Ok, ok, I’ll admit it… I like Eurovision. There, I’ve said it now. There really wasn’t much hope for me, having been brought up on a diet of Terry Wogan and Radio 2.
I have many happy memories of Britain’s Eurovision entries from the 1980s and 1990s – from successful acts like Katrina and the Waves and Sonia through to less-memorable attempts like Nicki French and Precious.
But my latter Eurovision experiences seem to be tied up with wine in one form or another. I watched last year’s contest after enjoying a bottle of Italian Pinot Nero while on assignment for Scottish Field magazine at Duck’s restaurant in Aberlady, East Lothian. Back in 2012, when Loreen clinched the title for Sweden with Euphoria, I was enduring one of the hottest nights of the year at the Craigellachie Hotel on Speyside during a trip for The Scotsman newspaper.
Following on from last year’s World Cup and Commonwealth Games blog entries, this all got me thinking about what a Eurovision competition for wine might look like – perhaps providing some ideas for you to sample as you sit down to Saturday’s final, live from Austria.
AUSTRALIA: Todd Riethmuller Angels’ Share Barossa Shiraz, 2012 (Naked Wines, £17.99, £11.99 for angels)
To mark Eurovision’s 60th birthday, the song contest’s organisers have invited Australia to enter this year’s competition. I’m reliably informed that the Australians go MAD for Eurovision, and so it would make sense that they’d bring along a top bottle for our wine contest. So step forward Todd Riethmuller, a former accountant who turned his hand to wine making in the Barossa Valley, arguably Australia’s top site for Shiraz, the red grape also known as Syrah in France. I love this style of red wine – rich, warming and full of sunshine. There are aromas and flavours of blackcurrants, black cherries and brambles, along with sweeter chocolate and vanilla on the tongue and some developing meatier notes too. Powerful stuff and a good place to kick off our Eurovision contest.
AUSTRIA: Grüner Veltliner Federspiel, Weingeberge, Nikolaihof, 2013 (Berry Bros. & Rudd, £16.95)
Can the nation make it two wins in a row, following on from Conchita Wurst’s victory in Copenhagen last year? Either way, this delicate and refreshing white wine is a clear winner for me, especially as an aperitif to get the juices flowing for dinner. Think of Gruner Veltliner as the politer and more reserved cousin of Riesling, with ripe aromas of peach and apricot on the nose, along with sharper notes of green apple and sweeter lemon sherbet. On the palate, it’s dry, with refreshing acidity and a long fruity finish.
CYPRUS: Zambartas, Maratheftiko Krasochorio, Limassol, 2012 (Berry Bros. & Rudd, £16.95)
The previous vintage was one of our star Commonwealth Games wines last summer and the 2012 doesn’t disappoint either. It’s full of aromas of blueberries, black cherries and violets, with blackcurrants joining the blueberries and black cherries on the palate, as well as sweet vanilla, cinnamon and cloves from the 12 months the wine spent in refilled French oak barrels. It’s rich and velvety, with a wee spicy white pepper note on the finish too.
FRANCE: Cave de Tain Crozes-Hermitage, 2012 (Waitrose, £11.49)
A cracking rival for the Barossa Valley Shiraz from Australia. Here in its traditional homeland in the Northern Rhone, Syrah has been used to produce a rich and smooth red wine with smoky notes joining the blackcurrant and cherry aromas. The wine strikes an excellent balance between the fruit, the tannins and the acidity, making this a good match for food or a deliciously deep standalone glass.
GEORGIA: Tblvino Quevris 2012 (Marks & Spencer, £9)
“Orange wines” – made from white grapes but then exposed to oxygen to develop an orange tinge – were almost all the rage a couple of summers ago, but they never quite broke into the mainstream and have remained an oddity… I’ll leave you to draw your own comparisons with Georgia’s Eurovision entries. The nose features aromas of strawberries and orange peel with a floral twist, leading into sherry-like notes, which become more obvious on the palate. The wine has an interesting production process, which involves it being matured in clay jars or “quevris”, which are buried in the earth for months at a time. An interesting talking point for while you’re gathered around the tele listening to Graham Norton’s commentary.
GERMANY: Dr Hermann, Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese, 2007 (Majestic, £9.99)
Riesling is the king of Germany’s white grape varieties and this example really jumped out at me during a recent tasting with Majestic Wines. It has a rich golden colour, which hints at the sweet taste that is to follow. Yet the sweetness is perfectly balanced by the acidity, which stops the lime and lemon rind flavours from becoming cloying. There are also plenty of the characteristic notes of smoke and petrol on the nose – a real treat for any German wine fans.
