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Friday, 31 December 2010

Dominius Del Marquesado Rioja Blanco, 2008 - Laithwaites

Rioja, like Port and, to a lesser extent, Bordeaux, is generally best-known for its red wines with its whites being somewhere between also-rans and minor curiosities.

Made from the relatively-neutral and slightly obscure Viura grape (which does not get even a mention in many wine books), white Rioja can be a bit of a let-down.

This example from family-owned firm and top-league winery Martinez Bujanda formed part of a Laithwaites mystery case I bought a while ago and was well-made if unashamedly old-school. Relatively neutral on the nose, the palate is lemony but weighty and full-bodied from time presumably spent in old oak (no toffee-butteriness here); the tannins are well-integrated and the finish is long and smooth.

Match with simple, full-bodied foods such as meaty white fish, pasta in a creamy sauce or tapas.

£8.99 plus delivery from Laithwaites.


Martinez Bujanda - http://www.familiamartinezbujanda.com/inicio/index.php?acc=home&idc=1&ln=1

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

Sally's Pinot Grigio, 2009 Australia - Laithwaites

It's only a few years since Pinot Grigio started its meteoric rise to become the de facto pub white wine of choice for so many people. And it's not difficult to see why - its most instantly noticeable characteristic is a zippy, refreshing acidity which makes it suitable as a stand-alone drink, an aperitif or an accompaniment to well-seasoned food as well as picnics and barbecues.

It is the great all-rounder achieving (when well-made) a good balance between up-front fruit, acidity and a mouthfilling mineral backbone, all without the need for any expensive oak.

The spiritual home of Pinot Grigio is northern Italy where, at altitude, it is made into something steely, mineral and sometimes quite neutral - by contrast, as Pinot Gris further north in Alsace, it ripens into something much fuller, richer and more perfumed.

This crowd-pleasing example from winemaker Sally Whittaker is from New South Wales and, despite its New World origins, is only 12% alcohol, putting it at the riper end of the refreshing Italian style.

It has a minerally nose, nicely balanced ripe fruit and a mineral backbone on the palate with a good clean structure and a refreshing, but soft finish.
We had this with a starter of simple anti-pasti of mozzarella, tomatoes, olive oil and chopped parsley with some garlic crostini, followed by a main of chicken in a creamy tarragon sauce.

The wine went perfectly with both courses, having the acidity to cut through the cheese, oil and cream, the body to stand up to the weight of the food and being aromatic enough to match with the parsley and tarragon.

It has two medals - both from Australia:
  • Rutherglen Wine Show 2009, Australia
  • Cowra Wine Show 2010, Australia
I received this as a freebie for ordering a couple of mystery cases from Laithwaites around a year ago. Overall, it's a very pleasant wine, but £7.49 plus delivery is a little toppy.

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

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Hotel Schloß Dürnstein, Wachau, Austria

A view of the Hotel Schloß Dürnstein (left) with the
"prettiest church spire in Austria" (right)
I used to live in in Austria and later regularly travelled to Vienna on business. The city's beautiful and historic first district is like a huge, UNESCO-protected, pedestrianised, open-air museum with gilded marble churches, imperial palaces and the vast Stephansdom cathedral - as well as a selection of excellent restaurants and wine bars that I have written about previously.

However, there's more to Austria than Vienna and on a couple of occasions, I borrowed a company car and made the short drive up the autobahn to Dürnstein in the Wachau Valley (also UNESCO-protected) to stay at the Hotel Schloß Dürnstein.

The Wachau Valley is a meandering stretch of the Danube between Melk and Krems with steep terraces on either side where some of Austria's greatest Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners are grown by the likes of Prager, Knoll and the co-operative, Domäne Wachau. It is also an area of great natural beauty as well as home to many pretty little villages.

Dürnstein is perhaps the prettiest of these with a short cobbled main street (an underpass takes most traffic well away from the village centre) along which are to be found quaint buildings between which is to be found an occasional glimpse either down to the river on one side or up to the vineyards on the other.

High up above the vineyards lies a ruined castle where Richard the Lionheart was held prisoner from 1192 to 1194 and from where there is a breathtaking view of the village, with a church spire said to be the prettiest in Austria.

Such, then, is the setting for the Hotel Schloß Dürnstein (schloss means "castle", but here it is more in the style of a chateau - a grand and extensive country house) overlooking a sheer drop down to the river on one side.

The hotel is now a mix of old-fashioned, central European charm, gemütlichkeit (cosiness) and luxury with all  the modern trappings such as a swimming pool and sauna.

The building was originally constructed as a magnificent renaissance structure in 1630 and the castle belonged for centuries to the Counts of Starhemberg, one of the oldest houses of Austria. Acquired from them in 1937 by Raimund Thiery, it was later converted into a hotel with the old features maintained and preserved and became one of the first non-French members of the Relais & Chateaux association of luxury hotels.

Now almost 400 years old, it retains a grand and individualistic old-world charm which I immediately found very different to the usual anonymous business chain hotels I tended to use in central Vienna; the rooms are furnished with antiques and have a view either of the fortress, the river or the village of Dürnstein.

Perhaps the most pleasant aspect to a stay, in the summer at least, is to have dinner on the terrace where on one memorable visit I had a delicious roast lamb with rosemary, as part of a four-course meal, and a Riesling from the hotel's own vineyard (made by Toni Boden of the nearby Prager winery) whilst watching the sun set down the valley.

I followed this with a quick stroll around the village and decided that business travel has its perks every now and then.

Hotel Schloß Dürnstein GmbH, 3601 Dürnstein, Austria - WACHAU
Tel:+43 2711 212
Fax:+43 2711 212 30

A two-night package at the Hotel Schloß Dürnstein costs from €556 for a standard double room.


Hotel Schloß Dürnstein - http://www.schloss.at/

Relais & Chateau - http://www.relaischateaux.com/spip.php?page=home&lang=en

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

Monday, 27 December 2010

Lindemans Chardonnay, Sydney Cove, 2009

Ripe, tropical Aussie Chardie with exotic fruits and some buttery, toasty oak and butterscotch - job done !

There's nothing not to like here - it's technically well-made and balanced; easy enough to quaff but with a bit of body and acidity to have with food such as fish or chicken.

There's no great complexity or length, but it's juicy and gluggable - a safe party wine or reliable gift for someone you don't really know that well (which is how it ended up in the CWB household).

After a Christmas of trying some rather good wines, sometime you just want something simple and predictable - the oenological equivalent of a fish-and-chip supper after some haute cuisine.

