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Saturday, 30 October 2021

Three Département Wines - And A Masterclass

Three new wines from Liam Steevenson MW's Département Wines, presented by Mark Pygott MW

I'll be honest, a Muscadet, white Bordeaux and Beaujolais have me thinking more of the '70s than of a new and innovative winemaker or region.

But as MW Mark Pygott explains, form is temporary, class is permanent. 

He goes on: the problem is that fame encourages the less scrupulous to cut corners that can damage the reputation (form) of the region. These wines highlight what made these AOPs famous in the first place - Quality, Distinctiveness & Drinkability.

The wines are part of the Vineyard Productions portfolio which I reviewed previously, here, and here and found to be very well made and sophisticated - as you would expect from a company founded and run by two Masters of Wine.

The intention for Département Wines is to show the best of what each region can do, not so much to be a benchmark but more of a benchmark-plus.

Département Wines follows the process established by Vineyard Productions in working with existing winemakers to make enhanced versions of existing wines in small-ish quantities initially, increasing volume over the years.

This allows Liam Steevenson to make wine across the globe without needing the capital to buy a winery; the winery gains an additional customer and access to an MW's technical input in a risk-free experiment.

Mark picks up the story on each wine.


No. 44 РMuscadet S̬vre et Maine sur lie, 2019

For many years, much of what was produced in this cool coastal region of Northern France was viewed as a poor person’s Chablis, but thankfully times have changed.

What was once cheap and occasionally cheerful has become a consistently reliable source of inexpensive refreshment, and one that deserves to accompany the briny oysters that are the signature entrée to any meal served at the Atlantic end of the Loire valley.

‘Reliable’ is fine for the majority, but we prefer to deal in the realm of ‘excellence’ and so have worked with a wine grower and winemaker who try very hard to push the level achievable with Muscadet to the limit.

Here we have texture, a result of the seven months our wine sat undisturbed above the lees. There is concentration, a reflection of these organically farmed old vines’ (planted in 1950 and 1987) habit of producing less quantity but increased quality.

And we also have a little bottle age, only a couple of years perhaps, but this has allowed the wine to grow into itself and become a benchmark for this Département.

white flowers, white stone fruits and vanilla; fresh and citrussy with orchard fruits, stone fruits, honeysuckle, herby fennel-and-dill and some sweet spices; savoury breadth and good underpinnings with mid-palate texture from lees aging.

Very Good.

Drinking nicely now; will age for another year or so.

Match with seafood, creamy white cheese or light starters.

No. 33 – Bordeaux Blanc, 2020

Brilliant and affordable red wines from Bordeaux…that was always going to be a challenge, but an outstanding white Bordeaux that doesn’t break the bank?

We knew we could do that. Bordeaux grows a lot of Sauvignon Blanc and as we have had plenty of experience with making world class Sauvignon in New Zealand, we were very keen to do the same here.

The minority partner to our Sauvignon is old vine Semillon, a variety which buffs the edges off Sauvignon’s angularity to give a wine rich in texture as well as aroma.

Our goal was to make a Bordeaux Blanc that performed like a fine wine but whose price tag was much less intimidating.

We believe we have done that; we hope you do too.

2 parts SB to 1 part Semillon from the Entre Deux Mers region; several hours' skin contact, fermented with a "Marlborough-style" yeast for lifted aromatics and aged in 100% new oak, the result is a Graves / Pessac-Leognan lookalike.

expressive and aromatic with classic lifted kiwi / grapefruity thiols; yellow stone fruits and tropical guava and pineapple; rich, broad and savoury with brazil-nut creaminess and some sweet, minty spice; good underpinnings, very long and harmonious.

Very Good.

Drinks nicely on first pouring, gains complexity with aeration; will age for several years.

Match with herby pork terrine, white fish with herbs or roast chicken.

No.69 Fleurie, Beaujolais

When people hear the word ‘Beaujolais’, the style of wine that springs to mind is generally one that is lithe and light, a quaffer or ‘vin de soif’ as the French would say.

Even when the famous villages are highlighted on the label, there remains the expectation that what you will taste might well be delicious, but it could also be rather simple. Well, we wanted something more than this.

Of course, ‘deliciousness’ was not something that we were prepared to sacrifice but we also wanted some scale and depth to our Fleurie to show the complexity possible from this famous ‘cru’.

By using fruit from the high slopes above the hamlet of Poncié, we have ensured that the fruit style is one rich in red fruit (due to perfect exposure to sunlight) but also framed by finesse (a result of the cool nights achieved at this altitude that allows the grapes to retain their perfume).

A period of ageing in some of the very best barrels and wooden vats was not done to add any obvious flavour or aroma but to add silkiness of texture.

This instantly creates the impression that you are in the presence of a Fleurie of the very finest kind, and therefore a rather regal representative of Département 69.

from a warm year giving 14% alcohol, lifted dark fruits, musky sous bois and spice; ripe, juicy dark cherries and elderberries with menthol-eucalyptus, sweet vanilla and a custardy-inky texture; vibrant, fresh and harmonious, complex and savoury with a slightly warming finish.

Very Good.

Match with roasted red meats, including venison, rosemary-and-garlic lamb or peppery roast beef.

Drinks nicely on first pouring and will age for five - 10 years.

