Grapevine Archive for January, 2017

Wed 25 Jan 2017

Reaping The Rewards Of En Primeur

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All the current excitement about the excellence of the 2015 vintage reminds me of my first year working at The Society back in 2006.

The talk then was of the brilliance of the 2005 vintage, which was similarly hugely successful across much of Europe. My first few tasks were to write about this ‘Vintage of a Generation’ and my capacity for superlatives was being tested to the limit.

This was my first exposure to the concept of buying wines en primeur, ie purchasing wines that not only were nowhere near being ready to drink but not even bottled or shipped.

Persuaded no doubt by the overwhelming pulling power of my purple prose, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and take the plunge.

And all I can think now is why on earth didn’t I buy more?!

Languedoc en primeur wines

Just before Christmas I withdrew one of the mixed cases I had bought from the 2005 Rhône & Languedoc-Roussillon en primeur campaign and had been keeping in The Society’s Members’ Reserves storage facility since.

The case in question was the 2005 Languedoc First Growth Case and includes a roll-call of the great and the good of the South of France. And it provided all the wow factor I needed over the Christmas period.

The wines

• The one I was keenest to try was the Coteaux du Languedoc, Prieuré Saint Jean de Bébian and it didn’t disappoint. Deliciously à point, this thrilling blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre confidently treads that fine line between power and elegance.

• I may have broached the cabernet sauvignon-dominant Mas de Daumas Gassac, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault a tad early; it was still mature and delicious but I think that I’ll leave the second bottle until next Christmas.

• Conversely, the Domaine de Perdiguier, Cuvée d’en Auger, Vin de Pays des Côteaux d’Ensérune may have been better last Christmas (the initial recommended drink date was indeed for 2015) but it was still a great taste experience.

Domaine Alquier’s Faugères Les Bastides couldn’t have been better: all velvety richness and concentration.

Domaine Madeloc Collioure Magenca was very mature and a tad raisiny, but I mean that as a compliment. The primary fruit flavours had all but disappeared to leave a rich, mineral, spicy, earthy complexity.

• The Roc d’Anglade, Vin de Pays du Gard was extraordinarily fine and elegant, and could easily have been mistaken for a very posh northern Rhône costing many times its price.

And let’s talk about the price, as that for me was the real bonus part of the whole experience and one I hadn’t really anticipated. I paid for the wines in 2007 and the duty and VAT in 2008. So long ago that, such is my head-in-the-sand attitude to personal finances, I felt that these fine wines were now, to all intents and purposes, free.

Sure I did have to pay for their storage in the interim but even so a little research online suggests that were I able to find these wines now (no small task in itself) it would have cost me a darn sight more than I had shelled out. Furthermore, if you factor in the pleasure of the anticipation of enjoying your purchases then I’ve had more than a decade of mouthwatering expectation!

That isn’t the point, of course, and it shouldn’t matter, but it does add to the rather smug satisfaction one experiences when you pull the cork.

I did my best to hide my self-satisfaction when sharing these special bottles, but even if I failed to suppress it then I’m not sure that anyone would have noticed. They were too busy enjoying the wines! I’m delighted to see that we’re expanding the range of wines we offer en primeur. In 2016 we offered wines from Ridge in California and the Cape’s Meerlust as well as the usual suspects from the classic French regions, and we have plans to continue to look further afield in 2017.

I for one will be buying as much as I can afford, including a good chunk of our 2015 Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon allocation and I advise you to do the same. A decade or so down the line I’m certain that you’ll be very glad you did!

Paul Trelford
Head of Content & Communications

Our en primeur offer of the 2015 Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon vintage is available until 8pm, Tuesday 28th February.

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Recently I was at my village wine club tasting (nothing to do with my job at The Wine Society) in the local parish rooms for a tasting. Our host Simon brought along some wines he’d bought en primeur, some from us and some from another merchant.

