Value from St Emilion

The French region of Bordeaux produces around 700 million bottles of wine in an average year (rather less last year due to the poor weather affecting the crop yields).  That makes it easily the largest Quality Wine (Appellation Contrôlée) region of France and, putting that number in context, if Bordeaux was a country, it would be the world’s 12th largest producer, just behind Portugal.

Not surprisingly, there is considerable variety within that volume of wine; not just red, white and rosé, but dry and sweet, still and sparkling and, of course, a vast range of prices and quality – not always the same thing!

And, even within those broad categories, there are major differences in style.  Consider the reds which make up more than 80% of Bordeaux’s output, for example; if you travel north or south from the city, the wines you find will, very likely, be blends dominated by the distinctive blackcurrant flavours and aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cross the rivers to the east, however, and things change.  Here, the main grape variety is Merlot and the wines are softer, fuller-bodied and with flavours of plums and chocolate.

The pretty old town of Saint-Emilion is both the most famous tourist attraction on this side of the river and the best known wine name.  As a result, bottles from that Appellation itself are inevitably pricey but, if you look to some of Saint-Emilion’s satellites – Montagne-St-Emilion, Lussac and St Georges – there is value to be found.  

Tour Bayard M St EmilionChâteau Tour Bayard (Majestic, £12.99) comes from the first of these and has lovely red plum and black cherry flavours and the sort of reassuring softness that comes from a few months in old barrels.  The 2014 still has some tannin evident and will clearly last a few years but, decanted and with food (grilled lamb steaks recommended!), it is very drinkable now and a good introduction to the style this part of the extensive Bordeaux region has to offer.

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Wine and Cheese

Wine and CheeseHow often do you hear talk of cheese and wine together?  They seem to have a natural affinity.  But is that true for all cheeses?  And how about the wines?  Do reds work better or whites?  Or is it, like so much else in this area, all down to personal taste?  That was the question I tried to answer during a fascinating evening of wine and cheese I ran for some regular clients recently.

I took along a selection of wines – 3 whites, 3 reds, all dry or just off-dry, except 1 fortified sweet bottle.   And the cheeses: a soft goats’ cheese, a Camembert, an Ossau-Iraty – a hard sheeps’ milk cheese from the Basque region – and a Saint Agur Blue.  So, quite a variety.  But which combinations worked and which didn’t?

Goats’ milk cheeses are often higher in acidity than those made with cows’ milk and so usually work better with wines sharing that characteristic.  I chose a white wine, Tesco’s Finest Falanghina from southern Italy (£8) – a red would overpower the delicate cheese – but a nice Loire Sauvignon or, perhaps a Chablis or other unoaked cool-climate Chardonnay would be good alternatives.

The Camembert was altogether richer and creamier and so needed a slightly more full-bodied wine to match.  Again, I would suggest a white rather than a red.  Tesco’s White Burgundy (£8), from the warmer Macon region or the Co-op’s ‘Irresistible’ Marsanne (that’s its name, not necessarily my description!), a delicately oaked example from the south of France (same price) both showed well.

The same wines also complemented the firm, nutty Ossau-Iraty, one of my favourite cheeses, but this also pairs well with a lightish red – a Beaujolais or Pinot Nior, perhaps, although the Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva (most supermarkets, around £8) proved a popular alternative on the night.

Finally, Port and stilton is a classic combination but I chose a different fortified wine to match with the Saint Agur blue I took along: Mavrodaphne of Patras (Tesco or Sainsbury’s, around £6) is made in a similar way to port with the fermentation stopped early by adding alcohol.  This proved to be a ‘love it or hate it’ choice but, for those in the latter category, knowing which wines you don’t enjoy is as valuable a lesson as finding those you do!

The one thing that all were agreed upon: cheese and wine go wonderfully together.