Freedom Wine

Wine drinking and, indeed, alcohol in general, often gets a rather bad press.   While not denying the problems that come from drinking to excess nor the potential links to some medical conditions, there is another side to wine: the pleasure of sharing a special bottle and delicious, freshly prepared food with good friends – a view, I guess many readers will agree with.

But wine can go further and actually be a force for good.  Part of the proceeds from sales of Purcari’s “Freedom Blend” (Novel Wines, £19.99) support Ukrainian refugees and the hotel on Purcari’s wine estate in Moldova has become a first stop for those fleeing the war in their country. 

The idea for the wine began in 2014 following the annexation of Crimea by Russia but was given added impetus by the invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s troops earlier this year.  Freedom Blend combines grapes from 3 countries – Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia – each, as Purcari’s CEO says, a victim of Russian aggression, and has resulted in a wine with “the heart of Georgia, the terroir of Moldova, and the free spirit of Ukraine”. 

But however much I support the concept (and I do), I also want a wine that tastes good.  And this one, which we shared with a close friend recently, did not disappoint.  Quite deeply coloured, the aromas of blackberries and dried fruits follow on into the palate where the brief oak ageing combines to give savoury flavours of spice, chocolate and leather.  Although 14% alcohol, it doesn’t feel like a particularly full-bodied wine; we enjoyed it with a hearty marsala-infused beef and celeriac casserole, but something a little less robust – grilled lamb chops, for example – might have worked better. 

Freedom Blend is an inspiring concept combining native grape varieties from Georgia (Saperavi), Moldova (Rară Neagră) and Ukraine (Bastardo) and demonstrates the power of wine to bring countries and people together – despite those who have other ideas.

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A ‘Novel’ Evening

One thing I’ve missed over the last 2 Covid-blighted years is attending wine dinners.  At their best, they are great opportunities to meet producers or wine merchants at local restaurants where they can show off their wines paired with well-chosen dishes in a relaxed, sociable setting.  So, when Novel wines sent out invitations for an evening at Bath’s Green Bird Café recently, my wife and I were keen to book.   

Novel Wines specialise in areas often ignored by other merchants, particularly Hungary and the rest of central, eastern and south-eastern Europe.  They also have an interesting selection of English sparkling wines on their list and a glass of one of these, Woodchester’s crisp, citrussy Cotswold Classic from Gloucestershire (£24.99), greeted us on arrival.

We were promised that chef Dan Moon would treat us to a 5-course Seafood Extravaganza and we were not disappointed.  Among the food highlights of the evening were a lovely piece of cured salmon with a creamy haddock chowder foam, some scallops in a delicious sticky crab risotto (my favourite dish) and, for dessert, panna cotta with rhubarb sorbet.

And then there were the accompanying wines, of course, all introduced by Ben Franks of Novel Wines. 

One of Hungary’s native grape varieties is Furmint which can produce high quality wines in all styles from dry to lusciously sweet.  It was one of the former, the rich, nutty Endre Demeter’s Estate Furmint from the Tokaji region (£24.99) that was my star wine of the evening, perfectly cutting through the oiliness of the salmon.

The choice of a rosé – and particularly one from Turkey – to pair with the risotto surprised me a little but a glass of Kayra Beyaz’s Kalecik Karasi (£15.99) convinced me.  The Kalecik Karasi is, again, a native grape and produced a delicately pink wine with crisp citrus and floral flavours – one to enjoy throughout the summer with salads and other light meals.

I love dessert wines to accompany puddings and Vakakis’ deep, intense but not cloyingly sweet Muscat from the Greek island of Samos made a perfect end to an evening of interesting and delicious wine and food pairings.

All wines are available from Novel Wines of Bath or can be ordered on-line.

Oh No! Not White Wine Again!

My wife and I like to vary what we cook and eat to reflect the seasons so, at this time of year, we’re usually aiming for warming, hearty dishes.  And, when we open a bottle to accompany them, it’s more likely to be red than white – reds generally working better with that sort of food.  But it just isn’t happening that way at the moment – the white section of our wine rack is looking particularly bare while the reds are still sitting there.  I’m not sure why; it could be that, until recently, this winter has been particularly mild and that has influenced what we’ve been cooking (and drinking).  I hope it’s not that we’re losing our taste for red wines!

Last weekend was no different; the nicest wine I opened was yet another white, this one an interesting and unusual bottle from Hungary. 

Gizella’s Barát Hárslevelű (Novel Wines, £15.79) is a dry wine from Tokaj, a region far better known for its delicious and unique style of sweet wines.  Crisp, medium-bodied and fresh with delightful flavours of citrus, ripe pear and melon and a long, herby finish.  It paired beautifully with some pan-fried pheasant breasts.

The Hárslevelű grape variety is native to Hungary and is quite widely grown across the country as well as in Austria and Romania, but, here, in the Tokaj region, is more commonly found blended with Furmint in those lovely sweet wines I mentioned earlier. But the bottle we opened was a varietal wine (made with 100% of the one variety), grown in the Barát vineyard, locally recognised as a Grand Cru.  It certainly showed the potential of the grape, particularly in the hands of a talented winemaker as we clearly have here.

I’ve mentioned Bath-based Novel Wines (www.novelwines.co.uk) previously in these blogs.  They specialise in importing bottles from small artisan producers in less familiar areas of the wine world, particularly Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and are well worth seeking out by more adventurous wine lovers looking for different and interesting flavours.