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Sunday, 29 December 2013

Dominique Boulard - From Cambridge Champagne Company

A review of Dominique Boulard Champagne from Cambridge Champagne Company

Just lanched, the Cambridge Champagne Company is the UK's exclusive importer of Dominique Boulard Champagne.

Not so much a new business venture as a side project, the company was set up by a group of friends who reckoned that if they could find a good Champagne, bring it to the UK and sell a few bottles, then the profits should just about cover their costs thus ensuring a steady supply of Champagne for them to drink at little or no cost.

They sent me four bottles to review:

Cuvée Rosé de Saignée (50% PM, 50% PN) deep cranberry red, restrained nose, delicate red berry fruit, prominent acidity, fine mousse and persistence. Correct and well-enough made, but rather characterless.

Cuvée Tradition (10% PM, 30% PN, 60% Ch) sandy yellow, yeasty melon skin aromas; ripe white pear, white peach and crisp clean apple - fine mousse, good persistence. With aeration, a pleasant rasp and leesiness develops. Fresh and elegant textbook Champagne. Good.

Brut Réserve (70% PM, 20% PN, 10% Ch) deeper straw yellow, fuller and more concentrated than the Tradition, a step-up; ripe orchard fruit, leesy with prominent linear acidity. Very Good.

Grand Cru Mailly-Champagne pale sandy yellow; balanced and restrained sort of character - ripe orchard fruit and fresh acidity. Fine, precise and elegant. Good

Recommended Wine
Having tried the wines, I found the company's website to check prices - it seems the one I enjoyed most, the Brut Réserve, is the best seller. It costs £21.95 which I think is excellent value.

Other related articles
Substance and style - Champagne
Les Pionniers Champagne NV - The Co-op‏
Ayala Champagne Tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants
Champagne Tasting at Alimentum

Cambridge Champagne Company - website
Dominique Boulard - website

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

2013 - A Year In Review: Merchants, Dinners And Other Observations‏

The final part in my review of 2013's drinking - focusing on merchants and dinners

This year I've continued to review and recommend the wines of our local Cambridge merchants with my Wine of the Month column which also broadcasts on Cambridge105's Flavour programme.

The national retailer who has most impressed me this year has been The Co-op with their range of Champagnes - these have been not only good quality, but also good value; Les Pionniers 2004 was the best own-label fizz of the year, possibly ever, and the NV version was not too shabby either.

My top large independent remains The Wine Society - the John Lewis of wine retailing, their quality and consistency are second to none.

I've had a number of excellent meals this year and an increasing number have been blogger dinners - the level of interest in bloggers seems to have really taken off this year.

The best of these were Change and Innovation In Bordeaux and a vertical tasting dinner with Kleine Zalze - I needed no convincing as to the merits of Bordeaux, but an evening of Chenin Blanc finally turned me on to this great grape variety.

An aged wines and game dinner organised for fellow wine enthusiasts in Cambridge was superb and saw perhaps the best and most diverse range of wines I have ever tasted in a single sitting - definitely a format to repeat.

I have also reviewed three new entrants to the online wine retailing space - WineHound, WineTrust 100 and Rude Wines; all the wines have been good and each has their own schtick, so it really comes down to personal preferences.

Other related articles
2013 - Personal Favourites
2013 - Regions

Image credit: http://www.food-passion.co.uk/wine-merchants/images/FoodPassionImage3.jpg

Sunday, 22 December 2013

2013 - A Year In Review: Regions‏

A review of 2013 - regions that have impressed

I am somewhat wary of giving blanket recommendations to entire regions, but certain areas have either newly impressed or continued to impress me this year.


A vibrant and diverse region, I have previously characterised Languedoc as minor royalty - yes, it has breeding and class, but it is also approachable and characterful, with a sense of fun.

Languedoc is France's New World - and many of its best winemakers are newcomers to the region, outsiders who have seen its potential and relative value.

My top wines from Languedoc include Chateau d'Angles, which I first tried at a Languedoc dinner in London and later when we spent a week there during the summer.


The Rhône is more of an established, classic region than Languedoc, but offers a similarly approachable southern warmth matched with characterful spiciness and elegance.

At their best, the wines are like the Rhône tasting and Iggy Pop gig organised by Inter-Rhône - substantial, muscular and energetic yet nuanced and deft.

There were some excellent northern Rhône 2012s at an H2Vin tasting and I also got to find out more about the newly-renamed Grignan-les-Adhémar region in the southern Rhône.


On a lighter note, this has been the year I discovered Beaujolais properly - pure, precise wines with a classic elegance, they are almost France's answer to Italian reds, needing to accompany food to make sense.

I've had some lovely Beaujolais from The Wine Society and others, Beaujolais and Beyond and a funky, modern nouveau from M&S.


Sherry of all hues continue to be a favourite - I started the year talking about sherry and recommending some specific bottles on Cambridge105's Flavour programme.

In a decidedly chilly spring, I got to taste the 2013 release of Tio Pepe En Rama and as the year drew to and end, I matched the complex mellow elegance of Matusalem to both sweet and savoury desserts.

South Africa

Once a source of cheap, three-for-a-tenner plonk, South Africa is starting to register as a great wine region - as tastings of Oldenburg, PIWOSA, and braaiday confirmed.

Other related articles
2013 - A Year In Review: Personal Favourites‏

Image credit: http://www.geocurrents.info/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/World-wine-map.gif

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Abbaye Sylva Plana - Faugères

Three wines from Abbaye Sylva Plana, based in Faugères, Languedoc

Louise Hurren, a Brit now living in Languedoc, sent me these three wines, previously listed at Majestic, to review.

All three are extremely enjoyable, well-made and improve with a bit of aeration.

It would be good to see them back in the UK as they demonstrate what Languedoc does best; ripe, southern fullness balanced with a well-judged freshness and racy spice-and-garrigue-herbs.

