Stew and Wine (and you’ll feel fine)

In case you’ve been living under a rock, or even just not visited the internet, it is Saint Patrick’s Day. On a day where everyone seemingly has a long-lost Irish relative/friend/gerbil and so therefore is connected intrinsically to the Guinness-fuelled celebrations, it’s easy to forget that this is a day with deep historical and cultural roots, celebrating a complex hybrid of Christianity in Ireland and Irish national identity. 17th March falls within the Christian Lenten calendar, but as restrictions on eating and drinking are lifted for the day, it is unsurprising that food and drink are a central part of celebrations.

Within the humble Irish stew, we find much connected with this celebration of national identity. Formed of a combination of meat and root vegetables native to Ireland, it origins are traceable to the arrival of the Celts and their culinary stewing technique into Ireland over two thousand years ago. Purists claim that the stew is inherently simple, formed of just mutton neck, potatoes, onions and water cooked over a low heat for many hours; however just as national identities mature and evolve over time, so has the recipe. Carrots, turnips and various herbs are now also included in many versions and lamb (sometimes even beef) has largely replaced mutton, traditionally used because of the economic importance of the wool and milk from young sheep.

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So what to drink with this fine piece of culinary history? Traditionally, perhaps a local ale – but what if you don’t like beer? Well, that’s where food’s faithful partner wine comes in. Lamb’s traditional partner is Rioja, and given the richness imparted by the slow-cooking, we recommend a mature Rioja such as our Bodegas Perica Olagosa Gran Reserva 2001. Equally, a good, juicy red Bordeaux always mingles nicely with rich, meat dishes.

Sláinte!

Happy St Paddys

On Mothers, genetics and coats made out of sugar

There’s a point in life when most people come to realise, or to be more specifically, most women, that they’re turning into their mothers. This phenomenon happens at some point after your 30th birthday.

I was 15, sitting in our living room flicking through an old photo album I’d always ignored, when I noticed a picture of myself, standing in my grandparents’ yard. So far so good, but something was off…I didn’t recognise the vintage top I was wearing in the photo, had I ever been that fashionable? It took me few moments to realise it wasn’t me in the picture, but my mother at the same age. And then the fear set in. Despite the numerous comments about how we looked like sisters – it wasn’t until the truth was staring me right in the face that I realised my fate.

Denial had turned to reality and reality turned to reflection about the undeniable influence my mother has had in my life. All the clichés aside, after that awkward teenage phase passed and all photos of khaki flares were burnt, this woman, who has seen all of my idiosyncrasies, the good and the bad, has become one of my best friends. Not just because she stuck around through the tears and the fights but because of the way we talk to each other. Our weekly chats vary from cooking to politics to how many times have the cats have woken her up in the night. And everything in between. This is of no interest to other people, but our chats mean the world to me, especially me being in England and her being in Finland.

I guess what it comes down to is the whole ‘your mother being there right from the beginning’-thing and that the older I get the more my personality starts to resemble hers. Despite this, we have our differences in character and opinions (and lessons for me to learn about some of her idiosyncrasies, let’s not sugar coat that), but this just adds nicely to the times we clash. She will be turning 70 this year, and I sincerely hope I can keep her around for many more years to come.

Now, after saying I would skip the clichés and then clearly not doing so, let’s add one more, but the most important one: Happy Mother’s Day on Sunday to all mums out there! We love you a lot even if we’re sometimes bit of a pain.

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No Need to Fuss, Becketts is the Epitome of Cool

I’m thrilled to reveal The Perfect Cellar is stretching out its vines to pastures new with the addition of our first home-grown gin! Not just any old gin, the only gin in the world to infuse English juniper berries into the mix, making Becketts gin quintessentially British! But before you throw three sheets to the wind ol’ chap, this gin boasts a spice injection from more exotic lands with the finest mix of botanicals. For the citrus notes they use Moroccan lime and coriander. They also add Spanish sweet orange peel and Italian orris root to smooth these notes to perfection. With the final masterstroke, a cool, refreshing finish of mint brings us back down to earth, grown in the distillers own back garden in Kingston-upon-Thames!

