Wine with Veggie Food

Regular readers will know I’m no vegetarian but I’m happy to have meatless and fishless dishes, provided they are tasty and, even better, if they’re wine-friendly.  There are no special guidelines for pairing wine with veggie dishes – just think the same way as you would with any meal: how robust or delicate is the food (the chunkier the food flavours, the more powerful the wine can be) and what is the strongest flavour on the plate (this may not be the main ingredient).

We cooked a dish from an Antony Worrall Thompson cookbook that was a kind of spicy cauliflower cheese although it also contained spinach – a tricky ingredient that can give some red wines an unpleasant metallic taste.  But that wasn’t a problem here as the cauliflower was coated in a lovely creamy cheesy sauce that provided the dominant flavour and that just cried out for a white wine; quite a full, rich white, though, as with the cauliflower and some borlotti beans in the dish, too, this was definitely not on the delicate side.

MarsanneYves Cuilleron’s Marsanne is from the northern part of France’s Rhone Valley and is made from one of the local grape varieties.  It fitted the bill perfectly.  The label suggests some barrel ageing, but there was no overt oak flavouring, just a satisfying, mouth-filling, buttery richness to complement the lovely peach and pear aromas and flavours.  Our bottle was from the 2016 vintage which seems to be sold out now but Bristol independent wine merchant Davis, Bell, McCraith have the 2019 at £14.99.  Based on our experience, I’d recommend keeping the younger wine a couple of years or so – this is a bottle that will definitely improve a little with age.

Finally, as this is a piece talking about vegetarian food, I should remind readers that some producers use egg whites and other animal-based substances to fine (clarify) their wines and, although there is no residue left in the bottle, strict vegetarians may object and, if so, they should check either the label or the website to see if any particular wine is suitable for them.

Provence Comes to Bristol too!

I’m continuing the theme I began last time in my Bristol Wine Blog: that, with a thoughtful choice of food and wine, you can bring back wonderful memories of places you’ve been, even when the present situation means that you can’t stray far from home.  Today, my virtual trip brings us back from Greece to somewhere a little closer to the UK.

Temperatures in Bristol a couple of weeks ago rose above 30°C (close to 90°F for those more comfortable with that scale), so it wasn’t difficult to imagine ourselves somewhere overlooking the Mediterranean – the south of France, perhaps.  The fish markets there always have the most amazing choice of fresh fish and we particularly enjoy tuna.  So, when our local travelling fishmonger arrived this week with some tempting looking steaks in the back of his van, what else could I open to accompany them but a bottle of Côte de Provence Rosé? 

M de Minuty (Majestic, £12.99) is that beautiful, delicate shade of pale orangey pink you find in so many southern French rosés and, although the flavours are quite subtle, matching the colour, the wine is in no way bland.  It opens with an appealing, fragrant, floral nose and a real herby richness on the palate follows through – this is from a relatively warm climate and boasts 13% alcohol after all.  Made with a typical blend of local grapes including Grenache, Cinsault and the much less well-known Tibouren, this is fresh and clean with lovely crushed strawberry flavours and a long savoury finish.  Ideal for drinking on its own, well chilled, as an aperitif but with the body and fullness to accompany our tuna or other similarly flavoursome dishes.

Enjoying the combination outdoors on our terrace on a bright, warm sunny evening, we could easily imagine we were somewhere exotic.  Sadly, even though there is a move to allow travel to certain destinations soon, our own caution means that foreign trips are still on hold for the present. 

But we have our memories and tasty pan-fried tuna accompanied by a delicious Rosé from Provence help keep them alive.

Greece Comes to Bristol

My wife and I had so many plans for this year.  From simple things like quiet meals at our favourite restaurants, walking by the Welsh coast, visiting a friend in Geneva and a few days away for English Wine Week.  But, paraphrasing Robert Burns (yes, I had to look up the reference!) “the best laid schemes of mice and men oft go awry”.  And, when that happens, the only positive thing to do is to make the best of it.

For us, that means buying good food and wine and, perhaps, choosing both to remind us of places we’ve been.  Then, whatever the world outside throws at us, we have our own little corner of France or Italy or, in this case, Greece, right here in the centre of Bristol.

3 years ago, we enjoyed a wine tour there (you can read my blogs of the trip on this site under the index tab for ‘Greece’) and one of the vineyards we visited was the dynamic and beautiful Alpha Estate in the less well-known Amyndeon region in the north of the country.  There, we tasted a range of their wines including a delicious red made from the local variety, Xinomavro.  Fortunately, this wine, unusually named ‘Hedgehog’ (a local species of the animal nests in the vineyard), is available in the UK from specialist Greek food and wine merchant, Maltby and Greek (www.maltbyandgreek.com) (£17.20).  We have been buying it ever since.

