‘Little town, it’s a quiet village…’
If you’re a Disney fan, your brain sang that line. (If you’re not a Disney fan, this blog post probably isn’t for you, although you’re very welcome to stick around for some gorgeous French scenery.)
The iconic opening to Disney’s 1991 film Beauty and the Beast is impossible to forget. Belle wanders into a sleepy village of colourful houses, cobbled streets and towering church spires that suddenly springs to life with gossiping villagers buying and selling their daily groceries.
This classic film moment came to life in Disney’s recent live-action remake of the film, but wouldn’t you like to walk the cobbled streets for yourself?
Well, you can – and you can drink some delicious wines while you’re at it – because the setting is reportedly based on two villages in the Alsace region: Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé.
Not too far from Colmar, visiting this storybook village is like stepping back in time. The half-timbered houses date back to medieval times, and are identical to those in Belle’s village, and you can definitely imagine the villagers thrusting open the pretty windows to shout ‘Bonjour!’
The village square, the Dolder Tower (once a defensive gateway, now a beautiful clock tower) and the cobbled streets transport you straight into the world of the film. It’s particularly nice to visit in spring and summer when the colourful houses are given a run for their money thanks to the village’s vibrant floral decorations.
There’s an antique shop if you fancy searching for your own candlesticks and carriage clocks (talking or otherwise), a fabulous pastry shop if you want to spy the ‘baker with his tray like always’, and plenty of picturesque old fountains at which to pause, take a seat and read a book just like Belle does (page-chewing sheep not guaranteed).
There are two grands crus in Riquewihr, Sporen and Schoenenbourg, and one of Alsace’s most famous wine producers, Hugel, meaning you won’t be short of fine rieslings and delicious gewürztraminer. A member of the family, André Hugel, also established a wine-themed museum here, giving you an extra reason to visit.
Ten minutes north of Riquewihr, and roughly double the size, the town of Ribeavillé is packed full of history and fairytale charm.
The beast would have his pick of real estate here as the town and the surrounding hills are dominated by the ruins of not one but three fortified castles (as well as a number of defensive towers, including the Tours des Bouchers, or Butcher’s Tower, which dates back to the 13th century.)
Wandering through the cobbled streets, you‘ll find postcard-perfect squares with more bubbling fountains that Belle would have pegged as reading spots, and you’ll find it a challenge not to burst into the Gaston song if you visit the Wistub Zum Pfifferhus, which really is the spitting image of the tavern Gaston and Lefou raucously frequent in the film.
Ribeauvillé has three grands crus: Osterberg, Kirschberg and Geisberg, and also hosts another of Alsace’s best-known wine producers: Trimbach. They are based just outside the town, and are known best for dry, steely riesling, producing one of the finest examples in Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile. Excellent gewurztraminer and pinot gris is also made here.
There’s plenty of magic to be found in Alsace so it’s good to find another excuse to sing this region’s praises. It really is one of the most underappreciated holiday spots in France, in my view, so even if you’re not a Beauty and the Beast fan, if you are planning a visit you’re certain to find beauty, at least.
Today’s Australian wine scene boasts an eclectic and even esoteric array of styles; but, when done well, the spot-hitting bargain Aussie red remains an unparalleled joy!
Step forward Joe Barrington from our Member Services Team, whose recommendation here echoes that of many fellow members and staff – not least buyer Sarah Knowles MW, who gives this wine pride of place in her selection of current Australian favourites…
I love wines that that offer great drinking pleasure on their own as well as with a meal; a fridge door white, a fireside red, a quintessential quaffer! The key thing with this style of wine is to be smooth and easy drinking (and not too heavy on the pocket!) but have enough complexity and interest to keep you drinking it with a smile on your face.
This classic cab-shiraz blend ticks all these boxes for me. Upfront, ripe dark fruits entice you in; with a lovely hint of spice and black olives on the nose to keep you swirling and sipping. On the palate the ripe (but not jammy) fruit continues, with a good finish for an under-£7 wine.
