Tag Archives: white wine

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

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.

Valentine’s drinking – it’s not just about great pinks and fabulous fizz

11 Feb

What to drink with Valentine’s Day dinner?  Marketing hype says it ought to be fizz, still or sparkling pink or at the very least a red or white with a heart on its label.

So far, so cliched; what you really want is a sexy wine which will perfectly complement the aphrodisiac feast you plan to serve – or to enjoy as an aperitif before a dinner out.    In respect of the former, pink sparkling wine is hard to beat; generally less acid than white, it immediately creates a festive air and provides a feast for the eyes as well as a tickle for the tastebuds.

Champagne is no longer de rigeur now that we’re growing our own fizz, and it’s hard to beat a sparkling rose from Chapel Down.   But if the real thing is desired for its ooh-la-la cachet, Lanson rose is a bargain this week on promotion at £25 from Sainsburys.

Still rose is always a joy when well-made, particularly the gorgeous pale golden pinks from Provence.   You’re unlikely to find any of the Miraval made by Brangelina till spring- inevitably this small production sells out every year – but you could try the delicate violet-pink Pure from the similarly-named Mirabeau at Waitrose; not cheap at £12.99 but elegant.

Mirabeau is owned by an English couple, ironic considering that the English are doing a pretty good job with still rose themselves.   The Wanderers enjoyed the Broadwoods Folly, £7.99 at Lidl who have added three English wines to their selection for the first time.

Although rose is an apt partner for chicken, white meats and spicy food, if you have your heart set on oysters, you’ll want a decent white.    One Wanderer believes nothing but Chablis will do for oysters, but the other thinks the money would be better spent on Sainsburys Taste the Difference Sancerre, a sensational example of the genre at £13.  It will also work with asparagus, the other most-touted aphrodisiac food, which M&S have managed to get from their British growers in time for this year’s Valentines weekend.

A bottle with a heart on the label which would also partner asparagus is the Bordeaux sauvignon blanc known as Good Ordinary White  from Berry Brothers & Rudd, who got Paul Smith to design a special Valentines Day label for this and their Good Ordinary Claret.  While the white is lovely, the red suffers like most claret under £10 from being too young for full enjoyment.   To accompany steak or duck, better to splash out a fully developed voluptuous wine from southern Europe – the excellent Ribera del Duero by Condado del Hazo, £15 at Sainsburys or the austerely elegant Terre del Barolo from Waitrose, £18.79.  These are pricey treats, but decent reds from the New World are available at Lidl for less, including Lodi zinfandel from California, £4.99, and Axis cabernet sauvignon from Margaret River in Australia, home of great reds, for £6.49.

Paul Smith Good Ordinary White       For value and reliability, you can’t beat the “i heart” range which is a lynchpin of convenience store shelves.  Despite the rather naff label, most are eminently quaffable and true to variety, with the exception of the sauv blanc, which tastes suspiciously sweet – added sugar to please girly palates?   A nice enough drop for an aperitif, but keep it away from the oysters!

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.

Sauvignon gris from New Zealand and some other spectacular but affordable whites

16 Feb

The Wine Wanderers have felt silenced these past few months by a visit to Lyon, where we drank just too much wonderful wine and found ourselves divided between the joys of Burgundy and Rhone, a question which also regularly taxes the Lyonnais.   But it did remind us of how much we adore a fine, white Burgundy  and how nothing quite substitutes for that classy, buttery hit mitigated with a hint of flint which is a simply sumptuous partner for a great piece of fish or a top-class chicken.

Meursault and Montrachet are beyond us at British prices, but our Christmas came early this year courtesy of a Waitrose promotion which included their own-label White Burgundy.   Even at the regular price of £8.99, this chardonnay from 40-year-old vines is a steal at any time of year; it tastes as if it should cost at least 50% more, and when regularly promoted at 25% off, like a bottle twice the price.

This is one of the wines we feel moved to buy by the case when on special, and it’s about to be joined by another supermarket find.   Sauvignon gris is much less well-known to British imbibers than the sauvignon gris which can be superb at its best but quite indifferent at its worst.

The sauvignon gris just tasted from Brancott, New Zealand winemakers who pioneered the original Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, have come up with a spectacular new wine which has all that “cat’s pee under a gooseberry bush” quality you associate with a great Loire white.   Green, mineral and utterly seductive.    This IWSC gold medal winner seems a better buy at £10.49 than Brancott’s not so special sauv blanc, and just a shame Sainsburys aren’t listing it yet, though Tesco, ASDA and Ocado, active promoters all, have added it.    Will make it in bulk to our own trolleys once we spot it at £8 or less, though worth every penny of the full price.

If sauvignon gris deserves to be better known, so does roussanne, a white grape which usually only makes it into blends yet  can be spectacular on its own.   I enjoyed my first 100 per cent roussanne in a restaurant in Jaffa two years ago – it was a revelation – and my second a few weeks ago in Tucson’s great western restaurant, Cowboy Ciao.   That one was made in Washington state and unlikely to make it over here, but happily the Tabor Adama roussanne from Israel has started shipping here now.   Not quite so affordable at £15.99, but it has been available on promotion through Amazon for £14 a bottle, and is worth keeping a lookout for – classy and delicious.

