What’s in a glass?

Published on The Prodigal Guide on 10th October 2012:

Riedel tasting, Qin Xie

I dare say the majority of us never stop to consider the humble vessel that carries our favourite tipple and delivers it to our palate with ease. Instinctively, champagne comes in flutes and whisky in tumblers but then what?

For one company, the shape of the glass is everything. And that’s Riedel.

Based in Austria, the fine glass company has over 250 years of history and makes everything from glasses to decanters. More decorative pieces are produced under Spiegelau and Nachtmann but the Riedel branch of the business is all about the varietal specific design.

It was the 9th generation Claus Josef Riedel who first unvealed the company’s varietal specific glass in 1973. The idea was that the shape of the glass changed the way that the wine and its aromas were delivered to the palate and nose respectively. That means a different glass is needed for each type of wine to enhance its properties, say the fruit in a Pinot Noir or spice in Shiraz.

Riedel is still the only company to tailor glasses to the grape and remains the industry leader, releasing new designs every year. Most recently it partnered with luxury boutique tea merchants Lalani & Co to examine the changing profile of tea according to the service glass, with future plans to develop and tailor glasses for teas (current library can be found at Browns, Trishna and Hibiscus).

So what is it about the glass?

Riedel tasting, Qin Xie

I went to a tasting with the 10th generation Georg Josef Riedel at Lord’s Cricket Ground to find out more.

Having previously received a short demonstration of Riedel glasses, I knew vaguely what to expect – that wines will vary in taste and smell in the different glasses. What I hadn’t expected was that the tasting would begin with bottled mineral water.

The water was poured into Riedel’s Vinum Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet glasses and sampled in turn. The aromaless liquid served well to demonstrate how the different glasses delivered the water to various parts of the mouth making the liquid seem at times more refreshing and others higher in minerality.

Wines representing Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet varieties, presented in labelless cups, were then sampled in turn. They were of course, as expected, enhanced or diminished according to the glass they were in.

What was really surprising was the results of the small food and wine pairing session.

In your average food and wine pairing session, you’d expect to learn that certain foods work well with a wine depending on things like sugar, salt, acid and fat content in the food. In the Riedel tasting, it was all about how the perceived compatibility of a food and wine pairing changed according to the glass which the wine was drunk from.

The conclusion?

A remarkable difference was revealed despite the small selection of chocolates for tasting against the various wines and glasses. So much so that a pairing was noticeably improved or indeed otherwise depending on the glass used. It seems, the shape of the glass not only had an effect on the wine drinking experience but also the food pairing. Now that’s food for thought.

If you are interested in attending a Riedel tasting, their next event runs on the following dates:

Olympic nosh at Annex East

Published on The Prodigal Guide on 9th August 2012:

Jimmy's Supper Club at Annex East

The Annex East pop-up has been open in Stratford since the 21st of July and will be there for the duration of the Olympic games. Situated at the end of Carpenters Road, near the Aquatics Centre, it’s closer than a stone’s throw from the gates but inside is another world.

The 1800 square-foot warehouse space combines a pop-up restaurant, fully licensed bar, entertainment space and gallery.

Split into two levels, the ground floor is an exhibition space showcasing artwork from independent galleries in London including Limoncello Gallery and Hannah Barry Gallery.

The mezzanine level, on the other hand, hosts live music, a custom designed bar and Jimmy’s Supper Club run by Jimmy Garcia of Southwest Supper Club.

During the day, themed meals, based on the last five Olympic hosts (Beijing 2008, Athens 2004, Sydney 2000, Atlanta 1996 and Barcelona 1992), are offered alongside gourmet sandwiches and snacks. The Beijing 2008, for example, is a duck and red pepper noodle salad with chilli, lime and coriander dressing.

Don’t worry about missing the games either. A large flat screen will be available to view the games whether you’re having a spot of lunch or simply enjoying a much needed drink.

Jimmy's Supper Club at Annex East

In the evening, the vibe completely changes.

Still casual, dinner is a sit down affair with different events running each night. With wine matching, film and quiz nights running, there’s always something other than the food to keep you occupied. Plus, the bar is licensed until 2am.

But if food is the main reason you’re heading to Annex East, then you certainly won’t be disappointed. It’s not quite Michelin quality but it’s impressively prepared, especially when you realise how small the kitchen actually is.

