The arrival of summer heralds the chance to do many pleasurable things, one being the opportunity to sip a chilled glass of wine in the garden as the swallows and swifts swoop.

It used to be a relatively easy choice for my white: something sauvignon blanc based, whether the mineral freshness of the Loire, the tropical fruit of New Zealand or the perfumed examples from Bordeaux.

Anselmo Mendes' Muros Antigos and Pazo de Villarei's Albariño offer delicious summer drinkingAnselmo Mendes’ Muros Antigos and Pazo de Villarei’s Albariño offer delicious summer drinking
However, recently I have found that more wines now jockey for position of summer sipper and none more so than those of Spain and Portugal.

Albariño led this charge and now is firm favourite; not just for a bowl of whitebait but a worthy tipple in the warmer weather with its citrus backbone allowing the delicate fruit to brought to the fore, such as Pazo de Villarei 2014 (£8.50).

My interest in Iberia only intensified on a recent trip to northern Spain. I was able to see first-hand how a modern approach, assisted by investment in technology, concentrating on cooler areas and allowing the Atlantic freshness to prevail had helped expose the latent charm of indigenous grapes and has brought the wines of Iberia to the attention of those like myself, seeking lively thirst-quenching wines with well-defined fruit and an aromatic touch.

The current Summer Whites from Spain and Portugal offer mirrors my newfound interest in these wines and showcases many favourites.

Spain’s Gaba do Xil Godello Valdeorras 2014 (£8.75) offers up a clean cut of unoaked freshness tempered by a roundness on the palate typical of the godello grape. Add to this the invigorating peachiness of Finca Lallana (£7.50), a certified 100% organic verdejo which I was fortunate to witness being blended.

With a surname like Braganza you might expect leanings to Portuguese whites. Vinho verdes, as the name alludes to (‘green wine’), used to deliver freshness but sometimes in an unripe fashion. However, times have changed: try Anselmo Mendes’ ‘Muros Antigos’ Loureiro (£7.95) or Soalheiro’s Alvarino (£14.50), which still provide a bright background but with a floral fragrance that raises the wine – both are great for grilled mackerel.

For an easy drinker try Quinta da Espiga, Lisboa 2014 (£6.50) which uses a smidgen of sauvignon blanc and a host of indigenous grapes to create a zesty, lower-alcohol wine that makes a great lunchtime drink. Another favourite is Alvaro Castro Dão Branco 2014 (£7.95), which introduces a contemporary take on the Dão style.

Lastly, Spain’s Ermita del Conde Albillo, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 2013 (£10.95) and Portugal’s popular Adega de Pegões Colheita Seleccionada, Setúbal 2014 (£6.75) reveal how Iberia can deliver wines with a difference (the former offering beguiling fruit underpinned by subtle spice from oak, the latter a smooth full-flavoured white), both offering culinary companionship aplenty.

Hopefully the above illustrates Iberia’s credentials for good summer whites.

All we need now is a good summer…!

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

Categories : Other Europe, Portugal, Spain
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Mon 27 Jul 2015

Romans and Robots: Guigal

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The quality of many of the fine wines made today owe much to the decades of experience and knowledge built up and passed on by generations of predecessors.

Philippe Guigal with Society membersPhilippe Guigal with Society members
Never does that seem more true than in the northern Rhône, a region where wines have been made since Roman times and where the Guigal family business is enjoying its third generation of winemaking.

On a recent tour of the Rhône Valley, accompanied by four lucky members who had been chosen in a Society prize draw, I enjoyed a fascinating visit to the offices and cellars of Guigal. Our host, Philippe Guigal runs the company alongside his father, continuing the family business founded by his grandfather in 1946.

The outside of the winery gave nothing away (other than the very large sign bearing the family name). Once inside, it was clear that we were going to have quite a unique experience. Hints of the region’s winemaking history were on display in the modern, quite grand reception area – mosaics and ancient relics, all discovered locally. Nearby, we were told, there is a 20,000-seat Roman amphitheatre where concerts are still held today.