He wanted to see how the wines had developed and to see if buying them en primeur had ‘paid its way’ in terms of initial cost (including storage) vs how much the wines would cost now.

The wines were great (with just one that was ever so slightly past its best), and Simon had done his calculations and seen that, for those wines which he could still get, the prices now were much higher on almost all the wines.

En Primeur tasting

It was a fascinating evening for me as I look after our en primeur offers at The Society and it was very reassuring to meet another wine drinker so interested in it and getting such satisfaction from the service; both in terms of value and, more importantly, pleasure from the experience.

I buy en primeur myself mainly for the enjoyment and delayed gratification of having it stored away – sometimes for decades – only to get them out, having long forgotten what I paid for them and slightly smug about being able to drink something so mature that not many others can!

So it was nice that, for the wines we had last night anyway, the numbers also made great sense…

I did come in to work the next morning feeling that what I do gives enormous amounts of pleasure to a lot of our members and it offers good value too. Oh, and none of the wines were the stellar-expensive wines you often hear about – most were in the £15-£40 bracket.

With our 2015 Rhône offer available now, it also felt like a good time to share the experience!

Shaun Kiernan
Fine Wine Manager

Here are some quick notes from what we tasted:

1. Three vintages of Clos Floridène Blanc, one of members’ favourite dry whites from Bordeaux.

Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2010
Real class here – exactly what you’d hope for from this excellent wine and vintage. The sauvignon blanc and semillon that make up the blend were in perfect balance, and this wine will still keep for some time yet.

Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2009
Still very good too with real class and finesse, and a long satisfying finish.

Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2007
Sadly this wine was just outside its drink date and should have been drunk already. It was slightly oxidised but still interesting, but its mature flavours may not be for everyone.

2. Four vintages of Vacqueyras Saint Roch from Clos de Cazaux. This family-owned southern Rhône producer is another popular name at The Society, featuring regularly in our regular and en primeur offers – not to mention being the source of our Exhibition Vacqueyras – so I was especially intrigued to taste these.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2010
From a great year, this is still muscular and would benefit from further ageing. You could certainly see its potential though. Keep for two more years: will make a fab bottle.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2009
Similarly young as per the 2010 and would be better kept for longer, although the 2009 was lighter in weight. Still highly enjoyable.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2008
Smoother and more mature, this was just about ready, and backed up by some appealing sweetness of fruit.

Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2007
Wonderful wine – for me, this is what what en primeur is all about. Totally à point, this is all chocolate and cream, with the freshness that demanded we try a second glass! Best wine of the night for me.

3. Three vintages of Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, a bit of a Bordeaux ‘insider’s tip’ gaining an increasingly large following for its excellent claret, which is offered at reasonable prices.

Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2009
Lovely sweetness here, and quite tannic. Not typical of 2009, so without the heaviness I sometimes associate with the vintage. Good wine.

Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2008
Leave a little longer: quite typical of 2008 (not my favourite vintage) in its austerity, but the quality was evident and there is more to come from this wine.

Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2005
From a classic vintage, this is now ready but was drier than I thought. Slightly muscular, and would come into its own with food.

4. Two vintages of Château Suduiraut, Sauternes, one of the grandest sweet wines one can find in Bordeaux, and which still offers excellent value for its quality.

Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 2010
This is rich but also very fine with lovely balancing freshness, and will keep well. Marmalade nose and lemony freshness on the palate but rich too.

Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 1997
A lovely contrast to the 2010 with the aromas and flavours that come with maturity. A barley-sugar nose but rich on the palate, and again with good acidity. Needs drinking now but won’t go over the top for a few years. Very good indeed!

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My Corsican trip is always a bit of an adventure and giving it time is always a bit tricky. It comes at a busy time for any buyer of northern hemisphere wines.

How soon can a buyer taste a new vintage? Of course there is no real answer. After all during the vintage, there is a certain satisfaction from tasting grape juice, or even the grapes themselves. Young wine on the other hand goes through stages when it doesn’t taste that well. That’s often when it’s just been racked or moved around, or indeed when it is still full of solid matter. Early smells and tastes can be misleading; young wines need time to settle a little and become more like the finished article.