Friday, 29 October 2021

"Green Bordeaux" Tasting

A tasting of Bordeaux wines with sustainability credentials, hosted by Bordeaux tutor and Master of Wine Lydia Harrison

Sustainability is a broad concept and can mean different things in areas such as the environment, the local economy and society.

This tasting revealed some of the work that Bordeaux winemakers are taking with different initiatives to make themselves more sustainable on all fronts.

It also showed that Bordeaux is adaptable and progressive, where no single sustainability approach works for everyone and that small, incremental changes can often be the best way for wineries to start their journey.

A key concern in Bordeaux is climate change which is resulting in more unpredictable weather, rather than simply higher temperatures. As an example, there have been two damaging late frosts in the last five years, compared to the long-run average of one every 20 years.

Around 75% of Bordeaux wineries are certified for sustainability in one way or another; these include:

- organic

- bio-dynamic

- Terra Vitis (continuous sustainability improvements)

- HVE (environmental high value)

- ISO (international standards)

Within Bordeaux €1m is being spent every year on sustainability research of which €400k goes on measures to reduce the use of pesticides with a 9% reduction in greenhouse gases.

There is a focus on innovation and adaptability to maintain the quality of vineyards for future generations.

Does organic wine actually taste different? It is impossible to tell, is Lydia's view as there are just too many other factors that cannot be controlled out.

My own view is that any winemaker ambitious enough to work organically is most probably seeking to make the best wine they can, so it's all part of a drive towards quality.

Organic farming is now becoming something of an important sub-category within wine and something that particularly resonates with a younger demographic.

The Bordeaux Wine Council's latest sustainability figures were reported in Decanter last month: Bordeaux sees sharp growth in organic vineyards - Decanter

Details and tasting notes from Lydia.

Agroforestry 

Château Roquefort 2020, Les Roches Blanches (100% Sauvignon)

Owned since 1976, the winery focused on forestry and organic / sustainable practices; only 45% of the land is vineyards with the remaining 55% given over to forests to improve bio-diversity. They also work on better vineyard management, reducing packing waste and Slow Tourism.

aromatic, herbaceous and slightly minty with exotic fruits; sappy and vinous with fresh, citrussy grapefruit, gooseberry and lime marmalade and excellent underpinnings. Persistent, rounded, savoury and mineral.

Pioneers in Permaculture

Château Guiraud, G de Guiraud, Bordeaux Blanc, Sauternes (Majestic, £17.99)

An unusual dry white Sauternes, this has some Semillon in the blend; the ethos of permaculture is to tread lightly, with earth care, people care and fair shares.

The winery seeks to preserve diversity through improving soil health, increasing micro-organisms, aeration and reducing compaction. They avoid a mono-culture to support a range of species and insects.

ripe and rounded white peach and stone fruit, broad and fruited

Global Research

Groupe Grands Chais de France, Calvet Bordeaux Reserve (Waitrose, £9.39)

Calvet is part of France's largest exporter, Les Grands Chais, with over 20%, who have been in Bordeaux since 1994.

Proving that larger organisations can do sustainability as well, Calvet have been working to reduce waste in their business, with less packaging, only sending out full loads to reduce food miles, as well as reducing additives. They also have their own weather stations to manage vine health and spray the vines only when needed; fewer resources also makes good business sense and helps with pricing.

M / CS blend; ripe, juicy fruits, plummy and enjoyably easy-drinking

Le GDON

Château Carbonneau ‘Classique’, Sainte Foy Côtes de Bordeaux (General Wine, £9.99) 

GDON is a collective organisation that works as a Defense Group against Harmful Organisms; in this case, the issue is the leaf hopper, a vineyard disease-spreading pest. Wineries collaborate to proactively monitor for leaf hopper larvae, installing traps and work with institutes to share data and expertise.

90% Merlot with 10% Malbec for structure and spice

Bio Packaging + Conservation

Chateau Brillette 2016, Moulin en Medoc (Vinissimus, £21.44)

The estate is 247ha, but 50% is maintained as native forests; no weedkillers or insecticides are used. Trees are planted, mowing is late, dead wood is left in their forests to provide a natural habitat. They also have beehives, birdhouses and bats who naturally prey on vineyard pests. This reduces the need for pesticides which also helps with pricing.

They have won awards for their bio-diversity, have reduced energy use by 20% and have small-scale initiatives in almost every part of their production, asking the same of their suppliers.

There is even an eco-inspired cuvee that comes in a lightweight bottle using a biodegradable label and water based inks.

On the left bank of the Medoc on gravel soils; very elegant, savoury evolution with cedar and tobacco, well-made in a classic Bordeaux style

Flower farm and fruit trees

Château Brown, Pessac-Léognan 2015, (Slurp, £34.95)

The winery takes an holistic approach, practising organic viticulture (but not certified), maximising bio-diversity, eco-responsibility and reducing its carbon footprint.

Only 55% of the land is vineyards with the remainder for balance; they have been planting trees and hedges since 2015. They created an apiary in 2017, have an orchard and fruit farm with 36 different types of trees and now also grow flowers.

From a war, sunny and Very Good year, 

Friday, 22 October 2021

Mid-priced Latour Burgundies At Tesco

Two mid-priced Burgundies from Tesco

Burgundy is one of the great wine regions of France and therefore of the world.

Small and northerly, whites are fresh, the reds pale and nothing is cheap.

Lovers of Burgundy will tell you that the wines have an elegance, delicacy and food-friendly hedonism that nowhere else quite achieves.

