Wine tastings are often populated by irritating glasses which don’t have the necessary properties for the full appreciation of the wine. There is, however, an international standard for wine glasses, and it is very well thought-out. The glass is colourless, so you can see accurately the shade of the wine. The tapered tulip-like shape makes a fume chamber for the aroma of the wine to be trapped in, so long as you have your swishing motion perfected. (You would typically put about half an inch of wine into such a glass.) The short stem is useful for preventing spillage, as it gives the glass a low centre of gravity, and it is also useful if you don’t wish to warm the wine with your hands, instead gripping the glass by the base and stem. There are several different types of ISO glasses, some the same shape but different sizes, and others for other wines such as champagne or fortified varieties. Only the true pedant would insist on the right glass on every occasion, but at tastings, they come into their own.
Archive for July, 2006
Originally uploaded by dynamist.
When young entrepreneur Ben Casnocha told me that he was coming to London during his gap year travels, I knew that I had to throw him a party. When the week of the party rolled round and the heat was blistering, I knew that I had to come up with a menu of cold foods to serve. No way was I going to be hovering over any heat source during this shindig.
With substantial help from my fiancÃ©’s mother, Claire, I came up with a pretty good offering. The only mistake I made was that I overcatered even more than usual.
For the meat dishes, I offered pepper cured ham and Claire’s amazing coronation chicken. Now, my first encounter with coronation chicken in the UK was not a wholly positive one, so I was completely blown away by Claire’s version when I first had it. Hers has achieved legendary status in the family, and deservedly so. She uses apricots, caramelised red onion, and lots of other secret ingredients to produce the sort of dish that you would love to have for your last supper. (On Friday, she roasted three gigantic birds for this dish, and we had more than enough for 20 people.)
In order to make ham sandwiches, I also put out a loaf of soft, fragrant rye bread and Dijon mustard. So that any vegetarians in attendance could also eat well, I made a massive quantity of my potato salad (best new potatoes dressed with lemon juice, best olive oil, plenty of capers, and fresh torn mint) and couscous with chopped tomato, red and orange pepper (cooked in best olive oil before adding), and green and black olive slices. The crisp green salad disappeared quickly, while the huge bowl of spinach wasn’t quite as popular. I made an experimental dressing of freshly squeezed lime and orange juices, best olive oil, crushed garlic, cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper, which was also extremely well received. No summer dinner is quite complete for me without the creamed cucumbers that my parents always made for me as a child, though now I substitute their preferred sour cream with plain, non-fat yoghurt.
Come dessert, I put out platters of various pastries: Ã©clairs, chocolate-covered and cream-filled choux buns, cream-stuffed jam doughnuts, and apple turnovers. I had also brought four butterfly chocolate sponges filled with cream – way too much. In addition, Claire had made an apricot and Italian amaretti biscuit trifle for me at the last minute, as I worried about not having enough (or enough variety) in desserts. Madness, but well-appreciated madness; the trifle was immensely popular.
Still, we had much in the way of leftovers. I left most of them with Perry de Havilland, at whose house the party was hosted.
My favourite aspect of the food had nothing to do with the food: I got that delightfully retro tablecloth for my birthday, in Paris last week. The duck egg blue serving platters (four in total) are little – and huge – ceramic wonders from the Nigella Lawson Living Kitchen collection. I adore all of these, but it did make for a great deal of paranoia over the inevitable drips and stains that the tablecloth endured, and an insistence on washing everything myself so that the ceramic dishes weren’t scratched. (The curvy couscous pot is from Nigella, too, and one of the most indispensable items in my kitchen. Wouldn’t be without it.)
The theme was seafood on skewers, with interesting combinations of tastes and textures. Skewer One featured monkfish wrapped in bacon, and separated by small new potatoes. You ask very nicely if the fishmonger or the assistant at the supermarket fish counter can remove the backbone and the gelatinous membrane from the monkfish tail (they can, and with a lot less mess and effort than you can manage). The potatoes were par-boiled for 5 minutes first.
Skewer Two was shrimps alternated with strips of yellow pepper. Three consisted of scallops and mango cut into rough cubes. Number Four saw bacon wrapped around banana cut into about two and a half inch lengths, and alternated with chunks of large mushroom. All of the skewers were drizzled in olive oil and turned over quite frequently while cooking, starting at the edge of the barbecue, and gradually nearing the centre. It was a stunning change from regular barbecue fare. With it went a Billette CÃ´tes de Provence rosÃ© which, while nice enough, was not as good as the Listel I wrote about earlier.
