Pasta with Aubergines and Two Italian Reds

The pasta sauce appears very simple with few constituents and not too much effort in the cooking, but the result is a remarkably powerful and complex flavour. The simplicity means that every ingredient counts, especially the aubergines, tomatoes, a lot of garlic and a carefully calibrated shot of chilli. If your intended consumers don’t like garlic, don’t compromise, cook something entirely different.

This was obviously an excuse for some Italian wines and we tried two.

Bricco Rosso Suagna 2007 is 13.5% and £6.50 from the Wine Society. It comes from Piedmont and is a seriously structured wine – a blend of grapes (unspecified), raised in oak and aged. It is a powerful but civilised mouthful. We liked it a lot despite a hint of jamminess (to which we are very sensitive). Very Good Value

La Ferla Nero d’Avola 2009 fromSicily is something I should have tried by now, but had never got round to. It is 13% alcohol and costs £6.25. The ‘nero’ leads you to expect darkness and depth, in fact it’s fruity and rather light – on a par with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, perhaps a party wine. It is smooth and fruity with only limited structure, little in the way of obvious tannins but with just enough acidity. For us this is ‘easy drinking’ rather than a food wine, but clean honest stuff that would probably do well with plainer tomato sauces.

But the winner here by a large margin was the Bricco Rosso, partly for its inherent qualities, but also because it was better matched to the quite assertive tastes of the sauce.

What is the significance of the very tall, narrow labels? Just the current Italian fashion, perhaps.

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Lamb Steaks with Two Rhones

The summer never developed into barbecue weather but we can still create an illusion with some barbecue-like dishes. Tonight it was lamb steaks with which we tried two supermarket Cotes du Rhone:

JS Taste the Difference Cote du Rhone Villages 2010 is a hefty 14% alcohol and made by M Chapoutier at Tain l’Hermitage. It is described as ‘… a full flavoured, generous and well-structured fruity red with a rich peppery palate and soft, velvety tannins’ It is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsaut and recommended with ‘ Red meat and hearty casseroles’. It cost £6.79. It is indeed round and smooth, but rather too easy drinking and to my taste lacking in tannins, yet it is only a 2010!

Asda Extra Special Cote du Rhone Villages 2010 is 13.5% alcohol and made by Celliers des Dauphins who make one of the most popular branded Cotes du Rhone. This is described as a ‘… Mellow rich and delicious blend of ripe berries and peppery flavours. A fantastic match to herb-roasted chicken or beef casserole’. It costs a modest £5.79. I did not find it mellow nor so rich as the JS, indeed it was tighter and more acidic without actually being any fruitier. It may improve with more time in bottle but there is not much in the way of tannins to tame. Sorry, Asda, not too impressed.

It may be that my being especially partial to Cotes du Rhone has made me a bit hard on these two, but I know I can get really mouthwatering Rhones at £7.50. These were certainly cheaper, but fell short.

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Pork Chops with Sourdough Salsa and Beaujolais

I’m getting predictable; pork with Beaujolais in late summer should no longer be a surprise. But actually the point is to find out the things that go together and to stick with them. Anyone who really cares will continue to poke at the boundaries, but good partnerships stay good.

We started by continuing the Chardonnay quest comparing yesterday’s Asda Extra Special Chardonnay Vin de Pays d’Oc with The Wine Society’s Chilean Chardonnay, Limari Valley 2010. It costs a modest £5.95 and The Society describe it as “Crisp and vibrant with about 10% barrel fermented to contribute a little roundness without masking the bright citrus fruit”. It had a lovely, very typical Chardonnay nose. On the palate we found it rather less intense than the Asda, round rather than crisp, with lovely fruit, but quite soft. It is very coherent, a quality I admire, but actually a bit bland. This won’t offend anyone, but it won’t excite either. At £5.95 that is perhaps as much as you can expect.

The interest of the meal was the salsa which is made from sourdough bread and tomatoes with a jolt of chilli. The pork chops are quickly grilled then go into the oven with halved lemons to break down the fatty juices into quite a sharp sauce. Add a salad of French beans and you’re there. The lemony juice and the flash of chilli call for fruity fullness; there’s enough acidity already. The wine could be either white or red, it’s just that there are very few whites that could do this outside of Alsace and the reds have to be light and fruity rather than big and tannic. Beaujolaiswill work; so might Valpolicella or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

The Beaujolais was Beaujolais Villages, Ch de Lacarelle, 2009 which I got from the Wine Society at around £6.83. It is 12.5% alcohol and made by Jacques Depagneux. The WS says that it is one of the oldest estates and possibly their best vintage since 1947. We found it to be a very authentic Beaujolais, quite concentrated, with less acidity than many and with tannins that were already quite smooth. The effect was therefore rather round and very good with food, avoiding the clash that might result between a more acidic ‘raspberry’ Beaujolais and the lemony juices. A success then, and a good value Beaujolais.

