York Wine Club

Jim Helsby & Terry Herbert of The Wine Club

We’ve long been fond of the York Beer and Wine Shop, a specialist shop tucked away off Fishergate that does what it says and more.

Jim Helsby is the man behind it and a bit of a York legend. There’s been his long-standing beer column in the York Press and he’s been running this precious little shop since 1985.

Today it  stocks 250 bottled beers from home and abroad with the likes of  Cropton’s ‘Monkman’s Slaughter’, Hambleton’s ‘Nightmare’ as well as scores of German and Belgian beers and Timothy Taylor’s on draught. Then there are ciders, both draught and bottled, and some of the loveliest well-cared for cheeses anywhere: Berkswell, Stinking Bishop, unpasteurised Brie de Meaux.

Wine, though, is a relatively new addition. An interesting selection, particularly strong on Spanish wines  that led to the collaboration in 1995 with wine merchant Terry Herbert and together they run The Wine Club.

Once a month they email you with the offer of one or two mixed cases of good value wines from growers you don’t find in supermarkets. You can collect or – within reason – they’ll deliver. Click here for this month’s offer. It’s a fair indication of the range, value and unfussy style of the club.

Terry will also organise a personal wine tasting for groups of 8-12 and every few months he organises wine tastings with supper. In April it was at Melton’s, on 11th July it is the Dawnay Arms at Newton on Ouse, for a tutored tasting of Langeudoc wines, a three course supper, plenty of wine, all for £35. Not surprisingly at such prices, these events are usually a sell-out so book now. We’ve booked our table, so watch this space, we’ll be reporting back.

Sicily’s Grape Harvest

This year’s grape harvest is in full swing across Europe, including Yorkshire where the Northern most commercial vineyard, Ryedale Vineyards, begin picking this week.
I’ll be joining them to help next week with the Yorkshire vintage, but I’m lucky enough to be just back from the rather hotter harvest in South West Sicily, where I’ve been filming for the family firm Planeta.

The island has the longest harvest in the world, spanning three months from the beginning of August because of the widely differing terroir, from the chilly slopes of volcano Mount Etna to the very warm coastal regions round Menfi.

This gives innovative winemakers the opportunity to use different grape varieties to produce wines which are now internationally famous.

We were filming the  Chardonnay harvest, still being done lovingly by hand to guarantee premium quality, and it goes from picking to pressing in less than an hour as Planeta has six boutique wineries dotted round the island. It’s just as well as the temperatures were hitting 38 degrees C by late morning.

Alessio Planeta, the chief winemaker, has made the family name by producing stunning wines with indigenous varieties, and experimenting with what grows well where. He works on respecting his land, the climate and getting the best out of grapes which were once only used for mass, cheap, not great quality production.

Their entry wine is La Segreta, available as a red or white blend. Both are fresh, perky and delicious as is their soft fruity Syrah rose.

Their benchmark wine, Santa Cecilia is a serious blockbuster produced from the island’s most important grape nero d’avola, and has won worldwide acclaim.

But for a real treat head for their juicy cherry-like Cerasuolo di Vittoria, made from nero d’avola and frappato, which is a great match for any Italian food and is approachable. And their latest white wine Carricante, grown at altitude on Etna, has just been released delivering fresh minerality but with finesse.

I love these wines. They’re not cheap but they’re beautifully made and offer an exciting new tastes if you’re looking for something different.

They’re on the wine list at Sasso in Harrogate, L’Antica Locanda in York, and Salvos in Leeds. Le Langhe in York has a small range for sale in its shop, and you can also find them at Czerwik wine merchants in Brighouse. Probably the biggest choice is mail order through Valvona & Crolla

International Wine Challenge

One of my favourite places to browse for and buy wine has just been awarded small independent wine merchant of the year in the prestigious International Wine Challenge, which announced its winners at a glittering dinner in London.

Just over the Yorkshire border in Clitheroe, but so close that we can call it one of our own, D Byrne and Co is housed in a Victorian building which has changed little since the company began in the 1870s, a rabbit warren of rooms, creaking floorboards, with shelves, floor space and underground cellars stacked to bursting with thousands of bottles. You feel like Alice in Wonderland, round every corner a new surprise, a bottle you’ve not seen before and plenty of big name wines too. In short it’s a magical shopping experience,  the polar opposite of starkly lit wine warehouses. Knowledgeable staff, decent prices and a staggering selection – and they’re happy to let you browse at your own pace.

D Byrne is now run by the great grandsons of its founder Denis, who used  to cross the fells regularly by horse and cart supplying groceries, animal feeds and a few wines and spirits to farmers in the area.

The boys, who are also previous winners, shared this year’s honour with London based wine bar and English wine champions Artisan And Vine.

The awards, probably the largest in the world, singled out Tesco as having best own label wine range – the Finest*, which  has been championed here before, and they won three of the six best Great Value Champion categories with wines from the range, Champagne, rosé from Spain and sweet wine from de Bortoli in Oz. Waitrose won Supermarket of the Year, and Majestic the High Street chain of the year. [Helen]

You can see all the winners on www.internationalwinechallenge.com
D Byrne and Co, 12 King Street, Clitheroe, BB7 2EP. Tel 01200 423152 www.dbyrne-finewines.co.uk

In Praise of Retsina

My twenties and thirties were spent in a love affair with Greece. First island hopping, staying in cheap rooms suggested by touts at the port, and then renting period houses in the dusty old towns of the Dodecanese or Cyclades.

Sophisticated it wasn’t. The main wine on offer was Demestica Achaia, inevitably called Domestos, invariably badly stored in the heat, so we resorted to ouzo and cold beers. It was that or the dreaded Retsina, served in tavernas where the food was cheap and cheerful, fresh, but with little variety.

