Sunday, July 12, 2009

A walk to Victoria Park Village, Hackney

It was a bright, sunny day when we went for a walk along the Regent's Canal to Victoria Park in search of lunch.

We also wanted to explore the area just to the north of the park, called Victoria Park Village, which adds a touch of dash to Hackney.

The green taxi outside the Royal Inn on the Park is nearly as colourful as the flower arrangement gracing the bar.

Further on from the Inn on the Park is the Fish House where you can enjoy a huge plate of fresh fish and real British chips complete with mushy peas.

They offer a more complete menu in the evening and they don’t mind if you order a child’s portion, which would have saved us from ourselves… And you can always ask for a glass of wine which isn’t featured on the small menu.

After lunch the tour continued where we saw the finishing touches being put to the brand new wine shop Bottle Apostle due to open imminently. Using the innovative Enomatic wine system the machine dispenses servings of wine on a pay-per-serving basis using special credit cards that can be charged in the shop. Each bottle can have a different price per serving, as well as different measures. The wine is kept in good drinking condition by injecting nitrogen (an inert gas) into the bottle in the same volume as that removed in each serving.

There will be a total of 32 different wines to taste at any one time and when we tracked down the manager, Tom Jarvis, at his ‘office’ in the Lauriston he was hard at work with all the last minute details as well as full of enthusiasm for his new venture.

We visited one last shop in Victoria Park Village, the Ginger Pig butcher and delicatessen. Their first butchery opened in Borough Market in the 1990s and they now own three more shops in London supplied by produce from their Yorkshire farm. We returned home with a pork hock chosen from a selection of well presented meat. Next time a Hackney rolled rib of beef?
This is another part of London which is exciting and interesting, and is approachable from both directions on the Regent’s canal.

I need say no more.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Portuguese wine tasting in Billericay

Earlier this week I introduced 27 people to the joys and delights of the wines of Portugal or, rather, showed them eight wines, as a number of the tasters often travel to that lovely country, and several have tasted Portuguese wines with me before and enjoyed them in my wine club cases.

The spacious first floor room I’d hired at the Village Bar and Grill, conveniently situated on Billericay High Street, was bathed by the rays of the late afternoon sun. It was a good start as I always look better with a light behind me, as the Judge sang about the plaintiff, Angelina, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury:

The rich attorney, he jumped with joy,
And replied to my fond professions:
"You shall reap the reward of your pluck, my boy,
At the Bailey and Middlesex sessions.
You'll soon get used to her looks," said he,
"And a very nice girl you will find her!
She may very well pass for forty-three
In the dusk, with a light behind her!"

Some were expecting to see rosés in bottles suitable for lampshades but weren’t too disappointed when they weren’t to be found. Instead we tasted two whites and six reds which were all made with Portuguese grape varieties with the occasional addition of international varieties. The names are difficult, and often awkward to pronounce let alone remember, but the wines were enjoyed because of their quality and individual characteristics.

Many were intrigued to learn that Tinta Roriz and Aragonês are, in fact, the SpanishTempranillo and that similar varieties are called by different names in other wine growing areas of Portugal.

At the end of the tasting the guests made their downstairs for dinner, clutching the useful booklets provided by Viniportugal, and discussing the wines of Portugal.

Here are the wines we tasted:

1 Quinta de Azevedo, Vinho Verde 2007
Fresh, lively and dry with good lemony notes. 70% Loureiro, 30% Paderna.

2 Terra de Lobos White 2008 Ribatejo
Plump, dry with good acidity. A blend of Fernão Pires and Sauvignon.

3 Marco do Pegões Tinto 2006 Terras do Sado
Lots of ripe red fruits. Made by the award winning Jaime Quendera at the Pegões cooperative near Setubal.

4 Conde de Vimioso Tinto 2006 Alentejo
Ruby red in colour with a nose of cooked red compote and hints of tannin. A blend of local varieties, Aragonês and Touriga Nacional, and the international Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, which was aged for six months in oak. This is the first of the wines tatsed that are produced by João Portugal Ramos, a larger than life character who does so much for Portuguese wines.

5 Quinta de Ponte Pedrinha Tinto 2003 Dão
Mature with dry fruit and gentle tannins. A classic Dão blend of Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro Preto, Jaen and Tinta Roriz.

6 Aragonês João Portugal Ramos 2007 Alentejo
Big red with good tannins – hints of cherries and plums. Aged six months in oak.

7 Duas Quintas Douro Tinto, Adriano Ramos Pinto 2004 Douro
Intense with, yes, porty hints! Another classic Portuguese blend of Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional.

