A few thoughts on coffee, craft beer and wine…

10303878_283130681861364_3939388416375935026_nCouple of weekends ago, the caffeine-driven people of Cup North delivered their coffee fest (or fair?) to the roasted bean aficionados of Manchester…and quite possibly beyond.

I guess I fit the French stereotype perfectly: I love baguettes, salted butter from Brittany, I love wine, I love cheese… and I love coffee; nice and black if you please.

The one thing that has been very obvious and unavoidable in Manchester over the last couple of years is the emergence of a myriad of coffee shops coming along with their Apple-geared, toned-up, bearded folk fitting so beautifully in that now classic stripped-back Scandinavian decor. I can think of at least three establishments in Manchester city centre that have already reached the “coffee institution” status having opened in the last 12 months.

Thing is, I rarely get to visit such places because I do not live or work in or near the city centre. So far, there aren’t any coffee places near those two locations presenting quite the same level of meticulous attention and care to the beverage. So to cut a long story short, I have little experience of the very modern coffee culture. But on one of the rare occasions I visited such a coffee powerhouse, I was faced with a certain level of smugness passing for geekiness. Let me explain.

I’ve got no problem, in fact I very much welcome the concept that coffee is a natural product. Grown in various places on earth, coming from different varieties to which certain processes are applied between harvest and drinking. In that sense it’s not dissimilar at all to wine. I have to confess though, when I was exposed to a cup of a coffee that was clearer than tea, had more flavours in common with that British favourite than the rich, chocolatey drink I have been used to all my life, and had to pay a fiver for it… it was a bit of a shock to the system. Still, I do not want to discard that experience as fanciful and preposterous.

On that basis, Cup North was a good opportunity to have a chat with this niche community of coffee experts. What’s the craic with coffee and what has happened to this scene for it to emerge so quickly and strongly? I mean, my perception of Britain is that of a tea-drinking nation. I know Starbucks, Costa & Co have been mushrooming everywhere for years but I still thought somehow that tea was by far the non-alcoholic drink of choice. It appears it may not be quite so. The event was seemingly well attended and most coffee roasters’ and traders’ stands were always busy. It wasn’t however sufficient for me to uncover the answer to the above question. I still don’t quite know why suddenly (and I appreciate it may not have been that sudden but I can only relate to my own observations here) it has become more commercially viable to offer a much more upmarket coffee proposition. I do think the satellite trends of vintage, Scandinavian design, the rise of artisan products, the resurgence of “authenticity”, the advent of Instagram, all helped in making the scene more “glamourous” to the anti-glam (bling-less) trend seekers; just personal observations.


The most interesting aspect of the event for me however was the presentation delivered by Laurent Richet MS (Master Sommelier) which I had the chance to attend. Briefly, Laurent is one of about 230 people in the world to have achieved the rank of Master Sommelier, a grade he reminded us all numerous times was very hard to achieve. Well, it is. Laurent is currently Head Sommelier at Michelin Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham and seems to be doing a damn good job there. It was great to have a light-hearted and informal insight into this world and Laurent’s work, including a preview of his wine list; and I don’t mean the actual wines within it but the design of it, how the information is communicated to the customer in order to facilitate their decision. But why was a top notch wino invited to talk about wine in the coffee nest?

Well as already stated, coffee and wine both have many similarities and it turns out that places like Sat Bains Restaurant for one takes coffee very seriously. But all this, the chat, the similarity with wine, the hype around coffee, the “geekiness” surrounding it which could be compared to that of craft beer, got me thinking: the craft beer and more recently the coffee industry have clearly done a great job at promoting themselves, making themselves attractive, “cool”, “hip” or however you see it. Somehow both industries have been rather successful at convincing enough consumers to partake with a bit more of their money than they would have to for the established mass-market equivalent product. From where I stand, relying on my experience as a craft beer consumer from the early days, I’d say there was a certain level of understanding required about the product for a consumer to willingly spend the extra quid, at least at the start when craft beers were quite a bit more expensive than your average lager or ale.

Having observed the birth of British craft beer mastodon Brewdog and its rise to prominence, their use of punk culture and peace-disturbing marketing, they have definitely convinced many consumers in a short space of time that beer flavour is highly correlated to higher production costs leading to higher retail prices…and this is a good thing. The price of their products was after all the main argument against craft beer put forward by customers and the rest of the ‘conventional’ beer industry. Cue, where are we now?

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Image from: https://www.brewdog.com/lowdown/press-hub/brewdog-to-the-people-revolutionises-the-way-it-sells

Understanding means education and from observing the behaviour of consumers overall, only a minority are, in my opinion, willing to put the time and effort into educating themselves about a specific product, unless they have a strong personal interest in it (hobby) or they become convinced that they will get some form of benefit from putting that effort in. The benefit can be as shallow as being perceived to be “cool’, “trendy”, “fashionable” or as genuine as enjoying the artisan, high-value product a lot more than the mass-market equivalent, to the point that it would justify the extra cost.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? From my perspective, these two industries (in fact I could add the craft spirit industry in there too) have been more successful than the wine industry at making themselves more trendy, more fashionable and at convincing people that understanding more about their product will result in greater enjoyment even at a higher cost.

