Friday, 30 October 2009

My Review of Black Diamond Trail Shock Trekking Poles - Pair

Originally submitted at REI

These Black Diamond trekking poles combine a new shock system, double FlickLock adjustability and an ultralight diameter for year-round versatility.

Love these poles, easy to use

By paswines from Marlow, UK (and Redondo Beach, CA) on 10/30/2009


5out of 5

Gift: No

Pros: Easy to adjust, Strong, Lightweight, Flexible, Good grips

Best Uses: Hiking, Backpacking

Describe Yourself: Casual Adventurer

What Is Your Gear Style: Comfort Driven

These poles are great - easy to adjust, lightweight, and strong. I thought I'd broken one when I fell off the mountain on my trek to Machu Picchu (I was saved by the guide with me). On the way down, I could feel that the pole was caught between some rocks and I felt it bend. I was sure it was broken (or lost down the mountain), but it survived the fall as did I. My guide liked the poles so much, he asked to buy them. I figured that he had saved my life so he deserved the poles and I gave them to him. Now I need to get another pair for myself.

The poles and I made it to Machu Picchu


Tags: Picture of Product, Using Product


Thursday, 30 July 2009

Visiting the Malatinszky Winery in Villány, Hungary

Malatinszky Winery, Villány, Hungary

OK, full disclosure here - in early July 2009 I went on a trip to Hungary to visit wineries in the south central part of the country (specifically in the regions of Villány and Szekszard). Although I had to pay for my own flights to and from the country, the rest of the trip (internal transport, winery visits, hotels and meals) was provided to me at no charge. If that makes me a flak in your eyes for these Hungarian wineries or for Hungary wines in general, then so be it. But all the opinions expressed in this blog are my own and I owe NOTHING to anyone nor could anyone make me say nice things about wines that I don't like. So there!

Having got that off my chest, I can proceed with my post.

This trip was organized by Vivienne Franks for Wine Education Service (WES), predominantly for the benefit of their educators. I managed to grab a spot on the trip because I happened to be standing next to Vivienne and Laszlo Hesley, MD of Mephistro Wines who import from all the wineries we would be visiting, when a spare space came available. Always one to grab the main chance, I immediately volunteered for this arduous duty. Tough life, right?

So off we went in early July, meeting at the Budapest airport in the early afternoon. I'll be covering other aspects of our visit in later posts but right now I'm posting about our visit to the Malatinszky Winery on the afternoon of our first full day in Hungary. Why am I starting in the middle of our trip? Because as "payment" for my trip, I was required to write-up notes on one of our visits. My assignment was Malatinszky so I've got that ready to go. So, without further ado, here are my impressions of our visit to Malatinszky.

Csaba Malatinzsky holding forth in his cellar © Paula Sindberg 2009

Although Csaba Malatinszky comes from a noble family that can trace its wine-making roots to the 14th century around Lake Balaton, he didn’t start out making wines. Instead, he started on his journey toward making internationally-recognized quality wines while working as a sommelier at the world-famous Gundel restaurant in Budapest (not an unusual path as many of us now in the wine industry had a “real” life before we got the opportunity to live our wine fantasy. Perhaps, there is some sort of initiation requirement to do “something” else before having such a fun job.). While at Gundel Csaba went on a wine study tour to the Medoc where he had the opportunity to blend wines at some of the best estates, Chateau Pichon-Longueville, Chateau Lynch-Bages, and Chateau Cos D' Estournel Thus, began his love affair with the grapes of Bordeaux which Csaba feels best express terroir.

Csaba left Gundel in 1991 and shortly thereafter started the first specialist wine retail shop in Budapest, La Boutique des Vins. At about the same time he started making his own blend, “Le Sommelier” in cooperation with Jozsep Bock in Villány. In 1994 he started his own production in Villány and in 1997 his winery was built. Now Csaba owns approximately 28 ha of vines, most of which are west of Villány in the direction of Siklós. The soil is predominantly loess with some clay and limestone. Approximately 30% of the vines are Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remaining 40% split among the local varieties, Kekfrankos and Kadarda, plus Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. In 2005 he produced approximately 85,000 bottles while in 2007 he produced 130,000 bottles.

We met with Csaba at his relatively new (1997) winery just a short walk down the street in Villány from our host (and Csaba’s wine mentor), Jozsep Bock’s winery. This was just one more winery in Villány that looked brand new. I was impressed by how prosperous and modern all the wineries in Villány, and indeed, all those we saw in Hungary, appeared. To the surprise of many of us who have seen the packed and sometimes shabby conditions at wineries in France and Italy, Csaba feels that his current winery is too small so a much larger winery, guest house, and restaurant complex is planned near his vineyards. Business must be very good indeed.

After a brief introduction to his winery and wine-making history, Csaba lead us into his winery. Gleaming steel tanks were everywhere, pristine at this time of year with harvest so far in the future. In the centre of the tank room was a set of beautiful oak doors rising at about a 30-degree angle from the floor. At the push of a button the doors began to open and the entrance to what we dubbed the “Bat Cave” began to open. Once open the doors revealed a set of brick stairs sans handrails (what would Health & Safety think?) that lead to the barrel room. This was a place so immaculate and so unlike most barrel rooms, you could probably eat off the floor.

Opening the “Bat Cave” Vivienne descending into the “Bat Cave”
© Paula Sindberg 2009
The immaculate barrel room © Paula Sindberg 2009

After our visit to the winery, we returned to the sunny garden for a tasting of Csaba’s wines. As a confirmed lover of exotic indigenous grape varieties myself, I have to admit that Csaba’s passion for the usual international (French) suspects was a bit off-putting. Still, I can’t fault the quality of his products.

Csaba and the WES tour participants in the garden © Paula Sindberg 2009

In the lovely surroundings of the Malatinzsky garden, we tasted some 15 different wines, about half tank samples that should be bottled later this year. Csaba’s philosophy of wine making is to express terroir, to seek typicity with gentle pressing and slow pumpovers. His aim is to create food-friendly wines. Some of his wines, like Kadarka, have only steel tank fermentation and see no wood at all. This creates a lovely, fresh wine with vibrant fruit flavours. When he does use oak, it is 100% Hungarian, used for flavour and for economy as the local barrels are much cheaper than French barrels. Csaba doesn’t want a prominent oak effect so his wood is aged for at least 4 years before use and flushed with water many times to dilute the hard tannins. He doesn’t filter his best wines and only fines as is necessary for stability. From 2010 he will be a certified organic producer though he is not sure about attempting biodynamic production.

