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.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Brazil vs Portugal. But who put the win in wine?

Given its 322 years as a colony of Portugal you would expect the winemaking industry in Brazil to revolve around Port. 

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.

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.

Look for producers 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.

So while Portugal's most famous wine export is Port it hasn't made the same impact in Brazil. At home Portugal too, there's far more to its winemaking industry than Port. 

That said, the Symington Family still wields huge influence. Not only is it responsible for famous name Port like Dow's, Graham's and Smith Woodhouse, but also for their Douro wines that now include Altano, Chryseia and Quinta da Roriz. 

The secret behind the success of many of the better red wines of Portugal is an abundance of indigenous grape varieties such as Baga, Tinta Roriz (Portuguese Tempranillo) and the Port grape, Touriga Nacional, whose structural strength is often complemented by the addition of Touriga Franca. 

It's that combination of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca that lies within Animus 2007 Douro DOC. It shows a garnet coloured ageing in the glass, is balanced at 13% alcohol and offers a nose of ripe red berries, and characterful aged fruit flavour with distinctive tannin that shows it will mature still further for several years. 

Miguel Leal of eponymous London-based Portuguese wine specialist Casa Leal recommends Animus along with Sanguinhal (below) as representative of traditionally Portuguese wine-making style.

Because it is that typical maturity of flavour that you get when you open a bottle of Sanguinhal 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Aragonêz. The Iberian peninsula's good reputation for mature reds is here exemplified in a blend of the great red grapes of Bordeaux and Rioja (Aragonêz is yet another name for Tempranillo) that has leant itself very well to time in the bottle, being soft and smooth on the palate with well-structured mature fruit and a bit more alcohol at 13.5%.

There's little that the Brazilians can learn from Portugal about football, but the boot may be on the other foot when it comes to wine.

Casa Leal
1B Herbert St
London NW5 4HA
07957 572957

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

World Cup Wine: Mexico vs Uruguay

In the Parras Valley, in La Laguna region of Mexico, is Casa Madero, originally founded as Hacienda San Lorenz way back in 1597. This is the New World's oldest winery and it still turns out quality red wines. But although Mexican winemaking began with the Spanish and is responsible for a huge range of varietals, unlike its continental neighbours Mexico simply doesn't have a definitive grape to offer consumers. 

It doesn't have that point of difference, that USP (Unique Selling Point), that one wine style synonymous with the word Mexico. 

Where Argentina has Malbec, Chile has Carmenère and Uruguay has Tannat, and even the winemakers immediately next door have Zinfandel, Mexico's vineyards may contain vines from all over the world but none they call their own. They do cultivate a significant number of Bordeaux varieties, including the left bank's classic Cabernet Sauvignon, and this is the grape I suggest Mexico handles best. 

Baja California is the principal quality region and it is here that Monte Xanic produces a Cabernet and Merlot blend that is now available in London through Wines of Mexico.

Although the vineyards of Monte Xanic were first planted over 100 years ago, it is only since 1987 that the revitalised winery has re-established itself among Mexico’s leading producers, not least through the introduction of modern quality assurance standards.

The 2006 Monte Xanic Cabernet Merlot from Valle de Guadalupe advertises itself with cherry, blackcurrant and vanilla aromas plus blackberry and cherry fruit on the palate.

Uruguay does have a grape to call its own of course. The country's winemakers have taken tannin-rich Tannat to their hearts and now produce definitive versions of the eponymous wine that stand comparison with anything the rest of the South American continent has to offer and superior to much US Zinfandel. 

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 with age for five years and up.

The difference between Mexico and Uruguay therefore seems to be that Mexico has taken one of the world's classic red grapes to produce reliable variations of classic Bordeaux wine blends, while Uruguay has taken a mostly unregarded variety from Madiran in the South of France and established it as a Uruguay's national wine with a quality and style that none of its competitors have found easy to match.

It's wine Jim, but not as we know it: Nigeria vs South Korea

Even back in the 1970s people might have laughed if you'd given them Australian wine. 

Today millions of bottles of Jacobs Creek have been sold around the world. 

Now what if you were offered a glass of wine from Jacobs Wines Limited, of Nigeria? 

Jacobs Wines is unrelated to Jacobs Creek. But they do sell over a million litres, some 1.4 million bottles, of wine every year. Pineapple wine. Made from pineapples.

