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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.

 

 

East Anglian Wines

Ah East Anglia, ancient home of Boudica; the warrior queen of the Roman routing Iceni tribe folk. Though the centurions eventually got their own back and as a result grapevines were planted en masse in what is the modern day Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. EA once produced 40% of the grapes in Britannia due to it’s fabulous terroir; particularly chalky limestone soils and low rainfall. However since its heyday a thousand or so years ago it has been eclipsed by Kent and Sussex as England’s premiere wine regions. But East Anglia’s vinous traditions live on ; as I found out on a dark autumn evening of tasting at the West Street Vineyard in Coggeshall, Essex.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.04.44There was a handful of wineries present, but I kicked off with New Hall Vineyards and their decent Bacchus 2012. The UK’s premiere white grape showed itself as fresh grapefruit, medium dryness and fragrant subtle green menthol smoke. Signature 2012 is a blend of the little known German varietal Siegegrubbe and better known Pinot Gris. I enjoyed the harmony of white flowers and spicy apricot. It was a good weight, had nice freshness nice body and a zesty kiwi finish. Even better was the Signature Reserve 2009 with its rich ripe muscat nose, clinging acidity, dry green apple and fresh pineapple. The Pinot Noir Rose 2012 had smoky strawberry, flinty stone on the nose and on the palate zippy cranberry was rich long and classy. Most impressive was their Brut Rose 2010 which was a blend of Chardonnay and Pinots Noir & Blanc. It was lean, a bit green but very fine fizz with a real classy rich biscuit tone that finished with a touch raspberry. Very good indeed.

New Hall is headed up by the UK Vineyards Association Winemaker of the Year 2013 and East Anglia winemaking royalty Piers Greenwood. Piers has a deep knowledge and wise warm wisdom when talks about his wines. But it was the regard with which other winemakers spoke about him that told the real story. Piers has an incredible passion for raising the wine profile of the area and does this by consulting at a number of  other wineries in the region.

Set up “Essexites” the Mohan family in 2009 West Street Vineyard does more than it says on the tin. As well as being a micro vineyard (5.5Acres) actually in the village of Coggeshall, its home to “The Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.06.15Wine Barn”; a modern cafe restaurant complete with wine wall that boasts the best wines the UK has to offer. Tastings, tours and more are available at this Anglian wine hub, but I digress… First up was their White 2011 (Faber and Bacchus) which showed pretty well with it’s flinty fresh acidity, super tangy lemon pith and clean finish. Their Rose 2011 (Faber and Pinot Noir) really impressed; smoky earthy red berries, tart cranberry and a pleasingly high acids. Their good run continued with a fine Brut 2010; a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay showing ripe white melon, “prosecco” pear and rich brioche. Very nice indeed. I wasn’t familiar with the German Faber variety (Pinot Blanc/Müller-Thurgau cross) to which the site was originally planted, but Stephen and Jane have put a rather dull grape to good use by blending it newer plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

That theme of diversification is taken to a new level by Suffolk’s Lavenham Brook who in addition to their award winning wines they rear Red Poll Beef, Suffolk Lamb and produce single varietal heritage apple juice. The Bacchus 2012 dripped delightful peach, white melon, vibrant lime moving into dry tingling apricot  finish. Soft red berries, nice texture and a touch leathery were the notes I made about their solid Pinot Noir Rosé 2012. There was a real class to both wines which came as no surprise when I found out that Herr Greenwood is the winemaker there as well.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.05.45Shawsgate is one of East Anglia’s oldest commercial vineyards which may explain their rather dated website homepage. I did however like their wines and the smart clean packaging as well. Bacchus 2011 showed lime, white flower, soapstone, pine needles and a super dry green apple finish. Pandora 2011; a blend of Seyval Blanc and Müller-Thurgau was off dry with vague citrus and ok weight. Spanish Rosado in style their Rosé 2010 (Rondo; a red cross of Czech origins popular here in the UK for making good Rose, though I have yet to have a very good red made from it) tasted ripe and gamey, had generous strawberry, was long, full-bodied and very drinkable. The hits kept coming as I moved to their bubbles. The 2004 Brut made from Seyval Blanc seduced with exotic Asian (apple) pear, rich cashew nut and was all over me with dense lime cheesecake yet zesty yummy freshness. Superb stuff.  2008 Rosé (Rondo and Acalon:another German red import) was meaty, with hints of lovely Brazil nut, strawberries and cream. Really liked the wild raspberry finish.

