Tag Archives: Wine

Timing can be everything in the world of books and wine…

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote anything about wine on here – five years in fact since I posted some notes about a favourite Albariño for Stu and Richard’s Spanish Lit Month, which runs every July. My original intention with the blog had been to write a mix of pieces – mostly book reviews (that’s still my primary area of interest, despite the name ‘JacquiWine’), some wine notes, and maybe the occasional book-and-wine match, should the opportunity arise.

Sadly (although maybe not so sadly for many of you!), my wine writing has fallen by the wayside over the past few years, mostly due to a lack of time and motivation on my part to put virtual pen to paper. But when one of my commenters recently enquired if I had any thoughts about posting the occasional wine note in the future, it gave me the push I needed to get back to it – albeit on what is likely to be a rather sporadic basis.

I’m writing this piece in the middle of June – a couple of weeks in advance of the posting date – just as the poppies are in flower, resplendent in red. It’s the time of year when my tastes turn to rosé, the quintessential summer wine, which is often unfairly maligned. There are some very sleek rosés out there these days, mostly from the Mediterranean regions, e.g. the South of France.

June drinking and reading

One of my favourites is The Society’s Corsican Rosé, a delicate salmon pink that I regularly buy from The Wine Society, vintage in, vintage out. The current 2020 edition is a blend of three different grape varieties: 70% Sciaccarellu, which is native to Corsica, 27% Nielluccio, aka Sangiovese in Italy, and 3% Cinsault (also found in Languedoc-Roussillon and the Middle East, to name just two). Etienne Suzzoni produces this rosé at Clos Culombu, one of Corsica’s leading estates, and he always does a great job with it.

(Interestingly, when I last wrote about this wine in 2015, the predominant grape variety was Nielluccio, maybe with a touch of Sciaccarello and Grenache in the blend, too. So, while the producer remains the same, the mix of grape varieties in the wine will change from one vintage to the next with the aim of producing the optimum blend.)

Having taken delivery of a pick-your-own mixed case at the end of May, I opened my first bottle of the 2020 Corsican Rosé a fortnight ago, just in time to accompany some pan-roasted salmon and fennel – always a winning combination for me. On this first tasting, the 2020 vintage seemed a little sharper than those from previous years – more bracing, and with a slight tartness from the crushed berry flavours that were coming through very clearly.

Previously, one of the most appealing aspects of this wine has been the slightly creamy note in the flavour profile – the hint of ‘summer pudding with cream’ which serves as a foil for the acidity in the fruit. This particular note wasn’t terribly easy to detect in the latest vintage, but I’ve no doubt that it will emerge more strongly over time. The wine just needs a few more months in bottle to settle down, for the flavours to knit together and integrate more completely. It’s at that ‘awkward teenager’ stage at the moment, in the midst of transitioning to an adult with most of its rough edges smoothed out. Luckily, I have another two or three bottles in the wine rack, happily lying in wait for some point in the future.

This experience with the Corsican Rosé got me thinking more broadly about the question of timing – not just for wine but for books too.

Wine is a ‘living’ thing, something that will develop and evolve over time, which means we have to be mindful of this fact to catch it at the optimum moment. But what about books? Clearly, they don’t evolve in quite the same way as certain foods or wine do – a literary text will remain the same, unless there are pressing reasons for it to be altered or updated. Nevertheless, other things can change, either within us or around us, which may well alter how we respond to books at different points in our lives.

Age is a prominent factor here, coupled with our personal life experiences. There are many books that speak to us directly when we are in our twenties that subsequently fail to engage us later in life and vice versa. Several of us can attest to that, I’m sure.

Our mood or state of mind is another influential factor in the mix. There have been many times over the years when I have returned a book to the TBR pile, purely because it didn’t feel ‘right’ for my mindset at that particular point in time. Some of these books are now firm favourites, novels like David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which I loved on my third attempted reading having stalled a couple of times before.

Societal change can be a significant factor too, prompting many of us to reframe our responses and interpretations to certain books as our tolerance levels shift over time. Attitudes to race, social class, gender and sexuality are just some of the factors that have changed markedly in the last 50 years alone, never mind the previous century. Simon Thomas at Stuck in a Book recently posted an excellent piece on whether offensive books should be reissued, which tackles these issues head-on. Do take a look if you haven’t read it yet, particularly as the discussion around various points has been fascinating to observe.

