Aldi (7th Panel) Wine Club Tasting #2 – Kooliburra Rosé (Blend)

In a follow up to my previous tasting note for the Aldi Wine Club, this next bottle takes us to the other side of the world, and the south of Australia.

Named after the Aboriginal word for small lizard, the Kooliburra Rosé appropriately has a depiction of one on the label and, not only does the red colour of the label offset the deep wild salmon colouring of the wine, it’s also nicely textured with a dimpled sandy sensation.

The wine is bottled under screw-cap and, in a similar fashion to the previous Aldi tasting, again shows a real respect for the design and labelling of the bottle.  At the same time, it is what the label doesn’t tell you that actually has just as much impact.  Again we have no year of vintage specified, and the wine is simply labelled as being from ‘South East Australia’ (which is a big place!).  Thirdly, there’s not even a grape variety specified, so from this we can surmise that the final product is a blend of grapes, different years of production, and grown over an extremely large production region.

Whilst this doesn’t allow the drinker to pull out any details of typicity or origin, it does allow for a standardised house-blend to be achieved year after year, and in the vast production levels that allow the extremely light price-point of £3.79 to be achieved.

The last Aldi wine I tried hit exactly the same checkpoints and, despite my initial concerns, proved to be a very respectable wine.  The gauntlet is well and truly laid-down – can they do it again?

Kooliburra

Kooliburra Rosé Reserve, South Eastern Australia, Blend, 11%, £3.79

As mentioned above, first off the colour of the wine is a vibrant deep pink, which for me is reminiscent of the colour of wild salmon.  On the nose you get the notes of lighter red fruits such as strawberries and cranberries, but they’ve managed to deliver these with a great intensity and depth.  This means that the whole sensation of the nose has a dark and brooding character, rather than just being simple fruit.  I can also detect a confectionate air, which made me think of cherry drops and, along with noting that the alcohol is well under average at 11%, can start to give hints as to how the palate will deliver.

Sure enough, it kicks off with the clean, fresh, well ripened fruit notes of strawberries and cherries.  Whilst the wine is clearly all about the primary fruit, what it also delivers is a well-rounded blend that is totally full of flavour, and easily fills your mouth with a weight that carries through to the end of the palate.  The lush medium acidity is well balanced, but if I had one criticism, it would be that this wine has a good touch of sweetness from the lower alcohol.

As a quick primer to explain what this means – as sugar converts to alcohol in the fermentation process, if you have less alcohol in the finished product, you retain the unconverted sugars which will result in a sweeter wine.  Less alcohol in a wine isn’t a bad thing – it has a lot to do with the climate where the grapes are grown, so whilst Germany is at a marginal northern climate that naturally results in many wines of a lower alcohol, the year-round sunshine of southern Australia wouldn’t suggest this, so the sweetness is a stylistic choice.

To balance this out (if you’re not a fan of a sweeter wine) there’s a couple of things that will pair very well, and that’s either a warm summers day where the simple refreshment will ensure you could easily finish the bottle, or pairing it with a food dish.  In simple rule of thumb, a sweet wine will match best with a dish of equal sweetness, such as a dessert.  When the matching sweetness combines it creates the perception of a drier mouthfeel in the wine, and the acidity is cleaner.  I had this Rosé with Strawberries and Ice Cream and it was perfect.

In summary, this is a straight-forward, but well-realised blend, and absolutely stonking value for the price.  Online reviews agree, and this is currently a 5-star wine on the Aldi website which, whilst the introductory store offers are still in place, can be ordered with ‘Free Delivery’ in the UK.

With thanks to Aldi UK for supplying the bottle used in this tasting.

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7th Annual New York City Winter Wine Festival

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I was in New York City last week and managed to catch the 7th annual ‘Winter Wine Festival’ at the PlayStation Theatre in the heart of Times Square.  I’ve often wanted, but have never attended a US wine tasting, and the ones I’d read about in Wine Spectator magazine had looked incredibly inviting, so I didn’t hesitate to sign up.  Even better was that my hotel was a mere two blocks away, described in the best British tradition as ‘stumbling distance’.

