Wines to take Summer into Autumn
A fine selection of wine and other drinks
Among a crop of very fine whites and reds each at a respectable mid-range price, I have here a number of rosés which belie the reputation that they have acquired over recent years of being simple and sweet, lacking in subtlety and complexity. There are also four gins, from perfectly serviceable ones for everyday use (should one so wish!) through to a couple of really outstanding ones for special occasions. In the purchase of any of the drinks listed below, one can be confident in the enjoying of beverages of excellent quality, good value and sophisticated character.
Reds first, and taking these in order of price range, we can start with a superb wine which is fabulous value for its price tag of £7.99 (from Morrison’s). Root 1 Carménère Vina Ventisquero 2013 comes from the Colchagua Valley, situated between the Andes and the low coastal mountains of the Pacific Ocean. The grapes are 85% Carménère and 15% Syrah, and are grown on original ungrafted roots, which the winemakers believe give better purity of flavour and expression of terroir. I was immediately struck by the very classy, striking and sophisticated bottle design, which, rather than sporting a label, is embossed with a bold image of a vine with long roots breaking into information about Chilean wine and this wine in particular. Root 1 Carménère is a dark opaque purple, with a nose of forests: liquorice and dark berries. The taste is overwhelmingly dark and fruity – again redolent of woodlands, log cabins and open fires. The black bitterness of blackcurrants are tempered by the sweeter tones of liquorice and ripe blackberries, plums and cherries, and there is a little ash on the finish. A superb wine for hearty stews and red meats.
Clefs du Pontif 2014 is blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah from the chalky soil of the Pays d’Oc in Southern France (available at £9.99 from Avery’s of Bristol). It is a deep, thick ruby colour with a nose of woodlands – dark berry fruits and oak trees with a hint of liquorice. The taste is rich, smooth and dark; it is a pleasantly full-bodied wine. There are lots of blackcurrants and blackberries, with the taste splitting discernibly into the higher, sharper tones of the blackcurrants and redcurrants, and a lower rumbling tone of tar, leather, ash and spices below. A complex, intriguing and satisfying wine.
Gerard Bertrand Terroir Minervois 2013 combines Syrah and Carignan Noir grapes, which have been hand-picked from the stony, limestone slopes of the Montagne Noir. If outer appearances, and the trouble taken with them, are anything to go by, then just a glance at the bottle with its elegant and sophisticated whilst also bold logo bodes well; and the wine – from renowned winemaker Gerard Bertrand – doesn’t disappoint. The colour is a deep purple and the nose is full of dark berry fruits whilst at the same time offering some tantalising wood smoke. On the palate we have a complex array of flavours that roll out like waves on the tongue – first is some dry ash, followed almost immediately by fruits – plums and blackberries. Then come the wood – oak, followed by some smoke – warming bonfires, and finally a lingering finish of dark forest and some tar. Impressive and very sophisticated, this is a wine for a really decent meal, despite its RRP of only £9-11.
The Abbotts & Delaunay Réserve 2013, Côtes du Roussillon (from Avery’s at £11.99), uses Syrah, Grenache Noir, Carignan Noir and Mourvedre grapes from three of Roussillon’s famed terroirs – Montner, Tautavel and Caramany. It is a deep, opaque purple with a nose of liquorice, spice and brambles. On the palate, this full-bodied wine is as dark, black and rich as the nose indicates. The fruit elements are blackberries, with some plums – but lots of woody tones, too – oak and ash, and these are combined with a hint of tar and lots of spice and black pepper. There is some sweeter liquorice at the start and a long and black finish of ash at the end, making a robust yet nevertheless sophisticated wine for red meats.
Our whites start with the Domaine Paul Mas Viognier 2014, from the Paul Mas Estate in the chalky, fossil-filled soil of the rolling hills of the Herault Valley in the Languedoc. I liked the touch of the label featuring Vinus the heron – who was allegedly often seen in the Paul Mas vineyard, preferring the ripe grapes to the fish in the river. The nose is gloriously floral and rich and the colour is a good light gold. The taste is dry, with lime, lemon and grapefruit but also a slightly mellower and sweeter peach flavour. It is slightly chalky, like the soil in which it is grown, but with fresh blossom – lime and apple blossom. An extraordinarily aromatic wine. (RRP £9-11.)
