Saturday, 8 September 2012

Food Futures and Sustainable Fishing

Food Futures is a partnership that embraces a wide range of individuals and organisations with an interest in improving food in Manchester. Its ambitious goal is to create a culture of good food in the city, based on the belief that good food is enjoyable, safe, nutritious, environmentally sustainable, and produced ethically and fairly; and that everyone in Manchester has a right to good food – no-one should have this right denied because of where they live, their income or their background. 

The Food Futures strategy embraces the whole food agenda for the city – from improving health, tackling health inequalities and reducing the environmental impact of food, to building sustainable communities and strengthening the local economy.

In October 2010 The Market Restaurant gained the Food Futures Silver Award.  Not only did this recognise the work that has gone on here over thirty years but also raised our awareness of a range of issues.

Although the health benefits of eating fish for instance are clear, with over fishing, depleting stocks and environmentally degrading fishing methods, it is difficult to know what species to eat with a clear conscience. We were alerted to the work of the Marine Conservation Society who have produced the Good Fish Guide to advise which species to eat and which to avoid, including the reasons not to eat them.

Some that are to be avoided are from unsustainable stocks; others are long-lived, slow growing, late to mature and vulnerable to overfishing; some are caught by dredging the sea bed, damaging natural marine habitat and disturbing sealife. 

Those that are recommended are from sustainable stocks, certified organic sources, line caught or have healthy stock numbers.

The advice given by the Marine Conservation Society is provided as a guide to consumers and buyers to make an environmentally informed choice about the fish they buy. The information does not include any advice on health benefits or risks associated with eating any particular fish species.

As part of our menu planning we are able to search the background of any fish we seek to put on the menu.  This does not always correspond with what is available but it has certainly raised our awareness.

For easy reference MCS has also produced a Pocket Good Fish Guide. We predict that it will not be long before guests refer to it in the Restaurant.  Each of the fish have been given a rating to enable the reader to quickly identify species that are considered to be sustainably and sensitively harvested, and those species which are not.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Wines of New Zealand - James Milton Poverty Bay

New Zealand at it’s best is fresh, innovative, approachable, surprising, beautiful, uniquely stylish, understated and excellence that speaks for itself.  The same can be said for it’s wines.  

I caught up with New Zealand wine grower James Milton recently when he visited Manchester and tasted some of his wines with him.  I was so impressed that I determined to share the experience with our wine club.  Four out of five wines of the wines reviewed here today are from his vineyards.  Since meeting James he has been named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2012 Queen’s Birthday Honours.  A well deserved honour, he was awarded the MNZM in recognition for his services to the wine industry.

Poverty Bay, on the North East coast of the North island, is a major grape-growing region, where the main centre of Gisborne was the first part of New Zealand sighted by Cook's expedition in 1769. Finding little, other than the wary local Maori, he named it Poverty Bay and sailed south .  

In 1984 James and Annie Millton established their winery on the banks of the Te Arai River near Manutuke where the early settlers first planted grapevines in 1871. This region is situated on the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand in the winegrowing region of Gisborne. Originally Annie's father, Mr John Clark, had developed vineyards on his estate at 'Opou' in Manutuke during the late 1960's. 

James and Annie returned to Gisborne after experience gained in the famous wine regions of France and Germany including Champagne Bollinger, Maison Sichel in Bordeaux and Weingut Kurstner in Rheinhessen. By 1983 they had extensively researched and replanted major parts of the families’ grape growing business at the Opou Vineyard and Riverpoint Vineyard before, in 1984, establishing the winemaking and barrel aging facility in the present Te Arai Vineyard.  Further plantings were established on the river plateaus at either end of this vineyard. Clos Monique and Clos Samuel

1.  Opou Chardonnay
Strong in flavour, crisp in the initial taste and lingers seamlessly on the palate. The taste is soft and dry giving impressions of almond and acacia honey. Very well integrated fruit tannins balance the acid. The prolonged oak ageing has contributed fragrance of fresh bread and nougat.  This wine has the ability to go on developing in the bottle for at least another 5 years developing greater complexity with more honeyed characters. Listed in Oz Clarke’s Top 250 Wines for 2011.

