The new year is time to reflect. We look back at the highs and lows of the previous year, and we look forward. With the world as it is, it is easy enough to despair, and our personal challenges can be even more unsettling. A lot of people are especially worried about Brexit. There has been much said in the media about our economy crashing and an uncertain future, and people are naturally worried. The politicians contradict each other and it`s frankly hard to know the difference between news and propaganda (“fake news”). Somewhere in all of this we take sides, be that left, right, in, out, Remainer and Brexiteer. We adopt a position and defend it rigorously, choosing to listen to our side`s point of view while ignoring the counter argument. Well, in 2019 perhaps we should all just calm down. Truth is none of us can be sure what`s the best for our country; so just maybe we should all try to be a little less sure of ourselves. Let`s bring the heat out of the debate and talk sensibly, can we? Would it really be so awful to stay locked in close to the EU? On the other hand, is it just possible that an outward looking and wholly independent United Kingdom can make for a better Britain? And if we can`t agree, can we not agree to disagree? We are, after all, supposed to be a tolerant people, are we not? Despite the cold and worrying times, January is the birth of a new calendar year, and time, if we can, to be optimistic and seek opportunity. Join the gym, possibly; get fit and meet new people. Plan the summer holiday. A new job, perhaps. Brexit or no Brexit let`s try to be positive, can we please? One last thought – and this is a wine column after all – let ALL OF US drink better wine. BETTER, and, LESS. Because a little fine wine is good for you, and it will make you feel better. Happy new year, everyone.
The excitement and energy in our shop is palpable in the final run to Christmas. The Pogues slog it out with Wizzard, Slade, Elvis Presley, Band Aid, Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole. It`s a heady mix to be sure, especially when Christmas songs are accompanied by the whiff of Janet`s mince-pies, and naturally the clinking of glasses. It`s Christmas, after all. This near to the `big day` customers are cavalier, as prone to accepting a glass as they are to last-minute spending. In our industry we call it harvest, and we put out fruit in plenty. Hampers are the sweetest fruit – our customers just can`t get enough of them. Christmas cake and ale for papa, Italian biscotti and sweet Vin Santo for mama, Rhubarb-Gin and Fever-Tree tonic for `la signora` – you take your pick, we`ll wrap it up and bow it. Wine & Cheese is another great combo. Or simply a beautiful bottle of wine in a gift bag. This, ladies, can be the most perfect, thoughtful gift for your man – a bottle of velvety-rich Amarone which is a price he wouldn`t ordinarily pay for himself, possibly; or a sophisticated Chianti Classico which will remind him of the holiday in Florence earlier in the year. And how about you gentlemen? How thoughtful would it be to buy your wife the Champagne you had at your wedding? Or a bottle of the latest craft gin? We know how much store our ladies put into the gift-giving business, don`t we? Indeed. But don`t panic gentlemen because we at The Wine Centre can help you. Yes, even this late! Finally, for an original drinks gift, how about tickets to one of our new year events: Gin Masterclass (18th Jan, £25); Wine-tasting dinner (25th Jan, £65), Rum Masterclass (15th Feb, £25); and Cheese & Wine Masterclass (15th March, £35), all subject to availability (so late) of course, we also have the u shaped body pillow for purchase!
Happy Christmas everyone!
Here are some ideas for your Christmas Day party: Kick off the day by nibbling on smoked salmon blinis or creamy prawn vol-au-vents while sipping our Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Champagne, £29.69. Aromas of apple-pie and lemon meringue are followed by a delightful, tingling palate of dry, zesty fruit. If you are hungry this can be the most rewarding food and wine moment of the day, and it will stimulate your appetite. Alternatively, our Montresor Prosecco at £13.99 per bottle is delightfully soft and frothy with pretty green-apple and floral aromas which will have your guests asking for more. `Please, Sir…`
With the turkey and all the trimmings, I recommend a fantastic gem from my travels in Chile, the single vineyard Leyda Chardonnay `Lot No. 5`, £24.99. This, their new 2015 vintage, is the peaches-and-cream of Chile, exotic and silky-rich. In case the price tag is too hefty, the good news is we also stock this wine`s little brother [not a single vineyard], £13.99. A lighter, biscuit style, it is not unlike a Mâcon white burgundy. In red, I highly recommend our Giant Steps Pinot Noir from Australia`s Yarra Valley. It is light and fruity – imbued with raspberry, strawberry, redcurrant and cherry. Served cool this wine will cope admirably with all the flavours and textures on the plate. Another slurping Pinot Noir from down-under is the Trentham Estate at £13.99.
Next up is the cheese board (in our house). Surely, time for port. Try our Ramos Pinto Collector port at £16.99 per bottle; dark and intense it is sweet-tasting with dried plum, fig, blackberry and cherry-kirsch flavours. After some digesting time don`t forget the finale, the flaming Christmas pudding! I think it deserves a dedicated sweet wine. One as dark and sticky as the pudding, a Rutherglen Muscat for example, ours is £16.99 per half-bottle – or one which is bright yellow and light as a feather, by way of contrast to the dense, sweet stodge, such as our sweet-sparkling Moncucco Moscato d`Asti from Italy, £13.99 per 50cl bottle. What a great way this is to finish with a toast.
Earlier this year I was on a buying trip to Languedoc in France. On this occasion I took my wife Janet because we were flying into Montpellier where I studied Oenology, and I wanted to revisit the old haunts with her, to bring some of my old stories to life. One of our destinations was Saint Chinian to meet an Englishman by the name of Tom Hills. Tom is an entrepreneurial young man who is living the dream. He has bought twenty-two hectares of vineyard of which fifteen is sold to the local cooperative and seven he keeps for himself. With these seven he has created Domaine La Lauzeta, which produces Domaine La Lauzeta`Jauzimen` 2016, quite possibly the best Rosé in all of Languedoc. He is now also producing some very good red wines which are showing promise. Janet and I caught up with Tom at his new winery which he is still in the process of building. After a fabulous lunch in the beautiful village of Roquebrun we did a tour of his vineyards, small plots scattered in the valleys all around Saint Chinian. At one point we came across an old ruin which Tom said he planned to be his home someday. He spoke of increasing his vineyard holdings too – a new plot of this and that – Vermentino grapes, possibly? A man with lots of ideas, living the dream. That evening we joined up with his winemaker and picking team for a wine-tasting supper. The Cinsault grapes had already been picked and pressed for the 2018 Rosé, and the juice was looking good. The red wine grapes would take a little longer to ripen, therefore our arrival fell in the mid-way break. This provided the perfect opportunity for a party, and everyone was in fine spirits. We were around fifteen, with most of the team staying under the one roof hired by Tom, living and working together as a community for the period of the harvest. Oh what joy – and for lucky me, yet another story behind a label.
Behind every wine label in our shop there`s a human story. It`s one of the reasons for my love of wine. I might well extol the virtues of a wine and speak of how it tastes, or with what food it pairs well; but often I am transported to its place of origin and to those who have produced it, especially if I have myself been there – seen it, touched it, experienced it. Because in my mind this is the essence of it. I like to feel the soil between my fingers – taste the grapes – meet the people. Most recently on a buying trip to Languedoc I visited Chateau Capion. On this occasion I took my wife Janet. We were invited to stay over in Ch Capion`s guest house where we were surrounded by vineyards; about as perfect a setting as you can imagine. It was harvest, a busy time of year, and the winery was humming. There was a sense of magic about the place, and at dusk it turned into a party atmosphere when the owners invited us to join them for a barbecue. An engaging couple, they were clearly dedicated to producing the best possible wines, no expense spared, and their enthusiasm was enthralling. Moreover, the wines were delicious. One of the standouts was Ch Capion `Le Chemin des Garennes 2016`, a golden savoury-tasting wine produced from 90% Roussanne grapes, with an underlying richness. It was superb with the chicken liver paté. The new 2018 vintage Roussanne was due to be picked at 5am the next morning and we were going to help – except at 4.30am we awoke to torrential rain, which meant the Roussanne picking was to be postponed, and we were able to enjoy a couple of hours more sleep with fur throw pillows! When we woke the bright sun was shining down on the vineyards around us, the morning dew glistening with just a whisper of mist still in the valley, and with a feeling of pure joy we breakfasted in paradise. This will forever be our Ch. Capion `story`.
