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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

Affordable Fizz from Les Grands Chais de France

Alhambra Reserva 1925

Champagne – a brief encounter

Champagne Taittinger at Luton Hoo

Domaine Papagiannakos Winery

Grapes & Wines

The History of Wine in 100 Bottles

Lambrusco - Another taste

Mark Hellyar at Chateau Civrac and Honest Grapes

Massucco Wines

Mele e Pere for Vermouth with a Master

Mezcal Amores

Onikoroshi Honjozo Sake

Parlay Ultra Black Rum

Remelluri Organic Winery

Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries

The Sparkle of Vilmart & Cie

Taruzake – cedar difference

Wine & Spice Series 2015 at Cinnamon Club


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Food & Drink
- Wine and Champagne,
Beer and Sake

On this page:

Affordable Fizz from Les Grands Chais de France

Alhambra Reserva 1925

Champagne – a brief encounter

Champagne Taittinger at Luton Hoo

Domaine Papagiannakos Winery

Grapes & Wines

The History of Wine in 100 Bottles

Lambrusco - Another taste

Mark Hellyar at Chateau Civrac and Honest Grapes

Massucco Wines

Mele e Pere for Vermouth with a Master

Mezcal Amores

Onikoroshi Honjozo Sake

Parlay Ultra Black Rum

Remelluri Organic Winery

Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries

The Sparkle of Vilmart & Cie

Taruzake – cedar difference

Wine & Spice Series 2015 at Cinnamon Club


Mezcal Amores

mezcal Mezcal? Isn’t that a brand of tequila? No – they are slightly different beverages but with great similarities in both taste and production methods.

Tequila and mezcal are made from agave which grows in many parts of Mexico. Most mezcal is made in Oaxaca. Tequila must be made from blue agave and mezcal should not be made from blue agave. Mezcal can be produced from more than 30 different varieties of agave but agave espadin is the most popular. Mezcals will vary in flavour much more than do tequilas, due to the range of agaves from which they can be made.

In Mexico, mezcal is generally consumed straight rather than being mixed as part of a cocktail. It is often served with sliced oranges sprinkled with a mixture of ground fried larvae, ground chili and a salt called sal de gusano, which literally translates as "worm salt". Yes, a dried version of the ‘worm’ sometimes found in bottles of these distilled drinks – and those are the ones I avoid!

The agave plant is resilient and adapts to changes in climate. Through the process of photosynthesis it turns water and CO2 into starches (inulin). Once the plant reaches maturity it produces a flower. It does this only once in its long life of perhaps two decades. The flower has to be removed as soon as it appears; the main leaves are cut leaving just the fleshy inside cone or piña which is dug up. This vital ingredient of mezcal can weigh up to 100kg.

For most tequilas, the piñas are baked in steam ovens. Mezcal can also be produced in this manner although, traditionally, the piñas are roasted in an underground pit filled with burning wood and rocks. It’s this process that gives mezcal its distinct and lingering smoky taste. Tequila agave is shredded, but mescal agave is pressed to extract the juice.

The brand Mezcal Amores was founded in 2010 by a group of friends who, after making several trips to different mescal-producing states in Mexico, developed a love for the drink. The adventure encouraged them to create a product that showcases the best of its traditions and quality. They wanted to find a smooth and balanced mezcal but one which still displayed characteristics of the classic spirit.

I tasted the unaged Mezcal Amores from Oaxaca. This was a surprisingly smooth spirit with great character for such a youthful mezcal. This would be a perfect drink for sipping – no shots in this house. Its smoky finish makes this the drink of choice for a night by the log fire.

Tasting notes: Complex with hints of hazelnuts, sandalwood and cinnamon. It has a long finish with plenty of smoke. Delicious!


food and travel reviews

Mark Hellyar at Chateau Civrac and Honest Grapes

civracWhat a kind invitation! A food and wine pairing evening at impressive Lutyens, off Fleet Street… and Cornish wine! Well, no, not really – the wine is French and very good too. The maker is Cornish and that, strangely, might give him some advantages: he has an appreciation of the British wine palate.

Cornishman Mark Hellyar changed careers a few years ago to start producing wine in Bordeaux. He is from Padstow where his family have farmed for a couple of hundred years, so he does indeed have a connection with land and cultivation. Cornishmen have long had a reputation for being independent and rebellious, and with that genetic sense of adventure Mark sold the software company he was running in order to start a new phase of his life. Now the resulting wines are found at celebrated Michelin-starred restaurants and in the cellars of the discerning.

Mark Hellyar of Chateau Civrac is a Cornishman in Bordeaux. The wines are contemporary and made with the British consumer in mind. Mark’s wines are hand-made in small quantities thus giving the opportunity to tailor wines for individual and complex character and ever-changing nuances. There is nothing dull or banal from Chateau Civrac. Mark wanted to make wines that were different from classic Bordeaux and his wines have a New World quality about them, with more subtle tannins, and which perhaps have more in common with those he discovered while working in California and South Africa.

civrac Chateau Civrac has developed a noteworthy Sauvignon Blanc called Wild White which isn’t a hippy-inspired vintage as the name might suggest. The ‘wild’ element comes from the French Sauvage and Blanc for white – a little linguistic toying. We tried this and several other outstanding wines at the Honest Grape food and wine tasting, and everybody was impressed by Mark’s offerings.

But what are Honest Grapes? It’s actually more of a bunch of who’s rather than what’s. They are a group of wine enthusiasts, wine professionals, and friends who have created something of a one-stop wine site which offers suggestions and invitations to events. They hold regular pairing dinners and single-variety tastings which will excite anyone who enjoys good wine, and anyone wanting to learn more.

