Stuart George

Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

The Breakfast Club – South African style

In Uncategorized on September 15, 2010 at 6:51 pm

On Wednesday morning I was invited to attend a “World Cup Legacy Breakfast” at South Africa House overlooking Trafalgar Square. I am not especially keen on listening to politicians but this was a chance to visit the South African Embassy, to (sort of) meet South Africa’s Deputy President and, most importantly, to have some breakfast.

The Deputy President of South Africa, Hon. Kgalema Motlanthe (pictured above at the podium) was actually Interim President after Thabo Mbeki’s resignation in September 2008. He is a very important man in South African politics and might yet be President again.

Mr Motlanthe and his entourage swaggered in 15 minutes late. He made a shortish speech and then the floor was opened to questions. “Our friends in the fourth estate know that they must introduce themselves”, asserted the Deputy Programmer. There were lots of titles today, nearly always preceded by “Deputy.”

Three questions would be asked and then the Deputy President would choose whichever one tickled his fancy. He is a consumate politician, saying a lot but revealing nothing.

The Deputy President was due to meet the Deputy Prime Minister later that day. At last Prime Minister Cameron has found a use for him!


The Oval teens

In Cricket, Tastings on September 15, 2010 at 7:35 am

During a visit Liberty Wines’ annual portfolio tasting yesterday at The Oval, I did a quick recce of the pitch for Friday’s England vs. Pakistan One Day International.

I wasn’t able to get as close to the pitch as I did at Lord’s recently but typically The Oval pitch is much faster and bouncier than at Lord’s. The current weather forecast for Friday is sunny intervals and a pleasant 18°C.

As for the Liberty tasting, it was as well attended as ever. Liberty’s MD David Gleave is a brilliant businessman and wine entrpeneur, though I feel that in recent years perhaps he has spread himself too thinly, with some wines duplicating others on his list. I saw that Liberty has taken on the agency for Greywacke, the winery established by ex-Cloudy Bay winemaker Kevin Judd, who I spent a day with when I was in New Zealand in March 2009.

Highlights of the tasting included the sumptuous 2006 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage Le Chevalier de Stérimberg. I do like white Hermitage but it’s bloody expensive – Liberty’s trade price for this is £32.24 per bottle.

Some of Jeffrey Grosset’s whites had shuddering acidity, especially the 2010 Off-Dry Clare Valley Riesling and 2010 Springvale Riesling. I was less enamoured of the 2010 Polish Hill Riesling. Jeffrey is one of the nicest and funniest men you could ever meet. I have stayed with him and his wife Stephanie Toole – also a highly-accomplished winemaker – in three out of my four visits to Australia. They’re a hoot.

I had a quick look at Vanya Cullen’s wines, which with one exception were splendid. The 2007 Kevin John Chardonnay was very odd, verging on cheesiness, which is something that I associate with Brett. I cannot believe that Vanya – another pal, though I haven’t seen her for ages – would make faulty wine. Perhaps it was me who was faulty.

The Third Man: AWC Vienna 2010

In Travel on September 14, 2010 at 10:25 am

In late August I spent a few days in Vienna tasting for the AWC (Austrian Wine Challenge) 2010, my second year as its sole UK representative. As always, Michael Edlmoser and Andreas Peschta were charming and amusing hosts. Among my fellow tasters there was the usual motley crew of beer bellies, socks ‘n’ sandals and hairy top lips. Don’t even ask me about the men.

The AWC was first held in 2004 when about 4,000 wines were analysed. This year over 10,000 wines were submitted from more than 30 countries. Three bottles of each wine are sent, so over 30,000 bottles have to be logged, sorted and prepared.

Wines are tasted single-blind in “cabins” (einzelkosterkabinen) with each desk divided by a portable wall. Scores are done on a 100-point scale in which 80-84.9 is “seal”; 85-89.9 a silver medal; and 90+ a gold medal. Faults were noted according to five categories: oxidative, reductive, microbiological, “uncleanliness” and “deficit of the grapes” (the last two are crude translations from the German). Faulty wines are retained at the Federal College to be examined by its boffins and the winemaker is then advised on what might have gone wrong and how to avoid such things in the future.

At the end of each flight there would be one or two wines that had already been tasted; ringers were also occasionally inserted to keep tasters on their toes. I didn’t nail as many wines as last year but I have done it often enough to laugh off when I completely screw it up, like scoring 12-points apart the same wine tasted twice in consecutive glasses. Michael let me get away with that.