The full list price of £5.99 from Tesco is a little toppy - you can get something much more interesting from a local wine merchant at this price range - but like so many branded, mass-market antipodean wines, price is just another promotional tool and the Tesco website currently has this on special offer at £22.80 per case of 6 (equivalent to £3.80 per bottle).


This wine at Tesco - http://www.tesco.com/wine/product/details/default.aspx?N=8130+8117&rView=-8049&id=259290498

Torre Aldea Rioja Gran Reserva 2000

Until the late 1990s, Spanish wines were as big, tough and macho as a toreador's cojones; then, the country underwent a quiet oenological revolution and started producing technically well-made, easy-drinking, fruit-driven wines from its hitherto little-known inland regions.

This Gran Reserva Rioja from Viñedos de Aldeanueva is now 10 years old and has elements of both schools; quite ruby-coloured in the glass, it has an intriguing, complex nose of spice, eucalyptus and leather with hints of vanilla and some forest floor; both robust and rustic.

On the palate, it is raisiny with sharp red berry fruit, a touch of cellar mustiness and a savoury meatiness that I am learning to associate with aged Rioja.

Not surprisingly given its 36 months in oak (plus a further 24 in bottle before release), it is quite grippy on the finish and needs some rich peasanty food - olives, salami, and manchego cheese or even game.

£10.99 from Majestic and PLB Group.


Aldea Nueva - http://www.aldeanueva.com/index_en.php

This wine at PLB Group - https://www.plb.co.uk/wine/AL18VWRB-torre-aldea-gran-reserva.htm

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Domaine Poulleau Les Mondes Rondes, Côte de Beaune 2009‏

For me, this has been the year that I "got" many of the classics - that is to say, started to see what all the fuss is about with certain "classic" wines and why they command such significant prices when there are lots of other perfectly decent (and often more approachable) wines around costing a lot less.

All these superior wines have had something slightly elusive about them which rather defies explanation but which is lacking in perfectly decent wines costing a lot less - a Bordeaux with great texture or the length and yeastiness of a good Champagne; they have generally been French, but also Italian.

Perhaps the most elusive of all wines is Pinot Noir - in every sense, as good Pinot is neither easy to find nor cheap; plenty of places in the New World are having a go - Chile, New Zealand and California being just those that have had some reasonable success.

However, Pinot's spiritual home is Burgundy where it reaches it apotheosis on a thin limestone ridge just 50km in length; for historical reasons, average vineyard size here is tiny and that, along with Pinot's propensity to mutate explains the range of styles produced.

In many ways, Pinot is the antithesis of current trend in red wine for big, ripe, spicy, oaky pantechnicons; it's pale, soft, subtle and restrained - or at least it should be, as Pinot can be among the most disappointing of wines as well as the most exciting.

Wine experts talk of being bitten by the Pinot bug at some stage - I have been to a number of Pinot tastings recently and I can see why, for me, it has taken some time; Pinot's light, soft, subtle complexity is akin to the music of Mozart, and as a Romantic young teenager, I much preferred the strident bombast of Beethoven  before I eventually started to appreciate Salzburg's most famous son.

This Côte de Beaune is from Domaine Poulleau based in Volnay where winemaker Thierry Poulleau produces around 30,000 bottles each year from a number of appellations.

A member of the Association de Vignerons Patrimoine des Terroirs (an ethical group of independent winegrowers), Thierry's philosophy is a mixture of the old and the new, combining the tradition of terroir and savoire-faire handed down from previous generations with a focus on grape quality, restricting yields and wine-making technique.

The vines for this wine are 25 years old with the grapes hand-picked, the wine aged on its lees in oak with a secondary malolatic fermentation before a light filtration.

Bright ruby in the glass, it has a foresty nose of decaying wood and red fruits. Supple and balanced in the mouth it is light yet concentrated and rounded, with a balanced and mouthfilling texture, good structure and aromas of soft red fruits, vanilla and hints of spice.

It also has a rich savouriness that, again, is hard to define precisely, and a slightly rasping finish both of which make it a good match with food.

On first opening, most notable was the fruit on the nose and the acidity on the finish; with time in a decanter, it opened up becoming more complex and subtle, suggesting it will benefit from a few more years' aging.

Hugh Johnson once wrote in an early edition of his World Atlas of Wine that if Paris is the head of France and Bordeaux its heart, then Burgundy is its stomach - and this is a wine that certainly benefits from being matched with some appropriately noble Burgundian food; in this case, a brace of pheasants.

I wish I could say I shot and hung the birds myself, but the reality is more prosaic as they came from the local supermarket, one pre-stuffed and the other with bacon strips already laid over the breast.

Served with mash and a red-wine gravy spiced up with a couple of cloves and a touch of cinnamon, the perfume, ripe savoury fullness and acidity of the wine both matched and cut through the lean, gamey meat perfectly, playing a supporting role to the food, rather than dominating it.

It has also won a number of awards:

• Guide Hachette des Vins 2010
• Les meilleurs vins à petit prix 2010
• Burgondia d’Or 2009
• Guide des Vins Gilbert & Gaillard 2010
• IWC 2009 « Commended »

Provided for review.


Domaine Poulleau - http://poulleau.com/

Stockists of Domaine Poulleau wines - http://poulleau.com/ou-trouver-nos-vins

This wine on Wine Searcher - http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/poulleau+cote+beaune+mondes+rondes
Association de Vignerons Patrimoine des Terroirs - http://patrimoinevin.canalblog.com/

Friday, 24 December 2010

Domäne Wachau - Grüner Veltliner Terrassen Federspiel 2010‏

A few years ago when I lived in Vienna, we would regularly get in the car, pop across the Danube and make the short run up the autobahn up to the Wachau Valley - a meandering stretch of the Danube with fruit trees, picturesque villages, a ruined castle that became home to Richard the Lionheart and Austria's prettiest church spire.

As often as not, we would park in the pretty village of Dürnstein and go for a walk through the vineyards to enjoy the view up the river.

A little later, I would learn to associate Dürnstein with something else - it is the home of Domäne Wachau, possibly Austria's best co-op wine producer.

At the time, I was a big fan of Riesling and tended to think of Grüner Veltliner as simply a poor man's version

However, I have recently had cause to reconsider this opinion, having had an award-winning GV at an IWC tasting and now this GV from Domäne Wachau.

A few years ago, when Austria's wines first started to acquire an international reputation for themselves and the backlash against oaky Chardonnay began, it was suggested that Austrian GV could be the next big thing.

In the end, it seems to have been Pinot Grigio that has become the big favourite and after a brief surge of expectation, GV is once again not that easy to find in the UK.

Partly this is because, since the glycol scandal of the 1980s, Austria has gone down a path of making fully dry, technically well-made wines, opting for quality rather than volume.

