It was a bright, sunny day when we went for a walk along the Regent's Canal to Victoria Park in search of lunch. We also wanted to explore the area just to the north of the park, called Victoria Park Village, which adds a touch of dash to Hackney.. The ...
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"Brett, The Wine Maestro" - 5 new articles

  1. A walk to Victoria Park Village, Hackney
  2. A Portuguese wine tasting in Billericay
  3. Visiting old friends in Castilla y León
  4. All the Nines: Ninety Nine and others
  5. Boutinot at the Tower of London
  6. More Recent Articles

A walk to Victoria Park Village, Hackney

It was a bright, sunny day when we went for a walk along the Regent's Canal to Victoria Park in search of lunch.

We also wanted to explore the area just to the north of the park, called Victoria Park Village, which adds a touch of dash to Hackney.

The green taxi outside the Royal Inn on the Park is nearly as colourful as the flower arrangement gracing the bar.

Further on from the Inn on the Park is the Fish House where you can enjoy a huge plate of fresh fish and real British chips complete with mushy peas.

They offer a more complete menu in the evening and they don’t mind if you order a child’s portion, which would have saved us from ourselves… And you can always ask for a glass of wine which isn’t featured on the small menu.

After lunch the tour continued where we saw the finishing touches being put to the brand new wine shop Bottle Apostle due to open imminently. Using the innovative Enomatic wine system the machine dispenses servings of wine on a pay-per-serving basis using special credit cards that can be charged in the shop. Each bottle can have a different price per serving, as well as different measures. The wine is kept in good drinking condition by injecting nitrogen (an inert gas) into the bottle in the same volume as that removed in each serving.

There will be a total of 32 different wines to taste at any one time and when we tracked down the manager, Tom Jarvis, at his ‘office’ in the Lauriston he was hard at work with all the last minute details as well as full of enthusiasm for his new venture.

We visited one last shop in Victoria Park Village, the Ginger Pig butcher and delicatessen. Their first butchery opened in Borough Market in the 1990s and they now own three more shops in London supplied by produce from their Yorkshire farm. We returned home with a pork hock chosen from a selection of well presented meat. Next time a Hackney rolled rib of beef?
This is another part of London which is exciting and interesting, and is approachable from both directions on the Regent’s canal.

I need say no more.

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A Portuguese wine tasting in Billericay

Earlier this week I introduced 27 people to the joys and delights of the wines of Portugal or, rather, showed them eight wines, as a number of the tasters often travel to that lovely country, and several have tasted Portuguese wines with me before and enjoyed them in my wine club cases.

The spacious first floor room I’d hired at the Village Bar and Grill, conveniently situated on Billericay High Street, was bathed by the rays of the late afternoon sun. It was a good start as I always look better with a light behind me, as the Judge sang about the plaintiff, Angelina, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury:

The rich attorney, he jumped with joy,
And replied to my fond professions:
"You shall reap the reward of your pluck, my boy,
At the Bailey and Middlesex sessions.
You'll soon get used to her looks," said he,
"And a very nice girl you will find her!
She may very well pass for forty-three
In the dusk, with a light behind her!"

Some were expecting to see rosés in bottles suitable for lampshades but weren’t too disappointed when they weren’t to be found. Instead we tasted two whites and six reds which were all made with Portuguese grape varieties with the occasional addition of international varieties. The names are difficult, and often awkward to pronounce let alone remember, but the wines were enjoyed because of their quality and individual characteristics.

Many were intrigued to learn that Tinta Roriz and Aragonês are, in fact, the SpanishTempranillo and that similar varieties are called by different names in other wine growing areas of Portugal.

At the end of the tasting the guests made their downstairs for dinner, clutching the useful booklets provided by Viniportugal, and discussing the wines of Portugal.

