Celebrate Chinese New Year with Style

Chinese New Year is looming and so it’s always fun to celebrate with a good Chinese meal. I have already had mine, because the nice people who promote wine from the Loire Valley’s Central Vineyards area, or Centre-Loire as they call it, sent me some bottles to judge for myself how well they go with Chinese food.

Loire Map QS 2015 watermarked

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

This sub-region of the Loire Valley is very beautiful and is a cool climate area that is most famous for producing crisp white wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, which is supposed to come from around here. In fact though, there are 7 appellations here – 8 if you count Pouilly-sur-Loire separately (these white wines are made from Chassellas grapes) – and only 2 of them are just for white wines: Pouilly-Fumé and Quincy both only use Sauvignon Blanc, while Menetou-Salon, Sancerre and Reuilly also use Pinot Noir to make red and rosé too. The Coteaux du Giennois also makes Sauvignon Blanc whites, but can also use Gamay in its red and rosé wines, while the more obscure Châteaumeillant only makes reds from Pinot Noir and Gamay.

Sancerre.

Sancerre.

The line up of wines was really interesting, with a Pouilly-Fumé, a red Sancerre and a Rosé Sancerre as well as a pair of whites from 2 slightly lesser known appellations; Reuilly and Coteaux du Giennois. The 3 Sauvignons showed differences too, which made for some interesting interaction with my Chinese take away.

Which brings me to the food. I ordered the meal from an excellent Noodle place I know and I stuck to really traditional dishes too – traditional British Chinese food that is, whether it’s authentic Chinese food or not, I have no idea. The starters were Peking Dumplings complete with their vinegar dip, Crispy Prawn Dumplings with sweet chilli dip and Chicken Satay in the classic spicy peanut sauce – I know that isn’t really chinese, but all Chinese restaurants seem to do it nowadays. Then there was a course of Crispy Aromatic Duck complete with pancakes, spring onions and Hoi-Sin sauce. The mains were very traditional, Chicken with Cashew Nuts, Szechuan King Prawns – in a spicy sauce – and Sweet and Sour Pork which I ordered for nostalgic reasons as well as to see how it went with the wines. There was also a spicy Singapore Noodle and some Egg Fried Rice.

My Chinese New Year meal, not the most elegant in its little cartons, but it tasted really good.

My Chinese New Year meal, not the most elegant in its little cartons, but it tasted really good.

The food was very good actually, the first Chinese food I have had in a long, long time and it reminded me how much I can like this cuisine. What’s more I was pleased with the selection as I had ordered a good cross section of flavours and styles, some of which I suspected would challenge any wine.

Here are the wines and an idea of how they worked with the food:

PF2013 Pouilly-Fumé Champalouettes
Caves de Pouilly-sur-Loire
A.C. Pouilly-Fumé
This was the most traditional style on show and reminded me of how Pouilly-Fumé used to be.
The colour was very pale, but very bright too, a silvery lime in a way that most modern wines are not – they are usually deeper.
The nose was stony and mineral with some lime, hints of orange and wafts of stone fruit too. There was also some green pepper and herbaceous notes too.
The palate was taut and very lemony, with very high acid, grapefruit and elderflower. It was overwhelmingly green and quite nicely mineral, but just a little bit dilute, but then it was a tricky vintage. All in all a nice wine, but lacking a little depth – 84/100 points

With the food: Because this was a very light style, it suited the lighter dishes very well indeed. It was perfect with the Chicken and Cashew Nuts for instance and it was also very good with the dumplings. It even coped with the acidity of the vinegar dip – acid with acid always seems to work. It came a little unstuck with the richer flavours of the sweet chilli dip, the satay sauce and the Hoi-Sin of the duck, as well as the tangy sweetness of the sweet and sour, it seemed to me that it just did not have enough weight of fruit to cope well with these dishes. It was lovely with the prawn crackers though.

Conclusion, keep this for the aperitif, with fried things, crisps, scampi, fish and chips, but best of all delicate fish dishes and the local Loire Valley cheese.

Available in the UK from Sainsbury’s at £13.00 per bottle.

Gien in the Coteaux du Giennois.

Gien in the Coteaux du Giennois.

MS_FD_F23A_00902823_NC_X_EC_02012 Domaine de Villargeau Sauvignon Blanc
Domaine de Villargeau
A.C. Coteaux du Giennois
Strangely, although this wine was older, it was more lifted and aromatic, with rich lemon and lime citrus aromas.
The palate has good weight, with some orchard fruit and even a touch of cream and then refreshing, but not tart high acidity and citrus. It came over as being lovely, cleansing and pure, but with very attractive richness and good concentration of fruit. The finish was very long and I thought this was a very good wine – 89/100 points.

With the food: Because this was a richer style with more succulence and concentration of fruit giving that sort of fruit sweetness to the wine, it went very well with everything, even the sweet chilli and Hoi-Sin – to my surprise.

