Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Wine Rules: 7: Giving Thanks for Zinfandel

The really great thing about wine is that virtually every country, nation, region, state, appellation, has its own style. 

The United States of America now offers wine grown from grapes drawn from virtually every corner of the world, in styles that range from cheap and cheerful Chateau Cardboard, through innovative blends of grapes from different continents, to exclusive low-volume high ticket premium wines made with all the care and craftsmanship that the great melting pot of winemaking skills can muster.

But the USA also offers one wine that has become as synonymous with America as hamburgers, hot dogs and, especially, pizza. It's as American as basketball, baseball and gridiron. And Thanksgiving.

It's Zinfandel.

As with the development of the pizza, America has taken something distinctly Italian - in this case the Primitivo grape - and moulded and re-moulded it to fit the needs of, at just 235 years of age - a comparatively youthful nation, experimenting continually - not always successfully - to create and recreate something now distinctly American.

And as with pizza there have been hiccups along the way - Blush still outsells red Zinfandel by six to one in the USA. 

Outside the States, American Zinfandel has established a significant niche for itself and the range on offer meets everybody's needs. 

Just as you can grab a basic cheese and tomato calzone from a sidewalk vendor, so you can find boxed Blush on the shelves of cornershops in London and can see Ridge Zinfandel on the shelves of quality wine merchants right around the globe.

In England the Ravenswood range is a massive seller. The style to which winemaker Joel Peterson adheres gives his red Zinfandel as distinctive a sense of terroir as any Old World wine and his uncompromising loyalty to the essence of the grape makes his wines the stand out choice for Thanksgiving. 

You can't go far wrong with the Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Zinfandel. 

Deep ruby red with the weight of alcohol at 13.5% sticking it to the glass, thick with black cherry aromas and hints of liquorice pepper and vanilla, medium to fullish bodied with flavours of blueberries and raspberries, cherries and oak spice in a fruit laden red. Supple and balanced, eminently drinkable. 

Happy Thanksgiving.


The Wine Rules: 7: Give thanks for Zinfandel

Monday, 25 October 2010

Terroir. The French word that links wine inextricably to place. California?


Terroir. I'm glad there's no translation for the French word that links wine inextricably to place. Because it means one thing and one thing alone. 

A bit like dental records. Whenever you hear that phrase on the radio or television it calls out to your ears because it has one unchallenged, and only one. meaning: that the examination of dental records was the only method by which to confirm the identity of a body.

The French can take tons of grapes from a single grape variety, or a combination of grapes, and vinify them in myriad ways but the unique element that gives the resulting wine its very identity is terroir - everything affecting the land on which they are grown.

But take those same grapes and transplant them to the so-called New World and do they achieve a sense of place? 

In California, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard believes so, with what he terms vins de terroir.

The Santa Cruz pioneer has long used his renowned skills as a négociant to bring together the produce of what he considered the most expressive vineyards to create the likes of Le Cigare Volant. 

The original Rhône Ranger Randall Grahm, with his
homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Le Cigare Volant
For the 2006 vintage Randall chose Syrah from the Chequera Vineyard on the Central Coast for its fragrance, in addition to the usual Santa Maria Valley Syrah and Bonny Doon's own Biodynamic Estate Grenache, plus Cinsault and a dash of Mourvedre from 100-year-old Contra Costa vineyards. Any resemblance to Châteauneuf-du-Pape is deliberate.  

In typical pioneeering style Randall actually lists the breakdown of grape varieties on the label: 43.6% Syrah, 43.5% Grenache, 11.7% Cinsault - even 1.1% Mourvedre and 0.1% Carignan.

The revelations continue with a full disclosure of ingredients on the website, and befitting for a champion of change, a screwcap on the bottle. 

It's built for aging and will still be drinking well in 2012. For now, it's all rich red Grenache fruit and smoky Syrah spices: fresh pomegranate, red cherry, sharp raspberries and strawberries with typical Grenache softness on the palate plus dried herbs, black pepper and anise with chewy tannins and 13.5% alcohol for a long finish. Worth decanting.

As is so often the case, it has a white sister: Le Cigare Blanc. White wines are often pale shadows of their big red brothers; think Rioja as well as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but Randall Grahm applied the same exacting standards to the 2007 Le Cigare Blanc as to Le Cigare Volant. 

