Archive for August, 2008

Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2004

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

The death of Robert Mondavi, in May of this year, caused a wine world reaction akin to the British mourning the death of Princess Diana, the 11th anniversary of which is today.

Credited with transforming the Californian wine industry, I wonder what this “colossus” of the wine world would have been like to meet.

I had a mad dream that I walked into Costco in Leeds and Mondavi was a guest wine guy for a day.  Admittedly this is a bizarre dream since I have never seen any sort of wine guy at the Leeds branch.  I hear tell of such wondrous myth in the stores of our transatlantic cousins, but here in the UK, Costco wine shoppers are left to their own devices.

An American in French clothes


Bags of fun at EWBC

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

I am in La Rioja, Spain for the European Wine Bloggers Conference.  Unfortunately, and much to the amusement of the other 39 attendees, my bag is in Palermo, Italy.  Shirts, electronics, wine samples, underwear…

So Friday morning was spent in Bilbao buying up cheap clothing to see me through the weekend.  Seems someone picked my bag off the transfer bus at Stansted Airport by mistake, and managed to check it onto their flight before noticing it wasn’t their bag and despite five increasingly desperate announcements I put out over the tannoy system.

I managed to find a few grundies and t-shirts from Zara, and El Corte Inglés (the only shop that still had any summer items).  I’ll wear a nice warm leather jacket like the next guy, but it’s 30°C here and sunny.

I was quite embarrassed to be the only person not to have wine samples at the opening evening tasting.  But this was followed by a great tapas meal at El Lorenzo in Logroño.  Jamon Serrano, and mushrooms and scrambled egg being the two dishes that stood out.

This morning we went to the awesome and monied winery, Dinastía Vivanco for the conference, a tour, lunch, and tasting.  The Vivanco family has spent invested huge amounts of wonga on a veritable palace full of Rolls Royce standard wine equipment, but the level of confidence and buzz about the place gives the firm impression that things are going well and success is assured.  Certainly the quality of the wines, for a place built in 2004, are excellent.  Rafa Vivanco, the winemaking one (Santiago is the business brother) is enthusiastic, coherent and not afraid to experiment.

There is also a superb restaurant with panoramic views across Rioja, and a museum that boasts, amongst other things, the largest collection of corkscrews in a single room, anywhere in the world (over 3,000).  I’ll blog about one or two of the wines in a later post, but if you see any Dinastía Vivanco wines (widely available in UK restaurants) I encourage you to give them a try.

Tonight was spent at another great tasting, this time provided by a huge range of Portuguese and Spanish producers, followed by more tapas at La Chata (not as good as El Lorenzo but the belly pork was awesome).  Let’s just say the scales are creaking.

Tomorrow finds us visiting a couple more wineries, including one of my favourites, Riscal.  Life could be worse, bag or no bag.

The new Full Monty – it’s Riesling!

Friday, August 29th, 2008

I went to the opening night of Les Puddings Noir (sic) at Manchester’s Library Theatre.  I have seen so many good productions there.  For such a small theatre it is so innovative and interesting, but this was an amateur dramatic company (MAD).  However, whilst expectations were low, I had a funny feeling that it might be a laugh.

Many have tried and failed to make fun of Lancashire haute-cuisine, and the black pudding from Bury used to be the butt of Bill Oddie, uhm, I mean the butt of jokes by Bill Oddie.  Butt nowadays you can find this modern day delicacy in restaurants the world over – Ecky Thump!

Because it was the first night of an amateur production, of course the audience was full of family and friends.  A credits VT rolled to announce the play with rapturous applause for every actor (many were kids).  As complete neutrals, we thought it would be fun to whoop and holler at random names.  I wonder if it spooked them – there were a couple of ropey performances.  But on the whole, the production was a stupendous hit.  At the curtain the crowd went wild and rightly so.  My sides ached, and my eyes watered, and my black pudding swelled.  I predict that this will be a worldwide hit one day soon, and movie rights are likely to be worth more than the Full Monty.

Funnily enough, a local (Bury) butcher had taken the opportunity to give away free black puddings – step forward Chadwick’s Original.  Tonight I sampled the black pudding (sliced, gently fried in olive oil with an egg) and it was as good as the show named after it.  The best black pudding I have ever eaten and all the tastier for being slightly, albeit accidentally, burnt.

So choosing a wine to go with it was a problem.  I have been on a world tour of Pinot Noirs recently, to the boredom of many, and I have been thinking of moving on.  I have a secret desire to try a few Rieslings but I know so little about the grape.

I like the idea that the 1997 Rheingau Kabinett I found in the fridge was only 9%.  Very light and drinkable.  I also found it fruity and with a sweetness that complements black pudding in the way that a well delivered line sweetens a sour script.

Les Puddings Noir was mostly well delivered.  The two teenage mums (played by Alana Thornton and the awesome Danielle Wrigley) were only marginally eclipsed by James Creer’s hilarious French maid.  The writing was the real star, though.

Risky Rioja 2003

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

The Marqués of Risk Management

A mate, and former business client, used to take me to Rafa’s El Rincon in Manchester (I always paid).

