Column: Get creative – give wine

Flagship Wines 14.02.13

Flagship Wines 14.02.13 - Credit: Archant

Can you tell a Merlot from a Shiraz? Do you know what wine to serve with a particular meal? The Herts Advertiser’s resident fortnightly wine columnist Julia Jenkins aims to break down some of the mystique surrounding wine, offering a fun and informative look at the vintages and varieties on offer, and picking out some of the more unusual selections.

WHILE thinking about Valentine’s Day presents and trying to be creative I realised there were some unusual wine and food combinations that would also make great gifts or help score brownie points with creative pairings for a meal for a special occasion or celebration.

Delicious, complex, mouth-wateringly luscious dessert wines are often sold in eye-catching elegant half bottles. As a result they are great gift purchases.

No need to save them until the end of a meal though as sweet wines especially the soft finely balanced rich wines from areas such as Sauternes or Barsac in Bordeaux or for the more price conscious from Loupiac, Ste Croix du Mont in the same area provide the right flavours to complement pates and terrines at the start of a meal.

Sauternes is made from Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes affected by botrytis cinerea, also known as noble rot.

This causes the grapes to become partially dried, resulting in concentrated and distinctively flavored wines. Dessert wines are successfully made around the world so look out for the light grapey Moscato styles from Italy, the richer mouthfilling Semillon based ones such as Noble One from de Bortoli, lovely Riesling and Pinot Gris styles from Greywacke, Clark Estates and others in New Zealand. The list goes on…

Sherry and Champagne are great accompaniments to food though not often drunk past the canapés or starter courses.

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Rather than picking the usual fino try a Palo Cortado such as the Gonzalez Byass Leonor with its nutty hazelnut aromas and slightly spicy flavours to accompany soups (and add a splash to enhance the flavour!) or a mouthfilling Oloroso Seco to match a spicy main course.

Rosé and Vintage Champagnes are great with fish and chicken dishes with a richer flavour note so think outside the box to use the wines that you would buy as a present to accompany a special meal. They also often are packed in a tailor-made box so gift-buying is easy!

Chocolates are an obvious purchase and there are plenty of special Valentine boxes around so why not pair them with a wine to complement them. Chocolate is notoriously difficult to match with wine but look out for the naturally sweet fortified red wines or Vins Doux Naturel such as that from Domaine de Beaurenard.

The grapes for this sweet, fortified wine grow on especially well-exposed terraces of stony, clay-chalk soil. They are entirely Grenache Noir: small, highly concentrated bunches with a yield of about 10hl/ha (hectoliter per hectare – the European way of measuring wine yield by volume of wine). The grapes are hand-picked when very ripe, bursting with sunshine and containing more than 260g of natural sugar per litre before alcohol is added to arrest fermentation.

The alcohol is added to the grapes; the juice then continues to macerate for a few days to fix the wine’s magnificent purple colour and tannins. Two years’ ageing in oak casks gives full expression to this sweet wine.

The secret is to find wines that will coat the mouth with velvety textured flavours similar to chocolate and if you’d like an alternative to the VDN described above try a Pineau des Charentes such as that from or for an accompaniment to chocolate cake with less intense flavours then an Argentine Malbec is just the thing.

Wine makes a great present so if you’re looking for last minute Valentine’s Day gift inspiration why not buy a bottle?

If you’re trying to score brownie points with the thoughtfulness of the present why not be creative and buy a less obvious wine.

One last thought – a good but obvious wine to buy is the soft velevety with a hint of spice Cupids Arrow Pinot Noir from Wild Rock in New Zealand...