With 25 to his name, the world's most Michelin starred chef, Joël Robuchon announced a culinary collaboration with 'true friend' and fellow super savvy businessman, Bernard Magrez, Wednesday. The venue: London's installment of his 'La Cuisine' restaurant, suspended between the leafy ground floor 'Atelier' and gilt, cut glass and onyx edged penthouse bar. Checkerpot tiled, with shiny ingredients mounted on racks, it felt oddly tempting to draw parallels between the formally informal decor here and that of a Pizza Express. Alas, big, black, bulbous apple sculptures blocked the view of fellow diners - a fillet of the good, greying and greedy members of the British wine world's glitterati...
Born in 1930's Bordeaux, press pack printings qualify Magrez's determination to succeed as stemming from a ruthless stonemason father. Indeed, the charming, confident, statuesque icon was apparently forced to endure daily hikes to school bearing the sign, 'I am lazy'. According to lucid top wine scribe Robert Joseph, Magrez was awakened to the world of commerce aged 25 whilst taking a bus road-trip around the US, being 'struck by supermarkets'. Back in Bordeaux, he purchased a small Port wine importer, channelling his energies into turning it into the vehicle for a best-selling whisky and budget, branded Bordeaux - an operation eventually bought by 'Castel' seven-years ago.
Whilst still fascinated by quantity, this collector of vineyards continues to harbour the ambitions of one who is 'rich and restless' (Peter Hellman). However, Magrez's focus now concerns solely top quality beverages, resulting in an enviable portfolio comprising Chateaux, Pape Clément, Tour Canet and Fombrauge (allegedly St. Émilion's largest) as well as plantings in Iberia, South America and North Africa.
Before being instructed to take root in a surprisingly warm chair at a long table today named after Magrez's estate, 'Les Grands Chênes' (winner of an '05 competition of 'Bordeaux versus California') smiling and occasionally winking staff plied guests with thickly chipped, joyously fatty slithers of Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. Aided by sticky '07 white Fombrauge (Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Sauvignon Gris) the ruddy, soft, salty meat provided epic culinary foreplay.
The soundtrack of piped whistling mercifully dimmed and everyone's cod liver oil lubed joints folded into place, it was time for lunch proper, prepped by chefs whose full names were embroidered on red-piped black tunics. Under starters orders, a creative statement 'par' Robuchon made a luxurious statement. Initially resembling a tin of boot polish, when its lid was clasped, as a mini closh, free, the 'en surprise' was tense oscietra caviar pressed over sweet crabmeat.
Substantial curls of pink foie gras with truffle discs on firm, but absorbent truffle marinated potato landed next, followed by moist, plancha cooked sea bass with baby leeks, poignantly fresh ginger and bright spiced honey. This trio of dishes were partnered with '05 Pape Clément Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle). Powerful, oak bevelled, and despite an illusion of nectarine-like sweetness, dry, with a feint lag of tannin, this struck me as the finest Pessac-Léognan I've ever slurped. It worked best with the smooth bass, but least against the ascerbic dressing of the truffled dish. Frustratingly, its dramatic price tag of over £100+ per bottle is exacerbated by the diminutive quantity in which it is made.
After hearing an engaging sizzling from the open plan kitchen, I delightedly fed on the milk fed result - two fragile looking lamb cutlets. Their cosy, greeting, fatty aromas mingled with a dried posy of fresh thyme and a gooey, roasted garlic bulb. A glorious plop of Robuchon's dare I say infamous, gluttonous, adhesive, mash potato was possessed by butter (against any doctor's advice, I begged seconds). Being soft, with silky tannins (the profile of many of Magrez's wines, beloved by critic, Robert Parker jnr.) the '00 magnum of Pape Clément (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot) enveloped the mashed pat, retaining acidity through to the end. Perhaps this was 2010's most seductive gastronomic combination, so far?
Surprisingly, the riper '03 (from an Impériale, equivalent to eight standard bottles) played out well with a fine, 'Haliborange' vitamin perfumed dessert featuring orange cream and sheerly cocoa rich Araguani chocolate. Adorned with a little flower, and brightly coloured, it was sufficiently inviting aesthetically and decadently perfumed to utterly ruin my Lent promise to avoid chocolate.
