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A Visit To Rioja

Recently Mary and I visited Izadi Winery in Villabuena de Alava which is Rioja Alavesa. Rioja is divided into three regions, baja, (low) alta, (high) and alavesa (Basque the highest of all). Rioja’s from the low part are in the main harvested by machines which by their very nature pick up MOG or material other than grapes, in particular lots of stalks. These grapes are then taken by truck and deposited down a shute and fermented in, and I kid you not, tanks that are half a million litres.

These wines are obviously the Rioja’s of Supermarkets. At Izadi the grapes are picked by hand and transported to the winery in small trays, of no more than 15 kgs which are raised in each corner so that they can be stacked without crushing the grapes. The grapes are then put on sorting tables for selection. The alcoholic fermentation is in French oak vats and the malolactic in French oak barrels ‘a petite grain’ for between 15 and 20 months. The result is a wine that is intense with a bright Ruby colour.

High aromatic complexity with aromas of ripe fruit, and hints of toasted oak. It is velvety with a long and persistent finish. Just perfect with red meat and certain cheeses. The Rioja’s from Baja are rough, deep coloured, and very alcoholic, but they lack acidity, aroma and any finesse.

The majority of wines from Alta, centred around Haro, are a real step up from Baja and can be velvety smooth but do not have the intensity of the Alavesa wines, they (Alta) are often lighter in colour. The wines from Alavesa are much fuller, and have a much firmer character. They are typically 70% Tempranillo (temprano means early as in ripening) 15% Garnacha for body and alcohol, 7.5% Graciano for freshness flavour, and aroma, and 7.5% Mazuelo for tannin and colour.

This grape is known in Southern France as Carinena and incidentally is in our house red. For me, although the Alta wines can be very good they can’t reach the heights that the best from Alavesa do. We have two Rioja’s from Izadi, their Crianza and their El Regalo which is their Icon wine.

The Crianza or Crianxa (the Basques love their Xs) is just a very good example of the triangle where the grapes come from, 45 year old Tempranillo from Villabuena, Samaniego and Albalos. El Regalo is from a single unique vineyard of outstanding quality where the vines were planted in 1930.  Yes it’s about £25 but it’s not like any Rioja you’ve ever tasted. Elegant,stylish, a Princess, (yes almost feminine) compared to a coarse yob at £5 a bottle found in some supermarkets.

Whilst we were there we also tried their Larrosa Rosé, this fresh pale dry wine is made from Garnacha (as the Spanish call Grenache the grape of Chateauneuf du Pape). If you like Rosé, and Mary does for a change, it’s very good. We are trying to arrange importing it into Clevedon as part of a load from a London importer who we deal with.

If you love good wine watch this space.

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Fussy French dining loses out to relaxed rioja and tapas

British diners are turning away from classic French wines in favour of Spanish rioja, a survey has found.

Almost a quarter of more than 1,000 diners said they had ordered a bottle of rioja in a restaurnt in the past six months, according to Wine Intelligence, the market researchers. In comparison, only 13 percent said they had chosen a bordeaux and only 7 percent had been enticed by a burgundy.

The transition away from big French reds mirrored a move away from formal French dining, the researchers said, with almost 70 percent of those surveyed saying they now preferred more relaxed Spanish-style meals.

Less than 20 per cent said they were interested in a “fine dining” environment, and only 13 per cent liked “formal service”.

Noelia Rojilla, the head chef of the Spanish restaurant Bar Tozino in London, said “Our customers would much prefer to open a bottle of rioja and share some plates with their friends rather than visit a formal restaurant where they are intimidated by the menu or atmosphere”.

Article from The Sunday Times

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Gin

After talking to some old friends, and more importantly their children (in their twenties and thirties) in London recently, it would appear that Gin Clubs are the latest craze, fashion, fad, even the dernier cri for modernisers or the bright young things of today. And there I was thinking it was a drink for ladies of advancing years.

“Peter, try this Monkey 47” one of them said. I did, and I must say it was very good.

“Why isn’t it more popular than that famous one in the green bottle?” I asked.

“It costs twice as much” was the answer given, in a courteous tone, but there were hints of stoicism.