So I asked my good friend Etienne: how about early December? Fine came the answer and so it was.

Corsican trip Dec16

I haven’t fully explored all the travel options yet though I’ve tried a few. There are direct flights in the summer but out of season one has to change, at least once. For the time being my favourite option is to start from Saint Pancras which is conveniently close to home. And yes, it allows me to fantasise about some of the great trains of the past: the Mistral and Blue Train.

There’s an early train to Paris and a quick jaunt on the metro and a fast train to Marseille. The journey itself was relatively uneventful. No murders or vanishing ladies. Vanishing power maybe, as the train came to a halt outside Ashford and remained there for half an hour.

I like Marseille station (I quite like Marseille as well). It’s a station that looks different, definitely imbued with a feel of the orient. There are trees within the station, making it look like a rather large orangery. There’s a friendly intimacy about it and people seem remarkably unrushed. There’s a good place for a coffee and a croissant where people have time to talk.

The two women behind the counter may be busy, drawing one coffee after the other but still have time to exchange smiles and small talk with customers. There’s a tramp seated not far away with his coffee and a sandwich. A heavily armed Gendarme greets a passenger with a kiss. This is all such a contrast with Paris which, by comparison seems cold, fearful and furtive.

Marseille airport is like any other airport and in common with all airports, there are building works and road works; yet it too seems a little laid back. People have time for each other. Even at the security gates, there is an air of friendliness. Not that any of this affected security, which was as tight as anywhere.

Corsica by air

Corsica has four airports which is good going for an island with a population of around 350,000.
But Corsica is more than just an island. It is a sort of mini continent with lots of quite different bits and these are separated by mountains making communication on the island slow and difficult.

Politics play a big part here too. City mayors are powerful beasts whose reach has to extend to Paris. Corsica punches well above its weight in most matters. And so there are four airports.

I still have only explored a tiny bit of the island. There is vineyard everywhere, but it is probably true that some of the top and most forward thinking growers are in the north. And so that stretch that separates the towns of Calvi and Bastia, has become Wine Society territory!

Calvi is where Lord Nelson lost an eye in 1794. It amuses people much that Corsica might have ended up a British possession. Indeed for a couple of years George III was king of an Anglo-Corsican kingdom.

Back to wine!

Clos Culombu is not far from Calvi airport, barely 15 minutes’ drive away. It was dark when I got there. The samples of rosé from the new vintage were all lined up on the counter.

Somewhere in all these different hues is the 2016 blend!Somewhere in all these different hues is the 2016 blend!

Etienne Suzzoni was there, all six-and-a-half feet of him (or more!), and his son Paul-Antoine who as it turned was largely responsible for making the 2016 vintage. Father Etienne is these preoccupied with other ventures; he is after all Mayor of his local town, Lumio.

2016 is a good vintage here. It was explained that it was hot and dry but that crucially that it had rained just enough so that drought was never really a problem. We tasted from a round 20 different tanks, all representing specific parts of the vineyard and different grape varieties, and different ages of vine too. Some of the samples were already blends with two varieties present. For instance, the first tank was of sciaccarrellu with a little syrah, and very good it was too.

Before continuing maybe a few words are needed about varieties. Corsica has a rich and varied ampelography taking in influences from France, Genoa, Tuscany and even Catalonia. Many varieties were lost during the phylloxera epidemic though some have since been rediscovered, growing wild.

In the north, niellucciu is the main red grape variety and is in fact identical to the Tuscan sangiovese. It produces full-flavoured, full-bodied and often tannic wines. Sciaccarellu is a native Corsican variety, grown nowhere else. It tends to make wines that are fragrant, fruity with plenty of grip and is the majority variety further south such as in Ajaccio. Local wisdom says that it is the choice variety for making rosé. Grenache is also indigenous and probably came from Aragon or Sardinia. Syrah and cinsault are more recent imports. Last year, the blend for our Corsican Rosé was mostly niellucciu with a little sciaccarellu and grenache.