I have always rather preferred white Burgundy to red and whenever I have mentioned this to those whose opinions I truly respect, the answer usually comes back that I'm not spending enough.

For Burgundy is expensive and red Burgundy even more so than white.

But if you want to find out what the fuss is all about, Maison Louis Latour have two wines at Tesco that punch above their weight (for Burgundy).

Details

Maison Louis Latour produce some of the finest wines of Burgundy and these two are a complete steal for the quality. A delicious Chardonnay and a tasty Pinot Noir, made from France’s most legendary grapes that have earned Burgundy its reputation.

The wines take their name from La Chanfleure, an old word for a pipette used by the cellarmaster to take wine from the barrel to taste during vinification.

Louis Latour La Chanfleure Bourgogne Chardonnay 2020 (Tesco, £15)

This is the ultimate expression of what the Chardonnay grape is capable of on the region’s rolling slopes and clay-limestone soils.

Made from handpicked grapes grown on 30-year-old vines and fermented and aged in stainless steel for 8-10 months.

floral with white peach and almond; fresh green apple and citrus with a refreshing minerality; well-made and elegant.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Drinks nicely on first pouring and will improve with aging.

Serve as an aperitif or match with seafood, roasted vegetables, white meats including lighter game or creamy / white cheeses.

Louis Latour La Chanfleure Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2020 (Tesco, £15)

Pinot Noir has been made and grown in the limestone soils of burgundy since the twelfth century and being a sensitive grape, it picks up terroir variation and carries this through to the wine.

Made from handpicked grapes from 25-year-old vines and traditional fermentation in open vats followed by ageing in stainless steel.

floral, fresh and spicily darkly-fruited; bright, fresh, and savoury with intense cherry, juicy, fresh blackcurrants, black cherries and woodsy-earthy savouriness with soft tannins.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Drinks nicely on first pouring and has some aging potential.

Match with rack of lamb, darker game, or wild mushroom dishes.

Post-script:

We re-sampled the wines a couple of days later, having driven the length and breadth of England to visit various family members. With an ambient temperature of around +12C, we pulled the wines out of the boot and had them with dinner slightly chilled.

Both had improved significantly:

- the white was more saline and nuanced

Good.

- the red had become more rounded and harmonious

Good.

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Top 5 Bordeaux Wines for National Curry Week


Another week, another curry-and-wine matching exercise.

This time it was Bordeaux wines.

I had something of an advantage this time round, having carried out an extensive curry and wine matching recently.

Plus there were suggested food matches from Bordeaux Wines UK.


Fresh, full-bodied whites are perhaps the easiest match to curry; any traditional-method fizz will also have the neutral acidity and mid-palate weight not to be overwhelmed by curry.

Pink wines and seafood is a natural match, just add a moderate amount of spice here.

Reds are perhaps the trickiest match with curry, but red-meat-based stews with not too much heat work best.

Finally, a new idea to me; dessert wines with a paneer-based dish.

Bordeaux wines has this to say about matching wine to curry:

With National Curry Week kicking off October, it is the perfect time to cook up some hearty, warming dishes as the weather gets cooler. With bold flavours, spice and chilli heat notoriously difficult to pair, curry lovers can find it hard to match with wine.

However, the right bottle of wine can really upgrade your curry night. From dry fruit-forward rosés ideal for traditional Thai curries, to characterful Crémants perfectly placed to lift Keralan fish dishes, Bordeaux wines have the diversity, affordability and quality to get the most out of your favourite curry dishes, whatever the style.

Here are five Bordeaux wine and curry matches for autumn.


Calvet, Crémant de Bordeaux Brut Rosé with Keralan Monkfish and Prawn Curry (£12.99, Ocado)


Rich seafood in a creamy, coconuty sauce, this South-Indian style curry is ideally matched with a fresh, zippy Crémant de Bordeaux rosé

Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Rosé has a bright and racy palate presenting notes of raspberry, cherry blossom and toasted baking spices that harmonise well with the fragrance of the dish.

With a creamy mousse, and attractive palate, this traditional method sparkling rosé can happily be served before, during and after the meal.

fresh, elegant redcurrant fruits, a leesy-creamy texture, fresh red summer berries, florality and some pastry notes. The bubbles are fine and the finish is long and complex.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Fresh enough for an aperitif, when not matching with curry, it also has the savoury versatility to work with a range of lighter foods, such as chicken or ham salads and mixed antipasti.

Château de Rochemorin 2017, Pessac-Leognan With Butter Chicken (£27, Waitrose)


A favourite for those who like a rich Indian dish without a significant kick of heat, butter chicken is nutty, aromatic and creamy which is a wonderful match for a Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux with plenty of structure.

Château de Rochermorin is complex and textured with notes of grapefruit, lime and a toasty savoury undertone, which cuts through the richness of this hearty meal.

aromatic and herbaceous with lime and grapefruit; fresh, precise and mineral with white stone fruit, honeysuckle, gooseberry and nettles; savoury, concentrated and sappy with good underpinnings.

Good.

Alternatives to curry include roast white meat, lighter game and white cheeses.

Clarendelle Bordeaux Rosé 2020 With Prawn Red Thai Curry (£15.20 from Hedonism)


Clarendelle Bordeaux Rosé is biodynamically produced with elegant notes of crunchy cranberry, pink grapefruit and cherry blossom.

