Courtyard 51 is now grillin’ Michelin stars

One of the things I love about London is discovering all the little hidden away places that are tucked down the many little alleyways and mews amongst the busy streets of the city.You just never know what hidden gem you’re going to run across, a carefully manicured garden, a centuries old pub or even a lovely Italianate courtyard. I was invited to visit one such place at Courtyard 51, which comes complete with Victorian fountain and reputedly the longest frieze in the world. It depicts all of Shakespear’s plays and links all 8 buildings that make up the courtyard of St. James Court just off Buckingham Gate in Belgravia. Courtyard 51 at Buckingham Gate is now launching their second season of alfresco dining complete with 4 evenings of opera to enjoy whilst dining on their veranda overlooking the courtyard. The entire area will be converted into an open air opera house. I went along to try the South Indian Coastal inspired cuisine by Michelin starred chef, Siriam Ayur, that they will be serving on their opera evenings and that is always available at the adjacent Quilon restaurant. Since it was not exactly a balmy summer’s eve, the clouds were out in force and there was a bit of a stiff breeze, our dinner was moved indoors, to the floor of Quilon. The food, however, was delicious. Siriam explained that a specially modified grill is used to cook the food perfectly. As an example, the freshwater char grilled prawns were soft and succulent, expertly grilled  with none of the hard spongy quality that comes from being frozen and then thawed out. Some other examples we tried from the grill included Mapla Chicken, Curry leaf and lentil crushed fish and cottage cheese and mixed veg grill. A very tasty dahl and assortment of rices were served along with some curried potato and cauliflower. Despite the fact that it was an Indian themed meal, the food was very light and tasty, not too spicy but with a...

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John Duval and Ventisquero wines

John Duval’s last vintage at Penfold’s was the Grange 2002 but like most winemakers, he couldn’t bring himself to retire and when Ventisquero heard he was leaving Penfold’s they snapped him up to be a consultant, as they were just beginning to launch their syrah making venture in Chile. John has produced two wines, we tried the ’05 vintages of the Pangea which is 100% syrah and the Vertice, which is a blend of syrah and carmenere. We had the pleasure of tasting his wines  along with Ventisquero’s Grey range matched with some very delicious food at Apsleysin the Lanesborough Hotel. John made the ’05 Pangea using grapes from the Apalta vineyards in the Colchagua Valley. Apalta being the heart of Ventisquero’s premium wine growing region, produces wines that are elegant yet fresh and lively due to the higher elevation of the vineyards. Made up of 100% syrah and aged in 50% new French oak (John likes his oak) aged 18 months and then let to rest for one year in bottle,  there were floral notes on the nose as well as full on berry fruits emanating from the glass. A full bodied red with a hit of pepper on it and of course very nicely integrated oak notes. Soft, round, supple – plush! would be a good way to describe this wine. The ’05 Vertice was a pleasing, lighter wine, a blend of syrah and carmenere also from the Apalta vineyards, this wine was lighter in character and had a smooth chocolaty character to it with some nice spice and red chili pepper coming out. Again having those nice round tannins which make this such a mouthfilling wine.  Having said that though, both wines are quite big and powerful, neither being a shrinking violet. Both wines were paired with roasted pigeon royal with a pearl onion and mustard seed sauce with a special surprise of a hunk of foie gras hidden beneath the breast. What a fantastic surprise! I love foie and with...

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All I want for Christmas is a magnum of Ch. Grand Puy Lacoste 1986 (done!)

