Eastern Scene by Emily Harman

 
nagano.

As I write this, I sit on a Japanese high speed train known as Shinkansen or Bullet Train. I have spent a week eating and drinking around Tokyo and several days in Kyoto. Today I leave Kyoto to go north to Nagano to the mountains to take a few restorative days in the snow and quiet and hopefully I will catch a glimpse of a snow monkey or two, before returning back to Tokyo for another week. This trip is my second to Japan and is far from being my last.

Being a closed country for so many years means that Japan has kept hold of it’s unique identity and shows little influence of other places. Tokyo is a city with so much to give that it guarantees that you will never be bored and you will 99% of the time, eat incredibly well and often at surprisingly reasonable prices.

This years trip was organised around an incredibly special restaurant reservation. I had managed to attain a seat at one of the most elusive pop ups of recent years, Noma at the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo. This meant I would get to eat the food of one of my favourite restaurants, in the worlds most exciting city – to say I was exciting, was an understatement.

With the help of several foodies, sommeliers and wine writers – I have been lucky enough to acquire an eating and drinking list that could keep any serious foodie occupied for months. I have been eating bowls of Ramen and handmade cold Soba noodles for under a tenner for lunch and making my way around as much wine, martinis and sake as I can in the evenings.

I really want to use this trip to explore the wine scene here. I have learnt through my travels that everything in this marvellous country is well thought out to an incredibly high standard. Food, drink and the way in which these are served to you are considered and worked at to the point of perfection. Wine and the experiences with it seem to be no exception.

Stay tuned for more on wine in Japan….

Interview with Bastien Ferreri

Bastien aged 25, is the Head Sommelier at Hibiscus, London. The wine list reflects his passion to source unique wines from small conscientious producers.

When did you first begin working with wine?

I started to step into the madness and passion of wine in 2007, in Provence.

After three years of catering school, I studied at Sommelier school in the Languedoc for two years whilst doing my apprenticeship in a 2 Michelin restaurant in Provence.

The place was rocking, buzzy, fun, and it had a huge wine list of wine from all over France. I visited lots of winemakers, wine bars, restaurants, distilleries, breweries, meat farmers etc. I became completely addicted to all of these gastronomical pleasures and discoveries!

How would you describe your style of service?

Well, this is never easy to answer, obviously my background and workplace represent Michelin’s fine dinning standards.

However, I have always been lucky enough to work in roles that allow me to express myself freely, with a massive funky twist!

Back of house, I am very sharp and organised, this allows me to 200% freestyle on the floor. I can provide our guests with a fun experience. We change the wines as often as we want to always showcase something new and exiting.

My only goal it to make sure our guests have a great time with fantastic drinks, delicious food, with a superb friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

 Please can you describe an inspired wine moment?

Sipping some Meursault 04 Coche Dury with my good friend Ludovic Engelvin, a piece of Saint Felicien cheese, during our afternoon break when we were both working in a restaurant in Provence.

What advice/knowledge would you pass on to anyone who aspires to work with wine?

Taste, taste, taste…..and draw maps again, again, again and again.

Try to spend time with the winemakers, by visiting their places or going to wine fairs/tastings as they will always be your best source of information.

Go out, explore, read but do not forget that real life happens around you, by talking with other professionals, customers, wine buyers….

(We all talk a bit more around a nice glass of wine too!)

What do you think affects the experience of a guest the most (other than the wine itself)?

 I think the way in which you present a product is extremely important.

We're all bored of things that are too technical. For example when you read the back label of a packet whilst food shopping - you want simple and clear information. I apply the same idea when describing a dish or a wine - I try to be precise and technically perfect. I believe a sommelier is there to share his or her knowledge of the products, not to show off his knowledge.

Once again, I believe its really important to create a fun experience! And for that you need to really listen to your guests to understand their needs and wants (and more so to what they do not want!) to create a great experience.

