We bought some nice trout recently caught locally in Chew Valley Lake and my wife was poring through some old recipe books looking for a tasty and different way to cook them: “how about baking them and serving them with an anchovy sauce”, she suggested. Just seconds after agreeing that the idea sounded really interesting, I suddenly realised the challenge I’d set myself: what sort of wine could possibly go with it?
The trout wasn’t the problem – unless they are quite old, when they can take on an earthy flavour – trout is quite wine friendly; it was the anchovy sauce that was causing my headache!
Why? Anchovies are both salty and oily and, in addition, have quite an assertive flavour – all characteristics that can have an effect on wine. Saltiness can be an advantage, taming tannin and making wines taste smoother and richer but it also makes wine seem less acidic – and it’s acidity that would be vital to cut through the oiliness of the anchovies. And, with quite a strongly flavoured sauce, the wine would need some character if it wasn’t to be completely overwhelmed.
In all of this, the question of red or white faded into obscurity – until we tasted the almost-finished sauce, when we both agreed that we couldn’t see a red working at all. So, a white; but which one?
The food and wine of a region often work well together and, in this context, Portugal came to mind. Not anchovies, but sardines have many of the same characteristics.
And so we opened the somewhat pretentiously named FP by Filipa Pato (Wine Society, £9.95).
Filipa is the daughter of Luis Pato – the man who, virtually single-handedly, put Portugal’s Bairrada wine region on the map – and she is certainly keeping up the family reputation with this delicious appley-fresh white made from 2 high quality grape varieties native to this area of Portugal – Arinto and Bical.
One final thought: the surname ‘Pato’ means ‘duck’ in Portuguese. I wonder how duck and anchovies might work together? And the wine to match? Any suggestions?
Argentina has adopted the Malbec grape as its own, even though the variety is originally a native of France – although whether its home is Bordeaux, Cahors or the Loire is open to doubt. But France has never really appreciated Malbec in the way it loves Cabernet and Pinot Noir, for example; perhaps that’s because they don’t grow it anywhere with sufficient sunshine and warmth to really ripen the berries. That isn’t a problem in Argentina, even though most of the plantings are around Mendoza, high in the foothills of the Andes. Malbec thrives there – and it just happens to make big, rich red wines that are a perfect foil to Argentina’s beef-dominated cooking.
Often, you see Malbec as a single variety wine – and it can be very good, especially in the hands of good producers, such as Catena – but, occasionally, it’s used as part of a blend; Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot are the most common partners, but Viñalba unusually combine it with the Portuguese variety Touriga Nacional (Majestic, £9.99) and the result is a real winner; and that’s not just my view – Decanter magazine awarded it a Gold Medal in their Wine Awards last year.
The wine is intense, rich and powerful – as you’d expect from one with 14.5% alcohol, but it’s well balanced at the same time and there’s no excess heat on the finish. The fruit comes through well – blackberries and other hedgerow flavours dominate – and there’s something quite floral in there, too (the label suggests violets) and some nice, spicy oak, too.
It’s not a wine to drink on its own; food – and robust food at that – is essential. No surprise that the producer suggests a grilled steak, but, for me, any red meat, game or hard cheese would work well.
It’s certainly an unusual blend – I know of no other example of these 2 grapes together – but it really does work and, for the quality, it’s quite a bargain.
In my view, Spain is one of the most exciting wine countries in the world today. Wherever you look, you’ll find dedicated and innovative winemakers working with an array of high quality local grapes. And it’s not just in the traditional areas – Rioja and sherry – that you find delicious wines. I recently ran a course at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Centre concentrating on Spain’s ‘Hidden Corners’ – some of the lesser-known regions and grapes – where you can find wines that are not just very drinkable but, because they are not well-known, they are also great value.
