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Thursday, 28 February 2013

Two Wines from Dopff & Irion, Alsace

Dopff & Irion is based in the beautiful village of Riquewihr in Franco-Germanic Alsace; the vineyards are now four estates, created by René Dopff in 1945: Les Murailles, Les Sorcières, Les Maquisards and Les Amandiers, each with a single variety planted.

The domaine sent me two wines to review: they make an oddly sensuous / nervy couple; the big blowsy Gewurz and the lean, limey Riesling - a bit like Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams in Carry On Matron.

Dopff & Irion Les Sorcières 2008
Varietal Gewurztraminer, this is deep golden sandy colour in the glass, it has an intense, complex, perfumed nose of lychees, rose petals, beeswax and sweet spice.

On the palate, there is more ripe exotic tropical and citrus fruit, varietal perfume of acacia and heather with clear, fresh acidity, honeyed sweetness, spice and a touch of bitter grapefruit, orange oil and hints of savoury yeastiness.

The texture is waxy and mouthfilling with weightiness from residual sugar (a generous 23g/l).

Match with gravadlax with dill and a honey and mustard vinagrette.

Dopff & Irion Les Murailles 2008
Varietal Riesling, golden in the glass; on the nose classic aged petrolly aromas, with complex white flower blossom, mineral and honey.

The palate is ripe and limey - like lime marmalade - with mouthwatering linear acidity and candied lemon peel, offset by a touch of steeliness and minerality.

Long on the palate and good savoury underpinnings with lime zest and persistence on the finish. Potential for further aging.

Match with seafood, such as char-grilled squid rings, or herby roast pork.

Other related articles
Hotel Le Rapp in Colmar - and some wine-buying‏ in Alsace
Wine-buying in France; Alsace
Villa Maria Private Bin East Coast Gewürztraminer, 2010
Alsace's Marcel Deiss with Barry James Wines at Boutique Wineries‏
Hugel Riesling 2005 Alsace - Cambridge Wine Merchants

Dopff & Irion - website, twitter

Image credit: http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/40561000/jpg/_40561545_carryon_203.jpg

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Last Pavitt's Pie‏

And don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til it's gone

"Big Yellow Taxi", Joni Mitchell (1970)

With the announcement this week from Carri Pavitt that she is giving up her Pavitt's Pies business, the realisation sank in that I now have eaten my last-ever Pavitt's Pie.

More than your average steak-and-kidney, Carri's pies won awards and were pretty much the best pastry-encased food I have ever eaten.

A Year of Eating Pies

I first reviewed the pies in July, in November, I got a sneak preview of her Moonshine Porter pie and in January this year, I arranged for her to present to the Cambridge Food and Wine Society.

I haven't had had the chance to chat to Carri and find out what prompted her decision, but I know it was not the easiest of lifestyles; for Mill Road Winter Fair, she cooked through the night then ran her stall all the following day. In the freezing cold.

It is, however, a timely reminder of how difficult it is to run a small business and how easily something we're used to having around can cease to be there.

I'd like to suggest that it would be an appropriate gesture to think about whatever shops or businesses you feel are important to you and make a point of visiting them this weekend.

Other related articles
Pavitt's Pies - Beef & Ale
Wine of the Month - and a Pie on the Side
A Guest Post on Pavitt's Pies

Carri Pavitt - facebook, twitter, LinkedIn

Main image credit: Jean-Luc Benazet Photography

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Greek Wines at the Circle of Wine Writers‏

The Circle of Wine Writers' policy on events is that the wines being presented must have some specific point of interest, something new or different. Being an enthusiast of all things a bit unusual or quirky, I wholeheartedly approve of this.

As ex-Jazz guitarist and now Master of Wine, Konstantinos Lazarakis explained, Greek wines are not and will never be mainstream - for starters, they are made in relatively small quantities (total output is less than Bordeaux).

Moreover, Greece has diverse terroirs and wine-making styles, so its wines are difficult to characterise - except as uncharacterisable.

However, with an MW given free range to pick wines from his homeland, it is safe to say all the wines shown were excellent. I have previously summarised the talk given by Konstaninos - here; what follows are my more detailed tasting notes.

Sadly, not all the wines are commercially available, but where they are, I have indicated the distributor.

The Whites

Cellar Selection / Robola of Cephalonia 2011, Gentilini Winery, Kefalonia (not available) grown on rock, old, ungrafted vines, 800m altitude: pale gold with a perfumed, honey and acacia blossom nose, also beeswax, white flowers and spice. Weighty, waxy, mouthfilling texture cut through nicely with well-structured acidity, nicely oaked, sweet vanilla spice. Long on palate and persistently mineral on the finish.

Pavlidis Assyrtiko 2009, Ktima Pavlidis, Drama (not available) yeasty pungency on the nose with hints of green olives; prominent but well-integrated acidity and minerality. Full, long, savoury palate, well-structured with a persistent, mineral intensity developing. Persistent and mineral finish.

Sigalas Santorini VQPRD, Domaine Sigalas 2008, Santorini (Greek Archipelago Ltd) complex nose of spice, pungency and creaminess; ripe melon and tropical citrus acidity - mouthfilling and grippy, but also creamy, spicy and savoury with a hint of white pepper.

Thalassitis / PDO Santorini 2007, Gaia Estate, Santorini (Hallgarten Druitt & Novum) 100% Assyrtiko from 80yo vines; nose of toasty, floral, spiciness, yeasty pungency, beeswax and white pepper. Very fresh acidity and minerality, long palate and persistent finish.

Assyrtiko De Mylo 2009 / PDO Santorini, Hatzidakis Winery (Eclectic Wines) High alcohol (15.2%) with the pH level of a Mosel Riesling and some residual sugar, this is a dark sandy gold colour. It feels big, mouthfilling and intense, with ripe tropical fruit, fresh acidity and a leesy depth.

Ovilos - White 2008, Domaine Biblia Chora (Hallgartendruit & Novum) from Makedonia in northern Greece, a blend of 50% Semillon and 50% Assyrtiko; aromatic nose of blackcurrant leaf and bitter green herbs. Vibrant palate of grapefruit and citrus acidity, nicely oaked and well-balanced. Mouthfilling and grippy.

The most "modern" and "commercial" style of the whites, it is reminiscent of a Pessac-Leognan due partly to the Sauvignon-esque clones of Semillon used and partly due to the choice of yeasts.

The Reds

Paros Red Reserve 2007, Moraitis Winery, Paros (Eclectic Wines) from the island of Paros, a blend of red Mandilaria and 25% white Monemvassia added as grape must part-way through fermentation to act as natural chaptalisation. A plummy purple colour, perfumed baked fruits, vanilla and bubblegum. Ripe bramble fruit, lots of sweet vanilla, fresh acidity. The texture is soft with a grippiness developing; firm on the finish.

