Rediscovering Beaujolais

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Gobelet vines in Moulin-à-Vent. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Gobelet vines in Moulin-à-Vent. Photograph: Jason Lowe

Beaujolais remains a peerless source of the fresh, fruity wines with which it’s most associated. But the region has much more to offer, including Cru wines whose complexity and capacity to age bear comparison with some of the most famous appellations of the Côte d’Or. Buyer Will Heslop walks us through the region’s nuances

No wine region excites me more than Beaujolais. Over the past decade, it has benefited as much from an influx of new winemakers – among them savvy Burgundians and energetic youngsters – as it has a succession of superb vintages, of which 2015 is the most acclaimed. The best of the established domaines have risen to the challenge presented by these newcomers, and are now producing finer wines than ever before.

Increased diversity among the regions’ winemakers has accentuated the differences in terroir that make Beaujolais the source of such a wide array of styles of red wine, albeit all from a single varietal: Gamay. The starkest contrast can be found between thirst-quenching Beaujolais or Beaujolais Villages, for early drinking, and the most ambitious wines of Crus such as Moulin-à-Vent, which often require years to “come round”. While non-Cru wines invariably owe their bright, fruity character to carbonic maceration, many Moulin-à-Vents are made in the same fashion as red Burgundies (in some cases by the same winemaker, in the same winery).

Moulin-à-Vent is one of 10 Crus, which together account for the most prized vineyards in Beaujolais. Not all Cru wines benefit from ageing – the charm of Fleurie, for example, is never greater than in its early years, when its red fruit and floral aromas are at their most pronounced.

It is, of course, perilous to make generalisations about any wine region but, in terms of the Crus, Fleurie, Régnié and Chiroubles tend to be crisp, light and fruity; Juliénas starts out this way, then quickly broadens, becoming more succulent. Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent can be tannic, savoury and age-worthy. For me, Brouilly and Chénas – the latter with added spice – are crowd-pleasers but rarely match the complexity of Côte de Brouilly, whose haunting mineral character is attributed to its steeply sloped vineyards on blue and pink granite. St Amour seems the least distinctive of the Crus, but has its fair share of talented winemakers and is merits a look for its name alone!

Despite the differences outlined above, a study of the domaines we work with reveals certain recurring themes. The majority have vines of at least 50 years of age, which are worked biodynamically, organically or, at least, along the lines of lutte raisonnée. Those vines are, with few exceptions, trained en gobelet, meaning they are untrellised and harvested by hand. Given that hail and frost are perennial threats, it’s fair to say that the winemakers of Beaujolais – for all their buoyancy – do not have it easy. Another theme, true of producers across Beaujolais, is that their wines offer tremendous value for money.

Wines to try

Although some of these wines may benefit from further cellaring, all are approachable – and hugely enjoyable – right now. You can find more detailed tastings notes on bbr.com.

2015 Beaujolais-Villages, Lantignié, Alexandre Burgaud: Bright, breezy and drinking brilliantly now. This delivers bags of fresh fruit and zero tannins: the effects of carbonic maceration in all their glory. We’re looking forward to working with young Alexandre for many years to come.

2015 Chiroubles, La Scandaleuse, Domaine Bernard Métrat: Chiroubles is the highest of Crus, producing fresh and delicate wines, even in a warm vintage like 2015. Bernard Métrat’s Scandaleuse is not a wine for ageing, but is a peerless vin de soif.

2014 Fleurie, Domaine Julien Sunier: Julien makes wines is his own image: fun yet cerebral, and brimming with energy. This is redolent of a summer meadow – the perfect place to drink it.

2014 Fleurie, Les Moriers, Domaine Chignard: A benchmark Fleurie: fine-boned, with gorgeous floral aromas and “cherry stone” minerality. Outstanding in ’14.

2015 Morgon, La Voûte St Vincent, Domaine Louis Claude Desvignes: Sourced from a number of parcels in the climat of Doubt, whose proximity to Fleurie (and similar sandy soils) make this wine the domaine‘s lightest and most approachable. Still, the ’15 promises to be even more delicious in a year or two.

