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Simple Burgundy, simply gorgeous

As we ease out of lockdown, you, like me, are probably dipping your toe into the social whirlpool rather more gingerly than in the past. We are fortunate to have a decent amount of outdoor space so can entertain a couple of friends and keep appropriately apart at the same time. After a gruelling drive to Bristol and back yesterday - to move things from one unoccupied student flat to another one - some local friends came over for a couple of hours of catching up over wine and cheese.

Not always the classic combination of Abigail's Party, some wines really struggle not to be overpowered by cheese. Epoisses is allegedly best matched by Burgundy but, for me at least, it kills off any wine, whether young and vibrant or old and mellow. Last night proved that (although the epoisses was good nonetheless). I am not enamoured by most soft cheeses and blue cheeses have a particular flavour compound that make them taste stale to me. Hard cheese is where it's at for me: always aged Parmesan…

What to do with leftover Nduja

It's one of those ingredients you sometimes see on the menu in a pizza restaurant (or used to in the days when you could go to a pizza restaurant) but possibly felt too intimidated by the spelling to ask for it (semi-reliable sources tell me it's en-doo-ya). A friend gave me some for my birthday a couple of weeks ago and, having tried it on its own (very tasty but there's quite a lot of raw heat there) and on pizza (very, very good), I wondered what else I could use it for. Of course, I could simply rely on the internet but where's the fun in that?

We had some pasta left over from a lasagne a few days ago - I know it's not really lasagne season but another family birthday means we have to eat all sorts of things which would be far more digestible if he had been born six months earlier or later - so wanted to come up with something simple. Actually, the pasta didn't turn out so well but the sauce was extremely tasty and simplicity itself.

Just four ingredients (…

Which wine with curry?

With no imminent possibility of dining out, I have been pushing myself to come up with more authentic versions of all the foods we really enjoy. I'm a reasonably decent cook and have long since mastered Mediterranean foods (although there is always room for expansion of knowledge, hopefully not at the expense of waistlines). Chinese cooking has much improved since a family member invested in a copy of Fuchsia Dunlop's excellent book on Sichuan cooking. For some reason though I have never made a great curry... until recently. Of course, any recipe followed has to be developed according to taste so, for me, the sauce part of The Ivy's chicken masala has to be blitzed to a smooth, thick paste and served on a bed of fluffy basmati rice with Madhur Jaffrey's chicken tikka (she uses cream rather than yoghurt. It's much more authentic) cooked as whole chicken breasts and sliced over the top of the curry sauce (isn't that a tautology?).

But what wine to serve with curry…

Definitely not big red wines

Around 15 years ago, when Ciaran Rooney was winemaker at Domaine des Anges in Mormoiron, we met up for dinner and he brought a bottle of Sancerre. Never a fan of Sauvignon Blanc, wary of winemakers' tendencies to over-extract and make a searing, cordial-like bevy, I opened it cautiously. From the outset I smiled: Pascal et Nicolas Reverdy knew how to please all-comers. We made a beeline to the estate on the way back north and have visited many times since but it is only now that they have agreed to extend their list of UK importers to include us.


There are five wines in the range, the regular set called 'Terre de Maimbray' after the area near to the domaine where most of the vineyards are to be found. The wines in 2018 and 2019 are probably the very best we have encountered from this producer: the Blanc has quite a restrained nose (not too Sauvignon!), real depth of flavour and plenty of stuffing. It's bright with lively but not overbearing acidity and holds itself up …

S&M with brisket of beef

They say that blog writing is all about attention grabbing so I hope my cheesy title to this post will do the trick. Technically I have stretched the point: Xavier Vignon's gorgeous wine is called "SM" according to the label but the letters in question stand for Septrionale (the French name for the Northern Rhone) and Meridionale (you guessed it, the Southern Rhone) so, given that this is a blend of grapes from both regions, S&M is really what it should be called.

Not just any grapes, of course. The S could also stand for Syrah, the Northern Rhone's only permitted red grape (there's a statement that's bound to get a response - someone will assuredly know of a wine with something else in it that started out red) and not just any Syrah but Syrah from Cote Rotie which, along with Hermitage produces the best wines in the region.

In its original outing, "SM" was called "Sacrilege" because Xavier thought purists would find it borderline offe…

Making a burger interesting enough for wine

A lockdown birthday is certainly different. Ordinarily we would have a family lunch and friends over for an evening feast with some extravagant wines to pair with the food. Not this year, of course. Instead, the main meal of the day had to be something everyone would enjoy and something that wouldn't be stressful to make. That means no pizza (too frantic) or Chinese food (too time consuming).

Burgers then. Always popular with children (non-vegetarian ones, anyway) but, for us, something has to be done to make them more interesting. A simple solution: cooked steak tartare.

For four people (we halved this): mix together:
Salt and pepper
1 red onion, medium, finely chopped 200g shallots, finely chopped 140g capers, finely chopped 2 tbs olive oil 15ml brandy 2tsp tomato ketchup 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce 1 tsp Tabasco 4 egg yolks (optional)
600g minced beef (or venison) - for steak tartare (served raw, of course), the meat should be chopped rather than minced. This is easier if it is almost froze…

(Not) getting bored with barbecued chicken

Chatting with a friend who has rather enjoyed lockdown, his only apparent gripe is that he is fed up with barbecued chicken. Naturally I berated him, telling him I could think of at least a dozen quick and easy marinades to make the Chardonnay of the meat world tasty and different every time (at least for 12 chicken dinners anyway). I said I would email them to him but then thought I would stick them up here in the hope that some people might add their favourites to the list. Here are four of them...

Simplest and easiest of all (but very effective) is a spice mix I bought en vrac at an Auchan supermarket, mixed with a little olive oil and lemon juice. It doesn't really need to be left to marinate at all although there is no harm in letting it sit for a while, of course.

A family favourite is Pollo all Diavolo, which we first encountered more than 25 years ago in Gubbio in Italy. It arrived at the table on fire with a big pile of chips. Spicy and delicious, a simple way to make thi…