Grapevine Archive for September, 2013
It’s currently British Food Fortnight, and with this in mind we are delighted to host this guest blog post from Ruth Raskin at The Fine Cheese Co. (suppliers to The Society’s gift range for a number of years), who highlights a number of innovative cheeses for adventurous palates to explore.
To find the perfect accompanying bottle for any of the below, The Society’s popular interactive Food and Wine Matcher has suggested wine pairings for a wide variety of cheeses. Look out for more goodies from the Fine Cheese Co. in our forthcoming 2013 Christmas Gifts collection, which will be available from mid-October.
Here at The Fine Cheese Co. we are constantly thrilled by the amazing creative energy of our British cheese makers. Never content to rest on their laurels, they are always seeking new ways to delight us with their latest creations. Here are some of our new favourite cheeses by our old favourite cheese makers:
Made by the Dyball family at The Traditional Cheese Dairy. The Dyballs have built up an excellent reputation for hard cheeses such as their Olde Sussex and Lord of the Hundreds but have long wanted to add a soft cheese to their repertoire. After much experimentation and development, the result is Burwash Rose, inspired by the kind of cheeses that would have been made by monks in monasteries centuries ago. The monks were not allowed to eat meat on Fridays or holidays and with over a hundred of these a year, a delicious cheese must have seemed like manna from heaven.
Burwash Rose has a supple, silky texture and a smooth finish. Its sticky pink rind and distinct aroma is produced by regular washing in English rosewater which also lends the cheese a delicately floral aspect.
The Dyball family acquired the Traditional Cheese Dairy in the village of Stonegate, East Sussex in November 2002 after turning their backs on a life of insurance broking and banking. The family are passionate about producing high quality, handmade, traditional cheeses using only raw milk from single farm herds and produce several of our favourite cheeses. They are equally passionate about animal welfare and have recently received a Good Dairy Commendation by the globally respected farm animal welfare organisation Compassion in World Farming.
This is a new cheese made by one of the oldest dairies in the country. The Skailes family have been making Stilton at Cropwell Bishop in Nottinghamshire for more than three generations. As a maker of the most traditional of British cheeses, the decision to experiment with a new style of cheese was quite a departure. Robin, one of the latest generation, has been tinkering with and perfecting the recipe for two years and is now finally happy to release it. The aim was to make a cheese inspired by the softer, milder Continental cheeses like Gorgonzola Dolce. The cheese is hand ladled into wider, shallower moulds and the cultures used to develop the blue are much milder strains than those used in Stilton. Instead of rubbing up the outside to create the characteristic rind of a Stilton, the cheeses are left to develop a thin crust. The resulting cheese is sweet and creamy with a buttery texture and a slight salty tang to the finish.
One of the many cheeses made by Pete Humphries of White Lake Cheese. Pete just can’t stop himself from experimenting and is always playing with his recipes to create a new cheese. Although Pete makes cheese in the very heart of Cheddar country just outside of Glastonbury, most of his cheeses are made with goats’ milk. His dairy is based at Bagborough Farm, home to 600 goats whose milk is transformed into Pete’s delicious cheeses. Tor, one of his most recent creations, is named after the famous Glastonbuy Tor which rises magnificently from the Somerset Levels. Tor resembles its namesake in shape. It is coated in ash, has a smooth, close textured interior and a light delicate taste which matures to a deeper tang.
Rory Stone took over cheese making on the family farm in windswept Tain, Easter Ross, in the late 90s. The dairy had been established in the 60s but at the time his mother was only making the traditional Scottish cream cheeses, Crowdie and Caboc. Rory loves to experiment and so slowly added to this by developing a brie-style cheese, and the increasingly well-known Strathdon Blue.
Recently he has been able to source ewes’ milk from a local crofter and has adapted his original brie recipe to the richer ewes’ milk to create a vegetal, velvety brie.
The cheese is named after the local Fearn Abbey which dates back to 1221.
The Fine Cheese Co.