Its lovely, spicy, bramble and black cherry flavours are ideal to match with lamb and, in keeping with our Greek theme, we chose a recipe for Kleftiko – a dish in which lamb shanks are marinated for 2 days in a mixture of red wine, orange zest and juice, garlic and herbs and then cooked very slowly until the meat almost falls off the bone.  Delicious!  The marinade gives the lamb a sweetness that pairs perfectly with the black fruit flavours in the wine. 

And, on a sunny evening, we could just about imagine that we were enjoying the tastes back in northern Greece with panoramic views across Lake Petron.

Good or Very Good?

How do you decide how good a wine is?  Most professionals today will give it a mark out of 100 – the higher the score, the better they rate the wine (although I wonder why 100 was chosen as nothing ever gets less than 50 and few score below 70).  This system originated in the USA with Robert Parker and has largely replaced the one most European judges used until a few years ago: marks out of 20 – although the same criticism applies: virtually nothing scored less than 10.  Indeed, the Australian wine critic Len Evans once crudely observed, “even the spit bucket gets 7 out of 20!”

Some wine lovers will buy their wines based on these scores (fine if your taste and that of the critic scoring the wine coincide, but beware if not), but, for most, the best way to assess a wine is ‘do I like it?’, possibly closely followed by ‘is it worth the price?’

When my wife and I share a bottle (frequently!), we usually sample it while we’re cooking, continue with it during the meal and, if any remains, drink it through the evening afterwards.  Although some wines don’t last that long!  We opened one like that recently:

Pazo villareiPazo de Villarei’s Albariño from Galicia in North West Spain (Wine Society, a bargain at £10.50) was just so drinkable.  Lovely peach and pineapple aromas and flavours and a real richness that went perfectly with some baked hake with chorizo.  The bottle went down so quickly, there was no need to consider whether we liked it – our empty glasses told the tale.

But not all wines disappear that fast and, if some lingers throughout the evening, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re not enjoying it.  There are some wines that are made like that; the Italians have a lovely name for them: Vino da meditazione, literally, ‘a wine for meditation’, a wine to be savoured, to be enjoyed slowly, a wine of depth and character.  They can be just as good as our rapidly disappearing Albariño, but different.

And, after all, who wants to eat or drink the same thing all the time?

Where does Tannin come from?

Where does tannin come from? That was a debate my wife was asked to adjudicate on recently; one person said that it came from the grape skins, another was equally sure it came from wooden barrels. As you might expect, Hilary knew the answer and, fortunately in this case, was able to tell both protagonists that they were correct.

Let me first define what we mean by tannin: you can’t actually taste it but it’s that drying or astringent sensation you feel on your gums and the sides of your mouth when you drink many red wines, especially young reds made with grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. Much more rarely, you might also find some tannin on a rosé and even on the odd white – I’m thinking mainly of the current fashion for ‘orange’ wines – white wines made in the same way as a red. And you get the same feeling if you drink tea that has been left brewing too long.

harvest 2017

The reason you find tannin in red wines more than in whites is down to the different way the wines are made; reds are fermented with the juice in contact with the skins in order to extract colour and, as a by-product, the process extracts  tannins from the grape-skins too. For most white wines, on the other hand, the juice is normally separated from the skins before the fermentation takes place and so tannin from that source is left behind.

Ch Dauzac barrel

But, as one of the people in the discussion said, tannin can also come from wooden barrels. Not all wines are made or stored in wood but, if they are, and especially if the wood is new, then you might find a similar, drying tannin sensation (although many people simply regard it as part of the oaky taste). How to distinguish between grape-skin tannins and wood tannins in a red wine is one for the experts and, unless you’re particularly sensitive to them, isn’t something that most people need worry about.

But, if you open a wine and find it is too tannic for your taste, simply decant it and leave it in contact with air for as long as you can before drinking it. And, let it accompany protein-rich food. These 2 ‘tricks’ will help and make the tannins appear ‘softer’ and the wine will seem more harmonious and attractive.

The reasons behind the differences in taste between one type of wine and another are covered in more detail in a piece I’ve written for the Stoke Lodge website.  Go to http://www.bristolcourses.com and type in ‘Wine’ in the key words box and follow the link.

Compare and Contrast

compare

“Compare and Contrast” – probably a phrase familiar to anyone who has ever sat or set an exam. But the idea is also a basic part of wine tasting. I tried the 2 bottles pictured above on successive days recently and I was struck by how similar the 2 wines were in both their style and characteristics.

