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Wine: Difficult choices

01 August 2007

by Christopher Fielden

Burgundy is well known, perhaps even notorious, for the quality of its food and wines, and this is evident at the banquets of the local drinking brotherhood, the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin.

The patron of this noble organisation is Noah; for it was he who is recorded as having planted the first vineyard. As I write this, with the rain falling outside, I am put in mind of Noah — and not with regard to Burgundy.

Perhaps we could develop an alternative form of Desert Island Discs, and select two bottles of wine — one white and one red — from each region, to take into the ark. For example, I might choose a Corton as the red wine and a Meursault as the white. This would give us the hope that, when the waters subsided, we might have the beginnings of a good cellar. Alternatively, and I think this might be more constructive, we could take with us two vine plants, and future vineyard plantings would have to be of cuttings from these.

What two varieties would we choose? I suppose that if it were to go by today’s popularity, Merlot would be the red grape variety and Pinot Grigio the white. But that might make for rather bland drinking: Merlot is at its best when it is beefed up with some Cabernet, and the success of Pinot Grigio appears to be based on the fact that it is a wine that offends nobody. This scarcely seems a recommendation for preservation.

The traditionalist might go for the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Chardonnay, in the hope that some acorns might also be in the cargo, eventually providing the oak for the barrel-ageing that both these varieties need to show at their best.

For the red variety, I originally thought of the Pinot Noir; for it produces Burgundy, my favourite wine. It is never easy to make good Pinot Noir, however, and the plant is susceptible to rot. In the end, I have selected the Syrah (or Shiraz), because it gives warmth.

I also had some difficulty in selecting a white grape variety. My first thought was the Viognier, because I love the rich, full apricot/nectarine flavours of its wines, but I thought that this might soon begin to pall. (One other thing in its favour, however, is that a little bit of it added to Syrah can produce great wines, such as Côte Rôtie.)

In the end, I have picked the Riesling, largely because of the broad range of wines that it can produce — from dry to richly sweet, from very low in alcohol to opulent and full-bodied, both still and sparkling. What would you choose?

To back up my ark placements, I list some suggested wines for you to taste. Syrah/Shiraz: Otra Vida, Argentina (Sainsbury’s, £4.99); Tesco Finest Farquharson 2004, South Africa (£7.99); Ch. Camplazens 2005, Vin de Pays d’Oc (Majestic, £6.49 — save £2 if you buy two bottles). Marqués de Casa Concha, 2004, Chile (Co-op, £7.99). Riesling: Leasingham Magnus 2006, Australia (Sainsbury’s, £7.99); Cono Sur Visión Qiltraman 2006, Bío-Bío Valley, Chile (Majestic, £7.99; £6.39 if you buy 2); Tesco Finest Steillage (£5.99); and Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile 2000 (Tesco Wine Club, £24.99).

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