HOW TO PRESERVE WINE to the very last drop!

We all know what it is like to open a really nice bottle of wine for dinner and suddenly – at the end of dinner – there are a few glasses left in the bottle.

What to do?

Drink it?

Yes, but then we feel guilty. We are constantly being bamboozled at the moment that we all drink too much.

Do we care?

Actually… yes!

If it is going to make a difference, we prefer not to have to drink it and definitely NOT to throw it away!

The thing to do is put the cork (any cork will do, as long as it is airtight) back in the bottle and stand the bottle in the DOOR OF THE FRIDGE.

Red wine too!

With red wine, before you finish it off, remember to take the bottle out of the fridge at least half an hour beforehand so that it warms up to room temperature.

What if there is only 1 glass left?

Pour it into a glass, put a piece of “clingfilm” on it. Make sure it is totally airtight. Put it in the fridge.

The fridge will give you a day or two extra to drink it. Wouldn’t it have been a waste to throw it away?!

What about storing bottles before they are opened?

Always keep bottles lying down in a cool, dark place. Well away from fridges, freezers, hot water or central heating systems and pipes.

The back of the shoe cupboard is usually a very good place.

The better quality the wine, the longer it will last, both in the shoe cupboard as well as in the fridge once opened.

The wines at AmandasWines (our wines at a glance) are only of the best quality.

Remember to always buy quality wines. This does not mean they are the most famous or expensive wines.

Please have a look at our website. This link will take you straight to our full wine list.

CORKS, Synthetic corks and Screwcaps

Have you ever wondered about corks, synthetic corks, screwcaps and which is the best to buy? If so, read on!

It is not an easy question and the explanations are varied. So, I thought a little history would help to understand why we are having these current problems with corks which lead to much wine being lost through “cork taint” (Wikipedia explanation).

Firstly, it is generally accepted in the wine world that the best closures are still made from  high quality real cork. However, the price of high quality real cork is currently such that wines which retail for less than £12 per bottle make it financially unrealistic to use them. Wines which need to be laid down for many years will continue to use real, high quality, cork. Their ultimate price is high!

Quality cork at a reasonable price is currently unavailable and alternatives need to be found. The obvious alternative is the high quality synthetic cork.

High quality synthetic corks are similar to real corks in the short term. They look very similar. They are very tactile. They are expensive, but still cheaper than high quality real cork. However, it is becoming clear that they do not stand up well to being laid down for a long periods of time, i.e. 15 years or longer.

The other alternative is screwcaps. Screwcaps have a lot to be said for them once the consumer gets over the fact that you open a bottle of wine like a bottle of pop!

They are easy to use. You can screw the top back on again if the bottle is not finished, and for everyday wines, appear to be the best choice, especially for whites and rosés.

However, screwcaps do not age well. There is no movement of air within the bottle. This means that you can get a whiff of reduction. Reduction is a wine fault which comes about when the wine cannot breathe. It smells like rotten eggs. It is relatively easy to deal with if not too far gone. It just needs airing, or decanting. Leave for 1/2 hour or so and it will go – it disappears into thin air!

The reason behind all this hullabaloo dates back to just after WWII.

The production of cork oak trees comes mainly from a tiny area in the southern part of the Portuguese/Spanish border. It takes about 50 years for a cork oak to produce quality cork. The harvest takes place once every 9 years.

During the years after the war, the worldwide production of wine literally exploded. At first, the producers of cork oak were allowed to cut the bark from a lower area on the tree than was previously allowed before the war. A benchmark of between 30-50 cms above ground level was set under which the quality of the cork is considerably lower. It was allowed for a short period of time to enable the financially crippled producers to meet the demand.

However, wine production continued to increase. Cork producers were, therefore, allowed to cut the cork closer and closer to the base of the tree. The quality of cork suffered.

The Australians were actually the nation who decided that something had to be done about the dire quality of cork. They had spent an enormous amount of money on producing quality wines, only to find that the cork stopper was tainted.They basically invented the screwcap for wine. However, the studies are recent and it is still not clear how long the wine will keep under screwcap.

The French are very much more conservative. Many areas continue to use real cork closures. Many have gone over to high quality synthetic cork closures.

The wines at AmandasWines (our wines at a glance) are mainly under synthetic cork closures but also some are real cork.

Remember to always buy quality wines. This does not mean they are the most famous or expensive wines.

WINE AND YOUR HEALTH

My grandmother always used to say: « A little bit of what you fancy always does you good! »

Well, isn’t it nice to know that this goes for wine too?

