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City Life Manchester 1998-2003: wine columns, Food & Drink guide and travel articles...

City Life (Manchester) 1998-2003
wine columns, food & drink guide and travel pieces



Forgive the loud colours on the header, a somewhat crass attempt at replicating Manchester's two most famous colours (alas football not wine). Crammed onto this page you'll find a selection of stuff I did for City Life magazine, which now really does seem lost in the mists, or myths perhaps, of time (I lived in Manchester from early 1995 to late 2002, by the way). Sadly, this what's-on, food, drink, film, music etc. fortnightly, then turned weekly (quite hip and youthful actually, even if they did publish words written by an old fart like me - well, I was in my thirties then) has ceased to be. Sometime in 2005 - I think it was two or three years after I left town - I assume it was 'suits in plush offices' who decided to ditch it and merge all the relevant coverage and content with much bigger circulation, sister paper Manchester Evening News. Anyway, I enjoyed my time writing for City Life, on and off for over five years even if it did pay peanuts, particularly as they gave me the chance to get my first wine column published in Feb. 1998 (see below). So thanks to Chris Sharratt, editor at the time, and especially his successor Luke Bainbridge, wherever you may be now (a quick Google turns up a certain Luke B as deputy editor of Observer Music Monthly and a Chris S as regional editor of MetroLife...).
Richard M James: content restored June 2008.

Alsace travel in brief
City Life issue 498, August 2003

You get a nutshell glimpse of Strasbourg taking the groovy Mancy-style tram (although a touch more ‘Space 1999’) from the main station, which weaves through various clean-cut squares and shopping streets. The capital of Alsace - and allegedly Europe - does in certain ways give off a more Germanic than French feeling, especially in the architecture department. Those typical Alsace characteristics common throughout the region – dramatically elongated steep roofs, magnificent Austrian Baroque-style churches and old beamed (or new mock) houses – remind you of its complex history and geography. This is emphasised by tell-tell place names, with all those -heim and -kirch endings, and alsacien, the ancient local language still widely spoken by mostly older people, which sounds like a dialect of German. Some people will even admit to their “German side” but quickly qualify it by adding: “we’re French nevertheless.”
The very brief sightseeing tour of Strasbourg whets my appetite to return sometime, but on this trip I’m heading south into the peaceful and very green countryside. And there sure is plenty of it, this part of north-east France being heavily agricultural and fortunately viticultural too: the region makes some of the country’s best and most distinctive whites wines (more of that later). The heart of Alsace spreads over the two départements of Bas-Rhin, starting well north of Strasbourg, and Haut-Rhin running south beyond Mulhouse to the Swiss border; the Rhine marks the frontier with Germany to the east. To the west the region is sheltered by the brooding Vosges mountains, which help create its exceptional continental climate with hot summers (it hovered around 30-35 in June), not too much rain and very cold winters.
We stay in a homely inexpensive guesthouse in the small village of Boofzheim, close to the ‘town’ of Rhinau located right on the Rhine. From here you can walk, cycle or drive onto the non-stop mini-ferry and enjoy the ride on the murky river for the whole minute it takes to cross into Germany. There are good cycle paths on both sides that follow the river for quite a way, ducking in and out of lush woods. Alternatively try the more luxurious, tarmac-ed path beside the Rhône au Rhin canal, which runs from Strasbourg all the way past Marckolsheim. Or simply potter about on a bike from one pretty little village to the next, dotted around this flat plain filled with vast swathes of maize and wheat, smiling ironically at the serious packs of lycra-clad touring cyclists.
Alsace people take their food even more seriously, and you can’t leave without tasting delicious specialities such as tarte flambée, a kind of thin-crust ‘pizza’ topped with chopped bacon, onions and cream. Or choucroute of course – one day we rode past a huge choucroute factory near Daubersand, quickly revitalised by the powerful yet enticing waft of fermenting/pickling cabbage – accompanied by Germanic-style pork saucisses strasbourgeoises. The cuisine isn’t terribly vegetarian friendly, unless you like eggs (often farm-fresh) and cheese: it’s compulsory to consume Munster, the classic (and very strong) Alsace cheese, preferably with a glass of sweet vendange tardive Gewurztraminer. The Alsace climate suits aromatic white grape varieties very well, and the often full-ish bodied and usually dry or off-dry varietal wines produced are unique in France: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Muscat. In certain areas decent rosé-like Pinot Noir wines are also made. The best vineyards are generally found on the lower slopes of the Vosges, and you can easily follow a well-documented wine trail visiting small growers and co-operatives too (www.vinsalsace.com).

From the City Life Food & Drink Guide 2003
Wine in restaurants

Wine is overpriced in restaurants. Now that I’ve annoyed restaurateurs from Bolton to Altrincham (“what does he know about overheads”), let me add that apparently on average two-thirds of wine sold is house wine. We are drinking more and better wine with food, but diners tend to set a psychological price ceiling and are thus discouraged from experimenting.
Serving several wines by the glass justifies higher charges and can be more helpful: diverse dishes demand different wine styles, resulting in better matches than one catch-all bottle might provide. Old Sam’s Chophouse (Chapel Walks) fits the bill nicely with its award winning selection: try Altus Pinotage (£3.50 175ml) from South Africa. At Choice (Castle Quay) the list is indeed wide reaching with over 25 wines available by the glass, covering France and Australia primarily plus global offerings including Château Musar ‘96 (£26, £7.50 175ml) from Lebanon. For those who like a glass of Champagne to start or finish, look no further than the Bollinger Bar @ Le Mont (Cathedral Gardens). Bolly really is something special thanks to its fine balance of richness and intensity. Here it costs £10.50 per 175ml glass (£45 bottle) and they also hold two vintages of the sumptuously yeasty RD. Try Les Délices de Champagne (Triangle/Corn Exchange) for their cake of the day and glass of house Champagne (£5.50); or the Sugar Lounge (Deansgate Locks) where the pull for the moneyed crowd is the huge assortment of no less than 36 Champagnes, half of them rosés.
For fans of Italian wine, Stock (Norfolk Street) is the king: the gargantuan list covers every obscure corner of Italy. Pizza Express have broadened to include lesser known wines from the south and islands such as Greco di Tufo (£14.60), a nutty dry white. At Restaurant Bar & Grill (John Dalton Street) the Italian selection is less adventurous but decent: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Pasetti (£14) is a superior example. Sweet is sexy: drinking dessert wine with puds gets overlooked and few places have sweeties by the glass. Croma (Clarence Street) offers Sicilian Passito di Pantelleria and crunchy almond biscotti (£3.70); the Lincoln (Lincoln Square) excels with recommendations such as luscious red Banyuls (£5.50 100ml) with sticky toffee pudding.
Whilst I applaud more variety from Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, Argentina, California, Germany etc, there’s something satisfying about flying in the face of trends with a staunchly French wine list. Not surprisingly Chez Gérard (Brown Street) wallows in things Gallic and their flights of wine are an excellent idea. ‘Tour de France’ offers a taste of four quality reds and whites for £10. As well as other countries, Velvet (Canal Street) lists Domaine Sippmack’s floral zesty Alsace Riesling (£14.95) and Lounge Ten (Tib Lane) a fruity dry Bergerac rosé from Château Tour des Gendres (£15.20). Unfortunately space limits; out of the city there are wine treasures to be savoured at restaurants such as the White Hart (Saddleworth), Smith’s (Eccles), the Lime Tree (West Didsbury) and Juniper (Altrincham).