A single vineyard cru, it uses only Rousanne and Grenache Blanc from the Biodynamics Beeswax Vineyard of Arroyo Seco. It's lively on the nose with honey and fresh lavender scents. Fine gold in colour with a hint of green on the sticky 14.5% ABV rim, the weight of alcohol makes it smoothly silken in the mouth, the Rousanne giving a Calvados like quality to its intense pear finish.  Very expressive now but it may retreat for a year or two before maturing fully.

Randall Grahm may have categorised his earlier creations as 'wines of effort' - intellectual challenges to the winemaking norms - but Le Cigare Volant and Le Cigare Blanc are examples of his resolve to allow nature to take the upper hand over nurture in expressions of terroir that belie his earliest obsession with the Great American Pinot Noir and instead betray his determination to pay homage to the great wines of the Rhône. 

With thanks to Fields Morris & Verdin for helping me track down Boony Doon Vineyards' wines in the UK and to Berry Bros & Rudd.


Saturday, 2 October 2010

Sylvaner. Poor man's Riesling?

Think of Alsace and you can picture pots of pelargoniums hanging in baskets from every building, clinging onto window ledges and crowding doorways, entrance gates and courtyards. They love their flowers in Alsace, although seemingly just the one variety.

They love their food too. Tarts two I should say, as the most popular dishes are quiche lorraine and tarte flambée. The former an oven baked short crust pastry flan with lardons and onions in a savoury egg custard, the latter an oven baked bread dough based flan with lardons and onions in a savoury creme fraiche. Note the similarity.

Because it's pretty much the same with wines. Alsace is just about the only French winemaking region that concentrates almost exclusively on varietal wines i.e. wines made from a single grape variety, not blended with other grapes for style, enhanced with a handful of Colombard for acid or Semillon for weight, nor diluted with bulk varieties for economy.

The principal grapes in Alsace are Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris, with an honourable mention too for Sylvaner. What they all have in common, besides their willingness to grow in one of the the coolest wine-growing climates in France, is aroma.

For these are among the most aromatic of grapes, including some that create white wines of the very highest order. 

Across the border in Germany such headily scented fruit would almost certainly be used for producing sweet wines or at the very least wines labelled halbtrocken, literally half-dry, which good restaurant menus and attentive sommeliers should accurately describe for diners as off-dry.

In Alsace the preferred style is dry(ish). And what style. And what value.

Despite the area under the Sylvaner vine falling from some 27% to 10% over the last 30 years, since 2006 the Sylvaner grape has controversially found itself promoted to Grand Cru status but only for wines made from 14 hectares of vines growing in the Zotzenberg vineyard. Such is the power and influence of terroir in the French wine classification systems. 

Browsing the shelves of my local French Supermarket called Champion I found Jean-Marie Strubbler Sylvaner for under €3. Admittedly I was only looking at sub €3 wines and no Riesling or Gewürztraminer were available at such a low price, although I did also find a Pinot Gris. 

But it was the Jean-Marie Strubbler Sylvaner that caught my eye, my wallet, and later my nose and my palate.

It's pale and clear in the glass, gently aromatic with slight white floral scents. It falls right into the medium dry category, milder in flavour than the rest of the Alsace varietals, with green apple sharpness, good balanced lime acid, light alcohol and a clean soft fruitful finish.

Like any Sylvaner it may be derided as a poor man's Riesling, but that's really what it is. Because it's just so much cheaper than modern Riesling. What Sylvaner lacks in the way of distinctive character compared to its highly aromatic and unique Alsation rivals is compensated by the value it offers. It is everyday easy drinking, not fine dining wine. A glugger not a gloater. A welcome change from Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.

Have it with barbecues and picnics, especially quiches and savoury tarts, and reflect that at 12% ABV and only €3 a bottle, you can literally drink three times as much for the price of a decent Riesling.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Wine Rules: 6: Bold Aussie reds batter the senses - beautifully


It's not been a happy time recently for sports mad Aussies. 

Heath Wines' 
Lizard Flat Shiraz -
as Aussie reds should be
Humbled - humiliated is maybe too strong a word but worth putting down on paper anyway just to see it in writing - in the cricket by Pakistan, and humiliated - humbled is probably too weak a word - at home by New Zealand in the rugby, they are clinging to the sporting hopes of Mark Webber, currently leading the drivers' table in Formula One motor racing. 

