Copy editing a new book on the history of Spanish food

Last summer I was asked to collaborate with Spanish food expert María José Sevilla who is writing a book on the history of Spanish food. I have been helping her as a copy editor for an extensive and fascinating book which will be published in 2018. Her book traces the history of Spanish food through thousands of years right up to the exciting developments of the last few decades which have seen Spanish chefs become trail blazers on the international culinary stage. We are now working on the final chapters.

Harvest report for Spain 2015

 

My report on the Spanish harvest has been published by Wines from Spain. Find out how the regions fared after a very warm year.

 

Vintage report for Spain 2015

 

 

English wines for asparagus

The British asparagus season is well under way. See my selection of some of the best English wines to enjoy with asparagus and ideas for food matching in the latest issue of Great British Food magazine. Click on the PDF below:

 English wines for asparagus

Languedoc-Roussillon: fine wine and food in the deep south

In June this year I visited the Languedoc-Roussillon region to learn more about the wine and food of France’s largest wine region. Find out what the Languedoc-Roussion offers – from fine sparkling, red and sweet wines and delicious local gastronomy to charming Roman cities, ancient fortresses, scenic fishing ports and a stunning interior –  by reading my feature in the autumn 2012 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle:

http://www.squaremeal.co.uk/feature/languedoc-land-of-plenty/15457

Argentina’s Torrontés

Torrontés: a singular white grape …

When it comes to wine, Argentina is best known for reds and Malbec in particular. But the country is no one trick pony. If you dig a bit deeper you will discover other good red wines, especially red blends, while the best whites in my view are those made from the Torrontés grape.

Argentinian Torrontés is unique and although it has been difficult to establish its exact origin, it is not the same grape as the Torrontés of Spain’s Galicia. Recent studies suggest that Argentina’s grape is a cross between a white variety known as Criolla Chica which was brought to the country by Spanish settlers in the 16th century and Muscat d’Alexandrie, a fragrant variety found around the Mediterranean region and generally used to make sweet wines.

Most Torrontés wines are produced as dry, tangy, fresh wines with no oak influence and they are best enjoyed in their youth. Good examples are intensely perfumed and full-bodied with hints of lime, tropical fruit, white peach or perhaps a touch of quince. Your mouth should be watering by now…

Although there are significant amounts of Torrontés vines planted in Mendoza, Argentina’s main wine producing region on the eastern side of the Andes, the best wines come from vineyards further north and two regions in particular: the San Juan province of La Rioja 168km north of Mendoza and the Cafayate Valley in Salta, the remote outpost for wine production some 1110km north of Mendoza.

In both regions the vineyards are situated at 1000m or more above sea level. That is significant for white grapes as, at such altitude, the temperature drops significantly at night allowing good acidity levels and flavour to develop in the grapes in the weeks before harvest.

If you like richer styles of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Viognier, you’ll probably like Torrontés. The wines range from lighter styles to more intensely flavoured styles. Here are my recommendations; they are all from the 2011 vintage but you might find some 2012 vintages from the same producers very soon:

Salta Torrontés wines:

Finca Domingo, Cafayate Valley, Salta, vintage 2011, £10.99, www.hispamerchants.co.uk

A fine example of the depth of flavour that you can find in a Torrontés wine from the heady heights of Salta’s vineyards (1750m in this case). Rich, tangy lemon and greengage fruit with a silky texture, this is a wine for food; try it with a chicken tagine.

Crios, Chalchaquies Valley, Salta and Mendoza, vintage 2012 (the same wine can also be found under the ‘Zohar’ label), £8.99 from Majestic

Winemaker Susana Balbo makes a particularly zesty style of Torrontés. The grapes are sourced mostly from Salta and blended with a small amount from Mendoza “to give the wine a steely edge”. Delicious with or without food.

Alta Vista Premium Torrontés, vintage 2011, £10 www.pauladamsfinewines.co.uk

A rich style with well balanced acidity and delicious lychee fruit.

La Rioja Torrontés wines:

Tapiz, Famatina Valley, vintage 2012, £9.49 www.hispamerchants.co.uk

Delicate and fresh with mouth-watering citrus flavours. A wine for late summer and well into autumn.

La Riojana Tilimuqui Single Vineyard Fairtrade Organic Torrontés 2011, Waitrose, £7.19

This is a lighter Torrontés and a particularly food-friendly style with green apple and white pear fruit. It makes a refreshing aperitif wine and a good match for baked fish dishes.

The Co-operative Fairtrade Torrontés/Chardonnay 2011, £4.99

Vibrant, fruity and great value for money – you can’t go wrong with this blend from the Riojana winery.

