The Grape & The Grain: Commonwealth Games wines


All eyes will be on Glasgow tomorrow for the start of the 20th Commonwealth Games. Athletes from 71 nations and territories will compete in 17 sports over 11 days, bringing together two billion citizens from Commonwealth countries.

Such an exciting gathering of sporting stars deserves some special drinks to toast the athletes and their successes – which makes this a great time to look at some of the top wines being made throughout the Commonwealth.

Australians will no doubt be among the stars of these games and Jen Pfeiffer is undoubtedly among the rising talents in Australia’s wine industry. A bright and engaging redhead whose enthusiasm is infectious, Pfeiffer’s stall was a popular destination at the recent Naked Wines tasting in Edinburgh.

Her 2012 The Hero Shiraz (£14.99/£10.99, Naked Wines) from the Rutherglen region really caught my attention, with its deep ruby colour and aromas of mint and white pepper on the nose. The wine was dry but soft on the palate, with well-integrated tannins and none of the harshness you can get in cheaper Australian shiraz.

The flavours were full of blackcurrant and black cherry flavours, mingled with hot black pepper notes. Australian wines will continue to be in focus at the next Commonwealth Games too, which will be hosted by Gold Coast in Queensland in 2018.

Another of the stars at this year’s Naked Wine tour around the UK was Bill Small from Marlborough in New Zealand. The UK is awash with New Zealand sauvignon blanc, showing all the gooseberry and asparagus aromas and flavours that you could ever want. Bill and his wife, Claudia, take the unusual step of ageing their 2013 Theodore Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (£15.99/£11.99, Naked Wines) in old oak barrels for ten months, which gives the wine notes of smoky oak on the nose and a deliciously-creamed, rounded mouth-feel. Theodore is the Smalls’ son, while another wine in their range, Sylvia, is named after their daughter.

Don’t be put off by the use of wood though; this isn’t some Australian oak-monster from the 1980s or 1990s. The oak is well integrated into the wine, leaving plenty of room for the refreshing acidity and fruit. Just like New Zealand’s famous All Blacks rugby team, this wine has a bit more body than a run-of-the-mill sauvignon blanc.

Across the Indian Ocean and we reach South Africa on our Commonwealth tour, where Paul Cluver Wines makes elegant vintages in the cool climate of the Elgin Valley, south-east of Cape Town. The 2012 Paul Cluver Elgin Pinot Noir (£13.95, The Wine Society) is a juicier and more rounded style of pinot noir than many New World examples. On the nose, there is plenty of strawberry jam and baked fruit, coupled with wood smoke and leather notes, with sweeter jammy and savoury touches coming through on the palate.

Having less acidity and more fruit gives a fuller mouth-feel and more texture, without being cloying. Also, look out for the 2013 Paul Cluver Ferricrete Pinot Noir, which the winery makes for Marks & Spencer and which will feature in the ‘Wine to Dine’ column in the September issue of Scottish Field magazine.

From South Africa we travel to Canada, the two countries battling to host the 22nd Commonwealth Games in 2022, with Durban in South Africa going head-to-head against Edmonton in Canada. Canada is famous for its ice wines, which are made from grapes that have become frozen on the vine. The water in the grape freezes to form ice, leaving behind more concentrated juice, packed full of sugars and acids that are used to create dessert wines.

But the same cooler climactic conditions that are used to create ice wines can also produce some really interesting white wines, like the 2011 Norman Hardie Ontario Unfiltered Chardonnay (£20, The Wine Society). Chardonnay is such a versatile grape, producing completely different flavours under the hot sun of Australia than it does in the cooler climes of Chablis in France.

This Canadian wines is a gorgeous golden colour, with white peach, honey and flower blossom aromas giving way to a flinty minerality in the mouth. The fruity white peach flavours carry on and on to give a long finish.

We’re into the home straight now and we reach Cyprus, a favourite holiday destination for Brits seeking the sun. Wines that taste great when you’re sitting on a balcony or patio in the tropical heat seldom taste as good when you get them back to the UK, but the 2011 Zambartas Maratheftiko (£16.95 Berry Bros & Rudd) is a cut above the standard holiday plonk.

There are plenty of fruity blackcurrant, bramble and blackberry aromas on the nose, married with more subtle hints of mint, liquorice and spicy white pepper. The black fruit flavours are all there on the palate too, with a velvety smooth texture and a hot white pepper finish.

England is well known for the quality of its sparkling wines, with prices rivaling examples from across the Channel in France. But England also produces interesting white and red still wines, with the 2011 Gusbourne Estate Pinot Noir (£17.45, Berry Bros & Rudd) from Kent being a case in point. Here we see the elegance and poise that we will be expecting from gymnasts at the Commonwealth Games, with the wine striking a nice balance between tannin, fruit and acidity.

This isn’t the fruity New World style of pinot noir but something more subtle, with red cherry and bramble notes mixed with wood and cigar smoke on the nose being joined by flinty and strawberry jam flavours on the tongue.

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