With a clean vibrancy and savouriness that speaks of their organic background and plenty of fruit, they make good quaffers, but also have sufficient underpinnings to work with food.

Le Rosé 2012 sockeye-salmon pink, ripe red berries with white pear and apple fruit, hints of sweet spice and soft, rounded acidity. Good. Clean and savoury with a lingering finish. Match with picnic food or cold cuts.

Les Novices 2012 dark berries, fresh acidity, peppery spice and savouriness - with aeration, the aromas become more garrigue and gamey: fresh, juicy, clean and easy-drinking. Good. Match with autumnal dishes of lighter game, especially roast duck.

La Closeraie 2011 more complex GSM-plus-Carignan blend with ripe black cherry and dark-berry fruit, sweet roasted spices and balanced fresh acidity. Sweet vanilla, fine tannins and savouriness, with a touch of Medoc-esque bell pepper and green herbs.

Drinking nicely now, it evolves and improves with aeration so will benefit from a few more years' cellaring. Match with well-seasoned red meat in stews or roasts.

Very Good.

Other related articles
AOC Languedoc Dinner at Ampersand Hotel
Chateau d'Angles - La Clape, Languedoc

Abbaye Sylva Plana - website

Thursday, 19 December 2013

2013 - A Year In Review: Personal Favourites‏

A review of my personal highlights from 2013

There are perhaps two key themes to my most memorable bottles of 2013; older wines and obscure wines - as well as some older obscure wines.

Older Wines

The year started with a tasting of some mature Crus Bourgeois Bordeaux from 2000 matched against current-vintage examples.

The oldest wine I tasted was a 1911 sweet PX from Toro Albala - it was incredible and the most impressive, even if not technically the best in the flight.

There was more aged Bordeaux with a monumental 1989 Haut Brion tasted on the 350th anniversary of the first tasting note of the wine entered by Samuel Pepys in his diary at a dinner at Magdalene College, Cambridge.

As a sherry nut, I was delighted to try not once but twice, the 30yo oloroso from Gonzalez Byass, Matusalem.

Vintage Champagne needs a good decade's aging to come into its own and a 2004 own-label fizz from the Co-op, drinking very nicely now after some aeration, will only continue improve.

Obscure Wines

This was the year I properly discovered Greek wines - first with a Masterclass by Greek MW, Konstantinos Lazarakis at the Circle of Wine Writers and then on holiday on the island of Kefalonia, home to Gentilini Wines.

I started the year with a tasting of Swiss wines from Fläsch-based Adank and finished it with a tasting of wines from all over Switzerland - again with the Circle of Wine Writers.

I also had my ideas about homogeneity vs obscurantism in wine challenged at a tasting of some of the rarest grape varieties in the world with Jose Vouillamoz - a third tasting from the Circle of Wine Writers.

Older Obscure Wines

The Loire's Coteaux du Layon region was not familiar to me when a friend brought along a 1959 example to an aged wine dinner I hosted, but this complex, honeyed Chenin proved to be both my and the group's top wine of the night.

That wine made the 1990 dry Vouvray that I had brought seem positively youthful in comparison.

A 1980 sweet Samos Nectar that had been presented by Konstantinos Lazarakis at the CWW tasting was later declared Jancis Robinson's top wine at the dinner for the 60th anniversary of the IMW.

Finally, a stunning 1984 Pereira D'Oliveira, Bual Madeira tasted at the Embassy of Portugal was "bottled electricity" - and will last forever, if allowed to do so.

Image credit: http://www.exacttarget.com/blog/assets/2013_w10242.jpeg

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Rude Wines

A review of three wines from Rude Wines

Let me entertain you ...
I've been looking for serial monogamy ...

Robbie Williams (Let Me Entertain You and Kids)

Whether the world needs another iconoclastic online wine retailer with a risqué name is something of a moot point; Rude Wines launched earlier this year offering "real value and no mystique, just exciting wines" - plus a pun-tastic website.

They have been more recently joined by Sarah Abbott MW who describes them as "a young company, very jolly, really creative".

The wines are well-made and, straight out of the bottle, they feel full-on with plenty to say for themselves - a bit like Robbie, blue collar heroes here to entertain us.

Not so much elegant classics for purists, then, they are exuberant party animals, enjoyable quaffers - and my first reaction is that they are more kiss-me-quick than marriage potential.

With a bit of aeration, their more serious sides show - the attention-grabbing elements become less overt and they reveal their more-serious underpinnings; as if your bubbly date started conversing about geo-politics, Radiohead and Kandinsky.

Vino Spumante Rosato Brut NV (£10.99) a blend of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Nero, deep salmon pink, ripe red fruits, white pear and apple, clean-as-a-whistle acidity and some persistence on the finish. Balanced, if a little lacking in finesse - good, inexpensive Italian pink fizz.

Tohu Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (£14.99) pungent, catty, herbaceous and aromatic; zesty, pithy grapefruit and white peach - fresh and citrussy with some salinity. Well-made, good example of its style. Good.

Match the aromatics and high acidity with rocket and goat's cheese salad, salmon en croute or Thai green curry.

Chateau Vincens Prestige Cahors 2011 (£12.99) sweet ripe, baked black cherries, sweet vanilla, toasty oak, dried green herbs, cool mint and pencil shavings; a soft texture and fine, perfectly ripe tannins. Good.

Match with well-flavoured reds meats, such as roast beef and horseradish or lamb with rosemary and garlic.

Overall, these wines make a statement - but can back it up, too.
Other related articles
Wine Trust 100
Wine Hound

Rude Wines- website, twitter, Facebook

Image credit: http://www.ilex-press.com/wp-content/uploads/making_a_statement_b.jpg

Friday, 13 December 2013

Matusalem 30-Year-Old Oloroso - Matching Sweet and Savoury‏

Matusalem 30-Year-Old Oloroso Gonzalez Byass

If it's now fair to say that pale fino sherry is cool again, then it's time for the darker styles to take a step forward into the limelight.

