Regular readers of the Wine Rambler will already know what it means when I say my friend Mike is coming down to Clapham: unusual beer and a few stories to go with it. Following up from our last beer tasting session, we had a lambic and a few more Belgian Trappist beers to take care of as well as a Bourbon-style beer contributed by guest taster Stuart. Join us for a tasting that has nothing to do with wine...
Among wine jokes, the one where someone says they don't like Chardonnay but love Chablis has to be one of the classics. Overused as it may be, I have actually met someone who during the course of an evening of drinking wine told me about how he had had a marvellous Chablis at a restaurant recently and that the only type of wine he really hated and never ever drank was Chardonnay.
Whatever you may think of this joke, you can argue that it reflects a popular perception of Chardonnay as very oaky, often over-oaked in fact, versus Chablis representing a light, elegant style of Chardonnay that is mostly untouched by oak. As this is a style of wine the Wine Rambler is really interested in, I was more than happy when I was recently invited to taste a flight of Chablis - in fact, the nominees of the 24th annual Chablis Wine contest run by the Burgundy Wine Board.
Imagine you want to go to one of the world's finest restaurants, but they (almost) won't let you because - not because they don't like your shoes, but because you don't own a fax machine. Sounds strange? Not if you are Gordon Ramsay.
I love wine. I love food. I love both together. As often as possible I head out to try exciting restaurants, of which London is full. It just so happens that I rarely write about it as I enjoy the experience so much that I do not want to take notes or annoy other guests by taking photographs. Because of this, my first posting on a fine dining experience is a negative one - a lesson about how one of the world's finest restaurants turns away customers and even puts their money at risk. Put your hands together for Gordon Ramsay's three Michelin star restaurant in Royal Hospital Road, London.
Some wines are good, some wines are bad, some are exceptional. And then there are the wines that are special because they have a story to tell. When I discovered today's wine on the shelves of London wine shop The Winery I was already certain that I was looking at a wine with a story. What I did not know was that this Franconian gem would be willing to share it with us.
Maybe we start with the question of why we got so interested in a dusty old bottle with a funny purple cap. Well, for starters because it was just that, a dusty old bottle with an unusual purple cap. It did not only look old-fashioned, it also was quite old, almost twenty-five years old, in fact. Aged wine is always an adventure - sometimes even a gamble on whether you have waited too long or just caught it at the right time. Under the label good ol' boys we have so far only looked at aged red wines and Riesling, the white variety that probably has the best potential for ageing. And here we were, starring at a twenty-five year old Silvaner, the signature grape of the German wine region of Franken (Franconia, about two hours north of Munich). We have been championing this often underrated variety for a while, but we never had the change to try a really old Silvaner.
When the two Wine Ramblers met in London early in June to celebrate one year of wine rambling, it was obvious that we had to do a blind tasting. Because of our increasing interest in sparkling and English wine the choice of wine was easy: get an English sparkler and a German Sekt and then let's have the two of them slug it out.
It would be 1966 all over again, Geoff Hurst facing Helmut Haller. The bottle is round and finishing it takes 90 minutes (or so). So, who will win the 2010 battle of the sparklers? And will it tell us anything about the England vs. Germany match at the 2010 world cup?
Following the success of our recent beer tasting, host Mike returned with a selection of unusual beers. This time he brought, amongst other delicacies, four vintages of the same beer: 2009, 2003, 2001 and 1991 of the Grande Réserve from Chimay, a brewery run by Belgian Trappist monks. Our mission was to run a purely scientific experiment on how well this beer would age and what we thought was the optimum age to drink it at. For this mission, a crack team was assembled at the Wine Rambler's South London headquarters, their eyes on only one goal:
Asparagus is said to be difficult to match with wine. The reason is that asparagus contains substances that can make wine taste bitter, vegetal and strangely 'green', sometimes even bordering on outright weird. If you stick to a few very simply rules though there is no reason to be afraid of asparagus and wine, quite the opposite - it can be an excellent match, as I discovered last weekend when I serves a Riesling with pan-fried smoaked cod and English asparagus. Read on for a little background and, most importantly, a few suggestion on how to match asparagus and wine.
In 2006, when I was still living in Munich, the World Cup came to Germany. For those of you who know me a little it will not be a surprise to hear that I did not see a single match. In fact, I remember being food shopping when Germany scored a key goal, being just one of two people in the cinema watching 'Hard Candy' when Italy defeated Germany and visiting my co-Rambler for food and wine during the final. This year, however, is different. Yesterday I attended the final of the 2010 World Cup, with the champion Italy playing the host South Africa. The key difference though is that this was the World Cup of Wine, hosted by the lovely people of Bibendum in their North London headquarters, with me being one of the judges.
The seasonal wine tastings hosted by the London branch of the Wine Rambler are now something like an institution. So much so that this time change was needed ('change you can believe in' - after all it is election time here in the UK). My message for the electorate was quite simple: 'no Riesling'. This does not mean that I have suddenly lost my love for this amazing variety, not at all. However, it is good to every so often remind people that there is so much more to German wine than just Riesling. So what did I choose for that mission: a sparkling vintage rosé, a Silvaner, a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir and a Bordeaux-style blend of red grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sometimes, a wine tasting among friends turns into an unexpected wine and food orgy. Of course, this could never happen to a moderate and austere German like me, not even with Denise, the Winesleuth, and Douglas, of Intoxicating Prose fame, coming to visit. Denise had been given a couple of German wines by a trade representative, and I had suggested to top that up with a few more wines to set things into perspective. Nothing heavy, just a light evening with a bit of wine and food fun among friends.
