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The Wine List: Raising a glass to spring

He’s worked in wine for more than 30 years - both in supply and production, both at home and abroad - and now manages Cambridge’s Majestic Wine store. In his April column for Velvet, Hamish Wakes-Miller raises a glass to spring

Spring in the vineyards of Saint Emillion (55379971)
Spring in the vineyards of Saint Emillion (55379971)

Spring brings fresh growth and new beginnings. And my goodness, after the last two years and current European situation, we could all do with a bit of optimism in our lives.

Let’s celebrate and enjoy our wonderful surroundings in Cambridge, Newmarket, Bury St Edmunds and further afield. In Newmarket horses are being gradually primed and targeted for trial races and being prepared for the season ahead. The grass gallops are being used more and more.

Spring is also an important season in the vineyards. The sap in the vines has descended during the colder winter months, which is the perfect time to prune and plan how many buds and shoots will sprout for the next growing season.

As the springtime days get longer and warmer, the sap gradually rises in the trunk of the vine and starts to develop new buds. These buds burst open and delicate green tendrils emerge into the world. These tendrils are full of juice and behave like meandering unruly invertebrates, whilst they strengthen up and channel their energy.

In fact, if a vine is left without training or trellising it will grow in all directions and be out of control. The vigneron’s job is to harness the energy and channel the growth for a healthy plant cycle and ultimately to deliver the best quality and quantity of delicious grapes.

This transfer of energy in the vine is very dramatic. A vine can grow almost 10 centimetres per day with new growth. It is a wonderful scene in any vineyard to witness the transformation from a

brown, woody dormant vine trunk to a vibrant green energetic youthful vineyard. The colours are vibrant and new energy abounds.

In my last article I wrote about organics, biodynamics and biodiversity in vineyards. This is when the vineyard worker’s philosophy really shines through.

Nowadays it is more common to see cover crops such as clover, peas or oats in between the vines. This can stabilise erosion in the soils, capture carbon, retain water and also be ploughed back to add another element of biodiversity. I often walked through friends’ vineyards in the south of France and saw worm casts as a positive sign of well aerated and good soils.

Spring is a glorious season of vitality, but everything has a down side. The delicate tendrils and juicy sap-laden vegetation on the vines are at a high risk of frost damage. The frost can devastate grape development and destroy a harvest. For all the happiness there is always something to come along and balance nature.

Hamish’s Wines of the Month

Dr Loosen Slate Hill Riesling, Mosel (£9.99 mixed-six price at Majestic)

My good friend the wonderfully charismatic Ernie Loosen captures everything about springtime in this fantastic, vibrant, fresh, zesty white wine. The alcohol at 8.5% appeals to some people more than others. A wonderful aperitif or just something to savour with Thai or mildly spicy food.

Definition Viognier, France (£7.99 mixed-six price at Majestic)

The talented buyers at Majestic often get involved in the selection, blending and making of wines with trusted producers. The result can be outstanding, such as this aromatic beautiful white wine bursting with vitality. Hints of ripe apricots, juicy peach and honeysuckle. Perfect for every fridge door.

Chateau Grand Faurie La Rose, Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2016 (£19.99 mixed-six price at Majestic)

This excellent merlot-based red from the limestone soils of Saint Emilion is drinking wonderfully now. A delicate, classy wine with elegance and poise, which would pair very well with the Sunda

roast or mature hard cheese.

Hamish manages the Majestic Wine store in Cambridge. Majestic Wines also has stores in Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket and Bishop’s Stortford.

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