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My sons Rory and Ewan don’t live at home any more, but we meet about once a week, usually either at my house or their dad’s. Yes, a little unusual, but since our divorce my ex and I have been keen to stay friends and enjoy fairly regular family meals with our boys. Good food and drink was always important in our house (both sons are now working as chefs in London – Rory at Moro and Ewan at the Laughing Heart), and it’s a joy to continue sharing those pleasures. What’s especially delicious is when one of them cooks. I love it when I’ve started the food prep and then a son swings in and says, ‘Oh Mum, just relax and fix the drinks – I’ll take over now.’ I don’t have to be told twice.
I used to be a red-only girl in my youth, but over the years I’ve been lucky enough to be introduced to better quality whites, and am now at the point where I’ll usually favour a white over a red, particularly to kick off a meal. At the beginning of my relationship with white wine, I was a massive fan of sauvignon blanc, particularly from New Zealand. I must have overdone it because now I can’t stand the stuff – even the smell turns my stomach – and have reached the point of requesting people not to bring it to my house. I’ve even put my friend Alison off it!
The phrase blithely uttered from so many mouths when a glass of wine is ordered, ‘ABC – anything but chardonnay’, drives me quite mad. One of my friends came out with it recently in a wine bar. I asked her if she would like a Chablis instead… yes, she replied, that would be fine. Well, I didn’t exactly wipe the floor with her, but gently explained that in fact Chablis is made from the chardonnay grape, and is a far cry from the leaden, oaky, headache-inducing stuff from the New World.
It was a lightbulb moment for her when she realised this, and now she’s an out and proud chardonnay drinker (and hopefully spreading the good news to others).
Both sons prefer red wine over white or rosé (mind you, I’ve yet to witness them pass up a glass of champagne). And of course, in the absence of any red, they would somehow manage to get a white over their throats.
The good news is that through working in quality restaurants they are exposed to good wines, and so both of them are slowly, slowly beginning to appreciate bottles of a different hue from red. Over the past few (hot) weeks they’ve enjoyed 2015 The Foundry Grenache Blanc (£14), a full-bodied, rich and creamy (but not too forceful) white from Stellenbosch.
The boys’ dad is a big Riesling fan so they’ve tried a few over the years and were very complimentary about 2015 Fritz’s Riesling, Gunderloch (£10). Fresh and citrusy, they declared, and both agreed that it would pair well with spicy snacks.
I kept as a birthday treat for Rory a bottle of 2014 Sonoma County Seghesio Zinfandel (£23). It’s a biggie – 15 percent – and right up my boys’ alley: juicy, dark and fruity. Full-bodied with lots of elegance, it ticked their boxes big-time.
The history of Sicily, due to its location at a naval crossroads in the mediterranean, encompasses every empire and colonising urge, from the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, British and now the Italians.
‘We were the bread basket of the empire,’ explained bitterly one wine family scion, Vito Planeta.
On this trip, I was with 85 journalists from all over the world, the majority of whom were wine experts. Some had very specific interests: one international journalist only covered Italian wine, no other region. Very few came from the UK:
The winemakers were all delightful: warm, friendly, generous, happy to share their knowledge. As were the sommeliers from the Associazione Italiana Somelier, impressively dressed in black frock coats, white shirt and black bow tie, with silver ‘tastevin’ or tasting cup hanging down on a heavy metal rather ‘mayoral’ chain. They guided my tasting choices and I got to taste some truly incredible wines.
En primeur means ‘at the beginning’. You taste very good but very young wines and the idea is to predict how good they will be in a few years time. It’s the wine version of a ‘futures’ market.
It was only around 35 years ago that a new wave of winemakers and cantines started to improve and produce fine wines in Sicily. The wine industry, as in much of Europe, was devastated by the phylloxera wipe-out in the mid-19th century. From that era until the 1980s/90s, the regional wines were either ordinary table wines or had been used to bulk out mainland Italian wines.
In the old days Grillo wine used to be be yellow, oxidised and full-bodied: winemakers struggled to control the fermentation. But now Grillo is growing in popularity as a dry white wine.
This winery also benefits from a beautiful shop, restaurant (incredible olive oil) and cellar while boasting one of the few female winemakers in Sicily, Maria Carella.
