Taste of New Zealand
Another excellent NZ evening spent with friends of The Wine Centre, thank you everyone and well done again Tony Bell for excellent culinary workmanship and Peter Rowe for a brave presentation! We had some cracking food-wine matches again, in particular the Riesling with Asian spiced prawn starter. Here are the wines we tasted:
Tin Pot Hut Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2011, “aromatic, fresh”, £11.99
The old Tin Pot huts belonged to the sheep herders when Marlborough was better known for its sheep. Produced by Fiona Turner and Matt Thompson this award winning “Savvie” has lifted aromas of blackcurrant, lemongrass and thyme with passionfruit notes. A complex palate of blackcurrant, herbs and mineral. Pleasing, powerful aperitif.
Wild Earth Riesling, Central Otago 2009, “lick of lime”, £15.99
Quintin Quider, deep sea diver and crazy, dare-devil risk-taker, is passionate about wine. He would have to be a little bonkers to attempt wine growing in such extreme conditions. Yet here it is, Wild Earth Riesling, grown in the desert-like outback of southern New Zealand, most southern vineyards in the world, beyond even where tracks go at the end of the now famous Felton Road.
Perfumes of white flowers, red apples and lemon meringue pie are followed by flavours of nectarines, apricots, red apples and lemon, with a streak of finger-lick`n lime.
Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2011, “striking”, £16.99
Kevin Judd was chief winemaker at Cloudy Bay for 25 years before he started his own venture and the birth of Greywacke. Named after the sedimentary rock found in its vineyards, in Rapaura, the wine expresses its high mineral source, a near creamy note amid racy acidities which are almost fierce. It exhibits a refreshing sorbet-like medley of fresh lychee, grapefruit and honeydew with flinty minerality and an infusion of mandarin and lime zest. A lively, invigorating wine; already a legend!
Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2010, “silky” £25.99
The new vintage of Kevin`s wild yeast, barrel –fermented Sauvignon Blanc has been long awaited. The 2009 – impossibly rich, silky and delicious – was a hard act to follow. Yet the 2010 has delivered in spades. Its texture, of glycerol richness, seems to glide across the palate. Notes of lemon rind and sweet green herbs meld together in a seamless stream… virtuoso performance!
Greywacke Chardonnay, Marlborough 2009 “golden, beautiful”, £29.99
First time tasting (from barrel) a gorgeous buttery bacon butty character. Now different, on the nose, cashew, lemon curd and shortbread, on the palate , layered and ripe-tasting citrus fruits, delicious fleshy layers, still buttery, mineral-rich with dough-like, yeasty notes. Still gorgeous!
Kim Crawford Merlot, Hawkes Bay 2010, “ripe, supple”, £14.99
Kim Crawford`s Merlot is back at the wine centre! I can only wonder as to why we ever let it go. Dark fruits, ripe plums and blackberries, complimented by spice and liquorice, underpinned with a little savoury oak; fine, harmonious, supple, gently mouth filling and delicious.
Crimson Pinot Noir, Martinborough 2010, “vibrant”, £20.99
Ata Rangi`s Clive Paton was a pioneer of winemaking in Martinborough and has recently been bestowed NZ`s highest award for excellence: grand cru status. Here Pinot is endowed with texture as well as fruit. Crimson has a heady fragrance of crushed rose-petal, light cherry, brambly notes and a hint of red liquorice. The palate is seamless, a smooth, feminine body which is nonetheless vibrant.
Wild Earth Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2009, “focused”, £24.99
Wild Earth`s Quintin works his magic with low yield, well-crafted Pinot Noir. Dark cherry, liquorice, plum, orange peel and cassis, a complex, intense flavour compound which is well-defined and served up in an elegant, fresh, supple wine. Superb.
Greywacke Pinot Noir, Marlborough 2010, “succulent”, £32.99
Kevin`s brilliant Greywacke Pinot Noir 2010 has got the industry in all of a titter. Reminiscent of tree-ripened black cherries (they say), its sweet-scented floral perfume is followed by a pure palate of plum, blackberry, cherry and smoky oak, “seasoned with a sprinkle of oregano and cinnamon”. Fragrant, pure and delightful.
10% discount for orders received in May
This is the line up we enjoyed at our last supper evening. I thought the Rabbit Ranch matched the fragrance of the fresh salmon-salad starter superbly (incredible aromas/flavours in the salad, by the way, well done Tony), the Dreadnought a terrific match with the spiced beef and the Aria sweet wine, superb with the cheeses! But best most truly memorable wine on the night for me was the Bel Canto! Amazing.
There`s a wine here for everyone / every occasion.
Mahi Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2010, “aromatic, fresh”, £12.99
Elegant mouth watering aromatic style, partially barrel-fermented using natural yeast ferments. Characteristics: gooseberries, blackcurrants, herbs, limes, ample acidity, smoke. NB. We had a run on this wine on Saturday and not many bottles left until i buy in again.
Rabbit Ranch Pinot Gris, Central Otago 2008, “leaps from the glass!”, £15.99
In the extreme conditions of Central Otago the spiced pear character of Pinot Gris acquires peach and honeysuckle and a fine minerality.
Man O War Valhalla Chardonnay, Waiheke 2009, “golden, beautiful”, £28.99
One of NZ`s best Chardonnays, whole bunch pressed and fermented in French oak barrels, this is gorgeous stuff: golden, like sunshine, complex, savoury and ripe-tasting. A small amount of noble berries are thrown into the mix adding a touch of intriguing apricot marmalade. Love this wine!
Pegasus Bay Bel Canto `Dry Riesling` Waipara 2009 “a noble wine”, £21.99
Late harvest botrytised Riesling in a dry style which is concentrated, powerful and complex. Bright citrus flavours slice through nectarine, peach and tropical fruits. Amazing.
Rabbit Ranch Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2008, “savour and sup”, £18.99
Produced on what used to be a sheep station and the glacial riverbed that flowed through the Cromwell area, this now arid land, with its stony soils and high population of rabbits, produces a fruity-rich style of Pinot Noir with a note of “gun smoke”.
Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir, Waipara 2008, “richness and texture”, £28.99
One of the most fruity, succulent red-fruited Pinots I tasted in NZ. 18 months in barrel give this wine a silky richness which is divine. Wild cherry and raspberries mingle with roast game, mushroom, black olive and liquorice in a heady rush of savoury and sweet which is heavenly.
Man O War Dreadnought, Waiheke 2008, “Decanter 5 Star Award”, £28.99
Hedonism personified in my book. Love this wine. Its blackberry-blueberry fruit profile is touched with floral, violet fragrance and white pepper. There`s a hint of game too. On the palate it`s layered and textural with a bright vibrancy and hint of spice which is gorgeous!
Man O War Ironclad, Waiheke 2009, “Decanter 5 Star Award”, £28.99
Superb Bordeaux blend full of sweet ripe fruit, red berries and blackcurrants, with hints of floral perfume, tobacco and cedar. Vibrant palate, rich texture, a powerful structure coated in luxuriant fruit. An engaging wine, will benefit from decanting.
Pegasus Bay Aria Late Picked Riesling 2008, “nectar of the gods”, £22.99
Late harvest botrytised fruit – this time producing a superb “peaches and apricots” sweet wine, one nonetheless with the backbone and citric acidity of Bel Canto. Nectar of the gods is right!
21-29 Jan 2012
Official recognition of a job well done – the prize a trip to Chile !!