If you were to champion anything, what would it be? (e.g. region, grape, style etc)

Good wine made by great people.

What do you enjoy most about the work that you do?

Every day is a different party!

I am very lucky to work in a creative environment with a regularly changing menu, that offers me the pleasure - and hard work - to change the wine selection very very often!

What would be your wine choice in the following situations…

Desert Island?

A fresh and flinty Pinot Blanc by Schueller in Alsace (in case I get my hands on some massive oysters!).

Picnic wine?

A super juicy, explosive Barbera by Cascina Tavijn.

Relaxation?

A delicately sweet Jurancon by Souch with a few years in bottle.

Party Wine?

Casot des Mailloles, Canta Mañana Rosé, this wine will make you go crazy ! We say “Le Canta ça rend Fada”

Tell us your wine secret….

Plooop (sounds when you open a bottle).

Natural Dilution by Josh Elias

Stepping outside his usual role of editor of Alquimie Magazine, Josh Elias talks candidly on his affections for ‘natural’ products.

I have a beard and I wear Oliver People’s glasses. I’m part of ‘new wave’ media and I love to drink Riesling. I used to be the stock in trade of punch pushing sommeliers and now I write. My horoscope projects a daily love of ‘natural’ wine and indeed, I love gulping the good stuff. What I’m not so fond of is the label for this category of wine. ‘Natural Wine’?

‘Natural wine’ is a movement that is very much defined by what it isn’t; no pesticides in the vineyards, no additives in the winery, no critics, no ‘winemakers’. ‘Natural wine’ is a truly democratic movement. You heard me. It is democratic. No listen to me, you aren’t listening. It is democratic. By the people, for the people. It is a new wave. A revolution and so “the beat goes on, yes the beat goes on.” – Macho Man Randy Savage

I can’t help but be repulsed by the general aura of vociferous and sycophantic ‘realism’ that has piggybacked on this particular wine category. By creation of the category, it seemingly renders all other wine ‘synthesized’? As an asthmatic, I can speak to ill-affects of excessive sulphur-dioxide levels in wine. However, does the inclusion of any additive render a product artificial? What then of dried fruit? It’s not quite grape drink vs grape juice is it? Consult Dave Chapelle on those definitions.

No doubt, the most industrialized bulk produced wine undergoes a plethora of mechanical intervention. With modern technology, almost any element of a wine can be manipulated. No doubt, this is something more consumers should be alerted to. However, I’d have thought that this distinction is amply covered by organic and biodynamic certifications without the need for a new religious sect.

I’m wary that this little rant is like sticking my hand into Rudolph Steiner’s beehive, so I’ll tread carefully on this most sacrosanct turf. I’ll draw my subtle line in the elusive continuum of the many first world wrong’s scratched into my soul. The dogma that has become the ‘natural’ wine Conga line, I believe, is it’s own worst enemy.

For all of us that read about wine, which includes you, yes you, most importantly, you, we learn to embrace the beauty of the variables; the vineyard, the vintage, the varieties, the peacefulness of the land, the fauna, the flora, the richness of agriculture and between all of us, almost anything and everything that makes wine such a true and agriculturally reflective beverage.

I contend that the moniker of ‘natural wine’ is the witness protection for wine. Once it is categorized as such, the variables that went into the production of the wine, most frequently, disappear. They are swept under the iron curtain of ‘natural’. They are marketed to the consumer as ‘wine… but… a new type of wine’. The grape varieties; unimportant. The vineyard; some place. The vibe; natural. At best, it initiates some of ‘less-initiated’. Join us. Be included. And even then, would you consider yourself one of the ‘unfortunately’ less initiated?

To borrow / mis-appropriate / steal / vandalize a quote from Kurt Vonnegut – “It was sort of ice-cream cone on fire.”

The artisans and vignerons that make this sort of wine, I’m fairly confident, largely disregard the label of ‘natural’ wine. They craft a wine that suits their expression and they largely do so, in solitude. It’s the chanting masses marching behind them, in cities far away from their vineyards, that need chiropractic re-adjustment.

