Order of the Golden Sabre

Sabrage logoTwo hundred years ago officers of the French cavalry under the command of Napoleon would celebrate victory in battle by opening a bottle of champagne but instead of searching around in their saddlebags for a corkscrew they would simply slice the top of the bottle off with a sabre. This is the art of Sabrage in which a swords edge meets with the top of the bottle, the annulus, along the seam which is the weakest point just below the cork.

Sabrage 13This proud and dashing tradition has now been revived and can now be performed by any budding dragoon under the tuition of the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or (Club of the Golden Sabre) founded in France in 1986 in which the UK branch was formed in 1999. The society hold various events around the country in which everyone attending can have a go at sabering a bottle of Champagne to become a Subreur the entry rank and the first step in the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or other ranks as you go up the chain are Chevalier Sabreur, Officier, Commandeur and Grand Commandeur.
Smith&Wollensky logo2On the 16th of August 2016 I was kindly invited to such an event at Smith & Wollensky a classic American steakhouse in the heart of London run by Operations director Nathan Evans who also happens to be a Grand Commandeur of the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or. The evenings event was sponsored by Champagne house Perrier-Jouét supplying bottles of their Grand Brut for sabering.

S&Wseafood
Selection of Smith & Wollensky seafood

On arrival we were asked to sign a disclaimer whilst being offered a glass of Perrier-Jouét Champagne.  Men in green cloaks which signifies seniority in the society were already busy setting up, arranging tables with suitably chilled bottles of Champagne and a big heavy curtain in front to catch the bottle top as it flies from the neck. The Grand Commandeur Nathan Evans introduced himself and gave us a quick history of the art of Sabrage ending with the immortal words “the only thing you can do with a sabraged bottle is drink it !”.

Introductions over Nathan then gave us a quick demonstration slicing the top of the bottle with elegant ease as the cork still firmly in the neck shot off with a loud pop into the curtain with enthusiastic applause.

sabrage 11
On my way to becoming a Sabreur, at the first attempt !

Soon after it was our turn, we were called up two at a time aided by Senior members Nathan Evans and David Herbert. Suddenly the room was filled with excitement as loud pops like gunfire filled the room as bottles were sliced with golden sabres as guests became Sabreurs after successfully hacking off the top of the champagne bottles, Sabreur being the entry rank after the first successful slicing. After completion we were presented with the top of the bottle in a velvet pouch along with a  Sabreur certificate.

Sabrage 2
After a successful Sabrage a photo call, even got to try on the cape and hat

I was lucky and hacked off the top of the bottle first time, probably due to the fact I was relaxed having finished a couple of glasses of champagne before hand. The secret is to find the seam in the bottle and run the sword along the bottle in a smooth action with the blade not leaving the bottle hitting the annulus (the rim below the cork) and make sure to follow through as you would in a golf swing.

Links to Sabrage and how it’s done…..

http://www.goldensabre.co.uk/?page_id=19

As the evening continued we were treated to a selection of fantastic seafood including Oysters, lobster, crab and prawns as well as Smith & Wollensky’s famous aged cured steak, all washed down with the fabulous Champagne (see below for tasting notes).

Fabulous venue, fabulous hosts and a fantastic evening had by all, many thanks to Smith & Wollensky, Nathan, David and of course Perrier-Jouét.

 

Perrier – Jouét Grand Brut Champagne.

sabrage 10Pinot Noir/Meuneir and Chardonnay

A light straw colour, lively mousse with a steady stream of fine bubbles.

Yeasty on the nose, slightly oaky with a hint of crisp apples and pears

Taste – dry, full flavoured, slightly flowery with citrus fruits, brioche, pear and green apples

 

 

Graham Norton Sauvi GN on Blanc 2015

GNorton SBWhen I first came across this bottle at a Majestic tasting  my initial thought was it’s just another celebrity endorsed mass produced bottle of plonk, well, I couldn’t have been more wrong, this was a sheer delight and generally well received by everyone who tasted it.

Viewers of Graham Norton’s chat show will normally see him within reach of a very large glass of white wine in which his tipple of choice is normally Sauvignon Blanc. So with the help of  guys from Invivo, Co founder Tim Lightbourne and winemaker Rob Cameron who transported 6 different samples of Sauvignon Blanc from their New Zealand Marlborough growers to London where Graham Norton joined up and helped in the blending process creating his very own bottle.

The label itself looked strange at first until you realise that it is actually quite clever with the emphasis on the GN (Graham Norton) and it definitely stands out.

