Greybeard’s Corner-February

Ξ March 22nd, 2009 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Greybeard's Corner, Restaurant Reviews, Tasting Notes, Wine News |

2009 continues into a wintry February with Ukrainians, going Dutch in Amsterdam and a Spanish regional taste-off.
Winter finally hit the U.K., snow and ice covering the island in a sheet of white. Such inhospitable conditions didn’t deter a visit from my company’s Ukrainian distributor, Ruslan, and as part of social duties I had an evening of entertaining to do. I chose to re-visit Loch Ffyne in Gosforth, which hosted our office Christmas meal (although I wasn’t overly impressed with the wine that night). This time round we both stuck firmly with the seafood that has made the chain popular in the UK and, as I was designated driver, a single glass of wine to wash it down. The kiln-roasted “Bradan Rost” salmon I had was smoky and rich and Ruslan relished his baked sea-bass, the first time he’d had “such a fish as this” – although he didn’t rate the boiled potatoes which were apparently not as good as even the cheapest potatoes back in Kiev! The lone glass was a 2007 Australian Riesling, limey and zesty and very pleasant although I forgot to take its details – suffice to say it was a typical example of a young, easy drinking New World Riesling.
A few days later I was invited to a tasting at my local Spanish retailer, Spanish Spirit. They had received a new delivery of wines from Bodegas Tamaral and had organised a taste-off with the Heredad Ugarte range they got in last year, Ribera del Duero vs Rioja.
Unsurprisingly it was a mostly red affair covering 3 price points. The 2006 Tamaral Roble just edged the Ugarte 2006 in the easy drinking section, the oaked Tamaral showing more depth of flavours than the fruitier, New World style Riojan. Moving up to the next level the 2005 Ugarte Crianza was a little tight at first (it could do with a couple of more years bottle age) but opened up showing excellent balance of tannins and acid with good length. The 2001 Tamaral Crianza made the most of its 4 year advantage with some spice on its smooth nose. This food friendly wine ended with some cherry on a long finish. 2-0 to Tamaral, although in a couple of years the Ugarte Crianza will come into its own.
Moving on and both the Reservas hailed from the hot 2003 vintage. The Tamaral came across as much too young, with a green nose and harsh tannins needing time to integrate. The Ugarte Reserva showed much better, with a fuller nose and lots of fruit, smooth in the mouth and a touch of tar amongst the secondary flavours.
I’d say with both wineries the mid-range Crianzas triumphed over the more expensive Reservas, although in a few years time they should come into their own. The evening was brought to a close with two special bottles from Ribera del Duero, the Tamaral 2003 Finca La Mira, and the hastily opened 2004 Monecastro. The Finca La Mira, aged in new oak, had noticeably more balance than its Reserva sibling and, although still closed, promises much from about 2012. The Montecastro was yet another of the night’s wines that needed decanting just to start exploring its complexities, but for my third tasting of the ’04 it was much more approachable than previously and I can see myself opening one of my stock of these in the near future.
The business trip this month was a short hop across the North Sea to Amsterdam for a couple of days with my colleague Lee. We were staying by the Vondelpark and the first evening walked a few minutes from the hotel to Tapa Feliz on Valeriusstraat. We selected a range of dishes from the menu, Patatas Bravas, juicy Garlic Prawns, Calamari, bread & aioli and a mixed tapas plate including Manchego, Chorizo, Jambon Serrano and anchovies. The dark bread with the aioli was unusual but delicious, very nutty, while the Patatas Bravas were simple roast potatoes in a spicy salsa, but still tasted good.
The 2005 Marius Reserva from D.O. Almansa (just up from Jumilla & Alicante, central east Spain) was perfect with the food. This Monastrell/Garnachia blend, typical of this area, had a sweet cherry nose, tannic up-front and good acidity for the Tapas.
The next night we took a tram into central Amsterdam and then walked back towards the hotel until we hit Restaurant November on Spuistraat. The menu prices were very reasonable (a necessary consideration when on expenses in the current climate) and more importantly there with some nice by-the-glass wine choices.
November RieslingAn excellent meal consisted of crayfish with a Marie-Rose dressing over lettuce and artichoke hearts – an interesting take on the simple Prawn Cocktail with extra texture and flavour. A glass of Riesling, the Fleiner 2006 Trocken from Weingärtner Flein-Talheim in Württemberg was a good accompaniment, served too cold but the aroma was still strong and very floral. The first sip was sumptuous, dry but some residual sugar evident, this had some honey and developed towards the end with some lovely lemon sherbet aspects, bordering on lemon scented cleaning products!
Main course was tender pan-fried duck with Chinese vegetables & rice. A good match on the wine was a Côtes du Rhone 2006, by Cave St. Pierre, fruity on the nose with a little oak, finishing with some liquorice. This was an uncomplicated easy drinker which went well with the Chinese flavours.
Whilst in The Netherlands I took the opportunity to add to my collection of unusual local wines with the Apostelhoeve 2007 Auxerrois from their Maastricht winery. This was my first Auxerrois, but not the first Dutch wine for the cellar, as I wrote about in last year’s article on the De Linie winery.
At home this month (and hot on the heels of my first truly corked wine last month) I had an “off bottle” – not corked, but something definitely wrong since I had its delicious sibling less than 2 months earlier. The wine was the Château Pesquié 2002 Les Terrasses which had a sour/bitter taste. I’m glad I know from experience that this was not typical of the Château or the vintage; however not having that comparison I may have just notched up this one as a very poor offering and not come back again, something that must happen with many wines where people tend to try only the one bottle.
Of the other wines drunk over the month the sweet section consisted of the unusual Hardys Nottage Hill 2007 Dessert Shiraz, a surprisingly pleasant fortified red, comparable to a young fruity Port, while a Rutherglen Estates Muscat was a raisin, caramel and toffee delight.
Best white was the Château Montus 2003 Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec, a Petit Courbu from South West France, the same area as Madiran. This was a simultasting reported on the WLTV Forums.
Best red was one of my few US bottles, the Elk Cove 2004 Pinot Noir, a, light, elegant and enjoyable wine with a rusty garnet colour, clear and light. For me this had a classic smoky Pinot aroma with a slight background of cinnamon, menthol and vanilla.
Least enjoyable, not including the Pesquié, was the Sula Vineyards 2006 Shiraz from Nashik province in India which had an unbalanced green nose, few tannins to speak of and hardly any fruit. It moved into a bitter mid-palate and a slightly sour finish with an aftertaste of ash, like a stale, spent cigarette – not impressive, too little body and no flavour, and hopefully the sub-continent can do better than this as they improve their industry.
Purchases were few and far between, the most interesting being the Arnaud de Villeneuve 1982 Rivesaltes Ambre Hors d’Age, a well-aged dessert wine, to add to my expanding selection of sweet wines from around the world. I’m also looking forward to the Montetoro 1997 Seleccion Reserva from Bodegas Ramon Ramos and purchased from Spanish Spirit – a perfectly mature wine I’ve enjoyed before and bought as they are getting to the end of their stock.
February saw the last of the BBCs 3 Wine programs on television, “The Firm” (Berry Bros & Rudd), “The Faith” (Château Margaux) and “The Future” (a South African start-up winery), some of the best programming on wine for a long time (there’s not much to choose from!). I’m also still working my way through Hugh Johnson’s “A Life Uncorked” – it is an informative read slow progression through the chapters as I only come back to it infrequently,
The American Wine Blog Awards nominations also appeared in February, with the results announced in March. We’d hoped for a placing but unfortunately Reign of Terroir never made it to the short-lists, the conservatives making it for another year. If any readers feel we deserved at least a nomination then help ease our disappointment by placing a vote for us on the Local Wine Events site!
Finally you’ll have noticed that Greybeards corner is late this month. I tend to do most of my writing on weekends and the last three have been interrupted by a crashed computer (very traumatic) and a long business trip. I apologise for the tardiness and my appreciations go out to Ken who has been doing a sterling job of keeping the blog updated with excellent posts.


