Ska Euphoria & Dale’s Pale Ale Cans

The beer bloggeratti are abuzz with pretty universal praise of our favourite breweries putting their fine liquids into cans. It does tick a lot of boxes in terms of: cost efficiency, environmental impact and freshness retention. That final consideration is especially important when we are talking about the best brewskis making the long journey from the US of A to her Majesty’s golden shores.

Not one to be left behind I picked up a couple tinnies from two Colorado heavyweights Ska and Oscar Blues at the tres swish The Beer Boutique in Putney.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 15.27.18My first taste of Ska Brewing came at the now extinct My Brewery Tap in Brighton. I visited soon after their opening a few years back and had a whale of a time trying a range of keg beers that included that beast of an IPA that is Modus Hoperandi. Euphoria Pale Ale, now in its 10th year is a collaboration with their pals at Venture Snowboards and is a celebration of all the outdoor activities that winter brings and that craftsman spirit that embody them both.

First thing I noticed about this 6.2% abv seasonal “Ska/Venture Venture” was that it was past drink by date by nearly a month, undeterred (I’ve eaten IKEA mustard that was years past its expiry) I poured it out. A promising rich mocha head frothed up showing a deep clear brown undercarriage. The aromas stomped all over my nasal receptors with a complexity that showed passion fruit, marmite, Rollo chocolates and dense ginger cake. With a nose like that I wasted no time supping back a big gulp of it. I was struck immediately by the fabulous rounded mouthfeel, but then subtle malty peach joined the party, with hop resin poking through, his lady friend ripe cantaloupe came bouncing in, bringing the whole mouth fiesta into superb balance. Utterly delicious.

Having heard a lot of good things about Oscar Blues Brewingtheir flagship Dale’s Pale Ale seemed as good a place to start as any.Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 15.27.41

Bright amber in the glass with a thin layer of head, it gave off whiffs of earthy mushroom, pine resin, lemon peel and roast chicken (maybe I was hungry). First sip was zippy and fresh. The texture was nice and creamy, with hints of dry pineapple and mango, razor sharp hops, some stony minerals and a slightly floral finish. If you are a bit of a hopmonster this solid 6.5% abv-er is the benchmark for great USA inspired pale ale. Killer pairing with cheddar cheese as well.

Based on this very limited but highly successful tasting I will be lending my voice to those around me shouting at the top of our lungs. “Bring us more cans!”

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.

Brixton Brewery

I love supporting local businesses in my hood of SE London. I also love good beer so you can imagine my delight as I gazed upon the chilling bottles of Brixton Brewery in the beer fridge at that cave of drinky delights Market Row Wines.

I snapped four bottles to try. The names were proudly Brixtonian, but did the beer behind those dazzling labels express the vibrant complex nature of this most iconic London neighbourhood?

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.25I kicked off with Windrush Stout (5%) and found the nose of this dense black ale quite intoxicating. Freshly roasted coffee, ripe blackberries, toasted chestnut, rich in iron with a savoury meatiness. It slipped down very nicely and I loved the fresh clean quality it had in my mouth. As well as some of the notes from the nose there was bubble coffee, earthy minerals and a beautifully balanced lean bitter finish. Very easy drinking, yet fine. Quite delicious.

Next was Reliance Pale Ale (4.2%) which smelled of tropical fruit sweets, white melon and toast. My first sip I found to twang of TCP, it was tart with a sharp malt bite and finished dry pithy grapefruit. Very medicinal and not quite to my taste.Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.46

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.37But they were back on song again with their flagship session Effra Ale (4.5%). Mouth watering peach, caramel and rich malty bread invaded my nostrils. Tasting it, what really impressed me was its rich texture of toasted cornmeal but there were also some Jäger herbs with a firm dry mango finish. Very tasty.

