Monday, 27 July 2009

Splash out - not literally I hope

Special occasion wines for summer

Most of us don't go spending over £10 on a bottle of wine unless it's a special occasion. But, as you're probably tired of hearing by now, staying in is the new going out and we are all, apparently, abandoning pubs and restaurants to eat at home. Even the most humble house red or white will likely set you back more than ten quid, so why not treat yourself to a really decent bottle of wine for the same price if you're staying home?


Donnafugata Polena 2008, Sicily, Italy - £10.99 at Oddbins

Many of Sicily's wine producers started out as makers of Marsala, the mainly sweet, fortified wine that we really only stick in the cooking rather than drink. Donnafugata was one of the first to start making regular wines with great success. This is an unoaked 50/50 blend of viognier and catarratto grapes: the viognier giving a lovely stone fruit and floral character and the catarratto a more herbal and grassy counterpoint.

Matahiwi Estate Holly Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Wairarapa, New Zealand - £10.99 at Oddbins, down to £8.79 as part of a mixed dozen

There's no doubt that sauvignon blanc's crisp, juicy characters are made for the summer and this one has an extra dimension to it compared with many New Zealand examples. There's a lovely smoky element to the fruit, which has probably developed during the months in bottle – 2007 is long in the tooth for most sauvignon blanc, but this has stood the test of time, though probably not one to hold on to until Christmas.

Masson-Blondelet 2007, Pouilly Fumé, Loire, France - £12.49, Waitrose

There are basically two models to follow for makers of sauvignon blanc – the more restrained, mineral and food-friendly one from the Loire Valley in France; and the more tropical fruit salad style that is typified by New Zealand (see above). If you want a textbook example of the Loire style, then look no further than this classic Pouilly Fumé: with a backbone of fine acidity this has zippy, mineral fruit and great elegance.


Southern Right Pinotage 2007, Walker Bay, South Africa - £11.99 at Waitrose

The pinotage grape is South Africa's gift to the wine world – but for some wine drinkers, they'd rather South Africa kept it to themselves. It's a Marmite of a grape variety which will always divide opinion and it's true that many cheaper versions are a spooky combination of rubber, bubblegum and Bovril that I try to avoid. This one, though, is a different kettle of fish: lovely beetroot and sour cherry aromas lead onto a smooth, fresh palate combining fruit and savoury characters. Nothing spooky about it, I promise!

Joseph Drouhin Rully 2006, Burgundy, France - £12.99 at Waitrose

Pinot noir is the red grape of Burgundy and the region's most serious examples hail from its northern section, the Côte de Nuits. Rully, by contrast, is a village in the southerly Côte Chalonnaise, which produces reds that are, generally, lighter, fruitier and somewhat rustic – but perfect for summer drinking. The bright fruit and softish tannins mean that you could easily chill this lightly to appreciate its refreshing, spicy raspberry flavours.

Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2007, Marlborough, New Zealand - £17.99, down to £14.39 if you buy any two New Zealand wines, at Majestic

Pinot noir again, but this time from New Zealand. The oak ageing has given delicious liquorice overtones to the perfumed fruit in this wine. It is more seriously structured than the Rully above, so I wouldn't chill it.

Chinon Les Varennes du Grand Clos 2001, Charles Joguet, Loire, France - £14.99 at Majestic

The Loire's red wines made from cabernet franc, essentially a lighter-bodied, more perfumed version of cabernet sauvignon, are traditional wine bar favourites in Paris. They also make for top summer reds with their generous, sappy fruit that somehow, don't ask me how, manages to feel cooling in the mouth. This 2001 gives you a chance to see how the grape develops as it matures – a heady, but never heavy, mixture of spiced hedgerow fruits, with a slightly medicinal edge. One for dinner parties rather than the barbecue.

Morgon Côte du Py 2007, Domaine Jean Foillard, Beaujolais, France – £19.90 at Les Caves de Pyrène in Artington

Beaujolais: back in the 1980s we used to love it, until the bubblegum confectedness of Beaujolais Nouveau put us off and we decided it was decidedly naff. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater: there is life beyond Beaujolais Nouveau. In general terms, the quality levels rise from Beaujolais, through Beaujolais-Villages, then, at the top of the tree, the ten named communes, “crus” in French, such as Morgon. The region has many young winemakers prepared to show what their beloved Gamay grape is capable of in the right hands and are not prepared to make wine in the traditional fruity and simple vein. The winemaker here is determined to let the grape shine with minimum intervention (organic and biodynamic methods, no sulphur even, very risky) and if you're feeling adventurous you'll be rewarded with a funky, rainbow explosion of flavours in your mouth. Try it with typical French charcuterie for a taste sensation.


Langlois-Château Crémant de Loire Rosé, Loire, France - £11.99 at Taurus Wines in Bramley; £12.99, or £10.39 as part of a mixed dozen, at Oddbins

Champagne houses, who know a thing or two about making sparkling wine, have a history of hooking up with makers of fizz in the Loire to good effect. Langlois-Château has been under Champagne Bollinger's wing since the 1970s. The terroir and grape varieties may not be the same as in Champagne, but this pink fizz, made entirely from cabernet franc, is a delightful and elegant mouthful of crunchy red fruit.

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