It’s been a couple of years since I started helping with the wine side of things at Riverford and so far, it’s all been good. I’d be the first to acknowledge that my taste buds wouldn’t make me a Master of Wine, but I love the stuff. Outside the world of the big brands and supermarkets, wine is the benchmark agricultural product. Done right (as ours is) it is fruit, grown with love, minimally but skilfully processed, and sent to you, via us, in a bottle. Nobody else gets a look in – except the Chancellor, and that’s out of our control.
We don’t have a big list, but we’ve tried to keep it interesting and come up with seven new wines for the summer and beyond. A couple of them are a little off the wall but we thought they were so good it would be crazy not to give them a go. Who’s ever heard of Frappato? Well it’s a red grape indigenous to Vittoria in south east Sicily and in days gone by, they’d have had a bottle waiting, lightly chilled, for the tuna boats to come in. These days it’s more likely to be a sardine, but don’t shoot the messenger.
Wine critic Jancis Robinson, described Frappato wine as, “Pale cherry red. Fire-engine-bright, loud, pomegranate fruit on the nose. A wine that both surprised and delighted me with its wholly unexpected energy – it romps across the palate, charged with frisky acidity, and delivers a tremendous amount of fresh cherry-menthol peppery fun. The tannins are almost non-existent. Certainly not a wine to get intellectual about, but it’s not trying to be ambitious. Drink slightly chilled.”
Our second weirdo is from the Duoro River in Portugal. Producers, Quinta do Romeu, describe their Moinho do Gato red as ‘a smooth, young and fruity unoaked red wine. Ideal for everyday drinking’, but that’s only half the story. Portuguese wine has stuttered at the starting gates many times. They are a big producer but beyond Sir Cliff’s Vida Nova and Mateus Rose, it hasn’t got far. That’s because they don’t buy into the whole grape variety thing and stick by this amazingly anachronistic concept of the ‘field blend’. Vineyards, planted by who knows whose grandparents are picked and made into wine. It’s Tinto or Branco and that’s about it. Amazingly, whatever the variety, they tend to ripen at the same time and can, but not always, make great wine – but they can’t put Chardonnay or Shiraz on the label. It was an afterthought but we were blown away by the summer fruit flavours and had to give it a go.
This summer simply everyone seems to be doing Provence rosé, darling. To cut it as a billionaire, a vineyard in the Cotes de Provence is a must. It’s almost taken over from a superyacht or two. I hear Roman has actually planted a vineyard on his yacht. Our Mas de Longchamp IGP Alpilles Rosé is from Bouches-du-Rhône, the most westerly and, I admit, cheapest of the five departments of Provence. But its classic ‘salmon pink’ Provence rosé nonetheless, with a refreshing zing that makes it a perfect partner for light summer meals or just a few sunrays.
If there was a grape of the decade so far award it would have to go to Picpoul de Pinet. Pinet is a small village set back from the Étang de Thau lagoon near Sète on the Mediterranean, where they harvest oysters and other shellfish by the tonne. Picpoul developed as a kind of southern French Muscadet – the perfect accompaniment for shellfish. Ours, from Domaine de Petit-Roubié, is a little fruitier than most so more of an all-rounder, particularly good with summery vegetable dishes as well as all things piscine of course. I’m talking fish rather than swimming pools but, on second thoughts, both could work.
A little further west we’ve two new suppliers, coincidentally, a (long) stone’s throw apart, just south of Carcassonne in the Languedoc. Domaine Begude (yes Jonny) is the home of Englishman, James Kingslake. He bought it from another ‘rosbif’, the eccentric Bertie Eden of Chateau Maris, and though it always sounds a bit ‘good life/year in Provence’, the good thing about an English vigneron in France is that the end result tends to be the type of wine we want to drink. Despite its sunny climate, Domaine Begude is quite high and really catches the winter weather making ideal conditions for Burgundian Chardonnay and the lightly oaked Chardonnay Terroir 11300 is positively Chablis-esque – perfect with virtually all light dishes from fish to poultry to vegetables. However hard the Australians and Californians tried to ruin it, Chardonnay is still the best white grape for pairing with food.
Domaine Py, just down the road and a little more traditionally French, make an intense Old Vine Merlot that punches way above its weight. Full of dark, plummy fruit flavours and soft tannins it’s an all-round food wine par-excellence and despite stiff competition to replace the old Pech Matelles Merlot, it was a unanimous decision.
So that’s six new wines that make up our summer wine case… there’s a bottle there for all occasions.
Also new and worth a mention is our Caligiore Malbec. I’m not a fan of the typical flabby, over alcoholic, Malbec but there’s far more to this one. Definitely still no shrinking violet but with enough integrated tannins to give it an extra dimension beyond the rich, dark fruit on both nose and palette. It’s probably more one for the winter, but if you’re planning a seriously meaty BBQ it would certainly do the job.
For a simpler, ‘sausages on the beach’ affair, our Bodegas Castaño Monastrell is hard to beat. Intense Morello cherry flavours with a touch of rounding (rather than imposing) oak and that underlying sweet fruit that works so well with BBQ’d food. And for £7.49 it’s the best value on the list.