Lo stile italiano



This espresso-break picture was taken after a tasting, in Italy, of barolo at Massolino in Serralunga d’Alba. “You look really happy, I’ve never seen you this happy,” remarked one of my tasting colleagues as we stood in the icy cold and chatted. OK. I admit it. I am an Italophile and someone please hide my credit cards or take out my wifi right now before I spend any more money on the current release of 2010 Barolo. I have written a bit about it in the Telegraph but what you really need to know is that the 2010 vintage is very good indeed – elegant and sculptured with great focus. The good wines (there are always going to be bad wines) have both fragrance and sinewy tenacity. Look, I buy this stuff like I buy shoes, or a new dress. It’s not everyday wine expenditure, it’s an object of desire. And when I buy it I’m thinking about the veal chops I’ll cook, the creamy stuffed onions, and the conversations that will roll around the wine glasses as it’s drunk. I have gone for the basic Barolo from Giacomo Fenocchio (Armit, £179.74/case of six) – his wines are glorious, so fragrant, and not over-cooked or heavy. I’ve also bought a more rustic, country table wine of a barolo from a producer called Giacomo Grimaldi, for about £200 for a case of 12, through Fine + Rare. I now need to sit on my credit card. Or at least stay in a lot to make up.

In other Italian news, having cancelled a table because I felt lousy yesterday, I can’t wait to eat at Stevie Parle’s new Dalston restaurant, Rotorino next week.

In other wine news, if you are looking for sub-£6 wines (to balance out the CPS – Cost-Per-Sip – of some barolo, maybe?) I wrote up six of the best here.

And in the spirit of appreciating lo stile italiano, here are some pictures taken while visiting Massolino (their wines are gorgeous too. Real thinking reds. Imported by Liberty Wines.)









Old wine bores and new wine dudes: how to identify them

Which team are you on?

Which team are you on?


Is wine – finally – becoming hip? I asked in The Telegraph last autumn. The answer is yes, of course. We might not have completely laid to rest the idea that having an opinion about what wine you drink, or spending more than £5 on a bottle marks you out as a ghastly raging snob but, finally, there is a new generation of wine drinkers who love to get stuck in, to talk about what they’re drinking and who will go to great lengths to track down a much-loved bottle. Here’s a rough guide to the old and new breeds….with thanks to Miles Davis and Jo Wehring for their clever contributions. Not to be taken too seriously…


Old wine bore New wine dude
Wears Red trousers, mustard cords, tweed Check shirts, facial hair, ironic geek glasses
Listens to Radio 4, Classic FM, opera Vinyl, 6 Music, Spotify playlists
Drinks Has a cellar full of claret (bought en primeur) and vintage port Top-end muscadet, beaujolais cru (“Still an under-valued region – you can buy the best here for less than £30”); pinot noir; ‘natural wine’; orange wine (white wines made with skin contact so they get an amber glow)
Says I say, old boy, I may have slightly overdone it on the Talbot Yeah, we smashed a couple of bottles each last night
Sports Rugger and cricket Foota and mini pingers
Favourite bar Why go anywhere other than Boodles or White’s? Sager & Wilde on Hackney Road; Quo Vadis if braving the West End
Sherry preference Small schooner of pale cream Large wine glass of chilled en rama
Drinks out of Cut crystal, or cheap Habitat Zalto
Drives 4 x 4 A bicycle
Favourite wine regions Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne Georgia (for its wines stored in kvevri), Etna (nerello mascalese), Swartland, Burgundy
Holidays South of…Cornwall Balearics, Skandiland
Thoughts on mixologists? Something to do with rabbits, wasn’t it? Bring it on…mine’s an aviation
Gin preference Gordon’s Monkey 47
Lives Fulham, Chelsea, the Home Counties or in the family seat Tooting Bec, Walthamstow, Hackney or with parents….the housing market’s impossible.
Works In a suit and earns a salary In the music industry/IT but now mainly blogging
Wine writing hero Hugh Johnson Neal Martin, Jamie Goode*
Buys wine from Berry Bros & Rudd The Real Wine Fair, Wine Car Boot

* Added by popular demand.

Jamie Goode at the Tesco press tasting sporting what I like to call "The Natural Wine Check Shirt"

Jamie Goode at the Tesco press tasting sporting what I like to call “The Natural Wine Check Shirt”

A permanent home for The Baby Joe



The Baby Joe is a brilliant drink made from Campari, any old sparkling wine (seriously, as cheap as you like, as long as it’s not sweet) and blood orange juice. It’s a great one for weekend afternoons and evenings when you have a bunch of friends round. And even people who claim not to like Campari have been known to love it. It still didn’t have a name when I wrote How to Drink which means that none of my friends can ever find it in the book (it’s on p116-117) which in turn means that at about this time every year I start getting emergency texts and emails asking how to make it. The first of 2014 arrived a couple of weeks ago so I decided to give it a permanent home – its own page, no less – on Planet Victoria here. Wishing you a very happy weekend – and maybe even, who knows, a couple of Baby Joes.



A tasting fragment

A friend popped round unexpectedly at 9.30pm the other day, just as I was getting a lasagne out of the oven, tired, whole day of work, and I’d forgotten to eat. There were a lot of bottles of wine open. Most of them curled and pinched and pippy and blurry and mean.

I poured us each a glass of the least bad option, one that wasn’t pinched but wasn’t quite making my recommendations list.

It was sangiovese.

I love sangiovese but it was sangiovese from South Africa – big, rich, intense and FULL ON, without the gentle riffs of truffles, dust and mushrooms you find in Italy.

But what it was was clean and clear, like a night when you look at the sky and the moon is just there, crisply outlined.

