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Sunday, 31 March 2013

La Cave des Vignerons de Pfaffenheim - Alsace

Dating back to 1957, La Cave des Vignerons de Pfaffenheim is a co-operative of 230 growers based in the sunnier, warmer part of southern Alsace that typically produces riper, fuller wines.

Alsace, with its Germanic heritage, generally produces single-variety wines labelled as such - these two wines, however, are blends with generic names.

Priced as everyday wines, both have a beautifully ripe-yet-dry easy-drinking style that will match well with a range of foods - the only question, then, is "Who's more bootlicious ?"

Black Tie (€10 ex-cellar)

A blend of Pinot Gris and Riesling, this wine shows off the character of these two grapes with the racy minerality and ripe citrus fruit of the Riesling and the ripe orchard fruit  and spiciness of the Pinot Gris.

With sweet-sour citrus, good minerality and savouriness, it is a somewhat Mosel-esque lovely drinker.

Match with Alsatian cuisine, such as pork, tarte flambee or coq au Riesling.

Pfaff Gentil (€6 ex-cellar) 

An undisclosed blend, this has the raciness of Riesling, the spice of Pinot Gris and just a touch of heady Gewurz perfume.

Golden, sandy yellow in the glass, on the nose there are ripe orchard and tropical fruits and a hint of spice.

The palate is ripe and spicy with good, rounded acidity - a zingy mouthful of luscious exotic tropical fruit and spice. Good savoury underpinnings too - and a perfectly balanced finish.

Curvaceous and beautiful, yet also lithe and athletic, match with a fish carpaccio - gravadlax or, even better, tuna with chilli and ginger.

Other related articles
Dopff & Irion, Alsace
Hotel Le Rapp, Colmar

La Cave de Vignerons de Pfaffenheim - website

Image credit: Who's more bootylicious ? www.sodahead.com

Friday, 29 March 2013

Ramon Bilbao Dinner at Cambridge Hotel du Vin

It's not often you get to try a completely new appellation of wine - the Ramon Bilbao NV Mar de Frades Albariño Rías Baixas Brut Nature, the first-ever sparkling Albarino from Rias Baxas, was presented by Carlos Delage at Cambridge Hotel du Vin at a Ramon Bilbao dinner.

Over canapes in the Hotel's Library room, Carlos explained that the wine is made by the methode champenoise, but does not aim to be a Champagne copy.

Rather, with just a year's ageing on the lees, it is a mediumweight fruit-driven sparkler with a fine mousse and plenty of varietal citrussy fruit and white flowers.

But there is also a persistence and savouriness that goes beyond mere blossomy spritz, so the closest stylistic comparison is perhaps a young blanc de blancs.

In any event, it has proven very popular - Spanish supermarket chain El Corte Ingles sold out of its allocation in just a few weeks, whilst Head Sommelier of Cambridge Hotel du Vin, Debbie Henriques, was so impressed that she immediately arranged to add it to the hotel's list.

Our second aperitif was the Albarino Algareiro Rias Baxas 2011; much more weighty and complex than a typical Albarino, the emphasis here was on minerality, salinity and persistence.

On the Atlantic coast of north west Spain, just above Portugal, Rias Baxas is not an easy place to make wine; warm and damp, it provides perfect conditions for rot. To avoid this, the vines are trained on granite trellises around 2m high making pruning and harvesting all the more labour-intensive.

Ramon Bilbao was founded in the 1920s as a family company and is now on its third set of owners, but is still privately held. Owner and boss Rodolfo Bastida is the wine-maker, meaning, according to Carlos, an absolute focus on modernity and quality, rather than on pennies.

The wine that accompanied our starter was a good example of this - a Verdejo Monte Blanco 2012 from Rueda, the grapes are harvested at night and for freshness it is fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel to preserve the tropical-fruit aromas.

Grown on granite soils, it has a piercing, mouthfilling linear acidity and minerality with a delicately aromatic nose with puy lentils and white flowers that is reminiscent of Austrian Gruener Veltliner.

Hotel chef Jonathan Dean had matched this with pressed pork rillettes with an apple and chicory salad - the fresh acidity of the wine cut through the meat whilst the apple and chicory, lifted with a dash of mustard vinagrette, enhanced the aromatics of the wine.

