Stuart George

Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Weingut K+K Kirnbauer at Galvin La Chapelle

In Restaurants/wine and food, Tastings on November 30, 2010 at 12:44 pm


Having been the sole UK representative at the Austrian Wine Challenge in Vienna for the last two years, I’ve become increasingly familiar with and interested in Austrian wines. On 24 November I was invited to taste the wines of Weingut K+K Kirnbauer from Burgenland in east Austria. Markus Kirnbauer presented 11 of his family estate’s wines at Galvin La Chapelle restaurant in Spital Square, near Liverpool Street station.

This was my first visit to Galvin La Chapelle. The restaurant is in a marvellous high-ceilinged Victorian hall (chapel?) with a good 100 covers. Apparently the kitchen has a two-ton Bonnet oven that cost £100,000. It’s big and busy.

We started with a lasagne of Dorset crab and velouté of chanterelle mushrooms. It was a crab mousse with slices of pasta, I suppose, and technically brilliant. It tasted divine – especially the sauce – but I wasn’t keen on the rubbery texture.  It made the 2008 Chardonnay Barrique Zwickl, which was quite fat and opulent when sampled beforehand, taste bitter.

The main course was one of the most gorgeous-looking dishes I’ve seen in a long time, as full of vegetables and colour as an Arcimboldo portrait. The Assiette of Cornish lamb “Provençale” (sic) with roast lamb juices was really good. It came with liver, sweetbreads, peppers, spinach, courgette and intensely sweet tomatoes.

We found space for some dessert. The tarte tatin had nice pastry and was very sweet but no problem for the 2008 Welschriesling Eiswein, which was harvested just after Christmas 2008. It was pressed gently (for 15 hours) so as not to compress the ice. The result was a wine with 140-150 g/ltr sugar, which is relatively low for this style of wine.

We also tasted the unoaked and plump 2008 Blaufränkisch Mittelburgenland, which for me was about as good an example of this type of wine as I’ve had.

The 2007 Blaufränkisch Vitikult spent 18 months in used barrels. This has given it a more polished texture than the previous wine. Indeed, as one moves through the range Kirnbauer’s reds become evermore, dare I say it, Super Tuscan in style – polished to a glassy smoothness.

Das Phantom is an adventurous blend of Blaufränkisch, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The 2008 was bottled in May 2010 and I thought at first that it might be reduced. It opened up with aeration and smelled not dissimilar to Vitikult, though it had much firmer tannins.

The ’06 Das Phantom was rather austere and bitter for me. The 2000, though, was à point. Maybe the 2006 needs longer.

The oaked red wines continued with the 2003 Blaufränkisch Goldberg Reserve. Perhaps seeing the vintage made me smell what I wanted to smell but this did seem a little bit raisiny. By contrast, the 2002, from a much cooler and more typical year, was lighter-hued and had better, more bracing acidity.

Forever is a Cabernet/Merlot made in 2000 to commemorate Markus’s graduation from university. It was left in barrels for as long as he was a student, which in the end was 38 months, though the wine’s name commemorates what it might have been. Age has made it leathery. I found this less appealing than some of the other wines.

Markus told me that he has submitted his wines to the AWC in previous years. I do hope he does so in 2011.

Double Solo

In Art and artists on November 24, 2010 at 10:23 am

My friend Stephen Lacey invited me to the private view of the “Double Solo” exhibition held at La Galleria in Royal Opera Arcade, just off Pall Mall. Work by Michael Angove and Matthew Chambers was on show.

I was particularly impressed by Angove’s trompe l’oeil colour pencil works. The detail and technique is meticulous. As Stephen remarked, “it’s a young man’s art” – you need very good eyesight to be able to do this kind of work.

The ceramics by Chambers were pleasing but for me did not have the same appeal as the drawings. At any rate, I can’t afford any of them…

Wendouree Darling

In Tastings on November 23, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I can only recall having tasted Wendouree wines twice before – at a Langton’s/Wine Australia tasting four or five years ago in London and with some friends in Clare a couple of years ago. Of course Wendouree is in Clare – I remember driving past its entrance, with a forbidding sign that discouraged visits. The wine drunk in Clare – I forget which one –  was very raisiny.

It was a rare privilege, then, to taste 14 Wendouree wines back to 1989 courtesy of those nice people at Find Wine. There were strong family resemblances between all the wines, which is not to suggest that the winemaking is heavy-handed; rather, it is to suggest that the vineyards have a particular character.

