Sunday, 28 February 2010

Franco Manca Chiswick

Franco Manca is one of those places on the list I've been meaning to check out, but I've never got around to making the Pilgrimage to Electric Road in Brixton to try the award-winning sourdough slices.

All my foodie friends rave about it, so I was delighted to be invited to the launch of a sister restaurant in leafy Chiswick, minutes from my flat. Why the invite featured a picture of a young Margaret Thatcher shoving a pizza into a brick oven remains a mystery. Perhaps she's a loyal patron?

Pizza is taken so seriously in Italy, they have set up the equivalent of a wine AOC, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, to maintain standards. For a pizza to make the grade, dough must be allowed to rise for a minimum of six hours. Franco Manca leave it for nearly a day.

Rocking up to the restaurant on Chiswick High Road, the place was buzzing with gesticulating Italians. A band of middle-aged mafioso types wearing open shirts and gold medallions belted out jittery jazz, while plates of mini pizzas circulated.

The brainchild of Neapolitan Giuseppe Mascoli, Franco Manca's secret weapon is its wood-burning Tufae brick oven. The eight ton beast cooks pizzas at a scorching 500 degrees for a mere 40 seconds, giving the crusts the perfect balance of crispiness and chewiness. Olives come from Spain, while the Chorizo is sourced closer to home, from London-based Spanish deli Brindisa. The tomatoes, of course, are from Italy, and the house lemonade is made from Amalfi lemons.

Wine comes courtesy of Ottavio Rube, owner of the Valli Unite cooperative in Piedmont. Rube runs a self-sustained vineyard that produces a range of organic, non-sulphite wines. He had flown in for the launch. Tall and wide, with a mop of shaggy blond hair and huge hands, he looked like he'd arrived by way of Middle Earth.

He didn't speak a word of English, but my friends and I raised a glass to his impressive Barbera 2006. It had an opulent nose of rich black cherry, vanilla and smoke. Super dry with racing acidity, the palate was soft, rich and delicious. A 2009 red made from Nebbiolo and Dolcetto also did the rounds, along with a refreshing Cortese.

Suddenly, plates of pizza began to emerge from the kitchen. The waitress bypassed the party people and plonked it in front of an ancient guy who looked like he'd just stepped off the set of the Godfather. We looked on with envy. Why did he get his own pizza and not us? A few of his flat cap wearing friends pulled up a chair and pulled off a slice.

We soon got a slice of the action, as a siege of pizza-filled plates started flying out of the kitchen. Fresh, chewy and juicy, it was dangerously moorish. I managed five slices, stopping before any buttons burst. Surprisingly, the Chiswick branch haven't put their prices up – pizzas range from £4.50 to £6.80 and a 125ml glass of wine only costs £1.80. I have no idea why Mascoli chose Chiswick, but I just might have found my new favorite haunt.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Come dine with me

Monday night was momentous – a rite of passage that marked my entry into adulthood. I hosted my first dinner party.

Admittedly it was only for four people (myself included), but for someone who has yet to wean herself off her university diet of cheesy nachos and Super Noodles, it was a big deal.

I have always hoped there is a domestic goddess within, and that I've just been waiting for the right occasion to release her. This was my chance, and I was leaving nothing to chance.

On Sunday morning I scoured the pages of my favorite (okay, only) cookbook: Nigella Express. If anyone can make food sexy and appealing, Nigella can. I met her once during my reporting days and she dripped sex appeal. She is the chocolate covered spoon of sex appeal. Her programmes are food porn, and so deliciously executed. A wink here, a lick of the spoon there... I digress.

I picked the three easiest recipes to execute, jotted down the ingredients in my pink Krug notebook and hoofed it to Sainsbury's. It's the first time in my life I've been to a supermarket with a purpose. I felt virtuous as I skipped down the aisles throwing all my desired ingredients into my basket. With each new ingredient, I came a step closer to the realisation of my goal. The pieces of the culinary puzzle were coming together.

Fortunately, my flatmate was away on Sunday night, giving me the chance to dig out the dining table (which we've never used), and set the scene. I thought I'd get ahead of myself by making the honeycomb for the ice cream a day early. It's deceptively simple, all you need is caster sugar, golden syrup and bicarbonate of soda. Nigella ordered me not to touch the sugar as it boiled, so I left it a little too long and it came out more brunette than blond, with a burnt toffee aftertaste. I made mountains of it – dental suicide.