Only one of us could go – and after much soul searching we decided it should be me! Janet would instead travel to Aldeburgh, Lea to Paris, Merrill to New York: our well-deserved breaks after all the hard work over Christmas. I figured I needed money for my travel so I checked the top credit cards by The Motley Fool.
I was one of five independent merchants to win the coveted prize – our journey together a bonding of kindred spirits. They were Anita Mannion (Leamington Wine), David Ogden (Corkscrew Wines), Patrick Rohde (Aitken Wines) and John O`Keeffe (Christopher Piper Wines). Accompanying us were our hosts Gail and Alfonso of Wines of Chile.
We flew to Chile`s capital Santiago, British Airways via Brazil. Unfortunately there is no convenient direct flight to Santiago which is a shame because one would serve Chile better as a tourist destination – and it deserves better. The route home incidentally was longer, painfully long, via Argentina and then Spain, one fraught with delays, missed connections and lost baggage – but by this time we were happy bunnies and nothing could dampen our spirits. We had had the time of our lives compliments of Wines of Chile, after all.
First off, lunch at the Central Market: an incredible fish market and restaurant sheltered by a high-ceiling steel structure, apparently designed by Gustave Eiffel himself. We had some of Chile`s fresh seafood: ceviche, conger eel, abalone, shrimp, Razor clams, scallops and best of all, Anguilla “baby” eels……. washed down by Ay…(don`t remember the name now) Sauvignon Blanc, an unusual complex style, not entirely to my liking, more like a Viognier blend than the crisp, fresh Sauvignon I recognise as Chilean (the name will come me….or not!).
After lunch we took a tour of the capital, its famous squares, government buildings, art and history museums. Evidence of its recent political history is everywhere. Santiago, being centre of government, was the focus of regime change from its democratically elected socialist government to the military government led by dictator General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet is remembered now as a murdering fascist for his coup d`etat in 1973 and all the killings, of course, but the good he did was to open up Chile`s markets to global trade and his conservative policies largely lived on after him from 1990 through subsequent democratic governments to this day, leading to a now very prosperous and successful Chile – in strictly wine terms there has been a a miracle change for the better which wouldn`t have happened without Pinochet. The point is endlessly argued, academically and theoretically, but socialist expropriation and high level taxation is still blamed for the collapse and inertia of the industry, and the turn round in the industry`s fortunes was post Pinochet.
The Cimate in brief
Chile is long and narrow, as we know, the Pacific Ocean to its west and the Andes mountain range to its east, separating it from Argentina`s Mendoza. There is no love lost with Argentina it seems, so the Andes is a good natural barrier in more ways than one (our own differences with Argentina are only amplified by the good relationship Britain has with Chile). There`s also the two extremes of north and south: dry desert in the north of Chile and the wet fjords, lakes and glaciers in the south – and, perhaps most important of all, the Coastal range of mountains and their splinters between the ocean and the vineyards. Now add into the mix the cooling Pacific current which originates in the Antarctic and moves up the coast of Chile – and add wind! The Coastal Range has natural `gaps` through which the air is sucked from the Pacific to cool the vineyards. A warm Mediterranean climate with a breeze, how perfect is that! Now consider those Coastal `splinters`, vineyards on slopes and flats with variable soil compositions (many of them volcanic), variable altitudes, variable distances from the sea (or proximities to the Andes), and variable exposures to the sunshine. And cold nights! Consider all this and it is clear you have a complex, very, very diverse landscape. This, the perfect environment for producing quality wine grapes!
Next morning, early, we flew out to La Serena in the very north, desert country.
Foggy and moist in the mornings due to the Pacific influence and well fed by cooling moist winds, it is nonetheless important to irrigate in this otherwise desert, low-fertile sandy land. But irrigate they do – and the drip-drip action of irrigation works its magic here, working the minerals gradually which are absorbed by the vines roots producing mineral-rich wines.
Fungus can be a problem in the form of Oidium, but essentially the vines have to work hard and here they produce healthy, good quality grapes and phenolic maturity. Syrah in cool years have plenty of spice, while warmer seasons produce a more opulent style, grown mostly on its own roots which is typical of Chile generally due to being free of the phylloxera louse. Not to say grafting on rootstock is not used at all here or elsewhere – it is, mostly where necessary to assist penetration into hard, rocky ground. We tasted examples of both styles of Syrah and my favourite was the cool-climate.
We also tasted fine turbot with an elegant Chardonnay, a wine-food highlight.
The Tamaya farm produces citrus fruits, avocados and grapes, their water supply provided by reservoirs in the foothills of the Andes. The large proportion of clay there assists in retaining the water around Tamaya, and the water assists in leaching out the minerals. It has a calcium–rich substrata, which feeds the vines and provides the grapes with good acidity. The clay itself apparently contributes viscosity to the wines. However, it the long growing season which provides Tamaya wines with their freshness and appeal.
This is copper country – its biggest market apparently China. No surprise there.
The colluvial mixture of clay, silt, sand and calcium-rich limestone is also good for growing Chardonnay, and Tabali prove the point well. Indeed their range of wines is a demonstration of elegance and achievement in difficult growing conditions.
Return Flight/overnight Santiago
Vina Mar, Casablanca
Vina Mar, a member of the second largest wine group in Chile (VSPT) is a public limited company on the Chilean stock exchange. While the group as an entity is very corporate, proud and eco-friendly, its wineries are individual and left to their own devises, simultaneously enjoying a high level of investment. The best of both worlds it would seem.
Here in Casablanca it is largely cool and windy white wine country, known for its Sauvignons and Chardonnays.
Very much copper mining territory, it should be noted here that Chile produces a third of the world`s copper market and is by far the greatest export. Arguably it is rather too dependent on copper and subject to market fluctuation and economic decline when copper prices are low. Agricultural products and especially fruits are a distant second, followed by salmon from the fjords south of chile and wine exports fourth.
Incidentally, avocado is a big Chilean export, as is artichoke (both delicious and used regularly in salads here, ideal with Sauvignons).
Here there is a granite substrata with a clay topsoil – and due to its proximity to the sea it is cooler and more windy even than Casablanca which is higher and further inland. These are some of Chile`s best fresh white wines, the sort, frankly, I enjoy most. These lowland, coastal, largely south-facing vineyards achieve ripeness over typically long growing seasons. Sauvignons are the classic green, zesty style ideal for aperitif, and the Chardonnays flavourful with a mineral edge and delicious lick of citrus fruits. The Pinot Noirs were also fresh and vibrant. We enjoyed the wines with a fantastic seafood lunch by the vineyards. These were some of my very favourite wines on the trip, this being the only winery in Chile with its own regional denomination. I hope to be bringing some to Great Horkesley soon.
Interestingly, at the tasting we used Stolze glasses to taste even the white wines, more akin to our Riedel Pinot Noir glasses. I usually use mine for reds only, but I might well think again. It was lovely swishing my Sauvignons and Chardonnays around the full bowl-shaped glass and the aromas were wondrous.
Winemaker Maria del Pilar Gonzales together with her daughter Guillermo Aida Toro were our most delightful hosts for supper at Chocolan, my favourite their Petit Verdot-Syrah Rose which we have stocked for years and enjoyed there by the vineyards as an aperitif.
