The Spanish acquisition


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Simon Field MW and members of the Fine Wine team at Bodegas Pesquera, with the Owner Alejandro Fernández and the Sales Director Augustin Goitre.

Martyn Rolph is one of our Fine Wine Account Managers and a keen advocate of Spain’s vinous exports. Here he recounts last month’s Spanish tasting trip, an annual expedition to meet the producers and taste their wines ahead of our offer, The Golden Route.

The onset of autumn heralds our yearly team tasting trip to Spain. Led by our Spain Buyer, Simon Field MW, it is the sheer variety of styles we encounter that always excites, while the special combination of quality, value and ageing potential of many of these wines ensures I tend to encourage my clients to consider Spanish purchases at every opportunity.

Our visit always begins in the sleepy town of Haro, home to many of the greatest names of Rioja: Viña Tondonia, Muga, La Rioja Alta, C.V.N.E. and Contino are all located here. ‘Traditional’ is a word used to describe a number of these bodegas – who prefer to barrel-age for extended periods in oak, often American in origin, allowing the vanilla notes to ally with clove and sweet spices to form an integral part of the wines.

La Rioja Alta adopts a similarly classical approach with its flagship Gran Reserva wines, the 904 and 890, spending up to six years in barrel – and another five in bottle – prior to release. These remarkable wines are cast loose approaching maturity but can age for decades to come.

Bodegas Muga, C.V.N.E. and, in particular, Contino meanwhile adopt a more forward-looking approach, having opted to use a proportion of French oak. There the wines remain true to the flavours one would expect but the choice of wood allows for more precision and focus upon fruit. Whichever style you seek (and all have a place within my cellar) these wines should not be ignored. Our tasting trip revealed the quality of the 2009 and 2010 vintages that will make their début this year, and also confirmed the immense quality of the 2001, 2004 and 2005 vintages.

There is also another side to Rioja developing, with Bodegas Roda, Artadi, Remelluri, Allende and Contador having all begun to focus upon terroir-driven wines. These are wine estates that our team enjoys introducing to customers as they offer something unexpected. The Remelluri visit was one of the most interesting of our trip: as at Artadi, the wines are an expression of the individual vineyard sites and it is fascinating to see the differences in style.

A visit to the impressive Marqués de Murrieta rounded off our tour of Rioja, where the Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva didn’t disappoint. A sizeable drive relocated us to the region of Ribera del Duero, that other great wine-producing area of Spain, where our destinations included Cillar de Silos, the mighty Vega Sicilia, Pago de los Capellanes, Pesquera and Hacienda Monasterio. As the climate here is hotter the resulting wines are richer, more linear and direct – I cannot speak highly enough of them.

Our five-day tour completed, we had sampled over 200 wines and took detailed tasting notes on each. Trips such as this are invaluable in allowing us to correctly serve and guide our customers. Our Spanish offer is now broader than ever and so navigating between the wines is crucial. My fine wine colleagues and I are always on hand to assist, and happy to offer our recommendations as required.

My friends and family are quick to assume these trips are in fact just ‘jolly’ expeditions, although I maintain they are less glamorous than most presume, and we do actually work very hard…

Our annual offer Spain 2014: The Golden Route launches tomorrow, Friday 17th October.

Category: Spanish wine

Ratings winners


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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Damian Carrington, Commercial Director of our wholesale arm, Fields, Morris & Verdin – and a well-seasoned veteran of dining out – on what it takes to elevate a respectable restaurant experience to a truly remarkable one.

How do you judge a restaurant? What really makes the difference between the truly great and the merely good? Is it purely about the food for you? How important is a friendly greeting when you arrive, the service, the wine list, the décor, a specific table, the location of the toilets?

I am extremely fortunate to get the opportunity to eat out a good deal and the recent publication of the 2015 Michelin Guide got me thinking about how I rate a restaurant experience. As ever the Guide garnered praise and criticism in equal measure for rightly elevating (in my opinion) the brilliant Barafina to a Michelin star (although you can’t book a table and even before the elevation you often had to queue for some time to get a seat; fortunately they have opened a second site close by where the food is just as good) and demoting the likes of Medlar, which I still believe provides one of the best restaurant experiences in London.

Despite this criticism I admire the straightforwardness of their star rating and the clear explanation which still retains a nod to the Guide’s original purpose as a traveller’s companion: one star being “A very good restaurant in its category” (“Une très bonne table dans sa catégorie”); two stars, “Excellent cooking, worth a detour” (“Table excellente, mérite un détour”) and three stars, “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (“Une des meilleures tables, vaut le voyage”).

I certainly wouldn’t for one minute take my views as seriously as an historic and rigorously researched guide but to me there is something more to a really great restaurant and a great restaurant experience than purely food. Of course the meal itself is a key element but it struck me as I sat in the private room of the Delaunay last night looking through the windows at the main dining room that there is something even more vital and that is ‘atmosphere’. I couldn’t hear the buzz of the restaurant last night cocooned as I was in the private room but I could sense it. Like the most exquisite staging of a classic play the room was beautifully lit. The tables were full. The front of house staff were so brilliantly choreographed they almost seemed to be pirouetting between tables.