Whilst fino sherry is aged in under a layer of flor to keep out the air and maintain freshness, darker styles of sherry are aged oxidatively - allowing the sherry to come into contact with air and so take on aromas of roasted nuts and spice.

The resulting bitterness is often sweetened with the addition of some PX - intensely dark and sweet sherry with aromas of raisins and dried figs.

This Matusalem is a blend of oloroso with 25% sweet PX, aged for 30 years in casks.

A dark mahogany with complex, fragrant roasted nuts, sweet spices, fruitcake, figs a touch of polish and sweet vanilla; long and savoury with fresh acidity and a long finish.

Complex and perfectly balanced with bitterness, umami, acidity and sweetness, it is accomplished and a complete dessert in its own right.

However, in the interest of research, I try it with savoury Fudge's blue stilton melts and some sweet Waitrose mince pies to see which is the better match.

The biscuits seem to emphasise the savoury umami, whilst the mince pies bring out the cooked fruitcake and spice - both work well, so I call it an honourable draw.

I can't help feeling that an aged, hand-crafted wine such as this deserves something a little more special, so if you have the time, I recommend matching it with a home-made crunchy cheese bite - creamed blue cheese between slices of roasted, sweetened filo pastry

Products sampled:

Matusalem, Gonzalez Byass. 37.5cl - £19.19 Ocado, Waitrose, Tesco, Majestic
Waitrose Christmas 8 Mini Mince Pie Selection. - £2.40 (on promotion) Waitrose, Ocado
Intense & Tangy Stilton Melts, Thomas.J.Fudge’s. - £2.50 Waitrose, Ocado

The Matusalem is also available at Cambridge Wine Merchants, priced at £18.99.
All provided for review.

Other related articles
The Great Sherry Tasting
Tio Pepe En Rama Launch Dinner 2013
Hidalgo Sherry Dinner

Gonzalez Byass - website

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Lunch With Corkers Crisps

Corkers Crisps were launched in 2010 and it's been quite a journey since.

I've reviewed the crisps themselves previously and knew some of the back story, but I got to hear more of the details over lunch with Amy Woods, marketing manager at Corker's, over lunch with a group of journalists.

We met up in a pub in central London - the food, like Corkers Crisps, was hearty traditional-British but with a contemporary sophistication. Rather like pasta or tapas, this was peasant food with an urban makeover - right on the zeitgeist.
Corkers' is a not-unfamiliar story - a long-standing, traditional family business facing slow decline is reinvented by a younger generation.

The family behind Corkers have been growing potatoes in the fens since the 1800s, but with commodity prices falling, sons Rod and Ross decided to use some of the crop to make a high-end British-themed crisp.

To what extent this was business savvy or a lucky hunch is unclear; that traditional British foods are coming back into fashion is certain - as witnessed by the menu at or pub - but the general boost for all things traditionally British from the Jubilympics seems to have caught even the owners by surprise.

It all started with just a concept, a prototype packet stuffed with cotton wool and some limited samples - Harvey Nichols agreed to stock the crisps as soon as they could be put into production, so a cooking unit was hurriedly bought from Cyprus via an internet auction.

Since then, the crisps have found their way onto and into trains, planes, art galleries and family attractions.

They've also been sent into space, set a Guinness World Record, won awards and generated a lot of money for charity.

Whatever the luck element of the 2012 effect, there are solid underpinnings here - a sophisticated yet edgy, non-corporate brand that offers a clear set of values and an experience over and above the basic product; you can even visit the Corkers farm and have your own crisps made from scratch in around an hour.

With just over 50% of the farm's potatoes made into crisps (the remainder are sold to fish and chip shops), there's plenty of scope for expansion, including two new flavours in the pipeline - Gressingham Duck and another still-undisclosed option.

The idea for the duck flavour came from the Gressingham ducks that are reared on the farm; but no quackers are harmed in the making of the crisps themselves - we were assured that the flavourings are all cleverly made from 100% vegetarian ingredients.

Other related articles
Rock 'n' Roll Crisps in Space

Corker's Crisps - website, twitter

Monday, 9 December 2013

New Name, Long History - Grignan-les-Adhémar

Four southern Rhônes from Domaine de Montine, Delas and Cellier des Dauphins

Grignan-les-Adhémar is a new name for an old appellation - formerly Côteaux du Tricastin, it is the northernmost region of the southern Rhône with an oenological history stretching back over 2,000 years but re-branded in 2010.

These wines were all ripe-yet-balanced; the Cellier des Dauphins is a lovely quaffer that is ready to drink now, whilst the others show some complexity and aging potential - if you can't wait, put them in a decanter to allow them to open up.

Cellier Des Dauphins Cuvee Traditionelle 2011 (Asda £8.50) dark berries, vanilla sweetness and fresh fruit acidity; lively and vivacious. Surprisingly juicy and gluggable, very enjoyable.

Domaine de Montine Viognier 2012 (on-trade, c £23) medium straw yellow; citrus, zest some musky toastiness and a touch of pithy bitterness. Sweet ripe tropical citrus, a touch of sweet, warming spice and white pepper with beeswax and floral honey. Poised, balanced and complex. Good.

Delas 2011 (independents, £10) dark berries, spice and tar with a musky-feral-funky edge. Ripe berry fruit, peppery spice, fresh acidity; long and savoury, lovely texture. Will age. Very Good.

Domaine de Montine Emotion 2011 (on-trade, c £23) Grenache / Syrah blend, old vines, organic, two years in 2-4yo oak. Dark opaque purple; ripe dark fruit, cool mint, balancing acidity, ripe, firm tannins, lots of savoury spiciness; dense and long, with lots of stuffing. Muscular yet poised and precise. Will age. Very Good.

