jamie goode's wine blog

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Trimbach at Trinity

Last night had a great food and wine experience. It was a dinner with Jean Trimbach (above right) providing the wines (some of Alsace's best) and the wonderful Trinity restaurant in Clapham providing the food. Chef Adam Byatt (above left) began the evening with a pig butchery demonstration, which I'll cover separately. It really was an embarassment of riches.

I was one of two wine journos, along with Tim Atkin. Also present: Robert Mackintosh (@thirstforwine), Denise Medrano (@thewinesleuth), Douglas Blyde (@foodguardian), Helen Graves (@foodstories), Niamh Shields (@eatlikeagirl) and Ben Smith of Enotria. It was a jolly crowd.

On this showing, Trinity is a superb restaurant of Michelin star standard. Truffled white onion and thyme veloute (above) was really beautifully flavoured and textured, and nicely presented.

This is about as pretty and funky as we get with food,' says Adam as he introduces the next course. It's a combo of smoked eel, steamed osyter and goujons of sole with a leek terrine and horseradish sauce. Brilliantly executed: I particularly liked the leek.

The best course followed: the pigs trotter on toasted sourdough with fried quail egg, sauce gribiche and crackling. Byatt describes the pigs trotter as a signature dish, and says its the best selling starter on the menu: people feel they can take a chance with their starters. 'Eating out should be about new experiences,' he says.

Then it was the belly pork with black olive oil mash, braised celery hearts and cockle and saffron vinaigrette. This wasn't quite up to the stellar standards of the other courses, IMHO. The old spot belly was cooked for 16 hours in a water bath at 68 C. Then the skin and fat is removed, and the pork glazed in maple syrup and pan fried. For me, it lacked the texture and softness of the best belly pork, and I actually find the fat the most delicious bit.

We finished off with quince tart tatin and honey ice cream that was just about perfect.

The Trimbach wines were really good. They're one of Alsace's leading producers, and make their wines in quite a precise, drier style. The Riesling 2007 is pretty good, in a fresh, citrussy, slightly mineral style. Pinot Gris Reserve Personelle 2002 was just superb, with rich, intense fruit with some sweetness but finishing dry and a bit mineral. Pinot Noir Reserve 2007 was really good for an Alsace Pinot, but that's not saying much. It's an attractive, slightly leafy Pinot but not as good as the other wines. Then three vintages of the wonderful Cuvee Frederic Emile Riesling. 1997 is fresh, limey and mineral, just starting to peak. 2004 is beautiful, with lovely freshness, focus and complexity. The star, though, was the thrilling 2001 375th anniversay cuvee, which is perhaps the very best dry Riesling that I've tasted, with lovely precision and minerality. This was kindly provided by sommelier Rupert Taylor from his list. Then we finished with the wonderful Gewurztraminer Selection des Grains Nobiles 1989: beautifully textured and spicy without too much sweetness.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Get thee down to Whole Foods Market: very good wine list and excellent wine bar

I had lunch today at the wine bar in the Whole Foods Market store on High Street Kensington, with their wine buyer Pete Hogarth and PR person Alex Tunney, who'd invited me to come and see what they are up to.

The wine range at Whole Foods is simply brilliant. It's a mix of conventional and natural wines, and is full of interest. In particular, the Italian and regional French ranges are superb, with strength in depth and an array of natural wines that is simply unparalleled in London.

The wines aren't overpriced, although they are not the cheapest, either (some seemed a bit on the expensive side, such as JM Stephan’s Côte Rôtie at £75, but is probably a function of what the wines were purchased for).

Browsing the shelves I found perhaps two dozen wines that I'd have bought on the spot if I'd been shopping. This is unusually good.

The best bit is that the wine bar allows customers to take a wine off the shelf, pay for it at the till, and then drink it at the bar with no extra corkage at all. That is seriously cool. The food options at the bar aren't too extensive, but what there is is very good. We had one each of the tartines (these are open sandwiches with a range of charcuterie and cheese toppings), raclette, a large plate of Italian charcuterie and some generous-sized slabs of Montgomerie Cheddar and cave-aged Gruyere.

These were washed down with three very interesting wines.

Angiolino Maule I Masieri 2008 Garganega del Veneto IGT
12% alcohol. 60% Garganega, 40% Trebbiano, made with some skin contact and with low sulfur dioxide (50 mg/litre). Yellow colour. Lovely bright, minerally, appley fruit here with some gently spicy notes. Quite complex with real personality. After a while in the glass it begins to pick up more complexity, with grapefruit pith and mandarin notes, as well as subtle matchstick complexity. A lovely natural wine. 91/100 (£11.99 Whole Foods Market)

Roagna Langhe Rosso 2001 Piedmont, Italy
13% alcohol. Long skin maceration, aged for years in large Slavonian oak casks, with just a touch of sulfur dioxide at bottling. This wine comes from Barbaresco: it's Roagna's younger vines and those at the bottom of the slope. But it's better than most Barolos or Barbarescos. Wonderfully savoury and elegant with subtly earthy cherry fruit, together with some spicy notes. There's a nice texture: while this is fairly tannic, there's a smoothness and elegance to the palate, with refined, complex spicy, earthy notes under the fruit. Very Burgundian style of Nebbiolo, and drinking beautifully now. 93/100 (£24.99 Whole Foods Market)

Veramar Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2007 Virginia, USA
13.4% alcohol. This is my first Virginian wine, and I'm just so impressed. It's got lovely purity of fruit, and real old world elegance. Clean red berry and cherry fruit nose with some sweetness and no greenness, and just a subtle chalky minerality hinting at the varietal origin. The palate shows lovely focused midweight berry fruits with great purity and balance. It reminds me a little of a Central Otago Pinot Noir, with its lovely stylish, focused fruit. Really delicious and quite serious. 90/100 (£16.99 Whole Foods Market)

Disclosure: I didn't pay for my lunch.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cheese, a great NZ Riesling and a great restuarant

I'm currently sitting at my desk, eating a simple tea of bread rolls and Comte cheese, drinking an understated, rather elegant New Zealand Pinot Noir (Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand).

Cheese and bread is understated as a meal. But you get all you could want from it: deliciousness, calories (cheese is amazingly calorific), protein, carbohydrates and wine compatibility. I really love decent Comte, and even middling Comte will work when the good stuff isn't available. [I'm also going through a bit of a Gruyere phase. It's similar in texture and not too far apart in flavour.]

The Pinot Noir works OK with the cheese, but perhaps a complex, nutty Chardonnay would be better. Or maybe an off-dry Alsace Pinot Gris.

The reason I'm eating late is because I've been playing football. Scored another glory goal today. I won't talk you through it.

