Not so Sunny Spain

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Getaria Coastline

A swift exit from Gatwick on a sunny Monday lunchtime finds me in Bilbao, the purpose, an exciting road trip from northern Basque Spain to sunny Andalucia in the far south with a couple of detours on the way!

Ninety minutes in the air, we were straight through the wonderfully sedate Bilbao airport and heading east to the tiny cliff hugging town of Getaria. About an hours drive from the airport sitting somewhere between Bilbao and San Sebastian, Getaria is home to some of Spains greatest restaurants, one of the largest seafood distribution hubs in the country and a dramatic coastline featuring steep cliffs and waves fit for surfers.

Upon arrival it was grey and overcast, with a fine mist of light drizzle, not typical for July but the damp micro-climate contributes to the lushness of the beautiful vineyards that produce fruit for the local DO Getariako Txakolina. These wines are produced from local grapes such as ondarrabi zuri and ondarrabi beltza, as a style are light in alcohol, packed with citrus and fruity notes such as apple and apricots and a spritzy slightly effervescent saline freshness in the mouth.

Pre dinner we consumed a bottle Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli and a plate of buttery Cantabrian anchovies in a little bar overlooking the harbour. The anchovies make for another excuse to visit Getaria, plump, soft and a delicate flavour of the sea, world class and certainly the best I have ever tasted. ( A small detour into a little shop en route to dinner guaranteed a few jars for the suitcase)

The Tokmin Txakoli was a real treat, packed with citrus and muted white apple washed down the little fishies perfectly stirring the gastric juices prior to dinner

Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli with a little plate of Cantabrian Anchovies

Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli with a little plate of Cantabrian Anchovies

Dinner next at the wonderful restaurant Iribar, just a short walk from the harbour up a cobbled side street, with a great big charcoal grill tucked onto a small terrace to the left of the front door. Typical of local restaurants, these huge mechanical grills are a great sight upon arrival, the wonderful aroma of wood smoke and the perfect apparatus for flavorsome cooking.

We jumped straight in with more Boquerones, a rich txangurro a la donostiarra (stuffed, baked king crab) and a huge plate of kokotxa, best described as the delicate soft inner jaw of hake lightly poached in a rich green sauce. I had tried these recently in a London restaurant, these were worlds apart, just so much better. In addition a plate of delicious local scallops, small queenie in size but a little more fibrous in texture, rasted on the grill in their shells with a crunchy herby migas, Then along came a large bowl of clams with some local mushrooms and a great big house salad loaded with grilled asparagus adding a little vegetation to this fishy feast.

Kokotxas is a Basque dish. Normally hake, part of the fish head under the chin (the double chin of the fish)

Kokotxas is a Basque dish. Normally hake, part of the fish head under the chin (the double chin of the fish)

Baked scallop, herb migas

Baked scallop, herb migas

Wine lists in this part of the world are expansive, interesting and without the add on duties and taxes that hinder us in the UK when it comes to pricing. The local restaurant lists offer exceptional value, covering all the local regions and some stunners from the rest of regional Spain.

With this in mind and having already enjoyed two Txakolinas and winery visits lined up for the morning we opted for a bottle of Tomas Posigo’s beautifully crafted 2016 barrel fermented Verdejo, a richly integrated oakey white from a top Ribero producer, man this was good with the seafood!

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Following on, a 2010 Remelluri Rioja, a particularly elegant style of Rioja with a lovely depth of warm supple summer fruit such as strawberry and raspberry and a very fine curve of acidity keeping the wine really fresh and lifted, just a hint of smoke and spice to tidy things up, just perfect! I was absolutely done but a plate of mountain cheese turned up to bring and end to proceedings.

What a meal, impeccable local shellfish and fish, great wines at ludicrously cheap prices, a great host and the perfect start to fire us up for our trip over the next few days.

31 Days of Riesling

This time last year, I’d quit my job and was relocating to Hove to start a masters degree at Plumpton College in Viticulture and Oenology. I couldn’t wait to get stuck in, it was all so exciting. And it was also really exciting to have time without working. So much free time. Maybe too much. So how was I planning to fill my summer? The best way I could think of was to get in my car and drive around some of my favourite wine regions: the Mosel, Alsace and Champagne.

A brew with a view

A brew with a view

So off I went in my mini. My boot got full pretty fast, and I filled a few notebooks with tasting notes. The timing worked in my favour, as I came across a wine tasting in the village of Piesport, in the Mosel region, Germany. It was a walking tasting, which took me through the vineyards and through 150 local Rieslings. I tried everything. There were really austere, acidic and fresh wines full of lime; delicate floral subtle wines; piercing wines, tropical wines, smoky, herbal wines, some with petroleum, and a range of sweetnesses. I fell in love. Some of my tasting notes got a bit…passionate. But the spectrum is broad:

  •     1998 Kabinett “YES. Lime and preserved lemon, soft but good acidity. Something unusual, like smoky charred aubergine - I swear”.

  •     1971 Beerenauslese: “ground ginger, dill, smoky, charred apricots, stony with just a hint of petroleum… Dreamy.”

