About Tom Lewis

Tom Lewis is a wine writer and educator from Cambridge with a particular interest in Austria and France. His comments have been published on JancisRobinson.com, Local Wine Events, as well as in the local press in his hometown of Cambridge, UK. When it comes to buying wine, Tom’s philosophy is to buy as close as possible to where it comes from. He writes a regular blog, the Cambridge Wine Blogger which launched in 2009 and is a presenter for the Cambridge Food and Wine Society. To read more of Tom’s work, please check out cambridgewineblogger.blogspot.com

Ask Tom – Matching Food and Wine

Dear Tom

Can you tell me how to match food and wine ?  Should I stick with the classics – what about modern dishes?

Matching food and wine is probably more art than science and matches should be measured more on a scale than a simple yes/no.

One often speaks of food-friendly wines – that is wines with the body, tannin and acidity to stand up to food – but equally, there are wine-friendly foods, such as plain roast meats, simple fish dishes or anything with a classic sauce (and that does not include Daddies or HP !).

Once you have your food sorted, whilst there will always be an element of personal preference, there are a few basic principles to bear in mind:

– A crisp, acidic wine will cut through rich, fatty foods (white wine with cheese or pork).

– Tannic wines (Bordeaux, Rioja) will be softened by protein such as red meat (hence the classic matches of beef and lamb).

– Tannic wines do not match well with salty food (red wine and crisps is not a match made in heaven).

– Match heavy creamy or buttery sauces to more full-bodied wines (full-bodied whites will stand up to and cut through a hearty cream-based sauce).

And remember, some foods are just not wine-friendly – anything that is too greasy and / or sweet is best matched with beer instead (think chips, spring rolls, baked beans or anything with ketchup).

Also excessively strong flavours (such as Indian curries) will also overpower most wines, so if you are dirnking wine and want some spice, use it sparingly.

Wine of the Month – April

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.

T.S. Eliot (1888–1965). The Waste Land. 1922

These days, I measure the time since I studied TS Eliot’s free verse masterpiece on dusty middle class ennui and spirituality, in decades rather than years.

April is also the month of Easter, the most important festival in the Orthodox calendar, origin of the term “movable feast” and a Pagan fertility / earth re-birth celebration.

These days we may celebrate it by hiding chocolate eggs in the garden for small children to find, but for the ancients, the first signs of a return of the fruitfulness of the land after winter was a cause to rejoice and give thanks to their Pagan gods.

My own bar-stool philosophy is that it must have originated around the end of the last Ice Age when the arrival of spring was a long-awaited event whose outcome was anything but certain and when each winter must have felt like the threat of a return to permafrost.

These days, it is a long time since economic cycles followed the calendar year and in any case, its probably still too early to give thanks to the gods of the free market economy for the return of growth.

Bodega El Cortijo de la Vieja, Iniza Tinto 2008, £10 – Joseph Barnes Wines

A curious blend of 40% Tempranillo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah and 20% Merlot from slopes of the Sierra de Gador Mountain range in the Alpujarra region of Granada, in Spain, this wine is dark purple in the glass with little suggestion of age.

On pouring, there is a nose of dark fruits and spice; the palate shows lots of sweet, ripe elderberry, plum and black cherry, spice, liquorice and hints of beeswax, leatheriness and undergrowth. It is soft and inky with a mouthfilling texture, liquorice and spice on the finish.

It is a big, effusive personality with a hint of a dark side; my only slight reservation – and it’s a very personal one – is that with so many noble grapes in the blend, it feels a bit like a rock supergroup, with various different varietal characteristics vying for the limelight; at times the cassis of the Cab dominates, at others the plumminess of the Merlot and then there’s the elderberry inkiness of the Syrah.

Dom. Rimbert Cousin Oscar 2011 Vin de France, £7.49 – Cambridge Wine Merchants

There’s scant information on the label; it’s a Vin de Table de France, pretty much the lowest classification there is, but a few tweets from Stewart Travers tell me that it’s 100% Cinsault from St Chinian, 20yo vines, schisty soils and made by J-M Rimbert.

The only other bit of information on the label is the 11% alcohol and holding the bottle up to the light, I can see the wine is very pale.

In the glass, its the colour of Ribena – I’ve had darker Beaujolais and Pinots than this. On the nose, there is soft red fruit, cherries and a hint of Pinot-esque woody undergrowth.

Mrs CWB pronounces it “studenty”, meaning light, quaffable and easy to drink with pizza on the sofa in front of the telly.

I think that undersells this curious wine a little – neither a blockbuster nor an up-front crowd-pleaser, it is elegant, delicate and well-made; light and fruity with low tannins and good acidity, it would work well for drinking in the garden or with tomato-based pasta dishes, such as a spaghetti pomodoro.

La Bascula ‘Catalan Eagle’, 2011, Terra Alta, £9.99 – Noel Young Wines

La Bascula is a joint project involving a British ex-wine merchant who just happens to be a Master of Wine and a South African wine-maker.

Based in Terra Alta, which is apparently somewhere near Barcelona, their Catalan Eagle is a curious mixture of the local but unusual Garnacha Blanca and the more well-known but decidedly un-Spanish Viognier.

Golden in the glass it has a peachy nose with hints of toasty yeastiness and roasted peach skin.

The palate is full of sweet ripe yellow stone fruit, with a peachy texture and a mouthfilling, rounded acidity.

The palate and finish are long, savoury and persistent.

It feels both exceptionally well-made – with great balance and superb depth of flavour – and also very more-ishly drinkable. Match with meaty fish such as salmon.

Duas Pedras, Alentejo, 2010, Quinta do Centro, £10.99 – Bacchanalia

Named ‘Two Stones’ after the granite and schist in the soils in Portugal’s Portalegre region, this is an unoaked blend of the international varieties Syrah and Viognier with the native Tourga Nacional. As a result, it feels rather less distinctly Portuguese than something made purely from local varieties.

Straight from the bottle there is elderberry and black cherry fruit, liquorice, dark roasted spices and tar.

The palate feels inky yet custardy with ripe, sweet black cherry and prune, a slap of leather, some dark spice and a pleasing streak of sour cherry acidity.

On the second day, it seems to have become more understandable and turned into something approaching a classic Syrah Viognier; there is inky, ripe-elderberry-and-pencil-shavings from the Syrah whilst the Viognier adds a peachy texture and perfume on the finish; overall, it feels more harmonious and balanced now, and also more approachable.

By the third day, it is the turn of the Touriga Nacional and the port-like eucalyptus dominates.

Recommended Wine

Either of the Iberian reds would work well with some roast lamb for Easter, and the Cousin Oscar would be a good garden sipper if we have an early heatwave, but for me the most accomplished and enjoyable wine is the Catalan Eagle for its instant appeal with subtly effortless complexity and sophistication.

Links

Bacchanalia – www.winegod.co.uk

Cambridge Wine Merchants – www.cambridgewine.co.uk

Joseph Barnes Wines – www.josephbarneswines.com

Noel Young Wines – www.nywines.co.uk

Image credit: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/ts-eliot-the-wasteland-shot.jpg

Copyright Tom Lewis 2012

Wine of the Month – August

August is traditionally a holiday month when we head for the beach somewhere hot and sunny.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that this month our three independent wine merchants in Cambridge have all provided a wine from a typical European holiday destination, so these three wines should either get you in the mood for - or bring back memories of - lazy sunny days on the beach with some great local food.

Antonio Barbadillo, Manzanilla Solear Sherry, £5.99 (37.5 cl) from Cambridge Wine Merchants

If you think sherry is just for maiden aunts and vicars, think again; sherry is fast becoming hip thanks to the likes of Jancis Robinson and Heston Blumenthal.

This IWC Gold Medal Manzanilla from Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Andalusia is a little more intensely flavoured than a standard-spec fino.

Aged in soleras under flor, it is golden in the glass with a classic, pungent sherry nose. Elegant and refined with great linear acidity, it shows evolved tertiary aromas of yeasty brioche and pastry shop.

On the palate, it is ever-so-slightly rounded at the edges, but the finish is utterly bone dry and it needs to be served as a simple aperitif or with food to show its best.

Cambridge Wine Merchants owner Hal Wilson suggests drinking this with seafood or anything with tomatoes such as gazpacho, but I would go for a plate of simple salamis, dry-cured hams and cheeses such as manchego, with olives, oil and bread and just let the acidity cut through it all beautifully.

Domaine de Bahourat ‘La Petit Parcelle’ Viognier Vin de Pays du Gard, £7.99 from Bacchanalia

Next up is something rather more gentle and crowd-pleasing – a Viognier from the Languedoc.

Pale gold in the glass, it has a nose of stone fruits and a mouthfilling, peachy softness on the palate. It feels as sweet and juicy as a perfectly ripe pear, with a touch of apricot blossom and a very gentle finish.

A lovely, more-ish wine, it has a come-hither softness from its warm-climate origins whilst remaining focused and balanced and would match well either with full-flavoured Mediterranean seafood or even Thai curries.

Dinner party fact: Viognier is an ancient grape variety of unknown origin that almost became extinct in the 1960s; its spiritual home is the Northern Rhône and the Viognier grown in the Languedoc is considered to be a different strain, producing a distinctly different wine as a result.

Monte Schiavo ‘Pallio di San Floriano’ Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2010 , £9.39 from Noel Young Wines

This final wine with a mouthful of a name hails from the eastern side of Italy and has won the IWC Verdicchio Trophy.

Made from the Verdicchio grape which is grown mainly in the Marche region from which it probably originated, it is a wine I first came across relatively recently at an Italian Wine Tasting of Slow Wines. I was impressed with it then and tasting this one now, I really think it shows great potential as possibly the Next Big Thing for white-wine drinkers looking to move on from Pinot Grigio.

Yellowy-green in the glass, it has a beautifully rich, toasty nose of lemons, pears and almonds. On the palate there is more lemon, ripe white peach fruit and white blossom with some herbaceous, nettley accents and a lively, buzzy, rounded acidity.

With a long and soft yet balanced finish with a hint of toastiness again, it is gently mouthwatering as a quaffer, but will match perfectly with pasta such as butternut squash ravioli in a creamy sauce.

As ever, you could easily serve all three wines at a dinner party – start with the Manzanilla with some bread and oil, have the Verdicchio with a pasta course and then the Viognier with a simple piece of roasted fish with some green beans on the side – and I would defy any guest to be disappointed.

However, the overall winner this month is the Verdicchio for its complex and refreshing mouthful of ripe fruit, toastiness and aromatic blossom.

Links

Noel Young Wines – http://www.nywines.co.uk/

Bacchanalia – http://www.winegod.co.uk/

Cambridge Wine Merchants – http://www.cambridgewine.com/

Main image credit – http://www.holidayfrancedirect.co.uk/graphics/library/PRO10103.jpg

Copyright Tom Lewis 2011

¡Que rico! Tapas

A review of Cambridge-based ¡Que rico! Tapas

Two years ago, Estefania Led Ramos left Spain and made what she planned to be a temporary move to Cambridge to improve her English.

Deciding she rather liked the city, however, she gave up a career in journalism and communications to set up a catering business, ¡Que rico! Tapas.

As any foodie worth their manchego will know, tapas are small plates of simple, often finger food traditionally served in Andalusian bodegas - a little something to snack on with your copita of sherry.

