Two delicious whites – a Pinot Gris and White Rioja

I popped into Vagabond this week and tried a couple of delicious whites – the Bodegas Ontanon Vetiver white Rioja and the Awatere River Pinot Gris from New Zealand.

Vagabond

The Rioja region in Spain is of course better known for its reds. Indeed the production of whites is pretty minimal in comparison. The grape variety is Viura (known as Macabeo elsewhere in Spain) and the traditional style of white Riojas would often be extremely heavily oaked with an almost oxidised aroma to it. The Bodegas Ontanon Vetiver has none of this; it is relatively restrained and paired back for a Rioja allowing its fresh fruit characteristics to shine through. The nose is lovely and creamy due to the 6 months spent in American oak; a very well-balanced wine. The suggested food match would be a crab lasagne or paella.

tasting notes

The Rioja was good but the Awatere River Pinot Gris was fantastic. Hailing from Marlborough in New Zealand it had a luscious, apricot nose with a hint of spice. The body was full, off dry with a wonderful intensity of flavour and a very good length. It also came with the most brilliant food match suggestion – pork fillet stuffed with apricot and spinach – which I have to say, sounds like it would go perfectly. So much so that I bought a bottle (not cheap at £13.95 but worth the money I thought) and will have to imagine up said dish some time soon.

Vagabond – I’ll let you know how it goes!!

Yealands Estate and the Awatere Valley

For the longest time I have struggled with Sauvignon Blanc. It used to be my go-to grape for everything (a bit more interesting than Pinot Grigio but that was about where my wine knowledge ended) which I think was partly the problem – overkill! Suddenly the sometimes aggressive herbaceousness and high acidity became all too much for me and I had to resign myself to the inevitable conclusion that I had ‘gone off’ Sauvignon.

TamraUntil a few weeks ago I was invited to a fantastic wine tasting with Yealands Estate hosted by their chief winemaker Tamra Washington. I can categorically say that the evening has reignited my love for Sauvignon Blanc. The home of Yealands Estate is the Awatere Valley in Marlborough New Zealand. They are a relatively new producer having only produced their first vintage in 2008 and are now at the forefront of sustainable winemaking in New Zealand. I have to just linger on this point for a second to tell you about their sheep! They have these tiny little sheep, aptly named Babydoll sheep, that they introduced to the vineyard for weed and grass management which are too small to reach the grapes; this completely appeals to the farmer’s daughter in me.

Awatere Valley

I have never properly considered the concept of terroir in the New World before. Terroir is something I would associate much more strongly with the Old World and especially the older vineyard sites in Burgundy. The fact that a Premier Cru and Grand Cru site can be mere metres apart yet the wines still display the nuances in soil type and aspect completely blows my mind. Tamra talked about the importance of microclimates in the Awatere Valley – these microclimates are created my the undulating terroir throughout. Their Seaview Vineyard boasts the most significant planting of vines in the Awatere Valley; the vineyards are closer to the sea than anywhere else in Marlborough which results in it being cooler, dryer and windier. This results in a longer growing season for the grapes which produces wines with distinctive mineral characteristics.

The focus on the importance of microclimates at Yealands Estate has led them to harvest and mature different ‘blocks’ of Sauvignon Blanc completely separately. There are around 160 blocks in total; the coastal Sauvignons (from Seaview) produce a purer mineral and herbal character whereas the Sauvignons from further inland are less herbal with a more tropical character. This has inspired the concept of single block wines and Yealands now produce 4 different Sauvignon Blancs that are bottled as Single Block.

The main lesson we have learned today – Marlborough does not produce one single style of Sauvignon Blanc!

The Wines

Yealands PNWe tried a lot of wine. All different, all interesting for different reasons. It seems mean, and frankly far too difficult, to pick and choose between them so I’m just going to tell you about them all! Most of these are from 2012 vintage – this was a very cool, dry vintage where the grapes were harvested extremely late. This was the best and longest ripening season to date for Yealands Estate:

