Natural Wine Killers: Jean Christophe Garnier Bezigon Chenin 2017

A mere two editions since our December box, here we are extolling the virtues of Chenin Blanc once again. Where then it was all about the bubbles, with an immensely enjoyable Vouvray Brut, this time the focus is on a dry still wine.

In that column, we waxed lyrical about the versatility of Chenin Blanc from the Loire. Its ability to produce truly invigorating wines from dry to sweet and sparkling is almost unmatched in the world of wine. Within the Loire, there are other white grapes which garner more attention (the Sauvignon Blancs of Sancerre and Poulliy-Fumé are household names), but for me, the chameleon-like nature of Chenin is more likely to set my heart racing.

This wine from Jean-Christophe Garnier is from the Anjou sub-region of the Loire Valley. Although it is a cool climate with maritime influences, the Mauges hills protect the region from the worst of the weather coming in from the Bay of Biscay. This shelter, combined with warmer soils, gives winemakers the confidence to leave their grapes on the vines longer, and seek out greater levels of ripeness.

The western section of Anjou contains the appellations of Savennières (home to some of the greatest dry Chenins) and Coteaux du Layon (a source of some of France’s most underrated sweet wines). Garnier’s plot comes from the small, but acclaimed village of Saint-Lambert-Du-Lattay. Although technically in the zone of Coteaux du Layon, Garnier makes dry wines, following his own rules and using the generic Vin de France denomination.

Garnier’s is a no-frills operation. He uses an old apple press, taking 2-3 days to extract all the juice from his berries, and after fermentation, ages the wine in large oak foudres for one year (hence the oxidative, bruised apple and almond aromas). He starts with organically cultivated grapes picked at maximum maturity, giving the wine a honeyed, baked apple aspect. There’s some volatile acidity there too, giving it a fresh finish, but not at the expense of the fruit. Paired with a fatty, rich plate like Anjou pork rillettes, and you’ve got just the tonic for a dank wintry evening.

Claire Bullen’s pairing: Braised chicken thighs with honey-glazed root vegetables or a mixed charcuterie platter

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and works for one of the UK's leading wine distributors. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder. To sign up for our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box, head here.

Wine & Food Killers: Linguine Bolognese and I Vini di Giovanni Rozzo 2017

There’s nothing like grim weather and Seasonal Affective Disorder to strip you of your tolerance for ostentation. February is the time of year when the rustic prevails, when warm and honest food, like this recipe, really comes into its own.

One caveat: this isn’t your typical Bolognese, though it might be the most classical one you’ve ever made. (Caveat #2: spaghetti may be traditional, but I prefer slightly thicker linguine, which stands up better to hearty sauces.)

The woman behind this timeless recipe is the late grande dame of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan, who had very strong feelings about how to make Bolognese properly. For instance: do not even think about putting garlic in this Bolognese. Bacon is not needed, rosemary is not invited. And though you might assume red wine would be best in the sauce (it’s best alongside – more on that in a bit), if Marcella says white, you use white.

This Bolognese has no shortcuts: if you want yours to taste like it was made by an Italian nonna, you need to cook like one. This is simmer-all-day sauce, the perfect Sunday project, a study in the art of patience, a fragrant rebuttal to instant-gratification. You’ll need a solid seven hours to make it; in an ideal world, you might even refrigerate it overnight and eat it the next day to allow its flavours to deepen further (this is recommended, though not required).

When it finally comes time to eat, it’s wise to go with a wine that’s similarly humble and enriching. I Vini di Giovanni’s Rozzo – made by an actual Umbrian shepherd named Giovanni Mesina – certainly qualifies. Made with 100% Sangiovese grapes, absent any added sulphur, it is pungently barnyardy when first poured, but after decanting and swirling, notes of cherry and a mellow fruitfulness come to the fore. Its tannins are serious and grippy, which makes it a wine that especially benefits from the companionship of some pasta.

Together, they won’t banish your SAD, but the act of stirring sauce for the better part of the day still has a way of making the world feel less dire.

Linguine Bolognese
Very slightly adapted from Marcella Hazan
Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
45g (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
350g (¾ lb) beef mince (ground beef), preferably 15-20% fat
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
235ml (1 US cup) whole milk
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
235ml (1 US cup) dry white wine
1 400g (14oz) can whole Italian plum tomatoes in juice
500g (1.1 lbs) linguine, spaghetti, or similar pasta
Parmigiano Reggiano

1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, add the vegetable oil, butter and onion, and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook the onion gently for roughly 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until it is softened and translucent.

