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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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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!

Trending topics

Tel Aviv is the capital of trends. You go to bed with a new kind of coffee shop down the road and when you wake up the city’s full of them. It’s happened before with frozen yogurts (remember?), espresso bars, and now – it’s wine bar times.

What time? Wine bar time!

I have a particular issue with these latest trend victims, I love them. For me, it’s the perfect enjoinment; to sit surrounded by beautiful bottles and huber knowledgeable staff that will pick the right one for you. The food is small yet the perfect partner in crime. Amongst my all time favorites are Terroirs London (can’t wait to try Terroir NYC) and Yoezer wine bar (still a wine bar while being the best restaurant in the world).

I can hardly say that every single establishment that carries the wine bar tittle is indeed one. Actually very few of them are, so I decided not to bother checking any of them out. Then someone blew the whistle. I heard from one of our trustiest foodie friends that Wine Bar (12 points for creative name choice) is the one to check. Oded Ziv who owns and manages it is both a proper wine-man (former head of training at Golan Heights winery) and a trained chef, therefore we’re in good hands. One of the best bits is that while sitting on the bar the food is prepared just in front of you (a slight deja vu from the immortal Cal Pep), it’s always nice to see food shaping up.

Sweetbread action

The wine list is a good blend between the local juice and a hand picked selection from the outside world. As I’m still filling my local arsenal wine a quick chat with Oded and Pelter Sauvignon Blanc 09 jumped into our glasses. With 30 degrees outside this kind of wine is the ultimate heat breaker. It’s crisp, packed with zesty citrus fruit and just the right touch of green notes. Light aromatics combined with good minerality and a palate that is sharp and clean. Simple and straightforward yet in perfect balance. Can you believe that local consumption still strands of 75% reds!?

Lamb ravioli

As nothing goes without food in the city that never stops (and we’re always hungry!) we had to sample some of Wine Bar’s tempting menu. I loved the delicate ravioli of lamb, simply dressed with olive oil, parsley and garlic. Light enough not to overwhelm the delicate aromas of the Sauvignon. But best off all (if not top wine match) were the lamb sweetbreads with oregano and Kalamata olives served on bruschetta.

Always trusting my foodie friends (even if it’s only so you can tell them off) proved me right again. Wine bar is a cool joint to spend a casual night. A bigger wine list could add a bit of fun and turn the gastro into wine.

First meal in TLV

Relocating is a new word in my lexicon. Four years ago on the plane over to the big sun to the big smoke we where moving to London. Times have changed and we are not moving back but relocating. At least we learned something over these past few years.

But my London times are here to stay. As I plan on a healthy number of visits per year I thought that rather than writing a sentimental post about the past I should skip right to the present and let you all know that despite our very best efforts, our gluttonous lifestyle is also, here to stay.

First meal in Tel Aviv should be a healthy one. It had to be all about the one thing we missed the most. The fresh fruit and vegs from our beloved Carmel market. Nothing feels like home more than stepping into this market; it smells, it’s overcrowded and the merchant’s shouts are music to our ears. Our first courses were therefore guided by the local produce. And so with the Grumpy Gobbler’s magical skills a salad of feta, green & white beans, grilled asparagus, a root salad and the inevitable tahini were just some amongst our healthy starters.
Root Salad
Feta & bean Salad

Les Asperges

But as we hardly believe that vegetarism is of any virtue, a trip to Abu Hilue in Jaffa was of the essence. Now getting good quality meat in Tel Aviv is a bit tricky but these guys never fail. 2 Kg of veal chops were on board and the healthy meal suddenly turned into a feast. A quick marinade, an hour in the oven and there we had it: loads of juicy, full of flavours and supper good looking chops. vegs anyone?


As a big advocate of the local food dates best local wine I did my very best to find a good a reasonably price zionist wine. But as we are still in a state of shock and chaos I happily settled for a local meets Burgundy & Rhone kind of night.

Aligote 2007, La Chablisienne – The vines are grown on chalky clay soils and are an average of 30 years old. Love 2007 withe Burg and this one is another one to the list. Very clean, fresh, full of citrus fruit. No oak at all was used but this still has enough complexity to balance the fresh acidity.

Cotes du Rhone “Saint-Esprit” 2007, Delas – First thought this might be a bit light but it proved me wrong. A good blend of juicy red fruit, a good touch of freshness and crunchiness balanced by a touch of spice and elegant and soft tannins.

A night with fantastic food (thank you again Grumpy G), good wines and great company was the perfect start of our Tel Aviv adventure. We are now convinced that the best is still to come.

Fish, chips n Krug

We all have these mornings when nothing seems right. Not sure of our lives, are we really happy and wondering if it’s now time for real change. Early last week I almost experienced one but then I remembered it is Krug lunch today. Couple of hours in the office then skip the routine desk lunch, discretely disappear and replace it with lunch with Mr. Krug and his wines. Surely this is enough to turn even the grimmest of mornings into a happy day.

