Delhi may not be universally popular with my colleagues who go there on a regular basis. Bureaucracy, traffic, pollution, noise, heat and more bureaucracy all take their toll but if you can somehow find your way through that then the dining options can be superb. I’ve already written about Indian Accent which has become one of my favourite restaurants on our network and is clearly Michelin standard, but there are many other Delhi restaurants that provide, if not quite Michelin standard, excellent food that can be enjoyed at great prices.
One of those restaurants is the Taj Palace’s Masala Art, serving traditional North Indian fare with a little bit of ingenuity. The food is good, the staff friendly and the prices are reasonable considering its location. However, it was time to try something new and so we booked into the new flagship restaurant at the Taj Palace’s sister hotel, Varq at the Taj Mahal.
Decorated in dark reds, burgundy walls, crimson lampshades and a textured geometric feature wall with Indian friezes and trinkets in an attempt to create an intimate boudoir experience. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work. The room is too boxy, there’s not enough soft furnishings which allows sound to echo around the room and the tables are just too far apart. The lack of clientele on a Monday evening didn’t exactly help either.
Service was perfunctory with little real engagement from the staff who seemed almost reticent to talk, banter or attempt to ensure you were made welcome.
The wine list seemed intent on ensuring that very little wine was drunk in the restaurant with what looked to be fierce mark ups. Meerlust Rubicon? £90 a mere snip. Indeed looking around the place I only saw a bottle of wine on 2 out of 8 occupied tables, everybody else was on Kingfisher or water.
All of this could have been forgiven if the food matched up to the prices but that proved to be a disappointment too.
Varqui Crab starter
Layers of crab meat with tandoori prawn on filo sheets. Not too bad to start with, a good crab and savoury coconut flavour. Filo pastry was well done but this dish quickly became cloying. Just too rich with an excess of butter.
Gimmicky presentation with dry ice which didn’t add anything to the dish. Very tasty sorbet though with just enough salt to keep it on the savoury side. Very good palate cleanser.
Duck 4 Ways
Presentation was OK but again it seemed more like the chef was trying too hard and not concentrating on the harmony of the dish. Each component didn’t need to be in individual dishes and the fried duck egg would have been much better poached and not stuck to the bottom of the pan. Spice level was ideal for me and there was enough interest in the other 3 parts to make it worthwhile but I was left wondering what, if anything, pulled this course together. A very accomplished dhal accompanied the entree.
Rum Chocolate Dessert
Visually entertaining right up to the point where they poured a jug of Baileys over the top, resulting in a squelchy unappealing mess that tasted exactly like it looked! Very disappointing and seemed to be indicative of the whole meal, trying too hard but not quite getting it.
Service throughout was disappointing and compounded by not a single member of staff thanking us after paying the bill, or wishing us a good evening on the way out.
Vark needs to take a good look at what it is trying to achieve with its food. If they are looking for how to bring Indian food and service up to Michelin standard then they could do worse than pay a visit to Indian Accent to see how both of those are done properly. Until then, I’d give Varq a wide berth.
The Mullineux wines just keep on getting better. This new release of the White Blend is the best I’ve tasted from them so far, and previous vintages have been no slouches either which include the Platter’s 5 star wine of 2010.
There’s a bit more Chenin Blanc in the blend this year, now comprising 76% with the balance made up from Clairette and Viognier still. What is immediately apparent is the pure, delineated fruit balance of this wine and the less overtly oxidative character that was a supporting component previously. There’s a deft winemaker’s touch, lightly fragrant and subtle with honeyed apple, citrus and peach aromas.
Crushed stone, piercing minerality and linear acidity define and frame the palate with elegant and refined fruit flavours lightly edged with the merest hint of oak. Tremendous persistence and clarity on the finish. This is a joy to drink now but it’s going to be fascinating to watch its evolution over the next few years.
Available from Vincisive – £16.50
Austrian wine continues to intrigue me. We all know about their steely Rieslings, piercing Gruner Veltliners and wonderfully luscious noble sweet wines. Slightly less well known are the reds which have been making steady progress and this collaboration between Dorli Muhr and Dirk van der Niepoort has a South African connection with the winemaker, Craig Hawkins of Lammershoek, coming over to make the wine.
