Tag Archive for: Wine

What a vintage innings. Kate Goodman opened Reserve Wines just months before her brother Mark was appointed Lancashire Cricket Club captain (and there have been seven since). That was 20 years ago this autumn and the one-time BBC Food and Drink Programme grape guru has never looked back. Think of her as the presiding angel over the progress of Manchester (suburbs and all) towards its current status as a serious wine-celebrating destination.

Reserve’s personal 20th celebrations are only just beginning and they will stretch out across Kate’s innovative empire – the Burton Road mothership, outlets at the NQ’s Mackie Mayor, Altrincham Market and Picturedrome Macclesfield food halls plus Bents Garden & Home, Daresbury. Kate is second left in this Alty celebration.

There are two more projects on the way. When we catch up – alas not over a bottle of our beloved Côte-Rôtie – she is coy about these. Just as she won’t spill the beans on which stuffy, old school Manchester merchants intimidated her enough to go away and start up her own business in 2003. The route forward was not scowling your way through a phalanx of dusty racks but sharing your enthusiasm via fun YouTube takes. These days she popu;ates Twitter too with her pithy bottle tips.

Those obvious presentation skills earned her a slot on Food and Drink alongside the likes of Michel Roux nearly a decade ago. But it has been the day job that has consolidated the passion for wine seeded by impressionable years spent in France after a European Studies degree at Hull.

“But surely these days you don’t sell the same amount of French wine as when you opened Reserve… the world has moved on?” I ask her. It’s a meant as a tease for her Reserve buyer, Frenchman Nic Rezzouk. Kate is diplomatic.

“Ah, French wine. It is sometimes about identity. Recently we were chatting with a colleague working his way to a Master of Wine qualification. He told us how difficult it was to blind taste between Old and New World wines. The styles were so similar it was often hard to differentiate.”

But then with the New World there has been a backlash since those heady 2003 days. “When we started the shelves were full of big fruit explosive wines from Australia, Barossa Valley Shiraz and the like. Tastes have evolved; nowadays there’s a trend to lower alcohol, more elegant styles. South African, Australia wines are often fresher in style.”

One constant across he two decades of Reserve has been punters’ perennial devotion to Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, followed more recently by the easily pronounceable (and let’s admit it, consistently fruity) Argentine Malbec. What of the third in the wine shelf ‘holy trinity’? “We were discussing it the other day. When we opened we didn’t stock one bottle of Prosecco. Amazing to think back now.”

So what else do we have now we didn’t have back then? “Well, natural wine has only become a big thing over the last decade. And orange wine. Reserve has always attracted curious customers, looking for something different, seeking different layers of story about the folk who make the wine. Sustainability and methods of making wine are important to our customers too.”

English wine? “Making big strides all the time. Sparklers and now still wines. I can recall one of our suppliers in the early days, he brought in a bottle from a new client, Nyetimber. It was the first English wine I’d tasted.  It was really good then and it’s gone from strength to strength, as has the rest of our native industry. Reds were a challenge, but they are starting to blossom. I recently tasted a Bacchus (our aromatic white rival to Sauvignon) and it was so lovely. English wine is still quite niche but it has a bright future and I‘m proud to promote it at Reserve. At Mackie and Alty our basic sparkler by the glass is an Italian, but the next bubbly up is Gusborne from Kent. Gorgeous.”

In the press releasee founder Kate calls Reserve’s 20th anniversary “a monumental milestone – it has always been more than just a shop; it’s a community of wine enthusiasts where everyone is welcome.”

That local wine community extends beyond the one business, mind. “We are not alone in being passionate about giving people options that can guide them on their wine journey,” she tells me. “The evolution of the Manchester scene is remarkable – great people, a vibrant market, more and more tastings coming to us, impressive restaurant  wine lists everywhere. 20 years has seen a huge step up.”

Reserve’s 20th anniversary celebrations

There’s so much going on, kicking off with a private birthday celebration for loyal customers at Reserve Wines, Didsbury on Thursday, February 9, the Winter Wine Fair at Didsbury Sports Ground, with over 100 wines and spirits to taste, the following Thursday, and on Friday, November 17 a 20th anniversary tasting event, exploring Reserve Didsbury’s best-sellers. Check availability via this link.

Plus there are vinous prizes to be won via their social media channels. And with Christmas in mind there’s a variety of drop-in tastings across all the venues.

Time for turkey – Kate’s Christmas tried and tested wine tips

Don’t miss Reserve’s ‘Premium Red Wine Duo’, showcasing the Bodegas Palacio Glorioso Reserva Rioja (£17.50 from Spain – smooth and rich with aromas of ripe red fruits, vanilla and spices alongside the Amie Rouge Carignan (£15) from Southern France, a juicy and fruity wine with pure notes of blackberry, plum and pepper.

What is the Greek for to over-enthuse? I caught up with Jamie Oliver on the box the other night. Primarily because his new Channel 4 series on Mediterranean food kicked off in Thessaloniki, a city I developed a deep love for after a random visit.  Out of it arose an obsession with the country’s flagship red variety, Xinomavro, whose spiritual home is 75 miles north in mountainous Naoussa.

Greece’s second city got 10 minutes of Oliver attention before he heeded the pukka siren call of the Islands and was ferried south. There was no name check of the wine that accompanied the seafront fish platter Jamie gushed over. It may well have been the high profile white equivalent of Xin – Assyrtiko. 

Aldi put it on the supermarket map with a £6.99 version, described by one critic as “like Chablis with super powers”. A snip from a high altitude, sustainable single vineyard, this mainland version ticked lots of boxes – herbaceous, floral, citrussy, a hint of pepper, supple – without ever attaining the saline minerality and complexity, at a premium price, associated with examples from the volcanic vineyards of Santorini, that dazzlingly white holiday haven.

(Those Santorini selling points may soon be in short supply or hiked up in price – the difficult 2023 harvest is likely to yield only 30 per cent of the normal output).

At a Wines of Greece tasting in Manchester, the day after Jamie’s telly Odyssey, there was a plethora (word of Ancient Greek origin) of Assyrtikos from assorted regions, influenced by widely differing terroirs, but remarkably few Xinomavros. There were some 90 wines to sample at Blossom Street Social in Ancoats, so maybe I had been distracted by the whites – Malaqousia, Savatiano, Kydonitsa and the like. Among the reds, though, the stand-out grape turned out to be Agiorgitiko, which is Greece’s most widely planted red varietal. Its origins, though, are in the deep south of the the Peloponnese.

