I certainly didn't enjoy it last week. Was this down to tiredness and the need for something uncomplicated just to relax with? That the wine clashed with the food and I was too exhausted to notice? Or down to the wine itself, appearing overly tart with a really heavy, noticeable spritz?
Perhaps though it just wasn't showing well at that time, it being a 'leaf' day an' all.
By coincidence the following morning copies of When Wine Tastes Best arrived and showed that the from 11 am of the 12th right through to 1 o'clock in the afternoon the following Sunday is a depressingly long 'leaf' period - along with Root a time to avoid tasting wine. (Fruit days and Flower days are the best times to taste/drink wine).
This bio-dynamic calendar is rather controversial - witness the comments left when I wrote about the 2010 release of the calendar back in September 2009. While I can appreciate that the moon, for example, exerts a huge influence on the rhythm of live here on this little blue-green world the addition of the constellations seems, to me, a little too far. Still if you want to show a wine at its very best ensuring it is tasted on a flower or fruit day can't hurt and, just might, aid its showing!
However and to quote from the pocket guide
"If you find yourself with an open bottle of wine on a root or leaf day don't despair. It has been suggested that some types of wine, particularly older bottles (4-5 years or more) can sometimes be favourably drunk on leaf days".
The 2011 edition of When Wine Tastes Best 2011: A Biodynamic Calendar for Wine Drinkers has just been released and is available from Amazon.co.uk for just £2.99.
For those IPhone addicts a free app is available - Wine Tonight - which tells you whether or not the day is a favourable one for drinking wine.
I see the next wine tasting I am organising (#ARSE 2 - Andrew's Really Secret Event) next Sunday falls on a ---- day. This I assume is worse than a Leaf or a Root day! Not good...
With the looming second edition of Andrew's Really Secret Event and me planning the details (you know, ordering bags of Twiglets, bottle openers, baby wipes) I fondly recalled the first tasting, in the Naval Club in London, and how after I was unexpectedly pulled into a taxi and whisked away to South London somewhere (Blackheath as it transpired) for a meal. I felt rather bad about abandoning those still standing after the tasting mid-street, but off I was dragged to, as it transpired, to a lovely little eatery trading under the name of Chapters. You may of heard of it. It's been positively reviewed and sampled by the food blogging community quite substantially. Interesting then to try first hand.
Thank goodness for the photographic evidence for I wouldn't have a clue what I ate.
Not that the evening wasn't memorable - the company was grand (man-about town Douglas Blyde - pictured - and Mnr. Fish, Patrick Carpenter), the pre-lunch cocktail did its stuff, the atmosphere was cool and the privileged tour of the kitchen and its famed Josper grill was a nice topping - but you know, it's that bad memory thang. In my defence it was back in May...
The starter was really interesting; Terrine of potted ham hock and black pudding, Piccalilli, grilled sour dough. The odd thing though was the honey on the bread. Not a great fan of honey at the best of times and I didn't really enjoy its edition here. But the terrine, presented in an individual Mason Jar was divine. Substantial amounts of terrine but not enough bread.
This poorly focused photo is of the mains. A juicy slice of beef given the once over in the Josper. Perfectly cooked - medium rare according to the adjacent knife - and stonking with a dribble or two of Bergerie de l'Hortus Rouge 2008, Pic Saint Loup, Languedoc, France (£28.00). Pic Saint Loup being a particular favourite of mine.
There was a dessert too apparently but then that memory thing kicks in. if only I was a 'proper' journalist and took copious notes at the time. I'd only forget where I put the notebook though and head off to Asda to buy a new one.
Chapters All Day Dining
43-45 Montpelier Vale
The grapes - organically grown Cabernet Sauvignon - come from this region, and from one of the larger producers in Greece, Tsantali. There website incidentally shows a different label; something not quite so muted, colourful almost,. Perhaps as this wine is from the 2005 vintage they have made some changes since.
But as I am so often reminded its the stuff in the bottle that counts. (But then I brought it simply because it DOES have a three pincered crab on the label, and for the fact it is on offer at Waitrose at the moment).
