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Croydon Craft Beer Festival

 

Well, Croydon had its first craft beer festival last weekend and I went along late Saturday afternoon to check it out.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.17.48Braithwaite Hall is a very impressive venue and had the feel of a grand old university library with its stained glass and towering rows books. However unlike the ales on show, there were some doubts as to the books authenticity.

The room was full and buzzing, a nice mixed crowd of friendly looking beer enthusiasts. Good start.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.17.37The first thing that struck me as approached the tables behind which stood the casks of beer I hoped to try was the alarming amount of them that held signs that said “Sorry this cask is unavailable”. Of the 31 the beers they started with on Friday night more than half were off.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.17.20Undaunted I ordered a couple halves of The Cronx Kotchin Nektar. They weren’t bad, Nektar just edging Kotchin, they were session-able, but nothing to write home about. Bexley’s Kent Green Hop was my beer of the session, showing some nice bite and tropical fruit. Yet it didn’t particularly excite me.

What followed was an average Peckham Coal Line Porter from Brick, an undrinkable acrid Entire from Cronx, which I traded for limp but inoffensive Oatmeal Stout from Hop Stuff and ended with a tepid ok-ish Red Ale by Bexley. Now temperature isn’t as big an issue with cask beer as keg, but my feeling was all the beers could have been a shade cooler.

What bugged me the most was the beers in the main lacked vibrancy and vitality. Real ale is a living beverage, and the best stuff expresses charm, character and most importantly it has to make me want another sip. Most of the beers I tasted failed to do that.

Now I know I may be harder to please, but seems the organisers fell victim to first beer fest folly; not ordering enough beer. Of course, they didn’t want to lose money so playing it safe seemed to make sense but with so many beers off for such a short festival. Disappointing.

I got chatting to some other punters and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. The lack of beers didn’t appear to be a problem though they weren’t ooing and ahhing over anything either.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.18.00Speaking to one of the organisers he admitted they could have done better, but overall the event was a huge success with plans already in the works for more events next year.

The bottle/can bar had some good stuff and was doing a decent trade, but I had come for the cask and as another beer ran out I decided to call time. A good thing too because as I later found out they had run dry by 7pm. Three hours before the fest ended!

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.28.06Luckily BRGR & Beer @ Matthew’s Yard were hosting Fourpure and Gypsy Hill pop-up stylee to celebrate CCBF. It’s an idea they should consider making a permanent fixture. There’s plenty of space and how cool would it be for a rotating residency of London’s best and brightest brewers supporting the solid line of bottles by BRGR & Beer?

I had really nice chats with Neil at Fourpure (am loving their Amercian Brown) and Mike at Gypsy Hill, the latter being in my opinion the most improved brewery in London at the moment (and one of my favorites along with Beavertown).

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 18.18.10

In rather reserved style after halves of Fourpure’s decent Red Rye IPA and GH’s sublime Hepcat Session IPA, I called it a night.

Now if I’d been there on the opening night of Croydon’s first craft beer festival it may have been a more enjoyable experience for me.

However, I get the feeling that this experiment wasn’t geared for geeks like me. Perhaps it was more about giving the people of Croydon (& Southest London) a taste of something new. Engaging a fledgling audience of curious imbibers who had tired of the same old same old and were simply seeking better beer.

Despite running out of the aforementioned ales (a cardinal sin to some) the organisers can feel confident that they probably achieved that.

Craft Comes to Croydon

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 10.19.05Roll up roll up! This Friday and Saturday (Oct 16 &17th) Croydon (yes Croydon!) will be holding its very first Craft Beer Festival.

But why do I suddenly care about the beer scene in Croydon? What could posses me to encourage people to travel to a beer festival in this much-maligned borough?

Well, there’s a story behind that and if you’ll indulge me it goes a little something like this…

When my Mrs. Drink n Eat and I began our search for a first rung on the property ladder, South Norwood was nowhere on our radar. We longed for a cozy bolthole in Crystal Palace or Forest Gate urged on by friends who had bought in those areas before they became the unaffordable meccas that they are today. It actually took what appeared to be a knock-back on a dingy flat in Canning Town for us to totally reset our priorities and lo, we now find ourselves in leafy SE25.

Though it’s a London postcode we are served by London’s largest borough, incidentally an area we had at the outset said we would avoid. But here we were in “The Mighty Croydon” (as my pal Dan used to call it when he lived here), a place that has had a bad rap for as long as I have lived in the nation’s capital (which is a few years now). But as seems the norm across all of London, the ground continues to shift both physically (being built on clay) and socially (gentrification) under our feet.

Now the shopping isn’t as bad as you would think in Croydon centre and that’s even before you take into account the newly green-lit cathedral to consumerism Westfield and the Boxpark hoardings heralding the arrival of those containers of cool, those popped-up shops at East Croydon station. The transport links are excellent with trains, trams and buses shooting out to all points on the compass.

But for a gastronomic ghoul l like myself, C-Ville still seemed to have a big problem; no quality pubs, wine bars, restaurants or speciality drink shops. The new Aldi at Norwood Junction isn’t bad for wine (check out my first & follow up blogs). Then there’s Waitrose on George Street and at the Chruch Street Lidl wines are fast improving courtesy of my pal, Matt Walls (and a certain Richard Bamfield MW). But they are supermarkets and to be honest, the Waitrose beer selection doesn’t set my pulse racing (notice I don’t mention Aldi or Lidl’s beer options. There’s reason for that).