Its nickname is apparently ‘Blood of Hercules’. It doesn’t take a Herculean effort to appreciate its qualities. It reeks of mountain herbs and tastes of blackberry and cherry, usually with some oak spice involved. A beautiful expression on the day was the Nemea Grande Cuvee 2019 (£29.40) from Domaine Skouras, established almost 40 years ago by the redoubtable, Dijon-trained George of that ilk. 

Matching it stride for stride, from young tyro and Nemea neighbour Evengelia Palivou, was Palivou Estate Nemea 2020. It has years ahead of it but already it is a rich expression of cherry, chocolate and vanilla flavours. She and her sister Vassiliki have taken over the running of the 40 acres or organically farmed vineyards. They and the rest of a new, more open generation are the reason Greek wine is suddenly on a surge. Promoting indigenous grapes, rather than pandering to ‘international’ varietals.

A lovely Palivou mission statement of this was on the table. La Vie en Rose is made from 100 per cent Moschofilero. A colleague detected Turkish delight on the nose; I loved the lemon and pear flavours unusual in a pink.

My third and final winery tip from the tasting is Estate Argyros, the largest vineyard owner on Santorini with more than 120 hectares of ungrafted vines up to 200 years in age. It’s now in the hands of fourth generation family winemaker Matthew Argyros and the trio of wines created from his new 2015 winery demonstrated the voluptuousness Assyrtiko can attain.

Expect to pay £50 for the Cuvee Monsignori, 14.5 per cent but beautifully balance packed with flavours of preserved lemons and wild herbs. At twice that price, offering a unique tatse of old Santorini, Assyrtiko combines with fellow native varietals Athiri and Aidani for the heavenly, honeyed Vin Santo Late Release 2002. Sourced from 200-year-old vineyards and aged for at least16 years, it’s very special.

Fenix on the rise in Manchester

Leaving aside perennial reservations about rough taverna retsina, Hellenic wine’s profile has been hindered by the absence of top end Greek restaurants. That will be remedied soon in Manchester by the arrival of Fenix. It’s a complete change of tack from the brothers behind the Modern Chinese fusion brand Tattu.

Fenix’s wine list offers a global roll call of crowd pleasers but the Greek element is shrewdly chosen from some of the country’s highest profile wineries – Thymiopoulos, Gaia, Hatzidakis, Alpha and that aforementioned Skouras Grande Cuvee (it will cost you £67, not a dramatic mark-up). More approachably priced are a series of blends from the Cretan winery Karavitakis, championing that island’s indigenous grape varieties such as Vilana, Vidiano, Kotsifali  Mandilari and Liatiko.

Apostolos Thymiopoulos (above) is the king of Xinomavro in all its styles and an ambassador for all the new wave Greek winemakers. His own wines are widely available (try the entry level ‘Jeunes Vignes’ Xinomavro), An equally charismatic figure was Haridimos Hatzidakis, his life cut short aged just 50 in 2017. Born in Crete, he is credited with putting Santorini wine on the world map after replanting a vineyard abandoned after a 1956 earthquake and releasing his first bottles in 1999. Century-old indigenous vines from volcanic terroir, organic farming and minimal intervention in the winery. Result: Assyrtikos with a challenging saline minerality that I loved from my first sip. Noble Rot’s Shrine to the Vine online shop stocks the family’s single vineyard wines. Start with the Nykteri 2020.

Grandes Pagos de Espana is a prestige association of single estate Spanish wineries. A broad church indeed as I discovered at a recent public tasting at Manchester’s hub of all things Iberian, the Instituto Cervantes. The seven bottles we sampled ranged from a new wave richer-style Txakoli white from the Basque Country to a minimal intervention Mencia-led old vines field blend from Leon. I particularly liked the 100 per cent Garnacha Secastilla from the Somontano region.

Unsurprisingly though it was a trio of reds from a different but very familar grape that finished proceedings, culminating in the Pago Negralada from Abadia Retuerta. 

Wines from this estate are regularly supplied to winemaking schools as benchmark examples of Tempranillo, Spain’s most widely planted premium varietal. That information came from Miguel Gavita, who had guided through the Pagos tasting. No false modesty here – Miguel works for Abadia – but he can be forgiven. I know first hand, in situ, how good their wines can be. Perhaps the wonderful setting influenced my judgement when I stayed there one glorious late spring. It’s all coming back.

My planned visit to this luxury hotel with its own winery two hours north of Madrid had been nipped in the bud when a journalists’ press trip was cancelled. Then I ran into the Abadia head honcho at a Relais & Chateaux bash in Cheshire and he said: go on, we’ll host you solo. Le Domaine lodging project was still a work in progress when I arrived

Heavenly Retreat Among Spain’s Great Vineyards

Storks and cranes, the skyline of an abbey fortress surrounded by vineyard. The storks are nesting busily in the 12th century belltower; the cranes, the giant mechanical sort, are at rest. This is a Spanish bank holiday and work will resume tomorrow on turning former monks’ dwellings and stables into eight new guest rooms and the Sanctuario spa/pool complex. To complete the transformation into one of Spain’s finest hotels. 

Welcome to Abadia Retuerta, westernmost of the wineries producing some of Spain’s greatest reds along the River Duero’s Golden Mile. Le Domaine, is the place to stay around here with just 22 rooms and a cuisine curated by one of the country’s Michelin-starred greats.

I’ve only just arrived and barely settled in my room, pausing open to fling open the shuttered windows for an eyeful of vines before I am out among them for a pre-prandial stroll. The view back is equally enchanting – pale, honeyed stone cunningly renovated, harmonising Romanesque and Baroque.

Such evenings of mellow sun and blue skies have been rare this spring. At 800m above sea-level here they expect nights to be cold, but it has been uncommonly wet, too, bad for the grapes planted across 700 hectares upon which Abadia’s fortunes are built.

In 2005 their flagship wine, the Seleccion Especial conquered all at the International Wine Challenge, capping a remarkable fast track rise for an operation only begun in 1995 on land previously part of the legendary Vega Sicilia estate. 

