Off-piste weekending

(by peter)

It all started on Friday night.

Some good friends had travelled over from Spain and made a significant detour from their busy itinerary to come and spend the night.

Seeing the wonderful local sights of Winchester was a plan that went straight out of the window when the dark and rain set in mid-afternoon. So we turned to tea (fragrant Earl Grey sourced from excellent local purveyor Char) and, soon after, wine of the kind that banishes gloom.

Although it doesn’t say it on the label, Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Extrêm’ is a 1996 vintage wine, and one of an increasingly common breed of champagnes which do not receive dosage (a mixture of wine and sugar syrup, primarily used to offset the wine’s vibrant natural acidity).

Susie did her award-winning MW dissertation on these “zero dosage” wines, looking at how and why they are growing in number and analyzing the reaction of both the wine trade and consumers to both the concepts and the taste realities of this style. Apparently, the wine trade are all for it while your average wine drinker remains unconvinced.

While Feuillatte’s take on zero dosage might not be to everyone’s taste (it’s quite a funky, edgy, extrovert style), it certainly is to ours. This yeasty, honeyed, mushroom-flavoured wine shows vibrant acidity and a rich, hedonistic palate profile. Perfect as a winter warmer to lift the mood.

The next wine was delicious partly because it was so unexpected.

It was a gift from our guests, currently unavailable in the UK (we begged to no avail) because it is mainly sent to the USA. It was the Avanthia Godello 2008, a wonderfully toasty, nutty number full of peach fruit and intricately balanced, savoury layers.

It’s pretty far from your average Godello, something that I imagine will win it both fans and critics in equal number. But we loved it. Especially with our chunky, cheesy fish pie: sea dog heaven.

It’s good to see Spain continuing to broaden its already vast palette of grapes and wine styles. Anything that furthers this cause – particularly in Galicia, one of our favourite Spanish wine areas – has to be a good thing.

The Spanish leftfield theme was to continue in due course (and on another day, I hasten to add) as we enjoyed the brilliantly creamy, crunchy Ondarre Graciano 2006 with herb-crusted lamb.

This was one of our regular wine-and-food-matching mini-extravaganzas (sounds grand – really it’s just lining up a few samples we’ve opened, often for other purposes, with supper to see what works, what doesn’t – and why). A couple of South Australian Shirazes were early rejects (fruit too sweet), followed by an elegantly savoury Chianti Riserva (came up too leathery). But a coastal Californian Syrah worked surprisingly well. And the pick of the bunch (ie the one we were drinking by the end) was the Ondarre.

Graciano is a wonderful grape, sadly a relative rarity in its heartland of Rioja, but hopefully wines like this will see a resurgence. (Contino also make an excellent one.) Its hallmark is vibrant acidity, which means it can take lots of oak and quite a bit of fruit ripeness without becoming cloying or too heavy. This one had wonderful layers of lovely fruit and creamy flavours, which complemented the lamb beautifully. No wonder they eat so much cordero in Rioja.

Our grand finale to the weekend’s activities came courtesy of another fishy lunch and a bottle of the Chablis Grand Cru Moutonne 2004, Domaine Long-Depaquit.

We’d tried another bottle of this a year or so ago and, while good, it lacked a bit of weight and gravitas. This time round, though, it had opened up with age, providing altogether more creamy generosity to go with the crisp acidity and stoney, appley core. Not a heavyweight style – quite a feminine and elegant Grand Cru in its way – but a beautiful food wine and dangerously moreish.

For those lovers of wine detalia out there, Moutonne is the “forgotten” Grand Cru of Chablis, much championed by Bichot, owners of Long-Depaquit and for whom the site is a monopole.