Monthly Archives: December 2016

A Year in Wine

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As this is my last Bristol Wine Blog of 2016,  I thought I’d like to share some highlights of a very busy year with you.

Back in the spring, on a trip to Burgundy, I got first-hand experience of what biodynamic winemaking really means:

18 Ch de Monthelie manure extraction
Here, a group from the local village are retrieving manure from cow horns. The manure is packed into the horns in the autumn and buried all winter. It is then recovered in the spring, mixed with water and spread in the vineyard to promote growth. Surprisingly, the manure smelt quite sweet – not at all what I was expecting.

Then, in the height of summer, a wonderful visit to the Rhine and Mosel. As often as I had read of the exceptional steepness of the vineyards there, it isn’t until you see them first hand that you really realise what is meant by hillside vineyards:

DSCN1357But this visit was also memorable for the extraordinary warmth shown to us by the locals the day after the result of the British vote to leave the European Union was announced.

A September visit to Lugano in Switzerland just happened to coincide with the local wine fair! I really didn’t know this in advance – honestly!!

2016-09-10-18-14-32But I took advantage of the opportunity to taste a few bottles that I’ve never seen in Britain.  I’m not convinced that White Merlot – one of the local specialities – has much of a future beyond the region!

Perhaps the best wines I tasted during the year were at the dinner organised by Great Western Wine at Bath’s Allium Restaurant to mark the 40th Anniversary of the so-called ‘Judgement of Paris’.  This was the blind tasting held in 1976 at which a group of French wine experts preferred a  selection of top Californian wines to those from Burgundy and Bordeaux.

judgement-dinnerSadly, despite this result and even 40 years on, there are still some who think that only France can make top quality wines.

And then, as the leaves fell to mark autumn, a superb overnight stay at Three Choirs vineyard in Gloucestershire. A delightful walk up through the vines from our room followed by breakfast looking out over this view. Could anything be more perfect?

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So now, as 2016 comes to an end, all that remains is to thank you for your continuing support and wish you a very happy and peaceful New Year.

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Turkey – or something else?

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christmas-wines

Last time in Bristol Wine Blog, I looked at sparkling wines to welcome your family, friends or guests when they visit over the holiday season.

Now, my thoughts turn to wines to match the food and I’m going to focus on the main course.  So, where to start?  Turkey, obviously!  Turkey, itself, is very wine friendly and would work well with almost any dryish wine – white or red.  The problem comes with some of the traditional accompaniments; bread sauce, cranberry sauce, chipolata sausages and stuffing all present their own problems – and that’s before you consider the ultimate wine-killer: brussel sprouts.  My view would be to go for either a big white – an oaked Chardonnay or Rhône, perhaps – or a really fruity red, say a New World Merlot or Syrah/Shiraz.  Either way, I would leave my best bottles for another time – there are simply too many conflicting flavours on the plate for a fine wine to show at its best.

But not everyone will be having turkey; if you’re having beef or game, the decision is rather easier and, in most cases, will involve a good quality, fairly robust red – Bordeaux, Burgundy, California or wherever your preference lies. 

And let’s not forget our vegetarian friends; many vegetarian options are really wine friendly.  Aubergine-, lentil- or mushroom-based dishes all work well with not-too-heavy reds – try something from Southern France or a nice Rioja.  The creaminess of a risotto would be brilliant with a creamy white – a Mâcon-Villages, perhaps – while spinach dishes need a red with plenty of acidity, such as a good Valpolicella.

The key with whatever you’re eating is to try and match the strongest flavour – that may be the sauce or one of the side ingredients, rather than the main – and also to consider how ‘big’ the flavours are on the plate; don’t overpower delicate foods with a chunky wine or drown subtle wines with strongly flavoured dishes.

And, above all, remember rule no1 of food and wine matching: there are no rules; drink wine you like, not the wine someone tells you is right for the dish.

Sparkling Wines for a Sparkling Time

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Sparkling wineIt’s that time of year again!  So, if you’re going to have some friends around over the holiday season, what better choice to welcome them than with a glass of something sparkling? 

‘It’s Christmas so it must be Champagne’ will be the view of many but, as regular readers to this Blog will know, English Sparkling wines are consistently beating the Champenois  at their own game and, for me, a bottle of something from Nyetimber, RidgeView or one of the many other accomplished English sparkling wine producers is a better choice – as well as a good talking point.  You’ll find them at many wine merchants and Waitrose supermarkets for £20 – £30 – the same sort of price you’d pay for a reasonable Champagne.

