The six best wines you’ve never tried


Share this post

If 2017 already has you in a wine-drinking rut, Paul Keating – Wine Advisor in our Warehouse Shop – has the cure: six thoroughly unusual and utterly delicious bottles. Here he explains just why they’re worth trying

As the New Year unfolds, so too should a new perspective on the world of wine. I’m sure we all know our Chardonnay from our Sauvignon, our Cabernet from our Pinot. However, what if I was to ask you what styles of wine are produced in the Huanlong Province of China, or what characteristics the Cretian Dafni and Plytó grape varieties have? For those looking to challenge their palate, and perhaps intrigue their mind, I have compiled a selection of the slightly more unusual wines in our range.

2014 Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge, L’Estimée, Jean-Noël Gagnard, Burgundy

Okay, so I admit, we have probably all heard of Chassagne-Montrachet. It is one of the most prestigious wine appellations in the world. Such is its reputation for white wines, in particular those from its illustrious Grand Cru vineyards, that it is often forgotten (outside of dedicated wine circles) that any red wine is produced there at all. Quite to the contrary, almost a third of wine production within the appellation is red, equating to around 700,000 bottles annually.

This Chassagne Rouge from Jean-Noël Gagnard is all about elegance. It is a beautiful clear purple in colour, and the Pinot fruit is pure and crisp. It is still young and quite vigorous, and would certainly benefit from a year or two in bottle to develop fully.

2011 Ivo Varbanov, Feux d’Artifice, Bulgaria

When I think of professions that go hand in hand, I don’t immediately think of a vigneron and classical pianism. Yet I find myself recommending this stunning Syrah, from Bulgaria, produced by renowned Bulgarian pianist Ivo Varbanov. Bulgaria has a long and storied history of wine production, dating back nearly 3,000 years. In fact, the Roman author Pliny the Elder states that the first European winemaker was from Thrace (modern day Bulgaria/Greece). For a short period after the Second World War, Bulgaria was also the second largest wine-producing country in the world.

This particular wine is fascinating from the off. It has Syrah’s trademark purple hew at the rim, but is so deep it is almost ink black in the centre. The nose opens to be wonderfully intense, flaunting Syrah’s classic black bramble fruit aromas, ground black pepper and balsamic. The quality continues on the palate, with rich, concentrated flavours. This wine is a real showstopper for me. Consider pairing with slow roasted venison, or keep it simple with a traditional T-bone steak.

2011 Royal Somló Juhfark, Somló, Hungary

Yes, Juhfark is the grape variety and not in fact a random profanity written on the bottle. Pronounced “ewe-farq”, this is one of Hungary’s least common native grape varieties, and currently there is only 100 hectares under vine. Royal Somló Vineyards was established in 2006 and is situated in the Hungarian wine region of Somló, in the west of the country.

This wine is intriguing. Juhfark can be neutral in its youth, with its true potential showing here after spending a year in incredibly old 400-litre oak barrels. It is certainly a wine for the thinker as opposed to the drinker, as its minerality develops into a creamy palate, laden with stone fruit. I suggest giving this a go if you are a fan of Riesling or Pinot Gris.

2014 Larry Cherubino, Laissez Faire Blend, Pemberton, Australia

What makes this wine unusual lies not in geography, but purely in the eclectic blend from which it is made. Larry has taken a grape as uncomplicated as Pinot Grigio, added one as ostentatious as Gewürztraminer, given a sprinkling of Sauvignon Gris (a pink clonal mutation of Sauvignon Blanc), and then thrown in some Riesling for good measure. The grapes are mixed and co-fermented, so the exact proportions of the blend remain unknown.

As you’d expect from this blend, the nose is highly perfumed, with pronounced aromas of rose petals. The palate has delicate peachy fruit but is broad textured and weighty with a long, spicy finish.

2015 Domaine Lyrarakis, Plytó, Crete, Greece

Wine has played an important role in Greek culture. They were, from what I could uncover, the first civilisation to worship a god of wine (Dionysus), a practice which is now consigned to history, for some unfathomable reason.