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Becketts has recently propelled itself into London’s Soho nightlife serving up some ingenious creations. But the beautiful thing is you don’t need to do anything fancy, with just an ice cube this gin requires no sustenance from 3 or 4 or 5 shovels of lime wedges: its smooth and expressive all by itself.

We’ve opened a bottle and we hope you’ll join us for the gin revolution.

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A Crepe is for Life, Not Just for Shrove Tuesday

A pancake is not just for Shrove Tuesday. It’s for breakfast on any day if you’re North American – smothered in fruit and maple syrup. It’s for tea and/or a savoury snack if you’re Dutch and it can make a delicious sweet pudding. I know I have been eating them all of last week.

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Think of the great puddings of our time and Crepes Suzette has to be in the top three – even if it’s retro. Crepes Suzette was made or invented by mistake. In 1895, a 15 year old French waiter was serving the then Prince of Wales, soon to be King Edward VII, and his guests their dessert of crepes, doused in sugar and orange juice at a Paris Restaurant. In his recollections, Henri Carpentier writes that he does not know how it happened but the dessert caught fire in its dish – it must have been something to do with the alcohol and a naked flame and some nervous fumbling about his trolley – and not wanting to appear a foolish youth our brave waiter served the dish to the Prince and his guests with toes crossed. The party loved it! The Prince asked what this new dish was called and the waiter, after a momentary pause replied Crepes Princesse, Monsieur. The future King of England, clearly well versed in European languages, recognised that crepes determined the fact that it had to be called Princesse, and it was a compliment. He asked if he might change the name to that of one of his guests, a lady by the name of Suzette. So the Crepes Suzette was born and named. A pancake or two, doused in orange juice and sugar, a few segments of orange, set light to some Grand Marnier and pour over. That is the basics.

Every chef will have their own recipe and choice of alcohol, it could be triple sec or cointreau – and some will even change them around a bit. Dare I say, deconstruct them.

What if we were to take some pancakes, douse them in apple juice and sugar, sprinkle over some thin slices of dessert apple, set fire to some of the magnificent Calvados from Christian Droin we will soon have in stock and pour that over the dish. What do we have? Names please.

Why I Wish I Were More French This Valentine’s Day

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There are many fine reasons why I love being a Brit – marmite for breakfast, roast dinner on Sunday, tea to ease the nerves after working a 12 hour day and the joy of returning home to Doctor Who or Eastenders. I even enjoy the odd bumblings of my dad’s neighbour when a fox breaks into the garden, ’I don’t mean to alarm you old chap..’ he’ll begin over the garden hedge.

My list of pleasures doesn’t exactly scream desire or warrant any degree of lust. There are times when I feel I’m batting for the wrong team, that perhaps my heart belongs in a wilder, more candid space. Just across the pond our French cousins seize the pleasures of life full-frontal and with two hands around the neck. Life doesn’t have to be smooth and organised – in fact they embrace the rough and the rugged, the exotic and the unusual. This is something some of us Brits can’t quite comprehend, we either ignore with supressed jealousy or judge with disdain.

With 50 Shades of Grey hitting the box office this week we’re forced into a rude awakening, or should I say sexual awakening, and persuaded to question the simple urges of life and perhaps to push the boundaries a little further..? No respectful woman sat on the tube with 50 Shades on their lap as a chosen light read for the daily commute. My sister admitted to acting like a naughty schoolboy, reading the raunchy content within another, more decent book, away from the prying eyes of strangers. I imagine the French would have dealt with this issue in an entirely different fashion. In fact this wouldn’t have been an issue at all, mirrored by their certification of the eagerly awaited porno with a PG12 in cinema. Our Stilton is clearly their cream cheese.

Valentine’s Day is an excuse to stoke the fire and rekindle the flames of sometimes an overlooked love affair. However, rather than allowing this to fizzle out after just one day, just one evening, I encourage us Brits to take a leaf out of the Frenchies’ book (or the 50 Shades novel in fact) by living every day with passion and in the words of the fabulous Iggy, with a lust for life.

