By Lawrence Bowden, Manager, Majestic Wine Leith Walk
I’ve just survived the first night of camping this year. Having endured the weekend in a damp Scottish field I can predict with confidence that lazy summer evenings will soon be upon us. Although there is strong argument for pushing the date back a little, my calendar does inform me that we have entered British Summer Time. With the winter we’ve just had the anticipation for spring to arrive has never been greater. The snowboards have been stashed in the attic and I’m working up to scouring last summer’s fat of the BBQ grill. I’m ready and waiting, with a pack of sausages in one hand, and a glass in the other, for the first opportunity to fire up the BBQ. Let summer commence!
As well as sleeping under canvas and eating burnt meat, most of us look forward to a well-earned break abroad during the summer months. On our travels we’ll indulge in the indigenous delicacies of our chosen holiday hotspot, but don’t you sometimes find the food and wine a touch repetitive? Whilst I love to eat and drink like the locals, you’re often left with little other choice. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Brit who wants to sit in a café in Tenerife, watching re-runs of Only Fools and Horses, munching on a fry-up, drinking cooking lager. But on last summer’s surf trip to Portugal I nearly died from an overdose of grilled fish and Vinho Verde. Both of these things I love, but there just wasn’t anything else on the menu. If you are lucky enough to be holidaying in any serious wine-producing nation this summer then I’m envious, but you’ll be hard pushed to find much to drink that doesn’t come from that countries shore.
Fortunately, after blowing all my money on a builders van with a bed in the back, I’ll be BBQing a little closer to home this summer. I’m looking forward to loading the charcoal and grill, along with select Majestic purchases, into my make-shift camper van, before heading off to enjoy the food in various parts of the country. Although winning acclaim, the British wine industry doesn’t produce enough to quench the thirst of the nation yet. Bringing wine in from all four corners of the globe quenches our thirst and makes for exciting selection at Majestic Wine. The weather might be dull and dreary but there is absolutely no fear that the wine will follow suit.
My first port of call will be the Hebridean Isle of Harris, where I plan to save on charcoal and gorge on cold Uist smoked salmon salads. There are two schools of thought when it comes to matching a wine with smoked fish. Firstly, you can go with a rich, opulent, oak influenced chardonnay whose flavours will not be overpowered by the fish. For this I’d strongly recommend Domaine l’Aigle Limoux Chardonnay 2008 from Gerard Bertrand (£7.99* down from £9.99). Vanilla, lemon, hazelnut and gala melon give this wine a complexity reminiscent of a higher priced Pouilly-Fuisse. The other option is a bone dry, zingy, lime infused Riesling, especially if you intend on having a vinegar/citrus based dressing with the salad. When it comes to dry Riesling I think it the Australian’s do a fine job. The Pauletts Riesling 2009, Polish Hill River, (£9.99* down from £12.49) is dry, minerally and packed with citrus that will keep your pallet fresh. If there is room in the van, I’ll be taking a few bottles of each.
Once the camping kit has dried out and the mosquito bites have subsided I’ll be stocking up again at Majestic before heading down to the Lakes. This time I’m planning to fill the van with Spanish reds in anticipation of scoring some Lakeland lamb and Cumberland sausage for the grill. Skewer the meat with sprigs of rosemary and remember genuine Cumberland sausage comes in a swirl, not links. In a perfect world I’d be enjoying the dark cherry, spice and tobacco character of Vina Ardanza 2000, (£17* down from £22). This wine has a complex leathery/smoky finish and is from a vintage that is drinking exceptionally well now. Conscious of fuel rising to £5 per litre by the time Wimbledon starts; there are other, more sharply priced alternatives to the Ardanza. Rioja Gran Reserva ‘Torre Aldea’ 2001, (£8.99* down from £11.24) is a wine with ideas above its station. Strawberry fruit, cherry, vanilla and cinnamon all mingle in this super smooth wine that will leave you thinking you’ve opened up an expensive bottle by mistake. Moving away from Rioja and heading south, there is a great Tempranillo/Garnacha blend from Valencia. Senorio Don Pedro de la Vega Gran Reserva 2001, (£5.99* down from £7.49) is an IWC Medal winner. Tobacco, leather and dried fruit hint at the age of the age of this wine, whilst sweet spices and vanilla indicate some oak maturation. Majestic currently have 20% off all Spanish wine (excluding wines under £5 and over £20, Cava and Sherry) so there is no need to wait for a wet weekend in the Lake District, or until your all-inclusive fortnight in Benidorm, for a taste of the summer.
It wouldn’t be a traditional British summer without a trip to the seaside for some fresh fish and chips. You pick your own favourite spot but I’ll be heading to Scarborough. As with the smoked salmon, there are also two schools of thought as to what makes the best match. A well-made cup of tea (milk, no sugar) is the obvious and classic match. But this is less to do with food and drink pairing and more for the provision of warmth – necessary when visiting the British seaside. The other perfect match is Champagne. Honestly, it works fantastically well! Firstly, the crispness of the Champagne maintains freshness of the pallet and cuts through the grease and fat from the food. Secondly, and most importantly, the flavours complement each other perfectly. Citrus lemon and green apple fruit of many Champagne’s pair fantastically with flaky cod or haddock. There is no need to break the bank though. Why not try it with Nicolas Feuillatte NV (£17) to see if it’s better than a brew? This competitively priced fizz is full of apple, pear and citrus and has a mouth filling creamy texture.
In some respects we’re lucky – we don’t have to travel the world in order to find an interesting assortment of wine. We may have to accept that the sun, sea and sand are replaced by mosquitos, mud and rain, but at least our wine merchants shelves are some of the most exciting and diverse in the world! Although having the world’s eclectic mix of wine in our local Majestic isn’t quite an equal trade, it does satisfy our desire to reminisce on past travels as we knock back a tipple from resent destinations. Whilst the weather and wine in our favourite holiday hotspot might be predictable – closer to home, things are kept interesting.
*Prices based on purchasing 2 or more of the same wine purchased and expire 2nd May 2011.