Get Ready to Sample

Back to a cooler climate for a change (not me, but the blog). Its time to write about my favorite wine shop in London. The Sampler is everything I want from a wine boutique. They have a large selection with some emphasis on small producer sparkling, they have an abundance of tasting machines, and they serve snacks. I love having snacks with my wine.

The sampler has two locations in London. The original one is in Islington and then the one we mainly visit (and the one this post is about) is in South Kensington, just a stone throw away from the tube. This branch is slightly more spacious and I also feel that the staff has been very attentive and knowledgeable. The set-up is that they sell over 1500 wines. It is a wide range of wines from “cheap” (below £10 per bottle, not talking about bag in box here) and up to high-end wines. They are not really aiming for the big brands but rather more unique or interesting wines which makes it a really great place to find new things.

At all times they have at least 80 wines ready to sample in the tasting machines. To use the machines you just need to buy a card that can be carged with money (at least £10), a bit like an Oyster card (public transport). After topping up you can insert the card in the machine and press a button to sample the wines. There are three different sizes of tasters so it is great if you want to sample a lot of wines without getting too tipsy. There is usually also a few really rare and expensive wines in the mix, so this is a great way to sample some things that you may never dream of buying. Sometimes I just want to see what (if anything) I am missing out on.

The Sampler also serves some nibbles like charcuteries and cheeses and there are seats to sit down and enjoy a full glass (or glasses). They also arrange some tasting events with specific focus on type of wine, region or matching. For example I recall they had an event on best wines to match with chocolate. Mmmm! Thinking of the Sampler makes me want to live in London again.

The selection of wine is also very interesting and I have found a lot of my favorites and new favorites here. They are especially good with grower champagnes and US red wines, some of my favorite categories. Despite being a great shop prices are also reasonable and this makes the Sampler my top wine shop in London. There are of course many other good places with nice wine and tasting possibilities, like my new hangout on Charlotte street, Vagabond. Check out the review here. However the Sampler was my “first love” in London, so it will always have a place in my heart as one of the favorites (unless they screw it up with bad service someday). So if you are wondering where to go browsing (and tasting and buying) in London for wines, this is my top recommendation.

Discovering Port

When planning the founding of our company, we had an idea of concentrating mainly on bubbly. What a surprise! We had identified a gap in the market here in the Nordics for high quality sparkling wine other than Champagne, and a base of consumers, who were increasingly curious about these wines. Maybe it was Christmas coming with dark, candle-light evenings calling for something different than a fresh bubbly, but soon ideas started flying around to include some other categories of wines, like “interesting” reds and also Port wine. Then a friend of us from Denmark introduced us to Luisa de Borges, a young and passionate winemaker from Viera de Sousa wines, and we suddenly found ourselves, arranging for boxes and boxes of Port wine from Portugal.

Port wine was a new area for both of us. Yes, we have both tried Ports before, but I at least didn’t know much about them. What is Port? How is it produced? And most important, what kind of food could it be paired with? We thought that it would be wise to take a deep-dive into the subject. So where else to start these days but google, and so we started surfing to find out more about it. Here is what we found out:

Port is a fortified wine, a wine to which a neutral grape spirit, similar to brandy is added, and it originates in Portugal. Port has been produced in the Douro Valley region for centuries. It’s typically enjoyed as a dessert wine, but there are countries which serve it as an aperitif or choose to use it for cooking. It pairs beautifully with a variety of dessert dishes and cheese. Port ranges between 19-21% in alcohol.

There are two main types of Port; wood-aged and bottle-aged, with many sub-categories of each. To keep it simple, the Port types have been broken down into white port, ruby port, tawny port and Garrafeira port. While most use the same type of grapes, the way in which they are selected, vinified, stored, and aged are very different. The five key grapes used for the majority of Port types are: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão (Completely new grapes to me). Of course there are many other grapes that can be added to the blend and each grape adds a unique touch to the wine. Port,like any other wine, changes and develops with age. So you can store them (in the right conditions) and have some beautiful vintages to enjoy after some years of patience.

Some pros and cons of Port I have thought of along the way. Port is quite a strong wine, so finishing a bottle is not something at least I would do very easily. In a household of two, its requires a larger group of friends to open one of those beautiful Vintage Ports, that are at their best only for a few days after opening. However, some Ports, like Tawny Port, can keep its quality up to several months after opening (if stored correctly); so that’s kind of nice, sipping through a bottle during Christmas holidays as a dessert. Another feature that requires some work is the decanting of Ports. Some Ports, not all, require decanting before you can serve them. Bottle aged Ports have the dead yeast (“sediment”) left inside, and that is something you really don’t want to drink. There is a lot of writing about the rituals of decanting port, but it really doesn’t need to be a complicated process. It just requires a small effort. Here is a link to some good instructions I found. Last but not least, Ports, especially young Vintage Ports, require some airing before they reach their prime, and that can be up to 12 hours. So if you want to get the most out of your Port, it’s an event you should plan for. Port is not an entirely spontaneous drink.

This was just a scratch on the surface of Ports. If you are interested in reading some more, I found a pretty good site I would recommend to visit, here is a link for For the Love of Port. Let’s see where this road leads to. But for now, we are planning a trip to Portugal to meet Luisa and see her wonderful vineyards. Perhaps, if we are lucky, her ports will be available through The Winecurious for purchase in 2015.

Some Cheese for your Cava!

One of my favorite activities (besides drinking wine) is snacking! I snack in the morning and I snack in the afternoon, twice. Sometimes it’s an apple, piece of chocolate, or an egg. Yes egg, a boiled one! I know I look like an idiot at work, peeling an egg while doing emails, but they are good for keeping the hunger at bay. My dentist is not very enthusiastic about my activities, but I just cannot (don’t want to) give it up. Snacks are a heavenly part of my day, and I enjoy them from the bottom of my heart.

The Wijnjas Grosshandel cheese-shop is a snackers heaven. The boutique has a large selection of different types of cheeses, sausages, chocolate, cookies and non alcoholic beverages. For the cheeses and meats, you can ask for the staff to cut or slice up a convenient portion for you. The shop also has knowledgeable staff to help you with your selection; the quality of products is high and the prices are very reasonable compared to a basic convenience store. You can actually save some money by buying your snacks here.

Last year, we held a cheese and cava tasting with products coming from this store. I was actually surprised myself how well some of the cheeses matched with our cavas. Not that I didn’t think the tastes could be combined, but I had foolishly always associated cheese more as a partner with a red wine. So the tasting experience with some experts from Wijnjas doing the matching really opened my eyes. Here is a list of cheeses we had with our cavas:

Llagrima d’Or Cava Brut Nature:
1. Brilliant – Savarin (favorite)
2. Robiola de Rocca
3. Langre

Peret Fuster Rose Cava:
1. Saint Anré
2. Pecorino Sardo (favorite)
3. Le Etivas

Wijnjas is not only a shop, actually they same owners run a wine-bar with the most comprehensive selection of both wine and cheese in Stockholm. You can order a mix of the same cheeses there that are sold in the shop and the staff is very good at matching them with your preferred wine. A surprise cheese-platter sounds like the perfect Saturday snack!