Greybeard’s Corner, January 2009

Ξ February 8th, 2009 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Greybeard's Corner, Restaurant Reviews, Tasting Notes |

January is typically a cold, unwelcoming month and 2009 was no exception. After the excesses of the Christmas and New Year celebrations the return to work was a sobering experience and I got off to a slow start.
At home I finally completed reading my first ever Wine Spectator, which I had bought at a Swedish railway station during my December trip to Lund. Although it cost the equivalent of £10 I had to buy it for of curiosity value more than anything else, as I’ve never seen this in the UK. It was the November 30th edition and had James Molesworth did a good job covering the Rhône, a region I get great enjoyment out of, and specifically Côte-Rôtie. Overall it was an enjoyable read, but I couldn’t help comparing it to the UKs own magazine, Decanter, which I buy nearly every month.
Decanter, Dec. 08Decanter (I used the December ’08 edition as a comparison) retails at £3.80 in the UK, Spectator at $5.95 in the US, so not a great difference in (local) price. Decanter comes in a smaller format, probably 15-20% less cover area than Spectator, and also uses a smaller font size for its text -at a rough guestimate I’d say that Decanter offers more words per page and more pages in total with 160 to Spectator’s 144. Despite the extra pages I preferred this for general reading – Spectator felt cumbersome and unwieldy at times and at first glance the larger reading font and spacing made me feel a little as if I had mistakenly picked up a children’s magazine. Both magazines had roughly equal advertisement space with plenty of full-page ads breaking up the articles but otherwise they were equally informative and, laying aside my natural bias for Decanter, I would recommend both for the quality of writing but would favour Decanter for its smaller format if nothing else.
In mid-January we had a rare family visit to a local restaurant, the Aramee II in Prudhoe, which serves Indian and Bangladeshi food. I’m still on the fence when it comes to wine and Indian cuisine; typically I choose a cold Cobra or Kingfisher beer to dampen the fires of a chilli attack, but for the milder dishes I can see how some white wines would be a good match and this time I selected a bottle of Alsace 2007 Gewürztraminer to share with Sarah. Unfortunately I neglected to note down the specific producer but was impressed by how well the semi-dry, refreshing & fruity white wine stood up to the spices – although to be fair neither of us had ordered anything too fiery.
The month came to a close with a business trip to Germany – one night in Munich and three in Hamburg. Although at opposite ends of the country both cities had similar wintry weather with freezing temperatures and intermittent snow, luckily not enough to disrupt any of the travelling or prevent some enjoyable evening meals.
Munich beerhausIn Munich I wandered for half an hour near my hotel until I came upon the Altmünchner Gesellenhaus on Adolf-Kolping Strasse. Inside was a warm and friendly Bavarian beerhouse with a menu of classic and rustic meals.
To quench my thirst I had a glass of Franziskaner Wiessbier, a favourite tipple of mine for years whenever in Germany.
A browse of the menu showed they didn’t have my must-have meal, Kalbsleber, so I opted for the Münchner Würstplatte – a selection of 3 types of sausage on a bed of sauerkraut with a little potato hash-brown on the side.
The food was delicious; strong German mustard went well with the sausage while the sauerkraut was quite rich, not too acidic or sour. Muncher WurstplatterA glass of Riesling seemed like a good idea once the beer had gone so I went for the Rudolf Müllner 2007 Himmelreich Trocken, which wasn’t that Trocken after all turning out to be an uncomplicated light and fruity wine with a little lime zest. It was nothing like the more serious German or Austrian Rieslings I tend to lean to when buying, but it was very drinkable and a good match for the simple flavours of the würst and kraut, 2+/5. In total the 2 drinks and a satisfying Bavarian beerhaus dinner set me back the grand total of €16.50, a bargain!
I finished off the week, and the month, in Hamburg. This northern port city is famous for its seafood and the highlight of the trip was an evening meal at the Engel (Angel) on the banks of the Elbe river, opposite the large Airbus factory that builds the enormous A380 jetliner. The restaurant is actually part of a floating concrete pontoon on the river itself and as the larger boats and ships steam by you can feel the gentle rocking of the structure. More exciting was when one of the regular river ferries that pull up on the jetty misjudged its arrival and hit the side with a resounding thud, shaking the glasses on the table!
EngelThe food was excellent, starting with an amuse-bouche of a frothy fish soup with wonderful concentrated flavours and moving into an appetizer of Scallop Cappuccino; delicate scallops in a rich foam sauce on a sweet potato mousse. For the main course the special of the day was a delicious and rich beef linguini with sugar-snap peas.
For the wine I wanted something red and something German (a combination that can be hit or miss) which resulted in a bottle of LEO X-treme 2006 Pinot Noir from the GermanHill winery, the German spin-off winery from Austrian winemaker Leo Hillinger. The wine was pale and light with a cherry cream taste and some oak detectable, not one for those who like body and extraction but a decent 3/5.
Wine Purchases. As expected January has been a relatively quiet month with only two purchases – although they do amount to 14 bottles!
The first was a mixed case of wine from The Sunday Times Wine Club and those of you who know me will realise I tend to avoid wine clubs and also buying more than two or three bottles at a time, but this case was a follow-up to a Christmas present. I had selected one of the more expensive selections but as with most mixed cases there was a combination of some for early drinking and a few that should last several years in the cellar. I am especially looking forward to the O’Leary Walker 2005 Shiraz, the Domaine Raimbault-Pineau 2007 Pouilly-Fumé Cuvée Cassandra and the Château de Chenas Selection de la Hante 2006 Moulin-à-Vent. Unusual bottles included a Corsican Pinot Noir, the 2006 Domain du Mont Saint Jean, and a Picolit dessert wine from Colli Orientali del Friuli. However most exciting for me was my first ever vintage port, the 2003 DelaForce which, although not one of the really big names in the game, sounds like it should be a sound wine to open sometime after 2015. Hopefully by then I’ll have tried some earlier vintage ports to compare it against!
The other two bottles for the month came out of my Hamburg visit when I stumbled upon a wine shop near my hotel which was still open in the evening after I’d finished work. Weinhaus am Grindel had a nice selection of German wines on its shelves and the owner, Stephan Lehmitz, was happy to spend a few minutes discussing some of the bottles. I ended up with a new red varietal for my cellar, the Meiser 2007 Weinheimer Kirchenstück Frühburgunder (an ancestor/relative of Pinot Noir) from Rheinhessen, and a Rheingau Riesling that should be able to handle a few years cellaring, the Domdechant Werner 2007 Hochheimer Kirchenstuck Spätlese Trocken.
Wine consumption. Only 7 bottles were opened at home this month, possible a new all time low!
Most memorable, but for all the wrong reasons, was my first ever corked wine. OK, let me rephrase that, since I have had corked wines before at tastings and restaurants – this was the first corked wine I’ve ever knowingly had in one of my own purchased bottles “since records began”. For reference records began in April 2006 and I’ve opened nearly 400 bottles in that time, so one obviously corked bottle isn’t too bad really. The offending liquid was La Capitana Magliano 2004 Morellino di Scansano which I bought early last year, a shame since I was interested in trying out this lesser known Toscana Sangiovese.
The bottle I opened in its place was the Baron de Ley Museum Real 2002 Cigales Reserva. This and the Carpineto 1999 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano were the two best wines drank at home last month, although both just managed a 3+/5. The dark, inky Cigales had a firm tannins and balanced acidity with a spice aroma, while the Sangiovese had a mix of complex flavours including menthol and liquorice.
Least impressive was one of the whites from my mixed case, The Loose Goose 2008 unwooded Chardonnay made by Adolfo Hurtado of Chilean winery Cono Sur. Although this had a refreshing acidity with a creamy finish it was just too basic with no complexity, so warranted a 2+/5.
Time to bring January to a close – February is already here and, for the UK at least, the winter continues with a vengeance, so rich reds are as welcome as ever and I suspect will feature in next month’s Corner.


Introducing Greybeard’s Corner

Ξ January 12th, 2009 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Greybeard's Corner, International Terroirs, Restaurant Reviews, Tasting Notes, Wine News |

