Smoked trout and Saumur: wine pairing

In which a drool-inducingly acidic Saumur Chenin Blanc proves the perfect foil for a smokey old trout

A bottle of Saumur, fresh and frosted from the fridge, stands bathed in afternoon sunshine. Your gob is watering already.

A quick blast from the Parn. Less of a review; more of a passing observation I thought I’d share with y’all.

We just had a bottle of Saumur alongside some smoked trout from Inverawe Smokehouses. A damn fine lunch, mark ye. But also a reminder that the right wine/food match can be fucking sublime.

On its own, Les Andides Saumur is certainly on the bracing side — like a dip in ice-cold riverwater for your tastebuds. It’s pretty dashed acidic stuff, and you’d be salivating like a rabid dog if you drank more than a glass of it without food.

Sharp, fresh, clean stuff.

With the smoked trout, it was perfect. That acidity was taken into hand by the salt’n’smoke, allowing the wine to sing in its modest, mineral-laced kind of way.

There was no awkward drooling.

A more peaceable, smooth’n’fruity number would’ve been left dead on the side of the road in the wake of that trout. Hoofing, strong, salty flavours don’t take no prisoners.

Les Andides Saumur costs £7.11 from Waitrose Wines. You might’ve expected it to be made from Sauvignon Blanc, given its Loirey home, but it’s actually 100% Chenin Blanc, that other (undersung) white hero of the Loire. 12% ABV.
Approbatory side-note, meanwhile, to Inverawe Smokehouses, who supplied my parents with extra smoked trout for easter (free) in recompense for delayed delivery back amidst those Christmas snows we had. Good chaps.

Prieler Pinot Blanc, Seeberg 2009, Burgenland

… will take you down a crispy duck boulevard. But quietly.

A bottle of Prieler Pinot Blanc from Waitrose

Let’s kick off with the good: this is a liltingly fresh pinot blanc, front-loaded with a walloping great bomb of soft fruit. And take it from me, dear reader: it you’re going to be walloped by a bomb, there’s no better bomb by which to be walloped than a soft fruit bomb.

Oh yeah. Heck yeah.

Meanwhile, shove your schnoz into the glass and you’ll delve your way into a magical fantasy land of lemon sherbet fountains and boulevards lined with streetlamp-sized crispy-duck pancakes (yes, really: the water-blood of just-sliced cucumber combined with hoy sin sweetness and sizzled duck).

Back to the gob and, post-bomb, you’ll find there’s a certain unexpected bitterness. Not unpleasantly so.

But the rub. Ay, the rub. You knew there was one coming.

… This wine isn’t as good as it should be for the price. It’s not bad, and, as I’ve already implied, it has some kind-of-funky, kind-of-interesting things going on. But not in sufficient abundance. I’ve focused in on them because I was tasting the blighter. Squirting it to all corners of my trap, snuffling at it like a trufflehunter.

In other words, I should probably have held back on the crispy-duck boulevard stuff above, which makes it all sound quite psychedelic and in-your-face, I realise. But can you blame a man? It’s not every day you get an oriental delicacy wafting up out of your white wine at you.

Y’see, the problem is that you have to work relatively hard to get much out of this wine aside from its initial fruit bomb. Which, though nice, is scarcely £13-worth of bomb (sorry to disappoint you, wine terrorists).

Verdict

So, to be honest, I expected the wine to be a good bit more interesting than it is. What post-bomb complexity it has, it conceals beneath a veil of chardonnayish anonymity. Which is a shame.

Tasting it, I felt bleary-tongued: as if my senses somehow weren’t quite awake enough to experience it properly. Because everything except la bombe is too distant, too muted.

It’s not a bad wine, but at this price it should be better. Dial it up, Prieler, dial it up. Except the bomb. That’s loud enough already.

Rating ★★☆☆☆
ABV 13%
Price £12.99 from Waitrose (£12.34 with online discount)

Waitrose Solera Jerezana Dry Amontillado Sherry

… is more rough-hewn oak than IKEA pine veneer

Waitrose Solera Jerezana Dry Amontillado

What better to write about on Christmas day than sherry? Yes, sherry. Allow Old Parn to add his voice to the loud (yet probably still largely ineffectual) chorus of those who castigate the British public for their indifference to sherry.

