Monday, 31 January 2011

Video: Laurenz Maria Moser

Wine and the City talks to Austrian Grüner Veltliner guru Laurenz Maria Moser V about his mission to get Grüner recognised as one of the great whites of the world, the limitations of making an entire wine range from one grape, and the importance of marketing to women.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sadoya wine dinner at Saki Farringdon

Japanese wine is having something of a moment. Last week a series of events were held in London to showcase Japan's winemaking prowess to the city's wine elite, including a lunch attended by a who's who of the wine world: Michael Broadbent, Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson to name but three.

The focus was on Japan's flagship white grape, Koshu. Helping to build a buzz around Japan's great white hope, Jancis Robinson MW was enlisted to host a Koshu seminar at the Koshu of Japan trade tasting, in which she described the grape, which is being marketed as an alternative to saké for matching with Japanese food, as 'quietly gallant'. Made in the Yamanashi Prefecture, the Japanese government has put its support behind a campaign to promote Koshu in the UK and other European export markets, targeting Japanese restaurants.

My encounter with Koshu came at Saki restaurant in Farringdon, at a dinner hosted by Hirohisa Imai, owner of Sadoya, one of Japan's leading producers. Light bodied and almost transparent, the tank sample of 2010 Sadoya Zenkouji Kitahara Koshu had delicate, yuzu citrus flavours, along with hints of lychee and lime blossom. Jancis accurately describes its purity as 'zen-like'.

Sat beside Imai at the dinner was long-term friend and former owner of Château Cos d'Estournel Bruno Prats. I wondered whether Prats harboured dreams of a Japanese wine project, to add to his Portuguese, Chilean, South African and Spanish ventures, but he assured me he has no plans to invest in Japan, and that his final wine project, an old vine Monastrell from Alicante called 'Alfinal', or 'the end' in Spanish, will launch at Vinexpo in Bordeaux this June.

Leaving Prats and Imai to get back to their Koshu, I took my place at a black cubed table with a white, gravel-filled centre sprouting four phallic candles, like erotic stalagmites – the most curious centrepiece I've ever encountered in a restaurant. Not only the only blonde, but the only Brit, I felt like I'd stepped inside a scene from Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation.

The seven course dinner paired a different Sadoya wine with each dish. Founded in 1917, Sadoya was appointed purveyor to the Japanese Imperial Household in 1940 – a title it retains to this day. The feast commenced with a trio of nibbles inspired by Japanese New Year celebrations: tiny fish representing fertility, a golden egg yolk set atop an egg white in a coconut ice-like cube for prosperity, and a white radish and red(ish) carrot – Japan's lucky colours.

The accompanying Sadoya Cabernet Sauvignon sparkling rosé was an attractive onion skin pink, and had persistent petillance and a feminine nose of summer fruits. A simple sashimi selection followed, which matched incredibly well with the crisp, citrusy Koshu. We then moved on to scallop, king prawn and Lotus root kakiage (tempura) that looked like a tumor but tasted divine. Crunchy and moorish, it's the Japanese equivalent of beer battered cod. The matching 2004 dry Semillon was decidedly dull, and almost ghostly in its lack of character.

Sat to my left was a Japanese lady who had emigrated to England 30 years prior and now worked at the Japanese Embassy in London. After kindly inviting me to a forthcoming saké tasting, she told me of her predilection for English comedy and costume drama, name checking Only Fools and Horses and Downton Abbey as her particular favourites. Curiouser and curiouser. A fascinating dish followed: braised pork belly in a potato sauce, served in a yellow flower-shaped bowl and garnished with two bright green beans. Soft, comforting and tremendously tender, it was the best pork I've ever tasted.

We were then presented with a duo of exciting wines: Sadoya Château Brillant Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 and Château Brillant Cabernet/Merlot 1962. The '92 was remarkably youthful for its 19 years, and still incredibly fruit forward, with a nose of black cherries, and red currants. The palate was smooth and rounded, showing traces of aged Bordeaux. The '62 also seemed young for its years, and reassuringly full of life. Savoury and serious, it had aromas of pencil shavings, cedar wood, cigar box and tobacco smoke, with a spicy, sour cherry finish.

