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Saturday, 26 June 2010

Cambridge's newest wine shop - Cambridge Wine Merchants on Cherry Hinton Road

Just a few steps away from the re-developed cattle market area, Cherry Hinton Road sees the opening of Cambridge's newest wine shop, another in the expanding chain of Cambridge Wine Merchants.

CWM owner, Hal Wilson - who already has branches on Mill Road, King's Parade (directly opposite King's college) and Bridge St, as well as a number further afield - invited me to drop round on the opening night to meet the manager Steve Hovington and see for myself.

The look and feel of this newest branch will be familiar to anyone who has already visited a CWM branch - the trademark eggshell blue colour scheme and dark wood floor give it a tasteful and sophisticated yet unpretentious feel. The same can be said of the wine list and although it is standardised across all outlets, there were a couple of items here not yet available in other branches, including a white from Ribeiro in Spain.

Steve, who had just got back from a series of en primeur tastings in Bordeaux and also is CWM's WSET tutor, explained that what also sets this branch apart is an indoor seating area which will serve drinks on the premises (as soon as the on-licence comes through), making it more than just a place to buy wine to take away. On that very hot evening, the potential and appeal of this was immediately obvious.

Unlike, say, Trumpington which has Noel Young and Waitrose, or the Mill Road area which is well-served for wine merchants, Cherry Hinton has little in the way of "serious" wine outlets, so this newest CWM is a welcome addition for wine-drinkers in the area

The location is the site of a former Wine Rack which was around for many years, but disappeared when parent company First Quench went into administration last year. There was also a relatively short-lived independent called Veritas which disappeared a few years ago. Steve explained that this branch has the advantage of much lower overheads than in central Cambridge, but all of the central support that CWM offers in terms of sourcing wines and marketing them.


Cambridge Wine Merchants - Cherry Hinton Road - http://www.cambridgewine.com/Profile.asp?user=12

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Matching Food and Wine Series - Spicy Foods

The first Cambridge Food and Wine Society matching event was a few years ago now - for that event, I took a few "classic" food and wine combinations (Sancerre and goat's cheese, roast beef and Bordeaux) and asked people to see if they thought they were a match - that is to say, both the food and the wine were enhanced by being consumed together.

Wine writers frequently seem to claim that food matching is more an art than a science - what I think they mean by this is that you cannot always predict whether a food and wine will match well together ahead of actually pairing them off. I agree with this to some extent but, whilst serendipity has its part to play in producing unexpected matches, with a bit of practice it's not that difficult to hazard a guess at whether a particular wine is going to match with a food.

I sourced the wines for this event from Cambridge Wine Merchants after Hal Wilson, the owner, kindly offered to help out and spent a very pleasant half hour with his Mill Road branch manager on the morning of the event discussing each course and the type of wine I wanted to match it with.

There are a number of ingredients that are inimical to matching with wine - greasy food in particular does not match well with wine, which is why you have Coke with a Big Mac or beer with a Wiener schnitzel. Spicy foods are something of a challenge too, but not impossible if the spice is used more as a seasoning rather than being allowed to overpower the meal.

The first pairing was relatively straightforward and a staple of wine bars everywhere - a pepper salami with a fruity southern French red and was generally agreed to be a reasonable match, although it turned out a later wine proved to be an even better one.

Next came arabbiata - an Italian pasta sauce made with tomatoes, bacon, garlic and chili. Chianti is the classic Italian food wine, but with a budget of around £10 per bottle, we were looking only at something entry level, and decided to opt for a better-value Barbera from the unfashionable (and therefore cheaper) region of Oltrepo Pavese. Both the wine and the arabbiata were excellent, but the sauce needed just a little more kick to go really well with the full, rich wine.

I can't imagine ever having anything but beer with an Indian curry, but Thai curries are a different matter altogether - with coconut, gingery galangal and lemongrass, they are much more wine friendly and match well with a ripe, oaky New World Chardonnay.

Paprika salmon is a traditional Hungarian dish (typically, freshwater catfish is used as Hungary is landlocked) with a sauce made from sour cream, paprika and tomatoes - it is a hearty, calorie-laden stew for peasant labourers with spice but no heat. Sadly, there were no Hungarian reds available, but we matched it with another southern French red, with plenty of fruit and acidity to cut through the heavy cream sauce. The wine, a Carignan from old vines, was ripe, spicy and full and would actually have made a better match for the salami (with the first wine probably more suited to this dish).