Fittingly, having occasionally also lost their way in wine-making, it is a former racing driver Alan Heath who is leading Australians to a return to form through a couple of bolshy big red wines that typify traditional Aussie sporting values. 

Wines that, like Heath Wines' Chief Winemaker and former Aussie Rules footballer, Nick Walker, just never give up. 


Lizard Flat Shiraz is a massive punchy deep crimson red wine. It clings to the glass as if giving up its alcohol with the utmost reluctance. On the nose it's packed with over-ripe blackberries and warmed plums with sharp cinnamon.  Hot black pepper and dark spice is immediate on the palate, which is full to bursting with intense black fruit flavour, terrific weight and a lasting finish. 

The 2004 has a lovely maturity to it as the fruit begins to gather some Autumnal tones. Delicious stuff. And at 14% ABV exactly the kind of powerful wine we always used to associate with Australia. 

This is how Aussie reds should forever be. Forget for a moment the finesse of the Margaret River. Australia built its reputation on overblown whites and blow-you-over reds and this is a distinctive return to form. In your face, have some of that, fall-over the barbie boozing. Wine Spectator rates in 88 points.
Southern Roo kicks
like a Red Kangaroo 

But there's more. 

Fittingly, its big sister is the fullest, fattest, flaming red style that Australians truly made their own. 

Gold medal-winning Southern Roo 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz bowls you over like one of Brett Lee's 99-miles-an-hour bouncers. Labelled 14.5% ABV, you get every degree of alcohol on the nose, the palate and the finish. 

You can see it in the glass, a glistening silvery rim of the meniscus giving your eyes fair warning of what's about to hit your tastebuds. Darkest carmine, with black cherry scents and obvious raw cocoa, it's as full-bodied as you'd expect, still offering a nip of ripe tannin but with bags of lush and highly spiced, oaky dark mature warm fruit and a smooth peppered finish.

And that's the big secret to both these wines. For all their brashness, their boldness, their sheer true blue ballsyness, they also offer some of the dexterity, the guile and the soft subtle sleight of hand that made Shane Warne the greatest bowler ever to turn an arm.

Both wines are available online in the UK from Red Wine White Wine who also offer really good representative mixed cases.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

World Cup Wine. The Winners: Greece. Portugal. And Slovenia?



It's over. The advent of the 2010 Football World Cup was a great excuse for any number of wine enthusiasts to introduce ourselves to products and producers we may never have otherwise discovered. 

Of the 32 competing nations, some 25 are at least close to being conventional wine producers, and I found that there was at least something called wine produced in every World Cup country. Bar one*.

Over the course of the fortnight I had cause to investigate Communion Wine from Nigeria, made from pineapples and with a somewhat unsurprising bouquet of pineapple, and the Palm Wine traditions of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, alcoholic drinks that virtually make themselves and have a shelf life of just 24 hours. 

But Africa's greatest contribution to winemaking may be the celebrated pied-noirs from Algeria; experienced and expert emigrant winemakers whose skills are now as widespread as winemaking itself, from Corsica to California.

Exploring Asia introduced me to the Chinese Plum Wines from Korea, North and South, made from the Japanese apricot, and to Japanese white wine wines made in Japan from the delicate pale violet Japanese Koshu grape.

I researched the history of winemaking in Brazil, surprisingly more influenced by an Englishman, a Spaniard, the French, Germans and Italians, than the colonial Portuguese. And I discovered that in Paraguay they drink their red wine with cola and call it Par. Ugh.

From Europe my view was reinforced that the future of English winemaking lies in Traditional Method sparkling wine and specifically in the layers of chalk that lie beneath southern England and stretch all the way to Champagne. 

I marvelled at Denmark's determination to develop Don's Cuvée, its own, singular sparkling wine from Skærsøgaard Vin. Along the way, the campsite wines of the Netherlands were uncovered, as unexpected and typically Dutch as Holland's re-emergence as World Cup finalists.

Who knew that Serbia's Prokupac is known by 30 other names? Or that in Tokay, Slovakia has contributed to one of the world's great dessert wines. Meanwhile Switzerland's secrets were revealed as flavoursome white wines made from unusual and local grape varieties like Amigne, Arvine and Humagne Blanc.

Coincidentally, in common with the majority of the finalists my top three are all Europeans, but not Holland, Germany or Spain.

In third place, Greece. 