With a need for something to accompany a plate of Beef Stroganoff (yeh, I know kinda retro but damn quick to cook) using the superlative Pipers Farm Entrecote Steak I was hoping this Cabernet would have a touch of rusticity and power to match the food. I weren't wrong as it happens.
Braced by a decent structure the flavours of blackfruits and blueberries ride high; a great punchy little Cabernet from an unusual source, for Greek wines, despite the efforts of many, are not at the fore-front of the wine-drinkers thoughts.
This bottle would also be a great sample for any Cabernet Day tastings you might be attending. Cabernet Day, September 2nd, is being organised by the Napa based St. Supery Winery. I've had one invite to a tasting meal at Bute Rotissere in London, but I just can't make it... this would have been perfect...
Use the #Cabernet hash tag when posting on Facebook, Foursquare, Gowalla, Twitter, blogs and all the other sites you hang out on. Search the hash tag on social sites to see what other wine drinkers are saying. You'll be able to connect and chat with other Cab drinkers around the world. Cabernet Franc and Cabernet dominated blends are welcome!
We came to a compromise. Being the restaurant head at the Montagu Arms he suggested I sample the Bordeaux and if not to my liking he would open the Italian. Nice chap is Cedric the Belgian.
To start though a bottle of Trimbach's Pinot Blanc 2007 caused no problem and proved a rather fine choice to accompany my starter of "Spiced Diver Caught Scallops with Cauliflower Puree Apple, Coriander and Cumin Velouté" (£18) wasn't bad either with the bloke sitting across the table and his choice of "Chilled Cucumber and Horseradish Velouté with Home Smoked Organic Salmon and Avruga Caviar" (£13). The scallops had an interesting textural addition, rice deep fried... Freshly baked bread and locally churned butter (with 3% sea salt) and we were off...
I should have mentioned the Gourgeres we savoured outside on the terrace beforehand. Oh and the plate of nuts and olives were delicious and made the wine decisions an overly protracted affair.
As it transpired the claret did have a rather nice floral quality to the nose but you know what, I'm just not a fan of claret! The Barbera though was sensational and all the more perfect with the chef's special of the night a perfectly water-bathed steak with home grown beans. And indeed they are home grown as you can wander through the kitchen garden with ease (it's through the terraced gardens to the right a little after the croquet lawn). It was here, betwixt the chicken pens and tomato stuffed poly tunnels that I turned my Canon to the film mode and caught the head chef, Roux Scholar Matthew Tomkinson, chat to my dining companion Douglas Blyde.
"For a unique dining experience, Matthew will create a surprise seven-course tasting menu from the best of the day's seasonal produce. Menus will not be presented at the table. Instead dishes will be described to guests as they are served."
Each course is presented with a wine pairing - giving Cedric a chance to delve into the wine list - for a cost of £110 per person. Next time perhaps...
We abandoned the idea of accompanying the dessert with a suggested wine, coffee sufficed at this stage (blaming those pre-dining double G&T's), but my "Dark Chocolate Delice with Crispy Praline Lavender Ice Cream and Burnt Orange Syrup" (£10) has the recommendation of a glass of Skillgalee Liqueur Muscat from Australia (£6.50) while Dougie-boy's "Warm Pistachio Sponge Cake with Rhubarb Sorbet, Rhubarb Compote and Vanilla Custard" (£10) would have been even better perhaps with a glass of 2007 Höpler Trockenbeerenauslese, from Berganland in Austria (£12.75).
Our new best Belgian friend hasn't been at the Montague Arms for much more than 4 weeks; the wine list by his own admission needs a little tweeking and less reliance on just one supplier but I will have to insist that the Barbera is retained; 'cause it was just gorgeous with that Tomkinson-caressed steak. The claret went 'quite nicely' with the Pigeon.
Simply one of the most joyous and tasty meals I've had the pleasure to consume.
The Montagu Arms Hotel,
Beaulieu, New Forest,
Hampshire. SO42 7ZL
So Conan the Barbera it is; a bottle ordered (from FindWine) simply on its pun-drenched title.