Roman relics displayed in the cellarsRoman relics displayed in the cellars

Barrel depicting Etienne Guigal, founderBarrel depicting Etienne Guigal, founder
A tour of the cellars revealed further evidence of the history, with statuettes and relics dating back to Roman times and an intricately carved barrel depicting founder Etienne Guigal at work. The oldest of the cellars date back 350 years, built before the French Revolution. It certainly felt like we had travelled back in time.

Barrels are made in their own cooperage and tradition dictates that chestnut wood bands are still used to encircle the barrels as apparently these keep the insects and spiders away (I made a mental note to source some chestnut for home).

Côtes-du-Rhône grape varieties are vinified and aged separately to create more complexity and ageing for at least three years ensures depth of colour, tannin and structure. As Philippe put it, ‘we’re not trendy people’!

But that’s where talk of history and heritage seemed to end. Cellar tour over, we were led up some steps and warned that the noise level was about to increase. One floor up was the bottling plant, considered to be one of the most robotised in the world.

Robotised machinery pack boxes without a human in sightRobotised machinery pack boxes without a human in sight
And what a contrast to the history-steeped cellar tour! The robotised machines handled the bottles at some speed but with a surprisingly delicate touch. From empty bottles to perfectly boxed wines – it was quite mesmerising to watch. Unlike their human equivalent, these machines did their job efficiently without a single error or breakage, although undoubtedly a fair bit more noisily.

We were witnessing years of winemaking experience combined with the best of the traditions of the region and the height of modern technology – Romans and robots in perfect partnership!

We did of course taste some of the fruits of all that dedication, including La Turque Côte-Rôtie, made from a tiny vineyard and aged for 42 months in new oak. A fitting end to a fascinating visit.

Nicky Glennon
Head of Digital Marketing

Categories : France, Rhône
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I occasionally wonder whether we, as a Society, make enough of a fuss about our range of spirits and liqueurs. One supposes that the telltale ‘wine’ in our name precludes too much of a focus on other beverages.

Still, when there are bottles as delicious as Windholz’s Eau de Vie de Mirabelle on offer to members, I feel that some amount of fanfare is in order.

Eau de Vie de Mirabelle, Réserve Particulière, Distillerie WindholzIt was purely by chance that I tasted this particular Eau de Vie. A bottle had been opened in the tasting room and, as it always seems to me a great shame to miss any opportunity to taste, I poured a little into a glass and gave it a swirl.

I was immediately struck by the bright, fragrant nose. The scent was delightful: hints of pears, plums and a slight floral twist – I jotted down ‘violets’ in my notes. The palate is fresh and clean and dry with lovely fruit flavours: plum and pear again, but also a lick of cherry.

What struck me most, however, was the length of flavour. I remember sitting back at my desk some time later, letting my coffee turn cold because I was still enjoying the taste of the Mirabelle. Concentration, balance and freshness are all here in abundance.

This would make for a wonderful digestif, or perhaps to accompany some Turkish delight: I have a notion that the floral notes of each would complement each other perfectly.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

Eau de Vie de Mirabelle, Réserve Particulière, Distillerie Windholz is currently available for the bin-end price of £34.50 per bottle (was £39).

I love an underdog. It’s very much an English thing, I guess – that built-in desire to root for that which offers the path of most resistance. A few years ago in Portugal this trait surfaced quite prominently.

I had heard The Society’s buyer for Portugal, Jo Locke MW, complain for about the fifth time that morning how underrated Portuguese whites were in comparison to their Spanish counterparts and how they didn’t get the recognition that they deserved.

Iberian WhitesWe’d soon see about that! A plan was hatched to put the whites of Portugal toe to toe with their Spanish cousins.

I must admit that while it seemed like a great idea standing in a Portuguese vineyard bathed in sunshine, when back in Society HQ on a damp, grey Stevenage morning the sales figures for the two regions looked all a bit one-sided.

Spanish whites outsell those from Portugal in volume and value. it could be the biggest mismatch since Frank Bruno vs Chuck Gardner back in 1987.

Perhaps a little market research might be in order.

One great thing about working at The Society is that there is never a shortage of people willing to try wine, at the pop of a cork or twist of a screwcap they are heading towards you, glass in hand and a glint in the eye.

