Popular Posts

Sunday, 27 December 2020

Bouchard Père et Fils Beaune du Chateau Premier Cru Blanc + Rouge 2017


Bouchard Père & Fils - the history

Founded in 1731 in Beaune by Michel Bouchard, Bouchard Père & Fils, is one of the oldest wine estates in Burgundy and one of the largest landowners in the Côtes d’Or.

In 1775, Joseph Bouchard acquired his first vineyards in Volnay in the famous 'Les Caillerets' climat and from there started to develop the family's vineyard holdings.

Today, Bouchard Pere et Fils have a 132-hectare estate, which is split in 200 different plots, including 12 hectares of Grand Cru and 74 hectares of Premier Cru vineyards in some of the best sites across 74 appellations.

In 1995 Bouchard Père et Fils was bought by Joseph Henriot, whose family have been growers and producers in Champagne for over 200 years. Today, Bouchard Père & Fils is the largest landowner in the Côte d'Or, with 130-hectares of vineyards in total.

Château de Beaune - the history

2020 marks 200 years since the purchase of Château de Beaune by Bouchard Père & Fils. The Chateau, a former royal fortress, has quite a history:

- built in the 15th century by King Louis XI
- confiscated during the French Revolution
- sold in 1820 to Bernard Bouchard

It is now home to thousands of bottles of fine Burgundy vintages and forms the heart of one of the oldest wine estates in Burgundy.

The Bouchard family have converted the underground galleries and bastion chambers into 10-metre-deep wine cellars which run underground beneath the property providing the best storage conditions - dark and naturally temperature controlled - allowing Bouchard’s fine wines to develop and age undisturbed.

These include a unique collection of over 2,000 bottles from the 19th century. A priceless historical legacy with, as its icon, the oldest wine – a Meursault Charmes 1846 which still retains its lustre. 

Bouchard have been producing Beaune du Château cuvées, an exclusivity of the house, every year since 1907. The wines are blend of several Premier Cru parcels, each of which has its own individual character and undergoes customised vinification.

The wines:

Bouchard Père et Fils Beaune du Chateau Premier Cru Blanc 2017 (£30 Cambridge Wine Merchants, The Wright Wine Company, Bubbles & Wine)

This wonderfully rich and polished Beaune du Château white comes from 5 Beaune Premier Cru parcels, selected for their complementary qualities: Aigrots, Sizies, Sur les Grèves, Teurons and Tuvilains.

Before being blended, the grapes from each Climat are vinified separately to preserve the typical characteristics of the different terroirs with each component spending around nine months in French oak in the cellars of the Château de Beaune before being blended to make the final wine.

Floral honeysuckle, spicy-toasty oak and ripe white fruits with lime marmalade and savoury-leesy saline minerality. Poised, precise and elegant with a tense, rich, complex concentration.

Drinking very nicely now but will only improve with age.

Very Good.

Match with poultry, meat pies, pâté, light game, pork dishes and snails. 

Bouchard Père et Fils Beaune du Chateau Premier Cru Rouge 2017 (£32-35 Waitrose Cellar, North & South Wines)

A blend of several Premier Cru parcels selected for their complementary qualities: Aigrots, Avaux, Bas des Teurons, Belissand, Boucherottes, Bressandes, Cent Vignes, Champs Pimonts, Clos du Roi, A l’Ecu, En Genêt, Grèves, Pertuisots, Reversées, Seurey, Sizies and Toussaints.

Dark garnet, complex aromas of red fruits, morello cherries, dried green herbs, spices and violets; red and black cherry fruit, cocoa and dense, very fine tannins. Fresh, harmonious, elegant and well-structured.

Drinking very nicely now but will only improve with age.

Very Good.

Match with ham, poultry or game

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Zoom Sherry and Madeira Tasting

A tasting of two sherries and a Madeira from Cambridge Wine Merchants - with some Fitzbillies mince pies

As lockdown continues, so do our regular Zoom wine tastings with friends and neighbours: December's theme was fortified wines. One pale sherry, one dark sherry and a sweet Madeira to finish off. These are my talking points from the tasting.

Sherry and Madeira are both production method wines; like fizz, they provide more than just primary fruit flavours from the grapes and gain tertiary flavours from the production method and extended aging.

Sherry is an anglicisation of Jerez, i.e. a place. The three factors in the making of sherry are:

 - the chalky soil, called albariza which gives (the rule is chalk for elegance, clay for fruit)
- the Palomino grape 
- Flor, a yeast 

Sherry is blended in a solera system; this wasn't always the case and was brought in as a practice to improve consistency as demand for sherry increased in the 1800s.

Fino and Manzanilla are aged for up to 6 years under flor; darker sherries will be older as they will have further aging in contact with oxygen.



Manzanilla Solear, Barbadillo 

Pale, from Sanlucar where the river Guadalquivir meets the Atlantic; with an average age of 6 years, this is very pale due to the flor keeping the wine free of oxygen; it goes through nine stages of aging and the transfer of the wine between barrels feeds the flor and oxygenates the wine.

Yeasty with camomile, smooth and even on the palate, full and long.

Barbadillo are a 7th-generation family company and the world’s leading Manzanilla producer with 500ha of vineyard in Jerez Superior, and 15 Bodegas across Sanlucar de Barrameda collectively containing 30,000 sherry butts.

The company is based around San Lucar, where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean; its vineyards are located inland where the climate is drier and there are fewer vineyard pests, meaning higher quality fruit. Flor is very delicate and needs just the right conditions to thrive; specifically cool, damp, fresh air. 

The flor grows thickest in one particular bodega located at the bend of the Guadalquivir, where the river is narrowest and the breezes blow cool, damp air into windows cut into the side of the bodega facing the sea.

The company has 16 bodegas and each sherry butt is moved to a specific bodega at different points during its aging process. The design of the bodega is equally important to the development of the flor with a high roof and the barrels stored only three-high as further up the air becomes too warm and dry (pro-tip: finos can be stacked up to five-high as they have less flor influence).

Match with tapas such as bread and olive oil, jamon iberico and olives.


Amontillado Vina AB, Gonzalez Byass 

The company was founded in 1835 by a failed banker and potato-farmer named Gonzalez who named the sherry after his Uncle Joe ("Tio Pepe" in Spanish).

Byass was the name of the importer tasked with selling the first barrels to make their way over to the UK.

An early adopter of the solera system for blending and aging sherries, the company remains family-owned to this day. 

10 year-old AB Amontillado is a darker style of sherry which has partially oxidised due to the flor dying off and allowing the air to come into contact with the wine; pale gold / straw colour with more flavour from the wood of the solera.

Match with roasted almonds, hard yellow cheese or anything from list by Fiona Beckett: The best pairings for amontillado and palo cortado sherry | Matching Food & Wine (matchingfoodandwine.com)



Blandy's 10yo Bual, Madeira

Madeira is a small, volcanic sub-tropical island in the Atlantic just of the north African coast. It was a stopping-over point for Portuguese explorers; casks of wine used as ballast and the equator twice, pasteurises & cooks the wine.

The defining flavours of Madeira are a biting acidity and complex, aged aromas of old leather, roasted spices and nuts, and rich fruitcake.

Madeira is exposed to heat and air in large barrels which "cooks" the wine over many years to bring about these oxidative aromas. 

The high acidity in Madeira is due to the acidic volcanic soils, fertilisation and irrigation of the vines which leads to high yields and high acidity, plus high humidity and a year-round temperature of 20C-25C.