A Happy 2009 to everyone! The turn of the year is often an excuse for reminiscing over the past and Donna, Ken and I did this on the recent Reign of Terroir first anniversary post. It was whilst I was writing my part that I thought about starting a monthly “Diary post” of my assorted food and drink experiences which maybe wouldn’t provide enough detail or relevance for a full article in isolation but when combined should hopefully contain enough to interest most readers.
December began for me with another visit to Lund in Sweden, where I once again stayed at the Djingis Khan hotel. Chef Morten was in top form again and the delights of the visit was a superbly delicate top steak of cod served on a bed of celery and lettuce with diced apples and Parma ham. A fresh Puglian IGT Chardonnay was its accompaniment, although it was possibly a little too full for the fish – the Mauro 2006 had good depth and richness, with a butterscotch nose and a little alcohol heat. The wine had enough savoury complexity on its own, better suited as an aperitif rather than with food.
Other wines included the Firefinch “Ripe Red” from South Africa, a concentrated, high alcohol fruity wine, just a little over the top. There was also the Canaletto 2006 Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC which I could have sworn was a Shiraz with pepper component on the nose, fruit forward with a touch of VA, cherry on the mid-palate and finish – very easy drinking. As it was the run up to Christmas I even had some sweet Kirsch and Almond flavoured Danish cherry wine!
Later on in the month we had our office Christmas meal at the Loch Fyne seafood restaurant in Gosforth, Newcastle. For a Christmas meal trying to accommodate 30+ people the food was pleasant, especially my choice of smoked salmon appetizer with pan-fried duck breast as a main. The accompanying wine received mixed approval, a little bit expected as we were on a budget! The Domaine de la Provenquière Viognier 2007 from the Languedoc was a delicious and fresh white to start off the meal, but it’s red brother, the Domaine de la Provenquière 2007 Merlot & Grenache was unbalanced and disappointing. Much better was the Bodegas Larchago 2006 Rioja which we had towards the end of the evening.
Obviously the end of the month saw a marked increase in food and wine consumption to cover Christmas and New Year, and with nearly 2 weeks uninterrupted holiday I quickly settled into a relaxing lifestyle!
Wine purchases. December was a relatively quiet month on the purchasing – the cellar was already pretty full and didn’t need much topping up – and was also atypical with more than usual being opened almost immediately and enjoyed with family and friends over the festive holidays.
Of note was a trip to Waitrose in the run up to Christmas where I found a special offer on the newly released Château Musar 2001 at £14.39 instead of the usual £17.99. Two bottles were duly added to my expanding Lebanese inventory, I now have 12 bottles from that country, mostly Musar but also bottles from Châteaux Ksara and Kefraya.
Pesquie trioI also finally got round to ordering some Château Pesquié wines from on-line retailer, Tyne Wines. As you may know I spent a glorious week at this Côtes du Ventoux winery this summer and was pleased when I found out one of my local suppliers had some older vintages still available.
£56 (with the bonus of free delivery as I live so close) bought me 5 bottles including one bottle of the white 2003 Quintessence (Roussanne/Clairette) and two bottles of the 2001 Prestige (Syrah/Grenache).
Of most interest to me were two bottles of the 2002 Les Terrasses, usually the entry level Pesquié red but this year, a poor vintage where the top label Quintessence red was not produced, the better red grapes went into the “lesser” cuvees.
As for the other wines that have been stashed away for future drinking, my partner Sarah bought me a Pomerol as a stocking filler for Christmas, Château Bugrave 2004 (the second wine of Chateau Bonalgue) and I couldn’t resist a white Saint-Joseph (yet another Roussanne blend for me) the Cave de Saint Desirat 2005, knocked down to (superstitious people look away now!) £6.66 from the COOP.
Wine consumption. Unsurprisingly sparkling wines came to the fore this month (but remember I rarely drink from this category throughout the year so it is all relative!).
The Madame de Maintenon Brut Champagne (£13.99 from the COOP) was an easy drinking sparkler with a baked apple nose and green apple in the mouth, but lacked complexity. More enjoyable was the Pierre et Frédéric Becht Cremant d’Alsace Rosé (£8.99 from NH Wines) which had a delicate peach flavour with a raspberry finish. However best of the bunch was the Pommery “Summertime” Champagne Blanc de Blancs, a welcome present from one of my French colleagues a year ago and showing its class – light bodied and elegant with a fine mousse and a delightful apple component throughout.
December was also a month of firsts with a Luxembourg Pinot Blanc, a German Eiswein, a Barolo and a Palo Cortado sherry all being opened from my cellar.
The Pinot Blanc was one of my summer vacation purchases, the Caves de Greiveldange 2005 Pinot Blanc Premier Cru (Lieu-dit Primerberg) produced by Les Domaines de Vinsmosselle and bought for £5 in a Belgian supermarket in August. It had a light and floral nose with some sweet honeysuckle. A citrus tang up front moved to a dry, slightly bitter mid-palate and a medium length honey finish with good balance, if a little thin.
The Eiswein was Pfeiffer’s 2004 Silvaner by Ewald Pfeiffer, picked up in Morrisons supermarket last April for £6. At 9% this Pfalz dessert wine had a beautiful golden caramel colour with a light aroma, sweet but also a little toffee. There was some pineapple in the mouth and good acidity on the finish, maybe too sweet for the overall complexity, but good.
The Barolo and Palo Cortado were both supermarket own labels, entry level versions bought as an introduction to the styles. The Barolo was from Tesco’s Finest range, the Ascherivini 2002 Barolo bought in October 2006 for £13. I was pleasantly surprised by this offer from a poor vintage; it was a warming autumnal colour, with spice box, cherry wood and earthy tones on the nose and a good mouthfeel with forward acidity, mellow tannins and a smooth finish. Quite light with subtle cherry aspect, although no mid-palate to speak of, this was an enjoyable food friendly wine holding its age well.
Finally, for the new experiences, was the Palo Cortado, a rare sherry style described in my “Christmas Drinks” post in December from Waitrose at £7.50. Toffee brown in colour with the classic sherry aroma and a little wood smoke mixed in this was very dry in the mouth and had a refreshing, light mid-palate and a long salty finish. Although nice for a change I prefer the Oloroso style more.
I also managed to get through the three different Pesquié wines mentioned above. Both reds had forward acidity preferring food accompaniment but nevertheless were drinking well with smooth tannins and a mix of secondary flavours, including tobacco and spice for the 2002 Les Terrasses and white pepper and liquorice for the 2001 Prestige. However good the reds were it was the 2003 Quintessence Blanc that was the star of the pack. This was a full bodied white with a light honey colour and a delicate floral perfume, dry and creamy in the mouth with floral components and a stone fruit finish of moderate length. Although I had expected this to be past its best there was no hint of oxidation and the complexity and balance were delicious, almost the best wine I had last month….almost, but not quite. That honour is reserved for a wine made from my favourite white varietal, Riesling, and from one of my favourite white producing areas, Alsace.
The Domaine Paul Blanck 2002 Patergarten Riesling was also bought on my summer vacation last year, although this time from a Dutch Cheese & Wine store in the quaint old market town of Gouda. At £20 it was the most expensive single bottle I’d bought in the summer, and I was rewarded for that when I opened it over Christmas – we all thoroughly enjoyed drinking this exceptional wine. With a lovely golden colour and a delicious, rich aroma, this was honeyed and floral and, typical for Alsace style, you could “feel” some residual sugar in there, but there was no overt sweetness as such. It had a heavy texture, dry and warming with some citrus bitterness and some of the classic Riesling petrol aspects, but very subtle.
A Life UncorkedI also received a copy of Hugh Johnson’s “A Life Uncorked” which I plan on starting soon, so expect a review in the next few months once I’ve digested this.
So now the holidays are over and it’s back to the day job – I’d expect January’s retrospect to be shorter and less decadent! Until then I wish everyone a good start to the New Year.


Eftalya – Views across the Bosphorus

Ξ November 17th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Restaurant Reviews, Tasting Notes |

Eftalya Arnavutköy (Arnavutköy Mah. 1. Cad No:32 Arnavutköy – Besiktas / Istanbul)
Eftalya Beylerbeyi (Beylerbeyi Yaliboyu Cad N0:36 Üsküdar / Istanbul)
September to May is the best time to enjoy fresh seafood in Istanbul and sitting almost directly opposite each other across the Bosphorus are a pair of restaurants that showcase the best the sea has to offer. Both are called Eftalya (after a mermaid in an ancient tale) and on my most recent visit to Istanbul I enjoyed meals in each.
Eftalya ArnavutkoyEftalya Beylerbeyl
On the European side is Eftalya Arnavutköy in the Besiktas area of the city, just north of the main bridge across the continents. Seated at a window table there was a clear view of the the brightly lit bridge, the lights changing between the primary colours at regular intervals. The meal started with a delicious piece of salted tuna, which dissolved in the mouth, and was accompanied by a rich aubergine (egg-plant) puree made with a good dose of garlic.
European main courseThis was followed by a salmon salad with a Caesar-style dressing, a plate of tender calamari rings, grilled prawns and a selection of pickled vegetables to nibble on – ochre, cucumber and cabbage. The final course was a grilled fish delight with a succulent swordfish steak plus two other types of fish I couldn’t get translations for, but they were superb nonetheless.
European wine rackThe restaurant had a decent selection of local wines on show in a large wooden rack in the entrance hall. To go with our food a light and refreshing local wine was poured – the Sarafin 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from the Aegean and Marmara regions. This showed some classic grassy, pungent flavours and was more New-World in style, but with a mellow buttery aspect to balance its dryness which went well with the fish.
The following evening we made our way to Eftalya Beylerbeyi, on the Anatolian side of the straits. This time I was with a group of more than 60 people and a boat had been laid on to take us over the Bosphorus. The ride itself was enjoyable, sailing under the bridge across one of the busiest shipping channels in the region, however most entertaining was watching the captain try and dock with Eftalya’s private jetty – the strong current kept taking hold and he couldn’t quite get the front of the boat lined up, taking 4 or 5 attempts before finally getting it right, much to the amusement of the other restaurant guests watching through the windows!
The starter this time was based on Mackerel but equally delicious and with the same Aubergine puree, although more smokey and with less garlic. We were all seated over 5 large tables and the large group meant conversation was varied and constant, so my note taking was limited, but the food kept coming at regular intervals; small fried fish, fish cakes with Indian spices, flame-grilled squid and assorted vegetables and salads.
Asian main courseThe main dish was a large grilled fillet of a delicate white-fleshed fish (again unidentifed, but superb!) with similar garnishing to the previous night.
Wine was a mixture of red and white Turkish labels including Sarafin and Kavaklidere – all uncomplicated and easy-drinking to go with the informal atmosphere. Considering the number of people the service was very efficient and the food was every bit as good, if not better, than the previous night.
Both versions of Eftalya are well worth trying if you enjoy seafood and, if you get a good seat near the windows, you’ll have a stunning inter-continental view across the Bosphorus to add an etxra touch to the evening.


