Grapevine Archive for July, 2015
Though often overlooked in favour of more ‘serious’ wines, a nicely chilled rosé can be just what’s needed when it comes to creating the perfect partnership between what’s on your plate and what’s in your glass.
For many of us rosé only really makes an appearance when the sun shines, and whilst it must be said that a cool rosé on a warm summer’s day is a match made in heaven, a glass of pink matches so many diverse dishes so perfectly, it seems a shame not to give rosé a go.
Just as there are many styles of red and white wines, so there is a whole world of different pinks out there to explore, from the shy and retiring to the full-flavoured and gutsy.
For lovers of curry, a rosé with a touch of residual sugar such as Rosé d’Anjou, Famille Bougrier 2014 (£6.50) can be the perfect foil for spicy food – the sweetness in the wine balances any chilli heat in the food and makes a glass of pink the ideal alternative to a chilled lager.
For those looking for something a little more substantial, a recent pairing of an Italian rosé with a piece of barbecued lamb and caponata – a gutsy Sicilian aubergine dish that packs a punch – was deemed to be perfection! A good option would be the Alpha Zeta Rosato Veronese 2014 (£5.95).
A Simple Caponata Recipe
Courtesy of the Cookery School at Little Portland Street):
2 large aubergines, cubed, or 8 very small aubergines, halved
8 tbsps olive oil
2 onions, sliced
4 cloves of garlic
large handful of chopped parlsey
1 400g/1lb tin chopped tomatoes, or 450g/1lb fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
4 tbsps pitted black or green olives, cut in halves or quarters
2 tsbps sugar (more may be needed)
1 tbsp capers
2 tbsps raisins
4 tbsps white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
1. Fry the onions in the oil until golden.
2. Add the garlic and fry for a few seconds only.
3. Add the cubed aubergines and cook for a few minutes, ensuring that they are well coated with oil.
4. Add the tinned or fresh tomatoes to the mixture, the chopped parsley, the olives, the capers and the raisins.
5. Bring up to the boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes until the mixture is well reduced.
6. Add the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper, and mix in well.
7. This stage is very important: taste for sweet/sour flavour, adding more sugar, vinegar or salt as necessary.
8. Cook for a short while longer until ingredients are well blended. Cool to room temperature or chill before eating. Caponata keeps very well in the fridge for a few days.
Finally, for the most wonderful food matches, the light pink rosés of the palest hue from regions such as Provence make the perfect accompaniment to many fish dishes such as grilled prawns or a dressed crab. The delicate red-fruit flavours and fresh acidity of these wines complement rather than overpower the creamy richness of such crustaceans.
Try a glass of Provence pink with a large chunk of ripe, runny brie too – I know it’s personal but I always find soft cheeses can be a bit tricky to match perfectly with wine, however it is at times like these that a rosé, ideally one which has bags of strawberry and redcurrant fruit, really hits the spot.
And, as luck would have it, our latest selection of Provence rosés is available online now!
Tastings & Events Co-Ordinator
Celebrity culture is huge in our society today (not The Wine Society, but society as a whole…). One area of particular interest is celebs’ business ventures outside of their usual expertise, be it founding a cheese farm, developing a signature metal detector or a foray into the drinks industry.
Like the rest of us mere mortals, many celebs have a love of wine and as such make the jump in founding their own wineries, or investing in pre-existing establishments.
Of course there is often little winemaking input from these famed owners themselves – we can’t be expected to think that Antonio Banderas is out in the vineyards at the height of summer picking his grapes or monitoring sugar ripeness and deciding on the use of natural vs cultured yeasts – but you can assume that the wines produced are at the very least made in the style that they might like to drink themselves.Like ‘normal’ wineries the quality among celeb wines is hugely variable. However, at the risk of generalising, they are often at least quite good: the owners have the capital to invest in the best technology for the cellars and this in itself offers a great advantage.
Indeed, the glitz and glam of Hollywood is visiting The Wine Society in the form of Brangelina’s (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s for the uninitiated) Provence rosé from Miraval.
Their arrival is fairly recent to the pantheon of celeb winemakers, which also includes Drew Barrymore, Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, David Ginola, Cliff Richard and Sting to name but a few.
However, don’t let the youth of the winery colour your impressions: Miraval won many plaudits for the first vintage last year, and being the only rose to make Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year places it among esteemed company. The wine is made in conjunction with the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and as such quality is a top priority… with just a touch of added glamour.
Miraval 2014 is available now for £14.95 per bottle (plus a small quantity of magnums at £34.95 each), and forms part of our current Discover Provence offer alongside 11 other wonderful rosés from the region.
Marketing Campaign Manager
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.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…!
The Cellar Showroom
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.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.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.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.
Head of Digital Marketing
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.
It 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.
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.
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!
Marketing Campaign Manager
Nothing helps one understand a wine quite like being where it’s made with those who make it.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.
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.
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!
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.
Head of Digital Marketing
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been over ten years since the last book on Austrian wine, a gap about to be filled on 5th October: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by phoning 01865 514 888.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
- 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.