Recent Winings – The B Festival at Bibendum

b festival

Bibendum's "B Festival"

Bibendum Wine is just one of those cool companies. The kind of place that you wished you work for, but you don’t – at least in my case.

Luckily, I’ve had the pleasure of being invited to their offices a few times now over the past few months in order to sample their wines. Besides learning more about my favorite beverage, it has been a great way of meeting other food and wine people in the flesh, cementing relationships formed virtually through our increasingly ever ‘connected’ worlds.

Most recently, I attended their cleverly titled and well organized annual event called the ‘B Festival’. Rhyming with the well-known ‘V Festival’ music event, the wine tasting adopted a very musical theme as well. Spread over two days, and taking up most of the non-desk space in their offices, there was a ‘Main Stage’ of wines which included some of Bibendum’s most popular labels, including Bodega Catena Zapata, Petaluma and Castello Banfi (which I recently had the pleasure of visiting in person, and of which more soon in an upcoming post on Italy). In addition, there were two other ‘stages’ each day. When I was there, there was a ‘Rock Stage’, which was all about the world’s most exciting terroirs, and the ‘Alternative Stage’, which offered wines a little off the beaten track that could make good and fresh alternatives to classic wine styles/regions such as Sancerre, white Burgundy or Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

I managed to taste most of the wines in the two specialist rooms, which were small and cozy, and was delighted by how far the music theme had been taken. For instance, in the ‘Rock Stage’ they had a Nirvana Unplugged music video playing on a flat screen TV…you get the picture (literally below).

The Rock Room, Complete with Cobain

The Rock Room, Complete with Cobain

Being somewhat of a novice, this was by far the most wines I had tasted in one go. I was literally like a kid in a candy shop as a number of wines that I’ve been reading about as of late (and dying to taste) were there for the drinking. I don’t know if it was my rookie taste buds, which may have been unaccustomed to so many different wines, but I think that after about the 20th wine I tasted, it became much more difficult to differentiate between wines that were even mildly similar. In any case, you can read a bit about some of the wines that stood out for me, and I have to say there were only one or two wines I didn’t like at all, which is quite a feat given the number I tasted.

Rock Stage

Top draw for me amongst the 12 wines on offer in this room were as follows, in ascending order of price:

  • 2007 Savennieres Clos de la Coulaine, Chateau Pierre-Bise (Loire, France), 100% Chenin Blanc
    • Notes: A beautiful nose of stone fruits, apricot and nectarine. This is classic Chenin. Refreshing, fruity and dry, with a good dose of minerals and a dense richness. £13.26/bottle.
  • 2005 Aglianico del Vulture, Gudarra Bisceglia (Basilicata, Italy), 100% Aglianico
    • Notes: Very nice rich and ripe red fruit and extremely well balanced. Good smooth texture in the mouth with some spiciness and pleasant, unobtrusive oak. £14.50/bottle.
  • 2006 Calera Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir (Mount Harlan, California), 100% Pinot Noir
    • Notes: Absolutely stunning. Smooth, rich, luscious, slightly tannic. Pure pinot fruit (red fruit, black cherry, orange peel) and some subtle spice. Good length and just the right amount of sweetness. Quite a long and soft finish. Could drink quite a few glasses of this! Unfortunately not that cheap at £29.65/bottle.
Rock Star: 2006 Calera Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir (£29.65/bottle)

Rock Star: 2006 Calera Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir (£29.65/bottle)

Alternative Stage

The ‘Alternative Stage’, Stacked with Stars

The ‘Alternative Stage’, Stacked with Stars

There were a lot of wines I really liked in this room, but again three or four stood out:

