Archive for May, 2018

Ask Sid: What about the growing vineyards in England and Wales?

May 30th, 2018
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Ask Sid: What about the growing vineyards in England and Wales?

Question: What is happening with increased vineyards being planted in England and Wales?

Answer: Topical question. Production presently is around 2/3 bubbles, 1/4 white wine and the rest around 10% red & rose. Stats for last year show about 135 wineries now with over 700 vineyards. There has been a big increase occurring resulting in a doubling from just over 1000 hectares to 2500 in the last 8 years. Climate change is bullish for quality English sparkling wine! Monitor it.


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More Exciting London Restaurants from Chef Yotam Ottolenghi

May 28th, 2018

More Exciting London Restaurants from Chef Yotam Ottolenghi

On June 26 2017 this Blog highlighted the delicious dishes prepared at Nopi restaurant in London of talented Chef Yotam Ottolenghi. After nearly another year of experimenting in our home kitchen with more innovative recipes from his treasury of cookbooks it was with great anticipation that your scribe returned again to check it all out live. We were not disappointed but enthralled.

This time the sampling of his excellent flavour combinations was at his informal location near the hot trendy Spitalfields market scene – a must visit! This larger 70 person capacity spot now open for 3 years was alive with relaxed patrons including families enjoying this Middle Eastern culinary style with an emphasis on vegetables. The salads are the key either by themselves or as sides with a main course. Tried for £22.80 each (which includes two salads out of your choice of eight avaiable) two amazingly inviting hot mains: Fried sardines (deboned first) with black olive tapenade and smoked labneh (thicker strained yogurt) & Octopus in chraimeh sauce (tomato puree with different spices – adapt your own combo from his Jerusalem cookbook recipe), botija olives and black crisp quinoa. The salads are always enticing features of their own with the char-grilled broccoli with chili and garlic always a big hit. This time the new Romano red peppers, green goddess, fried manouri (Greek whey cheese by-product of Feta) stole the show. My old favourite of green beans and samphire with watercress, pickled shallots and roasted grapes was bright and crunchy. In fact this time slightly undercooked IMHO as would have been sweeter more complex flavoured yet still crisp with 30 seconds more cooking before their cold water blanching. The chef at this location agrees however he prefers them with a “greener” lift to his taste.

The wine list is surprising with some diverse well chosen items. The Gonzalo Grijalba Gran Cerdo Spanish white aromatic Viura blend & red earthy biodynamic Tempranillo both at £5.75 for a 125ml glass is great value and works well with the food. Service is friendly and food knowledgeable. There was some social media buzz out there about smaller portions being done now but we didn’t find that at this lunch. Perhaps more of a concern with shared plates at a dinner.

Excited about still another new location Rovi opening at 55 Wells Street in Fitzrovia end of June to check out next time. Some of the staff including their talented bartender will be moving there for the expected vibrant bar scene with cocktails based on seasonal spices. There will also be a fresh focus on fermentation and cooking over fire as well as vegetables to look forward to trying. Always environmentally aware they will be working to reduce waste by using leftover wine and coffee grounds in vinegars and even some recipes. Watch out!

Hope you are on top of the Ottolenghi culinary phenomenon.


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Book Review: Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times

May 27th, 2018

book review Champagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times

By Joseph Temple

“Champagne is not a wine,” wrote one reviewer from the nineteenth century. “It is the wine.”  Producing the quintessential drink to celebrate everything from wedding vows to winning the World Series, the region of Champagne, with its chalky soil and cold climate has taken on mythical proportions as a place synonymous with happiness and joy.  But behind those millions of fine bubbles is a darker past—a past plagued by war and devastation.  “The greatest irony of all,” writes authors Don and Petie Kladstrup, “is that Champagne, site of some of mankind’s bitterest battles, should be the birthplace of a wine the entire world equates with good times and friendship.”

The duo that also penned 2001’s best seller Wine and War: The French, the Nazis and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure dispels the notion that sequels tend to disappoint with their riveting history Chamapgne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times. Looking back through the centuries, the Kladstrups’ uncover a past that both wine drinkers and non-drinkers alike will find simply fascinating.