The easy-drinking nature of this wine means you can have a glass with any dish that calls for a juicy full-bodied red (bangers and mash is one of my favourites) and then enjoy a glass afterwards whilst winding down.
Member Services Adviser
£6.95 – Bottle
£83 – Case of 12
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Our Cellar Showroom opening hours (10am-6pm Monday – Friday, 9am to 5pm Saturday, plus late opening to 7pm on Thursday) are not convenient to all, and we don’t open on a Sunday, except in the run-up to Christmas.
Thankfully though, we now have the solution for those members who wish to purchase a bottle of wine after 6pm or indeed before 10am, should the need arise.
The Society’s Exhibition Vending Machine™, accessible via tongue-recognition software **, will provide a vital ‘out of hours’ service to those members who live near Stevenage, but can’t be doing with grabbing an inferior bottle off an inferior shelf. It will certainly assist the author in no longer having to plan the occasional humiliating raid on his local supermarket whilst wearing a heavy disguise.
Members who do not live within travelling distance to Stevenage will be pleased to know that we will shortly be rolling out similar machines in major cities across the UK. Keep your eyes peeled and your tongues ready…
** The Society will shortly be adding a new layer of biometric security for members logging onto its website, which has been extended to this machine. Members will soon be asked for the tongue-prints using new software that will scan tongues from a user’s own smartphone. A simple lick will suffice for identifying that a user is indeed who they claim to be and that they are in need of more wine.
Craft beer is among the most adaptive, interesting and fast-moving sectors of the drinks industry today, with a new brewery popping up in the UK every two days at the start of 2016 and with sales continuing to grow year on year. The choice is so vast for beer drinkers now that there’s almost no need to go to the major international breweries for your beer.
The question still remains, though: what exactly is craft beer?
There is no real, hard and fast definition of craft beer, but much like the movement itself, this means things are able to constantly evolve and adapt. This is a large part of what makes it all so exciting.
So in order to make it clear, we have to be vague!
Since there are no rules, here is my personal view on how to explain it.
• True craft beer is independent. Craft breweries are in complete control over the way they run their company and what they brew. They don’t answer to a bigger company and are therefore freer to experiment.
• If it says ‘craft’ on the label, it’s probably not craft. Now this is by no means definite, BUT be wary of any beer which is a little too eager to push the fact it’s craft, because if it relies too heavily on this, it probably isn’t! This is a common trick used by some of the world’s biggest beer companies in order to elbow their way into this quickly growing yet small industry, in order to cash in on its success.
• Production is small. In comparison to the Carlsbergs and Heinekens of this world, craft beers are nothing more than a drop in the ocean. This is why, in a market saturated by big lager brands, it can be harder to find good craft beers in the shops. Craft beer is the little man, who walks alone.
• Commerciality isn’t a priority. Short best-before dates, ridiculous packaging, silly prices – these aren’t the things that concern a true craft producer. All they care about is making the most delicious beer that they can. If they have a vision for a new beer but it may cost the punter £8 for a can due to the organic, locally sourced, hand-picked ingredients and the best-before date is only 3 months long and it’s packaged in a brown paper bag, they will still go for it, because it may be the most delicious thing anyone has ever brewed!
• Personality! Craft has now become an expression of the personality of the brewer, not simply a generic and consistent product. It is an art form and a journey of discovery. It is about passion, quality and experimentation, and how the brewer approaches that will come across in a good craft beer.
• While you absolutely can knock it back if you want, there’s more to it than that! The main thing is that nobody tells you how you should drink craft: throw away your ‘chalice’ and put the ice back in the freezer. Should you wish, you can enjoy it in the same way as a good glass of wine; it has the complexity to be thought about and picked apart however you can just enjoy a nice cold beer if you wish. Your tastebuds will thank you either way.
• An accessible tastebud expander: it will alter the way you see beer by opening eyes to the fact that there is so much out there. The first time you sit down to enjoy an 11% smoked stout, you may be somewhat taken aback; but after that, you won’t see beer in the same way.
These are beers to sup and savour, to match with food, to talk about, or simply to sit and enjoy.