|My special thanks to our guests on what was our last dinner of the year, and best after-dinner
Guest Speaker: Poppy de Courcy-Wheeler
Host: Anthony Borges – Chef: Jon Cutts
Chablis, Domaine Billaud-Simon 2016
Attractive white gold colour with delicate, pale green. Fresh citrus and white flowers make up the nose. The palate is refined, smooth and rich. Everything is perfectly balanced: lively yet discreet, mineral without being dry, fruity yet refined. 100% Chardonnay.
|Pouilly Fumé Les Chailloux, Domaine Chatelain 2017
This wonderful Pouilly-Fumé showcases stunning purity of fruit from the Sauvignon Blanc grape as you are likely to find. The crisp minerality and flint-like freshness has great poise and the clean notes of green apple and citrus zip across the palate. 100% Sauvignon Blanc.
|Pouilly Fuissé Vigne Blanche, Domaine Saumaize Michelin 2015
Depth of colour in the glass. The nose offers white peach and pear aromas with hints of brioche. Mineral, rich and full flavoured on the palate with complexity lasting through-out the long-lasting finish. 100% Chardonnay.
|Beaujolais-Lantignié, Domaine Jean-Paul Dubost 2017 Delicate ruby colour with bright aromas of red fruits including redcurrant, raspberry and cranberry. The palate is lively and stacked full of fresh fruit character all with a light and soft texture. 100% Gamay.
|Beaune 1er Cru Clos du Roi, Domaine JJ Girard 2015
A complex nose with a combination of forest fruits and more savoury and earthy tones. On the palate the wine is seriously silky with concentrated and complex flavours that are in perfect balance with the fresh acidity of the wine. 100% Pinot Noir.
|Vieux Château Gaubert, Graves 2009
Deep intense red in colour, this Graves has lovely, rich, ripe cassis flavours with a fine, persistent vanilla and pomegranate finish. The wine offers delicious sweet red fruit and seductive, earthy tones. It’s showing beautifully and is ready to enjoy. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon 50% Merlot.
|Crozes Hermitage Le Rouvre, Yann Chave 2015
Elegant, fine and very expressive nose. Notes of blackcurrant, liquorice and a hint of pepper. The wine is marked by a fine structure and elegant tannins. Richly concentrated and of great finesse. The wine is truly harmonious, revealing great balance and a very long finish. 100% Syrah.
|Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine 2015
A complex nose of cinnamon, cooked fruits and morello cherry. After a rich and firm mouthfeel, the mouth expresses vanilla and peppery aromas which persist throughout the finish. 80% Grenache 10% Syrah 10% Mourvedre.
|Château Fayau Cadillac Liquoreux 2011
Yellow hay colour with gold shimmers. The nose is very intense and complex, a subtle mix of quince, apricot and white flowers. The palate is well balanced and nuanced with flower, apricot and honey notes with a long-lasting finish and cleansing acidity.
Beetroot pannacotta served with beetroot carpaccio & caramelised walnuts.
Poached monkfish with wild mushrooms, seared cucumber & radishes & poaching liquor.
Roasted loin of Boxted Hall venison served with confit potato, roasted parsnip, buttered kale & juniper jus.
French apple tart with spiced ice-cream.
