Thursday, 27 February 2014

Food and Drink

So another series of Food And Drink draws to a close. They have attempted to be topical, with shows on budget eating, using up leftovers to prevent waste, food miles and seasonality. Michel Roux was in full “I’m no longer a scary judge on Masterchef” amicable mode, sincerely welcoming - and pretending he had something to learn from - various top chefs and proper domestic goddess and national treasure Mary Berry. He would then turn away from them to whip up some incredible dish which he insisted we immediately make at home, assuring us of its great simplicity. But soufflĂ©? Really? “Don’t be scared”, he said. And then proceeded to show us exactly why we should be.

The “drinks expert” on Food And Drink has always been the person who has provided the parody over the years.  Jilly Goolden always appeared to have tippled rather more than she needed to with her overly elaborate descriptions of the nose of her wine. (I myself have always wondered how you get to be a “drinks expert” without it being a euphemism for doing serious damage to your liver.) But after posh Jilly, it appears the producers wanted someone more down to earth, which must be why they picked northern lass Kate Goodman, who runs an offie in Didsbury. This series they at least allowed her to be more specific about her chosen bottles, naming specific wineries and prices. Last series, possibly fearing breaking BBC advertising rules, they limited her to saying things like, “Mm, lamb. You know what would be good with this – a nice Shiraz.” “White wine goes quite well with fish.” “Spanish wines are usually quite affordable. This one is very tasty” or "How about a cup of tea with this cake?” Unless that really was the extent of her knowledge, in which case they might as well have offered her job to me.

My husband and I used to rather fancy ourselves as drinks experts. When we look back on our London days, it’s actually quite shocking to think what we would consume on an average evening. Cocktails on our Crouch End roof terrace to start, followed by a bottle of wine with dinner, and then maybe a post-prandial Spanish liqueur or single malt nightcap. We had not one but three full wine racks above our kitchen cupboards. (We lacked a cellar, living in a first-floor flat.) We received deliveries from various wine merchants throughout the land. I rented my husband a row of vines in a Beaujolais vineyard. Now we have a young child and only one household income, if we drink anything at all, we will split a bottle of wine over two or three evenings, and it’s a bottle of wine that we bought half-price in a supermarket or as part of an M&S Dine In For £10 deal. The space in our house in York (still no cellar, living near to the ever flooding River Ouse) we used to store wine has been filled with toys. Probably better for our liver, but it’s a shame we hardly ever get to drink any truly good stuff now. I’ve even acquired an anticipatory wince every time I take my first sip of a newly opened bottle.

Our favourite wine – when we can afford something better - is still that of New Zealand, sauvignon blanc for white, pinot noir for red. Nothing original about that. When we went to New Zealand for a three-week trip the year after my mum died, we were determined to sample as much of the stuff in its native land as we possibly could. So in Napier on the North Island, an art deco town rebuilt after an earthquake in the 1930s which would have had a more Californian feel had the temperature been about 15 degrees warmer, we did a winery tour with a jovial chap named Vince (“Vunce”). He bundled us into the back of his minivan, asked us what sort of wines we liked to drink, then mapped out a personal tour of the whole Hawkes Bay region for us. I am so happy to see on Trip Advisor that Vince is still up and running to rave reviews, as our afternoon with him was definitely one of the big highlights of a generally amazing trip. For some reason (given his popularity), we were the only two people on his tour that day, so we really did get the personal touch. But this put quite a lot of pressure on us to try everything on offer, and buy at least one bottle at every winery we visited. By the end of the afternoon we were so drunk that we bought a bottle of wine with the words “Chris de Burgh” on the label. (It was, to be fair, on special offer.) The Hawkes Bay region is very ambitious when it comes to winemaking and they'll try their hand at any grape - we sampled Tempranillos, Viogniers  and Montepulcianos as well as the more expected Sauvignons, Chardonnays, Merlots and Cab Savs  ...(I did say we ended up off our faces)... and they were all superb. Our hire car was entirely laden down with wine as we left Napier for Wellington, but at least we had plenty of bottles to gift to any subsequent hosts, and most New Zealand restaurants do bring-your-own, so we had got rid of most of it by the time we ended our tour in Christchurch a fortnight later. The only problem came when we had to change hire cars between the North and South Islands. We had to board the Picton-bound ferry carrying several clunking plastic carrier bags brimming with bottles, which, coupled with being jetlagged and dishevelled, is never a good look.
New Zealand Pinot Noir growing on the vine

I would love to go back to New Zealand, but all that way on a plane with a three-year-old? No chance. The journey was tough enough by ourselves, listening to other people’s children screaming for nine hours at a time. So any further wine study, for the next few years at least, will have to be undertaken closer to home. One advantage of climate change is the vast improvement it is bringing to English wine in vineyards like Chapel Down and Denbies.  I do believe there’s even a vineyard somewhere in Yorkshire now.

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