Wine: The loire seldom lets you down with shellfish

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DESPITE more familiarity with wine, apparently three quarters of us still lack confidence when buying the stuff.

So says a survey published by Morrisons supermarkets – pointing up, I guess, a potential thirst not just for the content of the glass but for knowledge about it too.

Of the various ways to acquire that knowledge (books, courses, TV programmes, etc), people seem to enjoy the ‘practical’ way the most. While tastings like those by the Three Wine Men and the Wine Gang give exposure to lots of wines in a day, gourmet dinners are a popular alternative. The atmosphere is relaxed, there is detailed background about the wines and the focus can be on the food as much as the wine.

That last point is important not just because matching is very much on trend but an evening like that can be brilliant for couples where one partner is a foodie and the other a wine buff. I recently joined the 60 or so guests for one such event at Loch Melfort Hotel, just south of Oban.

Our wines for the night came from Inverarity Morton. Background information was recounted to diners by Eva Franceschi in a way that found the middle ground between patronising and geeky.

First up was a Récoltant-Manipulant (Growers) champagne – Poilvert Jacques Brut NV (£20.99) which has a good mousse and more biscuity substance than non-vintage champagnes that rely on their underlying acidity. It worked well with the venison canapé.

For the meal itself, chef Peter Carr created a nicely textured rabbit confit and black pudding first course that, slightly surprisingly, was partnered with St Veran, J J Vincent (£13.99). Mâconnais whites can be delicate but any doubts I had were dispelled by the wine’s toasty, savoury and nutty touches that integrated well with the food; the rabbit in particular gave real impetus to the lemon-centred fruit.

The fish component was a club salad with quail’s egg and crab sandwiched between tomato elements. The Loire seldom lets you down with shellfish and Pouilly Fume, Patrice Moreau (£12.99) was no exception. Sauvignon blanc from France is usually more 
restrained than new world versions and, here, the measured grapefruit acidity – and subtle suggestions of orange – allowed the crab flavour-related elbow room yet was not fazed by the (often wine-unfriendly) avocado and dressing.

Lamb in three formats provided the main course (confit shoulder, roast rack and chargrilled leg). The selected red, Beyer Ranch Zinfandel, Wente (£10.99), worked especially well with the confit where its bramble and other berry fruits added a new dimension to the meat. Despite some textured spice and minerality, zinfandel from this wine’s Central Coast of California homeland tends to be lighter than, say, versions from Napa Valley and that suited this dish nicely.

Carr’s hot chocolate fondant with a caramel centre was a challenge but you can be sure that probably the world’s sweetest wine – Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez (£12.99 for 50cl) – would not be overpowered. Sherry aficionados were bowled over by concentrated figgy, treacle and cinnamon constituents. The cheese element was an unusual dish involving a sophisticated pineapple and cream cheese combination. Any wine would struggle after the PX, but Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Trois Fonts (£9.99 also for 50cl) is a nicely made sweetie that delivers clean, marmalade, peach and honey touches and, hence, is a really stylish dessert wine.

2010 Hilltops Semillon Chalkers Crossing New South Wales, Australia, 13.5 
per cent

A barrel-fermented semillon from a cooler part of New South Wales (so different in style to Hunter Valley versions) delivering light lime and grapefruit acidity that sits atop toasty lees-derived substance. £13.99, Henderson’s Wines, Edinburgh (or £12.75 
a bottle as part of a case at Exel, Perth)

2011 Marques de Montino Rioja, Spain, 13 per cent

There is surprising depth to this young Rioja’s raspberry and morello cherry fruit but all that works through nicely into a soft and gentle vanilla finish. £4.65 (down from £6.99 until 30 April), Sainsbury’s