Monday, 23 August 2010

The dark side of the moon

Collect some fresh cow manure, put it into a cow horn and bury it at the Autumn
Cow horns being unearthed
equinox. Six months later, at the Spring equinox, dig up the horn, remove the manure and put it in a barrel of water. Using a long stick, stir vigorously for one hour: the biodynamic preparation 500 (cow horn manure) is now ready to spray on your vineyard, preferably when the moon is descending and in front of a “fruit” or “root” constellation.
Stirring the "prep"

Sound a bit weird? It might surprise you to learn that spraying cow horn manure on vines is spreading (excuse the pun), as the practice of biodynamics becomes more popular. Once thought of as folklore or hippyish bunkum, nowadays biodynamics is becoming an accepted part of sustainable viticulture combining traditional farming practices with scientific and herbal knowledge.

This kind of New Age thinking might have you cackling into your cappuccino, but biodynamics is moving into the mainstream. Distinctly non-New Age companies such as M&S and Tesco consult the Biodynamic Calendar (2010 edition yours for £4.71 from Amazon) to ensure that they stage tastings on “fruit days”, determined by the orbit of the moon around the earth and the associated zodiac element, which apparently affect the taste of a wine.

So what is biodynamics and where did it come from? Biodynamic agriculture was inspired by the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (best known in this country for Steiner schools) at the turn of the twentieth century. In essence, it takes organic cultivation as a starting point and adds elements of Astrology (the influence of the Moon and planets) along with Homeopathic techniques and principles – applying various “preps”, such as the cow horn manure spray above. If you will, it's organic for people who really mean it.

Driving forward to the present, Jody Scheckter, of Formula 1 fame, is a great exponent of this principle and has successfully farmed Laverstoke Park in Hampshire biodynamically for six years. His creed is that you aren’t just what you eat, but you are (if not vegetarian), the animals that you eat. You can judge the results for yourself by buying at the Laverstoke online farm shop:

How do you spot a biodynamic wine? Easier said than done sometimes. A fair number of biodynamic growers choose not to mention the fact on their labels: their decision to use biodynamics is to make what they consider better wine, rather than a marketing technique to appeal to the consumer; a refreshingly uncommercial attitude.

To further confuse things, the term “natural wine” is hot right now: you might come across it at hip London eateries such as Galvin Café a Vins, Artisan & Vine and Terroirs – or even at your local Oddbins. Guildford's very own Les Caves de Pyrène could be said to have started the whole natural wines phenomenon, but what does it mean?

Any attempt to define natural wine could fill a book, but in general these are wines made in as non-interventionist way as possible, often using organic and/or biodynamic methods and with low or no use of sulphur. As wine writer and scientist, Jamie Goode, puts it: “You just know one when you see one.” Helpful?

Putting aside attempts at classifying and defining these wines, then, let's just have some concrete recommendations that are delicious to drink – the proof of the pudding is, as always, in the eating – or drinking.

Domaine Huet Le Mont Sec 2005, Vouvray - £18.49, Waitrose (certified biodynamic)
A consistently delicious Loire white, whose many layers of flavour make it the vinous equivalent of expertly made flaky pastry. It's dry with chenin blanc's typical piercing acidity, but with honey, almond blossom, beeswax, apple skin and more.

Champagne Fleury Carte Rouge NV - £25.75, Vintage Roots (certified biodynamic)
No home-grown hemp jumper needed to drink this. Fun and frothy, as it should be and a very sensible price for a reliable fizz. Waitrose stocks an almost identical Champagne Fleury Brut NV for £29.99.

Saumur-Champigny, Les Terres Chaudes 2008, Domaine des Roches Neuves - £16.99, Les Caves de Pyrène, Guildford (biodynamic)
Another Loire wine (a hotbed of biodynamic growers), but a red. This 100% cabernet franc is sinewy and muscular rather than fleshy – one for claret lovers to enjoy with roast lamb.

Coyam 2007, Vinedos Emiliana - £12.20, The Wine Society or £13.50, Vintage Roots (biodynamic)
Biodynamics is perhaps strongest in France, but this moreish Chilean shows that the New World is not being left behind. It's a veritable cocktail of syrah, carmenère, merlot, petit verdot and mourvèdre and provides a nice contrast to the more austere Saumur-Champigny. Enjoy its full-bodied, robust fruitiness now – or keep it for 4-5 years, if you can.

Talking of keeping wine in optimal condition - Bodegas Amezola de la Mora in Rioja will be storing some of its wine on the seabed at a depth of 12-15 metres, close to the port of Bilbao. The specially designed pods will allow water to flow freely around the bottles and the bodega plans to see if the constant temperature of the seabed provides a better ageing environment than a cellar – and if the seawater has any effect on the wine!
“Age is just a number. It’s totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine.” Joan Collins

We are sure that the Spanish will be cheered to learn that divers have discovered thirty bottles of Clicquot Champagne (now Veuve Clicquot) believed to have been made between 1782 and 1788, pre the French Revolution, on the Baltic seabed – and still drinkable! It is thought that the champagne was en route to the Tsar of Russia from Louis XVI and is said to be perfectly preserved by the cold and darkness, retaining its fizz and fabulous taste. Proof perhaps that the old ways are not to be scoffed at and we can learn much from the past.