I was feeling no more confident about my imbibing opportunities after an evening out with local beer blogger and pal Sam Hill where he took me to the “two best pubs in Croydon”. Now I don’t want to besmirch the Glamorgan who do very good burgers and the Oval Tavern which is a friendly lively boozer indeed but the beverage offerings weren’t great, typified by the fact that we drank bottled Guinness West Indies Porter (which is rather good) in the former and St. Austell’s Tribute in the latter.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom with South Croydon boasting a few good restaurants including Albert’s Table, but greedy me I wanted something whack bang in the centre. Why couldn’t I have it?!

Little did I know that was all about to change last week after meeting up with award-winning, esteemed beer writer friend, that man of many facets Des de Moor (he’s worth a Google). Des had recently published the newly updated and revised The CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer Pubs and Bars (buy it here from the CAMRA Shop) so he is the man in the know when it comes to brewy goings on in the capital.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 10.19.52Supping an out of date but still characterful Brabo (Belgian inspired Pale Ale of Des’s creation in collaboration with Brains Brewery) and standing in the warm glow of that finest of beer/hot sauce/wine shops Hop Burns and Black in East Dulwich, I bemoaned in true 1st world problem style the dearth of good beer places in my area. As we both waxed lyrical about The Hope in Carshalton (a must go to Pub) Des picked up the store copy of his aforementioned book and poked to the cork coloured topped pages of Outer South London first pointing to The Green Dragon and then to the Wine Cellar which boasts over 1200 wines it was worth a visit but they also did beer. “They have a decent beer range as well as cask beers to take away, and I think they’ve opened another shop in central Croydon as well.” Des said in his musical lilting Tractor Boy twang. This was worth investigating.

So Friday I set about hunting around the tinternet and within minutes by a combination of Twitter and Google maps found the location of Fresh Fields Market/Wine Cellar.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.26.01Thrilled with the prospect of checking out these places practically on my (distant) doorstep I tweeted and texted Sam to enlist his company. Of course, he was in. So it was set.

Later that evening I jumped on the trusty tram and rode the 6 or so stops and as I passed the Lidl (which I knew) I wondered where this Fresh Fields could be? Then lo and behold the tram pulls right up to it and stops. It’s literally right there at Church Street tram stop and if it wasn’t for the annoying safety barriers you could literally walk off the tram right through the doors.

Unassuming as you enter, organic fruit and veg to your left and a drinks case containing the usual suspects of the soft drink world albeit with healthier more exotic leaning. Looking past the tills with same old spirits and smokes behind on the right, all the rest of store stretches out and it appears at first glance to be an off-licence of the normal ilk. A shelf of Echo Falls “wine”, rows of tinned food, pasta, bleach, biscuits etc.

I glance along to some tall wooden wine racks beyond the registers, my hoppy sense starts to tingle at the sight what looks like the chunky forms of German bottles and approaching I can see a decent array. A few of the great S’s are there; Schlenkerla Märzen, Weizen and Helles but so too is Spaten Oktoberfest, a gaggle of Schneider Weisse and the very good Jever Pils.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.30.26Along that wall, there are more wooden racks with an assortment of wines, but tonight was not a night for wine (I did have a peek at the wines and despite a couple interesting bottles the focus here is most definitely beer). Perhaps this Teutonic front was the extent of their beers? My heart began to sink… but as I turned to my left where on a tall metal table sat a stout cask of ale with some tasting glasses (a good sign indeed) there appeared a sliver of an oasis or was it a mirage of glittering glass?

Turning so my angle of view became more direct my breath caught in my throat, it took a few seconds, but finally my brain caught up with what eyes were struggling to take in. Not simply a wall, it was a 7-8 foot wave of beer that even curled at the end to include a glowing chiller fridge as well.Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 10.23.59

Dumbfounded and giddy I grappled with myself to keep from crying out like a lunatic. The selection was immense, especially in terms of London & UK Breweries, and not just a bottle of this or a can of that. Some breweries had more than half a dozen offerings on show. There was stuff I had never seen before from breweries I knew and others who I had been meaning to try. It was Alladin’s friggin cave!

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.30.59Belgium and the US were well represented with all the Flemish classics on show, and more beers from Brooklyn and Anchor than I had ever seen. Speaking of Anchor, their collaboration with Brotherhood Brewing Brotherhood Steam is a revelation and perhaps the best beer I have had this year. Heaven in a can.

What also impressed me was the pricing. For instance, Beavertown Neck Oil is £1.99, yes you read right one ninety-nine. In addition plenty of top beers are priced at a very decent £2.49 and even 75cl bottles of Brooklyn Sorachi Ace are on at £9.99. Not satisfied with a very fair pricing policy FFM also offers a 10% discount when you buy 6 bottles (they also offer a 10% off to card carrying CAMRA members).

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.31.32Stood like some creepy beer stalker unable to even touch anything I was soon approached by a friendly smiling member of staff who asked those magical words; “Would you like to taste some beer?”. He brought me a little goblet of Triple FFF Brewing Company “Stairway” from the cask and I slurped it greedily, my mouth having gone completely dry.

My hands quivered as I texted Sam to tell him that he to see this place with his own eyes and that wasn’t a drinking venue as such, and we’d have to go elsewhere. He told me later he knew it was serious when I declined to meet him in a pub and that “I’d just wait there for him”.

While I waited on Mr. Hill that kind member of staff introduced me to the manager Ben (aka Benedict Nicholas Selvaratnam). He’s the perfect ambassador for this venture; warm, friendly, passionate about good beer and wholly committed to turning Fresh Fields Market into the beer destination for not only Croydon centre but the entire borough. He talked me through some of the recent hiccups (having to ditch the once larger selection of organic fruit and veg because it wasn’t selling) and his vision for its ambitious future.