  • 2007 Sangiovese di Romagna, Superiore Terragens (Emilia-Romagna, Italy), 100% Sangiovese – Alternative to Chianti Classico
    • Notes: Exceedingly good value. Slightly sharp at first but then lovely roundness with strong red fruit (cherry) and jam. Some vanilla in there too, and a very full wine all in all. £6.00/bottle.
  • 2006 A to Z Pinot Noir (Oregon, USA), 100% Pinot Noir – Alternative to Red Burgundy
    • Notes: Wow, very nice, coats the mouth, round and smooth. A good dry finish which fades away slowly. Another glass please? My favorite so far. £15.26/bottle.
  • 2007 Glenguin Estate, Protos Chardonnay (Hunter Valley, Australia), 100% Chardonnay – Alternative to White Burgundy
    • Notes: Nice…extremely fruity with a bit of oak. Very fresh and very light in color. This wine is nutty, creamy and has a lot of depth. The best chardonnay from Australia I’ve tasted recently (along with Katnook Estate’s 2005 Chardonnay). This really is a lovely alternative to white Burgundy, but maybe not that much cheaper than some at £15.50/bottle.
  • 2005 Bodegas Catena Zapata, Nicolas Catena Zapata (Mendoza, Argentina), 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Malbec – Alternative to Icon Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Notes: Beautiful nose with lots of raspberry. A deep red, ruby color. Sweet, rich red fruit flavor (again, raspberry and some cherry) plus dark chocolate squares, with lots and lots of length. This is a bold and classy wine which is probably pretty age-worthy. A winner, but not cheap at £44.98/bottle!
A Tremendous Trio

A Tremendous Trio

Main Stage

There were a lot of wines I enjoyed from this wide assortment of 100 bottles. However, I’ve selected a few below which really floated my boat:

The Main Acts Take the Stage

The Main Acts Take the Stage

  • 2006 Chablis Grand Cru Blanchots, Domaine Laroche (Burgundy, France), 100% Chardonnay
    • Notes: Excellent, very strong and crisp chardonnay with well integrated soft oak in the background. Notes of mucky leaves and truffles as well. I love this wine. It is important to note that with Laroche the wines from the business’s own land say ‘Domaine Laroche’ (like this one), but that the labels on the wines from grapes brought from other growers simply say ‘Laroche’. £33.50/bottle.
  • 2006 Puligny-Montrachet  1er Cru La Garenne, Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot (Burgundy, France), 100% Chardonnay
    • Notes: Absolutely beautiful, so fruity, so oaky, they run into each other. But this sweetness and ripeness is kept in check with a streak of zesty minerality. Not sure of the price as it was substituted for another similar wine from the same domaine which was retailing at £29.18/bottle.
  • 2003 Meursault, Domaine Matrot (Burgundy, France), 100% Chardonnay
    • Notes: One of my favorites for sure. Fruity, fat, oaky, crispy. Extremely good value at £18.63/bottle for this quality of wine.
  • 2006 Cote Rotie, Domaine Jamet (Rhone, France), 100% Syrah
    • Notes: Wonderful classic Cote Rotie, with deep blackberry married with the hallmark burnt/roasty taste. Could probably age well, but that said, it is very drinkable now. £46.75/bottle.
  • 2004 Brunello di Montalcino, Castello Banfi (Tuscany, Italy), 100% Sangiovese
    • Notes: Very deep red color. Red and black fruits on the nose (blackberry, cherry, raspberry). Full body, with a hint of spice, something mushroomy and a lot of chew and length. I actually tried this wine at Castello Banfi’s Taverna restaurant a few weeks ago and liked it even better. 2004 was a particularly good year for this wine in my view. £24.92/bottle.
  • 2004 Brunello di Montalcino, Poggio Alle Mura, Catello Banfi (Tuscany, Italy), 100% Sangiovese
    • Notes: This was even better and more complex than the ‘normal’ Brunello from Banfi. A bit dryer in the mouth, extremely tannic. Lots of rich red fruit and note of cigar or tobacco and some spice. This is a food wine, but still interesting on its own. A bit more dear at £34.50/bottle.
  • 2006 Catena Zapata, Malbec Argentino (Mendoza, Argentina), 100% Malbec
    • Notes: Out of all of the Catenas on hand, this was my favorite. Other nice ones were the 2007 Catena Malbec (much cheaper at £10.84/bottle and good value) and the 2004 Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon (£23.68/bottle). This wine was very complex and concentrated and had a nice balance and lingering freshness to it. You will have to fork out £36.50/bottle for the privilege though.