There’s nothing better on a cold evening than a delicious, and nourishing Thai red curry, and Bordeaux rosé makes for a wonderful match.

Far from being just for summer, Bordeaux Rosés have the acidity and lively fruit flavours to cut through the richness of the coconut milk in this dish, yet are not tannic, making them the classic choice to stand up to spice.

ripe, red berries, stone fruit and leesy mineral; long, substantial and clean. A very classy and adept wine.

Good.

An alternative match for the Clarendelle is cold cuts.

Esprit de Puisseguin 2019, Puisseguin Saint-Émilion With Laal Maans - Rajasthani lamb curry (£13.49 from Waitrose)


Red wine is usually overlooked as a curry pairing as high tannins can clash with chilli heat. However, with many modern, fruit forward reds ready to drink young emerging from Bordeaux, there’s a great breadth of reds that harmonize well with richer, meatier curries.

Esprit de Puisseguin is a smooth, rounded Merlot blend which has wonderful fruit definition showing flavours of red plum, cherry and cinnamon that has the strength and complexity to stand up to this flavourful lamb curry. 

cherry and red plum fruit with spice and some coffee grounds; fresh and juicy with bramble fruit and herbaceous raspberry leaf; savoury, with fine-grained, slightly drying tannins.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Match with any red meats, curried or otherwise.

Château Gravas 2016, Sauternes with Shahi Paneer (£12.99 from Virgin Wines)


Sweet Bordeaux wines are far from only being suited to serve with desserts, in fact the sweetness and succulent fruit flavours make for an ideal match for spicy, creamy curries.

Château Gravas has a beautiful palate of sweet apricot, honey, cinnamon and hints of ginger, which harmonises well with the spices of this dish while the racy acidity perfectly cuts through the creaminess of the paneer.

floral with candied fruit and sweet spices; fresh, sweet and viscous with overripe yellow stone fruits, pineapple, sweet vanilla and butterscotch and a whiff of beeswax.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

Other than curries, match with blue cheese.


Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Cabal No.1513 Aged Dark Rum

An award-winning rum

I cannot remember the last time I had rum, but I rather liked this one; a blend of rums aged in PX casks, it has a bit of sweetness as well as complexity.

Cabal No.1513 is a blended rum made from a number of aged rums sourced from distilleries in Guatemala, Guyana, Trinidad, Panama and the Caribbean.

All the rums are aged at origin, then blended and finished in Pedro Ximénez casks in Speyside and bottled at 43% ABV without colouring or chill filtering.

Cabal No.1513 was awarded gold in the super premium golden rum category at the recent Spirits Business Global Spirits Masters 2021.

The rum is made by Scottish-based drinks business Harpalion Spirits which was founded by two entrepreneurs passionate about the complexity, creativity and integrity that surrounds rum and its taste.

Harpalion Spirits describes itself as "committed to using consumer insight to create its liquid, brand, story and future, with more than 200 people involved in the Cabal journey so far." 

CEO Claire Kinloch says: “People are at the heart of Cabal’s ethos. So, we brought together whisky drinkers, spirit lovers, rum champions, liquid specialists, trade experts, and literally the couple next door, to experiment and sample until we had created our very first expression.

“We make exceptionally high-quality liquids, informed by the consumer. Our rums are distinctive and flexible because they are developed and tested by both real people and industry experts. They have wide appeal and have been developed to offer choice in the way they are enjoyed and consumed.”

Martin Watts, Founder at Cellar Trends, said: “In 40 years working in the Caribbean and UK drinks industry, I’ve been privileged to taste some super sipping rums, but none better than Cabal. Cabal No.1513 is a great example of the spirit blenders’ art, using the best rums from several distilleries coupled with slower cask finishing in Speyside’s gentle climatic conditions.” 

Cabal No.1513 (£40)

initial volatile nail polish that blows off with aeration leaving fruitcake, roasted spices, dark chocolate and toffee; fresh, complex, viscous and savoury with grilled pineapple, roasted figs, cocoa and dark sherry; very long and persistent.

Good.

Match with roasted nuts or dark, bitter chocolate; sip at the end of a meal or match with sticky toffee pudding, Christmas pudding or mince pies.

***

From Cabal's website: a Christmas hamper and a recipe

Cabal No.1513 brand is launching a ‘Naughty & Nice’ hamper for rum and luxury spirits lovers this Christmas, bringing together the stunning first expression of Cabal No.1513 with some tasty accompaniments and branded tumbler glasses.

The Naughty & Nice luxury hamper is priced at £65.00 will be available from 1st November 2021 in the shop on www.cabalrum.com and contains:

- 70cl bottle of Cabal No.1513 award-winning aged rum
- 80g orange milk chocolate bar by artisan chocolate-maker Coco Chocolatier 
- Parmesan toasted pine nuts and basil flavoured drinks biscuits by The Drinks Bakery
- 2 x Cabal premium branded sipping glasses Cabal Christmas

Gift wrapped in bespoke luxury Cabal tissue paper with a gift message of your choice

For those who prefer to keep it simple and gift a bottle on its own, Cabal is offering free Christmas gift wrapping on all Christmas orders. Simply select the option at checkout on www.cabalrum.com/product/shop-cabal-no-1513/ 

Claire Kinloch, CEO at Harpalion Spirits, said: “The luxury taste profile we’ve created with our tropically aged, naturally finished rum, is perfect for enjoying throughout the festive season. Created and tested by both consumers and industry experts, means Cabal No.1513 has a wide appeal and has been designed to offer choice in the way it can be consumed. Neat, mixed, or in a cocktail – delicious either way.” 

