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Champagne: Luxury Personified

Champagne, from the Champagne region in France, is a huge success story. The name itself has become synonymous with celebration and success. Due to its high demand and ever rising high prices it is luxury personified, and inevitably it is copied with cheaper alternatives. Others compete head on, Champagne being the yardstick for premium sparkling wines produced the world over. So what do we know about Champagne? First, styles of Champagne vary enormously. The use of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes generally prevail over minorities such as Pinot Meunier, and more often than not white and red grapes are blended. Exceptions are labelled Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) and Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot Noir). The latter tends to be fuller bodied, as does vintage over non-vintage. Indeed, styles range from zesty, fruity and floral, to yeasty and biscuit-like, to oat and brioche, finally becoming honeyed with age. The famous bubbles, derived from secondary fermentation in bottle, may also vary. The mark of quality is small, persistent bubbles, lasting in the glass; while mature vintage styles tend to have fewer bubbles than non- vintage. The terms `Brut` and `Demi-Sec` on a label indicate the wine is respectively dry and medium-sweet, but they vary in dryness or sweetness according to the Champagne House. What they all share in common is their searing acidity. Grapes barely ripen so far north in France, and it`s this which makes them perfect for sparkling wine production.  It`s also the crisp acidity, together with the wine`s effervescence, which matches so well with oysters, smoked salmon and caviar. However, personally, my favourite way of drinking Champagne is as an aperitif with some small crispy nibble to take away the edge of the wine`s acidity.   The perfect moment is the celebratory announcement or when your guests first arrive for the evening, presenting the opportunity for a chink and cheers – just think how many toasts have been greeted with the pop of a Champagne cork. The mind boggles.

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Desert Island Rhone Valley

Desert Island wine

Not for the first time recently I was asked what my favourite wine is. My answer is always the same: I don`t have one. I love them all – variety the spice of life.  However, if I was on my desert island with one wine region only to draw from, it would be The Rhone Valley. In part, no doubt, this is because I spent some years there in my late teens, when I first fell in love with wine. There is a certain nostalgia which is very real for me. But also it is because I love the purity of the Syrah grape, responsible for the reds of northern Rhone; and I equally adore the hedonism of southern Rhone wines with their mostly Grenache-dominant blends. We have some wonderful examples of both styles in our shop, not least the wines by Michel Chapoutier and Yann Chave. Our most popular is the savoury-rich Seguret by Boutinot. Also, in magnum, Cairanne by Boutinot, this being the best of the Rhone village wines with deliciously open spicy fruits. Some of the top red appellations of northern Rhone, such as Cote Rotie, Cornas and Hermitage, are expensive – grown on steep slopes of decomposed granite they are a real treat for that special occasion with lamb, beef or game; reds to decant and serve with reverence. We also rate as comparable Domaine du Tunnel `St Joseph` (100% Syrah), fabulous with steak. And from the south, there is the magnificently rich, yet fresh, Domaine Lafond `Chateauneuf-du-Pape`. Another: Domaine La Bouissiere `Gigondas`, long time favourite in the shop.   These southern Rhone beauties, muscular and peppery, are typically enjoyed in France with beef and lentil casseroles, as well as the cheeses which inevitably follow. Finally, there`s straightforward Cotes du Rhone Villages. Ours, another by Boutinot, has fresh red fruits and in our house typically partners lamb chops or charcuterie. Within it is the spirit of Rhone, at £11.99 a fine example.

