1. Unloved but oozing with potential – the wonderful world of dessert wines

    If you’ve downloaded our Great British Summertime App you’ll notice that along with the 105 recipes there are suggested wines to drink with each dish.  Wine blogger Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary and founder of Revolution Wine Tasting carried out the wine matching for us and here he gives more advice on an often neglected topic, wines to drink with desserts. 

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs  

    Being both a foodie and a wine lover, I am never shy to partake in a spot of food and wine matching. There is something about having the chance to take an already winning dish to the next level by complementing it with the right wine that just gets me excited.

    For me, one of the most important things when it comes to food and wine matching is to have fun and be creative. There are, of course, certain general principles that can be followed (more on this below) but I find more often than not that trial and error is the best approach. And never be afraid to experiment with weird and wacky combinations – you would be surprised how often they come off!

    One of my greatest challenges in this area came recently when Great British Chefs asked me to provide the wine descriptions for their latest App. For those of you who are not familiar with the Summertime App, it is a collection of 105 summer recipes from 21 of Britain’s top chefs. My task was to suggest a style of wine for each of the 105 recipes – effectively playing the role of an e-sommelier to dishes created by the likes of Marcus Wareing, Shaun Hill and Richard Corrigan. Needless to say, a lot of fun!

    But one of most fun aspects of being involved with the Summertime App is that it contains loads of really creative and innovative dessert recipes which meant that I could showcase a number of sweeter styles of wines. Sweet wines, in my view, generally get a hard time of it here in the UK so I really enjoyed the opportunity to show just how diverse and impressive the world of sweet wine can be.

    I accept, of course, that a sweet wine is not appropriate for every dish but a well-made dessert wine or sweet fortified wine can be just as much of a show stopper as any still or sparkling wine and should not be too hastily overlooked as a partner to a dessert or cheese dish.

    The trick with pairing a sweet wine is to use it in one of two ways – either to complement the sweetness of the dish or to act as a contrast to it. But, as I say above, experimentation is the best way forward, so rather than harp on about the theory of what constitutes a winning pairing, here are my wine suggestions for a selection of desserts from the Summer App so that you can get an idea of why certain sweet wines go well with certain types of desserts.

    Christoffer Hruskova’s Milk ice cream

    Whilst this may not be the world’s most innovative dessert, we all love a good scoop of gelato so I thought it merited inclusion. A really great match for this dessert (and which would also work really well with vanilla ice cream) is a glass of unctuous and syrupy Pedro Ximenez Sherry from Spain.  The sweetness of the Sherry would match the sweet dessert while its dark and sticky character would act as a wonderful contrast to the clean and pure flavour of the milk ice cream.


    Shaun Hill’s Chocolate torte

    For some reason, chocolate and wines from the Muscat family of grapes seem to have a special affinity for one another. It follows that a great wine choice for Shaun’s torte would be a Moscato D’Asti from the Piedmont region of Italy.  This wine is made in a sweet and lightly sparkling style which would make it just the thing to freshen your palate between bites of this seriously chocolatey dessert.

    Nathan Outlaw’s Chicory marmalade tart with blue cheese, picked walnuts and pears

    This dish is a tricky one to pair as there are a lot of contrasting flavours at play – bittersweet chicory marmalade, sharp pickled nuts, salty blue cheese and the natural sweetness of the pears. My suggestion would be a vintage or tawny Port from Portugal. The sweetness of the Port would work really well with the sweeter elements of the dish whilst also cutting through the saltiness of the blue cheese and acidic pickled nuts. As I say above, it’s all about complement and contrast!

    Richard Corrigan’s Passion fruit and mango parfait

    Whenever I come across tropical fruits in a dessert, I think immediately of late harvest German Riesling. These wines are often only 6% or 7% in alcohol but are known for having a luscious, tropical fruit character and nectar-like sweetness, making them the perfect match for a dessert such as this.  

    Greg Malouf’s New Season Kent Strawberry Granita and Arabesque Wafer

    This dessert provides the perfect opportunity to get creative with your wine match. Kent is now home to a number of England’s finest wineries so why not keep things local by pairing this dessert with a glass of strawberry purée topped up with an English sparking wine – my English take on a Strawberry Bellini!  

    Frances Atkins’s Rose Petal Pannacotta, Damson & Lavender Viennese Shortbread

    The trick when pairing a wine for this dish is to find a wine that is sweet enough to sit happily alongside the pannacotta and shortbread whilst not overpowering the dessert’s floral qualities. I think that a Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (which is produced in the Rhone region of France) would be just the ticket. It is lusciously sweet but also has a delicate floral quality which would allow it to become great chums with the rose petal and lavender in this dish.

