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Och aye the noo… Burns night is coming!

Burns night is around the corner on 25th January and this weekend we’ll be attending a magnificent Burns party at our good friends, wine lovers and blog readers Ave and Al’s place. What to drink is the obvious question. Whisky is the obvious answer. But here there is a problem. I don’t like Whisky. I’ve tried a dram from here, there and everywhere but just haven’t got a taste for it. I read Iain Banks’ brilliant book “Raw Spirit: the search for the perfect dram” and loved it and wanted to love the product too. But I don’t (which probably isn’t a bad thing as I can’t afford to burn a hole in my other pocket too!) So what should us non-Whisky lovers be putting to our lips instead?

Lets start with a few food and wine pairing basics straight from my WSET text book:

1. Match the flavour intensity of the food and the flavour intensity of the wine

2. Match sweet foods with sweet wines

3. Match acidic food with high-acid wines

4. Avoid combining very savoury foods with high tannin wine

5. Pair “chewy” meat with tannic wine

6. Pair salty foods with sweet wines

7. Pair fatty and oily foods with high-acid wines

8. Match the weight/richness of food and the body of the wine

Haggis is rich and spicy. Red wine will make you all happy as twice as many of you read the French Red Wine article compared to the one on French White! The spiciness takes me straight to the Rhone. The pepper and other spices just feels like a perfect match for Grenache. Not too tannic, lots of fruit and lots of spice. I could’ve gone to Priorat of course, but I’ve harped on enough about that wonderful region last year! Australia and California are also producing some great Grenache blends these days too, but I’ll stick with what I know.

After spending a week in the region last summer I just know its a great choice, I just need to decide which level to go in at. There’s some great Côte du Rhone on the market at very agreeable prices (20% off all Rhone wines at Majestic at the moment) or should I go to the top of the Rhone hierarchy and suggest a Chateauneuf-du-Pape? The problem I find here is that most supermarket C9DPs are too young – I’m not drinking anything after 2007 at the moment. Instead I’m going with Vaqueyras. We spent three days in the wonderful little village and as well as knowing I’ll get value for money it will also bring back some great memories.

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The beauttifil village of Vacqueyras

Unfortunately I can only find one bottle accessible to the masses in Majestic, and one from my mate Jez, so there’s also some recommendations for Gigondas, the next village along.

La Bastide Saint Vincent Vaqueyras 2010 (Majestic £16.24, £12.99 in current deal)

Domaine La Garrigue Vaqueyras 2010 (Wine & the Vine £14.65)

Finest Gigondas 2010 (Tesco £13.49)

Taste the Difference Gigondas 2010 (Tesco £13.49)

But if you want the best then get online at www.winedirect.co.uk where you will find one of my very favourite wines, from an exceptional vintage, with a bit of bottle age:

Domaine Le Couroulu Cuvée Classique Vacqueyras 2007 (Wine Direct £15.75)

Brambles, spice and lavendar, blakberry nose – delicious nose. Massive fruit concentration, Full of Christmas spices, black, almost raisiny friut; you can really taste the heat – perfect for the Winter. Beautiful, silky tannins and great acidity and freshness. More please! Tasted great at 35 degrees, tastes better when it’s sub-zero. 92 points

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The Grape Escape

Not another French post! Well no actually, it isn’t. Well not really. I know I’ve written a fair bit about French wine over the past couple of months but I do think its the best place to start and is a great introduction to most of the well known grape varieties. But most of these varieties are grown all around the world, so this post highlights the places to look. I’ll use the recent articles about decoding French wine to take us on a trip around the world. It’s a bit like Amazon… If you liked that, then you might like this!

Pinot Noir

My love of Burgundy has also taken me to a few other places over the past year and back in February I even bought a case of 6 bottles from Majestic of Pinot Noir from everywhere but France! New World wines, particularly New Zealand and USA,I have found to be more fruit focused, which lots of people like, but often without the earthy, forest aromas and flavours of Burgundy. Getting any Pinot for under £10 is never easy, but it can be done, and the best example I’ve found comes from Pfalz in Germany (M&S – find it!). Ive been told that the best up and coming region for Pinot is Tasmania, owing to its cool climate, so I’ll keep my eye out for a couple to try for you. I really am sooooo selfless!

Cabernet Sauvignon

From the epicentre of fine wine in Bordeaux, Cab Sav is grown all over the world and thrives in hot climates. We only need to go back to the famous “Judgement in Paris” in 1976 when the Californian wines whooped the asses of the Borderlais in a blind taste test to realise there are great Cabernets around the globe (get yourself a copy of the film “Bottle Shock” to learn more and to enjoy another superb performance from Alan Rickman). Then there’s the fabulous region of Coonawarra in Australia, famed for Cab Sav. And for value head to South America – Argentina and Chile are making some great stuff.

Syrah/Shiraz

Same grape, different name! In fact Aussie Shiraz is probably better known to most casual wine drinkers in the UK than Syrah from the Northern Rhone! So where better to start than Oz! The Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale regions of South Australia produce some stunning Shiraz, as does the Margaret River region in Western Australia. Try “The Hedonist” from Waitrose at £12.99 – one of my favourite wines of the year.

Grenache

The Grenache blends of the Southern Rhone are available all over the World. In Oz they are often referred to as GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mouvedre). The famous Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Papes even transported and planted some of their wines in Paso Robles, California! I’ve also written a lot about my love of Priorat in north-east Spain, usually made primarily from Garnacha (yep, same grape!). Hot country = spicy and fruity and often excellent.

