The Society’s Cava Reserva Brut & Cucumber Salmon Can-Apes

Now most of you are probably familiar with Cava, but what is it exactly?

Cava is in essence Spain’s answer to champagne. A sparkling wine made by Método Tradicional aka the Traditional (Champagne) Method.

Why can’t they call it champagne then, if it’s made in the same way?

Well because Champagne own the name and only sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region can call themselves Champagne. That said those crafty Americans found a way round it and some of the older more established CA wineries are still able to label their wines “Californian Champagne”.

Damn I said Champagne a lot it that last paragraph! Back to the Cava…

Most Cava is produced in Penedès, a Catalonian wine region outside Barcelona (North East Spain). In the main most are made from native spanish varieties such as: Macabeo, Parellada and the unpronounceable Xarello.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 15.05.23The Wine Society very kindly sent me a bottle of their rather long winded-ly named The Wine Society’s Cava Reserva Brut, which is made for them by family run Bodegas Sumarroca. In addition to the three varieties I mentioned above, husband and wife team Carlos and Nuria add a little chardonnay to give the wine that extra finesse.

When you see Brut on a fizz label it’s just telling you its dry in style.

Straight out of the bottle you are hit with aromas of golden apple. Pretty on the eye; lovely light gold with persistent conga line bubbles racing up the glass. More on the nose is a nuttiness and some brioche. The palate is tart and cleansing. Nice acidity and a subtle richness. It’s all topped off with a long biscuit tinged finish.

The fizz was the perfect compliment for lovely simple cucumber and salmon canapés that my sister knocked up. Just rounds of cuke, topped with smoked salmon, a little salt, pepper and squeeze of lemon. You could top them with a little mashed avocado to keep them gluten and dairy www.youtubemp3now.com/sv free or add lemon or fish roe to cream cheese for a little more richness. Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 15.03.59

As mentioned in a previous blog I am a member and massive fan of The Wine Society. For the £40 joining fee you pay you are rewarded with amazing value, top quality wines and great customer service. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Oh and at just £8.50 a bottle their Cava Reserva is worth stocking up on for the holidays.

East Anglian Wines

Ah East Anglia, ancient home of Boudica; the warrior queen of the Roman routing Iceni tribe folk. Though the centurions eventually got their own back and as a result grapevines were planted en masse in what is the modern day Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. EA once produced 40% of the grapes in Britannia due to it’s fabulous terroir; particularly chalky limestone soils and low rainfall. However since its heyday a thousand or so years ago it has been eclipsed by Kent and Sussex as England’s premiere wine regions. But East Anglia’s vinous traditions live on ; as I found out on a dark autumn evening of tasting at the West Street Vineyard in Coggeshall, Essex.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.04.44There was a handful of wineries present, but I kicked off with New Hall Vineyards and their decent Bacchus 2012. The UK’s premiere white grape showed itself as fresh grapefruit, medium dryness and fragrant subtle green menthol smoke. Signature 2012 is a blend of the little known German varietal Siegegrubbe and better known Pinot Gris. I enjoyed the harmony of white flowers and spicy apricot. It was a good weight, had nice freshness nice body and a zesty kiwi finish. Even better was the Signature Reserve 2009 with its rich ripe muscat nose, clinging acidity, dry green apple and fresh pineapple. The Pinot Noir Rose 2012 had smoky strawberry, flinty stone on the nose and on the palate zippy cranberry was rich long and classy. Most impressive was their Brut Rose 2010 which was a blend of Chardonnay and Pinots Noir & Blanc. It was lean, a bit green but very fine fizz with a real classy rich biscuit tone that finished with a touch raspberry. Very good indeed.

New Hall is headed up by the UK Vineyards Association Winemaker of the Year 2013 and East Anglia winemaking royalty Piers Greenwood. Piers has a deep knowledge and wise warm wisdom when talks about his wines. But it was the regard with which other winemakers spoke about him that told the real story. Piers has an incredible passion for raising the wine profile of the area and does this by consulting at a number of  other wineries in the region.

Set up “Essexites” the Mohan family in 2009 West Street Vineyard does more than it says on the tin. As well as being a micro vineyard (5.5Acres) actually in the village of Coggeshall, its home to “The Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.06.15Wine Barn”; a modern cafe restaurant complete with wine wall that boasts the best wines the UK has to offer. Tastings, tours and more are available at this Anglian wine hub, but I digress… First up was their White 2011 (Faber and Bacchus) which showed pretty well with it’s flinty fresh acidity, super tangy lemon pith and clean finish. Their Rose 2011 (Faber and Pinot Noir) really impressed; smoky earthy red berries, tart cranberry and a pleasingly high acids. Their good run continued with a fine Brut 2010; a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay showing ripe white melon, “prosecco” pear and rich brioche. Very nice indeed. I wasn’t familiar with the German Faber variety (Pinot Blanc/Müller-Thurgau cross) to which the site was originally planted, but Stephen and Jane have put a rather dull grape to good use by blending it newer plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

That theme of diversification is taken to a new level by Suffolk’s Lavenham Brook who in addition to their award winning wines they rear Red Poll Beef, Suffolk Lamb and produce single varietal heritage apple juice. The Bacchus 2012 dripped delightful peach, white melon, vibrant lime moving into dry tingling apricot  finish. Soft red berries, nice texture and a touch leathery were the notes I made about their solid Pinot Noir Rosé 2012. There was a real class to both wines which came as no surprise when I found out that Herr Greenwood is the winemaker there as well.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.05.45Shawsgate is one of East Anglia’s oldest commercial vineyards which may explain their rather dated website homepage. I did however like their wines and the smart clean packaging as well. Bacchus 2011 showed lime, white flower, soapstone, pine needles and a super dry green apple finish. Pandora 2011; a blend of Seyval Blanc and Müller-Thurgau was off dry with vague citrus and ok weight. Spanish Rosado in style their Rosé 2010 (Rondo; a red cross of Czech origins popular here in the UK for making good Rose, though I have yet to have a very good red made from it) tasted ripe and gamey, had generous strawberry, was long, full-bodied and very drinkable. The hits kept coming as I moved to their bubbles. The 2004 Brut made from Seyval Blanc seduced with exotic Asian (apple) pear, rich cashew nut and was all over me with dense lime cheesecake yet zesty yummy freshness. Superb stuff.  2008 Rosé (Rondo and Acalon:another German red import) was meaty, with hints of lovely Brazil nut, strawberries and cream. Really liked the wild raspberry finish.