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Claret – an Englishman`s tipple

Claret – an Englishman`s tipple

CLARET, the very name conjures images in my mind of stately homes and butlers and period costumes, the dusty old bottle of 45 being decanted for Sir who is entertaining tonight! Certainly it has been for a long time the world`s big investment wine, with their top wines fetching some of the world`s highest prices. It is an English name, for the red wines of Bordeaux in the south-west of France where the river Garonne flows into the Atlantic. On the gravelly left bank predominantly the Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety is grown, while the right bank is of loam-clay more suited to Merlot. Other Bordeaux red wine grapes include Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The left bank is called Medoc and the right  St Emilion and Pomerol, the former characterised by its cassis, cedar and tobacco characteristics, the latter by its plum, spice and cream.  Both styles we call claret.   Lamb is Medoc`s natural food partner and salt-marsh lamb is raised on the banks to exploit the happy union. Pomerol and St. Emilion wines fair well with lamb too, yet they more than Medoc will be a match for seasoned roast beef and game-birds, the latter being happily prevalent in the nearby pine forests of Landes.  Within Medoc, from north to south, are the appellations St. Estephe, Pauillac, St. Julien, Moulis, Margaux, Pessac-Leognan and Graves.   Also found on the right bank are the lesser known but up-and-coming appellations Blaye, Bourg, Fronsac,  Canon-Fronsac, Lalande-de-Pomerol,  Montagne-St. Emilion, Cotes de Castillon and the exciting Premieres Cotes, which yield supple, often delicious early drinking clarets. If you would like to be acquainted with the red wines of Bordeaux, drop into the shop and have a chat. Our best selling claret is Chateau Jacques Noir 2010, a St Emilion at £26.99 per bottle which ticks all the boxes. If you are looking to impress your dinner guests, look no further! Happy imbibing….

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Burgundy and food

Most of Burgundy`s red wines are produced from the delicate but richly complex Pinot Noir grape, a devil to grow but often highly rewarding. At their simple best they are attractive and light with pure, cherry-like flavours. Richer pickings can be silky-rich with truffle-like aromas. Names such as Richebourg, Romanee-Conti and La Tache are legendary.   Simple Bourgogne Rouge famously matches Coq au Vin but also game casseroles. They are also a wonderful accompaniment to the Sunday Roast, chicken or beef, with a flavoursome, meaty gravy. Richer more expensive reds (especially mature reds) are ideal with simply roasted duck, rabbit or pheasant, or leg of beef.   The whites are produced from the much more accommodating Chardonnay grape which ranges in style from flinty and mineral to rich and buttery. What nearly all of them have in common is their affinity to the local cuisine and to food generally.  Young Chablis is a perfect match for oysters, while Chassagne-Montrachet, for example, is a superb choice with turbot, sole or monkfish. The crisper styles are generally matched with the region`s creamy dishes as well (try Beaune with fish pie), and their fish stew or Bouillabaisse may be enjoyed with either red or white. The bigger whites – indeed, the Great Whites – should be reserved for the richest and best fish, alternatively with lobster or scallops. Incidentally, just as red Burgundy may be chosen with fish (especially when a red wine sauce is used), so may the whites be wholly enjoyed with meats. The region`s classic is Meursault with chicken and truffles (or ceps), but also roast veal, duck and goose. If your pockets are not deep enough, I recommend our Macon wines for less than half the price, the perfect choice wine to match your roast chicken. Finally, from the south of the region we find Beaujolais produced from the Gamay grape grown on decomposed granite. These fragrant reds match magnificently with charcuterie. Why not try ours, by Nicolas Potel, £13.99 per bottle – it`s delicious!

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Last wine-tasting dinner of 2017, 9/11

Unusually, our last dinner of the year, last night, was a mid-week Thursday. A change of vibe then from our usual Friday night before-the-weekend extravaganza. Well no – actually it had every bit the party feel,  So much so, in fact, I keep thinking today is Saturday. Moreover last night had the Christmas feel as well. After Guy Fawkes, Merrill went to work on our Christmas decoration in the shop, and by the time guests arrived we were fully baubled up – the theme for 2017 revealed, in spectacular turquoise and gold. And oh  (ho ho) what fun we had – surrounded by Christmas lights and bottles, drinking Champagne and fine wines, tucking into great grub with lots of chatter and music. An exemplary finale to our 2017 programme of events.  We have several parties to thank for this. First, Merrill, for her creativity. Every year she decorates the shop and this year is another great tribute to her talents. Thanks Merrill. I would also like to thank chef Dominic Carter, of top caterer The Food Station, for the delicious food he served up (menu below). This, his signature menu, was just a little something he cooked up after his years of training at The Great House in Lavenham. We are delighted to be working with Dominic and his partner, Emma Bennett, supplying the wines for their events.  I would also like to thank George Randall, our guest speaker, for entertaining us. What an inspiring, likable young man! Finally my thanks to our paying guests(second time coming) who we hope will come again.

