I always find it hard to convince wine lovers to try German Rieslings – so many people still think of them as being nasty, sweet and all tasting like cheap Liebfraumilch. The truth may be the complete reverse but, sadly, the reputation remains. And, if German whites are a hard sell, how about their reds? In fact, did you even know that Germany made red wine? Give yourself a big pat on the back if you said yes and a bonus mark if you’ve ever tasted one!
We visited Assmanshausen on the Rhine last year, one of the few villages in Germany dedicated almost exclusively to red wines. They are made from a grape called Spätburgunder locally (we probably know it better as the Burgundy variety, Pinot Noir) and we loved what we tasted so much that I’ve been looking out for them ever since.
Given what I said in the first paragraph, they’re not going to be on every UK wine merchant’s shelf but, again, the Wine Society has come up trumps with a delicious example from Martin Wassmer (£12.95).
He has vineyards in the Baden region in the south of Germany where the climate is milder than much of the country and seems to suit the tricky-to-ripen Pinot Noir grape perfectly. The example we tasted had the typical earthy, farmyardy nose that mark out so many good Pinots. It was quite light bodied and relatively low in tannin but with lovely savoury flavours and an intense plummy fruitiness. Really drinkable and moreish, this would partner duck, turkey or chicken beautifully or even lightly chilled on its own.
And once you’ve tried a German red, have a re-think about their whites, too: a good quality dry Riesling (look for the word ‘Trocken’ on the label) is a real delight and about as far from the dreaded Liebfraumilch as it is possible to imagine.
If you compiled a list of the world’s most important wine producing countries, Morocco would be found closer to the bottom than the top. But it shouldn’t be that way. With a winemaking history dating back to Roman times and spanning latitudes between 30 and 35˚N (similar to Southern California), you’d expect it to be more prominent, specialising in wines in a rich, warm climate style. That was certainly how it was in the distant past, but the 2nd half of the 20th century was not kind to Morocco’s wine industry and, by 1990, ¾ of her vineyards had either been grubbed up or were useless commercially.
Happily, with the assistance of mainly foreign investment, things are beginning to change and there are now a number of producers making interesting and very drinkable wines. But, the legacy of the bad times remains and shops won’t stock wines if customers aren’t asking for them and customers can’t buy wines if shops aren’t stocking them.
So, all credit to the Wine Society (yet again!) for taking a chance and putting the delicious Tandem Syrah on their list (£11.50).
A collaboration between Crozes Hermitage producer Alain Graillot and Thalvin in Morocco, this has all the lovely blackberry fruit of a good Syrah (M.Graillot knows all about getting the best from that variety, of course) together with an attractive richness and some spicy hints from the subtle oak ageing.
As for food matches, well, thinking of North Africa, a tagine with cous-cous comes to mind – a perfect choice. But, in fact, any full-flavoured dish using red meat, aubergines or mushrooms (especially dried ones) would go well with this, as would a nice hard cheese.
And once you’ve taken the plunge and tried this bottle, why not ask your local wine merchant what else they can find from Morocco? It’s time that country realised its potential.
Not so long ago, the name ‘Picpoul de Pinet’ would have meant nothing to all but a tiny minority of wine lovers. Today, while still not widely known, this crisp, dry white from the Languedoc region in the south of France is beginning to establish a reputation. And, surprisingly, much of the credit for that change must go to Britain’s major supermarkets, most of whom now have an example in their premium ranges. Take Tescos:
their ‘Finest’ Picpoul is just £7 a bottle but is delightfully refreshing with lovely herby, citrusy flavours and enough richness to suggest it would be a perfect accompaniment to many creamy fish or shellfish dishes. And, it’s not just the supermarkets who are selling Picpoul – Majestic’s Villemarin (£8.99) and the Wine Society’s Domaine Félines-Jourdan (my favourite example and great value at £8.50) mean that it is readily available for those who are looking for something just a little different – but nothing too scary!
Picpoul, the name of the grape variety (occasionally spelt Piquepoul), apparently translates as ‘lip stinger’ in the local dialect (but don’t let that put you off); its home is a tiny area between the towns of Pézenas and Mèze overlooking the Bassin de Thau, a glorious nature reserve within a stone’s throw of the Mediterranean. Apart from this one wine, this part of the Languedoc is an area far better known for its reds – the southern French sun and heat are too much for most whites. But not Picpoul – it retains its acidity and freshness and provides a very welcome glass chilled on a hot day.
And, thanks to the supermarkets, before long, more wine lovers will be able to pick up a Picpoul.
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.