What do you think of this?

Working in the wine industry, you sometimes get friends or colleagues thrusting a glass into your hand asking for your thoughts.  I usually start by describing the wine – its fruit character, its balance, its length – and then wait for the inevitable follow up: ‘but what do you think of it?’  This is easy when the wine is very good or has some particularly attractive quality to comment on but can be tricky otherwise.  Even if the wine is pleasant but nothing special, someone has worked hard to make it and I don’t like to disappoint.  So, I sometimes reach for words like ‘unusual’, ‘different’ or even ‘interesting’.  (Apologies to readers who have heard those words about a wine they have offered me!)

More challenging is when I’m also expected to identify the wine in the glass.  ‘Blind tasting’, as it is called, is incredibly difficult at the best of times but almost impossible without context; so, if I’m in Burgundy, for example, I’m expecting the wine to be local, which narrows the likely possibilities.  Similarly, if I’m with friends, I tend to know their tastes, which may be reflected in the wine they offer me. 

But there’s one grape variety that is so distinctive that I would expect to identify it blind 8 times out of 10: Gewűrztraminer.  Native to Germany and the Alsace region in north-east France, it stamps its aromatic, floral, almost perfumed character on nearly every wine its used in.  We took a bottle of the Wine Society’s Exhibition Alsace Gewűrztraminer (£16.00) to a good friend recently and it had all those expected qualities and more.  The flavours were delicate yet, at the same time, intense and rich.  Just off-dry, it went perfectly with a mildly spiced Keralan Chicken curry that she cooked for us – the fragrance of the wine complementing the aromatic spices beautifully.

A wine with really ‘interesting’ and ‘unusual’ characteristics – but in a good way!

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An Alternative Fizz

If you’re looking for a bottle of sparkling wine but don’t want to pay Champagne prices, there are plenty of options.  Prosecco has had a fantastic rise in popularity over the past few years and so is probably the first name that springs to mind.  But its popularity has also been its downfall and, though generally very pleasant, easy drinking, I can’t recall the last bottle of Prosecco that made me say ‘Wow!’  Much the same fate befell Cava a few years earlier and I’ve tended to avoid that too, although I have read some more favourable reviews recently and it might be time to revisit some of the more individualistic examples.

One group of alternatives that seem to have been almost ignored, however, are the Crémants.  These are a range of wines, made in several different regions of France – Loire, Alsace and Burgundy being the most common – using the same method as Champagne (with a 2nd fermentation in the bottle), but usually with different, often local, grape varieties.  They are generally dry and the best have some ageing to give a hint of the ‘leesy’ character of Champagne but at a fraction of the price.

I opened a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace recently (Lidl, £8.99 – you may still find a bottle in your local branch but their website shows that this is sold out).  Although not over-complex – what do you expect for that money? – it was clean, fresh and pleasantly citrussy with lots of small, persistent bubbles.  Made from a typical Alsace blend of Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Riesling, this is ideal for a summer picnic or celebration.  Make sure you chill it well in advance.

So, next time you’re in the market for a bottle of good, enjoyable fizz at a very fair price, think beyond Prosecco or Cava and reach for a Crémant – be it from Alsace, the Loire, or just about anywhere in France – apart from Champagne, of course.