Stuart George

Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Rainbow nation

In Uncategorized on October 30, 2010 at 9:29 am

Hoping to see 60019 Bittern this morning, I had an early start and wandered over to New Covent Garden Market in SW8, ten minutes from my flat.

Bittern is one of only six A4 Pacifics left. This is the same class of locomotive as 4468 Mallard, which set the world speed record for a steam engine in July 1938. They were nicknamed “streaks” for their appearance and speed.

I drove 4498 Sir Nigel Gresley 20 years’ ago! The cab of an A4 is much more comfortable than that of a GWR King – I’ve driven 6024 King Edward I, too.

Bittern was due to take a train from Waterloo to Exeter via Salisbury but by 8.30 there was still no sign of it so I went home for breakfast.

A rainbow appeared while I was waiting in the unlovely environs of New Covent Garden Market. It was a lovely sight but, being a curmudgeon, I was reminded of Richard Thompson’s beautiful and cynical song “The End of the Rainbow”:

Tycoons and barrow boys will rob you

And throw you on the side

And all because they love themselves sincerely

And the man holds a bread knife

Up to you throat is four feet wide

And he’s anxious just to show you what it’s for

Life seems so rosy in the cradle,

But I’ll be a friend I’ll tell you what’s in store

There’s nothing at the end of the rainbow

There’s nothing to grow up for anymore

 

Port Authorities: Noval LBV 1994-2004

In Restaurants/wine and food, Tastings on October 29, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I have long been suspicious of Late Bottled Vintage Ports. When I first started in the wine trade 14 years ago (I’m older than I look) I tucked into a bottle of LBV with my colleagues after some tasting or other. It took me two days to recover from that hangover. Of course I blamed the Port and not the vast amount of Burgundy that came before it.

Even with a more cautious approach, I always found LBVs too heavy and sullen. Perhaps I was drinking the wrong wines. At any rate, I rarely touched them and certainly never considered ageing them.

But on 6 October I was a guest of AXA Millésimes for the second time in three days. This time it was to try the newly released 2004 Quinta do Noval LBV as well as some older LBV wines back to 1994. Lunch was at Prism Brasserie in the City.

Even Noval itself had rarely considered LBVs worthy of ageing. Christian Seeley explained that he had to buy some bottles of the 1994 from his mother, who liked it so much that she had bought 25 cases. There was no stock left at the Quinta itself.

The pre-2004 LBVs were labelled as “Noval” because many of the grapes were bought-in. The 2004 is made only from Noval’s own vineyards, hence “Quinta do Noval”. All the wines were unfiltered, which is highly unusual for a LBV Port. The whole point of LBV is that it has had longer in wood and doesn’t need decanting, non?

As at the Tokaji tasting, there were several wines to taste before lunch.

The 1994 was OK. It had a “burn” on the finish and was a bit spirity on the whole. It had plenty of life though – no problem to keep this for another ten years.

Although it was a bit woody in the middle, the 1996 was superior to the first wine, with a sweet and fleshy finish.

For me the 2000 was the best of the LBVs here. It was very generous and charming – what good LBV (good Port!) is all about. Its length was far superior to the ’96 and ’94.

The rude tannins of the 2001 were a stark contrast to the previous wine. It wasn’t a declared vintage and it showed.

The 2003 was much better, not dissimilar to the sweet fruit and chocolate flavours of the 2000, albeit with much more burly tannins.

The new 2004 was of course still a juvenile, very sweet and fruity. Its thick, rich fruit was appealing and uber-modern for Port.

A glass of 2009 Quinta da Romaneira rosé was very welcome after those six Ports. It was dry and simple but quite full for a pink ’un – “slightly too alcoholic”, thought Christian.

The Carpaccio of beef with truffle emulsion and shaved Parmesan was delicious – the meat melted in the mouth like a snowflake. It was very good with the Cedro do Noval 2007, the junior table wine of Noval. The nose was very cedary, to my mind recalling Right Bank claret. But there is not a drop of Cabernet or Merlot here – it is 30% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 10% Tinta Roriz and 30% Syrah, the latter “to round out the wine.” A good wine and now à point.