Had a lovely lunch with Fiona today at a restaurant that exceeded expectations by some distance. We trecked out to The Royal Oak in Paley Street, near Maidenhead. It's a high-end gastropub, but the food was Michelin star standard. We'll be going back. The sommelier is fantastic, and has put together a really interesting list, drawing on a range of suppliers. It's so refreshing to come to a wine list where the wines are all real wines (not on-trade-only 'made-up' lines), and where there is a diverse selection, even in the wine by the glass range.

We chose the Framingham Classic Riesling 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand. This is a brilliant wine from New Zealand's top Riesling producer, and it's by some distance the best NZ Riesling I've tried of late. It's dry, but with great acidity and some sweetness in the mid-palate.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lunch with Marcelo Papa, and a very sexy Syrah

Had lunch yesterday with one of Chile's most able and influential winemakers: Marcelo Papa of Concha y Toro. He's in charge of the wines from Chile's largest wine company; fortunately for Chile, Concha over-deliver at every price point.

Their Casillero del Diablo brand is a big one, but the wines are really good. For example, 1.2 million cases of the Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 were made, but quality isn't compromised. With such large volumes, three blends of this are usually made during the year. 'I try to make them as similar as possible,' says Marcelo.

We met in the Kensington Wine Rooms (nearest tube: Notting Hill Gate) which was impressive. The food was excellent - good modern bistro style - and they have five enomatic wine preserver machines, which means that they are able to offer tasting pours (currently these are illegal measures, but this is about to change) of a wide range of wines, in the same way that The Sampler in Islington currently does.

Marcelo's main theme? It's the move away from the central wine regions (e.g. Colchagua, Rapel, Maipo, Maule) to the newer coastal regions (San Antonio, Leyda, Elqui, Limari, Casablanca) for white wines. The key to this shift has been water availability, and the result of moving to cooler coastal areas has been much better whites. Watch out for the new wave of Chilean white wines!

But of all the wines we tried, it was a red that really wowed me. It's the Maycas del Limari Syrah Reserva Especial 2006 Limari Valley. At £12.49 in Majestic this is a total bargain. Marcelo had decanted it, and it was showing amazing texture, richness and elegance, with loads of sweet dark fruit and persistent but fine-grained tannic structure. If Majestic have any left (they only have it in about half their stores), then this a definite buy.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Social media encounter: the L'Anima wine list challenge

I took part in a social media experiment today. Before you all groan and close your browser windows in desperation, let me explain what this was about.

It was an initiative by high-end Italian restaurant L'Anima to engage with the wine twitter/blogger community to help shape their wine list. The official spiel is:

On Monday, August 24th 2009 the select group of wine enthusiasts will taste and rate a selection of wines (click here to see the full list) – and probably share a lot of thoughts, pictures and video via twitter (check it out between 3pm and 5pm on Monday). Unfortunately, these wine enthusiasts rarely agree with each other. So, the three most contentious categories will be put to a public vote, via this site for YOU
to vote on. Tasters will be:

Gal Zohar (@zoharwine)
Dan Coward (@bibendumwine)
Jamie Goode http://twitter.com/jamiegoode)
Douglas Blyde (@douglas_blyde)
Anthony Rose (@antrose33)
Denise Medrano (@thewinesleuth)

All we ask is that you watch each team’s short video explaining why you should support their choices, and then give us your vote. The winning selections will then be listed in the restaurant. Simple and fair.

So we tasted through five flights, each of three candidates, and then were paired in teams to present our opinions on the three most contentious categories. As I write, the videos still aren't online, which takes a bit of the immediacy away from the whole venture. But when they are, do take a look and make your vote. You stand to win a bottle of each of the winners, so it's probably worth it.

So, a question. Do you feel this is a useful experiment, or just a gimmick?
[Pictured above: Anthony, Gal and Douglas.]

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lunch at Scotts

Had a lovely lunch today at Scott's in Mayfair, a really smart slebby fish-oriented restaurant that's part of the Caprice Holdings group (includes Caprice, The Ivy, J Sheekey et al). I was with Charlie Bennett and Emily Monsell of BBR (Emily is behind BBR's excellent blog, while Charlie is in charge of their groundbreaking website) .

Starter of chargrilled squid with green pepper, chiles and preserved lemon was delicious and quite filling. The main of fillet of cod with padron peppers and chorizo was beautifully done, and the flavours meshed well, without the chorizo overpowering, which it sometimes does in these sorts of dishes. Overall experience of Scott's was very positive.

To drink we had a lovely Sylvaner Vieilles Vignes 2007 from biodynamic Alsace producer Andre Ostertag. This was quite pure, aromatic, and dry with lovely presence and great food compatibility.


Friday, August 07, 2009

"You don’t sell wine, you sell deals"

Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene recently wrote a provocative piece looking at the way deals are done in the off-trade. You can read it here.

Have you ever wondered why many restaurant/gastropub wine lists are just so appallingly bad? To paraphrase Geoffrey Boycott, when I look at the list plopped in front of me in an average establishment, my first thought is: 'my granny could do better than that with a stick of rhubarb.' And the people running these joints are supposed to be food and wine professionals.

Well, it seems that one of the reasons for this sort of poor performance is the deals that are struck that have nothing to do with the quality of the wine.
Here is an example of the shenanigans that go on when contacts are bid for. A group of three local pub restaurants is currently signed up to a single wine company – the usual penny-pinching discounted prices plus 3% retro as gravy. A fourth site is purchased and the contract comes up for renewal. The incumbent company offers a continuation of the existing generous arrangement, another very large company tenders £5,000 for the full contract of the four sites, and then one of their rivals, a specialist in spirits, minerals and beers trumps that with £7,000. After some haggling the second company reduces their offer to £5,500 whilst the original wine company stumps up £2,000 to keep the wine business in the form of an opening credit note. The contract, by the way, is for one year only.

Who suffers? The honest wine merchants whose business is squeezed by the wine bribery of others, the customer who is being sold a pup, and finally the consumers who have to drink the narrow selection of overmarked-up mediocrity. It is counter-intuitive to sacrifice quality and loyalty on the altar of short-term greed. The restaurants that take their customers for granted are making a big mistake.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Nespresso? At the Fat Duck?

I was shocked to find out that The Fat Duck, regularly voted one of the world's top restuarants, has sold out its coffee operation to Nespresso (see here and here). It's not that I think Nespresso (the pod coffee system owned by Nescafe) is evil or particularly bad. But according to the coffee geeks I've spoken to, it just isn't terribly good. And for a restaurant like the Fat Duck, you'd expect them to be perfectionist about everything. Including the coffee.

