Harringay Dine Wine Me

Recently at a friends’ house we had an excellent supper, with lovely food accompanied by excellent wine, great company and lots of mirth. When we offered to have the same eight people to our place for a repeat performance, someone suggested it could be like a Harringay Dine Wine Me, where we would all get scores for our showing. Gulp! This was particularly awkward and scary as we’d just had a fantastic evening that included rolling our own sushi no less. I didn’t fancy being scored and far less marking someone else, which is a pretty ugly thing to do. Not to matter, we risked comparison and went ahead anyway. Here’s what we drank when they all came to ours…

With some antipasti we had a bottle of 2008 Auxerrois Vieilles Vignes from Domaine Paul Blanck. Auxerrois is a lovely, friendly variety unique to Alsace that’s a variant of Pinot Blanc, another Alsatian variety. There aren’t that many examples around but it’s well worth getting some if you find it. This one was from £14 from Waitrose, but I grabbed a case when they did their 25% off all wines weekend, a twice a year super-bargain that everyone should avail themselves of. A lovely, lip-smacking moreish wine I would highly recommend getting some whilst they are still stocking it.

Next we had a bottle of Alsace Grand Cru Brand Pinot Gris 2004 from the Cave de Turckheim. I bought it from the producer the time before last when I was over there for about €16 I think (the last time I was buying 2007s, which I haven’t started yet). Rich, spicy, but dry it’s a terrific wine from one of the best Grand Cru sites in Alsace (the Brand vineyard) and is great with spicy stuff – ideal with harissa prawn skewers and courgette fritters as we had for example. It would be well over £20 in the UK and shows what good bargains you get when you buy from source.

Reverting to the clean and lean, we followed that with had a bottle of 2010 Rías Baixas (an appellation from Galicia in NW Spain), which is made from pure Albariño, an excellent, crisp, slightly aromatic but quite full variety that’s perfect with seafood or crisp zingy fish and is getting ever more popular. This one was from the producer Pazo Señorans and we had it with a salmon cerviche. They currently sell it in Berry Brothers for £17 but I paid £12.50 when I bought it from the Wine Society a few months ago, but they don’t have it there at the moment. I’m not sure I’d spend £17 on it, but it’s a lovely wine for £12.50 showing strong varietal character and a lovely freshness.

For the main course we had swordfish with a pomegranate molasses marinade. This was accompanied by a couple of red Burgundies, which being on the lighter and more elegant side of red wine are good matches for meaty fish, like swordfish or tuna. The first was my penultimate (sniff) bottle of 2004 Savigny-Les-Beaune 1er Cru La Dominode from Domaine Pavelot. I bought this excellent Burgundy from Hugues Pavelot a few years ago. He’s probably the best grower in Savigny, which is highlighted by the fact that although 2004 was no great year, he made a superb wine. Good value too, at less (just) than €20. The premier cru vineyard La Dominode is known for being a late maturer and the 2004 was just on the money at eight years old. No matter, I’ve got a case of 2006 to come!

The second red Burgundy was a bottle of 2007 Marsannay ‘Les Longeroies’ from Domaine Bruno Clair, also bought from the producer a few years ago, for about €15. By contrast this was the first bottle I had broached in a case of six. Also quite a later maturer, it was still a tad young at five years old, but nevertheless it had just started to show really well. Certainly no hurry for the other five bottles and I’ve plenty of protection in other red Burgundies, so they’ll be safe for a year or so at least. A terrific wine from an appellation (Marsannay) in Burgundy where you can find some really good wines offering much better value than their neighbours down the road in Gevrey-Chambertin.

On to the cheese, we had a staple classic; Cune Rioja Reserva 2004. Reserva is the benchmark style of Rioja that all good producers should make a good example of, which Cune certainly do. It’s long lived and 2004 was a first class year that’s only just starting to drink. I always find Rioja great with a cheeseboard, which this certainly was. Currently you can pick up the 2006 (also a very good year) from Majestic for about £14, which is a very fair price for a textbook Rioja Reserva that’s being sold at six years old, just about ready to drink.