25 years or so ago, this was normal: people harvested in October. And even then, most grapes were picked at a much earlier stage in their ripeness. Fashions have changed, tastes have evolved and, by and large, we prefer drinking wines that are riper, fruitier and rounder.
Two things have happened to make the grape harvest start so much earlier: the climate is a little warmer and grape yields have reduced in size. Lower yields often mean better quality, and besides, a smaller crop has a better chance of reaching optimum ripeness.And so harvest dates were brought forward to September and even earlier: the heatwave 2003 vintage was largely done and dusted by the middle of August.
Ten years later and by the end of September little has been picked, and hardly any red grapes at all. We didn’t really have a spring to speak of, just a long winter, with snow over Easter. Flowering was put back by at least three weeks and nothing really changed until the summer, which of course has turned out to be exceptionally good.
The situation now is one of fine weather but with cool nights and a harvest that is only very slowly coming to ripeness but there is still a lot to do. I was in the Rhône ten days ago and the syrah was barely sweet, though otherwise very healthy looking. The cellars are immaculate; everyone has been busy cleaning or bottling a previous vintage. Growers were still tinkering in the vineyards, removing excess growth, or grapes that had not changed colour and so would never ripen.
In general, it is going to be a smallish crop. Some grapes suffered from a poor flower set; that is the case of grenache in the Rhône Valley. In other cases, lack of rain means that grape berries have remained very small, which of course should be good for quality.For some growers, 2013 will already have been blighted by hail. For some growers in the Côte de Beaune, this will be their second hail-damaged vintage in succession
Quality is looking good. England might be about to experience something of a record vintage both in quality and quantity. Champagne starts next week as does Beaujolais. Other regions might start a week later and doubtless there will be people still harvesting in November.
Grenache, or garnacha, is the most widely planted red grape in the world, but because it’s more often found in blends, its name rarely appearing on labels, it doesn’t always receive the recognition it deserves. The creation of World Grenache Day is intended to put this situation straight.
Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams profiles the grape du jour
Grenache or garnacha?
As a buyer of French wine, I am more likely to call this grape grenache but its ancestry is definitely not French. Where it does come from is still debated as it could have originated either in Spain (garnacha) or in Sardinia (where it goes by the name of cannonau). What’s certain is that it’s an old variety with records of its planting going back 500 years and it is unquestionably one of the most widely planted red grapes, thriving in hot, dry and therefore typically Mediterranean climates.Growing grenache is not easy; it buds early but ripens very late. Left to its own devices, grenache can produce high yields and make very average wine so it is best to prune grenache quite short, bush like. Less than ideal conditions during flowering often have a negative effect on yield. But if this is a problem for quantity, it is usually beneficial for quantity.
If its origins are perhaps not Gallic, grenache’s single-most celebrated wine is very definitely French. As grenache noir, it is widely planted, especially in the southern Rhône where it triumphs in such appellations as Gigondas and, most famously, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Sometimes these wines will be made of pure grenache, but more often than not, it will be a majority in a veritable cocktail of grape varieties that may also include syrah, mourvèdre and cinsault. It is probably because many of the greatest grenache wines are not pure that the name has not become as well-known as merlot or cabernet. It is to redress this imbalance that International Grenache Day was launched.
It takes time to ripen grenache fully and, in the northern hemisphere, harvesting in October is not uncommon. Over the summer, sugars build up and as result ripe grenache can be very sweet and with high potential alcohol content. Lower than 14%, grenache is rarely ripe. This is one of the reasons why other varieties are added, to bring down the alcohol content.
Grenache is not especially deep in colour and goes brown quite quickly, another reason why a grape like syrah is often added to a blend. The very sweet nature of grenache makes it an obvious candidate for fortified wine. The best known come from the Roussillon: Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes.
Like pinot noir, grenache mutates quite easily. There is a grenache blanc, important in the southern Rhône, and more interesting still is the pink coloured grenache gris which makes wonderfully long-lived and concentrated whites and fortifieds.
