Monthly Archives: October 2011

Winter Sherry & not a grannie in sight

Hooray – I’ve managed to get hold of a case of Gonzalez Byass’ new Sherry release – Palmas.

One-off Sherry releases are all the rage right now, and the rarity factor of these limited edition wines is really helping to inject some excitement into Sherry as a wine style.

This Palmas range includes four Sherries– Fino Una Palma, Fino Dos Palmas, Fino Tres Palmas and Cuatro Palmas. In layman’s terms, these wines are a progressively more mature version of Gonzalez Byass’ most famous dry Sherry, the Fino that is Tio Pepe.

So, thanks to Lea & Sandeman, I’ve got a mixed case of Una, Dos and Tres (2 bottles of each) on their way to me next month, having being lucky enough to taste (and drink a little of) this range at last week’s launch party in London’s Sake No Hana.

I enjoyed all four in the range, but for me, numbers two and three had the most interest from a flavour and drinkability perspective (for my taste, I hasten to add).

Una Palma: A 6 year-old Fino. Definitely a souped up (mature) version of Tio Pepe, no question, but still with a crisp and tight mineral edge
Dos Palmas: An 8-year old Fino with salt and spice and a fresh, damp forest smell.
Tres Palmas: A 10-year old Fino with a concentrated almond and roasted lemon flavours underpinned by a tight smokiness
Cuatro Palmas: A heady combination of figs, coffee and cloves

Ordering these wines brought back fond memories of my trip to Jerez in May for the sensory onslaught of the annual Feria, and funnily enough it was only this morning that someone emailed me to say they had just found their camera (not sure how – we went in May!), and sent me piccies.

So here I am, suitably Tio Pepe’d up on the way back from the Feria, with the lovely Lucas Hollweg, recipe columnist of The Sunday Times Style Magazine and author of my favourite current cookbook – Good Things to Eat

While we’re on pictures, here’s one my favourites from the last week, which was taken at the Palmas launch in fact.
Now I know what you’re thinking… why the hell is Charles Metcalfe brushing his teeth at a Sherry party?

But this wasn’t any old toothpaste. Charles was bravely road testing the Tio Pepe-flavoured toothpaste (I kid you not) – the brainchild of James Fowler and Jon Lister, from a great new restaurant, The Larderhouse in Southbourne, near Bournemouth.

And the toothpaste isn’t their only invention…. check them out to find out more.

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Big Italians, funny Italians

It’s been a marathon few days, with a heavy slant on Italian wine, a subject which regular followers of my blog will know is a subject very dear to my heart.

It started on Saturday in a pop up gallery near Exmouth market in London. The gallery was host to Gruppo illy, of coffee fame, and the gallery was playing host to all manner of seminars, from coffee tastings to seminars on architecture.
But the company also owns a wine estate in the Tuscan region of Montalcino – Mastrojanni

My role involved co-hosting a vertical tasting of Mastrojanni’s Brunello di Montalcino, an event which was a sell-out (probably thanks to Jancis Robinson MW, who kindly gave the event a plug on her website).

I was joined at the front of the room by Francesco Illy. A bearded, relaxed and amusing guy, who clearly loves wine and who quickly rolled up his sleeves and started cracking bottles open not long after his arrival, and who regaled the attentive audience with his views on what should and shouldn’t be dismissed in Montalcino.

He believes, for example, that the mixed-reviewed 2006 vintage is just as good quality as that of the much-hyped vintage of 2004. We tasted the 2006, 2005, 2004 and 2003 Brunello di Montalcinos, followed by the 2006 and 2004 vintages of Mastrojanni’s one hectare, single vineyard plot of Brunello do Montalcino, Schiena d’Asino.

At the end of the event I did a quick straw poll to gauge people’s reactions. Perhaps predictably the favourite wine was the final one, the 2004 Schiena d’Asino. Was this because it was a revered vintage AND it was the single vineyard wine? Who knows.

What really impressed me though, was the lovely condition of the 2003. Fine, fruity, drinking for now, I would say it’s at its peak. Which goes to show that even in a a widely dismissed vintage in many parts of Europe after the intense heat wave, there are still good wines to be had from this year.

My second Italian wine highlight of the week was courtesy of Barbaresco producer Sottimano.

Andrea Sottimano, who hosted us at lunch, is that brilliant combination of being both hugely knowledgeable but hugely charming too, and his English so faultless that he joined in (and encouraged!) many a characteristically-British self depricating joke that even some British people probably wouldn’t get.