This was followed by two Iberian dishes with local wines - a Spanish chicken and chorizo stew with a Rioja (both delicious, but some felt the wine overpowered the stew) and piri piri chicken with a Portuguese red blend containing a fair amount of the food-friendly but non-traditional Cabernet Sauvignon which stood up well to the robust flavours of chili and vinegar.

We finished with two desserts - baklavas (chopped walnuts and pistachios between sheets of filo pastry flavoured with cinnamon) and an apple cake flavoured with vanilla.

Matching these were an award-winning Pedro Ximenez sherry that was full of fig, raisin and dried mixed fruit flavours and was almost a complete dessert in its own right and a very smooth single malt whisky from Speyside, with the lightness and refreshing acidity to cut through both the cake and the baklavas.

The Wines

Dom. de Cassan Beaumes de Venise 2007, France £10.99

Nostros Chardonnay Gran Reserva 2007, Casablanca Valley, Chile £7.95

Barbera 2008, Cantina di Casteggio, Oltrepo Pavese, Italy £6.99

Mont Rocher Old Vine Carignan 2009 VdP d' Herault, France £7.49

Paternina Reserva Rioja 2004 Banda Roja, Spain £10.99

Esporao Reserva Tinto 2007, Alentejo, Portugal £14.99

Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez Triana, Spain £13.30

Glen Rothes 8yo MacPhails Collection Single Speyside Malt, £25.50


Cambridge Food and Wine Society - http://www.cambridgefoodandwinesociety.org.uk/

Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/index.asp

Monday, 14 June 2010

Second Wines - Reserve de la Comtesse

I popped into Cambridge Wine Merchants at the weekend to source some wines for a Cambridge Food and Wine Society event and whilst there, noticed a magnum of Reserve de la Comtesse 1994 on display.

Now, I can't remember how I happen to know this bit of wine trivia, but Reserve de la Comtesse is the second wine of Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande - one of fifteen Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths) in the original Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. I'm not sure I could name any others, but this essentially means that the wine is not quite good enough to go into a wine costing, possibly, hundreds of pounds per bottle, but is basically from the same area and made with the same skill and care - in the same way that a Skoda shares its underpinnings, chassis, engine and pretty much everything except the final layer of trim with a (much more expensive) Audi.

Whilst mainly associated with Bordeaux, second wines are nothing new, nor are they limited to classed growths; Waitrose, for example, sells a Cotes de Castillon called Seigneurs d'Aiguilhe from for under a tenner as the second wine of Château d'Aiguilhe. For bargain hunters, second wines are great news - you get a good sense of what the main wine is like without anything like the expense, so at this point I popped back home for some quick Internet research which revealed the price was very reasonable and the year was a good albeit not a truly great one.

Second wines also have an advantage for the producer, as they allow, for example, wine from younger vines or in off years to be sold under a different label, thus maintaining the prestige of the first wine.

In general, second wines are said to be slightly faster-maturing than the main wine, but as top Bordeaux may be only just ready to drink at about 10 years, peaking after a few more years, and as magnums age more slowly than single bottles (twice the amount of wine but the same amount of air in the bottle), my main concern was only around how it had been stored for the last 16 years rather than whether was past its best. A quick chat with the branch manager revealed it had been in the shop for a couple of months, but had been stored sensibly and prior to that, had been with a wine wholesaler. He also helpfully added that if there was a fault, I could return it for a refund - which was very reassuring.

My last magnum of "quality" Bordeaux was at Christmas when I opened a Troplong Mondot which an appreciative boss had given me a while back - I was not sure at the time whether I would be able to perceive the difference between that and the more everyday Bordeaux I usually pick up in a French supermarket, but there was definitely something superior about the depth and texture of the wine which was hard to define, but felt perhaps a little like seeing the original of a great painting compared to just a print in an art book.

As to price, this magnum set me back around as much as an entire Laithwaites "mystery case", so it's definitely a "special occasion" wine and all that remains now is to find a suitable occasion.

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande's website includes a whole section on its second wine and here's what it has to say:

In the Bordeaux region the classified crus have mixed soils, but large enough tracts of land to make very rigorous selections. It is only the quest for excellence during the XVIIIth century that led the owners to elaborate several wines of different quality. Severe selecting is the guarantee of quality of a great wine, but also of a second wine.