Grande Reserve 1993 / PDO Naousa, Boutaris 100% Xinomavro a dark brick red, strong aromas of baked rosehip, bell pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, old leather, well-hung meat and foragings. On the palate, lovely acidity and vanilla sweetness, oxidative dark-sherry aromas, it is mouthfilling with a balanced bitter sweetness, a persistent finish and fine, red-tea tannins.

Described by Konstantinos as "a slap in the face for modern wine-making", it is reminiscent of an aged Medoc.

Ramnista 1997 / PDO Naousa, Estate Kir Yianni 100% Xinomavro, brick red in the glass, the nose is leathery / farmyardy with just a touch of brett and some plummy fruit. Long on the palate, grippy with ripe bramble fruit, sweet vanilla, fine tannins, a pepperiness and grippy finish.

Xinomavro Old Vines 2006 / PDO Amintaio, Alpha Estate (Hallgartendruitt & Novum) grown on pure sand in Amyndeon, northern Greece, ungrafted vines, this is more modern in style - dark purple in the glass, there is leathery farmyard, sweet vanilla, red bell pepper and a touch of sweet vegetal funkiness.

On the palate, sweet vanilla, red tea, ripe red fruits and well-integrated fine tannins.

Grande Reserve 2004 / PDO Nemea, Semeli (Eclectic Wines) 100% Agiorgitiko, dark purple in the glass with vanilla, dark fruit and farmyard. Lots of ripe, crowd-pleasing bramble fruit on the palate, sweet vanilla and fine tannins. Well-structured with a long palate and pepperiness developing.

Labyrinth 99-06, Domaine Skouras (Eclectic Wines) 80% Agiorgitiko / 20% Cabernet Sauvignon for longevity, this is aged in a solera-system and contains the wines of eight vintages. The vines are 30-66 years old and grow at an altitude of 700m.

Bramble fruit, bitter herbs, red bell peppers and black olives on the nose; lots of sweet ripe bramble fruit, sweet vanilla and flavours of sweet red chilis and also chili bitterness.

Mouthfilling and well-structured, there is good acidity and tannins. An intriguing blend of youth and aged characteristics.

Metoxi 2001, Tsantali (Ehrmanns, Venus) from the men-only monastery of Mount Athos in Chromitsa, Chalkidiki, this is a blend of 80% Cab and 20% Limnio. Perfumey aromas on the nose with sweet vanilla, lots of ripe bramble fruit, sweet vanilla and a touch of red chili bitterness. Inky texture.

Avaton 2008, Domaine Gerovassiliou (Hallgartedruitt & Novum) a blend of Limnio, Mavroudi and Mavrotragano from Epanomi, Thessaloniki, Makedonia; bramble fruit, toastiness and bitter savouriness. Sweet ripe bramble fruit in an amarone style, sharp and superripe with some golden syrup aromas and hints of green bitter herbs. Low in tannins with a soft, inky texture, pencil shavings and dark fruit.

It balances modernity of style with complexity and is somewhat Rhone-esque.

The Stickies

Late Harvest / SITIA VLQPRD 2000, Domaine Economou (not commercially available) from single-vineyard Liatiko grapes grown in Sitia, eastern Crete, this is a wine whose production method harks back to a more ancient time; it is placed to ferment in barrels in the sun and each summer, the evaporation of water allows for a refermentation to start again in the autumn.

Only after six years of re-fermentation is the wine bottled and is likened to old east Mediterranean Malmsey and ancient Greek sweet wines.

The Vassilikes vineyard is at 610m altitude, ungrafted vines around 70 years old. The vineyard is organic and fermentation is natural with indigenous yeasts.

Dark, golden reddy brown in the glass, aromatic and oloroso-esque; rich and sweet, with a waxy glycerol texture and a "beyond oxidation" flavour. Raisiny, figgy and aromatic with fresh acidity.

Belvedere, Natural Sweet Wine 2009, Estate Mercouri (Yiorgos Stavropoulos) made from Malvasia Aromatica in Ilia, Western Peloponnese; sweet peach blossom with complex yeasty peach skin. Very floral and blossomy, good acidity, ripe with toasty yeastiness, a peachy texture and aromas of peaches roasted in butter.

Samos Nectar 1980, Union of Winemaking Co-operatives of Samos (Eclectic Wines)
made from sun-dried, small-berried Muscat, I was still in short trousers when this wine was first made. Dark brown in the glass, aromatic like an oloroso. The palate is aromatic, mouthfilling and complex with fresh acidity.

Update October 2013: Jancis Robinson's tasting notes on this wine which she scores as 19/20

Vinsanto 8Y, Santos Wines NV (Ehrmanns, Venus) from Megalochori on Santorini, this is a blend of 50% 2003 and 50% 2004 - mostly Assyrtiko, with some Aidani. Dark golden brown and aromatic; raisiny, figgy and honeyed yet fresh with amazing savouriness on the palate and finish. This would match with bitter chocolate, espresso or even wild boar with chestnuts.

Recommended Wines

The wines on show were so diverse, it is impossible to single out any in particular - quality was very high and each was interesting both in its own right as as a comparator to the others.

Other related articles
Greek Wines Under Different Lenses
Greek Wines At Cambridge Food and Wine Society

Circle of Wine Writers - website, twitter, Facebook
Konstantinos Lazarakis - twitter, Facebook

Main image credit: http://www.purefx.co.uk/uploads/images/GBPEUR_Exchange_Rate_Greece.jpg

Monday, 25 February 2013

Some Sherry Talking on Cambridge105

Whilst researching potential topics for the Flavour programme on Cambridge105, Aoife Maxwell who blogs as Gastronomic Girls asked me to talk about Sherry.

I recorded it in two parts with Flavour's presenter Alan Alder; here is an edited transcript of part 1 looking at pale sherries and the dry darker styles - it also available here as a podcast.

The past

It does seem as though Sherry is finally becoming more popular again  - the so-called "Sherry revival" that was much talked about a few years ago, along with aunts and vicars, is one of those things that needs to be mentioned in any discussion about Sherry.

There was a list of the top 10 Sherry Bars in London recently in The Drinks Business; a few years ago, there wasn't even such a thing as a Sherry bar, so to have a Top 10 listing now is a sign of how popular Sherry is becoming.

The present

There are probably a number of reasons why Sherry is starting to regain popularity:

- in part, I think Sherry's reputation had got so low in this country that the only way was up.
- secondly I think there has been a focus on quality and style - away from the sweetened, blended dark styles that we think of historically.
- finally, I think Sherry has benefitted from the general gastronomic innovation that we now see in Spain. It's now closed down of course, but El Bulli was for several years reckoned to be the best restaurant in the world - Spain is trendy.

