Prepping for the season – what wines to choose?
Andrew Azzopardi - No12 Fine wines and Provisions
Article featured in 'The Islander' Magazine - April 2017 issue)
Who are you expecting to come on board this year?
How much storage do you have?
Is the yacht private owned or heavy on charters?
Maybe you want to introduce a few new wines to the owner?
Assuming you’ve planned as much as you can, given the circumstances, I think the best place to start is to have a few bottles of the local cruising vino. I find that the local wine is often the best accompaniment to the local food. So if you’re planning on cruising the Balearic islands a few wines from that small winery in Mallorca is usually a great start. If you had ample time to plan, learning a bit about this local winery will help you when serving the wine throughout the season - everybody loves a story.
For all you heavy charterers, getting a few bottles of their local wine will only give you extra brownie points. So, if you already know the nationality of your guests, ask your wine provisioner for a wine recommendation produced in their country.
Of course, the hardest part is having to select a few still and sparkling wines of each colour that can all fit in your temperature controlled wine cave ….or storage cupboard under stairs.
If I were pressed to choose just a few bottles of wine for charter guests that I know nothing about, my selection would probably include the choices below.
Rosé is no longer that summer easy-drinking wine you’d only drink if you’re visiting friends in Provence. Rose has become a trendy and fashionable staple on board many a yacht, and quality has improved tremendously. Premium Rosés from Côtes de Provence are definitely a no-brainer. My top 2 picks for 2017 are the Chateau D’Esclans ‘Whispering Angel’ 2016 and the Chateau Miraval 2016. The 2016 ‘Whispering Angel’ is a beautiful coral pink with a silky smooth ride. The wine is extremely cool, fresh and tangy , but with an amazing citrus and grapefruit burst of flavours. On the other hand the Miraval 2016 is a darker and richer Rosé with fuller stone-fruit flavours of peach and mango with a strawberry backbone. Also, with the whole Brangelina split, who knows what the future holds for this wine? Besides being a great wines, It’s also a great talking point for the guests.
Sparkles and Bubbles
No yacht is ready to leave her berth, before being fully stocked with all the celebratory bubbles ready and chilled for service. Of course, Champagne is still the most popular of all the sparkling wines, but the up and coming English sparkling wine producers are giving Champagne a good run for their money. Valdobiadenne Prosecco has gained lots of popularity and shows no signs of slowing, whereas Cava is still too under-appreciated in my opinion. If space allows, I’d opt for a good selection of bubbles and pink bubbles, but if pressed, my top picks would definitely include at least one of the real deal - Champagne. Laurent Perrier Rosé is my number one pink bubbles of choice. The consistently refreshing Laurent Perrier bursts with fruit flavours of freshly picked raspberries, strawberries and cherries. Being one of the most recognizable and fashionable bottles always helps when you only have one choice of Rosé on board. .
When choosing a dry sparkling wine, I’d have a tougher choice and I would settle on the opulent, silky and salty Dom Pérignon 2006 which I’m sure needs no introduction. I would then go for the wild card English Nyetimber Classic Cuvée. This wine is exudes sophistication with a magnificent fine mousse followed by toasty, nutty flavours on the palate - a perfect accompaniment to shellfish or poultry. We may argue all night whether Brexit was the right choice the United Kingdom, but I’m sure we’d all agree that the this Classic Cuvée will not fail to dazzle.
If I know the yacht is planning on cruising Italy, I would definitely recommend keeping a few bottles of Prosecco such as Bottega ‘Gold’ packaged in a glamourous gold bottle of fantastic fruity Valdobiadenne prosecco. If cruising Spain, I’d pick the Perelada, Gran Claustro, Brut Nature Reserva Cava which is a delicious smoky and creamy sparkling wine aged on the lees for a minimum of 15 months.
The ever so popular Sauvignon Blanc is pretty much a refreshing staple on board. If I am feeling a bit adventurous I’d choose the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc such as the Brancott ‘Series B’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 bursting with gooseberry, cut grass and minerality. Its one hell of refreshing white wine which I would consider stocking. For the less adventurous, the Domaine de la Perrière, Comte de la Perrière, Sancerre will go a long way. With fantastic acidity, good mineral undertones and floral aromas can be the perfect accompaniment to richer oily fish or goats cheese.
An Italian consistent crowd pleaser is the Gavi La Scolca ‘Black Label’ 2015. Always a winner. The typical high acidity of the Cortese grape, fleshy lemon flavours and flinty aromas simply work a charm with the most delicate of grilled fish. I don’t dispute the fact that this is often considered one of the best Gavi’s in production.