Here, in Curico Valley, is where they started sparkling wine and it`s still probably the best place to source it. They practice both the Charmat and Champagne method, using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Haras de Pirque, Maipo
This winery in the shape of a horse shoe which raises both horses and vines with equal passion. We were introduced to the most beautiful stallion, a young racing horse in his prime. Actually, the winery was beautiful too – and even the people at this winery were beautiful! Made me feel very middle-age +. The Equus range of wines were bright and approachable, the Haras de Pirque purposeful , complex and characterful (as the name suggests), the Albis, flagship joint venture wine with Antinori from Italy, stunning.
This fine winery, part of the VSPT group, is stand alone in every other sense. Its own natural amphitheatre of vineyards, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah vines are raised in volcanic colluvial and alluvial soils, with limestone and plenty of stones. We discussed the merits of vines raised on alluvial versus colluvial soils, alluvial being ancient river deposits while colluvial is the rock debris accumulated at the base of slopes through the action of rainwater or gravity. Alluvial has produced the red-fruited Cabernet of Clos du Fous by example, while the Cabernets of Altair, colluvial, are darker with more cassis. It`s all location, location! Altair also has its own stand alone viticulteur – a shepherd who cares for his sheep (his vines): Rene is a man who is passionate about what he does (in his own inimitable way!) and he likes to speak very much of terroir!! A funny man – he had me in stitches – reminded me of a dear Venezuelan friend of mine (so laid back he was practically horizontal). And his wines were great. At £50+ a pop these wines would be a hard sell, but boy they are good: Cabernet dominant blends they have fresh bright fruits, superb concentration and great purity.
Montes in perfect harmony with nature has a flow of water directed into it, entirely symbolic and aesthetic I think, though I wouldn`t be surprised if it generated energy. Certainly most of the wineries I have visited so far would choose natural energy sources wherever practicable, either air, water or sunshine. Green is New Zealand`s colour but Chile wants a part of it. Indeed, there is much about NZ which is Chile – its wild, diverse beauty, its clean, cool air, volcanic soils, geysers and hot springs, its good wines! Chile is simply a little behind the kiwi`s (their socialist past), and now they are learning from the kiwi`s and everyone else and in a decade, if they play their cards right….. well, they can achieve great things. Meantime, they are not doing so badly! Montes Chardonnay which we have stocked a while is fresh, yet tropical and creamy. At £13.99 a steal. However, the Montes Folly Syrah, which we also stock at £36.99 is the gem here. Its label design by Ralph Steadman is striking on the shelf – and the wine joyous, blue berries, black berries, spice… we visited the vineyard and noted its deep, red sandstone and clay soils, the tiny blue berries. I was shown how they remove the upper bunch from any one cane to stimulate concentration in the one remaining bunch, such is their commitment to quality here. I had to pinch myself to check I wasn`t dreaming. I really am awake and in this place of my dreams!
On the flats were Carmenere, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, more fertile land providing easily everything these vines could want for full, phenolic maturation. The Carmenere`s – Chile`s near indigenous grape (not so – the vine is originally from Bordeaux) but yes so, in the same way Argentina now owns Malbec. This grape more than any other is unique to Chile. And it is the most controversial and difficult of all grapes: the one with tendencies toward greenness; the erratic one; the Pinotage of Chile; the one which doesn`t quite fit a marketable niche: Carmenere with Curry? Carmenere with roasted red meats? Carmenere with meat pies? `With walnuts? (Chile is a huge producer of walnuts). It has dark fruits and it`s spicy – at best very good indeed, at worst horrible. For me, the best are the elegant Carmeneres and the Carmenere blends. Montes Purple Angel is excellent – 92% Carmenere, 8% Petit Verdot. Apparently the trick to eliminate the greenness is removal of the leaves, to reduce the pirazine in the grapes; but just as important is to pick before being over-ripe. Indeed, better a tad of greenness from early picking, having removed the excess green by summer pruning the leaves.
We also tasted the new Outer Limits wines – their Sauvignon Blanc vines planted just 8km from the sea and deliciously zesty and fresh – one of my favourite Sauvignons on the trip.
We visited the Clos Apalta winery – and first the eponymous name brought back fond memories of Pangea, the Syrah by Vina Ventisquero which i have so enjoyed on several occasions also produced in Apalta: the wine by winemaker John Duval. “Apalta” that small area of vineyard in Colchagua with the biggest reputation for fine wine. My only regret on this trip: not visiting Vina Ventisquero (the winery which also produces another favourite of mine, Heru Pinot Noir). We enjoyed a fabulous lunch here and terrific wines, but for me the stand out was the cellar: so many state-of-the-art wineries in Chile but this one stratospheric; the architecture wondrous. The winery built into the hill and the clever use of rock and iron and wood and air and water and sunshine.
Many of the Chilean wineries we found to be green and generally more eco-friendly than not, but this one surpassed all in its organic and biodynamic practices. They have the animals for dung and compost, the vegetation to attract insects in the vineyards, use of natural yeasts only, minimal use of sulphur during winemaking, the cows horns … stop there! This was my first opportunity to witness biodynamic farming, and I arrived a sceptic. We were shown the quartz stone ground to powder and put in the cow horns, for burial in the vineyards. We witnessed the gut -sacks of manure hung in the vineyard for exposure to the sun before being buried to return energy (or something) to the earth. We were taken to the sacred place where their manures matured – pots of vegetation treated like treasures, produced from a variety of vegetation and goodness knows what – I didn`t like to ask. And we were told about pruning according to the moon cycles so as not to waste the sap and the whole process was explained clearly and passionately and it seemed just a little weird….. but the wines were good by jove, some of them very good, fresh and elegant. I am reminded of M. Chapoutier in the Rhone and Albert Mann in Alsace who also practice biodynamic viticulture: who also produce fine wines. Is there something in it, after all? Perhaps now I am less of a sceptic – if not quite a believer – agnostic maybe?
A thoroughbred of a winery and another beauty with striking architecture and no expense spared. Here the subject of agronomic engineering came up! Yes, stimulating stuff. Really though it is an interesting fact that many Chilean winemakers have backgrounds in engineering – perhaps signifying the need to build new vineyards and the mindset required to do so. Arguably, as a direct result of the socialists grip on wine production (as a means of stemming consumption 1930-Pinochet), many of the vineyards are new in Chile. They are selected for their micro-climate and specific soils to suit individual grape varieties – and it is largely an ongoing craft, requiring ongoing evaluation. If an own-rooted grape variety proves not to perform in a particular place, the grafting onto it of another variety is done, or simply new clones are tested. Chile is young still, with huge potential. As it happens this vineyard, by the state-of-the-art Eraazuriz winery, is not so young – some 50 years. Indeed, here in Aconcagua near the mountains they have been making good Cabernets and Syrahs for some considerable time – certainly the wines of Eraazuriz impressed me.
Clos de Fous, Aconagua (our most southern destination!)
We stock the low-sulphur burgundy-style Clos de Fous Chardonnay, their principle wine, the first wine we tasted that late afternoon by the Pinot Noir vineyard… it was noticeably chilly, an indicator of the cooler climes down south here, but the company was warm and the wines delicious. Francois Massoc the winemaker and Albert Cussen “his boss” were a humorous double act, though I imagine they both get to play the straight guy when it comes to business. These are daredevils who have pushed the boundaries to produce quality fruit where few would dare before. And it has clearly paid off.
The Pinot Noir has been closely planted on what are dunes of clay and alluvial sandstone over granite – a method of electronic soil-mapping was used to determine the layers for planting purposes. Now 3 years old vines, closely planted in the burgundy way, we can expect great things, I`m sure.
