Sunday, 23 April 2017

Verulam tasting

A recommendation from someone who attended a tasting a year or so ago in Rutland lead to an invitation to present a selection of Rhone wines to a group of 80 or so people in St Albans last night. On arrival I was tested out with a radio microphone which I did everything I could to avoid using but managed to amuse and offend in equal measure (I suggested that I was rather younger than most of those present which was true but someone who was of a similar age thought I meant that everyone was considerably older than me) but, above all, inform people about the Rhone and its wines. It's often tricky in these situations since I don't know how much they know and don't want to patronise them; equally, it is a waste of their time if they go away without any greater understanding of the region.

Three whites to begin with: Chateau Juvenal's 2015 'Ribes de Vallat', an atypical blend of Claudette and Viognier, the latter grape giving the wine a sumptuous lift, followed by the Usseglio 2014 Cotes du Rhone Blanc 'Les Claux', a mini-Chateauneuf based on Grenache Blanc. Finally, Christophe Coste's 2014 'Dame Blanche', 100% Viognier with a small amount of barrel ageing, now fully integrated and, at last, delicious.

I stayed with Christophe and his Domaine de la Charite, Cotes du Rhone 2015 for the first red. Robust and fruity, this really is a superb Cotes du Rhone which I should drink more of at home - I think that every time I open a bottle at one of these events! This was followed by the 2013 Coudoulet de Beaucastel with its heavy dose of Mourvedre in the blend. The fruit was a little muted at first (this is very young for so much Mourvedre) but the texture was velvety. A lovely wine. Domaine des Anges' 2012 'Archange' was a popular follow-up, its 80% Syrah providing good contrast to the Grenache-based wines that came before.

The big guns followed. Domaine Brusset's 2011 Gigondas 'Le Grand Montmirail' was a full-bodied and deeply textured fruit bomb. A fabulous Gigondas to drink now. Finally, the 2007 Domaine de Cristia Chateaneuf-du-Pape has arrived at last, its 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah truly integrated into a wine of almost Burgundian finesse. This is where I may have offended a couple of people when I suggested that, whilst it was drinking beautifully now, it would probably outlive everyone in the room. There were smiles exchanged though.

To round things off, Bressy-Masson's Rasteau Rancio hit the spot perfectly with its lightly oxidised, madeira-like quality. A shame there is no more of it - I will have to investigate next time I am in the region!

Monday, 27 February 2017

And the award goes to...


OK, it's not the Oscars but, after last night's fiasco, it is probably better managed. Following our recent garlanding by Lux Magazine, we now find similar honours bestowed on us by Industry Insight Monthly, a quarterly publication which considers itself a resource tool for industry. I am not entirely sure what this means but they do have the same mailing address as Lux and, like Lux, they would like me to pay for a crystal trophy (a snip at £250) or give them some money for something or other (to be fair their is a free package but you have to look hard to find any reference to The Big Red Wine Company!).

Anyway, I suppose I should be overjoyed at all this recognition and I can confirm that, when the results are officially published, on top of all the titles I was awarded by Lux, I am now...

Best Fine Wine Retailer - East Anglia

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Venison with...?

I have been asked to blog more about wine with food and, as someone who enjoys cooking, I hope this will enliven things around here! Appropriate to the time of year, today I am writing about venison.

Venison is popular in our house - with me, anyway. Buying it a side at a time (from Archers Butchers in Norwich) is a highly cost effective way to fill the freezer with the healthiest of meats. Compared with beef, it's leaner, has about half the calories and a fifth of the total fat and one-sixth of the saturated fat of the equivalent beef. It has around 10% more protein and higher levels of vitamins and minerals although it is around 20% higher in cholesterol.

My freezer is currently bursting at the seams with various cuts and, consequently, I have to think up different ways to present it to my family who, unlike me, would get rather bored of a slab of meat with some sort of carbs and greens put in front of them several nights each week.

1. Venison mince

Mincing the scraps with one part pork belly to two parts venison makes a good burger mixture (although, of course, this can longer lay claim to a low fat option) and also makes a good, richer pasta sauce etc. I would serve appropriate wines with these - such as Cascina Saria's Barbera d'Asti 'S. Lorenzo' which has both the fruit and acidity to cut through the tomato in the ragu sauce.

