I am handed a glass of something murky by Isabelle Legeron MW (see her website, thatcrazyfrenchwoman.com, to find out more). "You're going to hate it," she smiles, like a nurse administering an antibiotic. In fact it's Akmenine, more a probiotic cross between scrumpy and the bitter aloes mum used to apply to my swollen thumb. It tastes OK; it has character. The 2008 Sebastien Riffault Sancerre is the first wine chosen by Alice Feiring, a natural wine evangelist (see her blog, The Feiring Line), to illustrate her talk at the inaugural natural wine fair last month in London's Borough Market.
As the French pop singer Claude François sang in 1978, "Bordeaux rosé, take us away and make the room begin to sway...". Well, the room has been swaying to rosé in the UK ever since the long hot summer of 2003 had us reaching for the nearest bottle of chilled rosé to quench our thirst. Once, just an also-ran squeezed between red and white wine and considered suitable only for ladies who lunch, pink wine has been transformed over the past eight years into a serious drink that even the most macho of males can enjoy.
As objective as we wine critics like to consider ourselves, the fact is that we all have our coups de coeur and our bêtes noires. I confess that until last year although I didn’t actively dislike sherry as such, I was in the take-it-or-leave-it camp. To be sure I had been to Jerez a couple of times and discovered that despite its old-fashioned image, sherry is one of the most complex, cask-aged alcoholic drinks in the world.
Chatting to Gerd Stepp, the man behind M&S’ refreshingly tasty dry riesling, Mineralstein, I was reminded that most of the quality German riesling in the major wine-producing regions of Rheinhessen, Rheinpfalz, Baden and Franconia is now dry. It’s roughly half and half in the Rheingau. Only in the Mosel is sweet riesling still prevalent because, exceptionally in this picturesque, northerly region, ripeness at low sugar levels conspires to make sweet wines with moderate alcohol.
Late for Lafite. I swing into the gravel driveway of the Pauillac first growth château at half past noon. The place is a morgue. All week, elbow room in Bordeaux is at a premium thanks to the thousands of trade and press visitors thronging from around the globe to taste the new vintage. Lafite though, along with the global travelling circus, is out to lunch.
If you know a more catchy slogan than ‘variety is in our nature’, you should be in wine marketing. This is the soundbite parading the wines of South Africa (http://www.varietyisinournature.com/) as a reflection of the country’s ‘unique biodiversity’. By convincingly linking the Cape’s floral kingdom to its diverse soils and climates, it cheekily borrows the mantle of terroir from the French, who coined wine’s currently most overused term in the first place.
2010 Marks & Spencer Margaret River Sémillon Sauvignon
This Western Australian take on the classic Graves-style blend is intensely herbal with equally juicy herbaceous fruit, a touch of sauvignon's gooseberry and citrusy acidity, finishing with a stylish crisp, dry flourish like a Bordeaux Graves yet a je ne sais quoi of extra opulence. £9.99, Marks & Spencer.
2009 Quinta de S.Francisco Branco, DOC Obidos, Companhia de Sanguinhal
If I mentioned Condrieu or Château Grillet, would you know the grape variety involved? Regulars readers of the column will, no doubt, but my suspicion is that many of you will be shrugging your shoulders, maybe even wondering what or where on earth Condrieu or Château Grillet are? For a long time, viognier was the yeti of the wine world. We suspected it was lurking there somewhere in France’s Himalayas, aka the northern Rhône Valley, but not many people had actually made a sighting of the mysterious, albeit far from abominable, snowman.
As modern Spanish wine continues to surprise us with its quality and innovation, it’s easy to forget that its success was built on Rioja. Among my earliest love affairs with wine, I remember finding the Paternina Banda Azul at £2.99 a bottle in the Potters Bar Victoria Wine utterly irresistible. So much so that I used to drink good old Blue Stripe by the shedload thanks to Vicky Wine’s 10% case discount.
Beyond the thick city walls of Avignon and its historic Palais des Papes, the ancient gnarled vines of Châteauneuf du Pape and the satellite districts of the Rhône are poised for their annual cycle of renewal. Only the white Spring flowers and lilac blossom that add an extra splash of colour to the patchwork of vines rooted in soils of white pebble, golden sand and brown clay hint at the abundance to come in this warm southern French region fed by the mighty Rhône River.