Scottish Wine&Dine

Scottish wine? Yes, like there are Scottish birds, so the title of my bird watchers book says. I.e. birds to be spotted in but not confined to Scotland. Depending on species and season one can come across them in Iceland, Senegal and, mind you, England too. And so Scottish wine: wine one can buy in supermarkets in Scotland. Tesco in my case.
The dining part I tried to keep as local as possible: venison, (British) chicken, and of course: bog myrtle.
Bog myrtle, also known as sweet gale or Scottish gale, is an aromatic shrub growing in boggy places in the North-West Highlands. It was used to keep fleas (in mattresses), moths (amongst the linen) and flies (in the kitchen) at bay (Chris Lowe, Torridon, the Nature of the Place, p. 183). It is also said that midges won’t bite you if you tuck some leaves behind your ears. Well, I can’t say I have seen that happening. But there is definately good use for it in the kitchen: under the skin of a chicken and in the venison stew (use it like bay leaf but the fresher the better, and as with bay leaf do take the leaves out before you serve the food). Bog myrtle provides a tasty, herbal flavour.

Crispy bog myrtle chicken
Just rinse the bog myrtle to get rid of little beetles or flies, though I seldom find them. Shake off the water and push leaves liberally under the skin of a ‘happy’ chicken. The leaves are small, so you will need a handful. Salt, pepper, a little paprika. That’s all. You could add some garlic under the skin as well, but why not go for the bog-myrtle-total experience? Roast the chicken until crisp and (being in the Nanny State I feel inclined to add this adverb) thoroughly done. A few green vegetables or a salad, a new potato, no more is needed.
What to drink with this savoury dish? A light red wine would do best (Pinot Noir, Gamay, Fer Servadou) but an aromatic white is also a good choice. I paired it quite satisfactorily with Tesco’s Finest Gavi, an Italian white from Piemonte.

Venison stew (serves 2)
There seems to be hardly a butcher left in the Highlands, except for the ‘bigger’ cities, but some small local supermarkets get a biweekly supply of venison (and maybe also of beef and lamb – I didn’t pay that much attention) by a big retailer from, in my local shop, Kyle of Lochalsh. Excellent meat, and happy by the supermarket’s initiative, though I do miss the butcher who cut the steakes from a huge leg before my eyes, pointing with his knife to the other side of the loch where the animal had roamed not long ago.
I still had some bog myrtle left, so I opted for the diced venison. Fry an onion till soft and transfer it to a plate. Add some more oil and/or butter and fry venison till brown. Add some salt, the onions, a sprig or three of bog myrtle, chopped garlic, a little red pepper (freshly chopped or flakes), two small fresh tomatoes and a drop of vinegar. Fry for one minute, than add a splash of red wine and some water. (Less is more here; the juices of the venison should give this dish its taste, not the wine or the tomatoes.) Let simmer for about two and a half hours at least. Serve with roasted parsnip and crushed potatoes. In the glass a good claret or a red Rioja, preferably one that is not all vanilla and dried plum. As we were out of those, we settled for a Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand: Oyster Bay 2014. A decent Pinot for just under 10 pounds, fruity, no New-World sweetness here if rather high in alcohol (14%). It did the job well enough.


Wine&Dine: Giovanna’s Gift

I sometimes remind myself, or Spouse does, that ‘Giovanna was a most original and gifted pasta cook’. I don’t know Giovanna, nor do I know anything about her apart from the scarce details Elizabeth David shared with her readers: that she was young and worked in a country restaurant in Tuscany in the 1970s (An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, p. 107 [Dutch edition]). And that she could make a mean spaghetti.
The combination of ingredients may seem a bit unusual, and the amounts rather odd (only a 100 gr of liver and no less than 200 gr of parmesan) but do stick to the recipe as much as you can. Giovanna is, after all, an original and gifted cook. (I must confess that I am not always that obedient, being more generous with some ingredients and less with others, and turning to bacon if per chance the fridge does not provide me with coppa. The result is still tasty, but not as good as it could have been.)

What to drink with it? In my opinion a light red wine would be best. A fruity Cabernet Franc, for example, that pairs a certain earthyness with freshness, as does this dish.