I figured that a quick Spanish albariño vs Portuguese alvarihno blind tasting would be a good starting point: the same grape and a similar bottle shape (an important point when you want the wine judged on what’s in the glass rather that what they have deduced is in the glass!). With both wines bagged and with strict instructions not to cheat, staff put a tally mark on a piece of paper next to each bottle.

The end result was very close: Portugal by a nose!

However, the main result of this impromptu blind tasting was the realisation that I was approaching this all wrong. Why did there have to be a winner or loser here? Without wishing to sound like a primary school teacher on sports day, surely they were all winners here?

The truth of the matter is the both regions produce great-value, refreshing wines with a style all of their own; and after speaking with Jo and Pierre (Mansour, Society buyer for Spain), who were busy selecting wines from their respective regions, I realised that they felt the same – although they’d reached this conclusion a long time ago and with considerably less fuss!

So here we have it: summer whites from Spain and Portugal. Vibrant fresh and individual wines, and all the better for losing my original ‘battle of the bottles’ slant.

I hope if you regularly drink Spanish whites that you’ll tiptoe over the border to try some Portuguese examples; or if you thought heavily oaked white Rioja is all that Spain has to offer you’ll take another look and see just how far these amazingly bright and fresh wines have come.

Either way, I hope that you’ll see how both regions can make a fine addition to any wine rack this summer… but if you did have a favourite I’d love to know!

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager

View the full Iberian Whites offer here

Categories : Other Europe, Portugal, Spain
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Nothing helps one understand a wine quite like being where it’s made with those who make it.

From left to right: Jean-Luc Chapel (Jaboulet), Marcel Orford-Williams, Marcus Bailey, Toby Falconer, Ursula Falconer, Matthew Lindon, Jaszia Lindon, Ann Howell, Jacques Devernois (Jaboulet), Patricia Thomas, Rachel Sharpe, Bill Sykes.From left to right: Jean-Luc Chapel (Jaboulet), Marcel Orford-Williams, Marcus Bailey, Toby Falconer, Ursula Falconer, Matthew Lindon, Jaszia Lindon, Ann Howell, Jacques Devernois (Jaboulet), Patricia Thomas, Rachel Sharpe, Bill Sykes.
I was lucky enough to do just that recently on a trip to the Rhône Valley. I, along with Marcel Orford-Williams (Society buyer) and Rachel Sharpe (from our Member Services team), was in the company of four members and their guests, on a four-day trip to the Rhône, thanks to a Wine Society competition that the members had won earlier in the year after proposing new members to The Society.

We arrived at Château de Beaucastel in the southern Rhône to be welcomed by a scorching summer’s day and the news that we should consider ourselves lucky to avoid the 40°+ degree temperatures that were forecast for the following week.

I had learnt about the unique terroir of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in my wine studies. It was great to see for myself the large rounded stones (or galets) surrounding the vines and I could really appreciate the job they do in absorbing the heat of the day and radiating it out during the night.

Vines at Château de Beaucastel with Châteauneuf’s emlematic galet stonesVines at Château de Beaucastel with Châteauneuf’s emlematic galet stones

A tour of the cellars revealed row upon row of bottles, neatly stacked floor to ceiling, looking more like pieces of artwork rather than a practical, space-saving way to store bottles.

Beaucastel cellarModern art or space-saving bottle arrangement?

The oak barrels in which the wines are aged, once they’ve fulfilled their job, are acquired by a creative carpenter, who , it seems can make pretty much anything out of them: chairs, door handles and even light fittings!

Light fitting made from old oak barrelsLight fitting made from old oak barrels

The highlight of the visit was a tasting with Pierre Perrin, who looks after technical operations at the château. His enthusiasm and passion were very much in evidence as he treated us to a vertical tasting of Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Nicky Glennon
Head of Digital Marketing

>Browse for wines from Château de Beaucastel

The lucky winners of this unique trip to the Rhône won their place after proposing like-minded wine lovers to The Society. New members are the lifeblood of our Society and ensure its future. Sign up new members online or by filling in the application form in the back of the List. Though a trip to the Rhône cannot be promised, a lifetime of good wine can.

Categories : France, Rhône
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Mon 20 Jul 2015

Austria: Convincingly Excellent

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Author and journalist Stephen Brook recently visited us in Stevenage and happened to mention that he was putting the finishing touches to a new book on Austrian wine. No better person then, we thought, to provide a little background to this nation’s wines, which we feature for the second year running on our website.