¡Que rico! translates as “delicious” and is generally applied to food, but can also be used of people – in the same way that we talk of “yummy mummies”.

The business idea behind ¡Que rico! Tapas is three-fold:

– an at-home catering service

– catering for meetings and business lunches

– cooking events.

Estefania invited the CWB household to try her at-home service and turned up one evening with a Mary Poppins bag full of goodies and a handful of printed menus. After half an hour in our kitchen, she called up to say that dinner was ready.

I did not have any sherries to hand, but dug out a selection of southern Rhône wines from the newly-renamed appellation of Grignan-Les-Adhemar to see how they would match.

We started with an appropriately autumnal chestnut soup and mushrooms.

The first time I have had chestnuts in a soup, this was thick, rich and creamy – and disappeared very quickly; the mushrooms (sourced from Cambridge market) were also delicious, adding a contrast of flavour.

Next was a more well-known favorite – Spanish omelette with bread and olive oil.

Not so much an omelette in the familiar sense, this was more a potato cake, sweetened with onions, held together with egg and cooked to toasty perfection on both sides; pure comfort food for autumn.

Chicken croquetas were little pieces of chicken in a sauce, coated with batter and deep fried, reflecting the origins of tapas as often a way to use up left-overs.

The wine for all the lighter tapas was a Viognier from Domaine de Montine – citrussy and zesty with some sweet spice and floral honey aromas, it stood up well to the rich sweetness of the dishes.

The meatballs in almond sauce was exactly as described – hand-made, lean meatballs with a sauce made from oloroso sherry and nibbed almonds.

The two reds struggled a little with this dish – it is not quite either white-wine or red-wine food, but would have matched perfectly with a dry oloroso.

Traditional Spanish food is big on meat, but the final savoury course was Piquillo’s peppers stuffed with mushrooms and served with a sour-cream sauce – sweet, concentrated peppers, earthy mushrooms and a creamy sauce.

Estefania explained that the peppers are first roasted over an open fire, then peeled and stuffed with mushrooms held together with a flour-and-milk paste.

After five generous courses of delicious food, a refreshing lemon sorbet to finsh was the perfect way to end the meal – it came with a gin and tonic gelatine and juniper berries.

To match with this refreshing and slightly bitter dish, I pulled out a bottle of well-chilled Rutherglen Muscat from Stanton and Killeen. I had found the wine a little syrupy and overpowering with mince pies, but well-chilled and faced with the bitterness of the juniper berries, it came into its own.

¡Que rico! Tapas is the latest in a series of innovative food businesses to set up in Cambridge – as the growth of the Mill Road Winter Fair, Eat Cambridge and Cambridge Food and Wine Society have shown, there is definitely a burgeoning interest in superior food in the city and ¡Que rico! Tapas deserves to do well.

Estefania’s food was one of the best meals I have had in a long time – the dishes are simple and traditional and do not aspire to the sort of achingly-hip, knowingly-ironic cleverness that you may find in some of Cambridge’s more edgy restaurants.

For there is only so much too-cool-for-school food that I can take; a diet of foamed vegetables and trios of deconstructed whatevers may have an initial wow factor, but for me becomes tedious – like a day of back-to-back motivational speakers.

And, after a busy weekend day of various fairs and ferrying children to activities, to be served six courses of simple but perfectly-judged, utterly faultless and delicious food in the comfort of our own home by an enthusiastic, accomplished (and very child-friendly) chef was a delight.

If and when Cambridge gets its first sherry bar, I just hope someone approaches ¡Que rico! Tapas to provide the food.

Other related articles

Hidalgo Sherry Dinner With Cambridge Wine Merchants at The Punter

Inder’s Kitchen

Pavitt’s Pies

Links

¡Que rico! Tapas – website, twitter, facebook

Wine of The Month – December 2013

With Christmas and the end of the year hoving into view, it’s time to think about celebratory wines.

With that in mind, we have fizz (and plenty of it) in the form of a couple of guest wines. WineTrust 100 make a welcome return, and we have the wines of local resident Eugene Lismonde who set up a vineyard in South West France near his wife’s childhood home.

To start – fizz

Taltarni Tache 2010 (£18, WineTrust 100) from cool-climate regions of Australia, a very classical, elegant and composed Champagne-style fizz – pale salmon pink, restrained yeasty-citrus nose; ripe white pear and white peach with redcurrant. Assertive, well-structured, linear acidity and leesiness. Savoury persistence on the finish

Really poised and precise, it is drinking nicely now, but will repay a few years’ cellaring.

Tour de Belfort Crémant de Bordeaux Brut (£12.50, Tour de Belfort) Bordelais grapes, but Champenois method; elegant, crisp and refreshing and as good as many an entry-level Champagne.

The main event – Christmas Dinner

Henri Clos Marlborough Pinot Noir 2009 (£24.99, Joseph Barnes Wines) Combining New Zealand freshness and precision with classical European elegance – ripe, pure red fruits, elegance and a lick of oak. This is really lovely and worth every penny.

Domaine de Vedilhan Serica Viognier (£10.49, Bacchanalia) a Languedoc Viognier that sees a bit of time in oak; stone fruits and creaminess that will match well with roast turkey.

Go on then, just one more mince pie

Stanton & Killeen Rutherglen Muscat (£13.49 per half bottle, Noel Young Wines) solera-method Aussie sticky, this is a dark orangey-mahogany colour and very syrupy. Very full on so won’t be phased by mince pies and Christmas pudding. Serve lightly chilled to emphasis the freshness.

Henriques & Henriques Bual Madeira 10yo (£18.99 per 50cl bottle, Cambridge Wine Merchants) delicious raisins, mixed fruit, roasted nuts and sweet spices – but with a refreshing acidity, a sort of Christmas pudding in a glass

Goes best on Christmas Day after you’ve stuffed yourself with turkey and sprouts, had your Christmas pudding and you can’t face another mince pie; sip whilst staring contentedly into the fire – or watching the Dr Who Christmas Special as the Daleks try and conquer the universe again

Links

Cambridge Wine Merchants – website

Joseph Barnes Wines – website

Noel Young Wines – website

Tour de Belfort – website, twitter

Wine Trust 100 – website, twitter

Main image credit: http://www.mrwallpaper.com/wallpapers/Winter-Snowman.jpg

Wine of the Month – November 2013

November brings bonfire night – a smokey, spicy, chilly celebration of fireworks, oohs and aaahs. It is also the month of Remembrance Day and Movember.

The wines from our regular Cambridge merchants are, like many a fuzzy upper lip, bigger and fuller this month – and we have not one but two guest appearances – firstly from newly-established WineTrust100, plus a welcome return from Beaujolais and Beyond.

We start, however, with an off-piste natural wine from Joseph Barnes.

Vina Almate Tempranillo 2012, VdlT Castilla y Leon (£10.50 Joseph Barnes Wines)

If brambly, vanilla Spanish Tempranillo is a style you are familiar with, don’t expect to find it in this elegant-yet-rugged natural wine.

Dark in the glass, the nose gives little away, except perhaps for a touch of dark fruit and funk.

The palate is sharp and refreshing, with pure black-cherry and dark berry fruit, an elusive savouriness and a hint of fermented fruit.

It’s a curious wine – as natural wines often are – yet strangely alluring. Intense, focused and uncompromising, this is something of a punk wine; like the mohican-ed toughs who used to hang out in my East Midlands town centre on a Saturday when I was growing up, it demands your attention and feels edgy, yet underneath the scowl, spikes and studs, it’s actually very civilised.

Match with something equally edgy – such as steak tartare. Also beetroot with cream cheese.

Domaine du Diamant Noir, Cotes du Rhone 2012 (£8.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants)

The start of autumn can be said to be heralded by opening your first Cotes du Rhone – warming, dark and spicy, it is perfectly suited to hearty stews and gamey dishes.

This Domaine du Diamant Noir from the southern Rhone is a blend of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault – with dark berry fruit and some spice on the nose, it has a classic, southern Rhone profile.

On the palate there is more plummy fruit, sweet peppery vanilla spice and fresh acidity with perfectly ripe tannins underpinned by grippy savouriness – classy and elegant, if perhaps a little lacking in concentration.

Match with roast beef dinners and hearty stews.

Sottano Malbec 2012, Argentina (£9.99 Noel Young Wines)

From the Llujan de Cuyo region of Argentina, where vineyard altitudes are from 800m – 1,100m giving wines with deep colour and ripeness with fresh acidity.

Malbec is Argentina’s signature grape – historically from Bordeaux, it is also grown in Cahors where it is known as Cot.

Typically quite flamboyant, if a little rustic, Malbec often feels like it needs a bit of a wash and brush-up to be acceptable in polite company – it can be a Bruce Springsteen of a wine.

This dark, seductive Sottano, however, is more of a Bryan Ferry – with dark fruit, spiciness and a chocolatey texture underpinned by a fresh acidity and good savouriness, it is well-groomed and classy.

Don’t be afraid to decant – and serve with the best Argentine beef you can find.

Bodegas Borsao, Tinto 2011, Campo de Borja, Spain – (£5.99, Wine Trust 100)

The first guest wine this month is from Wine Trust 100, a new wine retailer, set up by three local Masters of Wine - Sarah Abbott from Bedford, John Hoskins who runs The Old Bridge in Huntingdon and Nick Adams who lives in Cambridgeshire.

This Spanish Garnacha from Bodegas Borsao is a classy crowd-pleaser - with a nose of morello cherries, plummy fruit, liquorice, leather, vanilla and spice.

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

The texture is soft and smooth, with some gentle grip developing on the finish.

Match with darker game, such as pheasant stuffed with apricots, or spicy sausages.

2011 Chénas Cuvée Tradition (£11.50, Beaujolais and Beyond)I was so impressed with the guest Beaujolais from Beaujolais and Beyond last month that I’ve included another one this time.

This is a textbook Beaujolais cru – purple in the glass with dark berry fruit, the palate shows dark fruit and cinnamon spice. Elegant and precise with good, food-friendly sour-cherry acidity, lovely tannins and good finish.

Match with lighter game such as duck, partridge or a game casserole.

Links

Beaujolais and Beyond – website

Cambridge Wine Merchants – website

Joseph Barnes Wines – website

Noel Young Wines – website

Wine Trust 100 – website, twitter

Main image credit: https://www.makewav.es/blog/180715/bonfirenight

This article also appears on Cambridge Wine Blogger

Wine of the Month – October 2013

October is a somewhat confused time of year – the only month that can bring summer-like heat, damp autumnal chill and wintry darkness.

At this time of year, foods are gamey with intense sauces which means big wines with gamey, vegetal aromas.

This month, we also have a seasonally-appropriate guest entry from Norwich-based Beaujolais specialist, Beaujolais and Beyond

For sunny days Orballo Albarino, Rias Baxas (£10.49, Bacchanalia)

From north western Spain, this is made from the Albarino grape and similar to a summery vinho verde from across the border in Portugal.

Dark sandy yellow in the glass, there are aromas of citrus fruit and melon skin.

The palate is zesty with ripe citrus fruit, pineapple and yellow apricot, with fresh acidity.

Characterful more than elegant, it is bigger and fuller than the traditionally light vinho verde and would match with white fish, quenelles in a creamy sauce or chicken in a morel and sherry sauce.

