Friday, 20 April 2012

First Café Moka Wine Night - 26th April

Next week marks the start of a new and exciting monthly wine and food evening - Café Moka Wine Nights. For those of you who don't know, Café Moka is run by the talented and affable chef Kevin Vanthem, who has created a lovely space and an excellent café by Harringay station. He's been in the restaurant trade for twelve years and was chefing at various places for four years before setting up Café Moka, which is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week. It's by Harringay Station on Wightman Road - click here for a map.

Moka Wine Nights are going to be an ongoing monthly evening, held on the last Thursday of each month, run by yours truly and with tapas like snacks provided by Kevin. The evenings will be strictly limited to 24 people and will cost just £30, which includes a tasting of six different wines matched with six different canapés. They will run from 7:30pm to about 9 o'clock and will be open for food after the event for those who are interested.

Through supping on six different wines each month you'll discover different wine regions, get purchase recommendations, learn about food matching, get tips for what to look out for in supermarkets and restaurants and generally learn a pile of wine stuff. You should also have lots of fun!

The first of these evenings is next week, on Thursday 26th April. Please let me know if you'd like to book a place. Kevin will also be taking bookings in the café. It should be a great night.

Lovely and Long-Lived Bourgueil

Recently I've rediscovered my love for the fine red wines of the Central Loire, which are made from pure Cabernet Franc. The best two appellations for red wines in the region are Chinon and Bourgueil, which face each other across the mighty river (as do many of the great pairs of Loire appellations; Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, Vouvray and Montlouis...). At their best, both Chinon and Bourgueil produce wines that can be very long lived, typically with a lovely blackcurrant leaf perfume and succulent raspberry fruit. Ageing transforms the wines, bringing more complexity (say with earthy and mushroomy characteristics), but hopefully still with a bright core of fruit.

I've always loved them in the past, but in the last couple of years I've been a bit put off some older bottles that have clearly been fine, but overlaid with a veil of farmyard stink. This is down to Brettanomyces, better known as Brett, a naturally occurring yeast that I talked about in this post. Some Brett isn't necessarily a bad thing, but for my money too much is definitely a fault, masking both varietal character and terroir.

Anyway, I'm very pleased to say that I've re-found my love for these wines through three older vintages of Bourgueil I drank last week on consecutive nights. All were completely clean (no Brett, very pure expression), but not in the least clinical or dull. Full of character, elegance and terroir they were all lovely wines and although they were between nine and fourteen years old, not one was in the least bit over the hill. Far from it.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Camerano Grappa di Barolo

We don't get through many spirits at our house. The odd single malt whisky or fine bourbon, the occasional Cognac or Armagnac, or maybe even a nip of well aged Calvados. But just a tiny tipple once a month or so. The average bottle life is probably well over five years. Hopeless really. However, whenever we watch BBC4's Transatlantic Sessions I find myself reaching for the top shelf. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that watching the Irish/American music filmed in an country house somewhere remote reminds me of being at a session in a pub in County Mayo, where my wife is from. This induces an elbow reflex. Anyway, last night we started watching a great session and I immediately found myself eyeing-up the spirits. It just happens. However, this time we eschewed the usual virtues of whisky or brandy in favour of a grappa. Yes, a grappa. Don't knock it, it can be wonderful!

Now before we get onto the grappa itself, let's talk about glasses. As far as I'm concerned most people make a big mistake in drinking Cognac out of those traditional huge bowl-shaped brandy balloons - all this does is let the spirit vapours fill up the glass so the overriding smell is one of alcohol, rather than the complexities of the drink. Now I'm not espousing having twenty different shapes and sizes of Riedel glasses for every different type of wine (I reckon about four to six styles should be more than enough), but getting the dinky Riedel spirit glasses is about the smartest glassware purchase I've made. As you can see from the image to the right, the small bowl at the bottom allows for a modest shot of the sauce and the thin flute section above concentrates the flavours without letting the fumes becoming too spiritous. Not only excellent for grappa, but also perfect for Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados in my opinion. Throw your brandy balloons away and go and get some! Now that's sorted out, what exactly is grappa anyway?

Well, wine brandies (including Cognac and Armagnac) are essentially made by distilling wine and then ageing it in barrels. By contrast pomace brandies (including the Italian grappa and the French marc) are by-products of wine, being distilled from the pressed skins, pips and stalks (the pomace or marc) that is left over after the juice goes off on its own route and is made into wine. Clearly this is going to be a courser product than a brandy made from wine, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's inferior. The quality of the grappa is linked to the quality of the wine that the pomace comes from - a Marc de Bourgogne made from the juicy pomace of a 1er Cru Burgundy where all the grapes had been de-stalked and the wine was only subjected to a gentle pressing is going to be much finer than one from the dry left-overs of a cheap table wine after every ounce of juice has been squeezed out.

The grappa we had last night highlighted just how infrequent our spirit drinking is; it was the final dregs of a pair of bottles of Camerano Grappa di Barolo, which we bought in Alba back in 2001! Most but by no means all quality grappas are aged in wood and therefore take on the same kind of hues as whisky or brandy (it's only wood ageing that colours the clear spirit), but there are some really excellent giovane, or young, grappas that aren't. The one we had last night was one of those. And how was it? Quite fiery for sure, as grappa is and should be, but unctuous, slightly oily, pungent with hints of pine nuts and herbs perhaps. Long and mouth-coating it was lip smacking and delicious. Very subtle flavours, not like the more obvious delights of darker spirits, but extremely fine nevertheless. An excellent digestivo.

I would heartily recommend going to your nearest quality Italian deli or wine merchant and picking up a bottle of fine grappa. I think I'll have to go back to Alba to get another couple of bottles to see me through the next decade.

Friday, 6 April 2012

A Call for Carignan

Last week I was at an excellent event promoting the wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon in Southern France. The zone seems permanently poised to be "the next classic region" to quote their official marketing, and indeed it is an extremely exciting wine region that is slowly but surely leaving behind its infamous past as a source of massively over-cropped gut-rot. These bad-old-days produced seas of wine made by unscrupulous