A Rosé for Summer

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The last few days here in Bristol have seen a complete change in our weather: beautifully warm, sunny and, above all, dry; a real pleasure after a long, wet, dreary (and occasionally snowy) winter and early part of the spring.  No surprise then that our thoughts immediately turn to barbecues, picnics and that perfect summer drink: a glass of chilled rosé.  So, it was a very happy coincidence that earlier this week, on the first really sunny day, was the launch party of the latest vintage of Dunleavy Pinot Noir rosé, one of our most local wines, made from grapes grown at Wrington, just a few minutes’ drive south of Bristol. 

Of course, I had to go along and taste! 

Dunleavy rose 2017The wine has a lovely rich colour with attractive aromas and flavours of crushed strawberries.  Just a touch off-dry but very clean and refreshing and with a good dry, fruity finish.  Ideal for drinking chilled on its own in the garden (assuming this weather lasts!) but equally worth pairing with a seared fresh tuna steak or simply some cold cuts.

Ingrid Bates, owner and winemaker at Dunleavy, hosted the launch party of her 5th vintage at Bellita Wine Bar, now established in Cotham Hill in the space once occupied by Flinty Red.  An appropriate choice of venue as Bellita pride themselves in a winelist comprising all female winemakers – and why not, as they ask?

The wine was clearly going down well at the launch and also, later in the evening, at local restaurant, Bulrush, where I noticed it being served to some enthusiastic diners at the next table.

English wine has improved enormously in the last 30 years, mainly with some very successful sparkling examples, but Dunleavy’s delicious still Pinot Noir rosé shows a different direction in which local growers can clearly also thrive.  It is available direct from the vineyard (www.dunleavyvineyards.co.uk) or from local wine merchant Grape and Grind.

 

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Wine and Cheese

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Wine and CheeseHow often do you hear talk of cheese and wine together?  They seem to have a natural affinity.  But is that true for all cheeses?  And how about the wines?  Do reds work better or whites?  Or is it, like so much else in this area, all down to personal taste?  That was the question I tried to answer during a fascinating evening of wine and cheese I ran for some regular clients recently.

I took along a selection of wines – 3 whites, 3 reds, all dry or just off-dry, except 1 fortified sweet bottle.   And the cheeses: a soft goats’ cheese, a Camembert, an Ossau-Iraty – a hard sheeps’ milk cheese from the Basque region – and a Saint Agur Blue.  So, quite a variety.  But which combinations worked and which didn’t?

Goats’ milk cheeses are often higher in acidity than those made with cows’ milk and so usually work better with wines sharing that characteristic.  I chose a white wine, Tesco’s Finest Falanghina from southern Italy (£8) – a red would overpower the delicate cheese – but a nice Loire Sauvignon or, perhaps a Chablis or other unoaked cool-climate Chardonnay would be good alternatives.

The Camembert was altogether richer and creamier and so needed a slightly more full-bodied wine to match.  Again, I would suggest a white rather than a red.  Tesco’s White Burgundy (£8), from the warmer Macon region or the Co-op’s ‘Irresistible’ Marsanne (that’s its name, not necessarily my description!), a delicately oaked example from the south of France (same price) both showed well.

The same wines also complemented the firm, nutty Ossau-Iraty, one of my favourite cheeses, but this also pairs well with a lightish red – a Beaujolais or Pinot Nior, perhaps, although the Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva (most supermarkets, around £8) proved a popular alternative on the night.

Finally, Port and stilton is a classic combination but I chose a different fortified wine to match with the Saint Agur blue I took along: Mavrodaphne of Patras (Tesco or Sainsbury’s, around £6) is made in a similar way to port with the fermentation stopped early by adding alcohol.  This proved to be a ‘love it or hate it’ choice but, for those in the latter category, knowing which wines you don’t enjoy is as valuable a lesson as finding those you do!

The one thing that all were agreed upon: cheese and wine go wonderfully together.