Chef Morten at the Djingis Khan, Lund, Sweden

Ξ November 3rd, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Restaurant Reviews, Tasting Notes |

A Swedish Hotel, a Danish Chef and an unforgettable experience.
Lund it is one of the oldest cities in Sweden and has a rich history, however nowadays you could be forgiven for not knowing much about it. It is therefore surprising to find in this out of the way town, in an out of the way hotel, a chef who personifies the word maverick. His name is Morten, and after 2 stays at the hotel I’m convinced he is a genius!
As some background the hotel is the Djingis Khan named not for the infamous Mongol Warlord, but for a comedy review put on by University students every 5 years! During my first trip to the hotel I was unprepared for the first evening, on asking for the menu I was told there wasn’t one – each night the meal selection was of Morten’s choosing, simple as that. If you asked he told you what it was, otherwise it arrived on the plate and you ate it. Although it sounded strange I was treated to some delicious food (this was over a year ago so forgive my addled memory that I can’t recount what I had). I stayed in the hotel a further 2 nights and each evening food was served blind and thoroughly enjoyed. To further add enjoyment Morten likes selecting wines that stretch the otherwise conservative Swedish lists – I savoured delicious reds from Cigales and Puglia, Barbera from Lombardy and Viognier from South Australia.
So some 12 months later I was hoping Morten was still there so I could revisit this oasis of food and wine culture. Sure enough he was walking up from the basement and there was a flash of recognition on his face and a “see you for dinner?” as I checked in.
CusumanoAs I sat down at a free table he explained he had been to see the dentist that day so way not feeling great, as such he apologised that all he could offer was a sandwich, which was fine with me. A glass of Cusumano Nero d’Avola / Syrah, the Benuara 2007, warmed me up with its young, fruity vanilla-cherry nose, the Nero d’Avola aspect initially showing, but which developed into herb and pepper aspects as the Syrah came through. One of the most intriguing things about the wine though was its closure – a Vino-Lok (VinTegra) glass stopper, something I’d previously only seen on German whites. Even though it’s been more than 4 years since they’ve been used commercially it’s still unusual to see bottles with this closure type in the U.K.
The “sandwich” arrived, and it turned out to be as inappropriately named as it possible. Gourmet plate, 2 lightly toasted, thin sliced, pieces of baguette style bread encasing cheese, ham, salami, salad leaved (including rocket) tomato and fennel all topped with a fried egg, the warm yolk mixing with the other ingredients to combine into a taste sensation, aided by a few fresh blackberries on the side of the plate and decorated with a stripe of balsamic glaze. This was a perfect flavour combination and one of the best sandwiches I’d had for a long time. Each ingredient melded perfectly, the salami, the roquette, the texture of the cheese & tomato, the oozing yolk of the fried egg. Even on an off-day Morten created food to be enjoyed.
The Cusumano took a back-seat to the meal; it couldn’t match the food and ended up being used as a digestif at the end, although it was delicious in its own right. Over time the wine definitely developed in the glass, the peppery Syrah component showing through but never losing its front-forward fruit. 3+/5.
Following the meal I asked what other wines Morten had behind the small hotel bar. First out was a South African white, the Rijk’s Private Cellar “Iceberg”, which we initially couldn’t decide whether this was some unusual new grape variety, but actually is a blend of 75% Chardonnay, 19% Sauvignon Blanc and 6% Chenin Blanc. I’ve had experience of this producer before, having enjoyed their excellent Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc in the past (see a Tale of two Chenins). This blend was a highly aromatic wine, almost pungent in the mouth, and was bone dry, pleasant enough. 3/5.
BortoliThe next taster was something special, a golden glass of de Bortoli “Noble One” Botrytis Semillon, 2003 vintage. This was delicious; a tangy, sweet & sour caramel nose with some citrus, maybe a touch of chemical epoxy or tar. The deep golden colour suggests something older but the taste is young, sweet with a vibrant acidity and good length leaving you salivating long after you’ve swallowed the last drop. 4/5.
As we chatted Morten told me of his friend Erik Gemal Jensen at Le Sommelier restaurant in Copenhagen, recommending it to me next time I’m in the city. I’ve had a quick look at the web-site and it does look promising! Apparently Morten and Erik worked together a few years ago (although I didn’t get full details it involved wine). Then there was another blind tasting, a floral white, elegant and dry. I hazarded a guess at South America but was embarrassed when shown a bottle of Sancerre. As soon as it came out the floral nose took on a certain pungency which screamed Sauvignon Blanc and reconfirmed my abject failure at any and all blind tasting experiments!
As it was getting late we said goodnight, Morten had a dentists appointment the next day but was hopeful he’d be working in the evening. When I came down to the restaurant the second night I was relieved to see him behind the bar, his visit to the dentist hadn’t been as bad as he’d been expecting, although the evening’s menu was once again a sandwich of unspecified construction! To keep us both going (I’d been joined by my Danish colleague Birgitte) a glass of Viognier, the Bridlewood 2005 Reserve, Central Coast, California was poured. It had a buttery, floral nose, heady and perfumed with an oily texture, thickly coating the mouth with a peach-stone aspect and long finish. 3+/5.
The sandwich arrived and it was even better than the night before; woodcock, asparagus, apple slices and salad leaved, again with the blackberries on the side, delicious again. The semi-dry Viognier went well with the ingredients, even the asparagus. During the meal Birgitte chatted to Morten in Danish and gleaned some interesting background information. In the late 90’s he spent time in France – La Rochelle and a couple of years in Bordeaux. He’s also an artist and had no formal Chef training, working at the hotel out of enjoyment.
The red of the evening was Lindeman’s Cawarra 2007 Shiraz Cabernet, which had an excellent nose – ash, spice and lots of fruit. However the taste was a little underwhelming, no variation from start to finish and a little dull. 3/5 in the way it was made, but for me 2/5 for “excitement” (or lack thereof).
Final EveningMorten and me
Again Morten presented me with a blind-tasting; a white with a smoky nose, dry with a fair amount of oak. I guessed half-heartedly at a Pouilly Fumé, detecting some characteristics I associate with Sauvignon Blanc, but once again I was wrong, and it turned out to be an Alsace Gewürztraminer, the Kuentz-Bas 2005 . In my defence I claim this was one of the most atypical Gewürztraminers I’ve ever had, I didn’t get any of the Alsace style I am usually so fond of! – even after the “reveal” I had trouble reconciling the taste, but it was a decent 3/5 nonetheless.
We finished with more of the Bridlewood and another glass of the Noble One from the previous night. I’m planning another trip to Lund in December, so I’m looking forward to at least one more evening of blind tastings and delicious food with Morten at the Djingis Khan, a partnership that guarantees unusual and surprisingly delightful food and wine.


Nyhaven Revisited

Ξ October 26th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Restaurant Reviews, Tasting Notes, Wineries |

Galionen Steak & Lobster restaurant, Nyhavn 23, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Tivoli Halloween Although it was just over a month since I was last in the Danish capital the nights were already drawing in and it was dark as we walked from our hotel in the centre of the city past the famous Tivoli Gardens, the entrance lit up and sporting a Halloween look in the October evening. Nyhavn was our destination once again, my last visit meant we were familiar with the area and knew that there was a large choice of restaurants available.
There were 4 in our group this time and the cool evening meant eating outside was vetoed, although fewer of the restaurants were giving the choice as the summer season wound down. Initially we tried to get into a quaint looking restaurant with an Octopus sign hanging over the door, but they were full so we moved onto Galionen a couple of doors up the street (in between Barock and Porto Bello, where I’d been in September).
We settled into a corner table by the front window and menus were passed around. The wine list was very appealing and, as seafood was the popular choice, it was left to me to choose a bottle of white. I had a hankering for Riesling and there was a choice between Alsace and Australia, either of which I would have been happy with, but as a dry wine had been requested by my colleagues I went for the New World offering, knowing it was more likely to be drier than the Alsace.
Annie’s Lane RieslingThe Annie’s Lane 2004 Clare Valley Riesling was a vibrant golden yellow and had a heady petrol and lemongrass nose. As expected it was bone dry with a refreshing citrus mid-palate and finish. 3+/5.
Of course the wine needed food to match and a creamy fish soup was the perfect starter, rich saffron-yellow with a solid seafood-flavour base and thick pieces of salmon, prawn & crayfish to add texture, finished with a sprig of dill – wonderful!
Fish soupWhile everyone else chose sea-bass I decided on the Surf n’ Turf kebab, large prawns and veal cubes skewered and grilled served on a bed of roasted fennel, peppers & aubergine (egg-plant) with two potato rostis and a drizzle of delicate lobster sauce. A single scarlet crayfish on the side added visual enjoyment to the plate (and its tail was tasty bite-sized morsel). The food was excellent, I enjoyed my kebabs and my colleagues agreed that the sea-bass was delicious.
Galionen was a relaxing, enjoyable restaurant with a good food and wine selection and friendly, quick and efficient service, joining Porto Bello on my list of Nyhavn favourites.