  • Yealands Estate Single Block S1 Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Tropical nose with more citrus and grapefruit on the palate. There was more body than you’d expect with a mineral salty character coming from the 3 months this wine had spent on lees.
  • Yealands Estate Single Block M2 Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Much more closed than the last wine with an almost (!) sweaty nose, more of a gooseberry flavour of minerality. This is from the Wairau area which has heavier soils, flat land and no wind exposure. You would usually expect a more tropical fruit character to this wine as Wairau is warmer but since 2012 was particularly cool it displayed more citrus than tropical fruit.
  • Yealands Estate Single Block L5 Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – This is a classic Seaview wine displaying lots of power on the palate with a distinct flavour of Romano peppers and thyme. The fruit is cool and clean with a brilliant finish.
  • Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – The best blocks go into this wine – it is a blend of 3 different blocks. Extremely well balanced with a fresh fruit character on the nose with great length and minerality.
  • Yealands Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – For me this had a really gentle, creamy, nutty flavour whilst still being very much a Sauvignon Blanc. It has seen a bit of oak but it’s very very subtle – 33% of the blend has gone from the press to old oak barrels where it has been left to ferment naturally. It is then blended back with the unoaked tank wine.
  • Yealands Estate Riesling 2012 – This wine was super dry with searing acidity. The lemon and lime characteristics were rounded off by a softer finish – this could do with a bit of time to open up.
  • Yealands Estate Gruner Veltliner 2012 – There are only 30ha of GV planted in New Zealand and I confess I’ve never tried one before. The palate was soft and spicy with a touch of floralness and a hint of white pepper. There are two picks for this wine (one early and one late) which results in a wine with a full body while retaining a distinctive mineral streak.
  • Yealands Estate Viognier 2012 – A classic Viognier nose and a tropical (almost banana?) palate. 40% of the blend has spent time in old oak. Excellent length.
  • Yealands Estate Single Block R6 Pinot Gris 2012 – This was brilliant – an apricoty nose and flavours of stone fruits, white peach, pear, spice but still with a savouriness. This wine has also spent time on lees meaning a mineral character is apparent under the fruit.
  • Yealands Estate Pinot Noir 2011 – A nose of green pepper, white pepper and extremely underripe cherry. The palate is spicy cherry fruit with good length – quite a restrained style.
  • Yealands Estate Reserve Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012 – A much riper nose than the previous wine; more plums, velvety, lush, spiced cherry and a distinctive smokiness with great length. I loved this wine.

The Sauvignons were stunning; the Pinot Gris and Otago Pinot Noir also really stood out for me. It was a tremendous evening and thrilling to have the focus on what was for me an unknown aspect of New Zealand wine. We were given an outstanding dinner by the Union Club of roast salmon and salsa verde starter, an enormous braised lamb shank followed by cheese and drank the wine out of beautiful and extremely decadent Baccarat glasses.

Watch out for these wines and if you come across them – BUY THEM!

LambshankYealands Estate – www.yealandsestate.co.nz

Union Club – www.unionclub.co.uk

Chateau Baccarat – www.baccarat.com

Other excellent posts

Yealands Estate Tasting and Dinner with Tamra Washington – Cambridge Wine Blogger

Yealands Estate, producing vibrant fruity wines with big character – Kandabites

Relight My Sauvignon Fire – SipSwooshSpit

Wine and food matching with L’atelier des Chefs

AndreI’ve never really done any kind of cooking classes before. I know lots of people that went off to terribly grand cookery schools at some time or another – some have gone on to become really brilliant home cooks, some not so much. For me I’ve always seen that kind of thing as luxury I can ill afford. I’m also not very good at being told what to do and have therefore always been ‘tricky’ in that kind of school environment – combine that with the high stress environment of a kitchen and it could be a recipe for disaster (excuse the pun)!

But how wrong I was. Last week I went to a class at L’atelier des Chefs; they are a cooking school currently with two sites in London who offer classes of different lengths starting from 30mins (for an extremely affordable £15) to 4 hours for their more specialised Master Classes. I have done a 30min class in the past and couldn’t believe that it a) genuinely took 30mins, and b) you got such fantastic food and quality produce for the price. Last week was particularly relevant as it was a food and wine matching class. The theme for the evening was Thai food with a lineup of 3 fantasticClass dishes – Thai spiced mussels, barbary duck with Asian greens and a soy and chilli glaze and mango and lime tart tatin for pudding. Each dish was matched with a wine; they were all from Majestic but it would be easy to find a suitable equivalent elsewhere. Thai food is so immensely popular yet is something a lot of people are afraid of cooking themselves at home due to the plethora of complicated ingredients and flavours. Similarly matching wines to these dishes can be a daunting prospect for the same reasons. Brilliantly there was almost nothing in these dishes that would have been difficult to find in a large supermarket making them all possible to reproduce at home.