It was also very thick, a bit like dark red and black berries, and a touch smoky.

“This is like drinking red wine and smoking fags in between,” I said to my friend. “That’s my tasting note.”

“I hate you,” he said. “Because I don’t know anything about wine but you’re right.”

We finished the bottle.

Here’s the wine. It’s from the Co-op.

(And here’s my Telegraph piece on Co-op wines in general. Check out the Villa Cafaggio Chianti while it’s on offer)


Sap rising – and agave



Wasn’t yesterday so lovely and sunny it felt like a sneaky bonus bank holiday? The magnolias are out in west London. I nearly went for an afternoon ice cream at the park but swerved into Carluccio’s instead for a gorgeous glass of thick, sweet peach juice. Fruit juice does not often make it into my fridge – it’s just too full-on sweet to drink very often. But every once in a while… I also picked up a couple of bottles of agave syrup. I’ve been asked to write some summer drink recipes for the John Lewis Cook magazine and want to try using this as a sweetener in homemade lemonade. Agave is the beautiful silvery-blue-green plant – it looks like a cactus crossed with a land-mine – that grows in Mexico where it is used to make tequila. Extracts from it are also used to make an exceptionally sweet syrup. Many health claims have been made for agave syrup – chief among them that it’s better for you because it has a lower GI than sugar. However, it’s also very high in fructose – the one sugar you probably want to avoid most avidly if you avoiding sugars is what you are into. Happily I don’t do diets, I just do eating what I feel like, whether that’s plate after plate of steamed broccoli or a can of red Coke. And I happen to like the flavour of agave syrup – slightly caramelised and honeyed, it would be great on porridge. We’ll see how it goes in the lemonade.


Weekend wine

So dad’s visit was a success. I think. We established within five minutes of his arrival that having failed to download the latest security update onto my laptop I am probably about to be hacked. He filled me in on his theories about organised car crime in Burley-in-Wharfedale. And I’m afraid, dad, if you’re reading this, when you asked me on the bus on the way to the Science Museum if I’d updated the address on my driving licence *I might not have been completely honest*. I’m sorry. I could see where that conversation was headed. Yes, I know it’s illegal to have the wrong address on it. But that particular update hasn’t so much as made it to the waiting list for my ridiculously long to-do list yet. And as I haven’t actually driven a car for at least three years I’m going to carry on not-worrying about it for the time being, if that’s OK.

A couple of wines.
The red…
finest* Bolgheri 2010 Italy (Tesco, £11.99 or if you buy 4+ bottles in store or a minimum of two cases online before 18 March then there’s an extra 20% off finest* wines, bringing it down to £9.59)
As so many Planet Victoria readers missed out on the M&S valpol when it sold out last week I thought I’d do another Italian red. But wait! This might be from Tuscany but it is not from my beloved sangiovese. It’s a so-called SuperTuscan made predominantly from three Bordeaux grapes, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. Having spent a year living in Florence, wafting round the Uffizi and wiping a lot of toddler noses, sometimes both at once, and falling in love with the history and culture I have always been a bit allergic to the SuperTuscan. Well, it’s just not very Brunelleschi is it? But – I’ve been coming round to them. And this is a fab red, beautifully balanced with just enough Italian personality to keep me happy. Try it with lamb, butterflied with rosemary and served with warm cannellini beans mixed with anchovies and creme fraiche.

The white…
De Bortoli DB Reserve Chardonnay 2011 South Eastern Australia (13%, Majestic, £6.66 down from £9.99 when you buy two as part of a minimum purchase of 6 bottles)
So this is a sneak preview of one of the wines I’ve recommended in tomorrow’s Telegraph. I was really, really impressed with this, particularly at that price (obviously, I’m talking about the offer price, the high price is just a fake price enabling Majestic to put a discount in place). It’s a perfect example of modern Australian chardonnay. Look at the alcohol – at a moderate 13% this is no suntan oil monster but a more restrained white with a refreshing twang. Aged in French and American oak which gives it a nutty, wholemeal toasty background, it makes a great Sunday chicken drink.

Weekend wine: Italian red


Note added on Tuesday 4th March: The wine recommended in this post was also mentioned in my Telegraph column this weekend. Such is the thirst of Planet Victoria and Telegraph readers that, despite high stocks, it has now sold out online. Apologies to those who have been disappointed – it’s still possible to pick up bottles in some stores.

My dad is coming to stay for the weekend. I’m not sure what to expect. He’s been a bit of a let-down so far on the Travel Doom front at which he normally excels. Even forecasts of snow for the day on which he voyages south from Yorkshire were waved away with a gruff, “It’ll be all right. Ground’s warm.” This is not in character. If he asks me to turn the central heating up or open a second bottle of wine then I will really be worried. Speaking of wine…from now until 9th M&S are running a save 25% on ANY six bottles of wine (though you seem to have to buy 12 online) offer so if you have any favourites then this is a great time to stock up. I was reminded of one of my M&S favourites while doing an aubergine parmigiana recipe-test and wine-match-taste for Olive Magazine the other day. It’s this one:

Valpolicella Ripasso 2011 Italy (13.5%, M&S, £8.99 or buy six save 25% until 9th March, equivalent to £6.74 but you have to buy two cases of six, ie 12 bottles, to achieve the same discount online)
The sour cherry warmth of this Venetian Italian red has won a huge following amongst my friends who stock up every time they see an offer like this. Ripasso wines are passed over either the fermented skins of grapes used to make amarone, or dried grapes, to give them extra richness and bolster. Did I say sour cherries? It’s also like sackfuls of dried cherries and cranberries, spilling open in a dusty farmhouse filled with old wooden furniture. Very very good. Pass me a slice of pizza.



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