There are more and more studies being carried out which prove that moderate wine consumption can actually benefit your health.

They have found that moderate wine drinkers are generally healthier, often live longer, and are less likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes and dementia in old age.

Most of these studies have found that it is red wine that makes this difference.

Why? The answer is in the skins…

The Polyphenols – a natural compound called Resveratrol found in the skins and pips of grapes grown in slightly cooler areas, such as the Loire Valley, form when the plants are under attack from bacteria or fungi.

The plants build a resistance to these fungi and form thicker skins enclosing this wonderful Resveratrol at the same time.

Resveratrol has been found to contain properties pertaining to: anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, blood-sugar-lowering, and other beneficial cardiovascular effects.

In America, this new find is being hailed as a new wonder drug.

In fact, you can buy it in the form of a pill…

A PILL??? Why take a pill when a nice glass of wine would do the trick?

(My grandmother also used to say, “There’s no accounting for taste!”)

Some scientists believe that this is the reason behind the French Paradox. The French eat as much fatty, rich foods as other countries but have a surprisingly low incidence of heart disease.

Now, not all red wines have the benefit of the high proportions of this compound. Some of the newer wines made for easy consumption without food do not have it, or if they do, it is in very low quantities. These wines are hardly more than fermented grape juice.

Choose traditionally made red wines with noticeable tannins. It is the tannins that give the wine high Resveratrol. Tannins are felt by a certain dryness on the middle to the back of the tongue.

(Same as a very strong cup of tea). They should be silky, not too harsh and not totally mask the flavour of the fruit.

To get a good build up of Resveratrol, the wine maker needs to have macerated the wine in the skins for as long as possible. As close as possible to a month’s maceration would be good. Otherwise anything from a week up is standard for good wines.

Choose wines which have been allowed to settle naturally. This creates a small but harmless deposit in the bottom of the bottle. Supermarket wines do not have this as they, the supermarkets, prefer to have chemicals added to diffuse this deposit

Most younger wines, wines up to 3 years, have loads of tannins.

They are consumed by the wine itself over time.

How much time?

That is like asking the length of a piece of string.

It depends main on the vintage, how the wine was raised, the grape variety, and that is not all…

I have several wines which are very strong in tannins including the Cabernet 2005, Mesland-Touraine 2005, Tradition 2004 and others which still have some very silky but noticeable tannins.

These wines’ tannins soften considerably with decanting, or just opening a good 2 hours before consumption. Always decant older wines or just open well in advance if you can.

All good wine merchants should know the answers to any questions you may have concerning this. So, don’t be afraid to ask.

I, too, am here to help you with your questions.

First published April 2011

Organic Wines, Natural wines and others…

Much is being said in recent times about the pros and cons; the taste, flavour and the wheres or whyfores of “sustainable farming”, “organic farming” and “natural wines”.

I am sure you are dying to understand the difference so let me help you.

 Sustainable Farming (Agriculture Raisonnée)

This is basically what all wine producers have done in France since the Middle Ages. “Putting back into the soil what you take out of it”.

If we look back to the end of the 20th century the growers in France, Italy and Spain raised their vines taking great care of the soil. Destroying the soil would have been tantamount to destroying their main working tool. No income, no food!

Can you imagine owning a car which you needed for business purposes and not looking after it? Eventually the car would get mechanical problems and then finally you would have to change it.

This was not an option for growers in Europe.

Tending the vines was always done manually and mainly still is. Pruning is still totally manual.

The use of horses in the vines only ended in the early 1970s when tractors took over.

Larger scale wine production as seen in the New World today started in France on a much, much smaller scale in the late 1980s.

Sustainable farming practices are used virtually across the board in France whether or not the grower pays an organisation to be able to say on the label that he uses sustainable farming.

Most small and medium sized wine growers would not bother to pay an organisation to tell them they can do what they have done for centuries. It would not make sense to them.

Sustainable Farming as defined by Wikipedia:

 “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will last over the long term:

  • Satisfy human food and fibre needs
  • Make the most efficient use of non-renewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”

Organic Farming (Agriculture Biologique)

It is the farming of the vines, not the winemaking, which is organic. (There is much confusion on this point.) “Organic wines” currently do not exist in Europe today although there is a lobby to include wines as such under that label.

More and more French growers are going organic so that they can compete in world markets today.

It should be pointed out that, although the theory is quite commendable,

-        The production specifications are extremely hefty.

-        There are very, very active controls in the vines.

-        All the bodies involved with granting this sought-after accreditation charge a lot of money.

