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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Cru Bourgeois at the International Wine Challenge 30th Anniversary Ball

A review of Cru Bourgeois wines at the International Wine Challenge awards dinner.
The International Wine Challenge, founded by Charles Metcalfe and Tim AtkinMW, celebrated its 30th birthday this year.
Any wine competition is only as good as the wines it rewards with accolades, so it therefore relies on the palates of the judges and Chairmen to ensure the oenological wheat is sorted from the vinous chaff.

Overall, I believe wine competitions are A Good Thing - with the aforementioned caveat about maintaining quality.
On the odd occasion - usually abroad on a family holiday - when I actually have to buy wine for general drinking for myself, faced with an aisle of wines to choose from, I pick a price point and a style, then invariably look for medal-winners. And so far, this has always served me well enough as an approach.
Would the non-medal-winning wine next along the shelf be as good as the one I pick? It might be - but then it might not. The lack of a medal may indicate that it simply was not entered into a competition, or it could have entered and failed to win anything.
A sensible medal (silver and above) from a reliable competition takes away that uncertainty and provides assurance of a threshold level of quality and typicity.

For the dinner and award ceremony itself, I sat on the Cru Bourgeois table with fellow blogger Denise Medrano, educator Laura Clay and MW Susan Hulme, along with Frédérique Dutheillet de Lamothe, Director of Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc.
Frédérique explained that her remit is both to ensure quality and also to raise the profile of the Crus Bourgeois wines; entry to Cru Bourgeois status for the mid-level wines of the right bank Medoc is not a once-and-forever decision, but re-assessed each year.
There is no maximum limit on the number of wineries that can be awarded Cru Bourgeois status, nor any guaranteed entry, but the number tends to hover around the mid-200s.
Retailing at around £15 - £25 in the UK, Cru Bourgeois is the solid mid-market of right bank Bordeaux wines - rather more expensive than everyday wines, but nowhere near the astronomical sums that classed growths, garagiste and other investment wines can command.
Before dinner, I tasted my way through a couple of dozen 2010 wines and whilst there was not time to take any detailed notes, consistency, quality and typicity were all high; with good fruit, solid underpinnings and "stuffing" plus structural interest, this is definitely a vintage and a mark to look out for; from the 2010 vintage onwards it is placed on every bottle.

The wines I tried were:
Ch La Branne, Ch d'Escurac, Ch Leboscq, Ch Lousteauneuf, Ch Tour Prignac

Haut Médoc
Ch Arnauld, Ch Bellegrave du Poujeau, Ch Lamothe Bergeron, Ch Larose Trintaudon, Ch Malescasse, Ch Peyrabon

Ch Baudan, Ch L'Ermitage

Ch Brillette, Ch Gressier Gd Poujeau, Ch Pomeys, Ch Dutruch Gd Poujeau

Ch Haut Breton Larigaudiere

Saint Estèphe
Ch Le Crock, Ch Lilian Ladouys, Ch Vieux Coutelin
UK availability
Château Tour Prignac - 40% Merlot, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon; Nicolas £17
Château Larose Trintaudon - 65% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon; Fields Morris & Verdin £17
Château Peyrabon - 35% Merlot, 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot; Mellisima £22
Château Brillette - 48% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot; Nicolas, Spirited Wines, Fine & Rare £25
Château Dutruch Gd Poujeaux - 47% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot; Wine Society £15
Château Ht Breton Larigaudière - 11% Merlot, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot; Waterloo Wine Co £25
Château Le Crock - 33% Merlot, 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot; Berry Bros, Charles Taylor, Wine Story, Justerini & Brooks £15
Château Lilian Ladouys - 43% Merlot, 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc; Vineyards Direct, Cambridge Wine Merchants £19
I attended the IWC dinner as a guest of Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc.
Other related articles
Cru Bourgeois - website

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Aubert et Fils Brut NV Champagne - The Co-op

The Co-op is fast becoming my go-to supermarket for good, inexpensive Champagne.

There are, of course, other wines that fizz, but Champagne - good Champagne - has a complexity and interest that lesser sparklers do not achieve.

It is easy to think of Champagne as over-hyped and over-priced fizz - but The Co-op has a range that over-delivers for the money.

This Aubert et Fils NV Champagne is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier; the white grape Chardonnay provides freshness and elegance, whilst the Pinots bring red fruits and weightiness.

Golden sandy yellow in the glass, it has savoury aromas and red fruits on the nose with hints of toast and truffleyness.

The palate shows crisp orchard fruits, red fruits and leesy savouriness with a fine, elegant mousse and persistence on the finish.

