Monthly Archives: October 2013

San Sebastian – Disneyland for gastronauts!

San Sebastian has been on the to-do list for a few years now. For various reasons (or poor excuses – expense, difficult to get to) we’ve ended up doing long weekends in Madrid and Barcelona instead, both of which are marvellous cities. This year we decided enough was enough so we booked our flights and 3 nights in the old town and all I can say is: Wow. Wow. And wow again.

Here are ten things I learnt or loved during my time in what can only be described as Food Disneyland. There are some wine pointers but there is so much more to share with you, so please excuse my digressions… there was nothing I ate over 4 days that I wouldn’t greedily gobble up again!

(Loads of pics here as I had to photograph everything that ended up on my plate!)

1. It’s not a difficult place to get to from the UK

A 90-minute flight from Stansted to Bilbao and an hour on a bus, which departs at 45 mins past the hour, from a bus stop directly outside the arrivals hall (€16.50 per person – pay on the bus on the way there, but from the PESA station on the way home – nowhere tells you this until the bus driver tells you gruffly!). The bus station in San Sebastian is a 30-minute walk to the Old Town and the beach, or there are plenty of taxis.

2. Buy one get one free… Or two free?

We stayed in the Old Town, which is the place to be for all things foodie. However, just 10 minutes to the west is the expansive sunbathing haven of La Concha (named after the shape of the shell it resembles), and 5 minutes to the east is the surfer’s paradise of La Zurriola. If you were dropped into the Old Town you wouldn’t have a clue that you were anywhere near the seaside.

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The view back from Concha beach

3. Pintxos is the most social and enjoyable way to eat

Eating pintxos is the ultimate pub-crawl for gastronauts. A glass of wine, a couple of edible delights for only a few euros then off to the next one; the most difficult thing is not getting too full too quickly! Many pintxos are served on pieces of bread, as the origin on this style of food came from customers putting pieces of bread on top of their drinking glass to stop the flies getting in!

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A view from the bar

4. Beautiful gastronomy costs peanuts

I originally booked a table at Murgaritz, which this year was voted the 4th best restaurant in the world. There is a no choice menu, which will set you back €185 per person – I decided to cancel the reservation. For €185 in San Sebastian you can eat out like a king; lunch and dinner for over a week… Including drinks. We ate our way through the recommendations in a guide book and consulted Trip Advisor, but the truth is it is very difficult to eat badly in San Sebastian, and most pintxos cost around €3.

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My lunchtime sandwich will never look the same!

5. Don’t be afraid to order something hot

All of the bars in San Sebastian have a selection of food ready to eat on the counter, but most also have a menu of hot pintxos – don’t miss out on the fabulous slow cooked pieces of meat and deep-fried delights…

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Melting ribs – don’t be afraid to order

6. Anything on a stick tastes great

Deep-fried black pudding donuts anyone? Yes please!! The Basques like to deep-fry stuff, which is very lucky because deep-fried stuff is my favourite stuff to eat! The batter they use has a delicious touch of sweetness that adds a delightful balance to the food whether it’s earthy black pudding or something as delicate as langoustine (served with strawberry jam!).

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Black pudding donuts

7. Txakoli should be on every summer wine list

There are three Txakoli (pronounced Cha-koli) DOs in Spain producing delightfully fruity and slightly spritzy white wine, made predominantly from the Hondarribi Zuria grape. The wine is poured from a great height to keep the tiny bubble intact and tastes crisp, mineral and has a hint of the sea. The best thing of all is that a glass costs about €1.50 and it goes brilliantly with any of the pintxos on offer. I’m now looking for a UK supplier!

