Thursday, 21 June 2012

John Dory starter

John Dory is an exceptionally ugly fish, however it makes up for this by being quite gorgeous. It's a trifle more expensive than my usual fish purchases, so I decided to cook it such that one could really focus on the fish.

Concasse tomatoes, finely chopped white onion, garlic, some mild green pepper, salt, pepper and red wine vinegar to balance the sharpness.

Gently cooked in some olive oil.

Two fillets, skin side down on a hot pan, they'll contract somewhat, when it looks like the right sort of time, kill the heat and flip the filets over, the residual pan heat will finish them nicely and make it less likely that you'll over cook them.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Leclapart on biodynamics in Champagne

I caught up with David Léclapart, the much sought after, cult Champagne producer, at the recent Terres et Vins de Champagne tasting. Here is a transcript of their conversation highlighting a few of David’s thoughts on producing great Champagne.
Me - So David, can you tell us a little about your philosophy of Champagne.
David - Do you mean my philosophy of Champagne or my philosophy of the vine?
Me - Both!
David - OK, because they are two different things. There is the philosophy of the vine, namely the plant that is cultivated, and then there is the philosophy of terroir, which has to do with where we are located. And those are two different things.
In terms of my philosophy of Champagne, here goes…
Since we’re in the most northerly of wine regions in France, the work in the vineyard is even more important than elsewhere because we have very little sunshine, little heat and so the work in the vineyard has to be very meticulous. Everything else follows from that work.
My philosophy of vinification is to work out how the year has impacted the grape and the wine. What interests me is to know how a vintage is going to express itself: a rainy vintage, a sunny vintage, a windy-wet vintage, a cold-wet vintage, a vintage that only had sun and heat, and so on. And it’s for that reason that I only make Champagnes without reserve wines, because I want to show how nature expresses itself through Champagne in a very northerly region. The objective is to respect that which is born in the vines and to enable that to be transmitted to the wine drinker without modifying, amputating or removing anything. Just accompanying it, following it and preparing it so that the drinker can understand, enjoy and get those elements from the wine they’re drinking.
My vinification follows this principle, which also means I use very little sulphur… I am very low-intervention in my winemaking: I don’t fine, I don’t filter, I don’t cold stabilize it, I don’t induce malo-lactic fermentation. I do everything as naturally as possible: natural yeasts, no enzymes, no artificial settling agents, and then natural malo-lactic bacteria. MLF happens systematically but naturally. I don’t induce MLF.
Me - So if you have barriques in which the MLF starts to occur, you just leave them?
David - Voila.
Me - So do you have cuvees that haven’t gone through MLF?
David - No, all the wines go through MLF, but they go through MLF at different times.
Me - When they want to?
David - Yep, when they want to. It’s not me that organizes the malo-lactic fermentation, it happens when it happens.
Then there’s the philosophy of the vine. This is about giving grapes, or transmitting to the grapes, the two forces that create life on earth: the earth force and the sky force. And if you do everything within your power to unite these two forces, then this will be shared in the berries and in the subsequent wine as well.
Me - So, basically, “between the earth and the sky you find wine”.
David - Yes. My work as a vigneron is to unite these two forces: the force of the sky and the force of the earth. And when this energy is in the grape, it passes into the wine and it is then into you, and you, the drinker, or ‘amateur’ (in the sense of one who loves), benefits from it.
Me - So I can say that it’s the energy of the wine, not the alcohol that makes me feel good! Is that why I’m liking your wine?
David - Exactly!
Me - Superb.
David - Evidently there’s a little bit of alcohol, but the key is that there is alcohol and alcohol. For example, I don’t chaptalize, except for in very, very difficult vintages like 2001, a little 2007 and a little 2011. But all my other vintages since 1998 have not been chaptalized. And well, the alcohol produced without chaptalisation is different to that produced with chaptalisation.
Me - I guess it’s alcohol from the fructose rather than alcohol from sucrose.
David - That’s right, and when you drink the alcohol from chaptalisation, it’s alcohol that passes through you very quickly, and makes you drunk very quickly. Whereas when you drink alcohol from the grape sugars it’s a different sort of alcohol. There are different qualities of alcohol, just as there are different qualities of acidity, and so on.
Me - Well that makes sense to me, because if you look at the different vibrational energies of the sugars - fructose, glucose, sucrose – they all have different vibrational spectra, which is measurable and is thought to play quite an important role in how we smell and perceive different molecules. For me it would follow that an alcohol derived from grape fructose could have a subtly different set of vibrations to that of one derived from added sugars.
David - Yes exactly. The different geometric shapes of the molecules can be analysed using modern techniques and you can see the differences. It’s because of these differences that we see a different effect in our bodies. For example, there are wines, that when you drink them, they make you feel happy and light, while there are those that make you feel heavy and sleepy. It’s all about the transfer of energy from one element to the next. Either the alcohol was derived from energy that is noble and energizing, or it is not and instead adds heaviness to our body and consciousness.
Me - Excellent, thank you, we look forward to seeing you at RAW!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Antica fucking formula

Dear Barman,

Well done, no really, congratulations. Your pioneering approach to product sourcing has led you to the previously unknown wonder that is Antica Formula. Yes, that wondrous smoothness and complexity that arises from the near magical addition of vanilla. Marvel at how it adds such extra dimensions to your Negronis, Congratulate yourself on how you’re evidently a genuine mixologist, scouring product catalogues for obscure vermouths, sitting up at night reading Dave Wondrich and pretending that you’ve actually got Gerry Thomas in your back bar.