Today, the second wines represent between 20 and 50 % of the total production of the Chateau. From the same soil, the second wine benefits from the same technology as the great wine, and also its reputation. They are generally excellent wines, though less robust and long lasting than their elders.

The archives kept at Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande mention the existence of a second wine as early as the XIXth century:

27 April 1890, shipping of four bottles of the vintage 1874 second wine to the Moscow exhibition.

In addition, the accounts book for the year 1874, that details the production of the year confirms that the second wine was rigorously selected.

The second wine of Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, The Réserve de la Comtesse, was created and sold for the first time in 1973.


Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/

Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande - http://www.pichon-lalande.com/index-uk.htm

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Some light relief at half-term: The Plough at Coton‏

It was half-term recently and my turn to look after the kids. With only a little encouragement from me, my daughter decided she would like to do a bike ride and have a pub lunch somewhere.

As I have mentioned before, the quality of eating establishments in central Cambridge is not generally that great as many have only the tourist trade to consider. Moreover, whilst central Cambridge is an undeniably lovely place with its historic colleges, pedestrianised medieval street layout, the river Cam and the backs, the surrounding countryside is rather less impressive. So it was something of a challenge to think of a scenic route of 10-15 miles, suitable for a young cyclist, going via a decent country pub.

In the end, we started at Castle Mound, the highest point in the city with views of various chapels and rooftops, then wound our way between the colleges and along the backs to Grantchester Meadows and on to Grantchester itself before taking a minor road up to Coton about three miles west of Cambridge where we stopped at The Plough.

The Plough had been on my radar for a while as a gastropub worth visiting, but somehow we had never got round to it - any trips west of Cambridge have generally been to the excellent Three Horseshoes in nearby Madingley.

Set more or less in the centre of Coton, The Plough has that typical gastropub look of a cosy olde worlde exterior contrasting with a smart, modern interior. As that day it happened to be not only not raining, but also rather hot in fact, we decided to sit under an umbrella outside at the back.

I went for the three-course set lunch, whilst my daughter ordered from the children's menu. The food was proper gastropub-style, that is to say traditional pub food, well-made and presented, with perhaps the odd twist here and there, but not overly fancy restaurant food that happens to be served in a pub setting.

My starter of duck and black pudding terrine was served with slices of baguette and some dressed salad leaves and the waiting staff obligingly brought my daughter's fish and chips at the same time so that she did not have to sit and wait for her food.

My main, when it arrived, was a deliciously buttery piece of cod, lightly cooked to perfection and served on roasted peppers with a manchego crust and tapenade - a paste of black olives. At home, I would not be brave enough to try and mix the heavy salty flavours of tapenade with cheese and cod for fear of overwhelming the subtlety of the fish, but this worked really well, especially with the sweetness of the peppers.

My daughter's fish and chips were equally well made, with light crispy batter, succulent fresh fish and proper fat chips perfectly cooked - I can say this with authority having tried more than a few myself, much to her annoyance.

To finish, we had both chosen the same thing - chocolate brownie with ice-cream. Sadly, I was informed, their supplies only ran to a child's portion, so I re-ordered a cheesecake with amaretto, chocolate chips and raspberry topping. It was due to be served with clotted cream ice-cream (the main reason I had ordered it, to be honest) but actually came with a small saucer of double cream. I overcame my mild disappointment at this by pouring the cream over the cheesecake and also trying some of my daughter's ice-cream and brownie sundae which was lovely - the brownie soft and moist, the rich home-made ice-cream flecked with dots of vanilla.

My cheesecake was also delicious - I am not sure I could discern any Amaretto in it and the chocolate chips did not seem to add much to it, but these were minor points.

There is a large garden at the back of the pub with additional seating, some trees and play equipment for children, so my daughter went off to try these out whilst I finished off my beer - a lovely pint of Adnams bitter - before a gentle ride back into Cambridge, again via Grantchester.
Having finally visited The Plough, I now don't know why we haven't been there before; we will certainly be back soon.
The Plough - http://www.theploughcoton.co.uk/
Adnams - http://adnams.co.uk/
Our approximate route can be found on Multimap directions - Cambridge to Coton via Grantchester: http://www.multimap.com/directions/