I love fish and chips, but I wouldn’t want to eat them every day. Similarly, I am partial to a curry, but I don’t order the same dish every time I visit my local balti restaurant.
The point being that, whilst I enjoy my food, I need variety. And the same is true with my choice of wine.
So why do most people stick to cabernet, merlot and syrah for reds and chardonnay, sauvignon and pinot grigio for whites? Is it because they feel safe and comfortable?
There are thousands of different grape varieties produced commercially worldwide, so why limit yourself to a six?
There is, of course, the ABC school of wine-drinking, standing for “Anything But Chardonnay,” but I believe people should be more adventurous in their wine choice. There is a host of “B” and “C” listers worthy of appreciation and a Wine Society road show came to Birmingham to demonstrate the point. Entitled Buried Treasure, this informal tasting shone a light on the forgotten, overlooked and less fashionable.
There has been an exponential improvement in the quality of Italian whites in recent years, in a country traditionally renowned for its reds. The Contesa Colline Pescaresi 2010 is a case in point, employing the little known pecorino grape, entirely unrelated to the cheese. A native of Abruzzo, it is crisp and honeyed, with pear fruit.
From Chile, I sampled a Sauvignon Gris 2011 by Viña Leyda. It is a sister grape to the blanc, but is softer and more smoky, and makes a very welcome change, as does the South African Franschhoek Semillon 2010, which sings with lemon and grapefruit.
Southern French whites using indigenous varieties are little understood in the UK, which is a pity. They tend to match all manner of seafood, in particular crab, fish stews or fish pie. The Domaine du Trillol is simply a brilliant example, comprising mainly roussanne, with a little maccabeo, tasting of herb infused stone fruit and spice.
Off-dry whites are less fashionable these days, but are a fantastic match for soft cheeses, and also combine well with salty foods, such as ham, gammon or spicy oriental foods. The Milton Te Arai Chenin Blanc is such an example and just had that residual sweetness to work with a Thai curry.
Auxerrois is a variety virtually unheard of outside its native Alsace, but Rolly Gassmann has used it to produce a fat, spicy medium-dry wine that proved, on the night, to be a real crowd-pleaser. Personally, I prefer the more nervy and steely off-dry Rieslings that come from the Mosel. Low in alcohol, the Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett 2010 is simply exquisite. Probably best enjoyed by itself, it would work well with poached or pan-fried trout.
The Three Choirs Rose 2010, from down the road in Newent, Gloucestershire, is delightful. Off-dry, it has vibrant flavours of strawberries and summer fruits.
Most people mistakenly believe Sancerre is exclusively a Loire white wine from sauvignon blanc. Not so, for pinot noir is permitted to produce both reds and roses, and the Domaine Vacheron 2011 is fresh, crisp and minerally, with delicious strawberry flavours.
Blaufrankisch is a native Austrian red grape that’s well worth exploring. The Ried Hochberg is a single vineyard example that is smooth and light, with flavours of plums.
Even rarer is the Abedengo Crianza 2006 from Arribes, just west of Salamanca in Spain. Made from the Juan Garcia grape, this was earthy and fleshy, with bitter-cherry fruit.
Modern Portuguese red wine is a wonderful source of reliable everyday drinking and the Tuga 2009 Douro ticks all the right boxes. Southern Italy is another alternative, and the Ciro 2008 from the gaglioppo grape has sweet balsamic characters, with a dried-cherry finish.
Sticking with the Italian theme, in the form of Bonardo, this variety has found limited success in Argentina. The Faldeos Nevados 2010 is as good as I’ve tasted, with soft, spicy black fruits and a rich chocolate finish. It’s almost too easy-drinking, it’s so gluggable.
Finally, the Pic St Loup Cru in the Languedoc can produce some extra-special wines on account of its higher altitude, which creates more finesse. The Chateau de Vauflaunes “Esperance” 2010 is syrah dominated, and full of blackberry and tar. It’s vigorous, tannic and has a super structure, and will most certainly improve over the next five years – if you can wait that long.
As a wine lover, I freely admit to enjoying the classics, but I also have a sense of adventure. I can only urge you to move out of your comfort zone too, and seek out some buried treasure.
* For further details, visit www.thewinesociety.com, or telephone 01438741177.