Wine of the Week 60 – a lovely and great value aromatic white wine

Recently I presented a tasting of wines made from unusual grapes and our first wine was a lovely dry and aromatic white wine. I enjoy aromatic wines, but find that many of them can be a little too rich and low in freshness and acidity – think Viognier and Gewürztraminer. Of course in the case of Gewürztraminer the wines can often be sweeter than you want as well. They were a skilled and enthusiastic bunch of tasters and they all loved this first wine.

Two things made it very exciting, firstly it is extremely good value for money, but more importantly it is really delicious and well balanced. It is from Hungary, it’s made from a very unusual grape variety and is made by someone that I admire very much. In fact it is so good and so pleasurable to drink that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

Hungary Map

Wine map of Hungary – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

The view from Hilltop towards the Danube and Slovakia.

The view from Hilltop towards the Danube and Slovakia. Photo courtesy of Hilltop Neszmély.

Premium Cserszegi FuszeresHilltop Premium Cserszegi Fűszeres (there does not appear to be a vintage on this wine)
Hilltop Neszmély
Hungary

I have visited a good many of Hungary’s wine regions, including a memorable trip the the lovely Hilltop Neszmély winery. It is in the far north of the country with just the Danube River between it and Slovakia. The local climate is continental and very similar to nearby Austria and the wines have much in common with Austrian wines too, both in weight and style.

The estate was the brainchild of the charming Éva Keresztury who has run Hilltop since the early 1990s and her success has been amazing. Her wines are available in many places and are always an incredible balance of quality and value, as far as I can see she has never put a foot wrong and makes some of the best good value wines available in the UK today. They also have a lovely hotel on the estate and excellent restaurant that specialises in local game.

Cserszegi Fűszeres is certainly an unusual grape, but please don’t let that put you off. It is also very difficult, if not almost impossible to pronounce – but then I also showed Dr Frank’s Rkatsiteli from New York’s Finger Lakes at the same tasting. That is also quite superb and very hard to pronounce, but well worth trying – but don’t let that put you off. I am sure that you will enjoy it. The grape is actually a cross between the Irsai Olivér (itself an aromatic cross of 2 other grapes) and Roter Traminer ( a near relative of Gewürztraminer) and has only been in existence since 1960. The grape is named for where it’s from, Cserszegtomaj near Keszthely on the north shore of the south west end of Lake Balaton – Hungary’s inland freshwater sea. Fűszeres means spicy.

The nose is delightfully aromatic with wafts of orange blossom, fresh grapes and some sweet spice notes, but it smells fresh and not cloying at all. The palate is soft with lovely weight of fruit sweetness, but is is a dry wine – just very fruity – with some nectarine-like succulence, zingy orange, richer peach and some apricot characters too. The orange dominates the finish, which is pretty and long. The wine is kept balanced by the lovely seam of refreshing acidity that runs through it making it lively, fresh and clean – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK from Asda for £7.00 per bottle. What’s more it is only £5 a bottle during July 2015!

This wine is a perfect summer drink, light, fresh, flavoursome and very, very drinkable. It would make an excellent aperitif, garden sipper or go with pretty much any food at all. It is especially good with lightly spicy food. Do try it if you get the chance – I am sure that you will like it.

Great British Food – it is great

It was only in 2005 that French President Jacques Chirac memorably damned British food with those astonishingly ill-chosen words, “you can’t trust people who cook like that“. So, there was no doubting his view, which was once that of the world at large – even the British themselves. When I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, very few people seemed interested in good food in Britain at all and looking back it seems the menus, both at home and out, were very limited and dull. I well remember watching items about the French lifestyle on Blue Peter and hearing that old cliché; “the British eat to live, while the French live to eat.”

In those days there were still the last vestiges of the old British view that things should be plainly cooked, that anything fancy was suspect and that being interested in food was not quite right and really a funny foreign idea altogether. Certainly the British of the day were unlikely to indulge in earnest conversation about food, the way Spaniards will about Jamón, the French about cheese or the Italians the relative merits of oils and vinegars.

So, if Chirac has made that statement in 1975 I would have probably agreed with him, but all that really has changed now. Enjoyment of food now seems to be an integral part of British life and food is no longer regarded as just fuel. I love eating out anywhere I go in Europe, but in reality the variety and quality of food available in Britain now is as good as anywhere – different, but certainly as good. I don’t just mean fine dining either, this country is full of exciting affordable places that turn out delicious food at all price levels and from an enormous array of ethnic backgrounds.

However food isn’t only about eating out, restaurants and fine-dining. It’s also about the ingredients and this is where it seems to me there has been a more profound change. Everywhere I go there seem to be local producers of fabulously tasty things, wonderful cheese shops and delis and nowadays we all take it for granted – my mother would have loved it. She died in 1978 when just buying spaghetti involved a special journey to an Italian shop in town and we had to bring our garlics and olive oil back from Spain.

