One of the best ways to make new wine discoveries is to experiment with wines by the glass. And that is how I found Melonix, a fabulous wine from biodynamic Loire producer Domaines Jo Landron at the newly opened Frenchie in Covent Garden yesterday.
Because it mentions the grape on the bottle it can’t be labelled muscadet (for heaven’s sake!) so it’s classified as vin de France
According to Doug Wregg of importer Les Caves de Pyrène* “grapes are harvested by hand (unusual in the region), fermentation with wild yeasts (very unusual), no chaptalisation, no SO2 added, it undergoes a natural malolactic (very unusual) and no sulphur is added even at bottling. It breaks all the rules.” In Landron’s own words he sees it as ‘a rustic wine, untamed and free.”
It sailed effortlessly through a rich dish of hot smoked trout with whey and was so delicious I treated myself to a second glass, despite resolving to have only one at lunchtime. (Well, it is only 12%!) I can imagine it being great with sashimi and other raw fish dishes as well as the obvious suspects of oysters and mussels.
Apparently it benefits from opening ahead as many natural wines do. The bottle I tried - which incidentally was on the full list not the wines by the glass selection (it’s always worth taking a look at the longer list) - already had a glass taken out of it so could have been open since the previous day but was still wonderfully pure and intense. Natural wine sceptics take note!
*Who sell it for £14.20
As those of you who read my column in the Guardian will know I’m not a huge fan of Sauvignon Blanc but this is a wine I’m more than happy to make an exception for.
Made by Duncan Savage at Cape Point Vineyards on the coast at Noordhoek just outside Cape Town the fruit comes from highm exposed vineyards that get blasted by the wind until the leaves shrivel and brown. But the fruit is pure and stellar - more citrus than gooseberry and - most impressive of all - it ages. Under cork.
We tasted a 2000 - one of only 4 that were left (so thanks, Duncan, for generously sharing one of them) - that was still showing quite magnificently: completely fresh and fruity with just an added roundness and fullness indicating its age. There’s generally no oak, just an added dash of semillon which varies from vintage to vintage
We polished off the remainder of the bottle at Harbour House on the Waterfront in Cape Town where it went brilliantly with a plate of oysters.
The 2012 was showing well too. In the UK Swig has the current vintage for £14.50 while the 2014 is widely available for around £12.50-£15. SA Wines Online has it for £12.89 and Butlers Wine Cellar for £13.50. Buy some, drink some and lay some down as I plan to do. And that for a sauvignon sceptic is saying something.
I had a conversation on Twitter before Christmas with Elly from The Durham Brewery about whether there was a perfect beer for Christmas pudding.
She reckoned their 9% Belgian Tripel-style Bede’s Chalice would do the job and offered to send it to me to try.
What with one thing and another I didn’t catch up with it until well after Christmas was over so can’t try out the combination. My feeling is that it’s slightly drier and more savoury than is ideal for Christmas pud - a barley wine I think would be better
I was however very taken with their White Stout which I tried at the same time. As they explain on the label “Before porter brewers commandeered stout to mean a strong porter, a stout beer was a strong beer. It did not have to be black. We have recreated the style using modern hops and a full malt body.”
I find it a big, savoury brew, well-suited to meat (they recommend it with roast lamb with garlic and rosemary), shepherd's pie or cheddar cheese. It’s not as sweet or aromatic as many IPAs, more like a full-bodied red like a malbec. Watch out though: at 7.2% ABV a 500ml bottle will gobble up 3.6 units, over a quarter of your weekly 14 unit (ha!) allowance. You could happily share it between two though.
Disclosure: I was sent a selection of beers to try by The Durham Brewery.
If you’re looking for a cheap all-purpose red after Christmas this old favourite from the Co-op should fit the bill.
It’s only 12% too which makes it quite light if you’re used to drinking wines that are around 14% but that also brings it under 100 calories per 125ml glass* which can make you feel smugly virtuous. And it’s on offer at £5.49 a bottle which won’t break the bank (with an extra 15% off today (Jan 3rd) if you buy 4 bottles)
It’s made from old Carignan vines which are indigenous to the Languedoc and is a good simple quaffing red to drink with stews, sausages or pulses. And it’s a good wine for mulling if you’re minded to keep that going through January.
*About 95 calories in fact.
It’s always a treat to drink great old wines, especially when they’re on top form like this fabulous syrah from Californian producer Ojai in the Santa Maria valley.
It was brought along by a chef friend Martin Lam who used to own Ransome’s Dock - a restaurant which had a wonderful Californian wine list.
Despite its age it was drinking wonderfully - mellow, figgy with just a touch of leather - a perfect match with the venison and white polenta we had as a main course
I can’t find the Roll Ranch bottling anywhere in the UK so I wonder if they’ve sold it or no longer have the use of that fruit but it would be well worth buying one of their other syrahs to lay down. If you just want to try a bottle, Harvey Nichols has the 2012 Sebastiano vineyard syrah for £50.
Here's further encouragement to buy Californian syrah from wine expert Jon Bonné who recommends Ojai’s Solomon Hills Syrah among others though, again, that particular bottling no longer seems to be available
Definitely a wine to snap up if and when you see it.