City of the Pomegranate

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I’ve just spent a week in Granada, my first visit to that beautiful Spanish city, crowned by one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever visited, the Alhambra complex. Of course, Granada is so much more than just the Alhambra and alongside the monuments to the city’s Moorish and Sephardic past, there’s a thriving food and drink culture. Everyone has been asking me about the Sherry. Jerez was not such a tempting drive in temperatures reaching the upper thirties in the day time and rarely dipping below twenty-seven at night. I drank just one glass of Fino, it turned out to be Tio Pepe, in a tapas bar. In those temperatures a tube of beer was welcome for its volume (a couple of local beers proved tasty, Alhambra, and the darker craft beer, Sacromonte). But Andalucia does have a thriving wine industry, quite small scale, and with a focus on natural wines too. Vinos auténticos!

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If you ask someone who is already interested in Andalucian natural wines for the name of a wine producer, the chances are you will get Barranco Oscuro. Manuel Valenzuela arrived in the Sierra de la Contraviesa, in the Alpujarras range, in 1979. It claims to be the highest viticultural regional in Europe. The land here had never been worked with chemicals and after a time Manuel began to undertake a wholly non-interventionist approach to making wine, even leaving fermentation to its own devices. He farms 12 hectares and from them produces a vast number of cuvées (I know of twenty), but as his labels state, “European legislation prohibits us from informing you about the origin of the grapes or the vintage of this wine. Ask the person who sold you this bottle“. We’re talking the equivalent of Vin de Table or Vino de Mesa.

This first wine from Barranco Oscuro shows the unique nature of Manuel’s production. You’d be disappointed if you expected them all to be made from obscure local varieties. It’s true that he did revive the use of the Vigiriega grape, but in pioneering red winemaking in the Alpujarras, he’s planted many French varieties, and some of the more ubiquitous Spanish ones too. This bottle takes it from the top. El Pino Rojo is Pinot Noir, but it has 16.5% alcohol. He may be high in the Sierra de la Contraviesa (over 1,350 metres for the highest vines), but as I can attest, it gets pretty hot in summer. The landscape of schist with some clay is dry and quite barren. The key to this wine is to cool it a little. At least this is what I did, drinking it in early evening temperatures in the mid-30s centigrade. It took the edge off the alcohol and made it surprisingly refreshing. Delicious!

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The advantage of travelling with three vegans (there’s a thriving vegan food scene in Granada) is that the vegan restaurants seem to sell a lot of natural wines. Paprika, on the edge of the old Albayzin district , combines quite inventive dishes with a small but well formed wine selection, and it’s a minute away from the well known deli-wine shop, Al Sur de Granada, another good source for local wines. It was at Paprika that I drank perhaps my wine of the week, Purulio Blanco Joven from Bodega Torcuato Huertas. It’s said that Manuel Valenzuela kickstarted the revival of Alpujarras winemaking, and it’s true that so many people have indeed benefited from his help and experience. Torcuato Huertas is one of them, although he has been immersed in wine since childhood, having helped foot-tread his grandfather’s grapes.

Again, the stereotype is broken – old guy making non-intervention natural wines, yet he introduced French grape varieties (Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc), and new oak barriques. The vineyards here are located on the northern side of the Sierra Nevada, near to Guadix. They are also at altitude, around 1,000 metres, but rather than the schist in the southern valleys, there’s more sand and alluvial deposits with Mica, quartz, basalt and iron. The wines are taut, saline and fresh, hard not to call “mineral”. The blanco joven is made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Macabeo and Palomino, plus minor additions…and it’s orange. It starts off with a fragrance of ripe apricot before the palate kicks in as I described above. Its 13% alcohol doesn’t really make itself noticed. It’s quite sublime, a complexity wholly different to that you expect from a more classic wine. Maybe that’s why I loved it. To the dubious reader, not a whiff of any cider-like volatility.

Barranco Oscuro quite fittingly gets a second wine in the “holiday top-4”. This time it’s a red blend based on Tempranillo, Garnacha, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – Tempranillo y Màs. It’s a  tinto crianza  which tastes quite seamless as a blend, although I did seem to get a hint of each of those varieties as I drank through it (maybe I was just fooling myself). It’s a lovely, rich wine, full bodied with a long dark-fruited finish. It’s also one of their wines I’d never come across before, so I was all the more pleased to see it in a couple of places in Granada. Barranco Oscuro is a gem of the Alpujarras and it’s good to hear that Manuel’s son, Lorenzo, is working at the winery. Hopefully the succession here is secure.

I was very pleased to find Bodegas Cauzon‘s Blanco 2015 on the shelves at Al Sur de Granada. I first met Ramon Saavedra at the Raw Wine popup at the London Edition Hotel back in May this year, and then again, a few days later, at the Raw Wine Fair in East London. We had to communicate in his little French and my even less competent Spanish, but he was very friendly. So much so that I was sorry to get as far as Granada and be unable to take up the invitation to drive up to Cortes y Graena, again high up in the Northern Sierra Nevada. Ramon has just 2.5 hectares of vines. Most of these produce red wine from Syrah, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a few local rarities, but the blanco is made from a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Torrontés. It’s the colour of pale apple juice, cloudy and, being unfiltered, it has some pretty large clumps of yeasty sediment. With its clear glass bottle and clear label, it looks a bit like one of those pét-nats you can drink clear or cloudy depending on how you store them. Scary to look at, it’s actually 12.5% of refreshing white(ish) wine with a mineral/stone fruit palate. Easy to drink with a view towards the Alhambra, come 6pm on a hot August afternoon.

The delicatessen/wine shop Al Sur de Granada is at the top end of the Calle  de Elvira (No 150), on the right just before you get to the Moorish Arch. In fact it’s much more than a deli, being at various times of the day an organic wine bar and restaurant, with a good selection of locally grown produce. Open, in theory, 10am-4pm and 6-11.30pm (I think they might shut at 3.30 and not the advertised 4pm in summer). The name, meaning South from Granada, references a book (pub 1957, since 2003 also a film by Fernando Colomo) by that famous historian of Spain, Gerald Brenan. The book is autobiographical and charts his complicated life as a demobilized soldier in the years after 1919, in a village in the Alpujarras.

Before visiting Granada I read Granada – The Light of Andalucia by Steven Nightingale (Nicholas Brealey, 2015). It combines a history of Granada with a captivating description of an American family’s move to the Albayzin district just over a decade ago. Nightingale is a poet and novelist, and he uses a poet’s sensibilities to appraise the rise and decline of Moorish and Sephardic culture in this great city, and the impact of the conquest by the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. I loved this book, and plan to read it again now I’ve been there. By coincidence, we discovered that the carmen Nightingale bought and renovated was only metres from where we were staying. [Note slightly different title for US market]

We stayed in the Albayzin district in an apartment found on airbnb. Here’s a link  . The view of the Alhambra at the beginning and end of this article was taken from the long living room, a constant companion for the week, and possibly the best view I recall having from a holiday rental. The Albayzin is effectively a village within a city, a series of tiny lanes, many a mere metre wide, snaking across a hill. It contains many churches, hidden Moorish architecture, small museums, and the beautiful houses known as carmens with their hidden gardens, oases of calm in the summer heat.

Other recommended (but smaller) sites to see include the Madraza de Granada (side of Cathedral, 2€, do not miss), the arab-era bathhouse on the Carrera del Darro and the Corral de Carbon (a Nasrid-era corn exchange). The Alhambra itself is magical. The complex contains the famous Nasrid Palaces, the Alcazaba fortress and the Generalife (where the famous water gardens are located). Ticketing is complicated so consult an up-to-date guidebook. Buy tickets online, in advance – you still have to collect tickets before entry and timings are reasonably strict. But remember, parts of the complex are free, including a small but worthwhile museum in the Palacio de Carlos V. We went up there three times.

If you are in Granada with a car, try to visit the white villages of the Alpujarras, some of the most beautiful in Spain. We lunched at L’Atelier restaurant in Mecina, in the Taha Valley, about 20 minutes east of Pampaniera (via Lanjaron). It’s a tiny place so booking is advised (they have a few rooms). Don’t be put off by it being vegetarian/vegan, the cooking is inventive and good. There is nice easy walking from the next hamlet, Fondales, with its flat-roofed Berber-style houses. Follow the trail signs in the village.

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Oddities (12 August 2016)

We were back at Rochelle Canteen on Arnold Circus, Shoreditch, on Friday for our fourth of six Oddities lunches this year. There was no theme this time, everyone bringing a wide range of wines, which (miraculously, as always seems to be the case) were a delight to taste. Maybe the majority of the wines were not quite as obscure as we sometimes get, but there were some real treats. As always, the food was brilliant, little short of perfect, and it deserves more than a footnote – so here are some food pics before we launch into the liquid refreshment. A sardine starter, deep fried rabbit with aioli, and (for my sweet tooth) berries and meringue to finish.

 

Priorat Blanco “Pedra de Guix” 2012, Terroir Al Limit Some of us wondered whether this was a Chardonnay on the nose. It’s actually Macabeo/Grenache Blanc and Pedro Ximenez, a wine once made by Eben Sadie, along with his partner Dominik Hubre in Catalonia’s mountains. Sadie is no longer involved, of course, but Hubre fashions wines with as much class as we have come to expect from that great winemaker (as you’d expect for a wine in the £40-50 bracket). Beautifully balanced with 13% alcohol, fruit aplenty, but with a savoury quality too. It was the White of the Day for many of us, and up there as one of the wines of the lunch. Very impressive indeed, especially with a few years in bottle.