You can choose from white and sparkling varieties. They even make red wines from pineapples.  Choose from Jacobs Tonic Wine, a powerful 15% red, a 'Burgundy-style' full-bodied red, a dry white, a sweet and strong dessert white at 14%, and a fizz called Jays. 

Unsurprisingly they also sell pineapple juice. Then there's the aptly named Sanctuary: communion wine with a 'noticeable pineapple bouquet'.

Just as pineapples are abundant in Nigeria, so rice being the national crop in South Korea it's no surprise they use it to make wine. Among rice wines the most popular style is probably the clear Cheongju - Korean Saké - and the big everyday drinking brand is Chung Ha. 

At circa 13% alcohol it only has the weight of an Australian Chardonnay but carries the flavour of a 'hot' spirit - like a whisky or brandy. Even though Saké is actually brewed, it's this distilled feel that exaggerates the alcohol and makes drinkers think, and even behave as if, it's stronger than it is.

Pineapple and rice wine each provide unfamiliar drinkers the opportunity to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. But you might have quite a trek to find a bottle.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Argentina vs Greece Part II Malbec vs Agiorgitiko

Nobody does Malbec like the Argentinians.

Nobody but the Greeks does Agiorgitiko.

Frustrated that people - myself included - always think first of Retsina when Greek wine is mentioned, independent Greek wine specialists Yamas Wines' Nick Kontarines has put up a Peleponnese Agiorgitiko to take on the might of Malbec from the South American specialists. Brave man.

Because Malbec 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. Argento and Graffigna each create reliable versions in several ranges at prices to suit most pockets.

Somewhat fittingly, Agiorgitiko is almost in a different ball game. Also known as St. George, the 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, short finish, typically midweight alcohol.

Nick's candidate is from 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.

Worth discovering and worth sharing, an easy drinking Old World alternative to regional French wines and quite a contrast to generic New World varietals. 

Does it beat the Malbec? It's like apples and pears isn't it? Both fruits, impossible to compare but a change is always better than a rest.

Argentina vs Greece means Torrontés vs Retsina. But who wins?

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.

And why not. 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%.

The white wine most closely associated with Greece is equally unique and easily just as aromatic, but it isn't as easy a choice to make. Because it's Retsina. 

Retsina is a wine that even independent specialist merchant and Greek wine importer Nick Kontarines of Yamas Wines describes as 'the Marmite of the wine world'. That is, you either love it or you hate it. 

If only it were that simple Nick. Because there is only one Marmite. It only comes at one (delicious in my view) quality level. Whereas Retsina encompasses a number of styles and weights to suit a number of preferences.

Greeks accustomed to its pine resin smell - and it is a smell, not a scent, not an aroma and definitely not a bouquet - and flavours have grown up with this wine. It is familiar like an old friend from way back, and for expatriates, a true taste of home, evocative of big family meals under the stars and langorous days waiting for the olives to ripen. 

What makes Retsina, Retsina, is the addition of pine resin. Formerly used to help preserve the wine by preventing oxidisation, nowadays it is more a matter of doing what has always been done. The depth and strength of the pine flavour is dictated by the quality and number of pieces of Aleppo Pine resin now added during fermentation.

Nick offers at least three varieties including a couple of 'modern' styles, in which the resination is a matter of style not necessity, a contemporary attempt to retain the essence of Retsina without alienating wine drinkers new to its discrete charms. And charms it has. Today, young and fresh premium quality Retsina is as unusual, delightful and refreshing a white wine as Argentinian Torrontés, sharing the South American wine's strength of aroma, flavour-packed style and low acidity. But it is also very very different.

For a newcomer, Nick suggests Ino Retsina. Made from 100% Savatiano grapes when you open the bottle the pine is right there on the nose. 

Pour a glass. Inhale deeply. 

It's redolent of blue skies, even bluer seas and soft white beaches. Pineapples. On the palate it's like cooked apples and marinated lemons, but above all else there's a certain dew heavy wet earthiness, pine needles on a woodland floor. It is a distinctly dry white wine. And it's crisp and light, not heavy, easy to drink and superbly refreshing when ice cold and alongside heavily flavoured Mediterranean food. It's great for cutting through tomato based sauces at lunch and herb rich meat dinners. 

Enjoy it with feta, tzatziki and hummous, chicken and kid and kebabs. And pour yourself another glass - it's only 11% alcohol after all. And it's only Retsina. What's the worst that can happen? A draw perhaps? 