You get a choice of starters, mains and desserts alongside a set trio of canapés and petit fours.

For starters, the smoked British duck breast is particularly good. Delicately smoky and thinly sliced, the meat is tender and well balanced in flavour. Served with cherry compote, cherry coke reduction and savoury cherry muffin, it’s really classic combinations reinterpreted.

The trio of pork makes a good solid main if you’re hungry. Crisp pork belly, confit cheek and pancetta crisp offers contrasting textures while the spiced apple purée and Calvados jus whets the palate with fruity acidity.

The Eton Mess has to be the tidiest sweet around – raspberry coulis neatly drizzled over berry ripple meringues, strawberry cream and fresh berries. It’s quintessentially English and truly delightful.

The service will be touchingly personal because, though it’s not inside someone’s home, it is a Supper Club and not a restaurant. But please do leave a tip – it’s easy to see these guys work incredibly hard to create what promises to be a wonderful evening.

Fish & chips at Kerbisher & Malt: But what to drink?

Published on The Prodigal Guide on 2nd May 2012:

Fish and chips, so simple, British and… Actually surprisingly complex when it comes to drink pairings. Think about it, what do you have to drink when you go to your local chippy? Larger? Stout? Coke? Tea?

Actually I don’t know the answer to that question but the offer of a gastro-oeno experiment from Tom Harrow of Winechap enticed me. The posher than average chip shop Kerbisher & Malt was the location and the crowd was wine types, tea types and me, falling somewhere in between, arguably not particularly excelling at either except in quantities consumed.

Kerbisher & Malt, named after an old fishing boat and of course malt vinegar, opened in May 2011 by owners Saul Reuben and Nick Crossley. From the off, they promised “no to preservatives, no to food from a packet, no to dirty oil, no to neon lights and no to soggy chips”. And now they’re getting serious about their drinks menu, too.

Working through the Kerbisher menu, we had a selection that went from Chardonnay up to Champagne, and Oolong down to breakfast tea supplied by the Rare Tea Company (just for the purpose of the experiment). It was really a Marmite collection of matches that served well to divide the opinion of the table.

Starting with whitebait and calamari for light bites and the Cuvée des Croix Blanches Muscadet 2010 for refreshment, the discussion was already bubbling. For me, the muscadet worked with the whitebait but the light spice of the calamari fought its corner against the wine and won.

The De Telmont Grande Reserve Champagne that came next worked in harmony with the chips and copious amounts of ketchup but, it seems, possibly little else. Perhaps that was always a drink meant for supping on its own or with grander comestibles.

Next up was the La Gitana Manzanilla which, though refreshing alone, for me, was a terrible match for everything. While I blamed a particularly bad sherry cocktail for that conclusion, the rest of the table welcomed its acidity.

Haddock arrived at the table along with pours of Pilsner and Riverlands Sauvignon Blanc 2001, both proved to be poorly matched to the fish but worked well with the sides – the Pilsner overpowered while the sauvignon blanc was overpowered. Clearly this was a match with more than a few struggles.

More chips arrived and the riesling came in the form of Dr Loosen 2010 which I particularly enjoyed. It was a serious contender for matching with everything, especially the ketchup. But on second evaluation, not so good with vinegar soaked chips.

Wheat beer was the last alcoholic drink and was a relatively neutral finish – it didn’t add anything or take anything away and if you liked beer well then it must be a no-brainer.

Then came the soft drinks. The bitterness of the Fentiman’s Traditional Lemonade was much improved by the vinegar soaked chips which brought out more of its floral qualities, while its pink counter part faired a little better on its own. The Coca Cola did little to impress either way. But the winner must surely have been the Oolong which, on the first brewing at least, did well to work harmoniously with everything. On the second brewing, though, the tea became too bitter for the chips and needed a douse of milk.

At the end of the evening the table was divided on the favourites. It came down to wheat beer or manzanilla, which the beer narrowly won. The Oolong followed closely behind and came up crème in the soft drinks.

What surprised me, and perhaps everyone else, was the fact that ketchup smothered food seemed to work with everything. Is ketchup the wunderkind that will facilitate all wine matches? Guy Goodward, editor of Decanter, poses that we need to further test the drink matching capabilities of fish and chips with fine vintages. I’m inclined to agree. But then I am always hungry for a good feed, especially if well watered too.