On the whole, I found the wines fleshy rather than extracted, with palpitating acidity and that distinctive Clare mintiness. The tannins were usually sociable – only the 1990 and 1998 Cabernet/Malbec and 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon seemed tougher than the rest, as hard as frozen ground. There was none of the raisiness that I found before, either, though the 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon was close to it.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about these wines was that they were all still going strong. Even the 1989 Shiraz/Mataro is good for at least another five years.

I will be in South Australia in December (hurrah!) and, despite that gruff sign, I hope to visit Wendouree.


A Soho Bacchanal

In Restaurants/wine and food on November 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm

On 21 November I was invited to Blacks club in Soho for one of its infrequent Sunday “Bacchanalia” lunches.

Blacks is owned by Giuseppe Mascoli, who also has an interest in Franco Manca pizzerias and Aubert & Mascoli wine merchants. The club is in a splendid 18th century townhouse in Dean Street, nearly opposite the ghastly Groucho Club. It does not advertise; it does not even have a website. I met several people who were all “honorary” members; none of them knew anybody who had actually applied to be a member.

The Bacchanalia lunches are cooked by a well-known food journalist cum chef. Today it was the turn of Rose Prince, with a little help from Blacks’s in-house chef Robin Freeman.

For the aperitif and then with the starter we drank Brut & The Beast 2005, a sparkling blend of Cortese and Favorita from the Cooperativa Valli Unite in Piemonte. It was gently fizzy, distinctly oxidative and about off-dry. This is the sort of wine that I like the idea of rather than the actual drink. Giuseppe doesn’t like the use, or what he considers to be excessive use, of sulphur. Esoteric wines with low sulphur or whatever always seem a good idea (like long-term contracts) but too often I find them less than a pleasure to drink. Brut & The Beast was distinctly cidery in flavour, which is not really what I want from a sparkling wine. But it went really well with the starter of Potted Cornish Crab. It was delicious. The crab and rice were held together by some clarified butter on top.

The other starter of rabbit, walnut and fig terrine was rich and earthy, a real autumnal dish. This was paired with Domaine de l’Ocre Rouge Chardonnay 2009 from the Gorges du Gardon to the north of Nîmes. It was also oxidative and esoteric. But for the forceful acidity of the Gavi grape in Brut & The Beast, it would be hard to tell the first two wines apart. But I drank them because they went well with the food.

The main course of pheasant (confit leg and roast breast) was totally yummy. I wasn’t so keen on the pearl barley or baked cabbage, the latter a speciality of Rose’s mother apparently, but the aromatic breadcrumbs (using lemon zest and spices) were terrific.

The Chianti “Terre dè Pari Riserva” 2001 from Podere Volpaio was nearly à point, though it retained some rustic tannins on the finish. There was no Cabernet or Merlot in this, happily – only the “proper” Chianti grapes Sangiovese and Canaiolo.

Rose’s dessert was a retro Constance Spry recipe for toffee bread and milk pudding. The bread was particularly good, light and fluffy, with the milk cutting through the richness of the toffee sauce so that it conveyed a combination of lightness and tooth-rotting sweetness.

Domaine des Chesnaies’s Coteaux du Layon Saint-Lambert “Clos des Bonnes-Blanches” 2005 was drunk out of tumblers, which was fine by me. Doubtless some of my more earnest wine writing colleagues would have been appalled.

Rose did a great job. And I was even more impressed when she she said that she liked my MCC sweater.





Indigo dine

In Restaurants/wine and food on November 16, 2010 at 12:53 pm

On Wednesday 10 November I was invited to dinner at The Square Mile Kitchen and Lounge, the restaurant of the Hotel Indigo near Tower Hill.

The hotel’s name is curious because my first impression was of red rather than voilet. Anyway, it’s all very bright and trendy and hard to distinguish from the other swanky places that I visit on my wanderings around London.

I started with mixed grilled vegetables, which was fine apart from the too-crunchy asparagus. (Apologies for the dark photos – I use my phone camera for these things and modern London hotels persist with low lighting).

I love Osso Bucco. The best I’ve ever had comes from Le Querce in, of all places, Brockley (SE23). Feeling a bit peckish, I ordered Square Miles’s take on this classic Milanese dish. It had lots of tomato in the sauce, which I like but I am under doctor’s orders to stay of tomatoes to calm my bouts of sciatica. I found the meat a bit tough and fatty – but I ate it all.