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How to pour Txakoli

8. Rioja is a third Basque

The Rioja region is split into three sub-regions – Alta, Baja, and the Basque district of Alavesa. Many of the bodegas in Rioja play down the sub-regions and most of what we see in the supermarkets doesn’t differentiate on the label as the wines are often made from a blend of grapes from all over the region. There is plenty of Rioja to be enjoyed in San Sebastian…

9. There is no wine prejudice in San Sebastian

Every bar and restaurant has Txakoli and Rioja by the glass but don’t think that you will be stuck for choice during your stay in San Sebastian. For white wine fans there is plenty of Albarinho, Verdejo and Godello, as well as more unusual selections such as Gewürztraminer or the delightful Pansa Blanco (more commonly known as Xarel-lo and used for Cava production). For red wine fans, make your choice from Ribero, Navarra, Priorat or Valencia – if it’s Spanish and wet you’ll find it in San Sebastian.

10. These are the places I will make a beeline for when I return… and I will return very soon!!

Where to stay:

Pension Edorta – for €60 a night, bang-smack in the middle of the Old Town. Very friendly service, modern décor, good shower, comfy bed and very clean.

Where to drink:

The Spanish know how to do squares… My two favourite drinking spots were in the prime people-watching locations, opposite each other in the square in front of the Santa Maria del Coro church – if you can’t get a seat outside either the bars then just enjoy your beverage seated on the steps outside the church.

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Best seat in the house?

Atari Gastroteka – a delicious range of pintxos on the bar and a simple and delicious range of 6 wines by the glass, all priced at €2.50. The Godello and Albarinho are particularly fine.

Casa Vergara – 20 wines by the glass from all over Spain, priced from €1.50 for a simple but delicious Txakoli to €5.00 for an aged Tempranillo based red from Navarra – simple but effective.

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Which red shall I have today?

 

Where to eat:

This list could go on and on… But these are the 5 places I would return to if I only had 1 day to eat myself senseless in this great city:

Borda Berri – a tiny space with a choice of 12 exquisite dishes. There’s nothing on the bar so everything is ordered at the bar – don’t miss the foie gras terrine, slow cooked duck or meltingly-good pork ribs. Great Cava cocktail too.

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Duck and octopus dishes at Borda Berri

La Cuchara de San Telmo – the chef at Borda Berri used to work here and the food is similarly excellent. Top dishes were the inky rice & squid, and the slowly cooked sticky veal cheeks.

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Veal cheeks and squid rice

Bar Zeruko – Walking into Bar Zuerko makes you smile – it’s worth coming here to look at the display alone. This is molecular gastronomy that tastes great. Standout dishes were the sea urchin custard, deep fried langoustine with strawberry jam and octopus kebab.

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Gastro porn at Zureko

Casa Gandaraias – We fancied a sit down meal on the Monday night and found this place courtesy of the fabulous looking cuts of beef in the window. We had to make a reservation for later that night but it was well worth the wait. A kilo of well aged bone-in rib to share for €35 (including fries!), washed down with a fantastic 2005 Clos Martinet Priorat. Very friendly and very tasty.

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Steak anyone?

La Vina – eat here and you’ll find the best cheesecake ever (sorry Louisa!). Everyone in the bar is eating a slice and washing it down with a glass of Pedro Ximenez. The friendliest staff in a very friendly city

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The best cheesecake in the world… Ever!

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Pleasures of Portugal

Portugal is great. I have spent many a happy week on the Algarve eating marvellous seafood, chilling on the sandy beaches, and enjoying the odd round of golf. In fact, I love the Algarve so much I got married there 107 years ago… Sorry Fish, I mean 7 years ago! It was a great party but I don’t remember the wine (although we were drinking 2 litre pitchers of Cintra at La Boneca, which might explain it!). 

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A wedding with a difference!

Don’t get me wrong, I have very much enjoyed the wine when I’ve been there, always drink local (by local I mean Portuguese, not Algarve), and look forward to nothing more than that first lunch at Lanterna Velha in Carvoeiro; a dish of pork and clams, washed down with a delicious chilled bottle of Planalto. I have also developed a liking for the fragrant yet rustic reds of Alentejo… without really knowing much about the country’s viticulture.

Thanks to Roberson I now know a little more. They recently organised a fantastic tasting of Portuguese wines, hosted by the marvellous Charles Metcalf, who’s book ‘The Wine & Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal’, won the Louis Roederer International Wine Writer’s Book Award in 2008. No one has more passion for Portuguese wine than Charles and I doubt there is anyone in the English-speaking world with as much knowledge on the subject; he was the perfect commentator on two very interesting and incredibly good value flights of wines.