To round off the quartet was Electric IPA (6.5%) whose nose sang to me of bright sweet pineapple, candied grapefruit and pasties fresh from the oven. The mouthful was creamy sweet papaya, pithy pink grapefruit with a dry peppery rocket finish. Quite good indeed.Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.54

Brixton Brewery began to ferment 3 years ago as an idea in the hop addled minds of neighbours and passionate homebrewers Jez and Mike as they drank in the previous incarnation of The Craft Beer Co SW4. Putting their plan into action took about two years and saw them team up with head brewer Dominic whose CV boasts names like Brewdog, Kelham Island and Sierra Nevada. Despite not being wild about the Reliance Pale Ale I felt each beer possessed its own distinct personality and expressed some of that joie de vivre that makes Brixton such a vibrant and engaging place. Here’s hoping that Jez, Mike and Dominic can maintain their solid start and build on some very well brewed beers.

I’m a big fan of fellow blogger Leigh Linely’s writing (I also like that his initials repeat, like mine) and regularly read his  The Good Stuff” blog. Here’s a link to his recent Brixton Brewery Review.

Great minds Leigh; I thought the Windrush Stout was the pick of the bunch as well.

Fatourada fi Greek Liqueur

The manner in which this artesian Greek liqueur actually came into my possession sounded a bit like a dodgy first draft of an espionage/crime short story. It would be called:

Mr Drink ‘N’ Eat and the mysterious Greek Fatourada

My name is Mister, Mr Drink n Eat. I am a private palate for hire. It was August 2013 and I was minding my own business when I was got message (via Facebook) from a woman named Vicky Peristanoglou (sounded Greek) to see if I was interested in trying Fatourada fi. I had never heard of it. But it was unusual stuff, exotic; my interest was peaked. It all seemed pretty innocent so far, but the wrinkle came when I asked how she would get it to me. I was told mailing it was complicated and dangerous. I wondered why? She had valid reasons, but it could have been a smokescreen.

A few months later I got word that it finally had arrived in the UK, and I would be contacted with more information. One afternoon my phone buzzed with a text from someone named Eric who claimed to have the Fatourada in his possession. He wanted to meet. Who was this ‘Eric’? What did he have to do with Vicky P and the Fatourada? Over the coming months as it seemed difficult to arrange a suitable meeting time with him in London. Why couldn’t I tie this guy down? What was his game?

Finally, the big day arrived with the swap due to go down at 14:30 GMT at Cabin wine bar, Waterloo station. It needed to be someplace public; I had made that mistake before. I decided to arrive early to get the drop on him. Taking a seat at a high bar table gave me a full view of the whole station. Ordering a glass of wine and a bite to eat I scanned the crowd, my senses alert. My courier arrived some minutes later in the form of a Greek economics student named Eric (spooky). Early twenties, well groomed, intelligent and from a good family as far as I could tell. He sat and handed over the package, but then asked me to choose him a glass of wine (was this a test?), so I did. He seemed happy with it and we exchanged pleasantries for a half hour or so, then he said goodbye and left disappearing into the crowded station. I wondered if I would see him again. I guess it didn’t matter because when I opened the bag, it contained a rather fetching looking bottle with a liquid inside the colour of melted amber. I couldn’t help noticing cinnamon stick tied to the neck. Could it be a message? But there was more… A plain envelope with Mr Nathan Nolan (an alias of mine) written in black ink. Inside was a single sheet of paper, a printed message from the producers Yiannis Koulelis and Maria Copsachilis thanking me for my interest in their product and being honored to hear my feedback. But was there’s more to it.

The case took another 6 months to close as I tried to find the right occasion to taste it. The time finally came when I met up with a fellow private palate whose tastebuds I trust more than my own. Walls, Matt Walls is his name and we drank it with our good ladies the other week. Here’s what we thought:

The nose began with a blast of citrus orchard, then hints of marzipan, maraschino cherry and digging deeper came rich notes of warm cinnamon and cardamom. But all the while I was getting sprays of fresh Sevilla orange zest. The texture is viscous and buttery (akin to some dessert wines) with a complex flavour profile. The mulled wine spices nibbled my tongue and lounged on my palate, but there was more: brandy butter, orange studded clove, waxy lemon, Christingle and an intense Cosmopolitan brûlée finish. I really liked its layers of orange spice and it was enjoyed by all paired with a walnut and caramel tart.  Coming out at 21% AVB and being so decadent perhaps its too rich to drink more than a small glass, but a small glass was all you needed. I for one felt very lucky to have tasted such a unique and well crafted elixir. Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 12.12.12

Yiannis and Maria produce their spiced nectar by hand in small batches on the beautiful Greek island of Kythira (Kythera/Cythera). The name Fatourada itself is borrowed from a time when Venetians ruled Kythira (along with a number of other Aegean islands) with the heady libation only consumed by its wealthy elite. The base spirit made from Hamburg Muscat grapes is double distilled in their copper pot still before it is allowed to macerate with the green skins of locally hand picked oranges and cinnamon wood.

