Drink Local

English Wine Week

This should have been English Wine Week – the annual celebration of our local product; a week when wine producers open their doors to visitors and wine merchants lay on special tastings to promote one or more of the over 500 vineyards now making wines commercially in England and Wales. But not this year. The restrictions arising from the coronavirus outbreak mean that the date has had to be postponed and we will have to wait another month – until the (possibly optimistic?) revised timeframe of 20 – 28 June – before we can sample the latest home-grown award winners.

But we, and 2 local wine-loving friends of ours, decided not to wait. Our garden is (just about) big enough for appropriate social distancing for 4 people and, with a little planning and each couple contributing a bottle, a most enjoyable and informative comparative tasting of English fizz took place, accompanied, of course, by our usual attempts to solve most of the world’s problems!

20200525_190328

Wines from the Chapel Down Estate in Kent are widely available in most larger supermarkets with a number of different bottlings, both sparkling and still, to choose from. But, it’s, perhaps, their Sparkling Bacchus (around £15 – £18) that most says ‘English fizz’ to me.   Bacchus is rapidly becoming one of England’s most important grape varieties and this crisp, fresh example has lovely hints of pineapple and fragrant elderflower.

Just a short drive from Chapel Down is the Hush Heath Estate, who make wines under the Balfour label. Their non-vintage Leslie’s Reserve (Marks and Spencer, £25, Waitrose, £28 or direct from the vineyard) contrasted well with the Bacchus. Bottle-fermented in what we must now call the ‘Traditional Method’ (the people of Champagne say we mustn’t use the term ‘Champagne Method’), this is a typical blend of the major Champagne varieties, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, given 18 months on its lees to add a slight biscuity or brioche character to the lemony fruit.

So, 2 very different English sparklers, both attractive in their own way and showing just how far English Sparkling wine has come in only a couple of decades.

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.

The Answers

Last time, in Bristol Wine Blog, I set you a little wine-related quiz to keep you amused and interested. Here, as promised, are the answers, so let’s see how you got on:

1 (d) Cabernet Sauvignon is the correct answer.

Bordeaux probably Cab S

According to the most recent survey, there are 290000 hectares (725000 acres) of it planted worldwide, about 10% more than the 2nd most planted variety, Merlot.

2 Although St. George is the patron saint of England, the grape variety Agiorgitiko, which translates as St. George, is native to Greece, so answer (a) is correct. For those who want to show off, the Greek name is pronounced ‘eye-your-yit-iko’.

3 Chablis, being part of Burgundy, is made from (b) Chardonnay.

4 Although Italy and France produce more wine, (b) Spain has the largest acreage of vines planted. The low rainfall across much of Spain means the vines are planted further apart to avoid competing with each other for moisture so the vineyard area is bigger.

5 (d) Classico is an Italian term for a wine produced from the traditional heart of a wine region and so is the correct answer. The other 3 options denote sparkling wines from France, Spain and South Africa.

6 Chianti comes from the Italian region of (a) Tuscany.

24 Ricasoli wines

7 Grapes have been grown in New Zealand almost since the time of the earliest European settlers, but the first Sauvignon Blanc was only planted there in (d) 1973.

8 (c) Alsace is the only part of France that allows Riesling to be planted. It is adjacent to Germany’s Baden and Pfalz regions that also grow the same variety.

9 The town of Casablanca is in Morocco but the wine region is on the coast of Chile, so answer (c) is correct.

10 Most Chateauneuf du Pape is a blend of Grenache and, perhaps, 2 or 3 other grape varieties.

Chateauneuf_du_Pape

But, in all, 18 different varieties are now allowed in the blend, 5 more having been added to the already ridiculous array a few years ago. Answer (a) is correct.

How did you do?

I’d suggest 9 or 10 correct: award yourself the title of Grand Cru; 7 or 8: Premier Cru; 5 or 6: Cru Bourgeois; 3 or 4: Vin Ordinaire; Less than 3: so long as you enjoy your wine, does it really matter?

Hope this quiz kept you amused and interested. Take Care and Stay Safe.

 

 

A Little Test

With no courses or tastings running for the foreseeable future, I put a wine quiz on the Stoke Lodge website to keep the students amused and their brains active during these difficult times.  The questions – with 4 possible answers for each – are shown below.  Try them for yourself.  It’s just for fun and there are no prizes.  Just to let you know, 2 people with reasonably good wine knowledge each scored 7 out of 10, so, perhaps it’s not as easy as it looks at first.

