Churchaven Wellington Malbec 2007

Monday, December 29th, 2008

If you like Malbec (and I do) you might like to explore a bit further than the varietal’s adopted homeland of Argentina.

For example, at the time of writing, Virgin Wines has this South African on offer at £5.99 (normally £9.99).  If you subscribe to Virgin’s Wine Bank, you effectively get an extra 25% discount.  This is stonking value for money.

Churchaven - Purgatory?

Rich and hedonistic with black cherry, leather and spice.  Slightly rough around the edges like your lovable mate, the diamond geezer, this Wellington beaut tastes much more expensive than £4.50.

Olive Tree, Chapel Allerton

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

When I wrote up my notes from the Leeds Restaurant Awards I was noodling why I didn’t spend more time in Leeds’ eateries.  Vowing to put that right, I looked up the programme from the event for some inspiration.  The Olive Tree was well represented and is a somewhat legendary Greek offering with three establishments in the Leeds area.  Not exactly ubiquity, but I generally avoid chains unless they are focussed, and this one is the Leica lens of Greek dining.


Gaucho Grill wine rip-off rages on

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I’ve written before about the rip-off wine mark-ups at the Gaucho Grill (branches in London and Manchester).

Although the wine is outrageously priced, I do pop in occasionally for a top class steak.  And so last week saw me in the Manchester restaurant.  I thought it would be interesting to revisit the wine prices.

In my post of March 2007, I benchmarked a bottle of Susana Balbo Malbec (excellent stuff) at an eye watering mark-up of 250%.  The bottle, available at the time from the Wine Society at £11.95, was marked up to £42.

Time to check out the latest prices.  I checked the Wine Society website and, fair play, it is in stock and still £11.95.  Inflation rate = 0%.

When I checked out the Gaucho Grill wine list, the price has inflated by a Graf Zeppelinistic 22.6% to £51.50.  This now makes the mark-up (against retail price, and one assumes that Gaucho can buy much cheaper) a groin kicking 331%.  By far the highest I have ever seen in any restaurant.

The matured meat may be superb, but I would rather cut my pupils out with a serrated steak knife, than pay these prices.

By all means eat at the Gaucho, but when it comes to wine, just say “NO”.

Cornerhouse Grill, Dublin

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

When dining out, one well known restaurant critic makes a point of asking how the tips are distributed, always leaving cash, and encourages readers to do the same.  So I dutifully asked the MO of one waiter at the Cornerhouse Grill and was stunned by his response.

Cornerhouse - on a corner for some reason


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.


Catena Malbec 2005

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

“Hey Al, cut to the chase!”  Uhm OK.

Catena has the usual smell I associate with Malbec – rich bitter chocolate and dark cherries.  Taste similar, possibly a touch of tomato ketchup too.  A super wave of contrasting and complementary flavours some spicy, some sweet - not sure how much value this complexity adds. At 13.5% very munchable, though, and I enjoyed it a lot.  Quite expensive but a great, if opulent, partner to beans on toast.

More Malbec and a lupin...for some reason

Imported by Bibendum (£11.95) and available at Majestic for £10.99, and Waitrose £10.44.

Landelia Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

What happened to global warming?  I write this on Sunday morning in Manchester, and it’s another rainy July day.  We’ve just had the coldest June since 1999, but we are still smiling.  Dunkirk spirit eh?

Although it is cold and wet, I sense that we have had much less rain than last year’s “summer”, the one that kept every reservoir in Britain at mid winter levels, and hosepipe bans a fond memory of childhood days.

We Brits are famous for talking about the weather too much, but our islands are prone to such regular and rapid changes, that it actually makes interesting conversation.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
The sun has got his hat on, shout hip, hip, hooray!

Literary references all, proving my case that weather is interesting because of its variety and inherently unexpected nature.  In that sense perhaps it is a lot like wine, another subject I talk about too much.

I was so impressed by Landelia Malbec that it is still recommended on my favourites page.  Recently, I went back to the Virgin website to top up my stocks but the cupboard was bare.  However, my search threw up another wine by Landelia, this one a Cab Sauv from 2005.

More overgrown evergreens?


Alamos Malbec 2006

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Does hay fever stop you enjoying wine?  I’ve suffered since I was a teenager, not desperately badly, but some years are worse than others.  Sneezing is easy.  It’s the itchy eyes and the variety of streaming facial liquids that really irritate.

Normally I get it early, I look like a tear-jerk long before May is out, whether I have cast a clout or not.  This year has been great, so far.  I write this late June and have hardly seen a symptom.  But today I have a mild dose.  I keep anti-histamine tablets in reserve, in case of emergency.  I am a hypochondriac in many senses but I dislike medicine and avoid it as a policy….except when things get really bad.  I have taken no prisoners, er pills, this year but I was tempted tonight.

I poured a glass of Alamos Malbec and took a sniff.  Snchoooooooorrrrrrggggghhhhhh!  No smell.  Just a loud nasal fart.

Davy Crockett wine?  Alamos Malbec...


Susana Balbo Brioso, 2005

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

I have long been a fan of Susana Balbo’s Malbecs since I first discovered them on the rip-off wine list of the Gaucho Grill.  So I was intrigued to see this blend, named Brioso, on the virtual shelves of the Wine Society.  At £14.95 ($30) it is not cheap so it needs to be measured against serious competition.

As blends go, this one has a whopping 5 varietals contributing to the mix, but did this add as many facets to the flavour of the wine?

Balbo Baggins is back with Brioso.


Lounge Bar & Grill, Leeds, Britten….

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

I’ve just returned from the opening night of the Opera North production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s play reconfigured as an opera by melody dodger, Benjamin Britten, whose proud boast seems to be never to have written an opera in a major key.

I normally love Opera North (full disclosure, I know one of the chorus quite well), but I am not a Britten fan.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream reminded me of all the negative aspects of the earlier, and otherwise superior, Peter Grimes.  Incessant horns and strings in deliberate discord, keeping the audience on its edge in the same way Hammer House of Horror films used organ fugues to build tension.  Britten never seems to let go, though.  It was like sitting on a train, delayed because of a fatality on the line.  One feels sorry for the victim (or cast in this case) but I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible.  Listening to a gauntlet scratching up and down a blackboard would have been more entertaining, and arguably, more musical.

The humour (what little existed) was 50 years old and could probably only have been written by a tortured homosexual of the repressed mid 20th century.  There were clearly a few from that era in the audience, occasionally chortling and even applauding.  I watched with the same cringingly embarrassed feeling of watching a Carry On film from the Beatles epoch.  Fortunately, to avoid total boredom, I was simply able to stare up at the awesome ceiling of Leeds Grand Theatre, the home of Opera North, and surely one of the best theatres in the world for architectural detail.

Lounge Lizard but 25% less....for some reason

Just round the corner from the Grand Theatre is Lounge Bar and Grill, and that is where we chose to eat before the performance.  With 25% off, the bill for two with a bottle of wine came to only £40 plus service.  Even for Leeds that is cheap.