View our current offering of Austrian wines here

Stephen BrookStephen Brook
Austria has been producing wine since Celtic times, but nobody paid much attention, as hardly any left the country, with the exception of the sweet wines from Rust that were appreciated four hundred years ago, and still are.

But in the 1990s a series of blind tastings made the wine world sit up. First, top grüner veltliners were tasted against some of the great names from Burgundy – and the Austrians took the top three places. Then an outstanding Trockenbeerenauslese producer, Alois Kracher, showed his wines, again blind, alongside Yquem and other great Sauternes. This wasn’t a contest, but a demonstration that his wines were of equal quality to the great sweet wines of France.

Wine lovers and importers no longer need convincing that Austria’s sweet and dry white wines are first-rate. Grüner veltliner is the local variety, which can be made in a range of styles, from fresh and lively to powerful and structured. From a good producer and a good site, a full-bodied veltliner can age twenty years or more. Dry rieslings too can be magnificent, especially from the Wachau region, and there are other specialities such as traminers and sauvignon blanc from Styria.

Wines of Austria by Stephen Brook Red wines, from local varieties such as zweigelt and especially blaufränkisch, may not be quite at the level of the whites, but they are moving fast in that direction. Winemakers have recovered from their addiction to new oak, and are now making delicious, balanced wines of nuance and complexity.

Overall, it’s hard to think of another wine-producing country where the average level of quality is so high.

Stephen Brook

It’s been over ten years since the last book on Austrian wine, a gap about to be filled in early 2016: The Wines of Austria by Stephen Brook, from Infinite Ideas. Members can pre-order a copy of the book from Infinite Ideas for a special introductory price of £22.50 (RRP £30) including p&p within the UK. Pre-order by e-mailing Infinite Ideas at info@infideas.com or by phoning 01865 514 888.

Categories : Austria, Other Europe
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Thu 16 Jul 2015

Nearly 400 Wines Reduced In Price

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The Wine Society July ListAs ever, a new Wine Society List brings with it a wide selection of new wines to explore; on this occasion, it also contains some good news for summer…

As a co-operative we do not need to maximise profits so rather than converting any surplus into returns for external shareholders as many traditional companies might, we put members before profit and seek to return these to you directly in the form of reduced prices.

Therefore, thanks to the combination of a favourable exchange rate and a larger harvest in most regions than in 2013 we are delighted to be able to reduce the price of nearly 400 wines, including many of our bestsellers.

You can take a look at all of the wines reduced in price here.

These are not short-term headline-grabbing discounts but modest, sensible reductions for the benefit of as many members as possible. We work hard with our suppliers to ensure that we offer the best price that we can for as long as possible. As such, when we do reduce prices we do so only when we are confident that they can be maintained for some time to come.

By offering the best everyday prices we can manage, the value of our wines is more transparent to members, avoiding the yo-yoing of prices and tactics seen elsewhere that, we believe, cloud actual value.

For further details of The Society’s approach to pricing and profit, please refer to our Value Charter.

We hope you enjoy browsing the wines.

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Janet Wynne Evans reports from the gastronomic coalface in Austria…

There is a very good and simple reason why Austrian wine exports are at an all-time high. Quality is quite simply, terrific and it can only be a matter of time before demand exceeds the relatively small production of a country that drinks its own wines with enormous relish.

You can try for yourself in our current offer devoted to Austrian wine.

The perfect schnitzel just takes a few ingredients and a good hammer!The perfect schnitzel just takes a few ingredients and a good hammer!

What is perhaps more interesting are the emerging markets for which these racy whites and warm, berried reds are bound. China, south-east Asia and India are, obviously always keen to import and deploy the best of Europe, but Austria’s signature white grape – grüner veltliner – is something of a secret weapon. One of the best matches known to man with the lively flavours of Asian cuisine, its white-pepperiness, tingling acidity, mouthwatering dryness and, and in the case of wines grown on loess soils, some attractive curves too, have made of this variety a foodie’s new best friend.A wine that invites us to bring on the spice-rack seems a little paradoxical on its home turf, which traditionally majors on simple, classic dishes based on top-notch ingredients, fiddled with as little as possible. A really convincing schnitzel takes just a few ingredients: escalopes of good, free-range rose veal, salt, flour decent eggs and breadcrumbs at the right stage between fresh and dry. You do need a good hammer and a personal grudge to bash the meat to the required thinness, and the real skill is in getting the perfectly ordinary cooking oil to exactly the right temperature, but that’s another story.