From the Nespresso website:

"A coffee that appeals to the greatest chefs
Heston Blumenthal, chef of the renowned English Michelin-3-star restaurant "The Fat Duck", succumbed to the exceptional quality of Nespresso coffees, which - in his opinion - are meant to be tasted like great wines: first with the eyes, then with the nose and finally with the mouth."

So why have 18 of the world's top 50 restaurants (or thereabouts) opted for Nespresso and their exclusive coffee supplier? It may be because of the convenience of these systems for a busy restuarant (this I'd understand for a less exalted establishment), but isn't it more likely to be because Nespresso have specifically targeted these top restaurants, and are rumoured to pay a fee for this exclusivity. [Note added later: since I posted this, a PR company working for Nespresso have denied that there is any payment for exclusivity at restaurants using Nespresso.]

I think it's a nutty decision.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

The Glasshouse, Kew, with Patricio Middleton of MontGras

Got a text this morning from Ben Smith of Enotria, reminding me of today's lunch date with him and Patricio Middleton (MD of Chilean operation MontGras). In the chaos of holiday season I'd clean forgotten about it, but it was a nice surprise to find myself with the prospect of lunch at The Glasshouse (http://www.glasshouserestaurant.co.uk/) in Kew.

Patricio (above) is a very smart guy, but he's also delightful company. His interests extend beyond wine: he's over here to compete in the Fastnet sailing race that takes place shortly. This makes him a pretty hardcore sailor. MontGras have an interesting strategy: rather than build the MontGras brand, their approach has been to build a portfolio of brands from around Chile. The roster includes MontGras, Ninquen, Intriga and Amaral. Of the wines we tried, the Amaral Sauvignon and Chardonnay from Leyda really impressed, with their aromatic intensity and freshness. With Patricio at the helm (sorry!), this is a winery that we should be watching.

This was my first trip to The Glasshouse, and I was really impressed. It had a laid back feel to it, yet it delivered a high-end dining experience. I had the two signature dishes. For the starter, the warm salad of wood pigeon with balsamic vinegar and deep fried truffled egg (above), which was just beautifully executed and also quite substantial. The wood pigeon was perfectly done.

Then, for the main, a remarkably presented assiette of pork with apple tarte fine, choucroute and madeira jus. This was topped off with a slice of fried pancetta, and included a wedge of black pudding as well as a chunk of sausage, sitting on a sort of sauerkraut base. This wasn't quite in the same league as the wood pigeon salad (the flavours didn't complement each other as well), but it was still lovely.

I want to go there again, soon. I reckon it's probably the nearest high-end restaurant to my home, too. (Actually, it's probably equidistant to Chiswick's La Trompette. Both are brilliant.)

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

L'Autre Pied: great food for the weight conscious!

Had lunch with Wine Australia's UK head Lisa McGovern yesterday at L'Autre Pied in Marylebone. Head chef Marcus Eaves is a genius: the food was brilliantly executed, with really good ingredients prepared creatively, but not too fussily (you won't find smears of different coloured gloops on your plate here). The wine list was also pretty creative, with lots of interest, but typically gougey London prices (how I wish restaurants would move to a cash margin for the smarter bottles, rather than just a straight GP).

My only slight gripe is the portion sizes. They're tiny. When the starters were brought out I thought they were an amuse bouche. I know this sounds greedy - and I could probably do with eating less - but there's a psychological impact that comes from looking at the food on your plate and thinking that the portion is probably about half what you'd have served yourself!

To drink? Australia isn't the strong point on the list, but that was where we were morally obliged to venture (Wine Australia were paying), and so we chose the excellent Mac Forbes rs09 Riesling 2008, at £40. It's a deliciously pure Aussie Riesling with just a touch of residual sugar, and it made a surprisingly versatile food match considering that we'd ordered all over the place in terms of flavour. Service was excellent, and wine advice which we tried out proved to be unstuffy and reliable.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Here's my Pinot Noir, as it looks today. The berries are starting to form, and you can still see the remains of the flowers. It's a bit less advanced than the same variety in Burgundy, but not too far off. [One Alentejo winegrower twittered today that their vines were going through veraison already!]
Last night was good fun. I met with the fellow organizers of the sparkling wine symposium for a planning meeting followed by dinner. We went to Fino in Charlotte Street (http://www.finorestaurant.com/), which is a swanky tapas joint that allows corkage for £15. So we brought along some wine, and drank well, with a high strike rate. Food was first-rate, and service was just right.
Champagne Philipponnat Grand Blanc 2002
Very fine, toasty, biscuitty, lemony nose with great precision. The palate is complex and fresh with lovely acidity and balance. Serious stuff that’s quite winey with lots of intensity. 94/100 (£39 Oddbins) [Oddly, the neck label on the bottle said 2004 vintage, while the front and back labels said 2002.]

Kumeu River Chardonnay 2005 Auckland, New Zealand
Fantastically bold and intense with dense, mealy, spicy fruit. Lovely intensity on the palate with savoury, spicy richness. A very rich style of Chardonnay, but it is serious and balanced. 93/100 (£21 Oddbins)

Millton Clos Ste Anne The Crucible Syrah 2007 Gisborne, New Zealand
I love this wine. It has a really fresh peppery nose with lovely vivid red berry fruit. Quite northern Rhône like. Lovely freshness and focus on the palate with dark pepper, dark cherry and raspberry notes, as well as some spiciness that may be from a bit of new oak. Fantastic effort. 93/100

Chaupoutier Hermitage La Sizeranne 2004 Northern Rhône, France
I was pleasantly surprised by this. It shows supple, sweet red berry and dark cherry fruit with a hint of pepperiness. The palate has elegant, midweight savoury red fruits. Lovely focus with good acidity and some pure, bright fruit. 91/100

Matetic EQ Syrah 2006 San Antonio, Chile
Lovely: dark, meaty, spicy and focused. A really dense Syrah with lots of intensity, and sweet but balanced blackberry fruit. We had this chilled down because it was quite hot, and it helped the wine a bit, although it did bring out the tannins a bit more. 92/100 (£16 Oddbins)

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Monday, June 29, 2009

In Burgundy (1)

Took the Eurostar to Paris, then headed to Dijon, and now I'm in Beaune. There's something thrilling about Burgundy.

Just one visit today - Joseph Drouhin. We met with Jean-Francois Curie and Philippe Drouhin and tasted through a large range of wines, including a wonderful 2007 Clos des Mouches Blanc and the excellent 2007 Montrachet.

Then it was off to dinner at Le Benaton (www.lebenaton.com) in Beaune - an excellent, ambitious restaurant, where we dined well, with some fantastic older bottles (2003 Montrachet, 1990 Clos des Mouches and 2000 Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru). On the menu:
Les escargots de Bourgogne pieds de veau et anguille fumée en coque de pain , écume de brandade fondue de tomate et jus de persil (pictured above - a strange snail concoction where you had to inject your dish with parsley juice); and Demi pigeon du Louhanais désossé le filet rôti la cuisse farcie jus au mélilot (a delicious pigeon dish).