Wine & beer shopping
Independent wine and beer merchants have become an endangered species throughout the country and this is very apparent in Manchester: since the last guide Willoughby’s has closed their city centre shop.
Love Saves the Day (Tib Street M4, 832 0777 and Deansgate M3, 834 2266) is an enthusiastic Italian specialist and only charges £3 corkage to drink it there; also good on cider. Olive Delicatessen (Whitworth/Sackville St M1, 236 2360) has really boosted its wine range over the last year, with sound organic selection and plenty of bottled beers. Smithfield Wine (273 6070 www.smithfieldwine.com) sells on the net and concentrates on organic, vegetarian and vegan producers (no animal derivatives used for fining etc.), and is in fact approved by the Vegetarian Society. Of course Selfridges in the City (Exchange Square 0870 8377377) has caused a stir and that’s not just their prices. But I doubt you’ll be making comparisons when strolling the funky seductive wine department. Go the whole hog with Pétrus 1997 at £575, but there are quality wines under £10 such as Portugal’s Casa da Alorna (£7.25) and rarer Western Australian curiosities.
Portland Wine Company in Hale (928 0357), along with sister shops Booze Brothers in Sale (962 8752), Macclesfield Wine Co. (01625 616147) and Cote Green Wines near Marple (426 0155) tender a lovingly extensive choice from Burgundy, Australia, Chile etc. There are about 30 real ales too, and they hold regular tasting events. Carringtons do as well, another local mini-group with outlets in Didsbury Village (446 2546), Chorlton (881 0099) and Blackley (795 2198). They import interesting small grower wines especially from France, Italy and Spain and own www.beerbarons.com, a beer drinker’s paradise divided into Belgian, British, German and World. The Wine Warehouse Company (West Didsbury 881 9663) focuses on corporate business and mail order, but the store is crowded with juicy bin-ends. Between Bramhall and Cheadle Hulme you’ll come across the Bottle Stop (439 4904), which boasts being the only local outlet for Cliff Richard’s (apparently hot) wine Vida Nova (£8.99) and a beer range “as good as any across the country”. Suburban Heaton Moor Road is home to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it wine merchant: ensconced in the back of Booth’s (Stockport, 432 3309) humble-looking grocery/deli are gravity defying piles of well-chosen bottles.
An oasis in the vinous desert of north Manchester and beyond is Winos in Oldham (652 9396). Hunt it out on George Street and root around amidst “too many wines” for worldwide surprises: Ribera del Duero Spanish reds are hip apparently. Add to that T. Wright’s in Horwich (01204 697805), which houses a splendid fine wine cellar, and R&R Fine Wines near Bury (762 0022), stockists of Kim Crawford’s New Zealand wines amongst others. Majestic Wine Warehouses (Ardwick 273 2763, Stockport 474 1389) is a national ‘chain’ and PLC but remains independently minded showing real passion for the product. They operate a by-the-case policy, but the bottled beer selection is also worthwhile and competitive.

A review of the Gurkha Grill
198 Burton Road, West Didsbury M20, 0161 445 3461.

Don’t be put off by this somewhat plain-looking and claustrophobic – or perhaps cosy – Nepalese restaurant (although it was about to be refurbished at the time of writing). The locals aren’t, so you should book at the weekend as it quickly fills up. More importantly the food is impressive with lots of unusual Nepalese specialities plus familiar Indian fare too.
Prawn Sandheko (£5.95) starter is generous enough for two to share: cooked simply in green chillies and coriander it’s very hot and fresh tasting. Or try the Aloo Chat (£2): spuds in appetising mustard seed sauce. Gurkhali Chicken (£5.95) is one of their unique dishes and highly recommended, the deliciously well-spiced yet subtle gravy permeating the chicken. From the decent vegetarian selection you could sample Pepper Paneer (£7) or Vegetable Nepal (£4.95). The wine list isn’t bad either offering more New World wines, generally a better match with this style of food.

Food quality: 4½
Service: 3½
Décor: 3
Children’s dishes: to order.
Set menus: all the time, flexible.
Disabled: full.

Wine glossary
A few selected, often (over)used terms:

Acidity

Wine contains natural acids which are fundamental to its taste, balance and preservation qualities: tart harsh or sharp when too high, bland soupy or cloying when too low.

Appellation Contrôlée or AC

French regulations that theoretically control and guarantee origin, practices in the vineyard etc. Also the basis of a Gallic philosophical mysticism which strives to confer a ‘sense of place’ to the wine style. Similarly the Italians have DOC(G), DO(C) in Spain.

Balance

Decent wines show a subtle and pleasing combination of flavour and sensory elements, where fruit, acidity, sweetness, tannin, oak etc. all glide together on the finish.

Body

The weight and feel of a wine in the mouth; depends on fruit concentration, grape variety and style of the wine, alcohol % (especially), tannins (in reds), oak, sweetness, glycerine, how often the winemaker works out…

Château

Or Domaine, Mas, Quinta, Weingut, Schloss, Fattoria, Azienda, Pago etc: property or estate with vineyards. Legally a picture of it on the label should represent the actual building, although some names are made up.

Cool-fermented

Fresh drink-young whites or rosés are best fermented at 15-20 degrees to preserve aromatic fruit characters, whilst the winemaker watches relaxed wearing shades…

Corked

Musty mouldy taint caused by a chemical reaction resulting in TCA (trichloroanisole…yawn) contamination mostly in the cork (although can occur via barrels and other wood in the winery). Send it back!

Cru

Literally means ‘growth’, or 'believed in' depending on the myth, but not in the cancerous sense. French classification system (now adopted widely) that sorts the aristocracy from the plebs, based on superiority of site and history of high quality. Often qualified by Grand, Premier etc. depending on the specific area or estate.

Length

How long the flavour lingers on the palate thanks to elements mentioned in balance and/or body, measured in seconds or minutes on a stopwatch…

Oak

French and American are often referred to; the former is considered the best (especially by the French) and imparts spicy toasty characters to the wine, the latter less expensive and more vanillin. Size and age of the barrel is very important too.

Malolactic fermentation

One of those dull techy terms you see on over-wordy back labels, this is the secondary fermentation that converts harsh malic acid into smoother lactic acid. Desirable for red wines and full-bodied oak aged whites.

New World

Patronising colonial term for southern hemisphere or American wines deemed new wave in style or lacking in pedigree (i.e. several hundred years). Might also apply to modern styles from dynamically changing European regions.

Reserve

Sometimes meaningless term covering aged in oak or more expensive, but should signify higher quality and/or older selection of wine as it does when regulated e.g. Riserva in Italy or Reserva in Spain.