Wonderful Copenhagen

Ξ October 2nd, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Restaurant Reviews, Tasting Notes, Wineries |

Continuing with a Viking theme my next trip after Oslo had me staying 2 nights in the Danish Capital. My hotel was close to the central railway station so a walk past the famous Tivoli Gardens, then down the chic and pedestrianised Strøget, the main route from the City Centre, was required to reach Nyhavn (New Port), the location for the 17th Century canal linking Copenhagen to the sea and recommended for dining.
HCA Number 20One side of the canal is non-stop restaurants, all with outside seating as an option which I took advantage of seeing as this was the first week for a while where it hadn’t been raining non-stop. On the other side brightly painted houses stretched away into the distance and one, a bright red front, was pointed out as Number 20, an old residence of famous storyteller Hans Christian Andersen.
On the first night we ate at Barock, number 1 right at the beginning of the street. Apart from saving our feet another reason for stopping here was a basket of wine bottles next to the “check it out” menu at the front of the restaurant – I’m a sucker for obvious marketing ploys!
A simple but enticing menu saw me looking for wine matches and to begin with I was toying with the idea of a lobster bisque with an Alsace Gewürztraminer, but finally I went for the Carpaccio paired with a 2006 Sancerre, Le Grand Fricambault by André Neveu, 160 Danish Krone, about $30, for a half bottle. The wine arrived first and I was pleasantly surprised to find it barely chilled, as this allowed the rich flavours of this full bodied white to express themselves. Moderately dry this was refreshing on its own and delicious in combination with the Carpaccio on salad leaves with generous shavings of Parmesan which I’d selected as a starter. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for my colleague Birgitte, who had ordered the mussels in white wine – the shellfish had a basic, sea-water flavour, little succulence or sweetness and were approaching (or past) their “best before” date. Compared to the mussels I’d had at Vollen Flordkro near Oslo less than 2 weeks before they were very poor.
Onto the mains and we both ordered the pan-fried salmon steak served with tagliattelle pasta, roasted mushroom and carrot with a sharp tomato sauce. To go with this I selected the Chateau La Croix de St. Georges 2002 St. Georges St. Emilion, again in half-bottle and 10 Krone less than the Sancerre. At a restrained 12.5% abv this elegant wine went well with the full flavoured salmon, its black fruit nose still vibrant and with smooth integrated tannins. The mid-palate moved into a short finish with good acidity (cutting the tomato sauce perfectly); it was a lovely drinking wine which went very well with the fish, much to the surprise of the waiter! Apparently half bottles of wine are not that common in Copenhagen but they were exactly what we needed, since the house wine by the glass didn’t appeal and a bottle of either colour would have been too much for us across both courses. All in all a tasty meal for me, but very slow service and the mussels detracted from the experience.
Porto Bello Number 3124 hours later and a cool but dry Thursday evening had us taking a different route past the Parliament buildings and financial area of Copenhagen to reach Nyhavn from the other end. We walked up the street (towards Barock) looking at each of the menus as we passed, then turning round and walking back again. Italian was in the back of my mind en-route and so Porto Bello at number 31 seemed an appropriate choice. This is easy to spot as the orange building it is part of has “Sunny Side” in enormous letters on the front!
Once again we sat outside and enjoyed the air, although it was a little chillier than before. Tonight a half bottle of white seemed too much so we each had a glass of a lovely Soave, the Tommasi 2007, at approx. 50 Krone per glass (just under $10) while we waited for our starters to arrive – unfortunately while we thought the service in Barock was slow the previous evening we hadn’t seen anything! First the waitress popped by after about 25 minutes to apologise for the wait, explaining that there was a big function inside the main restaurant and then 15 minutes later she came back and said there’d been some mix up and our starters hadn’t been prepared yet. She offered us something complementary and, as we’d finished off the white another glass seemed appropriate to go with my Crostini Misto once it finally arrived. This was 3 baguette pieces with a delicious topping on each – smoked salmon and caviar, Parma ham wrapped around soft, warm pieces of creamy mature buffalo Mozzarella and a delicious tomato topping on the third. Along with the extra wine this was a delicious appetiser and almost made up for the wait!
Main courses took another 30 minutes but meantime a half bottle of Nero d’Avola, Feudo Arancio 2007 from Sicilia (150 Krone) provided something fruity and easy drinking while we waited. Both of us chose pasta with a seafood theme; Birgitte had a beautiful looking lobster tagliatelle with a half lobster on the plate served with whole grain mustard stuffed in the carapace. I chose the linguine alla Marinara and was well rewarded with a creamy tomato-based plate of pasta mixed with squid, salmon, prawns and whole langoustines. We both agreed on the superior quality of the food and the delicious wine, completely outshining Barock from the night before. Although the service was slower at Porto Bello (remember Barock wasn’t fast) the waitress not only acknowledged and apologised for that, but provided a welcome free glass of wine and the quality of the food was definitely compensation enough. We left sated and satisfied.
Denmark doesn’t have as strict wine laws as its Northern neighbour and, even though taxes are still higher than its southern neighbours, wine prices were not as bad as I’d expected – definitely less that Norway and enough to order wine with a meal and not worry about breaking the bank. Nyhavn itself has a host of restaurants on its main street, some looked equally inviting and I’d recommend visiting if you’re ever in the Danish capital. Barock was pleasant enough, but Porto Bello was far superior and if this is full try out some of the other ones nearby.


A Fjord Fiesta – Wining and dining in Oslo, Norway

Ξ September 28th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Restaurant Reviews, Tasting Notes, Wine Bars, Wineries |

My recent trip to Oslo for a conference had me staying in a city centre hotel near the National Theatre. We had a chance to dine out twice over the week and the harbour-front location of Aker Brygge, the site of an old shipyard but now a boardwalk and entertainment hotspot, turned out to be the focal point of both evenings.
Bord wine cabinetThe first evening took us to the Bord brasserie and bar. This restaurant demonstrates its wine credentials as you walk in and see the large glass-fronted wine storage unit holding a selection of interesting bottles. The wine list was comprehensive but the menu choice for food was a little limited, and tended towards a younger generation of style; however we all managed to find something that appealed.

I selected Chevre Quesadillas to start & a bowl of unpeeled prawns for the main course – a traditional Norwegian dish, and the most rustic thing on the menu.
To accompany the mainly seafood choices we selected the Fred Loimer Käferberg Grüner Veltliner 2004 from Langenlois. This had a deep waxy nose, with a touch of honeysuckle, was dry in the mouth with a little spicy heat at the back of the throat and a dash of petrol as it moved into the mid-palate. The finish was long with the floral, honeysuckle aspect again. At 12.5% abv this was an enjoyable 4 star wine and one of the cheaper offerings on the menu at just over $90.

As for the food, nutty seed-bread was on hand to dip in extra-virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, while the rich, creamy goats cheese Quesadillas were warm and delicious on a bed of rocket salad & a sweet syrup dressing. The prawns came in a massive bowl, in their shell with a baguette and a strong garlic mayonnaise on the side – peeling the shells was fiddly, but well worth it once the succulent flesh was released! We had a pleasant evening at Bord, the food and wine were both good and the prices, extortionate by U.K. standards, were actually in line with what to expect in a country that has such a high cost of living.
It’s not just the high cost of living in this oil-rich nation that explains why prices are so high. Norway has traditionally had a history of high alcohol consumption and was one of a group of European countries that initiated Prohibition in the early 20th Century, starting in 1916-1917 and continuing until 1927; however this was not a complete ban on alcohol, mainly Spirits and Fortified Wines. In 1922 a state monopoly, Vinmonopolet, was created for the distribution and sale of wines (and later spirits) in the country. This continued until 1996 when the monopoly was ended for import and distribution, however Vinmonopolet still controls the retail side of wine in Norway and until recently most purchasing was an “over the counter” affair similar to Pharmacies. All of this means that a beer costs $10 while a bottle of wine is typically double what you’d pay in the likes of the U.K. and U.S. – this is not the place to come for a thirsty tourist on a budget!
The second evening (a Friday) ended at Aker Brygge, but began many miles away at a small Marina to the west of Oslo. Here our Norwegian host, Terje, had driven us to his boat, a small motor-cruiser, and the four of us (with his wife and a friend of mine) cast off and headed back towards the capital. It was a beautiful evening with only a few clouds in the sky and plenty of light as we headed for our first stop, Vollen Flordkro – a restaurant just a few miles further up the coast where we moored and sat at an outside table to enjoy the sunset.
Vollen startersThe food on offer sounded simple but delicious. To begin, I had chosen a mixed seafood starter; delicious and creamy Lax (smoked salmon), light and delicate ceviche of prawns and Skagensalat – Crayfish tails in a rich dill mayonnaise. My colleagues had a massive plate of smoked prawns, a wonderful rusty colour with a flavour of smoked mackerel – delicious (and better than the prawns I had at Bord) although the portion was really too big and they couldn’t finish them all. As a main I had a large bowl of mussels in white wine, these really flavoursome mussels, the best I’d had for a long time.
The basic wine list, while not as exclusive as at Bord, provided enough choice for a relaxing and informal evening meal. Terje’s wife was a preferred red drinker so I selected something light and fruity which wouldn’t completely overpower the dishes – the Caldora 2007 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was a popular choice, especially with the smoked prawns whose strong flavour could easily stand up to the red.
After the meal we boarded the boat and continued on our way to Oslo, the sun had set and the sky was darkening fast but that didn’t stop me having a turn at the wheel (and Terje was inside checking the sonar & GPS system to make sure we weren’t in any danger!). We sailed by some beautiful coves and inlets where other craft were moored up , some having meals on their boats, some on the shore with camp-fires and barbecues – I could easily see how living in this area would necessitate getting a boat and taking advantage of the wonderful geography.

Greybeard on a boat

It was after 10pm as we sailed into the harbour just by Aker Brygge and jumped off, waving goodbye to Terje and his wife (they had the same journey back now in the dark, they wouldn’t be home before midnight!). For my friend and I there was still time for a “digestif”, so we went to Café Albertine and sat outside on the terrace. A brief look at the drinks menu and I ordered the Williams & Humbert Collection Pedro Ximenez 12 Year Old Sherry, luscious nectar with aromas of candied orange peel and a touch of marzipan on the nose. The liquid had a deep brown swirl and flavours of Muscovado sugar, raisins, orange peel – in fact Christmas cake in a glass! This was a 4 star offering from Jerez and my first PX.
I had an early morning flight and some sore ribs (from trying to lift something far too heavy earlier in the day) so I called it a night and headed back to the hotel. Once again I’d had a good time in Oslo, although once again I was grateful that I was here on an expense account and not spending my own cash. There is definitely an expanding wine culture in this city even with the high prices you have to pay for a good drink (any drink for that matter!), so if you do find yourself in this part of Scandinavia then take a deep breath, open the wallet and enjoy!


