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Neil Sowerby's December Wine Column

The boozeophile matches wine with MCR cookery book

Written by . Published on December 9th 2013.

Neil Sowerby's December Wine Column

AS I recommend a roster of affordable wines to accompany some slightly quirky festive fare, let me declare an interest: all the dishes are from a cookbook I had a hand in – Robert Owen Brown's Crispy Squirrel and Vimto Trifle. (Giles Coren did a whole restaurant review about his mate's new pub in The Times a couple of weeks ago - we'll let you off this once). 

For just £12.99 it is a handsome and not unreadable (if I say so myself) culinary compendium to place under the tree for the favourite foodie in your life. If squirrel and Vimto aren’t your bag or bottle, there is an abundance of other delectable treats that are infinitely preferable to dry old turkey or heavy-on-the-stomach Christmas Pud.
The Raynier is made from 70 per cent Syrah and 30 per cent Grenache Noir without oak intrusion. Deep red with a spicy nose, it is surprisingly elegant with generous fruit.
The wines similarly are similarly revelatory. Yes there is a sparkler, but it’s not champagne but a spanking new homegrown contender. And for a mains red, who’s for Blaufrankisch, Mencia or Thymiopoulos Xinomavro?
For nibbles I am going to forego the Crispy bit of the book’s title – sourcing a Playstation 4 or the Christmas CD by that Scouse choirboy may take precedence over a brace of squirrels, so let’s do Crispy Razor Clams and Crispy Ox Tongue with Mustard Mayonnaise – the first a spring roll, the second breadcrumbed finger food. For the clams, a salty, bone-dry Manzanilla sherry, Hidalgo La Gitana (widely available, a 50cl bottle will cost you £7.99 from Sainsbury”s. Serve it well-chilled in copitas or any such tiny glass.

Ox tongueOx tongue 

With the melting and piquant ox tongue fingers crack open Digby 2009 Reserve Brut, an English bubbly new to me but a silver medal winner at the 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards. I love its rounded appley palate and racy acidity.
Nyetimber remains the benchmark for English sparklers, but fresh (and we mean fresh) rivals are springing up year on year. Digby is the latest, using Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes sourced from from top vineyards and made using the Champagne Methode Traditionelle at Wiston Estate Winery in West Sussex. The determinedly English name comes from Sir Kenelm Digby, the 17th Century philosopher, theologian, writer, pirate, inventor and allegedly 'father of the modern wine bottle'.


Wines that sing with clams

The Digby 2009 Rose, which is 80 per cent Pinot Noir, has a recommended retail price of £39.99, while the 2009 Reserve Brut (65 per cent Chardonnay, 35 Pinot Noir and Meunier), should cost around £32.99. Selfridges stock both wines and will sell them in elegant new gift boxes while stocks last. A shimmering foil design on the boxes echoes the bottle design with its houndstooth motif. 
A bit grand for humble tongue, maybe. Our starter dish is more upmarket – Lobster Salad.  To match this I’d suggest Clos Floridene 2012, a complex white Graves the Co-op are stocking for Christmas in selected stores at a good value £16.99.Lobster_Salad[1]

Lobster salad 

Produced by renowned Bordeaux winemaker and scientist Denis Dubourdieu, Floridene is a dry blend of 50 per cent Sauvignon Blanc, 47 per cent Semillon and 3 per cent Muscadelle, with intense fruity aromas of peach and lemon and toasty hints and a long-finishing citrussy richness on the palate.
I suggest three reds for our main of Venison Loin with Red Cabbage and Chocolate.Venison_Main_Witt_Red_Cabbage_And_Chocolate[1]