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Grilled Chicken with Courgette Rösti and Another Chardonnay

The chicken legs are grilled simply, but properly – almost crisp on the outside, still pink and juicy within. They are presented on a bed of mixed leaves and accompanied by a courgette rösti which is made much like a traditional (potato) rösti, but made with the courgettes that are now embarrassingly plentiful in the garden. There is also a tomato-based salsa with just a dash of chilli to lift the otherwise mild tastes. This wants a wine that is fruity enough for the chilli, but with enough power for the chicken. I would always include Pinot Gris in my recommendations, and back in July we ate the same dish, without the rösti, accompanied very successfully by a rosé. But we are currently on a Chardonnay quest, so that is what we tried tonight.

Asda Extra Special Chardonnay Vin de Pays d’Oc 2010 costs £6.98, not rock bottom, but by no means expensive. It is 13.5% alcohol.

On the nose there was a clear hint of oak which, on first tasting was quite discreet, in a wine that was otherwise on the round and fruity side. However this is more restrained than many a Pays d’Oc attempt at Chardonnay; the Burgundian model might be St Veran. What this one lacks is the hint of gun flint that you get in the best Burgundies. There was enough concentration to stand up to the food, even the chilli in the salsa, though it was a bit broader in taste than we really like. I am perhaps being kinder to this than to yesterday’s White Burgundy; the lack of complexity gives it an easier ride.

Is it worth the money? The Macon Villages wines we tried just a few days ago were a little simpler and in one case, at £5, better value.

In terms of matching the food, this was a predictable success and, as I have said, there are other, equally good options in the shape of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.

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Salmon & Lentils with Burgundy

We have had the meal before, see my 3 June post, when we tried it – successfully – with Pinot Gris

Bit I have been buying cheap wines and we had some JS TTD Macon-Villages open. For comparison I also opened a bottle of Tesco Finest White Burgundy 2009 which is currently £7.79. This is 13% alcohol, and made by the Vignerons de Buxy. On its own this was authentically Chardonnay with a little, restrained oak, but we found that though the first impression and the middle palate were OK, the finish became increasingly acidic, almost sour.  With the meal it was remarkable the extent to which the Chardonnay fruit disappeared and, surprisingly for a wine in this style, it was remarkably spritzy. No doubt there are finer palates than mine who can diagnose exactly what happened here. The fact is that my Les Sétilles, at nearer £10 a bottle, also with some oak, is better by a street.

It may be that the winemaker, who we are told wins prizes, was trying to get as near as he could to theCoted’Or taste with second rank grapes and with only two years of age. I have to say he did a remarkably good job, but you have to succeed completely otherwise you just get an inauthentic also-ran which is what we have here. That’s a shame because it isn’t at all a bad wine. It is just that modest aspirations, perfectly fulfilled, inevitably work better (and how I hate to stamp on aspiration).

The simpler, cheaper JS TTD Macon-Villages was more authentically fruity and unoaked. Better to do simple well, than complicated not so well – I can’t even say badly in this case.

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The Quest for Affordable but Drinkable Chardonnay

Not as snappy a title as the one with the Holy Grail, but still a serious quest for what might yet prove to be a myth. My Supermarket Raid and Wine Society delivery resulted in six Chardonnays with prices from £ £6.99. Two of them are New World, the others French. I know that I could get a Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay for about £7, but I much prefer the Burgundian style – less broad, more elegant, less sweet, more mineral and, if oaked, the discreet old-barrel sort.

We shall see how these cheapies measure up over the next few weeks.

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Plaice with Basil and Tomatoes with Muscadet

The Muscadet was Chateau l’Oiselinière de la Ramée 2009 – an exceptional year for the region and the appelation. It came from the Wine Society at £7.95 and is 12% alcohol. This is not rock bottom Muscadet and that was immediately apparent from the honey aromas in the glass. When tasted it retained this fruity sweetness though it is of course bone dry; that doesn’t have to mean sharp, only that all the sugar has been fermented out. Thanks to the exceptional conditions of the vintage the fruit seems especially ripe. You still couldn’t call this full, but you could certainly call it fruity; it just isn’t the salty-dry Muscadet we are used to. That raised questions about how it would work with this dish. I would normally drink a Sauvignon Blanc, ideally of the fruity,New World style and in a way this 2009 is the Muscadet equivalent of that New World Sauvignon – very good. I am looking forward to drinking my remaining 2009 Loire Sauvignons and Muscadets.

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