Fatourada fi is certainly the sort of thing you could imagine the Gods sipping while they lounged around Mount Olympus plotting love affairs with nymphs and battles with Hydras.

Check out their facebook page or contact them on twitter for more information.

The case of the mysterious delicious Fatourarda fi was now closed.

Harviestoun: Òrach Slie, Ridge and Broken Dial

I have been fortunate enough to be on this bonnie Scottish brewery’s ‘good bloggers’ list for a few years now. The reason I know this, is that every now and then a package containing Harviestoun beer turns up unannounced; which is quite a nice thing. They have brewed some excellent beers since they started nigh on thirty years ago. The beer that put them on the map is Bitter & Twisted Blond Ale, but they are also responsible for Ola Dubh, probably one of the world’s best whisky barrel aged brews. Engineers Reserve ‘Old Engine Oil’; a beer so silky and voluptuous that the first time I tasted it, I actually felt as if I had been seduced. Finally, their Schiehallion has got to be one of the top 5 quality craft lagers in the country.

A few new (ish) releases turned up on my doorstep and here’s what I thought:

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 09.33.03Òrach Slie 6% abv

A golden ale matured in Glenfarclas whisky barrel, that pours bright Irun-Bru in colour. The nose is wet moss, wool, oak infused golden syrup. I found it rich yet easy drinking with notes of wet grain, heather, honey, sunflower oil and a tart woody tannin finish. Honestly on when I first tasted it, it didn’t send my pulse racing. That said after a month or so when I came round to trying the 3rd bottle, it was much better. The texture had improved and there was a more complex mead sweetness. A good beer, just needed a bit of time to settle down. Might even be worth laying a few down for a few months to see how they develop. 7/10

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 09.32.52The Ridge Pale Ale 5% abv

It’s pale golden (no surprise there) with aromas of grapefruit pith, proving bread, kumquat and lime marmalade. My tastebuds picked up a veritable Aladdin’s cave of flavours: creamy citrus, wasabi, dried pineapple, sticky toffee pudding and a very dry citrus seed finish. The complexity and intensity of the hopping might be a bit much for some (it left teeth marks a couple times), but is well suited to food (spicy chinese or fish and chips) but it does what it says on the can; a pale ale that sings The Star Spangled Banner with its sporran swaying. 6.75/10

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 09.32.38Broken Dial Amber Ale 4.5% abv

Pale tan held up to the light and I got whiffs of sweet malt loaf, dry apricot and cocoa. Sipping it twas the tea tannins that bit first, then I got dry chocolate, orange peel, beef consume, burnt caramel, dried leather with a peach fluff finish. Do I love it? Well no. But its a perfectly decent amber ale. 6.5/10

I was sent 24 bottles of Broken Dial and The Ridge so was able to sample many bottles over a period of time. An interesting experiment (and very generous of Harviestoun), because not only was I able to sample them after some ageing, but certain flavours and aromas were more pronounced depending on when I drank them. Giving me a broader and more detailed understanding of the beers. It also meant quite a few friends got to taste them and this is by no means scientific but most preferred The Ridge.

It was Harviestoun’s special deliveries in my early days of beer blogging that gave me confidence and belief that at least someone liked what I was doing. So a big thanks to Ewan and the team for ‘loving my work’.

*Disclaimer – I receive no remuneration beyond the beers themselves from Harviestoun and produce reviews based on my honest opinion, full in the knowledge that a negative one may land me on the ‘naughty’ list.

Hunter’s Brewery

I had my first taste of Hunter’s a few years back for the Sainsbury Great British Beer Hunt. The Devon based brewery had their Full Bore into final round of the competition that year, but sadly weren’t crowned champions. I did however pick up a few of their other bottles and reviewed their excellent Half Bore in one of my video blogs.