The winning  wine was from the 2001 vintage. I never expected to be served a bottle from that year with my dinner in the Refectorio, but there it was, still vigorous yet elegant, the quintessence of Tempranillo (with the support of some Cabernet Sauvignon).

The Refectorio was where the monks ate (and occasionally kept their livestock). Now these soaring white stone vaults are home to Le Domaine’s fine dining restaurant. For the holy men’s simple gruel, root veg and pond fish substitute sauteed cuttlefish with a reduction of its own juice, cod cheeks whitened with gelatine with a honey emulsion, market fish with seasonal ragout and its toasted bone juice, then crispy baby lamb with quinoa.

(Abadia owners Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis originally enlisted Andoni Luis Aduriz of Michelin-starred Mugaritz to launch the kitchen operation. It retains a star to this day plus one of those sustainability-savvy green stars. Similarly, the winery was designed by Bordeaux legend Pascal Delbeck, the man who revived Chateau Ausone.)

The estate is actually just outside the borders of the official Ribera del Duero wine denominacion, meaning the wines bear the name of the nearest town, Sardon del Duero.

This actually gives the winery more flexibility in the vines it plants and a portal for innovation. Alongside, Abadia Retuerta really feels like the cradle of winemaking in the region.

The Santa Maria de Retuerta abbey was originally founded in 1145, by Doña Mayor, wealthy daughter of Count Ansúrez, Lord of Valladolid – one of many fortified religious houses built during the Christian “Re- conquest” of Castile from the Moors. The Ansurez family left “terras et vineas” (land and vines) to the French-based order of St Norbert, which was the beginning of the estate’s long history of producing wine. 

The abbey, though, after splendid additional building work during the Baroque era, fell into a steep decline until the current sensitive renovation that marries light-filled chic interiors (lots of marble, linen and luxury fittings) in the bedrooms in the Baroque half with the miraculously preserved original church and sacristy. 

Off the utterly calm cloisters you’ll find an even calmer yoga room, hi-tech meeting rooms and the Vinoteca casual dining space new and old stone all seamlessly joined… while high above the resident stork family keep a beady eye on guests.

Most of these come with wine in mind, sampling first at the Abadia Retuerta’s own tasting room in the winery and then visiting rival establishments along the route to “wine capital” Penafiel. Le Domaine offers a unique personal butler service that can sort out all arrangements for you. Hot air balloon trip, helicopter tour or, closer to the soil a horseback ride? Just ask.

My butler Juan ferried me east to Penafiel to see the remarkable, elongated white castle on the hill and the Richard Rogers-designed Protos winery. It’s a workaday place, as wine towns often are, but with lots of attractive tapas haunts and an astonishing enclosed medieval square called the Plaza del Coso. Folk hire the balconies of its private houses when bullfights are held there. On our visit the shutters were closed, a couple of cats snoozed and it shimmered in the sun like the epitome of Old Castile.

Delightful, too, my last walk before departure at Le Domaine – along a raised path between the Duero Canal and the river proper. The birdlife is abundant and the spring flowers are glorious. The estate pays the same meticulous attention to stewarding the environment as it does to producing proper wine and pampering luxury guests. 

Mummy stork suddenly takes wing and flaps across the vineyards under a cloudless sky. A final glass of Seleccion Especial awaits me in my cool room. I think I’ve gone to heaven.

Abadia Retuerta, Carretera Nacional, 47340 Sardon de Duero, Spain. 

An image of the humble vol-au-vent dropped into my inbox today and I almost swooned, giving it some retro love. Surprisingly the dinky, filled puff pastry didn’t make it onto the buffet of Abigail’s Party, nor did it feature in Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham’s 1997 retro recipe homage, The Prawn Cocktail Years

Naff image, though? Yes. Yet it has never really gone away as a buffet stalwart despite often languishing in the unfashionable tray. Certainly no one’s going to blame you for buying in a batch of ready-made bases to stuff with chicken, ham or mushrooms in a creamy sauce. One big plus – unlike the prawn cocktail, it’s resistant to ‘deconstruction’.

Variations, savoury and sweet, have been myriad ever since the dish’s invention in early 1800s Paris, credited to the great Antonin Carême. Originally a larger pie, the smaller cocktail party version we now know as a vol-au vent was then called a bouchée.

A testimony to its lightness, the name translates as ‘windblown’. Mrs Beeton (1861) offers us her strawberry version; we’re in naffer territory with Constance Spry (1956), her curry powder and boiled egg filling constituting vol-au-vent à l’indienne.

I expect much better from Climat when it opens in Manchester on Monday, December 5 on the eighth floor of Bruntwood’s Blackfriars House. Suppliers of this morning’s succulent j-peg, this rooftop restaurant/wine mecca is trumpeting the vol-au-vent as its signature snack. Following in the footsteps of the gougère, which serves in the same capacity at the team’s original base in Chester, Covino. That savoury carb, flavoured with Comte cheese, is made from choux pastry like its sweet cousin, the profiterole (which is in The Prawn Cocktail Years).

Luke Richardson, exec chef of Covino and Climat, tells me: “We want to have a different signature snack at each restaurant we open. The gougère will continue to serve Covino, while we’ve opted to resurrect the vol-au-vent for Climat, owing to their complete versatility throughout the seasons. They can literally be stuffed with anything. Beef tartare, parfait, truffle and ricotta, to name just a few.

“Both myself and Simon Ulph (Climat head chef) have worked closely together to develop an opening menu we are both super proud of and we think does justice to the building and the surroundings. We believe we offer something completely different to the Manchester restaurant scene.” 

I can vouch for the quality of food and wine at Michelin-rated Covino. Check out my report on a September visit. The setting there is cosy bistro; Climat is an altogether different beast – major selling points being the ninth floor panoramic view across Manchester city centre and a 250-strong wine list that itself stretches across the horizon. A substantial chunk of these will be Burgundies, a passion of Climat owner Christopher Laidler. Magnifique, I say. Equally promising is the regularly changing ‘modern’ menu with influences from across the world, described by chef Luke describes as ‘Parisian expat food’.

Feasting sized dishes aimed at tables of three or more to share will be a prominent feature in the 100-cover restaurant. Think whole turbot, slow cooked lamb shoulder or ex-dairy cuts on-the-bone. Alongside, Climat will follow the Covino small plates formula. Besides the vol au vents, the snack menu could include fresh malted loaves, seasonal oysters and charcuterie to match that comprehensive wine list.

