This Season’s Wine
This season’s featured beverages range from the finest English sparkling, through good quality wines at very reasonable prices (including two different Rieslings), to some slightly more unusual soft drinks – surprising and sometimes even startling options for drivers or non-drinkers. One theme represented here, and which is becoming increasingly common, is that of mixing fruit flavours with wines and ciders; perhaps an attempt to close the gap between hard and soft drinks; or to appeal to new markets by broadening out and making products seem more accessible.
The family-owned and award-winning vineyard of Furleigh Estate in Dorset uses traditional methods, and classic Chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes (with just a small quantity of Furleigh Estate’s Tyrannosaurus Red added at tirage) to produce their Sparkling Rosé. The 2010 Rosé is salmon pink and nicely effervescent, with a very strongly distinctive nose of strawberries. The taste combines said strawberries with more citrusy flavours – lime, lemon, and also fresh crab-apples. The wine is fairly dry, with little hint of sweetness despite the soft berry fruits, and makes a highly refreshing, and extremely elegant beverage, suitable for special occasions. Priced £28.50 from www.furleighestate.co.uk, or from good wine shops in London, Dorset and Oxfordshire.
The vineyard is marking its tenth anniversary by launching an exclusive English wine club. Benefits include the opportunity to buy new release wines at discounted prices, free bottles of wine, complimentary tours of the vineyard and private and free tastings, as well as invitations to wine and food events held at the vineyard, which provide an insight into the wine and wine-making in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. All this is available for an annual membership fee of only £60 per person (or £75 per couple); more information can be found on their website www.furleighestate.co.uk, but it seems to me a rather fine way to show support for English wine, as well as to reap a generous number of benefits from one of our very best vineyards.
The next sparkling on my list is Hardy’s Stamp Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir, which has a biscuity nose and an explosion of bubbles, which fill the mouth with a delightful riot of effervescence. Pleasantly, it’s neither too dry nor too citric – the lemony tones are tempered by that biscuit, but also by the sweeter flavours of apricot and peach. This is a worryingly moreish wine – I, for one, could happily sit drinking it all evening, with its perfect balance of sweet and dryness and of fruity, floral and mineral elements and energising finish. A delightful wine, especially for its very reasonable price of £8.99.
Moving on to reds, in which genre I have two recommendations: Bordiere Nord Syrah Grenache 2014 hails from the Pays D’Oc in the Languedoc-Rousillon region, surrounded by the Pyrenees and Cevennes mountain ranges. Bordiere refers to the hedgerows and rocky walls that form the boundaries of vineyards, and the wine is a deep, rich and dark colour with a purple tint. The nose is full of dark berry fruits – predominantly blackberries and blackcurrants, with some bilberries too. The taste is also rich and dark; a hint of sweetness from the bilberries and blackberries follows an initial burst of dark forests, black tar, ash and tart, glistening blackcurrants (Majestic £6.99).
Kumala brings us its 2013 Reserve Shiraz from South Africa’s Western Cape, with its modern, quirky but sophisticated lizard motif. The wine is a dark ruby red colour; with a nose of dark berry fruits and a black and rich flavour – full of spice with bites of chilli and pepper, and some higher tones of tannins and dark berry fruits – mainly blackcurrants. There are hints of darker tar and leather on the aftertaste, making this a lusciously dark and rich wine – perfect for steaks, red meats and stews. It is just a pity about the typo on the label, which speaks of “aroma’s”, with an unnecessary and grammatically incorrect apostrophe (£8.99 from Tesco.)
The first of two Rieslings that have recently impressed me is Domaine Schlumberger Alsace Riesling 2011 “Les Prince Abbes”; a rich and satisfying dry Riesling from grapes grown on steep mountain slope terraces. It pours into the glass in a luscious gloopy slosh – appearing quite thick and syrupy for a dry wine (in a good way), and with plenty of body. A pale straw colour, it has a nose predominantly of citrus fruits – oodles of grapefruit – but also the sweeter aroma of fresh apples. The taste is drier than the nose intimates; grapefruit flavours are very strong but it’s also quite a lemony wine, with hints of pineapple and dry hay along with a little spice – white pepper and ginger giving some bite, and also slight mineral elements – slate and even crumblier chalk (£13.99 Majestic.)
Secondly, but equally good, is the Trimbach Riesling 2012 from central Alsace. This has a pale straw colour and a nose of fresh apples; with intimations of minerals and hay. The predominant flavour is a tart lemon but this is preceded by gentler peach and apricot tones, while the lingering finish is of hay and more mineral elements; a very fine dry Riesling with plenty of body and character. (Available from the Wine Society priced £10.95.)
A hint of sunshine calls for a cooling glass of rosé, and winemaker Rodolfo Bastida has brought us a pale, dry ‘clarete’ style of rosé that is often to be found in the wine bars of the Rioja Alta, but seldom exported. Using only Garnacha grapes, Ramon Bilbao Rosado 2014 is a very dry, very fresh wine, salmon in colour, and with a floral rather than predominantly fruity nose (lots of glorious apple blossom in particular). The taste is sharp and rich – a fair amount of citrus fruits now showing their colours, but with some grass and straw also adding extra dryness. It has an immensely clear taste. This is a wine for those who think they don’t like rosé, to prove them wrong! Available priced £9.99 from Essentially Wine (essentiallywine.co.uk).
A completely different type of wine can be found in Echo Falls’s Fruit Fusion rosé wine with Summer Berries – a rosé of electric orangey-pink colour and startlingly intense nose of strawberries and cream. The flavour is equally startling and intense, with far more fruit drink in it than wine – it’s like an alcoholic berry juice, rich and extremely sweet, with a very creamy aftertaste – strawberries and cream to the fore again. Probably a very dangerous bottle to leave anywhere near children (I had to wrestle my glass out of the grip of my 15-month old son!). Not one for the purists, although you can well imagine it would have its fans (£5.75 from Tesco.)