There was certainly food, and wine was flowing at most but not all tables. One could almost sense the enjoyment of my fellow dinners through the glass. It wasn’t quite a eureka moment and certainly a glass or two of the sensational 1999 Ch. Beaucastel may have lifted the spirits but that view through the window defined for me what a truly memorable restaurant experience should be and it is one certainly worth a ‘special journey’ in my book.

Category: Food & Wine

Pairing wine with chicken


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Photograph: Susie Carter

Photograph: Susie Carter

In our new series food writer Susie Carter takes a look at how to successfully pair wines with key ingredients. This month it’s the turn of the UK’s most-consumed meat: chicken.

The first time I really became aware of the nuances of food and wine matching was at a friend’s Chardonnay tasting. We compared six different bottles which varied greatly in style from a rather austere Chablis to a full-on Aussie blockbuster. Afterwards we enjoyed what was left of the bottles with roast chicken for lunch, a classic food pairing with chardonnay. While all of the wines worked successfully, the best match was a gently oaked Cote du Beaune. Malolactic fermentation and lees-stirring had given the wine a fuller body and buttery flavour which complemented the mouth-filling roast potatoes, while the fresh acidity and minerality from the relatively cool climate worked well with the lighter vegetable elements of the dish. In essence, it’s not just the chicken you’re matching, the other components in the dish are often more important.

In the summer months I’m rather partial to a chicken Caesar salad with plenty of crisp romaine lettuce and a dressing made pungent with Parmesan, garlic and salted anchovies. It’s that dressing that makes chilled Manzanilla Sherry an unusual but sensational pairing, with the salt in the food partnering the acidity and saline quality of the wine perfectly. The flor yeast that grows atop the sherry in the barrel feeds on the glycerine in the wine, resulting in a lighter body that perfectly matches the lightness of the poached chicken and leaves.

When the weather turns colder, I like to bake whole chicken thighs in a rich tomato sauce, made with the last of the season’s tomatoes:

• Fry a chopped onion and plenty of crushed garlic in a good glug of olive oil until soft, then deglaze with a splash of red wine.

• Skin and chop 2-3 large ripe tomatoes per person and add them to the pan, then cook for 15 minutes or until they start to break down into a thick sauce. You can throw in a handful of capers and a pinch of chilli flakes at this stage if you like, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

• Snuggle in 1-2 chicken thighs per person without submerging the skin, then transfer the pan to the oven and bake at 190⁰C / gas 5 for 35 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through to the bone and the juices run clear when pierced with a skewer.

• Serve with rosemary roast potatoes.

As well as being rich and full-flavoured, cooked tomatoes are high in acidity, an element that should be matched in the wine to keep both tasting their best. The Italians are masters of high-acid reds, which comes as no surprise when you consider the profusion of tomatoes in their cuisine. I would plump for a Barbera from Piemonte as you get high acidity but without the tannin of other varieties which could otherwise be over-emphasised if there’s a hint of sweetness to the tomatoes or the prickle of chilli in the sauce.

Read Susie’s first post on the basics of food and wine matching.

Category: Food & Wine

A whisky drinker’s rum?


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Doug McIvor, our Spirits Manager, is the man responsible for Berry Bros. & Rudd’s rather exceptional premium rum. Here, Doug, who is more usually found nosing whisky, expounds the virtues and complexities that elegant ageing brings to this oft-underrated spirit.

When Berry Bros. & Rudd first offered a sneak preview of the first batch of Penny Blue Mauritian Rum to some industry experts around two years ago one of them, namely Dave Broom who is a leading authority on both whisky and rum, commented that he thought it was a whisky drinker’s rum.

A major part of my job over the last 25 years has been selecting and sometimes blending casks of Scotch whisky so perhaps a little of this Caledonian bias had crept into the Penny Blue blend which I put together with Jean-Francois Koenig, the distillery manager and master distiller at Medine in Mauritius where the rum is made, matured and bottled. But more likely it is due to the fact that, unlike many commercial rum brands today, we do not add sugar to sweeten it prior to bottling and this gives the finish a slightly drier style which I believe creates a balancing contrast to the sweeter notes in the mid palate.

Another leading factor is the cask profile used to construct these small-batch blends. A few years ago Medine was importing Scotch whisky in cask to bottle on the island and they filled the empty barrels with their rum to see how it would develop. The result was very favourable so Jean-Francois imported other types of cask including ex-Cognac and ex-Bourbon oak as well as experimenting with various techniques in order to advance and enhance the influence of the wood. As a result we have a rich pool of cask styles and age profiles to use for Penny Blue. The experimentation will continue although we are now able to prescribe our required maturation profiles to ensure that we retain the unique Penny Blue style even if each batch bears its own distinctive signature. In every bottle you will discover tropical fruit, vanilla, soft citrus, gentle spice and a plethora of other nuances.

Despite the differences in the materials and equipment used in producing rum and whisky and the starkly contrasting maturation climates (the angels are four times greedier in Mauritius than in Scotland), there are parallels to be drawn in the artisanal care that is taken to create a world-class drink. We do not chill-filter the rum in order to preserve the heart, the depth and concentration of flavours and we do not add colouring or flavouring leaving the rum in its authentic state.

With any great spirit there is balance, texture and complexity and that is what we have in the recently released Penny Blue Batch #2. You can sip it neat or enjoy it on the rocks, close your eyes and dream of Mauritian beeches… and perhaps a tiny piece of Scotland.

Read more about Penny Blue Rum.

Category: Spirits