Monday 28 May 2018

Wine lists part one

I've not really posted anything for the last couple of years on account of my being really quite lazy. Also, I've had one or two other job related things to occupy my time.

However, over the last couple of years I've had some time to think about what it is that we do as sommeliers. Why it is that no one really cares what we think, well save from those people that sell to us, and why no one knows who we are (seriously, I've worked as a somm for a long time and I think I can only name about two other people who are somms (kidding, it's more like four)).

Basically it comes down to the difference between being a curator (yes, I understand you've read various critics complaining about the idea of curated lists but really if you agree with them and not me you can fuck right off an stop reading now) and a creator.

Most sommeliers in reality create nothing, in reality most of us pick and choose things off wine lists that have already been laboriously created by our wine merchant friends. We, under pressure from our bosses, aim to buy from as few different suppliers as possible. This, I can assure you, makes our lives as easy as possible. We then, post hoc justify most of our decisions (again, another thing I can assure you I'm excellent at) as being in service of the food, the style of the restaurant, the phase of the moon or any other handy reason we might have found.

I'm not trying to do my profession a disservice, I'm honestly not, I'm merely trying to enunciate the multiple hurdles that come between a sommelier and their ideal list. I like to think we've all got ideal lists knocking about in us, we just need to find the right place to show them.

Wednesday 13 January 2016


I like wine. There are some wines that for personal reasons I really like; they might remind me of times gone by, they might just be particularly tasty, but they often seem to fall into the category of wines that are on sodding allocation. 
I called les Caves to enquire about Sorrenberg Chardonnay (a wine which I’m pretty certain I was one of the first people in the UK to buy as I ordered it on the day of their first showing it publicly), it transpired there were 15 bottles left. Obviously I took them (not a whiff of the Gamay though, a wine I seriously regret enthusing about all those years ago), but now being in possession of the wines leaves a slight conundrum. Is it acceptable to be exclusive regarding their sale? Obviously I’m not going to push the wines, they’ll be gone in a fortnight if I start to tell people what I think of them, but what about denying I have them. What about it someone I don’t really like comes in to ask about them? Apologise, I couldn’t get any more, how about this fabulous Tassie example? 
Have I really turned into Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons? Isn’t this pretty much everything I hated about snootiness in the wine trade? 

Anyway, I think I’ve decided to keep 6 bottles back for myself (fuck9ing glichen alright) and then to have the bottles available, but just not to push them (well unless you seem cool and really into wine and in need of tasting iconic cool climate new wave Australian Chardonnay, in which case I’ve got a LOAD of things that you NEED to taste, Sorrenberg included).

Tuesday 6 October 2015


It's odd, for a country whose wines I've spent the last three years pursuing and working with I've found it remarkably difficult to write about Greece and her wines.

Perhaps it's the fact that I've not visited the countries vineyards, not emptied the grit of Amyndeon sand out of my shoes not, at least by my standards, really gotten stuck in. My drafts folder is stuffed to the gills with my attempts to put together a piece on late night Xinomavro tastings or wildly speculative pieces on the aromatic similarity between Moschofilero and Torrrontes (if in doubt between the two Moschofilero is more mineral and slightly fuller bodied on the palate).

Anyway all that is by the by, the weekend just past was the inaugural Greek Wine Festival as put together by Theodore Kyriakou of the Greek Larder, and though possibly not as packed as he'd have hoped I thought it was a success. More to the point it got me thinking about my own relationship to Greek wines and how it has developed over the past few years.

When I first started casting my net for Greek bottles, there were a few obvious places to look. Hallgarten Druitt, the current home of the esteemed Steve Daniels, ex-Oddbins buyer and the person who introduced pretty much an entire generation to the new(in the 90s)wave of Greek wine. Along with HgD, I had a small deli in Bloomsbury with a pretty fun selection, though little did I realise then quite how much trouble it would be getting any sort of straight answer out of them.

Thankfully I soon discovered Mary from Eclectic (I think it was Gus Gluck who suggested I contact her) and with a neat synchronicity I was back in contact with Theatre of Wine, who dealt with Eclectic's wines for smaller restaurant sized orders.

Things were falling neatly into place. I could now fill my list up with Alpha Estate, Domaine Gerovasilliou, Thymiopoulos, Hatszidakis, Gaia Estate, soon there would be Economou to flesh out the top end and no end of exciting, fresh and vibrant whites. I was starting to realise that far from being a country defined by her coast line, as far as wine was concerned it was her mountains that set the tone.

