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Friday, 26 November 2010

Cold Calling and The Data Protection Act 1998

"Altes Telefon" by Kornelia und Hartmut Häfele
A few days ago, I emailed some comments to Jancis Robinson about one of her articles on cold calling (unsolicited sales calls) which she added to her article.

You can read the full article here, including my comments and those of Lionel Nierop, a fellow Cambridge (UK) resident and MD of The Wine Trade.

I have no formal legal training or qualifications, but my day job as a company director in the UK requires me to know a little about these sorts of things - and also inevitably to deal with them; so I thought it might be worthwhile expanding on the advice I gave on Jancis' site.

The first thing to say is that cold calling is generally illegal in the UK - unless the caller has received your permission to call you.

The basis of this is two principles in the UK's Data Protection Act 1998 which state that the person being contacted must have consented to their personal data being collected and held for the specified purpose if the contacting organisation holds personal data in an organised, searchable form; this includes databases, spreadsheets or even hanging files.

These principles can be found here and state that personal data must be obtained and processed fairly and lawfully (that the subject of the data has consented to its collection and use) and must be held only for the specified purposes.

So, if someone is calling me to offer fine wine investment opportunities, and they have my details on a database, they need to demonstrate that I gave permission for this.

Hence, I find the quickest and easiest way to sniff out and stop a cold caller is to ask from where they have obtained my personal details and how have they obtained my permission to contact me.

Many cold callers seem ignorant of the law on this, so the next step can be point out that they are in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 if they do not have my permission to call me.

At this point the conversation can go a number of ways - either an apology and agreement not to call again. Maybe even a small gift as compensation (thank you Alex Barr of GenLead - I'm saving it for Christmas) or a less satisfactory response which requires further steps.

The Data Protection Act 1998 requires you to raise the issue in the first instance with the person or company who made the breach. So I generally obtain:

- full company details (name and address)
- contact details of company senior management (MD,CEO, chairman or even better, all three)
- full name of the person who called

I do tend to find that many people either hang up or suddenly profess complete ignorance of their work address, boss's name etc at this stage.

I then usually contact the company with a letter along the following lines:

"Subject Access Request

Further to a conversation I have just had with one of your staff, [insert name here], please confirm:

- from where you have obtained my contact details
- how you have obtained my approval to make sales calls to me
- what data you hold about me

Moreover, please delete all personal data that you hold about me and confirm that you have put in place adequate measures to ensure that [I am / my company is] not cold called again.

A prompt and satisfactory answer from you will ensure that this matter need not be taken any further."

If this does not elicit an appropriate response, then the next step is to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner's Office - contact details are on the ICO's website - http://www.ico.gov.uk/.

Another preventative option is to register with the Telephone Preference Service, details here - http://www.mpsonline.org.uk/tps/

According to the TPS website "The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) is a free service. It is the official central opt out register on which you can record your preference not to receive unsolicited sales or marketing calls. It is a legal requirement that all organisations (including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties) do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have your consent to do so."

Footnote - December 3

A increasingly common cold-call scam of recent years (which I have experienced several times, the most recent being this morning) is someone phoning up claiming to have some connection with, or calling "on behalf of" the Police or Fire services. In reality, they prove to be asking for sponsorship in a "Police Diary" or "Fire Officer's Annual Report", but the mere mention of an emergency service often gets them past an unwitting receptionist. The person who called me today, as so often happens, was able to give me his full name, but not the full company name and suddenly could not remember his address when asked for it.


Data Protection Act - http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/29/contents

Information Commissioner's Office - http://www.ico.gov.uk/

Telephone Preference Service - http://www.mpsonline.org.uk/tps/

Jancis Robinson - http://www.jancisrobinson.com/

Jancis' article on cold-calling - http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a20101117.html

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Private Bin Pinot Noir, 2009 Marlborough - Villa Maria

Pinot Noir's spiritual home is a thin strip of land in the Côte-d'Or where historic inheritance laws under the Dukes of Burgundy have led to ever smaller parcels of land being cultivated by individual winemakers, making it very much a terroir wine.

Pretty much nowhere else in the Old World does serious Pinot Noir, but the New World is giving it a go - with the most notable successes in the US, Chile and New Zealand.

A thin-skinned, cool-climate grape, Pinot seems to do well in places that are cool due to latitude (central Otago, Oregon), maritime influences (parts of California and Marlborough) or altitude (Chile and Argentina, where the vineyards are up to 1,500m above sea level).

The grapes for this Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir come from the Awatere and Wairau Valley sub-regions of Marlborough - a region generally more famous for its ripe, zesty Sauvignon Blanc.

Despite seeing vines arrive only in the early 1970s, Marlborough can lay a serious claim to starting the modern New Zealand wine industry and now represents around 60% of vineyard area in New Zealand; and whilst Sauvignon Blanc is the main varietal, there is also plenty of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Pale in the glass with a typically mushroomy Pinot nose, this wine has not really yet developed yet the complex and subtle aromas of a good Pinot. On the palate there are raspberries and cherries, a soft-yet-mouthfilling texture, some spice and a rich, balanced savouriness.

Marlborough as seen from
the Wellington-Picton ferry.
There's also some tannic buzz from aging in barriques and great length which all suggest this will improve significantly, becoming both more complex and more harmonious with at least a few more years' age.

Like other Villa Maria wines, this feels balanced, restrained and extremely well-made; enjoyable now, it will probably repay a decent amount of cellaring.

Partner with classic Pinot matches, such as light game, plain roast chicken or turkey or even a simple plate of jamon iberico.

£9.99, widely available - provided for review.

Footnote - 30 November 2010

In the interests of seeing how this wine would develop and just how much aging potential it might have, I kept about a third of the bottle back and re-sampled it every couple of days. For the first five or so days, it did not change much at all; by day 8 (as long as I could eke it out for), it had become more harmonious and truffley, with softer tannins - more Pinot-like.

Using my very rough rule of thumb that 1 hour in the decanter equates to 1 day in the bottle (re-sealed) or 1 year's laying down, this suggests that, whilst approachable now, the wine should be cellared for at least five years to show its best and will improve for up to 10.

Trainspotters should note that it is very chilly in Cambridge at the moment with frosts and even some early snow, so for most of the day, our kitchen (where this was stored) is at cellar temperature. The same test in the height of sweltering summer (yes, we do have them occasionally) might well produce very different results.

For a more scientific assessment of temperature and aging (from someone who wears a white coat), see here.


Villa Maria - http://www.villamaria.co.nz/

Monday, 22 November 2010

More Baruzzo chocolate - and some complex logistics

A few weeks ago, I went to a chocolate Master Class tasting presentation by Raffaella Baruzzo at the London Fine Wine Fair and came away with a much greater appreciation of what makes one chocolate superior to another - see the original article here.