So what’s on that wine list? Asking for a friend…

The name ‘Climat’ derives from the term used to describe a single vineyard site in Burgundy, which has its own microclimate and specific geological conditions. It’s the region that 40 per cent of the wine list will be allocated to. From some of the world’s best Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, to the region’s lesser-known varieties and appellations. Who’s for a cheeky Mercurey, Montagny or St Aubin? From elsewhere expect to find at least 15 different grower’s Champagnes and the exciting wines of Jura. 

Climat, Blackfriars House, St Marys Parsonage, Manchester M3 2JA. The restaurant will be open Monday, 5pm-1pm; Tuesday-Saturday, 12pm-3pm, with snacks available -in-between before the kitchen reopens 5pm-11pm. Sundays the kitchen will be open 12pm-8pm, with the bar remaining open until 10pm. To book visit this link. Soft launches will also take place on December 2, 3 or 4, where guests will receive 25 per cent off their food bill.

Just a tiny shoal of fried whitebait tossed with house-grown Sichuan pepper, crisped garlic and coriander – snack prelude to another fascinating Moorcock at Norland lunch. In three months it will be no more, taking with it not only one of the UK’s great food experiences but also a rarely equalled adventurous drinks offering.

On this occasion it is the latter that has lured us to the squally hilltop above Sowerby Bridge. I’ve spent the weekend engrossed in Aaron Ayscough’s The World of Natural Wine (Artisan, £31.99), thus impressionable me can’t resist the prospect of tasting a clutch of minimal intervention reds and whites from France’s Jura and Savoie regions. They don’t disappoint.

Surprisingly Les Dolomies, profiled at length in Wink Lorch’s definitive Jura Wine (Wine Travel Media, £25pb), doesn’t get a mention in the comprehensive, France-centric new book from Not Drinking Poison blogger Ayscough. But then my beloved Jura is a maverick stronghold of natural wine and 15 pages only scratches the surface.

Savoie and neighbouring Bugey are more under the radar, but Domaine Partagé does get a glowing mention as one of five individual profiles. The author, a US expat, is based in Beaujolais, the crucible of the natural wine movement thanks to certain key figures over the past four decades. He traces that timeline in depth, exhaustively explaining what make this   alternative ethos superior to mainstream ‘manipulative’ winemaking. It certainly opened my eyes to the myriad dodgy practices employed in commercial production.

What you get is over 400 pages of (copiously illustrated) polemic. Ayscough pulls no punches in naming and shaming one-time natural crusaders, who have deviated from the true path. Sulfites anyone? The rest of Europe gets only a cursory over-view at the end, but that doesn’t detract from the most comprehensive exploration of a millennial phenomenon. Still the proof is in the pudding… or rather the glass. So back to the Moorcock, where any trepidation about haziness, excess brett and funk, vinegary volatile acidity, nail polish remover stinks or the dreaded ‘mouse breath are dispelled as quickly as the whitebait are despatched.

The four wines (above) we taste are exemplary. Yet each is no comfort blanket. Purity of fruit dominates with a certain attractive wildness. There’s acidity aplenty in the two whites that copes with the whitebait spice and later both the house nduja with roast Jerusalem artichokes and a smoked mackerel tartare. Both the Premice from Les Dolomies and Domaine Partagé’s Cricri were available by the glass at £8 all weekend.

The first uses the characteristic Jura grape, Savagnin, which here is hand harvested, whole bunch pressed and fermented in large tanks, taking advantage of wild yeasts. Terroir in abundance – Les Dolomies is named after the local salty, magnesium-rich limestone rock. Apricot, gooseberries and a white pepper tingle on the tongue.

The Cricri is quite a contrast, almondy, preserved lemony with a decidedly creamy aftertaste that I love. Tech stuff: direct press of whole cluster Jacquere grapes fermented and aged in fibreglass eggs. 

Both reds, at £12.50, are equally contrasting. Le Dolomie’s Bordel C’est Bon is from the Trousseau grape and translates loosely as ‘God that’s good!’. Grapes, de-stalked by hand, are fermented in stainless steel before being given 10 months’ élevage in old Burgundy barrels. For Jura it’s quite a substantial red, definitely damson and smoke on the nose, and  a plummy roundness to the palate.

Bibi from Domaine Partagé was served chilled, appropriate for a lighter carbonic macreation blend of Gamay and Savoie speciality Mondeuse that reeks of cherries and violets. Thanks to Moorcock co-founder and sommelier Aimee Tufford for the tip-off about lingering liquorice notes.

Partagé’s World of Natural Wine profile adds a human dimension. Vigneron Gilles Berlioz is “a fanatic for vineyard work with immense sideburns and a permanent suntan.” In 2016 he and his wife Christine (who work their land with a horse) “took the curious step of changing the name of their estate to Domaine Partagé (‘The Shared Estate’) to honour the co-operative input of all their employees and interns.”

Apologies then if I’ve given the impression of a rather earnest gospel to the converted. There are lots of diversions along the way from Ayscough. It’s wonderful to discover another Jura producer, Philippe Bornard, is “actually more famous outside the wine scene thanks to his 2012 appearance on L’Amour est dans le Pré (love is in the Field), long-running French dating show featuring farmers.” Just one of many eccentricities that go with the territory. 

Some of the author’s analogies are equally quirky. Take Loire producer Patrick Desplats, whose “output since he and Patrick Dervieux parted ways is like that of Andre 3000 since leaving Outkast; slim, indulgent and wildly inconsistent.” Elsewhere one vigneron’s early releases are compared with Cat Power’s – “shrill” – but the later output is as compelling as hers!

Where to buy natural wine in the north…

For the Confidentials website series I have written extensively about the best places to source minimum intervention bottles in the North and explained what constitutes unregulated ‘natural wine’. Follow these links: Manchester Part 1, Manchester Part 2 and Yorkshire. The latter piece profiled the wonderful Kwas in Huddersfield. Alas, it has since folded.

Showing my age. Just realised it’s 30 years since I sat down in the cinema to watch Delicatessen. I expected a celebration of pastrami on rye and coffee-toting waitresses with attitude. Instead I was served a post-apocalyptic, cannibalistic black comedy packed with butchered body parts. 