I booked the afternoon session of 3pm-6pm and was a little perturbed when, turning up a 2:55pm, the queue stretched to the next block and it was a full 20 minutes before I was allowed inside the venue.  I’m not clear as to whether it’s an accepted norm in the US to pay for a slot and then have to queue for nearly 1/6th of it in the street, but I certainly wasn’t very happy.  It would make more sense to let people in to the venue (there was space in the main auditorium) and advise wineries not to pour until 3pm.  This is how it works in the UK and I’ve never seen any issues.  Judging by some of the local accents in the queue echoing my thoughts, perhaps it was just bad organisation?

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The venue itself was large and split in to several sections (with bleachers to allow you to chill for a while) accommodating the 68 stalls.  Circa 40% of these stalls were given over to sponsors or food outlets and I’m surprised that this wasn’t advertised as a ‘Food & Wine’ festival, as the food had to be seen to be believed.  UK tastings will often provide crackers or light refreshments in terms of antipasto, but here there were full on banquet tables filled with wheels of cheese, grapes, meats and numerous other light bites.  I was interested to see that, when I finally got in to the venue some 20 minutes in to the event, the food tables were heaving with people all with overfilled plates, so clearly they weren’t too interested in the wine?!

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This ambivalence continued as I observed lunging arms to the front of the tasting tables saying “Just pour me what you’ve poured her”.  One person even said to me “You’re not actually writing notes are you?”

I was, but clearly this wasn’t expected as the show guide didn’t include any space to write notes beneath each wine.  In fact the guide was a bit of a let-down, being merely 4 sheets of printed A4 paper folded down the middle.  Another flag to differences between a US and a UK event was when I was seen taking pictures with my (admittedly, fairly decent) camera and hearing my British accent, I was asked if I was from the BBC.  Strange days…

On to business, and my top 10 takeaways from the event include:

  1. Top Wine: Judeka Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG 2013 (60/40 Nero D’Avola/Frappato). Awesome with the cooked meats available.
  2. Top Wine: Penfolds Bin 311 Chardonnay 2013 – Intense Lime with clear wooded notes from 7-9 months in French oak.
  3. Top Wine: Brotherhood Holiday Spice NV, Hudson Valley USA – OK, so not the most expensive wine (circa $7), and I may have been focusing on the cold weather and the nice labels, but this was a warming, spicy wine that we don’t really get here in the UK. The literature makes claim to them being ‘America’s Oldest Winery’, and the leaflet they provide gives a whole host of festive wine drink options to try.  Nice one.
  4. Sponsor of Interest: Three Brothers Winery, Alexandria Bay, Finger Lakes, NY. The largest winery in North NY, established in 2002 and situated in the majestic St. Lawrence River.  Lots of interesting wines to be tasted here that probably don’t make it to the UK, and a few varieties I hadn’t tasted.
  5. New Grape: Winemonger Zahel Orangetraube 2014 – 100% Varietal. Something I’d never tasted before from Austria, with an inviting orange/peachy nose.
  6. New Grape: Three Brothers Estate Reserve Chambourcin, Finger Lakes USA 2013 (100% Varietal). A hybrid grape that is jammy, (very) sweet and red fruit oriented.
  7. New Grape: Kellerei Kaltern Pfarrhof Schiava 2014 (100% Varietal). Again, a variety I’ve never had the pleasure of.  Light but full of intensity.
  8. Winner Winner 3 x New Grape: Thousand Island Winery, New York, St Lawrence Red (a blend of Chambourcin, Marechal Foch, Vincent)
  9. Biggest Shock: Pazdar Winery were offering many wines, some with the title of ‘Revenge’, ‘Fury’ and ‘Vengeance’. These are made with selected Chilli’s.  I tried the Dragon’s Fury, made with the Ghost Chilli.    An experience, but a palate cleanser needed.  According to the guys on the stall, people drink their wines (and mine was probably the weakest of the lot) by the glass!
  10. New BFF’s: After nearly a full year, my article on Barefoot is still a winner with my readers. The team at the show couldn’t have been more helpful with providing me with merchandise and, with their ‘roulette’ wheel of prizes, they were the coolest table on show.

