Best wines for summer barbecues

Round & About


Discover the best barbecue wines for the summer. Round & About’s Magazine’s wine columnist Giles Luckett shares his red, white and rose recommendations

Hello. The great British Summer wouldn’t be the same without the great British barbecue. Sociable, affordable, and fun, they’re a great excuse for an alfresco glass of wine or two. But which ones? Barbecued food is one of the trickier food and wine matches. OK, it’s not as tricky as mutton vindaloo (Merlot, by the way. My fiery food-loving friend swears by it), but it presents challenges. The combination of fish, fowl, flavourings and flame all need to be considered. Traditionally bigger the better was the approach, but with chefs such as double Michelin star winner Tom Kerridge taking barbecuing seriously, here are some equally serious selections for your summer’s alfresco dining.

Let’s begin in a civilised fashion with a fizz. Well, two, actually – you can never have too much fizz, that’s my motto. The first is the Villa Maria Sparkling Cuvée Brut (Sainsbury’s on offer at £11 down from £14). I’ve been a big fan of Villa Maria’s wines since the late 1990s, but I’d not come across this until recently. A blend of mainly Chardonnay with some Pinot Noir, it offers New World joy with Old World complexity. Golden in colour and with a nose of apple crumble, the soft, textured palate offers melon, peaches, and pears and a touch of tropical fruit and honey. It’s a delightful solo sipper, but it has the weight and character to partner with seafood or white fish.

My second recommendation comes straight out of the Bonza Barbie Book! (Cliché Publications £9.99), it’s the Bleasdale Langhorne Creek Sparkling Shiraz (the Wine Society £12.95). Good sparkling Shiraz is one of the wine world’s great oddities. A hefty, moderately acidic, thick-skinned peppery grape should not make good fizz, but this is one of those so wrong its right wines. The Bleasdale has a lovely purple colour crowned by pink foam. The nose is a riot of crushed blackcurrants, with peppery mint notes in the background. For me, it was love at first sip, as raspberries, chocolate, and yeast offset the sweetly toned, spicy blackberry fruits. Good on its own, it’s amazing with honey mustard chicken.

And so on to the whiter side of life. Whites and barbecued food can be tricky. Too much new oak and your mouth can feel like you’ve smoked a Woodbine; too little body and it gets drowned out; too much acidity and it can taste harsh and sour. So, what to serve…?

Well, you can start with a white Rioja. White Rioja is one of the great unsung heroes of the wine world. Take the Cune Barrel Fermented Rioja (Waitrose £7.99 on offer down from £9.99 (still a bargain at £9.99)). This is at once creamy and luxurious yet clean and crisp. No, I’ve no idea how they manage it, I’m just glad they do. It offers masses of red apple, apricot and grape fruit with undertones of vanilla, honey and crushed nuts before a lemony finish sweeps in. This is a great glassful that will stand up to barbecued white meats or fish while being equally at home on its own.

Alternatively, why not try a Riesling? Something like the Trimbach 2019 (West End Wines £19.50). Despite its appearance, name, grape and historical-geographic alignment (best not open the Treaty of Versailles debate here) this is from Frances’ Alsace. Trimbach has been making wine since 1626, and I have to say they’ve really got the hang of it. Elegance, purity, and intensity are the watchwords here. The bouquet melds white berries, blossom, citrus, and a hint of honey, while the palate offers green apples and white currants before pears, grapefruit, and minerals come in at the finish. Medium-bodied, but with such dazzling persistence, this is sublime with fish, white meats, and green salads.

A pause for a rosé thought. I’ve always found rosé to be good with barbecued fish, seafood, and white meats, but most struggle to match smoky red meats. I’ve tried newer styles of rosé that put the emphasis on power and while they work to an extent, the lower acidity means something vital is lost. A wine that manages to match all grilled foods with effortless aplomb is the Muga Rosado (Waitrose £10.99). Pretty as a pink picture, this is an upfront style of rosé with juicy citrus mingling with red berries, apricots and cranberries.