Rot

Grapes have to put up with good and bad rot; the nice kind happens where particular and peculiar weather conditions cause noble rot or botrytis cinerea, which shrivels them making an intense naturally sweet wine.

Structure

Think bricks, beams and framework. Usually refers to an austere fine wine, which has all the elements necessary for ageing such as concentration, acidity, tannins or power.

Tannin

That dry textured substance which coats the mouth found on red grape skins, in oak, rhubarb, even tea. Quantity extracted into the wine needs controlling, depending on ripeness or robustness of the style being made to avoid bitterness and imbalance.

New Zealand wine tasting preview
Dropped from City Life at the last minute due to lack of space (would have been in the 11th Sept 2002 issue)!

The figures suggest we are a nation of avid kiwi-drinkers – over half of New Zealand wine exports are consumed in Britain – which nevertheless amounts to less than one tenth of the Australian wine we put away. New Zealand’s small production favours a focus on quality and does help explain their higher prices, although occasionally value for money can appear dubious. New Zealand winemakers are descending on Old Trafford cricket ground to hold a mammoth evening tasting next Tuesday 17th. Tickets cost £13.50, which gives you access to 24 leading wineries, and City Life has three pairs to give away to the first three readers who call or e-mail New Zealand Winegrowers in London, as below.
This tasting should demonstrate the diversity of the country’s regions and styles. New Zealand is making some fine Champagne look-alikes; Cloudy Bay needs little introduction but their rich toasty Pelorus sparkling wine is lesser known. Other quality fizz includes Rory Brut from Kim Crawford and Hunter’s Miru Miru. Kiwi winemakers are achieving impressive results with Pinot Noir – particularly in Martinborough, Canterbury and Otago – offering elusively fruity and elegant reds. Worth trying: Wither Hills, Hunter’s, Villa Maria, Isabel Estate, Felton Road. Surprisingly full-bodied reds from Cabernet and Merlot are made in Hawkes Bay such as Coopers Creek, Craggy Range or Esk Valley, and Waiheke Island off Auckland e.g. Goldwater Estate.
New Zealand is also excelling at dry racy Rieslings: Jackson Estate, Allan Scott, Kim Crawford, Grove Mill and Montana Reserve all deliver. Oh, there’ll be plenty of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay too! Hot tips locally: Pelorus – Majestic, Love Saves the Day, Portland Wine Co, Bottoms Up. Kim Crawford – E.H Booth’s, Define Food & Wine, Delamere Wines, Portland, Selfridges, R&R Fine Wines. Hunter’s – Booth’s, Oddbins, D. Byrne. Wither Hills and Grove Mill – Oddbins. Villa Maria and Montana – widely available. Isabel Estate – Carringtons. Esk Valley – Wine Cellar, Portland, D. Byrne, Define. Goldwater Estate - Winos. Jackson Estate - Booth’s, Winos, Portland, D. Byrne. Allan Scott - www.laywheeler.com. New Zealand Winegrowers 020 7973 8079, info@winzuk.com.

City Life issue 457 - 29 May / 13 June 2002
Richard James checks out Deli Republic...

Are the citizens of Altrincham ready for upheaval? No, how about a nice sandwich then? A refreshingly well timed name at least for this modest but smart new delicatessen, which was opened recently by proprietor Nicolas Meyer-Turkson. Nick is originally from Alsace in northeast France, a region celebrated for its hearty food and excellent white wines, but lived in Germany and Canada before settling in Manchester seven years ago; he’s also worked at Atlas Deli in the city centre. On the food front, Republic is currently offering a selection of freshly made sandwiches; lesser-known cheeses such as powerfully pungent Munster – quelle surprise from Alsace – and tangy Picos de Europa from northwest Spain; various hams, salamis, chorizo and olives; pâtés, pastries and pies; olive oils and other dry goods. Nick is also supplied by local catering entrepreneur Gourmet Design with tasty home-made snacks like smoked salmon fishcakes, lasagne and sausage rolls, and apparently to-die-for cakes: try the carrot or espresso. Nick intends to expand the range of food now he’s up and running.
You can sit in and enjoy a coffee, and there are plenty of fresh juices and other soft drinks too such as Lorina Traditional French Limonade. The shelves house a fledgling selection of quality wines e.g. 2000 Sauvignon St. Bris Domaine Sorin (£8.50), 1998 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Dom. Giraud (£13.50), the cult Massaya 98 from Lebanon (£12.50), and 99 Ghost Gum Shiraz Cabernet from Victoria (£6.50). Nick wants to build this up by renovating the cellar underneath the shop. There’s no shortage of interesting bottled beers, such as Anchor Steam and Liberty from San Francisco (£1.65), Coopers Australian Sparkling Ale (£1.45), Belgium’s splendid Orval (£1.50), Jenlain from France (£1.60) and Mash Ale (£1.05). Deli Republic – 12 Regent Road, Altrincham, 0161 613 0865. Open 10 – 18.00 Monday to Saturday and to 19.00 on Friday, 11 – 16.30 Sunday.

Marseille travel
City Life issue 452, 20 March 2002

The EuroStar cut a January-grey, pastel-painted blur through the spacious rural canvass like an Impressionist on speed. It’s only really when you get to Paris – aside from the embarrassingly sluggish chug through Kent followed by 20 minute blackout – that it sinks in you’ve arrived in northern France, without the more customary touchdown. A quick change of stations from Gare du Nord to de Lyon, where we were confronted by a sexy silver and blue, wingless beast waiting to teleport us to the south. This awesome, double-decker TGV is one of a brand-new class that hurtles down the Mediterranean line opened last summer.
Three hours later – N.B Railtrack, that’s nearly 500 miles with a top speed of over 180m/hour – we disembarked right into the pounding heart of Marseille. Emerging from the Métro at the Vieux Port, you’re immediately introduced to the city’s evocatively attractive centre and salty sea smell. Suddenly I’m Gene Hackman in ‘French Connection 2’, running alongside dozens of posh yachts and workmanlike fishing boats moored in the port, trying to gun down escaping drug baron Charnier.
We stayed for two nights in the boring but safe Novotel, although only because of a promotion (‘Bon Weekend à Marseille’) offered in conjunction with the Tourist Office: two nights for the price of one. On Monday morning we switched to the older, more elegant and soulful Alizé Hotel (quaintly wonky stairs, Van Gogh-esque plain wooden furniture); reasonably priced and worth paying the extra for a room overlooking the Vieux Port, exquisitely illuminated at night. From here, or better still the elevated view from the gloriously conspicuous, landmark cathedral Notre-Dame de la Garde, you get a broader feel for the true size of Marseille. The pretty port instils large seaside town; from above you witness the vast and exciting, urban and suburban sprawl of historic structures, busy and disused docks, functional high-rises and smart beach houses, all of which remind you this is France’s second biggest city.
Which also means no shortage of diverse ethnic restaurants such as Algerian, Tunisian and Vietnamese. We were well fed with tasty inexpensive food at three different places on Rue de la République, where the choice is plentiful: La Kahena, Le Roi du Couscous and Vietnam. Hearty eating provided a hardly-necessary excuse to taste the excellent local wines, such as dry rosés and full-bodied reds from Bandol or Côteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, or pick from a decent selection from North Africa.
The central districts of Marseille – 15 Parisian style arrondissements form the metropolitan whole – are easily covered on foot. Le Panier, just to the north of the Old Port, is the ancient quarter and lures you in with worn cobbled alleys and steep stone steps (mind the dog shit though, a problem Marseille folk really have to deal with). This area in particular is indicative of an old industrial and maritime city undergoing change and development; an uneasy mix of poor, crumbling or abandoned buildings and gentrifying renovated apartments (sounds familiar?). By using the all-embracing network of cheap buses, you can also quickly escape into the wilderness. Callelongue to the south, beyond the Prado Beaches but still within the chic 8e district, is the starting point for a spectacular coastal mountain walk up the Massif de Marseilleveyre. This is a must-do: the rewards are dreamy vistas of sun-hazed ocean and the nearby islands; gigantic slices of sheer, chalky schistous rock; scary narrow pathways and perfumed pine.

