GRAPEVINE

WHAT TO DRINK WITH YOUR HAGGIS ON BURMS' NIGHT
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The Independent Culture
THIS Thursday is Burns' Night, when Scots throughout the country, and especially those in exile, will come together and solemnly address a "great chieftain o' the puddin'-race" before plunging a dagger deep into a large haggis and consuming it with mounds of neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes).

But what does a true Scot (or reasonable facsimile of one) drink with the haggis? Traditionally, it should be malt whisky. I took a quick poll. Surprisingly, Edinburgh's world-famous haggis maker, John MacSween, will be addressing his haggis with "a good red wine", while Jonathan Crombie, his haggis-making rival also from Edinburgh, downs a traditional single malt, for preference a Macallan 25-year-old.

Other Scots are equally divided. James Naughtie of Radio Four's Today programme chooses "a very good claret". Jim Seaton, the new editor of The Scotsman, who has never tasted haggis with wine, plumps for a malt whisky, Lagavulin for choice: "Although that's just Celtic conditioning," he said.

"Anything with that amount of alcohol is useless with food," says Zubair Mohamed of Raeburn Fine Wines, a brilliant young Edinburgh wine merchant who has undergone plenty of "Celtic conditioning" since he arrived in Scotland from Kenya at the age of five. After addressing heaps of haggis with a large collection of bottles, I agree with him: whisky is certainly too fiery drunk neat, but even diluted to the generally prescribed half- and-half with water, for me it's still too strongly flavoured - and the wrong flavour for haggis at that, although it's not an objectionable mix.

So I'll keep my malt whisky for the ceremonial toast. To my taste, beer went better with the haggis - bitter did, at any rate. Lager was the wrong flavour, and some of the brands were too sweet.

But the star drinking partners were certain red wines. You don't want a lot of tannin in a red wine for haggis: the fat in the pudding emphasises the bitterness of the wine. Nor do you want too much flavour - a really intensely flavoured wine swamps a haggis just as much as whisky does. Medium- to fullish-bodied red is my prescription, with low to medium tannin, and good but not super-concentrated flavour.

It was Zubair Mohamed who pointed me in the direction of Loire reds. Any Loire red should taste good with haggis, from the cheapest pounds 2.99 bottle of Anjou Rouge to the most serious Loire Cabernet. Try one of two delicious ones from the excellent Touraine producer Couly-Dutheil at Unwins, 1994 Chinon Les Gravieres and especially the 1994 Bourgeuil Les Barroirs (both pounds 5.99 Unwins). The flavour is just right. More mature, softer vintages would be even better. A gentle, ripely fruity alternative would be the lovely 1993 Ironstone Cabernet Franc (pounds 5.99 Majestic), which is made in Califor-nia from the same grape as the Chinon and Bourgeuil.

The other grape variety so good with haggis that it should convert the most dyed-in-the-malt Scot is Grenache (Garnacha in Spanish). In France, this tends to be blended in with other grapes in reds of the south and south-east. Look for a back label of a Cotes-du-Roussillon or other Languedoc- Roussillon red, or a Cotes-du-Rhone, that lists Grenache before Syrah. (Syrah is less haggis-friendly.) I would go for the really attractive, ripely plummy 1994 Ermitage du Pic St Loup, Coteaux du Languedoc (pounds 3.95 Waitrose) or the easy-drinking, perfumed, plummy 1992 Chateau de la Valoussiere, Coteaux de Languedoc, Jeanjean (pounds 4.25 Somerfield).

Outside France, the soft and attractive Sainsbury's Tarriwingee Grenache, Barossa (pounds 3.79) from Australia or the delicious Spanish 1994 Baso Garnacho, Navarra (pounds 3.99 Wine Cellar and Berkeley Wines) would also be a brilliant match with the dish.

Red wines go much better with haggis than whites, but for white wine drinkers Australian Semillon-Chardonnay is the answer. Catch the end of two January promotions: Barramundi Semillon-Chardonnay (pounds 3.99 down from pounds 4.39, Fullers) or 1994 Rosemount Semillon Char-donnay (pounds 3.99 down from pounds 4.99, Victoria Wine).

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