2.  Riverpoint Viognier 
The Viognier was harvested by hand, fermented in small stainless steel tanks and old French oak barrels. The aromatic delight of Viognier is enhanced by partnering with foods high in Umami flavours, which also give a perceived impression of ‘saltiness’. A fine thread of residual sweetness intensifies the overall appeal as an aperitif with aged white cheeses. Air New Zealand ‘Best Other White Category’ Winner 2011.

3. La Cote Pinot Noir
A very Burgundian style of Pinot Noir, with beautiful earthy, mushroom, cherry and freshly-picked strawberry flavours that dance on the palate. The fruit is ably supported by fine tannins and the light spice and richness that oak ageing has brought to the wine. Lip-smackingly good Pinot Noir with the class to mature further in bottle.

4.  Crazy by Nature ‘Cosmo’ malbec/ shiraz/ viognier
Convivial, buoyantly fruity red that's like 'a bouncy redhead in a summer dress'! So says winemaker, James Millton. It shows notes of dark chocolate and booze-soaked maraschino cherries with a hint of cigar and spice. A great fun wine that offers something a bit different from New Zealand. Soil Association Best Product Award 2010.

5.  Rock Ferry Late Harvest Riesling 37.5 cl
The only non Milton wine this evening.  An opulent dessert wine that has layers of ginger, summer orchard fruit, citrus and vanilla beautifully woven through this wine. As with all great sweet wines it has fresh acidity too that keeps all that sweet fruit neatly in place. Refreshingly sweet. Decanter World Wine Awards Gold Medal 2011.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

It's a Jungle Out There! The Art of Wine and Food Matching

On the second Wednesday of every month we hold a food and wine matching evening,  The theme is usually a country or region or sometimes a grape variety.  Guests get to try five wines and in conjunction with Chris my Head Chef we match five starter sized dishes to the wines.  We try not to copy dishes from the country or region concerned but use the best of local ingredients to complement the wines.  Sourcing the wines, writing the notes, doing the food matching and then loosely chairing the evening has got to be the best and most enviable parts of my job.

Many of our guests arrive expecting a scientific insight along with a set of rules for the perfect matching of food with wine and are often surprised by my answer that there are no rules! Or at least, for every "rule" that there is there is also an exception! The reasons for this being that there are almost limitless possible permutations for wine and food combinations, not to mention personal taste and mood, general ambience and companions.

I believe that the most we can do is to try to follow some rough guidelines that may help to prevent the agonisingly embarrassing act of getting it horribly wrong! At the end of the day it’s your preference and that of your guests that really matters. Enjoying the occasion is what this is really all about - so don't get too serious about it!

The fact is there are very few extraordinarily good combinations when it comes to wine and food, just as there are very few combinations that are truly terrible. In the vast majority of matching, the wine and the food coexist peacefully, if unexcitingly. In a modest number of matches, the wine and the food accentuate the flavours in one another, and both taste better as a result!

The basic idea of matching food with wine I believe is to fuse the two flavours together to create a third. And magic can happen when you do. So here are a few classic combinations which never fail to please when searching for that perfect bottle of wine to accompany your meal.