Love the name, love the wine (hate the dirty, tatty look to the label). A damn decent Italian red. A barbera at the richer, robust end of the scale. Still offering a rustic edge, a bright acidic sword-thrust on the finish, something four-legged, gripped between those muscular thighs on the nose; the man's important bits wrapped in an expensive silk cloth.
It is rich, big, rather beefy... oh my; is there a word that implies 'big' enough to encapsulate this bottle? Oh, yeh there is... Conan. More attractive than an Arnold Schwarzenegger incarnation I should add...
The rear label, mucky design apart, is a blast:
"Well done! You picked it up and hey, you're reading the back label. I like you already, you're my type of person - daring, not too conventional... great.
Now can I ask you a personal question? - do you like big, muscly Italians? If that's a no, well it was nice to know you, if just for a short while (sigh)
But if you DO, then I had a go at creating this energetic, bold, single vineyard Barbera from the hills just above Nizza in NW Italy, just for us.
It is a big, sappy, juicy, very focused, deliciously current in the middle and intriguingly minerally around the edges.
It hasn't been fined, filtered or faffed about with, which means it will throw a sediment - so just keep your teeth together when you get to the very last drop of the very last glass! "
Rather than dismissing yet another "wine lifestyle network" - think Snooth, Adegga and another launching soon idea, DrinkPrice - lets see what they say there "absurdly ambitious project" will be offering:
"Some specifics: hundreds of winery websites worldwide, global Wine Dining Guide & Events Calendar, Magazine & Blogs, MyHaidu (a sort of a social network, though the Haidu folks don't like to define it like that) and websites of key players of the wine trade, from event organizers, through wine schools and universities, traders & merchants, wine tourism agencies - the list just doesn't end...
Haidu offers wine lovers around the world relevant, practical information to discover and plan their next wine experience, to expand their wine horizons.
Let's say you think about traveling to Mosel Valley for your vacance. You simply type Mosel Valley in Haidu.net search window (in its clean & elegant homepage) and before your eyes unveils a list of the valley's wineries, 'wine-friendly' restaurants, wine-related events, magazine articles & blog posts about Mosel. You can quickly tag the entities to your liking with vacance 2011 and they are automatically saved to a specified folder in your MyHaidu universe"
Easy to deduce then that Haidu will be offering a heck of a lot more than a wine tasting database. All the Haidu information is drawn from the "players themselves"
"The wineries manage their own websites, the event organizers publish their own events, even the restaurants create their own sites around Haidu's review of them. All this guarantees clean, reliable information, without any middleman distortion"
The social aspects haven't been ignored as you will be able to share, highlight, follow and receive updates from each section. There is of course going to be a Haidu iPhone App.
Just a few days then before we can all explore and engage further...
Desiderio Jeio, rounded, appley, peachy, flowery-fragrant it might be but it is not actually 100% Prosecco! No, I hear you cry! Yes, says I. Along with 90% Prosecco there is 6% Pinot Bianco and 4% Verdiso. Its fresh, light and with bubbles aplenty. Lively and with a dash of sweetness to give a lovely rounded mouth feel and crowd-pleasing drinkability. Great for cocktails in addition to being a canapé accompaniment. Alcohol 11.5%. [Adegga / Snooth]
The Crede, the work-horse Prosecco, is also a blend. Here extra Pinot Bianco (10%) and 5% Verdiso lend a more stylish edge to the wine. Still with that trademark peachy-flowery nose and apply flavours coupled with the vibrant fizz. Alcohol 11.5%. This is the wine for making those quintessential peach Bellinis although its lovely straight with or without food. Alcohol 11.5%. Vintage 2009. [Adegga / Snooth]
The Cartizze hill, the highly expensive slopes of which produce the crème of the Prosecco producers range, supplies the grapes for Bisol's Cartizze botteling (unsurprisingly). This is 100% Prosecco and the sweetest of the three. (25g per litre for the technical minded compared with 9g in the Jeio and 10g in the Crede). You have to be a little judicious when pairing with food - while it has a modicum of sweetness it isn't enough to accommodate really sweet desserts - think lighter fruit-based fare or simple biscuits. The limited production from the Cartizze hill is responsible for the high bottle price but this has to be my favourite Prosecco of the three. This is the 2009 vintage. Alcohol 11.5% [Adegga / Snooth
But this is exactly what Hix and Buck are recommending to accompany a dish of Baked Apple with Melted Goats Cheese, Potato Galette with Walnut Balsamic Dressing; the wine being their its Mas d'Intras Cuvée d'Alphonse 2007 Vin de Pays des Coteaux de l'Ardèche.