I had no stomach for it then, and much as the holidays were fantastic, homecoming meant Italian food with a cheeky glass of Chianti was a treat.

I hadn’t been to Greece for a decade, but an invite to a friend’s villa in North East Corfu, the stamping ground of rich Russians and Peter Mandelson, showed how much had changed. The village shop stocked Krug Champagne (well, the Rothschilds’ Estate was just down the road) and a welter of wines with tasting notes. But the emphasis was on aged reds and although we drank decently we didn’t have the best of what Greece can now offer.

Fast forward to a beach front lunch at the fashionable Toulas in Agni, and a very modern dish of spicy prawns on a bed of intriguingly nutty rice with herbs and pine nuts. Each prawn shell on, but with all the nasty bits excavated from the head. Pretty as a picture. Prices to match. What to drink? The waiter suggested Retsina, a steal at 4 euros, a 50cl bottle, compared with the same for a glass of sauvignon of dubious provenance. Kourtakis is the label to go for though there are some more boutique brands on the market. And what do you know, it was perfect. The fresh, cold, light and slightly resinated glass of vino and the oil, spices and shellfish were like best friends. Just goes to prove that the Greeks probably always knew best.

What I’m Drinking Now

If, like me, you’ve been trying to wean yourself from carb. heavy winter comfort food onto a fresher salad and fish regime, you’ll need a wine to match and something which lifts the spirits, and suits the lengthening evenings. (well I’m ever the optimist!).

Enter The Rude Mechanicals’ Ephemera 2010, a floral white made in Australia from viognier and pinot gris. I was introduced to this wine by a friend who had discovered it in a tasting at Byrne’s in Clitheroe.

It’s unusual – combining musky orange blossom with very light tropical fruit flavours, with a whiff of lemon grass on the nose. Perfect for an Asian inspired warm salad and ticks the spirit lifting box completely. This should retail at about £9 a bottle but I also found it as part of an interesting mixed case being offered by Betton Wines in Scarborough. This outfit is primarily wholesale, serving the restaurant trade but they’ve recently started a wine club and the mixed case is their first offering. Billed as offering wines you’ll never find in a supermarket, it’s not a budget offering but the selection looks knowledgeable and intriguing.

In the supermarkets, I’ve been enjoying another tropical fruit driven wine in The Ned, Pinot Grigio 2010, NZ, which is often on offer at £6.99, down from £9.99, at Waitrose and Majestic  (like its equally good Sauvignon Blanc). This is not as subtle and multi layered as the Ephemera, but is about as far from the usual flabby, characterless PG on offer in many outlets as you can get. Think pear drops and pineapple chunks from your childhood sweetie bags. Big mouthwatering, fresh, yummy vino. Matched salmon in parcels with ginger, lemon and spring onion perfectly.

For a treat, we opened a Ch Musar 2004, Lebanon, to go with a pot roasted guinea fowl with quince. I love this wine and have enjoyed it for a couple of decades – but for a while I felt it had lost its way. This is bang on form, managing to combine the sweetness of oak, with savoury notes, supple tannins and warm stone fruit notes. Definitely spirit lifting (and wallet emptying at £18.99 but worth every drop).

Harrogate Fine Wines has this and a good selection of other vintages. Waitrose also stocks it. We also recently enjoyed it’s baby brother, Musar Jeune Rouge, which surprising HFW doesn’t list, but is available from Flourish and Prosper in Howden at around £8. Spicy, warm red conjuring up the mystery of the Middle East and promising that summer can still be found in a glass.

Be My Valentine

Normally I head a mile from marketing hype encouraging us to big it up for certain occasions and Valentine’s Day where you can’t miss the marketing telling us to invest in chocolates and fizz for loved ones, preferably something pink, should be no different.

But I have a confession to make. It’s my anniversary, and some years ago my romantic fate was sealed by a shoe box containing a bunch of white freesias and a bottle of Pol Roger champagne, left anonymously on my desk.

I was then a TV researcher, and in a production meeting had opined that proper champagne and an armful of white flowers was the way to a girl’s heart. They were.

Fast forward down the years, we’re still together and Pol Roger still does it for me (find it at Majestic £42.00 or £37.00 when you buy two). On the dry side, with a very fine mousse of bubbles, it’s a delicious mouthful. If you have to go pink, then my choice would be Billecart Salmon Rose – and with this why wouldn’t you. It’s pale pink, raspberry scented, elegant and beautifully made by a family firm. Harvey Nichols in Leeds has it in a gift pack or search the internet for the best deal, but expect to pay upwards of £45 a bottle.

But for the best deal in terms of choice and quality from small and medium producers,  I’d now head to the Champagne Warehouse, a family company run out of Boston Spa which has a fabulous choice of sparkling wines and champagnes, all personally sourced. Plenty of choice around the £25 mark, and if you call them, they’ll make suggestions when you tell them the style of wine you like.

Their good value crowd pleaser, Triolet Brut, which is light fruity and easy drinking, was served at their stall at York Food Festival.  At £18.99 a bottle it’s great value – and the producers also sell grapes to Billecart Salmon.

Want an off  piste gift? Flourish and Prosper’s Sean Welsh has put together a fun box of six wines for £50. Amongst the bottles are Passion Has Red Lips, a Cab Shiraz from Some Young Punks in Oz, St. Amour, Cru Beaujolais from France and Pasion de Bobal, from Utiel Requena in Spain, described as having a passionate and intense heart. You get the picture. Knowing Sean the wines will be delightful and interesting – and probably preferable to just one bottle of champagne. Wouldn’t fit in a shoe box though.




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