It still sounds very attractive, other than the fact that the wines are “fragile” (albeit expensive and guess who ends up paying!)

BUT… due to the fact that the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides is not allowed, the only treatment for vines under the Organic Farming charter is …“Copper Sulphite”.

            Copper, being a heavy metal, eventually kills the soil.

This is the main problem today for any wine grower who is changing from traditional farming methods to Organic.

 “Mildew” and “oidium” are types of fungi which produce a powdery mildew on the grapes. These diseases can wipe out a total harvest in a matter of days. In warm, wet summers the organic farmers use 5 times more copper sulphite than the traditional farmers!

They are, thank Heavens, actively looking for an alternative to Copper Sulphite.

 Natural Wines (Vins Naturs)

The name “Natural Wine” is extremely controversial and misleading as all wines are “natural”.

There appears to be more and more of a following of this type of wine, however.

This is basically where the vines and the wines are made with as little intervention as possible. They are left to their own devices and we should like them whether or not they taste good!

When they are young the wines are often cloudy (no filtration), still fermenting in the glass (fizzy but not in a nice way) and, or tasting of vinegar (contaminated vines or wine).

A well-known UK wine critic recently said “at best they taste like off cider”

When they get older there is no knowing which way the wines will go. So opening a bottle is always a surprise – Sometimes not so nice, sometimes very nice!

I very much understand the current “back to nature” leaning of these wine growers and their customers.

However, I am somewhat bemused that wine, a beverage which is no longer necessary to disinfect our food, is being raised in such a way with total disregard to the feel and taste.

Wine today is a pleasure and in some cases a luxury. Surely, we should not have to go through the process of putting on a nice face to front these wines.

In fact, probably the only way they can really succeed in making “natural wine” is by furnishing the cellar as if it were an antiseptic laboratory where no microbe could possibly contaminate the wine. Then we would get some palatable wines!

(A small number of American and French growers are currently putting this theory to the test.)

First published February 2011

ROSÉ WINES – How they are made?

Before we even start to explain how rosé wines are made, we need to dispel a myth:

ROSÉ WINES ARE NOT MADE BY MIXING RED AND WHITE WINES.

Rosé wines are made of red grape varieties.

Most quality red grape varieties have red skins and white flesh.

In the Loire Valley the most usual varietal used for rosé wine is Cabernet, followed closely by Gamay. There are some varietals which are used just for rosé wines such as Pineau d’Aunis and Grolleau.

The traditional way of making rosé wine in France came about with the need to “bleed” the red wines by removing the surplus juice just after bringing in the harvest. Say, about 24 hours after bringing in the harvest depending on the varietal and the year.

Once this surplus juice is removed the red wine remaining in the tank becomes more deeply coloured, stronger flavoured, and fuller-bodied.

The surplus juice is not deep enough in colour to be called a red wine so the name rosé wine became predominant.

There you have your rosé wine.

An alternative, modern way of making rosé is by putting the red grapes through the grape-press, just like white wines, and pressing them until there is just enough colour to put a blush on the wine.

Rosé wine made in this manner is called “gris” wine. The word “gris” in French means grey. This is not really considered to be “rosé” wine.

A second myth to be dispelled is that rosé wine is easy to make.

It is not.

It is probably the hardest wine to make of all.

It is extremely fragile.

Therefore, lots of things can go wrong.

As a general rule of thumb, rosé wines are generally not put through the malolactic fermentation. (The 2nd fermentation usually reserved for red wines).

However, rosé wine loves to catch the wine-maker out and do the malolactic fermentation all by itself before it can be stopped.

Another fragility is the wine turning the residual sugar into alcohol.

In many regions, Anjou being one, a small amount of residual sugar is left in the wine to make it softer on the palate. Rosé wines love turning this residual sugar into alcohol once the wines have been bottled and there is nothing you can do about it other than uncork all the bottles and wait until the wine settles down again.

In both cases, the wine-maker just sits it out.

However, the wines will never be top quality again. They will be “flat”.

When rosé wine is successfully made it is light on the palate and very easy to digest in hot climates. It is generally consumed relatively young.

For this reason, it is the main wine to accompany barbecues and grills, cold cuts, and salads. In fact, all summer dishes.

It goes down well in the autumn too with roast chestnuts.

First published September 2008

HOW TO TASTE WINE

Lots of people are on holidays in the Loire Valley and I would like a penny for every wine tasting and explanation as to how to taste and what to look for in wines that I have done over the years.

I would also like a penny for every person who has said “I don’t know anything about wine – but I know what I like!”