Magrez mentioned that with 35 estates, he could satisfy the most demanding of customers. 'As long as we listen to what they say, we won't get it wrong'.
Despite awful, over-stewed tea, and a slightly silly use of attractive but inedible garnishes such as coloured sandy grains to accentuate the pudding, Robuchon's meal had been as delicious as it was meticulous without being desperately filling, with dishes conversing well with Magrez's outwardly modern, but inwardly classic wines.
The duo will continue to 'celebrate their friendship' through food and wine synergy over all Robuchon's restaurants, which currently span eight cities worldwide. From where I sat, their mantra of kudos through quality and quantity seems believable.
A rich chocolate dessert is required. What I should have done is pick up a selection of top quality chocolate from the deli, plucked a half dozen free-range eggs from Highlands Farm and replenished the tin with local flour for the pastry. But I couldn't be arsed.
Instead a Seriously Chocolatey Waitrose Tarte au Chocolat landed in the hand-held basket. A sad sign of living alone but at least I can eat half the tarte in one sitting without being tutted at. And another slice the following morning as the sausages are frying!
Via twitter (another refuge for the company-craving single?) dark chocolate was recommended as an accompaniment to this new Liefmans Fruit Beer. The combination of rich chocolate tarte and the sweet, deeply fruit beer worked nicely. Not quite a perfect match as the complexity of the beer was slightly nullified by the food and the layers of fruit flavours - cherry, raspberry, strawberry - diminished into one sweet, juicy whole. Its a highly drinkable little brew coming in with 4.2% alcohol. The fizz adding to the freshness.
Sweeter than I was expecting, initiating thoughts of a grown-up alcopop, and not at all beery (malty/hoppy). Liefmans Fruit Beer is matured for 18 months on cherries then flavoured with cherry, raspberry, bilberry, elderberry and strawberry according to the rear label although the website lists juniper rather than elderberry). Sugar and Sweetener are also added but it comes in at just 99 calories in the 25cl bottle.
About to be filmed for another series of Come Dine With Me? A Chocolate Tart served with a little bottle of Liefmans Fruit Beer would make a fine dessert. Not that I watch Come Dine With Me at all you understand; that is reserved for the truly sad and lonely...
Liefmans Fruit will be available from all Waitrose stores from March 1st at £1.60 per 25cl bottle.
Liefmans' Fruit is a new introduction to the Liefmans range. It is based on older brother Liefmans Cuvée Brut (formerly Liefmans Kriek), a famous brown beer brewed just once a year and left to mature for 18 months on fresh, whole cherries. The new beer is then blended with fresh, natural fruit juices of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, elderberry and bilberry, before being crown-capped. The result is Liefmans Fruit, a highly refreshing fruit beer that is delightfully sweet, with the sparkle of Champagne and the freshness of a nicely chilled glass of wine.
"Concern Worldwide because of its long track record and quick response after the quake to provide clean drinking water and water purification tablets. This non-governmental international humanitarian organisation founded in 1968 works around the world to reduce suffering and work towards the ultimate elimination of extreme poverty in the world's poorest countries. Concern International has been working in Haiti since 1994 and had over 100 staff members on the ground when the earthquake struck. Despite losing several team members in the tragedy, they have been quick to act with distribution of supplies. Concern Worldwide estimates that its initial response to the emergency will last at least six months."
The money raised by this raffle will be paid directly into Concern Worldwide's account by Justgiving and will be used exclusively for the Haiti relief effort.
Tickets cost just £6.50 each and the list of over 30 prizes includes £200 worth of Virgin vouchers, an iPod shuffle, original artworks, many signed cookbooks by authors such as Skye Gingell, David Lebovitz and Simon Majumdar.
A worthy effort indeed that I trust you will support.
"We're looking to commission experienced, proven winemakers, who are looking to go it alone, to create stunning new wines for UK wine drinkers. And through the overwhelming support of our key investors, our community of Angel customers, we've been able to pledge a significant sum to launch the project.
We will cover production costs, pay a salary, guarantee an order, market the wines, pay a profit per bottle sold... In other words, provide all the tools an independent winemaker needs to create their own wine, under their own label, without the risks usually associated with being self-employed in the wine world.