The main of roast duck breast, cherry chutney and fondant potato was served with two reds from Rioja: the Gran Reserva 2004 Ramon Bilbao Rioja, a youthful purple colour with only a slight paleness around the rim, looks much younger than its almost decade of age.

On the nose there are dried bramble fruits, spice, leather and gaminess; the palate shows good fruit and acidity with sweet thyme.

Alongside this, we tried a 2001 Gran Reserva special vines Ramon Bilbao Rioja; this unfiltered wine, the product of a single vineyard that formed part of the original Ramon Bilbao estate, was also surprisingly youthful in appearance.

In the glass, the colour is purple with only a touch more paleness around the rim - all the more impressive considering it has spent three years in oak.

The nose is complex with aromas of dried fruit, game, old leather, mushrooms and sweet herbs.

On the palate, there is a mouthfilling, fresh acidity and flavours of red pepper and rosehip. The finish shows fine-grained tannins and a savoury persistence.

This felt like a much older wine - noticeably more developed than the 2004 - and for me was much the more interesting of the two. Carlos, however, preferred the 2004, which caused me to wonder how the two might develop; on the night, the 2001 was more interesting, but in five, perhaps even ten years, I can see the 2004 showing better.

In any event, both wines matched extremely well with the food; the fresh acidity and gaminess were a classic match for duck breast, whilst a touch of spice in the jus and red cabbage accompaniment was extremely well-judged and brought the food and wine into perfect harmony.

The final course was a selection of British and Spanish cheeses served with a biodynamic wine, the Crianza Cruz de Alba 2008.

Biodynamics is something of a wild-haired branch of wine-making that takes organic, low-intervention processes as a base and sprinkles over a generous libation of astrology, pagan earth-worship and downright superstitious oddness.

It is a step-back in time to wine-making as it must have been practised several centuries ago - and the wines often have a vibrant, earthy character as a result.

With none of the advantages of the modern era, low-intervention wine-making also requires high-quality fruit and absolute cleanliness in both the vineyard and the winery.

Whether it is these factors or the cow horn full of dung and phases of the moon that impart a certain quality is something of a moot point.

But for anyone who feels that modern life has become somewhat sterile and soulless, this biodynamic crianza had a vibrancy and texture that spoke of a way of life that is more in touch with nature.

I finished the evening with a trip downstairs to the hotel's bar with Mike Webb of importers Ellis of Richmond to try a glass of the Crianza edicion limitada.

This is essentially the second wine in years when the top Mierto is not made - in Bordeaux, my rule of thumb for a second wine in a weak year is that you get the elegance but not the structural interest.

The edicion limitada, however, suffered from no lack of structure with lots of fruit and perfectly ripe tannins It is available by the glass at Hotel du Vin and a great place to start in seeing what Ramon Bilbao has to offer.

Either that, or try the world's first-ever sparkling Rias Baxas.

Tickets for the Ramon Bilbao Dinner at Cambridge Hotel du Vin cost £60; I attended as a guest of the hotel.

Other related articles
Port Dinner at Hotel du Vin
Cigar Dinner at Hotel du Vin
Lunch at Hotel du Vin

Ramon Bilbao - website, twitter
Hotel du Vin Cambridge - website, twitter

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Tour de Belfort at Cambridge Food and Wine Society

Eugene Lismonde set up his Tour de Belfort winery and guest house near Cahors just a few years ago after retiring from his business in Paris.

It is a truly family affair with Eugene and wife Sylvie running the winery and daughter Muriel overseeing sales in the UK.

It has proven a tough market to break into - Eugene describes making his organic, low-intervention, almost natural wines in a brand-new vineyard and winery as being "the easy part"; he summarises the problem as not having the volume or pricing to be able to work with supermarkets, nor yet having the reputation of the classic areas to deal with independents.

After a couple of years of direct selling via the Three Wine Men events and through the company's website, Muriel has come up with a new idea that might just be the breakthrough they have been looking for.

Le Vin La Table in Hale, Cheshire is part wine shop and part cookery school - Muriel has recruited chef Jason Palin to provide cookery lessons with food matched exclusively to the Tour de Belfort wines.

With originally just a red blend and white blend, this could have proven somewhat limiting, so Eugene has expanded his range, to include a fizz and two oak-aged single-variety grands vins which he included in a presentation to Cambridge Food and Wine Society at the weekend.

