Monday, 3 August 2009

Sunshine in a glass...

I have decided to go for a short visit to London (en route to the Paris to deal with some rather unruly tenants). Dad’s house in Bath was becoming too big and airy without his being there, being on a ‘Who do you think you are?’ ancestry finding mission in Australia, and I needed some company. So, by way of a 'thank you’ to my older brother, Ben, in who’s rented accommodation south of the river I am staying, I have taken the spare keys and gone out to the shops, producing pasta, varied ingredients, and of course a bottle of wine; Italian, naturally, to go with the pasta.

Oddbins pointed me in the direction of a light white Soave (Azienda Agricola Strele, Costeggiola, Soave DOC 2008 (12.5%) £11), which seemed temptingly Summery, and fresh enough to raise the mood on a barely sunny day. As a wine, Soave was once barely considered worth discussing seriously not too long ago. They specialised in big output and low quality, expanding and expanding further the DOC area to meet demand, diluting the Garganega with Trebbiano di Soave and sometimes Chardonnay making the DOC regulations, frankly, a bit of a joke.

In recent years, however, smaller producers have been trying to rein in the branding boom and provide wines worthy of Soave’s history. The Strele Estate is one of these. Its 9 hectare pocket lies in the hills overlooking Soave, north of the Adige River and east of the famous city of Verona, producing a Soave DOC wine with 100% Garganega grapes. The name Soave means suave, or smooth, so opening the bottle and preparing for supper, I am keen to see if there is any truth in this name.

Looking at the colour in the glass (in a room where there are no white walls) it is a rich, golden yellow, a Summer sun colour to banish clouds; a comforting golden glow. Mellowing even! Yes! A real mellow yellow (there is a song about that).

Dipping my nose into the glass, there are wonderful rich lemon and pith. But interestingly, more pith than lemon. Ultimately this has that refreshing aroma that brings nostalgic, sepia tinted memories of Grannie's farm in Somerset; hot sunny days, cattle grazing and, after some rounding up at feeding time, the reward of that home made pithy puckering lemonade. Behind this lies the secret of the quality and, therefore, cost. Hints of white fruit come forth, but then these fade and give way to stronger aromas of tropical fruits: melon and mango; papaya, pineapple and pears. (I have to pause and look for another room. Cooking, candles and other fragrances coming from the flat are putting me off). I will tell you what image is going through my mind that will help me clear up the combined aroma sensation coming from this glass. Imagine ice-cream, emphasis on the cream not the vanilla, topped with dried apricots and drizzled with honey (... pistachios for decoration. Ok, I am gilding the lily. Forget the pistachios). THAT is what I am getting from the glass in the initial few minutes. Warming up a little, the sweeter fragrances mellow and behind them lie the herbaceous and young green elements that a younger wine gives; basil and fresh peas.

On the palate? Again, mellow, mellow, mellow yellow on the lips. Lemon and pith, pith and lemon. The flintiness comes through when it is chilled. A long, strong acidity finish making the mouth water (even more than when I was just sniffing it. Or is it the thought of that apricot ice-cream desert that I now want to make?). The coldness also gives a light prickle to the tongue, pushing you on to move beyond that prickle and its associated mineral flint, emphasising the calcareous soil that the Garganega is grown on.

Letting it settle for a bit, the prickle goes and allows the true flavours come to the fore; and, in bringing it to the temperature of the room, out come the smoother, richer and more exotic fruits, honeyed off by an almondy smoothness, that balances the acidity and keeps you wanting more.

What impresses me is that it is a 2008. In other words, this is a young wine, and even now it offers great flavour and develops nicely in the glass. Worth the money? I think so, though I am not so sure Ben, the accountant, will see it my way. Best keep it to myself.