IN this week’s Irish Examiner Weekend (April 28, 2012), I’m suggesting some fragrant Spanish reds as a great pair for roast lamb. While I have a relaxed attitude to matching (really, most wines will be okay with most dishes) I do believe you can optimise both wine and food with a little thought. And the first thought about lamb is not to lump it in with beef under the heading ‘red meat’. That category is far too broad.
The flavour of lamb is really quite delicate, often augmented with savoury, sweet and bitter herbs and spices. Unlike beef, it doesn’t really beckon the astringent tannins you might find in a well-made cabernet merlot such as a Bordeaux. Take inspiration from the delicacy of the meat and its fragrance, and pair lamb with an elegant red. And one of the best quick one-stop-shops – good Spanish red. Generally it’ll be a tempranillo, often blended with other indigenous grapes such a graciano and mazuelo – and indeed sometimes with ‘international’ grapes, especially cabernet.
As I mention in the column, the character of tempranillo plus ageing in barrel and in bottle add up to one of the wonders of the wine world. While many countries in the new world permit their wine industries to throw around words like ‘reserva’ willy-nilly, this is serious business in Spain. There, the term really does mean something. The different Denominación de Origen (DO) regions of Spain have different rules but the broad outline of the ageing is as follows.
Joven (young) or Cosecha (literally ‘harvest’) wines are relatively rarely seen in Ireland — young, fresh, generally unwooded and unassuming. Roble (oak) is sometimes put on the label to signify that a young wine has spent some time in oak – but that it hasn’t spent sufficient time to qualify it for the ageing system as follows…
Crianza literally means upbringing or breeding, and this is the rank at which you really see Spain’s super quality/value ratio. The wine will have spent at least six months in oak (or a year in the case of the Rioja and Ribera del Duero DOs. Be aware though that Sin Crianza means without such ageing.
Reserva is the next step up the scale. In the case of reds, the term means that the wine has spent at least three years ageing, at least one of which must have been in oak, imparting increasing complexity and colour to a wine. Rosado (rosé) and white reservas spend a shorter six months in a barrel and two years in a bottle.
Gran Reserva wines tend to be the top of a winery’s range, and only produced when they regard the vintage as particularly good. A red gran reserva will spend two years in wood with a further three long slow years maturing in the bottle. Whites and rosés get six months in barrels and four years in bottle.
While the longer-aged reds will often be luxuriantly complex, don’t presume a gran reserva will always be better than reserva or a crianza. In my experience tasting hundreds of Spanish wines side-by-side, the younger grades often achieve remarkable degree of subtlety.
One of the wines I recommend (a reserva at M&S) is a perfect example, being the middle tier of its range. At Lidl also, I’ve tasted a cheap-as-chips Joven which prejudice might suggest wouldn’t be worth looking at, but which my senses of smell, sight and taste suggest would be well worth putting on the dinner table.
Bear in mind personal taste. And shelf-life. While the longer-aged bottles are designed to be bought and enjoyed years or even decades after vintage, their lease isn’t limitless. Just like ourselves, they too will fade past their peak. And at any one time a less preposessing grade such as a crianza may outshine its posh gran reserva stablemate.
In-store tastings today in Carrigaline and Midleton
♦ Today (April 28, 2012) there are in-store tastings of Nugan Estate wines (including the super McLaren Parish Shiraz 2008 which I think is good enough value at its regular price of €17 but which is reduced now to €12) at the following venues.
SuperValu Midleton from noon to 3pm;
SuperValu Carrigaline from 3.30pm to 6pm.
♦ Also today (Saturday April 28) Chris Pfeiffer will introduce some of his wines, including a tremendous rich, sweet muscat that I love all day in Karwigs, Carrigaline.
Beer and curry in Lismore
On Friday April 27 O’Briens Chop House in Lismore, Co Waterford is again presenting a four-course beer and curry feast in association with Green Saffron spices, and the Dungarvan and Eight Degrees breweries. It begins at 7:30pm and is topped and tailed by “homemade mango, chilli and ginger Bellini” (oh my) and chai to finish. €42.50 per person. Phone them on 058-53810 and see obrienchophouse.ie.
Beerfest in Galway
The third annual Brewers On The Bay festival takes place in Oslo, Galway, on May 5 and 6.If you’ve visited this or similar events you’ll know the drill already – barbecue, music and the delicious beers being made by some of Ireland’s fine microbreweries. And if you haven’t dipped into such events yet, it’s about time you did. I’m shocked, shocked I tell ya, by the many people I meet who appreciate good food and wine but who are as yet oblivious to the revolution that’s been happening under our noses, solely because by habit they don’t associate beer with taste. Beer and cider are the wine of Ireland. And it’s time to take a hint from the url www.winefoodbeer.com and wake up and smell the hops.