February 2010


I find myself in an unusual situation as a doctor working in public health by day, and a nascent wine blogger by night. A large proportion of my work recently has been around alcohol policy – a conflict of interest perhaps?

Public health is a broad church, and reducing alcohol consumption forms only part of the work we do, and yet there are times when I feel simply unable to speak about my interest in wine. I’ve heard the ‘battle’ to reduce alcohol consumption likened to the campaign to ban smoking in public places more than once. Wine has been part of European culture for centuries, yet of late it seems to be increasingly unacceptable in some quarters. In particular, it strikes me that the ‘middle income wine drinker’ has become the scapegoat for this movement.

Whilst on the surface there are similarities between alcohol and smoking, and I’ve certainly seen first hand the devastating health effects of excess alcohol in patients, this demonization of all wine consumption (and wine drinkers) worries me. There are undoubtedly health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, but I’m not going to try to advocate those through rose-tinted spectacles. The true effects of alcohol, and the causes behind alcohol abuse, are broad ranging and complex. Surely though, there’s a place for promoting drinking well – and that’s partly the aim of this blog?

The Wine in Moderation Programme is an initiative of the European wine sector aimed at ‘promoting moderation and responsibility in wine consumption and contributing towards preventing excessive consumption and misuse of alcoholic beverages in Europe.’ Whilst you might argue that the wine industry has a fairly major conflict of interest in trying to discourage the abuse of alcohol, on the other hand it’s refreshing to see this stance.

Here’s to drinking well.

Advertisements

I have a weakness for gadgets and gimmicks, especially if they’re wine-related. I’ve also always aspired to own a set of different glasses for every type of wine. Riedel, the Austrian manufacturer is perhaps the best known producer of grape-specific glasses, but given their price, I’ve always been sceptical about whether they’d make enough of a difference to justify the cost.

A recent ‘glass tasting’ organised by the Wine Society was a great opportunity to find out. Co-hosted by a representative from Riedel UK, it was of course a sales opportunity as much as anything else, but also a chance to test out the Riedel myth with some great wines.

The Riedel vinum range includes 28 different shapes of glass, all made of lead crystal and machine blown. The intended content of a glass determines its shape, taking into account the different constituents and flavours of different wines. The aim is to enhance key aromas and flavours, channeling the liquid into different regions of the mouth, whilst also damping down other flavours, such as oak, which tend to dominate.

The tasting included a mixture of old and new world wines and my notes are below, along with pictures of the glasses. These perhaps don’t do justice to the differences in shape and size, but illustrate the general idea. We were encouraged to transfer wines between the specific glass, others in the range, and an ISO tasting glass as a ‘joker.’

(As an aside, it was interesting to note the criticism of the traditional ISO tasting glass by both Riedel and Wine Society representatives. Whilst the shape is not ideal, the rolled rim, designed to maximise the strength of the glass, disrupts the flow of the wine and hence the accuracy of the taste. The Wine Society are apparently moving towards using Spiegelau glasses at their tastings – a company owned by Riedel.)

The Sauvignon Glass
A small bowl to hold the delicate nose of Sauvignon Blanc, and a narrow aperture to funnel the wine down the centre of the mouth, minimising the detection of acid by receptors on the side of the tongue.

Riedel Vinum Sauvignon Glass

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc, 2008, Marlborough (£12.95) is produced by Ivan Sutherland and James Healy, who were previously growers for Cloudy Bay. The grapes come from 30 year old vines, giving the wine a great finesse and purity of fruit. With notes of citrus and tropical fruit, with a tempered minerality, this was a lovely, well-balanced wine. (17/20)

In the Montrachet glass, described below, the fruity aromas of the wine were completely lost because of the large aperture, whilst it became unpleasantly acidic in the ISO tasting glass.

The Montrachet Glass
One of two glasses designed for serving Chardonnay, this has a much bigger bowl and a wider aperture, which funnels wine to all areas of the mouth in order to demonstrate its complexity.

Riedel Vinum Montrachet Glass

Catena Chardonnay, 2008, Argentina (£9.95) is a blend of three different Chardonnay harvests, all grown at different altitudes to impart different flavours. 100% barrel fermented, and allowed to undergo a malolactic fermentation, the wine is then aged on its lees for nine months, 40% in new French oak. In the Montrachet glass, this was a surprisingly fresh wine, with notes of tropical fruit and apple and a suprising minerality. (15/20)

Interestingly, in the Sauvignon glass, all the freshness and fruit was lost at the expense of oak, whilst the wine had very little nose. There was more aroma in the empty Montrachet glass!

The Burgundy Glass
A fairly bulbous glass, with steep sides tapering to a narrow aperture to concentrate the aromas, and also to funnel the wine down the centre of the mouth again, to reduce the acidity. A glass very specific to Pinot Noir. (Riedel apparently suggest drinking Pinot Noir dominated champagne from this one, so we’ll have to give that a go.)

Riedel Vinum Burgundy Glass

WS Exhibition St Aubin Rouge, 2005, Domaine Henri Prudhon (£17.00) Produced from Premier Cru vineyards that face south-east and get the morning sun. The wine is barrel fermented and undergoes a natural malolactic fermentation. Lots of red fruit on the nose, but personally I found the palate a bit of a let down. In the ISO glass the tannins were much to strong. (13/20)

The Bordeaux Glass
A tall glass, considerably bigger than the others, to draw out the aromas of a big and heavy wine. The glass also attempts to control the tannins in Bordeaux to allow the fruit flavours to shine.