It is crisp enough for an aperitif, but will also stand up to canapes, shellfish or white-meat stews.

£29.99, but reduced to the bargain price of £13.99 until August 27th, 2013; provided for review.

Other related articles
Other Co-op Champagnes: Veuve Monnier NV, Les Pionniers NV
More Co-op wines: Les Grandes Costes Pic St Loup, Two Co-op Reds for Christmas

The Co-op - website, twitter

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Pinot Noir Rosé from Alsace

A review of two rosés from Alsace's Dopff & Irion and La Cave Des Vignerons De Pfaffenheim

A cool-climate Pinot Noir rosé makes, at first thought, for an odd concept. It feels like a bit of an anomaly -  the world's most famously finnicky and low-yielding grape made into a picnic wine; it's a bit like driving to the supermarket in a Lamborghini.

And yet in next-door Champagne, it is used extensively, sometimes even solely, to make the local fizz, so there is a precedent; Alsace, being barely any further south but more sheltered, can therefore do the same but producing bigger, fuller more food-friendly wines that don't need secondary fermentation to become interesting.

These two examples are full and crowd-pleasingly ripe, but not overly plump - a sort of Scarlett Johansson of wines.

La Cave Des Vignerons De Pfaffenheim, Pinot Noir Rosé, 2011

Salmon pink in the glass, restrained nose; ripe red fruits, a hint of aromatic smokiness, good savouriness and length, full and weighty with nicely rounded acidity. Gentle persistence on the finish. Good.

Match with salmon or a quiche with tomatoes or red bell peppers.

Dopff & Irion Alsace Pinot Noir Rosé, 2012

This is also lovely - quite a deep, translucent red, on the nose there are hints of smokey spice and beeswax with varietal red fruits.

On the palate, there is lots of ripe red fruit and a fleshy Alsatian richness with some smokey spice. Good savouriness and length with pleasant rounded acidity. Good.

Lovely, well-balanced, easy-drinking rosé; match with picnic food - cold cuts, quiche and cheese.

Other related articles
Two Wines from Dopff & Irion
La Cave des Vignerons de Pfaffenheim - Alsace

Dopff & Irion - website
La Cave Des Vignerons De Pfaffenheim - website

Image credit: Scarlett Johansson http://www.kernelscorner.com/2012/05/scarlett-johansson-avengers-vs-iron-man.html

Friday, 19 July 2013

Matching Loire Wines and Food‏ - with Fiona Beckett

For an evening of matching Loire wines with food, having @winematcher as the presenter is good place to start.

@winematcher, aka Fiona Beckett, is a Guardian columnist who writes a blog on matching food and wine, and who had selected some Loire wines to match with a series of dishes at upmarket hotel, Andaz.

We were a mixed group of food and wine bloggers, but in her introduction, Fiona made the very good point that food bloggers self-evidently have a palate, so merely need to view the wine as one of the ingredients of the meal.

She added that they should also develop a palate memory - essentially, being able to recall what certain wines will typically taste like - in order to have a sense of whether it is likely to match.

Dispelling older myths and cliches, she emphasised the notion of focusing on the general descriptors of the food to find a suitable wine match - light foods delicately cooked need correspondingly light wines, whilst heavier, more robust dishes need bigger wines.

With London in the midst of a heatwave, it was as if the weather had conspired to make it a suitable evening for tasting the light and refreshing wines which are the hallmark of the Loire.

Traditional matches for Loire wines, such as Muscadet and shellfish, Sancerre and goat's cheese, are based on the principle of a light wine with an unfussy dish.

That rather goes against the restaurant zeitgeist of intense, concentrated and unexpectedly contrasting flavours, and that for me was where the exercise did not quite succeed; the wines, all good, when put up against the complex, aromatic, intensely flavoured foods prepared by the Andaz, often seemed a bit overwhelmed.

A dish of Vietnamese prawn and rice noodle salad with coriander leaves and lemon would have been better, I felt, with a more full-bodied, but equally well-structured wine.

However, the one revelation of the evening was a Côt, also known as Malbec - since this is a grape that typically only ripens properly south of Bordeaux, to find a Loire example was unusual to say the least.

The non-surprise of the evening was that two wines from The Wine Society were amongst the best and most popular.

We reviewed the wine in pairs with small dishes of food.

Starter: crostini with goat's cheese and broad beans

Tesco Finest, Les Chaumes, Touraine Sauvignon 2012 citrus nose, crisp and mineral, herbaceous. For me, this was overly lean and was overpowered by the food.

