Burgundy’s humble appeal

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On his first trip to Burgundy Ben Grosvenor – the newest member of our Fine Wine team – falls in love with the region, its humble winemakers and the 2015 vintage

Early starts, cold cellars, freezing winds and sharing a minivan with half of the Berry Bros. & Rudd Fine Wine team: no matter how awful the spin one puts on it, it’s hard to consider yourself unfortunate when travel to the Côte d’Or to taste great Burgundy is part of the job description.

Over the course of a week tasting the hotly anticipated 2015 vintage, we tasted over 400 wines. This was my first visit to taste the primeurs in situ and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m now completely smitten with the place, the wines and the people.

On paper, it’s not the easiest of wine regions to understand: there are vast numbers of vineyards, all of which are classified, from villages, to Premiers Crus and – at the top end of the scale – Grands Crus. If you’re really keen to get to grips with Burgundy, there’s literally no better way than to go. Being able to see the vineyards and the lie of the land makes it so much easier to comprehend – and if you can persuade Jasper Morris MW to accompany you, then all the better.

We started our journey at the bottom of the Côte d’Or (the corridor along which the vineyards run), in the Côte de Beaune. Here is where you find many of the villages famous for white wines, such as Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault and St Aubin, but also home to the famous red grape villages, Pommard and Volnay.

Continuing north, we moved into the Côte de Nuits, where villages like Gevrey-Chambertin, Nuits-St Georges and Vosne-Romanée are home to some of the finest Pinot Noir on the planet. It’s fair to say that although the 2015 whites are stonking, it’s the reds that will make this a vintage you’d be mad to miss out on. The wines are joyous to taste, even at such a young age. Some were nigh impossible to spit (so sometimes we didn’t).

Two things stood out about Burgundy for me: firstly, the winemakers and owners. There is not very much bling in Burgundy, but there does seem to be a good dose of humility. And plenty of cold, cobweb-coated cellars in which we conducted our tastings, the likes of which many Bordelais wouldn’t be seen dead in. (Granted, we did learn that one of the owners has not one, but two helicopters.)

Secondly, it is fascinating how close the vineyards are to one another; how much difference there can be in a matter of metres. Not only can you find two rows of vines next to each other with a vast difference in value because of their respective producer; but, with small stone walls separating the vineyards, you can also find vines on one side of a wall worth 10 times the grapes growing on the other side. At first, it would be fair to question this; on tasting, though, it is brilliantly easy to perceive how those minute differences in location and soil, and the way certain producers care for their vines, can make vast differences to the wine. The wine in Burgundy is very much made in the vineyard.

Alongside their 2015s, many of our very generous hosts opened some much older bottles for us, and that is where Burgundy really comes into its own. Until now, I’d never really understood the way of thinking that placed Burgundy above all others. With age, good Burgundy is capable of developing in to something truly remarkable – hauntingly complex tertiary notes intermingled beautifully with ripe but delicate red fruit, silky tannins, impossibly moreish – and these are notes from vintages not as highly regarded as the 2015s. We were told by top Volnay producer Michel Lafarge’s son that Michel considered 2015 the best vintage since 1929. With a vintage like this on our hands, I can only imagine what a wonderful experience it will be to drink these wines in 10 to 20 years’ time… “Buy 2015 Burgundy” is now firmly on my list of New Year’s resolutions.

Burgundy 2015 en primeur will launch on 5th January 2017.

Category: Burgundy Wine

A guide to Port

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

With the season of Stilton and Port almost upon us, George Lacey runs through the key styles of Portugal’s most famous fortified wine, explaining everything from how they’re made to their decanting requirements

Unashamedly, the apogee of my festive period involves putting together the family wine order; each year I take a not-insignificant amount of time selecting Christmas Day’s vinous treats. My personal interests spread far and wide throughout the Dionysian empire, but the opportunity to indulge in an extra flight of fortified wines is approached with particular zest. It is a terrible shame that Port is, for most, relegated to just one glass per year. As such, if you are hoping to find the perfect bottle but feel overwhelmed by myriad options, then the least I could do to help is put together a guide to the fortified world’s crowning glory.

