Wine issue 3 – unusual regions

We all tend to be aware of the big wine producers, I mean even if you don’t give that much thought to where your vino comes from, if you found yourself on Pointless you would know that to say France, Italy or Australia would get you a pretty high score, right?

OK, so how about those countries that might get you a lower score, and more importantly are the wines worth trying?

Well, within Europe there are the slightly less obvious countries like Austria and Romania who produce some lovely stuff, although Romania make some sweeter reds (not pudding wines, just sweeter red wines) that aren’t to my taste personally. But how about Moldova? They’ve been making wine there for centuries but it’s never been on the mainstream list. Or at the other end of the spectrum, both weather and wine history-wise, Denmark has fairly recently come onto the wine scene. I’ll admit I have never tried a Danish wine, however, and I’m not sure how well you’d fare trying to get some from your local Tesco, but you might get a nice low score on Pointless!

And further afield? Well one of the very nicest wines I’ve ever tasted was from Canada. There’s an area in British Columbia which has a very similar micro climate to the Alsace region in France, and their ice wines are phenomenal. In Japan a third of the wine consumed is locally made. But interestingly (or not, depending on your view point) only a quarter of that is from grapes grown in Japan.

On the list of wine producing countries by quantity for 2014 (I can’t find a more recent one), Italy produces the most, only just ahead of Spain and then France. You might be surprised to discover Australia is 8th on the list, producing less than a quarter of Italy’s total – certainly if you look in any UK supermarket you’d be forgiven for believing the Aussies churned out a lot more!

And at the bottom of the list? Here’s your Pointless answer: Reunion. Yup, that little island in the Indian Ocean. Still a French territory, so I suspect that might explain a bit of it.

What wines have you tried from unusual places? I’d love to know in the comments.

Wine issue 2 – Northern Rhone

I’ll start by telling you this is my MOST FAVOURITE wine area ever. Seriously, if (when?) I were to win the lottery I would invest in so much of the beautiful wine from this region, alongside some top Champagnes, but I’ll come onto those in another post!

The Rhone Valley can be looked at in two parts – North and South. There are a few bits and pieces in the middle, including the very yummy Clairette de Die, but let’s not get distracted. From the South Rhone you get such lovelies as Cotes du Rhone and Chateauneuf du Pape, but again, that’s for another post.

The North Rhone is almost entirely planted to the Syrah grape. Syrah was long believed to have originated in the Iranian town of Shiraz, but in the late 90s a study in California found it to be the offspring of two other French grape varieties (Duereza and Mondeuse Blanche). Syrah is the name the grape goes under in France, and the Old World; while it is called Shiraz elsewhere.

So, when I win the lottery, what will I buy? Hermitage. Just so much Hermitage. This wine is all grown in a small area on the hill above the town of Tain l’Hermitage. It is made primarily from Syrah, but is permitted to also contain up to 15% of a mix of Roussanne and Marsanne (both white grapes). It is a wine that just blows your senses away, from the initial smell, through to the final end taste. And yes, I am straying into wine reverie and remembering tasting notes I have written over the years.

Just as a little aside, let me run through how to taste a wine properly:

Look – the first thing to do is to look at it in the glass. You can see if it’s past it by one quick look, so you can end up writing off a wine just from the first pour, if it’s been sitting in a wine rack a bit too long. Yep, if you pour a red wine and it comes out brick red, it’s probably past it. Back to my North Rhone wines, they should be a beautiful dark red, going to clear at the very edge of the wine.

Smell – next up you smell the wine. Put your nose right into the glass and get a good whiff (there’s a reason tasting samples are small, it’s so you don’t end up with a wet nose at this point!). With a Hermitage (and, for the purposes of generalisation, all the North Rhone red wines) you’ll find amazing smells of tobacco, pine, leather, smoke. Honestly, it’s just so beautiful.

Taste – at this point the aim is NOT to glug it, it’s to taste it. So take a small sip and hold it in the middle of your mouth, then breathe through it. Adding air will allow the wine to reach all your taste receptors and give you so many more flavours than you might have expected. Your Hermitage will give you flavours of blackberries, violet, spices.