Csaba makes 3 grades of wine. His “Le Sommelier” range is the entry level, followed by Noblesse, then Kúria wines. All are well made and delicious. The highlights of our tasting for me were his 2007 Noblesse Merlot Rosé, the 2006 Kúria Kövesföld, and the tank sample of his 2007 Pinot Bleu.

2007 Noblesse Merlot Rosé
I don’t normally like most Rosés as I feel they are wines that don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. I also am not over-fond of Merlot in any form (I won’t go as far as Miles in the movie “Sideways” – “I ain’t drinking no f*cking Merlot!” – but I’m not far from that). So it came as a surprise that one of my favourite wines was Csaba’s Merlot Rosé. This is a wine for grown-ups.
The wine is a dark rose hip colour with almost florescent highlights. Made in the saignée style with 4-5 hours of skin contact, it is brilliant and appealing to look at.
The nose is serious, full of juicy strawberry fruit and spice.
Sweet stewed strawberries with a mineral backbone on the palate, soft, creamy and rich with a long finish.
A wine with real personality.

2006 Kúria Kövesföld
This is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc from Csaba’s best Kövesföld vineyard. It’s bottled ONLY in magnums.
A dark inky purple colour with a nose of espresso and sweet berries, menthol, minerals and heather. Someone called the palate a “blueberry macciatto” and that’s not too far from the truth. Blueberries, roasted coffee beans, creamy with ripe grippy tannins and a long finish. Most of Csaba’s top wines I found too big, too alcoholic and just too much (though Robert Parker and his minions would probably love them), but I rather liked this wine.

2007 Noblesse Pinot Bleu – tank sample to be bottled August 2009
The concept of this wine appealed to me. It is an unusual blend of Pinot Noir and Kekfrankos (known as Blaufränkisch in Austria). The 2007 blend was 30% Pinot Noir and 70% Kekfrankos. The 2006 version which we also tasted was a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Kekfrankos, it was earthy and full of cherries but didn’t appeal nearly as much as the 2007 where the Kekfrankos dominated and added character. While the 2006 version was a reddish purple of mid-intensity, the 2007 version showed its Kekfrankos with a dark, near blackish purple colour. The nose was all berries and spice while the palate was rich and full with zippy acidity, berries and chocolate with some vegetal character. This version was much more concentrated, longer, richer and more complex than the 2006 variety.

We also tasted the following wines which I hope to write up in the future –
2007 Siklósi Chardonnay
2008 Kekfrankos
2006 Noblesse Pinot Bleu (mentioned above)
2006 Le Sommelier “Tenkes”, a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot
2006 Kúria Merlot
2006 Kúria Cabernet Sauvignon
2006 Kúria Cabernet Franc
2007 Noblesse Cabernet Franc – tank sample
2007 Kúria Merlot – tank sample
2007 Kúria Cabernet Sauvignon– tank sample
2007 Kúria Kövesföld – tank sample, 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc
2007 Kúria Cabernet Franc– tank sample

For some reason Blogger isn't allowing me to add another photo so you'll have to wait for the bottle graphics
Malatinzsky Rosé, Siklósi Chardonnay, & Kúria Cabernet Franc

After a brief rest back at the hotel, we saddled up in our 4WD vehicles and headed for Csaba’s house in nearby Kisharsány (between Villány and Siklós) for our dinner. I’m not sure how much of the dinner prep Csaba did personally but I suspect it was quite a lot. And many of our dishes featured vegetables from his garden.

For some reason Blogger isn't allowing me to add another photo so you'll have to wait for the map
Map of the area from Siklós to Villány © Paula Sindberg 2009

The meal we had was incredible, sitting out in a covered shed (though it was huge so what’s a giant shed called???) on a warm, clear night. We started with a selection of Hungarian bruschetti on organic bread. These included 2 kinds of steak tartare (one with basil and cumin and the other with parsley and garlic), sheep’s cottage cheese with roasted pumpkin and pistachio seeds and herbs, and HUGE slices of fois gras. Despite the large and satisfying lunch we’d had earlier in the day at the Bock guesthouse, we all dug in as if we were starving. The main course was an interesting white pumpkin risotto with cream and dill. This was incredibly delicate, fresh and bright and the pumpkin was served al dente so it retained an appealing crunch. As a side dish we had a rich but light veal stew (somewhat odd that the stew was clearly served as an accompaniment to the pumpkin risotto). The cheese course included Hungarian hard goat’s cheese, Hungarian aged “Gouda” type cheese, Dolcelatte blue and Fulum Daber (spelling??) from France. Dessert was a sort of berry parfait but by this time I was fading and didn’t take any notes. I also spent too much time eating and taking notes and forgot to get any photos of our dinner.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Charity Auction & Raffle - Participate On-Line

This is the charity I support and this is where I'll be trekking with Music Makers.
Machu Picchu in Peru

If you’ve read my recent posts or followed me on Twitter (@UltimateWines), you know I'm hosting a charity dinner to benefit ClassicFM Music Makers (charity registration number 1091657) next week at Café Strudel in Richmond (see my post below). There will also be an auction and a raffle to raise even more money for the charity. In a blatant attempt to push the bar even higher, I decided to move the auction and raffle on-line to encourage people who can't make the dinner to get involved.

It’s easy to participate. Here’s how -

I’ve listed all the auction items below. All you have to do is email me ( and tell me the item you want and what you’ll bid for it. I’ll update this post regularly with the latest on-line bids. On the night of the dinner, we’ll start the bidding for each item at the highest current on-line bid. So you’ll need to bid high on-line to have a chance at the winning bid. If you win the auction, I'll ask you to pay via my charity web page ( and I'll ship your prize to you.

The TOP auction item is 1 week at my house in San Giorgio Scarampi in Piedmont (Piemonte), Italy. The house is in a tiny village that only has about 15 houses and is the second highest village in the Alte Langhe. When the weather is clear, we can see Alps over about 200 degrees (the 15th century tower behind the house blocks the view of even more mountains – shame! LOL!). There are only 2 commercial establishments in town – a friendly bar where virtually the entire village gathers every night and a fantastic restaurant, A Testa in Giu', run by a lovely young couple. Both are so close that you can crawl home – if necessary.