One of these exciting food producers really appeals to me – The Artisan Smokehouse – and I have been fortunate enough to try quite a few of their products. Frankly if you are at one of the events where they show their wares – I regularly bump into them at the excellent Three Wine Men tastings – then you just cannot miss them as the smell is wonderfully enticing. I love the smell of smoked food and so it always beckons me over.

However, much as I like the aromas and flavours of smoked food, Tim Matthews has a palpable passion for it – which is why he and his wife Gillian started The Artisan Smokehouse some seven years ago. Talking to him he really does come across as a sort of Heston Blumenthal of smoking. There doesn’t seem to be anything he won’t have a go at smoking and precious few things that he hasn’t actually smoked – even maple syrup apparently.

Indeed Maple seems quite a thing with Tim, he does all his smoking over natural maple wood chippings and I know from personal experience that maple wood has a wonderful smell of sugary maple syrup.

Tim & Gillian

Tim and Gill Matthews

“It started off as something fun to do, but we now supply delis county-wide and see ourselves as part of the growing Suffolk food mafia!” said Tim.

In truth the smoking process is only something that I have a superficial understanding of, but whenever I speak to Tim he really draws me in. He is passionate about his craft and food in general, flavour seems very important to him and this enthusiasm is infectious.

His passion shows in the foods he produces and in the raw materials he smokes. The flavours he achieves strike me as being very delicate. Sometimes with smoked food that is all you can taste – the smoke. With Tim’s products the smoking seems subtle and integral to the other flavours. The texture and the flavour of the raw material are as important as the smokiness.

Truthfully though the thing that originally got me interested in his wares seems pretty unsubtle, it was smoked garlic. He smokes whole heads of British garlic and the aromas are just so enticing. Wrapped in foil and roasted, the soft flesh of the garlic is unctuous and delicious with a rich smoky note and pungent character – trust me it is fabulous on toast!

I am not the greatest fan of smoked salmon, but their Freedom Food Smoked Scottish Salmon was a revelation with a deep flavour that seemed to have a fruity quality to it. Even better, to my mind, was the Freedom Food Hot Smoked Scottish Salmon Fillet, the flakes of fish were firm yet succulent with a fragrant flavour reminiscent of Chinese tea. The hot smoking actually cooks the fish and so the texture is unlike most smoked salmon and like a piece of cooked fish, but with that delicious fragrant smoky quality.

Just before trying the smoked fish I wondered what wine to have with it. Something about the aromas of the food made me think of  that Grüner Veltliner would be good, so went in search of a bottle. However I found a lone bottle of something else that got me thinking and changed my mind. I am glad I did as the combination was perfect:

Dr%20F%202009%20Rkatsiteli2008 Dr Frank Rkatsiteli
Dr Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars
Hammondsport
New York Finger Lakes A.V.A.
New York State

An unusual grape, Rkatsiteli is from Georgia, but was widely used throughout the USSR, including Ukraine as well as more widely in Eastern Europe. It has an aromatic, floral and spicy kind of character, so will appeal to fans of Grüner Veltliner and dry Furmint.

This was great with both the smoked salmons. Just a lingering succulent softness showed this was a mature white and it balanced the acidity, which was still enough to be a perfect foil to the smoky flavours and fatty feel of the smoked salmon. The aromatic and fragrant nature of the wine was a great match for the fish too, as was the delicate spice character. A terrific dry white wine and a great combination – 90/100 points.

The 2010 vintage is available in the US from the winery at $15 a bottle.
Dr Frank’s wines are available in the UK from Wine Equals Friends.

Artisan Smokehouse hamper

A hamper from The Artisan Smokehouse

The meats are equally good by the way, the Smoked British Fillet Beef is so tender and fresh tasting with the flavour of the meat and that of the smoke sitting perfectly together. Tim’s Smoked Free Range Duck Breast is delicious too, despite being smoked you can taste the duck as well as the fragrant smoky flavour – it would be great in a gourmet salad.

I was also delighted to be able to try his speciality Violino di Capra – marinated, cured and smoked goat leg – which was stunningly delicious, fragrant, delicately meaty and fragrantly smoky.

The smoked meats would be wonderful with any red that wasn’t too strong by the way, earthy, umami flavours help too. Wines with the weight of a rich Beaujolais or fruity Pinot Noir are perfect. A smooth Syrah or a Barolo could be good too, like Spar’s excellent value earthy and meaty 2007 Valle Vento Barolo.