Another Austrian classic, the unctuous Tafelspitz, relies merely on a chunk of really good meat and root vegetables into which its silvery sinews can melt. Seasonal ingredients like Burgernland asparagus – fat, green and as tasty as our own (I thought) peerless home produce – and the nutty little potatoes called erdäpfel or ‘earth-apples’ are merely introduced to boiling water. In a nutshell, this is all top stuff, in season and presented without artifice.

That a good grüner can cope with all these delights (though blaufränkisch would be even better with the beef, of course) goes without saying, its versatility warrants wider exposure and different strokes.

While tasting my way recently through a hundred expressions of the grape, from young and fresh to slightly edgier, to rather more mature ones (yes, they can age, too!) I found myself hankering after a groaning platter of fragrant steamed dumplings, or the much-loved recipe below, for whose bow I now have an extra string.

Vines in Wachau, AustriaVines in Wachau, Austria

A new generation of Austrian chefs has noticed the myriad exciting possibilities in the glass, and is palpably pushing the envelope. Meanwhile, here at home, we host the world on a plate. Try a grüner next time you have a Thai green curry, for instance or with one of the gentler Goan fish or vegetable varieties. Wheel it on with your smoked salmon for a change and see how the white-pepper character interacts with the salty fish while the acidity cuts through any oil. Pour it liberally with wild salmon and sea-trout, au naturel or with artery-closing beurre blanc and don’t forget traditional fish and chips, with vinegar if you like. There’s a lot of vinegar in Austrian cuisine too – notably in the classic potato salad often served with your schnitzel – and it doesn’t really faze the wine provided you don’t douse your earth-apples in the pickling variety.

Thanks to my colleague Sarah Knowles, who has embraced Austria with the enthusiasm of a Viennese laying into Sachertorte. Which, frankly, is just about the only thing I can think of that might defeat a grüner veltliner!

Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor

 

Halibut curry with summer herbs and broccoli

I’ve been making this fragrant, gentle Thai-style curry for many years.  I’ve tried Halibut curry with summer herbs & broccoli it with swordfish and monkfish, which also work, but halibut is king.  I’ve experimented with a number of lush summer herbs like tarragon and chervil, and I’ve also made it entirely with mint, until a garden crop one year turned out to be overly pungent. This version, tempered with coriander, is my favourite. I like to use white, rather than black pepper here, which complements the green stuff and answers the wine back.   Serve with warmed flatbread or a combination of basmati and wild rice. Whatever your accompaniments, have them ready to roll, because once the fish goes in, finishing the curry is the work of moments.

Serves 4

  • a medium-sized hand of broccoli, cut into florets
  • a splash of groundnut oil
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 1-2 mildish green chillis, deseeded or not, as you wish, and finely sliced
  • a fat clove of garlic, crushed
  • 2 limes, one zested and juiced, the other quartered to garnish
  • a 400ml can coconut milk
  • 100g unsweetened creamed coconut, grated from a block, or use two 50g sachets
  • a small bunch each of fresh mint and coriander, washed
  • 750g (skinned and boned weight) halibut, cut into large chunks
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Begin with the broccoli. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the florets and blanch for 3 minutes. Empty into a colander under a cold tap, or plunge into a bowl of iced water. They should be tender-crisp. Leave to drain thoroughly.

Reserve some mint and coriander leaves for garnish. Chop enough of the rest to pack a medium-sized ramekin, in roughly equal proportions.

Heat the oil in a shallow pan that comes with a lid (a glass one is especially useful here) and fry the onions and chilli until softened. Sprinkle in the garlic and fry for a minute. Don’t let the garlic brown.

Soften the creamed coconut in a little hot water, or as the packet directs.  Whisk it into the coconut milk, along with the lime zest and add to the pan. Add the chopped herbs. Bring to the boil and simmer until slightly thickened, and concentrated to your satisfaction. Taste as you go.