    Hopefully this brief selection has given you a taste of just how much potential sweeter wines have to offer. They may not be seen as the most fashionable choice but if you have a sense of culinary adventure and enjoy playing around with exciting and innovative flavours, I would really urge you to give them a go!

    You can find my recommendations for all the other dessert recipes in the Summer App by downloading it but in the meantime I would love to hear any suggestions from you as to your favourite dessert and wine pairings. Cheers!

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs 

    Let us & Alex know your favourite dessert & wine pairings over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.

  2. A toast to the sparkling future of English wine!

    English Wine Week runs from Saturday, 2nd June and continues until Sunday, 10th  June 2012. The week will be celebrated in many vineyards around England through tastings, guided tours and tutorials.  Great British Chefs asked wine blogger Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary and founder of Revolution Wine Tasting to give us the low down, on “British” or should that be “English” wine

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs 

    In the month that sees the Queen celebrate her Diamond Jubilee and the start of Euro 2012, I thought I would chip in with my own show of patriotism by profiling the ever-improving English wine scene.

    Bread and Cheese and Wine
    Photo by Food Stories

    Despite attracting a lot of positive media coverage recently, it seems that for a lot of people the jury is still out when it comes to English wine. But, in fact, the story of English wine over the past couple of decades is really not so different from that of England’s cuisine.

    Just as the food scene in Britain has undergone a recent revolution, giving rise to numerous destination restaurants and award-winning chefs, a similar revolution (albeit on a smaller scale) has been taking place in a number of our wineries, as many winemakers have raised their game to unprecedented heights, moving from the ranks of amateur to that of the professional.

    Wine Tasting by Tiki Chris

    Photo by Chris Osburn

    This has not only led to an increase in the amount of English wine being produced (which is up a staggering twenty-five per cent in the last ten years) but also has crucially resulted in a rise in the quality of the wine being made. But don’t take my word for it – you only have to look at the raft of awards that English wines have received over the past few years, the latest being a Gold Medal for Cornwall based winery, Camel Valley, at the prestigious Decanter World Wine Awards. You can even now find a range of English wines stocked at most of our supermarkets here in Britain.

    So, what is it that has caused this seismic shift in the fortunes of English wine? One of the key factors to the success of English wine has undoubtedly been the decision to plant grape varieties that are suited to our climate and soil. Fifty percent of the wine produced in England is sparkling and one of the aces up our sleeve is that certain areas across the South of England have a climate and soil type that is very similar to that of Champagne. Both regions benefit from south-facing slopes, chalk-based soil and Champagne is only marginally warmer. It has even been suggested that if global warming continues at its present rate, England’s climate will be better suited in twenty years time to growing Champagne style sparkling wines than Champagne!

    Photo by Eating East

    Unsurprisingly, a number of wineries in the South have already cottoned-on to the fact that if they plant one or more of the Champagne grape varieties (i.e. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier), they stand a great chance of producing world-class sparkling wines. Denbies, Nyetimber and Bolney Wine Estate are all great examples of wineries based in that area that have taken full advantage of this to great effect.

    2689 delicious wine
    Photo by imcountingufoz

    While the growing conditions in England may favour a sparkling style of wine, we should not overlook the good progress that is also being made by the still wines. The white wines – often made from either the Bacchus or Ortega grape varieties – are coming on strong and their tart and zesty character often make a welcome accompaniment to fish or seafood. A number of good rosés are also being made and make for very pleasant quaffers on a warm summer’s day.

    Of course, it would be misleading to say that it is all smiles and sunshine. The red wine is generally speaking not yet up to scratch, many of the still whites continue to be overpriced and our unpredictable climate means that any given vintage is never far from disaster. But, the important thing is to focus on the positives – English wine has made huge strides over the past few years and with a little help from global warming I really believe that its future potential is limitless. So, if you are not familiar with English wine why don’t you a give it a try – you may be pleasantly surprised!

    p.s. if you want to know why I refer to “English wine” and not “British wine”, drop me an email to alex@revolutionwinetasting.com and I’ll be happy to explain! 

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs

  3. Offal: Is it Time to Reconsider?

    Our final look at  Nose to Tail Fortnight, we have an interesting guest blog post for Great British Chefs, by Alex Down, aka  The Riesling Revolutionary.  He gives his thoughts on why we should re-look at offal and also recommends some wines to make the most of these often neglected cuts of meat.