I tried Etna Rosato ’17, Etna Bianco ’16 (sour apple, crisp, stainless steel tank), Rovitello Etna Rosso ’16 (raspberries and vanilla yoghurt), Serra della Contessa Etna Rosso ’12 (gravelly, tannins), Rivottello Etna Rosso ’14 (cherry, field blend, grown at 500m).
Our group then took a hovercraft boat to the islands, stopping off at Stromboli and the marvellously named Vulcano, which, even at the docks, smelled strongly of the sulphuric fumes from the volcano and onto the dreamy and fragrant island of Salina.
Salina is the greenest of the volcanic islands around Sicily. I stayed at the 5 star hotel, Tenuta Capofaro owned by the Tasca wine family. The view from my room was magical: I had a lighthouse in my front garden, which was lit at night, strobing the sea, Stromboli puffing away a few miles in the distance.
For the second half of the trip, we stayed in Palermo, at The Centrale Palace, all pink marble floors and a wonderful roof terrace. We were taken to restaurants, there were dinners, walking tours, masterclasses in wine and a conference.
‘What is your most expensive wine?’
Vito Planeta, the eldest son in the Planeta family. His younger brother Alessio is in charge of the wine, while Vito makes money playing online poker for large stakes. Vito is one of those people who knows everything: from Roman history to how to use different aubergines to Corbynista politics. I thought he was pretty fanciable and wouldn’t it be fantastic to have Planeta as a surname! (Practise scribbling Mrs Kerstin Planeta…)
‘It’s Sicily,’ he shrugged. ‘Forty years ago we were the capital of the mafia, now we are the capital of food and wine.’
Jealous? Intrigued? Want to book a flight right now? I don’t blame you. But you can get a hint of what I experienced on my trip by ordering Winetrust’s Sicilian selection:
They say love is at the root of everything and nowhere is that more true than with the story of Creation Wines and the people behind the brand - husband and wife team Jean-Claude and Carolyn Martin. The success story is seated not just in their love for each other, but in their love of wine and the wine industry.
Together they have created a winery from scratch; from buying land on a lofty ridge in South Africa, just 9km from the Atlantic Ocean, to planting vines, building a cellar and tasting room and developing their wine style. Now, 16 years after they began their labour of love, there are 14 different Creation Wines in the portfolio and many awards under their belt. Creation Wines is well and truly a success.
Jean-Claude (JC) was 14 when he worked his first harvest on his family’s vineyards on the banks of Lake Bienne in Switzerland. Carolyn - who had developed a career in design and marketing - has her own wine lineage. She was born and bred in the Cape Winelands, a member of the pioneering wine family Finlayson. When they married in 1999 JC and Carolyn lived in Switzerland but a visit to South Africa in 2002 changed everything. Carolyn explains: “We visited Hermanus and stayed with my uncle Peter Finlayson, who showed us the land. Peter was the first winemaker to plant chardonnay and pinot noir in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. JC comes from three generations of winemaking in Switzerland also specialising in chardonnay and pinot noir.”
Because of that background, JC was drawn by the prospect of growing quality grapes at 300m above sea level. The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is within the Walker Bay region, a maritime-influenced district known for elegant chardonnay and pinot noir wine.
Together - and with the help of family - the Martins decided to establish the winery on virgin land, with no infrastructure. It was certainly a challenge which has paid off.
Carolyn explains the essence of their name: “The name Creation is not only a tribute to the riches Mother Nature has bestowed upon our farm, it is also a reference to the soils which had never been planted to vine before, and last, but not least, it is a promise of constant renewal. “There are few places in the world where one can plant such a variety of cultivars and that is due to our cool climate at Creation. We can prune and harvest these cultivars in a relaxed way without extreme weather conditions.” JC’s winemaking philosophy is based on “enhancing the beauty of nature”. He says: “When you are harvesting top quality fruit it is not necessary to manipulate the wine. Rather guide it gently through the winemaking process so as to preserve the sense of place. "Winemaking is a delicate art requiring restraint to capture the inherent nuances.”
When I told a handful of wine chums that I was reviewing Creation Wines, the view from all quarters was “amazing wines”. I have to agree.