Quinta do Noval 2007 represents “a serious attempt to make great red wine in the Douro”, said Christian. This is a wine that has a Henrician structure – big and rich, ideal for a roasted rump of lamb. Two bottles were sampled. Christian felt that the first was not fresh enough, though nobody else complained. His conscientiousness spurred me to look more closely. Perhaps there was a bit of reduction.

The 2004 was tasted again at the end. It was particularly good with the blue cheeses, showing that some things can’t be improved.

Château Margaux 2010: You heard about it here first

In Tastings on October 25, 2010 at 5:01 pm

I just spoke on the phone with Paul Pontallier, the extremely charming Director of Château Margaux. Although the call was unconnected with the 2010 Bordeaux vintage, I couldn’t resist asking him about it.

He told me that Château Margaux 2010 is ““Wonderful. We are still in an extraordinary mood because the whole summer has been wonderful and the harvest conditions were superb. 2010 promises to be, will be, an extraordinary vintage, which is hard to believe after the wonderful 2009.  It’s hard to believe that it will be as great as 2009 but it’s a fact.”

I have an open invitation to visit Château Margaux, which I’ve been to once before. Doubtless the 2010 will be a lovely wine – but what about the price? The 2009 was sold en primeur in London at £9,000 ex-duty and VAT. M Pontallier’s comments lead me to believe that the price for the 2010 will not be less than that of the 2009.

Project Front Foot by Vic Mills

In Cricket on October 25, 2010 at 10:32 am

Conceived in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum in February 2009, and partly inspired by the  film Slumdog Millionaire, Project Front Foot (PFF) is the product of a chance meeting, and an impromptu net, with a bunch of slum kids. In essence, a Kit 4 Kids campaign, PFF has two distinct phases: the first to publicise the project and collect secondhand cricket kit in the UK; the second to get the kit to Mumbai and then set up and run a series of coaching clinics for the slum children.

A message from my friend Vic Mills, who established Project Front Foot:

“Hi Stuart…

Just a few pictures to tell the story so far. The bottom line of which is rain, rain and sadly more rain. An unprecedented late monsoon has delayed the start to our new season by a month or more. It may even be as late as mid-November before we get to use the square and outfield. To make good after the deluge five lorry loads of top soil were deposited on the outfield. These were painstakingly barrowed to the square and then raked for debris.

Grass seed has still to be sown on the square. Once done, the cricket club secretary has assured me that we should be able to play in around a fortnight. We had hoped to hold fielding drills on the outfield, but thunderstorms last week have left this flooded in parts. Indeed, any more rain and the ground may well become tidal. Eight lorry loads of soil have then to be dropped on the outfield and rolled for a day. So still much to be done.

In the meantime, I’ve written a seven-month coaching plan, busied myself with unpacking, collecting and sorting kit, posted a daily blog, and held PFF registration mornings at the Dharavi Community Centre.

Given that the 180 kilos of kit brought over is far in excess of what we need for the Dharavi children, three bags will be going interstate: an Australian friend is starting a sister programme to PFF in Jaipur, one bag will go there; another will head two hours north of Mumbai to disadvantaged children in a small town courtesy of a friend to the project here in Matunga; and I’ll be taking a bag with me on Thursday to a village school west of Mumbai.

The full unadulterated version of the trip – railways, food, loos, temple life and much, much more – can be found by going to www.projectfrontfoot.org and clicking on the blog icon on the Home Page. So now we wait for the rain to stop, the humidity to become fractionally more bearable, and the chanting below me here at the temple to hopefully take a time out for an hour or two.

All good wishes

Vic”

 

Book Review: World Cricket Records 2011

In Cricket on October 25, 2010 at 10:08 am

Chris Hawkes

256pp

Carlton Books

£19.99

As Chris Hawkes points out in his Introduction, “Few other sports can be scrutinized (sic) to such an extent as cricket.” Maybe baseball and US Football might be more scrutinised but what they lack and cricket has in abundance is a long, long history.

