Ξ August 12th, 2009 | → 3 Comments | ∇ Greybeard's Corner |
Discovering a new source of wine in your area is always an exciting experience so finding two is a double cause for celebration. Add on top of this a vacation in a vineyard and you’ll realize why this was a very good month indeed, even though the weather was atrocious!
My first discovery was somewhere I’d known about for about 3 years but just hadn’t actually gone to (for no other reason than apathy I guess) – I soon learned the error of my ways. Richard Granger Fine Wines is a wine merchant in Newcastle Upon Tyne who have been in operation since 1970. Sadly Richard Granger, the man and founder, died in 1997 but the store is run by proprietor Alastair Stewart (who worked with Richard from the early 80s) & Mark Rennie. A 2005 piece from the local Journal newspaper adds some extra information here.
The store is nestled in the corner of one of the local Metro stations and has a great selection of classic and quality labels, including some of the best Sherry, Port & Madeira I’ve seen in the North East of England under one roof. The Californian section is well represented, with Au Bon Climat and Bonny Doon amongst others, however it was a pet country of mine, Lebanon, which grabbed my attention with a winery I haven’t tried before – Massaya.
Alastair happily gave me a potted history of the winery set up by Sami and Ramzi Ghosn when they returned to Lebanon after the civil war ended, backed by French expertise and investment in the form of the Brunier family (owners of Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe) and Dominique Hébrard of Saint Emilion (whose family owned Château Cheval Blanc until it was sold in 1998).
I bought 4 bottles that first visit but it wasn’t until I got home that I realised the Massaya Silver selection was their white offering and not the red I meant to buy, so back I went the week after to exchange it. Since I was there it seemed a waste not to get a couple of extra bottles, so I left this time with the Cuvaison 2006 Carneros Pinot Noir and a bottle of Randall Grahm’s finest – the 2003 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volante. I have no doubts these were the first of many wallet liberating trips to this fine wine emporium over the coming months, especially as I have 3 years of neglect to make up for!
The second discovery is a new enterprise set up in Newcastle, PortoVino (but don’t click on the link just yet as it’s not due to be active for a couple of weeks). The company has been set up by two local businessmen looking for a change in direction; Paul Raven and Alan Holmes have known each other for 30 years but wine was always a hobby until now. I had the misfortune to miss their first tasting session a couple of months ago and was even more disappointed when I heard that it was a sort of X-factor event with 50 Portuguese wines from prospective suppliers being judged on the night to make up the final 24 in the PortoVino range – power to the people! On this occasion they were doing a joint tasting with my favourite Spanish retailer Spanish Spirit – a taste of Iberia evening with a welcome selection of Spanish cured meats and cheeses to help with the wine.
On the Portuguese side I tried a delectable, apple-scented Quinta da Romeira 2005 Espumante Brute, the first traditional method sparkling I’ve ever had out of this country. We moved onto the dry whites with the 2008 Prova Régia which had a citrus nose and a smooth, full-textured mouthfeel, then the Morgado de Santa Catherina 2007 Reserva whose 18months in French Oak gave a heavy floral nose and a complex, full bodied taste. All three were made from the Arinto grape by the same producer out of Bucelas, Estremadura.
The colour shifted with a 2008 Rosado from Casal Garcia which was a light (10.5% abv) Vinho Verde (I thought they were always white!) with strong frizzante and plenty of berry fruit from its Vinhão, Azal Tinto and Borraçal varieties.
Finally onto the reds from Quinta da Fronteira, also in the Companhia das Quintas stable. The 2006 Douro Superiore was young with a bitter, spicy wood component and peppery green tannins, needing some bottle age – unlike its sibling the 2006 Douro Selecção do Enólogo which, while being capable of several more years ageing, was drinking beautifully now with a strong hit of coffee and chocolate on the nose and a smooth, rich, smoky flavor and fine tannins, easily the best wine of the night for me (so much so I bought the bottle that had been left unopened!).
