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Bay Tree Lavender Jelly

I discovered West Country based The Bay Tree Food Company at a food fair last year and fell in love with their Spicy Gooseberry & Coriander Chutney. I had been holding onto the their Lavender Jelly for a special occasion but wish I hadn’t. The stuff is wonderful! Despite the ‘warning’  on the jar saying “Not only lovely with lamb” I went ahead and had it with it anyway. You see because that’s how I roll. I am a total rebel.

Tasting it solo, the first thing you get is a sharp hit of cider vinegar, then bright shards of aromatic lavender with subtle hints of Indian spices. It’s very balanced, so not cloying or over sweet. The flavours are exotic, yet soothing.

It went beautifully with the roast lamb, which loves aromatic accompaniments. But also went well with chicken, elevating the humble clucker without the need for lots of gravy. Pan fried pork paired nicely with the classic sweet and sour character.  Finally soft creamy goats cheese was given the royal treatment with the sharpness in both harmonising but also being lifted by the fragrant lavender.

You can buy Lavender Jelly for £2.70 online as well a a ton of other delicious consumables from The Bay Tree Food Company.

 

Tarquin’s Gin and Cornish Pastis

Video of me tasting Tarquin’s Gin and Cornish Pastis from the Southwestern Distillery near Wadebridge in Cornwall.

Non Alcoholic Beers

At the behest of my good lady we had a dry January and so I had a reason to try some booze free brews.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 11.44.46Jever Fun (.05% abv/£1)

Made by a respected German brewer and despite its rather ironic name (those crazy Germans with their “unique” sense of humour) I thought this wasn’t bad at all. It’s price tag of a quid is pretty attractive as well.

Smells of normal lager green hops hint of sweet malt a bit metallic. Crisp fresh, nice mouth feel, bitter in the right places, it’s dry, balanced finish no nasty aftertaste. It actually tastes better than a lot of alcoholic McLagers and was quite good with a spicy curry. It does need to be drunk very cold though & relatively quickly. As the ‘Fun’ loses carbonation and warms more uneven vegetal flavours emerge making it less pleasant to drink.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 11.45.08 Rothaus Alkoholfrei (.05% abv/£2)

Another German offering with a slightly sweet stinky malt nose. It’s clean, easy drinking with no aftertaste. Reminded me a bit of light Swedish beers (Skol and Falcon) I drank when I first visited Scandinavia back in the 90′s. Not bad at all. Tasting blind, I’m not sure I could tell it was non alcoholic. A good sign.

I can’t say that I will be rushing out to stock up on either of the beers but I can say hand on heart that if you are unable to or choose not drink alcohol but still want a decent brewski and either of these will do.

I bought both beers from The Beer Boutique which is a lovely beer shop in Putney.

 

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The Wine Society

I have known about “the oldest wine club in the world” for at least a dozen years, but it took me until almost its 140th birthday to finally sign up. The £40 joining fee was my rather shallow reason for waiting as long as I did, but after being so impressed at their winter tasting last year I bought my share, joining the likes of author Sir Authur Conan-Doyle and former PM John Russell (both now “permanently lapsed” members of the society). Despite its rather elitist past the The Wine Society is open to all (as evidenced by them letting me join) and though you need to be recommended by a member, the club’s secretary will happily vouch for you if you don’t know anyone.

Now before you start thinking “Right, so they ask you to shell out forty squid to be a member and I bet they don’t stock any wines under a tenner. No thank you!”. Not so my dears, TWS offer an impressive range of very good wines around £6 and their bottles from eight to ten pounds knock spots off what you can buy in most supermarkets at that price band. Being a member, you can be sure that their dedicated team of buyers are unearthing wines that you’ll struggle to find anywhere, save for in good independent wine shops. Highly trained and focused on their individual regions, they are constantly scouring the market for the next great value hidden gem or that special small allocation of a rare and wonderful vintage. As it’s a nationwide wine club (based in Stevenage) there’s delivery involved, but if your order 12 bottles (or more) or spend a minimum of £75 then delivery is free (For the first 6 months new members are offered free delivery on 6 bottles). They also offer specific time slots that can fit easily into anyone’s schedule, which allows you to save that half/full day for I don’t know… holiday, as opposed to sat at home.