Much decorated family run Giffords Hall for me produced the best Bacchus (Defacto white grape of England, producing some of the countries most consistent white wines. Its a Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.06.04saucy threeway cross of Silvaner, Riesling with good old Müller-Thurgau) of the day. Their 2012 held my attention with its bracing sea salt, fresh melon, stinging nettle and lovely lively finish. GH’s award-winning Rose 2012 made from a blend of Rondo and the promising Madeline Angevin (white Loire variety) showed off hints of smoke, fine red flinty greenish berries and a subtle meaty edge. Classy.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.05.28I was able to sample some very niche liqueurs from DJ’s Wines who are so boutique they don’t even have a website. My quote about their Bramble Whisky was concise and to the point “I could lose a few days on that, but I wouldn’t mind”. While I was more measured when describing Monks Mead, the product of hard working bees that was fresh, fruity and light with notes of aged honey, heather and citrus zest.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.05.06I found time before dinner to move from the grape to the grain with samples from the English Spirit Distillery who are making some sensational spirits including the masterful Old Salt Rum. I found myself softly singing old sea shanties as I sipped this international gold medal winning rum. If you love rum or know someone who does then you must seek out this wonder, that uses traditions centuries old to distill this treacle laden, salted caramel, bananalicious beauty.

I had a chance to chat with Piers Greenwood during dinner and mightly enjoyed hearing his stories. His ethos, how he fell in love with wine and winemaking left an impression on me. With a guardian like him overseeing this reinvigoration of East Anglia vineyards then these smattering of awards and accolades I feel will only increase. The result being hopefully more bottles from this ancient and noble English wine region being enjoyed by the descendants of the Romans who first planted those vines. Oh and Boudica’s as well…

Postscript: I had a look at the websites and other social media for these producers and (with the exception of Lavenham Brook and to a lesser extent Giffords Hall) felt most of them really needed to update and expand their online reach. A twitter account, facebook page and attractive easy to use website are must haves in this modern world of marketing. Ignore them at your peril.

Fatourada fi Greek Liqueur

The manner in which this artesian Greek liqueur actually came into my possession sounded a bit like a dodgy first draft of an espionage/crime short story. It would be called:

Mr Drink ‘N’ Eat and the mysterious Greek Fatourada

My name is Mister, Mr Drink n Eat. I am a private palate for hire. It was August 2013 and I was minding my own business when I was got message (via Facebook) from a woman named Vicky Peristanoglou (sounded Greek) to see if I was interested in trying Fatourada fi. I had never heard of it. But it was unusual stuff, exotic; my interest was peaked. It all seemed pretty innocent so far, but the wrinkle came when I asked how she would get it to me. I was told mailing it was complicated and dangerous. I wondered why? She had valid reasons, but it could have been a smokescreen.

A few months later I got word that it finally had arrived in the UK, and I would be contacted with more information. One afternoon my phone buzzed with a text from someone named Eric who claimed to have the Fatourada in his possession. He wanted to meet. Who was this ‘Eric’? What did he have to do with Vicky P and the Fatourada? Over the coming months as it seemed difficult to arrange a suitable meeting time with him in London. Why couldn’t I tie this guy down? What was his game?

Finally, the big day arrived with the swap due to go down at 14:30 GMT at Cabin wine bar, Waterloo station. It needed to be someplace public; I had made that mistake before. I decided to arrive early to get the drop on him. Taking a seat at a high bar table gave me a full view of the whole station. Ordering a glass of wine and a bite to eat I scanned the crowd, my senses alert. My courier arrived some minutes later in the form of a Greek economics student named Eric (spooky). Early twenties, well groomed, intelligent and from a good family as far as I could tell. He sat and handed over the package, but then asked me to choose him a glass of wine (was this a test?), so I did. He seemed happy with it and we exchanged pleasantries for a half hour or so, then he said goodbye and left disappearing into the crowded station. I wondered if I would see him again. I guess it didn’t matter because when I opened the bag, it contained a rather fetching looking bottle with a liquid inside the colour of melted amber. I couldn’t help noticing cinnamon stick tied to the neck. Could it be a message? But there was more… A plain envelope with Mr Nathan Nolan (an alias of mine) written in black ink. Inside was a single sheet of paper, a printed message from the producers Yiannis Koulelis and Maria Copsachilis thanking me for my interest in their product and being honored to hear my feedback. But was there’s more to it.