The '62 was matched with black cod with truffle miso - a sublime dish that had me reaching for superlatives, so rapturous was its divine, hedonistic flavour. Intense, intoxicating, indulgent, I almost genuflected in front of the plate in reverence to it. The final wine of the night was a curio: Sadoya Zenkouji Kitahara Sweet Semillon 2008, paired with green tea tiramisu, that sang of apricot and orange peel. In the UK's highly competitive wine retail arena, the 'quietly gallant' Koshu is not going to be an easy sell, but it's exciting to see the white grape has entered the world wine arena. And with Sadoya producing some stunning reds, Japan's wine future looks to be in the pink.

Saturday, 29 January 2011


On a recent rainy Wednesday evening, I made the pilgrimage across town on the smooth moving East London line in search of Brawn. The arrival of this Columbia Road newcomer last November – sibling to small plates pioneer Terroirs in Charing Cross, was awaited with much anticipation by foodies and wine nuts alike.

Brawn is the English word used to describe the unloved (and largely uneaten) bits of a pig's head – tongue, cheeks, nose, which are boiled and pressed and wind up sharing terrine space with other piggy parts – trotters, offal. The American term for brawn is the euphemistic sounding 'head cheese'; words that don't move one to hunger. Brawn's brawn is Italian, served in a ravigote sauce. Usually an intrepid eater, I decided to steer clear.

Previous reviews have yet to touch on what a blink and you'll miss it venue Brawn is. Perched on an unassuming corner of Columbia Road, without even a sign to announce its presence, I marched straight past its St John inspired white walls, until, upon second inspection, I spotted my dining companion through the rain spattered window.

The aforementioned dining partner was Stuart Peskett of Square Meal fame: cue red carpet treatment from bread to bed. Hanging my sodden coat on a fire engine red stand, I surveyed my surroundings to a soundtrack of frantic jazz - pared down, industrial, canteen chic, with wooden red-topped tables and chairs that wouldn't look out of place in a primary school. Behind the sunflower filled bar are books dedicated to such culinary luminaries as Daniel Boulud. Speaking of culinary luminaries, shortly after my arrival, Charles Campion bounded through the door in all his Rubenesque glory. It seemed sweet and fitting, such a meaty man dining at, and presumably on brawn.

After Basque saucisse seche and parmesan chunks from the Taste Tickler section of the menu, our carnivorous feast began in earnest with ice cream scoop shaped pork rillettes sprinkled with paprika, served with gherkins on a wooden chopping board, which were rich, creamy and pleasingly porcine. While the chanterelles and warm duck egg yolk on toast and the chili prawns with gremolata both delighted, the hand chopped Tuscan beef disappointed. Served round and red with hunks of bread, it resembled a naked steak tartar, dressed only with a sprinkling of salt. I'm all for raw, but it was crying out for flavours outside of the meat sphere to break up the beefy monotony.

The main event however, didn't disappointed. While Mr Square Meal went for the popular duck confit with puy lentils, which was declared a success, I opted for the slightly more adventurous sounding Mongetes – a Catalan cassoulet containing pork belly, sausage and the large white beans after which the dish is named. Served in a rustic, round, brown dish, the ingredients were hidden under a film of crispy pork skin. Rich, wintry and warming, it doubled as central heating on this unapologetically cold January night.

The menu is playfully put together and changes daily. Some of the dishes require a French dictionary, others shout loudly of their provenance, from Dorset crab to Icelandic line caught cod. Pudding was an exciting affair. After Marina O'Loughlin described them as 'heaven', I had to experience the salted butter caramel crêpes. Heaven is an understatement. Slathered in gooey caramel with a heavy handed sprinkling of salt, the juxtaposition of sweet and savoury was exquisite.

You can't talk about Brawn without mentioning the wine. Backed by the team behind quirky French wine importers Les Caves de Pyrène, Brawn's evolving wine list is deliberately left field, made up of 150 natural and biodynamic bins from a range of regions. Sections are poetically named, allowing you to choose from ‘Stones, Shells & Sea’, or ‘Sunbaked, cicada-loud, ageless country of scrub and terraced hills'.

I tried a plethora of wines on my visit, highlights of which included a Sherry-like 2009 Anjou Chenin Blanc, a clean, precise Jura Chardonnay, and a fresh, minerally Syrah/Carignan blend from Pic Saint Loup in the Languedoc. Opening a bottle of natural wine is like playing Russian roulette, so high is the risk that it will be funky to the point of undrinkable. Co-owner Oli Barker told me the same wines change from day to day, depending on when they are opened, so seek out a biodynamic calendar, and save the detour to Brawn for a fruit day.