Outside France, Spain is obviously the next major country for garnacha, as it is called here. It is planted in Rioja, especially the warmer southern end, and is the major variety next door in Navarra. The fashion for all things Rhône has led to its expansion worldwide. It works well in the heat of the west coast of America and of course in Australia.
What does grenache taste like?
At its simplest grenache tastes very round, heart-warming and maybe a little jammy. At its best, in Châteauneuf or Gigondas, grenache has real majesty. It is always a full-bodied wine with a sensation of sweetness due to the amount of alcohol and glycerol in the wine and it is capable of becoming quite complex with spicy, rich flavours which some say are reminiscent of fruit cake. All of which can make the best grenache into a thoroughly festive wine.
Grenache and food
The reds work well with the usual meats and stews. A classic pairing would be Daube Provençale, a very dark, slow-cooked beef stew for the winter. Grenache though works at many other levels including hard cheeses such as Cheddar. It also works well with ratatouille. White wines made from grenache go best with robust fish dishes with olive oil, garlic and chillies. The sweet fortified wines from Banyuls, sometimes aged for years in glass demijohns out in the sun, are almost immortal and make wonderful wines to go with chocolate.
If you are anywhere near The Showroom in Stevenage on Friday 20th September, pop in to try a range of grenache-based wines which are opened and available to taste throughout the day.
Read our Guide to Grenache in the Wine World & News pages of the website.
Browse for wines from the grenache grape.
In a recent article on vinho verde, wine writer and former Wine Society colleague Jane Parkinson talks about wines with ‘retro-cool cachet’ (vinho verde being her favourite of the moment).
This got me thinking about other wines that have risen phoenix-like from the doldrums of naff-dom to the new heights of über-cool.
Well, yes and no. The mass-produced screw-capped mainly pink wine which had its heyday in the 1980s has unfortunately destroyed the reputation of Lambrusco, and yet the real stuff, as enjoyed by the Italians, could not be more different.
For self-respecting Emilians, Lambrusco is a dry, low-tannin, high-acid, strawberry-fruited red sparkling wine that cuts through the fat of the local cuisine so admirably.
The Italian phrase ‘Lo amo brusco’ – I like it sharp – is thought by some Emilians to be the origin of the name. Moderate in alcohol and served chilled, it’s a refreshing drink to serve with a plate of prosciutto, or a wide variety of foods.
Over the summer I have taken it along to barbecues and picnics and enjoyed the look of surprise on the faces of my friends when I tell them that they have been enjoying Lambrusco.
So deep in colour and with really fleshy fruit flavour, which one of my family likened to whinberries, the Ottocentonero Lambrusco (£7.95) we list has become a firm favourite during our unexpectedly hot summer. I’m now thinking of what I’d like to serve it with as the nights start to draw in. Spag bol springs to mind….though apparently tagliatelle is the pasta of choice for the eponymous sauce in Bologna, and the Italians do know a thing or two about being cool!
I wonder what other wines will be getting the retro-cool cachet. Could it be the turn of German riesling next?
Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams reports from Condrieu, the home of this sun-loving grape
Well I’m in viognier country, the original one, even if the grape itself came from elsewhere. It thrives in the northern Rhône, though it usually needs to be sheltered from the north winds. And it needs sunshine – plenty of it.
Viognier is a capricious variety to grow and suffers from poor flowering in most vintages. For the moment, not a single berry has been picked from the 2013 vintage. Nothing is quite ripe, the berries are hard still and very green but with each day as the fine weather holds, there is hope.When I say viognier country, I mean of course Condrieu, which only allows for that one grape variety. When I visited for the first time in 1987, it was nothing if not exotic, and the wine was still desperately rare. That has since changed but the expansion meant that Condrieu was often made from very young vines. But now those new plantations are 20 years old and the extra maturity is starting to make a difference. The 2012s are gorgeous, full of fragrant, savoury fruit and nicely balanced. A notch up on the fuller 2011s, I think.Condrieu has seen many fashions. In the old days, it was common for viognier to be picked seriously late. I learned today that the old timers sometimes used to plant another variety, cugnette, the local name for jaquère from Savoy. This always kept high acidity and was picked with the viognier and vinified together. Illegal now, of course, except that today I tasted cugnette for the first time, in its pure state (for family consumption only), and it was delicious.
