Sunday, May 27, 2012

What natural winelovers eat

Where to begin with Real and RAW wine fairs? Well, why not with the food which was outstanding and one of the things that distinguished the two fairs from every other wine tasting I’ve been to. Including London’s International Wine Fair this week where I had to get by on half a dried-out ham sandwich and a few crisps.

In the bizarre circumstance where everything that happened at one fair was measured against the other there was nothing to choose between them in terms of the excellence of the food. As with the wines some producers - or maybe it was only Hansen & Lydersen with their excellent smoked salmon -  were present at both.

RAW fielded Violet Cakes, Elliot's Café (oysters) Duck Soup (rillettes, roast heritage tomatoes, broad beans and labneh), gorgeous cheeses from Neal’s Yard and superb teas from Lalani which were wonderfully refreshing at the end of a long afternoon. Every tasting should lay on tea.

The Real Wine Fair had Ottolenghi (amazing salads), Modern Pantry (filo tarts and Scotch eggs), Morito (generally Moorish, Moro-ish things I didn't get round to snapping or eating), more cheese, this time from Androuet and some great bread from the aptly named Bread, Bread.

Having divided my time scrupulously between the two fairs I was hoping to make both dinners but didn’t, in the event, manage RAW’s Georgian Supra though I hear that was great.

But the Real team excelled themselves with a lavish spread of starters including radishes (above), tomato salad, carpaccio and some superb smoked mackerel, a robust, wine-friendly cassoulet, followed by cheese and a slightly half-hearted strawberry pud. (I don't think natural wine lovers do pudding. Probably because it's hard to make sweet wines without sulphur ;-)

It wasn’t just that the food was delicious - and generous - but the way it was served on big sharing plates. Just the way things should be at a wine dinner.

And the wines? More of that in my next post . . .

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What happened at the Natural Wine Challenge?

You may have assumed from my radio silence since the Natural Wine Challenge that I was so bruised and battered I haven’t dared show my face again in public. Which is happily not true - I’ve just been frantically busy relaunching my website (which you might want to have a wander round if you're in need of some food and wine pairing suggestions).

It was, however, a nerve-wracking experience not least because the main Caves de Pyrène delivery, which contained some of the wines I was keenest to show, had gone missing when I arrived around 5.30pm. And the tasting started at 7.

Frantic phone calls ensued. Les Caves insisted that they’d delivered them. Dock Kitchen, the restaurant where the tasting was taking place, swore they’d never received them. Eventually we had to start without them then, 20 minutes into the tasting, someone miraculously found them. But not in time to check them and chill or decant them where necessary so I don’t think some showed as well as they might have done.

So, what did we taste? Well, I didn’t stick entirely to wines I rate green (see right) - there wouldn’t have been any point but we kicked off gently enough with a glass of the excellent Jacky Blot Triple Zéro sparkling wine from Montlouis (£13.28 Justerini and Brooks), the name referring to the fact that it is not chaptalised, receives no dosage and contains no residual sugar.

The whites we tasted included

P-U-R Pouilly Fuissé 2009, Villefranche sur Saone (£29.50 Aubert & Mascoli)
A gratifyingly smooth, creamy white burgundy from the Maçonnais - pure and mineral as the name suggests (though it actually stands for Production Unique Rebelle) GREEN

Les Vignes Herbels La Pointe 2008 (£19.75 Les Caves de Pyrène)
A lovely Anjou chenin I hadn’t tasted before from vines that were planted in 1920 which are farmed biodynamically and only yield 10 hl per hectare. Very lush, peachy and seductive. GREEN TO AMBER

Roxanich Antica 2008 (£31 Green & Blue)
A sumptuous Malvazija I discovered on my recent trip to Croatia. Extended skin contact (80 days) so could legitimately be described as an orange wine. Tough for natural wine newbies but I thought it was wonderful - a wine to sit and sip or enjoy with big-flavoured food such as veal or guineafowl. And apparently sublime with white truffles. AMBER TO RED