The outcome is Mary’s Gin tastings and club. We now have 15 Gins including the aforementioned Monkey 47, The Botanist, Geranium, Gin Mare and Jensens. And even two from Australia, one of which is 58.8%.

So I hope that the cognoscenti amongst you will appreciate our efforts in obtaining these Gins and if you would like to come to one of the tastings that are being organised please speak to Mary, Vicki or Michelle and get booked in as we are only allowing 10 people per tasting.

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Four New Wines @ The Cellar from June

The two whites are a step away from what are accepted, quite rightly, as being at the forefront of quality wines such as Sancerre, Chablis, or Marlborough Sauvignon.
Ever since The Cellar opened I have refused to stock German Riesling arguing that having destroyed their reputation over the last 40 years or so it was not up to me to explain that actually some lovely wines are made on the Mosel and Rhine. Also, although the Pinot Grigios that we stock are just so much better than the norm, which are irrigated to such an extent that they lose all taste, I have always wanted to stock the very best, the ones you are served on your balcony overlooking Lake Garda. And I’ve found one.

It is made by FRANZ HAAS in Trentino Alto Adige, up in the foothills of the Alps, about 50 miles north of the aforementioned Largo di Garda, way north of Veneto, where nearly all Pinot Grigio is produced. Franz goes to tremendous lengths to grow good grapes and then strives to preserve the flavours of the fruit during the winemaking. As a result the wines he produces are infused with great character and show a rare purity and balance on the palate. No it’s not £4.99, reduced (joke) from £9.99, it is £15.95 to take away or £24.95 to drink in, but for one of Italy’s best white wines it’s a bargain.

The second is a German Riesling made by AXEL PAULY, one of the dynamic new stars of German wine. This steely dry lemony wine is produced on vertigo inducing vineyards where Axel,( who worked in New Zealand and California before returning home to run the family winery) uses crop thinning, leaf plucking, and grape selection at harvest. He of course understood why sweet cheap German plonk was so unloved by people whose palate demanded something a whole lot better. The ‘Purist’ is made on the blue slate soils of Lieser. Axel uses wild yeast until they begin to struggle towards the end of fermentation at which stage he introduces cultured yeasts to preserve the character of the wine. Again the price is £15.95 and £24.95 to drink in, and no it tastes nothing like Liebfraumilch, thank goodness.

So two wines that really are for the serious connoisseur, now for reds.

Most serious wine drinkers know of SUPER TUSCANS where £200 is not out the ordinary for a bottle. So I have, up until now, reluctantly listened to Mary, who has said we don’t need half a dozen bottles of wine costing a thousand pounds or more sitting on our shelves.
However we have often dealt with ALLEGRINI a winery in northern Italy, (that specIalises in Valpolicella and Amarone)started by Giovanni Allegrini, who died in 1983,and passed the business on to his three children Walter, Franco and Marilisa. In 2006 Marilisa bought POGGIO SAN POLO a winery in Montalcino, Tuscany and apart from investing heavily, brought in winemaker Nicola Biasi to build on Poggio San Polo’s considerable reputation. Anyway to cut a long story short I have bought a 2013 Rosso di Montalcino and for £19.95 or £28.95 served to your table you can experience this stunning wine. With food it’s great with a lingering dry finish that you owe to yourself to experience.

We already have two wines from Priorat (please see the page following for an in depth look at the history of Priorat as told to me by Gonzo). Wines from Priorat tend to be expensive and they age very well. The new one is called L’Expressio Del Priorat and as you might expect from the name is designed to be drunk at a younger age. I personally love the Garnatxa (Grenache in French) as grown in this Catalan area.

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Gonzo

I recently brought back to this country a dog from AAA, a dog rescue home in the hills just north of Marbella. His name is Gonzo and he is a Pastor Catalan or in English a Catalonian sheepdog. On the journey back he told me the following story;

‘About a thousand years ago in Priorat, a wine producing area about 100kms south west of Barcelona my great great (to the power of 10) grandfather was lying on the hard slate called Llicorella which is indigenous to the area, with Francisco the knarled old shepherd.

They were watching the moonbeams bounce off the quartzite. It was midnight and the sheep were asleep. Francisco had drunk a sheep’s bladder full of a wine made of Garnatxa which the French call Grenache, when he suddenly said “Hey Gonzo (all males in our family have always been called Gonzo) look over there at that golden staircase with all those Angels going up.