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Caiati 2014, Michèle Alois Quite a few of us were sniffing around Southern Italy with this wine, but my guess of Sicilian Catarratto was off the mark. It’s a Campanian Pallagrello Bianco! Two decades ago there was a regional project to rediscover Campania’s pre-phylloxera grape varieties, and Alois is cultivating several of them, including this. The wine has a deeper colour than many Italian whites, and is quite fruity. A genuine rarity but, on this evidence, well worth the effort.

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“Smiley”  V2 Chenin Blanc NV, Swartland, Avant Garde Wines Quite an enigma. I’m not sure we arrived at Chenin very quickly. In fact, I thought the nose quite Sauvignon Blanc-like, though not the palate. It’s actually the second wine of Silwervis. It is 70% tank fermented and 30% in a concrete egg, whole bunches and minimal sulphur. A fun natural wine, a little funky but nothing to worry anyone but the die-hard conservatives, and extremely refreshing. The sheep’s head on the label? Silwervis is supposed to be Afrikaans slang for the meat left on a sheep’s head, a delicacy.

 

Rosé des Riceys “En Barmont” 2006, Olivier Horiot Many readers will know Horiot through his Champagnes, or even via his Coteaux Champenois red, but the pink wine made in the villages which form Les Riceys, on the Aube/Yonne border, is almost unknown outside of France. I first discovered it when we visited friends honeymooning near there in the mid-1980s. I kind of fell for a hauntingly perfumed rosé, yet this single vineyard cuvée was more of a light red, perhaps reminiscent of old Burgundy, though at just a decade it’s not old by Cote d’Or standards. Having written about this, albeit briefly, in my blog post on pink wines a few days before the lunch, I was slightly crestfallen that no one guessed what it was. Never mind, it went down well enough. It was good, if not quite as hauntingly perfumed and cold tea-like as some bottles can be. As you will see from the back label, Horiot suggests this will age five to fifteen years, and unusually for a rosé, it does have this reputation for improving over time like a fine red.

 

Sumoll “1954” Orange de Noirs 2014, Costador The “1954” here refers to the year these Sumoll vines were planted at 650 metres on clay and limestone in Penedès’s mountainous terrain. Fermented on skins in amphora, this orange wine from red grapes is then aged 8 months in French oak. We’ve had a few bottles of Sumoll’s more usual red iteration at Oddities before, but this is complex, and stunningly good. Another of my wines of the day.

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“Pét-Nat James” Vin de Table [2015], Ormiale, Bordeaux I managed to guess this wine, though I’ve never tried it. As soon as I caught a whiff of what I took to be Merlot I knew I’d read only days before (in The Sampler’s Newsletter) that this was was (potentially) the first pétillant naturel from Bordeaux. It’s a bottle fermented blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. Simple berry fruits and a texture that’s more mouthfeel than tannin, if you know what I mean. Something savoury, a food wine with a touch of freshness (the Petit Verdot, one presumes). Jamie Hutchinson recommends serving it at cellar, rather than fridge, temperature (we had it slightly cooler). I was thrilled to try it – it’s good, but if I’m truthful, there are some very good petillant naturels out there for half the UK retail price (£33). But still, fizzy red from Burgundy I’ve had aplenty, never before from Bordeaux. This is just what the region needs to bring in younger drinkers, fun wines and a touch of innovation.

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Riflesso Rosi, Vallagarina IGT 2014,  Eugenio Rosi This is called a rosato on the label, but it’s more like a light red. We had no idea of the grape variety, I was floundering in Switzerland. But in fact it’s Cabernet Sauvignon, albeit macerated for an unusually curtailed two days. The must is then added to the pomace of Nosiola grapes (to fix the colour, apparently). It has the colour and scent of pomegranate with cherry on the palate. A little perfume on the end also suggested to me a grape like Rondo. A very attractive light red, though more fascinating than high scoring in a traditional sense. But if you ever find it, at a retail price of around €11-12 in Italy, you must try it.

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La Pépiè 2015, Vin de Pays du Val de Loire, Domaine de la Pépière I’ve drunk what one would unofficially call sparkling Muscadet a few times, and very nice it was too. This is, again unofficially of course, red Muscadet from an estate well known for those under rated wines from the Melon grape. This cuvée is made from Cot, the regional synonym for Malbec, and one of three reds made on the estate. It does have that very deep colour, but thankfully not nearly the alcohol increasingly found in South American Malbec (just 11.7%). Consequently the wine is very refreshing and, grown on granite, it does have that liveliness you’d look for in a Beaujolais-Villages. This domaine makes biodynamic wines in the village of Maisdon-sur-Sèvre. Seek them out. This was tasty!

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Slarina 2014, Cascina Tavijn This extremely rare and indigenous Piemontese grape is grown by Nadia Verrua on a 5 hectare plot in the Monferrato hills, near Asti. The soil is sandy and the wine is light and pleasantly perfumed. Made naturally and fermented in a variety of vessels, as with the wine above, this is far removed from a “competition wine”, but all the better for it. A lovely example of a little hidden gem of a grape variety which I’d not even heard of before I tried this. Piemonte seems to be throwing up so many of these almost lost autochthonous varieties, and every one I try has something good to offer. Tutto Wines, who sell this, describe it as a love child of Barbera and Ruchè, and that is a reasonably apt description if you know those two grape varieties. Tutto stock several wines from this estate, and I must say that they all look worth following up.

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Carignan Reserva “Vinedo Silvestre” 2012, Villalobos, Colchagua Valley This is a reasonably well known example of “the new Carignan” which is rightly finding favour in Chile. It’s berry scented with a little crunchy fruit and, at 12% alcohol, provides excellent quaffing. The vines, many around 60 years of age, are left wild with no pruning (like Meinklang’s Graupert vineyards, which I’ve written about in previous posts). This means they grow into large bushes, or up trees, but they seem to find a natural balance and don’t over-crop. One attendee has tasted this wine several times and said that in its youth it’s much more punchy. One or two people down at my end of the table suggested it might have been a touch corked.

 

 

Tinto Joven, Bodegas Insulares, Tacoronte Acentejo DO, Tenerife We are very familiar these days with the wines of Tenerife via the renowned producers Suertes del Marques and Envinate. But the island has plenty more estates and this one is completely new to me. This young wine is mainly (95%) Listan Negro, the main red variety on Tenerife, here accompanied by 5% Negramoll. It’s cherry red with red fruits and violets, finishing dry and with a little structure you might not expect from the nose. I’m not sure whether this was NV or I just missed the vintage. A good reminder that Tenerife has a lot more to discover.

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Domaine Tempier Cuvée Spéciale 1993, Bandol Well, for me I must admit my worst guess of the day, tasting this blind. It was certainly not a Portuguese red from Alentejo, and that guess was especially bad considering how well I know Tempier’s wines. This is well aged Mourvèdre, very complex. On my first few sips I awarded this my “red wine of the day”, with the caveat that it was beginning to fade on my second small pour. But in the moment, sublime. It was clearly a classic wine, more structured than any which preceded it, and also clearly a wine of considerable class.

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Watervale Nero d’Avola 2013, Mount Horrocks, Clare Valley Our resident Italian  expert, Mark Priestley, threw us a curved ball here, an Australian Nero d’Avola. Australian producers are realising that climate change is making some Italian varieties more of a sensible option, as it gets warmer and drier throughout the country. Yet I didn’t know Stephanie Toole made a version of this Sicilian grape variety, albeit in tiny quantities (around 200 cases). There’s a lovely refreshing quality to this wine, with lifted strawberry fruit on the nose and cherry fruit on the palate – more in tune with, say, a Cerasuolo than the more jammy Nero d’Avolas you can find on the island. A wine to drink cellar cool. James Halliday gave this 95 points, and although you know I don’t like scoring wine, that was well deserved.

 

Passopisciaro 2006, Sicilia IGT A magnum, no less, of a very fine example of why Sicily’s Etna region deserves to be rated alongside Italy’s other top DOCGs – although this majestic Nerello Mascalese is an IGT, not DOC. This is one of the first Etna estates I got to know, along with Terre Nere. I’ve had both the 2005 and 2008 recently, and along with this 2006, all three showed signs they would age well (the bottle of 2008 I took to a previous Oddities was perhaps the most forward of them all). Like great Burgundy, this is crying out for game, or Goose even. This was magnificent. Not one of our official wines for the lunch, but opened afterwards in an act of great generosity, I’ve not included it in the wines of the day below, but it got my Coup de Coeur.

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In Olympics mode, the medals are as follows:

Gold – Terroir al Limit’s Blanco. This producer makes great reds, although they are sometimes too alcoholic for me to drink with abandon, and too often. This white really won the day, for me.

Silver – Goes to the Tempier Bandol. As I said above, it did start to fade, but in the moment it showed another French AOC which is too often overlooked when seeking greatness. Few can match Tempier.

Bronze – Pretty apt for an orange wine to get this, considering its colour. Costador’s Sumoll “1954” is, sadly, a wine I can’t just go and buy in London. If I could, I would. I’d love to enjoy a whole bottle.

Man of the Day – (well, there were no ladies present this time) must be Mark Priestley. Having brought two wines anyway, he generously pulled the cork on that expensive magnum of Passopisciaro, which really turned out to be the perfect end to yet another enjoyable Oddities lunch. Thanks, Mark.

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Pink, The New White?

It wasn’t that many years ago that rosé wine was beyond the pale for many wine drinkers, and it wasn’t just because what was then a much more male dominated wine trade thought it feminine. Pink wine was often an afterthought for producers, a way of getting rid of excess red grapes, whilst perhaps concentrating their red wines via a bit of saignée (bleeding off the red vats). Of course, rosé was, and still is, all the rage on the Cote d’Azur, where much of the produce of Provence gets guzzled during those long French summer holidays. Tavel, as a pink only AOC, once had a certain cachet, but otherwise much pink wine was over sulphured, over sugared, or both, and was destined for the less sophisticated end of the market.