Other related articles
Rhône Tasting with H2Vin‏
Iggy Pop and Côtes du Rhône

Domaine de Montine - website, Facebook
Delas - website
Cellier des Dauphins - website

Sunday, 8 December 2013

¡Que rico! Tapas

A review of Cambridge-based ¡Que rico! Tapas

Two years ago, Estefania Led Ramos left Spain and made what she planned to be a temporary move to Cambridge to improve her English.

Deciding she rather liked the city, however, she gave up a career in journalism and communications to set up a catering business, ¡Que rico! Tapas.

As any foodie worth their manchego will know, tapas are small plates of simple, often finger food traditionally served in Andalusian bodegas - a little something to snack on with your copita of sherry.

¡Que rico! translates as "delicious" and is generally applied to food, but can also be used of people - in the same way that we talk of "yummy mummies".

The business idea behind ¡Que rico! Tapas is three-fold:

- an at-home catering service
- catering for meetings and business lunches
- cooking events.

Estefania invited the CWB household to try her at-home service and turned up one evening with a Mary Poppins bag full of goodies and a handful of printed menus. After half an hour in our kitchen, she called up to say that dinner was ready.

I did not have any sherries to hand, but dug out a selection of southern Rhône wines from the newly-renamed appellation of Grignan-Les-Adhemar to see how they would match.

We started with an appropriately autumnal chestnut soup and mushrooms.

The first time I have had chestnuts in a soup, this was thick, rich and creamy - and disappeared very quickly; the mushrooms (sourced from Cambridge market) were also delicious, adding a contrast of flavour.

Next was a more well-known favorite - Spanish omelette with bread and olive oil.

Not so much an omelette in the familiar sense, this was more a potato cake, sweetened with onions, held together with egg and cooked to toasty perfection on both sides; pure comfort food for autumn.

Chicken croquetas were little pieces of chicken in a sauce, coated with batter and deep fried, reflecting the origins of tapas as often a way to use up left-overs.

The wine for all the lighter tapas was a Viognier from Domaine de Montine - citrussy and zesty with some sweet spice and floral honey aromas, it stood up well to the rich sweetness of the dishes.

The meatballs in almond sauce was exactly as described - hand-made, lean meatballs with a sauce made from oloroso sherry and nibbed almonds.

The two reds struggled a little with this dish - it is not quite either white-wine or red-wine food, but would have matched perfectly with a dry oloroso.

Traditional Spanish food is big on meat, but the final savoury course was Piquillo's peppers stuffed with mushrooms and served with a sour-cream sauce - sweet, concentrated peppers, earthy mushrooms and a creamy sauce.

Estefania explained that the peppers are first roasted over an open fire, then peeled and stuffed with mushrooms held together with a flour-and-milk paste.

After five generous courses of delicious food, a refreshing lemon sorbet to finsh was the perfect way to end the meal - it came with a gin and tonic gelatine and juniper berries.

To match with this refreshing and slightly bitter dish, I pulled out a bottle of well-chilled Rutherglen Muscat from Stanton and Killeen. I had found the wine a little syrupy and overpowering with mince pies, but well-chilled and faced with the bitterness of the juniper berries, it came into its own.

¡Que rico! Tapas is the latest in a series of innovative food businesses to set up in Cambridge - as the growth of the Mill Road Winter Fair, Eat Cambridge and Cambridge Food and Wine Society have shown, there is definitely a burgeoning interest in superior food in the city and ¡Que rico! Tapas deserves to do well.

Estefania's food was one of the best meals I have had in a long time - the dishes are simple and traditional and do not aspire to the sort of achingly-hip, knowingly-ironic cleverness that you may find in some of Cambridge's more edgy restaurants.

For there is only so much too-cool-for-school food that I can take; a diet of foamed vegetables and trios of deconstructed whatevers may have an initial wow factor, but for me becomes tedious - like a day of back-to-back motivational speakers.

And, after a busy weekend day of various fairs and ferrying children to activities, to be served six courses of simple but perfectly-judged, utterly faultless and delicious food in the comfort of our own home by an enthusiastic, accomplished (and very child-friendly) chef was a delight.

If and when Cambridge gets its first sherry bar, I just hope someone approaches ¡Que rico! Tapas to provide the food.

Other related articles
Hidalgo Sherry Dinner With Cambridge Wine Merchants at The Punter
Inder's Kitchen
Pavitt's Pies

¡Que rico! Tapas - website, twitter, facebook

Friday, 6 December 2013

Dinner with WineTrust 100‏

A Culinary Arts Competition Team & Gastronomy Society fundraising dinner with WineTrust 100 at Westminster Kingsway College

WineTrust 100, who provided the wines for this fundraiser, invited me and a couple of other bloggers along to meet founder John Valentine.

I was not entirely sure what to expect from a culinary arts team dinner, but hoped to experience raw talent, imagination and inventiveness; impatient young turks eager to impress with zeitgeisty flashes of inspiration.

What I got was surprisingly conservative - traditional ingredients, processes and flavour combinations, well judged, neatly presented and very well executed; no chef-ism here, then.

On arrival

Doyard, Cuvee Vendemiaire NV (organic), Champagne, France green apple and white pear fruit; elegant, crisp and sharp, with a pleasantly vibrant rasp on the finish. Good.

Amuse of smoke celeriac and gorgonzola dolce, parmesan crisp soup sip
A delicious espresso cup of creamy root-veg soup with a slightly unconvincing sliver of melted cheese on the saucer; good, if a touch one-dimensional.

Confit of British wild game birds

A cone of game-bird flesh served with a chutney and some redundant green leaves plus a single blackberry.

Nicely zeitgeisty theme with really delicious meat and chutney; the unconvincing presentation aside, this was my dish of the night.

2010 Montlouis, Clos Habert, Francois Chidaine, Loire, France golden and rich, off-dry with ripe honeyed pineapple, sweet spice and some late harvest character.

