Friday, 19 August 2011

Some people don't wear clothes

Do you wear clothes? Some people don't, you know.

No, they get up in the morning and pull on (never simply put on) pieces (not mere clothes) from their day-to-evening capsule wardrobes. A tee in this season's brights might be paired with a must-have nude midi (the mind boggles). These ladies (for it is they) may slick their lips with some high shine gloss and re-coat their nails in Chanel's mimosa nail polish (yellow vomit-coloured in case you don't know it) before running out the door to their high-powered jobs. And where do they work? The fashion industry – specifically the world of fashion journalism.

It all sounds exhausting. And all those vaguely fetishistic words to do with clothes make me shudder. Why can't they just say skirt and t-shirt like the rest of us?

But are we in the wine trade just as guilty of fetishizing our subject matter too? Do we risk putting off averagely-interested wine drinkers with our talk of silky tannins which dance across the palate, clothed in filigree acidity, clasped to the chest of a dance partner of brooding power?

And before you say anything, I know I know, mea culpa. I too find it hard to avoid some of those rather fanciful metaphorical descriptions for wine. Life would be dull indeed if we had to stick to just the technical details of a wine to describe it.

Here's an example, based on the wine I'm sipping as I write this: this red wine is a medium intensity ruby in colour, with medium body, balanced acidity and tannin. The black fruit character is pronounced and alcohol is 14.5%. Are you driven to go out and buy some to try on the strength of that description? I'm guessing not. And yet this could accurately describe many of the perfectly delicious bottles of red wine available in your local supermarket or wine merchant.

The trouble is, it doesn't tell you anything that might help you to decide to try one bottle rather than any other. Ultimately the language we use to describe wine is an attempt to convey a sense of what it actually feels like to drink it, rather than just a nuts and bolts description of its constituent parts. Wine is not (at least in most cases) merely alcoholic Ribena.

So, in the end, I should exhibit some fellow feeling and cut those fashion writers some slack. Forgive them their habits of wearing pieces instead of clothes, as you forgive me my talk of precious liquids instead of just wine. In the end they're just trying to relieve the boredom of having to describe yet another pair of trousers.

But (whisper it) I can't help feeling that clothes are just clothes.

It may have escaped your notice that the Glorious Twelfth and with it the official start of the grouse shooting season is upon us. So, having bagged your game bird after a day's shooting on the grouse moor (or a quick trip to the butcher's), which wines will make a suitable accompaniment?

Cuvée Chasseur 2010, £4.29 from Waitrose
At the budget end of the scale is this appropriately-named French wine, which translates roughly as “hunter's lot”. This is the kind of wine that has been Australia's bread and butter for the last 15 years: a simple, very easy drinking blend that has bags of sweet sour cherry and black fruit with barely a hint of tannin. Unlike most bargain Aussie reds, however, this has just 12% alcohol, making for a much more food-friendly and versatile drink.

Pinot noir is perhaps THE grape to seek out for game – its soft tannins and juicy red fruit will meld harmoniously with game fowl without leaving a mouthpuckering dryness.

The Society Exhibition Martinborough Pinot Noir 2009, £12.95 at The Wine Society
This is made for The Wine Society by Craggy Range, whose name is a byword for quality wines in New Zealand. Martinborough, right at the southern tip of the North Island, is a pinot noir enclave which faces the sauvignon blanc stronghold of Marlborough across the narrow Cook Strait which separates the two islands.

This is fairly light-coloured, as is most pinot noir, but has no shortage of chunky, spice-tinged fruit allied to earthy flavours which mirror the savouriness of game. The mouthfeel (wine fetishism alert) is silky and the finish, like Celine Dion's love, will go on....and on.

If you like this style, also look out for Craggy Range's more opulent Te Muna Road Martinborough Pinot Noir 2008, £19.99 from Taurus Wines in Bramley.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Spain: sun, sea and...sherry

Jerez, pronounced Haireth, is a vibrant white town shimmering in the heat of the plains of El Andalus and epitomizes all things that conjure up the earthy image of the heart of Spain. It is here that you find The Royal Equestrian School of Art with its magnificent Lipizzaner “dancing” war horses. As if this was not reason enough to travel to Jerez de la Frontera it is here too that you can tour (and taste) at the Sherry bodegas from the ancient to the modern state of the art.