Yet slowly, whether or not through climate change, or just someone realising that there was a whole wine style to be tapped, “pink”seems to have improved and is now firmly in fashion. I don’t mean the craze for “white Zinfandel” (sic), still favoured by the larger Californian producers, but good quality wines offering and alternative to whites and reds. Rosé comes in a variety of styles, from just an onion skin tinge of colour to something approaching pale red, and it hails from nearly any grape variety you’d care to think of (and a great many you probably hadn’t).

Decanter Magazine has produced a tasting feature on “the top 50 rosés” for this current month, so I thought it might be fun to elaborate on a few of my own favourites. Needless to say, there are a good few which didn’t feature in their selection.

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A relaxing glass of pink Zweigelt in Spitz, on the Danube (see previous article)

The present fashion for rosé has focused on a few brands, so at least one element of rosé’s past has not changed. But the brands of today’s pink are at least individual producers, albeit with a good sprinkling of glamour and plenty of hectares at their disposal. It’s a list headed by the Whispering Angel range, from Provence’s Chateau, and Caves, D’Esclans, created by Sasha Lichine (whose father owned the Margaux Classed Growth, Prieuré-Lichine). The Chateau d’Esclans Garrus can be had for almost £100 in some of the more expensive retail outlets! Rock Angel is thankfully cheaper, a little above £20 if you are lucky.

Whispering Angel is closely followed by Chateau Miraval in its distinctive, squat, bottle, from the village of Correns. Miraval has 500 hectares under vine and is made by the Perrin family (of Chateuneuf-du-Pape royalty at Chateau de Beaucastel). Of course, it’s far better known as the wine of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie! These two producers seem to vie with each other for the title of “best rosé in the world”, whatever that means. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that the property was previously owned in the 1970s by French jazz star, Jacques Loussier, who installed a recording studio which has been used by artists as diverse as Sting, and Pink Floyd (tracks for The Wall were recorded there).

I wouldn’t wish to knock these wines, and I shall nail my colours to the mast here and say that I do enjoy pink wine. Probably more than many men. I find it a good choice with summer lunches, especially those taken outdoors. But I also enjoy seeking out some of the least well known styles, which can turn out to be the most interesting.

Provence is, of course, a good place to begin searching for a good pink. It’s not, on the whole, Cotes de Provence where I usually look, although I will be coming full circle when I reveal my “rosé of the year” towards the end of this piece. Usually I like to move to the smaller appellations, in particular Bandol and Cassis. Most of the top Bandol estates make a pink in their range, but Chateau de Pibarnon and Domaine Tempier are favourites. These tend to be wines structured for food, yet with lovely scents (often pomegranate to the fore). Just along the coast from Bandol, right by the towering cliffs of the Cap Canaille, is the Cassis estate of Clos Sainte Magdeleine. Not only is this wine a perfect accompaniment to a local fish soup or stew, these are also some of the most beautifully situated vineyards in France, poised quite literally right above the blue Med.

Further inland, near Aix-en-Provence, is another favourite pink wine, from Chateau Simone, in the tiny AOC of Palette. The Rougier family have been making wine here since 1830, but there’s been a monastic vineyard here since at least the 16th Century. The estate is planted with 17 different grape varieties (quiz fact – the most allowed in any French AOC), many being old Provençal varieties. The rosé is based on Grenache Noir, Mourvedre and Cinsault, is much darker than most of the other rosés of Provence (almost a red), and a wine not shy of ageing a few years.

Clos Sainte Magdeleine and Chateau Simone are not cheap (Simone is approaching £40 a bottle), nor are the Bandols. But those two wines are sold by Yapp Brothers, who are an excellent source for good value rosé in general, through their Loire-Rhone-Provence specialisation, and their forays further afield. Look for Gérard Cordier‘s Reuilly Pinot Gris (a very pale “oeil de perdrix” style), a good value Saint-Pourçain from the co-op in the upper reaches of the Loire region, La Canorgue‘s Luberon, and a couple of stunning value pinks from their Corsican offering, among many. Yapp’s usually do mixed case deals on pinks throughout the summer.

If you enjoy that Loire Pinot Gris, seek out some of the ramato style Pinot Grigios from Northeast Italy (copper-coloured, taking that colour from a light maceration of the pink skins of the Pinot Gris grapes). Foradori‘s is magical, though so far removed from ordinary Pinot Grigio in every way, and maybe not really a rosé in the strict sense?

Still in France, one grape which is often missed when thinking of pinks is Pinot Noir. When I started visiting Burgundy in the 1980s Marsannay was hardly known for red wines. Her thing was pink – Rosé de Marsannay. That has changed in recent years as the clamour for Cote d’Or red has elevated the quantity and quality of the Pinot Noir coming out of this northerly village, on the edge of Dijon. One wine which did feature in the Decanter Top-50 was Sylvain Pataille‘s “Fleur de Pinot” bottling. This young grower can do no wrong, and it’s a good address at which to try a pink from the Cote d’Or.

There’s another noted pink wine region, albeit pretty obscure, even further north, in that hinterland between Burgundy and Champagne, beyond the Cotes d’Auxerre. In the connected hamlets close to the regional border which make up Les Riceys you will find a pink wine almost never seen outside of France, Rosé des Riceys AOC. It’s a strange wine in some ways. It has a truly haunting quality with bottle age, which the best deserve, and on the palate there’s more than a hint of tea (Assam or English Breakfast, perhaps). The local producers usually make a little as a sideline to their Cote des Bar Champagne business, and the closest I’ve come to the flavour of this still pink is in Cédric Bouchard’s sublime rosé Champagne, Le Creux d’Enfer. My favourite Rosé des Riceys comes from another Champagne producer, Olivier Horiot. Horiot makes a number of single parcel rosés (and a red Riceys Rouge as a Coteaux Champenois as well) which show the nuance of terroir in such ethereal wines.

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En Valingrain – one of Olivier Horiot’s single site Riceys

When I said that some pinks are almost reds, that can work the other way around too. Alsace Pinot Noir used to be notoriously pale, and Jura’s Poulsard/Ploussard is naturally pale as well. This has led some producers to make a straight pink from it, either as a still wine, or as a pét-nat. In the former category, Patrice Hughes-Béguet shows what fun can be had with a variety until recently out of favour with all but a few wine geeks.

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Hughes-Béguet – Pulp Fraction, the lighter side of Ploussard

But not all the best pink wines come from France, by any means. One wine I was a little surprised to see in the Decanter selection was Gunter & Regina Triebaumer‘s Blaufränkisch from Rust, in Burgenland. Austria is not the first place you think of for rosé, but it’s a popular style locally. That said, it’s often pink Zweigelt that I’ll be found sipping on the banks of the Danube, though this Blaufränkisch is a very nice wine – fresh with hints of spice and floral notes, and worthy of its high score in the Decanter tasting. My absolute favourite Austrian pink comes from one of my favourite producers who are just a couple of kilometres from the Triebaumers. Gut Oggau‘s Winifred is made from a blend of biodynamically farmed Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt and, if I had to select just one adjective to describe it, that would be “alive”.

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Gut Oggau – one of the younger generation

There are two world class pinks which wine obsessives will always try to have in the cellar. Lopez de Heredia is possibly Spain’s most traditional wine producer. Renowned for their red Riojas, capable of ageing for decades if not half centuries or more, slowly evolving, they also make majestic whites and Rosado at all levels. The Tondonia Gran Reserva is more of an amber/onion skin colour than pink, going tawny with great age. It’s a food wine of great complexity, more serious than our usual perception of a pink.

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Tondonia Rosado – not Gran Reserva but still pretty special

If you don’t have one of those to hand, perhaps you have a pink Musar? Again, Lebanon’s famous Chateau Musar is known primarily for her reds, yet makes beguiling white and pink wine as well. Unlike your typical Provençal pink, this is a wine to serve just cellar cool, not chilled, and allow it time to breath (or carafe it). Look for scents and flavours of peach and oranges.

There’s been no mention of any so-called New World wines here. Of course, they do exist, in profusion. I used to have a bit of a thing for Felton Road‘s Central Otago Vin Gris, though I’ve hardly ever found it in the UK, and not had one for some time. It seemed to go very well with the Asian fusion cuisine of Sydney and Melbourne. I also recall John Forrest made a decent Pinot Noir pink in Marlborough, though very different from the merely copper tinged version of Felton Road. There have, of course, been enjoyable pinks from Australia, South Africa, and North and South America, and there are lots more to explore and discover. Next time you are in a branch of UK supermarket Waitrose, grab a bottle of Bolney Estate‘s pink to see what England can manage. It may not be up there with their Pinot Noir red and Blanc de Blancs sparkler, but it’s a tasty rosé and worth a punt.

So, what is my rosé of the year? Oddly enough, we are back in the Cotes de Provence: Clos Cibonne. Tibouren is an unusual grape variety which, at this estate near Toulon, makes both red and pink wines, made as Cuvées Tradition, Spéciales and Prestige. The pink wine below was a revelation at Red Squirrel’s Trade Tasting last year, and then again at the Real Wine Fair at London’s Tobacco Dock earlier this year. It’s a sensational wine. The best thing of all – I tracked it down in magnum at my old friends, Solent Cellar, in Lymington. And at around £40 for 150cl, it’s the same price as an ordinary bottle of Chateau Simone! Or just about £20 for a bottle. A bargain, sheer class. A few years ago you’d have been hard pushed to see those words written about a rosé!

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Cibonne Tibouren – it comes in magnums!

