As Boris Johnson declares another national lockdown, this article might be filled with nostalgia rather than celebration.
Hopefully, many of these wine shops and restaurants continue to trade in some way so we can all enjoy them, but for now please indulge me and come along for a little wine adventure.
Just as news was being leaked on Halloween about lockdown take two, I popped into a buzzing Corkage on Chapel Row. Laughter filled the tables, staff were busily serving while ensuring all the safety measures were followed, and I wanted a good, light red wine. Informed only that I wanted something like a Pinot Noir, the chap behind the counter recommended Judith Beck Ink 2018 (pictured), a blend of Zweigelt and St Laurent grapes from Austria.
This biodynamically-farmed red, which in the simplest way to explain is the promotion of low intervention and biodiverse viticulture, was a marvel. Sweet aromas of black grape and cherry pie introduced a silky palate with tangy acidity, raspberries and fleshy cherries. A plush, characterful wine – and a testament to how well curated the wine list at Corkage is. Zweigelt, Austria’s most-planted red variety, deserves more attention.
I realise, as the weather gets colder and the days shorter, I’m back to drinking more red wines. Perhaps it’s down to having heartier meals like sausage casserole or a peppery ribeye steak and chunky chips; something big like that needs a powerful red. I had bought from Amathus on Green Street a bottle of Avantis Estate Mavrokoudoura 2015 (also pictured), which comes from the island of Evia, off the east coast of mainland Greece.
Now this is powerful wine. Deep aromas of mulberries and spice backed by a palate brimming with tobacco smoke, plum and dark chocolate. Proper winter drinking! It has enough tannin and a hint of astringency that makes it delicious with a fatty cut of meat like Ribeye.
Clearly I was fated to enjoy reds the past couple of weeks as, craving a nice glass of Roussanne, I managed to mix things up and leave with a full-bodied Syrah on a trip to Beckford Bottle Shop. The Immortelle Cotes du Roussillon Villages 2017 is, unlike the juicy stone fruits Roussanne I was after, a rich and herby red wine. Blame my pronunciation for the mix-up. Anyway I ended up enjoying it, although its tannins did mean it performed better with food.
The reason food makes wine taste better is mainly due to salt cutting through acidity and fat complementing tannin. When salt cuts through acidity, red wines taste softer and fruitier. Fat in a dish, whether from meat, oil or butter, can add weight to a mouthfeel that matches and complements tannin in wine.
A great example of where this really works is with a wine like Pete’s Pure Pinot Noir 2019, which is available at Le Vignoble. Young and zingy with acidity, combined with intensely ripe cherry aromas, this wine is the perfect pairing with pan-fried duck breast with Thai-style noodles. That is exactly the kind of pairing the phrase “a match made in heaven” was coined for.
Stay safe everyone and don’t forget the little pleasures you can find when shopping locally in Bath.
Ben Franks FRSA is the wine buyer and co-founder of Novel Wines, one of Bath’s local wine merchants.