The basics

I think the key things to understand about Sherry are how it's made and what styles there are. If we start with how it's made, the key elements are:

- the grape variety, which for the vast majority of Sherries is Palomino
- next the soil type, which is a spongy white chalk known as Albariza: this is important because the chalk gives a finesse to the Sherry
- then we have Solera system which is used for ageing and blending: Sherry is aged in barrels and a little (no more than a third) is bottled each year. The barrel is then topped up with wine from a slightly younger barrel, which is itself topped up from the next oldest barrel and so on back down the line. This means that in theory, there is at least a little of every year's wine in the barrel from the initial fill onwards - which is at least several years and can be decades or even longer.

So all Sherry is a blend and is non vintage then - in that respect, it has many similarities with Champagne: it's an elegant, non-vintage wine grown on chalky soils whose character comes largely from its production method.

The final key thing about Sherry is flor - a yeast that grows on top of the sherry in the barrel. It feeds on the new wine that is added and imparts a pungent, yeasty character to the wine.

Drinking Sherry

The first thing you notice about Sherry is that it doesn't have a lot of fruit - the aromas are what we called evolved or tertiary; things like pungent yeastiness for the paler styles and roasted almonds for the darker ones.

If that does not sound entirely appealing to someone who has not yet tried Sherry, the key to remember is it's all about the finesse and acidity - I think it's important to make the point that sherry is very much a food wine.

Fino and Manzanilla

The basic style of Sherry will be pale - either fino or manzanilla.

A fino is fortified up to 15% alcohol and then aged in solera with the growth of flor, whilst a manzanilla is made in the same way as a fino, but comes from the region of San Lucar de Barrameda where it is a little cooler and so the flor grows thicker, giving a more pronounced yeasty, tangy sort of flavour.

My go-to fino has to be Tio Pepe which is very good - two others to try are Hidalgo La Gitana from Cambridge Wine Merchants and Waitrose's Manzanilla Fino which is positively bursting with a seaside salty tang.

Lyndsey Spellman at Cambridge Wine Merchants suggests that the rule of drinking perfectly chilled fino is 'one at eleven or eleven at one'.

Both fino and manzanilla should be pale, elegant and refreshing. They work well as an aperitif - especially on a hot day. Or they match with tapas style food, like Jamon Iberico, Manchego, olives and bread with oil.

It's good and very easy to do at home too - a few slices of meat and cheese from the deli, some bread and a bottle of sherry popped in the fridge for an hour or so to chill.

Darker styles

Having mastered the paler Sherries, we can move on to the darker ones which are more complex beasts.

Amontillado is a fino where the flor has been allowed to die away, so it starts to age oxidatively. It gets darker and picks up aromas of roasted walnuts, maybe some antique leather.

An oloroso is fortified up to around 20% alcohol immediately so that no flor grows - again, it ages oxidatively so becomes darker and acquires those roasted flavour characteristics.

The final one to mention is Palo Cortado which by rights should not exist - it is Sherry that is destined to be a fino but where no flor grows and so ages oxidatively - it is either a freak occurrence or something special depending on how you view these things.

So to summarise, Amontillado was a fino, Oloroso was never a fino and Palo Cortado should have been a fino.

As to food matching, these are all dark, so need foods to match. I find a beurre noisette matches well - it's basically melted butter gently browned in a pan with a drop of lemon juice added at the end. Sea bass and beurre noisette is a particularly good match. The roasted character also works well with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

The darker sherries I'd serve at something like pantry temperature - just a little cooler than room temperature.

I’ve got two Palo Cortados to recommend: Waitrose's Solera Jerez Palo Cortado is very good indeed. It's made by Lustau and had a touch of sweetness on the finish. Also, there’s Gonzalez Byass Leonor Palo Cortado from Cambridge Wine Merchants

I wanted to show how good value Sherry can be, so I've picked examples that are generally under a tenner. You will see greater complexity if you move up the price level, but these are all very good wines at this price.

I think it is fair to say that it's worth trying Sherry now whilst it's still gaining - or re-gaining - popularity; right now is a bit of a golden age for Sherry drinkers - quality is good and prices are low. You can get bottles of 30 year old sherries, properly aged, for around £20: you can't do that with other wines.

Other related articles
Tio Pepe Fino‏ - Date-Stamped
The Great Sherry Tasting
Hidalgo Sherry Dinner With Cambridge Wine Merchants at The Punter
On Sherry's Image
Tio Pepe Fino En Rama Tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants‏

Cambridge Wine Merchants - website, twitter
Waitrose Wine - website, twitter

Main image credit: http://www.expertdrinking.com/?p=117
Albariza soil: http://inwinetruth2.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/spain-iberian-improvements.html

Friday, 22 February 2013

Lunch at CAU Cambridge

Looking back, a significant legacy from the influx of London commuters into Cambridge (myself included) must be the improvement in the dining scene beyond the usual tourist fare.

Additions and reinventions over the years have ranged from the quirky (The Punter) to the upmarket (Hotel du Vin) and the edgy (Fitzbillies).

The ripple effect of these central venues has been a series of smaller, more boho independent places, often along Regent St and Mill Road.

CAU is the latest addition and doesn't quite fit into either camp - being neither overtly upmarket nor quite independent.

It is, or at least claims to be, an Argentine steak restaurant - in reality, it is the second offering in a chain from the Gaucho group.

From the start, it's clear that this is an outfit that knows what it's doing - the simple yet eye-catching logo and matching interior style with touches of a 1950s American Diner is clean and classic but also well thought-out: sitting in a booth for four we are able to hear ourselves speak at normal volume and see out of the window, yet also have a sense of privacy.

The soundtrack pumped through the speakers is pleasantly backgroundy; the waiting staff are very polite and knowledgeable; the iPhones given to the children on arrival mean that for them, the lunch experience is extended playing of Temple Run, Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds Star Wars  punctuated by occasional plates of food that they rather like, giving the adults some rare precious "us" time.

If it feels a bit like family-friendly formula-dining, it needs to be said that the formula is actually very good - which is no mean feat.

And popular, too; shortly after our arrival, the place fills up and thereafter, there is a regular stream of people being turned away.

We persuade the children to put their games down to focus on the menu and choose their food and drinks.

Learning that the tempura machine does not get switched on for another half-hour, I have to re-think my planned starter and side dish - yerba smoked beef is suggested and we agree.

We also order some flatbreads and dips - the breads are a little cardboardy and rustic, but the dips are freshly-made and very good: one aubergine puree, one with smoked paprika.

The yerba-smoked beef turns out to be a fusion twist on carpaccio - wafer-thin slices cured with wasabi and served with soy sauce plus a cress-and-shaved-Parmesan garnish.

The beef is tender and utterly delicious - even if the Asian flavours deliver more in-yer-face intensity than wine-friendly elegance and subtlety.

