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 was delighted recently to discover a website under construction dedicated to my mantra – www.maketimeforwine.org. It’s being built to support the equally commendable National Wine Month in May, set up to ‘take the average wine drinker beyond their normal wine boundaries’.
The website will contain details of events happening all around the UK, with promotions, tastings and roadshows in supermarkets, restaurants and pubs all around the country. A chance to try some wine you’ve never experienced before perhaps, without the risk of having to buy a whole bottle first. I urge you to get involved – and I guarantee you’ll find something you like which doesn’t have to cost the earth to enjoy.
The programme got me thinking about the whole concept of national wine. Although there are many international grape varieties which are grown in every wine region of the world, some grapes do have a particular association with a specific region. So great is their fame in that part of the world, they act as local champions for the whole wine category. Here’s a few of the best known – at surprisingly good value…
France is a difficult country to cover under this heading. So many grapes have a great heritage in France, and each region grows a different group of varieties. How could I ignore the great Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignons of Bordeaux, the aromatic Sauvigon Blancs of the Loire Valley or spicy Syrahs from the Rhone? I did, however, decide in the end on two grapes varieties which play a dual role in France’s abundance of fabulous wines. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir not only give us some of the world’s best wines from Burgundy, but they also form the basis of the Champagnes which as a nation we know and love.
Heavy, oaked Chardonnay isn’t really the first wine that comes to mind with the beautiful sunshine we’ve been having recently. Indeed, as I sit at my garden table, squinting at my laptop screen, the first wine that pops into my head is a crisp, refreshing Chablis. Ice cold and bone dry, this is a Chardonnay which is deceptively easy to drink and is a great summer aperitif as well as a classically good match for seafood. I discovered a lovely Gloire de Chablis from J Moreau et Fils at the Thatched Tavern in Ascot. Available in both half and full bottle sizes, to suit either an after work drink in their beautiful beer garden or with dinner – I suggest starting with the scallops with avocado panacotta.
Pinot Noir really comes into its own in the summer months. Light, refreshing and full of cherry and red berry flavours in its youth, and fabulously complex and smoky with age. Many wine buffs argue this is the best wine in the world. I couldn’t call it myself (so much to choose from!) but it’s an easy contender. Louis Jadot’s Bourgogne Pinot Noir may be their entry level wine, but as you’ll discover with hard- to-grow Pinot Noir, there really is no such thing as entry level. A very versatile grape, and at the Cloche Hat in picturesque Cobham, Surrey there’s a wealth of top quality food to pair it with. I’m leaning towards the crisp duck breast with sauté of red cabbage, pear and apple, and ‘pommes William potato’.
Let’s head South from Burgundy to another classic wine region – Rioja. The Tempranillo grape started in and is still largely confined to this region. You can see why the Spanish want to hold on to it! Riojas change in style with age and range from young, fruit-driven Tintos and Crianzas to full bodied, oaked Reservas and Gran Reservas. This season go for a refreshing, easy drinking Faustino VII (the lower the number, the older the wine) at the Beehive Inn in Cheltenham, known locally as ‘the village pub of Montpellier’. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong pairing this wine with a good sausage and mash, but I did also discover a fabulous vegetarian Wellington which is definitely worth a try.
Now here’s a grape which has firmly anchored itself in a whole new world. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best known wines around at the moment, and has seen astronomical growth in popularity in the last decade. It has an incredibly distinct flavour often described as grassy, herbaceous, and with gooseberry fruit flavours. These ‘aromatic’ varietals are a great match for spicy food – regular readers will have heard me say this before – and so I’ve gone for an Indian restaurant setting for this wine. Coriander Lounge in Southampton has a range of traditional and speciality Indian dishes and good wines to match. Heavyweight enough for even my favourite Indian dish – garlic chilli chicken – try the Riverstone Ridge as a great accompaniment for anything on the menu.