Eponymously named after the town from which it was historically shipped, Port(o) as we know it was originally a dry red wine that didn’t become the unctuous elixir with which we are familiar until fortification (the addition of spirit) during fermentation became common practice in the 1800s. Now inseparable from the winemaking process, fortification leaves significant residual sugar in the resultant wine, creating the rich and warming nectar that we know so well. What better accompaniment for the latter hours of your Christmas Day?

As a wine with both high alcohol and sugar content, Port has the potential to improve in either barrels or bottles for decades, and whether it spends its years maturing in bottle or barrel is largely what determines the flavours and textures of the end result. What follows is a short summary of those principle styles that we may all be confronted with when making our Christmas choices: Ruby; Late Bottled Vintage; Crusted; Vintage; and, finally, Tawny.

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Ruby: Generally the most approachable and youthful style of Ports, and also the least expensive, Ruby Port is the most widely produced style in the valley. Once fermentation and fortification have been carried out, the wines are aged for a relatively short time in concrete, stainless steel tanks or large oak barrels, which prevent too much oxidative influence. Bottled after two or three years to preserve its vibrant ruby colour and fresh, fruity flavours, Ruby Port is not from a single vintage, but blended across vintages to produce a consistent house style. Ruby should be drunk young and will never be the most complex of wines. Given that the flavour profile is dominated by fresh fruits, it would work well with a fruity, berry-based dessert.

Late Bottled Vintage: A new arrival in comparison to other styles, “LBV” production only began in the 1950s. This style can further be divided into two: those examples which are bottled “filtered”, and those which are “unfiltered”. Both of these will be slightly lighter and more approachable at a younger age than traditional Vintage Ports, but the filtered examples especially so, and both would normally be drinkable on release.

The unfiltered examples will generally offer more complexity and, in the best cases, can provide wines which are close in style to a normal Vintage Port, with the capacity to age in bottle but, on the flip side, with the approachability to be consumed much younger than Vintage Ports. This is due to the extra time, normally four to six years, which LBVs have spent in barrel before bottling, which accelerates the maturation of the wine. Unfiltered LBV Ports should be decanted and enjoyed alongside your Christmas cheese board, and will have more richness, dark fruit and depth of flavour than the Ruby style.

Crusted Port: Perhaps the least-known style of Port, Crusted is particularly worth exploring for those who are looking for the richer, fuller-bodied style of a Vintage Port but on a more sensible budget. This style is a blend of wines from across different vintages, bottled without any filtration (hence throwing a sediment in bottle that gives the style its name) and capable of maturing for years in bottle. Crusted Ports, because of the system of blending, have an extremely diverse flavour profile that is more associated with a particular house’s style than with the characteristics of any one harvest.

Although Crusted Port will improve with age in bottle, many blenders look to create a wine that will be approachable at an earlier stage than Vintage Ports, and hold back their bottled Crusted Port for longer than the required minimum of three years before releasing them when they are ready to be enjoyed by the consumer. As such, if you’re looking for an insight into the richer style of Vintage Port but without breaking the bank, then this is the option to go for. It’s worth noting that the date on the bottle of a Crusted Port refers to the date that the multiple vintage wines were blended together and bottled, so a 2004 Crusted Port that you buy today has already spent 12 years ageing in bottle. These wines will throw sediment, so decant them before serving, and will be more complex with darker, more developed fruit flavours.

The Douro Valley. Photograph: Jason Lowe

The Douro Valley. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Vintage Port: Doubtless the top of the pyramid in terms of reputation, the best Vintage Ports are amongst the longest lived and most complex wines in the world. Unlike most light wine styles, a Vintage Port will not be made in anything close to every year, with Three or four widely declared vintages normally occurring each decade. Wines will be made from very carefully selected grapes that come in after a fantastic growing season, and the grapes will be very well-worked before and during fermentation in order to produce a wine that has a huge amount of body and tannin. A producer will only declare a Vintage after monitoring this wine for up to two years following the harvest, and it must be bottled and approved by the regional wine institute within two years of the harvest in order to be released as Vintage.