Guest speaker: George Randall

Host: Anthony Borges Chef: Dominic Carter

Champagne Gremillet Sélection Brut, £25.99 – Aperitif

A stunning, award winning Champagne that delivers on all fronts! Fresh floral aromas combine with characteristic sweet brioche overtones, balanced by peach skin and baked biscuit flavours with a crisp citrus finish. Pinot Noir 70%, Chardonnay 30%

Chablis, Domaine de la Motte Vieilles Vignes 2014, £18.99

Low-yielding 40-50 year vines provide for concentrated, rich Chablis with depth of flavour and complexity. The palate remains nervy and fresh to the finish. This is a textured and full-flavoured expression of Chablis.

La Fleur Solitaire, Cotes du Rhone Blanc 2016, £11.99

The nose offers hints of hedgerow flowers and the medium-weight palate is nuanced with apricot and peach. Careful use of oak has added texture and vinosity to this very drinkable white. Grenache Blanc 50%, Viognier 20%, mixed Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Clairette and Marsanne 30%

Dom. des Perserons Saint-Véran, Le Quartier des Girouettes, Burgundy 2015, £16.99

True Mâconnais white with steely elegance and real finesse. This has vibrant citrus fruit and taut minerality. It is a truly good example of a traditional white Burgundy and a delicious food accompaniment. Girouettes are weather vains to be found on the numerous church spires typical of the Mâconnais.

Château de Belleverne, St Amour, Le Cru des Amoureux 2016, £14.99

Master Blender Samantha Bailey chose to work with three cuvées, each one bringing a specific character to the blend combining fruit, structure and finesse to result in a wine that offers delicious wild strawberry fruit aromas with berry flavours backed up by a touch of savoury liquorice providing complexity and a lasting finish

Boutinot ‘Les Coteaux Schisteux’, Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages 2014, £16.99

An impressive classic Séguret – about as good as Côtes du Rhône-Villages gets! Hedionistic  aromas, plush and opulent as ever, layered with exotic spice, cracked black pepper and  crushed vanillin. The palate is instantly appealing, polished and smooth on entry but steeped in depth and texture as the flavours swirl around, lengthen and delight.  Grenache Noir 80%, Syrah 20%

Nieto Don Nicanor Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina 2015, £16.99, £15.00

High quality Malbec from this standout producer. The combination of altitude (1300m) and rocky, calcareous soils provide a platform for Malbec to excel. Intense purple in colour, the wine displays great minerality, fresh herbal notes, spice and beautifully expressive black fruits. The palate is elegant with nice fresh acidity, silky tannins and a long finish.

Champagne Gremillet Rosé d’Assemblage Brut, £36.99, £33.00

Highly acclaimed and highly quaffable Champagne. A delicate yet rich, 100% Pinot Noir rosé from a Pinot Noir specialist, this has a fine mousse, wonderful texture and deliciously tangy finish. Pinot Noir 70%, Chardonnay 30%

 Menu

 Pan Seared Mackerel Fillet

lemon, Caper Berries and Shallot Butter Sauce with Courgette Spaghetti

Corn-fed Chicken with Almond and Sultana Stuffing

Baby Fondant Potatoes and Amaretto Sauce

Beef Wellington, Creamed Parsnip Purée, glazed Tender Sweet Carrots

& Bone Marrow Sauce

Cheese platters

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Alsace wine`s affinity with the local food

