…and if you’re not having turkey?

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Last time in Bristol Wine Blog, I recommended wines to drink with the festive turkey. But turkey won’t be everyone’s choice, so here are some thoughts on wines to go with a few of the popular alternatives – and non-meat eaters should scroll down a couple of paragraphs as I haven’t forgotten you.
Douro RedLet’s start with beef – it’s quite an easy match – any good robust red should be fine; try something from the Rhône – a Châteauneuf du Pape or Gigondas, perhaps – or from Portugal’s Douro region (the bottle pictured is from Grape & Grind, £12.99) or a Shiraz or Shiraz blend from Australia. Similar choices will work well with venison or game birds such as pheasant, but partridge needs something less intense: a full white, perhaps, or, if you prefer red, a good Beaujolais or something from the Loire.
Goose is entirely different and needs particular care in matching. A Riesling from Alsace or the same grape from Germany, preferably a good Spätlese or dryish Auslese, should have sufficient weight and acidity to balance the richness of this characterful bird.
And so to the vegetarian options. Vegetable- or nut-based dishes are often quite robust and so need wines of similar weight if the food is not to overpower the wine. The choice of white or red will depend on your own preference and the particular ingredients included in the dish. Look at the strongest or dominant flavours and try to match those. Warm climate Chardonnays often work well or, for red wine drinkers, look to the south of Italy where you will find rich, herby flavours that should complement nicely. Vegetarians should also remember that many wines are ‘fined’ (clarified) using egg whites or other animal-derived products. If you want to avoid these, check the back label for details (it may say ‘suitable for vegetarians’), or, failing that, the producer’s website may tell you.
Next time: can there be a wine that goes with Christmas pudding?

Let’s Talk Turkey

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In this, the second of Bristol Wine Blog’s guides to buying wines to drink over the festive season, I’ll concentrate on what to choose to go with the turkey.

The bird, itself, would be quite easy to match – it’s basically a fairly neutral flavour so almost any white wine or, if you prefer, a lightish red would be fine. But, when you add in all the traditional accompaniments – bacon rolls, sausages, stuffing, bread sauce, cranberry sauce and the vegetables, particularly the brussels sprouts, which seem to me to have a negative effect on almost any wine – things begin to look a bit more complicated. And then, there are the guests; some will appreciate your finest bottles, others will add fizzy water to make a spritzer. One will only drink this, another hates that and when it comes to Chardonnay, it’s drumsticks at dawn!

So, how can you cope (apart from inviting no-one and having beef instead)? I’d say ‘keep it simple’. Offer a white and a red so that people can choose. My white would have a bit of richness to go with the flavoursome ‘extras’: a Mâcon Villages (just don’t tell people it’s Chardonnay) is a good choice or the same grape from the New World. Your red should be something refreshing with good fruit and a wine that won’t overpower the bird: a New Zealand or Chilean Pinot Noir, perhaps, or a village Beaujolais. You should be able to buy a bottle of each and still have change from £25.

One thing I wouldn’t recommend is to bring out one of your best bottles. You will really hate it if it’s wasted, which it will be unless you know your guests will appreciate it, so save those for another time when you can really enjoy them.

Next time: what if you’re not having turkey? What might you choose then?

Seasonal Sparklers!

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Walking round Bristol, I’m left in no doubt that it must be time for the first of Bristol Wine Blog’s guides to what you might like to buy to drink over the holidays. Let’s start with something to welcome your guests – a seasonal sparkler, perhaps?

Champagne may be your first thought – and why not? Regular Champagne drinkers will have their own favourite brands and will be very loyal, so I won’t interfere with their choice, but, for the rest, I was interested to see a review in the latest Decanter magazine of supermarkets’ and wine merchants’ own label Champagnes. They concluded that, not only were many “better than some of the far more famous brands” but, more than that, they were extremely good value. In particular, 2 offerings at less than £20 were among those Highly Recommended: one from Tesco (£19.99 for their ‘Finest’) and the other from Aldi at a remarkable £11.99 – yes, that’s not a misprint, £11.99 for a ‘highly recommended’ Champagne!