The fizz - a methode traditionelle - is fresh, elegant and clean, with pure fruit expression and good persistence on the finish. At under £12, it is also something of a bargain.

The various white and red blends show the same pure fruit and technical excellence, with a well-balanced vibrancy and, for the reds, perfectly ripe tannins.

Preferences are perhaps more of a personal matter - for me the 2009 white blend (a cooler year containing a higher proportion of Sauvignon in the blend) has a lovely acidic streak, whilst others preferred the weightiness of the Chardonnay-dominated 2010 (from a warmer year).

However, there was a general consensus that the Malbec-dominated 2011 with its pure fruit and smokey spiciness was the most enjoyable of all the reds.

On this theme, Eugene noted that the wines that had won awards in France had failed to register with Decanter in the UK, whilst those that had received Decanter wards had not received the same recognition from the French judges.

Tour de Belfort wines are available via the company's website, at The Gonville Hotel in Cambridge and now at Le Vin La Table in Hale.

Other related articles
Tour de Belfort - the history, the red, the rose, the white

Tour de Belfort - website
Muriel Lismonde - twitter
Le Vin La Table - website
Jason Palin - twitter
Cambridge Food and Wine Society - website, twitter
The Gonville Hotel - website

Monday, 25 March 2013

Les Grandes Costes, Pic St Loup, 2009 - The Co-operative

This Les Grandes Costes, Pic St Loup, 2009 from The Co-operative is yet another Languedoc wine that punches well above its weight.

Made from a blend of hand-picked Syrah and Grenache from low-yielding old vines, half the wine is aged in French oak for 16 months. The press release also adds that the wine, part of The Co-op's finer range, is from an old Languedoc domaine of just 14ha which has been family-owned since 1868.

Characterful and technically well-made, this is full of ripe southern warmth. On the nose there is black cherry, some garrigue herbs, dark spice and aromatic violets. The palate follows through with with more ripe plummy, black cherry and elderberry fruit cut through peppery spice, sweet vanilla and a fresh acidity that suggests altitude.

There is also good concentration and structure with firm, grippy tannins and a long, persistent, savoury finish.

A classy, darkly spicy yet sensual beauty this is Vesper Lynd in oenological form.

Match with herby sausages, lamb with rosemary wrapped in pancetta or duck with cherries and spiced jus.

£12.99 from The Co-operative; provided for review.

Other related articles
The Co-operative Premium Mendoza Malbec
Abbotts and Delaunay, Boreas Faugères
AOC Languedoc Dinner at Ampersand Hotel

The Co-Operative - website, twitter
Les Grandes Costes - website

Image credits: wine, Vesper

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Abbotts and Delaunay, Boreas Faugères 2010

Once a source of cheap plonk, Languedoc wines are now not only characterful and well-made, but getter ever more ambitious; at £16.99 from Averys, this Abbotts and Delaunay Boreas Faugères 2010 is certainly priced well above "everyday-drinking".

A warming southern red, with good structure, it is dark cherry red in the glass with a complex nose of ripe plum, earthiness, garrigue herbs and warm spice.

On the palate, there is ripe plummy, elderberry fruit, musky earthiness and bitter green herbs with peppery spice; there are savoury hints of cocoa and cigar box, the texture is mouthfilling with perfectly-ripe tannins and fresh acidity and the finish is firm, spicy and persistent.

A clue to the balance achieved in the wine comes from the altitude and exposure of the vineyards - the website explains that the grapes come from two terroirs: vines growing at an altitude of 200 metres with north/north-western exposure which allows for later ripening thereby preserving the grapes' freshness. The other vines face the sea with southern exposure, but are planted at an altitude of 350 metres, yielding rich, open wines.

Overall, this is a big, muscular yet also deft wine - rather like an American basketball player.

Match with big gamey dishes such as venison with a spiced cherry jus or, more simply, a lamb roast with garlic and rosemary.

£16.99 from Avery's; provided for review.

Other related articles
Abbots & Delaunay Alto Stratus
Abbotts & Delaunay Corbières Réserve 2010‏
Languedoc Character Sketches
Languedoc archive

Abbots & Delaunay - website

Image credit: picture of John Amaechi from http://amaechibasketballcentre.com/TheClub/John/john3.jpg

This wine also reviewed by Sally Easton MW here: http://www.winewisdom.com/articles/producer-profiles/abbotts-and-delauney/

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Taylor's LBV Port 2007

Late Bottled Vintage is the premium economy of ports - wine from a single year (hence "vintage"), it is aged in barrel for an extended period (i.e. late-bottled) before filtering and bottling and is therefore ready for drinking sooner than vintage port which needs several decades to reach a peak.