  • Foie Gras and Sauternes 
  • Grilled or Fried Fish - A dry white, possibly with some acidity, especially where this is needed to contrast richness of a sauce or perhaps if the fish is an oily variety.
  • Seafood (shellfish etc) - A dry white, ideally with a bit of acidity. Oysters and Chablis
  • Salmon with Pinot Noir
  • Roast Chicken/Turkey - A good mature cabernet-sauvignon based wine such as a fine Bordeaux works extremely well with roast poultry. Also very good is a Pinot-Noir based red Burgundy. Also a good Beaujolais Cru, especially a mature full-bodied one. 
  • Game, Venison - Good robust red Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Rhone wine or a new-world equivalent
  • Red meats (beef, lamb) - A good robust Claret or Burgundy - or perhaps an oaky Rioja - to some extent this depends on how the meat is prepared and accompanied. Rarer beef or lamb may be better with lighter fruitier wines.
  • Asian/Oriental Food - To some extend this depends on how spicy it is - milder cuisines such as Chinese or Thai will work well with spicy or slightly acidic whites (such as Riesling) served quite cold - or equally well with light fruity reds such as Beaujolais. Very spicy foods such as hot curries probably fall into the problem category - and it may be best to go for an alternative to wine, as even the most fully-flavoured wines will be wasted if not a match for the intensity of flavours a hot curry can provide.  My personal favourite here would be a Chilean Carmenere
  • Dark chocolate with Californian or South African Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cheeses - The varieties of cheese available, and consequently the combinations that work well, are huge in number and we can only generalise here; a book could be written on this subject alone. Generally speaking, stronger flavoured cheeses demand more robustly flavoured wines. Classic combinations include good strong cheddar with robust red wines, port and stilton and sweet white wines with soft creamy cheeses.  On the whole I find red wines work better with most cheeses. 

Probably more rubbish has been written on the subject of matching food with wine than on any other aspect of wine enjoyment!  The key is to experiment, identify what you like and go for it - it might not be conventional, but your own, personal taste is far more important than convention. It is important to remember that matching food and wine is essentially a highly personal thing - there is no definitive "right" or "wrong", and anyone who says that there is is talking rubbish.


Matching food and wine is fun but it can be a minefield, and is particularly hard to get right for many people at the same time. My advice to anyone trying this (eg at a dinner party) would be as follows:-

  • be aware of your guests preferences - is there anyone who dislikes all red wines, for example?
  • avoid combinations known to be contentious, unless you know for sure that your guests are OK with them
  • try to avoid including difficult or problem dishes in your menu
  • offer choice to your guests - always have red and white wines available, ideally several styles, and make sure they are at the correct temperature - there's nothing worse than trying to warm up a cold bottle of claret quickly, for example, or throwing a white in the freezer for 20 minutes.
  • have a decanter available to expedite the process of wine breathing

Above all don't take it too seriously - most combinations are at least acceptable to most people, even if unconventional.

Until the next time!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Wine Tasting for Pleasure and the helpful Sommelier!

Wine tasting for pleasure?

Some may think it a dark art practised in restaurants by these rather intimidating superior folk “sommeliers” accompanied by lots of sipping, swishing, and swallowing.  Certainly not a pleasure and many cringe at the thought of the “ritual” of tasting a wine in a restaurant.  In fact we have customers whose early love of wine has been ruthlessly squashed by one of these superior beings because they didn’t know their chardonnay from their sauvignon blanc or their merlot from their syrah.  

A dear friend of mine was ridiculed for years by his dinner companions after an experience in a Paris restaurant where he was handed the wine list by a most unhelpful sommelier and asked by his friends to select “a decent white wine”.  He saw a wine he recognised, a Sancerre, which he accepted only to find to his horror when poured rather than a rather stylish white (sauvignon blanc) he expected it turned out to be a rather second rate red (pinot noir).  

Believe it or not, sommeliers are not the most loved people in the hospitality business.  Of course the sommelier knows more about wine and the dining experience than the guest.  At least we expect him to, that’s his job, but a measure of humility wouldn’t go amiss and the realisation that his role is to enhance your dining experience not to patronise, intimidate or astound you with his (or her) encyclopaedic knowledge of grapes and methods of wine production. 

Some think that the sommelier is only there to sell the most expensive bottle of wine to the guest. Worse yet, the guest thinks that whatever they order isn’t going to impress or be “good enough” for the sommelier to even care about.  The best sommeliers, of course, care deeply about whatever it is you order. They can give great advice in finding wines of great value on the list, creating a great food and wine pairing, or just being welcoming and engaging overall.

