Friday, 26 November 2010

Wine writing doesn't get tougher than this...

Your two fearless wine correspondents set off to London Olympia last week in search of The Wine Show, which does what it says on the tin – it's a show, and it's all about wine.

However, on arrival we discovered that the Wine Show's Jonah had been swallowed whole by the Masterchef Live whale. The clamouring crowds were flocking in, drawn not so much by the prospect of tasting wines in the company of Tim Atkin MW and the like, but in the hope of rubbing shoulders with Gregg “the pudding” Wallace, Michel Roux Jr and John Torode – or even “mad eye” Monica Galetti.

We entered the gaping maw of the beast and were immediately surrounded by flashing knives, busy julienning vegetables like it was going out of fashion. Professional chefs were cooking up all manner of delicious-looking and smelling dishes which did an excellent job of sharpening the appetite. However, we and our fellow hungry cheapskates soon discovered that there were few opportunities to score free food as we found ourselves crowding round stand after stand where people seemed to be munching away, only to find yet another small pile of cheese parings.

There is no such thing as a free lunch at Masterchef Live. Their plan is to tempt you into parting with your hard-earned cash on some of those freshly and chef-ly prepared dishes. Still hungry, we battled our way through the kitchen gadgets and gizmos and finally found ourselves at the back of the hall and The Wine Show itself.

What a difference a few steps can make. On the Masterchef side of the hall, visitors were practically trampling the old and infirm underfoot as they craned their necks for a distant look at Greg and Michel as they judged a round of The Invention Test. Meanwhile, across the hall, Susy Atkins (wine columnist for the Sunday Telegraph and a well-known wine face on TV) was delivering a wine masterclass to no more than five people.

If there is a battle between food and wine, then wine is clearly not on the winning side. Part of the problem must be that tasting wines is not as engaging as tasting food that you have just seen prepared in front of you. You've watched as literally raw ingredients are transformed and combined to make something that Greg Wallace likes to call a “nice plate of food”. Until someone invents a way to transform freshly-picked grapes into drinkable wine in a matter of minutes, wine just cannot compete.

Those who did most to engage visitors to the Wine Show managed to combine food and wine to great effect. It's heartening to discover a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that stands out from the crowd – in this case it was the memorably-named O:TU, available at £9.99 from Hennings Wine in Petworth. But discovering for yourself the joys of new ways to serve foods and wine together takes things to a new level.

Campo Viejo scored a hit with their tapas demonstrations and sampling, accompanied by their range of Spanish wines, of course. The Discover the Origin stand had simple but delicious pairings of quality ingredients – we were bowled over by the 22-month old Parmesan served with tawny port. An easy and delicious twist on the traditional cheeseboard.

In the battle for consumers' hearts and minds (not to mention wallets), it seems wine cannot fight alone and needs to forge an alliance with food.

Wines of the week

This is the time of year when price wars break out amongst the big retailers, in an effort to encourage us to buy in quantity in advance of the festive season. The supermarkets have been taking turns to run 25% off 6 bottles of wine and Morrison's were recently offering Taittinger Champagne for under £17 a bottle. The nature of these deals is that they come and go too quickly for us to keep you up to date with them via a newspaper column. If you want to stay in the loop with the latest offers, then follow us on Twitter – you can find us as “wineandwords”.

Meanwhile, here's an offer that is not here today, gone tomorrow:

Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons, 2009, Bertrand Capdevigne – usually £14.99, down to £9.99 from 29th November at Morrison's.
Chablis is a go-to wine for Christmas and many of us will be tucking into a bottle or two in the coming weeks. However, the stuff available at under a tenner is generally underwhelming and does little to communicate the cool-climate charms that epitomize Chablis. Premier Cru Chablis is a step up from straight Chablis and comes from specific sites that are judged to have superior soil, favourable sun exposure – all those elements that are summed up in the French word “terroir”. That makes this special offer very welcome, as it gives you an idea of what Chablis is all about, at an affordable price. It manages the trick of being delicate and elegant without being remotely weedy or insipid – and it has the hallmark fine, piercing acidity that is only right and proper from the region.

Claudeval 2009 – White and Red, £5.99 or 2 for £10 from Vicki's Wine Merchants in Chobham

Here is a pair of smart-looking bottles from the Languedoc that make great house wines for a fiver. The white is my favourite, a winter-weight blend of six different varieties, no oak and bags of tropical fruit. The red, made from grenache, carignan, syrah and merlot is less refined, but has plenty of slightly musky black fruit – again with no oak, to let the fruit shine. The rustic edges were noticeably softened after 24 hours in an opened bottle, which is a good sign.  It would make a friendly companion for an autumnal stew or bangers and mash.

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