Today, wine is produced in a variety of areas across Greece and her islands. Domaine Lyrarakis is located in the mountainous region of Alagni on the island of Crete, and has established a reputation for bringing indigenous Cretan grape varietals back from the brink of extinction, and using them to craft superb wines. Nowhere is this more evident than in this Plytó. Grown at an altitude of around 400m, and from relatively low-yielding vines, the result is a wine with wonderful minerality, and beautifully concentrated white orchard fruit. This would make a lovely pairing with seafood tapas.

2009 Changyu Golden Valley Ice Wine, Gold Diamond Label, Liaoning, China

Although ice wine has only become commercially popular in the last decade or two, there is some evidence to suggest that frozen grapes were used in wine production dating back to Roman times. Put simply, the production of ice-wine involves allowing grapes to freeze on the vine before picking them. Usually, temperatures of minus eight degrees Celsius over a duration of roughly eight hours should be sufficient to freeze the water content in the grapes. The fruit is then hand harvested and pressed immediately, with the subsequent juice having a more concentrated sugar content due to the water being frozen (and therefore not pressed out).

If asked to guess what sort of wine is made in the Golden Ice Wine Valley, you’d be hard pressed to get it wrong. There are currently 5,000 hectares of vineyard planted in the Golden Ice Wine Valley, with the primary grape being Vidal. This wine is made by China’s oldest and largest wine producer, The Changyu Pioneer Wine Company, more commonly known as Château Changyu.

With the popularity of ice wine on the rise, this wine is a must for any budding wine aficionado. Being made from healthy, albeit frozen, grapes, the resulting wine is fresh and pure. Citrus and tropical fruit dominate, with a touch of creaminess and lovely flavours of honey and blossom. Pair with crème brûlée or blancmange.

All of these wines are available to purchase on, here.

Category: Miscellaneous

The evolution of an Essex boy: Jamie Oliver


Share this post

As Barbecoa Piccadilly opens its doors (with a host of our wines on its list), Sophie Thorpe sits down with Jamie Oliver – celebrity chef and national treasure – to talk about his new restaurant and our evolving attitudes to food and drink

Sharply dressed in a tweed bomber and jeans, Jamie Oliver is strikingly Jamie Oliver. Periodically he runs his hands through his signature locks, just a slight pause before resuming his charmingly lisped, Essex-edged dialogue that runs – like his many and varied ventures – at polished high speed. The enthusiasm that has made him so accessible on-screen is omnipresent and undeniably infectious.

We’re sitting in the back corner of his new restaurant, the second branch of Barbecoa, a week before its official launch. The restaurant is in an enviable spot on Piccadilly itself, just next door to the home of BAFTA and conveniently close to No.3 St James’s Street. Heavy doors open onto a luxe-look restaurant; a touch of Old World, art-deco glamour with modern lines. Oliver is enthused about the site, “I love the area; I sort of never thought we’d be here,” he says. And it’s taken a while: he has been trying to open here for four years. “We had some ‘challenging building complications’, shall we say. So, in some respects, not great, because we’ve been geared up for it for five years, give or take; but then sometimes you have to wait for a peach.”

It’s 18 years since the Naked Chef first appeared on TV, and his non-profit project, Fifteen, turns 15 this November. “Fifteen years in London feels like quite a long time,” he says, considering how Hoxton has developed, within that time, from a “s***hole” to somewhere few people can afford to live; and how the restaurant itself has gone from being “the coolest thing in town” to questioning its place and purpose. Despite this, he feels Fifteen has “never been in a better place”.

For now, though, his focus is on the long-awaited Barbecoa II. He’s frank in his description of it as a “steakhouse”, albeit a really good one: “Ultimately it’s about amazing grass-fed beef, lamb and game.”