The case took another 6 months to close as I tried to find the right occasion to taste it. The time finally came when I met up with a fellow private palate whose tastebuds I trust more than my own. Walls, Matt Walls is his name and we drank it with our good ladies the other week. Here’s what we thought:

The nose began with a blast of citrus orchard, then hints of marzipan, maraschino cherry and digging deeper came rich notes of warm cinnamon and cardamom. But all the while I was getting sprays of fresh Sevilla orange zest. The texture is viscous and buttery (akin to some dessert wines) with a complex flavour profile. The mulled wine spices nibbled my tongue and lounged on my palate, but there was more: brandy butter, orange studded clove, waxy lemon, Christingle and an intense Cosmopolitan brûlée finish. I really liked its layers of orange spice and it was enjoyed by all paired with a walnut and caramel tart.  Coming out at 21% AVB and being so decadent perhaps its too rich to drink more than a small glass, but a small glass was all you needed. I for one felt very lucky to have tasted such a unique and well crafted elixir. Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 12.12.12

Yiannis and Maria produce their spiced nectar by hand in small batches on the beautiful Greek island of Kythira (Kythera/Cythera). The name Fatourada itself is borrowed from a time when Venetians ruled Kythira (along with a number of other Aegean islands) with the heady libation only consumed by its wealthy elite. The base spirit made from Hamburg Muscat grapes is double distilled in their copper pot still before it is allowed to macerate with the green skins of locally hand picked oranges and cinnamon wood.

Fatourada fi is certainly the sort of thing you could imagine the Gods sipping while they lounged around Mount Olympus plotting love affairs with nymphs and battles with Hydras.

Check out their facebook page or contact them on twitter for more information.

The case of the mysterious delicious Fatourarda fi was now closed.

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

Aldi Winter Tasting

Aye, it’s Aldi Captain, but not as we’ve known it

Aldi was once seen as on a par with Lidl and such like, just another continental out of shape budget supermarket that was good for things like chocolate, mysterious tinned goods, exotic looking biscuits and frozen lobster at Christmas, but little else. However over the past few years Aldi has been hitting the gym and is looking good, business is booming(pre-tax profits jumped 124% in 2012), yes it is partly to do with this age of austerity we are living in, but it is also because Aldi has begun attracting higher earners with it’s buff premium ‘Specially Selected’ food range & ‘Equisite Collection’ wines. I had read some good things about their wines so went along myself to see what all the fuss was about.

Things started out reasonably well with their fizz selection at the sub £10 level. Worth mentioning is Prosecco Superiore DOCG Valdobbiadene & Philippe Michel Cremant de Jura 2011. I found the Prosecco a bit chemical but won’t put most folks off at £7.29. The Cremant was a bit green and sharp, but for a Champagne method sparkler it’s worth a punt at £6.99.

I was most impressed by their entry level Champagne Veuve Monsigny NV Philizot & Fils. Warm buttery lemon & classic rich yeasty biscuit at £11.99 a bottle it’s an absolute steal. May load up on some myself. More great value can be found in magnums(1.5L) with Charles Mignon Champagne NV which is available from the end of November at £29.99 while stocks last.

Finally the Grand Cru Champagne NV Jannisson & Fils with it’s mature yeasts, nettles, lemon zest is a classy drop and a snip at £23.99(available early November while stocks last).

Moving onto the whites I braced my palate seeing the £3.99 pricetag on Cambalala Chenin Blanc 2013. Oh me of little faith, fragrant fresh and perfectly acceptable. Decent Sub £4 wines in the UK are very scarce so this was a welcome discovery indeed. Three very good whites under the ‘Exquisite Collection’ followed. First up was a £4.99 Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc 2012, grassy clean & concentrated. Next the perfumed, green, generous stone fruit laden Sud de France Sauvignon Blanc Viognier 2012 @ £5.99 was a real winner. Saving the best for last Limoux A.C. 2012, made from 100% Chardonnay producing a tremendously complex wine with notes of rich smoky bacon, green plums and spicy smoky finish. I absolutely loved this £6.99 wine from the Languedoc in Southern France, an area more famous for making sparkling wine but on the strength of this we should be drinking more of their still whites.

The bargains continued with two roses on offer. Both from Spain(La Mancha & Utiel-Requena), both under £4 and both very drinkable. Grapevine Tempranillo Garnacha 2012 £3.29, yes 3 pounds and twenty nine pence. Toro Loco 2012 made from the interesting native Bobal grape was more complex and still only £3.69.