Lionel Gosseaume, Les Marcottes, Touraine (Lea and Sandeman) a Loire Gamay, it had expressively varietal aromas of strawberries and raspberries with lilac and violets plus good acidity. Stands up to the food well, but the red fruits on the finish clash with the herbaceous food aromas.

Vietnamese Prawn and rice noodle salad with lemon juice and coriander

Thierry Delaunay, Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2012 aromatic expressive nose, pure fresh and precise. A good wine, but overpowered by the food and needs to be just that bit bigger.

Morrison's Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2011 less aromatic, more weighty and stands up to the food well. A darker, more yellow colour and has something of a prematurely aged character about it - not quite squeaky clean, perhaps slightly faulty ?

Sole goujons and chips with tartare sauce and lemon juice

For me, deep-fried food needs beer - add in an oily sauce and lemon juice and any wine will struggle, so I avoided these.

Calvet, Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2012 pure varietal Sauvignon aromas, hint of white pepper, fresh linear acidity with aromatic citrus zest and a touch of leanness. Nicely refreshing with the food, like a squeeze of lemon.

Domaine Guenault, Famille Bougrier, Touraine Sauvignon 2011 more colour than the Calvet, bigger, fuller more assured, textured and complex. Good. A popular favourite, too.

Rare seared tuna with a sesame crust and soy sauce

Again, I avoided the bowl of salty dipping soy as inimical to wine.

Domaine Pre Baron, Touraine Sauvignon 2012 pure, precise aromatics, good linear acidity, citrus and aromatic zestiness. Good. For me, this clashed with the nutty toasted aromas of the sesame crust. I would have matched these to a dry oloroso sherry and matched the Sauvignon to something with more coriander and chili aromatics.

Domaine Guy Allion, Les Quatre Pierres Touraine 2010 classic Cab Franc wild raspberry aromas, mushrooms, cherry, sweet ripe red fruits and juiciness; herbaceous palate and a soft texture. The wine proved a good match with the food - one of the best matches of the evening.

Smoked Venison with cider-pickled mushrooms and a red wine jus

Domaine Guy Allion, Les Quatre Pierres Touraine 2010 - the same wine as previously. The acidity cuts through the dish nicely, but the flavours do not match.

Henry Marionnet, Vinifera, Touraine, 2010 a Cot, aka Malbec, this was very dark in the glass with an inky texture, dark fruit and aromas of pencil shavings; a firmness on the palate becomes grippiness on the finish. Good.

Works really well with the meaty, gamey venison which makes sense of its acidity and tannins. The dark-fruit jus and sweet-sharp cider-pickled mushrooms also work wonderfully - a really successful match.


For dessert, we were given a Domaine Paget, Sparkling rose NV to try and encouraged to select our own combination from a range of basics - strawberries, raspberries, meringue, Chantilly cream, mascarpone, shortbread and chocolate sauce.

The wine, a deep sockeye salmon pink, was only slightly off-dry with aromas of fresh raspberries. Pleasant and simple with more red berry fruit on the palate, it was a light sparkler.

Eschewing the beautifully elegant visual presentations of some of the food bloggers, I opted to concentrate on finding a match; this meant red fruits and not too much sweetness.

The raspberries and mascarpone worked well with the wine, but the sweetness of the strawberries, meringue and Chantilly cream - although delicious - was too much for it.

At the end of the evening, we were presented with two of the wines we had tried and encouraged to find and write up our own food matches; I am intrigued to see what my fellow bloggers will come up with, but I suspect mine will be more Nantaise cafe and less upmarket restaurant.

Recommended wines

All the wines were good, but those that stood out were:

Domaine Guenault, Famille Bougrier, Touraine Sauvignon - The Wine Society
Domaine Pre Baron, Touraine Sauvignon, 2012 - Majestic
Henry Marionnet, Vinifera, Touraine, 2010 - The Wine Society

Other related articles
Matching Loire Wines to Sushi
Matching SW France Wines At Comptoir Gascon
Domaine Rablais Touraine and a Risotto Recipe

InterLoire - website
Fiona Becket - website, twitter

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Matching Loire and Sushi with YO!Sushi

The Loire, France's most northerly wine region on the country's Atlantic side, is home to historic towns, architecture and wines and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; say Loire and I think of bike rides along tree-lined canals with grand chateaux, accompanied by crisp wines and goat's cheese.

Whilst it is home to numerous sub-regions, grape varieties and styles, the key characteristic of Loire wines is a light, refreshing elegance, which makes them perfect as summer sippers or an accompaniment to simple seafood dishes

Perhaps the most famously traditional Loire wine-and-food match is the light, lemony Muscadet with shellfish. But what, I wondered, would be its 21st-century equivalent in Cambridge ?