Great Values

I was lucky enough to get a peep into the ‘Media Tent’ to taste some of the more affordable wines that will be more readily available to the public in supermarkets and national wine store chains. At this point, my palate was a bit the worse for wear, but there were a couple of really good values which stood out for me:

  • 2008 Bouchard Chablis (available at Sainsbury’s) at £9.99/bottle
    • Notes: A very pleasant and quaffable Chablis but not a knock-out. Fresh, citrusy, flinty. Very good value for the price point.
  • 2006 Petaluma Chardonnay (available at Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Majestic) at £14.99
    • Notes: Wow, this was a pleasant surprise. Nice strong fruit with some apples and peach, and then a good oaky finish. Very round and luscious wine and I think it’s not bad value for the price.
  • 2008 Gewurztraminer Martin Zahn (available at First Quench) at £9.99
    • Notes: Extremely floral nose, sweet and with good acidity. Lots of interesting fruits in the mouth (pear, tropicals) and a very long dry apricot finish. A very good value indeed.
2008 Gewurztraminer Martin Zahn at £9.99

2008 Gewurztraminer Martin Zahn at £9.99

Last up was a very nice Vinsanto, which I thought represented really good value for the money. Very tangy and lots of sweet (candied?) almonds. You can see a picture of it below.

Sticky Ending: 2003 Vinsanto del Chianti Rufina, Fattoria Di Basciano, good value at £11.99 per 375ml bottle

A Sticky Ending: 2003 Vinsanto del Chianti Rufina, Fattoria Di Basciano, good value at £11.99 per 375ml bottle

Well, not much else to say except a big thank you to Bibendum and happy drinking to you all out there.

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Australian Wine & Food Tasting at Bibendum

The event

Last week, I attended an evening of Australian wine and food tasting at Bibendum, one of the leading wine companies in the UK. The event took place at their headquarters in Primrose Hill, and a number of other food and wine bloggers were there to see what was on offer from down under.

The wines

Four well-known Australian wine houses were represented at the tasting, with each having a number of different wines available for sampling. They were Bridgewater Mill (Adelaide Hills region), Petaluma (Adelaide Hills region), Katnook Estate (Coonawarra region) and d’Arenberg (McLaren Vale region).

Both Katnook and d’Arenberg had representatives on hand, who provided a good introduction to the history, ethos, style and terroir of their respective wineries, whilst Dan Coward from Bibendum gave a brief introduction to the other two houses (see below for some of his more creative efforts :)).

Dan Coward from Bibendum attempts to overload the tasters with information on some of the Australian winemakers present at the event

Dan Coward from Bibendum attempts to overload the tasters with information on some of the Australian winemakers present at the event

There was also a brief overview given of current trends in Australian wine-making from Lisa McGovern, the head of Wine Australia in the UK. One of the interesting points she made was that Australian wine shouldn’t just be thought of as ‘sun in a bottle’ anymore as there are a lot of cool wine regions in the country that are producing some really interesting wines – not just fruit-forward, sweet and easy drinking wines.

And there were indeed some outstanding wines within each wineries’ portfolios. I thought the following wines particularly stood out from the crowd:

  • Bridgewater Mill’s Pinot Grigio 2008:  this was a very refreshing and fruity white with a good streak of acidity and is a good value summer wine at just under £10
  • Petaluma’s Hanlin Hill Riesling 2008: a really lovely Riesling, which paired very well with the hiramasa fish that was on offer (see further below for details) – slightly more complex than other Rieslings I’ve had from Australia and, again, not bad value at £9.99
  • Katnook Estate’s whites, which were the:
    • Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (available at Waitrose for £12.99): a very different Sauvignon than I am used to tasting from Australia, as it had more honey and vanilla flavors to it than the grapefruit and tropical fruit you often tend to get
    • Chardonnay 2005: this was a really nice and complex Chardonnay that was the result of three different treatments of the grapes being blended together by their master winemaker (each with different levels and varieties of oak). One of my favorite wines of the evening, and it had elements of classic white Burgundy. Not cheap at £13.49/bottle, but definitely would stack up well against similar European or Californian wines at the same price point
  • d’Arenberg’s:
    • Footbolt Shiraz 2006: probably my favorite wine of the evening. It had a very Rhone feel to it, and I found it to be lean, pure country Shiraz, which I love. Good value at £11.49, and available at Waitrose or Oddbins
    • The Noble Blend 2005: a good sweet and sticky wine that is a blend of four grape varieties – it had just about enough acidity to tame the rather sweet orange and floral notes. It comes in at £13.49 (375ml bottle)
The Katnook whites on offer

