Saturday, 23 April 2011


Like Robert Mondavi was to California, so, to many, Miguel Torres is Spanish wine. The leading Spanish brand in the UK, Torres sells 4.2m bottles in Britain a year, with Viña Sol, Esmeralda and Sangre de Toro brightening supermarkets aisles across the country. Globally speaking, Torres is one of the most recognisable names in Spanish wine, and inextricably linked with the man behind the brand – fourth generation Miguel A. Torres.

Though respect for the environment has always formed part of the Torres modus operandi, it wasn’t until 2006, after watching Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary film An Inconvenient Truth, that Miguel Torres became startlingly aware of the very real threat of global warming on both the wine industry, and the planet. “It opened my eyes”, says Torres. “Global warming is one of the greatest social and environmental challenges facing humanity this century. Temperatures have already increased by one degree, which has brought the harvest forward by two-weeks. If they increase by five, Southern Europe will be full of arid steppes.”

Torres’ green commitment runs deep. He was honoured with a lifetime achievement award last month at the drinks business Green Awards for his pioneering work towards championing green issues in Spain, and his dedication to sustainable causes, while last year, at the inaugural Green Awards, Torres was named Green Company of the Year.

Torres, who turns 70 this year, has donated £9m of his own money to environmental issues. He drives a hybrid car and has bought 45 more for his staff. Before the climate conference in Copenhagen in December ’09, Torres welcomed 200 environmental experts into his home to prove that the wine industry is worried about the planet and the direction in which it’s headed. “Climate change is a reality. I’m astonished to see the speed at which it is taking place. Everyone should make a contribution to fight against this threat,” says Torres.

Bodegas Torres was founded in Vilafranca, Penedès, in 1870 by Miguel (I), his brother Jaime Torres Vendrell and their father. To symbolise the trio they created the three towers (torres) logo, which graces Torres bottles to this day. Over its 141-year history, the business has withstood everything from phylloxera to Civil War. Torres is expected to stand down as head this year, and speculation is rife as to whether of his son, Miguel Jr, or daughter Mireia will take the helm. “The board of directors is following the issue closely,” is all Torres will reveal.

Working in keeping with the philosophy of co-founder Miguel Torres Vendrell, that: “a good wine always respects nature, everything Bodegas Torres does is focused around minimising the impact of the winemaking process on the environment, with the overall aim of increasing vine and therefore wine quality. This June, Torres will host a Symposium for Environmental Exchange in Vilafranca, where Ricardo Lagos, the United Nations special envoy for climate change, is due to attend, along with green-focused wineries from around the world, such as Chivite, Codorníu, Yalumba, Fetzer and Concha y Toro.

Torres produces 44 million bottles a year, turning over £175m in annual sales and exporting to 140 countries. The company owns 2,440 hectares of vineyards across the world, in California’s Russian River Valley, Curicó in Chile, and Penedès, Priorat, Toro, Jumilla, Ribera del Duero and Rioja Alavesa in Spain. The recent impact of global warming has forced Torres to move his Spanish empire north, towards the Pyrenees, which will allow for cooler grape growing conditions.

In collaboration with the Catalan Institute of Vines and Wine, Torres operates research programmes aimed at recovering ancient Catalan grape varieties in danger of extinction. The region was once home to more than 100 indigenous grapes, but after the phylloxera epidemic of the mid-19th century, only a dozen have survived. In the past 15 years, Torres has, quite remarkably, rediscovered 58 varieties by asking farmers to inform him when they find a vine they don’t recognise. Torres’ great grape revival can be found in Grans Muralles, a DO Concha de Barberà wine made from the virtually extinct Garró and Samsó varieties, along with Monastrell, Cariñena and Garnacha.

The aims of the company’s latest project, Torres & Earth, include making use of biomass to produce biofuels, investing in solar panels, encouraging the use of wind power, and recycling water from waste management systems. But Torres’ green reach stretches all the way round the earth. The company has collaborated with the University of Barcelona to help protect the Bonelli’s eagle and the Ornithologists Union of Chile to safeguard the Andean condor.