Moving on to blue cheese and seamlessly into a couple of tarts for pudding, we had a bottle of Grande Maison’s Monbazillac Cuvée du Château 1996, that I bought for the ridiculous steal of about €18 in a deli / cave in the market town of Riberac in the Dorgogne. A joke price that is almost the same as price of the current release (probably 2008 or so) from the producer! The bottles had been in the cave of their shop for years so I asked the chap to go and find all the older vintages he could in his cave (well stored), which he did, resulting in me coming back with about three mixed cases of excellent, mature but not over the hill wines that should have been at least twice the price. Happy days! This Monbazillac was still fresh and vital at 16 years old (96 was a very good year) with full rich marmaladey flavours (from the botrytis). A superb pudding wine to finish a (hopefully) lovely supper.

And so with the evening over did anyone sink so low as to give us a mark out of ten? Fortunately not, though I’m still wondering every time I see my friends on the street if they’re about to hand me a scorecard.

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Upcoming Cafe Moka Wine Nights

The first Café Moka Wine Night was a great success. Before the evening started I didn’t really know how much tapas Kevin (owner/chef of Moka) would supply with the wines, but in fact the food was not only delicious but there was also enough for your supper. Consequently no-one needed to eat before or after and therefore the £30 ticket basically got them dinner as well as a tutored wine night! I was extremely pleased with the very encouraging feedback so thank you all to those who attended – it was great fun.

These nights are continuing on the last Thursday of each month and we’re now taking bookings for the next two evenings, which will be as follows:

Thursday 31st May – A Vinous Tour of Portugal
Thursday 28th June – Riesling Night

The themes were picked from requests by various people over the last year or so on my courses. As usual, there will be six quality wines matched to tapas dishes and the evenings are a snip at £30 a ticket.

Places will go quite quickly (both nights are already half full), so please let me know asap if you would like to come to either or both of the nights. Kevin will also be taking bookings in Moka.

I look forward to seeing some of you there, this month or next.

Best,
Hugo.

About Moka: Café Moka is run by the talented and affable chef Kevin Vanthem, who has created a lovely space and an excellent café by Harringay station. He’s been in the restaurant trade for twelve years and was chefing at various places for four years before setting up Café Moka, which is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week. It’s by Harringay Station on Wightman Road - click here for a map.

 

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First Café Moka Wine Night – 26th April

Next week marks the start of a new and exciting monthly wine and food evening - Café Moka Wine Nights. For those of you who don’t know, Café Moka is run by the talented and affable chef Kevin Vanthem, who has created a lovely space and an excellent café by Harringay station. He’s been in the restaurant trade for twelve years and was chefing at various places for four years before setting up Café Moka, which is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week. It’s by Harringay Station on Wightman Road – click here for a map.

Moka Wine Nights are going to be an ongoing monthly evening, held on the last Thursday of each month, run by yours truly and with tapas like snacks provided by Kevin. The evenings will be strictly limited to 24 people and will cost just £30, which includes a tasting of six different wines matched with six different canapés. They will run from 7:30pm to about 9 o’clock and will be open for food after the event for those who are interested.

Through supping on six different wines each month you’ll discover different wine regions, get purchase recommendations, learn about food matching, get tips for what to look out for in supermarkets and restaurants and generally learn a pile of wine stuff. You should also have lots of fun!

The first of these evenings is next week, on Thursday 26th April. Please let me know if you’d like to book a place. Kevin will also be taking bookings in the café. It should be a great night.

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Lovely and Long-Lived Bourgueil

Recently I’ve rediscovered my love for the fine red wines of the Central Loire, which are made from pure Cabernet Franc. The best two appellations for red wines in the region are Chinon and Bourgueil, which face each other across the mighty river (as do many of the great pairs of Loire appellations; Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, Vouvray and Montlouis…). At their best, both Chinon and Bourgueil produce wines that can be very long lived, typically with a lovely blackcurrant leaf perfume and succulent raspberry fruit. Ageing transforms the wines, bringing more complexity (say with earthy and mushroomy characteristics), but hopefully still with a bright core of fruit.

I’ve always loved them in the past, but in the last couple of years I’ve been a bit put off some older bottles that have clearly been fine, but overlaid with a veil of farmyard stink. This is down to Brettanomyces, better known as Brett, a naturally occurring yeast that I talked about in this post. Some Brett isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for my money too much is definitely a fault, masking both varietal character and terroir.