A peculiarity about Condrieu is that its style is not so well defined so it can be dry or intensely sweet. Viognier is however a low-acid grape, and when picked very late usually loses its shape and can become flabby.
Viognier is planted all over the world nowadays but nowhere does it quite like Condrieu. The combination of the metamorphic rock, poor soils, steep slopes and uncertain yields creates a very special wine here.
Does it keep?
Perceived wisdom says that viognier is not a keeper, but actually that is only partly true. When made from young vines then yes, it needs drinking sooner rather than later, but when it is produced from old vines the wine needs a year in bottle and then can keep up to five years easily and in some cases much longer still. But most of the wine is drunk young and, as a result, Condrieu sells out well within a year. Sound business!
The importance if terroir
These ancient soils are not uniform and as a result they’re differences in taste which are fascinating. It used to be said that the best was in Condrieu itself but of course that is where the oldest vines are, on such famous slopes as the Coteau de Chéry. But further south, the vines are getting older and are full of interest.
There is no classification, though one particularly special slope has its very own appellation, Château-Grillet. It is owned by Château Latour and no expense has been spared on this quite extraordinary wine that reveals its true colours only after several years in bottle.
So when do you drink Condrieu, and what with? It is not a wine for everyday drinking. It is full, very fragrant (peach, apricot, ripe yellow plum), low in acidity and never bone dry, even if analytically it may be so.
I can still remember my first taste of this nectar. It was in Condrieu itself, over lunch with a view of the Rhône and a plate of pan-fried scallops. Heaven.
Condrieu goes well with sweet-flavoured dishes such as scallops, shellfish (but not oysters), certain fish especially in a creamy or even slightly spicy sauce. And, new to me during this visit was a happy match: fresh garden tomatoes, delicately seasoned but also perfectly ripe.
Condrieu is expensive, and expensive to make. Increasingly, growers also make a cheaper wine made partly from younger vines, partly from vines outside of the Condrieu and are well worth looking out for. Moreover as non-appellation vineyards often mean vines facing east rather than south, acidity can be a little higher and the wines, simpler but also more refreshing.
Society Buyer for the Rhône
This was a fine opportunity to taste the Gratien range in wonderful surroundings off the Champs Elysées, at Restaurant Laurent.
The weather was glorious: perfect blue sky and a warm 27º or so. Somewhat bored gendarmes were everywhere, expecting maybe a Syrian attack on the US consulate or disgruntled vignerons on the presidential palace.The occasion was a press lunch for the Paris wine hacks and I was there representing maybe the old enemy. Lunch was served on a terrace with the roof of the Grand Palais close by.
Champagne is often dismissed as mere bubbly, something to refresh and seduce, yet it was Alain Seydoux – now long retired as head of Alfred Gratien – who always impressed upon me that Champagne was a wine which just happened to have bubbles.
And of course, Alfred Gratien is a quite distinctive Champagne, and very much a wine in all its weight, complexity and length of flavour.
Proceedings got under way with two versions of the same wine, the Non-Vintage Brut. Version A had been bottled without dosage but, for my taste, version B (the normal Brut) seemed better balanced and on a hot day was absolutely delicious.
We were then treated with the following parings:
Pig’s trotter with slices of steamed potato. Quite appetising and worked really well with the 2007 Blanc de Blancs, a grand cru chardonnay of great distinction and finesse.
Next was a take on bouillabaisse but served in a jelly. The best wine was the 1996 Vintage which was completely outstanding. A great vintage which had been somewhat dormant but which is now completely brilliant.