Although the renowned Château Carras vineyard was planted to the design of the man known as the forefather of modern oenology, the late Professor Émile Peynaud, with native Bordeaux varieties, and has over the past forty-plus years acquired a worldwide reputation for its quality, indigenous Greek grape varieties, like Greek footballers, are mostly unknown outside Greece: Limnio, Xynomavro, Korinthiaki, Agiorgitiko, Vertzami, Mandilaria, Savatiano, Rhoditis, Assyritiko, Moschophilero and Robola are hardly household names. 

Which is why initially I was drawn to recommend readers re-visit Retsina, in its modern, much lighter style as exemplified by Ino Retsina, made from 100% Savatiano grapes. 

Then independent specialist merchant and Greek wine importer Nick Kontarines of Yamas Wines intervened. Rightly describing Retsina as 'the Marmite of the wine world', in that you either love it or you hate it, he introduced me to the aforesaid Agiorgitiko, also known as St. George.

The Agiorgitiko grape often offers little acidity and tannin so produces wines that are best young; light to medium bodied, soft in the mouth with spiced plum fruit and dark berries, and a short finish, typically midweight alcohol.

Gaia Wines' Notios 2008 is a 100% Agiorgitiko from the premium Nemea vineyards. You get a blast of young red fruit aromas then immediate green plums, with supersoft tannins and a lovely warm feel on the palate, as the 13.5% alcohol settles on the tongue. 

Deliciously different and a most welcome introduction to an alternative wine choice, especially to partner Mediterranean foods. Of all the wines new to me that I drank during the world cup, only two were enjoyed more.

In a close second place, Portugal.

As with Greece, it is the abundant indigenous grape varieties that make the country's wines so intriguing, including the likes of Baga, Aragonêz (Tempranillo) and the principal Port grape, Touriga Nacional, whose full body can be enhanced with the perfume and finesse of Touriga Franca.

Iberian winemaking has built its quality reputation on barrel-aged red wines and I'm indebted again to a specialist importer, Casa Leal, for an introduction to the indigenous style. Sanguinhal Cabernet Sauvignon Aragonêz 2004 blends the great grapes of Rioja and Bordeaux into a soft, smooth, well-structured, mature and punchy representative red, with all the ageing maturity of flavour that Miguel Leal suggests for an introduction to contemporary Portuguese wine-making.

The wine that I enjoyed most though, the one that surprised me and will hopefully surprise you too, is from Slovenia.

My World Cup Wine 2010 is Contesse Bagueri Sparkling Rebula from Goriška Brda, in a Magnum.

Slovenia has been making wine since the time of the Romans. Nowadays something like 75% of it is white and like near-neighbours Switzerland, almost all locally-produced wine is consumed locally too.

Primorska is Slovenia's primary vineyard region and the co-operative Goriška Brda, eponymously named after the district bordering Italy to the west, is Slovenia's biggest wine cellar and an exception within this centuries-old local winemaking tradition in that its wines can be found as far afield as the USA as well as across Europe including here in the UK.

Over a quarter of the vineyard acreage is given over to Zlata Rebula, known in Italy as Ribolla and it is these hand-picked grapes, blended with 15% Chardonnay, that give Contesse Bagueri its varietal green apples and stone fruit flavours. 

Made using the Charmat Method whereby the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks, Contesse Bagueri spends 10 months on its lees - the remnants of the fermentation yeast - and it is this method that immediately presents on pouring, when small and fresh 'perlage' bubbles burst with those bready scents. 

On the palate it immediately has a fine fullsome feel despite relatively light alcohol of 12.5%, and it offers a delicious and lasting creamy finish. 

Contesse Bagueri comes in a striking Magnum bottle and is just great fun; a super choice for weddings, picnics - and World Cup parties.

Greek wines available from:Yamas Wines

Portuguese wines available from: Casa Leal

Slovenian wines available from: Late Vintage

*In Honduras they only drink beer.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

July 4th. One Nation. One Wine?

The really great thing about wine is that virtually every country, nation, region, state, appellation, has its own style. 

The United States of America now offers wine grown from grapes drawn from virtually every corner of the world, in styles that range from cheap and cheerful Chateau Cardboard, through innovative blends of grapes from different continents, to exclusive low-volume high ticket premium wines made with all the care and craftsmanship that the great melting pot of winemaking skills can muster.