As it stands they have to commit more of the shop to convenience store items to make up the costs in these early days, but Ben has already earmarked an entire aisle for “clearing out and just filling with good beer”. But he’s not done there. There are plans for a growler/flagon fresh beer filling station and meet the brewer events as well.

He even asked me if there were any breweries I wanted to see on the shelves! Now that’s a man who aims to please.

Eventually, Sam turned up and we began that unique ritual that such places can have on grown men. We shouted and squealed like ten-year-old boys dashing back and forth pointing to this or that on the shelf. But soon we regained our composure enough to fill our arms with those magic six then tromped to the till like conquering heroes.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.35.32Ben rang up my purchases and I couldn’t help feeling like he missed something out, or did he give me a better discount? But no, on examination it was all there with the 10% off. Bargain.

We talked some more about the market but then talk turned to the imminent Croydon Craft Beer Festival of which Fresh Fields is a major sponsor along with New Addington based Cronx Brewery. Sam and I both grabbed tickets (£3 in advance from Fresh Fields Market, The Oval Tavern, The Wine Cellar and Brgr&Beer or £3.84 through Eventbright or £4 on the door) and after heartily thanking Ben we wandered out into the night clutching our treasures.

We headed in the direction of Matthew’s Yard, an eclectic cafe, art and music warehouse space that houses BRGR & Beer. While we ordered we discovered from the very friendly staff that festival’s celebration of good beer wasn’t limited to the goings on at the Braithwaite Hall. They were hosting the folks behind Fourpure Brewing Co. and Gypsy Hill Brewery with special events also afoot at the Green Dragon, the Spread Eagle, Croydon Clocktower Cafe and much mentioned Oval Tavern.

BRGR & Beer do some mean burgers (Beef, Chicken, and Veggie) and their rosemary fries are a real coup and as it says on the tin; there’s a decent selection of bottle beers. Do check em out.

Right, I think that’s it and you are up to date.

I am now looking forward to the weekend and sampling London’s best and brightest at Braithwaite Hall along with bottles and cans from around the globe. There’s even tell that some small scale London-based cider producers will be showing their wares too, which will be music to the ears for those of you who eschew grain-based beverages. Speaking of tunes, Gastropub Live will be providing live bands and food stalls will round out what looks to be the event that puts Croydon Craft Beer on the map.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 09.43.52I hope to see you there.

 

Mr Vine Tasting 6

With the autumnal weather as unpredictable as Richard Hemming’s dress sense, we gathered for our Mr Vine’s September panel tasting at Winemakers Club near the Holborn viaduct. A somewhat revered site as was the original Oddbins in a former life. So it was under the musty moody railway arches of this new-ish wine bar/shop/events space that we set about sampling a new batch of wines. Intriguingly four out of five of the winners were Italian, this time out. But each one different and dancing to its own beat. 

First place: Luigi Maffini ‘Kratos’ Fiano 2014 (Campania, Italy; 13.0%; £14.50, WoodWinters)

Some say the white Fiano grape will be the next big thing in the UK, and classic examples like this one show why. It’s an intense and persistent wine, with no-nonsense apple, pear and apricot aromas and a herbal twang. Starts off subtle, but finishes with a fresh, dry, mineral edge and a burst of flavour. You could drink this all night and not get bored. 90 points.

NN verdict – Certainly worthy of the top spot.

Second place: Tenuta Mara ‘Maramia’ 2012 (Emilia-Romagna, Italy; 13.5%; £41, WoodWinters)

This is the first vintage from this ambitious new biodynamic estate. They only make one wine, and no expense is spared; they even serenade the Sangiovese vines with Mozart. Who knows if that makes any difference, but the care and effort the take really shows through; this is a genuinely fine wine that really speaks of its origin. Autumnal aromas like dried leaves and truffle spill from the glass, alongside red cherry and dark chocolate. It’s lively and tangy, robust yet refreshing, ethereal but long in flavour. It has a high price for sure, but this is delicious and has real substance and interest. 91 points.

 NN verdict – Was totally enamored of this bonkers despite its higher price tag.

Third place: Luigi Maffini ‘Kleos’ Aglianico 2012 (Campania, Italy; 13.5%; £14.00, WoodWinters)

Another winner from expert winemaker Luigi Maffini, this time from the robust red Aglianico grape. It has baked blackberry, blueberry and stewed plum fruits inlaid with cigar tobacco and cinnamon. In the mouth it has real presence and texture; it’s full-bodied, savoury and very dry. It’s a big black bull of a wine that needs hearty food to be best appreciated. 89 points.

 NN verdict – That Maffini was back and though not as interesting as his Fiano still a solid bronze.

Fourth place: Le Fonti Sangiovese 2012 (Tuscany, Italy; 13.0%; £9.89, Cadman Fine Wines)

There are two Sangioveses to bring to your attention this month; this one may not have the brilliance of the Tenuta Mara, but then it is less than a quarter of the price. It’s like a beginner’s guide to Italian Sangiovese – expressive cherry and herbal notes, crisp acidity and an elegant lightness of touch. Not the most concentrated, but it’s very decent for under a tenner. 87 points.

NN verdict – A bit out of balance for my palate, but the group thought it a solid showing.