“All of us can and must do something. Only by carrying out small acts of respect towards the environment as individuals, will we be able to raise ‘green’ consciousness on a lager scale,” says Torres, in an impassioned call to action we’d be churlish to ignore.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Spain: hot regions to watch

Arribes & Tierra de León

Two incredibly new and exciting DOs that sprung up in 2007 are Arribes and Tierra de León. The former lies on the westernmost tip of the country, where Spain meets Portugal along the banks of the Duero river, while the latter can be found to the south of the Cordillera Cantábrica mountain range in the southern part of León. Both are gaining international recognition for their indigenous grape varieties: Juan García in Arribes and Prieto Picudo in Tierra de León, which has been tipped as Spain’s answer to Pinot Noir.

Keen to unleash the untapped potential of Arribes, which is still in its winemaking infancy with just 750ha under vine, a small group of producers have invested in the region and are championing Juan García, bringing out its varietal character through a combination of low yields and modern winemaking techniques. Indigenous to Arribes, Juan García produces terroir-driven wines with notes of cherry, raspberry and spice. Super-premium producer Ribera de Pelazas is making interesting reds from old vine Juan García and the extremely rare Bruñal, currently selling for £88 a bottle in the UK.

With just under 1,500ha under vine, Tierra de León’s 33 producers are doing interesting things with up-and-coming aromatic variety Prieto Picudo, one of the most promising of Spain’s indigenous grapes. Meaning “dark pointed” and often partnered with Mencía in blends, Prieto Picudo accounts for 50% of the region’s red grape plantings. The grape’s style seems to fit its name, producing wines with an earthy, red fruit character mixed with crisp acidity. Names to watch include Bodegas Gordonzello and Bodegas Fernandez Llamazares.


Formerly part of La Mancha, Manchuela lies in south-east Spain between the central sprawl of La Mancha and the coastal city of Valencia, with Utiel-Requena sitting to the east and Jumilla to the south. With co-operatives accounting for over half of the production in the region, Manchuela is still very much a work in progress, but progress is being made. While Syrah is showing great promise, indigenous variety Bobal has been singled out as the region’s flagship grape, and now makes up half of the region’s red wine production.

Cultivated in low-yielding bush vines, the tricky Bobal is proving rewarding in the right hands. “Bobal can be a very tannic and over-extracted, high-alcohol variety, but in the right hands it can sing,” says Indigo Wine’s Olly Bartlett. Renowned Spanish wine writer Victor de la Serna is the best-known name in the region. His presence at Finca Sandoval has cemented Bobal’s status as a grape to watch, and put Manchuela firmly on the wine map. “My wife is from Manchuela, and I saw the untapped viticultural potential in the region,” says de la Serna.

“I wanted to make wine in an undiscovered region, and I wanted to do something completely new there, so we broke the ice 10 years ago. I was sceptical about Bobal in the beginning – it’s an extremely difficult variety to work with, as it doesn’t ripen easily, so I had to learn how to work with it, and make it work for me. I consider Bobal one of the three most important red varieties of south-eastern Spain, along with Garnacha and Monastrell. It has a rustic, spicy, black fruit character and lovely freshness, which is hard to find in a central region.

"Now I’ve gotten to grips with it, I’m planting a lot more Bobal. It’s great to see Manchuela coming up, and small, quality wine producers emerging – I don’t feel so alone any more." Antonio Ponce, of Bodegas Ponce, is taking a natural approach with his biodynamic, foot-trodden Bobal, made in an almost Beaujolais style – watch this space. Pago Altolandon is another front-runner, while Cien y Pico, run by larger-than-life Australian Zar Brooks and his Bulgarian winemaking wife Elena, is doing exciting things with Garnacha Tintorera from vines that are more than 100 years old.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Spain: hot regions to watch


Bierzo is the emerging region garnering the most attention in the UK press, largely due to its native Mencía grape – believed to be a cousin of Cabernet Franc – which has got wine writers rhapsodising about its bright fruit, refreshing acidity and elegant tannins. According to Olly Bartlett of Indigo Wine: “Mencía from Bierzo is the most important ‘new’ style to emerge from Spain in the last decade. It’s the red Albariño: a fresh style, indigenous to its area, that shows great varietal typicity when treated right.”

