Thursday, 31 December 2009
Let your mind wander, journeying amongst undulating hills, where dust speckled canopies of leaves shade you from the raw heat of Tuscan sun; flashes of sunlight then shade. Dry clay tracks lead the car between the columns of vines and hares scamper and scramble around to get away from the noise of the car. San Gimignano sits behind like a backdrop to this summer dreamscape, unchanged since medieval times (ok that is a bit of an exaggeration. They had more towers then. A LOT more towers). Tuscany, the birth place of the renaissance, and the setting of Azienda Panizzi (www.panizzi.it ), the home of award winning Vernaccia, for which the area is famous, and more or less the experience I had when I went to visit there doing a solo ‘tour’ in 2008.
However, it is now winter in Bath and the summer warmth has long died down, replaced by the more intense heat of log fires in the drawing room. And my Panizzi wine is a rich ruby San Gimignano Cabernet Sauvignon “Rubente” (14%) 2005 (a Latin based word for coloured or tinged with red. In other words, it does what it says on the tin!) one of twelve varieties that Giovanni Panizzi has in his portfolio (including a medieval style Vernaccio called Evoè, which smells as potent as a red but has a full and unctuous flavour).
This red is rich and plumy to look at, although it is starting to move from its ruby description towards a garnet hue. And whilst there is little rim, even swilling leaves a tide of red clinging to the glass.
So, I swill, and try to wake up the wine from its cold, hibernating state, drawing out some of the aromas and flavours. The strength of the alcohol is immediate, strong but without any sting. Then come the scents: cassis and brambles; spices and wood; liquorice and mint; cream and vanilla from the new oak barrels in which it has been aged (the tasting note described coffee, which would be a natural part of this spectrum of aromas but I didn’t get that. But then again, I am in a different environment, in other words cold England rather than warm Italy); and, an almost meaty earthy note hidden at the back. This is full of complexity and each dip of the nose brings another mouth watering element.
Savouring the moment, and seeing if this would bring back more wistful memories, I take my first sip. Strong prickles hit the mouth, ticklingly spicy. The fruit is strong, mixed with a light vanilla and cream that came to the nose earlier. The berry fruit, more damson than plum, seems rich and slightly stewed giving it a long finish. Wood and flinty minerals reveal themselves towards the end of each mouthful. That, and the high acidity and medium tannins mean that this pleasing moment stays in the mouth for a while.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a late ripening small grape variety that has the ability to burst with berry flavour in hotter climates, where cooler climates can give it a bell pepper bitterness. There is a unique mixture of clay, sand, volcanic tufo, and calcareous soil in the hills surrounding San Gimignano; the clay gives it enough cooling protection to allow it to develop at its own pace without over heating or drying out. This wine has also been matured in new French oak barrels, giving it those slightly more coffee, richer, nutty aromas and flavourings that the Panizzi tasting notes describe.
The wine has had more time to develop and breathe in the glass and returning to it an altogether richer, deeper and smoky aroma from the bluer fruits emerges; a teasing raspberry tinge and rosehip lightness that contrasts with the berry. Then, jamminess.
The warming up has given the wine a greater depth (Panizzi does recommend drinking it at 16-17 degrees Centigrade which is a lot more natural there than Bath). Now the palate has the sweetness of the berries, bringing out the pure jam that was on the nose. This is a prize winner in the WI jam competition! I suddenly get a ‘Rubenesque’ image of rotund, ripe berries, full of fruity flavour dancing on the tongue, teasing you with more to come (not quite a burlesque act for the senses, but something more subtle. Maybe a tableau vivant). Again, the cedar, the flint and the tannins follow, giving structure; framing the wine. And then there are the minty, even eucalyptus (seriously), hints that add to the spicy liquorice; this time though, they are stronger than before.
Like Botticelli’s Venus rising from the sea, these flavours have emerged from the cool temperature where the wine was stored, revealing the wine for its full beauty (I need atmospherics! Cue Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde!)
PS. Azienda Panizzi is going to be in the UK in March to promote their wines (and olive oils maybe). Check out the website for more details.
Friday, 25 December 2009
Thankfully, even with the failure of the Eurostar to get me to Paris for the New Year, and the fact that the snow has melted around Bath, the feeling of Christmas still remains; Ben, Dad and I went to Mass this morning (I told you I was a good Catholic boy!) as a unit, a lovely thing to do amongst families. Having said that, Ben, the elder, managed to wake us up like a child hungry for presents at seven this morning, so we were feeling a bit jaded and looked forward to our return, and to an enclosed environment where we could, if needs be, just crash on the sofa for a few minutes. However, we got back for very strong coffee and a mince pie and prepare everything for a late lunch, followed by the unwrapping of appropriately useful, silly or fun gifts. There is comfort in familiarity and doing Christmas is one of those things. Some people’s habits don’t really change, even after several years.
So with that in mind, our food choice on this occasion was a bit different to the norm, with no capon; the usual choice. Smoked salmon, roast duck (a rather large one from the local butcher) with all the trimmings, and Christmas pudding, ordered and delivered by Fortnum & Mason (who else?). In other words, a bit of a mixed bag.
The wine choice came from what we had in Dad’s ‘cellar’ (read larder). We started with Jacquart (which I have blogged about before). I know. Before you say anything, a good Chablis with a bit of oak would have worked a treat, but, as the title implies this is a Credit Crunch Christmas and I picked this out from a left over wine tasting.
The duck was a bit of an experiment, a Marsannay from the Cote d’Or, a Pinot Noir based wine with the most delicious berry lightness and low tannins that went ok with the meat (in other words, it didn’t steal the bird’s thunder) and particularly unusual as it is almost a deep rose in colour rather than the light purple-ish red that maybe a Gamay or other light red would have.
