Have you ever thought how many of the main wine regions of Europe are close to rivers? The Rhone, Mosel and Douro Rivers are all so closely linked to wine that they have wine regions named after them. The Loire has vineyards along more than half of its length, the Rhine features in a number of German regional wine names and Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rioja all have rivers running through or close to them – the Garonne and Dordogne, Saone and Ebro, respectively. And there are many others.
This is no coincidence: rivers affect climate, they can excavate deep valleys with steep sides ideal for vineyards, they provide water for irrigation and, in centuries past when road transport was difficult, they provided the easiest way to transport heavy cargoes such as wine. In these and so many other ways rivers have been helpful either to grape growing (and so to winemaking) or, perhaps, more importantly, in ensuring that a particular wine can reach its market.
And it’s this fascinating subject – “The Wine Rivers of Europe” – that I’ve chosen for a series of talks I’m running at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre this autumn.
Each week, I’ll concentrate on a particular river and we’ll talk about (and taste, of course!) the wines that can be found along its length. Provisionally, the talks will comprise the Loire, Rhine, Danube, Rhone and Douro. They will run for 5 consecutive Wednesday evenings from 7pm to 9pm starting 2nd November. The cost for the whole series is £60 plus a share of the cost of the wines tasted (which will be limited to a maximum of £8 per person per week). Booking is essential as places will be very limited and can be made online at www.bristolcourses.com or by phone on 0117 903 8844.
If this doesn’t appeal or you can’t make the dates, have a look at the same website for some of the one day Saturday courses I’ll be running at Stoke Lodge during the first half of 2017. Hope to meet some of you there!
“Can we have a tasting of wines for summer drinking?” a client asked me recently. Of course! It gave me the chance to concentrate on refreshing, easy-drinking bottles – perfect for that picnic or barbie – or just for drinking chilled on their own in the garden. And, because wines like these focus more on enjoyment than on deep appreciation of their finer points, they’re not usually that expensive; in fact, I bought all the wines in Majestic and none cost more than £8 (based on their offers for mixed cases of at least 6 bottles).
We started with a Vinho Verde from northern Portugal: Quinta de Azevedo (£6.99) is a delightfully crisp and fresh white made from a blend of little-known local grapes. To follow, something more floral and fragrant: Mayu’s dry Pedro Ximenez (PX) from Chile (same price). This wine surprised me when I first tasted it as PX is more commonly found in Spain’s sherry region, where it’s mainly used for sweetening, yet, here, it shows a completely different (and most attractive) side to its character.
I can drink rosé at any time of year but there’s no denying that sales peak in the summer and so it was an obvious choice for this tasting. I took along a couple: The Ned Pinot Rosé from New Zealand (£7.99) is an old favourite of mine – full of lovely summer berry fruit flavours – while Cune’s Rioja Rosado (a bargain at just £5.99) is simply a lighter, more delicate version of a young red from the region.
In warm weather, you’re usually looking for something you can serve cool and, of course, you can’t chill red wine – or can you? I wouldn’t suggest putting your best claret in the fridge (but that’s hardly a wine for a summer picnic, anyway), but lighter reds such as Beaujolais or Valpolicella are actually better for a half hour chilling. The same applies to Allegrini’s Tenuta di Naiano Bardolino (£7.49), from the next door region to Valpolicella, with its tangy flavours of bitter cherries.
And, finally, to barbecues. An Australian Shiraz would be the choice of many – and I wouldn’t argue, but why not try a French example of the same grape? Domaine les Yeuses ‘Les Épices’ Syrah (£7.99) is my choice – similar spicy, peppery flavours and lovely violet aromas.
So there we have it – my selection of wines for summer. The group I ran the tasting for enjoyed them all, although the Vinho Verde just edged it in the final vote. Try them – I hope you like them, too.
Galicia, in the far north-west of Spain, is one of that country’s most interesting wine regions. But, if you’re not familiar with their wines – and, sadly, many in Britain are not – you need to forget any existing thoughts about Spanish wine. Galicia is different! Its climate is Atlantic-influenced which means that it is wetter, cooler and more fertile than areas of Spain further inland or those facing the Mediterranean. And it grows a clutch of grape varieties rarely seen elsewhere.
As you might guess, I love their wines – and not just since a really enjoyable visit my wife and I made there a couple of years ago. So I was particularly pleased that the Bristol Tasting Circle’s latest monthly event featured wines from Galicia (plus an intruder from Castille y Leon, just over the regional border!) presented by a long-standing friend of the Circle, Raj Soni of local independent wine merchant RS Wines.
Typical of the world’s cooler grape growing regions, Galicia makes more white than red. Paso de Marinan uses Godello in a blend with other local varieties to produce a wine with good body and lovely tropical fruit flavours (£9), while Crego e Monaguillo’s 100% Godello (£10) is fresh and clean with hints of mandarins on the palate. The one Galician variety that may be familiar to some (particularly Bristol Wine Blog readers) is Alboriño and Pazo de Barantes (£13) make an excellent example: quite rich and fragrantly perfumed, this wine has length, complexity and is simply delightful to drink.
But Galicia makes reds, too, mainly using the local Mencia grape. It gives soft, gently spicy wines – my wife said cumin – and the stand-out for me was the delicately smoky, barrel aged bottle from Joaquin Rebolledo (£15), who is so superstitious that he labelled his 2013 vintage as ‘2012+1’!
For more details of the wines, you can contact RS Wines on www.rswines.co.uk. Or, if tastings like this one appeal, just email the Bristol Tasting Circle secretary, Judith Tyler on firstname.lastname@example.org – new members are always welcome.
“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.
Among 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.