Fifth place: Domaine Baron Sauvignon Blanc Vieilles Vignes 2014 (Loire, France; 12.5%; £8.99, Cadman Fine Wines)

Sauvignon Blanc can be samey, but this one from the Touraine is more luscious and interesting than the norm. It’s relatively ripe, fruity and opulent for a Loire Sauvignon – fans of New Zealand examples will get it immediately. Plenty of grapefruit and green pepper with a hint of smoke; not the most subtle, but very enjoyable. 88 points.

NN verdict – I really enjoyed this wine. Possessed character and of a sense of place.

Mr Vine is a free iPhone app that helps you discover and buy the kinds of wine you like from a marketplace consisting of over 1,000 wines across a dozen different independent UK wine shops. Each month, a panel of five drinks experts (Richard Hemming, Helena Nicklin, Matt Walls, Zeren Wilson and me) meet up to taste a selection of wines available via the app in order to sniff out some gems. We score the wines out of 100, provide a tasting note and – perhaps most importantly – pick our top five of the night. These won’t necessarily be the highest scoring, just the wines we feel most excited about bringing to your attention.

For more info on the app and how it works, check out mrvine.co.uk.

 

 

Mr Vine Tasting Number 5

Yes that totally tubular (bottle shaped) tasting team of Matt Walls, Helena Nicklin, Zeren Wilson, Richard Hemming MW (that’s right Richard Hemming is now a Master of Wine. An amazing achievement!) and yours truly were at it again. Tasting wines for the good of those independent vino-loving masses for the Mr Vine App. If you haven’t downloaded it the IOS version is available here.

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 16.29.48First place: Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs NV (Champagne, France; 12.5%;

£26.09, Cadman Fine Wines)

This pure Chardonnay Champagne is grown on Grand Cru rated sites and the quality really

shines through: brioche-scented exuberance, full and rich on the palate with a lovely soft

fizz. Very easy drinking while keeping its class and character, this isn’t the driest Champagne,

but it’s beautifully balanced and could easily compete with many big brands. 90 points

NN verdict – Loved this stuff. Just my kind of bubbly.

 

Second place: Fattoria Le Fonti Chianti Classico 2012 (Tuscany, Italy; 14.0%;Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 16.30.33

£14.50, Cadman Fine Wines)

Mostly Sangiovese with a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, this Chianti is

somewhere between modern and traditional in style. It has detailed cherry, herb and leather

aromas alongside coffee bean and tobacco leaf. Bright, vibrant and expressive this wine has

a lovely sense of harmony and warmth. It engages the brain as well as the tongue. 91

points.

NN verdict – I sometimes overlook Chianti because I have had them so many times, but a good Classico (such as this is) is a thing of real beauty especially with food.

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 16.30.49Third place: Auntsfield Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Marlborough, New Zealand;

13.0%; £12.15, Cadman Fine Wines)

This estate was built on the site of New Zealand’s first winery, dating back to 1873. If you’re

suffering from Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc overload, this wine reminds you of what makes

the style so special. It smells of freshly cut grass, fresh gooseberry and guava but has a

sense of restraint; the flavours are pronounced by the wine remains elegant. Lovely round

texture, a long, concentrated finish and wet foliage freshness. Very well priced to boot. 90

points.

NN verdict – Hands down one of the best Malborough SB I have had in recent memory.

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 16.30.16Fourth place: Château Bel-Air La Royère 2008 (Bordeaux, France; 14.0%; £19.35,

Cadman Fine Wines)

Unpretentious, old school claret with much to love: ripe and fruity, with spicy cedar, tobacco

and blackcurrant. This blend of 55% Merlot and 45% Malbec from Blaye has plenty of

stuffing and tannic heft to keep it going for another five years or so, but is at a lovely stage

to drink now – harmonious and complex but still with youthful power. Bordeaux lovers will

lap it up. 91 points.

NN – This wine really made me smile. Everything good mature Bordeaux should be.

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 16.31.07Fifth place: La Torricella Barbera d’Alba 2011 (Piemonte, Italy; 14.0%; £15.99,

Red Squirrel Wines)

Black cherry and cola on the nose, alongside coffee and cocoa – classic Barbera. Lovely

concentration and a satin-soft, dry finish. A generous yet serious wine that’s just crying out

for rigatoni with meatballs. 89

NN verdict – I wasn’t blown away by this but a solid wine none the less.

Honourable mentions

Vinteloper ‘Odeon’ Riesling 2013 (Clare Valley, Australia; 13.0%; £24.99, Red

Squirrel Wines)

Just over a thousand bottles were made of this compellingly interesting wine. Naturally

beautiful aromas of mandarin, mirabelle plum and flowers. It’s not cheap, but this is brave

winemaking resulting in a unique style that some drinkers will adore. 90 points.

NN verdict – Really felt this wine deserved to be in the top 5. Glad it got a mention.

 

Vega Tolosa ‘Icon’ Bobal 2013 (La Mancha, Spain; 13.5%; £8.99, Red Squirrel

Wines)

Bags of intense forest fruit flavour, this is a perky, juicy red that is easy to drink but has

character and makes an impact. Fantastic value for money. 88 points.

NN verdict – Again really liked this wine. Only room for 5 though…

 

Bruna ‘Maje’ Pigato 2014 (Liguria, Italy; 12.5%; £13.50, Red Squirrel Wines)

Delicate, fresh and perfumed this is a lovely example of the rare Pigato grape. Silken in

texture and perfectly balanced, this is a great alternative to Pinot Grigio. 88 points.

NN verdict – A great wine to impress your wine geek friend with.

Mr Vine Tasting 4

Well, the team got together at 10 Greek Street back in June and as well as an almighty feast we managed to taste and rate some wines.