For a low fat option, I mince the venison on its own and cook it up with Indian spices and add grated onion and toasted pine nuts then wrap it in small samosa parcels using spring roll pastry (there may be something more appropriate but this works fine). I bake these rather than the traditional deep frying and serve them with a pumpkin or squash chutney I heard about on the radio around Hallowe'en. It's quite spicy with the chutney but a fruity Syrah such as a Crozes-Hermitage from Xavier Vignon or Domaine de la Charite works well.

Something else I have tried recently is a beef and potato cake (but using venison, of course) from a rather fun cookbook called 'Persiana'. These are easy to make (mashed potato with minced venison which has been cooked up with mild spices then coated in breadcrumbs and shallow fried to seal then finished off in the oven) and work brilliantly with a simple fruity wine - again Xavier (this time his Turkish Cabernet-Mourvedre) and Charite (the 2015 Cotes du Rhone) come to mind.


Monday, 13 February 2017

2015 Burgundy - is there enough?

January is traditionally the month for tasting and buying the new vintage of Burgundy, wines which are mostly still in tanks and barrels, having been harvested only 15 months earlier. This year was the turn of the much heralded 2015s. This was a year in which not much could go wrong and, on the evidence of the wines I have tasted, very little did.

For me, I tasted extensively in the Chalonnaise, especially around Givry - I wanted to ensure that Domaine Joblot continues to be the best (it does) and, as a consumer, I have to consider that these are wines I can actually afford to drink. I also went to the so-called Ozgundians tasting in Soho where three Australians who make excellent (but by no means cheap) Burgundies were showing off their 2015s. A handful of other wines tasted confirmed, with all the above, that this is one of the great vintages. But you don't need me to tell you that when it's all over the wine press.

What I can tell you about is the excellent 2015s from Domaine Joblot. Juliette is increasingly at the helm of her family's estate and she is continuing with the outstanding reputation built up by her father and uncle. The Servoisine Blanc is drinkable already but could really do with a few years longer in the bottle. Tasted alongside the 2013 and 2014 of the same cuvee, 2013 was ready to drink (but no hurry), followed by the 2015 with the longer-lived 2014 needing more time (or more air!) to bypass the lean minerality of this classic vintage, so good for white Burgundy.

The four Premier Cru reds were tasted alongside each other over a period of five days. First, the Bois Chevaux, light and pretty but, at first, overpowered by the oak. This will fade into the background (as it did by day four) - witness, for example, the 2010 which I have been enjoying on more than one occasion this year (see previous post). My notes for this are consistent: a delicious Pinot, fleshed out and well balanced with fruit that draws you in. Not perfect, perhaps - certainly some tasters will strive to find flaws but, frankly, why bother? It's perfectly enjoyable and, for me, that's enough.

Cellier aux Moines and Servoisine are, classically, the two great wines from this estate. Neither is better than the other but there is a little difference in their styles with the former offering a little more structure and, presumably, longevity whilst the latter has slightly richer fruit. It doesn't really matter which one you opt for as both are going to give the 2015 Gevreys a run for their money when they have grown up. For now, both are impenetrable though: the tannins of 2015 are quite impressive! By day three, they were beginning to be more merciful and by the end of the week, the final glasses hinted at the great pleasure to follow in three or four years.

Finally the Clos Marole. Why? Simply because it is the first to be bottled and, as such, is the most forward at this stage. We also tasted it alongside the 2014 which was a 'Coup de Coeur' in the Revue du Vin de France's 2017 Guide which described its

"very beautiful aromas remind us of raspberry jam. Beautiful consistency on the palate for this pure juice. Its tannins, already well coated will refine over the next few years. This impressive wine shows the great mastery of pinot."

Well, we enjoyed it anyway. And the 2015 was, as expected, the most forward and in a similar style - although I would suggest 'black raspberry jam' as a more accurate descriptor.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Enjoyed last night...

On wine (briefly), a bottle of 2010 Givry 1er Cru 'Bois Chevaux' from Domaine Joblot was drinking magnificently last night. I am sure real experts would be able to find faults but for mere amateurs such as myself, this was quite simply a lovely wine, in the right place and the is certainly no reason to focus on anything other than the immense pleasure it affords. Sorry, all gone now but there are some very good follow-on vintages still available!

Monday, 12 December 2016

LUX Magazine award

I had not heard of this publication until I was told that I had been nominated for one of their 2016 Food & Drink Awards. Apparently, LUX is a 'monthly magazine giving you a glamorous glimpse into the world of all things luxurious'.

So, it is official, our wines are luxurious. 