Carnuntum, which stretches from Vienna to the eastern border with the Slovak Republic, is known for Zweigelt but Dorli Muhr has chosen to concentrate instead on Blaufrankisch. With the fierce heat of the Pannonian summer moderated by the Danube and the nearby Neusiedlersee, Blaufrankisch is able to fully ripen but still retain the freshness that is so evident in this wine. There is a premium wine made from a single vineyard, Spitzerberg, which has 60 – 80 year old vines, but the Carnuntum is made from younger vines and is considerably cheaper.
The first thing that strikes you about this wine is it’s wonderful freshness. 2009 was a warm year in Austria and up to 60% whole bunch fermentation with stems ensures a superbly crisp crunch to the precise plum and blackcurrant fruit. There’s such a clear definition to this wine that it’s a delight to continue sipping but I’m determined to save some overnight and see how it develops.
That proved to be an excellent decision – which isn’t always the case! – and I was rewarded with a slightly softer edge to the wine with elegant lines, clear minerality and a rich depth to the fruit and light herbal notes, finishing with a sprinkling of spice and pepper. The more I tasted, the more complex this wine became, liquorice started to emerge as did cherries and thyme, concentration appeared to increase and new depths became evident. There’s plenty of structure in the form of rounded, minerally tannin and lively acidity, suggesting there’s still plenty more to give.
If you’ve tried any of Craig’s Lammershoek wines then you’ll spot some similarities, freshness for one. Craig’s Swartland Syrahs exhibit that same clarity, with ripe fruit around a clean, refreshing core seasoned with herbs. Craig likes to push boundaries with his minimalist style and this wine is no exception. Aged and fermented for the first 7 months without sulphur before a minimal dose during racking. After spending a total of 15 months in 3000L foudres the wine is then bottled, without fining or filtration. It’s risky winemaking, but I’m delighted to see winemakers of Craig’s calibre taking those risks – especially when we’re rewarded with something that excites and intrigues in equal measure.
On a recent spur of the moment trip to Cape Town I had the opportunity to meet up with David Sadie in the delightful Swartland town of Riebeek Kasteel. David has been making wine for Lemberg but has also been working on his own venture producing tiny quantities of exceptional wines and is now reducing his commitment at Lemberg to concentrate on the new venture. Lunch gave us the opportunity to sample all of David’s wines with food rather than in a sterile tasting room or cellar, which of course is how most people actually enjoy their wines.
Chenin Blanc 2012
Bottled in January 2013 only 2 barrels of this wine are made with fruit from Paardeberg and Malmesbury. Vines are up to 50 years old and dry farmed bushes.
This had a very fine apple nose with light oak influence and had clearly spent time on the lees. There was a pure mineral streak giving plenty of focus to the precise, clean and fresh palate. Tight still – the wine is very young so not surprising – but there’s good balance to this wine along with piercing acidity. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. 91/100
The 2011 vintage of this wine earned David 5 Platter stars and judging by this tasting I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that repeated. 50% Chenin Blanc with the rest made up from 20% each of Viognier and Clairette Blanche with Chardonnay contributing the remaining 10%. 4 barrels produced, 11 months in old oak.
Another very fine nose with peach and apple but the palate has a richer texture than the straight Chenin Blanc. Bruised apple and honey with ripe nectarine and a floral touch, lightly herbal on the finish. Excellent poise and balance. This is a classy, restrained and serious wine from David. 93/100
With a tiny production of only 2 barrels David has crafted a wonderful wine from 90% Grenache with 10% of additional Syrah. Using 40% whole bunch fermentation with gentle punchdowns for light extraction.