 

Wine and Memories

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Wine is not just a very pleasant drink (provided you choose well!), it can also be a great way of bringing back memories of – hopefully – happy times.  That was certainly true when we opened a bottle of wine from the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island recently.  Although it was more than 4 years since our trip there, we immediately started reminiscing about our stay and, in particular, our wine visits in the expert company of Lance from Queenstown Wine Trail. 

I can’t remember all the vineyards we visited during our stay but the quality of the estates we did drop in on was so high that we were convinced that this was an area whose wines were well worth seeking out.  And the wine that prompted this Blog -Peregrine’s delightful Pinot Gris (Great Western Wine, £19.50) – certainly did not disappoint. 

Peregrine PGPinot Gris is a grape variety that, under its Italian name, Pinot Grigio, can often be thin and uninteresting.  Not here!  The 14% alcohol makes it beautifully mouth-filling but without the accompanying ‘burn’ you can find with wines with this strength.  Peach and pear flavours come through joined by lovely sweet spices – cinnamon and ginger – and a crisp, clean finish with hints of citrus.  I found this to be a wine that offered something new every time I went back to it during our meal (Baked Brill with a Mushroom Sauce) and then over the course of the evening until, all too soon, the glass was empty.

My wife is often saying – and I agree – that, if only New Zealand was 3 or 4 hours flight away rather than 24, we’d go there more often – and not just to enjoy the wines.  But, as it is, we’ll just have to buy bottles like this Pinot Gris and dream instead.

 

Tokaji Reborn

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Wine has been made in Hungary’s Tokaji (“tock-eye”) region for at least 500 years and, for much of that time, its sweet wines have had the highest of reputations. They were enjoyed across many of the noble courts of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries and were a particular favourite of the French King, Louis XIV.  In fact, at the time, Tokaji became known as ‘the wine of kings, the king of wines’.

The 1870s saw an abrupt change in fortune when the phylloxera bug struck, devastating the vineyards.  Two World Wars were followed by years as part of the Soviet bloc where the only wines demanded were cheap with high alcohol. The industry was in a poor state indeed when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 opening up many of the Eastern European countries to outside investment.  Happily, Tokaji was a major beneficiary.  In particular, English wine writer Hugh Johnson’s involvement with the historic Royal Tokaji Wine Company has reinvigorated this once great producer.

Today, much of the region’s output remains the glorious, intensely sweet wines made in the unique traditional style – expensive, but definitely worth it if, like me, you like that sort of wine although, perhaps I should say, they’re not to everyone’s taste.  However, other, lighter, sweet wines using late-harvested grapes are also made and can be tremendous value, as is the occasional dry white such as the one from the Royal Tokaji Company (Majestic, £9.99) we enjoyed recently.

Dry Tokaji

Made using the same native Furmint and Hárslevelű varieties that are found in the sweet wines, this full-bodied dry example is beautifully tangy and fresh with lovely flavours of baked apples and sweet spices leading to a really long mouth-watering finish.

There is no doubt that Johnson and others have rescued Tokaji from the dire state it had descended to by 1990; all that remains is for the delicious wines of the region to become much better known.
 

A Glorious Grenache

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Some grape varieties are always being talked about: I’m thinking of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir in particular as well as more recently fashionable grapes like Grüner Veltliner and Alboriño.  Others, you rarely hear anything about.  Take Grenache, for example (or Garnacha, if you prefer the Spanish naming).  Even in the 1990 census, when it was the 2nd most widely planted variety in the world, no-one took much notice of it, it was just there, usually in a blend with other grapes: with Syrah in the southern Rhône, with Tempranillo in Rioja.  And, it was rarely credited on labels – although the Australians used the initial for their ‘GSM’ blends (the SM being Shiraz and Mourvedre).

So, I wasn’t entirely surprised when the latest grape census (University of Adelaide, 2011) showed that more than a third of all Grenache had been grubbed up in the intervening 20 years and the variety had slipped from 2nd to 7th place.  Yet, I think it’s a great grape variety when well handled and, happily, there are still some glorious examples around.  Perrin & Fils’ Gigondas Vieilles Vignes (West End Wines, £22) is one. 