Finally, a Tokaji Azsu to go with the pudding. A dried berry and citrus zest wonder from the East of Europe (yes, I know it is Hungary. I went to Budapest to get it myself!) with a rich and ever so slightly cloying after taste that left me feeling I wanted to whoop with joy, before mellowing on a bed of Hungarian down pillows to slowly doze and leave the washing up to those left behind (i.e. Ben and his early bird Santa imitation). Good stuff and worth the wait of four years to find an appropriate moment.
All in all, a rich and heady combination which is sending me to a rapid dreamlike state, and ushering me to an early bed.
So not the normal blog, but a quick note to say, good night and I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.
Ps Thanks to Jamie Keddie for this photo knicked from his blog..!
Thursday, 17 December 2009
Following up from the recent tasting of Beaujolais Nouveau (surprisingly good if not slightly expensive) I travelled with Dad (not actually moving from the spindle back chairs in the basement, but that is wine tasting for you) down from Beaujolais to the Rhône valley and to Vacqueyras, giving us the chance to chat and mull over the wine in front of us.
So to set the scene: My big brother Ben has returned to London to work on the Chancellor’s report, the street lights are glowing with that wonderful orangey hue as the wintery, misty night rolls in, and the fire is burning with renewed energy in the hearth. Crackle! Snap! (Are you with me?) The cold I have just recovered from has really thrown me, so I am not convinced my palate will serve me well with this one, however, I will press on with Dad as my back up.
Nestling by the Dentelles de Montmereil and sheltered by Cypress trees from what must be the Mistral winds, is a wine made with a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre (though I didn’t notice any reference to the latter on the label); Les Grands Cyprès, Vacqueyras 2007 (Waitrose, £7.99 from £11.99) 14%. Vacqueyras is a Rhône Valley region lying just south of the Gigondas (so this vineyard must be right on the northern border but on the other side of the teeth) a mere 20 kilometres or so from Orange in the South of France.
This light ruby red wine has an almost devilish scarlet tinge rather than a rich bluey red of some other Rhône wines. The clear rim sparkles and winks in the glass from the light and contrasts with the slightly coloured legs.
Swirling this wine around (in that knowing way that experts do when talking to people, but somehow I just manage to spill some and end up having to take items of clothes off for washing) I get a rich Morello cherry hit on the nose followed by cassis; brambley blue fruit richness and hints of sharper citrus. Lighter berry fruits follow, coming to the nose; ripe strawberry, some cream and also a more mellow tone, musty and dull, a papaya-like mustiness, slightly sour yet fruity; a bit of a serpent in Paradise (given my dislike of papaya).
Changing my glass (I told you I swill so badly, this one has been knocked over. Thanks Dad) I get sour cherry, lemony flintiness and hints of stalk. The elements of cream and the cherry remind me of something similar to clafoutis; more sour cherry and less of a creamy vanilla batter scent though.
Each pause lets this creamy richness develop. I wasn’t sure about this purchase being always dubious about discounted or promoted wine, but realise my glass, hand, and bottle are probably a little too cold for this one. So giving the wine a bit more air and warmth, Dad and I take our first sips.
Initial berry and cream lead to fruity, woody stalk and sharp acidity that the Grenache provides. This high acidity leading to a mouth puckering, mouth wateringly long finish. There is a subtle melange (now there’s a word I haven’t used in ages) of the sourness and younger red fruits, red currents, strawberries, raspberries. Also, a impish hint of Parma violet, the element that gives the mellowness, bridging the sour cherry, the dark berry and the smoky tannic prickle. A subtle hint of herb comes next, though rather a bitter liquorice herb; stalky, chewed pencil ends. Finally flinty rocks blend with the acidity and tannins to gently coat the mouth.
Resting further and gaining a better room temperature, out come the richer fruitier berries that I had on the nose initially. Some leathery stewed fruits appear, which may or may not be the mysterious Mourvèdre that fails to appear on the label (apologies to Waitrose if it is, I am getting glasses soon). But predominantly it is the rich, creamy, dark and naturally sweet berries that remain in the mouth and in the mind. This, added with mild and smooth tannic elements, and the warming peppery prickle that comes from the Syrah grape, tickles the tongue and the tannins, spice and pepper pull together to provide the long and delightful finish.
Dad and I sit back and watch the dancing fire and breathe the cedar aromas emanate from the hearth; smooth music plays in the background, and we sip the wine that enlivens our palates with its own crackle of spice and pepper. Angelic fruity richness and devilish peppers. Spice. Acidity. Length. Temptation! Naughty but nice (as the old “cream cake” adverts used to say).
Friday, 27 November 2009
Ok, let’s be honest. I didn’t think that Beaujolais Nouveau (Georges Du Boeuf 2009, Waitrose £5.99, 12.5%) would bring back some fond memories or a wry smile to my face, as I foist it onto my brother and Dad for the latest wine tasting. It isn’t really a bad wine, it is just not meant to be a classic wine, merely a quaffable, lightweight, trouble free wine (we can leave the ‘trouble’ to the chefs on the other side of the room).
I remember the very first time I tasted Beaujolais Nouveau. It was 1985, and I was five years away from legal drinking (you work it out). It was magical. The world of wine had not yet opened up to me, but a visit to London, trips to the Hamley’s, Madame Tussaud’s, the Tower and the Grande Dame of hotels, the Savoy, for a party to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau Day, made me feel special and grown up, as if my birthday and Christmas had come early. It was the first time Dad allowed me a glass to myself, and the last time we went out together as a family.
Now, I realise there may be a raised eye-brow or two using the word ‘magical’, though 1985 was a reasonably good year for Beaujolais Nouveau; but, there is something extraordinary about harvesting and producing wines with such a quick turnaround, sometimes under six weeks.