But, if not Champagne, what else? Prosecco is often thought of as just a cheaper alternative, but I don’t agree with that view; it’s generally made in an altogether different style from Champagne with less alcohol and less ageing, so is lighter and more delicate. For me, that means it fills the role as a welcoming drink better – especially if a meal with several other wines is to follow. Waitrose’s San Leo (currently on offer at £7.79) or Majestic’s Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadine (£9.99 when you buy 2 bottles) are reliable choices.

RidgeView BloomsburyAnd, finally, regular Bristol Wine Blog readers would be surprised when blogging about this subject if I didn’t mention English sparkling wines. They are now world-class and there’s an increasing and fascinating choice, but, there’s a bottle of one of our old favourites, Ridge View Bloomsbury (Wine Society, £23) sitting in the wine rack and I suspect that’s where we’ll look for our Seasonal Sparkler!

Next time: what to drink with your festive turkey.

Location, location, location!

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We’re often told that location is the most important factor that determines the price of a property; a house in a ‘good’ location will always be more expensive than the same house in a ‘bad’ location. And it’s much the same for wine; a wine from a ‘good’ area – by which I mean somewhere well-known or, perhaps, simply fashionable – will always cost more than something in a similar style and of equal quality but from a less famous place.

Nowhere is this truer than in Bordeaux where I’ve seen wines from a vineyard on one side of a footpath priced £20, £30 or even more above those on the other side. Of course, sometimes there is a very clear reason for the difference: one vineyard may be better drained or have better exposure to the sun, but, often, reputation or fashion play their part, too. And, even when there is a quality difference, is it always as great as the price gap would have you believe?

Because of this, I’m always on the look-out for wines from less well-known places or areas that are, for some reason, unpopular. Staying with Bordeaux, wines from Listrac or Moulis are often very good value compared to neighbouring St-Julien and Margaux and, across the river, try Fronsac or Castillon rather than St-Emilion or Pomerol. Or, be really brave and venture a few miles further east to Bergerac; same grape varieties as Bordeaux, similar soils, similar climate (actually a bit warmer and drier, which is good), but reputation: rock bottom!

Bergerac rougeWhich is why Le Jonc-Blanc’s Bergerac ‘Les sens du fruit’ is a bargain at £10.75 (Vine Trail). A delicious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, this wine is beautifully fresh and full of ripe black fruits with a long savoury finish. If it said ‘Bordeaux’ on the label, it would easily fetch £5 more, but then, that’s the importance of Location!

Wine from the Old ‘New World’

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Australia is one of wine’s ‘New World’ countries, but not everything about their wine industry is that new. A number of today’s major producers can claim a history dating back to the middle of the 19th century: Hardy’s, Penfolds and Tyrrell’s among them.

Rather less well-known than these is one of my favourite Australian producers, Tahbilk, and they, too have been making wine continuously for over 150 years, the last 90 of those in the ownership of the same family. Today, the 4th generation is the winemaker – but the 5th generation is already waiting in the wings! They started under the name Chateau Tahbilk but they dropped the ‘Chateau’ some time ago along with the picture of the distinctive old wooden winery (built in 1860 and classified by the National Trust of Australia) that used to appear on their labels. But they’re still working out of their original base in the Nagambie Lakes region of Central Victoria some 70 miles or so north of Melbourne. And their wines are as good as ever, perhaps better.

I have been enjoying Tahbilk’s Marsanne for many years; marsanne is a grape rarely seen outside its native Rhône Valley home, but this Victorian version has wonderful floral aromas and a rich, full and complex taste. (It normally sells for around £9 – £10 but it seems to be missing from the shelves locally at present). Tahbilk Cab SBut it was a bottle of Tahbilk’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 (Wine Society, £12.95) I opened recently and that is delicious, too; the nose and palate are more blackberry than the usual blackcurrant shown by Cabernets, but there’s also a subtle mintiness, too and great length. I would say this wine is drinking well now, although I see that the company’s website still describes it as ‘young’ and recommends cellaring a further 10 years or more; I’m not sure I want to wait that long! Although, for a company with a 150 year history, perhaps 10 years is no time at all.

