By Chris Losh

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This month former Wine magazine editor Chris Losh casts an eye over a French wine with real attitude. Chablis - northern star How many times have you...

This month former Wine magazine editor Chris Losh casts an eye over a French wine with real attitude.

Chablis - northern star

How many times have you heard someone say "I don't like Chardonnay, I'll have a Chablis instead" - totally unaware that it is, of course, made from the same grape? Quite a few, I would imagine - but to be fair it's an easy mistake to make. After all, in terms of taste and profile, your classic Chablis is almost diametrically opposed to a tropical fruit-filled Chardonnay from, say, California or Australia.

There are three reasons for this: firstly, a lot of Chablis spends no time (or very little time) in oak, so it has none of those rich, spicy flavours so beloved by the New World's makers of Chardonnay. Secondly, Chablis's limestone/clay soils (sogood for Chardonnay - just look at Burgundy) add an undoubted twist to the wine that can't be replicated by, say, the flat, irrigated, characterless expanse of the Riverina. Thirdly - and arguably most importantly - Chablis's climate is a long, long way from pretty Wine This month former Wine magazine editor Chris Losh casts an eye over a French wine with real attitude much anywhere else that grows Chardonnay. Why? Because it's in northern France and it really ain't that hot.

Chablis's vineyards are the first you come to as you travel south of Paris. At 100 miles north of Beaune, they're the most northerly still-wine vineyards in France (only Champagne has more latitude) and it's not easy getting Chardonnay to ripen in this climate. OK, 2003 was a corcher, as it was all over France, and the wines will be atypically rich and alcoholic. But usually you can learn all you need to know about Chablis just by looking at the colour.

Pale lemon, often with flecks of green in it - it looks like it's come from a cold place, and the taste backs up that impression. Linear and austere are words commonly used by its fans; thin and acidic by its detractors. But while cheap or poor Chablis is one of the more unpleasant wine world experiences, there is an understated, whistle-clean beauty to its finest examples that just can't be replicated anywhere else. No doubt about it, Chablis is a wine that has attitude. Which is why it's important not to pay lip service to it and stock a Chablis just for the sake of having it on your wine list. If you're going to sell one, make it a goodie!

Food and wine matching - game

Although the meat itself isn't necessarily heavy, game is distinguished by its tendency to have earthy flavours. So, we're looking for complexity without heaviness in the mouth to match, which means it's a job for any "classic" older wines you might have in your cellar. Chianti, Bordeaux, Barolo, Supertuscans, Riojan Gran Reservas - and of course, the best match of the lot, red Burgundy, are all good partners.

This is particularly true if the meat is served relatively unadorned, but you'll need to change your thinking if you've prepared a sweet fruit or wine sauce to go with it. Then you'll be looking for something with plenty of sweet fruit to stand up to the sauce, but no aggressive, out of balance tannins.


There aren't many whites that can stand up to game, but Alsace Pinot Gris is one of them. This is a smoky wine, with reddish, russet fruits and a lovely focus, typical of this house. The fact that it's slightly off-dry will make it work well with the sweeter elements of game dishes. £87.93/case+VAT @ Contacta Maisons Marques et Domaines for local wholesalers 020 8332 2223 (£7.32/bottle)


I know this is expensive, but if you're looking for something at the top of your wine list, this wine fits the bill. It's cheaper than Burgundies of the same quality and more ready to drink, with fabulous strawberry fruit, neat spices and well balanced tannin and acidity. £200/case +VAT @ Mayfair Cellars (020 7386 7999) (£16.75/bottle)


Since the other Pinot is a) expensive and b) in a bigger style, I've deliberately gone the other way with this. The new winemaker at the estate has worked hard on softening the wines and concentrating on the fruit to give less aggressive wood and tannins and more gentle, lifted raspberry flavours. There's also a wee spritz of sandy minerality, too. This is a delicate wine for lighter game - and enormously drinkable. £124.80/case+VAT @ Berry Bros & Rudd (£10.40/bottle)


One of the wines you'll want for the reduced sauces we were talking about. The Don Reca is the sort of soft, generous Merlot that Chile seems to have forgotten how to do. Big swirling plum fruit flavours overlaid with liquorice and Christmas spices, it has a gorgeously soft, ripe palate in a slightly rich American style. Top of La Rosa's range, you get plenty of bang for your buck.£47.50/ six bottle case+VAT @ HwCg 01279 873500 (£7.91/bottle)

The A-list

This month PubChef looks at what THE LOVELADY SHIELD COUNTRY HOUSE HOTEL​, Nenthead Road, Alston, Cumbria, is doing to boost wine sales.

At 400 yards from the nearest road, the phrase "off the beaten track" could have been invented to describe this elegant Victorian country house. As such, it's no great surprise that passing trade is non-existent and that it relies entirely on the tourists who stay in its 14 rooms. Guests at the Lovelady Shield are looking for peace and quiet, and part of their R&R involves good quality food and drink. The restaurant has been rosetted for the last 10 years, but as owner Peter Haines is quick to point out, that doesn't mean that the wine list has to be old-fashioned and stodgy.

"When I first came here the wine list was very intimidating for people who didn't know much about wine,"​ he says. "But we've tried hard to demystify it."​ This has involved grouping the wines together not by country, but by grape varietal - something which has proved highly successful. "A lot of people didn't realise that Chablis was a Chardonnay,"​ says Haines. "Or they might say, 'I like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but this Australian Grenache is cheaper'"

Prices, too, have been kept deliberately reasonable. The priciest wine is a bottle of Dom Perignon, which, at £99 compares pretty favourably with off-trade prices. And although shooting parties will spend big money on traditional wine regions (and magnums), the Lovelady Shield also gets many people on bargain breaks, and there is a good selection of wines under £20 - as well as a heartening number by the glass.

To pep up the wine list, Haines has included a "crazy varietals" section, featuring grapes such as Bacchus, Baga, Viognier and "lots of Italians". If the list is innovative, energetic and laudably approachable, the final bonus in making it effective is the fact that it is left in all of the rooms. "It takes the pressure off people," says Haines. ​"They can read it at their leisure."​ And leisure, clearly, is what Lovelady Shield is all about.

WINES ON LIST:​ 165 REDS/WHITES:​ 100, plus "oddities" CHAMPAGNES:​ 15 WINES BY THE GLASS:​ 25 MOST EXPENSIVE WINE:​ Dom Perignon at £99 BEST VALUE:​ Suma Ridge Pinot Noir 2003, South Africa, £15 HOUSE WINES:​ Five MAIN SUPPLIERS:​ House of Townend

This month's recommended wines

Whether it's because, as I write this, the sun has finally made a belated appearance this summer, allowing me to toast my pallid knees in the sun for a bit, I don't know, but I'm feeling all kind of Viva España at the moment. Which is rather handy, because there are far worse countries to focus on than Spain. The days of it just being Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorato, then a load of undistinguished plonk, are long gone. This is

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