Spring sensations

Posted on: 20 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Our resident expert urges drinkers to treat their tastebuds by looking beyond boring wines.

In preparing this article my mood became almost as gloomy as the wintry weather that's still dogging us. As I surveyed the wine aisles of the major supermarkets and wine merchants, courtesy of my laptop, I was struck by how many are persisting with Sauvignon, Chardonnay and very little else - hardly sensational.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm fond of both these varietals. Chardonnay in particular can be thrilling if not given so much oak that it can be churned - as with the Montagnac Chardonnay (£4.25 Bordeaux-Undiscovered) for instance.

But there are so many more interesting wines out there, wines that will give a real lift to the abundance of new season goodies that are coming on stream now, that you have to ask why?

So this time I'm going to kill two birds with one stone and offer you some suggestions on whites that are not just fantastic for the time of year, but are just a little bit more, well, sensational.

For some time now the excitement surrounding Argentinean wines has focused on the reds. The whites however are catching up fast and with the advent of new and unusual grapes being put into production that's a trend that seems set to continue.

One wine which perfectly encapsulates this new wave, and one that's absolutely perfect for serving up with asparagus, is the Familia Zuccardi Pinot Grigio-Torrontes (£5.99 Oddbins). It's great with asparagus because with its lovely, refreshing melon and apple fruit it won't overpower delicate flavours but has enough weight to bring out asparagus's baser tones. Its also brilliant with fish and white meats, and for the fashion conscious amongst you, Torrontes is the next 'big thing'.

Chenin Blanc is a much maligned grape variety that many experts think of only as a workhorse variety whose only claim to greatness is when it makes the lusciously sweet wines of the Loire. This is a touch unfair I think, particularly when you taste wines such as the Tesco South African Chenin Reserve (£4.46 Tesco.com). Clean, zesty and piled high with watermelon, peach and honey tones, it made a cracking accompaniment to my goat's cheese and red onion tart and was a real hit with my family when we had it with my father's monkfish tails in butter sauce.

Australia's Peter Lehman has been one of the most reliable sources of affordably good wine for years now. Of late some of his reds have got a little pricey - £30 for Stonewell Shiraz seems like a big ask to me! - but his whites have happily remained sanely priced. Of these I think the jolliest by far is his Semillon (widely available, £5.68 Tesco.com). Rich, creamy and full of tropical fruit, it's kept from being cloying by the lovely balancing green apple acidity and fine minerality. Try this with everything from watercress soup to Cromer crab and creamy white cheeses.

When it comes to exciting wines, Château Miraval always score highly with me. Located in sun-drenched Provence, the red and rosé wines from this organic estate bowl me over every time and as for their whites, well, words nearly fail me! Their Coteaux Varois (£9.42 everywine) is fresh tasting and has rich, peach and apricot tones melded with minerals. Cheap it isn't, but to get the same level of complexity and style from a Chardonnay or Sauvignon you'd have to pay considerably more. Partner this with a fresh season chicken and cos lettuce salad and you're in for something special.

Well that's me tasted out for now. I hope you'll try out some of these spring sensations for yourself and the next time you're buying wine, be bold. There's a wonderful world of wine out there just waiting to be discovered.

More soon!


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