Oh come on, we’ve all done it. Sipped an exquisitely chilled glass of retsina by a sun-dappled pool in Corfu, thought it the finest wine ever and promptly sent a couple of cases home to Blighty as a memento of happy times. We later pop a cork on a rainy winter’s day in Tunbridge Wells and – gosh, imagine our surprise – we wonder what the heck we were thinking. Good grief, we can’t even cook with it.
Occasionally, though, you cradle a glass of wine at home (and it is at home these days, alas, rather than restaurant, bar or hotel), take a deep, ruminative draught and instantly you’re back in some long-forgotten happy place: a Spanish orange grove, maybe, with a first love; a café by some bustling Adriatic harbour; a bar at dusk in a Tuscan hilltop village.
It might be the spicy, herbal bouquet teasing your nostrils or it might be the juicy hedgerow flavours dancing on your tongue; it might even simply be a glimpse of the bottle itself but, somehow – be it grand cru classé claret or Picpoul de Pinet – all elements combine to transport you to where you drank it and where you were happy. A smile spreads slowly across your chops and off you drift in some sun-drenched reverie. With foreign holidays firmly off the cards for the time being, here are five wines guaranteed to transport you to sunnier climes:
Corsica was known to the Ancient Greeks as Kallisté – “the most beautiful” – and it is indeed a beguiling spot. There are mountains, beaches and glorious flower-strewn meadows. Perilously twisting roads lead to terracotta villages set deep in rugged hills and the air is heady with herbs, spice and the salt of the sea.
They’ve made wine here since Roman times and, with the island as close to Italy as it is to France, there’s a delectable mix of styles. No wine, though, pulls me back to this island quite so forcefully as the ethereal, herbal Vermentino from Christian Imbert’s fifty year-old vineyards near Porto Vecchio. It’s half French, half Italian and wholly delicious.
2019 Domaine de Torraccia Blanc (£15.95; Yapp Bros)
As you know, Madeira lies in the Atlantic some 1,000 km off Morocco. It was discovered by accident in 1419 by the adventurer Joao Goncalves Zarco who, given that his nickname was Zarco the Cross-Eyed, probably bumped into a lot of things he didn’t mean to.
There’s blissfully little to do here. I mean, you could take the cable car from Funchal to Monte, potter around the Botanical Gardens and take the hair-raising carrinho de cesto or wicker toboggan back down again. I would rather potter from bar to restaurant, eat limpets in garlic, scabbard fish and banana, and drink my fill of the inimitable island wine. One mouthful of nutty, tangy, citrusy dry Sercial and I imagine I’m doing just that.
Henriques & Henriques 10 Year Old Sercial Madeira (£20.75; Waitrose)
There are few prettier corners of France than Alsace. Tucked between the Vosges and the Rhine, it’s a land of rolling hills, ruined castles and picture-postcard-pretty mediaeval towns and villages. It’s a gourmet’s paradise, too, with more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else in France other than Paris. And the wines, ah the wines! I would argue that there are none finer in all France, from bone-dry Rieslings to sumptuously sweet, late-picked Gewurztraminers and smoky, cherry-laden Pinot Noirs.
The Hugel family has made wine here since 1639 and nothing whisks me back faster to the twisting cobbled streets and colourful, half-timbered houses of Riquewihr than a mere whiff of their headily aromatic Gewurztraminer. Glorious!
2016 Hugel Classic Gewurztraminer (£20.99; Handford Wines)
The Hemel en Aarde Valley, Walker Bay, is a blessed spot as its name – Heaven and Earth Valley – suggests. The fishing village of Hermanus is where folk flock to eat the freshest fish on the water’s edge at Bientang’s Cave and to watch the southern right whales frolic.
They come, too, to sample the extraordinary wines from Bouchard Finlayson, say, Ataraxia, Newton Johnson, Creation and La Vierge. There are none finer, though, than those of Hamilton Russell, whose sublime Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are as sophisticated, elegant and stylish as proprietor Anthony Hamilton Russell himself. You could travel the world and not find better.
2018 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir (£37.50; Hennings)
Drive an hour south of Pisa and you will find yourself on an arrow-straight road leading to the Tuscan village of Bolgheri. This thoroughfare is known to every child in Italy thanks to Nobel Prize-winning poet, Giosuè Carducci, whose verses Davanti a San Guido eulogising the ‘sunlit green avenue’ and its ‘tall and true’ cypresses are learned by heart at an early age.
Wine lovers, though, know this Bolgheri thanks to the magnificent so-called Super Tuscan: Ornellaia. A poetic name for a poetic wine. A darn pricy wine too, but once tasted never forgotten.
2017 Ornellaia ‘Solare’ (£900 for 6 In Bond; Armit Wines)