For starters, we learn that in the beginning, the irresistible blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier was a foreign concept to most vintners in the region.  Besides being known for producing wool, Champagne was a place to go not for sparkling wine, but for red wine.  In fact, the rivalry it had with its neighbors in Burgundy was so intense that had the Champenois not slowly switched over to fizz, an all-out war would’ve broken out between the two competing regions.

Ironically, this gradual shift towards sparkling wine was met with ardent resistance by some of the area’s most iconic figures. Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk who is etched in stone as one of Champagne’s greatest winemakers did everything in his power to eliminate the bubbles from his wine, considering them to be a terrible flaw. He was seconded by Louis XIV, a fan of Champagne but a hater of bubbly.

While today the method for making champagne is uniform and rigid, back then, the process was so unpredictable and dangerous that it was commonly called the “Devil’s wine.” Due to the buildup of carbonic gas, the book informs us that winemakers were required to wear a crude version of a catcher’s mask in case a bottle exploded, which was often.  And what now seems surreal, prior to 1728, French law required sparkling champagne to be transported in wooden casks for taxation purposes. “Wood destroyed its effervescence,” writes the Kladstrups’. “Its porous nature allowed the gas to escape, resulting in champagne that was flat.”  Thankfully, an exception was made for Champagne as the science behind bubbly began to evolve.

In identifying the key players who made Champagne what it is today, the authors highlight the efforts of Claude Moët, the first winemaker in the region to switch over entirely to sparkling wine.  Continuing the timeline, they state: “Louis Pasteur’s discovery of yeasts helped champagne-makers understand what fermentation really is … an enterprising champagne producer named Adolphe Jacquesson invented the bottle washing machine.  He also invented the wire muzzle, which replaced the string that had previously been used to hold down corks. William Duetz topped him by developing the metal foil that covers the muzzle and cork.” Last but not least was Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin who invented the process known as remuage (or riddling).

Another fascinating subject of the book deals with the region itself, and how Champagne, until this past century, never saw itself as one monolithic region united under a common purpose of making bubbles. Instead, the Marne, its most prestigious area viewed the Aube as nothing more than a red headed stepchild piggybacking off the former’s reputation.  This toxic relationship, in part, led to the infamous Champagne Riots of 1910 and 1911, when local growers rebelled against what they saw as unfair practices from the big houses.  Feeling shortchanged by policies requiring that only 51 percent of the grapes used to make champagne had to come from within its boundaries, fans of this wine may be shocked to uncover that apple and pear juice were also sometimes used in place of actual grapes.  Describing the chaos in great detail, the reader learns that approximately six million bottles flowed like a river down the streets as numerous champagne houses lay in ruin. The region’s production methods, guided by a strict set of rules and regulations, was born largely as a result of these riots.

Arguably the book’s greatest strength are the two chapters dealing the First World War and its devastating impact on Champagne. Describing the situation, Don and Petie Kladstrup write: “trenches cut through Champagne like a jagged knife, zigzagging across the region and slicing through vineyards. As winter fell and the year drew to a close, the chalky soil of Champagne turned those trenches into a hell of grey, clinging mud.”  Those interested in military history will wonder how Champagne ever came back after enduring 1,051 consecutive days of bombing resulting in a loss of half its population—all while its surviving citizens lived for years in underground caves known as crayères. At the same time, when you read quotes from Winston Churchill stating that “Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne,” it will have a whole new meaning.

From Dom Pérignon to Champagne Charlie, this book delivers in presenting a concise history of both the region and its people up until the Second World War. Additionally, members of the International Wine and Food Society will also be pleased to know that André Simon’s The History of Champagne is listed in the bibliography, making it a well-researched historical narrative that should be recommended for anyone interested in learning more about Champagne and its unparalleled uniqueness!


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Ask Sid: How did the 2018 vintage work out in South Africa?

May 23rd, 2018
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Ask Sid: How did the 2018 vintage work out in South Africa?

Question: How did the 2018 vintage work out for South Africa wines?