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Lunch in Kingston: Jamie's Italian

Fiona and I headed off to Kingston for lunch today. We checked out Jamie's Italian (www.jamieoliver.com/italian), one of the restaurants in the neighbourhood Italian chain that Jamie Oliver is in the process of building.

I was expecting to be mildly disappointed, but came away enthused by the quality of the food. It was really delicious: well prepared and nicely presented, and good value for money, too. I don't mind the no booking policy, either - even though the restaurant was buzzing, we were squeezed in. Service was efficient, partly because they'd actually got enough people working the tables, something you don't always find in these sorts of establishments.
The wine list is quite good. All Italian, mostly from Liberty (a good thing), with the house wines a couple of tetrapak organic wines sourced from Milton Sandford.

We ate (text from the online menu):

Crispy fried smoked pancetta with ribbons of courgettes, tossed with eggs, thyme and parmesan cheese
Finely shaved wild black truffles folded with butter, parmesan and nutmeg, a real luxury
Focaccia, ciabatta, sourdough country bread, grissini sticks and 'snappy music bread' with lemon and rosemary gremolataServed with single estate extra virgin olive oil and fine balsamic vinegar

We drank:
MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO 13% 2008 GRAN SASSO £16.95 / £12.75 / £4.55
Cherry and chocolate, typical of this well known grape
SOAVE CLASSICO VENETO 12.5% 2008 CANTINA DI MONTEFORTE £15.75 / £11.25 / £4.25
Great depth and balance of ripe fruit and acidity

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sicilian wines, specially priced, at Carluccio's

Italian restaurant chain Carluccio's (www.carluccios.com) are having a wine festival. It began a few days ago and runs through to the beginning of August, and features Sicilian wines from Planeta and the Settesoli co-op. These wines are really good, and they're exceptionally well priced, and so I thought I'd draw my readers' attention to it (no commercial link). There are free tastings of these wines every Thursday, as well as a series of special dinners.

I've just tried three of them (notes below), but on my recent trip to Sicily I tried a few more, including the fantastic Ceresuolo, the ageworthy Chardonnay and the complex Santa Cecilia. Here's the full list of wines:
  • La Segreta Bianco (from Planeta) £8.95
  • Feudo dei Fiori Mandrarossa (from Cantine Settesoli) £8.95
  • Planeta Alastro (from Planeta) £12.50
  • Planeta Chardonnay (from Planeta) £19.50
  • La Segreta Rosso (from Planeta) £8.95
  • Bonera Mandrarossa (from Cantine Settesoli) £9.95
  • Planeta Ceresuolo (from Planeta) £12.50
  • Carthago Mandrarossa (from Cantine Settesoli) £15.95
  • Bendicò Mandrarossa (from Cantine Settesoli) £16.95
  • Planeta Santa Cecilia (from Planeta) £19.50
  • Planeta Rosé (from Planeta) £10.50
Planeta Rose 2008 Sicilia
Made with Syrah, 12% alcohol. Salmon/pink colour. Nicely savoury with a herbal tang to the cherry and cranberry fruit. Good acid and quite savoury. Food friendly. 85/100

Mandrarossa Feuro dei Fiori 2008 Sicilia
A blend of Grecanico and Chardonnay, 12.5% alcohol. Full yellow colour. Powerful flavours of nuts, herbs, melon and apricot with a savoury, minerally depth. Really intense and food friendly: a distinctive boldly flavoured white wine. 88/100

Mandrarossa Carthago 2006 Sicilia
Nero d'Avola aged in French oak, 14% alcohol. Lovely vivid sweet pure cherry and raspberry fruit showing floral aromatics and creamy, spicy oak notes. The palate is sleek and sophisticated with a hint of plummy bitterness on the finish. A deliciously rich, modern-styled wine. 89/100

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A great dinner at St John

Just on the way back from a remarkable evening at St John, with my long term wine buddie Yixin Ong from Singapore and some of his friends. We were six, and one of the things that contributed to it being an excellent dinner was the fact that we shared all the dishes, passing them round after eating a bit of each.

St John lends itself well to this sort of informality. Diners are packed in, in relatively basic surroundings: people come for the food, not the ceremony of crisp tablecloth restaurants.

Starters were several. Broad Beans and Berskwell (a hard sheep's cheese) worked really well. Ducks' hearts were also excellent (below). Cured beef and celeriac brought the tastebuds to life, while roast bone marrow (top) is a St John staple that is richly delicious. Of the mains, tripe, peas and bacon was probably the stand-out dish. Blood sausage topped with two fried eggs was wonderfully eccentric, and chitterlings and lentils worked very well. I wasn't too keen on the rather dry rabbit saddle and wild garlic; nor did the pigeon (rare) and radishes overwhelm. But the calves liver, bloody and tender, was really impressive.

As if this wasn't enough, we went big on puddings. Eccles cake and Lancashire cheese was my favourite – a brave combination that went together very well. Ginger loaf and butterscotch sauce was nicer than it sounds, and rhubarb jelly, shortcake and clotted cream was delicious. Apple and calvados cake with icecream was nice but not spectacular, but the execution of the madeleines was almost perfect.
Wines? We began with Eric Texier Brezeme Rousanne 2007 from the very good (exclusively French) St John list. Then we did two northern Rhone reds: a beautiful St Jospeh 1997 from Vincent Gasse, which was lively, meaty and expressive; and a more subdued but still elegant Cote Rotie Bassenon 1997 from Cuilleron. These were followed by a Trimbach Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 1997 that was fat, honeyed and quite rich. All three 1997s came from Yixin's university stash at Oxford, the last of which he has only just liberated from the college cellars where they were being stored for him.


Monday, May 11, 2009

New Zealand lunch at Providores

Awesomely good lunch today. We were four: Steve Smith and Michael Henley of Craggy Range, and Joe Wadsack and myself. We ate at Providores, the wonderful creation of master of Kiwi fusion cuisine, Peter Gordon.

The food was spot on, and the wines, from the superb wine list at Providores (see http://www.theprovidores.co.uk/) were absolutely brilliant. Conversation was wide ranging and pretty much non-stop. A very enjoyable way to kill a few hours. Pictured above is the view up towards Portland Place from Regent Street, with All Souls Langham Place (beautiful Nash creation) being assailed by the cranes at work on BBC's Broadcasting House [this is a view I had on my way to work every day for 15 years, which was revisited today]. Then below this are Steve Smith and Joe, and below are Michael Henley and I.