The nose is a beautifully subtle cocktail of strawberry and raspberry while the palate is remarkable for it’s sheer elegance and pure linear fruit. Raspberry, strawberry, plums, with savoury tannins adding support along with the juicy acidity. Lightly spicy on the finish with the merest hint of vanilla and fynbos. Elegant, supple, refined, this is a wine that demands contemplation and is one of the most accomplished I’ve ever tasted from South Africa. 94/100
David introduced this as a new wine in 2011 and it’s a very well crafted blend of Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Cinsault reflecting the Swartland’s affinity with Rhone varieties. The Syrah comes from the Riebeek Mountain’s shale soils, Carignan and Grenache noir from Paardeberg Mountain’s granite soils and Cinsault from Sand on top of clay based hills on the Western Hills of the Swartland.
Where David’s Grenache is immediately appealing, this blend has a brooding meaty complexity to it that will need more time to reveal its locked in secrets. Supremely integrated tannins frame the refined blackcurrant and mulberry fruit, fynbos and subtle vanilla. This is a wine to watch. 94/100
All of these wines will be arriving in the UK mid-July and will be available from Vincisive Wines.
I’m shocked to see that I haven’t posted a blog article or tasting note for months. I can blame all manner of things, work pressures, multiple tax returns, busy family life etc etc but the truth is probably procrastination and laziness. Time to get a grip!
Let’s start with one of the best wines I had on a holiday to New Zealand earlier this year (I told you I’d been busy!) It was a family holiday so there wasn’t a lot of time for serious wine visits but I did squeeze a couple of serious wines in. This was one of them.
Situated on the beautiful island of Waiheke just off Auckland, Man O’ War is located on the Eastern side of the island on exposed volcanic hilltops. This is their regular Chardonnay which receives a light oak touch with 2/3 of the wine fermented in stainless steel but this is enough to give it a tight flinty structure. Generously proportioned melon and grapefruit is threaded with a subtle floral note and leads to a stony mineral finish. 90/100
Bought for NZ$25 or about £13 this was the bargain of the holiday and the photo above was taken on Palm Beach in Waiheke were we spent a fabulous few days with friends with a fair quantity of this wine contributing to the experience!
I haven’t seen this vintage in the UK yet but Wine-Searcher shows 2009 at about £18.
Despite being disappointed to be away from home and my family this Christmas and having to work, I was determined that the day wouldn’t be a complete washout. Arriving at Pudong international airport at 2am on the 25th and having to operate a flight back to Hong Kong at 4am on the 26th was not exactly conducive to a fun and wine filled Christmas day but it was just about possible to get enough rest in, observe the strict rules on alcohol and flying, and still enjoy the day.
After grabbing a few hours much needed sleep I dragged my jet-lagged body out of bed, armed with a bottle of Uva Mira Chardonnay 2010 and headed in to Shanghai on one of the world’s first maglev trains at 300km/h.
I hadn’t spent any time in Shanghai since my Virgin Atlantic days over 10 years ago so it was reassuring to see that the Shanghai metro worked seamlessly and the city still seemed relatively familiar, at least at the usual tourist haunts of the Bund and Xintiandi. Obligatory photo on the Bund for the Chardonnay completed its Chinese tour and next on the agenda was finding a restaurant to have Christmas lunch.
Lack of planning on my part, due to misplaced optimism that my flight would be cancelled, meant that we couldn’t get in to the really interesting restaurants like Otto e Mezzo or Mr & Mrs Bund so we turned on tourist mode, jumped in a taxi and headed off to Xintiandi to see what we could find.
I wasn’t expecting too much when we came across KABB bistro and bar, but they were open, had food and, more importantly, allowed me to open up my bottle of Uva Mira Chardonnay for an almost reasonable 150 RMB corkage charge. Deciding that a burger really wasn’t appropriate for Christmas lunch I went for one of the day’s specials and had a very passable duck confit. It may not have been the best Christmas lunch or confit that I’ve ever had but I was pleasantly surprised to find an enjoyable dish that complimented the bold flavours of the Uva Mira.
It’s always a pleasure to introduce this wine to new people and today was no exception as I shared the bottle with the other pilot, a friendly Kiwi who had no idea that South Africa could produce wines with this depth and elegance. This wine has never let me down and it was on top form today with the usual integrated oak notes supporting the linear stone fruit flavours. A thread of citrus developing as the wine gently warmed up in the glass and a zesty acidity cutting through the duck fat. It remains one of my firm favourites.