The bottles I found for the group to taste provoked plenty of discussion – and some very diverse views; indeed, when I invited votes for favourite wines of the day, 11 of the 12 wines attracted at least 1 vote. But, there were 2 clear winners:
San Antolin’s Rueda (Waitrose, £8.99) comes from the Upper Duero Valley in western Spain where vineyards are planted more than 600 metres (1800 feet) above sea level. The altitude means cool nights, even in summer, which help to retain precious acidity in the Verdejo grapes from which this wine is made, while the heat of the day results in perfect ripening and a succulent, rich but refreshing white wine. Fine for drinking on its own but even better with some fish in a creamy sauce that reflects the character of the wine beautifully. I’ve enjoyed this Rueda over a number of years and it was an unsurprising winner.
The close runner up, however, was, perhaps, a little less predictable. Not, I hasten to add, due to any lack of quality in the wine, but, I might have expected that the soft, mellow, cooked fruit and spice flavours of an 8 year old red that had spent 2 of those years in old oak casks wouldn’t have had such wide appeal. Happily, I was wrong and Anciano’s Tempranillo Gran Reserva 2008 landed in a well-deserved 2nd place. Had this wine been from Rioja rather than from the deeply unfashionable Valdepeñas area south of Madrid, it would certainly have been at least double the £8.99 I paid for it in Waitrose. A bargain, indeed!
And bargains are what you can expect if you explore ‘Hidden Corners’. You just have to know where to look.
Not so long ago, I blogged about a Chilean wine that was voted overwhelmingly the best of the day at a course on the wines of the Americas I ran at Stoke Lodge. And now, another bottle from the same country, opened at home recently, has confirmed my view that Chilean wine really is going places.
Errazuriz’s Max Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Waitrose, £12.99) is full of lovely red berry fruits enhanced with subtle vanilla flavours from 12 months oak ageing. At almost 3 years old, the tannins are still noticeable but neither they, nor the 14% alcohol are in any way intrusive. This wine is just beautifully balanced.
Errazuriz is a long established company producing a number of different wines. Their entry level bottles – widely available in supermarkets and other high street chains for around £8 – £10 – are always reliable and worth buying, while their more premium offerings often outshine wines selling for several £s more.
Their ‘Max’ range, named in honour of the company’s founder, Don Maximiano Errazuriz, is from sites at the foot of Mount Aconcagua where the combination of warm days and cool nights is ideal for ripening the grapes while retaining good acidity. The Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted comes from vines planted more than 20 years ago on gravel-rich soils. This copies what we find in Bordeaux where the best Cabernet Sauvignon regularly comes from vines planted on well-drained, gravelly soils; the reflected heat from the stones helps ripen the grapes while the good drainage means the vines have enough water to grow but aren’t rooted in cold, damp earth. The use of older vines, too, is a sign of quality – they typically yield wines with more intensity and character.
So, while wines from Chile are already deservedly popular in the UK, I’d suggest exploring those at a slightly higher price – that’s where the bargains really begin.
One of my fellow wine bloggers (appetiteforwine.wordpress.com) wrote recently about his aim to become a member of the ‘Century Wine Club’, open to anyone who could show that they had tasted at least 100 different grape varieties. I think I might qualify as I’m always looking for different and unusual wines but I haven’t kept detailed notes going back far enough to prove it.
But I did open a bottle the other day that, if he can find it, will almost certainly get Mr Appetite for Wine (sorry I don’t know him by any other name) one step closer: the Italian producer Cà dei Frati makes their wine I Frati (Wine Society, £12.50) from the grape Turbiana.
Grown on the southern shores of the beautiful Lake Garda and labelled as DOC Lugana, this little-known variety yields a rich, floral and complex white, full of quite subtle tropic fruit flavours; a wine that would be ideal with fish or chicken in a creamy sauce. Unusually, it is matured in barrels of acacia wood – not oak – although there is no hint of any wood ageing on the nose or palate.
Turbiana was once thought to be Trebbiano, Italy’s most widely planted white grape variety. This link surprised me as I know of no wine from that grape that has the richness of flavour that I Frati shows. Research for Jancis Robinson’s book “Wine Grapes” confirmed my doubts – indeed, it showed that there are at least 6 different varieties all using the name Trebbiano. No wonder it apparently produced such a range of different styles!