The dish was created by Sebastien Gagnbe Head Chef of Perfect Blend the "south London café, bar and restaurant". Hix and co had sent over a bottle so a try-out was in order.
The dish (recipe below) was fine, despite my disaster with getting the 'petals' of the galette to stick together (how do you do that??), resulted in a tasty, if light dinner. (More suited to a starter or lunch dish perhaps). But paired with the wine? And the wine itself, basking in Southern French rusticity was firm, strong and flavoursome in a red fruits and spice manner. But really, matching with sweetened apples and a salad? Not for me I'm afraid. My thoughts move to wild boar sausages or barbequed lamb burgers.
Hix & Buck is an importer of wine. Its aim is to bring good quality wines to the UK from undiscovered vineyards in Europe. In the spirit of discovery, the company's ambition is to surprise and delight the wine lover with unknown wines whilst offering them great value.
The wines are brought to the UK exclusively by Hix & Buck. The founders, Chix Chandaria and Dan Roebuck, are passionate about finding small producers, often with a family history of viniculture going back centuries, and bringing that wine, with its authentic qualities and characteristics, over here.
SPECIAL READER OFFER: All readers of Spittoon are offered 15% off their first 6 bottle case purchase at Hix and Buck an offer not restricted to the Alphonse detailed above. The promotion includes free delivery. Use the voucher code 'undiscovered'.
Do you want to drink good wine, but don't know what to buy? Do you know what you like, but want to explore new horizons?
"The Wine Opus (published by DK, October 2010) harnesses the talent and opinions of a new generation of young wine writers to help you choose the best wines. Over 30 specialists have selected the 4,000 best wineries in the world and their trophy wines. Read their recommendations, from the Rhône to Rioja, from Napa to New Zealand, and from the Mosel to Mendoza in Argentina, and you will never buy bad wine again.
The Wine Opus is the most ambitious illustrated wine reference to be written in the last 20 years. It is contemporary, covering the emerging wine regions and rising star wineries as well as well-established wine countries and their producers. It is comprehensive, giving insightful overviews of every significant wine region in the world. It is accessible, with its 100-word profiles of the 4,000 recommended wineries and their wine styles. And it is elegant, with its contemporary page design, 45 colourful maps of wine regions to tour, and stunning photography of winery landscapes.
Many of the writers featured in The Wine Opus are young, with a taste for adventure that drives them to discover new wine-makers - and reject those whose standards have slipped. They are wine bloggers, book authors, newspaper and magazine journalists; others are television broadcasters, Masters of Wine, and a few are winemakers themselves. Each writer has an intimate knowledge on his or her region and has recently tasted all the wines they recommend.
Their criteria for including a winery in the book were:
• Makes wine of very high or outstanding quality
• Has a long track record for quality relative to its region
• Makes well-known collectible or special occasion wines
• Is a leader in its region in grape-growing and/or winemaking techniques
• Performs particularly well in a special wine category
Rising Star Winery
• Makes wine of very high or outstanding quality
• Shows potential to be tomorrow's classic winery
• Has been innovative in choice of variety, grape-growing and/or winemaking techniques
• May have a great price/quality ratio
If you enjoy drinking good wine, The Wine Opus gives you the names you need to know and introduces you to the new world of wine."
The Wine Opus is published by DK on 1st October 2010 price: £50 although Amazon are currently listing the The Wine Opus at a pre-order price of £37.50.
And, before I upset anyone even more, the bellini is made from Bisol Prosecco and fresh peaches...
The lagoon surrounded city offers a host of eateries - more informal restaurants than Danieli's many offering damn decent Cichetti, the Italian equivalent of Spanish Tapas.