Booth's of Stockport City Life issue 448, 23 Jan - 7 Feb 2002

The stretch of Heaton Moor Road running from the station to the Reform Club still retains some loose suburban village charm, with its succinct parade of shops, bank and pubs. And a rather good, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it wine merchant: ensconced in the back of Booth’s (62 Heaton Moor Road, Stockport) humble-looking grocery/deli are many bottles of wine. The selection soon reveals itself as one nurtured by a true wine enthusiast, which is what John Booth is. If John gets excited about a country or region’s wines, then he gets them in big time; hence the range from Portugal or Argentina.
John also regularly presents lesser-known wines at his local tastings (for local people…), with a view to stocking them if his customers like them. Recently a new exporter from Western Australia called Palandri tasted its wines, which show good potential even if the reds are a bit young. The thumbs-up went particularly to 2001 Riesling (£7.95), 2000 Solora Chardonnay (£6.95), 2000 Solora Cabernet/Shiraz (£6.95) and 2000 Palandri Shiraz (£9.95), although the latter won’t divulge its true charm and quality for a few months.
On Tuesday 5th February John adds a personal touch with his ‘Wines of the Year’, which “to qualify obviously has to be a well-made wine, have good flavours and be of good value…we can discard the Australian and Burgundian wines as lacking value.” Expect Italians, Spanish and “a brilliant French red” from Pic St. Loup, amongst others. The tasting of the Rhone valley on 5th March looks promising; including new vintages of Georges Darriaud’s Viognier and reds les Hauts du Mont and Cairanne, plus St. Joseph and Cornas from Cave de Tain. Friday 15th March Bordeaux with food; 16th April two biodynamic Alsace wineries. Tastings take place at the Reform Club, Heaton Moor Road at 8.00pm and cost £8, except Bordeaux @ £20-25. Ring 0161 432 3309 or johnbooth@lineone.net.

City Centre wine walk & shopping in the Manchester area
From the City Life Food & Drink Guide 2002

City Centre ‘wine crawl’

Les Délices de Champagne, upstairs @ Triangle/Corn Exchange, Hanging Ditch. Set yourself up by partaking in their ‘cake of the day and glass of house Champagne special’ (£5.50), but start before the 7pm curfew (5pm Sundays) at this posh French patisserie-cum-fine wine café.
Go right out of the building and passed M&S down Exchange Street, then through St. Ann’s Square heading for the church. Straight ahead is back entrance to:
Mumbo, King Street. A bit expensive but elegant and shiny-new; order the fragrantly Chilean Vivaldi Sauvignon Blanc or quaffable Railroad Red from the Cape (both £3.50), and have them carried up to the roof terrace offering views over the square.
Exit back out into St. Ann’s Passage and veer immediately right.
Mr Thomas’ Chop House. Twice winner of the food & drink festival’s ‘wine list of the year’ award, this atmospheric pub does have a great choice, such as La Palmeria’s seductively plummy Merlot (£2.95) or pricey but peachy and aromatic Viognier from France (£3.50), described as “the Lauren Bacall of grape varieties.”
Turn right on to Cross Street then walk up King Street.
All Bar One, King/Brown Street. Owned by Bass but has a decent range by the glass and displays the bottles enticingly racked behind the bar. Splash out on Fouassier’s dry gooseberry-ish Pouilly-Fumé (£3.60) or smoky oaky Dominio de Montalvo Rioja (£3.30).
Follow Spring Gardens heading south, cut through China Town, cross Portland Street and keep going to the Village.
*Spirit, Canal/Richmond Street. Grab a glass of crisp Loire Sauvignon Blanc (£2.45) or Impala Cabernet/Merlot (£2.75) from South Africa and commandeer your table on the grooviest roof patio in the area.
*Or if it’s raining, skip Spirit (the wine list used to be better anyway) and continue to the far end of Canal St.
*Taurus, where you can ensconce yourself in substantial leather sofas and civilised atmosphere and quaff Italian house wines (£2.75): Canaletto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – quite rich and rustic – or Pinot Grigio – a little bland but easy.
Finish here or, if you can manage it or on another occasion, follow the canal path under Princess and Oxford Streets and cross the bridge about 200m along.
Rain Bar, Great Bridgewater Street. Owned and designed by local brewer J.W. Lees, this smart yet relaxed bar/pub is one of the most wine-friendly places in town in terms of what’s available, service and reasonable prices.


Independent wine merchants
Willoughby’s (Tib Lane off Cross Street, 834 6850) likes to flaunt its ‘established in 1850’ credentials and is part of the J.W Lees empire; worth a browse for something with a touch of maturity, particularly Bordeaux or Burgundy. Love Saves the Day café-deli (Tib Street, Northern Quarter 832 0777) is strong on lesser-known Italians and charges £3 corkage to drink it there. Olive Delicatessen (Whitworth/Sackville St, 236 2360) contains a commendable, although a bit dear, organic wine selection but proves handy for late-working city centre residents.

Portland Wine Company has shops in Hale (928 0357), Sale (962 8752), and Macclesfield (01625 616147) and also Cote Green Wines near Marple (426 0155). Their range is extensive – check out Portugal and Australia – and watch out for producer-cringing Champagne deals. Between Bramhall and Cheadle Hulme you’ll come across the Bottle Stop (439 4904), again well priced and stocked. Heaton Moor Road’s quaintly ramshackle covered parade is home to Booth’s (432 4260): squeeze into the diminutive but crammed wine store at the back and peruse those drooping shelves. Carringtons is another local mini-group with outlets in Didsbury Village (446 2546), Chorlton (881 0099) and Blackley (795 2198). They import interesting small grower wines from France and Spain and often hold dinners, for example, featuring Lebanon’s Chateau Musar. Out in rural Cheshire in Sandiway, Define Food & Wine (01606 882101) is quite a find; they also run quirky events such as a Blues’ night showcasing ‘wines with soul’ and live music in-store! An oasis in the vinous desert of north Manchester and beyond is Winos in Oldham (652 9396); seek it out on George Street, chat with the down-to-earth enthusiasts about their very popular tastings and dig around for treasures from all over the world.

