This weekend marks the finale of the St Albans Food and Drink festival and as part of the celebrations, I attended my first wine class at Hertfordshire Wine School. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for myself and two other St Albans-based food bloggers, Clare Rudd of The Vegetarian Experience and Heidi Roberts of Heidi Roberts Kitchen Talk, to catch up and enjoy an evening of fine Argentinian and Chilean wine.
My mostly uneducated wine palate has, over the last few months, been quietly picking up tips from the wine guests of Nick Coffer’s Weekend Kitchen on which I am lucky enough to have a weekly slot. The show involves two hours of lunchtime food chat, hosted by BBC Radio Presenter and Video Blogger Nick Coffer along with three guests; a chef/professional cook, a homecook and a wine expert.
As the months have passed, I’ve found myself tuning more and more into what the wine expert has to say, particularly when it comes to pairing wine with food and knowing how to do so confidently. Don’t get me wrong, I am a million miles away from becomming Jilly Goolden (Food and Wine, Britain’s Best dish) but what I am learning is that a little knowledge when it comes to wine can stretch a long way.
I met David Rough, who runs the Hertfordshire Wine School, through one of the shows and was really pleased to hear that there are plenty of wine courses that I can take locally to broaden my wine repertoire. David’s courses are based in both St Albans and Harpenden and are a great opportunity for beginners to learn a little bit more about wine and for experts to improve on their knowledge and taste. You can chose to take a one-off evening class, as we did, or book onto a course which is either four or eight weeks long, taking you on a virtual-tour of the wine world. On the evening we attended, I’d say there were around 20 eager students.
So, what did we learn in one evening? Well, we started off with an introduction to the main wine producing regions of Argentina and Chile and with some useful facts and figures. Argentina is actually the world’s 5th largest wine producer, with the quality of wine being produced getting better and better each year.
According to David -
“Chile is one of the newest wine countries to export to this country and is improving in leaps and bounds in wine quality. It has a wide variety of climates from the cool, maritime Casablanca Valley perfect for making delicious, crisp, Sauvignon Blancs to the warmer interior for ripe reds from Cabernet and Merlot. It also has its own grape variety, originating in Bordeaux called Carmenère.
Argentina, on the other side of the Andes mountain range, has an entirely different climate, much hotter and arid and also has its own grape varieties in the shape of Malbec and the wonderful aromatic Torrontes. All are incredibly consistent and excellent value for money. We will taste a complete range of these great wines.”
Having tried a white Viognier before, it is certainly one that I now remember to look out for. However, my tasting notes tell me that I rated the Nostros Gran Reserva Merlot from the Casablanca Valley in Chile (2008) the highest of all the wines I tasted over the course of the evening. This surprised me, as I am more of a white wine drinker. The term ‘Gran Reserva’ is a good one to look out for, it generally means a higher alcohol content and a better flavour. This one had a super smooth taste and a strong aroma of blackcurrants. Actually, it reminded me of drinking Ribena! The one we tried was from a local wine shop and came in at £8.41, so not entirely unreasonable for a really nice bottle of red, maybe for a special occasion.
If you really want to push the boat out, you could try an Argentinian Malbec. We tasted one called Bodega Alessandro Speri Prodigo from Mendoza, Argentina, which was excellent, though priced at £16.00 which is a little beyond what I would pay for a bottle. I wrote down that it had “good length”, meaning that you can still taste it after you’ve swallowed it. Wine speak for good wine.
Here’s a little summary of all of the wines we tasted (in ISO approved glasses)
Faldeos Nevados, Torrontes, Salta, Argentina (2010) – White – £6.95 – aromas of elderflower, peach, blossom and honey. I gave this one 8/10.
Cono Sur, Gewurztraminer, Central Valley, Chile (2010) – White – £6.90 – aromas of lychees. Quite acidic, would match well with spicy food. I gave this one 6/10 (I could really smell lychees!)
Bodega Tempus Alba ‘Rosado de Malbec’ Mendoza, Argentina (2008) – Rosé – £13.00 – aromas of wild strawberries. Though this wine is arosé it is quite robust and would be good for red wine drinkers. I gave it 7/10.
Nostros Gran Reserva Merlot, Casablanca Valley, Chile (2008) – Red – £8.41 – as mentioned, aromas of blackcurrant, red berries, plums, even jam! I awared this full marks – 10/10.
Bodega Alessandro Speri Prodigo, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina (2006) – Red – £16.00 – pricey but excellent quality. A great food match would be steak. I also gave this 10/10. This would have been my top wine but for the slightly high price, but if you’ve got the cash, go for this one!
Lascar, Carmenère, Central Valley, Chile (2010) – Red – £4.95 – a young wine with high acidity. Ruby red in colour, aromas of cloves and damsons. I scored this one 8/10.
Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile (2008) – Red – £7.49 – again, aromas of blackcurrant and cassis, fruit, would pair well with red meat or hard cheese. This once scored 9/10, also very good.
Las Moras Late Harvest Viognier, San Juan, Argentina (2009) – White – £8.95 for 50cl, a dessert wine, excellent with Saint Agur cheese, aromas of peaches and apricots. If dessert wine is your thing, this one was nice, very sweet, scoring 7 /10.
All in all, Clare, Heidi and I had a very enjoyable evening. I will definitely be paying more attention to Argentinian and Chilean wines in the future, particularly the white Viognier grape and the red Argentinan Malbec. I left thinking to myself that I really ought to drink more wine…or good wine more often!
Thank you to David Rough of Hertfordshire Wine School for organising the evening and for being so informative and knowledgeable on the subject of Chilean and Argentinian wines.
For more information on course costs visit – Hertfordshire Wine School
What are your top wine tips or top wines? Have you come across any great food and wine blogs? If so, I’d really love to know.