In February I was down at a food fair in Exeter; Hunter’s had a stand so I was able to taste a few on cask as well as being given a trio of their newer beers to take away in bottle.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 11.21.55Devon Dreamer 4.1%

Ice tea brown.

Buttery caramel & grapefruit pith nose.

Wonderfully easy drinking, creamy texture, passion fruit, clean tangy finish. Super session ale.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 11.22.12Crispy Pig 4%

Cloudy golden.

Aromas of fragrant sweet red apple and blossom honey.

Punchy dry apple skin  moving to dry savoury and firm on the mid palate. Super dry finish with notes of sweet basil. Quite more-ish. However it lacked liveliness. Perhaps it was faulty? Looked flat and hazy. Not exceptional but interesting. Good with creamy cheese or grilled pork.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 11.22.23The Royal Hunt 5.5%

Rich chestnut brown.

Raisin malt brown fresh dates on the nose.

Flat so lacks depth. Dry and malty. Some sweet prune.

A bit of mixed bag really. I tasted the Crispy Pig on cask at the stand and it was much more vibrant so knew something was up with the bottle. It’s a bit of a novelty: ale infused with apples. So worth looking out for. The Royal Hunt I would want to try again as it’s may have been faulty as well. For me Devon Dreamer was the standout. Refreshing, balanced and delicious. What more could you want?

Thanks to the folks at Hunter’s for giving me the samples and do seek out their multi award winning beers.

 

 

Bay Tree Lavender Jelly

I discovered West Country based The Bay Tree Food Company at a food fair last year and fell in love with their Spicy Gooseberry & Coriander Chutney. I had been holding onto the their Lavender Jelly for a special occasion but wish I hadn’t. The stuff is wonderful! Despite the ‘warning’  on the jar saying “Not only lovely with lamb” I went ahead and had it with it anyway. You see because that’s how I roll. I am a total rebel.

Tasting it solo, the first thing you get is a sharp hit of cider vinegar, then bright shards of aromatic lavender with subtle hints of Indian spices. It’s very balanced, so not cloying or over sweet. The flavours are exotic, yet soothing.

It went beautifully with the roast lamb, which loves aromatic accompaniments. But also went well with chicken, elevating the humble clucker without the need for lots of gravy. Pan fried pork paired nicely with the classic sweet and sour character.  Finally soft creamy goats cheese was given the royal treatment with the sharpness in both harmonising but also being lifted by the fragrant lavender.

You can buy Lavender Jelly for £2.70 online as well a a ton of other delicious consumables from The Bay Tree Food Company.

 

Non Alcoholic Beers

At the behest of my good lady we had a dry January and so I had a reason to try some booze free brews.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 11.44.46Jever Fun (.05% abv/£1)

Made by a respected German brewer and despite its rather ironic name (those crazy Germans with their “unique” sense of humour) I thought this wasn’t bad at all. It’s price tag of a quid is pretty attractive as well.

Smells of normal lager green hops hint of sweet malt a bit metallic. Crisp fresh, nice mouth feel, bitter in the right places, it’s dry, balanced finish no nasty aftertaste. It actually tastes better than a lot of alcoholic McLagers and was quite good with a spicy curry. It does need to be drunk very cold though & relatively quickly. As the ‘Fun’ loses carbonation and warms more uneven vegetal flavours emerge making it less pleasant to drink.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 11.45.08 Rothaus Alkoholfrei (.05% abv/£2)

Another German offering with a slightly sweet stinky malt nose. It’s clean, easy drinking with no aftertaste. Reminded me a bit of light Swedish beers (Skol and Falcon) I drank when I first visited Scandinavia back in the 90’s. Not bad at all. Tasting blind, I’m not sure I could tell it was non alcoholic. A good sign.

I can’t say that I will be rushing out to stock up on either of the beers but I can say hand on heart that if you are unable to or choose not drink alcohol but still want a decent brewski and either of these will do.

I bought both beers from The Beer Boutique which is a lovely beer shop in Putney.

 

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.

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.04.09

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.

Page 4 of 9« First...23456...Last »