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The Wine Geek and The Wine Singer

A few of the wines on show were the second or third wines from these producers, hence the great value, but the quality was consistent across the board. However, I look forward to exploring some of the premier cuvees over the coming months.

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The selection showed consistent quality and superb value

The first flight consisted of 4 whites (Roberson are running a 20% off all Spanish and Portugal wines until 29th October; the prices below include the discount):

Adega de Moncao 2012, Vinho Verde (£7.16)

Blend of Alvarinho (known as Albarino in Spain) and Trajadura, which is indigenous to Portugal. I really enjoy the wines of Vinho Verde, the northwest region of Portugal, and this example has very pure expression of apples and citrus. Fresh and bright, juicy and jolly, with a clean mineral backnote. A tad bitter at the end perhaps but really is a summer afternoon in a glass. 87 points 

JP Azeitao Branco Balcalhoa 2012, Setubal (£8.95)

A blend of Muscat and Fernão Pires, another indigenous variety. One of the southernmost wine producing regions, and you can taste the sun in the concentrated, slightly baked aromas of apples and pears; there’s also a hint of white flowers and baked nuts. On the palate the fruit comes through with even a hint of orange but not quite enough acidity to pull it all together. There are plenty of floral nuts but the lack of acidity has it verging on flabby. 85 points

Douorum Vihnhos, Tons de Duorom White 2012, Douro (£8.95)

Blend of two indigenous varieties: Viosinho and Rabigato. The Douro is best known for the production of Port wines but is becoming well regarded for the production of both unfortified red and whites. Great complexity for the price with baked apple and pear and just a hint of grapefruit, with notes of white flowers, blossom and a touch of nuts and yeast. There’s a delightful surge of acidity up-front and a long and steely lingering finish. Very, very good and amazing value. 90 points

Quinta dos Roques Encruzado 2011, Dao (£15.96)

Encruzado is considered one of Portugal’s top white grape varieties and the majority is grown in the central Dao region. Toasty, creamy and lees-y on the nose, with notes of peach, apricot and almond. The first palate sensation is fresh citrus, followed by awkward but charming apricot. There’s some texture to the wine, almost a hint of grip but best of all is the very generous and fresh finish. 90 points

 

It was then onto a flight of five reds…

Alianca Vinhos de Portugal Bairrada Reserva 2011, Bairrada (£6.95)

Blend of Baga, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Merlot. Highly concentrated dark, even jammy red fruit and a touch of violet. Bright red fruit on the palate with rustic tannins. Simple, rustic and very drinkable. 86 points

Joao Portugal Ramos Marques de Borba 2011, Alentejo (£6.95)

Blend of Aragonez (yet another name for Tempranillo!), Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve enjoyed many a bottle of Marques de Borba on holiday in Portugal and now I know that Borba is a town in the Alentejo region! This wine has dark red fruit, verging on black but it is highly perfumed, with a touch of garrigue and spice. Fabulous acid on the attack with raspberry and red currant freshness. Slightly grainy tannins but highly gluggable. 87 points

E-Falorca, Quinta de Folarca 2007, Dao (£11.16)

75% Touriga Nacional, 25% Roriz. Elegant aromas of sweet cherry and orange peel. On the palate the wine is bright and breezy with plenty of red fruit and beautifully integrated, smooth tannins. Short but clean finish – I’d really like to try one of the more prestige cuvees. 89 points

Casal Figuero Tinto Reserva 2006, Lisboa (£14.36)

100% Touriga Nacional. Dark and slightly dried fruity notes and just a hint of farmyard and leather development. Charles didn’t like this at all and thought there were high levels of Brettanomyces, but I thought there was some very nice complexity developing! Good fruit and decent acid on the attack with good, if slightly tough tannins. 88 points

Quinta do Noval, Cedro do Noval 2009, Douro (£14.95)

Blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Syrah. Earthy and ripe red fruit with a lovely smoky back note (from the Syrah maybe?). Smooth, velvety tannins and ripe red fruit with a good hit of smoke and long, fresh finish. 91 points

 

And finally, a glass of port to round things off… 

Quinta do Crastro LBV 2008, Porto (£14.95)

100% Touriga Nacional. Sweet dried fruit, dried cranberry and a touch of fig – it smells so fresh. Sweet fruit and oh so smooth, with a slightly menthol finish. 92 points

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España Especiales (Les Caves de Pyrene tasting event)

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A recent tasting of some of the Spanish wines on offer at Les Caves de Pyrene, and the opportunity to meet some of the growers and winemakers, really reminded me what and exciting and often under-valued region of the wine world Spain really is.

Spain’s has more area of land under vine than any other nation in the world, and is the third largest producer, behind only France followed by Italy. This difference in planted area versus production comes down to the very low yields of the old vines, which are usually planted on dry, infertile soil. The low yields are a good indicator of the quality on offer in this sun-drenched region, where summer temperatures regularly reach 40C.

Although there are over 400 grape varieties planted in Spain, many consumers only really recognise Tempranillo from Rioja or Ribero del Duero, and maybe Garnacha from Catalonia in the north-west. It’s such a shame that when you scour the supermarket shelves, all you get to choose from are a number of beautifully packaged but ultimately disappointing quality Riojas. I also have a hunch that most UK consumers don’t realise that Rioja is a region of Spain and not a grape variety.

Spain has a similar classification to France’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), called the Denominación de Origen (DO) system. There are 69 regions which qualify for the status, only three which have been awarded the Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOCa ) status for a consistent track record for quality. These three areas, Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat, are mainly recognised for their red wines, although Rioja does produce some fantastic wines, predominantly using the Viura grape.

It is the white wines of Spain that have earned a permanent place in my collection – I hate to be without an Albarino from Rias Baixas or a Verdejo from Rueda – sometimes nothing else will do. Crisp, fresh and acidic; everything I’m look for in a white wine. The tasting arranged by Les Caves reiterated this fact, and also introduced me to some new and unexpected wines and regions. Below are a round-up of my favourite producers at the event:

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Bodegas Terras Gauda, Rias Baixas

From the O Rosal subzone of southern Rias Baixas near the border of northern Portugal, Terras Gauda makes wines from the region’s most famous grape Albariño, and also introduced me to the delights that Caiño Blanco has to offer.

Terras Gauda Albarino Abadia de San Campio 2012 (£10.35)

100% Albarino. Bright and (sea) breezy with sweet apple, lemons and delightful saline finish.

Terras Gauda “O Rasal” 2012 (£11.60)

85% Albarino, 15% Caino Blanco. The Caino certainly adds some richness to the wine but without detracting from the citrus and slightly peachy freshness. Super finish and astonishing value.

Terras Gauda “La Mar” 2011 (£18.60)

100% Caino Blanc. Caino must is without doubt the hidden gem of Rias Baixas. Citrus fruit, sea breeze freshness and delicious minerality… A great alternative to Chablis. And I love Chablis!

Bodegas Bernabe Navarro, Alicante

The white wines are made from Merseguera and Moscatel grapes and had the most thrilling streak of acidity and bright citrus flavours. The only other wines I have tasted that come close to this are the juicy Rieslings of Western Australia. The domain is certified organic and fermented only with indigenous yeasts.

Bodegas Bernabe Navarro El Caro Moscatel 2010 (£11.50)

Lime, clementine, brilliant acidity and just a touch of heather honey.

Bodegas Bernabe Navarro Vina de Simon 2011 (£11.50)

Made from Merseguera grapes – never heard of it either! Tropical and citrus fruit and amazing acidity, As close to grown up lemon & lime cordial as you’re ever likely to find. I’d love a bottle of this on a hot beach in Alicante!

Bodega Godeval, Valdeorras

Valderros is a small DO in Galicia and these wines are deliciously complex and beautifully balanced, made from low yielding Godello vines.