This Taylor's LBV from 2007 is dark purple in the glass and has a classic "port nose" of eucalyptus, red fruits and spice, with the cooked-fruit aromas of spirit.

On the palate, it is warming, soft and mouthfilling with more eucalyptus, bitter dark chocolate, cranberry fruit, peppery spice and a savoury, liquorice finish.

It feels harmonious but still has a youthful vibrancy. As a lovely everyday port, it is appropriately priced at around £14.99.

Almost a dessert in itself, it will match with fine dark chocolate and a small espresso, or a chocolate pot with red berries.

Widely available including Tanners, slurp,  Majestic and Tesco; provided for review.

Other related articles
Marks & Spencer Finest Reserve Port
Andresen LBV 1997
Dow's Vintage Port
Noval Port dinner at Hotel du Vin

Taylor's - website, twitter

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Food Matching With Chablis at Inder's Kitchen‏

In an attempt to establish which take-away food matches best with Chablis, I called on the assistance of Inder Bull, owner of Inder's Kitchen.

Inder and husband Nick Bull gave up professional jobs in London and moved their family to Cambridge a few years ago to start an Indian food home-delivery business to almost instant acclaim: last year the business was a finalist in the 2012 BBC Food and Farming Awards.

All Inder's dishes are cooked individually using locally-sourced ingredients and, unlike traditional curry houses, the use of ghee and oil is minimised to keep the food as light as possible.

So, whilst heavy, thickly-sauced Indian curries are more "beer food" than wine-friendly, I figured a couple of lighter, more gently-spiced dishes might just be the thing to match with wines from Burgundy's most northerly region.

Chablis is located around 100 miles South East of Paris and grows only Chardonnay on Kimmeridgian clay with outcrops of chalk. The wines are linear, sharp and citrussy yet elegant and poised; "steely" and "mineral" often turn up in tasting notes for Chablis.

The lightest make good aperitifs whilst the fuller wines - from older vines on better sites with possibly a touch of oak - will match with food.

Inder prepared small portions of a number of dishes which I tried with each of the two wines to select the best match.

My two wines were a citrussy, mineral Laroche 2011 Chablis from Majestic and a more complex Dampt old vines Petit Chablis 2011 from Laithwaites.

I rejected the King Prawns with spinach as too green and herbaceous: this needs a tangy, aromatic Sauvignon or a full-bodied Gruener Veltliner. The Chepala Pulusu, a fiery, hot-sour dish, overpowered both wines and needs a ripe New World oaky Chardie or a big Gewurz with some residual sweetness.

Laroche 2011 Chablis (£13.99 Majestic)

Pure citrus fruit and refreshing acidity with a touch of pithy zestiness, this matches best with the Goan fish curry (£8.95).

The base of the sauce is rich coconut cream, sharpened up with a touch of tomato and ginger and flavoured aromatic coriander seeds, mustard seeds and other spices.

The fish, swordfish, is white, dense and very meaty - a pescatarian's chicken breast.

The initial sweet-sharpness of the tomato in the dish leads on to the ginger which lingers on the finish and matches perfectly with the zestiness of the wine.

Dampt Old Vines Petit Chablis 2011 (£12.49)

This has more texture and complexity than the Laroche and matches best with the Winter Vegetable curry (£6.25).

Oaky Chardonnay and coconut have a real affinity for each other and as soon as I tried this wine, I felt a gently-spiced coconut dish would match the creamy fullness of the texture.

The Winter Vegetable curry has a creamy coconut base with sweet aromatic cardomom, cloves and cinnamon.

The heat is mild and comes from green chilis, balanced out by the sweetness of peas and carrots. Some potato adds to the heartiness whilst green beans add to the aromatics.

The earthy, savoury nature of this dish matches well with the old-vine concentration of the Chablis.

Inder's Kitchen is based in central Cambridge; their free delivery service covers the city and nearby villages - full details are on the website.

Wines provided for review.