Now, some of you might have expected that – they’re both made from 100% Chardonnay, after all – but I didn’t. Chardonnay is the most variable of all the major grape varieties and the wines it makes are very dependent on where it is grown and what happens in the winery – think of a Chablis compared to a big oaky example from a warmer corner of California or Australia and you’ll know what I mean.

So, the fact that these 2 were grown, by my calculation, some 8000 miles apart in 2 different continents with very different climates and conditions made me expect 2 very different wines. But I was wrong!

The Montagny (Majestic Wine, £10.99), made from old vines (Vieilles Vignes on the label) by the always reliable co-operative in the southern Burgundy village of Buxy, was attractively crisp with peach, apple and lemon zest aromas and flavours and a slightly savoury, buttery texture.

The Cono Sur (£1 dearer, also from Majestic) is from a single vineyard barely 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean in Chile’s Casablanca Valley. The closeness of the sea and the influence of the Humboldt Current straight from the Antarctic keeps this vineyard much cooler than might be expected from its 34° South latitude and results in a lovely, well-balanced wine, again with lemon and red apple flavours and a long creamy finish.

Either would be perfect drunk, slightly chilled, on their own as an aperitif or with dishes featuring elegant, creamy sauces.

‘Compare and Contrast’ questions in exams were never as enjoyable to tackle as this tasting proved!

Drink Local

English Wine Week

This should have been English Wine Week – the annual celebration of our local product; a week when wine producers open their doors to visitors and wine merchants lay on special tastings to promote one or more of the over 500 vineyards now making wines commercially in England and Wales. But not this year. The restrictions arising from the coronavirus outbreak mean that the date has had to be postponed and we will have to wait another month – until the (possibly optimistic?) revised timeframe of 20 – 28 June – before we can sample the latest home-grown award winners.

But we, and 2 local wine-loving friends of ours, decided not to wait. Our garden is (just about) big enough for appropriate social distancing for 4 people and, with a little planning and each couple contributing a bottle, a most enjoyable and informative comparative tasting of English fizz took place, accompanied, of course, by our usual attempts to solve most of the world’s problems!

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Wines from the Chapel Down Estate in Kent are widely available in most larger supermarkets with a number of different bottlings, both sparkling and still, to choose from. But, it’s, perhaps, their Sparkling Bacchus (around £15 – £18) that most says ‘English fizz’ to me.   Bacchus is rapidly becoming one of England’s most important grape varieties and this crisp, fresh example has lovely hints of pineapple and fragrant elderflower.

Just a short drive from Chapel Down is the Hush Heath Estate, who make wines under the Balfour label. Their non-vintage Leslie’s Reserve (Marks and Spencer, £25, Waitrose, £28 or direct from the vineyard) contrasted well with the Bacchus. Bottle-fermented in what we must now call the ‘Traditional Method’ (the people of Champagne say we mustn’t use the term ‘Champagne Method’), this is a typical blend of the major Champagne varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, given 18 months on its lees to add a slight biscuity or brioche character to the lemony fruit.

So, 2 very different English sparklers, both attractive in their own way and showing just how far English Sparkling wine has come in only a couple of decades.

The Coffee Test

How do you like your coffee? Black? With Milk?

Coffee Test

That may sound a strange question on a Wine Blog but one man doesn’t think so. I was watching an episode of ‘The Wine Show at Home’ on You Tube recently and the presenter, Joe Fattorini, mentioned Master of Wine Tim Hanni’s ‘coffee test’. I’d not heard of it before but Tim believes that, depending on your answers to 5 simple questions, you can find out the type of wines you ought to be buying. I was fascinated, so googled the questions:

  1. Do you prefer your coffee/tea black?
  2. Do you like the taste of scotch?
  3. Do you prefer salty snacks over sweet snacks?
  4. Do you prefer semi-sweet dark chocolate to sweet milk chocolate?
  5. Do you think that cream/sugar in coffee/tea ruins it?

For every ‘yes’, score 2 points, for a ‘sometimes’ or ‘maybe’ score 1 point and for ‘no’ score 0.

Then add up your points. The higher you score (maximum 10), the more tolerant you are likely to be of intensely flavoured or tannic wines (or, similarly, powerfully flavoured foods). So, if you are up around 7 – 10 points, you’ll enjoy strongly flavoured foods but also big, rich, flavoursome wines.  You may find lighter wine styles quite insipid.

Scores between 4 – 6 show some sensitivity to tannins, bitterness and acidity in wine. You’ll probably prefer smooth reds and lighter whites, although may grow to appreciate some fuller flavoured reds or whites. As for foods, you’ll be happy with a range of tastes.