A great many wine growing regions of the world have their own specialty dishes which partner superbly with the local wines. More often than not we use this regional knowledge for our own wine and food pairings, but sometimes we have our own take on the theme, or we choose to go our own way entirely. In England we can have the best of everything because in wine and food terms we are the shop window to the world. Let`s take Alsace as an example. Alsace, bordering Germany, expresses its German-French past no better than through its wines, producing distinctive, aromatic wines from Germanic grapes. The principal varieties are Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. With the exception of their “Vendange Tardive” and “Selection Des Grains Nobles” (sweet wines), Alsace wines are technically dry but ripe-tasting with more body (and colour) than their German counterparts; and where German wines are so often characterised by their floral character, Alsace is more savoury with notable spice. Indeed, they can be exotic, hedonistic wines at their best, with great concentration. Where food is concerned, locally they are often consumed with food which is essentially German: pork-based dishes with sweet and fruity condiments or sauces and red cabbage turned sauerkraut.  They also enjoy the wines with smoked fish, smoked meat and a picnic spread of savoury goodies interspersed with chutneys, pickles, gherkins and beetroot in vinegar – happily, the sort of food found in our shop! However, in England we have also adopted Alsace wines as the wine of choice for our Asian food, especially Chinese, Thai and Indian curries.  The wines fleshy ripe-tasting often peach-and-apricot marmalade-like fruits are great absorbers of spice, and they equally work well with sweet-and-sour. The sweet wines are a perfect match with the local Foie Gras, but we recommend them with Wild Boar and Duck Paté, and with cheeses, fruit tarts and fruit salads. Why not try our Alsace Hunawihr Gewurztraminer 2014, a classic for £16.99 per bottle.

 

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Look to the source … and the sauce.

When matching wine with food it is logical to look to the source of the wine to see what the locals eat with them. After all, more often than not the wines have been produced historically with the local foodstuff in mind. Let`s take Argentina: what they have achieved with the Malbec grape, in terms of both its notoriety and the sheer level of flavour concentration, is remarkable. Indeed, it is Malbec`s robust brambly quality they favour above all else at home to accompany their rich, succulent meats, and especially their beef. In Chile their national dish is Ceviche, typically made from fresh fish cured in citrus juices, lemons and limes, and seasoned with onions, salt, coriander and chilli peppers. It is no coincidence they produce vast amounts of citrusy Sauvignon Blanc wines to go with it; they are perfect together. Travel north to California USA and you`ll find their beach barbecues are being washed down with the brambly, fruit-rich red wines of the Zinfandel grape. In Australia the full-bodied fruit-driven Shiraz reds do a similar job, UK`s favourite choice with the barbecue.    There are also influences from elsewhere, naturally – and these will be reflected in the foods and wines produced in any given country. For example the Spanish-Mexican, Italian and French-Mediterranean influences in California brought about their Californian nouvelle cuisine and a new food ethic emerged, and with it new wines to compliment the new foods.   In New Zealand the rich and varied seafood available to them brought about the production of white wines to match, both Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay shining examples. NZ lamb inspired the production of Pinot Noir, the juicy-red meat perfectly suited to the fresh, fragrant red fruits of their elegant Pinot Noir wines. Finally, from South Africa there is the national relish they call Chakalana ..  its own spicy hot-pot relish and its own eponymous wine (by Spice Route) to match. This delicious, spicy red wine is our wine of the week at £14.99 per bottle.