On a hot Sunday morning, with temperatures in the high teens and rising, I led the CWB family into Cambridge in search of the ideal takeaway pairing.

Armed with a couple of chilled bottles (a rose d'Anjou and a Muscadet) plus a picnic blanket and a Frisbee, our first stop was YO!Sushi to collect a sharing platter of salmon, tuna and prawn sushi with salmon and prawn maki rolls.

With the time to spare, central Cambridge can be a great place to stand and watch buskers, many of whom deserve to be playing to much greater audiences.

We found no sign of soulful singer-songwriter Will Robert, but were captivated by the exotic and hedonistic sound of Fernando's Kitchen, comprising an unassuming double bass, nonchalant-yet-intricate flamenco guitar and a strangely beautiful, other-worldly singer-percussionist.

From here it is just a short meander amongst the colleges to the backs and the river to indulge in our favourite sport of watching punts pass leisurely by and begin the food matching in earnest.

The traditional accompaniments to sushi of ginger, wasabi and soy can easily overpower a wine, but without those, the raw fish has a delicate fatty sweetness that is very wine-friendly.

Creamy avocado adds to this and the sticky rice has a soft sweetness; contrast is provided by the merest hints of wasabi paste and the savoury seaweed used for the maki rolls.

The children, struggling with chopsticks, decided they liked the strips of fish best, whilst Mrs CWB preferred the crunchy prawn maki.

That left me to decide on the wine match and I found the salmon-pink rose d'Anjou to work better, with its ripe red fruits, hint of sweet spice and rounded fresh acidity.

Priced at under a fiver, screw-capped and just 10.5% alcohol, it is also the perfect choice as an unfussy picnic wine.

And so, the serious business of assessing over, it was time to fulfil my parenting duties with the kids and the Frisbee before enquiring if anyone was interested in going to the play-park for an ice-cream.

The Wines
Maison Des Princes, Rose d'Anjou 2011 - £4.69, Morrison's
La Nantaise Reserve Muscadet 2012 - £7.49, Laithwaites

The Food
Sharing Platter - £10, YO!Sushi

Local options

All our Cambridge independents stock a range of Loire wines to match with sushi, including:

Domaine du Bois Bruley, Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur lie 2011, £9.99 - Bacchanalia
Sauvignon Touraine 2011 Domaine de la Rablais, £8.99 - Cambridge Wine Merchants
Domaine des Hauts Pemions Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur lie, £8.85 - Noel Young Wines

Wines and sushi provided for review.

Other related articles
Fitzbillies, Punting and a Perfect Day Out
Rablais and a Risotto Recipe

InterLoire - website
YO! Sushi - website, twitter

Image credits
Loire: http://www.loire-valley-tours.com/uploads/assets/Biking/BIKE-TOURS-Chenonceau-velo.jpg
Fernando's Kitchen: http://fernandoskitchen.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/34200_412478548357_744043357_4634976_6404235_n.jpg
The Backs: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/8/8b/Punting,_Cambridge,_Summer.jpg/350px-Punting,_Cambridge,_Summer.jpg

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Summer Dessert Wines

This is an adapted transcript of my recent broadcast on Cambridge 105 about Summer Dessert Wines - you can access the podcast here.

Dessert wines for different seasons ? Yes ! It's The Great British Summer, it should be warm and sunny - think al fresco dining, Wimbledon with strawberries and cream.

What should we look for in a dessert wine for summer and what sort of things will it go with ?

Well, summer means generally, lighter and fresher wines - the same principle as applies to dry wines.

The first wine I've selected will absolutely go with strawberries and cream; it's also sparkling, so you could also use it to celebrate a British win at Wimbledon.

Moscato Volpi frizzante from Cambridge Wine Merchants - £9.49

Very light, delicate and more-ish - matches really well with the sweetness of fresh fruit. It's semi-sparkling and just 5.5% alcohol.

It’s very elegant prominent with summery flavours of elderflower and ripe peach.

When matching sweet wine to food, the main rule is that the wine should be slightly sweeter than the food. If the food is sweeter than the wine, then the wine's going to seem tart and unpleasant in comparison.
This actually applies to all foods - some savoury foods also have some sweetness in them - gravadlax, chicken liver pate, curries, or a terrine with a fruit chutney; these all match well with an off-dry wine like a gewurztraminer or muscat, or an off-dry Riesling.