But the USA also offers one wine that has become as synonymous with America as hamburgers, hot dogs and, especially, pizza. It's as American as basketball, baseball and gridiron. 

It's Zinfandel.

As with the development of the pizza, America has taken something distinctly Italian - in this case the Primitivo grape - and moulded and re-moulded it to fit the needs of, at just 234 years of age - a comparatively youthful nation, experimenting continually - not always successfully - to create and recreate something now distinctly American.

And as with pizza there have been hiccups along the way - Blush still outsells red Zinfandel by six to one in the US. 

Outside the States, American Zinfandel has established a significant niche for itself and the range on offer meets everybody's needs. 

Just as you can grab a basic cheese and tomato calzone from a sidewalk vendor, so you can find boxed Blush on the shelves of cornershops in London and can see Ridge Zinfandel on the shelves of quality wine merchants right around the globe.

In England the Ravenswood range is a massive seller. The style to which winemaker Joel Peterson adheres gives his red Zinfandel as distinctive a sense of terroir as any Old World wine and his uncompromising loyalty to the essence of the grape makes his wines the stand out choice for barbecues on July 4th. 

You can't go far wrong with the Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Zinfandel. 

Deep ruby red with the weight of alcohol at 13.5% sticking it to the glass, thick with black cherry aromas and hints of liquorice pepper and vanilla, medium to fullish bodied with flavours of blueberries and raspberries, cherries and oak spice in a fruit laden red. Supple and balanced, eminently drinkable. 

Happy Independence Day.

World Cup Wines. Précis: The wines of Holland, Germany, Spain and Uruguay


It comes down to just four teams left in the World Cup and they are all winemaking nations; three Old World Europeans, one New World South American, yet it is one of the Europeans that is least-known for its wine.

No wonder really. The Netherlands is actually best known for tulips. Holland exports two-thirds of the world's total cut-flowers and bulbs. The country also exports one third of all world cucumber exports and a quarter of all tomatoes. So agricultural land is both available and productive. But not for wine. It's very flat you know. 

A lot of Dutch wine is what I call campsite wine. It's variable in quality, although some is of a high standard, and is produced in significant volumes by hobbyists whose livelihoods are derived from tourism, through small family-run leisure parks, campsites and Bed & Breakfast businesses. 

But it's in the actual winemaking that the Dutch their most significant challenge. Being so northerly the nation's winemakers have little choice but to add sugar to their wine. The grapes simply don't produce enough sugar themselves to create the level of alcohol required. This has previously thrown them into conflict with the European Union, which has previously proposed to ban the addition of sugar.

About 60 winemakers are supplied some 80 differing grape varieties from 130 commercial vineyards cultivated by some 160 professional grape growers in Holland. Total production is circa one million bottles. These Dutch wineries, probably as you'd expect, make mostly light wines. The Dutch market itself is very big on rosé too.

Award winning winemaker Marius van Stokkom of eponymous  Domein van Stokkom is a former brewer who since 1977 has brought his expertise in fermentation of wheat and barley to bear on the Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc grapes of his own small De Linie vineyard.  His leading wine made it onto the KLM (Dutch airline) business class wine list. Before it was taken over by Air France. Look out for this De Linie range. 

In contrast, German wine history is as old as the nation, viticulture having been established by the Romans.

Riesling is king in Germany. It is the great white grape. Riesling is offered in several great wine styles, ranging from just dry to cloyingly sweet Trockenbeerenauslese, and they vary in strength from just 9% ABV. Prices start competitively, but rare and ancient top quality vintages fetch thousands. 

Nowadays lots of authentic German Rieslings offer heady floral scents and flavours and can be quaffed all day long. 

You'll also find that many Rieslings aren't dry. Rather, they are off-dry, or even sweet, so just check for the word 'Trocken' on the label, as it means dry.  NB. 'Halbtrocken' literally means half dry i.e. off-dry. So for easy daytime drinking, I recommend you have your Riesling young and fresh in a crisp and elegant Kabinett. 

Just as Germany is renowned for its Riesling, so every country - indeed many an individual region within the Old World winemaking countries - has its own wine style. For Spain, this is mature red wine. Red wine that has been allowed to age in its own time in serried ranks of oak barrels beneath the winery. Wine that is made and then left. For years. 

Yes, I know about modern Spain and the modern trend for modern young juicy fruitful easy-gluggers, but to me that's just not Spain. 