Anyway, I should wrap up now before I grossly outstay my welcome. Experience tells me that I need to leave my Corsican Rosé till September (at the very earliest) before trying another bottle. Hopefully, it will have settled down somewhat by then, and I can enjoy a glass or two as part of a balmy Indian Summer. Fingers crossed on both fronts, for the weather and the wine.

Pazo de Villarei Albariño, 2015 – a wine for #SpanishLitMonth

Seeing as July is the month for all thing Spanish (see here for a link to Richard and Stu‘s Spanish Lit Month), I thought I would take the opportunity to post a short note on an Albariño I tasted recently. It doesn’t take much for me to get excited about Spanish whites as they constitute much of my summer drinking along with Italian whites and Provençal/Corsican rosés.  The wine in question is the Pazo de Villarei Albariño, 2015, from the Rías Baixas region in north-west Spain. (I’ve already written about a previous vintage of this wine, but the 2015 is the latest release.)

It’s a lovely wine; lemony, minerally and very refreshing. Plus it has a slight spritz that gives it a sort of joie de vivre which seems perfect for this time of year. If you’ve never tried Albariño before, the Villarei would make a good introduction to this grape variety, a staple of the Galicia area of Spain. This is a fresh, zingy, unoaked white wine which is light on its feet yet satisfying too. Shellfish or sea fillets would make a nice partner. As for a suitable book match, I have just the thing in mind: The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán, a Spanish classic set in Galicia. A review will follow later this month.

IMG_2944

Most of my favourite Albariños seem to clock in at the £12-14 level – Pazo de Señorans and Fefiñanes are terrific quality, but at > £10 pb they might not be everyone’s idea of an everyday wine. Up to until last year, I’d struggled to find a reliable Albariño at the sub £10 level, but the Villarei is keenly priced at £8.50. I think it’s great value for money.

I bought this wine from The Wine Society (I have a link to The Society, so the vast majority of my wines are purchased there). Alternatively, you can use Wine Searcher to look for stockists. If you can’t find the Pazo de Villarei, then the Pazo de Señorans and Fefiñanes are truly excellent wines, albeit a little more expensive.

My notes on another couple of favourite Spanish white wines can be found here, The Gaba do Xil is an unoaked Godello from Galicia while Las Olas is a Verdejo from the Rueda region. Enjoy.

Spanish Wines for #SpanishLitMonth: Albariño from Galicia

Last summer I wrote about a couple of favourite Spanish white wines to tie in with Richard and Stu’s Spanish Lit Month: an unoaked Godello from Galicia and a Verdejo from the Rueda region. This year I thought I would focus on another favourite from Spain, wines made from the albariño grape variety grown in the Rías Baixas DO (Denominación de Origen) in Galicia, north-west Spain. Albariño wines taste of stone fruits, typically peaches, with a squeeze of lemon juice; sometimes there’s a slightly salty, mineral note from the sea air.

IMG_2290

Most of my favourite albariños tend to fall within the £12-£14 per bottle price range, but earlier this month I discovered a new one, slightly more modestly priced at £8.95 pb. It’s the Pazo de Villarei Albariño from the Salnés Valley in the heart of Rías Baixas. The Pazo de Villarei is textbook albariño: pure, clean and refreshing with plenty of lemony citrus flavour. This is an excellent introduction to the albariño grape, a wine that would suit lovers of unoaked white wines who are looking to branch out from Chablis, pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc.

As far as food matches go, albariño is the perfect partner for simple seafood dishes, but there’s enough richness here to cope with slightly stronger Mediterranean flavours too (garlic and olives, for instance). Seared tuna, paella or seafood risotto would also make excellent matches.

Wine stockist: I bought my bottle of Pazo de Villarei Albariño, 2013 from The Wine Society, priced at £8.95 per bottle. (No longer available, but the 2014 vintage is in stock, priced £8.50.) Or you can check alternative stockists via wine-searcher.

For the record, my other favourite albariños are made by Pazo de Señorans and Palacio de Fefiñanes, both come highly recommended.

Cà dei Frati Lugana – a wine match for Rendezvous in Venice by Philippe Beaussant

Last month I reviewed Rendezvous in Venice by Philippe Beaussant, a beautiful novel of love, art and Venice. (You can read my review by clicking on the link.) I don’t need much of an excuse to open a bottle of Italian wine, so I rummaged through the bottles at home in search of a suitable match. This Cà dei Frati Lugana caught my eye. It comes from a family-run estate on the south banks of Lake Garda near the northern Italian town of Sirmione – the vineyards are situated about 150 km from Venice, so that’s near enough for me.

