Winter’s bounty

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Sprouting broccoli with burrata and blood orange

Sprouting broccoli with burrata and blood orange

Winter doesn’t have to mean steering away from the exotic. While blood oranges are still in season, our Head Chef Stewart Turner suggests something delicious and vitamin-rich, to ward off the dreaded winter colds

I always find it amazing that even in the depths of winter we are blessed with some of the most vibrant produce. Amazing blood oranges, delicate Champagne rhubarb with the most wonderful pink hue, and fantastically deep-purple sprouting broccoli are just some of what’s on offer.

The health benefits of broccoli are well documented and, of all the cruciferous plants, along with cauliflower, it is one of the most versatile. Simply steamed or boiled, it partners with almost any plate of fish or meat, and it also takes centre stage in excellent dishes such as “broccoli with anchovy”, or crusted, with parmesan.

This dish partners purple sprouting broccoli with blood orange and burrata. This unctuous cheese, a delicacy from the southern heel of Italy and a richer cousin of mozzarella (once you’ve tried it, the humble mozzarella will never taste the same again!), was almost unheard of outside Puglia a decade ago. Its creaminess is a perfect foil to the earthy broccoli and the acidity of the blood orange. This is a cracking starter, or with the addition of some prosciutto and a little crusty bread a great lunch or supper dish too.

Purple sprouting broccoli with burrata and blood orange – serves 4 -6
  • 500g purple sprouting broccoli
  • 250g burrata
  • 3 blood oranges
  • 1 chilli – deseeded and finely chopped
  • 8 mint leaves – finely sliced
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Trim the broccoli and discard the woody ends, remove all the leaves and set aside. Season the stems with sea salt and steam for about 5 minutes, then drizzle over some olive oil and grill on a hot griddle until they start to char around the edges. Remove from the pan and set aside, return the griddle to the heat and grill the leaves until they just start to char and crisp again. Put to one side.

Peel two of the blood oranges and slice into rounds. Juice the remaining orange and bring the juice to the boil, reduce by half, pass through a sieve, mix with a good glug of olive oil, the chopped chilli and the mint to form a dressing, season to taste.

Scatter the blood orange slices on a platter, place the burrata in the middle and the broccoli stems around it, spoon over the dressing and finish with the crispy broccoli leaves.

Why not match this with one of our favourite mid-week wines?

Category: Miscellaneous

A masterclass with Domaine de L’A

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Christine and Stéphane Derenoncourt, Domaine de l'A, Côtes de Castillon, Bordeaux

Christine and Stéphane Derenoncourt, Domaine de l’A, Côtes de Castillon, Bordeaux

At an intimate tasting with Côtes du Castillon producer Domaine de l’A, we unearth hidden treasures from this often-overlooked region of Bordeaux – one that garners attention for its approachable pricing and continual innovation. Alice Brandon from our Fine Wine team reports

Within the rich history of Bordeaux, the Côtes de Castillon has often been forgotten by critics, merchants, and drinkers alike. This is an area, in the proximity of St Emilion, open to innovation, investment, and emerging talent – a classification therefore worthy of our attention. Some such innovation, talent, and critical accreditation comes from winemakers Christine and Stéphane Derenoncourt, proprietors of Domaine de L’A, in the commune of Sainte-Colombe. Stéphane, world-renowned consultant, and his wife purchased 2.5 hectares here in 1999, and today they make wine from a total of 11 hectares – each parcel, the majority of which are located on south-facing tuffeau, possessing its own unique character. Stéphane claims it is these clay and limestone soils that provide the key attraction here; the reason behind the florality and quality in his wines, over and above his own passion and focus. He says “winemaking is like cooking” and, as any chef will know, this is all about the ingredients – natural, and seasonal at that. Domaine de L’A is organic, indeed, the Côtes de Castillon has the highest concentration of growers that are organic, bio-dynamic or self-sustaining of any region.

These “declassified” wines of the Côtes de Castillon often have a problem – the difficulty of  tempting Claret lovers away from traditional Claret. And, why should they? One might wonder. The reality is that the Côtes de Castillon provides us with a different offering altogether; that of freedom for innovation and adaptation. Derencourt has allowed his love and admiration for Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc of the Loire to influence his wines. Since the 2009 vintage, for example, no Cabernet Sauvignon is included in the blend whatsoever. He prides himself on his wines purity and freshness.