Vintage Ports may be astonishingly rich, but they do require extensive bottle-ageing. With patience and time in the cellar, these decadent wines can accompany you for life; if you’re opening any on Christmas Day, make sure it has plenty of bottle age, decant it and then enjoy long into the evening beside the fire. It is worth noting that if a particular harvest doesn’t produce wines across the board that are good enough to be declared as Vintage, but a single vineyard from which a house sources grapes (or quinta) does, then many houses will now declare “Single Quinta” Vintage Ports, which are subject to the same stringent terms of classification as Vintage Port but often offer better value and slightly earlier drinking.

Tawny Port: Whereas the styles we have examined so far have all concerned ageing wines for a short period in barrel before a longer period in bottle, Tawny Port is the exact reverse of this and, as such, offers something completely different stylistically. It is a complementary partner to Vintage Port at the top of the region’s qualitative pinnacle.

Wines designated for Tawny Port are placed into much smaller barrels for many years, and it is the extensive ageing in wood that defines their phenomenal elegance, light colour and beautifully nutty and caramelised flavour. Tawnies are very rarely marked with a single year (and, if they are, these are called “Colheitas”), but rather wines from different vintages are blended together between barrels over time, and once bottled they are marked with an age statement (10, 20, 30 or 40 years) that is an approximate indication of how developed the flavour profile of the wine is.

If I must show my hand at this stage, personally I feel that these styles can be amongst the most intricate and interesting found anywhere in the Douro, boasting phenomenal elegance and chock full of enticing dried fruit, caramelised nut and chocolatey flavours that work perfectly with your Christmas chocolates or even pud. Serve your Tawny slightly chilled, and (if you can resist finishing the bottle), these wines can keep for a long time after opening since they’ve already gone through oxidation during their time in barrel. Christmas in a glass, all year round!

Browse our range of Port on bbr.com.

Category: Port and Sherry

On the table: The Clove Club

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On our quest to explore London’s finest dining rooms, Sophie Thorpe makes a trip to The Clove Club in Shoreditch, an eastern mecca for the city’s foodies which offers an experience like no other

Shoreditch, it turns out, isn’t just home to middle-ageing hipsters. Within its Town Hall lurks a new and special breed, a superior class of waitstaff. At ease in Scandi aprons and appropriately alternative suits, these rare beasts are the key to The Clove Club’s success. Between the exposed kitchen and bare-boned tables, the small herd of aptly attentive staff mills, each one an absolute thoroughbread, toned and honed to replenish glasses (almost dangerously), whisk plates to and from tables in timely fashion, effortlessly reel off the detail of a dish, attend to your every whim – all with not an ounce of hurry or pretence. This is East London edge with Michelin-star grace.

The Clove Club has been a foodie favourite since it opened in 2014; from supper club roots, it soon won a star. Last year they made the bold choice to ask diners to pay up front, forking out for their various forkfuls when making a reservation. Bold it may have been, but bookings have not suffered – especially after it sauntered into The World’s 50 Best Restaurants at number 26; the league’s highest new entry in 2016.

Its rise to be the crowning glory of London’s food scene is unsurprising. A flight of snacks – an utterly reviving beetroot granita with walnut cream, a decadent mouthful of crab and hollandaise on the most fragile frame of pastry, balls of spiced haggis and the famed pine-scented chicken – toyed with your palate, teasing you with hints of Chef Isaac McHale’s skill. Each of the courses that followed, arriving without pomp and circumstance, confirmed his talent.

Raw Orkney scallop, hazelnut, clementine and autumn truffle

Raw Orkney scallop, hazelnut, clementine and autumn truffle

The most fascinating dish was a plate of raw Orkney scallop on squid ink, topped with earthy truffle, sweet hazelnut and a piercing clementine jelly – each element so distinct and defined; but – for me – the warm chestnut and oyster broth with wild Scottish seaweed was The One. Its miso-like richness touched my soul; a bowl of goodness that felt like home (a much better home than mine). We paused here, three courses down, for a surprise platter of home-cured meats, accompanied by wholesome bread and butter, and a glass of Tio Pepe En Rama, showing just a nutty, oxidative hint with the raw power, tang and freshness one expects of unfiltered, unfined Fino.