Things didn’t get off to the best start with the reds, and it wasn’t till wine number 5 that I thought “Hmmm… this isn’t too bad”. That was a £4.49 Pinot Noir NV by Vignobles Roussellet, then I hit two notables in a row with De la Rougerie Bordeaux Superior 2011 Toro Loco Reserva 2010 both impressing for their honest expression & £4.99 price tags. There was another spell of forgettable bottles before I hit a run of 7 stars(call me lucky), ranging from good to excellent and all from Spain & Italy. The bargain of the Spanish bunch at £5.49 was Minarete Ribera Del Duero D.O. Roble 2011 and is everything you could want in 100% Tempranillo from a highly regarded region.Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 15.39.50 Grippy tannins, earthy black fruit, good mouth feel and nice length. Two more solid Spanish wines followed in Baron Amarillo Gran Reserva Rioja 2005 (£9.99) and The Exquisite Collection Priorat Crianza 2010 (£7.99). But it was a trio of Italians, the 3 Tenors if you will, that had me singing O Sole Mio into my glass.

First The Exquisite Collection Chianti Classico Riserva D.O.C.G. 2009 (£8.99) seduced with its gamey licorice, menthol, sour dried cherry, tobacco & cigar box. Also from Aldi’s EC range was a rich inky, liquorice allsorts, smoky blackberry Valipolicella Ripasso D.O.C. Superiore 2010. Perhaps a touch sweet but for £7.99 a bottle you won’t hear me complaining.

Finally my red of the day, Conventino Barolo D.O.C.G. 2009. It may have been a tank sample with a ratty temporary label but damn my taste buds it was magnificent! Wet undergrowth, fall leaves, hung game, dry dry fruit, pungent prune, earthy and rooted. Barolo is a notoriously complex & often restrictively expensive, a wine that took me many years to begin to appreciate. But this at £9.99 this accessible example is most definitely one to buy by the case (available November 24 while stocks last).

Domaine Lou Frejau Chateauneuf-Du-Pape 2012 was good but at £14.99 no better value than what other supermarkets can offer. More impressive was Edouard Delaunay Gevrey Chambertain 2007 with it’s mushroom, faded red fruits, game birds, lifted red berry perfume, licorice root, sad strawberry and salty leather tannins. Though not a great vintage at £19.99 a bottle if you are after some value Burgundy you could do much worse. 

The Fortified and Sweet Wines section kicked off with a double bang with Austrian Selection Beernaulese(£5.99) that was all lush apricot, honeycomb & candied melon. The Exquisite Collection Eiswein(Ice wine) from Germany was even more special with notes of creamy apple, flinty minerals and a long, fresh, smoky green finish. Lovers of Ice wine know they can be very expensive indeed, which makes this beauty at £7.99 all the more remarkable.

 

On the Port front their flagship Maynard’s ranged from a superb LBV(Late Bottled Vintage) right up to a decent 1989 Vintage with two very good Tawnies in the middle. My affections lay with the LBV that showed dense fig, prune, nutty chocolate and a real value buster @ £9.99.

Slightly disappointing was the beer and cider range. Though Sheppy’s Vintage Cider & Church’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer were solid enough performers.

They got back to winning ways though with their spirit selection. Right out of the traps their core range Oliver Cromwell London Dry Gin made me take notice with it’s light fragrant touch, that was balanced with just the right amount of Juniper. Bloody good for £9.99! An interesting 1973 Vintage Brandy(£29.99 & available while stocks last) followed before I was treated to 4 super whiskies and a top bourbon. Highland Black 8 Y/O Scotch Whisky was on the money with nettles, lavender & long earthy smoky finish, only £12.99. Glen Marnoch 12 Y/O was more sweet subtle smooth honey & heather at £18.79. Glen Marnoch 24 Y/O took the my breath away, literally. My note was “Wild boar on fire in my mouth”. A beast of a scotch not for the faint of heart, but very good indeed at £34.99. My favorite was Glen Orrin 30 Y/O Whisky(Available Dec 8 while stocks last) which had me saying things like “History, fishy bowels of a sailing ship, salty, TCP, pepper, long complex, so moving, wow!”. A whisky tremendous character but not cheap at £49.99 for 70cl. Finally from over the pond Jefferson’s Small Batch Bourbon wooed me with frontier charms of pine resin, gun smoke, savory white pepper & super spicy finish. Not a bad deal at £29.99.