Here’s our top 5

First place: Magpie Estate Riesling 2014 (Eden Valley, Australia; 12.5%; £11.00, wine2drink)

The impressive result of a partnership between Barossa Valley winemaker Rolf

Binder and UK wine merchant Noel Young. Great fruit purity – salt, lime and orange

blossom – as well as a flinty character. Long, dry, lean and lip-smackingly fresh; a

laser-sharp thirst-quencher. Good value too. It’s even got a beautiful label. 91

points.

*This was far and away my favorite wine of the tasting. If you have been afraid to try Riesling for fear of running into residual sugar then plump for an Aussie from the Eden or the Clare Valley. Super stuff!

Second place: Calusari Pinot Noir 2013 (Viile Timisului, Romania; 12.5%; £7.50, wine2drink)

This is made by Cramele Recaş a winery in western Romania now owned by

Bristolian Philip Cox. It has classic Pinot Noir character, plenty of ripe redcurrant and

earthy cherry fruit. It’s lighter on its feet than many French Pinots at this price, and

very easy to drink. An interesting find and a good example of the quality and value

currently to be found in Romania. 86 points.

* I didn’t enjoy this Pinot as much as the rest of the panel. Found it a bit chemical but that blew off and despite it still being a bit reedy and thin is an interesting wine to be sure.

Third place: Mas de Daumas Gassac ‘Réserve de Gassac’ Blanc 2011 (Languedoc, France; 13.0%; £9.75, wine2drink)

A blend of 25% Viognier, 25% Chardonnay, 25% Petit Manseng, 15% Chenin Blanc

and 10% of various other varieties from one of the Languedoc’s best producers.

Aromas of fuzzy white peach and a heavy perfume of white flowers floats from the

glass. It has a creamy, lush mouthfeel, impressive purity of fruit and a soft, floral,

dry finish. Nicely balanced and refreshingly different. Great value for under a tenner.

89 points.

* I love the sheer voluptuousness of stone fruit on show in this bottle but there’s freshness too. A real Mae West of a wine. Mas de Daumas Gassac has a had a cult following for some years now. Not everyone is a fan, but why argue Mae?

Fourth place: Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (Marlborough, New Zealand; 13.0%; £16.00, wine2drink)

There are so many New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs on the market that these days it’s

rare to find one that really stands out. This one however, made by Kevin Judd,

former winemaker at Cloudy Bay, is exceptional. There’s vivid asparagus, cut grass,

aloe and gooseberry flavour, but it’s not overblown like some of its compatriots.

Fragrant, crisp, balanced and incredibly long, this is a very accomplished New

Zealand Sauvignon. 89 points.

* I don’t tend to drink NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Nothing wrong with the wines. But perhaps at some point they just got a bit too cookie cutter. Not the case with this one. Sure the price tag is higher than your Oyster Bay but the quality and individuality of it shines through.

Fifth place: Domaine Des Cigalounes 2011 (Lirac, France; 15.0%; £11.56, Wineman)

After the two champion Liracs we had last month, here’s another on that hit the

spot. A blend of 60% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre, this has plenty of

blackberry, hung game and dense black cherry on the nose. It’s loaded with local

garrigue (wild herb) character which provides a herbal lift to the ripe, potent fruit. A

complete and delicious foodie wine that’s like having several courses all at once. 88

points.

* Love the names of some the Chateaus in France. Cigalounes just cries out to be the name of a whisky distillery in the Highlands or Jura. Not as good as the table-topping Liracs from our last tasting be good enough to make the top 5.