Andrea Faccio Moscato d'Asti from Bacchanalia – £6.99 (half bottle)

This is similar to the Volpi in that it's Italian, muscat and sweet. But not fizzy and it's slightly fuller.
It's still a light wine, but you could match this with a summer fruit tart - it will stand up to the pastry base which I don't think the Volpi would.

There are flavours of ripe peach, apricot, galia melon and a touch of sherbet - plenty of ripe-fruit flavour, but also is refreshing enough to drink at a garden party

Kracher dessert wine from Austria, Noel Young Wines - from around £10 per half bottle

Kracher is the name of a family of winemakers based near the border with Hungary, considered to be Austria's greatest and one of the greatest producers of dessert wines in the world.

The wines are big, concentrated, complex, peachy-apricotty dessert wines that are incredible.
Because these are bigger wines, you can match them with heavier desserts - something like peaches roasted in butter with a sprinkling of vanilla sugar would be perfect.

Chateau de Jau, Les Clos de Paulilles, 2008, Joseph Barnes Wines - £11.99 (50cl)

My final suggestion is for a wine to match with chocolate - chocolate may not be exactly a summer dessert, but the weather is not always so summery.

I've often said that there is not a wine that matches with chocolate - usually it needs either a whisky or a ruby port. But, there is a sweet red called Banyuls that is a perfect match for bitter dark chocolate.

Go for a high-cocoa chocolate and you'll have something with lots of bitterness, just a touch of sweetness and plenty of cocoa aromatics
The wine is a sweet red, which may seem a bit odd, but it is delicious - a bit like a port with flavours of raisins, herbs and a sweet-sharpness.
Other ideas for sweet summer sippers are:
- off-dry German Rieslings; look for something from the Mosel.
- Alsace does lovely dessert wines; these are fuller and more suited to food, such as gravadlax
- sweet Vouvray
- and of course the most famous dessert wine of all, Sauternes.
Other related articles
July Wine of the Month
Bacchanalia - website
Cambridge Wine Merchants - website
Joseph Barnes Wines - website
Noel Young Wines - website

Main image credit: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-y6Xx2m1cVXU/UbBYgTEaPsI/AAAAAAAABcw/5XK5XZVcLZY/s400/summer-wine.jpg

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Salvatore Calabrese Liquore di Limone

This Salvatore Calabrese Liquore di Limone is made from Amalfi lemons picked in the first week of June and macerated for five weeks in fine Cognac.

Its creator - Salvatore Calabrese himself, a swarthy, mustachioed Mediterranean bartender with, it has to be said, a somewhat cheesy grin - claims it to be the best liquore di limone in the world.
And, it has to be said, the result is very good indeed; it has the appearance of still, cloudy lemonade and smells intensely of lemon zest.

The palate is a refreshing and perfectly-balanced mix of warming sweet-sharpness and savoury persistence.

With its refreshing sharpness, it is a perfect digestif after an indulgent meal featuring a few more courses and bit more food than you should really have eaten - which seems to happen quite a lot in Italy.

On a hot sunny day, with eyes closed, you could imagine yourself in a southern lemon grove, backing on to rocky hills and looking out over the Med.

It has a vibrancy and intensity that speaks of hot, Romantic far-off places of sprightly people in flamboyant clothes who live on a diet of peppered foods and strong liquors.

Available from Harrods, Hedonism Wines and thedrinkshop.com at £30 for 50cl; provided for review.

Other related articles
Limoncello at Cambridge Food and Wine Society
Pastis Henri Bardouin

Salvatore Calabrese - website, twitter

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Oyster Bay, Marlborough Pinot Noir, 2011 - The Co-op (and another CWB Pinot-Off)

Ripe fruit expression matched with a food-friendly sharpness are what characterise New Zealand's wines; historically famous for its grassy pungent Sauvignon, the country is also becoming a second spiritual home for Pinot - and this Oyster Bay, Marlborough Pinot Noir from The Co-op is a textbook entry-level example.

A translucent cherry red in the glass, it has aromas of ripe red fruits with hints of Burgundian farmyardiness.

The palate is full of ripe sour-cherry fruit, red berries and good savoury underpinnings; well-structured and soft textured with some persistence on the finish.

It manages to be both crowd-pleasing and serious; it's also well-made and balanced and at this price point you can't ask for more than that  from as fickle a grape as Pinot.

Match with roast duck, lighter game or beef stew.

Lightly chilled, it would makes a good garden sipper on a hot day and being screw-capped, is also a perfect picnic wine.

£11.99 from The Co-op (reduced to £8.99 until 16th July, 2013).

