Friday 11 mar is Red Nose Day and I urge British wine drinkers to do something to contribute to Wine Relief, their particularly stimulating way of raising money for Comic Relief which, in its fourth year of operation, has set its sights on boosting the total raised for Comic Relief's admirable projects in Africa and Britain to £2 million.
The easiest way of participating is to buy some of the Comic Relief wines current on sale in all of our biggest stores. A straight 10 per cent of the retail price of all of them goes straight to these carefully-monitored projects. One suggestion is to organise your own wine tasting on Red Nose Day weekend.
Below are my favourite 14 of the scores of wines on offer, in declining order of my personal preference. (Everyone will have their own likes and dislikes.) Buy a selection of these or, better still, get your friends to buy and bring them, and follow one or both of these suggestions.
Suggested Wine Relief Tasting:
Get everyone to make a donation for this wine tasting competition and give them all something to write with and on. Then get them to make their own notes on each wine.
Explain you want words first for the flavours they taste (these can be any fruits, veg, flowers, minerals, nasty odours, anything at all that is smellable/tasteable that these wines might remind them of).
Then you want a description of the wine's vital statistics. Here are the sort of things involved:
acidity – low, medium, high (notice the edges of your tongue which should tingle with high acid)
sweetness – bone dry, dry, off dry, medium dry, medium sweet, sweet (taste buds at the top of the tongue are supposed to be most sensitive to sweetness)
alcohol/body – light, medium or high alcohol/full bodied (the 'hotter' the sensation at the back of the mouth after swallowing, the stronger the wine)
tannin – low tannin and soft, medium, or astringent and chewy (the insides of your cheeks react to high tannin by being 'tanned', or feeling especially dry)
fizziness – some young white wines may taste a little fizzy
'length' – if the wine persists on the palate it is probably good quality
'balance' – if no single one of the elements above is obtrustive then the wine is well balanced and therefore good quality for drinking now
When everyone has written their descriptions, you could compare them with my notes in italics below and argue about how wrong I am. Give a prize to the person who either shares my perceptions most closely or who argues their own case most convincingly. Plus another prize for the best, or silliest, tasting note perhaps.
Ask people to put first the whites and then the reds in order of alcoholic strength. The labels will all carry this statistic.
Take a vote on the most popular wine(s).
Suggested Wine Relief Tasting, Advanced Options:
More advanced wine lovers might also want to conduct the following exercises.
- Compare the Sauvignon Blancs from France (14.) and Chile (10.) Note the additional sweetness in 10. because of the warmed climate and the greater reticence in 14. because it's French (from quite cool vineyards in Haut Poitou, greater Loire Valley).
- Compare the South Australian Viogniers in wines 4. and 5. Note the additional crispness/acidity in 4. from the cooler vineyards of the Adelaide Hills.
- Now see if you can pick up the Viognier note in the red blend wine 2.
- Compare the reds 3., 6. and 11., all made from Cabernet, Merlot or variations thereon. Put them in order of quality. Notice that 3. and 6. seem more refined (Ruby Cabernet is not nearly such a sophisticated grape as Cabernet Sauvignon itself). Notice there is more tannin in 3. than 6., partly because it is younger and partly because Cabernet is a more tannic grape than Merlot.
- Compare reds 2. and 7., both based on the same grape. See if you can detect the influence of the Viognier (the grape of wines 4. and 5.) in the aroma of 2. See which you feel is riper (I think it is 7. which has none of the black pepper aroma associate with cooler climate Syrah/Shiraz.)
1. Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 2004 Stellenbosch
South Africa's master of the dominant South African grape did several vintages in its birthplace the Loire Valley before deciding he could do just as well at home – as this tangy, honeyed, ultra-fruity white for spring and summer demonstrates. Drink it as an aperitif or with salads and charcuterie.
Flavours: Honey, flowers, apples, damp straw.
Vital statistics: High acidity (= crisp), fruity, slightly sweet.
2. John Loxton Shiraz/Viognier 2003 Currency Creek
£7.99 marks & Spencer
Particularly well-made South Australian red, using the fashionable traditional Côte Rotie recipe of a little Viognier to stabilise the colour of the Syrah grapes and, in this case, perfume the blend too. You really can taste both grape varieties. From a little-seen, sandy wine region between McLaren Hills and Langhorne Creek.