The Piccadilly branch is not, however, an identical twin to the original St Paul’s eatery which opened in 2010. “Barbecoa I is super fly, bling and – dare I say it – a bit more Essex,” Jamie explains. “Kind of Barbarella on steroids in a spaceship that’s landed next to St Paul’s. And it’s great. I don’t know any other restaurant like it, and it still looks cool. Tom Dixon did a great job. But this is a very different kettle of fish, a bit more grown up. You can hear conversations a little bit easier. I think we felt we’d be catering for a slightly older demographic, and that’s probably fair. But ultimately the food’s very straightforward, the ingredients are very good. We’re possibly trying to show a bit more restraint. And I like that.”

He is clearly conscious of the current climate, with a saturated restaurant market, and the need to ensure his offering is better than anyone else’s. It’s one of the reasons the new site is serving breakfast and afternoon tea. “Just having one trick is possibly not good enough for most people these days,” he says. “Having excuses for people to love you and trying to be good at loving them back is probably what you need. It’s a rough old industry if you get it wrong. And we don’t want to get it wrong.”

An important element of this is “a legit bar”, he says. Only in the past four or five years has there been an intention to build bars that were objects of beauty in their own right, a centrepiece for his restaurants. At Barbecoa II, he says, “it’s big and beautiful, and when there’s four or five bartenders behind there rattling it out, you know it’s going to look great.”

This is, he suggests, reflective of the changing attitudes to food and drink, with the last 30 years bringing the two closer together. Historically, he says, Britain was “a nation of drinkers that went and got some grub with the munchies on the way home”; today, though, things are rather different. And he has played no small part in changing them – engaging with and educating an audience about food.

It’s easy, as he says, for “the wet side of the business” to be forgotten by chefs (if well appreciated by them at the end of the day); but it’s an important part of the industry. Since 2014 he has been running Drinks Tube, a YouTube channel with videos on wine, beer and spirits, and a particular focus on cocktails – the category that he feels is the perfect “bridge” between food and drink.

As my allotted time runs out, and the next item on the schedule steals Jamie’s focus, I can’t help but be impressed by his utter indefatigability and total normality. There are over 30 restaurants just in the Jamie’s Italian chain, he has 22 cook books to his name and has appeared in almost 30 television series, not to mention his five children or MBE for services to the hospitality industry.

Oliver’s influence on the way we eat, at home, at school and in restaurants, is indisputable; yet somehow he comes across as totally down-to-earth.  Unstuffy and unstoppable, he isn’t running out of excuses for us to love him yet. And he really does seem to love us back.

Barbecoa Piccadilly is now open; find out more and book a table here.

Category: Food & Wine,Miscellaneous

They came to Number Three: The Prizefighters


Share this post

Tom Cribb, Champion of all-England. Bettmann/Getty Images

In the spring of 1979, in the 50th issue of our magazine Number Three, we wrote about one of the most intriguing entries in our weight books for July 23, 1808, recording “a weigh-in” of the famous prizefighters Tom Cribb and Jem Belcher, between the champions’ two classic fights. Witnessed by George Berry the first, it shows Belcher at 12 stone 1 to Cribb’s 14 stone 7. Here we republish the original article

The Irish singer and poet, Tom Moore, and Lord Byron were keen followers of “the fancy”, so it is just possible that either of these habitués of Number Three arranged the weigh-in at our shop; but a more likely customer to have been responsible was a Captain Robert Barclay, Cribb’s patron and trainer. The occasion would have aroused tremendous interest among the young bloods, already debating which of the two heavyweights to stake on the appointed day when Belcher, the defeated champion, met Cribb for the second time in an attempt to regain his former supremacy. The Prince Regent and his brothers, the Royal Dukes, whose enthusiasm for prizefighting had done much to make it so popular with the sporting nobility, would not have been above questioning young George Berry closely about how the two pugilists shaped up on Number Three’s scales. And the wine merchant’s son, just turned twenty-one, would no doubt have been thrilled with his role as witness to such a stirring event at grandfather John Clarke’s premises, and blessed the day of opportunity five years previously when he had come up from quiet Exeter to work in fashionable St James’s Street.

