Hello everyone. How are you remembering 75 years since the end of the Second World War? Our way of recognising the occasion will be just a bit different from five years ago 70th anniversary. Some of you will remember our “wine-and-deli tasting party in the garden”. Our boy James produced an emotional video commemorating the fallen which we watched on a big screen, before finishing the evening with a bonfire. Today, during Lockdown Britain, a time in our lives which some of us imagine (rightly or wrongly) must bear certain resemblances to post-war Britain, if not wartime, we will start with two-minutes silence at 11am. We can together reflect on the lives lost back then, the devastation of war, in the cause of defending our nations against a deadly enemy, and the parallel I am suggesting with the enemy we face now, the unseen deadly disease of our time, coronavirus. We can perhaps draw strength from their actions – the wartime heroism and the sacrifices – and go forward from here, against this silent enemy, more resilient, brave and kinder to others. Then tonight, at 9pm, we will join the nation on television for Vera Lynne`s wartime singalong “We`ll Meet Again”. The unspoken poignancy of this moment will not, I am sure, be missed, as we all look forward to the times we can once again hug and kiss our friends and family. We salute Captain Tom, now honorary Colonel, we salute everyone he represents, and we salute the NHS and all the brave folk of our times who are doing their utmost to keep us watered, fed, heathy and safe. And we grieve together for the fallen, of wartime Britain, the then, and the now. Perhaps, if I may suggest it, as the song comes to an end, we can all of us raise a glass, of something, and toast family and friends, past and present.
How is everyone out there? Many of our customers with whom I`m able to engage, by email, telephone, and during our Wednesday pick-up and Thursday delivery service, tell me they are quite enjoying being at home, tending their gardens, soaking up the sun rays. People seem to have adopted their own routines, with walks in the countryside a popular highlight of the day. Opening a nice bottle of wine at supper time is another highlight, of course. And that`s not just in my house! I`m pleased to report that wine has been the nation`s salvation through the coronavirus, or so it would seem, with sales going through the roof. Independent wine merchants are doing especially well, even operating behind closed doors, as many of us are doing. Locally, I see the traditional butchers are doing well too. We have Evans & Sons in Dedham open for business, allowing one person in the shop at a time, and operating a delivery service to the villages; I.H. Kerridge Butchers in Nayland and John Coleman Butchers in Boxted are obviously thriving as well, managing social distancing very well by all accounts. Great Horkesley Post Office and General Stores is doing a roaring trade operating their queuing system, a gargantuan effort there by Anne, Ruth, John and Shailesh. Indeed, though much is said and written (appropriately) about our wonderful NHS, the other keyworkers, shop staff, our posties, the pharmacies, and many, many others, roundly deserve our applause. The list naturally extends to supermarket workers (indeed, they have had to manage the brunt of shopping fever early on) but I do hope, once the virus has passed on, that people will remember the stoicism of the independents, and that they will continue to shop with them long into the future. One individual who I feel deserves special mention: our postie Tony English. He kindly picks up wine orders from us for neighbours and friends who are self-isolating in his village. And always with a smile on his face. Thanks Tony, you`re a superstar! www.thewinecentre.co.uk telephone 271 236 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
After a busy trading day on Saturday (March 21st) we felt compelled to close the shop. Customers were not able to adhere to the 2-metre rule, and frankly too many weren’t even trying. They were touching product, brushing past each other and chatting in groups as though it were any other Saturday. It was impossible to keep everything clean and we felt no-one was safe, not staff or our customers. It`s the nature of retail and the touchy feely shop we have, I suppose. So, after further deliberation finally we closed Monday evening. Our wonderful staff were prepared to keep going, but we didn’t feel it was fair to expose them to the virus unnecessarily. We considered the queue system approach adopted by pharmacies and post offices, but we decided against it when we observed the lack of social distancing, as queues become social groups. Instead, we decided to offer an order service from behind closed doors. We are taking orders and enquiries by email and phone, and we are scheduling for customers to pick up Wednesdays at an appointed time, with delivery to the boot, in our car park, respecting social distancing. Then, Thursdays, we are providing a delivery service to those who are self-isolating. I won`t deny, it`s a strange feeling working like this, alone in the quiet of an empty shop, office and warehouse, but I am glad to be of some service in these difficult times. When I think of others, though, on the front line daily, I am truly humbled. I think the NHS staff should roundly receive medals once this is all over, and many others too, brave souls putting themselves at risk to help others. They really are the best of mankind. By contrast there are those out there downplaying this virus, heedless of government advice (less this week, thankfully, the message is finally getting through), and there are the worms in our society, those criminals and conmen without conscience who are exploiting the epidemic, taking advantage of our fear and our vulnerable. The worst of mankind. Let`s all be mindful of them. And be safe everyone. www.thewinecentre.co.uk email@example.com 01206 271 236
Is there a right glass for drinking wine? Over the years we have seen quite a few wrong glasses. Let`s look at these first: Do you recall the old Paris glass with the stubby stem and small bowl? What a horrible glass that was, not just ugly and inelegant, its bowl so small and shallow it would inevitably be filled two-thirds full, as opposed to an ideal one-third; near impossible therefore to smell the wine`s aroma. Such a thick rim, too! No wonder it became obsolete. Remember the saucer-shaped Coupe glass, used for Champagne, apparently designed in the image of Marie Antoinette`s left breast. Or so I heard! Presumably before the revolutionists chopped her head off. It was in truth always quite a pretty glass, just no good whatsoever for Champagne. Way too open-mouthed and shallow with too much surface area for bubbles. Then there was the “V” glass you find in department stores. Considered trendy they nonetheless lack bowl and open outwards, rather than inwards, letting the wine`s aroma escape. So, what is it that makes a good wine glass? From what I have written about a bad wine glass, you may deduce that a good one would naturally need to have at least a small bowl and ideally incline inwards at the top; or it requires a chimney to help channel the wine`s aromas. The dual functions of swirling and sniffing are served by these design elements. Size doesn’t really matter, except on a wholly personal level I like a big one because it feels grand. But also – a big glass helps aerate the wine, giving it full expression. But we shouldn’t underestimate how important it is for our enjoyment of wine to use glasses which make us feel good. A thin lip. Light and airy. Elegant. Cristal. Nicely polished. Drinking wine first with the eyes and the nose. But also, by touch – the right balance, weight, feel. My absolute favourite is the Riedel `Vinum` Pinot Noir glass, but if you favour a big chimney try their `Vinum` Bordeaux. Enquiries welcome.
Guest speaker: Julie Maitland; Host: Anthony Borges
Chef: Dominic Carter
Paul Cluver Riesling, Elgin 2018 £16.99
PROPER Riesling, grown in shale rich soils with 19g/l residual sugar. This lovely Riesling has appealing blossomy aromas, followed by a fleshy sweet mouthful of green apple and citrus fruits. There is a great interplay between the naturally retained residual sugar and the wine`s limey acidity. Its minerality adds to the wine`s structure and lingering after taste. 100% Riesling.
Bouchard Finlayson `Sans Barrique` Chardonnay, Cape South Coast 2018, £16.99
The “Sans Barrique” cuvée comes from fruit grown on two unique vineyard sites and sees no wood, which is the key to its crisp, clean personality. It is fresh and lemony with notes of pear, quince and orange blossom. A focused wine with a lively, bracing core, it finishes with a creamy hint which expands over the length of the palate. 100% Chardonnay
Donkiesbaai Steen, Piekenierskloof 2018, £26.99
This wine is from high-altitude Chenin Blanc grapes (known as Steen locally) from the mountainous Piekenierskloof wine region. It exhibits a parade of white peach, wax and dried herbs/fynbos aromas. Richly flavoured, the palate is of crunchy apple, yellow fruit and lemon cream underscored by a cracking line of acidity and a persistent saline finish. 100% Chenin Blanc Platter: 4.5* Tim Atkin MW: 90 pts
Catherine Marshall `On Sandstone` Pinot Noir, Elgin 2018, £18.99
Catherine Marshall embraces a minimalist and natural approach to winemaking with attention to the integrity of Pinot Noir specifically cultivated on lighter, sandstone soils. The wine has a purity of fruit encompassing a spectrum of aromas and flavours, of pomegranate, cranberry and red cherry fruits supported by an elegant and savoury frame, finishing long and complex. Reminiscent of a fine Beaune. 9-12 months in French oak. 100% Pinot Noir. Platter: 4.5* Tim Atkin MW: 91 pts
Rustenberg John X Merriman, Stellenbosch 2017, £16.99
A great estate, this wine, a Bordeaux style red wine blend, is named after a previous 19th century owner. The John X Merriman is a powerful wine that rewards aging. In its youth the wine is worth decanting and expresses cassis, black currant and dark fruits complemented with cigar tobacco and sour cherry notes. As the wine ages and its fine-grained tannins soften a velvety texture develops revealing wonderful drinkability and tertiary complexity. 20 months in French oak. A blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc.
