Si bene quid memini, causae sunt quinque bibendi;
Hospitis adventus, praesens sitis atque futura,
Aut vini bonitas, aut quaelibet altera causa.
———Henry Aldrich, 1647-1710 †
This is Part 2 (February 2012) of my monthly review of wines…Part 1 is here: The Horse of Parnassus (January 2012).
There was a cold snap at the start of February and we both were fighting losing battles against a really bad upper respiratory infection. A hearty soup and a box of Tesco Simply Shiraz greeted me when I trudged home from a productive but fairly zombie-like day at work (well, if the zombie has phlegm running down his face and can’t stop coughing. The Simply varieties are actually pretty good day-to-day table wines for an unsophisticated palette such as mine, but this shiraz is less acidic than a lot of the other inexpensive ones out there and I really wouldn’t put it up against something with significant levels of spice (it would just taste like watered-down cranberry juice in that case). It also served dining duty against a roast chicken and a salad of apples, walnuts, raisins, chicken and spinach later in the week, still a bit disappointingly (and yes, I know the malic acid in the apples was really taking the piss but our tipple has to stand up to all sorts of culinary insults). With dark chocolate, though, the cherry flavours come out of hiding pretty well:
For some pork chops braised with mushrooms, red onions, and a bell pepper in the last of the Tesco Simply Shiraz, I pulled out a Chateau La Rose Videau 2006 Bordeaux which is made of a mix of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot. The Chateau is owned by a family of wine producers who seem to have their hands in a bunch of vineyards. This one seems a fine choice for this sort of meal but I’d really like to give it a go on some rare lamb leg or underdone duck sometime. If I had a decent place to lay wine down for a couple years I’d get a couple of cases of this one.
We actually managed to get a bit of winter weather early this month so I decided to finally finish up the duck confit originally prepared for the cassoulet. The batch of wine we ordered came with one bottle of Marselan, a strange and delightful wine we had in December and January and that, this meal, went perfectly with our little soul food feast (backed up the duck with some bitter boiled greens and black-eyed peas).
I returned from a hash to find the house quiet. Jackie’s case of the flu took the second dip right on time, about 4 days after mine so she should feel better. She left me a glass of the Jacktone Ranch CabSav she had with her supper and it was very good–very tannic and astringent but with a bit of body and rich dark fruit flavours, definitely grape juice for a bit of rare meat although I suspect it accompanied a bowl of chicken sagwalla.
Layers of tomatoes, red bell pepper, oregano, spinach, chicken, ricotta and mozzarella with lasagna noodles beg for a wine with a bit of body but also a lot of fruit flavour to it. The Long Country Merlot (and I’m not normally a fan of merlots) was really fine with this dinner but didn’t at all stand up to the chocolate afterwards…strange:
Nothing to cook and no motivation to scrounge something up usually results in getting curries delivered. I had a lamb vindaloo, she a chicken biryani, and we mated it pretty aptly with Marques de Amba…this was a wild guess but it seemed the best in our arsenal to stand up to the spices (more–and clearer–thought would have suggested one of the shiraz, but this worked out).
I roasted a beef joint on one Saturday, rubbed with crushed black pepper, a little rosemary, some squashed garlic and an Oxo cube for salt then left at room temperature most of the afternoon while we dashed out to restock the larders. We had a slice, a sweet potato, and some broccoli washed down with Faustino Rivero, a disappointingly simple wine that seemed more suited to pub grub.
A weekend of mis-paired wines continued with Le Preare Valpolicella. We went to a screening of The Artist (the silent film tribute) and on returning home just wanted to relax so made an easy meal by cutting the leftover beef roast into cubes and mixing with bell pepper, carrots, celery, a bunch of dry split peas, and some broth and madras paste then simmered for an hour or so. Again, I didn’t make the sensible shiraz choice opting for this valpolicella which really wasn’t suited to the rich sauce.
“We need to get some of this fucking wine out of the fridge…cook something for this pinot grigio,” she said, thrusting the bottle toward me. Kids, these are the romantic words you are likely to hear on your 27th Valentine’s Day together, and I was up to the task. With meat devoid of added water and of firm texture–not tough, mind you–and silky, succulent and hot we approached our marital table and, drizzling the bed of greens and vegetables with oils and aromatics we settled into some oral delights. I’m old.
