By Andrew Valente
Autumn is many ways is the best season of the year for me — mainly because it comes immediately after months of suffocating summer heat. I have always abhorred the stifling temperatures of a Majorcan summer and when they finally get turned down I feel as if I’m suddenly living in a temperate paradise.
Last Sunday I did something that has become a bit of a ritual for me: when at last the weather had turned truly autumnal, when I realised I’d soon be wearing sweaters again, I celebrated by opening a bottle of Pesquera, one of my favourite Ribera del Duero reds.
It was the first top-rated red I’ve had since last Christmas because during the summer I never feel like drinking first class reds.
My usual summer lunchtime tipple is a supermarket red (costing around €2) which I drink on the rocks because the ice cubes make it a suitable cooler for hot weather drinking.
This summer I was also into spritzers — made with red wines as well as whites. They were also on the rocks, and that means large glasses crammed with ice cubes before any wine or mineral water is added.
I was using Vichy Catalan to begin with but I later changed to Perrier even although it is somewhat dearer. Then, when eating at a restaurant specialising in Moroccan food, I rediscovered the Italian San Pellegrino sparkling water and I found it so delicious I was drinking it neat for a few weeks. The San Pellegrino paired nicely with spicy North African dishes and at home I found it was a very nice match for Indian curried vegetable dishes and anything that was flavoured with turmeric.
However, my preferred cooler throughout the summer months (which this year seemed to go on longer than ever, partly because summer started earlier) wasn’t wine, beer, cider or any other alcoholic drink…it was iced tea. But not any old tea — it was a darjeeling and was made with Nestle’s Aquarel bottled water which in my experience is by far the best still mineral water for making tea. Aquarel costs twice as much as the other waters but the extra cost is worth it when making tea. I haven’t tried all of the mineral waters but Aquarel makes such delicious tea that I’m staying with it. As the Americans say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” When someone tells me they’ve come across a better tea-making water than Aquarel I’ll give it a try.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been browsing along the wines shelves at El Corte Inglés which are beginning to fill up with some of the well known names from Spain’s main wine-producing areas — as well as a few names I am unfamiliar with.
I am already thinking of those reds I’ll be drinking during the coming festive season and also those I’ll be giving as Christmas presents. I’m looking at wines in the €7-€10 range and, as always, there is a good selection from most of Spain’s best producing areas — although I usually buy more from Ribera del Duero than any other part of the country.
When autumn gets underway, I’m not only thinking of which reds to drink but also which foods to eat with them — another of the beauties of autumn is that market stalls and supermarket shelves, suddenly fill up with all kinds of lovely vegetables, fish and meats that are only available at this time of year.
And so many of them pair nicely with red wines, including those that appeal most to foodies at this time of year — the nice array of wild mushrooms. There will soon be plenty of mushrooms from different parts of the mainland, but mainly Catalonia where they are especially abundant and appreciated. The delight of eating wild mushrooms and finding wines that make a good match is one of the gourmet’s main delights at the start of autumn.
Finding the right wine for food of any kind is always difficult, partly because all decisions are extremely subjective: what is delightful for one person may not appeal to another. However, the good thing about matching wine and food is no one can say you are wrong — absolutely every aspect of it is a question of personal opinion. Even so, there are certain basics to be learned when matching food and wine and they will help to steer us in the right direction — as well as give the impression we know something about the subject. An informed opinion is always much more valuable than one based on ignorance.
Although I’ll be buying some of the more expensive reds between now and Christmas, I’ll also be checking up on what’s available at Mercadona and Eroski. Both have some very drinkable wines at €4 or less.
I think Mercadona has the bigger and better choice, especially of reds, but I shop at both places and I always check to see what they’ve got. The other day in Mercadona I was speaking to a Spaniard while looking along the wine shelves. He also is fond of their reds costing up to €5. He added that he’s very systematic about choosing them: he works his way along each shelf, selecting two reds every week until he has tried everything that’s available. Then he starts all over again.
No matter what method you use when choosing supermarket wines — at any price, not just the lower end of the market — there will always be some you’ll prefer. And you’ll buy more of those.
That’s what happened to me at Mercadona. They have many red and white wines I like and at the right price but I have a preference for Fin del Rio from the Fariña winery in Toro.
Manuel Fariña makes some very good wines, Fin del Rio being his low-cost young wine of the year. And it has a very reasonable price for such an everyday drinkable red — €1.97 for one-litre bottle. Wine prices don’t get much better than that.