Our friends from Champagne, Tendil & Lombardi have embraced this very notion by partnering up with Box of Grey’s Bijoux Sanctum Box. A naughty but very nice accessory to this little box of tricks…

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What’s Love Got To Do With It

“For this was on seynt Valantynys Day. For euery bryd comyth there to chese his make”

I do beg your pardon. I do so like to give my ramblings a degree of historical context, but, what? I can only assume Chaucer’s’ editor was a little tipsy when they approved this. Filth.

Geoffrey Chaucer by Thomas Hoccleve (1412)

Geoffrey Chaucer by Thomas Hoccleve (1412)

Anyway, I thought I would take this opportunity to clear up a few Valentine myths for you. Why do we spend a disproportionate sum of money on our bird to cometh and get the cheese? Why do 220 million red roses get sold each 14th February? And why oh why does every restaurant insist on set (in my opinion only) overpriced menus incorporating the phallic asparagus (not in season), lobster (about to be off season) and strawberries (really not in season and honestly, dipping them in chocolate does absolutely not rectify this fruity faux pas).

It has become apparent (to me) that there is no ‘love’ in Valentine’s. Please don’t judge me as an in-affectionate beast, please no. I love to love. It’s a beautiful, magical, wonderous thing and I do so love it, but…

…St Valentine himself is, like love, a mysterious phenomenon. They could be one of very many. A popular boys name in the olden days. But historical ‘reports’ show that if you did call your kid Valentine, you would most probably nurture a challenging wee chap. On a positive, he had a higher than average probability of becoming a Saint.

Generally, they did also have a higher likelihood of going to prison which, way back then, could be translated as being stoned/beheaded/hanged (perhaps where the romantic  terminology “my pounding heart”, “my throbbing skin”, “took my breath away” originated?).

Oh, apologies. Note to self, this is not a whine blog. So, for all you amorous romantics out there HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY etc, etc…

Get in the Spirit

Busta had his open lovesong for cognac in early 2000s.

To me, there is something special about pouring a small glass of cognac on a winter’s evening, sometimes even accompanying a choice cigar. The aromas prepare the palate for the big warm hug of caramelised fruit followed by fresh floral notes. Luckily for me Cognac shed its stuffy image about the same time that Busta Rhymes was extolling the virtues of it in 2001, so I actually feel quite ‘down with the kids’ whenever I indulge with Montecristo and balloon-glass in hand.

Cognac has a long and colourful history, bolstered in recent years with help from Busta et al. Sales have ballooned in Asia too, meaning that a massive 98% of all Cognac is now exported to foreign markets. A distilled spirit made from grapes, Cognacs derive their character from three main sources – the soil, the distillation process, and the oak barrels. The various iterations of these three aspects define the final product.

There are three categories of Cognac. V.S (‘Very Special’) is a young style with the youngest component in the blend being at least 2 years old. V.S.O.P (‘Very Special Old Pale’) uses older wood and the youngest component of the blend is at least 4 years old. This, in my opinion is where the best value lies. X.O (‘Extra Old’) does what it says on the tin – the youngest component must be at least 6 years old but often they are 20 years old or more. Next year, the minimum age will be increased to 10 years. A good X.O can work wonders with a cigar – the flavours complement each other and the zip and verve of the cognac refreshes the palate

So let me introduce our new Cognacs by Cognac Frapin.

Cognac Frapin is located in the heart of Cognac, in the Premier Cru region known as Grand Champagne. The house style displays the character of the region – rich, powerful and floral. The VSOP is incredibly drinkable and very well priced. The ‘VIP’ XO is enriched with reserves of very old brandies and is beautifully rounded. I can recommend them both safe in the knowledge that if it’s good enough for Busta, it’s good enough for me.

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The Perfect love story: Moez Seraly and Olivier Decelle

A marriage of love, attentiveness and passion…sound familiar? You could say that it’s the foundation of any solid marriage but (as we’re not really qualified to give any relationship counselling) we’d argue it’s also the foundation of the relationship between a quality wine producer and his or her vines. Given that we exclusively sell high-quality wines made by producers more interested in the quality than the quantity of what they’re producing, we’re much more qualified to talking about that.