Well I reckon that’s enough singing of praises, it’s time for me tell you about the wines that have made me such a big fan (Compiled from two tastings Winter 2013, Spring 2014 and my own personal orders).

Sherry

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 09.59.42The Society’s Fino (15%/£6.25) – Sea salty, flinty mineral, flor yeasty perfection. I am one of those people who think that a good glass of chilled bone-dry fino with some salted almonds and a few good olives is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures to be had in this world. As summer approaches, at this price I have two words for you; stock up.

Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Solera (20%/£14.95) – Salted caramel, sour lemon peel and baked clay aromas give way to a palate that’s fresh, creamy, salty caramel and preserved lemon. To say that this 12 year old-ish sherry has a long finish is a massive understatement. It literally goes on and on and on…

Fizz

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.09.45Blind Spot Tasmania Brut 2009 (12.5%/£13.95) - Nose of fresh lime, cured lemon and toasty biscuit with a marzipan foam. Palate is rich, layered yet remains clean and refreshing. It is quite fine, has lasting bubbles with a biting pear finish; very impressive. When it comes to sparklers (and pinot noir) “Tassie” may produce some of the best in Oz; this is top quality stuff and a real bargain.

White

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.04.54Saladini Pilastri Falerio dei Colli Ascolani 2012 (13%/£6.50) – I ordered this wine because to be honest I had never heard of it. It’s perky, elegant, slightly floral fragrant with vibrant acidity and limestone minerality. Opened it up to drink with a Chicken Panzanella salad (toasted bread salad) I made and they paired beautifully. Made from native passerina and pecorina grapes this pleasant little number from Marche in north east of Italy is worth a punt.

The Society’s Chilean Chardonnay 2013 (13.5%/£6.95) – Bit muted and sweaty grey minerals on the nose. But the palate is robust fresh pink grapefruit, full flavoured green melon with a spicy fresh yet full lime finish. Fabulous value from the Limari valley, which is getting a name for producing some of Chile’s best cool climate Chards.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.10.06Domain de Salvard, Cheverny 2013 (12%/£7.95) – It’s a blast of winter fresh super smoky green melon on the nose leading to a really vibrant wine, with vivacious acids and a lovely rich lime finish. Sauvignon Blanc with a hint of Chardonnay this is one firecracker of a wine.

Blind Spot Clare Valley Riesling 2013 (12%/£7.95) – I get aromas of green tea, pear, flinty lime and a whiff of white pepper. In the mouth it’s creamy, yet taught acids keep it well structured. Green cooking apple, shards of ginger, ripe white melon with a clean finish. Clare Valley is arguably the best place to grow riesling in Australia and this darling is superb value.

Docil Vino Verde 2012, Niepoort (11%/£9.95) – Pear and honeysuckle aromas with flavours of green mango, fresh white melon, spicy tarragon and a lychee finish. Such a complex and interesting wine. After a time in the wilderness Vinho Verde is mounting a huge come back thanks to their governing body getting its proverbial shit together, something the rest of Portugal should take note of (besides Port and the Douro). Their wines deserve a bigger audience. Sadly this wine is running out(less than 30 bottles) and no longer on the main list. Call to order!

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.09.56Drapeaux de Floridène 2011 (12.5%/£13.50) – Nose of pencil lead, fresh melon, dried lime, smoky eucalyptus. The oak is warming and fine grained on palate. There’s lively lemon, lime, flinty minerals that bite back, persistent acidity with a buttered salty lemon finish. From Graves in Bordeaux this more affordable sibling of one of my desert island wines (Clos de Floridène) is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Affordable luxury this is.

