Well there’s quite an exciting wine week in motion. So much so that my fingers’ move and type what is and about to happen. Keen readers of this space are well aware how rare this all is. Hopefully not. Back to the juice. Over the past few month I had the pleasure to participate in a very exciting project – the making of two tailor-made wines for Ran Shmueli.

But worry not, nothing in me turned winemaker I will as always leave this to the pros. Two of our (Shmueli’s & I) favourite winemakers were asked to join and help make this special one happen. In the red wine corner stood Ido Lewinsohn (Lewinshon) &  Ya’akov Orya (Assif Winery) on the white one. But intros for now aside and straight to the action, on Saturday, we finally bottled the Red Shmueli by Lewinshon.

Gal Zohar - bottling Shmueli

This was an end of a long process, endless discussions and long very long phone calls, many of them. After we decided on a style, chose the right blend of grapes, tasted and picked the barrels we like the most and even blended n tiny but of 2011 into the core 2011 the time was right to move to the bottle. And what a better time than Saturday 9am for such a task. And so a small team was gathered and with Ido Lewinshon’s order (a quite a lot of coffee) we each took our positions, ready to roll.

Gal Zohar - bottling Shmueli

Turns our that bottling is after all not that exciting. Seen it once seen it all, just one of those meditative repetition that forces you to get thinking. Luckily, we used our mini breaks to try the wine & remember what a great job Ido has made. The brief was to produce a young wine that drinks dangerously well, calls for a second & third glass with reasonable alcohol levels and lots of acidity. Despite it’s infancy the wine drinks well, very. It’s soft with touch of aromatics, great red fruit structure with a mineral backbone a fine acidity and well integrated oak. The wine will now rest in bottles for 3-6 months and will then graciously enter the Catering Shmueli wine catalogue.

In a wine producing country it is almost insane not to connect between winemakers & restaurateurs as they bot want to offer the best food and wine experience to their guests. This will without a doubt be the fist project of many more to come and I promise to keep you posted with the latest developments and feedback from our very own juice of wine.

Changing minds

Changing people’s minds is always a challenge. For some kind of obscure reason an opinion, about anything, is the right thing to have. But if you think that political changes or even bringing an old regime down takes a lot of convincing effort, wait until you talk about wine. Change as a concept always seems to be a virtue but please, please don’t touch my glass of wine!

Why all that? Because this week I’m on a mission: to take a bunch of about 40 youngsters and convince them that wine is simple and more-so fun. I basically need to transform the staff of the new NOPI restaurant to a wine geek brigade.  Well this is proving to be not to be as easy as it seems. The second I start talking about wine their faces turn dead serious, the atmosphere darkens and we’re suddenly in “this is so important” land

What have we done wrong to turn our youth from the cutting edge wine rebels they should be into the conservative party of wine?

Luckily, I’m a stubborn kind of guy and more importantly, have a partner in crime; super knowledgable and kind sommelier Honami Mastumoto. And so, after some shakin n preaching we managed to turn it around and a few hours later they were all talking the talk. They can suddenly discuss smells, flavors and even have an opinion, the right kind this time… After all, I will need them on my side to make NOPI‘s unusual wine list work in real time.

And just so I don’t just tease you endlessly here’s, for the very first time –  one of my fav categories, as it will appear on the wine list

Mountain Wine

High altitude and marginal growing conditions produce crisp, clean and unapologetically fresh wines

Roussette de Savoie “Frangy”, Earl Domaine Lupin, Savoie, France

From the rocky soils of Savoie, at the foothills of the French Alps

Rayon, Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle, Valle d’Aosta, Italy

From vineyards located on the Italian slopes of the Mont Blanc

Etna Bianco “Biancodicaselle”, Benanti, Sicily, Italy

Grown on the volcanic soils of the ferocious mount Etna

Finally, if you we’re wondering what it’s like the behind the scenes of setting up a wine list,  just check below…

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Talking wine tactics

First day in the office, and a rather long one.

( ok ok,  just for those of you who now wonder about the office bit, let’s quickly catch up: I’m in London for a couple of weeks setting up the wine operations for NOPI, the new restaurant from the Ottolenghi crew…disco!)

Funny how it never leaves you working in a restaurant is just like ridding a bicycle (or playing a ball…more later), I at least, felt at home straight away.

