Doug chats to Eduardo Pulenta at the Wheelhouse in Falkirk
Meanwhile Doug in London talking to Charlie Melton about his experiments with biodynamics - as ever it’s an honest Aussie assessment - but it seems to be working ….
Scientifically prove love? I’ve just had lunch with some fabulous ladies … Note to self: do that more often. Vanya Cullen and Stephanie Toole both make wine in Australia and I’m lucky to have visited both of them at their vineyards in the past. They say that owners end up looking like their dogs … Well a lot of what I have to say about the wines, I would also say about their maker. Which is why I do not have time for faceless operations and I cannot describe the wines of Isole e Olena without mentioning Paulo … Stephanie is a pocket rocket, focussed, precise, ordered, determined, fearless and right!! Her Riesling is razor sharp, don’t mess with the Riesling ok? It’s exactly as it should be and fabulous for it! Her barrel fermented semillon is like landing a punch in the solar plexus, so unexpected, powerful but totally satisfying. Her Cabernet is restrained elegance - it’s not a wild hippy frivolously dancing, it’s like that dance sequence at the end of ‘streetdance’, choreographed ballet with some really cool moves (foot crushing) thrown in. Quite shocking in it’s intensity and beauty. Like Stephanie. Vanya is mother earth herself. She is grounded and balanced and natural. Extremely good company and utterly tuned into the world. Her Chardonnay is the most amazing wine - no wonder it has just won best Chardonnay on the planet! Vanya tries to ‘harvest the aliveness’ of her vines and captures this by using biodynamic practices. On winning her recent award a fellow winemaker suggested she undertake some studies to prove biodynamics. But when you’ve just won best Chardonnay on the planet, who cares? You can’t scientifically prove love either and that’s the great mystery of wine. But if anyone could, I think Stephanie might! My companion over lunch at the Scottish Malt Whisky Society was Fran from Creelers but I’ll need a bit longer to process my chat her :-)) in fact I think we’ll have to meet again over another fine bottle of wine one day … Cheers!
Made this blackberry tart from Nick Nairns Wild Harvest book last night and took round to friends where they served it up with Telmo Rodriguez MR. A spanish dessert wine made from Moscatel … I had completely forgotten how good it was! Big smiles all round :))
Interesting day … and the whole event was packed. Australia’s First Family of Wine is a group of family wineries who have got together because ‘wine is far more interesting than accounting and economics’! AKA they too are fed up with brand Australia being synominous with discounting at the cheaper end of the market. (If you want to read their take on it, click on the link above.)
So why were all the top Scottish sommeliers and merchants there? Because we actually like Australian wines and we have also become disillusioned by brand Australia’s discounted offers available perennially in supermarkets and if the principles from all these estates travel can travel to the UK to listen, we can manage the train to Edinburgh to talk (and listen too)!
It seems that as a group they are still forming and not quite norming. But it was great to see the energy of the families involved. The tasting was to show the diversity, ageability and quality that Australian wines can offer. Interestingly even though we tasted a whole range of wines in terms of style and price, my favourite was the Old Bush Vine Grenache, with wild yeast ferment from Yalumba retailing for £9 - surely a hidden gem! Look out for it soon …
The discussion over lunch was the interesting bit … they did not send a marketing rep … they were genuinely wanting to understand how they can sell premium Australian wine in the UK. The wine trade in the UK have a lot to thank brand Australia for … since the 1990’s many thousands of people have been introduced to wine by the fruity, gluggable and easy to understand offerings from the likes of Lindemans, Nottage Hill or Rosemount. But they look to the likes of us to sell their premium wines …
Our issue with these kinds of wines has nothing to do with their taste … Customers are being sent a confused message when they normally see that brand discounted on a supermarket shelf (which is the only way they know how to sell it). And when we can stock the likes of Cullen, Clonakilla, Giaconda, or the ever so affordable Balgownie … then why would be bother selling a brand that also offers a BOGOF supermarket deal?
The families group need to protect their own integrity (and those of some of their members) whilst not confusing the consumer. And also to make it an easy decision for sommeliers and merchants to stock their premium wines for their obvious quality.
I hope that today is the start of a ‘partnership’ that would allow some of the fabulous wines I tasted to be available in top restaurants and merchants in the future.
As Frank, our man on the ground, goes from strength to strength, we’re delighted that the Frog and Thistle in Braco has just started using us for their wines …
Lionel (formerly of the Queens and then L’Angevine in Stirling) has taken over the Braco Hotel. No longer a hotel, he and his family now occupy all the rooms, but they have refurbished the bar and restaurant and offer his wonderful cooking in a very cool setting in Braco of all places!
Think country pub, mixed with a little bit of France and the food is as good as he’s ever produced!
Day 2 and I headed to the world famous Berry Bros & Rudd shop on St James’s Street. I had never been before - must have been easily intimidated all those years ago when I lived in London … because this place has a history! It’s like a wine museum and then you go downstairs and it’s a magical blend of high tech with 17th century cellars. I was here for a pre-release tasting of the wines from top, top Californian producer Ridge.
Ridge has for a long time been the epitome of quality Californian wine. Maybe it’s the distinctive label that has not changed since 60’s or more likely a combination of that and the juice inside that make these wines utterly classic. One of my favourite questions is ‘Which do you prefer, the Lytton Springs or the Geyserville?’ As fan of new world wines, it’s a kind of cerebral meeting point for me and old world fanatics who all seem to have time for them as well. And the answer … God they’re both lovely! The Lytton is always the more elegant whilst the Geyserville has a slightly more earthy intensity which I love …
We retired to lunch at Benares where we drank their Chardonnay and the 2006 Lytton Springs. Both went superbly well with the Indian food on offer which was simply the best ‘curry’ I’ve ever had. If you can, go and drink wines from Ridge!
