Last night saw the first of what is to become a series of food and wine matching evenings with Tasting Scotland. 30 enthusiastic food and wine lovers got together at the the Good Spirits Co tasting room in Glasgow to get the low down on Scottish food and match it to some tasty wines. I’m going to devote a bigger post to this soon but I’ve had a few requests for the wine list, so without further ado, here it is. All wines are available through Cross Stobs Wine with exception of the Manzanilla which can be obtained from the Good Spirits Co. Alternatively drop me a note and I’ll help you source what I can.
The next event is in the planning and will be on January 30th next year. Might there be a Scottish theme to the wine?
Syn Cuvée Blanc – McLaren Vale, Australia £10.95
The Smoked Salmon Taste Trail
Domäne Wachau Grüner Veltliner Federspiel – Austria £8.85 (reduced price)
Raats Unoaked Chenin Blanc – Stellenbosch, South Africa £9.90
The Rare & Native ‘Irn Bru’ Pig
Luis Cañas Barrel Fermented Rioja Blanco, Spain (white) £9.95
According to Wikipedia, Serendipity means a ‘happy accident’ or ‘pleasant surprise’. I think it’s about being in the right place at the right time or under the right circumstances and good things will come to you. Wine can be a pleasant surprise and I’m sure there are plenty of winemakers who have stories about a wine that turned out to be a happy accident. Prior to visiting Turkey for the EWBC I had already tasted a few Turkish wines and realised they could make some pretty decent stuff. But having been immersed (not quite literally) in the wines of Turkey for a few days the country has proven itself to be a very pleasant surprise.
After a few intense days of workshops, speeches and tasting countless wines, many with unpronounceable names, we were let off our leashes and released into the wilds of Izmir’s countryside. It was refreshing to feel the wind in your hair and the first winery we visited gave me an instant holiday feel. It is a small, but perfectly formed boutique winery and the owners couldn’t have been more welcoming. It’s the kind of place you feel at home immediately. Reha and Bilge Bengisu Öğünlü are a Turkish couple who lived in America for a while before deciding to settle back in Turkey and make wine. Reha’s twitter bio reads “wine, vineyards, guitars, windsurfing, cooking, slowfood, travelling” and he comes across as thoughtful and well-travelled. The kind of guy Billy Connolly would call ‘windswept and interesting’.
Our first taste is of a local version of Muscat. It is fresh, dry and racy and just what we need to wake us up. None of us had much sleep I suspect, as the visit comes hot on the heels of a sumptuous gala dinner and party the previous night. Spittoons are nowhere to be seen so needs must, but it’s no punishment, particularly as the sun is out and we are amongst the vines.
The winery itself is tiny and we cram ourselves in-between the fermentation tanks and into the small barrel cellar. It’s a romantic place, dimly lit, with barely enough room for a dozen or so barrels and lined on either side with bottle bins filled with the maturing wines. I think this is the kind of place most people have in mind when they think about a lifestyle business, a romantic notion of winemaking, away from the stresses and strains of life. The ‘when we win the lottery’ kind of place. The whole production is around 1000 cases with still a little room to grow.
Inside we taste more wines, a range of red wines made from international varieties. Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon in particular. Urlice is a member of the ‘Slow Food’ movement and grape growing techniques hark back to ancient times without recourse to chemicals. Reha’s vineyards are not certified organic though. It isn’t about the marketing for him, he sees it more as a way of life rather than a label to stick on a bottle. The wines are actually very accomplished. They certainly aren’t shy. Structured wines with quite a bit of tannin means they show best with some hearty food and they have put on quite a spread for us. I particularly liked their Cabernet Sauvignon / Syrah Reserve, which has a wonderful richness to it.
Serendipity has another surprise in store for us. Macit, who is our guide for the day, was meant to take a trip out to Ephesus but was moved onto our outing at the last minute. Fortunately he likes wine so he’s quite happy. When we arrive at Urlice, Macit and Reha look at each other stunned as they recognise each other. They were old friends who lived across from one another in Izmir more than 30 years ago and haven’t seen each other in all that time. It was serendipity that brought them together. Or maybe it was the wine.
