There’s no denying it’s been a corker of a summer – in fact, it could be argued with been a little too blessed with sunshine and clear skies. But, the more glorious the season, the more difficult it is when it comes to an end, no? Seek solace in another fine array of libations courtesy of the Luxury London drinks trolley. Behold, some old classics, some new creations and enough wine to see you to Christmas…
Up in leafy Highbury, where the dogs are pedigree and the flat whites are larcenous and frothy, Shop Cuvee, natural wine specialists, offer a house wine amid their artisan deli produce. Founded in 2013, founders Brodie Meah and Max Venning are behind what is now the country’s fastest-growing supplier of natural wine. They’ve recently opened a new store called Cave Cuvee in Bethnal Green which also sells their house white, made from Sicilian Catarratto grapes; a feisty number with just the right smooth edges to its tart core. The house red, a Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Carménère is every bit as lively, though without the shadow of sticky muddiness that, for me, plagues so many Cab Savs these days. The labels are winningly gauche, wobbly drawings as well that you’ll never confuse with a panic-bought bottle from a Sainsbury’s Local.
Kleine Zalze Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc 2020
Over in the vineyards of Stellenbosch on the Western Cape of South Africa, the highly regarded Kleine Zalze vineyard had something approaching a ‘normal’ (i.e pre-climate change) winter in 2020, with cold winds, rain and even some snow on the mountains. It meant that the summer ripening was delayed for around ten days in 2021 and this, combined with a moderate summer, conspired to create a particularly fine Chenin Blanc from their “Bush Vine” vineyards. The average age of these vines is 30 years and most of them are planted on decomposed granite soils. But even if this means nothing to you, simply taste the results, an unusually rich Chenin with notes of honeysuckle, guava and pineapple with a dry palate and a perfectly balanced acidity. New world wine from SA is rarely this fine in the £15 range. Recommended.
Taittinger Brut Reserve NV
OK, so I’m waving the flag for English sparkling wine in this column but I just can’t help myself when it comes to featuring one of the classic champagne houses in mighty Reims. This Brut Reserve gets me at the colour alone; a golden-hued yellow with a nose that fair bounces and sashays with its lightness and just a few coquettish hints of fruit and brioche buns. Of course, there’s the usual almost obscenely long finish to Tattinger to come once you’ve taken your first sip. Though for me, the key to my mild Tattinger addiction is simply foregoing the wine bar in the summer months and inviting friends round to my Brixton balcony for a bottle straight from my fridge. When you think of the £30 plus you’d pay in a bar for a ropey Chilean Sav Blanc, the extra tenner involved (plus laying on a bit of bread and cheese) at your own place makes buying a bottle of this seem less indulgent and more merely savvy.
Louis Jadot Saint-Veran 2019
The vineyards of the Domaine de la Chapelle aux Loups surround a 12th-century Romanesque church situated in the south-western corridor of the Saint Véran appellation near the cliffs of Solutré. So far, so Francoise Sagan. And the limestone soils of this domaine are ideal for making fine Chardonnay that’s dry, unoaked and winningly delicate. This lovely white wine made from Chardonnay grapes is heavy on fruit flavours and does, I’ve found, go quite absurdly well with a rotisserie chicken and some smoked salmon to start. The road to buying your own ruined farmhouse to convert (and bankrupting yourself in the process) starts right here…
Barra Strawberry and Ginger Gin Liqueur
Don’t be alarmed by the luminous hue of the latest release from the Scottish Isle of Barra Distillers. It may look like the kind of drink you gravitate towards as a barely legal drinker still to develop a sophisticated palate but, thanks to a distillation process that involves organic Scottish strawberries, spicy ginger and the brand’s own Atlantic gin, the result is surprisingly refreshing and fruity without tipping into saccharine. Its flavour profile also makes it perfect for reliving the heady days of picnics in the parks and sun-drenched BBQs: simply add a splash to your favourite cocktail or mix with bubbles.
Lo Sparviere “Cuvée n.7” Brut, Franciacorta
We’ve long been a fan of the Independent Wine company in this column, importing as it does some of the lesser known, but superbly curated wines from Italy. This dashingly elegant dry Franciacorta sparkling wine is aged sur lie for 30 months, giving it a complex flavour. It’s made in a pretty similar way to Champagne, using the méthode classique and it’s aged for twice as long as most non-vintage Champagne, making the end taste even more rich and bready. Coming from a vineyard in Provaglio d’Iseo, about 1km south of Lake Iseo in Lombardy, the soils in the vineyard were formed by a glacier which retracted back into the Alps at the end of the Ice Age, meaning the soil is a big hitter in minerals, sand and limestone. Yes, yes, but how does it taste? Well, it’s a pale yellow number that impressed me from the outset with its hints of honey and almonds. It’s drier than most Italian sparkling wines (no bad thing) and has a fairly high acidity too. One to drink on its own but not on your own. Stick some Puccini onto Spotify and simply relish this highly aristocratic, somewhat decadent wine that seems to prefer refined conversation to outright excess.