Overall, this was a unique event for me to get a first-hand taste of an American wine event and, for all the logistical things I think could be improved, would not have missed it for the world.

On a final note, I always love a tasting where you get to keep the glass, especially a logo’d glass that comes from a different country (it made it back to the UK in one piece I’m glad to say).  The show guide exclaimed on the opening page “stop by our glass pick up area to receive a bag to transport it home”, and I was quite excited by this, loving a freebie.  I’ll give over the last word (or picture) of this piece as to what greeted me at the counter.  Cheers!

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Break the (w)in(e)ternet

Food lovers everywhere will have some knowledge of the ‘Delia effect’. This is the rushed purchasing of non-everyday ingredients that cookery legend Delia Smith has used in her recipes. Following the broadcast of her TV tutorials, literally thousands descend upon supermarkets and wipe out the entire stock of odd items such as pine nuts or glacé cherries.

Last month this phenomenon hit the UK wine world following the broadcast of popular cookery show Saturday Kitchen. As usual, a wine expert (more often than not either Peter Richards, Olly Smith, Tim Atkin, Susie Barrie or Suzy Atkins) is on hand to match a suitable bottle to the meals prepared, to which both host and guest display courteous compliments. The televised episode on the 4th July however, caused the Majestic website to crash, and led to their biggest ever online sales hour, taking 1000 orders for this particular wine. The sensational instant demand was akin to getting a top Parker recommendation mixed up with a Kim Kardashian ‘break the internet’ attempt. Three hours later, the entire Majestic stock of this wine was wiped out and they had taken back orders for a further 30,000 bottles.

So, what is this amazing wine?

   Porta 6 Bottle v2

At the beginning of 2015, Holly Ninnes (Majestic wine buyer for Portugal) added a new wine to their range – Porta 6. Hailing from the sunny hillside vineyards of Alenquer and Cadaval in Lisboa, north of Lisbon, the wine is a blend of 50% Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), 40% Castelao and 10% Touriga Nacional. The 2012 spent 3 months in oak barrels and clocks in at 13.5% abv.

The wine was quickly picked out by Decanter magazine (Feb 2015) as a ‘Weekday Wine’ – an exciting and accessible wine at a decent price-point. This wine was then picked last month by wine expert Susie Barrie MW to go with the Saturday Kitchen dish of barbecued lamb, salsa verde, tomato salad, toasted couscous and fromage blanc (you can find the recipe here). Saturday Kitchen presenter and chef James Martin was clearly pleased, stating that it was one of the nicest wines he’d had in ten years of doing the programme, and had bought 3 cases of it for himself!

Majestic were then subsequently besieged with orders and ended up buying all remaining stock from the producer – some six times their original consignment. After being virtually out of stock since, the Majestic Twitter feeds have this week been chirping that it is now available again. I decided to pick up a case.

Porta 6 Vinho Regional, Lisboa 2012 Vinho Tinto, 13.5% abv

Before we get to the contents, first mention must go to the wonderful label – an original painting by eccentric German painter Hauke Vagt, giving a colourful depiction of a tram thundering around the corner of a tight rustic cobbled street. The bottle itself is fairly weighty – something which has both positive (prestige) and negative (additional cost and environmental footprint) connotations, depending on your viewpoint. When twinned with the great label, I’m erring on the side of prestige, as they seem to be mindful of a well presented package. The bottle would make a great gift – if the wine lives up to its’ reputation!

The appearance is a deep dark, inky purple. The nose is equally deep, with a big dollop of wood and vanilla combined with dark ripe red fruit, raspberries and cream. Alongside this you have a darker undertone of plum and pepper spices.

The initial palate is full of weight, with creamy fullness, vanilla and violets and followed by dark cherry and currants, spice and densely packed forest fruits. I want to highlight here the distinction of weight from power, as this wine is a lolloping, rich and creamy dream where everything flows gently in to one another, as opposed to being a hit of flavour and then dissipating.

