Tag Archives: Pinot noir

No sects, please – more toleration and an end to "isms".

Impressionism, cubism, fauvism, expressionism, surrealism. What a lot of ‘isms’ the art world has been through. Many painters have passed from one movement to another; rejecting old notions and, often, old colleagues and friends as they espoused new theories, becoming disagreeably didactic as they embraced the new, the one true visual religion.
So too with music. I remember with utter clarity my own Damascene conversion from ‘Mouldy Fig’ to ‘Modernist’ – eight bars of Dave Brubeck Octet’s ‘Love Walked in’ and out went the hairy sweater, the sandals and the banjo-fuelled 78s. In came the sharp zoot suit, the silk polo neck, beret and shades. Not, alas, the Thelonius Monk goatee which failed to sprout on an 18 year-old’s chin!
Wine also has its own partisan sects. Terroirists – hard-nosed bigots who believe the most important thing about a wine is that the grapes squeezed into the bottle can be traced back to a specific windswept quartz-encrusted plot on some godforsaken hillside. Abvists – those who condemn any bottle marked 14% or over as the work of The Devil. The flagellant Blanchistas who’ll drink nothing but white wine, or if they do scourge themselves. Attributing Monday morning’s lack of wellbeing to the consumption of a glass or two of Aussie Shiraz on Saturday night they get out the old whip and hairshirt. Nothing to do with the thirty fags, three G&Ts and the litre and a half of Chardonnay of course, it’s all satanic red wine’s fault.
Picasso and Braque initiated the Cubist movement when they followed the advice of Paul Cézanne, who in 1904 said artists should treat nature “in terms of the cylinder, the sphere and the cone.” The Cubists were mega-analytical and I suppose their vinous equivalent would be the Anorakists who have persuaded themselves that wine (as distinct from the making of wine) is a subject fit for serious academic study. Maybe it is but give these boys a soapbox and they can bore for Burgundy. Many Anorakists are charming, even fascinating people and to hear a real expert lecture on the evils of reductivity is not to be missed. Trouble is, like all charismatic movements, Anorakism attracts a fringe element of pedants, bluffers and utter chancers.
The Anorakists do have an achilles heel however; a romantic nature that set them at odds with The Technocrats, an austere cult who stole the Anorakists’ clothes while the latter were gazing, misty-eyed at Le Montrachet. Technos are wine’s Futurists, the Italian-based largely Fascist art movement that embraced and enobled the machine. The Technocrats believe, to put it at its most basic, that the guy who owns the chemistry set rules the world – of wine, at any rate. I have many friends among the Anos but the Technos, I’m afraid, are utterly unlovable.
Sandwiched between the Impressionists and the Cubists were the Fauves, the “Wild Beasts”, so called for their unrestrained slap-it-on approach and their wild use of colour. Wine’s parallel would be The Untouchables, the guys who buy utter crap at e5.99 a pop and spend Saturday night talking it up. The same people lurch northwards in their MPV on a mission to buy crates of Budweiser. Living proof that vinegary wine and sugary beer rots the brain. Another mob, The Flat Earthers are convinced that if you venture beyond Gibraltar in search of a bottle you fall off the edge of the world. Then there are Nihilists, who hate every wine you serve them at dinner parties and who pass on the bottles you take to theirs to the local church fête.
Lately a new strain has emerged, the Ambientists who have issues with the temperature at which you serve your wine. They dwell cocooned in padded cells with the central heating turned up full bore – this they call ‘room temperature’ and when they come to dine chez toi they expect the reds to reach this daft peak of perfection. Between mouthfuls they stoop over the glass, which they cup in both hands, willing the Pomerol to metamorphose into lukewarm soup. In contrast they drink their whites at temperatures that would rip the enamel off your teeth. And, though they don’t actually stone you to death for it, the admission that you’ve never actually owned an ice bucket provokes howls of derision. Though the ones I’ve outlined represent mainstream Wineism there are various minor sects. Like the Evangelists who take backlabelspeak for holy writ and, given a captive congregation, never pass up the opportunity to preach “We should all love Mogadon Vale Chardonnay because it’s fresh, fruity, full-flavoured, blessed with the kiss of oak, has complex layers of butterscotch and marmalade and teams well with red meat, pork, chicken and fish.” And the Negativists who say “I don’t like Port – as though there were no difference between ’63 Fonseca and the bottle of ruby Auntie Mary gets out every Christmas.
Where do I fit into all this? Well, there’s a touch of the Anorakist in me. There must be, I own more wine books than I can sensibly house and I’ve read most of them cover-to-cover and dipped into the rest. I’ve done the tours, even before I got paid for so doing. I can’t join the Technos. You see, faced with yet another row of stainless steel fermenting vessels my eyes start to glaze over. Hence I failed the entrance exam.
I’m not a Negativist, nor a Blanchista, I’ll drink anything. Even Pinotage. My sworn enemy is the Ambientist. We drink red wine too warm and white too cold, in my opinion. I’m certainly not a Flat-Earther, given my insatiable appetite for Aussie Shiraz and, latterly New Zealand – you must try try the Felton Road Pinot Noir, by the way.
Anyhow, for 2005, a bit less dogma, please. And if, like me, you recognise yourself in any of the foregoing, a lot less.

