Wine education – judging a wine by its concentration

I hear it often. Red wines from the Loire don’t measure up to the big bold flavours of wines from Australia or California. They don’t have the same concentration or intensity and therefore – interest.

Let’s just think about that. Why would we base our assessment of a wine purely upon its concentration? We shouldn’t of course.

If we drink the same kind of wines all the time, our palates become used to the type of wine we are drinking.

If we drink rich robust bold red wines from hotter climates that that’s what our palate comes to expect right? Well, yes and no. Maybe our palate becomes used to them but why wouldn’t we also enjoy wines that are lighter in style, fresher, leaner, lower in tannin?

I love to cook. I love to eat, and I love wine. Do I restrict myself to one style of food or one style of wine? No, of course not. That’s the pleasure. The diversity of the dishes I can prepare and the choice of wines that I can choose to drink alongside them. I try to match one with the other. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t .

Sometimes I’m in the mood for something rich and robust, a long slow cooked beef casserole perfumed with garlic and herbs and I’ll look for a wine that complements that. Something rich and robust with plenty of tannin and yes, concentration.

Other times I’m in the mood for something light and fresh. I might be in a red wine mood but I’ve got fish on the menu. It’s a hot day and I feel like something refreshing. The thought of something big and bold makes me feel weary.

Both styles have a place on our table.

Last night we opened a bottle from the Roussillon region in the south of France. The wine was called Modeste from Domaine Le Clos des Fées a highly regarded producer not far from the Spanish border.

We’d not tried it before. It’s the least expensive wine in their portfolio (8.50€ TTC). All we knew was is that it’s Syrah, Granache, Carignan.

Modeste from Domaine Clos de Fées

Well, we weren’t expecting that! Wines from the south of France tend to be richer and more robust than the wines from the Loire. Oh no, not in this case.

We poured ourselves a tasting sample to assess the wine before dinner. Pale and translucent in the glass. Is it a red? Is it a rosé? It ressembles a ‘clairet’ or claret as we Brits would say.

Clairet or Claret is used today as a generic word for the red wines from Bordeaux but it was originally used in the sixteenth century to describe light style red wines from Bordeaux that were half way between a red wine and a rosé with a little more tannin.

Modeste is just like that. Lovely and attractive on the nose with aromas of cranberry and redcurrant it’s light and fresh on the palate. Juice and refreshing, the acidity is great (how did they manage that down there?) and it has just a hint of tannin.

Now, if we’d had a beef casserole on the table this would have been 100% the wrong wine to serve. In fact we had a gently spiced lentil and courgette daal with hard boiled eggs and fresh coriander. It went rather well.

I can think of loads of dishes that would be just perfect with this wine. The marinated tuna that we served on Christmas Day or griddled tuna with a sesame crust, a chilled Gazpacho on a hot summers day, roasted tomatoes with herbs and yoghurt. A plate of salamis and goat’s cheeses in the garden. Filets of Rouget (that lovely little salty fish that tastes like the sea) with boiled potatoes. I could go on…

Why would you rule out these lovely wines from your cellar?

Returning to the Loire.

With climate change, we’re seeing increasing concentration in red wines. Rich spicy Malbecs that are more than up to matching your casserole but also – a wide range of grape varieties that can offer you a wide range of wine styles .

Choose lighter style Gamay, Pineau d’Aunis, Pinot Noir or Grolleau to match spicy food, fish (salmon, rouget, squid) and lighter style dishes and game.

Choose richer reds with richer dishes. Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec.

Don’t judge a wine by its concentration. Think of it on its own merits. Concentration doesn’t always mean quality.

And think of the advantages of drinking lighter, lower alcohol wines. You can enjoy en extra glass without having a headache the next day!