C&B on the BBC. PLUS: three reasons to join the Posh v Plonk revolution!

Two Spoons maestro, sound effects star and all-round superhero Luca (left) patiently puts up with mics, cameras and lighting rigs - on top of our monthly invasion of his lovely bar

Two Spoons maestro, sound effects star and all-round superhero Luca (left) patiently puts up with mics, cameras and lighting rigs - on top of our monthly invasion of his lovely bar

Breaking news: we’re on BBC radio today. Sandra Kanthal, pictured here waving a mic at a gin and tonic, writes and presents The Why Factor for BBC World Service. She came along to our Christmas tasting to talk to us about what we’re up to.

You can listen to it here. We’re on from 16m:15s and then again at the very end.

And why, you might reasonably ask, should the Beeb want to speak to little us? Our polished beauty and charm? Nah. Our faces for radio and general sweariness? Warmer, actually.

This episode of the programme seeks to understand attitudes around wine and asks: why are people still intimidated by it? This sort of stuff is our bread and butter, so it was lovely to be able to talk about it in some depth, and (you’d imagine) reach a broader audience with what we have to say.

Which is something like this. Two pillars for C&B, which we hope are plain in our tastings and how we approach wine, are:

  1. Attitude: irreverence not pomp. That means joy, not glooming over glasses; salty opinions, not flowery winespeak.

  2. Democracy: it’s all booze, so let’s drink the stuff and judge, as far as possible without prejudice, what’s good. Show of hands, a chat, everyone says cheers, and we move on.

We think this is key to getting people relaxed around wine. A glass or eight doesn’t go amiss either.

One of the very best and easiest ways we’ve found to achieve those noble aims in wine tastings has been our most popular format: posh v plonk. Sandra stayed for the tasting - our Christmas posh v plonk - to find out how it works.

The concept is simple: tasters get two glasses of wine next to each other, one posh, one plonk. First, they vote blind on which wine they prefer. Next, they vote on which is posh and which is plonk. They do this several times, getting merrier along the way. The result? Two things. Firstly, people don’t always love posh wines the most - and why should they? Secondly, regardless of preference, people are overwhelmingly able to tell which wine is which. The room is usually around 80% correct.

We prove to doubting folk that they can trust their palates, express conviction, and talk confidently about wine. In fact, we’re so convinced of the efficacy of posh v plonk as a way of extricating value and opening up conversation, we’re hereby starting The Revolution! Join us.

THREE REASONS TO JOIN THE POSH V PLONK REVOLUTION

  1. Trust your judgement No one in the real world - viz. outside the absurd bloody wine industry - puts two glasses of wine together and judges which tastes best. Everyone who comes to our tastings discovers that it’s pretty blindingly clear which wine is posh, and which is plonk. It’s also blindingly clear which you like more. What’s more, those two things might not be the same thing - and that’s alright.

  2. No pomp here The posh v plonk movement has its collective tongue firmly in its collective cheek. It has no time for pomp around wine. Don’t get me wrong: we love a fabulous story. Give me a load of guff about Lily and I’ll guzzle Bollinger with augmented joy. Tell me about gnarly farmers treading grapes in Provence and I’ll suck it right up, podiatric sediments, the lot. But the wine’s got to taste good. It doesn’t matter how much you talk it up or what chateau it’s from. People won’t be fooled in a simple game of PvP!

  3. Value not money Posh v plonk helps the taster discern that one wine is more complex than another. It also proves that a lot of us prefer a good bottle of plonk. (On a hot summer’s day, who wouldn’t prefer a £6 bottle of cool Beaujolais over a sturdy old claret?) But ultimately, putting two wines together isn’t about slagging off one wine while exalting another, but about seeing - tasting - why one has a posh price tag, the other plonk. Then you can answer the more important question: in this situation, in this mood, what value does this wine have for me?

NEXT POSH V PLONK TASTING: FRIDAY 18th JANUARY

All sound a bit theoretical? Join us in actual real life at Two Spoons in Honor Oak Park on Friday 18th January for a special New Year’s Posh v Plonk.

Find out more and buy tickets

Thanks for coming, BBC. Welcome anyone who’s listened. We hope you enjoyed what you’ve heard so far. Join us for more.

Will x

Spice and smoke: why Syrah is the ultimate autumn drop

C&B out for an autumn stroll

C&B out for an autumn stroll

Crunchy leaves, crisp mornings, and a wisp of smoke in the air; autumn is C&B’s favourite time of year.  

There’s one grape variety that we reach for when the leaves start to turn and that’s Syrah, or Shiraz as it’s known down under.

Syrah’s origin is hotly debated among wine nerds, with Syracuse in Sicily, Shiraz in ancient Persia and the Rhone valley all mooted possibilities. Thanks to DNA research, science has identified two obscure southeastern French grape varieties as the probable parents of Syrah (but what do scientists know? Will still prefers the romantic idea that it’s from Persia…).

The most famous examples come from the Northern Rhone, where wines are made purely from Syrah. These wines, such as Hermitage or Cote Rotie, can be very expensive and need time in bottle to fully develop. The wines are peppery and herbal with fresh blackberry notes.

