Epicure

A collection of my articles for this high end lifestyle magazine.

Issue 5 – Winter 2019 / 2020

This time of year is truly fantastic for wine lovers.  Decadent food paired with the excuse to indulge just a little more than usual means I take a real pleasure in planning my drinking experiences.  Taking the time to line up special bottles adds a whole extra level of excitement and anticipation to the standard festive menu, and so here’s a few suggestions that you may like to try.

Perfect for Champagne Breakfasts and Aperitifs

Laurent-Perrier Rosé NV Champagne, Marks & Spencer, £60

You simply cannot go wrong with this superbly crafted award-winning fizz.  Getting you in to the festive mood at any time of the day, the soft red strawberry fruits are a perfect match to smoked salmon at breakfast, charcuterie between meals, or simply to be enjoyed solo as an aperitif.  Also perfect for seeing in the New Year, if it lasts that long!

Perfect for Christmas Dinner

I’m a bit of an old-world traditionalist when it comes to serving wine for my main Christmas lunch, heading straight for the classic Burgundian grapes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  To mix things up though, here’s two U.S. wines showcasing these grapes being put to good use in the wider world.

Au Bon Climat Chardonnay 2017, Santa Barbara, Majestic, £27.99 (deals available)

Enhancing the food at every level, the buttery, oily richness of the Chardonnay grape is just what a drier meat like Turkey needs to bring it to life.  The weight of the wine will balance perfectly with the texture of gravy, whilst the honey and nut characters compliment other aspects of your meal such as stuffing balls and potatoes.

Alternative choice:  The classic French Chardonnays from Burgundy will work equally as well, but look for something that has body, weight and texture, along with subtle oak-ageing.

Folie a Deux Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Waitrose, £19.99

Pinot Noir has really found its feet in west-coast America where the cool coastal breezes echo the chillier homeland climate.  The red-berry freshness works just like cranberry sauce, giving lift and counter-point to the dry meat, nutty stuffing and buttery potatoes.  The vibrant clean fruit also works well if you’re having a cheeseboard, particularly soft cheeses such as Brie or Camembert.

Alternative choice:  If you’re going super-traditional and having goose or game for your meat you’ll need a wine with more density, tannic structure and heavier fruit, so look for Cabernet Sauvignon instead.  Go for a hard, crumblier cheese such as Cheddar when cheese matching.

Top Tip – If you buy one wine this Christmas…

Rioja is a brilliant red wine alternative for your main meal as it uses the smooth and silky Tempranillo grape.  Due to its excellent ageing potential and long-term storage in vast bodegas it isn’t impossible to find something extremely rare for a reasonable price.  To really make a statement this Christmas, why not try:

Manzanos 1961 Rioja, Laithwaites, £40

Yes, you did read that right – wine from 1961 available online now at just £40 a bottle.  The Laithwaites family have a special bond with the Manzanos family and they’ve been given this exclusive cache of wines dating back to a time when The Beatles were still working out what to call themselves!  I’ve tried several bottles and can confirm they are drinking superbly so trust me, this isn’t a risky purchase.  I’ve squirreled a few away as they won’t be around for long.  Don’t delay!

Issue 4 – Autumn 2019

Two things that any successful business needs are the ability to launch their product ahead of any rivals, followed by a successful marketing campaign to drive the resulting sales.  Beaujolais Nouveau, made with hand-harvested Gamay grapes from the famed Burgundy region was able to tap in to both of these and yet, it’s much less popular now than it used to be.

Back in the early 1950’s Beaujolais producers set themselves the challenge of beating their competitors to market by presenting a drinkable wine as early as they possibly could.  Various techniques, such as speeding up fermentation time, were developed to give a ‘finished’ product in as little as 6–8 weeks from the time that the grapes were harvested. 

In order to create a level playing field between all Burgundian producers a standard release date was set as the third Thursday of November, a date which also happily tied in nicely with the lucrative Thanksgiving and Christmas markets.

Restricting customers to only being allowed to purchase bottles at one-minute past midnight on what became known as ‘Beaujolais Nouveau Day’ turned out to be marketing genius, akin to midnight iPhone launches these days.  People flocked to be one of the first to taste the new vintage.

The modern day story began in 1970 when two London based wine writers, Clement Freud and Joseph Berkmann, decided to make a bet with each other – who could be the first to pick up a case of the midnight released Beaujolais wine in France and get it back across the channel ready for dinner in London that night?

For the first two years it was a private competition (which Berkmann won both times), but as the word and novelty spread, more and more people began joining in devising ever cleverer ways of shipping the wine.  Thus the ‘Beaujolais Run’ was born, spearheading a massive sales and popularity boom.  In typical 1980’s extravagance, one member of the RAF used his connections to ship the wine across in a Harrier Jet.  It might have been expensive, but he set a speed record unlikely to be broken. 

Although popularity eventually slipped away from the novelty, the ‘Beaujolais Run’ is still going strong, albeit in an updated guise.  Knowing that driving as fast as you can to deliver wine is likely to cause an accident, the rules have been amended from the fastest delivery to the shortest delivery by distance.  You’re now as likely to find precious classic cars making the trip alongside expensive super cars, all the while collecting money for charity.

As you’d expect from a wine produced in a mere 6-8 weeks, Beaujolais Nouveau (not to be confused with the longer living wines from the wider Beaujolais region) is meant to be drunk young, a curio rather than a wine that stands up to serious critical appraisal.  Uncomplicated, lively and fresh, bottles should be drunk within a year, and will benefit from a little light chilling to draw out the fresh berry fruits. 

Cheers!

