Grapevine Archive for Food

Wed 04 Jan 2017

Food Without Fuss: In Praise Of The Potato

Posted by: | Comments (2)

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
Comments (2)
Fri 02 Sep 2016

Food Without Fuss: Rice and Easy

Posted by: | Comments (1)

This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the autumn selections of The Society’s 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?

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

Rice and easy

Risotto is stirring, in every sense of the word. And, at my advancing age, there are times when I have to be shaken first, to confront the hob-watching, ladling and wooden-spooning vital to the creamy, nutty, silky-smooth perfection one hopes to achieve. Once you get going of course, helpful adrenalin kicks in. The difficulty is the getting-going.

The other short-grain classic, paella is no pushover either. It’s not about stirring, but catching’, that is to say catching the rice before it catches on the bottom of the pan. Being a bad workman of the worst order, I blame my tools, from the authentically shallow pan to a ferocious hob that doesn’t do ‘gentle’. I have spent many a weary midnight hour scraping burnt residues off both of these and it’s enough to make you leave the remaining half of your hessian sackful of prime calasparra gathering dust at the back of the cupboard. Next to the half-full box of arborio, once hot, and now not, from the Po Valley carb belt.

As far as I know, the first influential mainstream cooker writer to ‘fess up to risotto fatigue in print was – how could it not be? – the eminently practical and consumer-friendly Delia Smith. Rather than pitching a glossy world of elegant worktops, unlimited brio and hand-picked guests who park bums on seats the minute dinner is ready and enthuse obligingly into Camera Four, Delia felt that if you could bake a rice pudding, why on earth could you not apply the same principle to a risotto, and put your feet up while it cooked? Her Oven-Baked Wild Mushroom Risotto, lubricated with Madeira, is one of the stars of her Winter Collection (BBC Books 1995).

This was by no means the first of Delia’s tips on how not to get in a paddy. Her Summer Collection (BBC Books 1993) came up trumps with Pesto Rice Salad, a delicious and effortless buffet bowlful wherein good risotto rice is boiled in a light vegetable stock for 20 minutes and tossed with pesto sauce. Both these recipes can be found on deliaonline.com.

Janet Wynne EvansJanet Wynne Evans

What Delia did for risotto fatigue, Bob Andrew, chef at Riverford Organic Farmers has done for paella. Many members will already be familiar with Riverford’s thoughtful meat and vegetable box schemes and the innovative recipes that often accompany them.

His Seville Duck is a glorious baked rice dish with an authentic Andalucian vibe, made salty by olives, smoky by chorizo and sweet by the surprise addition of a soupcon of Seville orange marmalade. I’m on record, and a cracked one at that, as recoiling in horror at the vinicidal potential of duck à l’orange, but this works and it’s pretty fabulous even without the duck: swap the chorizo for a good pinch of smoked paprika, it’s a vegetarian feast. Once the ingredients are combined, it goes into the oven for 40 minutes while you have a well-earned 40 winks, or at least a relaxing copita of chilled manzanilla.

It’s neither risotto nor paella but the combination of soft grains and really bold flavours is irresistible. As is the fact that there is no catch, and you won’t go stir-crazy making it.

Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor

BOB ANDREW’S SEVILLE DUCK
Recipe by Bob Andrew, chef at Riverford Organic Farmers

Serves two
• 2 duck legs
• salt and black pepper
• 2 tbsp light olive oil
• 1 large onion, finely diced
• 1 celery stalk, finely diced
• 1 cooking chorizo, 100g approx
• 3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
• 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
• 1 sprig thyme, leaves only
• a pinch of saffron
• 1 bay leaf
• a pinch of cayenne pepper
• 150g calasparra rice
• 125ml fino sherry
• 2 tbsp marmalade
• 30g black olives
• 500ml hot chicken or duck stock
• a handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

• Lightly score the fat on the duck legs. Season with salt and pepper. Put a casserole pan on a medium heat and warm the olive oil. Fry the duck until golden brown on both sides, remove and keep to one side.

• Add the onions and celery to the pan and fry in the duck fat over a gentle heat for ten minutes until soft. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

• Skin the chorizo and break into 1cm chunks. Fry in the pan for 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, thyme saffron, bay and cayenne. Cook for a further 2 minutes before adding the rice. Turn everything gently to mix. Add the sherry and cook until mostly absorbed.

• Gently stir in the marmalade and olives, Pour in the hot stock and bring to a simmer. Tuck the duck into the rice, skin side up. Pop the lid on and bake in the oven until the rice and duck are tender – about 40 minutes. Check the seasoning and garnish with the parsley.

Wine matches
This is a dish of many possibilities, easily adapted to suit just about any bottle that tickles your fancy in the autumn ‘Fuss’ collection.

Served as it is, it’s perfect with Zorzal Garnacha (£6.50) in the Buyers’ Everyday Reds or our other hispanic hero Koyle Carmenère (£7.95) in Premium Reds. It also works with the resolutely foodie Navajas Blanco Crianca (£7.50) in the Premium Whites selection.

But then again, it could come over all Italian, with pancetta, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, topped with grilled bream fillets (Pieralisi’s £7.95 Verdicchio in Premium Whites), seasonally mushroomy like Delia’s (De Morgenzon Chardonnay, £8.95, in Buyers’ Everyday Whites) or even a bit exotic with coconut milk, lemongrass and coriander (The Winery of Good Hope Chardonnay, £6.75, Buyers’ Everyday Whites).

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
Comments (1)

These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the summer selections of The Society’s 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?

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

Janet Wynne EvansJanet Wynne Evans

Whether it’s holidays, food or wine, finding something that works and resolutely sticking is a natural and understandable policy. Why go trawling the unknown, looking for potentially unpleasant surprises?

A Wine Without Fuss subscription holds no such dangers, of course. This is a corner of the unknown that comes not only with our buying team’s well-documented reputation for unearthing buried treasure, but also with The Society’s guarantee of satisfaction lest any of our selections fail to strike gold.

In fact, it’s about as risk free as any adventure can be, and a new gem could be waiting. Even after over three decades in the wine trade, more than two of them at The Wine Society and at least one on the Wine Without Fuss team, I always find something thought-provoking to inspire me with ideas for the Wine and Dine notes that accompany each case.

Food needn’t fall into a fearful rut either, especially a so-called ‘classic’ dish that, frankly, isn’t. A case in point is lasagne, literally pasta sheets that could be interleaved with anything. However, the word has become synonymous with just one version, properly called lasagne al ragù and stratified with meat and tomato sauce.

The best of these, made luxurious by prime ingredients and long, slow cooking, are delicious and comforting. I won’t dwell on how easy or tempting it is for cynical ready-meal purveyors to gravitate to the lowest common denominators, with worst mince, ketchup and mousetrap. Or, more recently, lest we forget – and we really shouldn’t – secret horse.