Trebbiano di Lugana is still sometimes used as a synonym for Turbiana although it now appears that it may be more closely related to Verdicchio – widely grown on Italy’s Adriatic coast and producing some delicious, fresh, lemony whites – than to any of the more common Trebbianos.
I hope my fellow blogger can find a bottle; it will get him 1 closer to his target in a really delicious way. He should, however, be careful in lifting it – the bottle weighs in at a ridiculous 770 grams empty! The contents are good enough to speak for themself without such excesses.
Finally, a word of thanks to an eagle-eyed reader who spotted a mistake in a recent blog: my ‘Hidden Corners of Spain’ wine course at Stoke Lodge will be on Saturday 4th March, not the 7th as I said previously. A few places are still available and you can book via www.bristolcourses.com or by phone to 0117 903 8844.
There has been so much in the papers recently about Mexico that, when I noticed a bottle of their wine on Marks & Spencer’s shelves, I decided to try it – especially as it had one of the most eye-catching labels I have seen for a long time featuring a stylised bird dating back to Aztec times.
Mexico has been making wine for almost 500 years since the days of the earliest Spanish settlers, yet domestic consumption has always been patchy and so the wine industry has never really thrived there. This is a shame as much of the country has an ideal climate, similar to that found in parts of the Mediterranean. Baja California, the long peninsula off America’s west coast that reaches out into the Pacific, is particularly well-suited. Here, the cold currents and coastal fogs that make California’s Napa Valley such a premium wine region are also at work, moderating an area that would otherwise be far too hot to grow grapes for quality wine.
The bottle I bought, Quetzal’s Chardonnay/Chenin Blanc blend (£6.75) comes from the northern part of this coastal strip – the Guadalupe Valley. It’s a clean, fresh, quite aromatic white, ideal on its own as an aperitif or with seafood – the label suggests seared scallops and I wouldn’t disagree. The wine has plenty of attractive tropical fruit flavours and the13% alcohol gives it some richness and body. All in all, quite a bargain at less than £7 and a good example of the unusual and interesting bottles that are now regularly appearing on Marks & Spencer’s wine shelves.
I’m sorry that, if the much talked about wall gets built, my American readers may not be able to buy this, or, indeed, any other Mexican wine; on the evidence of this bottle, your loss is our gain!
There are many ways a label can tell customers that the wine in the bottle has been influenced by oak: the mention of barrel, barrique or cask, the French élevé en chêne (raised in oak) or simply the word oaked or some similar reference. It can also be implied by the use of spicy or smoky, although neither of those is definitive. But some words I saw on a red Bordeaux label recently gave a whole new meaning to oak ageing and its purpose: rather than using ‘élevé’, this producer said that his wine was ‘éduqué en fûts de chêne’ (literally, educated or brought up in oak barrels).
By doing this, he is comparing the ageing of his wine to the bringing up of his children. Is that a reasonable comparison? I’d say yes. I often tell groups that wine is a living thing; good wines, especially, go through a distinct youthful stage, followed sometimes by difficult teenage years, then a comfortable middle age, when the wine is at its peak, before reaching old age and, if you keep it too long, extreme old age.
So, the upbringing analogy is a good one. The producer has taken his newly made wine, full of bright young fruit and probably quite firm tannins, and put it into oak barrels. What happens in those barrels is interesting: oak is slightly porous – not porous enough for the wine to leak out, but porous enough for tiny amounts of air to get in. The air reacts with the wine, softening the tannins and making the wine more rounded and harmonious. In addition, if the barrels are new (or reasonably new), they might also impart an oaky or smoky flavour to the wine, changing it further.
In this way, the raw young wine is transformed into a rounded, characterful bottle ready to take its place at table. Just like turning a brash infant into a mature adult. So, a wine, like a person can, indeed, be ‘éduqué’.