Vinesight Recommends: Beaujolais Nouveau Day falls on the 21st November this year so look out for bottles starting to be promoted around that time.  All major wine stockists will carry a line or two, but producer Georges Duboeuf is a well-respected name to try, his pretty flower covered labels easily standing out on the shelf.

Issue 3 High Summer 2019

I’ve been barbecuing since February. I find it’s a great way of cooking certain foods without using excess oil, as well as the getting the benefits from the charcoal aromas.  As we reach the tail end of summer though, a BBQ is primarily there for the pre-planned weekend gatherings, a thankful celebration of the continuing sun, or simply as a great excuse to match al fresco food and drink.

As the movies of the 1950’s and 60’s would have us remember, taking wine on a picnic or excursion was no harder than chucking a bottle in a wicker hamper, tying a piece of string around the bottle neck and dipping it in a local stream until it was cool enough to drink.

Fast-forward to the current day and things are very different.  Wine producers are well aware of the benefits of making their wines portable enough to drink when you’re out and about.  In line with the ever-extending aim to ensure that we cut as much of our carbon footprint as possible, the packaging also needs to be as kind to the environment as possible.

Borrowing somewhat from the past, last year’s ‘big step forward’ was the wider appreciation for bag-in-box wine.  Long ridiculed as being a bulk method of buying cheaply produced wine in even cheaper looking packaging, only certain brands played in to this space for fear of being viewed as…well, cheap.

What hasn’t been so appreciated until recently is that the considerable savings made on buying wine in this method come largely from the improved logistics as opposed to producers cutting corners and offering up an inferior product.  Heavy glass bottles that don’t stack neatly together are replaced by lighter-weight pliable internal bladders that can house up to three times the amount of wine found in one bottle. 

The inert inner lining, which ensures that there is no oxidation or loss of quality to the finished product, then slips in to a stackable and recyclable carboard box.  The result is that the same standard of wine is transported from A to B in a much more efficient manner.

Whilst bag-in-box is nothing new and has been bubbling below the surface for many years, now that quality producers have jumped on board to ensure they distribute as widely and effectively as possible, the box concept is once again being considered ‘progressive’. 

Perhaps due to a renewed ability to accept wine in alternative packaging, there’s been little public outcry at this year’s new summer drinking trend; wine in a can.  Even a year or two ago this would have been laughed off as unattractive visually and a slur on the work of the producer, but the wine world moves fast, and new countries, grapes and production methods are continually evolving.  Waitrose have been an early adopter of the can concept, but time will tell if it will take a foothold in the market.

Vinesight Recommends:  Naturally this month I’m recommending that you try one of the lovely wines available in the bag-in-box format, and one in the unofficial style of summer – Rosé!

https://www.laithwaites.co.uk/product/Il-Papavero-Rosato-(wine-box)-2017/3795018

Il Papavero (affectionately known as ‘the poppy’ due to its striking label) is one of the most loved wines from mail order giant Laithwaites and, as they put it, tastes like “a bowl of chilled cherries on a warm day”. 

This brand-new boxed version of their Rosé classic means you save £9 by simply buying in a box as opposed to 3 individual bottles.  A bargain, and ideal for sharing at your next outdoor gathering!

Issue 2 Early Summer 2019

As spring approaches many of us move away from the darker, fuller bodied wines that have kept us warm through the winter. With the switch from reds to whites and rosé, you may also feel yourself using your corkscrew less and less. The majority of these wines now come sealed with a screw cap instead.

The bottle closure may seem an indiscriminate means to an end, merely a way of preventing the air turning your wine to vinegar, and yet it can still be quite emotive to the purchaser. Are screw capped wines of a lesser quality than those sealed under cork and, more importantly, do they taste any different?

In its heyday the cork seal was a revolution to the wine industry, replacing the humble oil-soaked rag. Advances in glass production, making the bottles stronger and sturdier, met with the cork’s natural elasticity, expanding to create a tight seal in the neck of the bottle. This meant no leakage, and no air spoilage. Crucially, it meant that wine could now be stored for future consumption. It was, in essence, the birth of the wine cellar.

Cork did, however, have a flaw – a reaction to a spoiling chemical compound (2,4,6 – trichloroanisole, or TCA, for short) that sometimes survived the cleansing process needed to get the corks ready for use. These wines became known as ‘corked’, giving off damp and musky characteristics and generally tasting of wet cardboard. Although a bad batch of corks could spoil an entire bottling run of wine, due to their wide geographic distribution it seemed like a bad bottle could turn up anywhere, at any time. It was too hit and miss.

In tandem with the rise of these faulty wines was the birth of ‘New World’ wine. Countries such as Australia and New Zealand started joining the ‘Old World stalwarts of France, Spain and Italy, and producing wines full of pure, warm-climate juicy fruits. These clean wines magnified the off-characters of a corked wine, and a solution was immediately sought.

Free from the traditions of the Old World, there were no qualms about replacing the cork with the functional screw cap. The French viewed the cork as almost part of the packaging along with the bottle shape and label – it was originally a quality seal that the wine within had not been adulterated or watered down. Most noticeable with Champagne, the popping of the cork is almost ritualistic, the signpost of upcoming pleasure. The twisting and cracking of metal, they felt, did not have the same majesty.

Trials over the past two decades haven’t found any negatives with screw cap ageing, and in fact actually point to them keeping a wine fresher in youth. The majority of the fruity wines we’ll likely be drinking over the spring and summer months are meant for drinking within the next 1-3 years and so can be enjoyed in the knowledge that they taste as good as intended, and are free from any cork taint.

Production of screw caps is also cheaper and more environmentally friendly too. Even though corks are 100% recyclable they tend to go in the bin after use, whereas the screw cap, attached to the bottle that goes in to the recycling, therefore gets recycled too without any extra effort.

Cheers!