Our lounge and A Slice of Our View

Here’s the list of all the auction items and the current top bid –

- 1 week at my house in San Giorgio Scramapi (Piedmont), Italy – house sleeps 4 in 2 double bedrooms and a 5th can sleep in the lounge. (£500 value) - Top Current Bid £600.00

- Champagne dinner for 2 at Café Strudel (£100 value) - Top Current Bid - none yet

- Overnight stay (bed & breakfast) at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Marlow, including use of their fabulous gym (£100 value) - Top Current Bid - start the bidding now

- 2 golf lessons with Alasdair Barr, English Golf Union (EGU) coach to the British boys team, former coach of Luke Donald, the Ecuador amateur men’s and women’s team, among other things (£100 Value) - Top Current Bid $100.00

- Membership to Jancis Robinson’s “Purple Pages”, the members only section of her website (£69 value) - Top Current Bid
- start the bidding now

- A Gold subscription to Wink Lorch’s “Wine Travel Guides” (£49 value) - Top Current Bid
- start the bidding now

- 2 cup Espresso/Cappuccino maker (£35 value) - Top Current Bid
- start the bidding now

Send in your bids now.

Meanwhile, the raffle is listing some amazing prizes. Here’s the prize list –

- Signed copy of Cherry Chappell’s book “Grandma’s Remedies”
- Signed copy of “Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course”
- ClassicFM T-shirt
- ClassicFM T-shirt
- ClassicFM T-shirt
- ClassicFM CD “Relax ...”
- ClassicFM CD “ClassicFM At the Movies”
- ClassicFM CD “ClassicFM At the Movies – the Sequel”
- ClassicFM CD “ClassicFM Baroque n’ Roll”
- ClassicFM CD “ClassicFM Presents Alfie Boe”
- 1 bottle Mont Hauban Selection Champagne
- 1 bottle Gozzelino 2000 “lo Sciorio” Barbera d’Asti
- 1 bottle Brundlmayer Rose Brut
- 1 bottle Duernberg 2007 Grüner Veltliner

Raffle tickets are 1 for £5 or 3 for £10, and multiples thereof. Ticket numbers won't be attached to each item. Instead, as the numbers are selected, each person will get to pick their choice from among the remaining items.

It’s easy to buy tickets on-line. All you need to do is email me (, stating how many tickets you want and listing your priorities for raffle prizes. I’ll email back your number(s). You can pay via my charity web page (, just contribute the cost of the raffle tickets and mention “raffle” in the message box. If your number is selected, the highest prize available will be yours and I’ll ship it out to you right after the dinner.

Please help me support this great cause. Thanks.

Friday, 5 June 2009

ClassicFM Music Makers Trek the Inca Trail Charity Dinner - 25 June 2009

This is a BIG plug for the charity dinner I'm hosting on 25 June 2009 (Thursday) at Cafe Strudel in Richmond.

Here are all the details -

I’ve pledged to Trek the Inca Trail on behalf of the charity, Classic FM Music Makers (registered charity number 1091657) in October this year.

Classic FM's Music Makers is a grant giving charity, formed in 2006, that raises money to fund music education and therapy projects working with the most disadvantaged children and adults across the UK. I know how much music has transformed my life, how it helps me through bad days, and helps me to celebrate triumphs. I’ve seen what Music Makers has done and want to help it in its mission.

However, before I can trek to Machu Picchu, I’ve got a fair amount of money to raise for the charity (at least £3,250 to be precise). As a fund-raising device, I’ll be hosting a charity dinner on Thursday, 25 June 2009 (dinner menu below), at Café Strudel. I hope that you’ll be willing to attend this dinnera a to help my cause.

Tickets are £45/person for a three-course dinner and entertainment (baroque and opera favourites). Almost all of the proceeds will go to Classic FM Music Makers (Café Strudel is ONLY taking enough to cover their costs – supplies and staff wages). Drinks are extra. You can book tickets by calling the restaurant at 020-8487-9800.

There will also be an auction and a raffle on the night to raise additional funds. I’ve already got some amazing things available for the auction, including:

• 1 week at my house in San Giorgio Scramapi (Piedmont), Italy – house sleeps 4 in 2 double bedrooms and a 5th can sleep in the lounge. (£500 value)
• champagne dinner for 2 at Café Strudel (£100 value)
• overnight stay (bed & breakfast) at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Marlow, including use of their fabulous gym (£100 value)
• 2 golf lessons with Alasdair Barr, English Golf Union (EGU) coach to the British boys team, former coach of Luke Donald, the Ecuador amateur mens and womens team, among other things (£80 Value)
• Membership to Jancis Robinson’s “Purple Pages”, the members only section of her website (£69 value)
• Signed copy of “Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course” (£25 value)
• A Gold subscription to Wink Lorch’s “Wine Travel Guides” (£49 value)

The raffle will include bottles of wine, Classic FM CD’s and T-shirts, etc.

I need lots of people to attend, and ideally bring their chequebooks, too!

I really appreciate any help you can give me with this. I hope you will attend and that you’ll pass this invitation on to all your friends and contacts and encourage them to attend, too.

And for anyone who wants to just donate to my charity, I’ve got a web page at ( where you can donate online. In the alternative, cheques can be made out to “Classic FM Music Makers” and sent to me (8 Millbank, Mill Road, Marlow, Bucks. SL7 1UA).

Dinner Menu -
Chicken Liver Parfait With Rhubarb Chutney
Cucumber & Vodka Soup With Bloody Mary Sorbet

Pan Fried Chicken Supreme With Fine Green Beans, Rosemary & Garlic Roast New Potatoes,
Sour Cherries & Jus Gras
Bell Pepper Stuffed With Feta, Tomatoes, Spinach, Capers & Pine Nuts Served With Salad


Thanks for your help.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

TasteLive Español (#ttl) from Battersea

Ok, I’m the slow one. I tweet on Twitter (@UltimateWines) and blog here but I don’t do it “on the road”. So, although I attended TasteLive Español (#ttl) Friday night, I wasn’t tweeting my comments in real time (though thanks go to @Ricard67 who was kind enough to immortalize a few of my pithier remarks via his own posts).

Getting set up for Spanish #ttl in London on Twitpic
Getting set up for the tasting © Robert McIntosh 2009

TasteLive is a global phenomenon, driven by some of the wine lovers who regularly post on Twitter. Our Friday night tasting was an opportunity to taste some excellent Spanish wines and to tell the world about them in real time. The goal of the event is to have people tasting the same wines at the same time in different locations and for them to comment on the wines online as they taste. This event was organized by Catavino in Spain and by Robert McIntosh in the UK. There were at least 3 tasting venues (Barcelona and Madrid in Spain), London (specifically Battersea) in the UK, with a few other locations chiming in from time to time.