Styles are defined by the grape variety used:

- Sercial: grown on the highest vineyards (600m-700m+), this is the driest style; match with consomme
- Verdelho: semi-dry from slightly lower down; match with cheeses
- Bual: sweet from lower down, a dessert by itself
- Malvasia / Malmsay: the sweetest form the lowest vineyards.

Canteiro is the style of heating with no artificial heating; the wines is moved around the Madeira lodges in central Funchal (hottest at the top)

Madeira, being fully oxidised in its creation, can last forever - it is a wine to buy for your children and grandchildren - once opened, a bottle will not spoil.

Madeira must be aged for a minimum of three years, but often for much longer.

Blended Madeira is a blend of ages - 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 and 40 years are the standards. Confusingly, these reflect neither a minimum nor an average age, but a style - as defined and verified by the Madeira Wine Institute.

This feels like something from a different, less literal age, from a time when people wrote "here be dragons" at the edges of their maps.


Bual is the second sweetest style of Madeira in which "10 years" is a style indicator rather than having any relationship with time; on this basis, Madeira is the "Big Bang" of wine styles in which the concept of time breaks down and has no meaning.

Chris Blandy, CEO of Blandy's, says that the wine side of the business is the smallest financially but where his emotional interest lies. Madeira was once the wine of kings and conquest, victories and celebrations but is now little more than a footnote in the public consciousness of fortified wine.

Blandy's is the largest producer of Madeira and Chris does not see the wine as ever regaining its former position; there is not the volume of vineyards and getting there would be too expensive, so he focuses instead on developing Madeira as a niche, hand-sold product, on pricing rather than volume.

Bual is matches well with sweet foods such as Christmas pudding and, yes, Fitzbillies mince pies.

Key differences between sherry and Madeira

Sherry is fortified after fermentation; Madeira, like port, is fortified during fermentation.

As a result of this, sherry is inherently completely dry (to be sweet, it has to have some sweet wine added separately), whereas Madeira and port always retain some residual sugar.

Fortification is the adding of spirit and was done historically to make the wine more stable (e.g. for its sea voyage to Britain, the Americas or India)

For port, the sweetness is needed to retain balance with the tannic bitterness of foot-trodden red grapes. For Madeira, the sweetness offsets the high acidity. For sherry, sweetness is added where the wine has developed bitter roasted flavours from exposure to air (darker styles) or where a sweet wine style is desired.

Thursday, 24 December 2020

The CWB Chianti-Off

Two Chiantis  from Cecchi at different price points

Chianti is a region of central Tuscany in Italy; the wine region was first defined in 1716 and over the years, changes have been made to blending requirements and area limits initially to increase production to meet demand and then later to improve quality.

In 1932 the Chianti area was divided in seven sub-areas: Classico, the largest, plus six others.

Classico includes the original Chianti heartland and only "Classico" wines may display the black rooster (gallo nero) seal on the neck of the bottle, indicating that the producer is a member of the Chianti Classico Consortium.

Like many classic Italian reds, Chianti is high in acidity and as a result very much a food wine.

Both these wines are made by Cecchi, a family-owned company based in Tuscany dating back to the late 1800s. 

The M&S Chianti is a well-priced Sangiovese-based Chianti with some Colorino and Cabernet Sauvignon for colour, structure and aromatics; it is very gently oaked.

The Villa Cerna is a much more ambitious and accomplished (if more expensive) wine; the Cecchi family purchased the Villa during the early 1960s and then proceeded with its restoration and the construction of the wine cellar.

2017 M&S Classics Chianti Riserva, Chianti, Tuscany (£8) focused black fruits, black and sour cherries with spice, dried herbs and a food-friendly rasp; fresh and savoury with fine, gentle and well-integrated tannins. Very good winemaking.

Thoroughly enjoyable and Good Value.

Match with beef ragù or pizza margherita.

Tim Atkin describes it as bright, aromatic and savoury - his full review is here.

It also gets a nod from Decanter.

2016 Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG (Noble Grape, £22.99) floral and leathery-spicy with ripe vibrant morello cherries, bramble fruits and dark berries; cassis, dried herbs,  mocha and complex oaking. Elegant, velvety, rich and saline palate with a supple structure.

Good.

Match with rare roast beef or other red meats.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Red and White Burgundy from Louis Latour

A red and white Burgundy from Louis Latour via Waitrose

The wines of Burgundy have a versatile, food-friendly elegance; they are very much wines for the dinner table and match especially well with traditional classics, such as Christmas roasts and Boxing Day cold cuts.

At its simplest, Burgundy is Chardonnay for whites and Pinot Noir for reds, with the wines being an expression of their terroir - the greater the terroir, the better the wine.

Domaine Louis Latour began as vinegrowers in Aloxe-Corton in 1768; they established today's business, Maison Louis Latour, in 1797 and formed a vast domaine, extending from Chambertin to Chevalier-Montrachet with 48 hectares, 28 of which are in grands crus.

There are two sides to Louis Latour's wines:

- Domaine Louis Latour makes wines from the company's own holdings in Burgundy.

- Maison Louis Latour is the negociant business, including Burgundian-style wines from outside the region. 

To symbolise consistency across the two sides of the business, all the wines are packaged in the same distinctive, heavy but elegant bottles

Two centuries after creation, it remains a family-run company, overseen by 11th generation Louis-Fabrice Latour, producing around 150 different wines with a production of 8.5 million bottles, 

Over the last thirty years, the company has also spread in the Ardèche, in the Var and in the Pierres Dorées region, also producing Chardonnay (reviewed here) and Pinot Noir (reviewed here).

Louis Latour have a great tradition for crafting classic, elegant wines and these two are currently on offer at Waitrose.

Louis Latour White Burgundy 2018 - £14.99 down to £11.99 from 2nd December 2020 floral and spicy with ripe orchard fruits; full and supple with fresh ripe citrus fruit, a smooth texture and leesy-mineral complexity. Classic, elegant and well-balanced.

Good.

Match with seafood, fish, poultry, white meats and creamy cheeses.

Louis Latour Red Burgundy 2018 - £15.99 down to £11.99 from 2nd December, 2020 fresh redcurrant and wild strawberry fruits with raspberry leaf, mushrooms and spice. Harmonious, elegant and well-balanced.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with game, salmon or turkey,

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Château Mille Anges 2016, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux

A right-bank red Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux from Goedhuis

The Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux is a sub-region of Bordeaux located on the hillsides overlooking the right bank of the Garonne.

It has a winemaking history that goes back a thousand years, covering around 1,100 hectares with 80 producers. The wines are typically elegant, fleshy and silky with red fruits and spices. Supple, rounded and full of finesse, they have a good ability to age.

A good rule of thumb in Bordeaux is to buy vintage over terroir; that is to say, a less expensive wine in a good year can outperform grander names from an off-year. 

2016 was an excellent year in Bordeaux, so make sure to stock up on wines from that year; drinking nicely now with some time in the decanter, if you can wait, put them away for a few years to reach maturity.

Château Mille Anges 2016, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux (£13, Goedhuis & Co) Merlot-Cabernet Franc-Cabernet Sauvignon blend from an excellent vintage.

Very fresh, very structured with bright, juicy red and black berry fruits, cherries and damsons, coffee grounds, spice and herbal cool mint; very fine, well-integrated tannins. Supple, pure and very adept. Focused, precise and elegant.

Benefits from aeration and will repay some cellaring.

Match with red meats or fowl.