Dine: Spaghetti with chicken livers and lemon (serving 4)
Cook the pasta al dente. Sauté finely chopped chicken livers (100 gr) with 4-5 gloves of chopped garlic (better still: rub garlic with coarse salt into a paste), 100 gr coppa, and the grated peel of 1 lemon in olive oil for ca. 3 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Beat 1 egg and 4 egg yolks with 200 gr of grated parmesan or pecorino. Pour egg mixture into the pan with the livers (heat off) and mix thoroughly. Drain pasta and add to the mixture. Keep stirring and mixing till sauce and pasta are amalgamated.andides

Wine: Les Andides Saumur Champigny
Les Andides Saumur Champigny 2013, 12.5%vol, € 6 (sale price at Albert Heijn)
Fruity with earthy tones, soft tannins, easy. Good value for money. Cave de Saumur is part of the cooperative Alliance Loire, a big player in the region. The same wine may be found with other retailers under a different name. Serve slightly chilled.


An Omelette and a Glass of Clinton

Eggs are not a food I pair with wine. This may have to do with the time of day I usually eat them: breakfast or lunch. Hubrecht Duijker, Mr. Wine in Holland now retired, recommends a dry sparkling wine to go with them. His are the ones you get at a traditional New Year’s Eve party, where the eggs are devilled and sparkling wine is abundant. More often than not, however, eggs are an ingredient, be it in a Spanish tortilla or a sauce Hollandaise – and who wouldn’t like a glass of wine with those?
But a plain omelette?
‘Let’s just have an omelette and a glass of wine’ may indicate ‘the almost primitive and elemental meal’ (Elizabeth David, ‘An Omelette and a Glass of Wine’ in the anthology of the same title). The kind of meal one longs for after a hard day’s work. It’s late, you’re tired and hungry but you don’t feel like cooking, so you drag yourself to the fridge: eggs, a rind of Parmesan, drooping lettuce, half a lemon, and on your way back you grab a bottle of whichever wine you come across first. When Elizabeth David drags herself to the fridge she naturally returns with eggs, a piece of home-made pâté, olives, a fresh salad, ripe, creamy cheese and fresh fruit. The omelette she turns the eggs into contains Parmesan and Gruyère. This indeed primitive and elemental meal is then washed down with a local (she admits sometimes dreadful) wine.
perfecteggArchitect, script writer and travel and gastronomy author Aldo Buzzi (1910-2009) also likes to pair eggs and wine. And a local, in fact very local wine at that. So I read in his little book about all things foodie: The Perfect Egg and Other Secrets (it’s the kind of thing one gets published only after one has made a name for oneself with several more substantial works).
In ‘Eggs on Leeks’ he gives a recipe of – you guessed right – fried eggs on boiled and chopped leeks. ‘The [frothy] butter mingles with the remaining waters from the leeks to make a delectable little sauce. Should be accompanied by a good glass of Clinto (…).’
There he is again (see my posting Foreign Affairs): Clinto, Crinto or Clinton. This American hybrid produces a dark red wine, low in alcohol, famous for its stains, not for its taste: a bit foxy, they say, or ‘peculiar’. I wouldn’t really know as this outlaw grape is hard to come by. It is still grown in some places, including France and, where Buzzi must have gotten his bottle from, Veneto. Every now and then voices are heard who plead to lift the ban on American hybrids, as they need much less chemical treatment. For this plot of Clinton, however, there is no hope left. Or so I think. I must confess I don’t understand a word they say.


Wine&Dine: Christmas Turkey from the Venetian Ghetto with Israeli Sangiovese

On the third day of Christmas my true love said to me: “What wine do I choose? We’re out of Italians.”

Our fridge was full of leftovers, though most of the food had to be put in the freezer, as the flu had forced us to spend the holidays in bed amidst loads of tissues, which made it a white Christmas after all. Dinner that evening consisted of spaghetti with turkey leftovers sautéed with rosemary, raisins and garlic, an adaptation of Nigella Lawson’s Tagliatelle with Chicken from the Venetian Ghetto. Lawson’s recipe has pine nuts too, but as our leftovers were quite substantial we skipped them.