Honest Grapes supports independent growers, small producers and importers, allowing their guests to taste wines that they won’t be able to find easily elsewhere. There are wines for quaffing with Sunday lunch and others suitable for celebrations and impressing the in-laws; there might even be a cheeky bottle or two appropriate for an evening in front of the television enjoying ‘The French Connection’ or ‘Julie & Julia’. This is a marketplace for interesting bottles, well-chosen vintages – and delicious diversion.

civrac I am no wine expert and I am not a chef but I really enjoyed this pairing evening. Honest Grapes presents events that will appeal to food lovers who will appreciate learning more about how wines not only accompany dishes but actually enhance them. But any dinner party is just as much about those folks sitting around the table as what’s on it. These evenings are convivial. One might not know the others but everyone has something in common – love of great food and excellent wine, as furnished by Lutyens and, in this case, the charming Mark Hellyar (whom I hope to interview in the near future).


Learn more about Honest Grapes here

Learm more about Mark Hellyar and his wines here

food and travel reviews

Taruzake – cedar difference

Taruzake Sure, the world of sake is new and mysterious to most of us. Japan’s national beverage is made of few ingredients but there are many styles and each one has its own history and its own character. We are being offered a wider range of sake in Japanese restaurants but it’s a shame that non-Japanese restaurants are not aware of the Sake Buzz, the sake wave of appreciation.

There is one variety of sake that has always intrigued me, one with a very pronounced flavour – of wood. No, not the taste of knotty pine nor the richness of mahogany (although I have never had a chew of either of those). Here we are talking cedar and that taste is there for a reason which dates back centuries.

Let’s put this into historic context. Until the beginning of the 20th century sake was stored and transported in wooden barrels made of Japanese cedar called sugi. It was only when it reached the sake shop that it was put into ceramic vessels. These vessels can still be seen if one is lucky enough to visit a sake brewery, many of which have been plying their trade for more than a dozen generations.

Taruzake – cedar difference Taruzake sake (also called Taru) is the name of this distinctive style of sake. It is aged in casks or barrels called ‘taru’ from which it gets its name, but these days the sake stays in wood for only a couple of weeks and then it’s bottled in glass.  It isn’t exported in wood as it takes too long in transit. Any longer aging than a couple of weeks impairs the delicacy and produces a sake which has overpowering flavour and aroma. The iconic barrel is usually made of cedar wood and is different in each region but cedar grown in the Yoshino district of Nara is considered the most prized for the job. The wood imparts a distinctive light smoky cinnamon scent and flavour which is quite unique and which I find rather pleasant.

Taruzake is a very popular drink in Japan on New Year’s Eve. It is essential at every kagami biraki cask-opening event. The fourth Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Ietsuna (1641 – 1680) is thought to be the first one to hold this lid-breaking ceremony. Before going to war he gathered his daimyo (feudal lords) at his castle to break open a sake barrel. The battle was won and so this colourful tradition was started and is seen at various celebrations and auspicious occasions.

A traditional kizuchi (mallet) is used to break open the lid of the small and ornate cask. These casks and associated accoutrements can actually be hired for events.  For smaller gatherings an extra barrel bottom is fixed half way up so as to reduce the quantity of sake within. A hishaku (wooden ladle) is used for dipping into the sake cask and pouring the taruzake into a square masu. Taruzake – cedar differenceThese are traditional wooden boxes which were originally used to portion out rations of rice.  The word ‘masu’ means growth in Japanese, and so these boxes or wooden cups are also symbols of good fortune.

Taruzake is delicious when paired with smoked fish and robust meat dishes, but surprisingly it works well with creamy cheeses. I was introduced to this combination at a cheese and sake pairing event with Kiko Ito of La Fromagerie in London. Here we tasted Taruzake with Burrata cheese mixed with Crème Fraîche garnished with Japanese soy sauce and wasabi. Masterful!

The weather is cool so an ideal time to sip a sake which has warming notes on both the palate and the nose.


food and travel reviews

Alhambra Reserva 1925

Alhambra Independently-owned Alhambra Beers, a celebrated brewery in Spain, was founded in 1925 and is named after the Alhambra Palace in its home town of Granada. Alhambra Reserva 1925 is the foremost artisan beer of the Alhambra Company and expresses its tradition and quality.


One might not know too much about beer but the first impression is of tasteful elegance. The green glass is embossed, with not a sign of a paper label. The bottle has an old-fashioned air leading the prospective drinker to expect a beer which might be traditional in nature, and that drinker would be right. It has been inspired, as the name suggests, by the first beers of the brewery in 1925.


This beer is produced in artisan style and is a strong pale lager with pleasingly intense flavour. It has a bitter edge, a golden colour and is lively with good bubbles. It has pronounced hop notes on the nose when the bottle is first opened. It is brewed and matured for 35 days, making it one of Spain’s best-regarded lagers. The first sip offers a sweetness which grows into a full and complex experience. Its finish is crisp and long, making this a beer over which to linger.


food and travel reviews

Champagne Taittinger at Luton Hoo

Luton Hoo Champagne is the quintessential celebration drink. We enjoy it with friends and loved ones, accompanied by fine foods, perhaps in a drawing room with high ceilings, Grinling Gibbons wood carvings and sumptuous drapes. Well, OK, most of us can’t manage that stunning setting …but Luton Hoo can!

Luton Hoo is an English Country House Hotel with acres of grounds and piles of history. Yes, there are many country house hotels – the UK is blessed with these magnificent properties which are now enjoying a new life as classy accommodations for discerning guests. Luton Hoo is arguably one of the finest examples of its genre.

A stay laced with dinner and champagne was likely to be memorable, and indeed it was. Luton Hoo offers several wine dinners every year and they are understandably popular with regular visitors, those who are celebrating, and others who are interested in learning more about the best of wines.

Luton HooTaittinger is a French wine company which is still family-owned and run. They are recognised as producers of outstanding Champagnes. The company is led by Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger. The estate was founded in 1734 by Jacques Fourneaux. The Taittingers were a family of wine merchants who, in 1870, moved to the Paris region from the Lorraine in order to retain their French citizenship after the Franco-Prussian War and the Treaty of Frankfurt. In 1932 Pierre Taittinger bought the Château de la Marquetterie from the wine house of Forest-Fourneaux.

From 1945 to 1960 the business was run by Pierre's third son François. Under his direction the Taittinger cellars were established in the Abbey of Saint-Nicaise, built in the thirteenth century. After François' death his brother Claude took over and directed the business from 1960 to 2005. It was during this time that Taittinger became known around the world.