For chilly days Domaine de la Plaigne, 2011, Régnié (£11.30, Beaujolais and Beyond)

Like Chablis to the north, southern Burgundy’s Beaujolais region is a once over-hyped region that is now ripe for a revival.

Made from the Gamay grape, Beaujolais does not aspire to the complexity of great Pinot Noir, for sure, but when well-made can show an alluring elegance.

Translucent purple in the glass, there are aromas of red and black cherry.

The palate shows a real purity of cherry and plum fruit and fresh, prominent acidity with real elegance and precision – this is a really lovely wine. Good.

With plenty of acidity, low tannins and pure fruit, it is a highly-versatile food wine that can stand up to stronger sauces – match with autumnal foods such as duck with cherry sauce or venison with red-wine jus.

For wintry evenings Silvern ‘Greenock’ Shiraz, Barossa 2011 (£9.25, Noel Young Wines)

Made by Noel’s partner at Magpie Estate in Australia’s Barossa Valley, this is a cancelled order offered at a bargain price.

Dark fruits, with a warming, slightly baked character, roasted spices and a slap of leather, held together by a prominent acidity.

Soft texture and savouriness, somewhat port-like.

With roast dinners Lavinyeta Puntiapart* 2011 Emporda, Spain (£14.99 CambridgeWine Merchants)

An unusual blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Samso (aka Carignan), this is dark purple in the glass, with sliced green bell peppers and pencil shavings on the nose.

There is lots of dark plummy, black cherry fruit and toasty-oak spiciness on the palate, cut through with fresh acidity and underpinned by perfectly-ripe tannins.

Long and savoury with an inky texture and a pleasant firmness on the finish, this is an extremely accomplished wine indeed. Very Good.

For days of mist and mellow fruitfulness Jean-Luc Matha, Cuvee Lairis, Marcillac (£11.50 Joseph Barnes Wines)

From south west France, this is made from the Fer Servadou grape – “fer” being a reference not to iron, but to a “feral” character of the grape.

Bright ruby purple, with initially a slight cabbagey-sulphurous aromas on the nose (often actually a sign of low added sulphur), below which are ripe strawberries and some leather.

Pure, precise red and black cherry fruit, peppery spice and fresh linear acidity.

Very elegant, with soft tannins, medium-length, some persistence and a clean finish – quite different and very interesting. Good.

Match with in-season game, especially pheasant or hare.

Other related articles

More on Beaujolais РBoJo-L̩

Wine of the month archive

 

Links

Bacchanalia – website

Beaujolais and Beyond – website

Cambridge Wine Merchants – website

Joseph Barnes Wines – website

Noel Young Wines – website

 

Main image credit: http://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large/pheasant-shooting-henry-thomas-alken.jpg

Kefalonia – a Guide

Earlier this year, inspired by a tasting of Greek wines, I decided to take the CWB family on holiday to a Greek island.

Eschewing the prospect of being just another tourist in some large, beach-front hotel floating on a lilo in the pool by day and eating at identikit tavernas every night, I arranged for us to stay at a secluded, olive grove with just six bedrooms, a pool and breakfast on the terrace.

Ironically, despite studying classics at school, it was my first trip to Greece except for a very brief business trip to an anonymous suburb of Athens a few years ago.

So if like me, you are a Greek novice, here is a basic guide to visiting Kefalonia.

Stay

Gentilini Retreat, a 20ha olive grove in the hills above Argostoli, converted into six bed-and-breakfast bedrooms and a pool with a view of the mountains. You’ll need a hire car to get around.

Drive

All the big name car hire companies are on the island, plus plenty of local ones, which tend to be cheaper, such as Pefanis. Book well in advance to get the best prices.

Eat

En Kefallinia in Lakithra serves organic traditional Greek food with refinement and elegance.

To Castro at St George’s castle, the hilltop, former capital of the island just outside modern-day capital Argostoli, serves well-made home-cooked Greek food, with great views as well (the views at next-door Palatino are even better, the food less so).

Kiani Akte a seafood restaurant over the water in Argostoli; meat dishes can be a bit basic, but their fresh seafood is some of the best.

Drink

The island’s native grape variety is Robola – citrussy and elegant with a minerally, white pepper finish. Pure white limestone soil makes for elegant wines, the best are from vineyards cooled by sea breezes or altitude.

The biggest producer is the Robola Co-operative, the best is Gentilini. Both do tours and cellar door sales.

Also look out for dry red Mavrodaphne (more commonly made sweet on Patras).

Mythos beer is strong, malty and crisp – it goes perfectly with a plate of pork souvlaki.

Beach

Myrtos is beautiful and perhaps the most famous (it was used for a scene in Captain Corelli), but not necessarily the most accessible and has a strong rip tide.

Beaches with lots of golden sand and shallow water are plentiful; two of the best can be found at either end of the airport at either Ammes or Minies.

See

With much of the island destroyed by an earthquake in 1953 and only a few remains from classical antiquity, Kefalonia is a better place for relaxation than full-on sight-seeing.

The island’s mountainous landscape and winding roads are perhaps its most interesting feature, so the drive can be as much of the trip as the destination.

St George’s Castle is a ruined hilltop fortress that was formerly the island’s capital (allow 1 hour, plus time for a meal).

For even more spectacular views, journey up to the highest point on the island, Mt Enos 1,682m high (allow 2 hours for the drive up and down – longer if you want to go for a walk at the top).

St Gerassimo Monastery – now rebuilt, it is incongruously both ancient and modern. It features the body of the eponymous saint in a glass case (allow 30 mins).

Robola Co-operative – next to the monastery, this is the largest wine producer on the island and specialises in the island’s native grape, Robola. There is an opportunity to walk around the winery and taste some of the wines (allow 30 mins).

Melissani Lake – an underground lake some 20,000 years old whose roof fell in around 5,000 years ago. Nowadays accessed via a walkway cut through the rock in the 1960s. Allow 30 mins for the visit plus time to see the water flowing out into the sea at Karavomylos and time for a meal on the sea-front.

A short drive through Sami takes you up a hill to an ancient hilltop citadel – now mostly ruins but partly restored (allow 30 mins to walk up and take in the views, more if you have a picnic up there or want to explore).

Gentilini Winery – a few kilometres from the retreat, the winery is on a cliff edge with views across the sea to Lixouri. Allow an hour or more for a guided tour and tasting with owners Marianna and Petros or wine-maker Chris Carter.

Fiskardo – a pretty fishing village at the northern tip of the island, it was unaffected by the earthquake, but has inevitably become something of a tourist magnet (allow 2 hours to wander round, browse shops and have a coffee).

Assos – another hilltop castle set on a spur, but you’ll need to walk the 2km up to this one. Allow an hour to wander round the beaches and harbour of Assos and a couple of hours to walk up to the castle.

The stars – with almost no street lights, the sky over Kefalonia is beautifully clear. Greeks tend to eat out after dark, when it is cooler and the wasps have gone home, and we would typically sit out for a while whenever we got back just listening to the cicadas and looking up at the sky.

For kids

If they tire of beaches and sandcastles, take them to:

Prokris – an outdoor playpark in Mazarakata open from around 7:30 in the evening. Adults can enjoy beer and, on Saturdays, souvlaki straight from the grill.

Ionian Sea Hotel and Waterpark – take the “Turkish Slipper” ferry from Argostoli to Lixouri, follow signs to Xi beach, then turn off to the water park, an outdoor swimming pool with 5 slides, plus sun loungers for those who just want to relax.

The ferry departs every half hour and takes half an hour – allow a whole day for the entire trip.

There’s plenty more that we did not have time to do – but that’s the point of a holiday; always leave something to come back to.

Links & addresses

Gentilini Retreat – website

Robola Co-operative – Omala, 28100, Kefalonia (no website)

Gentilini Winery – website

En Kafallinia -  address (no website)

Prokris – follow signs in Mazarakata (no website)

Ionian Sea Hotel and Waterpark – Lixouri, Kefalonia (no website)

Wine of The Month – September 2013

September means back-to-school time – not quite the end of the summer weather, but neither yet fully autumnal. It is the start of a gentle slide into gradually cooler weather, shorter days and general decline.

But with an Indian Summer still a distinct possibility, we need a range of wines for all potential outcomes.

Legaris Verdejo Rueda 2012 (£7.99, Noel Young Wines)

Spain may be generally better known for oaky reds, but this is a good, fresh, crisp white from Rueda, to the north west of Madrid.

The secret to the steely crispness (and relatively low alcohol level of 12%) is the combined effects of altitude (between 600m – 800m) the influence of the river Duero and night-harvesting of the grapes to maintain freshness.

Verdejo originated in north Africa but was brought to this part of Spain hundreds of years ago and is now associated with the area – it is aromatic, like a Sauvignon Blanc, but a bit more textured.

With a steely acidity, green apple fruit, aromatic notes and persistence, it’s a good alternative to Sauvignon if you are looking for something similar-but-different.

Crisp enough for aperitif, food matches are as per Sauvignon - goat’s cheese salad, grilled vegetables or seafood.

La Boussole Pinot Noir 2011 (£9.25, Joseph Barnes Wines)

One would be forgiven for expecting a Pinot Noir with a French name to be from Burgundy; however this is actally from Montelimar in Ardeche – an area of the south of France better known for its nougat than its Pinots Noirs.

As with the Verdejo, the wine benefits from an unusually moderate microclimate that favours the grape’s preference for cooler climates.

Pinot is a good autumnal wine for various reasons – it’s one of the lighter reds, and matches well with game which is just coming into season.

This wine is light and approachable with cherry fruit – a good easy-drinker, it will match with food such as duck or leg of lamb, or can be sipped, slightly chilled, in the garden on a hotter day.

Tenuta Vitanza Volare 2009 Toscano Rosso (£8.99, Bacchanalia)

A Sangiovese more akin to Brunello’s style of soft tannins and ripe fruit than the challenging Chianti style, this shows lots of ripe fruit on first opening.

With aeration, it becomes more distinctly Italian – with dark cherry fruit, a rasp of acidity, some spice and a firmness on the finish.

Match with rich beef dishes, such as bolognese or meatballs.

Domaine Gayda Syrah 2011 (£8.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants)

A Syrah from Languedoc, this is geographically European, the Old World, but from a sunny cornerand comes with a touch of New World swagger to it.

It’s big and ripe, with lots of sweet dark fruit, but also some complex spiciness, acidity and savouriness – a classy crowd-pleaser; good concentration and poise.

Match with roasted red meat or hearty stews with a bit of spice and some root vegetables.

Links

Bacchanalia – website

Cambridge Wine Merchants – website

Joseph Barnes Wines – website

Noel Young Wines – website

Main image credit: website

Gentilini Wines, Kefalonia – Greece

Kefalonia’s Gentilini family, originally from Italy, traces its arrival on the Greek island back to the 1520s; several centuries later, in the early 20th century, the last Gentilini married a Kosmetatos and the name died out.

Marianna Kosmetatos, a direct descendent of the Gentilini-Kosmetatos line, is the current owner and manager of the Gentilini winery with husband Petros.

Both are returned expats of a sort – Marianna’s father left the country after a coup and had his daughters educated in the UK, whilst Petros’ family went to Australia.

Kefalonia, one of the largest and less overtly touristy Greek islands has a European, rather than Turkish, heritage that included civilised society, gilded furniture and balls but 7,000 years of history were destroyed by a huge earthquake in 1953.