The journey reminded me of my younger days, when catching an overnight train to save on accommodation was a budgetary necessity. After a short and virtually sleepless flight we arrive in Istanbul in what seems like the middle of the night. It may be 5.30am here but at home it is the middle of the night. We pile onto the local bus that takes us right to the water’s edge on the Asian side of the city. After a brief stop for a cup of tea and some toast we venture onto a ferry, we assume will take us across the Bosphorus and into the European part of this sprawling city. Although the weather is more like a dreich summer’s day in Glasgow, the skyline still manages to be beautiful when it finally reveals itself. How incredible must this look when the sun is just coming up.
I am traveling with Richard Ross from Appetise, who developed the Showmappr app and I’m helping him populate the app with the various sessions at the impending conference we’re both attending.
There is still some work to do so after checking into the hotel and breakfast with plenty of coffee we settle into the cosy hotel bar sofas with our laptops to get the job done. Later in the afternoon the rain is still pouring down and although it’s taking away a little of the magic, it doesn’t stop us from exploring the city some more. So far, no wine has passed our lips, that will have to wait until tomorrow evening, in what is the unofficial starting point of the EWBC, the now infamous (so I’ve been told) BYOB dinner. As this is my first EWBC I’m feeling a mix of curiosity and excitement. Excited about meeting so many winelovers, many of which I may have had a chat with on Twitter and sharing some amazing wines and experiences with them. Curious also about the wines of Turkey. Like most people, I don’t necessarily view Turkey as a serious player in the wine market but that is not to say there isn’t some excitement to get here. Part of this morning’s job was getting a bit of background on some of the wineries involved and there is a real appetite to show off how the country can be different. The fact it now has its own generic trade body shows this quest is taken seriously and indigenous grape varieties seem to be what get a lot winemakers out of bed here. I’m hoping to be convinced these can provide something that truly represents the country. The next few days are about exploring the ‘sources’ and I can’t think of a better place to do that than right here in Turkey, a country that goes right back to wine’s source.
When it comes to Australian wine many people will be of the opinion that it’s all much the same. Explosive fruit, a big whack of alcohol and a dollop of oak flavour. And your choice is either white or red. But in the same way that not everyone in Australia is called Sheila or Bruce this would be a wholly unfair stereotyping of the country’s wines.
Thinking back to my first encounter with Australian wines in the late 80s (during tasting classes at the Hotelschool I attended), I remember it was these ‘new world’ wines that were easier to drink and understand than their ‘old world’ counterparts. What I wasn’t prepared for was its chequered history when it comes to wine. Australia’s wine history in my mind dated to the relatively recent export boom that started in the eighties and brought with it a style of wine little seen in Europe until that day. Flavour on steroids and big brands. Regionality wasn’t important, ripe fruit was crucial and could come from anywhere, and oak dominated many of these wines. And I believe that still gives rise to some of the stereotypes that persist today.
Attending the ‘A+ Australian Wine – One Day Wine School‘ session allowed me more than a glimpse into what is a fascinating wine country. It was showing off much more variety than I was expecting and shows that regional differences in soil and climate are having a real impact on how the wine tastes. That sense of place, which the French call ‘terroir’ might actually have some bearing on Australia’s wine regions too. It was an eye opener to witness how six Chardonnays from very distinct regions could taste so different. Arguably this had more to do with the varying degrees of oak and the different times at which the grapes were harvested, but climate and soil definitely play their important part here too. Still, it shows a move towards much more diverse styles. Occasionally I even used the words elegant and intricate, not something I had expected.
