Israel – a land of wine and fragile coexistence

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 21.29.58 Israel may not be your obvious holiday destination but I found it one of the most fascinating and emotive places to visit. The reliable sunshine, long natural sandy beaches and warm Mediterranean Sea may sound like a holiday paradise but the land and its people are tension-ridden.

Easyjet now fly from London Luton to Tel Aviv directly so you can be dipping your flat bread into an authentic humus in just over 5 hours. But you had better save up as being a tourist here is an expensive game. In some places this is totally justifiable and worth it. Mahane Yehuda (twin restaurant of London-based Palomar) in Jerusalem is undoubtedly the best meal in Israel.

The best way to travel round is by car. The heat can be unbearable even as late as in October so air-conditioning is essential if you want to stay cool. There are few buses and a new metro network is being built in Tel Aviv but apart from that currently there is a noticeable lack of local transport. Everyone drives everywhere, like in America. And most drive scarily fast and furious, no kidding.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 21.33.50A trip to Jerusalem is a must. The highlight for me were the Western Wall Tunnels whose 2,000-year-old stones have witnessed the Jewish people’s struggle, exile and birth as a new nation. This is the most important site for the Jews and others worldwide as it is the closest to the Holy of Hollies where the world & the first human Adam was created. Hundreds of Jewish men and women come to pray at the exposed outdoor part of the Western Wall. The intensity of the prayers and their devotion was an utterly moving experience.

As you continue, this captivating tour takes you through the stormy history of Jerusalem where each society fought for its life and future creating layer after layer of a religious significance. At the end, you have an option of exiting at the Via Dolorosa, the famous street where Jesus walked on to his crucification. Barely a stone thrown away, we found ourselves walking through the traditional Arab market, while being somewhat aggressively encouraged to part with our cash for small trinkets. There are three strongly rooted religions here that are constantly challenged by their extraordinary fragile coexistence.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 21.40.11I guess the Dead Sea would be the next must place to visit for many but we only managed to drive past the shores while driving on the way to Masada. Mind you the thought of coaches-full of people coming to the sea to cure their eczema somewhat puts me off the whole floating experience. But it was a pretty unusual experience to see the altitude drop down below sea level as you drive towards the shoreline.

Being winey sorts, we also headed for Judean Hills and Galilee. Together with the Golan Heights these are the three most important vine-growing regions in Israel. The combination of a rather fertile thin topsoil of Terra Rossa with limestone bedrock and hot Mediterranean climate with low summer rainfall bring many challenges to making wine. On the other hand, thanks to the heat and dryness, the vineyards are relatively disease free apart from the noticeable spread of leaf-roll that so far has meant none of the vineyards have been made organic or biodynamic. Many international and a few Mediterranean grape varieties are planted but none have yet been established as Israel’s wine “signature”. Maybe the recent research into indigenous varieties may offer a direction and put Israeli wine on the world wine map.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 21.42.58Domaine du Castel winery, established in 1990’s in Judean Hills as the first boutique winery with a focus on quality, is one of the most popular amongst the locals. Tasting through their selection, the appeal of heavily oaked character and blockbuster richness and extraction is obvious even if not everyone’s taste.

Virtually all medium to large wineries are kosher. This means that the winemakers are not allowed to touch grapes as soon as they are crushed. This however does not mean that the wines’ quality suffers. There are also few talented and entrepreneurial independent winemakers, such as my friend Ido Lewinsohn who is a winemaker for the famous Recanati but also makes his own wine Garage de Papa, literally in his dad’s garage. Despite the confined space, Ido’s wines are truly inspirational and magical.

Vineyards are usually situated far from their wineries, which brings many challenges in itself especially during the harvest. Planning rules class wine as an industrial product, so wineries are only permitted in industrial areas. One exception is Amphora, which has managed to establish a stunning stone walled winery along with a boutique visitor centre in Carmel region. Thanks to Michel Rolland’s influence here, the wines are amongst the most premium in Israel.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 21.45.22When going out, the wines from Tzora, Sphera, Recanati, Flam, Shvo and Clos de Gat are all worth trying. Tel Aviv has its measure of trendy bars and lively nightlife. The Brut wine bar has a modest but impressive selection of local and international wines. For vibrant atmosphere head to Vicki Christina, a chic tapas wine bar located at The Station. And for people watching and a relaxing lunch, head to Kitchen Market located in the heart of Tel Aviv port.

