Our recent trip to Scotland had many highlights, among them Gleneagles, bagpipes, Scottish dancing, Cream Tea at The Balmoral, and the Edinburgh pubs and restaurants. Perhaps the most memorable was beautiful Loch Lomond surrounded by the Trossachs and their snow-capped bens, glens and forests. And the castles, of course: Stirling was magic – in the bleakness of mid-Winter, Robert the Bruce standing tall, the killing fields below us where the infamous Battle of Bannockburn was fought; with the mist all around images came unbidden of the film `Braveheart` and Mel Gibson`s William Wallace, a monument to Wallace appropriately visible on a hilltop nearby. On another bitter cold day, we walked in lowland moorlands, surrounded by prickly gorse and feathery heather. It was a grey overcast day and colours were muted, but it had a raw, harsh beauty about it, underlined by the biting wind. A local told us to come back in Springtime to see for ourselves the bright yellow bloom of the gorse, or in August, to see the spectacular lilac-purple of the heather: the flower of Scotland. It was there I had my first whisky of the trip, a warming 10 year-old Glengoyn, sweet and spicy. It rekindled an old passion, having not drunk whisky since my last trip to Scotland in my early thirties. I had strayed, giving myself to wine. It took this trip to rediscover days gone by “auld lang syne”. I had always loved the Highland whiskies. My first ever 12 year-old was The Dalmore, silky-rich and luxurious. It is no coincidence I have always stocked it. In equal measure I always recoiled from the salty, iodine-peat of many of the Islay malts, Laphroaig and others. I like the idea of these – the smoke – the terroir of Scotland. Somehow, in Winter, these whiskies appear to reflect this harsh, misty land more than the others. Yet my palate appears unchanged in all these years, except I have a greater appreciation now of some of the lighter, more subtle lowland malts, The Glenkinchie 12 year-old my favourite.
My life has unquestionably been enriched as a result of my passion for wine and my life`s work in the wine trade, yet the one stain on this tapestry, on the drinks industry itself, is the disease we call alcoholism. It is an affliction I have not suffered personally, but one I have witnessed close to – so I know something of the misery it can cause. We, in the trade, take the matter very seriously. The Portman Group, founded in 1989 by the industry`s key players to promote responsible drinking, continues to do a fantastic job. As a licence holder I am committed to following the group`s code of practice and to doing my utmost to prevent underage drinking, drink-driving and alcohol abuse. Every licence holder in the country has this charge. Yet the scourge of alcoholism is persistent. Any one of us can succumb when we are vulnerable, and some are innately more susceptible to addiction than others. Still others may simply get caught unawares, regularly drinking too much without realising the implications until they are bitten. And excessive drinking can happen as a result of loneliness, unhappiness and even pain. Unfortunately, whatever brings them to the addiction, inevitably the person with a serious alcohol problem becomes a bore, a burden, and a cost, to family, friends and society. Drinking heavily may well bring the afflicted some solace, but eventually the addiction is enslaving, and he or she is variously ebullient, loud, confused, defiant, angry, regretful, emotional, resentful, unhappy. We try to reason with them, but that is to assume they are rational. Alcoholics can rarely stop drinking of their own volition. In fact, what is required is professional help. If you are worried about your own or someone else`s drinking, you can call this free national helpline in complete confidence: Tel: 0300 123 1110. Alternatively, there are support groups in most towns, including support groups for affected family and friends. After all, they are victims of alcoholism too, by proxy. Details of support groups are available on the NHS alcohol support website.
Our special thanks to Peter Rowe, Dominic Carter and last but not least, our delightful, enthusiastic guests! A wonderful Burns night without a haggis or whisky on the menu, with nonetheless due respect given to the great man, and a fun time had by everyone. Cheers all!