Good depth and length, an old-school, geek's wine. A perfect match with the food. Very Good. My wine of the night.

Cod with cockles and samphire
A delicate piece of cod in a creamy sauce with cockles and samphire - a much lighter, more delicate dish than the game and perhaps would have done better served first.

2012 Lawson's Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand I struggled with this wine previously and encountered the same problem again; for, despite all its accomplishments, it's just too obvious and, like a greedy attention-seeker, overpowers the delicate fish.
A celebration of Welsh lamb
Some lovely meat, perfectly seasoned and well-cooked; delicious, but feels a bit like several different mains placed randomly on the same plate.

2009 Escarpment Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand ripe red fruits, savouriness and a long finish of sweet spice. Served just slightly too warm, there is the merest hint of flabbiness, but otherwise spot on - a great match for the lamb, too. Good.

Selection of British cheeses
Mmmmm, cheese.

2007 Castelnau de Suduirant, Sauternes, Bordeaux sweet cooked pineapple with refreshing, elegant acidity. Really lovely. Good.

Unfortunately, the wine arrives late; I enjoy the cheese, I enjoy the wine and I can see how the acidity and sweetness of the wine would complement the cheeses, but I don't really get a chance to try them properly together.

Warm chocolate cake with ganache, kirsch cream, black cherry coulis
To my mind, chocolate does not lend itself to cake particularly well - this is rather dry and the dessert does not benefit from its deconstruction; all the elements work well together, but they need to be unified, not separated out.

The wine to match with this dish is a Banyuls; it is ever so slightly corked, with just an underlying hint of soggy cardboard, and served a little over-chilled. Otherwise, it is a spot-on Banyuls - rich with sweet berry fruit and herbaceous aromas; matches well with the chocolate / cherry / cream of the dessert.

Over coffee, I sample some of the petit fours; a blackcurrant jelly cube tastes perfectly of fresh blackcurrants whilst a chocolate praline cone is richly chocolatey and moreish - along with the starter, this is a highlight of the meal.
Recommended Wines
Top wine overall - Montlouis
Top classic - Doyard Champagne
Top modern classic - Escarpment PN

Other related articles
WineTrust 100
Big Game and Big Wines at Cambridge's Punter
Cigar Dinner at Hotel du Vin

WineTrust100 - website, twitter

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Ready to Listen: Swiss Wines at Circle of Wine Writers‏

Alpine horns, Ferrero Rocher and other assorted Helvetic cliches at the ready for the Circle of Wine Writers' Christmas tasting of Swiss Wines at the Ambassador's residence

Over-rated and over-priced but not available over here was, for many years, my general impression of Swiss wines.

And whilst cliches are often grounded in some basic truth, there are also subtleties and complexities that elude sweeping generalisation.

The wines at this Swiss tasting were as elegantly unruffled, discreetly unassuming and expensively self-assured as a Zurich bank manager; and yet, despite a distinct family resemblance - an alpine freshness and purity - there was a sweeping variety of styles, grapes, ages and production methods.

With six wine regions, four languages and a mix of native and international grape varieties, Switzerland's oenological history dates back to pre-Roman times.

Many wineries are family-run independents, reflecting the terroir and cultural traditions of landscapes that vary from alpine to Mediterranean.

Swiss wine writer Chandra Kurt says of her country's wines that they are of high quality, unique, pure and sometimes so silent that it takes time to hear them.

I was ready to listen.

Domaine Blaise Duboux Plant Robaz 2011 blackberries, black cherries, complex fruit with some pepper and liquorice. Very Good.

Pierre-Luc Leyvraz Saint-Saphorin Grand Cru Brumaire 2012 black fruits, spices and well-balanced. Very Good

Cave Cidis Chardonnay B. Ravet "Le Vin Vivant" 2012 citrus, white flowers, sweet spice, fresh and delicate. Good.

Provins Valais Petite Arvine de Fully - Maitre de Chais Reserve Speciale 2012 floral, pink grapefruit, citrus; elegant and fresh with a deft touch of ripe fruit sweetness behind. Good.

Jean-Rene Germanier Mitis-Amigne de Vetroz (Reserve) 2009 amazing sticky, quince, honey and orange marmalade; deliciously sweet and rich, but elegant and fleet-footed with a lively acidity. Very Good.

Domaine des Muses Fendant "Tradition" 2012 fresh fruit and white flowers, fresh acidity, minerality and elegance. Good.

Domaine Grand'Cour Pinot Noir "P" 2010 raspberry, morello cherry, mocha; intense, harmonious and superbly balanced. Very Good.

Lakes Region
Domaine Chambleau Oeil-de-Perdrix 2012 PN rose; ripe mandarin peel, strawberries and citrus - soft, plump and ripe.

Swiss German Region
Ganterbein Wine Chardonnay 2011 citrus, grapefruit and mineral with toasted hazelnuts and sweet spice. Fresh, balanced, poised and deft. Very Good.

Cantina Kopp Von Der Crone Visini Scala 2011 expressive red plums, coffee, bramble fruit and some sweet spice; elegant and velvety Bordeaux-style Merlot.

Brivio Vini Platinum 2005 black cherry and sour cherries, roasted notes, liquorice, dark chocolate and coffee. Fresh, balanced, complex and assured - and only just ready for drinking. Very Good.

The overall standard here was very high - well-judged, technically well-made wines with a purity and easy-drinking freshness.

With the wines from an entire and very diverse nation to discover, it is not easy to single out favourites, but a few wines stood out as particularly impressive:

Best white Gantenbein Chardonnay 2011
Best red Brivio Vini Platinum 2005
Best producer Jean-Rene Germanier

Gauntleys of Nottingham
Nick Dobson Wines
Douglas Harrison
Howard Ripley
Restaurant St Moritz

Other related articles
Virginia Wines
English Wines

Swiss Wine Promotion - facebook, twitter
Circle of Wine Writers - website, twitter

Image credits: the pictures in this piece were taken by CWW member Stephen Morris.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Wine of The Month - December

With Christmas and the end of the year hoving into view, it's time to think about celebratory wines.