London Spanish #ttl headquarters on Twitpic
London Spanish HQ © Robert McIntosh 2009

Rogues Gallery of tasters - Robert, Denise, Ricard, Tim & me (I'm too shy to be photoed) © each of the rogues 2009

The London group gathered in the home of @Ricard67 in Battersea (he made it clear it was NOT Clapham Junction, NOT Wandsworth). We were fortunate with the weather on Friday so we were able to conduct our tasting in the garden. Clustered around a picnic table [video courtesy of Robert], surrounded by electric cables to power up all the hardware, were Robert McIntosh (@thirstforwine), Denise Medrano (@thewinesleuth), Tim Dickinson (@timinator), Ricard (@Ricard67) and me (@UltimateWines). Rob, Denise and Ricard all had their computers booted up and online; Tim was wearing out the buttons on his BlackBerry and I was … drinking! To be fair, I was making tasting notes, too, but the others were able to post theirs instantly.

We in London were all ready to go for an 1800 start (1900 in Spain), but some technical hitches, and perhaps some Iberian “mañana time”, kept the Spanish locations just a bit behind. In London we used the delay wisely by filling our glasses (and our noses and palates) with the first wine (Gramona 2004 Imperial Gran Reserva Cava – a blend of 50% Xarel•lo, 40% Macabeo and 10% Chardonnay with 12% alcohol) and noshing on the lovely grilled chorizo and parsnip chips that Ricard provided. Tim enjoyed being a relative wine novice because, as he said, there was no pressure on him. Eventually, we got the nod from Catavino in Barcelona and we were off … . [here’s a photo, courtesy of Denise, of Ricard and me, just starting out.]

Gramona was participating in the tasting live in Barcelona and was kind enough to post a YouTube link to a video about their winery. In fact, all but one of the wineries involved were posting live during the tasting. But the London tasters were frustrated by all the techie-talk and delays in Spain with a paucity of tasting notes. So we just did our own thing.

Despite its relatively grand name, the Gramona Imperial Gran Reserva is only a mid-range cava made by this producer, based near Barcelona. All of the cavas made by Gramona are among the longest aged in Spain (a minimum of 18 months for their basic cava and 3-4 years for the Imperial) so the nose was nice and leesy/yeasty with a bit of citrus and coconut. On the palate it had a soft, creamy mousse, tart acidity, and pleasant ripe white fruit flavours, though it was a bit short on the finish. This isn’t really a cava to write home to mother about but it’s tasty, refreshing and was the perfect start for our evening.

Having started to taste before the Spanish locations, we in London pushed hard to move on to the next wine. Eventually, we received permission (hooray!) and moved on to a real treat, the Pazo de Señorans 2007 Albariño from Rias Baixas in northwest Spain. Albariño is probably the top white grape of Spain and it really showed its true colours in this wine. My first thought was that the nose was orgasmic! – intense ripe peaches, slightly creamy, and a bit of spice. The palate showed rich fruit (a true taste of summer) - peaches and bananas, crisp acidity, with a smooth mouthfeel but, as Ricard said “without the unctuousness of Viognier”, and attractive minerality. This was definitely a hit with all the tasters.

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Denise and the Sauló © Denise Medrano 2009

We were really getting into our stride now and the wines (and tasting notes) were coming more swiftly. Our third wine (and first red) was the Espelt 2007 Sauló (14% alcohol) from the Empordà region in the northern part of Catalonia just south of the Pyrennes (the land of Salvador Dali). This is a blend of Garnacha and Cariñena (a grape variety that gets trashed in Jancis Robinson’s “Oxford Companion to Wine” which says “Its wine is high in everything—acidity, tannins, colour, bitterness—but finesse and charm”, though with the acknowledgement that “the most carefully farmed old vines on well-placed, low-yielding sites can produce Carignan with real character.”). Here’s hoping that the Cariñena in this wine is of the latter variety! Well, as you can see from Denise’s tasting note (below), initial signs weren’t hopeful (“freshly peeled bark of a sugar maple with squirrel carcasses in knotholes”!!). My own notes said “a bit vegetal, woody and shy”. I wasn’t really put off by the nose but it didn’t make me want to dive into the glass. However, the palate was much more promising – zippy acidity with black cherry and plum fruit and mild spices, some leather and grippy but ripe tannins. This is a summer red that can be served slightly chilled and doesn’t finish “hot”, despite the 14% alcohol.

"Coleccion Vivanco" in quite an unusual squat bottle

Our last wine (before adjourning to dinner) was the Dinastía Vivanco 2005 “Coleccion Vivanco” Rioja “4 Varietales”(14.5% alcohol). This is a blend of 4 grapes – 70% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano, 10% Garnacha and 5% Mazuelo. Robert explained that each of the varieties is vinified separately, with malolactic fermentation and maturation for 24 months taking place in new French oak barrels, then the winemaker blends the varieties together. In the glass the wine is a inky blackberry colour, almost black. The nose is exceptional – a spicy, sexy range of black fruits with a backbone of minerality, some vanilla from the oak, a bit of licorice and cinnamon. All of this carried onto the palate. Despite the 14.5% alcohol, the result was controlled and elegant with blackberries, Bing cherries and Damsons dominating, some new leather, silky smooth tannins and a LONG jammy finish. Quite impressive! The wine was even better an hour or so after the bottle had been opened when the different flavours had more time to open up and integrate.

Now it was time for dinner (we adjourned to the house as the temperature was dropping in the garden). Ricard prepared a lovely spread with pa amb tomàquet (an amazing whole grain bread toasted and rubbed with fresh tomato), white anchovy and hearts of artichoke salad, cold hickory and muscovado sugar-smoked salmon, and a cheese plate that included manchego, Picos de Europa, and Lincolnshire Poacher. Tim's tweet about the salmon probably summed up our reaction to it "That smoked salmon was the 3rd best thing I've ever put in my mouth. #Norwegiansalmonporn " - from Northcote Fisheries in Battersea. None of us wanted to ask what things #1 and #2 were - LOL!

