A couple of weeks ago Stella and I ran our second wine-tasting. This time we were trying lots of non-Champagne fizz from the sort of wine countries I usually hate, or can’t afford (New Zealand was in there twice, as were Australia and East Sussex; the whole list is at the end) and, as ever, my cover was blown. I liked at least two bottles that I would normally run away from, both in terms of the (expected) taste and the money involved. So the Lindauer Special Reserve NV, the Jacobs Creek, Chardonnay/Pinot Noir Brut Cuvee (I know! I KNOW!) and the Ridgeview may all find their way into my basket one of these days (more likely the former ones than the latter, in my current work circumstances), whereas the Miolo from Brazil will not. Even, yes even, the Asti had its place but I would only drink it with the sweetest and softest of desserts. Matching food to such a massive range of wines and flavours was not as easy as finding the saline and sharp to go with Champagne last time but Fiona Beckett’s brilliant site helped me get started and then I was off.
So, non-Champagne fizz, unless it’s actually trying to emulate the saline twang of an Epernay special, like the Jacob’s Creek Reserve does, can go from snappy dryness (Ridgeview) to sappy sweetness (Asti) so there was no way I could find food that suited everything. Instead, I used/made things that had an affinity with at least one of them. Mushrooms, for example, which I really wasn’t expecting; Fiona Beckett recommends a mushroom caviar and, on top of a blini, it was rather lovely with the Lindauer and the Cremants. Smoked fish is always a perfect match for anything dry and salty and I went for hot smoked trout, with chive and lemon zest sour cream, again on blinis. And a baked New York cheesecake was somehow not ruined by a glass of Asti.
Then there were my three favourites: Parmesan crisps, inspired by Patricia Michelson’s book Cheese; a mash-up of goat’s cheese and quince paste on crostini inspired by this, and the most brilliant, life-saving savoury-sweet nuts, based on a Dorie Greenspan recipe. If you are having/going to a party at any time over the next few months, you/your guests will love these. You’ll love them because you can make them in your sleep and your fellow party-goers/invitees will love them because they are damned amazing. I’ve made them four or five times already, changed the recipe every time and have yet to find a version I don’t like. My favourite is the basic recipe, with just sugar and salt, followed closely by the same thing with added fresh rosemary and then a version with a little cumin, cinnamon and cayenne. Try messing with the spices, in small quantities, until you find the recipe that suits you. I particularly recommend them with a glass of the Cremant d’Alsace but then, being an Alsace devotee and only-just-out-of-the-I-can’t-drink-Australian-closet, I would. Happy partying.
The best, most more-ish, pre-dinner snack in the world
Makes a big bowlful but very easily doubled.
Cupboard (or things you may already have):
sea salt, 1 teaspoon
nuts (I tend to use a mix of skinned, unsalted, unroasted peanuts, almonds and pecans), 300g
fresh aromatic herbs (e.g. rosemary or thyme), a tablespoon
ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon
ground cumin, ½ teaspoon
cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon
1. Preheat the oven to 150°C/130°C fan-assisted/gas 2 and line a large baking sheet with greaseproof paper/baking parchment.
2. Put the nuts into a bowl with the sugar and salt and mix well.
3. If you are using either of the options, add them now. So chop the rosemary or thyme finely and add it or mix in the spices.
4. Beat the egg white very lightly (as in a few seconds in a small bowl, just to break it up a bit) then tip it into the nuts. Mix everything together well.
5. Spread the nuts out in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast until dry/dried out (this will make sense, I promise) and golden brown.
6. Leave to cool on a baking sheet, break up into individual nuts/small pieces and watch the gannets descend.
(I’ve included details of prices and sellers where possible)
Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Extra Dry DOCG, Italy (this is the closest bottle I could find but it’s not exactly the same one that we drank; it’s £16.44)
Montana Sauvignon Blanc NV, Brancott Estate, New Zealand (currently £7.99 at Majestic)
Cremant Bouvet Saumur Ladubay NV, Loire, France (currently £9.99 at Majestic)
Miolo NV Brut Rose, Brazil (currently £7.99 in Waitrose but only whilst stocks last. Mind you that may be a while…)
Martini Asti, Italy (currently £7.29 in Tesco’s)