The very best lasagne I’ve ever tasted, however, had not a scrap of meat in sight. It came from a smiling Italian stallholder at my farmers’ market and had been lovingly stuffed, in someone’s kitchen, not a factory, with walnuts, spinach and Gorgonzola cheese, spiked with nutmeg. Inexplicably, I’ve never seen it since and enquiries yield no more than a rueful shake of the head. Perhaps it was a leap too far.

So I make it at home, though I still haven’t quite captured it. Perhaps you have to be Italian, just as Yorkshire-born cooks seem to have unique sensors in their fingertips that register when the batter for God’s Own Pudding has reached the perfect consistency and can be poured into sizzling fat.

Lasagne

Nevertheless, this is a good and flexible feast with untold variations, not to mention fridge clearance potential. One of the tastiest came from the last knockings of a somewhat eclectic spending spree in Caseus, Montreuil’s leading fromagerie, and a past-its-best bag of spinach, rocket and watercress salad. I do, however, draw the line at stale nuts, one form of poor stock rotation for which there is only one destination – the food waste bin.

The recipe below is infinitely adaptable with the summer selections.

Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor

LASAGNE WITH SPINACH, WALNUTS AND GORGONZOLA
Serves four heartily, or six daintily.

• 550ml full-fat milk
• 2 heaped tablespoon plain flour
• 60g butter, plus a small extra knob to cook the spinach
• A couple of dried bay leaves, or use three fresh ones, torn
• A small onion or banana shallot, peeled and halved
• Two whole cloves
• Half a nutmeg
• 250g ready-washed baby spinach leaves
• 8 – 10 sheets (about 120g) dried lasagne, softened (see cook’s nips below)
• 250g mild, creamy blue cheese, eg dolcelatte or gorgonzola dolce (not
piccante), cut into small cubes
• 60g aged parmesan or pecorino cheese, freshly grated
• 75g shelled walnuts, roughly chopped

Cook’s Nips
• I don’t trust so-called ‘no-cook’ dried pasta sheets so I simmer them for about 5 minutes on the hob in a deep roasting tin, with a good pinch of salt and a dash of oil. I then top up with cold water and leave the sheets submerged until ready to layer. They will stick and tear a bit but are easier to trim and at least I know they’ll be properly cooked.
• Though a mucky bunch of what I call ‘free-range’ spinach is worth fumigating and destemming for its vastly superior taste, this recipe is definitely one for a bag of ready-washed baby leaves. They are more tender, need no trimming, wilt very quickly and need no squeezing dry or chopping.
Allow yourself plenty of time to infuse the milk. It really does make all the difference to the resulting taste and full-fat makes for a much better texture than semi-skimmed. Skimmed is a very bad idea.
• Self-styled lasagne dishes come in different shapes and sizes, so consider volume rather than dimensions. This recipe works for a capacity of about 1.5l. For 4 layers of lasagne and four neat portions, I use a pie dish measuring roughly 20cm x 20cm x 7cm.

Lasagne preparation

First infuse the milk. Set a pan on the stove and pour in the milk. Add the bay leaves. Impale each onion half with a clove and add those too. Grate in a generous amount of nutmeg. Bring the milk to boiling point, then remove it from the heat. Cover and leave for at least one hour. Strain into a jug before adding it to your béchamel.

Next, prepare your spinach, which you can also do well in advance. Put the leaves straight from their bag into a large saucepan with a very small knob of butter. Do not add water. Season well with pepper and more grated nutmeg if you like. Let it collapse on a gentle heat, standing over it and turning it about to stop it sticking. Remove it from the heat, transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Place your chosen dish in a roasting tin or oven tray to contain spillages.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan (a broader base speeds things up). Once it’s melted dip in a pastry brush and grease your dish. Next, add the flour, stir briskly with a wooden spoon to integrate it and cook for a couple of minutes, to get rid of its raw tang, stirring all the while. When the mixture resembles honeycomb, reduce the heat a little and start adding the infused milk. Keep stirring. As it begins to thicken, add more, redoubling your efforts with the spoon to disperse any lumps. Once all the milk is incorporated, reduce the heat again to very low and let the sauce finish thickening, stirring from time to time. It should be really thick and creamy.

Next, add a tablespoonful each of the blue cheese and the Parmesan and stir in the spinach. Taste now, and add a little salt, along with more pepper and nutmeg if you like.

Cover the base of the dish with a lick of the sauce and cover that snugly with a single layer of lasagne, trimming them to fit your dish. Set aside enough of the sauce to cover the final layer of pasta, along with a tablespoon of the Parmesan which will add crunch to the topping. Cover the pasta in the dish with some of the remaining cheeses, a scattering of the walnuts and some more of the sauce, then another layer of lasagne. Continue in this vein, finishing with a layer of pasta. Top that with the reserved sauce and sprinkle with the last of the Parmesan. You can now set the dish aside if you wish, for several hours or even overnight in the fridge.

Bake on the middle shelf of a preheated oven at 180C/Gas 4 for 35 minutes until burnished and just firm.

Serve warm with a sharp green salad.

Wine wisdom
What makes this wine-friendly is the mildness of the cheese. A strong one will murder the dish but if you avoid Stilton, Roquefort and the pillaging Danes, any number of reds and whites will do the job as long as they have the acidity to match that of the cheese, and to balance its richness. A brisk, northern Italian red would be good: Dogliani Clavesana 2015 (£7.50, Buyers’ Everyday Reds), with its sweet dolcetto fruit is well-nigh perfect.

A tangy goat’s milk cheese instead of the blue, with hazelnuts instead of walnuts are a nice combination too. Try that with a sauvignon blanc or similarly aromatic white: Three Terraces Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Buyers’ Premium Selection – or find the 2015 vintage here for £8.95) is a good option as is the vermentino from Chartreuse de Mougères (£6.25, Buyers’ Everyday Whites).

Add a layer or two of roasted red peppers and sundried tomatoes to your lasagne, with toasted pine nuts and basil instead of walnuts and spinach, and you’ll have the elements of a mondo bizarro sauce – a kind of zingy red pesto. For this, use a young pecorino or grated mozzarella rather than blue cheese. Treat it to a tomato-friendly grape like Puglia’s nero di Troia (Tufarello in the Buyer’s Premium Selection) or Australia’s expression of the Mediterranean triumvirate, Blind Spot Grenache-Shiraz-Mataro 2014 (£7.75, Buyers’ Everyday Reds).

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
Comments (2)
Wed 27 Apr 2016

Food Without Fuss: A Languedoc Hotpot

Posted by: | Comments (2)

These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the spring selections of The Society’s 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?