Northcote Fisheries in Battersea © The Local Data Company

I supplied an Ondarre 1995 Rioja Gran Reserva “Ursa Maior” (12.5% alcohol) to go with dinner. The wine was perfectly aged and was drinking beautifully. Its nose was of leather, forest mushrooms and hints of balsamic vinegar yet with fresh ripe red fruits supporting all of this. Despite its age, the fruit was still vibrant and juicy. All of this was present on the palate with velvety tannins and a structure, complexity and elegance that left all the tasters fighting over the bottle.

Finally, Ricard raided his cellar and produced a Bodegas Vizcarra 2005 "Torralvo" Ribera del Duero (14.5%). Quite a contrast to the Ondarre because this wine was still a baby, yet was much more assertive. A vivid purple in the glass, the nose was still quite shy with some saddle leather and chocolate-covered cherries. Tim, for reasons known ONLY to himself, said “it smells faintly of Bulgaria”! There were grippy but ripe tannins on the palate (to be expected in a wine so young) with jammy plums and damson fruit, espresso, cocoa and cloves. Quite a nice end to our evening. [oh, and deserving a mention were the hazelnut chocolate truffles that appeared as we were winding down.]


Denise provided some of the funniest and best tasting notes on the night. Here is some of her best work –
About the Gramona cava –
• #ttl I've got big bubbles, coconuts on the nose
• #ttl don't think i should eating chorizo with this
About the Albariño –
• #ttl this albarino is amazing peachy nose, @ulitmatewines is making obscene noises and doing the cabbage patch
• #ttl lovely green flecks, this is like ripe peaches that have just fallen off the tree, a stunning albarino!
About the Saulo – photo
• #ttl bit vegetal, we think it's like freshly peeled bark of a sugar maple with squirrel carcasses in knotholes
• @Timinator LOL , no squirrels were harmed in these tweets! #ttl
• #ttl tasting much better then it smells, great spice and black cherry, chocolatey, fab tannins!
About the Vivanco –
• #ttl 4 different aromatic varietals coming together, fresh black fruits and lovely spice, just want to suck this up my nose!
• #ttl full and intense, great black &orange chocolate in there with black cherries, smooth and silky, round smooth tannins
And about the Ondarre 1995 Rioja Gran Reserva “Ursa Maior” with dinner –
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Ondarre 1995 Rioja Gran Reserva "Ursa Maior" © Denise Medrano 2009
• muscovado smoked salmon with a delicate 95 gran reserva rioja is a match made in heaven!!#ttl

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Vinho Verde Tasting at the Royal Exchange

The Royal Exchange, London

On Thursday, 23 April 2009, the wines of the Vinho Verde were featured at a tasting held at the Royal Exchange in London. The Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes (The Commission on Viticulture for the Region of Green Wines – but more on that later) hosted the tasting. The location was elegant, the wines were superb, the canapé were delicious and beautifully presented. Sarah Ahmed, the Wine Detective, presented a masterclass on the wines. The tasting was well-run with lots of information available on the wines, the grape varieties, the region (including interesting wine routes to try), and enthusiastic producers eagerly describing their wares. In short, it was a terrific event but, sadly, with quite low attendance (at least while I was there).

Why was that? I suspect it’s because almost everyone over the age of 40 (and many under 40) thinks of Mateus Rosé or Lancers in a squat, Bocksbeutel-type of bottle when they think of Vinho Verde.

The classic Mateus bottle

To dispel this myth, first, Mateus isn’t a Vinho Verde, as Sarah Ahmed was at pains to point out, because it sources grapes from a variety of regions and, hence, isn’t entitled to the name. And, second, even Mateus has had a make-over since the bad old days and is a much more pleasant drink now than then (not that it would be my Portuguese wine of choice).

Well, Vinho Verde has come a long way, baby, and deserves another long and thoughtful look.

To begin with Vinho Verde is not GREEN WINE, as the direct translation of the name implies. Instead, the name refers to the nature of the wine as one to be consumed young, when it is fresh and lively. With spring here now (hooray!) and summer just around the corner, the timing couldn’t have been better to feature these wines. If ever there were summer barbeque wines, these are the ones (even more so, in my opinion, than Provençal rosés). All the wines, even the reds, benefit from a little chilling, and they are superb with food, especially seafood and grilled meats – hello Summer!

While the common perception of Vinho Verde is that the wines are all white, they actually come in all the standard colours (red, white and pink – but NO green!) and a variety of styles, mainly still and sparkling. In fact, until quite recently, the majority of Vinho Verde wines were red though now more than 60% are white. All the wines are known for their racy acidity and crisp fruit character. The reds and rosés are quite savoury with interesting cranberry and strawberry fruits and good minerality.

All the wines were nice with the whites from Enoport (Acácio, Lagosta and Moura Basto) and Quinta de Carapeços (Alvarinho/Trajadure and 100% Alvarinho), to name just a few, being very enjoyable. However, it was the reds and the pinks and the sparkling wines that I found to be the real stars. Perhaps it was just the novelty of the wines, but I thought that they were the ones with the most interest as well as the ones least likely to be seen by the general public, which is a real shame.

Espadeira (aka Tinta Amarela)

The rosé wines were all made with the local grape, Espadeira (known as Tinta Amarela in the Douro). The nose tends to be quite savoury with a strong under-pinning of strawberry, cranberry and raspberry fruit and a hint of spice. The colour ranges from very pale pink to near red with my favourites being the darker versions from Quinta das Arcas, Enoport, and Quinta de Carapeços.

Outstanding among the sparkling wines were the white and pink Espumantes from Quinta de Lourosa. Their rosé espumante is made from a blend of Syrah and Jaen, neither grape a native of the region. It had the most amazing nose of geraniums.


The real stars of the tasting, however, were the inky, near-black reds made from Vinhão (which MAY be Sousão but may not – the Oxford Companion to Wine and the UC Davis National Grape Registry say it is but various Portuguese winemakers disagree). Vinhão is one of the few grapes, called teinturier, that has a dark coloured must (juice) in addition to its deep purple skin. This dark juice combined with the colour extracted from the skins means that Vinhão wines are almost black. Several of the tasters, after much debate, decided that the colour was deep aubergine and/or blackberry. While the wines can be somewhat tannic, all the ones I tasted had smooth, ripe tannins that were very pleasant and added great structure to the wines.

Vasco Croft, winemaker at Afros

My favourites among the Vinhão on offer were the 2008 from Afros (the 2007 vintage was named one of the “50 Great Wines of Portugal 2009” by Jamie Goode, the Wine Anorak) and the 2007 Arca Nova Vinhão-Escolha from Quinta das Arcas. The Arca Nova Escolha is only made in the best years. None was made in 2008 (though they did make basic Vinhão) so when the terrific 2007 is gone (and there wasn’t much made to begin with), we’ll have to wait until 2010 (assuming 2009 is a good year) before we’ll see anymore.