I got in touch with Raffaella shortly afterwards and she very kindly sent me some more of her delicious chocolates to review. However, we quickly realised that, with small children around, it would take some degree of organisation to be able to sample a selection of chocolates in peace without one or more younger members of the family interfering and scoffing the lot.

However, one evening recently, we finally managed to get them sitting quietly in another room and, with one ear listening out for the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs, set to work tasting.
Raffaella's Master Class had focused on the subtle differences in cocoa beans from different origins - specifically South America (the best), Africa (middling) and Asia (only for mass-market, oversugared junk) - and she had pointed out that origin is far more important than coca percentage.

Since then, I have looked at a number of upmarket chocolates to see if there is any indication of cocoa bean origin - and generally there is not.

The usual chocolate in the CWB household is Lindt from Switzerland's Lindt & Sprüngli; the 70%-cocoa bars have a rich, earthy smell and a smooth, mouthfilling texture.

However, after sampling Raffaella's range, I couldn't help noticing that the Lindt chocolate is not quite as complex, balanced or long as the ones we had tried at the Master Class, whilst some assorted chocolates from a well-known high street clothes-and-food retailer tasted simply of sugar with little discernible actual chocolate flavour.

Raffaella's aim is to make traditional recipes with a contemporary twist, and the selection that she had sent me (all beautifully presented in dark brown boxes wrapped in pale blue tissue paper) was a mixture of pralines, truffles and fruit and nuts covered in her chocolate. With the pralines, the chocolate coating was quite thin, so perceptions were more about the fillings and the overall balance and flavour.

The nuts and berries had a thicker layer of chocolate and we tried what we had been taught was the correct technique of not chewing the chocolate, but simply letting it melt slowly in the mouth.

The first one we tried was a pistachio praline infused with rosemary that we had sampled at the end of the Master Class - it had a nutty, crunchy texture and a wonderful flavour of rosemary.

Next came a three-layered praline that was rich, smooth and mouthfilling with nutty aromas. A coffee praline was rich and dark, whilst a liquorice one was woody with some vanilla; finally there was almond (marzipan aromas, crunchy texture) and lemon cream (rich, citrussy and balanced), a dark truffle (rich, dark, intense and long) and a vanilla and white chocolate truffle (smooth and long).

Moving on to the whole nuts and berries, there was a roasted whole hazelnut dusted in cocoa powder that smelt noticeably of hazelnut even from outside. A gently roasted walnut matched perfectly with its very bitter chocolate coating that was smooth, velvety and balanced, whilst a mocca praline smelt like the inside of a coffee shop or a newly-opened packet of finely ground espresso beans and had a crunch of bitter coffee bean in middle.

However, the revelation for me was a chocolate-coated dried cape gooseberry (or physalis) that was sharp and fruity. I am more familiar with physalis in its un-dried form as a dessert garnish, but dried and coasted in chocolate it was intensely sharp yet balanced.

What stood out with all the chocolates we tried was the deep, intense flavours and the balance achieved between them; whilst they all had a sweetness, they actually tasted of something other than mere sugary sweetness and had bitterness, sharpness and complex aromas.

This depth of flavour can only be achieved by using the best ingredients and Raffella sources many of her ingredients from her homeland, including pistachios and almonds from Sicily, hazelnuts from Piemonte and authentic grappa. It is a typically Italian approach - a small number of extremely high-quality and well-matched ingredients.

A box of Baruzzo chocolates costs between £10.95 (9 pieces) and £22.95 (24 pieces) and can be bought either directly from Baruzzo or at various food and wine fairs - see Where To Buy.

Provided for review.

Barruzzo - http://www.baruzzo.co.uk/index.html

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Tasting with Bacchanalia at Perse Girls

With my head still a little fragile from a charity event the night before, I introduced Paul Bowes of Bacchanalia in Cambridge to a group of parents at the Perse School for Girls, part of the Stephen Perse Foundation and not to be confused with a similarly-named school also in central Cambridge.

The event had been organised by the school's PFA partly as a fund-raiser and partly as a social event for parents of pupils at the school; the rest of the Committee had done a great job of preparing the school hall with Christmassy table decorations and it looked very festive.

I have seen Paul speak before at the Cambridge Food and Wine Society and know what an entertaining presenter he is; and, although the best bet is usually just to let him get on with whatever he wants to do, the PFA had decided to add in a fun element to the tasting by including a Call My Bluff element.

The first wine Paul presented was a Mont Rocher Viognier; I have been very impressed with Mont Rocher's Carignan previously, but to me Viognier is something of a poor man's Chardonnay and probably would not be so popular without the current fashion for zesty, unoaked whites.

That said, it was very well made, light and refreshing with lemony elderflower and was a suitably  pleasant aperitif before moving onto something more serious.

The next wine was quite different - a rich, ripe, full-bodied but completely dry Pinot Gris from Alsace. Wines from Alsace are perfectly suited to the local cuisine and match well with rich pork dishes or tarte flambee.

We then moved on to the first mystery wine - with a strong, herbaceous nose, it was immediately recognisable as a Sauvignon Blanc and a New World one at that; the obvious best guess being that it was from New Zealand.

However, in a version of the heads-or-tails party game, Paul gave us the option of Chile or South Africa. Guessing as much by association, and based on bottle shape, as through expertise, our table plumped for South America and a price of under £15. We were only finally stumped when it proved to be a 2009 with around 18 months' bottle age and not a 2010 as we had guessed.

Although Paul had warned me he would be making up the format as he went along, this approach actually turned out to be highly instructive, with a series of ever more specific choices to work through.

First guesses of Sauvignon and New World were fairly straightforward, but the subsequent questions on country, vintage and price forced me to focus on specific aspects of the wine that I do not normally give so much attention to.

It's actually a great way to learn about wine and worth repeating as a format - as well as much less daunting for novices than just an unknown wine and a blank piece of paper.

The first of the red wines was a Chilean Pinot Noir from Nostros - Pinot is never a value-wine, and prices for good examples usually range from steep to hair-raising.

It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, to find how good this one was given its price tag of under £7 - with cherry fruit and hints of typical Pinot truffleyness, plus a soft texture and good balance, it was a minor classic, in its own, lightweight way.

As with the whites, the next red was completely different - a Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz blend from Coonawarra, Australia. I have been disappointed with Aussie wines of late due to excessive sweetness, but this was much more balanced and serious.

Still relatively young, this wine from two quite different grapes has not yet aged enough to achieve complete harmoniousness, and Paul pointed out the minty blackcurrant from the Cab on the nose and the softness of texture from the Shiraz on the palate.

Oddly, I found myself noting a typical Shiraz nose of prunes and plums and a fullness on the palate from the Cab.

The next wine, a mystery red, was perhaps the most intriguing of the night; initials sniffs revealed a baked, warm-climate fruitiness with something savoury, almost coffee-like, as well as a distinct pepperiness. Undecided between it being a restrained New World wine or a ripe Old World one, we opted for the former, but discovered it was the latter.