Rust En Vrede Estate Wine, Stellenbosch 2016, £34.99
This is Rust En Vrede`s flagship wine, a veritable reflection of its terroir and another wine that ages well. Aromas are of blackberry, backed by hints of fresh leather, tobacco leaf and dark chocolate. The palate replicates the nose with earthy flavours brought forward by dark fruits, leading to a lengthy finish with soft, velvety tannins. This is a complex wine of substance, focus and fruit intensity. 22 months in French oak. 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Syrah, 9% Merlot. Platter: 5* Tim Atkin MW: 92 pts
Kaapzicht “Skuinsberg” Old Bush Vine Cinsaut, Stellenbosch 2018, £18.99
Skuinsberg is Kaapzicht`s steepest slope, where these old bush vines grow relatively small bunches of intense, brambly fruit. Fermentation is carried out in 500l French oak casks. The wine has a lovely savoury character with sun-dried strawberry, red cherry, redcurrant and a bramble berry fruit nose. Full and fleshy on the palate, the red fruits have a delicious sour note and saline acidity, finishing long. 100% Cinsaut
Lemberg Wine Estate “Louis” Tulbagh 2016, £21.99
Wild herb-scented Mediterranean style red from Tulbagh Valley, surrounded by mountains. The wine is intense in colour, with aromas of dark fruit, spice and earth. The palate is complex, with plush mulberry and raspberry fruits beautifully backed up by well-integrated oak. The full body and juicy tannins give way to a lengthy, elegant finish. 18 months French oak. A blend of 52% Syrah, 32% Mourvèdre and 12% Grenache.
Hooiwijn Donkiesbaai, Piekenierskloof, South Africa 2016 (half-bottle), £22.99
“Hooiwijn” translates to ‘straw wine’ in Afrikaans, which refers to the straw racking used to dry the grapes in the making of this sweet wine. The racks are turned twice a week by hand and the juices concentrate. The resultant wine is a complex sweet wine with notes of apricot, peach, pineapple, honeysuckle and caramel. The wine shows excellent balance between sweetness and acidity, with a long, lingering, fresh finish. 100% Chenin Blanc (Steen)
Baked Cod Fillet Creamy Cauliflower Puree & Beurre Noisette
Oregano & Garlic Marinated Chicken Roasted Squash, Red onion & Green Olive Chunky Tomato, Red Pepper and Basil Vinaigrette
Grilled Bavette Steak Charred Sweetcorn & Cherry Vine Tomatoes Chimichurri Sauce
Wine Centre`s Cheese Board
Stem Ginger and White Chocolate Crème Brulée Shortbread Biscuits
February 28th, 2020
I can`t over-emphasise the importance of serving your wines at the right temperature. I don`t mean the exact temperature. You really don`t need an instrument to tell you what feels right. However, in case you are the sort of wine enthusiast who likes gadgets (I am not) there are plenty around, ranging from colour-coded liquid crystal thermometer strips, to handheld infrared guns which provide digital readings. Consensus offers the following guidelines in degrees centigrade: full-bodied reds 17-18, medium-bodied reds 14-16, light reds 10-12, full-bodied whites 10-12, medium-bodied whites 9-11, light whites 6-8, sparkling whites 5-10, full-bodied sweet 8-12, light sweet 6-10. These are useful numbers to know, but not necessary. What`s key is to understand wine`s weight, or body, is a factor in determining wine`s ideal temperature. Really only the very light white wines, and especially sparkling light wines, are best served properly chilled from the fridge. What I call “cellar-temperature” is best for almost everything else, when the bottle is cool to touch. A tad cooler for full-bodied whites, maybe. Avoid “warm to touch” bottles and forget all about the red wine serving misnomer “room-temperature”; I think the term must have been invented in Victorian times, before central heating. Wines served lightly chilled, say, one hour out of the fridge, will be about right, just on the cool side of “cellar”. In my mind, too many reds are drunk too warm, and too many whites drunk too cold. And all too many restaurants take insufficient care to get it right. If you are ever served a warm, sweaty, alcoholic red, for goodness sake ask the waiter to chill down the bottle for you. In a matter of minutes, the smell of alcohol will have abated and the fruit quality improved noticeably. If you are having a summer wedding and it turns out to be a scorcher, have your caterer on red alert! At home, keep your wines, red and white, in the coolest possible place. And don`t waste your money on expensive wines, only to ignore my temperature advice. Cheers everyone!
What a trip! From the moment the plane hit the tarmac to our departure, a kaleidoscope of sounds, colours, tastes and smells. Our first township: chaotic, overcrowded, sprawling; sheet upon sheet of corrugated metal. Next, ebullient, colourful Cape Town: the Bo-Kaap, Signall Hill, Lion`s Head, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. The romantic sunset viewed from the top of Table Mountain, and the town`s natural amphitheatre lit up at night. Then, a drive round the Cape`s rocky peninsular: to Simon`s Town and Boulder`s Beach; our first view of False Bay from the shore, surrounded by hundreds of noisy penguins. A visit to the south west tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, famously circumnavigated by Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Dias in 1486, pathing the way for Europeans to trade in Asia. And our first winery visit, to Klein Constantia where we tasted the legendary sweet wine Vin de Constance. A wine drunk by Kings and Queens. Napoleon drank it on the island of St Helena to find solace in his lonely exile. Now we were sipping the wine, in this great place dating back to 1685, set amidst ancient trees with views across beautiful False Bay. Then we had a taste of something quite different: the wilderness. The feeling of vastness and the hot smell of dust as we drove through the Karoo with our guide, sighting lion, rhinoceros, elephant, buffalo, springbok, giraffe and hippo. Then, the turn of Stellenbosch, Western Cape`s wine capital, and beautiful Franschhoek, founded three hundred years ago by Huguenot settlers. And we visited one wine growing region after another, each with its stories to tell. Stories of human perseverance, passion and daring. We tasted one wine after another: super-fresh grassy Sauvignon, lemon-meringue Chardonnay, vibrant-tangy Pinotage, cassis-scented velvet Cabernet Sauvignon. Wines I hope to bring home, to Great Horkesley, among them Rustenberg, Rust En Vrede, Catherine Marshall, Kanonkop, Kaapzicht, Darling Cellars, Lemberg, Bouchard Finlayson, Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Paul Cluver. And may these bottles long in the future rekindle many happy memories. Cheers everyone!
I get lots of questions like our heading today. In a way they seem childish, like “How is it the sun and the moon can just sit in the sky?” Yet try answering and you find yourself on a sticky wicket. But I`ll try. The wine question, I mean! First, it can be a simple case of numbers. The economies of scale. Farming large flat spaces is cheaper than cultivating vines on steep, difficult to access slopes. It`s naturally possible to produce a cheaper product if your vines bear plentiful fruit, as compared to vines which don’t. Further savings are made throughout the winemaking processes, right the way through to large, versus small, bottling runs. Similarly, transporting large volumes of wine represents a cost saving over the transportation of small volumes, an advantage the supermarket chains have over us independent wine merchants. In the end, though, low-yielding fruit and the small-time producer would lose every time if the measure was volume and low price alone. Their bottles simply would not exist on our shelves. In fact, they wouldn’t exist, and us independents likely wouldn’t either. We would be reduced to a homogenous world of large corporate wine producers and supermarket chains. But happily, there are many such wines, and we thank the stars for them. Indeed, many of them are family concerns, passed from generation to generation. Because there`s the second factor in this equation in answer to the titled question: the matter of quality and diversity. Some wines are simply better and more interesting than others, and inevitably more expensive. Producer X has chosen the tricky south-east facing slope despite the high cost of cultivating his vines, exactly because they produce low yields of concentrated, delicious fruit. He then chooses to mature his wines in expensive oak barrels to make the best possible wine. In return we are asked to pay a higher price. It`s simple economics, but if you don`t drink decent wine you may not value the distinction. Mercifully a great many of us do.
