On the green
Monday 9th September 2013, 10:00AM BST.
Portugal is the go-to location for our wine expert Richard Allisette’s ‘golfing’ holidays. And there’s no better place to find a brilliant array of seafood-friendly wines…
IN THE first week of July each year, you will find me on the Atlantic coast of Portugal along with three mates.
We are there allegedly to play golf, but I have a sneaking suspicion that, as we get older, we are really there to enjoy a week’s eating and drinking and the golf is simply a means to keep us out of the bars while the sun is shining.
Or maybe it’s because of the evenings out that the golf is, shall we say, a little ragged.
Whatever the state of our game, it’s a great week because we all like seafood and there is an abundance of great restaurants in and around the port of Cascais, the town that has become our base. And thankfully Portugal has a brilliant array of white wines that match seafood perfectly.
We drink Vinho Verde virtually every night, mainly because it is lightish in alcohol, has a gentle spritz and always has a zesty crisp finish just made for seafood.
However, when I am browsing a wine list I try to see if they are serving a white made with the loureiro grape. And there’s a reason for that…
This makes a beautifully poised dry white wine that reminds me of a young Australian riesling. It has similar fresh apricot and lime fruit with high acidity – just perfect to cut through Portuguese dishes swimming in olive oil and garlic, and I am a huge fan of small Portuguese clams, not much bigger than a man’s thumbnail, served with spaghetti and lashings of oil.
Across the border in Spain, loureiro becomes loureira and it is often blended with albarino or treixadura. Again, these are wonderful seafood wines and much under-valued.
Melon de Bourgogne
This is actually the proper name for the muscadet grape variety, though virtually nobody calls it that. Muscadet is found around the town of Nantes
at the western end of the Loire River and it has been in the doldrums for
the past 20 years or so, with dozens, if not hundreds, of growers going to the wall as demand dropped and prices plummeted.
But I have a funny feeling the tide may have turned in muscadet’s favour a little. The world is starting to tire of heavy, rich, in-your-face, high-alcohol white wines and is looking for something a little more restrained – wine made for the dining table, not the competition arena.
And here muscadet is a perfect choice. A new generation of growers has started experimenting with different wine-making techniques and are producing wines that are soft and gentle rather than teeth-stripping.
Yet they still retain that lovely saline quality that makes them just perfect, in my opinion, with a plate of moules frites or a spider crab picked at the table. Best of all, by law they have to be 12.5% alcohol or less.
Not all muscadet is great, of course – the place not to buy it is a French supermarket, where price rather than quality is the governing factor.
This is a favourite grape of mine. I first really came across it as a varietal wine during a visit to Chateau Tahbilk in Victoria, Australia – one of the most beautiful old buildings I have ever tasted wine in.
The marsanne vines here were planted in 1927 and produce a stunningly good white with flavours of honeysuckle and apricots within a frame of steel. It ages fabulously and I was lucky enough to try some very old bottles during my last visit there three years or so ago.
But marsanne is also found in the Rhone Valley, where it is usually blended with roussanne and found in wines like white hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St Joseph and St Peray. These usually have a wonderful buttery quality and make a great choice if you like the character of Meursault but not the price.
One or two Rhone growers are now producing varietal marsanne, but these are pretty difficult to track down.
No, this isn’t just a cheese. It’s a grape, too, and a fascinating one at that.
It’s found in the Abruzzo and is often grown by those who specialise in the red grape montepulciano.
It has a rich, nutty, aromatic quality and goes remarkably well with – surprise, surprise – cheese, but not necessarily pecorino. I like drinking it with a fondue, or perhaps with one of the smellier soft French cheeses melted in the oven and dipped into with some crusty French bread.