Dinner with Mark De Vere MW

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 17.39.18

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.

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 16.39.43

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.

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 16.39.57

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

Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference USA Beers

Now I have been fairly impressed with Sainos Taste the Difference wines. They essentially contract established producers in “insert region” but the packaging is all Sainsburified. Well made wines at fair prices for the most part.

So I was hopeful this foray into USA “craft” beer with Tap Room Brewing would be as successful. Thanks to Beer Googles Reviews for sussing out that Tap Room is actually contract brewed by Genesee Brewing Company out of Rochester, New York. A little misleading methinks. Not the best start…

But here are my tasting notes.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 16.36.21

Tap Room American Pale Ale 5.3% abv

Eye- Sugar golden brown, no real head

Nose- Rye Bread, ripe banana

Palate- Ultra dry, tart, green, no fruit, lemony finish

Verdict- Honestly wasn’t much impressed. It tasted chemical & somewhat “unnatural”.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 16.36.37

Tap Room IPA 6.3%abv 

Eye- Caramel

Nose- Yeast, beetroot & crystal malts

Palate- Corn, dusty leather, some peach, orange zest, toasted brazil nuts w/ a spicy dry finish

Verdict- Despite tasting more complex notes on the palate I still felt let down. Brewed by numbers & lacking soul.

Well Sainos despite the eye catching Americana labels you best go back to the drawing board on these beers. Perhaps finding another brewer to collaborate with? You could do a lot better than this.

Wild Beers

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 14.56.32 The Wild Men of The Wild Beer Co

I have been a big fan of The Wild Beer Co ever since I was first introduced to them early this year by my friend & neighbour Paul who has known founders Brett & Andrew since Uni(at least I think that’s how he knows them). The beers coming out of their brewery in Lower Westcombe Farm Somerset have such personality & depth of flavour.

Here’s my tasting notes on 2 of them:

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 10.53.05

Scarlet Fever Red Ale 4.8% abv

Eye- Deep auburn, root beer red foam

Nose- Grapefruit, dark chocolate, toasted coffee beans, pistachio, caramel apple

Palate- Tart red fruit, serious, warming bitterness, dry woody finish

Verdict- This ain’t your typical red ale, very mature and refined. Wants food this. Game, mature cheese or anything with mushrooms would love it.

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 14.36.31

Epic Saison 5%abv

Eye- Deep yellow, buzzing bubbles, thick individual bubble foam

Nose- Jasmine, mango, dried pineapple, ginger snaps

Palate- Deep apricot, complex jagermiester herbs, long luscious zest super clean finish

Verdict- Saison is a very popular style right now. I love good Saison. This is bloody good Saison! (I recently had their Solera Saison on keg and was equally impressed with it)

So whether they come in wickedly branded bottles or on keg their beers are well worth getting into.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise, Prague

Last September I was in Prague for a stag party. Though I use the term “party” in the loosest sense as it consisted of the groom to be, the best man and myself. Being a trio of mature (ish) men we thought that we would buck the trend and have a Michelin starred meal… before we got terribly drunk and shot automatic weapons with a stinking hangover.

I knew nothing about Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise, a smart 40 seat spare corner building in Prague’s Old Town.  They only do tasting menus, 6 or 11 courses with the option of a wine to pair. Of course we went the full 11 with wine.

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 10.39.50

Honestly, I was a bit tipsy when we started but believe things went a bit like this…

We started off with an amuse-bouche: I loved the fatty/creamy/texture combo of the Fried Chicken Skin, Chicken Liver Pate with Lokus Sweet Wine Jelly. Never having tasted anything like Black Bean & Black Truffle Croquette before I was suitably wowed by their rich earthiness which complemented each other wonderfully. The Grilled Onion, Sheep Yoghurt with Thyme & Onion Chips was a perfect palate cleanser and delicious foil to the others.