Made a DO in 1989, today nearly 4,000ha are planted across the small valleys in mountainous Alto Bierzo and on the wide, flat plain of Bajo Bierzo. Descendientes de José Palacios, Raúl Pérez and Bodegas Pittacum have led the way with trailblazing Parker scores, while Martin Codax’s modestly priced Cuatro Pasos, imported by Liberty, is enjoying considerable commercial success. Mencía shot to fame when Spanish wine pioneer Alvaro Palacios, spotting Bierzo’s potential, bought plots of low-yielding old vines in the village of Corullón and embarked upon his Pétalos project with nephew Ricardo Pérez Palacios.

“We saw the potential of the old vines and slate soil in Bierzo and set about making a wine that had a delicate balance of freshness, roundness, a touch of bitterness and a silky, approachable style,” says Ricardo Palacios. “But the beauty of Mencía is that while it’s approachable young, it also ages incredibly well. Our 2001s are magical now – the freshness is still there.” Ten years ago, while Spain was still seeking power and ripeness, Pétalos was an instant success in the UK, while the French also, somewhat surprisingly, embraced it.

“Palates have changed,” argues Palacios. “People are looking for lighter, fresher styles, and winemakers in Spain are adapting their wines to suit this trend. There’s a new philosophy of freshness in Spanish winemaking.” In recent years, more complex, concentrated, old vine wines are being produced by a new generation of winemakers. Mariola Varona Bayolo, export manager for Martin Codax, says: “Mencía is a very special Atlantic grape with bags of character. You get wonderful, bright red fruit from the old vines and minerality from the schist soils. It’s got fantastic acidity, good body, soft tannins and enticing spicy notes. Bierzo could be the next Napa Valley.”


Kissing Bierzo to the west is Valdeorras – the gateway to Galicia in the east of the region. Like Mencía in Bierzo, white grape Godello is causing a stir among the UK wine press, and has been tipped for great things. Champion of obscure Spanish grapes Telmo Rodiguez is enjoying commercial success in the UK with his Gaba do Xil Godello, represented by Adnams, named after the river Sil, whose gorge divides Valdeorras from Bierzo. He also makes a Mencía in the region.

Godello has a similar stone fruit and citrus character to Albariño, with notes of apple, peach, apricot and honey, but is creamier and more lusciously textured than its northwesterly cousin in Rías Baixas. Godello gurus still seem to be experimenting with oak, and the better examples are invariably the lighter, less oaked styles. Martin Codax’s Mariola Varona Bayolo says: “Valdeorras is where Rías Baixas was 15 years ago. Godello is the new Albariño. Albariño will always be queen, but I’m excited about Godello. It makes clean, approachable whites with white flower, peach and hay aromas. The fruit character is easy to understand – they’re incredibly attractive wines.”

Bodegas La Tapada, owned by the Guitian family, is one of the leaders in Godello’s resurgence, and a winery to watch in the region. Meanwhile, near the 12th century monastery of Xagoaza, home to the acclaimed Bodega Godeval – the first winery to make a 100% Godello in Galicia – Rafael Palacios (above) has set up shop with Bodegas Rafael Palacios, where he makes a pair of premium Godellos: the barrel-fermented As Sortes, and Louro de Bolo, both of which are available in the UK through The Wine Society.

“I believed so strongly in Godello’s potential, it’s one of the reasons I left Rioja in 2004,” says Palacios. “It has the Atlantic influence of Albariño, and the creamy texture of Chardonnay. I began by experimenting with oak and lees ageing, but my winemaking style has changed a lot over the past eight years. I’m achieving more freshness, fragrance and terroir expression in my wines by moving away from oak and letting the terroir speak for itself. I’ve found my way.” Palacios’ wines are enjoying commercial success in Spain and the UK, along with Russia, Scandinavia the US and South America.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Spain: hot regions to watch

With more land under vine than any other country, it’s unsurprising that Spain has become a hotbed for viticultural innnovation. It is almost impossible to keep up with the pace of change in the country, whose wine map is frequently revised to accommodate ever-emerging new DOs – five of the 69 only came into being in the last six years.

Spain’s recent domestic and international success lies in championing native grape varieties, often not found outside specific regions. Shunning international varieties in favour of indigenous ones is creating characterful wines full of terroir expression from the incredibly varied terrains across Spain. A lot of the most exciting developments are taking place in the north-west corner of Spain, incorporating Bierzo, Valdeorras and Arribes.