More white wine grapes are being planted in Israel all the time, and producing bottles which are a knockout in the hands of experienced winemakers.   Small production has kept prices high, but as wineries get bigger – Tabor had a huge cash injection from Coca-Cola, who have had the sense to give their talented agronomist and winemaker full autonomy, and Dalton, founded by Brits, is one of the largest in Israel making quality wine – affordable bottles really worth drinking are coming on-stream.    Watch this space for comment about Dalton’s Fume Blanc, another grape flourishing far from its original home.

Divine wines from the south of France meet comfort food from the north at Brasserie Chavot

22 Nov

Eric Chavot is one of those French chefs whose return to these shores after a stint abroad we are celebrating in spades.   Like Pierre Koffman and Bruno Loubet, similarly lost to London for a while and recently reclaimed, he earned his Michelin stars years ago but now prefers to serve classic, affordable cuisine in an informal brasserie setting – how blessed can we get?

Comfort food was on our mind when we checked into Chavot’s brasserie adjoining Mayfair’s Westbury Hotel this week.   He is particularly known for his choucroute garnie, and we expected to accompany this feast of sausages and sauerkraut born in north-eastern France with an Alsace riesling.  Instead, sommelier India Salcade surprised us with a stupendous white from the opposite end of the country.

Le Grand Blanc is a curious mix of grapes – chardonnay with the rarely seen rolle and grenache blanc – but it is a revelation.   Big and yet fresh at the same time, it is the most seductive white we can remember tasting this year.  It more than stood up to the smoked pork belly and bangers and played well to the winey sauerkraut(actually, a bit too winey – we prefer our sauerkraut the traditional way – a little sharper and well-flecked with caraway seeds).

We also missed the meaty frankfurter which is a staple of choucroute in Alsace, although well done Eric producing the turned waxy boiled potato which is also an essential, and invariably tastes better than any boiled potato you’ve had in Britain outside the Jersey Royal season.

Talking of Jersey, that was where the plump, briny oysters came from, although they were served in the Bordelaise manner with a little crepinette sausage.    With them came another lovely white  from the south – an Entre Deux Mers from Chateau Deville.  It’s easy to forget it was the French, rather than the Australians, who thought of blending sauvignon with semillon – this confection of 80 per cent sauv and 20 per cent sem was just the ticket.   We missed those little slices of pumpernickel that come with oysters in France, but the home-made bread was great, and so was the generous pat of butter.

The fact Chavot is not truly a traditionalist was borne out by the starter which earned raves when the restaurant opened earlier this year.   Deep-fried soft shell crab is hardly French, even if you serve it with aioli, and these little beauties came from India.   Deliciously crisp, though, and delightfully served on a board topped with French newspaper, accompanied by yet another really sumptuous wine from the south. Chateau la Coste Bellugue from Provence, proved more powerful than its blush of palest pink suggested, with cabernet sauvignon and syrah punching up the usual mix of cinsault and grenache.

Ile flottante for dessert could have used crackly toffee on the meringue instead of in the creme anglaise, but the baba au rhum was just about the best we’ve ever tasted.  And the room is truly beautiful-elegant but not a bit stuffy.

Brasserie Chavot, Conduit Street, London W.1.
(0)20 7183 6425

Voluptuous viognier – perfect sipping for warm summer evenings

27 May

When spring starts to segue into summer, a different style of wine is called for – one with a bit of fragrance that seems to mark the change of seasons and with enough personality to work as an aperitif as well as with food.

Viognier, which fits the bill to a T, was once a secret for connoisseurs.  The grape variety was brought to the Rhone Valley by the Romans, and the tiny appellation known as Condrieu, made of 100 per cent viognier, has long been prized for its perfumed nose and elegance.  Until relatively recently, viognier was left to the French, and to the Rhone rangers in particular.    Then wine-makers all over the world started experimenting with the fragrant grape, and there has been an explosion of viognier in the past 10 years.

Not all of it is good – this is a difficult grape to grow, which can produce “oily” or overpoweringly perfumed wines when badly made.    But in skilled hands, the results can be stunning, and great value for wine of this quality.

Unsurprisingly, one of the best viogniers comes from the very borders of Condrieu territory.  Pierre Gaillard’s Les Gendrines is a gorgeous drop from Berry Brothers & Rudd with all the Rhone Valley elegance you would hope for- and at less than £15 a bottle when you buy a case of six.      Equally fine value is a divine Israeli viognier from Dalton at around the same price. It has notes of peaches, honey and sunshine without being in any way overblown

Yet both these premium wines have serious competition from a couple of contenders able to produce good viognier at almost unbelievable prices.   For around  £7 a bottle you can pick up Domaine de Mandeville viognier Pays d’Oc from Marks and Spencer or Trivento viognier made in the Tupungato region of Argentina from Waitrose.       The former is richer and more serious, the latter quite deliciously playful, with a lovely hint of lemon.