And then, all of a sudden I was sitting at a table this last Saturday, a glass of Thymiopoulos' Earth and Sky 2012 thrumming with earthy, black olive and orange peel aromatics, bawdy almost, like catching up with an old friend in a noisy pub, next to Dalmarra 2011, an estate that was new to me. Apparently the winemakers are good friends and it was obvious why, this was a little more rustic, the fruit toned down a little bit, there was a dustiness, the vineous equivalent of the 6 o clock shadow of someone who is in the fields at 4.30am. It finally felt right. I've still not managed any sodding vineyard visits though.

Sunday 7 June 2015

Eat father eat.

When I was growing up we didn't eat out all that much, well, not unless we were on holiday, but that's a different topic all together. There were a few places that we'd get take aways from, fish and chips after swimming or trampolining of an evening and very occasionally a Chinese from the Golden Coin. However the restaurant that figures strongest in my childhood eating memories is Ye Bambam Ye at Cemetery Junction (nothing at all like the execrable film presents it to be). This was a Turkish place, split between a take away on one side and a smallish traditionally decorated restaurant on the other. Dark carpets, shishas and tapestries were the order of the day as far as decoration was concerned and for us Edwards children it was the nec plus ultra of dining sophistication. It's funny thinking back to the sorts of dishes I remember, platters of rice, grilled meats and vegetables, chilli and garlic dips, flat bread, actually all the things that I love to find in restaurants now.

The restaurant was to the left, what is now sadly the Up The Junction bar

Moving swiftly through the wilderness years of living in Glasgow where despite BBQ Kings' best efforts, their chicken shish was really only a sideline to their bread winners of large doners and chips'n'cheese (both yellow and orange cheese if memory serves), I found myself travelling to Turkey with my sister to visit various Anatolian Greek sites as part of her degree. This naturally meant we would spend several days in Istanbul, where from a hotel in the Beyoglu we did all of the touristy things and ate quite a few kebabs. Sadly, beyond a couple of slightly disappointing fish dishes I don't have any great recollections of the food, slightly odd given that even at that time I was beginning to pay undue attention to whatever it was I shovelled into my mouth.

25th birthday dinner somewhere in Istanbul

Several years later I was in Izmir for a wine conference, the European wine bloggers conference to be precise, hold oddly in the Asian side of Turkey, but I'll drop my geographic pedantry and get back to the food, which with one exception was pretty awful. Large banqueting style dinners are never the way to get under the skin of a countries eating culture. Thankfully my desire to avoid paying extortionate hotel fees had seen me book a place in the centre of the town some twenty minutes walk from the conference site, a walk that took me down the back lanes of Izmir and right past the lines of outdoor kebab stalls, intoxicating would be one way of describing the smell. Rickety white plastic tables and chairs, seemingly snaffled from a children's party (the only way I could explain their diminutive size) would be swiftly wiped down while I drank sweet black tea. For the record I favour half a sugar cube per glass, yes I concede that over the course of a day one edges into diabetes threatening levels of sugar consumption, but it is only on holiday that this happens. Then the unshaven chap in the filthy white apron would bring me my wrap. The small round flat bread wrapped ice cream cone like round freshly sliced beef (I know it was beef because when I queried what it was he put his hands to the side of his head like horns and proceeded to moo, who needs to speak the language) that had been grilled on a horizontal spit in front of wooden embers. A small amount of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and yoghurt completed the snack. I returned every day of my stay. I was hands down the best food I'd ever eaten in Turkey, smokey, succulent, tantalisingly fatty and just the right size to allow me to eat a modicum of whatever rubbish was going to be put in front of me later in the day.

How it's done properly

I now live in South London, disgustingly close to the palace of joy that is FM Mangal and as such have lamb shish and adana wraps mere moments from my door, it's no surprise that they now know me by name.

Friday 5 June 2015

Ragu and authenticity

I think about authenticity quite a lot. It tends to haunt me when I'm thinking about wine lists, I want the wines I list to speak of the places from which they come. I want to show grapes that belong, made by people that understand them. I feel similarly about cooking, I've been to so many wonderful places and eaten food made by people who've lived there for generations cooking the things that they grew up with. It's while eating food like this that one tastes the authenticity that comes from the marriage of product and place, season and style, and yes I'll accept that much of this may well be entirely of my own imagining it's still very satisfying.

This tends to cause me concern when cooking at home. How ever can one hope to emulate this on a daily basis? Instead, I fall back on the kinds of dishes I like. No I don't live in the Eastern Med, however I'm quite happy to get very liberal with my sumac application. Nope I'm not in Dhaka (never been, sadly) but that's not going to stop me playing with panch phoron when I'm grilling a chicken, however that lack of authenticity does still linger in the back of my mind.

