Wine columnist Clare Morris has over 10 years’ experience in the drinks industry consulting with, hotels, restaurants, pubs and bars across the UK. She is currently studying for a Diploma at the WSET London Wine and Spirit School.
I felt like a real wine geek the other morning. I was standing at my local train station (so small it doesn’t have a waiting room) at 8am waiting for a delayed train with frozen toes and fingers. And my first thought, other than for my numb feet, was about the risk of spring frost to the new buds in the vineyards – which can do much greater damage than the hard winter frosts when vines are happily in hibernation mode.
I had a little word with myself as I was warming up my fingers on the train and resolved to conjure up something more interesting. Already on the brain, it was hard not to think about wine. As I sat looking at the sunrise spilling across the rolling Gloucestershire countryside, I realised that across the southern hemisphere winemakers would be fighting the pressures of time as another long day of harvesting drew to a close.
Fantastic advances in technology over the decades mean that a lot of harvesting can now be completed at night. However, for some more premium or hard to access vineyards, the harvest can only be completed by hand – which generally means by daylight. Leaving the grapes on the vine for too long means that they over ripen, leading to too much sugar in the grape. The weather around this time is just as critical as at any other point during the vine growing season – too much rain here can cause rotten fruit, and is just as damaging to the potential harvest as spring frost.
If you ever see a world map of wine- producing regions, you’ll notice that they fit into a band in the north and south hemispheres. The reason for this is that it’s only possible to grow grapes within these narrow bands of latitude due to the climate. The UK sits at the most extreme northerly border and is only successful with wine (and life as we know it!) because of the Gulf Stream. The southern hemisphere mirrors Europe with regions where there are clearly defined seasons. Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are the largest and best known – and all hugely successful in the UK market. Here’s just a snapshot of what the ‘new world’ has to offer.
Gorgeously aromatic, easy to drink but still relatively unknown – the Torrontes grape from Argentina. This grape is growing in popularity but not fast enough for my liking. It doesn’t need food but is a great match for anything spicy, tomato- based or equally light, simple fish dishes. At Cactus Jacks Mexican restaurant in Salisbury you’ll find a multitude of dishes encompassing all these flavours. Described as ‘rustic, earthy and candlelit’, there’s also a great atmosphere to enjoy the range. Go for the ‘contemporary’ menu and explore lime and chilli chicken or tiger prawns with spring onions, ginger, chilli and garlic – all washed down with a bottle (or two) of the moreish Etchart Torrentes.
Oaked Chardonnay is most definitely not a wine on trend at the moment, thanks to the wave of cheap, new world versions churned out over the last two decades. Alas, it’s ruined the sales of many a fantastic product and potentially put a generation of consumers off this style for life. If you love Burgundian Chardonnay or simply feel a little curious, try the stunning Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay from Chile. Made with naturally occurring yeasts instead of commercial varieties (which gives much more natural, individual flavours to the wine) – this wine is fabulously complex and top quality. For a fitting venue, head to Terra Vina in the New Forest. Owned by Hotel du Vin’s very own Gerard Basset, this venue is to wine what The Fat Duck in Bray is to food.
Chile also has the perfect climate for growing some serious reds. Here we have the top end Veramonte Primus in the Casablanca Valley. Again made in a French style – this time emulating Bordeaux, with a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot along with a base of Carmenere to give it a Chilean ‘twist’. We are left with a bottle of concentrated, mouth filling flavours of blackberries and cherries mingling with the spicy oak. Typical for the Bordeaux style, this type of wine is a great match for rich dishes such as duck. Head to the relaxed setting of the Hamborough Bar and Terrace at the Royal Hotel on the Isle of Wight’s South Coast. The duck confit, artichoke, orange and fine bean salad sets the Primus off beautifully as you take in the views over the gardens.
For our last red let’s move to a much cooler climate – New Zealand – perfect for growing our difficult friend, the Pinot Noir grape. A lot of people I know say that they don’t like Pinot Noir. I understand this comment completely. When I first started enjoying red wines, I was introduced to heavy, tannic reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Rioja, Australian Shiraz – enjoyed them, and consequently thought of them as ‘real’ reds. The Pinot Noir, by comparison, was initially a disappointment. Until, that is, I learnt to appreciate it for what it really is. Like a Chardonnay against a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir is very different to these heavier reds – but equally delicious. It’s important to remember these differences, or you can get the food match totally wrong – in which case, it is a waste. The Vidal Pinot Noir is an excellent example of the typical red fruit flavours the Pinot Noir grape gives, and is a great red wine choice for the warmer months. At the Snooty Fox in Tetbury, try the bubble and squeak or goat’s cheese, pinenuts and tomato charlotte in the bar or watch the world go by with a bottle in the sunshine on the front terrace.