Tannins are medium, slightly grippy, but nicely round out the mouthfeel and guide the length of the wine which is amply carried by clean ripe fruit, and built upon with touches of bitter chocolate. You also get a good reminder of the overall warmth of the palate, coming from both the alcohol content and the pleasing ripeness of the combined fruits. A refreshing acidity runs through this end palate which makes you yearn for the next taste, or mouthful of food.

Overall, this is a great wine and one that will definitely make it on to my shortlist of everyday recommendations. It helps that it is a style that I really enjoy and will be a sound alternative to my usual staples of Argentinian Malbec and aged Rioja’s. Well worth the price.

Porta 6 is available from Majestic, currently on offer for £7.49 when you buy two bottles (£9.99 for a single bottle).

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Bodegas Beronia ‘Dos Maderas’ 2009 Rioja Reserva – Taste Panel

Wine tasting, food matching and dressing up – could there be a more interesting way to spend the evening?!

Beronia Kit

This latest taste panel comes courtesy of the fine people of Bodegas Beronia who hail from the world famous northern Spanish region of Rioja. What was supplied, however, gave more than the usual opportunity to try a wine and reel off a tasting note. Alongside the wine were several food items, recipe cards, moustache, and a traditional woollen beret, in order that you could recreate traditional Txoko (pronounced Chock-Oh) conditions in northern Spain. The preparation of food is a group activity there and friends form societies (Txoko’s) where they prepare the meal together, eat together, occasionally sing together, and wash it all down with great wine.

It was this group mentality that led to the founding of Bodegas Beronia in the Rioja Alta in 1973. Four local businessmen decided to take their get-togethers a step further, and actually make the wines themselves, with a commitment to producing Reserva and Gran Reserva wines in the traditional Rioja style. From this humble beginning, Beronia have worked their way up to be in the top 10 Rioja wineries in the Spanish market. Spanish wine giant Gonzalez Byass recognised the quality of their production early on and have invested in to the company since 1982, ensuring that Beronia delivers both tradition and innovation at the same time.

The Reserva 2009 ‘Dos Maderas’ is comprised of 94% Tempranillo, with dashes of both Mazuelo (Carignan) and Graciano rounding the blend out. This is then aged for 18 months in barrels made exclusively for Beronia, and comprised of two distinct types of oak. The French oak barrelheads bring touches of spice to the wine, whilst the American oak staves add seductive vanilla flavours. It is this unique ageing touch that gives the wine its name: ‘Dos Maderas’ literally translates as ‘two woods’.

The tapas selection supplied included snacking chorizo, a dried nut/fruit selection, and a tin of anchovy stuffed olives. To turn this in to a full meal to share, I took inspiration from one of the recipe cards and served lamb shank with creamy mash, asparagus, and an onion, garlic and red wine jus. All cooked, of course, whilst wearing my traditional costume! The wine was left in an open top decanter for one hour before serving.

Beronia Selfie     Beronia Bottle

Visually the wine was a reassuring assertive inky dark colour, almost opaque. The nose was amazingly powerful and full of flavour, and it hit you before your nose was fully in the glass. The aroma was like falling face first in to a blackberry bush (without the ‘ouch’!). Strong hits of dark cherry were followed by blackcurrant, and then topped up with mocha and finally refreshing vanilla and violets from the American oak.

The palate initially showed fine grained medium tannins, but when paired with the fatty Lamb, they disappeared, leaving the ripe black cherry to take the lead. There was also upfront spice from the French wood, and the full body of the wine is kitted out with blackberries, bramble, tobacco and molasses. American wood also makes its mark on the palate with a lovely hint of coconut marrying in to the vanilla tones and it’s no surprise at all that this stunning wine won a Gold Medal at the International Wine Challenge in 2013. The alcohol level is 14% but, given this and the amazing powerful concentration of fruit, the wine is in no way overpowering. A gentle balanced acidity glides it through, and a little alcohol warmth provides the backbone.