Bearfoot Bistro Again Honored By Wine Spectator

Ξ September 14th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Restaurant Reviews, Wine News |

Yet again, the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler, B.C., Canada has been awarded Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence. Say what you will about Wine Spectator’s recent embarrassing tempest in a teapot, but with respect to the Bearfoot Bistro they got it right.
I have traveled each of the last four summers with my son, a pro cyclist, and a few of his friends to Whistler, BC for CrankWorx, North America’s premier cycling competition. And every year we have enjoyed one evening at the Bistro. Of course, there are many very good places to eat in Whistler, but for the quality and value of the prix-fixe menu, the sophisticated yet family friendly atmosphere, we find the Bearfoot Bistro impossible to beat. In fact, it is fair to say my charges cut their teeth on fine dining here. As owner André Saint-Jacques told me of the Bistro’s dining philosophy, “Let’s make people happy. Life is too short!” Twenty years as a restaurateur has served him well.

This year was special. My son had finally become old enough to legally drink, not in the US but in Canada where the drinking age is 19. The night before we dined we visited the Bistro. As André had yet to arrive we were given an eye-popping tour of the new wine cellar by the elegant Olivier B. Their holdings are staggering. André was later to explain, “Always we have about 20,000 bottles”. The off-site inventory holds many multiples of that figure! Specializing in life-affirming Champagne, highlights include “110 different labels from the Champagne region [and] 11 Cristal vintages”. (Click the link just above for a fuller list of highlights and trophies.)

The cellar also sports plasma TVs. They will be used for seminars to be held there. My understanding is that private dinners may also be enjoyed in the cellar. Can you imagine the pleasure of watching the 2010 Winter Olympics hosted by Vancouver, from the comfort of a wine cellar?


The first and last thing you need to know about food at the Bistro is the name of its Executive Chef, Melissa Craig. February of this year she won the title of Canada’s Best Chef for 2008. A lovely, very intense young woman, she is all about the work. I found her self-confidence well deserved. How had André discovered her? He told me, “by chance, four years ago; as my previous chef was leaving, he had worked with her and said she would be a great replacement”. Her specialities? “Asian-influenced seafood and wild game”.


The menu we chose from, with slight seasonal changes, may be found here. For starters we shared the Summer Greens, Heirloom Tomatoes, and the King Crab Trio (the most extraordinary flavor of the evening was the coconut chili soup).

Our main courses shared were the Pheasant Loin (outstanding, very delicate), Australian Lamb Loin (brilliantly done, subtle, melted on the tongue), and the Wild Mushroom Risotto (the countryside on a plate). The plated presentation was a cross between Titian and Kandinsky.

The highpoint of the desserts was the Confit Heirloom Tomato Mille-feuille.

The wine list was a bit on the pricey side for us. But that did not stop us from sabering a NV Diebolt-Vallois and, one of my favorites, the NV Pierre Gimonnet with the help of the most charming Benoit N.
We took our time, ate every morsel, enjoyed every drop. Our conversation would turn in relaxed arcs to the coconut chili soup, the glory that is champagne and the merciless downhill race course. We were content, in love with life.

A good evening.



La Scala Italian Restaurant, Johannesburg, S.A.

Ξ July 8th, 2008 | → 3 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Restaurant Reviews, Tasting Notes |

La Scala Italian Restaurant

Montecasino Boulevard, Fourways, Johannesburg

South Africa

La Scala BalconyMy 3rd visit to South Africa in a year saw me again at the Montecasino complex in Fourways, north of Johannesburg. For the weeks sole wine & dine night La Scala came recommended through my friend Caroline who shared a table with me. The restaurant is inside the kitchy faux-Tuscan complex and we got a table on the balcony overlooking the Casino itself. The wine list made for good reading and I’d mentally prepared a few different selections for over the evening, but was then disappointed to find that the by-the-glass selection was limited to a single house white & red not on the menu. We agreed on a bottle of red with the main meal and started with a glass of Chenin Blanc from Basson Family Wines, their 2007 Babylon’s Peak from Swartland . This arrived refreshingly cold, but still providing a rich floral aroma which remained through the first taste. A nice example of a variety South Africa is justifiably famous for, light and refreshing with moderate length, it was a good 3-star start to the evening.
The menu had a wonderful choice and I was already having trouble deciding on what to go for, but then the waitress came by and started to list the specials, and kept on listing! There was at least a dozen and all sounded wonderful enough for us to reconsider our initial choices.Springbok
Eventually Caroline went for line-caught fish Carpaccio (sorry, can’t remember what type) and the Langoustine pasta (linguine I think, it tasted wonderful!) while I chose Springbok Carpaccio and a main of seared Tuna.
The Springbok was delicious, a rich flavour similar yet gamier than the likes of a Parma or Serrano ham.
Along with the starters our main bottle had also arrived, and this time round I went for a Pinotage, that much maligned South African variety. Although the Longridge tempted me I had some at home from one of the earlier trips, ditto the Beyerskloof, so the Clos Malverne from Stellenbosch rose to the top of the list. Basket-pressed, this was their Pinotage Reserve, the label referring to 35 year old vines. I had a sip with the Carpaccio and it worked well with it, probably because of its forward acidity. I left the rest to breathe while we chatted and finished off our respective Carpaccio with the Chenin.
My Tuna arrived with a light vegetable selection and a pot of fresh tomato sauce, but the fish was the centrepiece – a generous steak well-seared. The waitress had checked I like rare Tuna, and the inside was a deep pink and juicy, for most people the perfect rare (definitely not overdone) but for me I probably would have had it a bit less cooked, however I do tend towards Sashimi when it comes to Tuna!
Clos MalverneSo, onto the Pinotage, which had a rough and rustic nose, initially unpromising but there was a sweet vanilla and cherry end which rescued it. Deep inky purple with long legs (14% abv) it had a sharp attack, very acidic initially with tannin at the front of the mouth. Mid-palate it mellowed and lead into a good finish, the tannic aftertaste reminding you it had been there. An excellent food wine in the style of some Italians I’ve had – on their own a little harsh, but with meaty food perfect and it worked really well with the tomato sauce accompanying the seared Tuna. I can’t raise it above a 3-star effort, but, as with other Pinotage I’ve tried, nothing to prevent me coming back for more.
Unusually for me I even had a dessert, Tiramisu (obvious, but tasty nonetheless!) and a glass of Grappa came free at the end, finishing off the meal and almost me – I always forget how evil smelling and potent this stuff can be!
In summary the only real grumble was the lack of choice by-the-glass, still a common concern in a lot of restaurants. Apart from this minor gripe this was a good evening with friendly staff, delicious food and nice wine.


Garfish Restaurant, Manly, Australia

Ξ June 18th, 2008 | → 1 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Restaurant Reviews, Tasting Notes |

Garfish Restaurant

1/39 East Esplanade,

Manly NSW Manly, Australia

sydney-ferry.jpgJune in Australia is mid-winter, which roughly equates to an average summer’s day in northern England, so what better than some fine dining in Manly, just a scenic ferry ride across Sydney harbor.
I was in town over an Australian long weekend – the Queen’s birthday is a national holiday down under, unlike back in the UK where the celebrations consist of lots of soldiers in red tunics and Bearskin helmets marching around with great pomp and circumstance, but no time off for the general public.
Garfish is named after the Southern sea fish species and is one of those restaurants where they don’t take reservations in advance (something that appears to be common in Australia), so up until an hour before we arrived we weren’t completely sure whether we’d get in. Several drinks at the Manly Wharf Hotel across the road (where they have a nice by-the-glass selection in the main bar) meant the waiting was fun, and we strolled over at about 7pm to find a table was available. I was with my colleagues Stewart and Susan, who live in Manly, and a couple of their friends. They had been before and had mixed feelings on the place (although the food was excellent there had been service problems in the past) but they were happy to give them another chance as they said they had a very good wine list and knew that was of interest to me!
Garfish InteriorThe inside of the restaurant is modern, with a large flat screen TV showing diners all of the frantic the activity in the kitchen, and, although it was busy inside, we got a great table by the window which would have offered stunning views over the wharf had it not been dark already! There was some initial disappointment when the waiter told us that several of the key menu dishes were not on due to the long weekend disrupting deliveries, including the whole Barramundi, which I had hoped to try. Instead I went for the Mussels in a tomato, chorizo and olive sauce, with Salt n’ Pepper Squid to start with.

The wine list had a good selection of mostly Australian wines and a couple of New Zealand and French offerings. Two caught my eye and the group agreed to try them both.

White was the Vincognita 2007 Madeleine’s Viognier from Nangkita Vineyards in Fleurie, South Australia. Peach and oak on the nose, rich & full bodied at 14%, yet zingy up front. With good fruit and a nice finish the two girls especially loved this – 87-88pts.