Norman Hardie Unfiltered Chardonnay 2011 (12.5%/£20) – Smelling it I pick up wild woody oak, earthy mushroom and lees (Dead yeast cells. Believe it or not, but it’s actually a very nice rich smell). On the palate it’s a bit of a sexy beast: moist animal fur, white peach, brown butter, green apple skin with a long smoky tingling flinty finish. Delicious, eh! Being a Canuck I am saddened by the lack of wine from my native land here in the UK, but Norman (as well as being one of the most warm and charming winemakers I have ever met) is really flying the flag with this top drawer Ontario Chard.

Other whites of note are:

Les Pierres Bordes Marsanne-Viognier IGP Pays D’Oc 2013, France (12.5%/£5.95)

Zarcillo Bío-Bío Riesling, Chile (13.5%/£6.50)

Blind Spot Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2013, Australia (13%/£8.50)

The Society’s Exhibition Limari Chardonnay 2012, Chile (13.5%/£9.50)

Clos de Floridène Graves Blanc  2011, France (13%/£18)

Grosset Springvale Clare Valley Riesling 2013, Australia (12.5%/£20)

Red

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.13.24Weinert Carrascal 2008 (14%/£7.95) – This Argentine blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot was my value red of the year last year. Tragically they have run out of this sensational wine (even more tragic was that I didn’t stock up on it. Doh!), but I have been assured that they are getting the 2009 vintage sometime in May. Just to get you in the mood here are my notes: Rich fig, cigar, caramel and blueberry coulis nose. Mature forest fruit, tart firm tannins, rich meaty, peppery menthol, complex. Wow!

Koyle Don Cande Secano Interior Cinsault 2013 (14%/£8.50) – The nose was tangy light bramble fruit with hints of salty game. First thing I tasted was in yo face peppermint and fresh fresh acidity. Next things went all black: black salt, blackberry and massive black peppercorns. Very bold but balanced wine. Koyle is an excellent Chilean producer and this cinsault is a real thrill ride.

Blind Spot Gundagai Shiraz 2012 (13.5%/£9.95) – Very aromatic red and black fruit, touch peppery and some aniseed on the nose. It drinks very light. There’s fresh forest berries with potent acidity and a peppery popping finish. This refreshing characterful and very drinkable wine comes from the newly created region of Gundagai in New South Wales and is unlike just about every other Aussie shiraz I have tried.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.09.23Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage 2012 (14.5%/£10.50) – Sweet and sour aromas are very inviting, with tinges of tarred dark fruit. First I taste charcoal but then lean fresh berry fruit. Its meaty, there’s blackberry juice and even floral violets. I am not a big fan of South African reds, they are too often overwhelmed  by a burnt rubber character, but this offering from Stellenbosch is lovely, balanced and fresh. I really loved it.

La Source de Vignelaure Chateau Vignelaure 2008 (13.5%/£10.50) – Nose is lovely ripe plum and cassis with a dense palate of chocolate, intense dark cooked fruit, very spciy with peppery green rocket tannins. Coteaux d’Aix en Provence is much better known for its rosé, but they make some super reds. This being one of them. If you want to impress a wine geek friend bring this to their next dinner party.

Château Tour Saint Bonnet 2009 (14%/£11.95) – A rich dense mature nose of prune, plum and menthol. Very ripe fruit, nice tannic feel and structure. It’s bright yet concentrated, meaty and long. This terrific Medoc blend of mostly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is drinking beautifully right now and excellent value for lovers of rounded expressive left bank Bordeaux.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 18.08.00Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sangrantino 2007 (15.5%/£20) – A sniff, there’s brooding thick gamey black fruits and glinting gems (Whatchew talking bout Willis?!). Palate is cigar box and mouth puckering dry tannins, but wait… the wall of dark fruit builds in intensity. It’s beastly, wild and huge mungous. Sangrantino is a rather special red variety grown mostly in Tuscany and Umbria producing wines that can leave you feeling a little like you have been assaulted. But well made ones like this Montefalco, if given time in the bottle can produce a real beauty of a beast.