Other related articles
Inder's Kitchen at Cambridge Food and Wine Society

Laithwaites - website, twitter
Majestic - website, twitter
Inder's Kitchen - website, twitter

Monday, 11 March 2013

Wine of the Month - March

With a name taken from the Roman god of war, March is neither quite the depths of winter nor properly spring.

Chilly, rather than frosty, it is said to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.

February's snowdrops have given way to early-flowering daffodils and the days are noticeably longer if not especially milder.

It is no surprise, then, that this month we have all red wines - albeit not quite such hearty ones.

Aliança Bairrada Reserva, 2011, Portugal £7.25 (Noel Young Wines)

Portugal seems to have been on the cusp of greatness forever now - with unusual indigenous varieties, interesting flavours and a modernised wine industry, its has everything it needs to be the next wine region to watch.

Made from a blend of indigenous varieties (Baga, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz), this wine has black cherry fruit, black olives and bitter green herbs on the nose.

The palate shows ripe cherry fruit and firm, grippy tannins. There is a refreshing sour cherry acidity and a savouriness; the finish is firm and persistent.

Ripe and modern, it is also distinctly Portuguese - and great value; match with beef or lamb.

Chateau Plaisance, 'Grain de Folie' Rouge 2011, Fronton £9.99 (Joseph Barnes Wines)

Chateau Plaisance, based in the Cotes du Frontonnais region of of southwest France, is run organically by the father-and-son team of Louis and Marc Penavayre.

This 'Grain de Folie' ('a touch of madness') is a blend of mostly Negrette with some Gamay. An organic, low-intervention wine, it shows a blast of pure black cherry and elderberry fruit with a touch of spice.

The acidity is mouthfilling with sour-cherry sharpness and there is a gentle firmness that persists on the finish.

Match with duck or lamb.

4 Meses, Juan Gil, 2011Jumilla, £8.49 (Bacchanalia)

Made from Spain's Monastrell (aka France's Mourvedre) from old vines in Jumilla, the home of Spain's Big Reds, this wine spends four months (4 Meses) in French and American oak.

Dark purple in the glass, it is an exuberant pup with aromas of ripe bramble fruit, liquorice and oaky vanilla. Straight out of the bottle, this is a full-on, crowd-pleasing party animal.

The palate is full of ripe cassis and creamy, sweet vanilla spice - like a blackcurrant creme brulee - but underneath it, there is a soft texture, good acidity and a fulsome structure. For me the tannins are just a touch overripe and over-extracted, most noticeably on the finish, but don't let that put you off what is otherwise a great, crowd-pleasing quaffer.

Match with hearty meat dishes and stews or rustic sausages

Recommended Wine

All three wines here are very good and perhaps choice will be decided more by weather conditions than anything else, but for me the most interesting wine here is the great value Portuguese Aliança Bairrada Reserva from Noel Young.

Other related articles
Wine of the Month archive

Bacchanalia - http://www.winegod.co.uk/
Joseph Barnes Wines - http://www.josephbarneswines.com/
Noel Young Wines - http://www.nywines.co.uk/

Saturday, 9 March 2013

More Sherry Taking On Cambridge 105

This is the second part of my talk on Sherry with Alan Alder on Cambridge 105's Flavour programme. In the first part (here), I covered the pale and dry darker styles. For the second part we moved onto my favourite part - sweet sherries. You can listen to the podcast of the whole show, but here is an edited version of the interview.

Sweet Sherries are made from a grape called Pedro Ximénez or PX; 100% PX sherries have the colour and consistency of used engine oil - but they are utterly delicious. Imagine a rich, fruited, nutty, spiced Christmas pudding in a glass - that's a PX. And the amazing thing is, they still have good acidity so they don't become flabby and cloying - they are still fresh.

A 100% PX needs to match with a rich, sticky dessert like Christmas pudding or treacle tart. Or you can pour it over home-made vanilla ice-cream - two glasses: one to pour over and one to drink with it.

If that sounds a bit too rich and indulgent, there are less-sweet Sherries - PX can be blended with Oloroso or Amontillado to give something less intensely sweet but with all the character and flavour - these are the cream sherries that we associate with grannies and vicars and so on.

The can be a dessert in their own right, just a small glass after a meal. Or you could match the roasted, nutty flavours to a pecan tart and sweet Oloroso also matches well with a blue cheese like Stilton.

One to try is Waitrose's own-label Jerezana Rich Cream Sherry, made by Lustau.