If you scored 3 or fewer, you are hyper-sensitive to tastes (and, as a result, would be a very good wine taster). Tannins, bitterness and acidity in wine will all hit you hard and you’ll prefer more delicate reds, lighter, more subtle whites and will delight in elegant, restrained food flavours.

My wife and I both did the test. I scored 4 which is, perhaps, a bit lower than I might have expected, but Hilary’s score, 7, is almost the opposite of the truth.

So, based on this very limited sample, I have some doubts, but do try the coffee test for yourself and I’d be interested to hear how it works for you.

The Answers

Last time, in Bristol Wine Blog, I set you a little wine-related quiz to keep you amused and interested. Here, as promised, are the answers, so let’s see how you got on:

1 (d) Cabernet Sauvignon is the correct answer.

Bordeaux probably Cab S

According to the most recent survey, there are 290000 hectares (725000 acres) of it planted worldwide, about 10% more than the 2nd most planted variety, Merlot.

2 Although St. George is the patron saint of England, the grape variety Agiorgitiko, which translates as St. George, is native to Greece, so answer (a) is correct. For those who want to show off, the Greek name is pronounced ‘eye-your-yit-iko’.

3 Chablis, being part of Burgundy, is made from (b) Chardonnay.

4 Although Italy and France produce more wine, (b) Spain has the largest acreage of vines planted. The low rainfall across much of Spain means the vines are planted further apart to avoid competing with each other for moisture so the vineyard area is bigger.

5 (d) Classico is an Italian term for a wine produced from the traditional heart of a wine region and so is the correct answer. The other 3 options denote sparkling wines from France, Spain and South Africa.

6 Chianti comes from the Italian region of (a) Tuscany.

24 Ricasoli wines

7 Grapes have been grown in New Zealand almost since the time of the earliest European settlers, but the first Sauvignon Blanc was only planted there in (d) 1973.

8 (c) Alsace is the only part of France that allows Riesling to be planted. It is adjacent to Germany’s Baden and Pfalz regions that also grow the same variety.

9 The town of Casablanca is in Morocco but the wine region is on the coast of Chile, so answer (c) is correct.

10 Most Chateauneuf du Pape is a blend of Grenache and, perhaps, 2 or 3 other grape varieties.

Chateauneuf_du_Pape

But, in all, 18 different varieties are now allowed in the blend, 5 more having been added to the already ridiculous array a few years ago. Answer (a) is correct.

How did you do?

I’d suggest 9 or 10 correct: award yourself the title of Grand Cru; 7 or 8: Premier Cru; 5 or 6: Cru Bourgeois; 3 or 4: Vin Ordinaire; Less than 3: so long as you enjoy your wine, does it really matter?

Hope this quiz kept you amused and interested. Take Care and Stay Safe.

 

 

A Little Test

With no courses or tastings running for the foreseeable future, I put a wine quiz on the Stoke Lodge website to keep the students amused and their brains active during these difficult times.  The questions – with 4 possible answers for each – are shown below.  Try them for yourself.  It’s just for fun and there are no prizes.  Just to let you know, 2 people with reasonably good wine knowledge each scored 7 out of 10, so, perhaps it’s not as easy as it looks at first.

1 What is the most widely planted wine grape in the world?

(a) Pinot Grigio (b) Merlot (c) Chardonnay (d) Cabernet Sauvignon

2 Where would you be most likely to find a wine made from the grape variety St. George?

(a) Greece (b) New Zealand (c) England (d) Portugal

3 Chablis is made from which grape variety?

Chardonnay

(a) Chenin Blanc (b) Chardonnay (c) Sauvignon Blanc (d) Pinot Grigio

4 Which country of the world has the largest acreage of vines planted?

(a) Italy (b) Spain (c) Australia (d) France

5 Which of the following terms does not indicate a sparkling wine?

cropped-sparkling-wine-2.jpg

(a) Cremant (b) Cava (c) Cap Classique (d) Classico

6 From which Italian region does Chianti come from?

(a) Tuscany (b) Piedmont (c) Lombardy (d) Veneto

7 Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand’s most popular grape variety. But when was it first planted there?

Greywacke Sauv Bl

(a) 1873 (b) 1923 (c) 1953 (d) 1973

8 Which is the only French wine region that allows Riesling to be planted?

(a) Burgundy (b) Bordeaux (c) Alsace (d) Champagne

9 Where is the Casablanca wine region?

(a) Morocco (b) California (c) Chile (d) South Africa

10 Chateauneuf du Pape is usually made from a blend of different grape varieties. But how many varieties are now allowed in the blend?

(a) 18 (b) 10 (c) 7 (d) 3

Happy Thinking and Stay Safe.  I’ll give you the answers next time.