Christmas with Wine Express
Nectar from the gods
I don’t have a single all-time favourite wine. It depends on the season, with whom I’m sharing it and what’s on the plate in front of me. Normally at this time of the year it would be a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or Riesling. But right now it’s a Cabernet Franc from New Zealand, an extraordinary Cabernet Franc that beats anything I have drunk from the Loire, Clos Rougeard included. I might even prefer it in a taste-off with Chateau Cheval Blanc, although this Premier Grand Cru Classe “A” has Merlot in the blend. So let’s just say it is the best single varietal Cabernet Franc I’ve ever drunk.
It’s from a small biodynamic producer, Pyramid Valley Vineyards, from north Canterbury in NZ’s South Island.. The grapes are sourced from a tiny vineyard of less than a hectare in Hawkes Bay a region better known for its Cabernet Sauvignons and Syrah. Winemaker Mike Weersing has coaxed amazing flavours from the handpicked grapes. Much fuller, richer and silkier than the Loire’s Cabernet Francs, it has a lovely mouth feel and long but soothing finish. Simply brilliant. I have managed to get hold of 100 bottles of this nectar and am debating whether to share with my clients or put it all away in the cellar. So twist my arm if you want to taste a truly amazing Cabernet Franc.
Raise your glass
Normally I get to drink Champagne two or three times a year, raising a glass at someone’s birthday or as the fireworks herald the start of a New Year. But on a trip to Champagne with friends this autumn, I drank almost nothing else but Champagne. And quite a lot of it too. At one memorable dinner in a Michelin 2-star restaurant in Reims we got through several magnums of Besserat de Bellefon Champagne during the seven course meal. We started with a rose, moved on to the Cuvee des Moines Brut and finished with an extra-dry Blanc de Blancs. I was surprised at just how well it matched almost all the dishes (we ordered an excellent Syrah from the Rhone vineyards of Michel and Stephane Ogier to go with the Corsican steak) and how clear all our heads were the following morning.
The next day after visiting the Besserat de Bellefon Champagne house in Epernay we lunched at a fine restaurant near the Cathedral. The first course was a salmon mousse and the main course duck and yes, they both went very well with Champagne. It’s a good job Besserat de Bellfon has 15 km of tunnels on five levels and 22-million bottles ageing quietly in them. I could become a regular Champagne drinker.
Pinot Noir – finesse in a bottle
Pinot Noir is not a grape that Poles fall in love with immediately. In fact many people’s first impressions are that it is too light, insipid even. Bigger, fruitier wines are preferred, whether they are from the New World or from southern Europe where hot summers enable grapes like Primitivo and Monastrell to ripen fully and be turned into heavy, fruity, high-alcohol wines.
I found myself explaining this last week to Mark Weldon and Sarah Eliott who own Terra Sancta, a winery on Felton Road in Central Otago, probably New Zealand’s top address when it comes to Pinot Noir. They are keen to sell in Poland and my explanation of Polish tastes was a preface to saying yes, I will sell your wines in Poland because I think they are great – but don’t expect huge sales.
We have some wonderful Pinot Noirs in our portfolio including Peter Finlayson’s Tete de Cuvee from Hermanus in South Africa, one of the best Pinots I have ever tasted, and Duckhorn’s Goldeneye from the Anderson Valley in California. It was good enough to be served at President Obama’s inauguration lunch. They sell slowly and to the small number of people who prefer finesse to muscularity.
I think that Pinot Noir is a grape you develop a taste for as you get older. Big, fruity wines are less appealing as the years tick away, especially when they are accompanied by high levels of alcohol as many now are. You are also often better able to afford them.
So I told Mark and Sarah not to worry too much about sales here. If others didn’t snap up Terra Sancta’s wonderful Pinot Noirs, I would drink them. I am just the right age to be a Pinot Noir drinker, especially if it’s as good as Terra Sancta’s Mysterious Diggins, Peter Finlayson’s Tete de Cuvee or Duckhorn’s Goldeneye.
If you like rosé wine there’s no better place to be than in Provence which produces more than 100-million bottles of it a year – well over half France’s total production of rosé . That’s where I am now, sitting beneath a plane tree that shades the terrace of a restaurant in Aix-en-Provence. Rosé is made for outdoor terraces like this, especially when the weather is warm and sunny as it tends to be in Provence at this time of the year. I have chosen a rose from Bandol to go with a salade niçoise, a perfect match in my opinion.
Summers are much shorter in Poland than here, but a glass of rose on the terrace is just as wonderful when the sun is shining. We have several rosé s on the Wine Express list, including a new one from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. It arrived this week and we’ll be serving it with Lebanese food on the terrace at Kania Lodge this coming weekend. Because of its lusciousness and hints of strawberry and grapefruit, roses like this go well with slightly spicy food. But it’s also a pleasure on its own. All you need to enjoy it to the full is a terrace, some sun and a cooler to keep the rose in.
There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch
This is one of the best-known adages in the English language. Its origins date back to the 19th century when bar owners in the United States offered “free” lunches to patrons. Of course the cost of the lunch was calculated into the elevated price of drinks. And innkeepers made sure it always a fatty, salty meal to encourage patrons to drink more.
Free is a loaded word, and never more so when it comes to the delivery of goods. Everyone from Amazon to the corner store uses the words FREE DELIVERY to attract customers. You may not actually pay for delivery as a separate item but you can be sure that the merchant has calculated the cost of delivery into the price of the book or groceries or whatever else is being delivered.
On-line wine merchants worldwide have traditionally made a separate charge for delivery. It’s the most honest and transparent way of doing business; you can see how much the wine costs and how much it costs to deliver it to your door. But “free” and “discount” are increasingly talismanic words in the wine business and woe to the merchant who doesn’t use them.
We have fallen in with the trend and you’ll find the words FREE DELIVERY splashed across our website. Not all deliveries are gratis but if you buy 12 bottles or more or spend 500 zl with us there’ll be no additional charge for delivery. Even if you are just buying a bottle or two, the small amount we charge for delivery will still make the purchase cheaper than if you drove your own car to the nearest shop or supermarket.
Our prices are amongst the most competitive in the on-line wine business in Poland and considerably below what you could expect to pay for our wines – or those of our competitors – in any retail outlet.
But there simply ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
For the record, our delivery policy is thus:
1-5 bottles – 35 zl
6-11 bottle case – 19.50 zl
12-bottle case or any orders over 500 zl FREE of charge
24-bottle orders – FREE delivery PLUS a complimentary tasting bottle.
New Portuguese wines – Pausa
The White Lake
On an autumn day more than two decades ago I sat on a grassy bank overlooking deep, mysterious Jezioro Biale (White Lake) in Kaszubia. A forest splashed with colour retreated from the far shore, overhead a skein of geese honked their way south. It was especially bucolic for someone like me, a war correspondent who at the time was covering the war in Bosnia. Wouldn’t it be nice to live here, I thought, far from the crump of mortars and the crackle of automatic weapons which had been the background to my life on several continents for more than 25 years. Most dreams evaporate the next day, atomised by the need to hold down a job, send children to school and put money away for a rainy one. But I got to live this one, resigning from my job at TIME and building a lodge, a home and a wine business over the years. Paradise, of course, was not exactly as I expected it to be and I have written of the trials, tribulations and small triumphs in a personal memoir which is being published in London by Quartet Books. It should be out in January. It has already got pats on the back from, amongst others, The New York Times, CBS News and the Times Literary Supplement. If you like to know more or purchase a copy, the publisher’s website is: http://quartetbooks.co.uk/shop/the-white-lake