But it’s not only familiar it’s also and maybe mostly exciting. First, there’s he buzz, you can feel it in the air (a ha). This feeling that something big is about to happen, a little bit like the hours before a great game of footy. You know it’s gonna happen very shortly and that it’s gonna be big but as a fan all you can do is wait and start pinting away…

But this time, we’re the team! So instead of waiting we favoured training, just to make sure we nail this game & crush it! Yesterday’s training sessions were a great success from the wine end. Starring sommelier Honami Matsumoto & my humble self we talked tactics. What is wine, how it’s made and mainly how it should be simple, fun & accessible. They must have thought we’re a bit strange, preaching “wine for all” all day long but I hope they’ll come to it.

Training camp (or NOPI’s academy for the intellectual amongst us) is back on today and there’s a lot on our plate. I’ll do my best to convince them that the unusual wine list we came up with is going the change the wine world or is at the very least, super cool.

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Tasting NOPI @bibendumwine

Yes I know. A week of wine tasting sounds fab. And yes I know you’re now waiting for me to tell you how hard a job this is. Well take my advice and trust me on this one: as hard as they can get, wine tastings are fun and anyone who begs the differ has a serious laziness issue.

So here we are again in day #2 of our massive tasting week (you can check our prelude and day #1 here) and this time I’m meeting old friends at the Bibendum HQ in Primrose Hill. Having spent a year socializing the wine world with the Bibendumites, tasting wine here feels like the reasonable thing to do. But nostalgia and business apart we’re here (we’re here) to get the coolest wine list in town going.

Having consulted Allesandra (my longtime Bib partner), we managed to agree on a shortlist of around 40 wines. This might seems like a lot of wine to taste but it is really the bare minimum. In order to get a cracking 70bins wine list, one has to go through at least triple the amount, which is, as already mentioned, a tough job.

This was the task of the day

the day's line up

The secret of a good wine list is no secret at all. Like any other aspect of our lives balance is the key here. But there’s one main ingredient that cannot be ignored, creativity. Nothing is easier than writing the same wine list again and again. The city’s full of them. The NOPI peeps agreed to take this approach one step further and demolish the usual wine list structure. So not only will we have unusual wines from interesting regions but we will also group the wines into some pretty unusual mini categories. And not just one, but many & all different ones. We are leaving the boring list by country, style or price behind and sorting the wines by their story. Wines can be categorized only by grape, by the special conditions in which they are grown, by the very good year they grew up in, or by the unusual winemaking techniques which were applied…but I guess you’ll have to see it to dig it.

Enough reveiled for one post, instead, here are the wines I liked best and a video where Yotam, Osh & Basha give us their top pics

Friendly Gruner Veltliner, Laurenz V (Niederösterreich, Austria)

Maybe the day’s favourite. From winery devoted to just a single grape variety: Grüner Veltliner.Super friendly indeed.

Vibrant freshness with loads fo herbacious notes. Very clean style with very light hint of residual, loads of aromatics & mouth watering acidity. Very good length as the minerality keeps on giving on and on and…

Wild Yeast Chardonnay, Spingfield Estate (Robertson, South Africa)

An unwooded Chardonnay, tank fermented with native yeast 70 days alcoholic fermentation 100% malolactic was allowed naturally 13 months on the lees. Unlike any Chardonnay you ever had!

Very complex nose with loads of bread & almond notes. Very intense on the palate. Loads of bready, martzipan flavours lifted with a fine mineral acidity.

Pinot Noir, A to Z Wineworks (Oregon, USA)

A interesting pick for our Pinot Noir group. Not often can you taste such a dangerously drinkable wine for such a friendly price. Simplicity at its best.

Lovely soft nose, beautiful primary and fresh fruit coming through. Pronounced strawberry on the palate with some soft aromatics. Light leafy character with a touch ripe fruit.

Morgon, Domaine Marcel Lapierre (Beaujolais, France)

Who’s afraid of natural wine? And who ever said Beaujolais can’t rock? Marcel Lapierre, the godfather of natural wine, passed away last summer. He shall be missed.

Light manure notes on the nose, then a burst of fresh red fruits comes through. Fantastic freshness on the palate, minerality and an intriguing combination of soft spices, black sour cherries and some leafy notes.

And as promised, here’s team NOPI thoughts of the day

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Tasting NOPI #1

Most people tend to hide their firm belief in superstitions, I don’t. I know it’s bad, and it sometime gets to the stupidest of things. If the next car turns right then great day ahead, but if not, I might as well spend the day at home, safe.

None of this was happening on our way to the very first tasting session for the new NOPI, we had more important issues to sort. Me & @oshposh were trying hard to concentrate on how to get to Surrey. Are we still in London or are we in no man’s land already?

But luck (and Mark from Astrum…) proved to be on our side you see, and despite the miserable weather, distance and my sudden allergies, we made it to Astrum Wine Cellar’s warehouse, all set to go. Maybe I’m not totally obsessed with superstitions after all…or am I?