Wonderful stuff on its own, and it went amazingly with the fatty meat cutting through the tannin and the silky fruits matching the creamy mash. Even though this wine can easily be enjoyed now it has the backbone and fruit stamina to keep for another decade. World class.

With thanks to both Bodegas Beronia and Tesco for providing the wine, tapas selection and Txoko costume used in this tasting.

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Taste of London / Les Dauphins

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The Taste of London event draws to a close this weekend, bringing the curtain down on the spectacular array of food and drinks from both artisan producers and premium brands.  The setting was the magnificent manicured surroundings of Regents Park, and the sun was fully shining on the 200+ exhibitors.  Some of the finest food establishments in London were represented including those of celebrity chefs Theo Randall and Marcus Wareing, who were happily milling around with attendees answering any questions and posing for photos.  I desperately wanted to try Marcus’ Salted Caramel soft serve honeycomb ice cream, but ran out of time, and thus my foodie highlight remained a dish from the restaurant chain MEATliquor.  Specialising in American style meat dishes, I tried their ‘Dead Hippie Slider’, and the meat was sooooo juicy. It’s clear that the chain is appropriately named.

There were also numerous cooking demonstrations from world renowned chefs, and I attended the session led by Andrea Zagatti, sampling his delicious air dried duck and white asparagus dish.  The WSET were also on hand in ‘The Mr Vine Wine Theatre’ to run masterclasses, led by wine expert Jane Parkinson, on wine tasting and wine-food matching.

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Alongside multiple beers and ciders, the world of wine was very well represented, from the traditional French (Laurent Perrier) to the less-seen Thai (Monsoon Valley).  It was also great to see representation from English wine producers such as Chapel Down and Digby showing their wares.

With that said, I was attending courtesy of Les Dauphins, a French wine producer from the sun drenched vineyards of the southern Rhóne who, in my opinion have one of the most striking wine labels on the market, which really evokes a traditional France.  The team were happy to let me taste through the full range that they were showing on the day which comprised of their Reserve White, Reserve Red, Cótes du Rhóne Villages Grande Réserve Red, and the Vinsobres Red.  My favourite was the Villages Grande Réserve, which was full of flavour, yet easy to drink on its own.  The Vinsobres, although clearly more complex, had a firmer tannin and needed to be paired with food (I’m sure there is an irony in me saying this, tasting it on its own at a huge food and wine event).

After being (easily) coaxed in to recording a short promotional video for them (which is due to appear online anytime now – I will post a link to it when available), I was the proud owner of a goody bag, including a poster of the fabulous label artwork but, more importantly, a couple of bottles of wine to take home.  Without further ado, here’s my verdicts:

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Les Dauphins Cótes du Rhóne Reserve White 2014 – 12.5% abv – RRP £7.99

White wine definitely comes second to red wine in the southern Rhóne and so it’s always good to taste one.  This is a blend of Grenache (65%), Marsanne (15%), Clairette (10%) and Viognier (10%), and the grapes are picked at night or in the early morning to preserve their freshness.  The resulting wine is matured on its lees for 2-6 months, and the back label describes it as a “white with attitude”.

The colour of the wine is a straw lemon, with hints of green and gold. The nose is a full intense and expressive mix of green and yellow fruit – pear and grapefruit to start, moving on to ripe yellow melon, peach and dried pineapple.

On the palate you receive a deliciously weighted body, comprised of dense tasting fruits.  The green fruit continues, twinned with lovely zesty lemon citrus.  The acidity is medium and well balanced, and the oil and butter tones all add to the luscious weight of the wine.  This, in turn, aids the medium-plus length which is carried by the fruit and citrus.  A pleasure to try and reassuringly distinct in this price bracket.

Les Dauphins Cótes du Rhóne Red 2014 – 13% abv – RRP £7.99

A traditional Rhóne grape mix of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre (respectively 70%, 25% and 5% of the blend), the bunches are totally destalked, go through regular pumping-over to aid extraction, and are then matured in concrete tanks.