2015 Côte de Brouilly, Les Sept Vignes, Château Thivin: The wines of Château Thivin, grown on the steep (up to 48 percent!) pink and blue granite slopes of the Côte de Brouilly, are a study in minerality. Delightful now but with capacity to age for up to a decade.

2013 Moulin-à-Vent, La Rochelle, Olivier Merlin: Olivier’s La Rochelle vineyard is among the region’s most celebrated. The vines here are planted at an astonishing 13,000 plants per hectare. No room for a tractor so the horse power is provided by… a horse. The ’13 vintage was oh-so elegant in Beaujolais and this wine is a case in point.

2011 Moulin-à-Vent, Les Rouchaux, Thibault Liger-Belair: Thibault was among the first wave of big name Burgundians to invest in Beaujolais. Les Rouchaux ’11, like all his wines, is built for the long haul, but slowly entering its peak. This should appeal not only to fans of Burgundy, but – with its tarmac and black pepper character – the Northern Rhône too.

Category: Burgundy Wine,Miscellaneous

Unlocking No.3

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Dandelyan's Mikey Ball, winner of the 2017 Unlock Taste Cocktail Tournament

Dandelyan’s Mikey Ball, winner of the 2017 Unlock Taste Cocktail Tournament

Following the inaugural “Unlock Taste” cocktail tournament, turning our Napoleon Cellar into a veritable gin den, Alexis Self reports on all the action, including the winning recipe

What’s the collective term for a group of beards? A bunch? No. A flock? Surely not. Anyway, whatever it is – a clowder…? On Tuesday 9th May, the Napoleon Cellar at No.3 St. James’s Street had plenty. That’s not to say that the 23 bartenders taking part in the inaugural No.3 Unlock Taste Cocktail Competition had been chosen for their hirsuteness – or, indeed, that all of them were hairy-faced – but perhaps not since Bonaparte’s day has this much facial hair congregated below ground.

Indeed, as 300ml of Champagne was added to a punchbowl filled with gin and pineapple sherbet, one could almost hear ancient groans of approval emanating from the subterranean walls. Or perhaps it was coming from the five judges, who by then had already tasted 32 different cocktails. Among the quintet of discerning palates were our very own Geordie Willis, Jess Cheeseman and Angela Lazenbury, who’d been asked to judge competitors’ drinks on everything from name to consistency.

The entrants themselves consisted of 23 of the country’s most exciting bartenders from bars in Aberdeen and Edinburgh; Liverpool, London and Leeds. Each was tasked with creating three original takes on a No.3 Gin cocktail, with the aim of showcasing its versatility. Those who’ve drunk it neat know that its six botanicals give a Dry Martini – the cocktail it was invented to perfect – a unique taste; but what many don’t know is that it also provides an exquisite canvas on which a multitude of other flavours may dance.

Eighth Merchant, Mikey Ball’s winning cocktail

An enraptured crowd, clutching goblets of No.3 and T, watched as competitors used ingredients like micro coriander and chickpea brine to mix drinks with names like “Thyme for Change” and “Keys for Passion”. Besides it being an educational experience – now we know what to do with all that leftover chickpea brine – there was entertainment aplenty, from the frantic shaker-shaking, to the dulcet tones of the MC, Ronnie Cox, and his tales of ale pilfering and esoteric whisky ephemera.

After two hard-fought rounds, three London bartenders – from Fifteen, Hawksmoor, and Dandelyan – remained. Of the finalists, Mikey Ball, from the Dandelyan Bar at the Mondrian Hotel, took the trophy: a round-trip for two to San Francisco, but also the unofficial title of “King of Gin”. His take on a gin old fashioned – the “Eighth Merchant” (recipe below) – wonderfully straddled the traditional and the new, just like its main ingredient. As the winner himself put it: “the inspiration behind the Eighth Merchant was to showcase the major elements I feel make No.3 what it is – texture, taste, and tradition. I think versatility is the key to any gin and No.3, with its simple but strong combination of botanicals, is exactly that. All the flavours shine through in classic styles, but can also be emphasised in more exotic recipes.”