There are no rules, no fuss and no limits…
…except for the times there are some rules, loads of fuss and some sorts of limits. Understood?!
The most important thing is that you enjoy it.
Gin’s shiny new image may have been cultivated by luxuriously bearded Hoxton dwellers with slightly-too-short trousers, but British gin has a history that goes much deeper than stylish blends and chrome-embellished bars!
From much-debated beginnings (was it a Dutch medicine, invented to treat stomach pains, or does its invention go way back to the medieval times? No one can be exactly sure), gin is a spirit that has become as synonymous with Britain as tea, fish and chips and the Chuckle Brothers.
As we celebrate the launch of The Society’s Gin Club with two delicious London gins, we’ll be exploring the seedy, decadent and more practical side of Britain’s relationship with Mother Gin.
Mother’s Ruin and the Victorian Gin Crisis
While it’s almost unthinkable in today’s age of public health warnings, 10-a-day fruit and veg recommendations and chia seed puddings, gin consumption was readily encouraged by the UK government in the mid-18th century. The burgeoning industry was good for trade relationships within Britain’s colonies (imports of French wine and spirits had been banned due to various European conflicts) and supported British grain prices by allowing the distillation of grain that was too poor to use in beer production.
However, the availability of homemade gins known as ‘Old Tom’ (often mixed with cheap filler ingredients such as sulphuric acid and turpentine) and the lack of licensing led to a crisis in the capital. The popularity of the spirit as a ‘pauper’s drink’, and the use of it to make up wages in some areas, led to widespread cases of civil disobedience.
Hogarth’s depiction of the gin crisis, ‘Gin Lane’, is etched in the nation’s collective memory as a picture of the spirit’s insalubrious heyday. Glassy-eyed drunks fight with dogs for bones to gnaw on, a mother covered in sores carelessly drops her squalling infant down a stairwell and rambunctious mobs brawl drunkenly in the street (if you’re having trouble picturing it, imagine the scene outside any UK high street kebab shop on a Friday night, but with less fabulous teeth).
Eventually, new laws which restricted the bootleg production and sale of the liquor put an end to the worst of the crisis, but not before the spirit had left an indelible mark on British history. You can still see evidence of this today in London’s many gin palaces, often now converted into gastropubs and bars; with their huge mirrored walls and ornate fittings, they are a beautiful evocation of London’s historic love affair with gin.
How do you solve a problem like malaria?
‘The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives and minds than all the doctors in the Empire’ Winston Churchill.
While we certainly don’t look back on the Empire with a rosy perspective, it is an (un)sobering truth that gin and tonic played a vital role in establishing British rule in India. In the early days of the Empire parasitic diseases such as malaria had threatened to wipe out British troops, killing soldiers as well as government officials with deadly efficiency.
If Britain was to retain its grip on rule in India – and therefore the Empire itself, so important was India to the crown’s colonial ambition – malaria had to be stopped.
The answer? Quinine, an apparently miraculous cure originally procured from the bark of the cinchona tree, native to South America. Not only could this magic ingredient stop and prevent the spread of parasitic diseases, it also tasted pretty great when mixed with soda, sugar and – you guessed it – gin. An icon was born.
However, the G&T couldn’t save the Empire, and British Imperialism began to crash and burn in the latter part of the 19th century. For the G&T itself it was another story; the popularity of the drink began to spread beyond the confines of the army into the bars and pubs of Britain, and onto the high road of middle-class respectability.
Cocktail culture boomed. James Bond demanded gin as well as vodka in his famous ‘Vesper’ martini. Suddenly, gin was even endorsed by the British aristocracy (including the Queen Mother herself) adding a much-needed lacquer of glamour and gloss to the notion of fixing yourself a G&T.
But gin’s mid-century heyday came to an abrupt end. The late 70s and 80s saw it ousted by vodka on cocktail lists and in mixers, and as wine became more readily available, gin was left languishing at the back of the nation’s drinks cabinets.