The colour is a youthful vibrant purple.  On the palate, a refreshing acidity guides you towards youthful ripe dark black fruits of both cherry and currants, and touches of plum.  Tannins are evident, but fine grained and well structured, and the medium weight is rounded out with perceptible spice and pepper.  All in all, this smooth wine gives you a deep dark warmth and leaves a medium-plus length behind it.  A good quality wine in this price range.

With thanks to Les Dauphins for providing both the wines and entrance to ‘Taste Of London’.  All reviews are conducted impartially.

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Yalumba ‘Butcher, Baker & Winemaker’ dinner

Yalumba Dinner 1

Australian wine producer Yalumba were in London this week for their ‘Butcher, Baker and Winemaker’ dinner, and I was one of those lucky enough to have tickets. Bringing a touch of Barossa magic (and sunshine, as it happens) to Maida Vale gastropub The Truscott Arms, was Yalumba winemaker Louisa Rose, who has worked for the company for 22 years and has been chief winemaker since 2006.

The evening was scheduled to begin with canapés in the private garden terrace but, due to the waiters focusing on serving the Yalumba Y Series 2014 Riesling (no problems for me here!) and the growing number of people arriving (there were circa 40 in total) the goats cheese nibbles had only just arrived by the time we were all to be seated in their first floor private dining area.

Following greetings from Andrew Fishwick (owner of the Truscott Arms), Head Chef Aidan McGee (who regaled us with a strangely bizarre lecture on creating authentic bread), Louisa welcomed us to the evening, gave us an overview of Yalumba, and also provided an on-going rundown of the wines that were being poured for us. As an aside, I’ve written about Yalumba wines recently following a tasting panel, which you can find here.

The dinner itself consisted of 4 courses and 6 further wines to try. First up was a charcuterie plate (image, below left) consisting of pressed pork, potted duck, smoked pork, cured beef, celeriac, gherkins, capers and crispy sourdough. With this we were served a white wine and a red wine – respectively Eden Valley Viognier 2013 and Old Bush Vine Grenache 2013. Due to the sheer amount of different foods to be matched either with the white or the red wine, and trying to remain in the conversation with other guests, I must admit my tasting notes rather escaped me at this early point. Louisa was also still giving us an on-going dialogue, but what I do recall is her commenting on how Viognier is a great food wine, and that there isn’t really a bad pairing for it. Judging by the myriad of food that was quickly cleared from my plate, I’d have to agree.

Yalumba Dinner 2

It was then quickly on to the fish course (image above right, sorry – I started before I remembered to take a photo), and we were served Halibut in a Yalumba Roussanne reduction, with grapes, spinach and salsify. Naturally the wine served here was the Eden Valley Roussanne 2013. Like the Riesling and Viognier before it, the colour of the Roussanne was a vibrant green and yellow, almost luminous. The palate here was creamy fleshy green fruit, with a spice that really perked up the fish, and a great length. It’s lucky that I enjoyed the pairing, as my +1 sprang on me that they didn’t eat fish and so I ended up with two portions.

Yalumba Dinner 3

Next up was the main course (image, above left) of Beef cheek, carrots, spring greens and smoked mash. Paired with this we had two red wines; the Patchwork Barossa Shiraz 2013 and the Signature Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2010. There were two standout food and wine pairings in the evening for me, and the Beef cheek, smoked mash and Cabernet Sauvignon was the first of these. The cheek was cooked to perfection and the creamy mash melded with both to create a rich and textured whole. On its own, this was the best wine of the evening (and probably not coincidentally, the most expensive at £30 a bottle)

The final course of the evening (image, above right) was English strawberries, lemon verbena curd, strawberry jam and ice cream. Paired with this we had the FSW8b Botrytis Viognier 2014 (FSW stands for Fine Sweet Wine). This was the second excellent food-wine match of the night for me, and the strawberries worked amazingly well with the luscious tropical sweetness. I was slightly miffed to see that our table mat (if you like) was a fill-in-form to be able to order any of the wines featured in the evening, which for me commercialises what is meant to be a social gathering, but it was extremely hard not to fill it in and buy some of this luscious sticky.

