Thursday, 8 December 2011

Granada: Day 2

After quite some debate Sister and I managed to figure out most of the places that we had visited the previous evening. And, as a result of us being Golden, track down her hat, the loss of which had threatened to spoil the whole of her year.


Headwear restored we were off to the Alhambra. If only we'd had some opium this'd be proper Kubla Khan stuff, as it was it was merely mesmerising and sublime.

The closest bar to the Alhambra furnished with a fine breakfast at about 2pm (closest excluding the ones inside where I had enjoyed a couple of pre-breakfast stiffeners). Potato fried with egg, vegetables and Jamon, was as hearty and unpretentious as it sounds. Bang on.


Back into town and a little beer at Damas Queros allows to properly investigate the various sizes of beer recepticles on offer. In Granada a 'Cana' seemed to weigh in below half a pint, which can mean it's gone before any tapas arrives. Here we discover the more manly 'Tubo'- perfect at around 300ml. We also have mushrooms al alijo with bread. A small portion must have made a sizeable dent in an entire clove, but Sister and I are never knowingly out-garlicked and hence loved this one.


From there to one of the most ultra-trad bars in town: 'Los Diamantes.' Tiny, with almost no seating space and three-deep at the bar at any given time. Seemed to specialize in deep-fried stuff, both dishes we had could have done with some sauce.


Also on c. Navas we found Puerta del Carmen bar and two Equipo Navazos sherries by the glass; La Bota de Fino #18 and La Bota de Palo Cortado #21. They were like good sherry on steroids: with greater intensity, complexity, precision and delineation of flavours. Jamon carved at the bar was all that was needed with them.

On to c. Elvira, universally recommended as the place to go for El Tapeo. Unfortunately in the time between this advice being formed and our arrival most seemed to have become hairdressers.

Weird, but no matter because at the end we managed to find Al Sur de Granada a deli, shop and wine bar that I had been recommended and had every intention of going to right up to the point on the flight over when I forgot its name and address.


It must have 30 or so natural wines by the glass, including the entire Barranco Oscuro range. Highlights were Tres Uves, and a Chardonnay called 'Cardonnohay'. We returned to Al Sur a number of times throughout the three days to work through their list and soon came to realise that the wine really was the star attraction: each tapa was vertically identical and amounted to no more than a small bruschetta with cheese, blood sausage and some veg.

Maybe a good thing 'though- otherwise I may never have left.

Tapa of the Day: Champinones al Alijo

Monday, 5 December 2011

Granada: Day 1

My little Sister (motto: 'Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Shiny Things.') recently decided to emigrate to a made up country*. Which, needless to say, has caused considerable anxiety amongst her friends and family.

Said country also happens to be Arabic, which, needless to say, has caused her considerable anxiety, especially in regards to her normal wine and pork based diet. Which meant the destination for the obligatory going-away-blowout holiday needed to be thought out carefully.

For about 20 seconds.

Granada. A city famous for its tradition of a free tapa with every drink and in a region that worships pigs like deities and rates them like S&P. We decided not to pay for food the entire trip to allow us to fully master the art of El Tapeo...


Day one was a Sunday, a day of rest and stodgy Paella. But later on we managed to find the superlative El Deseo, which furnished us with Barranco Oscuro wines by the glass, and something Godly (I know not what) which involved tomatoes, aubergine, olive oil and goat's cheese alchemically combined to make a tapa of monumental excellence.


They also had a good chicken, chickpea and veg salad, and some cracking aged manchego, hollowed from its wheel at the bar, sprinkled with sticky-sweet Jerez vinegar. Served with a mad, bad and spiky glass of Blancas Nobles it was nutty, salty, sweet, sour, simple and delicious.


From there we moved to the Granadian equivalent of a rough pub to watch Granada triumph away to Athletic Bilbao. Here we endured a dubious sandwich, spread thinly with tuna and tomato paste, as well as some potatoes covered in a shiny red sauce; shinier and saucier than ketchup, but not fooling anyone with its presumed aspirations to Brava.

A day marked by extremes of quality but ultimately marred by the fact that Sister later insisted on drinking half her own bodyweight in Mojitos and losing her hat.

Tapa of the Day: Aubergine and Tomato mush.

* Fujairah

Friday, 18 November 2011

Noella Morantin Mon Cher Gamay '10


"Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Someone once said. Tennyson, if the old memoria serves correctly.

I came close to the latter with Noella Morantin's 'Mon Cher' Gamay. On opening this was a particularly ungenerous expression of the grape, with green and bitter tannins, lean fruit, earth and some black pepper. I almost consigned it to the sink.

But no. Noella has a reputation that must be founded on something apart from her excellent bandana. She's got history, having been in the winemaking game since 2004, and rents vinyards from the well established Clos Roche Blanche.

And most of all- she loves Gamay. My kind of lass.

Day 2 and faith is rewarded- much more expressive; liqorice laces and sweet fruit. The tannin has worked its way into the wine, leaving the structure more acid based. Vibrant, sappy, finishing with a surprising and pleasing caramel note to back the fruit. Red in tooth and claw, but still a touch of dark.

And now the bottle's empty.

Best of all, I think, to have loved without loss, but that apparently isn't an option in life or wine.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Abbeville Kitchen


47 Abbeville Road, SW5 9QN. £15 pp.


The quality restaurants are closing in. Each new opening seems closer to me, and all I can do is hope the money runs out before heart disease kicks in.

Most recently: The Abbeville Kitchen, the latest project from those behind the Anchor and Hope and The Canton Arms, has placed itslef so close to where I live that walking there doesn't burn off the calories consumed by merely looking at the menu.

I needed some financial advice of a Friday, and seeing that Emily1 has eschewed the traditional job market in favour of getting 'sponsored' by a middle-aged gentleman she seemed the ideal candidate to get along for lunch.

We kick off with with the charcuterie platter. Quite splendid Iberico ham and not too cold, some other italian ham which was less remarkable and lastly that sublime salami studded with fennel seeds and sliced super-thin, which is currently neck-and-neck with sausage rolls as the best way to consume pork yet invented.

After that we head for pidgeon breast, chicory and pickled walnut salad. A seemingly nonchalant throwing together of strong flavours that all pull in the same direction. Really quite good.

Now for the bad. They have only one (ONE!) type of beer- an overpriced Belgian lager, and a friendly but uninspring wine list which is pretty much a carbon copy of the Canton Arms'. On a Friday lunch the restaurant was full, but every single other table was taken by a pair of 30 something year old women sitting opposite each other, which made Emily1 and I, both wearing sunglasses and so hungover we could barely speak, stand out like Buddha in a brothel.

I'm pleased it is where it is, but it's not The Canton. It's not trying to be. It's a pity.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Yvon Metras Moulin-a-Vent '10


c. £23

There's something special about windmills. Their ease and grace, their silence. In parts of Spain they spatter the countryside like shot. Yet they are vital; pumping water and grinding grain, giving life out of nothing, the unmoved mover. The absurdity of Quixote is not that he saw the windmills as giants, it is that he was attacking windmills.

But here in the city we are far away from this calm and serenity, and sometimes other pleasures must be found. Sometimes the only thing for it is to get smashed on expensive wine and go out partying till sunrise with models. So I packed a bottle of Yvon Metras' Moulin-a-Vent and went off to see the Russian's American Sister in Shoreditch.

This is classy juice. It pours a light maroon and hits with a focused and concentrated mushroomy sous bois on the nose. The palate is alive, fine acidity and red fruit, precise slate-y minerality, some structure, unreal length. Reminds overwhelmingly of Grand Cru Burgundy. Seriously sexy stuff.

Gotta love windmills.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Dugois Arbois Savagnin '05 & Chateau Batailley '94


Over the last couple of months I have been wallowing with the eagles at night a fair amount more than is probably good for me. So the rare occurance of making it to bed before 7am on Saturday meant that I was up in time to accompany Sister, through the blazing October sunshine to Borough market in search of pork.

