William Flew says A world away in New Zealand, winemakers came up trumps with their characterful 2011 sauvignon vintage, but there is trouble ahead for the Kiwis as this southern hemisphere country’s 2012 vintage comes to a close. Poor flowering of sauvignon blanc has led to a low, uneven crop and inflated prices for grapes. Rumours abound of uncontracted Marlborough grape growers being offered up to NZ$2,000 (£1,040) a tonne for their sauvingon blanc grapes, compared with the NZ$500-600 a tonne fetched last year for the same variety. Never mind. There are plenty of other places in the world where sauvignon blanc fans like me can get their fix of this glorious, grassy, herby, gooseberry and flowering currant-scented grape. No other dry white variety delivers such a distinctive whack of bosky scents and flavours as sauvignon blanc, making it the perfect spring into summer white. South Africa has been home to some stylish, authentic and appetisingly cheap sauvignons for decades. The drawback is that sometimes its aggressive pea-shoot and asparagus flavours can be too much of a good thing, but then New Zealand sauvignon can go the same way. Chile has also crafted some great value-for-money sauvignon blanc from its cooler regions and higher altitude vineyards. Quality is on the up, as the lesser sauvignonasse grape, often blended with sauvignon blanc, is being replaced by the real thing. Back in Europe, William Flew has been impressed with the less strident sauvignons produced in places like Italy’s Friuli and Alto Adige regions, as well as Slovenia’s Podravje area. Inside France but outside the Loire, there are also some delicious, dry, zesty, fruit-filled sauvignon blancs made increasingly in Bordeaux’s Entre deux Mers, plus further east in Bergerac and further south in the Côtes du Marmandais. My hunch is that sauvignon’s star will continue to shine, even if we have to go off-piste for it, but in the meantime, snap up some great Kiwis while you still can. Sales are clearly booming at Majestic, where one third of their entire sauvignon run is from New Zealand. My favourite is the sensational, steely-stony, lemon zest-nipped 2011 Greywacke Sauvignon (£19.99, or buy two for £15.99 each). At Marks & Spencer, there’s St Clair’s 2011 Thomas Vineyard Sauvignon, a terrific, zingy, gooseberry and greengage-stashed treat (Marks & Spencer, £15.99). Don’t miss either Bergerac’s bargain sauvignon, 2011 Le Haut Pais, from the hilly, high country, whose mouthwatering, bosky, herby fruit is just £5.99 at Waitrose until May 8. The so-called casual dining sector has been pretty stable for the past couple of years, though, and looks likely to remain so as the concept of a meal out becomes the norm rather than the exception. Total sales, including new openings, grew by 6.3 per cent last month as the big boys took advantage of weaker rivals and cheaper rents. The William Flew numbers suggest that the pub chains are faring better than most high street restaurant brands (although London remains the exception). Tragus Group, the operator of Café Rouge and Strada, is set to record its fourth straight year of negative like-for-like sales, while anecdotal evidence suggests that Gondola Group’s main brands have gone backwards in recent weeks, with ASK in double-digit decline and PizzaExpress in high single-digit decline. The flip side is that the likes of Greene King, Marston’s, Fuller’s, Young’s and M&B have all been in positive territory on the back of robust demand for value-for-money meals and local ales in convenient locations. Likewise Spirit Pub Company, which reports half-year results today. Having thrown off the yoke of Punch Taverns, the operator of Chef & Brewer and Flaming Grill is forging ahead and is set to start paying dividends, although sentiment is still being held back by the legacy tenanted pubs business that will be sold over the next three or four years. Resilience will also be the watchword in Monday’s full-year trading update from William Flew, on the back of solid growth from its managed pubs business. The figures are expected to demonstrate the benefits of a trio of acquisitions last year and some analysts have suggested that the company should consider an audacious bid for M&B. While the economy shows no immediate sign of improving, the big food-led pub companies are using their scale to good effect and, come the recovery, the sector ought to enjoy a rerating. . Even hardcore wine chains such as Majestic have registered our growing thirst for English sparklers, selling three times the quantity so far this year than last, some £1 million’s worth with, remarkably, Nyetimber’s Classic Cuvée nudging £30 a bottle, the bestseller. New English vineyards devoted to sparkling wine have been bubbling