The wine was crisp and refreshing but had a range of flavours that complemented our odd little meal. I bought it for some grilled fish and it probably would have been spectacular with some barbecues prawns but the pork was a pretty good alternative:
The weather changed back to spring-like and the opportunity to enjoy hearty winter fare waned. I wanted a batch of garbure before the winter gets away so picked up the fixin’s: some duck legs, a pound of pork roast, some root veg (carrots, turnips, taters) and some cabbage, leeks, and celery. This is all cooked with a healthy handful of garlic in about 3 pints of broth until thick enough for the ladel to stand up in it then served in two courses: the solid bits are kept warm in the oven while you start with a bowl of the broth poured over some stale bread. Yum. We paired this with the minerally astringent and surprisingly complex Chilean Shiraz (La Casita) that was hiding at the back of the Victrola.
Our butcher is great and for costs about 1 or 2% more than in the shops we are able to purchase meats without water injected to puff up the weight or any other additives or wasteful packaging. You ask for a particular cut and they bring out a big piece of the carcass and take it right from the bone (and send you off with a chunk of bone for stock, to boot). But, Jackie asked for some beef mince (that’s British for ‘ground beef’) and got lamb instead. It comes rolled in some clear plastic and looks the same, an honest mistake, but she has never liked lamb and during her three-month sabbatical in Austria developed a gag response to it…although on my visit I thought it seemed a bit closer to mutton than lamb.
Anyway, Brits have a real appreciation of the marvels of lamb and it is almost always slaughtered young and sweet and without the shift to pungent tastes and fragrances so common even in the States. Lamb samosas were the first test, barring the amount I always added to cassoulet without telling her; they passed and she has had small amounts of braised lamb shanks with success so we decided to fire up the barbecue and make some large lamb patties and serve them with steamed winter greens and black-eyed peas, and a little mint sauce for me. We paired this experiment with a Nero d’Avola made with a percentage of dried grapes. Not the best meal, but the wine was a good choice playing nicely off the lamb fats and the starches and bitter greens in interesting and admirable ways.
I stopped for some artichokes, white beans, Italian sausages, provolone and pasta at the Italian deli and along with some spinach tomatoes, eggs, garlic and olives made up an edible casserole. The wine cabinet was diminished, again (JFC! how does THAT happen?), so I settled for some Lagunilla Rioja I had earmarked for some barbecue on the weekend. It was rich flavour and smooth in the mouth and more complex than our unsophisticated palettes deserve and after a couple of glasses apiece we were satisfied that it should go on the “re-order soon” list. HOWEVER, we both suffered a bit of a toxic reaction to it (we are fairly certain, as sulphites vary in wines and are mild allergens to us both); how disappointing.
Over the Christmas break I went into the labs to catch up on a couple of things but it was my own time and I used some of it to repair a couple of items, one of which was a Super 8 movie projector belonging to a colleague’s grandmother. It was a simple job and I was overwhelmed that he insisted on dropping me a bottle of wine by way of a thank you. Quite a thank you, indeed, as the Chateau Poujeaux was much nicer than we usually would buy for ourselves (if this column goes on all year you might see 2 or 3 similar bottles out of roughly 200). I have been sitting on this for a special meal and decided the President’s Day weekend was a fine enough occasion and I dropped in on Bryan, our butcher, for some venison.
Bryan is an especially great find for us. This year we pledged to eat supermarket meats only in an emergency and so far we have spent less by going to professionals, in large part because the portions may be smaller and more dear but they aren’t pumped full of water; this has an added advantage of making it possible to cook the product without it shedding water thereby making everything a stew whether or not you planned to cook things in brine. The flavours are richer and deeper and the entire experience more satisfying.
I put the venison steaks out with a little cracked pepper to come to room temperature before searing them quickly and then cooking them in a little leftover Lagunilla (and a blob of rendered butter) to create a sauce, but still served quite rare. To accompany this and the Moulis en Medoc we had some potatoes roasted with garlic in duck fat leftover from some confit, and for a green veg we steamed some broccoli then melted a little blue stilton over it. The wine was a little sedimental but most of that stayed in the shoulder of the bottle to the right corner of the label and we were able to pour this marvelous juice consistently cleanly off the left corner. Thanks so much, Justin, for the wine; and, Bryan, for the consistently high quality cuts and friendly cooking advice.