Back in Bath, the present, the kitchen, while Dad and Ben between them heatedly fuss over the supper (it is only a chicken!), my glass is sitting waiting for my attention. The eyes are immediately drawn to the wonderful and pure beetroot juice colouring of this wine; a rich, staining purple-red which leaves a crown of coloured legs when it is swilled around the glass, and a distinctive clear rim when settled.
Bringing the glass up to the nose, the first surprise comes from a rounded, rich cassis aroma. Why a surprise? Normally, there is a lighter cherry note that comes from the Gamay grape, which is what this wine is made from. Here, initially, perfumes of darker fruits come to the fore. This cloudy cassis gives way to some hints of fresh strawberry and then old familiar characteristic smells of Beaujolais Nouveau start to come through: those perfumed, lighter red fruits.
Beaujolais is famed for its unique fermentation process that boosts the flavours; carbonic maceration or whole grape fermentation. First discovered by Louis Pasteur (yes, the milk man), the whole grapes are put in a sealed vat where carbon dioxide is pumped in to start the fermentation process before pressing. This process enhances the aromas and flavours giving it a jammy, sweeter element to the tasting process, taking your senses on a journey from cherry and berry to banana, jams, bubblegum, pear drops and kirsch. The flavours are all in there in various bottles (and, OK, I admit it. I even had a sniff from the top of this bottle to double check my nose was working!)
The second surprise is on the palate. Creaminess hits the tongue in the first instance, bringing with it cassis and darker berry notes. Taking another sip, it is followed by a powdery, cloudy mouth filling strawberry. Contrasting to the fruity flavours are some stalkier, flintier elements, reminding just how young and green the wine is. The flintiness comes from the granitic and schist based soil on which these grapes are grown. Giving it a rather pencil lead note to the palate, rather than for example, a clay soil which hints at more leathery, leafy tones. Either way, it emphasises the acidity for which the wine is well known and its lack of serious tannins.
Coming back to the glass after resting for an instant; there are some sour cherries emphasising the high acidity, drawing in the cheeks and making the mouth water. The sweet fruits are brought further forward as the glass reaches room temperature. Again, summer fruits, ‘cherry lips’ sweets (does anyone remember those?), and jam, meet berry and sharpness. Throw in a chalky, powder puff of perfume that seem to fill the mouth and you have this year’s blend; hailed as being the best primeur in fifty years.
Georges du Boeuf is a master of turning the commercial into something a little bit more exceptional, the ordinary into something a bit more extraordinary. Beaujolais Nouveau Day is said to be down to him. So, this year’s results are surprisingly enjoyable, but let’s not get too excited. We are not talking a well rounded Margaux here, or a rich and mellow Chateau Neuf du Pape. Good value? I would say yes, but with a BUT. £6 is nowadays not a lot to spend on a bottle of wine, in fact, wine at that price is cheap (and I am always looking for bargains in these days of thrift).
My point is that you have to take Beaujolais Nouveau in context. As I said at the beginning, it is a quaffing wine, not a quality wine, so this year you are getting something that is better than average for a reasonable price; it just isn’t a bargain. But, drink it with, for instance, a succulent roast chicken (like the one that is waiting for me the other side of the kitchen, if the boys stop fighting), or the Thanksgiving turkey (which comes a week later than Beaujolais Nouveau Day), and the acidity will bring out the sweetness of the flesh. The fruit will contrast well with the salted skin, the creaminess and the butter. Then, maybe, you are talking about money well spent.
Tuesday, 22 September 2009
Is it me or is there a distinct chill as the days draw to a close? There is a distinct change of smells, with leaves changing colours, and gusts bringing mini-whirlwinds of russets and gold. Autumn is definitely in the air and getting out warming gilets and scarves come to mind.
And so, with the exception of Dad’s gardener, visiting early this morning (very early), and Ben’s call to say that having partied hard he is now trying to remember when his wallet, amongst other things, was pinched, I managed to make the most of the solitude and the seasonal mood, choosing to cook a hearty supper and to pick some of the last apples from the tree for a pudding.
My take on a seasonal meal is Mutton with flageolet (an Elizabeth David recipe that I have altered to suit myself). The gamey richness of the meat and the muted colour of the beans, lifted slightly by the tomato, create the tone. A light Tarte Tatin to follow, and to go with this? A definite bargain from Waitrose: Hess Syrah 2005, Methode Traditionelle, Monterey County, USA (from £9.99 to £6.49), 14.5% (yes 14.5%! Remember, this is Schwarzenegger country!) I should really have considered Steak au Poivre to complement this punchy wine. However, I had mutton on my mind.
The Hess Collection has several hectares of vineyards (as well as art galleries) in California, mainly in Mendoza. But, sandwiched between other heady names such as Kendall Jackson and the more stellar Robert Mondavi, Donald Hess grows this Syrah in Monterey County. The longer growing time (sometimes a whole month longer than the average grape) and careful irrigation, due to the low average rainfall, influence the slow maturation of the grapes. On top of that, the variety of soils, a mix of loam, clay and sand (in layman’s terms: the baking clay can act as a thermostat, whilst the sand and loam the drainage), help create an excellent microclimate in which to produce this heady wine. Not forgetting that 1985, was considered a particularly good year for Monterey.
So, having said all that; I can return to the bottle and pour the wine into the waiting glass. And what richness of colour! What a bluey-red. What a plumy-ruby-red red. Coloured legs, which hint at the strength of the wine run down the glass. Joyous ‘Lacrima’ (Oh you can’t take the catholic out of the boy!).