The CWB Pinot-Off (#2)

I decide to put it up against a similarly-priced red Burgundy we brought back from a holiday in France last year.

Domaine Chopin Gautier, Cotes de Nuits Villages 2010, "Les Vignottes"

A similarly translucent red, this is more savoury and less fruit-forward - and, like the Oyster Bay, it is softly textured.

It lacks the "Burgundian" farmyardiness of the Oyster Bay and has less crowd-pleasing overt fruit generally - instead, there is more savouriness and concentration; it is more European, less New World.

Structurally, however, it does not feel quite so well meshed together as the New Zealand wine - the fruit, acidity and tannins are not entirely seamless.

We bought it for around €8 from Auchan, equivalent to around £15 retail in the UK.

I would, if I could, take the concentration and savouriness of the European wine along with the seamless structure of the New World one - and looking back, that is more or less the conclusion I came to on my last Pinot off.

Other related articles
On Not Loving Pinot Noir
The CWB Pinot Off
Villa Maria Pinot Noir


The Co-op - website, twitter
Oyster Bay - website

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Iggy Pop and Côtes du Rhône

A review of Iggy Pop at the Meltdown Festival with a tasting of Côtes du Rhône Wines

The Gig
A punk gig at the all-seater Royal Festival Hall is somewhat incongruous at the best of times - punk was never meant to be corporate.

In the UK, at least, punk was a short-lived late 70s phenomenon of pent-up angst and frustration, with a do-it-yourself approach whose energy quickly receded but not before it had enthused and infused a wave of new styles - post-punk, ska, Celtic rock, even early New Romantics - until corporate pop took over for much of the 80s.

Warm-up act Savages had angst, energy and intensity aplenty - but lacked much in the way of identifiable melodies. Getting themselves told by the stage manager that their droning finale of "Don't Let the [obscenity] Get You Down" had gone on too long and it was now time to wind up was an ignominious ending that they, and their few ardent fans, affected not to notice.

The main event of the evening, Iggy Pop - the Godfather of Punk - was, of course, superb, a great live act with noise, energy and presence - but also some tunes.

Appearing in his trademark, stripped-to-the-waist guise, skin-tight jeans and boots, he was, as Matt Walls observed, a blond-haired skeleton covered in slices of ham.
The crowd, mostly aging punks and rockers, loved it and yet there was something slightly disconcerting about a man of my parents' generation having to roll around the floor to make a living.

Unlike Lux Interior of The Cramps who always seemed unhinged enough to revel in his own campy, punkish ridiculousness or Mick Jagger who has the air of an energetic ring master, Iggy just seems to accept his fate as a performing punk for hire in his 60s.

Surely, at his age he could do something more dignified to make a living - maybe advertising car insurance ?

So substance and a sense of occasion, then - even if it was all too slick and assured to have any real sense of danger or edginess. And last year's event - the Twickenham double header - had that same mix of adrenaline, noise and sheer sense of occasion.

Côtes du Rhône, it seems, know how to put on a good show; and this is perhaps appropriate, for, as my World Atlas of Wine says, Rhône wines have "substance" - the same substance, intensity and sense of occasion as a rugby match or a punk gig.

The Wines
Here are the wines I though best.


CdR Villages Laudun, Reserve du Boulas 2012 (£7.99, M&S) good entry level Rhone white

Condrieu, Jaboulet Aine, Domaine des Grands Amandiers, 2011 (£45.49, Bibendum) ripe, smokey, peachy, full and concentrated. Very Good, but not cheap.


CdR, Ortas Cave de Rasteau, Les Viguiers, 2011 (£7.95, Hercules) very pleasant rose with ripe red fruits.


CdR, Les Vignerons d'Estezargues, Domaine de Pierredon, 2012 (£9.95, Roberson) tasting note tbc. Good

CdR Villages Cairanne, Boutinot, La Cote Sauvage, 2009 (£12.99, independents) smokey spice, ripe fruit, good texture and concentration, soft ripe tannins. Very Good.

Rasteau, Domaine Les Grands Bois, Cuvee Marc 2011 (£15 Gauntley of Nottingham) lots of texture and grip, quite oaky now and needs time to show its potential. Good.

Rasteau, Domaine des Escaravailles, La Ponce 2010 (£13, Cambridge Wine Merchants) sweet vanilla, pencil shavings , ripe fruit, almost over-cooked but just about held together. Good.

Saint-Joseph, Cave de Tain, Esprit de Granit, 2010 (£18, independents) spice, muskiness, pencil shavings and well-hung game; intense and concentrated. Very Good Indeed.

