A ‘Marmite’ Wine

Lebanon’s most famous red, Chateau Musar, is a Marmite* wine (see below if this means nothing to you) – people either love it or hate it.  My wife has quite enjoyed it in the past, but I’ve often been rather disappointed, finding it over-heavy and a little old-fashioned in style.  So, as a result, it’s not a wine we buy regularly.  But, when some very good friends messaged us recently to say they’d got a bottle and would we like to share it with them, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse and we accepted eagerly.  Then, when I learnt that the bottle in question was from the 2001 vintage, I began to get quite interested.  Because Musar is a wine that needs time to reach its peak, lots of time.  So, at almost 19 years old, I thought this might just be something special – and it was.

Musar 2001

Decanted a couple of hours before serving – always a good idea with Musar – the wine showed definite signs of age in the glass with a shiny brick-red rim to it.  On the nose, it was clearly a mature wine but still wonderfully lively and fresh and with none of the volatile or alcoholic smells that had put me off in the past, just lovely, savoury, dried fruit and fig aromas.  The palate was deliciously soft and harmonious with the same flavours and character I had noted previously and the sensations just went on and on in the mouth – and in the glass over the remainder of the evening.

The grapes for red Musar are a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 2 varieties native to the south of France, Cinsault and Carignan, all grown in the hot, dry Bekaa Valley in vineyards almost 1000 m (3000 ft) above sea level.  Fermentation is in cement vats and then the wine spends a year in oak barrels.  The 2001 vintage was finally bottled in summer 2004 but, typical of Musar, not released for sale until some years later when the producers thought it was ‘ready’.

Waitrose Cellars are still showing a stock of the 2001 on their website at £27.99 and more recent Musar vintages are quite widely available, but need time before being at their best.  A wine to enjoy (or not) depending on your view.

* for those readers not familiar with it, Marmite is a tangy, savoury spread

Wine from A to Z

Here’s a little test for you: take the alphabet and try and find a wine grape beginning with each letter.  So, A for Albariño, B for Barbera and so on.

How did you do?  I managed 24 out of 26.  And the 2 gaps?  No! Not ‘X’!  Amazingly, there are 3 varieties beginning with that letter – Xinomavro, the high quality Greek red grape I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, Xarel-lo from Spain, part of the blend used for many Cavas and Xynisteri, a white variety widely grown in Cyprus.

The other letter that often proves so difficult in A – Z lists is Z.  But, of course, Z is easy with wine grapes: Zinfandel.  Although not if you listen to leading wine writer Jancis Robinson MW.  She prefers its original, Croatian, name, Tribidrag, and it’s also known as Primitivo in Italy.  But, even excluding Zinfandel, the ‘Oxford Companion to Wine’ lists 11 other wine grapes that start with Z.  I opened a bottle of one of them recently and we really enjoyed it.

ZweigeltSepp Moser’s Organic Zweigelt (Grape and Grind, Bristol, £11.99) is a quite light-bodied red – the same weight in the mouth as a good Beaujolais – and, in many ways could be opened as an alternative to that wine.  Indeed, the label suggests serving it slightly chilled and as an accompaniment to, among other things, grilled fish dishes.  I agree that, with its low tannin, it would work very well with fish – perhaps a robust fish stew, too.

The wine shows attractive, slightly bitter cherry fruit and a pleasant peppery edge – altogether very drinkable – our bottle disappeared well before the end of our dinner.

And the 2 letters I missed?  ‘Q’ and ‘Y’.  So, if you know a wine grape beginning with either letter, do let me know so that I can complete the set.



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.