“Yeah yeah” my G.G said. Anything for a quiet life, and as he had studied the Copenhagen Convention on Quantum Physics he thought that as the staircase was not visible to him at that moment in time, but it was to Francisco and paradoxes are impossible he would wait until either both he and Francisco could both see the staircase or neither one of them could before reaching a conclusion.

When he woke, Francisco was convinced it was a miracle and went straight to the local Priest, who sent a messenger to Pope Silvio 1.

The messenger a local girl called Kim Kardashian was granted immediate access to the Pope’s Bunga Bunga party.

“Great news” cried the Pope “And that wine in Priorat must be something else, get those Monks in Grenoble, what do we call them? you know the ones who make Green Chartreuse.

“The liquor gang your eminence” said the cardinal from Detroit.

“Yeah that’s them, well get them down to Spain tout suite”.

A thousand years later Priorat produces stunning wine and we sell it at the Cellar, and Gonzo is still looking for some sheep in Clevedon.

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First Blog

I have been debating whether to write a blog for some time, I wrote articles on wine for a magazine in Spain some 4 years ago and more recently for Somerset Life.

I suppose what finally decided for me, was yet another ridiculous article on wine, champagne to be precise, in the Daily Mail. I can only imagine that Paul Dacre (the Editor) said to some hapless reporter.

“Give me 300 words on champagne”

“But Sir, I don’t know anything about champagne”

“By this afternoon for tomorrow’s paper”

“Yes Sir”

Having read said article it is clear I know more about the mating habits of the Polynesian hermit crab than this poor reporter knows about champagne.

Mind you, the Mail has form in writing absolute tosh, I’ll give you one example which I know about purely by chance.

A couple of years ago when Engelbert Humperdinck was representing the UK at the Eurovision song contest, the Mail published an article by Tony Cartwright claiming that he had been EH’s manager when he first burst on the scene.

No he wasn’t, Gordon Mills was. Tony was Tom Jones driver. How do I know? Well in the late 1960s there was a company set up by Colin Berlin, Gordon Mills and Barry Clayman.

They managed and were agents for Tom & Engelbert. They employed 3 people initially, Alan Field (Colin’s nephew), Sharon, their secretary, and me- I got to book the acts that Colin had looked after prior to meeting Gordon.

About a week later Tony penned an article claiming that he had also managed Tom. No he didn’t.

Anyway, back to wine, with Christmas coming let me give you a few tips.

Firstly as I am sure you all know, all wine contains sulphites and this is stated on every bottle. What isn’t stated is the percentage by volume of sulphites to counteract oxidation, the more air that gets to the wine the more sulphites are needed.

So a wine bottled at source needs far less than say a Chilean wine taken by tanker to a gazillion litre tank on a boat, taken out of said boat in the UK driven to Harpenden and then bottled.

Extra acid is added to poor flat uninteresting wines to spice them up, and wouldn’t you if I had beaten you down to 15p a litre. Why prune, harvest and carefully employ a good conscientious wine maker for 15p a litre.

Let’s be clear its chemicals not alcohol that give you the headache in the morning. Two quick stories on this;some time ago I was invited to a friend’s house for dinner. Two bottles of wine were put on the table.

Both from Bordeaux, a red and a white,both rubbish, I’d seen them in Tesco the week before at £5.99 which was supposed to be half price. I know where they come from and Tesco bought them out of bond for under £1. “Would you like to try the wine Peter?” asked the host. “No thanks” I replied. I didn’t add that I’d rather drink creosol. “Aren’t you drinking tonight?” his wife asked. “I just fancy a lager if you have one?” I said.

So quite apart from anything else, never buy a wine not bottled at source. So has it got to be expensive? No! The Cellar sells several wines around the £7 mark that I know (cos I visit the wineries frequently) have few sulphites and no extra chemicals.

Second suggestion; a friend recently said he was driving through Europe. “Any tips on which wines Peter?”. “Yes, the local ones every time”. In no restaurant in rural France, Spain or Italy will you be disappointed with the house wines.

