Crack open the Port this Easter



Simon Field MW advocates Portugal’s flagship fortified wine as a sensational accompaniment to any chocolate-based indulgence this weekend may hold.

Dark and bitter needs dark and sweet to temper its indulgent flavours: Port, of course, is wonderfully versatile, and Quinta do Noval’s superlative Late Bottle Vintage exemplar is a fantastic match for dark chocolate. Traditional LBV is bottled four years after the harvest, unfined and unfiltered, and is both powerful and pure, its aromas of violets and crushed blackberry presaging a palate where the sweet and the spicy are wonderfully juxtaposed, It’s a mirror rather than a foil to chocolate – and rather a resplendent gilded mirror at that.
2008 Berrys Own Selection LBV Quinta do Noval, £15.95 at

Category: Food & Wine

Matching chocolate and wine



To tackle the subject of pairing wine with chocolate, we invited Adam Lee from English chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker and Francis Huicq, our shop manager, to find some winning partnerships.

At Easter, chocolate takes centre stage, undoubtedly the “grande dame” of our gustatory gorging. The problem is what to drink alongside our leading lady: beautiful and talented she may be, but she’s a challenge to work with.

The first wine tasted was a 2006 Vin Doux Naturel from Domaine Sarda-Malet, with luscious red fruit overlaid by notes of mocha and a slightly earthy element. “It is often not the obvious flavours that one matches, you should look for a compatibility rather than similarity,” said Lee. With this in mind, he suggested a moulded praline noisette that would work alongside the earthy element in the wine. They sat perfectly together.

Our respective experts also tasted Berry Bros. & Rudd’s William Pickering 20-year-old Tawny Port. Matched with crystallised orange peel coated in dark chocolate, it made the Port sweeter and creamier on the finish. The subtle tang and sweetness of both wine and chocolate blended together beautifully.

In 2011, Charbonnel et Walker worked with us to create The King’s Ginger Truffle. Pairing this chocolate with its namesake is an obvious and classic choice. For our tasting we used The King’s Ginger both at room temperature and chilled. At the lower temperature it was the liqueur’s citrus, rather than spice, that dominated the palate, making it perfect, we found, with lemon-based chocolates.

As with wine, Lee emphasised the importance of consuming chocolate at the correct temperature. Horrified at the thought of chocolate being stored in the fridge, he considers the ideal between 18 and 21°C, at which point the texture and flavours are spot on.

Armagnac, Cognac and Tokaji were all also brought to the table, each of them working best alongside a different chocolate (rose cream, dark butter caramel and sea-salt caramel respectively). While the chocolates were individually full-flavoured and delicious, when paired with their respective wines, they combined to form something unique and completely different. Of course, as in all things food and wine, there is an element of personal taste: what works for one person may not for another.

All too often, chocolates can be an afterthought – an accompaniment for coffee, rather than the main event. Our nation, with its (rather controversially) sweet tooth, has become accustomed to sugary treats, their presence in our diet unremarkable, expected and accepted. But fine chocolate, rather like fine wine, remains an indulgence that is to be savoured.

Perfect pairings

2006 Rivesaltes Rouge, La Carbasse 2006 VDN, Domaine Sarda-Malet – with praline noisette
Berrys’ William Pickering, 20-year-old Tawny Port – with orange stick
Berrys’ Own Selection Armagnac, 10-year-old – with rose cream
Berrys’ Own Cognac of Superior Quality – with butter caramel and dark chocolate
The King’s Ginger – at room temperature, with The King’s Ginger Truffle; chilled, with lemon fondant
2008 Berrys’ Tokaji Aszú, 5 Puttonyos, Tokaji Oremus – with sea salt caramel with milk chocolate

Find out more about Charbonnel et Walker here.

Category: Food & Wine

Perfect, easy Easter lamb (and what to drink with it)


Photograph: Piers Cunliffe

Photograph: Piers Cunliffe

There are two foods that are a must at Easter: chocolate and roast lamb. Taking inspiration from the latter, Stewart Turner, our chef, has prepared this simple but impressive centre-piece of a roast – a real a show-stopper for Easter Sunday.

