Roast beef isn’t that hard to choose wine for; it has to be red and reasonably weighty. This being the Christmas season and with guests to entertain, we were ready to serve significantly better wines. So tonight I got out a serious claret Chateau Pavie Décesse Grand Cru Classé St Emilion 1995. This came as a gift but if bought retail today would set you back about £70, yes, that serious. Son-in–law Nick contributed a rare Gattinara, a pure Nebbiolo from Piedmont in Italy. Its production is small and the wines are little known, though in Italy they are regarded as rivalling Barolo and Barbaresco particularly for their longevity. Gattinaras spend at least a year in oak and another two in bottle. Hard to get in the UK – this bottle came from Italy – it would probably retail at around £20 if imported formally.
These were very different wines, the claret a fine example of the style with an absolutely wonderful fruity bouquet which I inhaled for quite a while before getting round to tasting. When I did, I got seamlessly integrated fruit, tannins and oak, so seamless in fact that it seemed to be just one very long-lasting taste in which it was hard work to distinguish separate elements. In fact it is 90% Merlot with some Cabernet Franc. The effect is plump, luxurious and dominated by the fruit.
The Gattinara was very different, the fruit far less plummy, more focused and acidic, the tannins more assertive with the overall effect of a ‘tighter’, sharper and firmer wine delivering its tastes higher in the mouth. This too worked very well with the beef, including the horseradish sauce.
You shouldn’t pay too much attention to the price differential; there is huge cachet and a thriving market in the better clarets while the Gattinara hardly makes it out of Piedmont let alone Italy. They are both very good wines. Frankly I prefer the claret, but that’s entirely a matter of taste rather than quality.
I may also be improving my decanting technique; bringing the wine up two days in advance to get nearer to room temperature, standing it upright and untouched to allow any sediment that has been disturbed to settle down, and only then pouring carefully into the decanter. This time I was rewarded with clarity in the glass and on the tongue.
As to temperature, remember that even red wines should be a bit below room temperature: Beaujolais should be at cellar temperature, Burgundy a bit above that, but even claret and Chateauneuf should be a few degrees below room temperature. White wines should be at cellar temperature, which means a bit above fridge temperature. We tend to drink them rather too cold in this country; slightly higher temperatures deliver more taste.