The Josmeyer Pinot Blanc Mise de Printemps 2014 lives up to its name with a burst of spring in each glass. The hand-picked, biodynamic grapes come from the 25-hectare Josmeyer Estate, which dates from 1854, in Alsace. Quite yellow in colour; the wine has an extremely floral nose, full of apple blossom and lime tree blossom. On the palate we have a first a sharp burst of lemon and lime followed by a hint of floral sweetness in a long aftertaste that tingles on the tongue with a lingering fizz. It is quite a dry wine, however, with some mineral elements, especially chalk, contributing to that dryness. Very elegant and pure in taste – an extremely drinkable wine. (£11.50 from The Wine Society.)
Established in 1921, Mount Pleasant is one of the founding fathers of winemaking in the warm, humid and wet conditions of the Hunter Valley in Australia. I tried their Elizabeth Semillon 2013, and their cellar-aged Elizabeth Semillon 2007 (the Elizabeth range was inspired by the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Australia in 1954 – the first reigning monarch to visit the continent), and found myself impressed by both. The 2013 Semillon has a very pale straw colour and a gloriously floral nose – oodles of citrus blossom, apple blossom and lime. The taste is much drier than the nose indicates and has plenty of citrus fruits – predominantly lemon and grapefruit, with a hint of pineapple combined with all those floral notes and some mineral elements on the aftertaste. Overall, it is an extremely elegant, crisp wine, perfect for fish and seafood dishes. (RRP £13.99-£15.99 from Harper Wells and slurp.co.uk.)
The cellar-aged 2007 Semillon has won an impressive number of medals, and rightly so – the nose of this golden-coloured wine at once impresses with its intensive mineral odours mixed with a large amount of hay and mustiness than hints at a refined age. The taste beautifully combines an initial sweetness as of ripe raisins, delivered along with a slight effervescence that adds a refreshing element to the wine, followed by a long finish of those mineral elements so prevalent on the nose: lower, darker tones not dissimilar from the dark tar notes and tannin bite of an excellent full-bodied red. There is hay there, some toast and nuts and some crumbling chalk, yet also the bite of white pepper; and the wine seems almost to dissolve at the end, leaving just a tantalising taste, like the grin of a Cheshire cat. (RRP £14.95-17.80, from slurp.co.uk, Wine Library, Hedonism and BBR.com.)
The Vignobles des 3 Châteaux AOC Languedoc Pic Saint Loup 2014 is made from 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache Noir grapes from the chalk and stone soil at the foot of the Pic Saint Loup. The bottle shows an excessively wild mountain landscape with a wolf, muzzle elevated, and bears the legend “truly irresistible”, and the wine is suggested as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to pizza, salads or charcuterie. It is a pretty pastel pink in colour, with a very subtle nose – a distant note of strawberry and a hint of cherries. More depth is apparent on the palate, and the taste moves from the strawberries and cherries evident on the nose through raspberries to a slight hint of gooseberry, and concludes with a warmingly dry finish. Altogether, this is a wine to celebrate and remember summer; but also one to acknowledge with joy the approaching autumn. (Available from Ocado priced £9.99.)
For the last of the summer’s wines, two Mirabeau rosés: Mirabeau en Provence 2014 and Mirabeau Cotes de Provence 2014. The former has a nose that is dry and fruity with mainly strawberries; the colour is a pretty salmon pink. On the palate it is dry and refreshing – full of summer fruits including tart redcurrants as well as softer, sweeter berry fruits. A very dry, light wine with an almost effervescent aftertaste, which leaves the wine tingling delightfully in the mouth. Mirabeau Cotes de Provence 2014 won a Medaille d’Or Paris 2015 and, again, is a pastel pink. The nose is very sweet and fruity – strawberries and cream. On the palate we first have a sweet burst of those ripe berry fruits, but this is followed by a long dry aftertaste with plenty of citrus flavours along with redcurrants. There is a bite of white pepper and a hint of dry hay at the finish. A pleasingly complex and extremely elegant wine. (RRP £8.99 from Waitrose.)
