Sunday, 18 January 2009

White in winter?

I got a surprise phone call from my brother the other night saying that he would be in Paris on business and asking if he could he stay a bit longer. (Accountants have all the fun! I have to pay for everything but luckily I have enough savings and an accountant as my brother!)

I decided on Au petit fer à cheval, a place I love in the Marais, a tightly packed back room of a bar with a horseshoe shape (hence the name). This quartier is a bustling and trendy area housing a fantastic array of restaurants, bars, cafés, the heart of truly Gaie Paris (if you get my drift), and the Jewish quarter with some fantastic places to get a lunchtime bite to eat. To me, a hearty onion soup with cheesy croutons in this bleak weather and something like a lamb shank with flageolets, maybe, to finish, would do the trick. Winter warmers to fortify the stomach, all washed down with a spicy and tannic red.

So it was a surprise that, as we decided to catch up in the flat, he brought out a bottle of chilled Menetou Salon (2007 Lasalle). (Brrr! I shouldn’t be ungrateful, but thank goodness the flat had heating). Menetou Salon is a small wine growing area that produces wines just next door to its superior rival Sancerre, and, although the clay soils of Menetou Salon provide different flavours against the contrasting Sancerre chalk base, what it does produce is no less delicious when you think of the commercial advantage that Sancerre has in comparison. So for an old sentimentalist like me, its most superior wines are all the more precious.

The sauvignon blanc has a warm and light straw colour, and light legs as it is turned in the glass, contrasting against the grey and wet picture through my window. Dipping my nose in, the citrus notes of lemon and gooseberry merge with a hint of under ripe apricot, then give way to real grass and herbaceousness; coriander (yes, coriander! I kid you not), and a finish of cream.

Already salivating at the anticipation of the taste (and at this point I have to pause to explain to Ben why a beer just won’t do), there is lemon, again, but with hints of the tropics. Unctuous creaminess balances well with the subtle tones of pineapple, some grapefruit, but citrus acidity overall, and a mineral kick from the flint. The herbs come out as it rests; basil? Tarragon? Either way a slight liquorice tang compliments the mineral and creamy unctuousness, becoming more lemony and creamy as the glass reaches its optimum temperature. The wonderful acidity lingers in the mouth, the sense of steel and flint and lemon really do make your mouth water and thirst for more, but the finish is creamy and wonderfully round.

This is pure, balanced, complex and well made Sauvignon as the French truly make it. Not the gushing exoticism of BIG fruits from the New World. I am pleased by the excellent choice of my brother, but then we do share the same genes!

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Another snub

I recovered well from my night of Prosecco and anti pasti nibbles, but still had a bit of a fuzzy head the next morning, which I am blaming totally on the cold. However, I am worried now that I am developing a bad habit sitting in my flat in the heart of Paris ( with a market selling all varieties of French produce) with a risotto of gorgonzola and zucchini, as I have decided to snub the French once again by choosing an Italian wine over a native French one. Well, it is an Italian meal! Maybe I should select this one in honour of the First Lady here Mme Bruni Sarkozy and think of the fantastically arousing bag that she has successfully won her law suit over. She is, sadly, not playing Marianne for the boys.

The chill has not subsided but the wind has been up and is whistling down my road from the Seine making a hearty meal and a robust red wine all the more appropriate. Old window frames are rattling, though not only from the wind but from the heavy lorries that are going past. In this weather the age of the building seems to be emphasised by the noises from the apartment above, footsteps following the old beams from one side to the other, and the draughts coming from the corridor (and I don’t live in a slum!). So the low lights, slow rhythm of the jazz (my other love) and the gas ‘wood burning’ stove all give a warming and cosy feel to match the food and, more to the point, my wine selection.

I have chosen a Nero d’Avola, also known as Calabrese d’Avola, (Mandrarossa 2006, Sicily) which has had an enormous impact on Sicilian wine growing for several hundred years. It is probably the wrong choice to go with the gorgonzola (although the natural pepperiness of the Nero d'Avola does lend itself to the pepper from the veins of the cheese) but I am not going to be too much of a stickler when it comes to food matching. I can live with it!

The colour is a vibrant plum but not so intense that you cannot see your fingers through the glass on the other side. This is still a young wine and I suspect that the wine will still last a bit longer.

When it comes to the nose, I get a sense of buttery creaminess that I assume must come from the barrels that the wine is fermented in. There are some really sensuous elements of parma violet and dark cherries that tease the anticipating palate raising the expectation of something smooth and velvety.