We tasted a very nice cool-climate Cabernet as well, red-fruited, crunchy, a far cry from the usual Chilean dark jammy fruits and one to look out for.
Over lunch we discussed the requirement for patience in the fermentation process (as you do!). Apparently the carbonic acid (co2) in the fermenting juice excludes the need for use of much sulphur in their wines, especially good news for our sulphur sensitive customers. In particular they spoke of the need to wait for as long as it takes for the secondary malo-lactic fermentation to finish its cycle – one time taking almost three years! Apparently it can`t be hurried or cut short because of an unwanted manifestation of out-of-balance vanilla aromas. Only with white wines can it sometimes be desirable to stop malo-lactic fermentation all together, to preserve the crisp malic acidity, a factor in the style of the finished wine. Perhaps it`s best not to labour on such matters – better to simply enjoy the fruits of other peoples labour!
Lunch was overlooking the vineyards from one of five mud-built huts which these talented guys have built themselves: no ordinary tin-pot huts but luxurious wattle and daub thatched-roof mud huts with all the trimmings and vineyard dunes all around them in the most beautiful setting possible…. thank you gentlemen for your company and warm hospitality!
Coastal visit: 2 hrs splashing around in the waves, careful not to be dragged under the tectonic plate by the strong currents there, followed by a few cool beers while we dried off! NB. Kunstmann Amber Beer, not bad at all!
Our final soiree in the Bellavista quarter of Santiago, a good night out!
Shopping excursion (sore head)
Flight to Buenos Aires / Madrid / Home
It seemed to me there are some ordinary and fantastic wines in Chile – and a good deal between. The ordinary whites are bland and the ordinary reds a little “muddy” – perhaps it`s the rough tannins, a certain greenness, or the lack of varietal definition or both. I`m not just referring to the wineries we visited – indeed most didn`t fall into the category – but wines we tasted in Santiago and those I have tasted at home. The category tends to be cheap (though not all are) and it occurs to me that Chile should either raise their game and avoid the mass market all together, or try to produce more definition in their bulk wines – with softer, juicier tannins. In time with older vines this might well happen naturally. I would say don`t be afraid of the sweet notes when it comes to these wines. Ideally give them a name to separate them from the more premium wines: the equivalent of Vin de Pays or even Table Wine.
In the mid-price category Chile comes into its own, and this is the category with arguable most potential, especially when you consider most of the vines are still fairly young. Indeed, in an ideal world these wines, already very much on the right course in qualitative terms, would not increase too sharply too quickly in price terms. The industry relies on its exports and the world is in an economic downturn. Better to assume the position of strong middle ground and market share, below New Zealand, offering great value for money. In this category my own view would be to focus on regional identity and in particular bright fruits and varietal definition suitable to location. Avoid the muddy mouth feel and green notes in reds, promote the clean fresh characters of whites. Carry on knocking out the clean, fresh Sauvignons – and please, please don`t stop working on Chardonnay and Syrah. As for Carmenere – personally I would forget it as a single variety unless you have something very special there. Instead, use it as a blending wine. Certainly, avoid at all costs over-ripening, over extraction, too much alcohol!
In the super premium category I think there is less need for price sensitivity – and many of the top wineries are bang on course for great wines. We tasted quite a few reds from £25-£75 per bottle, fantastic wines which would see off quite a few old world wines in the category I would bet. Even Carmenere!! Upward and onward and bravo Chile!
With thanks to Wines of Chile and all the great wineries we visited for their superb and generous hospitality. We had a fabulous time – and love your beautiful country.
Slightly bruised from the strains of excess foie gras and grand crus, I am nonetheless feeling inspired and happy following a glorious two days in Alsace as a guest of Domaines Schlumberger. Indeed in spite of the urgent need to catch up with my work, I feel compelled to share some of the highlights with you. So here we go…
We were a small group of independents and the insatiable, unstoppable Mr. Mark Bingley, Master of Wine, a man who is perhaps best known for his Louis Roederer and Domaine Faiveley brands, but who also heads up the UK operation for Domaines Schlumberger. Being based in the south of the region we flew into Basel and the winery was a short drive from there. We were welcomed by Severine Schlumberger and her father Eric who had a picnic waiting for us: a plate of cold meats, pates and cheeses with the dash of red cabbage and gherkin which made it so very Alsace; this was obligingly swilled down with the Les Princes Abbes Pinot Gris 2009, a generous mouthful of dried fruit-stone fruit and hint of orange peel which coped admirably with the range of savoury and sour flavours on the plate.
Yet it is the grand crus for which Domaines Schlumberger is so famous, of course, and it was to these vineyards we drove after lunch, the Defender having spiralled its way up the precipice of the nearby steep hillside – finally to the Kitterle vineyard itself, the flagship. Here there was a wind which seemed to come from nowhere, apparently ever present here, a component of the grand cru`s terroir; the volcanic, sandy soil and granite rock also components; the steep terraces and closely planted vines, the protective hilltop behind us overlooking the vineyard, with its sheer ridges and man-made stone walls, the rain water which flows from them to further water the vines, the abundance of sunshine, bright enough for sun glasses that October afternoon; even the Vosges mountains and Black Forest beyond on the horizon, all components in the finished wine, unique to this vineyard, distinct from its neighbours and fellow grand crus. This, its own personality, we were to witness that first evening at the Hotel du Lac, at dinner, again at a tasting in their cellar room next morning and yet again during the gourmet lunch at Koenig a l`Arbre Vert in Berrwiller, next day. By comparison there were the other grand crus with their own individual personalities and Les Princes Abbes range, like shadows of the grand crus, reminiscent without being so multi-dimensional, in themselves delightful wines and fine examples of the region, characteristically “Alsace”.
The three grand crus single grape varieties are Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Here at Kitterle the biggest and ripest. The Riesling 2005, powerful and dry, fleshy and ripe with slatey minerality and ripe, juicy lime, wonderful with the fish stew I had at Koenig`s. Compare with the Riesling Grand Cru Saering 2007 which is leaner, more vibrant. The Pinot Gris Grand Cru Kitterle 2007 unctuous with depth, richness and spice, yet with a restraint and honed quality which gave even more satisfaction (second glass) than the Pinot Gris Grand Cru Spiegel 2007 – this wine was more blousy, brazen and scented, like honeysuckle, absolutely gorgeous but for me overly rich without the necessary restraint I would personally need to enjoy more than a glass or two (though I have a feeling I managed it!). Finally, the Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Kitterle 2005, massive and ripe-tasting, yet complex and harmonious, the perfect wine with the local Munster cheese. By comparison the Kessler 2005, a small step down in weight and ripeness, but still the rose petal scent and richness which personifies the grape Gewurztraminer; still wondrous.
The only Schlumberger red, the Pinot Noir, was lovely with the veal at Hotel du Lac. Quite lean, it was nonetheless sufficiently fleshy and interesting with a savoury quality. I liked it. But outside of the grand crus my top marks go to the sweet wines: Gewurztraminer Cuvee Christine Vendanges Tardives 2006 and Gewurztraimer Cuvee Anne Selection de Grains Nobles 2007. The latter sweeter with noble rot characteristics (we witnessed the the tedious sorting of the botrytis-effected grapes destined for the 2011 vintage!), while the Vendanges Tardive was more characteristically Gewurztraminer. Both superb.