    3rd Course: 2nd Course: Fergus Henderson's Deviled Kidneys on Brioche

    Fergus Henderson’s Deviled Kidneys on Brioche - photo by ulterior epicure  

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs

    “Nearly anyone – after a few tries – can grill a filet mignon or a sirloin steak. A trained chimp can steam a lobster. But it takes love, and time and respect for one’s ingredients to deal with a pig’s ear or a kidney properly. And the rewards are enormous.”

    Anthony Bourdain in the Introduction to Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking


    This year, London Food Link’s Ethical Eats is pioneering for the first time the “ Nose to Tail Fortnight ”. The idea behind this concept (which runs from 30th April to 14th  May 2012) is to encourage restaurants across London to feature more offal and other less popular cuts of meat on their menus in an effort to make meat consumption more sustainable.

    So, does this mean that we are facing the prospect on the Tube each morning of hearing our fellow Londoners waxing lyrical to each other about the tasty offaly gems that they had devoured the previous night? As a big fan of offal, I would love it if we did. But, sadly, it seems unlikely due to the fact that these cuts are hugely neglected nowadays. It could be that this is symptomatic of a society that appears to be becoming increasingly disconnected with where its food comes from and how it is produced. But whatever the reasons for the lack of demand for these unloved cuts, the simple fact of the matter is that, for the majority of people, the idea of eating liver or kidney or tripe does not hold the appeal it once did.

    Personally, I find this a real shame because if we look back at our culinary heritage here in Britain over the past fifty years, some of our best known dishes have relied heavily on the use of offal. The likes of brawn (rolled pig’s head), chitterlings (pig’s intestines) and faggots (variety of pork offal wrapped in caul) can all be regarded as classics.

    Faggots from Lunchtime Express Menu at The Gilbert Scott 

    Even the late Keith Floyd remarks in his autobiography, Stirred But Not Shaken, that as a lad growing up in Somerset he would eat faggots without fail every Thursday:

    Thursday: the day for faggots – made from the lights, liver and heart of the pig, all of it minced, wrapped in caul and then braised in water with sage and onion – and served with peas”

    Admittedly, the likes of lamb’s brain terrine or rolled pig’s spleen may not sound like the most appetizing of dishes, but when they are cooked with love and respect, they can be utterly delicious.  To my mind, offal presents a great opportunity, not only for restaurants, but also for domestic cooks to be creative in the kitchen and reconnect with some of Britain’s most traditional dishes. Also, thanks to its perceived unpopularity, much offal can often be found at bargain prices, which always comes as good news!

    So, in an attempt to get the taste buds going, here are four of my favourite offal inspired dishes (plus wine suggestions) that I have eaten recently while either dining out or at home:

    Photo from Eats, Treats & Leaves

    1.      Deep-fried calves’ brains served with sauce gribiche. Crispy batter, mild creamy brain, sharp pickle and caper driven sauce. The textures and flavours in this dish make it a real winner. Try serving it with a white wine with good acidity, such as an English sparkling white or dry German Riesling from the Rheingau. 

    2.      Meat ragù with chicken livers. Every Italian I speak to has a different version of this brilliant meat sauce but I find that the addition of the chicken livers to the beef/pork/veal gives the sauce a lovely richness. Try serving it with an Italian red such as a Tuscan Chianti Classico or a Barbera from Piedmont.

    Fergus Henderson’s Deviled Kidneys on Toasted Brioche - photo by ulterior epicure

    3.      Devilled lamb’s kidneys on toast. This is a cracking combination. The cayenne pepper and mustard powder gives the dish excellent background heat and the toast soaks up all the meaty juices. Try serving it with a hearty, peppery red wine such as an Australian Shiraz or a Syrah from the Rhône in France.

    4.      Calves’ sweetbreads with potato and olive cakes. Unlike the offal used in the previous three dishes, calves’ sweetbreads can actually be quite pricey. But they are delicate and delicious and this combination with the rich and creamy potato cakes makes them well worth trying. Try serving them with a rich and full-bodied white wine, such as a Pinot Gris from Alsace in France.

    Offal may not be to everyone’s tastes, but if you are a fan, the Nose-to-Tail Fortnight gives you a great opportunity to get people talking about and trying these underrated cuts. There is no doubt in my mind that offal has the potential to make a comeback. But what do you think? What are your favourite neglected cuts?   Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.

    Blog post by Alex Down from The Riesling Revolutionary for Great British Chefs

    For a chance to win a copy of Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating (closing date 14th May 2012) visit this link.