It can be a risky business, winemaking. The pursuit of excellence often requires nerve and daring. Yet more and more winemakers are going to the brink. New vineyards are springing up in areas once considered not practical and far too risky for the growing of wine grapes, such as those at high altitudes, and locations close to the sea. The aim, always, in warm climate countries, increasingly with global warming, is to seek out cool micro-climates for as long a growing season as possible. In this way grapes develop more flavour intensity and complexity, and wines are fresher. Many cool climate countries, conversely, are benefitting from more sunshine days. In England, for example, we are growing grapes such as Chardonnay which, except for the making of sparkling wines, wouldn’t have quite ripened well enough even just a few years ago. Of course, for nigh on two thousand years wine grapes have been grown high on steep slopes, such as on the Douro terraces in Portugal, for example, but in 2020 the practice is worldwide, and think of the winemaking improvements over the centuries, especially the last few decades. We`ve never had is so good. Science and technology, and investment in winemaking, have all been a part of this sea change over the years. We are in a mature, evolved place in 2020. We should think ourselves lucky. Extensive clone selection, mature vines, best possible sites. Have you ever visited a modern winery? Pick any. They are a far cry from the romantic image of a horse and cart, dusty old wine barrels and a flat-capped aged winemaker with a fag hanging from his mouth. Yet they produce better wines, truthfully: more elegant, cleaner, and pure of fruit; better with food. Yet it occurs to me: are we living in the golden age of winemaking? Could global warming tip the wine world off balance in future years? Just how many new landscapes can winemakers test to escape the heat? And how many of the cool-climate grapes will simply disappear, replaced by warm-climate grapes? Enjoy the good times, folks, they may not be forever.
Have you got your loved one the ideal Christmas present? For me, the perfect gift is a bottle of something special. Perhaps a bottle of red burgundy which is a price he or she wouldn’t ordinarily pay for him or herself. Or it could be the Champagne you both tasted together that first time. Or a wine from Puglia, where you went on honeymoon. Think of the connection which will make your partner smile. How thoughtful. Yet, my wife doesn’t agree with me. How thoughtless (her face revealed) as I presented my gift to her, carefully wrapped in tissue, in a Christmas gift bag, from our shop. The sentiment went right over her head. It was a bottle of Chateau Capion Le Chemin des Garennes Blanc, Languedoc 2016. Earlier that year we had stayed in the Chateau gardens, in a guest house among the vineyards. We had tasted together the exact same wine, overjoyed by its deliciousness with the chicken liver paté. It was a very special “moment”, or so I thought. Which just goes to show how hard it is to strike the right chord. How easy it is to mistake one`s own ideal gift, for that of one`s partner. Had she given the bottle to me I would have been blown away. This year we holidayed in Tuscany, so a bottle for Christmas of the San Polo Brunello di Montalcino, Toscana 2013 wouldn’t go amiss, if you`re reading this, Mrs Borges. Naturally I won`t reveal the nature of my gift to her in this blog, suffice to say it didn’t come from our shop! Seriously though, if you are struggling to find a last-minute gift, you could do worse than stop by The Wine Centre. We have it all. Over five hundred bottles, hampers, glassware, handbags, toiletries, clothes, jewellery, ticketed events, vouchers. And you can be sure of some fun when you visit us too, with plenty of festive magic and tasty morsels from our deli on taste, perhaps even Chateau Capion Le Chemin des Garennes Blanc, our own private joke, eh everyone. Happy Christmas!