Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Mari Vanna

Stepping inside Mari Vanna is like entering a scaled-down version of Miss Havisham’s mansion before its slow descent into decay.
Entering through a hectic hallway with bicycles on the ceiling and pot plants covering every free square of space, the main dining space – an imagined living room of mythical babushka, grandma Vanna – is all glinting chandeliers, gilt mirrors, lace curtains, rustic rugs, Fabergé eggs and cupboards heaving with knick-knacks in an ensemble so sumptuous and satisfying, I could dine on the interiors alone. Furniture and accoutréments are French Regency meets chaotic kitsch – the Ritz during the Blitz. China geese nestle among empty wine bottles, while pickled roots rest ominously in jars and wistful Bolshevik lyrics float melancholically through the air.
Opening opposite the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge this March, the London outpost of Mari Vanna is the newest addition to the international Russian chain, which boasts sister restaurants in St Petersburg, Moscow and New York. Appealing to affluent oligarchs abroad – Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is reportedly a regular – Mari Vanna is unashamedly and endearingly over-the-top. Every last detail has been considered, from the ornate china salt sellers to the cut crystal glasses – even my handbag is given a pouffe of its own. Ushered to one of the exquisitely laid tables, I clock a picture frame with the words: “We are waiting for Lucy” inscribed in English and Russian inside – an adorable touch to make me feel at home.

Salmon roe blinis
Before ordering, we’re presented with a wooden paddle stacked with homemade rye bread and garlic butter flecked with salt crystals. Created by St Petersburg-based executive chef Alexander Belkovich, the menu – printed in both English and Russian on brown paper – is extensive to the point of intimidating, featuring a kaleidoscope of variants of Russian salad – who knew potato, mayonnaise and carrots could be tweaked in so many ways? After much deliberation, I opt for the beetroot and salted herring version, which arrives in a galleon-shaped cut crystal dish. Cold yet comforting, it turns my white bone china plate pink.
Next up is a quintet of blinis served with a small bowl of salmon roe – burnt orange spherical delights that look like they’ve escaped from Heston’s kitchen. As delicate as the doilies adorning the tables, the pancakes are light, fluffy, and an ideal casing for the salty salmon balls that burst in the mouth, filling it with saline fluid, assuaged by the temperate soured cream. I’d first tried the dish on Shrove Tuesday, when, having gate-crashed a Notting Hill dinner party, two tattooed travelling Russian girls pimped our pancakes with salmon roe, much to my delight. They left London for Moscow the next morning.

Courgette fritters and smoked salmon
I digress… Mini courgette fritters served with smoked salmon are wonderfully moreish, but could have done with more bite. A homely bowl of borscht meanwhile, proves the culinary highlight of the night. The purple broth of beef and beetroot served with a side of soured cream and pampushka – a garlic-topped bread roll, is so comforting and warming, it’s like a hug from the inside, the fragrant, beety broth enriched by generous dollops of cooling soured cream.
Disconcertingly, I’m as stuffed as the cupboards by the time the main event – chicken fitters with pickled cucumber and mash – arrives. Expecting goujon-like strips of fried chicken in breadcrumbs, I’m instead greeted by two meat cakes the size of Mr. T’s medallions, the interiors of which are moist and juicy, but prove insurmountable. The mash meanwhile, is rich and creamy, while the cucumbers offer a pleasing vinegar kick. My companion’s seabass is a wiser choice. Silky and aromatic, it falls off the fork and delights in the mouth.

The wine list, featuring Russian sparkler Abrau-Durso and Château d’Yquem 1999, is small and ambitiously priced. Its diminutive size is a relief after the biblical array of dishes on offer. Side stepping the natural wine offering from Georgia, I opt instead for an Italian Chardonnay in the form of Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Pomino Castello di Pomino Bianco Riserva 2009. Its golden-hued contents is unctuous and divine, the oak judiciously judged, adding texture and depth without overpowering the ensemble.
If you have room for dessert, you’ll be richly rewarded with the likes of milky homemade vanilla ice cream sluttily drizzled with warm chocolate sauce and crêpes served with hand-crafted strawberry jam washed down with 5cl shots of homemade vodka, from the soothingly sweet honeycomb, to the autumnal apple and cinnamon. Mari Vanna is a one off. Its cosy interiors and hearty home cooking are a surprising comfort during our times of economic uncertainty. Gone are the days when we long for gloss and glitz; today’s diners yearn to nestle in the ample bosom of grandma’s floral pinny and be plied with reassuring retro classics. Before departing the dream-like landscape, be sure to pay a visit to the loos, home to fairy tales narrated by the Russian equivalent of Roald Dahl.
Mari Vanna, 116 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7PJ; Tel: +44(0)20 7225 3122. A meal for two with wine and service costs around £130.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Lynch designs for Dom Pérignon

