Booze, schmooze and Smokehouse news

With wine sales continuing to go uppity up-up and it becoming obvious that what’s good for the goose (shops) might not always be right for the gander (wine bar), the range is getting bigger and bigger. It’s no longer possible to get them all in any of the shops. Yealmpton probably has the most but, if there’s something below, that takes your fancy, that you can’t see on the shelves, you can order it through the online ‘click & collect’ shop on the website. There’s a bit more information up there and, as a small incentive, a 10% discount on twelve bottle purchases. There’s a thirty-six-hour lead in time so we can get it to the shop, or wine bar, of your choice.

We’re also getting the website ready for our, soon to come, home delivery/mail order service. We’re starting with the wine and adding new product groups (our charcuterie for example) as as we get the logistics sorted out). The wine side definitely be up and running for Christmas. 

The other thing that came to light during my Teutonic travels, confirmed by Duncan at Sharpham and James Kinglake at Begude, was that most winemakers see vegan and vegetarian to be a more important marketing message than organic anyway. How things have changed.

Rosé just keeps on rising. Ultra pale Provence style is still flavour of the month but judging from the uptake on our Herencia Altes Rosado, there is hope for other styles too. The salmon colour of Cotes du Provence comes from minimal skin contact before pressing. All too often it’s a profitable bi-product/method (saignée) of draining off some juice to make the red more intense but, although dry, it makes the rosé virtually tannin free so, generally, a poor food match. Darker styles, that have spent more time with the skins will have the tannins disguised by fruit – which is often mistaken for sweetness.

As you may have noticed if you’ve tried to book a table, the Wine Bar was shut again last week (2nd – 8th August). It’s the third time in not very long and we’re tearing our hair out. The week before we had a record week and it felt as though we were making progress – then ping-ping and it’s back to square one. We’re still short-staffed so when one or two (three last week) have to stay at home, there aren’t even enough bones left to make up the skeleton.
How the next month or so is going to pan out is anyone’s guess. We’ve all heard about staff shortages in hospitality and that’s not going to get any better if restaurants, bars etc are having to close, now without any financial support.
So here we are, well into the great staycation summer, with every kind of holiday accommodation rammed to the gunnels, and many places are only opening for half the week because they can’t get the staff.

Over at the Smokehouse, we are now fully staffed up so, weather permitting, we should be able to get in a few later evenings in the second half of August.  Ring 07376570995 or have a look [Here] or social media for real time daily news. 
One thing I can say for sure is that we’re having our own little carnival of Jamaican food and drink over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Harry’s soon-to-be grandmother-in-law used to run ‘Freddie’s’, a Caribbean takeaway in Brixton in the 1980’s and she will be bossing the food and drink. Click the image below to see the menu.

Back to the booze; When the wine bar is open, we’re focussing on wines from Terra d’Alter in Portugal’s Alentejo – with three available by the glass. Terra d’Alter is the creation of Australian, Peter Bright, one of the first ‘flying winemakers’ who after making wines for other people all over the world, chose the Alentejo as the home of his own project. He’s based in the slightly hillier north of the region concentrating on that rarest of things in Portugal; single varietals. Portugal is the home of the ‘field blend’ – vineyards compromising a number of different varieties, planted and forgotten by somebody’s grandfather, that are all harvested and fermented together. It was all about the terroir rather than grape type and that turning of modern New World wine wisdom upside down was what got me interested in Portuguese wine. Peter, being Australian, wanted to know what the grapes tasted of so he started vinifying them separately and, I have to say, they’re really pretty good. He also does various blends, both at entry and top-end level but knowing what the constituent parts taste of – in relation to what he wants the end result to be – gets him off to a flying (winemaker) start. So, if you want to know the difference between Verdelho and Encruzado (the whites), here’s your chance. On the red front; there’s Alfrochiera (the Pinot Noir of the Alentejo), a no-added sulphite Aragonez (Tempranillo in Spain), Touriga Nacional (the great Douro Port grape making increasingly fine table wines) and Alicante Bouschet (awarded an impressive 17/20 by Jancis Robinson and my favourite). They are all £11.49 a bottle.

Terra d’Alter wines by the glass in the wine bar.
The Estate White is a blend of international Viognier, which seems to thrive down there, and local Siria and Arinto. It has an intense tropical fruit nose with a crisp citrus element, combined with melon and peach, in the mouth. Quite a mouthful for £8.99 a bottle.

Verdelho. Originally, a Madeira grape, Verdelho is big in Australia but, outside Portugal rarely found. Not to be confused with Spanish Verdejo, it’s closely related to Galician Godello and offers similar vibrant, refreshing pear and apple flavours. Not surprisingly, it’s become Portugal’s go-to variety for the kind of floral, ‘full in the mouth’, food friendly whites they’ve become famous for. £11.49 a bottle.

Aragonez Zero SO2. Made from Aragonez (Tempranillo), without any added sulphites, this is intensely dark red in colour with a strong, slightly tarry, nose of soft red fruit and spicy vanilla. In the mouth it’s rich with smooth, wild strawberry flavours, rich tannins and a long spicy savoury finish.  £11.49 a bottle.

