Tag Archives: Food

A German riesling from von Kesselstatt – a match for ‘The Mussel Feast’

As you may have gathered by now, I’ve been reading the books longlisted for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and one of the shortlisted titles is Birgit Vanderbeke’s The Mussel Feast, translated by Jamie Bulloch. Although The Mussel Feast missed out on the prize itself, I was delighted to learn that the judges honoured this book with a special mention.

The Mussel Feast is a modern German classic, first published in Germany in 1990, but only recently translated into English and brought to us by Peirene Press. It’s a great little novella, one which packs much nuance and depth into its 100 pages.

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In the opening scenes, a mother and her two teenage children, a girl and a boy, are waiting for the imminent arrival of their father. Mother has spent hours scrubbing four kilos of mussels in ice-cold water and preparations are underway for a feast of mussels as they are her husband’s favourite meal. She doesn’t care for mussels herself, but her husband has been away on a business trip, one which was destined to be the final step on his path to a big promotion. The novella is narrated by the daughter and it soon becomes clear that all is not well within this family. While they wait for father to return, the three members of the family start to talk, expressing thoughts they’ve never dared to mention before.

As time passes, they grow restless, rebellious even, so they open a bottle of one of father’s favourite wines. It’s a riesling, a Spätlese meaning ‘late harvest’. As the wine flows, mother and her children start to let their hair down and the story of their life unravels.  I won’t reveal any more of the narrative, but if you’re interested, you can read my review of The Mussel Feast here.

The Mussel Feast got me thinking about riesling. It’s one of my favourite grape varieties, and I love its chameleon-like nature. Some rieslings are dry, others intensely sweet, and it can successfully straddle the middle ground between these two ends of the spectrum, too.

Last week I returned to a favourite German riesling, a bottle of Nies‘chen Riesling Kabinett (2012 vintage) made by the von Kesselstatt estate. This wine is a Kabinett, so it’s a little less concentrated and lighter in body than a late-harvest Spätlese, but it was the only German riesling I had to hand at the time. (Note: Kabinett and Spätlese are different styles of German wine; these terms form part of the Prädikatswein system that categorises German wines by the ripeness, or ‘must weight’ of the grapes.)

The grapes that go into this von Kesselstatt riesling hail from an estate-owned vineyard in the Ruwer where the soil is hard and slatey and this gives the wine a slightly mineral note. On the nose, this wine smells quite floral – elderflower with some zest of lime, too. This riesling is medium dry (or off-dry), with a good balance between the acidity and sweetness. In terms of taste, the wine offers a succession of different sensations; an initial wave of acidity followed by some sweetness, and then more acidity to give a long, mouth-watering finish. It’s a bright and refreshingly light wine, but there’s plenty of passion fruit and citrus flavour here.

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It’s a very pleasant wine to drink now, but I think it’ll be even better in another two or three years from now, once it’s had sufficient time to develop a little more flesh and richness. ‘I’d like a few more curves’ say my notes. Earlier this year, I tasted the 2009 vintage of this von Kesselstatt riesling and it was a richer, more rounded wine. Given time, I’m sure the 2012 will head the same way.

Would this von Kesselstatt Kabinett be a fitting match for The Mussel Feast? While it’s not a Spätlese (as featured in the book), it is made from riesling and this grape variety certainly works well with seafood. And if the mussel broth contained a decent kick of chilli, something to counterbalance the edge of sweetness in this wine, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be worth a shot.

Wine stockist: I bought the Nies‘chen Riesling Kabinett 2012 from The Wine Society.

The Mussel Feast is published in the UK by Peirene Press. Source: personal copy.

Pieropan Calvarino and a herby dressing for salmon

Last weekend some close friends came over for Sunday lunch. We’re in the middle of a run of birthdays at the moment, so I decided to open something nice. Step forward the Calvarino from Pieropan (2010 vintage). It’s a wine I know and love. I have a bit of a thing for Italian whites, Italian wines in general if truth be told.

This wine, produced by the Pieropan family, comes from the heart of the Soave Classico zone in Italy’s Veneto region. The name Calvarino derives from ‘little calvary’ reflecting the difficulty of working this steep and challenging vineyard.

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The wine itself (a blend of 70% Garganega and 30% Trebbiano di Soave) was rich and delicious; quite floral on the nose, but I could also smell lemon zest, pears and almonds…perhaps a hint of straw, too. On the palate, I’d describe it as an elegant fusion of lemon oil, pears and the merest touch of honey. That’s not to say the Calvarino is sweet in any way. It’s very much a dry wine, but there was just enough of a contrast to soften and balance the edges of acidity from the lemony notes. The finish was long and citrusy with an interesting mineral note (interesting in a good way).

The Calvarino is a complex wine, one best partnered with food, as opposed to being sipped on its own. Luckily the lunch I’d prepared proved up to the job of matching this stylish Italian. We enjoyed the wine alongside some salmon fillets, Jersey Royals and green beans, all accompanied by a punchy, herby dressing – this is where the salmoriglio comes in.

I got the idea for the salmoriglio dressing from a Rick Stein recipe on the BBC Food website, although I made a few tweaks to it, mainly to dial up the lemon. So here’s my version of the salmoriglio – fantastic with baked salmon fillets and I could also see it working with tuna, chicken or as a marinade for feta cheese. In my haste to serve lunch, I forgot to take a photo of the dressing before we sat down to eat, but I did manage to capture a shot of the last spoonful or two before we finished.

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Salmoriglio Dressing (serves 4):

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

½ tbsp water

2½ tbsp lemon juice

1 small garlic clove, crushed or very finely chopped

1 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped

1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

Pinch of salt and pinch of pepper to taste

Place the oil, water and lemon juice in a small bowl and whisk together until thick and emulsified. Add the garlic, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper and stir well. You can add a little more oil or lemon to suit your preferences. Spoon the dressing over baked or grilled salmon fillets with new potatoes and serve.

Wine stockist: I bought the Pieropan Calvarino 2010 from The Wine Society