On the nose this wine is rich. Rich, rich, RICH! Dark fruits and liquorice hit the senses, the strength of these aromas making the pupils dilate (I told you this was strong!) Spices of anise mixed with the sweetness of the raisins lead to thoughts of the exotic. Woods, especially a cedar-like sweetness, pencil and pencil lead reach out from behind the strong vanilla and cream (this caused in part by the French oak that this wine is aged in).
I am already heady, in part because of putting my nose into the glass enough times to give me a high, but also because this wine is just a pure temptation. As my tongue plays with the liquid fruit, I am seemingly rolling in dark fruit, any dark berry: mulberry, loganberry, that sort of thing. A velvety wrap, a rich compote of dark fruits made more intense by honey, vanilla and cream (think American Beauty, but with me and grapes! Better not, thinking about it, I need to go to the gym). Woodiness and tannins find their way through the smoothness, making the teeth dry and a high acidity leaves the mouth watering intensely. And then it comes: BAM! The syrah punch. Rich pepper, peppery-pepper, peppery spice, almost chilli pepper (did I mention the pepper?), and a really long ticklingly prickly finish on the tongue.
Letting the glass air a bit more, and in the spirit of California, I need to SHARE. Normally, I am not a great fan of many New World Wines. There, I have said it! I feel better now. To me, they are often too big in fruit and too heavy with alcohol; ‘confectionary wine’, sweet and filling, leaving room for little else. Quality is potentially sacrificed for commercial advantage and big flavours; the bigger the better (South Eastern Australian wines being particularly guilty in my mind, with their addition of flavoured staves or essences to increase the oak and smoke flavours).
With the Hess Collection (and many boutique producers), this is not the case; care and traditional methods of wine making mean that they are serious producers offering pleasurable, not ‘party’ wines. And this wine, even though at the cheaper end of their collection, whilst strong, is nevertheless delicious. I am exhausted by that sharing; that openness. Have another drink Lou!
Taking another mouthful; the creamier elements come to the fore with hints of apple (almost dried). A sharper citric tone rather like red apple or raspberry
(but sweeter than cassis which has a sharp acid lemony note to it) makes the mouth water; a top-note flavour that rises out of the deeper darker fruits (think of that top C in Allegri’s Miserere). Some powder on the tongue adds to the rich velvetiness, and the wood and liquorice, give added layers to this jammy wine. It is like having a pudding it is so rich (but I already have my Tarte Tatin in the Aga).
Carefree swinging to the oven to get my pudding, and even more carefree swaying back to the computer (helped by the mellow and soothing voice of Sarah Vaughn on the CD player) I feel as if I have been massaged, wrapped in a duvet and kissed goodnight. I can now slump in an armchair to slumber and digest. For a low end of the range, boutique (and not forgetting New World) wine, I am truly delighted. But for value, I got a real bargain and am gigglingly happy. Goodnight.
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Slightly aside from my normal wine tasting tales, I have been away in Paris, so, I have been too distracted to do my usual tasting blog.
Instead I have been 'checking out' some unruly tenants, sympathising with my concierge (I have learnt a lot from Muriel Barbary) and generally trying to find IKEA from the Paris Circular, or Périphérique as it is known, painting, dusting, cleaning, scrubbing, checking in new tenants and finally, returning to the calm and tranquillity of Bath.
The family home makes me feel melancholy, with echoes of footsteps on the hall floor and only a buzz of traffic and people; maybe it is because of returning to Paris, which brings back memories of Dominique and our lost promises; maybe because it is still haunted by laughter and voices of yesteryear when we were a whole family and life was seen through the youthful tints of rose and sepia; maybe it is because I miss my father, who has extended his travels in the Southern Hemisphere for another couple of months (I like his style, but I would like a retirement fund like his much more); or, maybe it is just the weather and the news that Patrick Swayze and Keith Floyd have died.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not, nor ever was a Patrick Swayze fan. No! He sparked up quite a few jealous flares when I was dating the girlfriends of the time. Constant chatter on double dates (take it from me, double dating is a bad move) of how ‘gorgeous’ he was, whilst we, the boys would sit and grumble in the corner of the bar listening to the trills, the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and wondering when we would get a ‘look in’ (I think that was when I made the decision to take my dates to scarier films so that I could get the girl in my arms at the crucial moments). I was too young, thankfully, for Dirty Dancing but not for Ghost, so never had to consider my dance moves, only my artistic side.
However, I was a Keith Floyd fan. I loved the way he cooked, chaos with a flare, going from failure to failure with enthusiasm, to paraphrase Churchill. I loved the fact that he was a Somerset boy like myself, which in my youth was a factor more so than today. Presentation was not as important as the sensations that came from flavours, something I am mostly in agreement with now, though debates on 'feasts for the eyes' can run and run.
His love of all things French was a healthy part of my decision to go to France to learn about food and wine, as he did, and with that, life and love. I ended up in Paris rather than the south, firstly poor and hungry, but later, with plenty of friends and eventually the love of my life. Story book stuff really, and it is partially thanks to him.
Inspired to learn, my first wine lesson was over a ropey Beaujolais, light in colour with cherries and a chewing gum flavour that I later learnt came from the carbonic maceration for which Beaujolais is famous. From there I progressed to other grape varieties, and then other wine producing countries. I did a wine course before working in a Parisian café bar (serving beer and more ropey wine, notably Morgan, and learning very quickly and from scratch how to cook as the owner demanded more from me).
It was through his inspiration that I read Elizabeth David, then Jane Grigson and the wider food writing community (I should say Julia Child given the film of the moment but I haven’t seen it and do not own her books), getting inspired by them too. Setting higher, and more chaotic standards for myself (I still love the chicken with leeks and cream recipe), and once, though thankfully only once, setting the kitchen of the café on fire.
