Books Recipes Wine articles

Pass me the cooking Barolo

My wife* is reading a book called Angelina’s Bachelors by Brian O’ Reilly. It’s billed as ‘a novel with food’ because it contains recipes by his wife or maybe mother, Virginia O’ Reilly. One in particular caught my eye, ‘Gorgonzola Beef Tenderloin in a Barolo Reduction’. The author not only suggests some Barolo producers but also recommends vintages. . . to cook with! Apparently the Pio Cesare 2004 is ideal for this recipe though, by implication, the 03 isn’t – too warm a vintage perhaps. This is clearly madness. Once you’ve reduced your wine and you’re tasting it through a mouthful of beef and blue cheese, the difference between vintages will be moot. Call me greedy but I’d keep the Barolo to drink and use a decent Nebbiolo (the Barolo grape) in the recipe. The Malvira Langhe 08 has a lot of the tannin and perfume though not the grace of its big brother. It’s £11.99. Pio Cesare 04 will be about £30.

It made me think about how good a wine should be to cook with. Received opinion in the wine world is that you should only cook with a wine that you would drink though I keep a bottle of slightly oxidised red by the hob for putting a slug in pasta sauces and it seems to work fine. I suppose it all depends on how long you’re going to cook the wine for and what role it plays in the dish. If it’s a major component or you’re not cooking it for long then you’ll need something decent. I made a disappointingly thin Bouef Bourguignon with a bottle of Romanian Pinot Noir last year. It would be fun (though not much) to make a dozen Bouef Bourguignons with wines ranging from a Chilean Pinot Noir to a decent Volnay. Which would taste best? I’ve made the dish many times and find that a good French country red such as a Cotes-du-Rhone works very well indeed. To be avoided are wines that might not taste sweet but have a lot of sugar in them, e.g. certain commercial New World reds. Some of them also have strange confected fruit which can strike an incongruous note in gravies and reductions.

The other wine-based dish I make often is a family concoction my wife calls swarthy chicken. We invented it during those happy days when we had lots of good Terre Arse (stop sniggering at the back) marsala in the house. When the marsala ran out I replaced it with a sherry, Botaina Amontillado, which was different but also delicious. I then got complacent and tried cheaper fortified wines: supermarket own-label finos, cooking marsala, white port. The results were a little sad. You really need an intense old wine to make the dish. So perhaps I’m being too hard on Brian and Virginia O’ Reilly. Perhaps they did try a wide variety of wines to make their dish and found that the most suitable were the Barolos mentioned in the recipes: Sordo 2007, Pio Cesare 2004 and Renato Ratti 2004. Or perhaps they’re just showing off.

*Apparently as a novel it’s not a success though there are lots of recipes she wants to cook.

Film and TV Wine articles

The Wine That Came in from the Cold

spy-who-came-in-from-the-cold-bloom-burtonAll the Bond noise last month made me seek retreat in a rather more reflective spy film, The Spy who Came in From the Cold. I’d never seen it before but remember being chilled by the book in my early 20s. (Recently graduated and relieved to no longer have to read another tortuous sentence by Judith Butler, it started me on a Le Carré binge which was finally brought to a halt with the disappointing Absolute Friends.) A particular scene in the film caught my eye where the Richard Burton character, Leamus, has been invited for supper by a colleague at the library where he works called Nan Perry played by Claire Bloom. She’s a very forward (I imagine for the time) and naive communist. She barely knows him and yet she invites him back to her flat. Leftie floozy! I say flat it’s actually more of a bedsit and gives you some insight into the cramped and pinched lives that would have been the norm for lower-middle class Londoners. The film was made in 1965 but it has the feel of a Patrick Hamilton novel.

A ray of Southern warmth is provided by a bottle of wine that she unveils with a little ceremony:

“Dinner will be served at eight with a Portuguese wine spelled D-A-O with a twiddlle over the ‘A’ and pronounced ‘dang. . . I made Hungarian goulash I thought it would be tactful to serve a communist food with totalitarian wine.”

It’s probably a little inaccurate to describe the authoritarian conservative regime of António de Oliveira Salazar who ruled Portugal from 1932 until his death in 1968 as totalitarian. Certainly he had nothing on the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe that Perry idealised. He owed his remarkable longevity to being on our side in the Cold War (not unlike the ex-Nazi working for the British secret service in the film.) Salazar was the son of a small farmer from the Dão region in Northern Portugal so would have known the wine intimately. He instituted a system in his home region where by law all grapes had to be sold to co-operatives to make the wine. There would be no private Dão wines. Hungary would have had a similar system as did many other wine regions in authoritarian hands.

This odd system continued under the socialists who seized power after Salazar’s death and only ended when Portugal wanted to join the EEC. I’ve never tried any of these co-op wines but I do remember you used to be able to pick up old Dão wines for not much money in the late 90s. Supermarkets often stocked a Dão garrafeira (similar to a Spanish reserva) for about £4.50. I remember them pale red with age, oaky and mellow, with a very lively acidity. Received opinion on such wines was that they were often oxidised and wasted the potential of this region but I spoke with Charles Metcalfe at an event and he mentioned trying a supermarket Dão from 80s recently and was amazed how it aged. He went on to say that many Dãos from the Salazar period were still going strong.

