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Sunday Best Wines for Spring

For summer celebrations we need wine that moves up a step from the customary "vin ordinaire" - Sunday Best choices do that for you.

April sees much of the wine trade emerging from its hibernation, so we have a wealth of riches for the Sunday Best feature this time.

So much so, that I have divided the resulting recommendations in half and will run the second part in two weeks’ time.

Standby on Thursday week then for a look at presentable but not mega-dear claret and a possible example of family rivalry.

Nevertheless, today’s list still has enough tasty fare to keep you salivating right through until then.

My Sunday Best feature is, of course, an adjunct to the usual MidWeek Wines focus and caters for “special occasion” drinking where few of us mind paying a little more than normal.

Where a hyperlink is available, it will take you the retailer’s web page but do remember that some of these wines are best secured online.

Starting with classy sauvignon

New Zealand’s Wairau Valley’s local geology combined with its cool nights and sunlit days always seems to make sauvignon blanc produced there a little bit special but move up the price points and its wines become yet more complex and attractive.

Aromatic and brilliantly balanced, 2020 Ara Select Blocks Organic Sauvignon Blanc (£12 at Sainsbury’s and 12.5% abv) from the Wairau Valley brings us textured apricot, grapefruit and gooseberry fool flavours with firm acidity and a finish that includes grassy, clover and green pepper elements.

Next up is chardonnay

Fairly or unfairly, Californian chardonnay often gets linked to those big, ripe and oaky versions that have currently slipped out of fashion, but just look at the way bourbon infused wood softens and smooths this wine but lets its basic fruit flavours shine through brightly.

Viscous and imbued with oak aromas, 2019 1000 Stories Bourbon Barrel Aged Chardonnay (£15 at Tesco and 14%) has weighty peach and ripe pear flavours agreeably complemented by good lemon acidity with chalky touches and suggestions of vanilla and chocolate built into its crème brûlée texture.

Next the other face of chardonnay

The sheer versatility of chardonnay is, of course, a product of the vine’s “latitude tolerance” which allows it to produce wine in many and varied locations.

Usually, then, it is local conditions that drive whether the result is weighty and ripe like the last one or, like this next one, lighter in body, sharper in acidity and more orchard fruit centred.

Textured with lively acidity, Northern Burgundy’s 2020 The Best Chablis (£11 – instead of £13 until 4 May – at Morrisons and 12.5%) provides apple and lemon flavours with a little spice to add complexity and a backdrop that combines citrus peel and pith with contrasting saline touches.

Staying in France

Another classic French white wine is, of course, sauvignon blanc which, for many, reaches its zenith at the eastern end of the Loire river.

There, acidity is more measured – compared to New Zealand, say – and the flavours, as here, often get a decidedly mineral boost.

Clean and balanced, 2019 The Best Sancerre (£13 at Morrisons and 13%) builds good lime acidity and a gently flinty backdrop into its principal soft, quince, apple and melon flavours. 

Top Level Rosé

Have you noticed how the rosé centred wine aisles have “lightened up” recently with those fuscia coloured examples losing ground to wines with the more subtle pastel shades frequently associated with versions from Southern France.

Delicate and (as mentioned) pale, Languedoc’s 2020 Château de la Négly La Natice Rosé (£12.50 at the Co-op and 12.5%) contains well-judged raspberry, crab apple and red currant flavours supported by gentle grapefruit acidity, counterbalancing savoury aspects and orange centred zestiness.

And so to fizz

Most entry point fizz is non-vintage so that inter-year variations can be ironed out by blending, but Mark Driver at Rathfinny takes a different route with each year being kept separate.

Mark maintains that, as a “grower producer” he can control the ripening process sufficiently to allow each vintage to stand on its own.

Honeyed with a really exuberant mousse, the newly released 2017 Rathfinny Classic Cuvée (£29.00 at Harvey Nichols during May and 12%) begins with upfront raspberry, apricot and strawberry ripple ice cream flavours partnered by cooked apple acidity and suggestions of blood orange with plum skin savouriness and floral aromatics too. 

And across the Channel

In Tom Stevenson’s excellent World Encyclopaedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, this house is described as having “90% of its land cultivated with pinot noir” and offering a “light, fruit forward style with unfussy winemaking”, but see what you think.