You could join the tourist throngs with their picture menus if you like, but that's not for me. I'd prefer a little local action even if this means an embarrassing struggle with the lingo, pointing and manic 'tourist abroad' smiling at the unusual shell-encased dishes behind the counter-glass or eccentric wine bottles on the shelves behind.
Local is good. More so when you realise that most of the other patrons are locals too.
I hear more than one visitor has suffered extreme disorientation trying to locate some of these little gems (or was it just the hotel, Douglas? excellent write-up though). A decent map or a guide might be useful - those Iphone-possessors should utilise a superb little English language app that I played with while in Venice (TapVenice).
From the S. Lucia railway station and Scalzi Church cross over the Grand Canal via the Scalzi Bridge, wander down to the left passing the church of S. Simeon Piccoto, turn left at the little bridge and walk down to Fondamenta Minotto and you are there! Yeh, you need a map! Ristorante Ribot (Santa Croce 158, Fondamenta Minotto, Rio del Gaffaro, 30124 Venice) has an attractive wine shop attached, a magnet in itself, but the relaxing, covered rose garden at the back is well worth trying to get a table in. If you know the right nod and can wink meaningfully you might be lucky in being given access to a 'secret wine list' - this includes a whole raft of older vintages of Sassicia for example and other very limited gems.
No producers obviously - the wines were picked from a chalked list on the side wall - but a nicely perfumed Gewurztraminer and a glass of Tocai Friulano were procured at Bacaro da Fiore. The latter wine all fruity-minerality and the better match to the freshest plate of prawns I've enjoyed since Madrid and to a fine plate of fried courgette flowers. At a corner table a huge bowl of tiny welk-like shellfish was devoured by two youngsters; they do a lot of odd shellfish do the Venetians apparently.
Bacaro de Fiore - described as a half-taven, half-bar - specialises in just the wines of the Triveneto (that's the land immediately behind Venice covering the Alto-Adige, Trentino, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and the Veneto itself). It's a tiny place down the narrow Calle de Le Botteghe, right opposite our hotel the Locanda Art Deco (and I do loves me a bit of Art Deco! and with rooms like these would you want to stay anywhere else?). I would have been happy to stay at Fiore all evening, sampling the rest of the wine list and those tempting cichetti... but no, onward...
More local, city-rustic character can be found in Trattoria Ca'D'Oro "Alla Vedova" (Cannaregi 3912). A few steps from the water taxi stop of Ca D'Doro. A great atmosphere, lovely, value-packed cicheto, a little warren of rooms packed full of food and wine related artefacts hanging from the ceiling and covering the shelves. The food and wine are the stars here the place being famous for their polpetti (meatballs). Perhaps here would be a good place to spend the evening...
A little challenge was set for me - given £30 of vouchers which Morrison wines would I buy?
It being summer and all the choice would be light, refreshing, easy drinking reds, decent crisp whites and obviously a rosé or two. This selection is of untried wines; I've no idea if they are good value for money, good drinking or otherwise.
Having had problems in trying to access the wine list on the Morrison's website ("Sorry the page you have requested does not seem to be available" - on ALL the wines pages??) I'm selecting these off a word document so pricing is a touch vague... but one soldiers on in the face of such adversity...
Firstly a red, something light that could be chilled? Possibly, with the Orsola Valpolicella (£3.98), but I'd rather sample a New Zealand Pinot Noir - so how about the Ara Pathway Pinot Noir? It comes in under a tenner...
No problems over here of being seen drinking a rosé. Slightly particular in which mind; it has to be dry for a start and while I'm not so fussy on where it comes from I been discovering some fine examples from Spain of late. So how about the Los Vividores Rosé with its "Vibrant colour, lots of lively aromas of tomato and asparagus" or the Penrosa Rosé from Castilla Leon "Strawberry pink wine with an aroma of ripe, soft, red & black fruit. Soft & full in the mouth". Perhaps the £30 budget limit could accommodate both?
And a white... a Sauvignon Blanc beckons and while the both the Seifried (£8.99) and the Sacred Hill (£6.98) Sauvingons are mightily attractive and having already picked a wine from New Zealand it could mean the Spier Sauvignon from South Africa would be plonked into the virtual basket.