There is just one more wine to mention before I go. Andrew Nielsen has got a pretty good name already for his hand crafted Burgundy, and in recent vintages he’s been branching out, sourcing grapes in Beaujolais and Macon. With an eye to being ecologically sensitive (up to 80% less of a carbon footprint than glass), whilst at the same time grabbing the attention of the picnic and festival market, he started putting decent wine in bags as part of his and wife Emma’s Du Grappin range. Hence the 1.5 litre bagnum. The rosé is a Beaujolais-Villages, just 12% alcohol, and the bag will keep the wine fresh for up to two weeks if you need it to. There’s one in my fridge right now, just the thing for the beach.

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Du vin, Du Grappin #bagnum – all you need for the picnic

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Bicycle, Bicycle,…

It may be a coincidence, but so many people I know who love wine also love cycling. Of course, wine is a highly calorific beverage and we all need to battle those calories. But there’s another angle as well. I remember last time I visited the Cote d’Or, driving down the Route des Vins between producers, stuck in a stream of traffic, boots full of wine. Whilst you really can’t beat walking in the vineyards to get to know your terroir, a bicycle is a relaxing alternative to the car: you get to cover a wider area than on foot, with the chance to stop and look whenever you want.

Almost every time I visit a wine region I try to get on a bike at least once during the trip. The good news is that many wine regions now have dedicated cycle routes, often well away from the traffic which can clog the roads in summer. Such routes are usually well marked and well mapped, and if you don’t want to lug your bike across Europe (or are flying), there are almost always cycle hire facilities on hand. In recent years I’ve cycled on the paths of the Mosel in Germany, the Neusiedlersee and the Danube in Austria, and the Loire in Touraine, France. These are not the only options for wine biking by a long way, but for sheer cycling pleasure, stunning wine country, not to mention all important pit stops for tasting and eating, they are a good place to begin.

The Wachau Trail

As the Danube flows majestically towards Vienna it passes through the Wachau region. It’s the Austrian vineyard which is closest in feel to Germany’s Mosel, steep vineyards rising above the river to hills topped with ruined castles, whilst pretty villages below huddle around the tall spire of an old church. It’s a region where, like the Mosel, Riesling also excels, along with the native Grüner Veltliner.

We took an early train from Vienna’s Franz Joseph station up the line to Krems, having pre-booked bike hire online, a ten minute walk from our destination (but Krems is full of bike hire options). Even before you leave Krems itself you are almost immediately onto a dedicated cycle track, but when you leave the old suburb of Stein on the town’s western edge, you are truly off-piste as far as traffic is concerned. Some of the Wachau cycle route is on vineyard roads, and it reverts to public roads through the village centres, but it is generally very safe and traffic free, apart from the odd vineyard tractor.

It’s possible to cycle a long way on the Danube trail, as far as Germany if you’re game. Or maybe take a day to reach Melk at a leisurely pace, stay over night, and explore the abbey. We went for a lighter, one day, option – cycling to Spitz where we had a leisurely lunch in the sunshine at Haus Prankl (just west of the village itself),  followed by a wake-up walk to the castle above the village. Here you get a bird’s eye view of the sweep of the river and the vineyards.

On our way to Spitz we passed through villages which will be as familiar to lovers of Wachau wines as those of Burgundy and the Mosel: Unterloiben and Oberloiben, Durnstein, Weissenkirchen and Wosendorf. Durnstein is particularly attractive, though equally popular, sitting above the river, towered over by another castle ruin. This one served as the prison of Richard I of England when he was captured on his way home from the Third Crusade, having offended Duke Leopold of Austria after the siege of Acre.

Spitz is a great destination for another reason, though you will need some panniers or a bike with a basket. Although the wine route is scattered with the famous producers of the region, from the traditional winery and very good heuriger of the Knoll family (the Loibnerhof restaurant in Unterloiben is another great food destination) to FX Pichler’s ultra-modern winery just off the cycle route near Oberloiben, you do need to make an appointment to taste. But if you want an in-depth survey of the Wachau’s wines, Vinothek Hubert Fohringer (down near the ferry jetty in Spitz) is one of the very best wine shops in the region. A visit here is highly recommended.

The Austrian Tourist Board will send you a very good Wachau Trail Map at a scale of 1:35,000 – indispensable.

 

Touraine-Chinon 

France’s longest river has unending cycle touring possibilities along almost its whole length, but Touraine provides some of the most picturesque (and easy) biking, and the medieval town of Chinon is a good place to start. Whilst aficionados of Chinon’s wines might wish to head east, towards Panzoult, the prettiest cycling is in a westward direction.

Just south of Chinon, beside the bridge over the River Vienne, there’s a cycle hire depot. If you cycle west for a short distance, along the right bank as far as the busy D751, and cross to the north side, via the bridge, the cycle route mixes (as in the Wachau) dedicated, traffic free, cycling paths with small village roads which are very quiet. The off-road route begins immediately after that bridge, on your left, following the river’s right bank. After a detour through a couple of villages, the off-road route recommences between Savigny-en-Véron/Port-Guyot and Candes-St-Martin/Montsoreau, where the Vienne flows into the Loire. From here I recommend a detour south, to the Abbey of Fontevraud. There’s some nice hilly countryside and forest around here, and all of these villages have numerous places to grab lunch with a bottle of local wine.

Mind you, on the subject of drinking and cycling, I did learn a lesson here a few years ago. It’s all very well sitting in the sunshine over lunch enjoying a glass, or maybe two. But it is possible to be caught drunk in charge of a bicycle, and even if you keep within limits its still the same as drinking when you are driving a car. However sober you might be, the dehydrating effects of alcohol and a large lunch on one’s peddle power shouldn’t be underestimated. I remember cracking on a rise towards Fontevraud which could, in all honesty, only be described as a gentle incline, hardly a minor alp. I almost had to get off and push.

Neusiedler See

Regular readers will know how much I love this lake, about an hour’s bus ride from Vienna. The whole region is very well endowed with wine producers, and you can’t visit Rust without hiring one of the small motor boats for a morning out on the lake and among the reed beds. But the lake is also blessed with a passenger ferry service which allows you to take your bike over, thus opening up a lot more possibilities for a day in the saddle. Once again, if you don’t have your own cycle, don’t worry. Fahrrad Johann Schneeberger on Rust’s Rathausplatz, just a few doors up from Heidi Schroeck, is your man.

You can take a ferry from the marina at Rust, over to Podersdorf, but last summer we preferred to cycle the five-or-so kilometres between the vines and the lake to Morbisch-am-See (keep your eyes open for the adorable Mangalitsa pigs if you take this route), for the ferry to Illmitz. Illmitz is another four kilometres from the ferry jetty, but this eastern side of the lake contains an extensive bird sanctuary. I’m not especially knowledgeable on this subject, but we spent an hour or two cycling the lanes here, stopping at several hides to watch the waders. There are a number of circular routes from Illmitz itself, which is a good place to stop for lunch or a coffee, the village being home to several internationally renowned producers (Kracher and the Tschidas for starters).

If you have the energy, once you have returned on the ferry, head south out of Morbisch and before you know it you are into Hungary. The very intrepid (and fit) cyclist could actually ride right around the south side of the lake here, but from Illmitz to Morbisch on the “Iron Curtain Trail” is something approaching 50 kilometers (I know a good few fellow wine lovers who would zip that off in an afternoon, but my joints are beginning to creak a little for that level of exertion). Anyway, the ferry across the lake is fun, and sitting on deck with a restorative coffee is a pleasure in itself.

Pick up the Raderlebnis Neusiedlersee map, which includes all the cycle routes, from the Tourist Office in Rust.

Mosel

Last summer we also added the Mosel cycle path to our list of favourites. We were staying just outside of Bernkastel and it’s suburb on the other side of the river, Kues. Once again, there are several bike hire options, and the Tourist Office will have a list. There are two choices of direction from Bernkastel, both providing unrivaled views of the vertiginous vineyard slopes which make this river one of the most beautiful destinations for wine lovers in the world. You can go southwest, towards Piesport, perhaps via Thomas Haag’s brooding pile, Schloss Lieser, or do as we did and cycle northeast, to Traben-Trarbach. Keeping to the Mosel’s eastern bank, nearly all of the route to Trarbach is off-road.

Almost immediately upon leaving Bernkastel, in the shadow of the Doktorberg, you are flanked by the steep vineyards of Graach and Zeltingen, split by the vineyards opposite Wehlen, where a stop in front of the famous Sonnenuhr (sun dial) vineyard is de rigeur. As well as being quiet, the track sticks close to the river here. There are plenty of other kinds of watering holes too. The capacity of the German cyclist for a mid-morning beer is impressive.

As you sweep round the river’s meander towards Erden the vineyards switch to the south-facing western bank, as Urzig’s “spice garden” comes into view, a reminder of how difficult, and dangerous, working these vines is for the dedicated men and women who farm these slippery, slate slopes.

It’s here that you will pass beneath the river’s great blot on the landscape, the contruction site of the mindless Mosel Bridge, intended to open up Frankfurt-Hahn airport. Regional transport policy, and party-politics, obviously take precedence over a World Heritage vineyard in the minds of Germany’s politicians. Yet despite the bridge, the river here is incontestably beautiful beyond words. You ride on through Losnich, following yet another sharp bend in the river, until you eventually reach Trarbach (with its Buddhist Museum), and cross the old fortified bridge into Traben on the opposite bank.

You can cycle onwards if you so wish. Eventually you’ll get to the Rhine at Koblenz. We took the option of lunch in a small restaurant down near the river by Traben, before returning to Bernkastel on the other side of the Mosel. The cycle route on the western bank is not quite as attractive, nor traffic free, as the other side of the river, but, with a few detours into the vines and a bit of sniffing out a route, it does afford another perspective on the river. The last part of the route back into Bernkastel, via Kues, is very gentle and quiet.

Although you can get a free cycling map of the Mosel from all the local Tourist Offices, I’d try to get hold of the green Geomap 1:50,000 Moseltal map (number 44105, Vulkaneifel-Moseleifel in the Wander-und Freizeitkarte Series, Schweich bis Winningen). The added detail is worth it.

