We all desperately need some escapism, don't we? A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. Photo taken off the Croatian coast by Inera Isovic on Unsplash.
This is the time of year when we would usually be planning our summer holidays but surely only the bravest, most optimistic or the vaccinated are shelling out for flights and accommodation while COVID is still so prevalent.
May I invite you therefore to indulge in some vicarious travel via choice bottles of wine that might bring back some memories or stimulate the odd daydream?
Lavender. Thyme. Umbrella pines. The sparkling Mediterranean. The throb of cicadas in the Lubéron. The hazy limestone crags of the Montagne Ste-Victoire. Do you get my gist? So how to experience some of this in liquid form?
Nowadays, in a rosé-obsessed world, it has to be a Provence pink, preferably one with real character. Domaine Tempier’s Bandol rosé would be the classic choice and continues to develop in bottle for years – whereas most of them fall off their perch before the next vintage has finished fermenting.
But I was also most impressed by a rosé apparently selected by actor Idris Elba from Ch Ste-Marguerite, near Hyères on the coast, for his Porte Noire label. Packaging – clear glass in a funny shape – seems to be a big thing for Provence rosés (bless Tempier for their standard bordeaux bottle) but this one is more tasteful than most. I see Decanter World Wine Awards described the 2019 as best in show.
Loaves & Fishes, Nick & Toni’s, the Atlantic pounding miles of fine white sand, and traffic jams.
New Yorkers have tended to ignore their own wines but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so. The East End of Long Island is home to some of the world’s more creative wine- (and cider-) making. Producers such as Channing Daughters, McCall, Macari and Floral Terranes are really pushing the envelope. And Paumanok are ever reliable, even if few of these wines are exported.
Cypresses, olive groves, vines marching uphill and down dale. Pecorino, prosciutto and panzanella. Not to mention Panzano, home of the world’s most flamboyant butcher Dario Cecchini.
Tuscan wines come into their own at the table and specifically with meat, given the quite marked tannins and tanginess inherent to Sangiovese, the signature grape of this beautiful region. It is thrilling to see Chianti Classico on top of its game and being widely appreciated as a serious, ageworthy wine that is every bit as deserving of attention as Brunello di Montalcino, until recently the most famous Sangiovese-based wine.
Most of the hilly Chianti Classico terrain is cooler than Montalcino, which is useful now that summers are warming up. Both of these famous Tuscan wines are now genuinely based on Sangiovese rather than having French varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blended in to give them more flesh and the supposed international appeal that was (over)valued in the 1990s.
There is an argument that Sangiovese-based reds are more suitable for a northern-hemisphere winter than for the balmy days and nights of July and August in Tuscany. They should certainly be served fairly cool, around 14 °C in high temperatures but at closer to 16 °C in winter when they would be delicious with thick soups such as ribollita and stews, as well as with classic bovine variants on bistecca alla fiorentina.
Most of the Chianti Classico estates also produce their own olive oil, another key ingredient in any Tuscan holiday and one that can be just as evocative as wine, and arguably even more useful.
Azure water, blindingly white walls, fresh fish, tiny churches, wild herbs, tomatoes chock-full of flavour and tarama.
Wine in Greece is so, so much better than some people still believe. In fact when people ask me, as they frequently seem to do, which wine-producing countries to look out for, I always say Greece and Portugal – for the same reasons. They both have a scintillating array of indigenous grape varieties for wines of all colours and styles.
Assyrtiko, the grape most responsible for the powerfully mineral and citrus whites of the volcanic island of Santorini, has been recognised to such an extent that it is now grown in Australia but a host of others will surely follow. Dafni, Kydonitsa, Malagousia, Robola and Vidiano are all capable of making hugely distinctive whites and Liatiko, Limnio, Limniona and Moschomavro do the same for Greece’s red-wine reputation. The much more widely planted Xinomavro is a thoroughly modern grape that can make hauntingly transparent reds that age beautifully.
Fresh air, fishing boats, coves, cliffs, pasties, surf, golden sands, clotted cream, high hedges and narrow lanes.
Cornwall hasn’t exactly swapped wines for tin mines but it does have vineyards to complement tourist attractions such as The Eden Project, Tintagel and St Ives, not to mention the restaurants of Padstow. Multi-award-winning Camel Valley is the most prominent wine producer but Knightor and Trevibban Mill are also worthy of attention. And their wines may be enjoyed by British drinkers without even a hint of Brexit bureaucracy.
Ah, the City of Light! And pavement cafés. And the wide Champs-Élysées sans riot police, barricades and boarded up shops. Yes please!
One does have to wonder when diners will ever be allowed to be squeezed together as tightly they used to be in Parisian bistros and brasseries, and whether Parisian restaurant economics, or even restaurants, will survive the pandemic.
We can but dream… And the point of this article is to facilitate such dreams via a bottle or two. The emblematic wine for a Parisian trip is surely the sort of idiosyncratic local trouvaille in which the wine bars of north-east Paris specialise. A no-added-sulphites, skin-contact blend of Savoie grapes would do nicely (see my list of recommendations).
Crystal-clear turquoise waters (see above), more than 700 islands, Venetian architecture, cobbled streets, charred mackerel and blitve, speedboats and yachts, super-saturated sunsets.
Croatia has its own very distinctive vines and wines. In Istria, Malvazija plays an important, chewable part with flavours of apples and honey in its dry whites. Further south the grape names are, to say the least, equally distinctive: Babić, Bogdanuša, Kuč, Maraština, Pošip and Grk – as well of course as the Croatian grandfather of California’s Zinfandel and Puglia’s Primitivo known in Croatia as Crljenak Kaštelanski and closely related to Croatia’s dominant red wine grape Plavac Mali.
Americans are represented among makers of Croatian wine by Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills in Napa Valley while we Brits have Master of Wine Jo Ahearne who creates wine magic on the island of Hvar.
Best of luck transforming wine magic into a magic carpet.
Where to find which wines
Dom Tempier Bandol Rosé
2019 £26.50 Huntsworth Wine Company, £27.99 Noble Grape
2018 £28.95 Uncorked
Ch Ste-Marguerite, Porte Noire Rosé 2019 Côtes de Provence
£28.50 Connaught Cellars, £29.50 The Great Wine Co
Channing Daughters, Scuttlehole Chardonnay 2018 Long Island
£18.50 Wanderlust Wine
Il Fabbri, Lamole 2018 Chianti Classico
£19.75 Stone, Vine & Sun
Casa Emma, Vignalparco Riserva 2016 Chianti Classico
£22 Private Cellar
Fontodi, Vigna del Sorbo Gran Selezione 2016 Chianti Classico
£67.95 Vinified, £71.20 Hedonism
Liberty Wines import some of the finest Tuscan estate olive oils and supply them to the likes of Valvona & Crolla in Edinburgh, The Old Bridge Wine Store in Huntingdon, 64 Wine in Dublin, and Askew Wines and Golborne Fine Wine & Deli in London.
Diamantis Moschomavro 2018 Siatista
£18 Maltby & Greek
Chatzivaritis, Ni 2018 Slopes of Paiko
£30.99 Borders Wine
Camel Valley, Pinot Noir Rosé 2018 England (still, not sparkling)
£13.95 (2019) producer's website, £13.99 (2019) Waitrose Cellar
Claude Quenard et Fils, Sansoufrir Blanc 2019 Vin de France
£19.80 Sevslo Wine, Glasgow
Ahearne, Wild Skins 2017 Hvar
£35.99 Golborne Fine Wine & Deli, £37.50 Seven Cellars
For international stockists see Wine-Searcher.com