We all know more about our own personal taste in wines than we would like to let on.

So, I just wanted to pass on some tips.

The one, very basic tip you need to know, is: if you don’t like it, don’t drink it!

No matter what is written on the label or written up by critics. Your taste may not be the same as theirs.

Also, if you violently dislike a particular type of wine it is probably because you once had a bad experience and don’t want a replay. The stomach remembers bad experiences. Don’t force it!

Sooner or later a time will come when you are open-minded about trying that particular type of wine again. It is all in the mind, you know.

Most people have an idea as to the type of wine they like.

Red? White? or Rosé?

Heavy? Light?

Fruity? Oaky?

Whatever…

Remember that when you “savour” a wine, you do so with:

 ·       Your eyes

  • As soon as you see the bottle appear you know whether you are going to like the wine or not.
  • The bottle shape, colour, size and type – all set your taste buds up… this is before the wine has even been poured into the glass.

Once the wine has been poured, the depth, brilliance and clarity of colour also tell the subconscious whether or not you are going to like it.

 ·       Your nose

  • As soon as you put your nose into the glass your subconscious tells you whether or not you like the smell – and, therefore, the wine.

 ·       Your mouth

  • As soon as you have tasted the wine, your taste buds will be working overtime to try to work out the flavours and if you like the wine.

 Let me give you some more tips.

Once your eyes have sized up the bottle, colour and clarity of the wine, let it be poured slowly into the glass. Everything to do with wine should be done slowly!

Pick up the glass without moving the wine too much. Put your nose well into the glass and smell the wine.

Usually, one nostril is more sensitive to the smell of wine than the other.

Try both alternately until you find your best nostril. Some people need to open their mouth very slightly at this point.

Put the glass back on the table. Give it a very good swirl in the glass (preferably without spilling too much). Smell the wine again. Notice the difference and the way the fruit blossoms and comes to the forefront of your nose and subconscious taste buds.

Take a good mouthful of wine.

Roll it around the whole mouth.

If you are at a wine tasting you can spit into the spittoon provided.

If not, swallow it.

Let the remaining flavours of the wine permeate all around the mouth and up the back nasal tubes.

Ponder the flavours.

Take another good mouthful of the wine.

Roll it around the mouth again.

Try to suck in a little air to bring out more flavours in the wine.

(This is an acquired action but is basically much the same as whistling backwards. If you have never done it before, however, you will probably cough and splutter until you get used to it.)

Ponder the flavours of the wine again.

Search for the flavours of fruit.

If you cannot find any fruit flavours at all, there may be a problem.

Or, the bottle has not been opened for long enough and the wine is still “closed”. Wine should be aired (open the bottle) so that it can “breathe” for a minimum of 30 minutes before consumption. The older or heavier the wine the longer it needs to breathe. It is preferable to decant older wines.

One of the main problems over recent years has been over-oaking. The flavour of oak in a wine which has been aged in oak barrels should give a slight support to the flavour of the fruit. It should never mask the flavour of fruit!

Over-oaked wine tastes like the smell of a wet oak-wood cupboard.

Another flaw to look out for, but which is happening less and less due to screw-tops and synthetic corks, is corked wine (cork taint). This is due to a flaw in the cork if it is made of natural cork. It tastes like you imagine the flavour of cork, or dry wood. It totally kills any natural flavour of wine or fruit. You won’t find the flavour of fruit in a corked wine.

Once you have mastered these basic tasting skills you are well on your way to becoming a true amateur wine lover.

There is much more to learn about wine. However, these basic skills of wine tasting will get you well past the starting block.

First published August 2008

Oaked Wines or UNOAKED Wines – A potted history of why wines are oaked or not oaked

To understand the flavours of the various wines you taste, you have to understand the flavour of oak in wine and the reason oaking exists.

The first thing to know about wine is that oak barrels do not grow in vineyards and that the flavour is not intrinsic to the natural flavour of wine.

The flavour of oak is introduced by contact with barrels used for storage and/or transport made from that wood. Sometimes, actually, quite often, the oak flavours overpower the other wine flavours, in which case it is considered to be “overoaked”. Barrels made of new oak contribute a very strong flavour to wine. In fact, up until the 1980s no French wine grower worth his salt would ever, ever have put good wine into barrels made of new oak!

In red wines, the oak flavour components include “vanillin” or vanilla, and so-called “toasty”, “charred” or “roasted” or “caramelised” elements. In white wines, the flavour component is generally “buttery”. Vanillin and butter comes from the character of the hardwood. The three others derive from the “charring” of the barrel that occurs from the flaming of the interior of the barrel to be able to bend the staves into place.