I felt no regret delving into the Scottish partridge, creamed oats, trompette mushroom and white Alba truffle (£50 supplement), the hedonistic flutters of truffle dancing alongside the richness of the meat and velvet purity of the oats. Before we moved onto our sumptuous beef rump, the arrival of a drinks tray – in the capable hands of co-owner Daniel Willis –provided a liquid interlude: a sip of 1908 Boal Madeira to line your glass, followed by several slurps of duck, morel and ginger consommé – a savoury, sweet, earthy juice that felt both decadent and earnest.

Alongside amalfi lemonade and kampot pepper ice cream we sipped a beautifully rich yet fresh glass of Clare Valley Riesling; while with the final course, apple tarte tatin and sour cream, we tried a Macvin de Jura whose matcha nose was haunting, and Ratafia de Champagne – a fortified wine made from solera-aged Pinot Noir and Chardonnay which was surprising and spectacular.

A 10-course tasting menu can test stamina, but – five hours of steady sipping aside – this marathon felt unasking, the portions paced and elegantly sized (without drifting into the absurd). We were allowed to languish over each perfectly formed morsel, leaving content, replete, yet unburdened.

The Clove Club offers something truly unique, with old school showmanship and seamless service; impeccable, inventive and truly moreish food; an alluring wine list balancing the eclectic alongside the classic; all in the laid-back shabby-luxe one expects of East London. You’ll pay for it up front, but you’re getting a ticket to London’s hottest and most satisfying show.

What we drank:

  • 2011 Gusbourne Estate, Blanc de Blancs, Kent
  • 2013 Sam Harrop Cedalion Chardonnay, Waiheke Island, New Zealand
  • Tio Pepe Fino En Rama (2016 Release), Jerez, Spain
  • 2001 Henschke Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon, Eden Valley, Australia
  • 2015 Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling, Clare Valley, Australia
  • 2009 Macvin du Jura, Domaine Macle, Jura
  • Ratafia, Henri Giraud, Champagne

The Clove Club, Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old St, London EC1V 9LT

Category: Food & Wine

Whisky to send you reeling

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Photograph: Anna Jouli

Photograph: Anna Jouli

In the run up to St Andrew’s Day, Will Wrightson – charmingly un-Scottish and devout whisky drinker from our London shop – reels off a suite of spirits suited to a thoroughly Scotch celebration

The fact that I’m not a Scot has never stood in the way of me claiming, with the full righteousness associated with the Scots, the feast day of St Andrew. He was an interesting man (fisherman, disciple and patron saint of – amongst other, more salubrious things – gout) but the rituals associated with his feast day are perhaps more interesting.

The theme that connects these rituals is by no means geographical; spread, as they are, across much of Europe and even as far as Barbados (I’ll come to that later). In fact, they revolve around single women divining information about their future husbands with the help of (depending on which country they are in): hot wax (Poland); grains of wheat, 41 of them (Romania); paper stuck into dough (parts of Hungary and the Czech Republic); stones thrown onto a roof (a small fishing village in Portugal); sweet basil under the pillow (Romania again – they’ll try anything); and in Scotland, a massive great ceilidh.

It is in the spirit of this final tradition that I thought I’d select a few of our whiskies to go with an evening of reeling. If even one of these drinks lands on your table this winter I’ll take it as a personal triumph, so get some hearty stew in the oven, a few shreds of smoked salmon on a blini and ring up your local ceilidh band… or just go on YouTube.

