Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Jim Barrett of Château Montelena dies

California wine pioneer Jim Barrett, owner of Château Montelena in the Napa Valley, has died aged 86 of “a life well-lived.” As reported on, Speaking of the sad news, his son Bo Barrett said: “He was a tough and loving man who will be greatly missed at home, at the winery and throughout the Napa Valley.”
In 1972 Barrett founded the Calistoga winery, which was originally built in 1888, rescuing it from neglect and dilapidation. Four years later it shot to international fame when its 1973 Chardonnay beat a quartet of top white Burgundies to win first place among the whites in the historic Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976 organised by wine writer Steven Spurrier, who then worked as a wine merchant in the City of Light.
Helping to put California on the world wine map, Barrett famously told a reporter after the upset: "Not bad for kids from the sticks.” The story of Montelena’s historic triumph was made into a film in 2008 – Bottle Shock – starring Bill Pullman as Barrett and Alan Rickman as a mustachioed Steven Spurrier. In 2010, one of the last bottles of the 1973 Chardonnay was sold at a London auction for £7,419.
Bill Pullman as Jim Barrett and Chris Pin as Bo Barrett in Bottle Shock
Born in LA in 1926, Barrett served in the navy during World War II. Graduating from UCLA in 1946, he went on to complete a law degree at Loyola Marymount University. When war broke out in Korea he was recalled and served as a lieutenant on a submarine. After the war ended, he built a successful legal practice, but dreamt of starting a winery.
In 1972, Barrett bought the old stone Château Montelena property in Calistoga, at the time covered in overgrown vineyards and in serious need of attention. He cleared and replanted the original vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon vines, hired Mike Grgich as winemaker and released his first wines that same year.
While his Cabernet vines matured, Barrett focused on Chardonnay made from bought in grapes, with the success of the 1973 Chardonnay at the Judgement of Paris tasting turning Château Montelena into a household name. The winery’s first Cabernet Sauvignon was released in 1978, and has since become one of the most revered Old World-style Cabernets made in the Napa Valley. In addition, Château Montelena also makes Zinfandel and Riesling.
Château Montelena

Bo was made winemaker in 1982, but Barrett remained actively involved in the day-to-day running of the winery. In 2008, he signed an agreement to sell Montelena to Michel Reybier, owner of Château Cos d'Estournel in Bordeaux, reportedly for over US$120 million. But when the global economy floundered, the sale fell through.
Bo, who is married to Heidi Peterson-Barrett, maker of the inaugural vintage of cult California wine Screaming Eagle, will continue to run the family-owned winery, staying true to his father’s vision: “He has prepared a succession plan which will ensure the winery stays in our family for as many decades going forward as we have enjoyed during his life," said Bo, adding, “Château Montelena has a wonderful future.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Lady Gaga is a red wine lover

Pop provocateur Lady Gaga’s favorite wines were recently revealed during a court case with her former personal assistant Jennifer O’Neill. The Drinks Business reports that details of the Italian-American singer’s tour rider came out in court last month, reveling red wine is one of the backstage demands Gaga makes of each venue she visits.

Gaga asks for “two bottles of good white wine”, preferably Chardonnay, and “one bottle of quality red wine.” The singer specifies her favourite red varieties on the rider as Shiraz, Grenache, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. The case also unveiled Gaga as something of a turophile, with the singer requesting brie, cheddar, goat’s cheese and gouda at every show.
Gaga Blanc

Known for her passion for wine, last March Gaga was spotted property hunting in Sonoma County, Califorina, with the view to making her own wine with boyfriend Taylor Kinney. “Gaga sees a vineyard as a business investment and something she can work on with Taylor when her pop career comes to an end,” a source told The Sun.

Though it appears Kendall-Jackson has already beaten the 26-year-old to it. The Sonoma Valley-based company sells a range of value-focused “Gaga” wines in the US through its brokerage arm, Majestic Fine Wines, at around $10 a bottle. The green-thinking Gaga Winery was founded in Santa Rosa, Sonoma, in 2010 with the support of Kendall-Jackson’s former owner, the late Jess Jackson.

The Gaga range includes the Zin-dominant Gaga Rouge, white blend Gaga Blanc, and Gaga Rosé, a blend of Pinot, Malbec and Merlot. If Gaga were to make her own wine, she'd be following in the footsteps of other female celebrities such as actress Drew Barrymore and Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie, who both launched their own wine lines last year.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Balthazar London finally opens its doors

Keith McNally. Copyright Eric Ray Davidson

Balthazar London, a sister site to Keith McNally’s buzzing New York brasserie, has finally opened in Covent Garden after years of planning. The Drinks Business reports that the restaurant opened at the end of last month in the Flower Cellars building in the old Theatre Museum next to Covent Garden Piazza, used as a storage space for Covent Garden’s flower sellers in the late 19th century.

Filled with antique furniture sourced by McNally, Balthazar London offers all-day dining, with signature dish steak frites with béarnaise sauce making it across the pond. In addition is an abundance of fruits de mer and classic bistro dishes such as French onion soup, foie gras terrine, steak tartare and moules frites. Like the New York flagship, Balthazar London boasts a boulangerie next door offering freshly baked breads, homemade pastries, salads and sandwiches to go.
Signature dish steak frites

The original Balthazar opened in downtown New York in 1997 and quickly became a destination bistro frequented by the likes of director Woody Allen and novelist Jay McInerney. The idea for Balthazar London came about in 2011 when restaurant giant Richard Caring, owner of The Ivy, J and Scott’s, approached McNally after securing the Theatre Museum site.

McNally’s main aim for Balthazar is to create somewhere with a sense of excitement mirroring the electric atmosphere of his New York original. Rather than overseeing the site remotely, McNally will be actively involved in Balthazar London’s evolution and has no plans to expand further at this point.