Venison with wines from Macedonia

First get your mouth round Thymiopoulos Xinomavro 2011 (M&S, £10.49), whose sweet-sour spicy dark cherry fruit is a vibrant accompaniment to the rich flavours of this deer dish. It’s from Macedonia and a riposte to all those who write off Green wines, in particular the reds.
Waitrose have an equally venison-friendly red from leftfield – Feiler-Artinger Blaufränkisch 2010 from Austria’s Burgenland. The country’s reds often seem to play second fiddle to its whites, in particular the Gruner Veltliner, but Blaufränkisch’s peppery blackberry fruit has won me over in its various manifestations. This is a good, approachable example. It is currently on offer at £8.49, down from £10.99.
In Spain Mencia is not going to upstage Rioja or Ribera del Duero any time soon, but this red from Bierzo in North West Span is a fascinating, alternative. Winemaker Katia Alvarez Bugarin’s Escondite Perfecto Mencía Bierzo 2010 (M&S, £9.99) offers oodles of raspberry and damson fruit in a cloak of subtle oak.
If after all this, the traditionalist in you is still seeking a Claret, ‘cos it’s Christmas, then a good, affordable bet is the Co-operative’s velvety, herby Château Sénéjac 2009 (on special offer at £13.99) or the richly fruity, almost creamy Chateau Fourcas Dumont 2006 (£14.99) from Listrac.
My veggie option from Crispy Squirrel and Vimto Trifle is Pearl Barley Risotto with Beetroot and Leagram’s Curd Cheese. I favour uncomplicated Pinot Noir with beetroot, so suggest McWilliam’s Hayfield Pinot Noir 2011 (Tesco £8.99) from New South Wales. Its soft red cherry fruit and oak spice is still assertive against the  beet hit.


Beet risotto 

Either of the  Leagram’s Curd Cheese (Ramshackle for sheep’s milk, Nannykins for goat) are perfect for this dish, but for the ultimate contemporary cheese course look no further than the Courtyard Dairy in Settle, Yorkshire – just named Cheese Counter of the Year at this year's World Cheese Awards.
Andy and Kathy Swinscoe are genuine affineurs, maturing their stock of farmhouse cheese  to perfection before selling – both from the shop and the website. Online is obviously more convenient from afar, but I’d recommend a visit, especially since their neighbour in a qulaity shopping complex outside Settle is Buonvino, organic and biodynamic specialists, who I have written about previously.
A particular favourite red, from the Gut Oggau winery in Austria is Atanasius Gut Oggau 2011 (£18.95), which blends indigenous grapes Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch (again) in stainless steel with natural yeast. Its intense blackberry fruit and mineral elegance would make this a perfect partner for Comte and Cheddar. Crazy label, too.
For cheese lovers on a budget, look no further than a pair of red Languedoc charmers – Domaine Raynier 2012, AOP Saint Chinian (The Wine Society, £5.75) and Cournon Lafleur Malbec 2012 (Majestic, 7.99).
The Raynier is made from 70 per cent Syrah and 30 per cent Grenache Noir without oak intrusion. Deep red with a spicy nose, it is surprisingly elegant with generous fruit. The Malbec is sourced from the relatively cool area of Limoux, which benefits from sea breezes. It reeks of violets and cherries and offers a chocolatey edge to its soft, juicy fruit.

To accompany the Vimto Trifle, it would have to be Vimto, of course. For my dessert choice of Eccles Cakes and Benedictine Cambridge Creams (creme brulee with East Lancashire’s favourite French herbal liqueur), head for Jerez in Andalucia for the sweetest, treacliest treat around – Pedro Ximenez sherry.


Benedictine burnt creams 

Pedro_Ximenez[1]Pedro XimenezIf you can get it, it has to be Fernando de Castilla Antique Pedro Ximenez – the ultimate PX, a seductive scent mix of liquorice, sweet tobacco, prunes, figs, raisins, tea and more, followed by an unctuous yet surprisingly delicate mouthfeel. Manchester city centre merchants Hanging Ditch stock it for £27.50 for a 50cl bottle. You can buy it by the 50ml glass for £4.50 at the Mark Addy, where Robert Owen Brown is exec chef.
Less exalted PX examples, but still invitingly raisiny and sticky, are available by the half bottle from Morrisons (£5.99) and Marks & Spencer (£7.49). 
All food photographs by Joby Catto/Anti Limited. To buy Crispy Squirrel and Vimto Trifle go to this link.

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