Anyway, I’m very pleased to say that I’ve re-found my love for these wines through three older vintages of Bourgueil I drank last week on consecutive nights. All were completely clean (no Brett, very pure expression), but not in the least clinical or dull. Full of character, elegance and terroir they were all lovely wines and although they were between nine and fourteen years old, not one was in the least bit over the hill. Far from it. Continue reading

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Camerano Grappa di Barolo

We don’t get through many spirits at our house. The odd single malt whisky or fine bourbon, the occasional Cognac or Armagnac, or maybe even a nip of well aged Calvados. But just a tiny tipple once a month or so. The average bottle life is probably well over five years. Hopeless really. However, whenever we watch BBC4′s Transatlantic Sessions I find myself reaching for the top shelf. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that watching the Irish/American music filmed in an country house somewhere remote reminds me of being at a session in a pub in County Mayo, where my wife is from. This induces an elbow reflex. Anyway, last night we started watching a great session and I immediately found myself eyeing-up the spirits. It just happens. However, this time we eschewed the usual virtues of whisky or brandy in favour of a grappa. Yes, a grappa. Don’t knock it, it can be wonderful!

Now before we get onto the grappa itself, let’s talk about glasses. As far as I’m concerned most people make a big mistake in drinking Cognac out of those traditional huge bowl-shaped brandy balloons – all this does is let the spirit vapours fill up the glass so the overriding smell is one of alcohol, rather than the complexities of the drink. Now I’m not espousing having twenty different shapes and sizes of Riedel glasses for every different type of wine (I reckon about four to six styles should be more than enough), but getting the dinky Riedel spirit glasses is about the smartest glassware purchase I’ve made. As you can see from the image to the right, the small bowl at the bottom allows for a modest shot of the sauce and the thin flute section above concentrates the flavours without letting the fumes becoming too spiritous. Not only excellent for grappa, but also perfect for Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados in my opinion. Throw your brandy balloons away and go and get some! Now that’s sorted out, what exactly is grappa anyway?

Well, wine brandies (including Cognac and Armagnac) are essentially made by distilling wine and then ageing it in barrels. By contrast pomace brandies (including the Italian grappa and the French marc) are by-products of wine, being distilled from the pressed skins, pips and stalks (the pomace or marc) that is left over after the juice goes off on its own route and is made into wine. Clearly this is going to be a courser product than a brandy made from wine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inferior. The quality of the grappa is linked to the quality of the wine that the pomace comes from – a Marc de Bourgogne made from the juicy pomace of a 1er Cru Burgundy where all the grapes had been de-stalked and the wine was only subjected to a gentle pressing is going to be much finer than one from the dry left-overs of a cheap table wine after every ounce of juice has been squeezed out.

The grappa we had last night highlighted just how infrequent our spirit drinking is; it was the final dregs of a pair of bottles of Camerano Grappa di Barolo, which we bought in Alba back in 2001! Most but by no means all quality grappas are aged in wood and therefore take on the same kind of hues as whisky or brandy (it’s only wood ageing that colours the clear spirit), but there are some really excellent giovane, or young, grappas that aren’t. The one we had last night was one of those. And how was it? Quite fiery for sure, as grappa is and should be, but unctuous, slightly oily, pungent with hints of pine nuts and herbs perhaps. Long and mouth-coating it was lip smacking and delicious. Very subtle flavours, not like the more obvious delights of darker spirits, but extremely fine nevertheless. An excellent digestivo.

I would heartily recommend going to your nearest quality Italian deli or wine merchant and picking up a bottle of fine grappa. I think I’ll have to go back to Alba to get another couple of bottles to see me through the next decade.

 

 

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A Call for Carignan

Last week I was at an excellent event promoting the wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon in Southern France. The zone seems permanently poised to be “the next classic region” to quote their official marketing, and indeed it is an extremely exciting wine region that is slowly but surely leaving behind its infamous past as a source of massively over-cropped gut-rot. These bad-old-days produced seas of wine made by unscrupulous Continue reading

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Domaine Visit – Pascal Bouchard

Last month I was in Chablis with the AWE (Association of Wine Educators), where we made several excellent producer visits. For me the highlight these was to Domaine Pascal Bouchard, where we met Pascal’s son Romain, who has set up two new enterprises that are both run at the family domaine. Continue reading

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Award Winners from the 26th Concours des Vins de Chablis

As I wrote a couple of days ago, I was recently touring Chablis with the AWE (the Association of Wine Eductators), which I’m very happy to be a member of. Whilst on the tour we visited some excellent producers and went to a couple of events, including a private tasting of all the medal winning wines from this year’s Concours des Vins de Chablis, which was held in January.