Specializing in Italian wine complimented with some interesting picks from Austria, Germany, France and even Hungary, I felt that Astrum is a pretty safe place to kick off this week of wine.

But with a couple of hundred of wines on offer, how to decide what to taste? Well it’s mainly about knowing how things taste and what can work on the wine list. I always try to taste only relevant wines and not to get carried away with personal preferences or suggestions.  Mark & myself worked on and selected a respectable line up, which as agreed was patiently waiting for us, when we entered the room, Tah da!

I’ve tasted most of these wines before, and they all proved to be solid and interesting. Bellow is the list of our line up and my notes of the most exciting bottles

White best

Furmint, Tornai 07

Notoriously known for producing Tokaji, this dry version of Furmint comes from the region of Somló, Hungary bien sur!

Pronounced nose with loads of ripe stone fruit, melon & passion fruit with the lightest botrytis hint. Very ripe stone fruit, Chamomile, white fruit. Quite complex without loosing focus nor intensity. interesting with good VFM.

Riesling, Verus 08

Super exciting riesling from Ormoz north-eastern Slovenia. Versus = True (Latin). Even JR is excited!

Honeyd nose with stone and lime fruit, almost sweet. Ever so light petillance, touch of sweetnes but really sharp and fresh. oily texture, hint of sugar but then a very precise and sharp citrusy character.

And rest

Salento Bianco, Feudi di San Marzano 09

Lugana, Selva Capuzza 08

Gavi di Gavi, Produttori del Gavi 09

Terlaner Classico, Cantina Terlano 09

Pinot Grigio, Cantina Adriano 09

Riesling, Ignaz Nierdist 09

Fiano D’Avelino, Piertracupa 08

Red best

Wien.2, Pfaffl 09

Made out of Zweikelt and PN grown in the region of Weinviertel right in the outskirts of Vienna

Soft and sweet red fruit. Touch of armomatics, with a nice amount of green notes but balanced. Fresh, mineral, good texture, very good fruit with a good amount of spices and a creamy like texture. This is great and would work well by the glass. And perhaps in the “is it Pinot?” group. Zweikelt and PN.

Barbaresco, Produttori del Barbaresco 05

Possibly the best co-op in the world? Brings affordable + quality to BArbaresco!

Strong and pronounced nose. Loads of fruit with some serious liquorice and minty notes. Spectacular palate, silk,y velvety if even very straight and sharp. coffee, leather & mint, very good stuff indeed. A touch of meaty character and a very good balance. Very drinkable.

Salento Rosso, Feudi di San Marzano 09

Valpolicella Classico, Le Salette 09

Garda Groppello 09

Barbazzzale, Nerello Mascalese 09

Nebbiolo, Coste della Sesia, Travaglini 08

Chianti Colli Senesi, Slacheto 09

Nebbiolo Langhe, Produttori del Barbaresco 08

Fatagione, Cottanera 07

Pinot Nero, Cantina Terlano 09

With the first session of our mission now accomplished we were a happy lot on our train back to London. With a rather clear idea in mind if what could fit the NOPI bill and cars taking the right turns on request, this felt like a good day in the office.

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Prelude to NOPI

So me and @oshposh are making the wine list for Ottolenghi’s new restaurant; NOPI. But you know it already, you’re a keen reader, I can tell.

Lets talk a bit about making wine lits then…

Obviously, we’re super excited. And not only from the fact that we’ll get to taste so many (V good we hope) wines but also because we about to work with real friends and make something really special together.

This wine list will be all about simplicity and fun. It aims to be a great tool that will help dinners make the right wine choice for them. Despite the fact that some of the wines will be challenging, different and unusual, it will be a pleasure to choose from. A good wine lists needs facilitate the wine choice and that’s what we’re here for. To list top wines and make it look easy.

The next few posts will take you through the process of making wine lists. Some may say it’s not as easy at is seems to be, all i’ll say is that it IS as much fun as it seems it is.

Wine Tasting Week#2 (&dinner)

So it’s been a hell of a week and part 1 of our mission is accomplished. No idea what I’m talking about? Well check my previous posts or just keep on reading, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

A whole week (7 full days counted), of intensive tasting which left us almost gumless but with a very clear idea of just how cool this wine list will look n feel. Want to know more? I will shortly publish a detailed series of posts documenting the making of the list in my new, shinny if still a bit lonely Making Wine Lists tab. Watch this TAB!

And yes, as we started with a seafood dinner at the Brook & Donin house, we just had to make things right and wrap them up with a meaty one.