Much decorated family run Giffords Hall for me produced the best Bacchus (Defacto white grape of England, producing some of the countries most consistent white wines. Its a Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.06.04saucy threeway cross of Silvaner, Riesling with good old Müller-Thurgau) of the day. Their 2012 held my attention with its bracing sea salt, fresh melon, stinging nettle and lovely lively finish. GH’s award-winning Rose 2012 made from a blend of Rondo and the promising Madeline Angevin (white Loire variety) showed off hints of smoke, fine red flinty greenish berries and a subtle meaty edge. Classy.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.05.28I was able to sample some very niche liqueurs from DJ’s Wines who are so boutique they don’t even have a website. My quote about their Bramble Whisky was concise and to the point “I could lose a few days on that, but I wouldn’t mind”. While I was more measured when describing Monks Mead, the product of hard working bees that was fresh, fruity and light with notes of aged honey, heather and citrus zest.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.05.06I found time before dinner to move from the grape to the grain with samples from the English Spirit Distillery who are making some sensational spirits including the masterful Old Salt Rum. I found myself softly singing old sea shanties as I sipped this international gold medal winning rum. If you love rum or know someone who does then you must seek out this wonder, that uses traditions centuries old to distill this treacle laden, salted caramel, bananalicious beauty.

I had a chance to chat with Piers Greenwood during dinner and mightly enjoyed hearing his stories. His ethos, how he fell in love with wine and winemaking left an impression on me. With a guardian like him overseeing this reinvigoration of East Anglia vineyards then these smattering of awards and accolades I feel will only increase. The result being hopefully more bottles from this ancient and noble English wine region being enjoyed by the descendants of the Romans who first planted those vines. Oh and Boudica’s as well…

Postscript: I had a look at the websites and other social media for these producers and (with the exception of Lavenham Brook and to a lesser extent Giffords Hall) felt most of them really needed to update and expand their online reach. A twitter account, facebook page and attractive easy to use website are must haves in this modern world of marketing. Ignore them at your peril.

The Wine Society

I have known about “the oldest wine club in the world” for at least a dozen years, but it took me until almost its 140th birthday to finally sign up. The £40 joining fee was my rather shallow reason for waiting as long as I did, but after being so impressed at their winter tasting last year I bought my share, joining the likes of author Sir Authur Conan-Doyle and former PM John Russell (both now “permanently lapsed” members of the society). Despite its rather elitist past the The Wine Society is open to all (as evidenced by them letting me join) and though you need to be recommended by a member, the club’s secretary will happily vouch for you if you don’t know anyone.

Now before you start thinking “Right, so they ask you to shell out forty squid to be a member and I bet they don’t stock any wines under a tenner. No thank you!”. Not so my dears, TWS offer an impressive range of very good wines around £6 and their bottles from eight to ten pounds knock spots off what you can buy in most supermarkets at that price band. Being a member, you can be sure that their dedicated team of buyers are unearthing wines that you’ll struggle to find anywhere, save for in good independent wine shops. Highly trained and focused on their individual regions, they are constantly scouring the market for the next great value hidden gem or that special small allocation of a rare and wonderful vintage. As it’s a nationwide wine club (based in Stevenage) there’s delivery involved, but if your order 12 bottles (or more) or spend a minimum of £75 then delivery is free (For the first 6 months new members are offered free delivery on 6 bottles). They also offer specific time slots that can fit easily into anyone’s schedule, which allows you to save that half/full day for I don’t know… holiday, as opposed to sat at home.

Well I reckon that’s enough singing of praises, it’s time for me tell you about the wines that have made me such a big fan (Compiled from two tastings Winter 2013, Spring 2014 and my own personal orders).

Sherry

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 09.59.42The Society’s Fino (15%/£6.25) – Sea salty, flinty mineral, flor yeasty perfection. I am one of those people who think that a good glass of chilled bone-dry fino with some salted almonds and a few good olives is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures to be had in this world. As summer approaches, at this price I have two words for you; stock up.

Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Solera (20%/£14.95) – Salted caramel, sour lemon peel and baked clay aromas give way to a palate that’s fresh, creamy, salty caramel and preserved lemon. To say that this 12 year old-ish sherry has a long finish is a massive understatement. It literally goes on and on and on…

Fizz

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.09.45Blind Spot Tasmania Brut 2009 (12.5%/£13.95) – Nose of fresh lime, cured lemon and toasty biscuit with a marzipan foam. Palate is rich, layered yet remains clean and refreshing. It is quite fine, has lasting bubbles with a biting pear finish; very impressive. When it comes to sparklers (and pinot noir) “Tassie” may produce some of the best in Oz; this is top quality stuff and a real bargain.

White

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.04.54Saladini Pilastri Falerio dei Colli Ascolani 2012 (13%/£6.50) – I ordered this wine because to be honest I had never heard of it. It’s perky, elegant, slightly floral fragrant with vibrant acidity and limestone minerality. Opened it up to drink with a Chicken Panzanella salad (toasted bread salad) I made and they paired beautifully. Made from native passerina and pecorina grapes this pleasant little number from Marche in north east of Italy is worth a punt.

