Celebrate and Win
Celebrate our 10th birthday and win a magnum of 2003 La Réserve de Léoville-Barton RobersonWine.com turned 10 years old on Monday 10th September. It's be...
Celebrating English Chardonnay
Liz Sagues, author of A Celebration of English Wine (Robert Hale, 2018), investigates the growing success of English Chardonnay English Chardonnay - Something to Celebrate? English Chardonnay: what a world away, in flavour as well as distance, from the gold-hued, oaky, vanilla-sweet examples that gave the grape such a bad reputation, prompted the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) movement and still influence those wine drinkers who have never realised that Chablis is made from Chardonnay. And Chablis is so much better a comparison for English Chardonnay than wines from hotter vineyards. Our home product isn't truly Chablis-like, even though some who make it hint at that. But it does share some characteristics, with a properly British individuality – after all, there can be very considerable similarity in the soils into which the vine roots dig. While English Chardonnay has the crispness of the French classic, there isn't yet the same stony minerality, and the scents and flavours more often evoke the flowers of hedgerow and meadow than tropical fruits. As befits so young an introduction, styles vary a lot, from the very light and almost tart to denser, riper wines. Oak rarely appears – generally, unless the cellar skill is very high, a good thing with such delicate raw material. Older vines, and a little more maturity before wines are sold, will surely raise the 'wow' level soon. Quite rightly, Chardonnay is called the chameleon grape, and England will as the years progress add more colours to the existing spectrum, though they will surely remain bright and fresh. To put the present story in context, a little history is relevant. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are now by far the most-planted grape varieties in England, a massive switch from the late 20th century, when Müller-Thurgau, Reichensteiner and Seyval Blanc filled the vineyards and the noble varieties were rare. But they were there: Sir Guy Salisbury Jones, the man who revived English commercial viticulture after WWII with his 1950s Hambledon vineyard, had Chardonnay vines. Ripening was a problem, though. Pathé filmmakers recording the 1972 harvest thought the berries were 'too small and too green'; Chris Foss, head of the pioneering wine department at Plumpton College, felt much the same about other plantings a decade later: 'Chardonnay berries were like frozen peas'. The revolution in vine choice has come about for two reasons. One is that noble varieties now ripen properly most years in England, because of the gentle rise in summer temperatures (global warming is less welcome for the weather variability and violence it also brings). The other, probably more influential, is the success of English sparkling wine, where the vast majority of Chardonnay grapes end up. Fizz needs acid, and England's grapes have that. But the increasing, and increasingly good, examples of still Chardonnay are proving that the destination should not always be sparkling. A good number of new entrants release still Chardonnay while waiting for their sparkling wine to be ready for the market – it makes budget sense. There are, though, going to be more and more producers for whom still wine is most important, and significant figures favour Chardonnay. London Cru's 2017 Chancery Lane English Chardonnay is on sale now at £18 per bottle.
Longing for l'Apero
Purchasing Assistant Marion shares her favourite tradition. I love pubs in the UK. There is nothing like them in France, but I have to admit, I sometimes get a bit nostalgic about the “aperos” we do in my country. An apero is basically a pre-dinner drink that very often, evolves into the dinner itself. Like having a pint and crisps in the pub, we meet up with friends in a bistro or at home and enjoy wine and finger foods. For these occasions, I always go for a good rosé and it is usually the first bottle to be emptied! With our current rosé focus sale, there are plenty of ways to match your wine for l’apero: M de Minuty, Château Minuty The fresh acidity and delicate fruits are so versatile, that you can pair Minuty with almost anything. For a quick apero, just match it with stuffed olives and mixed nuts like pistachios, cashews, almonds, peanuts… so simple! Rose et Or, Château Minuty More expressive than M de Minuty, with grapefruit notes and white peach. The Rose et Or is great with a charcuterie board (saucisson, jambon cru, pate en croute…) as its acidity will balance out the fattiness of the meat. Whispering Angel, Château d'Esclans In the same style of Minuty, Whispering Angel is also a dry Provence rosé made by Sacha Lichine, who has become famous for making Provence’s most expensive rosé wine: Garrus. Whispering Angel is expressive, slightly sweeter on the palate, with notes of strawberries and raspberries. This wine would be heavenly with fresh goat’s cheese, rosemary and honey toasts, and a bowl of cherry tomatoes. Cremant de Limoux Rosé J Laurens, N7 Sparkling wine is also great for apero and it is a shame to keep it for dessert only! The sweetness and creaminess of the bubbles call for melon and prosciutto wraps, or watermelon and feta slices with a drop of balsamic vinegar. For all these wines, make sure to chill them before serving, but don’t freeze them otherwise all the subtle aromas won’t develop in your glass. Bonne santé!