Hollywood auteur David Lynch has hooked up with Champagne house Dom Pérignon on a limited edition design for the 2003 vintage and the 2000 rosé. Called “The Power of Creation”, the design was developed by Lynch, known for surrealist films such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, and special effects expert Gary D’Amico.
The duo spent two days in a California studio working with torches, smoke machines and light rays to come up with the final design. Lynch is the second living artist, after Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld, to have worked directly alongside the Champagne house.
The eccentric director has also created bespoke designs for 10 Dom Pérignon 2000 Jeroboams and 10 Rosé 1998 Jeroboams. Known for his unconventional work such as the popular TV murder mystery drama Twin Peaks, Lynch admitted he likes going commercial every now and then to experiment with new technology.
Lynch launched the sinister and seductive design in LA this week with Dom Pérignon chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy. Its theatrical gift box is tied with silk ribbons at either end, which raise the curtain on the interior, filled with Lynchian chiaroscuro silhouettes. The limited edition Power of Creation bottles will be available from mid-October, priced at £120 for Dom Pérignon 2000 and £240 for the 2000 rosé.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Musical wine glass

A wine glass has been developed in Austria that plays musical notes when a finger is run along the rim. As reported on db.com, the lead-free crystal glass features gold lines corresponding to different musical notes covering a full 12-note octave from A flat to G. Each etching denotes the level of wine required to play that particular note.
For a “lush, sonorous note”, the makers recommend running a finger along the rim. The same note will also ring out with a gentle rap of a spoon against the side of the glass. The glasses, sold in pairs, are available for US$80 from Uncommongoods.com. A must for dinner parties. What would you play with yours?...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Tesco to start selling Lafite

In an ambitious move into fine wine, supermarket giant Tesco is to start selling Château Lafite and other classed growth Bordeaux as part of a new fine wine offer both in store and online. As reported on db.com, beginning with the much-lauded 2009 vintage, other wines to go on sale at a select few branches of Tesco will be first growth Château Mouton-Rothschild, flying fifth Pontet-Canet, St-Emilion’s Cheval Blanc and Cos d’Estournel in St-Estèphe.

“The wine was shipped sometime ago, we’re just trying to decide what to call the offer at the moment, as it won’t be an en primeur offering,” Tesco’s director for beers, wines and spirits Dan Jago told db, insisting he has “good quantities” of all of the wines, and that the duty paid prices will be “very competitive.” “We made the move as some of our customers were asking for certain fine wines we didn’t stock,” he said.

The wines will be available by the bottle and mixed case at the end of the summer in 25-30 of Tesco’s most upmarket stores around the UK. “I want to offer them as single bottles as we want to deter investors. We want the wine to be bought by the people who are going to pop the cork,” Jago added. Every little helps…  

Monday, 23 July 2012

Lot18 closes UK business

New York-based online wine retailer Lot18 has closed its UK operation just four months after launching. As reported on db.com, the members-only website shut its London office on Friday and will suspend all UK operations at the end of July. In a statement issued by the company, the closure was blamed on the dominance of supermarkets in the UK.
“Lot 18 has decided to close its operations in the UK at the end of this week. Unfortunately, the supermarkets’ stranglehold on the UK market proved too powerful for us to compete with and we have not experienced the anticipated growth rate,” it said. Supermarkets account for 80% of the UK wine market and have recently expanded online.
“Lot18 has just under one million members and just sold its millionth bottle,” the statement added. Six full-time employees will lose their jobs as a result of the London closure. Lot18's New York office made 10 employees redundant in early June. The company also recently closed its food division, Lot18 Gourmet, and its food and wine-themed excursion business, Lot18 Experiences.