Posted in Loire, Mosel, Neusiedlersee, Wachau, Wine, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Sporting Chance

When a friend suggested a group of us wander down to Seasalter for the Tasting Menu lunch at The Sportsman it was impossible to refuse. Not only has Stephen Harris created a menu which the Daily Telegraph described as “no nonsense, unapologetic brilliance”, this self-titled grotty pub on the North Kent coast has recently been crowned National Restaurant of the Year. This place has been a legend almost since it opened in 1999, and has held a Michelin Star since 2008. It’s not too far from me as the crow flies, but yesterday, thanks to the current dire situation on our railway network, it took me four hours to get there, and almost as long to get back. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

I want to tell you all about what we ate, and what we drank – a host of fabulous wines to accompany the fine food. The problem is that I could quite easily fill an hour of your time. So instead, I’ll let you see some of the many photographs I took, and keep the words to a minimum. If you want to know which of the dishes I enjoyed the most, well, that simple signature dish of Slipsole in a seaweed butter sauce probably hit the greatest heights, its simplicity and perfection just triumphing over a mushroom and celeriac tart, which had the finest pastry you could imagine, and exploded with egg yolk when punctured.

The wine highlights were many, bearing the mark of wine obsessives rather than boasters. Tony’s Gaja Barbaresco 1999 was the most sublime of the reds (for me), and I apologise for suggesting that my own As Sortes Godello 2011 topped the whites. Only one wine didn’t live up to expectations – The Breton Bourgueil. It was a bit corked, we thought. The beer, the Champagne and the very unusual South African Chenin were consumed on the train down from St Pancras, the rest at The Sportsman. I hope the pictures give a sense of the truly delicious food and wine.

The one thing to remember when looking at the food here, is that Stephen Harris aims to compile a menu entirely from food he can see from the pub. The lamb grazes on the salt marsh over the road, the vegetables are grown in the garden, the sea plants are foraged and, whilst he can’t literally see the fish and seafood, it is very local and very fresh. Even the butter is home churned. A true locavore destination.

Rare Sonoma ale, stunning Agrapart Mineral 2004 and, yes, a very strange SA Chenin, Ezibusisweni (Place of the Blessings), made by Angus McIntosh (who also manages Spier Estate in Stellenbosch).

Appetizer with Hatzidakis‘ Old Vine “Mylos Assyrtiko” from Santorini.

Brill tartare with soya yoghurt and the first course proper, Oysters, with a fabulous Raveneau Butteaux 1er Cru Chablis and the first of our Emidio Pepe wines, the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.

As Sortes 2011, Val do Bibei Godello from Valdeorras by Rafael Palacio and unbelievably complex, low acid Hermitage Blanc Chevalier de Sterimberg 1983, Jaboulet, with cream of vegetable soup, and the mushroom and celeriac tart. See how simply the dishes are named here.

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The Slipsole grilled in Seaweed Butter gets a big photo, it’s a kind of signature dish at The Sportsman and it’s hard to convey just how good it is. Subtle, fresh, probably perfect…

The Brill here is braised in Vin Jaune and topped with a piece of smoked pork. The Saumur Blanc, Ch Yvonne “Le Gory” was new to me, OW Loeb having just imported it. Very good indeed, recommended.

Two contrasting Morgons – the delicious and lifted “Bio Dynamite” from Yann Bertrand and Grange Cochard‘s more sturdy, structured, Cote du Py 2009. The Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 1982 took time to open despite its age, but did, slowly, whilst showing a touch of farmyard brett (which didn’t worry me). The Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone 1999 began wonderfully, but perhaps faded a little by the end (deliciously, though). It was red of the day for some people.

You can see from the glass on the right that the Gaja is still youthful, but what a bouquet! Unbelievable. At least one person found it too modern but I thought it very fine, assured, silky over its tannins. The bread at The Sportsman (top right) is out of this world, for me perhaps even better than Hedone’s in Chiswick (it’s a close run thing). The treacly sourdough is something I’d love to make myself, whilst I have genuinely never eaten a finer focaccia, not even in Italy. The lamb, above, is roast saddle.

Chateau Batailley 2001 was drinking very well, the 12.5% alcohol making this savoury red a great lunchtime wine without that being mere faint praise. Classic Pauillac. I was admiring the causse-forged cutlery, a sound touch.

Top right is an ethereal concoction which they call jasmine tea junket with (Kentish) cherries. Dessert proper was a piping hot rhubarb soufflé with rhubarb ripple ice cream. The fascinating, and brilliant, Cinque Terre dessert wine, Sciacchetra Riserva 1997 from Monterosso al Mare was both complex and wild. A wine I’d like to seek out but know nothing about, not even the producer, Terre di Levante. It’s made from raisined grapes, the thick skinned Bosco, with Vermentino and Albarola. It has a luminous amber colour, and smells of so many things it would create a pretentious list of adjectives you would not welcome. John from Winemakers Club brought it and I’m hoping he’ll do the legwork and maybe even import some. It was so good it even had the edge over the Riecine Sebastiano, a Tuscan natural passito IGT made intermittently by this fabulous Chianti estate. This vintage is the 1999.

So, a perfect day. Left home at 7.40am, opened the door at 8.45pm, a tiring day for sure, involving four trains, two taxis and one Underground journey. I’m very glad I wasn’t too inebriated! It was a truly memorable day out, one which I count my blessings for being able to enjoy. I think there’s now already a plan for something even more ambitious later in the year. Before our taxis back to Whitstable station arrived we had the chance for a nice post-prandial stroll along the estuary, with views over to the Isle of Sheppey, and I’ll leave you with a few photos. It’s worth leaving some time for this.

The Tasting Menu at The Sportsman costs £65 per person (it does change, and what we ate differed from that on the web site). The staff are happy to take account of allergies and preferences if given warning. The availability to take our own wine was down to an arrangement made by one of our party, who is a regular customer. I believe something on a much smaller scale can be arranged in advance. To get to The Sportsman you need to take a taxi from Whitstable station (£8.50 each way). The tasting menu commences at 12.00 prompt. Allow three-and-a-half to four hours to eat it.

The little man is Galahad, four months old and very well behaved. I think he enjoyed the day as much as the rest of us.

 

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Keeping My Chinato Up

I have a mate called Warren. Some of you may know him. He’s the guy who organises the occasional Spice Oddities spin-off we have at the India Club on The Strand, and the Fish ‘n Fino lunches at Masters’ near Waterloo. I think he excelled himself in organising this very select little lunch at Pardis, a Persian/Iranian restaurant on Connaught Street, yesterday. The idea (which may have come from a bottle of I took to one of the spice lunches), crazy as it might sound, especially in summer, was to see whether Persian food would match with Chinato.

What is Chinato? You may well ask. There’s a tradition, which seems foremost now in Piemonte and with Barolo, to add a mixture of herbs and spices to wine. Think of something going in the direction of a vermouth or bitters (indeed, some people call Chinato a type of vermouth). The main difference is that vermouth is sometimes a commercial product and the wine used is unlikely to be of fine quality. Vermouth, red and white, is mainly a speciality of France and Italy, with well known brands like Noilly Prat and Dolin in the former, Martini & Rossi and Cinzano in the latter. Vermouths are most often mixed with gin these days (the now ubiquitous negroni, or a gin martini, for example), and both are undergoing an incredible revival. Chinatos are, by contrast, often small production, artisanal, versions, most usually made as a sideline by wine estates. But not always, as we shall see.

Some put the invention  of chinato down to a Serralunga pharmacist called Giuseppe Cappelano in the 19th Century, but of course botanicals have been added to wine since Greek and Roman times. The Retsina, of Greece, is not too far removed from this. The key element in a  true Barolo Chinato is the bark of the cinchona tree, in which the wine is steeped. In other words, they are quinine infused. Other common additions include cinnamon and coriander, but as with gin, the list can be long. Sugar may be added to sweeten the bitterness created by the bark, but not always. And as we discovered, the Chinato concept has spread further than Italy. Chinato may be viewed as a kind of vermouth by some, but technically speaking it’s a vino aromatizzato, which I think needs no translation.

Chinato is generally used as a digestif in Piemonte. You won’t find it mixed with gin, nor anything else (though sparkling water proved interesting). Its bitterness, and occasionally a sweetness which either fights or balances this bitterness, depending on your viewpoint, make it a difficult match with food. Italian Chinato usually manages 16% alcohol as well, which is quite high for a table wine, at least among the people I mix with.

Of the food itself, it was delicious. At least two of the other diners seemed to have a good appreciation for a cuisine which I love, yet rarely sample (though I’m going to give a plug here for Sabrina Ghayour‘s brilliant cook book, Persiana (Mitchell Beazley, 2014), which was my cookery book of last year).

The picture on the left shows a selection of our starters, with some of the freshest soft walnuts I’ve eaten, and wonderful home cooked sesame bread. In the centre is my Shireen Polo, fragrant rice with almonds, pistachios and orange peel hiding a large lamb shank, cooked to perfect tenderness. The last photo is Ghouzi, chosen by a couple of people at the table.

Of the wines, I will say two things. First, they ranged from “interesting” to very good, but I can’t say they provided the hoped for food match that Warren was looking for. But how much did that really matter? Not much. The food and wines were good on their own and it was no mental hardship to go between one and the other. Why didn’t they fit? The wines were just too alcoholic, and the botanicals weren’t on the whole in tune with the fragrant Persian food. Chinato is obviously more than cinnamon and coriander. What we drank was as follows:

Chinensis Vino Aromatizzato alla China, Quaquarini, Buttafuoco DOC (16%). Buttafuoco is a doc of Oltrepo Pavese, in the province of Pavia, so just to the east of Piemonte. Quaquarini, the producer, is based at Canneto Pavese. It’s not easy to work out what this is made from, but my money is on Barbera, one of the region’s ubiquitous red varieties. The first person to raise a glass of this to their lips exclaimed “bloody hell, this smells like Worcester Sauce”, and it did. Think of a Bloody Mary on the nose and you will be close. It’s very herby, with soft spice, vermouth-like. Brick red, with a lot of fine sediment, it tasted overwhelmingly of cinnamon to me. But in terms of quality, a good start.