I also have to admit to being a bit of a dirty old lady because Vasco Croft, the winemaker at Afros, was not only articulate and delightful, he also was a dead-ringer for the young Richard Gere. A little bit of eye-candy certainly livened up the tasting for me.

In short, my recommendation is to seek out wines from the Vinho Verde. You won’t be disappointed.


As an aside - To add to the Vinhão confusion, a common problem (especially for Portuguese grapes which doesn’t aid their efforts to market their wines), the National Grape Registry records the following synonyms for Vinhão – “Azal Tinto, Espadeiro basto, Espadeiro da Tinta, Espadeiro de basto, Espadeiro do basto, Espadeiro Preto, Negrão, Negrão Pe de Perdiz, Negron, Pinta Femea, Sesão, Sousão, Sousão de Correr, Sousão do Douro, Sousão Forte, Sousen, Sousón, Sousón Retinto, Souzão, Souzão Forte, Souzon Retinto, Tinta, Tinta de Luzin, Tinta Femea, Tintilla, Tinto, Tinto Antigo, Tinto da Parada, Tinto de Parada, Tinto Nacional”. Are you confused yet?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

A Mash-Up at The Loft

Sparkling Water Label
© PikPikZoo 2009

Ok, first question – what’s a mash-up? Maybe if you’re under 30, the answer is obvious. However, I’m not and I had to experience it to understand it. From experience a mash-up is where food, wine, art and music commingle to make a perfect evening. But perhaps it’s better to describe it.

The Location –
The Loft Kitchen

The Loft Kitchen in Hoxton, Northeast London, is actually the residence and laboratory of Nuno Mendes, an innovative Portuguese chef in London who is using the lower floor of his loft as the experimental kitchen for his new restaurant (opening in the Bethnal Green Town Centre complex early in 2010). Every Friday and Saturday night he creates multi-course tasting menus to try out some of the dishes he’ll feature in his restaurant. However, Nuno was merely our gracious host on Wednesday night. The dynamo behind the mash-up was actually Rachel Khoo.

The Cast –
Rachel & the table setting © Bronia Stewart 2009

Frankie prepping© Bronia Stewart 2009

Joseph & Lana © Bronia Stewart 2009

Rachel is Malay-Chinese and Austrian by ethnicity, a art-designer/marketer/food stylist/chef de patisserie among other things by training, and her food events are a combination of her multi-cultural, diverse background and her wide circle of friends worldwide. First, she used the designs of her friends, ZoeLydia and Miss K of PikPikZoo in Hong Kong for the placemats, tablecards and even water bottle labels on the table. Then, she asked her friend, Joseph Seresin, to create a musical mix to entertain us throughout the evening (we even received a CD of the mix to take home). Bronia Stewart, yet another friend, was engaged to photograph the proceedings (almost all the photos in this post are courtesy of and copyrighted by Bronia). Joseph was involved again for some of the wines we enjoyed with our dinner through his family connection with Seresin Estate in New Zealand. Last, but far from least, Rachel was ably assisted in the kitchen by Frankie (Francesca Unsworth).

The Mash-up -

Soft lighting, PikPikZoo designs decorating the table, Joseph’s mix playing in the background and the curtain went up on the Mash-Up –

As the participants gathered, we were offered a refreshing glass of Bailly-Lapierre NV Crémant de Bourgogne Exception Brut Intense. It was zippy and delicious and a perfect tool to get conversation flowing among the diverse participants who seemed to have discovered the event either through some connection to Paris and Rachel or via Kang’s post on
Edible Paint, Paper & Pencils © Bronia Stewart 2009
Playing with your food © Bronia Stewart 2009

After a bit of bonding time (which worked extremely well as conversation at the table never flagged), we were presented with Rachel’s opening number - a plate of Edible Paint, Paper & Pencils. Served on a plain white rectangular plate, were 3 crisp crackers – one with red onions, one of rye and orange, and the third with olives. Set above them were our “pencils”, carefully crafted from a cucumber, a radish and a carrot. Below the crackers were 3 paint tubes (literally!) filled with 3 different “paints” – a spread of beetroot humus, one of butterbeans, and a third of green olive paste. Encouraged to use our creativity, we set to work like kindergarten students in art class, busily spreading the paints on each cracker to determine our favourites. This was a terrifically creative idea, if an enormous amount of work for Rachel and Frankie to sterilize and fill all the tiny paint tubes and construct the picture on our plates. If the ice had not already been broken by the bubbly to start, this exercise in free-child fun certainly got things off with a bang. This course was accompanied by a glass of Domaine Lefebvre d’Anselme 2007 “Trilogie” Côtes Du Rhône.

Our next course, A Cup of Tea with Beef and Vegetable Carpaccio Stirrers, was again a dish where we could use our own imagination. The tea was a creation of tamarind, soy sauce, lemon grass, galangal, star anise, lime, water and perhaps some secret ingredients. Served very hot, we could either stir the “tea” with our beef and vegetable skewers or eat them raw. My personal favourite was to just give the skewer a quick swirl in the tea to briefly warm it. That gave me the delicate and rich taste of nearly raw beef, the bright crispiness of fresh vegetables surrounded by the slightly spicy savoury “tea”. And the “tea” was pretty tasty all by itself, too! This was paired with a glass of Seresin 2007 “Momo” Pinot Noir. The wine was perhaps a bit too ripe and fruity for the dish but nice.

Slow-Roasted Duck © Bronia Stewart 2009

The main course, Slow-Roasted Duck a l’Orange & Plum with Millefeuille of Potatoes, was probably the only course that was fairly traditional (i.e. – no particular playfulness in the dish). Instead of playfulness, we were given something else I really like in food. This was a “Ronseal” dish – by that I mean, “it does exactly what it says on the tin”. In other words, this dish delivered exactly what its description says. I’m not much of a Duck a l’Orange fan normally because I find the orange often overwhelms the duck. Rachel managed to get just a hint of orange flavour not overly aggressive and the plums were outstanding with it. In fact, I think that doing the duck with just plums would really be terrific. As it was, this was full of flavour and very satisfying. We had another Seresin Pinot Noir with this course, a 2006 “Leah”. This wine was much more subtle and nuanced than the previous "Momo" and was really lovely with the dish.