Traditionally and historically Spanish winemakers have used regional grape varieties to create a number of variations on a age-old theme. A theme exemplified by traditional Rioja. Rioja with vanilla, with leather, with dark and spicy overripe red fruit. Red wine that is really quite brown. At the top of the quality tree Rioja Gran Reserva is aged four years or more in oak, Ribera del Duero gets better with the passing years and even cultish young pretender Priorat shouldn't be touched until it's had five years ageing.

But you can find everyday, affordable representations of this brown red style in wine merchants and on supermarkets shelves - even in corner shops - across the UK. You'll recognise the bottles, they're wrapped in a gold wire cage. 

Nowadays it's an affectation, something to attract your attention, a nice bit of nice window dressing. Historically it was actually a quality guarantee, the proof that the contents were as the bottle left the winery, to stop crafty restaurateurs refilling expensive Rioja bottles with cheaper stuff and then passing it off as Gran Reserva.

Today you'll even see the golden cages on wines from supposed lesser regions like Valdepeñas on the central plain of La Mancha or Calatayud in Aragón - but the wines are still typical. 

Names like Anciano, Vina Albali, Castillo de Montearagon, Palacio del Conde and Conde Galiana spring to mind but the key is the combination of age, six or seven years plus, and wire, and brown red wine. Like Rioja, many are also based around the Tempranillo, the grape Spain calls its own.

Uruguay also has a grape to call its own of course. Tannat. 

The nation's winemakers have taken a mostly unregarded variety from Madiran in the South of France and established it as Uruguay's national wine with a quality and style that none of its competitors have found easy to match.

Put this somewhat rough, tannin-thick grape into the hands of the best Uruguayan wine producers and you will see and taste something truly marvellous. The country's winemakers have taken this varietal to their hearts and now produce definitive versions of the eponymous wine that stand comparison with anything the rest of the wine world has to offer. 

Look for the names of Casa Filgueira, De Lucca  and Marichal to discover luscious premium Tannat bursting with cherry and plum fruit, filled with blackfruit flavours and with sufficient tannic bite to allow them to improve over time. Glasses of deep dark red wine that with some age on it - five years or more? - brings a maturity that balances the tannins to give a lasting but still fruit-dominated finish. I love Tannat. It's always £10 a bottle and I've never had a bad one. Not from Uruguay.

The Uruguayans' reputation for physical football is second to none. They will literally kick you off the park if they have to. As Luis Suarez's goal-line handball showed, their players will do anything to succeed.

It is for that singularity of intent - one grape, one wine - that I predict Uruguay as my winner in the World Cup of wines

Saturday, 3 July 2010

World Cup Wines. Précis: The wines of Argentina vs Germany

Malbec is the wine Argentina does best of all. It's meaty, even beefy, like their famous steaks; it's muscular like Javier Mascherano. 

It can be lush, highly scented, packed with dark damson fruit. 

Stick to the 100% varietal too - no need to dilute or soften it with cheap Bonarda or Touriga Nacional as you can find 100% Malbecs at lower price levels anyway. That said, regulations allow up to 30% of blending grapes and you will find that the top quality premium versions often contain less than 100% Malbec - and at fine wine prices too. 

It's a terrific gluggable red. Malbec really is delicious. And it is so consistent. It's often deep purple red, intense, highly aromatic and plummy fruitful.  

Despite it's powerful pack of alcohol, frequently up to 14%, it's much too temptingly drinkable, especially with barbecue charred and blackened red meat. Watch out. 

Malbec maintains the standard set in 1978 when Argentina ran out winners thanks to the genius of Mario Kempes, and saw them champions again in 1986 and runners-up in 1990. Argento and Graffigna each create reliable versions in several ranges at prices to suit most pockets.

If you prefer to drink white, and given the alcoholic strength of typical Malbecs, you might think daytime matches probably demand it, Torrontes is the often equally punchy peachy white alternative.

Torrontés is the white wine grape most closely associated with white wine made in Argentina, and Argentina is the New World winemaking country most closely associated with Torrontés. So it makes sense that to accompany any event with an Argentinian theme, Torrontés would be the only white wine of choice.

It's distinctly aromatic, typically heavy with fruits such as apricots and even lychees on the nose, sometimes with scents of roses, soft and smooth on the palate with low acidity but a weighty and flavoursome finish, often with quite an alcoholic kick.

