Tag Archives: Wine Society

Wine with Anchovies?

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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). 

Pato WhiteFilipa 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?

 

The Century Wine Club

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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.

2017-01-28-11-15-18Grown 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.

Oz Chardonnay’s New Look

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Not so long ago, opening a bottle of Australian Chardonnay would have inevitably meant a wine with lots of sweet tropical fruit (pineapples, melons, lychees and the like), a strong oaky taste and plenty of heat and power deriving from a likely alcohol content of 14% or sometimes even more.  These wines, along with robust, chunky Shiraz- and Cabernet-based reds, were the mainstay of Australia’s great success over here.  You still find them in every supermarket, mainly sold under a famous brand name and often benefitting from a discount or special offer price.  But, they weren’t (and aren’t) to everyone’s taste.  In fact, I (and quite a number of my good friends) avoid them completely.  For us, they are just too big and dominating to be enjoyable.

Which is why you might be surprised to find me blogging about opening a bottle of Australian Chardonnay.  But this one was different! 

hay-shed-hill-oz-chardHay Shed Hill Chardonnay (Wine Society, £14.50) has just 13% alcohol, delicate, subtle oaking and the sort of delightful citrus and green pear aromas and flavours that you’d normally associate with a good Chablis.  So what is going on?

To start with, it’s from Margaret River in Western Australia, an area far from the South-East and its battle for high volume sales.  The vineyards for this wine are situated high on a gravel ridge in the Wilyabrup Valley, quite close to the sea, so benefitting from cooling Ocean currents.  This ensures that the grapes ripen more slowly and retain enough acidity to keep the wines refreshing.  And, of course, skilled winemaking from owner, Michael Kerrigan, formerly of Madfish and Howard Park.

But this is not just one exception to the normal pattern; there’s another Margaret River Chardonnay sitting on our wine rack with just 12½% alcohol.  It seems like a whole new world awaits. 

Re-thinking Greek Wine

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Greece has been making wine since ancient times.  Remains of grapes and winemaking equipment dating back to at least 2000BC have been found.  And, through trade, Greece had an enormous influence on the early development of wine right across southern Europe.  Yet, in more recent times, the reputation of Greek wines has dipped dramatically.  Even today, mention the country’s wine to some and the reply will be ‘retsina’, often with some derogatory comment attached.

That’s not my experience at all.  There are some excellent Greek wines around and, as often happens in places with a long wine heritage, you can find a vast array of distinctively flavoured native grape varieties, some perfectly adjusted to conditions in just one small area of the country.

Take the white grape variety Assyrtiko (“ass-seer-tick-o”) grown on the island of Santorini, for example.  Santorini is one of the windiest islands in the Mediterranean.  Training the vines along wires would be impossible; the whole thing – vines, posts, wires, the lot – would simply blow over; even growing as a bush doesn’t work in many parts.  Instead, the vine has to be knotted into a basket shape, kept close to the ground to protect the grapes from the winds (see picture below).  Few grape varieties would tolerate such treatment, but Assyrtiko grows happily there.santorini-vines

Fortunately, in the right hands, it also makes delicious wine.  Hatzidakis’ bottling (Grape and Grind, £12.99, Wine Society, £13.50) is crisp and fresh, quite citrusy but with a little weight behind it, too.  We found the flavours developed nicely after a while in the glass; my wife suggested that decanting might help – I think she was right. 

And that’s what you find with these lesser-known grapes – they give you all sorts of surprises.  You won’t like them all, but I always think they’re worth trying once and Assyrtiko, in particular, really should be on every wine lover’s list.  

Valpolicella: So Misunderstood

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valpolicellaSay the name ‘Valpolicella’ to many wine lovers and you’re likely to hear a fairly negative reaction.  I take a different view: Yes, there’s a glut of pretty ordinary examples among the bargain basement offerings on supermarket shelves and these have caused Valpolicella’s reputation to suffer in recent years.  But, leave those alone (and pay a few £s more) and you’ll find some delightful, fresh and deliciously fruity reds that are ideal for drinking on their own or with, for example, a seared tuna steak.