Guest Speaker: Peter Rowe Host: Anthony Borges – Chef: Dominic Carter
|Devaux D. Rosé Champagne, France, £55.00
The most delicate of the Devaux Rosé Champagnes (aged 5 years) with the Chardonnay contributing a firm, elegant freshness to the palate. Fresh red fruit aromas from the Pinot Noir, grown on the slopes of the Côte des Bars, combine with a hint of hazelnut complexity which was encouraged by extended ageing on the lees when in bottle. 53% Pinot Noir, 47% Chardonnay
|Château de Fontenille, Entre-Deux-Mers, Bordeaux, France 2016, £15.99
Light gold in colour. The nose is complex and pure, with aromas of citrus fruit and white peaches. Full-bodied, with fresh acidity, the palate is well balanced. The lingering finish has a pleasant pepperiness to it. 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sauvignon Gris, 20% Semillon, 20% Muscadelle
|Cave de Hunawihr Gewurztraminer Réserve, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France 2016, £17.99
A pale, straw yellow colour. The nose is very complex with very delicate aromas of lychee, mango and particularly rose. Full-bodied, this off-dry wine has a refreshing acidity with roses lingering on the long finish. 100% Gewürztraminer
|Dominique Morel Fleurie, Beaujolais, France 2016, £19.99
This wine is full of expressive Gamay characteristics with elegant violet, iris and red fruit aromas and a palate bursting with velvety tannins. An elegant wine with a long finish, from old Gamay vines. Pre-fermentation maceration of whole bunches was followed by semi-carbonic maceration (70% whole bunch, 30% destemmed grapes). 100% Gamay
|San Polo Rosso di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy 2016, £24.99
The Rosso has a bright and glossy ruby red colour. On the nose, it has aromas of fresh berries, Morello cherry and blackberries that are complemented by a hint of vanilla spice. This is a fragrant, intense wine with smooth, finely-balanced tannins and a persistent, aromatic finish. 100% Sangiovese
|San Polo Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy 2013, £56.99
In the glass, this Brunello has an intense ruby red colour with garnet hues. The typical aromas of violets and small red berries are followed by hints of vanilla, cedar and coffee. On the palate, it is full-bodied and warm with a densely-woven texture and robust tannins, while the finish is persistent and rounded.
|Spice Route `Chakalaka`, Swartland, S. Africa 2015, £18.99
A deep ruby red colour. Aromas of clove and subtle white pepper followed by plum with hints of elegant spice. A luscious and rich palate followed by smooth, integrated oak and well-balanced tannins. 46% Syrah/Shiraz, 15% Carignano/Carignan, 13% Mourvedre, 10% Tannat, 8% Petite Sirah, 8% Grenache/Garnacha
|Poggio al Tesoro `Il Seggio` Bolgheri, Italy 2015, £28.99
Intense ruby red in colour with aromas of fresh crunchy red berries enriched with mineral and spicy notes. The red fruit follows onto the palate which is medium bodied with elegant silky tannins and a lively clean finish. ‘Seggio’ is the name of the creek that runs through Bolgheri – its course is represented on the label.40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot.
|Dandelion Vineyards `Legacy of Australia` Barossa Valley Pedro Ximénez, Australia £19.99
Deep amber/ochre fading to a rusty orange hue. Extraordinary nose of crème brulée, citurs peel, maple syrup, almonds, figs and raisins. Sweet and rich on the palate with vibrant acidity and flavours of candied fruit, citrus, apricot, dried figs and toffee. 100% Pedro Ximénez
Sesame, Soy and Ginger Marinated Salmon Skewers with an Asian Cucumber & Radish Salad
Sicilian Olive Stuffed Sardines on a Bed of Roast Fennel, Parsley, Lemon and Pine Nuts
Confit Duck Leg with Minted Fine Beans & Lardons, Dark Plum & Shallot Sauce and Grilled Honey Peach
Apricot and Almond Baked Cheesecake with Amaretto Caramel Sauce
“Alcohol-Free” is a relatively new category of drink within the “Soft Drinks” category – this being, traditionally, drinks without alcohol, such as cola, lemonade, ginger beer and so on. The Americans call these Pop & Soda, being mostly sweet and fizzy, for consumption primarily by children. The emerging sub-category (the “Alcohol-Free”) include, by the way, the less than 0.5% abv, encompassing wine, punch, elderflower, spirits, cider and beer. These, many of them new to market, have been designed for drinking by adults as alternatives to alcoholic drinks; they are also often, but by no means always, drier alternatives to the Pop & Soda types. These dry varieties, usually red and white still wines (aka, of the grape) usefully go better with food, and they are equally in-trend for being relatively low in sugar. Torres Natureo red, white and rosé are good examples. Braes o Gowrie Elderflower sparkling is a popular alternative, produced at Cairn O`Mohr Winery in Scotland, using elder blossoms. Then there are fruit-farmers, such as Belvoir, who produce decent alcoholic- free punches, made with a variety of juices and spring water. Their “Shiraz without the hangover” is a mix of blackcurrant, white grape, elderberry, flavour extracts and 11% Shiraz red grape! It`s hardly wine, but it`s more grown up than Pop and Belvoir recommend it with steak, no less! Seedlip is the spirit brand we stock, a distilled non-alcoholic botanical drink served with Fever Tree mixers. For the youngsters there`s Sweden`s Kopparberg alcohol-free cider, targeting the one-third of all 18-34 year olds who don`t drink alcohol. Finally, there`s alcohol-free beer. These have been produced by brewers in the mirror-image of their leading brands. So, for example, Beck`s Blue 0.05% abv alongside Beck`s 4.8%, and most recently Adnams Ghost Ship 0.5% abv joining regular Ghost Ship 4.5% on the shelf, an excellent likeness and very popular with our customers. Truly the nominated driver has never had it so good. And with the growing numbers who are curbing their alcohol intake the Alcohol-Free category has never been better placed.
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.