The Katnook Estate whites on offer

d'Arenberg's area at the tasting

d'Arenberg's table at the tasting

I would also like to point out that Mrs. LF and I had a bottle of d’Arenberg’s ‘The Hermit Crab‘ the week prior to the this tasting, and absolutely loved it. It is a blend of Viognier and Marsanne (typical of the Rhone varietals that d’Arenberg likes to use), and at around £9/bottle it is one of the best value whites I have had in a long time. There are definitely tropical fruit notes on the nose, but it is a complex affair on the palate with well integrated wood characteristics, still a lot of good fruit on the mid-palate and quite a bit of length. It was one of the few times we have finished a bottle in one sitting on our own at home in a long time. After tasting it for the first time, I realized that Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV also liked it quite a bit (well, at least the 2007 vintage), giving it a 90+ score in one of his entertaining video reviews – see here.

One of the best whites I've had for under £10 in a long time

One of the best whites I've had for under £10 in a long time

The food

But there wasn’t just Australian wine on offer – there was food too. And good food! Some great producers were represented at the event, and they included the following, all of which I had sadly never heard of before, and all of which are now firmly on my radar.

Wagyu, wagyu, wagyu…that is what immediately comes to mind when I think back on this event. Danny Russell, Sales Director from Freedown Food, was at the tasting and his Australian wagyu picanha beef (cap of the rump cut) was one of the most exciting things there. The beef was served on brown bread and was very well seasoned. It made an appearance every 15 minutes or so on a wooden tray (see photo below), after which it would be snapped up in about 5 seconds flat by the eager and excited food bloggers. It was so good, and was honestly some of the best beef I’ve tasted in a long time. It had been expertly prepared by none other than Aussie chef Brett Graham (who heads the Michelin starred kitchen at The Ledbury – see previous review here). It was to die for, and Mrs. LF and I grabbed as many of the little slices of heaven as we could without being classified as overly greedy by our fellow tasters. It is worth mentioning that Freedown Food sells a wide range of meats – including Wagyu beef, Grain-fed beef, Duke of Berkshire Pork, Venison, UK game, Wild Boar, South African game, Ostrich, Kangaroo, Bison, etc. – and supply meat to some of the best restaurants in the UK, including both Nobus, Wild Honey & Arbutus and Goodmans (the new American-style, Russian-owned steakhouse) – as well as Harrods and Harvey Nichols.

The amazing Australian Wagyu beef from the Freedown Food Company

The amazing Australian Wagyu picanha beef from the Freedown Food Company

There was also a wide array of hiramasa fish on to taste (apparently, it is referred to as ‘kingfish’ in Australia most commonly, although this is a bit of a misnomer). The fish also go by other names, such as its technical one (Seriola Lalandi), yellowtail, ricciola, lechas, and many more. And just to make you really confused, it is also the cousin (or sister?) of one of my favorite fishes, hamachi. In any case, the fish on hand was fresh (not frozen) and was cooked in a variety of fashions. All of the dishes were excellent, with the fish being very fleshy, rich and sweet in flavor – you can learn more about it by going to the Clean Seas website, the company who provided it and sell it in the UK. Also of interest is the fact that the fish from Clean Seas is probably one of most sustainable there is as they use natural feeds, have minimal stocking densities and use site fallowing practices.

The various preparations of hiramasa fish available for tasting

The various preparations of hiramasa fish available for tasting

The other thing I really enjoyed was tasting the Australian olive oils, of which there were many varieties. I have never knowingly tried oils from Australia and was impressed with the quality. In particular, I liked the Nolan Road ‘Robust’ extra virgin olive oil (pictured on the right below), which is organic and seems to be endorsed by Nigella; the Splish organic virgin olive oil ,which claims to go ‘beyond organic’ thorugh its innovative, recyclable and sustainable Tetra packaging; and the 3drops extra virgin olive oil, which was quite fruity and bitter and had a bit of heat.

Some of the Nolans Road organic olive oils I liked

Some of the Nolans Road organic olive oils I liked

All in all it was a very informative and fun evening, and many thanks go out to Dan and the Bibendum team for organizing it!