This means that, at the bottom end, the territory of pub Pinot Grigio costing under a tenner (including sizeable mark-up - maybe greater even than the original selling price), Austria does not even try to compete, but in the mid and top-ranges, the country still represents amazing value for money - and will continue do so for as long as its wines do not command fully the reputation they deserve.

Steep Terraces in the Wachau
This Grüner Veltliner Terrassen from Domäne Wachau is named after the steep terraces overlooking the Danube where the vines are cultivated.

The Federspiel tag is a falconry term and means it is on the second of three levels of alcoholic strength - the top being Smaragd, meaning emerald and referring to the colour of a local lizard.

When I last presented a pair of GVs for a tasting, there were comments from the audience that the flavour was quite green - all celery and lentils.

This medium-bodied GV has a lightness and a hint of smokiness with aromatic white pepper on the nose; on the palate there is the refreshing acidity of ripe cox's apples and conference pears.

Elegant with good structure and mineral backbone, it also has a slightly herbaceous character that, along with the smokiness, is strangely reminiscent of a Loire Sauvignon.

We had it with a very fishy dinner of smoked salmon mousse with rocket followed by coquailles St Jacques and lightly-baked salmon.

In truth, it was slightly overwhelmed by the meatiness of the fish and the strong flavours of the salad leaves - a Smaragd would have been better here - and a more appropriate match might perhaps have been a simple white fish, such as plaice or sole.

Alternatively, match with light Italian food, such as mozzarella or tortelloni tossed in butter with grated Parmigiano and a grind or two of black pepper on top.

The 2009 vintage has a number of awards:
  • Decanter magazine: Bronze (2009 vintage)
  • IWC medal: Bronze (2009 vintage)
  • IWSC medal: Silver (2009 vintage)
Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Terrassen Federspiel 2010 - provided for review.
Also available from Waitrose for £7.59.


Domäne Wachau - http://www.domaene-wachau.at/

Waitrose Wine - http://www.waitrosewine.com/

Monday, 20 December 2010

Networking - Talking About Writing About Wine on the Internet

I recently went to a university alumni event in central London; organised by my alma mater's Alumni Relations team, around 100 graduates now working in media met in The Langley in Covent Garden, a venue with a cool, retro style (according to its website), and therefore eminently suitable for media types such as myself.

There was a fairly broad, inter-related cross-section of backgrounds, but I found that people were much more interested when I described myself as a wine blogger than when I mentioned my day job as a company director in PR.

It's certainly more interesting to talk about; however, the fact remains that, at least at this stage, wine writing remains a hobby rather than something than that will pay the mortgage and school fees - even if it is a hobby on which I spend rather more time than I should.

Somebody asked if I was planning to review the wine that was being served. I wasn't, but for the record it was a typically crowd-pleasing and above average Languedoc red - perfumed, fruity, balanced with a good finish.

As seems inevitable at these sorts of events, it was served a couple of degrees too warm and was a touch flabby as a result - the canapés were all wrong, too; fried spring rolls and red wine are not a match made in gastronomic heaven. But it was a networking event for media types and not a wine-appreciation evening.

Now, although I work in a client-service business, mine is not a client-facing role so I am not used to schmoozing and generally prefer writing about wine to talking about myself. However, I sought out a couple of fellow freelance journalists (i.e. people who actually make a living out of writing rather than mere dilettantes) and talked to them about getting published and writing in general.

I learnt a lot, and am especially grateful to one freelance art writer who patiently answered my questions about whom generally to approach and which aspects of writing to focus on; whilst thanks must also go to my university's Business School for organising the event and inviting me.

I am seriously considering asking to be put down as "Wine Writer" for the next event - it gives instant instant credibility as more or less everyone is interested in wine and social media, even if it in my case it is akin to a pimply teenager who only plays guitar in a garage band claiming to be a rock star.

There's a saying that on the internet nobody knows you're a dog. Maybe at networking meetings, nobody need know you're really a bean-counter.


The Langley - http://www.thelangley.co.uk/

Leeds University Alumni Relations - https://alumni.leeds.ac.uk/

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Luis Felipe Brandy Gran Reserva (60 years old) at Fine Wine Fair

In the Spanish Fine Wine section of the Fine Wine Fair earlier this year, I tried something a little unusual - a 60 year-old Spanish Luis Felipe brandy from from Bodegas Rubio, a producer of brandies and vinegars.

Made shortly after the end of the Second World War when Britain still had rationing, Klaus Fuchs confessed to being a spy and the Korean War started, it is a generation older than me and is almost certainly the oldest thing I have ever consumed.

It is matured for all 60 years in oak casks in a solera system, thus keeping the Spanish angels very happy.

Dark in colour, it is, of course, not cheap, but aromatic, ever-so-smooth and deliciously fruity with more than a hint of the sweet Pedro Ximénez from maturation in ex-PX sherry casks.

The tasting provided was little more than a few drops on the bottom of a small plastic beaker, but I managed to eke it out to a couple of small sips that seemed spread across the tongue slowly bringing a broad grin of satisfaction.

Clearly something for a very special occasion, it has been served at Spanish royal weddings.

£125.00 / £99.00 (show price).


Friday, 17 December 2010

Blind Tasting - Why I Am Rubbish At It

I recently went to a blind tasting and, like most people there, performed fairly badly.

We tried a number of IWC-medal-winning wines and were then invited to hazard guesses at grape variety, country, age, alcohol content and price.

With a winning score on the night of below 50%, this was no easy test, but I started to wonder why I had failed so miserably and what I was missing.

It occurred to me that wine reviewing and blind tasting use exactly opposite skills, albeit they are based on a common starting point.

First the commonalities; both activities involve tasting and assessing wine - that's about it ! Once that has been done, the blind taster and the reviewer go in completely different directions.

The blind taster's challenge is to guess certain specific facts about the wine without the benefit of any additional information - grape variety, origin etc.

By contrast the reviewer generally uses all the information available to make an informed assessment of the wine's quality - for me, for example, the thought processes are along the lines of: is it well made ? Do I like it ? Is it balanced, complex and interesting with good length ?

To an extent when reviewing, I will also think about whether the wine is expressive of its grape variety and terroir, but even if it is not and it is still enjoyable, that doesn't really matter.

So, the blind taster aims for factual accuracy, the reviewer makes a qualitative assessment. It's a bit like the difference between Arts and Sciences at school - and I'm a linguist by education.

It also occurs to me that to guess a wine by blind tasting also requires having tasted that wine (or at least that style previously). To spot an Aussie Semillon, for example, it is helpful to have at least tried one before.