Now add the fish, put the lid on the pan and simmer for 4-5 minutes until it becomes opaque. Tip in the drained broccoli and give it 2 minutes or so to warm through.

Taste, season well and finish with the lime juice.  Garnish with the reserved mint and coriander leaves and quarters of lime.

Serve with a glass of curvaceous grüner veltliner.  Any of the wines in our current offer will work: Josef Ehrmoser’s Von den Terrassen from loess-rich Wagram and Schloss Gobelsberg Lössterrassen  – the clue’s in the name! – are especially good.

 

Categories : Austria, Other Europe
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I was in Vinsobres last week, putting some finishing touches to the next Society’s Côtes-du-Rhône blend. This will be the 2014 vintage and I was happy with the result.

This is a members’ favourite and has been for a while, especially since giving the responsibility for supplying the wine to the Jaume family.

Two generations of the family were there to taste: Richard, Pascal and Anthony. In the end we tasted across the range back to the 2012 vintage but what was important was fixing the blend of the Society wine.

It has to be said that the short crop of 2013 was not easy to manage; there was so much less grenache to play with. Not an issue in 2014 which provided a normal crop and plenty to choose from, and the result is very encouraging with a wine that will more closely resemble 2012, with an abundance of ripe-fruit flavours.

1989 Jaume Cotes-du-RhoneOver dinner after work, old vintages were served including the quite extraordinary 1989, proof if ever was needed that Jaume wines keep extremely well. Conversations began with the trials and tribulations of world football but with an exceptional starter we tackled the subject of the truffle war that broke out quite recently.

Vinsobres itself is not really truffle country. Or at least, the Jaumes don’t have truffles growing on their land. Not surprising really as the truffle, being a fungus, would be hardly welcome in a vineyard. But truffles are not far away and a short drive away is the market town of Richerenches. This is where truffles are bought and sold. This is a market full of shady men willing to exchange the precious mushroom for a wad of euro notes. No questions are ever asked and much of what goes on is strictly illegal. The gendarmes are there, discreetly in force, to stop any riot breaking out. All is hushed, secret, yet the cash being exchanged can be extraordinary.

Let me explain. A kilo of truffles on the market can fetch upwards of €200 to €400, depending on quality and obviously on supply and demand. That’s rather more than a bunch of grapes! Not surprisingly a few landowners have taken to ‘cultivating’ the truffle as a sure way of earning quite a lot of money.

The way this is done is as follows. Oak trees are planted, sometimes species of miniature oak which are injected with a serum that includes truffle spores. It takes seven to eight years for the first truffle to appear but a successful truffle farm can expect to produce between 40 and 80kg of truffle per hectare. Some of these farmers have 30 hectares of ‘truffiers’. The growing season for truffle is normally January through to February though even better prices can be had for pre-Christmas truffles.

That can represent an awful lot of money; not for nothing are truffles known locally as ‘black diamonds’, and proved too much of a temptation for one unfortunate gentleman. His day job was hospital porter in Montelimar, but he was a known truffle-hunter and was shot dead while walking his dog by a local landowner who feared he was after his precious black crop. Nobody defended the murder. Indeed truffle hunting has always been regarded a favourite occupation. Claude Jaume, now in his 80s, remembered taking his dog on Sunday and looking for truffles. But the value of the truffle has soared with every chef around the world desperate for his share.Black truffles chez the Jaumes

By now, the truffle season is over. Most of what is available is frozen and curiously the truffle freezes very well. There is a little fresh truffle, or summer truffle to be found and this is what I had last week. The best, pictured here was produced by Nicole Jaume. The dish is ‘brouillade de truffes’. Truffles will turn an omelette or scrambled egg into something worthy of paradise. Alternatives are pasta or mash potato with truffle imbued oil or cream.

Since the murder, the market at Richerences has no doubt reconvened, an unchanging scene, shady characters, suspicious carrier bags and of course the gendarmes keeping a watchful eye in the distance. But one has died and another languishes in prison, and the price of truffles no doubt goes up…

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Categories : France, Rhône
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This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the summer 2015 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by both The Independent and Which? magazine, 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?

Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.