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Précis: The wines of Brazil vs Bangui

Unbeknownst to many, Brazil is a major wine producer. The biggest country on the continent with 16,000 producers cultivating 78,000 hectares of vines in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, which accounts for over half of all vineyards, Santa Catarina, Parana, Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and Pernambuco. 

Red grapes include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir; Italian Nebbiolo and Barbera, plus South American speciality Tannat. Whites typically mostly feature popular varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinto Grigio.

Miolo wines are a reliable big brand producer whose names include Miolo, Fortaleza do Seival, RAR, Brazilwood and Los Nevados.

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.

Other producers include Salton, good for Chardonnay, Valduga, for Merlot, Don Laurindo and Boscato, both seemingly specialists in old-fashioned aged Reservas, and Lidio Carraro with single varietals Merlot, Nebbiolo and Tannat.

Bangui is the name given to Palm wine in the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, the Ivory Coast. The 'tapped' sap of the palm - which is about 10% sugar - ferments naturally within hours and typically has a drinking life of only a day, after which it becomes increasingly acidic and vinegary, although some drinkers prefer it like that. 

In contrast to the juice tapped from the tree, which is clear, the wine is usually cloudy white, with alcohol content only 4%. Unfortunately, as  it's not very stable due to the continuous fermentation, the 'wine' soon becomes undrinkable. Consequently any that goes undrunk or unsold may just be poured away. That's right. Alcohol. Poured away. Shall we set up a rescue committee? 

The Ivory Coast may need one against Brazil. Or maybe not? 

Précis: Korean plum wine vs Portuguese red wine

Cheongju - Korean Saké or rice wine aside - the most popular wines in Korea are fruit wines. 'Maesil ju' liquor, which is a kind of plum wine, is made from the fruit of the prunus mume tree,  also known as a Chinese plum or Japanese apricot. Korean plum wine is typically golden yellow in colour and sweet like nectar but not strongly flavoured. At around 14% it's also as weighty as Aussie Chardonnay. Not only can you find it in Korean stores and restaurants but also in Chinese and Japanese equivalents.  

The winemaking regions of Douro, and neighbouring Dao and Bairrada are where many of the better red wines of Portugal are made, whose secrets are an abundance of indigenous grape varieties, few of which are household names even within the country: look out for Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Baga plus Rioja's Spanish heart, Tempranillo, in Portugal called Aragonez or Tinta Roriz. Like their Spanish rivals they get better with age, and typically spend a minimum six to 12 months in oak before bottling and can improve over five years or more.

Précis: Chianti vs NZ Sauvignon Blanc

To choose a wine from Italy to take on the Kiwis,  just stick to a Chianti. It may be as unpredictable as the Azzurri - knocked out in the first round in 1974, in 1994 they famously lost their first match 0-1 to Ireland but still went on to reach the final while in 2002 they were eliminated by South Korea - but it's friendly and familiar.

For everyday glugging pick a young fresh Chianti Colli, Fiorentini or Senesi. Classico Riservas and some of the better wines of Rufina are often longer-lived so not really ideal for easy drinking, nor affordable.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is regarded by Oz Clarke as likely to be the best in the world. 

It probably is. Even cheap and cheerful examples can open up with fragrant herbaceous scents, offer weight on the palate and be packed with fruit like zesty lemons and limes.

As you climb the premium ladder the flavours intensify with fresh green capsicums, elderflowers, rich gooseberries, guava, mango, and ripe, heady and pungent asparagus. 

A draw then? 

World Cup Wines. The full list, including Palm, Pineapple and Plum

Every country competing in the football World Cup has something to offer the wine lover. Of course, it may be an offer too good to refuse, or an offer you can't refuse, even if it's something quite unexpected, unusual or virtually undrinkable. 

Here's my full alphabetical list of suggestions of wine styles that might be thought representative of all the competing nations if the World Cup was a World Cup of Wines:

Algeria: Look for the wines of Robert Skalli. Bit of a cheat this - Algerian descent.
Argentina: Malbec.
Australia: Chardonnay - pumped and blowsy, often over oaked and nowadays overlooked.
Brazil: Miolo Alisios do Seival Tempranillo/Touriga Campanha shows what Brazil can do.
Chile: Carmenère - the ancient grape of Bordeaux, previously thought extinct.
Cameroon: Palm wine from palm wine capital, Batibo.
Côte d'Ivoire: Palm wine.
Denmark: Skærsøgaard Vin Don's Cuvée sparkling wine wins prizes.
England: Ridgeview Sparkling wine.
France: Madiran - see Uruguay below.
Germany: Riesling.
Ghana: Palm wine.
Greece: Retsina.
Holland: Campsite wine.
Honduras: Imperial or Port Royal Gold Reserve (OK, I know they're both beers).
Italy: Chianti is as unpredictable as the Italians, drink with food.
Japan: Koshu is white wine made from the eponymous light purple native grape.
Mexico: Cabernet Sauvignon is what the Mexicans do best, Tequila aside. 
New Zealand: Sauvignon Blanc.
Nigeria: Pineapple wine - with a bouquet of pineapple, apparently.
North Korea: Korean Plum wine, made from the Japanese apricot.
Paraguay: 'Par'  is red wine & cola. Lovely?
Portugal: Tinta Roriz is Portuguese Tempranillo.
Serbia: Prokupac.
Slovakia: Tokaj.
Slovenia: Rebula.
South Africa: Pinotage.
South Korea: Cheongju is clear Korean Saké, or rice wine
Spain: Rioja.
Switzerland: Amigne.
United States: Zinfandel, without blushing.
Uruguay: Tannat. How Madiran (see France above - currently receiving footballing lessons too) could be.

For a full run down please see my preceding articles in the above archive and do keep coming back for specific recommendations as the contest progresses. 

Your comments are always welcome, you can subscribe by email and even become a follower. You'll also find me on Twitter

Thursday, 17 June 2010

World Cup throws up unlikely tasting pairings

The next couple of the World Cup group matches throw together any number of winemaking nations whose wines are seldom seen alongside one another or tasted together - indeed some are rarely encountered on the same continent.

So just for the hell of it I've decided to accept the challenge some of these random wine combinations have thrown at me to see how they can be compared, if at all.

The danger is of course that the well of my World Cup Wine blog will run dry for precisely the same reason any well runs dry i.e. a lack of liquid. It's quite one thing for me to have provided you with a steer as to the appropriate wines to drink from each of the World Cup's 32 nations, but quite another thing to find the relevant wines outside each country's borders. 

Mildly interesting co-incidence that all the World's Top 10 exporters are at the World Cup. I expect most of us have fairly ready access to wines from these countries:  

South Africa

But did you notice the World's biggest producer of wine isn't on the list? And China didn't make it to the World Cup either. 

Although a representative of the world's biggest importer did: England (representing the UK).

So here are the next three wine matches I'm looking forward to:

English Fizz vs Slovenian (see

Greek Retsina (see vs Argentinian Toronntes

Danish Skærsøgaard Vin Don's Cuvee vs Japanese Koshu. 

I don't know where I'll find either of these latter two so if you do please let me know too.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

World Cup Wines. Day Six. Spain vs Switzerland

The last of the first round of group matches sees Spain, world renowned for Rioja, play Switzerland, world renowned for the cuckoo clock.

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 bit of nice window dressing.  Historically it was a quality guarantee - proof that the contents were as the bottle left the winery, to stop crafty restaurateurs refilling expensive Rioja bottles with cheaper stuff 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 grape.

Everybody loves the Swiss. Roger Federer. What a player. Renée Zellweger?

Anyway, the Swiss have all our money so we have to be nice about them. Even if they're very secretive. You've got to ask yourself what are they hiding? 

Well, for starters, their wine. Switzerland borders Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Liechtenstein and they make wine in several styles that mirror the winemaking of their neighbours Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Lichtenstein. Guess which is best? French style, probably. 

But you don't see huge amounts outside the borders of Switzerland - not least because it's relatively expensive for the rest of us, but also the volume doesn't justify much export. Of course it does find its way onto international restaurant and merchant wine lists, not least for a) its novelty value and b) to attract wealthy Swiss clientele. 

Chasselas is the white grape the Swiss call their own but they also create quite extraordinarily flavoursome whites from much more unusual local grape varieties like Humagne Blanc, Arvine and Amigne. Cave La Madeleine and Germanier-Balavaud are the award-winning wineries for whites while Gantenbein is the name on a good label of Switzerland's take on Pinot Noir.

Forget modern Spain with its Euro 2008 success. When we're talking about the old-fashioned, traditional, historical Spain, we're talking about a football team that always promised much and always failed to deliver. 