If I were at a formal tasting, I would be jotting down these characteristics on every wine I taste. These big formal trade tastings that used to be a part of my life were a funny mix of older men in tweed and some of the younger wine merchants, all wandering around tasting in the order they choose, scribbling reminders so that when they get back to the office they know which to order and which to avoid. I used to find that people were very protective of their own notes, a bit like when, at primary school, you’d hide your work so the person next to you couldn’t copy!

Back to the real world, what does a North Rhone wine go well with? Well the immediate answer is lamb. Honestly, if there is a food-pairing made in heaven it’s Syrah and lamb. Early in my wine days I remember going for dinner with Dad, and we had a Crozes-Hermitage (from the same place, albeit a larger area and the next tier down of grape quality, so a bit more affordable) with a lamb dish. It was my first realisation of quite how much wine and food can compliment each other. If I tell you this was in 2000, so 17 years ago, you’ll understand what a big eye opener that meal was. There are a few other meals along the way that I’m sure I’ll refer to in these posts, that have given me the “aha” moment about different regions and food pairings. Dad has been present at many of them!

OK, so maybe you’ve never really explored the North Rhone as a region, maybe you’ve never really thought about smelling and tasting your wine, maybe you’ve stuck to the red with meat, white with fish (I’ll challenge that at some point, don’t worry) rule. This weekend, go and try a North Rhone wine. Be open minded when you smell it and jot down everything you can smell. Don’t think when you first taste it and note everything you can taste. I can only hope you’ll enjoy it a fraction of how much I do.

And to save you standing staring blankly in the red wine aisle here are some great wines to try (to suit various budgets, see why I need that lottery win now?):

Crozes Hermitage, Cave de Tain; Sainsburys£8.50 a bottle

Crozes Hermitage “Petite Ruche” 2015, M.Chapoutier; Majestic Wine£18.99 a bottle

Cornas, Jean Luc Columbo, Terres Brulees; Waitrose Wine Cellars£34.99 a bottle

Hermitage, Jean-Louis Chave, Rouge 2011; Yapp Wines£199 a bottle



Wine Friday issue 1 – Prosecco.

I asked a business group I’m in on Facebook whether they felt it was appropriate for someone promoting moving more and getting active to blog about wine. The answer was a resounding yes. I used to be a wine merchant, have various wine qualifications, and love a glass of good wine in the evening, so why not share the love?

So the plan is that I will talk about a wine region, a grape variety, a method of wine-making, something oenological (love that word) on the first Friday of each month. Sound good?

I thought I’d start with Prosecco. It’s just so popular at the moment, and much more affordable than many other sparkling wines. OK, so we all know it as the lovely light bubbly wine we can grab for £7 a bottle in the supermarket, but how much more is there to know?

Region: Prosecco is named after the village it originated from, and can now be produced in nine provinces in northern Italy.

Grapes: It is primarily made from the Glera grape (formerly known as Prosecco), but up to 15% of the total can come from another 8 different varietals, including Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.

Why isn’t it as expensive as Champagne? Well, now here’s the thing. It’s all about how it gets its bubbles. There are 2 ways of making wine fizzy – secondary fermentation (after the first fermentation which makes the wine alcoholic, a 2nd lot of yeast is added and the fermentation of this makes the bubbles – simplistic explanation, but it’ll do!) or CO2 injection (think soda stream).

The latter is only used in really cheapy wines (that’s why Lambrini girls have so much fun…), with the former being used in pretty much all sparkling wines from the most expensive Champagnes down to the cheapest of Proseccos. HOWEVER, the difference between the Champagne method (methode classique) and the Prosecco method (Charmat-Martinotti) is that in Prosecco the secondary fermentation takes place in large stainless steel tanks, and the wine is bottled already fizzy. Champagne has its secondary fermentation in the bottle, but I’m not going to elaborate on that now – Champagne will be for my December wine post!

In short, then, Prosecco manages to be lighter in taste than other sparkling wines because of the grape varieties used, lighter in age because it needs to be drunk young due to the way it’s made, and lighter in price because of the tank method of secondary fermentation.

Don’t know about anyone else, but having given this all this thought I know what I’ll be supping while I watch Strictly this weekend.

Cin cin!