With that in mind, we have fizz (and plenty of it) in the form of a couple of guest wines. WineTrust 100 make a welcome return, and we have the wines of local resident Eugene Lismonde who set up a vineyard in South West France near his wife's childhood home.

To start - fizz

Taltarni Tache 2010 (£18, WineTrust 100) from cool-climate regions of Australia, a very classical, elegant and composed Champagne-style fizz - pale salmon pink, restrained yeasty-citrus nose; ripe white pear and white peach with redcurrant. Assertive, well-structured, linear acidity and leesiness. Savoury persistence on the finish

Really poised and precise, it is drinking nicely now, but will repay a few years' cellaring.

Tour de Belfort Crémant de Bordeaux Brut (£12.50, Tour de Belfort) Bordelais grapes, but Champenois method; elegant, crisp and refreshing and as good as many an entry-level Champagne.

The main event - Christmas Dinner

Henri Clos Marlborough Pinot Noir 2009 (£24.99, Joseph Barnes Wines) Combining New Zealand freshness and precision with classical European elegance - ripe, pure red fruits, elegance and a lick of oak. This is really lovely and worth every penny.

Domaine de Vedilhan Serica Viognier (£10.49, Bacchanalia) a Languedoc Viognier that sees a bit of time in oak; stone fruits and creaminess that will match well with roast turkey.

Go on then, just one more mince pie

Stanton & Killeen Rutherglen Muscat (£13.49 per half bottle, Noel Young Wines) solera-method Aussie sticky, this is a dark orangey-mahogany colour and very syrupy. Very full on so won't be phased by mince pies and Christmas pudding. Serve lightly chilled to emphasis the freshness.

Henriques & Henriques Bual Madeira 10yo (£18.99 per 50cl bottle, Cambridge Wine Merchants) delicious raisins, mixed fruit, roasted nuts and sweet spices - but with a refreshing acidity, a sort of Christmas pudding in a glass

Goes best on Christmas Day after you've stuffed yourself with turkey and sprouts, had your Christmas pudding and you can't face another mince pie; sip whilst staring contentedly into the fire - or watching the Dr Who Christmas Special as the Daleks try and conquer the universe again
Cambridge Wine Merchants - website
Joseph Barnes Wines - website
Noel Young Wines - website
Tour de Belfort - website, twitter
Wine Trust 100 - website, twitter

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Monday, 2 December 2013

Absolutely Fabulous: Bollinger from The Co-op‏

Bollinger Special Cuvee from The Co-operative

Bollinger is one of the great names of Champagne; this Special Cuvee is made from mostly grand cru and premier cru grapes, with a large proportion of reserve wines.

Golden sandy yellow, aromas of orchard fruits, musky leesiness; a fine mousse with assertive, linear acidity, white pear fruit and a persistent, savoury finish.

Complex, precise and elegant, it is a class act.

It should not be overly chilled, so don't be afraid to bring it out of the fridge an hour or so before you drink it.

Its rasp of acidity demands food, so serve with seafood vol-au-vents, goat's cheese salad or Boxing Day cold cuts.

£43.99 from The Co-operative (reduced to £33.99 from 20 November until 31 December 2013 inclusive); provided for review.

Other related articles
Les Pionniers 2004 - The Co-op
Two Co-Op Reds for Christmas

The Co-operative - website, twitter

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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Three Seasonal Wines

Most Wanted, the lifestyle magazine from VoucherCodes.co.uk recently got in touch and asked me to recommend three wines for Christmas for under a tenner each.

Christmas is traditionally a time when we spend a bit more on wine; hopefully some of the uplift goes into quality as well as quantity, but we also need to stock up on decent gluggable wines.

We need supplies of presentable, good-but-not-bank-breaking quaffers to go with third-day left overs of turkey, to take along to parties and to break out in the event of unexpected visitors.

Aperitif - the fizz: La Delfina Prosecco Spumante NV Special Cuvée £8.99 (Cambridge Wine Merchants)

The rule of thumb for inexpensive fizz is well-chilled and plenty of it, and this elegant Prosecco ticks all the boxes.

Spritzy with Conference pear fruit and a slight seaside tang, there is ripe orchard fruit and rounded acidity; refreshing, elegant and balanced.

Also suitable for bucks fizz with salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast, gifts, parties, celebrations or simply whenever you feel in need a pick-me-up

With starters or brunch - the white Domaine de Menard, 'Cuvee Marine' 2012 £9.15 (Joseph Barnes Wines)

This white wine from Joseph Barnes is a blend of the local Colombard, Ugni blanc and Gros Manseng from southwest France.

Aromatic with zesty grapefruit and orchard fruits, it is crisp, fresh and slightly herbaceous with peach and pear fruit, zippy acidity and a persistent, minerally finish

Also suitable for aperitifs (if you have drunk all the fizz), fish and seafood dishes or creamy pasta

With mains - the red Bodegas Borsao 'Monte Oton' Campo de Borja Garnacha Noel Young Wines £5.99

From the northern slopes of the Moncayo mountain range in Spain, cooled by the Cierzo breezes. Translucent purple with expressive aromas of morello cherries, plummy fruit, liquorice, leather, vanilla and spice.

The palate is juicy and mouthfilling, with a lovely sour-cherry acidity, more plummy and dark berry fruit with sweet vanilla, spice and roughed-up herbs. Soft, smooth texture, some gentle grip developing on the finish.

Also suitable for mixed anti-pasti, salami and cheese, bolognese or herby sausages.

Vouchercodes provided me with a budget of £80 to sample and select my wines for this article.