My suggested food match is a key to what you should expect from this red wine from the Veneto region of northern Italy: it’s a delicate red, not heavy or chunky but light-bodied, refreshing and easy drinking.  You can even chill it for a summer picnic.  One of the best producers is Allegrini whose wines bring out all the lovely bitter black cherry flavours that are so typical of a good Valpolicella (available from Bristol’s Grape & Grind, £12.50 or the Wine Society, £10.95).  This wine is now available under screw cap after Allegrini fought a long battle with the regional authorities who were insisting on cork closures.

Just as you need to take care to avoid poor examples of Valpolicella, there are a number of very different wines with similar names:  Amarone della Valpolicella is made in the same region, but using partially dried grapes to give a much fuller, richer and robust wine, while if you see the word ‘Ripasso’ on the label alongside Valpolicella, this is a kind of halfway house between the two – but still much bigger in style than a simple example.  And finally, Recioto della Valpolicella is a sweet wine.  All these can be delicious, but check the label carefully to see you’re buying the style you want – and, above all, avoid the ultra-cheapies that have so damaged the reputation of these attractive, but misunderstood wines.

A Greek Delight

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Sweet wines – and I mean here those that you can happily enjoy with a dessert – can be a real delight and I’m constantly amazed by just how diverse the choice is.  For maximum pleasure, just make sure the wine is a little bit sweeter than the pudding.

For gently sweet desserts (think zabaglione or panna cotta), look for something at the delicate end of the spectrum: a slightly sparkling Moscato d’Asti or one of the German selected harvest Rieslings, the latter often with just 6% alcohol.  A little weightier are the well-known wines of Sauternes and the, sadly, under-rated bottles from the Loire or Jurançon – perfect with lemon tart or Tarte Tatin.  And then, there’s the heavyweights: Australian ‘stickies’, Banyuls from the south of France, port and PX sherry – wines to pair with chocolate or Christmas Pudding.

With so many different styles to choose from, surely, there’s something for everyone?  But, no – there are still some wine lovers that won’t touch a sweet wine.

Samos Muscat

And, I suppose the Anthemis Muscat from the Greek island of Samos wouldn’t be my first choice to convince them otherwise – it’s just a bit too scary!  Just look at the colour: a lovely mahogany brown.  The nose is all Christmas cake spices and nuts.  And, in the mouth, there’s a wonderfully coating texture full of the same spices along with honey, figs, dates and prunes.  Sweet, yes, but in no way cloying.  We served it alongside some beautifully ripe peaches and apricots and it went perfectly – but a blue cheese would be a really good alternative.

It’s super-concentrated, so a little goes a long way.  A half bottle, available from the Wine Society (£6.95), will easily serve 4 or 5 people, while the slightly larger, 50cl, bottle sold in  Waitrose for £9.99 will give you 6 or 7 glasses.  Delicious!

 

 

A Summer of Rosés

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How attitudes to rosé wines have changed! Just a few years ago, they were either despised or ridiculed. No longer! To borrow a fashion term – and, after all, a lot of choices in wine are down to fashion – rosé is the ‘new black’!   A good rosé should be fruity, refreshing and a delight to drink, either on its own or with simple food and, especially at this time of year (assuming the rain will stop and we will get some summer in the UK).

So, where should you start in choosing rosé? The big brand White Zinfandels and blush wines that are on every supermarket shelf are very popular but they’re not my taste – I find them too sweet to make a good aperitif or accompaniment to a starter or main course, yet not sweet enough to cope with a pudding. I prefer something crisp and dry. There are lots around: from France, look to Tavel or Provence, or, for something really unusual, to Corsica (try Clos Culombu, available from the Wine Society, £11.50).

Corsican Rose

The reputation of Spanish rosés hasn’t always been great – and that’s being polite! But there’s been a massive transformation in recent times and bottles from Catalonia, Navarre or Rioja (yes, they do make rosé there as well as red – and white) are much fresher now. Waitrose and Majestic both have Muga’s Rioja Rosado at around a tenner – a good one to sample.

And then there’s the New World: take New Zealand, for example; many would agree that some of their Pinot Noir reds are world-class but the rosés from the same grape are pretty tasty, too. I put The Ned Pinot Rosé (Majestic, £8.99 if you buy it as part of a mixed case of 6) on a tasting recently and it showed really well to a group who were, initially, quite sceptical. But I think I convinced them (most of them, anyway) and if you, too, are a little doubtful, hopefully I’ve convinced you to give rosé a try as well.

There really is nothing better when the sun’s shining.