Beyond Bordeaux: nay

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Ch.-Lafite

In response to yesterday’s post claiming that exploration is essential to the enjoyment of wine, Peter Newton considers the limits of discovery, suggesting that one should stick to the unswerving staples of a cellar.

Let’s start with a fundamental truth: life is too short to drink bad wine.

I could almost end my argument there, but there is perhaps a little more to it than that. You may have a yearning to know where makes good wine, or bad wine for that matter, but in the end it is recognised the world over that the so-called ‘classic’ regions are the absolute pinnacle of winemaking. Bordeaux, Burgundy and Barolo, tweaked and honed over hundreds of years, have become the benchmark against which every other wine region in existence compares itself. Oenophiles like you and me are ultimately interested in one thing, the pursuit of pleasure, and these regions have sacrificed thousands of man hours, generations of winemakers and considerable intellect to bring us the ultimate wine experience. When one considers this, venturing to other regions to compare tannin levels, fruit profiles or oak integration with those from the classic regions seems an altogether pointless exercise. If you have found the best, stick with it. We would all save a lot of time, money and disappointment if we just recognised a gift horse when we looked it in the mouth, and tasted it on the palate.

The argument for experimentation is a moot point here too, for it is not as if you cannot experiment within the classic regions. There are myriad different styles and price points to look at, and indeed it would actually increase your enjoyment of classic wines to understand a little more about them, rather than dilly dally with less successful regions. Without wishing to be too clichéd, is it not better to find someone you love and then stick with them, all the time discovering new and exciting layers to their personality as you get to know them better? A successful marriage is so much more satisfying than a string of shallow relationships – and before you say yes, but shallow relationships are fun – in the wine world they are invariably frustrating too. Perhaps when one is starting out it is human nature to play the field (or vineyard), but in the end we will always come back to what we know best, what makes us feel most comfortable and what gives us the most satisfaction.

So whether your tipple of choice is Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo or Brunello there is no need to feel you have to try imitations. Instead experiment within those areas and your appreciation of the best things in life will become infinitely more rewarding.

Category: Miscellaneous,Old World

Beyond Bordeaux: yea

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

This month two members of our Fine Wine team battle it out over whether one should seek the comfort of classic regions, or – as Martyn Rolph argues here – constantly push ones vinous boundaries in search of something new.

As Forrest Gump once said – or at least Tom Hanks in an amicable southern drawl said, “My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.””

Well, “Momma’s” saying is certainly applicable to wine. There is simply so much of it out there awaiting our discovery; different regions, grapes and styles which offer varied flavours, nuances and, ultimately, experiences. For me, wine is about enjoyment and discovery. I’m a firm believer that there is a wine for every occasion, and so I have a cellar that can only be described as eclectic.

Of course there is plenty of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Côte-Rôtie from the Rhône (a particular favourite), traditionally-styled Rioja and Ribera del Duero. While these regions account for some of my most treasured vinous possessions, there is much more beyond the ‘established’ regions.

There is security in opting for Margaux and Meursault; these wines are – more or less – a known quantity. If one goes beyond certain vinous boundaries, you are stepping into the unknown. The idea of “You never know what you’re gonna get” can strike fear in the hearts of a Claret Quaffer; but isn’t this sense of adventure part of the fun? My 12 years in the wine trade have taught me that there are many wonderful wines to be found just off the beaten track, wines which often carry a lesser price tag.

“Give us some examples,” I hear you cry. In Spain (away from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat etc), I would highlight a couple of areas in the north-west, Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra. The terrain here is mountainous and the red grape variety is Mencía; the wines offer pure, red fruit with a spicy, rustic edge and fine, mineral acidity; these are not heavy wines, but beautifully poised. Dominio do Bibei is a personal favourite of mine from the region.

Looking to south-west Italy, Campania is located on the volcanic soils surrounding the city of Naples. Although wines have been produced here since Roman times, it’s an area which is often overlooked. The wines of Taurasi are superb, and provide perhaps the finest expression of the Aglianico grape; focused with lots of depth and dark, ripe fruit. The finest riserva wines often show hints of chocolate and sweet spice.

If you seek the refinement of Burgundy’s Pinot Noir or Piedmont’s Nebbiolo, the Blaufränkisch grape offers characters reminiscent of these classic wines; Moric produces particularly excellent examples.

Away from Europe, the New World is – rather ironically – still rather unexplored. Today a host of producers are planting in unmapped areas, for example Mornington Peninsula in South Australia. The vineyards are surrounded on three sides by water, creating a cooler maritime environment – which produces exceptional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the Crittenden Estate wines are a particular favourite of mine).

The examples listed here represent a miniscule fraction of the vinous “box of chocolates”. There are so many fantastic wines to be found away from the more famous wine regions, and I would encourage all to seek them out – it’s a risk, but one worth taking.

Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s piece posturing that the grass (or grape) isn’t always greener on the other side.

Category: Miscellaneous,New World,Old World

Essential ingredients: tomatoes

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tomatoes

This month our Head Chef Stewart Turner creates a sweet and savoury gazpacho with the season’s tomatoes, while Demetri Walters MW recommends wines to serve alongside this potentially problematic red fruit.

On the table: The summer brings an amazing bounty of fruit and vegetables into the kitchen, but two ingredients always stand out for me: tomatoes and strawberries. They are synonymous with summer. Here I have combined both with a dish from our current menu, a refreshing take on a Spanish classic that my grandmother, who hailed from Andalucía – the birth place of gazpacho, used to make for me. Strawberries have an affinity with savoury flavours; balsamic, basil and black pepper all sit well with the fruit, and I think that is why they work so well here.

