Saturday, 19 April 2008

Wines for Spring

Snow and hail showers one minute, bright sunshine the next – it must be Spring. Thinking of wines to drink at this time of year has its problems. Are the skies grey and the temperatures low, making you want to reach for a chunky, comforting red? Or has the sun emerged and you feel that Summer is surely only round the corner? When the weather is “in betweeny” like this, you need versatile wines that can adapt to changing conditions.

My first bit of advice is to have something red and something white and chilled ready for the off. If you’re braving an optimistic outdoor lunch, or even the first barbecue of the year, you probably want something cool to match the mood. But when the sun goes down at this time of year, the cold soon returns, so you might be after a spicy red to warm the cockles. Secondly, I find rosés just too summery for this time of year, so I’d rather hold off on those until the warm weather is really with us.

So, what to drink? For white wines, there’s something innately Spring-like in the herbaceous aromas and zingy acidity of Sauvignon Blanc. We are currently spoilt for choice in this country for Sauvignons, so attached are we to its gooseberry, leafy charms. You still need a little more weight and depth of flavour now than in Summer, when coolness and refreshment are of prime importance, so go for the fuller styles, such as those from New Zealand and Chile. Threshers/Wine Rack has Vidal Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand at £7.99 single bottle price or £5.33 as part of their 3 for 2 offer. Or you could try their Saint Clair Vicar’s Choice Sauvignon Blanc for £11.99/£7.99 for classic New Zealand pungent, ripe fruit. Majestic have a good value southern French Sauvignon Blanc, Les Fumées Blanches, which is £5.99 or down to £4.79 if you buy two.

If you fancy a change from the Sauvignon norm, head to Waitrose to sniff out a bottle of Hatzidakis Assyrtiko from the Greek Island of Santorini for £8.99. Banish all thoughts of evil Retsina and open your mind to the zesty, mineral intensity that the Assyrtiko grape produces on Santorini’s volcanic soils. I’m a big fan of this wine and it’s a great one to give to friends blind and play “guess the country” with.

Viognier is another grape that fits well with this time of year: it has a lovely apricotty/peachy character, plus some spice. When the weather hots up some can lack freshness because of their lowish acidity, but at this time of year their lush fruit is very welcome. Anakena Single Vineyard Viognier from the Rapel Valley in Chile is available at Threshers/Wine Rack for £8.49 or £5.66 if you buy three (when are they going to give up this absurd pricing I wonder, £5.66 is the real price, so don’t let yourself pay the higher one). This made me think more of pineapple than apricots, but delicious nevertheless.

What about reds?
Very light reds, like Beaujolais, which work really well slightly chilled, are, for me, all about Summer drinking: we’re not quite there yet. That rather dull-sounding term, mid-weight, is what it’s all about and here are some of my favourites.

The Loire is mostly known here for its white wines, but it does produce a fair amount of red. We are generally not as keen on them as the French are themselves, but they are great “wine bar” wines (as in good to drink on their own or with a token amount of food) and just right for Spring. Threshers/Wine Rack offers the uninspiringly-named Haut Poitou Rouge, made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay and Cabernet Franc at £6.99/£4.66. Plenty of juicy fruit with a smoky edge to it and (important for lighter-bodied reds) low tannins. The vintage I tried was 2005, which was particularly good, so try to make sure you find the same one. Joguet Les Petites Roches from Chinon in the Loire is a 100% Cabernet Franc, available at Waitrose for £8.35. It’s rather more weighty and serious than the Haut Poitou Rouge, so one to have with food.

Pinot Noir is a supremely flexible grape which can suit many different foods and occasions. I recommended it to go with Christmas turkey and I make no apologies for bringing it up again now. Pinot Noir’s low tannin and softly spicy fruit are the keys to its adaptability – it’s great with or without food, and is light-bodied enough to match up to warming weather. Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand is available from Wine Rack at £11.99/£7.99 and is certainly worth the 3 for 2 price. From Chile, Waitrose have Valdivieso Pinot Noir Reserva at £8.99, with plenty of ripe, but not overdone, fruit.

A final note: I’ve checked all prices for accuracy as far as possible at the time of writing. However, due to budget increases on duty as well as rising costs in other areas, wine prices are in a rather fluid state – be aware that prices may have changed by the time you go shopping!

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