'Nduja is one of the many ingredients available in London at the moment that are as trendy and delicious as they are unpronouncable. It is a raw pork sausage from Cantabria made mostly with head and neck cuts and then laced with shed-loads of hot peperoncino chilli. The porcine equivalent of speedballing.

Some people like to cook with it; frying it up or adding to sauces for pasta or fish. And whilst I'm sure this is great, it's also a bit of a cop-out. It's really just a pimped up Sobressade and hence better eaten on it's own, spread thickly on crusty bread.

It's also fantastically difficult to pair. The rich porkiness that you get from cheap cuts and raw fat shot through with untamed chilli seems specifically designed to obliterate almost any wine you care to mention.

We tried a couple of leftfield juices with supper: Dugois Arbois Savagnin '05 and Chateau Batailley '94.

The Batailley was the better wine: all sour blackberry and sweet raspberry, cracking woodiness, length and balance. No angles, and right in its prime.

The Savagnin is definitely an oxidative style, with a distinct, nutty vin jaune-y nose. But the palate's dancin', with a keen acidity and buckets of apples, cut by a lemon-pith finish. This was the wine for 'Nduja- the apple played nicely with the pork, and the citrus cut through the fattiness. There's not really an answer for that amount of chilli, but it was close enough.

Soaring with the pigs in the morning.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Nando's


11-12 Friary Street, GU1 4EN. £7

Popular amongst the youth of today is eating chickens. And the best place to eat them alonside other like-minded gang members is, apparently, Nando's.

We untangle a folded menu to reveal a choice of food that must run to at least 10,000 options. There are wings and breasts, sauces and salads, wraps and corn and a mind-boggling array of potato based sides.

Equally confusing is the pointless hybridisation of fast-food and table service, whereby you order at a counter before your food is brought to you at an indiscriminate point in the future.

To stop my head exploding and make life a little easier I decided to focus on only a small part of the menu: the bit nearest me in the bottom left hand corner. This section was titled "Nandino's" and came with an age limit: "For under 10's".

Balls to that, I ordered the Nandino chicken breast stips, corn-on-the-cob, frozen banana yougurt and a beer (Sagres).

I've not come across adjectives suitably damning for what turned up. The chicken was a triumph of aesthetics over edibility. It did at least look a bit like chicken. The corn ran with this theme.

Sagres is Sagres: a relatively inoffesive way to consume a mild anaesthetic, and, as such, a perfect pairing for the food.

Dessert too finds new ways to undermine the traditional dining experience. Firstly it is self service, secondly the recepticle and hence portion size is entirely of your own choosing and lastly it seems to operate on a 1930s style honesty-box system, whereby if you tell them you've paid for dessert they'll let you have it.

We grabbed a couple of plastic coke cups, filled them with 'Frozen Banana Youghurt' and exited the premises. Utterly wonderful stuff. Packed full of that delicious, artificial pick'n'mix-banana-sweet flavour, and with consistency less fatty, coating and cloying than traditional ice cream. Strongly recommended when mixed half and half with rum.

This kind of gutter/stars food dichotomy is difficult to evaluate so all I shall say is that it remains the only restaurant I have visited to which I will only return to steal their ice cream.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Occhipinti SP68 Rosso '09 & Il Frappatto '08


Les Caves de Pyrene, c. £14 & £18

At 3am on Sunday morning I was standing (I think) on a friend of mine's balcony drinking the last the last dregs of Occhipinti SP68 Rosso 2009 straight from the bottle. There were only plastic cups available and if you're going to look tackily drunk it's best to push it all the way.

Style is temporary, class is permanent.

Arianna Occhipinti has both in spades, but alas, I can only master one at a time. And seeing as I had evidently nailed the former pretty convincingly, the next night I moved on to the latter: Occhipinti Il Frappatto 2008 and Riedel.

SP68 is a blend of Cerasuolo di Vittoria grapes: Frappato and Nero 'Avola. 'Though fashionably it's just an IGT Sicilia. The '09's perfect for drinking now; what might have been spiky acid in youth has integrated into the wine. Cherry and blackberry are there, now joined by riper red fruit and seamless tannins. Uncomplicated and fruit-forward.

Il Frappato is a more serious beast, with vinification that confronts the grape's thin skins head-on. 70% of the wine sees a maceration sees a two month maceration, the other 30% stays on for 8.

The nose shows raisins, leather and rich red fruit, huge concentration. Good acid depth on the palate with again, a graceful, integrated structure, and a long, long finish on the fruit.

All bases are covered. Wines to introduce to your parents.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Puzelat Touraine Pinot Noir '10


£13.68, Les Caves de Pyrene

Many friends old and new, animate and inanimate featured in a recent holiday to Mallorca. With varying levels of success.

Amongst the most prominent disappointments were a host of Mallorcan wines that previously I had loved, but now seemed clumsily oaked and over-extracted. Bottles from Anima Negra, and Miquels Gelabert and Oliver were all found wanting, and refuge was found only in Estrella Damm, Herbes and Jaegermeister.

On return to blighty then some tonic was needed. Like a good friend a good wine should have levels; I want to be able to talk Hegel to it for hours and analyse bouquet, or go on a bender and drink it with a straw. Step forward Thierry Puzelat and some Pinot Loire...

Apples and red fruit on the nose. Stoniness too. The palate just so bright and alive. Cherries, sour rasberries and a long minerality. Sexy and silken. The deftly light tannins make me think a little carbonic maceration was involved somewhere down the line, but I don't know. Fucking great: a right gude-willy waught.

I'm not writing off auld acquaintance just yet. But I might just be taking a cup or two more Puzelat in the near future.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Spanish Airport Cheese and Serrano Sandwich


€5, Palma Airport

And so once again we found ourselves in just saddest position in space-time mankind has yet experienced: Palma Airport, on the way to Stansted.

And even yet this despair proves time and again powerless to destroy the ineffable wonder of the Spanish Airport Cheese Sandwich.

But I was drunk and in the mood for experimentation, and the conflagration of these factors led me to a twist on the theme: the Spanish Airport Cheese & Serrano Ham Sandwich. It's a Ronseal number containing nothing but cheese, ham and bread and none the worse for it. Don't fuck with the classics, nobody wants a Bowdlerised sandwich.

That slightly stale ciabatta-style bread is my madeline; Valencia Airport all those years ago, with the vagrants and their dogs and their ugly Catalan. The mastication required stretches this sandwich to full twenty minutes. €5 isn't cheap for a sandwich, but Sister's hotdog was over in five, so that's value right there.

The cheese is obviously what this sandwich is all about. Two thin slices of a tasty, salty, cheddar-type affair. We'll stop there- I'm not about to unweave this rainbow.

If only they'd left it. The ham is low-quality; stringy, hard and requiring the trimming of fat that makes the whole affair rather more of a trial than necessary. It also pushes us a little far over the salt-line which meant sister and I had to drink the best part of two litres of San Miguel with our meal. Though we did get free hats to congratulate us on this. Swings and roundabouts.

My quarrel with this sandwich is fairly petty. It's still very highy recommended: 18 points at least. Just a pity it always comes when it does.

Cherished, strengthened and fed, without the aid of joy.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Panevino Is de fundu 'e muru '09


c. €25

As a foodstuff bread is fairly consistently overrated.

I'll admit that there exists a pretty wide choice of breads, and that, of course, not all bread is created equal. You can get posh breads; with bits of stuff in it or on it, bread made using funny flour or yeast, crafted into odd shapes, or cooked in special ovens. And this diversity means that it is one of few foods that can happily play its part in all three of the days meals.

But it's never really the star of the show. Its role is one of deliverance. It is a pusher of peanut butter, an enabler of escargots.

Strange I always think then that there are entire shops dedicated to it, people whose whole profession is 'baker', and that it is frequently mentioned by restaurant reviewers.