All that remains is to raise awareness and get recruiting."
Interested winemakers can find out more about the project, and apply for a slice of the pie, at http://www.nakedwines.com/workwithus
"Most people in my experience do appreciate a steer towards a food and wine combination that works just as if they're cooking something for the first time it helps to follow a recipe. No-one gets riled if you say that mozzarella goes with basil and tomatoes. Why get worked up if you suggest that oysters might go with Muscadet?"
Basically, if you are happy to be guided by recipes or combining certain ingredients why the hostility towards a critics guidance on certain wine and food combinations?
"Of course we need wine critics. And restaurant critics. And movie critics. And critics of the critics! Complex, provocative topics (like wine) will naturally inspire debate... around the dinner table, in the pub, on the internet, wherever. Whether I agree or disagree that a particular wine smells like "freshly cut tomato vines" doesn't matter. What's important is that there is open discussion and dialogue. The value is in the sharing of information. The listener/reader decides for themselves what's useful and what's not."
The last quote from curlyluddite.
Offended? Racist? Personally I think its laugh-out-loud funny. Items like shooting a penguin at a battleship is just gloriously funny.
The 41% Alcohol beer itself is now available in 330ml bottles at £40 each. I seldom buy a full bottle of wine at this price point so a small bottle of beer doesn't stand an earthly... or does it?
For your chance to taste Sink the Bismark! head to the Rake, Borough Market, London on Friday (19th Feb) from 8pm to 10pm. (The Rake - 14 Winchester Walk Southwark London SE1 9AG)
8pm-10pm on Friday 19th February - just drop by between these times. The tasting is free and will be in the upstairs room.
From what I've heard the shop is impressive; including what they claim is the world's longest tasting table - an impressive 14 metres! The branch also stocks over 1,000 wines from 30 different countries. Not sure I could even list 30 wine making countries...
The official opening at 4pm - with the Mayour of Southwick - may well be worth a visit although the Saturday might be more exciting.
"Join staff from Laithwaites and Vinopolis, as well as stallholders from Borough Market, for a celebratory glass of champagne, canapés and wine tasting.
The celebrations continue on Saturday February 20th when Laithwaites is offering customers the unique chance to walk away with a bottle of the finest wine for just £5.
From 10am - 10pm, Laithwaites will offer 500 'mystery' bottles for sale to customers, all for £5 each. Highlights include Lafite, Haut-Brion, Mouton and mixed in amongst the bottles will be other established classics and New World discoveries (see the full list at laithwaites.co.uk/luckydip)"
Opening of the Laithwaites Store - February 19th 4pm - 6pm onwards
Wine Lucky Dip - February 20th 10am - 10pm
"This competition is run by the Union des Oenologues de France and the Loire trade bodies. For the past 15 years, it has rewarded the finest Loire Valley Wines. More than 2,000 wines will be tasted by 300-plus professional tasters."
The gold medal winners were arrayed for sampling at the Palais des Ligers - a little side room to you and me - and while there I conducted a little tweeting. Rather than the 'normal' tasting note I endulged in a little creativity. This was inspired by a chat with Miss Bouquet. We both agreed that using traditional words such as acidity, tannin and so forth are an instant eye-glazing moment for the masses; so I decided to not use them.
As an experiment I'm not too sure that these 'work'; do these notes inspire people to try the wines, more so than the traditional mention of body, length, various flavours? Does the 140 character Twitter restriction mean they are fine for that medium but not suitable for 'proper' notes?
With wine in hand and mouth they made perfect sense at the time...
