Fun in the dark
Apologies for the long food intro… Just skip to the menu if you’re only here for the wine; I will get to the dark/blind tasting bit!
As is tradition on our trip to Devon, me and The Fish cook for the guests on one of the evenings. The guests consist of Den & Jan (the in-laws), and long term Devon devotees Richard & Sue; all of whom are fans of great food, and have enjoyed plenty of top nosh by the time our turn comes around.
The plan was to go down to the tiny fish counter on Beer beach and choose what looked good and go from there. In my mind I’d planned scallops as the focus of the starter and maybe brill or sea bass for main course (I’d even picked some wild garlic earlier in the week to finish off a beurre blanc). Unfortunately the weather was against us and many of the fishermen hadn’t been able to go out in the windy conditions. Plan B consisted of a trip to Sidmouth to see what was to offer there.
The fishmongers in Sidmouth, behind the lifeboat station, were able to supply me with the scallops I was after but the rest of the fish was looking a bit tired and uninspiring. This meant a Plan C was needed! If any of you are fans of Rick Stein like me then you’ll remember the episode of Food Heroes where Matthew Fort’s brawn has gone mouldy and Rick ends up in a Sidmouth butcher to see how brawn is made… That’s where I ended up too. Devon produces some fantastic pork and I spotted the pork loin I wanted as soon as I entered the fabulous shop.
So the menu was ready:
Starter – scallops with black pudding, cockles and lemon dressing
Main – pork loin with roast potatoes, cabbage and apple & cider gravy
As I had planned to cook fish originally I already had a couple of fish-friendly whites to serve as a pair; a Picpoul de Pinet and an Albariño. The gang struggled with the minerality and light lack of fruit from the Picpoul without food but certainly enjoyed it far more with scallops. The Albariño was a winner with and without food with its thrilling fruit and seductive saltiness – outright winner of this pair (see the previous post for my new obsession with pairs of wines!)
Domaine la Grangette L’enfant Terrible Picpoul de Pinet 2010, Languedoc (Wine and the Vine £10.75)
The absolute essence of crushed up oyster shells – very mineral and just a hint of lemon and lime on the nose. It’s very steely but the fruit does show up at the end, especially with food. If you like Muscadet you’ll love this. 87 points
Sera da Estrela Albariño 2011, Galicia, Spain (Wine and the Vine £14.25)
There really is nothing to dislike about this wine. Lots of fruity intensity on the nose with apple, peach and even a touch of the tropics. All of the fruit is there in your mouth too and its quite full bodied too; a lovely texture. The fruit stays with you for quite one time and the saltiness of quality Albariño is there at the end. Lovely stuff for any occasion. 92 points
As I hadn’t planned to cook meat for the main course it meant going wine shopping! We came across and well stocked and very friendly wine shop on Sidmouth High Street, called, quite simply, “The Wine Shop”. I was hoping to find a Riesling from the old and new world but wasn’t that taken by the choice so I decided to go a bit left field. I also decided not to take my own advice (see Easter feasting) and went for two classics, two crowd pleasers… Chianti and Rioja.
Now, we’d been comparing pairs of wines all week and this was too good an opportunity to turn down. As well as seeing what everyone preferred I upped the ante and went for a blind challenge… Oh what fun they all thought! As I like to have a common theme to the pairs of wines, they were both from the 2006 vintage, and Reserva/Riserva, so each aged for around 3 years. I decanted the wines into jugs about 2 hours before dinner and asked each of the guests for their preferred wine if they had to choose. 3 went for Chianti (my choice) and 3 for Rioja. This is all going well!
We then got to the fun bit of identifying the wines. The discussion went on for a good 20 minutes before I asked everyone to make their guess, after tasting both wines. Again 3 were right and 3 off the mark. Amazingly it was the three men who got it right. But don’t worry, I’m not reading too much into that! Three of us chose our pre-taste favourite as our preferred choice of the 2 wines – one of them (no names!) chose the Chianti at the start and the end, but identified the wrong wine.
Anyway it was a fun way of drinking and discussing wine, and both bottles were very pleasant. I can’t wait until the next one!
Here’s what I thought of the wines:
Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva 2008, Tuscany (The Wine Shop £12.99)
Lots of bright red fruit on the nose with some enticing leathery and slightly earthy notes. On the palate the bright sour cherry and raspberry hits you right between the eyes and us backed to by those earthy, leathery notes. The wine has lovely well structured tannins which are soft enough but suggest you could leave for another couple of years. Would be even better with a pizza! 91 points
Ondarre Rioja Reserva 2006, Rioja (The Wine Shop £9.99)
I thought this was obviously the Rioja with the strawberry, vanilla and slightly oaky nose – very pleasant. In the glass it was very dark but the palate was very bright with the red fruit fruit bursting through with a hint if dried herbs and sweet spice. For the price it’s really very good but maybe just lacking a bit if finesse and length. 88 points
If there are a few of you together for dinner then give it a go – it certainly puts the wine at the centre of the evening and makes you realise how much you do or don’t know!