Friday, 26 November 2010

Wine writing doesn't get tougher than this...

Your two fearless wine correspondents set off to London Olympia last week in search of The Wine Show, which does what it says on the tin – it's a show, and it's all about wine.

However, on arrival we discovered that the Wine Show's Jonah had been swallowed whole by the Masterchef Live whale. The clamouring crowds were flocking in, drawn not so much by the prospect of tasting wines in the company of Tim Atkin MW and the like, but in the hope of rubbing shoulders with Gregg “the pudding” Wallace, Michel Roux Jr and John Torode – or even “mad eye” Monica Galetti.

We entered the gaping maw of the beast and were immediately surrounded by flashing knives, busy julienning vegetables like it was going out of fashion. Professional chefs were cooking up all manner of delicious-looking and smelling dishes which did an excellent job of sharpening the appetite. However, we and our fellow hungry cheapskates soon discovered that there were few opportunities to score free food as we found ourselves crowding round stand after stand where people seemed to be munching away, only to find yet another small pile of cheese parings.

There is no such thing as a free lunch at Masterchef Live. Their plan is to tempt you into parting with your hard-earned cash on some of those freshly and chef-ly prepared dishes. Still hungry, we battled our way through the kitchen gadgets and gizmos and finally found ourselves at the back of the hall and The Wine Show itself.

What a difference a few steps can make. On the Masterchef side of the hall, visitors were practically trampling the old and infirm underfoot as they craned their necks for a distant look at Greg and Michel as they judged a round of The Invention Test. Meanwhile, across the hall, Susy Atkins (wine columnist for the Sunday Telegraph and a well-known wine face on TV) was delivering a wine masterclass to no more than five people.

If there is a battle between food and wine, then wine is clearly not on the winning side. Part of the problem must be that tasting wines is not as engaging as tasting food that you have just seen prepared in front of you. You've watched as literally raw ingredients are transformed and combined to make something that Greg Wallace likes to call a “nice plate of food”. Until someone invents a way to transform freshly-picked grapes into drinkable wine in a matter of minutes, wine just cannot compete.

Those who did most to engage visitors to the Wine Show managed to combine food and wine to great effect. It's heartening to discover a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that stands out from the crowd – in this case it was the memorably-named O:TU, available at £9.99 from Hennings Wine in Petworth. But discovering for yourself the joys of new ways to serve foods and wine together takes things to a new level.

Campo Viejo scored a hit with their tapas demonstrations and sampling, accompanied by their range of Spanish wines, of course. The Discover the Origin stand had simple but delicious pairings of quality ingredients – we were bowled over by the 22-month old Parmesan served with tawny port. An easy and delicious twist on the traditional cheeseboard.

In the battle for consumers' hearts and minds (not to mention wallets), it seems wine cannot fight alone and needs to forge an alliance with food.

Wines of the week

This is the time of year when price wars break out amongst the big retailers, in an effort to encourage us to buy in quantity in advance of the festive season. The supermarkets have been taking turns to run 25% off 6 bottles of wine and Morrison's were recently offering Taittinger Champagne for under £17 a bottle. The nature of these deals is that they come and go too quickly for us to keep you up to date with them via a newspaper column. If you want to stay in the loop with the latest offers, then follow us on Twitter – you can find us as “wineandwords”.

Meanwhile, here's an offer that is not here today, gone tomorrow:

Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons, 2009, Bertrand Capdevigne – usually £14.99, down to £9.99 from 29th November at Morrison's.
Chablis is a go-to wine for Christmas and many of us will be tucking into a bottle or two in the coming weeks. However, the stuff available at under a tenner is generally underwhelming and does little to communicate the cool-climate charms that epitomize Chablis. Premier Cru Chablis is a step up from straight Chablis and comes from specific sites that are judged to have superior soil, favourable sun exposure – all those elements that are summed up in the French word “terroir”. That makes this special offer very welcome, as it gives you an idea of what Chablis is all about, at an affordable price. It manages the trick of being delicate and elegant without being remotely weedy or insipid – and it has the hallmark fine, piercing acidity that is only right and proper from the region.

Claudeval 2009 – White and Red, £5.99 or 2 for £10 from Vicki's Wine Merchants in Chobham

Here is a pair of smart-looking bottles from the Languedoc that make great house wines for a fiver. The white is my favourite, a winter-weight blend of six different varieties, no oak and bags of tropical fruit. The red, made from grenache, carignan, syrah and merlot is less refined, but has plenty of slightly musky black fruit – again with no oak, to let the fruit shine. The rustic edges were noticeably softened after 24 hours in an opened bottle, which is a good sign.  It would make a friendly companion for an autumnal stew or bangers and mash.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Back to the future - it's the Seventies

Many of you reading this (have you got your specs on?) and indeed we writers, remember the colourful and hedonistic hippy happy days of the 70’s.