Our man at Panevino started out life as a 'baker' before moving on to winemaking, and it's clearly left a bit of a chip on his shoulder. If I was being kind I would describe him as "rude". At the end of a rather Socratic 30-minuite questioning session I finally managed to extract the following information:

Hail hit the crop in 2009 and so, rather than using grapes from different plots to make a number of cuvees in different styles as he normally would, he instead put all the grapes for his red wines together and vinified them in very slightly different ways. Six wines were made, each named afer the place in the cellar where the barrel was. They all mean things like 'the one in the middle' or 'the one at the front'.

Recourse to an online translation service suggests Is de Fundu e Muru was at the base of a wall. The grapes are field blend, mostly Cannonau (aka Grenache), and load of others that he's never bothered zetting.

Thin-skinned grenache gives a light colour, violets and oranges on the nose on a light leather and spice base. In the mouth concentration hits. Sweet berries, more leather, sappy fruit, brighter cherries and very light, fine tannins. There's lots here, and it demands attention.

Better than all bread, and most wine.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Yvon Metras Fleurie "Le Printemps" '10


c. £20

"But here it is worth noting a minor English trait which is extremely well marked though not often commented on, and that is a love of flowers... Does it not contradict the English indifference to the arts? Not really, because it is found in people who have no aesthetic feelings whatever."

That's how Orwell pinned us down. Miserable git.

Flowers aren't lightweight; they are heavy as stone, and the apogee of art. We take nature's beauty and imbue it with meaning and myth. The semiotics of flowers are centuries old; lillies and death, roses and health, rebirth and regeneration, bouquets, romance, the frail transcience of youth, even art and nature.

I bought this bottle of Fleurie for a couple of reasons markedly less serious than flowers. Firstly I liked the label- quite the prettiest I have ever seen. And secondly I liked the name.

It pours that attractive red-purple of Beaujolais. A succulent, savoury nose; violets, petals.

A simple palate with easy red fruit, but brambly blackberry too, possibly even eucalyptus. Clear and clean minerality, but a touch dilute.

Pretty nice? Yep. Worth the price? Not a chance. Will I buy it again for the name and the label and the frippery? I expect so.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Domaine Lucci Pinot Gris on Skins '10


£14 (ish) for 50cl, Les Caves de Pyrene

I love my little Sister for many reasons; I love her because she is funny and fun, because we share interests, because she is pretty, earnest, silly, passionate, irreverent and intelligent. But most of all I love her because she's fucking peculiar and because she has booked me a holiday to Mallorca.

Something appropiate to celebrate then. My cellar was unfortunately unable to furnish anything Mallorquin, but 'fucking peculiar' is something of a forte... Red Pinot Gris from Australia in just the cutest little wax-sealed bottle you could possibly imagine.

God only knows what mutant clone they've macerated to get this colour, somewhere between a deep dark rose, and a light Pinot Noir, and slightly cloudy.

The nose opens big. Strawberries, cream, toffee, confection: singular, promising and unapologetic.

The palate is completely discordant; crisp and one-dimensional with a lithe citrus flavour, no mid-palate. The tannins lend a bit o' bitterness and the brevity a whack of alcohol. A bad and loveable wine.

You can't have it all and I'll take weird over good any day of the week.

Monday, 8 August 2011

M&S New York Deli Pastrami Sandwich


£3.99, M&S

On sitting down to read possibly the finest piece of writing ever (once again), I was much taken with the desire to eat a sandwich.

I was introduced to this particular sandwich recently by my friend Emily2 on a tediously prolix journey from Oxford to Guildford when we managed to eat three, washed down with what was perhaps, with hindsight, a superfluity of of M&S ready-made Gin and Slim.

The history of the New York Pastrami Sandwich is one that is shrouded in myst'ry, steeped in controversy and shot-through by warring factions; Volk says it's his sandwich / And Katz's say it's their sandwich.

On to my sandwich... The pastrami's great; tasty, and loads of it, reminds me of corned beef but without the niggling doubts about what it's made of. Gherkins and sauerkraut are good (possibly great) accompaniments, their zingy flavour and crunch playing perfectly with the meat. The light American mustard dressing is icing-on-the-cake rather than gilding-the-lily.

Damn good so far, but then you hit cheese. At least you do texturally, beacuse it tastes very precisely of nothing. No American, Jewish or otherwise, has ever done anything worthwhile with cheese, and this sandwich is no exception: an especially pointless addition.

The bread too leaves a lot to be desired. It's density and uniformity do make for a sandwich with commendable structural integrity, but there's no bite to it, and they defintiely could've done better taste-wise.

In all 'though this is a very good sandwich. On the "Spanish Airport Cheese Sandwich 20-Point Scale"* it's a solid 13. And there's potential for more, without a couple of unforced errors (cheese, bread) this is easily a 16 point sandwich, maybe even 17.


* A fairly self-explanatory rating system, whereby a sandwich is judged against the 20-point Platonically Ideal cheese sandwich- available in all good Spanish airports.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Trimbach Riesling '09 & El Velero Ortiz Anchoas


£9.99, Majestic & £4, Sainsbury's

Most the week had been dominated by a (hitherto unexperienced) yearning to eat very expensive tinned Spanish anchovies.

For a tenacious sort finding them is not difficult, the tapas-inisation of the London food scene has seen to that, the problems arrive in locating companions, both people and wine.

Emily1's virtues are legion; she lives near me, reads the Romantic Poets, enjoys sweet wine, understands the importance of lunch, seems reasonably forgiving, and doesn't eat fish. More horrifically expensive anchovies for me.

Riesling's virtues are also legion. Lunch was a gim'me.

Aforementioned anchovies, quail eggs, sundried tomatoes, cucumber salad, pork pies, sausage rolls, couscous, ripe Camembert, apricot chutney, a baguette, and 2009 Trimbach Riesling.

The anchovies were good, firm and tasty, with a slightly metallic aftertaste. Each was indiviually wrapped around a single caper: a suitably profligate attitude to production costs.

Trimbach's effort was also straight up. A classic Alsatian style, wet rocks and sleek citrus on the nose, a wisp of smoke. Piercingly dry palate, lime and lemon peel, with just a hint of tropicality coming through on the finish.

This was a fine meal even by our own lofty standards, and a clear indication that the long hot streak that my sense of whimsy is currently enjoying shows no signs of letting up.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Borgogno Barolo '04


£32.70, Les Caves de Pyrene

TOD arrived at mine at 9am. Early for lunch, one might think.

He was laden with an inexpliacle alarm clock*, an explicable weariness, and an unjusifiable conviction that he had power of veto over my intention to go to Borough Market that morning.

Things fell apart... We didn't make lunch... I didn't make Borough... We took a cab out West.

Saturdays seem to be becoming increasingly picaresque. We may have drunk at three separate establishments, or possibly twelve. One, a pub, served oysters (in August?!), another hamburgers. Most treated us with with suspicion, some with disdain, and at least one, I believe, with outright terror. Later on TOD lost his Blackberry, keys, mind and a peacock feather that I had rather generously bought him. A la recherche de temps perdu.

All of this I put down to the Barolo: full of a passionate intensity, and just too young.

2004 Borgogno Barolo

The elegant Pinot-ish colour feints rich red fruit and dark cherries on the nose, flowers and leather too. Exceptional concentration. The palate is more austere; juicy and crunchy but firm. Before the tannins hit. Fine grained and supple, then succulent and coating, then puckering and total.

It's a disparate and poorly integrated amalgamation of high-quality components (at the moment), and all out of time.

But then again, these days, what isn't?


*predicatbly non-functioning

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Dinavolo '06 and Dinavolino '10


£19.32 & 13.32, Les Caves de Pyrene

Very few of my close friends have any notcieable physical defects. I should point out that this is not out of any kind of bigotry, or eugenic companion selection on my part, it just so happens that amongst them they count not so much as a single cleft palate, club leg, or webbed toe.