The London branch opened on 2 March, with general manager for Europe, Will Armitage, saying the firm hoped to recruit a million members in the UK. Founded in 2010 by Philip James, founder of wine ratings and reviews site Snooth.com, the company raised US$45m in venture capital funding last year.

Lot18 reportedly generated US$25m in sales in 2011 and was expecting that figure to double in 2012. The company will remain active elsewhere in Europe, South America and Australia. Lot18 sources fine and rare wines worldwide for limited-time offers, which typically last only 48 hours. It specialises in sourcing rare single bottles. When contacted by Wine and the City, Philip James was unavailable for comment. 

Friday, 20 July 2012


Claude Bosi, the ambitious and exuberant chef-patron of two Michelin-starred restaurant Hibiscus in Mayfair, has a soft spot for ornamental chickens. So much so, he has a collection of the creatures lining the staircase at the restaurant, whose beady eyes watch you as you venture down to the loo.
Having upped sticks from its original home in Ludlow in 2007, husband and now ex-wife team Claude and Claire run a slick ship at Hibiscus. The restaurant is so understated, I walked straight past it. A polished desk on entry coupled with a partition screen give the impression you’re about to check in to a BA Club lounge. Inside, the interiors have been over-generously garnished with wood. Tones are hushed, lighting bright and flowers orange. On arrival, the restaurant is empty save for one or two tables, to give head chef Marcus McGuinness time to execute Bosi’s intricate dishes while he works his magic at new London pop-up The Cube atop the Royal Festival Hall.
Proceedings are kicked off in style when a pair of goody bowls arrive, one containing pudgy cheese gougères and the other ping pong ball-shaped yuzu and miso croquettes, both of which prove so addictive I’m suspicious they might contain crack cocaine. The croquettes explode with aromatic citrus liquid on biting, while the gougères ooze warm, creamy cheddar down my thankful throat. Chomping enthusiastically into a second, my skirt is christened with liquid cheese. Moments later, a concerned waiter arrives and silently offers me a starched white napkin from between two forks before swiftly departing so as not to draw attention to the incident.

Mackerel tartare with button mushroom cream
Obsessed with seasonality, Hibiscus doesn’t limit itself to the confines of a menu, but rather offers a page of seasonal ingredients, asking diners to choose the number of dishes they’d like (three, six or eight), and which ingredients they would like to see featured. I opt for eight courses and ask to be surprised. In a sweet and fitting tribute to the restaurant’s namesake, the feast begins with a vivifying hibiscus flower and pineapple soda amuse bouche, which I’m told to down like a shot.
Perhaps peaking prematurely, the first course is the apogee of the meal. Served in a small black bowl, a layer of foie gras-coloured button mushroom cream is prettified with edible flowers amid shards of shaved almond sticking out of the top like shark teeth. Beneath the teeth lies a smoky, meaty, mackerel tartare. When eaten together, the result is a rich, creamy and perfumed mouthful given texture by the almond shards in an exquisite example of the culinary pyrotechnics Bosi prides himself on.

Kaffir lime and spring onion ravioli
The next course is equally intriguing: a single, pleated ravioli stuffed with spring onion and Kaffir lime served with a buttery, broad bean and mint purée. The audacious use of lime highlights Bosi’s fearless approach. Out to surprise and delight, he takes flavour pairings to the edge of what is acceptable, assaulting and seducing the palate in one bite. Diners of a meek disposition may not warm to his gung-ho style, but, as each course reveals itself, I revel in the life-affirming flavour skirmish.
A pearl white hunk of roast Cornish John Dory was disappointingly mild on its own, but came to life when paired with the accompanying girolles drizzled in Lancashire mead and a salty sliver of Morteau sausage, the mead adding unctuous sweetness, the girolles earthiness and the sausage a savoury, meaty kick. Next up is a solitary, oak-smoked lamb sweetbread served with fresh goat’s cheese masquerading as a boiled egg, the yolk a pool of grass-green sorrel oil. Rich, juicy and oily, it tasted like a gourmet chicken nugget.

