A version of this article is published by the Financial Times.
Much is said and written about the consolations that nature can offer to the locked down. A window box, even a pot plant, is so clearly blissfully unaware of the pandemic. But the annual cycle of vineyards has always seemed to be particularly miraculous. Throughout the winter their matrix of savage dark stumps looks especially unyielding. And yet every spring without fail, tender green shoots emerge, heralding foliage so luxuriant it often has to be cut back to allow the grapes that result from its tiny flowers to stand a chance of ripening. At this time of year, marooned in a London flat, I envy all the vine growers I’m in touch with.
But we can all enjoy the miracle of spring and the renewal of vine growth in liquid form through wines that seem particularly spring-like – and also enjoy the first fruits of the 2020 vintage, already a year old in the case of some southern-hemisphere wines.
Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2020 Marlborough 13%
£14.95 The Wine Society
This is one of my favourite producers of one of the world’s favourite wines. This NZ estate is run by members of the original Cloudy Bay set-up before its Sauvignon Blanc became ubiquitous. Fans of Coche-Dury white burgundies might like to seek out the 2019, which has even more of the Coche struck-match character.
Herbert Zillinger, Horizont Grüner Veltliner 2019 Lower Austria 12.5%
£16 The Real Wine Company
Low in nothing but alcohol from a determinedly biodynamic producer. Chock-full of extract and satisfying flavour with cinnamon and ginger notes and a dry, chalky, persistent finish. See Austria's lovely 2019s continued – from E to Z.
BOB Short for Kate Sauvignon Blanc 2020 Marlborough 13%
£16.49 Bancroft Wines
Winemaker Ben Glover’s label in memory of his late sister Kate, and a more complex Marlborough Sauvignon than most with notes of greenery. A superior version of a well-loved wine style.
Rolly Gassmann, Réserve Millésime Sylvaner 2019 Alsace 12%
£18.80 The Old Bridge Wine Shop
Very deep gold for such a young wine. Rich, pungent, open, broad nose. Lots of fun here, and more evidence that Alsace Sylvaner can be a seriously interesting dry wine. To be enjoyed now, with or without food.
Lismore, Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2017 South Africa 13.5%
£18.99 Strictly Wine and other independents
30% fermented in concrete egg, the rest in 500-litre oak, from one of the coolest vineyards on the south coast. Samantha O’Keefe has produced a serious, substantial wine with a lot more life than many a Pessac-Léognan. Bone-dry finish. Probably best drunk with food. Impressive persistence.
Howard’s Folly, Sonhador Branco 2018 Alentejo 13.3%
£19 Pull the Cork
First vintage of a field blend of ancient vines of various Portuguese varieties grown on granite and made by Australian immigrant David Baverstock of Esporão. Just 15% was aged in big oak barrels to produce a really distinctive dry white with a satin texture and layers of citrus flavour.
Rafael Palacios, Louro Godello 2019 Valdeorras 14%
About £19 from various independents
Blend of Godello grapes grown around O Bolo in several of Galicia’s typically tiny plots at elevations over 600 m. Intense, dry, concentrated, sophisticated. Just the job for those who seek a reliable, sensibly priced alternative to fine white burgundy. (See Fashionable Valdeorras.)
Dom Bachelet-Monnot 2017 Bourgogne Blanc 12.5%
£19.18 Justerini & Brooks
Really rather ripe and gorgeous on the nose with a very light smoky reductive note. Lovely ripe white burgundy for drinking now and much better value than many New World Chardonnays from some of the more celebrated producers. A light lemon-sherbet character, but not for the long term.
Daniel Chotard 2019 Sancerre 13.5%
£19.95 Berry Bros & Rudd
An interesting Sancerre from a ripe vintage, so much less austere and less aromatic than many previous examples but with a richness and density that reminds me of some of the celebrated Cotat Sancerres that have such a long life.
Isabel Chardonnay 2016 Marlborough 13.5%
£21.49 Bancroft Wines
By NZ standards this is an antique! Marlborough’s characteristic acidity is fading and this is a fully mature, very agreeable alternative to a well-made Côte de Beaune white burgundy. Fresh and bright-fruited.