We were lucky enough to have Eric Szablowski with us for the tasting, who was winemaker at leading producer William Fèvre for 15 years before setting up his own Chablis tastings and tours business, Au Coeur du Vin. Now he’s also been accredited by the Ecole des Vins de Bourgogne as an Ambassador of Burgundy Wines, which was why he was on hand to take us through the Chablis medal winners. I feel it’s safe to say it would be hard to find anyone who understands more about Chablis’ vineyards and its wines!

It was fascinating listening to Eric talk about the region. For him, Petit Chablis is an expression of Chardonnay from the greater Chablis area, whereas he sees Chablis as having a very specific terroir characteristic – expressing the Kimmeridgian soil of the region. We would have liked to talk to Eric for hours, but we had quite a few wines to get through, so onto the competition…

Any producers who wanted to could enter their wines, with separate categories for Petit Chablis through to Grand Cru Chablis. The jury of 65 was a mix of journalists, restaurant owners, sommeliers, oenologists and keen amateurs. Out of the 335 wines entered there were just 26 medal winners, so as you would expect with just 8% getting a gong, the standard was very high. Getting through all 26 in just an hour was pretty tricky, especially as we were all enjoying grilling Eric on a variety of topics whilst going through the tasting.

One thing we really learned through the trip was the difference between left and right bank 1er Cru wines. The former, very generally speaking, are slightly lighter, racier and more floral, whereas the latter are usually richer, rounder and fuller. So on that theme, here are a couple of highlights from the concours, two 1er cru wines, one from each bank:

In the Chablis 1er Cru 2010 Right Bank category, Domaine Christophe et Fils won a sliver medal for their Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume. The wine was fairly full and round and slightly spicy, with a lemon crispness running right through it. A very long finish and a terrific wine.

In the Chablis 1er Cru 2010 Left Bank category, Domaine Servin also won sliver for their Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons. This one by contrast was lighter in style, with a crisp green apple and lemon character and a slightly floral nose. A very well balanced wine it was elegant and long. Also first rate.

Coming after a full day of domaine visits, this tasting of Chablis medal winners underlined something that had become ever more apparent as the trip progressed; the excellent value represented by 1er cru Chablis. For a relatively modest premium, say €15 for 1er cru bought directly from a domaine instead of €10 for regular Chablis, you get a serious step up in quality. The Grand Cru wines were of course fantastic, but as they typically cost at least twice the price of the 1er cru wines I think the former generally offer the best value. What also became increasingly clear was the open, attractive and well balanced nature of the 2010 vintage – it’s a classic.

So for these two reasons my boot came home full of Chablis Premier Cru 2010. I’d recommend going over there and doing the same whilst the vintage is still on sale.

 

 

 

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Touring Chablis

Following an excellent couple of days in Champagne last week, I drove on to Chablis, for an AWE (Association of Wine Educators) tour of the region. It was the perfect follow-on from Champagne; they have many soil similarities (the classic Kimmeridgian soil of Chablis is also in Champagne), similar climates and both areas make crisp, elegant white wines (OK, one’s fizzy and one isn’t). In many ways Chablis has more in common with Champagne than the rest of Burgundy, which is much further south.

The region has four tiers of appellations Continue reading

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In Champagne Part 2 – the Côte des Blancs

I’m currently having a quick trip round Champagne in search of good value Grower Champagne. The region is split into four principle areas and with only two half days at my disposal I focussed on the two most classic of Champagne zones, the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs. The former excels in Pinot Noir (I had a superb Pinot dominated Grand Cru NV at Domaine Bernard Brémont yesterday) whereas the latter (as the name gives away) is mainly about fine Chardonnay.

So following an excellent afternoon in the Montagne de Reims yesterday, this morning I continued my tour with a visit to the Côte des Blancs. Naturally enough, today I was primarily looking for that fine and elegant style of Champagne, Blanc de Blancs, which is made from pure Chardonnay. There were three producers to visit before lunch, so I had to head out early… Continue reading

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