2. Add the carrot and celery, and stir to coat. Cook for roughly 3-4 minutes, or until slightly softened. Add the beef mince and sprinkle over a large pinch of sea salt and several good grinds of black pepper. Using a fork, delicately break up the meat and toss until it is finely crumbled. Cook until it has just lost its raw colour, but not until it is darkened and dried out.

3. Pour in the milk and grate in the nutmeg. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the milk is fully evaporated – this process can take up to an hour. (Don’t be tempted to raise the heat and boil it off faster; slow cooking makes the meat incredibly tender.)

4. Next, add in the white wine and repeat the same process, slow cooking over medium- low heat until completely evaporated.

5. While the beef mixture is simmering, prep the tomatoes: remove the whole plum tomatoes from the can, reserving the juice, and roughly chop. When the wine is fully evaporated, add both the chopped tomatoes and their juice, and stir to combine.

6. Turn the heat to low. Cook for a minimum of 3 and up to 5 hours, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and rich. To prevent it from drying out or burning during the cooking process, add water at 125ml (1/2-cup) intervals, if needed. Season to taste, generously, with salt and pepper.

7. When you’re nearly ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt generously. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Drain, and return to the pot. Add the Bolognese sauce and toss lightly to combine.

8. Divide the linguine Bolognese between plates or bowls, and top generously with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen and look out for our book together, The Beer Lover’s Table, launching in March 2019. These recipes accompany our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box - sign up to get yours here.

Wine & Food Killers: Indian-Spiced Roasted Lamb Leg and Domaine du Pech Le Pech Abusé

With wintry weather set to stick around for a while, it’s time to hunker down and seek solace in rich wine and food. I originally made this at Christmas time, but it’s just as good for the dark midwinter when we’re all in need of celebrating something…. anything.

This lamb, specifically, which originates - minus a few riffs and adaptations - from Asma’s Indian Kitchen, the exceptional new cookbook written by Darjeeling Express’ Asma Khan. As Khan notes, this leg of lamb, which marinates overnight in a yoghurt mixture before roasting, is a showstopper dish that is traditionally served at weddings or other celebratory occasions. Made with yoghurt and grated green papaya, the marinade tenderises the lamb as it perfumes it.

A dish as rich and intensely flavoured as this lamb deserves a wine of similar boldness, and the exemplary Le Pech Abusé is just the bottle to seek out. Made by Domaine du Pech (located in southwestern France’s Buzet region), it is exactly the kind of wine I like in the winter, which is to say abundant in dark fruit flavours, full-bodied, but edged by a balancing undercurrent of leather and wood and smoke (prior to bottling, it’s aged for 30 months in 200-year-old oak foudres).

A blend of 40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Cabernet Franc, Le Pech Abusé pours an opaque, inky black. It is a wine for celebrations, for fireplaces and cold nights - and for lamb.

Indian-Spiced Roasted Lamb Leg
Adapted from Asma’s Indian Kitchen
Serves 6

150ml vegetable oil or ghee
1 large onion, thinly sliced
10 threads saffron
1 tablespoon milk
100g Greek yoghurt
6 tablespoons clotted cream
4 tablespoons grated green papaya
3 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons chilli powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
1½ teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1.5-kilo (3.3-pound) bone-in lamb leg

1. Prepare your lamb the night before you plan to serve it. First, prep ingredients for the marinade. Add the vegetable oil or ghee to a large frying pan and place over medium- high heat. Once hot, add the onion and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook for approximately 35 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the onion is caramelised and softened. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

2. Meanwhile, in a ramekin or small bowl, lightly crumble the saffron threads. Pour over the milk and leave to infuse. 3. In a large bowl - large enough to fit your entire lamb leg - add the Greek yoghurt, clotted cream, grated papaya, salt and spices. Mix to combine.

4. Once the onions have cooled, strain and discard the oil and transfer the onions to a food processor. Blend on high until the mixture is a rough paste. Transfer to the yogurt mixture and stir through. Add the milk and saffron and stir to combine.

5. Using a sharp knife, make small slits over the surface of the lamb. Rub the lamb in the marinade, and work the mixture into the slits. Cover and chill overnight.

6. Remove the lamb from the fridge roughly one hour before you plan to cook, and leave to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Place a wire rack over a foil-lined baking tray, and transfer the lamb to the rack.