Happily, the noughties has seen an incredible renaissance in this most resilient of tipples. Thanks to the influence of Don Draper and his penchant for a gin martini, as well as the resurgence of ‘craft culture’, focusing on traditional British recipes and local artisan products, the number of UK distilleries doubling over the last six years, and nearly 50 opening last year alone.
Here at The Society, we’re celebrating gin’s comeback with the launch of our Gin Club, so keep an eye out for our programme of gin and spirit-related content over the next few weeks.
We’ll be chatting to craft distilleries, musing on what makes the ultimate gin cocktail and more.
Try two of our new craft gins, fresh from London’s most exciting new distilleries.
Made at the site of a renovated former-glue factory in London’s East End (as charmingly illustrated by the ‘dead horse’ label!), Alex Wolpert – who founded the company in 2013 – makes this gin to a classic London Dry recipe. With a vibrant juniper bouquet and pink-grapefruit flavours developing on the palate, this is a very appealing and fresh-tasting gin. Great for a simple, but decadent, G&T. (70cl, 40%)
Jensen’s Bermondsey Gin
London’s dockland has an illustrous gin distilling history, coupled with a less-than-illustrous reputation as a former slum district fuelled by the 18th century gin craze. However, Chris Jensen is putting the area back where it belongs by recreating a traditional London gin at his distillery in the heart of Bermondsey. Juniper, citrus and intense coriander notes make this craft gin wonderful for a classic Martini. (70cl, 43%)
Around 11,000 members buy and enjoy our Society-label Rioja every year. One of them is Pete James from our Member Services team. Indeed, Pete wins the title of ‘quickest email reply in Staff Choice history’, so enthusiastic was he to recommend this wine.
Consistency is a virtue when it comes to Society-label wines, but feedback from both members and the press suggests that the current 2012 vintage is singing especially sweetly. We were very pleased to see that it was recently selected by Decanter Magazine as one of their 50 top ‘Best-buy Riojas’ – it was the best value of all 50 too!
Here’s why Pete was so quick on the button to sing its praises.
This is a wine that I have enjoyed for a very long time and is currently the preferred red in our household, which is no mean feat!
With this being such a staple wine I’ve really come to appreciate the consistent level of quality. No matter what quantity I purchase it in, it never lasts long (surely the perfect endorsement). This has led me to recommend it to many a friend and family member and I would urge anyone reading this to give it a try.
Nice and smooth with a little bit of oak, this is keenly priced everyday-drinking Rioja, which for my mind is very hard to beat. Over the years we’ve tried it with many different dishes (as well as on its own plenty of times), the most recent being a delicious rendang curry which worked an absolute treat.
Member Services Team Leader
£7.50 – Bottle
£90 – Case of 12
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Today is World Book Day, and it was great seeing so many young Harrys, Hermiones, Matildas, Mad Hatters, Megs and Mogs on their way to celebrate at school this morning.
That said, why should they have all the fun? As ‘wine is bottled poetry’ (Robert Louis Stevenson), we turned to our most bookish colleagues to ask for a few of their favourite literary libations.
The results are below for you to curl up with at your leisure. But, like wine, literature is an endless source of new discoveries…
…so if you’ve got a favourite passage or poem, please leave us a comment and let us know!
Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.
Paulo Coelho, Brida
As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Wine initiates us into the volcanic mysteries of the soil, and its hidden mineral riches; a cup of Samos drunk at noon in the heat of the sun or, on the contrary, absorbed of a winter evening when fatigue makes the warm current be felt at once in the hollow of the diaphragm and the sure and burning dispersion spreads along our arteries, such a drink provides a sensation which is almost sacred, and is sometimes too strong for the human head. No feeling so pure comes from the vintage-numbered cellars of Rome; the pedantry of great connoisseurs of wine wearies me.
Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian
The fragrant odour of the wine, O how much more dainty, pleasant, laughing (Riant, priant, friant.), celestial and delicious it is, than that smell of oil! And I will glory as much when it is said of me, that I have spent more on wine than oil, as did Demosthenes, when it was told him, that his expense on oil was greater than on wine.