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

This recipe was inspired by poor stock control, although, in fairness, that doesn’t happen often. My very first wine-trade job involved reconciling book balances with bottles, some of which would be missing while others had reproduced, surreptitiously and parthenogenetically. That annoyed me immeasurably and I’m usually pretty attuned to the contents of my own cupboards.

Janet Wynne EvansJanet Wynne Evans
My downfall is a siege mentality. Unable to procure an ingredient for a recipe I’m impatient to try, and immeasurably annoyed by that too, I tend to lay in vast stocks of it when I do manage to run it to ground.

In this case, the item is rouille, that lovely orange garlic and saffron goo you stir into proper Provençal fish soup. It’s not on most supermarket shelves, so when we offered a Wine Society Christmas gift pack containing a jar both of fish soup and rouille, I snapped up a canny few and stashed them away. I got through most of them, but two escaped my notice. By now, the soup was well out of date, with an irretrievably manky aroma that consigned it to the bin. The rouille, at least, was still a goer, but due for consumption by the end of the month.

Mulling over alternative uses s for my orange treasures, I came up with a sort of mediterranean fish pie, with a splash of pastis instead of vermouth and the usual dollop of cream replaced by the rouille. Buttery pastry or mash on top felt out of kilter in olive oil country, so the pie became a hotpot, topped with thinly sliced potatoes dipped in herby oil, and cooked to brown crispness.

Sort of Morecambe-sur-Med.

This is a recipe that makes satisfying use of everything, from parsley stalks to prawn shells. It’s also versatile.

The fish content should include strong flavours – monkfish, bream, mullet – to stand up to the sauce, but the choice is then yours. In fact the world is, quite literally your oyster, for which the Bassin de Thau near Sète is famous, just as it is for mussels. Use these by all means instead of prawns, just don’t serve the blighters to me. Do make sure, in the case of mussels, that you take the important precaution of steaming them first, just until they open , so that you can discard any wrong ‘uns that don’t. Or buy the labour-saving frozen and already shelled variety and defrost them thoroughly.

The obvious partner for this deeply fishy, garlic and herb-infused feast, with its glints of orange and whisper of aniseed, is a rich Languedoc or Rhône white with just a bit of bite. Marsanne, roussanne, grenache blanc, viognier and rolle (vermentino) are good options, and if there is some fresh but firm picpoul in the mix, so much the better.

A spicy shiraz or Portugese red would not come amiss either.

Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor

LANGUEDOC HOTPOT
Serves four

• 800g fish off the bone, skinned and trimmed – a mixture of monkfish, bream, hake and red mullet
• A dozen large prawns, shelled and deveined
• Plain olive oil
• 1 banana shallot, finely diced
• Six anchovies from a jar or tin, rinsed and dried
• Six sun-dried tomatoes in oil, blotted on kitchen paper
• A generous splash of pastis, eg Pernod
• 300ml fish or shellfish stock (see below)
• 2 dried bay leaves
• 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, thyme and dill, leaves only, chopped
• 2 tubs rouille, about 180g altogether
• Some thyme sprigs, leaves removed
• Two large baking potatoes

NB Owing to the difference in surface area between baking dishes of the same volume, I err on the side of caution here and prepare far more spuds than I think I need. I can promise that there will be no leftovers.

If you buy your prawns whole, the heads and shells make good stock. Rinse them well, crush roughly and add to some diced celery, carrot, garlic and onion, browned in olive oil in a smallish, deep saucepan. Add a glass of white wine, the stalks from your parsley, above, a few white peppercorns and a couple of fresh bay leaves and let it all bubble for a few minutes. Cover with 500ml water and simmer for 30 minutes or so. Strain through a sieve lined with kitchen paper. Taste and if you want a stronger flavour return to the hob and reduce, but remember that it will be boiled down and further concentrated in this recipe. On no account bother trying this with mussel shells.

Ask your fishmonger nicely to prepare all your fish for you. All skin, bones, membranes and mucky bits will thus end up in his bin, which is already a lost cause.

Cut the fish into generous chunks and arrange in a baking dish. Wash the deveined prawns in salted water and dry thoroughly. Add them to the fish. Cover and refrigerate.

Peel the potatoes and cut into slices. A mandoline on its normally thickest setting (one up from gratins, two up from crisps) is perfect. Manually, aim for between the thickness of a 10p piece and a £1 coin. As you slice them transfer them to a pan of water and leave to soak for about 20 minutes to remove excess starch. Then rinse thoroughly, shake dry in a colander and finally wrap in a clean tea-towel. Leave for as long as you can.

In a saucepan that will hold the stock, heat some olive oil and when it’s hot, add the shallot. Lower the heat and let it become translucent. Using a pair of kitchen scissors, snip in the anchovies, along with the sun-dried tomatoes. The pieces should be quite small, so that they will melt into the sauce.

Now add the pastis and let it bubble and sizzle, stirring to deglaze the pan. Finally add the stock and herbs, and let it boil down to about half its volume. Take the pan off the heat and let it cool thoroughly. Fish out the bay leaves. Season with black pepper – the anchovies should contribute enough salt.

Once it’s cool, stir in the rouille and once it’s incorporated, add to the fish and coat it all well. You can now cover and refrigerate the dish until ready to cook, but remove it an hour before cooking starts to bring it to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Unwrap the potatoes and put in a large bowl with enough olive oil to coat. Strip the leaves of the remaining thyme sprigs and add, along with salt and pepper. Use your hands to ensure every slice is glistening with oil and flecked with herbs and black pepper. Arrange them in one layer on one or two baking sheets. I like to give them a start before adding them to the fish to make sure they cook thoroughly.

Cover loosely with foil, put them in the oven and set a timer for 10 minutes. This should be enough for them to soften without browning, but if not, give them just a few minutes more.

Let them cool just enough to handle, then lay them on top of the fish in overlapping slices, making sure the top of the dish is completely covered. Leave any remaining slices on the baking sheet and return to the oven, along with the fish, but on a lower shelf and without the foil.

Set the timer for 35 minutes, or until the fish is bubbling and the potatoes are browned.

When the hotpot is done, you may find that the potato topping has shrunk a little, leaving the odd gap. This is what your spares are for, so tuck them in as needed before serving.

Serve the hotpot with a simple green vegetable like tenderstem broccoli and hand round any remaining potatoes unless you have shamelessly nibbled them in the kitchen. And why would you not? They are a cook’s perk of the highest order.

Wine matches
Fine matches for this fishy feast include Undurraga Cauquenes Estate Maule Viognier Roussanne-Marsanne 2015 (Buyers’ Everyday Selection, available for sale at £6.95 per bottle), Domaine Magellan Blanc, Hérault 2015 (Buyers’ Premium Selection) or Collioure Blanc Tremadoc, Domaine Madeloc 2015 (Buyers’ French Classics).