Vinoptima Gewurztraminer 2006 Gisborne, New Zealand
All Nick Nobilo makes is Gewurz: it's a good job he does it so well. This is wonderfully aromatic and has a lovely texture, with gentle peach, pear and lychee fruit. Great balance and concentration with lovely purity and focus. Just off-dry, this is really special. 92/200

Bell Hill Chardonnay 2004 North Canterbury, New Zealand
A profound Chardonnay from a remarkable vineyard in the Canterbury Hills. Deep yellow coloured, this is wonderfully aromatic with nutty, buttery, toasty depth and some crisp freshness. The palate is powerful and nutty with intense, bold, peach, pear and citrus fruit, as well as fantastic acidity and freshness. There's a complex, subtly cabbage-like edge that reminds me of great white Burgundy. 94/100

Craggy Range Sophia 2004 Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
The first bottle of this we had was unclean and slightly muted. The second was singing. Amazing complexity here with sweet blackberry and plum fruit offset by tar and spice notes. The palate is smooth and ripe, but has a lovely gravelly edge. Good focus and precision - a special wine that's in the same vein as top Bordeaux. 94/100

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Amazing wines at The Ledbury

Keith Prothero (pictured below) convened a lunch at the Ledbury yesterday. The occasion? Chris Mullineux, a South African wine grower who Keith is involved in a venture with, was in town to present the new Mullineux wines. Also present were Neal Martin, Jamie Hutchinson (the Sampler), Jim Budd, Nigel Platts-Martin (owner of The Ledbury, The Square and other restaurants), and Lionel Nierop (Bid for Wine). Keith kindly provided the wines, too.

I won’t dwell on the Mullineux wines, because I intend to write them up separately. Suffice to say, Chris is right up there with the very best South African producers. The Syrah is beautifully expressive with lovely aromatics and a subtle meatiness; the white blend is taut and complex, with lovely depth from old vine Chenin combined with Viognier, Clairette and Grenache Blanc; and the straw wine, a curiosity made from Chenin grapes dried to reach double their original sugar content, is fantastically fresh and complex.

For those unfamiliar with The Ledbury, all I can say is that you must visit. It’s one of London’s very best restaurants. Aussie chef Brett Graham is a genius and I’ve had some of my most memorable gastronomic experiences here. The food is modern and inventive, without being gimmicky. And the lunchtime menu is brilliant value, too.

We began with an old Sancerre that was quite puzzling: it tasted really young.

Pascal Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnés 2001 Loire, France
Really intense, linear nose with minerality, grassiness, grapefruit pith and taut herby notes. The palate is intense, savoury and quite herbal with bright fruitiness. A remarkably fresh 2001, with an attractive greenness. 90/100

With the first course (cured scallops with frozen horseradish, seaweed and herbs) we had the Mullineux white 2008 and Lopez de Heredia’s Tondonia Gran Reserva white 1981, which unfortunately was corked. We followed this with the Mullineux Syrah 2008, and then the fish course (fillet of turbot cooked on bread with new seasons morels, beef shin and cauliflower) was accompanied by:

Roumier Bonnes Mares Grand Cru 1994 Burgundy
Lovely sweet pure cherry and red fruit aromatics, with a subtle sappiness. The palate is lively and spicy with lovely grippy structure under the elegant fruit. Nicely structured with a lovely spicy finish, but perhaps not showing all it has at the moment. 92/100

Guiseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato 1974 Piedmont, Italy
Brown colour. Like an old tawny port on the nose, and an old oloroso in the mouth, with a strong molasses character. Sadly this is dead.
The main course (sauté of Berkshire hare with poached grapes and a feuilleté of chanterelles and Jerusalem artichokes) was accompanied by one of the best flights of wines I’ve ever experienced. Quite incredible! [Above: Jim Budd, Chris Mullineux and Neal Martin prepare to tuck in.]

Château Haut-Brion 1982 Graves, Bordeaux
Lovely aromatic, minerally nose with complex sweet fruit and gravel notes. Beautifully poised. The palate is complex with sweet berry and cherry fruit, some mineral notes and hints of tar and gravel. Really pure with fantastic balance, this is super-elegant and still quite fruity with amazing purity. Lovely. 96/100

Château La Mission Haut Brion 1978 Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux
Lovely sweet, pure blackberry fruit nose, with spiciness and minerality. Gorgeously aromatic with a gravelly edge. The palate is sweet and quite lush with lovely purity and elegance. Beautifully complex, this is a breathtaking wine. 97/100

Jabulet Hermitage La Chapelle 1991 Northern Rhône, France
Sweet, pure, liqueur-like nose with rounded red fruits. The palate is quite lush with some meatiness and bright cherry fruit, showing a liquer-like, jellied fruit purity. Sweet, with a fresh finish. 93/100

Château de Beaucastel 1981 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France
Aromatic, spicy nose with warm dark cherry fruit, herbs, ginger and tar. The palate has cherry fruit as well as notes of soy sauce, earth and herbs. Savoury and earthy, this is delicious, but may be beginning to fade just a bit. 92/100

How do you follow this? With a remarkable dessert (passion fruit soufflé with sauternes ice cream) and two serious dessert wines : the complex Mullineux Chenin Blanc straw wine, and Yquem 1986.

Château d’Yquem 1986 Sauternes, Bordeaux, France
Deep gold colour. Sweet and viscous with barley sugar, honey and powerful citrus and peach flavours. Luscious and rich with some spiciness, dried fruit and minerality. Almost savoury! Lots of intensity here. 93/100

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Portuguese wines at Nandos

By coincidence, today I ended up drinking wine made at the winery I visited yesterday. It's kind of cool.

We took a quick trip to Chav heaven, Staines, for some shopping. Afterwards, we decided to get something to eat, and so we gave Nandos a go (www.nandos.co.uk). I've never been before, despite the fact that we have one virtually opposite our home.

Verdict? Much better than I'd expected. It's really well conceived, and the food is simple and quite tasty. There's a Portuguese emphasis, but it's a modest one. [Nandos actually stems from Portuguese ex-pats in South Africa.]

We washed our food down with a couple of the Tagus Creek wines from the short Portuguese/South African wine list. Fiona had the Fernao Pires/Chardonnay 2007 (fresh, a bit nutty, with nice fruity flavours) and I had the Cabernet Sauvignon/Aragonez 2007 (a spicy, chunky but deliciously fruity red). They're not especially Portuguese in character, but it's good to see these wines on a mainstream list like this (Nandos has 207 branches in the UK).

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Restaurant da Vittorio - just brilliant

One of the highlights of the Sicily trip was lunch at Restaurant Da Vittorio (website here) on the beach in Porto Palo near Menfi.