It is thanks to Floyd that I understood why there is genuine and real pleasure to be found in food and wine, and I honestly felt that I was following in his footsteps (not forgetting his liking for The Stranglers, his theme tune). Sadly, seeing it all crumble around him, the drink, the illness, the bankruptcies, all that too is a lesson learnt. But it is not the latter that we should remember him by but the fact that he was a gourmand, a gourmet, a bon viveur. Full of fun, energy and passion about what he did.
So raise a glass to his memory as I will, and to Swayze (despite the arguments he caused), and to the fun times, the bad hair and turned up jacket sleeves; of the period that is becoming, more and more, just another decade in history.
Monday, 3 August 2009
I have decided to go for a short visit to London (en route to the Paris to deal with some rather unruly tenants). Dad’s house in Bath was becoming too big and airy without his being there, being on a ‘Who do you think you are?’ ancestry finding mission in Australia, and I needed some company. So, by way of a 'thank you’ to my older brother, Ben, in who’s rented accommodation south of the river I am staying, I have taken the spare keys and gone out to the shops, producing pasta, varied ingredients, and of course a bottle of wine; Italian, naturally, to go with the pasta.
Oddbins pointed me in the direction of a light white Soave (Azienda Agricola Strele, Costeggiola, Soave DOC 2008 (12.5%) £11), which seemed temptingly Summery, and fresh enough to raise the mood on a barely sunny day. As a wine, Soave was once barely considered worth discussing seriously not too long ago. They specialised in big output and low quality, expanding and expanding further the DOC area to meet demand, diluting the Garganega with Trebbiano di Soave and sometimes Chardonnay making the DOC regulations, frankly, a bit of a joke.
In recent years, however, smaller producers have been trying to rein in the branding boom and provide wines worthy of Soave’s history. The Strele Estate is one of these. Its 9 hectare pocket lies in the hills overlooking Soave, north of the Adige River and east of the famous city of Verona, producing a Soave DOC wine with 100% Garganega grapes. The name Soave means suave, or smooth, so opening the bottle and preparing for supper, I am keen to see if there is any truth in this name.
Looking at the colour in the glass (in a room where there are no white walls) it is a rich, golden yellow, a Summer sun colour to banish clouds; a comforting golden glow. Mellowing even! Yes! A real mellow yellow (there is a song about that).
Dipping my nose into the glass, there are wonderful rich lemon and pith. But interestingly, more pith than lemon. Ultimately this has that refreshing aroma that brings nostalgic, sepia tinted memories of Grannie's farm in Somerset; hot sunny days, cattle grazing and, after some rounding up at feeding time, the reward of that home made pithy puckering lemonade. Behind this lies the secret of the quality and, therefore, cost. Hints of white fruit come forth, but then these fade and give way to stronger aromas of tropical fruits: melon and mango; papaya, pineapple and pears. (I have to pause and look for another room. Cooking, candles and other fragrances coming from the flat are putting me off). I will tell you what image is going through my mind that will help me clear up the combined aroma sensation coming from this glass. Imagine ice-cream, emphasis on the cream not the vanilla, topped with dried apricots and drizzled with honey (... pistachios for decoration. Ok, I am gilding the lily. Forget the pistachios). THAT is what I am getting from the glass in the initial few minutes. Warming up a little, the sweeter fragrances mellow and behind them lie the herbaceous and young green elements that a younger wine gives; basil and fresh peas.
On the palate? Again, mellow, mellow, mellow yellow on the lips. Lemon and pith, pith and lemon. The flintiness comes through when it is chilled. A long, strong acidity finish making the mouth water (even more than when I was just sniffing it. Or is it the thought of that apricot ice-cream desert that I now want to make?). The coldness also gives a light prickle to the tongue, pushing you on to move beyond that prickle and its associated mineral flint, emphasising the calcareous soil that the Garganega is grown on.
Letting it settle for a bit, the prickle goes and allows the true flavours come to the fore; and, in bringing it to the temperature of the room, out come the smoother, richer and more exotic fruits, honeyed off by an almondy smoothness, that balances the acidity and keeps you wanting more.
What impresses me is that it is a 2008. In other words, this is a young wine, and even now it offers great flavour and develops nicely in the glass. Worth the money? I think so, though I am not so sure Ben, the accountant, will see it my way. Best keep it to myself.
Sunday, 5 July 2009
In this infernally hot weather, making deliberate reference to Dante’s circles of Hell, isn’t it nice to have a bit of space from everything? What the Americans would call ‘me’ space. I am having a very liberating evening to myself. My brother, Ben, is going to his first liberating ‘event’ in London with a friend, and Dad had gone to Australia for four weeks to see other members of the extended family. (The name Woodbine comes from our nineteenth century prisoner ancestors who acquired the name when they either became liberated, and did not want to be associated with their misdeeds, or because they did not want to be caught after ‘liberating’ themselves). You get the theme so far.
At last, alone in the house in Bath; keeping cool with all the windows of the building open at the back, overlooking our small terrace and herb garden. Jazz music playing ever so slightly too loud whilst preparing supper – a basement kitchen helps muffle noises for the neighbours, or at least that is what I am convincing myself as I really can’t face their complaints in what I am currently wearing. Yes, keeping cool wearing just my boxers, an apron, and a glass of something I found in the fridge to hand. Quite the naked chef. All being a picture that reflects the heat and need for space.
So this is it. Salad chopped, vinaigrette prepared, and salmon oiled and in a skillet waiting to go (my top tip is that I like to cook my fish and shellfish in bacon fat. But I digress). I pour out the Terra Viva, Bianche Terre di Chieti, organic 2007, white wine that my Dad had obviously bought from Waitrose for a carefree evening. The grapes being classified as typical of the geographic region, Abruzzo, with its humid landscape and sometimes excessive heat; in other words, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo table wine (Science bit: Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is a subvarietal of the standard Trebbiano. It is known in France as Ugni Blanc, used predominantly in brandy making, especially in Armagnac. Well, that is comforting).