Other related articles
Rhone Double Header
Three Jean-Luc Colombo reds
Rhone wines at Justerini and Brooks
Rhone En Primeur at Cambridge Wine Merchants

Côtes du Rhône - website
Olivier LeGrand, Inter Rhône- twitter

Friday, 5 July 2013

Food DIY Launch Party at Fitzbillies

For the launch of his Food DIY book, Tim Hayward invited a group of friends to his restaurant Fitzbillies for a launch party.
The very concept of DIY food evokes a different, earlier era - in this country now, up to two generations have grown up not knowing how to cook and relying on tinned and packaged food.

Post-war austerity and socialist inclinations led food production in Britain to be treated as more of an industrial process than an artisan one. The cultural nadir was perhaps the 70s - a decade in which I remember everything being either frozen, tinned or out of a packet.

Yet the same period also saw the very beginnings of a backlash and a move towards greater variety in diet, whilst the inexorable march of pre-prepared food continued for the majority; it may have started small - prawn cocktail and Chablis - but fresh seafood and French wines were the beginnings of a more sophisticated and artisan way of dining.

Fast forward through 30+ years of celebrity chefs and food lifestyle magazines and making one's own food is right on the zeitgeist.

Ironically, this increased interest in the making of food stems from greater wealth - it's a middle class obsession with rural, artisan authenticity as escapism from our urban lifestyles, not an economic necessity or cultural habit.

It was, after all, Britain that invented industrialisation in the 1770s and, two centuries later, the industrialised food of the 1970s is merely the logical and inevitable extension of the spinning jenny and Stephenson's Rocket.

This polarisation of attitudes to food is a deeply anglo-saxon issue, peculiar to Britain and the US: the rise of fast food and pre-packaged food vs a middle class enthusiasm for artisan methods.

In continental Europe, the distinction between the two is less profound; an enthusiasm for artisan food is more part of the general culture than a backlash against the rise of industrial food. The French do have their hypermarches, but they are stocked with good local wines and cheeses, different types of breads and fresh (often live) seafood.

The food at Fitzbillies has a peasanty feel - there is no urban fussiness here; rather, it is simple classics well made.

The wines for the evening were, likewise, good straightforward crowd-pleasers and both from southern France - a Picpoul and a Carignan.
The picpoul was the better match of the two with the meal, with a food-friendly freshness and an atypical honeyed weightiness whilst the berry fruit of the Carignan tended to clash with the flavours of the food.

Home-cured smoked salmon with capers and hollandaise, globe artichokes
Whole roast suckling pig, buttered wilted greens, roast potatoes and crackling

Tim's book Food DIY is available from amazon, priced at £16

Other related articles
Family and friends dinner at Fitzbillies
Fitzbillies and a perfect day out
A cupcake party at Fitzbillies

Fitzbillies - website, twitter
Tim Hayward - website, twitter
Food DIY on amazon - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Food-DIY-Everything-sausages-sourdough/dp/1905490976

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Second Cambridge Tasting

After the success of the inaugural Cambridge Tasting at Downing College earlier this year, I'd promised to do another one shortly.

Matt Boucher of Cambridge Wine Merchants offered to host and so the second Cambridge Tasting took place at his Mill Road shop; I brought along a mixture of wines from Jura, Portugal (vinho verde) and Languedoc (Chateau d'Angles in La Clape, where we had recently spent a week).

Jura - France

Fruitiere Vinicole Arbois, Cremant de Jura Blanc Brut (€4.15 ex cellar) a co-op of around 100 members, dating back to 1906. A blend of mainly Chardonnay with 20% Pinot Noir; melon fruit, muskiness, ripe citrus and a fine mousse with good leesiness.

Juravium Les Parelles Cremant de Jura rose (price n/a) another co-op. This pink fizz foams enthusiastically on pouring; simple red fruits and smokiness, but lacks finesse or length and rather basic.

Juravium Arbois Blanc Chardonnay 2011 Les Parelles (€4.94 ex cellar) melon skin aromas on the nose; creamy texture, leesiness and persistence, ripe citrus. Very much a food wine, this is all about texture and depth. Has a Silver Medal from Paris. Good.

Vinho Verde - Portugal

Casal Garcia Branco NV (from £7, independents) light, floral, lemony and fresh with a slight spritz. Elegant and easy-drinking, a lovely example of its style; perfect as an aperitif or with seafood on a hot summer's day. Well received, too.