Red wine aficionados need not panic – the rich, tomato and herb flavours here are lovely with spicy Med Reds: Australia Felix Swan Hill Victoria Shiraz-Sagrantino 2014 (£7.95, Buyers’ Everyday Selection) will do it as will the pescivore’s friend, Mouchão Dom Rafael, Alentejo 2012 (Buyers’ Premium Reds). Vacqueyras Domaine des Genêts, Delas 2013 (Buyers’ French Classics) is a real treat.

Comments (2)
Fri 04 Mar 2016

Food Without Fuss: Lamb For All Seasons

Posted by: | Comments (3)

These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the Easter selections of The Society’s 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?

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

Janet Wynne EvansJanet Wynne Evans
What’s to be done about a non-fixed festival at a meteorologically capricious time of year? Among the annual dilemmas between thermals and shirtsleeves, fireside and alfresco, slow-cooker and barbecue, the only constants, at Easter, apart from spiritual ones, are chocolate and good wine.

But what wine? The viscous reds evoked by the fireside option instantly become unsuitable in bright sunshine, just as the fuller whites suddenly need to be crisp and verdant.

Here’s where a Wine Without Fuss subscription proves its worth. Our buyers’ selections are not, primarily, seasonally led – the aim, as ever, is to provide a mix of styles and a balance between the comfortingly familiar and the thought-provoking. A useful side-effect is that every case, be it Everyday, Premium or French Classic, should manage the meteorology.

Inspired by that, and this Paschal selection, I’m thinking semi-seasonal. Plenty of fresh ingredients are shining at the moment, to be sure, but a blast of hail, late cold snap or gales fit to wipe the welcoming smile off the face of your friendly fishmonger can easily derail the best of schemes. This is a good time for the butcher and the greengrocer, along with a few store-cupboard and freezer standbys.

Neck fillet of lambNeck fillet of lamb
A star ingredient for my money, and not much is needed to buy it, is neck fillet of lamb. A compatriot and fellow-member recently asked me to recommend a wine for cawl, our Welsh take on Irish stew. We made do with the scrag end of the neck in Carmarthenshire, so I was intrigued to learn that they enjoyed the best end next door in Ceredigion, despite that county’s well-documented reputation for thrift. In either case, cawl is classically a thin but flavoursome broth, packed with very tender, sweet meat on the bone, leeks and root vegetables, showered with fresh parsley and best consumed with a chunk of bread and a wedge of cheese. Whether it’s my chapel upbringing or the soupy consistency (too wet!), It is one of the few things that don’t make me crave a glass of wine.

However, it did remind me what a very versatile cut the neck can be. It has just enough marbling of fat to make up for the removal of the bone. It will sizzle merrily on the hob or turns to unctuous tenderness in the oven. Most of all, it actually tastes of something, even before the endless pimping we feel obliged to indulge in these days. It’s available in useful packs of two, ready trimmed, and freezer-friendly. I like to know they are on standby, like the jars of roasted vegetables in the cupboard.

Here are two Easter ways with the same ingredients which may be assembled in advance and deployed nearer the time. A char-grill pan and a roasting pan or casserole with a lid will equip you for whatever the weather has in store, even up to the night before the occasion. If things are too changeable even for that, just shorten any marinating time. Good ingredients will never let you down and there is a great deal of scope between what’s ideal and what’s not worth doing.

What could be more fuss-free than that? Well, the wine of course – as any subscribing members will, we trust, confirm!

Wine recommendations

Both recipes involve a fair bit of spice, but neither is wine-threateningly fiery. In this Easter Fuss selection, I’m drawn to bold reds made from Mediterranean grapes in the Cape and South America. Gutsy Rhônes will work while restrained ones may not.

Spain is a happy hunting ground, Finca Antigua Tempranillo 2012 giving a blast of authenticity (Buyers’ Everyday Reds). Also primed for the job in this selection is De Martino 347 Vineyards Carmenère 2014 and the same producer’s ramped-up Legado Maipo Carmenère 2013 in Buyers’ Premium Reds works a treat too.

Another Premium red, A Fistful of Schist Shiraz-Cinsault-Mourvèdre 2013 (£6.50) is a champion heat-absorber and of the Buyer’s French Classics, I’d opt for the all-enveloping brambly charm of Corbières Champs des Murailles, Château Ollieux Romanis 2012 and save the understated syrah-driven Rhône-villages, Saint-Maurice 2012 (the 2013 is currently available to non-subscribers for £9.95) for a quieter recipe.

THE SHOPPING LIST (for four, with seconds)
• 900g lamb neck fillets, trimmed
• 3 medium-sized red onions
• A large bag of salad-quality spinach leaves
• A couple of vines of baby plum or cherry tomatoes
• A juicy lemon
• garlic
• 2 bayleaves
• A small bunch each of fresh rosemary and coriander
• 2 or 3 large baking potatoes, ready-washed to save time or thoroughly scrubbed.
• 450g (undrained weight) grilled red and yellow peppers in oil (6 whole peppers)
• 200g (undrained weight) grilled aubergines or courgettes
• Regular olive oil (or reserve the oil from the vegetable jars)
• Extra-virgin olive oil for dressing
• A small pot of stoned black olives
• 2-3 heaped teaspoons of roasted spice rub (see below)
• A pinch of smoked paprika, sweet or hot, to taste

WORK IN HAND
Let it be said that I’ve made both these dishes on impulse, including the spice rub and the vegetable timbales, and it didn’t kill me or them. But a bit of advance prep is always better for flavour, not to mention sociability on the day.

The spice rub can be made up to a month ahead. Many, if not all of the ingredients may well be sitting in your spice rack or kitchen cupboard, but if in any doubt about their age/freshness, replenish them.

The vegetable timbales (see below) will be all the firmer and less unwieldy for a night in the fridge, under their weights. They will be easier to turn out and likelier to stay put once they are on the plate.

PreparationIf you can start the lamb the night before, it will have the benefit of a leisurely bath in its aromatic marinade. Pat the fillets dry. Season with a little salt and black pepper and rub well with the roast spice mix and the smoked paprika before placing them in a large glass or ceramic bowl Add a clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced. Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze the juice from one half over the lamb. Put the spent shell into the marinade too. Add two tablespoons of oil from the roast pepper jar. Finally, select a few sprigs of rosemary and a generous handful of coriander, wash, dry and chop the leaves finely. Add half of these to the marinade, combine well (hands are best), cover and leave to infuse in a cool place, ideally overnight. Turn the meat once or twice if you can. Remember to give it an hour to regain room temperature before cooking.

It takes the potatoes a while to dry thoroughly after being rinsed, so if you can, prepare them a couple of hours in advance. Wash them thoroughly, unless they are already washed. There is no need to peel them. Slice them to about the thickness of a £1 coin, and put them into a colander. A mandoline is a useful gadget for that. Rinse well under cold running water to remove excess starch and maximise crispness. Shake dry and wrap in a clean tea-towel. Leave until all moisture has been absorbed.