François Rabelais, Gargantua & Pantagruel
I rejoiced in the Burgundy. It seemed a reminder that the world was an older and better place than Rex knew, that mankind in its long passion had learned another wisdom than his.
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
‘A Drinking Song’
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
…There’s wisdom in wine, goddam it!’ I yelled. ‘Have a shot!’
Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the spring selections of our Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines… with the minimum of fuss!
Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?
Molecular gastronomy, you’ve had your moment! Dry ice, foams and fizzes, move aside for those useful ingredients that happily absorb any others you may throw at them, depending on which bottle in your recently arrived Wine Without Fuss case you are most impatient to uncork.
I like to call this vehicular gastronomy, and you won’t find a better chassis than a chicken breast or an aubergine.
In the case of the chicken, I’m afraid needs must. Unless you happen to live on an island that time forgot, where chickens do what comes naturally, or you can justify the cost of a bird defined strictly by labyrinthine rules on breed, feed and, probably, what it’s allowed to read, bring on the garlic, pesto and garam masala.
By contrast, the aubergine needs neither towing nor jump-starting. It has a flavour engine of its own, not turbocharged, but definitely ticking over. Its glossy sheen draws me inexorably to those artfully piled ‘obo’s’ (sic) at the greengrocer’s. It matters not whether or not they were ripened by the sultry sun of the Levant: the ones grown in a Benelux hothouse can still do the designer haulage thing very nicely, and I’ll take half a dozen, please.
‘Versatile’ barely conveys its myriad applications. Consider (I can’t) an Indian take-away without a soft and shamelessly oily brinjal bhaji, or a Chinese one minus sea-spiced aubergine. The nearer east has countless variations on the theme, from baba ghanoush to imam bayildi: there are hundreds of recipes in Turkey alone as there are in any book by Yotam Ottolenghi. Moussaka, caponata, pasta alla norma and melanzane alla parmigiano bring us west and north, to the sunny tians of Provence, and an unforgettable dish I once had in Bordeaux – slices of aubergine, simply dusted with seasoned flour and fried, served alongside lamb so tender you could eat it with a spoon, and washed down with good claret.
If this sounds familiar, this is not my first paean to the aubergine. In fact, I said as much to Fuss subscribers many years ago when blogs were back pages that came with case notes. Online, I have space to go to town so in this, my last official Food Without Fuss blog post, after more, after more than a decade at the Wine and Dine coalface, I’m bowing out with a proper tribute.
Aubergines are ubiquitous, inexpensive and – you want more? – ready to do business with whatever you may have in the fridge or store-cupboard.
And I do mean ready. Salting is optional these days, and, as Jamie Oliver says, a microwave will reduce an aubergine to melting tenderness in 8 minutes flat (prick the skin first). I give thanks for this top tip every time I crave a squidgy little boat with a cargo of flavourful toppings that can be quickly flashed under the grill.
The recipe challenge for Easter has been whittling the possibilities down to a manageable six of the best, for casual snacking, for serving with the paschal lamb as those Bordelais did, or for inspiration at a time of year when seasonal produce may be a bit betwixt and between. The asparagus may be tardy and the Jersey royals, if the flag of residence is, indeed, up, at their wallet-wrenching dearest. An aubergine will always be there for you. Isn’t it time you loved it back?
It’s time to thank all readers of Food Without Fuss, firstly for reading,and also for the truly invaluable feedback I’ve received over the years, whether a resounding thumbs-up, a frank appraisal in the other direction or an impressive display of vigilance, most notably when I sent my fellow-members out for 800kg of fish for my Languedoc seafood pie. It’s been a blast, and you don’t get many of those with a fan oven!
I’m delivering the honour of writing this blog, and our Wine and Dine notes for ‘Fuss’ subscribers into very safe hands. They are those of my colleague Steve Farrow, The Society’s Database Editor by day, accomplished and adventurous cook at all other times. You’re in for a treat.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
Inspired by Claudia Roden’s carefully curated Mediterranean Cookery (BBC Books, 1987) this fuss-free dip, a variant of Baba Ganoush requires merely that you bake an aubergine until tender and mix the flesh with tahini paste, crushed garlic, lemon juice, a dash of thick yoghurt and seasoning, all to taste. Finish with a little olive oil and some chopped parsley and serve with flatbreads and black olives.