Palate cleanser time – a Fleur de Geisha Granitá made from Japanese Green Tea and cherry blossom flowers. Simple as this was, it was one of my favourites of the night. The crunchy “snow cone” of ice had a delicate flavour, definitely of tea but airily light but an ephemeral cherry sweetness that really wasn’t sweet at all. An excellent touch and a perfect palate cleanser.

Poached Rhubard with Almond & Strawberry Shortbread and Rosemary Mousse © Bronia Stewart 2009

Now it was time for puds. This was another of the highlights for me, Poached Rhubarb with Almond and Strawberry Shortbread and Rosemary Mousse. Rachel suggested that the Rosemary Mousse, which was beside the shortbread in a little cup, would be very good with it. She was VERY right. Everyone around me seemed to be just as pleased with the savoury character of the mousse, just slightly sweetened, against the bright ripe strawberries and the crunchy almond shortbread. VERY very yummy! We had yet another Seresin wine with this, their 2004 Noble Riesling dessert wine. Although the wine was quite nice, it is always difficult to pair a dessert wine with a sweet dish and this wine was just a bit too much for the dish. I’d probably use a less sweet dessert wine like a Brachetto d’Acqui which isn’t too sweet and which has a lovely strawberry character itself that should blend nicely with the dessert.

Mini Mooncake Truffles © Bronia Stewart 2009

Finally, in what was a bit of a homage to Chinese New Year, we had 3 Mini Mooncake Truffles, each with a coconut “skin”, one filled with black sesame, one with chocolate and the last with pistachio. The sesame one was very Chinese and savoury; the pistachio one was a bit overwhelmed by the coconut, while the chocolate one was “just right”. Maybe I got Baby Bear’s portion!

Perhaps you still don’t understand what a mash-up is but go to one. It’s worth it.

Tasting Notes –

Bailly-Lapierre NV Crémant de Bourgogne Exception Brut Intense
A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this is “champagne” but made in Burgundy, hence, the name Crémant because it cannot be called Champagne. It is intense and very dry with a soft creamy mousse and delicious citrus and apricot fruit. Bright and zesty with crisp acidity.

Domaine Lefebvre d’Anselme 2007 “Trilogie” Côtes Du Rhône
This is a blend of the undistinguished (usually) Ugni Blanc and Rousanne. 13.5% alcohol. Rousanne dominted this blend giving its peachy aromas and flavours. Decent acidity and smooth finish but not particularly distinguished. However, I admit that I was having so much fun playing with the Edible Paint, Paper & Pencils that I really didn’t pay a lot of attention to this wine.
Michael Seresin of Seresin Estate © Jamie Goode 2007

Seresin 2007 “Momo” Pinot Noir
“Momo” is the entry level Pinot Noir from Seresin Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand. Biodynamically made, hand-picked and sorted from three different vineyards, its nose is a classic New World Pinot nose – bright cherry fruit with a hint of underbrush and herbs. Unmistakably New World Pinot on the nose and palate. Soft ripe tannins, cherries and raspberries, with the classic Pinot vegetal undertone. Very pleasant, especially for an entry level wine. 13.5% alcohol.

Seresin 2006 “Leah” Pinot Noir
“Leah” is a blend of fruit from the clay-rich Raupo Creek vineyard, the alluvial shingles of the Tatou vineyard, and the mixed soils of the Home vineyard. The wine spent 3.5 weeks on the skins during and after fermentation. Aged in French barrique (about 25% new). 13% alcohol.
For me this was a much more elegant and restained Pinot than the “Momo” which had preceded it. More mineral character, deeper textures and much more character. Much more of the Burgundian “barnyard” Pinot aromas with ample brambly fruit, a bit of smokiness and spice.

Seresin 2004 Noble Riesling
From old vine Riesling planted on alluvial soil with free-draining basalt pebbles, the fruit was affected with botrytis and was rigorously selected. After slow fermentation for a month, further fermentation was stopped by chilling after the wine reached 12% alcohol.
The nose is classic for a botrytized wine, honey and beeswax with some citrus notes. For me, however, the usual mineral floral beauty of Riesling was a bit lacking. On the palate the honeyed notes were repeated, accompanied by tropical fruit flavours. There was enough acidity to keep the wine from being cloying but not enough to lift and lighten it as you see in the best sweet wines from Germany and Austria. It was also just a bit over-powering for the delicious dessert Rachel made but a pleasant enough wine nonetheless.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Random Thoughts on VinItaly 2009

Late Sunday night I returned from an exhausting but interesting visit to VinItaly in Verona. It's billed as the largest wine fair in the world and that's not hard to believe. It makes the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) look like a village fête.
This was my second visit to VinItaly. Both times I attended on a sponsored visit, which means I had some required appointments with producers. I wouldn’t go to the fair any other way. The fair is so huge, unless you are an importer with a defined list of producers to see and perhaps some specific target wines that you’d like to discover, it is just too vast to contemplate. Also, unless you have a hotel booked at least a year in advance, and I never plan that far ahead, you won’t have a place to stay anywhere near Verona, so a sponsored trip that includes a hotel is the only way to go.

This year my assigned meetings were a day-long “Taste & Buy” with producers from Basilicata and an afternoon Piemontese “Taste & Dream” session. The “Taste & Buy” sessions are great. You receive a list of available producers several weeks before the event and are asked to list your preferences in order. The organizers then try to schedule meetings with as many of your top producers as possible but you always get at least 5 of your top 10 and usually more. These sessions are a great way to get an intensive introduction to a region. I always try to pick areas that are under-represented in the market usually with interesting indigenous varieties so I chose Basilicata this year and Lombardia and Puglia last year. Without exception (so far!), the producers have been excellent and the wines of a very high standard. I always feel a little guilty that I’m not an importer because these producers are so eager to get their wines into foreign markets. But I do always send my discoveries to some of my Italian suppliers and ask them to consider importing the wines. This year there’s the additional problem that Sterling is in the tank against the Euro. That’s makes ALL Euro-based wines really expensive. In a depressed economy, that’s a non-starter. But it’s good to make contacts for future opportunities.