Of more interest to would-be winemakers is that the island is cooled by winds from the north and is composed almost entirely of pure white limestone which reaches over 1,600m at its highest point.

The island has three PDOs – for Robola, sweet Mavrodaphne and sweet Muscat.

The Gentilini winery is just 30 years old and dates from when father Kosmetatos returned from a self-imposed exile – a man with artistic tendencies, he designed and built a house on a cliff edge with 180-degree panoramic views.

Behind it stands the vineyard, winery and tasting area. Early plantings of Chardonnay were not a great success and the focus of the vineyard is, increasingly, indigenous varieties including Mavrodaphne (made dry) and Tsaoussi.

The winery – all organic and gravity-fed (easily done on the steep hillsides) – also buys in grapes from growers both on the island and from the mainland, around 40 tons annually to make a range of red, white and rose wines of increasing quality and complexity.

Each year a number of experimental wines are made – last year was a late-harvest dessert wines, this year, with a new winemaker arrived most recently from the UK’s sparkling wine industry, they are trying out a traditional-method fizz based on early-picked grapes.

I first tried Gentilini’s Classic Robola at a presentation of Greek wines by Konstantinos Lazarakis MW for the Circle of Wine Writers earlier this year. Staying at the Gentilini Retreat – a 20ha olive grove with rooms and a pool, run by sister Eleni Kosmetatos – I was invited down to the winery for a tasting by Marianna.

With lots of temperature-controlled stainless steel and small oak barrels, quality is high – and this is reflected in the prices which start in double figures for the entry-levels wines and will push, or possibly hit, three figures for magnums of the top Reserve red.

The whites have a minerality and precise purity that reminds me somewhat of Austria much further to the north; the reds, from traditionally-sweet Mavrodaphne and fulsome, bosomy Agiorgitiko have a more crowd-pleasing fruit-forward softness, but with plenty of stuffing, too.

All wines are 2012 in bottle, except where noted, and we accompanied the tasting with some Gentilini olive oil and local graviera cheese, the name apparently taken from Gruyere.

Notes – the entry-level Gentilini wine, often sold as unlabelled house-wine by local restaurants; good, straightforward and pleasant; fresh and citrussy.

Aspro – Tsaoussi, Muscat and SB blend; low in alcohol and acidity, Tsaoussi is not a great grape for making wine and needs the support of the other grapes here. Nonetheless, the result is crisp, toastiness, white flowers, persistence, aromatic herbs.

Classic Robola – 50/50 whole bunch (for elegance) and de-stemmed (for fruit); flinty, mineral nose; crisp and mineral, persistence – incredible freshness, grown at over 500m on pebbles over limestone (tank fermented). Good.

Cellar Selection Robola – 20% barrel fermented (2 weeks plus 1 month lees stirring) harvested 2 weeks later – bigger, fuller, more texture and depth, touch of oaky toastiness on the finish, maybe needs some time for the new oak to settle down. Good.

Rose – Moschofilero & Agiorgitiko blend (red, white & pink berries); cranberry red, bubblegum nose & red fruits (but no carbonic maceration) very crisp & mineral, quite tannic – needs food (not at all a provencal rose).

Unique Blend Red – Agiorgitiko (plus some Syrah); soft and fruit-forward, bramble with pepperiness

Eclipse 2011 – chocolatey, spicey, leathery liquorice and gaminess, fresh acidity, ripe bramble fruit, depth and persistence, minerality. Good.

Eclipse 2012 (barrel sample) more concentrated than the 2011. Very Good.

Eclipse Reserve 2012 (barrel sample) another step up again. Very Good Indeed.

Syrah 2009 - some Mavrodaphne (18m in barrel) minty, spicy, dark fruit, complex nose – soft velvety texture, pepperiness, dense structure and concentrated firmness, ripe tannins, muscular. Good.

Dessert wine (283 half-bottles made as an experiment, air-dried SB & Muscat) 12% alcohol, peachy nectarine, roasted skins, fresh acidity, savouriness and depth -  more intense than elegant. Not made commercially – which is a pity. Good.

The Robola is imported into the UK by Eclectic Wines of London SW6 3RA (mary@eclecticwines.com).

Links

Gentilini Winery – website

Gentilini Retreat – website

Chateau d’Angles – Languedoc

 

Earlier this year, the CWB family spent a week in the gite of Chateau d’Angles as guests of owners Eric and Christine Fabre.

La Clape is a rocky hill covered in low scrub, known as garrigue – and forest lying between Narbonne and the Mediterranean in France’s Languedoc region.

Where Provence, further round the coast, is dusty and lavender scented, La Clape is greener and home to colourful songbirds, bats, hares and even wild boar.

La Clape’s history dates back to Roman times, when it was an island, until a programme of draining the marshes joined it up to the mainland.

These days it is a protected natural park and retains an unspoilt character, nestling between the buzzy, developed sea-fronts of St Pierre and Valras.

Eric Fabre moved to the region around ten years ago from Bordeaux where he was wine-maker at first-growth estate Lafite-Rothschild.

After almost a year of searching, he found a long, low farmhouse at the foot of the hill, just back from the sea and overlooking two vineyards – La Riviere Haut and La Riviere Bas – whose names recall the ancient river which once flowed here and result in two very different terroirs for winemaking.

The vineyard just below the farmhouse is mainly rocks washed down the hill of La Clape where old bush vines produce the concentrated, mineral whites that go into the Grand Vin Blanc. A row of almond trees marks a border with the next vineyard which is made of pebbly alluvial soils where Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre grow to make ripe gamey reds.

Chateau d’Angles produces five wines of all colours – an entry-level classique white, fermented in vats, whilst the Grand Vin adds some aging in oak for more texture; a red-berry rose with fresh acidity; a classique red and the Grand Vin rouge.

With the winery just a few metres from the vineyards, early-morning picking ensures freshness whilst the hillside location allows for gravity-based settling preserving flavour.

Whilst the red grapes are the familiar Languedoc GSM, the whites are more unusual – a mix of Bourboulenc, Roussane and Marsanne which are all more at home in the Rhone, as well as Grenache Gris.

The white have aromas of beeswax, sweet spice and honeysuckle – the reds have ripe bramble fruit, pepperiness and very fine, perfectly ripe tannins; both wines are big and warming.

After a tour of the vineyards and the winery, including samples from vat and barrel, we had lunch with winemaker Eric, wife Christine and local ex-pat PR, Louise Hurren.

Christine had prepared a starter of parma ham with cherry tomatoes and pine nuts which Eric matched with a 2001 white, his first vintage, which showed incredible freshness and just the merest hints of aged character.

 

The main of guinea fowl was matched to a 2005 red which, again, felt like it was only just ready for drinking and surely has many more years’ life in it.

A week’s accommodation at Chateau d’Angles costs from €640 to €1500 all taxes included

To book: contact Christine Fabre: info@chateaudangles.com or phone +33 619 58 15 68

Chateau d’Angles wines are available from Ocado and Wine Rack at £12 for the classiques and £20 for the Grands Vins.

Corkers: Rock & Roll Crisps in Space

The press pack for these Corkers Crisps tells me they are made from a unique variety of potato (Naturalo, apparently), are sliced thinner for a better texture, are made locally and sustainably in Cambridgeshire, are served on BA, at Kew Gardens and The British Library, have been on television and even travelled to space.

That’s quite a series of achievements for a company that is only 4 years old and was dreamt up on a ski lift.

Founded in 2009 by friends Ross Taylor and Rod Garnham, the entire business is based at the Taylor family farm just outside Cambridge, meaning that everything is done in one place, so visitors can dig their own spud and see it made into crisps in under an hour.

All of this would be for nought, however, if the crisps were not any good. But they are actually some of the best I’ve ever had.

Where mass-market branded crisps tend to be greasy, overly salted and rather harsh, these feel like they have been made with real attention to detail; not at all greasy, with good, well-balanced flavours, they are very good crisps.

The CWB children were naturally keen to help out with a tasting so we opened up all six packets and got to work.

The quality of all varieties was uniformly high and choices for best crisp really just came down to personal preference.

For me, the more traditional flavours worked best – the Sea Salt was fine, the Sea Salt and Black Pepper had a lovely kick of aromatic black pepper whilst the Sea Salt and Cider Vinegar was nicely sweet-sharp and salty.

The more ambitious flavours of Sweet Thai Chili, Red Leicester and Caramelised Onion plus Pork Sausage and English Mustard I found a bit less convincing overall and rather sweeter, but from equally well-made base materials.

Corkers Crisps 40g bags are priced around 75p each.

Wine of The Month – July 2013

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

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

Umbrele Sauvignon Blanc, Romania – Bacchanalia (£6.49)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Match with roast white meats or sea bass.

Bodegas Borsao ‘Monte Oton’ Campo de Borja Garnacha, Spain – Noel Young Wines (£5.99)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine of the Month – May 2013

Named after the Greek goddess Maia, May is the month when spring turns into summer – or should do, at least.

With two bank holidays in the month, opportunities for leisurely eating outside should be plentiful – and in case we get the inevitable bank holiday wash-out, there are also some reds.

This month, we also have a guest entry from Waitrose.

Cave de Lugny Sparkling Burgundy Blanc de Blancs NV Crémant de Bourgogne (£12.99, Waitrose – 25% off until May 21st)

Made by the traditional (i.e. Champenois) method, this cremant de Bourgogne is made from 100% Chardonnay.

The grapes are from the Maconnais region of southern Burgundy – a significantly warmer climate than Champagne, several hours’ drive to the north, meaning more ripeness.

On pouring, it foams enthusiastically; sandy yellow in the glass, there are aromas of ripe pear and toasty leesy aromas and a hint of sweet spice.

On the palate, there is ripe, white pear fruit and a fine mousse. The acidity is refreshing with a leesy biscuitiness and a persistent finish.

Elegant and approachable, this is a classy fizz with a sunny disposition.

Serve as an aperitif or match with shellfish, choucroute or soft white cheese such as brie.

Vina Leyda ‘Kadun Vineyard’ Sauvignon Gris, Chile (£11.99, Noel Young Wines)

Sauvignon Gris is a relatively unusual mutation of the more familiar Sauvignon Blanc – it shares Sauvignon’s linear acidity and minerality, but is less herbaceously aromatic.

The grapes for this varietal Sauvignon Gris are cooled by sea breezes in Chile’s Leyda Valley, leading to long, slow ripening and more complexity as a result.

Bright sandy yellow, touch of flint and green pepper on the nose.

Linear, mouthfilling citrus acidity and good minerality. Ripe pear fruit cut through with fresh acidity, hints of honeydew melon and green nettles.

Clean, minerally finish, fresh, balanced and elegant; really good, versatile food wine. Match with fish dishes or light starters.

La Petite Syrah du Mas Montel, 2011, Pays du Gard (£8.99, Joseph Barnes Wines)

Mas Montel is based near Montpellier on the French south coast, whilst Petite Syrah is a cross of two southern French grapes, the noble Syrah with the rough-and-tumble Durif.

Translucent ruby in the glass, there are ripe red fruits on the palate and some warming sweet spice.

With just 12.5% alcohol, this is quite a light red; the texture is soft with fresh acidity, the finish gentle and warming.

Match with a plate of mixed anti-pasti; mozzarella, salami and roasted vegetables, ideally served in the garden on a warm, lazy evening.