Chardonnay

This grand grape has had a tough time over the past 10 with the ABC gang getting into a tizz. Now it’s true that the supermarket shelves have been full of basically crap stuff from Oz and the States… But what do you expect at 3 for £10? There is so much great winemaking around the world now that Chardonnay is regaining its place as one of the most fantastic and flexible grapes out there, both with and without the use of oak. I’ve found some amazing wines from the US and Oz over the past 12 months and recently tasted a stunner from NZ. Also look to Chile for value. I also tasted truly excellent Spanish Chard on our recent trip.

Sauvignon Blanc

Where else to start but New Zealand? Since the inaugural 1986 vintage of Cloudy Bay ( not Oyster Bay, repeat not Oyster Bay – never pay more that £5 for it!) those clever Kiwis haven’t put a foot wrong. Supermarket shelves are packed with the stuff, and there is some great value to be found as well as some real class if you’re prepared to go above £10. The up and coming country for this often gregarious grape is Chile, but prices are rising with improved quality. Also look to the south of France for some lovely clean wines.

Riesling

Germany is the place to start as they probably produce some of the best anywhere in the world, but as usual the top stuff comes with a hefty price tag. However, if you like something really fun and a bit sweet then give the Dr. Loosen from Sainsburys a go. I’m a huge fan of Australian Riesling, especially from the Clare or Eden Valleys. They offer real concentration of limes and tropical fruit and lovely minerality. Also look to NZ who are really starting to get into the grape more and more. Recently I also tasted a lovely example from South Africa… Expect to see more and more on the shelves over the coming months.

Chenin Blanc

Not unlike Oz and Shiraz, Chenin has become synonymous with South Africa and there are bottles at all price levels. I am really getting into these wines at the moment and have a blockbuster lined up for Xmas day. Australia is another country making some Chenin waves and these are generally easier to find in the supermarkets than the French bottling from the Loire Valley.

When you’re having a dinner party, try buying a French and other country example of a white and red wine and see who prefers what… My guests are probably getting fed up of the same old game but I’m still enjoying it!

From the sublime to the (not so) ridiculous

OK then, lets give Tesco a go. After the amazing Leoville-Barton tasting earlier I the week I thought I’d go to the farthest extreme and taste some “cheap” or “bargain” wine from the UK’s biggest supermarket, and the biggest supplier of wine to the UK consumer in volume (definitely) and value (probably).

Me and The Fish hate shopping at Tesco. It reminds me of an awful amusement arcade full of families screaming at each other. Having said that, we often use the Tesco Express at the end of our road as it is very convenient, you know what you’re getting and you know the price will be decent. But we needed some ingredients for Sunday dinner so went to the Tesco supermarket in Rickmansworth. It wasn’t fun, but it was interesting.

The wine section is actually very well put together with three distinct sections. The first is for offers, the second is arranged by colour & country, the third is fine wine. In between the sections there are also some “have you tried this” sections with useful advice on different grapes, growing areas and food matches. Well done, tick! By the way, the fine wine section had a really good selection, including a M Chapoutier Cote Rotie 2009 for about £30… But that’s not what we’re here to discuss today!

We went to the offers section, and I was looking for a 3 for £10 offer to lambast… But nothing so incredible to be found. Even that crappy Italian Dino rubbish was at £9.99; I wonder how many bottles they sell at that price?? It was in this section, however, that The Fish spotted the “Simply” range at £4.79 a bottle. Now this is a great idea. Tesco has taken the New World direction and “simply” put together a range of varietally named wines. If anyone watched “Chateau Chunder”, the programme on BBC4 earlier this week about the growth of Aussie wine, they will recognise the importance of this simple strategy. So we decided to go for 2 of these to try on a Sunday afternoon.

We chose the Spanish Garnacha and the German Riesling. And this is what I thought:

Simply Garnacha 2011

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The label on the Garnacha reads: “Made from sun ripened Garnacha grapes, this fruity red is medium-bodied, full of spicy bramble fruit flavours and juice red currant notes.”

Very young and purple in colour with a very attractive nose. It’s like a cocktail of stewed black fruits and just a hint of spice. On the palate there’s some black currants and maybe even a bit of dried morello cherry. Unfortunately that’s where the good bit ends and the alcohol starts to burn and overpower everything. You would think the ABV was upwards of 14%, whereas its actually 13.5%. This is by no means a bad wine and you’ll find it hard to get a Cotes Du Rhone as good at this price. Me and The Fish enjoyed a couple of glasses on Sunday afternoon and I threw the rest into my oxtail braise! 83 points

Simply Riesling 2011

“An authentically German Riesling, with well balanced flavours of green apples and citrus fruit with a juicy finish”.

In the glass the Riesling looks a bit like very weak lemon squash but is lovely an clear. I found it very difficult to get much aroma either straight from the fridge or after an hour in the glass; however there are some very muted hints of green apple and lime there somewhere. On the palate we have a blast of sweetness, almost medium sweet. It’s like a really sweet but juicy (homemade?) cordial of apples and limes, and its only 10.5% alcohol. This is definitely not my style of Riesling as I love the bone dry new world style, particularly from South Australia, but I can definitely see The Fish drinking this through a straw in the garden during the summer holidays! 80 points

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