If there’s one thing you can guarantee in Ireland, it’s that the weather will change during the day. It’s not quite the “Four Seasons In One Day” that Crowded House sang of – the climate here is generally too moderate for those extremes – but rain could arrive at any time. Sat outside in the sun at the weekend, I pooh-poohed the rain symbol on my smartphone’s weather app…
My friend and fellow ex-pat Laurent holds a barbecue every year for his birthday in July, and it has now become something of an institution. Despite the usual poor Irish summer he has been lucky with the weather for several years now. This year it was mixed – but I didn’t get wet so I’m all right (Jacques).
As the hosts and majority of guests are French, the format follows French protocols which are quite different to a usual Irish (or English) barbecue:
- It stretches out over five hours or so – much more civilised than wolfing down food
- It always starts with the apéritif, including nibbles, and often sweet wine
- There’s loads of red wine on the go all the time
- High quality meat on the barbecue is going to be saignant!
- Sparkling wine with dessert (works as long as it’s not too dry)
Below I’ve picked out some of the excellent wines we had this year:
Pol Roger “Extra Cuvée de Réserve” Brut NV
The blend is a third of each of the classic Champagne grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. There’s (citrus and red berry) fruit and flowers in there as you’d expect from the blend, but there’s also a delicious aroma of brioche from extended lees ageing that comes through nicely on the palate.
Pol Roger is still family owned and was famously the favourite tipple of Winston Churchill – they even named their prestige cuvée after him. You might just be able to make out the royal warrant in the photo above – the British Queen drinks it too so we’re in exalted company.
The non-vintage (NV) is also available as an ultra-dry zero-dosage “Pure” and a sweeter demi-sec “Rich”. I haven’t tried them but my money would be on the regular Brut being the best balanced.
Muscat à petits grains Passerillé Vin de Pay d’Oc 2004
The Muscat grape is one of the oldest continually grown wine grapes around, and flourishes around the Mediterranean in particular. It’s also one of the few whose wine actually smells and tastes of grapes. Due to its antiquity it has had plenty of opportunities to mutate, so there are now over two hundred different varieties of Muscat. The main four varieties used for wine-making are:
- Muscat blanc à petits grains
- Muscat of Alexandria
- Muscat of Hamburg (aka Black Muscat)
- Muscat Ottonel
In the south of France it is often fortified to make a Vin Doux Naturel such as Muscat de Beaume de Venise, Muscat de Saint-Jean de Minervois and Muscat de Rivesaltes.
This is a different kettle of fish entirely. Instead of fortifying the fermenting grape must to increase the sweetness and alcohol levels, the Passerillé method involves drying picked grapes on straw mats so that water evaporates remaining sugar and flavour is concentrated. It’s sometimes known as straw wine due to the process.
Having a sweet wine as an apéritif is a very French thing to do – and this oak-aged beauty was something special.
Cave de Turckheim Riesling “Marnes et Calcaires” 2010
Probably the best co-operative in Alsace, the Cave de Turckheim has a fantastic range of varieties, quality levels and styles on offer. The Terroirs range has different grape and soil combinations. This is a Riesling grown on marl and limestone and shows beautiful lemon and grapefruit cossetted by a hint of sweetness on the finish. Perfect for a warm day and great value.
The Main Event – Les Cotes de Boeuf
This is the “before” picture – it was so tasty it didn’t stand a chance of being snapped “after” being cooked! A côte de boeuf is basically a rib-eye on the bone, but cut really thick as you can see. Just delicious!
Domaine de Chazalis Coteaux de l’Ardèche 2010
This was probably my favourite red we tried at the barbie. It’s made in northern Rhône which is the original Syrah homeland, but just to the west of the Côtes de Rhône appellation, hence it carries the IGP tag Côteaux de l’Ardèche.
Like many a St Joseph or Cornas, it’s a very savoury style – smoky bacon! – with dark black fruit and a twist of pepper. This example from the warm year of 2010 is great to drink now but would happily keep on evolving for the next five to seven years at least.
Wolf Blass Yellow Label Shiraz 2011
It’s a while since I last had this so I was surprised that it wasn’t totally over the top alcohol wise – 13.5% is fairly modest for a South Australian Shiraz, even in these days of modest ABVs. The flavours and mouthfeel are pretty much what you’d expect – concentrated black fruit with a touch of vanilla from the oak, and quite chewy but with very restrained tannins. This isn’t going to evolve into something fabulously complex but it’s very pleasant drinking right now – and it was a bargain at a fiver from Asda.
La Domelière Rasteau 2012
Rasteau has long been an Appellation Contrôllée for fortified wines, but was promoted to AOC for dry red wines in 2010 with effect from the 2009 vintage. Prior to that it had been a VDQS (AOC in waiting) and was also allowed to be sold as Côte de Rhône Villages-Rasteau.
Now we’re in the southern Rhône it’s Grenache, not Syrah, that dominates. Big, bold and fruity at 14.5%, this 2012 is still very tight, and although it’s very easy drinking it will be better still with a few more years.
Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV
This is fab easy-drinking fizz. The Special Reserve is a step up from the standard Lindauer range and so receives 24 months on the lees rather than the usual 15 – so it’s probably had more than many cheap Champagnes.
Being a Blanc de Blancs this is of course made from just white grapes, and it’s the classic Chardonnay of Champagne. Lindauer source their grapes from Gisborne on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, an area noted for its Chardonnay.