Tag Archives: Wine

Wine with Asparagus?

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Asparagus is often thought to be a difficult food to pair with wine, but it doesn’t need to be – especially if you look out for the more delicate English variety that is in its (sadly very brief) season at the moment.  Certainly, you need to choose your wine with some care but many crisp, dry whites work quite well: Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Alsace Pinot Gris and Austrian Grüner Veltliner all spring to mind – or, how about an English wine, perhaps a Bacchus, to go with English asparagus?  On the other hand, I’ve yet to find a red that will pair happily – not even a Beaujolais or Valpolicella, two reds that often work where you’d normally consider a white.

But my wife, Hilary, was thinking along a different track; looking at the meal we were cooking – a typical warm summer evening ‘special’ of Salmon Steaks with a herb crust and creamy mushroom sauce, Jersey Royal potatoes and the previously mentioned asparagus – she lifted a rosé off the wine rack: Château Sainte Anne from Bandol in the Provence region of the south of France (Vine Trail, £20).

Bandol rose

Bandol is best known for robust, long-lived reds made from a mix of grapes, typically Mourvedre with Grenache and Cinsault in support.  This rosé uses the same combination but the shorter skin contact needed for a rosé produced a fresher, lighter wine, ideally suited to this time of year, yet still sharing the herby, spicy flavours of the red.  My wife was right – it paired perfectly with the meal (including the asparagus), as well as making delicious drinking on its own later in the evening.

So, next time you’re faced with a supposedly ‘difficult’ ingredient, do experiment.  You may find a surprisingly good match where you least expect to.

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Tasting Kosher Wines

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Kosher TastingAs a Wine Educator, I get asked to run tastings on a range of different topics.  Among the most interesting was one for a 10th Anniversary party, when the hosts wanted wines from places they had visited together as a way of bringing back happy memories.  But a subject recently was a first for me: Kosher Wines – and the tasting was in a room in the local synagogue, no less.

So, aren’t all wines Kosher?  Absolutely not!  For a wine to be Kosher (and therefore acceptable for Jewish wine lovers) it must only be handled by observant Jews during the winemaking process and anything used must also be Kosher.  This particularly restricts ingredients widely used for clarifying wine before bottling, many of which are derived from animal, dairy or fish products forbidden to Jews.  Acceptable options are egg whites (provided the eggs are from Kosher sources) or bentonite clay. 

Many Kosher wines also undergo flash pasteurisation – necessary to retain their status should the wine be opened or served by someone who is not an observant Jew.  Some experts have suggested that this damages the wine, destroying the fruit character and making it taste dull and lifeless.  On the evidence of the bottles I selected for the tasting, I disagree; all the wines were as I would have expected from similar, non-pasteurised examples.

Of the wines on the night, the one that stood out for me was the Barkan Classic Pinot Noir from Israel’s Negev region (available from kosherwines.co.uk, £10.99).  Pinot Noir is the fussiest of grapes – not liking conditions too hot or too cold.  So, how would it get on in a vineyard more than 800 metres (2500 feet) above sea level in the semi-desert of the Negev?  A sophisticated, computer controlled irrigation system ensures that the vines receive enough moisture, but, even so, it is quite an achievement to produce such an attractive Pinot Noir with delightfully clean raspberry and redcurrant fruit in such a site. 

But this was only 1 example from my selection from around the world – France, Spain and the US also featured, but I could easily have picked wines from Italy, Australia or South Africa instead.  Truly an international phenomenon.

50 Years On

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What were you doing in 1964?  I guess that many who are reading this weren’t even born then.  I was at school at the time and my main interest was the Beatles, then the most famous pop band in the world.  As for wine – I doubt that I’d ever tasted any by then and I certainly knew nothing about it.  But an Italian company, Masi, did; that was the year that they launched a new wine, Campofiorin – a wine that has subsequently become an iconic name and whose 2014 vintage, currently in the shops (Waitrose, £12.99) celebrates the brand’s 50th Anniversary with a specially designed ‘50’ label.

