Hey buddy, got a match?

Among the many byways wine can wander into, the one most likely to go on forever is the maze of matching food and wine. Professionals argue fine points, like medieval scholars analyzing the movements and motives of angels, while amateurs just want to know what won’t embarrass them when they have a few people over for supper. This aspect of wine seems like contemporary politics, with an empty middle ground; if only everybody'd lighten up, life would surely improve. Dinner will be served. There will be a beverage. It will be OK. Let a smile be your umbrella, folks.
       Meanwhile, though, the maze goes on. Simon Callow, a good actor and an affable chap, has now begun a radio show on a classical music station. He will, it was announced, “take listeners on a musical wine tour” on Sunday afternoons, “pairing the perfect piece of classical music to accompany a delicious glass of wine.” The first show matched a white Burgundy with Delibes, Mozart, and Debussy. I’d have gone with Beethoven quartets myself, but hey, that’s the way the wine-matching game goes. (I was once—and only once--a guest on a radio wine show, tasting and discussing wine. It was an odd experience, like dropping a pea from the top of the Empire State Building, into the void: How far would it waft? Where would it land? Would it hurt anybody? Would it matter? Who knew?)
       At about the same time, Miguel Torres, an enterprising, charming, thoroughly serious winemaker and also a very nice man, sponsored a seminar in Barcelona on scientific approaches to matching food and wine, especially the new cuisine of “molecular gastronomy,” which we’re all hoping will get a new name soon. Featured speaker was Francois Chartier, who has worked at El Bulli, and written a book analyzing flavor compounds, which he calls “aromatic families,” as a way of finding better matches between wine and food. The concepts will probably not be coming to a neighborhood restaurant near you any time soon—one result was a sushi meant to go with red wine, featuring black olives, pepper, and coffee-flavored wild rice.
       I hope all this turns out all right. While I wait, I’ll be drinking Champagne, playing Cole Porter, and tucking into scallops seared in a little tarragon butter, retrograde and unrepentant.
       And happy.

Croatia: Delicious new territory

On my way to a tasting of Wines of Croatia, I stopped for lunch at a gastropub near the Barbican called The Jugged Hare, specializing in game and other hearty red-blooded food and a superb, wide-ranging wine list, a lot of it by the glass. I asked the waiter for whatever light, dry white he thought was best, as long as it wasn’t Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. He came back a minute later with “the wine we all liked best at the staff tasting this morning, we’re adding it to the list.” It was Kozlovic Malvasia 2011, from. . . Croatia. Lovely, lively, lightly minerally, subtle but serious enough; the flavour lingered nicely, and it was perfect with a chunky venison-grouse liver terrine.
        Over at the tasting, I met Antonella Kozlovic; the wine is from old vines in a single vineyard, and shows all that; the standard version’s pretty good too, though lighter. They also make a version aged in acacia barrels (as do a few others in the Istria region—they have a lingering taste like that of Chiclets, the candy-coated gum I chewed through childhood. Odd, for wine, but popular, they told me.) Also admirable were Malvasias from Matosevic and Agrolaguna; trying quite a few of that variety, it was obvious that oak completely flattens the interesting edginess of the wines. The simplest and cheapest were often the best.
        Another interesting white wine, from several producers, was called Grasevina, which turned out to be Welschriesling—nothing to do with real Riesling. It’s widely planted, has light floral aromas and zippy acidity, a pleasant sipping wine as made there. Like Malvasia, it’s generally considered to be an also-ran, but a goodly number of the Croatians are doing a delicious salvage job on both. Cheers!

Franco’s: It might as well be Spring

One sure sign of Spring, aside from lilacs and fuschias out in the garden and crocuses in the park, is the annual rollout of the Rosé wine list at Franco’s restaurant on Jermyn Street. It begins on April 24, with 40 Rosés listed, many by the glass and all first-rate, and runs until September. As the supply of wines runs out, others are added, so this is a proper, very pleasant showcase for the top tier of pink wines of the world (which includes places like Luxemburg, Switzerland, Spain, and parts of France other than Provence). The stylish, modern-Italian food makes a good match, too. Franco’s, 61 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6LX. Tel: +44 (0)20 7499 2211; www.francoslondon.com.

Wine and fudge at the White House

There was a lot of fuss this week about wines to be served at the White House state dinner for Prime Minister David Cameron. There’s been a blackout imposed on wine lists at official functions since President Obama was teased by right-wing bloggers for serving Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, which was selling for more than £300 a bottle. The realities were, (1.) the wine had been selling for just over $100 until the news got out that it was to be served at the White House, and (2.) the White House always buys the wine at the wholesale price. Still, as so often and unfortunately, someone at the White House caved in. Thanks to Eric Levine, founder of CellarTracker, who posted the menu, we now know that wines served included Thibaut-Janisson Brut sparkling wine (from Virginia), Peter Michael Chardonnay (often served when Brits come over, as Sir Peter is British), Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon, and Iron Horse, another sparkler, with dessert. Levine deservedly took credit for the leak, so I assume there won’t be a mole hunt.
       But, still. . . a blackout on what is, after all, legitimate news? Is this an election-year sop to evangelical Tea Party types? The President has a habit of being non-confrontational, but this, really, is chickenfeed. And of course the chatter around the affair is illuminating. Some people decry the American-wine-only policy as provincial (would Sarkozy serve Sonoma Zinfandel?); others complain about the state of the cellar, which amounts to 500 or so bottles, but that’s been the case for years. State dinners are political theater, and the wines served are part of the performance, chosen for the occasion (many years ago, when Queen Elizabeth came to Washington, the White House social secretary discovered she liked “German wines.” At least, that’s what I at Wine Institute was told, and I sent a list of California Rieslings; one was served, and she was happy. That’s how it goes.)
          As for the current flap, I’m suddenly nostalgic. Jimmy Carter –who was very open to wine--would have explained to the puritanical pygmies that wine’s an agricultural product; Ronald Reagan would have dismissed it with a quip; and Bill Clinton would have told them off, probably at length. I can’t see anyone on the top level of politics at the moment capable of doing anything like that any more.

Rioja: Still good news

Tasting at Decanter magazine’s recent Spanish Fine Wine Encounter certainly confirmed the superiority of the 2001 vintage in Rioja (which is, thanks to Rioja’s being under-rated, still available on some restaurant menus and still affordable compared to other older wines), and the elegance of the 2004 vintage.  A masterclass presenting wines from Marques de Murrieta reaffirmed the point, and provided a preview of another winner: 2007 Marques de Murrieta Reserva, which will be released near the end of 2012, is lovely, vibrant and well-structured, really delicious, and one that will be most rewarding to cellar. Well worth looking out for in the autumn. . . Otherwise, there was one disappointment, 2007 Dalmau, an attempt at a “super-Rioja,” blending Tempranillo with (you guessed it) Cabernet Sauvignon,  aged in (you guessed it again, right?) new French oak, quite concentrated, and indistinguishable from many other “international style” wines aimed at the monster-wine crowd. It’s part of what the winery calls “a new era in quality winemaking.”

Quote of the month

Victoria Beckham, noted arbiter of, apparently, anything she decides, has declared, via Twitter (unsurprisingly), that "Peppermint tea is the new Champagne!" (Exclamation point hers.) Make of this what you will.
copyright 2010-2018 by Brian St. Pierre