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.

 

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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Voyager Estate Winemaker Dinner

Despite not knowing Voyager Estate wines very well when I got the invite last fall, the omens were promising as it was being held at Vinoteca, one of my favorite wine bar/shops in London.

The Vinoteca empire has expanded of late but this Masterclass dinner with Steve James was in the fabulous cellar dining room at the original venue in Farringdon.

 

Now most folks would agree that to be a great winemaker you must make great wine. No argument there. But I would say in addition to that, they also must be a consumate communicator. Whether their audience be hardend wine writers, skeptical bloggers or their adoring fans the ability to express themselves with insight, knowledge & passion for me is of vital importance.

Steve James is one of such winemakers. He has an easy way of speaking, is warm, articulate and uses his hands a lot when he gets to talking about the terrior in beautiful Margaret River, Western Australia. Steve been heading up the team at Voyager Estate for 14 years now and they are crafting some cracking wines out there. What impressed me was how quietly confident he was with what they are producing and what better way to demonstrate that than standing them up against the best in class from 3 other labels.

We tasted their 2009 Chardonnay first from along with Kumeu River Mate Vineyards from New Zealand. The Voyager Estate won out for me with its flinty, smoky green melon nose & clean bright citrus, fresh fleshy oak & creamy cashew nut palate.

 

We also tasted two recent extreme vintages of Voyager Estate Chard. The hot difficult 2008 & 2006, their coolest on record, with very low yields. The ’06 definitely fared better showing green olive & cedar sauna aromas w/ fresh granny smith, peppery oak & good length on the palate. Sadly the ’08 was a bit of a jumble. Lumpy in places, flat & flabby in others. However not unpleasant.

Next was the turn of mighty 2010 Shiraz and this time it was matched up against Clonakilla Shiraz/Viognier from Canberra in New South Wales. Again for me Voyager Estate won the day, there was simply more harmony and subtlety to it. Smelling very perfumed of black liquorice, blackberry juice, dried fig, dates, cocoa & on the palate it was sleek, firm, subtle damson plum, hints of leather & blueberry. Very good indeed. Their Shiraz really comes into its own after a few years in bottle as the 2009 & 2007 vintages showed. Complex, earthy, spicy, ripe, gamey and totally divine. Brought to my mind good Cote Rotie or Hermitage.

Finally we came to the darling blend of Margaret River, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot.  The 2008 vintage, this time squared off against Wynns Connawarra John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon from South Australia. Yet again I found myself preferring the Voyager Estate for its nuanced nose of green pepper, peppermint, smoky lead & truffle leading in the mouth to meaty, dense, wonderfully weighted, gravelly minerals, dark fruit & a clean finish.

The older vintages of Voyager Estate Cab Sav/Merlot this time were from 2005 & 2004 with the ’04 stealing the show. Roast rabbit & plummy spiced fruit nose plunging headlong into a curiously gamey yet fresh, full, sexy(easy boy!), peppery, deep mineral & mature plum brandy finale. Super stuff!

After all that tasting dinner I had worked up an appetite and right on cue was Dinner entering stage right.

 

For me the Smoked Mackerel with Apple, Celery, Frisee & Horseradish was the star with the 2009 VE Chardonnay a gorgeous match as well.

I was so excited about this Roast Partridge with Celeriac puree, Beetroot & Guanicale (unsmoked Italian bacon) but sadly the bird was a bit overdone. Thankfully the VE Shiraz was on hand and really did soften the blow.

For afters I went with this Chocolate pot with strawberries which was velvety and rich and just fine on it’s own.

 

 

 

The night drew to a very satisfying denouement as we said goodbye to Steve. He had been a fabulous host and the Voyager Estate wines not only shone in their own right but showed their individuality and class up against some very good competitors.

A very good night indeed…

Voyager Estate Wines are available in the UK through Justerinis & Brooks

Pic St Loup: Part Two

I wanted to get Part 2 & the final instalment to mark the year (plus a few months) anniversary of my very special trip to Pic St Loup in Coteaux de Languedoc.
After falling in love with the south of France on a trip to Roussillon a few years back this trip was another memorable adventure in gastronomy, culture and of course wine.
The passion & warmth of the people of this region will be with me for a long time and for that I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Sipping in Slovenia Pt 1

I travelled to Slovenia this year invited by winery Puklavec & Friends to sample the wine and food of this much underrated wine producing country. My first 24 hours were spent on the Istrian coast near the town of Portoroz. We stayed at the beautiful Kempinski Palace Hotel, sampled wines from Vina Koper, Tilia Estate and ate at Solni Svet. More to come…

Supper Club: Ferdies Foodlab

I attended the very 1st Ferdies Foodlab at it’s Grade 2 Listed space in Aldgate. It was a fantastic evening.
The menu comprised of
-Liquorice ‘cured’ Fillet Steak Cubes w/ Baby Peppers & Garlic Bread
-Champagne Poached Pears w/ Green Leaf Cured Ham
-Barents Sea King Crab w/ Creamed samphire
-Slow Roast Lamb w/ Roast Potatoes & Green Leaf Salad
-microTatins Bana – passion fruit & sorbet – banana & white choc sauce
-Seville Zebras and BOO Chocs (Black Olive & Salted Orange)