Although there were too many people in attendance to make this an intimate affair, the sheer unknown of your dinner companions was actually a great element, and I spent the evening happily chatting away with two chaps who worked behind the scenes at Majestic wine, learning a few things, and passing other knowledge back. Louisa did ask the gathered crowd on several occasions if they had any questions, but as is typical, very few put themselves out there to ask anything in front of that many people, and I did come away missing the one-on-one winemaker aspect that I felt this dinner had promised. That said, once dinner was over our hosts invited everyone downstairs to the main bar area to continue the drinking, but alas, my carriage awaited and I had to leave.

All in all a memorable night with great food, great wine and great company.

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Trivento winemaker’s dinner

Trivento Dinner Banner

This week I had the pleasure of attending an intimate dinner with German di Cesare, chief winemaker for Trivento, the UK’s best-selling Malbec and one of Argentina’s leading wineries. Based in the foothills of the Andes at extremely high altitudes, Trivento takes its’ name from three winds (Polar, Zonda and Sudesta) that cool the climate and make Mendoza such a distinctive winegrowing region.

German (or Geri as he is known to his friends) joined the company in 2002 and has held several positions ranging from barrel room manager to varietal winemaker, prior to his promotion in 2008 to create their high-end wines. With a chance to chew the fat (literally) with the man in charge, expectations were high!

The setting for the meal was Argentinian restaurant Casa Malevo in London, with my stroll from Marble Arch to Connaught Square taking the bizarre twist of being under heavily armed police. Alas, this wasn’t for my protection, but that of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose house is only a few doors away from the restaurant. From the street, with its’ cosy alfresco tables and green awning, you could tell that this would be an intimate affair, but once inside we were led downstairs to a private dining room only just large enough to contain the 13 attendees around a large central table.

We were warmly greeted by Geri and representatives from Trivento, importers Concha Y Toro, and Tesco who were hosting the night. With our coats barely on to a hanger, we were straight in to a glass (or three) of their Reserve Chardonnay – A fresh citric number, that added yellow melon and tropical notes to its aroma. On the palate, clean fruit, joined by refreshing acidity and a buttery texture due to its time in French oak. It was no surprise when Geri later revealed that it was Trivento policy to make wines of outstanding clarity – to really feel the fruit with every mouthful.

As liberally as the wine, questions flowed to the Trivento team:

  • What sort of rivalry exists with winemakers across the Andes in Chile? (a friendly one, they are in regular contact about many winemaking issues)
  • What’s the view on having so little vintage variation with their wines? (It’s important that customers know what to expect and consistency is an important factor)
  • With Malbec doing so well, what’s next? (Trivento farm approximately 12 grape varieties, with Sauvignon Blanc 2012 about to hit the market, as well as a Syrah, and Cabernet Franc and Mourvédre the next in line)

A menu of 3 courses was served throughout the evening and, whilst there were several options to choose from, I made the following choices based on the gradual step up in the quality and body of the Malbec that would accompany each course.

To start I had grilled chorizo on toast, onions and Malbec braised Ox cheeks, paired with the Reserve Malbec. The Ox cheeks were cooked to perfection and simply melted in the mouth, and the chorizo added some spice to the meat combination. The Malbec was the perfect partner, blending with the fine tannin to allow darker fruit to come to the fore. As a point of interest, like the entry-level Reserve Chardonnay, the Reserve Malbec is actually bottled in the UK.

For the main course I had the classic combination of Sirloin Steak paired with the lauded Golden Reserve Malbec 2012 – made at altitudes of 950m in the oldest Argentinian wine appellation Luján de Cuyo from 60-80 year old vines that grow on the alluvial soils of the riverbanks. The long cool growing season and concentration of low yielding old vines gives a wine that clocks in 14.5% abv, and shows a vibrant dark purple in colour. Malbec and steak is a winning combination and these two blended beautifully, with the powerful nose of black and blue fruit being of concentration, not aggression. Incidentally, the wine is called ‘Golden’ to evoke treasure, which this wine definitely is. Treasure and a pleasure!

