The Wine Show: Episode 9
Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys star in this series about the stories behind some of the world’s most fascinating wines. From their villa HQ in the Italian hills our two gentleman head to Verona, setting for Romeo & Juliet where they practice their newly learned sommelier skills on two unsuspecting lovers. Amelia Singer valiantly attempts to persuade Joe Fattorini that there’s more to do with port than drink it at Christmas. They then take a cruise up the Douro, Portugal’s most stunning wine country, to visit one of England’s oldest wine families who are at the forefront of Portugal’s wine revolution. Star LA Chef Niki Nakayama chooses a Japanese sake as her favourite wine and creates a dish to match it. And Joe Fattorini takes us to Chile to find out just how far the ‘Volvo’ of the wine world has come and visits the cellar where 120 Chilean revolutionaries hid during the Chilean war of independence.
Viva La Volvo Revolution
‘Those who can ride, ride! We will break through the enemy!’ This was the rousing cry of General Bernardo O’Higgins at the battle of Rancagua. His men were surrounded and outnumbered. According to legend the last 120 of them were forced to take refuge in a cellar. That cellar is still there at the Santa Rita estate. And today, surrounded by neat rows of bottles and artfully positioned barrels, it’s hard to imagine the ragtag, defeated group of patriots, injured and terrified as they prepared to flee to three years of exile over the Andes in Argentina.
Today the 120 cellar at Santa Rita is the home of a new revolution. And one of its Generals is Cecilia Torres. Cecilia is fondly known as the ‘Grandmother of Chilean wine’. She is warm, generous and quick with a smile. But also pioneer with a steely determination. Since 1989 Cecilia has been responsible for making Casa Real, one of Chile’s greatest wines. Casa Real surprised the world with its quality, complexity and focus. It also gave a generation of Chilean winemakers the confidence to make wines that could compete with the best. And Cecilia’s example also inspired a particular group of winemakers. Around a third of all people making wine in Chile are women. One of the highest proportions in the world.
I’ve heard it said (not least by Argentineans) that Chileans are by nature a sensible people. The winemakers certainly give that appearance. Pressed chinos, polo shirt, winery-branded fleece and a pair of sensible shoes is the uniform of the Chilean winemaker. And the wines had a similar reputation through the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s. Cecilia’s revolution in quality led to growth in consistent, fruity, balanced… sensible wines. But like the Volvos they were compared with, they were reliable but often lacked excitement.
Today, a new generation of winemakers is changing that reputation. Rather than just a Cabernet or a Merlot, these winemakers are experimenting with exotic blends of new varieties. Rather than just making wine in the warm valley floor, they’re moving up the hills. Or even to completely new regions in Chile’s high altitude, desert north and cool south. And there’s a twist. Pisco. This is the grape spirit that gobbled up Chile’s grapes and led to plantings of bland, over-productive varieties. But this 17th century brandy is now mixed in innovative cocktails. I tried several of them. After a few you wouldn’t be able to ride. But you’d have the courage to follow Bernardo O’Higgins breaking through any enemy.
Santa Rita Casa Real Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Here is one of the world’s great ‘icon’ wines, that deserves the title and is still within reach of mere mortals. A wine that changed our perceptions of Chilean wine forever. It remains true to its origins with a deftly crafted masterclass in pure Cabernet Sauvignon. Cassis, spice, cedar, toast and the capacity to age. Serve with something devastatingly simple like a roast Cote de Boeuf. Let the wine sing.
Port – A Contemporary Classic
Picture yourself, sitting in a trendy bar on a hot summer’s evening, sipping – not a Gin and Tonic – but a delicious and refreshing Port cocktail. Not quite the image of Port that you had in mind? Well hopefully after this episode, that will change.
