My Wine Choice, April

One of the thrills of spending 12 months working on the eastern side of Lake Garda, N. Italy was to fully appreciate the wide and varied cuisine, accompanied by fine wines. My purpose of employment was to set up a nursery business for a successful German businessman in Bardolino. Unsurprisingly I was asked to source a wide variety of alpine plants that would suit the continental climate.

On my doorstep was a veritable market garden; verdant yet seemingly parched hillsides with occasional groups of regimented cypress trees. Orderly arranged plantations of apricot, peach and nectarine along with olive groves and vineyards as far as the eye could stretch. I set out to discover and experience just a tiny fraction of this marvellous agricultural storehouse. My employer was a man who, not only knew his wines but had the means to purchase his favourites without compunction. I was in for a treat! An early surprise was the variety of fine red wines available from close proximity to Lake Garda. While Bardolino and Valpolicella Classico are household names, my personal favourite from this area is a Masi Amarone Costasera.   I have sourced an Amarone Classico Costasera 2006/2007 Masi from Majestic Wines. At £30 a bottle this may seem more than one would normally expend on a bottle of red wine,  but  this, however, is rather special.

Masi has been run by the same Boscaini family for the past 6 generations and perhaps a little background information will explain the true value of an Amarone.  The grape varieties that make up this wine are typically, Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara.

A fascinating process goes in to the production of this wine, called appassimento or rasinate (to dry and shrivel) in Italian. Grapes are harvested, where possible, in the first two weeks in October. They are allowed to dry, traditionally on straw mats, in modern times in special drying chambers. This concentrates the remaining sugars and flavours. The length of this drying process may last for 120 days.  The grapes are eventually crushed towards the end of January/ beginning of February.  After fermentation, the wine is then aged in barriques made from either French or Slovenian oak.  As to the wine itself, my overall impression is of a full-bodied wine with loads of fruit with a very refreshing finish. More discerning folk will note ”an opulent nose of ripe-red cherries, with the addition of liquorice, sage, bitter chocolate and espresso”.

My wife prepares a splendid stew from shin of beef and accompanied with Pink Fir Apple potatoes with plenty of butter and on a special occasion a few glasses of this exceptional wine will be simply memorable.

My recommendation is: Amarone Classico Costasera 2006/2007 Masi from: www.majestic.co.uk

To accompany my special recommendation for April, I am keen to highlight a more accessible and very popular, dry red from C. Italy, Montepulciano D’ Abruzzo. This is a recommendation exclusive to the famous emporium for Italian food and wine, Valvona and Crolla based in Edinburgh.  Montepulciano is a pretty town perched on a hill surrounded by vineyards, planted, in the main with a mixture of Sangiovese and Colorino grapes.

The wine I’m recommending is V and C’s own 2008 vintage and is “bursting with black cherry aromas, hints of violets and the merest touch of spice”. It is medium to full bodied and aptly described “like a Vespa, it is tremendous fun and classically Italian”. A great choice to accompany Pasta or a light meal.

Readers may shop online at www.valvonacrolla.co.uk

My wine choice, March

Alsace – Turkheim Pinot Blanc

It is hard not to make immediate comparisons with German wines when sitting down and enjoying any of the celebrated wines of this celebrated region in France.  Yet, Alsace has never been German, except in periods of military occupation. Its soul is entirely French.  The tone for these fine wines is set by the climate, soil and the choice of grape varieties.  The first time my wife and I travelled to this area we were captivated by the magnificent landscape with rolling hills, wooded towards the hilltops whilst the lower slopes are planted with orderly rows of vines.  The pretty villages are often walled and preserve a rich history along with a picture postcard Gothic architecture that will take up plenty of memory card. Overhanging gables, flower-filled troughs and courtyards along with cobbled streets adds to the beauty of this experience.

And, by the way, the cuisine is wonderful too.

The range of wines offered, are produced mainly from white grape varieties and Pinot Blanc is widely grown throughout the region.  The Queen of the grape varieties here is the Riesling and when aged is outstanding, with the added prize if it has been grown on a Grand Cru vineyard.  A firm favourite is the Gewurztraminer, a grape which owes its origin to the Alto Adige region of Northern Italy in the village of Tramin (Termeno).  When I first tasted this wine, here in the Alsace I was completely beguiled by the fruity flavour and well remember offering our teenage daughter a taste and asked what it reminded her of. Her immediate reaction was “Lychees, Dad”.  She was of course spot on.

My recommendation is a Turkheim Pinot Blanc.  I have enjoyed this variety as a wine to savour as an aperitif or drunk along with fish or cheese.  It is dry, pale, elegant and crisp and mercifully (this recommendation) is un- oaked so you can taste the grape.  Across the Rhine, the nearest of the German wine regions is in Baden and my word its wine growers also produce a splendid Pinot Blanc, named Weissburgunder in these parts, same grape different soil and climate but still a great choice.

Obtain this wine from Great Grog Company Ltd., Edinburgh.  www.greatgrog.co.uk
Tel no: 0131 555 3400