Rushing back from work on Monday, I whacked on Paolo Nuttini and lit some candles, decorating the table with my pre-starters: giant olives, hunks of sourdough with olive and balsamic oil for dipping, and shreds of Parma ham. My first two guests arrived and began to dig in.

The host has a difficult role to play during a dinner party. Striking the right balance between the attention you pay to your guests and your food is a fine art. You are expected to be wildly entertaining and unruffled while you whip up a three course culinary extravaganza (unaided), cater to your guests' every caprice and match them glass for glass. It's a delicate tightrope that needs to be navigated with grace and humility.

My third guest was running late, which presented two dilemmas: to uncork or not to uncork, and when to start the starters. Timing is crucial to the smooth running of a dinner party. A late guest can cause the whole operation to unravel. I decided to take a risk and start cooking without him, in the hope that it would somehow speed up his arrival. I cracked open the bubbles in his absence, as my guests were parched and open-mouthed like hungry little birds.

Much to my delight, my final guest arrived in perfect time for the starters – eggs en cocotte with my secret ingredient: truffle oil. Annoyingly, I had let the yolks go hard whilst waiting for the soldiers to toast, but they went down a treat and disappeared quickly from their ramekins. I opened a Marques de la Murietta Capellania white Rioja to accompany the dish. It had an alluring waxy mouthfeel, with notes of fennel and honey wrapped around an oak core. Broad and creamy on the palate, the faint traces of oxidization only added to its charm.

No sooner had I pondered it's toffee-tinged depths, than I was back in the kitchen tackling the main course: duck breasts with pomegranate and mint on a bed of rocket. I have never cooked duck before, and to make matters worse, my cooker has no numbers on the dial. They have either been rubbed off by overzealous lodgers before me, or they never existed. I seared the breasts in a pan as suggested by Nigella and whacked them in the oven, taking them out a couple of minutes before the suggested time, having learnt the hard way with the eggs.

Amazingly, when I thrust my knife into the hot skin and began to sheer, the meat was as pink as a warm cheek. I made my bed of rocket and lay the slithers of duck in it, pouring the juice from the pan over the meat as I went. To finish, I added a sprinkling of mint and a handful of pomegranate seeds, that glinted like rubies in the light. Being an Art History graduate, I have to admit to picking the dish for its aesthetic beauty. It looked so pretty on the dish - the green of the mint bouncing off the red of the pomegranate. I matched the main with a 2005 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir from California. On the palate were raspberries, rose petals and cola bottles that mingled with earthy, meaty notes. Elegant and refined, it was a sensational match for the duck.

Finally it was time for a bit of fun: desert. This was the only dish of the trio I'd made before. It was a hit with my family last Easter, and has to be the most indulgent pudding on the planet. I lined up four ice cream sundae glasses along the counter and scooped a ball of chocolate, vanilla and toffee ice cream into each. Between each scoop I added a layer of honeycomb, and on top went my magic sauce - melted chocolate mixed with double cream, Skippy peanut butter and golden syrup. After sprinkling them with chopped peanuts, they were good to go. It reminded me of the knickerbocker glories you used to drool over as a kid when you went to TGIs. A calorie calamity, but worth every one.

The look of delight on my friends' faces as they tucked into the gloopy scoops made all the effort worthwhile. As I sat there having made it to the finish line, finally able to relax, I realized that the joy in cooking lies in other people's reactions. To watch people happily devouring food that you've made is seriously rewarding. It fires you up and motivates you to try harder and push the culinary boundaries as far as you can. I'll still have the odd guilt free packet of Super Noodles every now and then, but I've had a taste of the the joy you get from cooking for other people, and it's made me hungry for more.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Kensington Wine Rooms

Last month I flagged up Gordon's Wine Bar as one of the best drinking dens in London for wine lovers. This month, it's all about Kensington Wine Rooms, which we voted Newcomer of the Year in our February issue.

