Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Viognier, Verdelho and Verdejo

What is it about grape varieties beginning with V. There are loads of them, I suspect because the Italians and Spanish secretly love the letter V. And it's also confusing because many of them are also known by other names. Actually, a little confession here, it confuses me too. Until a week ago in my mind Verdelho and Verdejo were one and the same just different spellings from a different language. You know, the old syrah - shiraz or pinot gris - pinot grigio thing that still confuses my staff sometimes. Only when I tried a bottle of Verdejo did I think, hang on this doesn't taste like those lovely wines from Australia I tried that I realised my mix up. More of which later.

Firstly to Viognier - hard to pronounce, easy to drink. It's been on my list of up and coming varieties for some time now and whilst it's still somewhere in the higher reaches of the Championship rather than the Premiership (little English football analogy there for you) I'm pleased to say you do now see it in most supermarkets as well as the better merchants. And so you should. It's really rather good. In my mind I usually associate a fruit flavour with different varieties. For example say Chianti and I will shout cherries, say New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and I will shout gooseberries. A form of tourettes if you like. Well for Viognier it is apricots. I don't think I have tried one yet where they haven't been present.

Classically Viognier is French, like most of the classic varieties and is grown in the Rhône Valley. It produces, most famously, wines of the AC Condrieu which are 100% Viognier but is also grown in Languedoc and blended with the likes of Roussane and Marsanne in Vin de Pays from that region. Until recent times it was very much out of fashion and declining but successful production in Chile, the United States and Australia has seen it rise again.

But I think Viognier has one great asset, it is a fantastic accompaniment to chicken, virtually any kind of chicken dish you could think of from a whole roast bird to chicken tikka massala. So much so I call it the chicken wine and tell this to my guests in our restaurant. Having roast chicken for lunch this Sunday? Why not give it a try.

Crisp, dry Verdelho
Whilst I was in Australia I came across a variety that I did not know too much about. Verdelho is the principal grape variety of Madeira and is grown extensively in Portugal but I discovered it makes a lovely white wine and I tried two whilst in Oz. One from the Hunter Valley and one from Margaret River region. 

Rich, creamy Verdejo

Once back in the UK I decided I would blog about Verdelho and set out to find another one to taste. In my confusion in Majestic I purchased a Verdejo instead thinking it was the same grape. Of course it's not and I realised immediately. The Verdelho were herbaceous with bundles of acidity whilst the Verdejo was rich and creamy with notes of pineapple, almost like a Chardonnay. Still great wine though and well worth a try.

Next time: The launch of my new business offering bespoke, fun, informative wine tastings in your home.  Oh, and the importance of wine temperatures.

Enjoy your wine. Cheers!

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Friday, 8 March 2013

Birmingham School of Wine

If you are at all interested in wine the only way to really learn more is to actually taste more. Obviously most of us have got limited funds for buying wine so an enjoyable way of getting to taste a variety of wines is by going to a wine tasting.

I am in a privileged position of working in the hospitality trade and wine tastings are something I go to on a reasonably regular basis and it is great fun, providing you can leave the car at home and remember which pocket you put your house keys in when you get home.

But there are plenty of opportunities for the general public to get involved too, and it doesn't have to cost you a fortune. One such company that offers this opportunity near me is Birmingham Wine School which was established in 2008 and offers a wide variety of courses for everyone from people simply interested in wine up to professional people in the trade like myself who wish to gain professional qualifications in the subject.

My father-in-law Rob is very passionate about his wine, especially Bordeaux and he would admit to being a proper Francophile. He loves going there and enjoying the French way of life, especially the 'vin'. So for his birthday his wife, my mother-in-law bought for him (and me - thank you Norma) tickets for 'Good Food would choose Bordeaux' which took place at the The Old Joint Stock, a lovely old Fullers pub that does great ales and food in central Birmingham on Tuesday 19th February.

My somewhat wine spattered tasting notes from the evening

I will confess at this point that we both knew what to expect, as the previous year we had attended the same venue for The Grand Tour of France which was a whistle stop tour of the whole of France.

We ate before we arrived, therefore not repeating the mistake made last time when I for one fell asleep on the train home. It's amazing how those little sips add up and by the end of the night you can easily have drunk nearly a whole bottle. They do actually put on some cheese, paté and biscuits for you and with some wines, food as an accompaniment is a real help to enjoying the wine.

We started with a Sauvignon Blanc from Entre-deux-Mers exactly as I had predicted to Rob. But for most, including me, and leaving aside for a moment the fantastic sweet wine from Sauternes and the like, Bordeaux is all about red wine, 'Claret' as we British used to love to call it. The first red was actually a bit of an anti-climax, a decidedly dull but inoffensive Bordeaux Superieur that came from Tesco (surprise, surprise). Actually it probably would have gone well with one of those dodgy lasagnes.

You get a little A4 sheet with a bit of information about each of the wines before you start the night, region, grape variety, year, merchant etc along with a short description but they don't tell you the price of the wines until the end of the night. Therefore myself and Rob have a little competition to see who can get closest at guessing. On this night we decided the loser would have to buy the other a decent bottle as a prize. More of which later. After each wine is poured a general discussion will take place about it's characteristics including the appearance, nose and finally the palate.

La Dominique St Emilion Grand Cru Classé
and Chateau Greysac from Medoc
both 9/10 wines for us
The Tesco wine was £4.99 (I guessed £6.50) and I could see the couple sitting opposite us who were new to this looking a little nervous as if they feared the evening might be a waste of money. The good news was the quality of the wines soon ramped up and after trying pretty good Premieres Côtes de Bordeaux from Château Tanesse and Château Paret from the Côtes de Castillon we tried two really fantastic wines, La Dominique 2003, a St Emilion Grand Cru Classé with fantastic blackcurrant flavours and great balance, and Château Greysac 2003 a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Medoc which was dry but with sweet cherry fruit and soft tannins.

After three more fine wines from Margaux, Montagne de St Emilions and St Emilion  itself we returned to Tesco with a tasting of their finest Sauternes. Now, I know sweet wine isn't to everyones taste, indeed Rob declined an opportunity to try it, but for me it is a delicious honeyed treat to be sampled when ever you get the chance. Shame we didn't have any sticky toffee pudding to go with it.

At the end of the night which was about 90 minutes long our guide, whose name I'm afraid I forgot to write down went through the prices and my competitive nature went into overdrive. Sadly I lost to Rob by 5 wines to 4 with one tied and how he loved that. Now I have to find him a decent bottle. I understand Tesco do some good wine. Seriously though it was an excellent evening and great value. If you have a chance to go please do as I am sure you will enjoy it.

Next time. Two up and coming varieties beginning with V. Verdelho and Viognier. Oh, and roast chicken.

Enjoy your wine. Cheers!


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