Summer offers

Having made myself promise no more new wines, as usual, I couldn’t resist. Louis Boutinot, of Waterkloof Winery in False Bay, Cape Town dropped by a few months ago and we had a wet and windy tasting in the smokehouse field. He makes wines for all pockets from the £7.99 False Bay varietals to the natural and biodynamic Circumstance range. Somewhere in the middle, his Seriously Cool Chenin Blanc is a fine example of how good South African Chenin Blanc is more than a match for the Loire. At £10.50, it’s also £3 cheaper than it was last time we sold it. We also have his Circle of Life red; a blend equal parts of Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Merlot for £11.99.

Piedmonte Gavi is an area that rarely disappoints and Araldica’s organic Gavi Valle Vento from the village of Tassarolo is no exception – particularly at £9.99. From just to the west, near Alba, we also have  Alasia Langhe Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo rarely comes cheap but at £11.50 this one is a snip. Obviously, it doesn’t offer the depths and complexity of a fine Barolo but you do begin to understand what it’s all about. Equally good, and more summery, is Weingutt Sepp Moser’s Organic Zweigelt – also £11.50. We still don’t drink anywhere nearly as much Austrian wine as the quality merits. Gruner Veltliner (Groovy in the States) has its fans, as do their Rieslings and Pinot Noirs but the indigenous red varieties of Zweigelkt, Blaufränkisch and St Laurent hardly get a look in. Zweigelt is by far the most approachable with crunchy dark fruit and a dash of white pepper, spice and liquorice. Only 12.5% abv, it’s ideal lightly chilled.  

Our top picks. 

My go-to reds remain the Organic Reserve de Fleur Cotes du Rhone and Quinta das Maias Tinto. Both are fantastic value at £9.99 and certified organic to boot. Both are medium bodied and great allrounders but particularly good with a plate of our charcuterie. If the weather had been a bit better, I’d add the AZ ‘C’ Corvina (£8.50) to the list but, so far this month,  the need for a lightly chilled, crunchy fruit type of red hasn’t really arisen. On the white front, the Domaine Begude Chardonnay Terroir 11300  (£11.99) gets better every year and 2020 is no exception. Members of the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) club should forget those heavy, oaky, buttery Australian nightmares and think again. The Bulgarian Cotes du Danube Viognier £9.50. from the rather inauspiciously named Chateau Burgozone is another white that I like to have a bottle or two of close to hand. Without question, the best sub £10 Viognier I’ve found and apparently, according to Oz Clark, one of the top six in the world. I’d definitely take that with a pinch of salt but it’s a delicious wine nevertheless. The Cotes du Danube red is also pretty good, especially for £9.50. 

Back in stock, and well worth a look, is Pierre-Henri Gadais’s  ‘Muscadet in all but name’ Melon Blanc Vendange Nocturne (£10.75). Despite being in the heart of Muscadet, because it’s only lightly fermented to 11%abv and bottled early to keep it fresh, it’s sold as a humble Vin de France – but it does maintain the light salinity that works so well with fruits de mer and shellfish. Humble it definitely isn’t but given that no one seems to drink Muscadet anymore it’s probably not such a bad move. Either way, it’s miles away from the overly acidic, green fruit flavoured,  Muscadet of my youth. Back then, before the whole English wine thing kicked off, Muscadet was almost our local wine – smuggled back on sailing trips to Brittany when duty free was a perk rather than entitlement. . 

Two wines that have gone down a storm in the wine bar are Soave Classico (£16.90) and `Ruberpan` Valpolicella Superiore (£24.25) from the Pieropan family estate just east of fair Verona. Father, Nino was the first to make a single vineyard Soave and played a big part in dragging the wine back from the edge of the cliff of mediocrity.  The Valpolicella is a relatively new venture but the results promise to be the same. Ruberpan is made from fresh grapes, as opposed to part dried in the ripasso style, and the fresh cherry and strawberry flavours shine through coming together in a long, spicy, multi layered finish.
Neither wine is exactly cheap but neither is a Lamborghini.

More new wines for the summer. Hopefully, you’ll have seen our summer mag (if not CLICK HERE) so I won’t bore you with details of our La Minuette and Le Grand Cros Provence rosés. 

Alpha Zeta ‘C’ Corvina. Close to perfect summer red, best lightly chilled. Corvina is the main grape in Valpolicella and here, it really sings, particularly lightly chilled. Bags of crunchy red fruit with a touch of cinnamon – and only 12.5%abv and £8.95 a bottle.

Santiago Ruiz ‘O Rosal’ Rias Baixas, (£17) 82% Albariño , 9% Loureiro, 4% Caíño Blanco,3% Treixadura , 2% Godello. Stunning new wine from the southernmost region of Galicia. Everyone loves Albariño but the addition of a healthy dose of Loureiro adds floral, Vinho Verde like notes to the normal green apple and takes it to another level.