Grignon Monastier Shiraz 2012, Pays d’Oc (£7.99, Bacchanalia)

From the vibrant Languedoc region of southern France, this wine is unusual in being labelled a Shiraz.

Firstly, because the French name for this grape is Syrah (Shiraz is generally its New-World name) and secondly because the tradition in France is to label by place of origin, rather than variety.

Dark purple in the glass, there are lots of ripe, dark berry aromas on the nose, with hints of sweet spice.

On the palate, there is black cherry and elderberry fruit; the texture is pleasantly soft and slightly inky with a touch of firmness and persistence on the finish.

With fresh acidity and low tannins, this is an easy drinker that will match strongly-flavoured foods, such as leg of lamb with a Mediterranean spice-and-citrus rub.

Bodegas Neo Ribera del Duero Disco 2011, Ribera Del Duero (£12.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants)

Just up the road from Rioja, Ribera Del Duero is the modern wine miracle of Spain, and produces wines from the same principle red grape – Tempranillo – but in a very different style on a wide, high plateau.

Ribera del Duero’s fierce continental climate, tempered by altitude to give a long growing season, results in intense, concentrated wines with a lively acidity.

The label features a vinyl LP (Radiohead’s The Bends, apparently)and I can’t help hoping the millennial vintage featured Pulp’s Disco 2000.

Dark, almost opaque, in the glass, there are aromas of bramble fruit, pencil shavings and complex oaky spice.

The palate shows rich dark fruits, chocolateyness and some bitter herbs; the texture is soft, mouthfilling and velvety with a touch of vibrant mintiness; it feels well-structured and poised.

Long and savoury on the palate, with firm, perfectly ripe tannins on the finish. Very classy indeed – match with plain roast red meat or steak.

Copyright Tom Lewis 2013

A Most Particular Taste: Haut-Brion 350 Years Celebration Dinner

On April 10th 1663, diarist, Cambridge-graduate and upwardly-mobile man-about-town, Samuel Pepys wrote to have “drank a sort of French wine called Ho Bryen that hath a good and most particular taste I never met with”, thereby inventing the tasting note.

Haut-Brion, the only Bordeaux first growth based outside the Medoc, was purchased in 1935 by US financier Clarence Dillon, and is now run by Prince Robert of Luxembourg after Dillon’s granddaughter married into the family.

To mark the 350th anniversary of this earliest recorded assessment of the wine, Cambridge University Wine Society arranged a Celebration Dinner, starting with a talk by Dr. Jane Hughes, Samuel Pepys Librarian and Fellow of Magdalene College, on Pepys, the diary and the 1660s.

This was followed by a reception and viewing of the diary entry itself (unintelligible to most as Pepys wrote in shorthand) and an earlier factual record by Charles II’s cellarmaster in Magdalene College’s Pepys library.

The reception, on a sunny spring evening in the college cloisters, featured a Pol Roger 2002 – a beautiful, elegant fizz with wonderful poise – whilst the finale of the evening was a candlelit dinner in the college with wines from the domaine.

Starter: pan-fried scallops with pancetta, garden pea puree and lemon oil

We started with two whites, La Clarte de Haut Brion 2009 and Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc 2003.

La Clarte is a limited bottling of 50% La Mission Blanc (purchased by Domaine Clarence Dillon in 1983) and 50% Haut-Brion Blanc from a very good year indeed; the 2003 is from a very warm year in which the grapes had to be picked as early as August 13th to preserve freshness.

La Clarte de Haut Brion 2009 a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon, just 1,000 cases made; wonderful palate length, complexity and balance. Feels extremely elegant and precise. Really lovely, Very Good Indeed.

Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc 2003 so picked early to maintain freshness; not a wine for long ageing. Starting to tire a little already, the fruit has mostly faded and it lacks the weightiness and length of the 2009. Good fresh acidity.

Main: oven roasted fillet of Norfolk venison with chanterelle mushrooms, rich red wine jus, dauphinoise potatoes, celeriac puree and green beans

Following the school of thought that serves the best wine first when people are more attentive and palates fresher, the main was accompanied by the stand-out wine of the evening, a 1989 Haut-Brion.

In her summing-up at the end, Serena Sutcliffe MW referred to this wine as “a monument” and I was unable to find anyone who did not consider this the best wine of the evening.

Chateau Haut-Brion 1989 still dark in the glass, with few signs of age. Incredible, complex secondary aromas of leather, bell pepper, soy and well-hung game with good fruit; wonderful freshness, matched with elegance and precision. Very Good Indeed – and then some.

Chateau Haut-Brion 1995 lots more ripe fruit on the palate and much less evolution – amazingly youthful for a wine at almost 20 years and feels to have much more life left. Very Good.

Cheese: cheese board with biscuits, grapes and celery

I have never quite understood the idea of matching red wine with cheese – especially young reds with mature, hard yellow cheeses.

Whilst the cheeses were all lovely, for me this was the one part of the meal where the matching did not work.

Le Clarence de Haut-Brion 2008 this could easily be the top wine at any other tasting, but coming after the poise and refined elegance of the previous reds, it feels too young to be drinking now; lots of primary ripe fruit feels like a slap round the chops compared to the preceding wines. Good.

Dessert: traditional creme brulee, shortbread biscuit and seasonal berries

There are few desserts better than a creamily unctuous creme brulee with a thin, crisp, perfectly-browned topping. Add in a rich sticky dessert wine and you have pudding heaven.

A dessert this good needs no additions and the shortbread-and-berry additions were a case of more is less.

Clarendelle Amberwine 2003 lovely dessert wine with peachy, beeswax aromas, waxy texture and plenty of concentrated botrytis. Long on the palate with good fresh acidity; reminds me of a Ruster Ausbruch from Austria, but with just a touch more levity. As expressive and lithe as a ballerina. Very Good.

Links

Domaine Clarence Dillon – website

Chateau Haut-Brion – website, twitter

Copyright Tom Lewis 2013

Two Wines from Dopff & Irion, Alsace

Dopff & Irion is based in the beautiful village of Riquewihr in Franco-Germanic Alsace; the vineyards are now four estates, created by René Dopff in 1945: Les Murailles, Les Sorcières, Les Maquisards and Les Amandiers, each with a single variety planted.

The domaine sent me two wines to review: they make an oddly sensuous / nervy couple; the big blowsy Gewurz and the lean, limey Riesling – a bit like Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams in Carry On Matron.

Dopff & Irion Les Sorcières 2008

Varietal Gewurztraminer, this is deep golden sandy colour in the glass, it has an intense, complex, perfumed nose of lychees, rose petals, beeswax and sweet spice.

On the palate, there is more ripe exotic tropical and citrus fruit, varietal perfume of acacia and heather with clear, fresh acidity, honeyed sweetness, spice and a touch of bitter grapefruit, orange oil and hints of savoury yeastiness.

The texture is waxy and mouthfilling with weightiness from residual sugar (a generous 23g/l).

Match with gravadlax with dill and a honey and mustard vinagrette.

Dopff & Irion Les Murailles 2008

Varietal Riesling, golden in the glass; on the nose classic aged petrolly aromas, with complex white flower blossom, mineral and honey.

The palate is ripe and limey – like lime marmalade – with mouthwatering linear acidity and candied lemon peel, offset by a touch of steeliness and minerality.

Long on the palate and good savoury underpinnings with lime zest and persistence on the finish. Potential for further aging.

Match with seafood, such as char-grilled squid rings, or herby roast pork.

Ramon Bilbao Dinner at Cambridge Hotel du Vin

It’s not often you get to try a completely new appellation of wine – the Ramon Bilbao NV Mar de Frades Albariño Rías Baixas Brut Nature, the first-ever sparkling Albarino from Rias Baxas, was presented by Carlos Delage at Cambridge Hotel du Vin at a Ramon Bilbao dinner.

Over canapes in the Hotel’s Library room, Carlos explained that the wine is made by the methode champenoise, but does not aim to be a Champagne copy. Rather, with just a year’s ageing on the lees, it is a mediumweight fruit-driven sparkler with a fine mousse and plenty of varietal citrussy fruit and white flowers.

But there is also a persistence and savouriness that goes beyond mere blossomy spritz, so the closest stylistic comparison is perhaps a young blanc de blancs.

In any event, it has proven very popular – Spanish supermarket chain El Corte Ingles sold out of its allocation in just a few weeks, whilst Head Sommelier of Cambridge Hotel du Vin, Debbie Henriques, was so impressed that she immediately arranged to add it to the hotel’s list.

Our second aperitif was the Albarino Algareiro Rias Baxas 2011; much more weighty and complex than a typical Albarino, the emphasis here was on minerality, salinity and persistence.

On the Atlantic coast of north west Spain, just above Portugal, Rias Baxas is not an easy place to make wine; warm and damp, it provides perfect conditions for rot. To avoid this, the vines are trained on granite trellises around 2m high making pruning and harvesting all the more labour-intensive.

Ramon Bilbao was founded in the 1920s as a family company and is now on its third set of owners, but is still privately held. Owner and boss Rodolfo Bastida is the wine-maker, meaning, according to Carlos, an absolute focus on modernity and quality, rather than on pennies.

The wine that accompanied our starter was a good example of this – a Verdejo Monte Blanco 2012 from Rueda, the grapes are harvested at night and for freshness it is fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel to preserve the tropical-fruit aromas.

Grown on granite soils, it has a piercing, mouthfilling linear acidity and minerality with a delicately aromatic nose with puy lentils and white flowers that is reminiscent of Austrian Gruener Veltliner.

Hotel chef Jonathan Dean had matched this with pressed pork rillettes with an apple and chicory salad – the fresh acidity of the wine cut through the meat whilst the apple and chicory, lifted with a dash of mustard vinagrette, enhanced the aromatics of the wine.

The main of roast duck breast, cherry chutney and fondant potato was served with two reds from Rioja: the Gran Reserva 2004 Ramon Bilbao Rioja, a youthful purple colour with only a slight paleness around the rim, looks much younger than its almost decade of age.

On the nose there are dried bramble fruits, spice, leather and gaminess; the palate shows good fruit and acidity with sweet thyme.

Alongside this, we tried a 2001 Gran Reserva special vines Ramon Bilbao Rioja; this unfiltered wine, the product of a single vineyard that formed part of the original Ramon Bilbao estate, was also surprisingly youthful in appearance.

In the glass, the colour is purple with only a touch more paleness around the rim – all the more impressive considering it has spent three years in oak. The nose is complex with aromas of dried fruit, game, old leather, mushrooms and sweet herbs.

On the palate, there is a mouthfilling, fresh acidity and flavours of red pepper and rosehip. The finish shows fine-grained tannins and a savoury persistence.

This felt like a much older wine – noticeably more developed than the 2004 – and for me was much the more interesting of the two. Carlos, however, preferred the 2004, which caused me to wonder how the two might develop; on the night, the 2001 was more interesting, but in five, perhaps even ten years, I can see the 2004 showing better.

In any event, both wines matched extremely well with the food; the fresh acidity and gaminess were a classic match for duck breast, whilst a touch of spice in the jus and red cabbage accompaniment was extremely well-judged and brought the food and wine into perfect harmony.

The final course was a selection of British and Spanish cheeses served with a biodynamic wine, the Crianza Cruz de Alba 2008.