Usually I skip liqueurs at a tasting but was drawn to their range frankly because it was cheap, and good value had definitely been the buzz word for the day.  I tasted all 6 of them and will be popping into Aldi to buy 4 or 5 of them as they weren’t half bad. Orange Liqueur was a touch chemical but at £5.99 worth it if you like Gran Marnier or Cointreau type drinks. A solid Ginger Wine, a must for Holiday cocktails was an amazing £3.29, Amaretto £4.99 for 50cl again did what it said on the tin and with style. Ballycastle Irish Cream Liqueur for £4.29 will have you switching from that more famous & expensive B named brand in a Gaelic heartbeat. Finally if you’re a real discerning drinker of the creamy stuff then the step up to Specially Selected Irish Cream will suit you down to the ground, and only £6.49!

 

 

 

Ok so currently they have less stores and you can’t get your groceries online but judging from this tasting Aldi is most certainly fighting fit for the modern age. Morrison’s, Tesco et all better watch their backs…

 

 

Silent Sipping

This is a homage to the days of silent films, and came about because I forgot to turn my mike on.
I am tasting a 21 Year old Speyside Whisky Liqueur, 15 Year Old Bas Armagnac and a Salted Caramel Chocolate Brownie.

Eating Brixton

The transformation of Brixton over the past 5 years into a foodie drinky haven has been one of the most dramatic in London and luckily I live about ten minutes away. The downside to having such a culinary cornucopia on ones doorstep is that there is now so much choice, that deciding where to wet my whistle or calm those hunger pains has become a real challenge!

I fell in love with that sourdough pizza perfection that is Franco Manca some years ago as it was one of the first to see the potential in Brixton’s Market Row. Still probably the best pizza I have ever had.Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.05.19

Just a few doors down is the Bukowski Grill. As the name suggests it’s pure Americana.  A laid back dark moody space with boozy milkshakes, good beers and American BBQ. Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.04.25Crispy Cajun popcorn shrimp were the perfect amuse bouche. Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.11.08I found the rub a bit dry on the intensely flavoured smoky ribs, but this steak sandwich impressed despite my sourdough being a tad burnt. My favourite were these tobacco onions, sliced fine and battered in a KFC type batter. Heaven… The bill was very reasonable and with Charlie’s Beat poems adorning the walls of the toilets it was a “trip” worth taking.

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.04.40Next door is Wishbone more US import style food but turning our attention to the humble chicken. I went on cold Sunday night and without heating or doors, we froze our wings off. Speaking of which we sampled a two styles of deep fried flappers. Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.16.11If I’m honest the food didn’t really hit all the right notes. Batter lacked crunch & sauces tasted a bit pre fab. The very en vogue deep fried mac n cheese was a bit soggy stodgy as opposed to crunchy gooey. The spare decor of the place & lack of warmth made it feel like we were eating in a meat locker, which certainly didn’t the food any favours. So in fairness should go back and give em another shot…

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.17.40Over in Brixton Village I ate some of the best Thai food I have had in recent memory. Kaosarn is on the outside corner off Coldharbour Lane. A simple cafe type set up, wooden tables, paper napkins & plain white plates. But the food! I had this astonishing Gang Kua Sapparod Goong aka Red Prawn Curry with tomatoes, kaffir lime, coconut milk & pineapple. The flavours so distinct and nuanced. The rice fluffy, the prawns succulent. Kaosarn is great value and a must visit.Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.18.03

Inside Brixton Village is Senzala Creperie which is great for lunch or brunch. They do super buckwheat pancakes or as the French call them galettes with all manner of fillings served with proper side salads. With the likes of Honest Burger(which I have still yet to visit due the massive lines outside every time I go), the Craft Beer Company & the Crown and Anchor(who do very good food as well) plus stacks more Brixton is sure to only increase it’s notoriety as the place to eat & drink in south London.

Bowmore Islay Single Malt Whisky “Darkest” 15 y/o

Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 14.19.22I am a fan of single malt whisky, though I confess to only being an amateur in it’s dark arts. Makes me feel quite serious when I drink it, a mature man. Not entirely sure why. Possibly the feeling was bestowed on me while watching some film as a wee lad and saw the hero drinking it while he wrote some great work or pined for a lost love or just drank himself into oblivion.

Over the years I seem to have developed a preference for Islay’s peaty smoky beasts. Though offerings from Campbeltown have seduced my palate of late.

This 15 year old Bowmore is 43%abv and has been aged in sherry cask.

My notes describe it thusly…

Eye- Golden amber

Nose- Burnt toffee, moist peat, warm honey, TCP & nettles

Palate- Rich & smoky, ginger nut, nutmeg, orange peel, clove, long earthy peat finish

Verdict- Found it a bit rough on the finish and lacks a little complexity for me. It would love some dark chocolate or a good cigar. Worth a punt.

It is available to buy from The Whisky Exchange & Masters of Malt