English wines: sparkling, rosé and white

English wines: five good wines to try

I have visited quite a few wine producers on my home turf this year including Rathfinny Estate in Sussex, where I saw the estate’s first vines being planted back in the spring. We’ll have to wait until 2016 to taste the first sparkling wines from this newcomer, but in the meantime there are plenty of other wines to enjoy. Thankfully it is now also easier to find them in wine shops and restaurants. Here are my current favourites:

Chapel Down Flint Dry 2011

Made by the Chapel Down winery at Tenterden in Kent, this unoaked dry white is a blend of Chardonnay and traditional grapes including Huxelrebe, Schonburger and Bacchus. The 2011 vintage is unusually rich and structured thanks to the particularly warm weather leading up to harvest (remember the glorious Indian summer last year?) which resulted in low yields and perfectly ripe grapes. Its delicious peachy fruit and a hint of orange zest make it a lovely white wine for a summer lunch.

Stockists: Waitrose and Majestic, approx £9.

Jenkyn Place Brut, 2007

One of the more complex English wines thanks to 30 months ageing on the lees, this fine sparkling wine is very Champagne-like. A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier - the classic Champagne trio - it comes from south-facing vineyards on Hampshire’s North Downs.

 Stockists: Vinoteca, Caviste, Berry Bros & Rudd and Sparkling English Wine; price approx £26

Gusbourne Estate, Blanc de Blancs 2007

 Kent’s Gusbourne Estate is a relative newcomer to the English wine scene – this is only the second vintage – and the wines are impressive. The Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) makes a delightful aperitif with its delicate lemony fruit and freshness but there’s enough complexity to make it a good match for a seafood starter.

Stockists: Slurp, Sparkling English Wine and Vagabond; price approx £25

Hush Heath Balfour Brut Rosé 2009

A particularly delicate and light sparkling rosé wine from Kent, the pale salmon pink coloured Balfour Brut Rosé has a hint of redcurrant fruit, a silky texture and very fine bubbles. A perfect sparkler for the aperitif and a versatile wine for food, especially fish and chicken dishes.

Stockist information: www.hushheath.com

Ridgeview Victoria Rosé 2009

Located in Sussex on the South Downs, Ridgeview is currently on great form and this producer offers various styles of sparkling wines. I particularly like the ‘Victoria’ sparkling rosé which makes its debut this year. A blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the wine has perfumed red fruits on the nose and elegant fresh raspberry notes on the palate with a hint of brioche. Delicious with some smoked salmon paté.

Stockist: Berry Bros & Rudd, £26.95

Guinea fowl

We’ll soon be heading into the game season with the first grouse appearing on menus from August 12th, ‘The Glorious Twelfth’ and the first date of the shooting season.

While we’re waiting how about some guinea fowl? Like chicken, but more gamey in flavour, guinea fowl can make a lighter or more substantial meal. Guinea fowl is now widely available to buy and it’s not limited to any season. Free-range birds tend to offer the best flavour.

Originating from West Africa, this colourful bird has adapted well in Europe. These days France is by far the largest producer of guinea fowl (pintade in French) and it’s also farmed in the UK.

This is a particularly lean and healthy meat;  if you cook a guinea fowl, you’ll see very little fat in the roasting pan. I often cover the bird with bacon or cook it with a good stock as a casserole to ensure tender and tasty meat.

Today, in the hope that the sun breaks through, I’m preparing a lighter meal. I’ll be roasting a guinea, stuffed with fresh herbs including rosemary, and serving it with wild mushrooms. One guinea usually provides two generous portions with some leftovers.

Cooking the guinea:

Heat the over to 200C/gas mark 6 or a bit less if you have a fan oven, a gentle heat is what’s required.

Heat around two tablespoons of oil in the roasting tin then brown the bird breast down in the tin for 10 minutes on each side. Turn the bird the right way up and continue to cook for a further 20 minutes or a more*. Cook the mushrooms in a little oil and place them around the pieces of meat on a warm serving dish.

* As in the case of chicken, the juices should run clear when you poke a skewer into the thickest part of the bird.

Wine choice: Try an unoaked red wine such as Guímaro (vintage 2010) from Ribeira Sacra in north-west Spain. A perfect summer red and a good match for the gamey flavour of guinea fowl, this wine is made by made by Pedro Rodríguez Perez. Pour it into a big wine glass to fully appreciate its vibrant red fruit flavours and freshness.

Guímaro, priced around £14.50, is available from: Bottle Apostle Hackney, Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton, and from The Wine Society.

For further information about guinea fowl see: www.lapintade.com

Donostia: a taste of Basque cuisine

Donostia, a Basque-themed restaurant, recently opened its doors in Marylebone. It is just one of a steady stream of exciting new openings in the capital. Read my profile of the newcomer to get the low-down on the team, the food and the drink. It can be found in the ‘About’ section of this website.