7. Roast the lamb for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 180°C (350°F). Continue to roast for roughly one hour more, or until the lamb is cooked to your ideal degree of doneness. Insert a thermometer in the thickest part of the lamb; it should be 49°C (120°F) for rare, 52°C (125°F) for medium-rare, 57°C (135°F) for medium, 63°C (145°F) for medium- well, and 66°C (150°F) for well-done. If you prefer your lamb rarer, begin to check its temperature earlier in the cooking process. 8. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen and look out for our book together, The Beer Lover’s Table, launching in March 2019. These recipes accompany our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box - sign up to get yours here.

Natural Wine Killers: Catherine & Pierre Breton ‘La Dilettante’ Vouvray Brut NV

la dilettante.jpeg

This wine features in our December edition of the Natural Wine Killers box - being December, of course we had to bring you some bubbles. It’s the season where casual wine drinkers the length and breadth of the country pop open millions of bottles of Prosecco and Cava, toasting to a bountiful 2019. We like a good glass of fizz too, but have, as you might expect, made a rather less obvious choice…

Vouvray sparkling flies well under the radar in the UK, perhaps because only 10% of these wines make it outside of France. Vouvray also lacks a clear marketing focus. There are few wine regions which can make sparkling wines, along with white wines ranging from dry, to medium and sweet, and do all of these things well. Vouvray is one such appellation, making it a delight for wine lovers.

Vouvray is located in the Loire Valley, in northern, central France, not far from the town of Tours. It has a cool climate, but with a long growing season, allowing growers to pick their Chenin Blanc grapes at varying levels of ripeness. The grapes that go into making sparkling wines will typically be earliest picked - their high acidity being prized when making refreshing bubbly.

Vouvray Brut is made in exactly the same way as Champagne – the Traditional Method, where the second fermentation (which produces the bubbles) happens in the same bottle in which the wine is aged and sold. However, the growers of Vouvray are more interested in selling their wines for fair prices locally than sponsoring fashion catwalks (those Champagne marketing budgets don’t come for free).

By law, Vouvray Brut must be aged for 12 months in contact with its lees in bottle. It’s these decomposing yeast cells which give sparkling wines their biscuity, bready character. The Bretons, being among the most respected producers in Vouvray, age their wine for twice this time, on a par with Champagne. The wine therefore has a richness in character equal to many Champagnes twice its price.

Catherine and Pierre are both from the fourth generation of winemaking families. They are extremely conscientious about their practices, with this wine being certified organic. The wine is also made with indigenous yeast and spends 12 months fermenting in tank before bottling and second fermentation.

The nose is inviting, with aromas of baked apple, brioche, and a typical Vouvray honey note. The palate is fresh, with green apple and lemon pie. The mousse is super creamy, with a long, crisp finish. Make sure you keep this one stashed at the back of the fridge at the Christmas party, and leave the others to their Prosecco.

Claire Bullen’s food pairing: A mixed sashimi platter or splash out with caviar-topped fried chicken

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and works for one of the UK's leading wine distributors. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder.

Natural Wine Killers: 2Naturkinder Bacchus Pet Nat 2017

Wine text books are littered with French terms which somehow have avoided translation, forming an internationally understood vocabulary among wine geeks. From household names like brut or demi-sec to my personal favourite, millerandage (Google it). None of these are quite as en vogue as pétillant naturel.

Pétillant in French simply means lightly sparkling. At some point in recent history, pétillant naturel received a Sam Cam-style truncation to make it more media-friendly, morphing into Pet Nat. It’s a term which is especially popular in the natural wine hotbed that is the Loire, but has spread much further afield (this one coming from the undervalued German wine region of Franken).

Truth be told, there is nothing modern about the Pet Nat. Winemakers though the ages have discovered, sometimes to their dismay, that if you leave a bit of residual sugar in the bottle, the wine may start refermenting and go fizzy. The first sparkling wines were of course made this way. Long before Dom Perignon got hold of a pupitre, the winemakers of Limoux, down in the Pyrenees, were making methode ancestrale – a sparkling wine where sugar is left in the bottle to referment, and create a lightly fizzy, cloudy wine.

Locals of Limoux claim to have been making sparkling wines this way since the 1500s, so like many natural wines, Pet Nat really is taking it back to the old school. Which brings us to 2NaturKinder’s Bacchus Pet Nat 2017. It’s made by Melanie Drese and Michael Völker, two Germans who developed a passion for natural wines in London (sounds familiar) and moved back home to create a revolution in Michael’s parents’ winery. The winery is now certified organic, and the wines are made with minimal intervention – nothing is added or taken away.