Domaine de la Soufrandise, Pouilly-Fuisse Vieilles Vignes. It’s hard to find value in Burgundy, even in humble Macon, but a combination of climate, tradition and terroir means nobody else makes Chardonnay as they do. Handpicked, old vine grapes slowly fermented (half in stainless steel, half French oak) and aged in tank or barrel with occasional batonage (stirring) until bottling in August. Two years bottle ageing and we have a rich, concentrated Chardonnay with nectarine, peach and a hint of tropical fruit and a long zesty finish. At £26.50 – not cheap but worth every penny.

Domaine Coustarelle, Cahors Malbec, Athena. An ocean away from Argentinian Malbec, nose and palette of dark fruit, a touch of menthol, fine tannins and good, balancing, acidity. Malbec from Cahors was known as ‘black wine’ and it’s often pretty hard going. Commonly blended with Merlot to make it more approachable but this unoaked, 100% Malbec is light on tannins with a lovely nose and intense fruit. It’s been going down a storm in the wine bar. One to pair with rich terrines, cassoulet etc. £14.75

Evarista, Vinho Regional Lisboa Tinto. Fun and fruity Portuguese crowd pleaser. Almost too much so when first opened but a breath of air brings it all together into a hugely enjoyable glass of wine. One for the barbecue! £9.99

Marques de Burgos, ‘Roble’ Ribera del Duero. Same grape (Tempranillo), different river (Duero as opposed to Ebro) and completely different wine to Rioja. Six months in old oak followed by ten in bottle produces a far more balanced and drinkable wine than a toasty, vanilla heavy Rioja demi-crianza. It’s still full bodied but with enough balancing acidity for a long, lingering finish. £14.50.

Domaine Joël Delaunay, `Macération de Soif` Sauvignon Blanc Vin Orange. Our first orange wine i.e. white grapes left to ferment without refrigeration, with their skins, before pressing. It’s not as orange as some but still showing plenty of different aromas and flavours; ‘Deep orange-hued in colour, this wine reveals bold aromas of dried mandarin zest, honey and almonds. The palate is clean and fragrant with orange peel and honeysuckle notes coming to the fore, backed up by a grippy texture. This deliciously complex wine has an elegant minerality and structure and a long finish. £18.

Rathfinny Wine Estate, Blanc de Blancs: A relatively new producer on the South Downs, just outside Brighton, Rathfinny is already being talked about with the same reverence as Nyetimber and the 100% Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs wins plaudits every time the cork is popped. The nose is characterised by aromas of lemon curd, pastry and citrus blossom. The palate displays fine balance with linear acidity and creamy mouthfeel. The finish is long with salty notes developing into richer aromas of roasted hazelnut and toast. £39.50 

I’ve mentioned them before, and above, but the Chateau Burgozone, Cotes du Danube Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Red punch so far above their weight that it would be remiss not to give them another plug. The unoaked, entry-level, Viognier particularly is a lovely glass of wine at any price but at £9.50 it’s an absolute steal. The blended red also works for me – the indigenous Gamza bringing a bit of Eastern European/Balkan spice and bay leaf flavours to the opulent Merlot and Syrah.

If you like something you can really get your teeth into, in the Chateauneuf du Pape mould, Domaine de la Font-Sane, Gigondas, Tradition should tick the boxes. It did for Jancis Robinson; ‘“Delicious stemmy note adds a soy and herbal complexity to the bright raspberry fruit. The herbal element is a defining influence, but it really works for me, adding charm and complexity. Lots of structural grip on the palate that needs time to resolve, and a long, savoury finish that suggests lots more development will come with maturity. (RH) 17.5 points”. The vineyard is beneath the scarily teethlike, Dentelles de Montmirail, just west of Mount Ventoux (in the background below), £23.40

Also new, and perfect for the summer, is Les Amourettes’ Colombard Sauvignon Blanc from Côtes de Gascogne in South West France. Les Amourettes, meaning a passing infatuation, a tryst, a flirtation; but this one should be here to stay. The Colombard shines when coupled with the fresh acidity and bright fruit of the Sauvignon Blanc. This zingy white from Gascony is the perfect summer white whether as an aperitif, with al fresco dining, salads or fish dishes. Several levels above the bog standard, often mouth puckeringly acidic, Côtes de Gascogne, it’s a snip at £8.50 and will be available by the glass in both bar and smokehouse soon. It’s also a refreshingly low 11.5%abv. 

Low alcohol beers have really made progress since the days of Kaliber and Big Drop Brewery are leading the charge.  I couldn’t believe how good they were – if only they could do the same with wine. Their four signature beers; Uptime lager, Paradiso Citra IPA, Galactic Milk Stout and Pine Trail Pale Ale are in the shops for £1.75. 
Curiously, we’ve also been ‘reached out’ to (why, please tell me, is everyone reaching out?) by another low alcohol brewery whose beers (all around 2.5%) don’t pack half the punch of Big Drop’s 0.5% ones. 
We also have Adnams Sole Star, as recommended by Fiona Beckett in The Guardian ‘A real bargain, with a really good, amber ale character. Better, to my mind, than Adnams Ghost Ship, and perfect, they say, with a pulled pork bap or a vegetarian pizza’.