Being the Burgundy fan myself, I believe that white Burgundy can be one of the most enjoyable wines to drink on board a yacht. Full bodied, searing acidity, nutty and toasty flavours may be the perfect wine during the cooler evenings. My choice for 2017 is a Joseph Drouhin Chassagne Montrachet ‘Marquis de Laguiche’ 1er Cru 2014. Oh my! Having spent 14 months in oak, this well executed Montrachet has the most gorgeous flavours of apple, creamy oak and quince. Elegant, well balanced, yet interestingly complex.
If I have space to fit in another few cases of wine, I’d opt for the Chablis ‘Vaillons’ 2014 from William Fèvre. Smoky, refreshing and tasty! I find there is a pleasing saltiness to the wine that keeps me wanting more. This wine has the refreshing qualities of the finest Sauvignon Blancs, but has enough complexity and oak integration for heavier dishes.
I think this is where most pursers understandably struggle. The choices are so vast that choosing a few wines to please everyone is often difficult, if not stressful. Firstly, I would ask my supplier for their recommendations on wines that are ready to drink this year. Wines that are too young can come off as having over aggressive wines with too much tannin and little to no complexity. Wine too old on the other hand are way more delicate and may have too much sediment which could easily cloud the wine if disturbed. I would choose wines around 5 to 15 years maturity at most. Choose a few recognisable labels, and one or two wild cards that would be the ‘surprise-me’ wines for those special moments.
Taking into consideration hot Mediterranean summers, my first choice would be the light-coloured Pinot Noir. This relatively difficult grape to grow is surprisingly food-friendly. Pnot Noirs are considerably light or medium body and on a hot summers night, chilling the wine for a few minutes in the fridge beforehand can often enhance the flavours. The choice for pinot noir varies between the earthy, mushroom and leather style burgundy such as the sophisticated 2012 Gevrey Chambertin by Louis Jadot or the more opulent and fruit forward Californian Duckhorn Goldeneye Pinot Noir, 2012 with richer notes of chocolate, jam and blackberries. Both are fascinating wines.
One of my top red wine choices this year is the Mormoreto 2012. This Bordeaux-blend super Tuscan ticks all the right boxes. Smoke, tobacco, cocoa powder, jasmin and a vanilla all come together in an expressive and complex wine. The wine is still young, fruity and pure, but can cellar beautifully for years to come. The best part is that this wine is not only held in high regard, having been awarded a whopping 93/100 by Wine Spectator, it is also fantastic value-for-money which can often be an important factor when choosing the right wine.
Of course, no cellar is complete without a vintage Bordeaux ready to be decanted for that special meal. I would choose the older vintages such as 2004 and 2005 which are drinking superbly at the moment. The safer choice would be to go for a left-bank cabernet based wine such as a Château Pontet Canet 2004 expressing cedar, cassis, cigar box and leather. The silky smooth right-bank Merlot-based Figeac 2005 which is currently at the top of its game, is another of my favourite choices. This juicy and rich wine is bursting with flavours of tobacco, mint and cherries with a rustic finish. Sublime wines….if the budget permits.
On to the New world wines, the ‘Chocolate Block’ Syrah 2012 from Boekenhoutskloof South Africa would be the perfect wine to compliment that Barbequed porterhouse steak planned for the weekend. Having spent 18 months in old French oak this peppery wine has an amazing combination of the typical new world fruit forward driven style and the rustic and earthy component of the classic world.
Generally underappreciated in the yachting world, but nothing accompanies those heavenly fruit-based desserts as much as a Sauternes or Selection des Grains nobles. Even if it means I have to smuggle in a case, I would make sure I have a few bottles of sticky, sweet goodness to serve to my guests. If I Had to pick just one wine, it would be a Sauternes. Refreshing yet sweet. Château Rieussec 2007 is a beautiful representation of sauternes. Honey, cream, apricot, orange and marmalade all come together in perfect harmony. A glass of this beauty may easily become the highlight of the meal.
If I’m feeling a tad more adventurous, I might opt for a vintage Gewürztraminer, Selection de Grains Nobles (SGN), Hugel et Fils, such as the 1989. This gorgeous sweet wine has intensity, complexity and distinction. The only question would be whether to serve this gem with foie-gras or a fruit-based tart. Whatever the choice I’m keeping this bottle for that evening when the requests for that something special start pouring in.
My last piece of advice is to be as flexible as you can. Speak to your trusted wine provisioner for their advice for an alternative wine based on what you know – you may be surprised, and your guests may love it!
Good luck with your provisions!