National ‘chains’
Wine Cellar, the Parisa Group’s up-market off-licences (01925 454545), has a presence in the north in Uppermill and Bolton (Chorley Old Road) with further outlets in New Mills and Lymm. Majestic Wine Warehouses (Ardwick 273 2763, Stockport 474 1389) operate a by-the-case policy, but it’s fun to mooch around filling a big trolley. They regularly buy hotly priced, one-off parcels and stock illogical quantities of sadly overlooked German and Alsace wines. Oddbins (020 8944 4400) have been a reliable source of good drinking for this writer. There are two branches in town, the Deansgate shop holding marginally more diverse lines (and more helpful opening hours) than Cooper Street. Also in Altrincham, Didsbury, Knutsford and the newest and best in Chorlton.

Tunisia by taxi
First published in City Life September 2001


Sahara from www.cometotunisia.co.uk
We arrived at Monastir airport loaded with a double dose of self-satisfaction – the flight only cost £95, and we were now arrogantly leaving behind the package-tour herd scrambling for the reassuring comfort of waiting coaches. But also with a sense of trepidation: first time in Africa, into the late January night on your own. So bolstered by a travel guide we caught the Metro train just outside to Mahdia, the last stop down the coast about 40-50 km. The first peculiarity struck, for European eyes at least: no women to be seen.
The next morning we headed for the ‘louage’ (shared long-distance taxi) station and were surrounded by a touting swarm of drivers. After a short wait – they don’t leave until all seats are taken – two more passengers get in, off we went to Sfax, a large forgettable industrial town further down the Mediterranean coast. Here our onward ride south to Jerba boringly took over 2 hours to fill; a fellow traveller was looking anxiously at his watch: “I’m working at six” (in one of the island’s up-market hotels).
The landscape progressively got sandier but was still lined by miles and miles of faded green olive trees, flat on the coast with mountains looming behind. The car horn seemed to be a well-used accessory, but to alert rather than rebuke, particularly to the omnipresence of apparently strict police patrols. After a long haul, the brief ferry crossing delivered the taxi on to Jerba and then finally we reached the capital, Houmt Souk, on the north coast of this otherwise tranquil island. The place was a hive of activity, the cafés bustling with sunset-watchers waiting to be called to prayer.
Hotel Dar Faiza, located between the old fort and the port, proved an excellent choice (even if a bit difficult to find): quaint, elderly, converted, colonial French manor house and an off-season bargain too. The following day we hired bikes and cycled into town to explore. A gregarious young man – there are plenty of them – approached: “Vous êtes Français?” “Non Anglais…de Manchester.” “Ah, United!” came the predictable response: I wonder what the city’s pre-Ferguson international profile could have been. He was explaining about a wool market happening today then continued in French: “Are you a doctor? I’m sick,” pointing to his head. Quite a sales pitch – not sure what he was selling though, perhaps just a smile.
That night we tentatively entered the recommended restaurant La Colombe Blanche at 8.30: bad choice, we wondered as it was empty? But by eleven the place was rocking to full-on North African entertainment: very loud music, mesmerising Arabic songs and dancing. Delicious inexpensive food too – fresh fish soup enlivened by harissa (red chilli paste), followed by couscous and whole fish dusted with cumin and washed down with a decent Tunisian dry rosé.
Three separate ‘louage’ rides – made all the more tolerable by friendly, talkative and even flirty (the men) passengers and the dry, austere but stunning scenery – transported us way out west to Tozeur. This ancient oasis town in the desert is only 100km from Algeria and flanked by thousands of date palms and a mirage inducing, dune-hill backdrop. We stayed in the ‘Medina’ (old city), which radiates charm and character with its sand-brick buildings, some crumbling and some being rebuilt, markets, seductive cake shops and curious chatty children, practising their French and asking you for a pen.
The near-final journey took us back northeast to historic Kairouan, which rightfully boasts an easy-to-stroll (despite the highest incidence to date of pesterers and followers all eager to help, probably for a fee) 7th Century walled city, which is dominated by the marvelous not-to-be-missed Great Mosque. Its vast, column edged inner courtyard was fleetingly and hauntingly empty when we visited in the morning; the spiritual moment was shattered by the inevitable, noisy arrival of a package-tour herd. One further taxi – stopping off for a spicy tasty lunch, some bright sunshine and a laid-back stroll in attractive looking (but tourist heavy) Sousse – and then a quick train ride with the locals brought us full circle. Total travel costs came to not much more than 50+ Dinars each (about £25-30).


PerSian wine!
Too good for City Life... August 2001 (another victim of ad over ed space).



“Why the Australians call the Syrah Shiraz isn’t clear – although the Iranian city of Shiraz is thought to have been the birthplace of the grape as long ago as 600BC…” (Oz Clarke’s Encyclopedia of Wine 1999 edition: more recent scientific research has now proved otherwise, by the way). Hence why 27 of them fit snugly onto the wine list at PerSia (Great Northern Warehouse), the new restaurant apparently dreamed up by Parisa Group chief Nader Haghighi, originally from Iran. And an enthralling selection of Syrah/Shiraz it is too, starting in the south of France at a reasonable £9 for Bellefontaine to a ludicrously breathtaking £199 for the cult Aussie Penfolds Grange 1995. Try the lesser-known ’98 Capel Vale Shiraz (£13.50, £8.59 @ Wine Cellar), which has typically Western Australian elegant rustic spice. The enthusiastic list (150 wines) is mostly laid out by grape variety and seems good value compared to many other restaurants, although strangely a bit steep by the glass.
Parisa developed from a retail base – the group owns nearly 70 up-market Wine Cellar shops (nearest Uppermill, New Mills, Bolton and Lymm), some with in-store licenced café, and a string of Booze Buster off-licences. The next bold step was to launch Parisa Café Bars – currently 23 and growing and opening soon in the City Centre – which stock a fair chunk of the Wine Cellar range at shelf price plus moderate cash margin. This applause-worthy policy means a much wider choice without the usual 65%-plus rip off (“but the overheads...”) The prices at PerSia are a little higher but should still encourage the wine drinker to experiment. So does it work? “We sell quite a lot of stylish brands like Rosemount and Villa Maria,” says wine buyer David Vaughan, “but the percentage of house wine sold is only about 25-30%. Organic wines are doing well too.” (Parisa Group head office 01925 454545.)


Mendoza: "the Argies are making terrific value red wines..."
From winesofargentina.org


UNCORKED 1998-2000


A selection of resurrected column inches published in City Life, Manchester (I only have the original paper copies of all the missing ones from that period; so if I get around to typing them up again or scanning them, more columns might reappear below). See opposite to read more recent articles from the magazine and their food & drink guide.


My first wine column, February 1998!
Forget the Falklands: the Argies are making terrific value red wines.
Argentina produces lots of beef and lots of wine (and, in days gone by, the occasional military dictator): it’s in the world top 5 for wine production; as for right-wing carnivores, I’ve no idea. Fortunately they drink barrels full of this over there and export the better stuff to us. They’ve been at it for some time too: European emigrants took their vines and know-how across in the mid 16th Century.