Unfortunately, at the end of Laurent’s presentation, the presenters went straight to an all-round chit-chat with previous speakers to discuss the coffee scene a little bit more. Not that this discussion was unwarranted, far from it, but I didn’t feel that connected to the conversation that was unfolding at the time. From my selfish perspective it felt like they could have had this chat between themselves and they didn’t really need an audience for this. There were more members of the event organisation than members of the public left at that point. And we too had to leave. But I would have loved to have discussed the above observations with Laurent and other members of the coffee scene and the audience because I am always on the lookout for ideas on how we can bring the wine chat to 2015 and to cool Britain. I know that there are MANY consumers out there who would love to know more about appreciating wine better but currently do not get involved because of many perceptions that prevent them from doing so. Some of these are real but many are illusional, ensuing from negative preconceptions perpetrated by many years of pompous discourse on the subject.

Mrs Goodzouk made a few valid points on our way back in that wine is a more difficult, intimidating subject than beer and coffee, and is ultimately less accessible in absolute money terms (it is after all more expensive than coffee although I would argue that beer’s perceived affordability can be a bit of an illusion too, but that’s a separate conversation). In other words: wine may need more consumer education to convince said consumer that spending £15 on a bottle of wine instead of £5 or £10 is going to be worth it. And the more consumers’ time and attention are needed, the more we are going to lose some of them on the way. After all, life is already super busy and our time and money is precious.

On that basis I still think that there is a LOT more work we, us in the wine industry, can do to improve the image of wine and make it more accessible. We need to acknowledge that we are suffering from decades of pompousness, high-brow action so that we can move past it and regain the conversation with our customers. This is a stigma that coffee, beer and spirits do not seem to share and that may explain in part why they have seemingly made bigger strides in expanding their respective market share in recent times.

I believe that with the clever use of social media, we can give the wine world a much needed face lift, a burst of colour and fun, which in turn will help us deserve that extra attention from consumers and enrich the dialogue.


Christophe & Fils Chablis Premier Cru 2012 “Montée de tonnerre”

Processed with VSCOcam with se3 presetI’ve refrained from opening one of these for about 2 years now but tonight I fancied something nice. Because like Reserve James said wisely earlier today, the best time to open a really good bottle is when you have nothing planned and you have all the time you need to appreciate it.

I’ve been watching England vs Fidji tonight and spending some time with this Chablis 1er Cru 2012 from Christophe et Fils, acquired from Naked Wines in 2013. I don’t remember how much I paid for it but I think this one would have been over £20, maybe just under with “Angel” price.

It’s currently superb with fresh orchard fruit and a touch of cream/yogurt aromas. Intense and vivid on the palate, great acidity and length. Bright yellow apples, white pepper, mineral flint, it’s all there.

Montée de Tonerre is a single 1er Cru vineyard in the Chablis area, bordering the river Serein. As you may or may not know, Chablis is the name of the place, Chardonnay is the grape. Whilst Chablis is generally associated with the wider Burgundy appellation, there are a few cases for it to be its own appellation really. For one, it really doesn’t make the same sort of wines as they do in the Côte de Beaune.

Chablis has a a soil more akin to that of Sancerre in the Loire valley and Champagne, called a Kimmeridgian soil. It’s calcareous and full of old fossils from millions of years ago when the land was basically the ocean. Some say this soil give the wine that unmistakable “mineral” or “flinty” quality. On the other hand, science has shown that there is no exchange of minerals between the soil and the grape. So nobody has really explained how we get “soil characteristics” in the flavour of the wine.

Fact is, it’s a tremendous wine. Whilst I’m loving this right now, I think I opened it too soon. It’s still quite tight and a little closed. Airing it opens it up a bit but age will give it grace, depth and complexity.

Lucky I have 2 more on the rack.

Happy Friday y’all!

Cantine Carpentiere, Pietra Dei Lupi 2005

IMG_1112I am not sure why, but this wine triggered my desire to write about my wine drinking experiences again.

I came across it last year, at an Italian wine tasting hosted by Reserve Wines* and curated by Rob from For The Love of Wine. FTLOW, for short, are one of Reserve Wines’ supplier of fine Italian wines, mainly from the Puglia region. Cantine Carpentiere is one of the wineries they represent and their wines are just fantastic.

The Cantine sits at the foot of Castel del Monte, a UNESCO World Heritage site, within the Alta Murgia National Park. Have a look on Google Street View, the flora and fauna look so splendidly wild and rich. Definitely my kind of destination for a holiday.