wine_scribbler: stand by for some unusual-for-spittoon tasting notes direct from the #loiresalon
wine_scribbler: #loiresalon just when the marmite tribe are safely tucked up in the cave berry throwing starts Bois Moze Anjou Villages 05 Cuvee Jean Joseph [Adegga / Snooth]
wine_scribbler: #loiresalon Jean Christophe Misandeau Saumur Champigny 07 a slither of liver served on a dusty roof tile, how do they balance it on a pebble? [Adegga / Snooth]
wine_scribbler: #loiresalon Sabler Verts Saumur Champigny 06 Cuvee des Sages The Francs having a gay moment on the blackfruit beanbag [Adegga / Snooth]
wine_scribbler: #loiresalon Chateau de la Bonneliere Chinon Rouge 08 stirring the berry compote with a chard green twig or three [ Adegga / Snooth]
wine_scribbler: #loiresalon roche honneur diamant prestige chinon rouge 08 - stoned on strawberries [Adegga / Snooth]
wine_scribbler: #loiresalon Montgilet Coteaux de l'Aubonce Les 3 Schistes 08 single bee honey; poured over peachy peaches; pineapple et tangerine [Adegga / Snooth]
wine_scribbler: #loiresalon Moncontour Nectar de Montcontour Vouvray Doux 05 a teaspoon of pineapple juice sieved through adonis' golden locks [Adegga / Snooth]
wine_scribbler: #loiresalon Gratien Meyer Saumur Brut Rosé - peachy cheecked milk maid frollacking in the hay barn; mind your head on the metal pale! [Adegga / Snooth]
wine_scribbler: #loiresalon Domaine de la Rouletière Vouvray Moussuex Brut 07 - bread rolling in spring meadowland; the pixie dust! the pixie dust!
I'm at the pizza Express launch of two Leggara low-alcohol wines; both Italian. The red, a Sangiovese, is from Sicily while the white, a Pinot Bianco, was sourced from up north somewhere (no, not Leeds) but Piedmonte I believe.
Pizza Express gave their wine buyer, Adrian Garforth MW, the brief to create two wines to accompany their low-calorie Leggara pizzas. This range, incidentally, have proved to be hugely popular and are now Pizza Express's 2nd best selling pizzas. Not bad for a low calorie pizza that has a round cut out of the middle filled with a mound of rocket and a tomato!
A small glass of these new wines plus one of the Leggara Pizzas supply just 600 calories. That's 30% fewer calories than a standard pizza; great indeed for a lunch or those watching that midriff more intently than I.
The wines, to repeat, are not aimed at the likes of me (meaning a dedicated wine-person). If you 'go out for a pizza' you don't pick Pizza Express for the wine list (however much Adrian would like you to) but for the quality of the pizza. If you like to drink wine you can - they offer a decent little selection - but for the majority the wine is immaterial, it is simply part of the total ambience.
Pizza Express is right on trend though. Lower alcohol and lower calories are highly placed criteria for many, so offering a crisp white with 9% alcohol or a medium-bodied red with 9.5% alcohol and 1.6 (1.7 for the red) alcohol units per glass is going to resonate with many.
Both wines cost £4.50 for a small glass, £5.90 for a large and £16.55 for a bottle, about standard for a house wine.
The white is fine - picked early to keep the sugar levels down it is of course quite acidic but does have enough weight and flavour in support. The red I thought less of. Little in the way of tannins it lacked a backbone, being too soft and fruity overall for me. It appeared rather sweet too, even with just 4g residual sugar. Interesting, talking to Adrian regarding its development, just by adding 4% Merlot to the Sangiovese "added so much more in terms of flavour". They have made 10,000 cases of the red and 6-7,000 cases of the white.
It's all about "striking the balance" as Adrian put it. A difficult one to pull off I imagine - you have to pick early to lessen the sugars (which turn to alcohol or remain as sweetness) but not so early so as to actually have some flavour and get some colour. There is no de-alcoholising allowed as this harsh process also strips flavour. In addition to keeping the calorie count low you have to watch the price; paying a premium for grapes that are not totally ripe for example. But Pizza Express have pulled it off producing two highly drinkable wines with flavour, but low in alcohol and calories.
There will be a rosé, also made from Sangiovese, currently in development and due for a spring/summer release.
Ever stood in the wine aisle and felt lost in a sea of wine bottles, then help is at hand in the form of Philip Laffer, legendary winemaker at Jacob's Creek. With so many wines to choose from, how do you make sure that you find the wine to suit your taste?
Internationally renowned winemaker Philip Laffer has been at the forefront of Australian winemaking for over 40 years. He heads up a 20 strong winemaking team, and oversees the process from vineyard to bottle, capturing the essence of Australia in every varietal produced. He is a true ambassador for fine wine the world over.