Sherry is fucking brilliant.

It’s also pretty much hands-down the best value wine you can buy. Really good sherry is ludicrously cheap. Put a random £6 bottle of sherry up against a random £6 bottle of wine if you don’t believe me.

Anyhow, this here is Waitrose’s Dry Amontillado. With Amontillado, you give up some of that saltwater bite of Fino (and especially Manzanilla) sherries, some of that tastebud-awakening zap of bracing dryness.

But you’re repaid. Oh yes, you’re repaid.

Because the wonderful thing about Amontillado is the nutty, toasty, creamy exhale. The smooth, supple woodiness that lasts and lasts. With a hint of fruited sharpness up there in the eaves.

Waitrose’s offering is on the heftier side of the Amontillado spectrum: it sits on a deep, dark foundation like that of a big Old World red, and in the mouth it bristles with an invigorating spiky coarseness. It’s woody like a rough-hewn oak table, not a veneered pine worktop from IKEA.

There’s a sugary, chocolatey smoothness, though, to the smell. And when you first chuck some into your mouth, you’re greeted by a marzipan sweetness.

Verdict

Very nice indeed. Like I say, this is a relatively gutsy Amontillado, so if you’re more into smooth, creamy goings on, you may prefer others. But I like gutsy.

To get top marks, they’d need to eliminate that slight catchiness at the back of the throat, the barely perceptible roughness that intrudes on the finish. But that degree of pickiness is hardly justified by the price.

If you don’t already, drink sherry. If you like sturdy red wines, this would make a very good introduction.

Oh, yeah — happy Christmas, too.

Rating ★★★☆☆
ABV 19%
Price £7.78 from Waitrose

Oyster Bay Merlot Review

…will alternately patronise and assail your tastebuds

I was about to give Oyster Bay Merlot a bit of a break. But then I looked it up to find that a bottle (admittedly of the 2009 as opposed to my 2008) goes for £9.99 at Majestic. So no break for you, Oyster Bay.

But let’s start at the beginning.

The only reason I have this bottle is that I was given it. By an organisation, I hasten to add, not an individual. A ‘thank you for your business’ kind of thing.

But, yes. I don’t buy wines that look like Oyster Bay Merlot. Nail me into a broomcupboard and call me Satan if you wish (and what else would you do with Satan but nail him in a broomcupboard, I ask you?) — but that’s the unvarnished truth. It’s prejudiced, I realise, but my experience of mass-market wines that look like this and are called things like ‘Oyster Bay’ fills me with a dark, viscous dread.

But the misery of it all is that I was going to tell you it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Yeah! I was going to tell you that. Up until I realised that bottle — had I bought it myself — would’ve cost me a sodding tenner, rather than the £6-7ish I was expecting, given the name/label design combo.

Hell, I was never going to recommend it, you understand. But I was ready to concede that simply not being revolted was a kind of triumph.

Well, at £9.99, excuse me if I’m a little less forgiving.

So. The first thing that hits us? Ribena. Or Kia Ora. Or (Christ save us) Snapple. The kind of thing they’d market as ‘Very Berry’ flavour.

To be fair, this initial bouquet is hands down the worst feature of this wine (aside from its price: did I mention its price?). Because once (if) you get through it, you’ll actually be surprised at the amount of bitterness. There’s a touch of vanilla, but most of the finish is dominated by the woody depths of the tannin.

A schizophrenic wine, then. All kiddy sweetness to begin with, then cagey gruffness to finish. And there’s no transition to speak of: the flavours shift abruptly, without ceremony. Quite bizarre.

Verdict

So, as I may already have implied, a price tag of £9.99 on a wine like this is an absolute joke. At £6, I’d have expected the Kia Ora — but been grudgingly surprised at the unexpected tannic depth. It would certainly not have succeeded in making me commend the wine — but it would have succeeded in being better than most of its ilk.

BUT IT IS NOT £6.