Riedel Vinum Bordeaux Glass

Klein Constantia Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006, South Africa (£13.95) is produced from grapes grown on north facing slopes in the oldest vineyard in South Africa. The wine was rich and heavy in a new world style, but surprisingly fresh. Notes of black fruits, as well as dark chocolate. This freshness was lost at the expense of tannins and ‘scorched earth’ in the Pinot glass. (14.5/20)

So… we were really surprised at just how much of a difference having the ‘right’ glass makes. Thinking about the anatomy of the tongue in terms of taste receptors though, it certainly does make sense to channel the wine to bring out the best in it. It should be noted though that Riedel dominate the market for grape-specific glasses, they are by no means the only company producing them and others reckon the range produced by Chef and Sommelier is superior. We even noticed recently that a certain Swedish homeware store has produced its own range…

Bistros à vins are plentiful in Paris: small restaurants, offering unusual, small-production wines, alongside a limited menu of small plates, such as artisan cheeses and charcuterie.

We’ve often bemoaned the fact that this format doesn’t seem to have travelled across the Channel, despite a plethora of Spanish tapas-style restaurants in London. However, Terroirs Wine Bar has changed that.

Located yards from Charing Cross Station, Terroirs opened in 2008 with the philosophy of ‘great food and great wine sourced with an eager eye for provenance.’ The emphasis is on food and wine which is natural and free of additives and about artisan products that taste simply of their origin, or terroir.

Although the bar has recently been extended to offer a more comprehensive restaurant style menu downstairs, the menu upstairs in the main bar remains true to the traditional Parisian format. It includes a selection of charcuterie, several cheeses, other small dishes, and a short list of heartier plats du jour. All are reasonably priced – £5 for a plate of saucisson, £3.50 for a plate of Valençay goats cheese from the Loire – but it’s easy to see how the bill could stack up over an evening.

Baked Vacherin Mont d'Or

Every effort has been made to recreate the Parisian experience, right down to the traditional zinc comptoir, or bar, and a series of quirky French posters and prints on the wall – plenty to discuss if you should find conversation flagging!

The wine list is perhaps the main focus at Terroirs, and includes wines sourced from small growers who work sustainably, organically or biodynamically in the vineyard. So called natural wines are often unfiltered and unfined, making them naturally cloudy, with little or no additives or preservatives added to the wine. The list itself runs to over 40 pages, focussing mainly on French wines, with comprehensive descriptions of both regions and styles. This is obviously not the place for big brands, and it’s great to see so many wines made from unusual grapes – we noted wines made from Roussette de Savoie, Chasselas, and Jasnières grapes, all of which were unfamiliar to us. There is also an interesting selection of champagnes and sparkling wines, again mostly from small producers.

Hungry and keen to try a range of things, we ordered from across the menu, starting off with duck scratchings. These were to die for – salty and succulently fatty – and well worth fighting over. Next came duck rillettes, a shredded meat paste that was perhaps a tad underseasoned, but perfectly accompanied by the most pungent gherkins we’ve tasted in a while.

Husband ordered a baked Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese to share as our main dish. This is a cow’s milk cheese, produced in the Jura region near the French/Swiss border from cattle that roam the Massif Mont D’Or. It was baked in a wooden box, to be eaten like a fondue, and served with new potatoes, gherkins and an excellent herb salad. We also enjoyed the Noir de Bigorre Charcuterie on the side.

The service was typically Gallic and ever so slightly chaotic, but it was good to see the place heaving on a Thursday evening. The tables are packed close together, again in the French style, which makes conversation difficult, but with so much going on, and plates of food constantly going past, this wasn’t a huge problem.

The wine

We were once told in Switzerland that white wine is best served with molten cheese, as it aids digestion. Whilst this may be a myth, we took full advantage of the wine list to test the theory out.

The wine list highlights those wines that are truly natural – unfiltered and unfined, with zero or minimal sulphur – and we opted for one of these to start with.

1) Clos du Tue-Boeuf Touraine Le Brin de Chevre (2004) is produced in the Cheverny region, just south of Blois in the Loire. It is made from the Menu Pineau grape, a traditional Loire variety, related to Chenin Blanc. There is more about the producer online here.

Le Clos du Tue-Boeuf Touraine Le Brin de Chèvre 2004

The wine itself was a golden colour, and cloudy as you would expect. The nose was unusual as it was quite floral, with notes of honeysuckle, but also reminded us of the toastiness of a pinot noir dominated champagne. It was full-bodied, with refreshing acidity and a good length. To taste, the wine was complex with flavours of lime and cooked apple, and again honeysuckle. (13/20)

2) Domaine Guy Allion Sauvignon de Touraine (2008) Another white from the Loire, this time from the Touraine appellation, and produced from Sauvignon Blanc grown in sand-clay soil. A pale lemon coloured wine that was virtually clear. Pear drops and gooseberry on the nose. Good crisp acidity, with medium body. Pear drops dominated the flavours, with hints of gooseberry, apricots and citrus. Refreshing after the heavy cheese and very drinkable. (14/20)

Given the two wines were grown only 15 miles apart, the difference between them illustrates not only the diversity of the Loire, but also the sense of place of origin that Terroirs seeks to highlight.

Welcome to Carpe Vinum!

By day I’m a junior doctor working in London, but wine has become more and more of an interest over the past couple of years. I’m currently working through the WSET exams, and enjoying tasting my way around the world. Current interests include wines from the Loire, grower champagnes and the process of wine production.

I’m often asked about wine, and enjoy sharing my discoveries with friends and family. This blog will cover wines I’ve enjoyed, as well as observations on the world of wine from a citizen blogger.

Carpe Vinum means ‘seize the wine’ and this blog will be ‘about wine, but not exclusively’ – I will also be touching on wider interests.