Monday, 10 June 2013

The shock of the new vs the tried and tested

I’ve been wondering about readers of this column recently.  It’s well reported that our appetite for consuming cookery programs on TV and buying cookery books to adorn our shelves is not a reflection of an increase in actual cooking in the UK.  We seem content to ogle Paul Hollywood as he expertly kneads brioche dough, or gaze longingly at Nigella as she coos over her billowy pillows of meringue or whatever – then find we don’t have time to cook anything ourselves. 

Do you read this, with a passing interest in the content (“Oh, tasting wine from Turkey this week.”) and then revert to your regular tipple of Pinot Grigio/New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Rioja next time you buy wine?  It’s not at all a criticism, I am genuinely interested to know if anyone out there is really encouraged to try something new by anything that I might write about. 

This is probably prompted by my own efforts to get out of a culinary rut (yes, by buying a couple of new cookery books) and making the food I dish up for my family less predictable – and (gasp) less reliant on meat.  I’ve been scouring the shelves of the supermarket in sections that I normally eschew as fit only for cranks who think they have “intolerances” to everything,  in search of new wave grains:  farro, quinoa, bulgur, giant couscous, Camargue red rice - all have been given shelf space in my food cupboards.  Some have even made it to the table, with mixed reactions from the rest of the family.  However, I am still (at this early stage at least) optimistic that we will find some new dishes that we all take to our hearts. 

Enough about my own domestic preoccupations, and onto what should be the primary concern of this column.  At this time of year, you are no doubt expecting wine recommendations for alfresco dining.  Has anyone EVER actually said that outside the world of journalism?  “Hello darling, I thought we’d dine al fresco this evening.”  Your other half would think you’d hit the Prosecco early doors.    

No matter, here are some recommendations for summer drinking (indoors or out) that I hope might encourage you to depart from the tried and tested and to strike out in search of glasses new.  

Grüner Veltliner

If you count yourself a Sauvignon Blanc fan, then I urge you to seek out this grape.  It’s a speciality of Austria and has plenty of zingy and zesty grapefruit-tinged fruit, with often more body and personality than many Sauvignon Blancs.  You might be interested to know that New Zealand wine growers have taken up the variety and are starting to produce their own versions.  It’s still early days, but look out for Kiwi Grüner in years to come. 

Laurenz V. Forbidden Grüner 2011, £11.99 from
This is a hugely unfashionable style – light, fresh, a bit of natural sweetness and with low alcohol (11%).  But this is exactly the sort of wine that, if it’s put in your hand, I bet many of you would enjoy.  Bursting with fresh lime and grapefruit, and yes, a touch of sweetness, but the finish is clean as a whistle thanks to a bright streak of acidity.  This will cheer up even the greyest summer’s day.

 Domäne Wachau “Terraces” Grüner Veltliner 2011 - £9.99 from Waitrose
Drier and higher in alcohol, this is a satisfyingly tangy and refreshing wine, which has nothing skinny about it – perfect for what passes for summer weather nowadays.

Australian Riesling

Here I go again:  Riesling, Riesling, Riesling.  Will I never tire of banging on about this variety?  The short answer is no – not until I’ve convinced you all to love it as much as I do. 

If the idea of sweet Riesling is too scary, then stick with Aussie versions which are reliably dry. 

Plantagenet Great Southern Riesling 2010 - £13.50 from The Wine Society, £13.99 from
I served this blind at a tasting recently (see what you Riesling haters have made me resort to) and many people loved the wine but were convinced it couldn’t be Riesling, which they were sure would be sweet and nasty and not bursting with zesty, waxy  lime fruit and resolutely dry.  Most guests thought it was Sauvignon Blanc (not sure whether to laugh or cry about that).  Need I say more?

Paulett’s Riesling, Polish Hill River, Clare Valley - £13.74 or £10.99 if you buy 2 bottles at Majestic
Despite the mangled name (is it from a river or a hill, it can’t be both) I have long admired this wine for its classic Clare Valley Riesling style – elegant lime and lime blossom fruit.

English fizz

The grape varieties may be nothing new, usually consisting of the classic Champagne trio of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, but the style is English all the way.  Our home-produced sparkling wines have yet again shown their quality by bagging medals at the major international wine competitions this year. 

Gusbourne Estate – wines from £24.99 to £29.99 online at and some independents
This newish producer in Kent managed to take home gold medals in each of the “big 3” competitions (International Wine Challenge, Decanter World Wine Awards and the International Wine and Spirit Competition) this year – a stunning achievement.

Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2010 - £24.99 from Waitrose
For my money Ridgeview are the most consistent producer of high quality English sparkling wine across their range, though they failed to bag any medals at the big three competitions.  Like Spurs, there may be no silverware in the trophy cabinet this year, but they are undoubtedly a class act.

 However, I do have to beware that I don’t push this experimentation with the new too far.  As my husband remarked the other day, when faced with yet another new dish for supper:  “It’s just like wine, we’re never allowed to have the same thing twice.”  Sigh.  Oh go on, crack open the bottle of Oyster Bay.

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