I blame a movie made two years earlier for my cinematic naïveté. The one where the Meg Ryan character simulates orgasmic cries. The one I always think of as When Harry Met Deli because that scene was set inside Katz’s on New York’s Lower East Side. And, yes, I have visited that apotheosis of all the kosher eateries recalibrating the Old Country in the New World. The touristy sign quotes the film dialogue: “Hope you have what she had.” We ordered differently.

There was a cluttered buzz to the joint, the queues to get in filtered through a ticketing system. The food? Not really star quality. And not really the global template for the Deli  these day, definitely a devalued catch-all term just like bistro and brasserie. Yet neither of these are synonymous with a sandwich shop.

A more positive perspective is the combo of grocer’s and cafe, ideally the latter feeding off the raw materials and store cupboard essentials of the former. A good example (with the bonus of a well-stocked wine shop and bar) was the late, lamented Lunya in Manchester, the original of which is still going strong in Liverpool. That is Spanish with a Catalan influence; the Italian equivalent, equally family-run, is Salvis’ Corn Exchange outpost in Manchester’s Corn Exchange.

My ideal deli though would be a suburban provisioner. The supplier of an impulse wine purchase, a decent cheeseboard, charcuterie, olives and bread to carry home around the corner. Even better, if the budget allows, to be able to tuck into all that stuff upstairs above the shop, augmented by an eclectic beer offering, including the owner’s own acclaimed lager.

Factor in the natural progression 100m away of a sibling butchers/fishmonger with its own eat-in small plates deli counter and it could only be Wandering Palate – The Movie and Farm & Fish – The Sequel. Location? Upwardly mobile Monton, the posh banlieue beyond Eccles. The first is the debut deli of Will and Emma Evans; the second their collab with The Butcher’s Quarter, which has two further outlets in the city centre.

It has taken me a while to trek here. As I sit in the window of Wandering Palate at 190 Monton Road, first with a De Koninck Bolleke, a Belgian amber-coloured pale in the glass of that name, then with a Bodegas Manzanos Gran Reserva Rioja Will brings me a selection of ‘picky bits’.

They are his Manc version of pintxos or cicchetti. The baguette bases are from Holy Grain, arguably Manchester’ best bakery, like Wandering Palate shortlisted at this year’s Manchester Food and Drink Awards. The toppings are sourced from the deli shelves. My favourites the Trealy Farm venison and juniper pâté with salsa verde and truffled Baron Bigod cheese with baby onions.

Time for browsing. A smaller beer collection (“we needed the fridge space for other items”) than you’d expect from Will, who co-founded Manchester Union Lager. That’s on tap here ahead of its unveiling in tank form at Manchester’s new Exhibition food hall this November.

Wine is a major player, though with a substantial natural wine offering, much of it sourced from Les Caves De Pyrene. Coffee comes from Yorkshire’s Dark Woods, charcuterie from Manchester’s own Northern Cure, cheese from The Crafty Cheese Man and much more.

Emma Evans is an acclaimed artist, whose canvases you can check out in the upstairs bar. She also hosts regular life drawing classes there. Probably more my thing is Wandering Palate’s Wine Club Wednesdays with free corkage.

Farm & Fish at 190 Monton Road equally aspires to be a community hub. It recently hosted a Polish wine tasting. But my eyes were for the meat and fish counters. I inevitably splashed the cash, coming away with a kilo of  ox cheeks and a robust boiled crab. I could happily have sat in the window there with a further wine as evening fell… to survey the Monton ‘paseo’.

Up on an eighth floor rooftop with a leaden Manchester skyline all around I’m talking ‘terroir’ with Chris Laidler. He gives me Montagny; I raise him Mercurey. We both agree solidly on Macon in the search for affordable Burgundy wine regions. He confirms Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (average retail price price £25,000) won’t be on the 250-strong wine list planned for Climat, described by my esteemed and wine savvy oppo Kelly as “the most exciting opening on our horizon.” And who am I to disagree?

Still a cluttered ‘work in progress’ at the top of Bridgewater House when I popped up a couple of weeks ago, Chris’s £500,000 wine-friendly dream project, with equally stellar food, is expected to open mid-November. Across Blackfriars Street from where the Treehouse Hotel will sprout next year with a Mary-Ellen McTague helmed restaurant, which will provide a major shot in the arm for the Cathedral end of Deansgate. 

The old Renaissance Hotel that Treehouse will transform remains an eyesore, but the rest of the panorama is urban invigorating. Personal preference: I much prefer restaurant views from this height – Le Mont/Rabbit In The Moon, Manchester House – to 20 Stories.

Chris’s plan is to have 40 per cent of Climat’s list sourced from Burgundy – reds (Pinot Noir and Gamay), whites (Chardonnay, Aligoté) and some surprisingly sophisticated sparklers. Unlike at Chris’s Michelin-rated Covino in Chester, there will be an actual wine list on the website and maybe in print. Rather than scanning the range of enticing, price-tagged  bottles ranked in country order on a ledge up near the ceiling.

To check out the whole project’s credentials we made the pilgrimage to that cosy but cool wine bar on Northgate, the city’s foodie main drag. Think Porta (now extended into what was Joseph Benjamin), The Cheese Shop, Francis Thomas greengrocer’s, Jaunty Goat Coffee.

Covino’s chef Luke Richardson (in the main picture) has moved up to be exec chef across both sites and while Chris enthuses about wine, his forte is food sourcing. Maybe a recent foraging foray into beech sap tapping has yielded a scant bounty, but there’s quality guaranteed from his regular commercial suppliers – Cornwall’s Flying Fish, Growing @Field 28 from up the road in Daresbury and one of my personal faves, Swaledale Butchers in Skipton.

I didn’t ask, but presumed our hogget had come from there. Everything we tried from the reassuringly compact menu was a delight, but this t-bone of teenage lamb was sublime, paired with crisped komatsuna, that mustardy Japanese green and barbecued cucumbers (£16.50). It bookended a meal that began with the fleshiest of Ortiz sardines, spinkled with dried wild oregano flowers and doused in olive oil (£10) and a (very) special of pink cod crudo (£14.50) served with creme fraiche and tiny flavour bomb elderberries. “Hard labour to gather. but worth it,” lamented Luke, standing in front of house. A debutant fellow server, up from London, told me had been recruited for Manchester and was very excited.

