Treats for New Year
Em Marshall-Luck selects some seasonal products
With New Year almost upon us, I have a selection of the most superb wines, whiskies and food products to enjoy during the remainder of the festive season; delectable treats with which to celebrate 2017 or to ease the melancholia of the year’s last day.
Let’s start with my recommendations for the main celebration itself (whether a New Year’s Eve gathering or to welcome in a new start the next day): a bottle of top quality champagne is almost imperative, and you could not go wrong with either of my two choices: Moet & Chandon Imperial NV, or the Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label NV. Both of these champagnes sing aloud of refinement, sophistication, elegance, and just a touch of decadence. In terms of looks and taste, there is not a huge amount to choose between the two: both bottles are recognisably classic and unashamedly proclaim their excellence; both wines are made from the finest Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay grapes from the Champagne region – with the Veuve Clicquot having a predominance of Pinot Noir – both have fine bubbles, a golden straw colour, and the crispest and freshest of effervescence. Whereas the Veuve Clicquot has vanilla, peach and pear on the nose, the Moet & Chandon has more apple-y tones – both the fruit, and the gorgeous bouquet of apple blossom. The peach of the Veuve Cliquot comes through on the palate as well, along with hints of biscuit and chalky mineral elements; the Moet & Chandon has some peach too, along with that discernible apple, and some citrus fruits and gooseberries. Both have fine and graceful finishes, with the mature notes of brioche. Both available from Sainsburys – the Veuve Clicquot is marginally more expensive (RRP £40, as opposed to the Moet & Chandon’s £35). These two come ever so highly recommended.
If you’re looking for a good white to serve with, perhaps, a smoked salmon starter, you might consider Clos Saint-Jacques Riesling 2015 from the outskirts of the town of Colmar in Alsace. A pale straw colour, it has a nose of lime and spring flowers – with apple blossom and lime tree aromas – all very fresh and invigorating. On the palate we have a burst of citrus fruit – those limes very much to the fore, with a little grapefruit and pineapple. Although the wine itself is very smooth, there is some chalky crumble to the taste and a little minerally flint. The finish is gentle, yet with spice – a warm glow of ginger and some white pepper. A really well-balanced, top quality white, which is excellent value at its RRP of £11.99 from Majestic.
Another excellent option would be Danebury Vineyard’s award-winning Madeleine Angevine 2013. Grown in England, using Madeleine Angevine grapes from the Loire Valley, it is a light-golden straw colour, with a tinge of light green. Melon and nectarine are evident on the nose, along with some floral aromas, and although it is a little retiring at first sniff, a deep inhalation and focus produces a more rewarding result. The immediate taste is citrusy, with a slight zing to the texture that awakens the palate. Grapefruit is very much to the fore, and tangerine is also evident. A surprisingly long-lasting finish completes the impression of a refreshing, dry wine with a degree of class and finesse that takes attention to appreciate. (£12.99 from https://www.englishwineshop.co.uk.
Three highly recommended reds will work perfectly for the remaining festive evenings: Ramon Bilbao Single Vineyard Rioja 2014 is a wine that delivers far above its price tag and therefore makes a superb choice, whilst not breaking the bank. A blend of 70% Tempranillo and 30% Garnacha grapes grown on the slopes of the Sierra Cantabria in northern Rioja, it has a colour of deep rich purple, while the nose is gloriously mature – deep oak forest and dry, crunchy fallen leaves. The oak comes through on the palate too – perhaps unsurprisingly given that the wine spends eight months in American oak. Along with ripe, sweet berry fruits are toasted nuts. This is an immensely gentle wine yet not at all without character – refined and cultured yet mature – an elderly gentleman in slippers by an open fire with Schubert songs playing in the background and a book of Plato on the table next to his armchair. RRP £9.49 Majestic.
Penfolds Bin 8 is probably my pick to accompany the main meal on New Year’s Eve or Day: comprising 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Shiraz from grapes selected from vineyards and growers across Australia (including the famed McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley), this is a wine of depth, character and integrity. A deep, rich, thick purple colour, it has a nose of black berry fruits, brambles and smoke. The dark fruits come through in the taste – blackberries, blackcurrants and damsons , along with a tempering sweetness and swirls of ash, tar and oak. The very smooth, long finish has a tantalising whiff of smoke, which perfects a mature and impressive wine. Available from Waitrose, priced £19.99.
I have mentioned Root 1 Carménère 2014 before but would recommend it, once again. This lovely wine is enhanced by its striking and beautiful embossed bottle, which immediately raises it above its competitors in terms of individuality. The wine itself is made of 85% Carménère and 15% Syrah grapes from ungrafted roots from a vineyard in Colchagua, near the Andes Mountains. In the glass is a rich purple colour, while the nose sings of plump, ripe dark berry fruits – cherries, damsons, plums and blackberries, with leaf mould and brambles in there as well. On the palate these aromas are borne out as flavours – cherries, blackberries and plums combine with ash and tar, along with a bite of pepper and chilli and a good whiff of smoke that lasts long into the smooth and delightful finish. Superb value at RRP £8 from Morrisons.
