Monday, 29 June 2009

Lambic: The Oldest Alcoholic Tradition?

I suppose most people with an interest in beer are aware that Belgian brewing has an ancient history. Personally, until today, I was bored by Belgian beer - probably something to do with Belgo. I was therefore less than thrilled when Adam told me we were adding a Belgian Strawberry beer to the burgeoning roster at The Westbridge. (Oh, and did I mention that I am also predisposed against fruit beers?)

"But" - he protested with finality - "It's a draft Lambic Beer". I nodded sagely and scuttled off to the office to look it up on Wikipedia.

It emerges that Lambic beer is indeed interesting, with a properly precise, ancient history. Without wishing to bore on (and after all - you could look it up on Wiki) the key to it is the beer is fermented by being pumped into a large room (see picture above) where it picks up the wild yeast in the air through the slatted window openings. They have been doing this since the mid 11th Century and it may only be called lambic if it is produced in Pajottenland, a small area around Brussels.

A key characteristic of beer brewed in this style is sourness. This, historically, has been counter-acted by adding fruitjuice to sweeten the brew. Rather like the ancient West Country biker tradition known as Cider & Black.

Timmerman's Strawberry Lambic Beer is now available at The Westbridge.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Breton Cider, Normandy Perry at The Westbridge

After a diligent, some would say slavish, week thus far I practically fell into the arms of Tom Fox last night. Tom is the patron of Meriadoc - purveyor of the finest artisan ciders and perries from Northern France. With a Breton mother, he has form, not to mention a deep and abiding knowledge of his chosen subject. And he was here for a tasting - what ho!

Pick of the bunch was a Perry by Fernand (Normandy). This had a terrific balance of sweetness and acidity with great fruit (blah blah). I forced it on a few innocent bystanders at the Westbridge and their guess on the ABV ranged from 4.5% - 5.2%. It is in fact 3%. What a boon for the summer driver. We're thinking of doing this by the bottle for £12/£13 (bottles are 75cl, i.e. full wine bottle size).

Of the ciders the least attractive, with a sulphurous nose, was the Breton Gourmand (the Greedy Breton), which sadly had the most entertaining label (damn).
Of the rest, the Cellier de Boals was the pick of the ciders: really a very light, elegant aperitif (5%) which we perhaps ambitiously feel we may sell to parties on a budget in lieu of champagne or prosecco. As we can do it for £13.50 / 75cl bottle this may work, given how expensive prosecco has become.

We aim to have the Perry and the Boals in stock for July and August so do seek them out.

Tom can be reached here.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Merenda in Nice

Lunch with Rowley yesterday reminds me that I neglected to mention my failure to get to Merenda while in Nice last month. He reports that on being seated, the customer is presented with a blackboard which is then hung on a peg by your table. On one side this says: "Pas de telephone. Pas de Cartes de Credit." Merenda is also closed Saturdays and Sundays.

The image above is stolen from the internet, for which - apologies. That's because I had the temerity to visit Nice on the weekend.

All of this is regrettable because Rowley confirms that Merenda's offering is the purest and best expression of Nicoise cooking that there is. Henry Harris says the same. And that's good enough for me.

Chenin and Cabernet Franc: The Next Generation

Monday 8th June 7.30
This month we take a look at a renaissance of great wine making in Anjou and Touraine with the expert guidance of Bristol wine merchant Nick Brookes of Vine Trail. Alongside these exciting wines we are serving a menu featuring the classic, temperate bourgeoise cuisine of that region.

This dinner is tremendously good value at an all-in price of £70.00. Bookings at reception or with events manager Nicky Lynskey (



Vouvray Brut Vincent Raimbault

Escalope of Salmon with Sorrel
Montlouis sur Loire 07 Premier Rendez-Vous, Bertrand & Lise Jousset
Anjou 06 Clos des Rouliers, Richard Leroy

Braised Breast of Veal with Broad Beans and Bacon
Chinon 06 Clos du Noyer, Famille Grosbois
Saumur Champigny 06 Amateus Bobi, Sebastien Bobinet

Livarot & Saint Maure, Walnut Bread
Montlouis sur Loire Singulier 07 Bertrand & Lise Jousset
Les Noels de Montbenault 06 Richard Leroy

Cherry Custard Tart
Vouvray 02 Reserve Vincent Raimbault
The New Loire
If there were awards for wine regions that had improved the most over the last 10 years, the Loire would be run away winners. Cast you mind back to the late nineties and Muscadet was overcropping, making a light wine even thinner; Vouvray and the Chenin appellations were doing the same but because their wines were ageworthy, made sure by overdosing on the sulphur; Chinon and Saumur Champigny and all the cabernet franc appellations were made from a grape that very rarely ripened properly, giving fruit with green tannins and a vegetal quality.
Ten years on and the Loire has turned itself inside out. What were the spurs for this change? Firstly, an influx of extremely determined new vignerons bringing in skills learned in other trades, who saw the untapped potential of the region. In Montlouis, for instance, there are now more organic domaines than any other appellation in France. The wines are attracting international acclaim yet ten years ago Montlouis was on its knees. .Secondly, a commitment to hands-on, more determined work in the vineyards leading to better quality grapes has been vital in the region's progress. Working the soils, leaving grass to grow to compete against the vines, a move toward organic viticulture and so less herbicides, pesticides etc. have all played their part in producing riper grapes from lower yields. Thirdly, small is beautiful. It is impossible to put in all the hard graft in the vineyard necessary to produce great wine if there are too many vines to tend. And so many of the top wines are from small vineyards - Sebastien Bobinet in Saumur Champigny has the smallest full-time vineyard in the Loire with just two hectares, Richard Leroy in Anjou has two and a half, Bertrand and Lise Jousset in Montlouis have eight and a half and Nicolas Grosbois in Chinon has nine. Finally a warmer climate as a result of global warming has also enormously helped the late ripening chenin and cabernet franc vines to attain levels of ripeness rarely seen prior to 2000.
There is now a determination evident amongst the best Loire growers to show that their wines are not just good examples of the local wines, but also have enough quality and complexity to challenge the finest wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux. For instance, the brilliant wines of Richard Leroy in Anjou and Jousset in Montlouis are made from yields of 25 hectos per hectare - 20 hectos less than grand crus in Puligny. Not only are these great chenins more versatile food wines, but they are also not suffocating under high percentages of new oak, so can be enjoyed in their youth but will have a life three to four times longer than Burgundy's grand crus. And they are less than a quarter of the price!

Nick Brookes