As we discussed the merits of some of the better known regions it became apparent that variety is to be expected with around 2300 wineries across 64 diverse regions. But in relative terms Australia is a very young wine country. Its early wine years were spent on the production of fortified wines, much of which found a market in Britain in the 30’s. Production only shifted to light wines in the 50’s and 60’s with increased immigration and modern winery technology, such as temperature controlled fermentation and more efficient transport systems. This ultimately fuelled the Australian wine boom in the 80’s and what we now describe as the democratisation of wine by the supermarkets. Accepting this is a coming of age for the industry, more recently we see the new generation being increasingly inquisitive. Many make wine in different continents and are keen to experiment and find a regional voice. Research and development are now instrumental in determining which grapes grow well in which regions. The point is even raised that the best vineyards in Australia may not even have been planted yet. I think that’s a very exciting notion and shows a country full of promise. Yet, it may take a little longer to convince the average wine consumer that Australian wine is more than just big flavours and big brands.
The past 50 days I have been running a lot. I have covered over 340km in this period as part of the 5×50 Challenge. A challenge designed to people off the sofa and committing to regular exercise. Today marks the end of the challenge but it doesn’t mean I will now return to sitting on the sofa. This challenge has inspired me to stick with it and keep running through the winter and get ready for some longer runs next year.
The 5×50 core team also inspired me to something else. And that was to find some amazing wines that would appeal to the running types. Because believe me, it is not all health and fitness, there is plenty of room for the good things in life.
Working with Cross Stobs Wine, a local independent wine shop I have found five wines to inspire the runners and of course a sparkling wine to celebrate the achievements. A percentage of each case sold will go to the 5×50 chosen charity, Sport Relief, so not only will you taste some lovely wine, you’ll feel great about it too!
You can now get the six bottle case (one bottle of each wine) for £55, or two bottles of each wine for £110 (delivery charges apply). And don’t forget you’ll be helping a worthwhile charity at the same time.
Domaine de Montredon Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc, France
An energetic, fast-paced sprinter with lots of energy. Perhaps struggles to keep up with Mo Farah, but who wouldn’t?
Raats Chenin Blanc, South Africa
The versatile type, can do fast-paced runs over long distances and still has a bit left in the bottle to pull out a sprint
Don David Malbec, Argentina
The rugged, outdoorsy type. Thinks nothing of running to the top of Ben Nevis and back for fun but needs some sweet ripe fruit on the way to keep the energy levels topped up.
La Multa Old Vine Garnacha, Calatayud, Spain
The social runner. Not the fastest and keeping fit is a useful byproduct but it’s really about the chat on the way. Life is for living after all.
Mas des Amours, Coteaux du Languedoc, France
One for the long haul. More marathon than sprint, but intense, runs it in well under four hours and still manages a beautifully graceful finish.
Casa Defra Prosecco Spumante, Italy
Cooling down time, don’t forget to stretch and then toast your success and put your feet up. You’ve achieved your goal.
Help yourself to a case by clicking here and join me in next year’s challenge!
‘Tasting Scotland’ and ‘Cork & Bottle’ join forces again in what is sure to be a fabulously different wine & dine event. Bring friends, family or colleagues to enjoy a unique new experience consisting of a perfectly executed blend of pop-up tapas dining, traditional wine tasting & some gourmet ‘look what’s on your doorstep’ education! Your evening starts with a glass of fizz and nibbles, followed by a 7 stage tasting menu that gives you a unique insight into some of Tasting Scotland’s favourite local artisan food producers. I have selected 9 accompanying wines that have a story of their
own to tell which I will share with you during the ‘Cork & Bottle’ wine matching masterclass.
Where? The Tasting Room at The Good Spirits Co. 23 Bath St, Glasgow
When? Thursday 22nd November 2012
Cost? £35 per person
Menu? 7 Scottish Artisan Food Producers in 7 stages
Thursday October 4th I was fortunate enough to host a wine and cheese tasting at 29Studios in Glasgow. About 35 cheese and wine lovers had gathered to work out which wines and cheeses they liked best. The fire was on, the glasses were full, the cheese plates were showing their best and not a drop was left at the end of the night.
I’ll do a full blog post on the various wines and cheeses we tasted next week, but for the moment I wanted to post this video of the event, produced by the team at 29Studios.
