A Bottle in the Chef?

I’ve mentioned before in my Bristol Wine Blog how often the food and wine of an area pair well together. Perhaps the most famous and obvious example is a dish from France’s Burgundy region, Coq au Vin – chicken cooked in the local red wine. Traditionally it is said that you should put a bottle of Burgundy into the pot to cook the dish and another on the table to drink with it. Given the price of even basic Burgundy these days, many would seek a cheaper alternative to cook with.

I remember when I worked as a wine guide in Harveys Cellars, one chef in the restaurant there had a different view: “Ian, you have got it wrong – it is a bottle of good Burgundy in the dish and another in the chef while he is cooking”! Perhaps that explains why Harveys restaurant closed many years ago!

But the idea of drinking something similar to the wine that the dish is cooked in does make sense, even if the quality of the 2 wines used is rather different.

When we cooked a version of coq au vin recently, we didn’t use a Burgundy in the dish but a simple red wine, which seemed to do the job perfectly well.

NZ P Noir

And we didn’t drink a red Burgundy either but the same grape – a Pinot Noir – but from New Zealand (Zephyr Estate from Marlborough, Wine Society, £13.50): fresh, full of red fruit flavours and not too heavy – in short an ideal match for the chicken. For me, a white wine, perhaps a more obvious choice with chicken normally, is unlikely to work as well with the fuller flavours of a dish cooked in red wine.

So, next time you’re wondering what to drink with your meal, think where the dish comes from and try and find a wine from the same area or, failing that, something that you feel reflects the same sort of place.

 

Bordeaux Style not Bordeaux Price

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are, according to official figures, the 2 most widely grown wine grapes in the world. It wasn’t always that way but, thanks to the reputation and popularity of red Bordeaux, there has been a trend over the last 30 years or so for wine estates all over the world to plant these 2 varieties in the hope of reproducing the quality and success of one of France’s most prestigious regions.

Some of these newcomers have made great wines, but not all. The problem is that climate, soil and other factors that influence wine style vary so much across the globe and Cabernet Sauvignon, in particular, can be quite a fussy variety. Grow it somewhere too cool and you get unripe ‘green’ flavours, such as herbs and green peppers. Too warm and the wine turns out coarse and jammy. So, you need to find somewhere just right.

How about looking for similar conditions to Bordeaux? Sounds like a good idea yet, until recent years and global warming, at least 2 or 3 Bordeaux vintages each decade were just too cool to ripen the Cabernet properly; that’s why the region has always grown Merlot, too – this less demanding grape is a more reliable ripener, even in cooler conditions.

But, there are places across the world with climates similar to Bordeaux: Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, for example. Here, growing season temperatures are just a fraction cooler (although with longer hours of sunshine) and a touch drier.   And, as you might expect, you find Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon widely planted.

NZ Cab Mer

The Wine Society’s Exhibition Hawkes Bay Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (supplied by top producer, Craggy Range) actually includes small amounts of 2 other red Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, to produce a wine with lovely red plum and black berry flavours, a hint of subtle smoky oak and a long silky finish.

And one advantage of buying from New Zealand rather than from Bordeaux – the price: £12.95. For this quality, a Bordeaux could easily have cost twice as much.

 

200 Years? Not Yet!

The 1st vines were planted in New Zealand in 1819. But don’t start raising a glass to 200 years of New Zealand wine yet! Those vines were planted by Samuel Marsden of the Church Missionary Society, a group whose anti-alcohol views were both robust and well-known. So, unless someone made some wine in secret – always possible – the true bi-centenary celebration will have to go on hold for a few more years.

How many? Even Keith Stewart’s ‘Chancers and Visionaries’, a fascinating history of New Zealand wine, can’t be precise although, by the mid-1830s, James Busby and others were certainly very active in their wineries. But wine drinking and winemaking never really thrived at that time in New Zealand, nor, indeed, well into the 20th century, thanks to restrictive laws. It wasn’t really until the 1970s that the modern New Zealand wine industry was born – an amazing fact when you think of the success that country’s wines enjoy today.

But, as regular Bristol Wine Blog readers know, I’m always happy to open a bottle from there, even if we are celebrating a little too soon.

NZ P NoirTwo Paddocks ‘Picnic’ Pinot Noir (Grape and Grind, £18.99) is a lovely smooth and fresh red with all those typical flavours and aromas of a good Pinot Noir: dried fruits and a certain undergrowth smell on the nose followed by black and dried fruits on the palate, quite savoury and a little smoky, but really complex and a finish that goes on and on. But, at the same time, it’s very drinkable – not heavy, so best with lighter meats or cheeses; very much a food wine. And remarkable value for money: if this was from Burgundy, I suspect the price would be double.

So, celebrating or not, this is a bottle well worth opening – and, perhaps, getting a 2nd one to keep under the stairs because, in a couple of years, I suspect it might be even better.

A Sparkling Evening

“Can you run a tasting of sparkling wines for us?”  It’s not a request I get often – sparkling wines can be quite expensive and, perhaps, more for a celebration than for talking about.  But there’s plenty to say (for me, at least!) and a vast choice.  It’s not just Champagne and Prosecco, virtually every cool climate area of the wine world produces some fizz.

Why the emphasis on a cool climate?  Both the most common ways of making sparkling wine (the ‘traditional’ method – the one that used to be known as the Champagne method until the Champenois objected – and the ‘tank’ method) involve a second fermentation – adding more grape sugar and yeast to an already made still wine to produce the carbon dioxide that forms the bubbles.  But this process also raises the alcohol level in the wine by 1 – 1.5%.  If you try this with a wine that is already 13% or more, as is typical in warm climates, you lose the aromatics and the wine becomes heavy and unappetising.  Hence the importance of a cool climate and a lower alcohol level to start with.

What of the evening itself?  We sampled 6 wines ranging through France, Italy, Spain, England (of course!), South Africa and New Zealand and at prices from £10 to £25. 

And the reaction of the tasters?  Perhaps not surprisingly, the Champagne (Charles Lecouvey’s Brut Reserve) was the clear winner with everyone present scoring it in their top 2.  ChampagneAlthough not expensive for a Champagne (£23.99 from Waitrose), the blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir gave it a lightness and freshness that appealed to all. 

The same grape varieties were used (although with Pinot Noir dominating rather than Chardonnay) for the group’s 2nd favourite: Lindauer’s Special Reserve Brut Rosé from New Zealand (widely available from supermarkets and wine shops at between £11 and £14).  Lindauer FizzDelicate crushed strawberry flavours and aromas and a really attractive pink colour made this a delight.  Certainly one to consider if you’re looking for an easy-drinking fizz at an attractive price for the festive season.