So, as you can see from my reaction to a small cross section of the range from The Artisan Smokehouse, what they make is delicious and terrific quality. It strikes me that one of their hampers would make a wonderful present for the foodie in your life.

The Artisan Smokehouse
Tim and Gill Matthews
Telephone: 01394 270609
Email: info@artisansmokehouse.co.uk
http://www.artisansmokehouse.co.uk

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The Rusty Pig’s cooking chorizo

The Rusty Pig 
As if all this smoked gorgeousness wasn’t enough, I was recently tutoring a wine tasting and Robin Rea was giving tastes of the charcuterie that he makes down in Ottery St Mary in Devon. Robin is an experienced chef and still cooks at River Cottage HQ, but he has a passion for curing and air drying charcuterie. I really think what he makes is as good as anything I have had from France, Spain or Italy – the chilli salami was amazing, intensely hot and sweetly tasty by turn, like a gourmet’s Russian Roulette! It was all, as Robin says, “pigging delicious.”

What’s more, it isn’t only a shop where you buy amazing sausages and bacon, you also can eat there.

Robin Rea

Robin in full swing

Rusty Pig
Robin Rea
Telephone: 01404 815580
Email: robin@rustypig.co.uk
http://www.rustypig.co.uk/gb.aspx

It would seem that Chirac was completely wrong, we have thrown out that old view of British food and are now as keen as anyone else to eat great food, cook great food and to produce great food.

A Taste of New York in London

The beautiful Finger Lakes

Regular reader will know that I loved touring  New York’s Finger Lake region last year. It is a very beautiful place and extremely interesting from a wine point of view. It produces some superb wines too and I was thrilled by the wines that I found there. It is very easy to write these more unusual places off as makers of novelty wines, but what they make in the Finger Lakes is often very good indeed and shows that it is a wine region of real quality that can hold its head up in the wine world and be taken on its own merits.

The only downside is that all the wineries are tiny boutique places really, so there is precious little made and what they do have is mainly sold at the winery door. Finger Lake wines hardly ever leaves the state before it is sold, let alone the country. I thought that was a shame and decided to try and make them available to a wider audience, albeit in a small way. So I managed to ship a small amount of the  most exciting Finger Lake wines over to the UK.

The result is that I am leading a tasting of the best of the Finger Lakes in London on 7 March 2012. It will be at the West London Wine School in Fulham, places are limited and will sell out fast, so book early – who knows, it might be your only chance to try them.

We will try some superb sparkling wine, a Meritage blend, an amazing and unusual Chardonnay, some world-class Riesling, great Pinot Noir, whacky but exciting local blends and more. So join me there for some lovely wines and a rare experience.

Foxy terroir – what are foxy wines?

The beautiful Finger Lakes

I was working on my notes from my trip to New York’s Finger Lakes the other day and I was reminded of something that I had wanted to share with you. My first wine visit of the trip was to Swedish Hill Winery and it was a real eye opener for a non American in many ways.

wine regions of New York state – click for a larger view

Swedish Hill is a most attractive winery and vineyard in the northern section of Cayuga Lake – named after the Iroquoian people who lived around its shore before Europeans settled here. Indeed as far as I can discover all the lakes, except Hemlock, have names of native American origin.

Continue reading

Georg Riedel entertains

The other week I was lucky enough to enjoy an amazing experience. My trip around the New York Finger Lakes wine region culminated in the Finger Lakes Wine Festival at Watkins Glen.

I had no idea what to expect and was half thinking that I would rather stay in bed, but I am so glad that I didn’t.

appreciative crowds at Watkins Glen

For a start the scale of the event was incredible, there were huge areas with wine tents, food tents, beer, ice cream, gifts – you name it – and the people there were really having a good time. This being America the music was pretty good too – I was very taken with Strat Cat Willy and his blues band. Continue reading

Sheldrake Point – the Finger Lakes explained

I really enjoyed visiting the Sheldrake Point Vineyard, it seemed to encapsulate the Finger Lakes wine region – or the modern take on it anyway. Sheldrake Point is a new winery, founded in 1997 by winemaker Bob Madill and managing partner Chuck Tauck and – like the region’s pioneers Dr Frank and Hermann Wiemer – they chose a sheltered site on the western shore of one of the Finger Lakes – Cayuga Lake in this instance. Continue reading

A Touch of Europe or Local Terroir?

The Hermann J Wiemer vineyard & winery

This was one of my favourite winery visits of my recent trip to New York. The Hermann J Wiemer winery made wines that really thrilled and spoke to me, as their literature states ‘wines in the finest European tradition from the heart of the Finger Lakes’.

I am not convinced that their wines are made entirely in the European tradition, but they do have a delicacy and a finesse that is very attractive. In my opinion though these are Finger Lake wines rather than European and I think that is how it should be. Continue reading