Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Six nations - wine-ing about rugby

Rugby – “A hooligan’s game played by gentlemen” The Times, January 30, 1953

England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy: what on earth do these gladiatorial teams have to do with a wine column, you may ask. Surely rugby men are renowned for their beer drinking prowess rather than what some might consider the rather more elegant practice of savouring wine? Read on, there is a connection......

France and Italy are the two biggest wine-producing nations in the world and are, therefore, scarcely in need of any wine recommendations from us, as they will have been weaned on wine from their own region from their earliest years.

If you have a sneaking admiration for “les bleus” and want to show your support from the sofa, you could do worse than a wine produced by former French international Gerard Bertrand. His family business was wine-making long before he represented his country on the rugby pitch and since hanging up his boots he has been making a suitably muscular range of hearty reds in the Languedoc region of southern France. Waitrose stock Gerard Bertrand Minervois red for £6.99.

Leaving these wine-making giants to one side, we are going to suggest wines inspired by the national characteristics of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish sides.

In my time, I’ve had my knee out, broken my collarbone, had my nose smashed, a rib broken, lost a few teeth, and ricked my back; but as soon as I get a bit of bad luck I’m going to quit the game”. Jason Robinson

England: Well we do have a bit of help here already as there are lots of vineyards that have developed over the last twenty odd years in the south of this green and pleasant land. In Surrey itself we have Denbies vineyard, whose Surrey Gold white wine is served in the House of Commons (I wonder which party partakes the most?).

If there is cause for celebration at an England performance this season, then popping the cork on something fizzy and English would be entirely appropriate. Ridgeview, based in Sussex, make an impressive array of Champagne-style sparklers, available from Waitrose starting at around the £20 mark. Nyetimber, based near Chichester, have the distinction of their wines being served at official banquets at Buckingham Palace. If it’s good enough for her Maj… Nyetimber Classic Cuvée is £24.99 at Waitrose.

With the effects of climate change and warmer weather our vines should produce more and higher quality fruit, making England a real contender on the international wine stage. Sadly, our native English oak is, apparently, too tightly grained to make barrels in which to age wine. However, there are adventurous souls willing to have a go at making wine in the most unlikely of places.

Watch our for HA's upcoming report of a tasting at The Urban wine company in Wandsworth, London, which is showcasing wines made from grapes grown in individual gardens, allotments and window boxes in inner London and which are, apparently, more than drinkable. Dig for Victory for the 21st century.... Come on England!

Ireland: To match the lyrically inclined, silver-tongued Irish we have to go for something really smooth, with a charm that trips off the tongue, travels well and can compete with Guinness. It has to be a deep ruby-coloured Shiraz, slightly spicy and ideally biodynamic to match the green-ness of the “emerald Isle”. You could tackle Yalumba's Organic Shiraz 2008, £7.99 from Waitrose for a full-on red wine experience. Or you could demonstrate your allegiance by winkling out a bottle of syrah-dominated Domaine des Anges 2007, £11.75 at, made in the Ventoux region of the southern Rhône by Irishman Ciaran Rooney.

Wales: Land of leeks and dragons, choirs and coalmines, and of course fiercely patriotic and passionate men in red. The Welsh team may show their loyalty to Brains beer on their shirts, but we think the clever money is on sauvignon blanc as a wonderfully harmonious match with leeks in Caerphilly cheese sauce. South Africa makes some great sauvignons, giving you a non-partisan option for the Six Nations, and Majestic's current offer on Danie de Wet Sauvignon Blanc 2009, bringing it down to £5.99 a bottle if you buy two, makes it unbeatable. A song of a wine.

Scotland: Better known for its long standing affair with fiery whisky, which is really the only drink that could stand up to the rigours of the Scottish national dish of haggis, neeps and tatties. But other native produce (no, not deep-fried Mars bars) is very wine-friendly: grouse, partridge and pheasant, and of course venison. Game is showed off to good effect by the silky skills of a perfumed pinot noir. Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2007, £14.99 from Waitrose, has all the haunting perfume you would want, with an elegant, muscular structure. Not cheap, but then supporting the Scottish rugby team demands nothing if not commitment.

The only trophy we won this day, was the blood and sweat we left on the pitch.....and it was enough”. Anon

Friday, 12 March 2010

Spring into Mother's Day

Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.” Anon

Spring officially arrives on 21st March, the Vernal Equinox, meaning “moving towards the light”. And the following week we adjust our clocks to “spring forwards” to take advantage of the longer daylight hours. Whether you live in the city or countryside you can’t but help be affected by the yearly springtime renewal of life showing in the green shoots of plants, busy birds tending their nests and the arrival of lambs and a stirring of new life. Mother Nature, defined as life giving and nurturing of fertility and fecundity, is magnificently in evidence.

