We don’t often go to London, even though it’s less than a couple of hours away by train. So, when we do, we enjoy trying some of the capital’s restaurants – and, of course, our emphasis isn’t just on good food, but an interesting wine list with, hopefully, something different for us to try. A recent discovery is Margot, an Italian restaurant just a few minutes’ walk from Covent Garden tube.
We both chose a fishy main course and, in casting my eye down the extensive list of Italian whites, my eye was drawn to a bottle from Donnafugata, a Sicilian producer we visited some years ago and whose wines we’ve followed ever since. But here was a new one to me: called ‘SurSur’, it was made with Grillo, one of Sicily’s excellent local grape varieties. Lovely and fresh and floral on the nose, the palate showed attractive peach and ripe pear flavours and was, as I would expect from an Italian wine, properly food-friendly.
Then, when it came to dessert, the menu offered a further temptation: each dish had a recommended sweet wine to accompany it – and by the glass, too. Again, I chose something I’d not tasted before: Bissoni’s Albana Passito from Emilia Romagna in the north-east of the country.
Passito is a method widely used in Italy and involves drying the grapes after harvesting to concentrate the sugars and so produce a more intensely sweet wine. Traditionally this was done by spreading the grapes out on straw mats on the ground, but more commonly these days takes place in heated drying rooms. But Bissoni have gone a stage further by adding a proportion of nobly-rotted grapes to the blend to give extra complexity and interest. The result was a wine with an enticing bouquet of dried figs and honey with vanilla and sweet spice on the palate. Delicious and, like the restaurant with its wonderful wine list, a real find.
It’s only taken a few warm days over the recent holiday weekend and my wife and I immediately took to drinking rosé. OK, it wasn’t just the weather (although that helped), but the Michelin-starred pub where we were staying had one of Domaine Maby’s delicious Tavel rosés on their list.
I’ve bought that producer’s wines – red, white and rosé – many times before and know them all to be good. The current Wine Society list has their rosé for £11.50; sadly, at dinner, we had to pay more than 3 times that amount. Justified? I don’t think so but it’s typical of restaurants nowadays and if customers – including me – are willing to pay that excessive mark-up without protest, then can we really blame business owners for pricing wines at that level?
So, although the cost may have left a sour taste in the mouth, the wine certainly did not. Tavel is, without doubt, the outstanding village in France’s southern Rhône region for rosé wines and Maby’s example is a crisp but full-bodied (14% alcohol) blend of local varieties including Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. The grapes are selected from 3 different vineyards, each giving their own character to the wine and from vines averaging almost 50 years old. The wine itself is bone dry but with lovely flavours of strawberries and redcurrants and a persistent, fruity finish. Although it’s a wine I would happily drink on its own, it really shows best with food and was a perfect match with both my wife’s risotto of young spring vegetables and my roast breast of guinea fowl.
While a warm spring or summer day is undoubtedly the obvious time for rosés, wines as good as this are worth opening at any time and for any occasion.
I went out for a reunion meal with some friends and former colleagues at Bristol’s River Station restaurant recently and, inevitably, the wine list was pushed in my direction. Choosing wine for a dozen people is never easy, particularly when, as here, I didn’t know much about the tastes of many of them. I also had to bear in mind that we were there to catch up with each other and to chat, not to taste and appreciate the wine. As a result, my focus was on wines that no-one could really dislike at prices that few could object to. I could have been forgiven for choosing something cheap and bland, but I wanted to do better than that.
The guests were ordering a wide range of different dishes so a white and a red were clearly needed. I love the Spanish variety Albariño and there was a nice example on the list, similarly a Mâcon-Villages caught my eye. But I eventually chose Peter Schweiger’s Grüner Veltliner from Austria (around £30 on the wine list) as the white – fairly rich and full-bodied with plenty of fruit but unoaked; a wine with plenty of character but fresh and harmonious that should pair well with most dishes.
For the red, I was looking at the South American section of the list – a Chilean Merlot or Carmenere or an Argentinian Malbec, perhaps – when our server pointed to Prunus Tinto, a Portuguese wine from the Daô region (also about £30), which was a personal favourite of his and, apparently very popular. I hadn’t initially considered this – although I’m a big fan of Portuguese wines, they can be tough and tannic, which wasn’t the type of wine I wanted for the group. But, he assured me that this was very drinkable and I went along with his recommendation. I’m pleased I did as this proved a real winner: very soft and with lovely black fruits and a slight smoky edge.
My reward for 2 successful choices? I’ll get the job of choosing again next time!