Ratatouille recipe

The basic ingredients for ratatouille, the classic French vegetable dish, are all in season: aubergine, courgettes, red peppers and tomatoes. So why not try this tasty and versatile dish?

Here’s my version:

Ingredients:

4-5 tablespoons of olive oil or more if required

Two medium onions, sliced

Two cloves of garlic, finely chopped

One large aubergine or two smaller ones, sliced into thin rounds and then halved

4-5 courgettes, preferably small, sliced into rounds

2 sweet red peppers, chopped into smallish chunks

4-5 large, ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped or a tin of tomatoes, drained

Fresh herbs, such as parsley or coriander

1 teaspoon of coriander seeds, crushed

Method:

You’ll need a pan with a heavy base; a Le Creuset casserole dish works well.

The secret of a good ratatouille is to cook the vegetables separately or at least by adding them to the pan in the right order. The latter is less time consuming and I’ve found that it works perfectly well.

Off you go. Heat the oil and fry the onions and until they are soft. Then add the aubergines and cook them for at least five minutes. Add more oil if necessary. The courgettes go in next followed by the peppers and garlic. Cook for at least 30 minutes and then add the tomatoes and crushed coriander. Cook for another 30 minutes or so until the ratatouille is soft but not mushy. Finally, add the fresh herbs and serve.

How to enjoy ratatouille:

This dish works well served hot with chicken, pork or lamb. Ratatouille is also delicious served cold, but remember to take it out of the fridge in advance. I think that ratatouille tastes even better a day after it’s been made when the flavours have really mingled.

Horse power: Mas Amiel and Maury

I find it rather therapeutic when I occasionally see horses being used in the vineyard, particularly in Europe where machine power has long been the norm. Some producers are reverting to using horses (or mules) in  Priorat in Spain and other regions where steep terraces makes the use of machines almost impossible. Horses have also been adopted by those practising biodynamic viticulture where using a tractor goes against the grain.

Mas Amiel* is the largest producer of sweet Maury wines in the Roussillon region in the far south of France. Here horses have been reintroduced to work in some of the estate’s oldest vineyards where vines, mostly Grenache, were first planted early last century. The reason for the move is to protect old vines: the roots of very old vines tend to be closer to the surface making them more vulnerable if a tractor is used so using horse power can be a better bet.

When I visited the region last month, two of Mas Amiel’s horses (including Angelo, pictured, top) were pulling ploughs by early morning. They are managed by a team of young vineyard workers, male and female, who have been encouraged to work in the vineyard by owner Olivier Decelle (pictured, below left).

The aim is to tease the best possible quality out of the vines for wines which, in some cases, are destined for ageing over many decades – Mas Amiel’s oldest current release is the 1969 Classic Maury.

When the harvest comes round, typically in early September, the vineyard team works closely with winemaker Nicolas Raffy to establish when each parcel is ready to be picked. For natural sweet wines, the grapes are fermented for 15-30 days in stainless steel tanks which are wider at the top than the bottom (unlike those typically seen for dry wine vinification these days where the reverse is the case) to encourage a wide and thin crust on the surface of the wine. The next step is to stop the fermentation as quickly as possible in order to capture as much aromatic character as possible and this is done by the addition of alcohol which breaks through the thin crust. Once fortified, the wines are aged according to the style desired.

Mas Amiel’s sweet wines are offered in three different styles:

 Sweet white wines

Muscat de Rivesaltes, 2010: This wine, the lightest of the Mas Amiel sweet wines, is made predominantly from the citrusy Muscat à petits grains with the richer Muscat de Alexandria adding richness and body. Try it with fruit tarts, fruit mousse and tropical fruit salads.

Sweet Red Wines: Maury Rouge

Made from Grenache Noir, these wines include:

Mas Amiel Vintage Maury, 2010: A delicious, youthful wine with rich summer fruit flavours.  This wine is a great introduction to the sweet Maury wine style and it pairs well with tiramisu.

Mas Amiel Vintage Charles Dupuy, 2008: A delightfully fresh wine with rich black fruit and long lasting flavour. Delicious with a chocolate dessert.

 Sweet Red Wines: oxidative wines

These wines are aged for a year in the open air in glass ‘bonbonne’ demijohns before long ageing in large traditional oak casks. Current releases include Cuvée Speciale 10 ans, a blend of Grenache (90%) with Carignan and Maccabeu. This complex wine offers a mixture of fruit and spice flavours. It also pairs well with chocolate as well as foie gras and blue cheese.

 To find these wines in the UK contact Bancroft, www.bancroftwines.com

 www.masamiel.fr

* Note: Mas Amiel also produces an impressive range of dry wines but only a limited selection is available in the UK to date.