Dinner with Mark De Vere MW

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A Blurry Mark de Vere MW 

To say that I am a bit late in writing this blog would be a huge understatement. I went along to the JW Steakhouse in Park Lane in May 2012 a guest of Mark de Vere MW and Robert Mondavi Wines. But better late then never I like to say. I lie. I don’t like that saying it and have very rarely used in my life. But I digress… back to dinner.

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Mark is a fascinating character. A peculiar, vibrant, highly intelligent and passionate wine communicator. Now despite working for that vinous colossus and preaching the wine gospel according to Bob Mondavi for the past 15 years, Mark is very much his own man. Of course he was there to talk up their wines but his focus was really on expanding our minds in terms of how we viewed the relationship between food and wine matching. “The Liberated Enjoyment of Wine and Food” he called it.

Most consumers feel comfortable with red wine with red meat & white wine with fish rule. But why does it work? There must be some chemical reasoning. But there was more to it as we were about to find out.

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The experiment began with the arrival of plates of cooked plain unseasoned chicken, sea bass and steak. There were also plates with sliced lemon and salt on them. Mark asked us to taste the wines(which included Robert Mondavi’s Napa Valley Fume Blanc aka Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon, all 2008 and around £15 each. There was also a tasty Inniskillin Ice Riesling 2006 from my native Canada) without the food and note what we tasted. Then we sampled the wines with the food and the results were startling. The classic matches were in disarray. The white wines stung the mouth, acidity completely out of control. The reds are all mouth puckering tannin, no fruit and metallic dryness.

“Mark you villain!!” we cried “What sorcery is this?! You have ruined our taste buds!!”. But he simply gestured to the small plates in the centre of the table. After adding a few sprinkles of salt andScreen Shot 2013-09-16 at 16.40.07 squeezes of lemon the process was repeated and as if by magic the food and wines behaved as you would expect. With the seasoning even the Ice Wine worked with the steak(not that I have tried it since). Miraculous! Not really Mark explained. It was simple science. So instead of delicious food and wine pairings being something inherent in their molecules, it revealed that when the balance is out in favour of sweetness or savoury umami without the grounding sour or salty, our palate focuses on specific characteristics rather than seeing the whole picture. Which makes it taste “wrong’. Really fascinating stuff!

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 16.40.41We moved onto their Napa Valley Reserve Fume Blanc(pricey at £30) & Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve(a whopping £80 a bottle) with dinner and though the wines themselves are perfectly ok, in all honestly I’m not wild about Robert Mondavi wines. Why? Because for the same money(and a lot cheaper than the reserve wines) I can find wines produced in much smaller quantities with so much more character and originality. Sorry Mark.

Food wasn’t anything to get excited about except for the pan bread. Nearly 18 months have passed but I can still taste it’s rich rosemary salty crunch and squishy soft buttery middle. Mmmmm…Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 16.40.30

Dropwines Dinner

Last month I went along on a rainy sticky Monday night for a press dinner with new ish online wine company Dropwines at the Pembroke in Earls Court.

I was feeling pretty optimistic as I had been invited by the lovely Sophie McLean who’s been an industry pal for a few years now. Sophie (recently returned to the UK  after doing a vintage in industrial Riverina New South Wales) joined Dropwines this year to do comms, buying and a spot of video reviewing.Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 14.21.28

The latter being another reason for positivity, for along with Head Buyer Richard Varney(Ex Head of Buyer for Oddbins) they were producing some of the best video wine reviews I have yet seen. Which is quite a compliment coming from me. They’re fun, intelligent, engaged, unselfconscious & short! Most of them 2 minutes and a few coppers, which is exactly what they should be in my opinion.

The food was perfectly decent but really we were there to taste the 5 wines (1 fizz, 2 whites and 2 reds) they had chosen to showcase.Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 14.18.53

A sure fire way to impress hardened wine writers is to present something unusual, which is exactly what they did as we kicked off with Cote Mas Piquepoul Frisant NV. The fizz is made from Picpoul de Pinet, that superb white grape of the Languedoc(South France) that seems to be creeping onto every gastro pub list in London these days. Made in the Charmat(tank) method like Prosecco but instead of pear & flowers it’s fresh sea salty with tingling lime zest. A good start…

Next was award winning Bioca Godello Seleccion 2012 from a tiny region called Valdeorras in Galicia, northern Spain. An area better known for it’s Albarino (another white grape that is very popular at the moment), this Godello with it’s mojito nose, slight spritz & pine nut richness was a class act but seems to be out of stock at the time of writing.