8 Falcoaria Tinto, Quinta do Casal Branco 2006 Almeirim, Ribatejo
Deep, intense, rich with balancing black fruit and maturing tannins. Made with Castelão and Trincadeira from 80 year old vineyards, whose maturity and age benefit the wine.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Visiting old friends in Castilla y León

During the Circle of Wine Writers' trip to Castilla y León earlier this year we visited modern bodegas in newly demarcated, promoted wine regions in this beautiful part of northern Spain. There was one exception, however, to all this modernity: Bodegas Otero in Benavente, a wine business that was created in 1906 by the grandfather, yes, the granddad, of the current owner, Julio Otero!

Ten years ago, when I was running Webber's Wine Bar in Billericay, I won the Spanish Wine List of the Year award. The prize was a trip to northern Spain where a small group of us visited several regions and wineries there.

On that trip ten years ago we had seen bodegas in Rioja, Navarra as well as Rueda, and we didn't really know what to expect when we arrived in the sleepy little town of Benavente, where many of the roads were unmade, to visit Bodegas Otero. I do remember that we were very impressed by the quality, as well as the honesty, of their wines. At the time Julio was running the bodega with his father Manuel and both were very proud of their achievements.

Ten years later we arrived in a smart, modern town - where there is still time to sit and chat. When our coach pulled up outside the bodega Manuel came out to greet us. Looking very dapper he is now retired, although he still keeps an eye on everything! We both recognised each other and reminisced of my last visit.

We entered the bodega through the cellars that had been excavated in the early 1950s enlarging the winery from its original shop premises. Concrete tanks with a capacity of 300,000 litres are still used and there are barrel cellars as well as a Cape Canaveral of stainless steel tanks. In total Bodegas Otero produces 1.3 million bottles of wine, of which 250,000 bottles are 'quality' wine.

Their quality wine is VCPRD, meaning Vino de Calidad Producido en Región Determinada. In 1986 Otero helped form an association with the other five major producers in the region and they decided not to try to achieve the higher category of Denominación de Origen because of the cost of controls and they didn't want to have to increase their prices. This value for money quality was demonstrated when we tried the wines in their smart tasting room.

First, Julio told us about the particular red grape variety of Leon, and Benavente: the Prieto Picudo. Rather like talking about a wayward child of which one is proud, Julio said: "It is difficult to cultivate, its branches and spurs go every which way, there are leaves all over the place and it needs lots of room! But it does make good wine".

They own 12 hectares of Prieto Picudo as well as 14ha Tempranillo, 5ha Cabernet Sauvignon and 2.5ha each of Merlot and Mencia, another local red variety. There are also 8ha of Verdejo for white wine. In all they have 44ha of vineyards and, as you can guess from their total production, they do buy in a lot of grapes.

Rosado wines are an important part of their business and, as it is Spain, always has been: ros
é is no modern fad in this part of the world! And the Otero rosado is special. It is made with classic red grapes that are harvested early in order to preserve the acidity, which are pressed and fermented as white wine. This method produces a well rounded wine with good acidity which can age well too, as we saw with the collection of bottles from previous vintages.

The first two vintages we tried were delicious; deep pink in colour with the 2008 showing a hint of blue, which Spanish winemakers delight in telling you! (Nobody in France or elsewhere shows such pride in this trace of blue in the colour spectru...). Both wines were dry with fine balancing acidity; the 2008 with bright red fruits on the nose, the 2007 more Morello cherry.

Then, as some of us assembled a range of their rosados to photograph against the light, Julio opened a bottle of their 1970 rosado which was enjoyed by everyone, especially as the wine still had lots of life in it exhibiting hints of concentrated spicy black fruits.

We concluded the tasting with four reds, all made with their enfant terrible grape, Prieto Picudo. First the 2008, a viña joven (no oak) which was lively with good red fruit notes. The other three all had had 12 months in French oak and it was interesting to try to discover the characteristics of this indigenous grape variety. The youngest, 2006, had hints of coffee with red fruits on the nose and on the palate accompanied by gentle tannins. 2005 showed bright ripe red fruit with stalky hints, as did the 2002 though with deeper flavours.

The last red,
labelled VO, was from their own vineyard, Pago de Valleoscuro. This 2007 was a blend of Prieto Picudo and Tempranillo that had been aged in concrete tanks in the cellar: a lovely wine with rich fruit, gentle tannins completed by a long finish.

These wines are very reasonably priced starting at €2 going up to €7 – no D.O. you see! In the UK the retail price would be from £5 to £14, though currently no-one is importing them.

The tasting was followed by an al fresco lunch, which was very convivial with two sorts of empanada, tuna and tomato, and chorizo served at the tasting table, accompanied by the wines we’d tasted, which were even more delicious!

It was great to be back at Bodegas Otero in Benavente where the town shows considerable improvement from when I was last there. The wine, however, is as good as ever as is the very warm family welcome and hospitality. I look forward to returning to renew my friendship with Manuel and Julio very soon.

If you enjoyed reading this post do have a look at another I've written about this trip: "A Fantastical Night in Zamora"

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