Israel is a young country with a very long history. It is thanks to the ambition of the people here that this country thrives. At the same time, it is this ambition that brings the tension. Despite the many challenges that people face here, and no sign of a solution or the prospect of any tranquillity, I was glad to dip my toes here and to meet the wonderful Ido, Adi, Eran and their friends, even if so very briefly.

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Posted by on October 27, 2015 in Uncategorized


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London craft beers on tap

IMG_6260It’s late morning on Saturday and after a hearty breakfast we are off to tackle the famous London brewery crawl, the Bermondsey Beer Mile. This activity, still very much testosterone driven, is similar to a pub crawl except the challenge is to visit all five breweries running along the 1.5 mile long route south of the Thames in just 4 hours.

Although not quite as hard core as Three Peak Challenge, planning is crucial. Carbs and protein lined stomach, comfortable shoes and plenty of water reserves are highly recommended. And if you want to look the part, skinny jeans, pointy shoes and Ray Ban sunglasses would be perfect.

Undertaking this a second time, I believe the best option is to start at Fourpure. Arriving at 12.30pm and it is packed already with stag parties, hipsters clutching to their pints and a few tourists but let that not put you off. The vibe is friendly and no matter how full the tables are there is always a spot to squeeze your butt.


22 Bermondsey Trading Estate, Rotherhide New Road, SE16 3LL

Taproom opens every Saturday 11m – 5pm

What to drink:

Skyline American Wheat Ale (4.8%) – 60% pale ale/ 40% wheat ale – American Galaxy hops – bready yeasty fresh taste with typical zesty touch of ripe lemon

London Beer City – Pacific pale Ale (4.3%) – bone dry, sour, thirst-quenching, light hoppy taste with floral summery feel
IMG_6253Amber Ale (5.1%) – Willamette hops – light, dry style, toasty, nutty with tropical and spicy notes, malty almost brandy like edge

Pilsner (4.7%) – stylish classic golden lager

Session IPA (4.2%) – my favourite session beer, just perfect balance between plenty of flavours yet being refreshing and satisfying
As of 5 September, Kernel no longer serve beer to drink at the brewery. Their popularity has meant that their space just could not accommodate all the beer enthusiasts. I agree with their decision as our experience of 20 minutes waiting for a drink in a humid sweaty dome seemed rather pointless. I truly hope that the plans to create a more suitable space will happen soon as their extensive range of IPAs and Pale Ales rock.


Arch 11, Dockley Industrial Estate, SE16 3SF

Taproom closed (temporarily)

What to drink:

Table Beer (3.1%) – the alcohol level ranges from 2.9-3.3% depending on the batch, the best example of low alcohol ale without compromising any of its hoppy flavours, my favourite lunch beer

Export Stout (7.1%) – rich dark chocolate, malty, almost caramel-like thickness with burnt espresso bitterness and sweet touch

Partizan beers are easily noticeable and memorable thanks to their unique artwork (courtesy of Alec Doherty) and ever changing American hop varieties for the IPAs and Pale Ales. They also offer Saisons galore if you like that bone dry sour style using some cool flavours such as Lemongrass, Lemon and Thyme, Raspberry and Lemon, Nelson etc.