The Society’s Chilean Chardonnay 2013 (13.5%/£6.95) – Bit muted and sweaty grey minerals on the nose. But the palate is robust fresh pink grapefruit, full flavoured green melon with a spicy fresh yet full lime finish. Fabulous value from the Limari valley, which is getting a name for producing some of Chile’s best cool climate Chards.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.10.06Domain de Salvard, Cheverny 2013 (12%/£7.95) – It’s a blast of winter fresh super smoky green melon on the nose leading to a really vibrant wine, with vivacious acids and a lovely rich lime finish. Sauvignon Blanc with a hint of Chardonnay this is one firecracker of a wine.

Blind Spot Clare Valley Riesling 2013 (12%/£7.95) – I get aromas of green tea, pear, flinty lime and a whiff of white pepper. In the mouth it’s creamy, yet taught acids keep it well structured. Green cooking apple, shards of ginger, ripe white melon with a clean finish. Clare Valley is arguably the best place to grow riesling in Australia and this darling is superb value.

Docil Vino Verde 2012, Niepoort (11%/£9.95) – Pear and honeysuckle aromas with flavours of green mango, fresh white melon, spicy tarragon and a lychee finish. Such a complex and interesting wine. After a time in the wilderness Vinho Verde is mounting a huge come back thanks to their governing body getting its proverbial shit together, something the rest of Portugal should take note of (besides Port and the Douro). Their wines deserve a bigger audience. Sadly this wine is running out(less than 30 bottles) and no longer on the main list. Call to order!

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.09.56Drapeaux de Floridène 2011 (12.5%/£13.50) – Nose of pencil lead, fresh melon, dried lime, smoky eucalyptus. The oak is warming and fine grained on palate. There’s lively lemon, lime, flinty minerals that bite back, persistent acidity with a buttered salty lemon finish. From Graves in Bordeaux this more affordable sibling of one of my desert island wines (Clos de Floridène) is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Affordable luxury this is.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Chardonnay 2011 (12.5%/£20) – Smelling it I pick up wild woody oak, earthy mushroom and lees (Dead yeast cells. Believe it or not, but it’s actually a very nice rich smell). On the palate it’s a bit of a sexy beast: moist animal fur, white peach, brown butter, green apple skin with a long smoky tingling flinty finish. Delicious, eh! Being a Canuck I am saddened by the lack of wine from my native land here in the UK, but Norman (as well as being one of the most warm and charming winemakers I have ever met) is really flying the flag with this top drawer Ontario Chard.

Other whites of note are:

Les Pierres Bordes Marsanne-Viognier IGP Pays D’Oc 2013, France (12.5%/£5.95)

Zarcillo Bío-Bío Riesling, Chile (13.5%/£6.50)

Blind Spot Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2013, Australia (13%/£8.50)

The Society’s Exhibition Limari Chardonnay 2012, Chile (13.5%/£9.50)

Clos de Floridène Graves Blanc  2011, France (13%/£18)

Grosset Springvale Clare Valley Riesling 2013, Australia (12.5%/£20)

Red

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.13.24Weinert Carrascal 2008 (14%/£7.95) – This Argentine blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot was my value red of the year last year. Tragically they have run out of this sensational wine (even more tragic was that I didn’t stock up on it. Doh!), but I have been assured that they are getting the 2009 vintage sometime in May. Just to get you in the mood here are my notes: Rich fig, cigar, caramel and blueberry coulis nose. Mature forest fruit, tart firm tannins, rich meaty, peppery menthol, complex. Wow!

Koyle Don Cande Secano Interior Cinsault 2013 (14%/£8.50) – The nose was tangy light bramble fruit with hints of salty game. First thing I tasted was in yo face peppermint and fresh fresh acidity. Next things went all black: black salt, blackberry and massive black peppercorns. Very bold but balanced wine. Koyle is an excellent Chilean producer and this cinsault is a real thrill ride.

Blind Spot Gundagai Shiraz 2012 (13.5%/£9.95) – Very aromatic red and black fruit, touch peppery and some aniseed on the nose. It drinks very light. There’s fresh forest berries with potent acidity and a peppery popping finish. This refreshing characterful and very drinkable wine comes from the newly created region of Gundagai in New South Wales and is unlike just about every other Aussie shiraz I have tried.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.09.23Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage 2012 (14.5%/£10.50) – Sweet and sour aromas are very inviting, with tinges of tarred dark fruit. First I taste charcoal but then lean fresh berry fruit. Its meaty, there’s blackberry juice and even floral violets. I am not a big fan of South African reds, they are too often overwhelmed  by a burnt rubber character, but this offering from Stellenbosch is lovely, balanced and fresh. I really loved it.

La Source de Vignelaure Chateau Vignelaure 2008 (13.5%/£10.50) – Nose is lovely ripe plum and cassis with a dense palate of chocolate, intense dark cooked fruit, very spciy with peppery green rocket tannins. Coteaux d’Aix en Provence is much better known for its rosé, but they make some super reds. This being one of them. If you want to impress a wine geek friend bring this to their next dinner party.

Château Tour Saint Bonnet 2009 (14%/£11.95) – A rich dense mature nose of prune, plum and menthol. Very ripe fruit, nice tannic feel and structure. It’s bright yet concentrated, meaty and long. This terrific Medoc blend of mostly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is drinking beautifully right now and excellent value for lovers of rounded expressive left bank Bordeaux.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.08.00Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sangrantino 2007 (15.5%/£20) – A sniff, there’s brooding thick gamey black fruits and glinting gems (Whatchew talking bout Willis?!). Palate is cigar box and mouth puckering dry tannins, but wait… the wall of dark fruit builds in intensity. It’s beastly, wild and huge mungous. Sangrantino is a rather special red variety grown mostly in Tuscany and Umbria producing wines that can leave you feeling a little like you have been assaulted. But well made ones like this Montefalco, if given time in the bottle can produce a real beauty of a beast.