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Two Banfi Wines

Two Sangiovese wines from Italy's Banfi

Montalcino in Tuscany is home Brunello di Montalcino, considered the highest expression of the indigenous Sangiovese grape. Sangiovese is Italy's Pinot Noir; high acidity, prone to mutation and little seen outside its native region.

Over the past 40 years, Banfi has undertaken ground-breaking research with the 650 clones of Sangiovese originally present on their estate and in the Montalcino area, refining them down to fifteen that represent the best characteristics of this exceptional grape.

Banfi Rosso di Montalcino 2018, (Majestic £19.99 per bottle / £16.99 mix six, Mr Wheeler, Wine Direct (Sussex)

This is 100% Sangiovese but a younger version, aged in French oak for three to six months. 2018 was not an easy year, being too cold and wet, yet it lent itself to making very good Rosso. 

This is a different style of Sangiovese grown in Montalcino, with its own specific peculiarities and personality. It has a similar flavour profile to its Brunello stable mate but with a younger, fresher, more approachable feel and without such a tight structure. The wine is characterized by a great aromatic freshness both in the aromas and in the mouth. 

Juicy red fruits, leather and spices, elegant, fresh and vibrant with classic Sangiovese raspy acidity; intense, fresh, and fruity with aromas of blackberry, cherry, and plum, which are well integrated with tones of vanilla and tobacco. Ample yet gentle, very concentrated and harmonious.

Good.

Drinking nicely now with a little aeration and will also age.

Positively demands food, such as game, roast meat, medium cheese, chicken piccata, veal marsala, pasta Bolognese or home-made pizza.

Tom Cannavan makes it his wine of the week here: Wine of the week: Banfi, Rosso di Montalcino 2018 | wine-pages (wine-pages.com)

Castello Banfi Poggio alle Mura Brunello di Montalcino 2015, (Majestic £49.99 per bottle / £44.99 mix six, Fine & Rare, L’Assemblage, Christopher Keiller Fine Wines)

From a great Brunello vintage, the Poggio alle Mura vineyards surround the ancient Poggio alle Mura castle in a picture-perfect setting. The castle, also known as Castello Banfi, and the estate were purchased by the Mariani family in 1983. The planting of the vineyards in the area around the castle began in 1992, with the first vintage of Poggio alle Mura in 1997.

Poggio alle Mura 2015 was aged for two years in French oak and released five years after harvest, so this is a well-rested wine.

Coffee and tobacco, dark berries, cassis and plums with spiciness and some minty eucalyptus; fresh, well-balanced structure with soft, ripe tannins. Full and persistent.

Drinking nicely now but will also age.

Very Good.

Match with Tuscan veal or grilled lamb chop rubbed with rosemary.

Monday, 14 December 2020

The CWB Ruby Port-off

Two ruby ports

Ruby is the entry-level port style, the most approachable, affordable, youngest and easiest-drinking. It does not have a vintage (i.e. it is not from a specified year), but is generally aged for 2 - 3 years before being bottled.

While vintage and tawny ports need decades to mature, ruby is a wine for drinking young rather than laying down.

The grapes for all types of port, usually a mixture of indigenous Portuguese varieties with thick skins that can withstand the heat, are grown in the Douro valley and trodden by foot in lagares to gently extra colour and flavour. Part-way through fermentation, neutral spirit is added, taking the alcohol level up to around 20% and retaining plenty of unfermented sugar for sweetness.

The wines will then be separated into those intended for long aging as vintage or tawny ports and those for drinking young as ruby, Regardless of the final style, all port is strong and sweet; ruby's characteristics are fresh, fruity, youthfulness.

Port is one of the great wines of the world. And yet it is somewhat falling out of fashion, along with other sweet-yet-complex wines like Madeira, sherry and German Riesling. This makes it so much a better bargain for those of us who do appreciate it.

It is not just a Christmas wine, but Christmas is a great time to drink port.

With flavours of ripe dark fruits and spices, ruby works best with cherry and chocolate torte or Christmas pudding. Or just keep a bottle on the go for after-dinner sipping.

If you want an introduction to the ruby style or just a good bottle of something sweet, complex and inexpensive, the Taylor's is a benchmark ruby and especially good value whilst on special offer at the Co-op (until 1 January, 2021)

For the bargain-hunting wine geek who appreciates the mellow harmoniousness that only aging can bring, the Lagarada is an interesting curio; a bin-end from Oakley Wine Agencies in Colchester with around a 50% discount, it is mature in a way that ruby port is perhaps not intended to be. But all the more interesting for it.

Taylor's Select Reserve Port (£10.75, The Co-op) a blend of tinta çao, touriga nacional, touriga francesa, tinta barroca and tinta amarela; ripe, up-front black fruits, liquorice, cherries and vanilla spice with eucalyptus; warming figs and raisins with cinnamon and cocoa; fresh, supple, substantial and long.

Good.

Barao de Vilar, Lagarada Ruby Port (bin-end from Oakley Wine Agencies, also at TJ Wines) lifted, dried red and black fruits, minty eucalyptus and aromatic roasted spices; fresh, supple, complex, substantial and harmonious. Being a bin-end, there is now a little bricking of the colour, the flavours are more evolved and the tannins are mellowing.

Good.

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Two Torres Wines from Spain

Two Torres wines from Spain: Celeste Crianza and Torres Salmos, both available at Waitrose

Torres is one of the great winemaking families of Spain; these two reds are world-class wines at affordable prices.

Torres Celeste Crianza

Celeste Crianza was the first Familia Torres wine to be made in Ribera del Duero, at their Pago del Cielo estate. The vineyards lie at an altitude of 895m on the edge of climatic viability, where day to night temperatures can vary by up to 20 degrees.

The resulting freshness and acidity is reflected in the character of the wine. Made from 100% Tinto Fino, the regional name for Tempranillo, the wine is aged for 12 months in French and American oak barrels with similar length of ageing in the bottle before being released.

Serve between 16-17 degrees, around half an hour in the fridge before serving should do. The name of the wine, Celeste, is a metaphor for the closeness between the wine and the stars, with its label depicting the night sky as seen from the winery during the September harvest.

Torres Celeste Crianza 2017 (£12.99, Waitrose) fresh, vibrant, juicy cherries, black fruits, black olives, cocoa and balsamic with peppery, oaky spice and very fine, well-integrated tannins; dense, concentrated, structured and precise; harmonious and poised.

Very Good.

Match with beef Wellington, roast fowl or red meats or vegetable dishes such as sautéed mushrooms, stuffed aubergine or peppers.

Torres Salmos 2016

Torres Salmos pays homage to the monks of the intrepid Carthusian order, who arrived in Priorat in 12th century, and began to cultivate vines there. In 1835, a violent crowd destroyed the monks’ work and ransacked the monastery and the monks fled. Phylloxera completed the virtual destruction of winemaking in the area, until it began to be revived again in the 1950s, but its recovery really only took off in the early 1990s.

Priorat is renowned for its steep impoverished rocky slopes of black slate-like ‘llicorella’ soils, that the grapes seem to love and which gives the wines its particular ‘graphite’ or mineral character.

In 1996, Torres entered the region, purchasing vineyards and land, and Salmos, the first wine made from Torres’ vineyards, was launched in 2007.

Salmos is a blend of mainly Cariñena, and Garnacha, with a pinch of Syrah, from the family vineyards located in Porrera and El Lloar.

2016 was a hot, dry year, and the unique soils infused the wine with plenty of character and minerality. 