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Starting with Gosset Champagne …

 

A wonderful, relaxed evening in fun company. Our Table of Eighteen evening was a great success last night, starting with a couple of magnums of one of our very best Champagnes, Gosset Grande Reserve. Such a lovely Champagne! Our guest speaker was one Guy Nightingale with whom I had the pleasure of visiting the the Gosset Champagne house some years ago. Of course it wasnt all about Gosset - you can see from the lineup of wines below we enjoyed several other of the Louis Latour Agency wines as well, from Domaine Louis Latour itself in burgundy France to Seresin Estate in New Zealand, Wakefield and McHenry Hohnen in Australia, returning to France`s  Vidal Fleury and Cognac Frapin.  Thank you Guy for an entertaining and informative presentation, and to Tony Bell for the delicious menu. A truly memorable evening.

Guest speaker: Guy Nightingale

Host: Anthony Borges – Chef: Tony Bell

Wine-tasting dinner, 3rd November 2017

Gosset Grande Reserve Champagne, France, Magnum, £110.00 – aperitif

Oldest wine house in the Champagne region, established 1584, Cointreau owned luxury Champagne house, very small production. The blend is 45% Chardonnay,45% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Meurnier. Gosset’s flagship cuvée, this is an award-winning multi-vintage champagne with orchard aromas and a terrific energy combined with richness on the palate. A favourite here at The Wine Centre for many years.

Louis Latour Macon-Lugny, Les Genievres, Burgundy 2015, France, £14.99

A rounded savoury white burgundy with apple and citrus fruits from100% Chardonnay grown on limestone around the village of Lugny in Maconnais, southern Burgundy. Established in 1797

Wakefield St Andrews Chardonnay, Clare Valley, Australia, £26.99

Family owned single-vineyard Chardonnay grown in cool-climate Clare Valley on “Terra Rossa” red/brown soil over limestone. The wine is barrel fermented and stirred on its lees (battonage) before aging on lees in 100% new French oak (from a Burgundian cooper).

Louis Latour “Les Pierre Dorée” Pinot Noir, Coteaux Bourguignons 2016, £19.99

Bright, red-and-black fruited, with floral, spicy aromas to the fore. Crisp, round and ample on the palate.

Seresin Estate Pinot Noir `Leah`, Marlborough, New Zealand, £23.99

Biodynamic wine named after founder Michael Seresin’s daughter, Leah. A complex, perfumed, savoury Pinot Noir with salted-pretzel, redcurrant, berry and strawberry notes. Beautifully balanced wine.

McHenry Hohnen “Rocky Road Shiraz” Margaret River, £16.99

Family-owned and biological farmed, from the creator of Cape Mentelle and Cloudy Bay. A lush wine with rich, ripe red fruits, of raspberry, plum and cherry, together with cola-liquorice hints and sweet spices.

Wakefield Jaraman Shiraz, Clare Valley £21.99

This is a rich, full-bodied wine with intense flavours of ripe dark cherry, plum, blackberry and blueberry fruit, with attractive spicy, charry oak characters of coffee and chocolate. The palate is well balanced with a silky, subtle soft, yet full texture to the mid-palate. The finish is persistent with lingering velvety tannins.

Vidal Fleury Ventoux, £13.99

Owned by Guigal, this is a delicious Rhone with 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache & 10% mixed southern Rhone grapes. The aromas and flavours are an explosive blend of blueberry, cranberry, violet and spices.

Vidal Fleury Muscat de Beaume de Venise VDN, Rhone Valley, France £24.99

Famous sweet wine (Vin Doux Naturel), an unctuous fruit-salad of orange peel, dried apricots, lychee, grapefruit, dried apricot, white peach and honey. Great with fruit based deserts or cheese. 100% Muscat à petit grain.

Cognac VSOP Frapin , £55.00

This evening we finish with a digestive (like Gosset, Cointreau-owned). A 100% Grande Champagne Cognac, its spicy aromas are reminiscent of Christmas: nutmeg, cinnamon, gingerbread and baked apples. The palate is rich, silky and spicy.

Menu

Nem prawn roll, citrus dip

Cornish crab risotto

Roulade of turkey, cranberry reduction

Charred marinade beef, coriander relish

Cheeseboard

Peach compote cream, ginger crumble

Ultra dark chocolate pot