During the AWC tastings lunch each day was at the Stiftscafe, cheek by jowl with the Klosterneuburg Monastery. You could eat what you liked as long as it was Wienerschnitzel mit Erdapfelsalat, breaded veal with potato salad. For a change one day I had Berner Würstel mit pommes frites. A Berner Würstel is a Viennese sausage stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon. To revive myself after the 50 or so white wines tasted before lunch, a glass of Almdudler was just the thing. This is a fruit juice flavoured with herbs and is massively popular in Austria. Much better than filthy Coke or Pepsi, which I haven’t drunk for over 20 years.

Every evening during August, a music film is shown on the enormous screen erected outside the splendid 19th century rathaus in central Vienna, a brisk 15-minute walk from my hotel. The weather was more typical than 2009’s heatwave, which saw temperatures in the city reach 31 degrees. But it was still pleasant enough to sit outside, watch opera and drink Ottakringer, albeit not so nice to do it in shorts and sandals.

Food and wine are in copious supply of course. I particularly enjoyed gröstl, black pudding with fried potatoes. Probably I enjoyed it too much – during a recent visit to London my sister noted how over-indulgence was showing on my previously slender frame.

Also eaten with pleasure was ananasreis mit tigerschrimps, though I don’t think that rice and tiger shrimps served inside a hollowed-out pineapple is a traditional Viennese dish!

Tasting 100 wines a day is hungry work so I usually had some desert too, like the gut-busting Kaiserschmarren of diced pancake and apple (or whatever) sauce.

Dinner was washed down with half-litre servings of the local Ottakringer beer in proper glasses. The Helles brand is quite light and refreshing; I found the unfiltered Zwickl Rot version heavier and more sullen.

August evenings at the rathaus are extremely civilised. There is no drunkenness, litter or breakages – only people enjoying the food, music and weather.

In a remarkable coincidence, just like last year my beloved Aston Villa played Rapid Vienna in the first leg of a Europa League match. The home fans were surprisingly enthusiastic for what I consider to be the usually even-tempered Austrians. The cigarette smoke was appalling, as was Villa’s defence in the second match in Birmingham, which I didn’t go to. An horrendous start to the season. Let’s see what Monsieur Houllier can do.

During my annual visit to Vienna I always spend an evening at the wonderful Wiener Prater amusement park and go for a ride on the Riesenrad, which appeared in that great film The Third Man.

Vienna is such a beautiful city. I find its “Strauss music, its glamour and easy charm,” as Graham Greene put it, utterly beguiling. But for the daunting prospect of having to learn German and the paucity of cricket grounds I would live in Vienna. The third man for me will always be an off-side fielding position behind the wicket-keeper!

The Duke of Hazard

In Tastings on September 13, 2010 at 11:16 am

At a friend’s birthday party on Friday evening I took a bottle of Kilikanoon The Duke Grenache 2006, which I’d had for a while, to sample. I have been to the Clare Valley four times since 2003 but have not come across Kilikanoon before.

I don’t often drink Clare Valley reds, and certainly not old vine Grenache. It was dry, verging on raisiny, with some developed faecal aromas, which I don’t mind. It was mature, developed and nicely textured.

However, the 15% alcohol declared on the label made me nervous. Sure enough, my head thudded like John Bonham’s bass drum after a couple of glasses of The Duke, though admittedly I’d had a couple beforehand – but it was only Prosecco. I’ve lost the photo I took of the bottle. This wine is hazardous.

Made in a self-consciously “big” style, this is really not my type. It’s just too heavy to drink with pleasure. Robert Parker likes it, apparently, which is probably as strong a warning sign as the printed alcohol level.

Flintoff plays at Lord’s

In Cricket on September 12, 2010 at 7:58 pm

A Flintoff played at Lord’s today but it was not, alas, Andrew.

John Flintoff (no relation) represented Sassay in the Village Cup Final. His team from North Yorkshire beat Shipton-under-Wychwood of Oxfordshire by seven wickets in the best Village Final that I’ve seen since I first attended this match in 2004.