It’s Saturday evening, we’re flying tonight but we just can skip this. I’m embarrassed to describe how happy we all were when the majestic cut of Venison loins followed by some lovely and thinly sliced waterbeef entered the room. I think @Lirandonin was carrying them, or Angie…

But as we are seriously greedy bastards, the bespoke jumbo prawns from last week had to make a comeback and give us their goodbyes. Just meat is just to boring…right?

And after

A last minute wine tasting felt like the perfect prelude to this dinner and so, around 8 or so natural oriented wines were thrown into the party. Complete tasting notes coming soon to the making wine lists tab! (did I already mention this?)

Tuscan Pinot

Here goes the water beef, and here goes @oshposh cutting and seasoning the perfect tartar. The rougher the better and with a bottle of Tuscan Pinot Nero from Macea things look bright. Now I know this is unusual and against my indigenous grape agenda but this Pinot was smashing. Thoughts of changing our flight to anywhere in Italy followed this Soft, silky Pinot Noir without any trace to the manure & farmyard notes so associated with natural wine. Clarity of fruit, delicate hints of herbaciousness and we were seriously in live.

Nice monster

Big boys are now in the pan and it’s time to give way to the four perfect steaks of Venison. Dream like texture, tender, soft and yet resistant and full of character. The taste – even better; deep, rich and complex. No choice here, a serious wine has to be called on duty. The contender; Pirouette 7 from Domaine Fontedicto in the Languedoc. Now I’m seriously not a fan of big wines unless of course, he’s big on the right things, bingo! Intensity of fruit, depth and complexity, all tied up and lifted by fine mineral acidity followed by an endless dried fruits and herb finish.

Then, my phone rang. Our cab is 5 minutes early (a lifetime) and all is brutally stopped. We’ll be back, if only to finish the Maury we left behind chilling away…

Wine Tasting Week #1

It’s London init! And not in a sentimental mood, promise!

And we’re here on a mission, a serious one. The award wining Ottolenghi gang is now working on a new exciting project (follow it here). We feel extremely lucky to be part of it and are proud to launch the wine tasting week!

But first, we must kick off with yet another majestic food n wine mega dinner back at the Brook & Donin.

Well, one must admit no hasty decisions were involved; we had it all well planned (we’re very organized when it comes to food you see).
First stop: Steve Hatt (last minute as always, just a few minutes before closing, our apologies Mr. Hatt). A handful (or even more, much more) of those mega king prawns, the sweet scallops we can never resist and just to wrap it up, four super meaty fillets of haddock. With this precious treasure carefully under our hands, as well as some lovely bones for stock, we now needed to sort the liquid part of this meal.

Next stop: the Sampler. Simply one of the best wine shops around. Inevitable memories of the blind tasting sessions just before the Diploma exam but hey, we’ve got promises to keep. Yes we know, a very rough week of wine tasting lays ahead but we can’t seriously think of wineless dining, right? After browsing through super nice and older vintages of Bordeaux (Clos du Marquis 82 in Mag?? Maybe next time), Bourgogne and the Rhone we settled for the usual budget but interesting option. Bouzeron from Domaine A et P De Villaine (finally getting to taste this! Thnx @yairHaidu)  & Bourgogne Passetoutgrain from Domaine Lejeune. So an Aligote + a blend of Gamay, Cesar & PN. Not the borring choice, lovely start!

Next stop: back to Walthamstow & straight to the kitchen. But enough said. Let the pictures tell the story that followed.

And the wines you ask. Well it was a rather disappointing start to our week of wine. De Vilaine was very clean mineral, even rocky at times with some citrus notes but simply felt a bit flat. The lightest of oak notes didn’t really integrate with the fruit and the wine felt thin and almost unbalanced. Few minutes in the glass later we sipped it happily but still felt somewhat underwhelmed.

The Passetourgrain  was light, fresh & acidic as expected and described. Some coarse tanins reminding us that we are in the lowest of Burgundy’s echelons were not unpleasant. A nice little wine with loads of red fruit & a touch of pettilance that sparkled our hearth. A poor man’s Burgundy but isn’t this just what we are at these days.

With the prelude now over, we are fully ready for a 200+ wine tasting week. Posts and picture will follow so watch this space to follow this wine lasting week.

Blind tasting, friend or foe?

Blind tastings anyone? Yes of course, one for me please, don’t we all love them? No prejudice, no labels, live and let live, peace and love. Yet behind every “innocent” & professional blind tasting lies a simple human urge, winning. This second of suspense, just before the bottle is revealed, is for many the essence of tasting.

We all want to be seen as knowledgeable and sharp with mind-blowing taste buds. And what can be better than nailing the grape variety, region, producer and vintage of the random blind sample. An educated palate will gain its owner with the right kind of respect amongst his fellow tasters. Getting it right is the ultimate challenge.

