Raymond Blake throws some light on those wines that challenge colour sterotypes – the ‘lesser’ styles from well-known regions – and encourages us to be colour blind when choosing our next tipple
When first offered a glass of Sancerre rouge, back in the mists of the last century, I was taken aback. There was no such thing. Didn’t everybody know Sancerre was a white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc? I was soon disabused of my ignorance by my wine merchant friend with whom I was staying at the time. Thereafter, I quickly developed a liking for this lighter rendition of Pinot Noir and, in time, for wines of the ‘other’ colour from regions whose fame rested on wines of a single colour.
The list goes on: white Beaujolais, white Rioja, white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, white Port, white Bordeaux… nearly always white, where the red sibling is the better known wine. It is difficult to say which is the least expected of these, perhaps Châteauneuf. The first time I spotted it on a wine list I was about to insist trenchantly that there must be some mistake when I remembered my red-faced Sancerre experience and luckily held my fire. More than anything else what the above list should encourage us to do is remove the blinkers when it comes to choosing and buying wines, force ourselves out of our comfort zone and try something new. Wine’s trump card, its greatest attraction, is the extraordinary diversity and variety to be found in it; we will only discover that by trying something new, in this case something of the opposite colour.
The trio listed below are wines of distinction and class, each an exciting example of how good the ‘lesser’ style from each region can be. Some might cavil at the inclusion of a dry white Bordeaux but I would argue that, while there is an ocean of the stuff produced in Entre-Deux-Mers, at the upper end Bordeaux is perhaps the best example of rigid pigeonholing in the wine world. All the attention falls on the classed growth red wines, which are well worthy of their place in the limelight, yet dry white Bordeaux, especially from the Graves, (those from the Médoc tend to be vanity projects with ludicrous prices) is one of the world’s least heralded great wine styles.
Despite developing a liking for many of the ‘other’ versions there is one, however, that I have never found appealing and that is white Port, which seems flabby and unctuous to my palate, although… when mixed with tonic and sipped with toasted almonds under a blazing sun in the Douro Valley all can be forgiven. The message is clear: when it comes to wine don’t be colour blind.
Where once most wines fitted into the binary categorization of white or red, with rosé as something of an afterthought, today there is another colour hollering for attention: orange. In some cases it is pale and wan, in others it is burnished and rich, in all it is definitely not white, not red and not rosé. In short, it is wine made from white grapes handled in roughly the same fashion as red grapes, in other words by retaining the skins and pips throughout the fermentation so that colour and flavour is extracted from them. It is difficult to generalise, but orange wines tend to be fuller in flavour, with more body and grip than whites but less density of flavour than reds. They are still niche and a bit quirky but they are probably here to stay.
THREE TO TRY
Château de Malle, ‘M’ de Malle, Graves 2014
Château de Malle is a splendid old property dating from the 17th century, which has been owned by a single family since then and which today is classified as a historic monument. It was also listed in the 1855 classification of Sauternes and, in common with many other Sauternes châteaux, it now produces a dry white wine from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. This one is a treat, a bewitching combination of the two grapes that boasts boundless fruit, tingling acidity and mouthwatering length on the finish.
Domaine Bailly-Reverdy, Sancerre 2012
This domaine dates from the marriage of Bernard Bailly and Marie-Thérèse Reverdy in 1952 and, while white wines dominate production, it takes it red seriously too. This wine is all about fruit, fruit and more fruit, principally raspberries and strawberries. There is little of the spicy/gamey/leathery notes found in more robust Pinot’s from the Côte d’Or but that is not to say it is lacking, it is simply lighter and more singular. Serve it slightly cool to emphasise the crispness.
Domaine Chante Cigale, Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2016
Red Châteauneuf is one of the most ‘serious’ of wines, full-bodied and full-throttled, with a lavish texture and notes of sweet spice and, just in case you didn’t get the message, the bottles are usually adorned with labels of baroque complexity, laden with all sorts of cyphers and escutcheons. This label is noticeably bereft of such ornamentation and the wine itself, while mouthfilling, is elegant, with exotic floral scents, ripe tropical fruit and a mild mineral cut. Thinking ahead – it would match well with the turkey dinner.