Most of the wine is made in the province of Mendoza in the west, basically a high-altitude desert against the Andes bordering Chile (I’ll skip the tourist board blurb: “vineyards naturally irrigated by waters gently trickling down the mountains etc.”). The majority of quality wines comes from this region, which apparently sees 350 days of sunshine per year (slightly less than Manchester then). The climate suits red grapes well, and we’re now seeing real quality for money in the £4 - £6 bracket and some top estates are making stunning wines at higher prices than this. Look out for emerging sub-regions such as Lujan de Cuyo, Maipu and Vistalba, where conscientious wineries are concentrating on lower yields, premium grapes in the most suitable sites and careful winemaking.
Malbec, found in southwest/southern France in Cahors and Bergerac and occasionally Bordeaux and the Languedoc, has made its home in Argentina crafting some really wacky wines. There also isn’t a shortage of Italian and Spanish grape varieties like Barbera, Sangiovese and Tempranillo, which bridge the style-gap nicely between European subtlety and New World fruit.
So don’t cry for Argentina (apologies for the predictable pun), drink the stuff - many bars and restaurants now list some, such as Dimitri’s, Simply Heathcote’s, Primavera and Lead Station. Recommended Argies:
Mariposa Malbec 1996, Majestic £6.49.
Vistalba Estate Syrah 1995/6, £4.69-4.95; Barbera 1996, £4.49; and Malbec 1995/6, £4.50: Victoria Wine Cellars, Oddbins, Portland Wine Co. (Hale, Sale, Macclesfield), Booths (Heaton Moor), Sandiway Wines, Cote Green Wines (Marple).
Bodegas Norton Malbec 1995, Oddbins £4.99; Sangiovese 1995, Oddbins and Booths £4.99-5.50; Merlot 1996, M & S £4.99.
Trapiche: M&S various own-labels; Wine Cellar and Oddbins, Pinot Noir 1995 £4.49-4.99.
Etchart: try Arnaldo Etchart’s top of the range wines; contact Hammonds of Knutsford.
Luigi Bosca: bloody good but hard to find!
Valentin Bianchi: seriously stonking reds, particularly the £10 ones (Oddbins).
Lots of Argentinian wineries and tasting notes here, and more info at Wines of Argentina.



March 1998 Verdammter Qualitätswein!
No wonder Germany has a serious image problem: how is the wine enthusiast expected to understand different qualities and prices, when it’s all (more or less) categorised as ‘quality wine’? Call me old fashioned, but can most ever mean best? Example: whoever’s Liebfraumilch QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiet = quality wine from a 'specific' region, a pretty vast one actually) for £2 to £3, Schloss Johannisberg QbA about £10. SJ also happens to be a small single vineyard, makes only 20,000 cases annually and occupies one of the best sites in the Rheingau, where many of Germany’s top Rieslings are made. Liebfrau usually comes from virtually anywhere in the Rhine and is manufactured by the (oil) tanker. An extreme comparison – SJ’s wines are among the most expensive in Germany (and probably overpriced), but deprived of the opportunity to taste these classy estates, few people would be that adventurous. I’m not necessarily suggesting you rush out and spend a tenner, but better pickings can be found by avoiding cheap and spending about £4.50 upwards.

Bypassing the linguistic minefield of traditional labels by simplifying their packaging, switched-on producers should win the battle to get the message across: grower or brand name plus grape and perhaps region, relegating other verbose information to the back. The Riesling grape is finally beginning to be appreciated (ironically thanks to Oz winemakers), particularly because of its ability to age and partner food well. German Riesling can taste relatively dry, even those not made deliberately so (‘trocken’ styles are very). Lower yielding Riesling from good vineyards makes delicate, zesty, off-dry wines due to high natural acidity balancing the sweetness, which develop oily richness with age.
Recommended Germans:
Mosel region - Friedrich-Wilheim Gymnasium. Best buy: 1993 Oberemmeler Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett halbtrocken, £4.49 Majestic – ‘petrol’ and honey, zingy balance, pure mineral Riesling length, off-dry finish. Also: 1995 Graacher Himmelreich, £6.95 Portland Wine (Hale & Sale).
Dr. Loosen – 1996 Dr L Riesling; £5.99 Bottoms Up (Didsbury), Portland Wine, Booth’s (Heaton Moor).
Grans-Fassian – 1996 Riesling trocken; £4.99 Tesco, Majestic has various ones.
Rheingau region - Schloss Johannisberg: 1996 Riesling Kabinett; Primavera (Chorlton), Lancaster Brasserie (T1, the airport).
Schloss Schönborn: 1987 Riesling Kabinett; £4.99 special Somerfield, £5.99 Victoria Wine Cellars.
Pfalz region - Kendermann Dry Riesling, £3.99 widely available.
Lingenfelder – 1995/6 Dornfelder, £6.99 Wine Cellar/Berkeley Wines: a fab red, honest!
Bürklin-Wolf – 1996 Forster Riesling, £5.99 Majestic.
Von Buhl – 1995 Forster Pechstein, £6.99 Majestic; 1996 Riesling Kabinett trocken £6.99 Oddbins.
More German wines here.



South Africa: April 1998 issue 353
Supermarket shelves and restaurant wine lists are now positively bulging with South African wines, as the hunt for novelty and diversity heats up. What’s particularly bizarre about South Africa is the huge imbalance of white to red grapes planted: this means on the one hand a struggle to produce interesting reds under £4, but on the other many decent, inexpensive whites.

L'Avenir Estate, Stellenbosch from www.lavenir.co.za
The Cape seems to have popularised Chenin Blanc (not surprising perhaps when it accounts for 30% of all grapes grown there) by making ‘modern’, well-priced wines with ripe fruit and crisp dryness. Good examples include 1996 Ryland’s Grove Barrel Fermented (Tesco on offer at £3.29) and the stunning 1997 L’Avenir Estate (£4.99 Bottlestop, Bramhall; Booth’s, Heaton Moor; also Heathcotes, Jacksons Row). Sauvignon Blanc is frustratingly unpredictable, as there are too many boring ones. Luckily, the Simonsig 1997 Unwooded offers 'squash a grapefruit in your face' style (£5.95 Portland Wine Hale, Sale), or try the more elegant 1997 Springfield Estate (£6.99 Sainsbury’s, Victoria Wine; also at Heathcotes). Colombard is producing some wonderfully aromatic dry whites, such as 1997 Paarl Heights (£3.69-99 Thresher/Bottoms Up, Co-op, Spar; also Dimitri’s, Deansgate & the French, Altrincham), or often blended with other grapes.
The serious red wine sipper is also pampered, even if most of the best stuff costs +£5 off the shelf, but is worth it. The much talked about Pinotage grape (a native crossbreed of Pinot Noir and Cinsault) comes in many guises, from simple and quaffable (try Swartland’s in Bar 38, Canal Street) to dense, smoky and rustic. Clos Malverne (1997 £5.99 Portland, 1996 £6.49 Oddbins) and 1996 Bellingham (£5.29 Bottoms Up) are closer to the latter. Shiraz/Syrah shows sexy promise: the style can be distinctly Rhône-like, such as the big, firm and spicy 1995 Backsberg (about £8 Willoughbys, off Cross Street); or 1996/7 Savanha brimming with blackberries and violets (£5.99 Wine Cellar, Oddbins). South African Cabernet Sauvignon is often more interesting and successful even (can sometimes be a bit green, unripe and uncharming), when blended with Cabernet Franc or Merlot, as exemplified by Louisvale, Stellenzicht, Winelands, Le Riche or Klein Constantia to name just a few!


