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Country focus: Portugal

PORTUGAL is a refreshingly exotic ‘mainstream’ wine producer: hardly anyone has heard of its regions, with one notable exception; mention of its extensively-used native grapes – 200 are in use – prompts blank-faced head scratching in all but the most devoted oenophiles; and its big wine brands number just two: pink, sugary, espumosos (lightly sparkling) …

Small Sips #12: world’s most-planted wine grapes

COMMITTED WINE DRINKERS could rattle these off in their sleep but, anyway, here are the world’s top 10 most-planted wine grapes: 1/Cabernet; 2/Merlot; 3/Airén (used for Spanish brandy); 4/Tempranillo; 5/Chardonnay; 6/Shiraz; 7/Grenache; 8/Sauvignon; 9/Trebbiano/Ugni Blanc (used for Cognac); 10/Pinot Noir. A key trend is that Tempranillo has been the fastest-growing variety since the turn of …

Small Sips #11: Champagne

The C-word Okay, let’s be clear: sparkling wine can be any old fizz, but Champagne is always a particular sparkling wine made in a certain way and that can come only from the legally-delimited Champagne region of northern France. (Now, that should keep the Champagne lawyers happy.) How it’s made Surprisingly for a wine that’s …

Small Sips #10: Ageing Wine

ONE OF WINE’S ENDURING MYTHS is that all wines improve with time; in fact the overwhelming majority of wines sold today are best drunk within a year or two of harvest! The reason for ageing wine is to give time for harsh tannins or acidity to mellow, and to allow complex, ‘tertiary’ aromas and flavours …

Small Sips #9: Vino de Pago

Innovative VINO DO PAGO is Spain’s most illustrious appellation, the highest classification that can be attained under Spanish wine law. Introduced in 2003, it brought into the fold individual, pioneering, high-end estates whose consistently-brilliant wines had until then fallen outside the regular appellation system. In short, the particular producer is the appellation, an amazing situation …

Customer Questions #6: Does this need to be decanted?

SOME ADVISE DECANTING EVERYTHING right down to the simplest white, but that’s probably overkill. Decant if: (a) The wine is ancient… to separate it from its sediment; (b) It’s a very young, ‘big’ red… allowing it to ‘breathe’ can soften its tannins and encourage it to be more expressive; or (c) It’s a cheapie screwcapped …

Regional Focus: The Languedoc

THE LANGUEDOC, France’s most ‘new world’ wine region, is a massive, diverse expanse, arcing from Montpellier southwest around the Gulf of Lyon towards the Spanish border. One quarter of France’s vines grow here, a figure that used to be even higher not so many years ago when the Languedoc was basically one huge plonk factory. …

Grape focus: Sauvignon Blanc

SAUVIGNON BLANC, the world’s eight most-planted grape, hails originally from Bordeaux and the Loire but is today cultivated in every country that makes wine. Famous regions that specialise in it include Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Bordeaux, Casablanca (Chile), Friuli (Italy) and the Adelaide Hills. But it is New Zealand’s Marlborough that has set a benchmark for Sauvignon, even …

Curious Small Sips #7: Solera System

NEW RHONE SUPPLIER SAINT COSME’S ‘LITTLE JAMES’ GRENACHE (whose jaunty label appears below) is unique in that – unlike the vast majority of table wines – it is not the product of one harvest but is instead a blend of wines from a number of years. This is done through the use of the traditional solera …

Food and Wine Matching 101

THE ‘ART’ OF FOOD AND WINE MATCHING is actually a relatively recent invention (1980s); before this most people unthinkingly drank local wines with local foods – and lived to tell the tale! But for whatever reason, today, it’s an overly-prescribed area that can even create anxiety for some people. The stressing is unnecessary though, as …