Argento Reserva is as good a representative as many, born of grapes grown at over 5,500 feet in the premium Cafayate Valley of the prime Torrontés region of Salta, it's  floral, spicy with menthol, peach and lemon zest and punchy with alcohol at well over 13%.

While the first vine cuttings arrived in Argentina around 1557, German wine history is as old as the nation, viticulture having been established by the Romans.

Riesling is king in Germany. It is the great white grape. Riesling is offered in several great wine styles, ranging from just dry to cloyingly sweet Trockenbeerenauslese, and they vary in strength from just 9% ABV. Prices start competitively, but rare and ancient top quality vintages fetch thousands. 

Nowadays lots of authentic German Rieslings offer heady floral scents and flavours and start as low as 9% alcohol so can be quaffed all day long. You'll also find that many German Rieslings aren't dry. Rather, they are off-dry, or even sweet, so just check for the word 'Trocken' on the label, as it means dry. Which is how I find German football.  

NB. 'Halbtrocken' literally means half dry i.e. off-dry.

So for easy daytime drinking, I recommend you have your Riesling young and fresh in a crisp and elegant Kabinett. 

You could always opt for a German red of course, and while Argentina has its Malbec, the Germans have no muscular wine equivalent, however Teutonic Spätburgunder is Mesut Oezil to Argentina's silky smooth Lionel Messi, and is equally a delightful surprise package - highly prized and highly priced in its intense premium form.

But on the basis that power will prevail:

Malbec 2 Riesling 1


Friday, 2 July 2010

World Cup Wines. Précis: The wines of Brazil vs Holland

Unbeknownst to many, Brazil is a major wine producer. Given its 322 years as a colony of Portugal you would expect the country's winemaking industry to revolve around Portuguese grapes and wine styles. 

Or if not, then to at least reflect the winemaking traditions of Portugal ahead of all other countries. But it doesn't quite work like that because although in 1551 the Portuguese may have been the first to introduce vines for the production of wine, the grapes were planted in regions climatically unsuitable to viniculture. Rather, a whole host of Europeans from across the continent have contributed to Brazil's winemaking. 

Jesuit missionary Roque Gonzales, brought winemaking equipment and vines from Spain to try to establish Brazilian wineries. 

There was also an Englishman, Thomas Messiter, who introduced the vitis labrusca vines in 1814. Over the next 100 years the Portuguese themselves, the French, the Germans and the Italians too all brought their experience and skills to bear on the fledgling industry. But seemingly not the Dutch.

Today the diverse historical development of viticulture is reflected in the varietal red wines now on offer from Brazil, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah from France; Italian Barbera and Nebbiolo, plus Uruguayan speciality Tannat. Whites are just as diverse and include Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Some 78,000 hectares of land are now under vine in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais, Parana, Pernambuco, Santa Catarina and Sao Paulo.

Of the 16,000 producers, look for namess like Salton, who make well-regarded Chardonnay; Merlot from Valduga; Don Laurindo and Boscato both appear to focus on aged Reservas, and Lidio Carraro offers single varietals Merlot, Nebbiolo and Tannat.

Miolo is a reliable big name producer through brands such as Miolo, Fortaleza do Seival, RAR, Brazilwood and Los Nevados, which offer styles to suit all tastes including a sparkler.

Miolo Alisios do Seival Tempranillo/Touriga Campanha is a good introduction; lots of red berry aromas, easy on the palate with bags of fruit and soft tannins. 

Fortaleza do Seival Pinot Noir offers raspberry and strawberry fruit with spices and chocolate. They also do a Pinot Grigio packed with tropical fruit.

But what of Holland?

A lot of Dutch wine is what I would call campsite wine. It's wine, variable in quality but some of a high standard,  that is produced by hobbyists who also make their livings from leisure parks, campsites and Bed & Breakfasts. These are effectively tourist businesses that have grown from hobbies to such an extent that there are now some 160 professional grape growers.

Maybe you didn't even know the Dutch make wine? 

They do, but in some ways it's a real problem for them. Being so northerly the nations' winemakers have little choice but to add sugar to their wine. The grapes simply don't produce enough themselves to create the level of alcohol required. And the reason that's a problem is the European Union doesn't like it and has previously proposed to ban the addition of sugar.

That said, some 60 winemakers currently choose from some 80 differing grape varieties and deliver about a million bottles from a couple of hundred vineyards. These Dutch wineries, probably as you'd expect, make mostly light wines. The Dutch market itself is very big on rosé too.