The vineyards of the château had been planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since the 18th Century. They are the grapes which are most commonly used in Champagne production. To be called Champagne a wine must be made from grapes grown in that region and must be made using the classic Champagne method. Wines made with this method but from grapes grown elsewhere are just sparkling wines.

Luton Hoo Taittinger Brut Reserve Champagne Non-Vintage was served with our pre-dinner canapes. This was poured from Magnum bottles, offering a subtly different experience from that to be had from the same wine from a regular bottle. This was a light Champagne, pale in colour with fine bubbles and made with both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Plenty of green apples on the nose, fruit and honey on the palate and a well-chosen pairing with the oyster and sweet potato nibbles. A Champagne to drink with delicately flavoured food.

Taittinger Prelude, a non-vintage blend of grapes from Grand Cru sites, is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and accompanied our starter of pan-fried scallops with a garnish of hazelnuts, clementine gel and orange crisp. The Champagne presented full aromatics with fresh citrus notes mirroring the dish, and had a pleasantly long finish.

Luton Hoo Our main course of Guinea fowl boudin with chestnut and date stuffing, cèpe cream and winter truffles was paired with both Taittinger Vintage 2008 and the 2003. It was a rare opportunity to taste and compare two vintage Champagnes. Most Champagnes are not vintage, allowing the producers to present consistent quality in their styles of wine. When a year is particularly good a vineyard may elect to make a special vintage Champagne. Both wines were distinctive but the majority of the table agreed that the 2003 had a more robust persona and was the best balance for the meat. I would suggest that perhaps the 2008 would have been the more popular had the sauce not contained truffle, which was a dominant flavour.

Taittinger Nocturne Sec Non-Vintage paired very well with our dessert of striking autumn berry pudding with buttermilk foam and brioche crisp. This wine is made with a higher 'dosage' (added sugar), making it noticeably sweeter. It has a pale yellow colour and delicate bubbles. It’s soft and fresh and made a delicious pairing with the fruity dessert.

Luton Hoo The evening was not just a pairing dinner but something of a masterclass, with able and amusing Kevin McKee. He was ideally placed to deliciously educate the guests, being Director of Taittinger Champagne UK.

But the food was never overshadowed by the expressive wines. Each dish was a triumph of taste and form. The Wernher Restaurant Sous Chef, Aimee Reddick, is definitely a chef in ascendance. Aimee first joined the team in October 2013 as a Junior Sous Chef and now has a more senior role, heading a team of five Junior Chefs. This was a fine-dining meal of both quality and innovation. I had not visited The Wernher, Luton Hoo’s main restaurant, but if this is an indication of the quality of food then it must surely be considered a destination restaurant with an outstanding chef. I look forward to tasting the regular restaurant menu in the future.

Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf and Spa
The Mansion House
Luton
Bedfordshire LU1 3TQ

Phone: +44 (0)1582 734437
Email: enquiries@lutonhoo.com

Learn more about Luton Hoo events here
food and travel reviews

Massucco Wines

MASSUCCO WINES For many years Loris Massucco has been working hard, supported by the experience of several generations of family wine makers, to create his new, innovative wines. All over the world, wine producers are constantly competing when it comes to promoting and selling their wines, and what makes the difference all too often is price, at the expense of quality. To differentiate themselves, as well as offering classic wines of high quality, Massucco is working to innovate on two separate fronts.

Firstly, from the historic Roero vineyards, synonymous with wines such as Barbera and Arneis, Loris Massucco has a vision of the future, combining research and new methods of vinification with the careful ripening times of his beloved grapes. He has created wines that brilliantly express new and different aromas and flavours, whilst enhancing the potential of the classic varieties of the famous Roero wines.

This involves a unique method, invented by Loris Massucco, which involves a first early harvest in a specifically chosen vineyard. The grapes are then vinified in steel and a second harvest is carried out after 30-40 days in the same vineyard, which is then vinified in new oak barrels.

The two harvests provide very different expressions of the same grape, the first acidic, with the aromas and flavours of green fruits, the second very sweet, with the aromas and flavours of exotic fruits and jam. Together, they create a unique balance.

massuccoSo, classic Arneis becomes Sole dei Tempi and classic Barbera becomes La Luna dei Tempi: these are examples of how you can develop new wines when armed with a profound knowledge of the grapes and the terroir, whilst taking advantage of thoroughly contemporary methodologies.

Secondly: the search for a new blend of two great wines. 
Loris has used his Nebbiolo d'Alba of the highest quality and blended it with other wines from different areas of Italy, to make wine that nevertheless exalts the characteristics of the individual wines.
For example:
Nebbiolo: This grape tells us the tales of a terroir that is prestigious and rich in traditional values.
Corvina: The fruit of a land of love and passion. (And one of the grapes that goes to make Valpolicella).
Corvina is colourful and spicy, so when blended with the more tannic Nebbiolo, the mixture gives rise to an emotion and harmony that warms the heart.

massuccoThis experiment has resulted in a great wine to partner with game, risotto, cured meats and strong cheeses, or just for meditation. It is a completely different expression of the Nebbiolo grape. This wine is Terramore (Land of Love), and from the lees of this exceptional wine Loris has worked to create a range of cosmetics and has also put together a wine/food and spa package based at the vineyard. (Details available from orders@orsamajor.co.uk)

Finally, Spumante Cavaliere della Serra.  Whilst all the world has been going mad for Prosecco, the delicious, carefully made and traditional Spumante has remained popular in Piemonte, its pleasure known only to a few connoisseurs. Cavaliere della Serra is a wonderful example of this fantastic, traditional, sparkling wine.

All four of these exceptional wines are only available by contacting: orders@orsamajor.co.uk and will be delivered straight to your door in beautiful wooden boxes of 6.

SPECIAL OFFER:
The wines are now available to you at a special introductory offer:
 
-20% FOR ANY WOODEN BOX OF 6 BOTTLES: N.B. Delivery is not included.