Christmas recipe:

Serve Eggnog the Cabal way. Best made in a large batch to share with friends and family, this Eggnog recipe is quintessentially festive.

Serves 2. Multiply ingredients to make a larger batch.

- 2 whole eggs
- 40g caster sugar (or 3 heaped teaspoons)
- 150ml full fat milk (or 3 shots)
- 150ml double cream (or 3 shots)
- 50ml Cabal No.1513 (or 1 shot) 
- 30ml Pedro Ximénez sherry (or ½ shot)

Blend eggs in a blender on slow speed until smooth. Add the sugar and blend until dissolved. Add Cabal No.1513, sherry, milk and cream and keep blending for a few seconds until fully combined. Pour straight into a large glass of your choice (or a bottle and refrigerate if making a larger batch) and garnish with fresh nutmeg. 

 
Find out more and buy online at:

Friday, 15 October 2021

Copper Crew Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc 2020

A limited-edition Saffer Sauvignon Blanc from Copper Crew

Copper Crew are three guys - all somewhat ginger, hence the name - who have decided to make canned wine A Thing over here.

Two of them are based in the UK with Sam, the winemaker, in South Africa.



I was impressed with their first offerings, a red, white and rosé, not just as canned wine but as wine generally; the red, I thought, noticeably improved when re-sampled a few months after the initial tasting.

Now they have made a limited edition Sauvignon Blanc on a WIGIG basis, and I think it may just be their best wine yet.

Recognisably a Sauvignon, it is sophisticated and complex in a way that you don't associate with many Sauvignons, let alone canned wines.

It might even be a bit too good for a canned wine, but don't let that put you off.

Wine traditionalists may look down on canned wine, but in the real world, there are many reasons why you might want wine in a can:

- portion size: at 25cl it is suitable for when you don't want to open a full bottle

- environmental impact: cans are much lighter than bottles, so use less energy for transportation

- convenience: you can pop a can in your pocket in a way that you can't do with a bottle

Personally, I like the packaging and the innovation a lot; the wine's not bad either.

Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (£24.99 for 6 cans)

aromatic with exotic fruits; citrussy and fresh and tropical; lemongrass, lime zest and passionfruit. Substantial with leesy complexity and good underpinnings. Very well-made and harmonious.

Good.

Fresh enough to drink as an aperitif, this has the complexity to match with picnic foods such as cold cuts, quiche or dips.

***

Winemaker Sam notes: 

Why is this wine special?

Planted in 2002 on a cool South-Southeast slope, the vines sit at around 300m above sea level. The sandstone soils are farmed with a respect for nature and focus on soil health without using herbicides or inorganic fertilisers. Sunlight exposure in the bunch zone is critical for Sauvignon.

To avoid excessively green-notes and reduce disease pressure in Elgin’s cool, wet growing season, leaves are broken to increase sunlight penetration into the canopy and improve airflow. Sam notes A vibrant cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc.

The palate is fresh and racy, with extended lees contact lending depth and texture. Cape Gooseberry, tropical kiwi and Passionfruit are followed by zesty Lime and a touch of Nettle and there’s a definite minerality here that leads into a chalky finish.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

The CWB Beer vs Wine Curry Off

Does beer or wine go better with curry?

I recently reviewed two Tesco wines with a curry for National Curry Week and was pleasantly surprised at how well they went together.

Gewurz with curry is a go-to much-cited match that I have never been really convinced about, but it worked rather well here.

Red wine and curry is a much tougher ask, in my opinion, but a chilled Carménère was a surprisingly successful match with rogan josh.

A bit of discussion on Twitter about the food and wine combinations led me to the following conclusions:

- curry works best with high acidity, relatively neutral wines with a good mid-palate;

- traditional method fizzes meet all these criteria, so don't be afraid to try Cava and curry; it's generally quite inexpensive, so a more affordable starting point for experimentation than vintage Grand Marque Champagne

- crisp, citrussy and bubbly, Cava is also not dissimilar to a good lager; the traditional match for a curry

- if you want other inexpensive refreshing bubbles with curry, I would advise that you avoid Prosecco; with its shorter fermentation and more floral profile, it does not really stand up to the spicy bitter-umami of Indian foods

- chilling reds enhances the freshness and suppresses the flavours; this works with curry and is most suitable for simply, juicy wines rather than anything too high-end, tannic or complex

- bear in mind that chilled reds become a different wine, albeit chilling does not quite turn them into white wines; they retain a texture that is still red, even if they lose their "red wine" flavours

- you can chill expensive Cali Zinfandel if you want and it will then match with a curry; but why? It is something akin to a Monster Truck - Big, Expensive, Pointless, Blue-Collar Dumb Fun.

Beer and Curry - the curry

For this experiment, we started with poppadoms and sauces; mango and lime chutneys are a complete palate-killer so, unsurprisingly, the beers won out here.

For mains, I made a (version of) coconut and tamarind chicken curry from a Meera Sodha recipe: Coconut and tamarind chicken curry | Meera Sodha

It's similar to a European stew, slightly sweet from the coconut and not too spicy with exotic flavours of ginger and cinnamon.


