Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Jimmy's Loire - Week 1; Muscadet, Anjou & Saumur

Sam and I are huge fans of Loire wines (particularly whites), so when we saw this tutored tasting advertised we booked tickets immediately. I’ve written about the West London Wine School before so won’t repeat what’s previously been said, but some of the wine we tasted was so good we wanted to document them on here with some brief tasting notes. Some of these wines are not available from the UK, so if you ever get a chance to head out there and visit any of these wineries mentioned I’d strongly urge that you do – and Jimmy mentioned the exciting prospect of the WLWS putting together a trip in spring 2014 which will give you the opportunity to do just that.

Jimmy, Jeff & Matthew; courtesy of Jimmy Smith, 2013

So onto the wines, which were all brought back from a (very cold) spring road trip, in Jeff, Jimmy’s rather charming and very orange VW campervan. The samples we tasted were predominantly white, due to the fact that approximately 75% of the production in the Loire is of white wines, red wines being less prevalent, tending to be domestic and therefore more difficult to get hold of in the UK.

Louis Metaireau ‘Grand Mouton’, Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur-Lie, 2011  (£14.50, Halifax Wine Company)


2011 was a great year for Muscadet with a well ripened large crop. 2012 was a more difficult year in terms of growing conditions and therefore less was produced. This particular Muscadet comes from vines of up to 75 years of age, and is their flagship wine, aged for 8 months on the lies rather than the usual 4-6 months. Jimmy described Muscadet as “Baby Chablis” given its flavour profile. The wine is clear, pale lemon in colour, with a slight greenish tinge. On the nose we got less fruit than expected, with the usual green apple and citrus, delicate savoury notes and minerality. To taste it was very similar to the nose, with green apple and citrus, the acidity high, and the flavour much punchier than expected. A great wine to pair with seafood.

Louis Metaireau ‘One’, Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur-Lie, 2010 (£18.50, Corks Out)

Similarly to the previous wine, this is a clear, pale lemon in colour. On the nose there is less citrus, and it’s more complex, with much more creaminess and minerality. The ‘One’ is made exclusively from the oldest vines on the estate, and spends a longer time (9-10 months) on the lies. This gives it a creamier, toastier flavour with a fuller mouthfeel, and is more balanced on the acidity. It has a bigger flavour with stone fruit, and big perfumey florals. We both agreed that this was markedly better than the first Muscadet we tried, and it went surprisingly well with goats cheese, bringing out the funky farmyardy notes of the cheese.

Muscadet is usually our go-to wine if we want something relatively inexpensive, yet tasty and refreshing – and is perfect for the warm weather we've been having recently. These two were great examples of how good Muscadet can taste at the premium end of the market.

Chateau de Breze ‘Clos David’, Saumur Blanc, 2010 (ex cellar)

Until 2009 most of the grapes from Chateau de Breze went into local cooperative wines, but in recent years they've started producing their own. This wine was a slightly deeper hue of lemon, but still pale, with vanilla, light stone fruit, honey and floral notes on the nose. You still get the scent of citrus and green apple, but not to such a great extent as the previous two wines. To taste there was peach, honey, sweet spices, light citrus and floral notes. It was very dry with high acidity, which balanced the sweet notes and to quote my tasting notes from the night was ‘mouthwateringly good’. The winemaker suggested this one could be aged for another 5-10 years, losing some acidity over time. This was my wine of the night.

Domaine du Closel ‘Le Clos du Papillon’, Savennieres, 2006 (£25.99, Fine & Rare)
Domaine du Closel ‘Le Clos du Papillon’, Savennieres, 2007 (ex cellar)

‘Le Clos du Papillon’ is Domaine du Closel’s top level wine, and Savennieres is a wine Sam & I have only tried in the last year or so - and now it tends to be one of our first choices whenever we see it on a restaurant wine list. The wines tend to be full-bodied and relatively high in acidity, so are one of the few white wines which benefit from ageing. These two were very good examples, both gold moving towards amber in colour, getting darker as the wine ages. On the nose of both are honey, savoury and toasty notes, the 2006 more powerful, the 2007 more fruity with aromas of stone fruit. To taste we loved both with their stone fruit, almost tropical in taste, honey, floral, and mineral notes. The oak ageing was apparent in the flavours, which were very powerful, and Sam noticed slight gueuze-like character in the 2006. These are great food wines which could easily stand up to rich fish dishes, cheeses, cream-based sauces and white meat.

Interestingly both wines had been decanted well in advance of the evening, yet the 2007 was struggling to open up, tasting better after returning to it a bit later. When Jimmy visited the winery the wine they tasted had been open for 2 weeks, and tasted amazing. 

Pierres-Jacques Druet, Bourgueil Rosé, 2010 (ex cellar)

This was an interesting one to try as rosé wine only makes up 2% of wine production in this region, so you generally don't get any over here in the UK. It is made using the guillage method - a way of clarifying the wine using a low slow fermentation (over four months rather than a few weeks), the solids being pushed out via the bunghole. The wine is a very pale salmon pink in colour, and you get strawberry, gooseberry, rhubarb, floral and mineral notes on the nose. To taste the flavour is far more intense than expected, with a full deep flavour, and more savoury and leafy notes. Surprisingly for a rosé the winemaker recommends ageing for up to 5 years.

Pierres-Jacques Druet 'Grand Mont', Bourgueil, 2006 (ex cellar)

From a single plot of old vines this is a traditional style Cabernet Franc. These traditional style Loire reds are very earth-driven in flavour and don't get exported much as they are somewhat of an acquired taste. Despite this, I think this was my favourite of the three reds, a slightly hazy, deep ruby in colour, with earthy, smokey, vegetal, menthol-type notes on the nose and also to taste. It's relatively light, with red fruits, slightly tannic, light bodied and with a really interesting flavour profile. 

