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Neil Sowerby’s September Wine Column

Oenophilius Glug (aka Mr Sowerby) celebrates awards for Albert Square Chop House and drinking

Published on September 2nd 2013.


Neil Sowerby’s September Wine Column
 

WHAT wine do you recommend? We have red or white, mate. So you’re not a sommelier, then. And by inference, not a serious 'fine dining' establishment.

When we tasted the first vintage maturing in the cellar, the wines felt so alive, with such strong personalities, that it was like having living persons in the cellar.

Already, reader, you’re labelling me a wine snob, when really I just like advice on what wine with what dish. It’s part of the eating out experience, non? 

Yes, I do chafe at being offered quite decent New World house wine in an ironic picnic tumbler to accompany my pulled pork, but equally I hate being patronised by a stuffed shirt trying covertly to flog me some overpriced, unready Grand Cru. 

And then there’s the real wine deal – in threes. Manchester’s revered Victorian Chop Houses support THREE sommeliers, even if they may sport some other title like food and beverage manager. Take a bow Manc Polish legend George Bergier (main picture at the top of the page) and his two young wine steward acolytes, Marcin Oziebly and Jo Twentyman, who George enters for sommelier of the year competitions as you would send out yearlings in dressage contests. 

The encouragement to take wine so seriously comes from Chop House owner Roger Ward and it has paid off big time for him and his team at The Albert Square Chop House, which within a year of opening has secured a coveted Award of Excellence from the influential American magazine, Wine Spectator. 

Albert Square Chop House

Albert Square Chop House

 

Only 21 other establishments in the United Kingdom hold the honour – the only other in the north-west is Michelin-starred Northcote Manor. 

The award is given for lists that “offer a well-chosen selection of quality producers, along with a thematic match to the menu in both price and style. Typically, these lists offer at least 100 selections.” Strengths noted were moderate prices and French wine. 

What I (and presumably the Wine Spectator) like about the list is the informative breakdown into wines by style and weight. Take just the first white wine section: 

Light and crisp white wines

The wines in this section were quite simply made for seafood. Delicate plaice, roasted hake, steamed mussels or even Ticklemore 'Feta' & fig bubble & squeak will all provide a lovely accompaniment. 

Grape varieties include: Albariño, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Madeline-Angevine, Malvasia, Melon de Bourgogne, Picpoul de Pinet, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, Reichensteiner, Sauvignon Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Trebbiano, Vermentino, Viura 

Food matching guidelines

Perfect with feta & goats cheese tarts; plaice, smoked fish & shellfish; chicken, pork & other white meats; ginger, parsley & chives; lime & citrus. “I wouldn't add another word. Take your pick” GB  

Enough information there not to need to ask a sommelier? Whatever -George or Marcin is likely to be on hand to help. 

I sat down in Albert Square with the pair and Roger to celebrate their success with bottles of Louis Jadot Meursault 2005 (£35 on their list) and the Sangiovese Supertuscan Corbaia 2003 from Castello di Bossi (£39.50), the former supple, hazelnutty, classic white Burgundy, the latter intense dark fruit with acidity and length with some development still to do. Both are the kind of wines you might find among the Chop Houses’ bin-ends, source of great top-end value.

At the other end of the scale, wine by the glass is another benchmark. Take the hugely attractive Hungarian pinot noir, Moonriver, Aszar-Neszmely, Észak-Dunántúl 2011. It’s available at £18.95 a bottle but by the glass it’s £3.45 per 125ml, £5.20 per 175ml sand, £6.90 per 250ml. 

Similarly house Rioja, Bodegas Corral, Don Jacobo, Crianza 2007 costs respectively up the scale £5.20, £7.80, £10.40, £29.95. Strawberries and vanilla in abundance with a spice hit. A smashing Rioja. 

There are also regular Chop House Wine Club dinners. On Tuesday, September 10 Marcin Ozielby is hosting a Food and Chocolate Matching event alongside South African winemaker Martin Moore in Albert Square’s first floor Memorial Hall Suite. 

