Some outstanding wine selections
I have two each of sparkling, red, white wines and spirits to recommend in this column; the common theme being excellence and value. One of the sparkling and red choices are both more for special occasions by dint of their price tags, but the other wines, ranging from between £6.50 and £15, all offer a more exceptional wine than their prices would indicate.
Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2009 calls for something of a special celebration. Made using the traditional method, and with the classic grape combination of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, this bottle-fermented sparkling wine hails from the chalky hills of West Sussex’s South Downs.
The wine itself is a pale straw colour, with a lively nose full of fresh lemons. The taste is also predominantly of citrus fruits – an immediate and powerful burst of lemons, followed by grapefruit and even retiring hints of pineapple, mixed with straw. It is an elegant drink and a most suitable and acceptable English equivalent to fine champagne. Available from Waitrose at £31.99.
A more everyday option is Prosecco – a drink that, even though currently finding increasing favour with wine-lovers, can still be overlooked; unjustly so, for a good Prosecco is a gloriously refreshing and versatile drink that is not only a very good stand-alone option but works well with a surprisingly large variety of cuisines.
Piccini extra dry Prosecco is an excellent choice and one that I highly recommend – especially for those who are concerned that this type of wine perhaps will not be impressive or dry enough for their taste. The main characteristics of this particular wine, which is made entirely from Glera grapes selected from vineyards in Treviso, in the heart of the Prosecco DOC, are lively bubbles and a wonderful biscuity flavour. Lemony in colour and with a nose that combines gentle citrus and floral odours, it is refreshing and vibrant in the mouth, with those biscuits at the fore and citrusy hints – a little lemon, a little pineapple, a little grapefruit – retiring behind. This is a wine that will do as well for a smart reception as for a relaxed family evening in (available from Tesco, priced £15).
Perhaps one of the best red wines that I have encountered recently is the Chateauneuf du Pape Reserve 2010, Chateau Fortia. Chateau Fortia is one of the oldest estates in the Rhone Valley, and the wine it produces has a deep, dark purple colour – a rich and thick appearance, and a nose of dark berry fruits, brambles and woodlands. The flavour is surprisingly soft at first – very gentle, and fully rounded, and, like the nose, dark and woody. There is fruit – predominantly blackberries: ripe and luscious and slightly sweet, with not even the tiniest hint of tartness or harshness. There is a large amount of ash and a little tar – but tempered by that sweetness and restraint; there is also a little bit of liquorice and plenty of spice, but, again, gentler spices such as cardamom and cinnamon, with hints of sweetness, as opposed to anything fiery.
This is an intriguing and deeply satisfying wine of subtlety and sophistication, in which the full flavour is delivered in the most gentlemanly fashion possible, rather than using a sledge hammer. Chateau Fortia works particularly well with traditional dishes, such as the steak and mushroom suet pudding I cooked to accompany it – fine steaks and lamb dishes would also go down a treat; whilst the inherent sweetness would even pair it well with a chocolaty dessert, such as a fondant. Even the empty bottle, with its crosskeys and papal tiara embossed decoration, is a thing of beauty. Available from corkingwines.co.uk and highly recommended as a special treat (at £34.25) – perhaps to accompany the Paschal lamb.
If Chateau Fortia is a little above your budget, you can try a similar and also superb wine in Evans & Tate Breathing Space 2013, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia’s Margaret River. It boasts a deep ruby colour and a nose of dark berry fruits and enticing woodland odours. The first taste is overwhelmingly redolent of coffee – a fabulous combination of this and those bramble fruits. It is again very gentle and soft on the tongue – no hint of astringency here, yet it doesn’t lack power, with a suave darkness and a lingering aftertaste of blackcurrant, blackberries, raspberries and a touch of ash, white pepper and oak. The finish is wonderfully smooth. Available from Majestic at the price of £11.99, this wine delivers exceptional value for money.
Duo des Mers 2013 is a Sauvignon-Viognier available from the Wine Society, with a pale straw colour and gloriously floral nose, with odours of apple blossom and lime trees. The taste is more fruity, although as the flavour hits the tongue it does so with a micro-second burst of floral sweetness. Then the citrus flavours kick in – mainly grapefruit but with a little lemon as well and some pear flavour emerging from behind the grapefruit. The taste gathers in intensity from the subtle foretaste through to an aftertaste that lingers long of lemon and grapefruit. There is a little bite of spicy white pepper as well; and that apple blossom, very very subtle, throughout. For £6.50 (from The Wine Society) this is another outstanding wine at an extremely reasonable price.
Picpoul de Pinet 2013, from celebrated Languedoc winemaker, Gérard Bertrand, also has a beautiful bottle that is a work of art in and of itself, beautifully embossed with a decorative neck and Maltese-type cross. A light gold colour with a nose of peach, lychee and apricots, the wine inside is drier than the nose indicates but bears out well the fruity aromas. A crisp, refreshing wine, this starts with a burst of citrus fruits – mainly grapefruit, before opening out into more complex flavours, including the fruits determinable on the nose, and mineral elements as well. There is some white pepper and a little grass, and then a slight aftertaste of ash. The flavour is full and rich and smooth, and the only fault I can find with it is the typo on the label at the back of the bottle, advertising “foral aromas”! A fine wine for a balmy spring evening, and again, certainly worth the price of £10.75 (from corkingwines.co.uk).
If you’re after a spirit that combines tradition and something a little different and extra, Martell Spirits might have a solution in their Vintage Pear Spirit and Jack High Cider Spirit, both made in wood-fired copper stills. The former is very smooth and rather sophisticated; a clear and transparent fluid with a schnapps-y nose. It delivers an intense bite that marries a delicate sweetness with a strong alcoholic hit at 40%. Jack High, distilled from local cider, is a translucent liquid with straw-yellow tinge and intriguingly floral nose of apple blossom. Again, it is strong at 40%, but very appley – very much like a decent calvados, and with a smooth, almost brandy-like finish. Both come in traditional, yet smart and sophisticated packaging, and would make an interesting and special gift – if you can keep your hands off them yourself! Both are available direct from the Charles Martell website; Jack High at £30 and the Vintage Pear Spirit at £39 for 50cl.