I do however have a friend, Rollo, who has ginger hair.

I applaud the fact that in these enlightened times it is no longer acceptable to whisper, point, or throw faeces at those with ginger hair, and that the vast majority of the population do all they can to make these people feel accepted and comfortable amongst the rest of us. Small children may still cry in the street, but that's only natural.

With this in mind I decided to emphasise my own free-thinking liberalism by bringing a(nother) bottle of orange wine to a recent, 'though long-overdue, eating and drinking session with her: 2006 Denavolo "Dinavolo".

Made by Giulio Armani, winemaker at the well-known La Stoppa winery, but this from grapes on his own vinyard. 25% Some kind of Malvasia, 25% Ortrugo, 25% Marsanne, 25% God-knows-what. Straddling the line between 'minimum intervention' and 'just can't be fooked, mate.' The LCdP wine list reckons that '06 Dinavolo spent a year on its skins. Whoever told them this either a liar or certifiable, or most likely, both.

Dinavolo is wine that is savage in the best possible way (as holy as enchanted). Deep, dark orange, and opening with funk and cheese, rich oranges, herbs and spice come through, half sherbert, half dark British marmalade. The palate's huge, with brutal tannins, and fine acid, changing in the bottle by the hour, sometimes sweet, sometimes savoury. This one's pretty lairy even in comparison with other XM whites. Rollo loved it with cheese, and hated it on it's own. Which is a pretty liberal and open-minded approach to something quite so leftfield.

In comparison then: You wouldn't call Dinavolino a 'Baby Cuvee' to its face. It's got cheese and flowers on the nose, and is only a shade lighter than the Dinavolo. All the aggression's here too with a big mouth-puckering structure backing citrus fruit, by turns lush and sour. It's losing a little in terms of coplexity and layering of flavour, but at the price this one's a winner.

Drinking for the rebel and the rake. Outcast winemaking at its best.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Testalonga El Bandito 2009


probably around £20, Green and Blue

A total lack of sleep in the previous 2 1/2 days had lead seamlessly into five or six hours spent with some confused looking doctors at the Royal Surrey Hospital who were experimenting with a myraid of hedonistic delights, taking in everything from pupil-expanding drops, to a mixture of steroids injected straight into my eyeball.

The comedown was killer.

As much fun as being medicated at had been, I was pretty sure that some self medication was probably due... The weird turned pro some time ago, and the going needed to catch up, so I chucked a bottle of extended maceration* white wine in the fridge and settled in for the evening.

Skin maceration is the vinifiication technique used in all red wine in which the pressed juice is left on the skins (and sometimes stalks), in order to extract tannin, colour and flavour from them in the the final wine. A lot of rose wine involves limited maceration to just extract a little colour. White wine alomst never has an intentional maceration, and if it does usually only for a few hours, to extract flavour from some of the more neutral-tasting varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Girs and Semillon.

There are though, on the controversial fringes of the wine-making world, a disparate group who'll leave white grapes on their skins for days, extracting colour, wild, heady aromas, and grippy tannic structure, to create the Marmite of the wine world: Orange Wine.

I love it like like I do yeast spread.

I had pretty high hopes for Testalonga's El Bandito; 100% Chenin Blanc, and probably the only X-M white being made in South Africa at the present time. It's also pretty damn rare, not available yet in the UK, and only from Natural Wine specialist Green and Blue in Dulwich when it is.

Colour is not at all orange, but a deep clear gold. The nose is dominated intitially by yeast and lees, giving way to spice and little lemon twist, tannin is light to non-existent on the palate, on recognisable by a faint bitterness at the tail. Mouthfeel is unbelieveably rich, with all the honeyed Chenin texture you could hope for, and a load of exotic spiciness.

It's nothing like the biting, agressive X-M whites coming out of Italy and the flavours seem more driven by the lees than by the skins, which is concurrent with the non X-M version, El Bandito 'Cortez', which I personally also find just a tad more comlex.

It's good, unctuous stuff, and great with food I imagine, but I left it just slightly struggling to see the point.

If you're going to do something weird, best to push it all the way. This one's like ending the party at home with a mug of cocoa in bed, rather than at a hospital with a hypodermic needle in your eye.


*which I have decided to abbreviate to "X-M"

Thursday, 14 July 2011

McDonald's


£2.28 pp, 57 Cornmarket street, Oxford.

A minor calamity meant that I had to abandon plans for "brunch" in West London and go to Oxford for a picnic and punting.

Our punting technique left much to be desired, but our onboard picnicking was textbook, as was the subsequent drinking session, taking in all manner of ales, cocktails, wines and a meal split between two different restaurants.

Starters and cocktails at the Oxford branch of Jamie Oliver's superlative Italian eaterie, segued seamlessly into a plan to execute a longstanding ambition of mine...

It may seem unlikely, but up until pretty much exactly a year ago I had been plagued by a lifelong vegetarianism. In the intervening time I have endeavoured to eat my way around as much of the Animal Kingdom as possible, but had specifically held back on the big one, the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to clog your arteries yet invented- the burger.

And I was going to start with the one that started it all; the granddaddy of obesity epidemics, the butterfly wing at the beginning of a billion bouts of heart disease, the McDonalds Hamburger.

As a dining venue McDonalds is found wanting pretty well across the board, the atmosphere, seating, lighting and service all seem designed to maximise turnover, getting people in and out as quickly as possible. But perhaps the greatest impediment to a good time is the lack of alcohol. Impediment, that is, to the unambitious, because whilst I placed our order at the till I dispatched my Sister to the pub next door to fetch us some beer.

The burger itself is almost inedible, which is funny because in a physical sense it requires almost no effort to actually eat. It has the texture of something that has been masticated, digested and reconstitued. You certainly wouldn't need teeth to for it, 'though that's just as well as it's only people without teeth who are likely to be insensible enough to want to. By far the best thing here is a lone slice of gherkin, providing the sole bastion of crunch in the whole soggy affair. There are very large number of more pleasurable and less dangerous things to do with a pound coin in the world, all way up to having someone drop one from the top of a very tall building onto your head.

I found all of this rather a surprise, the place after all is very, very popular, and I was expecting it at least to be tasty in a full-of-fat-sugar-and-salt kind of way. But the disappointment, I was assured by my two companions, was no one's fault but my own. Far better, they assured me, to trade (ever-so, ever-so slightly) up and opt for the double cheeseburger at £1.29. So we did that.

It has two slices of gherkin, and consequently is exactly twice as good, 'though not, you will notice, twice as expensive. In a very twisted world I would commend the quality-price-ratio in comparison to its little brother.

But things aren't that bad yet, so I shan't- the whole thing's rubbish, it's all uphill from here.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The King's Head


It appeared that the Russian had gone mad at some point between leaving his house and arriving at our lunching destination.

Or at least that was all I could surmise with his hand around my throat as he shouted maniacally about class A drugs and threatened to kill me.

He then quit the pub, to the immense relief of bar staff who evidently hadn't been trained in how to deal with a barney, and returned home.

Ho hum.

After finishing my pint I went to fetch him whereupon it transpired that shortly before arriving at the King's Head he discovered that I had been out the previous evening with his American Sister and TOD, which was apparently not cool. To be fair, I have known for some time that TOD is the kind of person that can inspire this kind of reaction, but the Russian is normally a jovial, happy-go-lucky sort, not prone to violent outbursts, and never knowingly leaves a pub unfed.

Lunch was at this point already an hour late. The late arrival of this particular meal is something that will often ruin my day, if not my entire month. Lucky then then the newly re-branded King's Head pulled out the stops in terms of eminantly satisfying eating experiences.

It's not that the food here is revolutionary- you wouldn't expect it to be. More that it's fresh, high quality, well-served, home-made, and reasonably priced. Which is probably even better.

£2 for a couple of stellar sausage rolls or an equally good scotch egg is great value. They serve both good crisp fries and mind-blowingly good twice cooked chips. A shared fish and chips came with the fish cut in two and two portions of the accompanying salad, peas and chips. Winning beer is by Purity.

