26 March 2014

Wine testing and tasting : Gallo Family Vineyards' Summer Red

A few days ago, I was asked whether I would be interested in reviewing some of the Gallo Family Vineyards' wine.  Now, I had to come clean and say that I have worked with them in the past - particularly with regard to their utterly fantastic (to my taste) Moscato.  I absolutely adore that wine and it is right up there with Asti Spumante as my favourite.

From which, you will gather that I am no wine buff.

In fact, I am not one of these white wine quaffing, metro, London kinda gals.  I'm much more of a cup of tea, some orange squash or a gin & tonic if I'm pushed, kinda gal.  The sheer fact that I have come to like Moscato quite so much is a complete revelation, to me as much as anyone.

As such, I hadn't shown much interest in the Summer Red.  Well, it was red for a start - and there's only one red wine I've ever had an interest in, which I won't go into here for fear of taking the gilt off of the Summer Red's gingerbread.  Because it does deserve to have its gingerbread gilded.

Now all you wine buffs out there can just leave now, before you start snorting down your noses and saying things about "blended" and "too sweet" and "girly drink".  I just don't care about all that.  In the Summer Red, I have discovered a red wine that I can drink - not in quantity, I can't drink anything alcoholic in quantity - and enjoy.  It doesn't make my toes curl with its tannins and dryness, it doesn't make my face transmogrify into a prune at its sourness.  Yes, it is incredibly sweet, but I like that.  It's very much after the fashion of a dessert wine - and if I want to lengthen the drink by adding soda water, or lemonade, I don't feel as though I'm committing a crime by doing so.

The real joy of this wine, though, is its flexibility.  Let me introduce you to "Summer Red jelly with Cherries".  Oh yes.

Now you know me.  I'll always try to get the most I can out of everything that comes my way - and a bottle of wine is no different.  I didn't want to just neck the whole bottle - which would have been lovely, but not exactly putting the stuff fully to the test - so I had been pondering on how to use it.  To my way of thinking, it is far too sweet to use in a savoury dish.  So I decided to re-create a dessert I used to buy from Marks & Spencers, some 20 years ago - which was a little pot of raspberry jelly with a disc of cake, a few raspberries and a blob of cream.  Sounds plain, but it was really lovely.

What if I were to make the jelly with the Summer Red?  A red wine jelly.  Mmmn .. now you're talking.  The disc of cake would be easily provided from a plain sponge cake that has some robustness to it - a Madeira would be ideal.  Should I go with the raspberries, or would another fruit be better suited to the flavour characters of the wine?  The flavour profile given on their website is "With a ripe and juicy taste, this wine has delicious flavours of raspberry, pomegranate, and cherry."  They're not wrong either, but the one that caught my attention was the cherry, which to me was very "up there" on the palate.  Black cherries - oh yes, mhhmmn.  :: nods ::  That's definitely the one - and I know a local supermarket that sells packets of frozen unsweetened black cherries.  Perfect.

Now right up until the moment of putting the dessert together, I hadn't quite formulated in my mind what I was going to do about making up the quantities for the jelly.  I knew I had 500ml of wine left - which I was using sheet gelatine with - however 500ml of wine wasn't going to go around 3 people as a jelly.  I needed to be closer to 1 litre.  So, do I use apple juice (which might be too sweet) or just water (which might be too bland and wash some flavour away) or some other flavour jelly?  For all that I'd seen cherry flavour jellies in the shops, it was a long old shot that we'd find one - and I didn't want to introduce raspberry (which I'd been trying to get away from), or strawberry into the mix.

For your information!
By some divine flash of intervention, when hubby was mooching around the supermarket, he spied - on the World Food aisle - a sachet of black cherry jelly crystals.  Now, bearing in mind that he doesn't speak Polish (well, apart from one word - "paczek" - meaning "doughnut".  Very important that!), he did well to recognise what it was he was looking at!  He brought it home and we were all set.  (Hahaha!  See what I did there?).