Outside the north-west, the pace of change has also picked up in the south-east, in regions like Manchuela, Yecla and Jumilla. Spain is perhaps the most New World of the Old World countries, and a place where modern attitudes and new technology mixed with centuries of tradition is leading to some seriously exciting wines. Read on for my round-up of the regions creating the biggest buzz in the UK, and the most exciting wines coming out of them.


Situated in the north-west of Castilla y León, Toro has made great strides over the past 20 years due to the success of the powerful and expressive Tinta de Toro grape, a local take on Tempranillo. Winemaking in the region can be traced back to the end of the 1st century BC, although Toro wasn’t made a DO until 1987. The region’s reawakening started in the mid ‘90s, when a number of quality-oriented producers set about making stand-out wines. Today 50 producers are crafting wines from just under 6,000 hectares of vines. Growing conditions are extreme – cold winters and frosts are followed by sizzling summers with over 3,000 hours of sunshine, leading to high alcohol content. But the poor soils create intensely flavoured wines.

Previously known for producing clunky, inelegant styles, winemakers in Toro are now striving for more refined wines. The region is home to large quantities of old vines, including pre-phylloxera examples over 140 years old. “Toro is an incredibly exciting region with tremendous potential. The wines are slightly wild, and have a feral nature, but this is balanced by upfront fruit and pleasing warmth,” says Alex Canneti, sales director at Moreno Wines. Investment in the region from the likes of Vega Sicilia has raised the profile of the DO, and a handful of stand-out bodegas, including Vega Sicilia’s Pintia, and San Román, made by ex-Vega winemaker Mariano García, are leading the charge.

Another winery making waves is the 49ha, LVMH-owned Bodegas Numanthia, whose £120-a-bottle Termanthia 2004 was given a perfect 100-point score by Robert Parker. Portuguese-born winemaker Manuel Louzada believes there has been a recent rebirth of terroir-driven wines in Spain, saying: “Winemakers are being true to terroir and are seeking balance, concentration and elegance in their wines. I think Toro is where Priorat was five years ago. They used to say Toro wines needed to be eaten with a knife and fork because they were so big and tannic, but the region is headed in a new direction.”

Toro’s attention-grabbing wines give immediate pleasure, and so have predictably taken off in the US market, but with producers keen to make more balanced, elegant wines, are they set for UK success? “UK consumers are open-minded and willing to try new things, and Toro’s combination of Old World elegance and New World power is incredibly appealing. The UK is certainly a growing market for us,” says Louzada.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Gauthier Soho

Gauthier Soho is a curious place. Set in a four-storey Georgian townhouse, admittance is granted through ringing a doorbell, at which point you are ushered either into a small, ground floor dining room, or up a narrow, thickly-carpeted staircase, as I was, to an intimate, sash-windowed space that feels like you've invaded a well-to-do, if aesthetically unadventurous, front room.

As tasteful as the white and beige colour scheme is, there is something of the dentist's waiting room about it – a location no diner wants to be reminded of while they tuck into their scallops. Matching the white walls in austerity are the acoustics. On my visit, I dined with my young cousin, who, fresh from a year-and-a-half abroad, enlivened the interiors with her bronzed hue and caused the sprinkling of diners populating the room to look on disapprovingly on hearing her animated anecdotes about motorbike rides across India and killing kangaroos in the outback. Such is the layout at Gauthier, that anything more than a whisper seems like a shout. Noticing this, we lowered our tones.

Interiors aside, there is much to recommend at Gauthier, which was awarded its first Michelin star in January. After a 12-year stint at renowned Pimlico restaurant Roussillon, where he picked up a Michelin star along the way, Alexis Gauthier set up shop last summer in the Romilly Street townhouse, formerly home to Richard Corrigan's Lindsay House. The upstairs downstairs atmosphere is enhanced by the nimble-limbed young waiters, who scurry about, silver platters in hand, trying to transport dish after dish from the kitchen downstairs, up to the dining room in an almost comedic display of adroitness. I'm sure they could balance the plates on their heads if the situation required it.