From here on, all bets were off, as the palate suggested southern Rhone but the bottle shape clearly did not. Thinking of obvious New World-style parts of Europe, I guessed inland Spain - only to discover it was from Southern Italy. To add to my shame, I was wrong on age, price and grape variety and finally learned it was a £17, 2001 Negroamaro from Copertino in Puglia - with a gold medal from the Concorso Enologico Internazionale to boot.

In my defence, I can only say that the last Puglian Negroamaro I sampled (reviewed here) tasted nothing like this at all.

I don't know whether it is the power of suggestion, a result of focusing on the wines more closely or the wines themselves opening up, but in both cases I found the mystery wines going up in my estimation by the time their true details were revealed.

Well-chilled and freshly opened for the tasting, I did find most of the wines felt a little closed at the time and seemed as if they could offer more complexity and length with a couple of degrees more warmth and a few more minutes in the glass.

The final wine was also a little unusual - a 100% Pedro Ximenez dessert wine. PX produces dark wines of intense sweetness and this was no exception; it had the consistency and colour of engine oil when poured in the glass.

For this reason, PX is more commonly blended with dry oloroso Sherry rather than made into a wine on its own, with the dry wine giving a nutty, toasty, figgy complexity which balances out the intense sweetness of the PX.

On its own, this PX was an intense, indulgently rich and raisiny wine, but with a balanced and not cloying finish, which genuinely needs to be drunk in small quantities - it was like a concentrated Christmas pudding in a glass.

As if on cue, mince pies were brought round at this stage and the only thing required to make this a heavenly gastronomic match would have been a touch of Chantilly cream.

At this stage the only thing left to do was thank Paul for the event and I was reminded of something the PFA committee had said during the planning - that they did not want it to be a serious and dull tasting.

Charismatic and entertaining, with a gently ironic sense of humour and an easy-going joviality, Paul is the sort of person who could not do a serious and dull tasting if he tried. He also presented a well-thought out range of interesting and well-made and wines.

The Wines

Vionier Mont Rocher 2009 VdP France, £6.99
Pinot Gris Reserve Turkheim 2008 Alsace, £9.99
Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Leyda Valley, Chile, £13.99
Pinot Noir Nostros 2010 Chile, £6.49
The Musician Cabernet Shiraz 2008 Australia, £10.99
Apollonio Divoto 2001, Copertino, Italy, £17.99
Glotonia PX Los Pecadillos, Montilla Moriles, Spain, £9.69


Stephen Perse Foundation - http://www.stephenperse.com/portal/

Bacchanalia - http://www.winegod.co.uk/

Friday, 19 November 2010

Project Hope Ball‏ - The Savoy London

The Savoy Hotel
In one of those strange twists of fate, I was asked the other day if I wouldn't mind going at short notice to a five-course Project Hope Ball at the newly-refurbished Savoy Hotel in London to help out the company. Ever one to do my bit, I agreed and dug out my dinner suit, even if it meant schlepping back to Cambridge on the last, slow train.

Project Hope (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) is an international healthcare organisation founded in the United States in 1958 with branches now also in Germany and the UK. The purpose of the Ball was to launch The Thoughtful Path: Munsieville, which Project Hope intends to act as a ground-breaking intiative by engaging entire communities in changing the way AIDS orphans are cared for in Munsieville, a township near Johannesburg.

The Savoy is as luxurious and elegant as you would expect from an up-market London hotel that has just had an extensive and expensive upgrade. Built by impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte with profits from his Gilbert and Sullivan operas, the hotel intially opened on 6 August 1889 and re-launched on 10 October 2010.

I know from experience at various conferences that catering for 200-odd people is no mean feat - however The Savoy managed superbly and managed a well-made but consciously unfussy menu with some impressive wines.

There was a Champagne reception with Louis Roederer; I have written elsewhere about Champagne and my previous experiences were repeated here - initially straightforwardly crisp and bubbly, towards the end of each glass, the wine opened up and showed a rich complexity, length and yeasty breadiness that was hitherto imperceptible.

Moving on to the food, cold starters were a classic arrangement of bocconcini with tomatoes, herbs and a balsamic and oil dressing. The hot starter was a risotto with Dover sole fillets and, quite inexplicably, chunks of pink grapefruit.

The white wine accompanying these was a surprisingly crisp, aromatic and rich Chardonnay from Les Vigneaux in Languedoc. From the Cave Coopérative Les Vignerons de la Vicomte, its humble VdP tag belied a pungency that spoke of high-altitude vineyards and a herbaceousness that was more Sauvignon that Chardie; it has a silver medal from Palmarès 2009.

The main course was perhaps the highlight - a generous chunk of slow roast lamb that was browned on the outside and beautifully pink in the middle, served on a puff pastry vine tomato tart.

The wine for this course was a Corbieres Syrah from Chateau La Bastide - with wonderful aromas of plums and prunes as well as vanilla sweetness, it was both quaffable and serious.

Dessert was both wonderful and traditionally British - a bread and butter pudding; sadly there was only coffee with petits fours and no dessert wine to accompany this.

The serious business of dining and drinking over, we moved on to the more frivolous charity auction of sporting memorabilia, limited edition wines and art etchings, overseen by Christie's Duncan McEuan.

Project Hope takes a different approach to many charities in that its focus is on outputs and not inputs - I have long felt that charities are good at asking for my money (and, of course, I do my bit to contribute) but I have not always felt entirely reassured about what that actually achieves.

The Thoughtful Path is backed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and acknowledges that a holistic solution is needed as traditional charity approaches have failed to make a sustained impact. The vision is to make Munsieville a world class model of excellence over the next 10 years.

Project Hope (UK website) - http://www.projecthopeuk.org/

Project Hope (international website) - http://www.projecthope.org/site/PageServer

The Savoy Hotel London - http://www.fairmont.com/savoy and http://www.the-savoy.com/
Roederer - http://www.champagne-roederer.com/en/
Cave Coopérative Les Vignerons de la Vicomte - no website but contactable at vignerons.vicomte@free.fr

Chateau La Bastide - http://www.chateau-la-bastide.fr/A_index.htm
Christie's - http://www.christies.com/

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Viña Labarta 2008, Rioja - Laithwaites

I'm not sure this Laithwaites wine quite matches up to its website billing as "Seriously deep and indulgent " - it is after all a basic Rioja with just 6 months in oak (no Riserva or Gran Riserva tag here).

That said, it has a good, typical nose of sweet vanilla and redcurrants, some complex cherry, spice and eucalyptus on the palate, a very smooth and rounded texture, good balanced finish and nice length.

Well-made and enjoyable, it's suitable for family Sunday lunches or a cheeky mid-week quaff, albeit not great value.

£7.99 (plus delivery) from Laithwaites.


Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Villa Maria Private Bin Hawkes Bay Merlot/ Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009

New Zealand is probably best known for its Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc - ripe, tropical, zesty and unoaked, it appeals to a wave of wine drinkers who have had enough of oaky Chardonnay.

But NZ is no one-trick pony and produces a diverse range of wines. The country has two things in particular going for it - a range of soils and micro-climates (or terroirs) and great technical skills which result in wines of both complexity and a subtlety that next-door Australia would do well to take more note of.

I have been impressed by Villa Maria's wines before - especially by a 2004 Gimblett Gravels Shiraz which I reviewed here a year or so ago and which is due another review as it continues to improve with age.

This Private Bin Merlot / Cabernet from 2009 is much younger and therefore just at the start of its life.

Labelled Hawkes Bay, an unspecified proportion of the grapes come from the Gimblett Gravels area, with small amounts of Malbec and Cabernet Franc added to the blend.

This feels a little like one of those contractual rock albums where the artist or band gathers together sundry bits and pieces that they never quite fitted onto other albums and releases them altogether. A recipe for disaster ? Not necessarily, as anyone who has listened to REM's diverse and sprawling but brilliant, end-of-contract masterpiece New Adventures in Hi-Fi will attest.

Hawkes Bay
(highlighted green)
In the middle of North Island on an equivalent latitude to Madrid, Hawkes Bay was first planted to vines over 100 years ago; with high summer temperatures, low rainfall and low relative humidity, it is one of NZ's premier regions, as well as the second largest area of production.

An unofficial sub-region, Gimblett Gravels is, as its name suggests, an area of free-draining, poor-quality gravelly soils that benefit from a combination of cooling sea breezes during the day and residual warmth from the stones at night to provide a long growing season and pretty much perfect conditions for Cab.

With Merlot and Cab, plus sundry other grapes, this is essentially a Bordeaux blend on Bordeaux-type soils and if we can forgive the Bordelais for chucking in a bit of whatever else is lying around, we should do the same for the kiwis - especially when the results are as good as this.

It is, however, very different from an equivalent-aged and priced Bordeaux which at this stage in its life would still be somewhat tough, tannic and unapproachable.

Dark in colour, it is dense and mouthfilling, but also soft, rounded and supple with complex raspberry and cherry fruit and some vanilla sweetness. From the Merlot, there are plums and an appealing earthiness whilst the Cab gives backbone, spice and hints of sweet tobacco. Extremely smooth and balanced, it has great length and a some gentle tannic grip on the finish.

Ready for drinking now, it doesn't feel like it has the extreme ageing potential of a top Bordeaux (but then how many people really wait ten-plus years for a wine to hit its peak these days ?) but should continue to improve and develop into something more complex for a good five more years or so, maybe more.

Cab's classic match is simple beef dishes in whatever form you prefer - we had this with griddled steak drizzled with a few drops of barrel-aged balsamic vinegar, but roast beef or a beef stew would also work.

£9.99 widely available - provided for review.


Villa Maria - http://www.villamaria.co.nz/

Monday, 15 November 2010

London's (Only) Austrian Delicatessen - Kipferl

TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson once said "When you go out for a meal you never say - I know, let's go for a German !"

Like much of Clarkson's northern, schoolboy humour, there is a good degree of truth in what he says. Germanic food (as found in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic and Belgium) is typically heavy, stodgy and designed to be washed down with beer.

But as is also the case with Clarkson, it's too much of an oversimplification to stand up to any degree of proper scrutiny.

Whilst you may think of Spanish hams and Italian cheeses as classic wine-bar food, Austria's alpine regions have just as much to offer.

Kipferl claims to be London's only Austrian delicatessen, and I've certainly not seen any others. Owner Christian Malnig moved to London from the rolling hills of the Thermenregion an hour or so's drive south of Vienna in the mid-90s.

Predictably, perhaps, a girl was involved - perhaps equally inevitably, she wasn't the girl that he ended up settling down with.

Netzplan of the Viennese U-Bahn

Stepping into Kipferl, located between the Barbican and Smithfield Market, is like being transported to a little corner of Austria; there is a "Netzplan" of the Vienna U-Bahn on the wall, the shelves are stocked with Austrian wines, lebkuechen spiced biscuits, Tyrolean salamis, Almdudler and Stiegl beer whilst the deli counter has a range of Austrian cakes and biscuits as well as cheese from Vorarlberg.

Perhaps the only non-Austrian aspect of the place is that it lacks the down-at-heel, shabbily aristocratic gemütlichkeit of a true Viennese kaffeehaus, such as Hawelka.

I asked Christian to make up a range of wine-friendly food to serve at a German tasting I was organising for the Cambridge Food and Wine Society and agreed to meet him at the end of hours the day before.

Catching up, he told me that coffee shop was now the most successful part of the business, but that his regular wine tastings are now over-subscribed. As a result of both of these, he is moving the shop to a larger premises in Angel in the new year.

Richly aromatic rye bread

The food included was a mixture of breads and, with the box beside me on the train on the way back up to Cambridge, the rich aroma of dark rye bread kept wafting up.

Christian provided some classic wine-bar fare - with a Germanic twist - which went superbly with the wines; there were three sliced meats, a classic cured salami, a ham sausage and some pork with carraway seeds, an air-dried Tyrolean salami and an aged hard cheese, with a rind, reminiscent of an Appenzeller.

Accompaniments included Staud's pickled gherkins, sweet and hot peppers and sweet peppers stuffed with cream cheese.

As well as the richly aromatic rye bread, there were plain white, mixed-seed and sunflower seed loaves. For dipping, Christian had provided something quite unusual, if not unique - Styrian pumpkin-seed oil.

Suspiciously dark green in colour, it looks like some kind of Hallowe'en potion and tastes equally enchanting - rich, nutty, toasty and herbaceous.

And to go with the dessert wines we would be having, there were homemade biscuits and Austrian chocolate which, with my new-found chocolate knowledge from a recent tasting, I recognised as superior with the beans coming from South America.

As I have written previously, Austria has been quietly reinventing itself, going from a sleepy and much slimmed-down former empire, to a vibrant and lively country that just happens to have ruled most of Europe for many centuries.

Nowadays, any restaurant with a wine list that aspires to be serious needs to have at least one Austrian wine on the list.

However, given that more than a decade after opening, Kipferl remains London's only Austrian deli, it seems that the take-up of Austrian meats, cheese, breads is proceeding more slowly than that of its wines.

For the moment, then, those of us in the know will continue to head for a small shop opposite Smithfield market and wonder why more people don't do the same.

A mixed assortment of buffet food for 25 people costs around £100 from Kipferl.