*Note: this was a free event open to members of the London Food & Drink Bloggers online community. The views are my own and there is no advertising going on here – just some good producers whose names I think should be better known.*

Dinner for 5 at Home – Courtesy of Ottolenghi & the French Countryside

Mrs. LF and I invited three good friends over for dinner on Friday. She did all of the cooking – unfortunately, not much new there – although I was working all day. We had a wonderful evening, which was part inspired by Ottolenghi and part inspired by the French countryside. Not a bad combination, I say!

The starter was directly from the Ottolenghi cookbook, which my wife swears is the best cookbook she has ever bought, and I can attest to the results – bloody excellent every time, and she’s made about 10 recipes so far.

The dish she chose was ‘Chargrilled asparagus, courgettes and manouri’, although we substituted halloumi for the manouri cheese as we can’t find it nearby our place. Although it looks like a simple salad, as with many of Ottolenghi’s recipes, there is more to it than meets the eye, and it did require quite a bit of prep work, and had a lot more ingredients than you would imagine…but that’s what makes their food so tasty, memorable and recognizable.

The Ottolenghi went down a treat

The Ottolenghi salad went down a treat

A close-up of the deceivingly simple salad

A close-up of the deceivingly simple salad

As an aperitif and to go with the starter, I had selected a slightly chilled Georges Deboeuf 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau, which was really excellent (you can get it at Whole Foods for a discount right now).

The Georges Dubeuf 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau (Cuvee Speciale) was light, fruity and highly quaffable, just as a good Nouveau should be - nice and light with the salad

The Georges Duboeuf 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau (Cuvee Speciale) was light, fruity and highly quaffable, just as a good Nouveau should be - nice and light with the salad

The main course was made possible by Mrs. LF’s cousin, whose parents own a large country home in France and whose mother grows her own vegetables and keeps her own chickens. She stayed with us a few week’s ago and brought a freshly slaughtered chicken in her bag on the Eurostar (how do they allow this, I know?!), so we had been keeping it in the freezer to bring out for a special night with more than just the two of us…as it was one big bird.

The chicken was very ‘free range’, as you could tell when you saw the joints and bones, which were larger and darker than any chicken you can get in UK supermarkets. The meat was also generally darker and a bit tougher than a UK supermarket chicken, which is the way it should be, and it really had a great flavor running through it. As usual, Mrs. LF had roasted it to perfection, with the skin thin and very crispy, and the bird moist throughout. It was served with fresh green beans, roasted potatoes (which is a secret recipe from her mom) and garnished with roasted garlic and a mish-mash of apples, onions and such. Delish!

The properly 'free range' chicken smuggled in from France, all set and ready to go!

The properly 'free range' chicken smuggled in from France, all set and ready to go!

A close-up of Mrs. LF's main course

A close-up of Mrs. LF's main course

We still had some Pouilly Fumé left over from our wedding earlier this year, and thought it would go nicely with the chicken, which it did. To me, it had the trademark ‘cat piss’ smell on the nose, and was very citrusy and acidic, which cut through the sweetness of the fruit/onion accompaniments and melded well with the bird.

2007 Pouilly Fumé, Domaine del Bel Air (Mauroy Gauliez): sharp citrus flavor with good minerality and acidity, a good compiment to the chicken

2007 Pouilly Fumé, Domaine del Bel Air (Mauroy Gauliez): sharp citrus flavor with good minerality and acidity, a good French compliment to French the chicken

The dessert was also an homage to Ottolenghi, and was a re-creation of what is probably our favorite of their desserts, the dangerous and renowned lemon and marscapone tart. This was Mrs. LF’s first attempt at making pastry and it turned out well overall. One of the secrets to this tart – and, by the way, they don’t tell you how to directly make this dessert in their book, but do give you the three processes of pastry, lemon curd and marscapone cream in different places throughout the book (!) – is the lemon zest in the pastry shell and the subtle crunchiness (maybe of semolina) that it has when you buy it in the store. It didn’t turn out as an exact copy of the version you can buy in their shops, but it was still darn tasty. I will  let the picture do the talking here – ’nuff said!