We drank a bottle – several bottles, actually – of 2005 Terre del Barolo (the basic cuvée I guess). I can think of few things more pleasurable than eating Osso Bucco and drinking Barolo. But I found this wine very dry and woody – indeed, I suspect that it was tainted by TCA. It wasn’t right.

Desert was Tiramisu “destruction”, with all the components laid out separately rather than as a cake. It was original and very yummy.

Square Mile is clearly aimed at business visitors and travellers – it’s not likely to be a destination place for Londoners. But it’s worth a visit just for that Tiramisu.


The view from above

In Restaurants/wine and food, Tastings on November 3, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Pictured below is my current workplace.

The terrace at the Hotel Gervasoni in Valparaiso is the setting for the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles Chile 2010 tasting. Not a bad place in which to work.

We tasted 49 wines this morning, with my group allocated 14 Sauvignon Blancs, 2 rosados, 14 Cabernet Sauvignons, 9 Merlots and 10 “assemblage” (blends). On the whole, the 2009 wines were better than the 2010s, which might be due more to earthquakes than the weather. For me, the Merlots were the most successful wines – the best ones showed good varietal character but also some New World generosity and sweetness.

The most egregious examples were unripe or reduced – or both.

This afternoon we were in Casablanca, the first of Chile’s “cool climate” wine regions. To prove how cool it is, we were given lunch al fresco at Casas del Bosque. It was so bracing that blankets were provided. It’s not as warm here as I was expecting. Further inland, over the other side of the Coastal Range, it can be very hot indeed – as it was when I arrived in Santiago yesterday. But towards the coast it is noticeably cooler.

Anyway, the lunch was very good. The starter was Ceviche de Pulpo, which is octopus, onions, peppers, lime juice and oil. Just the job with some Casablanca Sauvignon or Chardonnay.

For the main course we were given Codornices Asadas, quails with a basil-flavoured risotto, and Chuletas de Cordero, lamb with butternut squash. The Pinot Noirs that we tasted with this were too extracted for my taste.

To finish, there was a Parfait de Dulce de Leche, milk caramel with berries. This was served with an as yet unbottled Late Harvest Riesling by Casas del Bosque. Casablanca gets a lot of fog, which is ideal for cultivating botrytis for the production of sweet wines. I would never have known it unless I had been here.


Chile con carne

In Tastings, Travel on November 3, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Today (2 November) I arrived in Chile, my second visit to this marvellous country.

Despite overindulgence in the nightclubs of Valparaiso last year, my friend Sylvia Cava invited me to taste again at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles Chile, two days of tasting and awarding Chilean wines.

There are no direct flights from London to Chile so on Monday evening I flew to Madrid and then caught a midnight flight from there to Santiago. The journey from Europe to Santiago must be as far as it is possible for a plane to travel without refuelling – 14 hours I make it.

Jetlag necessitates that this will be a pithy blog entry – at the moment my eyes are a deeper red than a Chilean Cabernet – but I was keen to show some of the sights of Valparaiso that I saw this afternoon.

Santiago was a pleasant 30 degrees this morning. My fellow European arrivals and I were like lavender, desperate for the rays of the sun. We tried to get as much Vitamin D as possible before the drive south to Valparaiso, where the weather is much cooler and overcast, alas.

With most of my fellow Concours tasters, I am staying at the Gervasoni Hotel, which overlooks Valparaiso’s harbour. On the far left is a ship in a floating dry dock. The harbour seems busier than this time last year.

Valparaiso is a vertiginous city; like Monaco, it lies on a splendid coastline and then rises up into the landscape. Brightly coloured houses are scattered along the hillside roads like the balls on a snooker table.

Like Bucharest (in my experience), Valparaiso has a large stray dog population. But the people are a good deal friendlier.

On my first visit to Chile last year I was immediately struck by the amount of graffiti. I am assured that Mexico is even worse (or better, depending on your viewpoint).

Sola GratiaSola FideSolus Christus… Lutherans believe that God made the world, and some residents of Valparaiso believe that Lutherans made them. Like the Barossa Valley in South Australia, German settlers have left their mark here.

We went past Pablo Neruda’s house. In one of his poems Neruda wrote of “Day-coloured wine,/night-coloured wine,/wine with purple feet/or wine with topaz blood”. He must have been thinking of the Concours tasting.