Archive | travel RSS feed for this section

Clean organic wine from the beautiful south of France and beyond

18 Feb

via Clean organic wine from the beautiful south of France and beyond

Advertisements

Big black wines to see winter out

3 Mar

Just when we thought an early spring had arrived the weather turned brutal again, and the Wine Wanderers have been getting through the last of winter with some big, black wines we don’t drink at other times of the year.
Not to say we eschew rich reds altogether – we always enjoy a good syrah with a hunk of lamb – but there are wines which pack so much punch we approach them with caution, including our beloved Barolo, reserved for special occasions.

Biggest and blackest of all wines is malbec, too rarely tempered with a soupcon of anything, which we tired of for a while after tasting more than 70 in a week on a visit to Argentina(wine-makers here are doing much more interesting things with other varietals), but have now acknowledged the need to revisit.

Malbec, however much the Argentinians claim it for their own, was the pride of Cahors in south-west France before the wine-makers of Mendoza decided to get seriously stuck into it.   While always big and in the hands of the Argentinians pretty reliable, it can be a one-note wine devoid of any subtlety.   However, the Wanderers got the chance to appreciate its finer nuances courtesy of Chateau de Mercues, a distinguished domaine which makes some very fine bottles indeed in the Cahors region.

The Wanderers thought the Prestige Cuvee 6666 2014 was as good as it was going to get at a recent London tasting until the very special Icone WOW 2009 from sister domaine Chateau de Haute-Serre was poured – simply sumptuous.   Annoyingly, there is not yet any UK distribution for these bottles and vintages, but Dulwich Vintners does sell Mercues’s slightly less elevated Grand Vin at prices from £18 per bottle, depending on the vintage.  One delightful way of getting Mercues’s top wine would be to visit the vineyard, which is attached to a Relais & Chateaux hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant, and pick up the 6666 for 28 euros a bottle, the Icone an eye-watering five times as much at the cellar door.

Encouraged by how fine a malbec can be in the hands of good winemakers, we decided to sample an award-winning Argentinian example from Aldi, their Exquisite Collection Malbec, which has bagged a Which? Best Buy award as well as winning Silver in competition.   It was fine, but paled into insignificance beside an astonishing big black bottle from France Aldi is currently fielding.   Bonfleur Languedoc Reserve 2011 may not contain any malbec whatsoever, but for a syrah/grenache/mourvedre blend, always a good bet for body and flavour, it is absolutely huge, positively forcing you to sip and savour rather than quaff.

The secret is the age – this wine was found lying around the chateau by the new owners of the domaine, Mas des Belles Eaux.  It had somehow been forgotten for four or five years, and has gained enormously in complexity during that time.   Tasting as good as a bottle three times the price, this £6.99 wonder is one to bag now before the limited stock vanishes forever; note Aldi offer free delivery and allow you to make up your own case in the unlikely event you wouldn’t want to buy at least six of these(we are about to order our next half-dozen, if there are any left).

Another limited edition offering is from Lidl – an inky-looking syrah which somehow has been listed in their “Naturally Light” range.  That’s because their MW taster found “freshness” in Cave du Tain, a rich Rhone with a deep colour and slightly gamey taste.   But unlike some malbecs, it only looks inky and doesn’t actually taste of black ink!

Amalfi – surprisingly great wines as well as super lemons

6 May

The Wine Wanderers were recently on the Amalfi coast in search of the world’s finest lemons.  We found them, in droves(or should that be groves?), but what we also stumbled across, quite unexpectedly, were some of Italy’s best and least-celebrated wines.

Campania was not known for its winemaking skills as recently as a decade ago, but boy, have they come a long way in this land of fine mozzarella, fabulous seafood and, indeed, superlative lemons.   They are making excellent fiano, falanghina, Greco di tufo and aglianico in Campania, as well as some excellent white blends – and the Wanderers were lucky enough to be staying at two of the best hotels in the region, where some serious thought has been given to showcasing Campania on the wine list.

First stop was the Santa Caterina in Amalfi, where we tasted that superb aglianico.  The Wanderers first tasted this sumptuous, inky red in neighbouring Basilicata, where it has an AOC, and did not realise production was more widespread.   A Donnaluna 2011, actually 90 per cent aglianico tempered with 10 per cent primitivo,  was a voluptuous drop to accompany an inventive dish of burrata, poached egg and asparagus; the Greco di tufo “Devon” from Cantine Antonio Caggiano Taurasi which preceded it was crisp, dry and refreshing.