Godega Godeval 2012 (£9.50)

100% Godello. Peachy and rich with the merest hint of sweet honey. So juicy and fresh with crisp apple and lemon – move over Sauvignon Blanc.

Godeval Cepas Velhas 2011 £13.60)

100% Godello. This wine is made from the old vines and is reminiscent of its younger sibling but more elegant and refined. The fruit and bright acidity is there but the balance is delightful. Lovely stuff.

Cava Recaredo, Penedes

Sparkling wines made in the mothode tradtitionale. The Xarel.lo, Macabeu and Parellada grapes all come from organically and occasionally biodynamically farmed vineyards.

Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2007 (£17.60)

Lovely pear nose with baked apples and a hint of bread and spices. Delightfully elegant and bright acidity.

“Brut de Brut” Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2004 (£27.95)

Peaches and pastry aromas that is a real delight. A whole host of fruit on the palate from pear to apple and peaches, a touch of lees and a long, dry finish.

Reserva Particular 2003 (un-priced!)

A souped up version of the Gran Reservas from 102 months on the lees. Baked apples and peaches with delightful patisserie finish. Real class in a glass.

Loxarel Mitjans, Penedes

The farming of the Xarel.lo grapes is organic and a horse is used to till the vineyards. The Gran Reserva was mind-blowing and my favourite wine of the entre tasting.

Xarel.lo Amfora 2012 (£9.75)

I think this is the first still white I’ve drunk made from the Xarel.lo grape… It won’t be the last! Delicious balance of freshness and florality with apples, pears and white blossom. God long finish too.

Gran Reserva 109 2002 (£44.25)

Made using the method traditionale, using 95% Xarel.lo grapes… But isn’t disgorged so the lees remain in the bottle. It’s fresh, it’s fragrant and it’s floral. The balance of peach, apple and pastry is like the most delicious French patisserie. I want some of this for Xmas.

Hacienda Grimon, Rioja Alta

My favourite red wines of the tasting came from the Vale de Jubera in the Rioja Alta region. Organically farmed vineyards, primarily made Tempranillo with a little Graciana & Garnacha.

Rioja Crianza 2010 (£8.50)

Velvety smooth texture with strawberries, red currants and vanilla cream. You can’t ask for anything more from a young-ish Rioja, especially for this price.

Rioja Reserva 2009 (£13.85)

Deeper and more concentrated than the Crianza but still with the same red fruit but with some darker, more intense spice from the extra barrel age. Very smooth and extremely drinkable now, but will be even better in a couple of years.

http://www.lescaves.co.uk

Desolé, Beaujolais (#MWWC4)

The Monthly Wine Writing Challenge is into its fourth episode and October marks my first entry (#MWWC4). The previous winner has the honour of selecting the next theme, and the latest title, ‘Oops!’, was selected by Kat Wiggins (@winekat), after her article Possession – A Short Story won the public vote last time around. So here goes nothing!

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Desolé, Beaujolais

Wine is marvellous stuff; I love it, I really do. But I never thought I’d succumb to the evil that is wine snobbery. There are a few grapes I have issues with, but at least I have my reasons. I’m not a big fan of Roussanne and Marsanne; I find them to be generally flabby, flat and devoid of acidity. I also don’t get the love affair the rest of the UK seems to have with Malbec; it’s all a bit hot rubber squash ball for me.

I felt the same way about Gamay, about Beaujolais. My head was full of preconceptions and misconceptions and I’d never really given it a chance, never bothered to understand the complexities of the region. I used to think I could spend £10 on something better and more interesting; I was guilty of being a wine snob.

Thankfully, Twitter came to my rescue. A cyber-chat with @Love_Beaujolais got me thinking clearly and forced me to ask myself whether I had ever really given it a fair shot.  Luckily for me, these ever so friendly folk at Beaujolais & Beyond laid down a challenge, so putting preconceptions to one side, it was time for me to give Gamay a fair crack of the whip. And I’m so glad I did because these are vibrant, fruity red wines, from simple, easy drinking numbers to more complex models, which proudly show off their terroir. I soon realised I had made a big mistake. I soon realised had got it wrong. Wine snob? Guilty as charged.