Here’s my thoughts on eight Creation Wines. I also asked Carolyn, who has pioneered wine and food pairing options for visitors to their estate, for her reflections on each wine.
Creation Wines Viognier 2017 (£14.50)
Ah, this is creme fraiche with an excitement of peach and apricot. The stone fruit aromas are so enticing; fresh, fresh, fresh as if there’s a bowl of newly-picked golden fruits right in front of you. There’s a frisson of spice - perhaps a dash of five-spice - which tickles the senses. The palate is inviting, as those same fresh fruits add more layers to your enjoyment. They’re not all encompassing but elegant and totally in balance with a good acidity. Together they create a delicious integrated wine with a flavour which persists..
Carolyn says: Very beautiful aromatics of white peaches and cream, delicious natural acidity and a great apero wine as well as perfect with Asian food with a little spice.
Creation Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (£15.50)
This wine has a fleck of green within its lemony depths and a nose dip brings a flash of hedgerow and grass. It’s keen and bright, like a wet hedgerow, glistening and fresh on a spring morning within a snap of sharp, flinty spring sunlight. But what’s this? Ah yes, succulent and juicy tropical passion fruit adds a richness on the nose. The palate is balanced by crisp citrus and tropical notes, with a vibrant acidity and a long fruity finish.
Carolyn says: Fab with sushi and sashimi as it is grown on clay. It has a good mid palate and can withstand soya, ginger and wasabi. In fact, a beautiful pairing with these foods.
Creation Wines Sauvignon Blanc | Semillon 2016 (£16.50)
There’s a subtle caress of vanilla on this wine’s aroma, but it is the fruit that makes a statement. Sauvignon blanc and semillon is a traditional Bordeaux blend and here the fruit opens up in layers, with ripe tropical fruit leading from the front. Citrus is persistent, giddy and excitable in the background. There’s a sense of place, of elegance, of an understated “knowing” richness which comes from 30% new oak and some lees contact. Oh, hang on, I’ve just picked up a twist of lime and a dash of salt - it’s certainly a wine of contrasts.
Carolyn says: It has all the aromatics of SB and then some fresh Atlantic seabreeze characteristics from Semillon. Great with seafood and oysters, asparagus, artichokes.
Creation Wines Chardonnay 2017 (£19.50)
This is a perfection of chardonnay with limited new oak which has taken on the soul of lightly toasted pineapple, butter and vanilla. It has been created with a delicacy of touch which encourages those oaky nuances to sing, but a chorus line of zingy citrus and ripe notes of quince and pear are in fuller voice on the palate and combine in unison. The acidity hits the perfect pitch and together this is a wine in perfect harmony.
Carolyn says: Fresh notes and characteristics of the superb quality of the grapes. Fab food pairing wine, the queen of whites, very elegant.
Creation Wines Syrah | Grenache 2016 (£20)
This is a deep, deep red colour but not quite full-bodied as I can just about see the base of the glass when I look down into the wine. The aromas are potent. I’m sitting here now, the glass is over there and I’m over here (trust me) and the fruit cloud of blackberry and plum are reaching me. A nose-dip into the glass reveals a sweeter vein of strawberry and a veritable spark of pepper. Black olives weave their way into this aroma bomb, together with herbs (perhaps a flirt with mint). In the mouth the pepper dazzles, the fruit plays its part, the tannins are integrated and the acidity is cleansing.
Carolyn says: A perfect match of two cultivars for me the yin and yang of blends. The cool climate produces aromatic wine with lovely, fruit, spice and umami. Since the wine has a good natural acidity it is a great food wine.
Creation Wines Pinot Noir 2017 (£22)
Raspberry is ripe in this glass of pinot noir, with black pepper spice tingling and tempting. The fruit aromas cradle a gentler note of violets and redcurrant, with just a nod to something earthier. This isn’t a pinot noir which is shy and retiring, it is a pinot noir which is proud, fruitily fulsome and confident but still retains the essence of an elegant pinot noir. In the mouth, the wine is as silky and velvety as a puppy’s ear (if you know what I mean) with soft tannins and red fruit flavours and spice. Those notes are decidedly determined to stay as a memory long after your last sip.
Carolyn says: A cooler growing season with little rainfall, this resulted in a longer hang time between flowering and picking. It gave us very elegant flavour profiles/acidity and is a beautifully balanced product.