Our five hour feast – the longest dinner I've ever had, began on a high note with ice-cold Gosset Champagne and a dizzying array of bread, highlights of which included salty bacon and spicy chorizo rolls served warm, with a fluffy interior. This is the second restaurant in a row where the bread has been a talking point, having recently enjoyed the wondrous, anise-flecked Grissini sticks at Tempo in Mayfair. Mon cousine and I opted for the tasting menu, reasonably priced at £68 for eight courses. After our bouches were amused with iced salmon eggs, beetroot tartlets and Parmesan twirls, the meal began in earnest with a terracotta-hued langoustine velouté, exotified by the addition of coconut and mango, which reminded my cousin of her time in Thailand.

Before continuing, mention must be made of the wine list, or tome as more appropriately describes it, which charmingly begins with 'Ode to Wine' by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Alexis cleverly brought Italian sommelier Roberto della Pietra with him from Roussillon to Gauthier, where he is doing a sterling job with the wines. A different wine was poured to match each dish, and with it, an impassioned explanation as to why said wine had been (seemingly painstakingly) selected. Our velouté, for example, was paired with Château Khoury Réve Blanc from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley – a blend of Riesling, Chardonnay and Torrontes, alive with grassy, green-fruited notes.

Dish two was silky scallops, lithe langoustine and a dollop of meaty bone marrow in a brown butter jus (pictured), served with asparagus – Gauthier is mad about vegetables, weaving them into his dishes wherever possible. Dish three stole the show: perfectly al dente black truffle risotto in a pleasingly rich brown butter jus, the risotto barely visible through the paper-thin truffle shavings that emitted glorious forest floor aromas. The truffle proved so strong, I could taste it in my mouth the next morning, serving as a ghostly reminder of our culinary epic. Nutty and full bodied, with a mineral core, the accompanying 2009 Minervois more than held its own against the dish.

Dish four: glazed monkfish tail with clams, mussels, and artichokes in a basil jus, having unfairly come after such greatness, proved unable to entice my tastebuds out of their truffle-induced slumber. The risotto should have come afterwards, overpowering anything other than red meat in its wake. Luckily, dish five was meat shaped: a melt-in-the-mouth fillet of Angus beef with morels and – you guessed it – spring vegetables, matched with Viña Casa Tamaya Carmenère Reverva 2009 from Chile's up-and-coming, cool climate Limari region – a fruit forward, unmistakably New World wine with attractive vegetal notes that mixed with juicy blackberry and black olive into a velveteen finish.

A curious pair of wines accompanied our trio of desserts: a 17% abv, marzipan-fuelled Floc de Gascogne Blanc, imported by Les Caves de Pyrène, which matched wonderfully well with my potent slither of Munster cheese, and the final flourish, Cristian Drouhin Pommeau de Normandie, made from unfermented apple must and Calvados, that sang of baked apples and cinnamon, and won immediate Brownie points for its lustful label, featuring an Adam & Eve-like nude couple swirling round the bottle, intoxicated by the apples they've eaten. Much mention has already been made of Gauthier's signature dessert: Golden Louis XV, a Wagon Wheel-shaped chocolate and praline pud finished with a decorative swoosh of gold leaf. It was predictably decadent, but by this point I was too high on apples to fully appreciate it.

With lunch priced at two courses for £18, or three for £25 (without wine), Gauthier Soho offers remarkable value for its Michelin-starred status. The wines are thoughtfully matched, and the menu has much to entice and delight, I only wish the décor was less bright, less white, less not quite right. If Gauthier can translate the soulful character of its food and wine into its surroundings, then the restaurant will shine as bright as its new star.

Gauthier Soho, 21 Romilly Street, London W1D 5AF
Tel: +44 (0)20 7494 3111

Monday, 11 April 2011

Château Pontet-Canet

Pontet-canet is one of Bordeaux’s recent success stories – a poster child for change in the region. Thriving from recent refurbishment, investment and innovations, its star is fixed firmly in the ascendancy, and with opening prices for the 2009 vintage released at double that of 2005, it seems the only way is up. Founded by Jean-François de Pontet, governor general of the Médoc and secretary to King Louis XV, the château was bought from Bordeaux winemaking dynasty the Cruse family in 1975 by Cognac merchant Guy Tesseron. Full time management of the property was taken over by Guy’s son Alfred in 1994.