Kipferl: 70 Long Lane, London, EC1A 9EJ


Kipferl - http://www.kipferl.co.uk/

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

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Mosel Tasting with Weingut Scholtes at Cambridge Food and Wine Society

It was an evening of firsts for me - I have had quite a bit of Mosel wine before, firstly on a driving and wine-buying holiday (reviewed here) and more recently a tasting at the London Fine Wine Fair (reviewed here). However, I had never previously tried sparkling Riesling or German Cab, or had a German Pinot Noir that I really liked.

The Cambridge Food and Wine Society is on something of a run of having producers come and present their wines, as GianPaolo Paglia presented his wines from Poggio Argentiera earlier this year (reviewed here).

Hans-Peter Scholtes of Weingut Scholtes comes from a wine-making family going back 300 years and runs a genuinely family business making a range of wines from 6ha of vineyards in Minheim in the Mosel.

A view of the Mosel
The Mosel valley is a bucolic stretch of meandering river with steep terraces on either side; the river winds so much that it takes 40km to cover a straight-line distance of just 25km - how very un-Germanic.

In fact the Mosel does not fit neatly into any German stereotypes; quietly rural, with rolling hills, it is neither urban and industrial nor mountainous and forested with no beer halls or oompah bands.

The first wine Hans-Peter presented was a Champagne-method sparkling Riesling, something I have never tried before; it was crisp, refreshing and delicate, with fine bubbles and honeyed notes, very different from a yeasty, biscuity Champagne. Hans-Peter explained that whilst the secondary fermentation in bottle is Champagne method, he does not blend across years to achieve a house style (as is done in Champagne) but allows each year's vintage to express itself. With an (again un-Germanic) sense of irony, he suggested that a blending approach results in predictable and boring wines.

From this point, we tried the wines in pairs: the first pairing was two dry Rieslings, a from 2009, the first light and everyday, the second a spaetlese (literally, late-harvested) from old vines which was riper and fuller.

German red wines to me have historically been little more than a curious novelty - often the most notable thing about them is that they are produced at all. However, a pair of reds, a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon) were notable in their own right.

Light, yet complex, balanced and rounded, the 2010 Pinot was unfiltered and had aromas of cherries, vanilla and classic Pinot farmyard.

Cabernet is frequently tough, tannic and unapproachable in its youth - especially if it is good - but this 2007 was soft and well-balanced. Hans-Peter explained that he had grown the grapes as an experiment and, on first tasting the resulting wine, was disappointed with the results. He then put the wine into barrels of various oaks (US, French and Hungarian) and eventually decided that one year in new US oak followed by a year in new French oak was the best combination.

The next pairing was two off-dry whites - a Johanniter which was refreshing and clean and a Riesling spaetlese from old vines which was again fuller and fleshier.

Wine fashions seem to move in opposite and equal cycles and the current trend for unoaked and crisp, dry whites seems to have resulted in a preference for oaked and off-dry reds, so it's hard to know what the zeitgeist will make of these two off-dry white - as with all of Hans-Peter's wines, they were well-made, well-balanced and a delight to drink, if more suited to the garden than the dining room.

The last three wines were all stickies; first a delicious-but-light sweet spaetlese from 2007, followed by a pair of aged sweet auslese wines from 2003 and 1990 respectively.

The younger of these had a distinctly pungent nose of botrytis whilst the second had the classic aged Riesling nose of kerosene. Like many of us approaching our middle age, whilst its essential character was unchanged, the dramatic urgency of its youth had mellowed into something more rounded.

Hans-Peter explained that all his wines have a story to tell and the 1990 was the last vintage he made with his father.

Finally, Hans-Peter presented a grappa made from Riesling; pink in colour from aging in ex-Cab barrels, it was powerful and fiery.

Somebody apparently once said after seeing a picture of England football captain David Beckham modelling designer clothes, "That guy is talented, I hear he plays soccer, too !"

Hans-Peter is equally talented - after hearing him give an informative, entertaining and witty talk in a foreign language, I was impressed to think he also makes great wines too.

The food for the event was Germanic - if not actually German - and came from Kipferl, London's only Austrian delicatessen (more details here).


Friday, 12 November 2010

Exploring German Regionality‏ at the 2010 Fine Wine Fair, Chelsea

A while ago, I went wine-buying in the Mosel Valley and was very impressed with a clutch of wines I bought there, so I was keen to visit the Wines of Germany stand at the recent Fine Wine Fair in Chelsea in London.

Generally, for Germanic whites I tend to look either to Austria (for historic reasons - I used to live there) or Alsace, so whilst the grape varieties of Germany are familiar to me, I am less aware of the nuances and regional variations.

Riesling is the white grape most associated with Germany - it originated in the Rhine region and is considered highly "terroir-expressive", that is highly influenced by and expressive of where it is grown.

To me, Riesling is the great white grape variety - when made well (and dry) it is crisp, thrilling, slatey and minerally with honeyed undertones it is refreshingly complex, mouthfilling and extremely food friendly.

I first fell in love with Riesling from Austria, with its warm climate and fashion for fully-dry wines; I am less familiar with German Rieslings so I was keen to find out more.

The first wine was a spaetlese trocken from Sybille Kuntz. The basis of German wine law is a system of classifying not places (such as Bordeaux) or grape varieties (such as Shiraz), but grape ripeness - i.e. sugar content and potential alcohol level. In the case of this wine, spaetlese means the grapes are (literally) late-harvest, but trocken indicates that the wine is fully dry; like all the wines here, it was a textbook Riesling, with grapefruit and apple on the nose and a tight, limey finish.

The next wine was a von Buhl Riesling from the Pfalz, further south and sunnier than the Mosel. It was noticeably fuller and fleshier than the previous more northerly version.

Next up was another Mosel Riesling from Dr Loosen; with a clean, flinty zippiness, this was similar in style to the first.

The following wine was from the Rheingau, east of the Mosel, and was again riper and fleshier than the two Mosels.

The last two Rieslings were both from the Mosel again felt leaner. The first of these was a zesty and herbaceous Fritz Haag was harvested at spaetlese levels, but fermented to dryness whilst the final one was a light (just 8.5%) and crisp wine from Max Ferd. Richter.

One of the great things about a wine fair is the opportunity to dive into a relatively specialist area and come out with a much greater understanding of its nuances, to spend half-an-hour or so being guided through a range of wines on an one-to-one basis.

What I really noticed with these wines is how bracing and minerally the Mosel Rieslings are with an unmistakable crisp, racy nose whilst those from the Pfalz further south are slightly fuller, fleshier and more rounded.

As with the Bordeaux section, it was really informative to focus quite narrowly (a single grape here, a single region there) and explore the nuances in more detail.

All the wines at the German stand were delicious and, with only one partial exception, fully dry yet balanced on the finished and not too bracing.

Ironically, given that German wine law does not recognise the concept of terroir or even regionality, I came away with a much deeper understanding of the differences between regions.