Wine: Like hummous (it must be the palate—coating tahini), this has a rapport with the piquancy of sauvignon. Try Saleta Moscatel-Sauvignon Blanc (Buyers’ Everyday Whites & £6.50) or Kaapzicht Chenin Blanc (Buyers’ Premium Whites & £7.95), accurately described by its producer as ‘chenin blanc for sauvignon lovers’.
There are countless throwaway recipes for this but the one I never discard belongs to Provence grand master Roger Vergé of Mougins, whose precision is palpable in Les Légumes de Mon Moulin (Flammarion, 1991). Slice your aubergine in half lengthwise and slice through the flesh to about a depth of about 2.5cm, stopping well clear of the skin,, in a diamond pattern. Rub in a lick of olive oil and a pinch of salt and bake, cut side down at 220C/Gas 7 for about 35 minutes, until tender.
Process the scooped flesh until tender, with a couple of peeled and deseeded tomatoes, half a clove of garlic, minced, and either a pinch of cayenne pepper or a few chopped basil leaves. Add a thin, steady stream of olive oil as for mayonnaise. About 150ml should suffice, unless your specimen is a veritable Titan from the Ray Harryhausen school of special effects. The texture should be luxuriously silky. I like to chill this slightly before bringing back to room temperature and serving with flatbreads and plump olives.
Wine: M Vergé is persuaded that the aubergine is a red wine kind of chap, recommending fruity southern Rhônes No shortage of this style in Easter Fuss, and I’d especially recommend Cairanne, Domaine Romain Roche 2014 (French Classic Reds), especially if you’ve gone the cayenne route. However, I love this with a, fragrant but upstanding white like Auzelles, Costers del Segre 2015 (Buyers’ Premium Whites & £9.95).
Simon Hopkinson’s Grilled Pesto Aubergines
The acknowledged Chefs’ Chef and my own personal pin up naturally preroasts his aubergines and makes his own superior pesto. Dare I suggest that this is such a glorious combination that you might get away with the quick Jamie method and a handy jar? I freely admit that I have.
To do it by the book – the seminal Roast Chicken and Other Stories (Ebury Press, 1994, and never, I think out of print since) – prepare and cook your aubergines exactly as above, but for a little less time, say 20-30 minutes. Remove for the oven, spread lavishly with your home-made pesto and grill until golden brown and bubbling. Mop up joyfully with a good baguette.
Wine: White is best here, and by all means play the Italian card with the concentrated, herb-friendly Orvieto Castagnolo (Buyers’ Premium Whites), but another good match is Limoux, Dédicace, Chateau Rives-Blanques 2014 (French Classic Whites & £11.50).
Steamy Oriental Aubergines
This light but natty roadster is fuelled by a five-star dressing comprising a couple of tablespoons each of rice wine (or dry sherry) and soy sauce, a teaspoon each of toasted sesame oil and clear honey, and a thumb of fresh root ginger, finely grated. Whisk all these together and put in a wide frying pan.
Steam two big aubergines, wedged into eighths, over a pan of simmering water for about 15 minutes. Let the steam subside before adding them to the dressing, on a low heat. Braise gently for five minutes or so until the dressing is absorbed. Scatter with toasted sesame seeds. The wedges will cool to a slight stickiness, lovely with chicken, lamb or fish, and equally toothsome in a salad with crunchy leaves or blanched mangetout.
Wine: on the guiding principle of a bit of grapy richness with salt, especially if there’s some honey about, I’d plump for Australia, where they know a thing or two about fusion cuisine, and go for Felix Swan Hill Victoria Chardonnay-Viognier 2016 (Buyers’ Premium Whites & £8.75). If serving with lamb, I’d plump for the sweet fruit of Wakefield Promised Land Shiraz 2015 (Buyers’ Everyday Reds & £7.75).
