Wine: Spring in a bottle
Published 10/04/2010 | 05:00
Wines can have their season. Winter warmers are the big, full-bodied reds that provide comfort on a chilly night, while uncomplicated, fruity whites hit the spot on a sunny summer's afternoon.
There's a lot in between, and today I'm celebrating what I'll term spring whites. Actually, they may be enjoyed anytime, anywhere, but they have a balance, weight and definition that have the feel of a good spring day.
Importantly for palates that have enjoyed lots of gutsy reds over a very long winter, they provide a new set of bearings for the tastebuds.
Stand up Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, once dubbed the three 'noble' white-grape varieties -- they have a reputation built on their ability to make fine wine.
From their spiritual homes in France and Germany they produced benchmark styles that encouraged a world full of wannabes, some of which, it must be said, are new classics, such as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Australian Riesling.
But what helped to forge their original identity was the link with the right terroir -- the mix of soil, site aspect and climate that allows a grape to deliver a full expression of its integrity and complexity in the glass.
Chablis is the Chardonnay that everyone loves, borne out of chalky, fossil-rich soils in France's Burgundy.
Further south, on its Côte d'Or, Chardonnay produces a different classic -- with a warmer, oak-influenced character -- but the generally unoaked Chablis is characterised by a bracing steeliness. Beware though, its popularity has spawned some flabby also-rans.
Although part of Burgundy, Chablis stands isolated on its northern fringe on soils that have much in common with the Loire Valley, to its west. Here, Sauvignon Blanc has been the white king since long before a vine was planted in New Zealand.
Sauvignon Blanc too has an affinity with these soils, and around Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé -- home of the two Loire white stars -- there is added interest from other deposits, including a flint known as silex.
Riesling is Germany's white czar, the slate soils of its vertiginous and relatively cool Mosel Valley producing an ethereal white which has not been reproduced successfully anywhere.
Elsewhere in Germany, Riesling does it a bit differently on other soils, producing wines with the same thrilling poise, if weightier than the Mosel.