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.
All I can think about at the moment is the lengthening evenings – driving home from work in sunshine rather than pitch black – and the feeling of having more time in my day than in the middle of winter. time to see friends, hang out in the garden, enjoy a glass of wine or two with an ‘alfresco’ dinner. Heaven.
We’re a long way away from those balmy evenings and although our winter coats might be stored away, the jackets and umbrellas are still within grabbing distance. But the promise of things to come is in the air and for that reason, this month we move away from my hoard of powerful, tannic reds and blow the dust off the bottles of stunning, aromatic whites. Perfect for this season as winter melts away into spring, they are bursting with flavour and character, yet elegant enough not to overwhelm. roll on spring and summer i say, and enjoy every sip.
Sauvignon Blanc has become one of the world’s most popular grapes over recent years, and although it’s a great food match for many different dishes, it’s particularly good with a classic spring food – asparagus. You can try it at home any time as a great little starter, grilling and then drizzling with olive oil and some hollandaise. We’ll see a lot more asparagus coming onto our menus later in the spring, so in the meantime I’ll suggest another classic match. Head down to Fishy Fishy Brasserie in Brighton – so good they named it twice – who pride themselves on providing good value for money with a sustainable fishing ethos. drylands sauvignon Blanc is a fantastic example of a New Zealand Sauvignon and works with almost anything on the menu. Try the spicy channel monkfish with a red onion and potato rösti.
In the excitement created by the wave of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc cascading across the nation, it’s easy to forget its more spiritual roots. Sancerre is true, classic Sauvignon – not just for French wine purists – made in a slightly more subtle style in the Loire Valley. Sancerre has a reputation for being good quality – great – but also being super premium which brings the association of being expensive. That’s not always true, and you definitely don’t need fine dining to find a great food match. At The Mission Café Bar and Bistro in Plymouth I was delighted to find an asparagus, Parma ham and mozzarella salad to start – a great pairing for the Mellot la Gravelilere sancerre. Follow with the seafood linguini.
Now onto a more controversial wine. In the past Riesling has been overshadowed by a truly dreadful hangover from decades of cheap German wine such as Liebfraumilch, Blue Nun and Black Tower. It’s a fantastically versatile grape however, because it can be made in both a sweet and dry style, and can age for years. I urge you to try the Vidal riesling from New Zealand, made in an off-dry style with delicious, delicate tropical fruit flavours. This style of wine is lovely with either rich or spicy food – the freshness and slight floral hints cut through perfectly. I was delighted to discover the beautiful Captain’s Club Hotel in Christchurch who champion Riesling with a paragraph on their list – with some great food beside. At the Tides Restaurant you can enjoy a bottle of Vidal with panoramic views over the River Stour. Try the scallops with five spiced pork belly, followed by roast Gressingham duck.
In my opinion, Viognier is just as easy to drink and good quality as Riesling, yet even less well- known. I have started to see more of this grape around but it’s not as regular an appearance as our good friend Sauvignon Blanc. For those of you familiar with the Rhone Valley, you may have heard of Condrieu, Viognier’s most famous example. This is top end stuff, and usually with a price tag to match. For a more accessible option I would go for something from California like Bonterra’s Organic Viognier. Match it with a unique hotel stay at the luxurious, quirky Glencot House near Wookey Hole. A gem of a hotel with fabulous décor, sit back and relax with your Viognier and don’t even worry about a food match – it’s divine on its own.
I can’t write an article about aromatic wines without this last grape. Gewurztraminer is rich, full bodied and medium sweet with apricot, lychee and spice flavours. Not everyone’s cup of tea but – as a lot of restaurateurs have discovered over recent years – it’s the perfect match for spicy food, particularly Thai cuisine. The wine I’m going to recommend here is a slightly crisper, lighter version from renowned Spanish producer Torres. The Vina esmeralda is blended with Muscat for a delicious, elegant wine. It also represents extremely good value as Gewurztraminer can be an expensive grape. Koh Thai in Fareham offer Vina Esmeralda on their menu as well as several other aromatic whites. You almost can’t go wrong here with food, but a traditional red or green curry is always a winner.