Silence tends to reign during these tastings, considerable levels of concentration being required. Each sample is tasted, one after the other. Each could have something to say in a blend. One sample might have low pH which could be a good thing while another might have high pH, less desirable. Likewise excessive alcohol might not be a great idea. And so I write down a comment or two beside each wine, by the time the last wine has been tasted I have an idea which samples to retain for the blend.

And then starts the fun with test tubes and calculators at the ready. The sciaccarellu wines are all very good and yet, on its own, something is missing.

There are several false leads until finally a blend sticks. Jean Dépagneux, for many years in charge of a business in Beaujolais and Mâcon, always used to tell me that three elements in a blend are better than two.

And then I found it. There was a tank of pure cinsault which didn’t seem much and was easily overlooked. Just 10% was enough to bring the niellucciu and sciaccarellu together. And so the 2016 vintage was born.

The following day the three elements, 60% niellucciu, 30% sciaccarellu and 10% cinsault, were blended together.

What happens now?
The wine now rests; it will remain untouched over the winter and will be bottled after a filtration in the spring.

The first shipment to Stevenage will be in April and I for one am looking forward to trying it!

Corsica is a big place and 36 hours doesn’t allow for much exploration. After Calvi, my route took me east to the other fortress town of Nelsonian fame, Bastia. A high point was the entering the forbidding-sounding Désert des Agriates. North of the main road, there is just a startlingly beautiful emptiness.

Vineyards in Corsica

I had to meet Marie-Brigitte Paoli who picked me up in her incredibly large land cruiser. The next four or five miles were not easy driving on a deeply rutted track but eventually we arrived at her estate. Hers is called Clos Teddi while her husband’s, next door is Clos Alivu. One cellar serves both and there is one winemaker, a Parisian who came to Corsica as a student to do a vintage and never left!

There are lovely wines here in all three colours and complemented to perfection the lunch which was brought out on a windswept terrace. There was charcuterie, figatellu sausage, spare ribs, an eyewateringly strong cheese, Fiadone cheese cake and garden-picked clementines, a sole guardian of sensible eating!

The wines of Corsica are fascinating and though I’ve spent much of the time on rosé, the whites and reds are also worth exploring. More Italianate then Gallic, they are at their best at the heart of a meal.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

If you enjoy finding out what goes on behind the scenes on our wine buyers’ visits to our winemakers, visit the Travels in Wine™ pages on our website.

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Wed 11 Jan 2017

Buyer Freddy Bulmer: My 2016 Highlights

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I had to pinch myself a few times throughout 2016. Since landing my dream job as trainee buyer (and subsequently taking on buying duties for England, beers and accessories), I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing people, visit some beautiful places and experience some remarkable things.

One thing that will stick with me though is some of the fantastic people that I have been lucky enough to meet who, whilst all have stories of their own, always share one thing in common with me: a love of wine.

Putting together a list of just three bottles that really meant something to me from 2016 was not easy, as there were so many more that I wanted to select. However, I settled on three very special wines from three very special producers, in three completely different wine-producing regions of the world.

You can buy a convenient three-bottle mixed case of these reds for £38 – with UK delivery included – via thewinesociety.com.

1. Château Monconseil Gazin, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux 2013 (£9.50 per bottle)

monconseil-gazin

My very first trip accompanying one of the buyers was in January 2016 when I went to Bordeaux with Head of Buying Tim Sykes. The main goal of the trip was to blend the new vintage of The Society’s Claret but while there we managed to fit in visits with a few other producers. Our last visit of the trip was to a small, humble producer in Blaye on the right bank of the Gironde.