However, my approach has historically been to buy local - either something from the region when travelling on business to Europe or visiting the producers on a driving holiday. So I haven't had too much Aussie Semillon recently.

There is a third category which is something of a hybrid of the two - the IWC (or other competition) judge. This combines both aspects in that the wines are tasted semi-blind (there is an indication of the category for which they have been entered, e.g. NZ Sauvignon under a tenner), and the aim is to select the wine that is the best example of that style, so the judges are looking for both typicity (does it have the qualities of a NZ Sauvignon ?) and quality (is it a good wine ?).

Whilst wine competitions had something of a bad press a while ago, I find myself increasingly respecting the work of the judges and appreciating what a difficult task it must be: drinking a bottle of wine over the course of an evening and deciding whether you like it is one thing; sampling tens, almost hundreds of wines on the same day and assessing their relative merits must be quite another.

At a recent wine event, I tried an unusual Chilean Riesling-Chardonnay blend (reviewed in more detail here); the wine was well-made with good expressions of both grape varieties, but for me, it was such an unusual combination, I was unable to decide whether I actually liked it or not.

And there's the rub, I believe - when tasting wines, professionals will most likely look to pigeon-hole the liquid in front of them into some familiar category. As a result, they are probably more inclined to choose something typical, if not stereotypical, for an award or commendation; anything too different, too quirky risks being eliminated as not fitting the brief, as by definition, a broad group of people will never agree on a standard definition or appropriate level of quirkiness.

As a result, your medal-winning kiwi Sauvignon will probably taste exactly like a typical kiwi Sauvignon should - which is fine, if absolute typicity is what you want.

However, personally, I rather like a bit of quirkiness in my wines, something a little unexpected and not-too-textbook; these sorts of wines don't always win medals, but for me, like a rather eccentric friend, they are fun to have around.

As to getting better at blind tasting, I asked the question to a some wine professionals, including a number of MWs, and got some excellent advice, as well as reassurance that even professionals do not get it right all the time.

A constant theme from almost all was practise (sounds fun !), memorise (not too difficult), take lots of notes (hmmm, some discipline needed, but obviously having a blog helps), get to know the various different smells and aromas (I remember once rubbing a blackcurrant leaf and thinking - Sauvignon Blanc !), try the classics (undecided on this one - I still like some quirkiness) and taste methodically (e.g. compare within regions).

As far as the latter goes, I have found that wine fairs are a great place to learn both the similarities and subtle differences within regions such as Bordeaux or German Rieslings. Certainly that was the case at the London Fine Wine Fair and Taste of Christmas events I attended recently. However, general tastings, I have found, tend not to be focused enough to assist with this, as the presenter often wants to show a range of styles.

Replicating the wine fair set-up at home may not always be possible, but one suggestion particularly appealed: set a theme for the night, get a bunch of friends to bring around wines in paper bags so they can be poured but not seen and try to guess their identities.

Now that sounds like a lot of fun !


Comparative Bordeaux tasting - http://cambridgewineblogger.blogspot.com/2010/10/bordeaux-tasting-at-2010-fine-wine-fair.html

Comparative German Riesling tasting - http://cambridgewineblogger.blogspot.com/2010/11/exploring-german-regionality-at-2010.html

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

Taste of Christmas - http://www.tasteofchristmas.com/

IWC - http://www.internationalwinechallenge.com/

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Riverina Estate Marsanne 2007 - Laithwaites

I had not had Marsanne before this Laithwaites Aussie white and only knew of it vaguely as a southern French grape - fairly anonymous and used for blending.

I was initially not sure what to make of this wine until it occurred to me to think of it as a dead-ringer for an Alsace Pinot Gris - honeyed, perfumed, full-bodied and sensual.

The palate is mouthfilling and aromatic with tropical fruit, a sprinkling of spice, some crisp acidity and reasonable (but sadly not great) structure.

Goes well with rich, Alsace-style food including roast pork, meaty fish and tarte flambée (see here for a recipe).

List price is £6.99 (plus delivery) from Laithwaites, I got it as part of a "mystery" case.


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

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Blind Tasting of International Wine Challenge Winners at Cambridge Food & Wine Society (and a special offer)

It is a now something of an annual tradition for the Cambridge Food & Wine Society's December event to feature a blind tasting of some of that year's International Wine Challenge medal and trophy winners.

This year, as an added incentive, innovative online wine merchant Naked Wines (who themselves have an IWC award for innovation) had kindly provided some introductory vouchers for all attendees (see here for more details on Naked Wines).

The wines for this event are selected by the Society's Chairman and, in recent years, have featured a number of multiple trophy-winners (i.e. wines with more than one trophy).

Last year, I thought the quality of the wines was excellent, so I was keen to see what the IWC judges had rated well this year.

As Steve Vincent, the Society's Chairman, explained, there were 14% more medals awarded this year than last with both the most medals overall and the most gold medals won by France.

Whether this is due to more or better wines or dumbing down of standards is up for debate, but it is worth noting that the IWC judges number 370 winemakers, merchants and writers from around the world, including a large number of Masters of Wine and the judging process is thorough, if not rigorous (see here for more details).

For what it's worth here are my thoughts on the significance of medals and trophies in general (not specific to the IWC):

- trophy / Gold / Silver; expect a good-to-excellent example here, but check exactly what it's won - if you don't like, for example, sweet wines then a trophy-winning dessert wine is unlikely to appeal;

- Bronze / commendation; there can be an element of damning with faint praise here and I have had some examples that were pleasant enough, but neither particularly impressive nor good value;

- no medal; the problem is that one never knows whether a wine has been entered and failed to secure a medal (in which case the producer presumably keeps very quiet) or has simply not been entered. It would be interesting if wines that were entered but failed to win anything were required to indicate this, but that's unlikely ever to happen.

The tasting started with a bang - literally, as the first wine was a sparkler. For me, this has been the year I discovered (or remembered) what all the fuss was about with Champagne after trying some rather good ones.

I found this wine to be rather disappointing by comparison, without the depth of flavour and length I have come to expect. The general consensus was that this wine was a bit "rustic" - to me it was yeasty in a particularly sweaty sort of way. It turned out to be a South African Champagne-method sparkler which had won a "value" trophy (value being relative, as it cost just shy of £10).

The next wine had a herbaceous nose full of gooseberries, grapefruit, nettles and fresh-cut grass, so clearly a Sauvignon Blanc and the only question was from where. Completely dry and rather acidic on the finish in a way that suggested a cool climate, it turned out to be from Marlborough, New Zealand.

