Wines to enjoy this autumn, no matter the weather

Autumn is a strange season for wines. In some parts of the country, we’re still enjoying the final throes of a long, hot summer, and in others, temperatures are dropping. Either way, we’re not quite in crisp white wine with salad and seafood territory, nor are we fully ready for rich, deep reds for hearty Sunday roasts.

The best way to look at it from a wine perspective is that autumn is the season where anything goes!

Variety is key

If you’re still having barbeques then go for a chilled, delicious Pinot Noir or Picpoul to keep the summer going. Or, if the rains teeming down and there’s a decided nip in the air, go for a bold wintery red. Just because it’s early in the season, doesn’t mean these aren’t still warmingly delicious.

So, the message is to have a good variety of wines ready for any eventuality as we go through the early autumn season. And, of course, always keep your eyes on the upcoming party season too.

Whites for Autumn

For whites, choose something that is refreshing and light for the late summer sun, but also has a bit of strength to work well with a home-cooked meal too.

A South African Colombard fulfils both of these in a way that no many whites can. It goes beautifully with hearty dishes, such as pies and stews, so it’s ideal for early autumn going into winter. However, it’s also delicious as a light accompaniment to supper al fresco in the warm late summer sun. It’s basically a wine that works all year round, which sounds good to us.

Another good choice is something like Domaine Saint Paul Colline Picpoul de Pinet, simply because it’s really good with all kinds of food. From grilled seafood to a hearty meal at the table, this works well. It’s very refreshing and everyone loves it. It’s an easy crowd-pleaser at a dinner party and works well whatever the outside temperature.

Reds for autumn

A good Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot will see you right through this season, all the way to Christmas too. It has a depth of flavour that works really well with slow-cooked meals and roast dinners, and also matches a decent BBQ side of beef if you are blessed with sunny days in October.

Another good choice is a Western Cape Reserve Shiraz, with a bright and fresh flavour. While it goes well with all kinds of food, it’s very comforting and delicious when enjoyed on its own. Ideal to quaff by the fireplace as the weather starts to turn.

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to enjoying wine. If you want a light fizz in November, then don’t let anyone stop you! Add in some Pinot Noir, chilled or at room temperature and Malbec for the colder nights, you’ll be on your way to enjoying the best wines this autumn.

Does the shape of your wine glass really matter?

In the wine world there are different kinds of drinkers. From casual imbibers to wine aficionados, the market encompasses many different types of customer.

Wine enthusiasts often say that the kinds of glassware we use to drink from is almost as important as the wine chosen. But is that true? After all, you can enjoy a glass of wine from a teacup if you choose!

It’s all in the shape

While you can, of course, drink your wine from any kind of vessel, it turns out that wine glass shape does matter. This is because of the way wines react when exposed to air. The shape of the glass or receptacle will alter the way it reacts to air, changing the nose, structure and body of the wine.

For example, a tall Bordeaux wine glass is specially designed for wines with a fuller body. Examples include a Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc, which have a deep aroma and full body texture. The shape of the glass concentrates the aroma and directs the swig of wine into the back of the mouth. A Burgundy wine glass, on the other hand, works more efficiently with wines that are delicate in flavour. This is due to the larger bowl of the glass, which helps the gentler aroma of wines such as Pinot Noir to accumulate and become more intense.

Reds more complex

Red wines have a complex, multi-faceted structure and a larger wine glass bowl helps the drinker to fully appreciate this. A larger glass means that the wine can be swirled more without overflowing, therefore helping it to be exposed to the air and release aromas.

Usually, glasses designed for red wines offer a wider rim, which again exposes the wine more easily to the air. When wine is aerated, its structure transforms as the tannins break down to improve the bouquet. A wider rim acts like a vent and can either release or trap the bouquet as required, depending on the glass design.

Influencing flavour

While it’s difficult to prove the traditional idea that the shape of a wine glass can physically deliver the wine to a different part of the mouth, the shape and size of the glass itself definitely influences the taste of the wine.