Back to my true love and the wine that could accompany this simple but delicious dish. A white wine would have been splendid, but our constitution favoured a warming red. As Italians were not to be found on the shelves, we opted for a wine made from an Italian grape: a Sangiovese from Israel. While many an Israeli regards ghetto life with disgust and others tend to romanticize the phenomenon, I thought it a good pairing, both historically and food-wise. The Christmas part of it is a bit odd perhaps.

Dine: Christmas Turkey from the Venetian Ghetto
Sautee roughly chopped turkey leftovers in their juices together with chopped rosemary, a handful of raisins and a clove of garlic cut into small pieces. Boil the pasta al dente. Serve. (Much quicker than those leftover pies by Paul Hollywood.)

Wine: Gamla Sangiovese 2009
gamla-sangioveseGamla is the fruit-driven label of Golan Heights Winery in Israel, a big company consisting of Yarden (their premium brand), Gamla, Hermon (more accessible wines) and Golan (more affordable wines). The grapes for this Sangiovese grow in a ‘cool’ climate (i.e., hot summers, relatively cold winters), on volcanic soil at a height of 400-1200 meters.
Unfortunately the cool climate didn’t prevent the high alcohol level (14,5%), but that is the only ‘fault’ in this otherwise fruity, full-bodied wine. Think dark fruit, dried plum, spices. Think even Amarone (which brings us back to the Veneto). Paired well with the turkey, especially with the raisins as trait d’union between food and wine.


Wine&Dine: Viña Gravonia & Partridge

If this is the tasting note:
Golden colour, deep honey-like, sweetish smell, in the mouth dry, full-bodied, complex, honey, sourish apricot, mandarin, almond, freshly-cut herbs (the latter to my astonishment), long aftertaste,
what to eat?

Let me first explain a bit more about the wine. This was one of the first wines I tasted during the DWCC (Digital Wine Communications Conference) in Rioja (on which more in a future post). That day’s programme didn’t permit it really, but we had heard so much about them that we sneaked out and drove to Haro, to Bodegas López de Heredia, better known as Tondonia or Heredia. A traditional winery if ever there was one. Think huge wooden barrels, thick layers of fungi on the walls, and temperature control by opening or closing the windows. Their wines are named after the vineyard and should express the character of that terroir and of that terroir only, (and this is unusual) consistently, year after year.

Tfgravoniahey sure take their time. The wines not only spend years in barrels, the harvesting of the grapes for Viña Gravonia Crianza 2004, the subject of the tasting note above, took 33 days, enabling the harvesters to pick only the grapes that are perfectly mature. No rush after that either, as this Crianza of 100% Viura (12,5% vol) has spent four years in barrels and five years in the bottle.

But what to eat with a wine of such complexity? Rest assured: anything goes, according to the information leaflet: “Perfect with all kind of fish, no matter the way cooked. Grilled seafood. Well seasoned white meat. Also very nice with pasta.”

As I feared the wine might overwhelm a humble white fish, I chose the not so white meat of partridge, this being the game season. A traditional recipe is Perdreau aux Choux, for which one needs one old and one young partridge, the older merely to infuse the cabbage with taste. Alas, old partridges are a thing of the past (don’t ask your supplier for an old bird; I did and was nearly kicked out of the shop).


Partridge with savoy cabbage ‘Spanish style’

Preheat oven at 175 °C. Rinse, dry and season partridges (one p.p.) and brown them on all sides in a mixture of olive oil and butter. Cover them with vine leaves (partridges are delicate) and put them in the oven for about half an hour. (Note: vine leaves can be salty.)
Cut a (piece of) chorizo into small cubes and fry them in a dry pan till the fat has run out. Put the cubes aside and fry a diced onion in the fat. Add savoy cut in small stripes and fry on low heat. Season to taste. You may add a handful of dried cranberries: good for taste, not so good for the Spanish touch.

Now was this a good match? Bird and wine proved to be a happy combination: almost lively, even if that’s an odd thing to say about a dead bird. Bird and cabbage were good too, rubbing each other’s darker sides. Wine and cabbage didn’t do much for each other.

In the Netherlands some wines of López de Heredia are for sale here.