I tried out the newly renovated and renamed Box Tree bar and brasserie next to Cambridge’s Grafton shopping mall. It has a long bar down one side, a few tables outside, and an attractively simple dÃ©cor. The menu offers a mix of tapas style dishes and more substantial platefuls. I sampled the salt and pepper baby squid, served with a sweet chilli jam, both of which were very good. My other dish was marinated Halloumi cheese with chargrilled aubergine. Again, quite delicious, but my bias may be that these are all foods I like anyway. I watched, but did not eat, the duck confit salad with a pomegranate molasses vinaigrette. I did sample the Keate’s Drift South African chenin blanc, which the menu described as their best selling wine. I could see why; it was just right for the food.
Just around the corner in Monck Street has opened Atami, a new Japanese restaurant. Stylish and up-market, it offers a menu slighly reminiscent of Nobu, but without the fusion cuinine which the latter has made famous. I tried the blackened cod, which was completely delicious. I’ll report back when it has settled in. Meanwhile, I have to say we enjoyed an excellent meal, albeit with erratic service. A great addition to Westminster dining.
This is a fantastic sparkler. It comes out of the bottle slightly pink, has wonderfully fine bubbles and costs around Â£8 per bottle. The aroma is strawberries and pastry, the flavour is even slightly strawberried and the finish is smooth and satisfying. I drank it in a beautifully decorated set of fellow’s rooms in Jesus College. The ceilings in the room are twelve and a half feet high, with fantastic ancient (more than 500 years old) oak beams, some of which were mostly likely shipped in from King’s Lynn where they used to dismantle old ships.
I was invited to dinner at the home of Belgian friends living in London’s Covent Garden district. Their top floor apartment had a tiny secluded balcony, just big enough for breakfast, and shielded from the busy road on the other side. On a warm evening the door to it was left open to allow the air to blow through. While we chatted we were served small cunks of Alaskan smoked salmon on tiny soft biscuits with creme fraiche.
The meal began with coquilles St Jacques. These were scallops with pieces of fish and shrimps served in scallop shells with a creamy sauce and with a grilled chhese topping. They were the best I’ve ever eaten. To follow were slices of smoked duck arranged like a wheel, at the hub of which was a beetroot and chicory salad with pearl onions. Finally came slices of a stawberry and cream concoction on a thin pastry base, topped by a strawberry coulis. It was an excellent meal, and in an area thick with restaurants, was better than could have been had in most of them.
So who produces the world’s best sparkling wine outside the Champagne region? Australia, maybe? New Zealand? California? No, the answer is England. The International Wine and Spirit Competition awarded the crown to Nyetimber Classic CuvÃ©e 1998, produced in Sussex by winemaker Dermot Surgrue.
Jonathan Ray, The Daily Telegraph’s wine writer, said that England was finally shedding its reputation for producing unpleasant wine. “The soil in the South East is very similar to the soil of Champagne,” he said. “It is chalky and seems to go under the Channel to pop up again in Rennes and Epernay. The climate isn’t too dissimilar.
The result is that that vintners have replaced the sweeter German grapes with pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier, and are making first class sparkling wines. The award-winner was stored for 7 years before being released, a tactic which obviously found favour with the judges.
I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve ordered some, and will report back when I’ve sampled it. My, how the world turns. Good English food, good English cheeses, and now good English wines. No wonder the French feel culturally threatened by Les Anglo-Saxons!
Last weekend, a trip to visit the family in The North (beyond Manchester, in fact) gave me an opportunity to sample a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc from 2005. It was from the Errazuriz Estate, was mostly lemony and crisp, had a really good tang to it and finished pretty quickly without extra character. The other motorists must have been shocked to see me swigging it from the full-sized bottle, having not remembered to take a glass. Then again, I wasn’t driving.
Having written about the Cork & Bottle and its introduction of Listel gris de gris, I popped in there last night for a really crunchy Greek salad of peppers, tomatoes, onions and feta cheese. It was simply (and therefore correctly) done. The wine was amazing. I chose from their ‘specialty list’ and tried a Morialta Pinot Noir rosÃ© from Jeffrey Grosset’s winery in Adelaide Hills. It was excellent, full-bodied and fruity, and at 13 percent, quite unlike any European wine. Good choice.