Red The Fakirwas the Magpie Estates 2005 “The Fakir”, a 14.5% Grenache from the Northern Barossa Valley. This had a deep nose, herby with some menthol and berries. In the mouth it had a wonderfully smooth texture, almost creamy, with well integrated tannin, lots of black fruit, mild heat and a good length. A very nice wine for the evening and enjoyed by all at the table who tried it – 88-89pts.

The food arrived and the eating began. My Salt n’ Pepper squid was indeed salty, but also tender and succulent with a lovely chilli paste on the side and I enjoyed every mouthful, however Susan’s starter of seared scallops on a polenta base with mushrooms and horseradish looked, and from her comments tasted, excellent and seemed the best choice of the night. For the mains mine came in a large bowl in its sauce, which doubled as a hearty soup. The mussels were plentiful and very tasty, although on seeing the other dishes I think I lost out – each of the others had one of the fish options and the presentation on these plates was wonderful with a piece of delicious looking fish and assorted coloured sauces and vegetable accompaniments – I felt rather rustic and uncouth with my bowl of shellfish! It was agreed Stewart had the best main, with his delicate smoked sea trout cooked to perfection.
The food and wine were both fantastic, and before the end everyone had agreed they were glad they had come back for another go. One final event sealed the agreement of an enjoyable evening when Stewart knocked a glass and spilled half of its contents over the table. As he started to mop up the Viognier with a napkin the waiter came over to clear the debris and then returned a few seconds later, unprompted, with a replacement glass!
Garfish OutsideIf you like seafood, and find yourself in Sydney any time soon, then I’d recommend getting one of the regular the ferries over to Manly trying to get a table at Garfish so you can try out the hospitality yourself – Bon Appétit!


Pano Saraphanesi, Istanbul, Turkey

Ξ June 2nd, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Restaurant Reviews, Wineries |

Kalyoncu Kulluk Cad. No. 4, Galatasaray, Istanbul
Pano BarLast week I was lucky that my final evening in Istanbul fell on a Friday, as that’s when the locals like to party and I could get a taste of the real social life of this vibrant Metropolis. My friend Murat, always keen to indulge my wine obsession, had proposed a visit to one of two famous wine houses (Saraphanesi) in the Taksim district, Viktor Levi and Pano. Both of these establishments have been in operation for the best part of a century or more – Pano founded in 1898 by Panayot Papadopulus and Viktor Levi opening his in competition in 1914.
Murat had been to both and knew either would be an enjoyable experience for me, and it was Viktor Levi’s we reached first as we walked through the Galatasaray area, flags still hanging across the narrow streets in celebration after their football team won the Turkish title. However the doors were locked, so we continued towards the British consulate where Pano is situated, walked past the impressive bar with racks of bottles and a set of wine barrels overhead and settled into a table on the empty ground floor, it was only 7pm and too early for most people who didn’t have to worry about a dawn flight home the next day!
website, which also contains the full wine and food menu, although only in Turkish). My last post was a review of “A Hedonist in the cellar”, but a true Hedonist appears to have been the 11th & 12th Century Persian poet Omar Khayyam whose Rubáiyat has been described as a Bible for drunkards and has been adopted by Pano, where they hand out postcards with some of Khayyam’s quatrains and have a plaque on the wall, just above a picture of Turkey’s own famous wine lover, founder of the Republic and its first President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Pano Wall PaintingThe inside of the restaurant is decorated with wine related murals, paintings and pictures and local music was playing in the background (for a taste of which go to their website, which also contains the full wine and food menu, although only in Turkish). My last post was a review of “A Hedonist in the cellar”, but a true Hedonist appears to have been the 11th & 12th Century Persian poet Omar Khayyam whose Rubáiyat has been described as a Bible for drunkards and has been adopted by Pano, where they hand out postcards with some of Khayyam’s quatrains and have a plaque on the wall, just above a picture of Turkey’s own famous wine lover, founder of the Republic and its first President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Khayyam and Ataturk

The menu contains a good selection of local wines, many specially produced for Pano by Turkish wineries Doluca, Kayra and Yazgan. Happily they sell all of their wine by the glass as well as the bottle, although the glasses are of a short, wide-rimmed style so were not overly useful for swirling! We started with a white, the 2006 Pano Vasilaki (Marmara region) from the small island of Bozcaada (Tenedos in Greek) in the Çanakkale district, a few miles down the coast from the ancient city of Troy. The island only has a population of about 2,500 but has a long history due to its strategic location at the mouth of the Dardanelles and wines that were renowned for centuries during ancient Greek, Byzantine and Ottoman rule. Vasilaki is one of Turkey’s many indigenous grapes and this one had a fresh grassy nose and was dry in the mouth. There was a rich texture, full bodied with a long bitter finish and a hint of burnt rubber, which reminded me instantly of a Santorini Assyrtiko I had a couple of weeks ago. 85-86pts.
Mixed mezeAppetizers were ordered; a cheese plate containing a delicious selection of smoked, soft and hard cheese, and a mixed Meze plate with, amongst other things, stuffed vine leaves, smoked aubergine paté and octopus. A second glass of white was required, the 2006 Pano #59 (Marmara) which was an Emir and Narince blend from Sarköy, on the European side of the Bosphorus. 2 whitesThis had a smoother, richer nose and was more full-bodied, not as dry as the Vasilaki. There was some citrus and tropical fruit and a good biter finish which worked remarkably well with the smoked cheese. 87-88pts.
We moved onto red with the 2006 Papazkarasi (Marmara), containing grapes from the European areas of Edirne, Tekirdag and Kirklareli. The varietal name translates to “Priest’s Black” (or “Black Bishop”) and is local only to these Thracian regions, preferring dry growing conditions and typically used to produce young drinking wines. There was an aroma of roasted cherries, with a hint of balsamic vinegar and the wine was a little unbalanced, more acid than tannin and the fruit was a touch overwhelmed. 82-83pts. This was a light rustic wine for quaffing, which we did with the warm appetizers that followed, excellent tender pieces of liver, delicate enough to be calves liver, fried with onions and dill, and succulent prawns fried in lashings of country butter, all it lacked was garlic, but delicious nonetheless.
servingAs we waited for our final dish to arrive, Lamb Shish Kebab with rice, we moved up market with the 2006 Pano #10, an Öküzgözü (Elazig, E. Anatolia) and Bogazkere (Diyarbakir, S.E. Anatolia) blend. These are two of Turkey’s most famous red varieties and the wine had an earthy nose with a touch of cherry and a lot of vanilla which developed into tobacco and ash over time. This was a full and rich red with some tannins and forward acidity and for me was an enjoyable 87-88pts. The kebab was nice to, with a dark smoky barbecue flavour, although not as tender as the meat we’d had the night before on the old mountain road outside Bolu on our way back from Ankara.
Pano frontWith the evening drawing to a close (at least for me, the restaurant was busier than ever and people were waiting for tables) I selected my last glass, the 2005 Pano Papakosti – a blend of Papazkarasi, Cinsault and Karasakiz varieties from Marmara and the Aegean. The nose was somewhere between the Papazkarasi and the #10, light with a hint of smokiness. There was strong acidity but plenty of tannin structure to back it up, woody aspects and some pine resin which was nice. A peppery heat, not overdone, led into a long finish. This was a lighter style wine than the #59, more astringent, but had surprising complexity in both aroma and taste which made it an enjoyable drink. 86-87pts.
A Turkish coffee brought to the close a superb evening, we left just after 10pm with all 3 floors packed and an Istanbul party night in full swing. To finish I’ll choose Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat Quatrain 478 (as translated by E. H. Whinfield l):

“Wherever you can get two maunds of wine,

Set to, and drink it like a libertine;

Whoso acts thus will set his spirit free

From saintly airs like yours, and grief like mine.”



Loch Fyne Seafood Restaurant

Ξ April 9th, 2008 | → 3 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Restaurant Reviews, Tasting Notes |

Newhaven Harbour, Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland

I was not expecting a business trip to Edinburgh to provide much material for an article – deep fried haggis balls and very good curries washed down with gallons of beer doesn’t fit into the Reign of Terroir mission statement! However I was pleased to discover the hotel was next to a Loch Fyne Seafood restaurant and managed to have a pleasant evenings dining on the recommendation of my colleague Matt, who has frequented their sister restaurant in Newcastle’s Gosforth area.

Loch Fyne

Loch Fyne is named for the sea-loch on the west coast of Scotland famous for its oysters, and the company started as an oyster farm and bar in the 1980s, with the first restaurant opening in 1990. Since then it has grown to 38 premises throughout the UK (39 if you include the Sheffield restaurant due to open this week) and has garnered a reputation for quality seafood and a dedication to sustainability in its produce – they use the Gaelic saying “Nach Urramach an Cuan” (How worthy of honour is the sea) on their site. In 2007 the chain was bought by Greene King, the largest British owned brewery in the UK.


As I looked through the wine list (a copy of which is available on their web-site) I noticed a lack of obvious brand names and, although predominantly French, an interesting range of styles and types. The menu had enough variation to come up with several tempting alternatives for the meal, but as the waiter went through the evenings specials and came to “Fish & Chips” I knew what to go for – I’m a sucker for the traditional stuff! Once that decision was made I chose a Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Sur Lie, as an accompaniment, the Domaine des Dorices Cuvee Choisie 2006 Vieilles Vignes. I’ve had this style of Loire Valley white before and have not been disappointed.


