Wines, Ales and other Consumables

Vignes Alsace Husseren les Châteaux

Wines, Ales and other Consumables

Tested for you by Em Marshall-Luck

Two excellent white wines and one top-notch red; a wine subscription service; some superb, predominantly Cornish, ales, and batch of foodie items – including a couple more subscription services – make up this column’s recommendations; all of which are perfect for summer-day consumption.

The 2014 Muscat d’Alsace “Collection”, is from Maison Kuentz-Bas, a winery which was founded in 1795 and is based in one of the highest spots on the Alsace Wine Route, with vineyards around the village of Husseren-Les-Châteaux.  The vineyards are both organic and biodynamic, as the winemakers feel strongly that lower yields and more natural methods of growing and production result in more characterful wines. “Collection” is a blend of two varieties from the Muscat family, being 80% Muscat Ottonel and 20% Muscat d’Alsace, one of the oldest and fullest-flavoured varieties. The wine is an extremely pale colour – there is a faint straw tinge but that’s all. The nose is delicate and attractive – there are plenty of sweet floral aromas – apple blossom and honeysuckle, with fruity aromas of peach, and a tiny hint of salt as well. On the palate we have an immensely clean, fresh-tasting, dry wine. That salt now comes through in mineral overtones – crumbly chalk, while the wine isn’t sweet at all as the nose implies. The flavours are well-balanced: the tarter flavours of lemon and grapefruit combining well with the sweeter undertones of lychee, peaches and those flowers too. The finish is dry and lingering – a slightly spicy, white pepper, bite that leaves the tongue fizzing slightly. This is a very elegant and refreshing wine that would work perfectly with fish dishes or asparagus – or alternatively a bowl of crunchy smoked almonds seated outside on a terrace on a balmy summer evening. (RRP £11.50, The Wine Society.)

Kuentz Bas Muscat Collection 2014

Kayra Wines claim their local Anatolia to the cradle of winemaking, and Narince 2015, made with Anatolian grapes, is born out of head winemaker Daniel O’Donnell’s attempt to reintroduce indigenous varieties. The wine is a greenish light gold colour, with a nose of melon, grapefruit and quince, overlaid strongly with mineral elements – perhaps reflecting the gravel and stone based soil of the Tokat area in which the grapes are grown. It is slightly acidic on the front of the palette, the grapefruit very much to the fore; and there is a freshness on the back of the tongue in which the quince and melon can be detected. The mineral element also makes itself felt in what is quite a dry wine, whilst the texture is fairly rich and smooth. This is an easy-drinking wine, with some measure of distinction, and which would work well with fish or lightly curried dishes. (RRP £13.38 from Great Wine Direct greatwinesdirect.co.uk.)

Ramón Bilbao’s Viñedos de Altura 2014 immediately presents a bold and vivacious image with its label, which, in vibrant red and black – almost threatening colours, depicts mountains, a fabled city, a bridge spanning the chasm between said mountains and, in the foreground, an old-fashioned mountaineer climbing up with pickaxe and dragging a barrel (presumably of wine?) behind him up the snowy slopes. The lettering stands out in a light grey, and there are silver swirls in the sky. The bottle is also impressively embossed with the initials R and B presumably for Ramón Bilbao, but also possibly for the winemaker himself  – Rodolfo Bastida – as well. The mountains thus depicted are presumably a reference to the attitude at which the grapes are grown – this wine is formed of 50% Tempranillo and 50% Garnacha grapes, grown at 700m above sea level, albeit at opposite ends of the Rioja region. The colour of the wine is a rich ruby, which at times and in different light hints at purple tints, or at deep brown. The nose at once strikes one of maturity and sophistication – full, rich and vibrant, bursting with red berry fruits, but tempered by age. On the palate the initial sensation is of softness and sweetness – this is a gentle wine with an immensely silky mouth-feel, rolling like velvet over the tongue. At the sides of the tongue, however, we have the power – striking dark berry fruits, the mineral elements of chalk, some wood – oak and ash, and, at the aftertaste, a spicier bite, of pepper and ginger. And throughout, that maturity and sophistication: a big, bold and great wine. (£13.95 from Great Western Wines (greatwesternwines.co.uk.)

Pulp is a wine subscription service that delivers four half-bottles of wine to customers each month. Each set of wines comes with a digital lesson, in which one can compare the wine, discuss them and discover new wines, and rate the wines, these elements then leading to receiving personalised recommendations on how to choose the wines that fit your palate. All sounds good; but I would have liked some information actually packaged with my wines, preferably hard copies of tasting notes.

Two reds and two whites made their way to my doorstep. The initial red I tasted was the Chateau Gachon 2012 Montagne Saint Emilion. It comes in an elegant little bottle – very traditional and classic-looking in greyscale with some red text and a pen drawing of the vineyard. The wine is a deep but almost slightly cloudy dark browny red colour; the nose quite sharp and high, offering red berry fruits along with some petrol. The taste is also quite sharp – tart and slightly bitter with mainly redcurrants, and some of that petrol too. I personally found it quite a harsh wine – slightly lacking in smoothness and balance.