RECIPE ONE: SPICED GRILLED LAMB WITH MEDITERRANEAN VEGETABLE TIMBALES

This is a welding of three favourite recipes I’ve shared with members over the years. Credit to Alastair Little (Keep it Simple by Alastair Little and Richard Whittington, Conran Octopus, 1993) for the basic lamb idea, Skye Gingell for the roast spice mix used in both recipes and our own Wine Society cook Etta Ware for the timbale inspiration. That they work beautifully together is something for which I’d like to take credit, if you don’t mind.

Marinate the lamb and potatoes as described above in Work In Hand. Make the timbales according to the recipe below.

Potatoes

When you’re ready to roll, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Shake the potatoes from their towel into a large bowl. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil, a clove of garlic, crushed, and the reserved herbs. With your hands, make sure every slice is coated. Arrange the slices in slightly overlapping layers on a large sheet pan. Slip them into the oven and give them about 25-30 minutes. They may well be done before the lamb, so once they are ready, switch off the oven, prise them loose with a spatula as above, and keep warm in the residual oven heat.

Meanwhile, bring a large char-grilled pan or two smaller ones to a brisk heat on the hob. Using tongs, lift the whole fillets out of their marinade and shake off the excess oil. Place carefully in the pan, along with the spent lemon half from the marinade, and sear on all sides before lowering the heat to medium and cooking for 15-20 minutes, turning frequently. This gives a tender pink result, which is as should be. If you prefer your lamb less rare, finish them in the oven as the potatoes complete their cooking, rather than scorching them at this high and fiery contact temperature.

When the fillets are attractively striped, use your tongs to squeeze the last knockings of the charred half-lemon over them – not compulsory, but adds a bit of zing – and let them sizzle briefly before removing from the heat. Wrap them in foil and rest for at least ten minutes, alongside the potatoes. This will make them easier to carve. At the same time put your plates in the oven to warm.

Put the watercress leaves in a bowl and dress lightly with your best extra-virgin olive-oil and a little juice from the reserved half-lemon from the marinating stage.

Assembly
Remove the timbales from the fridge and take off the weights. Peel the clingfilm away from the surface. The best way to turn them out is to don some oven gloves, put a warmed plate upside-down over a mould and invert the whole arrangement. Before lifting off the mould, move it to one side of the plate to make room for the potatoes and lamb. Once it’s in position, carefully remove the clingfilm. Repeat three times.

The finished articleThe finished article

Slice the lamb into thick noisettes. Put a circle of overlapping potato slices on each the plate and top each with three or four noisettes. Spoon over a decorous amount of the juice that will have been released during the resting. Finish with a sprig of rosemary.

Garnish with a neat pile of dressed watercress leaves and serve.

RECIPE TWO: MEDITERRANEAN BAKED LAMB
A warmer approach that works very well with chops too. Allow two loin or chump chops, or one Barnsley chop per person. In this recipe the Mediterranean vegetables go in with the meat, adding sweetness to the spice while the spinach is added the last minute to wilt in the steam.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. You’ll need two shelves, one in the upper middle and a lower one with enough space to take the roasting pan.

Rub and marinate the lamb fillets and prepare the potatoes as directed above, to the drying stage.

Remove the fillets from the marinade and cut each in half. Arrange them in a shallow but roomy roasting tray that can take everything – onions, peppers, and tomatoes – in one layer. One that comes with a lid is handy but a couple of layers of aluminium foil will do.

Wash and dry 4-6 sprigs each of the rosemary and coriander. Strip the leaves and chop finely. Drain the peppers and aubergines, reserving the oil. Peel and wedge two onions through the root in quarters that will hold their shape and brush them well with the reserved oil before adding them to the roasting tin, jigsaw fashion between and around the lamb pieces. Add the peppers and aubergines, torn into wide strips and tuck them in with the bay leaves. Plug gaps with 8-12 tomatoes (leave them whole) and a few black olives. Scatter half the chopped herbs on top, season with a little black pepper.

Ready for the ovenReady for the oven

Cover tightly and put in the oven on the upper shelf. Set your timer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, unwrap the potatoes and prepare exactly as above.

When the lamb has had its 30 minutes, remove the foil and check progress. It should be almost cooked but may be slightly pallid, so turn the pieces over and distribute the cooking juices among the vegetables to keep them moist. Return to the oven uncovered, on the lower shelf this time. Put the potatoes on the higher one. They should take about 25-30 minutes, but keep an eagle eye on them and the lamb.

When it looks elegantly bronzed, transfer the casserole dish from the oven to the hob on a gentle heat. Throw in the spinach and leave to wilt gently while the potatoes finish cooking. If little too much liquid remains, let it boil away, but not dry.

When the potatoes are golden and crisp, prise them loose with a spatula and arrange in an overlapping circle on each of four warmed dinner-plates. Top with a mixture of the pleasantly collapsed and wilted vegetables and finish with the lamb.

The finished articleThe finished article

For the roast spice mix
From A Year in My Kitchen by Skye Gingell (Quadrille, 2006)
I’ve rarely found a more intriguing ‘garam masala’ than this one. It makes a good quantity, which will keep well for a month or so, after which it loses its mojo slightly. I store mine in the fridge for an easy, instant and exquisitely spicy lift. It works best, says the author, in combination with heat, sweetness, sourness and saltiness, provided in these recipes by smoked paprika, lemon juice and olives.

Make sure your whole spices are fresh and use a pestle and mortar for best results. To save time, try a spare coffee-grinder – not the one you use for your coffee beans, obviously, unless you want a rude awakening with your morning brew!

• 1-2 cinnamon sticks, snapped in half
• 50g coriander seeds
• 50g cumin seeds
• 50g fennel seeds
• 50g mustard seeds
• 50g fenugreek seeds
• 5 cardamom pods
• 2-3 star anise or cloves (I use both)

Place a dry, heavy-based frying pan (preferably non-stick) over a low heat. Once a clear smoke begins to rise from your pan, add all the spices and cook, stirring frequently, to toast them. Be careful not to burn them. Once the seeds begin to pop, they are ready. Remove from the heat and grind to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

For the vegetable timbales

Timbale

We often serve these versatile little treasures as starters, interleaved with slices of avocado and mozzarella cheese. They always go down well in summer with a good rosé or a fruity, southern French white, but I think they also do a sterling job a vegetable side dish. The most cost-effective approach is to do your own veg roasting, but the bottled variety give a stunning result and save time. Peppers form the basis of the dish here, but any combination of other Mediterranean vegetables of your choosing will work beautifully, as summer herbs like basil.