Cambridge Wine Merchants - website
Joseph Barnes Wines - website
Noel Young Wines - website

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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Marks & Spencer - Beaujolais nouveau re-booted‏

A review of Marks & Spencer's Beaujolais Nouveau 2013

I think I need a re-booty
Freeek!, George Michael

If you are old enough to remember when Beaujolais nouveau was the height of middle-class dinner party fashion, then you probably still have some deeley-boppers and a pair of day-glo socks lurking in a drawer somewhere next to a copy of Smash Hits.

So-out-it's-in, Beaujolais nouveau is now "doing a sherry" - making a comeback with a revived image for a new generation, just as George Michael turned his back on the teenage pop of Wham! to re-cast himself as a solo white funkster-cum-balladeer.

This M&S Beaujolais nouveau, released in accordance with tradition on November 21st, is packaged in a lightweight, recyclable PET bottle and is shipped by rail to the UK for a lower environmental footprint.

So far, so eco-friendly and new-millenium.

The wine itself is lovely textbook Beaujolais nouveau - gluggable pure ripe cherry fruit, just a hint of vegetal funk and a lovely poise and balance; really classy and enjoyable.

With a sharp, food-friendly acidity, it will match well with autumnal game dishes.

£7.49 from Marks & Spencer; provided for review.

Other related articles
Beaujolais and Beyond
Jamie Goode's review

Marks and Spencer - website, twitter

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Monday, 25 November 2013

Pass the Courvoisier

A review of Courvoisier VSOP

Oh yea, I like this, Ladies & Gentlemen
The time you all been waitin for
"Pass the Courvoisier, Part II"
Floral, cooked fruit and vanilla nose - sweet cooked fruit, lovely fresh acidity and good structure on the palate. Good finish.

Very elegant, well-balanced and smooth; mellow and harmonious.

Very Good.

Other related articles
Cognac Frapin
Luis Felipe Brandy Gran Reserva

Courvoisier - website

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Sunday, 24 November 2013

Wine Trust 100

A review of six autumn wines from Wine Trust 100

Wine Trust 100 sent me six wines from their autumn selection to review - long on current-vintage, good-value standards, rather than a trove of revelations or fascinatingly eccentric oddities, the wines are selected by MWs, so fault-free quality and typicity is pretty much guaranteed.

Unsurprisingly, all the wines here score at least a Good  - safe, classy, reliable, enjoyable drinking; so, unless you have some aversion to mainstream wines (no biodynamics, natural or qvevri wines), what's not to like?

2011 Calmel J Joseph‏ (Cotes du Roussillon) a dark purple in the glass, it has an expressive and complex nose of ripe black cherry fruit, pencil shavings, oaky spice and new leather.

Wonderful long palate - soft, mouthfilling texture and perfectly ripe tannins. Concentrated with good ripe fruit and fresh acidity. Lovely balanced finish with a savoury persistence.

Plenty of stuffing and feels like it will age. Very Good.

2010 Taltarni Tache Rose (Australia)‏ - from Australia and Tasmania, a very classical, elegant and composed cool-climate Champagne-style fizz - pale salmon pink, it foams enthusiastically.

Restrained yeasty-citrus nose; ripe white pear and white peach with redcurrant. Assertive, well-structured, linear acidity and leesiness. Savoury persistence on the finish.

Really poised and precise, it is drinking nicely now, but will repay a few years' cellaring.

A good picnic wine or Christmas-Dinner aperitif. Match with Boxing Day cold cuts or light starters, such as a seafood vol-au-vent. Good.

2011 Chardonnay Chamonix  (Franschhoek, South Africa‏) From vines with a bit of age grown at altitude for a more complex, cool-climate feel. Precise citrus nose, oak and muskiness. Sweet, ripe citrus fruit, layers of complex, oatmealy toasty oak underpinned with fresh acidity.

A classical, elegant Burgundian Chardonnay, it is long, balanced and thoroughly more-ish - it reminds me of how I first fell in love with oaky Chardonnay.

A highly versatile food match - try with roasted pumpkin risotto, seared tuna or tafelspitz. Good.

Lawson's Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand aromatic, pungent Marlborough Sauvignon; gooseberries, cut grass and lemongrass; ripe tropical fruit, crystal clear acidity and minerality. Perfectly balanced with no rough edges; good, persistent finish.

Part of me acknowledges that it is a very good example of a distinct style - and yet, and yet ... somehow, another part finds the rather predictable, textbook conformity a little constraining.

With a start, I realise the source of its dullness is the approachable, easy-to-understand nature - I feel like the worst of old-school wine snobs for denouncing approachability, but with this wine, I really would wish for more restraint, more ... elusiveness.

It's feels like a page 3 girl with a PhD: well, here I am, boys, what do you think of these aromatics?

Resampled over the course of the following week, the obvious elements start to fade and the more interesting aspects become more prominent - maybe, like a callow-but-beautiful 19-year-old, it just needs a couple more years to mature.

Match the racy acidity and aromatics to Thai dishes or tuna carpaccio with lemon and ginger. Good.

2012 Bodegas Borsao, Tinto (Campo de Borja, Spain) From the northern slopes of the Moncayo mountain range, cooled by the Cierzo breezes. Translucent purple with expressive aromas of morello cherries, plummy fruit, liquorice, leather, vanilla and spice.

The palate is juicy and mouthfilling, with a lovely sour-cherry acidity, more plummy and dark berry fruit with sweet vanilla, spice and roughed-up herbs. Soft, smooth texture, some gentle grip developing on the finish.

Match with darker game, such as pheasant stuffed with apricots, or spicy sausages. Great value for money.Good.

2012 Domaines Felines Jourdain, Picpoul de Pinet (Languedoc‏, France) Picpoul is typically a light, fresh wine to drink on holiday in the south of France for a few Euros - a sort of southern Muscadet. This, however, is a more complex and weighty example.