Paying ten quid for this is like paying ten quid to have an unattractive gigolo spend an evening patronising you with syrupy platitudes and discussing Nietzsche. In alternate sentences.

Whatever turns you on, I guess.

Me, I chucked the rest of that gigolo straight into a casserole. Yum.

Rating ☆ (0 stars)
ABV 13%
Price (for the 2009) £9.01 from Waitrose online, £9.99 from Majestic. But don’t, alright?

Domaine Font de Michelle 2004, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

…thrusts an unapologetic gallicism in your direction

The label of a bottle of Chateauneuf du PapeThis wine is French. It’s very French.

That’s a good thing, by the way.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what I mean by that, except that everything about its smell and taste thrusts an unapologetic Gallicism in your direction.

Much like General de Gaulle did, I’d imagine.

Its relatively rare — and very welcome — for a wine both to evoke an overflowing of fruit (here, ripe, fat cherries and crushed raspberries particularly, as well as dark, rich prune) and to maintain an almost austere, savoury complexity, bound in by a fruit-kernel-bitter structure.

Verdict

This is a massive wine, a fireball blooming in the mouth. Suck and chew on it for several seconds and you’ll see what I mean. Its intensity and depth is port- or brandy-like. But despite its massiveness, it doesn’t overreach. It keeps its structure and integrity right through its development: no telling belch of alcohol or flab of fruity decay.

I’m not sure if you can still readily buy the 2004 Domaine Font de Michelle: I got it a while ago from the Wine Society, but it’s no longer available there. Other vintages, though, seem to be available at Waitrose and Lay & Wheeler. On the strength of this one, I’d recommend trying others.

Rating ★★★★
ABV 14.5%
Price £20.99 from the Wine Society (no longer available)

Waitrose Sancerre, Joseph Mellot 2009

… will light up your palate with a triumphant blaze of verdant Spring

If I had to walk into an unfamiliar (or familiarly unreliable) pub and order a glass of white wine, I’d go for Sauvignon Blanc.

It’s a forgiving grape: a bad Sauvignon Blanc (hereafter ‘SB’) tends still to be drinkable, because it’s such a fruity wine. The hoofingly powerful gooseberry-type flavours that almost inevitably dominate SBs can throw a veil over many sins.

But there are two sides, of course, to this. Safety and reliability can all too easily become predictability. And SBs can be a bit like Walkers’ Cheese & Onion crisps: appealingly, tastebud-bombingly gratifying in the short-term, but leaving an acrid artificiality lingering in their wake.

Thank Christ, then, for wines like this damn, damn nice Sancerre (100% Sauvignon Blanc, y’know).

It’s fruity, sure. But it gambols over the pit into which so, so many of its fellow SBs tumble: that of being too fruity — overwhelming, concentrated, one-dimensional.

It slides silkily onto your tongue, before lighting up your palate with a triumphant blaze of pure, verdant Spring — dancing, tingling, mouthfilling — and yet manages to follow this extroverted exposition with a demure, elegant development. Just at the point how to buy viagra online safely when a lesser SB would be beginning to strain, to reveal its limitations, this chap eases into a lovely, smooth 5th gear. And goes on.

And on.

It has an excellent finish, in other words: the youthful greenness (gooseberry, yes — but also the crisp spurt of biting into raw green pepper) blossoms into late-summer roundedness. Peach, firm-fleshed young plums — where the golden flesh is turning vermillion, close to the stone. It is mouthwatering, seductive, addictive. So impressive is the lack of any bump in the transition between the initial excitement and the subsequent warm expansiveness that one’s almost mesmerised. I find myself taking mouthful after mouthful (yeah, any excuse), continually marvelling at the finesse with which this transition is accomplished.

Verdict

I know it’s not a cheap wine, but for this level of complexity — this excellent balance — I’d happily pay a lot more than £12. Deservedly award-winning, this is a very fine wine indeed. Serve it to somebody you want to impress — or somebody you’d like to intoxicate in the most beguiling way imaginable.

Rating ?????
ABV 13%
Price £11.39 from Waitrose