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Xerez-Quina, Valdespino, Spain (15%). This is proof that the aromatised wine concept is not just limited to Italy, yet this was very different to the other three wines. For a start it was brown rather than red. Although made from Palomino (I was assured), this had a hint of Moscato on the nose. It was at this point I thought of Passito di Pantelleria. Although a solera wine in origin, this was quite simple on the nose (and certainly a touch oxidised, though I’m sure deliberately so). It’s commercialised in a litre bottle with a plastic screw top, clearly undergoing a strict filtration, and with a hint of caramel too. Yet this really did have its charm, and I think it benefited from being served chilled, despite the fact that it might be intended to be supped at a table in full Jerez sun through the month of August. I’m guessing 90% of wine drinkers would put this down, in both senses. Yet I can think of a few people who’d be happy to share a litre of this, all in a sense of fun (and gentle inebriation).

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L’In Chino Vino Aromatizzato, Castello di Tagliolo, Dolcetto d’Ovada DOC (16%). This DOC is one of several named Dolcetto zones which crop up in Piemonte where this grape, often not even secondary to Nebbiolo in the famous zones, finds favour. Think also of Dolcetto from Dogliani, Diano d’Alba and Acqui Terme. Dolcetto d’Ovada comes from a string of villages, including Ovada itself, in the Province of Alessandria, to the immediate east of the Alto Monferrato (Nizza, Acqui, etc).

Another herby nose here with a mid-red colour. I’d say this is pretty refined in comparison to the previous wine, if perhaps a little less fun. It’s smooth and rich, like a quality vermouth, sweet with a bitter finish. Made (obviously) from Dolcetto but with nine added botanicals, including rhubarb, carnation, gentian and cinnamon. Very good, but hard to match with food in my opinion, though the producer does mention chocolate. Definitely we’re in “sipping digestif” territory for me.

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Vino Aromatizzato Sestario, Cantina TreSecoli, Barbera d’Asti DOC (16%). Another red wine with a little bit of a brick-red tinge, made this time from Barbera by one of Piemonte’s largest producers. It’s an attractive wine but perhaps its source shows a little. It’s very herby, yet there is also a touch of hot alcohol on the palate which makes it both a touch more burly and a little less refined than the previous wine, which it otherwise resembles.

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So, overall impressions? Chinato is a great drink to explore, something I’ve known for some time. The Barolo Chinato which I tasted first in the 1990s was from Vajra (which Liberty Wines used to import, though I don’t see it currently on their web site). Another very good example is made by the excellent Luca Roagna of Barbaresco. Both of these are Nebbiolo Chinatos. However, my advice is stick to drinking it after dinner.

That said, it was an excellent lunch, a chance to explore some unusual wines (only four bottles may seem well below our usual par, but the alcohol levels provide the clue), and a new, excellent restaurant. As for those alcohol levels, I deliberately didn’t overdo it on a hot day and I left Pardis more full than tipsy. If you do go there, make sure you are very hungry indeed.

Pardis is at 29 Connaught Street, London W2 (see the link to their web site towards the beginning of this article). They charge a standard £10 per bottle corkage, but for this they throw in a bottle of water (still or sparkling) with every bottle you bring. We were glad of it.

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Posted in Dining, Italian Wine, Piemonte, Wine, Wine and Food, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Working Up a Genuine Thirst

We recently had some extensive building work done and, in order to save some money for a lot of new carpets, we decided to do all the decorating ourselves. I know, so much less exciting than hitting the South of France for summer. But after days spent up a ladder, or rolling a roller on a long pole, at least there was a nice bottle to look forward to. Come next week, when the carpet fitters have done their fitting, life can return to normal – wine tastings, lunches (including a trip to “The Sportsman” which I’m very much looking forward to), and vineyard visits. All the everyday stuff. But at the end of the decorating day, paint-spattered and muscles aching, the following half dozen wines stood out from the past couple of weeks, providing thirst quenching enjoyment before stumbling into bed.

La Bota de Florpower 57, Equipo Navazos [2012] (12.5%). I never tire of Florpower, and every bottling is fascinatingly different. This is the most recent bottling I have, although the subsequent edition is heading over to the UK right now (I under ordered dramatically, thinking I had plenty of this one – bad move). It’s a simple proposition. Make a Palomino table wine from the same soils as Fino Sherry, ferment in steel with natural yeasts, allow for a flor reaction, but bottle unfortified. It’s dark yellow and smells like a fino, but it’s light on the palate, balancing citrus and what can be described in no other way (with apologies to the naysayers) as a chalky, soft, mineral mouth texture. It doesn’t lack for fresh acidity and it’s in a great place now, just bursting to be glugged.

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Chianti Classico Fonterutoli 2011 (13.5%). Some might wonder whether a wine at 13.5% alcohol can be a thirst quencher? Wait and see the last wine! Actually, this appears to be a lighter vintage at Fonterutoli, or at least the 2011 is a wine of elegance. I particularly liked this because one thing you can always rely on this estate to produce is a wine which really smells and tastes like Chianti. It’s mainly Sangiovese, and it does have that classic brick red tinge which you don’t get when you completely overdo the Merlot. They do put it in small oak for twelve months, but you can hardly tell.

As I was reminded by a friend on Twitter, Fonterutoli is located in a lovely village, just a few kilometers south of Castellina and very close to Vagliale, where I’ve stayed before.The Mazzei family, who run the estate today, have been in charge since the 15th Century and it’s one of those quintessential Tuscan family farms. The winery is very modern, all gravity fed, built into the hillside and providing for small batch fermentations, yet it blends in seamlessly without being in the slightest bit obtrusive. That seems to be mirrored in this entry level Classico, and that’s what I love about it.

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Regnié 2014, Julien Sunier (12%). Sunshine means Beaujolais, and Julien’s Regnié was just perfect. It comes from two small lieu dits called “En Oeillat” and “Les Forchets”, just 1.45 ha, but planted at a density of 1,000 vines per hectare. Fermentation is carbonic, with natural yeasts.

Vivid Gamay fruit here, a natural wine giving pure refreshment without the need for anything more. There’s a note on the label to keep this below 14 degrees. I very much doubt that was achieved in retail, and I’m sure that the ambient cellar temperature here at the moment is above 14 degrees as well, but there is no sign of spoilage. Nor was there with the previous bottle. But these warnings on low sulphur, or sulphur free, wines always interest me. I really do doubt the ability of most retailers to abide by them.

I was actually prodded into drinking this by someone asking me about Antoine Sunier. Antoine’s Regnié had been voted wine of the night at one of the three Beaujolais dinners we had last summer. I’m right out of Antoine’s wines, although it looks like UK distribution might not be too far away. But I do thankfully have just a little more of Julien’s.

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Santorini Assyrtiko 2013, Hatzidakis (13.5%). I wish I drank more Greek wine (I used to), and I wish I drank more Assyrtiko too. It’s a grape which excels on Santorini, and can also benefit from a little bottle age (like Albarino, and Verdicchio, two other grape varieties which mostly get knocked back too soon). This is a pale wine which doesn’t look either alcoholic, nor complex. The nose is a little muted at first as well. But take a sip and you get a nice touch of citrus zest on the end of the tongue, and a chalky dryness further back. The acidity refreshes, but the dryness leads your senses on to just enough complexity and a certain richness, to make it a food wine.

If you want an analogy which is probably way out but sounds nice, think Chablis from a volcanic island. At least the second bit’s accurate. In fact, this relatively inexpensive bottle (the 2015 is currently £12.99 at UK supermarket, Waitrose) is possibly the best of the bunch for outdoor dining under the parasol, as the mercury heads towards 30 degrees Celsius here on the South Coast.

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Piquentum Blanc 2012, Buzet d.o.o., Istria, Croatia (12.2%). This is a lovely Malvasia (or Malvazija in Croatian) given three days skin contact by French-born (Jurançon) winemaker Dimitri Brecevic. It sees a mix of wood and stainless steel and is intended to be aged (I’ve kept it about one year). This is another wine which combines freshness and complexity. The nose is really hard to describe, being both floral and spicy (mild spices). There’s a tiny bit of texture, perhaps the short skin contact, reflected in the mid-yellow colour, and the wine doesn’t lack for weight, despite the very specific but relatively low level of alcohol.

Dimitri has his vines near the town of Buzet. No, not that one! This Buzet is not far from the Slovenian border in Croatia’s Istrian wine zone. He makes natural wines with minimum intervention in a winery hewn into the hillside, providing uniform coolness (around 11 degrees) in which the wines mature. The region may be a rural idyll, but Dimitri is no stay-at-home. He’s made wine in Spain, Australia and New Zealand, along with a final stint in Burgundy, before finding his home in Istria.

I admit, I don’t get to drink a lot of Croatian wine, it must be said. That’s why, without making this out to be something it isn’t, I was really taken aback. It really is very good. I bought this from an interesting small merchant which specialises in the food and wines of the Adriatic region, Pacta Connect.