And the reds:

Marcel Lapierre Morgon 2011 (not yet available. The 2010 is around £18-20 - check for stockists)
Not as great as its two predecessors I’d have said, especially the '09 but whether that’s the vintage or the new regime under Marcel’s son Mathieu kicking in, I’m not sure. A lovely wine anyway - and an easy ride GREEN

Domaine Lucci 2010 Wildman Pinot Noir (£22.90 CdP)
A mad funky pinot noir from the Adelaide Hills, I’ve written about before. Totally delicious (especially with the goat biryani that was served at the subsequent supper) but a bit wild for some. AMBER TO RED

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet Syrah, VdP de L’Archeche 2010, Hervé Souhaut (£17.89 CdeP)
One of my favourite natural wines from the northern Rhône, brimming with bright fruit - full of life and vigour. No fining, filtration or added sulphur. GREEN TO AMBER

Eliane da Ros - Chante Coucou 2009 (£18.39 CdeP)
Another favourite, a vibrant, life-affirming biodynamic red from the Marmandais in south-west France - a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah made ‘with a minimum of sulphur’. GREEN TO AMBER

Le Jonc Blanc ClassIK Bergerac 2008 (£15 A & M)
A biodynamic wine made by a guy who used to sell chemicals, ironically. Classic Bordeaux blend but with a live quality that made it particularly engaging. Easy to like - and everyone did. GREEN TO AMBER

Château Le Puy 2008 (about £25-28 if you can find any. Contact Dynamic Vines for stockists)
One of the most iconic natural wines since the 2003 vintage featured in a manga comic and became a cult wine in Japan. Dark, plummy with more ‘matière’ than the average Bordeaux. Decanted but still felt it could have benefited from another couple of years ageing.

Colombaia Rosso Toscano 2008 IGT (£18 A & M)
Described by Guillaume Aubert of Aubert & Mascoli as ‘the new Morgon’ it nevertheless tasted classically Italian to me. An easygoing Sangiovese that’s great with food. Should maybe have been lightly chilled GREEN TO AMBER

Jour de Fête Rancio - Jean Francois Nicq (£19.29 CdeP)
An amazing rancio-style dessert wine that probably didn’t get the attention it deserved. (Another time I wouldn’t have served so many wines. The original plan was to serve six but thanks to the delivery mix-up we had to pitch into wines I’d held in reserve). GREEN TO AMBER

So the most popular wines were the reds which wasn’t a great surprise, the ClassIK Bergerac being the greatest crowd-pleaser, closely followed by the Souhaut Syrah and the Chante Coucou, once they’d opened up.

Interestingly criticism during the evening switched from ‘natural wines are all undrinkable’ (which they clearly weren’t) to ‘natural wines are expensive’. Which of course they are given how labour-intensive they are to produce. Artisanal cheeses are considerably more pricey than factory produced ones and I don’t think any of the participants would have a problem with that. Nevertheless it does take them out of the reach of a lot of people who would be interested in drinking them. And they are significantly cheaper in France. Obviously the tax regime is more favourable there but the Lapierre Morgon, for example, is available around 15€ (just over £12) compared to £18-20 here.

To be honest I wouldn’t claim this tasting did a major job of changing hearts and minds. Those who were intrigued by what natural wine has to offer clearly enjoyed it. The mildly sceptical were, I think, surprised how attractive some of the wines were while those were strongly opposed to natural wines still thought they were rubbish (and in one case didn’t even show up).

Thanks to all the merchants and importers who supplied wines: Aubert & Mascoli, Bibendum, Caves de Pyrène, Dynamic Vines, Justerini & Brooks, Pacta Connect and especially to Stevie Parle of Dock Kitchen who provided the most sumptuous meal afterwards. That, at least, everyone enjoyed ;-)

Next week I’m off to Las Vegas. Doubt if I’ll find a great deal of natural wine there . . .