Take for example two of the elder-statesmen cast under the projected moniker of natural within the Australian Wine Industry; Anton Van Klopper and Tom Shobbrook. They are two, very different men, so amazingly vibrant, richly engaging bounties of humanity. When Tom hugs you, it is a sort of warm human blanket of an embrace that shifts internal organs and bestows happiness upon the recipient. Anton on the other hand, is seasoned to the point of piquant. He’ll talk you through the night until all but his consciousness waiver. They are real people, every bit as much as Michel Rolland or Aubert de Villaine.

Their wines shine in the glass. Tom’s Didi Giallo; a golden yellow sort of Sauvignon Blanc elixir with tropical notes, herbal complexity and lip-smacking acidity - it is a delicious drink. The hedonistic fruit reflects the Australian sunshine. It speaks of with bold personality of a variety, a place and a friendliness. It’s so much more than ‘natural’. On the other hand, I enjoyed a gander at Anton’s 2014 Lucy Margaux Syrah at a wine bar recently. The wine is bristling with cherry and plum fruit, anise spice and sappy tannin. The wine is a rich, bold and an irresistible juggernaut of energy.

Anton’s wine is crafted in the Adelaide Hills and Tom’s in the Barossa Valley. The wines are expressions of those people, their place, their grapes and they evoke unique, beautiful and different reactions.

The modern wine critic champions crisp fruit, clean acidity and freshness. I too search for wines with ‘vitality’. A slogan not unlike that of an Australian supermarket chain, we are the fresh wine people. What of it? What relevance is this to the moniker of ‘natural’ wine? In fact, when ‘Natural Wine’ is pronounced in the accent of an Australian wine-judge, the phrase can infer microbial fault or oxidized juice. To this extent, natural is a prerogative term. Go figure. All of a sudden you are part of the gang. But apparently gang smells like wet Band-Aids?

I’ve watched consultant winemakers pull their hair out about certain ‘natural’ wines only to praise others. I’ve seen battle hardened wine critics do the same about bulk produced, super-market wines. Surely, producer must be our first consideration, not ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ or ‘kosher’…. I jest. We all respect Kosher wine. (mood is sarcastic)

The mood is now serious.

Natural wine deserves neither special treatment nor prejudice. It should be welcomed into the fold of all the wines of the world, if that would be diluting the brand, so be it.

The wine is here to stay, the label, not.

To Father Christmas, Please may I have?

CHRISTMAS WINE WISH LIST 2014

NV Prosecco 'Sottoriva', Malibran - Veneto, Italy

This Prosecco is unfiltered so its cloudy, it is fresh and super light! It will be perfect for breakfast and lunch preparation work!

2006 Mineral Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, Agrapart - Champagne, France

Harmonious and expressive! A match made in heaven for any fish or seafood starter. This fizz really delivers and is worth every penny of its price. The wine is made from two 40 year old vineyards.

2010 Chardonnay 'Cuvee Florine', Ganevat - Jura, France

This wine is ridiculously cheaper than any Chardonnay of this quality from Burgundy, and will be perfect with my roast chicken!

2009 Nerello Mascalese 'Gibril', Guccione - Monreale, Sicily

This is the wine to bridge courses or for those who enjoy reds with fish. Its alluringly fragrant and perfumed, light but with supportive tannins that are soft. I drank my last bottle of this wine several months ago and it is out of stock with the supplier so I would love to be able to drink it again!

2006 Barolo 'Cannubi-San Lorenzo', Guiseppe Rinaldi - Piemonte, Italy

I love having roast game birds or beef at Christmas and I really could not enjoy them in the same way without some Nebbiolo! Barolo is the monarch of all Italian wine. This wine is pure perfection at the moment, I was lucky enough to enjoy a bottle alongside some white truffles recently and really cannot wait to taste it again.

