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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…

Keeping busy during lockdown

Like almost everyone else, I am staying at home almost all the time except for daily walks (I haven't run anywhere since I left school) and weekly trips to the supermarket. I did manage to find a local baker who sells flour by the sack so, inevitably, I have been trying my hand at sourdough. Not the prettiest loaf but quite tasty.



Anyway, back to work. I have been quiet recently as (a) I thought I would take the opportunity of an extended period without school runs (so more time to get things done) to re-work my website (to be unveiled soon, I hope) and (b) lots of people have been enjoying wine so I have been kept busy with that side of things. This has necessitated new purchases so, along with I Campi and Chateau Juvenal, I have just taken delivery of a consignment from Domaine Ste-Anne near the sleepy southern Rhone village of St-Gervais.

The cellars at Ste-Anne are clearly very old. You have to walk through several sections before reaching an opening where wine tastings are co…

Harissa chicken with Juvenal's Perseides

I would like explicitly to invite you to post comments in response to this or any other post on this blog. You must have opinions which are more relevant than mine about some of the things I come up with and I would really like to read them.

Anyway, a vaguely Middle Eastern barbecued chicken meal was planned for a few days ago so we thought we should make a couscous to go with it. The kettle boiled and hot water stirred into the couscous before we realised we had no harissa in the house and, frankly, I wouldn't go into our local town for a tin of harissa at the best of times so that wasn't going to happen. An alternative had to be thought up and fast.

The good side of the internet is the sharing of recipes and tips on cooking, DIY, fixing lawnmowers and all sorts. OK, so not all the tips are good but you quickly recognise which sites are not going to offer anything credible. We combined a couple of recipes to come up with the following harissa which was fresher and tastier than …

Is this some good news about the lockdown?

Wine stocks have been running low recently. After the dry pasta and paper products flew off the supermarket shelves, it was the turn of the wine aisles to empty and it wasn't long before many people realised they didn't really like what they found there. Rather than give up wine (although, apparently, some people have done precisely that), it soon became clear that wine merchants are in the category of permitted business so many of us saw huge spikes of trade, especially in the run up to Easter weekend. As I say, wine stocks have been running low.

It is good news, then, that we have been able to start to replenish our supplies but even better news that our first pallets are coming in today from Italy. I hope this signals that, as we are being told, we are over the worst of the crisis and things will soon start to normalise (not just yet though).




I CAMPI is an estate we started to work with a couple of years ago but, for some reason, I never fanfared the arrival of the wines at t…

2013 Joblot revisited gives an answer to the biodynamics question

In the end, I opened both of Domaine Joblot's 2013 Givry Premier Crus, Servoisine and Clos du Cellier aux Moines, on Thursday. Both were fantastic wines, much better than on previous occasions. The differences between the two sites were apparent - Servoisine's density and power coupled with sweeter fruit against Cellier aux Moines' elegance and poise - but the vintage, never one of the most venerated in any part of Burgundy (anywhere?), has proved itself worthy of the Joblot name on this occasion, at least.

The last time I tried Servoisine was not a "wine night" according to the biodynamic calendar and the flavours were muted, muddied even. On Thursday the fruit in both cuvees was ablaze, vibrant and the acidity levels were good, making for wines that danced on the palate. I will be reserving more of these for myself but following the advice of the wine app, money well spent.

Since Thursday, a few other corks have been popped including Pierre Gaillard's 2015 …

Is there anything in biodynamics or am I a bit gullible?

A couple of years ago I was introduced to an app called 'When Wine Tastes Best', essentially the biodynamic calendar. Good days for wine are called Fruit or Flower days; bad ones are Leaf and Root days. There's a bit of explanation for all this but, it comes down to the theory that the same wine tastes better on some days (fruit or flower) than others (leaf or root) because the movement of the moon affects all living things on earth and wine is, in some respects, a living thing which responds to the 'rhythms of the moon' as it ages.

What is doesn't suggest is that, if all living things respond to the movements of the moon, then that includes us so, perhaps, rather than the wine tasting different, it is our perception of the wine that changes.

Either way, this gives rise to the only question that matters: do wines taste (or is our perception of them) any different according to the movements of the moon?

Supermarkets and many leading wine merchants seem to think …

Venison stew with chestnut sauce

I was asked if I had any recipes which use chestnuts - here's one. It goes fantastically well with a mature Rhone such as any Raymond Usseglio Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Serves 6-8 A variation on any basic stew recipe.
Fry 250g pancetta (otherwise, bacon or salted pork belly) until the fat is rendered and remove to a bowl. Brown 1.5kg diced venison in small batches and transfer to the bowl with the pancetta.

Sweat 2 onions, finely sliced, chantenay carrots, 2 sticks of celery (chopped into small pieces) and some chopped garlic. Deglaze the casserole with a good slug of brandy and set alight. Add half a bottle each of Port and red wine (preferably Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, otherwise any light and fruity red – not a heavy one). Bring to the boil then add beef stock2 bay leaves and a sprig or two of thyme, 1tbs Dijon mustard and 1tbs redcurrant jelly. Return the meat to the casserole and, if necessary, add enough boiling water to cover the meat. Season (no salt should be required as this is al…

Salami fest

After I posted yesterday about my current obsession with curing meats, I was challenged by a few, no doubt sceptical, readers (yes, apparently I do have them) so here is a shot of what's maturing right now. On the left, some venison pancetta (I just had a bacon sandwich: very meaty but really rather good) and the salamis: pork, venison and (pork) chorizo. These were all started on 17th March so they'll need a few weeks to reduce to 70% of their original weight which, apparently, is the point where they are ready to eat although, from my first attempts, they will need much longer to dry to the point where I would want to enjoy them. At that point I can vacuum seal any that need to have their maturation slowed down.

Basic salami recipe:
500g pork belly 500g pork shoulder – both should be ground fairly thick then mixed with the wine and: 100ml red wine (I used Muro's Rioja Crianza 2015 'Bujanda' since I was also making chorizo, saving the rest of the bottle for later, of …

Time on my hands

Actually, since off licenses have been deemed permitted businesses, things have been rather busy here but with the whole family at home all the time (except for the daily exercise exeat), the day seems longer than usual. No school runs for one thing. This means my desk is, for once, clear and, whilst I wait for a new delivery from the warehouse, I have time to plant some new asparagus crowns, make a batch of ragu big enough to last the first stage of lockdown (although I am in doubt that this will continue well into the summer) and, for the first time this year, write a blog post. I will endeavour to do more of this in the days and weeks to come although I don't know if anyone is remotely interested - sign up or 'friend' this blog or whatever is supposed to happen so I know someone is reading this!

I think there will be two main strands to whatever nonsense I write for the time being: wine and everything else. Everything else will probably be dominated by food since that, …