The unusual theme continued with a Vinal Chardonnay 2012 from Levech, Northern Bulgaria. I found this wine quite intriguing with it’s subtle aromas of honeycomb & lavender, as if they were down a well. Then white melon, thistle, green cooking apple & sunflower palate. Not a wow wine but different and worth a punt as it was less than £7 a bottle.Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 14.19.50

Our first red was The Liberator, The Francophile Syrah 2012 from Stellenbosch, SA. It’s what you would expect, peppery rocket, cassis & white pepper spice. A generous leathery, coal dusted, dark berry beast. It had some fresh acidity as well. It was nice enough but came off a distant 2nd to our final wine…

My tasting notes on Cotes du Rhone Villages, Mas de Boislauzon 2011 say it all; “Deep dirty sensual nose. Velvet, spicy, plum & brandy snap, cigar, sparkling blackberries, unctuous mouth romancing stuff”. I loved it. Is exactly the kind of wine that makes me stand up and take notice. At very reasonable £12.99 a bottle no wonder it’s currently sold out.Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 14.20.26

Dropwines have a slick looking website (though the search facility could use some tweaking), some interesting well priced wines(on their homepage select wines are offered for time sensitive deals. Perfect for the hardened Ebay “must get a deal” generation) and fun educational tasting videos that appeal to the modern day consumer. They also have a VIP Club which offers you a discounted price on all their wines as well as free delivery for £10 a month, which could work out a good deal if you buy wine regularly.

But the online wine trade is a brutal one and you have to be savvy with likes of those behemoths Majestic & Laithwaites out there. But there is room for smart, adaptable boutique web based retailers that have done their homework & understand what wines people actually want to drink.

So will they be around in a few years time?

I hope so.

 

Vilarnau Cava, Brut Rosado, NV

Cava rather sadly has been coming off second best to Prosecco in the battle of the budget fizzes the past few years in the UK. The latter seemingly consumed by the bucket load at anything from picnics to weddings. But Cava is clawing it’s way back due in part to wine writers as well as some savvy consumers seeking out a value sparklers with a little something extra.

Now Cava’s enhanced complexity is down to the way it’s made, which is identical to the production of Champagne(2nd fermentation in the bottle). But Méthode Champenoise can only be used to refer to that most famous French fizz so their Spanish counterparts have to make do with the term Método Tradicional or Traditional Method. Prosecco on the other hand is made in the less glamorous Charmat Method or Italian Method(2nd fermentation in a stainless steel tank Method).

Finding a decent Brut Rose/Rosado fizz that won’t cost the earth is a tall order so what did I think of Vilarnau Brut Rosado NV?

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Made from the little known Trepat variety native to north east Spain as well as that most famous red Champagne grape Pinot Noir.

Eye- Dark pink, red fruits with solid persistent bubbles

Nose- Deep black Raspberry with whiffs of green herbs

Palate- Decent structure, balanced, robust, dry red berry fruit

Verdict- No faffy frilly pink sparkler this. Serious & well made. Try it.

A very standard 12% abv it is availble in a 75cl bottle from Ocado and The Drink Shop

Slovenia Part 2

Last year I travelled to Slovenia a guest of P & F wineries to sample the wine and food of this much underrated wine producing country. This is the 2nd half of my time there where I visited P&F’s cellars in Ormoz & Ljutomer. Our farewell lunch was Gostilna Ribic in Slovenia’s oldest village Ptuj.

Domaine of the Bee 2011 Launch

I had the pleasure of meeting Justin Howard-Sneyd MW a few years ago at a Laithwaites tasting when I first started out on my blogging adventure and we got to talking about our mutual love of Grenache. Later he would be the chief orchestrator in taking me on my very first press trip to the home of his Domaine of the Bee vineyards in Roussillon in the south of France not far from the Spanish border.

I was blown away by the landscape, the food, the people and of course the wines of this terribly special but under appreciated region. The trip and my wonderful memories of it remain, especially drinking Domaine of the Bee out of the bottle on a hilltop over looking vineyards and hills beyond.182203_10150152057415429_686745428_8719101_4877958_n

A few years have passed but Justin and I remain in touch. I bought some of the 2009 last year so jumped at a chance to come to their open house to try the new 2011 along with some of their older vintages.