Whether this attention to detail was on account of mine and the Russian's no doubt burgeoning reputation at the place I cannot say. What I can say 'tho is that I'll be back. Maybe in disguise.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Jamie's Italian


13 Friary St, GU1 4EH, £30 pp

I arrived at one of Jamie Oliver’s Italian eateries at the tail end of a concerted (and inexplicably unsuccessful) attempt to kill myself.

The previous four days had seen a number of triumphs for myself and a group of collaborators comprising the Russian, his American Sister, my own Sister and a new friend of mine whom I shall call Emily2, as that is very nealy her name, and avoids confusion with another friend of mine, Emily1.

Notable lowlights included ‘Formal Supper’ at Queen’s College Oxford at which myself, Sister and the American enjoyed drinking a fair amount of rare red Petillant Naturel and eating almost none of the food whilst wearing silly hats, getting ejected, and consequently breaking back into the same club a total of four times in a single evening, and taking 4 ½ hours to get from Oxford to Guildford via every M&S New York Pastrami sandwich between the two.

And once you get locked into a serious bender the tendency is to push it as far as you can. So Emily2 and I went for supper.

We were almost certainly intoxicated on arrival, and steady stream of first rate Prosecco based cocktails served only to abet this. ‘Though it really did highlight the consistent excellence of the service on offer; our young lady at one point expertly fielding Emily2’s deadpan complaint about a piece of white spaghetti amongst the squid ink stuff before moving swiftly on to complimenting us on our choice of espresso martinis for pudding (served in proper glasses- please take note Soho)

The food is really quite surprisingly good, even if everything is described, cooked and served a la Oliver and hence swimming in dizzy adjectives and olive oil, and presented in incomprehensible receptacles.

Our assortment of breads was good but came stuffed tightly into a small metal pot, which meant the liberation of one piece caused the rest to go all over the floor. My own seared Grey Mullet came with a sauce (roasted peppers, olives, chillis &c.) and a small rocket salad. Great.

Emily2’s Scallop and Squid ink spaghetti was equally good and came spiked with some intensely fiery red chilli. The magic here is how they’ve made the assorted ingredients taste so much; it is vibrant, flavoursome, singing food.

A subsequent visit brought the predictable discovery that the “World’s Best Olives” are not that, but they are quite good and served on ice. I’m not convinced this brought a whole lot flavour-wise but it did make them, and the accompanying tapenade, noticeably colder. The accompanying “music bread” (large shards of flatbread) smacked of finishing the thesaurus and moving on to the dictionary.

My fried squid came with “really garlicky mayo” which is a bold claim to make, especially when the garlic quotient of the sauce in question is situated well below perception threshold. Still- Emily2’s cockle linguine was a return to form; perfect, grit-less, cokcles and pasta in broth of lipsmacking intensity.

Day-glo badges that read “I finished all my vegetables at Jamie’s Italian” are not proffered voluntarily, but nor are they subject to a particularly stringent criteria test- the bemused looking man at the front desk will take your word.

(Assuming you don’t find yourself sharing the restaurant with Emily2 and I) I guarantee anyone will find the whole affair all rather brilliant and charming and reasonably priced.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Polpo, Sputino &c.


£God only knows, Soho.

I had always assumed lunch was a bit like Christmas; special because of its scarcity. It comes but once a day, a neat anchor-point right in the middle, much anticipated beforehand, and remembered fondly over subsequent hours.

Recent experience however has led me to establish that this is a myth, a mos perpetuated by mealtime traditionalists and admirers of 'brunch' alike. There is, in fact, no reason at all not to keep having lunches all afternoon, especially if you are somewhere as small and densely populated by trendy eateries as Soho...

The Russian's American Sister is a prodigously talented luncher, never found wanting in enthusiasm or execution, and only, on occasion, in sense of direction. The hundred metre walk from her apartment to Polpo took just over an hour. Once inside though we were golden.

The lamentable affectation of serving all wine in Duralex tumblers slightly undermined an otherwise good Bellini. Tapas (or 'Cicheti' if we need another word for tapas) varied from ok to pretty good, taking in fennel salami, pickled cabbage, potato and parmesan croquette, artichoke, prosciutto and a curious anchovy and chickpea houmous-tapenade hybrid. But they were very small, and at this point we didn't realise this lunch was merely the beginning of a trilogy.

From their 'Bread' section we came away with a small tomato-less pizza topped with garlicky, cheesy spinach and an egg, and something described thus: "Cured pork shoulder & Peperonata panino" which rather predictably turned out to be a ham and red pepper pannini. Both were good, but the spinach number was better. I can't remeber how much this little lot came to, but it wasn't much, and I nabbed a postcard on the way out- so a sucessful venture all round.

We retired back to the American's flat for some time on the roof terrace and a bottle of 2010 Iglesia Vella from Roc des Anges. The wine was unfortunately a barrel sample, and though not fizzy it had more than a smack of not-quite-finished-fermentation appleyness.

With the line between digestif and aperitif suitably blurred we were ready for lunch.

I was all up for a little trip to Hix Soho just down the street, but the American denounced it as 'shit' and so we had to go to the pub next door for Bangers, Mash and Beer. It was a classic interpretation of the theme, comprising cumberlands, mash, and a summery, hoppy ale or two. Very nice, and only let down by the fact that the onions rings were doused in gravy which comprehensively negated their crunchiness. Oh well.

After lunch we headed out for a few cocktails, the most memorable- in an unmarked downstairs bar decked out like an acid trip- all plastic mushroom lamps and barbie dolls glued to the ceiling. The best- a pretty good passion fruit daiquiri was, perhaps not coincedentally, the only cocktail all day served in a proper glass.

I had come to Soho that afternoon with a number of objectives; I had to return the American a bag of her clothes which she had left at my house on Friday, I wanted to drink posh wine in the sun on her roof terrace, and (ideally) I wanted to find Sputino, a newly opened gaff described universally as "achingly hip".

No cartographer in history has ever gotten to grips with the area ('tho Signore Alighieri had a go a while back I believe), and Sputino apparently had no signage and frosted windows... I didn't hold out much hope.

Imagine my delight then when, not 25 metres from the American's front door, we stumbled across (and subsequently into) it, for lunch.

The American is a 19 year old model, and was wearing sunglasses, as such she pulled off "achingly hip" quite well. My own sunglasses, on the other hand were broken, and I had been pushing the boundary between "achingly hip" and comatose for a couple of hours already. I remember little apart from a good pulled pork mini burger, and another equally good mini burger, though we may have just ordered the same pork one again. She has since informed me that there was also a croque monsieur, shoestring fries (whatever they may be), and some cocktails made with orange blossom involved.

It is an intereating fact that any particular day's fun quotient is in fact proportional to the cube of how many times one has been for lunch. Hence this was a full 27 times better than your run-of-the-mill Sunday.

Which is convenient because attempting this kind of bollix more than twice a year would probably kill me quite quickly.

* Unfortunately I failed a little in taking any photos of our adventure, save the authentically Soho view from the American's front door.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Champalou Vouvray Brut NV


Les Caves de Pyrene, £11

There was ample reason to party, hats to analyse, dizzy BBC reporters to tolerate and patriotism to be restored. And I apparently, in the grand British tradition, was to make Pimms and cook a barbecue. In April.

Mixing HP Sauce and honey, stirring lemonade and chopped fruit. Cruel.

Luckily I had a companion for the journey in the form of some fizzy Vouvray, so whilst the rest of the party enjoyed (Hmm?) ready-made Buck's Fizz fresh from Sainsbury's I lost myself in the Loire.

A lush, rich Chenin-y nose; good apple fruit. It's properly zingy on the palate, and has a tang like citric acid. Sherbert lemons. I'd drink this over NV champagne any (or at this price every) day of the week.