Domaine de l'A, Côtes de Castillon, Bordeaux

Domaine de l’A, Côtes de Castillon, Bordeaux

Derenoncourt, rather unusually, makes his wines without crushing them. This allows the wines to be at the perfect ripeness for natural fermentation, endowing them with a sweet, fruited core, no angles, and no bitterness. Often described as ethereal, some also say these wines possess a distinctly Burgundian personality. The average age of the vines is 55 years and the yields are generally tiny (28hl/ha). We tasted seven vintages, from their very first to the most current:

1999 – Domaine de L’A’s maiden vintage. Difficult to source now so it is an absolute treat to try it. Underbrush, incense and a touch of oak. Despite its years, fresh, with the black fruits fighting their way into the background. When this was made, Domaine de L’A consisted of just 2 hectares. New barrels were used here but, here on in, older oak barrels are deployed. This also has the largest ratio of Cabernet Sauvignon, at 15 percent.

2005 – Domaine de L’A was now at six hectares – it had tripled in size. We also have considerably more Cabernet Franc here. The acquisition in vineyards was largely on limestone, Cabernet Franc’s home ground. Elegant and round. Fresh and lifted. Blackberries and blackcurrants, with lavender and rosemary in the forefront. Silky.

2009 – Domaine de L’A was now nine hectares with just 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. A combination of sweet red fruit and blackberries. Some eucalyptus. Pure and silky, not without opulence.

2010 – Now totalling 10 hectares but, as per Stephane Derenoncourt’s vision, with no Cabernet Sauvignon. Light on its feet, a thinker. More eucalyptus and sweet fruit, plums and Asian spices. Subtle, a grower. Again, smooth, silky and well-knit. An absolute joy.

2011 – Blackcurrant and blackberries with incense singing through. A surprisingly savoury finish. Stunning effort for the uneven vintage.

2012 – Instant hit of sweet red and black cherry, blackberries. Buckets of ripe fruit. On the palate, a more savoury undertone cuts through while retaining the melodic higher note. Drink over the next few years. 80 percent Merlot, 20 percent Cabernet Franc

2014 – Excellent purity of fruit, direct, and persistent. Blackberry and dark plum, with a touch of red fruit lingering through, perhaps a red cherry. Ripe, intense and direct. Firm tannins, one to put down for the mid-term. A smattering of black tea and liquorice.

Here we not only see the vintage variation, and how the wines mature, but rather uniquely, the honing of Domaine de L’A’s trademark style.

For the latest vintage, and other Côtes de Castillon wines, check out our range here.

Category: Bordeaux Wine,Old World

Berry Bros. & Rudd London Dry Gin

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Berry Bros. & Rudd, London Dry Gin

Berry Bros. & Rudd, London Dry Gin

This month sees the re-launch of the once much-loved, Berry Bros. & Rudd London Dry Gin. We talk to distiller, Charles Maxwell, about bringing the original recipe back to life

The Berry Bros. & Rudd London Dry Gin first featured on the company price list in 1909. Known fondly as “Berrys’ Best”, it was also included in “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” by David Embury in 1948 as an example of “superior British gin production”. Sold both here and in the US, in small amounts to special customers, other purveyors of the brand back then included Hollywood director, Frank Capra. Since its original inception and due to its subsequent popularity, today only one bottle remains – one that dates back to 1950. Distiller Charles Maxwell has recreated the original flavour, from a tiny vial of liquid supplied to him from this original bottle.

“Gin ages very slowly. You could put two gins, twenty years apart, next to each other, and one could be its brother,” he says when we discuss the challenges that this particular task has posed. Charles made his 130th gin recipe last year and currently has another 12 or so new gins under development. We are in the boardroom of his south-west London distillery – a modest place, with bright, wide windows that overlook sun-drenched, residential property in Clapham. The room is bedecked with bottles, clear ones distorting the view in a myriad of sizes, giant 15 litre Bordeaux-shaped Nebuchadnezzars taking up space on the floor, and others both more generic, and highly stylised, dusting the top of the cabinets to our side.

Charles, has had his own gin distilling business here for over twenty years. For a spirit often dubbed “Mother’s ruin” it is ironic to note that it was through his mother that Charles first became interested in this field. His own “spirited” career started at the Finsbury Distillery Company, a company that has been in his mother’s family since the 19th Century. Her family were also owners of Stone’s Ginger Wine, originally based in Wandsworth.

To recreate the flavours of Berry Bros. & Rudd London Dry Gin, Charles’ team did various test distillations, adding in different botanicals to try to match the original flavours. The resultant liquid is batch-distilled, through Charles’ two stainless steel stills – “Tom Thumb” and “Thumbelina”, made by John Door, an old London still maker. Charles says that stainless steel (rather than copper) “provides a system that is more gentle in extracting the oils out of the botanicals.” Charles mainly buys his botanicals from France – nodding to a whole apothecary listed on the whiteboard here by the stills, from the quintessential and very necessary juniper, to more exotic and unusual flavours such as liquorice root, hawthorne, angelica seed, red clover, kaffir, wormwood, fenugreek, raspberry leaves, bogmyrtle and tonka. Gold-leaf too perhaps? The list is almost never-ending. The new Berry Bros. & Rudd London Dry Gin, one he dubs “a very-good, classic London-made gin” has four distinct flavours – juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica root and winter savory, which is a semi-evergreen herb, native to the Mediterranean and Africa. Juniper, Charles says, is a heavy press oil, coriander seed gives citrus and spicy notes, angelica root a herbally, almost mossy characteristic, and the savory – a herbal, peppery and chaff characteristic, “one of our favourite botanicals.”