Vegetarian Food and Wine Matching
Roberson staff share their favourite vegetarian recipes and wine matches Easy Lentil Stew By: Tayla Roberson I’ve been a vegetarian since 1980. That was a pre-foodyism age when quiche, potato skins and omelette were the on-trend options. Being meat free is much more interesting these days, but vegetarian food and wine pairing hasn’t got much easier; if you want a lovely glass of Bordeaux, Tofu doesn’t taste any better with it than scrabbled egg did. So, go old-school French to make a simple dish with flavour and character to meet the wine half way. It’s dark, delicious and almost meaty. The Ingredients: 200g Puy lentils 1 onion A couple of carrots A couple of sticks of celery A handful of cherry tomatoes A couple of small mushrooms A couple of bay leaves The Method: Take a large open bottom, shallow pan. Cut the onion into 8 and fry until soft in a splash of olive oil. Add the lentils. Cover with water. Add the remaining vegetables and a few bay leaves. Simmer gently for about half an hour. Top up with a splash of whichever wine you are drinking. It’ll be ready to eat when the lentils are al dente and the stock is reduced to a stew like consistency. The Wine Match: Perfect with a traditional Bordeaux like Château Franc-Cardinal, or a robust and slightly rustic southern French red, like L'Esprit de la Fontaine. --- Onion and Feta Pie By: Ben Greene This is a modified version of the Provence pizza - pissaladière - which normally features anchovies in place of the Feta below. The key is not to rush the onions. The Ingredients: 1kg onions Olive oil A sheet of all-butter puff pastry Black olives Feta The Method: Peel and slice the onions, then cook them in olive oil over a very low heat for two hours. They should collapse down without catching. Spread them on the puff pastry leaving a bit of a border, and brush that with olive oil. Scatter the black olives and Feta over the top. Bake in a medium oven for 30 minutes or so. The Wine Match: Match with a high-quality Provence rosé like Minuty's Rose et Or, or try a Greek white to match the Feta and olives, like Argyros' native Santorini grape Aidani. --- Vegetarian Chilli By: Simon Huntington When I was considerably younger and fitter, a friend talked me into taking part in a weekend ‘adventure race’. This was a cross-country running and cycling event, which involved the extra challenge of having to navigate using map and compass to specific points along the course. At the end of the race, there were huge portions of vegetarian chilli served up to all the competitors – and I quickly realised that I could cut out the middle-man and enjoy the best part of the race experience without the muddy and exhausting preamble. The Ingredients: 1 large onion 250g mushrooms 6 sticks of celery 2 chilli peppers, deseeded 2 sweet red peppers 1 tin chopped tomatoes 1 carton black beans 500ml vegetable stock 20g 90% cocoa dark chocolate ½ teaspoon oregano ½ teaspoon chipotle-smoked chilli flakes ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (adjust for taste) The Method: Finely chop the onion and garlic and fry until translucent in a large cast-iron cooking pot, over a medium-high heat. Chop the celery, sweet peppers and deseeded chillies and add. Slice the mushrooms and add after a further 2 minutes. Once all the vegetables are softened, add the oregano, cayenne pepper and smoked chilli flakes and continue frying for 1 minute to release the flavours. Add the tin of chopped tomatoes and the vegetable stock and, once back up to a boil, turn down the heat to simmer slowly and reduce for around 30 minutes. After 30 minutes (or whenever the chilli has thickened), grate the dark chocolate into the mix, add the drained black beans and simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve with brown rice or a baked potato. If the chilli is too hot for your taste, add Greek yoghurt to reduce the heat. The Wine Match: I would generally serve this with a red, but the spices will clash with anything that's too tannic, so you're best off with a ripe, silky red such as the Jackhammer Pinot Noir. If you'd prefer a white, try Semeli's succulent, floral Thea Mantinia Moschofilero. Got your own tried and tested vegetarian recipe? We'd love to hear from you and might feature your recipe in a future post - just get in touch.
