Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Last of the summer wine

Last time I focussed on all things pink for summer drinking – this time it’s the turn of white and red wines suitable for our capricious summer weather.

If I were writing this in, say, Spain it would be so much simpler. There, summer is hot, no two ways about it, and any wine recommendations would be for whites that you can chill right down for maximum refreshment, without too many worries about the flavour. Reds would be of the kind that can also take some chilling, as who would want to drink something at room temperature in the heat? Here, however, it’s never that simple: we could enjoy one of our mini heatwaves, which ends in the inevitable thunderstorm, or suffer seemingly endless grey days – or just about anything in between. And let’s face it, in this country we just don’t do sultry warm evenings as a rule: there aren’t many nights where you want to sit outside in a t-shirt sipping something ice cold. So, versatility is the order of the day and probably having a good range of suitable wines for any weather is the only way to be ready for anything the British weather can throw at us.

That said, there are some wines that I would probably avoid at this time of year, most notably claret/red Bordeaux. The tannic structure and elegance of these wines just doesn’t fit with the season somehow. Wines from the Rhône, with their spice and warmth, as long as they have enough acidity to remain fresh, seem to make a better match.

Wines for a Party
‘Tis the season to slave over a hot, smoky barbecue in the hot sun (just who thought this was a good idea?). What wines to serve to the masses? Don’t buy anything that you aren’t happy to drink yourself is always sound advice.

Cuvée Pêcheur, Vin de Pays du Comté Tolosan 2007, £3.69 at Waitrose. A mixture of half fruity Colombard and half crisp, neutral Ugni Blanc.

Fiano di Sicilia, Settesoli 2007, £5.99, or £4.79 if you buy two bottles, at Majestic. Fiano is the grape variety of the moment, scoring a hit with its delicate peachy fruit combined with crisp acidity and this one is made by a respected producer from Sicily.

Domaine de l’Olivette Blanc 2007, £5.79 at Waitrose. Some people will choose this because it’s an organically-made wine at a reasonable price. I like it because of its savoury, fruity, spicy flavours: perfect for barbecues.

Cuvée Chasseur, Vin de Pays de l’Herault 2007, £3.29 at Waitrose. The red partner to the Cuvée Pêcheur above, this typical southern French blend of Carignan and Grenache offers decent party glugging.

Sainsbury’s Portuguese Red 2006, £3.19. I was pleasantly surprised by this wine’s generous, spicy fruit, which put it ahead of other, more expensive, wines.

Los Robles Fairtrade Carmenère, Chile, 2007, currently £5.19 at Waitrose, but from 16 July until 5 August it will be down to £4.39. Carmenère is Chile’s signature grape, with its hallmark slightly leafy edge to the smoky black cherry fruit.

Over £5
For white wines, what do you want when (if!) it’s hot? Something cold, crisp and refreshing. If you’re feeling adventurous, then try a bottle of Fino or Manzanilla sherry – these are the driest, most refreshing white wines around and the drink the Andalusians sip while they graze on tapas. Yes, sherry is fortified, but is still only 15% alcohol – many a New World wine hits the 14/14.5% mark. Remember, sherry isn’t just a drink for granny at Christmas. Keep a bottle in the fridge and treat it as you would any other white wine: finish it within days, don’t leave it languishing on the shelf for months.

Sainsbury’s Manzanilla Superior Pale Dry Sherry, £5.99. Textbook stuff: crisp, dry and satisfying. Made for Sainsbury’s by Emilio Lustau – they don’t make poor sherry, so look for this name. Try it with olives, tapas or soup (especially gazpacho).

Picpoul de Pinet, Cuvée Ressac Prestige 2007, £7.55 at Nicolas. A wine known to every French wine drinker, but with a low profile here. This is the ultimate seafood wine: fresh and mineral, but with some weight.

Tesco Finest Grüner Veltliner, Austria, 2007, £5.99. Tesco have put in a lot of work on their Finest wine range over the last couple of years, weeding out the poor quality wines. This is good value for Austria’s signature grape variety. The nose is slightly floral and peachy and the palate is just dry but rich and concentrated with hints of grapefruit.

Tesco Finest Gavi DOCG 2007, £6.13. This is a great wine for people who don’t want their wines to dominate, or taste of oak. Made from the Cortese grape in Piedmont, northeastern Italy, this wine is typically light and fresh, with pear fruit, but has enough body to stand up to food. Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Gavi 2007, £6.99 is in the same mould, or you could go for Majestic’s Gavi La Lancellotta 2007, £7.49, down to £5.99 if you buy two.

D’Arenberg Dry Dam Riesling, South Australia, £9.99 at Oddbins. This has great freshness as well as ripeness of fruit. Juicy, limey fruit with a hint of toastiness and just 11.5% alcohol. A delicious and versatile wine.

Red wines

Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2005, £5.49, Oddbins. I urge you to try this wine – even if you don’t normally drink red wines. This is perfect warm weather drinking with its ripe, lively, juicy cherry fruit. A total pleasure to drink. The “dinner party” version of this style of wine is Planeta’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria, 2006, £13.99 at Waitrose. The Planeta family are the big beasts of the Sicilian wine jungle and this wine is beautifully perfumed with soft fruit but no lack of flavour – wonderfully understated.

La Piuma Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2006, £5.49 from Waitrose is a nice example of this grape variety. Montepulciano makes wines with an agreeably fruity and smoky nose, that are soft, spicy and slightly rustic on the palate. Just the right balance for barbecues.

From the Rhône have a try of Sainsbury’s enjoyably rustic Taste the Difference Côtes du Rhône Villages 2006 at £5.99, which is a perfect chewy, spicy and fruity partner for sausages. Moving up a notch in quality is Tesco’s Finest Vacqueyras 2005 at £7.48. It has more of everything, including tannins, so this is one for food.

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