Another choice of white could be the slightly odd-ball Repertoire White "The Gros Manseng grape gives tangy, apricot & peach flavours with a gloriously refreshing citrussy finish" or the Rully Blanc "Gorgeous pineapple & tropical fruit aromas lead in to opulent buttery flavours with a lemony finish". No producer mentioned though.
But after mulling and playing with the calculator the £30 is spent on the following:
Which comes in at a smidge over £30 but as Morrison's also run an offer in which, when you buy four bottles you will get 10% off, the final bill comes in at £27.87.
Each year the Bisol clan treats the locals to a little food and wine fair - Gustovino. A seemingly never ending pour from the full Bisol wine range (several not available in the UK) available to enjoy between the vineyards and an opportunity for me to, yet again, clamper ungracefully onto a horse.
Actually getting on was easier, the widespread titters and my flushed face emphasising the undignified disembarkation. Bloody gravity. Bloody stirrups. One numb bum and a hot trot through the vines gives one a thirst that only Prosecco can quench.
The last visit included a stay in the Bisol guest house. Reading back the posts from those early blogging days are rather embarrassing in the way they are incredibly brief and not really enthusing or explaining (or offering enough photographs) on how relaxing the guest house (Relais Duca di Dolle) is, how easily reachable from Venice, and how the region offers a host of excellent eateries - Gigettos for example or in Rolle, a pleasant winding walk from the guest house, is Andretta with its wonderful open terrace with views down the valley and Il Monestero, a more rustic experience with a chef who makes up a menu each day depending on his whim and the seasonal availability of produce.
This wine grid is split horizontally by price brand and vertically by colour and style. A £9-£12 sophisticated red? That'll be the Dominio Kasierpe Flor de Lasierpe Reserva 2000 from Navarra in Spain (£9.99). A £7-£9 filthy rich white? For you sir, that'll be the Last Stand Unoaked Chardonnay, 2008, from South Australia at £5.99. Click the small circle and up pops a larger display with wine details and price. Small tabs also link to 'customer reviews' and offer details. Runs beautifully smoothly on my Windows 7 system; but how would those on older machines with lesser graphic cards or those without flash fare I wonder?
The six price bands and eight style categories does limit the company to selling just 48 wines at a time. Since my first look however a new column has been added - 'Phenomenal Favourites' boosting the range to 54. This column add-on ruins the effect somewhat though in that you don't know if they are red/white/rosé or fizz. Limiting the range offered does allow a constantly changing range, small parcels and so on.
Despite the limitations I love the ease and graphical-ness of this page. This innovative approach doesn't extend to the fine wine section or the special offers page though - back to a 'traditional' list and drop down menu selections sadly. The fine wine section currently offers a good selection of Australian reds in the £30+ range (including a spread of older vintages of the D'Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz) and various clarets from the 1980's.
"Everybody should enjoy drinking wine. Instead of worrying about countries or grapes you just have to choose which style of wine you want to drink and how much you want to spend. Then trust us to provide brilliant, delicious and interesting wines you may never have considered before."
There is a blog attached to the site - but MH you need an RSS feed my friend! Interestingly the latest post pays homage to the other innovative online wine merchant Naked Wines.
"A lot of people ask me where the idea for Find Wine came from. The answer, rather boringly, is that I don't really know. It came out a lot of conversation between me, John and plenty of other people, the most influential of which was Mike Awin from ABS Wine Agencies, who has always been a great believer in what we are trying to do with Find Wine.
However throughout all of our planning there was one case study that we kept coming back to as the best online wine merchant and that was Naked Wines....
Naked are most certainly doing a fantastic job of shaking up the wine trade and I will certainly be keeping an eye their success as it grows and grows. And trying to work out how I can even begin to compete!"
While the wine should be centre stage for any retailer it is often the little touches that attract to a website, nudge the bunches of grapes in the logo for example and refreshing to see Fine Wine acknowledging the competition via a blog, Innovation hasn't yet reached a conclusion - video clips are promised. There is room for more than one Naked Wines, Find Wine is off to a great beginning.