After the incredible spectacle and emotions engendered by the skill and beauty of the Andalusian dressage, and the historical knowledge gained from the tour of the bodegas, escape up to the bars of the “mountain”-top Arcos de la Frontera. Here watch the soaring birds of prey silhouetted again the pink sky as the sun sinks and join the locals for jamòn, cheese and wine to contemplate the simple wonders of the world.

Alternatively, go to your local wine merchant or supermarket and buy a little bit of Spanish magic to warm the cockles of your heart as you shiver around the coals of your British barbeque. Here are our suggestions to tempt you to explore Spanish wines, beyond the realms of Rioja:

Verd Albera 2010, Celler Marti Fabra - £7.95 from The Wine Society, £11.99 from the Vineking (Reigate, Weybridge and Horley)
A bunch of French interlopers (Grenache blanc, Muscat, Grenache gris and Chardonnay) have tiptoed across the border to the far northern Spanish region of Empordà. That cocktail of varieties makes for interesting texture and a fresh, herbal quality – but it has enough weight of fruit to avoid being too skinny.

Gran Tesoro Garnacha 2010, Bodegas Borsao, Campo de Borja - £4.29 at Tesco
This is consistently one of Spain's most reliably good value wines. It's rather rustically built, but has plenty of dark fruit, with a rasp of tannin and 13.5% alcohol. Fine and dandy for a mid-week night in – with food.

Altos de la Guardia Reserva 2005 Altos de Rioja - £12.50 Laithwaites Wine
OK, OK, here's a Rioja to keep you happy. Plenty of juicy berry fruits with a tomato leaf edge which combine to provide plenty of refreshment. Very decent Rioja for the price.

Monasterio de Santa Cruz 2010 Artiga & Fustel, Tarragona £6.99 Laithwaites Wine
Mostly Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre in France) with 20% of Rioja's hallmark variety, Tempranillo. This shows how much wine you can get for your money when you look beyond the big name regions. Masses of dark, blueberry and blackberry fruit and inky, peppery spice.

Tinto Figuero 4 Roble 2009 Viñedos y Bodegas García Figuero, Ribera del Duero - £12.99 Old Butcher's Wine Cellar (Cookham, Berkshire)
The cult status of wines like Vega Sicilia has helped to haul up prices in Ribera del Duero, so this wine represents good value for the region. Very attractive black fruit aromas lead onto a palate of sweet n' sour fruit and softish tannins. Not a shouty wine, but a satisfying one to unwind with.

Lest we forget....sherry
It's not fashionable, it's not new – but none the worse for that.

One of the problems people have with sherry is that they don't quite view it as wine. And yes, it is fortified, but the lightest, driest sherries, Fino and Manzanilla, will be 15% alcohol – hardly more than a new world Sauvignon Blanc.

To help you get in the swing of sipping sherry as you eat, here's some pithy Jerezano food and wine matching advice: if it swims, drink Fino; if it flies, drink Amontillado; if it runs, drink Oloroso. Simples.

But what, you may well enquire, about that British favourite of sherries, sometimes known as Auntie's tipple - the sherry that we most associate with Christmas, Cream Sherry? Should we just ignore this secretly admired drink until log fires are burning? Certainly not. Amuse yourselves with these:

A southern Spanish cocktail. If Pimm's is THE drink for June, then this is THE drink for August. Cream Sherry, tonic water, sprig of mint, slithered zest of orange and lemon. Any quantities to your own taste. Serve on lots of ice.

Or, steep a few raisins and almonds in sherry and use in or on ice cream; especially good with dark chocolate; Devilled barbeque sauce is improved beyond compare with a generous slug of this versatile wine. Finally, of course, you can drink it on its own, chilled or room temperature around your blazing barbeque and dream of the sunny climes from whence it came!

Waitrose's Solera Jerezana Rich Cream Sherry, £8.39 will provide the perfect ingredient for all these delights.

But in summer, we should be craving dry sherries, so here are some suggestions to try.