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Aussie Rules?

Certain subversive elements in the Irish wine biz threatened to turn up at Croke Park for the Australia Day Tasting clad in rugby jerseys and football shirts of the non-Gaelic variety but, for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Perhaps as well, for there’s no doubt that ‘Croker’ is a superb venue for what’s become an annual shindig, one we wouldn’t want to put in jeopardy.
For the critic, the event provides a valuable opportunity to assess current trends in the Australian Wine Industry; to get a handle on progress over the last twelve months; and to find wines that you haven’t tasted before. This year’s event performed well on all three counts.
Trendwise, there’s no doubt that Verdelho is making a bid to become ‘Australia’s Sauvignon Blanc’. Grown in cool climates – the Loire, New Zealand’s South Island – Sauvignon has an appealing lemon acidity and mineral zip that refreshes drinkers as quick as if they’d stood naked under a waterfall. From a warm locale it can be cloying, even sickly, and its appeal fades faster than a e5 pair of jeans. I’ve never waxed lyrical, or anything like, over an Aussie Sauvignon Blanc. Nepenthe, from Adelaide Hills is about as good as it gets, in my opinion. Verdelho, in contrast, offers winemakers the opportunity to deliver a pleasant easy-drinking alternative to budget Chardonnay, whilst at the same time enabling them to side-step the trap of making alcoholic fruit salad. If you haven’t tried Aussie Verdelho, Houghton’s, from WA, and probably the progenitor of the species, is the one to start with.
Australians, of course, are the world’s prime marketeers of wine, role models for the rest. Therefore an essential element in the tasting is to check out the ‘brands’, the household names which they’ve taught us to buy instead of Château Unpronounceable and its ilk. This will probably get me assassinated, but it has to be said: the quality of those brands at entry level or just above has stagnated. The challenge of competing with the ‘New New World’ seems to be taking its toll. This isn’t just an Australian problem by the way – some of the base level stuff coming out of California (which has now displaced France as the 2nd top importer into the UK) is truly gruesome. From this criticism I will exempt Hardy’s Nottage Hill whose quality is consistently impressive right across the range.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of what the Australians do with Shiraz and in this respect the Croke Park tasting did not disappoint. Initially, I made for the d’Arenberg and Penfolds stands because between them these guys have forgotten more about Shiraz than many have learned. They present a fascinating contrast in style – D’Arry’s, a cross between European sophistication and Down Under exuberance; Penfold’s, all balance and subtlety, rampant fruit kept in check by very smart winemaking. What later became evident was that distinct regional styles have emerged – big, bruising Barossa that starts to throw punches the minute it comes out of the bottle (Peter Lehmann); feminine, sweet-fruited McLaren Vale; the lean, laconic Westerner – exemplified by Plantagenet’s classy Mt. Barker. There are still ones that don’t fit the pattern – Brokenwood from Hunter Valley, a compromise between the first two styles; the self-consciously European Capel Vale; restrained Setanta ‘Cuchulain’ from Adelaide Hills and St. Andrews from the Clare Valley. ‘Find of the show’ was La Testa 2000 from McLaren Vale. I wasn’t alone on this one; many people were talking about a Grange competitor at less than half the price but they were rather missing the point. La Testa is a wizard Shiraz, capable of being judged on its own merits; made from premium fruit, aged in top-dollar French oak and cuddled and fussed over by a guy who really knows what he’s doing. Like The Armagh, like Hill of Grace, what good purpose does comparison serve? Setanta and La Testa are distributed by Inis Wines of Burtonport, Donegal and anyone who hasn’t browsed their exciting little portfolio is missing a treat.
Best budget wines by a mile were the Gnangara Shiraz and Chardonnay from Evans & Tate in WA which I found on the Clada Group stand. While we’re on the subject of Chard, it was good to find that the Aussies seem to be listening at last. There are less tropical fruit stalls around than ever before and even Rosemount Show Reserve, flag-waver for the old big-and-buttery style, while still pretty uncompromising seemed somehow leaner, more lemony. The Aussies are struggling a bit with entry-level Chardonnay, frequently putting dollops of Semillon or Sauvignon in to keep acidity levels up. I really don’t think it’s the answer.
Other highlights? Two superb 2003 Rieslings, Watervale and Polish Hills adjacent to Clare Valley I think. The Watervale in particular was hard as nails, needing putting away for a year or two but the class was overt. The Evans & Tate Margaret River Chardonnay was as pleasing as when I last tasted it in situ. Château Reynella’s version impressed too. A very smart Shiraz-Mourvèdre in the McPherson Basilisk range was complemented by a genuinely exciting Marsanne-Viognier. I sampled an elegantly restrained Cabernet made in Coonawarrra by Balnaves, a name new to me. Pinot Noir did not have a great presence; Tamar Ridge from Tasmania was among the best.. Brown Brothers were full of interest as usual – loved their Barbera, not very Piedmontese but great food wine, I thought.
Were I to chose a ‘Best of Show’ – an invidious task – the Polish Hills Riesling would have come very close, as would the La Testa Shiraz. But, when push came to shove, a blend of sense, sensibility and sentiment took over.
Di Cullen who died in March last year was a pioneer of Margaret River winemaking and fervent advocate of Bordeaux grape varieties. Though she handed over the reins to talented daughter Vanya in the late ‘80s, Di retained daily involvement with the wines and what great wines they are. The Cullen production is always a byword for class and the 2001 Cabernet/Merlot is no exception; glorious aromatics, complex flavours, mellifluous mouthfeel, stonking length; altogether, bliss in a bottle. Vanya has bestowed the soubriquet ‘Diana Madeline’ on this, their flagship. What an ‘in memoriam’ for mum it is. The spirit of Di Cullen lives on.