It’s my wedding anniversary this evening so it seems appropriate to pull out a Rosé Champagne to celebrate with. Comprising 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Pinot Meunier, Champagne’s red grapes, a brief maceration of 10-12 hours gives the attractive salmon colour.
The estate has been working organically for some time and is currently moving towards a biodynamic approach for all of their vineyards. Short pruning, light inter-row ploughing, natural weed cover and biodynamic preparations complete the holistic approach taken by Francis and his daughter Delphine.
There has been a debate within the wine industry about disgorgement dates and their importance in determining which particular bottling of a non-vintage Champagne you are drinking so it’s refreshing to see that the back label specifies not just the disgorgement date (21/05/10) but also the bottling date (22/04/08), forward thinking indeed.
Francis Boulard Rosé Champagne NV – Brut Nature
Good example of a zero dosage rosé Champagne. Whilst the fruit feels firm due to the high acidity, there’s none of the harshness I normally associate with zero dosage. Cranberry and strawberry with straw and a splash of citrus. Develops on the finish to leave a pleasantly creamy sensation. 88/100
I know that this is supposed to be a wine blog but please forgive my indulgence in writing a brief post on a superb dining experience I had in Mumbai last night. I spend plenty of time in India, usually in Delhi but also a fair bit in Mumbai and I’m always on the look out for places to go in this remarkably vibrant city. It saddens me that many of my colleagues venture no further than the air-conditioned luxury of the Taj Lands End hotel in Bhandra and are unwilling to explore what the city has to offer. It may take a bit of effort to get around, it’s noisy, filthy in places, and utterly chaotic but there is a distinct vibe and energy to Mumbai that gives it a unique feel. And then there’s the food….
Given a firm recommendation by @TableforOne on Twitter to go to Trishna, I headed off there with one of my more adventurous fellow pilots. There was no need for a menu as Pooja had told us exactly what to have, ….. crab.
‘Will this one do sir?’
The waiter brought out what appeared to be some sort of monster plucked from the depths of a subduction oceanic trench, one claw tied up with rope and the other clacking furiously, ready to sever my head cleanly!
The next time I saw this crab, it had been taken away and cooked in lashings of garlic butter and ginger. The meat was succulent, tender and glistened with a sheen of melted butter. The ginger complimented the crab giving a fresh spiciness to the dish, enhanced by black pepper and perfectly cooked naan bread lending a satisfying crunch.
However, first up was Squid Koliwadi. Mildly spiced with cumin and red chilli, the fresh squid was as tender as I have had anywhere – it simply melted away in the mouth contrasting with the crunchy, spicy batter and finishing with a sweet smoky aspect.
Pomfret Tikka came in quick succession. Succulent again, the fish was just cooked and juicy throughout. There’s a step up in the heat level but the tikka spices and smoky edge were finely judged. Delicious!
We were instructed to order the Hyderabadi Dhal to accompany the crab which turned out to be an inspired choice. The lentils had a creamy, buttery texture but with depths of flavour I hadn’t thought possible with a dish that is essentially a side order. The dhal had a clear spicy backbone, but the cumin and coriander that it was laced with, offered an intriguing interplay with the gentle heat. The combination of the crab and the dhal transitioned into a seamless dish of its own, balanced flavours, silky texture, sweet meat, gentle spices, full and creamy yet somehow retaining a freshness that delighted the senses.
The decor may be shabby and the wine list a bit of a disaster, but the Kingfisher worked just fine for our purposes and I’m confident that I’ll be seeing this restaurant again in the near future. Highly recommended!
Everywhere I turn at the moment I seem to bump into Ralph Hochar of Chateau Musar, not that I’m complaining of course because wherever Ralph goes there’s always a few bottles of Chateau Musar close by.
First up was London International Wine Fair where I attended a tasting with the legendary Serge Hochar who took over the winemaking in 1959. Serge has spent over half a century in charge of Lebanon’s most iconic wine, turning it into an internationally recognised and globally appreciated wine. He became Decanter magazine’s first ever Man of the Year in 1984 and when you hear him talk it’s easy to see why. Full of enthusiasm and passion for his wines, his calm and affable manner draws you in to the Chateau Musar story which is about history, tradition and an expression of Lebanon’s high altitude Bekaa Valley.