My first red is the Gaia Red Blend 2019 (Vintage Roots £17.95), which is another clever conjuring trick of a wine. An intriguing blend of Argentinean Malbec, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, its inky blue-black colour and nose of super-ripe smoked black berries, cherries, coffee, and prunes give you an impression of all-out power. When you taste it, however, you find balance, harmony, and a lightness of touch. While the juicy Malbec black and blueberry tones lead the charge, there are fruits of the forest, mint, warm spices, and a lovely floral lift that make it feel poised and precise. I had this with steak – it was a perfect foil – but it would be just as good with roasted veg with garlic, grilled halloumi, or blackened peppers stuffed with couscous.

My next recommendation is a stone-cold classic – though serve it at room temperature for best results. It’s the Journey’s End V5 Cabernet Franc (Ocado £18). This was my first encounter with a South African Cabernet Franc. In fact, it was my first encounter with a varietal Cabernet Franc in years. Too often, I find the leafy blackcurrant tone rather green and sour. This had none of that. Very deeply coloured, on opening the nose offered cassis, peppers and black cherries with a lovely leafy herb note. Full-bodied yet fresh, it offers everything from brambles and cherries to smoky vanilla, graphite, star anise and plums. An hour open and exuberance turned to subtlety, and flavours of chocolate and strawberry came through. I had it with a heavily peppered steak, and it was excellent. The juiciness and the wine’s dry tannins complimented the food perfectly.

And finally, something for the adventurous amongst you. If you’re the sort of person who does quail piri piri or slaps a lobster on the grill (I’m free that evening, by the way) then the Au Bon Climat Santa Maria 2021 Pinot Noir (Berry Bros. & Rudd £31) is for you. This last vintage of the founder and Californian wine pioneer Jim Clendenen is a suitably fitting tribute to a man who did more for American Pinot and Chardonnay than anyone else. Gorgeous nose of red and black berries, roses, and cocktail cherries with a touch of menthol, the palate is tightly packed with strawberry, blackberry, black cherry and vanilla notes, that are lent further complexity by meaty tones, and a savoury edge. The bright acidity means it will happily partner fish, foul, or flesh, but make sure you give it a couple of hours open.

“The bright acidity means it will happily partner fish, foul, or flesh.”

Well, I’m off to fire up the grill – those unami mushroom burgers won’t burn, I mean cook, themselves.

Next time I’ll take a look at the wines of New Zealand – surprises are in store…

More soon,

Giles Luckett’s best wines of Rioja

Round & About


Learn more about the wines of Rioja as Round and About’s wine columnist shares his thoughts on the best red and white Riojas on the UK market

Hello. A game I like to play sometimes is wine keywords – I’m too old for an Xbox, and I don’t drink enough port to be good at bridge. The aim of the game is to encapsulate a wine region’s history in as few words as possible and have people guess where you’re talking about. Trust me, this goes down a storm with men of a certain age with model railways and a subscription to Decanter!

So, Bordeaux could be, ‘British-owned. British invented. British drunk while Champagne could be ‘Monasteries. War. Billionaire brands.’ Which region, though, would be, ‘Bugs. Trains. A fascist’.

It is none other than the beloved region of Rioja, which is the subject of my latest ode to wine.

The Wines Of Rioja: A Very, Very Brief History

Wines have been produced in Rioja in northwest Spain for donkey’s years. The Romans introduced viniculture here, and the wines enjoyed an excellent local reputation. The wines came to international prominence in the 1850s when phylloxera – a root-chewing bug – devastated much of France’s vineyards, most notably in nearby Bordeaux. Bordeaux winemakers in need of work decamped to Rioja, bringing expertise in the use of oak, amongst other things, and helped take the wines to a whole new level.

Around this time, the railway finally reached the wine towns of Haro and Logrono. This meant that Rioja could be transported easily to the rest of Spain and the ports, which have them access to international markets.