July 1998: Wine in bars part 2 (part 1 seems to have disappeared from my so-called backup files).
Let’s continue to taste our way around bars in the city centre, starting on Deansgate. Dimitri’s has always offered an interesting selection of quite well-priced wines. They currently have two made from the Grenache grape, one from the white variety and one from the red: 1997 Bellefontaine white (£9.50, £2.55 175ml) is an unusual Vin de Pays, nutty and crisp; and 97 Peter Lehmann (£12.25) encapsulates modern Australia with plenty of wild fruits and pepper.

Atlas has just unveiled a more adventurous list: try the Pra Soave Classico Superiore 1997 (£10). “Soave, he’s off his trolley,” I hear you say: but this one is serious stuff from one of the best estates and packed with almonds and citrus. As for reds, the Italians go 2 - 0 up dominating the field: the dark seductive southerner Brindisi 1994 (£11) displaying smoky damson and fig fruit.
Down in Castlefield, Dukes 92’s list is lacking in information but offers good summer sipping with Lindemans Chardonnay at £1.80 a glass, £9.95 per bottle. If you’re feeling absolutely fabulous, they have Bolly at £27.00: not a bad price for this classy, rich and toasty champers considering how much it is in shops even. Barça favours Spain for house wines (£2.40, £9.95), but if you fancy a traditional Rioja, Faustino V Reserva 93 (£15.50) gives dense rustic fruit, oak and tobacco too!
Heading back into town, stop off at the Pitcher & Piano across from the Bridgewater Hall. Cotes de Duras (south-east of Bordeaux) can be a reliable source of good value Sauvignon Blanc: the P & P’s 1996 (£11) is a crisply green example. I also like their 1996 Salisbury Estate Cabernet Shiraz (although at £13.95 not the price so much) with its forward Aussie fruit but a touch of tannin to balance. Cut to the cool, calm Citrus café bar and enjoy some New Zealand charm in the guise of 95/96 Villa Maria Chardy (£11.25, £6.50 half) caressing you with its soft, peachy fruit. Equally soft but with ripe plums too is Santa Rita 120 Merlot 96/7 at £9.50.


August 1998 issue 361: Rosé wines
Rosé. It’s had a fight on its hands to neutralise popular prejudices: “red wine mixed with white, something inbetween?” “Sweet and insipid” (legacy of lovely Rosé d’Anjou and Mateus.) “A bit poncy” (image no-man’s-land.)

Rosé is made from red grapes but only has limited contact with the skins, hence the colour. In fact, the best rosés are made by the ‘bleed’ method (cuvée Lestat perhaps). The juice is ‘free-run’ from good quality grapes such as Syrah/Shiraz or Grenache/Garnacha, i.e. what drains off before applying even light pressure. This is ideal to gain a tad of colour and extra flavour without tannin (leave that for the reds).
Enough of the technical – most decent rosé is dry or off-dry and made like dry white wine, but offers more fruit and character than some whites. Which makes them very versatile: perfect chilled for quaffing on their own, particularly al fresco in summer, and successful food-matchers too – Greek salad, fish, light meat dishes, veggie, spicy etc.
Image problem? It’s a typical Brit thing (and possibly our crap climate): go to northern Spain or the south of France, to a chic metropolis like Barcelona or smart Provence town like Aix. There, the guys drink it with the girls. And now the Aussies are doing it with gusto, let alone some of our South American friends, soon we’ll all be claiming to have been drinking it for years.
A few rosés for hip Manchester folk to flaunt:
Spain: 1997 Chivite Gran Feudo Garnacha from Navarra: about £4 in Carrington’s (Didsbury, Chorlton, Blackely), Oddbins and Thresher.
France: 1997 Château la Moutète, Côtes de Provence: £11.95 at The French Brasserie (the Downs, Altrincham).
1997 Château de Sours from Bordeaux: £5.99 at Majestic (Ardwick & Stockport), Wine Cellar (Fallowfield & Bolton).
1997 M&S Chardonnay/Merlot £3.99 (Spring Gardens).
1997 Château le Raz from Bergerac: £12.10 at Café Istanbul (Bridge Street).
Australia: 1997 Hardy’s Stamp Grenache/Shiraz: £4.79 at Sainsbury’s.
Chile: 1997 Miguel Torres Santa Digna Cabernet Sauvignon: £4.99 from Portland Wine Co. (Hale & Sale Moor), Booth’s (Heaton Moor), Selfridges (Trafford Centre from Sept 10th).
Piles more rosés here (Provence road trip).



September 1998 issue 363: Wine in pubs
The City Centre boasts many fine pubs old and new, which undoubtedly sell good beer but wouldn’t necessarily be the preferred venue for a wine drinker. However, what if you’re out with a group of beer swilling chums and can’t handle the house brew? Or don’t fancy a half of bitter with that pasta lunch? Well, decent wine is now an option even in the most traditional of pubs.

The Lass O’Gowrie (Charles Street) offers no less than twenty wines, of which 50% are well-known New World brands. All are available by the glass with most under £10 per bottle. The Turning Leaf Chardonnay (£10 bottle, £2.30 175 ml glass) is surprisingly good for Gallo: California ripeness balanced by toasty complexity. Winelands Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc (£8, £2.20) combines berry fruit and traditional South African earthiness. They also have guest wines from time to time, according to the glossy list. The same range can be found in Hogshead pubs (Deansgate and Oxford Road), as they are all owned by Whitbread.
The Briton’s Protection (Great Bridgewater Street) has a fairly broad and well-priced wine list. The house wines weigh in at a reasonable £1.70 and £7 per glass and bottle respectively, but it’s worth trading up. Wyndham Estate’s Bin 222 Chardonnay and Bin 444 Cabernet Sauvignon (both £10) deliver full-bodied, up-front Aussie drinkability, the red being the more serious of the two. They also have an Amarone della Valpolicella (£14.95) with hand-banging 14.5% alcohol, if you don’t mind losing a few brain cells.
You’re spoilt for choice at Mr. Thomas’s Chop House (Cross Street), where the two lists out-perform many restaurants’ including 18 wines by the glass, some of which are specials and displayed on blackboards. The Cuvée de Grignon (£2.50, £8.95) red and white are usually reliable, but try the 1996 Mitchelton Marsanne (£3, £12.65) with its exotic honeysuckle fruit. From the reds, I’d go for 1995 Montecillo Crianza (£3, £11.50), a classic rich Rioja, or 1996 Redwood Trail California Pinot Noir (£3, £11.75), fairly simple and soft but still characteristic of this difficult to pin down grape.