Beer and Curry - the beers

I tried two traditional "curry beers" from Tesco; unsurprisingly, they both worked well.

Kingfisher Lager - £2.00/650ml bottle, Tesco

Kingfisher is an Indian lager brewed in the UK, but crucially to the same recipe as the original. It is India's best-selling lager and dates back to 1978.

hoppy and aromatic; crisp, citrussy and expressively hoppy with zippy grapefruit zest and a food-friendly bitter-sweetness.

Matches well with the curry and stands up to the strong flavours - unanimously agreed as the popular favourite.

Good.

Cobra Indian Premium Lager - £2.00/620ml bottle, Tesco

Cobra is brewed in the UK from barley, rice, maize wheat and four varieties of hops; the company was founded in 1989 by Karan Bilimoria who wanted to create a beer with the refreshment of a lager, but with the smoothness of an ale.

malty and savoury with subtle aromatics; rich, smooth and refreshing with an easy-drinking sweetness; very well-made, well-balanced and harmonious if a little neutral and unassuming.

Works well with the curry, but very much in a supporting role; lacks the immediate appeal of the Kingfisher.

Good.

Alternatives and rejects

I tried a couple of other wines I had on the go to see how they went with curry - in general they did not work, so the advice here is: approach with caution.


A lovely wine, but the "red wine" fruit flavours clash with the curry; interestingly, the acidity and tannins work well with the food, so chilled down, it might be a much better match.

Copper Crew Discovers Sauvignon Blanc (around £4 per can)

A WIGIG limited-edition from Copper Crew that I had on the go, this works well with the curry on most, but not quite all fronts. With plenty of acidity and a bit of lees aging, it has the freshness and the savouriness not to be overpowered by the food.

The acidity works well on the front palate and the leesy savouriness carries it through to the back palate; but the mid-palate sweetness and spices of the curry are just too much.

Surprisingly successful with the curry, it also just-about stands up to poppadums and onion salsa. If you drink mainly Sauvignon and must have wine with your curry, this is about as close as it gets.


This had worked well with a savoury rogan josh when chilled, but like the Negly, failed completely with a sweeter, coconut-based curry when at room temperature.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

A Miraculous Wine - Made by Jesus. Bodegas Pirineos Moristel Principio

A rare wine made by Jesus - Bodegas Pirineos Moristel Principio

Have you ever had a wine made by Jesus?

Chances are you may well have done as it's actually not an common name in Spain; many years ago a friend used to pick up the phone and ask for Jesus, then chat to his Spanish colleague whom he then correctly addressed as "hay-SOOS".

This wine has an even more extraordinary story to tell; the grape variety, Moristel, is grown only in Spain's Somontano region in Aragon at the foot of the Pyrenees and is rarely bottled as a varietal wine, making this is one of very few bottlings of 100% Moristel to be found anywhere in the world - just 5,000 bottles produced, from vines averaging 20 years of age.

The Moristel grape was on the brink of extinction before Somontano was granted DO status in 1984. Bodegas Pirineos is responsible for 700 hectares, nearly a quarter of the Somontano DO, of which just 40 hectares is planted to Moristel.

Grape characteristics are red fruits, strawberries and raspberries, to tea, honeysuckle, and aromatic hops. Moristel offers good acidity and relatively high alcohol. It’s a little wild and rustic at first, so give it half an hour to breath for the fruit to really shine through.

The wine is named ‘Principio’ meaning ‘origin’ or ‘source’ denoting a return to one’s roots by working with the local cultivar. Moristel Principio is the very essence of its environment. The grapes ripen in the blazing Spanish sunshine, cooled by the mountain winds, and nourished by the mineral rich sandy loam soils.

Despite these conditions, Moristel can be difficult to grow successfully. It requires a committed, but low-intervention approach, both in the vineyard and the winery.

The wine is fermented with natural yeast and left unwooded, unfined and unfiltered, with minimal sulphur.

Jesus Astrain, the winemaker at Bodega Pirineos, puts the success of this wine down to working the vineyards according to their potential and selecting the ideal grapes, citing the potency of the fruit and its acidity, with carefully selected natural yeasts reinforcing the concept of terroir and the typicity of the area on this unique variety. 

Bodegas Pirineos Moristel Principio, 2019 (£11 - £12, Les Caves de Pyrene)

funky-pungent  aromas; refreshing and vibrant with cranberry, sour cherry and soft red-berry fruits, red plum, pomegranate with ginger and rhubarb; black pepper, ginger and liquorice, vanilla, soft tannins / nutmeg clove and cedar; sappy, minty & herbal. Vibrant, expressive and distinctive.

Good.

Improves with some air; drink young and slightly chilled.

Match its refreshing vibrancy to meaty dishes, especially slow cooked lamb stews, Moroccan tagines or meaty fish, including salmon, tuna, or swordfish.

Also available at:

- Eden Fine Wines (W, Yorkshire)
- Legs Wine (E9)
- The Good Wine Shop (TW11)
- The Good Wine Shop (W4)
- Gnarly Vines (E17)
- Clapton Craft (SE23)
- Clapton Craft (E17)
- Clapton Craft Online Forest Wines (E17)
- R S Wines (Bristol)
- Wolf Wine (Bath)
- Fourteen Drops Online
-  Burgess and Hall (E11)
- Yardarm (E10)

Monday, 11 October 2021

Four Christmas Wines from Tesco

Four wines for Christmas Day from Tesco

I've long believed that Christmas Day is not a time to be experimenting with new or off-beat wines; you want something reliable and familiar and, if budgets allow, a little superior to what you might normally drink.