It's wellmade, modern and uncomplicated, and as such entirely appropriate to toast the happy couple and the palace PR team. Alongside my well-honed ability in stealing commerotive flags it made a lovely Friday.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Denbies Flint Valley


House of Commons gift shop, £9.50

I've got mixed up in a lot of weird stuff over the past couple of years, and much of it will doubtless do lasting damage to my physical and mental wellbeing.

I have recently however managed to kick a nasty little politics habit, and to mark this triumph I had a bottle Denbies Flint Valley onto which someone had stuck a Portcullis logo and a £2.50 markup.

The bottle's label strikes a rare blow against the staid conformity of including information regarding the grapes or vintage of its contents.

"A blend of the premium grape varieties grown on the estate" it boasts. A lesser mind than mine might take this at face value, but I had my suspicions it might be a clever code for "A mixture of early-ripening and frost hardy German grapes that you probably couldn't pronounce, even if you had heard of them."

A quick consultation on the website reveals it to be a NV blend of Seyval Blanc and Reichensteiner, the two most widely planted grapes in the country no less. The former is a crossing of the fearsome sounding pair Seibal 5656 and Seibal 4986, whilst the latter is a weird 1939 crossing of Muller-Thurgau, Madeleine Angevine and Calabrese Froehlich, themselves each crossings of crossings of crossings in a horrifically complicated and near limitless regression*.

If I was the Germans I'd just be happy with Riesling.

Anyway somewhere mixed into the DNA of Seyval Blanc is a horrid little non-vinifera American grape which means that it can't be used to make quality wine in the EU, and this presumably explains the lack of vintage.

All this science had a.) given me a headache, and b.) made me feel a little nauseous. And the prospect of having to drink the product of it wasn't filling me with enthusiasm.

God this is unpleasant. The nose is weird and dank and animal-y. Grass and compost. In the mouth it's light and relatively inoffensive, but there's no length. The fruit scarpers early and leaves fox piss and dead mice.

As if to prove the utter necessity of using dodgy grapes to make still wine in England, I happened to be enduring this particular bottle in the kind of weather that you would always assume to be a physical impossibility. The sun was shining, it was a warm 25 degrees, and large chunks of ice were falling from the sky.

Happy St. George's day. Time to emigrate.



*(((Pinot Noir x Trollinger) x Précoce de Malingre) x Calabrese Froehlich) x (Riesling x (Pinot Noir x Trollinger))

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Trapiche Single Vineyard Vina Fausto Orellana de Escobar 2007


£30

A bad man once gave me some Malbec. I had known he was a bad man beforehand so this didn't strike as particularly out of character, just a little disappointing.

Nevertheless, a gift is a gift, and it's the thought (however misguided) that counts. So I laid down my huge bottle of Trapiche Single Vineyard Vina Federico Villafane 2006, and returned to drinking proper wine.

At some point in the intervening year however the bottle vanished, the various occupants of my house each pleaded ignorance or infallibility, and so I was left, once again, Malbec-less.

It is great testament to the high esteem I hold the aforementioned man in that I then spent quite considerable time, effort and eventually money, in replacing it. And 'though not entirely successful, the 2007 Fausto Orellana de Escobar was close enough for me.

The inaugural World Malbec Day on Sunday 17th April (not quite as arbitrary as it sounds apparently) was as good an as excuse as ever to get involved.

The nose opens with considerable swagger. Dark fruits, liquorice, dried herbs, violets, oak and pencil lead (lots), focused and fascinating. A big mouthfeel, and thick savoury dark fruit. Neither over-ripe nor over-extracted, but with gorgeous sweet tannins. It could probably go on, but I'd be wary that further cellaring would gamble with its current joyous intensity.

In terms of pleasure provided, both sensual and intellectual, this is probably the best wine I've drunk this year.

I used to be surprised at just how often I was correct about things. Over time however this matured and developed into a sneaking suspicion that I may actually be some kind of minor deity.

Who'd have thought TOD and a bottle of Malbec would be the pairing to shatter the illusion of omniscience?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Miquel Gelabert Torrent Negre 20 Aniversari 2005


Sa Bodeguita d'es Pi, €15 (€30)

Anyone following the annual Bordeaux en primeur pig-circus will have noticed something peculiar these last few weeks. The Bordelais no longer have good, bad and average vintages, they have different ones.

As if in some collaborative effort to prove the passing of time, growers, merchants and critics have universally hailed 2010 as neither better nor worse than 2009, merely "different".

A long overdue and begrudging acceptance of the wonderful plurality and variation available to the wine consumer? Whaddayathink?

It all sits rather uneasily in a system based around scores, Vintages of the Century, and the idea that there's some kind of objective and quantifiable definition of what is 'good' Bordeaux. Quite frankly I'm surprised the entire system hasn't imploded under the weight of its own contradictions.

Which is a pity, becuase although I quite like the stuff, it makes me disinclined to drink it. And with celebrations due I wanted some Cabernet-Merlot seriousness.

There was only one thing for it: a bottle Torrent Negre 20th Aniversari 2005 I had purchased in a restaurant the previous week. The owner had not only let me buy a bottle 'off', she had also rung the producer Miquel Gelabert on her mobile to find out what grapes were in it, and then (I discovered later) charged me precisely half what it was worth.

40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, a curious triptych, but the Mallorquins are a funny lot so we shan't hold it against them.

The nose opens with a little brett sweatiness, though this is gone after ten minutes in the glass, leaving ripe raisins, stewed plums and a hint of savouriness.

The palate continues this, it's massive in every way, porty with big thick syrupy red and dark fruit, but little herbaceous touch on the finish. A healthy tannic structure, a seemingly well-integrated blend and no heat from the 14.5% alcohol.

Big, brash, heavy, expansive stuff, and remarkably, not the same as (for example) something else.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Sa Bodegueta de's Pi


4 Calle Sipells, Cala Millor, €30 pp inc wine

Thursday had come up with an alacrity that was frankly astonishing. Most of the middle of the week seemed to have collapsed in on itself like a disappointing soufflé. I vaguely remember drinking a fair amount of good wine, catching, killing and eating a helluva lot of sea urchins, and hosting a party for a man that was (allegedly) going to prison the next day.

What I had not done was much dining. I measure out my life in sauce ladles; meals are the anchor points, a Maxwell's Demon against the encroaching entropy.

So it was off to Sa Bodegueta d'es Pi, an improbable corner of Paradise very well hidden inside the Dantean awfulness of Cala Millor.

The place is run by the eponymous Pi, her mother in the kitchen and her father, an old family friend of mine who may or may not be called 'Mel'.

A nod to convention sees customers furnished with a menu on entry. More experienced diners, however, are easily distinguished by the combination of nonchalance and contempt with which this is flicked away before requesting simply 'Tapas'.

This gives mama free rein in the kitchen which experience suggests is a very good thing indeed.

What happened this time was possibly even better than I have ever had here before, a tour de force of inventive Mallorquin cooking.

Sobrassada fried in honey was good enough for me to suggest that our meal had peaked too soon. Pa Amb Boli was proper, yet posh and zingily fresh. The spinach croquettes are almost a signature dish here, but this time paled in comparison to courgette stuffed with salt cod (good god!) and the subsequent steak; black and blue on a barbecue, thickly sliced, and blood(il)y brilliant.

There are no words.

AN/2, the femme fatale of serious Mallorquin wines, was a perfect match to all this. Sexy acid-cherry Callet, with a smoky, noir twist of Syrah.

The pricing here is low and slightly arbitrary, the wine list wonderful, the service perfect, food brilliant, and setting lovely. If you ever have the calamitous misfortune to find yourself in Cala Millor: go.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Tactical Nuclear Penguin


£35

There exist in my life an increasing number of events that prove impossible to classify. Ostensibly they appear as mistakes, or bad decisions, but circumstance conspires to make their consequences difficult to appraise.

