Well, not quite, but in about a week’s time I will be on a break for a month. Fingers crossed I might be able to catch up on recent wines before then, but meanwhile, in today’s article, there’s a bit of a wine fix (a pretty good one) at the end, but before that I’m going to stray off subject and talk about…coffee.
I find a strong appreciation of coffee among wine lovers. Some prefer tea, although in such cases it is usually fine teas. I don’t find too many impassioned wine lovers who are totally undiscerning when it comes to other beverages. I’m not really a tea person, except when it comes to Japanese green teas, and my occasional cup of Himalayan Blue from Marriage Frères. But I do find myself getting more and more interested in coffee, which is why I grabbed the chance to visit one of the new breed of small batch coffee roasters last week.
Coffee Mongers is based at Lymington Enterprise Centre. The man behind the operation, Tarek El-Khazindar, has more than a couple of decades’ experience. He began as a coffee trader in Paris in 1984, and managed a green coffee trading operation in London from 1996. Now he buys high quality beans in relatively small quantities for his own business.
We had a good look around – a guided tour isn’t officially part of a trip to buy coffee here, but a tour and a tasting before buying felt somewhat familiar, a great idea. In the small trading unit the beans are kept up on the mezzanine. We compared the different origin beans, all different in colour, look, and especially smell. As with wine, each cup of coffee has its own aroma, but whereas grapes are more neutral when picked, green coffee beans really show their quality, and qualities, even before roasting.
Down below is the gleaming Bühler roaster (having a day off when we visited, ouch!). It’s a Swiss model which is so heavy the forklift was almost out of its depth when it was manoeuvred in. If, like me, you get just a little bit excited by the gleaming stainless steel of a new Champagne Press, you’ll find this quite thrilling too. A very expensive piece of kit, of course. Much of the roasting process is computer controlled, but the end of any roast is always judged by the roaster (as Gareth, our guide, pointed out, thirty seconds too long can ruin a whole batch). The black handle at nine o’clock on the roasting drum allows access to a sample of the beans.
Bühler Roaster – they have refrained from calling him Ferris
The photograph below shows the contrast between the unroasted green beans and the finished product. Each origin of coffee gets a different approach, and they have a very nifty small roaster in which they can experiment, partially with the length/intensity of roast, but also with different blends.
Coffee Mongers concentrate primarily on four blends – Brazilian (mainly Santos), Colombian, Javan and Mocha. Each of these costs £5 for 250g at the unit (£6.50 online), a step up from supermarket coffee, but still good value for the quality. You can take these as beans, or have them precision ground for your brewer of choice in their rather flashy £3,000 grinder (on the right).
They are also introducing single estate coffees, and when we visited they had a Rwandan estate on sale. This was somewhat more expensive, at £7.50 per 250g, but it’s a lovely coffee, really complex and fruity. I am already well aware of where the coffee bug can lead, as a customer of Algerian Coffee Stores in Soho’s Old Compton Street, and I’m not planning to begin blowing the wine budget on coffee any time soon. That said, you really do move a step up with the single estate coffees, but then the proprietorial blends they do are really good as well. We came away with a selection, including the Rwandan.
A visit to Coffee Mongers is not too dissimilar to a winery visit. We only really went to buy some coffee, having been made a cup of the Brazilian by a friend a couple of weeks ago. But Gareth, who was on duty last Friday, spent time showing us around, and more importantly, gave us a tasting (which is how we came to buy some of the brilliant Rwandan). We learnt many new things about different origin coffee styles, not least that smoother blends (like their Javan) are the ones to choose if using a non-dairy milk substitute (like soya or almond). A higher acid coffee, like the Colombian , works far less well. If you really have to put anything in your coffee, of course.
Coffee Mongers also sell a number of coffee peripherals, including the kind of ceramic filter cones you can buy for a whole lot more up in London. A visit to one of these places would really interest any coffee loving wine aficionado.
Coffee Mongers are at Unit 13, Ampress Lane, Lymington Enterprise Centre, Lymington. Another place to add to your New Forest trip. Monday to Friday only (closed weekends).
We drank some extremely good wines at the weekend, one as an aperitif, and the other three at The Shipyard, a Lymington Restaurant I’ve written about several times before, where the fish and seafood comes right off the dayboats.
The aperitif was Larmandier-Bernier “Latitude” Extra Brut 1er Cru NV. This is a pretty dry Champagne (just 4g/l dosage), made from 100% Chardonnay. The dominant flavour is a kind of orange citrus with summer flowers, fresh with a very fine line enhanced by the lovely bead. You’ll probably find it a little lighter than their “Longitude” cuvée. Expect to pay between £35 and £40 retail.
We opened up at The Shipyard with a really fine old Jeffrey Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2004 from Clare Valley in South Australia (under screwcap). Arguably Australia’s most consistently fine Riesling, the Polish Hill bottling is notoriously tight when young. At thirteen years we are beginning to see how it ages, but it is still very fresh. Anyone who has ever tasted Rose’s Lime Cordial will recognise it in this wine. Delicate and dry, but with a steeliness characteristic of the grape variety, this is fantastic, with complexity growing in the glass as it warmed. And what a colour, vibrant lemon-lime being the only words to describe it.
These mussels were cooked with harissa, fennel and chorizo in a tomato sauce, delicious. The wine was not a perfect match for the food, but both were so good that, frankly, no one cared.
Miani Chardonnay 2013, Friuli Colli Orientali is one of those wines which clearly demonstrates that we should not forget Northeastern Italy when looking for world class Chardonnay. From Buttrio, where Enzo Pontoni has been working since the mid-1980s, this wine is a beautiful green gold, very fine with a mineral core and velvet fruit. Indeed, some have argued that Pontoni is Italy’s finest white winemaker, yet how many fashionable names supplant him when commentators are talking about Italian whites? A bottle of this beauty will probably set you back over £50, but it really is that good.
The fish is a whole sole, so beautifully fresh.
The final wine on Saturday night was from one of my favourite producers anywhere. L’Uva Arbosiana 2015, Domaine de La Tournelle (Arbois) is 100% Poulsard. It gets one month of carbonic maceration in open cylindrical vats, before ageing for between three and four months in foudres and old barrels. Bottled in spring with 900 to 1,200 mg/litre of natural carbon dioxide, the wine is unfiltered and no sulphur is added. Evelyne (Clairet) recommends transporting at 14 degrees or below, although I’ve latterly found that’s a cautious recommendation.
L’Uva can be a bit reductive. I once saw Wink Lorch sort it out by vigorous shaking in a decanter, and that certainly worked. Decant it if you can. There will otherwise be a good bit of CO2 dissolved in the glass, but a good swirl and allowing the wine to open out enables it to give its best…a very fruity wine which is deceptively simple. Ploussard/Poulsard has a haunting quality, whereby the smooth fruit develops an extra dimension with age and air (at least when made well), which I’ve described on many occasions as ethereal. The scent of fine tea and cranberries/redcurrants sometimes gets in there.
Don’t think such an apparently simple wine can’t age. The previous night, by coincidence, an online acquaintance in Sydney had opened the 2014, and had said it was singing. I will always adore this cuvée. Quirky, sometimes a little difficult to begin with, for me it epitomises the creativity of its producer, and how natural wine can not only beguile the senses, but also challenge the intellect.