Thursday, 30 September 2010

Camino Canary Wharf launch night

Wine and the City caught up with Richard Bigg, owner of Camino, at the launch of Camino Puerto del Canario in Canary Wharf on Tuesday night to get the scoop on the new riverside restaurant - blog to follow...

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Bompas & Parr at the Experimental Food Society Spectacular

Wine and the City caught up with Eris today at the Pompas & Parr jelly installation at the Experimental Food Society Spectacular, held at the Brickhouse, Brick Lane, to find out how the duo make their extra-wobbly jelly creations.

Their secret ingredient is ether, a colourless, volatile liquid once commonly used as an anesthetic. As with nitrous oxide (laughing gas), medical students in the US in the late 18th century indulged in ether 'frolics', where they would inhale the chemical compound, known as 'sweet vitriol', for the euphoric high it produced. Quite why gastro-magicians Bompas & Parr are using it in their jellies eludes me – are they trying to send us all to sleep? Whatever the reason, ether is making a comeback: expect to see it on a cocktail list near you soon...

Cheval des Andes tasting at Ham Polo Club

Last Wednesday Nicolas Audebert, winemaker for the Mendoza-based Terrazas de los Andes, flew into town to host a vertical tasting of Cheval des Andes – a joint venture between Terrazas and Château Cheval Blanc in St Emilion.

The tasting, quite appropriately, took place at Ham Polo club in Richmond, where Audebert must have felt at home. He's such a polo nut he built a polo pitch in the middle of one of his vineyards in Mendoza.

We all sit down in the club house and Audebert emerges, looking like a movie star (Ed Burns with a bit of Matthew fox thrown in) in a brown leather jacket with a pristine beige pashmina around his neck. He's even got designer stubble. I never get like this with winemakers but I'm all of a flutter, and unable to take my eyes off him. He launches into describing the five wines on show, comparing a single varietal to a violin, and a blend to an orchestra. He seems particularly fond of this comparison, and uses it several times throughout the tasting. 'Malbec is more interesting when it's blended', he admits.

First up we try the Terrazas Torrontes 2008 from Salta. I'm not a Torrontes fan - it's like chomping on a wedding bouquet, but this is light and fresh with good acidity and a lovely orange blossom finish. We move on to the Terrazas Reserva Malbec 2007, which is bursting with red currants, sour cherries and violets. Smooth on the palate, the tannins are wonderfully soft, making way for the peppery finish.

I'm trying my best to concentrate on the wines, but my eyes keep wondering back to Nicolas, still in his leather jacket and pashmina. It looks like he's just landed his own private jet on the polo pitch and I half expect a pair of Biggles goggles to fall out of his back pocket.

After the Terrazas duo, he talks us through a trio of Cheval des Andes, which he describes as 'a South American first growth', made from a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The 2006 is inky purple, with an attack of pink grapefruit, violets, black cherry, black currant and vanilla. Cabernet dominant, it's silky on the palate, with fine grain tannins, smoky tobacco notes and hints of rosemary and mint on the finish. It needs time to develop. These are definitely wines for laying down.

Next up is the 2003, which wins us all over. Deep ruby, it has a warm, almost Port-like nose - you can smell the heat of the vintage, with cherries, raspberries, chocolate, leather, figs, dried fruits, tobacco and spice all in the mix. Seven years of ageing and it has come out of its shell magnificently, with a velvety palate and sweet spice on the finish. 'We used lots of Petit Verdot to give it freshness', Audbert says.

Lastly we try the 1999. A bright garnet colour, it smells like an aged Bordeaux. As soon as I get stuck in, I realise how long it's been since I tasted an old claret, and how much I miss it. This is all about the secondary notes: leather, meat, game, pencil shavings, cedar and cigar box, with tobacco, laurel and chocolate on the palate developing into a mushroomy, olive finish. There is so much going on in the glass.

It's exciting to see such complex, ageworthy wines coming out of Argentina. And that is where Audebert's challenge lies: what to take from Bordeaux and what to keep from Argentina in the blend. It would be boring to make wines that ape Bordeaux, but equally, with his classic training, he is trying to achieve the perfect balance between New World power and juiciness of fruit, and Old World elegance and freshness – the best of both worlds. After the tasting Audebert swaps his leather jacket for a polo shirt and mounts his trusty steed for a 4 chukka polo match against the Gaucho restaurant team, while we all dive into juicy steaks followed by mountains of dulce de leche ice cream.