Biodynamics is something of a wild-haired branch of wine-making that takes organic, low-intervention processes as a base and sprinkles over a generous libation of astrology, pagan earth-worship and downright superstitious oddness.

It is a step-back in time to wine-making as it must have been practised several centuries ago – and the wines often have a vibrant, earthy character as a result.

With none of the advantages of the modern era, low-intervention wine-making also requires high-quality fruit and absolute cleanliness in both the vineyard and the winery.

Whether it is these factors or the cow horn full of dung and phases of the moon that impart a certain quality is something of a moot point.

But for anyone who feels that modern life has become somewhat sterile and soulless, this biodynamic crianza had a vibrancy and texture that spoke of a way of life that is more in touch with nature.

I finished the evening with a trip downstairs to the hotel’s bar with Mike Webb of importers Ellis of Richmond to try a glass of the Crianza edicion limitada.

This is essentially the second wine in years when the top Mierto is not made – in Bordeaux, my rule of thumb for a second wine in a weak year is that you get the elegance but not the structural interest.

The edicion limitada, however, suffered from no lack of structure with lots of fruit and perfectly ripe tannins It is available by the glass at Hotel du Vin and a great place to start in seeing what Ramon Bilbao has to offer.

Either that, or try the world’s first-ever sparkling Rias Baxas.

Tickets for the Ramon Bilbao Dinner at Cambridge Hotel du Vin cost £60; I attended as a guest of the hotel.

Wine of the Month – April 2013

April is the first full month of spring – a time when the grapes for this year’s wine will start to burst as buds on the vines.

It is also the month of Earth Day, St George’s Day and the London marathon, so take your pick. Also, April Fools Day and the cruellest month, according to TS Eliot.

St George himself was a Greek who became an officer in the Roman army before slaying the dragon and achieving sainthood. As he is the patron saint of shepherds, it is only appropriate that we should celebrate his feast day with lamb and some appropriate wines.

Bodega Mengoba, Breza Blanco 2011 (£11.35 Joseph Barnes Wines)

From the Bierzo region in northwest Spain, the vines (mainly Godello and Doña Blanca) are grown at an altitude of 550m giving both freshness and depth to the wine.

Vinified in a single barrel and aged in 500 litre foudres, there is some subtle oak influence; a pale lemon in colour with greenish tints. Scents of lemon-edged chalky fruit. On the palate, fresh with a pronounced minerality. Bright, creamy tropical fruit flavours and rounded in texture.

The finish is lingering.

Columbia Crest, Two Vines Cabernet Savignon, Washington State (£6.99 Bacchanalia) 

This US Cabernet Sauvignon is from Washington State -much further north than California with a more moderate-climate feel as a result.

Ruby in the glass, it has aromas of plummy fruit, mocha and oaky spice.

The palate shows ripe bramble fruit with good acidity and a lick of spicy, toasty oak; it feels soft and harmonious but with good savoury underpinnings and a firmness on the finish.

Handsome and well-groomed in an all-American sort of way, this is Richie Cunningham – no rough edges, no hidden depths, just a good ol’ boy. 

A bin-end in limited quantities, it’s just £6.99 and something of a bargain.

Magpie Estate ‘The Thief’ Mourvedre-Grenache Rosé (£11.95 Noel Young Wines)

From Noel’s own vineyard in Australia, this is not so much a rose wine as a red without tannins.

And with the sun finally coming out and temperatures possibly into double figures this weekend, it’s time finally to shake off the winter funk and party like it’s spring.

Made from the classic Languedoc grapes of Mourvedre and Grenache, with a touch of Cab Franc thrown in, it is a cranberry-red in the glass and has a smokey spice and soft red fruits on the nose.

The palate is mouthfilling with more soft red fruit and a wonderfully food-friendly savouriness. Perfect for these sunny-but-still-chilly days.

Match with picnic food and especially cold meats, or any spicy food with tomato.

La Chamiza Malbec 2012 Mendoza (£8.50, Cambridge Wine Merchants)

And if the reappearance of the sun has convinced you to dust down the barbecue, this spicy Argentinian red from Cambridge Wine Merchants is just perfect.

Dark purple in the glass, there is smokey spice and ripe plummy fruit on the nose.

The palate is ripe and spicy, with more pure plummy, black cherry fruit, fresh acidity and savouriness. Long on the palate and well balanced, the tannins are mouthfilling and perfectly ripe with a pleasant savoury firmness on the finish.

This is a wine geek’s barbecue red – ripe, fruity and quaffable, yet supremely well-made from really high-quality fruit.

Match with some smokey barbecue meats or, failing that, peppery steak.

Recommended Wine

The Malbec from Cambridge Wine Merchants and the Magpie Estate “The Thief” both score highly as well-made wines, but my recommendation this month is the lovely Two Vines Cab – available only in limited quantities, it is a handsome and cultured American at a bargain price.

Links

Bacchanalia – http://www.winegod.co.uk/

Cambridge Wine Merchants – http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/

Joseph Barnes Wines – http://www.josephbarneswines.com/

Noel Young Wines – http://www.nywines.co.uk/

Image credit: St George cross: http://beardedgit.com/?p=423, Richie Cunningham: http://www.retrocrush.com/archive2008/redheads/

La Cave des Vignerons de Pfaffenheim – Alsace

Dating back to 1957, La Cave des Vignerons de Pfaffenheim is a co-operative of 230 growers based in the sunnier, warmer part of southern Alsace that typically produces riper, fuller wines.

Alsace, with its Germanic heritage, generally produces single-variety wines labelled as such – these two wines, however, are blends with generic names.

Priced as everyday wines, both have a beautifully ripe-yet-dry easy-drinking style that will match well with a range of foods – the only question, then, is “Who’s more bootlicious ?”

Who is more bootylicious?

Black Tie (€10 ex-cellar)

A blend of Pinot Gris and Riesling, this wine shows off the character of these two grapes with the racy minerality and ripe citrus fruit of the Riesling and the ripe orchard fruit  and spiciness of the Pinot Gris.

With sweet-sour citrus, good minerality and savouriness, it is a somewhat Mosel-esque lovely drinker.

Match with Alsatian cuisine, such as pork, tarte flambee or coq au Riesling.

Pfaff Gentil (€6 ex-cellar) 

An undisclosed blend, this has the raciness of Riesling, the spice of Pinot Gris and just a touch of heady Gewurz perfume.

Golden, sandy yellow in the glass, on the nose there are ripe orchard and tropical fruits and a hint of spice.

The palate is ripe and spicy with good, rounded acidity – a zingy mouthful of luscious exotic tropical fruit and spice. Good savoury underpinnings too – and a perfectly balanced finish.

Curvaceous and beautiful, yet also lithe and athletic, match with a fish carpaccio – gravadlax or, even better, tuna with chilli and ginger.

Wine of the Month – March 2013

Also on Cambridge Wine Blogger.

With a name taken from the Roman god of war, March is neither quite the depths of winter nor properly spring.

Chilly, rather than frosty, it is said to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.

February’s snowdrops have given way to early-flowering daffodils and the days are noticeably longer if not especially milder.

It is no surprise, then, that this month we have all red wines – albeit not quite such hearty ones.

Aliança Bairrada Reserva, 2011, Portugal £7.25 (Noel Young Wines)

Portugal seems to have been on the cusp of greatness forever now – with unusual indigenous varieties, interesting flavours and a modernised wine industry, its has everything it needs to be the next wine region to watch.

Made from a blend of indigenous varieties (Baga, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz), this wine has black cherry fruit, black olives and bitter green herbs on the nose.

The palate shows ripe cherry fruit and firm, grippy tannins. There is a refreshing sour cherry acidity and a savouriness; the finish is firm and persistent.

Ripe and modern, it is also distinctly Portuguese – and great value; match with beef or lamb.

Chateau Plaisance, ‘Grain de Folie’ Rouge 2011, Fronton £9.99 (Joseph Barnes Wines)

Chateau Plaisance, based in the Cotes du Frontonnais region of of southwest France, is run organically by the father-and-son team of Louis and Marc Penavayre.

This ‘Grain de Folie’ (‘a touch of madness’) is a blend of mostly Negrette with some Gamay. An organic, low-intervention wine, it shows a blast of pure black cherry and elderberry fruit, with a touch of spice.

The acidity is mouthfilling with sour-cherry sharpness and there is a gentle firmness that persists on the finish.

Match with duck or lamb.

 

4 Meses, Juan Gil, 2011Jumilla, £8.49 (Bacchanalia)

Made from Spain’s Monastrell (aka France’s Mourvedre) from old vines in Jumilla, the home of Spain’s Big Reds, this wine spends four months (4 Meses) in French and American oak.

Dark purple in the glass, it is an exuberant pup with aromas of ripe bramble fruit, liquorice and oaky vanilla. Straight out of the bottle, this is a full-on, crowd-pleasing party animal.

The palate is full of ripe cassis and creamy, sweet vanilla spice – like a blackcurrant creme brulee – but underneath it, there is a soft texture, good acidity and a fulsome structure. For me the tannins are just a touch overripe and over-extracted, most noticeably on the finish, but don’t let that put you off what is otherwise a great, crowd-pleasing quaffer.

Match with hearty meat dishes and stews or rustic sausages

Recommended Wine

All three wines here are very good and perhaps choice will be decided more by weather conditions than anything else, but for me the most interesting wine here is the great value Portuguese Aliança Bairrada Reserva from Noel Young.

Other related articles

Wine of the Month archive

Links

Bacchanalia – http://www.winegod.co.uk/

Joseph Barnes Wines – http://www.josephbarneswines.com/

Noel Young Wines – http://www.nywines.co.uk/

Wine of the Month – February 2013

Wine of the Month took a de-tox break in January, but with those New Year’s Resolutions now merely a distant memory and half a drinks cabinet of various whiskies from Burns Night waiting to be finished off, it’s time to turn our thoughts to February and Valentine’s Day.

Call me old-fashioned but I think wines for Valentine’s Day should be pink, fizzy or sweet – perhaps even all three.

We start this month with a sunny fizz from Oz before going all pink.

Sandford Estate ‘S’ Brut NV – Joseph Barnes (£11.50)

This is Champagne-style sparkler from Australia that comes with a big sunny grin – despite its New World origins, it has some Champagne character.
There’s yeasty brioche and biscuitiness, with ripe orchard fruit and a pleasantly savoury rasp on the finish.
It has a bit of extra New World ripeness, but it is still an Old World-style food wine – you could match it with white cheese such as brie or light seafood.
Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir Rosé  – Cambridge Wine Merchants (£8.95) 
An Aussie Pinot rosé is a wine that sounds like it shouldn’t work – but this one definitely does.
Salmon pink in colour, it has aromas of smokey spice and ripe red fruits. On the palate, it has good rounded acidity and minerality – it feels like quite a cool climate wine – finishing dry and persistent.
Despite the jokey name and New World origins, this wine has a distinctly European food-friendliness to it, so it would work well as an aperitif, with a light salad or delicate white fish.
Jancis Robinson describes it as being chock full of slightly smokey Pinot character with no excess alcohol or sweetness.
Carati Rose Cuvee – Bacchanalia (£10.99) 
With its shocking pink / fuchsia label and blacked-out bottle, this Italian Charmat-method pink fizz is certainly going to make quite a statement on the dinner table – assuming that’s what you want to do.
Despite appearances, it’s not actually the hairdresser’s wine that it appears to be. Sure, it is not an entirely serious wine, but it has some crisp acidity with grapefruit and raspberry, as well as interesting aromas of chopped herbs and bitter almonds.
It will work as an aperitif or with the sort of light foods you might want for a romantic dinner – grilled fish or a seafood risotto.
Perfect if you’re looking for that Big-And-None-Too-Serious Statement.
Domaine du Grand Cros Cotes de Provence Rosé 2011 – Noel Young Wines (£8.95) 
A blend of Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache and Syrah from southern France, this is also salmon pink in the glass, with a touch of spiciness and pear drop aroma on the nose.
On the palate, there is white stone and orchard fruits and some soft red berries. What makes it interesting, though, is the mouthfilling acidity and leesy savouriness that finishes as a persistent minerality.
Enjoy as either a sipper or with light food.
Other related articles

Links

Bacchanalia – http://www.winegod.co.uk/

Cambridge Wine Merchants – http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/

Joseph Barnes Wines – http://www.josephbarneswines.com/

Noel Young Wines – http://www.nywines.co.uk/

Image credits – Matt Ellis of Smiling Grape

Wine of the Month – December

Christmas has its origins as a midwinter festival – a time of communal celebration and feasting to mark the half-way point in the winter calendar.

