So, September has started and the summer is pretty much over. I haven’t written very much on Quentin Sadler’s Wine Page this summer because there has been so much going on. Quite apart from my work teaching people about wine I have visited some amazing wine regions, learnt a huge amount and been planning articles in my head.
However, I thought that I ought to mention a few things I tasted over the summer before you all completely forget about me. Back at the beginning of August I spent a few days in Biarritz for the first time since 1968 – when I was a very small boy. In those days I was more interested in the beach, pretty nice even now, than wine, but I was hugely excited by the local wines this time around.
The lovely old harbour in Biarritz
Biarritz is a splendid coastal town in south-west France that surrounds an old fishing and whaling harbour. I was really won over, it is lovely with a real feeling of grandeur, faded and real about it. Biarritz was put on the map in the 1850s by that fascinating character Emperor Napoleon 111 who bizarrely managed to be both France’s first president and last monarch. He and Empress Eugénie had planned to retire there – although is transpired that the Prussians had other plans – and the house they built still dominates the town as the glamorous Hôtel du Palais – and no, I didn’t stay there. Continue reading →
The real thing at Vintara in the Plaza de la Reina in Valencia
Paella is one of the great dishes of the world. It captures Spain on a plate and is bright, evocative and exotic. It speaks of a place and tradition and although it is an absolute classic anyone can make it and even use a bit of creativity and substitute some of the ingredients.
It is a very old dish with roots going back at least as far as Moorish times and although it is now available all over Spain it actually originates in the rice fields of southern Valencia – see map of the Valencia region here. The field workers – like barbecue Paella is even now usually cooked by men – would make a casserole of rice mixed with whatever was available – water-rat, rabbit and snails were the original classics. Local fishermen also developed seafood versions and once the popularity of this wonderful dish spread outside Valencia then people started mixing the two forms together and Paella Mixta – perhaps the most famous version – was born. The dish became more and more famous until by 1840 the word Paella had become the name of the recipe rather than the pan that was used to cook it in.
Historically paella is the Valenciano / Catalan word for any cooking pan and derives from a Latin root and the Old French word paelle – the similarities between Catalan and French are often striking. Today the pan is generally known as a paellera.
Valencia is a terrific city, with a lovely leisurely feel and things of beauty and interest almost everywhere you look. I highly recommend a visit there, in particular the old centre is a wonderful place to idle away a sunny afternoon when you have nothing better to do than to drift from square to square, sampling the bars and watching the world go by.
The oval shaped Plaza de la Reina is especially delightful with the impressive cathedral of Santa Maria at one end and the rather exotic church tower of Santa Catalina at the other. In between is a beautiful space with grass and trees and bars all around, a perfect place to refresh oneself with a caña of beer. I felt very much at home here and enjoyed it immensely, but man cannot live on beer alone, come 2.30 lunch beckoned! Continue reading →