Other reds of note:

The Society’s Southern Spanish Red 2012, Jumilla  (13%/£5.50)

Domaine Laborie IGP 2013, Languedoc/Roussillon, France (13.5%/£5.75)

Château Haut Baraillot 2010, Entre-Deux-Mers, Bordeaux (13%/6.95)

Saint Saturnin ‘Bilbo’ Domaine de la Reserve d’O 2011, Languedoc/Roussillon, France (15%/£10.95)

Chianti Classico Monteraponi 2011, Tuscany, Italy  (14%/£14.95)

Cavas de Weinert 1997 (magnum), Weinert, Argentina (14.5%/£49)

Sweet

Blind Spot Rutherglen Muscat NV (half bottle) - (17.5%/£6.95) – Nose that is both floral and stinging nettle. Viscous peach ice tea, gingerbread, creamy and toasty on the palate. Rutherglen in northern Victoria (Australia) is famed for producing some tremendous Muscat sweet wines. This is great value for such a prized sticky.

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 10.08.32Château Raymond-Lafon Sauternes 2008 (half bottle) - (14.5%/£10.95) – It’s got waxy lemon, honeysuckle and lighter flint on the nose. It coats the mouth with luscious honeyed peach, white spices, buttery baked caramelised pear and finishes with lilac. Wowsers! This is an absolute bargain for a mature Graves sweetie of the exceptional quality of Raymond-Lafon. Go on get a few bottles in, you won’t regret it.

Sign up is super easy and along with a lovely welcome pack, the membership comes with more than just interesting wines. As well as ordering online there’s tons of knowledge at your finger tips on their website: articles, vintage charts, customer and press reviews. For those of you who like the old school touch they send you a nice newsletter every month and you can phone them to place your order or ask any questions as well. If you are ready to be more adventurous when it comes to the wines you drink and can afford around £70-80 for 12 bottles then I heartily recommend joining The Wine Society.

*In addition to their very own ‘Society’ range, WS recently launched ‘Blind Spot’ ; an exclusive Australian line produced in cooperation with winemaker Mac Forbes that focus on quality, diversity and value for money, highlighting some lesser known and up and coming wine regions from down under. 

 

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Ergon Deli & Restaurant

Now I imagine this won’t come as much of a surprise but I am a bit of a food and drink snob. One facet of my “affliction” means I rarely eat out anywhere that I haven’t heavily researched online before I decide on it. Drives my lady nuts sometimes, but we usually eat quite well.

So you can imagine my terror when the idea of dinner was floated while out for after work drinks just before Christmas (eeek!) with friends near St Christophers Place in Marylebone (God help us). My iPhone was immune to my panic and was taking forever to load anything useful from Time Out etc. We went old school and started looking at menus outside the many touristy traps on James Street (cue the sweats). The first place we looked had pictures menus (ahhh my eyes!), and despite knowing we had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a table I dragged our foursome to 28/50 Wine Workshop. When I inquired the host feigned sympathy as he knocked us back, but could see his thought bubble as if it was lit by neon saying ” No reservation? Are you guys high!? “.