This bold dressing for grilled aubergines kicks off with a good pinch each of cumin and coriander seeds, dry-toasted with a couple of black peppercorns until they are dancing in the pan. If you bought a bag of dried poeja (pennyroyal) while on holiday in Portugal and are wondering what to do with it, now’s your chance! Lovers of smoked paprika or pimientón could add a pinch of that too, sweet or hot as you like.
Transfer this rhythm section to a small saucepan with a tablespoon of top-notch sherry vinegar, a dash of lemon juice and 5 tablespoons of fruity olive oil. You’ll need some coriander or parsley later on, so separate the leaves and pop the stalks into the dressing. Apply heat and as things begin to sizzle, take the pan off the hob and leave the contents to infuse for as long as it takes for the oil to cool.
Strain the dressing over your grilled aubergines while they are still warm and serve at room temperature with country bread and perhaps a platter of Ibérico ham.
Wine: an embarrassment of Iberian and hispanic richesse awaits in the Easter Wine Without Fuss selections. Our appealing Alentejo find Monte da Ravasqueira Tinto 2015 (Buyer’s Premium Reds & £8.95) will do admirably and my favourite white with these bold flavours is the intriguing Boplaas Cape Portugese White Blend (Buyers’ Everyday Whites & £6.95).
An Effortless Easter Curry
Aubergine is heavenly curry fodder, whether with lamb, or leftover turkey or, best of all in a vegetarian subzi dish. You can feed four people on one big aubergine, a large onion, thickly sliced, and a fat clove of garlic supplemented with pumpkin, sweet potato, green pepper and okra – about 600g in total, and all cut into generous bite-sized pieces as the aubergine should be.
Starting with the onion, simply brown everything in a bit of groundnut oil, stirring in a good pinch of your favourite spice mix and a crumbled red chilli to taste, remembering that you want to taste the wine too. Add can of light coconut cream and a generous squeeze of tomato puree. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently until the vegetables are tender and the juices thickened. At this stage you might wish to add a few cooked chickpeas for extra crunch, a generous scoop of thick yoghurt and some chopped coriander leaves. Serve with your favourite flatbread or rice.
To make use of that surplus Easter turkey, replace the extra vegetables with 500g cooked meat along with the coconut cream, bring to the boil and bake for 40 minutes or so at 190C/Gas 5, until the turkey is piping hot.
To give it a Greek or middle-eastern vibe, brown 500g generously cubed lamb neck fillet first, before adding your onion, garlic and aubergine. Instead of coconut milk, use stock or wine, and instead of curry spices, try dried oregano, za’atar and sweet, mild spices like ginger, cumin and cinnamon. Bake at 180C/Gas 4 for a couple of hours until tender.
Wine: Step forward multi-tasking Zarcillo Bío-Bío Gewürztraminer 2015 (Buyers’ Everyday Whites & £6.50) but I was also impressed with the spice-busting savvy of Boplaas ‘Tinta Chocolat’ Tinta Barocca (Buyers’ Premium Reds) which put in me in mind of the sweetness and layered spicing of Cape Malay cuisine. If you’re making the Greek or middle-eastern version, try the The Little Prince Cretan Red, Karavitakis 2014 (Buyers’ Premium Reds).
Until recently, German wine had an image problem.
Not for those in the know of course; savvy drinkers have been stashing their cellars full of fragrant riesling and pinot noir for decades, while many of us had been too busy having new world love affairs to notice.
And that’s the problem; to the average supermarket-buying booze-hound, the region continues to conjure images of weissbeer, pilsner and, less deliciously, Blue Nun. Fruity, full-on New Zealand sauvignons and Italian pinot grigios have been filling our baskets while Germany’s gems have been left languishing on the shelves.
One man who knows this all-too-well is Konstantin Guntrum, owner of legendary winemaking dynasty, Louis Guntrum. His family have been growing grapes on the left bank of the Rhein since 1648, before marauding French catholic occupying forces compelled them to flee to the Left side of the Rhein in 1792. It took nearly a century for the Guntrum family to get back to their homeland, buying up vineyards and wineries in Nierstein and Oppenheim where they remain to this day. Today, and 11 winemaking generations on, the dynasty continues to thrive, making award-winning riesling, pinot noirs and sweet wines. The next challenge? Switching today’s discerning young wine-lovers onto the aromatic delights of Germany’s sweeter wines.