Pale yellow with hints of green, the smells emanating from the glass (over the smell of cooking) are citrus. Grapefruit and lemon pith with an almost ‘sweet’ element to it. The label states that there are aromas of peach and melon and this could explain the ‘sweetness’ that I am getting, but it is very subtle and a little more floral than that.
On the palate this wine has a fairly obvious citrus bite, but behind lies the link to convince me that this will go well with my food. Elements of basil and liquorice herbs are drawn out as the flavours linger in the mouth. And, yes, as the label suggests, the sweet fruits are there; subtle but evident. High acidity versus a slightly unctuous almond cream; a flinty minerality added to the lemon finish. This is a definite Martini lemon rind moment with that almost nutty oily element (normally coming from the gin in a Martini, but bear with me, I am on a roll) contrasting against the sharp flinty citrus notes. That same mineral note also complimenting the herbal liquorice basil link, which I mentioned before.
The contrasts in the glass reflect the contrasting and dischorded jazz tunes coming from the CD player; acidity against unctuousness; lemon against almond cream; modern music against the Georgian surroundings. I dismissed this as a humble table wine, but I have to be honest, the mood, the food, both are being lifted by this enjoyable quaffing wine.
Sunday, 21 June 2009
It was because of a Greek wine tasting, with Richard Congreve, the head of Heartfelt Communications, who kindly allowed me to gatecrash his ‘Wines of Northern Greece’ event during Lent (when I was teetotal and drank not a drop. I swear!) that my brother, Ben, and I decided to spend a week on a Greek island. To be fair, he needed a break more than me, given his work, and it was at his expense, so how could I resist?
Gentle splashes from the pool. Views that go on for ever. Burning sun on the skin cooled down by crystal clear seas. Water that tastes all the sweeter because of the heat. Our island was full of nothing but land and seascapes. Good walking, wonderful swimming and places to muse. I think you get the picture. In the meantime, I enjoyed a mild flirtation in a café with an attractive waitress called Elena and Ben got the careful attention of a waiter at the restaurant we visited a couple of times. Nice to be liked.
Strangely, it was at this harbour side restaurant I went to, that I drank a wine from the same vineyard as one of the exhibitors of the Heartfelt event, in London a few weeks earlier. Ktima Alpha (2006, Amyndeo, Greece) which tasted as good the second time round, if not more so given the context of drinking Greek wine in Greece. Ignore the fact I was slightly ‘heady’ at this stage and cannot read my notes back very well, this excellent plum coloured wine had the nose of cherries and creaminess on the nose coming from the blend of syrah, with merlot and xinomavro grapes. The same cherry creaminess was mixed with a hint of the oak ageing, twelve months, to bring out a spiciness, complimenting the fruitiness of the merlot and the rich mix of acidity and tannins. I hope to see Richard again for another instalment.
A couple of days later we returned (now why did we go back to that restaurant Ben? Oh yes, the waiter) and enjoyed another wine, Ktima Theotoky, Theotoky, Ropa Valley (Corfu) 2007, a white wine blend of 90% Robola and 10% Kakotrigis both of which are local varieties.
Robola is linked to varieties in the Friuli area of Northern Italy (bearing in mind that the island was part of the Venetian Empire for several generations and Count Theotoky one of the oldest producers in Corfu).
In the glass, the colour was light lemon green and as beautifully clear as the water surrounding us. On the nose we got flavours of lemon, lemon pith, flint and cream with a mild hint of melon and pear.
Diving in (to keep with the swimming analogy), the flavours that came with the initial mouthful were of ultra creamy lemons, some flint and minerality and thankfully no metallic elements, which might have cheapened it. As the sunlight dimmed and our senses heightened, interruptions from the arrival of the food, red mullet on a bed of sliced, slightly spiced, potatoes, enabled the flavours of the wine to develop in the glass bringing out its character further. The citrus’s obviousness was overtaken by an altogether smoother cream and melon. A definite melon moment; almost melon sorbet.
A well balanced acid and unctuous finish with a long flavour that gently watered out in the mouth. Even Ben couldn’t fault this, but then again, maybe he was distracted by other company, or maybe just the sheer wonderfulness of the island.
Sunday, 17 May 2009
I spent a very enjoyable evening in London the other week, heading to a favourite stomping ground, Marylebone, to meet one of my more glamorous City friends who had been waiting for me to finish my Lenten purging. We decided to meet for a drink to lubricate our jaws for the gossip ahead and I suggested Providores, a brilliant restaurant and tapas bar for the local chic that has a fantastically sourced wine list. Providores is owned by the New Zealand chef Peter Gordon who is a leading light in the fusion food stakes and is certainly highly admired in ‘foodie’ circles.
Seated at one of the busy long ‘posing’ tables that are in the centre of the room I decided out of curiosity on a glass of Little Rascal Arneis 2007, from Cooper’s Green, Gisbourne. I say ‘curiosity’ because, although I am qualified in wine (and got the badge, the t-shirt, and drank all the bottles), I have never heard of it before. The wine waiter suggested I give it a go describing the glowing and unctuous glass of golden wine as a zesty version of Pinot Gris.
So trying hard not to be put off by the wonderfully tempting smells coming from the plates being served around me (Hey! Is that Laksa!?) I started to take in the new aromas and tastes being offered in this glass.
