Whether vegetarian, omnivore or hard core carnivore, this is the time of year when it seems natural to reach for the red (by the cooker) rather than white (in the fridge). The temperature outside might be almost balmy but a glass of red warms cockles of the heart other wines can’t reach.
After all these years, the whole food and wine matching business is still a bit of a mystery to me but, with reds and meat, it’s always safe to pair slightly caramelised roasts and steaks with something with a little sweetness, whether from oak or fruit; Sangiovese, Merlot or Nero d’Avola for example. At the other end of the spectrum, stews and casseroles need something a bit more earthy and robust; Carménère, Monastrell or a Rhone Syrah/Grenache fit nicely. There are exceptions to every rule and typically, turkey is one of them. Despite being roasted, the richness of the meat and trimmings outweighs the crispy, caramelized skin so I’d go with the Chateau de Lascaux Pic St-Loup or Nativa Carmenere.
So on to the wines – it’s a small list but perfectly formed.
Chateau de Lascaux Carra, Pic St-Loup, Syrah/Grenache (£13.99) – Pic St-Loup, in the foothills of the Cevennes, is one of the most northerly appellations of the Languedoc and makes stunning, Syrah based, Rhone style wines. When I got the gig of sorting out the Riverford wine offer, family owned (for 700 years) Lascaux seemed like the perfect partner. The original winery was an old monastery and owner, Jean-Benoit Cavalier, definitely has a touch of the priest about him but the wines speak for themselves. Isolated limestone vineyards, surrounded by wild ‘garrigue’ vegetation, produce wines with real provenance – you get to understand the concept of terroir when you taste the wines. Cuvee ‘Carra’, a food friendly blend of Syrah and Grenache, is a perfect partner for roast turkey but, once bitten, a yearly visit won’t be anywhere near enough.
Finca Fabian Tempranillo, Dominio de Punctum (£6.99). Judging by the sales, our house red needs no introduction. If you haven’t tried it, do. For £6.99 it takes ‘bangs for bucks’ to a whole new level.
Pech Matelles, Merlot (£7.79). Sadly, Vignobles Gilles Louvet, who produced several of our French wines have gone under. Maybe they underpriced themselves but fortunately we have enough stock of their great value Merlot to see us through to the New Year. Importers, Liberty Wines describe it as ‘boasting a surprisingly deep and intense ruby-red colour. Silky and rich, it is exceptionally smooth on the palate, offering notes of red berries, cherry, raspberry and a touch of spice to finish’. What more can I say – apart from ‘tragedy’!
Biurko Gorri, Rioja Joven (£8.49). Set away from the main Rioja regions, in the one horse (if you’re lucky) village of Bargota. The Llorens family only built their winery when the local cooperative closed down and they still make wine for other growers and have a massive following in the locality. When I was there, enjoying a leisurely glass and a half with a plate of local cheese and chorizo it was suddenly all hands on deck to load up the lorry of the local distributer from Pamplona. Chalky soils add a certain snap and, dare I say it, minerality to the local Tempranillo grape that you just don’t get with the mainstream producers looking to add oak and vanilla to local grape juice. Sorry – I’m letting my anti Rioja-ism out for an airing but try it and you’ll see what I mean.
Bodegas Castano, Monastrell (£7.99). Monastrell is responsible for some great wines – under its French name of Mouvedre. It’s a minor, but character giving, part of Cotes du Rhone and main player in Bandol but it’s in its homeland of Mediterranean Spain that it really shines. It’s a mixed bag of intense but silky Morello cherries, stewed fruit, sweet spice etc but, you know what? When I see it, I think bangers and mash. That’s my kind of wine.
Nativa, Carmenere (£9.99). We wanted to focus on European wines but thought a token New World offering would be in order. It was a tough job but picking the Nativa Carmenere was easy. Like most New World wines, it’s full of flavour but, in a bigged up sort of European way. As I mentioned above, it will stand up to the most robust of stews and casseroles – cassoulets for example, but by itself it’s smooth and seductive. I can’t believe I just wrote that – better stop now while I’m still ahead. Just.