Monday, 30 November -0001

Adventures in wine Henry Jeffreys

Forget the oh-so-dreary detox and hop off the wagon, says our brilliant new wine columnist – 2012 will be a truly vintage year. Just be prepared for a few surprises…

Written by Henry Jeffreys

Now it is time for me to gaze into the dregs at the bottom of the port decanter and divine what we will be drinking in 2012. Lacking any powers of clairvoyance, I have come up with a foolproof technique for prediction: look at what people were drinking last year and either say that people will be drinking even more of this or something similar, or – and this is rather clever – say the opposite. I'll show you how it works:

Last year, simple refreshing white wines that go with seafood were all the rage. Wines such as Vinho Verde from Portugal, Albariño from Spain and even Muscadet have gone from local specialities or forgotten relics of the 1970s to being the default wine to order in restaurants. So what's the opposite of simple and refreshing? Rich and complex, of course. My big white wine prediction for 2012 is the return of Chardonnay in the form of white Burgundy and its imitators in Australia, the States, Chile and, in particular, New Zealand. After years of being underwhelmed by their Pinot Noirs and overwhelmed by their Sauvignon Blancs, I've finally found something that New Zealand does brilliantly.

And now for my other technique: take a trend and exaggerate. Until very recently, being a sherry drinker was like being a member of a secret society. At parties I would mutter the word sherry. If I got a positive response (seldom), I knew that I was in the presence of a fellow wine bore. This year sherry has become fashionable; now when I mention it at a party, I will be offered a glass of Tio Pepe and then told about an authentic Jerez-style tapas  bar that has just opened roundthe corner. So what next? The  sherry bubble won't burst this year. Instead, it will drag other fortified wines such as Madeira or even Marsala (from Sicily) reluctantly into the limelight. Madeira is the most civilised of all wines. The drier styles taste a little like a burnt fino sherry with a spoonful of marmalade dropped in and are ideal with a slice of seedcake for elevenses.

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Moving on, France makes the archetypal styles that other countries aspire to. I've mentioned white Burgundy already but there's also claret, champagne, the reds of the Rhône and many others. Because of this dominant position and because it's always fun to knock the French, you will often hear how the British have fallen out of love with French wine. This is nonsense; what we have fallen out of love with is the cheapest French wine. In the mid-to-upper ranges, France is stronger than ever.

One of the great secrets of the wine world is that a good French wine will almost always be cheaper than the New World equivalent. The classic regions are better than ever, but this year will really belong to the varied and magnificent wines of the Languedoc.

My final prediction is that this column will feature a lot of wines from independent merchants. I want to recommend wines that are easy for you to obtain, but if I wrote only about the wines in supermarkets or on the high street, this would be a very boring read. I would suggest that readers join The Wine Society. This not-for-profit organisation offers superb wines at extremely competitive prices. And its own-label wines are particularly good.

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Did you know?

'California's signature grape variety, Zinfandel, is actually a native of Croatia called Crljenak Kaštelanski. Try saying that after a few glasses...'

How very exotic

This year you will start to hear rumours from the East. No, this isn't yourhoroscope; China and India have started making wine. The cynic in me thinks that the lavish press coverage owes more to Eastern money than to the quality of the wines. I urge readers to ignore these upstarts and look to the near East: the old, old world of wine.

The countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and nearby have been making wine for thousands of years. Wine from Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Georgia and Lebanon would have been familiar to Pliny. But until recently most of it was not that good. Now, producers are combining their rich heritage of unusual grape varieties with increasingly good wine-making. Why have a mediocre Chinese Cabernet when you could have an Agiorgítiko from the Peloponnese?

12 for 2012

1 Chardonnay: something from Kumeu River or Dog Point in New Zealand. They are particularly good after a couple of years in the bottle. From £17, The Wine Society or Berry Bros.

2 White Burgundy: buy plain Bourgogne Blanc from a top producer such as Fichet. £20, Berry Bros.

3 Crisp refreshing white: Vinho Verde Quinta de Azevedo. The 2010 was excellent. These wines are best drunk very young. I'm looking forward to the 2011. £7.49, Majestic.

4 Madeira: Blandy's 10-year-old Vedelho is good for midmorning drinking. From £16 – widely available.

5 Sherry: Fino Perdido from the Wine Society, £7.50. A fino with the volume turned up.

6 Marsala: Terre Arse (tee hee!) from Cantina Florio. Dry, good marsala is very rare, even in Sicily. This tastes of orange peel and caramel. £11.95, Valvona & Crolla.

7 Lebanon: Hochar Père et Fils 2004 – the second wine from Lebanon's Château Musar. One can imagine drinking this with a Phoenician merchant. £11.95, Majestic.

8 Greece: Hatzidakis Assyrtiko from Santorini, Greece 2010. White and easier to enjoy than to pronounce. £10.44, Waitrose.

9 Bordeaux: Château Haut-Brega 2005, Haut-Médoc, costs less than £10 and tastes like a £20 claret. £8.75, Cambridge Wine Merchants.

10 Rhône: Taste the Difference Crozes-Hermitage 2009; smoky syrah for under £10 a bottle. £9.49, Sainsbury's.

11 Languedoc: look out for fresh pungent reds from the town of Faugères. Try Jean-Michel Alquier. £12.50, Wine Society.

12 Languedoc: Picpoul de Pinet. My favourite producer is Domaine la Grangette. £8.95, Festival Wines, Chichester.

The Wine Society: www.thewinesociety.com



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