Far more successful was the Jasci Montepulchiano D’Abruzzo 2015, a vino biologic, in a more modern and less sophisticated-looking bottle. This is a ruby colour with a nose of dark brambly fruit but with hints of sweet liquorice and fresh, invigorating pine needles. The initial impression on the palate is of a dry, chalky wine that delivers an immensely powerful kick. The taste is of very dark fruits – plums, blackberries and blackcurrants, with an initial burst of sweeter liquorice, and quite a lot of wood as well – this is really dark, damp, forest territory with oak and brambly thickets. There are higher, more acidic notes to the side of the tongue but well-balanced by the sweeter fruits and the wood. A long, lingering and intense aftertaste focuses on the damp wood, and leaves the mouth feeling almost powered with dryness, although not in an unpleasant way.

The El Coto Blanc 2016 from Rioja is a greenish-lemon colour; the nose has hints of melon along with a little grapefruit, but this is modest in impact. The wine has a slight effervescence on the front of the tongue but further back on the palette a warming glow becomes evident. The grapefruit has much more presence in the mouth than on the nose; whitecurrants also announce themselves mid-way back – quite a striking feature. A multi-layered but not over-complex wine, this is just right for an undemanding beverage at the end of a long summer’s day. Do not be tempted to serve it strongly chilled – the vineyard’s recommendation of a serving temperature of 7-8 degrees is about right.

Shaw + Smith M3 Chardonnay 2015 is an Australian wine, the well-designed and -spaced label of which reveals nothing of the wine’s characteristics, limiting itself to stating that it is “sourced from exceptional cool climate sites in the Adelaide hills”.  This is a wine with strong overtones of oak, but in which the rich and refreshing aromas of apple, mango and grapefruit predominate.  The nose is subtle but hints at the full flavour of the wine which opens on the palate, the taste deepening and developing further back.  A most pleasing and refreshing beverage.

So to our ales, all of which impressed and can be recommended.

“Proper Job” is a Cornish IPA from the St Austell Brewery. It comes in a traditional brown-glass bottle with a well-designed label: the bold serif fonts hint at the substance and authority of the beverage.  This IPA is bottle conditioned, and the label promises an ale that is “powerfully hopped”.  The colour is richly golden with a moderate head, and the hops are immediately evident on the nose – however, there are intriguing overtones, including melon and sweet plums, as well as a certain fresh earthiness that is very refreshing.  The taste repays discernment – the hops give the taste structure but the melon is also very clear at the front of the palate – startlingly so if given the chance.  The finish is long but refreshing, the open earthy notes inducing a memorable lingering.  Definitely an ale to be savoured in a quiet and unhurried fashion.

I loved the bottle of Korev Cornish lager, with its elegant label – greyscale but with a flash of gold in the shadow of the lettering and as a border of the whole; and depicting the Comish coast. It looks elegant and understated; with the script just slightly reminiscent of a Celtic font. Korev is the traditional Cornish word for beer; it’s made from barley grown in Cornwall and made in St Austell. Pale golden colour with a light, hoppy nose, on the palate it is gloriously light – almost floating away in the mouth, yet leaving a pleasing aftertaste of hops, with a slight floral hint and a little pepper bite. Extremely impressive indeed.

Eureka American Pale Ale from St Austell Brewery bears a striking burnt-orange, white and black label – slightly reminiscent of 1930s advertisements. The ale itself a rich brown-orange colour, with a reasonably respectable head; the citrusy (predominantly grapefruit) overtones immediately apparent on the nose and on the front of the palette. Further back, the hops make their presence felt more actively; whilst the aftertastes of redolent of coffee and – faintly – of burnt banana.

Baobab Wheat Beer also comes from the St Austell Brewery (the label states “Eden project” although it is not clear in what capacity this is associated with the beverage in question. The rear label explains that the baobab powder, which is an essential ingredient, is “Eden project sourced” which could mean several things!) An elaborately scrolled label presents the beer’s name in the type of lettering supposed by cartoonists to be redolent of the Neolithic. The beer itself is a light orange in colour, with not much of a head; the nose is slightly citrusy but with overtones of banana. This is borne out by the taste on the front of the palette; further back, however, a more medicinal flavour kicks in, overlaid by the rich note of Seville oranges. The overall impression is smooth, but perhaps slightly on the thin side texturally. This is, however, a more rewarding beverage than might be thought from an initial or superficial impression.

Tribute Cornish Pale Ale is amber in colour with a moderate head. The hops are immediately evident on the nose but with a hint of almonds too. The taste is fresh and open, the hops lingering further back and a burst of citrus flavours lending a zesty overtone. The impact is full although not overly intense, making this a satisfying beverage that does not cloy. Not especially complex, but idiosyncratic and rewarding.

Finally, and departing from the Cornish scenes, is Gem from Bath Ales. It is presented in a bottle with a vivid orange label with stylised hare (as if stencilled) emblazoned across the top, and is brewed, according to the label, using floor-malted Maris Otter barley and Goldings hops from East Kent. The rich aroma promised is certainly evident, the mustiness of the hops overlaid with the malt of the barley. The beer itself is a rich brown-amber colour with a medium-height, off-white head. A very malty initial taste persists to the back of the palette, but burnt caramel also informs the aftertaste. A pleasantly easy beer to enjoy during the warmer summer evenings.