Listening to Johnny Walker’s (yes he is still alive) Sounds of the Seventies on the radio (wireless if you will) we were reminded of not just the fabulous music that emerged in that decade, but all the parties and indulgences of the era, not least the growing popularity of wine as the fashionable beverage.

Today Seventies parties feature such delectable items from the past such as cheddar and silverskin onions on sticks, melon with Port, curried eggs, Black Forest gateau and prawn cocktail. ... Ahh, you still eat these? OK, then we'll talk about the wines which, thankfully for all our palates, have moved on a bit.

Who loves ya, baby?” Lt. Kojak - Or, wines that have made it through...and some that haven't

Mateus Rosé is one of the wine world's most enduring brands. Born in the depths of the Second World War, its heyday was the 1970s. The wine itself is inoffensive enough: pink, off-dry, slightly sparkling. Its fame was largely down to the winemakers' inspired decision to put it in a distinctive flask-shaped bottle – perfect for turning into a table lamp base or candle holder. In fact it has been said, rather uncharitably, that Mateus is the only wine that is worth more when the bottle is empty.

Aside from the contents, Mateus Rosé is the cause of one of the most infamously bad business decisions in wine trade history: the Mateus Palace story.

The Guedes family started making Mateus Rose in 1942. To complement the unique bottle shape they wanted to include a picture of Palacio de Mateus, a picturesque property near the winery, on the label. The property didn't belong to the family, so they offered the owners either a one-off payment for the use of the picture - or 15 cents per bottle sold. They owners took the one-off payment option.... Nowadays Mateus sells around 20 million bottles around the world, but in the Seventies it was double that – amounting to a tidy $3 million dollars annual income, up in smoke...or down the drain.

Mateus also has the dubious honour of being a favourite of Saddam Hussein and quantities of it were, reputedly, found in his presidential palaces following the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Today you can – and many still do – drink Mateus rosé. The bottle design but not the iconic shape has been changed to suit the times and we are not averse to its charms on a sun-drenched beach whilst savouring freshly-caught seafood. It is, after all, from Portugal, boasting 364 days of sunshine, and still the best place to drink it.

Don Cortez – hazy memories of something in litre-sized bottles labelled Full-bodied Spanish Red linger in the mind from parents' dinner parties, served alongside the cheese and onion nibbles, cheese straws and smears of paté on Ritz crackers. This wine seems to have sunk without trace...and probably rightly so.

Poor old Lutomer Laski Riesling, or rather, poor us for having to drink the stuff. White, sickly sweet and sulphurous, it was a mainstay of seventies bring a bottle parties: a few bottles of this, together with your Watney's Party Seven, was instant karma. It also played a role in sullying the image of true Riesling – Laski Riesling is not the same variety, but they weren't in any hurry to point this out. Every cloud has a silver lining though, and at least the break up of the former Yugoslavia resulted in the demise of this bilious beverage.

Other “great whites” of the decade were Blue Nun and Black Tower. These sickly, lolly-water wines probably put the German wine industry back decades, making us associate anything in a tall green bottle with cheap and nasty. Oscar Wilde's adage, “The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.” seems to hold true – both these brands survive and even prosper in the present day..

I want it all and I want it now” Freddie Mercury.

The French adore Le Piat d'or” - great catchphrase, but what of the wine? Launched in 1979, this Johnny come lately to the seventies wine scene carried a bit of cachet at the time, but from memory the wines were rather sugary and bland. It is, however, still going, and going strong in the UK, and is, to coin a phrase, big in Japan.

The epitome of cool was the Italian vermouth, Martini, “any time, any place, anywhere”, which promised a taste of the glamour of newly accessible cheap foreign travel. Still hugely popular and great as a long summer drink, preferably with tonic water rather than lemonade as was the fashion at the time.

We are coming up to the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau, Thursday 18th November this year. In the Seventies this was a highly celebrated media event with races to get this alcoholic fruit cordial of a wine to Blighty via all means possible - from canoe to Harrier jump jets. Today it retains a mere soupçon of its former glory but is still a feature of not only major wine distributors but also for those participants who build a luxury holiday around the event. Try your Beaujolais Nouveau with a ripe camembert and crusty bread – but please do not include the pickled onions!

We could continue our reminiscence but think it about time we embraced the present and focus on two distinctly modern wines from Spain.

El Molino Loco Macabeo, £6.25 from Banish all thoughts of deep-coloured, oxidised Spanish whites from your mind – this is bright, fresh, crisp and unoaked.

