Neil Sowerby has some cracking whites and reds – just avoid the mutant sparkler
This column admires resourcefulness but regrets that, as prices of beloved (not by me) Prosecco are set to leap, an alternative called Progrigio is stepping into the bubbly breach. Yes it’s a blend of Prosecco – responsible for much of the £604 million sparkling sales in the UK – and Pinot Grigio, cheap and cheerless mouthwash of the masses.
Asda is promoting it for a fiver, below their current Prosecco range which retails at between £6 and £11 but may soon cost more thanks to a weaker pound and potential alcohol duty increases in the wake of the Brexit vote.
The good news about this sparkler made in Italy from their respective grapes is it’s drier than bog standard Prosecco without quite possessing the attributes Asda claim for it – “wonderfully fresh, floral… with peaches and minerality”. But surely Prosecco’s gentle sweetness is part of the charm for its devotees?
If you want bubbly personality at a bargain price for Easter quaffing look no further than perennial Aldi favourite, Phillipe Michel Cremant du Jura (£7.99), 100 per cent Chardonnay, which delivers tingling green apple acidity and a persistent mousse.
Of course, our sparkling wine habits reflect our general lack of adventure but breakthroughs are made. There was a time when we didn’t search a restaurant list for a Picpoul de Pinet white or a Malbec red from Argentina. Maybe Austria’s Gruner Veltliner hasn’t quite cracked mainstream, but it’s getting there. Ditto Spanish red Mencia.
Still I’d be surprised if one of my whites for Easter is in your radar – a Turkish white called Kayra Narince. You’ll have to buy the 2015 vintage online from the likes of Great Wines Direct or Strictly Wine, but for around £13 you’ll get a true grasp of what minerality is meshed with delicate pear and grapefruit flavours.
There’s a similar delicacy with a slight streak of steel to another aromatic white from more familiar but still undervalued territory – Alsace. High altitude vineyards and biodynamic practices help Maison Kuentz-Bas work wonders with Muscat, a grape way down the region’s pecking order behind Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. Their 2014 ‘Collection’ harnesses 80 per cent Muscat Ottornel grapes to 20 per cent of the more concentrated Muscat d’Alsace for fermentation in century old casks. Result is a hugely aromatic (think fresh meadows peaches) but restrained on the palate. Perfect for the asparagus season, which is early this year. And like the Turkish white it’s a manageable 11.5% ABV. It costs £11.50 from the Wine Society.
For a fuller-bodied holiday white, also biodynamic, try the Society’s Bergström Old Stones Oregon Chardonnay 2013 (£22). Lemony, creamy, with well-balanced oak but also a certain saline quality, it is a fine example of New World cooler climate finesse. Give it five years and it should develop a rare complexity.
At a less exalted level, the Lidl chain, like Aldi a big player in the supermarket wine stakes these days, has plenty of interesting, affordable whites in its one-off Easter batch (when they’re gone they’re gone, so make haste). Two Italians, in particular, appeal – the limpid, fragrant Veneto Bianco from Vigneti del Sole (£6.99) and the more complex Cascina Valentino Roero Arneis (£8.99) from Piemonte, whose vibrant flavours of herbs, stone fruit, and almonds would well match a risotto primavera or a spinach tart.
Star of my reds for Easter is sourced by Cheadle Point-based Boutinot, who have a strong presence in France’s Southern Rhone Valley. The commune of Cairanne's vineyards (main picture) were elevated to full Appellation Controlee status a couple of years ago.
You can see why if you taste the late vintage of Boutinot 'Les Six', Cairanne Cotes du Rhone Villages (£14.99 from Corks Out, Chorlton duo Epicerie Ludo and Tinys Tipple and Kwoff of Bury). Instead of the usual couple of grape varieties, the cepage here includes Carignan Noir, Cinsault and Counoise, resulting in a luscious, fruity, herby peppery red that has its name written on ‘roast leg of lamb for Easter’.
If you prefer classic yet affordable Claret, Lidl’s Easter batch has real surprise package, Le Pavillon 2013, from PauiIlac in the heart of the Medoc. Cherryish on the nose then savoury and lean, yet forwardly fruity too, it’s a classic left bank blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a little Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot that would accompany lamb or beef beautifully. Great value at £11.99.
Three hours south of Pauillac is an altogether more rustic, rugged wine region in the shadow of the Pyrenees, home to the Tannat grape associated traditionally with brooding, dark reds called Madiran – the kind of wine you’d drink with jugged hare.
Tannat can be more accessible, though. Marks and Spencer have two good examples – one from its native heath and one from faraway Uruguay, where it has prospered (as did another Gallic transplant Malbec in Argentina).
Madiran Terres de Moraines 2013 (£9.95), bolstered by a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon, offers spice and silk and red berry length, while South American cousin Pisano Cisplatino Tannat 2015 (£9.50) is even less tannic, lightly oaked, medium bodied, all spice and brambles.
Grill On The Alley has a fine Uruguayan Tannat, called Garzon on its impressive wine list, £35 a bottle but well worth it. Felices Pascuas!