The result is a lovely deep coloured, medium-bodied red wine with lots of beautifully balanced fruit, toasted French oak and a subtle hint of cedar. The palate is firm, lively, and flavourful, with elegant, velvety tannins. It’s a good match with wild game and red meat, and especially delicious with a slow-roast leg of lamb.

Salmos 2016 was recently named the best in Priorat after a blind tasting at the prestigious International Wine Challenge and winning the Priorat Trophy, the highest regional award given in one of the toughest and most influential competitions in the wine world.

Torres Salmos 2016 (£21.99, Waitrose Cellar, Farnham Wine Cellar, Sandham Wine Merchants) dusty, dried sour cherries, tarry black fruits, plums and forest berries with toasty / grilled flavours, licorice and anise, leather and sous bois, cedar, cocoa and spices; supple, harmonious and well-structured. Complex, concentrated, inky and long.

Very Good.

Still very youthful at four years; needs several hours' in the decanter or several years' cellaring to show its best.

Match with plain roast red meat - or venison when mature.

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Castilla y León with Tim Atkin

An introduction to three of Tim Atkin's top wines from Castilla y León

Several themes emerged from Tim Atkin's presentation of three top wines from Spain's Castilla y León region:

- the shift away from Parker-esque Big, Oaky Reds to something fresher and more nuanced
- high-altitude winemaking become more viable as a result
- the role of soil types
- the quality of regions in Spain beyond usual-suspect Rioja
- the rise, especially, of the Mencia grape and Bierzo region as an alt-Burgundy

Tim's introduction to the region explained that Castilla y León is the largest wine area in Spain by land mass (i.e. not by vineyard area) and includes three of its top regions, all producing very different styles of wine, predominantly reds and mainly from Tempranillo; however it is a varied region with other local and international red grapes as well as whites coming from the Rueda appellation.

Castilla y León sits on the meseta area, the high central plains where it is said there is three months of winter and nine months of hell due to the high summer temperatures. But altitude also brings diurnal variation and a much longer growing season which preserves the acidity in the grapes whilst allowing flavour compounds to develop.

Toro and Ribera del Duero are both on the river Duero, which becomes the Douro in Portugal and affects the soils and climate of the area; Bierzo in the far northwest of the region has a more Burgundian climate with cooling Atlantic influences and the wines are more Burgundian as a result.

Tim went as far as to say that he considers Bierzo one of the most exciting regions in the world and is now an affordable alternative to top Burgundy.

The winemakers then introduced their wines.

Jose Antonio García, Aires de Vendimia Mencía de Valtuille 2018, Bierzo (96 Atkin points)
Made by José Antonio García, one of the rising stars of Bierzo, this superb old-vine blend of Mencía with 4% of other co-planted red and white varieties has lovely stemmy complexity from 100% whole bunches, graceful tannins, sweet wild strawberry fruit and levels of complexity that wouldn’t look out of place in a Premier Cru Burgundy. 

The winery is on the Santiago pilgrim route and the area has historic French as well as Spanish influences. The wine shows a freshness and a greenness reminiscent of Cab Franc. They are a small producer in a small area that being more Atlantic-influenced is cooler, wetter and greener than the rest of the region. Their aim is to make drinkable wines.

The grapes are foot-trodden, with spontaneous fermentation and no temperature control in whole clusters to give more structure to the wine by increasing the acidity. The wine is then aged in for a year in French oak of different sizes.

Dominio Basconcillos Viña Magna Crianza 2017, Ribera del Duero (93 Atkin points)

Combining Tinto Fino with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, both from one of the coolest sites in Burgos, this is a superbly balanced Ribera that spends 14 months in new wood, but has the structure to cope. Polished and refined, with mint, cassis and chocolate flavours and racy, palate-cleansing acidity. 

Cool, sunny, windy and isolated is the best synopsis of this winery; the vineyards are at 960 metres altitude and just 10km from the mountains, but with a southerly aspect. High winds are frequent which keeps the vineyard free of pests and helps guard against spring frosts.

Tim described the area as brutal and marginal and benefitting from the move towards fresher styles.

The grapes are hand harvested, de-stemmed and then sorted again at the winery; the wine has 10% Cab which is harvested as late as October yet still retains good acidity.

Elías Mora Crianza 2016, Toro (92 Atkin points)

This is ‘just’ a Crianza, but it has lovely perfume, balance and precision, with chalky freshness and brightness, fine-boned tannins, violet and red berry fruit and the subtlest dusting of French and American oak. Elegant, even at 15% alcohol.

Based on the river Douro, the area has alluvial soils of clay with limestone and large granite pebbles or galets of the type seen in the Rhône. All the soil types give slightly different wines; clay gives power and limestone gives finesse. The vines are 50 years old.

They use hand picking and a sorting table with a wooden basket-press for gentle extraction. The wine spends 12 months in French and American oak barrels between one and three years old.

The wine is from a cool year in which only the crianza was produced - as a result, the better grapes that might otherwise have gone into the top cuvee were used in this wine. It is intense, concentrated and well-integrated with good tannin management, belying its 15% alcohol level.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Akashi-Tai Sake

A tasting of two sakes - and some sake etiquette

I'm something of a novice to sake, but with a growing family interest in Japan generally, I decided it was time to find out what all the fuss was about.

Sake is brewed (but not like a beer), has the alcohol content of a fortified wine (but is not fortified), is gently sipped (but is not a spirit) and has delicate wine-like flavours of fruits, flowers and herbs (but is not a wine).

Sake is made from grains of rice that have been polished to remove the bran and is served often, but not always, warmed in a tokkuri then poured into a small cup called sakazuki.

Once you start to learn about Japanese heritage and culture, you very quickly find out that elegance and ceremony play a large part in the overall Japanese aesthetic.

A guide to serving sake:

If the sake is to be served warm and you do not have a tokkuri, simply place the bottle in a bowl of water from the kettle until it reaches around 40 degrees centigrade (2 - 4 minutes for a tokkuri, longer for a full bottle).

Ginjo, daiginjo, junmai, and namazake sakes should all be served cold, so these should be served straight from the fridge.

If you don't have a sakazuki, small mugs, especially espresso cups, are a close substitute.

Traditionally, the server should fill the cups of the guests and should allow their own cup to be filled by one of the guests.

It is considered rude - or at least very informal - either to fill your own cup or to hold a conversation whilst your cup is being filled. Once everyone has been served, say "kanpai" ("cheers") and it is now fine to drink your sake.

It then remains the host's responsibility to keep guests' cups filled up during the evening.

Sake is not a drink for aging; it should be kept for no more than a year and, once opened, consumed either the same day or within a few days if stored in the fridge.

Akashi-Tai is a 4th generation premium brewery in Hyogo prefecture.

Akashi Tai Honjozo (Tokubetsu) Sake - 15%, £20 - £23 for 72cl, rice milled to 60%; Master of Malt / The Whisky Exchange

A versatile sake to serve warm with grilled fish, grilled meats and seafood or mature yellow cheeses; flavours of sweet red grapes, oatmeal and sharp green apples with beeswax and sea salt.

This is a good sake for either an introduction or an everyday sipper.


Akashi Tai Junmai Daiginjo Genshu Sake - 16%, £37 - £40 for 72cl, rice milled to 38%; Master of Malt / The Whisky Exchange

The "grand cru" of the range with an extra-long brewing process to be served chilled; delicately aromatic with floral and herbaceous aromas; flavours of lemon, melon, bitter orange and sage with a full-bodied saline-minerality.

Match with tuna tartare with chilli, ginger and sesame, grilled sea bream, calamari or pork medallions.

