Fish on Friday …and an unusual visitor from Germany.

Did anyone else get brought up ( dragged if you ask my Mum!) in a house where it tended to be fish for dinner on a Friday? It’s a Catholic thing and still a rule of the Vatican today that remains in force. Well , whatever the origin, it resulted in our family ( not Catholic but Catholic educated, long story ) becoming a very reliable customer for Birdseye ‘boil in the bag’ Cod in butter sauce. Not sure if they still sell it but this was basically a diminutive piece of fish in sauce that had been laminated in plastic that you could just drop in boiling water ( Must have been the pre microwave era? ) I seem to recall there was one in parsley sauce but I think there is a law against such things now, thank goodness. It really wasn’t that bad, remarkable really, but the real star of Mums ‘repertoire de poissons’ was her Fish Pie.

This dish has now become a regular in our household with it’s perfect combination of Cod , Smoked Haddock, Salmon and Prawns in a creamy bechamel topped with smooth mashed potato ( even better with some sautéed leeks mixed into the mash! ) It goes down a treat with our two hungry teenagers. It has also played an important role in my exploration of white wines as, faced with a partner who is not keen on white, it provides an unassailable excuse to open a bottle.

Now if you ask me ‘what is the best white wine to partner with fish?’ i will nearly always suggest a good Chablis ( especially with white fish ) It’s gorgeous stony minerality and green apple flavours just seem to marry so well. I enjoyed a very good one a couple of weeks ago from Virgin Wines , ‘Louis Moreau’ Chablis. For a ‘basic’ Chablis this had lovely weight and mouthfeel to go with the characteristic Chablis flavours and aromas. Good value at £14.

But tonight was about a venture into the unknown and paired with tonight’s fish pie is a German ‘Elbling’ from Waitrose. I’d never heard of the variety and at £7 thought it a low risk experiment.

Elbling is primarily grown in the Mosel and in the ‘upstream’ parts where the river is called ‘Moselle’. Apparently , from medieval times to the 20th century, the variety was Germany’s most cultivated with a very long history. There is speculation that the variety was already growing along the Mosel in Roman times and may be identical to a variety ‘vitis alba’ that some bloke called ‘Pliny the elder’ makes mention of ( funny how ‘Pliny’ doesn’t seem to appear on lists of popular baby boy names? Maybe the family insisted on it , poor blighter. Something like ‘Xavier’ might have been better? ) The variety fell into terminal decline in the early part of the 20th century largely because winemakers started to focus on more marketable varieties.

Elbling has some advantages and interesting features. It’s a hardy variety that can ripen where most other varieties wouldn’t. It ripens earlier and can be harvested in September/October but get this for a unique feature, white and pink grapes grow on the same vine! Harvested separately this allows production of both white and rose wines.

Elbling tends to produce musts that are low in sugar ( explains the low abv ) but with quite high acidity and, compared to other white varieties a neutral flavour profile. Given these characteristics it makes it perfect for making sparkling wine and much of what is still cultivated is used in Sekt ( German sparkling wine ) Which fits overall with my experience of tasting it.

Pale lemon in colour and aromatic on the nose. Quite pronounced notes of Lime over a base of Green Apple and Lemon all contained in a haze of white blossom. The wine then loses impact on the palate being a bit thin but I liked the fresh and zingy acidity.

Overall, and bearing in mind this was only £7!, I thought this wasn’t bad. It reminded me a little bit of a Picpoul de Pinet but with less acidity and maybe, just maybe, there was some Riesling like character hovering ethereal like in the background?

At a modest 11% abv this provided a light and very good match to the fish pie. Give it a whirl if you see it and taste a bit of history that may yet make a comeback! 7/10.

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