With Alfred at the helm, Pontet-Canet has grown steadily in quality each year. And with the rapturous reception given to the 2009 vintage, it earned its stripes as a member of the elite club of over-achieving non-first-growth châteaux alongside Cos d’Estournel and Palmer. Pontet-Canet’s swathe of vineyards reside in a prime position on the plateau of Pauillac, north-west of the town, and due south of illustrious neighbours Château Lafite and Château Mouton Rothschild. The 81-hectare estate’s gravel over clay and limestone soils are planted with a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon – roughly two-thirds – and Merlot, with a sprinkling of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

This January, the estate was re-awarded full Biodyvin biodynamic certification, having lost it in 2007 when a severe bout of mildew threatened the entire crop, forcing Tesseron to use chemicals to treat it – a decision he now says he regrets. The loss of certification was a huge blow, but signalled an important change. “2007 was a learning curve. We lost crops but the wine was good and people began to realise there may be a price to pay for higher quality. 2008 was just as bad, but we managed because we were prepared. With biodynamics, it’s more about prevention than cure when it comes to treatments,” says Tesseron.

His appointment of Jean-Michel Comme as technical director in 1989 brought about a period of change for the estate. The pair reintroduced green harvesting – without Guy’s knowledge – in 1990. Together with Comme and famed Bordeaux consultant Michel Rolland, Tesseron, 63, has taken Pontet-Canet from good-value over-performer to super-second challenger. Pontet-Canet is the first and only Bordeaux classed growth thus far to be certified biodynamic. The process began in 2004, a year after Tesseron stopped using herbicides. Testing the water with just 14ha of the vineyard, in 2005 they expanded the practices to the whole estate, signalling an incredible shift in philosophy.

“In the end, you have to decide if you’re going to stand still or improve, and what I saw at Champs des Treilles was the turning point,” says Tesseron of Comme’s 25-acre organic estate. “I said to Jean-Michel: ‘If you think you can do it, let’s try’.” Tesseron replaced the stainless steel tanks in the cellar with small conical concrete vats that are gravity-filled for gentler tannin management, giving much softer extraction and the best vinification for each individual plot. In 2008, three Breton horses were brought in to plough 8ha of vineyard in place of tractors. Today the ploughing and spraying has been extended to 24ha.

The long-term aim is to get rid of the tractors altogether and bring in more horses – used at the château in the ‘60s – to work the entire estate. In January, a fourth horse, Surprise, joined the château and is currently being trained alongside the other three. “Our aim is to use horses as much as we can. It’s early days, but we’re taking slow steps. Working biodynamically is a holistic approach. It’s constant, everyday work that puts us in close touch with the vineyard.

Our first motivation is to create the best wines possible, but we also know that biodynamics is the purest way of respecting the environment,” says Tesseron. Lower yields are offset by increased grape quality, which leads to a higher proportion of first-label wines. “Pontet-Canet is not a potato patch; I need sufficient yield and quality,” says Comme, who argues that the same model works for less prestigious estates. “I don’t live in a Grand Cru Classé bubble – I have a little vineyard myself,” Comme says, referring to Château du Champs des Treilles, run by his wife Corinne, who also consults with first growth Sauternes Château Climens in their conversion to biodynamics.

Pontet-Canet doesn’t make a fuss about being biodynamic – no mention of its re-certification will appear on the 2010 labels. “A certification on the label is not important to us. What is important is the name Château Pontet-Canet, and how the wine makes you feel,” says Tesseron. Attitudes towards biodymamics in Bordeaux remain sceptical, but for Pontet-Canet, it’s a way of life, rather than a marketing tool. “There are still people who don’t believe it’s possible to be organic in Bordeaux,” says Comme. “As soon as the whole estate was biodynamic, we aimed for certification as a way to prove we were sincere in our project.”

Pontet-Canet has ploughed a green path in Bordeaux, and proved that biodynamics is possible in the region. It will be exciting to see which châteaux jump on the biodynamic bandwagon and follow suit.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Capote y Toros

Sherry is having a moment in London. No longer the preserve of grannies at Christmas, a slew of new bars is helping inject a dose of much-needed sex appeal into the category. This week, Capote y Toros – a small Sherry bar with big ambitions, opens on Old Brompton Road.