TOD forgetting to pay the rent on a flat we once lived in so that we got thrown out by a crazy landlord from County Kerry looks like an error. But the flat was small, had no electric lights, an immovable freezer full of rotting meat in the sitting room, and my bedroom had no windows. A month of homelessness may have been a small price to pay for eventually finding somewhere habitable.

The Russian taking on my immeasurable financial expertise in June 2009 and betting that CPI inflation wouldn't rise above 4 % within the next 2 years was definitely foolish (even though he is in an industry which loves the smell of Novocain in the morning). But my decision to spend almost all of the winnings on two small bottles of beer could have gone either way.

Brew Dog clearly enjoy winding up the anti-alcohol brigade by brewing increasingly strong beers and launching them with much fanfare. But even they recommend drinking Tactical Nuclear Penguin in moderation.

To be honest though I'm not sure it's their prerogative. So I made up to enjoy these as irresponsibly as possible, and for that I'd need a sidekick.

Sister has always had a fantastic appetite for waywardness, and once confessed that she "would give anything to be a penguin" so her return to the family abode a night before our week-long sojourn in Mallorca seemed as good an excuse as any to get stuck into it...

There's alcohol on the nose, but porter too, and savouriness. Not too bad, but nothing to prepare you for what's to come. Soy sauce, salt, burnt barley and burning heat, but what sticks, overwhelmingly is Marmite. Lots and lots and lots of it.

This one went catastrophically wrong; it is nasty in a malicious and visceral way. Like Bovril made with poitin but a billion times worse. Impossible to enjoy in moderation- total abstinence is the only way.

Unless you're my Spanish penguin. He quite liked it.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Domaine Heresztyn Gervrey Chambertin Vielles Vignes 2005 v Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling 2004


c£40 and £30 respectively

Some exemplary poker playing and a small lottery win on Friday night meant that I awoke the next morning in the mood to buy some weaponry.

I will not pretend that my assault on the London International Dive Show was an 'under the radar' kind of operation in any way, but equally I am not the kind to fail a primary objective. The conflagration of these meant that I found myself a few hours later standing on the banks of the Thames in Rotherhithe staring at my Sister down the barrel of a shiny new speargun.

Still, as is so often the case, the solution to one problem created a new set of questions and obstacles. Most are better left unconsidered or unasked, but the one I did feel in a position to tackle was just what type of cork I was going to put on the end of it to prevent poking people in between bouts of pescacide.

Having inadvertently stumbled across the answer to the debate surrounding bottle closure (synthetic closures are not the match for cork in every conceivable application), it was clear that something quality, ultra-traditional and probably French was in order.

Up for consideration then were a bottle of 2004 Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling, and a 2005 Domaine Heresztyn Gervrey Chambertin Vielles Vignes.

Now red Burgundy is a wine that I’ve not had much luck with, it’s not that I don’t like it- more that I don’t tend to like the people that do, and have a pretty low tolerance for brett and the old and weird winemaking techniques that go on down there. Riesling on the other hand I am besotted with, and particularly this one, which I had at a restaurant recently and thought it one of the finest whites I have ever tasted. I thought I knew how this little head-to-head was going to pan out…

Domaine Heresztyn Gervrey Chambertin Vielles Vignes 2005 – No dirt on the nose whatsoever, full of red fruit and a little vegetal leafiness. The palate is sumptuous, summer fruits; strawberries and raspberries, perfect acid and light tannins. Drinking beautifully now, this wine is all the ‘S’s; supple, subtle, suave, sleek, sexy and seductive.

Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling 2004 – Really tight nose, minerals, wet stone and no rubber. This translates onto a palate that is equally inexpressive, lemon peel, lime and taught, focused minerality, but none of the expansive exotic stuff of the last bottle I had. Seems very young and closed right now, or maybe a possible hint of oxidation, either way I wouldn’t have put it at much above a tenner.

A very one-sided showdown means that my speargun is now the proud possessor of stylish new hat from the Bourgogne.

Bring on the barracuda.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Chateau Trotanoy 1961



£3,000

A recent and more comprehensive investigation into the 15 or so old and dust-caked bottles at the bottom of my Grandmother's wine rack threw up a grand total of four vaguely drinkable looking results.

A centurion 1982 bottle of Muller-Thurgau, and two bottles of '76 Veuve will no doubt be good, interesting palette-educating, tipples.

As indeed was the last, a 1961 Chateau Trotanoy.

A quick consultation with google and a vintage chart, show this to be one of the finest wines produced in the type of vintage that attracts such adjectives as 'Legendary' and 'Mythical'. Retailing up to around $6,000.

80 plus years of life have made my Grandmother a very sensible woman. She declined both my offer to try to auction it for her, as well as the bottle of Gewürztraminer I had brought her ("Silly grape"), and decided the Trotanoy would be better suited paired with our supper of cold roast chicken, salad, sausage rolls and baked camembert.

The bottle was a mess, possibly as a result of having spent almost half a century in the utility room. The label was illegible under a thick layer of dirt, the cork almost saturated and the fill level below the neck; I didn't hold out much hope for it.

It decanted off not much sediment to a clear plum purple with a brickish rim. The nose confirms a miracle, it's not gone. A little dirty brett at the outset, opening into some damson or stewed fruit. The palate is subtle and seamless. There's red fruit and raisins, cherries, maybe a hint of cedar. Tannins are structured and integrated.

Maybe the fruit is a little muted - I don't know - like many people I've not got much frame of reference for this kind of thing, but it's complex stuff for sure, and pretty damn good.

At 50 this wine is exactly twice as old as me, and though direct comparison is difficult, I guess it was at least eight times better.

Great right bank wines of the 20th century: two down, one to go, shouldn't be a problem 'though: there's probably some '47 Cheval Blanc in the shed.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Roka


37 Charlotte Street, London, £65 pp excluding wine.

The combination of St. Patrick's Day and TOD's Irish ancestry had apparently lent him power of veto when it came to my choice of headwear for the evening. I am a serious man, and do not take sartorial decisions lightly, so was not about to pander to any bandana related bigotry that he may have cultivated.

We were due at a restaurant called Roka, whose clientele possess more money than sense, class and style combined, which made my compadre worried he may know someone there, and worse... they would see him with me.

This unfortunate alignment led to a minor hissy fit and him catching a cab for home around twenty minutes before our booking.

Not one to let solitude come between me and the possibility of a cocktail, I made for the joint, scowled at the bouncer (really?) and ordered an unimpressive Mojito. Realising his early folly TOD gave ground on the bandana front, appeared sometime later, and we found our table.

Food was in his hands, as I had got to that stage in an evening when my Japanese becomes a little rusty. And what came, via some friendly, speedy, don't-bat-an-eyelid service was pretty damn spectacular. Light as air prawn tempura, belly tuna sushi so slickly unctuous that it required the waitress to assure TOD it wasn't Foie Gras, and a couple of dishes from their centrepiece Robata grill; some lovely lamb cutlets on the bone, and a bit of small bird, pigeon or partridge or some such.

It was all very, very good... far too good for the clientele. But what really got me was the consistency. It wasn't genius teetering on the brink of insanity, just a long, fine sustained brilliance. Which for restaurant with a grillion covers, almost as many chefs, and probably onto its third sitting of the evening by 10.30 is staggering.

Topping all this was a wine list that oozed an unfocused dandy-ish class. Leaning heavily on Rieslings, Gewurztraminers and other Franco-German joys, it spoke of someone who cared about food and wine and fun. Better still TOD had very generously offered to pay for the wine, though this meant I could feel the power/responsibility combo weighing down on me a little.

10 minutes in however I was no closer to divining any rhyme or reason, and I was close to a hissy fit of my own when I came across it: Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile 2004. £92 is not cheap, but the food deserved it, and good god it was good. Kerosene, and minerals, tight citrus acidity backing expansive tropical fruit. It had everything, and in sublime balance.

The best things in life are emphatically not free: we must all make concessions, be they monetary, moral, or personal.

