Friday, 13 December 2013

Video interview with Sam Neill

Back in September, I was lucky enough to interview irreverent actor Sam Neill about his vineyard venture – Two Paddocks in Central Otago, New Zealand, his love of 'heartbreaking' Pinot Noir, the similarities between filmmaking and winemaking, and drinking La Tâche on a desert island with Stephen Fry. Below are the edited highlights of the interview, filmed in the petting room of Quo Vadis in Soho.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

It's hip to be square

Proving it’s hip to be square, California wine producer Truett-Hurst has launched a wine range housed in square bottles. Dubbed California Square, the trio’s packaging was designed by the irreverent Kevin Shaw of forward thinking drinks packaging design firm Stranger & Stranger.
The design’s square shape, retro graphics and screen printed label hark back to old spirits bottles. The three-strong range comprises a 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, a 2012 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2012 Paso Robles red blend made from Petite Sirah, Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Merlot.
Each of the wines were made by Truett-Hurst’s chief winemaker, Virginia Marie Lambrix. Based in Healdsburg in Sonoma County, Lambrix is hoping consumers will reuse the quirky bottles as vases, candle holders and olive oil containers. "Introducing alternative packaging onto the market is tricky – the wine inside has to over deliver and create a memorable impression for the consumer,” she said.
California Square made its debut last month at the 65th Annual Emmy Awards attended by the likes of Sex and the City star, Chris Noth, who played Mr Big in the HBO show. The wines have an RRP of US$19.99 and have gone on sale on

Friday, 8 November 2013

Scratch and sniff wine book proves an Amazon hit

In what looks set to be the ideal stocking filler for amateur wine lovers, Master Sommelier Richard Betts has released a scratch and sniff wine book that aims to make wine easier to understand for novices. Nearly five years in the making, the first run of The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert, illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton, has sold out on Amazon.
“People are hungry to be included in this conversation,” Betts told the Daily Camera, admitting that wine is sometimes viewed as the domain of “fusty old guys.” The book features 16 different scents found in red and white wine, divided up into three key aroma categories: fruit, wood and earth. At the back of the tome is a fold out aroma wheel, which breaks down wines by grape, region and style.
Scratch and sniff circles help the reader to distinguish between red and black fruit aromas in red wines and stone fruit versus more exotic fruit in white wines. The tome also explains concepts such as terroir and the use of oak, and explores more unusual smells found in wine from butter and flowers to grass and bacon.
US-born Betts came up with the idea while on a ski trip with a friend in which wine played a key role. Turning the book from an idea into a reality took four-and-a-half years, with Betts finally finding a publisher in Ohio willing to take a punt on it.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Wine for cats launched in Japan

In news that will tickle pussy lovers pink, Japanese pet food maker B&H Lives has launched a wine for cats. Nyan Nyan Nouveau (“Meow Nouveau”) doesn’t contain any alcohol and is made with the juice of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It also contains traces of catnip and vitamin C.

The wine was created after requests from pet owners for a drink their furry friends can enjoy on special occasions like Christmas and birthdays. The name is a hat-tip to Beaujolais Nouveau, released the third Thursday in November, as Japan is the world’s second largest consumer of the wine after Germany. 

In addition to Nyan Nyan Nouveau, the company also produces Wan Wan Beer (Woof Woof Beer) for dogs. Nyan Nyan Nouveau costs 399 yen (£2.50) for a 180ml bottle. Bottles are closed with a red screwcap and feature a cartoon black cat head on  the label. Miaow!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Zaha Hadid has designs on wine

In an interesting marriage of wine and design, Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid has designed a bespoke wine bottle for Austrian producer Leo Hillinger. The limited-edition was created by the architect for Hillinger’s Icon Hill 2009, of which just 999 bottles were made.
Known for her curvaceous structures, the bottle’s elongated form is inspired by the shape of a drop of wine. "A continuous spatial curve was projected onto the bottle's surface, defining areas for the concave indentation and suggesting the waves created when droplets break a liquid's surface,” Hadid said on her website.

The concave indentation and the bottle's surface have the same curvature, enabling a set of bottles to interlock. A dimple in the base meanwhile, provides a thumb hold for pouring. Both the bottle and its packaging seem to take cues from the world of fragrance.

While this is Hadid’s first wine bottle design, it’s not her wine world debut ­– in 2006 she completed a five-year design project for a wine shop and tasting room for renowned Rioja producer López de Heredia. Last year, Hadid was made a Dame for her services to architecture.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Brixton gets a Champagne bar

In surely the strongest sign yet of the South London district’s gentrification, Brixton is to get its first Champagne bar as Covent Garden-based Champagne + Fromage branches out to a second site. As reported on, the bar, which is set to open in Brixton Village Market on 15 October, will sell glasses of Champagne for £8-12, with bottles available to take away from £25.
In addition to grower Champagne, the 40-cover bar will also serve sharing platters of meats and cheeses sourced from artisanal French producers. “Brixton Village is an exciting and special place in London with traditional shops where you can try things from all over the world,” Champagne + Fromage’s co-owner, Stefano Frigerio, told the Evening Standard.
“From a business point of view, it’s a trendy, booming market with small restaurants like us that are trying to do new things. Small Champagne producers are passionate about quality and are less expensive to stock than the big brands because they don’t pay for global marketing,” he added. 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

15 new London restaurants awarded Michelin stars

Fifteen London restaurants have been awarded Michelin stars in the 2014 edition of the Michelin Guide. As reported on, Lima in Fitzrovia has made history by becoming the first Peruvian restaurant in Europe to wine a Michelin star. A collaboration between Venezuelan brothers, Gabriel and José Luis Gonzalez, and celebrated Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez, Lima London opened last July offering a broad spectrum of Peruvian cuisine including wild produce from the Andes and the Amazon.

“I am so proud of our team who work to exceptional standards at every service, and feel this is a testament to all of our hard work over the past year. To be the first Peruvian restaurant to achieve a star in UK and Europe is a huge accolade,” said Gabriel Gonzalez. Jason Atherton’s Soho bistro Social Eating House also scooped a star, just five months after opening.
Bed & Breakfast at Bo London
Matching sister restaurant Pollen Street Social’s one star, head chef Paul Hood, who was cherry picked by Atherton to head up the restaurant, which pays homage to the best of British cooking with international influences, said: “A Michelin star is an incredible accomplishment. I am so proud of my team who have worked so hard over the last five months to achieve this.”
Also honoured this year was Ametsa with Arzak Instruction, which opened in March at The Halkin hotel. Ametsa is the London outpost of three Michelin-starred San Sebastian restaurant Arzak, run by father-daughter duo Juan Mari and Elena Arzak. Another London outpost for an international chef – Alvin Leung’s Bo London in Mayfair, was also awarded a star for Leung’s signature brand of “X-treme Chinese cuisine” given an English twist in dishes such as Bed & Breakfast.

Celebrated French chef Eric Chavot received a star at Brasserie Chavot in Mayfair, as did one-to-watch Tom Sellers at Story in London Bridge, which offers the likes of Three Bears Porridge and beef dripping candles. Meanwhile, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge and The Greenhouse in Mayfair were both honoured with a second star, while L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Covent Garden lost its second star, though with 21 stars, Robuchon remains the chef with the most Michelin stars in the world.