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GUBU IV Good/Unlovable/Brilliant/Undrinkable

January 17th ushered in the Year of The Monkey which we celebrated with a Chinese Banquet chez moi, cooked by the esteemed Chung Yin who formulates all those tangy and entirely authentic Chinese sauces for Sharwoods. Chung is an amazing guy, a great chef too and produced a menu to die for including duck, beef, succulent scallops, fat muscly king prawns and a whole steamed sea bass, not to mention a dessert.
I’ll put the recipes on stove slave as soon as I have them to hand.
Six of us consumed all the above, plus ten wines (but not necessarily in the order listed below) viz:-

Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 1999, Alsace.
Lovely, beautifully bottle aged wine of some style and class. I’d like to get some more of this.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Rich Reserve 1996
An older style of Champagne, a last minute dosage giving a richly sumptuous brew that you couldn’t call sweet, more lush and decadent. I could have drunk this all through the meal.

Springfield Estate Methode Ancienne Chardonnay 2002
Thank god I’ve got another bottle, I want to let it lie. Impressive now, I suspect there’s bags of keeping in this fullsome eminently stylish and beautifully balanced Chard. One of the superstars of a stellar evening. One guest said “If you’d told me this was 70 quidsworth of Puligny Montrachet I wouldn’t have demurred!”

Vasse Felix 2002 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, Margaret River W.Aust
A hard act to follow, the Methode Ancienne, but this buttery expansive Aussie from one of WA’s best producers held up nicely.

Nepenthe Pinot Gris 2002
Decent , different drinking with some (American?) barrel age lending a touch of distinction. A bit lost by this stage, but would have made a very decent warm up – alternative to the Trimbach above

Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose
Very decent gear, flavoursome, dry, crisp, slight tayberry fruit flavours with a little herby kick. I like these guys.

Cordoba Crescendo 2000 Helderberg, Stellenbosch SA
A brilliantly balanced Bordeaux Blend varying from year to year but always majoring on Cabernet Franc, another huge hit on the night. Complex, intense figgy fruit, herbal and flowering current fragrance, lovely powdery aftertaste, massive length, everything you could wish for in a wine and for the price charged (well under e20) fantastic value for money.