In the Southern Rhone, you’re most likely to find Syrah in blends with partners like Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan, all of which are juicy and brambly grapes that are perfect partners to Syrah’s spicy structure. 

Meanwhile, in Australia, Shiraz produces brooding and full bodied wines. Be careful about the region. Avoid bottles labelled “South Eastern Australia” (an area that’s roughly the same size of Spain and France combined) and instead go for something from the Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale. These regions produce concentrated, fruit-driven crowd pleasers, perfect for a night round the fire.

Whatever your preferred style - light and peppery or big and boozy - Syrah/Shiraz covers it all. Below are our top three.

If you'd like to order any of these wines, email me jo@clementandblack.com. We'll do 5% off a mixed six, 10% off a mixed dozen. Free delivery on orders 12 bottles and over.

Catch you soon

Jo x 

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Maison les Alexandrins Crozes Hermitage

This wine is full of ripe black cherry and blackberries, with the hint of smoke that makes it perfect for this time of year.

22.99

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Jester McLaren Vale Shiraz

A true Australian crowd pleaser, Jester Shiraz is always a hit at tastings. Deep in colour, with bright black fruits, spicy and a savoury twist on the finish.

15.99

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Trinity Hill Syrah

A lighter version from New Zealand, we’re impressed with this wine every time we taste it. Delicious and a total bargain.

15.99

A glass best served cold: three reds you need to try chilled

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The Brits have never really got used to the idea of cold soup. Gazpacho, ajo blanco, vichysoisse and their ilk are loved on the continent for their suavity in summer. A slurp of cool savour, flavours that are purer and better for being served cold.

The same goes for a certain posse of red wines. Read on for our top three.

I remember my mum warming bottles of red by the Rayburn in winter; in summer, sticking them near the barbie so they’d be properly tepid for drowsy swigging. Here at home, we’ve grown used to warm reds.

Frankly this makes most taste pretty disgusting: warm alcohol, stewed fruit, any thrilling perfume duly burnt off. The recommendation “serve at room temperature” comes from a time when rooms were chilly, with no persistent fug of central heating. At C&B we think (we know!) reds are best served somewhere between cellar and cool room temperature: a bit more than 12, but certainly less than 18C.

But there’s a classic trio of reds you must try cold. I mean really, properly chilled. These are wines with pep and verve, whose flavours and textures are thoroughly flattered by a good blast in the fridge. Apart from anything, it’s a lovely change to have the woodsier, darker berry flavours you miss, drowning – as most of us are by this point – in summer’s wash of white.

 

C&B TOP THREE REDS FOR CHILLING

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Beaujolais

Burgundy’s fruity underdog. In its home region, the Gamay grape – from which Beaujolais is made – is overshadowed by noble Pinot. But it gives huge pleasure and offers exceptionally good value. As a rule, the cheaper the beauj, the colder you can serve.

I love this pretty, rosy Fleurie from Dominique Morel served cool, but you can equally plump for a £4.60 bottle of Sainsbury’s House Beaujolais and chill the bejesus out of it. Both give you breezy, summer berry fleshiness.

18.99

Valpolicella

Northern Italian summer style. Grapes you’ve never heard of - Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara; a racy threesome that loves a good chill.

Allegrini’s Valpolicella Classico, made in the heart of the region, is the classic and possibly best example of this wine, beloved of London’s iconic River Café.

14.99

 

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Chinon

Another under-appreciated wine from the Loire Valley. This is made of the Cabernet Franc variety, parent of the more famous Sauvignon but with far more funk and pepper than its offspring. I love to drink this lightly chilled, on a night in late summer when the coolly spicy flavours of the wine begin to turn the soul towards autumn.

Coudray Montpensier’s Chinon is an absolute ripper.

13.99

 

 

 

If you'd like to order any of these wines, email me will@clementandblack.com. We'll do 5% off a mixed six, 10% off a mixed dozen. Free delivery on orders 12 bottles and over.

Happy chilling

Will x

 

Four reasons to love Sherry

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Sherry. Your nan's favourite, right? Crofts or Harvey's Bristol Cream, served warm in a tiny glass, usually at Christmas time.  Sweet and a bit musty, probably been hanging around at the back of the cupboard for several years. Dug out at Christmas, and then forgotten for the rest of the year. 

The truth is that Sherry can be totally transporting, and not just because of its high alcohol content. Not only is it delicious, it's also diverse, fascinating and bloody good value. Here's why...

1. Diverse

Super saline Manzanilla from Sanlucar, punchy Marmitey Fino, and hazelnut Amontillado make up the drier styles of Sherry. Then you go via Medium Dry Olorosso with a hint of sweetness all the way to a 400 grams per litre Pedro Ximenez that tastes like Christmas cake. John Black will have a fit at Christmas if I don't order at least a half bottle of PX to accompany his mince pies and gout onset. I can't think of anything I'd rather have than a chilled glass of Manzanilla with salted almonds and big gordal olives on a hot summer's day. Something for everyone (or at least two members of the Black family).

