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Monday, 31 December 2018

Christmas Afternoon Tea At The Old Bridge Huntingdon

Afternoon tea at the Old Bridge in Huntingdon

Once every few years, we make the short trek up to Huntingdon from Cambridge and visit The Old Bridge, owned and run by MW John Hoskins.

Whilst other places wax and wane, the standard at The Old Bridge never seems to vary. The food is always well-made, the wines excellent chosen and the ambiance varies by seating area.
The most traditional part is the pubby bar, the edgiest is the wine shop with stripped floors and an oenomatic machine dispensing wines in taster, small and medium sizes.

A bit like London buses, I had occasion to visit The Old Bridge twice on either side of the same weekend. First to catch up with a contact and then for Afternoon Tea with colleagues.

For the catch-up, we sat in the Wine Shop and tasted our way through a few whites and reds whilst comparing notes on business issues.
The 2017 ‘Wild Ferment’ Assyrtiko from Gaia's Santorini was mineral, linear and precise; the 2015 Chardonnay from Richard Kershaw in Elgin, South Africa was adept and complex.

Moving on to the reds, a 2015 Lemberger from Simonroth, Schnaitmann in Württemberg, Germany was bright, juicy and cherry fruited. The only bum note was a 2013 Cab Franc from Seneca Lake, by Red Hook Winery in Finger Lakes, USA. This was the most expensive of the wines and for me the least impressive.

A few days later saw a return visit for afternoon tea - a couple in the party opted for a glass of Prosecco while I returned to the wine shop for another hit of the Assyrtiko.

We started a choice of  tea or coffee  and were then served delicious finger sandwiches (smoked salmon and cream cheese; spicy chicken Egg mayonnaise; Beef, watercress and horseradish), scones with Jersey cream, strawberry jam and butter plus three mini cakes.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

A Californian Cabernet from Waitrose

Alexander Valley AVA is a sub-region of Sonoma; its wines are typically plush, fruit forward and voluptuous. One of the warmest areas in Northern California, at night it experiences a wide diurnal temperature variation and early morning fog bring more freshness to the wines.

Warmer climate wines typically do not age as well, but this still feels fresh and primary even with four years' age.

Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Alexander Valley (Waitrose, £17.99) port-like with plum and cherry fruit, eucalyptus, oaky spice and fresh damp earth; ripe, juicy and slightly jammy dark berry fruits. Hefty, warming and substantial with a glycerol, almost oily texture and soft, fine-grained tannins.


A big wine that needs big food to match - smoked duck breast or hare.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Joseph Drouhin Secher 1er Cru Chablis 2015

A Premier Cru Chablis from Justerini & Brooks

Under the Byzantine rules of Chablis, Premier Cru is not the top rank but second-from-top just behind Grand Cru. Premier Cru will set you back a few more pennies than entry-level Chablis but will be ready to drink sooner than Grand Cru.

Other dinner party facts about Chablis Premier Cru:

- made from Chardonnay
- grown on fossil-rich, chalky Kimmeridgian soils
- 89 vineyards have Premier Cru status

Technically part of Burgundy but closer to Champagne geographically and stylistically, Chablis is cooler, fresher and more linear than the rest of Burgundy. The wines become more complex and ageworthy as you go up the scale from Petit Chablis to Grand Cru.

Premier Cru benefits from at least a few years' age and has the complexity to match with foods such as smoked ham, mushrooms mild cheeses or fish.

If you need a classy and elegant wine for your starter at Christmas, this would be perfect.

Joseph Drouhin  Secher 1er Cru (£20, Justerini & Brooks) toasty, orchard fruits and honey; fresh, mineral, saline, supple and full. Very adept and elegant. Will improve further with age.

Very Good.

Match with oysters, rare tuna steak or soused trout.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Edna Valley Pinot Noir

A Californian Pinot from Majestic

If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dream

- Astral weeks, Van Morrison (Astral Weeks, 1967)

On first listening, I could make no sense of Astral Weeks; Van Morrison's semi-improvised unstructured masterpiece blends jazz, soul and Celtic folk-rock with stream of consciousness lyrics.

My cool muso uni friend had told me the album was "quite good" in his understated way, so I persevered and on the second listening it all fell into place and I was hooked.

This Edna Valley Pinot is my Astral Weeks moment again - it's not a Pinot that in any sense you would recognise if Burgundy, New Zealand or Mornington Peninsula are your reference points.