  •     1998 Kabinett Halbtrocken: “Sweet Jesus. Key lime pie, with fresh lime, lime cordial, lime zest, rowntrees lime pastilles... did I mention the lime. And some petrol.”

I’ve always loved Riesling. It’s expressive and full of character. The beauty comes from the balance between the grapes acidity and sweetness. Too much acid with not enough sweetness makes for a piercing, sour wine; excess sugar without acid is flat and cloying. The wine also reflects place, as the soils and climate have a huge impact on the development of flavours, which means there’s a Riesling for every occasion. And it gets such a bad rep - thanks, Blue Nun.

For the duration of July, we’re focussing on the grape, and the 31 days of Riesling campaign, to show you how absolutely fantastic it can be. Expect wine flights, daily specials, and a couple of tastings. We’re stocking tonnes more bottles, from different areas and producers. Our wine list has grown, just like our wine lust. 

To get you started, look out for the German rose Sekt coming later this week on the sparkling list. A perfekt (!) aperitif, with peachy, nutty and floral aromas. Selling fast, we also have the Heart Goldtropfchen Kabinett with amazing tropical fruit and a piercing acidity, with depth and an enduring finish from a single vineyard around Piesport, a region I’m very familiar with.

For a bit more reading, have a nose here: http://winesofgermany.co.uk or come in for a chat.

Emily.

In the vineyards of piesport

In the vineyards of piesport

Wines without judgement

One of the issues wine has as a ‘brand’, is the very thing that makes it so exciting: it’s so vast, variable and impossible to get your head around. Think back to when you started drinking wine. What did the label say? Could you tell where it was from? Did it say the variety, how it might taste? Or did you even care? Probably not; it’s all a bit baffling. But as we further our drinking education, we learn more about varieties and the importance of place. And that helps you feel comfier with wine…and it’s a great feeling. But with knowledge comes taste, opinion and judgement. I’ve avoided wines based on their geography, their variety, even their price (that’s too cheap to be delicious…) and more fool me.   

In 2001, three scientists in Bordeaux investigated the power of the mind on wine. Gil Morrot, Frédéric Brochet, and Denis Dubourdieu studied the flavour descriptors used by oenology (wine science) students to describe a couple of French wines. The students tasted a white wine, describing it as “lemon”, “peach”, and “floral”. They also tasted a red wine which had “raspberry”, “cherry” and “cedar” aromas. After a week of studying and partying, the students returned to taste the same white wine, though this time with added red food colouring, and surprise surprise, it now smelt of cherries.

Pieter, himself

Pieter, himself

“Clothes maketh not the man; judge my wines on what's in the bottle, not the varietal on the label”

The brains preconceptions influence the way you taste. Try arguing with it, but it’s hard. One man who is well aware of this is Pieter Walser, winemaker and label-maker extraordinaire. All of the wines Pieter Walser produces are mysterious, nameless, and low on information: they are ‘blank bottles’.

Pieter produces wines using grapes from throughout South Africa, using unusual grape varieties, native yeasts and minimal interventions in the cellar. His catalogue is around 30 wines annually, some straight varietal examples, along with interesting and thoughtful blends. We’ve long been advocates of Blank Bottle, usually with a few on the shelf and at least one open by the glass. After recently going to a tasting with Pieter at Butlers Wine Cellar, we’ve come back very well stocked with some amazing wines to share with you.

One such example is a release of 6 Cabernet Sauvignon wines, sold as a set. Each bottle is made with grapes from a different microclimate (altitude, soil, aspect, wind) which produces a unique wine - did somebody say terroir? In particular, the altitude impacts the development of aroma compounds, one group of which is key to Cabernet: methoxypyrazines, or pyrazines for short. Pyrazines give varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc their key ‘greenness’, with herbal aromas or, green pepper, which Pieter notes is greatly different between the 6 wines.

Pieter keeps his cellar interventions minimal and pretty standardised, so the wines truly reflect their origins. With his red wines, he limits ‘pressing down’, creating wines with style, finesse, intense fruit flavours, which are incredibly easy to drink, and not overly heavy or tannic.

So leave your judgement at home and come try a glass, a bottle - or a box set.

One of Pieter’s distinctive labels

One of Pieter’s distinctive labels

Domaine Cognettes - What Muscadet Can Be.

Domaine Cognettes - What Muscadet Can Be.

What kind of image does Muscadet conjure, if anything, in your head? For me, it’s the beach: seafood, salty air and windswept hair. A wine known for being clean, crisp, refreshing, and affordable, it’s great for those wine drinkers who want to avoid a fruity assault on the senses. Unfortunately due to its popularity in the 70s, producers planted with an indiscriminate mania, producing some pretty bland and boring wines, most of which are responsible for the wines people remember. But recently there has been a move towards quality, craftsmanship and expression of the land. Currently on at Fourth & Church, we have a delicious example of this: Domaine Cognettes Clisson. And to paraphrase a rather well-known supermarket, this isn’t just a Muscadet. It’s a Clisson Muscadet.