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Much of Beaujolais’s negative press is down to Beaujolais Nouveau. This simple wine is the first release from the latest vintage in France, available for sale on the third Thursday of November, only weeks after the vintage. Nouveau is the lightest, freshest and fruitiest style of Beaujolais, which is produced to be drunk in its youth. London restaurants used to have a competition for who would have the latest release available first… And for the very first time I am going to get a bottle as soon as I can after the 21st November this year… because it is fun… and wine should be fun!

Beaujolais is the southern-most district of Burgundy and is one of the only regions in the world that focuses on a single grape variety. OK there is a smidgen of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Aligote planted but come on, I’m sticking up for Beaujolais here! Classification is simple, and from my recent encounters, a fair reflection of quality (very rarely the case!): Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais Villages and then the ten Crus – each offering something slightly different. The Gamay grape is a thin-skinned and acidic variety and generally (dangerous word!) produces brightly coloured wines with low tannins and intense fruity flavours. But there is so much more to it when you take the time to investigate the terroir. The granite, clay and limestone of northern Beaujolais, in Julienas, Chenas and Moulin-a-Vent for example, produces more structured and complex wines, whereas the sandier soils of Regnie and Brouilly produce lighter, prettier and fresher drops.

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Beaujolais: deserving of it’s place on the wine shrine!

I wish I’d known all of this earlier in the year so I could’ve enjoyed some of these cheeky and fruity numbers throughout the summer. But do you know what? At least I’ve learnt something. I’ve learnt to question preconceptions and to put in some work. I’ve learnt to stop making lazy, snap decisions. But most of all, I’ve learnt that I have a new friend in Beaujolais.I got it wrong but now I’ve done something about it. I suppose I’ll have to re-evaluate Marsanne, Roussanne and Malbec now… Oops!

Chateauneuf & Friends – a tasting of the Southern Rhone

Following on from the Northern Rhone event, the second Rhone tastings at the West London Wine School focused on the Southern section of the region… Oh how I could feel the fragrant warmth of the region in each glass…

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The narrow streets of Chateauneuf du Pape

The smell of lavender, fennel, dried rosemary and thyme fills the air of the Southern Rhone, where spicy Grenache is the champion grape. Wines made with Grenache have brambly fruit flavours and lovely spicy and herby notes, often with lashings of black pepper and after a few years they start to smell like Christmas. This is a very inviting region with extremely inviting wines. The classification system is straightforward, although not always a true indicator of quality; it pays to know the winemaker as well as the classification, as a good winemaker’s Cotes du Rhone can be far superior to a bad one’s Chateuneuf du Pape.

There are a plethora of grape varieties planted in the area. For reds you’ll find Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, and quite a few others. But the Southern Rhone is also home to a whole host of white varieties: Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Viognier and Picopoul, to name but a few. In fact there are a total of 18 varieties permitted in the blend of Chateuneuf-du-Pape!

The classification starts with basic Cotes du Rhone, which stretches over 200km and covers over 83,000 hectares of vineyards. We then move up the quality pyramid to Cotes du Rhone Villages (approx. 3,000ha), which is a selection of 95 communes making better quality wine. Next it’s the “named” Cotes du Rhone Villages, which over the years have consistently produced better quality wines and are allowed to append the village name to the label; there are 18 of these villages, my favourites being Sablet and Cairanne. Finally, we come to the “Crus”; these are villages and areas that have consistently produced top-notch wine and have earned the right to simply call the wine by where it’s from. The key Southern Rhone Crus are Lirac, Rasteau, Beaumes de Venise, Vaqueyras, Vinsobres, Gigondas and, the most famous of all, Chateuneuf du Pape. All of these “Crus” have Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) status for red wines, but only some are allowed to use the village name for whites and rose; Tavel, for instance only has AOC status for rose wines, and Vaqueyras, we learnt during our stay there last summer, is the only Cru where the AC covers Red, White and Rose.