It's not terribly swanky - in fact, it looks a bit downmarket inside. But the food, prepared by Vittorio, is legendary. We ate exclusively seafood, including a sea snails in tomato sauce, spaghetti with whitebait, spaghetti with sea urchins and then a fish that's known in Italy as Dentice, which seems to be translated as Dentex. It's a mediterranean fish that has delicately flavoured white flesh, a bit like sea bass.

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

In Sweden

I'm in Stockholm today and tomorrow. It's my first trip to the land of Sven Goran Eriksson and Abba, and it's been great so far.

My role is to assist with the launch of some wines in new packaging: multilayer PET (a sort of plastic) with a plastic (Novatwist) screwcap and a special label material, making it all fully recyclable. I'm here in a technical capacity as a neutral closures/wine packaging expert to discuss issues such as oxygen transmission, migration and carbon footprints.

The wines themselves are made by Mitchelton, and they're pretty good. Really good, even. But the real interest here is this innovative packaging solution.

This afternoon I met with Claes Lofgren (http://www.winepictures.com/) and Johan Bostrom in the offices of Wine World, and then this evening Claes, Johan and I were joined by Bengt-Goran Kronstam (publisher of Alt Om Vinj) and Catharina Forsell of Wine World for dinner.

We ate at the Food Bar of Mathias Dahlgren, one of Sweden's top chefs, and the food was fantastic. It was washed down well with some lovely wines, including a brilliant Clos St Denis Grand Cru 2005 from Lucien Le Moine, which should really not have been drunk for another decade, but which hinted strongly of greatness to come.
Tomorrow I'm doing a presentation for the Systembolaget, then a radio interview, then I'm heading for home.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Top 10 Food Blogs, from the Times online

The Times today carried a list of Top 10 Food Blogs, compiled by Simon Majumadar of the excellent Dos Hermanos blog. He very kindly included this blog in his list!

Nice quote from the piece:

Food bloggers are the bane of every restaurant owner’s life — I know, I am one.
Two and a half years ago, when I started my food blog Dos Hermanos with my brother, Robin, we were part of what was a realtively small group of enthusiasts keen to record our cooking and dining habits in words and blurry pictures. Now, at the opening of any new restaurant you will see tables occupied by diners making detailed notes of each bite while snapping away with their cameras before rushing home to pontificate about their meal online.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Belgian food and rugby

One of the advantages of being a freelancer is that you can lunch without feeling guilty about taking time away from your employer.

On Friday I had a very enjoyable lunch in Richmond with a friend. We ate at Brouge (http://www.brouge.co.uk/), a new Belgian restaurant that has two branches, in Twickenham and Richmond. The restaurant was really nicely done, with a good quality high-end gastropup style menu and a wine list from Bibendum (http://www.bibendum-wine.co.uk/).

The real draw here, though, is the extensive selection of Belgian beers, including the up-market Deus. We opted for the lunch deal, which was a main course plus a Belgian beer at £8.95. Great value for money, and recommended.

Today I was at the Rugby, watching England get pasted by South Africa. Despite the result, it was a good occasion, although I ended up having to walk/jog the 4.6 miles to my rendez vous because the trains from Feltham station were all full after a cancellation and some delays. It took me 45 minutes.

England didn't play well, but I think they were made to look bad because South Africa's defence were so impressive. We were surrounded by pissed saffers. The great thing about rugby is that you don't have the same aggressive tribalism that you do in football, and so segregation is not necessary. But with this, I guess you lose a bit of the 'edge' that you get at football matches.

The RFU have to be a bit careful, though. They're charging a lot of money for these games, and so they're trying to make it more of a spectacle. They hired Passionata, who describe themselves as a 'rock opera' group, consisting of five presentable young ladies, to sing before kick off. Their version of the well known bit of Carmina Burana was excruciatingly bad, blending hooked-on-classics with the X-factor. Fortunately, the crowd outsang them for the national anthem.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I visit terroirs wine bar

Went last night to Terroirs, a new wine bar in London focusing on 'natural' wines, located just a few yards from Charing Cross station.

There's already a thriving natural wine bar scene in Paris, and it's about time it came to London, because these wines are authentic, interesting and affordable. Terroirs manages to do the difficult job of combining a nice ambience, good food and a stunning, fairly priced wine list – and I thoroughly recommend it.

What exactly are 'natural' wines? They're wines that honestly express their sense of place ('terroir'), which usually means that they are made by committed wine growers who add as little as possible to their wines and allow their vineyards (usually managed without reliance on synthetic chemicals) to express themselves to the full. Typically, this will mean fermentation without the addition of cultured yeasts, no new oak, no added acidity or tannin, and no added sulfur dioxide until bottling, if at all.

I met with Doug Wregg of Les Caves de Pyrene who are partners in Terroirs and who supply around 90% of the wines. We ate at the bar, and enjoyed a number of wines with our food. The food was fantastic. The chacuterie plate had two excellent terrines, plus an awesome, melt-in-the-mouth jambon iberico, as well as a smooth, delicate salami.

We then shared potted shrimp on toast, bone marrow and truffle on toast, grilled eel, and belly pork with beans. All were superb.

What about the wines? I let Doug choose, and he chose well.

Domaine des Foulards Rouge Cuvee Octobre [2008] Vin de Table
A young wine from the Roussillon, this is amazingly fresh and bright, with sweet, pure, sappy cherry and berry fruit. Vibrant and joyful this is superbly drinkable with lovely purity and freshness. 89/100 (£6 glass; £23.50 bottle)

Philippe Valette Macon-Chaintre 2005 Burgundy, France
Lovely concentration and intensity here, with beautiful balance between the rich bold fruit and smoky, spicy minerality/ A tiny hint of oxidation adds richness. Complex rich, toasty and intense with lovely boldness and intensity. 92/100 (£8.50 glass/£33.75 bottle)

Massia Vecchia Bianco 2006 Maremma, Toscano, Italy
65% Vermentino, with some skin maceration. Orange coloured, this has lovely aromatics: fresh, lifted floral notes with lemons, herby notes and a hint of sweetness. The palate has some lovely spiciness with herb and mineral notes. Quite beautiful, and almost like a red wine in terms of its structure. 94/100 (£48 bottle)

Carso Zidarich ‘Teran’ 2005 Friuli, Italy
This is a varietal Teran/Terrano (a special sort of Refosco). It’s powerful, minerally and super-fresh with notes of gravel and citrus. Lovely fruit purity, with black cherry, plum and raspberry. Vivid, intense and delicious. A sappy, grippy character keeps it fresh. 91/100 (£38.50 bottle)

Clos Lapeyre Jurançon ‘Magendia’ 2005
100% Petit Manseng, late harvested. Savoury, herby and pithy with intense citrussy fruit and lovely complexity. Richly textured and quite pure, with nice acidity. 92/100 (£6.50 glass)

We then finished off with some weird stuff.