Roast squab pigeon with pistachios and cherries
Mention must be made of the wines. Chosen by natural wine pioneer Isabelle Legeron MW and enthusiastically poured by 22-year-old head sommelier Bastien Ferreri, the majority of the bins on the weighty list are organic and biodynamic, so what ends up in the glass is a bit of a lottery. While the opening wine, a 2009 Marsanne/Rousanne/Chardonnay/Viognier mash up from the Languedoc is cloudy in colour and spiteful in character, a 2007 Vermentino/Chenin Blanc blend from the Languedoc chosen to pair with the ravioli is bright, aromatic and elegantly spiced.
The only wine list in London to carry a page dedicated to orange wines, my wine find of the night was the curious and delicious Savasol 2007 from Loire renegade Julien Courtois. Made from the little-known Menu Pineau grape, Courtois deliberately oxidizes the wine to imbue it with wonderful, Sherry-like aromas of hazelnuts, toffee and sea air. Excited to be presented with a gleaming chunk of lobster, it turns out to be the least remarkable dish of the night. Much more impressive is an almost indecently pink slice of roast squab pigeon served with pistachio gravel. Sweetened by the accompanying cherries, the meat is achingly tender and exoticised by hints of spice. Finishing the dish, a crispy samosa contains creamy foie gras and an array of the bird’s innards.

White asparagus and white chocolate cream
The exhilarating flavour journey ends on a high note with a mystery dessert, the ingredients of which I’m asked to identify. Fashioned into a squidgy macaroon, I correctly guess the key components: white asparagus and white chocolate cream, and also manage to pinpoint the black olive splodges and coconut sorbet, but fail to decipher the elusive whey gel. The rich, savoury concoction seems straight out of the Great British Menu – a dish Matthew Fort would rave about and Oliver Peyton would peer down his glasses disapprovingly at. It was weird, but it worked. That’s the beauty of Bosi – he sends you on a crazy culinary adventure with no seatbelt or indication of the final destination, and the ride is all the better for it.
Hibiscus, 29 Maddox Street, London, W1S 2PA; Tel: +44 (0)20 7629 2999.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Pingus trialing natural wine

Peter Sisseck, founder of one of Spain’s most sought after wines, is trialing a natural wine project at Dominio de Pingus in Ribera del Duero. “I want to get my head around the natural wine thing. I’ve been in talks with Marcel Lapierre in Beaujolais and some of the good natural wines guys – it’s not all bullshit,” he told the drinks business. Sisseck is experimenting with making a version of Pingus with no sulphur, but is concerned that this will hamper the wine’s ability to age.

“I want to make wines that can age and it’s very hard to do so with no sulphur. Despite never using much in Pingus, a little sulphur is essential,” he said. Having studied biodynamics at the Rudolf Steiner School in Basel, Sisseck is keen to take things a step further. “The idea of natural wine is interesting. The best ones have lovely purity when they’re young, but they are extremely fragile. Any terroir expression the wines may have can be erased by bret and oxidation,” he said.

The Dane is keen to stress that his natural wine will be treated as a standalone project: “Pingus isn’t about to go natural. I want to see what I can learn,” he said. Pingus has been biodynamic since 2000 and second wine Flor de Pingus since 2005. Sisseck admits that in his single-minded approach in only working with Tinto Fino (the Ribera del Duero equivalent of Tempranillo), he “may have gone too far.”

To redress the balance, he’s started working with small parcels of native white varieties planted in the two Pingus vineyards, and is experimenting with adding small amounts of white into the Pingus blend. Having been “very spoilt” with Parker points in the past, Sisseck believes the appointment of Neal Martin as The Wine Advocate’s new Spain critic after Jay Miller’s departure post “Jumilla-gate” will be a “tremendous help” for Spain.