Incidentally – the best of the Les Princes Abbes range was, in my opinion, the Riesling 2008. I believe Severine mentioned this was a grand cru wine declassified, which would explain it, certainly it was fresh and limey and made for an excellent aperitif. Apparently Schlumberger will only declare grand cru status in fine years, a sign of their commitment to the grand cru status and high quality of their grand cru wines.
Our thanks to Mark Bingley and the Schlumberger family for a memorable few days in paradise.
Jamie Montgomery makes a farmhouse Cheddar using milk from his pedigree Jersey herd. The taste is rich and creamy with a tangy note and grassy aromas offset by a fruity mellow rich taste. The mouth slightly puckers as the full flavor registers and then lingers on the tongue, a sign of a good, mature cheddar. The texture is quite crumbly. A traditional classic yellow cheese. Wine match: For different taste sensations try a robust, fruity red such as Rhone, Zinfandel or Malbec, or a Macon or Rully white burgundy.
A Welsh hard cheese. The chalky soil where the cattle graze gives the Poacher a distinctive savoury character and acidity, but there is also a richness from the Holstein breed milk which gives a sweet mellow note. These innate characteristics come together during the cheese`s eighteen months aging, developing a harmonious cheddar with depth of flavour, while also acquiring its deep yellow colour and natural rind. Wine match: As Montgomery.
Wensleydale & Cranberries
Made from local cow`s milk which graze on the sweet limestone meadows of the Yorkshire dale, Wensleydale combined with sweet Cranberries is a sweet, succulent and very fruity cheese requiring a light fruity wine, white or red. An original creation from The Wensleydale Creamery. Wine match: German Spatlese or light sweet Muscat, for red, try Beaujolais, NZ Gamay or Pinot Noir.
Suitable for vegetarians.
The name of the cheese does not actually identify its provenance. Originating in Scotland in the 1970’s it was soon transferred to Leicestershire. The name was derived from the colour of its orange paste. Similar in style to Stilton but milder with a sharp, metallic edge coming from the blue. A natural rind, produced from pasteurized cow`s milk. Wine match: For different taste sensations try either an aromatic Alsace dry white, a golden sweet wine or port.
Brie De Meaux
France, Ile De France
Soft velvety texture with a tender bloomy rind. Rich golden cheese with an earthy, cabbagey character contrasting with the texture of the crust. The ideal condition to enjoy this cheese is with the centre of it ripe but slightly firm and the edges melting. Wine match: White burgundy (Rully) or other Chardonnays, or Gruner-Veltliner from Austria. Vintage Champagne is also delicious. For reds, southern French reds are traditional but red burgundy better, the older the better.
Plump cream coloured cheese dipped in Eau de Vie and sprinkled with pepper, then wrapped in chestnut leaves. Cheese becomes more pronounced and stronger with age and develops a melting rich paté. Its natural rind is golden with patches of blue. Wine match: Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume or any Sauvignon Blanc dry white. A rich Vouvray or Chenin Blanc offers another fabulous taste experience.
Famous round burgundy cheese with a soft orange-tinted interior and a distinctive apricot-coloured wrinkled rind washed with brine and Marc. When ripe its creamy aromatic interior develops into a melting pot of the most gorgeous viscous liquid cheese, its inimitable flavor quite strong-tasting with a salty piquancy which is divine with the wines from the area. A fabulous treat. Wine match: red or white burgundy always a classic, but also try the sweet, dark wine Myriad for an alternative, explosive combination.
Heart shaped white cheese, creamy and crumbly with earthy-mushroom aromas and a nutty flavour which has a distinctive salty tang. Its rind has a soft, downy, velvety bloom. The gentle rolling countryside around Forges-les-Eaux is the best area to find these cheeses. Wine match: red Sancerre or any Pinot Noir; a good white Sancerre or Touraine would work in a different way, as would a golden sweet (to contrast with the salty tang).
Distinctive fantastically good value, individual blue cheese. Capsule shaped, patched grey/white moulds on a natural thin crust. The texture is rich and mellow and the flavor a mild nutty blue, making it a perfect partner for fine wines as the taste is not overly aggressive. Wine match: golden sweet wine or port, but also aromatic Alsace dry wine.
Semi-soft cheese with a firm golden orange washed gently ridged crust bound with five strips of raffia, giving it its nickname “The Colonel”. Supple, springy texture with scattered pinholes, pungent aroma and rather spicy. Wine match: dry white Alsace Pinot Gris or Gewurztraminer, alternatively a bold Chardonnay. Traditionally cider or Calvados.
France, Haut Doubs
Semi-soft smooth textured cheese with pale gold/beige washed and brushed crust and pale ivory-yellow interior paté. Notably there is also a layer of blue/black edible ash and vegetable extract across its centre to separate the morning and evening milks used in the layers. The taste is mild with a fresh nutty flavour, becoming richer and more pronounced with age. Wine match: Macon white burgundy, New World Unoaked Chardonnay or Gruner-Veltliner from Austria, alternatively Fleurie for red or J. Lohr Wildflower.
Soft, supple textured cheese with a washed ridged crust with a delicate bloom, which is a pretty pinky-beige colour. The cheese itself is cream. Chewy, quite tender texture, with an aromatic almost earthy aroma. A full taste enhanced by washing in a local cider. Made by a single cheesemaker on the farm using milk from their own herd. Wine match: Macon or Saint Veran White Burgundy or New World Unoaked Chardonnay, or red burgundy / Pinot Noir.
Vacherin du Mont d’Or
The season for this traditional handmade cheese is short, October until March. Superb cheese with a meltingly rich flavor which verges on clotted cream. The billowy crust is washed pinky peach with an earthy sappy aroma, the interior beige-pinky cream. The bark around the cheese helps to achieve its texture and perfume. Wine match: this rare, seasonal treat would be ideally partnered with our Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne, white burgundy, Alsace or Gruner-Veltliner. For red try Fleurie or Wildflower.
Mozzarella di Bufala
The fresh delicate alabaster appearance of this cheese almost looks translucent. The milk from white water Buffalo has a mossy damp aroma which tastes light and savoury with sweet hints. The area around Salerno is very marshy which is eminently suitable for these animal and the taste of pure Buffalo milk from here is quite unlike any other Mozzarella. Handmade from a small dairy near Sorrento using pasteurized milk from their own herd. Serve with tomato & avocado (too good for cooking). Wine match: NZ Sauvignon Blanc or Beaujolais.
Italy, Reggio Emilia (Parmesan)
Fine parmesan cheeses from pasteurized skimmed cow`s milk, this cheese has undergone long & slow maturation having developed a yellow colour and distinctive, creamy parmisan flavor. The crust is brine washed. Only cheeses with the Consorzio markings are the true Parmigiano aged 3 years+. Serve heavily grated on tomato-based pasta dishes or homemade pizza. Wine match: Chianti, Super Tuscan, Amarone. If you prefer white, a good Sauvignon Blanc will work with the tomato without clashing with the cheese.
A fine version of Taleggio, thicker and creamier than many, this one from the hills around Bergamo. The texture has a rich, melting quality that is not too salty, but has a lovely sappy floral flavour. It is cream with a washed rind. Wine match: favourite Italian white such as Vermentino or Trebbiano, or even a golden sweet wine. Traditionally, however, its match is Chianti, Barbaresco or Barolo.