Box of 6 bottles TERRAMORE:           £156.00  £124.80
Box of 6 bottles LUNA DEI TEMPI:      £156.00  £124.80
Box of 6 bottles SOLE DEI TEMPI:       £156.00  £124.80
Box of 6 bottles CAVALIERE SERRA:    £120.00    £96.00

Visit Massucco Wine here

food and travel reviews

Affordable Fizz from Les Grands Chais de France

Les Grands Chais de France GroupLes Grands Chais de France Group is a company based in the Northern Vosges region of France. It’s run by the Helfrich family.  When Joseph Helfrich founded the winery in 1979 he made the decision to sell Cognac and brandy around the world - wine followed soon after.  Les Grands Chais de France Group is one of the largest vineyard owners in the world with more than 30 wineries in France, and they produce some interesting and good-value wines which are well-worth seeking out.


Here are a few to consider. No, they might not be expensive Champagnes, but they are delightfully quaffable and won’t break the bank – for they are actually very creditable sparkling wines, and the majority of your guests are unlikely to notice the difference:


This is perhaps my favourite of the bunch – Terre de La Baume Crémant de Limoux (not yet available in UK).  Delicate bubbles, apples, white blossom, hint of lime, refreshing and light. Seek this out on your next trip to France.


Calvet Crémant de Bordeaux Rosé – great value for money. Delicate fruit on both nose and palate. Aromatic and slightly flinty, creamy with red berries. Available at Ocado.


Les Grands Chais de France Group Arthur Metz Cuvée 1904 (not yet available in UK) – bright, traditional with good body, well-balanced and elegant.


Crémant de Sauvion – brioche on nose and palate, good bubbles, white fruit, well-balanced, perfect for aperitif. Available at Oxford Wine Company.


Any of these sparkling wines would find a place at your table or on your drinks trolley at Christmas. They offer an affordable alternative to Champagne and can be enjoyed with white meat, white fish, canapés and fruity desserts. Serve chilled to get the best from these bottles.


To learn more about Les Grands Chais de France Group visit here

food and travel reviews

Parlay Ultra Black Rum

parlay rum The label uses a strong old gold and black design which sets well on the inky dark spirit in the tall slim bottle. The artwork is embossed and tactile and excites the expectation of a taste of something a bit different. There is the story of the name ‘Parlay’ emblazoned on the back and it’s a charming one, invoking visions of daring-do and swash-buckling.

It’s said that in 1650, during the Golden Age of Piracy, the term ‘parlay’, as written in the Pirata Codex (yes, such a book is believed to have existed) meant a gathering for negotiation after alleged piratical misdeeds by one of their buccaneering number. Legend has it that the ‘right of parlay’ rules were set down by notorious pirates Morgan and Bartholomew in this Code of the Pirate Brethren. This enabled an accused man to have the chance to talk to the captain and state his defence over, one assumes, a bottle of rum which was likely not as fine as this one.

Parlay Drinks launched this Ultra Black Rum in the summer. The company is also featured in the September issue of GQ Magazine, named as an up-and-coming spirit maker in the UK market. This rum is definitely one to try. It’s blacker than any rum I have ever seen with its red tones only becoming evident when the bottle is held to the light, which also exposes its blue/purple halo. It has great vanilla and burnt sugar notes on the nose, as well as some red fruit hints and perhaps some orange peel.

From the first sip one can detect its smooth richness and an agreeable warmth. The fruit profile is maintained and black treacle and raisin come to the fore. It has a long finish, as one would expect from such a syrupy spirit, and it lacks the alcoholic burning bite often found in less-crafted rums, making this a well-rounded sipping rum.

Parlay Ultra Black Rum is new but it has the potential to become a classic. It’s just a matter of taste but I think it would be a shame to use it predominantly for cocktails; I would pour a little over a good quality vanilla ice cream. That’s Christmas dessert sorted, then! This is a winner.

Visit Parlay Ultra Black Rum here.

food and travel reviews

Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan’s Artisanal Breweries

I was told to expect a book. I was told to expect a big book. I was told to expect a coffee-table book. What I got was a book the size of a coffee table but one which will hold my attention long after the furniture would have lost its purely functional appeal.

sake Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan's Artisanal Breweries (yes, the title fits the proportions of the book) is organic in its style and appropriate for the subject. The cover is fabric in a cool winter-sky blue with simple black text. Unfussy, crisp and displaying Japanese taste for minimalism.  One naturally opens the volume with respect.

This is a heavy tome but not heavy reading. It’s a sake story book that will be the volume of choice for any lover of sake or things Japanese with which to snuggle. It’s a picture book over which to pore. Images of craft and continuity are showcased to beautiful effect. Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan's Artisanal Breweries is encyclopaedia of some of the most significant breweries (including 10 shōchū distilleries and 5 Okinawan awamori distilleries), looking at sake and those Japanese spirits. It features 60 or so breweries, with each chapter focusing on the families who have, often for many generations, dedicated their lives to the production of Japan’s iconic beverage. The book displays the diversity of brewing methods that produce such changes in flavour around Japan.

The striking photography is by one of the world's most renowned travel photographers, Jason Lang. He transmits to us the spirit both of sake and of those who labour to make it. He shows the reality of the process, its beauty and charm. Steam, warm rice, brewers and landscape populate these pages. He captures the environment with shots of rugged faces and frosted fields. Vignettes of traditional brewery slippers, high technology and natural wood. Anyone who has visited a sake brewery will be convinced that they can actually smell fermenting mash between these pages.

 Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan's Artisanal Breweries will appeal to a wide audience. For the untutored, it will open a door to sake and introduce the characters who make that distinctive drink possible. For lovers of sake who want to learn more, there is a raft of information to study and muse upon. It’s a book about sake but equally about people and the relationship between the two.

Sake: The History, Stories and Craft of Japan's Artisanal Breweries
Authors: Hayato Hishinuma, Elliot Faber
Published by: Gatehouse Publishing
Price: £75.00
ISBN-10: 9810795289
ISBN-13: 978-9810795283

food and travel reviews

Remelluri Organic Winery

The mountains have been here for 80 million years; humans have been using the mountains for a lot less time than that, but nevertheless for a long time, historically speaking. The Romans used one of the peaks as a military fort. Later, in the 14th century, a monastery was built that gave birth to this farm, producing cereal and wine for the monks - La Granja Nuestra Senora de Remelluri (Our Lady of Remelluri). In fact, the village of Remelluri dates from the 10th century, and was named after a Christian guerrilla fighter called Ramellis, who helped to push the Muslims south from the valley.