We invest a disproportionate amount of time and money in training our staff in wine but it’s not just about knowledge it’s about skills and attitude too but that’s for another day.  The second Wednesday of every month we have our own informal wine club where anything up to twenty people meet to try five wines (usually with a country of regional theme) and five starter sized matching dishes.  It’s great fun everyone gets to join in the debate and discussion and to enhance their wine knowledge in a safe environment (£25 per head 0161-834.3743 to book or for further information)

Enjoy discovering wine.  Identify your favourites and experiment to see which wines match which foods.  Sometimes you’ll get it right and find a combination made in heaven and other times a much warmer place will come to mind!

And so on to tasting – the mechanics……

The first thing to do with wine is to look. With wine, you can tell quite a bit about it by looking at it. You should always start by pouring the wine into a clear glass. Hold the glass over a white background, like a napkin or tablecloth. Colour varies with age, varietal (i.e. Chardonnay is darker than Riesling) and time spent in the barrel. White wines range from almost clear to pale yellow-green, straw/yellow, light gold, gold or old gold, to brown. Reds can be magenta, purple, ruby, garnet and finally, brown. (If you're not drinking Sherry or Madeira, brown is usually not a good thing.) 

Swirl the wine to aerate it. This releases ethers, esters and aldehydes that combine with oxygen to bring you the wine's aroma or bouquet. It doesn't take much practice, but if you're just learning, start with a white or watch what you are wearing!

Often called the nose Nose so follow yours. First: the flaws. If there's a mouldy, wet cardboard aroma it may be "corked" or tainted. Drink not, or suffer the consequences. Sulphur (burnt match) aromas may dissipate with a little air time or may not even bother you too much, but too much sulphur dioxide is a problem. If your wine smells like Sherry but isn't, that's a problem. If a wine smells clean, fresh, and ripe to you, get out of the embarrassing tasting spotlight and motion for the waiter to pour. The "nose" should also be faithful to the grape's variety, which is something you have to learn over time.

Skip the sip. Soak your taste buds by taking a decent mouthful and rolling it around or chewing it. Sweetness is detected at the tip of the tongue, so you'll be aware of residual sugar right away. Varietal characteristics are picked up in the middle of the tongue; tannin (in most reds and wood-aged white) starts there. Acidity hits the sides of the tongue, the cheeks and the back of the throat. Aftertaste is what lingers after you swallow. A long pleasing aftertaste with a nice balance of the other components is the sign of a high quality wine. 

Oak has had a very long association with wine. Initially it was simply as a watertight container that could be used for transportation. Without the influence of oak, wine would taste very different.  You can often taste and smell the influence of oak (vanilla is usually the easiest to find). The flavours enter the wine as it ages in oak barrels, with the newer oak barrels able to pass more flavour than barrels that have been used for several vintages.  Besides vanilla look for smoke, sweet butterscotch and caramel with maybe a hint of almond

What was the body of the wine like?  Light (like skimmed milk), medium (like whole), or full bodied (like cream)?  If it was a white wine, how was the acidity?  Too little and flat? Just right, crispy, fresh and pleasing, or too high and burning your mouth?  For a red wine, tannins are a big factor.  Light tannins make for a soft wine. They can be present, ripe and pleasing, or too high, leaving a dry mouth feeling that may indicate some cellar time is needed to develop.  How long did the "finish" last?  A couple of seconds, or much longer, as great wines tend to?  Is it ready to drink?  Are all of these components appealing to you?  Is it worth the price?  Can you think of a food it might go well with? And most important: did you enjoy it? Will you buy it again? If so, jot the wine's name, producer and vintage year down for future reference.

Until the next time!

Monday, 3 September 2012


As the sun sets and early evening approaches California’s wine country, cooling sea breezes sweep the rolling hills and fog begins to settle on the vineyards. This temperate climate makes California ideal for growing grapes; long, sunny days produce fruit with rich, fruity flavours and chilly nights help the grapes retain that all-important acidity, producing wines that are excitingly fruity, yet fresh and crisp.

California produces about 90% of all wine in the United States. The vineyards are scattered throughout the state yet the most famous areas, such as Napa and Sonoma Valleys, are located in the north, along the coast above San Francisco. Here the cooling influence of the ocean and the warmth from nearby valleys produce a near-perfect climate for wine production, suiting a range of grape varieties.