Janet Wynne EvansIn all my years of Shuttling over the Channel on business, pleasure or both, I’ve rarely curled up for the 35 minute return journey without a French cookery magazine for company.

Buying one, or several, at the Coquelles terminal is de rigueur before grabbing my last tarte au citron and a shot of caffeine and heading for border control.

Invariably one of these will contain a recipe for a ‘cake’ which in France is essentially a savoury loaf packed with wholesome ingredients.

The beauty of le cake is that it can be a beacon of seasonality, bursting with braised leeks, spinach, courgettes and the like, pepped up with tender fresh herbs, or a convenient pantry piece, assembled from bottled peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and exotic spices. A slice or two in the hand or lunchbox is nothing short of uplifting, and the last knockings, gently warmed and topped with well-dressed designer greenery make a fine starter.

Moreover you can say adieu to picnics that arrive at their destination somewhat the worse for wear. This will never happen to un cake, which can be replaced in its tin for transport and sliced to order.

As the bounty of summer and the call of the great outdoors seduce our senses, here are some of the fruits of those Shuttle reads, the souvenirs of which remain, dog-eared and cream-spattered in – what else? – a cavernous food hamper. I can’t bear to throw anything away, that’s the trouble.

Nevertheless, I find this a throwaway recipe of the best kind. You could even say it’s a piece of cake…

Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor

NOW MAKE YOUR CAKE
My thanks to Cuisine et Vins de France and Saveurs, two magazines the reading of which is almost as good as eating lunch on board, for the ideas below. Once you’ve made the basic batter, just add imagination and don’t hesitate to explore all possible permutations. The Society’s summer Wine Without Fuss selection has the bottle for every conceivable one.

The Batter and the Baking
• 3 eggs
• 150g plain flour
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 120ml whipping cream or full-fat crème fraiche
• 75ml olive oil
• 75g freshly grated Parmesan or similar dry, well-aged cheese
• freshly ground black or white pepper (depending on the filling)

Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Put the flour and baking powder in a sieve and add gradually, beating briskly to obtain a smooth batter. Now beat in the cream, the oil and the grated Parmesan and season well with the pepper. The cheese should take care of the salt. Mix well and refrigerate for half an hour.

Once you have added your chosen flavourings, below preheat the oven at 180C/Gas 6. Grease a loaf or cake tin with a capacity of 1-litre – small and deep gives a nicer slice than wide and shallow. I use an old-fashioned 2-lb loaf tin with a base measurement of 16cm x 10cm and 8cm deep. Line the base and sides of the tin with baking parchment or greaseproof paper, the better to extract the cake when it’s cooked.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer emerges clean and dry from the depths of the cake. Let it cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it out. The best way to do that is to put a plate over the tin and invert it. Peel away the papers which will look very oily but fear not. Repeat the operation with your chosen serving plate. Serve in thick slices.

The Flavourings (see below for four of the best)
Fold these very carefully into the batter once it has had its rest. Try not to overmix or bludgeon all the precious air out of the mixture – this is what gives the cake a lightness of touch that balances the density and richness of its texture. The beauty of Le Cake is that you can use whatever you happen to have around as long as the proportions are right. Just add imagination, using the ideas below as starters.

Triple Tomato and Feta Cake with Olives and Capers
My first ‘cake’, which turned the contents of the fridge into a motorway lunch before a weekend away. Its bold colours and flavours have kept it at the Number One spot.

In a frying pan, combine 100g each of sun-dried tomatoes (some smoked ones are good) and fresh cherry tomatoes, halved. If you like, add a mild red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped. Next, a squeeze of double-concentrated tomato puree and a handful of stoned and chopped black olives. Bring slowly to a gently sizzle, and let the tomatoes and chilli soften. Throw in some baby spinach leaves and let them wilt down. When all the liquid has evaporated, season well with black pepper – the olives and preserved tomatoes will take care of the salt – and set aside to cool while the batter is chilling. Dice 200g feta cheese and mix in, along with a tablespoon each of well-drained capers and freshly chopped herbs – basil, tarragon, coriander, as you like. Fold it all into the batter, and proceed as directed above.