The Sherry boom can be traced back to last March when London got its first Sherry bar, Bar Pepito, a 30 square metre slice of Andalucía in King's Cross. First the wine industry came in their droves, but soon the general public, having heard the hearsay, arrived in search of a new drinking experience. With Sherry sales per square metre higher than at the adjoining Camino restaurant, pioneering Pepito was the litmus test, and its success seems to have spurred others to follow.

I broke the news of Capote y Toros on, having found out about the venture, spearheaded by Spanish restaurateur Abel Lusa of Cambio de Tercio fame, while researching Sherry on the net. As a thank you for bringing the story to light, Lusa kindly invited me and my DB colleagues to try Capote y Toros for size last week, before the flock of enthusiastic wine scribblers descend upon the bar this week.

Taking the Sherry bars of Andalucía as his inspiration, Lusa has been so successful in his recreation, that after a Sherry or two you feel like you're in Jerez, from the flamenco music belting out of the speakers, to the bullfighting photos splashed across the walls, leaving little space for the saffron yellow paint (echoing the colour of the sand in Seville's Maestranza bullring) to poke through. Hanging from the ceiling are legs of Osborne Cinco Jotas ham – like Pepito's hook up with González Byass, Lusa has linked with Osborne, who ship him six hams a week.

The Sherry 'bar' takes up almost the entire main wall, full of small bottles standing to attention like soldiers. The list is ambitious – 100 Sherries, 50 of which are available by the glass, somewhat dwarfing Pepito's 15. "We already have the largest Spanish wine list in London at Cambio de Tercio, so why not have the largest Sherry list too," Lusa tells me by way of explanation. The bar also offers a selection of fine and rare Sherries bottled exclusively for Capote y Toros from specially selected butts through a link up with Erhmann's owner Peter Dauthieu.

Aside from single copas, Sherries are served in flights of five 50ml glasses covering the entire flavour spectrum from bone dry Fino to tooth-tinglingly sweet PX, to introduce novices to the puzzling array of styles. On our visit, we began with Osborne Fino Quinta, served in an elegant, Champagne-like flute glass with salted almonds and Manzanilla olives – a simple but incredibly effective match. We moved on to La Goya Manzanilla, which was paired with traditional pan con tomate, salty sardines and a refreshing goat's cheese salad.

Tasting the Fino and Manzanilla side-by-side, I was struck by how strong and Marmitey the Fino seemed alongside the more elegant, refreshing Manzanilla. We then went nuts with Gutierrez Colosia Amontillado from San Lucar, which proved a perfect match for the pata negra Cinco Jotas ham, and the jerky-like cecina – salted, air-dried beef, served rustically on a piece of paper. Amontillado and good quality Spanish ham is one of the best food and wine matches imaginable – the Sherry bringing out the nuttiness of the ham and vice versa.

Our evening got ever-more indulgent with the next match, which proved the highlight of the night: Williams & Humbert Dos Cortados Wellington 20-year-old Palo Cortado with melt-in-the-mouth strips of foie gras drizzled with PX (pictured). When the waitress brought it over, we thought the chef had snuck it in from a nearby kebab shop, such was its striking resemblance to a Doner, but it tasted heavenly – possibly the best thing I've ever put in my mouth. We were all in raptures over the beauty of the dish, and the brilliance of the wine match.

The lamb sweetbreads that followed were equally intriguing. As soft as a cat's ear, they made a wonderful match for the Palo Cortado, universally voted the wine of the flight. Full by this point, we were further treated to a bowl of albondigas, which were charmingly referred to as 'meet balls' on the menu. The Gutierrez Colosia Oloroso failed to reach the heights of its predecessor, but the Oloroso and fig mousse complete with Uri Geller-like bendy spoons kept us amused.

I'm both delighted and excited to see London embracing Andalucía's Sherry culture and becoming the Sherry capital of the world outside Jerez. If any city has the power to give the most unhip of drinks categories a makeover then London has. It's at the centre of the vortex. So many of my friends in the wine trade adore Sherry with a fervor rarely bestowed upon other wine styles. It's our hidden gem, but it seems that the secret is now well and truly out of Granny's cupboard.

Sunday, 3 April 2011


On the surface Japanese and Italian cuisines have very little in common. But scratch a little deeper, and similarities emerge, from the preoccupation with fresh, seasonal, regional ingredients to the focus on simplicity and purity of flavour.