I don’t think you can buy old-school Dão anymore. All the co-ops are in private hands and no one wants pale reds without forward fruit. Or rather the Portuguese think that they don’t, there has been a resurgence in interest for such wines from their Iberian cousins. Charles did give us one Dão that had some of the old magic. It’s from Julia Kemper, the  producer who made the oaky white I liked recently. The red couldn’t have been more different having very little or perhaps no oak. Much darker and more concentrated than a Dão of old,  it had a fragrance and poise that reminded me a little of Chinon and a bit of Burgundy. Sadly I had a bit of a cold so couldn’t fully appreciate it. I’d love to try it again and also see how it ages. Corking Wines have it for £18.45 a bottle. Hardly the bargain of old but well worth the money.

When I watched the Le Carré film, I giggled a bit at her pronunciation of Dão. I’ve always pronounced it to rhyme with cow. Well turns out the idealistic Communist was not far off, it’s “downg” pronounced in a nasal fashion. So now you know.


Book Review: How to Love Wine by Eric Asimov

People who aren’t interested in cooking read Nigel Slater, just as people who can’t even drive watch Top Gear, but so far no one has managed to score an equivalent success with wine. Most wine books are bought by those we can politely describe as wine bores. As a self-confessed wine bore, I find this baffling. Wine is a subject, like food, that can encompass all human experience: war, history, poetry, economics, sensual pleasure – and yet it struggles to break out of its ghetto. Enter Eric Asimov

This is a book review that appeared in the Guardian a few weeks ago. Click above to read on. There were a few comments and even a letter from readers saying that they read Nigel Slater and they cook. I should clarify that I wasn’t saying that all Nigel Slater readers don’t cook, just that some of his readers don’t. I’m referring to his memoir, Toast, rather than the cookbooks. There wasn’t space to put all this in my review. 

Wine articles Wine of the week

Wine of the Week: One, Ribera del Duero 2003

I intended to write a post this time last year about the renaissance of Oddbins. This was based on no more evidence than a visit to the Earl’s Court branch where the staff were cheerful and the shop well-stocked with wines that I wanted to buy. Most importantly the prices were good rather than the 20% too expensive that seemed the norm during the Castel/ Simon Baile days. The post never got written because of the birth of my daughter but I was reminded of it on a visit to their Kentish town branch last week. They had a nice-looking Primitivo for £8, the normally excllent Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc from Villa Maria (better than Cloudy Bay as we used to say in Headingley) for only £10 and, the one I went for, a 2003 Ribera del Duero called simply ‘One‘ for £11.50.  I can’t say that I gave it the normal World of Booze objective tasting. The bottle was cold and we drank it out of  paris goblets with spicy pizza whilst attempting to speak schoolboy French with a two year old child. Nevertheless, I remember quite a bit of sweet oak and then something savoury and mellow. It tasted good and it tasted like Ribera del Duero. Quite an achievement for the price. For me Oddbins should be all about one off parcels such as this sold by enthusiastic staff. It was gratifying to find this excitement at 9pm on a freezing night in Kentish Town.

The other side of the authentic Oddbins experience is wackiness. During their 90s heyday, Oddbins could afford the best money could buy courtesy of Ralph Steadman. Now in these times of austerity, they appear to have let a gang of facetious students loose on their website. So not only do they offer suggestions  on food-matching but also the right music and even circumstance to enjoy your wine with. The tips for my wine of the week are chilli con carne, Bob Marley and ‘after witnessing great injustice.’ Perhaps it seemed like a  good idea after a particularly strenuous tasting. Ah well, at least the shops are back on track.

This is my hundredth post. I was intending to write something really thoughtful to mark to occasion but the inspiration didn’t strike. 

Wine articles

Thanksgiving 2012

IMG_3733I’ve been meaning to write up our thanksgiving wine binge for a while now but it has taken me a week to recover from all the port I put away. It can only be a matter of time before I join my father in gout hell. Until I met my wife I had no idea what Thanksgiving was all about. I thought it might have been something to do with the  hated British and throwing tea in Boston harbour. Actually it seems to be about eating and drinking a lot and seeing friends and family. As a big fan of the first two, it’s my kind of public holiday. Here’s what we drank:

Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru – I loved this. It’s very dry and serious and has a sort of stripped down lithe power that’s more Bruce Lee than Mike Tyson.  I tend to like my champagnes big and blowsy like sparkling Meursault, this is opposite, a Grand Cru Chablis would be a good comparison. You can taste the chalk in the soil. Also has very beautiful small bubbles.

Parcel Series Riesling 2006 – I like an Australian Riesling of an evening but only when it’s mature like this one. When young they can be aggressively acidic. This one has all those limey, toasty flavours that you’d hope for though without the intensity of a great example.

Jeanne Gaillard Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes 2010 – it’s a Syrah from the Northern Rhone but, tasted blind, I’d have said Cru Beaujolais. There’s lots of ripe red fruit, very little tannin and then a slatey, mineral finish that reminded me of Morgon.  Your Christmas day wine hunt is over as I can’t imagine a better match for turkey.

Fonseca Porto Guimaraens 1996  – the problem with this wine is that it’s too delicious. So beautifully balanced is this that after a little glass, I forgot I was drinking a sweet wine of 20% and was putting it away like it was a light claret. By the end of the night, I had become a little, how shall we put this, reactionary. I was sent to bed with the last of the port and a copy of the Spectator.

The champagne is about £50 a bottle and the port £25. Both are easily worth the money with the port offering exceptional value for money. The syrah and the riesling are both from Majestic and extraordinarily cheap at £7.99 and £6.99 respectively though I can’t find the white online so they may have run out.