The Wines

Riesling Spaetlese trocken, Sybille Kuntz, Mosel (£13.95) from OW Loeb
Riesling Qualitaetswein, Reichsrat von Buhl, Pfalz (£9.99) from Laithwaite's
Riesling Qualitaetswein, Dr Loosen, Mosel (£9.49) from Laithwaite's
Riesling Kabinett trocken, August Kessler, Rheingau (£12.75) from Justerini & Brooks
Riesling QmP, Fritz Haag, Mosel (£13.75) from Justerini & Brooks
Riesling Kabinett, Max Ferd. Richter (£12.50) from Fortnum & Mason and others


Fine Wine Fair - http://www.finewinefair.org/

Wines of Germany website - http://www.winesofgermany.co.uk/

OW Loeb - http://www.owloeb.com/

Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Justerini & Brooks - http://www.justerinis.com/

Fortnum & Mason - http://www.fortnumandmason.com/

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

East India Sherry - Bodegas Emilio Lustau

A while ago, I presented a couple of sherries to some colleague at a wine tasting - the dry oloroso was wonderful but bombed with an audience for whom oaked whites are seriously out-of-fashion; however, the sweet one proved very popular.

Sweet sherry is stereo-typically the preserve of old maids or your auntie who likes a nip of something sweetened and made for the UK market alone (think certain "cream" sherries).

However, true sweet sherry is an absolute delight and, when well made, like this one from Lustau, is almost a dessert in itself. Oily and dark in the glass, with a rich, heady nose of toffee, nuts, dried fruit and caramelised sugar, it is like drinking Christmas pudding.

Several things mark this out as particularly good; the depth and complexity of the flavours themselves - the richness of figs, toast, nuts and dried fruit - but also the balance and smoothness from aging in the solera system which mixes younger wines with ever older ones to maintain balance. It has a long rich finish and is cut through with just the right amount of acidity to keep things in check.

The name "East India" refers to the journey the wine used to make to the colonies where it gradually acquired a rather wonderful cooked flavour - like Madeira. In both cases, sadly, the process no longer involves sailing ships and the oceans, but the recreation of conditions in a humid cellar or garret somewhere.

Bodegas Emilio Lustau was founded in 1896 and owns two Vineyards in the area of Jerez. The Viña Montegilillo, located on the north of the “Jerez Superior” zone in an area called Carrascal whose albariza soil is ideal for growing the Palomino grape to produce dry wines, such as Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado and Oloroso.

Near the coast, between Sanlúcar and Chipiona, the sandy soils of the Las Cruces vineyard provide the Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel for the production of sweet wines.

This is a blend of 60% dry oloroso (which originally started life as a Manzanilla) and 40% Pedro Ximénez and has an IWC Silver medal.

When matching dessert wines to puddings, the trick is to keep the wine sweeter than the pudding itself or else it will taste overly acidic. Typical matches for something as rich as this are fruit cake and sticky toffee pudding.

Below, however, is a very simple recipe for roasted nectarines which goes perfectly with a glass or two of this.

Roasted nectarines with clotted cream ice-cream

Allow 1/2 nectarine per person for a small portion or a whole nectarine for a more indulgent serving.

Halve the nectarines and remove the stones

Put enough butter in the bottom of a roasting dish to make a thin layer and place in a pre-heated oven until it melts (a few minutes).

Add the nectarines to the roasting dish, sprinkle on some vanilla sugar and add a squeeze of lemon juice and a little of the sweet oloroso sherry

Roast at around 150C for 45 mins, turning once or twice and adding more vanilla sugar at each turning - the nectarines should be gently roasted and the liquid should have caramelised,

Place the cooked nectarines on a plate, top with the clotted cream ice-cream, drizzle over some of the caramelised pan juices and finally pour on a drop more sherry.

Serve with a glass of the sherry.


Lustau - http://www.lustau.es/index_en.html#bodegas_lustau

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Drinks with Colleagues - Eulennest in Vienna, Austria

A few years ago, I lived and worked in Vienna - present-day Austria's capital and the historic imperial city of various empires (Austrian, Holy Roman and Austro-Hungarian). It's a beautiful place and at the time was undergoing something of a quiet, steady revolution, and transforming itself from a sleepy, time-warped, patrician capital into a vibrant and sophisticated city.

It was the type of place where amongst the imposing Gothic cathedrals and sprawling Imperial palaces of old Vienna, you would find sophisticated wine bars and fusion restaurants of new Vienna; a great place to try Austrian wines which have improved dramatically since the anti-freeze scandal of 1980s.

Austria is in almost every sense wedged between Germany and Italy - it has a Germanic thoroughness, precision and obsession with process, yet a decidedly Italian sense of well-being, lifestyle and of life lived out outdoors (at least during the long, hot summers). It was also a regular meeting place for the spies of east and west and has a Balkan love of spicy foods, strong liquor and scandal, but those are different stories.

At the time, Vienna had a number of restaurants which in my youthful naivete, I thought were rather good; now older and wiser, I realise they were brilliant and worthy of at least a Michelin star, in some cases more.

Occasionally, I would get a visit from someone from our London head office and since the best work conversations are had not over the phone or in meetings, but relaxing out-of-hours, I would arrange a meal in one of my favourite restaurants after which we would head off to chew the fat over a few glasses of something local at a wine bar.

My favourite was always Eulennest - the name means Owl's Nest and the cosy interior is decorated with owls of various sorts attached to the rafters, with a few seats outside when the weather is good (basically April - September) and an ever-changing range of wines by the glass or bottle.

I became enough of a regular there to get to know owner Florian Deutsch, a very welcoming and genial host, and we would always chat for a while about the new wines he had in the shop and which to try first.

Florian does meet-and-greet with great charisma whilst wife Andrea Papez Deutsch oversees the deli counter stocked with Italian prosciutto and salamis, Austrian and French cheeses and also makes light pasta dishes and tapas.

Official opening hours always seemed more of an aspirational guideline than a strict formality (again the Italian winning out over the Germanic) and when the conversation was flowing, as often it was, I often watched Florian gently encouraging some of the more talkative regulars that it really was time to be heading off before quietly admitting defeat myself and wandering back home.

The wines stocked at Eulennest change regularly and seemed to come from the smaller independent Austrian producers, as there was rarely anything I had tried before.

In late 2008, Eulennest opened its second branch just off the ring on Operngasse.

Eulennest: A-1010 Wien, Himmelpfortgasse 13, and A-1040 Wien, Operngasse 30


Eulennest - http://www.eulennest.at/

Monday, 8 November 2010

Eating out - Hotel Du Vin, Cambridge

It was a day to mark in the CWB household which called for something out of the ordinary - central Cambridge is a beautiful place and a regular feature on the tourist circuit, but rather as a result of this, the quality of restaurants in the centre of town is not generally that great.

However, in recent years, the city has smartened its act up a little and with ever more London commuters living in and around the city, demand for decent restaurants has increased.