Dominio do Bibei, Lapola 2018 Ribeira Sacra 13.5%
£22.50 Vin Neuf and other independents
Another Galician dry white based on the magical Godello grape. Fresh, marine, racy, citrus and very distinctive. Hugely digestible and refreshing now, but don’t hang on to it.
Dominio do Bibei, Lalume 2017 Ribeiro 13.5%
£25 Corks of North Street
Yet another Galician white. Treixadura this time, grown on schist and granite at high elevation with strong Atlantic influence. Really tense and exciting.
Benjamin Leroux 2018 Bourgogne Blanc 13%
£25 Berry Bros & Rudd
A blend of wines from the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune and from outlying vineyards around Meursault put together with great skill by this new-generation négociant. Neat and fresh and pure. Creamy texture with a slice of lemon. Just the ticket. The only single disadvantage of the wine is that you know it would have cost half as much quite recently. It's also at peak at the moment. Not for the cellar.
Pewsey Vale, The Contours Museum Reserve Riesling 2013 Eden Valley 12.5%
£26.49 Noel Young Wines
A label of the Hill-Smith family of Yalumba. Some of these vines were planted way back in 1965. There’s a first release at five years old and then this second release when they judge the wine can eloquently demonstrate the ageing ability of Riesling. How many German producers have a late-release programme, I wonder?
Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, Mullineux Old Vines White 2019 Swartland 14%
£25.99 Noel Young Wines, £26.99 The Wine Reserve, £30.50 Philglas & Swiggot
Andrea Mullineux’s old-vine blend of seven different varieties has never disappointed, and you would be well advised to grab the concentrated 2019 vintage now as the harvest was shrunk by drought. Intense honey and beeswax on the nose. An untutored palate might assume, wrongly, that this wine has some sweetness because it's so rich. Satin texture and waves of flavour including green leaves and Cape gooseberries. Long, subtle and thoroughly admirable.
Waterkloof, Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre Rosé 2020 Stellenbosch 13%
£11.39–£13.99 various independents
Spring in a bottle? But with so much more flavour than most very pale rosés. It’s made from the same grape as the famous Domaine Tempier Bandol rosé. Smart silver screwcap. Very broad and flattering with rather soft fruit but a very gentle, caressing impact on the palate. I wouldn't age this and it's a rosé that could happily be drunk in winter as well as summer, but it's beautifully made, with light smokiness.
Bononia, Gomotartzi Gamza 2019 Bulgaria 12.7%
£8.95 The Wine Society, £10.50 The Old Cellar
Gamza is a Bulgarian grape variety that makes fruity, fairly soft wines that drink well young and without food. This one, grown close to the Danube, is a lovely spring-like red with a little note of tamarind. Unexpectedly persistent.
Dom de la Grosse Pierre 2019 Chiroubles 13%
£12.88 Howard Ripley (arriving soon)
Pauline Passot makes translucent beaujolais that is seriously underpriced. Fragrant, delicate, mouth-filing and very refined. The 2018 was a wine of the week.
Dom Jean-Marc Burgaud, Les Charmes 2019 Morgon 13%
£23 The Old Bridge Wine Shop
This has the flirtatious – even slightly peppery – side that so many wine lovers seek in a cru beaujolais. Lovely racy fruit and a juicy, drink-me quality.
Dog Point Pinot Noir 2018 Marlborough 13%
£25 The Wine Society
Very gentle, delicate and nuanced but not quite as compelling as the 2017 is now, which augurs well for the future of this 2018. It's savoury and dry – there's no distracting sweetness, no beetroot quality, no obvious oakiness. You could certainly enjoy it now but I suspect it might be even better next year. Amazing that one producer can be so good at both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, and makes pretty smart Chardonnay too.
Kusuda Pinot Noir 2017 Martinborough 12.9%
Very rich nose suggests a wine with more alcohol than 13%. Made by a Japanese master of subtle red wines in the North Island’s Pinot Noir capital. So clean and pure. Wonderful persistence with a fan of flavour that builds on the finish, like a fine burgundy. Real reverberation and depth. A wine that sings!
Image by Ales Maze on Unsplash.