Albet Y Noya Col Leccio 1999 Penedes Spain
Brilliant stuff from Spain’s kings of organic wine. Mint on the nose, blackcurrant, plums and all sorts of nice things on the palate and again, huge length.

Penfolds Bin 389 Shiraz/Cabernet 1997
The “baby Grange”, always a class act, a darling of a red wine from the guys who’ve forgotten more about Shiraz than most New World wine makers know. Elegant, dark, brooding, plummy with black coffee overtones and a fine white pepper nose this is one joyful wine.

Villa Maria Pinot Noir 2000
Middle of the road NZ Pinot. Clear evidence that they are getting to grips with this difficult grape the French call “The Black Bitch.” Some way to go before it gets desirable, though. For me, Felton Road leads by miles.

Also tasted recently

Springfield Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2003
I seem to keep plugging this but with every bottle I drink it seems to shout “World Class” in fact Springfield are making some of the best wines to come out of South Africa so I’m entirerly unabashed. Pristine SB, with that killer so-refreshing mineral zip – for me you can keep most of the Kiwi gooseberryfests if I could drink this. Bloody brilliant and only e15-ish a bottle.

Nugan Third Generation Chardonnay 2002. South East Australia.
Decent stuff, quite civilized for Aussie. Nice melon notes without diving into mango & pineapple overload. This should do very well for SuperValu

Nepenthe Pinot Gris 2000
Like the above only more so, mellowed with two year’s extra bottle age. Lovely stuff, deep gold, honeyed, subtle, great melon and marzipan flavour

Gigondas Laurus 1999 Gabriel Meffre – first bottle of this I’ve had since GUBU II so maybe time for a bit of a rethink as it’s mellowing out nicely, plummy and dark morello flavours, good long finish and still quite a bit of keeping in there.

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SOLE SEARCHING – pairing wine with fish

No subject causes diners so much angst, or wine writers so many headaches, as the pairing of wine and food.

