Take time to savour a sip of the world’s best wines

SO Drinks Editor James Viner raises a glass to celebrate Global Drink Wine Day, this Sunday February 18 – an all-inclusive wine appreciation day held annually…

ARE you stuck in a wine-drinking rut? ‘Dry January’ has passed and ‘damper’ February is now here. It’s still one of the coldest, darkest months of the year, so you’ll need a tasty warming tipple every once in a while. If you’re a wine drinker, this is also the perfect time to explore new options. Nowadays more unusual wines are on sale everywhere and there has never been a better time to explore new options. Try these ahead of Global Drink Wine Day on February 18…

1. Morrisons The Best Negroamaro 2022, Cantine San Marzano co-op, Apulia, Italy (£8.50, buy 6 save 25% until February 14, Morrisons)

Pick up this hearty winter warmer made from Negroamaro (‘dark bitter’ in Italian) in fertile Apulia, on the ‘heel’ of Italy, when you’re next in Morrisons. It’s on a multi-buy offer until Valentine’s Day and immediately leaps out of the glass with aromas of plums, black cherries and damsons, plus a whiff of liquorice, prune and dried herbs. Tannin plays an unexceptional role but the rich black flavours hold good shape from start to end. An altogether easy-swigging, high street Apulian red with an upfront, rustic honesty that’s probably better with a light chill, too. Perfect with a midweek pasta puttanesca, lamb tagine or lasagne. Salute!

2. Domaine Maby, Tavel Cuvée Prima Donna Rosé 2022, Rhône, France (£14.50, The Wine Society)

If you enjoy drinking rosé wines but are not particularly fond of pale pink variations, especially during this season, then you should give this amazing release a try. Rosé has become the go-to drink in France, and I love drinking it during winter, especially the more robust variants. Tavel was established in 1936 as one of France’s pioneering AOCs and is unusual in that it produces only rosé wines. This gently tannic, characterful, fresh, scarlet-coloured, herbal, red-fruit-forward Cinsault-Grenache rosé is a winner with garlicky, French Mediterranean dishes. The bright flavours and finish loiter, as does the desire to pour another glass. A treat with slow roast leg of lamb with ratatouille.

3. Stopham Estate Pinot Blanc 2022, West Sussex, England (£15.95, Stopham Vineyard, stophamvineyard.co.uk)

There’s life beyond Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – easily England’s top two most widely planted grape varieties – and real gratification to be found among neglected wine grape varieties in this comparatively embryonic (especially for still examples) wine-producing country. As tastes ebb and flow, unsung grapes arise from the shade. Step in Stopham Estate and Pinot Blanc, a white mutation of Pinot Noir. Seize this layered, pure and precise example from a six-hectare estate established in 2007 by Simon Woodhead, formerly an engineer who designed sensors for McLaren F1 cars, near Pulborough, West Sussex. It’s brimming with pink grapefruit, pear and lemon blossom with hints of gooseberry, honeydew melon, lime and fennel. A beautifully constituted wine and a joy to drink. Try it with smoked fish. Finishes long and fine. Chapeau Simon, Marie, Adderley and team.

4. Equipo Navazos, I Think Amontillado, DO Montilla-Moriles, Spain (£21.95-£23, The Whisky Exchange & Drinkmonger, 37.5cl)

Fancy an artisanal, world-class, half bottle of Spanish wine? Nab this irresistible, crisp, salty Amontillado from Andalusian DOP Montilla-Moriles (located northeast of coastal Jerez de la Frontera, the centre of the sherry industry in southwest Spain) made from 100% Pedro Ximénez. It has beguiling notes of lemon rind, sea spray, smoke, vanilla, caramel, roasted hazelnuts and distinctly savoury, umami edges. Such a classy, elegant bottle – and quite ridiculous value for such a complex, dry, long oak-aged, unfortified Spanish wine treasure (the wine is around 17 years of average age). Outstanding drinking with each sniff bringing a new sensory encounter.

Fabulous, vivid, exclusive kit from Alliance Wines who collaborated with Jesús Barquín and distinguished sherry winemaker Eduardo Ojeda of specialist independent bottlers Equipo Navazos. Don’t hold back. Grab it while you can – only 486 litres were withdrawn to fill 1296 units, 37.5cl each. One for raw oysters, aged Manchego and spicy Asian cuisine.

5. Paul Jaboulet Aîné Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage 2015 (£29.99 mix 6, Majestic)

Crozes-Hermitage is northern Rhône’s largest appellation, producing mainly red wines made solely from Syrah. It offers many great bargains, especially in exceptional vintages (the celebrated vineyards of Hermitage, which it surrounds, produce far pricier wines). Paul Jaboulet Aîné is an iconic grower merchant based in Tain, in the department of Drôme, and this vintage is outstanding! Think black olives, blue and black fruits, plus sweet spice. Organic, stylish and structured, this is an outstanding wine to complement pheasant, roast duck/pork/lamb/beef. Ready to turn heads and win the hearts of lovers of full-bodied reds. It is delectable now but will age gracefully.

6. Charles Heidsieck, Blanc des Millénaires 2007 Blanc de Blancs Champagne, France (£170-£174.99, The Finest Bubble & The Wine Reserve)

Thanks to the virtually matchless, unswervingly high quality of its wines, Charles Heidsieck is one of the most revered, traditional Grand Marque Champagne houses. This stunner, their fêted prestige cuvée, is an all- Chardonnay champagne masterpiece that has benefitted from more than 12 years on its lees (it was disgorged in July 2021). Just seven vintages of this rare, peerless blanc de blancs champagne – crafted from the best Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs, including four Grand Crus and one Premier Cru – have been made. It’s finely textured, spectacularly satisfying and redolent of candied stone fruits, almonds and lemon meringue pie with quince and a soupçon of smoke, buttered toast and lemon curd. The finish is as persistent as it is attractively (slightly) salty. Take a bow former cellar master Cyril Brun, this is a stellar achievement! Gorgeous drinking with lots more to come.

Happy #DrinkWineDay!

Follow James on Instagram @QuixoticWines

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