After a few days of suits and ties and smart sales folk, it was lovely to meet a proper winemaking family. We weren’t talking to a sales representative or a marketing person but the owner and winemaker of a small and excellent-quality winery. Jean-Michel and Françoise Baudet are the couple in charge here, at one of the oldest wineries in Blaye. They love nothing more than driving visitors around their vineyards and talking them through the subtle nuances that each vineyard has on their wines. After the tour it was time for a bit of cake before going to the airport.

This was the first time that I felt like I got to the heart of Bordeaux; despite all the money in the region and all the marketing, it is people like these who live for the wine and who make good wines at very affordable prices.

This 2013 vintage of Chateau Monconseil Gazin was one which I remember for its soft tannins, fresh acidity and feeling of being complete, by which I mean everything was in harmony and as it should be. Fresh fruit is there, but it is soft and relatively gentle, with an appealing, simple charm. For me, this wine spoke of its place very well, from the freshness in the fruit on the highest vineyards, kept cool in the wind, to the ripeness of the fruit that bit closer to the river, where the temperature is moderated thanks to the influence of the Gironde.

2. Chianti Rufina Riserva, Villa di Vetrice 2011 (£10.95 per bottle)

grati-chianti

When I joined The Wine Society’s Buying Team, I was lacking in the foreign language department, other than a miniscule amount of Italian. In order to fit in to such a linguistically talented team of buyers, I had to brush up on it! After a number of Italian lessons, Sebastian Payne MW, our buyer for Italy, said: ‘If you really want to learn the language, you need to get out there!’ So I did.

I spent a couple of weeks working at wineries in Italy; firstly with the lovely folks at Vallone in Puglia but I spent the second week with the truly lovely, and truly Italian, Grati family in the Rufina Valley of Chianti.

I’ve never had a week where I felt so looked after and learned so much. The warm and incredibly intelligent Gualberto Grati and his sister Christi are now at the helm of their family winery, having taken over from their parents who live at Villa di Vetrice itself. I managed to experience all sorts of jobs which surround the harvest on my visit, from the picking of the grapes, to hanging up bunches in the vinsantaia (see above), to carrying out a whole experimental micro-vinification of the very rare grape variety sanforte.

Sitting around the family table for dinner at Vetrice on the first night of my visit, not being even nearly competent with my Italian, was a strange mixture of lovely and terrifying. However when, on the last night of my trip, Gualberto and I were invited for dinner with Christi, her husband Luca and their two daughters, I found I was able to have a conversation in Italian, the feeling of pride was really quite memorable. It was all thanks to the kindness and patience of this Tuscan winemaking family.

Their wine is really rather delicious too! This one combines the rusticity and ‘hands-off’ approach to winemaking found in the most authentic of Tuscan wines with such obviously excellent fruit, from a region that really seems born to produce wines. Silky smooth yet still fresh, thanks to the signature acidity of the Rufina valley. A charming, approachable and thoroughly enjoyable wine, whilst still smart and proper, much like the family who make it!

3. Hedges CMS Washington State 2015 (£13.50 per bottle)

the-hedges-family-washington

I’d never been to the USA before being lucky enough to get a place on a trip arranged by the Washington State Wine Commission. The bulk of the trip involved a small group of us visiting a number of wineries spread over five days. I wasn’t able to fly out to Seattle until the day after the rest of the group, which meant that I would be there a couple of days after they had all gone home again at the end of the trip. With that in mind, I had made plans to go and visit a couple of producers who we already worked with at The Wine Society, one of which was Hedges Estate.

I’d heard that Christophe Hedges was a pretty cool guy and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. He lives with his wife Maggie and their two young sons, in a beautiful white-stone house which is down the end of a dirt track, in the middle of the vineyards of Red Mountain. I drove down the track and pulled up outside the house, which was clearly still undergoing some construction work. I walked around the side and knocked on the door but there was no answer.