Here are the wines we tasted:

1 Quinta de Azevedo, Vinho Verde 2007
Fresh, lively and dry with good lemony notes. 70% Loureiro, 30% Paderna.

2 Terra de Lobos White 2008 Ribatejo
Plump, dry with good acidity. A blend of Fernão Pires and Sauvignon.

3 Marco do Pegões Tinto 2006 Terras do Sado
Lots of ripe red fruits. Made by the award winning Jaime Quendera at the Pegões cooperative near Setubal.

4 Conde de Vimioso Tinto 2006 Alentejo
Ruby red in colour with a nose of cooked red compote and hints of tannin. A blend of local varieties, Aragonês and Touriga Nacional, and the international Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, which was aged for six months in oak. This is the first of the wines tatsed that are produced by João Portugal Ramos, a larger than life character who does so much for Portuguese wines.

5 Quinta de Ponte Pedrinha Tinto 2003 Dão
Mature with dry fruit and gentle tannins. A classic Dão blend of Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro Preto, Jaen and Tinta Roriz.

6 Aragonês João Portugal Ramos 2007 Alentejo
Big red with good tannins – hints of cherries and plums. Aged six months in oak.

7 Duas Quintas Douro Tinto, Adriano Ramos Pinto 2004 Douro
Intense with, yes, porty hints! Another classic Portuguese blend of Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional.

8 Falcoaria Tinto, Quinta do Casal Branco 2006 Almeirim, Ribatejo
Deep, intense, rich with balancing black fruit and maturing tannins. Made with Castelão and Trincadeira from 80 year old vineyards, whose maturity and age benefit the wine.

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Visiting old friends in Castilla y León

During the Circle of Wine Writers' trip to Castilla y Le ón earlier this year we visited modern bodegas in newly demarcated, promoted wine regions in this beautiful part of northern Spain. There was one exception, however, to all this modernity: Bodegas Otero in Benavente, a wine business that was created in 1906 by the grandfather, yes, the granddad, of the current owner, Julio Otero!

Ten years ago, when I was running Webber's Wine Bar in Billericay, I won the Spanish Wine List of the Year award. The prize was a trip to northern Spain where a small group of us visited several regions and wineries there.

On that trip ten years ago we had seen bodegas in Rioja, Navarra as well as Rueda, and we didn't really know what to expect when we arrived in the sleepy little town of Benavente, where many of the roads were unmade, to visit Bodegas Otero. I do remember that we were very impressed by the quality, as well as the honesty, of their wines. At the time Julio was running the bodega with his father Manuel and both were very proud of their achievements.

Ten years later we arrived in a smart, modern town - where there is still time to sit and chat. When our coach pulled up outside the bodega Manuel came out to greet us. Looking very dapper he is now retired, although he still keeps an eye on everything! We both recognised each other and reminisced of my last visit.

We entered the bodega through the cellars that had been excavated in the early 1950s enlarging the winery from its original shop premises. Concrete tanks with a capacity of 300,000 litres are still used and there are barrel cellars as well as a Cape Canaveral of stainless steel tanks. In total Bodegas Otero produces 1.3 million bottles of wine, of which 250,000 bottles are 'quality' wine.

Their quality wine is VCPRD, meaning Vino de Calidad Producido en Región Determinada. In 1986 Otero helped form an association with the other five major producers in the region and they decided not to try to achieve the higher category of Denominación de Origen because of the cost of controls and they didn't want to have to increase their prices. This value for money quality was demonstrated when we tried the wines in their smart tasting room.

First, Julio told us about the particular red grape variety of Leon, and Benavente: the Prieto Picudo. Rather like talking about a wayward child of which one is proud, Julio said: "It is difficult to cultivate, its branches and spurs go every which way, there are leaves all over the place and it needs lots of room! But it does make good wine".

They own 12 hectares of Prieto Picudo as well as 14ha Tempranillo, 5ha Cabernet Sauvignon and 2.5ha each of Merlot and Mencia, another local red variety. There are also 8ha of Verdejo for white wine. In all they have 44ha of vineyards and, as you can guess from their total production, they do buy in a lot of grapes.