A bowl of lobster bisque came first, served with bread and aioli. The rich soup had an almost “earthy’ flavour and was delicious, and I appreciated the strong garlic mayo! Matt went for the peppered smoked mackerel pâté and oatcakes, a full flavoured pâté (from the small taste I had). The Fish & Chips arrived with a small bowl of minted mushy peas (good taste, although a little desiccated) & tartar sauce. The fish, a good sized haddock fillet, was delicious and full flavoured, very meaty with a golden batter, while the chips (that’s fries to the Americans!) were the best I’ve had for a while, especially dipped in ketchup and mayo! The fish was maybe a touch dry but that’s more of an observation rather than a criticism.


Throughout the enjoyable eating experience was the Muscadet. This had a delightful pear and apple nose and a slight frizzante on the tip of the tongue, moderate glycerol texture and a nice creamy dryness and good acidity – overall a very good wine with the food.


Before leaving I asked restaurant manager Lisa about their wine list. She was very helpful and explained how the company MD, who owns a chalet in France, visits the country regularly and is keen to source as many wines as possible direct from local suppliers rather than through merchants or wholesalers. This explains the mostly brand free, predominantly old-world wines on the menu, many of whose producers are, as stated on the wine list, “eco-friendly or organic in their grape growing and vinification techniques”.

A case in point it the Domaine des Dorices Muscadet I tried, Dom. de Dorices produced by the Boullault family, near the town of Vallet, this winery proudly reports controlled chemical fertilisation, minimum chemical pesticide use and intervention with non-polluting products.


After a filling meal the prospect of dessert or coffee was too much for both of us, so we thanked Lisa for her help and happily settled the £50 ($100) final bill. I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to Loch Fyne, the food and wine were excellent and I now need to try out the one in Newcastle to see if this is true of all their restaurants!



Wine House, Ankara, Turkey

Ξ March 25th, 2008 | → 4 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Restaurant Reviews |

Wine HouseWine House.
Arif Nihat Asya Sokak #37, Oran, Ankara.

On my first night in Ankara I was invited to the Wine House Restaurant, in the Southern district of Oran, with a group of Turkish business colleagues. Stepping through the doorway you pass by a small barrel and a rack of wines from the local Kavaklidere winery wine rack and walk into an elegant wooden interior, similar in style to Eastern European hunting lodges (it says Swiss Chalet on their web-site). There are two floors, the main lower dining room and an upper balcony floor with an open central area looking down on the diners below.


The wine theme is maintained as you walk to your seat past a display table containing bottles in baskets and racks. table presentation My hosts knew of my wine interests and they briefly showed me the wine list, but, on seeing the indigenous varieties and producers, I knew when to admit defeat and was happy to sit back and let them discuss with the Sommelier on which wine to have with our meal. The Kavaklidere Öküzgözü Elazag 2000 was settled upon and, as there were 6 of us drinking, a Magnum was opened and decanted (this was my first ever Magnum!).


In the glass the colour was very light, similar to a Pinot Noir, with orange-brown edges showing the bottle age. It had a delicate, oaky nose with some sweet spice and possible a dash of liquorice. The taste was also light, but still had some good tannins and a little sour cherry on the tongue. This was a good wine, oaky, complex and medium length (88-89pts).


The food was very enjoyable too. We started with Feta-style cheese with fresh crusty bread, olives and olive oil and then some baked cheese, a local equivalent of baked Camembert. Wine House interiorFor the main dish I had a Bodrum Kebab, thinly sliced sirloin on a bed of crispy shredded potato, almost vermicelli like, and some fresh yoghurt on the side. The potato wasn’t to my taste, a bit too crispy, but the meat had an excellent flavour and I finished off the food and wine while watching the other patrons enjoy their evening.


I couldn’t tell you how much the dinner came to, as my hosts covered the bill (thanks to Murat and Riza for the experience!) – the food would have been reasonable, as is usually is in Turkey, but the wine was likely to have been expensive as the Turkish Government imposes painfully high taxes on alcohol, especially wine. Nevertheless this was a lovely evening and this is a good restaurant to visit if you are ever in Ankara.


On leaving I noticed a wall plaque of the key wine producing areas of Turkey Map showing how widespread Grape and Vine are – something that tends to get overlooked by Western drinkers when they consider this country that straddles Europe and Asia.



Shmulik Cohen’s Restaurant, Tel Aviv, Israel

Ξ February 16th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Restaurant Reviews |

In the 1930s Shmulik Cohen set up a small family restaurant serving traditional Eastern European influenced food in the South of the expanding Jewish city of Tel Aviv. At the time the Herzl street was the main North-South road through the city on the way to the ancient port of Jaffa (which has since been absorbed into metropolitan Tel Aviv). Although the area may have lost some respectability over the intervening years I am informed that little else has changed in the restaurant, and this is one place where staying the same is all important because it is so good I’d hate to see it change.


This is the 4th time I’ve been here, each time in the company of my good friend and colleague Dr Yaron Lapidot. As we both have Eastern European heritage (mine is Hungarian, his German/Polish) we both savour the food and the atmosphere. We sit at our “regular” table, the one in the corner near the counter with the picture of Ezer Weizman on the wall, I think it’s signed by him. There is a menu, but we don’t use it, instead Yaron, as somewhat of a regular, asks for the kitchen selection, and then we sit back and the food gradually arrives, spread out over at least an hour (2-3 if we take our time and talk, which we usually do). Schmulik is long gone but his daughter is the main cook, typically preparing the food during the day, which his grandson and granddaughter work the evening diners.


First are the “appetizers”, pickles, humus, olives, dark bread, egg & vegetable salads, hot grated red horseradish, cubes of pickled beets, radishes and the stars of this opening act; 2 fish dishes, small pieces of brined herring (or mackerel?), slightly pickled but so full of flavour and melt in the mouth, it is to die for.


As always they serve a small shot-glass of their homemade lemon vodka, cold and sweet it is nectar and previously has been the only accompaniment to the food on my earlier visits. However this time I am keen to expand my knowledge of Israeli wines and we open a bottle of Yogev 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, from Binyamina and pour a couple of glasses. The wine has a beautiful nose with a hint of Bordeaux, but fruitier and with a touch of sweetness promised. The softness of the nose carries on into the first taste, this is a nice easy drinking wine which matches well with the food that continues to arrive and which we are gradually working our way through.


After a while we the waitress clears the table, since this is a fully certified Kosher restaurant the plates and cutlery used with fish have to be cleared away and replaced with new before the meat dishes can be served. A bowl of chicken soup is an intermediate, a clear broth but strong in flavour, with short trimmed noodles, ravioli and a dumpling. If you didn’t know what was coming next there’s a good chance you’ve already eaten too much and the soup would finish you off, however I’m familiar with the plan and do not finish to soup, just savouring the best bits. Yaron picks up another bottle off the wine rack on the counter (they keep a tally as you go along!) – it’s not as if we’ve finished the first, but he wants me to try a second one that night, so the cork goes back in the Yogev (the start of a decent carry-out when we finish). The second bottle is the Dalton Canaan Red, 2006 from Upper Galilee. The nose suggests a richer wine, but still a delicate fruitiness, and there’s more up-front dryness, turning into a smooth finish. Yaron suggested similarities to the semi-sweet wines popular in Eastern Europe, and I could see what he was meaning, but having only recently tried a semi-sweet red from Georgia these two do not have any of the residual sugar that was obvious in there – these two are well made, easy drinking, delicate and feminine wines, made with ripe grapes. Neither of these would have aging potential over a couple of years, but that doesn’t detract from what they are, and with the delicious food at Shmulik’s it was a treat.


Finally (it’s well over an hour since the dishes started arriving – it took that long to slowly savour the food in between conversations) the roasted and baked meat arrives, and what a selection!. A goose leg cooked to perfection, the meat falling of the bone and the skin crisp and flavoursome. A similar story for a chicken drumstick, I can’t recall tasting chicken as good as this for a long time home, some slow-cooked beef and what I think is a slice of lamb (but it had been marinated or cooked in a sweet savoury sauce and falls apart at the touch of a fork) some homemade sausage, kishka I think and a selection of vegetables; peas, potatoes and such like (I’m sorry to say I ignored these, as the meat deserved full attention).


Nearly 2 hours later we were done. Food and wine were left, but neither of us had anywhere to put it! A doggy-bag was suggested, which I jumped at (since it was primarily large chunks of meat that would go into it and I knew the next night I would not be visiting any restaurant). The wine came with me also, approx a half bottle of each which I savoured over the next 2 nights. Yaron bought a bottle of the lemon Vodka for himself, something I’ve done on my last visits to the restaurant, but this time I knew I was intending to buy some wine for my return trip home (I may regret that, it is the best Vodka I’ve ever tasted) and came back to the hotel with the remnants of the wines and a little box of roasted meats for the next night.


If this has sparked your interest in visiting this restaurant beware, the size of the establishment is deliberately small (cosy is a good descriptor) – so you have to book in advance. But if you do get in then I hope you enjoy the food and the service as much as I have.

Shmulik Cohen Restaurant, 146 Herzl St., Tel Aviv, Israel.



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