Simpsons Chalklands Classic Cuvée 2018
Off to the garden of England we go with this, the first non-vintage Cuvee English sparkling wine released by the Simpsons Wine Estate. It’s a lovely pale gold number with a higher than expected, flinty mineral edge to it that tickles the throat in a manner more akin to a flirtatious grapple than a blade sharp attack. Founders of the vineyard, Ruth and Charles Simpson, selected three favourites from their library of vintages as the ‘base wine’ for this release. It’s 40 per cent Pinot Noir, 30 per cent Chardonnay and 30 per cent Pinot Meunier which may sound like champagne to you but, in this country is known as the Great British Classic Method marque. The couple has 30 acres of vineyards (the UK average size is a mere four) so to produce something of this artisanal quality in what is a relatively gargantuan vineyard is a notable achievement.
I have some particularly evil teenage memories of stealing a bottle of my mate’s uncle’s plum wine from a shed on his allotment on the Wirral in the mid-1990’s. The result was a hangover the likes of which I suspect would have felled even Oliver Reed in his prime with an added bout of whimpering and a desire to eat nothing but cold toast for the next two days. But times have changed and not only is fruit wine a concept no longer best left in the outhouse of a mad uncle with halitosis and a large collection of English folk records; it’s also a notably sustainable way to drink wine while also cutting down on the obscene amount of fruit we waste in this country.
Brothers Stephen and James Long, Northamptonshire-based fruit farmers, have created three wines out of the myriad misshapen, wrong size or slightly soft blueberries which are rejected by the supermarkets, despite being perfectly good to eat. Dark, Midnight and Ice are their names and none of them are, to my surprise, blended with grape juice. What you’re drinking is simply 100% English blueberries. And as for the taste? Well the Dusk and Midnight are both drier than expected with a decent medium body and a definite hint of oakiness in the latter. My favourite is the Ice variety. It’s intense but surprisingly smooth with none of the raspiness you might expect from the blueberries which are frozen, pressed and fermented to create a sweet wine. It goes rather well when mixed with sparkling English wine, creating an English double pairing as unlikely as Nobby Stiles and Jack Charlton – though definitely more attractive.
From £11.95, blueaurorawine.co.uk
Sharpham Sparkling English Rose
And finally to this unpretentious and fresh sparkling wine from the dependable Sharpham English vineyard on the banks of the River Dart in Devon. This really is the Richard Osman of English sparkling wines; approachable, clever but not overly taxing on the mind and body. It’s fair bursting with red berries, crunchy red apples and pink grapefruit and has a particularly lively fizz to it. Pop this cork with caution, but be assured that a bottle should last longer than an episode of Pointless unless you’re very, very thirsty.
‘It’s from Italy, it’s organic and it’s wet’. You have to admire the simplicity of the strapline for this new canned wine UK start-up. Defy really does mean it with its lo-fi aspirations. The can is completely plain barring a simple, wraparound, yellow paper label and the tasting notes largely consist of one syllable. For white wine, that’s ‘tart’. It most certainly is, in a suitably no-nonsense, easy-drinking style. The website proudly proclaims that it has no desire at all to ‘educate’ people about wine and it despises tasting notes. Simply drink it and enjoy it is the mantra. Enjoying wine has never required any form of ‘education’ in advance. It’s time more people in the industry admitted so.
£26 for a four-can pack, defy.wine
The Only Way Is Gin
Well, it was bound to happen sometime, wasn’t it? A gin distillery in Essex cashing in on the most successful TV show to be filmed in the county since Hi-de-Hi. But do the fake tans, muscle shirts and high heels of The Only Way Is Essex translate into gin? And frankly, would you even want it to? The bottle is lurid enough; looking something like the results of a Technicolor x-ray. But the gin itself isn’t bad at all; some resonant notes of citrus and the addition of poppy seeds make this a surprisingly sophisticated tipple that belies the name. Like finding out that Katie Price actually has a double first from Oxford.
Pilton Pomme Pomme
Do you really want to know what keeved cider is? It’s pretty boring but, if you insist, this is an old-fashioned way of making naturally sweetened cider without sugar. Let’s leave Pilton Cider in Somerset to tell us the rest. ‘The process involves the creation of a pectin gel, which floats to the top of fresh-pressed apple juice in translucent tanks. The gel traps nitrogen and is removed. Starved of its essential nutrients, the wild yeast fermentation stops early, leaving natural sugars from the apples themselves to sweeten the cider.’ See, told you it was dull. But, if you’re still with me, then the result is a very fine range of ciders indeed; my favourite being the Pomme Pomme, which is made with quince. You can’t really taste it to be honest but it’s a feisty, fruity, vivacious drink nonetheless, which is just on the correct side of tart and actually made me think of baked apple pie. Which is no bad thing, obviously.
And finally, what could be better to sustain our absurd notions of superiority as we watch England inevitably wilt on the pitch in the latter stages of Euro 2020 than a beer that takes us back to the days of Empire? You know, when we didn’t lose wars and the national football team won every game by cannily refusing to enter international tournaments of any kind and only ever playing Wales and Scotland. This is an exceptionally clear and crisp pale ale that an impressive array of top-end restaurants have chosen to put on their menu alongside their heavy-duty wine lists including Jason Atherton’s mighty City Social restaurant. Robust and stylish, it’s everything, sadly, that John Stones and Ross Barkley aren’t.
12 bottles for £26.99, empressale.com
Read more: Perfect drinks for summer picnics