Sake tasting at Sumosan

Wine and the City caught up with saké expert Jean-Louis Naveilhan, head sommelier of Sumosan restaurant in Mayfair, to find out how saké is made, from polishing the rice to the importance of the spring water. Like grapes, there are dozens of different varieties of rice, and only the best are used for making saké.

Seven sakés were on show at Sumosan, from the Grand Cru of sakés, Betsukakoi 2009 Junamai Daiginjo, made from rice polished down to 50% of its original size, to the crowd pleasing Pink Nigori Saké Jyunmai that tasted like strawberry milkshake due to the white peach yeast. As with wine, there are entry, mid-priced and premium sakés, and if Naveilhan's sales are anything to go by, the popularity of the transparent drink is soaring in the UK.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Dalmore tasting at Selfridges

Tasting season is in full swing. August was painfully quiet, hence the silence on the blog front. My diary was a barren wasteland of blank space, but the dog days are over - September has saved my social life!

Never one to pass up an opportunity to try something new, when an invite for a Dalmore whisky and chocolate tasting at Selfridges pinged into my inbox, it took me all of a minute to reply.

I'm not a huge whisky fan, but I was excited to try the 45-year-old single malt master distiller Richard Paterson was unveiling for the first time. Six whiskies were on show at the Wonder Bar, which will soon play host to a series of Decanter World Wine Awards trophy winning wines. Each was matched with a different chocolate.

First up was the 12-year-old. Cue sniggering from the male members of the group. Dalmore mature their whiskies in old Gonzales Byass Matusalem casks, imbuing the final blend with an attractive nutty finish. The 12-year-old was incredibly approachable, with notes of orange, citrus and aromatic spices, which worked well with the marmalade fueled chocolate.

The 15-year-old had developed further, and was showing hints of dried spices, cinnamon and ginger, which were enhanced by the salted caramel chocolate. Next in line was the 'Gran Reserva', which sounds more like a Rioja than a whisky. It had an opulent nose of roasted coffee and Christmas cake, which fused wonderfully with the ginger dominant Madagascan chocolate.

Soon it was time for the 18-year-old – a whisky with a driving license. Matured in American white oak for most of its life, it's finished off in Sherry wood for the final furlong. Smooth and rounded, it had a potent nose of almonds, vanilla and spice. Having sipped on these bad boys and nibbled copious squares of chocolate, we were summoned to hail the arrival of the master distiller himself, known as 'The Nose'.

A small mustacheod man with a big personality, Paterson oozes charisma and has the mouth of a sailor. He leaps up on a chair and launches into an impassioned speech about his new arrival - the 45-year-old single malt he's christened Aurora, after the goddess of the dawn. Dalmore, he says, is distinguished by the shape of its stills, which he refers to as 'the big bastards'.

At the point of exploding from his own enthusiasm, Paterson uncorks Aurora and pours us all a wee dram. 'Caress it', he urges us, 'make love to it'. At £3,200 a bottle, Paterson puts it in the same quality league as Lafite. 'It's probably the most expensive thing you'll ever have in your mouths ladies', he says with a smirk. Someone nearly chokes, and I'm close to spraying the man next to me. This guy is a riot.

Aurora is seriously good - an attractive amber colour, it has an intoxicating Sherry-like nose of marmalade, maple, caramel, cedar and spice. Paterson tells us to keep it in our mouths for as long as possible to maximise the flavour development. It has a creamy, textured palate layered with citrus and sweet spice, and a cigar-like finish so long it goes into next week. It may have been the chocolate, or Paterson's oratory skills, but I walked out of Selfridges a whisky convert.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Louis Roederer Wine Writers Awards

Monday night was nerve-wracking and exciting in equal measure. It was the Louis Roederer Wine Writers' Awards and I was up for Best Emerging Wine Writer.

I arrived at the Gherkin intoxicated by the promise of the evening. We all had to check our bags, Heathrow Airport style, through an X-ray machine, and walk through a metal detector. Christelle went off.

Shooting up 35 floors in the speedy lift, I got a rush of blood to the head, but was soon rewarded with a spectacular view across the London skyline. It was a Dickensian evening – smoggy and grey, and the city stretched out before me like a painting. The sky seemed to mirror the colour of the buildings out of sympathy. I spotted St Paul's in the foreground. It looked so tiny, like a scaled down miniature. The whole vista looked imaginary - a painted backdrop to our reverie.

I grabbed a glass of Roederer from a passing waiter and was disappointed to discover that my bellyful of butterflies wasn't enough to deter me from the canapés. I had hoped, for once, to be able to show some restraint. Soon however, we were being ushered up another floor into the tip of the Gherkin, where we were greeted by Louis Roederer head Frederic Rouzaud.

