lamb, duck and goose.

  • Dr Bassermann-Jordan Pfalz Riesling 2006 (£7.59, Waitrose), with its taut steely structure balanced by juicy pear and citrus fruit, is an excellent introduction to the style.
  • Then move on up to the Kröver Paradies Riesling Spätlese Trocken 2005 from Martin Müllen in the Mosel (£12.99, The Winery), with its sprightly lime and green apple flavours enhanced by a slatey character from the soil.

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris is Pinot Grigio’s grown-up relative. Yes, the two are exactly the same grape, but they differ significantly in style. Stereotypical Grigio originated in north-east Italy, but is now sadly being replicated in too many places around the world. As pale as water with about as much flavour, it’s a wine for those who don’t like wine. But wines labelled ‘Pinot Gris’ take Alsace as a role model and tend to be fuller and richer. They are occasionally off-dry and sometimes have a tell-tale toasty edge from oak. Where Pinot Grigio goes with a variety of foods purely because it doesn’t taste of very much, Pinot Gris can overwhelm certain dishes with its strength of flavour – think Chardonnay with slightly less fruit but more honey, spice and occasionally wood smoke. Try it with game, smoked cheeses, smoked fish and oriental foods – a far better match than Gewürztraminer.

  • The Cave de Turckheim Pinot Gris 2006 (£6.99, Majestic), with light floral notes to its juicy peachy fruit, is a sensibly priced version from Alsace.
  • For something fuller, try the Amisfield Pinot Gris 2006 (£15.52, Berry Bros & Rudd) from Central Otago in New Zealand. Exotic and fleshy, full of smoky peach and guava, with a lush texture and spicy finish.

Loire Red

Australian Shiraz, Californian Zinfandel, South African Pinotage. Those reared on a diet of New World red wines might raise their eyebrows at the notion that red wine can be refreshing. But parts of Europe have been making light- to medium-bodied reds for centuries. They may not have the immediate impact of their brawnier cousins, but then who wants to dine with a bodybuilder every day? Examples include Valpolicella and Dolcetto from Italy, while the most obvious French example is Beaujolais. But France has another style that deserves serious attention, in the form of Loire Cabernet Franc. Wines such as Saumur, Saumur-Champigny, Bourgueil and Chinon offer some of the blackcurrant flavours of the other Cabernet (Sauvignon), along with a cooler, herbal/leafy edge, and often a hint of tar.

One lighter style that is already drinking well is Les Nivières 2005 Saumur, Loire (£4.99 Waitrose), a Cab Franc at its crunchiest, like a glass of freshly crushed raspberries and blackcurrants with a sprig of mint; while Domaine du Bourg St Nicolas de Bourgueil Les Graviers 2006 (£9.69, Corney & Barrow) is fuller and more floral (violets in particular), with a cool, earthy undertow to the fresh fruit flavours.

Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Spring 2008