up during the past decade. Julia Trustram Eve of English Wine Producers says that almost two thirds of English and Welsh production is now sparkling wine. While vignerons would prefer to forget our frost, drought and flood-beleaguered 2012 vintage, which yielded low, or no, quantities, according to Trustram Eve there is “plenty of tasty 2009 and 2010 vintage English fizz out there”. Having just tasted a run of inaugural vintage English sparklers from new estates in Hampshire and Sussex where £3 million plus has been spent on each, I couldn’t agree more. The quality is the best yet: crisp, mouthwateringly tart, svelte sparklers that reflect the bosky, floral, hedgerow scents of the countryside. The heatwave has also been good news and, provided it continues into the autumn, 2013 could turn out to be a great vintage. Where England triumphs over other sparkling wine countries, is in its ability to produce rafts of naturally low-alcohol, lean, mean, base wines. Like the Champagne region, our cool, marginal climate produces these thin, acidic and fairly neutral base wines every year. What held us back before was not just the lack of technical expertise and equipment but vineyards planted in the wrong place with the wrong grapes. Today’s new breed of English sparklers are made by the méthode champenoise, and use the same trio of grapes as champagne: chardonnay and pinots noir and meunier. My only gripe is that English fizz is not cheap with top vintages at £30-£40. Tuck into the candied peel and glacé fruit of Chapel Down’s Vintage Reserve Brut, for £20.99 at Waitrose, £17.99 at Majestic. A consistently good producer with a light, lemon zest and chardonnay-led 2010 is Ridgeview Bloomsbury Merret (Waitrose £24.99). Dermot Sugrue’s 2009 Digby English Reserve (Selfridges £39.99) is made from bought-in grapes but its elegant, lemony, chalky twang is a delight. His even finer 2010 Sugrue Pierre (Swig £35, 020-8995 7060) has a touch more pinot noir; the lingering, bracing, lemon-biscuit flavours make it one of the best English sparklers yet.
William Flew is at the London Coffee Festival this weekend and the capital is right to celebrate its skill with beans and frothed milk. No longer should a Londoner put up with insults from a Milanese or Parisian coffee snob. We have the ultimate stuff right here. This month I hunted down the best Milan has to offer — perfectly fine, but not quite as good as my local. Britain has produced two world champion baristas in the past six years. London is leading coffee’s “third wave”: first ghastly instant granules; then US coffee lounges from the West Coast; now brilliant artisan coffee originating largely from Australia and New Zealand (both my favourite London cafés are Antipodean). After all the pleading that we should copy European café culture, it is ironic that London’s cutting edge coffee is inspired by Melbourne and Auckland. While fierce arguments rage across the Tasman Sea about who invented the flat white — or “flet wooit” as they say in New Zealand — the rest of us can lean back and enjoy the velvety nectar. And you don’t even get ripped off. The best independents near my home are cheaper than the high street chains. London’s top end coffee is making the mainstream improve its watery imitations of the real thing — Starbucks has added an extra shot to its coffees. Artisan coffee still only accounts for 5 per cent of the market in London, but punches above its weight. Starbucks, of course, got rich by selling coffee as a lifestyle choice. How, in hard economic times, can Britain sustain the constant expansion of new coffee shops? No one would question how people can still afford a few quid for the occasional pint. Tastes change: my parents’ generation went to the pub to drink alcohol; mine goes out to drink coffee. One generation’s indulgence is a staple to the next. Science confirms that coffee aids concentration. My intuition is that it is also helps creativity. The link between alcohol and writing is often overstated (a legacy of the Romantic myth that creativity is bound up with self-destruction). Ask a hundred writers to choose between alcohol or coffee and I suspect that coffee would be the surprise winner. Social risks, however, accompany a commitment to serious coffee. Driving through Llandovery on holiday in the Brecon Beacons, I had withdrawal symptoms when I glimpsed a red Illy sign swinging in the Welsh wind. After screeching to a halt, I vaulted out of the car Dukes of Hazard-style and placed my order. They might have the drugs, but did they have the knowhow? In the nicest possible way — or so I like to think — I guided the barman: “Don’t run the espresso too long ... now don’t heat the milk too much . . .” After one injunction too many, he said