It’s surely no coincidence that both the Gregorian calendar and the Christian church follow pagan customs in marking out mid-winter as a notable time.

In these days of central heating, street lights and global supply chains, the purpose of Christmas has changed beyond all recognition, but it remains a time to be marked with family and food.

If the occasion is special, so should the food be – and the wine, too.

Clos Saint Michel, Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2009 – Joseph Barnes Wines (£25)

Chateauneuf du Pape in the Rhone is best known for its spicy southern reds, made from up to 13 grape varieties.

However, it also produces small amounts of white wines from local varieties with demand outstripping supply. This one is a blend of 30% Grenache Blanc, 30% Clairette, 20% Roussanne and 20% Bourboulenc.

Aged in old oak, this Clos St Michel  is a sandy yellow in the glass and needs quite a bit of air to come into its own so don’t be afraid to decant at least an hour before the meal.

Once opened up, the nose shows hints of acacia, mint, honey and beeswax – the palate is waxy and fat, yet cut through with ripe melon fruit acidity.

This is something of an Old School wine – balanced and composed rather than showy, the interest here is in the texture, acidity and finish when matched with the right food.

Match with plain roast white meats, especially turkey.

Ballochdale Estate Pinot Noir, 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand – Noel Young Wines (£17.50)

New Zealand is fast becoming a second home for Pinot and a more reliable, if no less cheap, source than Burgundy.

From the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, this Ballochdale Estate Pinot Noir from 2010, sealed under screwcap, is quite dark in the glass for a Pinot and on first opening shows plenty of raspberry and black cherry fruit. It’s thoroughly pleasant, albeit not particularly Burgundian.

With a bit of air, however, the ripe primary fruit fades away and it becomes a whole lot more interesting. The nose becomes more vegetal with toasty spice. On the palate, there is ripe sour cherry fruit, pepperiness and a beautifully soft texture; the finish is grippy, spicy and pleasantly rasping.

Match with a Christmas turkey with all the trimmings or, on another occasion, with slow-roast garlic-and-rosemary lamb.

Clos de Los Siete 2009 Mendoza, Argentina – Cambridge Wine Merchants (£13.99)

This Argentinian wine is  made by a partnership of seven producers under the auspices of Bordelais oenologist Michel Rolland.

The winery is based at Vistaflores, an estate covering 847 hectares of vineyards, in the commune of Tunuyan, a desert plain rapidly gaining international acclaim, located 80km south of the city of Mendoza.

Like many Argentinian wines, the grapes are grown at much higher altitudes than oi possible in Europe (around 1,000m here), extending the growing season and giving more colour in the wine, greater development of aromas and higher acidity levels – New World ripeness without the blowsiness.

Made from a blend of Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, it is typically dark in the glass, with aromas of dark fruit, game and herbs; the palate shows sweet black fruit with good acidity and a dense, smooth texture of perfectly ripe, mouthfilling tannins.

Ripe and fruit-forward but not overblown, this is a grown-up crowd-pleaser, a lovely, sophisticated blend of New World ripeness and European restraint; it will match best with the sweetness of slow roast chicken with parsnips and pigs-in-blankets or lamb.

Bodegas Borsao, Tinto 2011, Campo de Borja, Spain – Bacchanalia (£5.99)

Spain’s Garnacha (aka France’s Grenache) typically makes easy-drinking spicy, juicy wines with lots of crowd-pleasing aromas.

The vineyards for this Garnacha from Bodegas Borsao are located on the northern slopes of the Moncayo mountain range and are cooled by the Cierzo breezes.

A translucent purple in the glass, straight out of the screw-capped bottle there are expressive aromas of morello cherries, plummy fruit, liquorice, leather, vanilla and spice.

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

The texture is soft and smooth, with some gentle grip developing on the finish.

This is a really expressive wine with bags of crowd-pleasing character – match with darker game, such as pheasant stuffed with apricots, or spicy sausages.

Recommended Wine

There is no overall winner this month – just some great wines for Christmas drinking; the choice here depends simply on what you are eating and your budget.

Wine of the Month will be de-toxing in January, but returns in February with a Valentine’s theme.

Other related articles

Christmas Wine of The Month 2011

More on:

Bacchanalia

Cambridge Wine Merchants

Joseph Barnes Wines

Noel Young Wines

Links

Bacchanalia – http://www.winegod.co.uk/

Cambridge Wine Merchants – http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/

Joseph Barnes Wines – http://www.josephbarneswines.com/

Noel Young Wines – http://www.nywines.co.uk/

Main image credit: http://lindentea.tumblr.com/post/1559685191/pagan-depot-mean-geimhridh-celtic-midwinter

Wine of the Month – November (And a Wine to Drink Out)

This article also appears on CambridgeWineBlogger

On the cusp of autumn and winter, November is a month for warming spicy reds, maybe still with a bit of autumnal mellow fruitfulness.

Bright days after clear nights bring misty mornings with a watery sun hanging low in the sky, golden russet hues and the season for gamey dishes.

This month we have a good range of reds to cover all seasonal eventualities, plus a wine for drinking out with a brilliant food match.

Turi Pinot Noir, Chile, 2009, Bacchanalia (£7.99)

Originally from Burgundy, Pinot has made a second home for itself in Chile – this Turi Pinot Noir from the Central Valley which benefits from cooling sea breezes that favour the development of Pinot.

It is distinctly Burgundian on the nose with vegetal aromas, truffleyness and soft red fruits; there are more ripe juicy red fruits on the palate with savoury spiciness and mushroomy, farmyardy aromas.

The texture is soft and delicate – it feels elegant and pretty with a balanced, gentle finish.

Match with salmon, mushroomy pasta or lighter game dishes.

Rosso Del Palazzone VR, Cambridge Wine Merchants (£12.99)

From an estate in Montalcino, this non-vintage wine (a blend of several years) is made from the Sangiovese grape, known locally as Brunello.

It is reddish in the glass showing signs of age. On the nose there is red fruit and woodsy undergrowth.

The palate shows good ripe cherry and red fruit, aromas of undergrowth and some liquorice and spice; the acidity feels juicy and mouthwatering, soft, harmonious tannins and a savoury, persistent finish.

It feels very accomplished and well-made indeed, with the mellowness of a few years’ age.

Jancis Robinson also rates this wine and made an earlier version her wine of the week, describing it as a baby Brunello di Montalcino at a fraction of the price … with a hint of the warmth of this corner of south-eastern Tuscany – much lusher than the average Chianti – but without any excesses of oak or alcohol.

Chateaux Ollieux Romanis, ‘Lo Petit Fantet d’Hyppolite’ 2011, Joseph Barnes Wines (£10)

In France, Carignan is traditionally a southern workhorse grape, but old-vine examples can produce great results.

From Corbieres, this Carignan (mixed with a splash of Grenache and Syrah) is a deep cherry red in the glass. On the nose, there are aromas of cherry fruit and hints of green herbs, muskiness and spice.

The palate is warming and spicy with ripe, slightly cooked, damson and red and black cherry fruit, some aromatic notes, savouriness and a softly mouthfilling texture.

The acidity is juicy yet rounded and there is some gentle grip on the finish.

A very enjoyable easy-drinker with good acidity, match with hearty spiced dishes, such as darker game, salamis and herby sausages

Legaris Ribera del Duero ‘Roble’, Noel Young Wines (£9.99)

From Spain’s Ribera del Duero, this young crianza (just three months in oak) is made from 100% tempranillo; dark inky purple in the glass, on the nose there is lots of dark berry fruit and oaky spice.

The palate is ripe with brambly fruit, sweet vanilla, full with soft tannins and juicy acidity with a peppery grippiness developing.

It feels quite up-front and youthful, but with air, some more secondary, truffley aromas develop.

Match with roast lamb or a beef stew.

Marichal Reserve Collection Tannat Canelones, 2011, Uruguay – Hotel du Vin (£6 / 125ml, £7.95 / 175ml)

This unusual Uruguayan red is made by boutique winery Marichal from hand-harvested Tannat; originally from France, Tannat is now Uruguay’s most prominent grape.

A deep cherry red in the glass, there are aromas of dark berry fruit and spice on the nose.

The palate is soft-yet-full with ripe dark fruit, gentle tannins and good acidity; there is some complex dark chocolateyness, hints of liquorice and Christmassy spice with a persistent, savoury finish.

An elegant food wine, the hotel recommends matching this with their Monkfish Grand-mere, garnished with pearl onions, pancetta and wild mushrooms.

Recommended Wine

These are, as ever, all very good wines.

The most unusual is the Uruguayan Tannat from Hotel du Vin which is definitely worth trying for the dinner-party bragging rights alone.

But my recommended wine this month is the Turi Pinot Noir – a well-made, New World Burgundian-style Pinot with good balance and a soft texture for well under a tenner is quite special indeed.

Links

Bacchanalia – http://www.winegod.co.uk/

Cambridge Wine Merchants – http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/

Joseph Barnes Wines – http://www.josephbarneswines.com/

Noel Young Wines – http://www.nywines.co.uk/

Hotel du Vin – http://www.hotelduvin.com/

Main image credit: http://thepetersoncollector.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/jims-notesmusings-from-pete-bog-1.html

Copyright Tom Lewis 2012

Wine of The Month – October 2012

In a recent post, Will Lowe says that the start of autumn is marked by one’s first opening of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape .

I think this is spot-on and as the evenings get darker, the weather more blustery and the leaves russet and golden, the idea of a wine with more southern warmth and spice becomes ever more appealing.

This month we have two classics and one curve ball from our Cambridge merchants; interestingly, they all come from within a fairly narrow north-south band: two from the Rhône in southern France and one from Rioja in northern Spain.

Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône 2011, Noel Young Wines £11.35

The most northerly of our wines this month, this is 100% Syrah from the classic northern Rhône region.

Dark purple in the glass, blackberry and black cherry fruit on the nose, some spice. The palate shows lots of ripe, sweet black cherry fruit, soft yet mouthfilling texture.

Good fruit expression, acidity and savouriness. Lovely balance, elegance and finesse. Lovely finish with a touch of spiced prune or baked fig – very accomplished and showing well despite its youth.