When it came to whistle wetting tapas oil, Marqués de Riscal was our weapon of choice, partly because it was bloody good, partly because it was bloody and good, mostly because the bill payer knew it was bloody good value.

Taking good note of my cyber-mate, Rob‘s evaluation of the 2003 Rioja vintage, I popped into Sainsbury’s in Manchester and after a bit of mooching, selected a 2003 Marqués de Riscal Reserva at only £9.99, apparently £3 off (but I remember Rafa selling this stuff for less than 20 quid – not much of a mark-up!)

I wonder if the reduction is because most of Sainsbury’s customers had read Rob’s comments about 2003 and have already moved on to looking for the reputationally better 2004 and 2005 vintages.

I was not put off.  The wine, to me was top notch, tasting mostly of blackberry and apple crumble with cream and vanilla pods.  I always look out for Riscal in Spanish restaurants in Manchester, Spain and other places.

A tale of three ports

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

What’s in a name?  Or the way it is pronounced?  Or the way it is presented?  Hyacinth Bucket was famous for re-packaging her married name as “Bouquet”.  Snob residents of Burnage in Manchester (pronounced burnidge since 1478) are heard to mutter that they come from Burnaaaarj (as the French would pronounce it).

Long ago, the Cockburn family must have realised that their own name needed a bit of thought.  Who is going to buy a bottle of port from a company that sounds like a naked barbecue incident?  And so they became Coeburn by pronunciation.

193 years later, and change is on the agenda again, as Cockburn’s have decided to repackage port to make it more trendy, more appealing to the contemporary drinker, more relevant to the modern dinner table, and perhaps more attractive to the Buckets of the world.


Lots of Rhubarb but no lamb

Monday, August 25th, 2008

We met Jeffo and (pregnant) Michele in Didsbury (Manchester) for Sunday lunch.  Jeffo knows these parts well and had tasted his “best lamb ever” at a place on Burton Road – Rhubarb.

Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb...

It was small and well packed with tables, but pretty full of happy looking customers.  A bistro type atmosphere but with the warming sense that you are visiting old friends.

We rejected the Sunday lunch special menu in favour of the à la carte.  We were only there for one dish, “is the rump of spring lamb on?” Jeff enquired and was advised that we could order anything from the menu.  So we ordered lamb all round.


Sarget de Gruaud-Larose 1997

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

If a bottle of wine costs more than £20 then I take it seriously.  I am tight as a gnat’s chuff after all, being from the north of England.  My recent visit to Nicolas on Berwick Street (in the grim South of England) resulted in £23.50 being added to my overdraft and the harsher penalty of ridicule from some readers.  The stakes placed on this St Julien are high.

Yes Sergeant Major!

Since I discovered Nicolas in London, I’ve spotted new branches appearing more frequently than Caffé Nero coffee shops.  It’s like buying a Ford Mondeo then realising that everyone else on the road also owns one, and most chose the same colour as you.  Reading around, it seems that the famed wine “corner shop”, revered by French drinkers possibly since Napoleon was in shorts, bought venerable British institution, Oddbins and had started converting stores to the French brand in large number.

The restructure brought about by the new owners of Oddbins was not without controversy.  The Nicolas brand was not so popular in the UK.  Accused of being bland, arrogant, and too Franco-centric it was the very cliché of the British view of les bleus.


The one Stock bucking the market trend

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Whilst bears everywhere are majestically prowling and growling to everybody that they told them so, stocks around the world continue their downward spiral.  This does not affect Manchester as much as it used to, as the Stock Exchange here is now an Italian restaurant.

Stock market? cube? pot? ing leg?


Louis Max 2004 Nuit St Georges

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

It’s always a bit risky reviewing a wine received as a present.  This bottle by Maison Louis Max came from my good mate Tony Atkinson and I know he got it from a specialist wine retailer in Liverpool.  It’s really tough to find online and according the website has a select and very limited (and no doubt highly discerning) customer base.

I love the slightly irreverent labels.  Much more lively than the sombre output of the average French label draughtsman.

Louis Louis, Hey! Whoa-oh! I love you so...

I also loved the wine although it would be unfair to call it irreverent.  A herby nose of crushed basil, red berry jam and compost is fairly typical Pinot Noir.  The taste is like strawberry jam with tarragon.  Really delicious cutting a dapper line between refreshing and serious.

Top slurp – I’ll keep an eye out for more by Louis Max.

Morgon Château Gaillard 2005

Friday, August 15th, 2008

There is a lot written about matching wine to food.  There are some basic rules which I tend to follow and it’s never as simple as white with fish, red with meat.  It’s more about trying to find a balance of complementary styles.  For example, have you noticed that cheese is often served with sweet fruits like grapes?  So, no big surprise that sweet wine goes excellently with most cheeses.

On the occasion of a barbie on the balcony, I was trying to balance simply barbecued sardines with dill and lemon, fresh spring lamb chops with rosemary, and a warm summer afternoon.

The open top sports car of wines - Morgon…