Rosado wines are an important part of their business and, as it is Spain, always has been: ros
é is no modern fad in this part of the world! And the Otero rosado is special. It is made with classic red grapes that are harvested early in order to preserve the acidity, which are pressed and fermented as white wine. This method produces a well rounded wine with good acidity which can age well too, as we saw with the collection of bottles from previous vintages.

The first two vintages we tried were delicious; deep pink in colour with the 2008 showing a hint of blue, which Spanish winemakers delight in telling you! (Nobody in France or elsewhere shows such pride in this trace of blue in the colour spectru...). Both wines were dry with fine balancing acidity; the 2008 with bright red fruits on the nose, the 2007 more Morello cherry.

Then, as some of us assembled a range of their rosados to photograph against the light, Julio opened a bottle of their 1970 rosado which was enjoyed by everyone, especially as the wine still had lots of life in it exhibiting hints of concentrated spicy black fruits.

We concluded the tasting with four reds, all made with their enfant terrible grape, Prieto Picudo. First the 2008, a viña joven (no oak) which was lively with good red fruit notes. The other three all had had 12 months in French oak and it was interesting to try to discover the characteristics of this indigenous grape variety. The youngest, 2006, had hints of coffee with red fruits on the nose and on the palate accompanied by gentle tannins. 2005 showed bright ripe red fruit with stalky hints, as did the 2002 though with deeper flavours.

The last red,
labelled VO, was from their own vineyard, Pago de Valleoscuro. This 2007 was a blend of Prieto Picudo and Tempranillo that had been aged in concrete tanks in the cellar: a lovely wine with rich fruit, gentle tannins completed by a long finish.

These wines are very reasonably priced starting at €2 going up to €7 – no D.O. you see! In the UK the retail price would be from £5 to £14, though currently no-one is importing them.

The tasting was followed by an al fresco lunch, which was very convivial with two sorts of empanada, tuna and tomato, and chorizo served at the tasting table, accompanied by the wines we’d tasted, which were even more delicious!

It was great to be back at Bodegas Otero in Benavente where the town shows considerable improvement from when I was last there. The wine, however, is as good as ever as is the very warm family welcome and hospitality. I look forward to returning to renew my friendship with Manuel and Julio very soon.

If you enjoyed reading this post do have a look at another I've written about this trip: "A Fantastical Night in Zamora"

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All the Nines: Ninety Nine and others

One evening in February we invited four friends, all wine lovers, to a dinner with the theme of drinking wines from vintages ending in 'nine'. Guests were invited, and we arranged between us what wines we would bring from our cellars - as you can imagine with older vintages more reds were available so we had to plan the meal accordingly.

The line up of some of the wines looked pretty impressive!

We started with Champagne Bernard Brémont 1999 Grand Cru Ambonnay
Fine gentle mousse with delicious mouth filling blackberry note, dry with sustaining acidity.

Before we tucked into our meal we tasted the reds, from all over the world.

Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva 1999 Pago Jean Leon, Spain
Lovely bright red with warm, ripe, attractive red fruits balanced with gentle tannins.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz 1989 South Australia
Mid red in colour with a little browning at the rim with meaty, fruity notes. A mature wine though still with some life in it - well balanced with a long finish.

Trinity Hill Trinity 1999 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Russet in colour showing some browning on the edge it was drying and only showing a little fruit.

The oldest red was a magnum of Burgundy which I bought in the early 1970s from Serena Sutcliffe MW when she was working with a small wine importer.

Chassagne Premier Cru Morgeots, Prosper Maufoux 1969 Burgundy, France
There was a slight ullage, to mid neck. Browny red the nose was slightly farmyardy with a hint of fruit. On the palate it was full-bodied and robust, seeming very typical of the ‘big’ style of Burgundies commonly produced in that era.