Other reds of note:

The Society’s Southern Spanish Red 2012, Jumilla  (13%/£5.50)

Domaine Laborie IGP 2013, Languedoc/Roussillon, France (13.5%/£5.75)

Château Haut Baraillot 2010, Entre-Deux-Mers, Bordeaux (13%/6.95)

Saint Saturnin ‘Bilbo’ Domaine de la Reserve d’O 2011, Languedoc/Roussillon, France (15%/£10.95)

Chianti Classico Monteraponi 2011, Tuscany, Italy  (14%/£14.95)

Cavas de Weinert 1997 (magnum), Weinert, Argentina (14.5%/£49)

Sweet

Blind Spot Rutherglen Muscat NV (half bottle) – (17.5%/£6.95) – Nose that is both floral and stinging nettle. Viscous peach ice tea, gingerbread, creamy and toasty on the palate. Rutherglen in northern Victoria (Australia) is famed for producing some tremendous Muscat sweet wines. This is great value for such a prized sticky.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 10.08.32Château Raymond-Lafon Sauternes 2008 (half bottle) – (14.5%/£10.95) – It’s got waxy lemon, honeysuckle and lighter flint on the nose. It coats the mouth with luscious honeyed peach, white spices, buttery baked caramelised pear and finishes with lilac. Wowsers! This is an absolute bargain for a mature Graves sweetie of the exceptional quality of Raymond-Lafon. Go on get a few bottles in, you won’t regret it.

Sign up is super easy and along with a lovely welcome pack, the membership comes with more than just interesting wines. As well as ordering online there’s tons of knowledge at your finger tips on their website: articles, vintage charts, customer and press reviews. For those of you who like the old school touch they send you a nice newsletter every month and you can phone them to place your order or ask any questions as well. If you are ready to be more adventurous when it comes to the wines you drink and can afford around £70-80 for 12 bottles then I heartily recommend joining The Wine Society.

*In addition to their very own ‘Society’ range, WS recently launched ‘Blind Spot’ ; an exclusive Australian line produced in cooperation with winemaker Mac Forbes that focus on quality, diversity and value for money, highlighting some lesser known and up and coming wine regions from down under. 

 

Ergon Deli & Restaurant

Now I imagine this won’t come as much of a surprise but I am a bit of a food and drink snob. One facet of my “affliction” means I rarely eat out anywhere that I haven’t heavily researched online before I decide on it. Drives my lady nuts sometimes, but we usually eat quite well.

So you can imagine my terror when the idea of dinner was floated while out for after work drinks just before Christmas (eeek!) with friends near St Christophers Place in Marylebone (God help us). My iPhone was immune to my panic and was taking forever to load anything useful from Time Out etc. We went old school and started looking at menus outside the many touristy traps on James Street (cue the sweats). The first place we looked had pictures menus (ahhh my eyes!), and despite knowing we had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a table I dragged our foursome to 28/50 Wine Workshop. When I inquired the host feigned sympathy as he knocked us back, but could see his thought bubble as if it was lit by neon saying ” No reservation? Are you guys high!? “.

Desperation had begun to set in, and we were all getting tetchy, small squabbles began to break out, someone needed to be blamed for our predicament. I was worried that they would all soon turn on me, being Mr “lay di da” Drink ‘N’ Eat. But as we wandered James Street for the second time I spotted something up and to the right on Picton Place. It didn’t look too packed, warm windows glowed with promise of safe harbour. We approached full of hope to have a closer look: Ergon Greek Deli + Cuisine it said in solid grey lettering above the closed awning. Ergon interior lowInside bustled two waiters to tables in a mostly full smallish modern clean lined restaurant. The menu looked appealing and affordable with sharing plates that made us throw the dice and go inside. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.05.29We were greeted reasonably warmly and told yes they could seat us, but sadly it was at benches in the window. Not ideal for two couples looking to catch up. The ladies looked glum, and we gave subtle dirty looks to the twosome who sat at a four top behind us. We were so close, there had to be a way. After a few minutes and a smattering of less than friendly glances at our greedy neighbours they managed to seat us at a table that had just left. Meltdown averted. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.02.48

We ordered a bottle wine I was familiar with, Notios Dry White from Gaia and we were off. The menu was well constructed with a diverse appealing range that made me giddy with excitement to order. Service wasn’t exactly attentive, and it took us a little while to get our order taken, but once we did, the food arrived in a steady stream.IMG_2965 Some tasty mixed breads landed on the table, then a dynamic duo of zesty vibrant Greek tomato salad with basil oil and feta cream cheese and a ridiculously decadent fava bean puree with cured pork siglino, caramelized onions and truffle olive. Siglino is a traditional method of curing that involves smoking the pork with sage, boiling it in wine and storing in jars with pork fat and orange peel (sounds like a rather expensive spa treatment if you asked me). The smooth rich texture of the fava beans set against that smoky fatty pork was an inspired pairing and the cleansing Greek salad balanced it perfectly. The Notios white went down very well and very quickly: fresh, clean but with plenty of citrus and volcanic minerals. Next came a dish I recalled from days of yore, saganáki (deep fried cheese) but it was as far from the greasy salt bomb I recalled eating in the 80’s. IMG_2967Their interpretation began with gruyere from Naxos rolled in carob flour, oat flakes, poppy seeds that was pan fried and served with rose petal syrup; it was A-Maze-Ing! Crunch went the oat flakes, pop went the poppy, salty dense intense cheese, the fragrant sweetness of the rose syrup; truly one of the most interesting and delightful things I ate last year.IMG_2968

A quality smoked fish platter was made all the more delicious by its minnow of a price tag (£8) and hearty Greek sausage stew was rich, but balanced with earthy roasted pepper and sprinkling of feta. We had long ago run out of wine but with the waiters struggling to keep pace we were forced to resort to water (I jest… I like water… just rather drink wine) as more food arrived.Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.03.50 There were subtle moans of joy as we tried the perfectly tender grilled squid stacked atop silky inky sensual black tzatziki. The squid was complimented very nicely by a slate of very yummy, crunchy fluffy pastries filled with pastourma (air dried beef) on a bed of tomato marmalade and yogurt.Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.03.59 Freshly cut fries didn’t stand a chance topped with our old friend Naxosian (is that a word?) gruyere, who showed a different side to itself: grated und melty.

