This isn’t just great sparkling wine. It’s not just great English sparkling wine. This is a historic wine, from one of the most important estates in the development of English fizz. The dried and fresh fruit character, the toasty brioche, the succulent fizz on the palate; it’s delicious. It’s also a seriously classy wine, rivalling the greatest sparklers from around the world.
You know that prickle of refreshing zest you get in a perfectly made gin and tonic. This is wine’s answer. And it’s better. There’s a spectrum of citrus with everything from lime to grapefruit, and then the wine’s characteristic tingly fizz. It’s the perfect sharpner at the start of the evening, or at 11.5%, it’s a great choice for lunch.
There’s been quiet experimention in Rioja, to look for a more modern style of wine for people who want more fruit and a tad more grip in their wines. This is Marques de Riscal’s answer. Less sweet oak, more bright fruit, a bit more bite. But still fresh. It takes brighter, more modern food too. A touch of spice, a bit of fruit, and maybe slightly richer meats like duck too.
Verdejo is like Spain’s classy answer to Sauvignon Blanc. Lots of citrussy fruit with an elegant restraint. It’s a refreshing, early-evening kind of wine, and Rioja producer Marques de Riscal is one of those who’ve captured Verdejo’s aromatic loveliness and made it famous. Have it with lighter salads, fish and chicken.
Maybe it’s the muscular fruit. Perhaps it’s the sweet oak. Possibly it’s the smooth texture. There’s something about Rioja that makes it a perennial favourite. It’s often the first wine people fall in love with. Served with a roast lamb Sunday lunch, it’s a classic, an archtype. And this one’s a classic in the mid-weight, ripe berry fruit style. Lovely.
We are reliably informed, do NOT pour your Txakoli from a height to froth up the light fizz. It’s only for tourists. Pour normally, nicely chilled and enjoy the brightly, zesty citrus aromas and refreshing palate. Itsas (“sea”) and Mendi (“mountains”) tell you all about what this wine goes with (fish) and where it comes from (the hills).
Rioja is divided in three parts – Baja, Alta and Alavesa, which is the smallest and highest region and the only one that sits in the Basque country. The climate here is more extreme from warm days to cool nights. But the results are a supple, smooth, lingering wine with a combination of ripe fruit and truffley earthiness. Perfect with lamb
Fresh cherries, redcurrant and sometimes raspberry in warmer valleys, German Pinot Noir is a “thing”. It’s grown fast in the last couple of decades, but Germans have kept much of this to themselves. Beautiful lightly chilled with a slighlty spiced duck salad or something involving aubergines. It also has the advantage of impressing wine friends who will notice how bang on trend you are.
Vibrant, refreshing and bright. This has a core of delectable peach fruit, but it’s the passionfruit zest and the lemon zinger freshness that gives the wine lift and vibrancy. The food-matches for these Rieslings are endless. Vietnamese and Thai dishes are a favourite. Spiced salads too work beautifully. And even barbecue dishes work a treat.
Weissburgunder is German for Pinot Blanc, and it captures the floral, creamy soft style of the grape. Fermented dry, with a keen, mineral freshness, this is a great match for lots of seafood and salad dishes. But it also works with pork, sausages and slightly fatty meats, cutting through the richness beautifully.
Let’s get into German wine terms. The producer here is Heinrich Klohr. He’s growing Riesling, in this case in the heart of the Palatinate, with its long association with Munich to the south. It was harvested from beautifully ripe grapes (Kabinett) and then fermented dry (Trocken). Look for apple, pear and pineapple aromas and a bright, eager character.
We quickly took to this as our “breakfast beer”, and regarded the banana aromas and malty sweetness like a healthy friut-topped cereal. It has a punchy alcohol though, so you don’t want too much. This has a lovely clove complexity and a frothy, refreshing head. And you can taste the purity of the ingredients and process through the beer too.
Soft and dry, herbal and fruity, this is made by two sisters Karoline and Dorothee. It’s curiously both reasonably full-bodied yet lively and deftly structured. Dornfelder doesn’t have the complexity and range of Pinot Noir, but gives a softer, easier fruit. Perfect with German pork dishes (I’m a particular fan roasted with caraway seeds). The key thing is the supple texture.
I’ve loved this wine for a long time. This lures you into the best German winemaking. It’s ripe and dense and marked by a clear, bright apple character, but fermented dry (rather than the off-dry, lighter style of Kabinett wine in the past). This mixes a musky sweetness with a dry finish; a luscious texture with a food-loving palate. Experiment with pan-Asian flavours and lighter white meats.
A sparkling addition to the Gamay revolution. Wine people have become quite animated by Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais. Bit it’s rarely fizzy, which is a pity, because it makes fun, vibrant and vivid wines like this retro-cool pink number. It’s all about the grapey, raspberry fruit rather than lingering toasted brioche and bags of fun. I like it with curry.
Look our for Bugey. There’s an awful lot of talk about the lesser-known sparkling wine appellations in France, but some are at best just a poor echo of Champagne. This is genuinely different, especially made like this with Altesse and Mondeuse, rare varieties from Eastern France. The Armagnac is optional but highly recommended.
The Nittardi Tasting Case takes you on a journey through Chianti Classico with one of the region’s best producers. Casanuova di Nittardi “Vigna Doghessa” Chianti Classico is the vibrant modern face of Chianti Classico. The vineyards are perched high in the Tuscan hills and infuse the wine with violet freshness on top of a core of dense cherry fruit. Nittardi Reserva Selezionata Chianti Classico is a bigger, bolder, older brother. It’s only made in the greatest years, and its intense, complex fruit spends more time in large oak barrels and bottle to soften the wine’s muscular tannins. Finally, Per Aspera Ad Astra — “a rough road leads to the stars”. The phrase that inspired Ad Astra I.G.T. Toscana. Nittardi say the name reminds them that ‘greatness requires a great deal of loving work and care in the vineyards.’ This comes from the warm Maremma hills nearer the coast and is a generous, broad wine with a supple, voluptuous feel. It’s won the highest accolades from Italian wine critics too, and it’s ready to drink now.
Once, when walking around the vineyard at Nittardi, I asked if they had any particular challenges making wine here. ‘Ah yes’ Stefania replied, ‘the porcupines. They come to dig in the soil under the vines. But you mustn’t scare them. They rear up and walk backwards through the vineyard collecting hundreds of Euros of grapes on their spines’.
Col Solare is a Bordeaux blend but made in a generously US style. Not Napa, but from one of Washington State’s finest and warmest appellations, and that comes through in the mocha and cherry and spice over the more familiar notes of blackcurrant. This has an Italian sensibility (made in partnership with the Marchesi Antinori) and is gorgeous with steak and salsa verde.
Pure, concentrated blackcurrant and cassis aromas are the spine on which this wine hangs complementary spice and oak aromas. Each terroir in Napa brings a little something and here it’s savoury olive. The soft tannins let this wine work with braised short ribs with a glossy sauce.
Robert is a meticulous winemaker and you can taste that in this precise wine. It starts all full of cranberry and raspberry-bright, but then opens up on the palate to reveal darker, briar and spice notes. Match this with duck or char siu pork, or for something more adventurous a soy-seasoned grilled tuna dish.