WHEN the recession began, sales of quality wines in some supermarkets actually increased.
Because folk were entertaining at home instead of going out, they seemed to be compensating by spending a bit more on the wine. To help this process (or encourage it), here is my quarterly look at special occasion wines – with a particular eye on summer drinking.
Although there are excellent whites available from all over the world, thoughts often turn to France when considering top of the range versions. Head to the northern Rhône, for example, for an expression of the viognier grape at its aristocratic best in 2011 Condrieu Les Etelles (£39, M&S). Nine months on its lees gives this wine texture and substance, but the real joy of top-level viognier is how it delivers fantastically aromatic peach flavours but keeps it all fresh and vital with brilliantly judged acidity.
If white burgundies tick all your boxes, travel 200km north to check out 2011 Finest Meursault (£19.99, Tesco). Supermarkets may not be an obvious source of top-level wine but I applaud the typicity of this version and the quality per pound it represents. All the essentials are in place, with excellent, vibrant lemon freshness, sophisticated orange-centred fruit, neat little floral touches and the mineral depth so typical of good wines from the area.
It is not just Burgundians that know how to handle chardonnay. From New Zealand comes 2010 Greywacke Chardonnay (£26, Lockett Bros), which – like the Meursault – also provides neat touches of orange. Here the acidity is slightly sharper, more grapefruit than lemon, with touches of sherbet and apple giving way to a soft yet rich, spicy vanilla finish. Greywacke’s winemaker, Kevin Judd, made his name with Cloudy Bay and sauvignon blanc. Another hero of Kiwi sauvignon is Brent Marris, the man behind 2012 Marisco Kings Thorn Pinot Gris (£9.99, Majestic), from the Waihopai Valley. The complexity of this wine runs from fresh, mineral-charged grapefruit acidity to smooth, perfumed peach flavours that add a gentle perception of sweetness.
Summer is also time for champagne. For a vintage version, try 2005 Champagne Thienot (£41.90, L’Art du Vin). It has the restrained bubbles of sophisticated fizz yet exhibits a delightful flowery, apple and lemon-centred freshness and backs it up with mildly bready and brioche backdrops.
Canard Duchene is now part of the Thienot family, as the light and clean Canard Duchene Authentic Green Brut Champagne (£32, Oddbins) demonstrates. Although its acidity may be muted, the rounded biscuit touches and excellent mousse mark this out as hugely enjoyable champagne.
With reds, it is best to give the most robust and hearty versions a back seat at this time of year, so opt for something like the spicy and slightly smoky 2011 Waipara Hills Pinot Noir Central Otago (£12.99, Co-op). It delivers a tantalising depth that sits behind soft raspberry and red cherry fruit but never gets in the way of the fresh acidity that adds real vitality to the wine.
Quality Beaujolais is another red well suited to summer. The 2011 Brouilly Henry Fessy (£11.99, Waitrose) has those soft and floral raspberry touches that characterise the region’s cru wines. In this case it is enhanced by fresh hints of cherry and a balanced acidity but everything is given extra substance by a rounded, beetroot earthiness.
Although it’s not always a case of getting what you pay for, these wines justify digging a little deeper.