But, if your budget won’t stretch that far, there are many excellent value alternatives.  French wines made outside the Champagne region but using the same production method are called ‘Crémants’ and bottles from Alsace or the Loire can often be found in supermarkets and are frequently very good buys.

From Spain and Italy respectively, both Cava and Prosecco have become increasingly popular in recent years – and for good reason; but do avoid the ultra-cheapies: sparkling wine making is a complex process when done properly and bottles selling for around £6 or £7 are likely to be pretty basic and uninteresting.  Prefer something around £10 and, if you’re going for a Prosecco, look for the letters DOCG rather than just DOC on the label – the ‘G’ is important and will be on all the best examples.

But that’s just Europe.  If you normally prefer still wines from the New World, why not sparkling wine from there, too?  New Zealand has an ideal climate and Pelorus (Majestic, £17.99) and Lindauer (same supplier, £10.99) are favourites of mine, while Champagne producer Moët and Chandon have set up in Argentina and clearly know what they’re doing – their Brut and Rosé are each £12.99 (Majestic, again).

So, there you are.  My quick guide to some sparkling wines for a sparkling holiday season.

 

Côtes du Rhône Unravelled

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cotes-du-rhoneCôtes du Rhône: surely one of the most recognisable and popular wines on our shelves.  But how many who casually pick up a bottle in their local supermarket realise how much more there is to Côtes du Rhône than its usual reputation as just an easy drinking, good value, medium bodied red?

It’s one of the largest – and most diverse – Appellations in France with an annual output of over 250 million bottles.  The area stretches for more than 70 miles from just south of Valence to beyond Avignon, encompassing a vast range of microclimates and soils.  And, although most producers will use a Grenache dominated blend of grapes for their wine, there is almost infinite leeway to create their own favoured style as almost 20 different varieties are permitted for use in Côtes du Rhône blends.  So, finding a producer whose style you like is important.

There’s a quality hierarchy, too: at the entry level are attractive, fruity wines simply labelled ‘Côtes du Rhône’.  A step up in quality, complexity and, usually, price is ‘Côtes du Rhône-Villages’ which comes from some of the more favoured sites within the area.  Within this category, certain villages have been promoted and can either append their names to the Côtes du Rhône-Villages designation or have their name stand alone on the label.  Among the best of these are Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau and Cairanne.  All produce wines from the same range of grapes as basic Côtes du Rhône but, again, there is considerable variety from place to place and even within individual villages.  Prices of these are a little higher still.

Then there’s the most famous individual Rhône village of all: Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Their best wines are undoubtedly excellent but they come at prices that reflect both their own quality and the popularity of the village as a whole.  And, away from these, some can be a little disappointing.  So, for me, for value and interesting drinking, I mainly look to the lesser-known villages mentioned above.

And, finally, to complete the message of diversity (or, perhaps, confusion), you might have noticed from the picture that not all Côtes du Rhône is red – there’s some white and rosé, too!

 

3rd Cheapest on the List?

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I was in a restaurant with some friends recently when, inevitably, I was handed the wine list and asked to choose something nice for the group to drink.  I’d got as far as asking whether people preferred red or white when the person on my left offered the suggestion of the ‘3rd cheapest wine on the list’.

Not surprisingly, I queried the idea.  The reply was interesting: ‘the restaurant will know that no-one wants to buy the cheapest wine on the list, so they put the biggest profit mark-up on the 2nd cheapest.  So, the 3rd cheapest is probably best value for money’.   I would hope that not many restaurants were quite that cynical in their approach although I have often had the sense that famous names such as Chablis, Rioja and Chianti have attracted a bigger mark-up than less well-known bottles.

But what about 3rd cheapest as a strategy?  What happens if you don’t know the wine or whether it will go with the food you are choosing?  Or, even worse, if you do know the wine and hate it?  Do you trade up or trade down?  Perhaps you decide to just drink water instead?

For those who really aren’t confident about finding their way round a wine list, I have a better suggestion:  decide about how much you want to pay then, when your server comes to ask, point to a couple of bottles on the list at around that price and say, ‘I’m thinking of something like this, but what do you recommend?’  That way, you’re not going to be offered the dearest wine on the list and you will get some advice from someone who, hopefully, knows the wines on the list better than you.

So what did I choose?  A nice Old Vine Carignan from the south of France.  I thought it would go perfectly with the food we had ordered.  It just happened to be the 3rd cheapest red wine on the list!