Creation Wines Reserve Pinot Noir 2016, (£34)
I don’t know what to say, other than amazing. Sometimes its wrong to taste test a wine solo, especially one such as this. As we had a little something to celebrate, I poured a taster each for me and my daughter (don’t fret, she’s old enough you know). What followed was this stream of adjectives. Summer pudding; damsons; cake; vanilla. Oh there were many more. It is a wonderful wine rich with red and black fruits, softened with that vanilla and sparked with black pepper and clove. There’s also a nuance of violets on the nose and together all those aromas (before I’d even tasted) had my mouth watering. Soft tannins, a long finish and good acidity seals the deal.
Carolyn says: 16 was a slightly warmer drier year, we picked the grapes a week earlier and could maintain a good natural acidity, berry size was slightly smaller. This gave us a good flavour concentration and a well structured elegant pinot noir.
Creation Wines Elation MMC 2014 (£40)
This sparkling wine has a wonderful nose of rich, ripe apples and conference pear, embraced by caramel and a rumour of baking spice. There’s subtlety too, as a swirl of the glass releases a secret of flowers but then vanilla, brioche and dried fruits confidently nudge the floral notes to one side and take centre stage. The wine is brut nature, which means no added sugar was added after disgorgement (when the lees is removed from the bottle after the second fermentation). Sugar isn’t needed though, as a bright crisp acidity and those wonderful rich fruits coat the mouth and excite the palate.
Carolyn says: This is 80/20 chardonnay and pinot noir with three years in the bottle before disgorgement. A wonderful palate cleanser and natural MCC (method cap classique, same as traditional way of making champagne). It’s a great way to start and end the day!
America saved Europe. Not only in the two world wars but further back, in the 19th century, when European vineyards were devastated by phylloxera. Vines that had been exported to America, which were immune to the bug, were brought back to Europe and planted. Then European vines were grafted onto the American rootstock. So thanks to America, the European wine industry was rescued.
The turning point for American wine in Europe was in 1976 at the famous 'Judgement of Paris' when the USA won first prize for both red and white wines in a blind tasting held by the most distinguished wine experts in France. This was an incredible shock. Suddenly countries from all over the world were buoyed - they too could produce wine which would compete at the highest level.
The film 'Bottle Shock' (clip above) starring Alan Rickman and Chris Pine is an entertaining account of this.
I've been a big fan of American wines since the 1980s when Ernesto and Julio Gallo wines in carafes were all the rage. They were pioneers in advertising wine on TV. Do any readers remember the ad with music by Vangelis?
It can be difficult to get good American wines in this country, but whenever I have an opportunity I try to taste them.
WineTrust has a few American wines on its books. Let's not forget that North America includes Canada and Mexico. I visited Canada around three years ago, tasted wines from around the Niagara Falls area and was extremely impressed.
'Why don't you export more wines to Britain?' I asked.
'It's too expensive in import duties.'
'But Australia and New Zealand manage to do it,' I said.
I hope post-Brexit that we will see more Canadian and American wines. I attended an event in London this week at Billingsgate market and tasted some very good Canadian wines. At the moment the yield is too small compared to Australia and New Zealand for export but this is bound to change.
What to match with American food?
Burgers: people always think 'beer' but a light red such as a Pinot Noir would work well with a cheeseburger. Keep it yankee by choosing the Small Hours bottle.
Hot Dogs: an Argentinian fruity rosé or, to push the boat out, an American sparkling rosé.
Pizza: a full-bodied red is perfect for pizza. The gorgeous Zinfandel mentioned below, for instance.
Mac n' cheese: to cut through the cheese, the South African Botanic created by American Ginny Poval would be extremely quaffable.
Caesar salad: this great American salad, invented by Caesar Cardini, is creamy, crisp and fishy. Dry white or sparkling would set these flavours off marvellously, such as the Brut Roederer Estate Quartet, Anderson Valley.
Pancakes: it's hard to imagine a wine that goes with American-style breakfast pancakes. But Andrew Quady Essensia would probably be delightful: a light, not too sweet, mildly effervescent pale orange dessert wine.