This dish uses the saddle – a cut which is second only to the rack in the “prime cut leader-board”. Ask your butcher to bone the joint and trim away any excess fat and the rest is easy. I’ve accompanied the saddle with boulangère potatoes which are just as impressive and a match for lamb as a good left bank Claret. They can be prepared and cooked in advance, leaving plenty of time for the all-important Easter Egg hunt.

For inspiration about the spot-on wine match to go with roast spring lamb, look no further than our suggestions from Simon Field MW.

Spinach & wild garlic saddle of lambServes 6


1 saddle of lamb, about 2.4kg, boned and trimmed
Sea salt and pepper
Splash of olive oil
Knob of butter
500g spinach, stalks removed
250g wild garlic
3-4 cloves garlic
5 sprigs fresh thyme

Heat the oven to 180°C. Open out the saddle of lamb and set aside the eye fillets, season with salt and pepper and leave for a few minutes to draw out the juices.

For the stuffing, heat a splash of olive oil in a frying pan and seal the eye fillets, then add a knob of butter, spinach and wild garlic. Season lightly and cook until just wilted.

Spread half of the spinach and wild garlic stuffing over the lamb saddle filling the area between the two eyes of meat. Put the eye fillets and the thin end of the joint together in the centre, and then spread over the rest of spinach mix. Fold one flap of the saddle over, then the other, wrapping firmly to make a neat roll. Secure with string.

Heat a splash of oil in a frying pan seal the meat on all sides until nice and golden brown add the garlic bulb and a few sprigs of thyme. Roast for 30 minutes for medium a little less for medium rare or a Little more for well done. Lift the meat on to a warm platter and rest in a warm place for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve the lamb thickly sliced.

Photograph: Piers Cunliffe

Photograph: Piers Cunliffe

Boulangère potatoesServes 6


2 large onions, peeled and finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
2tbsp fresh rosemary, picked and chopped
2tbsp fresh thyme, picked and chopped
1kg potatoes, peeled and finely sliced
1 litre lamb or chicken stock
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 150°C and grease the base and sides of an ovenproof casserole dish with butter. Heat a good splash of olive oil in a saucepan and fry the onions over a medium heat with the garlic, thyme and rosemary until they start to brown. Add a couple of knobs of butter and continue to cook until they are nicely caramelised.

Place a third of the sliced potatoes over the base of the buttered casserole and season well, then spread over half the caramelised onions. Place another layer of potatoes and top with the remaining onions and potatoes. Dot the top with knobs of butter. Bring the lamb stock to the boil and pour over the potatoes.

Cook in the preheated oven for about an hour, pressing the potatoes down every so often to ensure even cooking add a little more stock if they seem to be drying out. At the end you want a lovely golden top, and potatoes which have absorbed the flavoursome juices, so don’t add too much stock.

Category: Food & Wine

Koshu wine: a taste of Japan


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Jasper Morris MW, our Burgundy and New Zealand buyer, returned from a recent tour of Japanese wineries with taste-buds piqued and interest heightened. Here he reports on the best, foxiest and most idiosyncratic wines tasted.

After a week of tasting and feasting in Tokyo with the wines of Burgundy, I spent a fascinating day in Yamanashi prefecture, tucked away round the back of Mount Fuji, visiting vineyards and wineries. We took the train out to Kofu, one and a half hours from Shinjuku station in Tokyo. The train climbs steadily through increasingly Alpine valleys before dropping down to a fairy-tale world of a small plain enclosed by mountains. Many of the vineyards are little plots attached to the houses, with the grapes grown on the pergola system. Workers in broad rimmed hats were out in the winter sunshine pruning above their heads.

We were met at Kofu station by Misawa-san whose family have owned and run Grace Wine since 1923. Currently it is Shigekazu Misawa’s daughter Ayana who is the winemaker. She trained in Bordeaux and clearly has the ambitions and the competence to start making something special here. The winery had very much the feel of the smaller scale Pinot wineries of New Zealand’s South Island, including the snow capped mountains as a backdrop.