Set up in May 2009 by Icelandic entrepreneur Thor Gudmunsson, KWR boasts five enomatic machines at £8,000 a pop – gumball machines for grown-ups that allow imbibers to chose from 40 wines by the glass. It also offers Sampler style cash cards, which you can top up like an Oyster, allowing you to self-dispense the liquid pleasure by the measure.

The wines begin at modest prices – Leyda Cabernet Reserve, Maipo Valley 2008 costs £4.50 for 125ml, and soar at the top end. Classicists can enjoy 125ml of Château Lynch Bages 2001 for £23.65, or Château Leoville Barton 1995 for £24.55. The list is a refreshing mix of established names and exciting finds from lesser-known regions in Spain, Portugal, France and beyond. Big guns Shafer, Grant Burge and Cullen are all represented, alongside G.D Vajra and Albert Mann.

On my visit last Thursday night, I was excited to see the FMC Forrester Meinert Chenin 2008 on the list. I'd only ever tried it once before, during a dinner held two years ago by Ken Forrester at South African restaurant Vivat Bacchus in London Bridge. Before he poured the wine, Forrester announced to the table that Matt Skinner had recently christened it the Fucking Magic Chenin. I was blown away – smooth, creamy and rich, with delicious honeyed notes, it was the best South African white I'd ever tried by miles.

Luckily, the 2008 was on equally good form. Drinking it was an almost transcendental experience that took me right back to the Forrester dinner. It's so gratifying to revisit a wine and get as much pleasure the second time round as the liquid memory that persists in the mind. There's something comforting about knowing you can have that experience again at the push of a button.

Moving onto the reds, I decided to try the spice-scented Tinpot Hut Syrah 2007 from Hawke's Bay. It did a great impression of a wine from the northern Rhône, but after the euphoria of the FMC, could only ever have been an anti-climax.

With so much joy to be found on the wine list, the food is something of an after thought. Wine takes centre stage at KWR, but they offer a tapas menu filled with the usual suspects: calamari, jamón Ibérico, pimientos padron, boquerones, chorizo... and a menu of more substantial mains. The puddings are deliciously decadent – I went for coffee panna cotta with salted caramel sauce paired with a rich Lustau Sherry.

Kensington Wine Rooms is ideal for a luxuriously long lunch, or wine-fueled dinner. The decor is all dark wood panelling, leather sofas and flattering candlelight. It's cosy, intimate and very zeitgeist. Bottles of wines 'to go' temptingly adorn the Enomatic-lined walls. With choice at the top of the menu, it's an emblem of our impatient times.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Sushi for beginners

My introduction to sushi was something of a baptism of fire. I was a teenager and temping in Grosvenor Square. Feeling incredibly sophisticated in my new role, I decided I needed a suitably grown-up lunch to match.

I picked up a pack of sushi from M&S and took it to the park. Opening the little black box, I was surprised to see a dollop of avocado next to a few pink flecks of ginger. I scooped it up on my chopsticks and munched it. A second later my mouth was on fire. It wasn't avocado, but wasabi! In a panic, I spat it out on the grass with a gasp, much to the dismay of the city boys and girls elegantly nibbling around me.

I've since learnt my lesson, and approach the little green dollops with caution, but after my fiery introduction, sushi has come to be one of my favourite foods. Imagine my delight then, when I was invited to a sushi-making class at Tsuru, a sushi restaurant inches from my office.

Snow-flecked on arrival, I'm quickly offered a warm cup of saké – Honjozo non vintage. It has a sweet nose of vanilla and licorice with hints of aniseed. The palate is totally different - salty and savoury like a Fino Sherry. It's smooth, medium-bodied and dangerously drinkable. After two cups I switch to sesame tea, fearing my knife skills may not be at their peak if I indulge any further.

Our teacher is a tall Thai guy called Yod Bovron, who tells us to handle the rice the way we would a lover. Strips of seaweed are passed round and we work on the rough side, so the shiny side is in view when you eat it. First up we make cucumber maki rolls. Wetting our hands with water and slapping them together like Sumo wresters, we grab a clump of rice and cover the seaweed with it, leaving a space at the top for folding. It's harder than it looks, and I make a royal mess.