Owing to the world wars and the Spanish Civil War, the region fell on hard times in the early part of the 20th century, and it was only with the rise to power of Franco that its fortunes were restored. Franco was mad about wine and wanted to see Rioja take its rightful place on the world stage. In one of his (extremely rare) good deads, he helped ensure that the wines were produced to high standards and became sought after again.

Rioja Today: New Classic Wines

Today, Rioja is rightly regarded as one of the great wine regions of the world. Its capacity for value is unrivalled, and there’s a surprising level of diversity in the nature and styles of wine, between the traditional and the modernist. In this article, I will offer you the benefit of my 30-odd-year obsession with this beautiful, complex, generous wine region, which I hope will whet your appetite for these extraordinary wines.

Let’s begin with the wine that started my love affair with Rioja, the Cune Crianza (Sainsbury’s £9). I first encountered this as Harrods’ Rioja when a Spanish colleague Carlos recommended it as a star staff buy. He wasn’t wrong. To this day, I can remember it. As someone who’d been brought up on Bordeaux and wines from the Midi and the Rhone, this was a revelation. A wine packed with exuberant red and blackberry fruit, spices, citrus peel, and creamy vanilla, it was as if I’d been drinking black and white wines, and this was my introduction to colour. I had the 2018 last night and found it just as diverting as I did all those years ago.

Next are two whites. White Rioja was, for the longest time, something that was best avoided. The Riojans’ idea that wood was good, so more wood is better, worked well (to an extent) with the reds, but for whites, it was often folly. A familiar tasting note for white Rioja in the 1990s was, ‘Smells of old chip fat, colour of old chip fat, tastes of… old chip fat.’ Happily, those days are gone, as these two contrasting corkers show.

The Muga Blanco (Majestic £12.99) is a modernist interpretation and is bottled summer. A blend of mainly Viura and Malvasia, the nose is bright, full of apple blossom, pears, and a hint of honey. In the mouth, it’s clean and delicate, yet the persistent fruit notes of pears, honeydew melon, apricots, and tangy gooseberries give it oomph.

By contrast, the Cune Barrel Fermented Rioja Blanco (Waitrose £10) is an altogether more rounded, richer, mellow, traditional iteration. This is one of my favourite white wines, and I must have had close to 30 different vintages. The consistency is remarkable, and it never fails to please. The latest vintage has the same ripe, soft mouthfeel and generosity of fruit I’ve come to expect, but this time out, there’s a nutty edge to buttery peach, apricot, and green apple fruit. A great wine for summer sipping.

I mentioned my adoration for the wines of Contino in my last column, and I make no apology for mentioning one again this time. This time, it’s the Contino Reserva 2017. You can often tell a lot about the quality of wine and the vintage by the wine’s classification. In Germany, higher levels of sugar are revered and in rare vintages, you get the mighty trockenberenausle, which has so much sugar in grapes that it can take months to ferment and end up with 6 or 7 degrees of alcohol. In Champagne, it’s if a wine is vintage or not, and in Rioja it’s about the level of oak ageing the wine can sustain. Categories such as Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva all have pre-release ageing requirements in barrel and bottle, and as a crude rule of thumb, the more it can take, the better the wine is and the higher its designation.

The Contino Reserva 2017 (Noble Green £22) is an outstanding glass of wine. 2017 was a ‘challenging’ year – in the same way that nailing water to a wall with a hammer made of ice is challenging – yet by virtue of having a sublime vineyard and uncompromising winemakers with exceptional skill, they have turned out a sumptuous wine.

The nose in an inviting blend of smoked black fruit, tapenade, and cranberries. The voluptuous palate is medium-bodied, full of brambles, strawberries, hints of chocolate and raspberries, and a good helping mixed spice. As hard and angular as a bubble bath in a paddling pool, this won’t make seriously old bones, but it’s seriously good now.

