News briefs: Spain hots up, and Lifting the Christmas spirit
Whiskey and food matching makes some unlikely pairing, and Spain turns out some very fine whites and reds for the festive season
8 December 2008
Lifting the Christmas spirit
Wine is not the only drink that can be enjoyed with food according, to Irish Distller’s Master Blender, Barry Crockett. Whiskey can be food friendly too, he says, and went on to prove the point at a recent tasting dinner, when he left a glass of rather good Rioja virtually untouched, preferring to enjoy a selection from the Jameson whiskey range. And they worked better than you’d think, even for those of us who would never think of serving anything but wine to a dinner guest.
The regular Triple Distilled Jameson went down a treat with some smoked salmon, while the 12 Year Old was surprisingly successful with a tomato based prawn minestrone. Jameson Gold and the Vintage Reserve were sampled with some monkfish and steak respectively, and the monkfish worked really well when the whiskey had been diluted a little with water.
Jameson Gold used to be available only at duty free shops but can now be bought nationwide. The Vintage Reserve I personally wouldn’t try to serve with food. It’s a rich after dinner drink and best savoured on its own, or perhaps with a few nuts or crackers and smoked cheese. Mind you, it comes at a premium price of €400 and, with only 300 bottles produced annually, it is as much a collector’s piece as a drink.
It’s a challenging time right now for the brown spirits market, admits Barry Crockett, but Jameson export sales have been holding up very well, with 15% global growth over the past year, including a 24% increase in US sales. “The tricky business is that we have to compete with other beverages in the Pernod portfolio as well as with outside brands,” says Crockett. But he believes that whiskey has good advantages in appealing to younger whiskey drinkers.
“There’s a certain sweetness and roundness of flavour which you get from Irish whiskey,” he says, “Whereas Scotch whisky tends to be drier and doesn’t appeal as much to young people, especially women.” It’s unlikely to take over from wine in the food matching stakes but the tasting showed that it’s well worth a try with smoked foods and a glass of one of the richer styles, such as 12 Year Old or Limited Reserve 18 Year Old, would make a sumptuous companion to a plate of Christmas pudding.
Spain hots up
The Spanish trade board, ICEX, has become increasingly active lately in the promotion of Spanish wine, with some interesting tastings in the pipeline. After a rush of interest a few years ago, Spanish wines seemed to sink a little below the horizon but 2008 definitely saw a revival in fortunes and the recent Rising Stars tasting was just one highlight of the year. What is certain is that the wines are better than ever.
Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat are the most fashionable regions right now but the last two, especially, have become expensive. However, there is still loads of value to be found in less trendy regions. Navarra and Valdepenas have long offered cheaper but very fine alternatives to the classic names. Penedes has tended to be dominated by Miguel Torres but the wines are generally consistent and good value. Cigales, Toro and Campo de Borja all have a range of well-priced entry and mid point wines, although Cigales has become somewhat pricier of late. Carinena hasn’t got above itself yet and labels like Ballestar are offering well-concentrated wines at the €10 point, and the Yecla region is a good source of nicely structured wines at a similar price point. The Somontano region occasionally fails to convince and there are some underripe and overpriced bottlings, but also some good things. Up and coming regions need to establish themselves in the mid market before reaching for ambitious pricing.
At the Rising Stars event, tasters were given the chance to vote for the wines they thought would make the best Christmas drinking. Prices approximate retail:
Mantel Verdejo 2007 Rueda (Approach Trade €13.40)
Albarino de Fefinanes 2007 Rias Baixas (Smith & Whelan €15.50)
Valdesil 2007 Valdeorras (Vinos Tito €19.
Las Terrasses 2005 Priorat (Approach Trade €30.60)
Condado de Oriza Reserva 2003 Ribera del Duero (Cassidy €23)
Mas La Plana 2005 Penedes (Woodford Bourne €39).
Cesar Principe 2005 Cigales (Smith & Whelan €33)
Museum Real Reserva Cigales (Mackenway €17.95)
Mas Irene 2003 Penedes (Erne Drinks €23.95)
Alba de Breton Rioja 2003 (High Spirits €40)