21 Jun 2011

An Argentinian Wine Tasting with Gaucho's director of wine Phil Crozier

This was a great event at Gaucho's Leeds restaurant, not just because of the wines, but also thanks to the knowledge and enthusiasm of our host, Phil Crozier. He has that great combination of being extremely knowledgeable and passionate about a subject but with an ability to speak about it without pretentiousness.

He's an interesting character: having started out as a musician and then going into sound engineering, he sort of drifted into the wine trade. He modestly says a lot of it was down to being in the right place at the right time: it was the mid-90s and Argentinian wine exports were just taking off, enabling him to transform Gaucho's wine list. Phil says he essentially worked through a list of wine importers, going from A-Z, and ended up with a room packed full of sample bottles to work through all on his own. Not knowing much about wine at the time didn't stop him: the best way to learn was to taste, taste and taste again. Here he is now as a successful restaurant chain's head of wine and a leading authority on Argentinian wine.

On to the wine. This tasting was all about showing what Argentina can do aside from Malbec. Not because there's anything wrong with the country's Malbec, far from it, but to show that the country isn't a one-trick pony and to highlight a growing appreciation in Argentina that different grape varieties can thrive in different areas.

We tasted five wines, one white and four reds, and my two favourites were a Cabernet Franc and a Tannat. Two varieties that are less common than Malbec on the supermarket shelves - certainly in the Argentina section - but I think they showed really encouraging signs that there is a hell of a lot more to come from Argentinian wine.

Catena Cabernet Franc 2008, from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, shows the kind of elegance that Argentinian wines can achieve: sprigs of mint and eucalyptus on top of fresh red fruit, creating a really fresh, balanced mouthful. No surprise the 2009 vintage won gold at the recent Decanter World Wine Awards.

Probeta Tannat 2010, from fruit grown at an altitude of 1,750 metres up in the region of Salta, is a beguiling wine with herbal aromas you can't quite put your finger on - rosemary and thyme and sage, perhaps, with some blueberry fruit. The mouthfeel is a touch firm - Phil pointed out you get a sense of green tea on the finish due to the tannin - so this could soften into an even more impressive wine in a couple of years. He also points out that in Salta you have perhaps 50 days extra ripening compared to Bordeaux, giving this tough, temperamental grape more time to ripen into something beautiful. He believes Tannat may well represent the future for the north of Argentina, and with this one I can see why. Really, really good.

The other three grape varieties we sampled were Torrontes, Petit Verdot and Bonarda. Seleccion G Michel Torino Torrontes 2010 was a bit too richly perfumed for my personal taste, but many will love the freshness and floral flavours of elderflower and slightly sweet lime marmalade. Emma Zuccardi Bonarda, another Decanter 2011 medal winner, smelt quite big and alcoholic in the glass, with a menthol aroma too. In the mouth it was packed with jammy fruit that was a touch sweet for my taste but nevertheless a good example of what this originally Italian grape, the second most planted in Argentina, can create. Finally the Pinca Decero Petit Verdot 2006 was a big dark wine with stocky legs that stuck to the inside of the glass when you gave it a swirl - a real winter warmer. When speaking about the aroma, Phil evoked childhood memories of pencil shavings in the classroom, and he was spot on.

It was a really inspiring, enjoyable tasting.

12 Jun 2011

Craft Beer Labels

I bought these bottles at Beer Ritz in Leeds. It's noticeable how a lot of good beers have really nicely designed labels now.

The Italia, in the centre of the picture, is the result of a collaboration between English brewery Thornbridge (based in Bakewell) and Italian brewery Birrificio Italiano (based in Marinone, just east of Turin). A lovely fresh pilsner style beer with a slight zesty hoppiness, chilled right down it made for a very nice early evening drink back at home after a warm day out. Invigorating stuff, well made, tasty.

9 Jun 2011

Moncaro Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2010, £4.99 (Waitrose)

You'll see the glass is empty in the photo, which is all you need to know with this one - this bottle won't last long. An ideal easy drinking midweek white for spring/summer time, especially in terms of value for money. I bought it this evening as a cheap bottle off the cuff, without expecting too much, when I called into Waitrose in Leeds for some pizza on the way home from work.

Fresh, pure, dry, pretty uncomplicated and with an almost olive oil-like texture. In fact both the flavour and texture bring to mind a little olive oil with a dash of fresh lemon juice stirred in - so it's a very good food wine.

I've just referred back to the 'Top 5 Italian White Wines from Waitrose Spring Collection' on Vinissima, and I'm not surprised to see this one on there.

It is a bargain - and in fact I've just noticed the 2009 is only £4.74 per bottle on the Waitrose website.

Moncaro Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2010, Italy

7 Jun 2011

Working on a new drinks menu at Dough Bistro, Leeds

At the weekend I was lucky enough to get a sneak taster of some of the new dishes from the June menu at Dough Bistro here in Leeds. Every single dish I tried hit the mark: perfectly fresh, local ingredients, skillfully cooked.

I was discussing the subject of wine and beer matching with chef/owner Luke Downing, who's looking to revamp his drinks menu. We made one or two interesting findings, and I'm in the process of thinking about some more potentially interesting matches for his food.

A light blonde ale with a subtle hoppiness worked very nicely with a lovely dish of hake and samphire, while a brown ale proved to be an unexpected top performer with various different dishes, perhaps showing the great versatility of that classic type of beer. As I ponder some more matches, I've got plenty of food for thought.

6 Jun 2011

Beer and drama: Breaking Bad and some homebrewed Amarillo ale

There have been some outstanding US television dramas over recent years. Breaking Bad is the latest we've discovered. A really brilliant show, in the classic thriller style but a very human drama at its heart. The main character Walt has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and he decides to produce and sell crystal meth so that his family aren't left bankrupt when he dies. Like all the great recent US dramas, it intelligently travels through the hazy shades of grey in the human condition, leaving the viewer to make up his or her own mind. Highly recommended.

Given that the Breaking Bad DVDs were a present from my brother Matthew and his wife Angela, it was nice to accompany the conclusion of Season 2 with one of their latest homebrews: Amarillo Easy (4.1% abv). It was appropriately brewed with an American hop, Amarillo (like the O'Hanlon's Stormstay ale I enjoyed recently - which incidentally also contained crystal malt... not crystal meth).

And the Amarillo Easy was a great match for the drama, showing the verve of a New World pale ale but with a welcome lightness of touch, plus just a hint of that faint horse blanket aroma reminiscent of a good Belgian ale, all balanced out with the sweetness of caramelised brown sugar and a satisfyingly long finish.

Beer and drama.