We then sprinkle the rice with sesame seeds and strips of cucumber. Now for the hard part: folding. Yod grabs the ends of his bamboo sushi mat, and folds the seaweed into a neat roll in three quick movements. My rolling techniques are not up to scratch and my maki doesn't meet in the middle. I turn it over and put in on the tray before anyone notices.

Next up are California rolls, which I have more success with. We cover a strip of seaweed with rice and decorate it with fiery orange flying fish eggs, that burn like jewels in the light. Flipping it over, we decorate the other side with avocado, strips of salmon sashimi and special sushi mayonnaise. I give mine a generous squirt, then roll it quickly, so the seaweed disappears, covered by the outer layer of rice. It looks mouthwatering, but we have more sushi to make before I can try it.

By the time we're onto the nigiri (strips of sashmi on a ball of rice), I'm on a roll. Yod shows us how it's done, adding a dab of wasabi to the sashimi, then squishing, poking and prodding it into shape. We're all too hungry to resist temptation, and pop them in our mouths. They're delicious. Last on the menu are the prawn tempura hand rolls. I make a bed of rice across one side of the seaweed and add asparagus, mayo and the tempura, then roll it from corner to corner like an ice cream cone.

We're given our maki and California rolls back. They look so pretty on the plate, it's hard to believe I made them. They don't stay on the plate for long, as I'm ravenous. The hand roll and California rolls are particularly delicious – must be the mayo. Sushi only stays fresh for four hours, so it's perishable personified, but if you can spare the time to make it, your tastebuds will be richly rewarded.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Omar Khayyam on wine

'Awake, my Little ones, and fill the Cup Before Life's Liquor in it's Cup be dry', urged 12th century Persian poet Omar Khayyam in one of the many quatrains that make up the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, a set of English translations of the four-line verses by Edward FitzGerald.

The line reminds me of the opening verse of Robert Herrick's 1648 poem To the Virgins, to make much of Time, made famous by the film Dead Poet's Society:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying

The message is the same: seize the day and make the most of the moment you're living in, because our time on earth is short and life's pleasures are fleeting. Khayyam describes it thus:

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies;
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

Last Sunday I made a pilgrimage to the British Library to check out their exhibition on the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam, having been inspired to do so by an article in our March issue by philosopher Roger Scruton. In it he remembers the 'laughing and tolerant phase' of Islam Khayyam lived through, made 'laughing and tolerant' he believes, under the influence of the grape.

'It is one of the tragedies of our time that those great winos, Hafiz, Rumi and Omar Khayyam, should have ceased to be the leading authorities on how the Holy Book is interpreted', Scruton mourns. The article ends with a controversial plea: 'Muslims must learn again to drink, and should be piously applying themselves to the task'.

A distant dream perhaps, but there is no denying the importance of wine to Omar Khayyam. His verses are soaked with references to wine and its joyful effects on the soul. In fact, walking round the exhibition, illustrated with beautiful drawings and a jewel-encrusted binding of the poems, it was hard to find a verse that didn't mention wine:

When once you hear the roses are in bloom,
The is the time, my love, to pour the wine;
Houris and palaces and Heaven and Hell-
These are but fairy-tales, forget them all.

And lately by the Tavern Door agape,
Come stealing through the Dusk an Angel Shape
Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and 'twas–the Grape!

Khayyam also wrote a poem In Praise of Wine, extolling wine's virtue as a bringer of truth and wisdom able to rid the drinker of their ego:

See! I clasp the cup whose power
Yields more wisdom in an hour
Than whole years of study give,
Vainly seeking how to live.
Wine dispenses into air,
Selfish thoughts, and selfish care.

The exhibition was a fascinating insight into the mind of the poet, who saw wine as a means of getting closer to truth, and the truest self. I agree with Scruton about it being a tragedy that liberals like Khayyam and Rumi are no longer viewed as authorities on how to interpret the Holy Book, and that the 'laughing and tolerant' phase of Islam is sadly a thing of the past. For, as it rightly says in Ecclesiastes 31:35-36: 'Wine drunk with moderation is the joy of soul and the heart'.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Brindisa ham carving school

I'm an unashamed hispanophile and relish every opportunity I get to indulge my passion for Spain. Last year I went to a tasting of the 2006 and 2007 vintages of Joselito ham, paired with Dom Perignon 2000. It was heaven.