The cricket was of a very high standard. There was some brilliant batting, notably 38 runs from 13 balls by Jason Hunt of Sassay, a scoring rate that would be considered outrageous even in an international 20/20. John Barclay, the charming and highly amusing President of MCC, said at the post-match presentation that it had been “the real thing.” The photo above shows how spread out the Shipton field was because of the big hitting – no slips needed for all those hits square and forward of the wicket.

Shipton won the Cup in 2002 and 2003 and has probably been the best club side in England over the last decade. Kudos to Sassay for this fine achievement.

During the lunch interval we were allowed onto the playing area – a rare privilege. I cannot recall being onto the outfield at Lord’s since the England vs. West Indies Test in 2000, when I was briefly stood next to Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose. They were both about a foot taller than me. No such giants today, though some of the Shipton and Sassay players were probably a foot wider than me.

The pitch shown above is the one that will be used for Saturday’s 40-over County final between Somerset and my beloved Warwickshire (hurrah!). It will also be utilised for Monday’s England vs. Pakistan One Day International, which will be the last match of the year at Lord’s. From 21 September on I will have to console myself with members’ dinners and visits to The Oval library.

Notice how bare the pitch is – a grass covering would be fatal for batsmen at this time of year – and how it is being rolled to make it as flat and batsmen-friendly as possible.

I saw the last hour or so of the England vs. Pakistan match at Headingley on TV. That wide by Umar Gul in the last over was rather suspect, non?

Tom’s Kitchen at Somerset House

In Restaurants/wine and food on September 3, 2010 at 10:16 am

Last night (2 September) I was invited to attend the press launch of Tom Aiken’s new restaurant at Somerset House.

Replacing the Admiralty Restaurant, Tom’s Kitchen is essentially a West End reproduction of the Chelsea restaurant of the same name, which I visited a couple of years ago. It was alright.

While waiting to be seated I had a look at the wine list, which appeared to have been bowdlerised for the press evening – the list on the website has a “Fine Red Wines” section that was not on last night’s list. Perhaps Somerset House did not want drunken hacks ordering bottles of Les Forts de Latour 1996 at £170 a pop.

The 40 or so wines on the list are arranged according to style: Champagne; crisp, dry whites; fruity, aromatic whites; full-bodied whites; rosé; light-medium bodied reds; fruity reds; spicy, robust reds; full-bodied reds; sweet and Port. Some half bottles were also listed and 17 wines are available by the glass.  I was told by two young ladies sat next to me that the cocktails were excellent.

The Champagnes are mostly from Lanson, which was fine for me, though one glass of the Black Label NV (£55 a bottle) was enough – Lanson is a very acidic style of fizz, not necessarily easy to drink.

Only the most expensive wines on the “press” wine list cited a vintage. The Seresin Marlborough Sauvignon turned out to be 2008 and very good it was too – I spent some time there in 2004 but the winemaking team has changed since then. The Sesti Brunello 2004 at £75 represents a 100% markup on the retail price but it’s a good wine.

Of course Tom Aiken is known for his food and not his wine lists. Feeling a bit peckish, I ordered a starter of steak tartare, one of those basic dishes that is a good test of a chef and a restaurant. It was ghastly. Although there is no fixed recipe for steak tartare, I like it to be lightly spiced and with a raw egg on top. Aikens’s version looked as though the egg had been stirred in with the meat to create a mush that looked, felt and, for that matter, tasted like mushy peas from an East End chip shop. I would not want to pay £12.50 for this. (They charge £18 for it as a main course – do they serve 50% more?).

The main course was much better. The Daylesford 7 Hour Confit Lamb with balsamic onions and mash is apparently one of Aikens’s signature dishes. It hit the spot – high quality gastro-pub food, which is really what Tom’s Kitchen is all about. The gut-busting side order of truffle chips with Parmesan was very decadent.

I drank a glass of SixFootSix Shiraz 2005 from Geelong, Australia, with the lamb. Not bad – a bit beefy and bovril on the finish but that’s ok with lamb. I also tasted my companions’ Fernand Girard Sancerre rosé 2009, which was very good, showing real Pinot Noir character and freshness.

For dessert I had a very sweet Eton Mess that used blackberries rather than the usual strawberries – it’s that time of year, I suppose.

So it was a mixed evening chez Aikens, then. One final observation: the toilets are “bisexual”, so to speak, shared by boys and girls. I don’t mind that but I suspect that some people would. A restaurant is only as good as its little girl’s room.