Remelluri In the 10th and 11th centuries the monks in the monasteries at nearby St Millan de Cogolla (now a UNESCO World Heritage site and well worth a visit) produced beautiful documents and drawings describing the picking and crushing of grapes.

The farm was abandoned in the 17th century and it had many different owners, until Jaime Rodriguez and his wife bought it in 1968 as a ruin. They started, little by little, to restore the walls and the house. At that time there was no electricity, no telephone, no roads. It was charming, beautiful, and this was one of the reasons that they bought it – as a romantic getaway for the summer break with the kids. They knew that they could make wine here, as fine wines were already being made in the village, long before the industrial ‘Rioja’ wines of modern times. The family made their first wine in 1971 – about 10,000 bottles – with the vines that were already here. Apart from the historic accident of the monks and the farm, it’s the geography, the nature, the place, the ‘terroir’, that makes Remelluri so interesting.

The traditional Rioja viticulture always took advantage of the bush-vine system (French ‘gobelet’ or Spanish ‘vaso’ – a small glass): there are three main stems trained above the trunk, which spread out making the perfect round shadow to counter the effect of heat and sun. The vines survive with no irrigation, as the owners are faithful to the traditional methods and are looking for quality rather than quantity. They maintain a density of 5000 plants per hectare, so that the roots have to compete with each other.

Geographically the vineyard is in the cooler, fresher part of Rioja, with a lot of influence from the Atlantic breezes. They have a north wind blowing all summer and autumn, bringing welcome rain and keeping the night-time temperature down below 20 degrees. This helps the vines to produce better because the leaves don’t close, so photosynthesis can continue. The contrast between the cool of the night and the heat of the day helps to develop complexity, acidity, and sugars so the wines become much more sophisticated. Some of these wines can age in the cellar for months, and in the bottle for decades.

Remelluri In spring the shoots of the vine are very fragile, and in those past days winters were long, with a lot of snow and ice, and autumn was very short. So the monks in the Middle Ages sited the farm in the best possible place to get the shelter from the surrounding hills, and terraced them to get the maximum sunshine. The vineyards here are at the highest elevation in the region.

In areas such as Xeres, the sherry-producing region of Spain, there were at one time up to 120 varieties of vine, and even here there were perhaps 60 varieties, but phylloxera destroyed most vines. When the disease decimated the French vineyards the owners came to Rioja and Navarra looking for clean plants, and started doing joint ventures with local merchants and aristocracy. That’s how the classic Rioja started. They built wineries in villages near railway stations, and sent wine in bulk to Bilbao harbour, to be bottled in London for sale to Europe. The business was dominated by the British and the French.

Remelluri only produce 6,000 bottles of white wine, and only have 4.5 hectares of vineyard dedicated to white grapes. In the east valley they have around 20 hectares of very old terraces used to make their most prestigious wines – a really sophisticated Granja Remelluri (10,000 bottles) that is aged for two years in the barrel followed by six years in the bottle. It’s a wine that will remain in good condition for half a century. The other notable red wine is Remelluri Reserva, which is the ‘house’ wine, aged 18 months, and they produce around 250,000 bottles.

Remelluri The owners consider that the biggest challenge is to set the best example, be the best model, for their wine-making neighbours. Remelluri represents almost 33% of the organic vineyard area in Rioja. Policies in Rioja have encouraged a massive increase in production, but have not favoured the traditional producers or protected the old terroirs. The authorities gave money to replace the old vines, and everything was bulldozed and destroyed, and there has been heavy criticism from international wine-writers and journalists. Remelluri, because the family liked the wines of Medoc, started using French oak barrels, as opposed to the American oak generally used throughout Rioja. This wood offers less vanilla aroma than the American, and they replace about 10% of their barrels each year.

Telmo, the son of the family, who now runs the winery with his sister Amaya, likes to work with bigger barrels for certain wine. Telmo Rodriguez has been described by Berry Brothers and Rudd as one of the greatest of Spanish winemakers. He uses 500-litre and 300-litre barrels as well as the more typical 225-litre. You can see from the names of the parcels of land chalked on the barrels that they ferment and age each plot’s grapes separately until the point of bottling the vintage. Some of the French barrels are made from Hungarian oak these days, because French oak is becoming harder to find and more expensive. As wines are oxygenated and aged they are racked and moved to cooler rooms. These wines are delicate, being alive with yeasts and natural bacteria, and would have a tendency to become vinegar if not expertly handled!

I am sure a vinegar vintage will never happen at Remelluri. This is wine made with passion, dedication and consideration. This family know what they like. They respect heritage and tradition but they also embrace practices that allow them to make the best of this land. It’s the delicious marriage of art and organic science.

To learn more visit Remelluri here

To arrange tours of Rioja and the rest of Spain visit Travels and Tapas here

food and travel reviews

Mele e Pere for Vermouth with a Master

mele vermouth Vermouth has been ubiquitous in and on cocktail bars since mixed drinks became popular more than a century ago, but many of us have no idea what it actually is, apart from being the bottle that stands at the back collecting dust. Now it’s enjoying something of a revival since the days of the ubiquitous Gin and It in London in the 1950s. The ‘It’ in this case was sweet Italian vermouth.

The modern versions of vermouths were first produced in the mid- to late-18th century in Turin, Italy. Vermouth was traditionally used for medicinal purposes, being flavoured with botanicals more associated with the apothecary’s cabinet. In the late 19th century it became popular as the indispensable ingredient in many celebrated cocktails such as the classic Martini (gin and dry vermouth), the Manhattan (bourbon, rye, or whiskey, with sweet vermouth), and the Negroni (Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth).