Golden sandy yellow; citrus and yeasty melon-skin. Crisp and fresh, but with honeyed weightiness and beeswax. Long and persistent.

A summery aperitif, but weighty enough for light starters and seafood mains. Good.

Other related articles
Nick Adams MW on Champagne at Alimentum

Wine Trust 100 - website, twitter

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Third Cambridge Tasting - Dinner at The Gonville

The third Cambridge Tasting consisted of a game-themed dinner at The Gonville with a group of friends invited to bring along a bottle of something with a bit of age to share with fellow enthusiasts.

Overlooking Parker's Piece, The Gonville had not been on many people's radars as a potential venue - it has the look and feel of a traditional, old-school hotel. However, three things made it a great venue for the dinner:

- a new chef with ambitions to make the restaurant a venue in its own right
- a smart, new and discrete boardroom dining area that seats a party of 14
- a very helpful staff who got all the details of the planning and execution of the dinner just right
On arrival
We started with a current-release Tour de Belfort Cremant de Bordeaux to refresh palates after long weeks at work, journeys back to Cambridge or possibly both.

A traditional method fizz made from Bordelais grapes, it is elegant, crisp and refreshing with a touch of salinity and a fine mousse; as good as many an entry-level Champagne and available exclusively in Cambridge at The Gonville.

Seated for dinner
We tried the wines for each course in reverse-age order, starting with the older, more delicate wines.

Starter - terrine of rabbit
Prince Poniatowski Aigle Blanc 1990 Vouvray a slightly off-dry Chenin from the Loire; bright golden yellow, complex aged nose, tropical citrus, candied lemon and honey with floral aromas. Rounded and mellow. Lovely and well-balanced.

2001 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Crianza Viña Gravonia old-school white Rioja - nothing fruit-forward here; with four years in old oak, it has an oxidative nose and an unusual, pungent, sherry-esque tang. Fresh, lemony and mellow palate. Smells older than the Vouvray but tastes younger.

More structurally precise than the Chenin, it is technically better - and certainly more unusual - but lacks the complexity of an extra decade in bottle.

Kurt Angerer Ametzberg Riesling 2006 Kamptal the first of two Austrian whites from Kamptal - golden sandy yellow, a hint of petrol on the nose; zippy, citrus and mineral, it feels positively youthful. Good structure.

Kurt Angerer Spies Gruener Veltliner 2011 Kamptal white pepper and mineral nose, fresh pure acidity, long and linear; peppery finish.

Both Austrian whites might have benefitted from greater aeration and being served a degree or two warmer.

Magpie Estate "The Thief" Rose 2012 Barossa incongruous young rose from Noel Young's Barossa-based estate - musky nose, fresh ripe red berries; like a sturdy footsoldier in the Officer's Mess.

Main - trio of game birds
Ch Labegorce 1999 Margaux this first of two aged Medocs - dried red bell pepper and dried green herbs; more dried sage on the palate, fresh acidity, soft texture, mellow harmoniousness, well-integrated.

Rousseau de Sipian 2005 Medoc a popular Bordeaux that was familiar to a number of people - truffley undergrowth, fresh acidity, good grip and mouthfeel with bramble fruit and some green herbs.

Alain Voge, Les Chailles 2005 Cornas well-balanced, expressive northern Rhone - mushrooms and truffley hints with complex spice; dark elderberry fruit, spice, freshness and precision.

La Boussole Pinot Noir 2012, Pays d'Oc a Pinot from Montelimar - cooked strawberries and red fruits with good freshness; drinking nicely now, but not an ager.

Dessert - individual berry crumble with ice-cream
J Touchais Coteaux du Layon 1959 Loire - not quite the oldest thing in the room; dark golden, complex aged nose with some hints of mustiness. Dried pineapple pieces, cooked mixed fruit, sultanas and golden syrup with a hint of cognac. Very accomplished and very popular.
Montofoli 1998 Greece mahogany brown, roasted chestnuts, complex, fresh and savoury, long.

Quercia al Poggio, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico 2003 fermented in barrels over four years, golden mahogany, complex aged nose, cooked fruit with roasted bitterness of chestnuts and walnuts.

The Little Wine Company 10yo Tawny NV Australia deep mahogany, port-like eucalyptus, complexity, rich and sweet, mellow with some firmness, long, good finish.

Gutierrez Colosia, Moscatel Soleado NV golden syrupy brown, complex bitter roasted nuts, syrupy and viscose with savoury persistence. Full-on and a little lacking in balancing acidity.

Possibly the most diverse tasting I have ever been to, it was a fascinating exercise to put these wines up against each other.

- the couple of more entry-level wines here were good enough in their own right, style and price bracket, but were simply outclassed by the company they were in.

- the two Austrian wines were also both good, and I felt should have shown better, but by dint of their youthfulness, seemed to struggle against the much older wines

- the dessert wines were surprisingly hit and miss; the later ones all struggled to match the assuredness of the Coteaux du Layon

- the list was long on old school classics - Loire Chenin, Bordeaux and sherry - re-emphasising my belief that ageing potential is what makes a region classic

- assessing the more unusual wines (of which there was no shortage) was extremely difficult; with no obvious reference point, how to decide on a short taste whether it was an ordinary or superior example of its particular style?

- the oldest wines had an aged complexity and mellowness that the younger wines all lacked, making them them all the more interesting; maybe it's my own age, but I feel I could happily drink nothing but mellow, aged wines from now on.

We graded the wines as we went along and at the end of the evening, elected top white, red, sticky and overall winner.

Below are the group results, with my own personal choices in brackets afterwards:

Top white -  Aigle Blanc (Gravonia)
Top red - Rousseau de Sipian (Les Chailles)
Top sticky - J Touchais (J Touchais)
Overall winner - J Touchais (J Touchais)

Other related articles
The Cambridge Tasting #1
The Cambridge Tasting #2

Gonville Hotel - website, twitter
Tour de Belfort - website