This has been a week of good wine drinking. First a visit to The Sampler with Sarah and now Christmas Day and a magnum of Ch. Grand Puy Lacoste 1986. My friend James had been dying to open this one up ever since he bought it and what better time than Christmas Day! Bordeaux is one of my favourites but I don’t get many chances to drink aged Bordeaux. One of the better estates in Paulliac, Ch. Grand Puy Lacoste was classified as a fifth growth back in 1855 but it’s such a consistent and well made wine, that many consider it to be as good as if not better than many a second growth in Bordeaux. 1986 was a hot summer producing thick skinned grapes yielding wines with plenty of firm tannic structure. On the 23rd of September there was a thunderstorm in the Medoc which missed the northern part.  The result being that Paulliac and St. Julien were spared, enabling them to produce dry and compact wines. Wines with great minerality and aromatics. A blend of 75% Cab, 25% merlot and aged in  30% new oak, it’s best served at 19 degrees, the perfect temperature for such a wine with quite a tannic structure. We could smell the cassis even before pouring the wine into the glass. Notes of cedar, graphite, coffee cream (James said. I got more of a fresh coffee bean aroma) and sweet licorice. On the palate an intense fruit core, rich, ripe blackcurrant predominately, excellent tannic backbone  to hang the fruit on along with plenty of acidity to balance it out. Drinking perfectly at the moment and the quintessential food wine for the holidays, marrying fabulously with the turkey and all the trimmings, except for the braised red cabbage, but what goes with that, anyway? Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInPocketRedditGoogleTumblrEmailPrintPinterestLike this:Like...

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Elvis is in the building (or at least his wines are)

I always forget how much I love Elvis Presley’s music until I hear it, then it instantly transports me back to my childhood. My parents weren’t huge Elvis fans but my dad did like to pop in a cassette tape every now and then on road trips. Well, Elvis is back and here in the UK! Well, not entirely true, Elvis wines are trying to break into the UK wine market. Yup, an entrepreneurial Swede by the name of Dan Samson has already brought “The King”  to Sweden and the Netherlands. Dan has teamed up with Signature Wines  and their Graceland Cellars range to help bring Elvis to the masses again. Actually, it’s like the Marilyn Merlot brand of wine. Neither Marilyn nor Elvis have anything to do with the wine but their visages peer out at you and if it makes your nearest and dearest Elvis fan happy, what’s the harm? The Winesleuth (me)  had the chance to speak with Dan at the recent California Wine Trade Show here in London, watch the video to see what he had to say about Elvis in the building… I have to admit, I was rather dubious when I saw the wines but on tasting them all my doubts vanished. These were not just gimmick wines but also well made wines. I sampled the Jailhouse Rock Merlot and the Blue Suede Shoes Chardonnay. Both were approachable, easy drinking wines. The  merlot was soft and fruity but had a bit of structure to it and the chardonnay, while it did have oak on it, was not too oaky and had some nice ripe tropical fruit on the nose and palate. The wines have won numerous awards in the States at various competitions so the quality is certainly there. They’re not yet available in the UK but Dan believes that they’ll retail for around £8 – £10, reasonable for a Califoria wine in Europe. The grapes are sourced from the Santa Rosa Valley, in Northern California, near Sonoma Valley and all...

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Clos du Val Merlot 05, Cab. 05 – Napa Valley

Getting a winery tour or tasting can be difficult with some wineries requiring reservations up to 3 months in advance! Fortunately, many have tasting rooms that don’t need any such thing. Driving down the road, you just look for the little A-board signs sitting by the roadway, inviting you in for a taste. Clos du Val was once such winery. I’ve had their wines before and vaguely remember enjoying them. The hostess was a very friendly sort, although she did ask me for ID to prove I was old enough to drink. Let me tell you, she made my day! Clos du Val was set up 35 years ago by the Frenchman Bernard Portet. His mission was to produce classic estate-style wines and to that end, I think he has succeeded. I tasted and bought the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Merlot. The 2005 Napa Valley Merlot is a Bordeaux blend, as are most of the wines from Clos du Val, primarily merlot with a bit of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon added to give it structure and balance. California merlot can be flabby and jammy but this blend was most definitely not. Pleasing aromas of plum and blackfruits, a rounded, full bodied mouthfeel and juicy blackberry, licorice and sweet spice flavours. Well balanced acidity was another big plus along with a nice long finish. A smoothly elegant merlot to have on it’s own or with a meal. The 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic Bordeaux style blend of cabernet sauvignon, cab franc and merlot. It’s big and meaty with plenty of tannins in there to help it age gracefully. Lots of currants, blackberry and cassis with a generous bit of spiciness and cedar to finish it off. One of the perks of dining out in Napa is that all the restaurants allow you to bring in your own wine for a reasonable corkage fee (usually between $15 – $20). I took one of my purchases with me to dinner at...

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