Port is a fortified wine Brits have been drinking since the end of the 17th century. Although the drink has evolved into all kinds of styles and colours, our Port drinking habits have never been more conservative. Usually, it is just drunk neat with a piece of stilton at Christmas time. The irony is that in the 17th century, Port was a main ingredient in cocktails. British gentlemen and sea captains combined it with sugar, water and nutmeg to form the “sangaree” (precursor to modern day Sangria).
In Porto and the Douro valley, wine producers are reinventing Port and its cocktail association. The well known wine bar of the Yeatman Hotel in the heart of Porto, boast an extensive list of Port cocktails. From the sparkling, pink and fruity to the robust and Bourbon based, there’s one for every palate. Even Joe enjoyed his flamingo coloured concoction!
Buzzy wine bars and experimental Port cocktails are just some of the ways that the Port region is trying to reinvigorate its image. More Port families, like the Symington’s, are building modern tasting rooms and opening up their wineries to encourage tourism in the area. The Douro is one of the most dramatically beautiful wine regions that I have experienced – and also the most underrated. Hopefully, as with the cocktails themselves, people will soon realise what they are missing out on.
Altano Douro 2013
We all need something hearty in our lives. And this fits the bill with bold, richly-fruity aromas and a spicy palate. But don’t expect some crass bruiser of a wine, this has the charm of the rustic Portuguese farmer, perfect with sausage casserole, a slow-cooked lamb shank or rich tomato sauce. One of the best value wines of the series.
THE WINE SHOW CASE – Challenge NINE
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life…
– Prologue, Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare –
It had to happen: in our Italian villa, thoughts turned to love, and Joe sent our Matthews on a bromantic trip to Verona. Although eagle-eyed, and possibly somewhat pedantic, viewers will point out that Shakespeare never visited Verona, and that Juliet’s balcony was only constructed in the 20th century. And yet for two actors, it was something of a pilgrimage.
But Matthew and Matthew’s loitering by the Capulet’s fictional balcony was short-lived as we headed to Antica Bottega del Vino. Literally translated as “The Old Wine Business”, this restaurant is one of the oldest and most revered establishments of its kind in Italy. Dating back to the 16th century, it has a collection of 18,000 wines in its cellars. It’s owned by a group of winemakers known as The Amarone Families. But its history is as rich and complicated as any Shakespeare play.
In the Sixteenth century, Italy was still a collection of city states and Verona was ruled over by the Venetian Republic. But just to be slightly confusing, the restaurant was called the Osteria Scudo di Francia in honour of the French consulate which was housed upstairs. Between the Eighteenth and Nineteenth century, Verona fell to Austrian rule and was named The Biedermeier. The slightly Alpine style can still be seen in the interior.
Next we rush forward to the late 1800’s. The Bottega was purchased by Cantina Sociale di Soave, who called it Spaccio Vini Cantina Sociale and was to sell San Lorenzo wine coming from his own vineyard in Soave. The 20th century saw the restaurant move through a number of hands, until 2011 when the love for Verona pushed The Amarone Families to buy the restaurant and preserve its history and tradition.
All in all, a perfect place for our boys to learn how to be sommeliers. Opening the bottle should have been easy – neither Matthew is unacquainted with the business end of a corkscrew – but being under the scrutiny of a professional can give even the most talented actor a touch of stage fright.
But there was no time for nerves. Matthew and Matthew were charged with serving three wines – one for each lunch course – to a very special couple. Despite a small hiccup in the form of a very big question (no spoilers here!), they made it through the lunch. Trauma over, it was time to return to base with two very fine wines – a Soave from top winemaker Pieropan, and a splendid robust Amarone di Valpolicella.
But which will Joe choose as being best for encouraging the ways of romance? It was a tough decision, and someone doesn’t take it well….
Pieropan Soave Classico 2014
One of the great summer wines, this is everything Soave should be. Lightly aromatic, fresh and youthful. Its gentle citrus and almond blossom aromas complement rather than compete to make for a wonderful food matching wine. Baked fish with a squeeze of lemon, summer salads, grilled vegetables and seafood. All delicious.