During my time as a wine importer I have visited scores, if not hundreds of wineries around the world. I have shivered in dank subterranean cellars long before the first espresso of the morning and baked in arid vineyards at midday. I have stared with feigned interest at endless stainless steel tanks, clambered over expensive French oak barrels, walked kilometres of regimented vines and tasted literally thousands of wines. This and more, undertaken in the diligent pursuit of that capricious profession called the wine trade. Winemakers of any stripe and on any continent, can be fascinating scoundrels, high-end businessmen, amiable fools or optimistic farmers; the one thing they all share is a tradition of abiding generosity.

Nevertheless a day can consist of half a dozen wineries, many overseen by Panglossian oenologists whose assessment of their own wines, or indeed their region’s food, can sometimes eclipse the reality of the moment. Like regional cooking not all local winemaking is sound – although both are readily dispensed.

But if you are lucky, the wines you taste can be ambrosial. And if you’re very lucky, the food on offer can transcend the everyday. When the food is unknown, unusual and/or just plain delicious, I tend to search out fitting recipes in order to rehearse the dishes back in my own kitchen. My travels have clearly made me unhealthily obsessive when it comes to traditional, rural cuisine, although some dishes remain beyond replication. Stair-rod, whole smoked eels from the Danube served in an Austrian heurigen whilst tasting Grüner Veltliner, freshly hunted wild boar shoats roasted over vine clippings in the searing heat that pervades Don Quixote’s La Mancha plateau and refreshed by the local Cencibel, steamed pigs snouts (memorable but not a favourite) in green tomato broth consumed with crackling dry Vinho Verde in the cloisters of a monastery in Portugal, or the scooped out wriggling coral of a freshly caught sea urchin served with pitchers of chilled Picpoul de Pinet, are amongst the very few dishes that haven’t made it onto the supper table in Norfolk.

But for the many that have, I am grateful to all those winemakers for their gastronomic revelations. In an increasingly globalised world, local dishes, like local wines, must be held dear as they carry with them a singular taste of place, time and culture. Sometimes the desire for supper can serve a higher purpose.

One dish, so simple it hardly bears documenting, was delicious and appropriate in equal measure. We were at a small winery in Tuscany, it was the end of a busy day tasting a tsunami of varying Chiantis and a few imperious Brunello di Montalcinos. We were pleased that it was our final stop. Even though it was brisk and cool the bright sun still shone and we could see rows of vines beneath which lay a carpet of straw mats covered with the day’s harvest of Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes. Bunches were drying in the warm sunlight so that a little of their water may evaporate and the concentration of natural sugars can begin. Moved indoors shortly afterwards, the grapes are then hung for a few months. Only when they resemble raisins, are they made into wine. This is followed by years in small casks, which are left exposed to a range of climatic conditions in open barns before the final bottling. Technology was a word that appeared to escape these farmers – the work was truly ‘elemental’. And it was this enigmatic wine that we were due to taste – Vin Santo (the wine of saints). We made our way through a knee-high forest of insouciant chickens to what might be regarded as an amusing garden shed were it sited on an English allotment. This was the tasting room. The wines, exciting and delicious in equal measure, I shall describe elsewhere. When we sat for our supper that day in the shed I realised I had unwittingly traipsed across its constituent parts. A recipe I came across upon my return, tells you why.

From Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy (2014) Chicken with Grapes and Sweet Wine Pollo con Uva e Vino Dulce

50g butter
4 tbsp olive oil
2 sprigs of rosemary
4 chicken quarters
Salt and pepper
2-4 whole garlic cloves
150 ml Vin Santo
500g seedless white grapes, washed and dried

Heat the butter with 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan or casserole large enough to hold the chicken pieces in one layer
When the butter has melted put in the rosemary and the chicken pieces
Cook over medium heat until lightly browned all over, turning the pieces once and adding salt and pepper
Put in the garlic cloves and let them colour slightly. Then pour in the wine and a little salt
Simmer, covered, until the chicken is tender, turning the pieces at least once
Take the breasts out when they are done, in about 15 minutes, and leave the legs to cook for another 10-15 minutes
Cook uncovered towards the end to reduce the sauce, and taste for seasoning
At the same time, in another frying pan, heat the remaining oil and put in the grapes
Cook over a low heat for about 10-20 minutes turning them occasionally
Pour them over the chicken pieces and heat through together

Wine thoughts

On that particular evening, we were advised by our hosts that Italians are more likely to drink red wine with their chicken rather than white…as if we would argue. Out came some of their own selection of Chiantis, but these were bottle aged Chianti Classico Reservas. Proper bottles to boot, not the ersatz, swollen flasks cloaked in mock raffia that hung from the ceiling of almost every Italian restaurant in the eighties. Like the cuisine, the wines offered a more rustic elegance than complexity, but with attractive aromas of fresh picked cherries coupled with dry savoury flavours on the palate. A definite briskness to the soft tannins with a welcome cut of acidity, which offered a refreshing finish to the rich sweetness of the dish.

On the other hand, if you’ve recently inherited, you may like to push the boat out with a bottle of Brunello di Montelcino from the Biondi-Santi family – but don’t forget to call me if you’re buying the crate, I’m often free.