The impatient palate is not at all disappointed. The wine is smooth, almost unctuous if not creamy in its texture. There are big prune flavours and an instant fix of stewed fruit. Tannins give the powdery element that fills the mouth with the perfume of parma violet clouds. And then the kick. Bam! The spice that Nero d’Avola is famous for, not dissimilar to Syrah in its ability to produce peppery flavours that linger on the tongue, and a light acidity that makes your mouth water after sipping, greedily wanting more.

While I am writing this I am getting reminders of Greece and their dark stewed fruit grapes like Agiorgetiko. Mmm. I may be tempted by a kebab tomorrow.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Bloke's tipple

Well I succumbed over the weekend to a very delicious glass (ok, bottle) of sparkling something to help me over my cold. Yes, the one that seems to be going around at the moment. I blame the hippy looking guy sitting next to me on the Eurostar. I should have upgraded. But in the spirit of charity and New Year’s resolutions I should be more forgiving.

It is freezing in Paris and the buzz of activity from the market round the corner, with all the traders blanketed up to fend off the cold, people scuttling along trying to get their shopping done in half the time, rotisseries turning steaming chickens and the flower stall with lilies, roses, exotic plants glistening with the frost and damp, and me, packing away half the flat, and the memories of Dominique. ( I am returning to Bath to help Pa with his packing as he goes off to retire near family in Australia. I should be in the removal business).

So, taking advice from Cosmopolitan, or similar women’s publications, I run myself a steaming bath, get some nibbles out and shame myself by opening a bottle of Prosecco di Conegliano (Waitrose) which was left over from Christmas, and which I brought over. I know, it is a bit like taking instant coffee to Brazil. Pink as a lobster, wrapped in a huge towelling dressing gown, gas fire on and enough time to bring the temperature of the bottle up to a better level (you don’t want your wine too chilled) I sit with my feet up on the sofa and my glass to hand ready to savour the moment.

The colour is so light and pale straw, and bubbles rising excitedly from the bottom. This is fey! Were it not for the five o’clock shadow and chest hair I would worry about myself drinking this stuff rather than a beefy Burgundy. Should I cock my little finger at this point? Maybe have curlers in (a bit difficult when you are half bald and have a crew cut)? Oh well. What the hell! Cough! Scratch a bit and get back to the moment at hand Lou.

The fragrance, and remember I have a cold, is so light you can barely note the marzipan almonds, peach and lemon fruits and floral notes, each scent is so light it could imply disappointment when it comes to the taste. But as it warms up, I think of being in a restaurant where the waiter whisks by holding a huge bowl of fruit salad or trifle, wafting the fragrance here and there. The taste reflects it all. So wonderfully light and pétillant on the tongue, the mix of flavours, crisp apple and honeysuckle, cream and white peach, a hint of lemon all rounded off with a gentle acidity and flintiness, gives it a light and refreshing quality. This is something that will lift my spirits and refresh my aching stomach after the festivities a few days ago, and reinvigorate me (but I will confirm that next time).

Thoughts? Prosecco is such a great drink, so brilliantly light and refreshing. It is so different from the heavier rival, Champagne. Obviously there is the different grape variety, Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris, and different terroir (wind coming down from the Alps to the low plain of the Veneto). But they also make it in a different manner, where the secondary fermentation, the bit that gives you the fey bubbles and the cocked finger, is done in steel vats rather than in bottles. So no dégorgement, remouillage, marc liqueur or other production. Straight into the bottle, no fuss, no nonsense. Ready to pour. Maybe more blokey than I originally thought.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Hair of the dog

Is it me or does the world seem a more dismal and drearier place after the excitement of Christmas and the New Year parties? My thoughts of alcohol of any variety are definitely in the grim lavatory just down the corridor at the moment as I write this from the Eurostar travelling from St Pancras to Gare du Nord to the empty flat in one of the most bustling parts of Paris itself. It is strange how the echo inside the flat contrasts with the wonderfully busy road outside and the rumbles of the metro, traffic and general chatter that switches off so easily when the window shuts it out? I am looking forward to the peace and solitude while my hangover eases and my stomach goes from acid rebellion to acceptance of food and maybe a little wine later on.

My aim this year is to write a diary on as much wine as I can, not quite a bottle a day, even my liver cannot possibly take that for the full 365 days of the year, but a log of tastings inspired by Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries and with the suggestion of my good friend Werds. Maybe I should keep in the mould and call it my Cellar Diaries (but that would be pretentious if you could see the place I am living in)?

First stop this week is to the barbers for my hair, or lack of it, and a shave. Five days growth means absorbing smells in my beard that would influence my tastebuds (or so they told me at wine school). After that I will dare to go into my off license, Nicolas, for a sample of their wine of the month or suitable alternative.

In the meantime, as I summon up the courage of the first mouthful of wine and keep my stomach from going into spasms of protest, I just wanted to wish all my friends and whoever may see this a very Happy New Year...