Mr Vine Tasting Numero 2 & 3

As I mentioned in a previous blog I joined up with new online wine buying app Mr Vine as one-fifth of a dynamic tasting team. Well, we got together twice more after our maiden meet in March, which meant it was a spring of full of sampling and from that bevy o bottles, here be the heroes…
April is known more for it’s showers than it’s baths.
First place: Château Dereszla Dry Tokaji 2013 (Tokaj, Hungary; 14.0%; £12.34, The Oxford Wine Company)
This unusual white is bursting at the seams with honeyed apricot, baklava and rosewater flavour. Rich, ripe and lush but it remains vibrant. Totally non-mainstream and so much the better for that. A jewel of a wine. 92 points.
Second place: Château Peychaud Cotes de Bourg 2012 (Bordeaux, France; 13.5%; £10.40, The Oxford Wine Company)
Very appealing on the nose – blackberries, cedar and Havana cigars – coupled with loads of concentrated dark fruit flavour. It’s not always easy to find good value in Bordeaux but this is very impressive for the price. Considering the relatively obscure appellation it’s a thoroughbred. 88 points.
Third place: Domaine du Haut Peron Touraine Sauvignon Blanc Vieilles Vignes 2013 (Loire, France; 12.0%; £10.79, The Oxford Wine Company)
With fistfuls of gooseberry, kiwi and green pepper, this couldn’t be anything but Sauvignon Blanc. It wasn’t unanimously loved but those that did enjoy its soft fruitiness, intense fruit flavour and vibrant acidity. 88 points.
Fourth place: Weingut Josef Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner Loessterrassen 2014 (Kremstal, Austria; 12.0%; £10.99, The Real Wine Company)
A good introduction to the Grüner grape. Pithy and citric with a green apple tang and a characteristic whiff of white pepper. Vibrant lime juice acidity provides plenty of refreshment through the clean, mineral finish. 88 points.
Fifth place: Weingut Martin Kohl Zweigelt Classic Red 2013 (Niederösterreich, Austria; 13.0%; £8.99, The Real Wine Company)
Wow – the first thing you notice is the lip-smacking acidity, but there is plenty of perky, crunchy red berry fruit and piquant spice underneath. The label might be rather plain but this has lots of personality for the money. Try drinking it lightly chilled – it’s a stunner for the summer! 87 points.
May is so much more than a month.
First Place: Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine Lirac Blanc 2013 (Rhône, France; 13.5%; £11.30, Nickolls & Perks) 
A peachy mélange of three much underrated white grapes from the Rhône: Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier. More ripe stone fruit flavours like apricot and nectarine in the mouth give it a lovely lush texture. This would work well with fairly rich dishes but is deliciously drinkable by itself. Plenty of impact but perfectly balanced – a very successful blend. 90 Points.
Second Place: Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine Lirac Rouge 2011 (Rhône, France; 13.5%; £11.30, Nickolls & Perks)
Another generously flavoursome Rhône blend from this reliable producer, this time red: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan. Rich and intense with forest berries, cigar tobacco and hung game, this is a wine in a deep red smoking jacket. It really won us over; it’s hearty without being heavy. 88 Points.
Third Place: Domaine Bourdon Saint Veran 2011 (Burgundy, France; 13.0%; £12.60, Nickolls & Perks)  
Lots of attractive, gentle apricot and peach here – there’s a touch of honey and caramel too but thankfully it hasn’t been clobbered by oak. It has a lovely, silky, rounded mouthfeel and impressive intensity of flavour. A lot of wine for the money, which is relatively rare when it comes to white Burgundy. 89 Points.
Fourth Place: Caligiore Malbec 2013 (Mendoza, Argentina; 14.0%; £10.49, Vinceremos)
There’s a lot of samey Malbec out there, but this isn’t one of them. It has layers of dark chocolate, concentrated blueberry, succulent plum and coffee bean flavour. A wine to cosy up with that’s crying out for steak – it’s a muscular Malbec that would happily stand up to a juicy ribeye. 88 Points.
Fifth Place: Bodegas Parra Jimenez ‘Parra’ Verdejo 2013 (Castilla-La Mancha, Spain; 12.5%; £6.99, Vinceremos)
Verde-who? This white grape is native to Spain and makes pungent, herbal styles of wine with loads of personality. It’s like a trek through the tropics: guava, greengage and pithy grapefruit. Not exactly subtle, but it’s a fun, sunny BBQ party wine that’s a shoe-in for lovers of Sauvignon Blanc. 85 Points.
For those of you with a keen eye, you may notice that 2nd place actually scored less than 3rd place. This occurred thanks our democratic and enlightened method of judging; in which our overall enjoyment of the wine actually trumps the average score. Pipe. Smoke. It.
And that was that as they say.
For more info go to mrvine.co.uk and/or to simply download the app go to the app store and search Mr Vine.

Aldi Revisited

It was November 2013 when I published my first (mostly) glowing review of Aldi wines and spirits. Since then I have been loyally going to their autumn/winter and spring/summer tastings. There have been highs and lows but I decided now was the time to shine a light on a few beauties that I sampled at their most recent tasting.

Sparkling

*Star Buy* – Belletti Rosé Spumante DOC / £5.99 / 11% ABV / Veneto, Italy

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 15.57.38 Now as I lifted the glass to taste this deep pink popper, I had already begun to cringe with the fear of how awful it was going to be. Pink fizzy drinks labelled spumante with such a small price tag are notoriously sweet, ghastly and probably responsible for some of the worst hangovers in the history of modern drinking (not a fact). But my preemptive grimace was whisked from my visage and replaced with joyful surprise as the liquid made contact with my tongue. Dried strawberry danced over my palate, rose petals hovered overhead, there was some nice tannic structure and it finished dry and clean. Made from 100%, little known native Italian varietal Raboso, this a firecracker of a fizz. Dangerously glug-able and available seasonally so stock up now!

Runner Up – Philippe Michel Cremant du Jura 2012 / £7.29 / 12% ABV / Jura, France

Showing rich biscuit and lemon zest this Aldi stalwart deserves all the plaudits it continues to get year after year from wine critics. Consistency and value are the watchwords here from this champagne method sparkler. Hailing from the mountainous region of south-east France not far from the Swiss border, it’s certainly worth having a few bottles of this “Blanc de Blanc” (100% Chardonnay) knocking about for that Tuesday night when only bubbles will do.

White

*Star Buy* – Lot 02 Tasmanian Chardonnay 2013 / £9.99 / 12.5% ABV / Tasmania, Australia

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 15.47.16As I have mentioned Aldi excel in the lower price brackets, but often I’ve felt that when they’ve tried to go glam the wines lacked the class and finesse of bottles at the same price point stocked by other retailers. But the winds of change do blow with their “The Lot Series”. I was extremely impressed with this excellent example of oaked Chardonnay. Round and generous but bursting with tart Granny Smith apple, layers of aromatic acacia wood and tingling apple skin acidity. A bouncy joy of a wine. The wines of Tasmania really are starting to turn some heads. Literally a world away from the Australian continent, with a generally cooler climate which allows “Tassie” winemakers to craft their own unique identity. The focus is on top quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; not to mention probably producing the best sparkling wines ‘Down Under’.