Sadly, we don't have any Sherry bars or places that specialises in Sherry that I'm aware of in Cambridge, but I think it's only a matter of time.

The Punter on Pound Hill has held a couple of Sherry dinners and Hotel du Vin does a number of very good Sherries by the glass.

But to experience a real Sherry Bodega without flying to Andalusia, you just need to pop down to London - which a lot of Cambridge people do every day (I'm one of them) - and just next door to Kings Cross station is Bar Pepito.

If you imagine a little authentic bodega lifted up and transplanted from Spain, then that's Pepito's. It has Jamon Iberico carved off the bone to order and does plates of meat and cheese with a range of Sherries.

What I especially like about it is that the Sherry list is very good indeed, but not unnecessarily long, so choosing does not become too complicated.

They also serve cooked food and wines if you want to make a meal of it, but for me it is just a great place to meet friends after work on the way home.

Richard Bigg who runs Pepito emailed me to give me some more background on the place:

"I’d always loved sherry, and one day thought that with the tiny space we had available across the courtyard (the sunny side!) from Camino we could create something very special, taking arguably the world’s least cool drinks category as the focus. Whilst there are plenty of very good Spanish places with some fine sherry lists, Bar Pepito was created as Britain’s first dedicated Sherry bar, proudly hanging its hat on this most fabulous drink.

We have a purposely short list, with the widest range of styles. The idea was to make it accessible, not to stock 100 different sherries to show how clever we are, which would only confuse the customer. Despite the 3 towns and 3 grapes varieties, the permutations are many, so simplicity was the key.

In addition to the core list we have specials on from time to time. Currently we have a little of the Las Palmas range left. These are fabulous old finos from González Byass, made without filtration in the En Rama style.

There is a series of four, with ages of 6, 8 10 and 40 (!) years old, selected from barrels in the dark corners of the bodega by wine-maker Antonio Flores, this year with the assistance of Jancis Robinson. The flor has remained longer than usual due to particular levels of humidity, though the No. 4 version is strictly speaking an amontillado. And mighty fine they all are too, the extra depth of flavour and wonderfully long finish marking them apart from other sherries of similar age."

If that's got you interested in Sherry, I think an entry-level version of the paler styles is perhaps the best place to start - Tio Pepe would be perfect. And although it involves a trip to London, visiting a Sherry bar is a good way to try it if you're unsure of serving temperatures or food matches.

From there, you can move onto older, darker more complex and expensive sherries.

Other related articles
Some Sherry Talking
The Great Sherry Tasting
Hidalgo Sherry Dinner at The Punter
Tio Pepe - date stamped
Bar Pepito - King's Cross
Tio Pepe En Rama
Dehesa in Soho

Tio Pepe - website, twitter
Lustau - website
Waitrose - website, twitter
The Punter - website
Hotel du Vin - Cambridge, twitter
Pepito - website

Main image credit - http://www.designmynight.com/london/bars/bar-pepito-london

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Sunday Lunch at Losehill House‏, Hope

Another half-term, another trip up to my ancestral home in Cheshire to drop off the children with their grandparents. For the return journey this time, I decided to take Mrs CWB to Losehill House in Hope for Sunday lunch.

It had been originally recommended to me by local Michelin-starred chef Mark Poynton of Alimentum last year, but previous attempts to arrange a meal there had fallen foul of wedding bookings.

On this occasion we almost didn't make it again - due to snow: whilst Cheshire was completely snow-free, and Hope had only a light dusting, the road from Chapel en le Frith to Castleton (via the literally gorgeous Winnats Pass) was a complete white-out and only just passable in places.

The final challenge in getting there is that it is located up a rough track off a small side-road that loops round the back of Mam Tor, so is not exactly the kind of place you stumble across.

And yet, once arrived, there is no sense that this is in the middle of nowhere - whilst the exterior of the building is Peak District country house, inside is there is sophisticated, relaxed elegance; the restaurant, pleasantly formal yet unstuffy, is housed in a extensive conservatory with views across a gently wooded valley.

Arriving on the dot of 12:30, we are almost the only people there, but are soon joined by couples on a spa break and a multi-generational group, still animated but with a sense of post-wedding relaxation.

Perusing the menu, I order my now-habitual glass of Tio Pepe fino and chef Darren Goodwin pops out to say hello.