The evening drew a number of the wine world twitterati: Jancis Robinson was stood to my right in a tailored gray jacket, and Tim Atkin to my left. Rouzaud introduced the latest vintage of Cristal – 2004, which we all got to try. I remember being more impressed with the 2002 last year, but that may have had something to do with the novelty factor of trying it for the first time. The '02 was golden and rich in flavour, while the '04 seemed far more subtle and introverted.

Charles Metcalfe took the stage and the awards were announced. I was up against the dynamo that is Rebecca Gibb,'s Richard Hemming and Gabriel Savage of The Drinks Business. Rebecca and I were stood next to each other, and, after racing through the first award, they were suddenly announcing ours. My heart began to pound. This could be it. This could be my moment.

Charles read through the list – it was exhilarating just to hear my name called out. 'This person has been rewarded for her remarkable reporting that defies her young years'. I knew I hadn't won - all my articles were features. Rebecca Gibb's name was announced and she weaved her way through the crowd and up onto the stage.

Hats off to Rebecca; a deserved winner. Not only is she a Master of Wine student, but she freelancers for all the top wine titles and is about to set up a wine school in Aukland - I didn't stand a chance! Other winners on the night were Jancis Robinson for her website, Decanter's own Andrew Jefford, who was crowned Wine Columnist of the Year, and Simon Woods, who scooped Online Wine Columnist of the Year. I stuck around for a few more glasses of fizz, then sloped off into the night with a bottle of Roederer swinging by my side.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Spanish wine masterclass at Harvey Nichols

Harvey Nichols has just added another string to its already well furnished bow – first they brought us the deliciously decadent Tanqueray 10 Terrace and now, as summer folds its golden wings back in for another year, they've started hosting wine masterclasses.

Curious to see what was on offer, I headed to the infamous 5th floor after work the other evening, making a double-pronged detour: firstly to peruse their food hall and drool over the cheese, and secondly to dribble over their extensive Champagne selection – they even had a label for Krug's super rare and eye-wateringly expensive Clos d'Ambonnay, but the bottle was sadly absent.

Dragging myself away from the Champagne, I took my place at the tasting table, along with a sprinkling of fellow wine lovers. I was quickly handed a glass of golden fizz, which I presumed was Champagne, but was surprised and delighted to find out it was in fact vintage Cava: Gran Caus Brut Nature Reserva 2004. I'm a huge fan of Spanish wine but have never been a Cava nut - I find it a bit too earthy. This was different. It was amazingly elegant and refined, with rich, biscuity, autolytic notes. It had excellent body and depth, and was easily the best Cava I've ever tasted. We were off to a good start.

Frenchman Patrick Salles, Harvey Nicks' head sommelier, was our host for the evening. He championed himself to us as something of a maverick in the sommelier world - a man happy to go against the grain and push for dairing pairings in food and wine matching, which I'm all for. Food and wine, like life, is all about experimentation and discovery.

Salles chose to pair two different whites with our starter of elderflower marinated salmon with fennel and apple creme fraiche: one wine to complement the salmon and the other to complement the creme fraiche. First we tried Allende 2007, a barrel fermented Viura from Rioja. Rich, rounded and creamy, it went wonderfully well with the sashimi-like salmon and I was immediately seduced. Next up was Terras Gauda, O Rosal Albariño 2008 from Rias Baixas, which was fresh and fruity, with lemon, grass, gooseberry, peach and apricot dominating.

After a brief lesson in decanting, remarkably my first in three years at Decanter, Salles performed the same trick with the main course: smoked duck breast with cream cabbage and bacon in a Madeira jus. The duck, smoked in Earl Gray tea, was heavenly. It had a gamony flavour, which, when combined with the meaty Spanish reds, absolutely sang. First we tried Pittacum Mencía 2005 from up-and-coming region Bierzo. Mencía is an exciting Spanish grape variety to watch, and the rising star didn't disappoint. Dense with bramble fruits, wild cherries, herbs and flowers, there was a lot going on in the glass.

The second red was Aalto 2006 from Ribera del Duero, one of the northern Spanish region's icon wines alongside Vega Sicilia and Pingus. It was distinctly different from the Bierzo – sweeter, more opulent; more hedonistic. The nose and palate showed black currant, black cherry, chocolate, vanilla and toffee, wrapped around toasty oak and spice. Pudding was an equally decadent affair - a gooey chocolate fondant with banana and coconut ice cream paired with Moscatel, Emilin NV from Bodgeas Lustau that looked and tasted like treacle.