Although the author asserts that World Cricket Records 2011 is “not a history book” it is appreciative of and respectful to cricket’s glorious (and sometimes not so glorious) past. Of the book’s 256 pages, 140 are devoted to Test cricket, which is defined on page 10 as “a complete and total test of a player’s technique, his mental surety and, particularly in the modern game, his physical prowess.” That is as good a definition of Test cricket as I have come across. In an era when 20/20 seems to be taking over the game, it is pleasing to see Test cricket given proper respect.

Described by its author as a “new venture in international cricket publishing”,World Cricket Records 2011 seems aimed more at neophytes rather than the hardcore cricket nut, who is more likely to refer to Wisdenfor stats. The headings are catchy, such as “The 40-year wait” and “Deadly Derek loses his bite with the bat”. There are many images of players from all periods of the game, though these have a blurred silhouette to give the impression of movement and speed. In a book that is otherwise admirable for not indulging in who is the fastest and biggest –which are not really stats – it’s a pity to see this. The ball logo that accompanies – intrudes on – many of the images is also a bit annoying. The index is very thorough, though.

The first, last, most, fewest, fastest, shortest and so on are number-crunched endlessly. For example, it was well known that the England batsman Michael Atherton was the Australian bowler Glenn McGrath’s “bunny” (a batsman out frequently to the same bowler). But I never knew how bad it was. McGrath got Atherton out 19 times in 17 matches at an average of 9.89. Poor Atherton also suffered at the hands of the great West Indians Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose, who had him out 17 times each.

There are two records here that I witnessed personally. I saw Robin Smith’s 167 not out against Australia at Edgbaston in May 1993. It is still the highest score by an England batsman in a One Day International; I don’t think it will ever be beaten.

I also saw Brian Lara score 501 not out at Edgbaston in June 1994. It remains the highest ever score in First Class cricket. Happy days.

What this book captures perfectly are the numbers of cricket. But only letters can reflect the aesthetics of the game, in which an innings of 10 by, say, David Gower can give as much, or even more, pleasure than an innings of 100 by, say, Graham Gooch. Nonetheless, it’s great fun. Even if, like me, you failed GCSE maths three (or was it four?) times, the stats here are endlessly entertaining.

 

The Book of Jacobson

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2010 at 8:25 am

The unruly haircut you see below belongs to Howard Jacobson, who won the Booker Prize last week.

I was sat behind him before he took the stage to deliver the annual “26 Speech” at the British Library. In the event, he had become hoarse from giving so many interviews this week that instead it was a question and answer format.

Having enjoyed Jacobson’s work, I had booked to attend the lecture  weeks ago. It was pleasing for everybody we could listen to the man who has suddenly become the world’s most famous novelist.

I have read only one of Jacobson’s novels, The Making of Henry, about a man and a dog in St John’s Wood. Its depiction of NW8’s more vulgar residents – the ones with lots of money and strange accents – is hysterically funny.

Jacobson rarely smiles and waves his hands around a lot. He’s a cantankerous old sod but my word he is funny.

 

Book review: W.G.Grace Ate My Pedalo

In Cricket on October 21, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Alan Tyers and Beach

150pp

John Wisden & Co

£9.99

This extremely daft and sometimes highly amusing book takes careful aim at well-deserved targets and ruthlessly takes the urine out of them. Shane Warne and Kevin Pietersen are fair game but surely Ian Bell doesn’t deserve such cruelty.

Done in the style of a faux nineteenth century Wisden Cricketer magazine, it humour is more likely to appeal to those who go to The Oval to get drunk rather than those who go to Lord’s to watch cricket. It’s not for everyone and it’s certainly not the future of cricket writing.

One for the dunny.

 

Living on the edge: Wines of the Volcanoes

In Tastings on October 18, 2010 at 1:56 pm

On 12 October at The Dorchester, Attilio Scienza, Professor of Viticulture at Milan Univiersity, and Peter McCombie, a likeable Kiwi MW based in London, presented the “Wines of the Volcanoes” tasting.