No wonder the Swiss won.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

World Cup Wines. Day Six. Chile vs Honduras

Chile built its winemaking reputation on two Bordeaux grape varieties: Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. Super everyday drinking wines. But it turns out that all along Chilean winemakers were also making another wine called Carmenère. They just didn't know it.

Because it was only as recently as 1994 that visiting French botanist Jean-Michel Boursiquot recognised that much of what was hitherto thought to be plantings of Merlot was actually Carmenère. As much as 50% of it.

So what used to be thought of, and labelled as, Chilean Merlot, turned out to be something quite remarkable. Much of the celebrated red wine that was being made in Chile was really crafted from a grape that was previously thought to be virtually extinct. 

Because Carmenère is actually one of the ancient grapes of Bordeaux, assumed to have disappeared during the phylloxera epidemic between 1867 and 1892. 

So only since 1998, on the basis of the evidence provided by Monsieur Boursiquet and other ampelographers, has this crimson (carmin in French) grape, Carmenère, been officially recognised by Chile's wine regulators (see also The Wine Rules: 3: Chile does Bordeaux).

For easy drinking with the football Casillero del Diablo Carmenère from Chile's biggest wine producer, indeed by some margin the largest winemaker in Latin America, Concha y Toro, is ideal. On the nose expect coffee, and cinnamon spice aromas, then raspberry and blackberry fruit on the palate and that lovely distinctive spicy finish. Delightful stuff.

At the other end of the scale, for a Fairtrade alternative, how about Los Robles Fairtrade Carmenère? It offers perfumed aromas, a rich and fullish body, and is plummy with damson fruit and spice and may be easier on your conscience and no harder on your wallet.

Wine is a puzzle in Honduras. Not only is the national drink really beer, with the clear sugar cane liquor Guaro a second choice alternative, but wine is very hard to find. And with very few native wine drinkers in the country it's also not well understood so is often stored in unsuitable conditions, especially in direct heat and sunlight. This can make buying any bottle something of a lottery. 

My wine recommendation for Honduras therefore is either Imperial or Port Royal Gold Reserve. The former is sweetish and malty with some corn flavour. The latter offers a caramel and fruit nose and is buttery on the palate. Both are best served very cold. Okay, I admit it, they're beers.

Honduras beat Chile last year. But there's already been a couple of cupsets. Hmmm.

Chile 3 Honduras 1

World Cup Wines. Day Five. Brazil vs North Korea

Think of winemaking in South America and the countries that come to mind are probably Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, in that order. But what of Brazil? 

If you're supporting Brazil the temptation must be to reach for a bottle of Brahma beer or the ultra-trendy Sagatiba Cachaça, however Brazil is a major wine producer. The biggest country on the continent - and the biggest country in world football - has a thriving wine industry. Some 16,000 producers cultivate 78,000 hectares of vines in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, which accounts for over half of all vineyards, Santa Catarina, Parana, Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and Pernambuco. 

Red grape varieties include French Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir; Italian Nebbiolo and Barbera, plus South American speciality Tannat. Whites typically mostly feature popular varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinto Grigio.

I'll start with Miolo wines - they're a reliable big name producer with brands such as Miolo, Fortaleza do Seival, RAR, Brazilwood and Los Nevados, which offer styles to suit all tastes including a sparkling wine, which I'm guessing will be much consumed these next couple of weeks. They've also picked up a few awards.

Miolo Alisios do Seival Tempranillo/Touriga Campanha is a good introduction to Brazilian wine; 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.

Other producers include Salton, who do a terrific Chardonnay, Valduga - best for Merlot, Don Laurindo and Boscato, both seemingly specialists in old-fashioned aged Reservas, and Lidio Carraro with single varietal Merlot, Nebbiolo and Tannat. Lots of choice.

Fruit wines are popular in the South so I'm presuming the division of the country hasn't affected drinking tastes in the North, especially for 'maesil ju' liquor, which is a kind of plum wine. 

Made from the fruit of the prunus mume tree that is also known as a Chinese plum or Japanese apricot, plum wine is typically golden yellow, nectar sweet although not strongly flavoured and can pack quite a kick at around 14%. You can often find it in Chinese and Japanese stores and restaurants as well as Korean.

Brazil have won the World Cup five times. North Korea are 1000/1 outsiders.

So, Brazil to win 5-0. Brazil may even win the tournament.