A few years ago, hoardings went up in front of a row of late-Victorian townhouses on Trumpington Street just opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum. What emerged shortly afterwards was Cambridge's newest sophisticated bistro and luxury hotel, the Hotel Du Vin.

Hotel Du Vin is an upmarket chain of 14 hotels (at present) owned by the Massey Partnership which oddly claims to be a PR firm, albeit specialising in luxury travel and luxury goods. The Hotel Du Vin website talks of "quintessential British style. Elegant and unpretentious. Combine this with great spirit, wit, an unquestionable devotion to wine, and you have captured the essence of Hotel du Vin".

I had popped in there a few months ago for a quick, informal business meeting with a contact after work and was very impressed by the quirky and sensitive use of space and the cosy, yet modern and unpretentious feel.
The Hotel Du Vin wine cellar

For this visit to the bistro, I was attracted by the homegrown and local menu on offer and wondered what seasonal east Anglian produce might be on offer in late autumn.

One of my principles of eating out is to try something different from what we might normally have at home and more or less as a result of this, our choices for all three courses were made for us. Eschewing the pumpkin soup (with Hallowe'en just over, we'd had plenty of this) and sausages (a staple of CWB dinners), we went for pork pie followed by pollock.

The pork pie was dense and meaty, with a satisfying pastry crust; it was served with garnished leaves and a delicious plum chutney with just the right amount of spice and a great balance between sweet and sharp.

The pollock came with chorizo and a gently spiced tomato sauce with again, a noticeable-but-restrained flavour of cumin, and sat on a small bed of wilted dark green leaves.
As it was lunchtime and we had two small and demanding children to get back home to, we limited ourselves to a couple of glasses of Manzanilla sherry; salty, dry and pungently yeasty, it was also superbly well-balanced with great length and depth of flavour.
When the dessert menu came round, we had already decided and ordered the sticky toffee pudding and chantilly cream without hesitation. Like the rest of the meal, it was simple yet full of delicious flavour and excellently made - the pudding light, just the right amount of rich toffee sauce not to be too cloying and the sweet chantilly cream balancing it all out perfectly.
And thinking back, that balance was the theme of the meal - nothing too flashy or obviously crowd-pleasing, but really well-cooked and well-balanced food kept simple yet sophisticated.

In a city like Cambridge with so much passing trade, it takes a certain degree of confidence, if not bravery, to serve food which impresses not with immediate flashiness but with quiet, understated confidence. As a Cambridge resident - and not a tourist - it's a decision I appreciate.

A lunchtime meal for two from the Homegrown and Local menu with drinks, service and charitable donation cost £60.


Hotel Du Vin - http://www.hotelduvin.com/

Massey Partnership - http://www.massey.co.uk/

Arabella Reserve Shiraz Viognier 2008, South Africa - Naked Wines

I first came across Syrah/Shiraz-Viognier as a blend relatively recently in a very impressive wine from New Zealand (reviewed here).

At the time, it was not (to me) an immediately obvious combination - Syrah (re-named Shiraz in the New World) produces mineral and tannic wines in its spiritual home of Hermitage in the northern Rhône, whilst Viognier (also originally from the Rhône) is something of a peachy, apricotty Chardonnay wannbee - but somehow it works, the two going together "like carrots and peas", according to the Naked Wines website.

This South African example from the Robertson Valley is the second wine I have tried from Naked and I was very impressed with the first - a Pfalz Riesling, reviewed here - so expectations were high for this one.

On the nose there are the typical Syrah/Shiraz aromas of blackberry, damson and plum, with hints of liquorice and pencil shavings, plus some vanilla from oak-aging.

The palate shows more fruit, some peppery spice and hints of coffee and chocolate with a wonderfully smooth texture and good length - as with the previous wine from Naked, it feels extremely well-made and balanced.

It is almost too easy to enjoy, but whilst there is some noticeable "new-world" style ripeness here, there's enough of a contrast from the toasty oak, coffee notes and smooth tannins to make it balanced, complex and "grown-up".

We could easily have finished the bottle off in an evening, but in the interests of seeing it develop, we re-corked and sampled the remainder over two more days. On days two and three, it was increasingly fuller, more complex and nuanced, with less of the obviously crowd-pleasing fruit and more of the interesting savoury aromas.

Based on that, I would happily lay this down for at least a year and expect something even more impressive to emerge.

Winemaker Stephen de Wet is based in Robertson Valley - a hot, dry inland area of South Africa.

In his 2004 Pocket Wine Book, Oz Clarke describes Robertson as undergoing a red revolution and Stephen is clearly one of those young Turks. However, he is also the 15th generation to be making wines on his farm - so much for this being the new world ! - and has a clutch of awards including Double Gold Veritas Wine Awards 2008 and Michelangelo Double Gold 2007. He also won Best Value Wine Award for 3 years running, Wine Magazine, 2006 to 2008.

Involved in wine-making from a tender age, Stephen started his Arabella winery from scratch in 2006 and with the help of his children Nicky and Jamie, turned it into a family business.

The Arabella name is a reference to the Arabian horses which Stephen keeps as an enthusiastic endurance rider.

£9.99 / £6.66 for Angels - provided for review.

For more details on Naked Wines' "Angels" scheme - see this summary from US blogger Arnold Waldstein, here.

For a review of a more recent vintage, see Old Parn's review here, but don't say I didn't warn you.


Naked Wines - http://www.nakedwines.com/

Arabella Wines - http://www.arabellawines.com/

Arnold Waldstein - http://arnoldwaldstein.com/

Old Parn - http://oldparn.com/

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Wine-buying (and dining) in Vienna, Austria; Wein & Co

A few years ago, I used to travel to Vienna regularly on business - it's a wonderful city, not that easy to live in as a foreigner, but great to visit.

It's also where I learnt about how wonderful Austrian wines are - even if very few people are aware of it. I have written elsewhere about the recently history of Austrian wine-making, the glycol scandal of the mid-'80s and subsequent clean-up of the industry and shift towards a fully-dry style.

Austrian wines are now some of the best in the world and quite unique - the Wachau produces Rieslings that are full and ripe, yet crisp, minerally and completely dry from the likes of Prager and Knoll; in Styria, Tement and Polz cultivate more aromatic varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc, that are fully ripe yet piercingly dry, due in part to the long growing season, in vineyards up to 650m above sea level; the Neusidlersee region of Burgenland, with its ideal conditions for botrytis, produces some of my favourite dessert wines of anywhere in the world from Velich and Kracher.

This is not the place to give a history of Vienna as the seat of the Habsburg monarchy and later capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, but suffice it to say that the city was important enough for long enough to have quite a few nice buildings - rather more than quite a few, actually.

Prague may be the favourite historic city of back-packers and stag-nighters and Budapest may have the new buzz, but Vienna remains classy, elegant and sophisticated, if still resolutely traditional and old-fashioned in some ways.

