Monday, 31 October 2011

There is no place for fruit in cheese

Somethings are inherently wrong. White Stilton with apricots or cranberries is one such thing.
While I appreciate that some people will like the fruity sweetness of a nice piece of ripe fruit alongside the sharp acidic tang of a good cheese. There is no justification for the blasphemy that is mincing the fruit and then mixing it with low grade unaged pieces of non mould affected Stilton.
I think what gets me most is the faux affectation of quality that seems to come with the novelty value of the fruit addition. One can imagine the marketing wonks who came up with the idea salivating at the thought of people looking longingly at the cheese counter, ‘tonight, how about something special? Ooh what about that cheese with the fruit it it?’
To commit this crime on Stilton just makes it worse, I have no great desire for Wensleydale, as such it doesn’t rankle quite the same, however Stilton is a king amongst cheeses and to see it being debased so foully is where the upset comes.
So I’m proposing that next time we see cheese cut with fruit pieces, or layer cake designs of plastic factory cheddars and cheshires being served in anywhere where we frequent, we let it be know that it’s fucking wrong and shouldn’t have been made in the first place, let a lone purchased by anyone who has any authority of food purchase decisions.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

I should (te) Koko

A potted history;

2000 – I’m working in the call centre at Direct wines, it’s my gap year and Cloudy Bay is still impossibly desirable, there are rumours that sweep the telephones that there is some stock of the Sauvignon available, but it all goes to the fine wine sales staff on the floor above.

2005 – On the restaurant floor at the Hotel du Vin in Brighton we have a healthy allocation, but one that tended to disappear with an alarming rapidity.

2007 – I’m starting to wax lyrical about the other Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Te Koko. By now I’ve decided that it’s impossibly trendy to knock Cloudy Bay as merely part of the LVMH stable, as a conscientious sommelier, I can’t really be seen to be recommending something that’s made by a multi-national luxury goods company.
But still there’s something about the Te Koko that meant it held onto its charm. It’s slight mutedness on first release, the sense of walking into a dew slicken arcade of summer white flowers that it soon evoked. I was hooked, and to Te Kokos credit I never found any oaked Sauvignons that tasted quite the same.

2011 – By now cynical and quite a lot older I’ve been invited to a tutored tasting of the Cloudy Bay wines with Nick Lane their head winemaker.

Te Koko began as a small barrel experiment in 96, initially with 10g residual sugar left in, 97 saw very heavy oak being applied, before the current more measured formula was found.

There is no specific selection of parcels or plots, the wine can be part of a normal Cloudy Bay parcel, or as happens occasionally just the next load that arrives into the winery. Before I make this sound terribly slap dash, I should point out that selection criteria for Cloudy Bay starts out very high and that there is a huge amount of work done in the vineyard to ensure the high standards .

However none of this can take away from the fact that this is a winemaker led wine (well in some ways it is and in other ways it’s less so)

The chosen must it allowed to ferment naturally (in contrast to the neutral yeasts favored for the Sauv B) and is then plonked whole sale into old oak (8%) new. Between 50-80% malolactic fermentation takes place, with occasional barrels warmed slightly to encourage it should the vintage seem a trifle acidic. This is then left on lees for 16-18 months. That’s pretty much it.

We had the 2008 to start with, this is the most recent release, white flowers, just a tiny hint of coffee, some honeysuckle, white peach and tropical flavours. On the palette there is that lovely silkiness that Sauvignon in old oak seems to acquire. Due to the slightly oxidative character of the vinification there is substantially less herbaceous (typically Sauvignon type) aromas, something all the wines will show.

The 06 was slightly less floral but had a marked lime and mango character to the nose. There was something of the bottle aged character to this that was slightly revelatory, a sort of lime marmalade and toast impression. Not the same as, but similar to the aged Riesling notes I’d expect of a 5 year old Clare Valley.

The 05 was similarly slightly waxy and Riesling like, the floral notes were still there but accompanied by a delicate caramel note, some interesting waxy tropical fruit notes on the palette and a certain saltiness on the finish.