The thai spiced mussels were matched with a Gruner Veltliner from Austria. Gruner Veltliner is a particularly good grape to match with food as it’s got a relatively full body but retains its elegance with delicate flavours and a lovely mineral streak. This restrained character allows the subtle flavours of the mussels to shine through and complimented the delicate spice and flavours of the sauce.Mussels

The barbary duck was matched with a pair of wines and the results were split pretty much 50/50 as to who liked what best. The pair was the Waimea Estate Pinot Gris and Waimea Estate Pinot Noir from New Zealand. Pinot Noir is quite a natural match for duck as it’s a lighter style of red wine with red fruit and soft tannins. The trouble is that this duck is again cooked with delicate Thai spices which can easily be overpowered by a red wine – this is where the Pinot Gris came in. Slightly off dry it complimented the chilli spice in the dish and the fattiness of the duck which had caramelised during cooking; it also gave room for all those gorgeous aromatic flavours to show off. As I said, both went down extremely well but for me the white won by a nose. Duck

Finally the mango and lime tart tatin with passion fruit drizzle – my goodness this was a beautiful pudding; a bit fiddly but by no means complicated and looked just stunning. It was matched with the Brown’s Brothers Orange and Flora muscat. The dessert wasn’t as sweet as I had expected as the lime gave it a real kick – it needed a wine with fruity sweetness to compliment the mango and with high acidity to match the lime and stop it all becoming too sticky; this worked admirably. Shockingly, orange muscat tastes orangey which gave it the desired fruit character – the flora is what gives it body and colour. A lot of people admitted not normally liking dessert wines but this was a real hit and something you wouldn’t often try yourself at home.Mango tatin

I couldn’t recommend L’atelier des Chefs highly enough – the school is set up beautifully with a shop at the front which is lethal for anyone who is as easily tempted as I am by exciting things like kitchen tongs and cook books. Our chef Andre was amazing and extraordinarily calm considering he had a kitchen of 16 people to keep under control. As well as learning 3 delicious recipes there are constant tips throughout the evening from basic knife-skills to how long you should rest meat for after cooking.

We were all emailed our recipes after the class and they have generously allowed me to share one with you…

Barbary duck breast with Asian greens and soya and chilli glaze (Serves 6)

  • 6 duck breasts
  • 5cl soy sauce
  • 20g honey
  • 2 red chillies
  • 2 limes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 sweetheart cabbages
  • 3cl groundnut oil
  • half a bunch of thai basil

For the meat – Preheat the oven to 180’C. Trim the duck breast to remove any excess fat and sinew. Score the skin. Place into a cold dry pan skin side down and cook till crispy draining away the fat as it renders. Turn the breast remove from the pan and roast in a 180’c oven for 6 minutes. Allow to rest before carving.

For the vegetables – Finely dice the chilli and puree the garlic with a pinch of salt. Zest and juice the lime. Cut the cabbage into quarters, remove the tough core and thinly slice. Colour the cabbage in a a hot pan with some of the duck fat, add the garlic and chilli and cook for a further minute. Add the honey and the soy and start to reduce to a glaze, constantly basting the cabbage. Finish with the lime juice and half of the zest.

To plate – Carve the duck into 3 pieces and serve on top of the cabbage. Drizzle the glaze on top and garnish with the Thai basil and a sprinkling of lime zest.

This dish was match with Waimea Estate Pinot Gris and Waimea Estate Pinot Noir both from Majestic Wine.

With thanks to L’atelier des Chefs for their fantastic recipes and a wonderful evening.

The Pinot Grigio Problem

Pinot Grigio. One of the most popular and recognisable styles of wine in the UK at the moment as it has been for the last few years. The bulk of what most people mean when they talk about Pinot Grigio comes from the Veneto region of north east Italy where it is grown in huge quantities and then sold on to large bottlers. This bulk production results in wines that tend to be very neutral in character. Whilst I understand that this is partly the appeal – a wine that can be drunk easily and without much thought making it a relatively safe buy for the under confident wine-drinker – I think it is a shame that we should repeatedly resign ourselves to drinking a wine which at it’s very best can be described as inoffensive. I have beef with Pinot Grigio.  Continue reading…