I'm not sure that I am entirely comfortable with this moniker though. Cambridge Dictionary defines 'luxurious' as 'very comfortable and expensive' and 'giving great pleasure'. I'm on board with the second of these and, whilst 'comfortable' is not a word I would normally associate with wine, I can work with that too. However, I do take issue with the word 'expensive'. 


If someone can tell me where I could go (in the UK or anywhere with similar taxes) to find a wine of the quality of, say, Chateau Juvenal's extremely pleasurable and, possibly even very comfortable, 2015 Ventoux Blanc 'Ribes de Vallat' for under £12, please let me know and I will consider a career change. Actually, I defy anyone to find something as good as this under £15, maybe more.


I used to make a point of price comparisons although I have shied away from this in recent years, mainly because it is a fairly pointless exercise. Yes, one of our illustrious competitors also imports from Raymond Usseglio but, perhaps, the reason why people are willing to pay them £27.95 for a bottle of his 2012 compared with just £23.50 on our website is for the St James' address. 


I have a different approach to wine, I suppose. For me, what is inside the bottle is the only really important thing. Of course, we want to know that the liquid has been looked after properly and that is something you should be assured of when buying from a long-established business like BBR. But, of course, its doesn't mean you get a lesser wine from smaller companies like us who keep the wines in the same (or comparable) bonded warehouses until they are sold and delivered. Is it really worth an additional 30%? Of course, this was just a random example (it really was random - the first wine I checked out) so there may be others with much closer differentials (or even greater ones).


Anyway, as long as I can claim my luxuries to be good value ones then I gratefully - and gracefully - accept my award of (queue drumroll)...



Best Specialist Wine Importer 2016 - UK & Recognised Leader in Boutique Wines

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

En Primeur - is there still a market in the UK?

It's EP season, the time when merchants send out offers for wines which, in the main, have not yet been bottled. Prices are a little confusing to novices, priced without duty or VAT so the trick is to add £25 then divide by ten to reach the per bottle price (although an allowance should be made for onward delivery).

I had thought that Bordeaux had killed off much of the EP market. The outrageous opening prices demanded by some chateaux certainly slowed things down; I know The Big Red Wine Company is not a reliable gauge, given that I work with just one Claret producer, but in 2009, pre-shipment sales of Cahors estate Chateau du Cedre were more impressive than those of Chateau Teyssier.

So why should anyone buy EP? Traditionally, price and availability were the reasons. If you want a particular wine in a particular vintage at the best price, your best bet is to throw your hat in the ring at the earliest opportunity. Wine prices tend to go only in one direction and, as availability decreases (stocks decrease as people drink the stuff!), collectors and investors with stocks to spare rub their hands with glee, especially given that wine is classed as a wasting asset (assuming its life expectancy does not exceed 50 years) and, as such, does not attract capital gains tax when it is sold.

Now it is the 2015s that are being offered. Will anyone buy? Already, we have offered Mas de Daumas Gassac (Languedoc) and, in the last week, Chateau de Beaucastel (Rhone) and Domaine Joblot (Burgundy).  MDG sales were the best I can remember so the EP market is still very much alive and kicking, it seems. It's still early days for the other two but Beaucastel (and, especially its little brother, Coudoulet) tends to be popular and already a good number of cases have been snapped up.

Joblot is different, however. Chalonnaise wines are less sought after than their Cote d'Or neighbours, even those from families such as the Joblots who have been fairly described as 'Givry's best estate' (Clive Coates MW, The Wines of Burgundy, University of California Press) or 'a leader in Givry' (Jasper Morris MW, Inside Burgundy, BBR Press). Sadly, greater interest is in the top estates of the Cote d'Or where astronomically priced wines are snapped up by wealthy buyers afraid that they won't be able to get their hands on the stuff most of us can only dream of - or are they just buying to invest?

For me, I would - and do - buy wines which I can afford at this point in time and, if I can resist (not always possible), hold on to them for long enough to see them fully mature and enjoy them then without worrying about whether the wine now commands a price that I would otherwise balk at. A case in point: I did buy a (very) few bottles of Ruichebourg in 1999 to celebrate the birth of my oldest  child. It was expensive for me at that time (and now!) at around £80 per bottle but you only have a firstborn once, after all and I bought just three bottles. Now the same wine would cost me over £500 to replace (not that I would) but I can enjoy it knowing that I could just about afford it back in 2001. Joblot wines will never achieve such dizzying prices but they are worth putting aside for a decade or so, especially in vintages such as 2015.