All of us at the tasting were happy to listen to Serge talk and answer numerous questions but time was pressing and we had to move on to the tasting which began with Musar 2005 and Musar 1999.
Chateau Musar 2005
Structured, firm tannin with smoky fruit. Obvious Musar nose but this is hard and disjointed at the moment. Hide away in a dark cellar for at least 5 years!
Chateau Musar 1999
Richer, fuller and more developed. Sweet, ripe plum, red berries with supple ripe and integrated tannins. Creamy, enveloping body that is very balanced. Tobacco and leather on the very long finish. Delicious.
Chateau Musar White 2005
Not as oxidative as I expected. Creamy mouthfeel, spicy, lanolin, peach and honey with some smoky oak notes.
We were then treated to a magical array of mature vintages, 1974 and 1980 reds alongside 1986 and 1991 whites. Chateau Musar wines are some of the most age-worthy you are likely to find anywhere and they reward patience with complexity, subtlety and enormous pleasure.
Chateau Musar 1974
This is a beautiful brick colour with a truly evolved nose. Remarkably rich, silky and round palate. The tannins have long since melted to leave a wine that feels like crushed velvet. You could almost mistake it for a mature top flight Burgundy with its elegance and complexity of flavour that seems to float around the senses. Heavenly.
Chateau Musar 1980
A much deeper colour than the 1974, this wine is incredibly fresh still. Classic Musar flavours but this is soft, round and very well integrated. Vibrant with a fresh acidity. This wine constantly changes in the glass but retaining a rich elegance through to the cedar, tobacco and leather finish.
Chateau Musar White 1991
Dark amber colour with a toasty, smoky nose. The palate is very rich and creamy, nutty and balanced. Lightly oxidative intertwined with layers of herbs, marzipan and apricots all held together by tight acidity. Delicious.
Chateau Musar White 1986
A completely different wine to the 1991, this vintage was unwooded hence the much lighter, clear and bright lemon gold colour. the nose is lighter too, almost reticent. In comparison to the 1991 the palate is much more straightforward with a creamy lemon and lightly oxidative touch.
Through the magic of Twitter, Ralph and I discovered that we were both going to be in Hong Kong at the same time. Ralph and the Chateau Musar team were in town as part of Vinexpo, the trade show that alternates between Bordeaux and Hong Kong. I was there as part of the day job and had flown in from Amsterdam via Mumbai, a quick shower and straight in to Stanley for a Chateau Musar dinner with a few Hong Kong enthusiasts.
Serge was also attending and it was a real pleasure to spend an evening in his company discussing the wines and his philosophy on Chateau Musar. Serge is such easy company and it was obvious that all around were not only comfortable in his presence but were positively engaged by his conversation and interest in life in Hong Kong.
This tasting brought another Musar first for me – Rosé. Not just any old Rosé but a 1994 vintage Rosé. We all know that Rosés are supposed to be drunk young so why bother with one that is 18 years old? Well the Musar Rosé is based on the white grape Obaideh, which is reputed to be descended from Chardonnay, and is blended with about 5% Cinsault. The wine is fermented and aged in French oak barrels and ages superbly, like the Musar White. I was astounded at how fresh and alive this wine was. Clear fruit profile, strawberry, citrus and apricot but also herbal and floral. I can’t say that I’m usually a fan of Rosé but this wine intrigued me and I couldn’t resist going back for a second glass.
Finally, I bumped in to Chateau Musar again yesterday. Not at a wine event but at an Indian food tasting of all places. Again Twitter played its part, having met the very talented Asma Said Khan at the London Wine Fair, I offered to try and pair some wine with her cooking. Asma very kindly invited me and a few Twitterati including my winemaking guru Nayan Gowda @vinosity and food bloggers Susan Wilk @ssusu_you and Florian Siepert @siepert, and amongst the wines brought to taste was a Chateau Musar 1998.