Winetrust 100's North American collectionRED2015 Folk Machine 'The Small Hours' Pinot Noir £23
Organic, bio-dynamic, natural.
I'd love to visit this small winery. It's very surfer dude: the wine maker is former surf bum Kenny Likitprakong, a native Californian. However most of the grapes for this wine are not grown by him, rather collected from local farmers, hence his company name 'Hobo'.
Tasting notes: "Damson velvet"
2014 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel £23
Zinfandel is often considered to be the Primitivo grape. Primitivo is my favourite wine so this was right up my street.
Tasting notes: Raspberry, black cherry, fruit flavours. Liquorice, light tannins, long finish
WHITE2015 Botanica 'Mary Delany' collection Semillon. £22
While this is a South Africa wine, from near Stellenboch, the designer is a self-taught American, Ginny Poval. This extraordinary New Yorker visited South Africa in 2008 and was thinking about buying the farm. Her car got stuck in the mud and she asked one of the farm labourers to help out. Within minutes, all the workers on the farm came to her aid. Gratified by this communal feeling, she bought the farm.
Her first project was to create a self-build community amongst the workers so that they could construct together their own homes. They all got time off to help each build. Now they are home owners with high-quality houses. The label is gorgeous, from a work by 18th century botanist illustrator Mary Delany.
Tasting notes: Minerally, clean, fresh
FIZZRoederer Estate Quartet, Anderson Valley California, Brut NV £28
This Californian sparkling wine has so much character and personality.
Tasting notes: Biscuity, pear, croissants, fine bubbles
Roederer Estate Quartet Rosé, Anderson Valley California, Brut NV £28
Same thing but in pink! I took this on a cruise to Madeira with me but saved it for a sunny evening on the cabin balcony overlooking dolphins jumping through the waves as we left port.
Tasting notes: Smooth, a touch sweeter than the white
SWEET2014 Inniskillin riesling Icewine (Half Bottle)
Tasting notes: Honey, almost mead-like with a thread of lemon. "Like a packet of Lockets," said my brother.
"Peachy candy floss," murmured my sister-in-law.
2014 Andrew Quady Essensia £11.95
From California, this is one of my favourite Winetrust wines. Serve chilled.
Tasting notes: Floral, orange blossom, refreshing
Give North American wines a go - you'll discover a whole new world.
“A delightful Champagne, fresh and harmonious, offering peach, lemon cake, tobacco and toast notes. It’s vibrant and elegant, with a lingering, chalky finish.” Bruce Sanderson, The Wine Spectator
[caption id="attachment_24796" width="185"] Ayala Brut Millésimé[/caption]
2006 Ayala Brut Millésimé, Champagne, France (with gift box)
Ayala was one of the original eighteen “Grandes Marques’ Champagne houses and has a unique history. It dates back to 1860 when Edmond de Ayala received the magnificent Château as the dowry for his wedding. Edmond’s brother Fernand then settled in London in order to build sales. He became a close friend of the Prince of Wales, who enjoyed Champagne but found it too sweet. So Ayala released its special “drier”1865 vintage especially for the Prince, thus creating the modern era of “dry Champagne."
Situated in the heart of the Marne district of Champagne, in the famous Grand Cru village of Aÿ. Ayala was acquired by near neighbour Bollinger in 2005, whose investments in the vineyards and winery are now bearing fruit in the Champagnes of Ayala, confirming their place as one of the leading producers today. Aÿ is the capital of Pinot Noir and this noble grape is always central, thus ensuring the wine's vinosity.
Millésimé compliments a variety of dishes such as chicken, game birds, grilled fish and particularly hard cheeses such as Comté and Parmesan.
£50 per bottle
"Blindingly good cool climate Syrah from one of Chile’s most acclaimed producers. What makes this wine so special? Well, there’s the exquisitely poised and prolific blackberry fruit, superbly seasoned with a touch of spearmint and a well judged twist of black pepper and savoury cigarbox. And don’t overlook the lush, granular tannins and energising acidity. Gorgeous." John Stimpfig, Decanter Magazine2014 Casas del Bosque Syrah Pequeñas Producciones, Casablanca, Chile
Casas del Bosque was founded in 1993 by Juan Cuneo Solari and was one of the first wineries in the Casablanca Valley. Today it is still owned and managed by the same family - and they have acquired around 245 hectares of vines in Santa Rosa district, on the west side of the Casablanca Valley. Plantings include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Carmenère and Pinot Noir - all drip irrigated from subterranean wells.