For more details on serving sake, see this guide: How to Serve and Drink Sake (with Pictures) - wikiHow

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Another Side of Bordeaux - Rosé and Fizz

 A tasting of fizz, pinks and pink fizz from Bordeaux

Bordeaux is one of the largest and most varied wine regions in France; beyond the illustrious classed growths of famous chateaux, it makes pretty much every type of table wine at a range of price points.

This tasting, led by Lydia Harrison MW, demonstrated that Bordeaux can do rosé and crémant pretty much as well as any other area in France.

She summed up Bordeaux fizz as less expensive than Champagne and not yet aspiring to be at the level of Champagne in terms of price or quality at the top end. A good Bordeaux fizz, such as the ones here, will beat many a similarly-priced Champagne.

Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux, 2018 (£10)

Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Brut | Official website Bordeaux.com

Crémant is just 1% of production in Bordeaux, but growing rapidly, in part on the back of the popularity of Prosecco. Like Prosecco, Crémant de Bordeaux is slightly riper with more fruit and less autolysis given its shorter secondary fermentation period, making it inexpensive to produce and an easy-drinking fizz.

Crémant blanc makes up just over two thirds of production in Bordeaux and it can be made from a range of grapes, including both white and black-skinned varieties.

Calvet is a large regional producer; making good, typical and inexpensive wines. This crémant is a blend of Semillon and Cab Franc.

It has musky melonskin aromas, florality, lively acidity without being austere, rounded fruit with lemon, sherbet and white peach flavours as well as secondary pastry-brioche flavours.

If you want to know what a Bordeaux crémant  should be like, this is as good a starting place as any.

Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Rosé, 2017 (£12.99)

Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Rosé | Official website Bordeaux.com

Cremant rosé is just under a third of production, but also growing rapidly. It must be made from black grapes only and in this case the blend is Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

This is a 2017 Brut, so fully dry and with a little more age than the crémant. It is slightly more expensive and you can feel the step-up in quality; it is a more complex and serious wine.

The grapes undergo a short cold soak maceration to give a very pale pink colour and a cool fermentation to preserve the fruit aromas. It gets slightly longer aging to give it more sophistication.

There are fresh, elegant redcurrant fruits, a leesy-creamy texture, fresh red summer berries, florality and some pastry notes.

Château de Bonhoste Rosé NV, Crémant de Bordeaux (£15.85) 

Château de Bonhoste Rosé | Official website Bordeaux.com

The final pink fizz was a further step-up in terms of quality; the property is run by a 5th-generation brother-and-sister team who, as well as winemaking, also offer accommodation (in giant wine barrels), run escape-room games in their cellar and have an HVE sustainability certification.

It is a right-bank blend of 70% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot; it is darker, more weighty and complex with red fruits, redcurrant, cranberry and red plum aromas, florality and summer-berry compote and a toasty creaminess.

The higher quality here comes from lower yields and more rigorous selection of premium grapes

It is fresh enough for an aperitif, but weighty enough to stand up to party food and canapés.

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Rosé (£8)

Taste the Difference Bordeaux Rosé | Official website Bordeaux.com

Rosé is 4% of production in Bordeaux.

This wine is 100% Merlot, with a cool fermentation to retain the fruit and a small amount of residual sugar for easy-drinking. It has a screwcap to preserve freshness and to make it easy to use as a picnic wine.

It is very pale with strawberry-raspberry summer fruits and some green herbs.

It can match with lighter foods such as sushi or grilled chilled and the residual sugar means it will work well with spicy foods.

Château Tour De Mirambeau, Reserve Rosé 2019 (£12.40)

Château Tour De Mirambeau | Official website Bordeaux.com

Based just the other side of the river from St Emilion in the Entre Deux Mers region, this is a family-run firm with five chateaux; high-density planting on good soils leads to lower yields and greater concentration.

The winemaking approach is sustainable, with trees and hedges planted as well as maintaining beehives to enhance the local ecosystem and giving healthier vines.

The property also practices biodynamics, said to result in a lower pH and therefore higher acidity.

This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; it is textured, creamy and mineral with delicate yet vibrant red fruits and white pepper. The red-plum fruit is fresh with good structure and intensity; the Cabernet gives aromas of capsicum and tomato leaf.

This is a good cooler-weather rosé that can handle food, such as soft cheese, quiche or cold cuts.



Sunday, 6 December 2020

GRAB THAI GO - Authentic Thai Noodle Kits & Sauces


Grab Thai Go is a new range of sauces and noodle meal kits made by a team in Thailand to recreate the smells and flavours of Bangkok. New to the UK market, the kits offer a fast alternative to creating genuine Thai dishes. Little preparation is required and full instructions are provided, just add your meat, seafood, fish or vegetables and within 15 minutes you have a meal.

The origins

Already an established business in Thailand, Grab Thai Go was founded by Thai Entrepreneur Preeya Choojan, who the range as a result of not being able to find any Thai meal kits and sauces in the UK with the vibrancy and taste of those she enjoys in Thailand.

Every element is Thai-made, using local, seasonal ingredients, combining salty, bitter, sweet, sour and spicy flavours, and can deliver a hot spicy punch.

The range

The range consists of 4 noodle meal kits:

- Aromatic Green Curry Noodle Kit
- Turmeric Yellow Curry Noodle Kit (Vegan)
- Sweet & Sour Tom Yum Noodle-Soup Meal Kit
- Tangy Pad Thai Meal Kit

In addition there are 4 cooking sauces:

- Cashew Nut Stir Fry (Vegan and Gluten Free)
- Turmeric Red Curry Stir Fry Sauce
- Roasted Sweet Chilli Stir Fry Sauce
- Sweet Basil Stir Fry

The Practical assessment

I tried the Tangy Pad Thai Meal Kit, the Aromatic Green Curry Noodle Kit and the Cashew Nut Stir Fry.

The quality of the ingredients is good and the flavours are well-balanced; the kits are relatively straightforward; 5 minutes to cook the noodles and a quick stir-fry of some meat then add the sauce is pretty much all there is to it.

I struggled a little with the instructions and identifying the various packets of Thai essentials, but got there in the end. There is a QR code on the inside of the packaging which, apparently, links to some cooking video tips. If I knew how to use a QR code, it might have been handy.

I most liked the Thai green curry; it is one of my favourites in any case and this one is as good a kit as I can remember having, much easier than attempting to cook from scratch yet with few of the compromises of instant sauces.

I'll be honest, when completed, mine didn't look to much like the picture on the front of the packet, but it tasted good for a quick, easy inexpensive lunch.

Overall, the product is good, it's just the packaging / presentation that could be improved:

- reduce the amount of information
- more pictures, fewer words
- make the cooking instructions really foolproof
- make it easier to know which packet is which
- put the instructions on the outside of the packet

The environment

Grab Thai Go's trays and lids are reusable, the trays are biodegradable, and all other elements can be recycled.

Prices

Kits: £2.99
Sauces: £1.20

Availability


Charity

For every pack sold, we donate 1 Thai baht to The Education for Development Foundation. The money changes lives through education. It’s a way of spreading the happiness, you enjoy Grab Thai Go and Thai children enjoy an education that sets them for a lifetime of success. www.edfthai.org/en

Saturday, 5 December 2020

The CWB Southern French Oaky Chardonnay-Off

Two oaked Chardonnays from southern France

Chardonnay is quite possibly the world's greatest and most versatile grape; it makes everything from fizz to dessert wines - and all points in between.

