Thursday, November 16, 2006


“Every winemaker has a dog. At Yering we have a Frog.” That’s the story behind the name of the wine. Well, we have a frog as a pet of our own befriended when it was discovered under a beautiful Rodochiton shrub some five years ago. The shrub has long since gone but we call the froggy Rodick in its memory. He never got to like the name but no matter. It’s fond of a little cosy shrub by the back door on the patio. Every summer it’s back there to keep us company as we quaff our favourite wines or discover new ones. It watches us bemused and sometimes tries to butt in with its friendly croaking message. Sorry, Rodick, we don’t always understand the message you’re trying to convey but we always appreciate your company, so we raise our glasses to your next arrival in May with a glass from your froggy cousin Down Under.

2005 Yering Frog, Yering Station, Shiraz/Viognier, Yarra Valley, Australia – 14.5% alcohol
(Majestic £6.99, or £5.99 if you buy two)

A little sibling of the Yering Station Shiraz/Viognier, Yering Frog shows typical Shiraz flavours of blackberries and spice on the nose tamed by a bit of earthiness and refreshed by soft mint and some floral notes derived from Viognier. Well structured and balanced with good acidity, it’s easy to drink and very impressive. The tannin is young but very palate-friendly and calls out for some beef. But if you are not a regular beef-eater and have only a few minutes to spare, try this recipe which, even if not ideal to accompany the Frog, will still do the trick. Finish the meal off with cheddar as we did, this time with Westcombe. Bearing in mind the price tag and the joy it gives, you can’t go wrong with a cute little Yering Frog, even if it’s not as cute as ours.


Chicken breasts for 2 – preparation time 3 minutes; cooking time – 16 minutes

Ingredients: 2 chicken breasts, 4-6 smoked streaky bacon rashers; salt, freshly ground black pepper, chopped fresh (or dry) herbs: parsley, coriander leaves; 1 tbsp of olive oil

1) Heat the olive oil in a frying pan with an oven-proof handle (medium heat);
2) Pre-heat oven to 200°C/Gas 6
3) Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt, freshly ground black pepper, parsley, coriander leaves on both sides;
4) Wrap up neatly each chicken breast in bacon rashers;
5) Fry the chicken breasts in the frying pan for 3 min, turning once;
6) Place the frying pan with the chicken breasts in a pre-heated oven for 13 minutes;
7) Take the frying pan out of the oven - use special oven gloves or a thick towel;
8) Serve with salad, saffron rice or pasta and a glass of wine.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Do you believe in the Cheddar Man? Well, I do. I’ve seen him at Cheddar Gorge: seemingly small and insignificant in his last resting place deep under the ground, he’s quite possibly the most powerful man to have lived ever. The Cheddar Man was discovered in 1903 in one of Cheddar Gorge's caves, as “the earliest whole skeleton in Britain”. He lived 9,000 years ago and met a grizzly end on a stick, eaten by cannibals, local or outsiders. Were they cheesed off with him or just greedy? We’ll never know. They’re long gone. But Cheddar Man’s bones have been left to posterity. It was recently discovered through DNA tests that the Cheddar Man was a tough guy and his blood still runs in the veins of people living in Cheddar today. Wouldn’t we all like to have his power of survival?

And Cheddar Man isn’t the only thing to be made in Cheddar which was destined for immortality. There’s also cheddar cheese. In 1727, Daniel Defoe wrote, “….without any dispute, it is the best cheese that England affords if not that the whole world affords.” And how the kings loved it! King Henry II in the XII century bought tonnes and tonnes of it, so did his son. And every king since has following suit. Indeed, there was a time when the Palace was the only place a man could get a piece of cheddar. It was truly the cheese of kings and it still is the King of Cheeses.

The best traditional cheddars come from Somerset in the West Country - Keen’s Cheddar, Montgomery’s (strictly traditional) Cheddar and Westcombe Cheddar. Their winning formula lies in their simplicity: just unpasteurised milk, salt and animal rennet. Sorry, vegetarians! The result is stunning: complex flavours and a firm texture which miraculously melts in the mouth and a long lasting finish like a top quality wine.