You could say it’s a love of these wines that’s at the heart of The Perfect Cellar itself. And that brings us neatly on to Olivier Decelle – one hot property in biodynamic winemaking. We’ve always suspected that the beating heart of The Perfect Cellar, our CEO and founder Moez Seraly has a mild (to say the least) infatuation with this producer seemingly possessing the viticultural Midas touch, and recently I managed to steal five minutes of his hectic schedule to ask him how it all began.

Olivier Decelle

How did it all start?

I was first introduced to his Mas Amiel wines by an oenologist friend and was connected to the export manager. We then met in London and through that met Olivier, with whom I hit it off immediately. He really bought in to the vision of what we were trying to do and so when The Perfect Cellar first began, he supported us in the UK, and our friendship has blossomed to the point where my family now stay with him at Château Jean-Faure whenever we visit Bordeaux.

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What impressed you most about him?

The story of his hugely successful move from Picard Surgelés (French frozen food retailer) into wine is just incredible. He’s an extraordinary, inspiring leader making outstandingly good wines.

What is it that you particularly love about his wines?

His uncompromising focus on quality and his inherent love and passion for terroir shines through in every one. Usually this is a quality you only see in people who’ve worked in the industry their whole life, but his is one that comes straight from the heart.

What is The Perfect Cellar’s current relationship with Olivier Decelle?

We are proud to be the exclusive importer of all his wines – Mas Amiel, Château Jean-Faure, Haut-Maurac and Haut-Ballet, as well as his latest venture in Burgundy with Pierre-Jean Villa, Decelle-Villa.

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Do you think you both share a similar outlook on wine?

Completely. We both love great terroir and a simple process where one winemaker is responsible for vineyard management all the way through to the final bottling. And we both wouldn’t sell wine we wouldn’t drink ourselves.

What is your favourite wine that he produces and why?

One? Mas Amiel Vintage Maury. And actually Jean-Faure 2009. Oh but also, the Decelle-Villa Puligny Montrachet (that’s three then Moez…).

Drink Less But Better – Sustainable Farming

Terms such as ‘organic’ and ‘biodynamic’ have become much more more widespread recently, but do you really understand what they mean? As a part of our Drink Less But Better season, here is a brief overview of what goes into your wine.

Many of the cheaper wines you may stumble across will be made from grapes grown on an industrial scale. The chemicals they use to enable a disease free and high yield crop find their way into the soil, ending up not only in neighbouring vineyards and water supplies but also in the grapes and ultimately your body. Not ideal! Sustainable farming aims to reduce this manmade footprint, maintaining a natural balance that safeguards the health of the vines.

Organic vineyards are managed without chemicals where possible – if they are used it is in much smaller doses. Grasses and flowers are planted in between vine rows to prevent soil erosion and encourage wildlife diversity, attracting insects and animals that prevent pests and encouraging a healthy population of micro-organisms in the soil. It is expensive to become certified, so many producers follow the principals of organic farming without ever being officially organic. This can be referred to by the term Lutte raisonnée (‘the reasoned struggle’).

Biodynamic farming in Napa Valley

Biodynamic farming takes organic farming to the next level and is adhered to by some of the most famous names in the wine world. In Burgundy alone, some renowned proponents are Domaine Leflaive and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, as well as our exclusive producer Domaine Decelle-Villa. The vineyard is treated as part of a wider ecosystem considering everything from soil health to the movements of the moon and stars. Horses are used to plough the soil and vineyard work is done by hand rather than machine.

Each calendar day is categorised into one of four elements (root, flower, fruit, leaf) based on lunar and astrological movements. So for instance today (21st January 2015) is a flower day. This is a good day for growing, and it also happens to be the best day for wine tasting….

Special (and some say quite odd..) preparations such as oak bark fermented in the skull of a domestic animal and flower heads of yarrow fermented in a stag’s bladder are used; in these cases added to compost. Although it is scientifically unproven, blind tastings have demonstrated that biodynamic grapes can produce better wines. I will leave it up to you to decide, but surely the extra mile that these dedicated growers go to for their vines translates into a better glass of wine at the end?