The wine list itself is a bit of a mixed bag - labelled as either "Nice" or "Very Nice", they are from characterful "value" locations (Spain, Languedoc) with some Argentinian thrown in for good measure. I decided to stay with the theme and pick some Malbecs by the glass.

The first, a Malbrontes Malbec rosé 2010/11, is dark, almost orange in colour and whilst it has plenty of Malbec spiciness, is rather low in acidity and so does not stand up well to the strong food.

I try the others' drinks and am much more impressed - Mrs CWB's Berry Bellini is nicely sharp and fruity, whilst #1 child's Mango Passion smoothie is creamy and delicious. #2 child has gone for Coke which matches perfectly with his main of children's burger and chips.

For my main, I have opted for Lomito - an Argentine bistecca alla fiorentina, it is a brick-sized slab of cow, seasoned only with salt, pepper and the briefest of contact with a searing griddle. Served extremely rare, it is perhaps the best piece of beef I have ever had in this country - tender, juicy, full of flavour and, Mrs CWB notes approvingly, no excess meat juices.

I have no idea how they manage to achieve all this, but I am taken back to memories of wonderful steaks in Austria, Italy and Romania whose like I have never previously found in this country. The blue-cheese sauce that accompanies is very good too.

Mrs CWB has opted for Tapa De Cuadril, strips of beef flash fried, ordered well-done and which she also declares to be her best-ever steak experience.

Continuing the theme, #2 child has steak too, from the children's menu and eats it all up - which tells you everything you need to know.

My wine, an El Supremo Malbec 2011/12, proves much better than the rosé, with fruit, spiciness and good acidity to cut through the meat. The accompanying fat chips are not, I sense, cooked from scratch on the premises whilst the causlaw, fresh and well-made with spring onions and red cabbage, sits in a heavy sauce that is more "beer-food" than "wine-friendly".

That those chips are also served in little mini-frying baskets is a sign both of attention to detail and also of style over substance which perhaps serves as a metaphor for CAU in general.

After my monster steak, I feel like one of those Savannah big cats in a documentary on wildebeest, wanting only to roll over and sleep for the remainder of the day, but duty calls and we peruse the dessert menu.

Mrs CWB opts for the lightest, a white chocolate and lavender mousse which is indeed both impressively light and tastes of lavender.

#2 child goes for a gooey chocolate fondant and, once he discovers the hot, oozing centre, is happily occupied spooning it down at a great rate - his chocolately chops and broad grin a sign that he is in five-tear-old heaven. The last thing he did that was this much fun was Gagnam Style at a half-term roller disco.

#1 child's Churros with dipping chocolate sauce are, I'm told nonchalantly by Mrs CWB, exactly as they should be ("they're street food, dear"), but still rather disappointing - a bit like deep-fried All Bran sticks.

My membrillo tart is said to be an Argentine take on a Bakewell - it is well-made and perfectly-cooked but lacks the almond bitterness and raspberry sharpness of the Peak District original.

However, the addition of a latte and a dessert Malbec provide the required elements to make the dessert work as a whole.

The sweet wine is by far the best of the three and, along with the Lomito, a highlight of the meal - lusciously sweet, but with spiciness, complexity and good underpinnings it is exactly what a sticky should be.

As it is a sunny day, we opt for an afternoon stroll through Cambridge and over the river via one of our favourite colleges. I point out that the turrets on St John's College Chapel are the ones Young Man can see from his bedroom window.

His five-year-old head, however, is full of Fruit Ninja and the gooeyness of his chocolate fondant so he just wants to run across the Bridge of Sighs.

I'm still not sure what to make of CAU - some elements are very good indeed; in fact, most are and there are some really nice touches.

But the quality is not uniformly high and it lacks a certain individuality that other upmarket chains such as Hotel du Vin and Pizza Express on Jesus Lane manage to achieve; for all that the meat is superb, the Argentine slant feels a bit painted on in places.

All I can suggest, then, is that you go for yourself and make your own mind up as to whether it's your type of place - just be sure get there early as it's proving very popular.

We ate at CAU as guests of the restaurant.

Other related articles
Dinner At Fitzbillies
Dinner At Alimentum
Lunch at Hotel Du Vin
Argentinian Wines at Cambridge Food and Wine Society
Moving Foodie's review of CAU

Cau - website, twitter

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Tavernello Wines from Morrisons

Tavernello is an Italian branded wine now available in the UK at Morrisons.

It is, in fact, Italy's top branded wine - whether or not that's a good thing is something of a moot point.

The main facts of interest are that there is a range of three wines all at £3.99, significantly below the national average, and that they are generally rather good for the price.

There are some - perhaps many - wine writers who argue that decent wine cannot be had for under a fiver, after you've taken duty, mark-up and production costs into account.

Well, they're wrong - drinkable wine does exist below a fiver, just as unpleasant wines exist above that price point.

True, the odds are stacked against a sub-£4 wine being decent, but that just means you need to be selective, or take good advice.

Garganega Pinot Grigio 2011 from Triveneto in north east Italy, it is a sandy yellow in the glass. There is an odd and not entirely pleasant aroma of wet straw or wheat beer on the nose. I'm not sure this is intentional and, as the bottle is screw-capped, I think this must be a tank fault rather than a bottle fault.

The wheat-beery aromas persist on the palate, but there is pleasant acidity and some ripe orchard fruit.

Reasonable palate length and finish with a touch of persistence, so all in order except for that oxidative thing.

I return to it about half-an-hour later and the wet-straw aromas seem to have largely mitigated, leaving a more conventional and pleasant wine that is what was intended, I think.

Trebbiano Chardonnay Rubicone IGT 2012 from Emilia-Romagna, this is a blend of Italy's workhorse Trebbiano grape with the better-known and more noble Chardonnay.

Pale in the glass, this is another light quaffer or aperitif wine; there are ripe apples and pears fruit, good mouthwatering acidity and, most interestingly, a touch of yeasty pear skin.

There is some persistence on the finish: very good for the money.

Sangiovese Rubicone IGT 2012 from one of northern Italy's signature red grapes, this is bright cherry red in the glass.

There are some interesting, Pinot-esque aromas of cherry fruit, spice, smokiness and musky, woodsy undergrowth on the nose.

On the palate, there is more ripe red fruit, a soft texture, good acidity, some vanilla sweetness and a touch of smokey spice.

It is quite mouthfilling with a touch of very gentle grip developing on the finish.

Setting aside the oddness of the Garganega Pinot Grigio, these are light, easy-drinking, entirely pleasant, well-priced, everyday wines.

For me, the best overall is the Sangiovese.

Tavernello wines are £3.99 from Morrisons; provided for review.