A re-creation of the famed Ottolenghi lemon & marscapone tart

A re-creation of the famed Ottolenghi lemon & marscapone tart

Our guests wanted a dessert wine, and unfortunately I didn’t have one that would work with the lemon tarts in my little faux cellar (and Mrs. LF said I was not to buy anymore wine, as she wants us to drink what we have first…urgh!).

In any case, we opened a bottle of some really lovely white sweet wine that we found on our travels to Switzerland last year around Christmas time. We had a remarkable Swiss Syrah wine when having a steak at the legendary Café de Paris in Geneva, and liked it so much that we hunted down the winemaker (Bernard Coudray of Domaine La Tourmente) and set up an appointment to go and visit him in the Valais canton the next day, even though he was officially shut :). We bought some of the Syrah, some of a red blend which is the only one he ages in oak, and some of this, the very fruity and acidic Johannisberg. While it didn’t go with the tart (way too acidic and therefore cancels out the fruit taste of the wine), it was still nice to have, and I drank it more as an after-dessert drink.

2007 Chomoson Johannisberg (La Tourmente): one of the nicer little sweet wines I've had in a while - but good luck finding it outside of Switzlerand (they only export 3% of their wine!)

2007 Chomoson Johannisberg (La Tourmente): one of the nicer little sweet wines I've had in a while - but good luck finding it outside of Switzlerand (they only export 3% of their wine!)

Well, after that we finished up with a digestif of Thunder toffee vodka (I know, a bit strange, but we had bought some at Taste of London and wanted to see how it was), which had been in the freezer for days. It definitely tastes more like vodka than toffee, but it does have a subtle burnt caramel taste to it…not bad.

All in all, it was a wonderful way to end the week and usher in the weekend :).

Monty’s Dry French White, Roasted Quail & Proper French Beans

A pale, light and wonderfully fresh country wine that is reminiscent of French cider on the mid-palate and the finish

A pale, light and wonderfully fresh country wine that is reminiscent of French cider on the mid-palate and the finish

Last night, Mrs. LF cooked up a simple little storm. 4 roasted quails with garlic and a slightly lemony glaze to them. The quail were from Waitrose and were £4.50 a pair – they certainly were good.

The birds were accompanied by ‘proper’ french beans, which had been smuggled from Mrs. LF’s cousin’s farm, where her mother grows a variety of fruits and veg. They also keep chickens, and our lovely little cousin also managed to stash away a freshly slaughtered chicken in her bag on the Eurostar to bring to us too – we have frozen it and are saving it for when some friends come around next week. In any case, they were excellent, cooked with a bit of garlic, and for some reason only took 5 minutes to cook vs. the normal 15 minutes with the organic store-bought green beans we normally have. Go figure.

We were very excited to try our bottle of Monty’s Dry French White wine from the recently released 2008 vintage. And this anticipation wasn’t misplaced. Quite pale in color, it was a true country wine: strong, one-dimensional, lots of fruit, lots of acidity. Mrs. LF pointed out that it smelled of apples and then we all realized that its aftertaste reminded us a lot of French cider. The wine was an excellent partner for the quail – simple food, good table wine – and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Next, we need to try one of our 2 bottles of Monty’s Red from 2008, for which I am now holding out even more hope. And I think I may head down to Roberson Wine to see if I can get another bottle or two fo the white, if they have any that is.  It seems to have already disappeared from Adnams’ website, where I ordered it from in the first place…

Offer on Chateau Bauduc / Ramsay’s Selection

The 10% discount on a £49.95 case of Ramsay Selection Six is good value

The 10% discount on a £49.95 case of Ramsay Selection Six is good value

There is a good deal on until the 22nd of June on Gordon Ramsay’s selection of Chateau Bauduc wines, for those living in the UK.  Bauduc have provided the house white wine at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay for ten consecutive vintages.

The Ramsay Selection Six is good value at £49.95, plus a 10% discount through the offer.  It includes: 2 Bordeaux Blanc (the house wine at RGR), 2 Les Trois Hectares Blanc 2006 (a Decanter World Wine Awards winner) and 2 Clos des Quinze 2006 (a medium-bodied red blend).  It comes to a total of £51.70 when including the delivery charge and discount.

You can have a look here for the other wines and offers available in this range.

2008 Chateau Monty Released!

The new (2nd) vintage of Monty's red and white is out - get it while you can!