The second thing to know is that the reason oak barrels came into existence was mainly for the transport of wines and the storage of wines.

To understand how this came about, I shall take you back in time to the Roman period when Julius Caesar invaded Gaul (as France was then known) in AD 52.

As the Roman army invaded deeper into Gaul and went more northwards towards the Benelux countries and onwards to England and Scotland (where they stopped) two things became apparent:

  1. That they needed large amounts of wine for the Roman army, and
  2. That there were not enough vineyards in Gaul. (There were only a few small vine regions planted by the Greeks around the Mediterranean basin.)

This was a bit of a worry as wine was particularly revered by the Romans for its digestive and medicinal qualities, its ability to disinfect food, as well as being very pleasant to drink! Pliny the Elder wrote a lot about wine. Unfortunately, the names of the varietals he mentioned are not known today.

The Romans set about importing wine from the best vineyards in the world, the slopes just outside Pompeii, and the Etruscan vineyards.

Initially, the transport was by boat. They loaded wine-filled amphorae onto boats and then onto donkeys on arrival. As they travelled into the hinterlands of Gaul, much of the wine was lost. This was mainly due to the amphorae falling off the donkeys and breaking; also due to the native Gaulois (pronounced gol-wah) who loved wine so much, they couldn’t get enough of it. They would hijack the caravans whenever they could.

By the end of the 2nd century the boats were constructed in such a way that they were like floating tanks. The inner tanks which held the wine were made of clay and sealed with molten lead. The wine was then transferred into large wooden containers of up to as much as 1200 litres or into animal skins or bladders and transported up river.

The Romans noticed that the Gaulois used barrels made of yew wood for the transport and storage of their ales. They started to use this for wines but it was not a success. In AD 70 Pliny denounced the “deadly effects of these strange recipients of yew wood made in Gaul”.

It is thought to be soon afterwards that the first oak barrels would have carried wine.

When Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 it wiped out all the vineyards surrounding Pompeii. It was from this date that the Legions planted vineyards in France in earnest, starting with the Rhone Valley, Aquitaine, the South-West, and Bordeaux regions, moving north towards the Loire Valley. There is evidence that the vineyards of Sancerre and some parts of Muscadet date from the Roman occupation. Also a stone grape-press dating back to the 2nd century was found just south of Tours indicating that the Touraine vineyards could date back to that period.

When Eleanor of Aquitaine became Queen of England in 1153, after having tasted the local English wines she set up the commerce and transport of her own favourite wines from the South West of France though the port of Bordeaux.

The containers used for this transport were, of course, oak barrels.

Later on in the Middle Ages the Dukes of Burgundy set up a transportation network of their wines to the Benelux countries, again, in oak barrels.

In the areas up and down the Loire Valley, the wine grower only had to take their wines 4 or 5 kilometres up the road to the local château or castle. He would transport his wines in oak barrels or vats, tip them out into storage tanks, and always brought the oak barrels back home again.  In the Touraine region, excavations beneath the Château of Chaumont found wine tanks dating back to the Middle Ages hewn into the Tufa rock face and lined with glass tiles.

Today, it is still traditional to age the wines in glass; we use bottles.

First published June 2008

Astonishing Dinner Parties

It is a known fact that as cash gets tighter good, old-fashioned dinner parties come back into fashion?

In the old days, we would all pull together and do a dinner party fit for a king.

But in the old days (20-30 years ago), we girls didn’t know much about wines.

We left it all up to you guys.

Haven’t we all changed?

We girls know so much more about wines, these days.

Not only about wines, but about our own personal taste in wines.

We are no longer afraid to say what we like and what we don’t like.

So, I am putting together some really good-value, easy-preparation dinner parties for 5/6 people, with hints for recipes, and their matching wines to please both us girls and you guys.

The French spend a lot of time and energy on cooking and preparation as you know.

Wine is always a vital part of a dinner party being a success.

A carefully chosen, matching wine is always served with each dish.

The French would never serve the same wine throughout the whole dinner.

(However, please do so if you personally prefer it, after all wine is a pleasure and should be savoured as such.)

Assume 6 glasses per bottle 75cl.

Fill the glass 2/3 full, no more. You must be able to swirl the wine around the glass!

Wine is taste and pleasure.

If you prefer a different wine, feel free to change it. My wines are suggestions which, I know from experience, work well with these dishes.

Remember, you drink the wine, not the label!