Later that day, down from our office to sunny Mayfair, I felt straight away it was the right place for Krug. My destination: the Punch Bowl mainly known due for its famous owner rather than anything else.  Quick run up the stairs and then with slight excitement, I finally meet with Mr. Champagne himself. Olivier Krug is an experienced host, he skips the formalities.  It’s a refreshing approach by someone who represents some of the most exclusive bubbles on earth. The menu was tailored in this spirit and promised a clash of two worlds: the poshest Champagne and Britain’s favourite take away, the old fish and chips.

We kicked off with an upscale version of cheese & tomato salad: sweet plum tomatoes, ultra fresh mozzarella, a light drip of olive oil and a glass of Krug Grande Cuvee in hand. I really did feel I’ve got the best job on earth. Olivier explained that the Grande Cuvee is an assemblage of around 1,000 wines. Being in charge of these tasting is a hard job, he mentioned. I understood straight away he’s got a stronghold to the best job in the earth.

upscale version of cheese & tomato salad

upscale version of cheese & tomato salad

Salad aside and we were now ready to take for the main event. Out came the fish, fhips, Krug Vintage 98 and even the classic mushy peas. The match was near perfect. The the richer and fuller 98 was magical on its own, and lend some of its startdust to our battered cod. Being the freshest piece of fish I had in a long time it also was a complete match with the fresher Grande Cuvee. Olivier was right, it is a classic match. While both wines beautifully cut through the oiliness of the fish each one of them creates an individual experience and they both work so well.

the main event

the main event

A sophisticated version of bread and butter pudding was then matched to the Krug Rosé and provoked a fierce debate. While so many of us normally associate Rosé with desert, Olivier sees things differently. Krug Rose is so delicate yet immensely focused, concentrated and precise that Olivier thinks there’s much more than dessert pairing to it. As we were left with no choice, this had to be a lesson that will wait for the next Krug lunch day.

sophisticated version of bread and butter pudding

sophisticated version of bread and butter pudding

Time was up and it was back to the office time. Back in our chairs we made the best efforts to loudly convince our colleagues how hard this all was. I’m not sure if anyone bought it but  there was a silent agreement. Next time they’ll be back from a hard day’s lunch, I will nod in agreement that we’re a hard working gang.

After all it’s only wine

You might have noticed that I’ve got a vinous issue. I kinda like the stuff and am said that I tend to exaggerate. I must admit things tend to get a bit weird. Not only can I yak about it for hours but can also convince innocent peeps to drive a lot of kms on dodgy roads to find a remote winery, buy a random bottle or simply stare at rocks and then mumble terroir… I always try to disguise it as a cultural need, and always fail.

Lately I try to restrain myself. I try, at least for the weekend to limit my relations with vino to a drinking one only. And god knows it’s not easy. I drink without thinking. I hold it all back and won’t even brag on how the wine always changes, that there’s nothing quite like it and that it’s all simply beautiful. None of the above!

Last weekend damaged my rehabilitation efforts. But it had to happen and it would be rude to refuse a free ticket to the Decanter Bordeaux Fine Wine encounter anyway. But times have changed. With a two hour restriction and no black teeth allowed I was on a mission. If you have to do it, please do it properly, no chat just a fast taste n spit afternoon. Between tasting to spitoon I couldn’t stop noticing the average age. Old, suited and booted you might think, well quite the opposite, a young and trendy crowd that seemed to share the joys of Bordeaux.

My day’s highlight as I remember them…

Chateau tour du Pez 2004 – a lighter style of St Estephe. Nose shows some development with a hint of earthy notes, leather and dry fruit.

Grippy palate with rounded tannins, a hint of saltiness, and a lean cassis lead fruity character. Good intro to the real stuff, from a lesser vintage and at an affordable price.

Chateau Lascombe 2006 – Who doesn’t fancy a bit of Margaux finesse (en Francais, bien sur). Despite being a Rolland boy the wine rocks. Loads of cassis, blackberry, cigar box and leather action on the nose. So far so good but the palate really does it. Super silky texture, loads of crisp freshness and a clean undertone of minerality the really lifts this baby up. Clearly a sin, but could almost be enjoyed now. Smoky and tempting,..

Chateau Sociando Mallet 1996 – Finally someone of legal drinking age and yes, I clearly kept the best for last.A perfumed nose with elegant spice, floral notes and a lush yet focused fruit concentration. Firm and elegant still with plenty of power. Finesse of fruit, a clean and integrated palate, still fresh, still buzzing and still so complex. Bravo Saciado!

Located just a few km outside the St Estephe AC, Sociando shows maybe more than any other why the 1855 stuff is so dated. But hey here I am yakking away again! I promised this will be an emotionless experience. Professional, swift and clean with no strings attached. So be it. Who cares about 1855? After all it’s only wine…

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