The new (2nd) vintage of Monty's red and white is out - get it while you can!

Hey, for those of you who saw the Channel 4 program called Chateau Monty last year (which I thought was great) and were unsuccessful in obtaining any of his inaugural 2007 vintage (they apparently sold out less than a day after the program finished on TV), the 2008s have recently been released and are currently available online at Adnams.  I never got to try the 2007 and have just ordered a few bottles of the 2008 to see what they taste like.

There is Monty’s Red, Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes at £8.99 a bottle and Monty’s Maccabeu, Dry White Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes.  You can also buy a case of 12, with 6 of the red and 6 of the white for £99 and free delivery.

I really hope this year is a good one for Monty.  He has big balls, passion and a great attitude towards this project, which should hopefully lead to long-term success.

The Kensington Wine Rooms – A Wonderful Addition to the London Food & Wine Scene

The Kensington Wine Rooms
127 – 129 Kensington Church Street
London W8 7LP
Website
Map

They have both a weekend brunch menu & an  à la carte menu

A wonderful new place on Kensington Church Street

A wonderful new place on Kensington Church Street

The Background

I had the sneaking suspicion before I ever entered The Kensington Wine Rooms (TKWR) that I was going to love (not just like) this place.  Opened about 7 weeks ago, it is one of the only places in London to have Enomatic wine dispensing machines.  These clever devices keep bottles of wine at the perfect temperature and serve the wine in three sizes – a taste (a half-shot), a small glass or a large glass.  The food has been rumored to be pretty good too.  So, needless to say, the ‘bar’ was set pretty high in terms of expectations.

The Venue

In order to celebrate moving into a new flat (completed on Saturday) and my belated birthday, we had called ahead to book a table for 2 for lunchtime on Sunday.  This turned out to be unnecessary as the place was fairly empty when we got there.  Our smiling French waiter promptly greeted and seated us at our table, which was in the bar area (the front half of the place) and which had a card with our name and the time of the booking clearly displayed on it.

The interior design of the place is very pleasant overall.  There is a definite but subtle wine theme running throughout, with the upholstered bench seating across the walls in the bar area being decorated in a burgundy colour with an abstract circular pattern that has clear wine bottle connotations.  There is also a lovely circular table which can seat about 6-8 people in the bar area, which echoes of wine.  In addition to a number of smaller tables in the bar area, there are also some skinnier raised rectangular tables with comfortable stools (that have lower back support!).  The rest of the bar area is mostly modern dark wood, and the smallish bar also displays some impressive hanging cured meats, chili peppers and other assorted foodstuffs (a good sign of things to come).  I say ‘small’ bar, because the sleek stainless steel Enomatic machines take up a lot of the wall space, and these are the primary focus when you walk in.  My only aesthetic complaint in the bar area is that the inside of the facade’s wall is painted in too crisp a white and doesn’t really blend with the dark wood and burgundy fabrics.

The rear part of the venue is pleasant, bright and surprisingly big.  It is arranged in various different table sizes, and there is a very nice exposed brick wall covering the entire back wall of the restaurant.  This is where you can have more of a proper sit-down meal should you want to.  It still retains a very nice casual air, which is consistent with the overall nice-but-not-stuffy atmosphere of the place.

The Food & Drink

The menu on offer at the time we dined was a ‘Weekend Brunch Menu’.  It had a small but nice selection of options, from some small plates (assorted charcuterie amongst others), to a few traditional brunch options (various iterations of eggs Benedict) to more traditional European lunch fare with a bit of flare (bavette and fillet cuts of steak, a few salads, etc). All of the dishes on the menu have a suggested wine pairing beneath (with the price of a small and large glass clearly displayed).  I was informed that during the week, they have mostly utilize a small plate menu, and that for lunch there is a 2-course (£12.50) and 3-course- (£14.50) deal.

I settled on the tempura-style fish and chips, accompanied by minted mushy peas, while my wife opted for the spinach and goats cheese salad.  We both had the suggested wine pairings, mine being a blend of Verdelho and Albarino from Spain, and my wife’s being an Australian Sauvignon Blanc.  After ordering, the manager came over to us and explained that in addition to the table service, you can purchase a card (which can be topped up with any amount of money you want), which you can then use to serve yourself from the Enomatic wine machines.  This means that you can get up whenever you want and select a taste or a glass of whatever wine you and your fellow diners fancy – that’s cool in my book.