Some of the wines made come from typical Koshu (a unique Japanese grape variety) vineyards in the Kofu area, including wines from the Hishiyama and Toriibira vineyards but, in the last 10 to 15 years, Grace has planted vineyards much higher up, around 700m above sea level in the Akeno district. While we were there in early March the vines were nearly buried in the snow, the wind blowing off the mountains to the north chilling us to the bone. In the summer, the prevailing wind is a warm southerly offering hot days and plenty of sunshine, 1,600 hours between April and October, while the altitude delivers cool nights. Perhaps an experiment with Tempranillo might be interesting?

With these plantings, Grace has moved away from the pergola tradition to vertical shoot position (VSP) training. Yield is sacrificed for sugar. Thus the 2013 Cuvée Misawa Koshu from Akeno, a delicious wine, achieved 11.5 percent alcohol without chaptalisation (the process of adding sugar to unfermented must to promote fermentation), at a yield of 40 hl/ha, whereas pergola trained Koshu would more typically yield two to three times that amount. Drunk over lunch the fresh and lively flavours of this wine complemented the yuzu peel present in the main dish very well. Grace also makes a delicious Chardonnay and a sound Cabernet-Merlot blend, though this was eclipsed by an exciting 100 percent Cabernet Franc, Cuvée Misawa.

Next, we came back down the hill and across to Katsunuma, with a visit to the Marufuji Winery (in business since 1890), which makes wines using the Rubaiyat name. They are imported to the UK by our sister company FMV, which has been enjoying success with the main Koshu wine, and not just in Japanese restaurants. This winery too has ambitious plans for the future, with a new cellar about to be built adjacent to the current building.

My favourite Koshu here came in a special Katsunuma bottle with embossed name and escutcheon, sadly not sell-able in Europe because the size is only 720ml, which equates to four ‘gos’, one ‘go’ being the standard pour in Japan. Among the red wines on offer were a Merlot Prestige and an excellent 100 percent varietal Petit Verdot, but it was here at Marufuji that I tasted my first ever Muscat Bailey A, a red wine with something of the Beaujolais in its make up. Being a hybrid grape, a certain amount of foxiness was to be expected, and it was just detectable but by no means disagreeable. Definitely interesting!

Our third and final stop was at Katsunuma Jyozo, where we were met by owner Yuji Aruga and his son. The idiosyncrasy here is that the wines have been given Portuguese names. Aruga-san has a clear vision of where he wants to take his winery. He is aiming high but wants to keep the emphasis Japanese rather than international. So the cabernet sauvignon vines outside the winery have been grubbed up and replaced with Muscat Bailey A, while the Koshu wines are ambitious. Branca Pipa is fermented in oak from Burgundian coopers for example. I was particularly taken with the 2013 Branca Issehara, a single vineyard wine grown on very shallow river bed soil. It showed a terrific nose, with plenty of personality, fresh fruit, maybe yuzu, some pepper. In fact it reminded me very much of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc grown on the shallow river bed Rapaura soils alongside the Wairau river.

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Koshu has been grown in the region as a table grape for over 1,000 years, but used for making wine for not much more than a century. The wineries tend to own only a small percentage of the vineyards that supply their needs and there has been a constant fight to source grapes of quality: the grape growers themselves preferring to sell the best quality as table grapes, handing over damaged bunches to the winemakers. It is not an ideal climate either, with heavy summer rainfall. At the moment the great majority of wines need to be both chaptalised and acidified, a practice illegal in Europe (though a test case in Burgundy successfully contended that adding sugar to the must and then acidifying the subsequent wine was acceptable, as grape juice and wine are different entities.)

If Koshu has a future in wine, as anything beyond an agreeable local specialty, quality must improve without the wine being priced out of the market. Bottle prices at the winery door began at around £12-£15, while the best examples were frequently more than twice the price. It will not be easy, but congratulations to the three wineries we visited for their successful efforts at driving quality higher.

Category: Miscellaneous