Austria shook off the slumber of 40 years' independent isolation in the mid-1990s by entering the European Union; since then, it has become an increasingly vibrant country, leading to a feel of there being both a "new" and "old" Austria co-existing in the same physical space.

Stephansdom, with Haas Haus
in the left foreground
Just one example of this can be found on Stephansplatz, the centre of Vienna, where the beautiful gothic Stephansdom stands opposite the controversial, post-modern Haas Haus - a shiny, curved shopping mall with a restaurant favoured by Nikki Lauda at the top.

Just round the corner from here is Wein & Co's central Vienna wine shop and bar - this independent Austrian chain of upmarket wine merchants has just under 20 branches, mostly in Vienna but also in other major Austrian cities such as Salzburg, Innsbruck and Klagenfurt.

Wein & Co seems to epitomise everything that "new" Austria stands for, without losing any of the charm of "old" Austria. It stocks an excellent range of new-wave Austrian wines and also has an extremely sophisticated website which includes their "Movie Stars" series of podcasts - short films of telegenic Wein & Co staff presenting the company's wines.

Another innovation is the Wein & Co bars, of which there are three in Vienna - the flagship Stephansplatz branch was a regular haunt for me not just for buying wine, but also for dinner after work.

The concept is simple yet brilliant - half the floorspace is given over to a traditional wine shop, whilst the other half is a bar; the wines available in the bar come from the shop and the mark-up is just €2. For that, they will even chill your white wine down to cellar temperature in a couple of minutes.

The menu is typical bar food - simple, but well-made and full of flavour, and as you'd expect, all well-matched to a range of wines; each item on the menu has a coloured sticker to indicate the type of wine suited to it (red, white, light, full-bodied etc) and then there is a suggestion list for each style of wine.

Austrian food is traditionally stodgy and heavy central European fare reflecting the tastes of the various vassal states over which Vienna held sway - Hungarian goulash, Czech dumplings, that sort of thing. You won't find any of that at Wien & Co, however, and the food tends to be more Italian-inspired, with pasta dishes and fish frequently featuring. Just the kind of food that washes down well with a ripe-yet-dry, minerally and crisp Riesling from the Wachau.

After all that modernity and "new" Austria, you then step out into the street opposite the front of the Stephansdom from where a wander up the Graben to the Hofburg is the perfect round-off to an evening.

And suddenly it all makes sense; the "old" and the "new" co-existing harmoniously and producing something infinitely more interesting than either on its own, just as the wines themselves seem at first contradictory - harsh and forbidding, yet balanced and full - but on closer acquaintance show great balance and concentration.

Wein & Co, Wien Stephansplatz, Jasomirgottstrasse 3-5, 1010 Wien


Wein & Co - http://www.weinco.at/

Knoll - http://www.loibnerhof.at/

Prager - http://www.weingutprager.at/

Polz - http://www.polz.co.at/cms/start.php

Tement - http://www.tement.at/index.cfm?action=intro

Velich - http://www.velich.at/

Kracher - http://www.kracher.at/

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Regent Semillon Chardonnay 2007, Australia - Laithwaites

Another mystery case wine from Laithwaites, this was described on the website as herbaceous, lemony and [with] slightly honeyed fruit ... a joy for sipping anytime.

The reality was somewhat different - heavy and old school, it was deep yellow colour with a waxy appearance suggestive of both plenty of Semillon in the blend and quite a bit of time in old oak barrels; full-to-heavy on the palate, it does go surprisingly well with smoked fish.

Overall, I was less than impressed with this wine, but the guests we had it with were more appreciative.

£5.49 (plus delivery).


Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Friday, 5 November 2010

XV Du President, Grenache, Côtes Catalanes VdP - Laithwaites

"Thunderously powerful vintage of the King ... pure fruit with a whack of 15% power!" announces the Laithwaites website - my own take on this southern French Grenache is a little more pedestrian; overcooked.

Côtes Catalanes, as the name suggests, is a lowly VdP in the Pyrénées-Orientales region of Languedoc in southern France where the late-ripening Grenache dominates; Grenache is a big Essex girl of a grape - up-front and blowsy, not very classy, but will generally show you a good time.

Baked, jammy and overcooked, with stewed plums, prunes and raisiny spice  - a bit like supermarket own label, oversugared blackcurrant jam.

I've had plenty of cheap and cheerful Grenache from Languedoc that I have really enjoyed, but I have generally paid around €5 from a decent French supermarket (see Wine-buying in France; Calais for more details).

At £7.99 (plus delivery) from Laithwaites, this wine feels overpriced as well as overcooked.


Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Grenache on Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grenache

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Amasimi Kelder Reserve Chardonnay - Laithwaites

A good oaked chardie should be a mix of complex contradictions - ripe fruit and buttery, nutty oatmeal cut across with a zip of acidity, crisp toast and some spice.

Unfortunately, that is not what is on offer here with this South African Chardonnay from Laithwaites- yes, it's a pleasant-enough and reasonably well-made Chardonnay, but so what ?

On opening, there was some pear on the nose, good acidity on the palate, a touch of butteriness, but not much else - after about three hours in the decanter, it opened up into something a little more complex, but overall it seems to require an excessive degree of concentration to appreciate fully.

Overall, just a bit too subtle and restrained to be properly enjoyable - food matches would need to be equally light and neutral, lightly-cooked white fish or cream cheese.

£6.99 from Laithwaites (plus delivery)


Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Villa Quinziana, 2008 Squinzano - Laithwaites

This Laithwaites Negroamaro blend comes from the somewhat obscure Squinzano region in Puglia (the southern "heel" of Italy). Southern Italy is generally an area of increasing interest for up-and-coming value wines (rather like inland Spain and Languedoc) and is the spiritual home of the red Negroamaro grape which typically produces rustic wines combining perfume with an earthy bitterness

This wine, made by Cantina Due Palme (although it doesn't seem to appear on the company's website), is pleasant enough, suitable for quaffing, with fruit, a touch of spice and some sweet tobacco on the palate. Quite more-ish, it slips down easily, but lacks the tannic grip on the finish to make it a really good food wine.

Perfect if you are in the mood for something easy-drinking and unchallenging - as we were the other evening at the end of a weekend of serious wines - but the price is quite toppy for something like this, especially as southern Italy is supposed to be a value region.

According to the Laithwaites website, Assunta Maci of the famed Cantine due Palme winery is a great ambassador for Puglian and Italian wine as a whole ... the grapes for this wine come from a prime site of low-yielding, very old bush vines.

Pleasant, but middling, I'd say; it was provided by Laithwaites under their 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Food matches are not that easy, but pasta with a tomato-based sauce, some kind of stew or rustic sausages would probably work.

£7.99 from Laithwaites (plus delivery).


Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Cantina Due Palme - http://www.cantineduepalme.it/

More info on Squinzano DOC - http://www.italianmade.com/wines/DOC10281.cfm