Dashing White Sergeant: Bruichladdich Black Art 4.1

This is not just a chance to give the white sergeant a dose of black art but also to match this “progressive” reel (ie it travels across the dance floor) with the self-styled progressive Hebridean distillery: Bruichladdich. In the hands of Jim McEwan (former distiller at Bruichladdich) Black Art 4.1 is, contrary to Bruichladdich’s usual transparency, a secret blend of whisky from French and American oak casks. The result is stunning: mellow and mature with fine exotic fruits. It’s not a bad way to start what could be an exhausting reeling session, the same goes for the lyrics from the reel, which strike me as very fitting: “Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance away the hours together! Dance till dawn be in the sky!

The Duke of Athol’s Reel: 1991 Berrys’ Own Selection Blair Athol (46%)

This is a reel you’ll want to get through as early as possible. A sometimes mesmerising, but more often deeply confusing, dance made up of parallel lines of people, most of whom have a vague recollection that you have to go behind the third person to your right – or perhaps it’s in front of the second to your left, leaving the few that remember it is in fact neither of those at risk of an aneurism. The upshot is you’ll need our delicate and satisfyingly light bottling of some Blair Athol whisky to keep your head clear.

Photograph: George Hiles

Photograph: George Hiles

The Eightsome Reel: Compass Box Great King St, Artist’s Blend

This is one of my favourite Scottish reels, though it is sadly out of fashion. It’s great because it’s as close as you can get with a reel to being in some sticky-floored provincial night club where young men dance around their mate while he freestyles to his heart’s content: cue outlandish press-up routines and abortive attempts at breakdancing. A reel this fun calls for a sociable, unpretentious dram, hence Compass Box’s Great King Street blend. It’s half grain, half malt and is fruity, spicy and bottled at 43 percent, so by no means overpowering; all in all a lovely little number. (It’s genuinely little, coming, as it does, in half-litre bottles.)

The Frisky: Lagavulin 12-Year-Old

I’ve chosen this partly because of the incongruous name but mainly because it’s a chance to match a high-tempo reel with a high-tempo malt. Our esteemed Spirits Buyer, Rob Whitehead, has an un-improvable note for the whisky: “As if some impish creature has irked the regular Lagavulin until it is enraged. Wickedly good but not for the weak-willed.”

Gay Gordons: 1950 Glen Grant (G&M Bottling)

I can’t profess to be an expert reeler. In fact, if pushed to describe my reeling abilities, I just wouldn’t. However, I do have fond memories of this reel, simply because you get to put your entire arm around your dance partner. Forget half-clasped clammy hands, we’re talking full-arm-around-shoulders action, which is pretty exciting, or was when I was 13. In light of this, I think something nostalgic: an old bottling from Gordon and MacPhail, one of the world’s largest independent bottlers. They are still owned by the Urquhart family and we like family-run businesses here at Berry Bros. & Rudd. This bottle is seriously old but is by no means just about the wood, drinking it is like taking a degree in subtlety: touches of smoke, vanilla and spice and echoes of nuttiness all wrapped up in a beautiful, silky mouth-feel. You’d be well within your rights to expect something Damascene at this price and I’m pleased to say it delivers.

Rest and be Thankful: 2001 The Glenrothes (100ml)

This reel is punctuated by two of the dancers coming together and doing a high five, which more or less encapsulates how one feels after a night of reeling and drinking, so here is a celebratory bottle, full of fun, flavour and festivity – and, crucially, in miniature! The song is named after the part of the A83 where soldiers would literally rest and be thankful for having made the long and steep climb out of Glen Croe. It also reminds me of long journeys to the west coast, specifically Islay, that Mecca of whisky, so it’s a fitting place to end this piece. Apart, that is, for a night cap…

I said I would return to Barbados: they may be a geographical outlier but their patron saint is Andrew and 30th November is their Independence Day so it seems appropriate to close with some Bajan rum. This one is from Doorly’s and it is their XO, I can think of no better way to end the night than to have some of it swilling around my mouth “till dawn be in the sky”.

All the spirits mentioned are available to buy in our London shop at No.3 St James’s Street. If you can’t get there, browse our range of whisky on bbr.com, including The Glenrothes Vintage Reserve, which is down from £38 to £29.95 until 30th November.

Category: Spirits