Sitting over the sea next day with an excellent seafood risotto, it was fitting to be served a splendid falanghina from Feudi di San Gregorio.     But even better was a Furore blend of 60 per cent falanghina and 40 per cent indigenous biancolella.  Furore is named for a wine village just up the coast from Amalfi; this very excellent example came from from Cantine Marisa Cuomo.

On to Sorrento and one of the world’s oldest and grandest grand hotels, the exemplary Excelsior Vittoria, where they actually have a live pianist serenading guests in the breakfast room every morning.   Dinner is served in the Michelin-starred Terrazza Bosquet, where maitre d‘ Luciano gave us more Campania whites which knocked our socks off.   With scampi from the Messina Straits in Sicily we had the smokiest and most minerally fiano de avellino Colli di Lapio from Cleria Romano.   And a Per Eva Costa d’Amalfi falanghina blend from  Tenuta San Francesco stood up beautifully to a dish of orzo risotto perfumed with black garlic and candied zest of Sorrento lemons from the hotel garden beneath a bed of delicate white cuttlefish.

Although the blue lobster with bisque reduction sauce and caulifower foam must be the finest dish cooked anywhere on the Amalfi coast, we couldn’t blame Luciano for serving us a chardonnay from hundreds of miles north in Cortefranca,Lombardy.   Ca‘ del Bosco is one of the best chardonnays in all Italy and possibly the world; it can stand side by side with Montrachet, big, buttery with a lemony nose and altogether gorgeous.

The Wine Wanderers rarely choose Italian wines outside Italy, yet they never fail to surprise and delight us in their country of origin.   You have to be more careful with what you pick up in the British supermarkets, but Sainsburys does a pretty decent Aglianico del Vulture from Basiiicata at £8.   They also have a drinkable Greco di Tufo on offer till May 17 at £8(normally £10), but the Wanderers preferred a somewhat more elegant version of this varietal from Tre Fiori, £10.99 at Waitrose.   Wine Direct has that fine Feudi falanghina for £13, and Mad About Wines has the Furore for £21.85, the kind of price Campanian winemakers could not have dreamt their wines would fetch a decade or so ago.

Bandol arrives in SW10 – heaven in a glass for lovers of elegant roses and stonking reds

26 Oct

The news of Bandol establishing a new home in the UK was joy to the ears of the Wanderers, who have happy memories of drinking some of the most sublime drops of red and rose in this very particular part of Provence.
This is the home of Domaines Ott, who make rich pale pinks to die for, and Domaine Tempier, from whom we first learnt that the South of France can produced great, stonking reds of enormous elegance.
Both wineries, and some innovative successors, are represented at Bandol, a new casual Fulham restaurant.  It aims to showcase the food as well as the wine of le tout Provence, but while while the tapenade and the fragrant bouillabaisse broth were spot-on during the first month of opening, we felt the chef, who is not from the area, needed to taste and replicate more authentic versions of his anchoiade and rouille.

But first to the wine; while Tempier is available by the glass – a huge treat for Londoners – the only choice of pink Provence was between Chateau Minuty, surprisingly austere for the joyous roses of this region, and the richer, more satisfying Miraval from the vineyard owned by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.   Why no Bandol roses, though?  Tempier makes one of many delicious bottles which belong on the by-the-glass list, and there are many more affordable bottles around.

You could be tempted to stick with the luscious Miraval all night to complement this garlic and herb-scented food which sings of summer, but that would be to overlook the fact that Bandol produces some amazing whites.  The superb, organic Terrebrune, a mix of clairette and the ugni blanc and bourboulenc barely known outside the area, is also available by the glass while it lasts.

What we did get before the bottle ran out was rich, robust and packed with exotic minerality, a perfect partner for the bouillabaisse, while the Wanderer among us addicted to Tempier absolutely savoured a glass or two with his perfect, Provencale-style lamb chops on a base of black olives and sauce soubise.   At £20.50 for a large glass it cost nearly as much as the lamb, but another Bandol red from Domaine Maubernard is available for just over half that price.

It’s puzzling that only seven wines from Bandol are available by the bottle – a tiny proportion of the list – but there’s a much larger selection from the wider south of France.  All complement this style of lustily-seasoned food, of which the petite friture – a generous heap of perfectly battered and deep-fried whitebait, calamari and prawns with aioli – was the standout starter.   The Wanderers would be tempted to return for that alone with a carafe of the Terrebrune – heaven on a plate, and in a glass, for the £60 for two you can easily pay for a totally unmemorable taste and drop elsewhere in London.Dining Booths at Bandol

Picking pinot noir in Sussex – England rocks the world’s most elegant red grape

18 Oct

 Last week the Wine Wanderers helped harvest some prime examples of their favourite grape – happily grown down the road  from where we live in deepest Sussex.   Amazing England now has enough sun to grow decent pinot noir; the Bolney Estate, where we did our own bit of picking and sorting, and Chapel Down just across the border in Kent both make fine examples.