Casal Garcia rose (n/a) bright redcurrant colour, red fruits and bubblegum; again, a touch of spritz. Creamy texture, longer and more substantial with a persistence on the finish. For me, this was the more interesting of the two.

Languedoc - France

Chateau d'Angles Grand Vin blanc 2008 (£19.99 Ocado) deep yellow with aromas of sweet spice and honeysuckle; flavours of honey and mead, almost like a dry Gewurztraminer. A big wine with a touch of warming white pepper on the finish. Very popular. Good.

Chateau d'Angles Grand Vin rouge 2008 (£19.99 Ocado) ripe dark fruits and cinnamon spice with some pepperiness; soft texture and fine tannins but still grippy. Long and mouthfilling. Good.

Online availability, favourites and Recommended Wines

The Casal Garcia Branco was a clear winner in the popularity contests - fresh, likeable, and squeaky clean if rather unsophisticated, it was a young Donny Osmond of a wine.

Both Casal Garcia wines are available online from http://www.portugaliawines.co.uk/ and http://www.winedrop.co.uk/.

The warming spice and expressive florality of the d'Angles blanc also made it a popular choice.

Both d'Angles wines were of a quality level (and price point) above all the others and clearly superior.

Aside from these two, the most interesting wines were the textured Casal Garcia rose and Les Parelles Arbois.

Other related articles
The Cambridge Tasting (the first one)
Jura Tasting in London
Vinho Verde
Chateau d'Angles
Aoife Maxwell's review of the event

Cambridge Wine Merchants - website
Jura Wines - website (Wink Lorch)
Vinho Verde - website
Chateau d'Angles - website

Monday, 1 July 2013

Wine of The Month - July

July - the height of summer before the August break. Or at least that's what we hope for; picnics and garden parties, lazy summer Sundays and long evenings, barbecues and salads.

Summer foods are lighter and we need wines to match - this means generally whites, with the odd barbecue red.

Umbrele Sauvignon Blanc, Romania - Bacchanalia (£6.49)

I used to visit Romania regularly on business - I never fell in love with Bucharest as a city, but I quickly became a fan of the wines there; mostly well-made, modern food wines with plenty of fruit.

This entry-level Sauvignon is in much the same vein - lots of ripe tropical fruit expression, good acidity and a touch of zestiness.

With its zingy freshness, it will work well as an aperitif, with mixed anti-pasti, grilled fish or roast white meat.

An unexpected twist is some late harvest character that adds rich fullness and atypical aromas of ripe peaches, apricots and galia melon over the more-usual nettles and gooseberries.

If you are bored of Sauvignon, or like the idea of something different, this is definitely worth a try - and an absolute bargain to boot.

Esporao Reserva Branco 2011, Portugal - Cambridge Wine Merchants (£11.95)

Historically known for its ports, Portugal has been on the cusp of receiving recognition for its table wines, both reds and whites, for a long time now.

The country's most famous white is vinho verde - a very light and refreshing wine from the north. This Esporao from Alentejo region is, however, quite different and rather more ambitious.

On first opening, it has lots of everything - ripe tropical fruit, sweet spice, florality and toasty new oak; a bit like you ordered the entire menu.

But with some aeration, it all starts to fall into place - the oakiness settles down and is matched by a lovely streak of acidity with good savoury depth and pure fruit expression.

Precise, elegant and balanced, this is a lovely wine with plenty of aging potential. It has an IWC Trophy and featured in Olly Smith's Top 50 Portuguese Wines.

Jancis Robinson, reviewing the 2007, notes it is more Rhone-esque than Portuguese and almost impossible to identify blind - which should make for some interesting dinner party discussions.

Match with roast white meats or sea bass.

Bodegas Borsao 'Monte Oton' Campo de Borja Garnacha, Spain - Noel Young Wines (£5.99)

This Spanish red is a perfect barbecue wine or picnic sipper - it's sealed with a screw cap and has lots of juicy, food friendly acidity.

Spain is traditionally home to dusty, chunky reds, but this is grown at altitude on north-facing slopes for freshness.

It is full of expressive aromas of morello cherries, plummy fruit, liquorice, leather, vanilla and spice.

The palate is juicy and mouthfilling, with a lovely sour-cherry acidity, more plummy and dark berry fruit with sweet vanilla, spice and roughed-up herbs.

Another summer bargain - match with mixed anti-pasti or barbecued meats.

Other related articles
Wine of the Month archive

Bacchanalia - website, twitter
Cambridge Wine Merchants - website, twitter
Noel Young Wines - website, twitter

Esporao - website, twitter

Main image credit: http://www.ub.indiana.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/summer-sun.gif