Cheese is always a fine item to accompany wine – and even some ales – and Cheese Shed, the West Country artisan cheese vendor, is an excellent place from which to source said cheese. Founded in 2006 to specialise in artisan cheeses of the West Country, it lists around 100 cheeses available by mail order, as well as a range of gift boxes, subscriptions and a cheese wedding cake line. I tried one of their subscriptions boxes and was impressed by both the range and the characters of the cheese therein.

Ford Farm Cave Aged Cheddar, made at Ford Farm in Dorset and matured in Wookey Hole cave, is the UK’s first cave-aged cheese. It is a traditionally-made, cloth-bound cheddar. The printed label slightly confused my husband – there was no hyphenation, but a line break between Cave and Aged, leading him to understand the name of the cheese as being Ford Farm Cave, and that it was Aged Cheddar! Creamy in texture and mild in flavour, the cheese is firm but not hard, making it a very good “universal” cheddar, which would go well with almost anything, but which would be especially good with non-dominating flavours.

The Tornegus starts out as a Duckett’s Caerphilly, then undergoes a rind-washing process and is dusted with Egyptian mint. Made in Surrey, it is very pungent with a taste to match – not for those who prefer milder, more retiring cheese. The initial taste has a lot of bite and lingers, but there is a more rounded aftertaste that lends substance and lasting vigour.

Helford White is made on a farm by the banks of the Helford River in Cornwall’s The Lizard. It is a mid-soft cheese with apricot / pink ring, a creamy texture and a mild taste which nevertheless has a slight edge to it. Versatile in use, one can imagine that it would make an interesting and more sophisticated alternative to mature cheddar as part of a Ploughman’s Lunch, for instance.

Sharpham Savour with Caraway is unusual in using mixed milk, from goats and Jersey cows from the maker’s own herd. A vividly golden colour, it has a softer texture than cheddar and a slightly pungent (not unpleasantly) aftertaste; while the chewy, slightly musty rind makes an effective foil to the creaminess of the cheese.

Devon Blue is made using cows’ milk, by the banks of the River Dart in South Devon. It is suitably strongly flavoured and with an edge to it that cuts through accompanying flavours – hence not being a retiring cheese. There is also a creamy substance to it that makes it very satisfying. On the whole, this was a very well-thought out cheese box that fully delivered on flavour and on cheese types, even if I could personally have done with some soft goats’ cheeses!

Another subscription service, Sweet Fink, based in Boroughbridge, delivers equally excellent products; albeit its marketing, presentation and packaging isn’t as sharp and sophisticated as it could be, and a little more work needs to be done to increase the professional image. This specialises in chocolates, delivering boxes of 9 chocolates from world-class producers direct to one’s door, with customers choosing monthly or bi-monthly subscriptions, and either 3 or 6 boxes.  Of the sample chocolates that I received, the Nocciola was superb – a wonderful combination of creaminess and the praline-like crunch of gianduja, along with a whole roasted hazelnut adding a contrast of texture on top; the Jamaica rum was intensely flavoured, with an almost buttery chocolate shell encasing a luscious and succulent Jamaican rum truffle with a rum grape in the middle; the Cappuccino had well demarcated and layered flavours, with creamy white chocolate and a slightly denser dark chocolate base, which the rich vintage brandy flavour coffee mocha balanced nicely; while the Wild Berry was beautifully light and with a well-focused wild berry and blackcurrant flavoured centre, enhanced by wild berry pieces.

I have also had the pleasure of trialling some DeliVita pizza dough – fresh organic dough delivered to the door, which can then be thrown into the freezer and defrosted for use as required. The dough is made with pink Himalayan salt, natural yeast, purified water and organic flour; and each bag of dough makes one 12-inch pizza. Without detailed instructions of how to hand-stretch dough, I floundered at first and presented more hole than pizza to my husband and son, whilst garnering an extremely healthy appreciation and admiration for the chefs at Pizza Express, Prezzo and ASK; yet soon I got the hang of it and enjoyed producing artisan and extremely delicious pizzas, with a wonderfully chewy and flavoursome base. DeliVita therefore comes with a very strong recommendation for the product, as well as for some patience and persistence in executing the preparation and cooking thereof!

Finally, I have also been impressed by a BimBamBoo set from Ecoffee Cup – this little set for children is the perfect addition to meal-times. Feeling it, one would never guess that it is constructed of bamboo: it is light, but perfectly sturdy, perhaps feeling closest to plastic – but having the benefit of being biodegradable and thus good for the planet. It will, however, last for years, and is dish-washer safe as well. The set encompasses a little bowl, cup and large plate which is helpfully divided into sections, and comes in a variety of attractive images: we went for the owl set. Young Tristan loves them and I would recommend them highly to any parents looking for fun, safe and easily-washable plates or bowls.

Em Marshall-Luck is QR’s Food and Wine Critic

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