In September, John and I went on holiday to Venice, and then up to Tarvisio and Udine, in the north of Italy, to visit our friend Laura. Before the trip, I gave John his mission, should he choose to accept it – which was to please, please drag me out of wine bars and restaurants so that I might actually see something of the country, because God knows I wasn’t going to be able to do it on my own. “Do you know how much I plan to eat?” I kept asking him. “Do you?”
He did. And he completed his mission admirably. We haunted countless museums; cheered at a gondola regatta; wandered around a street festival that turned out to be run by amiable Communists. But I too was true to my word; we still had plenty of time to eat and drink.
I won’t tell you too much about the pitchers of lightly sparkling white wine; the flutes of prosecco with bubbles so tiny as to be nearly invisible; the chocolate gelato as thick as a heavenly lump of frozen pudding; the pizzas that seemed to stretch on for miles. I’m not going to bore you here with tales of red wine by the glass for €1; frothy Bellinis; thin, melting slices of salami and prosciutto; croissants aching with the weight of their chocolate centres; fresh seafood risotto; a ridiculously addictive thing called fricco that involves fried potatoes and cheese. I’m going to make one recommendation, a conclusion drawn after all those lengthy, civilized, Italian meals; have a glass of wine with lunch.
Want to know where to start? Open a bottle of Chateau Haut-Beaséjour’s 2004 Cru Bourgeois Saint-Estèphe. This is a Hercules of a wine. It’s a medium-bodied red – the colour of garnet edged with rust – and it’s so intense that one glass will sate you. Chateau Haut-Beaséjour is one of the top chateaux in the Saint-Estèphe appellation within Bordeaux, and, judging from this cru bourgeois, with good reason. This wine is a blend (or cuvee ) of four grapes, but is heavy on the cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and involves oak-aging (as the old saying goes, if you want to know what to do with oak and wine, go straight to the French ). Pour a glass, and sniff, and let the scent grab you. Leather, wet wood, cedar chips, old books, Old Spice cologne – scent carries strong memories. Take a sip, and you’ll be surprised that this is a lighter-bodied wine than it smells (and has lower alcohol content than you’d expect, at just 13 per cent ). Tannins are strong and clean, and lead to a long, leathery finish.
But – as with most food and drink of quality -- it’s very difficult to drink much of it at one go. So there’s nothing to do but share it. Bring a bottle to a dinner party at which you really need to impress the host – or give it as a gift to your boss, your parents, your brother-in-law. Or open one for a couple of friends, and have it with all things rich, juicy, and decadent: lamb roasted with garlic and rosemary; some kind of expensive aged cheese; or a cigar.
Get 20 per cent off this and other fine wines – including champagne! -- with your Lohan’s loyalty card: and don’t forget to drop by Lohan’s weekly wine tastings, every Wednesday evening at 8pm until November 26. €20 gets you a taste of eight wines, a meat and cheese board to nibble on, and a wine-industry expert to guide you on your bibulous tour.
Available at Lohan’s Next-Door Off-Licence, Upper Salthill, Galway.