I was lucky enough to sit next to him at lunch in Enoteca Turi in Putney, where we had such a fabulous lunch, and as Piemontese as Lea & Sandeman (Sottimano’s importers since last year) could arrange, and so true to Piemonte form that it instigated many a spontaneous Italian rapture of praise from my Andrea during the course of the meal. I think it’s safe to say he was impressed.

We had a fabulous comparative tasting during the first course, of Piemontese roast veal and spinach ravioli with butter and sage (I know… And that was just the starter!). Andrea and Patrick Sandeman (I had been advised that the wines chosen for lunch was a joint decision between these two men) decided to show two different Barbaresco crus (vineyard sites) and vintages, the Fausoni 2007 and the Pajore 2006.

The difference was remarkable, and plain to see. While the Fausoni had plump, juicy fruit, and was soft and rounded, some might say more immediately drinkable, the 2006 at first looked lean and if I’m being honest, a little mean alongside it.

Boy did that change. By the time we’d finished the very generous starter (and before you ask, there was no question of not finishing it), the Fausoni was left whimpering in the corner, almost defeated, a bit like a 100m sprinter who had good intentions of finishing the races but whose wings had been clipped by one too many false starts.

The class of the 2006 went from strength to strength. And as the table discussed at length the ‘cerebral’ qualities of this tight but satisfyingly classy Nebbiolo wine, we were then treated to another wine brain strain, in the form of the same vineyard, Pajore, but from the 2004 vintage, alongside our roast and braised venison with soft polenta and wilted spinach.

The meal ended with another cru wine, Sottimano’s Cotta 2001, which was throwing a large amount sediment, for which Andrea apologised and explained it as the result of the previous day’s bmi flight coming over to London, which essentially gave the wine an inevitable Sodastream treatment. Nevertheless, it was still tasted beautiful, with a pleasing meaty breadth, fine acidity and a gorgeous texture. The lunch was an impeccable masterclass in Barbaresco.

While both Brunello and Nebbiolo are Italian varieties with a reputation for their macho, masculine styles, when accompanied by amusing and charming patrons, they seem to take on a whole new approachability.

While the wines’ quality were in no question, it’s also clear that I’m a bit of a sucker for someone who has a contagious laugh and who can crack a funny joke.

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Sauvignon sparkles

It started off with a topical visit to the Brancott Estate stand. Topical because Brancott Estate is an official sponsor of the Rugby World Cup, and rather than just hang out the bunting to mark the occasion, the producer launched a celebratory sparkling wine made from Sauvignon Blanc earlier this year.

So as I started my first Wine Walk at the Tesco Wine Fair in Brighton a couple of weekends ago, I thought it might be a good place to start for lovers of fizz/Sauvignon Blanc/rugby.

As it turns out, I wasn’t quite prepared for how popular this wine would be. Everybody absolutely loved it, even those who were sceptics of fizz and/or Sauvignon Blanc; the hallmark NZ Sauvignon pungent passion fruit intensity combined with the freshness of the bubbles (from the Charmat method, in most cases, I’ve been advised) is clearly a winning formula.

So it got me thinking about how far NZ could take this new trend.

And just as that thought sat bubbling away (no pun intended) in the back of my head, when I turned up at last week’s portfolio tasting of Negociants, an importer of Aus and NZ wine into the UK, I noticed another cheeky little fizzy Sauvignon Blanc in the corner – on the stand of Marlborough producer, Ara.

Granted, it’s not an uncommon wine to see these days, but it’s clearly becoming more prolific, so I took the opportunity at the Negociants tasting to ask David Cox, head of New Zealand Winegrowers for the UK & Europe, how popular this style is really becoming, and whether its existence is merely a useful way of mopping up all that surplus Sauvignon Blanc fruit that the country seems to produce every year.

David said: “Some of them might have started out that way, but now they’re really coming into their own because they’re really good wines, and so yes, there are quite a few coming onto the market.”

Ara’s One Estate Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc Brut aside, other sparkling Sauvies that have just been, or are about to be, launched include one from a new brand called ToiToi, one from sustainably committed producer Yealands Estate, one from NZ’s historically best known sparkling producer Lindauer, one from Marlborough producer Allan Scott and even Sainsbury’s is about to launch a Taste The Difference version, David tells me.

But that’s not all from NZ’s sparkling wine scene, as David is keen to remind me. He adds: “There are two categories of sparkling wine coming out of NZ, there are these ones as well as those using the traditional method (for, dare I say, Champagne-style wines) as we have all the right grapes and conditions for that. I want to make NZ the one-stop shop for New World sparkling wines for people.”

Let’s hope NZ’s sparkling wine prowess can be seen at the New Zealand wines table at The Wine Gang fairs, in London on 29th October and Edinburgh on 12th November.

Hope to see you then!

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