The next wine was less in-yer-face and had a clean, crisp palate of pears with good minerality. I liked it very much and it turned out to be a Grüner Veltliner from Austria - sampled again after the main tasting, the white pepper aromas that are GV's hallmark were much more noticeable.

The final white was a Semillon with a very petrolly nose and hints of farmyard and was from Australia.

Pinot Noir is always a good guess for the first red of a blind tasting if you are not sure what is in the glass, especially if it is a fairly light wine. However, there will always be someone who serves up a medal-winning Beaujolais just to confuse things and this wine, though well-enough made, for me simply was not interesting enough to consider putting on a list of potential purchases.

The next wine, however, was instantly recognisable as a Pinot Noir - pale in colour with a truffley, farmyardy nose, it had lots of red berry fruit and good tannic structure and was absolutely lovely and turned out to be from New Zealand and to cost £27 !

On a roll with good reds, the next one had a wonderfully rich flavour of dark berry fruit with vanilla, some spice and hints of eucalyptus with a distinct meatiness. The earthy nose and texture made me think of a Merlot-based Bordeaux, but it turned out to be a Rioja. Interestingly, the grapes had been grown at altitude (over 600m) and I attribute this to giving it a sense of being from further north.

The last red flummoxed quite a few people, but to me was fairly straightforward - I have had quite a lot of Aussie Shiraz in the last year and have learnt to recognise its signature plum and prune nose and complex berry sweetness on the palate.

The final wine of the evening was a wonderfully rich and complex dessert wine with toasty nuts, warming figs and Christmas pudding. It was also one I had tried recently at Cambridge Wine Merchants (see here) and was a Portuguese Muscat of Alexandria from Setubal.

With a possible maximum of 54 marks available for guessing things like grape variety, country, vintage, alcohol content, price, my final score was pitifully low and it is only mildly consoling that, yet again, the winning score was well under 50%.

The Wines

Villiera Brut Natural M&S Chardonnay 2007 Stellenbosch, South Africa 12% £9.99 Silver, Great Value Sparkling Wine under £10

Weingut Turk Erlesenes Vom Noel Young Gruner Veltliner 2008 Austria 13.5% £16.99 Austrian Dry White Trophy, Gruner Veltliner Trophy

Montana Waitrose Sauvignon Blanc 2010 New Zealand 13% £8.99 NZ Sauvignon Blanc Trophy

McWilliams Mount Pleasant ‘Elizabeth’ Cambridge Wine Merchants Semillon 2005 Hunter Valley, Australia 12% £9.99 Australia White Trophy

Henry Fessy Brouilly Cru de Beaujolais Waitrose Gamay 2009 France 13.5% £9.99 Beaujolais Trophy

Schubert Block B Noel Young Pinot Noir 2008 New Zealand 14.5% £27.95 NZ Pinot Noir Trophy, Wairarapa Pinot Noir Trophy, IWC Sustainable Trophy

Bodegas Lar de Paula Rioja ‘Anada’ Cepas Viejas Noel Young Tempranillo 2005 Spain 14.5% £24.50 Spanish Red Trophy, Tempranillo Trophy, Rioja Alavesta Trophy

Heartland Director’s Cut Cambridge Wine Merchants Shiraz 2007 Australia 15% £17.99 International Shiraz Trophy, Australian Red Trophy, Australian Shiraz Trophy, South Australian Shiraz Trophy

Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setubal Colheita Cambridge Wine Merchants Moscatel 1999 Portugal 17.5% £17.99 International Fortified Muscat Trophy


International Wine Challenge - http://www.internationalwinechallenge.com/default.aspx

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

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

Monday, 13 December 2010

Château Millegrand-Mourral Minervois Grande Réserve - Laithwaites

This southern French Minervois is, as it happens, the wine that persuaded me to give a Laithwaites Discovery plan (now called 4 Seasons) a try. I'd been given a bottle of it a while ago as a thank-you from someone and had been sufficiently impressed at the time to consider that a case of similar-quality wines with an up-front discount should be a good thing.

The Discovery plan works on the basis that you get an ostensibly sizable discount on your first mixed case with some freebies thrown in, and then receive a further case every three months having signed up by Direct Debit. I have to say though, that for various reasons, I've never gone back for any more cases from them,

This wine, whilst enjoyable, turned out to be not quite as good as I'd remembered and, more notably, pretty much the best of the wines in the Discovery case.

Like many Laithwaites wines, it is well-enough made, with a good amount of flavour - lots of ripe, plummy and cherry fruit, some spice and rounded in the mouth from oak-aging. The grapes are Syrah, Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre from 60-year-old vines.

It has awards (I don't know of what level) from Les Vinalies Internationales Paris 2009, Challenge International du Vin 2010 and the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles 2009.

At £6.99 (plus delivery), it's probably one of the better-value wines from Laithwaites, but like so many of even their good wines, it has flavour but not texture and is just not that exciting.

Update 25/05/11: having worked my way through quite a few Laithwaite's wines, I find myself unable to face any more. They are not bad wines per se - just samey, oversold and overpriced and my initial enthusiasm has worn off.

See this posting on Laithwaites for more details on how I fell out of love with all this:



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

4 Seasons, plan details - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/LW/jsp/templates/ourwines/wineplanoptions.jsp?childCategoryId=cat20090&categoryId=cat20016

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Westend Estate The Boxer Roussanne Viognier, Riverina 2009 - Laithwaite's

This Aussie white from Riverina was sent to me by Laithwaites under their 100% satisfaction guarantee scheme after I emailed them mentioning a couple of wines from both a Mystery and a Discovery case (now called 4 Seasons) that I'd thought were a bit sub-standard or just not to my taste.

Australia does not really do terroir in a big way - the focus is more on expression of grape variety. However, for those interested, the winery is based in Griffith, part of Riverina, itself part of New South Wales.

In style it's a ripe, New-World oaky white, made from a blend of Roussanne and Viognier; both grapes originate in the Rhône in France and whilst Viognier has a reputation name as a stand-alone variety, Roussanne is still a lesser-known blending wine..

The Laithwaites tasting note starts by suggesting that the climate in Griffith is similar to the Rhône Valley with cold winters and baking hot summers before moving on to a series of school-boy boxing puns.

When you name a wine "The Boxer", there's little suggestion that you are going for subtlety and clearly that's not the aim here. What you do get is ripe fruit, rich oak and a bit more besides. There's not much classy restraint, but there is actually a decent amount of complexity and balance - the ripeness has a crisp acidity running through it, there's plenty of body, hints of spice and the oak is both buttery and toasty.