“Jay favoured things in Spanish wine I’m trying to avoid. He liked very big, inky, in your face, ‘show me the money’ wines. Neal is more into the historical background of the vineyards and will hopefully give more focus to Spain’s terroir message, which has got lost,” he said. 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

San Valentino with Emily O'Hare

During a recent visit to Emilia-Romagna with the lovely Emily O'Hare, sommelier at Michelin-starred Italian restaurant The River Café in Hammersmith, we got Ben Smith of Enotria to film this video where we try two wines from biodynamic estate San Valentino in Rimini, beginning with Due 2011, a Chardonnay/Riesling blend, and ending with the punchy, 100% Sangiovese, Terra di Covignano 2011. Salute!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Rex Pickett pushing for Sideways sequel

Rex Pickett, author of the popular wine-themed novel Sideways, is pushing the Oscar-winning director of the Sideways film, Alexander Payne, for a sequel based on his second novel, Vertical. “Tens of millions are on the table and no sequel. Why? The book’s been written, the screenplay’s been written,” Pickett told the drinks business. “No one in Hollywood understands why Payne is not in pre-production on Vertical. I’m sick of answering that question,” he added.

Fox Searchlight Pictures owns the film rights to Miles and Jack. If Payne woke up tomorrow and said he wanted to do a sequel then it would be made. Payne has the power to make whatever movie he wants, within reason, for the rest of his life. I like to feel I played a small part in that,” Pickett said. Sideways: the Play is running to sell-out audiences in Santa Barbara through the Ruskin Theatre Group. The play is due to run in LA until mid-August, after which, Pickett is keen to take it outside America, with a London run on the cards.

He also isn’t ruling out a third book: “People are clamouring for part three. I’m circumspect, as whatever decision I make will govern the next two years of my life,” he said. Originally rejected by 15 publishers, Sideways has sold over 150,000 copies in the English-language, and has been translated into 12 different languages. The film, released the same year as the book in 2004, has won over 350 awards including two Golden Globes for best comedy picture and best screenplay.

Pickett admits he regrets “letting (himself) go to a few years of celebratory hedonism” after the success of Sideways. “I should have had my business hat on and been wary of people making millions while I cavorted around in a state of ostensible bliss,” he said. Pickett’s sequel to Sideways, Vertical, was published in October 2010. Set in Oregon seven years later, protagonist Miles has found success with a novel that has been turned into a film and is invited to be master of ceremonies at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville. The 26th annual event takes place on 27-29 July 2012.

Pickett is due to release his own wine onto the market soon. Unsurprisingly, he has opted for a Pinot in the form of Ne Plus Ultra, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Alexander Payne recently directed The Descendants, starring George Clooney, based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings. It won an Oscar this year for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Sunday, 15 July 2012


During a recent trip to a scorching Emilia-Romagna, I shot this video with Ben Smith of Enotria, where we taste two sparklers from top-end Lambrusco producer Chiarli in Modena, starting with the pear-drop infused, 100% Pignoletto, Modén Brut Blanc and ending with the raspberry tinted and scented Tre Bicchieri award-winning Vecchia Modena Premium. Think Lambrusco is a low-alcohol sweet wine? Think again...

Friday, 13 July 2012

“Moët is not a machine”

Benoit Gouez, cellar master of Moët & Chandon, has spoken out about the LVMH-owned Champagne house, insisting it is not a volume-driven “machine." Speaking to the drinks business during a Moët Brut Impérial base wines tasting in London this week, Gouez said: “We’re not a big industrial machine that only cares about volume; we care about quality and detail.” Gouez was referring to his decision to stop the 2011 harvest for a week and send 800 pickers home while still paying them – a first in Moët’s history – to improve the chances of the vintage.

“I wanted to send a message out to the Champenois that we care about quality. The cost was an issue for financial people – the most important thing was whether I could get a vintage wine out of it. It paid off, but I still haven’t decided if I’m going to declare the 2011 vintage or not.” Gouez did admit however, that being a big company has its advantages.“ Bigger is better because it gives you access to the best grapes and buys you the luxury of choice. We were only able to stop the harvest because we’re big,” he said.

He admitted that he prefers the challenge of more difficult years like 2003 to easy years like 2002.“People should judge winemakers on difficult years – that’s where the skill comes in. It gets boring if things are too easy,” he said. Despite referring to it as “a piece of cake” to work with, Gouez described Chardonnay as the “biggest disappointment” in 2011, Pinot Noir as “light” and Pinot Meunier as a pleasant surprise. “Pinot Meunier developed nicely in 2011 and is showing a lovely purity on the mid-palate,” he said, defending the grape as having “a role to play” in Champagne.