 

This fascinating and delicious tasting consisted of a selection of white red and sweet wines from different levels of the classification (and thanks to Matt for sending the notes I left at the end of the tasting!).

 

The Whites 

Domaine de Foudreche Eclats Cotes du Ventoux 2012 (Cadman £9.99)

Interesting blend of Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. A delightful nose of pear, peach and even a hint of orangey clementine; very clean, a touch of slate and even a hint of honey. Fresh and juicy initially but just missing the degree of sharpness that I enjoy in a white wine, and just a bit pithy and flabby. I was seduced by the aromas and really wanted to like it but just a bit short on flavour. 86 points

Domaine des Escaravailles La Galopine Cores du Rhone Blanc 2012 (Waitrose £18.99)

45% Roussanne, 45% Marsanne, 10% Viognier. Floral aromas come first then there’s pear, apricot and grapefruit, with a touch of almond, marzipan even. Full bodied with a delightful attack of pear and lively citrus. There’s a nuttiness, creaminess with an attractive bitter almond finish. I didn’t expect to like this but there’s plenty of interest and complexity and good, long finish. 90 points

Chateau de Baucastel Vieilles Vignes 2010 (Hedonism £108.40)

100% Roussanne. Wow, wow, wow! Heavenly aromas of lemon balm, clementine and also a touch of the tropics. It smells rich and creamy and there’s nuts, flashes of wet stone and lemon thyme. On the palate the wine is graceful with a wonderfully full but soft texture and oh so complex. Peaches, oranges, cantaloupe melon and apple skin all combine with delightful nuts and just a wisp of dairy. It just seems to give a bit of everything but in perfect balance. Wonderful. 95 points (wine of the tasting).

 

The Reds

E Guigal Cotes du Rhone 2009 (Waitrose £10.99 – now onto the 2010)

50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 10% Mouvedre. Brambly black fruit and smoke with delicious hints of dried herbs and just a touch of liquorice. Slightly chewy tannin upfront before the dark fruit shines through with a great blast of smoke and black pepper. More Cru quality than lowly Cotes du Rhone – if you have around £10 to spend on a bottle of wine you’ll struggle to find a better quality available in the supermarket. 91 points (obviously the best value wine of the night!)

La Famille Perrin Domaine des Tourelles Gigondas 2010 (Berry Bros £39.95)

Blend of Grenache and Syrah. Still very young so the wine was decanted 4 hours prior to tasting. Turbo-charged smoke and spice with hugely powerful dark and brooding fruit and just a hint of dried cranberry and touches of sweet vanilla and oak. On the palate the wine is massive; super spicy, lashings of black pepper then hints of sweet oak. Still very tannic and needs plenty of time. This is a big, bold and powerful modern wine, a real sledgehammer. 91 points

Domaine les Goubert Gigondas 2010 (Roberson have magnums of 2007 at £32.46)

This wasn’t advertised on the tasting list but Jimmy kindly decided to open a more traditional example of Gigondas after the Tourelles lip-smacker. Softer more elegant nose with red and black fruit and the irresistible smell of herbs de Provence. Smooth and silky with lots of red cherry as well as ripe blackberry, supported with smoke, spice and pepper. A totally different wine to the first example and more to my liking. 92 points (PS: that magnum price looks a steal for the marvellous 2007 vintage)

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateuneuf du Pape Rouge 1999 (Farr Vintners £40.00)

Beaucastel use all of the permitted grape varieties in their assemblage. The wonderful smell of aged wine but still with plenty of fruit. Red cherry, strawberry and dried cranberry, supported with notes of roasted meat, leather and even a hint of truffle. So fresh with raspberry-spiked fruit before the dried figgy notes come through. The tannins are soft and smooth and the texture is so elegant with a fresh, sweet and long finish. Superb balance and freshness and real finesse. 94 points

Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge 1995 (Berry Brothers £61.40)