“I love everything that is old: old friends,old times,old manners, old books, old wine” Oliver Goldsmith

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Doing it outside...wines for alfresco dining

Summertime and the living is easy: warm days and long nights, the long-promised barbecue summer...may still materialise. Forget your brown lawn, get out there and soak up the sunshine, rejoicing in the fact that, like wine in moderation, the sunshine is now acknowledged to be good for you, hooray! So now that you have the green light for indulging in feelgood pursuits, we thought we would offer a few sybaritic suggestions to enhance your experience.

The Rules
Wine complexity and subtlety tends to get a bit lost outdoors – so this is not the time to uncork your treasured bottle of white burgundy or revered claret.

Go for simple, bold aromas and flavours that can stand up to the different smells, temperatures and conditions of alfresco dining.

If it’s lunchtime keep it light – both in terms of the wine’s style and the alcohol level, or write-off the afternoon for siesta!
Prosecco, the Italian fizz is a perfect lunchtime wine: light and fruity in style, but dry and only around 11% alcohol. Majestic stock the cracking Prosecco La Marca NV at £7.99 if you buy 2 bottles. You could mash up a few red berries or soft peaches and mix with the fizz to make a pretty and delicious summer cocktail.

Talking of strawberries and cream, try this classic summer pudding with a Moscato d’Asti also from Italy, it’s sweet, lightly sparkling with loads of fizzy pear fruit, but just 6-7% alcohol. Local wine merchant Les Caves de Pyrène has Vittorio Bera’s delicious Moscato d’Asti for £14.04.

Ah, Salad Days, and for anything with a vinaigrette dressing, then a rosé is the best wine to serve. White wines end up tasting too sharp and lose their fruit; the tannins in red wine react really badly with the oil and vinegar making a horrible match!

As for which rosé to choose – our last article provided plenty of food (or drink) for thought. You can read it online on Liquid Assets here 

To BBQ or not to BBQ, that is the question with apologies to William Shakespeare

Chargrilled meat needs wine that is bold and big on fruit and flavour. The words Australia and Barbie go together like, well, cork and bottle, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Aussie Shiraz is the ultimate barbecue wine. Big, juicy fruit, a subtle whack of tannin and a sometimes not-so-subtle whack of alcohol to go with it. Chateau Reynella, in McLaren Vale, South Australia, have been making classic Aussie shiraz for years, but the price has been creeping up to frankly silly levels. But get thyselves to Waitrose sharpish and you can snap up a bottle of this for the relative bargain price of £10.99, “beauty, mate!”

For white wine drinkers, something made from the Viognier grape has plenty of apricot and peach fruit to stand up to “toss the shrimp on the Barbie” situations. But it can sometimes lack a bit of refreshing acidity – so Chilean winemakers Anakena have come up with the idea of a Viognier, Riesling and Chardonnay blend, which they call Ona, available at Oddbins for £10.99, or £8.79 as part of a mixed case.

Keeping your cool - You need to think about how you’re going to keep the white wines cold of course. Fridge space can be taken up with food, so consider putting ice in cold water (much more efficient than ice alone) in a bucket for your white and rosé wines.

Consider chilling the reds, very chic and continental. On a hot day, red wine at room temperature can seem a bit soupy and un-refreshing. Chilling could be the answer and some red wines respond well to the treatment. In general, red wines that work well chilled need to have plenty of fruit and not much tannin. So think juicy, fruity, jammy and young.

Brown Brothers’ Tarrango from Australia was designed to be chilled – and also to accompany spicy foods. It’s widely available in supermarkets including Waitrose at around £6.50. Beaujolais is the classic French wine for chilling and drinking in the summer months. It has bags of raspberry and cherry fruit and, importantly, not too much tannin. Try Louis Jadot’s Combe aux Jacques Beaujolais-Villages 2008, £8.97 at Waitrose.

Libatious corruptions, such as Sangria are a great accompaniment in the garden or on the beach. Having lived in Portugal for a long time Heather A has smuggled in a couple of special Sangria recipes from celebrated restaurants:

Alambique is family owned, and probably the most popular restaurant in the Algarve “Golden Triangle”, the canteen for visiting celebs.

Recipe: Half fill a large jug with ice and a handful of chopped citrus fruit and apple. Add a cinnamon stick and a sprinkling of sugar. Fill your jug one third full of either red OR white wine, then one third of lemonade. Add a generous dash of Brandy and ideally a gulp of Liquor Beirao and a shot of Triple Sec. Stir well and top up with lager. (If these liqueurs are not available use your imagination.) Serve on ice.

Evaristo – a hut on a small beach hidden and protected by rocks, reached by dinghy expertly navigated by tanned and muscular young men, all of whom answer to the name of José! You are really ready for refreshment after jumping out of the boat!

The signature drink is Champagne Sangria Evaristo and is a knockout. Chopped strawberries, Rum, Triple Sec and Brandy are mixed with Champagne and loads of ice to add the necessary water content. Blissful and guaranteed to make all your barbecue guests so happy that they will not care if the burgers are burnt.

Spare rib anyone?” Adam

For more recipes and ideas visit our website