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Nussberg Alte Reben 2012, Wiener Gemischter Satz, Wieninger (14.5%). This wine probably can’t claim to be the most thirst quenching of the half dozen here, but I do love Gemischter Satz. Actually, many versions of this Viennese field blend are the height of thirst quenchability, but with this cuvée, one of Fritz Wieninger’s top bottlings, for your £20+ you get vines over 50 years old, blending nine grape varieties (the main ones are Pinot Blanc, Neuberger and Welschriesling). It’s also one of the richest of Wieninger’s bottlings, a complex white with spice, brioche, citrus, mineral mouthfeel and more. Not a hotchpotch of flavours mirroring the multitude of varieties in the field blend, but more a wine of genuine personality reflecting both the terroir of the slopes surrounding the city and the traditional winemaking of this relatively new DAC, but centuries old vineyard.

Wieninger has perhaps the largest holding in Vienna, 70 hectares (including now the estate of Hajszan Neumann – he is only really challenged by the other great reviver of Gemischter Satz in Vienna, Mayer am Pfarrplatz). The Nussberg  vineyard rises around 360 metres above Nussdorf  on Vienna’s northern edge, on the western side of the Danube. Wieninger is actually based on the other side of the river at Stammersdorf, where the other great vineyard for Wiener Gemischter Satz lies – Bisamberg. Nussberg faces south and southeast, largely on limestone. In the near distance is the enormous edifice of the great abbey of Klosterneuberg, and all the villages boast the famous Heurigen where you can turn up and enjoy the owner’s wines along with some simple food (so long as you don’t choose one frequented by the coach parties where the wines are  probably made with less discerning palates in mind). Beautiful place, and surprisingly beautiful wines. Quite unique and well worth exploring.

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Oh, and when it’s thirsty work, there has to be beer as well. Beavertown Neck Oil, does what it says on the tin! Pale Ale, but don’t expect it to be filtered to death to extract all flavour. It’s not. Neither is it quite what you might expect from an industrial estate in North London.

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Five Men, Seven Wines, Typical Tuesday

When 28-50 was simply one exciting new restaurant for wine lovers, albeit in a dark basement off Fleet Street, I used to dine there fairly regularly, lunch and dinner. But after the Marylebone branch opened I kind of gravitated there, and it became my favourite branch of the emerging chain. Having a good relationship with the team, it became the venue for many wine dinners, corkage having been duly agreed. For a number of reasons I don’t think I’d dined there for about a year, so it was very pleasurable going back on Tuesday evening for dinner with some good friends, most of whom I’d also not seen for a good while. One of them was bound to bring some fine, no, very fine, Rioja, so lips were being licked well before kickoff.

The food at 28-50 doesn’t make any claims to grandeur. It’s fairly simple fare, plated up without pretense, but that’s the beauty of using them for a wine dinner, whether you are buying from their excellent connoisseur’s list of usually older wines, supplied by friends of the chain, and sold at reasonable markups, or whether you are taking your own kit, as in our case. The food doesn’t fight with the wine, it complements it. So apologies if I don’t eulogize over the terrine, steaks and dessert and move on to the wines. We were, as ever, grateful for the welcome, and especially for the excellent wine service.

A good Champagne is obviously welcome to set off proceedings (well, the two early birds were thirsty and ordered a glass of La Guita Manzanilla, but that doesn’t count as one of our seven a day). After Saturday’s Clouet Cuvée 1911, I have been seriously spoilt because Diebolt-Vallois Fleur de Passion is another Champagne I love, but rarely drink (and I think I’ve only ever bought one bottle myself, I hardly ever see it). This was the 2006, which was fresh and clean. It’s classic Cramant Chardonnay, but with (as every book says) a light touch. Nothing too “strict”, despite it being a non-malo cuvée which is vinified in (old) oak, from a village whose wines can often err towards the far reaches of chalky minerality and precision.

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Instead of moving on to a white, we took the first red because on decanting its owner was worried it might fade. It didn’t fade, though nor did the charcuterie plate we ordered to go with it turn up (no matter). We were trying the wines blind. This was so obviously Rioja, but in playing the blind tasting game properly, someone must suggest something different (it’s a rule). That’s why I said Pomerol. Well, it was just so silky and rich. It turned out to be CVNE Vina Real Reserva Especial 1952, a magnificent wine.

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There’s always a moment when you realise the wine you brought is going to have to follow something like that. It doesn’t help when the vintage you thought you had (2009) turns out to be something else. And then, in a blind tasting, you find yourself sat right next to a man who buys from this producer every year. Oh well! Roulot Meursault 2011 was not up to the standard of some of the other wines of the evening, and the 2009 (lost somewhere, hopefully to turn up one day) would have been better. But I’m a massive Roulot fan. I love this style of Meursault, at the opposite end of the field to the fat and buttery school of winemaking. I did enjoy drinking it, a lot if I’m honest, though I wondered whether others were being polite.

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The next wine looked magnificent just sitting in the glass. Even by sight one might have ventured a very classy claret. Sadly one sniff, and it was clearly corked to you-know-what-ery! Chateau Léoville-Barton 1999. It would have been stunning, just not tonight!

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The next red is very different. We managed to narrow this down to Northern Rhone. My guess was Seyssuel, but I was too far north. Hervé Souhaut Saint-Joseph 2010 is a fantastic young wine. In the “natural” camp, the fruit is truly alive, freshness no doubt enhanced by just 12.5% alcohol. But the depth of this wine is likely to have something to do with the age of the vines – 80 to 100 years old. I’ve only had Souhaut once or twice before, but every time I feel a desire to look out for a bottle or two.

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After the corked Léoville-Barton it’s always good to have a man with another bottle in his bag, and when the wine was identified exactly, producer and vintage, on a couple of sips by the man on the left, below, (the man on the right was the generous provider, of course), I was glad I hadn’t proposed the Meinklang Graupert Zweigelt which was lurking in mine (a magnificent wine, of course, but not matching yet another wine over 60 years old). It was, of course, CVNE Vina Real Reserva Especial 1954. Such richness was unexpected. But here’s what the man who brought it along had to say in print: “This vintage [1954] qualified as merely good  [official designation]…But time has proved CVNE’s Vina Real Reserva Especial…[one] of the best Riojas ever”. Imperial may be the flagship wine at CVNE, but Vina Real has a great reputation for ageing, and for a certain richness, and this was no exception. I was actually in heaven here. What indeed must the 1947 Imperial taste like?!

The argument between us was which was the better CVNE wine (1952 or 1954). It left a split in the ranks, I myself going with the 1954 initially, yet oddly it is that first taste of the 1952 from decanter that has remained with me as I type. Unlike the 1954, whose greatness has been acknowledged, 1952, both at CVNE and in Rioja generally, does not appear to gain such high praise in print, so far as I can see. Yet both bottles were superb, and ageless. It’s easy to think wine lovers can get complacent when drinking wonderful bottles almost weekly, but it’s just not true. When you drink wines like these CVNEs, made before any of us were born, you do really stop and savour the moment.

We finished the evening with a wine generously ordered off the list by the man whose red was corked. We didn’t have to guess the wine, and I think someone probably managed to guess the vintage, although by this stage we were all quite relaxed and amiable. Chateau Coutet 2003 is rich, but not as rich as the vintage in wider Bordeaux might suggest. Very balanced, with orange dominating the colour, and apricot the nose (or is it peach, nectarine, you know what I mean). There was little sense of botrytis, though a nice bit of honey. A very tasty Sauternes, or should I say, Barsac.

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More Than Just Cordial

I enjoyed a tasting event at Elderflower Restaurant a few weekends ago (see here), but until Saturday night I hadn’t dined there. That was soon put right, four of us enjoying a meal of a standard high enough that I can recommend a detour to Lymington without any hesitation.

Lymington is a sleepy Georgian town on the south coast, reached by a drive through the beautiful New Forest, beyond Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst. My connection is that my wife grew up near here, and my mother-in-law lives there. When she was younger, my wife couldn’t really wait to escape what seemed like a town full of retirees, but nowadays it at least has a good sprinkling of weekend residents from London who come not just for the yachting, but for a very good Saturday market and an increasingly worthwhile restaurant scene (I reviewed the fish and seafood restaurant, Verveine, in nearby Milford-on-Sea last year). Don’t forget Solent Cellar just up the High Street from St Thomas’s Church either, one of the South’s very best wine shops. A browse in here is pretty essential for any serious wine lover (some very good Champagnes in the glass cabinet, a surprising number of wines in magnum, and a host of gems for the very adventurous, a range many London shops would be proud of, and half these wines don’t sell out quite so swiftly).

The restaurant sits half way down the old cobbles towards Lymington Quay. It’s an old building with low ceilings and beams, relatively small and only a little less unprepossessing from the outside than the tea room which previously occupied the site before Elderflower opened its doors in early 2014. Owner and Head Chef at Elderflower is Andrew Du Bourg. He started his career during college at The Goring in London and, after stints at places like The Square with Phil Howard, he made Head Chef at Club Gascon, before moving to the same role at the famous country house hotel along the coast, Chewton Glen. Front of House is run with warmth and professionalism in equal measure by Andrew’s wife (and co-owner), Marjolaine, and fellow French compatriot Julien Bailly.

The Food

Fresh ingredients, well executed dishes, a degree of innovation in both construction and presentation are all evident. Highlights would include very fresh local crab if they have it, excellent turbot, and the smoked cigar dessert (this comes with a layered mousse in a glass coffee cup and a smoked chocolate cigar in an ash tray beside it). Andrew also accommodated my vegan wife with an inventive menu which probably tops anything put together for her before – and willingly so, no grudging response to her dietary requirements.

 

The Wines

The wine list at Elderflower is perhaps a work in progress. It’s the only thing one might quibble with (the younger waitresses don’t have the confidence of their counterparts in those places Andrew has worked in before, but I couldn’t fault the service). That’s not to say the list is devoid of plenty of good wine by any means. Indeed, if you want Mouton 2005 you can have it. It’s just that the list could do with a few more of the type of wines that will excite the wine enthusiast. But this is a very minor quibble. The 2014 Foillard Cote du Py we took from the list was magnificent. The rest of the wines were either consumed before we went (the first two wines below), or taken on special dispensation (the Loire and Alsace bottles). I don’t think corkage is generally encouraged.