Desperation had begun to set in, and we were all getting tetchy, small squabbles began to break out, someone needed to be blamed for our predicament. I was worried that they would all soon turn on me, being Mr “lay di da” Drink ‘N’ Eat. But as we wandered James Street for the second time I spotted something up and to the right on Picton Place. It didn’t look too packed, warm windows glowed with promise of safe harbour. We approached full of hope to have a closer look: Ergon Greek Deli + Cuisine it said in solid grey lettering above the closed awning. Ergon interior lowInside bustled two waiters to tables in a mostly full smallish modern clean lined restaurant. The menu looked appealing and affordable with sharing plates that made us throw the dice and go inside. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.05.29We were greeted reasonably warmly and told yes they could seat us, but sadly it was at benches in the window. Not ideal for two couples looking to catch up. The ladies looked glum, and we gave subtle dirty looks to the twosome who sat at a four top behind us. We were so close, there had to be a way. After a few minutes and a smattering of less than friendly glances at our greedy neighbours they managed to seat us at a table that had just left. Meltdown averted. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.02.48

We ordered a bottle wine I was familiar with, Notios Dry White from Gaia and we were off. The menu was well constructed with a diverse appealing range that made me giddy with excitement to order. Service wasn’t exactly attentive, and it took us a little while to get our order taken, but once we did, the food arrived in a steady stream.IMG_2965 Some tasty mixed breads landed on the table, then a dynamic duo of zesty vibrant Greek tomato salad with basil oil and feta cream cheese and a ridiculously decadent fava bean puree with cured pork siglino, caramelized onions and truffle olive. Siglino is a traditional method of curing that involves smoking the pork with sage, boiling it in wine and storing in jars with pork fat and orange peel (sounds like a rather expensive spa treatment if you asked me). The smooth rich texture of the fava beans set against that smoky fatty pork was an inspired pairing and the cleansing Greek salad balanced it perfectly. The Notios white went down very well and very quickly: fresh, clean but with plenty of citrus and volcanic minerals. Next came a dish I recalled from days of yore, saganáki (deep fried cheese) but it was as far from the greasy salt bomb I recalled eating in the 80′s. IMG_2967Their interpretation began with gruyere from Naxos rolled in carob flour, oat flakes, poppy seeds that was pan fried and served with rose petal syrup; it was A-Maze-Ing! Crunch went the oat flakes, pop went the poppy, salty dense intense cheese, the fragrant sweetness of the rose syrup; truly one of the most interesting and delightful things I ate last year.IMG_2968

A quality smoked fish platter was made all the more delicious by its minnow of a price tag (£8) and hearty Greek sausage stew was rich, but balanced with earthy roasted pepper and sprinkling of feta. We had long ago run out of wine but with the waiters struggling to keep pace we were forced to resort to water (I jest… I like water… just rather drink wine) as more food arrived.Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.03.50 There were subtle moans of joy as we tried the perfectly tender grilled squid stacked atop silky inky sensual black tzatziki. The squid was complimented very nicely by a slate of very yummy, crunchy fluffy pastries filled with pastourma (air dried beef) on a bed of tomato marmalade and yogurt.Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.03.59 Freshly cut fries didn’t stand a chance topped with our old friend Naxosian (is that a word?) gruyere, who showed a different side to itself: grated und melty.

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Finally, our bottle of Notios Red (medium bodied, tart red fruit, perfect with the food) arrived and in the excitement I managed to forget to take a photo of our last savoury dish: homemade gyros with warm pita and spicy Greek yogurt.Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.04.17

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 11.42.46This image is courtesy of Wikipedia but the flavours of the traditional Greek gyro are etched into my tastebuds from my time travelling Europe after I graduated from high school. For three weeks I lived rent free (hallelujah!) in place that was owned by relations of a friend of one of my fellow Canadian backpacking companions. I have many fond memories of that third (or was it 4th?) floor apartment with no electricity or hot water (was turned off while the owners weren’t there) on the outskirts of Athens. Nearby there was a family run gyro place that I shall never forget; holding that warm rolled (oh so) soft bread, aromas of flavourful grilled meat, then biting into fresh tomato, crisp lettuce, getting the vaguely sweet pita, salty succulent lamb and a cooling hit of spice laced tzatziki (I don’t recall chips in mine). Goodness I nearly teared up there. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.04.48