Runner Up – The Exquisite Collection Rias Baixas Albariño 2014 / £5.99 / 12.5% ABV / Rias Baixas, Spain

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 15.58.16This racy, minerally, sea salt crusted gem of a grape that loves the rugged ocean swept coast of north-west Spain has been on the rise for a good few years now. A popular wine list alternative to Sauvignon Blanc or equally fashionable Picpoul de Pinet, Albariño (Al-Ba-Reen-Yo) can command some hefty prices both down the gastro pub and in the wine shop. But what continues to be one of Aldi’s strengths is that they are good at getting solid wines from well-known regions at very reasonable prices. Their own label example from the Galician heartland of Rias Baixas has that characteristic high acid, saline, stone fruit element as well as being pure and clean with a lime juice finish that makes you mad for toasted almonds, green olives and another sip. Again it’s a seasonal offering so get a dozen while you can.

Honourable Mention – Pierre Bonnet Vouvray 2014 / £5.99 / 12% ABV / Loire, France

I love of the wines of the Loire, they really do it all. Stunning dry whites with laser-like acidity made from Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc. Crunchy red fruit, green pepper and graphite etched reds from Cabernet Franc. But they also produce cracking, good value fizz and sublime dessert wines too. The region of Vouvray in the Touraine district is dedicated almost solely to Chenin Blanc and is famous around the world for it’s sensational sec (dry), demi-sec (semi-sweet) and moelleux (sweet) versions of this somewhat unsung darling of white varietals. Pierre Bonnet’s wine has lovely pear, lime and lush lemon curd. The texture is a touch creamy but clean and finishes with a hint of dry white flowers.

Red

*Star Buy* – Lot 3 Pezenas 2013 / £9.99 / 14.5% ABV / Languedoc, France 

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 15.46.49Aldi’s Lot Series comes up trumps again with this sun-baked blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah and just a squirt of Carignan. I have visited the Languedoc a couple times and it’s an unspoilt wine and food lovers playground. The reds do tend to the boozier end of the spectrum, but they have bags of finesse and class too. Pezenas (name of the commune in L’Herault department of Languedoc-Roussillon) pops with perfumed violet, that shows dark fresh fruit, a meaty texture and underpinned by a fine grey slate structure. Certainly one to decant a few hours before and have with friends over a hearty Gallic inspired meal.

Runner Up – The Exquisite Collection Limestone Coast Cabernet 2013 / £6.49 / 13.5% ABV / Limestone Coast, Australia

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 16.00.14I cannot recall the last time I recommended a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, let alone an Australian one. That said don’t go out and buy a lottery ticket. The Limestone Coast has within it’s boundaries the almighty Coonawarra region and is responsible for producing 1/3 of Oz’s quality wines, which are often awarded top honours. The nose has a lovely earthy red berry note to it. Upon swishing it around my gob, what struck me right away was the texture. Chewy and fleshy with gorgeous juicy raspberry, blackberry and hit of menthol. It finished slightly gamey with a long inky cassis finish. Went pretty well with my homemade lasagna and was ” the best vegetarian lasagna I have ever eaten” according to my lovely wife. As part of their core range, it should be easier to track down and track it down you must.

Honourable Mention – Toro Loco Bobal Merlot 2013 / £4.49 / 13% ABV /Utiel-Requena, Spain

No Aldi review would be complete without a sub fiver bottle and it’s from good old “Crazy Bull”; whom I have recommended before. There’s ripe dark cherry, generous warming mouthfeel and a nice spicy bite on the finish. Bobal is a varietal native to Utiel-Requena (Valencia) and the main component in nearly all Toro Loco wines. Fitting really as the name Bobal is derived from the Latin “bovale”, referring to the shape of a bull’s head. Great spag bol or sangria wine for tapas.

Spirits

*Star Buy* – Maynard’s 1990 Colheita Port / £14.99 / 20% ABV / Douro, Portugal 

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 15.45.38Maynard’s is Aldi’s flagship port producer and this 25-year-old vintage tawny (Colheita is the term used to describe a vintage tawny) is absolutely dreamy. There’s coffee, gingersnap biscuit, cigar leaf, rich Medjool date, dry fig and finishing with English Breakfast tea tannins. Delicious. I defy anyone to find a fortified wine of this age and quality under £15. Oh, and if you happen to, do send me a sample 😉

 

Runner Up – Goccia D’Oro Limoncello / £7.99 / 25% ABV / Italy

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 15.59.32I am sure many of you who ever have been on holiday in Italy have at one time or another been sat “digesting” after an epic meal and the host/hostess of that particular carb kingdom has brought over a frosted bottle with contents that resembled runny custard. Small shots are poured out and the viscous yellow liquid is sipped or chucked down in one depending on who has drunk the most vino rosso. I have had some wonderful (often homemade) Limoncello in such establishments and had some that did more harm than good. So it was with some trepidation that I sampled this product new to Aldi’s range. Perhaps not as cold as it could have been but it ticked the boxes. Tart, creamy, yummy out of the freezer after dinner, cold melted lemon curd digestive drinky drink.

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 16.04.20Honourable Mention – Caversham Cream Sherry / £5.25 / 18% ABV / Jerez, Spain

Recommending cream sherry!? Me? Looks that way.

So in addition to the normal number strewn white linen tables bedecked with bottles, the had put on a spread of Mozer Roth chocolates and sweetie booze pairings. Well, far be it from me to swan by such a spectacle without (in the name of science) testing their suggestions. Of the ones on offer by far my favourite was the Caversham Cream and almond milk chocolate match. The nutty edge in the sherry picked out the nuggets of nut and the smooth texture of the milk chocolate mingled happily with that of the “cream”. Easiest dessert in the world and you can feed 8 for under a tenner.

Looking at the rest of Aldi’s spirit range on the tasting literature you might be forgiven for thinking you had accidentally been given a list of military grandees; so many medals!