If you take a sip from a glass with a wide opening, then the aroma will reach your nose just as the wine touches your tongue. This double whammy can make a definite difference to the flavour of the wine, and it also allows for more aeration.

The increase in aeration alters the flavour of the wine in the nose and on the tongue, particularly if you’re drinking a more complex and older vintage. Stemless glasses are generally less damaging to the flavour of reds than whites, but they do alter the flavour of both due to the warming effect of being held in the hand.

Vineyards across Europe gathering historically early harvests this year

Alsace and Champagne are the latest major wine growing regions to kick off their 2018 harvest early, thanks to hot weather throughout June and July.

Northern Europe is experiencing among the earliest harvests ever, with grape pickers across the Champagne region getting started on 21 August, according to the Comité Champagne. If we look further east to Alsace, winemakers were organising pickers to start harvesting for Cremant sparkling wines from 22 August.

In Alsace, the demand for pickers is such that some producers have expressed worries that they may not be able to find enough in August, as most are ready to work in September and October.

Record breaking

These follow on from another record-breaking early harvest over in Germany, mostly brought on by the heatwave across the summer months. While the Cremant harvest is underway, the Alsace Winemakers’ association (AVA) have stuck to a later date for harvesting the still wines in the region. This was due to start on 3 September.

The Champagne region has undergone a year of weather extremes. Growers endured record rainfall in winter, with 345mm falling during the period from November 2017 to January 2018. The Comité says that this beats the previous record of 338m set back in 1965.

After the rain came a long, very cold winter, followed by a warm period through flowering of the harvest in early June. And then came the heatwave with temperature and length of sunshine way above average.

Sense of optimism

All of this has led to a lot of optimism for the Champagne region, and the Comité has predicted yields of as much as 10,800kg per hectare. Yields are always set with an understanding of the market, and they are assuming that global sales will not increase much this year compared with 2017.

Over in Germany, the first grapes of 2018 were picked for the part fermented ‘Federweisser’ in the Rheinhessen region on 6 August. This followed Germany’s hottest April since records began.

Germany too is optimistic about the size of the harvest and its quality, although some growers dealt with intense water shortages and were forced to irrigate on young vines.

Welcome rain

August’s rain has offered respite to some growers in Germany. Dr Ernst Loosen is an established grower in the Mosel region. He said: “After the rain of the past days, the berry size is increasing, and maturation is clearly noticeable and very advanced for this time of year.”

Before the rain this month, the ripening process had been slowed down by lack of water. Dr Loosen expects to start picking on 10 September, which is just one week before the normal date.

However, as grapes are ripening unevenly and at speed, this could make an intensively busy and pressured harvest season for producers. The window for harvesting perfect grapes is likely to be relatively small.

Overall, the heatwaves across northern Europe have certainly given a boost to wine growers and it will be a bumper year for many.

Why investors should back English sparkling wine

Due to rare positive side effects from global warming, English sparkling wine will be of higher quality than Champagne, according to Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

He said that vineyards across the UK are now being rated better quality than many French wineries, and that as the climate continues to change over the next few years, we could see an industry boom.

 

New normal

 

Mr Gove made these remarks at the BBC’s Countryfile Live event at Blenheim Palace recently, also saying that the 2018 summer heatwave could be ‘the new normal’. We could be saying goodbye forever to traditional summers blighted by grey skies and endless rain, and while that may not be great news for the long-term future, it’s certainly positive for English vineyards.

 

He did acknowledge that the sustained high temperatures were challenging for farmers but was keen to recognise the opportunities that the weather brings to UK wine growers. It’s clear that English wine can expect a bumper harvest this year, thanks to the super-hot conditions, and this is set to continue year on year.

 

Mr Gove said: “I was in East Sussex the weekend before last, talking to someone there who bought a farm, who has converted it into a highly successful business producing English sparkling wine. It’s been assessed independently as of higher quality and better tasting than the finest Champagne vineyards.”