It seems fitting then, that Japanese chef Yoshi Yamada is at the helm of Tempo in Mayfair. An economics graduate, he worked for L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Japan, then cooked in various restaurants in Florence, Sorrento and Naples during a four-year stint in Italy before becoming sous-chef at the now defunct Corbin and King’s St Alban.

Decked out with tastefully upholstered (and pleasing to the touch) turquoise velvet chairs, wooden floors, glass-topped tables and marine-like round mirrors, Tempo's pared-down interiors allow the food to take centre stage. The restaurant, whose former incarnation was the less forward thinking and more peppermill-waving Italian establishment Franks, is part owned by hotelier Henry Tonga, who decided to open Tempo last summer rather than retire after the lease of his townhouse hotel 22 Jermyn Street came to an end.

The menu is divided into cicchetti (small, tapas-like plates), antipasti, pasta and risotto, and meat and fish. The cicchetti, priced between £2-4, originate from Venice, where they are served in traditional Venetian tapas bars, known as 'bàcari'. I tried the full spread on my visit, which included wild garlic prawns, hot as Hades Calabrian pork sausage, marinated peppers and beautifully bitter puntarelle flecked with apricot-coloured slithers of salted gray mullet roe. While amusing to the bouche, I felt we had barely scratched the surface of Yamada's potential.

Before I continue, I must make reference to the bread. In most restaurants bread serves to keep your palate entertained until the starters arrive, but at Tempo bread is an event. We were presented with a small basket heaving with treats, from fluffy, salt-strewn focaccia to heavenly grissini sticks, flecked with aniseed. Never before (and probably never again) have I got so worked up about bread. The savoury, twig-like sticks from Turin, rolled by Yamada that morning, had a slight sweetness from the aniseed and wonderful crunch. I munched my way through the entire offering in under a minute.

We moved swiftly on to calamari, which proved so light and grainy, that one bowl wasn't enough. Having been weaned on Spanish calamari, the dish felt naked without aioli. A quick request to the waitress, and a giant bowl filled with freshly-made garlic mayonnaise appeared. In the end it went largely undipped - the light, airy calamari working best with a simple lemon spritz rather than an aioli bath. The next dish (pictured) proved the culinary highlight: razor-thin slithers of Scottish beef, adorned with hazelnuts, parmesan, rocket and a glug of olive oil. So thin, fresh and flavoursome, it was almost sashimi-like, with Yamada's Japanese influence apparent in the dish. Lemony, light, and brought to life by the hazelnuts, it was a pleasure to eat.

Before the main event, we indulged in a pair of pasta dishes: wild boar pappardelle with chestnuts and parmesan, and Cornish crab linguine with chilli and lime. The former was rich, earthy, succulent, warming and utterly delicious. It made a perfect match for our smooth and approachable Barbera d'Alba 2008 from renowned Piedmont producer G.D. Vajra, with its spicy notes of black cherry, bramble fruits and black pepper. The linguine was perfectly al dente and had a lovely citrus lift from the limes, but, crab-light and lacking in bite, it was a little too dainty for its own good.

The main event for me was pan fried scallops with golden beetroot, chilli and lemon, and for my companion a mammoth grilled veal chop with spunta potatoes and peperonata. Lightly crispy on top, the meaty, silky-soft scallops were perfectly cooked and full of flavour, lifted by the zesty lemon sauce and tangy, crunchy blonde beetroot – my culinary discovery of the evening. Of the sides there was a hit and a miss, the hit being sublime olive oil mash, and the miss over-oily zucchine fritte.

Desert hit a high note with the best lemon tart I've ever experienced, recommended by the waitress as something of a Tempo institution. Served with a crème Brûlée-like crunchy top and perfectly crumbly pastry, the interior was creamy and so packed with zing, it tasted like lemon curd. I could have happily eaten the entire tart. The beauty of Tempo lies in its simplicity. From the finely tuned wine list featuring top boutique Italian producers, to the tasteful interiors and fresh food, there's nothing shouty or showy about Tempo. The restaurant is a lesson in refined elegance – an Ozu rather than a Fellini.

Tempo, 54 Curzon Street, London W1J 8PG, Tel: +44(0)20 7629 2742. A meal for two with wine costs around £100.