Mas de Libian, Vin de Petanque 2011, Vin de France, Joseph Barnes Wines £10

Our next French wine is a whole lot funkier – unfilitered and unfined, this needs to be allowed to settle for a few minutes before serving.

Labelled as a humble Vin de France, it comes from the Ardeche in the southern Rhône and is mostly Grenache with some Syrah in the blend.

A dark ruby garnet in the glass, there is some elderberry and black cherry on the nose. The palate shows pure, quite primary, black cherry fruit on first opening with a prominent, almost Italian-style acidity – with aeration it all rounds out a little more into elderberry and prune.

Good savoury depth, clean acidity and lovely balance with soft tannins and a persistent finish.

Rioja Navajas Crianza 2008, Cambridge Wine Merchants £9.50

(reduced to £7.12 during October)

Rioja, from northern Spain, is another classic and a staple of autumnal evenings.

This 2008 Crianza from Cambridge Wine Merchants spends over 12 months in American oak and has a textbook “Rioja nose” of sweet vanilla with cedar, woodsiness, spice and cherry fruit.

A deep cherry red in colour, it is not quite as bright and youthful as the other two youngsters and shows a slight paleness around the rim.

On the palate, there is more sweet vanilla and mellow oakiness, with cherry fruit and meatiness. The texture is soft, supple and mellow. Long on the palate, a touch of pepperiness and eucalyptus develops.

Good, savoury and well-balanced finish, held together by well-integrated tannins. This is a very classy – as well as classic – wine and a textbook example both of what a Rioja should be, but also of the harmonious mellowness that comes with a bit of age.

And if Rioja is your thing, Cambridge Wine Merchants will be having wine and tapas tastings every weekend, masterclasses and some fine dining menus with restaurants.

All three wines have a distinctly autumnal, warming feel to them matched a European elegance and food-friendliness.

Match with stews such as beef and root vegetables or chicken, tomato and rosemary.

Recommended Wine

All three are very lovely wines and improve with a bit of air Рhowever, my personal favourite here is the classy, elegant and complete C̫tes du Rh̫ne from St Cosme.

Links

Cambridge Wine Merchants – http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/

Joseph Barnes Wines – http://www.josephbarneswines.com/

Noel Young Wines – http://www.nywines.co.uk/

This article also appears on my blog.

© Tom Lewis 2012

Wine of the Month – September

After an August break during which the CWB household travelled to Burgundy and the south of France, we returned to a cold, wet and miserable late British “summer”.

Now, with the schools just back, that seems like a distant memory with temperatures rising and a barbecue Indian Summer in the offing.

It’s hard to know what to recommend when the weather is as unpredictable as this, so here is a varied collection of wines that hopefully will suit all occasions this month.

Rousseau de Sipian 2002, Medoc – Cambridge Wine Merchants (£11.99)

From the left-bank region of Bordeaux, this Medoc wine has a high proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon, giving it structure and ageing potential and even at 10 years old, it still feels relatively youthful.

There are meaty, truffley aromas on the nose with pruney fruit and cedar wood; the palate shows bramble fruit, sweet vanilla and minty eucalyptus with good juicy acidity, with pepperiness and grip developing.

Long on the palate, the finish is nicely grippy. Match with plain roast red meat or something gamey such as duck or pheasant.

Magpie Estate “The Beak” 2010, Barossa – Noel Young Wines (£9.75)

From Noel’s Magpie Estate vineyard in Australia’s Barossa Valley, this newly-released wine is blend of southern Rhone varieties – Syrah / Shiraz and Grenache.

A dark purple colour in the glass, on the nose there is lots of expressive, ripe, dark berry fruit, cassis and aromas of liquorice, leather and spice.

The palate is soft, full and rounded with an inky, custardy texture, juicy acidity and good savoury underpinnings.

Long on the palate, the finish is firm, structured and persistent with more black fruit and spice.

Fresh off the boat, this is still a young wine and whilst drinking nicely now, will also repay some cellaring – for drinking now, it is best decanted an hour or so before drinking.

Match with either roast lamb or lamb koftas if it’s barbecue weather.

Bodegas Pittacum, Bierzo ‘Tres Obispos’ Rosada 2011 – Joseph Barnes Wines (£10.99)

This is something of an unusual beast – a rosé made from the Mencia grape in Bierzo, a remote region of northwest Spain located on the border of Galica and Castilla y Leon and considered by many to be the next ‘big thing’ in Spanish wine.

A deep, raspberry red in colour, there is strawberry and raspberry fruit on the nose as well as something a little more unusual that I can only describe as “workshop” – a mix of swarfega, tyres and used engine oil. It’s in no way unpleasant and rather intriguing.

On the palate, there is more red berry fruit, good acidity and a persistent, clean finish; this would be perfect for an Indian-summer barbecue.

Recommended Wine

Whilst the rosé and the Aussie Shiraz will prove great if you get the chance of a barbecue, for me the winner this month is the Rousseau de Sipian 2002 for being a good, affordable Bordeaux with a bit of age that is drinking very nicely now.

Links

Cambridge Wine Merchants – http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/

Joseph Barnes Wines – http://www.josephbarneswines.com/

Noel Young Wines – http://www.nywines.co.uk/

Copyright Tom Lewis 2012

Wine of the Month – July (and a Pie on the Side)

Now that Wine of the Month is into its second year, I thought it might be interesting to start mixing things up a little by adding a matching food element – and a competition.

Whilst Cambridge may still not be a great dining-out city (due in part to the large numbers of tourists we get who want only recognisably familiar, high-street chain restaurants), there has been something of a food revolution on the last half decade or so with a vast increase in the number of smart eating establishments.

At a more grass-roots level, there is foodie heaven to be found in the various delis, farm shops and the like that have opened up, too.

Amongst these is a relative new-comer, Pavitt’s Pies; founded by Carri Pavitt who gave up a career in events at CIE less than a year ago, the award-winning pies are hand-made from fresh local ingredients.

Carri suggested that I try her Label Anglais Chicken and Mushroom pie, so I asked the merchants to provide something to match.

For details of the chance to win a couple of Carri’s pies, see the bottom of this piece.

Domaine de Menard, Cuvee Marine, 2011 – £8.99, Joseph Barnes Wines

From Gascony in South West France, the name of this wine is a reference to the subsoil which is full of shellfish fossils and gives this wine a minerally, slightly smokey elegance.

Made from a blend of local varieties Ugni blanc and Gros Manseng, it is aromatic on the nose, with zesty grapefruit, orchard fruits and some white flowers.

On the palate it is crisp and fresh, zesty and slightly herbaceous with peach and pear fruit, zippy acidity and a persistent, minerally finish.

Pure and focused, it makes a great summer sipper, aperitif or a match for mozzarella with oil and basil or oily fish such as mackerel.

Gayda Figure Libra Freestyle Blanc, IGP Pays d’Oc 2010 – £13.99 Cambridge Wine Merchants

Gayda is a relatively new winery, established in just 2003 in Languedoc. This Figure Libre (meaning “freestyle”) is a curious mixture of varieties – 43% Grenache Blanc, 20% Maccabeu, 20% Marsanne, 14% Chenin Blanc, 3% Roussanne – and as a result carries merely a humble Pays d’Oc tag.

Each variety is fermented separately in oak before blending and further aging in vat – on the nose there is citrus, orchard fruit, blossom and spice. The palate is full-bodied and complex with more ripe stone fruit, buttery, vanilla-spice oak, fresh acidity, a peachy texture and a savoury, toasty leesiness that persists on the finish.

Quirky and characterful in a typically Languedoc way, this is a great food wine that would match with roast chicken or pork.

La Forge Estate Chardonnay, IGP Pays d’Oc, 2010 – £9.29, Bacchanalia

A decade or so ago, oaky Chardonnay was synonymous with “a glass of white” – then it started becoming too big, sweet and monolithic and the ABC (“Anything But Chardonnay”) backlash against oaked whites began, first with kiwi SB and then Pinot Grigio.

This oak-fermented Chardonnay is grown on limestone and gravel near Carcassone, with grapes are picked at night to retain freshness. Fermentation is in a mixture of new oak and stainless steel with extended aging on the lees. The end result of all this is a balanced, elegant wine, with good depth of flavour, gentle oaking and good acidity.

On the nose there is tropical fruit, blossom and spice, whilst the palate is full and supple, with lovely toasty, sweet, vanilla oak cut through with tropical fruit acidity and a savoury, leesy finish.

This to me is exactly what a warm-climate, nicely-oaked Chardonnay should be – elegant yet crowd-pleasing, it is a lovely, easy-drinking, food-friendly wine in a textbook style.

As with the previous wine, match with pretty much any dish based on white meats – roasted, stews, with cream and pasta. Also with cheese.

Papaioannou ‘Saint George’ Agiorgitiko 2011 – £10.49 Noel Young Wines

This organic Greek red from Noel Young wines is from the Nemea region of the Peleponnese and was spotted by Noel at the International Wine Challenge.

Made from the agiorgitiko grape, whose name translates as St George, it is pale ruby red in the glass with cherry fruit, aromatic green herbs and a touch of spice of the nose.

The palate shows cherry fruit, smokey toasty, slightly herbaceous aromas and vibrant, juicy acidity. Good depth of flavour and a balanced, poised finish.

It feels very well-made with a clean freshness that I associate with organic wines.

It has soft and velvety on the palate with an almost Pinot-esque texture – and, like Pinot, can be served slightly chilled.

Chicken and Mushroom Pie – Pavitt’s Pies, £2.50

Made from free-range Label Anglais chicken thighs and chestnut mushrooms, this is is a rather superb pie indeed. Deeply filled, with a thick sauce of butter, cream and sherry, it is one of the best pies I have ever had. There is absolutely nothing fancy about it – nothing unusual, quirky or overly fussy – just a really well-made and extremely tasty home-made pie from great ingredients.

Recommended wine and pie match

As ever, this is a great collection of wines, but the winner this month is the elegant yet crowd-pleasing Chardonnay from Bacchanalia.

The best-matching wine with the pie is either the Chardonnay or, even better, the Figure Libre.

Pavitt’s Pies are available from Urban Larder, The Larder at Burwash Manor or direct from Pavitt’s Pies via home delivery; full details here.

Competition

To win a couple of Carri’s award-winning chicken and mushroom pies, just answer the following questions:

– If you could ask Carri to make you any pie at all what would it be ?

– Why ?

– Where would you serve it, and with whom ?

To enter the competition, just leave your answer as a comment to this article. Carri will judge all the answers and pick a winner to be announced some time next month. Please make sure you leave some contact details, so we can let you know if you are the lucky winner.

Competition rules are that Carri’s decision is final and she will deliver the pies to the winner in Cambridge, otherwise you’ll need to come to this wonderfully historic university town to collect.

Links

Bacchanalia – http://www.winegod.co.uk/

Cambridge Wine Merchants – http://www.cambridgewine.co.uk/

Joseph Barnes Wines – http://www.josephbarneswines.com/

Noel Young Wines – http://www.nywines.co.uk/

 

Pavitt’s Pies – http://www.pavittspies.co.uk/

Urban Larder – http://urbanlarder.co.uk/

The Larder at Burwash Manor – http://www.burwashlarder.com/

Copyright Tom Lewis 2012