Conclusion, a perfect wine to go with a wide array of dishes, just as you get in a Chinese meal.

Available in the UK from Marks & Spencer at £9.99 per bottle.

Nathalie2014 Nathalie Reuilly 
Domaine Claude Lafond
A.C. Reuilly
This is the Lafond’s top cuvée and is named for Claude Lafond’s daughter Nathalie, who is the winemaker of the operation. It’s a lovely wine too, very much at the mineral end of the spectrum though. The colour is that pale silvery lemon and the nose is very gooseberry and nettle – I think, I’m not actually sure that I’ve ever eaten any, but you get the picture. The palate is very refreshing with gooseberry, lemon, elderflower and the sensation of sucking pebbles. There is just a touch of blackcurrant leaf too. All in all a very good and elegant, mineral wine – 88/100 points.

With the food: Because this was lighter than the previous wine, it did not go with everything so well, but it was  little richer than the first wine and was just able to cope with the sweet chilli, so it was perfect with three quarters of dishes.

Conclusion, if this was my only bottle I would have selected lighter, fresher tasting dishes, but it was still good with most of the meal.

Available in the UK from Majestic Wine Warehouse at £11.99 per bottle.

Sancerre rose etienne de Loury2013 Sancerre Rosé 
Domaine Etienne de Loury
A.C. Sancerre
This wine showed me that I just do not drink enough Sancerre Rose. The colour was a delicate strawberry and rose petal hue that was very enticing, while the nose of delicate red fruits, strawberry, raspberry and cranberry, with the merest touch of red jelly sweets and rose petal jam. The palate was overwhelmingly red cherry and delicate strawberry, with very good, refreshing acidity keeping it all in check. A lovely wine that feels both casual and sophisticated – 88/100 points.

With the food: That little touch of sweetness of fruit was enough to make this a perfect partner with all the dishes, even the sweet and sour and the Hoi-Sin sauce with the duck, while its refreshing acidity made it a good foil to the fried stuff too.

Conclusion, a good all rounder, enjoy it with everything or just on its own as an aperitif.

Available in the UK from Oddbins at £17.00 per bottle.

Sancerre rouge2013 Sancerre Rouge au Bois de l’Épine 
Maison Foucher Lebrun
A.C. Sancerre
A light and delicate red wine that is very attractive indeed. The nose is of soft red fruit with a touch of fresh earth and minerality too. The palate is smooth and quite light, with very soft tannins, but really nice plump, soft, ripe cherry and raspberry fruit.  There is just a touch of chalky tannin on the finish, which makes it more structured and elegant than if it was just all about fruit, as does the fresh acidity – 88/100 points.

With the food: The sweetness of the fruit made it work very well with the duck and the richer dishes, but the intensity of the wine, light though it was, was not so perfect with the lighter dishes. Chilling it made it much more versatile though.

Conclusion, best with the richer dishes, but a good all rounder once chilled.

Available in the UK from Marks & Spencers at £15.00 per bottle.

So in conclusion here, the combination of Chinese food and the wines of the Loire’s Central Vineyards seems to work very well and give enjoyable combinations.

What’s more, if you are still hungry after all that Chinese food, you could try some cheese from the Loire with the wines too. There are 6 appellation controlée cheeses in the Loire and they are all made from goats milk; Valençay, Crottin de Chevignol, Chabichou du Poutou, Pouligny St. Pierre, Selles-sur-Cher and Sainte-Maure de Touraine. Legend has it that when the invading Arabs were defeated at the Battle of Tours in 732 they left their goats behind. Whether that is true or not the cheeses are perfect with the local wines and guess what year it is is after 19 February? Yup, you’ve guessed it, The Year of the Goat, so you see, so it all ties in quite nicely and shows just how versatile food and wine pairings can be.

The Diversity of Spain – hidden gems & old friends

The other day I presented a tasting to Thanet Wine Appreciation Society, I called it the Hidden Gems of Spain, because I had dug deep to find interesting and great quality wines from as wide a range of Spanish wine regions as I could.

I really like going to address Thanet as the meetings are so large – there were 120 people there, most wine societies have 30-50. It was great fun and they seemed to really enjoy the wines on show. More satisfyingly the tasting introduced many of them to wines, regions and grapes they had never tried before.

I have a sort of theory that many UK consumers expect all Spanish wine to look and taste like Rioja, so – much as I love Rioja – I enjoy showing wines that are as different from Rioja as they can be, in order to show the great diversity of wine produced in Spain.

At first the wine society were unsure if they wanted a Spanish tasting, as they had one last year. However, I won them round when I explained that I could make it an annual event and never repeat myself and made sure that I showed nothing at all from the same regions as the previous year’s tasting.