Marqués de Cáceres is one of those Rioja brands – like Campo Viejo – that seemed to lose their way some years ago. For the longest time, their red, white, and rosé wines were a supermarket staple, and while they were OK for the money, that’s all they were. Today, they are back in a big way. Flagship wines like Gaudium are well worth their £40+ price tag. For rather more modest money, the Marqués de Cáceres Reserva (Majestic £12.99) is deep joy. This is the old-school Rioja. High extract with lots of dried blackcurrants, plums, warm spices, vanilla, and orange peel; this is perfect for red meats and hard Spanish cheeses.

Generally speaking I don’t tend to go for Gran Reserva wines. Rioja’s – unfair – reputation as wood aged in wine stems from this style. Eager to use the impressive designation, too many industrial producers have subjected wines that didn’t have the fruit of the extract to carry such a weight of oak, and the results weren’t great.

When done well, however, Gran Reserva Rioja can be glorious. Take the Beronia Gran Reserva 2015 (Majestic £21). Hailing from a great vintage, even after 28 months in cask, it remains deeply coloured, with a bramble, red cherry, and plum scented nose. In the mouth the fruity continues to take centre stage, with layer-upon-layer of black and red berries rounded off by creamy oak. Great now, this has a long future.

Roda may not be a winery you’re familiar with, but in the course of 30-odd year life, it’s taken Rioja by storm. Roda is the picture of modernity in a traditional region. They restrict the amount of oak, favour French (subtler, more expensive) over American, use cooler fermentation temperatures, and aim to bring a subtle expression of Rioja to life. The resulting wines are fascinating, combining traditional flavours with an arresting delicacy of approach. The Roda 1 2016 (Master of Malt £29.95) offers a great introduction to these beguiling wines.

Still with me? Good, only two to go, and what a pair…

Vina Real is another traditional wine, but there’s a delicacy and a flair to their wines that I’ve always loved. My latest encounter with this noble wine was the Vina Real 2016 Reserva (Tanners £21.50). This is a red berry and spices wine. The colour is paler than some thanks to four years in barrel, and buttery oak runs through it like Brighton through a stick of Brighton rock. It doesn’t overwhelm, however. Instead, it adds cream tones to the wide range of juicy berries, and gives a wine that was made for food.

And finally, a budget-busting classic, the Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva 2010 (Petersham Cellars £275). Now, £275 is an awful lot of money for a bottle of wine, but this is a rare beast. Only mad in exceptional years and aged for five years in oak and a further five in bottle – sometimes even longer – this a wonderful curio. Showing none of its age, it’s bright red and youthfully intense. Medium-bodied, mouth-filling, creamy and exotic, there’s everything from blackcurrants and cherries to Asian spices, coffees, dark marmalade, and charcoal. It’s a great Rioja experience, at a price.

Well, that’s it for now. All this talk of Rioja has given me a thirst the size of CVNE’s barrel hall.

More soon!


Valentine’s Day wine pairings for lovers

Round & About


Make the most of Valentine’s Day with these romantic wine recommendations from our wine columnist Giles Luckett


I’ve always liked to think that when Ernest Dowson penned the immortal line, “Days of wine and roses” that, he took his inspiration from Valentine’s Day. As a self-confessed romantic and someone who has more than a fleeting infatuation with wine, the two have always been inexorably intertwined in my eyes. After nearly three decades of marriage, I can recall the wines that marked significant anniversaries in our lives. Proposal accepted, Krug NV. Our first house, Dom Perignon 1990. Wedding Day, Laurent Perrier (innumerable bottles!). Daughter adopted, Lafite 1961. Silver wedding anniversary, Comte de Champagne 2009.

“As a self-confessed romantic and someone who has more than a fleeting infatuation with wine, the two have always been inexorably intertwined in my eyes.”

And so, with the annual excuse for romance upon us again, here are my wine recommendations for making February the 14th a date for the diary and the cellar book.

Let’s start with a couple of rosés. Rosé wines are versatile, often delicious, and obviously pretty in pink. My first recommendation is from my favourite Rioja producer, CVNE. While I’ve loved CVNE’s wines since my Harrods days, their rosé is a wine I only discovered last summer. The CVNE Rosado (the Co-op £8.50) is a joyous wine guaranteed to bring a smile to your lips. Mid-pink, the nose is all red berries, and cherries, with a touch of blossom, while in the mouth, there are gentle notes of strawberries, peaches, and a whiff of pepper.