The Casas del Bosque philosophy is based on the constant search for excellence, aligned to the finest expression of each grape variety’s character and sense of place. Winemaker Grant Phelps is a Kiwi by birth but has been in charge at Casas del Bosque for over 13 years, following project spells in Oregon, California, Loire Valley, Australia and Argentina! He is rightly considered as one of the leading winemakers in the country, which with four listings at WineTrust we would happily endorse.
Casablanca Valley, close to the Pacific coast, was Chile's first genuine 'cool climate' area, heralding a new wave of fresh, lively, modern styles, particularly Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Single vineyard selection planted between 1993 and 2008 on the eastern side of Casablanca Valley at an altitude of nearly 800 feet.
Great with smoked cheeses, lamb, pork and red meats in general.
Casas del Bosque has twice been awarded the Chilean producer of the year by IWSC, in 2013 and 2014.
£20 per bottle
This historic family estate can be traced all the way back to the 12th century; vineyards and cellar facilities then owned by a Benedictine Abbey were administrated by a man named Moser – a certified ancestor.
In more recent times, the name is perhaps more famously associated with Dr. Lenz Moser, a renowned viticulturist who developed the high training system for vines in the 1950s. Sepp Moser founded the modern-day estate in 1987 and having passed on responsibility to his son, Nikolaus, continues a long family legacy.
Neusiedlersee is highly regarded for the production of Zweigelt grapes. A stone’s throw away from Hungary, breezes provide warmth from the hot Pannonian Plain to the east and this warming influence allows varieties such as Zweigelt to thrive, producing bright, intense and fruity wines.
Vineyards are farmed organically and biodynamically with grapes harvested by hand.
£9.95 per bottle
Let's face it. When you're tired after a long day, the best short-cut dinner is pasta with some kind of sauce.
This is the go-to easy meal in our household for filling up tummies. When my daughter was a toddler, she stayed with my parents for a weekend and they reported that she asked for 'red' dinner or 'green' dinner - it was either tomato sauce or pesto sauce. This slightly puts me to shame in terms of variety of home cooking... But then most chefs live on hummus.
The chef in me recommends that people make their own sauces from scratch. It takes scarcely any more time than a jarred sauce (it can take the same amount of time as the pasta to cook) and tastes so much better. I've made tomato sauce so many times that I can make 'red' pasta with my eyes shut.
At the very least, you must pimp the ready-made ones, so often bland and sweet, by adding a few fresh tomatoes and a minced clove of garlic or, in the case of pesto, some olive oil, extra pine nuts and shavings of Parmesan.
If you can't even be bothered to do that, there are even easier options: crème fraîche and smoked salmon; grated cheese; or simply butter.
That's the great thing about pasta - you can cater to your precise levels of laziness.
Like pizza, the wine matching refers to the sauce not the pasta, which is merely the carrier for the sauce. But please use good pasta, not quick cook.
I categorise pasta sauces into five families, each of which requires a different wine matching:
1) Tomato - includes napoletana, bolognese, amatriciana, puttanesca and arabiata
2) Creamy - includes smoked salmon with crème fraîche, macaroni cheese, cacio e pepe, alfredo
3) Herby - includes pesto and greens such as orecchiette with cime de rapa
4) Fishy - includes vongole, tuna
1) Tomato sauces:
The basic tomato sauce, often referred to as Napolitana or Marinara, is so simple. But it is amenable to many variations - I can't think of a single ingredient that wouldn't work in a tomato sauce. From bolognese and pasta alla norma to puttanesca and amatriciana, tomatoes are slightly acidic and require a full-bodied red to really complement their flavour. My wine suggestions include my favourite 'Primitivo', the Italian classic wines such as Valpolicella and Chianti.
Probably my favourite wine on the winetrust site, Primitivo is a southern Italian grape with high sugars and a wild berry flavour. Try this prize-winning Primitivo di Manduria Riserva 62 - a little bit pricey at £25 but you won't regret it.