Pheasant is one of my favourite birds, and luckily it is available in abundance in England. Obviously, it is no longer in season, but as I did not get around to write this posting in winter let me invite you to join me in the memory of past delights. And to think ahead to the pleasures of next autumn. I am not only a fan of pheasant, I also adore Pinot Noir. Even better, I think the two can be an excellent match, particularly when you roast the bird in the oven and serve it with a lighter sauce and herbs.
The reason I mention the sauce is that it is actually more important to match sauce and wine than to think too much about matching meat and wine. Chicken with a spicy sauce might be good with Riesling, but in a casserole with a cream sauce it could go with a Chardonnay and if it was a red wine casserole even a heavier red might be suitable. So why pheasant and Pinot Noir then?
This is a story about a dialogue, a dialogue between English and German wine - or rather my personal experience of it. Moving from Germany to London made me see wine differently and I think I have benefited from this experience. In particular, it was a blending of national perspectives, perhaps even bias, that had some fruitful effects and made me look out for and experience things in wine I would otherwise not have done. While this is partly a personal story, it can also be read as a plea to look at wine in different ways and turn whatever national drinking bias we might have into a force that makes us see more, not less.
The Wine Rambler is all about wine - or are we? Actually, we also sometimes, oh shock!, drink beer. This Tuesday, the London branch of the Wine Rambler had a few friends over to try an unusual selection of beers, all provided by my friend Mike. Mike, it turns out, is a beer aficionado. Like other people buy wine, Mike buys beer and then stores it for a decade or longer to see how it develops; some of the beers he likes do actually require to be stored for a few years before they develop their full potential. If this seems odd to you, the next sentence may seem even more strange: fifteen year old beer can be damn tasty and certainly age better than many wines.
Ever since I moved to the UK I have been in a constant love affair with scallops. I had them before on a few occasions, but living in London makes it so easy to get fresh, hand-dived scallops for a reasonable price that they became a regular guest in my kitchen. Today I want to share a recipe that, I think, goes perfectly with a good sparkling wine:
Matching food and wine is rarely an easy task. The basic rule of fish=white, meat=red, for instance, is sometimes correct and sometimes wrong, but even when it fits it is way too general to be really helpful. Would you know whether a dover sole goes better with an off-dry Riesling, a full-bodied Pinot Blanc or an Austrian Grüner Veltliner? There just is no answer to this question as it mostly depends on how you intend to cook the fish and, in particular, what sauce you are going to serve with it (the same goes for meat, btw). What I think works best is to think about the different elements of your dish, how they will taste and what type of wine could go with it. You are serving a rich, creamy sauce? A rich and creamy Chardonnay could be a good partner. Or you are going for a roast game bird with herbs - why not have a lighter Pinot Noir with toasty aromas and herbal notes? Your wine merchant should be able to help you here. And the Wine Rambler has a few suggestions too, for instance about scallops, avocado and sparkling wine.
This second, sadly wine-free, instalment of the series on how to fight comment spam (read the first here) is looking into identifying and fighting spammers in a slightly different way. While the method I describe in this posting is not for everyone, the information may still be of interest to you, especially if you want to understand how many visitors your website has, what Google Analytics does, what server logfiles are and how to interpret these numbers through software such as Webalizer or AWStats.
Like most bloggers we are curious to know who is reading our blog. Some of our readers we know through the comments they leave, emails that they send, through Twitter or even personal contacts - which, I hasten to add, makes them more than just 'readers' but partners in a conversation. Even so, as a blogger you also want to know about those who just read your blog and do not directly engage with you – maybe to boost your ego ('Hundred people visit my blog every day.') or because you want to know if you are doing a good job engaging the visitors, i.e.: do they return? do they spend much time on the site? what proportion of your readers leave comments? where are they from?
Basically, there are three ways of finding out about this. [read the full post...]
... even more good things arrive!
You may find a wonderful surprise delivered to your doorstep! I can already say I am going to enjoy this. A lot!
It is time again to write up some wine relate news: the juicy, the interesting, the random and all other sorts of miscellaneous wine information the Wine Rambler happened to stumble upon over the past few weeks.
I don't know how this always happens, but again we have a few miscellanies on the wide and, potentially, attractive topic of 'women and wine'. 'Potentially attractive' would perhaps be a good way of referring to something I came across the other day on the website of the Austrian Kronen Zeitung. Every so often you will find men and women stripping in front of a camera, to produce a calendar that supports some good cause (fight against cancer, making money etc.). Recently, the Austrians got a dozen women (almost) naked to support the Austrian wine industry. Personally, I think Austrian wine is good enough not to need that kind of support, but the organiser feels that the calendar will support the marketing of Austria's good wine in a 'modern and personable way'. 'Who', she say, 'would be better suited for this than our own vintner offspring?' So they put twelve (almost, I hasten to add again) naked daughters of vintners in wine related surroundings (vineyards, cellars etc.), decorate them with stockings and all the like and think that this will help to improve the image of Austrian wine. [read the full post...]
For a little while now the Wine Rambler has been interested in wine from Hungary and Eastern Europe and we have been lucky enough to taste a few original and unusual wines from this often overlooked part of the wine world. After sharing our latest adventure, a Hungarian Cabernet Franc, on Twitter, we realised that we were not alone with this interest. Molly Hovorka, for instance contacted us with suggestions on which Hungarian wines and producers to explore further. In particular, she encouraged us to look into the indigenous varieties of Hungary if we wanted to find a few unusual surprises. If you too are curious to explore wines a little out of the ordinary, you may want to read what she has to say on:
Hungary's unique white wines, by Molly Hovorka
Ask most non-Hungarians what they think of Hungarian wine and you will likely be met with one of four reactions:
- A blank stare
- A drunken tale of visiting Eger's 200+ cellar row while backpacking
- A fond memory of tasting a Tokaji Aszu dessert wine
- A grimace at the thought of Hungarian Bull's Blood supermarket plonk