I WATCHED a lovely couple – well I’m sure they were lovely – looking totally bemused in a wine shop the other day.
They were walking up and down the reds baffled, nay, befuddled, by the choices in front of them.
So here’s some simple guidance on six basic wine grapes. You’ll see them all the time… but do you know if you’ll like them?
Chardonnay: ABC as some people like to say… Anything But Chardonnay.
It’s like a blank canvas which can grow in both cool and warm climates; which in turn affects its flavours. Many winemakers love to tamper with it as chardonnay is willing and able to be moulded in many ways. My favourite is unoaked Chablis; crisp and clean with biting green apples.
Sauvignon Blanc: Packs a punch of gooseberries on the nose and a dry squeaky-cheek pinch of acidity.
It’s rarely oaked as winemakers want to keep the grape’s natural fruity freshness. You may be familiar with intense New Zealand sauvignon blanc … but Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume in the Loire are the grape’s natural home and those wines are a little more backward in coming forward but nonetheless grassy green and fruity. Ones from Chile have green pepper edges.
Riesling (say it as in rees, not in rice): Such a delight.
Far too complicated to explain the German styles; riesling can range from crisp and green with citrus notes, or peachy-packed and tropical. Look out for riesling from the Clare Valley in Australia which have high acidity and knife-edge lemon and lime citrus.
Merlot: Gentle tannins tease in this Velvet Prince.
Merlot is the blending sister of cabernet sauvignon in Bordeaux, but it is now grown throughout the world as a consumer-friendly wine. Strawberries and plums in cooler climates and black fruits with some chocolate in hotter ones.
Cabernet Sauvignon: If Merlot is the Prince, Cab Sav is the King.
An intriguing grape which can be harsh when young. The thick skin of cabernet sauvignon makes for high tannin. It ages well. Merlot adds the softness in its Bordeaux homeland blends. Flavours include black fruits – blackcurrant and cherries – with occasional cedar, green pepper and herbs.
Pinot Noir: A gentle little thing, the pinot noir grape.
The thin skins of pinot noir grapes lead to low or medium tannins but make it difficult to grow … but it is really easy to drink! If you see a red from Burgundy, this will be pinot noir. You’ll find strawberries, raspberries and cherries, and also savoury notes such as wet leaves, wood and meat. That might sound odd but go with it. Other than France, pick out a German pinot noir and in the New World, New Zealand.
If you like your sparkles, some breaking news this week from the Co-op. The retailer’s Les Pionniers Vintage Champagne 2004, (£24.99) won three World Champion titles at the Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships 2014.
The Champagne is created through an exclusive long-standing partnership between Piper and Charles Heidseick. It has already picked up a Silver at this year’s International Wine Challenge and a Bronze medal at the Decanter awards.
The Exquisite Collection Picpoul de Pinet (£5.99) and The Exquisite Collection Mendoza Rosé (£5.99) were new to Aldi’s range this summer. From the south of France, Picpoul de Pinet has a mouth-watering zing of lemon, lime and gentle peach, which follow the soft aromas of stone fruits and bright citrus.
To the Mendoza from Argentina, a rosé made from 100% malbec. A deep strawberry pink; fresh and dried strawberries on the nose with red fruits taste with a mouth-bursting bite, but the flavours disappear quite quickly.
First published in the saturday extra magazine September 6, 2014