As we dipped our noses in, there was an amazing sense of lemon and zest with hints of mint. Swirling the glass, aromas mixed with flint merged to produce an exciting fresh smell. Even leaving this to sit for a while (a very short time – we had a table booked at eight), the richness of aromas remained distinct and strong. All perfectly suited to the rich mix of Peter Gordon’s cuisine.
Arneis di roero, (translated from the local dialect, means the little difficult one) has its origins in the Piedmonte region of Northern Italy, from where the grape was ‘pilfered’ by a New Zealand vintner to plant in Gisbourne, on the east coast of the North Island. There the soil is rich alluvial loam (a mixture of sand, clay and decomposing organic matter, but you probably knew that already) producing high yields (the area was previously famous for big commercial production, wine boxes, that sort of thing, rather than boutique wineries. Now the situation is changing rapidly) and fine rich whites including Chardonnay and Gewürztraminers, and now arneis. The warmer climate develops the grape’s flavours and the soils, the richness.
So now you have had the science bit, back to the wine. On the tongue there was a creamy sherbet dip prickliness; lemon pith combined with spice and mint. Did I say mint? It’s minty lemon fresh! Given its spice, it is a creamier version of Gewürztraminer but with an Italian fanfare. More Enrico Caruso than Max Lorenz (although, the latter may have been more frivolous, if you know what I mean). The unctuous element, similar to pinot gris, was wonderfully balanced, bringing the two contrasting elements of cream and citrus together in a well rounded and wholesome flavour. Resting it for a short time, there was also a hint of minerality which was followed by the aftertaste of basils and sweet liquorice. The long finish provided a crisp mineral note with metallic edges and good acidity.
Mouth-wateringly good and a great recommendation from the waiter. Soft and fragrant but with a nice kick to it. Kiri te Kanawa meets Russell Crowe. I have to find this on the web as I want more of it!
Thursday, 12 February 2009
Valentine’s Day is looming and in the spirit of romance and adoration of the feminine I always turn to Champagne. It is the perfect and essential part of any romantic evening, and to me, is the essence of woman in a glass. Pink? Actually, I don’t do pink. Not because I am not in touch with my feminine side (I have read Cosmopolitan) and feel that the colour reflects the rosy cheeks, full lips or beating heart of the woman into who’s eyes I am staring on this day of romance. No, I just don’t really like it as much as the pure, straw coloured nectar, so why over do things?
Champagne is special, there is no denying it. A once weak and probably flabby wine is transformed through a heady, complex, time consuming, and in some cases, personal process of production – including the remouillage (the bottle turning, in some houses, by hand) and dégorgement (the removing of the dead lees from the neck) and all the tricks that make it special - into a sparkling golden drink that lends biscuits and cream, almonds, lemons (sometimes grapefruit) and pith, and floral notes to the palate. No wonder that our hero monk Dom Perignon thought the drink with the stars in was a miracle, it really is.
There is something delightfully youthful and feminine about a glass of non-vintage that has the frivolous sparkle, the light lemon zing and the creamy yeastiness. Bubbles tickle the tongue and lift spirits in a way that other wines cannot reach (apologies to Carlsberg). There is a carefree lack of formality that comes with the NV. The pop of the cork (that is meant to sound like a lady sighing in anticipation) and the whoosh of the froth as it races to the rim of the glass, the fun before the taste. Sparkles reflect bejewelled necks; the tickle on the tongue that brings a smile to the face and crinkles to the nose. Young love, hungry need or flirtation, all the anticipation of what might be, all reflected in a glass. This is what the NV is all about.
At the same time, the vintage brings with it a whole new dimension. A lighter sparkle in the glass, a stronger scent of biscuits and nuts from longer development, a more mellow flavour, all give the impression of a more mature woman, sensual and experienced, but with a glint in her eye. Less is definitely more with a vintage (proving there is still so much life in the old girl yet!) No whoosh and no need for giggles. This is serious lovers stuff, where senses, smells and tastes are heightened. Nuances with every glance, every word on the lips, every taste in the mouth. Whereas the NV is the ‘bling’, the party girl, this is the seductress. No need to impress, no anticipation of what might be but a knowledge of what will be, or already is.
Non vintage or vintage love? Diamonds? Stars? Sparkles? Either way, chuck out the chocolates, hold back the flowers, just bring out the Queen of drinks and relax. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Sunday, 1 February 2009
Birthdays come but once a year, as they say, and all the memories that they bring come with them. So notching up more points on the Eurostar and taking advantage of a lift from my brother, I came back home to celebrate. I admit not being good with birthdays, vanity and lost youth, missing loved ones (you know what I mean), so, thinking of something appropriate which could take me back to places and times, something which will bring a smile to my face rather than the usual scowl, I nestled some bottles of Côtes de Bourg, (Monteberiot 2004, www.monteberiot.com) in my bag, and prepared for a trip down memory lane. This wine was recommended to me by a friend who used to live in Paris many years back, who still has an overt interest in wine and hangover cures.
I saved my notes from when I went to Bordeaux with Dominique, my then girlfriend, and decided to see how it had changed: a more gentle effect on the palate [than the 2003], berries and spice, cream and wood, leaf and earth. This is for taking slowly, letting the flavours develop and draw you in. Taste buds were being teased, if not challenged. So, sitting away from the noise of the kitchen (Ben, my brother, has gone into the kitchen to ‘supervise’, poor dad); creaking floorboards and crackling fire, and awaiting my father’s classic roast of local organic Somerset beef that he does so well, I pour the wine and prepare to taste.
