Christmas party wine to start your festive countdown

Matua Sauvignon Blanc 2012, New Zealand wine, Christmas party wine

Here is a selection of Christmas party wine I’d cheerily wave on the front doorstep of a festive party and then sneakily hide next to the toaster and keep to myself.

Tanners Chardonnay, IGP d’Oc 2012,  (£6.15 per bottle when you buy six or more at www.tanners-wines.co.uk, or £7.40 each). I love this golden chardonnay.

Tanners Chardonnay, IGP d'Oc 2012
Tanners Chardonnay, IGP d’Oc 2012

It’s from the sun-soaked south of France and has apricots, even marzipan, and rich stewed apple on the nose. There’s sunlight-bright squeaky clean acidity with vanilla-studded apricots and peach which have plenty of linger power.

Also from Tanners, Rémi & Jérôme Merlot, IGP d’Oc 2012 (£5.74 for six or more, or £6.99 each). The fruity aroma is light, more blackcurrant than blackberry, and again it’s a southern French wine. I shared it with my sister and her hubby and as lamb and potatoes roasted the wine slid down easily. By the time the vegetables were cooking we were on our second glass. Perhaps it was as well we didn’t drink more before He Who Must Carve did exactly that.  The wine (what was left) didn’t overpower the delicate lamb.

To another white. Matua Sauvignon Blanc (£9.99 at www.morrisonscellar.com and Majestic). Matua was New Zealand’s first sauvignon blanc, the winery was set up in 1973. It’s a top-drawer example of a fruity-sharp NZ sauv blanc, with grapefruit and gooseberry compote on the nose and hints of green pepper skin with new-mown grass. It has a wonderful burst of juicy acidity.

Now to some bubbles. Barefoot Bubbly Pink Moscato was launched in the UK a few weeks ago and is in Asda at £9.49. OK, for some, it might be a bit too sweet but chill overnight and let the mix of red apples and tropical peach fizzle and entice as in the mouth dried and fresh raspberries add another fruity twist. Great on its own or with cheese nibbles. For me, a surprising wow.

Miguel Torres Santa Digna Estelado Rose (RRP £12.49 from Hoults Wine Merchants, In the Pink, Trinas Wines, www.vintagemarque.com). This wine has been awarded Best in Category for Sparkling Wine at the Annual Wines of Chile Awards for two years running and is made from the grape País, normally used for Chile’s local wines.
It is a Provence-style whisper-pink and bubbles excitedly tumble a hedgerow of wild strawberries into the glass. But there’s also a cocktail of pears, pink apples and rosewater. Delightfully dry, not too sweet.

With my glass this week

Some chocolate. If you’re struggling with stocking filler ideas Brix Bites (£7.99, www.winegiftcentre.com) might do the trick.

There are four blends of Brix Chocolate for Wine, designed to nibble with all wines, from Champagne to shiraz. I tasted Brix Smooth Dark 54% Chocolate with another Matua wine, Matua Pinot Noir 2012 (£8, www.ASDA.com/ wineshop).

The wine was see-through red with cherries on the nose and redcurrant jelly to taste. So light and easy, like a flyaway feather in an orchard breeze. The dark chocolate blended perfectly, adding a depth of smooth mocha bitterness.

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Published in the saturday extra magazine November 30, 2013

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

Ripasso, my favourite wine in story of an Italian trio

Alpha Zeta Valpolicella Superiore NV review

I’m often asked to name my favourite wine.

Truth is, I don’t really have one. Yes, I have preferences but what I decide to open at any one time can depend on my mood swings (there are many), what I’m eating (I like eating) and the time of year, even the time of day. Is it to drink with a Sunday summertime lunch or to indulge a late-night snuggle in a winter onesie.

But if I had to have a stab at a favourite red, it would be an Italian ripasso.

There’s a fascinating relationship between a ripasso, a basic valpolicella and a lusciously rich, rounded, fulsome amarone wine – the Nigella Lawson of Italian reds.

I tasted a range from Alpha Zeta and spoke to Master of Wine David Gleave from Liberty Wines, which makes them. Just the name valpolicella – meaning the valley of many cellars – is enticing. The area,  says David, is rich with old techniques, producing wonderful wines “which won’t scare you off”.

Alpha Zeta ‘V’ Valpolicella 2012 (Richard Granger Wines, Corks Out, Ceci Paolo, Bay Tree Wine Company and others, at around £9. Check out their websites or try the useful www.wine-searcher.com)

David told me: “Basic valpolicella should be drunk young and it will have a good dark cherry perfume. It will be vibrant, with just the expressions of pure fruit. Drink it cool, it is wonderful.”

My notes simply said “moreish cherry crumble and custard on an indulgent Sunday”.

Alpha Zeta ‘A’ Amarone 2010 (Carruthers & Kent, Corks Out, Bentley’s Wine, N. D. John Wine Merchants, www.slurp.co.uk from about £25)

Italy has a long tradition of making wines from dried grapes – the process is known as passito and it was introduced to the country by the Greeks 3,000 years ago.

David explains the wine-making process. “Grapes are picked and packed in single layers in plastic crates avoiding excessive handling. They are then stacked onto palettes and taken to the drying rooms direct from the vineyard. They are then dried for around three months but retaining the freshness. After drying, the wine is fermented on the skins for about two to three weeks before moved into barrels where they are aged.”

Alpha Zeta Valpolicella wine review
Alpha Zeta Valpolicella Superiore NV

What a wonderful wine. On the nose, raisins and fruit cake and to taste bitter chocolate with essence of mulled wine. A bold wine but with added feminine sexiness. My words, not David’s.

Finally, the reason why we’re here.

Alpha Zeta ‘R’ Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso 2011 (stockists as before, prices vary £11-£13).

Skins and grapes used to make amarone are refermented in basic valpolicella. David explains. “Ripasso was born out of frugality – from a waste-not want-not culture. It’s like using a teabag twice – but the grapes are good grapes and still have plenty more to offer.”

So yes, ruby-red ripasso is one of my favourites. It is soft, supple, with both fresh fruit and murmurs of fruit cake on the nose, and to taste is packed with cherry puree and has creamy flirtations with vanilla and chocolate. It’s a baby amarone at half the price.

Hot off the press, an Italian wine won a “best buy” accolade a couple of days ago. The Co-operative’s own-brand Prosecco DOC Special Cuvée Brut has scooped a Which? “best buy” by taking top marks in a consumer taste test in the magazine’s December issue. The award-winner is £6.49 (reduced from £9.99) until January 3.

Published in the saturday extra magazine November 23, 2013

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express