Answer: Yes there was quite an extended water drought from the end of 2017 right into early 2018 before the cooler harvest. Conditions varied from region to region. Generally smaller resulting wine grapes were helpful for the quality of the wine. This came on top of some frost reducing the size of the crop especially around Northern Cape, Robertson, and Worcester. The overall result was a total crop estimated to be down roughly 15% from the quite impressive 2017s. However, though variable it worked out OK for 2018 too.


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15 Insights from Bordeaux after spending one week in May 2018

May 21st, 2018

15 Insights from Bordeaux after spending one week in May 2018

Always so much to see, taste, and learn on every visit to Bordeaux. My first one was way back in 1970. This latest educational update brought even more new revelations. Here are some brief highlights listing 15 insights that were definitely worth noting:

1. 2016 reds just now being bottled are truly a great vintage. 2017 are good or even better than that but more variable with some properties affected by the late April frosts.

2. La Fabrique Boulangerie on Pas St. Georges is worth the line-up for a freshly baked hot crunchy baquette.

3. Celebrated the 93rd of the incomparable amazing May de Lencquesaing of now Glenelly Estate in South Africa (ex-Pichon Lalande) on May 17 at Château d’Yquem with a special birthday cake and the mature delightful 1934 vintage.

4. Check out the diverse special buys wine list put together by Francois at Au Bistrot restaurant to match a simple value meal at 51 rue du Hamel near Marche des Capucins where delicious 2014 St. Aubin 1er cru en Remilly from Château du Puligny-Montrachet is 60 euros.

5. Alfred Tesseron at Château Pontet Canet seeking ever smaller details with his latest 32 brand new amphoras locally designed and made of only 40 hectolitres in size. Now up to 10 horses (with potential for 20) to avoid compacting the soil with tractor use.

6. Philippe Bascaules back home as managing director of Chateau Margaux with key broadening experience obtained at Inglenook in California. Sauvignon Blanc at very strict selection from low yields (20hl/ha) for their Pavillon Blanc du Château Margaux means grapes from one vine produces only one glass of top white wine. Saw oldest bottle in their cellar of the 1828 red.

7. Recommend Racines restaurant in Bordeaux with their excellent cuisine for a 3 course lunch Monday to Friday for only 19 euros. A steal.

8. Continuing improvement in quality at Château Du Tertre in Arsac with 2017 blend of 75 cab sauv, 10 cab franc, 10 merlot, and 5 petit verdot. 10% petit verdot flavour enhancer in 2015.

9. Sister property Château Giscours also on the improve though managing director Alexander van Beek really likes that old treasure of 1970 as does your scribe – with the high 80% cab sauv.

10. Remarkable Veronique Sanders has outstanding twin vintages of 2009 & 2010 at Château Haut Bailly though when tasted together the former is all ripe seductive fruit so delicious while the latter is more classic in style definitely needing more time to open.

11. Cheval Blanc is one of the few properties still using the old wooden bungs and burlap for a tighter fit in the barrels while it is more usual for everyone now to use the silicone ones.

12. Pierre Lurton of Château d’Yquem says quality requires “playing with the risk” of 6 or 7 passes picking only the perfect grapes. Still very bullish on that extraordinary 1967 vintage.

13. Olivier Bernard at Domaine de Chevalier is frustrated by all the bottle variation so now has put all his eggs into one Diam basket. Their beautiful 2015 white is the first one done with long quality Diam 30 cork closures and their 2016 red soon will follow suit. Diam 10 being used on the secondary labels.

14. Château Figeac in St. Emilion guided by proprietor Marie-France Manoncourt, knowledgeable manager Frederic Faye and consulting Michel Rolland usually use 1/3 each of merlot, cab franc, and cab sauv in the blend but the last 2 years saw cab sauv up to 40-42%. Just started there a two year big construction zone to build an amazing new vertical winery.

15. Since 2012 La Conseillante Pomerol has 22 concrete vats of different sizes (35-100) to accommodate 18 distinct plots kept separately. Thinking about planting some cab sauv in the future. Their 2016 composed of 70 merlot & 30 cab franc to be bottled May 22 & 23 is as usual elegant but also deep massively concentrated almost atypical in this vintage.

Encourage you all to visit Bordeaux! Check out the new La Cite du Vin wine museum.


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