Both work beautifully with salmon or other fish in a buttery sauce, and the Trivento is lovely to drink on its own.    Watch out for promotions on the Trivento in Waitrose – the current offer of £5.59 is about to expire, but there’s every chance it will  be back before summer’s out.

Barbera d’Alba and Birds custard with Marco Pierre White

23 Jan

The best bottle of wine we’ve drunk in the past week was with the former enfant terrible Marco Pierre White,  youngest chef ever to win three Michelin stars back in the day.  It was a fine Vietti Barbera d’Alba Tre Vigne 2009, listed at the Rainbow Inn in Cooksfield, East Sussex.  This charming eatery looks like a pub but is actually a proper restaurant which Marco has recently put his stamp on under the Wheelers Brand, and it has a very decent list.  It was good to see a Petaluma Cab Sauv from Australia, a Malbec from the excellent Catena winery in Argentina and a Californian Pinot Noir from Calera among the reds and an Austrian Gruner Veltliner as well as a Rully, one of the unsung stars of Burgundy, among the whites.

The food was as fine as you might expect, though since handing back his Michelin stars several years ago and stepping away from the stove, Marco has made it his mission to dispel food snobbery.  He defends his commercials for stock cubes by insisting they are used in many top French kitchens(we were shocked, but will take his word for that), and takes a childlike delight in the fact the Wheelers signature pea and ham soup is made with the frozen variety from Birds Eye.   No quibble with that – frozen petits pois are invariably smaller, greener and sweeter than all but the freshest in the pod on supermarket shelves – but it was surprising to hear him swear that only half the custard in the excellent sherry trifle was made from scratch and topped up with the product of a Birds packet. It bears the name of one Wally Ladd, the chef who crreated this particular trifle recipe at the Connaught, so one can only hope MPW was not playing a little joke at his expense.

Other good things at the Rainbow – a starter of quails eggs on a crispy base spread with mushroom duxelles and enrobed with rich hollandaise sauce, a rib-eye steak with perfect bearnaise and sensational triple-cooked chips, and hot raspberry souffle for dessert.  Marco has installed nostalgic white lace tablecloths and some stunning modern sculptures, as well as  wall to wall Jax cartoons from his personal collection, and the room overlooking the floodlit garden would be an enchanting place to have dinner.   Worth trying at the bar are Marco’s own ale and cider brews, though alas with so many other pubs to oversee around the country, you’re not likely to find him in residence to trade sparkling banter very often.   Still, the new Rainbow should prove a welcome addition to the Lewes dining scene, and prices are very reasonable for food of this quality.

Viva Zapata!

2 Dec

Silence from The Wine Wanderers as running round Israel tasting that country’s finest wines is followed immediately by running around Argentina doing the same.  And there is a link – at least one winemaker in each country producing elegant, complex chardonnay that rivals the best produced in Burgundy and dismissing the myth that in other hands this white grape is crudely processed into a sledgehammer Page Three wine.

Chardonnay probably earned the page three epithet because of the seductive power of the grape, and it is easy to be seduced by Eli Ben-Zaken’s Blanc de Castel. Ben Zaken, a self-taught winemaker who started life in Israel as a chicken farmer, makes the country’s  finest chardonnay, and I was delighted to be offered a glass of it at the country’s best seafood restaurant, Mul Yam in Tel Aviv, where it perfectly compemented a divine dish of razor clams cooked in lemon butter with a judicious sprinkle of samphire and pink peppercorns.

A week later both Wine Wanderers were being seduced in Buenos Aires by a chardonnay named Angelica Zapata, alas a non-export brand of the esteemed Argentinian winery Catena Zapata.   It was so good that even when the meat course arrived at swanky Casa Cruz in Palermo, we didn’t want to switch to red – this is one wine it was hard to stop drinking.

As my fellow Wine Wanderer will reveal when he recovers from a cold caught riding in the foothills of the Andes, Catena Zapata first turned us on to Argentinian wines several years ago, and it’s surprising to find they are a huge winery.   Their fourth-generation winemaker, Laura Catena, was not one of the two dozen we met personally during our week in Salta, Cafayate and Mendoza, but we did get one final glug of her chardonnay.   Back in Buenos Aires at trendy Sucre, we were treated to a few bottles of D.V. Catena – not quite as addictive as Angelica, but almost as good.

The good news for Brits is that the multiiples are getting in some great chardonnay from this winery at astonishing prices.   Both the Tupungato from Marks and Spencer and the Catena chardonnay from Waitrosse are grown at high altitude like the bottles we drank in Argentina.  The first is named for the area it’s grown in and the second is made from grapes grown both in Tupungato and Lujan de Cuyo.   The cheaper Tupungato is actually headier, if a tad less complex, but both are easier to love than the Torrontes which Argentina fields as its own special white wine, which can be as variable as chardonnay, and will stand up to the Christmas turkey.