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Our Food &Wine Recommendations @ The Cellar

Starters

Artichokes

Whether with butter or Hollandaise sauce. A Sauvignon from the Loire try our Pouilly Fume (£11.95)

Asparagus

Champagne (Devaux £29.95), Prosecco (Conti d’Arco £10.95) or a LarocheChablis (£16.75).

Avocado

Champagne or Prosecco (see above),or be brave and try a Gewurztraminer (Alsace £12.95) because it is low in acidity.

Salads

Muscadet(£11.30) or our house Prosecco.

Snails

Either Burgundies; Pinot Noir(£15.95) or the Chardonnay (£13.95).

Soup

Too varied to call, but rich soups go red, say a Rioja (Solar Vieja £7.95) with game soup, or sparkling wine with shellfish (Jenkyn Place £26.95).

Vinaigrette

The only possible is Gewurztraminer (Lani £14.95) but play safe and just serve water.

Meat

Although most people say red wine with dark meat and white with light meat, it can be a matter of choice but fuller flavoured meats need fuller flavoured wines.

Beef

Roast Beef or Steak depends on how you cook it. If it’s charred on the outside and pink in the middle a light red like our SamurPuy Notre Dame (£11.75).If it’s well done or a hamburger go for a Cotes du Rhone (Griveliere £8.50) or an Australian Shiraz (Jester Shiraz £13.50).

Dark meat casserole – a full bodied red from Southern Rhone (Gigondas £21.50, ) a Bordeaux (Chateau du Blassan £8.50) or a Rioja (Izadi £12.95).

Light meat casserole – Pinot Noir (Montes Alpha £12.50), Beajoulais (Villages £10.50), White Rioja (Izadi £12.95) or either of our red or white Burgundies from Nuits-St-George (Chardonnay £13.95, Pinot Noir £15.95).

Pork

Our Ponte Pietra red (£6.95), or Chianti (Da Vinci £9.95).

Goose

Red or white, but lots of acidity so CuatroPasos (£9.95) or Muscadet (£11.30) work well.

Livers & Kidneys

A Rioja (Orben £22.95), or Chateauneuf du Pape (Chateau du Vaudieu £29.95).

Duck

Either of our white or red Burgundies (see above), if in orange sauce try Griveliere (£8.50) or Chateau de Bord, Cote du Rhone Village (£12.50).

Chilli Con Carne

Flor du Vetus Toro (£9.95)

Lamb

A Bordeaux from the right bank (mainly Merlot with a little Cab Sav – Pomerol, £33.50) but for me a Spanish Tempranillo grape from Rioja (Solar Vieja £7.95) or Ribera del Duero (Villacreces £25.90).

Carlys favourite is Pruno and she knows her onions. Wrong word when smelling a wine to see if its ok, if you do smell onions it’s not good, nor burnt rubber, eggs, sherry , manure (potato peelings, canned peas) garlic, or musty mushrooms.

Fresh mushroom is ok cos it’s probably a Pinot Meunier which is one of the 3 grapes used in champagne.Most fruit smells are good from blackcurrants to strawberries.

Fish

Most fish and shellfish go well with dry white wines, but sometimes rose even red can be ok.

River fish

Rose – still or sparkling, A Mano Rosato (£8.95) or Cremant de Loire (£16.95).

Sardines – Albarinho (Martin Codax £11.95) or Vino Verde (Casa Mendes £8.75)

Shell fish – prawns, shrimps or mussels a Sauvignon Blanc (Tinpot Hut £11.95)

Crayfish – Pouilly Fume from Bellevue (£11.95)

Crab, oysters and scallops – Champagne (Devaux £29.95)

Mackerel – Raphael’s Sauvignon Blanc (£9.50)

Trout – Fred Loimer’s Riesling (£14.50).

Pike – Pink Fizz, Freixenet (£9.95).

Smoked fish

In general an oaked Chardonnay, our Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay (£18.95) from Hawkes Bay New Zealand is wonderful.

White fish

Delicate – still or fizz, A Mano Fiano/Greco (£8.95)orTouraine Oisly (£14.50) or for fizz try our Cremant de Loire(£16.95).

Pan fried with cream or butter – Chateau do CoingMuscadet (£11.30).

*** All of the prices quoted are for off licence sales and are correct at the time of publishing ***