Greeted like old friends at the door by Amanda, Justin’s wife and co conspirator in their “Four Hectares of Nectar” plots of very old vine Grenache Noir & Carignan Noir located near the village of Maury. We made out way into their lounge come tasting room with Justin starting us off with the aforementioned 2011 which is showing bright, jazzy vibrant dark berry fruit with liquorice and some grey stony notes. This wine is happy in your face juicy fun right now but imagine it will evolve a great deal over the coming years.

Next we tried the Les Genoux 2011, Genoux being French for knees. The Bees Knees! Who said people with doubled barrelled surnames don’t have a sense of humour?!

Taken from their best vineyard and made in tiny quantities from the top fruit. This is classy stuff, very floral, nuanced, delicate and feminine in structure. In stark contrast to the blasting fruit of it’s sister wine of the same vintage. They have been making it since 2009 and it usually sells out very quickly indeed.Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.04.48

The 2010 Domaine of the Bee was much more subdued but broodingly so. Gamey, earthy stewed dark forest berries, leathery animal and drier southern Rhone in style.

I was overjoyed that we still had a few bottles of the 2009 at home because the wine is a knock out. Fresh acidity but round generous almost lewd berry fruit. That black schist soil of the Maury really coming through all smoky and magical.

The 2008 promised much on the nose, a dark mineral blackberry beast. The first sip was all over you slathering wild berry & leather. But I found as I sipped more it settled down and became a bit tamer. Nice but not my favourite.

Finally it was the turn of their first official vintage the 2007 and man it did not disappoint. That black schist was back on the nose, smoky, ripe and inviting. Juicy blueberry leapt around my mouth getting into every pore, exciting my taste buds with it’s concentrated yet fresh dark fruit. A beauty of a wine and shows just how well this wine can age yet retain such vibrancy.

Justin, Amanda along with Philippe Sacerdot (The Business Brain) form a very strong trio that set up Arcadian Wines to market their incredible wine which is made for them by Richard Case (Owner of Domaine de la Pertuisane).

Great care, knowledge and passion go into making Domaine of the Bee and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves their wines bold yet nuanced, juicy yet complex, generous yet vibrant and above all who isn’t adverse to red wine mouth.Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.05.03

Now there was some lovely salami and parmesan but dinner was calling after a vertical tasting(sampling of different vintages of one particular wine) of such heavyweight wines. All the vintages weigh in at a hefty 14.8-15% ABV, but you can’t taste it. Which is a bit dangerous in itself.  So we bought 2 bottles 2007 & 2009 (somehow we had convinced ourselves that we had bought some of the 2011!) thanked our gracious hosts and floated home.

All of the vintages of Domaine of the Bee are available direct from Justin & Amanda @ £24 a bottle and £42 for Les Genoux. They are offering case discounts however so do get in touch with them.Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 11.04.02

 

Going Pop Up: #WineWednesdays

Now Pop Ups are all the rage these days and despite being the sort of guy that you might expect to have his finger on their popping pulse, embarrassingly I have been to very few. Thankfully my Fiancée and I walked right past the aptly named WineWednesdays at the rooftop venue Skyroom near Tower Bridge. With this stunning weather our decision was made for us and after receiving our wristbands (the meaning of which will be come apparent) we dashed up the elevator to the 5th floor. WineWednesdays are the lovechild of Kiki & Laura who run A Grape Night In, a Pop Up wine business that’s not just a one hit wonder, whose aim is to enliven and demystify the sometimes murky world of wine.

The venue itself is cosy and has the feel of a upscale beachside bar. Much of the covered cushioned area was reserved so we took a small table out in the open.Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 13.19.23

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The Girls (as they seem to be called in much of their literature) decided on the theme of Summer Playlist for the month, drawing inspiration from the many famed festivals that take place on this hallowed Isle in the month of July. Kiki explained with much warmth and energy their concept behind their inventive short list of appropriately themed musical genre wines & accompanying optional nibbles.

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Growing up on Simon & Garfunkel and Gordon Lightfoot during my early childhood Track 1-Folk seemed the best way to start. Folk’s vinous equivalent being an floral aromatic 2012 Gewurztraminer “Adobe” from the organic & ethical Emiliana in Chile. Lively & clean, subtle mango moving into flinty stone and without the candied feel you sometimes get with Gewurz. It went beautifully with the delicious dukkah crusted hand rolled falafel nuts & thickest minty garlicky tzatziki this side of the Ionian Sea.