Swirling the glass, the colour has tinges of brown in it now, changing from vibrant ruby to a softer garnet. The smell is spicy berry, with leather and liquorice. The merlot has faded since I first tasted this wine, and the cabernet in the blend has come forward with a heady mix of ‘terroir’, musty leaves (strangely Autumnal in the midst of winter and a freezing January), and tannins which hit the nose as soon as I lean into the glass. This is still a good beefy wine with emphasis on the BEEF given the leather smells and what is for supper. There is almost a medicinal element to the leather (a bit like the witch hazel in TCP but don’t let that put you off – it’s healthy after all!) and a pepperiness from the tannins. Leather thanks in part to the clay based soils that the Bourg has as part of its unique micro climate; pepper from the tannins enriched by the barrels made of Limousin and American oak in which blended wines matured.
On the palate, a reflection of the smell, in the first instance, there is liquorice, real stewed fruits, prunes with cream, and a gentle tickle of pepper on the tongue at the finish. Again, good acidity leaves a long pepper and cream taste on the tongue but also an element of flint. Where before, rich cassis and dark berry hit the tongue, there is a big leather and stew of fruit. But then again, as this wine takes on the warmth of the room, its complexity reveals itself further. A gentle essence of powdery Parma violet reveals itself, there, but really a ghost of flavour, breaking through (all I can think of is Miss Haversham’s wedding cake. Oh Lou, you are so literary!) nodding at the fruitier flavours that tone down the earths and leathers. And then further still, the sleepy sweeter fruits wake up and the original cassis that seemed to have faded comes to the fore. Stronger on the nose and stronger on the tongue.
No one likes to be rushed, and this wine is no exception, needing that warmth and gentle teasing over time to bring out the fullness of her flavour. So, the comparison? In a very human way, and appropriately in the spirit of birthdays, this wine has developed, moved forward, but not necessarily changed. Hearty roasts? Wines that transport you to distant places and times? Log fires and lazy evenings? I should have brought along a few more bottles.
Update: I have been trying to download this on the machine but the power cuts here have been phenomenally frustrating.
Sunday, 18 January 2009
I got a surprise phone call from my brother the other night saying that he would be in Paris on business and asking if he could he stay a bit longer. (Accountants have all the fun! I have to pay for everything but luckily I have enough savings and an accountant as my brother!)
I decided on Au petit fer à cheval, a place I love in the Marais, a tightly packed back room of a bar with a horseshoe shape (hence the name). This quartier is a bustling and trendy area housing a fantastic array of restaurants, bars, cafés, the heart of truly Gaie Paris (if you get my drift), and the Jewish quarter with some fantastic places to get a lunchtime bite to eat. To me, a hearty onion soup with cheesy croutons in this bleak weather and something like a lamb shank with flageolets, maybe, to finish, would do the trick. Winter warmers to fortify the stomach, all washed down with a spicy and tannic red.
So it was a surprise that, as we decided to catch up in the flat, he brought out a bottle of chilled Menetou Salon (2007 Lasalle). (Brrr! I shouldn’t be ungrateful, but thank goodness the flat had heating). Menetou Salon is a small wine growing area that produces wines just next door to its superior rival Sancerre, and, although the clay soils of Menetou Salon provide different flavours against the contrasting Sancerre chalk base, what it does produce is no less delicious when you think of the commercial advantage that Sancerre has in comparison. So for an old sentimentalist like me, its most superior wines are all the more precious.
The sauvignon blanc has a warm and light straw colour, and light legs as it is turned in the glass, contrasting against the grey and wet picture through my window. Dipping my nose in, the citrus notes of lemon and gooseberry merge with a hint of under ripe apricot, then give way to real grass and herbaceousness; coriander (yes, coriander! I kid you not), and a finish of cream.
Already salivating at the anticipation of the taste (and at this point I have to pause to explain to Ben why a beer just won’t do), there is lemon, again, but with hints of the tropics. Unctuous creaminess balances well with the subtle tones of pineapple, some grapefruit, but citrus acidity overall, and a mineral kick from the flint. The herbs come out as it rests; basil? Tarragon? Either way a slight liquorice tang compliments the mineral and creamy unctuousness, becoming more lemony and creamy as the glass reaches its optimum temperature. The wonderful acidity lingers in the mouth, the sense of steel and flint and lemon really do make your mouth water and thirst for more, but the finish is creamy and wonderfully round.
This is pure, balanced, complex and well made Sauvignon as the French truly make it. Not the gushing exoticism of BIG fruits from the New World. I am pleased by the excellent choice of my brother, but then we do share the same genes!
Sunday, 4 January 2009
Is it me or does the world seem a more dismal and drearier place after the excitement of Christmas and the New Year parties? My thoughts of alcohol of any variety are definitely in the grim lavatory just down the corridor at the moment as I write this from the Eurostar travelling from St Pancras to Gare du Nord to the empty flat in one of the most bustling parts of Paris itself. It is strange how the echo inside the flat contrasts with the wonderfully busy road outside and the rumbles of the metro, traffic and general chatter that switches off so easily when the window shuts it out? I am looking forward to the peace and solitude while my hangover eases and my stomach goes from acid rebellion to acceptance of food and maybe a little wine later on.
My aim this year is to write a diary on as much wine as I can, not quite a bottle a day, even my liver cannot possibly take that for the full 365 days of the year, but a log of tastings inspired by Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries and with the suggestion of my good friend Werds. Maybe I should keep in the mould and call it my Cellar Diaries (but that would be pretentious if you could see the place I am living in)?
First stop this week is to the barbers for my hair, or lack of it, and a shave. Five days growth means absorbing smells in my beard that would influence my tastebuds (or so they told me at wine school). After that I will dare to go into my off license, Nicolas, for a sample of their wine of the month or suitable alternative.
In the meantime, as I summon up the courage of the first mouthful of wine and keep my stomach from going into spasms of protest, I just wanted to wish all my friends and whoever may see this a very Happy New Year...