Spain, La Mancha
This pasteurized sheep`s cheese has been aged at least 18 months and the texture becomes grittier, the flavour fruiter and the colour slightly darker with age, white to ivory to near yellow. The rind is yellow to brown-beige (oiled) and inedible. A unique flavour and texture: its flavour creamy with a slight piquancy and an aftertaste characteristic of sheep`s milk; the texture firm and compact, slightly grainy with irregular air pockets. Wine match: Rioja red or white (in Spain they often partner with Cava, Fino or Amontillado).
Cropwell Bishop Stilton
Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire
Blue cheese, pasteurized, well-aged, crumbly yet creamy with a rich, long flavor. A truly delicious stilton produced by the Cropwell Bishop Creamy on the border of Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. Wine Match: Traditionally we enjoy port with Stilton, vintage or LBV, but Tawny also goes well. If served with pear try a sweet golden wine such as Vouvray.
South West France
Classic South West Ewes`s milk Blue with a salty, tangy flavor. Ours is an excellent example. Wine Match: Traditionally Sauternes, the golden sweet wine from Bordeaux, but also Monbazillac or Loupiac golden sweet wines. The salt and sweet contrasts make for an explosive taste sensation. Tawny port also works well.
Made not unlike cheddar from cow`s milk(in Leicester), orange in colour since the 18th century by the addition of annatto extract (from the red seeds of the achiote tree grown in the sub tropical regions of the Americas). The flavor is slightly nutty without the tang of mature cheddar and the texture is more crumbly than cheddar. Wine Match: Alsace Pinot Blanc or Gris, or a Chardonnay for white, a fruity Shiraz or Pinot Noir for red.
Godminster king of cheddars, sealed in a distinctive food-grade burgundy wax keeping the cheese fresher and creamier for longer. This organic cheddar is less crumbly than traditional farmhouse cheddars, creamy in both taste and texture, matured for over twelve months to allow its tangy, yet smooth, taste to develop. Serve with fresh green apples, crunchy oatcakes and either quince or chilli jam. Or simply on its own. Wine match: Zinfandel or Malbec for red or white burgundy for white.d Zinfandel or Malbec or other ripe-tasting, full-bodied red. Alternatively white burgundy or dry white Alsace Pinot Gris. (Somerset Cider might be even better if you are on holiday there!).
Creamy blue-veined cheese from cow`s milk, produced by Baron Robert Pouget of the Oxford Cheese Company in Worminghall, Bucks. Creamier than Stilton, semi-soft and ripe with a unique flavor said to hint of “dark chocolate, white wine and tarragon”! Develops a striking grey rind. Wine Match: Aromatic Alsace Riesling or sweet golden wine, alternatively ruby or tawny port as per Stilton.
Mould-ripened Goats cheese with a fresh, light and creamy taste, almost lemon-like, becoming creamier as it ripens. Gevrik, produced by Coombe Castle International in Cornwall, is Cornish for “little goat”. Wine Match: Sauvignon Blanc or Baccus English dry white.
A distinctive golden colur with a grey rind, this creamy lightly blue-veined cheese is from Guernsey cow`s milk pasteurised with vegetarian rennet. Soft and luxurious, it is made on a farm just north of Needham Market. Ideal with apple and oatcakes. Wine Match: Aromatic Alsace Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or Bacchus dry white wine, alternatively a sweet golden wine, ruby or tawny port.
South West France, Perigord
Produced from cow`s milk in the Dordogne, made in traditional Trappiste style. It is a soft, creamy coloured pale cheese with a rich, nutty flavour and a smooth, creamy & quite rubbery texture. Its smelly old sock aroma comes from the cheese`s bright tangerine-orange soft rind. The rind appears after several washings of the crust. Maturation of the Chaumes takes four weeks. Can be grilled and/or used to flavour a delicious quiche. Wine match: Viognier or Sauvignon Blanc.
English goats cheese produced from pasterised milk. Deliciously creamy and moist, fluffy texture. Produced on the Hampshire Wiltshire border. Serve with biscuits or chunks of warm crusty bread. Wine Match: Aromatic Alsace Riesling or NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Same wine with the delicious garlic and herb version.
Sheep and Goats cheese, pleasantly soft and creamy with a distinctive yet mild sour, salty tang and chalky, crumbly texture. Almost like set yoghurt. Ideal for salads. Wine Match: Sauvignon Blanc or Baccus English dry white, for red Beaujolais or Pinot Noir.
Cow`s milk from Wales. Rich, tangy cheddar hard cheese with a creamy richness, one of the best value on the market. Wine match: NZ Sauvignon Blanc or a fruity low tannin red like Fleurie or Wildflower.
Also available: Red Devil with Chilli
Green Thunder with garlic and garden herbs
(with Sauvignon Blanc)
A French goats‘-milk cheese made in the commune of Selles-sur-Cher in the Loir-et-Cher department where it was first made in the 19th century. The cheese is cylindrical. The central pâte is typical of goats cheese, rigid and heavy at first but moist and softening as it melts in the mouth. Its taste is lightly salty. The exterior is dry with a grey-blue mould covering its surface and has a musty odour. The mould is often eaten and has a considerably stronger flavour. Wine match SauvignonBlanc:Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume.
Award winning English goats cheese produced at Chapel Farm in the village of Cerney. It is ash coated, the ash imported from France, pyramid shaped with a soft white curd centre, deliciously creamy. Its particular taste is in part derived from the mixing of salt in with the ash. Wine match: Bacchus dry white or Sauvignon Blanc. Our Sancerre works superbly well.
Goats cheese with a mildly tangy, nutty character. Its white rind takes on a slight bluish colour with age, the dough becomes crumbly and the flavours stronger. Wine Match: Sauvignon Blanc, especially Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume.
Grey de Vosges
France, Alsace Lorraine
Oval shaped creamy pink-orange wash rind from cows milk with trademark fern leaf on top. Washed and flavoured with kirsch from the local cherry trees, the texture is slightly grainy from the salt crystals and the paste is soft and oozy with a strong, distinctive aroma. Wine match: Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc or Riesling. Perhaps a Kirsch?
England, Greenacres Farm (E.Sussex)
Our favourite goats cheese in the shape of a log. Soft, mould ripened and made with unpasteurised milk & vegetarian rennet. Each log is lightly charcoaled and becomes denser, creamier and fuller flavoured as it matures. Try with honey. FLOWER MARIE is our square shaped sheeps milk cheese made in individual and cutting sizes. It is firm and fresh tasting when young developing more intense flavours as it softens with maturity. Wine match for both: Bacchus English white wine or Sauvignon Blanc.
Strong smelling 18th century cows milk cheese from the Champagne region, slightly hollowed on the top so you can pour champagne in it. The rind is washed in Marc de Champagne and coloured with Annatto tree orange pigment. Its interior a firm pate which melts in the mouth, not entirely unlike epoisses.Wine match: Swilled down with Champagne is the only way to eat this cheese! (though for flavour and texture also white or red burgundy)
Pyramid shaped aged goats cheese rolled in wood ash with a white interior. Fresh and almost minty when young, the interior becomes aromatic and gooey by the time it reaches us, fully mature. Wine Match: Champagne would not be wrong but truthfully Sauvignon Blanc continues to be our preference with goats milk cheese, especially Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume.