J Lohr Estates

All quality wine production starts in the vineyard, and you can only achieve maximum potential when you own and manage your own vineyards. This is the simple starting block for these excellent wines from J. Lohr. As early as 1972, Jerry Lohr began purchasing vineyards in the cool and wind-swept region of Monterey, south of San Francisco, when his peers were concentrating on other hotter and, at that time, more fashionable regions. Chardonnay was the focus at first, unoaked and sourced from the cool, wind-swept Monterey region and the climate proved ideal, as the wind which whips up from the Monterey Bay area like clockwork during the afternoons cools the vineyards and creates the perfect microclimate for this noble grape. Jerry also became a pioneer of the warmer Paso Robles region, which gives us the wonderfully full, ripe Zinfandel. A new Pinot Noir joins the range for 2011.

Voted ‘American Winery of the Year’ by Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2010.

Bogle Winery

Following a long farming tradition, father and son Warren and Chris Bogle planted the first eight hectares of vines in Clarksburg, California in 1965. Today Bogle Vineyards farms on over 14 different vineyard sites in the cooler parts of the Delta region near Sacramento. This is still a real family business in every sense, Patty took over operation of the winery in 1989, and took production to ever-increasing heights until her sad death in 2011. She is ably suceeded by her son Warren and daughter Jody.

2010 Painter Bridge Chardonnay, J. Lohr
GRAPE VARIETIES: 91% Chardonnay 1% Gewurztraminer 7% Muscat Canelli
Abv: 13.0%
Pale yellow in colour with attractive aromas of pear, apple and white flowers, with a touch of vanilla and honey. The aromas are echoed on the silky textured palate, which is cleansed with fresh acidity and richness.

2010 Wildflower, J. Lohr
GRAPE VARIETIES: 100% Valdiguie
Abv: 12.5%
A vibrant, red-purple in colour with bright aromas of boysenberry, cherry, raspberry and banana.  The fruit complexion on the palate is equally bright, dominated by boysenberry and raspberry.  The luscious fruit and lingering acidity make this wine ideal as an aperitif.

2010 Viognier, Bogle Winery
Abv: 14.5%
Appetizing display of luscious aromas with fresh apricot and pear fruit tang on the palate. A third of this wine spent 10 months in brand new American oak, barrel fermented and left on its lees. The rest of the blend was fermented in stainless steel tanks

2010 Painter Bridge Zinfandel, J. Lohr
GRAPE VARIETIES: 100% Zinfandel
Abv: 13%
Great colour density with youthful garnet red hues.  The aromas are ripe red fruits of raspberry, black currant and strawberry preserves with black tea, white and black pepper spice. The palate delivers a fruity, plump, yet supple wine with some spicy Zinfandel pepperiness.

2008 Phantom, Bogle Winery
GRAPE VARIETIES: 3% Mourvedre 53% Petit Syrah 44% Zinfandel
Abv: 14.5%
Deeply luscious and succulent blackberries, aromas of anise and sweet fig are embraced by
touches of black pepper. Subtle notes of cloves and vanilla emerge and compliment the
concentrated fruit character of the wine.

All of these wines were big bold examples of their grape varieties as one might expect from California!  Considering the current performance of the pound against the dollar however, some of our guests were a little disappointed about the price points which ranged from £14.50 to over £28 (retail) 

Saturday, 1 September 2012

More Wines of Chile - Elqui Valley

Chile is always a popular destination for our food and wine matching evenings and on this occasion we ventured to the far north of the country, to the Elqui Valley to see what a couple of Italians have been doing at the southern edge of the Atacama Desert, the sun works its magic on the grapes by day and the stars dazzle by night.  With vines planted at more than 6,500 feet above sea level this is Chile's highest wine region.  Its unique combination of geographic, geological and climatic conditions have resulted in some pretty impressive wines.