This Talo Primitivo di manduria DOC cantine San Marzano is half the price at £12.95, but delivers dark fruits and boldness. It's even named after one of Italy's best tomatoes, the one that all the chefs use in their 'sumo', San Marzano. What grows together, goes together.
Beloved of all Italian trattorias, a Chianti (in a straw bottle) is a classic with any tomato-based sauce. Winetrust stock a mid-priced Fontodi Chianti Classico for £20 made from 100% Sangiovese, Italy's most popular grape.
If you want to really splash out on the Sangiovese grape, get the £95 bottle of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva San Polo. I haven't tried it. Winetrust have so far declined to send it to me for 'tasting' (sob). It's reported to be really special. I can't think of a better meal than to drink this Brunello with a simple tomato, garlic and olive oil sauced spaghetti, using the very best tomatoes Sapori di Corbara (£6 a jar) and the best pasta such as Pastificio dei Campi or De Cecco. In fact, I think that would be my death row meal.
A valpolicella, using the Corvino grape, is a bit lighter than Primitivo or Chianti unless it is double fermented such as the Torre d'Orti Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso, £15 which adds extra depth and punch.
I'm growing to love Portuguese wines and I feel this Alianca Bairrada Reserva Tinto at only £7.50 would also do the trick with a tomato-based sauce.
2) Cheesy or creamy sauces
There is a huge range of dairy-based sauces, from alfredo (which authentically uses egg rather than cream to bind) to a full-on stretchy baked macaroni cheese.
The Italians are quite fussy about the combination of cheese with fish - god forbid you grate parmesan onto vongole - but I like to do a simple crème fraîche and smoked salmon sauce, which takes seconds to put together. You cook the pasta, mix the smoked salmon with a pot of crème fraîche, add a little salt and pepper, then combine with the hot pasta.
In general, white or sparkling white matches with creamy sauces. Here are a few suggestions:
Prosecco such as Prosecco Spumante Extra Dry Vallate at £10.95.
The idea of buying Pinot Grigio normally makes me groan but the Winetrust choice is, as our wine master Nick Adams describes it, a 'grown-up' Pinot Grigio, Ponte del Diavolo at £8.95. This would also match with fishy sauces.
For cheesy sauces such as the currently fashionable Roman 'cacio e pepe' (cheese and pepper) I'd recommend Sangiovese Terre di Chieti. http://winetrust100.co.uk/shop/farnese-fantini-sangiovese-igt-terre-di-chieti/
A quick idea for a sauce is my 'egg and cress' pasta, below.
Egg and cress pasta recipe
500g pack of good quality dried spaghetti (De Cecco for instance)
300ml tub of full fat creme fraiche
80g jar of red lumpfish roe or salmon roe
1 punnet of cress, snipped
100g of finely grated cheese (optional)
Freshly ground pepper (white or black)
Prepare a large saucepan of boiling salty water over a high heat. Put the spaghetti in and cook for a minute less than the specified cooking time. (Pasta continues to cook during the draining process.)
As soon as the pasta is cooked, drain it, put in back in the still warm pan and tip in the full fat crème fraîche mixing it (do this quickly while the pasta is very hot). Then add the roe, tossing the pasta in the sauce. Add the cheese if you desire.
Serve into bowls and sprinkle with the cress and the pepper.
Match with minerally white Italian wine Gave di Gavi 'Montessora' La Guistiniana, £22.
3) Herby/green sauces
The most famous green sauce is pesto, particularly from Genova in the north. The authentic way to eat this is with green beans and small potatoes. Potatoes on pasta! Double carbing! I hear the cries of horror throughout the land. But it works, believe me. Other green sauces include the Puglian orecchiette with cime de rapa, turnip tops, a kind of sprouting broccoli or say butter and asparagus.
My wine suggestions for 'green' sauces:
Spend £7.50 on a Alpha Zeta 'G' Garganegaalso known as Soave.
At £10.95, the fruity zesty New Zealand Lawsons Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc goes beautifully with asparagus or broccoli.
Lovers of Australian wine would appreciate this Brookland Valley Verse 1 Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon Blanc ('Sem/Sauv' wine, buffs call it) for £11.95. Perfect with pesto.