In the glass the aromatic aromas hit you straight way filling the room with tropical fruits, grass and passion-fruit, stick your nose in the glass it will make your eyes water it’s so intense. On first sip this tasted fresh and zingy, the tropical fruits are evident especially passion-fruit  along with sharp limes and lemons. A little hint of freshly cut grass and a little herby thing going on in the background make this a refreshingly delicious glass of wine and at £8.99 bit of a bargain I’d say !

Now my wife and daughter are big ‘Sovvy Bee’ fans  especially from New Zealand and they both liked this a lot and I must admit I enjoyed it and I’d say it’s probably one of the better Sauvignon Blancs I’ve tasted recently, Nice one Graham !.

8corks

 My Rating 8/10 Corks

£8.99 on Multi buy at Majestic

Don’t like cheap fizz – Think Again

Louvel F ChampChampagne, generally a pretty expensive purchase, especially the good stuff and mostly opened only on special occasions. Now thanks to Asda   you can open up a bottle of bubbly whenever you feel the need for fizz with this inexpensive Louvel Fontaine Champagne, wait for it, at an unbelievable price of £10, yes ! a mere tenner.

I must be honest I saw this on the shelf at £10 and I walked straight passed it not giving it a second thought dismissing it a cheap rubbish but this time I picked up a bottle having read some pretty good reviews in the press and online recently and decided to give it a go.

This Champagne made with Pinot Noir 70%, Chardonnay 20% and Pinot Meunier is not produced by a co-operative but made for Asda by a family run house called Champagne Gruet  based in Buxeuil part of the Aube (Champagne- Ardenne) region of North East France.

So what’s it like ? well, I opened a suitably chilled bottle for family and friends on a warm humid evening and listening to the Mmm’s after the first sips it was safe to say that everyone was enjoying their glass.

When initially poured this was extremely fizzy with a steady stream of fine bubbles and a pale straw like colour. Nose was fairly muted but it’s the taste where this shines, fresh and bright, dry (not overly) with well-balanced acidity and just enough depth of flavour. Not much in the way of toastiness but full of citrus fruits and a touch of vanilla and a reasonably long finish.

I actually enjoyed this better as it warmed up and settled in the glass, enhancing the overall fruitiness. If you like your fizz toasty and nutty then this might not be for you but I thought  this was a delicious fresh tasting Champagne and seemed to be enjoyed by everyone who sampled it.

Don’t take my word for it, go out and buy a bottle, see what you think and let me know !

8corks

My Rating 8/10 Corks

Asda £10

Summer whites – If we ever get a summer !

Lasmoras&BonterraA nice chilled glass of white wine sitting outside enjoying the sunshine, not quite, this is England remember. In between dodging showers or being blown away in a mini hurricane we Brits brave the elements at any cost, it’s coming up to the middle of July and the weather still shows no sign of improving.

Two recent whites I’ve had on the rare good days are the Surprisingly good ‘Finca las Moras’ Pinot Grigio 2015 from the Co op and a Californian ‘Bonterra’ Chardonnay 2013 bought on offer from Waitrose.

Let me say I’m a big fan of wines from the Co op even my smaller local store has a fantastic selection often discounted and occasionally finding a real gem.

First the Argentinian  ‘Las Moras’, although far from being a gem it’s still a pretty good Pinot Grigio and I can’t remember the last time I said that even though I don’t generally drink a lot of it. Bought for £6.99 (regular price) from my local Co op, light golden straw colour in the glass with pronounced aromas of pears and tropical fruits. Pears again dominant in the taste with a hint of oranges and peaches, dry with a slightly sweet finish and utterly delicious.

A Californian Chardonnay next but a little bit more disappointing than the Pinot Grigio. Rich golden colour with an intense nose of Lemon curd and apple pie. On first sip it had a fairly creamy texture bit like vanilla custard, pineapple evident with a hefty dose of oak but the finish was slightly on the harsh side. I was a little let down by this it just seemed a bit unbalanced but by no means bad.

Left a little of the Chardonnay to taste 24hrs later and  it was much more approachable with that harshness on the finish softening giving a much better mouth-feel.

Looking out of the window as I’m typing this, yes, it’s still raining and blowing a gale.

7.5corks

Las Moras Pinot Grigio

My Rating 7.5/10 Corks

 

6corks

Bonterra Chardonnay

My Rating 6/10 Corks

The unexpected delights of Txakoli wine

Txikoli wine (451 x 600)
Serving Txakoli in a San Sebastian Bar

After returning from a ten-day holiday in Northern Spain’s Basque country visiting Bilbao and San Sebastian my overriding wine memory will be the delights of sampling the local hard to pronounce Txakoli (Chock-Ho-Lee)  wine. Go into any local bar and you will see bottles of this unusual wine proudly displayed and when ordered, theatrically poured.