Sheppy’s Cider has also been following the fashion for adding berry fruits to its drinks, hence the Cider with Raspberry – a slightly sparkling combination of Somerset cider and raspberry juice which delivers a bitter-sweet flavour. A pinky colour with orange tint and nose of raspberries, the initial taste is of sharp apples with a hint of citrus, which is followed by a long sweetness from the berries. The rather creamy taste and texture make it a little like liquid strawberries and cream. Refreshing, but I prefer the pure cider taste (6 for £15 from www.sheppyscider.com.)
Sheppy’s Vintage Reserve 2014, therefore, is more my cup of tea – a multi-award winner aged in traditional oak vats, with a warm golden colour – the essence of Autumn! It has a strong and rich nose of apples, and slight sparkle, which adds a very fresh and lively dimension. The flavour itself is pure apple – but only the very freshest and finest of fruits; luscious and rich. There is a good sweet-dry balance too, with a dusty dryness, yet also a fresh honeyed crunch from sweet, red apples making what is probably best described as a medium sweet cider. A truly lovely drink (6 for £12.60 from www.sheppyscider.com.)
There seems to have been an explosion of intriguingly inventive and yet health / environment-conscious soft drinks recently, such as Nix and Kix, whose opaque peach-coloured, fiery, cleansing and refreshing drinks contain cayenne pepper from a top British chilli farm, nothing artificial and under 70 calories a bottle. Their cucumber and lime flavour features both floral accents and warm tones from the pepper on the nose. The initial taste is a delicate one of distinctive cucumber, which is followed by a fiery kick and long lingering bite of hot pepper which tingles on the tongue. The ingredient list is short and natural – just water, grape juice concentrate, lime juice, cucumber extract and cayenne pepper. The lemon and lime flavour has a very strongly citrus nose yet with strong pepper tones, too. The flavour is very powerful and refreshing, with unmistakable lemon and lime followed by that hot kick of the cayenne pepper, whilst Blood orange and ginger has an immediate sharp acidic citric burst of blood orange and some warm ginger. The cayenne pepper hit is far more gentle in this one – more of a warm glow afterwards than the fiery blaze of the cucumber and lime and the lemon and lime flavours. Currently available from a range of outlets, cafes and restaurants in East London.
If Nix and Kix drinks are the cool, brash young kids on the block, Luscombe drinks are the refined, cultured attendees of elegant summer garden parties. The Passionate Ginger wasn’t as hot as I was expecting, yet is delicious nevertheless: full of natural sediment (lemon and ginger), it combines a traditional recipe of fresh root ginger and Sicilian lemons with a twist of passion fruit, which lends an intriguing and modern element. The drink itself is deeply refreshing – full of citrus flavours and floral aromas, and with gentle and warming heat from the ginger. A hint of sweetness tempers the citrus, making for a fully rounded drink.
The Madagascan Vanilla Soda is made with organic grape juice, Madagascan vanilla extract and lemon oil. This gently effervescing drink has a strong vanilla aroma with a hint of lemon and a pale straw colour; the flavour is sophisticated and graceful, with its citrus tang and strong pure vanilla taste. My final Luscombe is even more special – Damascene Rose Bubbly is romantically entitled “a celebration of the Majestic rose of the Orient”, and contains organic Muscat grape, organic damascene rose water and organic orange blossom water. An effervescent, refreshing beverage with a delicate but unmistakable rose flavour and a wonderful floral and fruity aroma, it is extremely elegant and grown-up – a perfect non-alcoholic option for sophisticated garden parties and soirees. (Available as packs of four for £7.99 from www.shopsatdartington.com.)
Last, but not least, we come to the bold and inventive Cawston Press – to whose Apple and Ginger I freely admit myself addicted – a sweet apple juice from only the finest apples, with a spicy, piquant tang of ginger which adds a further dimension to the taste and a mature twist. Their apple and rhubarb is also rather lovely, with a gloriously earthy aroma and nose overwhelmingly redolent of rhubarb – more so than the taste, actually; as the flavour of the combination of apple and rhubarb is curiously similar to pineapple, yet with hints of grapefruit as well. Nothing else has gone in the making of the juice – just apple and rhubarb, making a drink that is fresh with a lovely balance of sweetness and tartness and a very rounded taste. In Terrific Tomato, we find another interesting twist on the traditional – over half tomato juice, with the rest apple juice, lemon juice, celery juice and some added chilli, making a tomato drink that is sweeter than usual tomato juice, yet has a pleasantly fiery kick at the aftertaste.
Cawston’s new vegetable and fruit blends, meanwhile, offer innovative olfactory and taste experiences: Radiant Roots features beetroot, carrot, apple and ginger; the beetroot inclusion utterly unmistakable from both the bold purple-red colour and the nose, while the taste takes ones through first the higher tones of the apple juice followed by the very healthy earthiness from the root vegetables. A very cleansing-feeling drink.
Sweet Greens contains Cawston’s trademark apple juice along with crisp salad elements: iceberg lettuce, cucumber and garden mint. At first glance it would appear to be normal apple juice but the nose betrays more mineral elements, and the taste reflects its ingredients perfectly; the strapline of “salad in a glass” describes it accurately. The vibrant orange Sunshine Blend, meanwhile, stars apple juice, carrots, orange, celery root juice and lemon. Health fanatics will love these drinks, bursting as they are with goodness and rough and rude health (£2.99 from Tesco and independent stores.)
Em Marshall-Luck is our Food and Wine Critic