Other related articles
Tesco Ogio Pinot Grigio
Chateau David 2010 Bordeaux Superieur
Co-op Fairtrade Wines

Morrisons - website, twitter
Tavernello - website

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Yealands Estate Tasting and Dinner‏ with Tamra Washington

A Yealands Estate tasting at The Union Club in Soho reminded me of how I first got excited by New Zealand's wines many years ago; winemaker Tamra Washington gave a tutored tasting of mainly single-block wines from the Seaview Vineyard followed by dinner.

Overview: New Zealand

To me, New Zealand is the southern hemisphere's answer to Austria - a small, mountainous, young / modern, cool-climate region producing technically precise and well-structured wines.

Both are popularly associated with a signature aromatic white variety, but in this country at least, the key difference is that whereas you won't find many Austrian wines under a tenner, the £6-£8 range is the heartland of commercial, blended NZ Sauvignon.

Austria, it seems then, is slightly ahead in playing the terroir, quality and pricing game.

Like Austria, however, New Zealand has many varied terroirs and is perhaps only just starting to realise its potential to produce interesting and unique wines.

Winemaker: Tamra Washington

Tamra Washington, winemaker at Yealands Estate, is originally from the Marlborough region, but was working in Italy with no thought of returning to her homeland when she got the call to go and work for Peter Yealands.

Peter, also originally from the area, had lived and worked in Marlborough for years before finally buying the land that now makes up the estate in 1999 and planting it in 2002.

Early vintages were sold in bulk for blending, but since Tamra's arrival, the wine has been bottled under its own name.

With an eye on future potential, there are 200-odd blocks of vines, 90 of which are Sauvignon and can be vinified completely separately.

Terroirs: Awatere Valley, Seaview Vineyard

Yealands Estate is based in Marlborough's Awatere Valley - Tamra described it as a "sub-region of a sub-region"; the land here is undulating, rather than hilly or mountainous, with minerally soils and vineyards ranging from overlooking the sea to a couple of miles inland.

We started with a range of Sauvignons, before moving onto other white varieties and then reds - most were from single blocks in the Seaview Vineyard.

All the wines were pure, focused and precise with good linear acidity, reminding me of how I first got excited by New Zealand wines.

Glasses: Baccarat

During the tasting, I was able to re-acquaint myself with Baccarat's Crystal tasting glasses.

With young, cool-climate wines sealed under screwcap, these wide-bottomed glasses acted like little personal decanters and allowed the wines to open up more quickly than if we had used more conventional glasses.

Vintage: 2012

Tamra characterised the 2012 vintage as almost perfect - cool and dry with the grapes harvested very late.

We had started with the Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012 which Tamra had described as a "commercial" Sauvignon, available in supermarkets, before moving onto wines intended more for restaurants and independents.

The Sauvignons

Yealands Estate Single Block S1 SB 2012 aromas of gooseberries, cut grass and blackcurrant leaf; precise mineral purity and acidity

Yealands Estate Single Block M2 SB 2012 the only wine from outside the region, this was from the warmer Waira area, yet felt much more cool-climate: mineral and lime zest on the nose; pure, focused, precise acidity with a persistent finish. Intense and low in aromatics. Good.

Yealands Estate Single Block L5 Sauvignon Blanc 2012 dried green herbs on the nose; more aromatic herbs, lime zest, weighty and long. Mouthfilling and well-structured with precise acidity - persistent finish and more green herbs.

Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 a blend of blocks, this was less distinctive; mineral and sliced green bell pepper on the nose. Celery, puy lentils and minerality.

Yealands Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011 one-third fermented in old oak, then 6m on the lees. Less fruit on the nose, but long, precise and weighty on the palate with herbs and pure acidity. A big with plenty of stuffing. Very Good.

Other White Varieties

Yealands Estate Riesling 2012 both the Riesling and the GV were a little shy and possibly suffering from bottle-shock, but started to open up with plenty of vigorous swirling.

Apple fruit, wet stones and citrus initially, very pure and precise, very persistent mineral finish.

With further aeration, a peachiness starts to emerge.

Yealands Estate Gruener Veltliner 2012 a blend of early-picked and late-packed grapes; rounded minerality, pure linear acidity, mouthfilling. Low on varietal aromatics of celery, lentils and white pepper; definitely not Austrian.

Yealands Estate Viognier 2012 single-block wine, late-harvested by hand, 40% fermented in old oak. Blossomy nose, ripe white peach and apricot fruit, lime zest, linear acidity and savouriness. Peachy texture and long - oaking becomes more prominent with air.

As one who rather struggles with Rhone Viognier, I liked this a lot. Good.

Yealands Estate Single Block R6 Pinot Gris 2012 Weighty, ripe and spicy on the nose: rich and spicy, honeyed beeswax, and ripe white-pear fruit and yeasty, thick-skinned savouriness; as full-and-sensuous-yet-tightly-structured as Barbara Windsor squeezed into a starchy nurse's uniform.

The Pinots

I have historically struggled to fall in love with Pinot - capable of occasional utter brilliance, all too often they don't quite deliver. Or if they do, it's in a slightly dull-but-worthy way.

The two young ladies we have here are both pretty, sophisticated and elegant - but also with a bit of personality, a touch of acerbic feistiness that, like a Good Life-era Felicity Kendal, brings just the required frisson of excitement to the relationship.

Yealands Estate Pinot Noir 2011 smokey, toasty, red-fruit nose; red-berry fruit on the palate - soft gentle texture, firm, well-structured, precise and long.

Yealands Estate Reserve Central Otago Pinot Noir smokey, red berries, spice and herbs; ripe red-cherry fruit, savouriness, pretty with a soft texture yet mouthfilling, well-structured and long. Good.

The dinner

Roast Salmon, salsify and cress salad with salsa verde
Braised lamb shank, cavalo nero, faro and oven jus
Neal's Yard cheeses with home-made crackers

Over dinner, we also sampled the Gewurztraminer and a Pinot Noir rose.

The Gewurz had a distinct family resemblance and rather like the other Alsation variety, the Pinot Gris, found its sensuous nature held firmly in check by a tight acidic structure.

The Pinot rose was perfectly good, but when the straight Pinots are so good, I can only wonder why they did not allow such a tricky and low-yielding grape to show what it is capable of - a bit like sending your youngest daughter to secretarial college instead of finishing school.

Recommended Wines

Top Sauvignon was the oaked Reserve Sauvignon Blanc.
Top "other white variety" was the Viognier.
Top red was the Reserve Central Otago Pinot Noir.

Other related articles
Hallowed Ground Tasting
Villa Maria 50 Years Tasting and Dinner
Two New Zealand Pinots
Yealands Pinot Grigio (labelled as The Co-op)
Pure Noir
Review by Paola Tich - Relight My Sauvignon Fire
Chateau Baccarat Crystal glasses - reviews #1, #2 and #3
New Zealand reviews - entire archive

Yealands Wines are available in Cambridge from Noel Young Wines.

