Is it too soon to mention the C word? Booths, the supermarket chain based in the North-West, launched its Christmas Book last week, and it is such a terrific publication that it is worth making sure you get one.
Looking more like a trendy cook book than a catalogue of Christmas fare, it is the kind of book to browse through and get ideas from for the festive season. There are recipes, product details and fabulous photography that will inspire new tastes and dishes to prepare for the family and there is even mention of some drinks from the excellent Booths range.
If you are a Booths cardholder then your copy of the Christmas Book will arrive on your doorstep within a few days, and if not, you can order one from www.booths.co.uk from October 10 onwards, or you can call into one of its stores and pick one up.
The idea behind the book is to introduce Booths by Post so that those of us who don’t have a Booths supermarket on our doorstep, can order from its range. With just 29 stores, and only three of them in Yorkshire, in Ilkley, Ripon and Settle, most of us have a long drive to get to a branch.
The book was given a grand launch in London, alongside a good lunch with wines introduced by the new wine buyer, Victoria Anderson, who has been in post for eight months. She spent seven years gaining valuable wine experience at upmarket London merchant John Armit, but then decided to head back home to the North, and now she is busy selecting wines to go on Booths’ shelves.
Booths stores offer a different kind of shopping experience to those fortunate to have one close by. More Waitrose than Tesco in style, but because they have only a handful of stores, they can select smaller, more individual producers to supply them. Certainly in the food aisles there is evidence of long-established supplier relationships such as the venison which is sourced from Holme Farm in North Yorkshire and the free-range Goosnargh geese which come from Johnson and Swarbrick, poultry producers in the Ribble Valley.
The wine range has a similar feel with a good part selected from smaller, individual producers who cannot supply enough for bigger retailers. While there are certainly plenty of the big names on the Booths shelves there are also gems from some smaller producers. Now that she has her feet well under the Booths tasting table Victoria is keen to find new flavours for her customers.
“Working for Booths offers a great opportunity to work with smaller growers, with a focus on quality and provenance. I’m keen to uncover some hidden gems for customers and offer them wines that they cannot find elsewhere.”
This can be clearly seen in some of the wines now in the range. From South Africa there is Curator Red and White (£8.99), from Adi Badenhorst. He is one of the pioneers who have put Swartland on the winemaking map. Here, around a two-hour drive north of the manicured vineyards of Stellenbosch, is a region with complex granite, clay, slate and river shale soils, studded with twisted old vines that have been dry-farmed for decades. The climate is hot during the day, but just when you think that this region is uncontrollably warm a cooling breeze blows in from the coast, allowing the vines to keep acidity and freshness in the grapes. With low yields and more than a nod to old-school winemaking using bunch pressing and natural yeasts, this is the region where wines gather individual flavours and complexity.
With ripe, peppery damson flavours in The Curator Red Blend 2011 (£8.99) and savoury, apricot and citrus in the White (also £8.99) this duo are both terrific wines to pair with food.
Also from South Africa is the Springfield Estate Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (£12.99) which was poured alongside cherry smoked Holme Farm venison at the launch of the Christmas book. Made by brother and sister Abrie and Jeanette Bruwer in the Robertson valley, this has been one of my favourite wines for some time, but has always been a bit difficult to track down. Bright, juicy and full of lively fruit, it has supple tannins and a freshness of flavour that can sometimes be lacking in South African wines.
Definitely not lacking freshness is Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (£14.99) from Marlborough, New Zealand. This comes from a lovely estate that has been run on organic and biodynamic lines for well over a decade. This wine gets clean away from the harsh green-pea flavours of Sauvignon that can sometimes dominate the palate and instead has a slight addition of Semillon to add texture, weight and a touch of honeysuckle to balance the crisp, citrus fruit. Team this with fish, starters and cold chicken.
I also enjoyed Tamar Ridge, Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir 2013 from Tasmania (£13.99) for its lively, cherry and strawberry fruit with a clean, fresh finish. Tasmania has been making tremendous strides forward in recent years, and its naturally cool climate is perfect for quality grape-growing and winemaking.
From Spain comes the big, black cherry and blackberry fruit of Artadi Laderas El Sequé 2013 (£9.99). Made from Monastrell, the Spanish name for Mourvèdre, it comes from Alicante which is hardly one of the famous regions of Spain. But with the name of top Rioja producer Artadi behind it, the wine comes with all the credibility it needs. Chunky, with balsamic savoury notes backing the fruit, this is a wine to team with the first of the autumn casseroles.
Other notable wines in the Booths range include Paul Cluver’s sensational, spice and Turkish delight scented Gewürztraminer 2012 (£11.99) with a clean, fresh, persistent finish. Pour this alongside a lightly spiced prawn curry. Also when the occasion demands a red wine with structure, age and complex elegance, head to La Rioja Alta’s Gran Reserva 904, 2004 (£35.99). Produced by one of the grand names of Rioja, this is old-style Rioja with silky, mellow fruit and soft structuring tannins. Roast lamb is an essential accompaniment.