Italy has more volcanoes than any other country, which perhaps explains something about the national temperament. The four dry white, three red and one sweet white wine tasted were all made from vineyards on or near volcanoes, or on volcanic soils – which is not the quite the same thing!

Some of the wines had a mineral note but otherwise it would be hard to discern a volcanic influence.

2009 La Vis Muller Thurgau Maso Roncador Trentino DOC

Good acidity for a MT. Stone fruit character on the nose.

2009 Cantine del Vermentino Funtanaliras Vermentino di Gallura DOCG

Softer, richer nose than the first wine. Lower acid. No oak.

2009 Coffele Cà Visco Soave Classico DOC

Imported by my friend Nick Belfrage so it must be good! Brighter gold than before. Honeysuckle nose. Fatter than the previous wines but finishes clean.

2009 Fontana Candida Luna Mater Frascati Superiore DOC

An attempt at a “serious” Frascati, the 14% alcohol perhaps creates the weight of this wine. Peter McCombie spoke of its “phenolic grip” – that’s bitterness to us non-MWs – which “some people might find a bit of a challenge.” Cheesy flavours in the middle and smoke on the finish – interesting for a Frascati. Probably fine with a risotto or something.

2004 Villa Matilde Camarato Falerno del Massico DOC

Mainly Aglianico. Tinged by garnet, with some volatile acidity on the nose but Peter was “pretty relaxed about that!” Porty, raisiny fruit and tannins like Lennie Small – big and rustic; powerful but gentle. Those tannins are balanced by good acidity.

2004 Vinicola Benanti Serra della Contessa Etna Rosso DOC

Now this is a real volcano wine, made on the slopes of Etna. Lighter colour than before. Cherry fruit, surprisingly soft, but some spice too. Lots of acid – 450 meters altitude. Big, sweet tannins on the finish. Sicilian wine in excelsis.

2006 Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi DOCG

Aglianico again. Deepest colour yet. Some oak on the nose. Very dry tannins but not hard – there are some nice fruit tannins to counter the brutal wood tannins. Plenty of acid too. Try to 2015?

2008 Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria DOC

The island of Pantelleria is closer to Tunisia than to Italy, pointed out Professor Scienza. The colour of a Sicilian sunset. Gorgeous nose of marmalade and apricots. Very rich and sweet but not sticky. Yum. Outstanding. Very unique. I drank my glass.

 

Lost in the Maze

In Restaurants/wine and food on October 11, 2010 at 8:10 am

To commemorate the launch of the 2005 Disznókő Kapi, Christian Seeley, MD of AXA Millésimes, hosted a dinner at Maze on 4 October.

I adore Tokaji – it is, or can be, one of the world’s greatest wines. I have happy memories of my one and only visit to Tokaj in (I think) April 2002. There was a wine fair in the town’s main square and the local police were sampling more than anybody. A huge rainstorm emptied the streets. Much to the amusement of the locals, I sheltered inside a phone box.

AXA purchased the Disznókő estate in 1992. “The transformation in Tokaj since (then) is quite extraordinary”, said Christian.

Made from a small plot in the Disznókő vineyard, Kapi has been bottled as such only once before, in 1999, when it was sold mainly in Hungary and the USA. For the 2005, however, it was decided to spread the spoils more generously. There are only 6,000 bottles available.

A few other wines were tasted before dinner. The 2008 Tokaji Late Harvest was honeyed and raisiny, verging on unctuous.

As clean as mountain air, the 2000 Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos was mellower and finer. The Aszú 5 Puttonyos of the 2001 vintage was day to the 2000’s night, with a much lighter feel to it and less of the honey and raisin flavours. I smelled a little bit of chlorine and wondered if there was some TCA here. But it could be part of Tokaji’s character that I’m not familiar with – I don’t taste it very often, alas.

No such queries with the 2002 Aszú 5 Puttonyos. It was excellent – richer, albeit more cumbersome, than the 2000.

