Friday, 30 March 2012

Ageing gracefully

Yes, it's something we all might aspire to, but here I'm referring to my collection of wine. Languishing in my Liebherr wine cabinet are about 200 bottles at varying stages of evolution. It's probably a bit like a bookcase or CD collection in what it says about me and my personal taste (and my husband's, which conveniently chimes with mine). It also reveals where we've spent our holidays, as many have been bought directly from the producers – I can't think of a more evocative souvenir. We also have wines from our daughter's birth year and wines received as wedding gifts. There are also some from my birth year. I had some clarets (which were drunk at my 30th), but now only have fortifieds which should be bearing up okay after more than four decades.

My wine also represents a part of my emotional life as some bottles date from previous relationships and memorable experiences. They are an important part of my life. It's almost a maternal affection I have for them. They have their own personalities and I'm looking forward to seeing the effect time has on them. They aren't all for long-term keeping; some will evolve more quickly than others and some just benefit from being tucked away for a year or two to flesh out.

If you love wine, laying it down for the future makes a lot of sense – as long as it's stored in the correct environment. My wine collection has passed through a few homes – a couple of cellars (the first was damp, so I didn't take the same risk with the second and had it tanked). Our current home doesn't have a cellar, so we invested in the cabinet. Another option is to have it stored for you. Wine merchants can often arrange this, but my top recommendation for this would be The Wine Society.

And, unless you're following Robert Parker's ratings, buying en primeur needn't just be for the super-rich. After visiting the château as an MW student, I bought some La Tour Carnet 2001 en primeur which has been drinking deliciously for a number of years and we still have a few bottles left. It cost about £12 per bottle. I'm not looking to trade my wine, so value for money, rather than prestige, is our overriding concern. We still have some burgundies from the 1990s and some other rather grand older wines that still give us great pleasure and really help make an occasion, as well as many more lesser-known wines that hold special memories that are just as enjoyable. However, it's important to taste your wines regularly – eg every six months to a year – you want them to age gracefully and pleasurably – not to wither and decompose into some rather expensive vinegar. Now that would be undignified.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Château Tooting 2011: an unexpectedly good taste of London

I have a personal preference for lean, fresh, moderately alcoholic wines. These tend to come from quite cool wine regions – the Loire Valley, Germany, Austria, Northern Italy and, indeed, England, whose fizz now ranks favourably with Champagne. Consequently, when my friends at the Urban Wine Company get in touch, I take note.

Last week, on a beautiful early Spring evening, I opened my sample bottle of the latest release from this London-based grape collective. It had been a glorious day in the city, so it seemed an appropriate thing to do. I was immediately taken by the delicate petal pink colour and by the clean, fresh nose, tinged with aromatic soft red fruit. Whereas previous examples have had a tartness, the 2011 is more gentle and rounded and surprisingly refined. I sensed more residual sugar which helped balance the almost raspingly high acidity. It tasted as though the winemaker is now getting into their stride and working well with the unusual and unpredictable selection of grapes that find their way into this unique wine.

To be frank, I'd sooner drink this than many of the deeply coloured, big, sickly rosés on the market. The 2011's style and flavour characterised England: restrained and cool, yet quietly charming. It even reminded me of strawberries and cream. If you're looking for something patriotic for the Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics, here you are.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Easy luxury: confit duck with potatoes

Time is always an issue, so I'm developing a little repertoire of dishes that almost seem to cook themselves. A family favourite is the all-in-one roast I've blogged about before. We're also partial to cooking a whole chicken with potatoes, all together in the same roasting tin. The bird is slathered with butter and dressed with the juice from a couple of lemons that have been halved and stuffed into the cavity and tucked among the large chunks of potato. I might also slice through a head of garlic and position one half at each end of the bird. A splash of white wine will help keep things moist. After a generous seasoning with salt and pepper, the dish can be put into a moderate oven and left alone to cook until the chicken juices run clear and the potatoes are tender. If you're feeling keen, you could deglaze the tin and make a gravy, or just serve with some green veg or salad and plenty of Dijon mustard.

Recently I cooked a rather more luxurious version of this kind of dish for Valentine's which was on a week night during the half-term holiday. It had been a busy day. I had a tin of confit duck in the cupboard, so decided to see how it responded to this hands-off approach. I peeled and thinly sliced some potatoes and arranged them in a small roasting tin, positioning the (deliciously fatty) pieces of duck on top, before roasting in a moderate oven until the duck skin was crisp and golden and the potatoes soft. (After about half an hour I poured off some excess fat and made sure the duck wasn't colouring up too much. The dish needed just over an hour's cooking.)

While it was in the oven we relaxed with a refreshing apéritif and then enjoyed the dish with some peas – easy and so good with duck – and a little home-made spiced plum chutney on the side. Such a simple dish is an ideal foil for some serious wine and we spoilt ourselves with a mature red Burgundy, the fresh acidity cutting nicely through the decadent duck fat. Fabulous.