Mrs CWB decides on a soft drink and, as I am doing the driving, I make a mental note that mine has to last me until the main course arrives.

It being a Sunday lunch, the menu has a relatively traditional feel and I opt to start with monkfish - seared cheeks that turn out to be little morsels of perfectly fresh, crisp-yet-tender, meaty white fish with a cauliflower puree and crispy bacon.

The flavours, cooking and quality of ingredients are faultless and Mrs CWB declares her starter of duck, goat's cheese and pepper roulade to be similarly excellent.

The food it seems, mirrors the layout of the restaurant itself - tasteful, classic and well-executed; no surprises, no affected quirkiness, just well-done - and I find myself appreciating the consistency and unfussy attention to detail.

The mains follow a similar pattern: my roast sirloin of White Peak beef is incredibly tender and deliciously cooked - pink in the middle, slightly charred on the outside and thinly cut.

The accompanying Yorkshire pudding and dripping roast potatoes are exactly as they should be. And the one non-standard touch - little parcels that ooze out a creamy horseradish sauce when cut - is so deft as to provide only the merest hint of how much more clever the meal could have been, had only the kitchen opted to make it so.

My accompanying wine, a Ciconia 2011 from Portugal - a blend of native Touriga Nacional with Iberian Tempranillo and some international Syrah - has juicy red fruits and a mouthfilling acidity to cut through the roast meat, potatoes and yorkshire, but also the typical herbaceous eucalyptus to stand up to the aromatic horseradish.

For dessert I stay local and opt for a Bakewell tart - served slightly warm and oven fresh, the accompanying raspberry sorbet cuts through the marzipan richness but the addition of macerated sour cherries, sharp and with a touch of spirit bitterness, seems slightly out of balance with the rest of the dish.

With the journey to Cambridge still ahead of us, we forgo the lazy lounging of coffee and petits fours in favour of driving back in daylight with views of Edale Valley, Kinder, the Derwent Moors and Hope Valley.

Were I a Michelin inspector with a tick-list of requirements, I might have the knocked off a few half-marks for minor imperfections such as some ice crystals in the sorbet or the wine a degree or so too warm. But as someone taking his wife out for lunch on a blessedly free Sunday afternoon, it was perfect and we arrive home with a few hours of the weekend still to enjoy.


We return back up north just a few days later to pick up the kids and take them to the Blue John Mines on the way home. Lunch on that occasion consists of panini and burgers from Peveril Stores.

It is too cold to consider a walk, but I drive around a little to show them the road washed away.

Eating our lunches in the shadow of Mam Tor, #2 child announces that he would like to do the walk from the summit along the ridge to Hope. It's maybe five miles, but on a warm summer's day it should be a fantastic mini-hike.

I make a mental note of this as potential family day out and resolve that it should probably finish with a meal at Losehill House.

Other related articles
North of England: Fischer's of Baslow, The Box Tree, Ilkley, at 50 (for Jancis Robinson), Malmaison Manchester, Lindeth Howe, Cumbria
Cambridge: The Three Horseshoes, Hotel du Vin, Fitzbillies, Alimentum
France: L'Alembic in Nuits St Georges
Austria: Plachutta, Vienna, Hotel Schloß Dürnstein

Losehill House - website, twitter
Chef Darren Goodwin - twitter
Chef Mark Poynton - twitter

Sunday, 3 March 2013


Unrelated to London's Mayor, Beaujolais is the southernmost region of Burgundy, located closer to the Rhône than to Chablis and is traditionally associated with the rather naff Beaujolais nouveau.

The word often used to characterise Beaujolais is uncomplicated - easy-going, light and fruity wines.

Beaujolais itself is a 45-mile long stretch of mainly granite hills just south of Macon - prices tend to be high, not least historically because of Swiss demand for these wines from just across the border.

Here are five wines from the area that I was sent for review - they are all charming and well made, but you should expect to pay a bit more for Beaujolais than for a less-classic region.


Almost all Beaujolais is red and from the Gamay grape, but there are small amounts of white Beaujolais from Chardonnay.

Arnaud Aucoeur, Beaujolais Villages Blanc 2011 (Yapp Brothers, £11.95)
Canteloup and honeydew melon fruit on the nose, the palate shows ripe melon fruit, a touch of thick-skinned toastiness and some old-vine leesy savouriness. It feels well balanced, very pleasant and well-made.