October 1998 issue 365: Selfridges, the Trafford Centre
Let’s talk posh wines. Selfridges offers a small but interesting range in the compact and bijou wine shop by the new food hall. It’s worth a visit, if you’re looking for a gift or something special for a dinner party. Of course, if you want to spend silly money on top Bordeaux or Burgundy, they have a few right up to 1983 Château Latour at £155 or d’Yquem 1971 at £365.

Back on planet earth, there’s much to recommend from the unusual selection of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian wines. Casa de Saima in Portugal’s Bairrada region makes traditional reds, smoky and tannic; try the 1996 (£7.25). Castillo de Monjardín is one of the leading estates in Navarra (next door to Rioja): their 1995 Crianza (£7.99) shows Bordeaux style with big concentration. The obscure Rías Baixas region in northwest Spain is home to the high quality white Albariño grape: 1997 Lagar de Cevera (£8.95) has lemony zing alongside creamy texture.
Difficult to choose from the Italians – perhaps lesser known reds from the south like 1995 Aglianico del Vulture from d’Angelo (£8.50) or whites such as Anselmi’s 1997 San Vincenzo Soave Classico (£8.95). A Loire Valley red is sure to intrigue – 1997 Château de Villeneuve Saumur-Champigny (£8.75) is a good example. For Riesling fans (all 3 of them), they’ve a 1996 Zeltinger Schlossberg Kabinett from Selbach-Oster (£9.50). Pushing the boat out, the 1994 Meerlust Rubicon (£12.75) is one of South Africa’s finest reds, very dense and serious. Selfridges’ California range is also impressive and inevitably rather pricey; however, check out 1996 Il Podere dell’Olivos Barbera (£11.50) with bags of wild fruits and bitter black cherries, or 1996 Cuvaison Chardonnay (£14.50) which dents the wallet but will age magnificently.
It’s probably no surprise that Champagne and Port virtually occupy a whole corner: Taylor’s Quinta de Terra Feita 1982 is quite good value at £18.50 and should be drinking well this Christmas. To celebrate in true style, dig deep and go for the ab- fab-ly superb 1990 Bollinger Grande Année (a heart-stopping £44): very rich, classy and complex. Wines are also available by the glass in the food hall to accompany a wide variety of snacks. Selfridges’ House Chardonnay and Merlot are pleasant simple quaffers at £2.95 for a 175ml glass, which hurts a little when you see a bottle for sale at £4.95 in the shop.


January 1999 issue 371: Wine with curry
Drinking wine probably doesn’t spring to mind when you get off the bus in Rusholme and cross the threshold of your favourite ‘bring your own’ restaurant. And if you’re into vindaloo or similar death
by chilli, stick to lager or water. However, the subtle (and not so subtle) diversity of flavours on offer at many eateries surely demands wine as a partner. But what works best? Cue a wine and curry tasting at the Darbar, for research purposes of course.

The wines: 1998 Wirra Wirra Vineyards Riesling, £7.99 Oddbins (zippy and limey); 1997 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Chardonnay, £5.49/99 widely available (ripe and peachy); 1997 Château de Sours rosé, £5.99 Majestic (you’ll have to wait for the 98 as I bought the last two!), £6.49 for the 1996 at Wine Cellar, Fallowfield (very strawberries and cream); 1994 Château le Coteau Margaux, £11.95 Willoughby’s (austere but did open up); 1997 Château de Villeneuve Saumur-Champigny (red), £8.25 Selfridges (herby with medium weight). The dishes: poppadums and chutnies, Mutar Paneer, Chicken Makhani, Lamb Jalfrezi, Chicken Karahi, Chana Masala, Saag, Fish Masala.
The conclusions:
Strangely, the Riesling was less versatile than expected, although a super wine on its own. Best match – mango chutney. Sweeter, German Spätlese Riesling can work well with spicier dishes. Aussie Chardonnay – sound all-rounder, particularly with the fish and minty raitha, but not the mango and or similar sweetly flavoured. This (dry) rosé has mountains of fruit and was a top performer, especially with the vegetable dishes. Also try a Chilean rosé. The Margaux, like most traditional Bordeaux red, was too tannic and dry for these dishes and clashed with the spices; have it with a steak. Perhaps a fruitier, softer New World Cabernet or Merlot would go better.

The Loire red was interesting and fared better, being lighter and higher in acidity. Pretty good with the chicken, spinach and fish; OK with the lamb although the combination improved on second taste. In general – full and fruity whites and rosés seem to be the best bet, but avoid oaky wines. A little sweetness and acidity can also help to balance. With reds, go for ripe fruit or spice but low tannin, although overall not a marriage made in heaven.


August 2000: Booth’s Supermarkets
Preston based Booth’s Supermarkets (head office 01772 251701) do fit the profile of that cliché “traditional family-owned grocers,” which they are even if the original quaint corner shops have been supplemented by huge superstores. Booth’s number only about 25, mostly in Lancashire, and it’s worth a visit if you’re out of the Manchester area to check out their comprehensive and competitive wine range. The nearest stores are in Knutsford, Chorley and Ilkley (W. Yorks).

So, to give a few recommendations, I’ve picked an imaginary mixed case:
1998 Concerto Lambrusco Reggiano (£6.49): weird, sweet and sour fizzy red with plummy fruit and dry-ish finish.
1999 Marktree White Semillon/Chardonnay, S.E. Australia (£3.99): smooth quaffer with peaches ‘n’ cream plus a tad of mineral notes.
Booth’s Manzanilla (£4.69): classic dry Sherry style with toasted nuts and tangy bite.
1997/8 Chateau Tahbilk Marsanne, Victoria (£5.99): fab Aussie white with perfumed honeysuckle and oily richness.
1999 Life from Stone Sauvignon Blanc, Springfield Estate (£6.99): one of South Africa’s finest with piercing asparagus and zippy but subtle length.
1994 Castillo de Almansa Reserva, Spain (£4.49): mature yet vibrant red with liquorice and rustic edges.
1999 Finca el Retiro Malbec, Argentina (£5.79): chunky and grippy with tangy plum and biscuit undertones!
1998 Andrews Hope Spice Route Red (£5.99): 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon showing nice combo of red pepper then richer earth and game characters.
1997 Ironstone Shiraz/Grenache, Margaret River (£6.49): surprising value, Western Australian (generally wines from this area are dearer) giving plenty of oak, pepper and ‘farmyard’ fruit, for want of a better word!
1997 Archidamo Primitivo di Manduria (£6.99): voluptuous southern Italian warmth with cloves, earthiness and ‘tar’ fullness.
1997 Faugères Gilbert Alquier (£7.69): dear for this area but lovely smoky intensity with rich berries and liquorice finish. Superb, one of the stars at a recent Booth's press tasting.
1998 Lange DOC Nebbiolo, Vajra (£11.99): much better than overpriced Barolo and has similar sour cherry attack and dry fruity length.


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