We began the evening with a wine of both linear freshness and a good undercurrent of richness, but never losing a certain finesse which gives it great versatility. It will match so many dishes, despite our selection of it as an aperitif. It has been a long time since I drank André Clouet Cuvée 1911 but it’s wonderful, and at £70 is pretty good value for a multi-vintage prestige cuvée in my opinion. It’s 100% Pinot Noir from the best of Clouet’s Bouzy holdings on the Montagne. Only 1,911 bottles are produced, of course, so you won’t find it in Waitrose.

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One of our foursome had planned to take a Coche-Dury Bourgogne Chardonnay 2007 to the restaurant, but on opening this had a few problems. One person thought it was corked. It certainly had a mustiness to it, but it did blow off a little. It was also very acidic indeed and, judging by a profound note on the 2002 I read today on the Winepages Forum, I am sure this bottle was way too young, corked or not.

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I was also slightly worried about the Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile 2001. It’s a wonderful wine from a wonderful vintage, but older CFE has been hit and miss over a few bottles I’ve had in recent years, in terms of oxidation. This was dark in colour, but a wonderful, evolved Riesling, and so long as well. On top form. I was very pleased with this bottle.

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The counterpoint to the Alsace was a Loire wine of some rarity, I think (at least, I don’t see it often despite the ubiquity of the red these days). Clos Rougeard Saumur Blanc “Brézé” 2008 was even darker than the Trimbach, much more evolved in colour than I imagined it would be. But it was fascinating on the palate, a kind of dry tarte-tatin one moment, hoisin the next. The acidity was still fresh and it tasted young…and delicious. The pendulum has well and truly swung for the Foucault family’s wines, but in the rush to Instagram the red, don’t neglect the white.

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Then finally the Foillard  Morgon Cote du Py 2014. For me, the 2014 vintage in Beaujolais seems to be drinking very well at most levels. This was fresh and juicy. Although at least one diner said they felt it had much more to give, I like a bit of grip with my Gamay sometimes, and I’d not be afraid of popping one open if you have some. The bottle was bought at more or less the insistence of the man who’d ordered steak. I don’t think anyone would argue with that match, but as someone who enjoys reds with turbot, I was happy to go with the flow as well.

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A brilliant evening in a restaurant turning out dishes beyond what I’d have dreamed Lymington was capable of a few years ago. Will our disengagement with Europe have a negative effect on gastronomy, or will the British food revolution continue apace? We shall have to see, but I can thoroughly recommend Elderflower, whether you are a merchant banker with a weekend retreat opposite the island, or whether you are camping in a tent in the forest. They even have three rooms over the shop, for those with nowhere to stay, although the town does now boast a few airbnb apartments too.

Booking at Elderflower is via their web site here. A three course dinner costs around £40, or a little more, depending on what you go for. The Foillard was around £60 off the list, but there is plenty to choose from above and below that.

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Refresher Course

Back when I began enjoying wine, pre-Parkerisation, there were lots of red wines which, when served cool, or at “cellar temperature”, used to quench a thirst on a warm day. Back in the late 1970s it wasn’t uncommon to find Bordeaux Classed Growths coming in at under 12% alcohol. Without discussing the merits, or not, of such wines, you could share a bottle over lunch and stay awake at your desk beyond 3pm on returning to work.

I’m not really one for segregating the wine year by season, although it’s hard not to do so just a little bit. Thoughts turn to Nebbiolo as the leaves turn in colour, or to Beaujolais when the first glow of Springtime warms my face. There have been some warm days in Southeast England amid all the thunder storms, not to mention the other storms we are facing (out of Europe twice in one week is hard to handle). A bit of true liquid refreshment has been called for, and as all these wines, drunk over the past two weeks, fit that bill, both red, white and orange – they’re worth sharing.

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Burgenlandrot 2014, Meinklang – The Klang make plenty of more expensive wines, but as I’ve said before, a true test of a winemaker is their entry point. Burgenlandrot is their simply named, does what it says on the label, wine that ticks all the boxes. A vibrant, dark red with a nose of peppery cherry. The blend is Zweigelt, Gamay and St Laurent. Its fruit is quite intense, partly because it’s lifted by refreshing acidity. I’m guessing Winemakers Club are taking (of necessity) their “Central London Location” cut, but at £16 it still represents excellent value…if they have any left, of course. It’s a lot cheaper in Austria, about €10 with taxes, but after the petrol…I’m not complaining. Alcohol – 12.5%.

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Arbois “Champ Fort” 2009, Patrice & Caroline Hughes Beguet – This is Poulsard, or I should say “Ploussard” (Patrice has another cuvée complementing this one from the Côte de Feule in the “World Capital of Ploussard”, Pupillin). Champ Fort is from a north facing site of grey marl in the family’s home village of Mesnay, just a minute or two out of Arbois. This aged example, which I bought from Patrice in 2014, has fruit, structure and maturity. It feels à point. Although Wink Lorch describes the Côte de Feule as the top wine in the range (in Jura Wine, 2014), this particular Champ Fort is, on reflection, probably the best of Patrice’s wines I’ve tried to date. Alcohol – 12.5%.

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Fleurie 2010, Jean Foillard – This is one of the wines we drank at our son’s recent wedding. Everyone rightly raves about the Morgons from Foillard, but his Fleurie is a dark horse and is sometimes my favourite. This 2010 is drinking superbly now, a majestic wine, smooth, fruity but not lacking grip. Earlier this year I was talking to a member of the Foillard team, who told me that this wine was what they’ve been drinking at the domaine this year. ‘Nuff said. Alcohol – 13%.

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Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett 2010, Schloss Lieser – The other wedding wine. Thomas Haag is one of my favourite Mosel producers, even though his castle, a little downstream from Bernkastel on the opposite bank, is a little forbidding. When you want something light to go with the fizz, beer, gin, B52s and rum, this is just the thing. But it’s the ability of wines even at this level to age well which makes them quite remarkable. Alcohol – 8%.

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Prosecco Colfondo NV, Casa Belfi – My son’s elder sibling had a birthday a few days after the wedding and we were pleased to be able to celebrate it with her. This and the following wine engendered a deep discussion on natural wines with two of her friends deeply into sustainability and permaculture. Colfondo Proseccos are cloudy, bottle fermented without disgorgement. There’s a yeasty softness. The cloudiness often makes people wary, but there’s something elemental, by which I suppose I mean primitive, but in a positive way. A wine full of contradictions, yet emerging at the end in simple form with all its flavours on its sleeve. Not the most profound of wines, indeed not the most profound of Proseccos (Casa Coste Piane anyone?), but bursting with simple pleasure.

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Albillo 2014, Vinos Ambiz – This is the third time I’ve drunk this in the past couple of months, the first being at the Raw Popup at the London Edition Hotel in early May. An orange, skin contact, wine from the Sierra de Gredos, made by Fabio Bartolomei, although “made” is hardly fair. Winemakers often say that a wine makes itself, but other than some organic sheep and goat manure every two years, plus a tiny bit of sulphur in some of the wines when required, that’s all Fabio does. This wine is slightly cloudy with peach, apricot and mandarin flavours balanced by a savoury note. You don’t notice the alcohol at all, remarkable! One of the most challenging wines you’ll taste all year, but assuming you like a challenge, this is fantastic. But be warned. Others may run at the first mouthful. Alcohol – 15%.

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Behind the wine, our new hospitality venture,  “solitary bee”  apartments – airbeenbee

One of the guests was the guy with whom we made some wine from a Seyval Blanc plot last year. I have to say that the bottles of white had improved a lot with a few months rest post-bottling. They still weren’t good, but they were drinkable if very tart. But a step up was a batch given extended skin contact. It only managed 5.4%, so not really a wine. But it tasted quite nice. I was surprised. This year the task is to thin the bunches more rigorously so that the remainder ripen better. But it’s not looking all that good on the weather front and even my home vines need pruning back every few days with all this rain.

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Zweigelt Kieselstein, Burgenland 2014, Claus Preisinger – I won’t say much about this as I drink it, and write about it, with some regularity. This is a light and fruity red with a little bite/crunch. This time we served it pretty cool and that worked well. It’s probably top of my list of great value Austrian wines. Again, like the Meinklang, this is at the cheaper end of Claus’s range, but none the worse for that. Alcohol – 12.5%.

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L’Uva Arbosiana, Arbois 2014, Domaine de la Tournelle – Pascal and Evelyne Clairet are among a select group of Arbois producers who owe some of their inspiration, and skills perhaps, to Stéphane Tissot, but who have since gone on to form their own domaines, creating exciting wines of their own. The whole range from Domaine de la Tournelle is exciting, right up to their Vin Jaune. Yet not one of them is more thrilling than this lovely  carbonic maceration Ploussard. Is it a red, is it a pink? Who cares, it’s a totally delicious natural wine. It’s actually the first wine I ever tried from the domaine, which I purchased from Antidote, the restaurant near London’s Carnaby Street where some of you may recall we had one of our three New Beaujolais events last year. This bottle came from Dynamic Vines. I have a massive soft spot for this. Splosh it into a carafe, give it a shake, and enjoy. Jura wine at its most fun. Alcohol – 10.5%.

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To finish, here are some Norwegian beers (mustn’t forget these, very nice, they arrived from Norway in a suitcase but I’m reliably informed that M&S have the prescience to stock the one on the right), and a sneaky peek at what we shall be drinking tonight – Domaine L’Octavin’s Cul Rond à la Cuisse Rose (pardon my French). White Ploussard, no less. 10.7% alcohol, FYI.

 

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