In truth my problem was not what to show, but what not to show – I only had six wines plus an aperitif. It is hard to give an overview of how exciting Spain is in seven wines, so I kept pencilling wines in and then crossing them off the list again.

For the whites, surely I had to include a Godello from Valedeorras or Monterrei, a Malvasia from Arribes or Toro or an Alella? Sadly Verdejo from Rueda was out as they had tasted one last year. Continue reading

Very drinkable great value wine

Most of the cheap stuff on the UK market nowadays seems to be the big brands that operate at the lower ends of the quality spectrum; Blossom Hill, Kumala etc. I am sure most of these find favour with someone, but I always presume that they sell rather more because of marketing budgets than on wine quality. So, I am always on the look out for honest and well made wines that can compete at low price levels.

 

vineyards just outside Requena

It seems that I found a bit of a winner recently – and it promises a great deal right from the start, with its modern packaging, screwcap and a Decanter World Wine Awards Silver Medal sticker.

The only visual negative is that at first glance I assumed it was from Toro – one of the very best Spanish wine regions for good value – the design even resembles some Toro wines.

 

Map of Spain’s wine regions, Utiel-Requena is just West of Valencia – click for a larger view

I like Utiel-Requena, I was there a few months back and it is a beautiful place. Administratively it is part of Valencia, but geographically and historically the region is more like La Mancha – they don’t speak Valenciano and the area is a plateau quite unlike the coastal conditions. I really enjoyed visiting Requena itself, the town is very Spanish with no hint of the costas about it – and the prices of most things are cheap . It is surrounded by lovely countryside – mostly flat and covered in vines, but there are always hills in the distance and the landscape gets a bit more bumpy inland from Utiel.

The quality of the modern wines was a revelation too and as a consequence they are now more widely seen on Spanish supermarket shelves as well as creeping onto the UK market.

The Bobal grape is the traditional speciality here, but this wine is made from the much more famous and respected Tempranillo, which produces the great wines of Rioja as well as Ribera del Duero.

2009 Toro Loco Tempranillo
DO Utiel-Requena, Spain

There is nothing to dislike about this wine, unlike most at this sort of price it is not dilute, it is not over-extracted, it is not sweet, confected or jammy and at a modest 12.5% it is not over aclcoholic either.

It is soft with minimal tannins, a tiny waft of spice and lots of gluggy blackberry fruit characters. I found it most agreeable with some sausages – 88/100 points.

Available at £3.49 from Aldi – which must make it what Parker strangely calls ‘a value’ and what I call great value for money.

I have reviewed the same producers excellent dry Bobal Rosé before, but for the 2009 vintage the have  revamped the packing to Toro Loco and lowered the price to just £3.49.

These are amongst the very best cheap wines that I have tasted in a long time and I think they provide a much more pleasurable experience than most in their price bracket.

Sud de France – synchronised wine tasting

Well, this is a first for me. I usually avoid instant blogging or live blogging – indeed I do not really regard my blog as a blog, it is after all not a diary or log. I normally write, what I hope are considered articles. Unusually, today everything on this page is being done in situ at the time.

I thought it would be interesting to take part in the Sud de France Live Wine Tasting. It was arranged to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the establishment of the Sud de France promotional umbrella. This body promotes the region of Languedoc-Roussillon and the food and wine products from those regions. Continue reading

Austria – fascinating wines


I have recently had some experiences of Austrian wines and they were so good I thought that I would share them with you.

I was invited to a lunch and tasting at Merry Widows Wine. This is the brainchild of Canadian born musician Linn Rothstein. Basically her idea was to offer really good wines in smaller sizes for when drinking alone, so they offer a range of wines in 25cl and 50cl as well as full bottles.

Interestingly her career in music took Linn to Austria, where she was invited to a wedding and found herself sitting next to a winemaker. They were drinking his wines and Linn enjoyed them, took a case home to London where everyone she tasted them with thought they were something special. Continue reading

Rosé – skin contact or blending?

In the UK wine world we are taught, as a fact, that the only decent rosé wines are made by skin contact – extracting a dash of colour from the skins of black/purple grapes, just as you do a red. Champagne that is made pink by the addition of still Pinot Noir, we are told, is an exotic exception. Continue reading

Bottled Sunshine – the fun side of Vinho Verde

I don’t know whether I had my mind closed to it for the last 26 years, but suddenly I cannot get enough Vinho Verde, or wines from the Minho region of Portugal anyway.

The area has long been famous for producing light-bodied and light-hearted wines that are refreshing and lively. This traditional style can be very enjoyable even at the commercial end of the market, but in recent years I have tried some really serious wines from the Minho as well – rich, concentrated and complex, like the wonderful Quinta de Covela or the great Quinta do Feital.

Well, recently I tasted something completely new to me – a rosé Vinho Verde. Which sounds an odd concept until you realise that the verde or green in the name does not refer to the colour, but rather the youthful character of the wine. Continue reading