In the glass: The ferrous scent of a tomato leaf is the essence of summer cuisine. Despite their popularity, and owing to their high levels of acetic acid, tomatoes are not universally wine-friendly. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way to make that match work. I find that wines, mostly white, with a textural imperative rather than an overt pungency or aromatic quality, tend to pair best with tomato dishes. Of course this depends on the dish in question, though I would broadly favour oxidative, oily, nutty, and savoury wines, such as those made from Marsanne and Roussanne, Assyrtiko or Verdicchio.

The bitter-sweet refreshment of Stewart’s tomato and strawberry gazpacho would work very well with all but the most venerable of white Riojas; possessing, as they do, expansiveness on the palate but also a balancing freshness.

gazpacho

Tomato and strawberry gazpacho
  • 2kg very ripe tomatoes
  • 500g ripe strawberries – stems removed
  • 2 cloves garlic – peeled, cut in half lengthways and green core removed
  • 1 small red onion – peeled and roughly chopped
  • ½ cucumber – roughly chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 small bunch of basil (set aside a few leaves to garnish)
  • 1 red chilli – deseeded and roughly chopped
  • 50g bread crusts – removed from a loaf, use a focaccia or ciabatta
  • 500ml passata
  • 60ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 30ml Sherry vinegar

Roughly chop the tomatoes, and place in a plastic tub or bowl that is large enough to hold all the ingredients. Season well with salt and pepper, then add the rest of the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate, allowing to marinade for a few hours, or overnight if you have the time. Blitz in a food processor and pass through a fine sieve. Adjust the seasoning – bear in mind that chilling can dull the taste, so make sure you season well. Chill until required.

Garnish

  • 3-4 heirloom tomatoes – diced
  • A few strawberries – diced
  • 1 lime – zested
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Burrata
  • 50g bread – torn into small pieces, drizzled with olive oil and baked until crisp

When you are ready to serve, mix the diced tomatoes and strawberries. Season, add the lime zest and a splash of olive oil. Scatter on the base of chilled serving bowls, pour over the soup and finish with blobs of burrata, torn basil, bread and a drizzle of olive oil.

Enjoy Stewart’s exemplary cooking at one of our events.

Category: Food & Wine

On the table: Brunswick House Café

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Brunswick House Cafe

Brunswick House Café

This month food writer Victoria Stewart risks all on the A3036 in the name of gustatory goodness, hopping across the lanes at Vauxhall to visit Brunswick House Café – an intriguing Aladdin’s cave serving sensational seasonal grub.

My experience of people talking about Vauxhall was in reference to it having a park amusingly called the pleasure gardens, a famous community café, a roller disco, gay nightclubs, the twisted silver bus station you passed on your way to the Tate Britain, and of course all those high-rises and traffic. In 2011 conversations turned to ‘that really amazing restaurant in the old house’, and lately there have been exchanges about how Vauxhall’s bleakness will improve when the Battersea Power Station development finally gets finished.

Whether it will remains to be seen, but lately my stomach has pulled me to this part of south-west London to experience all manner of new food things including an ace market in said pleasure field and an excellent Scottish pop-up restaurant. More importantly, I’ve now been twice to the aforementioned ‘really amazing restaurant’, and I’m beginning to form a happy attachment to it.

The place I’m referring to is of course Brunswick House Café, which is inside a large Georgian house just a quick dash across the horrid A3036 and run by a rather special chef called Jackson Boxer, who seems to know how to feed his guests the kind of food they want to eat, before they know they even want it.

Named after the Duke of Brunswick who briefly lived here, the building is now owned by antiques business LASSCO, hence the whole place, from the smoking parlour and reception rooms to the restaurant itself, is completely crammed with vintage trinkets for sale. Marble nymphs balance among the greenery outside; inside, you can pad across a grey and white tiled floor to admire the treasure, an embarrassment of globe lamps, sketches of fish, great gold mirrors, and so forth. Either side of an archway two elephants bend their trunks down as if to say, ‘Ah, Lovely Guest, welcome.’

Mackerel,-Gooseberry-&-Courgette

Mackerel, Gooseberry & Courgette

On my last visit I feasted on devilishly good pot-roast pork on a Sunday, but this time my father and I are here for a light lunch (three courses for £19). ‘Sardine, cucumber and crisp shallot’ is an enjoyable jaunt involving lovely soft fish, fiddly cucumber balls, and briefly charred leaves, the whole lot leaving a pleasant residual acidity. ‘Cauliflower, fennel and mustard’ is tart too, with a slick of oil; while ‘aubergine, lollo rosso and onion squash’ makes me think of the countryside, so earthy are the flavours – a touch of char and splodge of dill mayonnaise round it off. I am intrigued but uplifted by the next combination of mackerel with gooseberry and courgette; its flavours are full of life, illustrative of how I’m feeling today. A final board of three cheeses – tangy Doddington, chalky Harbour Blue and a softer sheep’s cheese – served with homemade seeded crackers and, cleverly, three sweetly pickled baby beetroots, is an ideal finish.

Come and pay this place another visit.

What we drank: A carafe of 2013 Sauvignon de Touraine, Domaine Guy Allion, Loire

Brunswick House Café, 30 Wandsworth Road, SW8 2LG

Category: Food & Wine