Leser aus der Schweiz, pass auf: Schnäpchen bei Real wines bis zum 30. November.


Wine&Dine: To Soothe the Frazzled

Nigel Slater, of whom we speak in my house only with due respect, as he is a genius according to two (!) blurbs on his book Appetite, is none too fond of cauliflower. Though he admits one can do more than boil it and serve it with a cheese sauce, he continues by saying: ‘Resist the temptation to undercook. The raison d’être of a cauli is to end its days as a soft and gentle supper to soothe the frazzled and overworked’ (p. 103). He gives no recipe.

Are you frazzled in any way, or a bit overworked? Let me help you out with a soothing and reviving supper. Let’s even resist the temptation to cook the cauli at all.

Dine: cauliflower couscous with fish
Wash and drain the cauliflower, cut it in not too big chunks. Put the chunks into a food processor and chop them till they have the size of couscous (that will take a few seconds only). Put the ‘couscous’ in a bowl (yes, the smell is not pleasant right now, but that will change). Add generous amounts of olive oil and lemon juice and a bit of salt. This is the basis. We need a few more ingredients to turn this into a tasty salad. For example some herbs: chives, parsley, mint, all chopped. A small red (or less sharp green) chilli pepper cut into rings to give it a bit of pungency. Or fennel leaves and a few (black) olives (be careful with the salt in that case). Or…, well you probably got the picture by now. Let the couscous rest for a while so that all flavours blend. In the meantime you can fry or (char)grill the fish (monkfish, sardines or red mullet would be great). It might be a good idea to add some garlic to the fish (the salad has none).

If you’re in desperate need of carbs, do take a break between preparing the couscous and cooking the fish and settle yourself on the couch with a piece of bread and olive oil. If both are of good quality, that’s a real treat.

Wine: Verdicchio
Azienda Santa Barbara, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC, 2011, 12,5%vol, by Stefano Antonucci, € 7,25, for sale here.
This Italian white from the Marche region presents itself as going well ‘per cibi poco grassi’, i.e., with low fat courses, and of course with fish. And it paired really well with the couscous. Its mellowed acidity could more than cope with the lemony freshness and the velvety saltiness of the cauliflower couscous with herbs and olives. It did not much for the tilapia I served it with, but I wouldn’t recommend that fish anyway.
Stefano Antonucci has more choice in Verdicchio’s. This one is his cheapest.

(Previously published on my blogspot site, May 2013)


Wine&Dine: Loire Cabernet Franc & Bavette

I love red Loire wines, be they made of Gamay, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc. They often combine a pleasant fruitiness with soft earthy tones, representing a certain light-heartedness, without being unserious. Of these three the Cabernet Franc is the more full-bodied and a bit sterner.

Though Cabernet Franc can be harsh and green, certainly if harvested too early (it’s a difficult grape), Jean-Noëlle Millon’s La Source du Ruault 2007 offers softness and ripeness. This unfiltered and un-fined Saumur Champigny has a fruity and herbal scent, a fruity palate and ripe tannins. It contains some depot (as an unfiltered and un-fined wine should), so you better leave the last sip in the bottle.

The website tells me Jean-Noëlle shifted to biodynamic wine making in 2007 (some years after taking over the business from Millon père) and has been certified since 2010. Grapes are hand-picked, fermentation takes place in concrete vats with natural yeasts, maturation in ‘barriques’.

La Source du Ruault 2007, Saumur Champigny (AOC), 12,5% alc. I was able to buy it at a discount (€ 7,60 instead of € 10,80) as the distributor needed space for new vintages.

We paired the Cabernet Franc with bavette, zucchini fritters, slow-cooked tomatoes from the oven and unmucked-about-with rocket. Having enough tannins for the bavette, fruitiness for the tomatoes and lightness to never overshadow the zucchini fritters, the La Source du Ruault proved to be a good choice.

Bavette? Yes, one of the cheaper and tastier steaks (popular nowadays in restaurants—crisis?). Maybe not to be found in the supermarket, but on offer at any decent butcher’s. Cut into small slices (0,5-1 cm) across the grain (otherwise the meat will fall apart), heat a frying (or even better: grill) pan till it’s very hot, fry a minute or so (no need to cook them through) on each side, sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper (and if you like a few drops of lemon juice).


