I am supposed to write about one of my great passions, drinking wine. Before I bore people with a list of wines worth drinking, I thought I would ponder aloud on why it has become such a passion. The most obvious and popular reason is that, barring execrable examples, it contains alcohol. Whilst alcohol has made a major contribution to western civilisation and adolescent dating, this feature is not unique to wine. What we drink reflects who we are.
Among the competition, lager and bitter are much more popular and certainly there are good examples of each. But and it's a big but, lager drinkers are usually adolescent and possess the least discriminating of palates. Bitter drinkers are middle-aged and boorish on their chosen subject and spirit/shorts comes with added sugar for girls and straight for pin-stripe suits. All of these have greater claim to be representative of our age.
What about wine drinkers? They have their fare share of the ignorant and the snobbish of course. On the plus side a basic knowledge can impress, particularly in the ultimate arena for the first meet, a posh restaurant. Wine bores, like stamp collectors and train spotters, will give you a plethora of other reasons. Above all these, I feel that the best reason is that among all alcoholic beverages, wine is the most natural partner for food.
The world of food and wine matching is fraught with snobbery and ignorance but there really are ethereal combinations that, like all great partnerships, enhance each other and de-emphasise their respective faults. It helps that being able to cook a decent meal AND produce good wine to match are the way to a discerning woman's (whoops, I mean partner's) heart. This has become one of the cardinal features by which one recognises that oh so modern entity, the 90's man in touch with his feminine side.
Talking of food and wine, I have just returned from the Amalfi coast and whilst there I was constantly amazed at the quality of both, almost regardless of price. Whether at Michelin starred restaurants or the local "pasta shop" the emphasis on prime ingredients and cooking based on local expertise is routine whilst in the UK this is exceptional. This, in spite of the fact that we have fantastic produce here. I include a link to one of the Michelin starred restaurants as it is in a fantastic location, serves superb regional cuisine with real elan, has an unimpeachable wine list and as with most things Italian, its all done with effortless grace. One of the starters was scampi done in a traditional style deep fried in batter. I nearly fell of my chair when this was recommended by our reliable and affable sommelier/maitre de. It arrived in a basket but here any similarity with our much vaunted pub fare ended. Three large langoustin (each the size of a small lobster) had been shelled only around the body (leaving a tailpiece for ease of grip!) and then covered with a light batter before deep-frying. They oozed a sweet, sea salt flavoured goo when bitten in to and the texture was meatily satisfying. A perfect paradigm of the difference between UK and Italian cuisine. The rooms overlook the sea and both these and the food are reasonably priced. www.tavernadelcapitano.it
A good wine for barbecues is Southern Right Pinotage 2000. Most South African wine is to my mind disappointing and often over priced but this is chock full of damson and plum fruit with hints of grilled meats and coffee. On the palate there is rich ripe fruit (after all its not French!) framed by hints of coffee and cedar wood with soft tannins in the finish. There's enough oomph here to last a few years but delicious now at around £9.00 from Noel Young Wines in Cambridge. To ease your conscience a contribution to the conservation of the said whale is made with each bottle sold!