The way Sherry tastes is all down to how it's made, which is where it gets really interesting because...

2. Renegade

Sherry breaks all the usual rules of winemaking. Made from a dull grape variety,  it's blended during an extended ageing period in barrels that aren't even full. It's a complete anomaly.

  • The Solera system: Sherry is bottled once or twice a year, depending on the style, from a Solera. The solera system is made of many layers (or criaderas) of barrels filled with wine of different average ages. So, the first criadera will have wines of an average age of about 1 year, the sixth might be 4.5 years, the second 8 years and the solera (the final layer) 9-10 years. Every time there is a bottling, the winemaker can draw up up to 1/3 of what is in the solera and must top up each layer with the same amount of wine from the previous criadera. Phew. Here's a picture:
Solera system

 

  • The benefit of this constant blending is twofold. First, sherry is released ready to drink as it has already spent many years ageing. Don't make grandma's mistake - it's not made to sit in a dusty cupboard! Second, as a non-vintage product, rather like Champagne, it should be very consistent. So you can pick up your bottles of La Gitana or Tio Pepe and know that you're going to get the same thing year after year. 
  • Ageing: there are broadly two categories of Sherry made from Palomino. The first is aged biologically, the second oxidatively. Both start off as fortified wines made from Palomino, and both are aged in a complex solera system, but they end up as very different kettles of fish. Biologically aged sherries such as Manzanilla and Fino are fortified up to 16% abv and aged in soleras under a layer of yeast which grows on the wine called flor. This is why these wines, and Fino in particular, can have a hint of Marmite about them. Fino tends to be bottled at least twice a year, and the disturbance this causes means the nutrients in the wine are more active. This keeps the flor alive. Oxidatively aged wines like Amontillado are usually bottled just once a year. They can start off with a layer of flor too, but as they move further through the solera the flor dies off due to lack of nutrients and the wine becomes exposed to oxygen. This transforms the wine so it's beautifully nutty, caramel and toasty. It can trick your nose into thinking that it's sweet, but on the palate it's the most dry and refreshing thing you can imagine. Bliss with a plate of cheese. Anyone else hungry?

3. Bargain

You're unlikely to crack open a Fino for the really special occasions in your life, no matter how much we try to persuade you, but the comparison with Champagne pricing is stark. Remember: they are both non-vintage wines that are blended and aged for long periods of time.

Valdespino's single vineyard Fino Inocente is a wine with an average age of about 10 years. It retails at about £18.50 a bottle. Let's compare that with Charles Heidsieck Champagne Brut Reserve, which is also a non-vintage wine with an average age of 10 years. Charles Heidsieck retails at almost £50 a bottle. And once you've popped that cork you can't keep it, whereas sherry will keep in the fridge door for a couple of weeks, and longer for those oxidised styles. Just please, don't be grandma. 

The same is true at the cheaper end of the scale. Tio Pepe Fino, a very widely-distributed sherry, costs between £10.99-£13.99 a bottle. Its average age is probably around 4 years. It's Champagne equivalent is Moet. Moet can be found very cheaply, but it's rare that you'll see it on the shelf for less than £20. 

So yes, while you might not think of Sherry as a substitute for Champagne, it's worth comparing the relative value of the two.

4. Fuel of adventure

Some of the first conquistadors took Sherry on their long voyages across the Atlantic to the Americas. Much like the Brits who would take spirits for hydration, the Spanish took their salty Sherries on the high seas. The first recorded shipment of Sherry to the UK was completed by mega pirate/explorer Sir Francis Drake, who nicked over 3000 casks of Sherry and took it back to the UK. Never paid for it either. What a lad. 

So next time you knock back a chilled glass of fino, manzanilla or amontillado, do so with a spirit of conquest, smug in the knowledge that you've bagged an amazingly well-crafted wine that's a complete bargain.

WINES OF THE MONTH: C&B BLISS POINT PICKS

BARON DE BADASSIÈRE PICPOUL DE PINET - £10.99

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Picpoul de Pinet is having something of a moment right now, and it's easy to see why when you pick up a bottle. This wine is produced in the Languedoc, near the Etang du Thau which is famous for it's plump Mediterranean oysters. Jo worked a harvest at this lovely little co-operative winery alongside Kiwi winemakers Graeame Paul and Matt Thomson, and there's no better way to unwind after a long shift inoculating tanks (winemaking: not glamorous, folks!) than on the shore of the lake with a bottle of this absolute beaut. If you can't quite recreate that at home, no worries. A bottle of this saline, textured stunner will take you right there and is sure to perk up any spring evening.

 

 

KAIKEN CABERNET SAUVIGNON CLÁSICO - £10.49

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The Montes family are one of Chile's pioneers, known for breaking into new regions and daring to go where others have not. Kaiken is their label from Argentina, named after the geese that fly between the two countries. Although Argentina is famous for its Malbec, there are many old vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon that now produce fabulous, concentrated fruit which can be got hold of at decent prices. The altitude of 950 metres brings cool temperatures, perfect for this late-ripening variety. This is pure Cabernet with cassis and herbal notes along with the lovely chalky tannins that characterise the variety.