Anyway, Sam, one of my old friends from Pony Club (yes I did write that, and yes you can fuck right off if you have an issue with it) posted to facebook that they were slaughtering some of their one year old sheep. I was actually slightly slow off the mark as my sister had already bagsied one, needless to say several weeks later we were in possession of about half a hogget and a bag of offal bits because 'I figured you'd find something to do with them'. Nothing quite like a fun challenge based around somewhat unidentifiable frozen bits of sheep in plastic bags.

Now I'm quite an adventurous cook, though this does come with a degree of worry. I guess I'm consciously torn between my principles and what I've actually had experience cooking with. Suffice to say I didn't really know what I was going to do with several lamb hearts. I've cooked with ox heart before, but I didn't really know to what extent lamb's heart was going to be a) tough, b) gamey, c) tasty. So I went for the easy option and decided (courtesy of a suggestion by @siepert) to make a ragu with it.

It was here that I hit against the issue of authenticity, ragu is essentially an Italian peasants dish, I'm guessing made from whatever was around with the glut of ripe tomatoes that arrived in the summer. I'm neither Italian, nor is it the height of summer in my groaning kitchen garden (I don't have one) so this left me with several options. I could find the best ragu recipe I knew of and follow it word for word (with obvious offaly substitutions) or I could wing it. Naturally I started with the best intentions, did all sorts of research, then drank half a bottle of cheap white wine, went shopping, forgot to pick up various things and ended up winging it.

A ragu starts with a good soffritto, that is finely diced onion, carrot and celery, two parts of the first, to one part each of the second and third. I forgot to buy celery so my aromatic base was left to resemble a castrated Toulouse Lautrec. Still, I added a shit load of garlic instead, after all I like garlic and for various reasons there's a sack of it in my hall way. This was left to sweat and turn all tanned and golden while I fortified myself with the remaining half bottle of cheap white and turned my attentions to the lamb offal.

What I had thought was going to be two lamb hearts turned out to be one lamb heart and a lamb's liver, no harm no foul I figured, liver's got great flavour and will be equally delicious if somewhat more frustrating to dice finely and neatly. The heart was actually quite beautiful, much more human in scale than that of an ox and oddly reminded me of something one might see in a piece of devotional stained glass, the fat around the top appearing almost like mother of pearl or loosely applied cake icing. On slicing it in half I was stuck by the mechanical functionality of it, something you don't really see when cutting more prosaic pieces of meat. Ventricles and atria, muscles stretched at angles ready to pump. I was genuinely quite taken aback by it's elegance. Still it was nothing that a couple of minutes with a sharp blade couldn't reduce to neatish chunks.

Offal sorted, and by this time my veg base approaching readiness, it was browned off in a hot pan, added to the soffritto, swiftly followed by similarly browned beef and pork mince and five cans of plum tomatoes (aisle three of Morisson's being Camberwell's equivalent of a bounteous tomato crop),  several bay leaves, two smallish sprigs of rosemary, some water, some soy sauce and fish sauce for authenticity (to any raised eye brows I counter you with several texts pertaining to garum and its ubiquity in Roman cuisine) and a healthy slug of wine.

This was then left for a period of time, roughly equivalent to the time it took me to get on a bus to Euston, meet several friends from Manchester to catch up over a few pints before catching a somewhat delayed bus back home.

Duly fortified with both grape and grain I arrived back at my house to be welcomed by the scent of long slow cooking, whatever it was I'd made had worked to some degree, indeed on tasting it'd acquired the umami richness of long cooked tomatoes and meat and I'd go so far as to say it was delicious. Also, possibly as a result of my hearty fortification I felt able to pronounce on its authenticity. I'd made a version of a classic dish, without any particular adhesion to instruction in a way that I felt at least matched the spirit of someone needing to feed a family whilst faced with a set of basic ingredients and a source of heat. In which I found at least a temporary respite from nagging doubts as to my worthiness to cook/play with other cultures heritages.

Indeed I'm happy to say that it was magnificent with linguine and a gremolata (@foodstories suggestion, and one that really completed the dish by adding the requisite freshness and top notes that its bass heavy meatiness required). Also, the four tubs that I froze sated my latent desire to attempt some sort of frugality with regards to my food expenditure.
An all round success.
Quite possibly the lamb whose heart and liver I cooked, if not then one of its kin.

Monday 23 February 2015

Pinot Noir masterclass with Sarah Ahmed

GRINGOTT'S BANK (no goblins though only Aussies)
I visited Australia many moons ago on Tim Wildman's inaugural James Busby tour and properly fell for the place. I was there just after a period of extended drought, a bunch of hot vintages that ended while I was there. Which means I've got memories of flooded fields in Victoria and a Koorong that was unusually very full of water..