 

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My lady had Track 3-Classical which was a 2011 Circumstance “Cape Coral” Mourvedre Rose by Waterkloof in Stellenbosch. Biodynamic and made much in the restrained style of Provence Rose (your nod to classical right there) but with a glint of smokiness so typical of South African Red Varieties. It was paired with that most Provencal dishes of Pissalidiere, mini pastries of onion jam, black olives & anchovies. The rose &  savoury pastries wove a harmony worthy of great applause for the conductor indeed.

My companion decided to move onto Track 2-Reggae which was a crowd pleasing easy drinking 2012 Suikkerboisse Chenin Blanc/Viognier also from Stellenbosch. Rather unsurprisingly it came “Jungle” chicken fingers, homemade plantain chips & mango chutney. The chutney stood out, but the chicken which for me though perfectly cooked & crispy lacked seasoning and perhaps a little Marley Magic.

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Decided to go Track 4-Rock in an homage to my teen years from those bad boys of McClaren Vale, the very aptly named Some Young Punks. I found the  2011 “Passion has Red Lips” Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz  more Phil Collins than The Pixies. Now both could be called rock and I like some Phil Collins (not embarrassed to say so) with and without Genesis he crafted some solid 80’s “Soft” Rock songs. I am however a huge Pixies fan (which arguably are more Alt Rock if we are going to split hairs) so when I saw “Rock” I was thinking more Kim Deal than Mike Rutherford. But I digress… The wine was ripe concentrated and supple. Dark cassis blackberry fruit with relaxed tannins. I liked it, but it certainly wasn’t like getting stomped on in a mosh pit. It was paired with spicy meatballs of beef, chorizo & roast pepper stew that honestly did kick a bit of ass and wouldn’t have been out of place at a an early 90’s Lollapalooza concert.

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A total of 10 tracks (6 wines by the glass and a further B side of 4 by the bottle) there should be enough to keep you entertained by the New World leaning lineup. For those not into wine they had an offering from the mighty Kernel Brewery down the road as well as cider (I think). Lovely setting, warm knowledgeable staff, tasty food and very reasonable prices Laura & Kiki are onto a good thing. Hopefully the weather holds and despite going onto a new theme for next month #WineWednesdays is well worth a visit.

 

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Real Wine Fair 2013

The Real Wine Fair is an artisan growers’ event featuring small wine growers who work organically and/or biodynamically and intervene as little as possible in the winery to make wines that taste true to themselves, true to their grape varieties, and true to the vineyard and region. This year it was held at Tobacco Dock, a listed Victorian brick-built warehouse space in Wapping East London.

Mitravelas Estate Lefkes Moschofilero 2011

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If you are looking for a white wine that’s off the beaten track but quite brilliant then head to M&S and grab a bottle of this fragrant, exotic but very dry Lefkes Moschofilero from the Greek Peloponnese.

Made by Mitravelas Estate this 2011 combines bracing mineral freshness with hints of green fruit.

If you want to impress a wine snob friend then bring a bottle of this stuff. About £8.99 a bottle. Sadly not listed online as I wrote this.

M&S

 

Santa Helena Pinot Noir 2010

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A very grown up Chilean Pinot from the Casablanca Valley in this here bottle. The nose gives up ripe strawberry, liquorice and kirsh. Palate is neither jammy or overdone. Nice lean mineral flavours of purple plum, dry green tobacco and shades of red berry. Tart tannins with a firm dry finish. Went wonderfully with roast chicken, marsala & porcini mushroom sauce. Definitely a food wine, 7/10.

£7.99 from the Co-Operative

Casa Silva “Cool Coast” Sauvignon Blanc 2011

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I am a fan of Casa Silva wines and this offering from their Paredones Estate in Colchagua Valley centra Chile is a winner.

The nose is bracing fresh sea air, with shards of green pepper green gage plum & spicy minerals.

Palate is super green, leafy, more green pepper tinged with fresh citrus. There was a hint of vegetal character but didn’t find it unpleasant. Nice taught acidity and a smoky green asparagus finish.

If you are tired of NZ Sauv Blanc or want a classy alternative to Sancerre then do seek this out.

£15.49 a bottle or £14.27 per case from The Oxford Wine Company or £15.99 or Wine Rack has the 2010 for £15.99 a bottle 10% off when you buy 6

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