My last blog touched on the diversity of dry wines, and it focused on wine`s residual sugar (RS)– that`s the sugar left following completion of the wine`s alcoholic fermentation. On average, for fine wines, it`s around 2g per litre. The other key components in wine are acidity, primarily tartaric, but also citric and malic, and alcohol itself; and then there`s the fruit quality as well, with tannins (also an acidity) playing its part primarily in red wines. And it`s these components winemakers strive to achieve in balance, to drink well with food. He or she will endeavour to be true to the grape, as well as to the terroir, but in the making of fine wine his or her objective will almost always be a balanced wine which will go well with food; often the local food. So what is a balanced wine? Let`s take an example: NZ`s Tinpot Hut Pinot Gris (deliciously fresh quintessential Pinot Gris) has 2.2g per litre RS, with a PH of 3.25, total acidity of 5.9g per litre and an alcohol content (ABV) of 12.5% Vol. For this white wine, it is the perfect balance, and a joy with spicy foods. Despite climate change it`s a good balance of components with a firm lid on the ABV. These levels are not uncommon, but equally a lot of dry wines barely register any residual sugar at all, sometimes but by no means always with correspondingly high alcohol levels, coming in at 14 and 14.5% by volume. The winemakers making these are choosing balance, at the expense of popularity. But they are right to do so because balance is crucial if we prize wine`s great affinity with food, as we do. If we want wine`s to be fresh with the intensity, structure, and breeding of a fine wine, we may well have to accept higher alcohols in the long term. Indeed, we already do. Meantime, UK`s vastly improved and diverse culinary offering is being matched by its wines, so be sure not to let them pass you by. Cheers, everyone!
Most of the world`s premium DRY wines are those with less than 4g per litre of residual sugar (RS), equivalent to 1% of the wine`s volume. The category is diverse and obliging, with scope to retain up to 9g per litre residual sugar, provided the wine has acidity to balance. This option is oft adopted by the supermarket chains, to round out the wine, thus giving it a smooth mouthfeel. The best of these are okay, but the worst of them can have a sickly, bubble-gum confectionery taste, not unlike the medium-sweet Liebfraumilch drank by Brits in years gone by. The paradigm shift to better quality dry wines over the past couple of decades bears witness to an increasingly more sophisticated UK palate. Now we drink huge amounts of dry Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay; and in red, Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec, to name a few. There are thousands of grape varieties which suit the dry wine category. The driest – white and red – are near bone dry, with less than 2g or even 1g per litre RS; our Gavi di Gavi for example at 2g per litre is lean, crisp and zesty. We have an even drier Sauvignon Blanc from Loire Valley, with just 0.3g per litre. Our Muscadet Sur Lie is bone dry, a good choice for diabetics. These are the crisp, light and fresh variety of dry wines. Others are soft, rich and fruity. Indeed, a good many technically dry wines can give something of the impression of sweetness. Some rich, high-glycerine mouth-filling dry wines can seem unctuous and sweet at first, before finishing dry; just try some of the dry white wines of Alsace. A wine`s apparent sweet note can be down to its high alcohol content, for example. Additionally, a wine`s fruit quality can at first give the impression of sweetness. A combination of these can quite easily trick your brain into registering sweetness. So, when you next go out to buy a dry wine, think to yourself: just how dry do I want it?
Riesling makes a fabulous sweet wine because its natural high acidity ensures a counter balance to the high concentration of sugars. There`s a refreshing sweet and sour intensity to it, which cleanses and livens the palate. Aromas and flavours include stone and citrus fruits (especially limes), ginger and flowers. Their sweet wines can be long lived, developing complexity and a honeyed richness with age. A fine example is New Zealand`s Escarpment Hinemoa from Martinborough, produced by winemaker Larry McKenna. Using the German classification, this wine would be rated Beerenauslese. I tasted this wine on Sunday with a fruit tart and it was delicious. One of the best value wines of its type on the market. Another is Mount Horrocks `Cordon-Cut` Riesling, a stunning wine produced by the clever but risky Cordon-Cut method of cane-pruning employed in Clare Valley, Australia. The method involves cutting the vine`s canes when the grapes are ripe, allowing the remaining fruit to concentrate and raisin naturally. Winemaker Stephanie Toole is master of her art, and the wine is highly prized. Now I refer to the effects of the mould botrytis cinerea on grapes, because most of the world`s best sweet wines, if their grapes have not been dried on mats (known as straw wines, or Passito in Italy), and if they have not had their grapes frozen on the vines (for the making of Ice wine), they will probably have been affected by the mould botrytis. The effect on the grapes is to perforate and shrivel them, reducing their water content, thereby concentrating the sugars, acids and flavour components. However, they also add complexity to the wines, like seasoning. A curious flavour likened to beeswax. Discovering wine is a journey, and sweet wine is for many the highlight. The summit, even. Why not start your climb by dropping into the Gt Horkesley shop? And you know the best thing about sweet wines: they will stay fresh in your fridge for weeks – longer – so you can treat yourself to a daily soupçon. Cheers everyone.
