Wine Club: Go on, a glass won’t hurt...

Pecorino grapes are named after the sheep that eat them when ripe

Pecorino grapes are named after the sheep that eat them when ripe

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Christine Austin looks at the best wines to enjoy in moderation if you are still sticking to a New Year diet.

How is the diet going? Or maybe you have decided to give up alcohol for the whole of January? In the past I have done both these things, but just like my list of soon-forgotten New Year resolutions, the diet really didn’t work for more than a fortnight.

As for giving up wine for a whole month, this is fairly difficult in my line of work, so I found it much better to have a couple of no-drink days every week throughout the year.

Since these two days a week add up to over three months of “dry” days through the year, I feel that I am keeping my liver in reasonable shape all year long.

But there is still the feeling that one must suffer a little to balance out all the over-indulgence of the festive season, but don’t overdo it. During the dark days of winter there really is nothing better than a glass of wine to lift the spirits and add zing to the taste of your steamed chicken, kale, kelp or whatever you choose as your own particular penance.

Wine does contain calories so you have to make allowances for it in the overall diet but a small glass each evening is not going to pile on the pounds.

The trouble with drinking at home is portion size. A glass of wine in a restaurant is clearly marked as 175ml in a standard glass with 250ml as large, but at home there is no line around the glass so you need to recalibrate your pouring arm. For a limited time only put the elegant dinner-party glasses away and bring out the small ones you use when granny comes round.

Buy screw-topped wines so you can return the bottle to the fridge, and this works for red wines as well as whites. The chill will keep the wine in tip-top condition for several days, and when you want to have a glass of red wine, just warm the glass you are planning to use by holding it under the hot tap, then dry it, pour your wine in and swirl. The wine will quickly get up to drinking temperature.

Now you need to select some wines that will keep you going through January, good quality but not so expensive that you want to polish off the whole bottle. Restraint not abstinence is the secret to January drinking. And since January is the traditional time of year to sign up for evening classes to learn something new, why not combine these two activities and sample some of the unfamiliar grape varieties now appearing on the shelves? All of these are white wines, which are most suitable for livening up a lettuce leaf, a thinly sliced piece of chicken or plain grilled fish.

Arneis

The white grape Arneis used to be grown solely to soften the harshness of Nebbiolo in Piemontese reds but is now venturing out alone as a white wine with an elegant, perfumed character. Majestic has the delicious, aromatic, white blossom and citrus style of Roero Arneis 2013 from Marco Porello (£11.99, currently down to £8.99 on multi-buy). This is a wine for springtime, to enjoy with the first walk around the garden.

Arneis might once have been heading for extinction but it has been pulled back from the brink and is now being grown in New Zealand where it makes a slightly sunnier, but still deliciously aromatic wine.

Try Villa Maria Arneis 2013 (Tesco, £11.94).

Furmint

Famous for its contribution to the unctuous, sweet wines of Tokaji in Hungary, Furmint can also be made into a dry wine. It needs careful ripening to develop its light apricot and steely, minerally character but when it does it is distinctive and perfect to match with lightly spiced foods or grilled fish, especially if there is a sprinkling of herbs and butter on the plate.

Try Dry Furmint Tokaji 2013, at Marks & Spencer, down from £10 to £7.50 until February 2. Tesco also has a 50:50 blend of Furmint and Sauvignon Blanc from Slovenia (£7.99). It has bright grapefruit and lime flavours with the flavoursome crunch of a Braeburn apple.

Hondarrabi Zuri

Sounding more like a souped-up car than a wine, Hondarrabi Zuri is the white grape variety of Txakoli (pronounced Chacolí). This is a wine from the Basque country in northern Spain, where there are a surprising number of K, X and Z letters in the words and pronunciation is challenging. It is much easier to master the one word “Txakoli” and know that it comes in white and red versions. Zuri means white and the red grape is called Hondarrabi Beltza.

Try Marks & Spencer’s white Alaia Txakoli 2013 (£11.99) with crisp green apple and grapefruit notes and distinct herby, minerally freshness. Perfect with grilled mackerel.

Pecorino

There are two sorts of Pecorino, and both are linked to sheep. One is a ewe’s milk cheese and the other is a grape, apparently named because sheep would eat it when ripe. The Pecorino grape has bright citrus fruit, touches of pineapple and a delicious rounded finish.

Try Pecorino Terre di Chieti 2013, Italy (Waitrose, £7.99) with chilli-spiced chicken.

Pignoletto

Move over Prosecco, Pignoletto is the new fizz from Italy. Pignoletto is an old grape variety, otherwise known as Grechetto di Todi, now replanted and it offers lively, tangy, peachy, sherbetty fruit in this new-style fizz from Northeast Italy.

Try Tesco’s Finest Pignoletto (£8.99).

Riesling

This is not an unfamiliar grape, but it is unloved, which is a great shame. Vibrant with acidity, often mellowed by just a touch of sweetness, Riesling can make wines at all price points and in many different styles.

Try the clean, zesty, light floral notes in Winemaker’s Selection Riesling 2013 (£5.50), then move up to the dry, zingy, lime blossom and ripe pear flavours of Rolf Binder “Highness” Riesling 2013 from Eden Valley (Waitrose, 10.99).

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