What Greek meal would be complete without baklava? Traditionally dense sticky layers of filo pastry with nuts and sweet syrup, this deconstructed take was more mille-feuille, and with of the addition of dark chocolate, I quite liked it. We were stuffed and more than thrilled with the meal we’d just had: all the dishes were extremely well executed, generous, packed with flavour and individuality. Service had been scrappy but friendly and when the bill arrived there was much rejoicing. Bread, 10 divine dishes, two quality bottles of wine and 12.5% service only came to £137.25! A veritable bargain when eating out in Bond Street. Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 16.04.27As you would expect with the term deli on their sign they stock a ton of lovely products in it’s shop downstairs, so you can grab a few bits and try some Greek inspired dishes at home. Grecian fare is often overlooked in favour of its more glitzy neighbours from Italy and Spain. But Ergon and places like The Life Goddess in Bloomsbury are breathing new life into the London Greek food scene, and by Athena it’s bloody marvelous.

So what had started like a bit of a nightmare for a gastro-geek like myself, turned into one of my highlights of eating out last year. Run don’t walk to Ergon.

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Padstow Brewing Company

I actually tasted this trio of beers back in February in Cornwall while visiting my buddy Bob (the builder, I am serious) near Wadebridge. Let me take you back to January 2013 and in a chilly converted surf shower in Newquay head brewer Caron Archer was experimenting with different hop and malt combinations. Her and husband Des though new to brewing were disciples of the much lauded Dave Lang (Forge Brewery) and as winter made way for spring Caron perfected a few recipes. Padstow Brewing Company was then ready for the next step and having outgrown their “lab” moved to a Padstow industrial estate where they started brewing commercially in May 2013. Caron is the only female head brewer in Cornwall and loves playing around with dynamic flavours, while Des focusses on the more scientific side of the brewing process. I must say they make an excellent team, and I loved everything about their three offerings: from their beautifully clean simple smart packaging, to bottle shape and of course the very finely crafted beers inside.

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Padstow Pale Ale 3.6%

Light amber in colour and as I raise the glass to my honker the aromas are so enticing that it takes all my willpower not to gulp it down in one. Wonderfully complex spicy lemon and fragrant green hops have me smacking my lips in anticipation. It’s super crisp, refreshing with a good bite, but balanced by a malty long zippy finish. As good a session ale as you’ll find. I could drink it by the bucket. Score - 8.5/10

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Padstow Pilot 4%   

This amber bitter is a deep chestnut with a very rich mocha head. Initially, the nose is breakfast: fresh roast coffee and toast with marmite but there’s more as it moves into wet moss, then finally a whack of fresh pineapple and peppermint. Wozers! The texture is velvety with bitter coffee, salty chocolate and true to it’s coastal Cornish roots, there’s even some smoked mackerel. It finishes clean but warming and is a very classy drop. Score - 8.25/10

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Padstow IPA 4.8%

Its deep amber hue gives of aromas toasted brioche, peach and floral jasmine honey. On the palate you are hit by layer after layer of grapefruit, dry pineapple, razor sharp hops ending with a mouth drying finish. Solid. For me a very complex beer that needs food: Thai green curry or seared chilli scallops would pair very nicely. Score – 7.75/10

Tasting these 3 bottles what stood out for me was the incredible diversity of aromas, flavours and textures; all the more impressive when you consider that the beers are between 3.8-4.8% ABV, which frankly shows tremendous skill on the part of Caron and Des. Padstow Brewing is a must try.

Get in touch with them here or via twitter to find out how you can get a hold of their excellent beers.

 

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Alipus and Los Danzantes Mezcal Masterclass

Some of you may never have heard of mezcal and others might just have a murky painful memory (or two) of some bygone hangover that involved it or its deadly compadres tequila, that most notorious firewater of Mexican extraction.