Campofiorin 50

Although sold as a Rosso Verona IGT (IGT is the Italian equivalent of the French term ‘Vin de Pays’), Campofiorin is effectively a high quality Valpolicella in disguise.  It’s made using the traditional grapes from that DOC – Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella – the main difference here is that the grapes are slightly dried before fermentation.  This concentrates the sugars in them and so produces a wine with more body and power than a normal Valpolicella – a technique borrowed from the prestigious Amarone wines from the same region.

Here, the method gives a lovely deep coloured wine with aromas of bitter cherry, prunes and spice. The same flavours, especially the spices, carry through to quite a rich and full palate with hints of chocolate, figs and vanilla on an attractive, long finish.

With good Amarones fetching £20 and more, this really is a bargain for those who like this chunky style – I admit it’s not to everyone’s taste – and no surprise that it is still on the shelves in its 50th vintage. 

Shame about all those wasted years listening to the Beatles and drinking something else!

2 Sides of Alsace

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Alsace is a region that looks two ways.  When you visit, the architecture, the food, the local dialect and many of the place names all suggest you are in Germany, which lies just a few miles to the east across the River Rhine.  This view is supported by two of the most widely planted grape varieties there being Riesling and Gewurztraminer.  But despite times under German rule in the past, today Alsace is firmly in France – although many of the locals would probably say that they’re from Alsace first and France second. 

The climate, too, is not quite what you’d expect: lying around 48˚N (similar to Champagne and more northerly than Chablis), and with Riesling and Gewurztraminer thriving, you’d be thinking it would be decidedly cool.  Yet, thanks to the shelter of the Vosges Mountains to the west, Alsace is often one of the sunniest and driest regions in the whole of France, allowing more warmth-loving varieties such as Muscat, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir to ripen, if planted in the right spots.

And Domaine Paul Blanck has certainly found those, with vineyards ideally situated around the village of Kientzheim, just north of Colmar. 

Alsace P NoirHis Pinot Noir (Waitrose, £14.99) is especially recommended.  It’s a grape variety that can be very fussy – thin and tart if under-ripe, jammy if over-ripe – but Blanck has got it just right: quite restrained on the nose but with lovely ripe raspberry and cranberry flavours on the palate leading into a long fresh finish.  The only sign that this comes from a relatively cool site is the modest (12.5%) alcohol, but, for me, that, too is a plus giving the wine elegance and style and making it really food-friendly: duck or turkey certainly, but the lowish tannin would also point to pairing it with some robust fish dish, say a tuna steak.

Although Pinot Noir is most famously grown in Burgundy, it’s also found (as Spätburgunder) in parts of Germany and this example from Alsace is, for me, closer to that country’s style.  One more sign, perhaps, of this region looking two ways.

 

Piedmont: So Much Choice

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If you’re looking to taste an unusual grape variety or a wine from a lesser-known region, then a good place to start is Italy – it grows more different grape varieties than any other country and has countless local DOCs (the Italian equivalent of the French Appellation Contrôlée) – many of which are hardly seen beyond the local area.

Not everything different is good – sometimes there’s a reason why a wine is obscure – but a bottle I opened recently reminded me of the grape variety Arneis and why it really should be much better known. 

Langhe ArneisCristina Ascheri makes a particularly attractive example (Great Western Wine, £13.95): a lightly perfumed white wine, full bodied but not overpowering and with delicious ripe pear and peach flavours and a hint of almonds on the finish.  A pleasant glassful on its own but even better alongside some fish or pasta in a creamy sauce.

