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May flowers: Joanna Goodman picks a bunch of floral wines for the season

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Joanna Goodman Joanna Goodman / 01 May 2019

As the flowers start to poke their heads above the parapet outside, I thought it would be fun to pick out a few floral wines to match the seasonal mood.

A quick search using the term 'floral' on our website brings up over 50 products, reds, whites, sparkling and even spirits… it's a bit of a catch-all descriptor, but I think we all know what is meant by it. I am sure you will all have your favourite floral wines, so this little bunch is just a collection of the wines that came to my mind when thinking 'floral'… there are of course plenty more for you to add to your own bouquet.

Fleurie

Where better to start than with this most popular and seductively named of the Beaujolais crus? How could the wines be anything but floral with a name like this? Though, don't be misled, the cru takes its name after the village of Fleurie around which the vineyards are sited which itself was named after the Roman general Floriacum.

Like all Beaujolais, this is made from the gamay grape but the vineyards here in the northern part of the region seem to make the most aromatic of all the crus with evocative bouquets reminiscent of iris, violet and roses and with a silkiness to the flavour to complement.

If you're yet to be seduced by Beaujolais, my tip would be to start with the wines of Fleurie with their come-hither attributes you'll soon be bowled over in a way reminiscent of Impulse ads of the 1980s (remember those?!).

Manzanilla also means chamomile in Spanish

Manzanilla

Continuing on the literal theme made me think of my favourite sherry, manzanilla; floral by name and floral by nature! It's made on the coast of Andalucía at Sanlúcar de Barrameda and gets its perfumed style from the extra thick layer of flor (yeasty film) which grows on the wine in barrel as it ages. The bacteria in the flor (which, of course, translates as 'flower') is believed to be more active due to the humidity here on the banks of the Guadalquivir river. The flor protects the sherry from oxidation and feeds on glycerol which can make wine taste a bit 'fat', so this wonderfully natural way of ageing the wine is what makes it so fresh and tangy.

While it might be stretching it a bit to say that manzanillas are actually floral (though aromatic and appetising they most definitely are!) the fact that manzanilla also means chamomile in Spanish says a lot, I think. But buyer beware! Much to the amusement of my partner and my disappointment, I was once given a chamomile tea instead of a chilled glass of sherry when I ordered a manzanilla in a tapas bar in Spain. You have been warned!

Find your favourite manzanilla SHERRY here

Pinot blanc

Last year I was lucky enough to accompany buyer Joanna Locke MW to Alsace (I wrote about the experience in Travels in Wine). My tasting notes were peppered with 'white flowers and white blossom' as I grappled to find the words to describe the delicate, almost ethereal aromas and flavours of these pure-tasting wines. I'm not sure that I could pin-point which particular white flowers I was referring to; my knowledge of flowers being even more diminished than my vocabulary, I fear! But once I had stumbled upon this term it seemed just so apt and abundant, like an Alpine meadow strewn with... oops, sorry!

Anyway, looking back over my notes, it was most often pinot blanc (and sometimes pinot gris) that got the white flower accolade. I confess that in the past I had always found pinot blanc a bit bland and hard to pin any definite descriptor on, so this was a bit of a revelation for me and helped me gain a new respect for this grape which the good folk of Alsace (who know a thing or two about food) call their bistro wine.

Edelweiss anyone?

Pick from our bunch of pinot blancs here

The wines of Alsace display almost ethereal aromas and flavours of white flowers and white blossom

Gewurztraminer

No list of floral wines would be complete without a mention of this grape, another noble Alsacien variety, which when you first start out on your wine-tasting career is a bit of a god-send in a blind tasting! Heady and exotic with exuberant, even pungent, aromas of lychee and rose-petal, this spicy little number can be a bit of a marmite variety for some. But if you like piquant, Asian-style cooking (and who doesn't?!), you won't find a wine better equipped to take on the fire-factor and bring something else to the party too. The fact that it comes in both dry and profoundly sweet versions just adds to the appeal and intrigue. If you haven't discovered gewurztraminer yet, you could start out with a Chilean example, where terrific value-for-money wines offer a perfectly acceptable entry point into a long love affair with this most exotic of grapes.

Discover our gewurztraminers here

Gewurztraminer is a perfect match for piquant, Asian-style cooking

Muscat/moscato

Going back to the early days of learning about wine reminds me that we were told that this is the one grape that actually tastes, well, like grapes! But as we all know, most of our perception of a wine's personality comes from aroma rather than taste and when it comes to aroma, you can't get more floral than muscat. But when it comes to pinning down the flower in question, this time there is no doubt: it has to be orange blossom. Oh damn! You have found me out again. Of course I have never experienced the aroma of actual orange blossom, I'm no Jo Malone, but I know what it smells like – it's muscat!

I think this grape is also under appreciated. Perhaps it is the fault of Moscato d'Asti, the low-alcohol gently sparkling wine of north-west Italy which people like to take a pop at. Actually the real deal is not to be sneered at. Yes it's light and a little frothy, but like most things, when properly made it's an unadulterated delight and surely nothing goes as well with fruit salad.

Or maybe it's just because muscat is just so ubiquitous that its floweriness gets taken for granted. It doesn't just pop up right across the Mediterranean, but gets as far as South America, the Cape and Australia. Or could it be the fact that it is just so versatile that it isn't taken seriously? Sure it does light and frothy brilliantly, but it also does fortified, late harvest and seriously dry too. Perplexing for a simple, floral variety, huh?

Well, my advice would be to take this unabashedly floral grape at face value and remember that, above all others, none goes quite so well with asparagus (I'm thinking especially Alsace muscat – those foodies again!)

Put your finger on the pulse of multifarious muscat here

The best wines from Chianti often present notes of roses and violet

Nebbiolo and sangiovese

Two of Italy's premium red varieties always come up roses for me! The first, the classic grape behind Piedmont's Barolo, whilst having a bewitching, ethereal aroma of rose and violet is pretty tough and tannic in its youth. But put these bottles away for a while and you are rewarded with wines which tread that fine line between elegance and power, and flavours that go on and on – the holy grail for fine wines producers and lovers, in other words!

Sangiovese is the great grape of Tuscany. It's a bit fickle and temperamental but when it's good it's very, very good. This is why it pays to buy wines from the best places and best growers. In general though, it excels in Chianti Classico, Chianti Rufina, Montalcino and the town of Montepulciano. When it comes to the particularly perfumed, though, keep your eyes peeled for the wines of Paulo de Marchi from his beautiful Isole e Olena estate. A more pure expression of the sangiovese grape you will be hard-pressed to find.

Narrow down your hunt for nebbiolo

Search for sangioveses