Wijndomein de Vier Ambachten offers five reds, four whites, a rosé, and two dessert wines all on sale at the winery.

One winery, Domain van Stokkom, got its leading wine onto the KLM (Dutch airline) business class wine list. Before it was taken over by Air France. Look out for its De Linie range.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

White wines for sunny days. Easy as ABC.

The forecasters say it's going to be a scorching hot weekend in the UK, which may mean you'll be drinking more white wine, from earlier in the day, to later in the evening, in searing heat and blinding sunshine. 

If the forecasters are right. And if my forecast is right, you'll be keeling over before the sun sets unless you take one precautionary measure. Drink lighter whites. 

When you're scouring the shelves for something to savour over savouries the secret to success is as simple as ABC. Or, to be more accurate, ABV.

ABV means Alcohol By Volume and is the worldwide standard measure of the alcoholic strength of a beverage, in this instance, wine.

The legal maximum of unfortified (fortified wines include Port and Sherry) wine in the UK is 15%. This effectively means that 15% of the contents of the bottle is alcohol, the rest isn't. So in a standard 70cl bottle of wine, 10.5cl is alcohol. Some wine is as low as 9% ABV so the alcohol content is only 6.3cl - over one third less alcohol.

This percentage figure can be found on the label on of every bottle of wine in the UK, and is a legal requirement, presumably not punishable by death (unless it in some way constitutes treason, which if you've ever encountered wine labelled British Wine - not English - it probably is). 

You can find refreshing all day drinking white wines with an ABV of as little as 9%. 

Choosing isn't difficult. The New World doesn't really make 'session' wines - you'll struggle to find much under 13% so you can limit yourself to a quick scan through the European lists, shelves and bins for Old World varieties that have historically made for easy drinking. 

Familiar names will greet you like old forgotten friends, some long-neglected, some actually previously ignored. Sunny days are days to renew those acquaintances. 

What better way to start than with a Summer sparkler? About the cheapest fizz on offer is Cava, Spain's answer to Champagne. It's usually around 11% ABV or so, which is easily light enough, of reliable quality, nearly everybody sells it and at prices to suit all. Serve it ice cold to take the edge off the earthiness. 

Prosecco is also best from the ice bucket. This Italian fizz isn't made like Champagne, but instead uses the Charmat method in which the secondary fermentation occurs in a stainless steel tanks, and the result is light, apple-fresh and fun. 

So is Frascati. As you'll probably be eating somewhere during the weekend, Italy may be the place to start drinking. 

Frascati is Rome's quaffing wine, probably the lightest of all Italian whites.
It's clear and refreshing with a slight prickle on the palate. Serve it so cold it's almost frozen and you'd be hard-pushed to realise you're not drinking Badoit, such is its subtlety.



Portugal has a role to play here too, as its best Vinho Verde offers the Summer drinker a delicious introduction to Portuguese wine - the better wines come in tall bottles, not small round and dumpy ones  - and is very dry with apricot and citrus fruit acidity, light as you like and eminently drinkable.

I have a bottle of Arca Nova 2009 from Portuguese specialist merchant Casa Leal in front of me now. It's silver clear and swirls cleanly round the glass, lightly fruity on the nose with soft mandarin citrus and a slight prickle on the palate. And at only 11% ABV you can always pour yourself another glass.

Germany and France's Alsace are the places to head for more flavoursome everyday whites.

Forget the Yugoslav Rieslings of the bad old days. Riesling is one of the great wine grapes and one of the great wine styles. Nowadays lots of authentic German Rieslings offer heady floral scents and flavours and start as low as 9% alcohol so can be quaffed all day long, while France's Alsace matches them for richness and ripeness.



NB. Many German Rieslings aren't necessarily dry. Rather, many are off-dry or even sweet so just check for the word 'trocken' on the label, as it means dry, while 'halbtrocken' literally means half dry i.e. off-dry.

If you're eating anything spicy - ribs, pepper steak, marinated chicken - look out too for Gewürztraminer from Alsace. It cuts right through that hot pepper heat and all highly flavoured foods with its own mouthfilling spiciness and exotic tropical fruit.

But remember that wine matching isn't only about matching fruit flavours to food, but also about wedding wines to the weather. Easy as ABV.

© 2011 John Alexander

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