IMG_2135

Lugana is a white wine is made from a grape variety known locally as Turbiana (previously thought to be Trebbiano di Soave). The Cà dei Frati is a personal favourite, the best example of a Lugana I’ve tasted. It’s fresh, rounded and very moreish – think baked apples, a squeeze of lemon and a whiff of thyme. Perfect for a warm summer’s evening and a vicarious trip to Venice/the Italian Lakes.

IMG_2072

Wine stockist: I bought my bottle of Cà dei Frati Lugana, 2013 from The Wine Society, priced at £12.50 per bottle. (No longer available, but the 2014 vintage is in stock.) It’s relatively widely available elsewhere – you can check stockists via wine-searcher.

Rendezvous in Venice (tr. by Paul Buck and Catherine Petit) is published in the UK by Pushkin Press.

A Corsican rosé – a wine match for Transit by Anna Seghers

Last October I read Transit by Anna Seghers, a haunting novel of shifting identities, questions of destiny and the quest to secure safe passage from France during the German occupation in WW2. It’s a remarkable story inspired by Seghers’ own experience as a refugee as she fled from Europe in the early 1940s. (If you’re not familiar with this novel, I’d encourage you to take a peek at my review – it made my end-of-year highlights.)

IMG_1776

A sizeable chunk of the novel is set in Marseille where the narrator Siedler (or is it Weidel?) and his companions dine on slices of pizza, all washed down with copious quantities of rosé wine. I had intended to write about rosé at the time, but winter was fast approaching and to my mind this style of wine is best enjoyed in the sunshine. We’ve had some decent weather in the UK over the last week, so I opened my first rosé of the year, a wine from Corsica.

I get a bit annoyed when people dismiss rosé as “girly” or “not a serious wine”. (Even terms like “pink drink” set my teeth on edge a little.) There are some very sleek rosés around these days. My favourites include the pale and delicate rosés from Provence, wines from producers like Domaine Houchart and Domaine Rimauresq.

IMG_2085

Earlier this week I tried a different rosé, the latest vintage of a favourite wine from Corsica: The Society’s Corsican Rosé, 2014. This is a delicate and elegant wine, a crushed-berries-and-cream rosé made from Nielluccio (Sangiovese) – there may be a touch of Sciaccarello and Grenache in the blend, too.  It’s dry and refreshing, with a slightly creamy note that balances the acidity of the fruit. A delightful wine, possibly the best vintage yet.

It’s produced by Clos Culombu, and I’ve enjoyed their wines for several years (they also make a delicious, slightly herby white from the Vermentino grape).

Transit gives few details about the wine Siedler/Weidel and his companions drink in the Marseille pizzeria, but I’d like to think that any of the rosés mentioned here would make a fitting match.

Wine stockist: I bought my bottle of The Society’s Corsican Rosé, 2014 from The Wine Society, priced at £8.95 per bottle.

Transit by Anna Seghers (tr. Margot Bettauer Dembo) is published by NYRB Classics. Source: personal copy.

Weekend Wine Notes: Hatzidakis Santorini

There has not been much in the way of wine writing on here in recent months so I thought I would post a short note about a favourite wine – it’s a white wine from Greek islands, perfect for the spring sunshine we’ve been enjoying the UK.

IMG_1809

Hatzidakis Santorini is a brilliant showcase for the assyrtiko grape, native to the Greek island of Santorini. This wine is quite full, minerally, almost tropical in style with melon and stone fruit and a slightly herby aroma, but there’s enough lemony citrus acidity to cut through the richness leaving a clean finish. This is a food wine, a great match for salmon with herb butter, and worth trying as an alternative to Chardonnay.

Wine stockist (UK): I bought my bottle of the Hatzidakis (2012 vintage) from The Wine Society. The Society has now moved on to the 2013 vintage priced at £11.50 per bottle. Also available from Waitrose £12.99 pb. Alternatively, if you are interested in finding this wine, you could use Wine-Searcher to check availability in other countries.

(Please feel free to ignore these posts if they are of absolutely no interest to you, it’s just a place for me to record a few wine notes!)

Weekend Wine Notes: Spanish Whites for #SpanishLitMonth, Godello and Verdejo

I‘d intended to write a post on a couple of favourite Spanish white wines to coincide with Richard and Stu’s Spanish Lit Month in July, but alas, time got the better of me. And then our hosts decided to extend their focus on Spanish Lit by a couple of weeks, so here we are in August, and I’m still in time for the tie-in!