The day after the tasting I called Aalto winery, as I was researching an article on Ribera del Duero and needed some quotes. The bodega's founder, Javier Zaccagnini, picked up the phone. We get talking and he mentions that he's in London for the next few hours, so I suggest we meet for lunch. I take him to my local tapas bar, Mar I Terra in Southwark, and over octopus and lamb cutlets I tell him that I tried his wine for the first time last night. That's the crazily beautiful thing about the wine world - one minute you can be discovering a wine for the first time, and the next you're having lunch with the winemaker. You can see my video interview with Javier here.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Decanter World Wine Awards dinner

I'm a bit late in getting this up, but last Wednesday was our Decanter World Wine Awards dinner. I can't quite believe this is the fourth dinner I've attended - how the years have flown.

The first was at the V&A, when I was a wine newby, having worked at Decanter a mere month. I sat next to Michael Schuster and declared I preferred the Riesling to the Chardonnay we were drinking. The next day a copy of his wine tasting book landed on my desk along with a note that read: 'anyone who prefers Riesling to Chardonnay has a palate with great potential'.

We migrated to the The Hempel hotel the year after, then settled on the epically beautiful Royal Opera House, where we've been for the past two years. This year we were treated to wonderful weather - it was one of those glorious late summer evenings where the sun stayed out late, warming our shoulders while we sipped Charles Heidsieck 2000 on the terrace. I say we, but I had to steal sips from my glass, in between ushering winning winemakers to be interviewed for our shiny new site, to ferreting out their trophy Riedel decanters.

After the madness of the reception I had a chance to unwind and savour a selection of the wines on show, my standouts being the Schloss Johannisberg, Riesling Erstes Gewächs, Rheingau 2008 and Bodegas Baigorri de Garage Rioja 2005. I was sat next to Alex Hunt, who told me of his seven year quest to become an MW - the answer to which would be revealed on Friday (he did). We then got talking about the science of sight, the merits of Comte, and whether photography could be considered an art form, which, of course, it can.

Food was an exciting affair - we started with peat-smoked salmon and watercress creme fraiche and moved on to leg of lamb roasted pink with a Guwurztraminer velouté. Both were exquisitely cooked, especially considering the ROH kitchens had to churn out 400 of each dish. After the main course the 28 International Trophies were announced. There were two big surprise wins: the Red Rhône Varietal over £10 trophy went to Israeli winery Carmel, for its Kayoumi Single Vineyard Shiraz 2008, beating the likes of Rhône big guns Chapoutier and Guigal. The winery, based in Upper Galilee, celebrated its 120th harvest this year.

Another shocker, which raised the biggest cheer of the night, was when East Sussex winery Ridge View trumped some of the top Champagne houses to scoop the Sparkling over £10 trophy for its Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs 2006. Unfortunately I was in the loo at the time, but the cheers of delight at the fact that the Brits had trumped the French at their own game snaked all the way down the corridor.

I'd spoken with Mardi from the winery a few weeks prior, in order to get their wine dog Talby on our back page, and had to force myself not to mention the International Trophy. One word from me and the whole surprise would have been ruined. Mardi rang the office the day after the awards – she'd been bombarded with media interview requests all morning, but seemed as happy about Talby making it as a 'top dog' as she did about the International Trophy.

Before pudding I quickly caught up with Jeremy Rockett from Gonzales Byass, who was sporting a fetching Tio Pepe waistcoat, Joe Gilmour from Roberson, who was buzzing after his Kensington shop was deservedly crowned the best small independent merchant in our retailer awards, and the lovely Lo Franco brothers from Fattoria La Vialla in Tuscany (who I'm pictured with). They invited me out to their estate to do the oliver harvest in October - I'm seriously tempted.

Sitting back down to get stuck into my sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce, Barry Dick pulls up a chair beside me. We get chatting and I quickly notice he's taking no interest in his pud - watching the six pack I imagine. I feel rather self conscious about wolfing down mine, but it's so delicious I can't resist. He tells me he bought his tux 15 years ago and that it still fits. I glance down at his tight fitting trousers, his toned thigh muscles clearly visible from beneath the fabric, and get a Semillons flashback!

Jilly Goolden on Cork

TV wine personality Jilly Goolden was at Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park on Thursday morning alongside a pair of giant, 2m high cork sculptures to launch an initiative by the cork industry urging consumers to sign a pledge to support natural cork.

The campaign focuses on cork’s green credentials and calls on retailers and producers to state clearly whether their wines are sealed by cork stoppers. I caught up with Goolden after the launch to find out why she’s backing the campaign.