GigondasDeep, intense and really savoury, this wine, from one of the best villages of the southern Rhône, shows the benefit of making wine from old vines (vieilles vignes) – in this case, according to the label, from pre-phylloxera vines (so, by my calculations, vines that are at least 140 years old – the deadly bug struck the region in the 1870s!)

Unusually for the appellation, this Gigondas is made from 100% Grenache, which probably accounts for the high alcohol (15%).  Although typical of this sun-loving, free-ripening variety, here, with all the other flavour elements in balance, there’s no burn and the alcohol complements rather than intruding.

So, while Grenache may never be as popular as Cabernet or Pinot Noir, look carefully and you’ll find some really great drinking.

Syrah? Shiraz?

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Syrah and Shiraz: two grape names recognised by most wine lovers, but it’s surprising how many don’t know that they’re actually the same variety.  Native to France’s Northern Rhône region, the grape there is always known as Syrah while, in Australia, where it was among the first vines introduced by James Busby soon after the initial European settlers, it’s generally called Shiraz. 

The reason for the 2 names is unclear although a very early spelling of the grape seems to have been ‘Scyras’ which the French might pronounce ‘Syrah’ whereas Australians might be more likely to say Shiraz.  Believe that or not as you like, but the 2 names are probably here to stay. 

And, while, in the past, most New World growers tended to use the name Shiraz for all their wines, more recently, there has been a split: those aiming for a powerful, fruity, high alcohol wine continuing to use Shiraz, while producers looking for a more spicy, lean ‘European’ style adopting the French version of the name.  I wouldn’t rely on that division entirely but I’ve certainly tasted some bottles labelled Syrah recently that tend to support the theory. 

One is Lammershoek’s ‘The Innocent’ Syrah from Swartland in South Africa (Waitrose, £9.99) – love the picture of the sheep on the label! 

Innocent SyrahThis is beautifully soft and restrained with flavours of cooked blackberries and a definite savoury edge to it.  The grapes were selected from unirrigated bush vines up to 50 years old, blending from 3 separate vineyard sites to give complexity.  Following fermentation, part of the wine was aged in large old wooden barrels, again to broaden the palate of flavours, yet always with restraint and subtlety being to the fore.  

Perhaps, not a wine for lovers of the big, chunky Shiraz style, but, for those who enjoy, say, a Crozes Hermitage or a St Joseph, there’s much to like here – and at a very reasonable price.

 

Good Wines, Sensible Prices

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Traditionally, wines have been sold under the name of the producer or a brand name created by them.  There have always been a few exceptions, mainly retailers such as Berry Brothers and the Wine Society putting their own name on wines they have bought in, but this trend has increased greatly in recent years.  Virtually every supermarket has its range of own label wines – some have 2: a basic selection sold on price and a premium range which often includes some interesting bottles which are excellent value.  ‘Tesco Finest’ and ‘Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference’ are examples of this latter category but others do the same – they just spring to mind because they’re my 2 nearest supermarkets.

These premium ranges often involve the supermarkets’ own wine buyers (these days generally Masters of Wine or other well-qualified individuals) working with producers to craft something that reflects the local style but would also appeal to the tastes of customers – and, because the supermarkets can buy in bulk, prices are usually very attractive.

But, it’s not just the supermarkets who do this.  I’ve already mentioned the Wine Society, whose ‘Exhibition’ range is particularly good, but, now, Majestic Wine Warehouse is joining the party with their bottlings under the ‘Agenda’ label.  The examples I’ve tasted so far are well up to standard and excellent value.  It’s difficult to pick just one but their Portuguese red from the Daó region (a real bargain at £7.99 if you buy as part of the ‘mix 6’ offer) is certainly worth trying. 

DaoIt is just so drinkable – soft and rounded with flavours of cooked plums and herbs. A hint of oak gives a savoury edge and there are the gentlest of tannins. For me, this makes perfect every day drinking, especially to accompany some mildly spicy sausages.

And that’s exactly what these premium own label ranges are designed to do: nothing fancy, just good drinking at sensible prices.