The same vintage was also served with sweetbreads but a better match was with Rosé Champagne, where the added body provided a better foil for the richness of this dish.
Two cheeses were served: Comté and Camembert and the wine chosen was the still youthful and full-flavoured 1990 Vintage. Champagne and cheese? Who would have thought it? The Camembert didn’t really work but the Comté was a triumph.
A rather lovely peach tart was then served with 2006 Cuvée Paradis. This is a gorgeous Champagne: rich and succulent, it coped well with the tart. This newly released, lovely and creamy wine will be available over Christmas, and is highly recommended.
Society Buyer for Champagne
This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the autumn 2013 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?You can watch a video about Wine Without Fuss on our website.
Recipes abound for the autumnal and classically simple Italian dish of sausages and grapes. The version below is served at Al Forno, a restaurant based not in Tuscany but in Providence, Rhode Island and it piqued my interest when it was demonstrated on the small screen by chef-proprietor Johanne Killeen.
So taken with it was I that I hastily scribbled it down in my own write, and promptly cooked it, using my initiative to fill any gaps. The recipe is available on www.foodnetwork.co.uk but I’ve hopefully saved members a few keystrokes, as well as adding a few observations of my own, which I hope Ms Killeen and her hostess, the Barefoot Contessa, won’t mind. The sweetness of the grapes combined with the meatiness of the bangers is a real success.
As ever, anything better than the sum of its parts relies on good parts, so get the best, meatiest sausages going, and don’t stint on the quality of the balsamic vinegar. This is no place for the really expensive, treacly kind sold in pipettes, but do get a decent, sweetish nicely-matured one. You could give the dish a Spanish twist with a similarly good Sherry vinegar. Whatever you do, make sure the grapes are seedless – crunchy is not an option here. Finally, if your oven, like mine, has a maximum temperature of only 220ºC (190ºFan)/Gas 7, add ten minutes to the cooking time.
AL FORNO’S TUSCAN SAUSAGES WITH GRAPES
1.5kg best-quality sausages, a mixture of different kinds, if you like
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
900g seedless grapes eg Thomson or Flame, washed and dried
2–4 tablespoons dry red wine – Chianti for preference
3 tablespoons good-quality balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 250ºC/500ºF/Gas 9.
Bring a large pan of water – enough to cover the sausages – to the boil. Parboil the sausages for 8 minutes to get rid of excess fat. This was a new one on me, but it certainly makes for crisper skin. Drain the sausages well and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Melt the butter in a large flameproof roasting tin, set on a moderate hob. Add the grapes and coat well. Add the wine and turn up the heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until it’s reduced by half.
Now grab some tongs, add the sausages and arrange under the grapes to stop them burning. Bake for 20–25 minutes, turning once to ensure even browning. Conscious of my slightly cooler oven and having a horror of semi-tanned bangers, I cooked them for a good 30 minutes and put them on top of the grapes for the last few minutes, but I did keep an eye on them.
Return the tin to the hob on a moderately high heat. Add the balsamic vinegar and let the juices reduce until thick and syrupy, scraping up any crusty bits on the base of the pan. I transferred the sausages to a warm plate before doing that, certain that they would stick resolutely to the tin but do leave them in if you feel brave. When the juices feel right, transfer all to a heated serving platter.
Serve with squares of focaccia, to mop up the juices.
Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager
Last night, in the glitzy surroundings of the Floral Hall at London’s Royal Opera House, ten members of The Society’s team, together with the rest of the great and the good of the world’s wine trade, attended a dinner celebrating the 10th edition of the Decanter World Wine Awards. At this dinner Decanter also names the top UK wine merchants, with prizes for innovators, specialists, regional merchants and supermarkets.
Sarah Kemp, Decanter‘s publishing director and Steven Spurrier, consultant editor, opened proceedings with an explanation of how the awards are put together, and it’s no mean feat! Arguably the world’s largest wine competition (over 14,000 entries from 27 countries), 32 International Trophies were awarded last night from the 155 Regional Trophies, which themselves stemmed from a whole host of Gold Medals. The medal winners from The Society were announced in May.