There are three schools of thought on wine and food pairings. There are the people who say “drink what you like to drink” and I have some sympathy with this view. The second school follows the ‘rules’ developed by wine writers over many years which lay down specific matches – red wine with red meat, white wine with fish. Unfortunately by the late-20th century these rules had become set in stone, offering no solution to a diner seeking wines to complement the vibrant international cuisine rapidly becoming commonplace in restaurants and homes. The third school, to which on balance I belong, takes pains to find elemental matches while, at the same time, stressing that there are no perfect pairings and few imperfect ones, or in a nutshell “anything goes, but some things go better than others”.
The emergence of ethnic and that much abused word, ‘fusion’, cooking liberated wine writers from having to expound the conventional wisdom and caused them to focus instead on the food on the plate. At the same time the new availability of hitherto ‘undiscovered’ or neglected varietals presented further oportunities to re-write the canon. Nevertheless, we cannot discount entirely the old truisms. White wine is undoubtedly the perfect foil for white fish and it would be a brave wine or food writer indeed who would challenge the classic pairing of wild salmon and Chablis.
The first rule, if there is a rule, must be ‘look to the region’ and a brief scan of a topographical map of France will reveal that the upper reaches of many of that nation’s most notable salmon rivers run either through the Burgundy region or close to its fringes. Go to the Vendee or to the Charente Maritime and suss out what the locals are drinking with their oysters and you’ll find it’s invariably Muscadet, made a mere thirty or so miles inland around the lower reaches of the Loire. It applies in the New World too. Although New Zealanders are far less zealous about ‘what they drink with what’, the Taupo fisherman, celebrating the landing of a monster trout, invariably wolfs the monster down accompanied by a glass or three of Sauvignon Blanc.
Here’s the next clue – acidity. After years of experimentation I’ve come to the conclusion that wines with a high acidity level suit fish, simply cooked, to perfection. And before anyone writes in to say “that’s so obvious” I’ll agree, yes it is. But before I came to these conclusions I went down many a false trail – New World Chardonnay and Riesling to name but two. Okay, so why don’t we drink Muscadet, better still Gros Plant – wine’s equivalent of battery acid – with everything? There are two reasons: the first being that these are not terribly satisfying wines in their own right. More important is that super-sharp acidity has its own natural counterbalance – salt. Which is why Muscadet goes so well with oysters, Fino Sherry with anchovies and Vino Verde with sardines. Reduce or take away the salt factor and lean, austere, high in acid wines taste… lean, austere, high in acid.
So cool climate Chardonnay, not over-oaked, with your wild salmon – I won’t eat farmed salmon anyway so I’m not going to comment further. Although Pinot Noir from one of the less serious appelations can work if you’d prefer to drink red – the Burgundian thing again! And a good Sancerre, perhaps, with your unsullied cod, haddock, hake or black sole. Lovely. But let’s stress again the lack of dogma and say if you like to play with Pinot Grigio or Gavi, fine.
Add a sauce, the kaleidoscope gets shaken up and the picture changes. Although to me anyone who puts more than a plain hollandaise with salmon, or a beurre blanc with a few strands of fennel and the odd shrimp with a fine hunk of white fish, is nothing short of a vandal. Alsace Riesling, ultimate all-purpose food wine, and, perhaps, that fine grape Gruner Veltliner become possibilities. The Sauvignon can be New World. Or you could go for broke and drink one of the more full-bodied Champagnes.
Mackerel always presents me with a problem. Fresh caught, I love this fish. But I love it most in summer accompanied by a puree of beetroot and horseradish or wasabi; or by a sauce made from my own gooseberries, a dessert variety, not too tart. Provocative stuff when it comes to matching; and the answer is… oak! Here’s where New World Chardonnay starts to do it for me. Not the currently fashionable unoaked ones but the big old traddies. Hunter Valley Semillons work fine too. Smoked food can do weird things to wine. Nevertheless, for me, smoked Irish salmon (note the wording) and Alsace Pinot Blanc are food and drink’s equivalent of Rodgers and Hart.
I love fish (and shellfish) cooked in Asian styles – Goan curries for example, Thai ways with prawns – chili, lemongras, galangal, palm sugar coatings; or the crab or sea bass baked with ginger and scallions that the Chinese do so well. With onion-heavy curries tannins help counteract the richness suggesting, against all the odds, Cabernet Sauvignon. Any sweetness in the food, I counterbalance with big, soft rounded flavours – Semillon, Viognier or Gruner Veltliner perhaps in whites and Merlot, Grenache or Zinfandel in reds.
Scientists say the tongue’s taste receptors can detect five aspects of flavour: sweetness, sourness, salinity and bitterness, plus the umami, best described perhaps as a kind of ‘feel good factor’. Similarly, when seeking wine to go with Asian food I like to separate the food into its components. Chilli, ginger and coriander in particular, are hard to deal with. Zinfandel used to be my preference but latterly I’ve come to believe that Riesling is your only man with Thai food, particularly fish dishes.
Chinese food, goes well with Gewürztraminer, pundits tell you and the match of the aforsaid baked sea bass and a decent Alasce Gewurz (and there are few bad ones) is one made in heaven. However, not everyone appreciates this highly spiced and perfumed grape and as alternatives I would suggest maybe a Viognier, Rousanne or Marsanne.

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September Blow-ins

Saw out the month with the lunch to herald the Merrion’s game promotion. Wondeful food and though I say it as shouldn’t, nice wines – especially the Sipp-Mack Rosacker Grand Cru Riesling.

Interesting conversation with Kevin Dundon, Dunbrody House, Wexford, this morning. In addition to a TV prog and 2 cookbooks on the go he’s also opened a restaurant in Las Vegas – going a bomb apparently – and there’s me thinkking he’s away in Gambling City wagering the ancestral pile! (Joke, Kevin)

It’s been an interesting if rather hectic month on the wine front. 3 fairs, many visitors, loads of invitations, most of which alas I’ve had to turn down including a trip to Bordeaux and a fortnight’s concentrated boozing in a castle in Transylvania!
Matt “I do like a nice pint of Guinness” Thompson came over from New Zealand with a quartet of Saint Clair wines ad very decent they were too. The Sauvignon Blanc was not typical NZ for me, a bit over full – as a guy who would happily lie under the barrel tap and get the fresh blast of mineral energy, the Saint Clair was maybe a tad too civilised. Lots of people will really like it, though. I enjoyed the Chardonnay – I notice Mary Dowey thought it “bland” but I’d prefer to think of it as laid-back and stylish, distinctively New World but subtle in comparison to a lot of the Aussie offerings.
The Riesling was interesting. As I’d drunk a fair bit of Clare Valley stuff only the week before, this one seemed much less austere but still complex in a slightly brash style.
The Pinot Noir too was good. Not overly heavy, just enough weight and mouthfeel to keep things interesting – perefct summer red.
As these wines will retail for around e10.99 they represent something of a bargain.