One character in this little drama who would have taken a long, cool look at the evidence of our scales, probably noting that his man needed paring down by a stone were he to be successful in the return bout against the hard-muscled Jem Belcher, was Captain Robert Barclay Allardice of Ury, Kincardineshire. At that time Captain Barclay (as he was always known) was about 29 years old – two years senior to the boxers, who were much of an age. A noted amateur athlete accustomed to sparring with all the best bruisers of the day, Barclay was yet to accomplish his matchless feat of walking 1,000 miles in 1,000 successive hours, which he achieved in June and July of the following year. His training methods called for drastic reductions in weight, and it is interesting to see form our records that he applied them equally to himself. On April 20, 1812, he is shown as 10 stone 11 in boots; when he called again at Number Three five days later, he had shed five pounds. Bernard Darwin includes in one of his anthologies an account by an eye-witness of Tom Cribb’s last fight with the formidable black American, Tom Molineaux. “Barclay had Cribb in Yorkshire to train; he made him plough, and fill a dung-cart – all the hard work that ever he could put him to. He was in beautiful condition, fine as a star, just like snow aside a black man. The black man was fat – that licked him as much as anything.” But the main feature of Barclay’s system was to make his protégés walk immense distances daily at a terrific pace. Starting at 16 stone, Cribb lost more than one-sixth of this weight under his patron’s direction.

A former coal porter nicknamed at the start of his fighting career “The Black Diamond”, Cribb was 25 in 1807 when he was introduced to Captain Barclay, whose interest and patronage was considered the stepping stone to success for promising young pugilists. Barclay took his training in hand and thought so well of his form that he backed him for 200 guineas in April the following year against Jem Belcher, the reigning champion, who is regarded as one of the finest of all the old-time prizefighters. Boxing in those days was a brutal, slogging sport fought with bare knuckles in the open on a grassed area or wooden platform.

In 1743, Jack Broughton, traditionally accepted as the father of British pugilism and the inventor of the boxing-glove, introduced a set of rules that forbade antagonists to strike opponents when they were down, or to seize them anywhere below the waist. Otherwise, no holds were barred and wrestling played a big part in the battles of the bruisers. A round ended when a man fell, and only half a minute was allowed for him “to come up to scratch” – the centre of the ring – and begin a new round.

Fighting was in Belcher’s blood; he was a descendant of Slack of Norwich, a famous champion who succeeded Broughton, while his brother, Tom Belcher, was also highly regarded as a pugilist. When the two men met again at Number Three, it is likely that Belcher would have been in surly mood, taunting the upstart whom he had soon challenged again for the stakes of a belt and 200 guineas, and fully expected to beat. Tom Cribb, on the other hand, was a genial, kindly character, respected for keeping his temper whatever the provocation. He had a protruding bar of frontal bone above deep-set eyes; it was a feature that could hardly have rendered him handsome, but it gave him natural protection against one of the main strategies in bare-fisted English prizefighting, which was to make an adversary’s eyes swell up so that he could not see properly. At Epsom on February 1, 1809, to the astonishment of Belcher’s friends and backers, Cribb defeated him for good, and the former champion had to resign his belt. He died in 1811, aged 30.

The prizefighters’ weights recorded in our books

The reputation of Cribb, meanwhile, had risen to even giddier heights following his defeat on December 18, 1810, of the formidable black American, Tom Molineaux. The international flavour of the fight, when the honour of England was at stake as well as that of Cribb the favourite, made it a matter of great excitement and interest. The whippers-out, drawn from the ranks of the prizefighters, were kept busy beating back the crowd with their long lashes, and there was many a nobleman’s carriage drawn up at vantage point to observe every move of the two heavyweights. Did George Berry, we wonder, now well in the saddle at Number Three with his own name above the door, take time off from his business to help cheer on the champion in whom he had so special an interest? At all events, “the buffs” were not denied their thrills, for the contest was touch and go for Tom Cribb. He went down before the powerful negro’s smashing blows in the 23rd round, and it looked as though there was no chance of his coming up to scratch in time. At this point Cribb’s second went up to Molineaux’s corner and accused the American of holding bullets in his hand; this was indignantly denied, nor did the champion’s second believe it himself, but the altercation gained precious extra seconds for his man’s recovery. Up cam Cribb, full of pluck, and went on to defeat Molineaux in the 33rd round.

