Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Chocolate brownies and Lustau Moscatel Emilín

The picture says it all really: chocolate brownies and luscious sweet sherry. I've often sipped treacly sweet PX with chocolate which works well, but can be too much of a good thing (and dangerously calorific). Lustau's Moscatel Emilín is a little less sweet with 195g sugar per litre (Pedro Ximénez contains as much as 500g per litre) and worked fabulously with the brownies. The wine's complex caramelised orange and dried fig aromas, rich, yet fresh and tangy, melded seamlessly with the brownies with their bitter dark chocolate and touch of salt. They truly flattered and enhanced each other. You don't need much – just a few mouthfuls to round off your evening. A decadent little treat.

Available from Berry Bros and Rudd for £9.75 (37.5cl) and Slurp for £16.35 (75cl).

Friday, 13 July 2012

Beaujolais: a neglected French classic

It's not so long ago that every year in late November we were awash with Beaujolais Nouveau, whether it was the local offie, restaurant or wine bar. If you worked in wine retail Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé campaign involved grumpy, bleary-eyed early mornings. One year at Oddbins in Camden, once the cases were off the lorry and a bottle uncorked, we each devoured two Big Breakfasts from McDonald's across the road – surprisingly good with the fruity young wine. (Talking of food, charcuterie is the obvious choice for Beaujolais which is why I've included this lovely picture of saucisson instead of anything from McDonald's; a sausage McMuffin just isn't the same.)

Anyway, I digress. Despite its popularity back in the 1970s and '80s and the fact that, along with wines like Muscadet, Beaujolais helped introduce many Brits to French wine, it has lost its appeal here. Younger drinkers may not be that aware of it and older consumers perhaps view it as a bit retro (and sadly not in a cool way). I've heard people admit to disliking Beaujolais (and the Gamay grape generally) because of the sweet bubblegum flavours – often the result of whole bunch fermentation/carbonic maceration and heavy-handed use of sugar by winemakers. This is a shame. There is so much more to Beaujolais, especially from individually named villages or 'crus' in the northern part of the region (granite based in contrast to the clay in the south). Here you find more concentrated, age-worthy wines with distinct personalities, ranging from light, fragrant and youthful to dense and brooding that become earthy, gamey and burgundian with age. Low-yielding old bush vines (maybe 70 years old) generally produce the best results.

But maybe it's time for a reappraisal. Beaujolais is enjoying a run of good vintages and there are a number of great value, delicious wines available in the UK. The recent Beaujolais trade tasting in London offered great examples from 2011 and 2010 as well as interesting older wines (especially beautifully mellow Moulin à Vent Grand Clos de Rochegrès 2000 and 1999 from Jadot). What's more, with Bastille Day coming up at the weekend, I can't think of anything more suitable. Here are few favourites:

Beaujolais-Villages, Combe aux Jacques, Louis Jadot 2011
Juicy, aromatic, fresh and tasty. Lovely summer drinking, especially served cool.
(£9.99 Waitrose, Tesco, Budgens, Spar, Booths) 

Chiroubles, Domaine de la Chapelle des Bois 2011
Pretty name, pretty wine: juicy, fresh and fragrant. A charming example of lighter style Beaujolais, yet with plenty of personality.
(£11.25 Stone, Vine and Sun

Brouilly, Henry Fessy 2011
Lively fragrant fruit with satisfying depth and stern dry finish. A great choice for charcuterie.
(£9.99 Waitrose)

Chénas, Les Carrières, Paul-Henri Thillardon 2011
Complex and concentrated, appetising and juicy with an interesting savoury finish.
(£14.25 Christopher Piper Wines)

Moulin à Vent, Cave du Château de Chénas 2010 (enjoyed recently at home)
Tasty, succulent and quite sturdy – fabulous with our sausages, mash and caramelised onions.
(£10.99 Waitrose)

Moulin à Vent, Clos de Rochegrès, Château des Jacques 2011
Lots going on here: juicy, perfumed, deliciously satisfying and complex. Seriously good (and the price reflects this). Another great Beaujolais from Jadot.
(£23 The Wine Society)

Morgon, Côte du Py, Jean Foillard 2010
Lots happening here as well: fresh and pretty, yet slightly rustic and farmyardy and with an elegant mineral finish. Beautifully crafted, completely enjoyable wine from one of the region's leading producers and best sites.
(£22 Les Caves de Pyrène, The Sampler)

Visiting Beaujolais
If you're travelling to France this summer, it's worth noting that the Beaujolais region takes some beating for its relaxing bucolic charm. Densely vined rolling hills are punctuated by pretty villages and, if you're a city-dwelling Francophile, it'll tick a lot of boxes. There is also a clearly sign-posted Route des Vins and many producers welcome visitors. A helpful Guide de l'oenotourism is published by the generic promotional body Inter Beaujolais.

Saucisson image copyright bbc.co.uk and many thanks to Inter Beaujolais for supplying the other three images.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

J Lohr Wildflower: a summery red from California

I used to have quite a soft-spot for this wine and recently had the chance of tasting it for the first time in nearly two decades. In May I was representing some Californians at the London Wine Fair and just along from us was the J Lohr stand. It was great to have a chat and be reacquainted with a wine I'd enjoyed selling at Oddbins in the early 1990s. Back then it was called Wildflower Gamay and was a Californian alternative to decent quality or 'cru' Beaujolais.

It's a distinctively juicy wine with soft gentle tannins, but it's not made from the Gamay we know from Beaujolais, but a grape called Valdiguié or Gros Auxerrois (originally from southwest France) that used to be referred to as Napa Gamay. To avoid any confusion (it's not made from Gamay and it doesn't come from Napa) the wine is now labelled Wildflower Monterey County Valdiguié.

Anyway, I was thrilled to see it again and last week we enjoyed the bottle I was given at the fair with some sausages, mash and sauce diable from Rachel Khoo's Little Paris Kitchen cookery book (more about which another time). The wine's generous ripe aromatic fruit was delicious with the hot cayenne pepper in the sauce. Chilled briefly, with its refreshing acidity and fairly moderate alcohol (12.5 abv), it turned out to be an ideal choice on a warm summer evening. Time does fly, however, I look forward to enjoying Wildflower again soon.

Enotria is the UK importer and it is available for about £11.50 from Great Western Wine and various other independent merchants.