I’ll leave the food blogging to the experts but suffice to say that if you ever need somebody to come and cook the most amazing Indian food for a dinner party then you need Asma. Every single dish, of which there were many, was a delight of complimentary flavours and balanced spices. I have eaten widely in Mumbai and Delhi and Asma brought these flavours to the table but took them on to a whole new experience for me. This was fabulous home cooking that fully deserved the fulsome praise that was heaped upon Asma.
I was delighted that my Mullineux Kloof St Chenin Blanc paired extremely well with many of Asma’s dishes but was surprised to see how well Chateau Musar 1998 went with a fish curry. Never would I have dreamed of this combination but the emerging bright fruit of this wine complimented the meaty fish and the softening tannin didn’t react to the gentle spice combination leaving the butteriness of the dish to merge with the wine’s acidity.
I feel very privileged to have shared these recent experiences with Ralph and Chateau Musar. Once you have tried these wines it is difficult not to fall in love with them, their history, their nuances, their age-ability and of course the wonderful characters that are a part of the Chateau Musar family.
Last week I was delighted to drive down to Sussex on a beautifully sunny English summer’s day to taste through Bolney Estate’s range of English wine. First planted in 1972 with Chardonnay, Dornfelder and Rondo, the estate has now expanded to cover 39 acres and includes further varieties such as Pinot Noir, Bacchus and Pinot Gris. Lying on a south facing slope close to the Sussex downs the bedrock is sandstone and is covered with Sussex loam. Fairly typical of many English vineyards the grapes are trained using a High Sylvoz system that keeps the deer away from the fruit and also allows a free flow of air around the base of the vines, helping to reduce the disease pressure from the moist English climate.
Plenty of investment in the winery and an attention to detail and quality have built this estate into a winery that England can be proud of on this Jubilee weekend. These wines are worth seeking out or better yet, take yourself off to Sussex and see the vineyard yourself on one of the estate’s tours
This is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Seyval Blanc that gives a raspberry and strawberry cream nose. Technically dry but there is a hint of residual sugar, which together with some lees character is balanced nicely by a refreshing acidity. Elderflower and green apple coming to the fore on the finish. A gentle mousse makes this a delicious aperitif.
60% Pinot Noir and 60% Pinot Meunier. These grapes normally go into the sparkling wine but a particularly ripe batch begged to be made into a still rosé. Light, refreshing, juicy berries, this wine isn’t pretending to be something serious, it’s fun, meant to be enjoyed casually and is perfect for those lazy warm summer days that hopefully will be returning to the UK soon!
Fragrant, aromatic nose of white flowers, elderflower and English meadows. This is quintessential Bacchus with a precise palate of delicate roses. There’s no hint of the bitterness from too long a skin contact that detracts from so many other Bacchus wines. This is refreshing, balanced, elegant and finishes very long indeed. Pour me a second glass please!
Spending 2½ years on the lees this English sparkling wine is as close to a good NV Champagne as you’re likely to find. Freshly baked bread and toasty with a light apple and quince fruit profile. This is a well made sparkling wine that displays balance and is fully deserving of its recent victory and Gold medal at the IWSC competition.
Spending 6 weeks in 2nd and 3rd fill oak barrels, ¾ of which are French and the rest American, helps to give a softly tannic wine that is dominated by cherry, raspberry and plum gently caressed by a whiff of smoke. Good quality English Pinot Noir is very hard to come by, often being overly acidic or displaying harsh green characters, but this wine fits the bill with its ripe fruit finish. This is supple, fun and thoroughly decent Pinot Noir, an English charmer.
We’re getting a bit more serious with this wine and its concentrated cherry, plum and blackcurrant nose. Juicy ripe fruit is supported by rounded tannins and an acidic bite that gives some definition. The finish is seasoned with a touch of spice and pepper. This blend of Rondo and Dornfelder shows that the UK can also make stylish red wines.
Made with 100% Pinot Noir and spending 18 months on the lees, this sparkler is all about refreshing berry fruit flavours. It’s straightforward, refreshing and charming, drink it with friends in the garden and enjoy it for what it is, fun in a glass.