From complexity to purity: Wenlock Spring water has newly developed lightweight glass, leading to 18% lighter bottles – they’ve produced a lovely little shot glass representing the combined weight loss from the still and sparkling 330ml bottles. The water bottles do indeed feel surprisingly light for glass bottles full of water. The water comes from Wenlock Edge in Shropshire, as immortalised by Housman and numerous composers. It has a high calcium content, and all mineral content / scientific information is given on the bottles. The taste is exceptionally pure and refreshing, slightly sweet and immensely “clean” tasting. A delicious and delightful water.
For those who prefer things a little stronger and are keen on trying unusual drinks I could recommend the new Sheppy cider blackberry and elderflower blend. This is a rich, pinkish-red colour, and lightly effervescent. It is very slightly citrus-y on the nose, with hints of raspberry and elderflower – but all very subtle and delicate. The taste is redolent of early autumn rather than high summer: not surprisingly, given its contents, although I must admit that I found the blackberry rather retiring in the landscape of flowers. The elderflower comes immediately to the fore, fading towards the back of the palate and making way for the raspberry notes that were hinted at on the nose and the rather more elusive blackberry. I’m not convinced that the light sparkle adds very much – the flavours here are subtle yet fresh and they might well command greater attention if they were not competing with the distraction of effervescence. However, this is an unusual view of a drink that can all too often be perceived as hackneyed; it is a refreshing yet slightly wistful; taste borne of ‘the year’s last, loveliest smile’. (RRP £3.50.)
Finally, a selection of four different gins for different occasions. Greenall’s Original London Dry Gin has a delicately sweet nose with the hint of a minty undertone. The spirituous taste is immediately evident but there is a longer drawn-out depth to the flavour that rewards perseverance: a slight dark fruitiness comes to the fore. The finish lingers for a while with a warming glow. Altogether, this is a typical gin – nothing especially startling, but nevertheless a pleasant and uncomplicated drink to enjoy on a pre-prandial basis. (£15 for a 70cl bottle from Tesco’s.)
Rather more special is the Berkeley Square London Dry Gin. This gin is created, according to the description on the bottle, ‘using a hand-picked blend of botanicals, including basil, lavender and kaffir lime leaves’. The latter make their presence felt immediately upon the nose, their sweet muskiness heralding a drink of remarkable sophistication. The flavours of lavender and kaffir lime are dominant, with an underpinning of basil to lend warmth and substance; and the aftertaste is substantial, resonant and memorable. The bottle states ‘best enjoyed on the rocks or in a martini’; but my feeling is that to serve it in the latter would be a waste: this is an immensely satisfying gin with multi-layered flavours that requires only the addition of simple tonic water to allow its subtleties to be fully appreciated. (Available from Waitrose, price £36 for 70cl.)
Bloom Premium London Dry Gin has a very subtle nose, with honeysuckle very much to the fore, and with a rather sweet undercurrent. The taste lingers long on the palate, the chamomile informing the initial impression, later crossfading into the delicate sweetness of the honeysuckle. Again, this gin is more rewarding the more it is savoured – a quick swallow reveals few of its secrets. With patience, this drink is more warming and has a greater depth than the description on the bottle might imply – do not expect to appreciate this subtle gin without due concentration and the focus it expects. (Available from Ocado, priced £25, 70cl.)
Opihr Oriental Spiced London Dry Gin, on the other hand, has a heavily spicy – almost curried – nose that bears out the spirit’s name, after which it is something of a surprise to find that the initial impression upon tasting is of a very mild, undemanding drink. The spiciness does not recur until the liquid is far back on the tongue, and even then it is not as powerful as it is on the nose. Nevertheless, it has a potently warming effect and adds an extra and interesting dimension to a drink that is too often taken for granted. My guess is that to serve this gin with ice, according to cliché, would kill the flavour entirely – and one would be well-advised not to gulp unthinkingly at it, but to enjoy the pungency of its aroma. Not a gin, therefore, for the drink-swilling county set, but for a special occasion or for enjoying in peace and tranquillity with a superb book or some Mozart playing, in a calm and magical atmosphere by an open fire on a fine autumn evening. (Available from Waitrose at a very reasonable £19 for 70cl.)