Chocolate and wine are both complex characters and rarely go together. Moore’s Durbanville Hills wine is unique as their wines are blended with high quality chocolate from the start, to ensure that the two flavours complement each other. 

The price is £49 per person inc five courses and wines. The meal offers fish and sauvignon blanc, partridge and pinotage before finally 'The Chocolate and Wine Flight Experience'. To book a ticket call 0161 834 1866 or visit here. 

 Jour De Nuit

 

Jour De Nuit

 

Another Manchester stalwart, the Co-operative has just won an award – for a wine label on a French red made exclusively for the community-based retailer. The Jour de Nuit Red 2010 (pictured) picked up Gold at The Harpers Wine and Spirits Design Awards 2013 after judges were impressed with the bottle and label design, which was commissioned by The Co-op. Judges said the wine label has 'a very clear, clean and eye-catching design…. there is a dream-like quality to it'.

Jour de Nuit, available in selected stores at £9.99 a bottle, is a blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon, aged for 16 months in French oak. The smooth palate offers blackcurrant, bilberry and tobacco, with a lingering, dry finish. 

Current Co-op offers, available until September 17, include an excellent value Pinot Noir from the Languedoc, Pierre Ponnelle Pinot Noir 2011 (down from £7.49 to £6.49). Simple redcurrant and soft spice on the palate with the lightest hint of oak. 

I also liked their Roccha Vecchia Falanghina 2012 (£6.99 to £5.99) made from hand-harvested grapes in Puglia, Italy’s heel. Straw yellow in colour, it has a light, flowery nose but surprisingly substantial body. 

I never got round to reviewing one characterful Co-op red last month when it was down to £5.99 but for a quid more Castillo Colinas Mencias Roble 2009 is still a belting value Spanish red. Dense purple, it offers a huge whack of blueberry fruit with toasty vanilla. 

More great value Eastern European Pinot from the country  currently leading the way  – Romania. Calusari Pinot Noir 2012  is a very satisfying dark fruit example of the grape. It’s£6.59 at the Halifax Wine Company.

Still straying into Yorkshire (the wonders of buying online you don’t have to cross the border) Rob Bagot from Seattle merchants Buonvino is currently supplying some splendid proseccos to Per Tutti on Liverpool Road, Manchester reviewed here

The rest of his list is equally spectacular and challenging as it explores biodynamic and 'natural' wines from across Europe. These two reds were particularly fascinating:

Atanasius Gut Oggau 2011 (£18.95) from Austria blends indigenous grapes zweigelt and blaufrankisch in stainless steel with natural yeast. The resultant “entry level red” is just 12.5 per cent, but the intensity of the blackberry fruit and a certain mineral elegance belies the fact. 

Each wine from the biodynamically farmed estate in the Burgenland eerily features a caricature of a family member’s face on the label (see image). Gut Oggau winemaker Eduard Tscheppe has explained: “When we tasted the first vintage maturing in the cellar, the wines felt so alive, with such strong personalities, that it was like having living persons in the cellar.” The branding  ranges from young Atanasius right up to the grandparents for the single vineyard top wines. 

 Atanasius

 

Atanasius

 

Element Terre (£19.95), made ultra-artisanally by Juien Courtois in the Loire Valley, feels equally ripe, pure and juicy (more blueberries) but with a refreshing underlying acidity. The grape variety is Gamay-Chaudenay, an oddity because it produces dark red juice where most red grapes have white juice. The coloration in your red wine is almost always from the skins. 

This is the kind of interesting fact you might pick up on a wine course. The best local ones come from Manchester Wine School. Among the tutors is the excellent Stephen Rosser. His next course, WSET Level 3 Advanced, starts on the evening of Monday, September 2 and lasts for 10 Mondays. For further details and to book visit click here. 

Stephen is a Portuguese expert. So is the exuberant, Saddleworth-based Simon Woods, who is presenting a tasting, Ola Portugal! A Wine Revolution on Monday, September 9, at Manchester city centre vinoteca Hanging Ditch. It starts at 7pm and costs £20. Book your tickets on 0161 822 8322 or visit www.hangingditch.co.uk for further details.

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