It's an easy-drinking wine with plenty of up-front personality; enjoyable but not too dumbed-down, it works either as a quaffer or with food. With all that richness, the foods needs to have a hint of sweetness so go for slow-roast chicken, fruity, slightly sweet cheeses such as an aged Cheddar or a Manchego or my favourite match a Thai green curry with coconut.

At £7.99 (plus delivery), it's sort-of reasonable value, too.

Provided by Laithwaites under their 100% satisfaction guarantee.


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

Westend Estate - http://www.westendestate.com.au/index.php

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Castillo Labastida Rioja 2007 - Laithwaites

One Friday evening recently, I opened and decanted a bottle of this Laithwaites Rioja to have with a meal. It had come as a freebie with a Discovery case and I was impressed by the dark cherry and vanilla on the nose, more juicy, dark cherries and a hint of eucalyptus on the palate, and full but smooth tannins on the finish.

A little unapproachable on first pouring, it opened out in the glass and was definitely improved by the roast meat we were having.

We left about half until the following evening (poured back into the bottle and re-corked) and by then it had really opened up and was at its best.

However, £7.99 (plus delivery) seems a little toppy for this - so whilst it's a good Rioja, it's not going to win any value awards here.


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

Friday, 10 December 2010

Laurent-Perrier Brut NV at Taste of Christmas

Taking a break from from sampling various Christmassy foods and drinks at the recent Taste Of Christmas event in London, I sat down by a bar and was offered a glass of Champagne, a Laurent-Perrier NV.

Now, until recently, I was never that excited by Champagne - that is to say, I like it enough, but never quite understood what the fuss was about and thought it was not terribly good value.

I can't say that I've had a complete conversion to buying Champagne, but after sampling a range of Bollinger wines at Cambridge Wine Merchants (reviewed here), I started to wonder if I might get into it - or at least to understand what makes a good Champagne better than other sparkling wines.

Laurent-Perrier was founded in 1812 and is still family-owned. The Brut NV is blend is made of wines from more than 55 crus or villages and between 10 and 20% of reserve wines are used. The wine is aged on its lees for approximately three years and contains 45% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Meunier.

The wine had been pre-poured; I don't know how long it had been sitting in the glass, but perhaps long enough to get some air and open up a bit. Maybe I am over-egging the science here, but it was also served in a plastic flute, rather than glass (I know, I know), which is more air-permeable.

In any case, pale gold in the glass, it had aromas of yeast and toasty brioche, whilst on the palate it was fresh and elegant but also rich, supple, balanced and long with fine bubbles.

It would be lovely to serve this with a good ham on Boxing Day, preferably one baked with Seville Orange marmalade and studded with cloves.

Laurent Perrier - http://www.laurent-perrier.fr/
Taste of Christmas - http://www.tasteofchristmas.com/

Errazuriz at Taste of Christmas 2010, London

The Aconcagua Valley - stunning !
Ever since a tasting with Chile's Vina Undurraga in Cambridge (see here), I have been taking an increasing interest in Chilean terroir.

They key principle to remember with Chile is that elevation, a function of distance east-west relative to the Pacific coast, is generally more significant than north-south latitude. And as Quentin Sadler who was running the Errazuriz stall at the Taste of Christmas event explained, the Andes rise much more steeply in Chile than in next-door Argentina, meaning that distances of even just a few kilometres can be very significant.

We started with an impressive Pinot Noir from the Casablanca Valley - Chile's premier white wine region which is also produces some interesting red wines, especially Pinot Noir which needs a cool climate to thrive.

Quite dark in the glass for a Pinot, it had a nose of raspberries and cherries, with hints of earthy truffleyness. The palate was smooth and savoury with some spice and smooth tannins from oak aging (9 months in oak, 25% new).

The "Wild Ferment" tag refers to fermentation by the wild yeasts that are normally present on the grape skins. According to the Errazuriz website, these native yeasts produce a greater combination and proportion of by-products under the demanding conditions of the fermentation process, and therefore the wine develops more complex and distinctive aromas and flavours

The next wine was a Carménère; originally from Bordeaux and historically mistaken for Merlot, it is often cited as Chile's signature red grape. This example was from the Aconcagua Valley and was fermented in stainless steel before aging on oak. It perhaps suffered from comparison with the Pinot immediately before as it felt less impressive, but had some nice blackberry fruit, a hint of spice and smooth tannins.

The final wine was a Cabernet, also from Aconcagua - usually a chewy and tough wine in its youth, this was much more fruit-driven and approachable with ripe blackcurrant, some spice and pepperiness and a long finish, but rather less complex and sophisticated for it.

As Quentin explained, the extra couple of degrees of alcohol result in a wine that is riper, juicier and more approachable, but less complex and with less aging potential as a result - which is apparently what most wine-buyers look for these days.

For those interested, here is a map of where Errazuriz's vineyards lie:

The Wines

Errazuriz "Wild Ferment" Pinot Noir 2009, £10.99, Majestic

Errazuriz Estate Carmenere 2009, £7.99, Majestic, Wine Rack

Errazuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008, £10.99, Wine Rack


Taste of Christmas - http://www.tasteofchristmas.com/

Errazuriz - http://www.errazuriz.com/errazuriz/index.html

Quentin Sadler - http://www.quentinsadler.com/

Majestic - http://www.majestic.co.uk/

Wine Rack - http://www.winerack.co.uk/

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Villebois Sauvignon Blanc, Touraine - Naked Wines‏

This latest wine from my mixed case of Naked Wines is an intriguing mixture of the Old World and the New.

Sealed under screwcap, and with the winery and varietal name featuring prominently on a simple, eye-catching, green-and-cream label, it feels modern, fresh and unfussy in a very New-World sort of way.

Eschewing heritage for shelf-appeal, we only learn that it's from France in general and AOC Touraine in particular from the bottom of a back label which gives far more column inches to a tasting note than to provenance.

And who can blame them ? The less-prestigious parts of France (with less of a heritage to lose) have been casting off their Old-World image and steadily re-branding themselves as the new New World for some time now.

The irony is that whilst, whilst the look-and-feel of the branding may have changed (a funky label here, a personal note from the winemaker there) the style of the wine generally has not - which is a Good Thing; this is a good, classic Loire white, after all (albeit, one with a slightly riper-than-normal 13% alcohol).

Perhaps the answer to all this lies in the fact that the winemaker, Joost de Villebois, is not originally from the Loire region, or even from France at all; he's actually Dutch and fell in love with the Loire valley whilst on holiday. However, he does employ French winemakers and keeps his production as organic as possible.

Co-incidentally, at a recent tasting I organised for some young PR professionals in London (see here), it was a Touraine that was chosen as the overall favourite of the evening, so this is just the sort of wine that should be really popular right now - no oak in sight and just a bit more serious than an overly tropical full-on kiwi Sauvignon.

