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RICHARD EHRLICH'S beverage REPORT
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The Independent Culture
The world of wine is full of popular misconceptions. Here are three of my all-time favourites.

IS THE WINE DONE YET?

People do it by the fireplace, in the microwave, on the hob. It's called unsafe drinking, and it means the application of excessive heat to red wine. The ideal drinking temperature around 18C (65F), lies well below central-heating levels, but I've seen lovely wines ruined by people who think the "room" in "room temperature" means a sauna.

Beaujolais, the bubble-gum of the wine world, is the best-known exception to the red equals warm equation. You can serve it chilled, even if it's a Beaujolais-Villages with superior depth and richness such as Majestic's Chenas Domaine des Pierres 1995 (pounds 6.99 till 12 May). But even full-blooded reds, likelier candidates for trial by fire, such as M&S's South African Cabernet Sauvignon 1993 (pounds 4.99) or Tesco's Equus 1995 (pounds 3.99), good robust Bergerac, will be ruined by extra heat. Both can be opened and enjoyed immediately. With grand bottles - clarets such as La Vielle Cure 1990 (Sainsbury's pounds 10.95) or the stunning Chateau Haut- Bergey 1994 (Oddbins, pounds 11.49) - over-heating amounts to murder. Please confine your cooking to the food.

NO GERMANS, PLEASE

Even knowledgeable drinkers view German wine as sweet and crummy, and they've voted with their credit cards: sales have dropped by more than 30 per cent since 1990. Possibly the floweriness of Riesling, Germany's great grape, seems strange to taste buds weaned on Chardonnay. Or maybe people still associate Germany exclusively with Liebfraumilch. Whatever the reason, they're missing some great wines in a remarkable variety of styles, from dry to ultra-sweet. The versatile Riesling ripens late, and can be picked when ripe or over-ripe. The later it's picked, the sweeter the wine. Seek out Kabinett, Trocken and Spatlese if you insist on dryness. The sweeties tend to be more expensive (not to mention wonderful), but the VFM still compares favourably with French and New World wines. The problem is finding a good source. The solution is to look to the independents such as Lay & Wheeler (01206 764446). The L&W list is extensive, and while prices end up in outer space they begin on terra firma. My star German buys are Zilliken Riesling Halb-trocken 1995 (pounds 7.85), and Maximin Grunhauser Abstberg Riesling, von Schubert 1995 (pounds 10.20).

RED, WHITE AND TRUE?

A Hollywood screenwriter got plastered at a producer's house and sprayed chunks all over the carpet. Collecting himself quickly, he turned to his hosts and said: "Don't worry, I brought the fish up with the white wine." I admire the manners, but the white-for-fish, red-for-meat equation doesn't always apply.

For one thing, seasonings can be just as important as the main ingredient. The Roux brothers suggest a Gewurztraminer or Pinot Gris with the "Entrecote Canaille" in their New Classic Cuisine because the steak is cooked with tarragon, cream and shallots. Nor can all fish and meats be chromatically typecast. Tuna, salmon and mackerel are meaty; pork, veal and new season's lamb are more white than red.

Why not try mixing instead of matching? Whitish meats like a range of white styles. At the lean end, try barrel-fermented Rioja Almenar 1995 (Somerfield, pounds 3.49 till 29 April). At the lush end, buy a stunning Australian: Tyrell's Vat 1 Semillon 1990 (pounds 16.99 at Fortnum & Mason, Tanners and elsewhere). Salmon and the like have an affinity for spicy red Rhones. Idea No 1: a cracking Gigondas from Tanners (01743 232400), Cuvee de la Tour Sarazine, Domaine Le Clos des Cazaux 1994 (pounds 8.40). Idea No 2: the ever-reliable Guigal Cotes-du-Rhone, current vintage 1994 and widely available at around pounds 7. I recently drank my last bottle of the 1988 with salmon, and am sure the screenwriter would have approved.

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