Rich and skilfully integrated, Champagne Chassenay D’Arce Cuvee Premiére (£39.93 at First Class Products and 12%)  neatly combines biscuity depth with soft melon, apple and lime flavours, modest acidity and suspicions of marzipan and lemon pith that complete the package.

Turning next to reds

A bit like Marlborough further north, New Zealand’s Central Otago region has cool nights but very bright sunny daytimes and the region’s Cromwell Basin is ideal for pinot noir – as this example from that area amply demonstrates.

It was, for me, the best of the newly released pinots at this year’s New Zealand tasting process.

Full and smooth, 2019 Rockburn Pinot Noir (£26.78 at The Drink Shop and 13.5%) delivers soft raspberry and plum flavours embellished by bold acidity, herb, nutmeg and cinnamon influences but surprisingly mild tannin.

Across to South Africa next

Everyone knows that, of course, Nero d’Avola is a Sicilian grape but this wine is actually South African and claims to be the very first vintage of that variety grown there – as a bold move to exploit the effects of climate change.

Full marks to the guys too as this example manages to capture the variety’s classic characteristics but allow it to exhibit South Africa’s flair and attractiveness as well

Light but with tarry edges, 2019 Bosman Nero (£10 – instead of £12 until 4 May – at Sainsburys and 13%) provides cherry and loganberry flavours supported by soft tannin, good acidity and suggestions of herbs, dark chocolate and menthol.

But the Rhone needs a look in too

One of the score or so villages allowed to add its name to the Cȏtes du Rhȏne Villages classification, Saint-Gervais is in the (less familiar) western part of the region but, judging by the quality of this superb example, it ought to be much better known.

Herbal and textured, 2017 Domaine Clavel Saint Gervais Cotes du Rhone Villages (£10.99 at Ake & Humphris – with a different label- and 14.5%) offers us bold plum and mulberry flavours coupled with good acidity, balanced tannin and hints of clove, sage and cocoa.

Now for pinot noir from ….Languedoc

Laurent Miquel once worked in the UK automobile industry but was quickly drawn back to his roots to become a winemaker in Southern France where he makes superb viognier.

He does produce other varieties too (albarino for instance) and Sainsbury’s were smart enough not only to buy his pinot noir but also to put it under their premium “Taste the Difference” label.  

With beguiling chocolate aromas, 2019 Taste the Difference Pinot Noir (£9.50 – instead of £11 until 4 May – at Sainsbury’s and 13%) contains earthy cherry, raspberry and plum flavours coupled with limited tannin but good acidity to contrast with its cinnamon and liquorice components and background savouriness.

Be good to see you all on Monday when we provide pointers to the current supermarket promotions and, of course, reveal the latest Top Tips.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Brian … I shopped earlier in the week at Sainsbury’s and took advantage of a double-dip on the Beefsteak Club Malbec you flagged up a couple of weeks ago. £7 down to £6 then 25% off … so £4.50. An unmissable offer if malbec is your thing. I likely would have had your TTD Laurent Miquel Pinot Noir if I’d known. £11 down to £9.50 … so £7.15! Another great saving. But I’d be interested to have an opinion from you re the on-line reviews of this bottle. I know it’s a subjective game most of the time at this end of supermarket wine retailing, when perhaps further up the scale there will be more objectivity the more we are being required to pay. But there are 4 reviews published with a definite 50/50, Marmite style polarisation … no middle ground here! How do you think this comes about with these particular store site reviews and how might we read into them something that really could help us making our selections. Best now .. Eddie

  2. Nice one Brian , I’m a big fan of Bosman wines, will keep an eye out for the Nero, their Adama Red blend is pretty good as well, £10 at the Co op and it’s Fairtrade. The Pinot sounds like it’s worth checking out as well, as you mention Laurent Miquel is a sound winemaker.

  3. As you say, peer reviews can be very helpful but the old adage has an effect. That’s the one that says “On average, if you like something you tell one person; if you dislike it you tell six”. That will distort things. In this case, soemthing additional is probably at work. One reason I like this pinot is because of its weightiness and dark colour. That is less common further north and may not be what purchasers are expecting. As my fellow wine commentator, Tom Lewis, says “It is pinot noir … but it is not Burgundy”.

  4. Agree that the Adama is good wine but, in my view, the Nero narrowly outpoints it. As discussed with Eddie in this comments column, that Languedoc pinot is deeper, darker and weightier than Burgundy and that may not appeal to everyone but it is a style I appreciate.

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