IMG_1091

The courses that followed were…

1. Trebon Carp & Sour Milk. A fascinating, delicious & beautifully textured dish of shaved frozen local carp, poppy seeds & sour milk semi freddo. It was served with an excellent Matthias Czech Sekt (Love saying that!) by Proqin Ltd. It was a pairing made in heaven as the crunchy textures played off the spitz of the fizz. A real winner!Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 15.56.27

IMG_1094

2. Russian Sturgeon Caviar & Prague Ham. A bit foggy on this one. Do recall the sweet smoky ham set against the sharp saline intensity of the caviar. The yellow stuff was a mayo… I think. Loved the texture of the spoon as well. Was paired with a very good Riesling In der Wand by Pichler-Krutzler. The combo I don’t think wowed me.

IMG_1097

3. Farm Chicken, Sweet Corn & Radish. This was one of the most memorable pieces of poultry that I have ever eaten. Crispy skin, the meat pink shiny & pale was so moist that I needed a towel. The foil of pillow soft sweet corn puree set against the sharp crunch of the radish & cauliflower was supremely judged, a dish of real skill. The wine was local Ryzlink Vlašsky (Welschriesling) 2010 by Mikrosvin Mikulov which did the job just fine.Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 15.57.44

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 15.50.55

4. This Langoustine, Oyster & Amaranth certainly looked impressive served atop it’s warm cobble stone. But for me it lacked execution and the langoustine itself came off 2nd best. We were served a homemade lemonade to break up things up booze wise which was a nice change.

Though our waiter did slip us a rather special Gavi MonteRotondo Villa Sparina. Bad waiter…

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 09.55.01

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 09.47.53

 

 

 

 

 

5. Local Třeboň Catfish, Moravian Sparkling Wine Sauce & Cabbage was sublime. Texture as well as flavour played off each other wonderfully. The gentle crunch of cabbage, meaty tenderness of the catfish & all held together with the acidity of the Sparkiling wine sauce. Wine was an accomplished Veltlinske Zelené aka Grüner Veltliner by Kořínek.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 10.12.49

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 10.12.36

 

 

 

 

 

6. Foie Gras & Grape juice Jelly.  Chef returned to his frozen grating method that worked so well with the opening dish of carp and translated beautifully with the foie gras melting in your mouth supported by the sweet acidity of the grape jelly. Never experienced foie gras like this before. A highly intelligent dish. Wine, an excellent Barriques Oubliées, Muscat de Frontignan 1995 which matched perfectly.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 10.32.39Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 10.32.18

 

We had just past the mid point of the 11 courses and I was really starting to feel all that wine not to mentioned several beers before dinner. But backing out now was not an option…

7. Beef Tenderloin & Dill Sauce was so less than a revelation. Another combination that absolutely sent my palate into rapture. Even a year on I can still taste that sous vide tender beef (cuddled to death I’m sure) and robed in rich slightly aniseed dill sauce. We stayed local with a decent oaked Sauvignon Blanc by František Mádl.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 11.39.21Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 11.38.51

 

 

 

 

 

8. Mnetěš Pigeon, Lokus Wine, Pumpkin was perfectly nice dish. I don’t recall it changing my life in anyway and having to follow that beef was always going to be tough. I probably have served the pigeon before the beef. But hey it ain’t my restaurant. The wine was an superb Barolo Sori Ginestra 2005 which paired well.Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 17.05.14Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 17.04.36

 

 

 

 

9. Beef Tongue, Yellow Pea Puree, Mustard was another tasty dish but it didn’t stay with me. To be fair I haven’t eaten much beef tongue. Recall the sauce being rather special, rich and textured. The wine was another Czech offering from Stapleton & Springer Cuvee Rouci which honestly I don’t think I was wild about. But I may have hit the wall.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 17.27.48

We were nearly the end, my energy was waning but just two more dishes to go.