The Bethnal Green-born father of five’s first venture, The Odeon, opened in the Tribeca district in 1980. According to Vanity Fair, it defined the hedonism of New York in the ‘80s, and was frequented by the likes of Andy Warhol and David Bowie. In 1986, McNally opened his first club, Nell’s, on West 14th Street, a regular haunt of Patrick Bateman in the Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho.

Friday, 8 March 2013

London to get two new cava bars

Aqua Nueva

A pair of cava bars are to open in London in the next two months. First out of the blocks will be the Aqua Nueva Cava Bar, London’s largest cava bar, at Spanish restaurant Aqua Nueva in Oxford Circus, which is due to open later this month offering 15 different cavas by the glass and bottle, alongside a selection of tapas.

Inspired by the rising popularity of the aperitivo hour in London, the restaurant aims to educate guests about the sparkling wine style, made predominantly in Catalonia in northeastern Spain. Among the sparklers in the line-up are Kripta Gran Reserva, made from old vine Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo from Penedès, and the certified organic Alta Alella Laieta.

Also headlining are Canals Nadal Brut Reserva, Augusti Torello Grand Reserva, Heredad Brut Reserva, Conde de Caralt Rosado and Privat Opus Evolutium. In addition, the bar will serve Castillo Perelada flights, offering a trio of flutes: Castillo Perelada Brut Reserva, Brut Rosado and top blend Gran Claustro 2008, for £19.

Camino's Richard Bigg
To highlight cava’s food matching capabilities, head chef Alberto Hernandez will whip up a daily tapas menu featuring dishes like seafood tartar with ajo blanco, and grilled cuttlefish with squid ink and alioli. Head Sommelier Zsolt Kismodi will host monthly Castillo Perelada masterclasses exploring the history of cava, the grapes involved in cava production and the ageing process for vintage cava.

Meanwhile, Richard Bigg, owner of Spanish restaurant group Camino, is to open London’s “first authentic dedicated cava bar” at Camino San Pablo, the group’s soon-to-open fourth site – between St Paul’s and Blackfriars. Bigg has been planning a cava bar for years, and considered it for his first Camino site in King’s Cross, though decided to open a dedicated Sherry bar, Bar Peptio, instead.

Rather than linking directly with a brand as he did with González Byass at Bar Pepito, the cava bar will offer a democratic selection from a number of different houses. “We talked to a few houses but in the end decided hooking up with one cava producer wasn’t the right approach,” Bigg told The Drinks Business.

While Prosecco sales are flying in both the on and off-trade in the UK, Bigg believes cava delivers more in terms of depth of flavour. “Prosecco is great but it’s quite simple. I think cava offers a lot more complexity. The general quality is improving all the time, and there are a range of styles and a number of different grape varieties to play with,” Bigg said.  

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Oh deer! Cath Kidston in trouble with Babycham

Accolade Wines has taken the dramatic step of issuing a High Court writ against wholesome homewear company Cath Kidston in order to protect its Babycham mascot. The Drinks Business reports that the wine company has accused Kidston of infringing its copyright when a similar deer-like creature appeared on her 2012 Christmas range.

Leaping to fame in the ‘70s, the iconic Babycham logo features a baby chamois wearing a blue ribbon. Kidston denies the accusation, insisting that there are no “substantial similarities” between the logos. "While it can’t be denied that deer and chamois are both hoofed ruminants unaccustomed to wearing ribbons, the differences speak for themselves, not least arising out of the absence of horns and the springing 'springbok' stance,” said Kidston’s lawyer Philip Roberts.
Kidston's Christmas deer

Accolade is seeking an injunction to prevent Kidston from using the deer logo, along with "destruction" of all products marked with the logo, and an inquiry into the damage caused. “We have been advised that Babycham's action is without merit. We will fight these claims accordingly. As the matter is being litigated, we can make no further comment at this time,” said a spokesperson for Cath Kidston.

Born in Marylebone in 1958, Catherine Kidston MBE is best known for her floral patterns adorning everything from aprons and egg cups to gardening gloves. She opened her first shop in London's Notting Hill in 1993, selling hand-embroidered tea-towels and renovated furniture.

In February 2010, the company was valued at £75m when Kidston sold a majority stake to private equity investors TA Associates, retaining a minority stake and remaining the company's creative director. Babycham was the first alcohol brand and second ever brand to be advertised on commercial TV in the UK with a campaign in 1957.

Monday, 4 March 2013

End of an era: Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s to close

Last orders: Gordon Ramsay

Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s is to close this June after 12 years. The tempestuous chef’s tenure at his eponymous restaurant at Claridge’s in Mayfair will end on June 30 after the hotel’s owners failed to agree a new long-term contract. General manager Thomas Kochs said: “The time has come for a new dining direction for Claridge’s and we bid farewell to Gordon with best wishes.”

Ramsay, who will open his new Union Street Café venture in Borough this autumn, is said to have grown frustrated with a series of delays in renewing his contract, the original 10-year contract having expired in 2011. Head chef Luke Rayment and the restaurant’s 93 staff were told the news last week. 
Ramsay won the Claridge’s contract in 2001 with his father-in-law and former business partner Chris Hutcheson. The restaurant rose to fame in the early days when Ramsay’s protégé Mark Sargeant worked at the restaurant as head chef until 2008. It has enjoyed less success recently, losing its Michelin star in 2010.
“We have taken the decision to close Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s in June 2013 following a fantastic collaboration over the last 12 years,” a spokeswoman for Gordon Ramsay Holdings said, adding, We’d like to thank all our guests for the support they have given for over a decade but felt the time was right to move on to new opportunities.