Wine: French whites are ideal for the summer sun

PUBLISHED: 11:07 05 July 2015

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Loire Chenin Blancs and southern Picpoul partner well with fish, says Liz Sagues.

It was the perfect way to spend a summer evening: a chamber music concert in a country mansion on the fringes of London, with drinks on the lawn as the sun slid behind the landscaped horizon.

The wine fitted the occasion exactly: light and easy, with gentle green fruit and a hint of citrus. Sauvignon blanc, certainly, but not the racy Loire style nor New Zealand’s pungent interpretation. It was McGuigan Classic, from south eastern Australia, nothing posh or pricey (around £7, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco), simply an instance of the right wine in the right place.

Which led my thoughts to other summer occasions, other seasonal wines. Sticking with sauvignon blanc, there’s another bottle from the same Australian Vintage stable aimed at drinkers seeking less alcohol. Miranda Summer Light (5.5 percent, £5, Sainsbury’s) is one of the better examples I’ve tried in this category, though I’d still much rather have a half-glass of “proper” wine than two fuller ones of Miranda.

Firmly in the “proper” category is Calvet Reserve Bordeaux blanc (£9, Waitrose), again sauvignon blanc, with cut-grass scent and appealing crisp yet serious fruitiness. So, too, are the chenin blancs from the Loire Valley – a gamut of wines to suit all kinds of summery events: sparkling crémant is one of the best wedding wines, the dry wines are serious but appropriate choices for the smartest picnics, and the sweeties, as well as partnering fruit desserts deliciously, make a lovely aperitif.

My immersion – it felt almost literally that – in chenin blanc during a visit to the Loire Valley last summer left many happy memories, including that of Domaine Ogereau, where Emmanuel, son of highly-respected owner Vincent, coupled the enthusiasm of a young, well-trained, globe-trotting winemaker with a strong respect for tradition.

All the Ogereau wines are very stylish and are fine expressions of the places where their grapes grow – something chenin does very well, particularly here, south of Angers, where two different geological formations collide.

For a special summer fish-oriented dinner I can think of no better wine than Ogereau’s pure-fruited, mineral-edged Savennières Clos le Grand Beaupréau 2011 (£16.25, rsj.uk.com/rsjretaillist – the retail arm of Southwark restaurant RSJ, where you can collect the wine and perhaps compare it with those from the other two great estates, Château Pierre-Bise and Domaine Guégniard, which share this special vineyard).

The selection of fine Loire chenin on the high street is limited, unfortunately. But Château de Fesles La Chapelle 2011 (£14, Waitrose) is a generous, dry yet full-flavoured example, its time in barrel adding extra depth. Waitrose also has a splendid introduction to sweet chenin in Domaine des Forges Côteaux du Layon Chaume 2011(£8.50, half-bottle).

Wines from sauvignon and chenin have long been classic white favourites. But there are fashions in wine and Picpoul de Pinet is one of the most recent – a citrussy white from just inland of the French Mediterranean coast that works well with straightforward fish and shellfish dishes.

It moves up a level, worthy of more serious al fresco seafood eating, in Calmel & Joseph Villa Blanche 2013 (£11, thegoodwineshop.co.uk), fragrant and fruit-filled, with splendid length – showing how popularity can boost rather than reduce quality.

All we need now is more sunshine...

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