First up is an old favourite, a Spanish white I’ve been buying ever since it first grabbed my attention three years ago: Gaba do Xil Godello, an unoaked godello from Galicia (godello is the grape variety), made by a very talented winemaker, Telmo Rodriguez. This godello reminds me a little of a white Burgundy, but it’s more interesting than many unoaked chardonnays; there’s a mineral note here, a touch of something herby and a refreshing squeeze of lemon. A very well-balanced wine with sufficient body and interest to stand up to seafood, garlic and a bit of chilli heat. If you like this style of white wine but have never tried godello, do give it a go.

IMG_1624

And moving on to a new discovery: Las Olas Verdejo, from the Rueda region, northwest of Madrid. Another unoaked white, this verdejo has a lovely aroma. At the risk of sounding like something out of fabric softener commercial, the aroma of this wine reminds me of an orchard in summer: slightly grassy, ripe pears and lemon (again). This verdejo tastes a little like sauvignon blanc, but without the stinging acidity that accompanies some wines made from this grape variety; it’s also more flavoursome than many sauvignon blancs. Las Olas (which translates as ‘wave’) is a very interesting wine and great value for money at £7.95 per bottle; another Spanish white for my re-buy list.

Wine stockist: I bought both wines from The Wine Society. I tasted the 2012 vintage of the Gaba do Xil Godello The Society has moved on to the 2013 vintage, priced at £9.50 per bottle. Las Olas Verdejo, 2013 is £7.95 per bottle.

If you’re interested in my Spanish Lit Month reviews, click here for a round-up with links.

Have you tried any Spanish white (or red) wines recently? Do you have any personal favourites?

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Weekend Wine Notes – Viña Zorzal Graciano, Navarra

Graciano, a black grape variety grown Spain, is sometimes used in small quantities to add an extra dimension to red wines from Rioja – Tempranillo is the main grape variety here. Varietal wines made solely from Graciano are harder to find, often expensive, and opportunities to buy affordable examples in the UK are rather few and far between. Therefore, when I saw Viña Zorzal Graciano retailing at £6.95 per bottle, I couldn’t resist buying one to sample this grape for myself.

Image

This wine has a lovely spicy aroma, full of mulberry and loganberry fruit with a dash of balsamic to boot. In terms of taste, it’s deliciously warming – spicy stewed plums, more mulberries and plenty of acidity to balance the fruit. There’s a very attractive, slightly rustic quality to this wine, which I like very much.

The Viña Zorzal Graciano easily makes it onto my re-buy list. At £6.95 a bottle it’s a steal, and a terrific opportunity to experience this grape variety on its own terms.

Wine stockist: I bought the Viña Zorzal Graciano (2011 vintage) from The Wine Society. Price: £6.95.

A stunning Canadian Chardonnay from Norman Hardie

Last year I was very excited to see The Wine Society list their first couple of wines from Canada: a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay (both 2011 vintage) from the Norman Hardie Winery in Prince Edward Country, Ontario. Alongside the appeal of coming from a territory that’s new to me, I liked the idea that Norman Hardie adopts a minimal-intervention approach to winemaking, i.e. the winery uses indigenous yeasts, avoids the addition of sulphur and the wines remain unfiltered and unfined before bottling.

I was delighted to see a few of my favourite wine writers and bloggers recommending these wines: for example, here’s a link to Jamie Goode’s review of both the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (published on his blog).

Keen to try at least one of the wines, last October I bought a bottle of the Pinot with the intention of keeping it a few months. And then a twitter conversation with Fiona Beckett (another trusted wine writer) prompted me to splash out on a bottle of the Chardonnay, too, so I could gain the full Norman Hardie experience.

Image

Last weekend I decided to open the Norman Hardie Chardonnay, and I’m very happy to say it did not disappoint; quite the opposite in fact, as it’s a stunning wine, reminiscent of a classy Burgundian in terms of style and finesse. Aromas of fresh lemon on the nose with a yeasty/bready note, too. It’s such a well-balanced and rounded wine with plenty of vibrant, lemony acidity, peachy fruit and a lovely creamy note. And this combination makes it a perfect partner for chicken, perhaps a chicken casserole or chicken and leek pie.

The Norman Hardie is a very sleek and refined Chardonnay indeed. As a splash-out treat, it’s right up there with another of my personal favourites, the Kooyong Clonale from Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia.

Wine stockist: I bought the Norman Hardie Unfiltered Chardonnay, 2011 from The Wine Society. Price: £20.