The Pietra dei Lupi is made from 100% Uva di Troia or Nero di Troia which basically means Trojan grape, allegedly imported from troy by Diomedes whilst in exile. In this part of the world, on low rolling hills, at 450m altitude, not far from the sea but quite far south in latitude, the diurnal range (difference in temperature between night and day) reaches high amplitudes. This is generally a good thing as it prolongs the ripening period of the grape and allows it to retain freshness and biting acidity, achieving optimum balance between flavour ripeness, alcohol and acidity. The grapes are hand-harvested at the end of October, then fermented in stainless steel where the new wine stays for another 3 months before going into huge Slavonian oak casks for a bit of oxidative ageing (approx. 12 months).IMG_1113

And here’s another piece of trivia – you never know, it could come up at your next pub quiz. The pietra dei lupi (in plain English: the wolf stone) is a piece of stone locked into the wall, or cantilevered, that hangs over the wall thereby preventing predators and rodents from jumping over and entering the pen. Well, at least it used to; I reckon it’s a bit more sophisticated nowadays.

When we tasted this wine last year, I remember thinking at the time that the tannins and presence of fruit along with the bright acidity warranted further cellaring. Based on recent reports of some bottles of that vintage having failed however, I thought I’d waited long enough.

At first it was fresh and crunchy with wild strawberries and red cherries, a hint of herbs and liquorice and a touch of those tertiary aromas that come with bottle age. Very elegant but the fruit was lacking a bit. After a little air time though, it really came to its own, developing towards more bramble fruits and black cherries, with more depth and a certain brooding character. Clearly that extra year in bottle was all this wine needed to fully come to its own. I’m so glad it made it here safe and sound.

Like in all things in life, taste is highly personal. But if you extract some form of pleasure from an experience that is proportional to the attention or effort you are putting into it, then you’re a winner.  This is an elegant, but most importantly, approachable wine. It didn’t require all that much effort in order to extract all its olfactory components yet the little attention I gave it rewarded me with a comparable amount of pleasure and that’s all a wine drinker should really ask for. To me, that’s the definition of a good wine, not its price point or its name. It’s a well made wine with no arrogance but a story to tell on the label and in the glass.

*Disclaimer: I became a full-time employee of Reserve Wines in May 2014. I do not believe this affects my judgement of the wine or any other wine I taste and discuss here but you are allowed to think differently. Happy to discuss.

Previously, on OfMustAndMash… #MWWC9

Wine and oliveThis blog is starting to look like an old hut in an abandoned vineyard. Shame nature cannot take over the digital world as brilliantly and fascinatingly as it does in the real world. A blog wasteland is just not as poetic nor does it have any purpose.

On the plus side however, there isn’t much tidying up to do when I come back to it. So what has happened since the last time there was any light in the cabin I hear you ask…?

Continue reading

Bruwer Raats – Family Cabernet Franc 2010

Bruwer Raats - Family CFI discovered Bruwer’s wines from South Africa about 7 months ago following the Naked Wines’ Tasting Tour back in June. I had picked up on raving reviews from some big wine guns and when I sampled his wines at the tasting it was pretty special so I bagged myself a Dolomite Cabernet Franc to start with. The Dolomite is Bruwer’s entry level and a perfect place to start in my opinion. It’s like a lighter version of the family.

Quote from my review on Naked Wines’ website at the time “one quick pointer to how good it is is how quickly we’ve downed it despite its 14% rating. It is sooo drinkable it’s like fruit juice”.

But on Valentine’s night, which we decided to spend at home with some cured meat and cheeses, it was the perfect excuse to try something a bit more special. Continue reading

Blind tasting #1


Over the last 2.5 years, through the use of this blog, twitter and other social media, my network has considerably extended. The various means of communication on offer today are mesmerising. Speaking a second language is also an enjoyable bonus as it creates even more opportunities to extend your reach.  I can communicate directly with journalists, bloggers, winemakers, wine critics….. politicians… Anyone who speaks French or English. In the Mondovino, Continue reading

Beer of the week – Siren Craft Brew Undercurrent

DSC_0058I found this little treasure in the veg drawer of my fridge when I started putting my Lancashire Hotpot together earlier. Whilst we will be trying out a Gigondas from Aldi with the hotpot, I thought “what the hell, the chef needs a beer”.

I first heard of and tasted the Siren Craft Brew ales shortly after their official launch at one of the Craft Beer Co pubs in London back in March this year. I loved their beers straight away, they were clean, flavoursome, unique and refreshing and a few more adjectives could surely be used.

Most recently I had the keg version of the Undercurrent from Brewdog in Manchester. It was crisp but malty with a good hoppy finish but I thought there was something missing.

Well I am now enjoying the bottle version and nothing is missing for sure. Even the dead yeast (is it called lees as well in the world of beer ?) is still there. It pours a hazy brown/copper and smells of orange peel and grapefruit, exotic spices and – let’s get lyrical – orange blossom. It’s bodily on the palate with some sweet oaty malts. A bitter citrus pith together with some floral notes keeps the midpalate fresh and sharp. The caramel malts make their way down softly, leaving a biscuity finish. It’s a pretty damn fine beer.

This Siren Brew Co Undercurrent bottle came from the Chorlton off-licence where you can get it for £2.50…who said craft beer was expensive?


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