4) Seafood/fishy sauces
When I visit Italy I order spaghetti vongole at least once a day. I can't get enough of it. It comes in two varieties: red or white, rosso or bianci. My preferred version is 'bianci' with plenty of garlic, white wine and parsley. The liquor at the bottom of the bowl can be mopped up with bread.
What would I drink with spag vong?
Chardonnay from South Africa, £23. That whole ABC thing (Anything But Chardonnay) - pfft! I like an oaky Chard and I don't care who knows it.
If you like red and are willing to consider it with seafood, try Winetrust's Fontaleoni Vernaccia Di San Gimignano at £11.95.Below is another quick fishy sauce to add to your repertoire. Bottarga is compressed tuna or grey mullet, which you can thinly slice or shave over pasta. This intensely flavoured and rather addictive umami booster is not cheap, but a little goes a long way.
Below is another quick fishy sauce to add to your repertoire. Bottarga is compressed tuna or grey mullet, which you can thinly slice or shave over pasta. This intensely flavoured and rather addictive umami booster is not cheap, but a little goes a long way.
Bottarga, chilli, pea shoots and lemon zest pasta recipe
Serves 2 to 4
500g spaghetti (11 mins cooking time)
Sea salt for water
100ml olive oil
1 lemon, zested
1tbsp of chilli flakes (pepperoncino if you have it)
45g bottarga, finely grated
50g pea shoots (available at Waitrose and Sainsbury's)
Cook the pasta in boiling salty water for a minute or two less than packet time.
Strain and sling it back in the hot pan, toss in the oil.
Grate in the lemon zest (taking care not to touch the white bitter part).
Dish it up and grate on the bottarga, scatter some chilli flakes, dot around the pea shoots.
I recommend trying a Primitivo rosé with it, such as Tramari Rose di Primitivo Salento IGP Cantina San Marzano at £11.95.
5) Mushroom/truffle sauces
Another easy peasy pasta sauce is using a little truffle paste or oil with olive oil or butter and stirring it through hot pasta strands. A cheaper version is frying up mushrooms with white wine, a little salt, some sage/rosemary/bay, maybe a squeeze of lemon to finish. What wines stand up to deep foresty mossy almost musty flavours?
A light red such as Pinot Noir is a good choice, e.g. New Zealand Pinot Noir stocked by Winetrust, £20.
Alternatively, one of Italy's most popular red wine grapes such as Barbera would work well: Barbera D'Asti San Nicolao from Piedmont at £9.75.
What do you drink with pasta? Do you have any great ideas for quick-as-a-flash, low-effort pasta sauces?
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"The best Torrontés we have tasted. Platinum-Best in Show winner at Decanter Wine World Awards 2017" Amalaya, Torrontés-Riesling
Argentina's white speciality is Torrontés, here with a touch of Riesling. Perfumed (rather like a Muscat), full of fruit and yet dry and appetising. It's an exquisite representation of the unique weather and soil conditions in Argentina's Northern Calchaqui Valley.
Amalaya translates to 'Hope for a Miracle' in the indigenous language of the now extinct tribe, the Calchaqui. The Calchaqui Valley of Salta in the far north of Argentina is the highest wine region in the world. The altitude ensures cool nights which are vital for keeping the wines fresh. The soils here are rocky, poor and sandy so the roots of the vines are forced to dig deep to find the vital nutrients and water they need which in turn results in a huge concentration of flavour within the grapes.
Intense gold in colour with tints of green, this wine is delicate and silky on the palate with great freshness. As so often with aromatic whites, this makes a great aperitif or an ideal partner for gently spicy dishes (crab and chilli linguini, devilled whitebait, spiced prawns).
£9.95 per bottle
" An outstanding wine of exceptional value, recently voted Best New World Cabernet Sauvignon under £40 by Decanter magazine. "2014 Berton Reserve Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, Berton Vineyards
Sourced from the prized Terra Rossa region of Coonawarra. The warm days are moderated by off-shore breezes and the rich red loam over free draining limestone soils are the foundations for the Coonawarra's justified reputation for producing premium quality Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Brimming with crushed blackcurrant and blackberry fruit flavours enhaced by subtle eucalyptus and mint notes characteristic of this region, this red is a great accompaniment to a filet mignon or roast lamb with herb roasted vegetables.
£13.95 per bottle