It would have been the incident of the bullets that encouraged Molineaux to challenge Cribb again, for a second meeting was arranged on September 28, 1811 at Thistleton Gap, Leicestershire, before over 20,000 spectators – a fourth of whom were reckoned to be members of the aristocracy and upper classes. Cribb’s second was John Gully, a former prizefighter who fathered 24 children and eventually became MP for Pontefract; and the referee was “Gentleman” John Jackson. Jackson’s patron when he was active in the ring had been none other than the Prince Regent, and he earned over £1,000 a year teaching sparring at his famous Saloon in Bond Street.

To the great disappointment of the eager crowd, the fight only lasted 20 minutes. Molineaux’s jaw was fractured in the 9th round, and his backers had to throw in the sponge by the 11th round because the American could no longer stand. Cribb, to show he was as fresh as ever and to entertain the spectators, is said to have danced a hornpipe all round the ring with Gully. The fight earned £400 for the champion but his patron, Captain Barclay, was £10,000 richer through Cribb’s triumph.

Cribb never fought again in public, although in June 1814 he put on a sparring exhibition at Lord Lowther’s house in Pall Mall for the Russian Emperor, and again two days later for the King of Prussia. In 1820 he was one of 17 celebrated pugilists who, dressed as pages, were engaged to guard the entrance to Westminster Hall at the coronation of George IV. In 1821, it was decided that as Cribb had held the championship unchallenged for ten years, he should retain the title for the rest of his life.

By this time he was a near neighbour of George Berry as mine host of The King’s Arms, at the corner of Duke Street and King Street, St. James’s. The inner sanctum of this hostelry was known as Cribb’s Parlour, and only favoured customers, such as the aristocracy and celebrities of the prize-fighting world, were allowed over its threshold to fraternise with the landlord. It was said to be a favourite sport with young noblemen to try and take a poke at Tom Cribb for the prestige of saying afterwards that they had been knocked down by the champion, but the good-humoured landlord put a stop to it by refusing to retaliate and hauling them before a magistrate. In 1828, Cribb moved to the Union Arms, Panton Street, Haymarket, but he was no businessman like Gentleman Jackson or John Gully, and in 1839 he handed over the Union Arms to his creditors. Former comrades and admirers provided him with a comfortable annuity, however, and he died aged 67 at the house of his son, a baker and confectioner in High Street, Woolwich.

During the prizefighter’s reign at The King’s Arms, it is likely that George Berry, a key witness on that occasion at Number Three when he was a rising star in the boxing world, would have been one of the customers who was welcome in Cribb’s Parlour. The champion may even have consulted the young wine merchant about the drink he should supply for his aristocratic patrons. From our records, we know that Cribb returned at least once to Number Three; the entry date in our Weight Books is a little blurred, and could be December 26, 1821, or 1826, but it shows that easier living had taken its toll, for the champion – always inclined towards beefiness – at this time weighed 16 stone 13.

Category: Miscellaneous

From our kitchen: truffle and lobster macaroni cheese


Share this post

This month our Head Chef Stewart Turner cooks up a truly indulgent feast for two – combining fresh, native lobster with shavings of truffle and macaroni cheese. Demetri Walters MW suggests the perfect vinous partners to balance the decadent flavours

On the table: Macaroni cheese is comfort food nirvana, but here – with the addition of the king of shellfish and the mighty black diamond from Périgueux in France – it is taken to a whole new level. It’s a decedent feast which is sure to impress someone special, perhaps on 14th February. This is a cracking dish, the majority of which can be prepared in advance, leaving you free to focus on the important things. (It’s a little tricky if you want to prep your own lobster but faint heart never won fair maiden…)

We are blessed with having some of the best shellfish around our coast (the coldness of the water making the meat slightly sweeter and more succulent), and lobster is undoubtedly the king so try to get a native one if you can. If you don’t fancy cooking one yourself, there are plenty of pre-cooked ones on the market.