The Domaine by Lidewij Van Wilgen, pt.3
At the height of her career, Lidewij Van Wilgen gave up her job at Saatchi in Amsterdam to start a new life in the French countryside and become a wine maker, producing the beautiful Mas des Dames. She wrote a book about her experience, Het Domein (The Domaine), which became a best seller in The Netherlands. Read excerpt one: First Impressions and excerpt two: Where I'm From now. Chapters 6 and 7: First Weeks at Mas des Dames The winery is like an island. We’re all alone in this sea of green fields. Every once in a while, out in the distance I see a farmer on an old tractor looking in our direction. I follow his gaze, see our brand new machinery glinting in the sun in front of the cellar, and wonder what he makes of it all. In the shade of the almond tree in front of the wine cellar, Siebe, our vintner, is talking to Bruno, our main worker. I stare at the white jerry cans on the ground with their death heads and choking fish symbols. I kneel down to read one of the labels: très nocif pour le milieu aquatique - highly toxic to aquatic organisms. I think of the small stream down below and the little fish swimming in it. ‘Is it really necessary to do so much spraying?’ I ask. Bruno frowns at me. Suddenly, I see myself as if from a distance, the city girl in her trendy skirt. What would I know about weed killers and pesticides? Four days later, Adrien and I drive two anxious little girls to school. As we park our sleek blue Land Rover between two old Peugeots, I feel ill at ease – it’s shocking to see just how out of tune we are with our surroundings. At the school gate several small groups of women are chatting idly. Adrien's jovial 'Bonjour!' is acknowledged, albeit grudgingly, but is followed quickly by a resounding silence. These people all know each other; we are complete outsiders. Intruders almost. When we walk outside Adrien puts his arm around me. His attempts at reassuring me are quickly smothered by a scene in my mind’s eye that is so overpowering it leaves me gasping: Marijn, sitting on the floor in a beam of sunlight at her Montessori school back in Haarlem. I feel the tears welling up as I picture the jigsaw puzzles spread around her, the children's artwork hanging on the walls, all her little friends. What on earth are we doing here? --- 'Hey, that’s a perfect job for me!’ I say a few days later when Siebe is about to send Mia back into the vineyards to test the grapes for ripeness. Siebe fires me an admonishing look. ‘No, no,’ he says, gesturing at me to sit down. ‘Look, for this kind of work you have to be systematic. You can't just pick one hundred individual grapes at random; you have to have a system. ‘Fine,’ I say, ‘then I'll choose a couple of different rows in each section, and I'll make sure to pick at different heights.’ I stand up to go but Siebe doesn’t move, so I sit down again. He sighs and says: ‘No, Lidewij, I can't let you do this, no way. We’ve been using Mia's system right from the start. The results wouldn't be consistent if I suddenly let someone else pick the samples. It’s just not possible, sorry.’ ‘Are we going to harvest the grapes soon?’ I ask Siebe when he stops by that afternoon. ‘Harvest? Us?’ He regards me with something approaching pity, the silly child who's asked yet another stupid question. ‘Lidewij,’ he says wearily, ‘you have to understand that our quality criteria are a lot different from those of a cooperative. They have to gather the grapes on time from a host of different coopérateurs. So they have to start early. But we can wait until that precise moment of optimal ripeness.’ He takes a grape from one of the bags on the kitchen counter. ‘Here, take a look at the seed.’ He pops a grape into his mouth and then shows me the seed on the end of his index finger. ‘See the tip of the seed? It's still green. A grape isn't ripe until the seed has gone completely brown.’ I put a grape into my own mouth and take out the seed. He’s right; the top of it is still green - not yet ripe. ‘You can taste the seed as well,’ he goes on. ‘A ripe one has a roasted-almond flavour, not that sour, greenish taste.’ He takes another grape and bites it in half. ‘Look at this one. Do you see that? The seed is still stuck to the flesh. In a grape that is ripe the seed comes away real easy.’ I have just learned three extremely useful empirical criteria, with the result that I end up eating a lot more grapes over the next few days than is strictly necessary. I get a kick out of being able to follow the grapes' maturation process myself now using this simple, timeworn method. It comes as no surprise to me a week later when Siebe announces that the grenache blanc grapes are ready for harvesting. I had already come to the exact same conclusion myself. As Mas des Dames' UK importer, we're publishing a series of excerpts from Lidewij's book. Read excerpt one: First Impressions and excerpt two: Where I'm From now - and check back soon for the next part.
