Category Archives: Wine and Food

Wine with Asparagus?

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Asparagus is often thought to be a difficult food to pair with wine, but it doesn’t need to be – especially if you look out for the more delicate English variety that is in its (sadly very brief) season at the moment.  Certainly, you need to choose your wine with some care but many crisp, dry whites work quite well: Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Alsace Pinot Gris and Austrian Grüner Veltliner all spring to mind – or, how about an English wine, perhaps a Bacchus, to go with English asparagus?  On the other hand, I’ve yet to find a red that will pair happily – not even a Beaujolais or Valpolicella, two reds that often work where you’d normally consider a white.

But my wife, Hilary, was thinking along a different track; looking at the meal we were cooking – a typical warm summer evening ‘special’ of Salmon Steaks with a herb crust and creamy mushroom sauce, Jersey Royal potatoes and the previously mentioned asparagus – she lifted a rosé off the wine rack: Château Sainte Anne from Bandol in the Provence region of the south of France (Vine Trail, £20).

Bandol rose

Bandol is best known for robust, long-lived reds made from a mix of grapes, typically Mourvedre with Grenache and Cinsault in support.  This rosé uses the same combination but the shorter skin contact needed for a rosé produced a fresher, lighter wine, ideally suited to this time of year, yet still sharing the herby, spicy flavours of the red.  My wife was right – it paired perfectly with the meal (including the asparagus), as well as making delicious drinking on its own later in the evening.

So, next time you’re faced with a supposedly ‘difficult’ ingredient, do experiment.  You may find a surprisingly good match where you least expect to.

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Wine and Cheese

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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.

 

Mushrooms and Malbec

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norton malbecSome good friends of ours don’t eat meat so, when we visit them, we are normally treated to some interesting fish dish and, almost always, to an attractive white wine to accompany it.  But, not this time!  Dinner was a rich and flavoursome mushroom and chestnut casserole – something that even the most assertive white wine would have had trouble in matching.  Happily, our hosts came to the same conclusion and served Norton’s Malbec from Mendoza in Argentina, which worked admirably.

As someone who enjoys both meat and fish, I get less practice in pairing wine with vegetarian dishes but the process really is no different: first, consider whether the dish is delicate or robust (or somewhere in-between) and look for wines that are similarly delicate or robust.  Then, what are likely to be the dominant flavours on the plate?  How can you match those?

Taking our mushroom casserole as an example, there are some quite strong flavours so the wine needs to be able to stand up to them and not be overpowered.  It must also cope with the umami (savoury) taste of the mushrooms and the earthiness of the chestnuts.  Which is why the Malbec worked so well: weighty enough (14% alcohol) yet with plenty of juicy fruit and not too much in the way of drying tannins.

Yet, you can also find vegetarian dishes at the other end of the spectrum. Risotto Primavera (rice with young vegetables) is much lighter and more delicate and, with the creamy texture of the risotto, a white Maçon-Villages or something similar would be a good choice; not too heavy and with just a touch of richness.

With those ideas – and without the encumbrance of ‘white wine with chicken, red wine with meat’ – food and wine pairing with vegetarian dishes really shouldn’t prove too difficult.

Just one final point for strict vegetarians: some wines are clarified using egg whites; although no residues remain in the bottle, if you want to avoid these, check the back label of any wine you’re buying to see that it is suitable or, failing that, the producer’s website should give you the relevant information.

 

 

 

 

Local Food, Local Wine

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It’s amazing how often the food speciality of a region and the local wine go well together – shellfish with Muscadet and the little goats’ cheese crottins with Sancerre are 2 examples that spring immediately to mind, although there are many, many more.  So, when we decided to cook a cassoulet (a delicious rich stew made from mixed meats, haricot beans, tomatoes and fresh herbs originating from the area around Toulouse in the South West of France) for some good friends recently, it seemed only natural to turn to a wine from Madiran, just a short drive to the west of the city.

Madiran is not one of the most widely-known Appellations – probably because much of the relatively small production is enjoyed locally – but the best producers turn out some really lovely intense red wines, based around the astringent, tannic local grape variety, Tannat, sometimes ‘softened’ by a little Cabernet (Sauvignon or Franc) and another native variety, Fer.

Among the names to look out for are Alain Brumont’s Montus (£26.99 from Corks) or Bouscassé, Château Laffitte-Teston or Château d’Aydie and it was this latter estate’s cuvee Odé d’Aydie (Wine Society, remarkable value at £9.99) that we opened and decanted a couple of hours before drinking – always worth doing with Madiran. 

Madiran AydieEven so, the 2013 vintage was still quite tannic at first – it has at least another 5 years good drinking ahead – but, once we started enjoying it with the robust flavours of the cassoulet, it showed as I’d hoped – mellowing admirably with attractive blackberry and spice coming to the fore.

The reason behind local food and local wine working well together remains a mystery to me; does the food come first and wines develop to match it or is it the other way around?  Or is it purely by chance?  Either way, next time you start thinking, ‘what should I drink with this?’, look where the dish comes from and hope they make wine there.

