200 Years? Not Yet!

The 1st vines were planted in New Zealand in 1819. But don’t start raising a glass to 200 years of New Zealand wine yet! Those vines were planted by Samuel Marsden of the Church Missionary Society, a group whose anti-alcohol views were both robust and well-known. So, unless someone made some wine in secret – always possible – the true bi-centenary celebration will have to go on hold for a few more years.

How many? Even Keith Stewart’s ‘Chancers and Visionaries’, a fascinating history of New Zealand wine, can’t be precise although, by the mid-1830s, James Busby and others were certainly very active in their wineries. But wine drinking and winemaking never really thrived at that time in New Zealand, nor, indeed, well into the 20th century, thanks to restrictive laws. It wasn’t really until the 1970s that the modern New Zealand wine industry was born – an amazing fact when you think of the success that country’s wines enjoy today.

But, as regular Bristol Wine Blog readers know, I’m always happy to open a bottle from there, even if we are celebrating a little too soon.

NZ P NoirTwo Paddocks ‘Picnic’ Pinot Noir (Grape and Grind, £18.99) is a lovely smooth and fresh red with all those typical flavours and aromas of a good Pinot Noir: dried fruits and a certain undergrowth smell on the nose followed by black and dried fruits on the palate, quite savoury and a little smoky, but really complex and a finish that goes on and on. But, at the same time, it’s very drinkable – not heavy, so best with lighter meats or cheeses; very much a food wine. And remarkable value for money: if this was from Burgundy, I suspect the price would be double.

So, celebrating or not, this is a bottle well worth opening – and, perhaps, getting a 2nd one to keep under the stairs because, in a couple of years, I suspect it might be even better.

Best Vintage Ever

Dunleavy 18 1 (2)With reports that the 2018 wine grape harvest in England and Wales was the best on record, I was really looking forward to the launch of the new vintage from one of my favourite local vineyards – Dunleavy, based at Wrington, just a few minutes’ drive south of Bristol.  And I was not disappointed. One sniff of Ingrid Bates’ Pinot Noir Rosé (£12.95 direct from the vineyard – www.dunleavyvineyards.co.uk – or from local wine merchant Grape and Grind) revealed a glass full of delightful spring blossom fragrances, followed on the palate with lovely raspberry fruit and a hint of smokiness. This is a proper rosé, almost dry, ideal for drinking, well chilled, on its own but with enough body to pair nicely with, perhaps, a fresh tuna steak in a Niçoise salad. In my mind, a deserving winner of a Silver Medal at the Independent English Wine Awards.

Although only the rosé was on show at the launch, appropriately held once again at Bellita Wine Bar, who pride themselves in a winelist comprising all female winemakers, Dunleavy are also now producing a sparkling wine from their own Seyval Blanc grapes. Only 500 bottles of the initial vintage were produced and, not surprisingly, sold out quickly before I was able to get my hands on a bottle. But I look forward to tasting and reporting on this new development later in the year.

As I have said before, English (and Welsh) wine has improved enormously in the last 30 years and there are now almost 500 vineyards operating commercially.  Many will be opening their doors or participating in special events during English Wine Week, the now regular annual celebration of our home-grown product, which begins on Saturday 25 May.  Do check the English Wine Week site for details.

And finally, let me repeat an important clarification: English and Welsh wines are often incorrectly referred to as ‘British wine’. British wine is produced from imported grape juice or concentrate and is not recommended; English (or Welsh, if appropriate) Wine is a quality product made from freshly picked grapes and reflects the place where those grapes are grown.

Swiss Wine Triggers a Memory

Part of the beauty of enjoying wines is the memories it can trigger. A bottle a good friend of ours, who is currently working in Switzerland, brought back for us on one of her brief visits did just that. You very rarely find Swiss wine in the UK; production is small and almost none of it is exported – figures showing that more than 95% is consumed locally, so her gift was especially welcome.

Swiss PN

Cave St-Pierre’s Pinot Noir comes from the Valais region, home to some of the highest vineyards in Europe. Here, the steep, south-facing slopes overlook the infant River Rhône before it empties into Lake Geneva (Lac Leman to the locals) and provide ideal sites for vineyards, offering the vines excellent exposure to the sun and good drainage – both essential to full ripening of the fussy Pinot Noir grape.

And the result is delicious: a quite light-bodied red – more reminiscent of an Alsace Pinot Noir than one from Burgundy – but smooth and with lovely raspberry fruit, good balanced acidity and a long, dry, elegant finish.

In recent times, as tastes have moved in favour of red wines, Pinot Noir has taken over from the white variety Chasselas as the most widely planted in Switzerland, although Müller-Thurgau, Chardonnay, Silvaner and Pinots Gris and Blanc are still widely planted. Among red varieties, Gamay, Merlot (strangely also made into a white wine in the Italian-speaking Ticino region) and Syrah (Shiraz) are well represented but it’s almost certain that you’ll need to travel to the country itself to enjoy any of these.

And the memory I hinted at earlier? I’m fairly sure that the first time I ever tasted a Swiss wine was over a meal at the long-closed Swiss Centre in London many years ago. I have a particular reason to remember the occasion because my dining companion at the time, Hilary, soon became my wife – and now, more than 40 years later, we were able to celebrate with this bottle given by our friend, who had no idea of its significance!

 

A Romanian Winner

“Will you run a wine tasting for me?”  That’s a request I hear (fortunately!) quite frequently.  After discussing a few practical aspects – numbers, dates, venue – I usually ask whether the client has a particular theme in mind.  Different grape varieties, a ‘battle’ between Old World and New World wines or an individual country or region are popular choices and all make for good tastings.  But, occasionally, someone will send me in a very different direction.

“Can we have a tasting of Eastern European wines” was a recent request – a first, as far as I can recall.  And, of course, I said yes; it depends how you define ‘Eastern Europe’ -Germany, Austria and Hungary all make lovely wines – although I did recommend including South-Eastern Europe as well (Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and the former Yugoslav republics) as this would make a better and more varied evening.

So, do these countries produce anything worth drinking?  Absolutely, yes!  And, because they’re unfashionable, the wines they make are often remarkable value.  You can even find them at High Street outlets – 3 of the bottles I selected were from Majestic and the other 3 from Waitrose.

Eastern Europe tastingAmong the favourites on the night were Puklavec’s tangy, fresh Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Grigio from Slovenia (Waitrose, £7.99) and Aemilia’s chunky, dark-fruited Macedonian Shiraz/Vranac blend (also Waitrose, £7.49) – both brilliant value.  But the clear winner was from Romania: Incanta’s Pinot Noir (Majestic, £6.99, if you buy it as part of a mixed 6 bottle case).  Quite pale in colour (a fact, not a criticism) and reasonably light-bodied (only 12% alcohol) but full of lovely red fruit flavours – strawberries and redcurrants – and a clean, savoury, if slightly short, finish.  This is an easy drinking yet satisfying wine that would work well on its own on a summer evening in the garden, slightly chilled, perhaps, or to accompany a seared tuna steak or baked chicken breast; nothing too heavy or robust to overwhelm it, though.

If the thought of a tasting like this (not necessarily the same theme) appeals and you’re close to Bristol, please leave me a message in the Comment box and I’ll get back to you.