Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Supermarket wines - they're not really bad, they're just boring

I read a recent blog yesterday from Jamie Goode, the Wine Anorak, in which he commented and reviewed one of Jancis Robinson's "Wines of the Week", a supermarket Chardonnay. Some of his comments reminded me of some issues raised at an Italian tasting I did on Monday night.

The issue was "what about supermarket wines?" in relation to quality. Given modern winemaking techniques, it is pretty difficult to make a bad wine today. Perhaps it will be thin, one-dimensional, out-of-balance (fruits, alcohol and/or tannins fighting with each other), or simply not to your taste, but there are very few BAD wines made today, provided basic good hygiene is observed in the vineyard and the cellar.

So why don't I like supermarket wines? Because they are BORING! To me they are the Coca Cola of wines. They taste the same today and they did last week as they will next year. They are made to a formula and you get no sense of place from the wines.

So celebrate diversity - drink wines from small producers made from unusual varieties in places you don't know well. But you won't find these at the supermarket or in the High Street shops. You'll have to look for them from specialists. But I can assure you that the search for them will be worthwhile.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Cafe Strudel Wine Dinner, 11 Sept 08

Cafe Strudel is a new Viennese restaurant in Richmond (a suburb of London). With the atmosphere of an elegant Viennese coffee house, excellent pastries and a variety of coffees and teas during the day, a short but satisfying lunch menu, a changing dinner menu offering highlights of Austrian cuisine, and the BEST Austrian winelist I've seen in the UK, this is a peach of a place in normal circumstances. Last night was far from ordinary.

Last night Cafe Strudel had their first "event" - a Viennese Food & Austrian Wine Tasting Dinner. The place was completely sold out and from the comments received during and after the dinner, it was a rousing success!

We opened with a glass of Stift Klosterneuberg 2006 Mathäi Brut - 100% Chardonnay and comparable to a Blanc de Blanc Champagne. Lovely and refreshing, with a biscuity nose and creamy mousse. It was particularly fitting to start with a wine from Stift Klosterneuberg because that is where commercial winemaking really began in Austria nearly 1,000 years ago.

The starter was Seared King Scallops with Coral Sauce. This was accompanied by a glass of Josef Hirsch 2005 Grüner Veltliner Heiligenstein. The scallops were delicate and savoury and the wine was quintessentially Austrian - refreshing with zippy acidity, with citrus, melon and pepper on the nose and lovely minerality. Like most Grüner Veltliner, this is a wine that will match very well with a variety of dishes.

This sequed into Saddle of Rabbit with Butternet Squash Dumpling and Stuffed Cabbage with a glass of Jamek 2005 Zweigelt Jochinger Rosé. The rabbit was sadly pretty bony as it often can be and it could have been just a bit more strongly spiced, but the squash dumpling was excellent and offered a nice contrast. The stuffed cabbage added to the fine presentation but wasn't particularly notable. However, the Jamek Rosé was inspirational - great varietal character and richness in a wine that is actually very light. This wasn't some insipid rosé that could come from anywhere, it spoke of its origins and offered real flavour even for people who don't normally like rosé. In fact, it was the favourite wine of the night for many of the diners. This would pair well with many different dishes like the Hirsch Grüner Veltliner.

The main course was Rostbraten Rump Steak with Mushrooms, Mustard Marmalade and Tender Swiss Chard Ribs. Again, I would have seasoned the beef a bit more strongly and it really needed just a bit of salt to brighten its flavours. The mustard marmalade really added zip to the dish. Overall quite good but it needed a bit more work. The wine was Netzl 2005 Rubin Carnuntum Zweigelt Selection and, again, was extremely good, spicy with rich, dark berry fruit and soft, smooth tannins. The red wine drinkers in the crowd were very impressed.

The finish was a real hit - Cherry Strudel with Kirsch Ice Cream served with a glass of Spaetrot-Gebeshuber 2006 Zierfandler/Rotgipfler. The strudel was tart/sweet with a rich accompaniment of ice cream and was perfectly matched with the Zierfandler/Rotgipfler (a blend of unusual Austrian varieties from the Thermenregion southwest of Vienna). The wine was just barely sweet so it didn't fight with the dessert and, in fact, both the strudel and the wine became richer in each others' company.

This was a fabulous introduction to events for Cafe Strudel. There's an opera night coming up and a goose dinner and much more. Everyday dining is also excellent with a delightful host in Orly Kritzman-Kadron, attentive and efficient wait-staff, and a kitchen that is inventive and coming into its own. And the winelist - gems from top to bottom and they are very fairly priced.