SHE was clearly a lady on a mission – with yours truly as her quarry. “Why,” demanded Sarah (for that, I subsequently discovered, was her name) “do you insist on recommending wine from a host of different suppliers when busy folk have no time to dot about all over town?”
Since no “shopping around” explanation would placate her, this week – just for Sarah – here is a supper menu, complete with matching wines, where everything is from one retailer; this time it’s M&S.
Let’s start the meal with a French classic, Coquilles St Jacques, consisting of scallops in a creamy white wine sauce, accompanied by mashed potato and extra mature cheddar cheese, all served in half scallop shells (£5.29 for two). I tried old and new world chardonnays with this dish but, rather surprisingly, neither could unseat 2013 Diantha (£9.99), a blend of Malvasia and Grecanico white grapes from Sicily. Its texture was substantial enough to sit comfortably with the potato and sauce elements of the dish, yet the sweeter spices in the finish and the pear and tropical fruit elements contrasted well with the slight saltiness of the shellfish.
With all the cattle it rears, Argentina knows a thing or two about red wines to serve with steak. Here, two Argentinean reds went head-to-head to match a rump steak with peppercorn sauce (£9.99) – 2013 Viñalta Malbec (£7.99) and 2011 Dominio del Plata Cabernet Sauvignon (£9.99).
The Cabernet Sauvignon – created by Susana Balbo, one of Argentina’s best-known female winemakers, from grapes grown by her husband, Pedro Marchevsky – was marginally the better when served on its own – courtesy of its cherry, Victoria plum and cinnamon flavours balanced against vanilla, mint and a graphite finish. It was smooth, with only limited tannin, but its 14.5 per cent alcohol created a hot finish, which really did not work well with the (already peppered) steaks.
Instead, the Malbec fitted snugly with the meat, with or without the excellent sauce. It offered a soft texture – with its tannin worked right through – to complement the meaty steak. Juicy bramble and redcurrant fruits mingled nicely with spice and toasty notes on the nose. The wine’s maker – Frenchman Herve Joyaux Fabre, who moved from Bordeaux to Mendoza in 1993 – won an International Wine & Spirits Competition trophy in 2010 as the best Argentine wine producer, and it’s easy to see why. Incidentally, Sarah, treat the stated steak cooking times with caution – each category seemed at least a minute too long for my taste.
With lemon meringue pie (£3.30) for dessert, the possible wines were evenly matched. A 2009 Hermits Hill Botrytis Semillon (£7.99 for 375ml) from Riverina in Australia eventually edged ahead of a Carnival Sparkling Non-Vintage Moscato (£9.99) from Brazil. While the Moscato is a fun wine with peach and mango-based creaminess integrated well with some lively sherbet lemon acidity, it proved too light to stand up to the sweetness of the pie. It would work brilliantly, however, with something lighter such as panna cotta.
With its long, rich, honeyed smoothness, the sturdier Semillon complemented the pie well, with apricot and marmalade fruit flavours giving way to hints of caramel that developed into a suggestion of puff candy – like the inside of a Crunchie bar.
All the shopping time these suggestions save should help Sarah to chill out nicely and – with luck – give guys like me a break.
BRIAN’S BEST BUYS
2013 Winemakers’ Selection Petit Verdot; South Australia, 13.5 per cent
A soft and rounded wine, with cherry notes on the nose giving way to more cherries mixed with raspberry and vanilla in the mouth, and a liquorice finish. Unusual to see Petit Verdot on its own, rather than as part of a blend, but the bright fruit and robust structure suggest that is a serious omission. (£5 at Sainsbury’s)
2013 Duo Des Mers Sauvignon Viognier; South-west France, 12 per cent
Here winemaker Xavier Roger uses 70 per cent sauvignon blanc from Gascony’s Atlantic coast and 30 per cent viognier from Languedoc on the Mediterranean. The result combines hints of viognier’s fresh pineapple with the sauvignon’s gooseberry background, which together cry out to be drunk with fish. (£6.25 at The Wine Society)