Eventually, this tall, muscular wine god of a man came around the corner. This was Christophe, who it turns out is not only a great winemaker but also a seriously good stonemason. So good in fact, that he built the house himself!

The Hedges family were like something out of a film – painfully good looking with perfect smiles and a sense of coolness and calm about them which makes you feel like they just love living life. When I went to visit them, I had just left the rest of the group who had flown home and as I got into my hire-car I distinctly remember a sudden sense of real loneliness, now finding myself in a small town in a country I had never been to before, almost 5,000 miles away from home. When I got to the Hedges’ home, it was like seeing old friends.

I tasted a lot of good wines with Christophe, many of which could have been featured here; but for me, this was perhaps the most approachable now. It encapsulates the terroir of Red Mountain, with a hint of earthiness and bright, fresh acidity. The complexity of fruit here is impressive, thanks to the clever blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, making a wine which is juicy and bright, while maintaining a peppery touch and a firm backbone.

Enjoy!

Freddy Bulmer
Trainee Buyer

Buy the three-bottle mixed case for £38 – with UK delivery included.

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Fri 06 Jan 2017

Staff Choice: Martin’s Budget Portuguese Pick

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Having spent my wine budget rather lustily during the Christmas period, I’m looking for maximum bang for buck from any New Year indulgences.

Thankfully, this under-£7 Portuguese white ticks all the boxes. It was one of the stars of my visit to Portugal with Society buyer Jo Locke MW last year; and it’s a testament to its quality that it can shine every bit as brightly in a grey Hertfordshire January as it did in front of the sun-soaked vista of Esporão’s tasting room!

The view at Herdade do Esporão in the Alentejo

You can find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here.

Esporão Monte Velho, Alentejo 2015

Esporão Monte Velho, Alentejo 2015

This blend of local grapes (roupeiro, antão vaz and perrum) is the top seller in its price bracket on the Portuguese market, and winemaker David Baverstock hit the nail on the head at our tasting when he said it offers ‘a lot of sophistication for a big-blend wine from a hot climate’.

Esporão’s winemaker David Baverstock showing buyer Jo Locke MW the day’s harvest during our visit in September

The ripe 2015 vintage offers a little extra generosity of body, citrus fruit and even some leafy complexity too, making this the perfect opportunity to try it.

This is no one-dimensional summer quaffer, but really quite a refined foodie white that will work well for wintry sipping too, and I hope you like it as much as I do!

£6.95 – Bottle
£41.50 – Case of six
View Wine Details

Categories : Other Europe, Portugal
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Wed 04 Jan 2017

Food Without Fuss: In Praise Of The Potato

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These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the New Year selections of our Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines… with the minimum of fuss!

Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

Janet Wynne EvansJanet Wynne Evans

National Chip Week, which traditionally sizzled into action, when our New Year Wine Without Fuss selections were safely in the rack, was surely a happy light at the end of the grim tunnel of atonement that is January for many of us. If only we could master the art of moderation. On that note, a recipe for recycling them, below, may help debunk the myth that an Extra-Large portion of chip-shop soggies has to be forced down or thrown away.

Of course, there is so much more to potatoes than chips and more varieties than you can shake a stick at. There’s more from me on that story in the February edition of Societynews and if I seem to have taken overly long to harness the humble tatty for the Wine and Dine aspect of a ‘Fuss’ selection, it’s because the choice of spuds before us today is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Regrettably, the vacuum has been filled with doom-laden denunciations from the carbs police, but let’s not confuse potatoes with pappy rolls and blotting-paper bread. Unlike those, potatoes contain a raft of useful vitamins and minerals. They can even take the place of flour in soufflés (see below), which suddenly become a gluten-free option. They are also very versatile as I have found over the years when using up the end of a sack of them that seemed like especially good value at the time – for a family of 20. There is certainly enough scope to cover the dozen intriguing bottles that awaiting the undivided attention of the Wine Without Fuss subscriber.