There are two main types of vermouth, sweet and dry, and then the spin-off styles of extra-dry white, sweet bianco and rosso, and rosé. Vermouth is produced from a base of a light wine with the addition of infused alcohol flavoured with aromatic herbs, roots, fruits, barks and spices. The resulting combination of wine and alcohol is sweetened with either cane sugar or caramelized sugar, depending on the style. This gives depth and richness to the final product.

A popular ingredient is wormwood, which has long been believed to sooth stomach disorders. The name "vermouth" is the French pronunciation of the German word Wermut which we English pronounce as wormwood. By the mid-17th century the drink was being enjoyed in England, where we adopted the name "vermouth", and so it remains.

Mele e Pere, one of my favourite restaurants in Soho, has a bespoke Vermouth bar. Yes, every bar in the capital will have a bottle or two of this fortified wine but here it’s the main beverage. Vermouthier-in-chief Ed Scothern, who is also the enthusiastic and animated General Manager, conducts regular Vermouth masterclasses which are both popular and fun. He discusses the history and composition of this drink but he also shows how you could make Vermouth yourself. In fact that’s just what you will be doing at the end of the evening!

mele vermouth Ed takes you through the blending process and a tasting of a wide variety of styles, and will ply you with your favourite vermouth-based cocktails or perhaps introduce you to some new ones. You will see how Mele e Pere use different vermouths in both classic and signature house cocktails. You will be supplied with an array of small bottles of the aromatised alcohol and glasses of sweetened white wine and be given the chance to design your own unique and hopefully delicious Vermouth.

 Tickets for each evening cost £25 and include some of Mele e Pere’s most popular sharing plates such as spicy Ascolana olives (to which I am addicted), deep fried squid with smoked aioli, and San Daniele ham – and, trust me, they will tempt you to return to sample the rest of the menu.

Join Mele e Pere for Vermouth Mondays. They offer 2 for 1 on all Vermouths when you order any share dish, pasta or main course every Monday from 5pm!

You can build your own Negronis and Martinis by choosing from perhaps London's biggest selection of Vermouths and Mele e Pere’s diverse range of Gins and Vodkas produced by some of the UK's most individual micro-distilleries.

To book a place at one of their masterclasses e-mail info@meleepere.co.uk or call 020 7096 2096.

Mele e Pere
46 Brewer Street
Soho
London W1F 9TF

Email: info@meleepere.co.uk

Read more about Mele e Pere here.
food and travel reviews

Domaine Papagiannakos Winery

Domaine Papagiannakos Vineyard A few years ago one might scoff at the prospect of a visit to a Greek winery. The memory of old-school Retsina lingers on. That wine had more in common, to non-Greek taste buds at least, with that in which one might clean paint brushes. But those days are gone and now Greek wineries are taken seriously in the international arena and they are winning awards against more familiar wine-producing countries. Viticultural snobbery has been, in most circles, swept away and wine aficionados are now able to appreciate some very fine vintages.

Vassilis Papagiannakos is a leader in the reinvention of the Greek wine industry and after decades of hard work he is now enjoying recognition and international respect. He and his wife Antonia started building this new and technologically advanced winery in 2003 and it was opened in 2007. It is designed on bio-climatic principles: it saves 25% energy by using natural light and ventilation to control the temperature inside, making it cool in summer and warm in winter. It was the first energy-saving winery in Greece, and the design has received architectural awards.

We spoke to Vassilis in the state-of-the-art winery which ticks every box for technology, eco-friendliness, and architectural good taste. “It took me almost 2 years to find the architect. Most were saying that they wanted to visit wineries in France, Italy, California, Australia, New Zealand, to take photographs and I would choose what I liked. I did not like that approach, and when I told a friend of my concerns he recommended an architect who had worked in the UK on bioclimatic buildings. At last we had found someone with original ideas. The first vintage in the new building was in September 2007. Similarly with our label designer: she is English, married to a Greek and had designed for many international brands.

Domaine Papagiannakos Vineyard “The design of the winery puts everything underground. I wanted to incorporate the building into the surroundings, adapted to the environment. But when we dug the foundations over 5 metres down we discovered an ancient river, which we could not block. So we had to fill the bottom of the excavation with a metre of big stones, and build the winery on top of that!”

Vassilis explained the history and ethos of his building and production. “My ancestors were grape-growers, like all the villagers of this region for thousands of years. But my grandfather emigrated to the United States at the beginning of 1900. He stayed for ten years, and worked very hard. When he came back he married my grandmother, who owned some vineyards, and with the money that he had saved he bought more vineyards and built the first winery.

“My father worked to improve the technology in the 50s and 60s with equipment from France. It was always a family business, as it is today, and we cultivated the main grape of the area, Savatiano.  This is mostly a limestone soil, and we have mild winters, and hot and dry summers. We have a minimum of 320 days of sunshine, and no rain from the middle of May until October, and low humidity. We are very lucky as we are close to the sea: we are surrounded by it, on the east coast of Attica, and we get the breeze from the Aegean, and there is a strong wind that blows in the afternoon, until sunset. This cools down the grapes. The advantage of this grape variety, Savatiano, is that it is very well adapted to this climate, and 95-97% of our vines are not irrigated. Because that grape has been grown here for thousands of years it is well established,and the roots go very deep – perhaps 20 to 25 metres – and the yield is very low.”

Domaine Papagiannakos Vineyard Why did Vassilis step away from traditional Retsina? “I saw that Savatiano was associated only with Retsina and my father and grandfather were producing mostly just that, because this was the market at that time. In the 70s and 80s we started making wine without resin, but it was simply called ‘aretsina’, without retsina! So I took the decision to cut back on making Retsina and focus on using Savatiano to produce a conventional white wine. I don’t advertise our Retsina, but most of it is exported, our best market being Paris! Our white wines can compete and be compared with other international grapes and wines from other countries, but Retsina is unique to Greece. “We have planted grapes from other regions of Greece, like Malagouzia, and international varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, which we support on wires, and we always irrigate those at least twice during the summer to avoid hydro-stressing the vines. We only give the vines a sulphur spray in May, and otherwise we do not need to spray, as we have no diseases in this area due to the hot, dry climate. We rarely suffer from mildew – just once in 48 years. We are naturally organic. Although we are not certified, laboratories here and in Germany and Canada acknowledge that our wines are organic.