There was a pollock’s head dish on the specials board but we chose to order their other take on that undervalued fish. Two taut fillets on a bed of kuri squash were given some punch by a chimichurri sauce (£15.50). For 50p more a roast whole quail was more satisfying, if a little challenging to dismember to its bloodied core.  

My cold rice pudding with sticky damson jam was challenging in that it was such  substntial dollop. The works though was the Valrhona chocolate ganache with plums, the tiny morsel I was allowed to taste from across the table. Each cost £7.50 on a bill that mounted up but felt value. After two glasses of properly dry German Riesling we spent £43 on a bottle of Olga Raffault Chinon Les Barnabes, my kind of go-to late summer red, earthy and smoky. Vinous temptations were all around, a foretaste of things to come in Manchester.

So what to expect from Climat?

Well, a 100 cover restaurant is a big leap upwards (literally) from Covino, which started life as a 300 sq ft wine bar/shop in 2016. It soon expanded, moving site in 2018 to set up on Northgate Street adding small plates to its menu. They were matched by over 130 bottles from around the world ranging from the classics to the funky naturals. Holder of a wine degree, Chris may lean towards classic Burgundies but his 250-strong Manchester list should also reflect mutating wine trends.

As we surveyed the cityscape from the ‘bioclimatic pergola’ (it’s a feature of the terrace, whose plants will service resident bees in four hives on the actual roof) Chris told me: “It’s great to get our foot in the door in Manchester. It represents a big step up for us. The site has so much to offer and we’re going to add something special to a great city. The space will be unique to others with its panoramic views and we can’t wait to share our progress during the build leading up to opening in autumn. Ultimately we want our guests to have a great dining experience and come and share our passion for really good food and drink.”

The addition of Climat caps the final stage of Bruntwood Works’ multi-million-pound renovation of its Blackfriars site. The 1920s-built edifice has been transformed to accommodate workspaces of varying sizes, an auditorium, podcasting studio, ground floor lounge area and coffee shop.

Ye the Climat site really stands out, primarily being constructed of metal and glass, with  limestone floor that yearns to suggest a North Burgundian ‘climat’. Like me, Chris is a Chablis lover and bemoans how global warming is diluting the flintiness of this most mineral of whites. Yes, you can tell I’m really gearing up for this particular Manchester arrival.

Climat, Blackfriars House St Marys, Parsonage, Manchester M3 2JA.

Twenty years ago Le Mont restaurant opened at the top of Urbis. Aspirational dining in the Manchester building that most symbolised renewal in the aftermath of the IRA bombing. I was a beneficiary of this bright new dawn, accompanying chef Robert Kisby and his team on a pre-launch photoshoot in the Bollinger Cellars and vineyards. The tie-in? Spreading the glitzy glad tidings that Le Mont was to host the first Bolly bar outside London.

It all came rushing back the other evening on the 19th floor rooftop terrace of 20 Stories, with its stupendous view across the city (Le Mont at half at the height was hindered by the architect’s choice of window frosting). In my hand was a glass of bubbly, but not Champagne. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée to accompany some canapés. Cementing the brand’s partnership with the glamorous restaurant/bar du jour. The link is due in no small part, I suspect, to the arrival of D&D London’s northern head sommelier Andreas Rosendal (pictured above), an English Wine regional judge for the Decanter Magazine Awards.  

The country’s sparkling wine has undoubtedly been spearheaded by Nyetimber, created by pioneering Americans who had made their fortunes in the dental industry. They saw the potential in a Sussex terroir not unlike Champagne. Did they also anticipate the boost climate change might bring to the ripening process?

The first Nyetimber vines were planted above Pulborough in 1988, the debut harvest was four years later and then Eureka! The first wine, the 100 per cent Chardonnay 1992 Premiere Cuvée Blanc de Blancs won gold at the 1997 International Wine and Spirit Competition. It was the springboard for a procession of awards as Nyetimber expanded to blend the full range of Champagne grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.

I sampled the current version of Blanc de Blancs (£18.50) during our visit to the vine-strewn terrace of 20 Stories. It was gorgeous. I concur with the tasting note of one of the sommelier team, Callum Black: “Aromas of citrus and honeysuckle lead into subtle brioche and vanilla characters. The palate offers generous yet elegant notes of baked lemon and white peach with the warmth of the vintage shining through. Subtle mineral notes accentuate the fresh, crisp acidity, leading to a long and complex finish.”

Over the years the Nyetimber operation has changed hands. There was an obvious chuckle to be had when it was sold to Andy and Nichola Hill, best known for writing the Eurovision winner, Making Your Mind Up, for Bucks Fizz (sic). But the real push towards Nyetimber’s current eminence came when ex-venture capitalist Eric Heerema bought it fr £7.4m in 2006 and soon installed Canadian duo Cherie Spriggs and Brad Greatrix as winemakers. They’re still there, sourcing grapes from over 260 hectares of vineyards (with on stream a further 70 hectares planted across various sites). 

It’s big business. Millions of pounds have been invested in a new winery and state of the art equipment with yearly production predicted to reach 2 million bottle by 2025. Yet when Robin Skelton, for his 2019 book, The Wines of Great Britain, asked Heerema if there was a profit on the horizon he replied: “Yes, but not yet within our grasp.”

Skelton admires this single-minded dedication to quality and so do I. Impressive though the early wines were, they are far more impressive now, underpinning classic bread and apples on the nose with a distinctive tinge of mushroominess, then freshness on the palate and great length, even at entry level (they also now offer daringly expensive prestige versions).

According to Jancis Robinson’s magisterial website the Classic Cuvée regularly gets better scores than non-vintage equivalents from Roederer, Pol Roger and, yes, Bollinger. So still more than holding their own against burgeoning number UK claimants for the UK sparkling crown – Gusbourne, Rathfinny, Wiston and the rest. My own favourite in The Trouble With Dreams from Dermot Sugrue’s boutique South Downs operation. He severed a 16 year connection with Wiston this year and was once winemaker at Nyetimber. Dynastic? Who would have ever have believed in such a wondrous world  of bubbles.