Easy to grow and easy to say, Chardonnay was everyone's favourite white in the '90s; until we all went off it and moved on to kiwi Sauvignon. 

Burgundy is the benchmark style for moderate-climate oaked Chardonnay; Chablis is leaner and Australia / California much more full-on.

These two southern French Chardonnays are essentially Burgundy lookalikes - but without the price tag.

Louis Latour Grand Ardèche Chardonnay

Maison Louis Latour is a Burgundy producer also making Burgundy-style wines outside the region; this Grand Ardèche Chardonnay 2018 is treated the same way as the wines grown and made from the prestigious vineyards of its more famous cousin.

The chalky soils are similar to the soil in Burgundy; the consistent climate and abundant sunshine ripen the grapes to perfection, whilst the northerly Mistral wind, which blows for days at a time, stops any problems with humidity and eliminates the risk of rot.

The wine spends ten months in oak barrels made at the Latour cooperage in Beaune.

Louis Latour Grand Ardèche Chardonnay 2018 (£11.99, stockists below) fresh almonds and vanilla, green apple, citrus and a zip of lime zest; full and supple with brioche, almond and creamy oatmeal. Gentle, very adept oaking. Precise, balanced, very harmonious and elegant.

Good and Good Value; will age.

Match with roast white meat, pasta with creamy mushrooms, shellfish and fish dishes or charcuterie.

Silene Chardonnay Limoux

Domaines Paul Mas is based in Languedoc and considered a flagship of the region. The origins of the estate go back to Jean-Claude Mas’s great-grandfather, Auguste Mas, who bought the first family vineyard in 1892.
Jean-Claude trained in Bordeaux and has a background in advertising and economics, meaning that he knows how to make, blend and sell wine as well as run a business.

Silene Chardonnay Limoux, 2019 (£10, Co-op) spicy cinnamon and aniseed with honeysuckle, citrus, baked apples and pears, lime marmalade, creamy-nutty, buttery oak and warming toasty butterscotch. Supple and warming. Very adept.

Good.

A versatile white, match with roast chicken, pork or meaty white fish.

***

Silene also reviewed by:


***

Full list of stickists for the Latour Grand Ardèche: Majestic Wine, Bon Coeur, Dickens House Wine Emporium, Fine Wine Direct, House of Townend, Noble Green Wines, Patridges, Rodney Densem Wines, Small Beer, Thedrinkshop.com, Winebuyers, Winedirect (Sussex)



Friday, 4 December 2020

Dan Kirby's Wine Swap - Francesca Gaffey

Delivery for Gaffey! Ooooh laa laa!

Manchester-based PR, Francesca Gaffey, writes up her wines sent and received for Dan Kirby's twitter bottleswap in a guest post  

I love a bottle swap, so when Dan Kirby set about organising a crowd of us to sign up, I jumped in and offered up my personal data in exchange for a mystery bottle of wine.

I usually love to think of the person I’m sending to on a bottle swap and take much pleasure in thinking about what they might like, what might they not have tried, what might they be curious about.

But, for this swap, the bottle had to represent the sender, so I automatically went for something pink and sparkling.

My recipient was Tim Milford – someone I was aware of from social media but hadn’t met IRL; I tried to look back through his posts to see if he had a penchant for pink.

He did not. 

A quick scroll through his pics and I saw he enjoys Riesling, Spätburgunder and Grauburgunder, Weissburgunder, Wirsching Scheurebe… you get the idea. I also spotted he’s taking part in Movember and had also defaced a Trump tweet so I thought he must be a decent, broad-minded kind of person, therefore open to trying something unusual.


Earlier this year, I was the recipient of a bottle of Ca’Salina Brutissimo Moscato Extra Brut from another bottle swap and loved the fact it was so dry, had tiny, racy bubbles and really gentle notes of raspberry and tangy citrus fruits. Because the colour is peachy pink, and it has the word Moscato in there, you’re expecting something sweeter but as the sugar level is only 0.5 grams/litre it’s a delightfully dry wine.


I sent the bottle to Tim via @JustPerfectWines so it was cleverly disguised. Tim had already popped it open and almost finished the bottle by the time it got to his turn to guess, so I think he and his drinking buddy enjoyed it. He described it as ‘light, dry and quite stylish’ …his guesses went from Heather to Kirsten and finally to me!

So glad I was the third driest and stylishest person in the zoom!


My sender was Tom Lewis – who had also stealthily sent it from a retailer (Cambridge Wine Merchants). I received a very unusual bottle of aged Côtes du Rhone – a Syrah / Grenache blend – and at 15% I was merrily enjoying it, having decanted it earlier.

On first pour, the colour was a mahogany red / brown colour, so deep and dark, and on first sip, I got plenty of dark juicy fruit (ripe cherry, blueberry), liquorice, and a hint of spice. I love a big bold red so this was right up by street and a style I hadn’t tried before. Tom did say it’s unusual to age Côtes du Rhone so I wasn’t being a complete moron for saying I hadn’t had one this old.


It was a Domaine de Fontbonau 2012, which after me guessing Sam, Tom, another Tim and not even noticing Hal (owner of Cambridge Wine Merchants), I plumped for Tom Lewis. Turns out he had a Gaffey anecdote as he went to school with a person sharing my surname, so my follow up from the bottle swap is to look into my family tree and see if we’re related!

It was a really fun session and great to see people’s choices and find out why their wine represented them. We went from bagnums and Jammy Gits to leather saddles, and of course, Mike (from Dalwood) talking bull, so to speak. 

Thank you to Tom for introducing me to aged Côtes du Rhone, something I will definitely buy more of. 

And a big thank you to Dan for organising, hosting and refereeing on the night! It was definitely the most well-organised bottle swap I’ve been a part of – plenty of updates and communications along the way, fun build-up via the newsletter and Twitter feed, and the bottle reveals worked really well and I think we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

Link to purchase the pink Moscato: 


Link to Dan’s fundraising page:

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Château Capendu La Comelle Corbières, 2018 - Waitrose

A good value southern French red from Domaines Paul Mas at Waitrose

France's southern Languedoc region is a source of well-made, well-priced wines; the region lacks the classic heritage (and price tags) of more lofty areas and has therefore attracted outsiders to come in and show what they can do on good, but less expensive, plots of land.

With plenty of warmth and sunshine, it is something of a winemaker's paradise, needing fewer pesticides and allowing vines to live longer than cooler, damper areas further north.

Corbières is Languedoc-Rousillon's largest Appellation d'origine contrôlée area for wine, making up nearly 50% of production. Almost all of it is red, often from Carignan, a grape of Spanish origin whose fortunes have improved in recent years as winemakers have worked on reducing yields to concentrate on quality over quantity.

Carignan is ancient late-ripening grape that needs heat to ripen and can, if not controlled, produce large quantities of dilute plonk. Here it is blended with Grenache, another widely planted, hot-climate grape that is low in acid and tannin.

Together, these two varieties produces a full and supple wine with a streak of freshness that drinks nicely on first opening. It has a little age and will continue to improve for another year or two.

Château Capendu La Comelle Corbières (£6.99, Waitrose) blend of Carignan and Grenache; juicy, slightly baked red and black berry fruits, vanilla spice, earthiness and some southern garrigue; fresh and harmonious with very fine, supple tannins.

Will continue to improve with some age.

Good and Very Good Value.

Match with roast red meats, Bolognese, salamis or burgers.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Aloha 65 - Winter Edition


Aloha 65 - a cocktail in a bottle

Aloha 65 defies easy description; it is probably best described as something between a flavoured spirit and an infused cocktail-in-a-bottle. You could also call it alcoholic ginger beer - in a good way.