Périgueux (also known as Périgord) truffles need no introduction; they are possibly the greatest fungus of all. Some may say this honour belongs to the white Alba truffle from Italy, although as the seasons don’t really clash I think there is room to appreciate both. We are now right in the middle of the Périgueux season meaning that the region’s truffles are at their best. If you can’t find fresh there are plenty of jarred truffles or paste that you can use.

In the glass: The combination of pungent aromas and fine flavours demands a balancing white wine possessed of expansiveness, freshness and complexity. The fatness of the cream, cheese and butter require a wine of equal weight and richness. White Rhônes, northern and southern, will provide a foil of requisite oomph. Fragrant Viognier will cope well with the intensity of the truffle, but also complement the juiciness and fragrance of the lobster. Intense but restrained, all manner of fuller-bodied Italian whites (Verdicchio, Greco di Tufo, Fiano, Cataratto and Grillo) would stand up to this food-flavour onslaught, and provide the freshness needed for perfect balance.

Truffle and lobster macaroni cheeseServes 2
  • 25g butter
  • 50g chestnut mushrooms – sliced
  • 10g fresh truffle (optional)
  • 1-2 tsp truffle oil
  • 150g macaroni
  • 25g plain flour
  • 50ml Champagne
  • 200ml milk
  • 50ml single cream
  • 50g Parmesan
  • 50g Gruyère
  • 2 tbsp fresh chives – chopped
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 lobster – cooked (see below)

Melt 25g butter in a saucepan over a medium heat, stir in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes. Beat in the Champagne and milk a little at a time using a wooden spoon, until very smooth. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 20 minutes; stir well every few minutes to make sure it doesn’t stick.

Fry the mushrooms in a splash of oil until nice and golden. Chop and mix with the chives and truffle oil, then set aside. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the macaroni for seven or eight minutes until just tender. Drain. Once the sauce has cooked out, stir in the cream and bring back to the boil. Remove from the heat, then mix in half the Parmesan, Gruyère, mushroom mix, mustard and season to taste. Fold in the cooked lobster.

Place In a suitable ovenproof dish and sprinkle over the remaining Parmesan. Bake in a hot oven until lovely and golden (about 15 minutes). Whilst the macaroni is in the oven, pan-fry the split lobster tails in a little foaming butter for a couple of minutes. Serve with the roasted lobster tail and some gem lettuce dressed with a simple vinaigrette. Finish with some sliced fresh truffle and a spoon of the lobster sauce.

To prepare the lobster

  • 1 live lobster (approx. 600-700g)
  • 1 of each carrot/onion/leek and celery – peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig of thyme

Anesthetise the lobster by placing in the freezer for an hour or two. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, salt well, then add the vegetables and herbs. Kill the lobster by putting a knife through the back of its head. Twist off the tail and claws. Using a pair of fish tweezers, twist and pull the centre portion off the tail (this should come away with the intestinal track). Place the claws and tail in the pan and simmer for about five minutes. Chop down the shells (retaining them for the sauce), removing and discarding any of the internal organs. Once the lobster is cooked, allow to cool and crack out the shell. Dice the claw meat and split the tail in half, setting it aside. Chop down these shells for the sauce as well.

Lobster butter sauce (optional)

  • Shells from one lobster
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 1 sprig of tarragon
  • 1 pinch coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp tomato purée
  • 50ml white wine
  • 200ml fish stock or water
  • 15ml cream
  • 30g butter – diced

Heat a splash of olive if in a pan and fry the shells until golden. Add the shallots, garlic, thyme and coriander seeds. Cook for a further minute then stir in the tomato purée. Deglaze with a splash of white wine, then add the fish stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. Pass through a fine sieve, discarding the shells. Return the stock to the pan and reduce until about 50ml. At this point the sauce can be chilled until required. To finish add a splash of cream and whisk in the diced butter. Season to taste and serve.

Category: Food & Wine