What with the intriguing sake tasting the day before and being in London … we went to Zuma for dinner. I had never eaten sushi before, I struggle sometimes with smoked salmon, but … I like a challenge (although hardly ever in a culinary sense). We had squid to start which was the best I’ve ever tasted … so crispy and light … went on to soft shell crab sashimi, yellowfin tuna sashimi, salmon sushi, black cod … all the tastes with the soy and umami flavours really worked with the sake. Culinary experience good, but Zuma very stylish a little too cool for me …
On our way back to the sleeper for the return leg we decided to visit the 2 new sherry / tapas bars that the wine trade had been getting so excited about and they were kind of en route anyway. Barrafina on Frith Street was absolutely buzzing! So small, so much atmosphere and I love watching a busy kitchen! We joined a queue of about 10 people who were all waiting for food. We were just after the sherry so happily stood and soaked it all up! Definately going back next time in London … we couldn’t even manage a bowl of toasted almonds!
Our last stop was Barrica on Goodge Street. Had to ask them to remove the bowl of bread and oil … We’d eaten more than enough! 20 something sherries by the glass, 2 manzanilla’s at the same price … even a sherry nut like me was slightly confused and sadly so were the staff. But the place was busy busy busy and must be doing something right!
Glad to be back and drinking BofA tap water tonight … but still thinking about the Lytton/Geyser question … Must open some soon …
Mostly I am very glad I live in a village in Scotland, but every now and then London calls. The excuse this time was #iwc2010 (aka the International Wine Challenge) and what with London being the center of the wine world, it’s generally very easy to tag on a tasting either side.
Sleeper arrived on time and walking from Euston towards Barbican at 7am was made even more pleasant by spring sunshine. The people in central London at that time are not harassed (yet) and it’s altogether very lovely. Smiths of Smithfield is our usual place for breakfast: 2 poached eggs and strong coffee I was ready for the challenge. And by the time we’d left SOS, the angry ants had returned. How can someone cycling to work in the sunshine be so annoyed with people?
As the 100 or so judges gathered it was lovely to recognise old faces from years gone by and I always look forward to my hug from Charles Metcalfe! I was in a team with Neal Martin, Patricia Stefanowicz MW and a Russian wine maker and by the end of the morning we had awarded a hand-full of golds and lots of silvers … my best morning ever at IWC! Afternoon flights were harder with a large run of young Rioja’s and we finished with some Chilean Carmeneres which made me want to scream as the Emiliana at £5.5 was soooo much better than all of them.
It’s a unique melting pot of journalists, bloggers, retailers, wine makers, PR people, sommeliers … and everyone hangs on for a beer afterwards - the last thing you want to actually drink is wine! I was especially please to meet the Knackered Mummy from the blog the Knackered Mother’s Wine Club! Looked great though, not too knackered at all!
We stayed on for a Sake Masterclass with Ken Ohashi who is ‘the man’. We learned about the different terms Junmai vs non-Junmai, Ginjo and Honjozo and tasted 6 different sakes all with the seal of approval from Ken that they were very good examples … Presentation was great and whilst I appreciate the opportunity to taste and learn, I’m afraid I don’t get it. And I’ll not be spending weeks trying to source one or maybe 2 for our shops … drink sherry instead!
Met up with an old friend for dinner at Vinoteca and quite how they manage to be turning tables and completely buzzing on a Tuesday night is not something my villiage in Scotland head can get around! Obviously it’s because the food is great (cauliflower and hazelnut soup, asparagus with fresh mozzarella and mint…), wines great (Huet and Bonny Doon Cigare Volant) and service was spot on …
Not from WoodWinters of course! But the supermarkets are at it again and it’s really made us think …
Douglas was lucky enough to be invited to take part in the Champagne Academy at the start of the summer but he did not come back singing the praises of many of the Grand Marques! Too much of the ‘terroir’ is full of rusting metal, razors, plastic and dead batteries from Parisian rubbish! Only producers who care about their soil can truly talk of terroir in champagne. But it’s not just the rubbish, the rest of it is BS!
We totally agree with Jancis Robinson who was quoted after a Dispatches programme as saying that “From my point of view perhaps about 30% of all champagne is worth the money.”
I think that Champagne has really shot itself in the foot with this one! Surely people will start to see it as a commodity and no longer a premium product? I think that half price offers of these champagnes make the job of independents much harder - or does it? We don’t have to list anything that does not fit the quality:value ratio for our company and so have taken the radical (?) decision this week to take all the Grand Marque champagnes of our shelves! Frankly, I don’t know what has taken us so long.
We’re not alone in the independent sector! “***k ‘em!” said Noel Young ;-) and Mike Watson of the Secret Cellar said it was something he had been considering for some time.
We enjoyed a bottle of Jacques Selosse Initiale on Friday (after the tasting) - now that’s a special bottle of champagne! Larmandier-Bernier small production, biodynamic made by people passionate about the wine and not with marketing budgets and brand ambassadors arrives this week into our stores and is a much better spend at £29 than any Grand Marque at double that price!
But consider the alternatives: Ferghettina’s Franciacorta comes in at £18-£24 and is a massive leap in quality above similar priced champagnes. Even Pelorus - the sparkling wine from Cloudy Bay is realistic at £15. Our Mas Macia Cava at £7.75 (or the Brut Nature) is not at all bad either!
PS We love Krug, DP Oenoteque, old Cristal and a few others which can be named on request!