“Experts are predicting pinot noir will become the nation’s go-to bottle,” says Sam Linter, MD and head winemaker at Bolney, who says research shows our nation of white wine drinkers is now buying more red than white for the first time.   Certainly pinot noir, so light and elegant compared to sledgehammer grapes like shiraz and malbec, would be the varietal most likely to convert a white-wine drinker.

As Bolney is predicting a bumper crop, thanks to the Wimbledon heat assisting flowering this year, we were glad to help Sam with a morning’s labour and see the beautiful estate while some of the pinot noir – astonishingly, considering how much gorgeous floral, fragrant white wine we produce in the UK, is our second most prolific grape – were still on the vine.

It was Sam’s parents who planted the first three acres in 1972, creating what was then only the sixth commercial vineyard in England.   Now Bolney’s vines have expanded more than tenfold across 39 acres, with a state of the art winery leading to a UK Wine Producer of the Year title in the 2012 IWSC(International Wine and Spirit Competition).

It was strange to learn that the soil through which we trudged is known as Upper Tunbridge Wells Sand, and interesting that Bolney’s  pinot noir grapes flower two weeks earlier than the norm, so we clipped bunches off the vines in pouring rain feeling relieved professional pickers had already got in most of the crop.   Then we helped on the sorting tables; Bolney is almost unique in sorting grapes before they’re pressed, apparently.

We warmed up from the cold and wet with a glass of Bolney’s pink bubbly, which is also made from 100 per cent pinot noir; pale and delicious, no wonder it’s accumulated a slew of awards.  As for the still wine, which we enjoyed with some Burwash Rose from our excellent local Stonegate Dairy, the 2013 vintage took silver in this year’s International Wine Challenge.

English wine remains pricey, thanks to small production, but it deserves to reach a wider home audience.  Forward-looking Sussex hotels like Ockenden Manor, where we stayed the night before and enjoyed a superb dinner by Michelin-starred chef Stephen Crane, supports Bolney and other local wineries.   Those not close enough to drink it on the doorstep can find the pinot noir at Waitrose, which is leading supermarkets in championing English wines, for £15.99 a bottle.   Just the thing for a special Sunday lunch or, down the line, to accompany the Christmas turkey.

Pukka primitivo and other Puglian delights

16 Aug

The Wine Wanderers finally got to Puglia this summer, where we were expecting extraordinary food from the home of burrata, that luscious form of mozzarella stuffed with fresh cream, and capocollo, a wonderful cut of cured pork neck little seen outside the region,  but rather ordinary wine.   For decades Puglia has been Italy’s wine barrel, sending millions of gallons of red to other parts of the country to enrich their blends, and marketing some rather indifferent primitivo, the same grape as the Wanderers’ beloved zinfandel.

In the flesh, though, it was a different story.   Back-Roads Touring ferried us by mini-bus between some highly authentic restaurants serving up a decent drop with food which exceeded our wildest expectations – italy’s finest antipasti on plates piled high not only with burrata and capocollo, but stuffed vegetables and rarefied dishes not seen elsewhere like the ubiquitous mashed broad been dip – Puglian hummus! –  served with wild local bitter greens.

While we drank our favourite bottles in restaurants not on the tour – Terranima in Bari, which showed us how great Puglian primitivo could be in a bottle of Petrigiovani and Coco Pazzo in Martina Franca, where we discovered Puglia can do decent white too in a luscious La Voliera fiano, we have Back-Roads to thank for a visit to Azienda Castel di Salve, a winery with British heritage which makes wonderful, incredibly well-priced wines with the region’s indigenous grapes.

Surprisingly, our favourites from this vineyard were not primitivo, but the delicious Santimedici Rosato, a rose made from negroamaro, and Priante – a blend of 50 per cent negroamaro and 50 per cent montepulciano  – rich and voluptuous.     The quaffability a big dollop of montepulciano can bring to the wines of this region is a trick not lost on Waitrose, whose Rich and Intense Italian Red NV Puglia is a blend of 20 per cent montepulciano, 30 per cent primitivo and 50 per cent nero di troia, fine value at £4.99

Laithwaites are fielding their own interesting primitivo blends, unusually mixing it  in their Tenuto di Somaro with the aglianico found in this region as well as in neighbouring Basilicata.  Their  La Fonte d’Oro, in which Primitivo meets the often tough and difficult negroamaro, is simply voluptuous.  They are also importing a Puglian grape we never saw on the ground – a ssusumaniello, which was pleasant enough but not nearly as interesting the two aforementioned blends.