Back in March I was party to a very interesting discussion among the wine trade which was trying to determine if France’s wine future lay in brands or in its system of ‘appellations’. I wrote about it here.
Now I think the case is pretty clear cut when it comes to famous names, such as Champagne, Chablis and Chateauneuf-du-Pape to name but a few. Those names roll of the tongue easily and almost act like brands in their own right. With some of the lesser-known appellations it may not be so straightforward. Sometimes I feel France’s strength, it’s appellation system, is also its weakness. It is difficult to understand, complex and full of names that give little clue as to what the wine will taste like to the average consumer. And, although it has been getting better, a distinct lack of information on a back label is making the purchase of a bottle a bit of a gamble. Granted, the internet is helping to provide additional information and many people still read the words ‘Appellation Controlée’ on the label and feel reassured the wine will be of good quality. But unless you know the style of the wine from a particular appellation, will you know what it tastes like and more importantly, are you going to like it?
1753 Campuget – Costieres de Nimes 2009
It may be a bit random but I picked up a wine from the lesser known Costieres de Nimes, an appellation that came into being just over 20 years ago and falls somewhere between the Languedoc and the Rhone Valley. Since 2004 it aligns itself with the Rhone Valley to which it owes much of its style. Similar stony soils and Syrah and Grenache as its main grapes means you can compare it to Cotes du Rhone. A look at Chateau Campuget’s website shows they market themselves as part of the Rhone Valley ‘brand’, probably because the Rhone Valley is better known internationally. Shame about that sound file that ‘welcomes’ you to the site. My French isn’t great so it becomes a bit annoying. I would also have wanted a bit more information on the specific wine, my main reason to visit the site. The back label tells me the name ‘1753’ refers to the date on the earliest document found at the Chateau. Nice, but what did the document say? Anyway, the wine is really rather good. Lots of blackberry and plummy flavours and dark chocolate. It gives the wine a nice richness, not too dry, which means you could drink this on its own but it would be much better with a nice meaty stew, which is exactly what I’ll be having tonight.
A red wine made with white grapes. Sounds unlikely? White grapes have long been used as part of red wine production. It may be pretty obvious that to make a red wine you need the colour from the red grape skins but there is nothing stopping you from adding a little white too. This used to be common practice in Chianti but the choice of grapes impacted the quality so the practice is no longer so common. In the Rhone valley in France the white grape Viognier is often added to Syrah to make the famous wines from Côte Rôtie. In Australia they even make a point of it and put the blend on the label and I’ve heard of many wine producers who experiment with different ways of introducing white grapes into their red wines. One Australian producer put some of his Shiraz into a barrel that had formerly held Chardonnay. He left the fine lees (deposit) in the barrel and the result was an added richness and creaminess to the Shiraz.
It is important to state that this is not about blending red and white wine together, that would mean ending up with a rosé or very light red. Making a red wine this way means you have to ferment the red and white grapes together. The idea is to get plenty of colour and extraction during the fermentation, but combined with a lightness and freshness from the white grapes. Malbrontes is just such a wine even though it does sound more like a long-forgotten character from Jurassic Park. It combines in more than name two of Argentina’s best known grapes. The fragrant Torrontés adds a fresh and floral element to the juicy, rich spiciness of the Malbec. I was sceptical at first but this wine quickly won me over. It has the chunky blackberry fruit from the Malbec but the Torrontés makes the whole thing seem fresher and softer and it’s seriously easy-drinking. You can even chill it down slightly and make it a perfect partner to a barbecue.
Wine Searcher gives an up to date list of where you can get this wine.
OK, so I was going to have a quick meeting with Andrew Maidment from Wines of Argentina to talk about his new initiative, to celebrate Malbec World Day. Little did I know it would become a masterclass, not only in Malbec, but many other grape varieties, as well as the intricate minutiae of Argentine beef.
Meeting in Gaucho should have been a giveaway I suppose. And Malbec really is at its best served with a juicy steak, or even better the marinated beef known as Churrasco. I am now in a position to tell you what the percentage of fat in each individual cut of beef is, but I’ll refrain for fear of losing you right away.