Designed as a summer après surf, it now comes in a winter look as an après ski


This is from their website and tells the story much better than I can:

First crafted on the beaches of Florida at a popular beach-bar for surfers and sun-seekers, Aloha 65 is made up of an all natural infusion of fresh pineapple, ginger, Scotch-bonnet chillies and a selection of herbs in neutral grain spirit. Serve straight from the fridge or over ice, but it also does very well added add to ginger ale or aromatic tonic for a longer tipple.


Aloha 65 is like nothing else. It doesn’t fit neatly into boxes marked “gin” or “vodka”. It’s a spirit drink infused with fresh pineapple, lemon, ginger, scotch-bonnet chillies and carefully selected herbs and spices.

A delicious shot, a refreshing long-drink, or a unique heart of a great cocktail, Aloha 65 is all-natural, vegan, and lower in alcohol than many of the usual suspects. Original and mould-breaking, it’s an invitation to live life to the full.

There are so many ways to enjoy Aloha 65 with our cocktail inspiration below. Just chill, shake, serve and share! Infused with fresh pineapple, lemon, ginger, scotch bonnet chillies and carefully selected herbs and spices, our spirit contains nothing artificial. That’s no mean feat. Which is why it took 65 goes to get the balance just right.


That’s why our sequence of infusions happen over a whole month. And it’s why every time you pour Aloha, you have to give the bottle a shake.

Our unique product is relatively low in alcohol at 27% abv, vegan-friendly and made for sharing. Refreshing and warming. Complex yet smooth. Like nothing you’ve ever tasted before. Fruity fresh, spicy ginger balanced by herbaceous notes - the refreshing taste of summer in a bottle.

Aloha 65 £22.50 (aloha65.com, Amazon, Master of Malt) strong, sweet and warming with botanicals pineapple, ginger and chilli.

Serving suggestions include:

- a long drink mixed with ginger ale or a seasonal tonic like Fever Tree’s Clementine tonic water.
- The Aloha Mac, a modern twist on the classic
- Aloha 65 and Stone’s ginger wine
- Aloha Old Fashioned with Aloha 65 instead of half of the Bourbon
- Aloha Velvet with Aloha 65, brandy, orange and lemon juice, sugar syrup and egg yolk.
- mulling Aloha 65 in either red wine, cider or cloudy apple juice together with some cinnamon, star anise and cloves. 

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

A Century of Ukraine - the Life of Ivan Mikhailovich Raichuk

On the 8th of May 1926, Ivan Mikhailovich Raichuk was born in Kitaihorod in Western Ukraine, a mid-sized village on the Dniester river, just north of the Moldovan border around 25km from the historic city of Kamianets-Podilskyi.

This is the story of his life, times, descendants and legacy over a tumultuous century in the borderland of Europe.

There is little easily-available information about Kitaihorod; it barely shows up on maps, but the internet records that it was a Jewish shtetl with a population of around 1,000 at the turn of the 20th century and probably somewhere about the same at the turn of the 21st.


Ivan Mikhailovich was not Jewish but Ukrainian, and grew up speaking Ukrainian; other nationalities in this patchwork borderland (the literal translation of Ukraine is "borderland") include Hungarians, Poles and Jews and the land has been ruled over at various times by Mongol, Polish-Lithuanian, Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. 

After the conversion of Ukraine to Christianity in 988 and the emergence of Kievan Rus', the country was annexed into the Russian empire in the late 1700s and briefly achieved a short-lived independence during the chaotic aftermath of the 1917 Russian revolution (with Kamianets-Podilskyi as its capital). By 1922, it had become the Ukrainian SSR after being ceded to Soviet Russia under the 1921 Treaty of Riga; this brought some level of stability but not prosperity.

The Soviet genocide of 1932–33, now known as Holodomor ("death by starvation"), left millions dead as a result of a  man-made, intentional famine which rejected outside aid and saw confiscation of all household foodstuffs and restriction of population movement.

This was the Ukraine that Ivan was born into and worse was yet to come.

1941 saw the start of Great Fatherland War with Germany; a brutally pragmatic non-aggression pact had bought time for Germany to win victory on its western front and for the USSR to prepare for the inevitable. Aged 14, Ivan was captured and transported as forced labour to the Austrian hamlet of Höflein, a few kilometres north west of Linz with around 100 residents.

He was well-treated there, like one of the family; properly clothed and fed, he was worked no harder than anyone else. In some ways he was the lucky one; he had been captured to work as a farm labourer to allow the sons could go off and fight on the front. He survived, they didn't.

After the war, Ivan was given various options - stay, return or go to a third country such as the UK or USA. He chose to return home to Western Ukraine where he met and married Ganna Ivanivna Gatsmanyuk. She was five years older than he and had been previously married, but was now a widow after her husband had died in the war. There was also a baby daughter, Alexandra, whom he brought up as his own and who as an adult moved to Odesa, a port on Ukraine's Black Sea coast, where she had two sons, step-grandchildren to Ivan.

Ganna lived in Vrublivtsi, a settlement of a few hundred house on the banks of the Dniester only a few kilometres from Kitaihorod but over an hour's walk away.


The communists authorities were notoriously suspicious of anyone who had been abroad and returned; the ostensible fear was that they may have been recruited as spies, but a more practical concern was an ability to question communist propaganda about Soviet lifestyles vs those in the West.

There is no evidence that Ivan suffered from Soviet officialdom as a result of his time spent on enemy territory and it was perhaps ironically this experience of life abroad that gave him a broader perspective about the world generally, given the narrow confines of his subsequent rural life.

"Village" in Ukrainian refers not so much to population size as to lifestyle; Ukrainian villages are, effectively, groupings of smallholdings, detached houses built on plots of land of various sizes with vegetable gardens, orchards, flower beds and pot stills for samohon (home-distilled spirit, aka moonshine).

The local currency here is largely barter; you might trade some fruit for eggs, milk for a lift into town, a cut of meat is the butcher's fee for slaughtering your livestock.

A typical smallholding size is around 1,000 sqm and with electrification being a key aim of the early Communists' modernisation programme, most village homes had electricity by the 1920s and 1930s for cooking and a radio; however, cold storage, running water and flushing toilets remained a rarity for many decades.

Civic amenties amounted to a post office, a small general shop, a church (the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin) and a bus stop on the main road to Kamianets-Podilskyi around 2km from Ivan and Ganna's home. Entertainment, such as it was, probably consisted of name days, birthdays, religious festivals and perhaps just sitting around in the yard in good weather.

The farmland of Vrublivtsi was collectivised under Stalin into a kolkhoz (collective farm) and Ivan worked as the kolkhoz vet, making him likely the most highly-educated person in the area. At home he tended his vegetable garden and orchard and kept small amounts of livestock; several rabbits and chickens plus a pig and a cow for as long as he was fit enough to do so.

Two children were born in the 1950s, with grandchildren arriving in the 1970s and 1980s.

The older girl moved from the village to the nearby town of Kamianets-Podilskyi into a professional job and living in a newly-built apartment in a low-rise development on the edge of town. It sat one one edge of a loose square with a grassy central yard, benches and a small playpark. Behind and beyond the flat were village-type houses, detached dwellings with outside toilets, kitchen gardens and livestock.