My next wine is the oh-so-chic Whispering Angel (Laithwaites, £20). The Cotes de Provence producer has become the darling of the wine trade – Jancis Robinson described the winemaker as “the golden boy of rosé”. The estate’s top wine, Garrus, goes for an eye-watering £100 a bottle, but even their entry-level wine is something special. Easy on the eye and powerful on the palate, this is a rich, opulent rosé that exhibits peppered strawberries, dried raspberries, and watermelon notes, before the dry, full finish. Food-friendly, this is excellent with lamb or baked cheese.

Red is the colour of romance, so let’s look at a couple of red wines. Given its still winter, I’d recommend a couple of heart-warming winter reds. First up, a winery that has become very dear to my heart over the past couple of years, Vina Zorzal. Hailing from Navarra (head to Rioja and turn left), this is one winery I cannot fault, but if I had to pick my favourite, I’d say it was the Vina Zorzal Ganarcha (The Wine Society £8.50). Plump, luscious, easy-going, and brimming with soft blackberry, cherry, and plum fruit, this is a lovely cheery wine that is great with food or conversation.

If you’re looking for something more serious – perhaps to accompany a serious question…? then try the Joseph Drouhin, Chorey-lès-Beaune (Waitrose £21.99). Burgundy has enjoyed a succession of good vintages so that even (relatively) lowly villages wines such as this have been turning in mouth-watering wines. With a bouquet of fruits of the forest tinted with woodsmoke and a palate that offers red cherries, raspberries, cranberries, and a touch of spice, this is an easy wine to love.

And so on to fizz. Regular readers of this column will have gathered I have a bit of spot soft for sparkling wines. And when I say soft, I mean butter in the Sahara at midday, and when I say spot, I mean every fibre of my being. Now while there are lots of great ones to choose from – Cloudy Bay’s Pelorus (Sainsbury’s £26), Nyetimber (Waitrose £38.99), Tesco Cava (£6), or Chandon Garden Spritz (Majestic £19.99) – I’m going to recommend one from my sparkling wine producer, Graham Beck.

The Graham Beck Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 (Majestic £19.99) takes Beck’s superb wines to a new level. Beyond the stunningly pretty rose gold colour, lies a wine that offers strawberries, red cherries, and dried raspberries with satisfying notes of yeast, peaches, and limes in weighty, yet clean and fresh form.

Of course, Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without champagne, and here are my three top picks for this year’s romantic night in. The first is Gosset Grand Rosé (Berry Brothers £58). I visited Gosset in September and was reminded of how special their wines are. The precision, clarity, and piercing beauty of Gosset’s wines is something to behold. Put in less winey language, they are bone dry, refined, high-toned, driven by pure red and white berry fruit, and are gloriously complex. Try this stunner with food from smoked salmon to chicken.

Bruno Paillard is another champagne house I’ve had a long-lasting affection for. This is a house of (relatively) modern origins that produces stylish, elegant wines of great complexity. Their Rosé Premiere Cuvee (Champagne Direct £55) is a delightful take on this classic style. Pale pink, it offers everything from rose petals and summer pudding to cranberries and brioche. This is a wine to sip and savour on its own.

And to finish a wine that a friend of mine at Laytons once memorably described one Valentine’s Day, as ‘A prelude to an happiness it’s the Taittinger Rosé (Sainbsury’s £44). Taittinger’s wines are framed for their elegance and refinement, and these fine traits are on show in this beguiling wine. Deep pink, the nose is fruit-driven, with lovely notes of super-ripe summer berries tinted with savoury yeast. The palate is light, yet the persistence gives it power and depth, and Taittinger’s hallmark preaches in syrup tone adds a luscious flavour to the finish.

Well, that’s it from me for now. I hope you’ll have a fine Valentine’s Day, and I’ll be back soon with some spring wine recommendations.