“All our vineyards are maintained by hand. We have about 10 people regularly working for us in the fields, but that goes up to 50 at harvest time. That lasts 2 months, from the beginning of August until the 20th September. Malagouzia that I planted 15 years ago is always the earliest to ripen. Then Assyrtico, then the reds (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Agiorgitiko), then at the beginning of September, Savatiano, which is our main production. Mostly we use grapes from our own properties for our wines, but we do buy grapes from vineyards owned by members of our extended family and friends. Land prices are very high in this area, so it is not economic to extend our own vineyards. Because of the geography of Greece, the terroir, and the break-up of property by inheritance, production is very artisanal and we have very high costs. I think that the selling prices are still too low, but we don’t have the reputation of somewhere like Burgundy. We deserve it, but we will have to build up the awareness and reputation.

Domaine Papagiannakos Vineyard “Because of the many different terroirs, altitudes and climates on the mainland and on the islands, we have more than 400 varieties of grape in Greece, although only 15 to 20 are used for wines exported to international markets. Production is generally 70 to 75% white wine, due to the climatic conditions. We produce about 200,000 bottles per year. Our best market at the moment is Germany, (in part because there are more than 5000 Greek restaurants there!), then the United States, Canada, and Britain.

“Red production is 15 to 20 % of our total, mainly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (5000 - 7000 bottles each) and some Agiorgitiko, and we keep it in the barriques (barrels) for 13 to 19 months, depending on the year. We always buy new barriques – we have experimented with various ones, and we have settled on wood from two forests in France, and focus on two particular suppliers.  We also produce a barrel-aged Savatiano white wine called Vareli (which is the Greek for ‘barrel’) – we keep that wine in new French oak barrels for 5 to 6 months. In early 2000 I planted Malagouzia, Assyrtiko, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. They take five years to produce grapes, but to come fully into production takes 7 to 8 years, as we need two years for experimentation.”

This beautifully presented winery is outstanding and can compete with wineries anywhere in the world. They have the best of wine-making facilities, and elegant social space in which to host group gatherings and receptions in striking fashion. The building has open vistas over fruit trees, figs, pistachios, herbs and of course vines. This noteworthy winery has inspired a lot of other winemakers from all over Greece and other countries. Students studying architecture use the building as a project because of the bioclimatic and energy-saving design. “Many want to copy our building,” says Vassilis, “I am very proud because this is the first one. We used the best materials, and it was a very big investment for us, and it was a very tiring time, but it was my dream – I would not settle for second-best.” And he hasn’t.

This man has charisma and charm. He is an international traveller and has a taste for curry when visiting London. Yes, he is a citizen of the world but his heart and passion are in Greece. He has struck the right balance between hard work and family life, with both his daughter and wife working by his side, and his undoubted success is well-deserved. I look forward to tasting more of his admirable wines in the future.

Learn more about the Papagiannakos Winery here

food and travel reviews

Onikoroshi Honjozo Sake

Founded around 1720 in Takayama Hida in Japan, Oita Shuzo brewery has been producing sake ever since. This is a beautiful region with several noteworthy breweries. It comes alive in winter, which is the sake-brewing season in Japan.
Onikoroshi Honjozo Sake
In the Edo era sweet sake was more highly esteemed than the dry version. Many dry sakes produced in Japan were sarcastically nicknamed ‘Oni Koroshi’.  Oni is the Japanese word for demon and koroshi is slayer or killer. Locals said that even those monsters would die if they drank such dry sake. Now drier sake is more popular and is my favourite style, being crisp, light and more easily paired with Western food. Try a chilled glass with your preferred evening snacks.

Oita Shuzo is now in its 15th generation of family owners and is under the watchful eye of Hideo Oita, although they have moved from their original site in Takayama. Such family business continuity is not so unusual in Japan. The company produces 400kL of sake and shochu each year. They respect traditional methods but are happy to incorporate new technology and practices where they improve the process.

Honjozo is sake that has a small amount of brewer's alcohol added to the fermenting sake mash after the yeast has completed converting the sugar in the rice. To be considered as a honjozo sake, the weight of the additional alcohol must be no more than 10% of the weight of the rice used.

This sake is available in convenient smaller-size bottles. Its reasonable price makes this a great entry-level sake.  Oita Shuzo of Hida produces this Onikoroshi Honjozo Sake with a slightly dry character, displaying an elegant smoothness and a hint of crispness, making this a versatile sake, and one that fits easily into a small sake carafe.

Onikoroshi Honjozo Sake is produced in 300 ml bottles
Alcohol Content: 15.5%.    
Rice polished to 68% (the % of rice remaining after the polishing process is complete)
The Japan Centre has an impressive selection of Sake. They are available online and from their shops.

Japan Centre Food Hall and Book Shop
19 Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1D 7ED

Visit Japan Centre here
Phone: 020 3405 1246
Email: foodshop@japancentre.com
Email: bookshop@japancentre.com

Read the blog at blog.japancentre.com

Join Japan Centre on Facebook here www.facebook.com/japancentre
Follow Japan Centre on Twitter at www.twitter.com/japancentre


food and travel reviews

The History of Wine in 100 Bottles - From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond

Oz Clarke is always entertaining in a roguish kind of way. He has graced our TV screens and our airways for several decades and his books are a paper representation of his wine adventures.

The History of Wine in 100 Bottles This is a man who has indeed enjoyed wine and that joie de vivre comes through in this book. Oz leads us on his personal odyssey through styles of wine, bottles of wine and memories of wine. The History of Wine in 100 Bottles - From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond is a collection of anecdotes with wine and its history at the core – and a fascinating story it is.

This is just the kind of book an enthusiastic wine lover would include on a wish-list for Christmas. It’s a tome with which to snuggle, perhaps in front of a yule-log fire. That aforementioned sipper will be charmed by Oz’s conversational style, but this man also educates in a most palatable fashion.