Moving up too many price brackets can actually be counter-productive; for where you can simply crack open and enjoy younger, fruiter wines as soon as they are poured, more ambitious bottles may need a little longer in bottle or more aeration to show their best.

Get it even slightly wrong and your showpiece wine can seem underwhelming, your guests less-than-wowed; under-aged reds reds can seem lacking in fruit and a little chewy until they have opened up; whites that need a bit of aeration can seem basic and underwhelming.

These four Tesco wines are all a step up from everyday drinking but, importantly, also show very well on first pouring. They continue to improve with some aeration but certainly don't require an extensive aging and decanting regime to become approachable.

So that's one less thing to worry about this year, then.

There's a lot to like with these four bottles - big-name wines that don't cost silly money and are easy to enjoy.

The extra-nice surprises are how inexpensive the Champagne is, the superb wine-making of the Bordeaux and the amazing value of the dessert wine.

On arrival

Tesco Finest Premier Cru Champagne Brut NV, (£21.00, vegan) 


IWSC 2021 Gold medal winner and IWC Great Value Champion Sparkling.

This multi award-winning Premier Cru Champagne is produced for Tesco by Union Champagne in Avize, from hand-harvested grapes grown in Premier Cru vineyards in the Côte des Blancs, south of Epernay. Aged for 36 months, this extra maturation results in elegant flavours of citrus, green fruits and brioche with a fine mousse.

Perfect as an aperitif or with smoked salmon crostini.

yeasty almondy brioche and bruised apple with delicate florality; citrussy, linear and and mineral with cidery, bruised orchard fruits and a complex, creamy brazil-nut savouriness; fine mousse. Poised, structured and textured.

Very Good and Good Value.


With starters

Tesco Finest Gavi (£8.50, vegetarian) 


IWC 2021 Silver medal winner This dry, elegant wine is made from premium Cortese grapes from the Gavi region in north west Italy. Part of the crop is harvested later, when grapes are riper, lending extra richness and depth to the wine. 

Its juicy white peach and citrus flavours and long smooth finish make it wonderful with food. Serve chilled with oven-baked fish or pasta dishes.

orchard fruits and white peach with delicate florality and a whiff of white pepper; citrussy, sappy and rich with stone fruits, melon some sweet spice and minerality; good underpinnings.

Good.

The Main Event

Tesco Finest Margaux (£22.00)


IWC 2021 Gold medal winner Made for Tesco by the prestigious Château Boyd Cantenac in Bordeaux's iconic Margaux region, using exceptional quality grapes from vines that are an average of 30 years old. It is a bold but well-balanced red that is rich, ripe and vibrant with complex flavours of dark fruits, cherries, spices and oak.

Serve alongside beef or vegetarian wellington.

dark cherries, bramble fruit, morello cherries, plums, spice and some dried green herbs; full, supple and fresh, with plush ripe dark fruits - cherries, plums, cassis, cool mint and a touch of oaky astringency; complex and very long with very fine, perfectly rounded tannins and a savoury, spicy graphite finish.

Very Good.

With Dessert

Tesco Finest Dessert Semillon 11.5% abv, £6.00 (vegetarian) 


IWC 2021 Silver medal winner and IWC 2021 Great Value Sweet Under £12 

This is an award-winning dessert wine from Australia’s De Bortoli family winery.

Made from late-harvested grapes which are left to ripen on the vine until their natural sugars and flavours have grown incredibly rich and intense. The result is a golden hued wine boasting a delicate concentration of citrus, peach and apricot flavours that are simultaneously sumptuous and fresh.

The perfect dessert wine to pair with Christmas pudding or blue cheese.

floral with overripe stone fruits, sweet spice and musky beeswax; sweet and rich with complex buttery roasted peaches and vanilla sugar; fresh, savoury and long.

Good and Good Value.
***

As an alternative to the Semillon, Tesco's Finest Speyside Single Malt Whisky would also be an excellent match with Christmas pudding - or just sip in your favourite armchair with the Bond film or the Queen's Speech.



Saturday, 9 October 2021

How Do You Feel About This Picture?


A picture I got tagged in on Twitter

How do you feel about a picture of a scantily-clad young woman reaching for a bottle of wine, being shared on Twitter?

I won't reproduce it here for reasons that I hope will become obvious, but she is wearing a revealing backless, sleeveless strappy dress with a very short skirt and is shot from a rear 3/4 angle, reaching for a high shelf.

There is a lot we don't know about the picture and so much is context dependent.

The main question is who took the picture and for what purpose?

It certainly looks posed, rather than spontaneous, suggesting that both the photographer and the subject knew what they were doing.

We do not know who initiated it - whether the young woman wanted a photo of herself in a new outfit she'd just bought, the photographer asked a friend who willingly helped out or if it was a commissioned shot.

Context is important because it tells us who is in control and who is being exploited.

What is not in doubt in this picture is that the young woman is being objectified; she is shot from behind, a Peeping-Tom angle, so we cannot see her face.

Is she grinning to herself, in on the joke? Or grimacing, as the camera metaphorically prods and pokes at her like a piece of meat?