Flavours: Black pepper mainly with a hint of blossom/lilies/apricots.
Vital statistics: Full bodied, gentle and smooth, quite alcoholic.
3. Sainsbury's Classic Selection Western Australian Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2003
This was one of my most recommended Christmas bargains. The label is terrible but the winemaking, by the talented Larry Cherubino out of the famous Forest Hill vineyard, is superb. Required drinking for all Bordeaux wine merchants.
Flavours: Blackcurrants/cassis, cedarwood, hint of mint or eucalyptus and oak
Vital statistics :Dry rather than sweet, some tannin, medium body and great balance and persistence.
4. Longview, Beau Sea Viognier 2003 Adelaide Hills
£11.99 Arthur Rackham
Really zappy, cool climate Australian version of this heady white Rhône grape.
Flavours:Blossom, lilies, apricots, exotic flowers.
Vital statistics: Full bodied, heady but notable acidity too and even a very slight fizz.
5. Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2004 South Australia
Great value. Full and yet blossomy and vibrant.
Flavours: Intensely perfumed with tropical flowers and honeysuckle, even a hint of ginger.
Vital statistics: Very rich and full. Relatively low acid and high alcohol.
6. Ken Forrester Merlot 2002 Stellenbosch
Fully mature, gentle, South African red that really does taste of (good) Merlot. Even the hero of Sideways might approve.
Flavours: Rare roast beef, ripe red fruits, almost fruitcake with a topnote of leafiness..
Vital statistics: Sweet, smooth, low tannins.
7. Casillero del Diablo Shiraz 2003 Central Valley
Dramatic deep purple essence shows just how well Syrah is doing in Chile.
Flavours: Liquorice, tar, mulberries.
Vital statistics: Notably alcoholic, soft (low tannins) and low acid.
8. Flagstone Longitude Red 2002 Western Cape
Exciting, mellow cocktail of grape varieties makes a thoroughly satisfying whole that is absolutely ready to drink.
Flavours: A cocktail of different red fruit flavours rather than one strong element.
Vital statistics: Mellow (low tannins), medium alcohol, Mature..
9. Les Ruffes, La Sauvageonne 2003 Coteaux du Languedoc
Very individual, characterful red from one of the coolest, highest vineyards in the Languedoc. You can taste the altitude even in this product of the heatwave vintage. 40% Cinsault, 40% Grenache, 20% Syrah.
Flavours :Inky, herby, bitter cherries.
Vital statistics: Lots of acid and tannin (thank to the cool site), quite sweet and alcoholic too.
10. Montes Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2004 Casablanca Valley
Very racy rival for New Zealand Sauvignon – one of my Christmas selections too.
Flavours: Green fruits (gooseberries), grassiness, minerals.
Vital statistics: Notable acidity, off dry and a little fizz.
11. Kumala Ruby Cabernet Merlot 2004 South Africa
Extremely deep crimson, thanks to that Ruby Cabernet, and very sweet and gentle right up to a slightly inky finish.
Flavours: Intense black fruits with the merest hint of drains(!).
Vital statistics: Notably sweet on the front of the palate, relatively soft (low tannin), then a bit tough and inky on the finish.
12. Tesco Finest Californian Pinot Grigio 2003 California
My fruity, perfumed favourite from the dozen, mainly screwcapped, Tesco's Finest (UK) bottlings initially selected for Wine Relief, although it is rumoured that there may be more.
Flavours: Quite strongly perfumed in a floral sort of way, very fruity, then slightly salty!
Vital statistics: Medium bodied, off dry, a little astringent.
13. Ch de Beranger 2003 Picpoul de Pinet
Lemony southern French white from the Pomerols co-op. Do not keep this – drink immediately.
Flavours: Lemons, summer heat.
Vital statistics: Full bodied, low acid, quite alcoholic –I hope it's still alive!
14. Radcliffe's Sauvignon Blanc 2002 Haut Poitou
Still, remarkably, zesty Loire Valley Sauvignon. I would normally worry about a two and a half year-old Sauvignon but this seems still very correct and refreshing.
Flavours: Grassy, nettles, green stuff.
Vital statistics: Quite taut and restrained, lots of acidity, hint of fizz, bone dry.