2007 Pinot Gris Selection de Grains Nobles, Pierre Frick - Alsace, France

From a small estate that are producing hand crafted wines, this wine is rich and honeyed! Brilliant with Christmas Pudding, Stilton or as an alternative to a dessert! This Pinot Gris is quite rich and slightly oily but it has lovely balance so it isnt too heavy or sickly!

 

Redefining Cava by Emily Harman

Cava is one of Spain's most infamous wines - this sparkling wine finds itself sandwiched in between the cheaper, less exciting offerings on a wine list or shop shelf. Most serious Champagne drinkers steer themselves well clear of it.

I never understood that despite everything I read on paper about Cava (that is must go through the same expensive production method as Champagne to give it a natural bubble as opposed to the quickly produced carbonated bubble of Prosecco), it was cheap and quite frankly unpleasant.

I started to look into the ‘Why’s of it. Why did what I was tasting seem so far away from a quality wine? Why was some much money and time being spent on a wine that was made in such a way for the end the end result to be lackluster and drab?

Whilst the majority of Cava is produced in and around Penedes, near to Barcelona – the legal requirements for a wine to be called Cava is that it is can be produced anywhere in Spain providing it is made with the traditional method and has been aged appropriately.

I drew my focus to Penedes and what happens there in the heart of Cava production.

Each year around 260 million bottles are produced and approximately 80% of this is made by two producers. There are around 250 producers of Cava with less than 10 of these producing cava from their own vineyards.

On those facts alone it starts to become very clear as to why the quality falters. Alongside this, the Cava DO is very relaxed in comparison to the legal requirements in place in other sparkling wine regions such as Champagne.

As mentioned earlier, legally Cava can be made from many regions all over the country. The producers are legally allowed to produce Cava from up to 9 different grapes and due to hot climate in some of Spains regions – it is legal for producer to acidify their wines too. It is also commonplace that the majority of the producers buy their grapes and base wines from other growers.

As my research progressed, the facts revealed the truth in what I had been tasting but with every region and appellation this is always more than what is seen on the surface and Cava is no exception. It is a small movement here, there are around a dozen producers that revert from the norm and produce wines with care from their own vineyards.

And with relief I was lucky enough to discover the Recaredo wines.

Recaredo is a 3rd generation estate with 50ha of vines. The estate was founded in 1924 and is now in the hands of Ton Mata. Ton converted all the vineyards to Biodynamic several years ago and has never looked back.

Ton is a curious man who seeks to produce a high quality cared for wine, he has extended his research further afield – Recaredo are working alongside the Foods Technology Department of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. This research project is on yeast – Recaredo are selecting yeasts from their own vines and then experimenting with to see how this affects he personality of their wines.

The ethos at this estate is for all their wines to express grape, place and vintage. Recaredo try to work majorly with Xarelo - for it's ageing potential aswell as its capability of expressing where it is grown. 

All wines are Non Dose and vintage, with longer ageing that they are legally required. It is worth mentioning that there is no acidification here. The long ageing of all their wines (with some of their wines ageing for over 100 months) before their release, these deliver something quite special, with high levels of complexity that has been derived from the long time on lees. Recaredos’ Gran Reserva is aged for 50 months when the DO only requires 30 months. All the wines are hand riddled and hand disgorged.

Whilst other grower producers have chosen to break away from the Cava appellation, Recaredo decided to stay with the intention to improve and develop the DO. They are pushing for it to be a legal requirement to write recoltant/negotiant on the label to enable the consumer to be able to distinguish between those who work with their own fruit and those who buy grapes.

All of their wines are striking and individual. The 2010 Intens Rosat – a pink Cava made from bleeding the juice from Pinot Noir and Monastrell grapes. The Rosat is then aged for 33months on the lees – the result is an innovative and delicious glass of bubbles - I can't wait to see what else this appellation will bring in the future.