Oz has picked his three favourite wines to try this spring, including a homegrown fizz, a white from Crete and a lush red from Argentina’s Mendoza region.
Greyfriars Blanc de Blancs, Brut, England
Lea & Sandeman, £24.95
If you’re driving south on the A3, you’ll embark on a long climb just past Guildford and then burst out onto a glorious view away towards the South Downs. Then take the right turn, along the Hog’s Back, which is an inspiring high ridge with more uplifting views across to the hills, both north and south.
But if you don’t look downwards you will be missing the best view of all – the billowing rows of vines that Greyfriars have planted, snuggled beneath the Hog’s Back ridge, angled to the south, soaking up every ray of Surrey sunshine that comes.
Greyfriars Vineyard makes several sparklers, but this fizz, in particular, is a cracker. It comes from the Estate’s Chardonnay grapes and is fuller, rounder, creamier and nuttier than most English fizz, because they ferment and age the wine in oak barrels before giving the wine its bubbles. You still get the mouthwatering, crisp acidity of England, but it is married with a rich softness like lemon curd smeared on warm brioche.
Lyrarakis ‘Voila’ Assyrtiko, Greece 2016
I’ve become a big fan of Greek white wines over the last few years – some of them have been bracingly snappy, some have been hauntingly scented – but none of them came from the island of Crete. Indeed, when I’ve visited Crete I’ve usually ended up on Campari & soda.
But then I discovered the Lyrarakis family. They’ve planted a whole range of exciting grape varieties (some of them virtually extinct), in a high, cool valley in central Crete, and they are transforming the reputation of the island.
Assyrtiko is a grape that makes volcanic, haughty, pithy wines on the sparse, lava-strewn landscape of Santorini. It obviously does just as well in Crete, because this is packed with apple flavours like the best farm apple juice you could buy, the acidity is just enough to make your gums shiver politely in anticipation, and there’s a lingering taste of the island, as though someone had sprinkled a few grains of rock dust into your glass.
Viñalba Reserva de la Familia Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina
Argentine Malbec has become one of the most reliably juicy, lush, fruit-crammed reds that money can buy (and not for all that much money, either). Even bargain basement Malbec tastes reasonably good. But this one is definitely not bargain basement – it’s just fantastically good value – a very different matter altogether.
Mendoza’s vineyards sweep away from the mighty Andes for miles, and they can get pretty hot. But there is a hidden valley that creeps up towards the mountains, getting ever colder the higher you go, even though the sun still shines relentlessly. This is the Uco Valley.
And this is where Viñalba grow their Malbec grapes. The cool conditions mean that the grapes retain a mouthwatering, crunchy cranberry skin freshness, while the sun ripens the dark fruit to scented raspberry and red plum spiciness, just dabbed with a hint of the rocky vineyard soil the grapes were grown in.