20 Stories is offering an End of Summer celebration dinner, four courses paired with Nyetimber wines

20 Stories’ Vineyard in the Sky promotion continues with the Classic Cuvée at £14.95 a glass with five other Nyetimbers right up to the Prestige Cuvee 1086 Rosé at £330 a bottle.

A good chance to sample the range and match with food comes on Thursday, September 29. Th venue is offering a four course ‘End of Summer Dinner’, wines included, for £70 a head. Book here.

How times change (and not that plus ça change casuistry). The Bordeaux of my distant memory was a grey city, on the muddy Garonne, hoarding its vinous treasures with a kind of miserly hauteur. Its 18th century architectural glories were as grime-ridden as the ancient bottles slumbering in its fusty trade cellars. 

Returning is quite a culture shock. After three decades of enlightened civic planning the centre has been transformed. Dazzling sun helps highlight its limestone treasures and riverside gardens. Bordeaux is baking. Tomorrow we’ll fly home before the temperature soars beyond 40 degrees. The steaming temptation is to dip one’s toes in the quayside Miroir d’eau in front of the Place de la Bourse. At 3,450 square metres the world’s largest reflecting pool.

Instead we head for shelter… and, naturally, wine. Inside L’Intendant the air conditioning is a comfort. Its true purpose? To protect 15,000 bottles of the fine wines associated with the city. They are spectacularly displayed around the walls of a 12 metre high, spiralling stairway. All for sale – this is a shop.

Half way up I get into conversation with a German connoisseur. “From Manchester, you say – ah, Hawksmoor, the great claret blunder, the world still talks about it.” He’s referring, of course, to that fateful day in May 2019 when diners at the Deansgate steakhouse were mistakenly served a £4,500 bottle of Chateau Le Pin Pomerol 2001 instead of the £260 Chateau Pichon-Lalande 2001 they had ordered. 

The incident went viral, provoking mutterings of “how can any wine be worth that much?”. Market forces, supply and demand. Minuscule Le Pin produces just 200 cases a year and is a trophy red. There are a few of those dotted around L’Intendant, where vintages date back to 1945 (a legendary year), alongside relatively affordable wines.

From the vantage point of an English wine lover, with all the world to choose from, the old mystique of Bordeaux has worn off somewhat. Partly due to its reds in particular becoming a global commodity. The word claret is as démodé as cordon bleu cuisine.


Which brings us to La Cité du Vin, the focus of our return to a reinvigorated, scrubbed up city. The swift flowing, tidal Garonne river may be as muddy as back then, but the esplanade along its banks has been transformed and, 2km north reached by the sleekest of tram services, the old docks now play home to the the €81 million ‘Guggenheim of Wine”.

That label’s too glib, but it has stuck. Comparisons with Frank Gehry’s game-changing museum on the banks of the Nervión river in Bilbao are inevitable. But La Cité, just three years old, feels more a valuable addition than a turning point for a city’s touristic appeal.

Devoted to educating the public in the glories of wine and viticulture, it certainly catches the eye on the outside – an asymmetrical swish of gold and aluminium, topped by a leaning tower. Inside, it casts aside the old museum certainties of curated objects in favour of an immersive, interactive experience, involving all the senses. So expect to do a lot of sniffing out of little funnels to unleash various aromas. What am I getting here? Gooseberry, honey, farmyard? Book a tasting workshop to get the whole synaesthetic connection.

We chose to ramble around and felt slightly adrift against filmic backdrops. Of course, there’s a slight theme park appeal; that’s part of its populist, demystifying mission. A chance to be unafraid of terroir and minerality. All those daunting buzz words.

There’s also a lot of attention paid to the rest of the globe. This is breaking the mould in a France that for too long dismissed wines that weren’t French; indeed in Bordeaux Burgundy wouldn’t get much of a shout. 

Further evidence of this sea change was to be found in the Cité’s top floor Belvedere tasting room – attractive for its 360 degree panorama and also for the complimentary glass of wine for each ticket holder. The array of bottles on the counter covered the globe. We sipped an Australian Shiraz as we gazed back through the heat haze to the city proper far beyond the futuristic Chaban-Delmas Bridge. Below us the Bassins à Flot – derelict tidal basins” – are undergoing gentrification. 

The advance guard has been the resurgent Les Halles de Bacalan market across the road from the Cité’. It’s a smart food hall, hosting 24 traders. Fronting it is a separate brasserie. La Familia, named after a treasured 1920s neighbourhood cinema and celebrating the food and drink of South West France. The regional platters were the mot impressive food offering.

From here the promenade back to the city centre is via the Quai des Chartrons, whose warehouses were central to the wine and slave trade which created the city’s wealth. Evidence of which is more than 5,000 restored houses from the 18th century and 350 listed historic monuments. Such glories make it a delight to wander around the UNESCO World Heritage Status Chartrons district and the charming Jardin Public. 

Most folk amble along the Rue de Notre Dame in search of antiques; we perversely discovered Rn7 Caviste at No.102, devoted exclusively to the wines of the Northern Rhone, where brave incomer Frederic Bennetot introduced us to the most impressive wines we tasted on our city break. Crozes Hermitage, St Joseph Cornas, Côte-Rôtie –  a treasure trove homage to the Syrah grape in premises that proclaim their former incarnation as an upholsterer’s.

The city, as you’d expect, boasts some terrific wine bars. Close to L’Intendant is Le Bar a Vin, a Bordeaux institution in lofty ornate premises. Government-subsidised, it offers bargain, by the glass offers of some seriously good wines. Around the Place St Pierre is a fertile area for an evening’s carousing. Check out near neighbours on the Rue des Bahutiers, Italian-owned The Wine Bar with more than 300 wines from around the world and excellent snacks to accompany them, and the hipper Vins Urbains. By the glass is expensive, so definitely go for a bottle to share (400 to choose from) and don’t miss the delights of their with even more bottles and a white truffle croque monsieur.

Some palate-cleansing hoppiness? Venture further down winding Bahutiers to its junction with with the Rue Alsace at Lorraine and you’ll encounter the Bordeaux branch of the French craft beer chain, Les BerThoM. It has a fine Belgian selection, but do try the fine local Merignac beer.

