Thursday, 24 October 2013

Reader offer for Wine Gang Live tickets

If you enjoy actually tasting wines, as well as just reading about reading about them (and who doesn't?), then you might be interested in going along to one of the Wine Gang Live events coming up in London, Bath and Edinburgh in the next few weeks.

The Wine Gang of five is Tom Cannavan, Jane Parkinson, Anthony Rose, Joanna Simon and David Williams, who are some of the most high profile and well-respected wine writers in the country.  At the events you'll get the chance to sample hundreds of different wines from all over the world, join a wine walk with one of the Gang, or attend one of the masterclasses that run during the day.

I recognize those hands - Wine Gang Live at Vinopolis 2012
Tickets are usually £20, but you can snap them up for just £12, as well as getting a 10% discount on masterclasses.  To take up the offer, head over to and use the code TWGBL40.   There is also lots more information on each event on the site.

And if you do take up this generous offer, you must promise to come and see me at the Bath (2nd November) or London (9th November) events, where I'll be pouring some delicious wines from Southwest France.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Matching food to the wines of Touraine

Food and wine matching can be a minefield.  Recommending food to go with wine can often either be alarmingly precise (“perfect with a herb and polenta-crusted roast rack of lamb”) or hopelessly wide-ranging (“serve with red meats, stews and casseroles”).   I don’t find either of those approaches particularly helpful, but now, having set out my objections, I have set myself the task of coming up with some food and wine matches of my own – without being hoist by my own petard.

Domaine Paget Sparkling Rosé NV
This delicate but definitively pink fizz conjures up peach melba, with its aromas and flavours of peach and raspberry.  Just off-dry, it nevertheless has a dryish, peppery finish after the fruit salad flavours.  This is an easy-going, flavourful sparkler and I would frankly be happy to drink a glass of this on its own, or with pre-dinner nibbles.

Led by the flavours of the wine, I first assembled a post-modern peach melba of nectarine, raspberry and peppercorns, which was perfectly delicious with the wine – however, this falls at the first hurdle I set out above (too specific).  And at the end of the day, would you really dish this up at the dinner table?

I decided to go for a more free-form kind of match, allying the fun and user-friendly robustness of the wine to the food that went with it.  What I came up with was an Anglo-French culinary mash-up:  bangers and French bean vinaigrette salad.

The salad is the kind of thing you’d find all over France on bistro menus – still hot, cooked French beans mixed into a punchy, mustardy vinaigrette with a finely-chopped garlic clove and a few capers.  The cooling beans take up the flavours of the dressing and their vivid green contrasts nicely with the toad-skin coloured capers.  The sharpness of the vinaigrette brings out the sweetness of the beans.

On this occasion I plonked a couple of sausages alongside the beans but, frankly, the meat involved is not that important.  I liked the way the sweet meatiness of the bangers rubbed along with the hint of sweetness in the wine.  Usually I’d go for a red wine with sausages, but the pink sparkling stood up to this combination pretty well, bouncing off the zingy vinaigrette.

But overall, what made this work well was the feel of the wine and food together – fun, no nonsense, unpretentious and uncomplicated, yet making the whole thing more of an occasion.  That’s what I call a successful food and wine match.

Calvet Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Touraine Sauvignon Blanc must be one of the best value for money wines around.  Lacking the cachet of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, or the familiarity of Kiwi Sauvignon, in Touraine you tend to get more wine for your money.

This one has a delicious nettley, floral aroma, followed by a zippy and zesty lemon palate, with a bit of lemon pith on the finish.  If you are looking for a wine to accompany fish and chips (or, even better, whitebait), this is your man.  However, I went down the route of a salad that I first came across in the Paris neighbourhood bar/restaurant that served as the office canteen for my place of work.  I can’t remember what it was called on the menu, but now I call it egg and bacon salad.

This is quick to knock together:  boil some eggs, grill some smoked streaky bacon until crisp and make a classic vinaigrette dressing.  Break the bacon up into bite-sized bits, toss everything together with plenty of young spinach leaves and the egg and that’s it.  What makes this work is grating the boiled egg – it sounds odd, but it really helps the egg to combine with the vinaigrette dressing and to get in amongst the spinach leaves.  I’ve never tried grating egg with anything other than one of these rotary graters, which holds the egg for you, avoiding grated fingers and eggs shooting around the kitchen.

Egg is renowned as a tricky ingredient for wine and so are earthy spinach leaves, but the Sauvignon managed not to clash with either.  In fact something (the sharpness of the dressing and salty bacon I think) brought out the weight of the fruit even more, making this a really delicious match.

But is it too specific?  I think the dressing is the key here, as I’ve also enjoyed Loire Sauvignons with salade niçoise which, other than the egg, has not much in common with the egg and bacon salad.  So if you’re having vinaigrette, think about giving a Touraine Sauvignon a go.

Stockist information
Domaine Paget Sparkling Rosé NV - £12.25 from Berry Bros & Rudd
Calvet Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2012 - £8.99 from Tesco

Friday, 26 April 2013

Meat and winey treats for Braaiday

British barbecues are for wimps.

Here, we wheel out our garden centre supplied, rickety barbecues at the first hint of a sunny Sunday and try to coax heat from last year's slightly damp charcoal and firelighters, before chucking on a few bangers and burgers and hoping they'll cook before it gets far too cold to hang about outside.

In South Africa they take such things far more seriously - it's all man-sized barbecues (or braais) contained in half oil drums and using actual wood, not our namby-pamby "easy light" charcoal.  Meat, meat and more meat are the main features - steaks, antelope, boerewors sausage, king-size prawns.

The idea of a British national holiday dedicated to the barbecue has the phrase monumental damp squib written all over it.  However in reliably sunny South Africa they have turned 24th September into Braaiday, when the country celebrates its love of meat cooked over open wood fires.

I had a (literal) taste of the celebration at a recent Braaiday event held by Wines of South Africa at High Timber, a London restaurant that specialises in South African food and wine.

The food was delicious and suitably meaty, though surely the portion sizes would have been dismissed as mere snacks by any red blooded male South African - but were fine by me.

A great variety of South African wines from the boutique end of the spectrum accompanied the food.  After two solid days of palate-killing judging at the International Wine Challenge prior to the dinner, I found most pleasure in the white wines on the evening.  Two standout whites for me were both blends that leaned heavily on Chenin Blanc.

Zevenwacht, The Tin Mine 2011 - £12.95 from Vagabond Wines
45% Chenin, 36% Chardonnay (I love these exact percentages) plus Viognier and Roussanne made for a vibrant, zippy mouthful of fruit and herbal flavours.

Chris Alheit Cartology 2011 - from £22 from Handford Wines, SA Wines Online (or Russian oligarchs may want to pay £49.30 for it from Hedonism)
92% Chenin and the rest is Semillon.  Where the Tin Mine lets the different varieties provide the different notes, here Chris Alheit has used Chenin parcels from four different parcels in order to give the wine its combination of flavours and aromas and it works beautifully.  There are layers of fruit, pumice and honey which whip across the palate, making for a rich and hedonistic experience, held together with a stony restraint.  Remarkable stuff.

An honourable mention must also go to:

AA Badenhorst Funky White NV - £14.50 for a half bottle from Swig
Adi Badenhorst has obviously been bitten by the natural/real/call it what you will wine movement.  This white was aged in barrel under a layer of flor (like a Fino sherry), but unfortified (like Jura's Vin Jaune).  The resulting wine has elements of both sherry and Vin Jaune - broad, tangy, apple skin flavours that linger long on the palate.

High Timber restaurant: