Wine Styles - What's Hot & What's Not
By Angela Mount
Take that classic question – what type of wine do you like? Asked so often, of so many people. The majority of wine drinkers struggle to answer, and therein lies one of the key issues, which highlights the fact that most of you know what you like, play safe, don’t know how to describe what you like, and fear the risk of trying something new. After all wine is, to most, a very confusing subject, not made any easier by the swathes of labels, bottles and names seen both in supermarkets and independent wine retailers. Scary stuff? without doubt, which is why so many stick to what they know and play safe, and is one of the reasons the big brands have done so well in the UK in the last 15 years; security, reassurance, safety, even if the flavours aren’t the most exciting in the world.
Time and time again, I hear friends telling me that they’d like to try new wines, but don’t know where to start; they can’t describe what they like, they just know it by taste. They don’t understand labels, and complicated descriptions – and in the current economic climate, they certainly don’t want to risk wasting their money on a wine they’re not going to like.
Buying from independents and wine specialists helps here – that personal recommendation, the opportunity to taste wines before you buy… but that doesn’t solve the problem for the massive majority of the UK wine drinking public who buy their wine in supermarkets. The average time spent in the wine aisle is minute; wine purchasing has become part of the standard shopping list; and since over 70% of supermarket wine is bought by women, and we know how busy we all are, that doesn’t give a lot of time for browsing.
Restaurants that sort wine lists by style and type rather than by country help a lot – but back in the rushed world of shopping, we continue to cling to the main principle of price, and labels and names that offer us reassurance. Some of the big brands have done a good job in exploring new grape varieties and styles within the safety of the main brand umbrella, and supermarket own brands are also pushing the boundaries in terms of new ideas – Tesco’s Fiano, unheard of a few years ago, is one of the successful ones.
And it’s worth trying the latest craze to hit the US – the light, sweetly fragrant, gently sparkling white Moscato. Don’t be afraid to try sweeter wines, there’s too much stigma against them, and many are delicious. In America, sales have gone crazy, and the trend is taking off here too…
So here are a few other ideas to encourage you to venture a little further in your wine exploration…
Champagne & Sparkling
Watch out here, there are some pretty ropey, acidic, cheap champagnes on the market.. but then again, there are some good ones. Brands are reliable, supermarket own brands generally so too, especially if they’ve won awards; the areas to be careful are the cheap, unknown names, which are often heavily discounted, so a little bit of research is worthwhile.
If you’re looking for Champagne quality, be adventurous and try some of the superb English sparkling wines that are now available. Many of the top end Australian and new Zealand sparklers also offer much better value for the money.
The quality and reliability of Cava and Prosecco has also risen, but with the later, invest a tiny bit more and get better flavours with Prosecco DOCG from Valdobiaddene or Conigliano.
Chardonnay – don’t dismiss this wonderful grape variety by joining the ‘ABC’ club – Chardonnay has come a long way since the overoaked, tinned pineapple flavours of 1990s Aussie wine; styles have changed, and most Chardonnay is now made in a far fresher, more citrussy style, with good acidity, often unoaked, and where oaked, done with much more care. And don’t forget that white Burgundy and Chablis is from the Chardonnay, so if you like crisp, steely whites, yes, Chardonnay can do it.
If you like ripechardonnay, you’ll also like full, fruity styles of wine such as Viognier, maybe some of the fuller-bodied Albarinho on the market.
Pinot Grigio – it’s easy drinking and inoffensive, but why not go with something with a little bit more character? Some of the Spanish dry whites are very impressive now, and South African Chenin blanc normally overdelivers at the price.
Sauvignon blanc – explore across the countries, don’t just stick to New Zealand, although styles will vary; but if you like fresh, zingy styles, try the increasingly fashionable Picpoul de Pinet, or the Godello, an up and coming style from north west Spain to give the popular Albarinho a run for its money.
And don’t forget the wonderful Riesling, much loved by the wine fraternity, but maligned and misunderstood by so many! Forget old fashionable cheap sweet German muck, today’s Rieslings are generally racy, vibrant, with lipsmacking citrus freshness.
If you’re not into red wine, but fancy a change from white, Rose is a good next step – avoid the oversweet Californian blush wines – some are decent, and some of the better, award- winning styles work well with fruit salads, and also spicy barbecued food - but choose carefully.
Refresh the palate with cool, dry, fruity pink wines from France, Italy, Spain, and the New World – a wealth of colour, red berry aromas and a riot of summery flavours. Once you’ve tried one, take the next step and start to experiment across grape varieties and countries.
In general, Europe produces lighter, paler, more delicate styles, so if you like Provence Rose, you may like some of the delicate Italian pink styles.
For full on summer berry flavours and vibrant colours, go for Syrah, Merlot or Cabernet Rose from the New World.
If you’re new to red wine,or don’t think you like it, start with the lighter styles – colour is a good indicator here; go for gentle, low tannin reds, which are almost like grown up rose, with a deeper colour.
Light reds – if you like Beaujolais, you’ll probably also enjoy soft, juicy Cotes du Rhone, and wines labelled Gamay, or Grenache.
Pinot Noir – Pinot Noir has always been loved by Burgundy fans, but now has become far better known to everyone, and is more affordable! If you love the elegant perfumed style of Burgundy, but want something slightly fuller, and less pricey, go for the violet scented Pinots of New Zealand, Australia and Chile. They’re also much more reliable than many burgundies.
Medium - bodied reds – if your red style choice falls into this category, then again, look to try outside your boundaries.. like Italian styles? Chianti, Valpolicella? Try Montepulciano, or some of the gloriously ripe, yet still inherently Italian reds from the south and Sicily – Primitivo and nero d’Avola.
Fan of Rioja? Venture further into Priorat, Bierzo and even Ribera del Duero territory, depending on your budget. Navarra and Somontano also do some great mid-weight Spanish style reds. Or be bold and opt for one of my favourites, and some of the least understood reds – move your choice to Portugal – big, scented, smooth, silky reds, with a sweet spice edge.
Full bodied wines – if Bordeaux is your style look for some of the more cool area reds from the New World – Western Australia, cooler regions of South Africa, such as Elgin.
For fans of Shiraz, then big, bold and spicy is your style, and these wines are being made superbly all over the world, so you are safe to stray from Australia. And it’s also worth giving the voluptuously full, rich Californian Zinfandels a try as well.