It smells like a Pinot but from there the similarities end. It's as if Big Bang Theory's Sheldon had gone down the gym and worked out in a muscle vest until he made Arnold Schwarzenegger look like a wimp.

Edna Valley Pinot Noir 2015, Central Coast (Majestic, £15.99) classic Pinot farmyard and black cherries; the fruit is very forward, very ripe and very generously seasoned with oaky cola spice. Perfumey-floral, extracted and alcoholic with fine tannins and just enough freshness to keep it all in check.

With the prominent fruit of a sipper and the body of a food wine, match this with spiced duck or buffalo wings.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Classic Co-op Christmas Wines

Three classy and classic wines for Christmas from The Co-op

Christmas is not a time to experiment - trying to persuade distant relatives of the merits of some obscure and strangely-made wine from central Asia does not usually go down well over a post-Christmas dinner game of tiddly winks whilst waiting for the Dr Who Special.

There is a time and a place for experimentation and a house full of family-on-best-behaviour all trying to maintain a veneer of civility to each other is not it.

So, keep it classic and classy with three well-made Old World standards from the Co-op and you can't go wrong.

It has to be fizz and if it has to be classy, then Champagne is your only option.

Veuve Clicquot NV Champagne (£40) elegant and classy NV Champagne

Christmas roast
Bordeaux's Medoc makes elegant and structured food-friendly wines that match perfectly with roast meats.

Château Sénéjac Cru Bourgeois (£17) distinguished Cru Bourgeois producer in the Haut-Medoc; vintage matters in Bordeaux and 2015 was a very good year; this now has just enough age to be ready for drinking

Christmas pudding, mince pies and sipping into the evening
Port is one of the world's great wines; vintage port shows cherries, eucalyptus and spice with strength, elegance and more nuance and complexity that any other style

Taylor's Quinta de Vargellas (£30) the lifetime of vintage port is measured in decades, so this 2004 is still a baby, only just ready for drinking

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Christmas California Reds

Three Californian wines for Christmas

"Big and Bold" pretty much sums up California - or so I used to think. There will always be plenty of New World fruit on show, but there is also freshness, balance and nuance if the wine comes from a slightly cooler part of the state.

I was sufficiently impressed by the cool-climate white wines from these three Gallo-owed vineyards to be intrigued about the reds.

With a New World combination of fruit and sophistication, Gallo suggest these as classy Christmas crowd-pleasers:

Edna Valley Pinot Noir 2015, Central Coast (Majestic, £15.99) for guests with more refined tastes as well as those who prefer something lighter. Match with goose or turkey or any Christmas centre-piece

Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Alexander Valley (Waitrose, £17.99) ideal with rich meat dishes and easy to drink, making it a perfect accompaniment to Boxing Day casseroles

MacMurray Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley ( Great Western Wine, £27.50) from one of the world's most sought-after Pinot Noir regions, this makes a perfect Christmas gift

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Three Wines from 8wines

A fizz, white and red from 8wines

Now, if 6 turned up to be 9
I don't mind, I don't mind.

- If 6 Was 9, Jimi Hendrix (1967)

Like Hendrix's middle-child album, Axis: Bold As Love (on which If 6 Was 9 appears), I must confess to not knowing much about 8wines - their website explains that what started out as a small venture to cater to the specific wine tastes of our friends and family, turned into a business reaching customers in all corners of the EU and beyond.

With little more of a back-story other than that they are "headquartered in Cyprus with warehouses in Central Europe", they are somewhat anonymous, so it is hard to think of a compelling reason why you should try them over any other wine merchant.

If they have a compelling vision or driving sense of purpose, that passion is hardly to be found in their stated ambition to rectify the shortage of "functional sophisticated online wine shops in EU with unique and wide selection of premium wines from major and less known wine regions from around the globe".

I've seen more charisma from an actuary.

Then again, on the basis of these three well-made and well-priced wines, there's also no reason to avoid them; they are by turns pleasant, intriguing and compelling.

Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux (£12.11) warm-climate, frothy, Languedoc fizz made from Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and aromatic local hero Mauzac; apples, white peaches, flowers and citrussy freshness. Pleasant, elegant and clean with ripe, southern warmth.

Thoroughly enjoyable sipper that will match with summery picnic foods or a creamy risotto.

Kozlovic Malvasia 2017 (£11.80) Italian-influenced Istrian white with an intriguing, dried-sage musty-muskiness and ripe orchard and stone fruits with a sea-spray minerality and a touch of white pepper. Clean, fresh and savoury.

