The Vineyard at Stockcross – ‘Judgement of Paris’ Tasting Menu

Sir Peter Michael, owner of 5 star vinous hotel experience The Vineyard, was directly inspired by the 1976 Judgement of Paris; the famous play-off between the traditional wines of France and the upcoming wines of California.

It’s therefore fitting that they offer a tasting menu which pays tribute to the original event, accompanied only by French and Californian wines.

Comprised of 7 courses, each dish allows you to decide which wine works best with the food, and if you prefer the French or US offering.  Opting for the full sensory experience I decided to taste my wines blind, replicating the conditions of the original event.

(Note: The individual dishes change seasonally as do the perfectly paired wines.  What follows are my thoughts based on those served on the day).

Course 1 – Beef sirloin tartar, sorrel sorbet, raisins and bone marrow crumb matched with:

  • Peter Micheal Winery (PMW) L’Aprés Midi (Sauvignon/Semillon) 2015, –
  • CaliforniaCháteau Tour des Gendres (Sauvignon/Semillon) 2015, Bergerac Sec, France

The US wine managed to trick me as it was in the lighter style.  The Bergerac boasted a silky texture with melon and tropical yellow fruit, and seemed almost too intense for their climate.  The PMW had a lighter colour and, alongside rich buttery oak, was characterised by a light airy character and peach and tangerine rind.

1/0 to the USA

Course 2 Lobster Raviolo

Course 2 – Lobster ravioli, citrus bisque, grapefruit, pickled ginger, basil matched with:

  • Donelan ‘Nancie’, Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma, California
  • Sophie Cinier (Chardonnay) 2014, Pouilly-Fuissé, France

The intense lime, mineral nose and refreshing acidity made the Poilly-Fuissé easy to pick out against the rich lemon curd style of the Donelan, but it was this weight that made it blend all the better with the Lobster and the Cajun style sauce.

2/0 to the USA

  • Course 3 – Foie gras ganache, pistachios, cherry and brioche ice cream matched with:

Domaine Loew, Les Cormiers Pinot Gris 2014, Alsace, France

Just one wine was to be matched with this course but, served in an opaque black glass we had no identifier as to whether it was white or red, let alone French or American.

The intensity and sweetness of the lemon matched up to the cherry very well, almost to the point of revelation.  A touch of cakey/bready spice in the wine very reminiscent of shortbread, cleansed the palate after the rich foie gras.

By default France wins, but its 2/1 to the USA

Course 4 – Roasted cod, cauliflower, curry and coconut matched with:

  • Peter Michael Winery Le Moulin Rouge (Pinot Noir) 2008, California
  • Domaine Audoin, Cuvée Marie Ragonneau (Pinot Noir) 2010, Marsannay, France

The PMW felt a little artificial, with the acid a touch too high and a mid-palate that didn’t have enough to excite.  It was straightforward compared to the Audoin that delivered a floral vanilla nose and redcurrant fruit.  Soft and delicate it blended well with the curry and the coconut.

France wins, making it all square at 2/2

Course 5 Loin of Lamb

Course 5 – Loin of lamb, turnips, baby gem, girolles and lamb jus matched with:

  • L’Aventure, Cóte á Cóte (Rhone blend) 2007, Paso Robles, California
  • Fortia 2012, Cháteauneuf du Pape, Rhone, France

Both made using the signature Rhone varieties of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvédre, the French offering was lighter in colour and more floral than its counterpart, offering up ripe black cherry fruit.  A mouth-watering acid worked very well with the lamb jus.

The L’Aventure, inky and youthful purple in colour despite its age, was dense, rich, spicy and alcoholic, and a seriously robust wine.  Mistaking this power for the classic hallmarks of Cháteauneuf and the fact that the depth of colour confused me, I guessed this one wrong.

Regardless of the confusion, the Cháteauneuf worked best.

France take the lead 3/2

Course 6 Peach Melba

Course 6 – “Peach Melba”, raspberry sorbet, almonds matched with:

  • Elysium Black Muscat 2014, Andrew Quady, California

Another single wine served in black opaque glassware to further intrigue and confuse, and this one completely outwitted me.

Thick and gloopy in consistency, this was syrupy and full of rich tropical melon and pineapple.  With a lip-smacking acidity it went wonderfully with the raspberry and the overall acidity of the dish, BUT it transpired that this was a sweet red wine!