Unless of course you're me.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2007


Waitrose, £20.00

At about 6 o'clock on Friday morning I had a broken leg. After a couple of hours and three X-Rays this had been downgraded to a combination of torn cartilage and 'funny-shaped bones'.

The previous evening had been a strange one: I recovered temporarily from an early fall to enjoy some ping-pong and a wildly successful trip to a Mayfair casino. But the £300 winnings were beginning to weigh me down, and by the time we left I could barely walk.

At around 4am I abandoned my intention of going to Cornwall for the weekend and made like a snail for Accident and Emergency.

The croupiers may have been kind earlier, but in life I was limping in. Distinctly unamused by the earlier diagnosis, I needed some form of invigorating tonic to re-establish perkiness to my sleep-deprived body.

English sparkling wine has been enjoying a stellar few years. Down in the South both the soil and the globally warmed climate are similar to that of Champagne, and in the best years all three grapes can ripen nicely. It's even rumoured that Champagne houses are buying up land here.

The headline news at last year's Decanter Wine Awards was that an English fizz, Ridgeview's 2006 Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs, had taken top prize in the Champagne and Sparkling wine category.

The Grosvenor is, obviously, all Chardonnay. Mine on the other hand was Ridgeview’s 'Bloomsbury', which adds Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier to give the full Champenois menage.

The Decanter judges found the Grosevenor to have 'plenty of elan'. Which is no doubt reassuring for the hopelessly pretentious amongst us. But I have no time for dictionaries, and wanted to get on to the bottle in hand...

Initially it has a light mineral nose, but not much going on.

A fine-ish mousse. Very champagne-y on the palate with loads of citrus acid. Lovely breadiness comes through on the nose once it opens up. There's lots of fruit but to my mind not enough body for the acidity. Gimme a granule more sugar in the dosage or a billion barrels of crude to burn, and this'll be a cracking wine.

It's young tasting and I'd like to see it in a few years, but still fizzily good for both body and mind, especially at the price.

If I could walk I might go buy another.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Montes Alpha 2008


Majestic, £12.50

My Father is a proud man, and wont to take umbrage at the slightest of slights. So needless to say it did not go unnoticed when I recently accused him of being a hoarder of oxidised-looking white Burgundy.

A commendable attempt to set the record straight last week saw a bottle of 1990 Duvergey Taboureau Chassagne-Montrachet make its way from the dusty recesses of his rack and into a fridge for judgment.

On opening the cork was sodden and mouldy, the liquid: Morning-After Yellow. Horribly oxidised.

Happily the next generation was on hand, to redeem the sins of the previous. I am a hedger and a fixer so had cleverly chilled a bottle of Montes Alpha's superb 2008 Chardonnay in case of this thoroughly prectable emergency.

It's seen a little oak and this is apparent on the nose along with some green fruit and a little minerality.

Loads of acid and a bit of astringency (probably) from the oak, backed by a touch of lovely honeyed sweetness and tropical fruit as it warms. Lemons and star fruit, and a swish long finish.

Buying remission has never been cheaper, or more delicious.




Friday, 4 March 2011

Cousino-Macul 1987


c. £10 for recent vintages

If genetics are to be believed I am indubitably fated to become a hoarder of cheap wine.

Brief inspections of my grandmother's wine rack reveals it to be full old and dusty bottles of non-vintage champagne allegedly from the 1960s and '80s Pinot Gris. My father does a good line in oxidised-looking white Burgundy from average early '90s vintages, and Bordeaux from never-before-heard-of Chateaux.

A recent raid on his cellar turned up a bottle of 1987 Chilean red, laid down no doubt when I was still a mewler and a puker, and obstinately silent on the grapes that may have made it.

On the basis that we had nothing to celebrate Friday seemed as good a day as any to crack it open...

Cork was in good condition, and once double decanted it poured a deep garnet, not too brickish, and rather appealing. No taint whatsoever.

The nose gives this one away in a flash. All blackcurrant, nothing else, a lone Ribena-y dimension. Subsequent research confirmed this- 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Fruit is definitely still there on the palate, with a touch of woodiness, some cherry and blackberry flavours, but it's probably on its way out. Tannins are exceptionally light, and after half an hour have gone completely. The structure now is all bright acidity, which makes it remarkably fresh.

This is wine on the borderland of good and very good, and for me puts paid to those suggestions that Chilean wine is in its infancy. If they were making reasonably priced varietals with the legs for 23 years of bottle age back in the late '80s I suspect they're doing some properly clever stuff now.

Perhaps I shouldn't rail against the science. Perhaps the old people are wise. Perhaps the only way forward is buying up as much Concha y Toro as I can find before embracing the fuzzy slide toward mere oblivion. Perhaps...

Sunday, 27 February 2011

3-Way IPA Showdown


Utobeer, £2.00 - £4.00

Following gallant victories over the twin mights of Canada and Holland the Indians were up next. And so I decided to toast the strong and historic friendship of our two nations by drinking lots and lots of India Pale Ale.

A 4 hour lapse in concentration at Borough Market meant that we returned home with some Bison steaks, three bottles of white Bergerac, a dressed crab, 6 avocados, a small bottle of apple juice, an Ostrich feather duster, some biltong and a rabbit's head. But most importantly we also had the required brews.

An unromantic sort will doubt the story that IPAs were created because a highly hopped, high alcohol beer was better at surviving the voyage to India in colonial times. I am not an unromantic sort, think it's a good story and will continue to imagine the beer fueling 200 years of running around the globe forcing our language on indigenous populations.

But what I had was not your regualar British IPA, with its sensible-ish alcohol levels, and pleasant malt/hop combinations. This is American style IPA, and, as I understand it, the idea is to create as strong a beer as possible and then hop it to hell so that it appears balanced. It is considered an advantage if the resulting brew turns out to a.) Have interesting flavours, and b.) Not be so bitter as to make you want to rip your tongue out. But neither of these are by any means essential.

So what I had was 6 bottles of a British beer brewed for people living in India, and recently updated by the Americans. Or at least I had five of those and something else, because Flying Dog had confused things further by throwing the Belgians into this little cultural hotpot and creating a 'Belgian-Style IPA.'

The Brew Dog lot have been causing waves in Britain since 2007 with their agressive styles, clever marketing, and irritating schtick. Flying Dog have done the same in the US since 1990 and Sierra Nevada, the grandaddies of the tasting have been going since 1980.

So on to the main act: Flying Dog v Sierra Nevada v Brew Dog. In order of preference...

Sierra Nevada Torpedo 7.2%
Another crap Sierra Nevada label hiding a fearsomely good beer. Loads of hops and some citrus creeping in. Fizz is very fine. The balance is perfect, and though it's less agressive than the Snake Dog and Punk it's possibly (just slighty) better.

Snake Dog IPA 7.1%
Really tingly green grass flavours and some malt-heft, but it's the hops that dominate giving a superb and uncompromising bitter finish.

Punk IPA 6.0%
Definite hoppy brightness, but changes quickly into sweeter peach and stonefruit flavours giving a surprisingly sweet, but not cloying, finish. Blighty more than holds its own in the field.

Sierra Nevada Celebration 2010 6.8%
Unmistakeable pine-y IPA nose. Slight maltiness balances really well on the palate and it wears the alcohol well, though the finish is a little short.

Raging Bitch 8.3%
A little of the yeast on the nose, and the sweetness on the palate. Lots of vegetable green freshness comes through and a little fruit. The combination is big in every way and intriugingly drinkable, but seems a tad incongruous. Another cracking Steadman label.

Hardcore IPA 9.2%
Too much of the bad; too sweet, too hot, too much alcohol. Not enough of the good; little hop character and only a bit of malt. No bite, balance or bitterness. Disappointing.

For the record I'd happily drink any of these beers, except the Hardcore, on a regular basis. The top 3 are very, very close, and some of the finest brews I have ever tasted.