Then Ed Flaherty of Chilean style icons Errazuriz – they joined with Mondavi to produce Sena, Chile’s most serious and expensive wine – breezed in.

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Cellar Restaurant game fortnight

The Cellar Restaurant at The Merrion Hotel in Dublin are holding a game promotion in October.
Chef Ed Cooney has devised some superb dishes. I was asked to select wines (chosen from the Merrion’s wine list) to accompany them. Here are my choices, and the reasons for making them:

“It’s a mistake to imagine that game is all about aggressive flavours. Partridge, in particular, can be wonderfully delicate and fine. And when it comes to finding wine to go with it I’d say that farmed deer is more versatile than beef. On the other hand, venison, grouse and wild mallard with their rowdy intensity do cause problems when it comes to finding wines to go with them. To give you a ‘for instance’ I love hefty, old-style Chateauneuf du Pape, Vieux Telegraphe, say, or La Nerthe; I also love venison, slow-roasted with aromatic herbs, juniper berries and bay leaves somewhere in the mix. But if I bring the two together, it’s not a match; it’s a mismatch, with only one winner – the wine gets floored, somewhere around the third mouthful.”

Pressed wood pigeon and venison terrine with apricots and sage
Sipp-Mack Rosacker Grand Cru Alsace Riesling 2000
This exceptional Riesling has had its fair share of attention from FOOD & WINE’s wine colunmists, me included. Goes beautifully with this colourful terrine that’s much more subtle than the ingredients suggest. Heightens the sweetness of the apricots without in any way cloying.

Prosciutto-wrapped rabbit leg with mustard mash and marjoram jus
Chianti Classico La Selvanella 1998
There’s a natural affinity between Chianti and rabbit, especially when you wrap it in prosciutto and cloak it with a marjoram jus, very nostalgic for me. A good producer and some bottle age puts some backbone behind the morello cherry flavours.

Breast of mallard duck, with confit leg, roast shallots, madeira jus and pommes Anna
Plaisir de Merle Chardonnay 2001 South Africa
I thought it would be wonderful to find a white wine to accompany this dish and looked long and hard before choosing the Plaisir de Merle. It’s quite a big mouthful but much more intelligent and restrained than many of its Australian cousins and stands up well to the slight sweetness in the roast shallots and Madeira jus.

Roasted red leg partridge with walnut mashed potatoes, chicory candied onions with its own juices
Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2001
Any wine drunk with this dish has quite a bit to do for the flavours are complex.The safe route would be to put a right bank Bordeaux in there. Instead I went for the rounded delicacy of this new world charmer that’s rapidly becoming one of my favourites.

Braised haunch of red deer with celeriac puree, roast root vegetables and kummel cream
Chateau Ramage la Batisse, Bordeaux, 1998
Chateau Grand Puy Ducasse, Pauilac 1997
Two choices for this mighty dish in which Ed has allowed the glorious choir of gamey flavours to sing hallelujah with only muted background sha-la-las. Good Bordeaux with well-resolved tannins but with some presence is a must. Ramage is an old flame, ‘humble’ it’s not and I do like the ‘98s. Upscale, the ‘97s are drinking well, so the GPD is the ‘spoil yourself’ option. Lovely.

Salad of tea-smoked mallard breast with rosy grapefruit, peanuts and pickled wallnuts
Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc 1998
Casillero del Diablo Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
A couple of rugby analagies: Mondavi’s classic marketing ploy ‘Oak and smoke’ sells the dummy to the sweet-and-sour accompaniment while making room for the subtly-smoked mallard to play. In contrast, Chilean cabernet, of which this is a better-than-average example, is fruit-laden and combative, able to tackle the grapefruit and pickled walnuts head on.

The game promotion starts on 9th October

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New New Zealand – and good value too