 

New focus

 

The Government sees this burgeoning industry as something that “will soon bring a level of cheer to British drinkers greater than that provided by French champagne.” As we head towards a post-EU future, it’s clear that this industry is considered an important one for the UK’s future.

While the chalky soils of England have long been perfect for sparkling wine, the climate has never been right. Now that it’s warming, grapes are growing much more successfully. Established wine makers from France, such as Taittinger, have been quick to spot this and have begun planting vines across vast acres of the countryside.

 

Over the past year, UK wine producers planted a record-busting one million vines, which has bumped production up by two million bottles every year. Research commissioned last year showed that the predicted changes of temperature and rainfall in Britain could be set to create wine growing opportunities as far north as Edinburgh. Experts say that England could be one of the leading producers of wine in the world by 2100.

 

Taste challenge

 

Two years ago, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association carried out a blind tasting between English sparkling and some world-class Champagnes. Perhaps unexpectedly, the English wine won in two categories.

 

Jumping forward to this year at the Sommelier Wine Awards, English sparkling wine picked up more gold medals than Champagne for the first time ever. England took home seven golds, while Champagne only managed six, half the number they received in 2017.

 

Mr Gove is clear that farmers need to understand the new reality and adapt accordingly. He said: “We have to face the fact that there are particularly challenging circumstances this summer. We need to show a greater degree of flexibility. We need to think hard about what we can do to mitigate climate change but also how we adapt how we operate.

Scientists create ‘supergrapes’ to combat fungal attack on vineyards

Growing vines that are impervious to rot or any parasites is surely the dream for wine makers. And now, scientists in France have made that dream a reality by creating four supergrape varieties that they say need almost zero pesticides.

However, traditional vineyard owners say that the supergrapes could lead to lesser quality ‘Frankenstein’ wine in the future. This is because they mix grape genes from different regions and grow the creation in labs, therefore diluting the purity.

Visually identical

The white and red grapes currently growing at the National Institute of Agronomical Research in Colmar, France, look just the same as any other you’d see in the region. But they’re very different.

They’re grown the lab as part of an ongoing programme named “Resdur”, which aims to create grapes that are “durably resistant” to any kind of fungi, including the two that can destroy whole crops: powdery and downy mildew

Over the last few months, scientists at Inra have been given permission by the state to grow four different supergrapes. Named Araban, Floreal, Vidoc and Voltis, wines made from then will be bottled next year and in 2020.

Decades-long research

Growing grapes that are resistant to rot isn’t a new idea. First attempts to do so started in the 1970s when scientists singled out a resistant gene. Since then, Inra has identified three more by crossing European, Asian and American grapes.

The man in charge of Inra is called Didier Merdinoglu. He says that the grapes will allow winemakers to reduce pesticide use by up to a whopping 90%: “We are talking about dropping from an average of 15 treatments per year to one or two, above all to kill off other diseases and parasites.”

Environmental breakthrough

As 20% of all pesticide use in France is concentrated onto vineyards, even though wine grapes consist of just 3% of the country’s crops, researchers say that these new grapes could be an environmental breakthrough. It will also make growing grapes cheaper for the owner.

France is under increasing pressure to reduce pesticide use fast, after a number of cancer cases among vintners. However, some winemakers remain resistant to the idea of a supergrapes.

They say that grapes grown in the lab could decimate centuries of careful growing traditions that have melded European crops with the local soil, producing subtly different varieties of wine. They say that replacing cultivated grapes with cheaper, much more robust but artificially cultivated ones will mean wine lacks the quality and flavour of the existing regional varieties.

Not GM

These grapes aren’t genetically modified, but purists worry that crossing over different varieties from around the world will lead to “artificial and unnatural ‘Frankenstein wine’”. One said: “This is like crossing a monkey with a man: it may be technically possible, but it goes against nature.”

While that may well be hyperbole from a traditionalist, France must lower pesticide use somehow and it’s likely that this will be the fastest way to hit their targets.