Monday, September 15, 2008

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, August 31, 2008: Food-friendly Fino

If there was a really refreshing wine to serve with shellfish, smoked fish, parma ham, chorizo, olives, salads, manchego, parmesan and almost anything else you might find at a good deli counter, surely people would be queuing up for it? All the more so if it wasn’t expensive. So, where are the queues for dry sherry?

There are some converts who know how good fino and manzanilla (the pale dry styles) are with food, as well as before it, but most wine drinkers don’t give them house-room all year. It’s partly because sherry per se has an image problem, but more because people don’t think of fino and manzanilla as wines like pinot grigio, sauvignon or chardonnay. Fair enough; they are different.

But not that different. Fino and manzanilla are bone dry with a savoury, far less fruity flavour than, say, chardonnay, and they are stronger, although, at 15% abv, not much stronger. Try the three below, always serving them well-chilled and in ordinary wine glasses. If you want a familiar name, Tio Pepe is always reliable (£8.79-£8.99, widely available), as is the newer Harveys Fino (£8.18, Morrisons).

La Gitana Manzanilla, £7.29-£7.49
Delicately salty, dry apple flavours. Cheap at the price (Tesco, Waitrose Sainsbury’s).

Valdespino Deliciosa Manzanilla, £12
Aptly named, fresh, nutty, savoury (Planet of the Grapes, 020 7405 4912).

Lustau Puerto Fino, £10.99
Smoky, tangy and nicely rounded (Philglas & Swiggot, 020 7924 4494).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, August 24, 2008: Picnic Provisions

The severe view of picnic provisions, courtesy of a friend of mine, is that the wine should have enough flavour and guts to stand up to dilution by rain and the food should fit into a raincoat pocket. I wouldn’t go that far, but I take the point.

Picnic wine usually has to stand up to a bit of rough handling of some kind, whether traditional bank holiday downpours, soaring temperatures or a bumpy ride, so it’s a waste to pull out a precious or delicate bottle. Besides, picnic menus aren’t usually suitable for over-subtle wines. You are far more likely to be eating garlicky chicken, spicy salami and herby dips than you are dover sole. So go for wines with fruit, flavour and zing.

But even before you think about the taste, I suggest you commit yourself to screwcaps (or the smart glass stoppers that are beginning to appear on more expensive wines). It’s not just that you won’t have to fuss with a corkcrew; you will be spared the risk of a musty ‘corked’ wine when you are miles from the nearest replacement. Three screwcapped bottles below.

Canaletto Montepulciano di Abruzzo, £4.99
Full, soft red with cherry, smoke, spice and dark chocolate flavours (Sainsbury’s; also 25cl bottles, £2.09).

2007 Margaret River Semillon Sauvignon, £7.99
Zesty herbal and mineral flavours with a whiff of sweet smoke (Marks & Spencer).

2007 Bonterra Rosé, £9.99
Juicy, raspberryish Californian blend of sangiovese, zinfandel and grenache. Organic (Waitrose).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, August 17, 2008: Corking-up the Leftovers

Remember when wine came only in 75cl bottles, three-litre boxes and a handful of half-bottles that had usually been hanging around too long? Those days are gone. What started with a few tentative Tetrapaks and plastic bottles has become an avalanche of alternative sizes, shapes and packaging materials in the last 18 months.

Some of the new formats sell on their environmental credentials, some on the convenience factor and some, such as Waitrose’s range of 50cl bottles under the Vin à Deux label, push the sensible drinking message - the thinking being that 75cl can be too much between two.

All this choice is welcome, but the message I’d like to push home is that if you don’t finish a bottle it doesn’t have to go to waste or into tomorrow’s casserole. An inch or two in the bottom of a bottle probably won’t keep until the next night, but, if there is a third or more left, stopper it and put it in the fridge. If it’s red, remember to take it out a couple of hours before you want it or, at a pinch, put it in barely tepid water.

2004 La Riada Limited Release Crianza, £9.99/£4.99
Nicely oaked Spanish red with supple cassis fruit. On offer at £4.99 until Tuesday (Wine Rack).

2004 Mas des Dames, Coteaux du Languedoc, £7.95
Full-bodied, smoky, spicy, ripe berry flavours; southern warmth and no oak (Berry Bros & Rudd, 0870 900 4300

2007 Reschke Fume Sauvignon Blanc, £10.99-£11.49
Fine, floral, grapefruity Coonawarra white with a hint of oak (Old School Wines, 01782 372888; The Wine Library, 0207 481 0415; £138 per case, H&H Bancroft).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, August 10, 2008: Cool Reds

If you are drinking red wine today, you should probably put it in the fridge for at least 45 minutes first - not because we are in the middle of summer but because most red wines are drunk too warm all year. The old rule that red wines should be served at room temperature is one of the most treacherous pieces of wine lore, unless you happen to like your rooms at a penitential 16-18 C. A few big, young, tannic reds, especially those designed to be aged, may taste rounder and more supple at 18-20C, but the vast majority begin to lose their freshness and clarity of flavour at these temperatures. They will still be drinkable, but not as good as they could be or as the producer intended.

Beaujolais has always been appreciated lightly chilled, but most new world red wines at under £7 can be served in the same way – and many will be all the better for it - simply because they are made in a soft, fruity, more or less tannin-free style. And almost any pinot noir, whether £6 or £20, is delicious cool. Bottle, fridge, now.

2006 Asda Extra Special Beaujolais Villages, £4.98
Textbook Beaujolais – soft, juicy, peppery strawberry fruit (Asda).

2007 Casillero del Diablo Pinot Noir, £5.99
Great value Chilean pinot with sweet fruit and soft oak (Sainsbury’s).

2006 Maven Marlborough Pinot Noir, £9.19
Stylish NZ pinot with wild strawberry aroma and supple texture (selected Tesco).

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, August 3, 2008: Spitting Cristal

I know it’s vulgar to talk about money, but as I spat the 2002 Cristal Rosé into the elegant spittoons in Roederer’s tasting room I couldn’t help wondering how many pounds’ worth I was ejecting into Reims’ sewage system at £300-£545 a bottle (the price-span for the 2000 vintage; 2002 has yet to be shipped).

Spitting fine wine is all in a day’s work, of course, but some days are more painful than others. This was one. I spat out seven vintages of Cristal, four white and three pink. The white is cheaper (anything from about £170 to £238 for the 2000 vintage; more for older ones), but even so I reckon it was close to £100 down the drain - literally, not metaphorically.

Cristal sometimes hits the headlines for the wrong reasons – for example, the falling-out with Jay-Z over his spraying it round the room (allegedly) - but there is no question it’s superlative champagne. As it should be. If you can’t afford it (few can), note that all Louis Roederer champagnes are made by the same people in the same cellars and largely from the family’s own vineyards.

2002 Roederer Brut Vintage Rosé, £49.99-£63
Not Cristal, but one of the best rosé champagnes (Wimbledon Wine Cellars, 0208 540 9979; Vintage House, 020 7437 2592; Harvey Nichols, 020 7235 5000; Fortnum & Mason, 0845 300 1707).

2002 Roederer Brut Vintage, £49.99-£60
Rich brioche and candied citrus flavours (Wimbledon Wine Cellars, Fortnum & Mason, Vintage House, Berry Bros & Rudd, 0800 900 4300)

Quartet, Roederer Estate, £17.99-£19.99
Convincing champagne-lookalike made in California (Waitrose, Majestic).