TOP TIPS FOR THE NEXT BACCHANALIAN BIG THING
From Chianti in a straw flask, Mateus Rosé and Liebfraumilch in the 1970s, Sancerre and Beaujolais Nouveau in the 80s, big Ozzie Chardonnays and Kiwi Sauvignons in the 90s, Provençal rosé and Pinot Grigios in the noughties, right up to the current obsession with Prosecco – wine has always been about trends, fads and fashions.
Inevitably, ‘in’ wines eventually suffer. Excess demand leads to over-production and a dilution in quality. The savvy wine drinker, along with the profit-chasing wine merchant, will always be on the lookout for what the next ‘big thing’ will be.
So if you want to be ahead of the curve, here are six things you should be putting in your glass this spring.
Have we at last been allowed to forget the abomination that was Beaujolais Nouveau? The PR man in me applauds the successful marketing campaign, but the wine drinker in me has always regretted the immeasurable harm done to a whole wine region by the creation of a single day designed to celebrate that trivial, bubblegum-flavoured atrocity.
Fortunately the marketing men have been put back in their box, and finally Beaujolais - proper Beaujolais - is coming out of the shadows. The region produces over a million hectolitres of wine every year, more than the rest of Burgundy put together, and all from one grape: Gamay. This fruity, thin-skinned variety is turned into the distinctive Beaujolais style via a unique method of wine-making called carbonic maceration.
Those in search of quality should seek wines from one of the ten village appellations (Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte-de-Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Regnié and St-Amour), and don’t be afraid to serve them cool, but not chilled.
Those tiring of the Prosecco hype (and noticing that decent quality bottles at affordable prices are increasingly difficult to find) are quietly turning their backs on the northern Italian fizz and finding value elsewhere – notably in Crémants from different regions of France, such as Jura, Bourgogne, Alsace, Bordeaux and Limoux).
The wines vary from region to region, but all benefit from strict regulations when it comes to things like low yields, whole bunch pressing and minimum time spent on their lees.
Many Crémants are made using the same method as Champagne, and for me the best quality is found in Alsace, Bourgogne and Limoux – although when you can get fizz as spectacularly good as Aldi’s Crémant du Jura (currently £8.29 a bottle), Italy’s Prosecco makers should be quaking in their boots.
English Red Wines
Climate change is perhaps the most serious threat facing our planet, and the world of wine is not immune. Winemakers in many regions are having to cope with increased frequency of extreme weather events such as drought, hailstorms and flooding.
But hey, every cloud has a silver lining, and one of the few beneficiaries of global warming has been the English wine industry, and increasingly, those who are making red wine. Red grapes need more sunshine to ripen than white grapes, which is why the vast majority of our domestic production is of white wine.
But that’s changing: no longer are red grapes the preserve of Cornish winemakers. Even in relatively northerly Norfolk, such as at Surlingham’s Winbirri, you will find significant plantings of grapes such as Regent, Dornfelder and Rondo, and even Pinot Noir.
Picpoul de Pinet
It only gained Appellation Controllée status six years ago, but the ‘Muscadet of the Midi’ is rapidly becoming one of the trendiest white wines around - and for once, the wine deserves the hype. The Picpoul grape has a long history in the Languedoc (‘it is also known as ‘Piquepoul’, which means ‘lip-stinger’ in the local dialect, reflecting the grape’s natural high acidity), and Picpoul de Pinet is one of very few French appellations named after the grape.
Made in a compact area around the inland lagoon L’Etang de Thau, Picpoul de Pinet should be fresh, zingy and even slightly salty – it is the perfect companion for the locally-produced oysters. Look for aromas of blossom, and citrus and green fruit flavours
The danger is that its growing popularity will lead to over-production and a dilution of the tangy acidity which is its trademark. The good news is that this hasn’t happened yet, and bad Picpouls are rare.
A left-field prediction, this, but you heard it here first: Greek wines are due their time in the sun. Greece has far more really good quality wines than many people realise; it’s just that they have traditionally been consumed at home. A combination of continuing domestic austerity and a pressing need for foreign currency is seeing a concerted push to boost exports, and we may end up the winners in this equation.
In the last 30 years there has been massive investment in modern winemaking technology, with newly-skilled winemakers making the most of Greece’s many native grape varieties. Gutsy flavours may mean that many Greek wines lack the finesse of those from some other countries, but that hasn’t stood in the way of blockbuster 15% abv Shiraz wines becoming wildly popular, has it?
OK, not strictly wine, but a big trend nevertheless. Traditionally, a pink gin was made by adding Angostura bitters to ordinary gin; the new trend is gins which are themselves pink, through the addition of aromats such as cherry, strawberry and peach. The latest example of this trend comes from Norfolk’s own Boadicea Gin, which last month launched ‘Rosa’, a pink gin which is vapour infused with subtle notes of peach and cherry. Try it with hibiscus tonic, or with Champagne or Prosecco.
Three wines Andy has enjoyed this month
Côtes Catalanes Grenache, Domain Jones, 2016
Wine Society, £15
From Maury in the Roussillon, this is not the sweet wine that region is known for, but a full-bodied, intense red, boasting raisins and bramble fruit on the nose, and big tannins, cherry and dried fruits on the palate. If you are about to get your barbecue out for the first time this year, this is a wine which will keep you warm once the sun goes down.
Domaine Les Roches Bleues Reserve de Vielles Vignes Côte-de-Brouilly 2016
Bakers & Larners, £11.99
Shows what complexity Beaujolais can offer: sweet glacé fruit, liquorice, cherries, spices and even tar on the nose, with plums, black pepper and herbs on the palate. Really quite robust, savoury tannins – a serious wine, not a fruit bomb (and all the better for it).
Taste The Difference Chablis
Made by the Union des Viticulteurs de Chablis, a respected co-operative who also supply Tesco (where you will pay a £4 premium for a wine from the same stable). Bright, pale straw in colour, with mineral, citrus and pear drop aromas. A lovely acidity on the palate, with fresh minerality, and lime fruit – a tremendous balance. It’s really hard to find decent Chablis at this price point, so look no further.
This article was first published in Feast Norfolk magazine.