So, crossing my fingers that all would be well, I poured the wine into my measuring jug (500ml, as I'd thought) and topped it up with water, to a litre.  Into a saucepan that went, to be heated to simmering point so as to lose a little of the alcohol and be warm enough to dissolve the gelatine and crystals.  In went the soaked gelatine sheets, which behaved beautifully and dissolved neatly, then the cherry jelly crystals - cross your fingers - which also dissolved beautifully.  *phew*

From there, it was a simple matter of cutting out the cake discs and weighing them down with a large spoonful of defrosted unsweetened cherries.  I used unsweetened owing to the degree of sugar that is apparent in the wine.  I was after a "grown up" jelly here, not one for children's parties.  Pour on sufficient jelly to cover the cake and fill the glass dish, after which it is a bit of a steady carrying job (which it would seem I can't do, so I had a number of goes at it, involving replacing the cherries and cursing the cake disk soundly) to get it into the fridge to set.

Once set, it is an incredibly easy job to just add a small amount of creme fraiche, then more cherries and grate some dark chocolate over the top.

The "cook's notes" I have for you are to aim to buy one of the bar shaped Madeira cakes, rather than a round, complete cake.  The bar sized/shaped ones are just perfect for cutting out the right sized disc without too much waste.  Of course, if you have an obliging teenager, you won't have cake waste for long.  Another tip is to resist buying a cherry Madeira, as there is quite enough sugar in the dessert without adding another sugary dimension with candied cherries.

The chocolate that I used was a fancy schmancy one - dark chocolate with cherries and chilli - but there really is no need to go beyond just a plain dark chocolate.  All that is required is the flavour of the dark chocolate - and there is such a small amount used, that additional flavours tend to get lost.

These jellies are far better made in individual glasses, rather than a big bowl.  I did both - for research's sake - and here's the result of the big bowl ...

.... not good.  In an individual glass dish, you are far more able to weigh the cake discs down with cherries, which prevents them from floating to the top and getting right in the way.

Oooh, I've just had a thought!  This dessert would be truly mind blowing, if you were to use fresh Picota cherries when they're in season!

So how did it eat?

Oh my word.  It was one of those desserts that you take your first taste of and look out of the corner of your eye at your companions, then nod gravely up and down, whilst groaning an appreciative "mmmmmnnnnnn....".  Yup.  It was THAT good.

I asked my son whether he could taste the wine.  He gave me a withering look and said "oh yes, I think so!", by which I take it to mean that my ambition of creating a grown up jelly were realised.

Would I buy the Summer Red again?  Oh yes.  I'd buy two - one to drink and one to make jelly with.  *grin*


Ingredients :

500ml Gallo Family Vineyards Summer red wine
500ml cold water
5 sheets of gelatine
1 sachet (or sufficient for 500ml) cherry jelly crystals
480g defrosted black cherries, juice retained
1 Madeira cake, cut into 1cm thick slices
2-3 squares of dark chocolate, for decoration.

Method :

1.  Pour the wine and water into a saucepan and set over a low heat to simmer for 5-10 minutes.

2.  While the wine mixture is heating, place the gelatine sheets into some cold water to soften.

3.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the soaked gelatine sheets, stirring well to encourage them to dissolve.

4.  Once you are sure the sheets have dissolved, add the jelly crystals and stir again until they have dissolved.  At this stage, you can include any juice that has come with the cherries.  It is worth giving the pack a slight squeeze (without squishing the fruit) just to encourage the juice.

5.  Place to one side to cool slightly, whilst you cut out your cake discs.  Try to size the disc to fit whatever individual receptacle you are using.  My discs were approximately 2" and I used a scone cutter.

6.  Place a disc of cake into each individual bowl and add a generous spoonful of cherries, to weigh it down.

7.  Pour on a couple of tablespoonfuls of jelly, just enough to soak the cake through, which will also prevent it floating to the top.

8.  Continue to fill the bowl to your own personal preference, leaving room for the decorative cherries etc.

9.  Place into the fridge to set.

10.  Once set, add a teaspoonful of creme fraiche, some more cherries and a grating of dark chocolate.

You might also like to serve some additional creme fraiche alongside, for extra creamage!

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