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Finally, our bottle of Notios Red (medium bodied, tart red fruit, perfect with the food) arrived and in the excitement I managed to forget to take a photo of our last savoury dish: homemade gyros with warm pita and spicy Greek yogurt.Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.04.17

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 11.42.46This image is courtesy of Wikipedia but the flavours of the traditional Greek gyro are etched into my tastebuds from my time travelling Europe after I graduated from high school. For three weeks I lived rent free (hallelujah!) in place that was owned by relations of a friend of one of my fellow Canadian backpacking companions. I have many fond memories of that third (or was it 4th?) floor apartment with no electricity or hot water (was turned off while the owners weren’t there) on the outskirts of Athens. Nearby there was a family run gyro place that I shall never forget; holding that warm rolled (oh so) soft bread, aromas of flavourful grilled meat, then biting into fresh tomato, crisp lettuce, getting the vaguely sweet pita, salty succulent lamb and a cooling hit of spice laced tzatziki (I don’t recall chips in mine). Goodness I nearly teared up there. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.04.48

What Greek meal would be complete without baklava? Traditionally dense sticky layers of filo pastry with nuts and sweet syrup, this deconstructed take was more mille-feuille, and with of the addition of dark chocolate, I quite liked it. We were stuffed and more than thrilled with the meal we’d just had: all the dishes were extremely well executed, generous, packed with flavour and individuality. Service had been scrappy but friendly and when the bill arrived there was much rejoicing. Bread, 10 divine dishes, two quality bottles of wine and 12.5% service only came to £137.25! A veritable bargain when eating out in Bond Street. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.04.27As you would expect with the term deli on their sign they stock a ton of lovely products in it’s shop downstairs, so you can grab a few bits and try some Greek inspired dishes at home. Grecian fare is often overlooked in favour of its more glitzy neighbours from Italy and Spain. But Ergon and places like The Life Goddess in Bloomsbury are breathing new life into the London Greek food scene, and by Athena it’s bloody marvelous.

So what had started like a bit of a nightmare for a gastro-geek like myself, turned into one of my highlights of eating out last year. Run don’t walk to Ergon.

Casa Silva Los Lingues Gran Reserva Carmenere 2009

Before I talk about this particular wine, I thought I would share a little history about the grape that it’s made from…

Carmenere is an old Bordeaux variety from the Cabernet family and was until rather recently thought to be extinct. However, in 1994 through the miracle of science, it was found thriving in Chile alongside the rather similar Merlot (the two were often picked and processed together). Today little exists in France and is grown in small amounts in Italy but in it’s adopted home of Chile, that this full bodied red grape has truly come into its own.

I interviewed Mario Pablo Silva (the head of Vina Casa Silva) some years ago but sadly due to circumstances beyond my control the video never saw the light of day. I hope this review goes some way to atoning for that.

This Casa Silva single vineyard Carmenere comes from the Colchagua Valley and more specifically the Los Lingues plots.

Here’s my tasting notes:

To the eye it’s a rich textured crimson (Carmenere gets its name from carmin, the French word for crimson). With the nose of tobacco, green pepper, mocha, cassis and wild mushroom you can see why it was mistaken for Merlot (Chile) and Cabernet Franc (Italy). At 14% AVB you might expect a shot in the mouth but it’s velvety and sensual with notes of smoky charcoal, black fruit, menthol and white pepper.

An excellent example of how very special that lost and found Carmenere can be in the right hands.

Score – 8.25/10

Food matches – We had it with BBQ ribs and salads in the garden and it was sen-bloody-sational.

 

Winetraders 20/20 Tasting

Now I attend my share of tastings throughout the year, some more interesting than others. Last Fall I attended 20/20, an all Italian affair hosted by specialist importer Winetraders, with the head honcho and fellow Canuck Michael Palij MW showcasing twenty wineries all working on less than 20 hectares of land. A very intriguing set up and some equally exciting wines.

First to pique my interest were two wines from the tiny 5 hectares of Azienda Agricola Adalia. Located outside Verona, their Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC 2011 smelt invitingly of wet game, liquorice & truffle. On the palate that promised gaminess was there, nicely textured, fine fruit and balanced tannins. Giving AAA’s Amarone della Valpolicella DOC 2009 a good sniff, I got fragrant ripe forest fruit and fudge. In the mouth it was spicy smoky charcoal, sensual yet muscular, with great texture and body.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.30.11My Dad’s favorite number is eleven, and it proved lucky indeed as #11 on the tasting sheet was Lambrusco “Fontana dei Boschi” IGT 2010 made by the eccentric and mysterious Vittorio Graziano at his minute property south of Modena in Emilia Romagna. My nostrils are grabbed, and my brain is instantly engaged with it’s very pleasant earthy funky wild sour fruit aromas. Sip. Bam! Socked in the mouth with zip zing mature red fruit, subtle popping spritz and perfectly grained tannins. This grown up wine sang to me truthfully of it’s terroirs and the loving care with which it is produced. Somehow, in a tumbledown cellar, doing everything by hand, Vittorio managed to take a terribly unfashionable grape variety and transform it into my stand out wine of 2013. I loved it!

Numero 13 is considered a bad omen by some, but superstitions were cast aside with a tremendous Lugana Superiore DOC 2010. Aromas of rich honeyed fruit & hints of butter were followed faithfully with smoky, lush buttery floral fruit on the palate. Winemaker Nunzio Ghiraldi tends his Trebbiano di Lugana grapes with great care, to produce a luxurious, fine white wine with an achingly long and dare I say scrummy finish. IMG_3292

Another white of note, Roero Arneis ‘Camestri’ DOCG 2012 is made from the not terribly well known native Italian grape Arneiswhich loves the hills of Roero in Piedmont (north-west Italy). Produced by Azienda Agricola Marco Porello it draws you in with subtle but fragrant wet stone and lime leaves. Really enjoyed it’s vibrant flavours of passionfruit, grey slate and the long clean lime finish.