Once armed with this information I found tinned raspberry and plum, but this was a good example of tasting with your eyes vs. tasting with your mouth

The US win by default.  All square at 3/3

Course 7 Chocolate Caramel Tonka Bean

Course 7 – Chocolate, caramel, hazelnut and tonka bean matched with:

  • Justin Vineyards, Obtuse (Cabernet Sauvignon) 2012, Paso Robles, California
  • Cháteau Coutet (Semillon) 1998, Barsac, France

The Cháteau Coutet was made in an oxidative style, amber in colour, and offering bruised brown soggy apples, thick honey, and summer cider.  Having said that, the slushy quality went very well with the peanut butter food and caramel notes of the food.

The Obtuse, whilst having an over-the-top (in my opinion) sweetness did actually pair well with the numerous sweeter aspects of this dessert (especially the chocolate), but was quite singular in tone.

A tough call at the final hurdle but:  France wins 4/3

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‘Dom Pérignon 1998 – The Collection’. The world’s most expensive cookbook

Over the years Dom Pérignon have found ways for the consumer to experience the prestige of their brand, even if they’ve never opened a bottle of their Champagne.  As well as the more standard accessories such as glassware and Champagne buckets, official merchandise has ranged from Bento boxes (used to serve Sushi as an ideal accompaniment to a bottle), cigar cases, and even a chess board.

One of the most curious items to appear though must be the cookery book that was released to tie in with the June 2005 release of the 1998 Vintage. ‘Dom Pérignon Vintage 1998 – The Collection’ (published by Ptarmigan) came in at a whopping 292 pages and was likely never intended to be something that you would keep in the kitchen to idly flick through for inspiration on a weekday night.

Indeed, in the written introduction by Dom Pérignon Chef de Cave Richard Geoffroy, he describes the tome as “not in fact a book but a great work of art”.  He goes on to add that “whilst containing no more than bound sheets of high quality paper…recipes and images have been woven into a rich counterpoint, like…(those) which great opera and symphonies depend”

Stirring stuff but, as of the time of writing, this release remains the only time the brand has attempted to produce such a companion piece.

The volume pulled together 35 of the best chefs working in the UK at the time, each working for a famous restaurant such as Le Gavroche or Les Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.  Many well-known names were included such as Michael Caines, Angela Hartnett, Michel Roux Jr, and Tom Aikens.

The record temperatures of the 1998 vintage had provided grapes that were succulent and full of flavour and each chef had been invited to provide a recipe that they believed would pair exquisitely with the final blend.  In addition, some chefs even included the wine as part of the ingredients.

Alongside a clutch of starters and desserts, the core of the book featured many fish-led main courses, and included:

  • Andalouse of sole – Jean-Christophe Novelli
  • Tartare of sea bass with dill – Michel Roux Jr
  • Caramelised lobster and Wagyu beef – Tom Thomsen
  • Salmon ‘mi-cuit’, spiced lentil, foie gras ballotine – John Campbell (who, incidentally, was then the head chef at my nearby eatery The Vineyard at Stockcross)

dom-p-cookbook

Art was also very much a key part of the book, and it contained exclusively commissioned pieces from three major artists:

  • Charles Saatchi favourite Sophie von Hellermann provided a series of vignettes of the ‘glitterati’ including Joanne Harris, Philip Green, Sir Roger Moore, Theo Fennel, Lord Lloyd Webber, Meredith Etherington-Smith, Karl Lagerfeld and Helena Christensen. These sat alongside short interview pieces for each of the subjects, captured by journalist Lucia van der Post
  • French illustrator Stephane Gamain provided stylised illustrations of each featured chef to sit alongside their biographies
  • Japanese photographer Yukata Yahamoto produced still life images for each recipe, based on the key ingredients

dom-p-cookbook3

Also included was a nod to fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who at the time was collaborating with the brand on the artistic vision of their 1998 Vintage release (featuring Helena Christensen).

In keeping with the prestige tradition of Dom Pérignon, two different versions of the book were available to purchase.  Retailing for £1000 and listed as the most expensive cookbook ever produced, the premium edition was a limited run of just 30 copies and came bound in sea-green galuchat leather, harvested from the hide of a rare Japanese ray.

dom-p-cookbook2

Each of the 30 sleeves were individually hand polished giving them a distinct and unique appearance and, in addition to this exclusive sleeve, the commissioned prints were signed by the artists involved.  In a generous move by the brand, the highly positioned retail price wasn’t to be swallowed up simply as vast profit; all proceeds from the sales were donated to a selection of UK charities.

