Somerset Life's sommelier Peter Hadlow offers some help with decoding the wine list

PUBLISHED: 16:45 20 March 2013 | UPDATED: 21:13 05 April 2013

Somerset Life's sommelier Peter Hadlow offers some help with decoding the wine list

Somerset Life's sommelier Peter Hadlow offers some help with decoding the wine list

Struggling with the ever-growing wine list? Somerset Life's sommelier Peter Hadlow offers some help with decoding the wine list

War and Peace?

Red or White?

War and Peace? Red or White?

Struggling with the ever-growing wine list? Somerset Lifes sommelier Peter Hadlow offers some help with decoding the wine list

The sun is setting over St. Marks Square, the wine waiter has just placed two flutes of Prosecco chilled to exactly 5C on your table, the violinist is serenading you with O Sole Mio. You gently sip the wine, the bubbles dance on your palate, wonderful.

Its now mid-November back home in downtown Oldcastle, its drizzling, you and the dog are wet. Your wife calls from the front room: The pizzas arrived while you were out, I put them in the oven to keep them warm, and, oh darling, see if theres any of that Prosecco left in the fridge you know the one we opened the other day. While youre in the kitchen the dishwasher has just finished, can you grab two tumblers and well imagine were back in Italy, but dont be too long, the programme is just about to start.

So a flat Prosecco goes into warm half-pint tumblers and your wife says, Doesnt travel well does it, this fizz you cant buy the real stuff over here.

Yes, you can, in fact we are very lucky in this country, you can buy stunning wine from around the world, off the shelf or in a restaurant. In France you can only buy French wine, and the same applies to Italy, Spain, or any other wine producing country. So the French never get to try a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand or even a Tinta del Pais (the local name for Tempranillo) from Ribera del Duero in northern Spain. Nor can they compare a Cabernet/Merlot produced in Australias Great Southern region with a Bordeaux using the same grapes.

There is, however, one downside to this choice, a wine list in a good restaurant can resemble War and Peace and if you try to read it all youll still be there when they lock up. So what to do? First of all remember that delicate foods go with delicate wines, and more robust foods go with fuller wines. Some delicate white wines would include Sauvignon,a dry Riesling, an Albario from Rias Baixas, in Spain, a Gruner Veltliner from Austria, or a Melon de Bourgogne, which is the grape of Muscadet. Fuller whites are wood aged Chardonnay, Viognier, or Grenache blanc. Lighter reds are unoaked Pinot Noir, Valpolicella or Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais. Heavier reds include Grenache, Shiraz, Tempranillo and Merlot. The other rule is do not go out of your comfort zone in a restaurant, where a mistake can be very costly and ruin your meal, far better to stick to the type of wine you know, and experiment in your local wine store. Talk to the wine waiter tell him the sort of wine you enjoy and ask his advice.

What Id like to do now is to introduce you to an area that maybe is not on your usual list. About 70 miles south west of Barcelona is a small wine growing area called Priorat, by the Catalans, Priorato in Castillion. Anyway one night about 1,000 years ago a shepherd saw Angels climbing a secret staircase to heaven. He told the local priest and word eventually reached The Holy See, clearly a slow time for miracles. The Pope contacted the monks in Grenoble, who made Green Chatreuse, and a few of them were dispatched to Priorat, where they built a monastery and called it Scala Dei (staircase to God).

Wine was already being produced in the area, but the monks took it to another level. The soil is made up of a slate called licorella which looks like Tiger skin and quartzite glistens in the sun. The vines try to get moisture through the underlying volcanic ash, and produce only tiny amounts of wine, which is incredibly rich and powerful. For some reason while most yeasts stop working at around 14-14.5%, alcohol fermentation can continue to as high as 18% although most of the wine sold is between 14.5 and 15.5%. The majority of the grapes are called Garnatxa, which is Garnacha in the rest of Spain and Grenache in France. A new wave of winemakers from around the world arrived about 15 years ago and it now produces the most expensive wine in Spain. If you get a chance you really ought to try this huge serious stunningly, rich wine.

Incidentally I have been told from on high that the shepherd - in spite of ugly rumours in the tabloid press of the time - was teetotal, but the staircase is now unfortunately closed on orders of health and safety.

Peter Hadlow has travelled extensively in Western Europe and the USA tasting and evaluating wines. He has written about wine both here and on the continent and is the main wine buyer at The Cellar in Clevedon.

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