Almost every email I seem to receive nowadays is wine-related, excitedly promoting this or that unmissable new discovery, a formal tasting opportunity, or perhaps offering the chance to invest in the latest vintage of a world classic. Given the vinous onslaught it is no wonder that I and maybe my colleagues in wine education can feel ourselves ‘drowning’ in the sea of publicity for the stuff we love. However venturesome we may be in making new discoveries for ourselves, on occasion the process of buying wine can be a disastrously expensive exercise unless one is wary. For example, the direct phone assault: an unknown voice at the other end of the phone line treats you as their oldest friend – “Hi John, its Tony – don’t you remember me” ?- and then asserts verbal strong-arm tactics to wrench money out of your bank account in the interests of laying-down (and paying upfront) for stocks of fine wine that probably don’t exist in the first place. Caveat emptor is a pretty good watchword in such cases.
Given the invitations we frequently receive to formal or informal tastings across the range, at least we can more fairly assess potential wine purchases for ourselves on the spot, regardless of any ‘hype’ surrounding them – hence the Wine Education Service tutored tastings with which you may already be familiar. As far as the jamborees of the huge international trade tastings are concerned confusion can lie in wait: there is just so much to taste from seemingly everywhere that it seems essential to adhere to a pre-determined tasting plan for oneself, one that won’t confuse the palate. My recent visit to the London International Wine Fair being a case in point I decided to target English sparkling wines on this latest occasion…an interesting exercise as it happened as I found plenty of contrast between the ‘chalk’ wines of Hampshire and Sussex, and the ‘Kimmeridgian clay’ sparklers of Dorset!
I digress, however…more later, perhaps!
It is time for me to point out a cool (in every sense) and classy wine as my choice for June – in this case a delicate aperitif-style white, “les Gryphées”, Ch. De Vaux 2014 – a biodynamically produced blend of 30% each of Auxerrois, Muller-Thurgau and Pinot Gris with 10% of Gewurtztraminer riding shotgun. The wine hails from the now brilliantly revived vineyards of Lorraine, the most northerly region of France nudging Luxembourg, lying across the Vosges mountains from Alsace.
Pale and interesting? Certainly. Star-bright to the eye and gently floral and peachy to the nose, the wine is as dry, pure and fresh as befits a good aperitif, with a finish that gives an impression of a riper roundness and ‘flesh’ in the background. Excellent summer sipping, I think, particularly when the sun is shining from azure skies! Suitable for vegans too, I gather, no animal products being used in the vinification process.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN France (Moselle)
NAME OF WINE “Les Gryphées” Ch. De Vaux 2014
STYLE Delicate ‘white flower’ fragranced dry white
PRODUCER Les Vignobles Molozay, Ch. De Vaux.
ALCOHOL 12% abv
RETAILER The Wine Society
PRICE £ 9 . 50
I can imagine this wine sitting perfectly alongside an equally classy summer starter – Feuillités aux asperges – asparagus spears in puff pastry with tarragon butter sauce. Gone are the days when I used to sit in the warm glow of self-congratulation at having made successful puff pastry myself. Today I cheat, using shop-bought refrigerated puff pastry – the results seem no less acceptable and are a considerable saving in the preparation time. The asparagus season is now under way and will continue until midsummer.
INGREDIENTS (Serves 6)
1 kg / 2lb Asparagus – either tender thin ‘sprue’ or standard green or white.
Juice of ½ lemon
250g/8ozs chilled butter, cut up into pieces
3 tbs chopped fresh tarragon leaves
(Pastry) On a floured work surface, roll the pastry into a rectangle measuring 52/x25 cm/ 21x10inches. Trim the edges. Cut the rectangle in two lengthwise, then cut each strip diagonally to achieve 3 diamond shapes . Turn the diamonds over and put them on a baking sheet that has been lightly sprinkled with water, and press them down very gently.
Brush with a glaze made from an egg yolk, a tiny drop or two of water and a pinch of salt.
Now lightly slash the surface of the pastry diamonds with the point of a knife into a criss-cross lattice pattern and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.
Preheat your oven to 240degC /475degF/Gas 9.
Once rested, bake the pastry for 5 minutes until it just starts to brown, and then reduce the oven temperature to 200degC/400degF/Gas 6 for a further 15 minutes. Once cooked, split the diamonds horizontally so that you now have a set of lids and bases. Keep them warm until needed.
(Asparagus) Depending on the thickness of the stems and their woodiness you may need to peel them with a vegetable peeler. Assemble them into six tidy bundles, each tied with kitchen string, lining up the tips and trimming the ends with a knife. Depending on the thickness of the spears they may take anything from 5 minutes to 12 minutes to cook in boiling salted water. Following their immersion, immediately reduce the temperature to simmering level. Drain, refresh briefly in cold water, drain again and keep them warm.
(Tarragon butter sauce) Using a heavy-based saucepan, melt 30g/1 oz of the chilled butter with the lemon juice, whisking continuously until the butter softens. Now whisk the remaining butter into the sauce a few pieces at a time. Lift the pan off the heat occasionally being careful not to let the temperature rise too much, which would turn the butter to oil! Once the sauce has thickened a little, incorporate the chopped tarragon and then season lightly to taste.
Arrange the bottom halves of the feuilletés onto warmed individual plates, snip away the strings around each asparagus bundle and lay them on the pastry base so that the tips overlap at one end. Spoon the sauce over each bundle and then set the lids attractively askew on top. Serve immediately.