1 What is the most widely planted wine grape in the world?

(a) Pinot Grigio (b) Merlot (c) Chardonnay (d) Cabernet Sauvignon

2 Where would you be most likely to find a wine made from the grape variety St. George?

(a) Greece (b) New Zealand (c) England (d) Portugal

3 Chablis is made from which grape variety?

Chardonnay

(a) Chenin Blanc (b) Chardonnay (c) Sauvignon Blanc (d) Pinot Grigio

4 Which country of the world has the largest acreage of vines planted?

(a) Italy (b) Spain (c) Australia (d) France

5 Which of the following terms does not indicate a sparkling wine?

cropped-sparkling-wine-2.jpg

(a) Cremant (b) Cava (c) Cap Classique (d) Classico

6 From which Italian region does Chianti come from?

(a) Tuscany (b) Piedmont (c) Lombardy (d) Veneto

7 Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand’s most popular grape variety. But when was it first planted there?

Greywacke Sauv Bl

(a) 1873 (b) 1923 (c) 1953 (d) 1973

8 Which is the only French wine region that allows Riesling to be planted?

(a) Burgundy (b) Bordeaux (c) Alsace (d) Champagne

9 Where is the Casablanca wine region?

(a) Morocco (b) California (c) Chile (d) South Africa

10 Chateauneuf du Pape is usually made from a blend of different grape varieties. But how many varieties are now allowed in the blend?

(a) 18 (b) 10 (c) 7 (d) 3

Happy Thinking and Stay Safe.  I’ll give you the answers next time.

 

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.

 

A Sweet Treat

There are many variations in sweet wine making but, perhaps, the most unusual is Ice Wine (or Eiswein as it is spelt in the Germanic speaking countries of Europe where it is often found).

Ice WineThis delicate but focussed sweet wine is made by leaving the grapes on the vine far beyond normal autumn harvesting dates until November or even December when there is a severe frost and temperatures reach minus 8°C (18°F) or below. When that happens, pickers are sent out into the vineyard before dawn to harvest the grapes while they are still frozen (the grapes as well as the pickers!). The crop is then rushed back to the winery and the grapes are pressed before they defrost. This releases the sugar in the grapes but leaves the water behind as ice pellets. The intensely sugar-rich liquid is then fermented as far as is possible – yeast struggles to cope with the level of neat sugar and surrenders (dying happily!!) way before all the sugar is converted to alcohol. Result: a beautifully balanced sweet wine but with relatively low alcohol.

Because these conditions can’t be guaranteed every year, Ice Wine/ Eiswein is quite rare (and consequently seriously expensive!). But recently, due to the temporary enforced closure of many businesses due to the corona virus, a local restaurant decided to sell some of its wine stocks. And, among the bottles I was lucky enough to buy from them was a delicious Ice Wine from Pelee Island on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, Canada. Made from the Vidal grape variety, a Canadian speciality, this had wonderful flavours of honey, grapefruit and marmalade and a finish that could be measured in minutes not seconds.

This was a real treat but, sadly, one unlikely to be repeated any time soon.

Not Normal Times

Book and Wine

At this time of year, I’m normally busy attending tastings, running wine classes or events or preparing for them or, perhaps, planning a trip away – spring and early summer are lovely times to visit winemaking areas. But these are not normal times – we’re now almost 4 weeks into the coronavirus restrictions so, instead, I’d like to share some tips that might help wine lovers fill those spare at-home hours and try to make the best of these unprecedented and anxious times.

I’d been meaning to re-read Don and Petie Kladstrup’s ‘Wine and War’ for some time. It’s a fascinating insight into how the French wine industry coped under Nazi occupation during the Second World War. Set against the tragic background, the book tells the stories of real winemaking families as they tried to survive – and protect their finest wines from theft or destruction.

I’ve also been following a series of mini wine talks on You Tube, recommended to me by Diana, a fellow wine educator and Secretary of the (currently suspended) Bristol Tasting Circle. ‘The Wine Show at Home’ is a spin-off from The Wine Show which is due to start a new series on TV soon. The ‘at home’ version features wine writer Joe Fattorini – always interesting to listen to with his wine-related anecdotes and informed recommendations. Definitely worth catching up with.

Although my wife, Hilary, and I have had to find new routines, there’s one aspect of our life that won’t change: our tradition of opening a bottle to share over dinner at weekends. Dr Bϋrklin-Wolf’s dry Riesling from Wackenheim in Germany’s Pfalz region (Wine Society, £10.95) is an absolute bargain. Delightfully crisp and fresh and with that typical tang – often strangely described as ‘petrol’ – of a Riesling with a few years in bottle (this one was 2015 vintage). A perfect partner for some oven-baked salmon steaks with a creamy spinach and avocado dressing.

So, that’s some of the things I’ve been doing; if you have any interesting or unusual suggestions for wine lovers to do during the present restrictions, do, please, share them in the comments box below.

Take care and stay safe.