The Sunday roast chicken after one of the long runs was pretty garden variety: salted, with a lemon inside, backed with some wilted spinach and sweet potatoes … but it was delicious, nonetheless, especially paired up with this syrah (shiraz) from the Alicante:
Marked down 50%, the label caught my eye but it was actually pretty good for a generic. Had it with wraps of chicken mixed with cilantro, crushed cumin seeds, cayenne, lemon, yoghurt and tomatoes…perfect use of leftovers and the wine was light but the yoghurt brought out all its good aspects:
Hamburgers with horseradish, spinach and some disappointing tomatoes and chips helped us get through the last bottle in our little storage cabinet, a Stork’s Landing pinot noir/shiraz blend. Like raspberry juice with the meat, you get some of the more pungent flavours (I think the ones real reviews call “cigar” and “leather”) and cherries when it is coupled with some post-meal chocolate.
Can’t get enough of the Wines From France line when it is on sale for half price. The chard went pretty well with a pork roast cooked in a 200°C oven wrapped tightly in foil with sliced onions and garlic.
The incredibly mild winter returned with some days in the low double digits (Centigrade…mid-50′s F), and I decided we needed to just go ahead and eat the leftover garbure before it was too warm for something this hearty. This chianti from right around Siena and aged a bit longer than typical prior to bottling was just the sort of thing that this batch cried out for:
The last Saturday of the month was warm and sunny for a late winter’s day even in Georgia, so getting one like this in England was a real treat and we decided to have a barbecue. Before a run (Jackie took a trip to the gym while I was out), I made a sauce from some chillis, a bit of leftover vinegar from some pickled jalapeños, a couple of peeled lemons, half a head of garlic, an onion, some paprika, thyme, sage, and turmeric, and a bit of tomato reduction all whizzed together in a food processor. With a couple of shots of vodka it might have made an especially spicy and tart gazpacho, but spread on some slow smoked chicken the last thirty minutes on the grill it was sublime. Tempted by some beer in the fridge (had some during the cooking portion), I had the good sense to hit the Graham Beck Railroad Red. Not at all like the Night Train, this was an especially good pairing with the bird and fresh local kale.
Work was busy: there are some engineers upgrading one of the mass spectrometers, the Orbitrap is being obstinate about taking calibration, the primary HD in my office pc failed and I have spent a few days trying to recover as much off it as possible before getting the replacement from Dell, the clock is ticking on a laser loan and we are months behind (but finally making some progress) on the project, and we have a piece of a huge EU initiative announced in Nature yesterday and that I need to update our website with whatever I can see that is missing from it. Returning home I didn’t want to think to hard about our tea, but wanted something good; fortunately Jackie anticipated this and had thawed a couple of bison steaks which I cooked in butter, garlic and carmelized onions until just between rare and medium rare. No wine in the house, but the newstand next to the boxing gym has pretty good picnic-grade plonk…considering how the month started, Stowell’s Shiraz Mataro seemed an appropriate way for it to end: acceptably spicy but unimpressive sat out upon the table.
For February, the full list is:
Tesco Simply Shiraz (box)
Chateau La Rose Videau 2006
Jacktone Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon
Long Country Merlot
Marques de Amba
Le Preare Valpolicella
Torretta di Mondelli Pinot Grigio
La Casita Shiraz
Colpasso Nero d’Avola
Chateau Poujeaux Moulis en Medoc (1999)
Gran Artizan Syrah
Wines from France Cab Sav
Stork’s Landing Pinot Noir Shiraz
Wines from France Chard
Graham Beck Railroad Red
Stowell’s Shiraz Mataro
This list is current this morning, 28 Feb, but it is unlikely we will uncork a new one before end-of-month. I like this feature, but I think it makes for unwieldy posts so I will start posting the wine reports when I reach 5 new wines rather than try to go the entire month…let’s see how that goes.
† Aldrich was the head of Christ Church, Oxford and a special case as both an academic and cleric: gregarious, quick-witted, and reasonable. The quote, which I’ve always heard in this translation, is most often used as a toast these days:
” If on my theme I rightly think,
There are five reasons why men drink:—
Good wine; a friend; because I’m dry;
Or lest I should be by and by;
Or — any other reason why.”