All the recipes ideas I am going to give you have been passed to me over the years by friends, or friends of friends, both in the UK and in France; or real recipes from cookbooks which I ticked around with because they were too time consuming or finicky.

My heartfelt thanks go to all of you. I have used most of these recipes over and over and over again.

COCKTAILS

As people arrive and have deposited their coats somewhere, it is nice to put a glass of something delicious and out-of-the-ordinary into their hands.

Touraine METHODE TRADITIONNELLE

Sparkling Rosé Brut Touraine Sparkling Rosé

This is an absolutely stunning dry sparkling rosé made in exactly the same way Champagne is made.

In fact, all Crémant wines and Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling wines are made in the same manner in France. They just come from different regions.

That is the only difference, other than the price, which is about ½.

Serve very chilled. 8°c.

It is soft on the palate and goes down a treat with just a good mixture of dried fruit and nuts. Pistachios, almonds, cashews, peanuts, etc. A selection of raisins & sultanas, dried pawpaws, dried mangos, dried bananas. You can usually buy the mixture already done for cocktails in a good supermarket. Easy!

However, if you like doing complicated cocktail bits; please feel free to do so.

STARTERS

I must admit I always find the best and easiest starters are fishy.

At this time of the year, and after such a chilly spring, shellfish is lovely!

If you have a good fishmonger; fish section of your supermarket; or a farmers’ market, get prawns and shrimps.

Fishmongers usually have a selection of different types of prawns, or shrimps.

Snip off the long whiskers from the prawns.

On each small plate put:

A few leaves of nice quality lettuce, lambs lettuce is nice,

2 or 3 cherry tomatoes, halved,

4 or 5 fresh prawns,

A few fresh shrimps,

If you enjoy making a good fish terrine or mousse, then a small portion of homemade terrine or mousse is lovely with a couple of fresh prawns and a bit of salad.

Make a sauce for it of crème fraiche, a couple teaspoons of water, and chopped chives, mixed well.

A few drops of good quality vinaigrette (not too strong, balsamic vinegar is nice) on the lettuce.

A small blob of good quality mayonnaise on the side to dip the prawns into.

Chunky white and brown bread. Butter.

A spare paper napkin per person.

A plate in the middle of the table to put the shells on


ALTERNATIVE STARTERS

Fresh asparagus.

Not everyone can get these and they can be very expensive. They come into season in May.

You might have some growing in your garden! (They grow wild in our vines.)

The green ones have a stronger flavour than the white ones.

Scrape off the woody outer part of the stem (with a potato peeler).

Boil slowly in a large open pan (frying pan) for about 15-20 mins. Be careful the little tender head doesn’t fall off. This can be done well in advance.

Serve with good quality vinaigrette (not too strong); lemon mayonnaise; or hollandaise sauce.

Same accompaniments as above.

2 spare paper napkins per person.

Fresh asparagus is always eaten with the fingers!

Both the above dishes are a dream with a really good, vibrant Sauvignon Blanc.

Young and zesty.

Not many people know that Sauvignon goes with asparagus. But now you do.

MATCHING WINES FOR STARTER COURSE

Either: Touraine Sauvignon Vieilles Vignes 2006    

Or:      Sancerre White

MAIN COURSE

Butter chicken.

Sorry to tell you this but using butter is the tastiest way to cook. Any French chef will tell you this. The dishes you do will taste that little bit more exciting if you use real butter. Yes, I know, we are all trying to lose weight. But if you are going to do a dinner party, you might as well make sure the food is tasty!

So, take 200 gr. butter salted or unsalted (I use unsalted) out of the fridge early afternoon so that it can soften to room temperature.

Then mix it with a couple cloves of crushed garlic and some parsley.

Fresh, if poss, free range Chicken 1.8 kgs. If you get it from the butcher he will truss it for you.

Heat the oven to 200° Celsius.

Loosen gently the breast skin from the chicken and very carefully push the butter up between the skin and the breast. Very, very carefully so as not to break the skin.

Rub the rest of the softened butter all over the chicken.

Make sure every part of it is covered with a thick layer of butter. Especially the wings and legs.

Put in the cavity a few sprigs of whatever fresh herbs you can get.

Thyme, oregano, rosemary, herbes de Provence.

Also, a few whole cloves of garlic, peeled. A couple of shallots.

Salt & pepper to taste. Just pepper if you have used salted butter.

Cook for about 1½ – 2 hours. Baste it occasionally.

Make gravy out of residue in dish. Adding water and a spoon of dry sherry to it.

Veggies: Roast parsnips; roast Swedes; roast red and yellow bell peppers;

steamed or boiled new potatoes.