A versatile food wine to match with creamy pasta, such as gnocchi in a creamy blue-cheese sauce.

Manincor Reserve del Conte 2015 (£13.92) Bordeaux-plus-Lagrein blend from the dolomites, more Austrian than Italian; black cherries, bramble and blueberry fruit with savoury black olives and old leather; herbs, spice, freshness and fine tannins.


Match with red meat, especially game; roasts, artisan salamis or carpaccio will all work well.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Domaine of the Bee at Thirsty

A tasting of Justin Howard-Sneyd's Domaine of the Bee wines at Thirsty Cambridge

What do you get if you cross a Master of Wine with a winemaker and buyer for Waitrose and Laithwaites?

This not a joke in search of a punchline, it is the backstory to Justin Howard-Sneyd who has worked in wine shops, been a cellar-hand and assistant winemaker in 4 different countries, was Global Wine Director for Laithwaites and in charge of the wine department at Waitrose before producing his own wine at Domaine of the Bee.

With not a lot of money to invest, Justin bought 4 hectares of vines in the Roussillon region of the South of France, near the village of Maury and began to make wine.
There is very much a family resemblance to all of Justin's wines - and the influences are clear: technically, they are very well made with no rough edges, as you would expect from an MW; they are also very fruit-forward and expressive, just the sort of thig that major retailers know will sell; finally they are made in small quantities and priced ambitiously to avoid competing on volume at the lower-end of the market.

In their own words, the Domaine loves to champion big reds, the style we love and the style we make, and we are unashamed enjoyers of full-throttle, turbo-charged Grenache.
Hart of Gold 2013 (£31.25) Chardonnay, Pinot, Pinot Meunier blend, big, substantial, spicy and leesy with lots of red apple and ripe citrus fruit. Good.

Taronja de Gris, Orange Wine 2017 (£30) orange wine from Grenache Gris with 1 month skin contact including some stems; fresh and elegant with soft red fruits, aromatic orange peel, herbal notes and some tannic grip. Good.

Grenaschista Cotes Catalanes (£16.50) fresh and elegant with red fruits, fine tannins, long and supple with old vine concentration. Good.

B Side 2015 (£18) second wine (hence the pun-tastic name) bramble fruits, oaky spice, warming and expressive. Good.

Domaine of The Bee (£25) a vertical of recent vintages

2015 plump, supple concentrated and inky with dark fruits, garrigue herbs and spice. Good.

2013 lighter, fresher, more aromatic. Good.

2011 mushroomy-truffley nose, dark fruits, minty-porty, concentrated and well-structured. Good.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Everyday Bordeaux: New Generation Winemakers

The new generation of Bordeaux winemakers

Bordeaux is not so much a region as an entire oenological universe; name a style of wine and you can pretty much find it in Bordeaux - dry white, red, rosé, sweet and fizz; from young, fresh and juicy to complex, oaked and ageworthy.

Away from the headlines and $$$s of the trophy wines of the classed first growths, Bordeaux produces great everyday wines.

These two wines are examples of new wave of young winemakers pioneering initiatives and techniques, including sustainable winemaking practices and disease-resistant grape varieties to reduce the use of pesticides.

Château Doisy-Daëne Sec 2016, Bordeaux AOC Sauvignon Blanc (£20, The Wine Society) floral and blossomy with complex beeswax; fresh, fragrant and balanced with white-peach fruit, waxy lanolin and lingering crisp fruit aromatics.

Very Good.

Match with meaty white fish or strong cheeses, such as Chaource or Époisses.

Château Le Grand Verdus Generations 2015, Bordeaux Supérieur (£8.67, L’Assemblage) Merlot, Cabernet Franc blend; coffee grounds, cherries and earthiness; spice and dried green herbs; fresh with fine tannins.


Match with roast red meats and hard yellow cheeses.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Co-op Christmas - Blandy's Duke of Clarence Madeira

Blandy's sweet Madeira at The Co-op

Is your name Michael Diamond?
No mine's Clarence

- Beastie Boys, Shake Your Rump (1989)

George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence and brother of King Richard III, was drowned in a barrel of Madeira, if legend and Shakespeare are to be believed.
Madeira's history as a wine dates back many centuries - now relatively obscure, it is one of the world's great wines, due partly to its almost indestructible nature. In its heyday, it occupied a place akin to Champagne, single malt whiskey or vintage port.