GREECE: Domaine Sigalas, Santorini Assyrtiko, 2014 (Berry Bros. & Rudd, £16.95)
Something really special from the Queen’s wine merchant. Santorini is one of Greece’s most famous islands and it’s here that the Assyrtiko grape has its home. Assyrtiko keeps its acidity even in hot climates – a rare thing – and this example from Berry Bros shows all the characteristic mineral notes, along with stone fruit flavours such as apricot and peach. The acidity is crisp and is really well-balanced with the fruity flavours. Greece topped the charts in 2005 with My Number One by Helena Paparizou, but they’ll need to make it through Tuesday’s semi-final if they want to strut their stuff at Saturday night’s musical extravaganza.
HUNGARY: House Pinot Grigio (Sainsbury’s, £4.50)
Hungary is best known for Tokaji, its lusciously sweet dessert wine. But the country is also a staple destination when the supermarkets are in search of good value house wines. This Hungarian Pinot Grigio may only tip the scale at £4.50 but you’re getting plenty of fruity flavours for your money, with a surprising about of ripe peach and melon, making it that bit more interesting than some of the cheap and bland green apple Pinot Grigio being churned out in Italy. There’s plenty of refreshing acidity in there too. The Hungarian Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc from the “I Heart…” range are also worth an honourable mention – another pair of good simple, fruity, straight-forward wines from Eastern Europe.
ISRAEL: Recanati Shiraz, Petit Sirah, Carignan 2013 (Marks & Spencer, £10)
Israel’s most memorable Eurovision adventure came in 1998, when Dana International won the contest with Diva, building on the country’s previous back-to-back victories in 1978 and 1979. This blend of Shiraz, Petit Sirah and Carignan is equally as memorable, with the grapes in turn bringing blackcurrant jam, blueberries and redcurrants to the party. There’s well-integrated oak giving vanilla, cloves and cinnamon flavours and a long, fruity finish.
ITALY: Marchesi Di Gresy Nebbiolo Martinenga, 2013 (Woodwinters, £18.50)
Unlike traditional red wines from Piedmont, this Nebbiolo is designed to be drunk while it’s young and fresh and so it hasn’t been aged in oak barrels. The result is packed full of red cherry, raspberry and liquorice aromas, with bright acidity and lingering flavours of raspberries on the long finish. Will Italy’s Eurovision entry adopt a similar new approach? For me, this was one of the stars of independent wine merchant Woodwinters’ tasting in Edinburgh.
FYR MACEDONIA: Tikves Vranac Merlot, 2013 (Marks & Spencer, £9)
Merlot’s black plum flavours are joined by blackcurrant, bramble and red cherry from Macedonia’s native Vranec variety, which combine to produce a wine that’s soft and fruity, with ripe fruit flavours and notes of cinnamon and cloves. This is how Merlot used to taste from the South of France; it’s so ripe that it’s almost sweet. Far more memorable than many of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s Eurovision entries.
PORTUGAL: Lagrima White Port (Woodwinters, £13.25)
It wasn’t until I was sitting on the bus on the way home from the Edinburgh leg of Woodwinter’s latest ‘Big Tasting’ that I decided just how much I enjoyed this white port. The finish is long and luscious, meaning I was halfway home and was still enjoying the taste. Delicate caramel and spun sugar on the nose and palate and matched by refreshing acidity. A good way to round off a meal – or a nice alternative while you’re waiting for the results from the Portuguese jury on Eurovision night.
ROMANIA: Paparuda Pinot Noir, 2013 (Alexander Wines)
Several of the supermarket chains have ventured into Eastern Europe in search of good value and have come back with mixed results. Scottish merchant Alexander Wines has hit on a winner here though with Paparuda’s Pinot Noir. It has surprisingly-good acidity and plenty of fresh strawberry flavours and aromas. Romania hasn’t troubled the Eurovision scoreboard in the past, but this Pinot Noir shows that there are plenty of good value wines to give British drinkers food for thought.
SLOVENIA: Finest Sauvignon Blanc Furmit (Tesco, £5.99)
Slovenia is yet to cover itself in Eurovision glory, but the country has a good pedigree when it comes to wine, sharing much of its heritage with neighbouring Italy. This is a good alternative for anyone who finds Sauvignon Blanc on its own just a bit too much to handle, with the otherwise undistinguished Furmit bringing Sauvignon Blanc back into crisp green apple and lemon territory from its better-known asparagus and gooseberry joyride. The bright acidity is still there, but it’s softened by the Furmit, making it a bit more easy-drinking.
SPAIN: Palacio de Fefiñanes Albariño, 2014 (Waitrose, £15.99)
Albarino is one of Spain’s most exciting white grape varieties and this example from Waitrose shows off the wine at its best, with plenty of stone fruit and floral notes on the nose leading into more peach and apricot flavours on the palate. The wine strikes a great balance between the acidity and the fruity flavours. Spain won Eurovision back-to-back in 1968 and 1969, tying with Lulu’s Boom Bang-a-Bang and two other songs for the top spot – could 2015 be the year for a Spanish comeback?