This year the lovely people at Brindisa invited me to one of their ham carving workshops at the Brindisa shop in Borough Market. Held every first Thursday of the month, the classes are proving incredibly popular and sell out well in advance, despite the rather hefty £85 price tag.

An email beforehand advises me to wrap up warm, and arriving at the open-air shop under the arches of London Bridge, I can see why. I'm seated round a long table with fellow jamón lovers, and given a blanket and water bottle to cuddle. Before the class starts, we have to sign an 'exclusion of responsibility' disclaimer that ends: 'Brindisa will not be help responsible for any accidents or injuries that may result from the tutored ham carving activities'. Gulp.

Assistant manager Alberto then takes us on a tour through the history of jamón, which dates back to Roman times, when they used to put Serrano ham legs on coins. A massive 50 million legs are produced each year in Spain for us greedy ham guzzlers. We're each given a plate with four different hams to try, to compare the different styles. They're all surprisingly different, from the chewy Jamón de Monroyo Reserva, to the smokey bacon like Jabu Recebo.

The last two hams are the highest quality, made from the prized Ibérico pigs that roam the acorn-filled plains of Extremadura in north west Spain. Pictures of black pigs frolicking in fields are dutifully passed round. The third ham we try, Jamón de la Dehesa de Extremadura Bellota, is darker than the first two, with a strong, rich, almost sweet flavour. The delicious strips dissolve on the tongue. Last up is the Joselito Gran Reserva Bellota. Joselito prides itself on being the top Ibérico ham producer. The Joselito estate is so expansive, their pigs have 3.5 hectares of land each to run wild in. The resulting flavour is more elegant and subtle.

After our comparative tasting, master carver Zac Innes steps up to teach us some knife skills. He compares the shape of the Serrano ham to a guitar and the Ibérico, with its slim foot and black trotter, or pata negra, to a violin. He then whips out a 'jamonero', a long, thin, carving knife, but recommends removing the fat with a bread knife. Each ham has to be checked for defects before carving, like a sommelier would a wine before pouring. To do this, Zac uses a 'cala', a tiny stick made from beef bone. He plunges it in the Ibérico leg and has a whiff. It's perfect.

After a few expert slices are shorn, it's our turn to carve. I don a navy apron and a gladiatorial looking sliver chain mail glove to protect my right hand while I carve with my left. I'm nervous; knife skills are not my forte. We get to take home whatever we carve, which adds a sense of urgency to the proceedings.

I pick up my jamónero and start pulling it through the meat, conscious of the fact that I'm against the clock. Zac turns to help the carver to my left, and I'm left to my own devices. I start making dramatic sweeping movements with my knife, like an orchestra conductor, through the marbly flesh. Zac turns around, looks at the ham and gasps. 'What are you doing? You've massacred it!'

He seems horrified. I drop the jamónero and look down the length of the leg. What was once a smooth plain of flesh is now a jagged mess. I apologise to Zac for my over-zealous approach and he assures me he's seen worse. I'm given a second chance and try my best to keep the knife straight, cutting in a short, quick, sawing motion.

I find my rhythm and cut a couple of perfect strips before being asked to step away from the ham. Alberto bags it up for me, and I'm given a goodie bag with jamón tacos (great for stocks), a tub of ham fat for cooking with, and a generous portion of the Jabu Recebo. Making my way home through the flower-filled market, I pass the Brindisa restaurant on the corner. It's so full, diners are spilling out onto the streets. London, it seems, is also in love with Spain.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

West London Wine School

Wednesday was a big night. My flat mate, Jimmy Smith, launched the West London Wine School at the Big Yellow Cellars in Fulham. A franchise of Newcastle Wine School, Jimmy set up the company in November after First Quench, his employer, became the latest tragedy of the recession.

He managed to charm Steven Spurrier into coming down to officially open the school, but there wasn't a red ribbon in sight, just lots of Champagne. Fresh from the Australia tasting, Spurrier rocked up in a sharp suit with Ron Brown of Maverick Wines.