Biodynamic Vines in Napa

For a perfect example of wines made using these sustainable methods, try our range of wines by Domaine Decelle-Villa. They demonstrate admirably how the qualities and character of each vineyard can shine through when they are treated with care and attention. Like it or not, organic and biodynamic farming has helped to increase crop quality and secure the health of the land for future generations, and for that it should be applauded.

 

Bordeaux 2010 – Our Top 5

It was fascinating to taste through 100 different wines from the 2010 vintage last week with my colleague Sarah Abbott MW at Vintner’s Hall, London. My highlight of the day was arguably tasting Chateau Lafite Rothschild sharing a free-standing spittoon with the legendary Oz Clarke.

2010 contrasts with 2009, although both are considered to be among the finest of recent Bordeaux years. Whereas 2009 has delighted with its fleshy opulence and immediately approachable nature suitable for an international audience, the 2010s are more restrained with much of the concentrated fruit currently hiding behind sturdy tannins – the word ‘classic’ has been bandied around more than once.

The vines had a harder time in 2010 with drought conditions and irregular ripening throughout the summer, so the best are arguably better than their 2009 equivalents whereas there are some châteaux that have failed to make the most of the difficult conditions. It was certainly not a vintage where the winemakers could sit back and enjoy the sunshine.

Having chewed through plenty of tannins during our allotted three hour session, I am delighted with the overall quality of the wines. Although there are some wines that have fallen behind due to their imbalance of under-ripe flavours and high alcohol; mainly wines from the Haut-Médoc where quality is extremely variable; there are some absolute stunners that will be exquisite in their prime, carefully balancing the razor-sharp acidity characteristic of the vintage with intense and complex flavours. The quality of tannin in these top wines is excellent – many having a chalky texture that helps to soften the considerable astringency. Here are our top tips for what to stock up on:

 

  • Château Langoa Barton.

Saint-Julien, Third Growth

Langoa Barton always represents excellent value for money. Graphite and dark fruit aromas lead onto a dense and juicy palate. A great finish developing into spice and mineral. There is a touch of warmth from the alcohol but it is very well balanced. The wines of Saint-Julien in this vintage are accessible with integrated tannins, which bodes well for mid-term drinking.

 

  • Château Lynch-Bages

Pauillac, Fifth Growth

An extremely popular château, and you can see why. This Pauillac has the ability to come close to 2nd Growth quality in top vintages, and this has been a very successful one for them. Slightly vegetal and smoky aromas lead on to vibrant dark fruit of particularly assertive concentration, backed by chalk-textured tannins. With such a dense character this is for the mid to long term, but will be absolutely gorgeous.

 

  • Château Duhart-Milon Rothschild

Pauillac, Fourth Growth

From the same stable as Lafite Rothschild, this is not too far off the pace of his big sister this year. Inky aromas precede a palate soaked with iodine and dark fruit. Lafite-esque complexity, with less tannin but more balance at this stage (and currently a tenth of the price…). The creamy finish lingers! This is classic masculine Pauillac with wonderful aromatics.

 

  • Château Pavie Macquin

Saint-Emilion, Premier Grand Cru Classé B

This wine stunned me with its initial hit of stewed fruit with an open, airy nature. This evolves into fresh dark fruits- concentrated with a malleable character akin to Chateau Haut-Brion. It has a really rich finish with streaks of mango and passion fruit. My joint wine of the vintage along with…

 

  • Château La Mission Haut-Brion (not to be confused with Haut-Brion mentioned above)

Pessac-Leognan

From the lesser known commune of Graves, this is still a formidable (and world famous) wine. Voluptuous aromas remind me of the nuance I usually associate with mature Burgundy, while the fruit envelopes your palate with juicy, spicy and savoury fruit. This develops into traces of mineral and iron with very well integrated tannins and a long complex finish. Brooding depth, and a sensual wine.

 

I would love to hear from you if you have tried any of these wines, or if you have any questions regarding these wines – please feel free to post below of contact me by email: james.button@theperfectcellar.com