Wine match: what’s needed here, though not on the M4, of course, is a punchy, tomato-friendly red like Lascar Merlot 2014 (£5.50) in the Buyers’ Everyday selection. A white taking this on needs to be quite full and, expressive and Corsica comes to mind. Try Corse, La Villa Angeli 2014 in the Premium Whites case.

Spanish Larder Cake
A terrific exit pan for half-opened or dust-gathering jars of Mediterranean vegetables in oil. You’ll need 200g drained weight of any combination of bottled aubergines, sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers, artichokes and even fat white asparagus. Decant them into a sieve over a bowl for a good half-hour to get rid of as much oil as possible, but keep the drained oil to lend extra panache to the batter recipe (though not the one from the asparagus jar, which is usually overpowering). Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and add some stoned green Manzanilla-type olives, sliced vertically into little rings along with 150g grated Manchego cheese. Finish with a Spanish rhythm section made from a pinch each of coriander and cumin seeds, freshly toasted and ground in a pestle and mortar and of hot or sweet (your choice) pimentón or smoked paprika. Nothing shouts olé! quite as loudly. Combine well with the batter and proceed as directed in the basic recipe.

Wine match: two lovely, juicy Spanish reds that will do it are Aranléon Blés 2014 from Valencia (Buyers’ Everyday Reds) and Finca Constancia Parcela 33 Tempranillo, Castilla 2012 (Premium Reds) but Finca Lallana, Verdejo 2014 (£7.50 / Buyers’ Everyday Whites) has the stuffing for these flavours too.

Summer Vegetable and Goat’s Cheese Loaf
For this fresh, tangy, green-studded loaf you’ll need 150g (shelled weight) garden peas, 75g green beans and 75g mangetouts, destalked and halved if very long. This makes the loaf easier to slice. Blanch them all in boiling water for a couple of minutes (they should retain some crunch) and refresh under cold water. Dry thoroughly. Tear 150g soft but tangy goat’s milk cheese into litte pieces and fold gently into your chilled batter along with the peas, 4-6 spring onions, pale green and white parts only, finely chopped. Season well with salt and black pepper. Now put a third of the batter into the prepared tin and cover with a layer of mangetouts, laid lengthwise to cover the surface area. Top with another third of batter then add the beans, also laid lengthwise so that each slice has two green stripes. Finish with a layer of batter and bake as above.

Try a variation on this theme when fresh asparagus is in season. Use the tips instead of the peas, and the stems instead of the mangetouts/beans to provide one of the striking green stripes in each slice.

Wine match: A glass of pinot gris or not-too-trenchant new-world sauvignon is lovely with this and so is a lightish Loire cabernet franc. Try Blind Spot King Valley Pinot Gris 2014 (£7.50) or Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc 2013, both in the in the Premium Whites mix. Chinon ‘Le Paradis’ 2014 (£7.95) in the Premium Reds category would be good too.

Leek and curry cake
An exotic idea, given an Anglo-Indian vibe with paneer, fresh coriander and a good tandoori-style garam masala. Paneer, a kind of sub-continental cooking mozzarella, is available at most supermarkets. Somewhat neutral on its own, it does a sterling job of absorbing heat and flavour.

Make this batter with grated gruyere cheese instead of Parmesan and add a pinch of garam masala to it before resting it.

Wash 3-4 medium-sized leeks, and trim off the dark green ends. Finely slice the palest green and white bits and gently braise until soft, but never browned, in a knob of butter, a splash of garlic-flavoured oil, a small glass of fruity white wine and a good, fresh grinding of white pepper. This will take a good 20 minutes on a low heat. Add a pinch, more if you like, of garam masala turn thoroughly and cook for a couple of minutes more. If you like things hot add some chilli flakes if you wish but be careful you don’t swamp the sweetness of the leeks and the subtlety of the other spices. Fold into the batter with 200g diced paneer and a generous tablespoon of chopped coriander leaves. Proceed as above.

Wine match: much depends on how spicy you like your cake. Unless you happen upon a truly ferocious garam masala, this should match a rounded, fruity white. Silbador Rapel Gewürztraminer 2013 in the Buyers’ Everday section is picnic-perfect and the gentle spice of Schloss Maissau Weinviertel Grüner Veltliner 2013 (not to mention the 2014, currently available for sale at £9.50) is worth trying too.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
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