Distinctly Spicy

Some very good friends of ours, who share our love of good food and wine, brought us back some authentic paprika from a River Danube cruise recently.  So, of course, we wanted to cook a suitable recipe to enjoy some of this lovely hot, pungent spice at its best.  No problem!  One of our favourite dishes is a variant of a well-known Eastern European recipe: chicken paprikas.  Our version features chicken thighs casseroled with onions, the paprika and chicken stock and finished with sour cream, although I have seen similar recipes that include tomatoes as well.  Either way, it’s a delicious, rich, flavoursome dish, so the wine to accompany it needs to have enough character not to be overpowered.

I’d happily drink white or a light-bodied red with it but, as we were going to enjoy dinner on our terrace on a warm summer evening, my wife really thought a white would work best, so who was I to argue?

Going on the old idea that the food and wine of an area often pair well together, my first thoughts turned to a dry Furmint or a Grűner Veltliner but, as luck would have it, we’d already drunk our stock of those and so I had to look elsewhere.

Angelo Negro’s Roero Arneis from Piedmont in north-west Italy (Great Wine Company, £16) was a more than adequate substitute.  A delightful, rich, creamy, unoaked white with interesting complex savoury flavours and enough body to match the dish.  The Arneis variety is little-known outside the immediate area of Roero and was even at risk of disappearing completely in the 1970s but, happily, it has now been rescued and plantings are on the rise again.  I’ve also read of some in California, Oregon, Australia and New Zealand so, hopefully, this wider interest will ensure the survival of an attractive variety and one that is happy pairing with such a distinctive spice.

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English Wine Week

This is English Wine Week, the annual celebration of our local wine industry.  And this year, my birthday fell during the week so, of course, we celebrated with a glass of Furleigh Estate Classic cuvee at a restaurant at Beaminster, Dorset, just a few miles from the vineyard. 

Back in Bristol, the next day, we met with some good friends of ours and, again, out came the English fizz, this time from Hattingley Valley Estate in Hampshire.

But the main event of the week was an English Wine dinner at Harvey Nichols (HN) restaurant here in Bristol.  A chance to taste 4 more English wines and to see how they match with food.  The evening started with canapés accompanied by a glass of HN’s own label sparkler, a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with some of the characteristic creaminess from 3 years ageing.

The starter, soft shell crab, was accompanied by a vibrant mango, chilli and coriander salsa – perhaps not the easiest to match with a wine but the lively, crushed strawberry fruit of HN’s Cotswold Pinot Noir rosé managed admirably; the wine made for HN by the well-regarded Woodchester Valley vineyard near Stroud, Gloucestershire.

Historically, England has struggled to ripen grapes sufficiently for a red wine so finding a pairing for a main course of lamb might have proved challenging.  But not in one of the best English vintages of recent years, 2018, where Litmus estate’s Pinot Noir, grown in Kent, reached 13% alcohol and, after 19 months in oak, had the richness and savouriness to work ideally with the lamb.

Then it was back to fizz to end the meal – not just in the glass but in the dessert itself: an elegant raspberry jelly made with Nyetimber wine accompanied, of course, with the same producer’s demi-sec (medium-sweet) Cuvee Cherie. 

A very sweet dessert would have overpowered the delicate and not-too-sweet wine, but that didn’t happen here; the balance of weight and sweetness was just right and a lovely way to end the meal.

A busy week of tasting– and there’s still 2 days to go until the end of this year’s English Wine Week.

A Perfect Ending

“This rhubarb flan I’ve just made would go beautifully with a glass of sweet wine.  I don’t suppose we’ve got anything suitable?”  My wife had barely finished her question before I was heading towards our wine rack.

We often think of the different styles of dry wines pairing well with particular main course dishes – white Burgundy with chicken, perhaps, Rioja or Claret with lamb – but it is the same with sweet wines and desserts.  A delicate pudding would be overwhelmed by a powerful Australian ‘stickie’, yet that’s exactly the wine you would be thinking of to match a rich chocolate dessert or Christmas Pudding.

So, how did I choose a partner for our rhubarb flan?  Rhubarb can be quite acidic so we cooked it with some orange zest and juice to counter that and a little cinnamon for a soft, spicy flavour.  And those additions pointed me in a particular direction for the wine.  Flavours of orange or marmalade are often found in wines made with botrytised grapes.  (This happens when the grapes are left on the vine until they are attacked by the botrytis fungus which shrivels the berries and concentrates the sugars).  Thin skinned grapes (Semillon is a good example) grown in vineyards in humid areas are particularly prone to this – Sauternes in southern Bordeaux is probably the best known – but I opened a bottle from the Australian producer, De Bortoli, who also use the same grape variety.

Their ‘Florence Broadhurst’ Botrytis Semillon (Majestic, £9.99 for a half-bottle) is, as you can see, a wonderful deep gold colour with lovely honey, orange and spice flavours – just a perfect match for our rhubarb flan.  But, although the flavour is quite intense, this is not a heavy wine as, unlike many sweet wines, this has just 10% alcohol – an important consideration if you’ve already enjoyed a dry wine with your main course.

We love sweet wines and have always got a few bottles in stock for occasions such as this where a pudding is just crying out for a glass of something to end a lovely meal perfectly.

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.

The Coffee Test

How do you like your coffee? Black? With Milk?

Coffee Test

That may sound a strange question on a Wine Blog but one man doesn’t think so. I was watching an episode of ‘The Wine Show at Home’ on You Tube recently and the presenter, Joe Fattorini, mentioned Master of Wine Tim Hanni’s ‘coffee test’. I’d not heard of it before but Tim believes that, depending on your answers to 5 simple questions, you can find out the type of wines you ought to be buying. I was fascinated, so googled the questions:

  1. Do you prefer your coffee/tea black?
  2. Do you like the taste of scotch?
  3. Do you prefer salty snacks over sweet snacks?
  4. Do you prefer semi-sweet dark chocolate to sweet milk chocolate?
  5. Do you think that cream/sugar in coffee/tea ruins it?

For every ‘yes’, score 2 points, for a ‘sometimes’ or ‘maybe’ score 1 point and for ‘no’ score 0.

Then add up your points. The higher you score (maximum 10), the more tolerant you are likely to be of intensely flavoured or tannic wines (or, similarly, powerfully flavoured foods). So, if you are up around 7 – 10 points, you’ll enjoy strongly flavoured foods but also big, rich, flavoursome wines.  You may find lighter wine styles quite insipid.

Scores between 4 – 6 show some sensitivity to tannins, bitterness and acidity in wine. You’ll probably prefer smooth reds and lighter whites, although may grow to appreciate some fuller flavoured reds or whites. As for foods, you’ll be happy with a range of tastes.

If you scored 3 or fewer, you are hyper-sensitive to tastes (and, as a result, would be a very good wine taster). Tannins, bitterness and acidity in wine will all hit you hard and you’ll prefer more delicate reds, lighter, more subtle whites and will delight in elegant, restrained food flavours.

My wife and I both did the test. I scored 4 which is, perhaps, a bit lower than I might have expected, but Hilary’s score, 7, is almost the opposite of the truth.

So, based on this very limited sample, I have some doubts, but do try the coffee test for yourself and I’d be interested to hear how it works for you.