I have become a recent convert to good Dolcetto and Mascarello ‘Bricco’ DOC 2011 is most certainly of the aforementioned ilk. The Mascarello family have been making wine in Lange (Piedmont) since 1881 and their Dolcetto D’Alba (Alba refers to the specific area that the Dolcetto comes from) gives off a beautiful bright berry perfume with hints of candy liquorice cigar. Sipping it, first to arrive is gummy bears, followed by juicy bright happy berry fruit. It’s tannins are supple and is an interesting wine indeed.

Barolo, the “grande vino” of Piedmont made from the Nebbiolo grape is an obsession for many. But it can be notoriously complex and difficult to wrap your taste buds around. It often lacks obvious fruit character and its tannins can leave even a seasoned wino like myself gasping for a glass of water. Not the case with Azienda Agricola Bovio’s brilliantly named ‘Rocchettevino’ DOCG 2008. To my nose wild sour meaty fruit beckoned me to taste. Tea tannins, happy acidity merged with ripe aged fruit and a lovely piece of Christmas cake. I liked it very much.

Before moving onto the sweet wines, I scoffed a few delicious bites to keep my energy up. Twas no surprise that said nibbles were of a very high standard, as the tasting was held at Vinoteca Soho, which one of four excellent wine bars/restaurants/shops dotted around London.

IMG_3290Things got off to a groovy start at the pudding wine table with a jazzy, fizzy little number by the name of ‘Birbet’ Vino da Tavola 2012 from our pal Marco Porello, who is obviously a very talented winemaker. Made from Piedmont’s secret weapon Brachetto, this gently sparkling red, with notes of: pink grapefruit candy on the nose, is unctuous, effervescent, berry gummy (forgive me) yummy and supremely drinkable. Coming in at a very civilised 5% AVB it’s no wonder I fell for it.

The next wine was from Liguria, a lovely coastal province just over the border from France and where some years ago was the backdrop to a memorable holiday romance. Giulaini & Pasini’s ‘Cinque Terre Sciacchetrá’ DOC 2008 left me breathless with aromas of apricot, creme caramel and toasted almonds. On the palate I was seduced by voluptuous peach, firm jasmine tea, melting caramel and a rich sensual finish that lingered so long I lost track of time. Using Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino varieties Cinque Terre Sciacchetrá (Cinque Terre refers to the dramatic coastline where the wines come from) is produced in the Passito method, sometimes referred to as Straw Wine, where ripe grapes are left to dry on ventilated racks, thus intensifying their sweetness. This particular amber goddess left me swooning, starry eyed, taking me back  to that small town of Riva Ligure, lo those many moons ago. Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.34.56

Despite my lightheaded state I soldiered on and am glad I did because next was the fabulously delicious Azienda Agricola Ferrandes Passito di Pantelleria DOC 2006. Pantelleria (which does sound like a great place to buy Italian undergarments) is a tiny island south of Sicily and is renowned for it’s sweet wines. Winemaker Salvatore and his wife, Dominica produce their superb Passito on just two hectares of land from Muscat of Alexandria but is known locally as Zibibbo (a great name for a 6th Marx brother if you asked me). Lifting it to my stout I’m a bit taken aback, what’s that on the nose? Well I’ll be… it’s inviting warm gingerbread and baked peach, then tasting it, my mouth is coated in luxurious caramel and intense apricot. The finish is long and fine. Bravo!

Goodness, I really enjoyed that. What a treat it was to sample wines made in such small quantities with real dedication, passion and creativity.

The wines are available through various UK merchants, so do drop Winetraders a message for further info.

A special thanks to Emanuele at R&R Teamwork for inviting me along.

 

 

 

 

Aldi Winter Tasting

Aye, it’s Aldi Captain, but not as we’ve known it

Aldi was once seen as on a par with Lidl and such like, just another continental out of shape budget supermarket that was good for things like chocolate, mysterious tinned goods, exotic looking biscuits and frozen lobster at Christmas, but little else. However over the past few years Aldi has been hitting the gym and is looking good, business is booming(pre-tax profits jumped 124% in 2012), yes it is partly to do with this age of austerity we are living in, but it is also because Aldi has begun attracting higher earners with it’s buff premium ‘Specially Selected’ food range & ‘Equisite Collection’ wines. I had read some good things about their wines so went along myself to see what all the fuss was about.

Things started out reasonably well with their fizz selection at the sub £10 level. Worth mentioning is Prosecco Superiore DOCG Valdobbiadene & Philippe Michel Cremant de Jura 2011. I found the Prosecco a bit chemical but won’t put most folks off at £7.29. The Cremant was a bit green and sharp, but for a Champagne method sparkler it’s worth a punt at £6.99.

I was most impressed by their entry level Champagne Veuve Monsigny NV Philizot & Fils. Warm buttery lemon & classic rich yeasty biscuit at £11.99 a bottle it’s an absolute steal. May load up on some myself. More great value can be found in magnums(1.5L) with Charles Mignon Champagne NV which is available from the end of November at £29.99 while stocks last.

Finally the Grand Cru Champagne NV Jannisson & Fils with it’s mature yeasts, nettles, lemon zest is a classy drop and a snip at £23.99(available early November while stocks last).

Moving onto the whites I braced my palate seeing the £3.99 pricetag on Cambalala Chenin Blanc 2013. Oh me of little faith, fragrant fresh and perfectly acceptable. Decent Sub £4 wines in the UK are very scarce so this was a welcome discovery indeed. Three very good whites under the ‘Exquisite Collection’ followed. First up was a £4.99 Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc 2012, grassy clean & concentrated. Next the perfumed, green, generous stone fruit laden Sud de France Sauvignon Blanc Viognier 2012 @ £5.99 was a real winner. Saving the best for last Limoux A.C. 2012, made from 100% Chardonnay producing a tremendously complex wine with notes of rich smoky bacon, green plums and spicy smoky finish. I absolutely loved this £6.99 wine from the Languedoc in Southern France, an area more famous for making sparkling wine but on the strength of this we should be drinking more of their still whites.