Is it a Cheese? Is it a Wine?

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We drank a wine recently made from Pecorino.  And before you ask how you make wine from an Italian sheep’s milk cheese, I should explain that Pecorino is also a grape variety!  Both names derive from the Italian for a sheep, pecora, but there the connection between the cheese and the wine ends – unless, of course, you’re thinking of having an Italian wine and cheese party!

The grape is believed to be quite ancient and there are a couple of theories about its name: one is that the bunches on the vine are a very distinctive inverse triangle shape, rather like a sheep’s head; the other is that the sheep would often eat the grapes while grazing in the vineyard!  Who knows which is right, but the grape – little known outside its native regions of Marche and Abruzzo in eastern Italy – is capable of producing some really delicious white wines.

PecorinoUmani Ronchi’s Vellodoro Pecorino (Great Western Wine, £11.50), from the Terre di Chieti close to the town of Pescara in Abruzzo, is a delight: rich and mouth-filling.  Not overtly fruity – many good Italian whites aren’t – but quite spicy and full-flavoured with plenty of character and bite.  You could drink it on its own as an aperitif, but I think it’s far better with food and will even stand up to quite strongly flavoured dishes – tomato-based sauces, for example.  And, as for drinking it with a tasty sheep’s cheese – why not?

Not long ago, the variety was in danger of disappearing as other, more commercial, grapes were preferred in the area but fortunately, a rescue is in hand and Pecorino is beginning to be re-established.  This is great news! We mustn’t lose distinctive local varieties like this capable of making really attractive and drinkable wines at affordable prices.

Beaujolais Nouveau is here!

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“Beaujolais Nouveau is here!” You’ll be seeing that message in many wine shops and supermarkets from today (Thursday 20 November). But what is Beaujolais Nouveau and should you buy some?

Beaujolais Nouveau (new Beaujolais) is made from 100% Gamay grapes grown during the current year which have been harvested, fermented and bottled during the last frantic 6 weeks. It’s a process that usually takes several months (longer if you include wines from some parts of the world that can remain in barrel for years before bottling), but which the producers of Beaujolais have accelerated so that the wines can be on the shelves each year on the designated release day, the 3rd Thursday of November.

It’s a tradition that dates back to the 19th century when many people from the Beaujolais region moved to work in nearby Lyon and, each year, the newly made wine would be brought to the town by friends and relatives for a reunion. Fast forward to the 1960s and the bistros of Paris took an interest in these young, refreshing wines and competition developed to get the new wines to the capital first. This became a formal race in 1974 with the destination London, not Paris and soon races to the USA, Australia and Japan became regular events.

Although the race phenomenon has died down a little, about a half of all Beaujolais produced is still sold as ‘Nouveau’. Which brings us back to the question: should you buy some? If you’ve never tasted it, then do try a bottle. But a friend of mine once described it not very flatteringly as ‘alcoholic blackcurrant juice’ and, for me, the rush to get it from the vine to the shelves means that the wine has no time to develop any complexity; it can only ever be a simple, fruity wine (nothing wrong with that!) – perhaps more suited to being lightly chilled for summer drinking than for this time of year.

Fleurie cooperativeBut don’t forget, there is much more to Beaujolais than Nouveau. Wines labelled ‘Beaujolais Villages’ and some of the individual villages (or ‘cru’) such as Fleurie (the picture shows the grapes arriving at the winery), Julienas and Morgon make delicious food-friendly wines that are definitely worth seeking out. And not too expensive either; expect to pay around £10 – £12 for a really good example.

And, if you’re thinking of a red to go with your Christmas turkey, then a good cru Beaujolais is well worth considering.