The 2009 Tokaji Dry Furmint was – well – dry, with pear flavours and some flesh (tannin, indeed) on the finish. An interesting wine that some people would perhaps find too esoteric.

The food and wine pairings this evening were extremely daring. The Dry Furmint was drunk with some very decadent dips – saffron, salmon, cream and truffle, and spicy aubergine. Then it was tried with Salcombe crab, brown crab and toast sorbet, sea herbs, pickled black radish and apple vinaigrette. No complaints here.

Turning nutty on the palate, the 1993 Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos was mature and as smooth as glass. This was the first Tokaji vintage of the “new era”; happily, it was a great vintage too.

The ’93 was drunk with, would you believe, tea-smoked trout, apple, cauliflower, various radishes and apple vinaigrette. It worked because of the wine’s superb, terpsichorean acidity. The nuttiness also matched the smoked fish. To paraphrase my fellow Midlander Samuel Johnson, drinking Tokaji with smoked fish is done well, though you are surprised to find it done at all. (I ate mine before remembering to take a picture, so here is Tom Cannavan’s plate in the distance).

Finally to the Kapi, or 2005 Kapi Vineyard Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos in full. (I find Magyar impenetrable – I cannot remember a single word of it from my backpacking days in Hungary). It was superb.

Made only from Furmint – the other Aszú wines here also had spicy and full Hárslevelű in the blend – it smelled grapey rather than rich and sticky.  For a 6-putt wine its 160g/ltr sugar is relatively low – they can go up to 180g/ltr.

Perhaps my judgement was swayed by the magnificent wines, the relentless plates of outstanding food and (of course) the congenial company but the Kapi did seem to work with the Suffolk pork cheek and belly, mostarda of pear and swede, quince purée and choucroute. Only the choucroute was objectionable – I don’t like it but I can force it down.

We (not the royal we) often eat pork with sweet sauces. So why not put it with a sweet wine? Maybe it’s not so outrageous to drink meat with Tokaji after all. This evening I was happy to be a guinea rather than Suffolk pig but, on the whole, I don’t think I’d try this at home.

The pièce de resistance, or whatever it’s called in Magyar, of tonight’s dinner was a decent-sized glass of Disznókő’s 2005 Tokaji Eszencia, also made from the Kapi vineyard. This extraordinary wine is so rare that I ought to explain what it is.

Perhaps the rarest and most overwhelming of all sweet wines, Tokaji Eszencia is a lightly alcoholic syrup made from the small quantity of juice that drips from the Aszú grapes before they are mashed to a paste. One litre of Eszencia juice can be made from 100kg of Aszú grapes. This juice is so high in sugar that it ferments extremely slowly, taking decades to achieve even as little as 5-6% alcohol. It is usually intended for blending with other wines, but occasionally, in the very best years, producers will bottle some Eszencia by itself.

Like Sir Donald Bradman’s batting average, the figures for Disznókő’s Eszencia astonish: 650g/ltr sugar, so 65% of this liquid is pure sugar; 20g/ltr or so of total acidity (I forget the exact figure) – much above 8g/ltr in a dry wine is unbearable; and just 1% alcohol, so strictly speaking this is not a wine at all.

A “few hundred” 500cl bottles were made of this wine – or rather grape juice – of simply astonishing sweetness, concentration and length, and one that supports the legend of Tokaji as an elixir capable of raising the ill from their bed. At any rate, I was glowing all the way from Mayfair to Stockwell.

 

Barbera and Barbarians

In Tastings on October 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Further to my previous posts on Barbera, I decided to show just how much I care about my friends by offering them Barbera d’Asti from Isolabella. I am still traumatised from my previous experiences with these wines – or chemical weapons, as perhaps they should be described.

Happily, they were not as painful as last time. But strange things happened to my friends Paul and Angela Raymonde after they had sampled the bottles.

Paul turned into something that would terrify even the inhabitants of Middle Earth (or South London).

Angela tried to… Well, I’m not exactly sure what she was trying to do but I enjoyed it all the same.