What's here is good; the only minor complaint is that, for me, Chardonnay does best in a cooler climate and here in the warm south feels a little lacking in precision and acidic structure.

I find this a bit smiley and sweet-faced - as well-behaved and unchallenging as the girl-next door, but with a bit of a big bottom and muffin top.

However, this may just be me; Henry Jeffreys, Alex Layton and the staff at Yapp are all more appreciative of its curvaceous nature.


Morgon is the longest-lasting of the Beaujolais Crus and the best come from the slopes of the Cote du Py

Jean-Marc Burgaud, Cote du Py Morgon 2010 (The Wine Society, £11.95)
Translucent purple in the glass, some black cherry, spice and old leather / farmyardiness on the nose. Ripe black cherry fruit on the palate, a touch of smokiness and good, precise acidity with firm tannins.

The texture is soft and smooth with a savoury persistence and good finish.

Elegant, adept and classy.

Ch Thivin, Les Grottes de Bulhie, Cote de Brouilly 2009 (The Wine Society, £16)
From the lower slopes of Mont Brouilly, the wines are generally deeper in colour and fruit. An unusually deep plum purple colour, there is dark fruit, stewed plums, warming roasted spices and a touch of woodsiness on the nose.

On the palate, there is red and black cherry fruit, some vanilla sweetness, a touch of pepperiness and a lovely rasp of sour-cherry acidity - long on the palate, it feels complex and mouthfilling with soft-yet-firm tannins.

Very well-made and interesting, a really lovely wine.

Domaine Alain Chatoux 2011 (Berry Bros & Rudd, £10.95)

Translucent purple in the glass, aromas of violets, red peppercorns, a touch of undergrowth and soft red fruits on the nose.

Pure cherry fruit and fresh, mouthwatering sour-cherry acidity on the palate, with some old-vine savouriness.

The palate is long palate and the finish balanced - charming and very accomplished.

Julien Sunier Fleurie 2010 (Roberson, £18.95)
Translucent purple in the glass, on first pouring the sweet vanilla dominates and whilst the ambition is clear, it is not yet harmonious.

It develops noticeably over dinner but it is only on the following day that it starts to balance out.

A complex nose of spice, woodsy earthiness and black cherry fruit - more Pinot than Gamay.

The palate is elegant and long with black cherry fruit, sweet vanilla and notes of bitter green herbs. Lovely fruit expression and gentle-yet-precise acidity; gentle, firm persistence on the finish.

Unusually for a Beaujolais, I'd be inclined to cellar this for a bit longer to achieve harmoniousness, but even now (with aeration) it is quietly sophisticated and accomplished.

Food matches
Chardonnay is perhaps the world's most versatile food wine, so match with the usual fish, chicken or mild cheeses.

At a different time of year, all the reds would suit light autumnal game dishes such as cured duck breast or venison terrine, or work as perfect picnic wines.

Recommended Wine

These are all very well-made wines and choices come down perhaps as much to personal preference; for me, the most enjoyable wines here were the Thivin and the Chatoux for the lovely acidity.

Other related articles
Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages 2010‏
Wine in Threes (Louis Jadot Chateau Des Chaques)

Main image credit: BoJo Selecta http://www.sabotagetimes.com/people/bojo-selecta/

Friday, 1 March 2013

On Jean-Luc Benazet‏

I've known Jean-Luc Benazet since we sat next to each other for a dinner at The Punter - we talked photography and wine and have been friends ever since, chatting on twitter as well as in the real world.

He has been my freelance photographer of choice for events that I've needed photographing and produces lovely images.

Originally a wedding photographer, he was trusted by newly-annointed Michelin-star chef Mark Poynton to take the photos for Alimentum's website and is now branching out into PR and corporate photography.

To see more of Jean-Luc's work, check out his website - ironically, albeit for obvious reasons, the shot that heads up this piece is not by Jean-Luc but is in fact by Mrs JLB.

Some of my favourites by the man himself are below:

Had to start with this handsome chap

The Olympic torch on the Cam
The Moller Centre
The last ever Pavitt's pie ?

Other related articles
The d'Arry's Case Tasting - photos
On (Personal) Branding
The Last Pavitt's Pie

Jean-Luc Benazet - website, twitter, facebook, LinkedIn