Viña Falernia was founded in 1997 by Aldo Olivier Gramola and his cousin, Giorgio Flessati, a seasoned winemaker from the Trentino region in Northern Italy. Located between La Serena and Vicuña, 470km to the north of Santiago, its 320 hectares are spread over three vineyard sites, and are Chile’s northernmost wine estate. The brand new winery is completely insulated and equipped with state-of-the-art technology. Underground cellars for barrel ageing (French and American) complete the set, along with the latest bottling plant facility.

The volume and variety of wines produced by Viña Falernia will increase gradually as new planting comes in production.

Varietal:Pedro Ximénez  Appellation : D.O. Elqui Valley  
Abv:  13%-13.5%

The grapes have been hand picked into small bins and immediately pressed.  The juice has been clarified by natural sedimentation and fermented in stainless steel tanks at 14-16º C with selected yeasts.  At the end of the fermentation the wine has been racked and aged in stainless steel tanks at low temperature.  No malolactic fermentation.  Cold tartaric stabilisation at -4ºC before bottling

TASTING NOTES: A grape more often associated with sherry.  Pale straw yellow colour, brilliant, a very attractive nose with floral and aromatic notes, nice medium body with balance of acidity, minerality and fruity character.  Dry, fresh and easy drinking.

FOOD MATCH: Dry,fresh and easy drinking, ,particularly as aperitif.  Recommended with seafood, serve at 10º C

Varietal : Sauvignon Blanc  Appellation : D.O. Elqui Valley  
Abv: 13 -13.5%

The grapes have been hand picked into small bins, de-stemmed, crushed and cold macerated for 12 hours, then softly pressed.  The juice was clarified, then fermented in stainless steel tanks (95%) and in French oak barrels (5% 2 year) at 16-18º C of temperature.  Ageing on the fine lees for 6 months with battonage and then blended.

TASTING NOTES: Brilliant yellow colour. Nose is intense reminiscent of figs, eldeflowers, grapefruits and sage. Good character (citrus and melon notes), acidity and long crisp finish on the palate. Very opulent wine.

FOOD MATCH: It works well with asparagus soup. Serve at 10ºC. 

Varietal : Sangiovese  Appellation : D.O. Elqui Valley  
Abv: 13,5-14%

The grapes have been hand-picked de-stemmed and crushed. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks at 26-28º C, with enzyme for the colour extraction and selected yeasts. After the fermentation the young wine is kept on the skins for a further 4/5 days.  100% of malolactic fermentation is done.  Ageing: 50% of the volume in stainless steel: 50% in French and American oak barrels for 3 months.

TASTING NOTES:Deep in colour, red cherry character, soft tannins, well balanced, it is an easy drinking red wine.

FOOD MATCH: Drink at 10-12ºC with pasta or white meats or as an aperitif.

Varietal :  Carmenere  Appellation: D.O. Elqui Valley  
Abv: 14% Vol

The grapes have been hand picked, de-stemmed and crushed. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks at 26-28º C with enzymes for the colour extraction and selected yeasts.  100% malolactic fermentation is done. Ageing 70% in stainless steel tanks; 30% in new French and American oak barrels for 4 months.  After blending the wine has been clarified, gently filtered and bottled.

TASTING NOTES: The barrels are used to mature and complex the wine’s character. Deep in colour, dark chocolate and vanilla character on the nose; full bodied, rich, with ripe and complex tannins on the palate.

FOOD MATCH: Mild chickpea curry and couscous

Varietal :  Carmenere 60% Syrah 40%  Appellation: D.O. Elqui Valley  
Abv: 14,5%

Grapes from 3 different vineyards of the Elqui Valley have been hand-picked, de-stemmed and crushed separately. The winemaking was as the same as the Syrah and the Carmenere. After aging in barrels (40% of the volume for 6 months) and stainless steel the wines have been blended just 3 months before bottling.

TASTING NOTES: Bright and deep colour. The wine shows a good fruit concentration; on the nose black pepper, red fruit, dark chocolate. Great body with soft tannins on the palate.

FOOD MATCH: Best a 18ºC (65/66ºF) with roasted or grilled lamb.