I’m a big fan of wine from New Zealand.
Trouble is, prices seem to be creeping up. The reputation of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, spearheaded by the wonderful and increasingly hard-to-get Cloudy Bay, is now sky high – in fact SB could soon overtake Chardonnay as our Preferred Grape – and makers seem to be getting a yo-yo or two more for the product.
Recently, Matt Thonpson, winemaker from an estate new to me, St.Claire from Marlborough, breezed into town and I attended a tasting and lunch that showcased four of his wines. The Riesling, I thought, was a little eccentric, though pleasant and full of character – certainly different to the Clare Valley Aus ones that have established the pattern for New World Riesling. The SB was of the full-on fruity variety, rather than the usual green apple acidity version, but none the worse for that. The Chardonnay, I thought, was an absolute stand out and I confirmed this by drinking half a bottle last night, aided and abetted by Silke Cropp’s cheese with green peppercorns on Robert Ditty’s oatcakes – about as good as it gets in the C&B combo. The Chard was very impressive indeed, quite creamy and laid back, still New World but without the unsubtle ‘can of pineapples’ savour that comes as a trademark with many of the cheaper Aussies and Chileans. Bearing in mind that these St.Claire wines, brought in by Irish Distillers so they should be quite widely available will sell for around the 11 euro mark they are very good value indeed. And – to pile astonishment on amazement there’s a pretty decent Pinot Noir for the same money.

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London's Burning

Went to London last week (16th July).

Fell asleep on the plane so missed the great Irish breakfast (did I miss much?). Still, noblesse oblige and Club Class Row 3 meant I could get off the aircraft at the speed of light and whizz down to the Underground station and emerge at Leicester Sq less than an hour after touchdown.

Why was I there? To view the Marks and Sparks Christmas collection; to find out where the dining hotspots were for F&W; and to indulge in a bit of nostalgia, first of which being to sit in Soho Square and wait for someone to turn up who died a long time ago, but that’s another story.

Pulled myself together and legged it down Oxford St (horrible as ever) to Scotts, where the IRA lobbed a bomb in so may years ago, presumably because of it’s quintessential Englishness. I only found out yesterday, btw, that the excelent Caroline Workman’s (NI food writer) dad was in the place at the time.
Fantastic Bostonian barman downstairs, deffo the Remrandt, if not the Picasso of cocktail makers – best Bloody Mary I have had in my life (probably the biggest, too).

Like many restaurants in London it seems, they have a young Australian chef who is pulling out all the stops. Fantastic cock crab – it was more than a cock, it was a Priapus, a giant phallus – so big I delved and dug for an hour without making too much of an impact. I was in tears when I had to hand the carcass back!
My dining companion had quenelles de brochet, pike to you – delicate, perhaps too much so, real invalid food.

In the evening I hooked up with Irish chef Richard Corrigan, big amiable guy from Meath and one hell of a cook – mission bound to convert Savverners to real food, rabbit, offal and those parts of the beast the pillocks throw away. Hasd to cry oiff eating at Lindsay House his One Star Michelin as I’d eaten so many of his amazing pigeon & quail’s egg canapes at this charity reception I couldn’t move.

Anyhow, if any of you have a few dibs to spare can I suggest War Child or The Irish Youth Foundation – a near-to-home charity desined to succour Irish second generation immigrants to the UK who are at risk through poverty or social attitudes.

Next day went to Gay Hussar in Greek St Soho – old style Hungarian restaurant beloved by all those Old Labour politicians who were intent on “levelling up, not levelling down” as one of those claret heads once put it to me.
Amazing restaurant – no change since I was last there in about ’89 – if they tookk the crispy duck with red cabbage and Hungarian potatoes off the menu there’d be a riot, or at least a strike!

In the evening I went to Lindsay House, Richard Corrigan’s restaurant and the food and wine were absolutely amazing. Very natural flavours and great ingredients, especially he smoked haddock, the rabbit with black pudding and the lamb, sweetbreads and kidneys.

Next day to lunch at Pied a Terre in Charlotte Street; a two star but utterly informnal with a gorgeous (though teeny-weeney bit pregnant) Maitresse D’ who indulged in humourous banter with a couple of the regulars who were sipping Brett Maris’s brilliant Wither Hills Pinot Noir. Actually, I didn’t think the food was quite up to the Lindsay House mark, nice, but a bit over-elaborate and the desserts were a bit ill-conceived, flavours didn’t quite hang together.

That night I dined at Nahm on the ground floor of the amazing (though mega-expensive) Halkin Hotel in SW1. It’s the only Thai in the world with a Michelin Star and though I saw in one of the Restaurant guides the cooking described as “bizarre” and the ambience as “zero” these guys are talking through their arses. The ambience is fine – cool, postmodern like the hotel but once there are a few people in the place you don’t notice because the food is great – 100% uncompromising Thai – if you have the 7 course tasting menu the palm sugar buzz will have you awake all night but such is the price of authenticity. I was delighted to meet the chef, David Thompson,who’s long been one of my culinary heroes since I bought his first cookbook in Oz back in ’95….

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