For those who like to warm up after wintery walks with a tot of whisky, you can’t get much better than the Glen Moray Sherry Cask Finish. This is a light amber colour, rather clearer than one usually finds; this is possibly due to the sherry casks in which the whisky is matured. It is slightly acidic on the nose, but peaty overtones are still evident; what is more surprising are the warm fruit notes that also inform the aroma. It almost tingles on the front of the tongue, and there is a fruity earthiness to the initial taste that bears out the impressions gained through the nose. Further back, the taste becomes fiery, with a warm glow characterising the aftertaste: the peatiness is stronger here, but there is also a richness to the lingering warmth. Despite the lightness of its overtones, this is a whisky of substance and authority and one that comes ever so highly recommended. (£25 from http://www.glenmoray.com/)
An alternative method of warming up at this time of year is a mulled wine or cider. Sheppy’s Mulled Cider is a medium-sweet cider blended with a secret recipe of traditional mulling spices including cinnamon and cloves. This clear, golden liquid has a nose of pure apple, and a strong apple-y flavour with gentle warming spices, predominantly cloves, which impart a gentle warm glow in the mouth. (Six 750ml bottles for £27.60.
Or, of course, one could mull one’s own ciders or wines – in which case the family-run company, Steenbergs, based near Ripon in North Yorkshire spring to mind, with their mulling spices. The Fruity Mulled Spices, for instance, is a generously portioned sachet, nicely presented in a cracker, which contains crystallised fruit and spices for mulling wine or cider, with crystallised ginger, crystallised pineapple, sweetened cranberries, coriander, cardamom, orange peel and cinnamon. It works perfectly to produce a citrusy, spicy warming mulled drink with a slightly more exotic element provided by the pineapple and cranberries.
Steenbergs also produce other excellent products, given their specialisation in ethically sourced hand-blended spices, teas and home-baking ingredients, with a focus on organic and Fairtrade products. I have been greatly impressed by their organic cranberry and apple stuffing mix – a filling and delicious stuffing with lovely fruity flavours; and by the Steenbergs Taster Spice box, which, again, is beautifully presented – four little jars in a sturdy red box. It comprises a Tagine mix – with paprika, coriander, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and cardamom; organic paella mix with paprika, onion and garlic powder, rosemary and saffron; organic Harissa with chilli, coriander, garlic, cumin, paprika, caraway, spearmint and rose petals, and Za’atar with sumac, sesame seed, thyme, parsley and oregano. Perhaps my favourite Steenbergs product, however, is their Earl Grey Tea, which comes presented in a lovely little jute gift bag, with beautiful tea strainer with sun, moon and stars motif. An organic, Fairtrade tea from Greenfield Tea Estate in Sri Lanka, grade Orange Pekoe 1, the taste and quality is remarkable – I’m not sure I’ve ever tried such a clean-tasting tea – absolutely silky soft and smooth, brimming with elegance, refinement and sophistication, as well as the classic Earl Grey bergamot flavour. Superb.
Having failed to find a meat and vegetable box delivery company in the area to which I have recently relocated (Riverford Organics claimed to cover it, but their franchised farmer refused to honour the website promise as, self-admittedly, they couldn’t be bothered with the extra work) thank heavens for companies such as the Black Forest Smokery and Farmison & Co, especially at this time of year when top-quality meat suddenly becomes a necessity. The Black Mountains Smokery produces superb smoked meats, fish and cheeses, and one of their top products is the traditional oak smoked salmon side. Dry cured on a bed of salt and gently smoked over Welsh oak chips (from local cabinet makers and Cadw workshops), this is an imposing slab of fish, especially when served on one of their beautiful wooden serving boards – guaranteed to impress any guest. The fish is firm and gently flavoured with an oaky taste, and is equally good eaten as it is, perhaps with some decent condiments and salad; or in simple dishes such as pasta or soufflé, where its flavour can shine out, unimpeded by more forceful ingredients. This splendid fish would work perfectly as the centrepiece to a celebratory meal and can’t be recommended highly enough. (From £32 a side from http://www.smoked-foods.co.uk/)
Mutton is without doubt my favourite meat, but it can be hard to find – even in rural areas, let alone in town. I was therefore delighted to find that the award-winning company Farmison & Co offer mutton, along with a variety of other meats. Farmison & Co, who are based just outside Ripon and work with farmers who employ ethical husbandry methods on farms in the Yorkshire Dales, are perhaps best known for their superb meat boxes, which offer a good range of delicious meats on a weekly, monthly, or one-off basis, with selections of turkey, geese, beef, mutton, suckling pigs, porchetta, gammon, ham, and venison. We trialled the leg of mutton – which, rather than roasting as suggested, I pot-roasted in indecent numbers of bottles of wine, along with spices and herbs, in a simmering oven for eight hours (my favoured way of cooking mutton). The Farmison & Co mutton is by far the least greasy mutton I have ever encountered – their meat is denser, and slightly closer to lamb in texture and flavour. I found it not quite as intensely mature, characterful and gamey in flavour as the greasier mutton I’ve been accustomed to – but the flavour is consequently, cleaner and more focused, with a much leaner meat. This would be the perfect introduction to anyone who has shied away from trying mutton due its completely unjustified image of being a tough and flavourless meat, and I would advocate anyone and everyone to buy this and to be converted to the peerless delights of mutton! www.farmison.com
Finally, something to nibble on after a satisfying meal with exquisite food and drink: Davenports Chocolates Mulled Wine Truffles are presented in a smart box tied with a ribbon, with 12 hand-crafted chocolates from Swiss-trained artisan chocolatier Jane Williams nestled inside – gleaming dark chocolate scattered with darker flakes on top. Biting into one is a remarkable experience – once into the smooth chocolate ganache bursts of vintage port and the mulled wine spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and orange explode onto the tongue. This really is mulled wine in chocolate form – smooth, luxurious and ever so irresistible. Highly recommended as a treat for enjoying by an open fire as the frost glints on the grass and roof-tops outside.
Em Marshall-Luck is QR’s Food and Wine Critic