Konstantin dropped by The Society to give us a quick lesson in history, food matching and to share his phenomenal German wines.
1. German sweet wine is great for tough-to-match food Cheese and German sweet wines go together like Bogart and Bacall, the nectar-like qualities of Auslese or Kabinett perfectly offsetting sharp, savoury cheeses. Fiery foods also make a great match. As Konstantin says ‘eat something hot and try to wash it down with a fruity red and…well, have fun with that! It’s like putting fuel on the flames’. Sweet wines however counteract spiciness, in turn knocking any over-sweet edges from the wine. Puddings also apply here, so try a ‘riesling Kabinett’ which is made without additional sugar to perfectly balance the sweetness.
2. Grauburgunder is known as pinot grigio in Italy and pinot gris in France. The 2015 vintage of grauburgunder is especially delicious, a combination of baking summer days which add a tropical fragrance and cool nights which lend refreshing acidity to the fruit. This acidity also acts as a natural preserving agent, so the wine will get even better with age.
3. Weissburgunder is better known as pinot blanc and German examples display lively floral flavours. This slightly sweet style fell out of favour in the latter-half of the 1980s following its 1970s heyday but is gaining in popularity again. Modern examples show perfectly balanced sweetness and freshness, so give it a try if you’re looking for a delicious conversation-starter.
4. Chilled German reds such as dornfelder make great summer barbecue wines. With cherry, cranberry and herbal notes, dornfelder is light and fresh but has enough body to take on boldly savoury flavours of bangers, burgers and other British summertime staples.
Having joined The Wine Society’s Tastings and Events Team as a relatively fresh faced 24-year-old just over two years ago, it’s become apparent that, at the majority of tastings that I host across the UK , I am more often than not the youngest person there.
Although certainly not the end of the world, it does raise an important question – and one that’s been bouncing around The Society for the last year or so: where is the next generation of Wine Society members going to come from?
There are a number of projects currently in motion at TWS HQ, from the Digital Team through to the Marketing and Buying Teams. All are trying to make sure we offer something for younger wine-drinkers (and female as well as male!).
Generation Wine is my way of trying to shake up The Society through our 150-event-strong calendar which I help put together with the rest of the Tastings Team.
The idea is simple – we’ll be conducting a series of exciting tastings throughout the year that will appeal to younger members.
First up, we’ll be launching our new Generation Wine Walkaround Tastings. My intention for these events is to provide a complete night out as opposed to our more formal ‘standard’ walkaround tastings, which often focus purely on the wine and giving you the perfect environment to taste, smell, observe and discuss.
They’ll take place at a variety of lively venues (such as our May 4th event at Kachette Shoreditch – already sold out, unfortunately – where wood panelling and regal paintings are replaced by bare-brick railway arches and strip lights), and held a bit later in the evening to allow for a more relaxed, party-like atmosphere.
It’s also important to me to showcase the whole range The Society has to offer; not just our fabulous wines but also craft beers and gins sourced by our two newest (and youngest) buyers, Freddy Bulmer and Sarah Knowles MW. Music will play, beer will flow, ties can be removed and we can see how much fun TWS can be. Just don’t be the ones to miss out!
We’ll also be running exciting dining experiences at our Generation Wine Dinners. These will be heldat less formal, quirkier restaurants, with wilder, more esoteric guest speakers, and even a bit of theatre to accompany the meal (we’ll be serving whole suckling pig at Camino and rocking on with Au Bon Climat’s ‘wild man of wine’ himself, Jim Clendenen at the Tramshed, for example).
As always, a selection of wines will be chosen to accompany the meals, but the focus will be on interest and experimentation. Discussion will be encouraged, curiosity demanded and a brilliant night out promised!
Let us know what you think, and indeed any other ideas you have!
Tastings & Events Team