The Domaine by Lidewij Van Wilgen, pt.2
At the height of her career, Lidewij Van Wilgen gave up her job at Saatchi in Amsterdam to start a new life in the French countryside and become a wine maker, producing the beautiful Mas des Dames. She wrote a book about her experience, Het Domein (The Domaine), which became a best seller in The Netherlands. In this excerpt from Chapter Two, Where I'm From, Lidewij discusses her growing sense of dissatisfaction with her pre-Mas des Dames life in Amsterdam. Read chapter one, First Impressions, now. Two years previously: I am sitting at a large glass desk complete with arty aluminium lamp and mandatory stack of files. I am thirty-two years old, a director of strategy at an advertising agency in Amsterdam, and with eight years of experience almost a veteran in my chosen field. At twenty-five I got married to Adrien, a young copywriter. For our honeymoon Adrien and I decide to hire a yacht in Greece. We set sail from Athens for the island of Hydra and in the days that follow we drop anchor at islands where the only inhabitants are families that look after the local lighthouse or who scrape a living from the sea in their small fishing boats. We navigate our way through fierce storms and fall into bed every night thoroughly exhausted but also with a feeling of intense satisfaction. Every evening we manage to find a ramshackle restaurant where we can eat with our feet in the sand. The menu is the same everywhere. Greek salad. Chicken. Sardines. Swordfish. We drink retsina in the blissful awareness that this is all we will ever need and are ridiculously happy. The shock is enormous when we return to the Netherlands. Was it really this busy when we left? --- Marijn is born in our bedroom on the Westerhout Park and takes her place in our world without fuss or complaint. She has not yet turned two when our second child arrives: Fiene. Effortlessly, I find another bottomless well of love from which to draw and Fiene expends equally little effort in finding her place next to Marijn. I am now a member of the colourful brigade that fills the narrow streets of Haarlem: the army of Trendy Young Mothers. Can life be too perfect? Maslow's hierarchy of needs: when the essentials are fulfilled you will inevitably move on to the next set of needs. Suddenly, there it is again, the restlessness we felt when we came back from our honeymoon. It's like having a ticking clock in the room. You can go for hours without noticing it, but once the sound gets into your head there's simply no getting rid of it. I make friends with a few of the women in the area. They are all very nice but I can't help thinking how alike we all are. We all have a university education, work in the creative industry, have two or three children and drive a Volvo. We drink cappuccino and rosé and discuss our work, our children, our spouses and families – the world is our oyster, and we intend to eat it. A mere two years later I will find myself desperate to have just one of these women living near to me. But right now one thought in particular occupies my mind: my life is not something I have created myself but rather a perfect replica of the lives of everyone else around me. Back in the office I read through my latest assignment for the fourth time. I start planning the campaign. How many strategies can I come up with? Ten? Twelve? I know them all inside out by now and could commit them to paper in my sleep. I find that I am unmoved these days when I receive a compliment at the end of a presentation. It wasn't that difficult, after all. In the meantime, Adrien is having to deal with his own problems at work. In the evenings, when the children are in bed, we draw some small comfort from engaging in conversations along the lines of: ‘What if we decided to do something completely different?’ ‘Like what?’ ‘I don't know. Move abroad or something, find some space, follow the sun.’ It feels good to entertain these fantasies every now and then. Lots of our friends do the very same thing. It's a kind of hobby for young and spoiled people like us. As Mas des Dames' UK importer, we're publishing a series of excerpts from Lidewij's book. Read chapter three: First Weeks at Mas des Dames now.
The Domaine by Lidewij Van Wilgen, pt.1
At the height of her career, Lidewij Van Wilgen gave up her job at Saatchi in Amsterdam to start a new life in the French countryside and become a wine maker, producing the beautiful Mas des Dames. She wrote a book about her experience, Het Domein (The Domaine), which became a best seller in Holland. In this excerpt from Chapter One, First Impressions, Lidewij comes face to face with the harsh reality of living the dream. A narrow road winds its way up into the hills. Under the dark oak trees the tarmac is almost pitch-black, forcing my eyes into a squint each time a sharp beam of sunlight breaks through the cover. A bend in the road, an ancient stone wall, and then everything brightens up. The view becomes expansive again. Behind the vineyard, the burning sun colours the rocky plateau a bright yellow ochre. The road becomes a rough track. A cloud of dust trails in my wake as I drive towards the tall cypresses in the distance. I park the car and get out, the slam of the door breaking the silence and leaving behind only a startled emptiness. This is the image I have presented over and over to my friends back home: a large, sandy-coloured house standing in the shade of a sprawling ash tree. No one had any trouble filling in the rest of the picture: the long table outside on the gravel where we would sit drinking glasses of our own wine, happy children playing around us. It would always be summer. --- I leave the house and walk back to my car, the same dark blue Volvo that I used to drive on the busy roads of Amsterdam. Now it is parked in the shade of several tall cypresses, surrounded by nothing but an emphatic silence. ‘There’s no companion so companionable as solitude…’ I quote cynically in the direction of the vines that stare back at me without compassion. I have never felt as alone as in these past few interminably long weeks in this vast land. So, this is the 'Peace and Quiet' that had seemed so attractive to me back in Holland; that tempted me with the prospect of finding Buddhist-like harmony and truth somewhere deep down inside myself. The harsh reality, however, is that I often start my day now with a rising sense of panic when I throw open the shutters and see all that empty countryside stretching out before me. The utter emptiness, the all-pervading silence, the complete absence of human interference – they do nothing but intimidate me. Sometimes I exchange a few words with the local handyman or the boy who looks after our vineyard. But they have their own lives, their own routine, while my only role is to be here, a mere physical presence that is neither requested nor desired by anyone else in these parts. The locals treat me with a mixture of friendliness and pity; they toss a greeting in my direction and then return quickly to whatever was keeping them busy. So, this is what it's like to be nobody. We'll be publishing a series of excerpts from Lidewij's book over coming weeks. Read chapter two: Where I'm From now.
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