TOP TEN WINES FROM THE COMMONWEALTH

by Rose Murray Brown MW    Published in The Scotsman 26 July 2013

Out of the 71 nations performing at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, seven are well known as wine producing countries: most notable of these are Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.  So whether you are popping corks to celebrate the medals or joining friends at a Commonwealth barbeque – try one of my Top Ten Commonwealth summer wines.

 

SPARKLING WINE
                                           
England: CAMEL VALLEY PINOT NOIR BRUT 2012
(£28.99 Waitrose)

When it comes to quality ‘traditional method’ fizz, Britain is becoming a very serious contender.  From the sunny Cornish coast to converted hop fields of Kent, this last decade has seen a frenzy of sparkling wine producers planting acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the same grapes as Champagne.  My current favourite producers, who use the same methods as Champagne, are Camel Valley, Nyetimber, Gusbourne and Herbert Hall.  Outstanding amongst these is family-owned Camel Valley.  The Lindo family bought a sheep farm three decades ago because it was the cheapest farmland in the UK: watching the grass scorch each summer gave them an idea to try planting vines.  Now young winemaker Sam Lindo is up to win this year’s International Wine Challenge Sparkling Winemaker of the Year.  His Brut is creamy, balanced with an enticing long finish.  Alcohol: 12.5%

Australia: JANSZ PREMIUM CUVEE BRUT NV
(£15.50 Oddbins)

My current favourite Aussie fizz which hails from the beautiful Apple Isle, Tasmania.  As climate change starts to affect grape growing conditions across South Australia, this cool windy island 50 km south of Australia’s mainland is becoming a much sought-after location.  Its value as a source of grapes for high quality fizz has been known for a long time as the big sparkling producers need grapes with high natural acidity to make the best fizz.  Robert Hill-Smith of Yalumba makes this Tasmanian Jansz fizz from his vineyards in Pipers River region grapes from the north east of the island.  It combines rich yeasty biscuit notes, ripe citric fruits with a fresh vibrant whistle-clean finish.  Tasmania is a place to watch.   Alcohol: 12.5%

WHITE WINES

Cyprus: PETRITIS 2012 Vasiliko
(£11.39 www.strictlywine.co.uk)

Once a major wine exporter to the UK in the heyday of ‘Emva Cream’.  Cyprus even had a pipeline built from Limassol to tankers out at sea – not for oil or gas – but for wine pumping out 100 tonnes an hour to supply the Russian market.  With the collapse of its old wine markets, Cyprus is now focusing on quality rather than quantity making use of the high altitude south facing slopes of the Troodos mountains.  This delicious creamy white has vibrant citric notes and fresh natural acidity, made 70 year old Xynisteri native vines grown near Kyperounda in the Pilsilia area, made by a small boutique winery, Vasiliko.  If hail is the current blight of Bordeaux and Burgundy, Cyprus’ current hazard is the invasion of swarms of European hornets which devastates vineyards in minutes.  Alcohol: 12.5%

Australia:  WIRRA WIRRA SCRUBBY RISE UNWOODED CHARDONNAY 2013
(£9.99 Tesco)       

A brand new wine to Tesco’s shelves this month, from the acclaimed Wirra Wirra winery.  Better known for their Church Block range, the Scrubby Rise wines come in at a relative bargain in Aussie terms – named after a patch of scrubland.  For those who like their Chardy without a stick of oak and just tasting of the grape itself – fresh melon fruits, nectarine flavours with creamy notes from stirring the lees before bottling.  They recommend serving this McLaren Vale/Adelaide Hills blend with garfish, but barbequed prawns might work well too.  Glad to see the alcohol level is not too high (for Australia anyway it is reasonable) at 12.5%

South Africa: PAUL CLUVER SAUVIGNON BLANC 2013
(£9.99 Marks & Spencer; £11.99 www.sawinesonline.co.uk)