Twitter hashtag -
Yealands Estate - website, twitter
Baccarat - website, twitter
Enotria (importers) - website, twitter
The Union Club - website, twitter

Image credits:
- Barbara Windsor http://www.carryon.org.uk/regulars_frm_barbarawindsor.htm
- Tamra Washington http://images.icnetwork.co.uk/upl/nejournal/jan2011/8/0/tamra-washington-gave-a-tutored-tasting-of-her-new-zealand-wines-74155207.jpg

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Greek Wine Under Different Lenses

"The Balkans (Turkish for "mountains") run from the Danube to the Dardanelles. It is, or was, a gay peninsula filled with sprightly people who ate peppered foods, drank strong liquors, wore flamboyant clothes, loved and murdered easily and had a splendid talent for starting wars. I, as a footloose youngster in my twenties, adored them"
- C.L. Sulzberger, A Long Row of Candles

It is only appropriate that unusual, distinctive and characterful wines should be introduced by a charismatic personality - Konstantinos Lazarakis, an entertaining ex-jazz guitarist and Greece's first Master of Wine, is just that.

Despite giving the world the word οἶνος (oinos) several millennia ago, Greece is these days far from being a classic wine region - a mountainous Balkan country better known for its financial irregularities, scandals and popular unrest, it reminds me in many ways of Austria which had to reinvent its wine industry in the 1980s.

Just as Austria at the other end of the Balkans is home to unreconstructed pan-German paranoia, Greece exists in a permanent state of unresolved conflict, a land with ancient roots and too much history where unresolved passions still run strong; western mistress, eastern bride.

You say "Greece" and I first think of poetry, democracy and Socrates. Next come the rocky landscapes and package holidays. Then I think of Byzantinism and Grexit.

It is not an easy region to characterise or summarise, but for those looking for some readable insights into the country, Robert Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts is as good a place to start as any.

Whilst there are numerous wine-growing regions and terroirs, producing reds, whites and stickies from indigenous grapes (that can be hard for a northern European tongue to get round), Greece's total output of wine is around just three quarters Bordeaux's.

Unlike Bordeaux, however, Greece still has a number of Phylloxera-free vineyards in rocky or sandy places where this root-eating pest cannot survive.

All the wines were hand-chosen by Konstantinos and presented to the Circle of Wine Writers to give a sense of the diversity of Greek wines - as a result, only some are commercially available in the UK.

The Whites
The whites were mainly Assyrtiko whose spiritual home is the island of Santorini and which Konstantinos described as being a red wine coloured white, meaning that it is all about texture - in particular, minerality and persistence on the finish.

There is no uniformity of style or technique to Greek wine-making - some of these were modern and international, others distinctly old-school.

The one constant was the high levels of acidity, meaning the wines were always fresh, precise and well-structured.

The Sigalas Santorini VQPRD is grown by trailing the vines around baskets - the winds whips off the outer leaves and berries leaving just tiny yields inside the basket.

After 20-30 years the basket can no longer support the weight of the vines and needs to be cut back down. However, the rootstocks - which are what give the character to the wine - remain and can be up to three centuries old.

The Ktima Pavlidis Assyrtiko was from the northern and superbly-named region of Drama near the Bulgarian border - there was no wine-making here at all until 1988 when a couple of wealthy businessmen decided to give it a go, initially with red Bordeaux varieties but now with local varieties.

The Reds
The red wines were mainly Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko, whose names mean sour and St George respectively.

If Agiorgitiko is a summery crowd-pleaser, then Xinomavro is a surly bitch of a grape. With low primary fruit, it is - according to Konstantinos - a slap in the face for modern international styles - aromas are limited to sweet red chili in the younger wines moving through bell peppers, tomatoes, aged leather, vegetal undergrowth and rosehips with age; the interest, then, lies in its linear acidity and extremely fine, red-tea tannins.

The youngest of the reds, a Paros Red Reserve (made from mostly Mandilaria), was from 2007 from the island of Paros, where 25% white wine may be added to the reds - in this case as Monemvassia grape-must part-way through fermentation to act as a natural form of chaptalisation.

The oldest, from 1993, was I thought the most interesting of the reds - distinctly old-school in style, it showed rosehip and bell pepper on the nose that evoked an aged Medoc, and had a lovely acidity and savouriness. Konstantinos noted that given more time to open up, the fruit would emerge on this wine.

A more modern style of Xinomavro was from Alpha Estates in northern Greece and, being grown on sandy, Phylloxera-free soils, is ungrafted.

After the challenging hill climb of the Xinomavro, the ripe, easy nature of the Agiorgitiko seemed like a gentle stroll - lots of fruit, lower acidity and a ripe sweetness are the hallmarks of this grape.

The most unusual of the reds was Labyrinth made in a sherry-style solera system by Domaine Skouras where Konstantinos is a consultant; the wine was a blend of every vintage from 1999 - 2006 and had a curious blend of both youth and aged character.

The Tsantali Metoxi, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Limnio (a variety mentioned by Homer) was described as being something especially for the ladies - it is grown on Mount Athos by monks who do not allow the presence of any women.

Jancis Robinson is said to have tried this wine but refused to publish a review it due to the sexist slight - by contrast, Russian leader Vladimir Putin is apparently a big fan; presumably it appeals to his orthodox / machismo / male-dominated view of the world.

The life of the monks, it seems, is however, not all dull - they get an allocation of 1/2l of wine with lunch and 1/2l a wine with dinner. Double if they are ill.

This prompted a comment from Brett Jones and Quentin Sadler that they had visited the monastery and found that the monks were all "ill".

The monks also, apparently, despite their vegetarian diet eat fish regularly - they like it so much so they "reclassified" it as a vegetable.

The final comment on the celibate monastic lifestyle was that the monks do not miss the presence of women - except when the time comes to do the washing up.

Picaresque and old-school like the wines, these stories and witticisms remind us of a different way of looking at the world where nothing is taken quite so seriously and which allows life's great events and tragedies to unfold as a backdrop to daily life.

The Stickies
This was, for me, the highlight of the tasting, with some luscious stickies of various hues.

The Late Harvest Sitia VLQPRD is made by a technique dating back to the middle ages - the wine is stored in barrels in the sun and over the summer alcohol evaporates at a faster rate than water. This reduces the alcohol content to the point at which fermentation can start again in the autumn when cooler weather arrives.

The grapes for this wine were harvested in 2000 but fermentation lasted for six years before final bottling; it is not a commercial venture and the wine is not available to buy.

The Belvedere Natural Sweet Wine was much more modern in style - a pale golden in the glass, it was floral and blossomy with a peachy texture.