Once you’ve got the right one, potatoes are, essentially, magnificent shock absorbers, for the butter, milk and spring onions that turn Maris mash into champ, for the vinegar that wakes up a proper, chipped King Edward, for the riot of cream and garlic that transforms layered Désirées into gratin dauphinois and for the mayonnaise, chives and bacon bits that curl around Charlotte and her elegant pals to make a great potato salad.

So, at this grey time of year, I commend to fellow-members the infinite variety of the pomme de terre. Large or small, short or tall, spring or fall, there will, surely, always be a spud you like and always a Fuss-free wine to go with it.

Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor

THE RECIPES

Mashed Potatoes with Fresh Truffles

jersey-royals-finalLast year, we celebrated the foodscape of Istria, the small, but gastronomic triangle that hangs between the rest of Croatia and north-eastern Italy. The emphasis was on black truffles, which thrive here. This recipe was given to us by Robert Golic, in-house chef at Agrolaguna, who supply our Vina Laguna Malvazija (sadly currently out of stock), but it also works very well with any fulsome chardonnay.

Try it with Joseph Burrier’s buttery Mâcon-Verzé (French Classic Whites), or if you prefer a red, go for a lightish one: Moselle Pinot Noir ‘Les Hautes Bassières’ (French Classic Reds) will do nicely.

View the recipe here

Born-Again Patatas Fritas

The perfect exit plan for the unwieldy portion of chips served up by the average chippie. With the rising cost of cod, I imagine the aim is to add value. I’m quite staggered when people throw away what they can’t eat, especially when these chips are so good reheated that I’ve even been known to order a ‘large’ to make sure we’re covered for Round Two. Given a Spanish twist as below, or cooked in duck or goose fat with a few sprigs of thyme and a splash of garlic oil , they are just plain delicious.

The secret is good flavourings and fresh cooking-fat at the proper temperature. Having your chips and your fish separately wrapped is wise, and at all costs, decline politely any offers of salt and vinegar at the counter. Once home, apportion your chips for now and later. Let the laters cool completely and freeze. I find that recycled chips are best thawed before reheating, so I allow time for that, but by all means recook them in their frozen state if you like.

Shallow-frying requires relatively little oil – about an inch or so, or barely 100ml for two portions of chips. It should be between 160-175C, or hot enough to make a test chip sizzle as soon as it makes contact. If it’s smoking vigorously, it’s too hot.

Dust the thawed chips in smoked paprika – sweet or hot, as you prefer – and fry in groundnut or sunflower oil to which you have added just a hint of chilli oil, to taste. Once the chips are brown, crisp and clattering in the pan, drain well on kitchen paper. Delicious with grilled chorizos or just dunked into a pot of spicy tomato sauce for that stereophonic patatas bravas vibe.

To drink: Spanish of course! 3C Premium Selection, Cariñena 2013 (Buyers’ Everyday Reds) is perfection, or try The Cup and Rings Mencia (Buyers’ Premium Reds). If you’re serving these without the fiery tomato dip, but with, say a bit of grilled fish, the brisk piquancy of Crego e Monoaguillo Godello-Treixadura (Buyers’ Premium Whites) will offset the smoked paprika and fat.

Ratte and Smoked Salmon Parcels
This recipe is reproduced with the kind permission of La Ratte du Touquet magazine.

An intriguingly spicy little purse of a starter. If your guests express interest in the recipe, I find it’s best not to spoil their appetite by telling them that they’re eating Ratte. And yes, there is a magazine dedicated to this potato variety.

aumoniere-de-ratte-du-touquet-saumon-et-coriandre

Serves four as a starter
• 500g Ratte potatoes (or similar small new variety)
• 6 slices smoked salmon
• 6 sheets filo pastry
• 20g thumb of fresh ginger root
• a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, washed (save the fragrant stems for stocks and sauce)
• olive oil for frying
• a handful of fresh chives, washed and dried
• salt and pepper

Set the oven at 180C/Gas 4. Peel, rinse and chop the potatoes into 1cm cubes. Peel and grate the ginger. Roll up each of the salmon slices and cut into fine strips. Chop the coriander finely.