I hope to try out some more of PortoVino’s range in the next few months and find out a bit more about this new venture which is bringing wines from one of the most promising countries in the wine world at the moment.
The end of the month had me spend a short vacation at an English winery, the Three Choirs near Gloucester as discussed in my last article. I concentrated on the wines and vineyards in that piece, so here I’ll mention the lovely food we had during the trip.
First at the Three Choirs restaurant itself, a fine dining evening with their own wine by the glass (some non-English wines were also available if you dared!).
A generous portion of smoked salmon was a melt in the mouth starter with some delicate capers sprinkled on top and a salad leaf garnish. The main course was pan-fried lamb’s liver on mashed potatoes with bacon and onion topping – delicious, although I asked for it pink and it came a little overdone for that description.
My partner Sarah had the meaty duck confit & black pudding terrine to start and then moved onto an even larger portion of smoked salmon for a main. We both finished with the cheese-board and some of the Siegerrebe & Schönburger late harvest dessert wine which had lychees jumping out of the glass! The cheeses were delicious, but for £8 the pieces were too thinly cut for my Northern tastes! In total the 3 course meal for two, with wines, came to just under £90 – not cheap, but a must for at least one evening if you’re staying at the winery.
The next evening we ventured a little farther afield (well, 10 miles down the road) on the recommendation of Jo from the Three Choirs. As soon as she mentioned a pub serving Nepalese curry I knew I had to visit, so we drove to the Roadmaker Inn in the village of Gorsley, near to Newent. From the outside it looks like a typical middle-English tavern but it is owned and run by Keshar Sherchan, Ratna Baharder Rana, Del Baharder Thapamarger and Ganesh Baharder Sherchan, retired from the 1st Royal Ghurka rifles with 76 years of active service between them.
As you may know Ghurka’s hail from Nepal and have served alongside British troops for nearly two hundred years, with recent changes to the U.K. law to open up immigration rights for ex-Gurkha’s to live in Britain.
We arrived on a busy Wednesday evening and the main restaurant area was already full! We were directed to a table in the public bar (several other tables were already set up) and browsed a menu of Nepalese and Indian-style dishes, each of which sounded wonderful. For starters we had chargrilled Sekuwa lamb and baked Rara chicken with a cashew and cream cheese marinade. For the main course the Ganga Jamuna was a chicken Tikka with garlic, ginger and fenugreek served hot by request (and boy, was it hot!) along with the slow-cooked Nepalese lamb in a rich sauced liberally dosed with coriander. A Peshwari naan bread and Pilau rice were the perfect accompaniment and a cold beer washed it all down. I can’t recommend this place enough if you’re passing Gloucester or Ross-on-Wye, the food and busy pub atmosphere were a joy and we left well-fed, very happy and prepared for the drive back North after the vacation.
Other than all the English wine I managed to work my way through a mixed bag of bottles during July. The best of the bunch was also one of the cheapest; the medium bodied Cantina di Merlara 2006 Valpolicella Ripasso from Aldi at £5.99. This had a rich, dark, smoky nose with a mix of complex flavours in the mouth along with a juicy fruit finish, albeit a little short.
Best white was the 2005 Clefs du Papes Blanc Chateauneuf-du-Pape , a Roussane blend with a rich honey perfume, floral with white stonefuit and a full mouthfeel with a honey mid-palate and dry finish. This full-bodied white made its 14% abv known but was still very enjoyable and was purchased from Costco late last year for £10.
Also worthy of a mention was the oaky La Motte 2004 Millenium Bordeaux blend, strong on chocolate and liquorice, and the refreshing Château Pesquié Perle de Rosée 2007 which I brought back from the Côtes du Ventoux – a balanced and moreish dry Rosé.
July came to a close as it started with rain managing to hide the threat of a summer, but even without the sun it was a busy and enjoyable month which saw new wine experiences continuing and the promise of more to come.