World Cup Wines. Day Five. Ivory Coast vs Portugal

Africa is not a continent much given to winemaking except in the extreme south and north. Bangui is the name given to Palm wine in the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, the Ivory Coast. The 'tapped' sap of the palm - whihc is about 10% sugar - ferments naturally within hours. Unfortunately it's not very stable as the fermentation is continuous so the 'wine' quickly becomes vinegary. Consequently any that goes unrunk or unsold may just be poured away (see World Cup Wines. Day Three. Serbia vs Ghana)

Portugal's most famous wine export is Port but for a drink with the football you'll want something slightly less post-prandial. Not that you need stray far from the home of Port, the winemaking region of Douro, and neighbouring Dao and Bairrada. This is where many of the better red wines of Portugal are made, whose secrets are an abundance of indigenous grape varieties, few of which are household names even within the country: look out for Touriga Nacional, Baga and Tempranillo, called Tinta Roriz in Portuguese. Don't expect the flashiness of Ronaldo though. 

The Symington Family are massive in Portugal. Think of a Port - Graham's, Dow's Warre's - all Symington's. Their easy drinking reds of predictable and reliable quality include Altano and the recently acquired Quinta da Roriz whose Prazo de Roriz is an unusual choice, a light but spicy fruit-driven red that can also be served chilled - ideal for lunchtime and afternoon drinking. 

Bright Brothers' Palmela and Quinta do Crasto Douro also deserve a place on the short list of competitively priced every day reds.

Côte d'Ivoire and Portugal each rely heavily on a single player; Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo respectively. Expect the latter to come out on top.

Côte d'Ivoire 1 Portugal 2

Monday, 14 June 2010

World Cup Wines. Day Five. New Zealand vs Slovakia

New Zealand needs little introduction. Its Sauvignon Blanc is unarguably a modern classic - a brilliant evolution, revolution, of an Old World variety every bit as profound as the artificially oaked Aussie Chardonnays that originally set aside Antipodean winemaking from the humdrum. 

Time was we couldn't get enough of the stuff, and the same fate that befell Australian Chardonnay is now threatening NZ Sauvignon. In a nutshell: too much of a good thing. Familiarity breeds contempt. 

Time was when a supermarket would carry a single entry level Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. Then there were two. We learned to look out for the Marlborough variety, and we usually found the original pioneer, Montana. Now we see three or four, not just labelled Marlborough but also Wairau Valley.  

There have been a couple of sniffy articles in the press. Even Cloudy Bay has not been immune. Soon the fashionistas will jump on the bandwagon. The snobs that ganged up to form the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) club will be circling round New Zealand's finest export - Dame Kiri Te Kenawa and Hayley Westernra not withstanding - with the same opportunistic glint in their eyes, looking for the chance to sneer, to be seen to be the champion of the next big thing. At the moment it's probably still Pinot Grigio. Briefly Viognier looked the likeliest candidate. Hey ho. Let them do their worst. NB. I expect rosé - one rosé in particular - to be the next big thing.

My advice is to have nothing to do with it. Oz Clarke, whose palate is the envy of many a Master of Wine, has suggested New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is the best in the world. It probably is. Even everyday easy drinking examples can open up with fragrant herbaceous scents, offer weight on the palate and be fruit packed with zingy and zesty lemons and limes. As you climb the premium ladder the flavours intensify with fresh green capsicums, elderflowers, rich gooseberries, guava, mango, and ripe, heady and pungent asparagus. It is delicious stuff.

Slovakia does need an introduction. Where is it? It's really the start of Eastern Europe, being bordered by Austria to the West and the Czech Republic, then surrounded by Ukraine, Poland and Hungary. On January 1, 1993 its federation with the Czech Rebulic was finally officially dissolved and it became an independent sovereign state. Slovakia produces a truly great wine, although most wine drinkers would be familiar with it through its Hungarian expression: Tokay. The Tokajsky wine from Slovakia has its historical roots in the Tokaj wine region, a small part of which was originally within the Kingdom of Hungary. 

Slovakia only produces about 10% of the volume offered by Hungary so its harder to track down their take on  one of the world's great dessert wines. 

Tokaj & Co is the biggest producer with some 290 hectares of vineyards giving up to 300,000 50cl bottles from their own Furmint, Lipovina and Yellow Muscat grapes. Tokaj Tokajské Samorodné is the recommended sweet dessert version, matured in oak for three years in tufa cellars. Lovely luscious stuff.

New Zealand are about 8/1 to beat Slovakia. I've yet to be right, so the Kiwis to win!

© 2011 John Alexander