Finally we were served some of the 2001, now I can’t be certain, but I think this was the wine I first fell for (the dates of releases sort of make sense, also it was stock that didn’t move that fast). A ten year old new world Sauvignon Blanc, by all that is right and good (and French) in the world, this should have been rubbish. It wasn’t. Lime scented salt caramel, a whiff of the elusive sous bois, a hint of something that reminded me of damp cellars, a powerfully silken palette intertwined with aldehydic and autolytic aromas, Nick Lane was suggesting an affinity with youthful Bollinger, but for me there was still just a bit to much floral and ghostly herbaceousness for the comparison.

I’m really glad that I still like Te Koko, yes it’s LVMH, but so is Yquem so sod off. The strength of its showing in the older vintages was very impressive.

Much too much, too much too young

Bear with me while I think about Hollywood starlets.... I'll get to wine a little later.

Lindsey Lohans youth shone incandescently, showered with plaudits, feted for her precocious charm and ability.  It seemed the world was going to be her oyster. Now it’s all expensive meltdowns, insurers refusing to cover her and convictions for driving under the influence. Of course it’s hard to know whether she’d have still had her breakdown if she hadn’t been so successful early, but it’s likely that the pressures of fame at such a young age didn’t help.
Chateau Tahbilk make two Marsannes, their everyday new release Marsanne, made with modern vinification, steel tanks, cool temperatures and protection from the deleterious effects of oxygen. Then there’s their 1927 Vines Marsanne, made in the traditional style, open top fermenters, no temperature control.

In their youth they could hardly be more different, the Marsanne is fresh, clean bursting with lime tinged tropical fruit notes, a beautifully modern wine. The 1927 vines is mute, there is next to no fruit, it seems to stare sullenly at you out of the glass, the effects of the oxygen during vinification showing like dirty smudges on a scrawny kids face. But like the children that get left to their own devices, the dirt and introspection only serve to hide a burgeoning character.

Fast forward five years, the Tahbilk Marsanne is reaching its prime, the lime like fruit turning waxy, salt like secondary charcters ring minerally tones, there is a richness and elegance that is very appealing. The 1927 Vines on the other hand has only just started to wake. Stripped of its overtly fruity phenolics when young, there is much less to oxidise and brown when older. As such the ravages of time that nag at the heart of fresher and fruitier styles leave it comparatively unharmed. Instead, good oxidation, the wonderfully subtle passing of youth works its magic, salt caramel, hazelnuts, glimpses of white flowers and the  moreishness of madeira all start to appear. Its lithe marathon runner physique hits its stride, it’s a wine with easily another 20 years of bottle ageing ahead of it.

The contrast in ageability and styles of the two Tahbilk Marsannes is more than of just passing interest. Instead I believe it casts a very interesting light on the issue of Premox in Burgundy, premature oxidation of the finer white wines from the Cote de Beaune has been one of the regions bugbears for the last decade. Undermining the confidence that consumers once had in these princes of the white wine firmament. But looking at tasting notes of recent bottlings and younger vintages I’m struck by just how drinkable they often are, of course I never tasted the twenty year old bottles that I’ve had in their youth, but I can look back at others tasting notes. They regularly allude to the wines being difficult, tight, of the need for bottle age. Notice the word I use is need, not benefit. Time for that good oxidation to fill the gaps, only now those gaps aren’t there, instead we have soft appealing fruitiness, all ready to bruise and brown at the first sign of age.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Tractatus Logico-Sezuanrestaurantificus

The Sezuan Chilli is everything that is the case. *

What is the case, the fact, is the existence of Sezuan chillis, within the dish.

The logical conclusion is the numbing of thought and sensation.

The lack of sensation is the significant taste-function.

Taste-functions are truth-functions of elementary culinary propositions.

(An elementary culinary proposition is a truth-function of itself.)
The general form of truth/taste-function is:[,N()]

This is the general form of culinary proposition.
Whereof one cannot countenance tasting, thereof one must be silent.