Of the Puglians available on the high street, there is a marked difference in quality, not surprising given how much indifferent primitivo gets on to the market.  While the Palastri we tasted from Sainsburys seemed thin and bland, the supermarket’s flagship Taste The Difference Primitivo del Salento yielded all the warm voluptuousness of the best primitivos the Wanderers tasted in situ and much better value at £6 on promotion than the £6.50 Palastri.    As rich and amazing as anything we drank in Puglia is the award-winning Villa Magna Primitivo di Mandoria, £10 from M&S and worth every penny, a close runner-up the Terre di Faiano organic Primitivo del Salento exclusive to Waitrose for £9.49,

As this tour also took us back to Matera, the urban jewel of neighbouring Basilicata, with its famous urban caves teetering down the hillside, the Wanderers also decided to taste the a

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Coco Pazzo, Martina Franca

glianicos associated with this region which are available on the high street; this lesser-known grape deserves a wider audience.   Sainsburys TTD version from the foot of the dramatically-named Mount Vulture is smooth, elegant and very fair value at £8 a bottle, and the £10 Messapi from M&S simply glorious.

Visit http://backroadstouring.com/ for details of their next trip to Puglia coming up in October; being ferried by mini-bus is a better idea than a hire car when you have two-hour lunches with wine to look forward to every day!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Puglian fava bean “hummus” at Coco Pazzo

No longer a joke – Italy’s sublime, lesser-known northern white wines

22 May

“An Italian wine-tasting would have been considered a joke 30 years ago, particularly of all whites”, confessed the illustrious wine critic Tim Atkin at Enoteca Turi the other night.   This excellent Italian restaurant in Putney, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, was paying tribute to the wines of Italy’s most northerly wine regions, Alto Adige and Friuli, and The Wine Wanderers were drawn by the fabulous regional food as well as the sublime and delicate wines.

Alto Adige, also known as South Tirol, the hilly far north of Italy where road signs are also in German and some winemakers still wear lederhosen, is home to the country’s best pinot grigio.  This is, however, a grape which has been single-handedly responsible for Italy’s poor reputation for white wines.   The cheap supermarket variety grown on the flats is so popular simply because it’s inoffensive, with no distinct taste profile, Atkins rightly pointed out, but give the grape some altitude and a decent winemaker and you have a completely different animal.   We loved the 2013 from Hotstatter which was served as an aperitif to complement lovely nibbles like fried potato and cheese cakes and mackerel in sweet-sour sauce.

But it was a pinot bianco from Alto Adige served with a sublime starter of meltingly soft smoked duck breast with horseradish sauce  – that Germanic influence again – which really gripped our tastebuds.   It was a Vorberg Riserva 2010 from Cantina Terlano, one of the most acclaimed growers in the region.  We also enjoyed their Quartz sauvignon bianco 2012 which accompanied a plateful of black cannelloni filled with skrei, the new cod sensation from Norway, and served with cuttlefish ragout – to die for.    The Gewurtztraminer Kolbenhof from Hofstatter also served with this course was a reminder that Alto Adige is where this most perfumed of grapes made its name, even though its reputation was perfected in Alsace.

It was to the north-east for the main course; Friuli Venezia Giulia adjoins Slovenia in Italy’s easternmost corner, and makes the same style of delicate, fragrant white wine.   We enjoyed the Studio di Bianco 2008 from Borgo del Tiglio with our turbot, scallops and risotto of barley, crab, safron and courgette flower, more even than the very posh Ribollo Gialla Pettarin Colli Orientali del Friuli 2011, which is so rare the restaurant had an allocation of just a handful of bottles.

Finally, also from Friuli, a beautiful dessert wine redolent with dried fruit – Le Vigne di Zamo Vola Vola, which made the most beautiful partner for a berry tart with ginger cream and rhubarb jelly which was like late spring on a plate.     If the food at Enoteca Turi threatened to eclipse even these finest of wines, it’s no surprise – their new head chef, Michaele Blasi, helped his last restaurant, Sadler’s in Milan, win two Michelin stars.  Lucky Putney-dwellers, having Enoteca as their local – their Italian food is some of the best we’ve eaten in London, and they have a great list showcasing fine wines from every region of Italy.