For those that couldn’t stretch to the deluxe version, the same (unsigned) hardback edition was produced in a wider print run of 1500 editions housed in a dust jacket containing a printed image of the galuchet leather effect.  The retail price for this version came in at a more modest £40.

‘Dom Pérignon Vintage 1998 – The Collection’ was released in November 2005.

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Aldi (7th Panel) Wine Club Tasting #4 – Toro Loco Superior 2014

I first heard of Toro Loco in 2012 when it managed to scoop a prestigious IWSC (International Wines & Spirits Challenge) Silver medal.  That’s no mean feat by itself, but when you consider that Toro Loco is the Aldi own-brand Spanish offering and priced at the crazy low price of £3.49, the win was all the more special.  It’s no wonder that journalists were queuing up to publicise the ‘find’ (you can read more on the triumph here) and very soon it was ‘out of stock’.  Astonishingly the wine remains at the same £3.49 price-point in 2016.

The wine hails from Utiel-Requena, in the province of Valencia on the mid-eastern coast of Spain.  Using leading red Spanish grape variety Tempranillo alongside a healthy helping of another local variety (Bobal) this is a wine that wants to highlight it’s Spanish roots.  The name Toro Loco translates as ‘Crazy Bull’ (hence the label bull/corkscrew design) and was chosen to personify the essence of Spain, from the local custom of bull fighting to the ‘living-life-to-the-full’ ethos of its residents.

When I first heard about Toro Loco back then I went straight out and bought a bottle to see if the fuss was justified.  I wasn’t disappointed and, having purchased it a couple of times since, this tasting was a great chance to re-visit the current vintage on offer.

Aldi Toro Loco

Toro Loco Superior 2014, Tempranillo (75%) & Bobal (25%), Utiel-Requena, Spain, 12.5%, £3.49

The wine is bottled under screw-cap and is a youthful vibrant clean purple in colour with a fine watery white rim.

The nose, whilst being full of character, is fairly restrained and is more about the thoughtful reflection of a local style, rather than the ‘in-your-face’ blockbuster style.  I can pick up a good array of both primary and secondary aromas from the dark black cherry fruit, stewed prune and raisin, to bitter black chocolate, woody notes and floral vanilla.

After the nasal sensation, the medium body that follows has a surprising lightness of touch.  Once again you get the upfront hits of black cherry and sour plum, but this is closely followed up with a typical Spanish vanilla creaminess and a touch of pepper spice.  The fruits are succulent, ripe and juicy and the fresh acid drives an uplifting palate.

At the same time this wine manages to show sophistication and blends in darker touches and a medium tannin level which grips the inside of your mouth.  There’s a decent layering of bitter chocolate, leathery tones and tobacco which all add together to create a deep multi-layered flavour sensation.  The length is equally impressive and retains the bitter chocolate from the mid-palate.

In the spirit of delivering a balanced review, if I had to make one criticism about this wine it would be in regards to the lighter weight delivering so much character, and when I tasted this wine the following day a lot of the deeper mid-palate tones had started to disappear, almost as if too much had been forced in too soon (remember that the vintage is less than 2 years old at this point).

Clearly this is nit-picking, and on the day of opening this wine was as good as any in terms of being a fine food match.  It’s worth remembering that drinking wine with food is an inherent part of Spanish culture and over time they have created a balanced wine style that suit the local flavours.  I can imagine this wine pairing well with a whole host of tomato based meals, tapas dishes, stews and much more.

As a last thought, I simply can’t believe there is any way that this can be produced for £3.49 a bottle – it simply defies logic.  There are numerous costs that every bottle of wine has to bear including transportation, retailer mark-up, and packaging & labelling.  On top of these are the hefty VAT and Duty costs imposed by the Government which can easily make up 50% of the overall price on a standard bottle of wine.  Estimates show that on a £3.79 bottle of wine only about 15p actually goes on the wine itself, and that runs the whole process from growing the grapes, to harvesting them, to the final production.  To get all the above depth from 15p seems unbelievable, almost unreasonable.

It was sold out the last time I went to get it, but trust me, I’ll be buying it again very shortly if I can get it.  I may even ‘trade up’ to the Toro Loco Reserva, which sees additional ageing in oak and adds Garnacha and other international grape varieties (Merlot and Shiraz) to the blend.  As the premium offering for the brand, it still comes in at a very modest £4.99

Toro Loco is truly a gem of a wine and one that you don’t want to miss.

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

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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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