Big but Balanced

I’ve been blogging for weeks about our record-breaking summer and the wines we have enjoyed to accompany lighter meals, often eaten outdoors on our lovely terrace.  Suddenly all has changed.  Autumn has arrived in a hurry and so we have turned to richer, more robust food, better suited to the cooler season.  Daube de Boeuf has long been one of our favourites – a flavoursome beef casserole with the meat marinaded in a mixture of red wine, herbs and a twist of orange rind before long, slow cooking.

The wine to drink with it?  Red, of course! 

Alain Jaume’s Vacqueyras (Majestic, £15.99) is a chunky blend of mainly Grenache and Syrah (Shiraz) that has been sitting on our wine rack for many months, just waiting for the right dish to pair it with.  It is, indeed, a big, mouth-filling wine – the label says 15% but I’d never have guessed that high as it is so well balanced.  It does need food, however, to show at its best and our Daube was ideal.  The first impression is of intense black fruits, herbs and a certain smokiness but, as the wine opens in the glass, attractive dried fruit flavours kick in alongside.  Our bottle, from the 2019 vintage, was still quite tannic – decanting in advance certainly helped – but, with hindsight, I should probably have left it unopened for another couple of years at least.

Vacqueyras is one of the villages of the southern Rhône valley, just a short drive from Châteauneuf du Pape and producing wines in a generally similar style to its more famous neighbour (although, as it is less well-known, they are often rather better value for money). 

Summers can be very hot in this part of France and heat-loving grapes like Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre thrive, giving very full-bodied reds with, it seems, ever-increasing levels of alcohol.  The challenge for producers now and (even more) in the future is to harness this and make wines that, as with the bottle recommended here, are big, rich and lush yet still properly balanced and with no unpleasant ‘burn’ on the finish.  

20 Years On

It’s more than 20 years since I passed my Wine Diploma so, when my wife suggested a de-cluttering session around the house recently, I decided that it was time that my old study files could go.  But not before I had a quick read through to remind myself of how the wine world looked at the end of the last century.  How different it was!

Even though wines from Australia, New Zealand and California were already common on our shelves, the syllabus devoted more time to each of Bordeaux and Burgundy than it did to the whole of the ‘New World’.  And the prices!  Simple wines for less than £3 and a 2nd Growth Bordeaux for about £20.  Those were the days!

But, perhaps, most significant of all were the alcohol levels of our tasting samples: some were as low as 8%.  The majority were around 11% or 12% and only a Châteauneuf du Pape and an Amarone reached 13%!

Anyway, back to 2022 and later in the day I opened a Greek red to accompany our dinner – the only mention of Greek wines in my old files was a rather dismissive note about Retsina. 

Seméli’s Nemea Reserve (Novel Wines, £15.99) was a delicious, complex red made from the local Agiorgitiko (aka St George) grape; it was full of lovely black fruits (bitter cherries and blackberries) together with some dried fruits and subtle spicy oak from its 12 months maturation in barrel and, despite its 14% alcohol (what would they have made of that in 1999!), it was beautifully balanced with no signs of alcoholic burn. 

Like most reds, this definitely needs food to show at its best – a nice juicy steak springs to mind – and benefits from decanting an hour or so before you drink it to let it open up and show its true character.

The wine world has certainly moved on in 20 years – in some ways better, in others not, but the rise of wines from previously ignored countries gives a diversity that I could only have imagined as I sat my exam papers all those years ago.