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Cutting the Mustard

Written by Giles MacDonogh

Cutting the Mustard

Posted: 18th August 2021

July was a month of near normality in which I did nearly normal things like enjoy a long boozy lunch with old friends and go to the opera at Garsington (which is no longer anywhere near Garsington). There was even a family excursion to seek out Roman and Saxon remains in Saint Albans, and I made a second batch of Dijon mustard that was more successful than the first, but I might still have a little way to run before I achieve perfection.

There were wines to taste too. Some very good boxes of Nero d’Avola and Greco came from When in Rome, which specialises in the wines of the Mezzogiorno. I think there is still a suspicion when it comes to bag-in-box wines in Britain, but there is no intrinsic reason why they should be nasty, and with their airlocks, they keep pretty fresh for weeks. I came across them first at the friend’s house in the Lot. She used to buy the cheapest Cahors from the cellar doors of good local growers, the sort of thing they made from young vines or from their least distinguished terroirs. As an everyday wine it was fine, and it had the advantage of being very cheap; indeed it was all the cheaper for not having to dress up in bottles and corks. The When in Rome wines were predictably full-bodied: the white Greco maybe a little hot, the Nero d’Avola a proper fruit bomb, but also the sort of thing that might put a few hairs on your chest.

I attended a Washington State tasting, and was interested to see how the sort of wines I had tasted in Kelowna in British Columbia developed as they crossed the US Border and entered the steamy Columbia Valley. There were some lovely Rhone-style wines, such as the 2018 Syrah Domaine de Pierres from the Betz Family Winery. Also good were The 2018 Pundit from Tenet Wines and 2018 Nina Lee from the Spring Valley Vineyard (both virtually pure Syrah). The last two are part of the massive Sainte Michelle Group which was responsible for the splendid 2016 Col Solare Cabernet Sauvignon (made as a joint venture with Antinori)and the 2019 Eroica Riesling made with Ernst Loosen from Bernkastel.


Also from the US there were some wines from Gallo. Gallo has continued its policy of acquiring well-known Californian estates. Some of these wines I wrote about here. I am still just as much a sucker for the Bear Flag Zinfandel. Also striking was the 2017 Louis M Martini Napa Cabernet Sauvignon: a proper Californian classic of with a bouquet of big black fruits. Frei Brothers 2019 Sonoma Chardonnay was a touch on the sweet side for me. That tends to be a problem with the whites – I am assuming that some sugar is left in order to keep the wines under 15% ABV. If you ferment them out fully they can be hefty, like the 2018 Kali Hart Chardonnay with its whacking great toast-and-tinned-peaches aromas. It was very good, but to be consumed in moderation.

New to me was the J Cuvee 20 sparkling wine. This I thought all the better for not pretending to be champagne. It was far riper and more exotic, with plenty of mango and peach tastes, some notes of straw and orange and a lingering quince-like finish. I put it alongside a couple of excellent wines from Tesco, a nice, good-value rhubarb-and-vanilla-sugar pink from Gratien et Meyer in the Loire and a really impressive Tesco English Sparkling from Hush Heath which was properly elegant in an apply champagne idiom. I thought it was really quite distinguished in a low baumé sort of way.

A treat from the Baron Edmond de Rothschild was the 2020 Rimapere Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough Valley in New Zealand. This was a Marlborough Sauvignon as we have grown to expect it, although I thought once again that there might have been a little bit too much undigested sugar covering the acid? It was more white peach than gooseberry: a testament to greater ripeness. It came with a big bit of Brie de Meaux also from another of the Rothschild estates, but this time just east of Paris. If I am right it was produced at the Château de Ferrières where Bismarck and Jules Favre negotiated the end of the Franco-Prussian War. The cheese was delicious.

Brie de Meaux might take me in an admittedly circumlocutious sort of way back to mustard. In St Albans I dropped into Ellis the butcher by the railway station who recommended his sausages made according to a Saxmundham recipe brought first to the city by his father, who was a Suffolk man. When we got back we put them against my mustard. In theory I was trying to make a Dijon Mustard, where the grains are no longer identifiable, but in practise I had been unable to entirely eliminate the black casing to the seeds and it still looked much more like a Meaux Mustard. It wasn’t for want of trying: I had soaked the grains for two days, cooked them in wine and vinegar, drained off the liquor and taken them to a friend with a high-speed whizzer to grind them as smoothly as possible. That meant adding back the liquor to create an appropriately creamy emulsion and adding a teaspoon-full of turmeric to make it properly yellow. Next time I am determined to use white seeds in order to get it right at last. I’ll get there if it kills me.

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Giles MacDonogh

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