Actually smells younger and fresher than the 1999. Lots of strawberry and cranberry aromas before we get the sweet, dried fruit and sweet spice – wonderfully elegant. Lots of red fruit and freshness with gentle and elegant spice. There’s plenty of fruit but the evolution is more pronounced on the palate with a pleasant dose of spices and dried herbs. Not as complex as the 1999 but certainly makes up for it in elegance. 93 points

 

Sweet wines

Domaine Escaravailles Rasteau Blanc Vins Doux Naturels (Wiliam Baber Wines £17.50)

100% Muscat. Aromas of grape and pear with hints some floral and honey notes. I have to be honest, all I can taste is alcohol (16.5%). There is a hint of honey sweetness but that’s about all. 82 points

Domaine Escaravailles Rasteau Rouge Vins Doux Naturels (Field & Fawcett £19.90)

100% Grenache. This is more like it! Raspberry liqueur brightness with a touch of liquorice and black spice. Plenty of red fruit upfront and extremely fresh juicy and ever so moreish. Jimmy also provided some wonderful Valrhona chocolate, which was a delightful pairing. Like the best strawberry cream ever! 89 points

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The aftermath of a tasting at West London Wine School

Return to Hedonism – design your own tasting

I first visited Hedonism back in June and was mesmerised by the whole experience. The range, the quality, the warm service was all truly fantastic. I decide to go and have another look around today and was no les impressed – the white Burgundy room filled with DRC, Coche Dury and Leflaive, the wall of Yquem, the verticals of Mouton, Grange, Screaming Eagle and Gaja.

DRC anyone?

DRC anyone?

Mouton vertical

Mouton vertical

But this time what I was really interested in was selection of 48 wines in the enomatic tasting cabinets. I decided to put £50 on a tasting card and create my own tasting. The selection starts at £0.80 for a 25ml of Greek Malagousia, all the way up to £20-odd quid for a 25ml tasting of Yquem or Opus One. The fantastic staff will give you as much advice as you want – never over-bearing but always available, or you can just go it alone. I devised a 9-wine tasting that was just sublime. Give it a go… If you love wine, you’ll adore Hedonsim.

(All prices are per bottle as I forgot to note the 25ml price!)

Sergio Zenato Lugana Riserva 2010, Veneto, Italy (£29.50)

An interesting Trebbiano! Zesty and bright; look out for Lugana on Italian restaurant wine lists. 87 points

Klein Constantia Perdeblokke Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Stellenbosch, South Africa (£22.40)

New world SB with all of the tropics and none of the green veg. Nice change

Jadot Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot Clos de la Chapelle Duc de Magenta 2010, Burgundy, France (not currently for sale but @£30)

Very promising with plenty of peach fruit but so tight and steely and needs lots of time. 91 points

Cosecha La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 2001, Rioja, Spain (not currently for sale but @£40)

Beautifully traditional Rioja; gorgeous balance of fruit and oak; strawberries and vanilla cream. 93 points

Neo Punto & Sencia Ribero del Duero 2009, Ribero del Duero, Spain (£48.10)

Modern, powerful fruit-bomb. Too aggressive for my palate! 88 points

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2009, South Australia (£87.30)

Sweet fruit and ever so elegant. Touch of smoke, lots of mineral; very fine indeed. 93 points

Penfolds Bin 389 2010, South Australia (£49.80)

Lively acidity, smooth tannins and delicious autumn fruits. No overbearing oak – a simple but enjoyable Cab Sav/Shiraz blend. 90 points

Cerequio Voerzio Barolo 2000, Piedmont, Italy (£278.90)

A very evolved nose of dried fruit, leather, animal, herbs and flowers. Still showing huge, chewy tannin. Cherry, tar, leather, violets; marvellous but still needs time! 94 points

Quintarelli Amarone Classico 1998, Veneto, Italy (£347.80)

16.5% alcohol… But you’d never know it! Rich but fresh, smooth and so luxurious. Aromas and flavours of cherry, fig, tar, chocolate, truffle, tar and flowers. It goes on for ever. Absolutely sublime; it’s not often you get a chance to try a wine like this. 96 points

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