Cheddar has a love affair with almost every wine. Whether it be fine or affordable, elegant or daily, white or red, it’s one of very few cheeses which does not discriminate and is not discriminated by any wine. It complements fine wines unobtrusively and enhances the ones that need their spirits lifted. Try it first with Cabernet Sauvignon, Rioja, Riesling, Gavi, and Pinot Grigio.

Neal's Yard Dairy, in London, stocks every cheddar you’ll ever need.

Montgomery’s, 18 months matured, went exquisitely well with today’s wine:

2005 Villa Flora, Lugana DOC, Zenato Peschiera del Garda, 13% alcohol. Limited edition, all the bottles are numbered.
(Waitrose - £5.99, £5.69 online)

Light gold in colour to lift your spirit on a chilly winter evening, with uncomplicated soft pear and white flowers aromas on the nose and elderflower and light fruit on the palate, it’s well balanced with good acidity and the texture is smooth and seemingly a tad oily. The wine is made from Trebbiano of Lugana which grows on the southern shore of Lake Garda, as the locals believe, since the Bronze Age. Azienda Zenato was founded by Sergio Zenato in 1960. He still runs the winery together with his children Alberto and Nadia.

The wine goes well with fish, seafood and cheeses. Very good as an aperitif.

Monday, October 23, 2006


English wine is no longer shy and boring. It’s evolving, pleasing to the nose and palate. Although it’s still got some way to go, it won’t be long before we’ll all be drinking it by the bucketful and enjoying the aromas of local honeysuckle, elderflowers, apples, raspberries and strawberries alike.

I recently popped into the Stanlake Park Wine Estate in Twyford (Berkshire, UK) formerly known as Thames Valley Vineyards, then Valley Vineyards, to see if any progress had been made since my last visit ten years ago. On that occasion, I bought a couple of very disappointing bottles of wine. What a difference a decade makes. You can now choose from sparkling, white, rosé and red, including a Pinot Noir made a few times in the last 20 years which is available in their shop at a price (£19.49).

The Stanlake Park Estate is full of history, with tales of kings, traitors and heroes. But for the last 27 years the focus has been on wine. The vineyards cover 25 acres with over 30,000 vines planted. Their wines have received awards from the UK Vineyards Association and from the International Wine Challenge. Apparently, the King’s Fumé is now served at the Dorchester Hotel in London.

I tasted five different wines: three whites, one red and one rosé. These are the two I liked:

2005 Pinot Blush, (Dry Rosé Wine) English Regional Wine, Stanlake Park Wine Estate, Twyford, 11.5% alcohol - £6.99 in the Stanlake Park shop and some local supermarkets

Made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Ehrenfelser and Scheurebe, it’s rosy pink and raspberry on the nose. There was a slight problem for the first 5-8 minutes when the wine seemed to be flat on the palate (possibly, due to too low a level of carbon dioxide) only to reveal a very pleasant raspberry and some savoury flavours with lively acidity a few minutes later. It was well structured with a good body and went well with light chicken pasta sprinkled with parmesan cheese and salads, including beetroot. It’s a very satisfying wine and can be happily drunk as an aperitif. Would I choose it before a French or Spanish rose? Definitely maybe!

1999 Kings Fumé, (oak aged) English Regional Wine, Stanlake Park Wine Estate, Twyford, 11.5% alcohol - £9.99 in the Stanlake Park shop

Named in honour of King Charles I who is thought to have donated a special window dated 1626 and signed “Dieu et mon Droit” to Stanlake Park Estate. The wine is made from “roughly equal proportions of Ortega, Regner, Scheurebe and Bacchus grapes”, aged in French Oak casks and matured in the bottle for a few years.