Cows milk white cheese, soft and creamy with mushroom aromas and quite a delicious, verging on sharp, flavour. Indeed, when eaten with its rind it is almost bitter. As the cheese ages its grainy texture becomes smoother, enjoyable young and mature. Wine match: Champagne would be classic due to its origin, preferably blanc de blancs. Or burgundy (white or red).
“First thing to consider when choosing a wine is the flavour and weight intensity of the food, including any sauces, spices or herbs which may or may not dominate the dish…”
There is no question, the enjoyment of wine can be enhanced by matching wine and food that work together, and equally a good match will bring out the best in the food. It is fun to experiment but there are some tried and tested theories it is as well to know. Here we explore them, but it is as well to state from the start that wine and food “matching” can, and often does, equal “contrasting”, for example in the case of Sauternes and Roquefort cheese where the sweetness of the Sauternes contrasts magnificently with the salt in the Roquefort. If you can`t be bothered with understanding the whys and why nots we are happy to provide benchmark examples or to make specific recommendations. If you give us not just your menu but the cooking and sauce detail as well, we will draw on our collective experiences here and second guess the best possible match. All we ask in return is you let us know if our guess was right, so we can be absolutely 100% sure next time and pass the knowledge on!
Rule of thumb: there is rarely one right match. Usually there is a favourite and even a benchmark wine to go with any dish or food type, but alternative choices can still work well and this is where experimentation is fun, provided you avoid an outright clash. Take cheddar: You might choose a fruity red Zinfandel or a white burgundy with Godminster, or a Sauvignon Blanc with young Wensleydale, each providing a different taste sensation which will add not detract from both wine and cheese. In the case of Wensleydale its coating effect on the palate, like a goats cheese, makes the more acidic Sauvignon Blanc the better match.
An oily smoked fish will be evenly matched by a rich wine, one with texture, flavour and aromatics. It is why smoked salmon is text book with Gewurztraminer. However, add dill-sauce and a powerful, acidic Sauvignon Blanc such as Pouilly-Fume will fair better, as would Champagne, matching the acidity of the sauce while cutting through the oils, for an all together different taste experience. A rich white fish, especially an expensive fish, will be better with a barrel-fermented Chardonnay, acting as a velvet backdrop, giving full expression to the delicate yet deceptively rich flavours of the fish; or a fine Pinot Noir with Red Mullet in red wine sauce. There again for a spicy Thai fish cake the Gewurztraminer would once again be my first choice, the aromatics and spices in the wine matching those of the dish and the bold ripeness of the wine further enhanced by the addition of a sweet chilli sauce. You might think a rich Chardonnay would do as well, but not so. I once made the mistake (at The Ivy, no less) and the two together were overwhelmingly rich and really quite sickly. Of course, an un-oaked Chardonnay might have been different. We had an oaky Australian Chardonnay, the sweet-vanilla oak in the wine we chose being the proverbial straw that broke the camel`s back. Even a fresh white burgundy, being of a cooler climate and higher in acidity, may have provided a better outcome. I think at the time we were trying to “go with the richness” “to equal it” but in fact, as we now know, we took it too far. The next time, at home, we sliced through the richness of the Thai cake neatly with an NZ Sauvignon Blanc: the perfect contrast and match if you can`t be doing with the exotic character of Gewurztraminer!
For shellfish I might well recommend a Sauvignon Blanc, particularly one with good minerality, but the classics are, of course, Champagne, Chablis and Muscadet Sur Lie, wines with good minerality and/or yeast character which match with the particular salty mineral flavour and richness of shellfish. Alternatives, to name a few, Picpoul de Pinet (France), Verdejo (Spain), and good Soave (Italy). If matching with crab or lobster you might choose instead a good Viognier, for example Condrieu, to match their richness, or a rose champagne. And with scallops: Champagne, good white burgundy or my favourite, Vouvray demi-sec.
Incidentally with sushi Champagne is delicious, but so also is a fine dry or off-dry Riesling.
Lamb is a fatty meat which works well with Pinot Noir, claret (especially Medoc) or Rioja, depending on the sauce and the herb flavouring (see section Herbs) but also your personal preference. Pinot Noir is the lightest. Alternatively you might try Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, or a Bordeaux blend, from the New World. Pork is fatty like lamb so the same wines might well apply, but being a white meat possibly served with apple sauce I would choose a low-tannin fruity red such as Beaujolais or a fruity white wine like Chenin Blanc. Actually these wines work well enough for roast chicken and turkey as well, though bronze chickens can cope with a little more weight in much the same way as lamb. Goose is a fatty meat which is often matched with Riesling for an alternative taste sensation, the naturally high acidity and lime flavour cutting nicely through the fat. Ham or gammon are good with Riesling also, the natural sweet note of Riesling contrasting pleasantly with the salt in the meat. Getting back to red meats, duck and game can work extremely well with Pinot Noir, especially a rich Burgundy, but a mature Zinfandel or a flavourful Malbec can be lovely as well, especially if there is a fruit sauce. With venison you might pair with a powerful, savoury red such as France`s Bandol. Beef is our favourite red meat, for which the same meats as lamb can apply but you can also enjoy richer flavours. If choosing a fine claret, you can step up a notch in weight and spice to Pomerol. If your preference is Pinot Noir, ask your merchant for a rich, savoury bottle. And if it is a fine steak you are having, I would recommend a good Chianti Classico or a full-bodied Syrah. However, if you like your steaks blood-rare, probably best to avoid excess tannin so Burgundy or a mature red.
Spices & herbs
Spices and herbs can also play a significant role in the flavour profile of a wide range of dishes, often sufficient enough to consider when choosing a matching wine. Rosemary with lamb lends itself to Pinot Noir or even Gamay (example Fleurie) rather than the other lamb classic, claret. I have mentioned dill, dry acidic wines, likewise basil. With coriander and/or parsley Riesling or Chenin Blanc, likewise lemongrass though also Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Gris. Thyme and/or mint, with lamb, claret or Rioja; mint otherwise with Sauvignon Blanc. Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris have perhaps had more than their fair share of references, but where spices are concerned it is hard not to think of them first. Ginger is often a flavour component of these wines so it is not surprising that cardamom and tumeric spices work well and curries generally (dry Muscat another one). Riesling and Chenin Blanc (especially Vouvray) are not generally so exotic but nonetheless make good partners with Asian food, thanks to their ample acidity coupled with sweetness.
Salty dishes require a wine with a little sweetness, the more salty the dish, the sweeter the wine. The ultimate aforementioned, Roquefort cheese with sweet Sauternes. And of course stilton with port. Two obvious exceptions are Fino and Manzanilla dry sherries served as aperitifs with salted nuts, smoked almonds or anchovy-olives. These nervy, challenging combinations can be invigorating and most appetising. Reds by contrast are mostly all disastrous with salt, unless they have zero tannin and plenty of sweet fruit.