Thoughts from Bordeaux

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2017-09-10 12.54.04Spending a few days in Bordeaux recently, I expected to be drinking some good red wine.  It didn’t work out that way!  Wherever we decided to eat, the most appealing dishes on the menu were fish.  And, while I’m quite happy to pair a nice tuna steak with a low tannin red wine such as Beaujolais, Valpolicella or even some Pinot Noirs, none of these is native to Bordeaux and the local Cabernet- or Merlot-dominated reds just don’t work. 

Fortunately, about 1 bottle in 12 produced in the Bordeaux region is a dry white, so I was still able to pursue my ‘drink local’ policy – and explore a group of wines that, for no particular reason, I often seem to ignore. 

Bordeaux’s dry whites fall into 2 distinct groups: the traditional style, now in decline, are mainly made using the Semillon grape with some Sauvignon Blanc added, with one, or sometimes both, varieties either fermented or aged in (mainly old) oak barrels.   More frequently now, you find wines with 100% or at least a very high proportion of Sauvignon Blanc – fresh, zingy and providing attractive drinking for a very reasonable price.  We found good examples of each style. 

Representing the modern group, Chateau Vermont from Entre Deux Mers had a lovely floral nose with pink grapefruit and peach on the palate and a clean, refreshing finish.  A simple wine, but quite moreish.  In a different league entirely and showing how good traditional white Bordeaux can be was L’Abeille de Fieuzal Blanc from Pessac Leognan, the best part of the Graves District, just south of the city of Bordeaux.  Full, rich and buttery with hints of smokiness but also lovely fruit: citrus and bitter orange and a long, complex finish.

But, good as these were, my wife knows how much I like Bordeaux’s luscious dessert wines and her picture above shows me enjoying one to the full – our accompanying puddings were about to arrive!

 

 

Sugar, Spice and Wine

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Mondavi CSWhen I was growing up, there was a nursery rhyme that said that little girls were made of “sugar and spice and all things nice”.  (Boys, on the other hand, were supposed to be from “snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails”!)  I’ve not heard the rhyme for years (perhaps that’s a good thing!), but a dish we cooked for a close friend recently might have been created with the description of ‘little girls’ in mind.  Sugar in the form of chocolate and raisins,  cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, tabasco and a chilli representing the spices and the remaining ingredients (beef, tomatoes, onions and herbs) as the ‘all things nice’. 

It might have made a good nursery rhyme and it certainly makes a delicious dish (described in the recipe as an ‘authentic’ chilli con carne – I’m sure some readers will dispute that), but how do you find a wine that will work with all those strong and contrasting flavours – and a sour cream dip on the side?

Let’s consider the spices first: spices, especially ‘hot’ spices like chilli and cayenne, tend to exaggerate tannin, bitterness and any alcoholic heat in the wine and, at the same time, make the wine taste drier and less fruity.  To combat this, you could try a low tannin wine with only moderate levels of alcohol (Beaujolais, for example) or something fresh and fruity – perhaps a New World Merlot.  And go easy on the chilli – too much and you won’t taste anything of the wine.

And what about the sweetness of the chocolate and raisins?  Interestingly, sweetness in food often has a similar effect to the spices on the wine – making it taste drier and less fruity.  Of course, with a truly sweet dish, you’d want a dessert wine.  But here, that wouldn’t work at all; the beef and the other ingredients point me back in the direction of the wines I suggested earlier.

I actually opened the delightfully fruity Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (pictured above) brought back from the US by our friend – delicious and a really good match with the flavours.

A Bristol Drunkard!

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It’s amazing where an interest in wine can lead you.  For example, it was just a couple of days ago that I discovered that ‘Le Poivrot’ was French slang for a drunkard – not that I can see myself using that information very often!

But Le Poivrot is also the name of the latest addition to Bristol’s thriving wine and food scene – and just 10 minutes’ walk from our home. 

Le PoivrotWe had to try it – and we were pleased we did as it ticks all the boxes that a good wine bar should: around 50 wines by the bottle starting at just over £20 and almost 20 by the glass or 37.5cl (half-bottle size) carafe, encompassing the familiar (Muscadet, Soave, Beaujolais) as well some more interesting and eclectic examples.   I recognised several of the bottles as coming from Vine Trail, a wonderful locally-based importer specialising in wines from small, artisan French domains.

While most wine bars (including another of our favourites, The Library in Cheltenham Road) offer platters of meat or cheese or tapas-style plates to accompany their wines, Le Poivrot also has a small number of delicious sounding main courses: I had wood pigeon with asparagus and girolles while my wife enjoyed some pan-fried ling with poached pear and spinach – both dishes beautifully presented and full of flavour.  To accompany these – and the lovely plate of cheeses we had to follow, I chose two carafes: a crisp, clean, fruity Alsace Sylvaner from Leon Boesch and an attractive Bergerac, simple, but with rich black fruits, both great value at £17 each. And all served by knowledgeable, friendly and well-trained staff – at least 2 of whom have a background in one of Bristol’s Michelin Starred restaurants, Wilks.

We walked home happy but certainly not poivrot!