With smoke and soft elderflower on the nose, the wine seemed to have passed its best. The colour of a matured sauternes, it looked a tad odd next to a creamy chicken pasta, although surprisingly, they did go well together. The wine was smooth, creamy and smoky on the palate. A bit insipid but very drinkable and still pleasant, I wish I could have had it two-three years ago. It can be drunk as an aperitif, but is also good with cheeses: dolcevita, cheddar and Dutch Gouda. Disappointingly, just before the bottle was finished the wine developed a stale, old wine smell.

Next summer, I’ll definitely buy more of their rosé and probably drink some of their other wines. With the climate steadily improving temperature-wise, along with experience and expertise, the future of English wine looks rosy. Roll on English wine!

Monday, October 16, 2006


Old habits die hard. When I think of Italian wine, I still can’t help thinking of red. But there’s more to Italy than that. What better place to start than in Piedmont, being one of the top wine producing areas in Italy with 50 different DOC(G) in the region. Admittedly, with Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera and Dolcetto reds up its sleeve, it’s still considered a red wine region. But perhaps not for long. Many drinkers’ keen eyes, trained noses and thirsty palates are turning fast to its white wines as a change from Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. In particular, to Gavi.

Gavi is an exciting discovery. Made from the Cortese grape around the town Gavi (Gavi DOCG), it’s a star that shines brightly, light-straw in colour. Its unusual for Italian whites steely acidity and cool, harmoniously-balanced and somewhat soothing elegant aromas and flavours won’t leave even a “chance visitor” unmoved. You may encounter some shortcomings, though – slightly lacking in fruit on the palate to balance the acidity or a marginally thinner body than you’d like. But there’s no need to be disheartened, they can easily be counter balanced by adequate chilling.

The first written reference to the Cortese grape goes back to the 17th century. It took over 300 years to create the Gavi DOC in Piedmont (in 1974) which was then changed to DOCG in 1998. The focus in the DOCG is on quality and about 95% of all the wines produced in the denomination may be tracked down to the producer.

Although the UK is not spoilt for choice as far as Gavi is concerned, there are a few typical and interesting samples available for the eager and discernible punter. Gavi can be enjoyed with creamy seafood or light chicken pastas, salads, asparagus, antipastas, soft creamy cheeses like feta, bleu d’Auvergne, gorgonzola piccante, brie and even cheddar, or just with dry fruit.

2005 Gavi (DOCG), Bricco Battistina, Araldica Vini Piemontesi SCARL Nelle Cantine di Castelboglione, 13% alcohol

(Majestic - £7.99, or £6.99 for two)

The grapes are hand picked from the oldest vines on the estate to produce this aromatic wine with pear, unripe peach, citrus and dry apricot aromas on the nose. 70% of the wine is fermented at a low temperature in a stainless steel tank and 30% is fermented and aged in new French oak barriques to add a richer texture and minerality. With high acidity, and a fuller than expected body for Gavi due to contact with oak and soft citrus and pear on the palate, it’s a bargain at £6.99.

2005 Gavi di Gavi (DOCG), La Toledana (single estate), Recolto tardivo (November 2005), Domini Villae Lanata, 13% alcohol

(Majestic - £8.49)

La Toledana was built in the first half of the 16th century. It has changed hands a few times since then and now belongs to Gianni Martini, the President of Fratelli Martini Secondo Luigi and a Councillor for Unione Italiana Vini.

To give the wine complexity, a fuller body and some added tropical fruit flavours, the grapes were carefully handpicked in November. As a result, it’s slightly off-dry, has a smooth consistency, typical high acidity and can be enjoyed as an aperitif as well as with food.

2005 Gavi Del Comune Di Gavi (Gavi DOCG), Bric Sassi Della Maddalena Tenuta Menenti, Azienda Agricola Sarotto Roberto, - 13% alcohol

(BBR – £9.25)

With typical Gavi aromas on the nose and added minerality thanks to its contact with the lees up to bottling in the spring, the wine has a steely acidity balanced with soft pear and citrus flavours on the palate and a fuller, well-structured body and firm texture. It can be enjoyed on its own or with food.