Brawn, 9 Columbia Road, London, E2 7RG , Tel: +44(0)20 7729 5692. A meal for two with wine, water and service costs about £80.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Kevin Judd, Greywacke

Wine and the City catches up with Kevin Judd, former chief winemaker of Cloudy Bay, at the Liberty tasting at The Oval cricket ground, to talk about his decision to leave Cloudy Bay after 25 years, his Greywacke project, and why New Zealand needs to make less Sauvignon Blanc.

Friday, 21 January 2011

John Duval, former chief winemaker of Penfolds

Wine and the City catches up with John Duval, former chief winemaker of Penfolds and custodian of Penfolds Grange, at the Liberty portfolio tasting at The Oval cricket ground, to talk about his newfound freedom after 30 years with Penfolds, his new wine project – John Duval Wines – and whether or not there is a market for Australian wine in China.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Tony Hadley & Mark Hix on British beer

Wine and the City caught up with the unlikely duo of Spandau Ballet frontman Tony Hadley and world-renowned chef Mark Hix at Mark's bar in Hix Soho on Monday night, to talk about the delights of British beer, their own brews and what the beer industry needs to do to match the wine industry for glitz and glamour.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Video: Olivier Leriche, Domaine de L'Arlot

Wine and the City catches up with Olivier Leriche, owner and winemaker of Domaine de L'Arlot in Nuits-Saint-Georges, at the Corney & Barrow Burgundy 2009 En Primeur tasting at the Tower of London to talk biodynamics, characteristics of the ’09 vintage, and a growing interest from the Asian market.

Saturday, 15 January 2011


With Christmas now a distant memory, we're midway through the bleakest month of the year – a time of abstinence, detoxes, pretoxes and rain. A time when our minds are permitted to wonder and dream of blue skies, as we trudge through the daily drizzle.

What better way then to escape the gray, than at Cigalon, a slice of sunny Provence in London's legal throbbing heart. Opening its doors on Chancery Lane late last November, the former auction house shares street space with the College of Law and King's College London, and is a heartbeat away from the Royal Courts of Justice. A strange setting for somewhere so serene, but the juxtaposition serves to heighten the sense of escape.

Entering Cigalon's ethereal white space you feel truly transported, to a land of light and lavender, of cloudless climes and star anise. From the Tomette tiles paving the entrance and the white shuttered doors, to the high mirrors, lilac honeycomb trellising, and cicadas trilling through the speakers, the environment is almost a trompe l'oiel trick to fool you into thinking you're in Southern France. And I'm all for the illusion. It reminds me of the restaurants in Morocco, when, at the opening of a door, you can escape the snake charmers, tooth pullers and soothsayers of Marrakech's mad main square, and enter into the walled, fountain-filled, rose petal strewn bliss of a palatial pleasure dome.

I digress. Bypassing the City suits, my guest and I are seated in a plush lilac booth velveteen to the touch. Above us is a glass-domed ceiling, from which hang curious, white, birdcage-like fixtures filled with foliage. Our helpful waiter, sporting a fetching pair of lilac braces and a mauve tie, informs us that the restaurant is named after a 1935 film by Marcel Pagnol about a Provençal chef with delusions of grandeur. A Pagnol cocktail dutifully appears in a wide circular receptacle not unlike the Champagne glasses famously modeled on Marie Antoinette's breasts. Candy floss pink, it contains lychee, St Germain elderflower liqueur, pastis, vodka and cranberry, finished with a sprig of rosemary. Smooth, sharp and refreshing, it proves a delightful way to begin.

We continue with chunks of peasant bread dipped in olive oil and lashings of salty tapenade. Reading through the menu, I'm surprised at how sparse it is – just six starters, five mains and four specials. Simplicity seems to be key, with head chef Julien Carlon (of Comptoir Gascon fame) striving for authentic Provençal fare. I opt for the braised beef cannelloni in a red wine and bone marrow sauce to start, and am impressed by its tender, melt-in-the-mouth texture, paired with the rich, almost balsamic-like sauce. My companion's polenta with wild mushrooms and rocket is anything but boring – creamy and pleasantly grainy, it marries well with the earthy mushrooms and peppery rocket.