Massa Vecchia ‘Aliatico’ is a red Muscat variant, and its wild, sweet and volatile with musky, herby, grapey fruit and a blast of vinegar. Sounds weird but it’s lovely. And three from Maison Laurent Cazottes:

First, an Aperitif aux Noix Verts. This is weird: it’s spicy, earthy and nutty with notes of cinnamon and curry spice, as well as sweetness on the palate. It’s actually walnuts seeped in wine. Second, an eaux de vie made of Poire William, which is pure and delicious. Third, an eaux de vie made from greengages (Reine Claude Doree), which is weird and delicious.

Summary? Terroirs is a great addition to the London gastronomic scene, and is a must visit for open-minded wine lovers.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

A great lunch with Chave 83

Lunch at the Ledbury today, with a rather special bottle: Chave Hermitage 1983. The reason? I was meeting with Keith Prothero and Lionel Nierop, who are starting a new online wine auction system (which I'll write about when it is ready to go, in about a month), and Keith is a generous guy who enjoys sharing his wines.

The day started with the Corney & Barrow press tasting, held at a swanky location in Grosvenor Place. But for some bizarre reason I got Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch tube stations muddled up in my head and ended up at the latter rather than the former. So I decided to walk through Hyde Park to get to Hyde Park Corner, which is a lovely stroll on a day like today, but took longer than I thought it would.

London is well supplied with nice parks. I love Regent's Park, and Kensington Gardens is lovely. Green Park is small but pleasant, and Hyde Park is big and quite pretty. Battersea Park is worth a detour; I haven't yet made it to Victoria Park in east London. Further out west, Richmond Park is absolutely enormous.

After just an hour of tasting, I had to leave the Corney & Barrow event to get to my lunch appointment on time. The Ledbury is spectacular – one of London's very best restaurants. And lunch is a steal here, with the set menu a few pence under £20. For that, you get astonishingly good food and excellent service, in a very nice environment. We had a really enjoyable couple of hours, with a great combination of food, wine and company.

Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 1998 Nelson, New Zealand
Yellow gold in colour, this is rich and intense with a lovely toasty depth to the herby, slightly citrussy fruit. It's pungent and dense on the palate with complex herb-tinged fruit complemented by sweet nutty, spicy oak and hints of oiliness. There's citrussy freshness on the finish. A delicious, bold Chardonnay that's evolving well. 92/100

Chave Hermitage 1983 Northern Rhone, France
A fantastic wine. Beautifully aromatic, with a fresh, spicy personality and a complexity that’s hard to put into words. I was getting notes of tar, earth, herbs, blood and meat. It’s sweet but savoury at the same time. The palate showed spicy red fruits with a subtle medicinal character, as well as tangy citrus notes on the finish. A complex, multifaceted wine with nice definition. 95/100

Then it was off to the M&S press tasting, held at their headquarters round the back of Paddington Station. It’s actually surprisingly close to the Ledbury (in Notting Hill) – it turned out to be a brisk 15 minute walk. There were 160 wines on show; I tried just over half, and then slept on the train on the way home.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Steak at Gaucho and City Hall

Had a nice lunch at Gaucho Tower Bridge on Monday, with Trapiche's single-vineyard Malbecs.

This particular Gaucho restaurant, which, like the others, is lavishly decorated with cowhide, is in an interesting location. There are great views of Tower Bridge and also the remarkable squashed egg- or scrotum-shaped building called City Hall. Indeed, the Gaucho is part of the 'More London' development that includes City Hall, home to the Mayor of London and his recently pruned band of staff. Administrators and governing types always tend to be particularly well housed. If you are ever on a university campus, for example, and are looking for the administrative building, it's usually easy to find. Just head to the tallest and grandest construction, and there you will find them.

I always enjoy eating at the Gaucho, which specializes in huge hunks of very nice Argentinean beef, and has an extensive (if slightly expensive) list of Argentinean wines. They've got the ambience just right, and with all that cowhide there's a sense of irony that liberates you to enjoy tasty, simple hunks of meat without feeling bad.

Initially, I thought the 2006 Trapiche single vineyard wines we tasted were a bit obvious and made in a very modern style. But then trying a 2004 version of one of the wines with lunch, I suddenly saw what the point was. Aromatically, it was singing, and was just beautiful, with sweet, expressive, harmonious red fruits. There's something to be said for just a little patience with reds like this.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

More English wine

After judging yesterday's SWVA awards, I was joined by Fiona and younger son and we stayed the night at the Cottage in the Wood, near Malvern. It's a hotel in a gorgeous natural setting, nestled into the side of the Malvern Hills with stunning views.

We were joined for dinner by Fiona's aunt, who lives locally, and it lovely to see her again. But unfortunately the much-anticipated meal disappointed. Both my starter and main tasted like they had been plated out and then reheated - thus the red onion and goats cheese tart tasted overly sweet and the pastry had disintegrated, and the seabass (over what was once a nice risotto) simply tasted tired and a bit oily. At the prices charged (£10 starters, £20 mains) the food should be top notch.

It's a tragedy, because given the natural setting, the friendly service and the extensive, well-priced wine list (with some mouthwatering, affordable older Bordeaux and Burgundy), this could have been a special destination. As it is, I can't recommend it, unless the kitchen was having an unusually bad day. Because I had to drive later, we had just a single bottle of wine with dinner - a Loimer Gruner Veltliner from Austria's Kamptal (£22) which was very good. Not enough to take away the disappointment of the tired food, though.

Then it was off to Coddington Vineyard, for a vineyard visit with the SWVA crowd (top image). It's an immaculate 3 acre vineyard owned by Denis and Ann Savage, planted with Bacchus, Ortega and Pinot Gris. After this we headed over to Brockbury Hall (above) for the lunch and awards ceremony. There was a chance to taste the remainder of the wines from yesterday's competition, this time unmasked, and after lunch as part of the official proceedings, I was asked to give a short summary of how the wines had shaped up the previous day. It was great to meet so many producers, ranging from hobbyists with a few vines to reasonably serious commercial concerns. The future of English wine, despite this damp and miserable 2008 growing season, looks very bright indeed.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Australia's young guns, a tasting

There was a collective deep intake of breath in the UK wine trade today, as everyone prepared for the London International Wine Fair, which is the big event in the calendar each year, and begins tomorrow (Tuesday). It will be a crazy busy three days, with lots of people in town from around the globe - from a journalist's perspective an embarassment of riches, making it hard to know just who to spend the limited time available with.

