We’re in the good company of wine expert Matthew Fort (and Guest Editor of Drinks Hamper magazine) as we travel through his favourite wine regions.
My wine-drinking heart lies in the Old World, as you may have guessed by now. It’s not that I don’t like, love even, wines from the New, but I grew up with the wines of France, Italy, Spain and Germany. When it came to closer study of New World wine, I found I simply lacked the staying power to come to terms with the wonderful diaspora of the New World wine producers; there seemed more than enough variation and choice in those European regions for me. It was easier to learn more about a limited number of places than it was to try to master the oenological universe.
I’m very partial to the wines of Pomerol and Margaux, but when I want that richer drink, that sense of cheery indulgence, gustatory sophistication and esprit, I head for Burgundy. Not too often, as the price of Burgundy in recent years has risen to overdraft excess levels. The usual mantra of lesser estates in good years; grander estates in less good years applies.
When it comes to selecting wines for food, wines of character are for food of character. There always seems to be somewhere new to discover in the Rhone, and in the southern Rhone in particular. It’s a region in which a lot of money has been invested in recent years, with producers experimenting with different blends, resurrecting forgotten vine varieties, going organic or biodynamic. The price/quality ratio works in favour of the consumer, too.
I once had lunch at the legendary Jean Bardet at Tours, where Chinon and Bourgeuil, Vouvray and Savennières subjected me to an ordeal. The result was a passion for the wines of the Loire. There are few wine-producing areas where both red and white wines have such delicacy, variety, individuality and longevity.
There’s a long-standing observation among wine writers that Alsatian wines are under priced. So they might be for their quality, but thank heavens for that, say I. These are wonderful wines over Christmas, some—Muscat, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner—doing duty as aperitifs; Rieslings for goose, turkey or pork; Gewurtztraminers for cheese and puddings and sipping long into the night.
We have become so used to the elegant sophistications of Piedmont and Tuscany, it’s easy to overlook the wines produced elsewhere in Italy, which show off the vigorous character of grape and territory. The Marche is particularly interesting as it’s divided into coast, hill and mountains in parallel, and then subdivided further by rivers running down from the mountains. This produces differences of terroir and temperature that find reflection in the white Verdicchio di Matelica and Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Rosso Conero, Rosso Piceno and the euphoniously-named Lacrima di Morro d’Alba.
Sicily is hot, and I don’t mean just in terms of temperature. It has always produced wine in abundant quantity, but in recent years Sicily has attracted both investment and wine-making talent, which have transformed the oceans of mediocre plonk into wines of rare individuality and refinement. Look out for Etna Rosso Fondo Filara and Cerasuolo di Vittoria among reds and Punto 8 Sicilia Ottplnkovento in the white department; and, that much abused wine, marsala, championed by British connoisseurs back in the 18th century. A few high-minded makers have been making sublime wines in recent years.
Why Sherry is not more widely drunk is a mystery to me. Of all wines best suited to the business of stimulating the appetite before you sit down to eat, in my view, Sherry is the finest, particularly as some of the more curious and particularly unfiltered Manzanillas and Finos are finding their way into lists over here. Nor should Sherry be ignored as an accompaniment to main dishes, too. A cold oloroso with scallops or grilled prawns? You’d be surprised at how well they go together.
By the same token, we have Madeira, the longest-lived wine of all. I once drank a glass or so of a Madeira bottled in 1813, two years before the Battle of Waterloo. It was as lively as a cricket. The light, elegant sercial (a white grape grown in Portugal) challenges Sherry as an aperitif, but there’s a place for verdelho, malmsey and bual on the roster, as we move up through the gears in terms of heft and complexity.
Lebanon is something of a wild card. Chateau Musar has had a devoted following in the UK for a good many years, and quite rightly, too. A blend of anything up to five wines, it has a distinctive raciness, richness, perfume and complexity that is suited magnificently to food, game dishes in particular. More recently Chateau Musar has been joined by Chateau Kefraya and Massaya. Delicious as these wines are, I’m told that there are even more interesting ones to come from Lebanon.
Read more about the world’s greatest premium spirits, what’s new, and where to buy them via the pages of the new issue of Matthew Fort’s Drink Hamper magazine. Featuring special cocktail recipes from the Savoy, fine wine expertise from Selfridges, and a feast of fine food recipes from Matthew Fort.
See also: Wine For Every Occasion