Mezcal and tequila are indeed similar spirits, and with most considering tequila to be a type of mezcal (means “oven cooked agave” in native Nahuatl). Essentially both are distilled from types of agave, though Tequila can only be made from blue agave, while Mezcal has more than 30 types of maguey (Agave Americana) to choose from, with most made from Agave Espadin. Mezcal is produced in eight Mexican states (mostly in Oaxaca), tequila five, but the production process for both begins with harvesting the hearts of agave or the piña. For most tequila the next step is for the agave to be pressure cooked in large stainless steel ovens. Mezcal differs in that it tends to be more artisanal in its production, with methods that go back centuries, having been passed down through generations. The technique of baking small batches in the earthen pits or stone ovens (for three to four days) is an ancient one. Industrial crushing and fermentation takes place on the large scale, but smaller producers crush the maguey in stone mills with the help of a donkey or horse with the resultant juice left to ferment for one to two weeks.

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A wander through history tells us the Aztecs saw the maguey as mythically powerful plant and produced a fermented beverage from it called octli (later called pulque). However things changed (not all for the better, but that’s another story) with the arrival of the Spanish and the introduction of distillation, thus bringing mezcal into being.

Now I don’t claim to any kind of an expert (far from it), but I did learn a lot while at a masterclass of bespoke producers Alipus and Los Danzantes. The event was hosted by importer and retailer extraordinaire Amathus at their Wardour St shop; where I arrived a few minutes late. Spotting what looked to be the last empty place at the long tasting table (wedged between chatting factions of bartenders, it being an afternoon affair), and using my “ninja skills” I managed to slip into the seat practically unseen. As I settled my finely tuned reflexes must have sensed danger because my left arm flicked out at blinding speed knocking over one of my full tasting glass and smashing another. Smooth, very smooth. After a few jokes that I hadn’t even had a drink, some blushing, tidying and a refill we began tasting:

We got started with a trio of Joven or young spirits from Alipus:

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San Juan  (Fermented in oak vats) – 47.3%  AVB - Pear and aquavit on the nose. This was followed on the palate by creamy pear that was a touch chemical, with that familiar “tequila burn” finish.

San Baltazar (pine vats) – 48.1% AVB - Tannery and gamey aromas with the similar pear flavours to the San Juan but a smoky edge with a longer finish.

San Andres (cypress vats, agave crushed by hand) – 48% AVB – The nose is instantly more exotic and complex than the previous two: whiffs of soft peach, pear and perfumed elderflower. In the mouth it’s creamy stone fruit, warming hot cedar and a delicious smooth finish. A beauty!

Next was Los Danzantes (Organic and fermented by naturally occurring wild yeasts):

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Joven - 42.5% AVB The nose is wild (those yeasts), hot spicy and a kind of boozy that reminds me of grappa. Sippin it I feel as though I am in a dry hot smoky sauna made of pears.

Reposado - 43.2% AVB – Reposado means aged and in the case of this mezcal that translates to 11 months in new French white oak barrels from the Nevier forest (oh my!). Sharp eau de vie nose, tasting it there’s plenty of earthy smoke, but for the first time I can actually taste baked agave (reminded me of aloe), then lovely caramelised pear and a full sensual round finish. Yum E!

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I was deeply impressed with the complexity, texture and character of the mezcal, especially the Reposado and San Andres. These hand crafted spirits had nothing in common the kinds of beverages dished out at dodgy TexMex joints by scantily clad gals (guys) in a holster full of shot glasses. Alipus and Los Danzantes are most certainly special sippers deserving of a decent size glass for swirling with perhaps a slice of orange rather than a salty hand and a wedge of lemon. Such premium quality does come at a price, with these bad boys retailing between £52-65. But if you are a fan of mezcal or known someone who is, it’s certainly worth picking up a bottle or would make a great gift. 

Though none of the mezcals tasted contained any, many of you are probably thinking: What’s the deal with the worm?

Well firstly its actually a butterfly larva and is more associated with mezcal than tequila. The larvae bore into the agave heart and so were often cooked up with the maguey, with some feeling the little grubs added to mezcal’s flavour.  Then sometime around 1950 some guy in Mexico city decided it would make a great gimmick to put a bug in the bottle and needless to say it has stuck.