Today there was a pre-fair lunch with Australia's 'young guns' at Ransome's Dock restaurant. The young guns weren't all that young, to be honest. I mean, I was younger than some of them. They were Stuart Bourne (Barossa Valley Estates), Samantha Connew (Wirra Wirra), Linda Domas (Linda Domas Wines), Marty Edwards (The Lane), Mac Forbes (Mac Forbes Wines), Matt Gant (First Drop) and Celine Rousseau (Chalkers Crossing). All of them brought a few wines along, and there were also a couple from Ben Glaetzer who was meant to be there but had visa problems. Pictured above is Linda Domas in full flow; Mac Forbes is at the end of the table.

The wines were pretty interesting, and the food was excellent (fillet of red mullet with saffron, potato and fennel broth, followed by lapin au vin, followed by some nice cheeses). Standout wine for me was Mac Forbes EB1 Pinot Noir 2005 from the Yarra: 6 h foottreading, followed by 24 h maceration, then pressed to barrel. Remarkable stuff, which has put on some colour during its long elevage and is now super-elegant. Mac has spent some time with Dirk Niepoort in the Douro, and this shows in his approach, I reckon.

Ransome's Dock is hard to get to - the easiest route is through Battersea Park from Queenstown Road station. It's a really nice walk, and pictured is the view of a gasholder and Battersea Power Station that you get as you leave the park.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

A great weekend, and New Zealand's top Sauvignon Blanc?

So, Fiona and I were given a nice present by our good friends Karl and Kate. The deal was they would get to look after our lovely children and RTL for the weekend; we would get to go to a five star hotel in London at their expense. Very generous of them, especially if you've met our children and hound.

We kicked off our 30-ish hours of liberation by a long lunch at the Tate Britain. The food here is solidly good - simple and effective, with a modern-British feel. The wine list is sensational and fairly priced. The surroundings are nice, too.

I struck gold ordering the wines: a bottle of 2006 Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (£29), and a half of Crozes Hermitage Vieilles Vignes 2005 from Domaine du Murinais (£12). The Clos Henri was simply the best Marlborough Sauvignon I've ever tried - big, multidimensional, rich but precise. The Murinais Crozes was all that you could ever expect from a modestly expensive Syrah - pure, sweet fruit with lovely definition and an almost Burgundian elegance. No hint of rusticity.

We wandered the gallery a bit. Turner is the dominant force here - and you can understand why, because his work is remarkable. Afterwards we headed off to the hotel (Renaissance Chancery Court, Holborn) where we slobbed out, with the help of some Pol Roger NV. Then this morning we got up late before finding a fantastic breakfast spot a short walk away from the Charing Cross Road. Now we are home, and the kids and RTL shall shortly be returning. It's been a brilliant weekend.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

A big birthday weekend

Fiona's mother is 70, and so we've been hosting an epic of a surprise birthday weekend here chez Goode. Family have flocked to Feltham from the corners of the world (well, Geneva, Devon and Herefordshire, to be more exact) for three days of celebration. We've been accommodating most of the participants, with some overspill booked into the Travelodge over the road. It's been exhausting but great fun.

Families are great. I love the way everyone is thrown together - a melange of ages, interests and personality types - and yet it seems to work pretty well most of the time. There's a richness to it. And as generations transition, there's a natural renewing of it all. It doesn't grow stale.

On Friday I drove up to Malvern to pick Fiona's Auntie Moira up. It was a straight run, some 2 h 20 min, and as I arrived early I went for a walk on the Malvern Hills (above), which are always spectacular, even on a rather chilly, overcast spring day. The return journey was not so straightforward though, and took five hours. Ouch. We arrived just after Fiona's mother, and the surprise welcome. The dinner that followed was great fun, and despite a critical mass of kids, there was no nuclear explosion.

Yesterday, we left all the kids under the watchful care of Hannah, the oldest cousin, and her boyfriend Josh, as we headed off to lunch at Dean Timpson at The Compleat Angler in Marlow (above). It's a stunning setting on the river, sandwiched between the lovely bridge and the weir. The food was really, really good: top quality, with service, presentation and attention to detail of Michelin star standard. I spent some time with the wine list, which has some excellent producers shoulder to shoulder with mediocre ones. In the end I ordered a Vidal Syrah from Hawkes Bay, which was quite elegant and old worldy in style, and a Bordeaux Sauvignon Semillon that was crisp and fresh (and was also the least expensive wine on what is quite an expensive list).

I can't help but mention ££££. You expect a top quality joint like this to be expensive, because it costs a lot to do a restaurant really well. But it was the way it was expensive that left me a little disappointed: the menu itself is good value, but all the 'unseen' items, such as water (we were poured eight bottles at £4.80 each), espresso (£4 a single shot) and drinks seem excessive. I'd much prefer it if restaurants put their margins in their food. People look at how much they spend on the total bill when they consider returning; at the prices Timpson charges per head when all these extras are included, he's batting with the big boys, and will end up being judged with more scrutiny.

Today is the final day of the epic. Overall, it has been a superb weekend. Now we're trying to persuade Fiona's brother to issue us with an extended invitation for Geneva this summer.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Long lunch and a walk in the park

So Fiona and I, now with time to spend together without the kids, decide to take lunch together. We head off to Edwinns, a brasserie in Englefield Green, next to Windsor Great Park. The sun was shining and it was all very spring-like.

It was really nice to have lunch together, but the lunch itself was not good. I enjoyed it because it was nice to be with Fiona. But I don't want to go back to this place again.

Edwinns doesn't have a set lunch, and has the same menu for lunch and dinner. The first think that struck me was that it was expensive. We're talking London restaurant prices, with starters £6-8 and mains hovering around £15-20. That's fine, if the food justifies it, but our food today was pretty ordinary pub grub standard, of the sort that doesn't require a skilled chef. My main of slow roasted pork was overcooked, with an overpowering, rather gloopy, treacly sauce. It tasted like it had been cooked, and then reheated. Fiona's starter of scollops and pancetta consisted of pureed peas, overlaid with some salad, then with three crispy slices of pancetta on top and three over-done scollops round the outside.

The winelist was upsetting. It was really short. All the wines were perfectly adequate, drinkable commercial offerings, but that was it. There was nothing I felt even vaguely interested in trying. It was so predictable and dull. All the wines by the glass were 250 ml servings, which is one-third of a bottle (there was no option to have a 175 ml glass).

Maybe Edwinns is serving its target clientele well. Perhaps their punters aren't usually very discriminating, and don't have high expectations for their food and drink.
Looking at the website (http://www.edwinns.co.uk/) I see that it's part of the Bluebecker restaurant group. My guess is that the dishes are prepared centrally and then put together/reheated/simple elements cooked at each restaurant, thus alleviating the need for skilled kitchen staff.

After lunch we had a nice walk in the park.