Thursday, 26 July 2012

Camping it up in style

Camping and wine are two of my passions.  Should someone want to fund research in this area, I would volunteer readily to analyse the differences in taste perceptions of the same wines when drunk indoors, versus in the open air or under canvas.

Anyone who doubts that where you drink a wine makes a difference, has only to consider the heightened effect of drinking beer while sheltering in a marquee while it rains outside.  The drumming of the raindrops on the damp canvas and the mingling aromas of the beer with muddy grass trodden underfoot combine to make this a richer sensory experience than just downing a pint at the pub.  Add a packet of ready salted crisps and you have a perfect tableau of quintessential Britishness.

As with beer, so with wine.  At least, that is my thesis.  To kickstart what will undoubtedly become a long and detailed research project, I am road (or in my case, camper van) testing a couple of wines to see how they fare in the great outdoors – and what food will set them off to a T.

Beaujolais La Forêt 2011
Beaujolais is a great wine to have by your side on a camping trip – it has bright fruit flavours that stand up well to outdoor consumption and is best served lightly chilled – which shouldn’t pose a problem this summer.  Best of all, this one has a screwcap, so no danger of “I thought you had the corkscrew” misery.

Tasted indoors, aromas of raspberry and cherry leap from the glass.  The balanced acidity and modest alcohol (12.5%) make for great freshness, allied to zesty, cranberry fruit.  This feels so lively and refreshing that you feel like it must be doing you some good.

Outdoors, the upfront fruit flavours are somewhat muted and I noticed the tannins (which hadn’t registered at all indoors) – so the structure of the wine came more to the fore, but the fruit was still there in abundance.

What to eat with this wine?  Beaujolais is a truly versatile wine style.  I tried this with a lamb curry (pretty hot, slightly sweet and sharp) and while many red wines would become actively unpleasant with it, this coped admirably.  More traditionally I also paired it with a Spanish-inspired Puy lentil warm salad with red onion, dressed with hot smoked paprika vinaigrette.  This is a doddle to knock up on the road, requiring only one ring to cook the lentils, plus a bit of chopping.  The Beaujolais’ vibrant fruit and crunchy acidity went perfectly with the earthiness of the lentils.

But the top match for camper van eating was a bacon sarnie – a staple of any camping trip.  In a nod towards five a day I made it a BLT, but even so the Beaujolais did a great job of cutting through the fat and saltiness of the bacon, while retaining its fruity personality.

Le Petit Salvard Cheverny, Emmanuel Delaille 2011
If there’s one grape that evokes cut grass is has to be Sauvignon Blanc, so it evokes the outdoor life even when you’re drinking it on a rainy November evening.  This wine, from the small Cheverny Appellation in the Loire Valley, has 15% Chardonnay alongside the Sauvignon.

In the great outdoors the aromas are all Sauvignon Blanc:  gooseberry and blackcurrant leaf (I’ve been picking them today, so they’re fresh in the mind).  When you taste, the little bit of Chardonnay in the wine seems to tame the Sauvignon’s more pungent flavours, leaving pure, limey fruit and giving some more weight, without cutting down on the refreshment.

Back inside, I noticed more delicate elderflower aromas and the wine felt more rounded and somehow less vibrant.  I definitely preferred the experience of drinking this outside on a warm evening.

Salade niçoise is a regular on the menu for our family trips to France in the camper van.  Cooking the potatoes, French beans and eggs can be a bit of a fag, but the result is so tasty and so beautiful (to my eye anyway), that it’s worth the effort.  The Cheverny stood up brilliantly to all those flavours that combine in the salad – salty olives and capers, ripe tomatoes, egg, tuna and not least a punchy mustard-heavy vinaigrette.  It retained all of its freshness and provided juicy refreshment – dangerously drinkable in fact.

My research has got off to a fine start and I’m eager to get on with more over the course of this summer.  A bientôt!

Beaujolais La Forêt 2011 is available from Waitrose at £7.59
Le Petit Salvard Cheverny, Emmanuel Delaille, 2010 is available from Waitrose and Ocado at around £9

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