The last two dessert wines were rather special and intensely sweet: the Samos Nectar was from 1980 and aged in oak barrels for 28 years; the Vinsanto 8Y was a blend of 2003 and 2004 wines, aged for eight years in old oak, with fresh acidity and lots of savouriness.

For his summing up, Konstantinos characterised Greek wines as:

- destined never to be mainstream
- a great tool for the professional to learn what it is both to be good and to be different

He also added that these wines need support - the winemakers could make more money on a lousy weekend in May if they pulled up their ancient, ungrafted vines and built a villa to rent out to package tourists.

I choose to put it another way: to me, Greece is a place of structured landscapes rather than gentle rolling countryside - a land of ancient travellers, gods and and heroes, set against an epic backdrop.

There is no noble Burgundian pastoralism here, but rather the uncompromising intensity of the midday Mediterranean sun on hard rock.

Lying on a geopolitical faultline, Greece is the natural frontier between the rationality of post-Renaissance Europe and the tyranny and inhumanity of ancient middle eastern empires.

This is the history, passion and intensity that you can taste in these wines - and may it never change.

Other related articles
Greek Wines at CWW (detailed tasting notes)
De Martino at Circle of Wine Writers
CWW Christmas Party - 2011: Virginia, 2012: English
Greek Wines At Cambridge Food and Wine Society

Konstantinos Lazarakis - twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, website (Greek)
Circle of Wine Writers - website

Image credit: Athos Monastery: http://www.kevinredpath.co.uk/blog/

Saturday, 16 February 2013

On Horsemeat, Bullshit and Regulation‏

In a recent post on the "horse-meat scandal", Tim Atkin insinuates that the cause of the issue is overly-aggressive price negotiations by supermarkets.

Now, I have a huge respect for Tim as a wine writer - but I cannot agree with his conclusions here as valid.

He argues that "when major multiples screw suppliers on price, they shouldn't be surprised if they are forced to cut corners".

That's a bit like suggesting that professional wine-writing pays so badly that it's alright if you just make it all up.

Well it isn't - in either case: if you have entered into a contract with another party, you have every right to expect them to meet the terms of that contract (whether you are buying processed beef or wine journalism). That's the basis of the rule of law.

It is not valid to argue that you substituted horse meat for beef - or that you just made up your winemaker interview - because you felt you weren't being paid enough money; that's the behaviour of three-year-olds "Daddy, you made me do it !".

I have worked in an oversupplied service industry for long enough now to know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a tough price negotiation. But everyone has their walk-away point and once a contract is signed, it forms a binding commitment on both parties.

So, why is there horse meat labelled as beef ? Because someone put it there in breach of contract.

How come it was not discovered for so long ? Due to a failure of regulation; if meat samples had been analysed more thoroughly, this would have been picked up much more quickly.

So, rather than blaming the "major multiples", we need to look at the person who committed the act and the person whose job it was both to prevent and detect illegal activity - the abattoirs and the food standards regulators.

At this point, we can add in the context that there may well be very aggressive price negotiation by the buyers of these products which makes rule-breaking more likely. But we can also add in the unwillingness of the public to pay more for their food.

This, however, is no more than context and backdrop - it is wrong to put it forward as cause and effect.

Headlines about food safety sell newspapers and add to the media frenzy, but at its base, this is a story about contract compliance and enforcement.

Yes, it says something about us as a Society that we perhaps focus on price above quality - think about that when you are doing your next weekly shop - but if we buy products from a supermarket labelled as beef, we have a right to expect to be made from beef. And to be safe for us to eat.

As a joke that did the rounds on twitter suggested - if you have an economy ready-meal lasagna in your freezer, take a long hard look at your life and think where it all went wrong; if you choose to buy cheap ready-meals labelled as beef, then you have a right to expect it to be beef and to be safe - but you you cannot expect it to taste nice.

So the discussion about "major multiples" and the behaviour and willingness of consumers to pay is merely a distraction, or at best a different subject to be considered separately. As a former boss used to tell me, once you have the real cause, the solution becomes obvious. This is a compliance and regulation issue - not an excuse to bash business.

So, once again, why is there horse meat in food labelled as beef ? Because of a failure of regulation; so the solution then is better and more effective regulation of our food supply chain.

This may well lead to food becoming more expensive overall, but so be it - right now, our food is arguably too cheap.

Other related articles
Juel Mahoney's Wine Riot
On Intellectual Property

Tim Atkin - website, twitter

Image credit: http://www.scriptmag.com/wp-content/uploads/no-bullshit.jpg

Saturday, 9 February 2013

On Sediment, Wining and Dining

If we define wine bloggers as "self-published writers about wine on the internet", then that covers everything from Jancis Robinson with her team of writers and paywall site, to the person who has a bottle of wine for Sunday lunch, photographs it on his iphone and writes a few lines about it as a review.

In the middle are various types of amateur and semi-professional wine bloggers - who may or may not get sent regular samples and invitations to trade events as a journo.

However, there are also professional journos who write about wine as a sideline hobby - some have merely an interest in wine whilst others may be professionally qualified.

What sets them all apart, though, is the quality of the writing and thinking - compared to those of us who have never written for a living.

One of my current favourite wine blogs is Sediment; it's low on dry technical stuff and high on anecdote and observation - in a quirky, edgy and dryly cutting sort of way.

Like the best wines, it is well-structured and complex yet also appealing.

Its authors, known only as CJ and PK and describing themselves as "Two gentlemen and their mid-life terroirs", turn out to be not just professional writers but published authors, each with several books to their name.

And now they have a new one - written under the name of Sediment: Wining and Dining - the Sediment Guide to Wine and the Dinner-Party is an ebook short, which costs less than a glass of wine. Less than a SMALL glass of wine, they say.

CJ and PK describe it as "eight original essays, in our inimitable style, offering typically idiosyncratic advice about every aspect of wine at that most daunting social occasion."

There’s an introduction to the book in their blog and you and you can find the book on Amazon.

I can't tell you any more about the book itself because they didn't bother to send me a review copy. However, another (also professional) writer whom I very much admire, Henry Jeffreys, said "they didn't send me a copy either so I splurged £1.99 Money well spent "

In any case, because I enjoy their blog so much, I readily agreed to give it a mention here.

Other related articles
Steve's Grenache and The Grape Escape
Chris Kissack's Pocket Guide to Bordeaux

Sediment - website, twitter

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Gog Magog Farm Shop‏

I take my parenting duties seriously - it is a Dad's role to have a limited but endlessly-repeated stock of unfunny jokes, to ruffle children's hair and lead them on wildly implausible expeditions, the subsequent memory of which leads Mum to sigh lovingly as she irons the socks.

Last year, when #1 child was given her first proper bike, with gears and everything, she announced she would like to try them out by riding up a hill.