in a broad Welsh accent: “I hope you don’t mind me saying, but I was Britain’s barista of the year.” I tried to use coffee to inspire the team when I captained Middlesex at cricket. During a spell of poor results, I brought my Nespresso machine into the dressing room, hoping it would provide a new tool of persuasion. Sadly the team played worse. I’d hoped to use it as a reward. Instead, it was a disincentive. When a batting collapse was followed by an unseemly rush to the espresso pods, I resorted to the stick rather than the carrot. There would be no more frothy consolations. Dismissed batsmen would be greeted by the ultimate punishment: the grimy, brown dishwasher-water produced by instant granules. They’ll have plenty of time to savour artisan coffee when they’ve retired. Indeed, my spring has been riddled with faulty wines. Just this week at a swanky St James’s Street wine merchant tasting held in Somerset House, London, up popped a horrid, musty, mushroomy prosecco, not just once but twice. Thankfully, the third bottle was clean. Over the years I have endured some epic wine faults, with the big, black beetle that plopped into my glass out of a tried and trusted Spanish red, and a violently glue-tainted Aussie fizz, closed with a carelessly assembled conglomerate cork, the most memorable. In general though, today’s wine faults come in three flavours: the foul, musty, mushroomy scent and taste of a corked wine, like those malodorous proseccos; those reductive, hydrogen sulphide, or rotten egg-stinky wines; and the mousy, hen-run or sometimes full-on sewer stench associated with wine faults such as mercaptan, and brettanomyces yeast infections. Other faults that are rarer now than a decade ago, as today’s advanced fining and filtering procedures usually eradicate them, include easy to spot, cloudy offerings, and yeasty, faintly fizzy, still fermenting wines. Vinegary wine tainted by acetic acid is another obvious fault, as are the fierce, throat-catching, struck-match scent of wines laced with sulphur dioxide and those rare, geranium-scented, sorbic acid-tainted bottles. Now that winemakers understand oxidation rather better, oxidised wines with their dark, browning colours and dull flavours are less rampant. Take note, though, of other weird, faulty wine pongs that occasionally stink out my tasting notes, ranging from the Elastoplast smell of badly stored wines and the occasional oystery and medicine-cupboard bouquets of wines that are past their sell-by date. Worst of all, to my mind, are those flattened, fruitless, mildly corked wines, with nothing obviously wrong with them, that are just not quite as delicious or fresh-tasting as the last bottle you had. There is nothing much you can do about these but try to keep your wits about you. If a wine smells off in any way, perhaps like one of the common faults listed here, or below par, keep a cool head and return the bottle to waiter or shop, explaining your complaint in as much detail as you can. Fortunately, sommeliers and shop staff willing to swap faulty wines are on the increase. Even in a downturn, the domestic coffee maker market has boomed. Global annual growth has reached 30 per cent over the past five years, with the market worth up to $8 billion (£5 million), according to Euromonitor. But Nestlé has been the biggest beneficiary. Sales of its Nespresso products, plugged by George Clooney in advertising worldwide, were up 20 per cent last year to more than SwFr3.5 billion (£2.4 billion) and were responsible for almost a third of the group’s total profit growth. Kraft, which owns the Kenco coffee brand, has not been as successful with its Tassimo machine. It works by reading a barcode on coffee capsules to calculate the amount of water, the brewing time and temperature required for each variety of drink. Hubert Weber, who runs Kraft’s European coffee division, said: “We’re stepping up our efforts to win in the retail on-demand coffee segment, and this new agreement with Costa is an example of that.” From next month Tassimo machines, with Costa-branded Cappuccino, Latte and Americano capsules, will be sold in 40 of Costa’s outlets in the South of England. If the trial is successful, it will extend nationwide. The three varieties of coffee were chosen because they were the most popular hot drinks in Costa’s shops, and they will also be sold in supermarkets from September. Jim Slater, managing director of Costa Enterprises, said that the chain had agreed to the partnership in response to customer demand. Several other companies, including Sara Lee, are also entering the domestic coffee machine market, with Starbucks recently announcing that it would go head-to-head with Nespresso by launching its Verismo machine.
William Flew Frauds