Drain the peppers and aubergines well, reserving the pepper oil for marinating the lamb, brushing onions and all kinds of other uses. Trim them into short, wide strips that can be easily layered in a small space. Cut 8-10 of the baby tomatoes into 4-5 slices. Line four dariole moulds or small ramekins with clingfilm, letting the excess hang over the sides.

This is a no-cook layering job, done upside-down. The bottom layer will end up on top and needs to be photogenic. Begin with a coriander leaf, and place it vein side down in the base of the mould. Cut the olives in half and arrange three halves around it, again curved side down. This will be the first thing on display when the moulds are turned out. so make sure it looks the part.

Now start layering the peppers, aubergines and tomatoes in the mould, seasoning with a little pepper (there wil be enough salt in the bottled veggies) and finely chopped coriander as you go. When the moulds are reasonably full, draw over the excess clingfilm to cover the top. Place on a roasting tray and weight each down with an unopened 400g tin, bottle of oil or vinegar or any heavy object with a base that fits he the mould. Refrigerate overnight, if possible to firm up.

Turn out as advised above.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
Comments (3)
Thu 08 Oct 2015

Of Poetry and Wine

Posted by: | Comments (1)

Last Christmas we asked members to send in their favourite recipes for using up leftovers from festive meals. One member, Anne Stevenson, sent us a poem instead. As today is National Poetry Day, we thought we’d share it …

 

Life is too short to drink bad poetry or read bad wine.

A Loaf of Bread, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Edmund DulacA Loaf of Bread, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Edmund Dulac

And if by this turnabout of terms you’re puzzled

Please don’t think I’m off my head or sozzled.

Think of the long dependency between

Insatiable poets and the cultured vine –

Of Li Po drowning in the moon’s embrace,

Ecstasy not anguish in his face,

Of psalmist David’s purple stainéd mouth

And Keats’s draught of vintage from the south,

Of Omar’s jug of wine beneath the bough –

Forget the loaf, but hang on to the ‘thou’,

Lord Byron, lifting high his Samian bowl

To women and wine, then paying with his soul.

O poets! Neglect to your cost this golden rule:

Without a wine of the mind most poems are plonk;

Without its poetry, wine just makes you drunk.

Marry the two and merrily go to it,

But don’t go o’er the top and overdo it.

For if you do, and rue it, Christmas Cheer

Could be a memorable Lament by the New Year.

 

Anne Stevenson, Wine Society member

 

 

 

 

Categories : Miscellaneous
Comments (1)

This is about a three-day trip to the Rhône Valley in June when I acted as guide to a small party of members. These lucky (or not so lucky!) few had earned their place on the tour having signed up new members to The Society earlier in the year.

For me, this was the second of such trips, the first having been to Champagne, and fun, that certainly was: lunch at Alfred Gratien when Olivier Dupré, sleeves rolled up preparing freshly caught lobsters with a sharp blade came near to doing himself a mischief, is still talked about today!

Arriving in the Rhône by EurostarArriving in the Rhône by Eurostar

The Rhône trip had to be just as special as indeed it was. Happily, we were spared any sharp blade incidents, but there was a hair-raising safari by Land Rover in the Dentelles de Montmirail – more of that epic adventure later!

Planning the trip – spoilt for choice
Devising a trip to the Rhône Valley should not be a challenge for The Wine Society. It is a region we know well with certain supplier relationships that go back a very long time indeed. Yet our wealth in this very large region, number two for AOC red wine after Bordeaux, made choices all the more difficult.

The Rhône is strong on landscape and geology, so what better way to explore it than to visit places with a good view, interesting terroir and of course, good wine!

These days, of course, a trip to the Rhône can start at St Pancras International. And that is what we did, travelling in comfort and without needing to change, all the way to the Rhône.

When it comes to wine, it’s people as well as place that matter

Nicolas JabouletNicolas Jaboulet

Wine is about terroir but it’s also about people and people tend to come and go. Nicolas Jaboulet, scion to a great family name, might have expected a role in what used to be the family firm. But that was not to be and instead he started up afresh in partnership with another great family: Perrin of Beaucastel. Our first tasting was of his wines, including The Society’s Exhibition Crozes-Hermitage which we do in partnership).

Then came Ampuis, or Ampodium to use its Latin name. This is a small town built between the river and its world-famous vineyard called Côte-Rôtie. Time did not allow for an exploration of the roasted slope itself. That was a shame: it would have been such fun to have ridden on Gilles Barge’s monorail up the steep incline of his vineyard called Combard. Maybe next time.

Instead we had our meeting underground at Guigal, met by Philippe Guigal himself in his extraordinary cellars with its row upon row of barrels and a bottling and packaging hall seemingly operated by a platoon of well-disciplined robots (my colleague, Nicky Glennon wrote about this in her Romans and Robots blog post).

Guigal's trusty robots on the packing lineGuigal’s trusty robots on the packing line

Etienne Guigal, Philippe’s grandfather also started from nothing, leaving his old employer, creating a wonderful name and leaving his son Marcel to carry on, eventually even buying up his old employer! There were more acquisitions with vineyards in Saint-Joseph and Hermitage.

Guigal deity with a bunch of syrah... or is it viognier?Guigal deity with a bunch of syrah… or is it viognier?

Hermitage…lessons in history and geography
Hermitage is one of the great wines. It has as fine a view as any, great geology and of course a fine chapel. And what could be better than to spend a little time with Paul Jaboulet Ainé who, of course, own the chapel which gave its name to one of the greatest wines of the world, Hermitage La Chapelle.

Hermitage is probably the most famous vineyard in the northern Rhône. Though not the oldest, as winemaking further north in Ampuis goes back longer; indeed amphorae and other artefacts are on display at Guigal and most growers feel the need to have something from those days on show as badge of honour, maybe.

The northern Rhône cuts a furrow through two land masses. The eastern side, largely made up of limestone, eventually rises to form the Alps, while the western side, much older, forms the edge of the Massif Central and is dominated by granite. The river flows fast in between. Over the millennia the Rhône has changed its course several times and much of the limestone was a sea bed anyway, eroded and then lifted up as the Alps were formed.

Rock of ages…and wine
The river was a barrier separating two worlds and even today, despite bridges, those two identities persist. Most of the appellations sit on one side or the other. Cornas and Saint-Joseph are both largely on granite. Crozes-Hermitage, for the most part, is planted on an ancient river bed and the land is strewn with stones and pebbles washed down from the mountains.

Hermitage is exceptional because it is both. Its western side, typified by the vineyard called Bessard, is granite and geologically belongs to the Massif Central, while the eastern side is mostly limestone. The changing course of the mighty river, shifting sea levels and mountain building conspired to isolate the granite part of Hermitage, welding it to its limestone other half and creating today’s hill of Hermitage.