Spurrier's speech was an ode to Michael Broadbent, who he described as the founder of wine education in the UK. It was fascinating to listen to my contributing editor paying such a tribute to a fellow wine writer. You forget that figures in the wine world at the top of their game have their own idols they look up to, and Spurrier made it clear how much respect he has for Broadbent as an educator.

The end of the speech touched on the need to pass the baton to a new generation to keep wine education thriving. Enter Jimmy Smith, a walking wine encyclopedia, with the enthusiasm of a puppy and the passion of a Frenchman. If anyone can fly the flag for wine education and make it exciting, accessible and most importantly fun, he can.

It was slightly surreal seeing Steven Spurrier open the school. I felt proud of Jimmy and all he's achieved. It takes cojones to start a business in the middle of a recession – hats off to him for taking a risk.

After the last guests evaporated, a group of us stayed behind, opened a Gevrey Chambertin and toasted the new company. We kicked about until midnight savouring the last drops and enjoying the moment.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Chivas Regal at Boisdale

I love a good cigar every now and then, there's something celebratory about them, like Champagne – something decadent and slightly mischievous.

I was lucky enough to be able to indulge in such Churchillian pursuits on Tuesday night, at the gallantly titled 'Chivas 7 Cs of Chivalry' dinner at Boisdale in Belgravia, a paean to tartan run by cigar afficionado Ranald Macdonald.

Only last week had I donned my kilt for the Monkey Shoulder Burns night celebrations, but felt duty bound to whip it on again, along with a purple velvet smoking jacket, natch. Greeted with Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque-tails on arrival, I get talking over canapés to a seasoned freelance journalist called Judy about her stint as a sex book writer. 'It's like anything in life', she informs me, 'if you do your research, you'll be fine'. At which point we are swiftly seated.

The dinner, hosted by Chivas Ambassador Phil Huckle, promised to explore the four pillars of chivalry: gallantry, brotherhood, honour and valour. I am seated next to William from The Express, who used to write quizzes for Cosmopolitan. There's a theme emerging here... To my right is Dominic Midgley, of London Paper fame. I ask him how his book on Russian oligarchs is going. 'Very well, but my agent wants another 10,000 words before he starts going to publishers. He keeps dangling the carrot and making me write more'.

We are stopped mid conversation by a floral-shirted Ranald, who taps a spoon against his Champagne glass and summons Phil Huckle, who makes an impassioned speech about the merits of chivalry, and how woman are still won over by chivalrous acts – he's right, I certainly suffer from White Knight syndrome. Everything we eat and drink begins with the letter C: Champagne, Chivas, canapés, caviar, charcuterie – a curious concept.

An exquisite chocolate three ways desert with 'honour' etched onto the side of the plate does the rounds, along with Chivas 18-year-old, which I water down when no one is looking. We then retire to the roof terrace for cigars. Cocooning myself in a tartan blanket, I see Ranald lighting up, and he encourages me to do the same. Tonight we're on the Romeo y Julietas. Apparently cigars got their literary names after the beloved books that were read out to the factory workers while they rolled.

The cigar is seriously huge; easily the biggest I've ever smoked. I puff away on it with brio and manage to make short work of it. I smoke it so fast, that Mr Chivas declares it's the most impressive cigar action he's ever witnessed. Perhaps I'm a natural, which is rather worrying. Mid cigar, I get to try Chivas Regal 25-year-old, a mere year younger than me. At £200 a bottle, it's not cheap, but even I, whisky neophyte that I am, can appreciate its complexity. No sooner had I pondered its peachy almond depths, than we were kicked off the roof for making too much noise. How unchivalrous!

Tasting notes

Château de Ricaud, Bordeaux 2005

A lively nose of ripe cherries, black berries and forest fruits. Heady and elegant, the palate was silky, smooth and rounded, with luxurious spices, black pepper, and a long licorice finish.

Chivas 18-year-old

A secondary fruit nose of candid peel, sultanas and Old Spice aftershave. Fresh, citrusy and clean on the palate, I found caramel, honey and fruitcake mixing into a long nutty finish.

Chivas Regal 25-year-old

A complex nose of peach, orange peel, cloves, cinnamon and woody spices from the oak. The palate was smooth, almost creamy, with toffee, caramel and almonds in the mix. Elegant, clean and beautifully balanced, it had a long rewarding finish.