8 Almond Street, SE16 3LR

Taproom opens every Saturday 11am – 5pm

What to drink:

Pale Ale Cascade, Chinook, Apollo, Willamette (4.5%) – edgy hoppy with zesty twist, fresh oranges, honeydew melon, candied fruits

IPA Mandarina Bavaria (4.5%) – tropical citrusy lift with ripe tangerines and oranges, sweet fruity flavours mingling with bitter hoppy herbal notes

Negroni Saison (6.5%) – was launch in August and unbelievably I have not tried it yet but I have a feeling it will be worth it…


79 Enid Street, SE16 3RA

Taproom opens every Saturday 10am – 5pm

What to drink:

Black IPA Yakima Valley (6.1%) – Amarillo, Chinook & Simcoe hops – dark chocolate, malty, sweet coffee, roasted walnuts, spicy

Barrel Aged Traditional Porter (8.5%) – aged in Jim Beam whiskey barrels – incredible intensity and concentration of rich bourbon, burnt caramel, roasted espresso and long strong finish

White IPA Citra Motueka (7%) – bitter grapefruit and lime with creamy bready hoppy mouth feel, very refreshing and satisfying, my favourite white IPA

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 12.25.17ANSPACH & HOBDAY

118 Druid Street, SE1 2HH

Taproom opens every Friday 5 – 9.30pm & Saturday 11am – 5.30pm & Sunday 12 – 5pm

What to drink:

The Smoked Brown (6%) – smoky, almost meaty style, malty and sweetly oaky finish

Table Porter (2.8%) – smooth light dark coffee notes, offers bags of flavours despite such low alcohol level

By the time the last drop of beautifully rich and complex Anspach & Hobday Porter was savoured, we were ready for more food. I highly recommend Jose Pizzaro – a sherry and tapas bar on Bermondsey Street.

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Posted by on September 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


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My favourites in NW1, NW3 and NW5

Michael Nadra – 42 Gloucester Avenue, NW1 8JDScreen Shot 2015-08-12 at 22.05.59

Best for Prix Fixe 3 courses lunch (£26) or dinner (£37) with staple favourites such as tempura of soft shell crab or steamed sea bass with prawn & chive dumplings and many seasonally changing dishes. The wine list is getting more interesting and a corkage of £20 per bottle is also offered. Ben and I love this place. It’s a short walk from Camden Town station but as it is tucked away behind the Camden Market and the Canal, it is favoured more by the locals. Be aware of their fresh bread rolls, made on the premise and so irresistible…

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 22.07.13Greenberry Café – 101 Regent’s Park Road, NW1 8UR

If it is just a light healthy snack or breakfast, this little café is open everyday from 9am to 10pm most days. Best for blackboard lunch specials and a surprisingly good selection of grower champagnes (available when asked). A stones thrown away from Primrose Hill Park, this is the buzziest place along Regent’s Park Road. Fantastic flavoursome cooking reasonably priced despite the location.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 22.08.52The Little One Coffee Shop – 115 Regent’s Park Road, NW1 8UR

The best coffee locally within NW1, NW3 & NW5. Using Monmouth coffee beans, their flat white is consistently unbeatable. Well at £2.60 a cup it should be. Avoid the crepes if you can and be aware it closes at 4.30pm.

IMG_6207Bottle Apostle – 172 Regent’s Park Road, NW1 8XN

Bottle Apostle is much more than just a wine shop. It opened a month ago and is already attracting the local crowd thanks to its awesome worldwide wine selection and craft beers from independent UK breweries. I work here so the service is top notch, of course. We have Enomatic tasting machines so you can sip away while I refill your wine rack…

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 22.11.24Marine Ices – 61 Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8AN

Camden’s iconic ice-cream parlour with proper Italian gelatos & fruit sorbets (£2.20 per scoop) and scrumptious sundaes.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 21.10.13The Gipsy Queen – 166 Malden Road, NW5 4BS

What a transformation! This pub used to be called The Bluebell and was a tired boozer stinking of bleach, sweat and garbage. In June, it was given a major facelift by the team behind The Grafton and has been transformed into a friendly gastro pub with a shiny open stainless steel kitchen and a stylish canopied garden. It has a great beer selection focussing on small independent breweries and now you can also buy refillable bottles and enjoy any of their brews at home. So far we have only tried their warm tasty sandwiches but the main menu looks equally delicious. Not cheap mind you, the classic beef burger will set you back £8.50 and Sunday roast £12-15.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 22.14.07The Stag – 67 Fleet Road, NW3 2QU