La Chapelle, HermitageLa Chapelle, Hermitage

Paying homage at Hermitage La Chapelle
We were in good company when we visited the top of the hill with Jean-Luc Chapelle, roving brand ambassador and Jacques Devernois, cellarmaster at Paul Jaboulet. The object of the visit was of course the Chapelle itself. This chapel stands on holy ground, marking the site where the crusading knight Gaspard de Sterimberg, rested and meditated.

We walked around the chapel, admiring Chapoutier’s vineyards that surround it! Jaboulet’s ‘La Chapelle’ doesn’t come from here or indeed from one specific spot on the hill. Jaboulet own roughly 50 acres of Hermitage and the wines are always blends from different plots, the sum being greater than the parts.

Lessons in site-specific wines
I mentioned the granitic Bessards already. When standing at the chapel and looking down, Bessards lay before us. This is where Hermitage gets its structure from. Pure Bessards is powerful but also tight and tannic, almost as if it were armour plated!

Beyond is another plot called l’Hermite which has a complicated geology with granite and limestone, sometimes with a covering of wind-born soil or loess and which I think makes an especially refined wine.

The very top part of the hill, incidentally, is very pure granite as here was always above sea level. But the height of this vineyard makes it less sheltered so that wind is a constant factor.

Le Méal is further on, not really visible from the chapel. It lies in a perfect amphitheatre-shaped bowl of limestone and clay, strewn with small stones. It gets very hot here and so not surprisingly Hermitage from here is rich and full-bodied. It is where Jaboulet have their largest holdings so it is often a key element in their La Chapelle.

Walking up to the chapel is a wonderful life-enhancing experience, especially if time is taken to observe the changing folds in the hill, changing flora and changing composition of the soils. Time was not with us on this trip so a coach was used, there and back.

Dining in Hermitage country
The little town below the hill is called Tain l’Hermitage. There is nothing especially pretty about it. It is built on either side of the N7, that most famous of all trunk roads that starts its life at the Place d’Italie in Paris and ends at a border crossing with Italy (bien entendu!). It’s a dangerous road at any time with large trucks trundling through.

There was a time when eating in Tain was a miserable experience. The grand people went further afield to Valence, Vienne or Lamastre for fine dining. That is now changing, thanks in no small part to the existence of the Valrhona chocolate factory which attracts visitors and students from around the world. Tain is becoming quite famous and there are now some decent places to eat.

Jaboulet’s offices are out of town but they now have a tasting room on the main square and with it a small wine bar with excellent food served at lunchtime, to be washed down with Jaboulet’s wines, of course. Almost next door Nicolas Jaboulet has his office, shop and tasting room, where his wines and those of his associates, the Perrins of Beaucastel can be tasted. Opposite is one fine and idiosyncratic wine shop, held by a father-and-son team of Greek parentage. Everyone goes there if only for gossip and some brilliant Greek olive oil.

The jewel in Tain is one tiny restaurant, right next door to Chapoutier. It is called Mangevins. He is local and does wine and front of house. His wife is Japanese, perfectionist in the infinitesimally small kitchen. The food served is always outstanding, fresh ingredients and often with just a hint of Japan mixed in with local.

The wine list is outstanding. This is one place to go as a teetotal! We had Montlouis from Jacky Blot but it could have been a riesling from Trimbach. The highlight, wine wise was a Cornas from Pierre Clape with a chocolate dessert.

Chapelle and chocolate, it works!Chapelle and chocolate, it works!

A revelation that was repeated the following evening chez Jaboulet when the chocolate pudding was given added meaning by Hermitage La Chapelle 2003. A further study is surely needed on chocolate and wine!

Marcel Orford-Williams
 Society Buyer

 

  • The second part of the tour when the group head for the southern Rhône will follow soon.
  • There’s early news of the 2015 vintage in the Rhône here.
  • If your appetite has been whetted for Rhône wines you may be interested in our Vintage Rhône offer, showcasing the wines of the 2011 vintage.
Thu 14 May 2015

What Do You Do With Corked Wine?

Posted by: | Comments (19)

Well I had always presumed that you just poured it away and, of course, either contacted Member Services for a credit or reported your misfortune on our website (you can log such incidents by going to My Account and selecting Order History and Report a Problem).

But during a recent visit from David Bird MW, whom we employ as a consultant chemist to help maintain high standards of quality control and act in an advisory capacity, we learned that he uses corked bottles in cooking. David is the author of Understanding Wine Technology (DBQ Publishing), now in its third edition.

corked wineAll of us at the meeting, including The Society’s buying team, were surprised to hear this. We had all been led to believe that you should always use the best quality wine you can afford to cook with. While I would baulk at using good Burgundy to make boeuf bourguignon, the idea that if wine isn’t good enough to drink, it isn’t good enough for the pot has at least sunk home.

In any case, some cork-tainted wine is so foul-smelling (and it often gets worse on contact with air), it would seem counter-intuitive to think of making something nice to eat with it.

But as David pointed out, the process used to eradicate TCA (trichloroanisole), the compound responsible for cork taint, involves steaming them. He argues therefore that, as long as the dish you are making will involve simmering at some point, there is no reason why you cannot use corked wine. As TCA is volatile in steam it should simply boil off.

corked wine in cookingas long as the dish you are making will involve simmering at some point, there is no reason why you cannot use corked wine.

An industry that’s cleaned up its act
Happily, the incidents of corked bottles are greatly reduced from levels ten years or so ago (though it is still believed to be affect around 5% of cork-sealed bottles). The cork industry has radically changed and cork production is now an extremely high-spec operation. David Bird said that he had visited the Alentejo region of Portugal in the 1980s as part of a Master of Wine-organised trip and that at time, the cork oaks were stripped and the bark dipped in what he described as ‘boiling mud’. ‘It was still effectively a peasant-style industry in those days.’

But a more recent visit to Amorim, the main supplier of corks to the wine trade, revealed an operation totally changed. No longer is bark piled up and trucked to factories in the north of Portugal but new state-of-the-art factories have been set up within the cork forests themselves. The bark is stored on stainless-steel pallets and then cleaned in boiling water in closed, filtered stainless-steel tanks. Then there’s the (almost secret) steaming process, done in a special way so as not to shrink the cork.

‘There’s also a much higher reject level than in the past too, with only the best-quality cork going into production for wine stoppers,’ explained David. After the corks have been punched out of the bark each batch goes into the lab for testing by gas chromatography. While every effort is made to limit the possibility of undesirable components contaminating corks, to test every single cork is still too costly.

Hopefully your own experience of corked bottles has also diminished of late. Now that we know we don’t have to pour the contents down the sink, though not much of a consolation, particularly on a much-anticipated long-cellared treat, it’s nice to know it’s not completely wasted.