As I stood to leave the fact that mezcal is considered to have somewhat more of a psychotropic effect than the usual inebriation was made plain. That sensation of being a bit “high”, I felt invigorated and left smiling with that most famous Oaxaca saying ringing in my ears:

“para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también” (“for everything bad, mezcal; for everything good, the same”).

*Feature photo is of Gustavo Muñoz, founder of the Los Danzantes Group

Fun Furmint Tasting with Matt Walls

Matt Walls hosted me for a diverse tasting of Furmints from 3 different countries. We had a ball. For more info http://www.timatkin.com/articles?511

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Casa Silva Los Lingues Gran Reserva Carmenere 2009

Before I talk about this particular wine, I thought I would share a little history about the grape that it’s made from…

Carmenere is an old Bordeaux variety from the Cabernet family and was until rather recently thought to be extinct. However, in 1994 through the miracle of science, it was found thriving in Chile alongside the rather similar Merlot (the two were often picked and processed together). Today little exists in France and is grown in small amounts in Italy but in it’s adopted home of Chile, that this full bodied red grape has truly come into its own.

I interviewed Mario Pablo Silva (the head of Vina Casa Silva) some years ago but sadly due to circumstances beyond my control the video never saw the light of day. I hope this review goes some way to atoning for that.

This Casa Silva single vineyard Carmenere comes from the Colchagua Valley and more specifically the Los Lingues plots.

Here’s my tasting notes:

To the eye it’s a rich textured crimson (Carmenere gets its name from carmin, the French word for crimson). With the nose of tobacco, green pepper, mocha, cassis and wild mushroom you can see why it was mistaken for Merlot (Chile) and Cabernet Franc (Italy). At 14% AVB you might expect a shot in the mouth but it’s velvety and sensual with notes of smoky charcoal, black fruit, menthol and white pepper.

An excellent example of how very special that lost and found Carmenere can be in the right hands.

Score - 8.25/10

Food matches – We had it with BBQ ribs and salads in the garden and it was sen-bloody-sational.

 

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Little Brew Beer Review

I stumbled upon Little Brew at some beer event that I don’t recall the name of: Craft Beer Empire or Crafty Crafty Beer Beer or some such. What I do remember though is making friends with a bunch of railway signalmen (active and retired), who after the session ended invited me to a nearby pub where we all got so pissed that as I prepared to depart via my pedal bike, promptly fell flat on the pavement. Uninjured, I cycled home (do NOT drink and cycle it is very dangerous and against the law) and except for a violent emotional episode around Elephant and Castle both the Little Brews and I arrived home safe. Here’s what I thought of the beers…

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Pale Ale 5.2%

Quite dark for a pale (I thought) with a nose that wasn’t giving much away. Touch earthy woody mushroom perhaps. That ho hum continued onto a palate that was dry, nutty with some chestnut. Tannins were quite drying, like an over brewed cup of tea. Hmmm.  Score- 6.25/10

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Ruby Red Ale 5.6%

Deep auburn with a lovely interweaving aromas of raspberry, chocolate and super fresh mint. Full mouth flavour that was tangy, herbaceous with warming malts. The finish was long bitter cherry with a hint of worn leather. Solid. Score 7.25/10

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Extra Tusks IPA 6.6%

Hazy golden sugar brown. The nose bashed you right on the face with grilled pineapple, barley sugars, green tea and tobacco. The exotic adventure continued on the palate with creamy coconut and dried pineapple that was direct, clean and sharp. The banana finish topped off the tropical fruit salad in stellar fashion. A great beer! Score 8.25/10

Little Brew is a one barrel brewery in Camden Town, but are expanding to York premises so must be doing alright. Has been awhile since I tasted the beers so they are worth another look for sure.