Wine snobbery has long been with us. It has served to alienate many of us who would like to know more. Granted, we might remember the name of a couple of favourite bottles but confront us with a stiff and starchy sommelier and the resolve to order with confidence evaporates like the angel’s share in a chilly cellar. This book might not direct you to a particular bottle, grape, or vintage but it will give reassurance and encourage a bit of conversation between you and the sommelier, whose mission should be to serve both you and the wine.

Oz has a broad love of all things viticultural and that includes such oddities as Retzina and wine boxes – they are mentioned under the date section 1965 in Oz’s chronological listings, to give historical context. Mateus is included, and dated 1942, although it was the wine of (very little) choice in the 1970s, being prized as much for its bottle shape as its contents.

Everything you ever wanted to know about wine labels, screw caps, prohibition, synthetic corks, marketing and bottling is all here. The History of Wine in 100 Bottles - From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond is my bedtime companion and will remain so till I reach the last delicious sip, the last jolly quip and the last grapey musing. It’s a winner.

The History of Wine in 100 Bottles - From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond
Author: Oz Clarke
Published by: Pavilion Books
Price: £20
ISBN-10: 1909815497
ISBN-13: 978-1909815490


food and travel reviews

Grapes & Wines - A comprehensive guide to varieties and flavours

Grapes & Wines First published as Oz Clarke’s Encyclopaedia of Grapes, Oz Clarke’s new Grapes & Wines, with Margaret Rand, is revised and updated to present the wine lover with the best information on a comprehensive selection of grapes and the wines associated with them.

Oz Clarke has become a household name. He oft graces our TV screens and has written a shelf-load of books on wine. This particular volume might well act as an indispensable handbook for those of us who don’t know much about wine and don’t even know enough to ask about what we don’t know.

Seventeen classic grape varieties are covered in depth, with another fifteen major grapes also discussed in some detail. Oz touches upon more than three hundred grape varieties in total, categorized from Abouriou to Zinfandel.

This is a book that will help to demystify wine. Each section is a one-stop-shop for information on the specifics of each grape variety.  The chapters on the classic grape varieties are outstanding, with pages of historical context, terroir, taste profiles, countries growing particular grapes, and also notes on the most celebrated producers, as well as how to enjoy each wine at its best.

Grapes & Wines - A Comprehensive Guide to Varieties and Flavours is a book to give confidence to the beginner or non-professional wine enthusiast. It will be a must-have for anyone lucky enough to go on a wine tour, and gives the home wine buyer a few ideas for wines that will fit their personal taste. It’s great value for money and is bound to become a best-seller. It’s beautifully presented with illustrations, photographs, maps and diagrams, making this book truly gift-quality.

Book review:
Title: Grapes & Wines
Authors: Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand
Published by: Pavilion Books
Price: £25.00
ISBN-10: 190910862
ISBN-13: 978-1909108622


food and travel reviews

Lambrusco - Another taste

Lambrusco - Another taste If you are of a certain age then even the name ‘Lambrusco’ will likely raise a smirk. Once the smirker’s composure has been restored then he/she will probably deny ever having tasted the stuff. One has one’s oenological credibility to consider, after all! Wouldn’t be seen quaffing anything so viticulturally base!

Where exactly is Lambrusco, my dear geographically-challenged reader might ask. It’s not a place but just a wine. Emilia Romagna and Mantova are often referred to as being in the ‘Lambrusco region’ but that just describes the wine typical of the area. Lambrusco is the name of both a red wine grape and an Italian wine made principally from the grape. They originate from around Emilia-Romagna and the central provinces of Modena, Parma, Reggio Emilia, and Mantua.

The grape isn’t a new variety but in fact has a long history, with archaeological findings showing that the Etruscans cultivated these same grapes. The Romans enjoyed Lambrusco and prized it for the high grape yield of its vines.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s that infamous sweet Lambrusco was one of biggest selling wines in the US and UK, and it was offered in both white and red. Both made with the same grapes but the must, or grape juice, for the white wine stayed in contact with the grape skins for less time than for the red.

It’s mostly sparkling wine but not usually made using the ‘Champagne method’ (metodo classico). It is typically made using the Charmat process (like prosecco) where a second fermentation is undertaken in a pressurized tank rather than in the bottle.

Lambrusco - Another taste Most Lambruscos are made from more than one Lambrusco variety and often mixed with a number of approved blending grapes. The grape itself is not particularly sweet but many of the commercial Lambrusco wines are sweetened by either partial fermentation or with the addition of concentrated grape must. There are different levels of dryness or sweetness; the wine is noted for high acidity and flavours of blackberries, strawberries and cherries.

Reggiano is the largest Lambrusco-producing region and the origin of the majority of the exports of that DOC-designated wine. The four Lambrusco grapes that can be used are Maestri, Marani, Montericco, and Salamino. Up to 15% of added Ancellotta grapes are allowed for this DOC, too.

It’s hardly surprising that these better quality Lambrusco wines differ from the cheap supermarket bottles with which we were afflicted a few decades ago. They’re more potent, having an alcoholic content of between 11 and 12 per cent, as opposed to four per cent for those over-sweet and half-hearted wines that gave Lambrusco such a bad name.

Lambrusco - Another taste These days Lambrusco is much drier, with a touch of tannin, and well balanced, being rich and juicy as well as displaying freshness and fruitiness. It still has that deep crimson colour that looked so delicious all those years ago, but now that expectation is more often realised. It’s still sparkling and offering those same pink bubbles when poured, but it’s often the best Lambrusco that’s now exported and enjoyed by people outside Italy.

Lambrusco is attractive, refreshing and goes well with so many foods. It’s best served chilled with canapés, light summer salads and even cheese. It’s well worth another look; but beware - there are still bottles out there that too closely fit the profile of those previous horrors! It’s not always a matter of ‘you get what you pay for’ so it’s perhaps worth going to a reputable wine merchant and even asking for a taste if you intend to buy a case or two.

‘A case or two?’ I can hear you cry with loud incredulity. Well, yes. A good Lambrusco is hard to beat when the sun shines, so set aside wine snobbery, buy some bottles and boast that you have discovered the next big wine trend.

Learn more about Reggio Emilia here

food and travel reviews

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