So whether you want to know how to choose the best wine to accompany that special meal, know more about Philip's winemaking philosophy or get a heads up on what's new in the wine industry, here's your chance to log on and chat with Philip Laffer to find out all you need to know about great Australian Wines.
Philip Laffer is live online at http://www.webchats.tv/chat/true_character_of_the_wine_trader today, Thursday 4th February at 3pm UK time.
Last Tuesday saw me padding around in Lords Cricket Ground. We (myself and Densie the Wine Sleuth) hit on a little patch of red wines from the Southern reaches of France, all grouped on the Wine & Dine table. These are described as a "showcase of sophisticated wines for accompanying sit-down meals, which are, typically, served at table with food, thus defining a very different experience" (when compared to the Easy Drinking, informal wines for example). Perhaps this is why I enjoy them so much - their superb food-matching credentials
The Estates Tamarius red and Balmettes white are both stocked by The Winey at £7.99 a bottle; the L'Envie is going to be more expensive.
Andrew BarrowScribblings Rating - 90/100 [3.75 out of 5]
Not a dish I'd make that often, the diet ain't that great, but lapping up a tasty rich dish once in a while can't hurt (can it?). It's all part of the challenge put out some time ago by The Cheese Lover to find the ultimate Macaroni and Cheese recipe. A local dimension earns extra points but sadly a really local cheese was next to impossible to find; the wine though was local...
A new-to-me vineyard and wine - Oakengrove Vineyard Dry White 2006. It's an Oxfordshire based winery although the basic website is short on specifics mentioning that they are "a small family run vineyard nestled in the beautiful Chiltern Hills of South Oxfordshire".
Only this one wine is available at present (local Waitrose stores stock it) although plantings of Pinot Noir are coming on stream for a rosé wine to be released in the summer of 2010.
And with the macaroni cheese? Selected for its high acidity (you get high acidity in wine from cool climate regions; how could England be anything else but cool!) to cut through the richness of the cream and cheese the Oakengrove worked beautifully. Not 'complimentary'; more a delicious palate cleanser leaving you wanting more of both the wine and the food. The lemon edge to the wine linking with the lemon zest topping to the macaroni.
Andrew BarrowScribblings Rating - 86/100 [3.25 out of 5]
Also opened for a comparison and contrasting flavour combination was a Spanish red -
Andrew BarrowScribblings Rating - 92/100 [4 out of 5]
For a highly drinkable, highly enjoyed wine the red wins. It wasn't however my favourite match with the food. The red turned softer and hugely drinkable when combined with the food; the white however was the palate cleanser leaving the mouth crying out for replenishment.
Chapters include an in-depth history of the industry, from pre-Roman Britain to the present day, charting the progress from the birth of the modern commercial wine industry post-war, and more latterly the surge of growth in the last decade. There is also a critical look into the crystal ball at the future of the industry and tackles the topical subject of the effects climate change on the UK's viticulture.
Viticulture, vinification and grape varieties are also covered in detail. The definitive list of almost all vineyards in England, Wales, Ireland and the Channel Islands provides the most comprehensive record available - extensively researched and featuring useful information on each. Additional lists identifying the organic and biodynamic vineyards, vineyards of 4 hectares and above and a breakdown of vineyards by country and size are also included, along with chapters recording the competition successes over the years and useful contacts relevant to the industry.
This book provides an essential reference book to all aspects of UK wines and their producers. Priced at £22.95 + postage and packing the UK VIneyards Guide 2010 is only available from www.lulu.com Reference: 7848482 or www.englishwine.com
It's all too easy to laugh off the effects of alcohol and forget that drink can put young people in vulnerable situations.
Recognising that alcohol is a serious issue and talking about the good and the bad sides can help young people stay safe, confident and responsible as they grow as teenagers.
Comedy legend Bill Bailey discusses his involvement with the Alcohol. It's no Joke campaign and shares his experiences of booze as a teenager. Bill talks about related dangers such as drugs, unprotected sex or becoming a victim of anti social behaviour.
The aim of this film is to show that alcohol can make young people vulnerable. Although parents worry about unprotected sex, drugs and crime, drinking alcohol is often not top of the list. Alcohol can be the thing which leaves young people vulnerable and in situations they might not know how to deal with.