10. Wagyu Kobe Style Beef, Eggplant, Ponzu Sauce would normally have caused much more of a stir around around the table were it not right at the end of a long boozy meal and and even longer boozier day. The execution was faultless, a balanced and delicious dish. Wine was a Hess Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 that didn’t wow nor offend. Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 17.37.41Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 17.37.14

 

 

 

 

Nearly there…

11. For dessert we had a couple choices and I opted for the unpronounceable Olomoucké Tvarůžky. Tvaruzky is a mature cheese made of skim milk which has been produced in the region for hundreds of years. Soft & sticky in texture it had a salty, spicy flavour. The biggest reason that I ordered it though was because it came with a wheat beer from cult Czech brewer Matuška. It did not disappoint and was a great match for the cheese. My pals went for the Chocolate Sorbet, Raspberries & Mint which looked melted to me. But perhaps that was the look they were after…Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 18.06.03

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 18.00.51

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 18.00.12

 

 

 

All things considered in terms of the amount to drink and the marathon nature of the meal I was quite impressed. There were some divine dishes, flavours that have stuck with me over a year on without a single note.

So if you are going to Prague and want to treat yourself then do book a table at Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise. If you are on a budget though I can heartily recommend Lokal next door. It’s a beautiful beer hall serving all manner of traditional Czech food and is owned by the same group Ambiente.

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?

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 12.08.56

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

Sanford Orchards “Fanny’s Bramble” Cider

Screen Shot 2013-08-23 at 16.02.35I am becoming a real fan of cider these days. For my palate it fits somewhere between the refreshment of beer and the complexity of wine. So much more to learn though…

Sanford Orchards make some lovely cider and while this Fanny’s Bramble is very much an attempt to woo converts to the cult of Swedish “fruit” ciders it remains true to it’s roots, a product produced honestly from apples & fresh blackberries picked from the hedgerows near their orchards in Devon. It is 4%abv & my thoughts were…

Eye – Iron Bru Red

Nose – Fragrant blackberry liqueur

Palate – Tart, generous, supple, bright red apple with a sharp cassis finish

Verdict – Not trying to be something serious but altogether pleasing & refreshing.  “Like biting into an apple soaked in Ribena”

Fanny’s Bramble is available direct as well as online from The Real Ale Company & Tilia

 

Grain “Redwood” Red Ale

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 15.22.30I discovered Grain Brewery almost by accident in 2010 when I made my maiden voyage into learning about beer while cycling around Norfolk & Suffolk. I arrived announced but was shown around the former dairy barn by the very warm & welcoming Phil (cofounder & brewer).

Since my visit Grain has gone from strength to strength winning a string of awards including two gongs for this Redwood Red Ale 4.8% abv.

Here are my notes…

Eye- Lovely bright copper red

Nose- Sweet corn, malted caramel & lemon peel

Palate- Sharp, clean, fresh peach, pithy, creamy malt texture and a nutty orange zest finish

Verdict- Definitely worth it’s CAMRA & SIBA awards this one. A great session ale for a sunday lunch or warm autumn evening

Their beers are available at these fine shops  and online through Russell & Newnes

You can also watch me taste their Grain IPA in my very first video beer review here.

 

 

Bowmore Islay Single Malt Whisky “Darkest” 15 y/o

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 14.19.22I am a fan of single malt whisky, though I confess to only being an amateur in it’s dark arts. Makes me feel quite serious when I drink it, a mature man. Not entirely sure why. Possibly the feeling was bestowed on me while watching some film as a wee lad and saw the hero drinking it while he wrote some great work or pined for a lost love or just drank himself into oblivion.

Over the years I seem to have developed a preference for Islay’s peaty smoky beasts. Though offerings from Campbeltown have seduced my palate of late.

This 15 year old Bowmore is 43%abv and has been aged in sherry cask.

My notes describe it thusly…

Eye- Golden amber

Nose- Burnt toffee, moist peat, warm honey, TCP & nettles

Palate- Rich & smoky, ginger nut, nutmeg, orange peel, clove, long earthy peat finish

Verdict- Found it a bit rough on the finish and lacks a little complexity for me. It would love some dark chocolate or a good cigar. Worth a punt.

It is available to buy from The Whisky Exchange & Masters of Malt 

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