Eighth Merchant
  • 50ml No.3 London Dry Gin
  • 5ml spiced honey
  • 4 dash conifer resin bitters
  • Discarded grapefruit zest (about the size of a 20p coin)
  • 1 pine sprig

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass, stir down lightly and strain over block ice. Garnish with pine sprig and grapefruit zest.

To see the recipes for all 36 cocktails created, visit Difford’s Guide, and get mixing. If you think you could do better, have a go, and post your No.3 cocktails below, we’re always keen to try more.

Category: Spirits

Just around the corner

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Our shop at 63 Pall Mall. Photograph: Joakim Blockstrom

Over the past few months, you may have noticed rather a lot of building work going on around Pall Mall. Well, we have to confess – it was us. We’ve been bursting to tell you, but this weekend the boards came down and we can finally reveal all. Today we swung open a new set of shop doors at 63 Pall Mall

For those of you who can’t pop in at lunchtime to see the new space for yourselves, here are a few of Joakim Blockstrom’s photographs of the shop. It features over 1,300 wines and spirits, Enomatic machines and the same world-class service from our team: it’s Berry Bros. & Rudd, just at a slightly different address, a mere 20-second walk from No.3. Come and say hello.

Photographs: Joakim Blockstrom

Find out more about 63 Pall Mall, including what’s on in the Enomatic machines on our website here.

Category: Miscellaneous

On the table: Plot

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For this month’s review, we sent Sophie Thorpe down the Northern Line to Tooting, where a new restaurant serving seasonal small plates, Plot, perches in an unlikely location

It’s incongruous, finding Plot, a slim-line open kitchen serving British small plates, in the midst of Tooting’s Broadway Market. There is a serene warmth to the place, glowing on a Thursday night amongst an alleyway of bric-a-brac stalls just shutting up for the day. One set of bar stools edges its way along the kitchen, which isn’t dissimilar to those found in most London flats – impractical, you would have thought, in dimension. And yet…

This spot, seemingly silly in proportion, seating a mere 15, is brilliant. Created by two local lads, Mark Kimber and Harry Smith, Plot is designed to serve up the best of Britain – everything seasonal and locally sourced, doled out on trendy small plates, with a delectably concise menu. A cliché, one might think. Originality, however, is over-rated (especially when it comes overcooked and under-seasoned). Plus, how many others are setting up shop in Tooting? Take that for cutting edge.

I settled in with a glass of Hahn Chardonnay from Monterey and browsed the menu. For those with an appropriate appetite, it’s short enough that ordering everything between two is totally acceptable, eliminating the decision-making element and any possible dining envy.

Neat little dishes tumbled out the kitchen, disappearing rapidly as we gobbled the goods. Simple spring greens with Spenwood and pine nuts had retained colour and crunch, the dose of salt countered by the sweetness of the nuts and smooth shavings of cheese. A slab of smoked ham hock and roast chicken terrine was chunky and textured, meaty and rich, served with some superb house piccalilli.

Norfolk horn lamb rump came with a soothing celeriac purée and hit of wild garlic. Sautéed new potatoes were lifted with soured cream and chives, warm, softly crushed and creamily comforting. The special was seared hanger steak with watercress, radish and blobs of truffled mayonnaise: almost crisp on the outside, the slithers of beef were reassuringly rare and supple; the truffle judiciously added, with the cool crunch of radish and pepper spice of the watercress. God, it was good.

To finish, a perfect lemon posset arrived with Earl Grey prunes and peppercorn shortbread. A classic, just ever so slightly twisted. The whole meal was so effortless, easy. Clearly the kitchen was busy, but every plate was presented with enthusiasm – a casual ceremony that said they cared.

Some will say Plot is another element in Tooting’s reluctant gentrification. They’re wrong. Plot is just an unlikely spot serving brilliant food at almost unbelievable prices; it just happens to be in Tooting. It’s a slither of London’s culinary scene that is well worth travelling for.

What we drank:

  • 2014 Hahn Chardonnay, Monterey, California, USA
  • 2013 Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir, Novato, California, USA

Plot, Unit 70-72, Broadway Market, Tooting High Street, London SW17 0RL

Sophie Thorpe was a guest of the restaurant.

Category: Food & Wine,Miscellaneous