At the other end of the food and drink scale Bordeaux has it share of Michelin restaurants, non more high profile the Gordon Ramsay’s two-starred Le Pressoir d’Argent inside the InterContinental Bordeaux – Le Grand Hotel. Its name comes from the dining room’s centrepiece, a solid silver lobster press, on of only five in the world. Splash out well over €100 and they’ll serve you a native lobster fresh from the press, steamed with lemon leaf, corn, girolles, courgettes, coral and lemongrass bisque. Maybe the shadow of Brexit is straitening you purse strings? Stick to the €185 Origins Menu, featuring old Bordeaux’s signature fish dish, freshwater lamprey in a red wine sauce. We thought better of it.

Of course, you can dine superbly in small bistros, if you pick well, and then, it being France, make a beeline for a market. Les Halles de Capucins in the homely St Michael’s quarter, south of St Pierre, was in second gear the Tuesday we visited but could still maintain luxuriant fresh herb stall, the like of which I’ve never seen before (actually I recognised it from one of those Rick Stein’s Long Weekends programmes). 

Mid-morning was a perfect time to indulge in a half dozen Arcachon oysters and a tumbler of Entre deux Mers white at Chez Jean-Mi, bistrot a huitres. A piece of old Bordeaux. Vive les traditions Bordelaises.

It’s not all about wine – Three must-visits in Bordeaux

The Cathedrale Saint-André 

There’s nothing like a church tower panorama to help you get a feel for a city. We tried two. The gargoyle-thronged Gothic belfry, the Tour Pey Berland, was built in the 15th century alongside the Cathedral (a spire came later). 231 steps will take you to the viewpoint; be prepared to queue, visitor numbers are restricted. 

St Michel’s bell tower

Its contemporary rival, the 114 metre high bell tower of the Basilica of Saint-Michel is also freestanding and spired. Known as La Fleche (‘the arrow), it’s quite a climb but you are rewarded with a view down onto a vibrant local street market. The tower’s crypt used to house a collection of mummies unearthed from a local burial ground in the 18th century. Our macabre  expectations were dashed – they were reburied 40 years ago.

Get a masterpiece fix at the Musée des Beaux-Arts

One of France’s finest art galleries, built in 1881, has reopened after several years of renovation and offers an eye-opening primer in European fine art. The collection is housed in two glorious, separate wings – the south devoted to art from the 16th to the 18th century, and the north the 19th and 20th centuries. Artists who feature include Brueghel, Corot, Delacroix, Van Dyck, Kokoschka, Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, Rubens, Véronèse and Bordeaux’s own Odilon Redon.

For a full rundown on the city’s attractions visit Bordeaux Tourism.

I’m going to treat myself to all the Spring Gourmet Menu dishes pictured above and below. To celebrate an eight year anniversary of mine, coming up in June. OK, my day in their new Cookery School doesn’t even count as a footnote in the garlanded history of Northcote. The stalwart country house hotel had already held a Michelin star for 18 years when I donned their monogrammed apron and did it less than proud. 

In a 2014 piece for Manchester Confidential I charted the shame of my soggy lamb wellington. I’ve still got the apron; Northcote, at Langho outside Blackburn, retains the star… and perhaps deserves a second.

Much else has changed. Nigel Haworth, whose cooking earned the star, moved on after over 30 years’ at the stove. Good to see his new venture, bringing back to life his own former gastropub, The Three Fishes, has swiftly gained him 2022 Michelin Guide recognition. Now part of the Stafford Collection and handsomely refurbished, Northcote continues Nigel’s Obsession Festival, hosting the cream of the world’s chefs every January.

 The greatest legacy of all, though, is Lisa Goodwin-Allen, still just 40, who was barely out of her teens when she started there and rose to be head chef by the age of 23. These days her profile has never been higher. Only recently she was on telly again as a Great British Menu judge. Alongside overseeing Northcote, she spends a couple of days a month as consultant down in London for the Stafford. Holding the fort for hid exec head chef is 27-year-old head chef Danny Young, 2017 National Young Chef of the Year.

The pair have that Spring Gourmet Menu on the way and March (before it snowed) seemed a good time to revisit to road test their Chef’s Table in the same 16-capacity room that’s still home to the Cookery School. Its large glass doors look out onto the kitchen with a kitchen cam for salivating close-ups.

No wellington flashbacks for me thankfully as we tasted four seasonal courses. Slightly early days for vernal abundance to determine the menu entirely but ample evidence of a kitchen as good as, maybe better, than ever. Remarkable technical skills on show but not for show, the whole focus on enhancing the intense flavours of the raw materials. 

It’s an important balancing act to strive beyond country house food expectations without alienating the well-heeled, middle aged and beyond demographic. Though I do believe veteran MD Craig Bancroft when he outlines the importance paid to making first-timers feel at home, especially if daunted by an encyclopaedic wine list. I have no such qualms, on the day of the lunch recognising Craig’s nous in selecting a canny quartet of matching wines.

Our lunch consisted of Orkney scallop, ‘green curry’, cultured yoghurt, lemon (with the bonus of an extra, tempura scallop); quail, frozen liver parfait, apple verjus, bacon, sweet turnip; aged Lake District beef, allium, hen of the woods mushroom, black garlic; warm Bramley ‘Apple Pie’, nuts, maple, caramelised milk.

I loved that deconstructed apple pie (Lisa’s a technical whizz with puds) but the stand-out dish was the quail, served delicately with the bird’s liver in tiny frozen dice, melting into the gamey breast.

Invention is in a constant flurry of renewal in Michelin-starred kitchen. When we were there that new gourmet menu was on the brink of being approved. It sounds irresistible, hence I’m searching for a booking slot. And saving up. Priced at £115 per person, the menu can be paired with course-selected wine by the glass (£71.15) as well as the addition of The Northcote Cheeseboard (£15 or £20), comprising a selection of either five or seven cheeses from The Courtyard Dairy, served with Peter’s Yard Crackers and Homemade Bread. Available Wednesday to Sunday from 12pm to 2pm. So what do you get for your money?

Chargrilled Wye Valley asparagus, sheep’s curd, sorrel; roasted veal sweetbread, white mushroom, wild garlic, caper; wild turbot, clam, bacon, smoked potato, roe; Yorkshire duck, heirloom beetroot, aged balsamic, bee pollen; and that ‘apple pie’ (main image).

Northcote, Northcote Road, Langho, Blackburn BB6 8BE. 01254 240555. For information on a variety of gourmet breaks visit the website.