The sound of cockerels crowing in the morning served as a daily reminder and literal wake-up call of how close you were to a peasant lifestyle, which the roughshod communist naming of the street could not hide. It was Ulitsa Frunze - Frunze being the Soviet re-naming of Bishkek (the capital of Soviet Kyrgyzstan), itself named after Mikhail Frunze an associate of Lenin who had been born there.

Following his sister's lead, the younger boy moved to the capital Kyiv where he studied engineering, listened to music (western pop whenever he could get hold of it), married and settled down to start a family.

Eventually, there were four grandchildren (as well as two step-grandchildren), all girls and all living at some point in Kyiv. The oldest granddaughter went to study English at Kyiv State University, later followed by her younger sister who, after taking a business degree in Ternopil, moved to the capital in the post-communist era to work in the very western discipline of advertising and marketing.

By now, the Berlin Wall had come down, the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine had finally won its independence. Shortly afterwards, the country agreed to give up its nuclear weapons under the Budapest Memorandum in return for guarantees of security for its territorial integrity and political independence.

For all the political progress, the unwritten rule in education remained that male students took the more rigorous English translation course which would equip them to be KGB officers or technical translators whilst female students had to settle for the English teaching course, designed to turn them into schoolteachers of a language that, at the time, they hardly dared hope to speak in one of its native countries.


It was whilst living in a student hostel, that the oldest granddaughter met an eccentric British language student on her 19th birthday. He had travelled with a party from his university in the UK for a term's placement and, being a foreigner, was placed in newer, better accommodation that was not available to native Ukrainians. 

The ring-leader of the party, a student with connections in the year above and an inside track, had then persuaded the group to move en masse from this accommodation block into something more authentic where they would actually get to meet local Ukrainians and be able to practise their language skills.

The hostel was made up of two wings on several floors with rooms of four bunks. If you were lucky, only two or three of the bunks would be occupied, giving a bit of space - or, importantly, room for a foreign visitor for a couple of months who might be persuaded to write you a letter of invitation to the UK.

The process of getting the UK was not straightforward; there we no direct flights from Kyiv and embassies for this newly-created country had not yet been established either. Travelling overland meant a train to Prague and from there a scheduled coach to London. But the embassies were not keen on the idea of letting someone in if they did not have a clear way out. So, after getting your letter of invitation from a UK student, you then had to have it countersigned at the British consulate in Kyiv for authenticity and travel to Moscow to get a UK visa from the embassy, then visit the French and Belgian embassies (in that order) to get your transit visas.

You didn't necessarily need to be on friendly-enough terms to expect a welcome and accommodation on arrival; just getting the authorised written invitation would enable you to get a visa and you were bound to find some low-level work somewhere that didn't ask too many questions so you could improve your English, stock up on western products like jeans and trainers and come back with a wallet full of valyuta - foreign hard currency that would hold its value during the Weimar-style hyperinflationary years.

Such was Kostya's plan; invite the eccentric language student to shack up with him and his buddies, then work the charm offensive to get the invitation.

Social life in Ukraine in those days generally meant eating and drinking with friends, or friends of friends. So as a show of good faith, Kostya took his long-haired new best friend to meet his girlfriend who was helping her roommate celebrate her 19th birthday.

The rest is pretty much, as they say, history: Kostya's plans to be invited to the UK went completely awry as the hostess and his guest took a liking to each that quickly developed into a relationship that had both of them contemplating the prospect of marriage within weeks - albeit unbeknownst to one another.

It would be several years before the eccentric student, by now a graduate and on the cusp of becoming a young professional with a presentable haircut and his first suit, would visit Ivan Mikhailovich in Vrublivtsi. A direct flight to Ukraine was now possible; from there he would take an overnight train to Kamianets-Podilskyi and finally a lift with one of Ivan's daughter's local contacts was arranged to get him to the village for a couple of weeks of R&R in return for a little work on the soil and occasionally fetching buckets of water from the pipe half a kilometre a way.


In his late 60s, Ivan was now a widower and could no longer manage to keep a cow, so his livestock consisted of a pig, chickens, rabbits and a series of dogs, all called Reksik, as well as growing fruit and vegetables that he would smoke to preserve for the winter.


The visit took place just before his granddaughter's wedding; Ivan was unable to travel for the UK leg of the ceremony, so a celebration was organised by the mother of the bride in Kamianets-Podilskyi with extended family travelling in from Siberia, Kyiv and Lviv.

A few months later, on an unusually mild day after a long, hot UK summer, Ivan's oldest granddaughter married her scrubbed up Russian-graduate fiancé at a town hall in the north of England and began a new life that would see her move to London, Vienna and finally Cambridge.

Her native Ukraine's hard-won independence remained under regular threat, increasingly so in the 21st century: 2004 saw the President poisoned and the resulting "Orange Revolution", 2014 saw the Euromaidan revolution which deposed Kremlin stooge and convicted criminal Viktor Yanukovych.

Russia, fearful of a democratic, prosperous, pro-EU Ukraine on its border, responded first by seizing control of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and then by invading eastern Ukraine and installing pro-independence puppet leaders. The play was brutal but simple: turn Ukraine into a failed state that would halt EU and NATO expansion. Thus, it would inevitably fall back into the Russian sphere of influence and overturn the Western rules-based order - in that part of the world, at least.

The threat of democracy could not be allowed to seep into Russian kleptocratic despotism and this low-level aggression would act as a further warning to anyone looking to meddle in Russia's backyard. After the economic chaos of the Yeltsin years, Russia was back; if this time it was neither a global superpower nor a reformed quasi-democracy, it was at least a regional dictatorship, fuelled by oil wealth, that could act however it pleased in its "near-abroad".

The USA and UK (as co-signatories of the Budapest Memorandum) failed to live up to their obligations of preserving Ukraine's territorial integrity; noble-sounding words of outrage and solidarity may have been spoken for domestic audiences, but meaningful actions were not taken in practice. Indeed, Russians and Russian dirty money continued to flood the Londongrad laundromat.

By now Ivan was in his late 80s; like many elderly, widowers, he had become a creature of stubborn habit and refused to leave his home and move in with his daughter, despite the freezing temperatures in winter and the physical demands of a self-sufficient agrarian lifestyle.


He lived to be 88 and eventually died on January 16th, 2015. He is buried in the Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin in Vrublivtsi, next to his wife Ganna.

In life he was not a physically large man, of below-average height with the wiry build of someone living off the land; photos of him in middle age show only a slight filling out. Whether it was his education or early life experiences, he retained to the end a sharp mind with an interest in the world around him beyond his village and country. A curiosity matched with self-modesty and a strong-willed nature, to the occasional point of stubbornness, was his gift and legacy to his descendant generations.

He lived to see all four of his great grandchildren and, with some modernisation, his home became something of a summer retreat for them during the long school holidays.

Where 21st century Kyiv has become a self-confident, middle-class sort of city full of cafes, bars and supermarkets with deli counters, wine aisles and freshly-baked bread, the roads in Vrublivrsi remain rough tracks and the lifestyle has changed little in a century, if not longer; a few weeks in summer spent there is akin to glamping, with only the occasional nod to modernity; there is a phone signal (in the right part of the kitchen garden) and down by the river Dniester, an hotel has been built with facilities for day-visitors.



The lifestyle is rural, but far from idyllic; it is hard physical work at the best of times but there are fresh fruit and vegetables, home-made cherry wine, and both a physical and spiritual connection to the land for visitors prepared to roll up their sleeves and work the soil.

In a different world, it would be an international tourist destination. For now, it remains just another small, remote western Ukrainian village, a millennium old but facing an uncertain future with an aging, dwindling population.