To finish I had the cheese selection with quince and raisin toast, paired with their top level Eolo Malbec, which is produced on an extremely limited run of just 500 bottles (600 cases). With a price tag of £50 per bottle (if you can find it) it was a great privilege to be able to try a few glasses of this rare wine. The nose was divine with roasted tertiary characters, and the velvet silk, vanilla, and dense rich concentrated black fruit carrying on to the palate. The tannins were gentle and integrated, and when paired with the variety of cheeses, melted away. The length of the wine still persisted as people started to make their excuses, and head for home.

All in all a wonderful night in great company, with generous tastings of fine Argentinian wine, alongside fine Argentinian food. Unforgettable.

Many Thanks go to Trivento & Concha Y Toro for hosting the evening, and to Tesco for providing the opportunity.

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Wine and crisps

My Friday night tipple tonight is a lovely 10 year old Ermita de San Lorenzo 2005 from Spain. In typical style for a Spanish Gran Reserva, the nose and the palate fill with velvet black cherry, mature wood, vanilla, spice and chocolate notes (my definition of divine!).

The addition of chocolate to the palate had me recalling a comment I recently made on a wine forum. With this weekend being Easter, much discussion in the wine world is being given over to what wines to match with either your lamb or with your chocolate treats. Maybe I’m weird but I’ve never had the urge to pair a wine with chocolate. At this point it’s worth mentioning that I’m no more than a (very) casual eater of chocolate in the first place, and that it doesn’t excite me in the way that other foods do (indeed, I still have a lot of odd chocolate still hanging around from Christmas). Thinking about it though, I don’t think the lack of pairing excitement comes from my passing liking of chocolate (I’ve considered and executed wine pairings with odd fish varieties that I’ve perhaps only had once in my life), I think it’s more about how we tend to eat chocolate, and why people would actually want to drink wine at the same time.

Now of course wine isn’t exclusively meant to be drunk at mealtimes (I’m very guilty of this!), but a lot of the point in creating a food and wine pairing as I see it, is to compliment the liquid with the food. This can help to bring out diverse characteristics in each by either matching, or by off-setting flavour components. This makes sense when thinking about how to augment starters, main courses, desserts, and cheese boards, for which wine is a potential liquid accompaniment. Obviously some puddings do feature chocolate as a partial or core ingredient, but the only place that chocolate will likely feature as a key place in a meal is with the coffee, and that’s clearly been catered for – the sweetness of the chocolate is there to juxtapose the bitterness of the coffee. After all, we don’t find ourselves expecting a wine and chocolate course at the end of dinner, do we?

In order to have a fully rounded appreciation of wine, with all the full facets and potential unearthed, I have no problem with others enjoying merging the two experiences, I’m just not sure how necessary it is. For instance, I’d be interested to know if anyone would go so far as to base their evening wine choice around such a small aspect of any menu (or treat before bedtime), or even to heading out to buy a specific chocolate because it pairs well with their Spanish Reserva?

It feels like people are trying to find the perfect wine match for any food. Take, for example, a popular food like crisps (although my wife correctly informs me that Walkers/Jacobs Creek did in fact run a crisps/wine match promo a few years back). OK, so no one has described a wine of tasting like one flavour of crisps that needs to be compared to another, as you could potentially do with chocolate characters, but it feels like you would only need to conduct such an experiment from a challenge or experience perspective. In terms of how wine will actually be drunk of an evening, is the match key?

Maybe I’m wrong, I’m missing out and I need to arrange a tasting? As a UK consumer I only own/get gifted/buy regular milk chocolate (as I suspect the majority of UK people do), rather than artisanal blends from far flung corners of the chocolate making world, each out-doing the other with increasing amounts of pure cocoa. From an academia point of view, a full range of differing chocolate versus differing wine would make an interesting piece – for example, does Argentinian chocolate go with Argentinian Malbec? Personally I don’t think it’s of any use for everyday drinking.

Perhaps the question is being asked wrong? Maybe, instead of the wine world asking “which chocolate would you pair with your wine, it should be left to the chocolate critics to ask “what wine would you pair with your chocolate?”

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