In most places, this would not cause any issues, but here in fenland it presented quite a challenge and necessitated a long ride just to find a hill to ride up.

"Of course Cambridge has hills", is the standard refrain to the accusation that the city and its environs are completely flat - "There's Gog Magog".

Cambridge not only does not have hills, it is actually situated in something of a dip - a large natural crater or dimple.

Stand on the highest point in the city centre - the top of Castle Hill - and you will see the land first dip away and then gradually rise back up to eye-level in all directions at around a distance of around 20 miles.

Gog Magog is a pair of hills a couple of miles south of the centre just beyond Addenbrooke's, home to a golf course, Wandlebury Ring, Magog Down and most importantly a Farm Shop and Cafe.

So for #1 child's inaugural "hill ride", we headed out to Gog Magog, approaching it from the side via Trumpington and the Shelfords and stopping off at Gog Magog Farm Shop for sustenance and a brief respite in the form of hot chocolate with marshmallows and a chocolate brownie.

Last weekend, the children begged to be taken back and even remembered exactly what they had had a year or so ago. And with the temperature just a few degrees above freezing and the wind whipping up an icy blast, I decided it was sufficiently challenging to go ahead.

Late winter and early spring is always a challenging time for keeping children active - it is too wet to let them play in the garden, too cold to send them to the playpark, so an uphill bike ride might just do the trick, I hoped.

My very first visit to Gog Magog Farm Shop was perhaps a decade or so ago when it was just a slightly dreary, if worthy, place with a few bits of vacuum-packed meat on offer.

It has now become a destination in its own right with a smart cafe offering lattes, home-made pastries, the weekend papers and various other staples of middle-class weekend life.

Unlike The Orchard, which has a genteel aristocratic insouciance, Gog Magog is more a place to go after exercising dogs or young children either on Magog Down or Wandlebury - it has not yet got as far as play equipment or a petting zoo, so on a cold day in January, there is not a lot to do there.

On arriving, I do that "Embarrassing Dad" thing by pretending to order cold water and stale bread for the children before "remembering" they actually want hot chocolate. I compound this by insisting that surely they don't want marshmallows on top, as well. They respond, inevitably, enthusiastically in the affirmative and take the opportunity to remind me that I promised them brownies, too.

Seated with our drinks brought to us, for a few blissful moments, peace and quiet reign as the children set about their treats and I peruse first the motoring and then the travel sections of the Sunday papers.

My coffee is hot, strong and well-frothed - spot on, in fact. In the name of research, I also try out the kids' brownies which prove to be rich, sticky and rather wonderful.

#2 child is the first to finish and the first to get bored of watching me look at depictions of picturesque warm holiday destinations in France and adverts for Rhine Cruises, so announces he will go outside to play.

His sister accompanies, but promptly returns saying it is too cold, so I collect up my things and head out to watch them make a game of running along the edges of herb beds - it never ceases to amaze me how innocently these would-be teenagers can entertain themselves by running around on uneven surfaces in any given location.

We check out the two adjoining shops - in the cheese and wine shop I note with approval the presence of the thoroughly crowd-pleasing Mont Rocher Old Vines Carignan.

We are also given a couple of samples of cheese to try - a sweet, hard yellow coolea and a Tunworth with a yeasty rind whose flavour persists long after we have eaten it, left the cheese shop and entered the meat shop.

In here, samples on offer are of a three-herb sausage which is meaty, well-flavoured and appreciated by all.

Unsurprisingly, the children quickly lose interest in the displays of the free-range meat counter, so at this point, all that remains is to look at the geese in the barn, admire the two ponies called William and James and then roll all the way back down the hill into Cambridge and home for lunch.

The CWB rule of thumb is that going somewhere at least three times makes it a firm favourite - I've lost count of the number of times we have been to The Orchard, but with both kids now competently riding bikes, I sense it will not be long before we make visit #3 to Gog Magog Farm Shop.

Other related articles
The Orchard
Punting and Fitzbillies
Cambridge's Museums
A Sunday Morning In Saffron Walden
The Plough, Coton

Gog Magog Farm Shop - website, twitter

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Wine of the Month - February

Wine of the Month took a de-tox break in January, but with those New Year's Resolutions now merely a distant memory and half a drinks cabinet of various whiskies from Burns Night waiting to be finished off, it's time to turn our thoughts to February and Valentine's Day.

Call me old-fashioned but I think wines for Valentine's Day should be pink, fizzy or sweet - perhaps even all three. We start this month with a sunny fizz from Oz before going all pink.

Sandford Estate 'S' Brut NV - Joseph Barnes (£11.50)

This is Champagne-style sparkler from Australia that comes with a big sunny grin - despite its New World origins, it has some Champagne character.
There's yeasty brioche and biscuitiness, with ripe orchard fruit and a pleasantly savoury rasp on the finish.
It has a bit of extra New World ripeness, but it is still an Old World-style food wine - you could match it with white cheese such as brie or light seafood.

Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir Rosé  - Cambridge Wine Merchants (£8.95)
An Aussie Pinot rosé is a wine that sounds like it shouldn't work - but this one definitely does.

Salmon pink in colour, it has aromas of smokey spice and ripe red fruits. On the palate, it has good rounded acidity and minerality - it feels like quite a cool climate wine - finishing dry and persistent.

Despite the jokey name and New World origins, this wine has a distinctly European food-friendliness to it, so it would work well as an aperitif, with a light salad or delicate white fish

Jancis Robinson describes it as being chock full of slightly smokey Pinot character with no excess alcohol or sweetness.

Carati Rose Cuvee - Bacchanalia (£10.99)
With its shocking pink / fuchsia label and blacked-out bottle, this Italian Charmat-method pink fizz is certainly going to make quite a statement on the dinner table - assuming that's what you want to do.
Despite appearances, it's not actually the hairdresser's wine that it appears to be. Sure, it is not an entirely serious wine, but it has some crisp acidity with grapefruit and raspberry, as well as interesting aromas of chopped herbs and bitter almonds.
It will work as an aperitif or with the sort of light foods you might want for a romantic dinner – grilled fish or a seafood risotto.
Perfect if you’re looking for that Big-And-None-Too-Serious Statement.

Domaine du Grand Cros Cotes de Provence Rosé 2011 - Noel Young Wines (£8.95)
A blend of Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache and Syrah from southern France, this is also salmon pink in the glass, with a touch of spiciness and pear drop aroma on the nose.
On the palate, there is white stone and orchard fruits and some soft red berries. What makes it interesting, though, is the mouthfilling acidity and leesy savouriness that finishes as a persistent minerality.
Enjoy as either a sipper or with light food.
Other related articles
Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/
Joseph Barnes Wines - http://www.josephbarneswines.com/
Noel Young Wines - http://www.nywines.co.uk/


Image credits - Matt Ellis of Smiling Grape