I started asking Andrew why bother with Malbec World Day? Is it just a gimmick? It seems a bit random to chose a Sunday in the middle of April, but the date, April 17th, is very significant for Argentine wine. On this date in 1853 a bill was passed in Argentina which allowed the planting of a whole host of grape varieties brought over from France and elsewhere. And that’s how Malbec made it across to Argentina. As I mentioned it wasn’t just Malbec, but it somehow seemed to do well in Argentina’s soils and climate and way down the line became internationally recognised as producing wines of excellent quality. Andrew mentions in particular the work done by Zuccardi and Catena in the nineties on researching the particular strains that worked best and propagating those to become even better. Consistent and long-term monitoring and lots of trial and error paid off.
We ordered a bottle of Calathus Malbec 2008 from the south of the Uco Valley in Mendoza. Interestingly, for the boss of Wines of Argentina, this was a new one on him, so that made it an easy choice. It also came recommended by the incredibly knowledgeable waiting staff at Gaucho. Andrew tells me that Phil Crozier, Gaucho’s wine director insists on detailed wine training for all members of the front of house team, and it certainly shows. When quizzed on the various wines on the list detailed information comes naturally. Anyway, back to the wine. A deep black fruit nose, full of spicy, leathery and tobacco aromas. Fairly full-bodied, perhaps slightly too much for lunchtime but delicious with the Churrasco.
I ask Andrew if he agrees with some voices that argue that Malbec is making Argentina a one trick pony. He clearly doesn’t, although he mentions he understands why people would say that. Look towards Chile and you see a whole host of variety coming out of that country that you don’t tend to see in Argentina. Many producers are working with varieties other than Malbec as well though. In particular in blends that are increasingly successful. Without being able to look into the future this is where he feels Argentina can really start to shine on the international stage. Innovation is the buzzword at the moment and experimentation with lots of new varieties will bring more excitement. He also believes the country could become more fragmented with smaller wineries making very individual wines.
But Malbec will remain at the heart of Argentina’s wines and so it should be. Andrew sums this up by explaining what is important for this grape and much of it centres around the Andes. It provides the all-important elevation, shelter, water for irrigation and the old glacial riverbed soils. Couple that with places as far apart as Salta, with some of the highest vineyards in the world, Mendoza at the heart and the much more extreme region of Patagonia in the south, and variety should not come as a surprise.
For Malbec World Day, Wines of Argentina are running a number of events, in both restaurants and wine shops. They are focussing their efforts on the likes of Laithwaites, The Sunday Times Wine Club and Majestic, all of whom have got market-beating ranges of Malbec in their stores and online and have really championed Argentine Malbec. I get the feeling Andrew would love to get a supermarket involved as well in the future but their ranges would have to be extended to make this a reality.
The most unusual initiative goes to a collaboration of English winemaker Chapel Down with Wines of Argentina and Gaucho Restaurants. Chapel Down will for the first time create a unique and authentic Malbec from grapes grown in the Mendoza vineyards of the Gaucho Restaurants. The grapes were picked recently and just this week they were crushed in the Chapel Down winery. The release of this unique wine will be on Malbec World Day 2012 and will be sold mainly in Gaucho but some may even make it into a small selection of shops. Similar collaborations are also taking place in New York and Toronto.
From Gaucho it’s a quick taxi ride to the Argentine Ambassador’s residence and a line-up of a hundred or so wines, about a third of which are Malbec with another dozen being Malbec blends. This is where I get to taste for myself how varied these wines can be. I got a bit of a Malbec awakening as I started to find a common thread in many of them. First I put it down to regional differences, but then I realised it wasn’t that specific. It’s a quality I find difficult to pinpoint. It is something aromatic, reminding me slightly of pine cones or rosemary, fresh woodland but not earthy. I guess I’ll just have to taste a few more to find the answer. A job I’ll gladly take on.