ALTERNATIVE MAIN COURSE

8-10 Chicken breasts done the French Asian way.

Slash the breasts in a couple of places acrosswise so that the flavours penetrate the flesh.

Sprinkle each side with flour, whole cumin seeds, black onion seeds, salt & pepper.

Pat onto the breast to make it stick.

In a wide, heavy-bottomed pan put 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil (I use olive), a walnut of butter; 4 chopped shallots, 4 chopped cloves garlic, salt & pepper. Sauté until just soft.

Add the chicken fillets. 2 heaped teaspoons garam masala

Sauté until a lovely golden colour.

Mix in a bowl:

50cl. Crème fraîche

150ml. approx water;

A very large heaped tablespoon of very lazy ginger. Chili to taste.

Mix it all up and add to the chicken fillets.

Cover and cook for about 20 mins.

If you don’t want to use crème fraîche you can use undiluted thin coconut milk but it is not quite as nice.

This is tastier if it is all done in advance. Add water if sauce gets too thick.

When reheating, make sure not to “overcook” the fillets in the microwave as they go tough.

Veggies: steamed Basmati rice; steamed broccoli.

MATCHING WINES FOR MAIN COURSE:

Either: Chardonnay (white)                                           Chardonnay

Or: Touraine-Mesland White 2006                                Mesland White

Or: Touraine Gamay (red)                                             Gamay

CHEESE COURSE

The French always keep a little place for a little cheese and it is served after the main course.

A good cheese board in France usually has a selection of:

A hard cheese such as Comté or Cantal;

A blue cheese such as Bleu d’Auvergne or Roquefort;

A cheese that goes straight to the hips such as Brie or Camambert or Reblochon;

A goats cheese (unfortunately good French goats cheese is still difficult to find in the UK)

Served with a salad of mixed lettuce leaves and vinaigrette (not too strong).

Good quality UK cheeses work well, too.

MATCHING WINES FOR CHEESE COURSE:

 Either: Touraine Côt 2005 (red)                        Touraine Côt 2007

 Or: Touraine-Mesland 2005 (red)                    Touraine-Mesland 2005

 

Or: Sauvignon Blanc with the goats cheese as per starter course.

Or: All of the above

PUDDINGS

Apple Crumble is just lovely at any time of the year.

8-10 eating apples such as Golden Delicious which make the best apple crumble of all. Peeled, cored, cut into quarters or smaller.

Put into greased, high sided tart dish and put into microwave for 10 mins. Or until they are soft and watery.

Turn oven to high 250° Celsius.

Make crumble from a large cup of sifted flour,

large cup of golden brown cane sugar crystals (cassonade),

130 gr. butter.

Crumble it all up by rolling it around and through the fingers.

Put on top of apples. Cook on high for about 10 mins or until the crumble begins to turn pale golden, then turn right down to 120° Celsius for another 35 mins. You will see the water turn syrupy in the dish.

Chocolate mousse, no butter, no sugar:

6 eggs separated.

200 gr good quality cooking chocolate.

Melt chocolate in a bain marie or in microwave. Mix with yolks.

Beat egg whites. Fold altogether. Put in fridge.

WINE FOR DESSERTS

The French always open a bottle of sparkling wine for dessert.

The sparkling rosé Touraine you had for cocktails would be lovely – but that is entirely up to you.

If you have a sweet tooth our medium/dry and sweet Vouvray wines are just yummy!

I can offer mixed cases of some of the wines above to make the choice easier for you:

You can also mix your own online. I have made it very easy.

Mixed Case Reds

First published April 2008

Grape Vine Pruning – The Next Stage – Lowering The Branch

Summer is a-comin’ in

Loud sing cuckoo!

Anon

All you happy gardeners have come back over and over and over again to look at my article about Pruning Grape Vines which I posted earlier. Actually it was my first article.

The May bank holiday is over. A bit of a wash-out this year, really. However, all this rain is very good for the plants. You just have to be a little careful of the “mildiou” which appears when the weather is warm and wet. So far, so good, though.

At this moment we are way past the pruning stage, so I decided to do a follow-up article to the next stage so you can see how the vines progress.

First thing you need to do after the pruning, is to pull off all the dead wood from the vine and make nice little bunches of faggots. They burn very well for winter fires and are very useful for barbecues in the summer.

The vines which have been pruned following the “Guillot” (Guyot) system have a long branch. This branch needs to be lowered onto the bottom wire, so that the spring shoots can sprout upwards. There are 3 wires on a grape vine. One on the same level as the top of the vine, and 2 above which are used to entrap the vines as they get thick and heavy.