2005 Gavi del commune Gavi (DOCG), Morgassi Superiore di Marino Piacitelli – alcohol – 12%

(Selfridges - £13.50)

With all the Gavi aromas in place, its watery consistency and too thin a body leave a bit more to be desired. Its high acidity has not much to be balanced with. Even the alcohol seems to be thinner than it claims to be. All this makes it a tad problematic to match this wine with food. Overpriced for what it is, it does go well with creamy soft cheeses.

There are some more Gavis available on the market for us to savour and enjoy. Alas, the summer has long since gone, for this refreshing and aromatic wine is a treat for a long summer evening or a hot lazy afternoon lunch. Fingers crossed, the next summer is but a steep climb over a short Christmas. And who said you can’t drink it on a cold night in a cosy warm room or by a mesmerizing fire? Try it and see.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Yesterday, at the South-West Wines (of France) tasting in London, the lost son of France, Malbec, aka Cot Noir or Auxerrois, was King, along with another powerful but modest charmer, Tannat. It wasn’t a huge show, but it was highly memorable on the palate.

There were two wines that stood out at the show (both by Producteurs Plaimont): 2001 Plénitude, Madiran AOC - 80% Tannat, 10% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 28 days maceration; 18 months in new oak – nearly black in colour, youthful, rich and powerful, tannic but without a trace of harshness, with a superbly balanced structure and intense aromas, it’s already available in London at Mill Hill Wines, Bedale Street Wine (Southwark) and City Beverages at about £14.00. Try also Rare and Fine Wines.

And… 2000 Viella Village, Madiran AOC (60% Tannat and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon – made with overripe berries (harvested 2 weeks after full ripeness is achieved), aged 10 months in oak – rich, well structured and balanced, another treat from Plaimont - also available in Bedale Street, City Beverages and Mill Hill Wines at about £13.00.

Both wines go well with duck, lamb, stews and other rich meat dishes.

A pleasant surprise was a desert beverage Rogomme made from Malbec to the 300-year-old recipe of Quercy by Chateau de Chambert to perfection. Packed with the intense but tender aromas of prunes, plums, figs, well-integrated spices, it overwhelms you once it’s in the glass. It fills your mouth with soft sweetness, a silky texture and heavenly flavours and warms your throat, caresses your mind and relaxes your body. Rogomme is a wine- based aperitif and can be served as such, as well as a desert wine.

Chateau de Chambert also make wonderfully aromatic and well structured, real Malbec treats: special cuvée - 2002 Orphée, Cahors AOC (100% Malbec; maturation -18 months in oak, bottled without fining or filtering); and 2003 Chateau Carlat, Cahors AOC (75% Malbec, 20% Merlot, 9% Tannat; fermented with natural yeast; maturation – 12 months in oak, bottled without fining or filtering).

Chateaux de Chambert and Carlat cultivate their vineyards according to the guidelines set out by the International Organisation for Biological and Integrated Control and don’t use weed killers. Many of their wines are fermented with natural yeast and bottled without fining or filtering.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


It seems a long time now since I first embarked on my search for the perfect Pinot Grigio. Alas, my search and my attempt to unravel the mystery of its popularity have so far drawn blanks. All I’ve encountered is wine which is insipid, colourless, lacking in character, elegance, class and power. But surprise, surprise, it still enjoys its happy hour. Punters in droves seek it out in bars and restaurants and it flies off the shelves faster than you can unload the box.

Anyway, out of all the Grigios I’ve tasted recently there are three which stand out, for various reasons:

2005 San Angelo Pinot Grigio, Castello BANFI, Toscana IGT, Tuscany– 12.5% alcohol
(Majestic - £7.99)

Quite intense citrus on the nose and watery citrus and caramelised acidity on the palate, its charms are modest, uninspiring, plain. Surely BANFI could have done better. It goes well with fish, seafood pasta and soft cheeses, like dolcevita.