Sweet dishes require sweet wines which are sweeter than the dish. There are all sorts and an endless number of fantastic combinations. Christmas pudding, for example, may be enjoyed with dark sweet wines, Black Muscat, Maury or Banyuls, red wines which have been fortified with spirit to preserve their natural sweetness. I think of this match as a merging of flavour, weight and texture, because they are similarly dark and rich. By contrast, a light golden Muscat serves well as a foil, a light and refreshing sweet drink to contrast neatly with the pudding [two different approaches for alternative taste experiences]. I have found my favourite almond tart works best with sweet Semillon or the Sauternes blend of Semillon and Sauvignon, alternatively Vin Santo, tried and tested in Italy with biscotti. Apricot brioche with Orange Muscat, baked pear with sweet Vouvray. This last one is a sore point: I took a bottle of sweet Vouvray to a friend`s house having been told poached pear was on the menu. It was duly served and it turned out the pear had a sweet biscuit base with caramel, sweeter than the wine. The wine appeared thin and sharp and was a total wash out. Lesson: beware the sauce! Incidentally one idea to ensure the sauce is a match: serve vanilla ice cream and chocolate cake then pour Pedro Ximenez over both cake and ice cream to serve alongside a small glass of the same delicious, dark, treakly PX! If you think that`s weird, did you know red wines such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon can work with chocolate dishes? An interesting choice and I have enjoyed the combination, though my preference is a sweet red such as Maury. With fruit salads and fruit tarts generally we will serve a golden Muscat but a late harvest Riesling works really well for lemon or citrus tarts and a late harvest Gewurztraminer can be fantastic in a fruit salad with lychees. Creme Brulee is a difficult one – its creamy sweetness requiring low acid intensely sweet wines such as Sauternes or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.
Sweet wine with Cheese
Personally my favourite match for sweet wine is cheese. I have mentioned the big two, Roquefort with Sauternes and Stilton with port, well try either of these with a slice of pear and a glass of sweet Vouvray! Indeed, try any blue with any sweet wine and the contrast is sure to be explosive. Some other tried and tested examples include our Myriad sweet red with Epoisses, Monbazillac with Coeur Neufchatel, Loupiac with Montgomery or Lincolnshire Poacher, Vouvray or Riesling with Banon goats cheese. Goats cheese is a funny one because it can coat the palate, which is why its marriage in heaven is the acidic dry white wine Pouilly-Fume; but both Vouvray and Riesling have a good natural acidity so fair best among sweet wines. Sweet Alsace Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris score highly matched with aromatic, flavourful cheeses… but I prefer the dry versions because, for me, they are ripe enough.
Sauvignon Blanc is once again an automatic contender where citrus and tomato sauces play a significant part in a dish , acidity matched with acidity; though where white fish and lemon combine, better still a white burgundy (or for a simple white fish unoaked Chardonnay).
For red meat dishes with tomato sauces, such as meatballs on pasta, better a red with ample acidity such as Chianti (Sangiovese grape) or Valpolicella (Corvina grape), possibly a tasty Pinot Noir, Syrah or Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. Incidentally, if you must drink red with seafood – and with a good Bouillabaise this would be quite reasonable – then drink low tannin reds such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais. Tannins in heavier reds taste metallic with seafood.
Creamy dishes are best served with fresh wines with some, but not too much richness, so for fish pie a Macon, Rully or NZ Chardonnay. With Carbonara could be the same, or a good Pinot Grigio (nothing overly rich). Viognier is a distinctive, perfumed alternative if you have some spice in the dish. Again Chardonnay when cream combines with cheese. With creamy mushroom soup an Amontillado sherry.
Food served simple
Just as sauces and spices can alter a choice of wine to match, equally there is the simply prepared food you would not want to spoil by overpowering it with an overly strong wine. For simple poached salmon, for instance, choose a light dry white wine such as Sauvignon. The same rule of thumb applies but choose the lighter option. Additionally, when opening a special mature bottle of claret or burgundy it may be the case you choose to make a simply prepared leg of lamb or beef to enjoy it with, so as not to obscure the subtleties of the great wine with an obtrusive sauce or spice.
Pates & terrines
Our fish pate has a good proportion of oily mackerel in it, so it is best enjoyed with a Sauvignon Blanc or similarly acidic dry white to cut through it and double as a palate cleanser. The Salmon pate is creamy so a better choice would be Chardonnay or for a change try Albarino or Pinot Blanc. Actually these last two wines would work well for vegetable pate as well, as would a light fruity red such as Marlborough Pinot Noir or Beaujolais-Villages. With meat pates you might step up to bigger and better fruity reds, good Australian Merlot or top Beaujolais crus, or NZ Pinot Noir from Central Otago or Martinborough instead of Marlborough. Incidentally we recently enjoyed a smooth liver pate from our local butcher on wholemeal bread with Turckheim Pinot Gris – the texture of the meat spread over the soft middle of the bread with its crunchy exterior was scrumptious in itself; washed down with the Pinot Gris (as opposed to a fruity red) it was heavenly. It goes to show that sticking with hard and fast theories on flavour can be a mistake: for me its as much a question of consistency, smooth or rough. I have since been advised that a sweet German Riesling Spatlese is another excellent partner with smooth meat pate, which makes perfect sense now, especially in light of the world`s most expensive pate: Foie Gras, controversial yet a classic with sweet wine as a starter, Sauternes, Alsace Vendange Tardive and Tokaji. Incidentally would be remiss of me not to mention Rose – of course there are a number of good pink wines about and the dry ones go well with pate, charcuterie and deli generally.
Wine and cheese is, of course, a world renowned pairing in heaven. I have attempted to match wines with our cheeses over the years and under the separate heading Cheese and Wine have listed a good many of them. More generally hard cheeses can work well with fruity red wines, goats cheeses with Sauvignon Blanc, blue cheeses with sweet wines, and soft cows milk cheeses with full-bodied whites such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. These last three would also be my choice when serving a platter with fruit.
Our favourite salad is Nicoise with tuna and our mixed olives thrown on top. It has a slightly salty edge to the flavour which works best with fruity red or rose wines, or, if you prefer white, a full-flavoured wine like Albarino. However, we would choose a Sauvignon Blanc with a simple green salad, and a Macon or other simple white burgundy with Caesar and chicken. When serving cold red meat with a salad side, a Fleurie or Pinot Noir is perfect, as is Charcuterie with salad, though our Valpolicella by Allegrini is superb with salami. When we combine red peppers and salad with barbecued meats we step up to Hawkes Bay NZ Syrah or Adelaide Hills Australian Shiraz. Another favourite in season: broad been salad with young Albarino. An Italian red wine vinaigrette on your salad could be a calling card for a young, acidic Italian red, likewise a white/green vinaigrette requires an acid white wine, Soave, Pinot Grigio or Gavi. Tomato in salad might yet direct you to Sauvignon Blanc.
As an introduction this is neither emphatic or complete as a guide, but it might be useful; it is not emphatic because this is not an exact science and it is not complete because the subject is endless. Indeed, it is limited in respect of my chosen wines because I have my favourites and draw largely from my own experiences. A better guide would be to take stock of the special dishes made regionally around the world and to see what the locals drink with those dishes. I have written an introduction to each country or region as listed on our home page under Wine List.
An introduction, and why we should be drinking more of it.
Sherry is one of the treasures of the wine world, but for a while now it has been woefully under appreciated. This “introduction to sherry” explains how the miracle of sherry and its myriad of styles come to fruition. Some of the finest examples are produced by the Valdespino and Barbadillo families, producers of the finest sherries since the 14th century. They represent some of the very best from the region and we are delighted to showcase them here. Such extraordinary aromas, flavours and textures, a unique line-up ranging from the very dry to the very sweet. We hope you enjoy them. Continue reading All About Sherry
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Grape varieties influence a wine’s colour, aroma, flavour and style. The winemaker might shape the wine for his own purpose, and soil and climate will have their influences, but fundamentally the grape is the heart and soul of every wine and in learning about wine you will do well to focus first on the classics. Continue reading Grape varieties