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Add some sparkle to your Christmas

Add some sparkle to your Christmas

December is here, and to me, that means one thing: sparkling wine. I can’t think of anything that says celebration more than the sound of popping a cork. Champagne is absolutely fabulous. For centuries it’s been the drink of the monarchy, the drink of opulence, of occasion - and for good reason. It conjures images of luxury, grandeur and frivolity. Champagne is an amazing wine, it can be a mass-produced commodity or a true vision of love & terroir (French for place, its geographic individuality). But these days there is a stiff competition found a little more locally… Enter English Sparkling.

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The Wines of Jerez, this week Fino and Manzanilla

Autumn for me is a favourite time of year, a couple of contributing factors are:

One, I've usually just returned from the coastal Sherry towns of Southern Spain or its capital Sevilla leaving me feeling inspired, rejuvenated and fully fueled with sherry and tapas!

Two, #International Sherry week begins during the month of October promoting and encouraging tasting, sharing and talking about these fantastic underrated wines. Granted we have to look beyond the assumption that these wines are solely for grandma to consume at Christmas. We have to start with an open mind and a guide to walk you through the different styles, and the best time to enjoy all what the wines have to offer.

Celebrate sherry week at Fourth & Church with small plates and paired sherries

Celebrate sherry week at Fourth & Church with small plates and paired sherries

Usually someones first experience of a fino or amontillado sherry is from a bottle that has been sitting in the back of a cupboard, or on a dusty shelf of a back bar! These wines need to be a little more understood to enjoy the full Sherry experience.

I will start with some ground rules when looking to explore Manzanilla or Fino Sherry .

Treat these wines in the same way you would treat a regular white wine, chill as a white wine and once opened keep in the fridge and consume within two to three days (ideal serving temperature between 6 and 8 degrees).

Remember if you can't manage a whole bottle search for half bottles, most good wine shops should have a selection of halves.

Serve in a regular white wine glass, ideally a tulip shape and never one of those old fashioned liqueur glasses!

Join us on Thursday 11th of October for a fun and informative evening, for more info and to book click the image above

Join us on Thursday 11th of October for a fun and informative evening, for more info and to book click the image above

Manzanilla wines are exclusive to bodegas in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. They tend to be a little lighter than fino with a hint of the sea, dry and fresh on the palate with some nice floral aromas such as chamomile and almonds. They are very fresh in the mouth with an ever so bitter aftertaste.

Fino ranges from a bright straw yellow to a pale gold in appearance, a herby, bready nose, again with almonds and delicate oak. Light, very dry on the palate with a wonderful nutty lingering finish.

Pairing Fino and Manzanilla with food

Pairing Fino and Manzanilla with food

Ideal as an aperitif and these wines sit nicely alongside the usual suspects of olives, nuts and Iberian ham. explore matching with pickled, fried and salty dishes such as boquerones, fried fish, vegetables such as marinated artichokes, and of course shellfish, crustacea and sashimi.

These particular wines have a low acetic acid content so they work exceptionally well with dishes with a marked acidity, try dishes that include a vinaigrette or a marinade, as well as the classic cold soups such as gazpacho and ajo blanco.

October Best Menu

October Best Menu

From the 5th - 21st October we have a fantastic opportunity to try some different plates on our menu! As part of Brighton’s Best Restaurants Top 20 we are joining our friends across the city to showcase our deeply flavored dishes. We offer a seasonal aperitif to start and then you can get stuck in to our wine list!

Price: £20 per person

When: Monday-Thursday 12pm – 10pm

To book: call 01273 724709 quoting OctoberBest

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Christmas at Fourth & Church

Christmas at Fourth & Church

Join us for your Christmas get together at Fourth & Church this December!

We have added a festive twist to our menu of small plates, hot & cold tapas and cheese and charcuterie boards.

As always there will be a huge selection of wines to choose from, including all of our festive favorites, English sparklers, Champagne, craft beers, Ports and Sherries by the glass or bottle to pair perfectly with all of our dishes.

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How to make our delicious beetroot gravadlax

How to make our delicious beetroot gravadlax

Beetroot gravadlax, dill creme fraiche, caperberries (serves four)

You’ll need to plan-ahead several days to make the gravadlax but it is worth it for a rich, buttery and deeply flavoured treat. The quantities listed will leave quite a bit of gravadlax left over but you get a better result curing a bigger bit of fish. The remaining gravadlax is delicious with brown bread and butter or with scrambled eggs and toast as a weekend breakfast.

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Sunday Set Wine Flight

Sunday Set Wine Flight

The Sunday Set wine flight is all about  a small selection of wines chosen by us, for you to try each and every Sunday.

Wines  you may not necessarily choose yourself, some of our favourites, or wines that are just screaming out to be sampled.

We will kick off with  three of my favourites from Northern Italy.

First a white from wine maker Nunzio GhiraldiTrebbiano di Lugana is the grape variety, a distant cousin of Verdicchio and native to the southern shores of Lake Garda in the Northern region of Lombardy.

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