Carchelo, £10.99 from Oddbins – a blend of Monastrell, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon with a whisper of new oak. This full-on mouthful of deep, dark blueberry fruit is a world away from the Old Spain of the Seventies.

Our tastes in wine may have changed and become more sophisticated over the years, but hey, the old music still “does the biz!”!

It’s only rock ‘n roll, but I like it”. Rolling Stones

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Babes in the Wood

..........not quite a pantomime!

Once upon a time (as all good stories begin), a jolly band of walkers set off along the Wind in the Willow-ish River Wey. They wound their way with much huffing and puffing up into the leafy hills to view their Surrey kingdom - and to ramp up the calorie burning before the Red White & Rosé wine tasting lunch.

All was well and happy until, just past a three-pronged fork in the woods, it was noticed that two of our travellers were missing! Chris and Janet (those are their real names as we only protect the innocent), had stopped to make a frivolous phone call and lost the party and the plot as they then took the wrong turning in the track. Meanwhile, Heather A (for it was she who was leading the vinous expedition), was frantically scouring the hillsides and scaring the wildlife with her hollering in search of the missing minxes. 

You will be relieved to hear that our missing maids made it in the vagueley right direction having followed their nose for wine - and by walking downhill, where they were found in the nick of time for lunch. The moral of this story is......actually we don’t do morals, just learn from our experiences. The happy ending is that everyone had an enormous appetite from their exertions, felt fit and full of energetic endorphins and enthusiasm for wine and lunch and laughter. 

Pre and during lunch we sampled several Autumnal wines including Vesevo Greco di Tufo 2008 at £11.75 from Greco bianco is one of the ancient grape varieties found in the Campania region of Italy. As the name “Vesevo” suggests, the area is rich in minerally volcanic soils from nearby Mount Vesuvius, which add to the depth and character of this satisfying mouthful of a wine. We felt it was just right on a dampish autumn day and a great wine to match chicken or game bird dishes even with a strongly flavoured or creamy sauce.

Most people agreed that the favourite wine enjoyed over lunch was Villa Tonino Nero d’Avola 2007 from Sicily and also available from Slurp. It's made from Nero d'Avola, Sicily's foremost native red wine grape. Bright and aromatic, it's what you might call a kind wine - in that it is easy drinking and goes with most foods, roast lamb perhaps being the optimum choice. It is also easy on the pocket at only £6.95.

We finished our meal with what we could topically describe as a “Halloween Wine” in that it is deep blood red, and has something of the rusty blood taste about it, as well as a great name. D’Angelo Sacravite Aglianico 2007 is from Basilicata, the “instep” of the boot of Italy. Aglianico is not just an old wine variety – it is an “ancient world wine”. Sacravite will slowly draw you into its clutches with its seductive aromas of horse blanket, graphite and suction-like tentacles of tannins (hey - this is meant to be appealing to our dark side)! You can buy this distinctive and chewy vampiric red from Majestic at £9.99....if you dare!

What must surely rate as most people’s nightmare is the ordeal experienced by the Chilean miners trapped for so long in the dark underground recesses of the earth. As this article went to print, we are joining in the universal celebration of their safe return to the surface and we will be opening a delicious Chilean wine, Viu Manent Chardonney – £6.99 from Caves de Pyrène, to mark this amazing “Victory snatched from the jaws of death”. Like so many people we were moved by their plight and this simple poem goes well with the wine.

Out of A Copper Mine ~ by Lucy Berry
When the whole world shifts and creaks
In the press of the rock above you;
And there are no doors from the night
To the ones who love you.

(and the silly, bright metal you prized
And the zeal with which you mined it
Is part of the dark, and the dark,
And the dark of eyes blinded).....

You yearn for the sameness of light,
And a breeze. And your parents faces.
And the kiss of a loving child.
And your wife’s embraces.....

.....and hailing a friend on the street
As if there was nothing to it;
The ordinary things which are blessed
Though you never knew it.

And long after you have been freed
From that outer and inner night
As an old, old man you’ll recall
Your first new glimpse of the sight
Of human faces – and hands –
And the blessed greatness of Light.

Enjoy the darkness of Halloween for just one day. Try our some spooky sybaritic suggestions for a haunting Halloween happening and for a bacchanalian bonfire bash on the Event Ideas page of our website (

Due to popular demand we plan to make our Walks with Wine a regular feature so do phone us or check out news and dates on our website. It is a great way to meet people and you don’t need to know a thing about wine...or walking...just enjoy it. It is a great way to tone up physically and gives you the feel good factor in all sorts of ways. Oh and by the Wey (excuse the pun) we would particularly like more men to join “the babes in the woods “!

Be seeing you
for all your liquid assets