The bargains continued with two roses on offer. Both from Spain(La Mancha & Utiel-Requena), both under £4 and both very drinkable. Grapevine Tempranillo Garnacha 2012 £3.29, yes 3 pounds and twenty nine pence. Toro Loco 2012 made from the interesting native Bobal grape was more complex and still only £3.69.

Things didn’t get off to the best start with the reds, and it wasn’t till wine number 5 that I thought “Hmmm… this isn’t too bad”. That was a £4.49 Pinot Noir NV by Vignobles Roussellet, then I hit two notables in a row with De la Rougerie Bordeaux Superior 2011 Toro Loco Reserva 2010 both impressing for their honest expression & £4.99 price tags. There was another spell of forgettable bottles before I hit a run of 7 stars(call me lucky), ranging from good to excellent and all from Spain & Italy. The bargain of the Spanish bunch at £5.49 was Minarete Ribera Del Duero D.O. Roble 2011 and is everything you could want in 100% Tempranillo from a highly regarded region.Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 15.39.50 Grippy tannins, earthy black fruit, good mouth feel and nice length. Two more solid Spanish wines followed in Baron Amarillo Gran Reserva Rioja 2005 (£9.99) and The Exquisite Collection Priorat Crianza 2010 (£7.99). But it was a trio of Italians, the 3 Tenors if you will, that had me singing O Sole Mio into my glass.

First The Exquisite Collection Chianti Classico Riserva D.O.C.G. 2009 (£8.99) seduced with its gamey licorice, menthol, sour dried cherry, tobacco & cigar box. Also from Aldi’s EC range was a rich inky, liquorice allsorts, smoky blackberry Valipolicella Ripasso D.O.C. Superiore 2010. Perhaps a touch sweet but for £7.99 a bottle you won’t hear me complaining.

Finally my red of the day, Conventino Barolo D.O.C.G. 2009. It may have been a tank sample with a ratty temporary label but damn my taste buds it was magnificent! Wet undergrowth, fall leaves, hung game, dry dry fruit, pungent prune, earthy and rooted. Barolo is a notoriously complex & often restrictively expensive, a wine that took me many years to begin to appreciate. But this at £9.99 this accessible example is most definitely one to buy by the case (available November 24 while stocks last).

Domaine Lou Frejau Chateauneuf-Du-Pape 2012 was good but at £14.99 no better value than what other supermarkets can offer. More impressive was Edouard Delaunay Gevrey Chambertain 2007 with it’s mushroom, faded red fruits, game birds, lifted red berry perfume, licorice root, sad strawberry and salty leather tannins. Though not a great vintage at £19.99 a bottle if you are after some value Burgundy you could do much worse. 

The Fortified and Sweet Wines section kicked off with a double bang with Austrian Selection Beernaulese(£5.99) that was all lush apricot, honeycomb & candied melon. The Exquisite Collection Eiswein(Ice wine) from Germany was even more special with notes of creamy apple, flinty minerals and a long, fresh, smoky green finish. Lovers of Ice wine know they can be very expensive indeed, which makes this beauty at £7.99 all the more remarkable.

 

On the Port front their flagship Maynard’s ranged from a superb LBV(Late Bottled Vintage) right up to a decent 1989 Vintage with two very good Tawnies in the middle. My affections lay with the LBV that showed dense fig, prune, nutty chocolate and a real value buster @ £9.99.

Slightly disappointing was the beer and cider range. Though Sheppy’s Vintage Cider & Church’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer were solid enough performers.

They got back to winning ways though with their spirit selection. Right out of the traps their core range Oliver Cromwell London Dry Gin made me take notice with it’s light fragrant touch, that was balanced with just the right amount of Juniper. Bloody good for £9.99! An interesting 1973 Vintage Brandy(£29.99 & available while stocks last) followed before I was treated to 4 super whiskies and a top bourbon. Highland Black 8 Y/O Scotch Whisky was on the money with nettles, lavender & long earthy smoky finish, only £12.99. Glen Marnoch 12 Y/O was more sweet subtle smooth honey & heather at £18.79. Glen Marnoch 24 Y/O took the my breath away, literally. My note was “Wild boar on fire in my mouth”. A beast of a scotch not for the faint of heart, but very good indeed at £34.99. My favorite was Glen Orrin 30 Y/O Whisky(Available Dec 8 while stocks last) which had me saying things like “History, fishy bowels of a sailing ship, salty, TCP, pepper, long complex, so moving, wow!”. A whisky tremendous character but not cheap at £49.99 for 70cl. Finally from over the pond Jefferson’s Small Batch Bourbon wooed me with frontier charms of pine resin, gun smoke, savory white pepper & super spicy finish. Not a bad deal at £29.99.

Usually I skip liqueurs at a tasting but was drawn to their range frankly because it was cheap, and good value had definitely been the buzz word for the day.  I tasted all 6 of them and will be popping into Aldi to buy 4 or 5 of them as they weren’t half bad. Orange Liqueur was a touch chemical but at £5.99 worth it if you like Gran Marnier or Cointreau type drinks. A solid Ginger Wine, a must for Holiday cocktails was an amazing £3.29, Amaretto £4.99 for 50cl again did what it said on the tin and with style. Ballycastle Irish Cream Liqueur for £4.29 will have you switching from that more famous & expensive B named brand in a Gaelic heartbeat. Finally if you’re a real discerning drinker of the creamy stuff then the step up to Specially Selected Irish Cream will suit you down to the ground, and only £6.49!

 

 

 

Ok so currently they have less stores and you can’t get your groceries online but judging from this tasting Aldi is most certainly fighting fit for the modern age. Morrison’s, Tesco et all better watch their backs…

 

 

Eating Brixton

The transformation of Brixton over the past 5 years into a foodie drinky haven has been one of the most dramatic in London and luckily I live about ten minutes away. The downside to having such a culinary cornucopia on ones doorstep is that there is now so much choice, that deciding where to wet my whistle or calm those hunger pains has become a real challenge!