Situated in northern France, the Loire Valley is very much cool-climate terroir and generally produces quite steely and pungent wines from the Sauvignon grape which does not always ripen fully leading to a distinct whiff of cat's pee.

However, when done well, fully-ripe Loire Sauvignon has a much more pleasant and intriguing aroma of flinty gunsmoke that is particularly associated with, but all too often lacking in, Sancerre.

As prices rise ever upwards on the back of limited supplies, next-door Touraine has become the better-value alternative to Sancerre with less cachet but often more flavour.

This wine has gooseberries and smokiness on the nose, whilst the palate is crisp and refreshing with white peach and hints of tropical fruit. Concentrated and minerally, it has a long and balanced finish.

There is enough ripe fruit here to enjoy this as a quaffing wine or an aperitif, but it will also match with food. We enjoyed it first with a simple starter of mozzarella and tomatoes garnished with fresh parsley and olive oil followed by a main of lightly-grilled trout fillets with smoked salmon and scrambled egg on the side.

For traditionalists, however, the classic match for a Loire Sauvignon is, of course, some local goat's cheese.

£8.99 / £5.99 for Angels - provided for review.

Naked Wine's Angels are a group of over 30,000 Naked Wines customers who regularly invest a set amount each month to help fund start-up wineries and receive cash back on their purchases as a result.

For more details on Naked Wines' Angels scheme, see this article by US blogger Arnold Waldstein:



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

Villebois Wines - http://villebois.eu/

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Two Anselmann wines from Mo-Rhe-Na at the 2010 Fine Wine Fair, Chelsea

Some of the first people I spoke with at the recent Fine Wine Fair in Chelsea were at the somewhat clumsily-named Mo-Rhe-Na stand.

Mo-Rhe-Na is a trade export body representing wine estates, their cellars and great vineyards from all mayor German wine growing regions and takes its name from the Mo(sel), Rhe(in) and Na(he) regions.

They were presenting just two wines - predictably enough a Riesling, Germany's signature grape, but more unusually a Dornfelder, a minor, light early-ripening red variety.

Starting with the Riesling, it was a Spaetlese, meaning literally late-harvested and from the Pfalz, a warm, sunny region, albeit not the most southerly in Germany.

Despite the spaetlese tag and the German tendency towards off-dry wines, this was fully dry, but rich and full-bodied, yet also light enough to consider drinking without food. Well-made, long and with a balanced finish, to me it had hints of botrytis and although I was assured there was none, I was also told that I was not the only person to have noted botrytis.

Made by the Anselmann family who can trace their ancestry back to 1126, this is a thoroughly modern wine with manual harvesting and fermentation in stainless steel to retain freshness. Just the sort of thing that next-door rivals the Austrians have been doing for a generation now.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Austrians must be reciprocating the flattery as they gave this a Gold Medal at the 2009 AWC in Vienna.

The second wine, a red, had a nose of strawberries and raspberries, and was very smooth and rich. Low in tannins it would make an easy, light summer red - if only the summers were more predictable in this country. It was certainly enjoyable, but with a guide price of £12 - £15 it is unlikely to win any awards for value.

The Wines

2008 Riesling Spaetlese dry "Edesheimer Ordensgut" guide price £13.40

2009 Dornfelder dry - barrique "Edesheimer Ordensgut" guide price £12 - £15.


Anselmann Estate - http://www.weingut-anselmann.de/25.0.html?L=1

Mo-Rhe-Na - http://www.mo-rhe-na.com/

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Villa Zorilor, memories of Romanian wine and food

The House of The People, Bucharest
For a while, I was a regular visitor to Romania on business. I can't say it's my favourite place in Eastern Europe but Bucharest was once described as the Paris of the East with tree-lined boulevards and even has its own Arc de Triomphe before the baby-faced megalomaniac dictator Ceausescu swept aside huge swathes of the city to replace them with vast squares and the white elephant that is the House of the People, the world's largest civilian building.

If you can judge a people by how they drive, then there is definitely something eastern, chaotic and idiosyncratic about the denizens of Bucharest. Shortly after one visit there, I went on to Istanbul and found it far more European in feel than Bucharest.

However, my enforced stay in Romania was good for one thing at least - I learnt that Romanian wines are actually rather good indeed.

I was staying at the Athénée Palace (possibly Europe's most notorious den of spies in the years leading up to the Second World War, and only slightly less so during the Cold War) with a group of colleagues and we decided to play safe and eat at the hotel restaurant - we ordered a bottle of something local and found it surprisingly good. So we ordered a few more ...

Over the next few weeks, the quality of the wines in the restaurant as well as the food (especially the steaks) became one of the things I looked forward to about my trips there.

In very simple terms, Romanians are a broadly Latin people, being a mixture of Roman soldiers from the days of the empire and the local Dacian population. Although the local religion is Orthodox Christianity and they are geographically surrounded by Slavs and Hungarians, it helps to think of them in terms of their nearest linguistic neighbours, the French, Italians and Spanish.

Certainly this was true for the wines which were surprisingly well-made, in an approachable, fruit-driven yet still noticeably old-world and food-friendly style - rather like, say, southern France or inland Spain; the Rieslings I particularly remember being well-structured, well-balanced and very drinkable.

Of the reds, my two favourites were both from Villa Zorilor. The first, called Swallowtail, is made from the indigenous Feteasca Negra grape from the Dealu Mare region. It is packed with soft, supple mouthfilling tannins and has rich flavours of dark bramble fruit, black cherries, prunes and hints of tobacco, woodsmoke and coffee. As well as being delicious, it is also a perfect match for steak.

The second, Merlot Prince Matei, had spicy prune and plum fruit, a great depth of flavour, good balance and length.

If you happen to be in Bucharest, both are available from Vinexpert:

On a more recent visit, I found the wines to be just as good, though noticeably more expensive since EU accession, which is a pity since they are somewhat obscure in most people's perception and keen pricing has to be the first step to wider acceptance.

For a more detailed review of Romanian wines, see here - http://www.wine-pages.com/features/romanian-wine.htm#art


Vinexpert - http://www.evinoteca.eu/eng/

Vinexpert wine list - http://www.evinoteca.eu/eng/categories/vinarte.php

Monday, 6 December 2010

Bordeaux Wines at Taste of Christmas 2010, London

At the recent Taste of Christmas event in London's ExCel centre, I tried a range of Bordeaux wines that were designed to go with food.

The event itself, for which the Bordeaux Wine Council was the Wine Sponsor, was a celebration of all things Christmassy and foodie, with cheese, wines, chutneys, soups, breads and plenty more.