Domaine de Saint Just 'Montée des Roches', Saumur-Champigny Rouge, 2010 (ex cellar)
Domaine de Saint Just 'Clos Moleton', Saumur-Champigny Rouge, 2010 (ex cellar)

The next two reds we tasted were modern style Cabernet Francs, and you can see why the style has changed, with both of these wines made to suit the tastes of the mainstream market. Domaine de Saint Just make their wines from grapes in the vineyards at Chateau de Breze. Both wines are a brighter red than the previous wine, bright ruby with slightly purple tinges.

The 'Montée des Roches' is far better on the nose than the previous wine with more red fruit, raspberries and cherries, but still with that earthy vegetal aroma. To taste, it's similar to the nose, with some leafy notes, but stronger on the ripe red fruit, again cherries and raspberries.

The 'Clos Moleton' is bigger on both the nose and to taste, with big, deep oaky notes. After the first sniff I'd have guessed it was Californian, with vanilla, coconut, black fruits, and new oak. You don't get many of the Cabernet Franc characteristics on the nose, but this may come out on ageing. To taste it's better than expected, acidic, with concentrated black fruit flavours, and the vanilla, oak and spices coming through. It'd be a great food wine, and would probably benefit from a couple of years ageing to mellow out some of the bold punchy flavours.

Up next week; Vouvray & Chinon - we can't wait!

Friday, 26 July 2013

Cherry, goat cheese and pistachio salad with vincotto dressing

When life (your Mother in Law) gives you a big tub of ruby red cherries what do you do? Well you make a cherry and goats cheese salad of course! Now you may not think that cherries go on a salad like this but the sweet cherry juice with the goats cheese works a treat. In fact it's traditional in parts of the Pyrenees to eat goat cheese with a cherry preserve. Topped with the crunchy pistachios this salad was a delight.

The salad is based on this recipe from the New York Times but with a few changes. Instead of balsamic in the vinaigrette I used a tablespoon of lemon flavoured vincotto which we picked up in the market in Copenhagen. Vincotto is an Italian condiment made by reducing wine down till it's sticky, sweet and a little bit sour. It can easily be replaced with good balsamic in this recipe.The rocket was replaced with some romaine leaves and instead of sherry vinegar I used some of my home-made (and quite sherry-like) porter vinegar. Beer vinegars are very easy to make so do have a go and let us know how you get on

The recipe is so simple that it's barely worth writing down but here is it anyway.

  • Some torn romaine lettuce leaves
  • A big handful of ripe cherries, halved and pitted 
  • A handful of toasted and chopped pistachios. You can toast these in a non stick frying pan 
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar. I used my deeply tasty porter vinegar. 
  • 1.5 teaspoons of vincotto 
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper 
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
  • As much soft and crumbly goats cheese as you think you need

1. Combine the torn lettuce, cherries and half the nuts in a large bowl.

2. Whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients, salt and pepper and olive oil. Toss with the salad. Arrange on a the plates, sprinkle the goat cheese and remaining pistachios over the top, and serve.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Croydon Food Heroes - Clarence and Fredericks Brewery

Poor old Croydon gets a bad rap from Londoners. The riots in 2011 certainly didn't help and I have to say that the driving can be pretty suspect at times. We think it's time to highlight the positives in Croydon by writing about some of the dedicated people providing quality food and drink experiences for hungry and thirsty Croydoners.

Clarence and Fredericks Brewery

When we discovered that a new Croydon brewery had started up barely ten minutes walk from our house we had to find out more. Family brewery Clarence and Fredericks was launched in late 2012 by Duncan Woodhead and his partner Vicky, with the aim of producing quality real ale with modern and characterful recipes. Duncan has used his professional brewing experience to scale up his homebrew recipes to their commercial kit and he's done a great job. The beers have deceptively simple names which belie the complexity of the flavours. When you buy the beers at the brewery it's reassuring to see Duncan pay close attention to the condition of the beers before he lets you take them out the door. And when you taste them it's obvious that a lot of thought and craftsmanship have gone into producing them.

All the Clarence and Fredericks beer is brewed here in their Croydon brewery.

The brewery shop sells beer on Saturdays and whenever they are brewing, it seems. It's best to follow them on twitter to find out when they are open.

It's a given that breweries make a pale, a bitter and a dark but within these categories there is so much space to be creative with flavour. The following beers show that it's possible to be creative with delicious cask ale.

Golden Pale

It's great when a cask golden ale gets heavy with American hops. These give the beer a fresh tropical fruit aroma and a healthy bitterness. It's sharp, refreshing and is the perfect beer for a summer afternoon in a beer garden with a burger.

Strong Mild

The Clarence and Fredericks Mild is a real treat, though perhaps not what you might be looking for at this time of year. It's very dark and has got a rich mocha aroma and taste with a little caramel and some cocoa nib nuttiness.


The American Pale on the other hand is exactly right for these sweltering days. A multitude of US hops give their citrus pith bitterness, and it has a crisp dryness that cuts to the heart of your thirst.

 Best Bitter

This great beer was one of the few highlights of the doomed London's Brewing event. Duncan has taken the sometimes stodgy and predictable best bitter and given it an overhaul. It has a deep inviting caramel colour and a sweet nutty aroma. By taking out the crystal malt and replacing with small amounts of brown, black and aromatic malts he has avoided the cloying character that some bitters have. These malts have also given the beer great nuttiness and body. There is an impressive level of bitterness and a fruity Sussex tang from the British hops. I wish this was the standard bitter in my local - I would drink a lot of it.

At the moment their beer is available from pubs across London and the South East and direct from cask at the brewery. Duncan tells me that it will be in bottles soon so expect to find it further afield in the near future.