“Pinot Meunier is the bridge between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. You have to adapt your winemaking and treat it like a white grape in order to preserve its freshness and fruitiness,” he revealed. As to whether he would consider putting disgorgement dates on Moët Brut Impérial, Gouez doesn’t feel the public is ready for it. “A lot of consumers don’t even know the difference between vintage and non-vintage Champagne, so disgorgement dates are only going to confuse them further. They might think it’s a bottling date, or, even worse, a best before date,” he said, though did reveal that putting the information on a QR code on the back label was a possibility.

Speaking of the 2012 vintage, Gouez admitted conditions thus far have been challenging. “It won’t be a huge crop, that’s for sure, but the quality of a harvest is decided in the last few weeks before the grapes are picked, so we’ll have to wait and see,” he said. In the meantime, 2004 will be the next Moët vintage release, which will go on sale in the UK late August, with 2004 Rosé following in February 2013. Gouez describes the vintage as “racy, slick and elegant”, but lacking the power of 2003 and the richness of 2002, “dozens of thousands” of bottles of which have been kept back in the Moët cellars to be used in the Vintage Collection series. “We’ll see 2002 again,” he confirmed, revealing 2006 will be a vintage year, but not 2005, as he doesn’t believe the quality is there.

Gouez predicts however, that many Champagne houses will release 2005 to cash in on the success of the 2005 vintage in Bordeaux and Burgundy. Speaking of the 2009 vintage, Gouez glowingly compared it to 2002: “2009 was an easy year: ripe, clean, well balanced. There were no decisions to make, it’s already bottled. Keen to push Moët rosé in a big way in 2013, Gouez believes the house’s pink offering has been under the radar for too long. “We’re the leader in the category but nobody knows it,” he said. 

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

French cows fed red wine to enhance flavour

Giving a new meaning to the term laughing cow, a number of farmers in the Languedoc have taken to feeding their cattle local red wine to improve the flavour of their beef. As reported on db.com, local farmer Claude Chaballier has been feeding his cattle red wine from Saint-Geniès-des-Mourgues, resulting in “lean, marbled and tasty,” beef.
Chaballier fed the wine to three of his cows last year in a trial run, and is set to repeat the experiment next month. Two Angus cattle and one Camargue cow were fed a mixture of leftover grapes, barley and hay before two litres of wine were integrated into their diet. Keen to develop the practice locally, Chabellier says he will use a regional wine in next month’s experiment and is considering using Muscat from Lunel-Viel to give the meat an aromatic character.
Scientists in Australia have already found a link between feeding cows grape marc and an increase in milk production. Meanwhile, in 2010 it was reported that Canadian farmer Janice Ravndahl in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley had taken to feeding her Angus cattle local red wine for the 90 days before slaughter. Ravndahl chanced upon the idea while watching celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay feed beer to his pigs on TV cookery programme The F Word.
According to Jean-Charles Tastavy, founder of Vinbovin, cows can consume up to a litre-and-a-half of wine per day, the human equivalent of two to three glasses. Tripling the cost of animal feed, Chabellier admits that the wine diet will inevitably affect pricing, pushing up the best cuts of beef to nearly €100. “It won’t be for all pockets,” he said, admitting that he aims to target top-end restaurants.
Undeterred by the high prices, Michelin-starred chef Laurent Pourcel is attracted to the meat’s unique texture and ability to caramelise during cooking. “All the finest restaurants in Paris are going to take it,” he said. The improved taste of the beef doesn’t just come from the chemistry involved in the change of diet; French researchers believe the occasional litre of wine may also increase a cow’s wellbeing.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Ancient wine unearthed in China tomb

Wine dating back a staggering 3,000 years has been discovered in a nobleman’s tomb in Shaanxi province, northwest China, and is said to be the earliest wine finding in China's history. As reported on db.com, according to Chinese news wire Xinhua, the wine was found inside an ancient bronze vessel from the West Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC - 771 BC) in the city of Baoji.

