Callooh Callay: bar review
Saturday 6 June
After a full day of tasting on Tuesday, I headed to Shoreditch to check out a new cocktail bar, Callooh Callay. It was included in The Independent’s Top 50 bars recently, so I went along to see what all the fuss was about
The inspiration for the bar comes from Lewis Carroll’s poem ‘Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carroll Callooh Callay originally featured as part of his novel ‘Through the Looking-Glass’. However, I felt more like I was in Narnia having to walk through a wardrobe to get to the ladies. I have to admit the loos were the highlight of my visit with the walls entirely covered by old cassette tapes.
Sean Ware, winner of 42 Below Cocktail World Cup 2008 is mixing the drinks. I recommend the Tahnee’s Margarita, a blend of Cazadores Blanco, agave syrup, lime, crème de peche and raspberries (although not cheap at £8.50 - considering how fast I drunk it).
Marco Schnepf (Greenhouse, Smith’s of Smithfields and Gordon Ramsay’s Maze) heads up the kitchen but it’s just bar snacks to soak up all the booze so don’t expect any Michelin-starred cuisine. Go for the mixed platter for 2 for a tenner which, included cute spring pea tarts (more seasoning please), potato and leek croquettes with smoked paprika dip and a couple of other light bites.
It’s a pretty cool and quirky place to hang out and the drinks menu in the form of a newsletter is a nice touch. But you can say goodbye to the best part of £25 for three drinks so not one for the budget-conscious.
65 Rivington Street, EC2A 3AY
Hands off! Riesling’s ours, says Alsace
Friday 5 June
Believe it or not, the Alsatians are trying to prevent other French regions using Riesling and Gewurztraminer on their labels.
The new European wine law, which will come into force on August 1, will allow vin de table growers to use varietal labelling for the first time. In France, Alsace has been the only region that labels its wines varietally. Now, Alsace producers are claiming their image will be cheapened by vin de table producers using ‘their’ grape varieties on the labels.
The Ministry of Agriculture has put together a group to look at their request but come on…you cannot be serious? The Alsatians want a 10-year grace period so that they don’t rely on varietal labelling and can improve the region’s image. Hate to say it, but shouldn’t they have thought about improving the image before? Perhaps making a style of wine that doesn’t have you wondering if the wine is sweet or dry when you pull the cork?
Ribeauville gets trendy
Which brings me to a tasting at Bibendum this week with Cave de Ribeauville. The co-operative has brought in Bordeaux consultant Denis Dubordieu to help them make a more modern, drier style of wine.
Philippe Dry, general manager and a friend of Denis told me: “We want to show we make fresh varietal wines that the UK likes. One of the main issues in Alsace is sweetness. We are now trying to make really dry Riesling that are approachable in youth as well.”
The wines from the 2008 vintage are really clean, modern and dry with light body and well-integrated alcohol. However, with only 3.5g of sugar and total acidity of 10g (Ph 3.0) on the Riesling Prestige and similar figures on its other wines, I found the acidity a little too searing. I feel a trip to the dentist is imminent. Nevertheless, I like their direction and wines like this are what would give Alsace a better name – not banning others from using Riesling on the label!
Rioja: the debate
Wednesday 3 June
Rioja has traditionally been a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha, given a little oomph by a dash of Mazuelo (a.k.a Carignan) and Graciano. However, more and more producers are now turning out 100% Tempranillo Rioja. Should we be mourning the demise of the blend or is it the way forward?
A few numbers for your first: In 1912, Rioja had 44 varieties planted, dropping to 11 in 1942 and in 2000, just seven. Juan Carlos Sanchez of Vina Ijalba said: “Now we only have seven varieties and three of them make up more than 80% of the mix. Diminishing diversity is a bad thing.”
Tempranillo makes up 80% of all plantings but 25 years ago, there were more Garnacha vines than Tempranillo. Not any more. While all producers at this week’s Rioja forum in London agreed Tempranillo was the region’s finest variety; it didn’t necessarily mean a 100% Tempranillo makes the best wine. Sanchez added: “Tempranillo is one of the best varieties in the world but in my opinion it’s a poor idea that all Rioja should be 100%. We need to diversify.”
Behind the label
The idea of putting the varieties on Rioja labels was proposed - but most shouted it down. Rioja is seen as a brand by many consumers and putting Tempranillo on the label isn’t necessary, in the opinion of both winemakers and UK importers. Melissa Draycott, head of buying for First Quench told producers: “By putting Tempranillo on the label you are perhaps opening the door for even more copycat Riojas. You could lose some of your sales to them. I would like to see more information on your back labels for consumers that are interested though.”
Rioja is red. Out of 63,500ha planted in the region there are only 4,000ha of whites of which 96% are Viura. I think you’ll agree Viura is a fairly neutral and uninspiring variety. Rioja has traditionally aged its whites in oak oxidatively making a wine that is distinctive but a million miles away from what consumers want to drink today. Forget fresh and aromatic cos Rioja ain’t got it. That’s why a raft of new varieties including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Verdejo have been approved last week as blending partners with Viura. My story should be going up today on decanter.com Whatever you think of this change, let’s hope we see a more modern style. It is such a strong brand and should capitalise on its name with whites - and more pinks please too.
A chat with Supremecorq
Monday 1 June
I met up with Simon Waller of Supremecorq for a quick coffee to discuss the latest happenings in the synthetics closure world. The UK trade isn’t too keen on them but in the US they enjoy greater consumer acceptance than screwcaps.
The permeability of synthetics has been the biggest concern for the wine industry since the Australian Wine and Research Institute published its biggest-ever closures study in 2001, showing synthetics allowed much higher oxygen ingress compared with screwcaps and natural cork. Since then, things have improved but Waller feels the synthetics are still tarnished by the 2001 study. ‘Because of the poor results from the 2001 trial, people made their mind up about synthetics,’ he admitted over an iced latte.
He was keen to show me studies from Geisenheim and Bordeaux-based Sarco. The results show natural cork (the type of natural cork specified) and Supremecorq’s X2 brand have similar permeabilities (this is done by comparing free sulphur dioxide levels in wine. The faster they drop, the higher the permeability of the closure and the faster a wine will age - and oxidize).
Things must have improved since 2001 and they are clearly doing something right. Fetzer switched its Valley Oaks range to the X2 last December and, Waller reveals a major US company (and it’s not Blossom Hill) is set to announce its conversion from natural cork to the X2.
‘We are still looking at reducing the permeability of the closure. All we can is produce good products and back it up with results,’ he added.
Rival synthetic producer Nomacorc is currently concentrating its efforts on understanding oxygen transmission rates (OTR) with a view to bringing out closures tailor-made for particularly wine types. Waller is not convinced by this direction. ‘The OTR angle is useful and valid but most wineries don’t have a clue about what OTR they want or have. I just don’t think it’s practical.’
The company sell around 500 million closures each year; Nomacorc sells close to two billion. There are around 17.5 billion closures sold each year.