With our first course of smoked salmon on blinis we drank another Grand Cru, this time from Alsace.
Pinot Gris, Grand Cru Spiegel, Domaines Schlumberger 1999 Alsace, France
Deep yellow colour – honeycomb and musky floral notes on the nose, which continued on the palate; medium dry with gently acidity completed by a long finish.

The main course was a simple game casserole – simple because it didn’t taste too gamey – just the dish to enjoy with the reds. Delightfully we didn’t all agree on which wine was the best match with the Penfolds Bin 389 and the Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon vying for top position.

We’d brought back from France a couple of cheeses: Tommette, made just down the road from us in Haute Savoie, and Comté, from the Jura where the unique Vin Jaune is made.

Arbois Vin Jaune, Jaques Puffeney 1999 Jura, France
Golden yellow with a concentrated bouquet of wet walnuts, spices (fenugreek). Deep rich flavours on the palate with fantastic balancing acidity. It matched the Comte splendidly

We completed the dinner with a special treat from 1939!

Massandra Gurzuf Rose Muscat 1939 Crimea
Bronze gold with faintest hint of pink, the nose was a complex mix of acacia honey, warm toffee and attar of roses. Still fresh it was unctuously sweet, tempered by bright acidity with all the flavours on the nose continuing in the mouth. Wow!

Wink has written a blog recounting the history of this ‘wine of the Tsars’, why and how she bought it.

We all enjoyed a very convivial evening with lots of conversation and discussion, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share all these wines in such great company.

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Boutinot at the Tower of London

To the Armouries at the Tower of London for the Boutinot tasting.

I enjoy this venue as there is a lot of space as well as daylight. The layout was good, with the cheap and cheerful (ie house wines) on one long table by the entrance; then spanning the room were tables with wines from all over, many with the producers pouring as well as answering questions and fielding comments about their wines. Paul Boutinot himself was presenting his South African wines, and I enjoyed the False Bay Chenin Blanc 2008: bright, crisp, dry with lovely apply fruit.

As I tend to do at tastings with a lot on offer I hone in on particular wines, and their producers. Paul McArdle of Fonty's Pool was on hand to tell me about how carefully he monitors the fruit harvested in his vineyards in Pemberton, Western Australia since he became CEO three years ago. Fonty's Pool has come on in leaps and bounds since Paul took over - and it shows!
His Sauvignon/Semillon 2008 is well rounded, dry, fruity with bright acidity.

The wines of Chile were showing very well too: as well as Cesar Moralis of Emiliana showing a range of the VOE organic wines and the exciting Novas Winemaker Selections white and red, Felipe Muller-East offered some good wines from Limari, in the north of Chile, under the Tabali label. And, of course, the Casa Marin individual vineyard wines from the coastal vineyards of San Antonio were as good as ever.

There were good wines from Spain, Portugal and Italy and then I reached France, where I met Philippe Girard again and tried his wines: two vintages of his straight Sancerre and a tank sample of Silex, made from grapes grown in flinty vineyards, showing an exciting minerality.

At the end of the morning I enjoyed meeting and tasting the Rhône wines made by Eric Monnin, Boutinot's inspired winemaker in the south of France. His Les Cérisiers (aptly named) is a pale pink rosé was dry with good, yes, cherry notes; then I tried a great full-bodied, deeply flavoured fruity 2007 Gigondas, with a long life ahead of it; and two vintages of Cairanne, La Côte Sauvage. The 2006 was gorgeous but the 2005 ("We have a few magnums left!") was even better, a great example of a warm vintage.

The tasting was completed by a good, simple lunch, though not in this fine tent pitched in the Tower.

Lunch was enhanced by this great array of fruit!

With a nod in the direction of the mayor of London, hopefully working hard for the Tidal Thames,

we set off for a much needed walk past Tower Bridge

towards Limehouse, with Canary Wharf on the horizon.

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