Right, can we stop for a moment, you may not have spent a large chunk of your life tasting wine, in fact you may well regard it as something that those uneducated folk who don’t drink your cocktails order. But many of us have, and one of the things that gets many of our goats is indiscriminate misuse of new oak barrels and their derivative products to add a sweet vanilla component to otherwise fine wines. Yes, you’ve probably heard people saying how they can’t stand over oaked wines, maybe you sympathise, maybe you don’t. Well your indiscriminate adding of fucking Antica Formula to my Negroni is basically the same cocking thing. Vanilla, yes it’s lovely in ice cream and crème Anglaise, but really it’s a one-note flavour and one that gets really fucking boring really fucking quickly.

So, let us all take a moment, step back from that delightfully old school European label and think about what we’re doing.  Maybe consider that the addition of your current favourite vermouth drastically changes the flavour profile of the drink that you’ve just been asked to make, and then maybe, just maybe, ask the fucking consumer if they want their Negroni to taste like it’s been swilled with vanilla sugar.

Yours sincerely


Friday, 8 June 2012

In favor of calling shit out…

The wine trade is a very nice place, often people give me lovely things, they send me bottles, they take me to nice places, they buy me lovely meals. This happens to virtually everyone that writes about wine. I’m not complaining. Well actually I am, a little.

We’re all too nice, underpinning everything is a sense that if we don’t say nice things, or at the very least not say bad things, it’ll all grind to a halt.

The most influential wine commentator of the last 30 years, Robert Parker, made his name by, amongst other things calling bad wines bad. Why don’t we see more of this? Are all modern wines so good? Is the market so well regulated that the default quality of the average bottle so good that we can stop worrying any more and merely focus on the fabulous?


In fact, there is still a lot of very bad wine on the market. This ranges from the stultifyingly dull supermarket propositions, produced to a budget that wont make anyone any money. The growers are nailed down as tight as they can go, hell even the supermarkets have probably accepted that most of the time their wine ranges are loss leaders.

Mid range we see a huge number of wines seemingly made to a recipe. How to make New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc 1.01? I guess that this might not be such a bad thing if people are looking for consistency in what they buy, after all Diet Coke wouldn’t sell anywhere near as many cans if there was a significant variation between each can (though if it got you pissed it might). But lets pretend we’re not always looking for consistency, after all it can get a bit boring after a while. Oh and don’t get me started on wineries that trumpet terroir while delivering a very cleverly produced cellar cuvee.

Finally, and possibly most controversially, natural wines. Now I’m a big fan of natural wines, and have on many occasions written in their favour and defense. However I accept that there is a greater chance of things going wrong, indeed one of the thrilling things about natural wines is that they are that much harder to get right, the grapes have to have been grown in the right place, the wine making has to be very careful in its non-intervention. However it does sometimes go wrong. There are bad natural wines out there, some are crippled with Brett (way beyond where it stops being an acceptable bit of complexity), some are properly oxidized, and not in a good, intentional way. What concerns me is that in an already quite stressful market place for the consumer, we’re busy pulling the rug of certainty away from already slightly worried buyers. So I think it behooves us advocates of natural wines to ensure we know our faults, and to be doubly vigilant whilst buying and proposing natural wines. And yes calling out and naming the wines that really fall foul of the quality line. After all, how else are we going to get the detractors to stop labeling the whole category with the reputation of its worst examples?

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Sweet Ceylon Crusted Salmon with a Garlic shoot Salad.

I was looking for Kaffir lime leaves, however, it would appear that the main smuggler of said leaves into Europe has been busted or somesuch. As they were nowhere to be found in the UK or on my first two forays in Paris.

However in my local Chinese Superstore I did find long shoots of garlic, a form of the allium I’d never encountered before. So, obviously, I bought some, then sat down for a coffee to decide what to do with them.

Sweet Ceylon Crusted Salmon with a Garlic shoot Salad.

Served me:

Small Salmon filet
2 good quality Ceylon tea bags
Some brown liquor
Half an onion
Some garlic shoots (I used 2 as they were quite long)
Bit of lemongrass (this makes it well Asian)
Dressing (I made a basic cider vinegar vinaigrette as it seemed to match the flavours and the slight sweetness of the fish)

Cut open the tea bags and mix the tea with equal amounts of salt and sugar. Pour in a splash of liquor, I used a bit of cognac as that’s what I had handy, but I guess bourbon or rum would probably also work, it’ll smell a bit pungent to start with but you won’t notice after cooking it. Smear the resultant mixture on your bit of Salmon and leave for a while.

Cut your garlic shoots into 1cm ish length pieces, chop the half onion into suitably sized pieces and pop both in a pan with some finely chopped white bit of a lemongrass and oil. Cook, slowly, you do not want to burn your onions.

Brush most of the wet tea rub off the salmon piece, then pop it skin down in a hot heavy bottomed pan. Leave it until it looks cooked about half way up the side, flip it over (it doesn’t matter if the skin comes off at this point, it’ll have protected the flesh from burning). Turn off the heat and let the rest of the filet cook slowishly.

Make your dressing, toss the cooked garlic and onion bits with some mixed salad leaves, pop on a plate.

When the Salmon is cooked whip it out of the pan ( you may want to roll it on each side first to make it look pretty with bits of caremalised tea and stuff). Flake the Salmon (it should come apart quite easily) then make it look all pretty on top of your salad.

If you’re feeling really posh, you can finely chop a spring onion to use as garnish.

(oh and I did find the Lime leaves in the end, they were in a tiny little Asian grocery store round the back hidden in a freezer cabinet)
this is what winning looks like