The two Bordeaux stands were located near the exhibition restaurants with the aim of suggesting suitable wines for the various foods on offer. I had already tried a range of the breads and cheeses and, ready for some wine, headed to one of the stands.

The wines were generally from the lesser Bordeaux appellations, making them more accessible and easy-drinking, and although it turned out not to be a conscious decision by the organisers, it seems many people were trying the wines before they ate, and so it had proven to be quite opportune.

The first wine, a Ducla, was for me the most intriguing - rich and mouthfilling, it was an unusual blend with a slight aroma of white pepper or cindery ashes; there was certainly something different and elusive there, but overall it was complex but subtle; quite a mixture of things with 42% Sauvignon Blanc, 29% Sauvignon Gris, 24% Semillon and 5% Muscadelle of which 50% was aged in new oak and 50% in old.

A bit of research after the show revealed that Sauvignon Gris does actually exist and is a less aromatic clonal mutation of Sauvignon Blanc.

The next white from Thieuly was Sauvignon Blanc-dominated, with a typical Sauvignon nose of fresh tropical fruit and gooseberries; crisp and ripe with good length and concentration it it full-bodied and dry with a slightly smoky finish.

The last white was a Calvet Prestige - 85% Semillon, rich and waxy, with some crisp acidity from the Sauvignon.

As I am learning (much to my surprise), rosé from Bordeaux can actually be surprisingly serious; a Chateau Méaume made from mainly Merlot was rich, mouthfilling and long, a good match for food.

The first of the reds, an Argadens Bordeaux Superieur from 2006, was Merlot-based and has a silver medal. With an earthy, truffley nose and a soft texture, it was fruity and approachable.

Another unusual wine was a 2007 Civrac from Cotes de Bourg in a distinctly modern style; it has a plain, monochrome label, is aged in Spanish oak, and is almost Rioja-like with lots of vanilla on the nose, red fruit, fine tannins and a soft texture.

The Baron La Rose 2006 was 60% Merlot, with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and for body and 10% Cabernet Franc for perfume. Made from vines at least 20 years old, it has a typically earthy Merlot nose, is light and plummy in the mouth and has a Decanter Bronze Medal.

The final red was a much more serious and interesting proposition - a 2008 Chateau du Gazin from Canon Fronsac. Like the other reds, this was Merlot-dominated with 7% Cabernet added and 3% Cabernet Franc. With liquorice, spice and a hint of cigar box, it was for me, the most interesting of the reds and has a Gold from Macon.

Entry ticket provided by CIVB.

The Wines

Ch Ducla, Entre Deux Mers 2009, Tesco Online £9.99

Ch Thieuly Bordeaux, Waitrose £8.82

Calvet Prestige, Bordeaux 2008, Morrisons £9.99

Chateau Méaume Bordeaux Rosé 2009, Majestic, £6.99

Chateau Argadens Bordeaux Superieur 2006, Tanners, £9.95

Chateau Civrac, Cotes de Bourg 2007, around £8, stockists available on website (http://www.civrac.com/stockists.aspx)

Baron La Rose, Bordeaux 2006 - no details available

Chateau du Gazin, Canon Fronsac 2007, £9.49 Waitrose


Bordeaux website - http://www.goodfoodwouldchoosebordeaux.com/

Taste of Christmas - http://www.tasteofchristmas.com/

Waitrose - http://www.waitrosewine.com/

Majestic Wine - http://www.majestic.co.uk/

Tesco - http://www.tesco.com/

Morrisons - http://www.morrisons.co.uk/

Tanners - http://www.tanners-wines.co.uk/

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The Best Tafelspitz in Vienna - Plachutta‏

Many years ago, I lived in Vienna and even after moving back to the UK, continued to travel there on business.

Our office was located in a mainly residential part of the city and there were not too many good restaurants in the area; however, there was one and it seemed to do very good business out of us as, frequently, there would be groups of colleagues huddled in four or five different corners of the restaurant.

Austrian food does not quite have the same cachet as, say, French or Italian. Typically, it is a mixture of the cuisines of the various neighbouring states which formerly made up the Austrian empire, all of them hearty to say the least - Hungarian goulash, Czech dumplings and lots of meat.

However, as I am finding with traditional British food these days, there is always someone who is prepared to take historically unfashionable foods and develop their potential with a light hand and a touch of refinement.

And so it is at Plachutta - their approach is not flashy, fancy molecular gastronomy and you will get no plates of foamed vegetables here. What you will find is well-made, refined but flavoursome and satisfying examples of Austrian classics, such as goulash with spaetzli, local freshwater fish or, my personal favourite, Tafelspitz.

Tafelspitz translates as boiled beef, but that name does do adequately do justice to the wonderful dish that is served at Plachutta. It is available in numerous varieties depending on the cut of meat, and you start with a diagram of a cow on the menu to indicate where each cut comes from.

For Plachutta, quality of ingredients is everything and they follow a strict set of principles:

1. We know our farmers.
2. All our cattle were born exclusively in Austria.
3. We only consider cattle that are raised in a natural way.
4. We are 100% aware of what ends up in the feeding trough.
5. We are able to track all the information regarding every single cow back to its birth.

Tafelspitz is a dish that suits the cheaper cuts, especially ones streaked with a bit of fat as the meat is gently simmered for several hours in a clear stock until it is completely tender, with some root vegetables added for more flavour.

Now comes the fun part; brought to the table in a pan, the stock and vegetables are served as a soup for the first course, with the meat forming the main course along with side dishes of salty matchstick chips, sour cream and chives, apple sauce with grated fresh horseradish and spinach and cream.

Tafelspitz, served Plachutta-style
Finding a wine to stand up to this complex mix of flavours would often be quite a challenge; however, Austrian wines are perfectly suited to the task and Plachutta's wine list is excellent, featuring many that became regular favourites - crisp but full-bodied Rieslings from Prager in the Wachau or Bründlmayer in Kamptal, steely, minerally Sauvignon from Tement and Polz in Styria and a superb Burgundy-style Chardonnay from Velich in Burgenland.

Plachutta has a number of branches in Vienna, with its flagship in the first district (Vienna's mainly pedestrianised and beautiful city centre). The Plachutta in the 19th district, a smart residential suburb near the Vienna Woods and the Heurige district of Grinzing, also provides basic but comfortable accommodation.

There are also branches in the 13th district of Hietzing as well as Mario (also in the 13th) and Grünspan in the 16th district  of Ottakring.

The restaurants are a family business and have been run by Eva, Mario and multi-awarded chef Ewald Plachutta since 1987.


Plachutta - http://www.plachutta.at/