“The liquid is likely the oldest wine discovered in China”, said Liu Jun, director of the Baoji Archaeology Institute, which is in charge of the excavation project. According to Jun, the discovery of the liquid was made when the vessel – one of six found in the tomb – was shaken. Thus far, the cover of the vessel remains tightly shut, and with no appropriate tools to open it at the excavation site, the liquid inside has yet to be identified.

“Wine became a symbol of corruption during the Shang Dynasty (1600BC-1046BC) as officials used to drink excessively. This lead to the emergence of prohibition devices during the succeeding Zhou dynasty, which were put on the table to remind people to drink in moderation,” Jun said. A 95cm-long "prohibition device" was unearthed with the wine vessels in the tomb, the first of its kind unearthed in Baoji.

Excavation work is still underway at the site, with more bronze devices expected to be discovered in the next few days. The Shang dynasty's decline is sometimes attributed to its rulers heavy drinking habits. Ancient wine isn't unknown in China, which boasts one of the oldest wine traditions in the world. Residue of wine over 9,000 years old has been found in ancient Chinese vessels.

In a 2004 BBC report, archaeo-chemist Patrick McGovern reported that the liquid was composed of “rice, honey and fruit.” The second oldest evidence of wine, dating back 7,000 years, hails from Iran.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Louis Roederer International Wine Writers' Awards

I'm delighted to have been shortlisted for the Emerging Wine Writer of the Year award at the 2012 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers' Awards. Befitting of our technologically driven times, I found out about the news by text and saw the shortlist in full via Twitter. The winners will be announced on 17 September – best of luck to all the finalists. 

Nuno Mendes, Viajante

The other week at Taste of London, I caught up with the affable, Portuguese-born, chef-patron of Viajante at the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green –  Nuno Mendes – who told me about bringing his Corner Room to Taste, his love of ceviche, and the trend for ramen restaurants about to hit the capital. 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Calon-Ségur sold… apparently

Bordeaux third-growth Calon-Ségur is rumored to have been sold for an estimated £135 million. As reported on db.com, Pétrus owner Jean-Francois Moueix is alleged to have been involved with the sale, though a spokesperson at Duclot, the négociant house owned by Moueix, was unable to confirm his involvement to the drinks business. Pétrus ambassador Elizabeth Jaubert was also unable to confirm the sale, telling the drinks business: “This is the first I have heard of it.”

Calon-Ségur's current owners were also unable to verify that an acquisition had taken place. The purchase would include 95 hectares in Saint-Estèphe, encompassing Calon-Ségur, second label Marquis de Calon and cru bourgeois Capbern-Gasqueton. Calon-Ségur’s future has been in the balance since the death of owner Denise Capbern-Gasqueton last September at the age of 87. Gasqueton ran the estate, which has been owned by the Gasqueton family since 1894, after the death of her husband in 1995.

According to The Wine Spectator, several sources claim that the long-anticipated transaction is well underway and that Jean-Francois Moueix has brought in an investor. When Château Montrose’s then-owner, Jean-Louis Charmolüe, decided to sell in 2006, Moueix brought in billionaires Martin and Olivier Bouygues. At the time, Jean-Francois and his brother, Christian Moueix, owner of Château La Fleur-Pétrus, acquired minority stakes in Montrose. In July 2010 Jean-Francois bought out another minority shareholder for £1.6m.

There has not been any indication as to whether Moueix has acquired a stake in Calon-Ségur himself. The estate has passed through several owners, including Nicolas-Alexandre, Marquis de Ségur, who aslo owned Château Laftie and Château Latour at the time. Its signature heart-shaped label is a lasting reminder of the Marquis’ famous quote: "I make my wine at Lafite and Latour, but my heart is in Calon." One of the original three vineyards of Saint-Estèphe, in the early 19th century, Château Montrose was a forestland parcel belonging to Calon-Ségur.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Top 10 wine and spirits tattoos

Last week I wrote a feature on the top ten wine and spirits tattoos on thedrinksbusiness.com that captured the imagination of our readers, receiving over 17,000 hits in 24 hours. Click on this link for a round up of some of the most impressive wine and spirits-inspired body art, from the Bacardi bat and The Kraken squid to the Ravenswood emblem via a dodgy tribute to the German village of Assmannshausen... I ink therefore I am.