One potential set of circumstances is perfectly fine: the young woman knew what she was doing, initiated it and was content to pose for an objectified picture of herself.

Another potential set is more troubling: a commissioned shot, demanding a male-gaze view, a naïve young woman uncomfortable but pressured to go along with it, regretting it afterwards.

Staged or spontaneous, the angle of the picture implies that the young woman does not know she is being observed and this, I think, is the most troubling aspect of the image; we are being invited to leer furtively at bare, young flesh. 

It was shared on twitter between a bunch of guys in the same way that a group of teenage schoolboys might pass around a raunchy picture in class when sir is not looking.

The difference with twitter is that it is a public forum; it's the equivalent of standing up in front of the class and saying "Hey, whadda you all thing of this hottie?"

Reactions were, predictably, divided - initial whooping and hollering, one or two calling it out, the trolls wading in, the post going viral and opinions becoming more polarised and more forcefully expressed as the whirlwind gathers momentum.

It's a pattern we see too often on social media; it's what underpins and drives the whole ecosystem. Something attention-grabbing and divisive, followed by reactions on both sides and then the inevitable in-fighting before everyone, exhausted from the scrap, moves on to the next outrage.

It's tiring just to be a bystander, let alone in the middle of it.

I won't be muting anyone in the thread just yet; I allow most people to be rude to me a couple of times before I mute them and everyone needs to be allowed to make a couple of mistakes in the heat of the moment without serious repercussions.

I'll happily discuss controversial or taboo topics like business, growth and profits with anyone on wine twitter as long as we are debating the issue and not making ad hominem attacks.

But, guys - and I do mean guys - for the sake everyone on the platform, please think before you post this kind of stuff and before you wade in with outrage.

It's what the algorithm wants you to do, so don't get sucked into feeding the machine.

And, please, let's make sure everyone feels respected.

Sunday, 3 October 2021

Chateau La Negly, La Clape, Languedoc - The Co-op

A red blend from Languedoc's La Negly based in La Clape - at The Co-op

Stop sniggering at the back.

La Clape is a nature park just outside Narbonne overlooking the Mediterranean; a harsh, dry, rocky hillside covered in garrigue scrub, it covers the 10 miles from Narbonne to the Mediterranean and rises to over 200m.

An AOC since 2015, La Clape is one of the sunniest places in France but is cooled by sea breezes; this gives the wines a ripeness and a freshness. 

Unsurprisingly given the conditions, the vast majority of the wine produced here is red; the area traces a history back to Roman times and is now home to 25 estates and three co-operatives.

Chateau La Negly La Clape, Languedoc, 2019 (£12, The Co-op)

A blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and Syrah, it comes in a handsome, heavy bottle.

While Languedoc wines are fairly common in the UK, wines from the sub-region of La Clape are little seen, so this is a somewhat unusual find.

lifted floral nose of lavender, violets and aromatic dried herbs with plum and cherry fruit; juicy black and red fruits, wild strawberries and a hint of gaminess, some spice and gentle, very fine tannins; very well-made and harmonious with good length.

A little closed up at first, improves with extensive aeration and will repay some cellaring.

Good.

A fresh and versatile wine; match with bread-meat-cheese starters, any roast fowl or red meat such as peppered roast beef.

*****

Further details from La Clape's website:


 A CLASSIFIED ENVIRONMENT

Characterized by small, winding, steep-sided, marly valleys ending abruptly in cliffs on the Mediterranean side, the landscape of La Clape is in stark contrast to the surrounding plains. It has been a state-classified site since 1973, for its outstanding natural beauty and its exceptional fauna and flora. 

Situated in the Narbonne regional natural park, it has also been recognized as a Natura 2000 site by the European Union for its natural habitats and remarkable species, a Sensitive Natural Space by the Aude department and is partly owned by the Coastal Conservatory.

In addition to exceptional environmental challenges, here vines act as natural firebreaks and certain parts of the vineyard have been especially planted with this in mind, as part of a concerted effort. A 

CONDUCIVE CLIMATE

The La Clape massif benefits from a harsh, dry climate. The sun and wind together beat down and sweep across the bare rocks. If it is one of the sunniest places in France (up to 3000 hours of sunshine a year) it is due to the thirteen different winds that sweep across it and chase the clouds away. 

Occasionally Mediterranean storms hit, as violent as they are rare and La Clape becomes a tropical isle. A network of ravines forms and the pines and reeds are bent over by the force of the elements. The vines are strengthened by this triple effect: the rain waters and cleans them, the wind dries and airs them and the sun nourishes them and swells the grapes with sugar. The harshness of the climate ensures a high-quality wine-producing area.

AGRO-ECOLOGICAL INITIATIVES

With the support of the Narbonne Regional Natural Park, several agro-environmental initiatives have been taken in the AOC La Clape vineyard. The wine-makers signed the Natura 2000 charter, thus undertaking to sustain the environment and maintain the wealth of natural habitats that characterize the massif.

The program imposes such measures as reducing the use of phytosanitary products. Some estates even practice agro-pastoralism, which is set to develop more widely in the coming years. Since 2015, a herd of 400 sheep nibble the grass between the vines during the 4 months of winter, thus naturally enriching the soil.

Furthermore, research and training programs will be increased in order to encourage responsible agriculture. More than a quarter of the estates are practicing organic agriculture or are in the process of converting.