But the major prize for a UK merchant is the accolade of National Retailer of the Year. After having won this prestigious award for the past two years, we were short-listed again this year, this time alongside Berry Brothers & Rudd, Jascots, Majestic and WineTrust100. We arrived with a sense of excitement and anticipation, given our success in July at the International Wine Challenge.
The panel of judges displays an impressive knowledge of the UK wine trade – Saturday Kitchen’s Peter Richards MW, The Guardian‘s Fiona Beckett, wine-pages.com‘s Tom Cannavan, The Independent‘s Anthony Rose and veteran renowned wine retail consultant Allan Cheeseman – and we were therefore all the more delighted to be announced as winners for a third successive year.
As at July’s awards ceremony, temperatures were once again in the high 20s, but most Society staff (yours truly excepted, whose bow tie was relegated to inside his sporran) retained some dignity in attire, and likely duly lost the pounds gained from the excellent three-course dinner served and the accompanying eight wines.
We were so proud to receive this award once again. It is testament not only to the excellent teamwork of the 200-strong Society staff, each and everyone playing a key role, but also to our knowledgeable and loyal members without whom we simply would not exist.
Tom Cannavan penned the article published in Decanter this morning, starting with: ‘What else could we do? There were some worthy names on the shortlist, but the case for multiple past winner, The Wine Society, was compelling.’
Well we certainly aim to keep it that way!
I recently attended a tasting entitled ‘The wine that inspired me’ put on by Wines of Australia. The line-up consisted of some 100 wines nominated by members of the wine trade.
The more I tasted, the more the brilliance of the concept hit home: the breadth of the range was vast, from sparkling to fortified with everything in between. The classic grapes were all there, seasoned with a smattering of Mediterranean varieties, with everyday wines rubbing shoulders with great estates. Rieslings, for instance, ran from taut and dry, to fruit-salad-sweet, chardonnays from fresh and unoaked to full and buttery.
What staggered me is that there really wasn’t a duff wine among them: whilst a particular wine style may not be to your personal taste, but you could sense its charm or what about it had intrigued the nominee.
If you have a tasting group, asking everyone to bring a wine that they’re passionate about is bound to uncover a few new treasures.
What really interested me were the reasons behind the nominations: for some it spoke of a moment in time that the wine evoked, for others it was a wine that reinvigorated a jaded palate, or it may simply be a wine that they have learnt to rely on.
It made me think about my relationship with wine: being in the wine trade friends often ask me for advice and I have found several bottles that I can suggest, knowing that they won’t let me down.
Reliable extravagances for the difficult-to-buy-for
Wines from Frog’s Leap, Ridge, Roda and Isole e Olena, Vega Sicilia’s Alion, and our Exhibition Hermitage and Rioja are all such examples. At less severe prices, Momo from Ribera is a favourite, as is The Society’s White Burgundy and, for port lovers, Australia’s ‘The Wise One’.
Then there are the wines we’ve served at weddings, wakes and christenings, which have mass appeal and go with almost anything: The Society’s Côtes de Gascogne, Barberani Orvieto, Domaine L’Arjolle Cabernet-Merlot and Cortello are all such wines.
The wines I sometimes forget about periodically and joyfully rediscover after a break of a year or two; with every trip to our showroom these days, for instance, a bottle of Laborie seems to find its way into by basket, after a period of absent-minded abstinence.
Peaks of perfection
Lastly, there are those incredibly special wines that stop the clock for moments you’re unlikely to be lucky enough to experience again, and, even if you did, the wine’s evolution dictates that it will never be quite the same: for me, Dujac’s 1990 Clos de la Roche is a wine whose memory has stayed with me for many years.
I’d be very interested to hear what yours are too.
Senior Merchandiser & Food Buyer