A month in the life of a wine enthusiast.

Wednesday 1st

It seems that Katsuobushi is illegal in the EU. Unknowingly, I ordered two pieces from a traditional producer in Kyoto, Japan. Parcel Force tracking tells me they have arrived and are awaiting custom clearance. Will the pieces be destroyed I wonder? What about after Brexit; will we be able to buy Katsuobushi freely?

Thursday 2nd

I have invited three of my stalwart wine friends for supper. Usual rules apply, each bringing several bottles placed in a line up, and a collective decision taken as to which wines will be tasted. Unopened bottles to be taken back by their owners. This ensures that quality of the wines tasted remains high, as no one wants their wines to be passed over too often. Simple but effective.

Friday 3rd

This morning I woke up feeling energetic and glad that I kept my tasting samples small last night, helped by having to spend time in the kitchen. Spanish chicken with rice was served for the main – a dish I have heard described as ‘simple’, but with a high degree of difficulty when it comes to cooking. Last night’s effort was particularly acceptable thanks to an obscure YouTube video claiming to have the real secret to this dish. Seems to work.

Of lasts night’s wines, a 1990 Spätlese German Riesling by Georg Muller was particularly good. Its original watery lemon colour had turned into a deep amber colour. Also good was a 2010 Beauregard Pouilly Fuisse and a 1995 Gevrey Chambertin Cherebaudes by Lucien Boillot.

On the pavement this morning was a distinctive red stain and small shards of glass. My suspicion that this was a bottle taken back by its owner was confirmed later in the day.

Wednesday 8th

I received an email from my wine merchant confirming they are replacing two bottles of faulty wines. I had bought a three-bottle case of Louis Jadot’s 2000 Les Baudes. Two of the bottles were corked or leaking. I am glad to say the wine merchant in question took my complaint at face value.

Thursday 9th

Parcel Force Worldwide tracking tells me that the Katsuobushi is still at customs.

Friday 10th

Friends come round, coincidentally bringing a bottle of Louis Jadot’s entry-level white Bourgogne from their local supermarket, and which turned out to be delicious. I have a great admiration for Louis Jadot as they provide wine for all pockets, from inexpensive supermarket wines to seriously expensive rare Burgundies. They make no distinction with their labels which are almost identical and must have some consumers wondering why similar looking wines can have such massive disparities in their price.

Monday 20th

Parcel Force emails me and tells me my parcel is ready for collection. My Katsuobushi is safe!

Tuesday 21st

Bob, my friendly fishmonger, phones me to tell me he has a super fresh halibut for me. When I get there the fish is covered in slime. A sure sign of ultra-freshness. Arguments abound if halibut is better after a week than ultra-fresh. I am now thinking about the last Monday of the month, which is my allocated date for my wine group dinner.

Wednesday 22nd

We go out for dinner with friends just round the corner. Food is very good. Chicken on the bone stuffed with haggis, and seriously good mashed potatoes with excellent jus. British cooking keeps getting better year on year. I really believe we have left Spain behind. Who would have thought just a few years ago?

I strongly feel restaurants are not the place to indulge in ‘fine winery’. Lists are usually disappointing, wines too young and hugely marked up. If I have to have wine for social reasons and then I will order the cheapest, probably looking like a skinflint as a result.

Thursday 23rd

Having never used Katsuobushi before today I spend the morning trying some recipes out.

Katsuobushi

The Guinness Book of Records lists Katsuobushi as the hardest food known to man. Many compare it to a block of wood, but it feels more like a hard piece of stone to me. If you go online you will find it’s available in the EU as very thin, pink shavings, but don’t be fooled – it’s not the real thing. It’s a fraudulent copy made in Vigo.

Katsuobushi is said to be the key foundation to Japanese cooking, and as Japan appears to have more Michelin restaurants than any other place on the planet, I was intrigued by this mysterious ingredient, but baffled why I couldn’t buy whole pieces online. Eventually I found Tenpaku, a traditional producer in Japan. Katsuobushi is whole bonito fillets which have been processed by boiling, drying, smoking, fermenting and after many months given a coating of grey-looking mould. The rock-like pieces are then shaved and used as the basis for Dashi or stock. The Dashi has an elusive, smoky, umami flavour.

After some experimentation and research online I end up with the following recipe which I hope to serve at my annual group dinner:

Tuesday 28th

Last night was my annual dinner. As usual, all the wines were served blind. The ultra-simple Dashi/halibut dish went down well. This was served with two vintage champagnes. The Alfred Gratien 2007 shone above the other. What a wonderful wine.  What a pity it’s not available here, as with our duty advantage it would sell for around the £25 mark.

On these occasions much discussion is expended in trying to figure out what the wines are. From the host’s point of view it’s particularly interesting and shows how difficult blind wine tasting can be. The first two wines elicited much discussion, but didn’t fool the group. These were two Jura wines which my wife and I have taken a real liking to. Mostly made from the Savagnin grape. They are quite sherry-like but with an ultra-savouriness that’s unique. I suspect these wines may be too esoteric for some palates.

Other wines of interest were three Barbarescos all from Produttore del Barbaresco from the 2011 vintage, but different vineyards. Asili, Montefico and Montestefano. I was impressed with the Asili which I heard a wine commentator describe as the ‘hidden treasure of Barbaresco’. Well, perhaps.

Now that my annual dinner is over I can now look forward to nine wine dinners, where all I have to do is get myself there with my six favourite glasses.