(I took a photo of this earlier this month. This gives you an idea as to how the vines are looking at the moment.)

The long branch is quite bendy. Better to do this when the temperature no longer freezes and the Spring frosts are out of the way otherwise the young shoots are susceptible to being frozen and easily knocked off.

If possible, the lowering of the branch should be done after the “Saints de Glace” on or around the 15th May. The 3 days of the “ice saints” are always a lot colder than the other days. (No one puts their window boxes out until after these dates.)

Most of the growers, however, lower the branch beforehand due to the timescale. Once the warm weather starts, the vegetation grows very, very fast.

Lowering the branch is backbreaking. Occupational hazard!

Once this has been done and clipped onto the bottom wire, the little shoots need to be removed from the base of the plant. When they are very young they come off very easily. In fact, they can just be brushed off. These are called “les gourmands”.

Then, the vegetation starts to grow very, very fast.

The vines start to get heavy.

The two upper wires should be placed on the ground until the vines have grown enough to put them back up again thereby entrapping the vines between the two upper wires.

Some grape varieties grow a lot faster than others. The Chardonnay varietal is easily the fastest, followed by the Pinot Noir, the Cabernet Franc, the Côt and the Cabernet Sauvignon varietals – the Touraine reds; then lastly the Sauvignon Blanc.

In France, all this care for the vines is still done by hand!

First published April 2008

UNDERSTANDING “TERROIR”

The notion of “Terroir” (pronounced tair-hwah).

To understand the flavours, complexity and typicity of French wines, you must understand the notion of terroir. The word “terroir” does not translate into the English language. So it needs to be explained.

The root of the word is “terre” which means earth.

Terroir is based on a geographic area, including the geological structure of the soil in any given region, however small. This is then combined with the region’s micro-climate, the traditional way the soil is cultivated, and the grape variety. These factors make up a terroir.

The structure of the soil could be sandy, or clayey, or flinty, or chalky, or even irony, or a combination of several elements. Whatever the structure, it is the soil which gives the indigenous flavour to the finished product. i.e. the wine. The vines are grown in the soil. The roots often go down as much as 20 meters or more in search of water. In France, the irrigation of vines is not allowed. The plant’s roots are totally steeped in the soil, suck up the water from deep, deep down, and pour all this flavour into the grapes.

If you have the time to visit lots of different wine producing areas in France, you will, as time goes by, understand the different flavours of the different areas.

Never be afraid to ask the grower about his terroir. He will then spend many happy hours explaining it all to you.

Take our area on the left bank of the Loire River. Our soil is clay and flint. There is a lot of flint in the soil. Therefore, the wines come up tasting very smokey, especially when they are young. Smokiness is one of the flavours of a flinty soil. It is very pleasant in the Sauvignon blanc which is our benchmark wine. (The Loire Valley probably produces the best Sauvignon blanc wines in the world.)

Now take the area about 30kms due south from us on the Cher valley. The soil is very sandy. Sandy soil makes very light wines. Therefore, the flavours of the wines are much lighter and fruitier than ours. They are extremely good “summer drinking” wines.

Then, there is the micro-climate to consider. The aspect of the vineyard has to be taken into account to get the most out of the climate. You must always plant vines so that they get as much sun from the south and south-west as possible. While driving through the South of France, you may have noticed vineyards on the tall, steep banks of rivers, facing south or south-west. This makes sure that the parcel of vines gets as much as possible out of the micro-climate. The steeper the slope, the better the aspect, as long as it gets lots of sun. There is an appellation in the south of France called Côte Rôtie where the slopes are so steep that the only way to access the vines is by helicopter. Of course, this is a very expensive way of caring for the vines but the wines are out of this world. (So are the prices!).

While we are on the subject of appellation, you need to understand that an appellation is the official name of a particular terroir. “No terroir, no appellation”.

An appellation is basically a rubber stamp (or trade mark, if you like) of a geographical region which produces products to set standards which make up the terroir, i.e. a geographical area, the micro-climate, the grape variety, local history and man’s know-how.

I was recently taken to a restaurant in the UK who only had wines on their wine list which were mass produced from somewhere in the new world. They tasted like an alcoholic version of Ribena.( I used to like Ribena when I was 9 years old.) There was no terroir in the flavour of the wines whatsoever. The grapes were probably bought in from half a dozen different countries.

When you get used to drinking terroir wines, you find the rest totally boring! But that is another story…

First published March 2008