Still a big fan of their Oliver Cromwell Dry Gin (£9.99), Highland Black 8 Y/O Scotch Whisky (£12.99) has a permanent place on my “sideboard” and Ballycastle Irish Cream (£3.99) is a blooming bargain and stands up to bigger brands of that ilk with charm.

It’s not all love songs and roses though. An area that Aldi still needs to improve on is their beer and ciders. Very disappointing. Step it up guys!

While you may not always be guaranteed to get exactly what you want on a trip to Aldi, they certainly have enough good stuff in their ranges that it will never be a wasted trip.

Check out Aldi’s Wine Cellar range yourself.

 

 

Who is Mr Vine?

A very good question and I shall answer it thusly…

Mr Vine is a brand spanking new (launched this week) free app that helps you discover, order and drink a new realm of wines that you are unlikely to have ever come across going to the supermarket. The reason for this is that Mr Vine is an online marketplace with over a 1,000 interesting wines across all budgets that are all brought to you by a dozen or so different independent UK wine merchants (and growing).

Setting up the app is easy. It just requires a few taps to plug in your preferences and then Mr Vine does all the heavy lifting, suggesting a stack of wines that fit your criteria. The layout is   simple and clean with a focus on ease of use. You see the image and price of the wine, then just a click takes through to a short description and the option to order. Nice. Orders are placed in-app and delivered to your door. Sadly it’s currently only available on IOS, but fear not non-Apple people! It will soon be launched on Android as well; you can download the IOS version here.

Now you must be asking yourself ” This is all very nice Nate but why are you plugging this app? “. ” What are you getting out of the deal? ” How cynical of you! You don’t know me at all! I may just be doing it because it’s a tale I want to tell, like all of my blogging/vlogging.

Seriously though, I am involved with the app. “How came someone of your narrow talents to this” you guffaw? Well, I’ll have you know that my dear pal Matt Walls (acclaimed auteur, serious scribe and vino virtuoso) asked me to join his merry band of tasters some months ago. Sworn to secrecy on pain of excommunication I joined a highly accredited wine loving panel that features Richard Hemming, Helena Nicklin, Zeren Wilson, the aforementioned “M” Walls and moi. “Crack team” I hear you mumble. Indeed!

As with all great ideas, they must have come from somewhere. That somewhere is the grey matter of fine wine trader Charlie Martin and former retail director at Majestic Greg Jones, who had a modern vision for getting great wines to ever more selective and curious consumers.

Each month the plan is that we’ll be locked in a room with a bunch of bottles which we’ll taste blind, scoring the wines out of 100, and each of us providing a tasting note. Last but not least we’ll argue, intimidate and threaten our way to picking our top five of the night. Now these may not necessarily be the ones that scored highest; an expensive, classic wine might get a high score, but we might want to champion others that we feel are great value for money or doing something that little bit different. Too right!

Normally we’ll be given a theme, tasting a selection of wines available via the app. At said tasting, the finest offerings should rise to the top in their particular style with us shouting out the best examples. All of wine, of course being available from our fine independent wine shops.

Despite not having a theme we all got together a little while back to hear from our creators, take a few promo shots and get our palates warmed up for the big tastings to come.

Here are the results:

First place: Côte Mas Piquepoul Frisant 2013 (Vin de France, 12.0%, £9.95, Soho Wine Supply)

This refreshing fizz made from the increasingly popular Piquepoul grape has bags of grapefruit, lemon and green apple flavour and was something of a revelation. The saline finish is very moreish and just begs you to take another sip. For under a tenner, this must be one of the best sparklers on the market. 89 points.

Second place: Stag’s Leap Petite Sirah 2009 (Napa Valley, USA, 14.1%, £25.00, Soho Wine Supply)

Luxurious and velvety, brooding and smoky. This is an intense, concentrated wine with flavours of blackberry, coffee bean and black cherries. The overall impression is punchy and polished, but it retains a sense of elegance and balance. Beauty and the beast all wrapped up in one. 91 points.

Third place: Boroli Quatro Fratelli Barbera d’Alba 2011 (Italy, 13.5%, £13.99, Soho Wine Supply)

A lovely, classic Barbera: bright and perky, with pure, crunchy red cherry and cranberry flavours. Versatile and highly drinkable, this just cries out for some good Italian food. Thirst quenching and juicy. 89 points.

Haute Cabrière Chardonnay Pinot Noir 2014 (Franschhoek, South Africa, 12.5%, £10.99, Hard to Find Wines)

This rose-gold coloured white is made from the same grapes commonly blended in Champagne. It’s fairly weighty, with deep apple and melon aromas and a silky texture. Clear, clean and just a little bit different. 87 points.

Clos des Menuts Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2009 (France, 13.5%, £19.20 Nichols and Perks)

Serious stuff: this is classic claret, with strong black fruit and a gamey, savoury, smoky character. It’s pretty dry, but with some soft, sumptuous fruits and a slightly furry texture. Deserves to be drunk alongside a plate of something meaty. 87 points.

For more info on the app and how it works, check out mrvine.co.uk

Mr Vine Tasting Team Photo

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 13.53.37

 

 

Devil’s Peak Brewing

In this video I sample an American Pale Ale and The King’s Blockhouse IPA from Cape Town brewery Devil’s Peak. As well as bigging up two other Cape Town craft brewers Jack Black’s Brewing Co. and Cape Brewing Company.

http://www.devilspeakbrewing.co.za/
http://www.jackblackbeer.com/
http://capebrewing.co.za/

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