Blanch the potatoes for a few minutes in a pan of boiling water. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain and dry on kitchen paper. Plunge your chives into the same boiling water, for just one minute. Refresh them under a cold tap and dry well.

Once the steam has stopped rising from the potatoes, heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the potatoes and let them colour and finish cooking. Season with just a little salt and some black pepper. Mix well with the salmon , ginger and coriander.

Brush the filo sheets with oil, one at a time (keep the rest covered with a damp cloth to stop them drying out. Place one-sixth of the potato mixture in the centre of each sheet and draw the pastry into a purse shape, trimming the tops if necessary. Tie each purse with a couple of the chives.

Once all six are assembled, place them on a baking sheet, brush with a little more oil and bake for 8 minutes or so, until golden and fragrant. Serve without delay.

To drink: there’s salt, smoke, spice and greenery to contend with here, so go for a multi-tasking white like Percheron Chenin Blanc-Viognier, Swartland 2016 (Buyers’ Classic Whites). Three Choirs Stone Brook (Buyers’ Everyday Whites) would also rise to the occasion.

Potato & Goat’s Cheese Soufflés
Inspired by a recipe in SAVEURS magazine

Potatoes make healthy and tasty ballast for soufflés. They don’t produce an ethereal and majestically wobbly result, more a solid and comforting deliciousness.

The original recipe specified just enough flour to dust the ramekins to stop the mixture sticking, but using grated Parmesan instead not only adds an extra layer of flavour but makes the soufflés wheat-free. The specified spud is the yellow-fleshed Bintje, a variety rarely seen commercially here, but our more familiar all-rounders Wilja or Maris Piper will do the job perfectly.

souffle

(Photograph courtesy of Saveurs Magazine)
Serves six as a starter, four as a light lunch
• 650g potatoes
• 4 eggs
• 100ml single cream
• 250g soft goat’s milk cheese, strong or mild as you like
• 25g softened butter
• 2-3 tablespoons very finely grated aged pecorino or Parmesan cheese
• Salt and black pepper
• A pinch of ground nutmeg or Cayenne pepper

You’ll need four ramekins, about 10cm across the top and 5cm deep, or six smaller ones measuring about 7cm across but of the same depth.

Peel the potatoes. Rinse them under the tap, pat dry and chop into small pieces. Put them in a pan of cold salted water, turn on the heat and give them 20 minutes from cold.

Grease the ramekins with the butter and veil with the Parmesan, shaking out the excess. Save that and add to the potato mixture. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Drain the potatoes for at least 10-15 minutes to let the steam die down completely. Pass the potatoes through a ricer or mash by hand to achieve a thick, but not gloopy puree.

Separate the eggs. To the yolks, add the cream and the cheese and fold into the mashed potato, using a spatula to obtain a smooth puree. Add the black pepper and nutmeg or Cayenne.

Now add a pinch of salt to the egg-whites and beat to a firm peak. Fold them quickly into the potato mixture to retain as much air as possible.

Place the prepared ramekins on a baking sheet and fill almost to the brim with the mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes, resisting any temptation to open the oven door. If your oven doesn’t have a glass porthole, be guided by the smell.

While the soufflés are cooking, prepare a little salad of interesting greens, dressed with a dash each of hazelnut oil and lemon juice to serve on the side. Remove the soufflés from the oven and serve without delay.

To drink: it may be a bit of a cliché but was there ever such a love affair as the one between goat’s milk cheese and sauvignon blanc? Step forward Touraine Chenonceaux, Domaine de la Renaudie 2014 (French Classic Whites), but if you fancy a red with this, a ripe cabernet franc – Chinon, Domaine de la Semellerie (Buyers’ Premium Reds) – is your man.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
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