Drive through Elgin’s high plateau between trendy Franschhoek and the south coast – and it will remind you of the highlands of Scotland with its fir trees, mountains and lochs.  As one of its cooler areas, this is one of the Cape’s major apple growing regions with orchards everywhere, but some producers have converted from apples to cool climate grapes with great success.  This is one of my favourite Elgin Sauvignon Blancs with cut grass flavours, elderflower notes, sweet fruit mid-palate finishing deliciously fresh, lively and dry.  Alcohol 13.5%

India: SULA SAUVIGNON BLANC 2013
(£8.99 Marks & Spencer; Waitrose; Laithwaites)

Five hours drive inland from Mumbai, on a high plateau near Pune hill station might sound an unlikely place for planting Sauvignon Blanc.  India’s 60,000 hectares of vineyards are mainly planted with table grapes, but Rajeev Samant returned from California to his native Nashik in the 1980’s setting up in partnership with Kerry Damsky with the aim of planting classic French grapes to make quality wine.  Their Maharastra grown Sula Sauvignon Blanc is remarkably good with fresh green fruits and adequate acidity – considering the humidity and heat that challenges Indian grape growers.  Alcohol 13%

RED WINES

South Africa: RUSTENBERG JOHN X MERRIMAN
(£16.99 Majestic Wine; Waitrose)

Named after John Merriman, the last prime minister of the Cape Colony, before the union of South Africa in 1910.  A very succulent Bordeaux blend made by historic Rustenberg winery run by the Barlow family, a beautiful estate nestled beneath the famous Simonsberg mountains near Stellenbosch.  On my recent trip to the Cape, this red really stood out as offering great quality ripe fruit with an accessibly soft tannic mouthfeel – and good value for the money.  Alcohol 14.5%

Australia:  MITOLO JESTER SHIRAZ 2012
(£14 House of Menzies, Aberfeldy, Perthshire: Australian Wines online; Slurp)

I discovered this wine at the launch of Matthew Jukes’ 100 Best Australian wine tasting in London last month.  What I like about it is that it is big and powerful, but it is like a thick velvet glove on an iron fist.  So smooth and welcoming on the palate with a luscious mouthfeel and rich tarry fruit to match with the most pungent barbeque sauce and spiciest sausage – and still comes out singing.  Mitolo was set up in 1999 by Frank Mitolo whose McLaren Vale vineyards have a special black Biscay clay soil – but the key to Mitolo’s success is having whiz-kid Ben Glaetzer as winemaker.  Alcohol 14.5%

New Zealand:  SINGLE BLOCK R3 PINOT NOIR 2012
(£12.99 Marks & Spencer)

Now famous for its Pinot Noir, the prices of Kiwi Pinot are not so accessible as many of the best edge over £20.  In search of a decent New Zealand Pinot in the supermarkets, I discovered this rather juicy quaffer made by the award winning Yealands winery in the southerly cooler Awatere valley in Marlborough.  I slightly preferred the more savoury edge to Earth’s End Central Otago Pinot sold by M&S at a higher price of £15.99, but this Yealands’ Marlborough Pinot at three pounds less fits the bill as the best value Kiwi Pinot I have found on the market at the moment.  Alcohol: 13.5%

SWEET WINE

Canada: INNISKILLEN RIESLING ICEWINE 2008
(£50 hf bt Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh; www.drinksdirect.co.uk)

Canada might not be well known for its wines over here, but it has over 500 wineries spread across Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Quebec – and has a wine industry dating back to the C19.  It can make high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but its real stars are its exceptional sweet icewines from Ontario.  Pioneers Inniskillen based in Niagara Peninsula in Ontario are still the leaders in terms of quality in the icewine game.  Made from grapes picked in the last week of December when temperatures drop below -10 degrees C freezing grapes on the vine.  Star bottle at my recent Canadian wine tasting: superb balance of rich citric fruits, sweetness and beautifully balanced acidity.  Sadly expensive, but worth it for a real celebratory treat.  Alcohol: 9%

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