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

There’s more advice on spotting wine faults on our website

Categories : Miscellaneous
Comments (19)
Wed 06 May 2015

Food Without Fuss: Counting Sheep

Posted by: | Comments (0)

This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the spring 2015 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by both The Independent and Which? magazine, Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

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

Janet Wynne EvansJanet Wynne Evans
Searching in my local farmer’s market, well before spring had sprung this year, for a bit of sheep to braise slowly in wine until falling off the bone, I was sharply reminded what good-value mutton is and promptly bought some.

The deed done, I was assailed by fears of toughness and recalcitrance in the oven, followed by school-dinner memories of pale, unappealing slices of boiled leg of mutton that not even caper sauce could enliven. Surely the best place for mutton – and it’s a very good place – is a proper curry.

However, I can report that my mature half-shoulder, which cost little more than a fiver, cooked to perfect tenderness in the same two-hour window as the younger generation and had bags more taste, as we old girls often do. The leftover shreds of unctuous meat, mixed with chickpeas, red wine and sun-dried tomatoes, and reheated under a breadcrumb crust, provided a second feast at marginal cost and effort.

The art of lamb, on the other hand, especially at this joyous time of year for home produce, is of the minimalist school. By that I mean fast cooking and no marinades, rubs, barding, topping or any of the other faffing we are all urged to do these days to get a chunk of meat to taste of something other than itself.

I’m convinced that, as a nation, we’ve either lost some of our taste-buds or at least the art of appreciating subtlety – the ubiquity of chilli is proof of that. I hope I’m wrong and pray for sensory calm with the seasonal recipe below which also makes use of young early-summer vegetables the French like to call primeurs, cooking them simply and arranging them artistically, like flowers, in bouquetières and jardinières with no more than a gentle herb butter for company. Spring lamb is particularly delicate in flavour, as is the salt-marsh lamb that follows later in the summer and we should celebrate it. I’m not even going to let a brash olive oil cramp its style, when I can fly the flag with our own golden and gentle rapeseed.

This is the simplest of dishes, that relies on very fresh produce.

No gravy, no fuss, just early summer on a plate.

New-Season Lamb ‘En Primeur’
Serves 4

For the lamb
2 racks of new-season British lamb (6 cutlets each)
2 tbs rapeseed oil
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Continental parsley on the stem to garnish.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.

Pat the racks dry with kitchen paper. Using the point of a sharp knife, score the fat in a diamond pattern. Rub in plenty of salt and pepper, ensuring it gets right into the crevices.

Heat a large non-stick pan. Add the oil and when it sizzles, brown the racks all over. Transfer to a roasting tin and give it 20 minutes for a crowd-pleasing medium pink, allowing 5 minutes more, if you like it better done. Longer somehow misses the point for me. Rest for at least 15 minutes in a warm place while you deal with the vegetables, below.

Jardinière of Summer Vegetables
75g butter, softened
A tablespoon of lemon juice
2-3 tbs summer herbs, such as basil, parsley or tarragon, finely chopped
a very small clove of garlic crushed
salt and white pepper, freshly ground if possible
12 small Jersey Royals, scrubbed
200g peas, shelled weight
A bunch of asparagus, trimmed and cut into lengths of an inch or so
200g mangetouts or sugar snaps
200g green beans, trimmed and halved if very big

First cream the butter with the garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Set aside in the fridge until needed.

Next, drop the Jersey Royals into a pot of boiling water and cook for about 10 minutes, until just starting to yield to the point of a knife. Now add the asparagus stems and green beans and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes. Next add the mangetouts, peas and asparagus tips and give them about 3 minutes. The potatoes should be done and the green vegetables somewhere between tender-crisp and al dente, so taste as you go.

Drain well and return to the pan on a very low heat, along with the herb butter. Let it melt into the vegetables, stirring it through to coat everything evenly. Transfer into a warmed serving dish or four individual cocottes.

You can either offer your guests half a rack each, garnished with a flourish of parsley, and a good sharp knife and let them get on with it, or carve between the bones into cutlets and arrange them on a plate, like a three-spoked wheel, with the resting juices drizzled over them. Serve with the vegetables.

THE WINES
This dish of seasonal stars, all with equal billing, is as friendly to nicely rounded, aromatic whites as it is reds that should be brisk, spicy and not too heavy. Two of the former that stand out in our Spring Wine Without Fuss selection are in the Buyers’ Premium Whites – Three Choirs Stone Brook (£8.50) or Kuentz Bas (£8.50) – but Pelter Ranch Chardonnay (Buyer’s Everyday Whites) would work well too. As for the reds, my vote goes without hesitation to the sleek fruit of Minervois, Château Haute Galine (Everyday Reds), the elegance of Altana Douro or the velvety syrah of Lion’s Whisker (Buyers’ Premium Reds) and the digestibility and vivacity of Nicole Chanrion’s Côte de Brouilly (Buyers’ Classic French Reds).

Young vegetables cooked like this shine very brightly with fish too, or with a scattering of torn soft goat’s milk cheese, the best of which are lovely now. Parmesan or pecorino shavings are good too. With the goaty option, as mouthwatering sauvignon feels right: try Stoneburn Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Buyers’ Premium Whites / £7.95) or Pouilly-Fumé Les Princes Ermites, Château de Tracy 2013 (Buyers’ Classic French Whites). With the Parmesan, keep it Italian with Falanghina (Buyers’ Premium Whites / £7.25) or the creamy, peachy fruit of Fiano Mandrarossa (£7.25) in the Buyers’ Everyday Whites selection.

Janet Wynne Evans

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
Comments (0)
Wed 26 Nov 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by: | Comments (0)

No, we’re not in America. However if you, like me, went to the NFL Wembley games last month; watch so many American crime/comedy dramas on TV that your accent is in danger of changing; or attend the opening of every new burger joint in town…

Tomorrow our cousins across the pond will be celebrating Thanksgiving, and why should they have all the fun?!

Thanksgiving Turkey and Pumpkin PieWhat wine to choose with the demands of Thanksgiving’s onslaught of savoury and sweet dishes?

This year I will actually be visiting my sister who lives in New York to see the Macy’s parade and eat turkey and pumpkin pie by her Chelsea (Manhattan, not SW3) apartment fire.

s California Old-Vine Zinfandel from The Wine SocietyVery few wines can stand up to the onslaught of savoury and sweet dishes all in one go, but luckily one American classic can – zinfandel.

Its characteristic unevenly ripening bunches mean that the resultant wines often have both a sweet raisin and sour-cherry note, the low tannin level and juicy acidity make it a pretty good pairing with turkey and cranberry sauce.

The Society’s California Old-Vine Zinfandel is a great example of this style. If you fancy giving it a go either with a late take on an American Thanksgiving dinner party, or indeed as a possible pairing for your Christmas turkey this year then I humbly suggest now the time to give it a try!

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer for North America

Comments (0)