Perhaps one reason why Arneis is not so well known is that it is native to Piedmont, a region in north-west Italy with more than its fair share of high quality and famous wines.  Among the reds, Barolo and Barbaresco, both made with the local Nebbiolo grape, stand out, although the Barbera and Dolcetto varieties can also produce very attractive wines – often ready to drink much sooner and more easily approachable.  Among the local whites, I often wonder why Gavi is so much better known than Arneis – I’ve had as many disappointing examples as great ones.  And then there’s the local sparkling wines: sadly, Asti (formerly known as Asti Spumanti) rarely shines these days but the delicately sweet Moscato d’Asti, often with only 5 or 6% alcohol, can be a real delight accompanying a Panna Cotta or Zabaglione dessert.

I started by suggesting you look to Italy for interesting and different wines, but you might not even want to cast your net so wide when the single region, Piedmont, can offer so much choice.

 

Value from St Emilion

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The French region of Bordeaux produces around 700 million bottles of wine in an average year (rather less last year due to the poor weather affecting the crop yields).  That makes it easily the largest Quality Wine (Appellation Contrôlée) region of France and, putting that number in context, if Bordeaux was a country, it would be the world’s 12th largest producer, just behind Portugal.

Not surprisingly, there is considerable variety within that volume of wine; not just red, white and rosé, but dry and sweet, still and sparkling and, of course, a vast range of prices and quality – not always the same thing!

And, even within those broad categories, there are major differences in style.  Consider the reds which make up more than 80% of Bordeaux’s output, for example; if you travel north or south from the city, the wines you find will, very likely, be blends dominated by the distinctive blackcurrant flavours and aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cross the rivers to the east, however, and things change.  Here, the main grape variety is Merlot and the wines are softer, fuller-bodied and with flavours of plums and chocolate.

The pretty old town of Saint-Emilion is both the most famous tourist attraction on this side of the river and the best known wine name.  As a result, bottles from that Appellation itself are inevitably pricey but, if you look to some of Saint-Emilion’s satellites – Montagne-St-Emilion, Lussac and St Georges – there is value to be found.  

Tour Bayard M St EmilionChâteau Tour Bayard (Majestic, £12.99) comes from the first of these and has lovely red plum and black cherry flavours and the sort of reassuring softness that comes from a few months in old barrels.  The 2014 still has some tannin evident and will clearly last a few years but, decanted and with food (grilled lamb steaks recommended!), it is very drinkable now and a good introduction to the style this part of the extensive Bordeaux region has to offer.

A Rosé for Summer

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The last few days here in Bristol have seen a complete change in our weather: beautifully warm, sunny and, above all, dry; a real pleasure after a long, wet, dreary (and occasionally snowy) winter and early part of the spring.  No surprise then that our thoughts immediately turn to barbecues, picnics and that perfect summer drink: a glass of chilled rosé.  So, it was a very happy coincidence that earlier this week, on the first really sunny day, was the launch party of the latest vintage of Dunleavy Pinot Noir rosé, one of our most local wines, made from grapes grown at Wrington, just a few minutes’ drive south of Bristol. 

Of course, I had to go along and taste! 

Dunleavy rose 2017The wine has a lovely rich colour with attractive aromas and flavours of crushed strawberries.  Just a touch off-dry but very clean and refreshing and with a good dry, fruity finish.  Ideal for drinking chilled on its own in the garden (assuming this weather lasts!) but equally worth pairing with a seared fresh tuna steak or simply some cold cuts.

Ingrid Bates, owner and winemaker at Dunleavy, hosted the launch party of her 5th vintage at Bellita Wine Bar, now established in Cotham Hill in the space once occupied by Flinty Red.  An appropriate choice of venue as Bellita pride themselves in a winelist comprising all female winemakers – and why not, as they ask?

The wine was clearly going down well at the launch and also, later in the evening, at local restaurant, Bulrush, where I noticed it being served to some enthusiastic diners at the next table.

English wine has improved enormously in the last 30 years, mainly with some very successful sparkling examples, but Dunleavy’s delicious still Pinot Noir rosé shows a different direction in which local growers can clearly also thrive.  It is available direct from the vineyard (www.dunleavyvineyards.co.uk) or from local wine merchant Grape and Grind.