This Pet Nat is made by leaving about 15g/l residual sugar in the wine, sealing it to re-ferment and retain the fizz, then roughly disgorging so most of the dead yeasts are removed, but finishing cloudy. According to Mel and Mike, this vintage is a bit more colourful than previous, but benefits from a more intense perlage (no more French wine terms, I promise).

It has a hazy lemon colour and looks and smells a bit like a natural lemonade, with aromas of saucisson, ginger and gooseberry (Bacchus is an aromatic grape, not commonly used in sparkling wines). It’s gently frothy, and has a long, Bramley apple finish. And at only 11% ABV, it goes down dangerously easily.

Claire Bullen’s food pairing: Pair with lemon orzo with prawns and fresh herbs or scallop, grapefruit, and avocado ceviche

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and works for one of the UK's leading wine distributors. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder. This wine featured in our November Natural Wine Killers box. To bet on board, head here.

Wine & Food Killers: Lemongrass Chicken with Sam Vinciullo Warner Glen Sauvignon Blanc 2017

If you’ve got Sauvignon Blanc fatigue, you’re not alone (blame the boatloads of Oyster Bay for making the grape feel cheap and lustreless). But don’t let that dissuade you from this particular bottle. Sam Vinciullo’s skin-contact Warner Glen Sauvignon Blanc is an electrifying reminder of just how good ol’ Sauvy B can be.

Made using organic, hand-harvested grapes in the Margaret River region – located in Western Australia, and one of the most geographically isolated wine regions in the world – it ticks most of the low-intervention boxes. It’s unfined and unfiltered (which gives it a hazy appearance), has no added sulphites and is fermented using wild yeast. That make it about as pure a distillation of the grape, and of Margaret River’s terroir, as is possible to find.

Even with the glass inches away from my nose, the wine’s complex and enticing aroma is apparent: you could almost dab it on your pulse points and call it a perfume. It offers pungent aromas, ripe and juicy gooseberry and passion fruit, plus a subtle herbaceousness (no wonder some describe Sauvignon Blanc as the IPA of wines). On the palate, it’s buoyant, with the slightest prickle of CO2, and brightly acidic.

When thinking up a pairing to go with this peach of a wine, I sought a complementary dish – something that could supply its own fruitiness and subtle funk. I opted for Vietnamese-inspired lemongrass chicken, which, like the wine, is boldly flavourful but still fresh. Additions of lemongrass, fresh herbs and lime juice mimic the wine’s brightness, while a pinch of earthy turmeric and glug of fish sauce match its pungency.

This is a great pairing both for sunnier days and when you can’t quite bear to let the memories of summer go just yet.

Lemongrass Chicken
Loosely adapted from Asian at Home
Serves 4

For the lemongrass chicken:
800g (1 ¾ lbs) boneless, skinless chicken thighs (approximately 8 thigh fillets)
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 long stalks lemongrass
4 cloves garlic
1 bird’s-eye chilli
1 echalion (banana) shallot
2 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground turmeric

To serve:
Steamed jasmine or basmati rice
Coriander leaves
Mint leaves
Lime wedges

1. First, prep the chicken. Chop into roughly 1-inch pieces. Season lightly with salt and pepper and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, prep the aromatics. Remove and discard the hard bulb at the end of each lemongrass stalk. Remove and discard the tough outer layers until you get to the tender core. Mince finely, and transfer to a bowl.

3. Finely mince the garlic and chilli, and add to the lemongrass. Finely dice the shallot, and add to the same bowl.

4. Make the sauce. In a ramekin, add the fish sauce and brown sugar, and stir until uniform. Set aside.

5. Place a large frying pan or wok over high heat, and add the vegetable oil. Once very hot but not smoking, add the chicken pieces. Spread in a uniform layer and cook for approximately 2 minutes, or until starting to brown. Flip and cook for approximately 1-2 minutes on the reverse. Sprinkle over the turmeric, and toss to combine.

6. Once the chicken is just cooked through, add all the aromatics and cook, tossing frequently, for 3-4 minutes, or until they have lost their raw aroma.

7. Pour over the sauce and toss to combine. Turn heat to medium-high, and cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring or tossing frequently, until the sauce has thickened into a glaze. Remove from the heat.

8. Divide steamed rice between bowls and top with the lemongrass chicken. Garnish with coriander and mint, as preferred, and serve with lime wedges on the side.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen and look out for our book together, The Beer Lover’s Table, launching in March 2019. These recipes accompany our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box - sign up to get yours here.