James Beverley first dinner as host, a mix of classic and modernity in terms of both choice of wines and Tony`s matching menu. Our thanks to Peter Rowe for his input – always entertaining!
Guest Speaker: Peter Rowe
Host: James Beverley – Chef: Tony Bell
|Nyetimber, Classic Cuvée, Sussex NV, £36.99
Lovely pale gold with gentle, fine bubbles. Toasty, spicy and complex aromas showing wonderful development after extended ageing in Nyetimber’s cellar. The palate supports these complex aromas with honey, almond, pastry and baked apple flavours. Very fine and elegant with a great combination of intensity, delicacy and length. 60% Chardonnay 30% Pinot Noir 10% Pinot Meunier
|Baron de Badassière, Picpoul de Pinet 2017, £11.99
Pale lemon in colour with a youthful rim. Crisp apple aromas are complemented by a citrus edge. On the palate, it has attractive weight, with a good balance of ripe, yellow plums and greengages and a fresh lime zest acidity that continue through the finish. 100% Picpoul
|Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2017, £19.99
Deliciously aromatic and highly perfumed – exuding ripe nectarine, pink grapefruit and lemon zest with a lifted floral fragrance reminiscent of jasmine and elderflower. Classic ripe Marlborough Sauvignon – with melon and gooseberry flavours and a touch of passionfruit, wound into a generous, mouth-filling palate that finishes dry and crisp. 100% Sauvignon Blanc
|Kim Crawford Pinot Gris, Marlborough 2017, £14.99
Pale straw in colour. Wonderfully lifted orchard fruit notes of ripe pear and apple, with floral notes and hints of clove. The palate is ripe and rich, with a pleasant viscosity. The wine is well balanced, with a touch of fruit sweetness on the crisp finish.100% Pinot Gris
|Giant Steps Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley 2017, £21.99
This wine is very much a sum of its parts, with perfumed cherry characters coming from the Sexton Vineyard, Campari notes from Applejack and Tarraford’s mocha and cocoa earthiness underpinning it. It has vibrant red and blue fruits but a lovely underlying earthiness, with white mushrooms, truffles, savoury spice and forest floor characters. An elegant wine with breadth, structure and viscosity on the palate. 100% Pinot Noir
|El Coto Cote de Imaz, Reserva Rioja 2013, £16.99
Deep ruby red in colour, with a hint of ageing at the rim. The nose has a wide range of delicate red fruit accompanied by smoky nuances and hints of vanilla from the new American oak. On the palate, the wine is velvety and round, with smooth tannins and good acidity. The finish is balanced and long. 100% Tempranillo
|Palazzo della Torre, Allegrini, Veneto 2014, £23.99
Ruby red in colour, Palazzo della Torre has enticing aromas of cherry with rich dark chocolate notes. Velvety in texture, it is well-balanced and offers ripe, juicy dark fruit, with silky tannins and refreshing acidity. 70% Corvina 25% Rondinella 5% Sangiovese
|Entity Shiraz, Barossa Valley 2014, £33.99
Deep ruby with a purple glint. Attractive blackberry and plum aromatics complemented with some savoury spice. On the palate, the Entity is full bodied and generous, with layers of dark berry fruit and youthful balanced tannins. Very pure and mouth filling, with ample structure and great ageing potential. 100% Shriaz
|Sandeman, Late Bottled Vintage Port, 2013, £18.99
On the nose, the wine is intense and complex with aromas of balsamic, rose, basil, red and black fruits, as well as spicy notes of black pepper. On the palate, this wine has a lively acidity and robust tannins, complemented by an incredibly balanced finish. 45% Touriga Franca 30% Tinta Roriz 25% Touriga Nacional
Courgette, fresh anchovy & tapenade palette
Warm ginger & lime prawn salad, watercress
Salmon cube ‘tandoor’, coriander relish
Duck Chuan Rua
Slow-roasted lamb, Rioja beans, saffron potato
White chocolate cream, peach compote