Charles dresses the part of “gin connoisseur”, in a double-breasted blue blazer with sheep adorning his almost-hidden tie. His credentials are some of the best in the business – something he clearly hasn’t tired of over the years. “To be working [in gin] in this day and age, I feel incredibly lucky and privileged. It was never meant to be a drink to sniff and spit too much. It is a drink to be enjoyed.” But gin and distillation is not his only raison d’être. In among the bottles are model cars – a Firebird CN7 acts as an oversized paper weight, motoring magazines adorn the coffee table, and huge racing-motif canvases sit primed to drive on the walls. Both he and co-partner Andre Chapman have a demonstrable interest in four wheels. “I used to race Formula Ford in the late 1960s, my mother was not keen, and then when I met my wife I thought ‘I don’t think I’m the next Jackie Stewart.’” Charles instead now tours with The Worshipful Company of Distiller’s livery company – recently driving around Scottish Whisky country. Of his collection, he gives particular mention to a 1933 Rowton – an American engine with a British body, his favourite, and the oldest he has in his collection. An oldie, but a goodie. Much like Berry Bros. & Rudd London Dry Gin.

Category: Spirits

Notes from the vineyard: blending

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Blending Nyetimber's 2017 base wines

Blending Nyetimber’s 2017 base wines

At this time of year, the main focus in the winery at Nyetimber is on blending and preparing the 2017 harvest wines for bottling. Winemaker Brad Greatrix talks us through the process

Blending is a fascinating and exciting process, one where the wines literally come to life. It’s cliché to talk about this as creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts, but I believe the expression fully applies when it comes to putting base wines together for sparkling. Particularly when working with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, each variety complements the others, and there is a synergy that makes it clear why they are such a successful trio of grapes for top quality sparkling wines.

Regarding the blending process, from the base wine tastings that we carry out in January, Cherie Spriggs and I assemble trial versions of our various wines (Classic Cuvée, Rosé, Blanc de Blancs et al). These are small versions of the blends – approximately 500 millilitres each and therefore on occasion only a few millilitres are coming from one tank. Our first attempt at the blends is an educated guess based on experience with our vineyard blocks, as well as the style and quality of the individual base wines as revealed in the January tastings. After assessing the first trial blends, we then make refinements according to what the wines need, and our ‘catalogue’ of base wines available. For example, if we want to work on the acidity profile, or the fruit presence of a blend, we can look back at the wines available and the components of the blends to adjust proportions accordingly, or substitute their individual parts. It is these moments that make the hard work, investment and dedication towards keeping our vineyard parcels separate throughout harvest and fermentation, worthwhile.

Black glasses, used for blind tasting during the blending process

Black glasses, used for blind tasting during the blending process

An extra layer of interest also exists when blending our multi-vintage wines (Classic Cuvée, Rosé and Demi-Sec). For these wines we draw upon our collection of reserve wines to add depth to the blend. Using ‘CC’ as an example, reserves can comprise up to a third of the blend. The reserve wines in our collection represent 3-5 of the most recent vintages. Our approach with using reserves is that they should bring complexity but not dominance to a wine – hence not pushing the ageing of our reserves too far. And of course, each year during the blending process we have to allocate some base wines to become reserves for future years. To be considered for allocation as a reserve wine, the base wines need to be balanced, and with great ageing potential, because after a few years in tank, they of course need to age a further few years in bottle before release.

Once Cherie and I approach what seems to be the final versions of the blends we make one final check of the wines by tasting them in black glasses. If you’ve not tried this sort of tasting, I highly recommend it. Black glasses can be used for ‘blind’ tastings, where it’s impossible to distinguish the colour of the wine one is tasting. We use this as a way to confirm that each of the blends is stylistically distinct, without the help of visual cues. For example, can we identify the Rosé by aroma and taste alone, without seeing the colour? Is the Blanc de Blancs recognisable and can we spot the distinctive and alluring floral and berry aromas of the Tillington vineyard? The result of working this way is that our wines end up with distinct styles.

Next month will be the final entry in my “Notes from the vineyard” series, where I’ll be discussing the preparation for bottling of these 2017 wines. From then, it won’t be long until budburst is upon us, and the 2018 growing season is underway…  And so the cycle repeats.

Category: Champagne and Sparkling Wine,English Wine,Miscellaneous