The main event is slightly more hit and miss. Not quite brave enough to order the lamb tripes and trotter stew, the waiter suggests the salt cod in a vegetable broth with aioli. It arrives Colgate white on a silver platter, atop a liferaft of vegetables in a sea of broth. The cod is well cooked, and made more interesting by the aioli, but I'm left deflated by the dish. My guest's rib of veal in Mentonaise sauce (a lemon and black olive dressing) provides more excitement. Perfectly pink, the veal sings with citrus, while the accompanying peppery chickpea fritters are fluffy and fun. The highlight is the unassuming black olive mash. Soft, creamy and comforting, I find myself scraping the bowl and craving for more.

The wine list is impressively weighted towards Provence – the first wine region in France to be cultivated – with cameos from Corsica. We're poured a biodynamic Viognier, L'Analepse, from Domaine Les Terres Promises. Having dined at Brawn the night before, I'm beginning to detect a thread weaving through natural wines. They're wonderfully unpredictable and frustratingly fickle. Deeply golden in colour, it neither smells nor tastes like a Viognier, but more like a slightly fizzy Fino, with oxidized aromas and a savoury finish.

And so to pudding - my moist cheese and lemon cake is lifted by the accompanying blackberry and lavender sorbet, while my guest's aniseed bitter chocolate tart arrives on a black slate next to a swash of goat's cheese curd. The rich chocolate paired with the salty curd makes for a curious, almost Heston-like combination of sweet and savory.

After adorable mini madeleines and mint tea, my companion and I retire to the Baranis bar below, which comes complete with an indoor petanque course. The subterranean space is all exposed brickwork, Pernod posters and stripy topped waiters, one of which whips up a Castaña cocktail for us - a creamy, chestnut concoction that sends us happily back into the rainy January night, after a blissful few hours cocooned in the lavender-scented bosom of Provence.

Cigalon 115 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PP, Tel: +44(0)20 7242 8373. A meal for two with wine, water and service costs around £100.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Video: Patrick Materman of Brancott Estate

Wine and the City caught up with Patrick Materman, chief winemaker of Brancott Estate, at the New Zealand Annual Trade Tasting at Lord's cricket ground yesterday to ask him about the estate's recent name change, his Icon wine project and the newly released sparkling Sauvignon Blanc.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Drinks Business

So we're a week into the new year, and I'm four days into a new job. The sense of a new beginning brought about by the new year has been heightened in 2011 by a change of employer. I left Decanter magazine before Christmas and started as staff writer at The Drinks Business this week, which recently celebrated its 100th issue.

It's an exciting move for me – the company is young, dynamic and forward thinking, and my new role will give me the freedom and time to do more of what I love – writing. It's a fascinating time for the wine industry. The landscape is changing – who is buying wine, what they're buying, where they're buying it, and how we're communicating about it is in a constant state of flux. We are finally seeing the democratisation of wine, both in terms of who's buying it, and who's writing about it.

Wine is no longer the reserve of middle-aged, middle class, white men. The doors have been flung open and everybody wants a slice of the action. Wine may be enjoying its moment in the sun, and with the revival of the wine bar in London, championed by the likes of Terroirs, 28-50, Vinoteca, Kensington Wine Rooms and more recently Bar Battu and Brawn, this trend is showing no signs of slowing.

So with these exciting times, we need publications that are at the forefront of these changes. We need wine writing to reflect what's going on in the industry – to hold a mirror up to the truth. This week The Drinks Business surpassed 1,000 followers on Twitter. A mini milestone, but a significant one. For any business to flourish in 2011, it can't afford to be out of the loop, and the loop is very much entwined with social media right now. As a society, we are growing ever more impatient. We have come to expect a constant stream of information to be communicated to us the minute it happens. A magazine simply can't do this, so tools like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube are becoming an ever-important way to bridge the communication gap.

So that's where our focus will lie at db as we move further into 2011. I'm intrigued to see what the year has in store for the wine world, and am excited about being able to play an interactive part in these changes – to communicate them as they happen, and contribute to the debate. The new year is a time of hope and reflection. A chance to wipe the slate clean and turn things around. With my new year has come change, which is essential for a fulfilling existence. 'There is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun' – Christopher McCandless.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

In the cellar with Julian Sands

Wine and the City chats to English actor and ardent wine lover Julian Sands in his (makeshift) cellar at home in Kent about wine and poetry, what he cracked open at Christmas, and the joys of old Champagne.