2005 Enofriulia (EF) Pinot Grigio, Puiatti, Collio DOC (Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy) – 12% alcohol – my top choice thus far
(Sainsbury’s - £9.99, currently under offer £8.99)

When you get over the shock of the bright yellow plastic cork, you discover an elegant wine. It comes from the right region for this variety: Collio of Friuli-Venezia Guilia. The wine is a rewarding experience with soft citrus, underripe apricot, peach and pear notes on the nose. It’s well balanced, elegantly structured and its citrusy and pear flavours, although not very pronounced on the palate, make it a pleasure to drink with fish, seafood creamy pastas, soft cheeses and even cheddar.

Sainsbury’s also sells 2004 Enofriulia Pinot Grigio but since it may also have a plastic cork, it’s better to steer away from it. As research shows, a wine can safely keep under a plastic cork for no more than 12 months. You have been warned.

2004 Pinot Grigio, Lis Neris, Alvaro Pecorari, Venezia Giulia IGT, Italy, 14% alcohol
(Berry Bros & Rudd - £11.95)

This wine also comes from Friulli. Aromatic as it is, the flavours of peach, pear and a tad floral on the nose and peach on the palate are a bit simple, and the structure is slightly thinner than what you think it should be. But it does have plenty of flavours for a change and went down very nicely with a creamy prawn pasta. BBR now has 2005 Pinot Grigio, Lis Neris priced at £12.95, and also a special cuvée 2004 Cris-Pinot Grigio, Lis Neris at £14.50.

So… I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt et al and frankly, Pinot Grigio is not something I will be craving for in the near future. But, never say never. I’ve spotted a few more samples of this varietal, so I may well take the plunge once again. But then again, there’s so much more interesting wine out there to taste and enjoy. Why bother?

Sunday, September 24, 2006


The London Tesco Wine Club Fair is a well-established annual event which never disappoints. More informal than the invitation-only events, it’s a great opportunity for all wine lovers, experts and amateurs alike, to discover some great bargains and have a great time while they’re at it. There were about 300 wines and beers available for tasting and everyone got stuck in. The event was superbly organised and the highlight of the day were the master classes run by Charles Metcalfe, Co-Chairman of the International Wine Challenge. Highly entertaining, engaging and informative.

The wine of the day for me was Tesco Finest San Juan Shiraz 2005 produced by Bodegas Salentein (Angentina). Priced at £7.99, it’s currently on offer in a special promotion (50% discount) and with all the discounts available on the day, was being sold for a staggering £3.60 a bottle!

It may not be like the Shiraz you’ve become accustomed to. It’s not a broad-beamed, upfront Shiraz which puts some drinkers off the varietal. Nor will you be overwhelmed by the heady concentration of flavours and body and broad rounded tannin typical of an everyday Australian Shiraz or one produced in a warm climate. Moreover, having the fruit character typical of the varietal, it’s been nicely matched by Tesco with their Finest Mature Blue Stilton. The sweetness of the fruit, spicyness and well-integrated soft but gripping tannin underpinned by a good structure and well balanced acidity make it a good alternative to Port. The wine comes from the San Juan region, the second most important region in Argentina, and is now available in store at £3.99 and on line at £3.79 while the promotion lasts.

The Bodegas Salentein are located high in the mountains in the Mendoza region and the producers are now among the up and coming Argentinian stars. Their wines made from Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay have won many awards in the last few years including Decanter’s (2006), International Wine Challenge (2002 and 2001), the International Wine & Spirit Competition in Bordeaux (2001) and they are highly praised by wine critics all over the world. Their wines are represented in the UK by D&D Wines International Ltd.

2005 Tesco Finest San Juan Shiraz, Bodegas Salentein, San Juan, Argentina, 13.5% alcohol

(Tesco - £7.99; currently - £3.99; or Festival - £3.79)