While we were waiting for our food and wine to arrive, we walked around and had a closer look at the machines, which digitally display the price of a tasting portion of each wine in red.  The staff have also written up short tasting notes for each wine beneath the bottle, along with the price of a small and large glass.

Our food arrived relatively quickly, and looked very nice.  The main part of my dish (the fish) was served in 2 long and skinny tubes of light tempura batter, and was very fresh and tasty.  It was accompanied by hand-cut chips (which still had the skins on), which were perfectly crispy, hot and well salted (not too much, not too little).  The small dish of mushy peas was accented nicely by the mint and had a good, thick texture (slightly sinewy, maybe by virtue of the mint leaves and/or the pea shoots being blended in).  The other accompaniment was a homemade tartar sauce, which is one of the best I’ve tasted – with the richness being perfectly balanced by the right level of sharp acidity.  I started dipping my fries in the tartar sauce instead of the ketchup I had poured after a while.  The wine went down a treat with the fish – but then again Albarino and fish are meant to go hand in hand :).  It was very crip, dry and light – and had some length – so was a nice complement to the dish.  All in all, a very good combo.

My wife’s salad was also very good – and let me tell you, she is very picky with her salads as she is French and makes some very mean salads and vinaigrettes herself.  The goats cheese itself was excellent, and the freshness and flavor of the spinach and other greens was impressive, especially given the fact that we were eating on a Sunday (which often means a lack of fresh ingredients in the kitchen).  She couldn’t fault the vinaigrette which, as I said before, is saying something.  Her accompanying wine was surprisingly good for the price.  It was very complex for an Aussie Sauvignon (more Pouilly-Fume) and had a nice hint of passion fruit on the nose, with an underlying minerality on the palate and a lingering length.

Instead of going for one of the deserts (the baked chocolate mousse with black pepper ice cream paired with a sweet French Grenache sounded good), we opted for the English cheese plate.  The manager kindly gave us a selection of all 4 cheeses (from Neal’s Yard Dairy) on offer in a 1-person portion, which we shared.  There was a Stilton (very strong but very good), a camembert-type soft cheese (my favorite), a mature cheddar, and a youngish goats cheese (also excellent).  They were matched with a sweet Australian Muscat, which really stole the show.  The wine was perfectly chilled and was divine.  Lots of raisin on the nose; fresh Seville orange and burnt caramel on the palate…it was perfect with the cheese and would be very good on its own.

The Verdict

As you can probably already tell, I really liked TKWR.  The concept/format is fairly new to London, and I really hope it becomes a success.  The owner of TKWR, Thor Gudmundsson, has set up a successful chain of pubs in France (that takes balls!), so hopefully this UK venture will follow a similar path.  It provides a great alternative to the pub, and the fact that you can walk in and try a Chateau Margaux for £12.73 (granted, that’s only for a taste, not a glass!) is pretty cool.

TKWR’s atmosphere is nice but casual, which I like – it was pretty empty when we were there so it would be good to see it on a weekday evening, when I imagine it would have a nice buzz.  The staff are helpful, informative and friendly (but not too friendly).  The food – from the small sampling we had – is top-notch (which you don’t necessarily expect from a ‘wine bar’, with the other notable exception being Terroirs) and is also fairly priced, with most starters around or under £5 and most mains around or under £10 (except for the steaks).  The wine is also priced well, and I like the fact that the place also functions as a retail shop and that you can buy any of the wines at non-restaurant retail price and take them away (there is a separate retail shop price list for the wines, which on average are slightly less than half of the in-restaurant price).

My only beefs would be (and I am clutching here) that (1) they should offer a broader selection of new world wines as Western Europe, Chile and Australia seem to dominate (2) for me, the menu was a tad too short – I would consider adding 2 more dishes, and (3) there is only one of them and it is not quite within walking distance of my flat!

Rating

Ambience: 8/10

Service: 8/10

Food: 7/10

Wine: 9/10

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have only been to TKWR once, only tried a small selection of food, and the restaurant was nearly empty when I dined there.*

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