The Piemonte “Taste & Dream” session was completely the opposite of the “Taste & Buy” experience. “Taste & Dream” was 2 and 1/2 hours of torture. We saw 20 producers, each showing at least 3 wines, some as many as 6, over the course of the session. Each producer had to enter, introduce him- or herself and the business, then discuss the wines, and finally encourage you to visit their stand at the fair. Much was repetitive, boring, or unnecessary. The presentations were not timed with the wines as they were poured so it was easy to become confused about which wine was which. And there were just too many producers with too many wines over too short a time. Worst of all, though Piemonte is one of the finest quality wine areas of Italy, there were just not enough truly good wines. Only one was actually corked (thankfully!) but far too many of the wines were incredibly ordinary and all but one of the producers had no international presence. I’m all in favour of discovering small, unknown producers but the ones on show here didn’t meet the mark. Given that the “Taste & Buy” sessions have produced such high quality wines, it is hard to imagine that Piemonte managed to drop the ball so badly, but they did. Comments from some colleagues about a Trentino “Taste & Dream” session were excellent so it was a Piemontese problem. They just tried to do too much.

And while I’m bitching, the VinItaly catalogue is absolute rubbish! Everyone I know throws it out. Many trees are killed for no good purpose. To improve it, the organizers need to do several things –

1. Drop all the common farm, association, estate words like Azienda, Agricola, Tenute, Consorzio, Tutela, Podere, Fattoria, etc, and alphabetized based on the main name. For example, the Chianti producer I know as “Felsina” is actually “Fattoria di Felsina”. In the current catalogue, it’s listed under “Fattoria”, along with hundreds (!!) of other Fattorie. It should be listed under “Felsina”. Very few English-speakers, and probably the Italians as well, know the exact business name of many producers. So you have to look under Azienda Agricola, Azienda Vitivinicola, Azienda Vinicola, Fattoria, and many other permutations to find any producer. Even worse, one producer was described as Consorzio Tutela Matera DOC. No luck under Consorzio, none under Tutela, same for Matera. I found it under Consorzio DI Tutela Matera DOC. This is just too stupid for words. VinItaly need to get their act together to produce a catalogue that isn’t just an over-sized door-stop.
2. Provide more information on Pavilion maps. At the moment the maps show only stands by grid reference (A5, for example) with no other information. This is fine if you’re looking for A5, but not particularly necessary since the grid references are posted near the ceiling in each hall. All you need to do it look up and get your bearings. However, it’s a bit more difficult if you’re trying to find a dedicated section for a specific purpose, like Basilicata, and you know it’s in the pavilion but not the grid reference. The maps should show that section, perhaps with a colour as the map for the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) does. That way if you don’t know the names of any of the Basilicata producers or their stand reference, you can find their section of a pavilion. As it is, you just have to do a random walk to find them.

Ok, enough bitching. What were some of the highlights?
As a confirmed indigenous varietal geek, the highlights always are finding new exciting varietals. This year I decided I needed to know more about Val d’Aosta so I spent an afternoon visiting with some of them and tasting their indigenous varieties. At Feudi di San Maurizio I had a lovely visit and managed to add a number of new varieties to my life list. Among them were Mayolet and Petit Rouge, which I just learned are the proud parents of Cornalin du Valais from Switzerland. Interestingly, I also tasted Cornalin d’Aosta, that my host, Michel Vallet, was at pains to point out was NOT Cornalin du Valais. Subsequent research has revealed that Cornalin d’Aosta is in fact an offspring of Cornalin du Valais and is known as Humagne Rouge (no relation to Humagne Blanc) in Switzerland – oh my, what tangled genealogy!

Also on the indigenous highlight list (and one of the few things to make the Piemontese “Taste & Dream” a bit less onerous) was tasting a decent Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato. And tasting a selection of Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, a grape native to the Marche, from both Velenosi and Moncaro. I also really enjoyed the Visciole, a dessert wine that is made by first created a syrup from sugar and the local sour cherries of the Marche (Visciole), then mixing the syrup with Lacrima wine which triggers a second fermentation. The product was a very attractive dessert wine that would be lovely with chocolate or berry desserts.
As someone who loves to eat, another real treat of the week was a lunch on the first day at Ristorante dei Signori. Each day this restaurant features 2 famous Italian chefs, offering a special menu of local specialties, accompanied by your choice of wines. Our lunch started with some ox-tail rissoles with celery julienne, followed by kid tortelloni and Orsino garlic, then cheek of beef (so tender even cutting it with a fork almost brutalized it) sprinkled with grown liquorice (on the plate it looked like espresso grounds). To finish we had a fantasy dessert of “JRE or Noir” chocolate cake with an almond crust, rhubarb sauce and strawberry sorbet. We were also provided with a wine list and told to make selections, no restrictions. Wow! We started with the Vetoraz 2008 Prosecco di Valdobbiadene “Millesimato”, followed by the Moncaro 2008 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore “Verde Ca’Ruptae”, then the Cantina Negrar 2005 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Domini Veneti” (perfect with the beef cheeks), and finally the Moncaro (again because the first was so good) 2005 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Passito “Tordiruta”. Talk about being a kid in a candy store! No one said “no”; no one said “too much”, and there was NO limit on what we could order, except that our taskmistress, Chiara, kept urging us back to work on the Basilicata “Taste & Buy”. When I investigated about booking lunch there the next day, I learned that this experience cost the general public €70 each, which I thought was actually pretty good value, given the amazing food and wines.
The last real treat of the fair was meeting and tasting with Barbara Olson Tori of Enoteca de Rham in Florence. Barbara is a California girl and Stanford grad, like me, who went to Italy during her university days and never really left. After a long and complicated story, she became the owner of her husband’s Enoteca. She has turned the business into a one-stop shop for Italian wine specialists. Her list is extensive and country-wide and includes lots of unusual varietals and obscure regions which is always a real treat for me. One of the top wines I tasted with her were the Ezio Voyat “Le Muraglie” Rosso from the Val d’Aosta. This is sold as a vino di tavola because Ezio clashed with the local wine authorities many years ago when the DOC laws were first introduced and he went his own way. Though obscure, this wine, a combination of Dolcetto, Petit Rouge and Gros Vien (also known as Nus and tasted with the Val d’Aosta producers) can really be considered a “super-Val d’Aosta”. Though not cheap, this is a wine that is delicious and has a real story behind it (too long to relate here) and stories help sell wines. Two other treats from Barbara’s collection included a Colle Colletto 2006 Wildbacher (yes, a Blauer Wildbacher from Austria that seems to have wandered across the border to the Veneto), rich berries and spice, and, my final wine of VinItaly 2009, a Stefano Mancinelli 2005 Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Passito. It was smooth, luscious and rich, a fine ending to the fair.