However I digress, the good folk at wine Australia had put on a Pinot Noir masterclass at Australia house to be hosted by Sarah Ahmed, one last minute email and I was there.

On show were two Yarra Pinots, one from Giant Steps, one from De Bortoli, and three from Mornington, respectively Paringa, 10X and Crittenden. Now I've visited De Bortoli and Giant Steps and I know 10X pretty well but Paringa and Crittenden were somewhat unknown.

First up a brilliant comparison of Northern Yarra (Dixon's Creek) all MV4/5 and no whole bunch against Apple Jack vineyard from Giant Steps in Gladystone in the steeper South Eastern part of the region. Filigree dark fruits, delectable acidity and tannin balnace with silken dark/raspberry fruit and delicate perfume was the order of the day for the Apple Jack fruit versus chunkier dried red berries and exotic fruit with some forceful tannin from the Dixon's Creek bottles.
Things I noticed; 11 and 12 were noticeably leaner with more silken tannins and better balanced alcohols, guess this is symptomatic of the vintages following the cessation of drought.

As for the Mornington wines, the Paringa samples were lovely but lacked the focus of the Yarra single vineyard ones, though the 11 (coolest year) was a very appealing shy prettiness. The 10X seemed to exemplify the cooler up the hill sites perfectly, especially the 12 and 11. The 12 in particular showing a beautiful aromatic herbaceousness. The Crittenden wines, from a Northern down the hill site were noticeably more muscular, much more whole bunch and a lot darker in colour. Oddly I loved the 09, from the vintage with all the bush fires in the Yarra (hot as hell) it showed a shameless opulence of soft fruit and perfume, not the best of the selection but hard not to love.

Finally we got a little sample of the Crittenden cri de coeur 2013, 100% whole bunch. Filthy tasty, all stalky green edges along with dark ripe fruit. Over the top, but in such an appealing way, it reminded me of the way that some natural wines flirt with shittiness just to the point where it's great and complex and earthy but just stopping before it becomes an issue. Not for everyone, but damn it I loved it.

A superb way to spend an afternoon reminding myself of why I'm partial to Australian Pinot.

Post tasting quick and dirty hummus recipe.

Take a jar of chick peas, wash throughly and pop in the food processor, add 3 large cloves of garlic and about a large table spoon of tahini (you've got a jar sitting in the fridge right?), a generous pinch (about a teaspoon's worth in my house) and blitz. Drizzle in quite a lot of olive oil until it looks nice and creamy. Drizzle with more olive oil then chop some coriander onto it, sprinkle with paprika and eat with torn bits of the flat bread you bought at the shop after you got off the bus. Should take about 3 minutes to sort out and will leave you with plenty for lunch/breakfast etc the net day.

Oh and I thoroughly amused myself on the bus back by listening to L7 Bricks are heavy.

Oh and I was a bit surprised at how evolved a lot of the wines were colour wise.

Saturday 7 February 2015

The thrill of the familiar

Some of you who know me may know that the last year or so have been spent throwing myself at the rock face that is Peckham Bazaar. Part of this has been an almost complete immersion in the wines of the Eastern Mediterranean (of which more to come). However it's taking a step back when you realise quite how much you love other things.

Marcel Lapierre. One of the gang of five, an acolyte of Jules Chauvet. If not quite the key stone then one of the pieces of the arch that stands beneath almost everything I love about French wine. Sadly I never met Marcel, I did meet his wife and son at le dive bouteille a few years back, I think I babbled at them for a few minutes before I was dragged away. In my defence I was flirting with hypothermia due to the intense snowy cold. Needless to say I've been a fan of Lapierre's wines for many years now, probably dating back to the days when I used to sell bucket loads of his Chateau Cambon by the glass at le Bouchon Breton.

As I was in Brixton I popped into Market Row wines where they had Lapierre's Beaujolais Nouveau 2014 two for twenty quid. I couldn't really pass on that.

Maybe I was just feeling a bit emotional but the first sip was like diving into a pool of happy recollections. Slightly vegetal, chewy cherries, some bramble fruit. Structure that just makes you want to drink more, a back ground funkiness that's flirting around the line of noticeability and ends up just adding a savoury complexity. Like the vinous red rag to a bull, it just pulls you back, daring you to try and put your finger on exactly what it is that you appreciate quite so much. And oh, god it tastes like so many evenings enjoying Lapierre, Metras, Lapalou, Foillard, the rush of recollection, the thrill of the familiar.