This lovely, underappreciated wine is more versatile than just Christmas, but matching with mince pies and Christmas pudding is not a bad place to start if you are new to Madeira.

Duke of Clarence Madeira (£13; reduced to £11, 21 November – 29 Jan inclusive) caramel, roasted nuts, dates and figs; rich and unctuous yet all held in check by a fresh acidity. Harmonious and mellow.


Match with Christmassy treats, drink as an aperitif or an after-dinner sipper.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Three Wine Men in Cambridge

The Three Wine Men event returns to Cambridge

Another year, another Three Wine Men Christmas tasting; this time round there were noticeably fewer local independents.

With just a three-hour slot and over 30 exhibitors in the hall, there was no chance to get round everyone. So I focused on local heroes and noteworthy wines.

Cambridge Distillery
Meeting both of these criteria was Cambridge Distillery whose gins are something of a revelation. Owner Will Lowe cites three points of difference from pretty much any other gin you might try: all botanicals are fresh and seasonal, all are distilled separately and then blended separately.

Will's house gin is the Cambridge Dry Gin - fragrant, floral and perfumey with juniper and menthol, a firm grip leading onto a round sweetness. Very Good.

A step up is the Cambridge Botanical Gardens Gin with flavourings picked from the Botanical Gardens just up the road from the distillery. With rosemary, lavender and apples descended from Newton's tree, this is a more nuanced and elegant gin. Very Good Indeed.

The Truffle Gin is flavoured with white truffles from alba and is intended as a digestif, a gin for whisky-lovers. The musky white truffle dominates the nose leading to more juniper on the palate. Very Good.

Thorne Wines
New kid on the local oenological block is Thorne Wines, run by James Thorne, formerly of Cambridge Wine Merchants.

The white Rioja Perica Olagasa Blanco 2017 is a complex, nutty, fresh, leesy spicy old-school Rioja. Good.

The red Perica Olagasa Reserva 2010 is fresh, youthful and still primary with bramble fruits and spice; mellow and harmonious.

Also good and tasted on a previous occasion is the Vondeling Chardonnay.

Wine merchants inevitably reflect the personalities of their founders; Thirsty's wines are iconoclastic and zeitgeisty. There was South African Southern French / Pinotage blend with juicy fresh berry fruit, a Southern French Chardonnay that was fresh with a southern warmth and an orange wine that was highly drinkable and pleasant rather than challenging.

Chateau Musar
A vertical of Lebanon's Musar showed how this amazing wine develops: the 2011 red, the current vintage, is complex, harmonious and meaty with dried red berries, spice and freshness and just the beginnings of some secondary woodsy undergrowth alongside dried red fruits. Very Good.

The 2000 is paler with more secondary aromas of sous bois and truffles, but the fruit is still good and it will continue to age. Very Good.

The 1998 is very pale and almost tawny port-esque, very harmonious and mellow. At a peak and my top of the three vintages on show. Very Good.

I had not known about the Musar White, but got a chance to try the 2009. Complex, with nuts and oaky spices, waxy and old school, it is a unique textured wine that somewhat defies definition but is in the same category as amontillado, vin jaune and white Rioja. Very Good.

New Zealand Wine
If you think New Zealand is just Sauvignon Blanc, then look away now.

Greywacke Chardonnay 2014 is a complex, elegant and ageworthy oaked Chardonnay; fresh citrus and orchard fruits, gently toasty oak. Substantial and deft. very Good.

Greywacke Pinot Noir 2014 fresh, delicate and crystalline with elegant red fruits; supple and harmonious. Very Good.

Sud de France
Quality, consistency and affordability were all high here - these were some really lovely wines.

Domaine Morin-Langron Etiquette Noir 2017 fresh, elegant and long Picpoul. Good.

Ch Canet 2017 waxy, spicy, warming southern white blend. Good.

Domaine de Cebene Felgaria 2015 pruney fruit, feral, mineral red blend; concentrated, supple and fresh. Very Long. Very Good.

Ch de Prieure des Mourgues Grande Reserve 2015 poised, focused, concentrated St Chinian red blend. Fine tannins and will age. Very Good.

Alpine Wines
Swiss wines can be lovely, but they are always expensive; if you set next-door Burgundy as a benchmark, then they are reasonable value.

Provins Petite Arvine Grand Metral 2016 fresh, lemony and elegant. Good.