Txakoli is produced in the Spanish provinces of the Basque region where the climate is wet and cool as we found out during our stay and much more suited to white wines.

Tasting the wine is a refreshing if bracing experience, mostly low in alcohol (generally around 10 – 11.5% ABV) and great as an aperitif. It is an acquired taste and maybe not for everyone, it has flavours of crisp green apples, touch of lemon, a slight salty tang (salinity) and high acidity with a tingling fizzy  effervescent finish which I found wonderfully refreshing.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the whole Txakoli experience is the way the wine is served and seemed to be a bit of a competition amongst the bar staff seeing who could pour it from the greatest height (some pouring from above their heads). Pouring from a height aerates the wine causing it to froth and bubble up and just makes the wine more lively and fun to drink but do stand back when they do this because a lot of it ends up splashing on the counter. Most bars also tend to serve Txakoli in tumblers rather than wine glasses and from what I could gather for no other reason other than being traditional.

As I said earlier it is an acquired taste and not everyone will like it but I urge if you are visiting Spain’s Basque region go into a bar order Txakoli not just for the taste but the whole experience of being served, I thought it was wonderful and cheap and I ended up not paying more than €1.80 a glass anywhere.

8corks

 

My Rating 8/10 Corks

 

 

 

Rustenberg John X Merriman 2012

Rustenburg John X Merrriman 2012South Africa takes on Bordeaux with this powerful beast of a wine from the Stellenbosch region, named in honour of John Xavier Merriman who revitalised the Rustenberg farm in 1892 after it suffered badly due to the Phylloxera crisis and went on to establish Rustenberg wines.

A blend of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec.

This is an impressive looking bottle and even more impressive when poured and you stick your nose in the glass with it’s powerful and heady aromas of  blackcurrants dark forest fruits, cloves, wood (quite pronounced pencil shavings) and smoke.

On first taste it’s a bit of an intense untamed beast, rich, full flavoured, dark fruits, pine needles, oaky, liquorice, cloves. Slightly savoury but it’s the sheer power of the dark fruit and wood that dominate.

This needed air and would benefit from decanting for a couple of hours which I should have done, although it did mellow slightly with time in the glass. This would also perhaps be even better if layed down for a couple of years and you will find you may have to lay down after drinking it.

RustenbergI absolutely loved this wine, loved its raw brooding power and rich complex taste and have no hesitation in recommending it and if you’re a fan of Bordeaux wines give this a go you won’t be disappointed.

8.5corks

My Rating 8.5/10 Corks

Waitrose around £15

A quick review – Majestic Summer Showcase 2016

MajesticwintertitleI recently attended another Summer wine Tasting event at my local Majestic store in Ruislip. As always it was a brilliant evening with lots of great wines on show, (Majestic do seem to know what they’re doing when it comes to these showcase tastings).The Whites and Rose’s were the stars and it’s probably the first time I’ve ever left the store having bought a case without a red in sight.

Among the highlights were….

WP_20160519_041 (600 x 337)
M de Minuty and Haut Vol classy Rosé’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WP_20160527_001 (337 x 599)Kumeu River Pinot Gris 2014 (£9.99 on Multi buy) – Fabulous NZ wine with tropical flavours, floral, peppery and slightly herbal. Dry but with a rich texture but not at all cloying, would pair brilliantly with Asian and spicy food. This enjoyed by everyone and a big hit on the night.

Cotes du Rhone Villages 2015 ( £8.99 on Multi Buy) – This was a late decision and was brought out towards the end of the evening but again it went down well with everyone. Lees ageing, rich and complex with peaches and again slightly floral.

Summer is arriving, well I think it is, so Rosé’s start making an appearance and there were two very nice ones out for us notably the M de Minuty Rosé 2105, Cótes de Provence (Grenache, Cinsault and Tibouren) and the Haut Vol Rosé 2014  ( Grenache & Carrignan)   (see picture above) both French, both extremely drinkable and highly recommended even though I’m not a big Rosé drinker myself.

Of the four reds two really stood out, although a bit on the expensive side these were the Petalos Bierzo 2014 (£13.99 on Multi Buy) from Northern Spain and the Angels Share Two Hands Shiraz 2014 (£17.99 on Multi Buy) from McClaren Vale Australia.

Thanks again to the guys at Majestic Ruislip for another fantastic evening tasting some pretty decent wines, ended up buying a case of whites and went home happy and content.