I get it wrong, many times, and even found a way to feel pretty good about it. I know it sounds strange, this is after all my profession, but there’s a positive outcome ahead.  Some of the most interesting wines I drank are ones I completely misunderstood when I blind tasted them. Smells like Riesling, tastes like Riesling but turns out to be an aged Fiano? No way I will ever forget that (happened in Campania last year). Pinot Noir “for sure” is actually a blend of Cabernet, Syrah & Mourvèdre from Roussillon? Well this just proves how programmed my brain is, I must set it free.

But enough with the talking, let’s head to some real life examples. Please allow me to share with you the special ones. The ones that made me look n feel stupid but are now my friends for life:

Vigna Grande, Castel del Monte, Tenuta Zagaria –  the classic mistake.

Final tasting just before the new wine list and I get it wrong, but really. Don’t know why, but I always want wines to be Pinot. Maybe I just think it’s better this way. French people even have a verb for wines who behaves like one, they Pinote.

Maybe it was the aromatics, maybe the slight herbal perfume or even the soft oak influence that was so well integrated that made me all defiant. Pinot it is, nothing else and cool climate of course. Well something else it was, also known as the Nero di Troia variety, typical one to Puglia, hard core Southern Italian.

Vitovska, Carso, Zidarich – the horrible mistake

As I am always fully open to new challenges, but if I was sure of one thing, it was that I can tell red from white, 24/7, eyes covered, hanged upside down from the ceiling.

Luckily, only my eyes were covered. First smells are of pungent spices, touch of red fruits and a soft floral element. Can it be that I can’t really tell? Once the palate kicks in, I’m relieved. Tannins, leather, fleshy fruit, you must be kidding right? Dear god! Not really red but ain’t white either, orange it is! So visually I’m not wrong but technically I’m in real mess. Can’t tell your reds from your whites and calling yourself a pro! Well at least I learned the hard way that orange wines are here, to stay and that I even really like them.

The moral if this slightly too long story is this: trust your palate, allow yourself to get it all wrong but know that there’s always something to learn. After all isn’t that the beauty of the wide world of wine?

Some (not so) social thoughts

Let’s start with some old news shall we?

Social media is booming, hello!

Social media and wine go hand in hand, that’s why we’re all here, right?

More and more restaurants embrace social media to interact directly with their customers; interaction is what we need.

But aren’t we missing something? If restaurants love it and wine loves it then where in hell are the sommeliers? This might just be the final frontier that social media has yet to concur.

Here’s why we all want to listen to what the sommeliers have to say:

* They know what they are talking about. Not only your typical sommelier is extremely knowledgable, but he will usually own a strong character o complement. He is well aware that with great knowledge comes great responsibility and is more than willing to spread his wine-love around.

* They taste good wines! You might beg the difference, but creating a wine list is a hard job. It has to be balanced, interesting and more than anything, make profit for the establishment. How do they do that? Well, taste a lot. And why not share with the less fortunate ones their latest discoveries and great wine moments.

* They are the mix and match masters. Ever wondered what wine to pair with white truffle, or why asparagus and grape juice (of any kind!) just doesn’t work together? Almost every sommelier says easy peasy and comes up with the right region, grape variety and preferred vintage to match your chosen dish. With so many food matched to many more wines in the back of his head there’s no real reason why this SGC (sommelier generated content) shouldn’t be free for all.

But as with every boring rule there is an exception: where all the action happens, and it is impossible not to talk about the visionaries. A small but strong bunch of sommeliers who choose to say what they have to and not to care if anyone’s listening. Here’s my top 3:

FoodWineTravel – Robert Giorgione’s blog aims to “take you on an epicurean odyssey and show you the real life of a sommelier” and delivers. He’s got it all, top wine restaurants reviews, a sneak peak into professional wine tastings and much much more. You owe joining his epicurean odyssey if only to become jealous green.

Wine on the Rocks – Back in 2007 Finkus Bripp drank Vallentini’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 1996. This wine experience triggered the creation of the coolest video wine show around. This not so typical sommelier brings us now his not-so-typical wine show, which takes us through the best vineyards in Europe and brings a fresh take on wine in general.

Vino Da Burde – Andrea Gorri takes social media seriously. Dubbed “Il sommelier informatico” Andrea claims that “The world of international wine blogging cannot be complete without the posts of an italian sommelier”, I couldn’t agree more. His blog is packed with articles and videos where he tries to make sense of the world of Italian wine.

Know of any other social media savvy sommelier or are you one yourself? Please let us know so we can like him and get them involved with today!

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