This film is the one of a series featuring other comedians including Jo Brand, Russell Kane and Josie Long and is part of the build-up to a big campaign launch in mid-January.
In addition there is a 'behind the scenes' making off video:
There is so much info - ratings on wines of the year, regional maps, grape variety details, wine shops (in South Africa), styles and vintages, wine tour companies, wine-focused restaurants, wine land accommodation - that the guide to deciphering the listings doesn't appear till page 134!
Symbols for domain bottling, open for tastings, accommodation, other tourist attractions, picnic areas and disabled access ply for your attention with others showing if the wine is screwcapped, good value, organic and so on.
Take the Journey's End wines reviewed yesterday; the level of data supplied is frightening. Platter's Guide tells you that tastings are available by appointment, that the owner is the Gabb family, that the wine maker is Leon Esterhuizen (since January 2005), that the vineyard manager is Paul Fourie (since January 2008), that the estate has 30 hectares under vine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc), that 80% of production is red wine... exhausting...
But for anyone interested in touring the South African wine lands totally invaluable.
The guide gives the Journey's End range high marks:
The Merlot four Stars "Mint & eucalyptus dominate green, herbal notes on 06; drier, tighter & less textured than savoury, elegant 05. 18mths oak, 30% new"
Chardonnay four stars plus "Smoky & earthy, subtle citrus highlights; richness from 9 months brl/lees-ageing lifted by zesty acidity, salty tail. 07 (four stars) similar to generous 06, perhaps less elegant; also natural ferm."
Cabernet Sauvignon 3 stars Pepper & pimento on shy-fruited 05, with restrained tannins. Shiraz 2 stars plus Gamey forest floor aromas on muscular 05. Haystack chardonnay 3 stars plus Smoky toffee & pineapple aromas, 08 neat & compact, fresh and persistent, new-oak element well judged.
"Platter's Wine Guide, South Africa's leading wine annual and one of its best-selling book titles, turns 30 in November this year with the unveiling of the 2010 edition. To mark this significant milestone, we're taking the guide's traditional strengths - credibility, breadth of coverage, readability, ease of use - and combining these with fully revised, up-to-the-minute content designed to appeal to everyone, from the novice wine drinker to the connoisseur."
John Platter's Wine Guide is not available via amazon, but you can purchase direct from South Africa via the John Platter Wine Guide website. Price is $13.28 / €8.85 excluding shipping.
"Journey's End Estate is a stunning boutique winery and vineyard located in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa. In 1995 the Gabb family (originally from Shropshire - Roger Gabb was previously the founder and MD of Western Wines) purchased this picturesque farm and the surrounding 20ha of vines. Their aim is to create top-quality single-vineyard, hand-crafted wines that are true to the terroir of the vineyards, whilst ensuring the local environment and nature are protected and preserved. The estate benefits from south-facing slopes and cool coastal breezes."
The Journey's End wine range is available from the various merchants as listed but are also available direct from Journeys-End-Wine.co.uk.
This was served with a couple of slices of warm Cheddar and Walnut and Sausage Rolls and a spoonful of macerated grapes. A nice little match although go easy with the grapes as the sweetness is a little overpowering. The sausage meat - from Porkinson Suffolk Ale and Herb Bangers - helped that earthy edge to become more expressive and forceful; nice indeed. The Sausage Roll recipe, by Tristan Welch of London's Launceston Place restaurant, is in the February 2010 issue of Delicious.
Andrew BarrowScribblings Rating - 92/100 [4 out of 5]
Andrew BarrowScribblings Rating - 92/100 [4 out of 5]
The powerful, ripe black fruit in this wine is lush and fleshy on both the nose and palate, with lots of cassis backed by dark chocolate. Eucalyptus, green pepper, herbal spice and underlying mintyness come through on the palate backed by sweet almonds. This is a voluptuously rich wine but it is not over jammy and the mid-acidity brightens the fruit and gives length to the wine. It has lots of ageing potential.
Andrew BarrowScribblings Rating - 90/100 [3.75 out of 5]
The Journey's End range continues with a Chardonnay (£12.99), another Chard labelled "Haystack" (£9.99) (neither of which, to be honest, I took to) and a 'yet-to-be-broached' Cape Doctor Shiraz 2005 that comes with a £16.99 price tag.