I fell in love with that sourdough pizza perfection that is Franco Manca some years ago as it was one of the first to see the potential in Brixton’s Market Row. Still probably the best pizza I have ever had.Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.05.19

Just a few doors down is the Bukowski Grill. As the name suggests it’s pure Americana.  A laid back dark moody space with boozy milkshakes, good beers and American BBQ. Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.04.25Crispy Cajun popcorn shrimp were the perfect amuse bouche. Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.11.08I found the rub a bit dry on the intensely flavoured smoky ribs, but this steak sandwich impressed despite my sourdough being a tad burnt. My favourite were these tobacco onions, sliced fine and battered in a KFC type batter. Heaven… The bill was very reasonable and with Charlie’s Beat poems adorning the walls of the toilets it was a “trip” worth taking.

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.04.40Next door is Wishbone more US import style food but turning our attention to the humble chicken. I went on cold Sunday night and without heating or doors, we froze our wings off. Speaking of which we sampled a two styles of deep fried flappers. Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.16.11If I’m honest the food didn’t really hit all the right notes. Batter lacked crunch & sauces tasted a bit pre fab. The very en vogue deep fried mac n cheese was a bit soggy stodgy as opposed to crunchy gooey. The spare decor of the place & lack of warmth made it feel like we were eating in a meat locker, which certainly didn’t the food any favours. So in fairness should go back and give em another shot…

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.17.40Over in Brixton Village I ate some of the best Thai food I have had in recent memory. Kaosarn is on the outside corner off Coldharbour Lane. A simple cafe type set up, wooden tables, paper napkins & plain white plates. But the food! I had this astonishing Gang Kua Sapparod Goong aka Red Prawn Curry with tomatoes, kaffir lime, coconut milk & pineapple. The flavours so distinct and nuanced. The rice fluffy, the prawns succulent. Kaosarn is great value and a must visit.Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.18.03

Inside Brixton Village is Senzala Creperie which is great for lunch or brunch. They do super buckwheat pancakes or as the French call them galettes with all manner of fillings served with proper side salads. With the likes of Honest Burger(which I have still yet to visit due the massive lines outside every time I go), the Craft Beer Company & the Crown and Anchor(who do very good food as well) plus stacks more Brixton is sure to only increase it’s notoriety as the place to eat & drink in south London.

Sainsbury’s Organic Wines

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SO Organic?

This September is National Organic Awareness Month and Sainsbury’s kindly sent me 4 wines from their SO Organic range to review. Now I don’t claim to be a leading light in buying organic. You see despite wanting buy more of said products I sometimes find it tough to either A) Find what I need at my local supermarket or moreover B) Afford it. But enough of my moral dilemmas when it comes to my shopping. Onto the wines…

Both whites were from northern Italy. Which suited me fine as I am a big fan of wines from that part of the world. I love them because at their best there are subtly floral fragrant, glinty flinty, stony saline, herbaceous fresh with zingy hints of lime, lemon, melon & pear. But at their worst? Thoroughly nasty mass produced chemical plonk water one glass hangover sauce.

But what would these be like?

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Soave 2012 Veneto 11.5 %abv £5.99

That nursery rhyme “The Little Girl with the Curl” comes to mind I think of Soave. Translucent in colour with minute yellow tinge to it. A nose of wet stones, hint of cleaning products, white flowers, green mango & raw almond. On the palate it’s bracing, like winter air. Then clean spearmint, spicy herbs ultra dry with faint pear finish. It’s well made and was easy but refreshing drinking. Happy solo, light salads or white fish with capers. Nice to taste a decent wine at 11.5% as well. Good girl. Score 14.5/20

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Pinot Grigio 2012 Delle Venezie 12%abv £6.99

Pinot Grigio is one of those grapes that has become a dirty word to some of us bloggers. Got it’s bad name as it overflowed from every pub wine list, tasting all too often lazy flabby, bland and charmless. Thankfully this PG isn’t like that. It’s pale pale yellow with a tingling lime, ripe stone fruit and climbing trellis flower nose. In the mouth it’s texture is round creamy floral, spicy rocket, ripe white melon make way for freshness, balanced acidity and a long dry lime & peach finish. It’s perfect on it’s own but would happily accompany soft creamy cheeses or roast chicken. Definitely worth grabbing a couple bottles of this one. Score 15.5/20

Now onto the reds…

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Shiraz Pays D’Oc 2012, France 13%abv £5.99 

One of my favourite regions for good value red wines, but you can get a bad bottle from time to time. Light purple garnet in the glass. Complex notes of warm spices, black liquorice, chocolate, treacle, black raspberry and crushed blackberries came wafting wildly up my nostrils. It tasted fresh, medium bodied, stony minerals, wild herbs, muscular forest fruit, firm tannins & not unpleasant stalky green finish. I had this open for a day and it needed it. Midweek casserole or bangers n mash would pair nicely.  Score 14.5/20

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Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Western Cape South Africa 13%abv £5.99

On paper this Cab Sav was a socially conscious individuals dream wine. Not only organic, it was sulphur free and fair trade! Ticking all those warm and fuzzy boxes. But at the price I wasn’t optimistic. Deep Ribena in colour, nose of black clay, game birds & whiffs of rubber tire. Cue negative associations with South African red wine. First sip that burnt rubber was back, smoky chipotle chilli heat, grippy tannins, bright red currant, mid palate the rubber is fading, taught tannins, black minerals with a green pepper cassis finish. Now sadly I am jaded (having had too many SA reds that are affected with this burnt rubber syndrome) but if your palate reads it as smoky earthiness then fine. But not a wine I would buy. Score 13.5/20

The wines are all good value and aren’t massively high in alcohol. Both big pluses. So I would definitely say it’s worth trying em out…except maybe not that Cab Sav.

You can find the wines online or in most Sainsbury’s Supermarkets

 

 

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