(Previously posted on my blogspot site, April 2013)


A Perfect Wine List

If you were in a restaurant and the wine list contained some fine Champagnes, South-African, New Zealand and Loire Sauvingnon Blancs from renowned wine makers, an astonishing choice of German, Austrian and Alsatian Rieslings, several Grüner Veltliners, Chardonnays from all over the world, Gewurztraminer from Alsace and New Zealand, dry and sweet Bordeaux wines—and that would only be the white wine section—what would you do?

I’d ask for the menu, just to check if it contains anything but Leviathan, as I would probably be dead.

A wine list of this sort only exists in heaven, and in the mind of Jamie Goode. It’s a fun list, and as with any personal list, it may lead to animated discussion. Though maybe less animated in Burgundy (“I could just about live without Burgundy [Pinot Noir]”), Bordeaux (“I’m not sure where [red] Bordeaux would figure”), and some Spanish regions (“I can’t see Rioja or Ribero del Duero getting a look in”). Unfortunately Jamie Goode doesn’t reveal what kind of restaurant he was thinking of, let alone what dishes would accompany his wines of choice. On the other hand, with such an extended list, what dish would not find a pairing wine?

Now it is one thing to have a wine list in your mind’s eye, but (at least for me) quite another to be honoured with a try-out of candidates for a new real life wine list. My favourite local restaurant may be just that: a restaurant cherished and favoured within a 10 mile zone, their wine list covering the entire world: France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Morocco, Israel, Lebanon, Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa, United States and Chili. It needed a small refurbishment, as menu’s do every now and then. Spouse and I had just sat down for a quick dinner, rather tired after a hard day’s work and looking forward to an early night. Before we could order the boss brought out his best glass ware, poured a Menetou-Salon and asked us if we would like to taste a few wines with our dinner that he felt might have a place on the new wine list. It wasn’t a question really and we were happy to oblige. So we spent the evening sniffing, chewing, tasting, discussing. No early night, but revived all the same.

Menetou-Salon, Domaine de Loury, Belles Roches 2011, 12,5% alc
Great wine for an aperitif that will also go well with not too heavy fish dishes. This Loire Sauvignon Blanc has a vivid nose without the cat’s pee of its neighbours. Tastes of gooseberry, yellow apples, pear and something grassy. Zesty with an agreeable roundness.

Picpoul de Pinet (of which I forgot to pen down the details)
I thought it smelled of acetone and didn’t taste it. Spouse called it ‘medicinal’ and said the wine was unremarkable on its own, but suited the sesame madeleines and Thai basil that accompanied her tartare of tuna, less the tartare itself.

Pinot Grigio, Tiefenbrunner 2011 (Alto Adige)
I am always surprised how different a Pinot Grigio is from a Pinot Gris. One probably shouldn’t compare the two. This Pinot Grigio, made by a well-known North-Italian winemaker, has an, I quote Mr Tiefenbrunner, ‘unobtrusive bouquet.’ Though it had the difficult task to make me forget the Menetou-Salon—it failed—I must admit it paired better with the vitello tonato, due to its freshness and acidity.

Sequillo 2011, Swartland, South Africa, 14,5% alc
This blend of, hold on, Chenin Blanc, Palomino, Semillon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Semillon Gris, Viognier, and Clairette was served with a grilled white fish on a puree of chickpeas. It could have passed for a Southern Rhône if the Chenin Blanc wouldn’t have given it away. Neither fined nor filtered, the bottle warns you in bold type. I like that. Exciting wine. Tropical fruit with a certain freshness, full-bodied but not fatty. A pity that it contains so much alcohol. And mind you, they reduced the alcohol level in this vintage.

Domaine de Piaugier, Gigondas 2010, Marc Autan et Fils, Sablet, 14,5% alc
This young Gigondas desperately needed the proteins of Spouse’s rib-eye to soften its tannins, even with the bottle open for two hours. A fruity yet full-bodied wine. Quite some alcohol, but balanced. Hope we’ll see it on the list in two years.