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Peele's Sense of Adventure
John Peel once said that he was most interested in music he’d never heard before. On his much missed show there were plenty of tracks which would disappoint – although that may have been more to do with listeners being in on a Friday night, rather than out at some fancy nightclub. But by adopting and modifying the Peel approach, how far would you get with wine?

On the menu in the Marquees Tavern the other week were a Santorini, a Vermentino and a Catarratto/Inzolia blend. Whether you can admit to a passing familiarity with the wines or not; they’re not going to be first off the shelf at your local Victoria Wine (sorry, does Victoria Wine still exist?)

Being in the wine trade, I’m often asked which wine will best go with which food, or vice versa, but since one of the people at lunch was Fiona Beckett (food and wine matching expert) I was paying hardly any attention when the food was being chosen to match the wines. This was a big mistake.
 
The feeling, last experienced in the maths classroom gripped me; knowing that everyone is silent because they’re waiting for me to answer a question that I didn’t hear.
 
‘What do you reckon would match these wines?’
I had to come up with something and on the basis that all the wines came from Islands (Santorini, Sardinia and Sicily) suggested Fish. It saved my blushes. We had potted salmon; fresh sardines on toast and a smoked fish platter. Like the wines, these were excellent, slightly unusual and all the more welcome for it.

The potted salmon and the Sardinian Vermentino was a great match. The key is the fresh, refreshing acidity of the wine, but what made it really work is that Salmon’s (kinda) sweet and the Vermentino has an underlying sweet tone that harmonised perfectly.
The Sicilian Catarratto/Inzolia was the wine that had the least identity: well it is a blend. It was also the most like a Pinot Grigio. This is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. It worked well, but it tended to taste a bit grapey when matched with stronger flavours (grapey is an insult to wine as ‘fishy’ is to seafood).

The champion wine was the Santorini, a Greek wine. Santorini has an incredibly long history of wine making and the wine is delicious. It even works with Sardines which are very difficult to match partly because of they’re so oily. Where the acidity in the Vermentio was underwoven with honey; the Santorini had a briney note which seemed to make the fruit slightly more evident and the wine more refreshing. It paired all three dishes wonderfully well and I was very pleasantly surprised.

That was my John Peel moment, one of them – I’m lucky enough to be confronted with loads of wines that I’ve never heard of and it certainly broadens the horizons. But then I’m not always paying; so what’s the safest way to proceed when you’re handing over your own money.

Here’s a suggestion: in the summer, go for fresh seafood and cold white wines that come from the coast. That coast can be almost anywhere (apart from Ireland, etc.) Coastal white wines won’t all be good, but you can guarantee a tradition of drinking them with fish that will date back hundreds of years. It will work to a degree and if nothing else, it’s a movement away from ubiquity.

Diversity, then is the main reward for drinking wine you’ve never heard of, but a word of caution. For every band like The Undertones, unearthed by John Peel, there were probably 450 wailing amateurs who had to hold on to their day jobs. So don’t expect miracles, but don’t get stuck in a rut either.

Today’s trivia:
Did you know that Sicily has more land under vine than Australia?

The Marquees Tavern, 32 Canonbury Street, London N1 focuses on good quality products and is well worth a visit.
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