Cybele was the mother of the Greek gods and the festival to celebrate her was traditionally held in Asia Minor and Rome during the Ides of March - from 15th to 18th of March. In England we also celebrate motherhood at this time, always on a Sunday, which this year is 14th March. Nowadays Mothering Sunday is known as a “Hallmark Holiday” meaning it has an overriding commercial purpose which was, unsurprisingly, created in the USA. Over here Mothering Sunday has been celebrated since the 16th century and is also known as “Simnel Sunday” because of a tradition of baking Simnel cakes. It is also called Laetare and this day in the church calendar was dedicated to the honour of the Virgin Mary and the “mother church”. This day was – and still is – marked by giving token gifts to the mother and also the relinquishing of certain traditional female tasks such as cooking and cleaning which were allocated to other family members as a gesture of appreciation. So following tradition, and because she is unique to you, a gift for your mum wouldn’t go amiss.

I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food!” W.C. Fields

Women love wine. A bit of a sweeping statement we know, but according to fairly exhaustive surveys this is increasingly the case (excuse the pun). It can be a good idea to find out the lady’s preference beforehand, but fear not if you haven’t a clue. Underneath the mumsy exterior of most women lies an adventurous Warrior Princess, (well she brought you up and that must have been something of a battle), who is ready to try anything – within reason. 

It was a woman who drove me to drink, and I didn’t have the decency to thank her for it. W.C. Fields

It is often assumed, particularly by men, that women prefer a light white wine. (Quite possibly this image has been proliferated by the quaint idea of compliant, sweet and rather dotty- “lightweight” in today’s parlance - little women). This assumption has been turned upside down by recent surveys by Vinexpo, Decanter and in the UK whose findings surprisingly and definitively state that women prefer red! Bang goes that stereotype. 

Wine is often described as masculine or feminine. Take for example French Burgundy and Bordeaux: just by looking at the bottles you can guess their gender. The Burgundy bottle is gently curved whilst Bordeaux has strong shoulders and straight lines. Red Burgundy is made from pinot noir, a variety often given feminine-sounding descriptions – it has “silky tannins” and is “hauntingly perfumed”. Red Bordeaux, by contrast, if often talked of as “earthy” with “brisk tannins” and a “lean body”. Is it all just auto-suggestion? Certainly some of it must be, but the French take these things very seriously and many a Frenchman could spend all day arguing the gender-related nuances of a particular wine. 

So if you’d like to treat a red wine loving mum, we’d recommend the soft tannins and lively fruit of a pinot noir. New Zealand, and particularly Central Otago, produces some delicious ones. Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2007 (Marlborough, New Zealand) is £14.99 at Waitrose, who also list Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir 2007 (Central Otago) for £19.99. One of the great things about pinot noir is that it is a versatile food match and would happily accompany all sorts of things from roast chicken to a boeuf bourgignon. But its soft tannic structure also mean that it is also fabulous to drink on its own, particularly with feet up on Mother’s Day whilst the chores and a gourmet meal are prepared by other family members. 

We don’t know many women who would turn their noses up at a glass of Champagne, and our recommendations for the best offers at the moment are, starting at the budget end of the scale:
Lindauer Special Reserve NV (New Zealand again) - £11.99, or £6.99 when you buy 2 bottles at Majestic. Not technically Champagne of course, as it’s made not just outside the Champagne region, but across the other side of the world in New Zealand. But it does use the same grape varieties and method as Champagne. This is an ever-reliable performer and a real bargain at the discounted price. It’s not a rosé, but does have a hint of negligée pink about it, along with delicious, crisp strawberry fruit.
Ridgeview Merrett Fitzrovia Rosé 2005/6 - £20.99 at Waitrose. A pink sparkler from Sussex! One of the best of the ever-improving English sparkling wines – celebrate all things English along with Mother’s Day.
Taittinger Brut Reserve NV - £25 on special offer until 22nd March also at Majestic. Returning to an earlier theme, this is one of the more feminine Champagne marques, with a high percentage of chardonnay in the blend. Light, frothy and floral – who could resist?

Further gift ideas are to give with the wine a beautiful glass or decanter, there are many lovely wine related gift items to be found on a link via our website: Also of course some great wine offers which as mothers ourselves we know are just the ticket to please. However for the ultimate treat you could go for our Wine & Dine Service which takes all the burden of choice, organizing and sheer hard work out of the equation for you. Your mother will feel truly loved and pampered to find that you have given her a tailor-made wine and food matched and themed extravaganza. See for details. Our speciality, for your pleasure.

Wear a smile and you may find it grows on you.

God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.” Jewish proverb