Our local pub prior to The Gipsy Queen re-opening. Ben and I have been coming here for years as this pub has truly versatile bottled beer selection from around the world and always has something thirst quenching and intriguing on draught. The food is honest if a bit rustic offering typical pub classics with an American twist. My favourite is their Freeman’s dip with warm flatbread and Jacobs Ladder beef rib with summer slaw for bigger appetite. Both the garden and bar get always busy so worth getting in earlier if you can.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 22.16.35Camden Town Brewery – 55-59 Wilkin Street, NW5 3NN

A crafty small brewery in the heart of Kentish Town and close to Camden Town, hence the name. Due to its growing success the brewery bar is now opened everyday except Mondays. The different street food stalls together with regular tours and events attract many locals. There is more to Camden Town Brewery than their most popular Hells lager and Pale Ale with regular limited releases.

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Posted by on August 12, 2015 in Uncategorized


Recognised as an ambassador of the Rhône Valley (July 2015)

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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Uncategorized


IMW student Daniela Shelton wins the 2015 Lallemand Bursary

IMW student Daniela Shelton wins the 2015 Lallemand Bursary

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Posted by on June 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


Should the use of selected microorganisms for alcoholic or malolactic fermentation be considered as additives in wines?

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 13.19.07Winemaking is a fascinating creative process whose interpretation includes both craft and a science. While the majority of winemakers aim for a balance between both philosophies, divided opinions on what extent wine production should be manipulated and controlled to produce the best wines spark highly controversial discussions. Current conventional understanding of microorganisms used in the process of alcoholic and malolactic fermentation is to classify them as processing aids, regardless whether they are indigenous or selected. Nevertheless, the natural wine movement insists that anything added (e.g. lab-bred yeasts, enzymes or bacteria) to wine should be listed as an additive and therefore be declared on the label so that consumers can make an informed choice. However, what happens when wild yeasts are selected from a specific ecosystem for their individuality and then are reproduced for the following vintages in order to achieve reliability? And would consumers really benefit from this transparency reflected on labels or would it just create further confusion?

Both winemaking techniques – alcoholic and malolactic ferment – can be either controlled by inoculation with carefully selected yeast strains (specifically Saccharomyces cerevisiae) or lactic acid bacteria (specifically Oenoccocus oeni, Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc & Pediococcus) respectively. Alternatively they can be carried out spontaneously thanks to indigenous cultures. Regardless the method, the microorganisms used as catalysts are technically defined as processing aids (not additives or ingredients) as they are substances that are transient and do not remain to a significant extent in the finished contemporary wines. Both yeasts and bacteria are killed by increased alcohol level or thanks to sulphur dioxide at the end of fermentation and are then removed from the finished wine by racking and/or filtration.

The non-interventionist or natural wine argument, on the other hand, uncompromisingly asserts that foreign/selected yeasts and bacteria are additives and therefore not accepted in their unofficial codes of practice. Their argument is supported by the fact that it has been proven that different populations of wild yeast species are specific to a region/vineyard. This means that the regionally different populations of wild yeasts and other fungi produce regional flavours and wine characteristics and therefore are closely tied to expression of a specific terroir. Global research has shown that both vineyards (grape skins, vine leaves, stems, soil) and wineries (interior, barrels etc.) are heaving with microbial life. Dr Mat Goddard, senior lecturer and yeast researcher of The University of Auckland, has proven that Saccharomyces cerevisiae is unique to a place/region. He found that yeasts in West Auckland, Kumeu River share less than 0.4% of their ancestry with other international strains. Similarly, David Mills, Professor in the Departments of Food Science & Technology at the University of California at Davis, found specific microbes within California’s wine growing regions (such as Acetobacter in Central Coast, Methylobacterium in Sonoma and Lactococcus in Napa Valley) after testing over 270 ferments.

Based on these findings, only indigenous populations of yeasts and bacteria result in wine that faithfully reflects the sense of place. The clearest solution therefore would be to consider indigenous cultures as processing aids, and commercial cultures from a packet as additives as they alter the wine style despite not remaining in the finished wine. However, the issue is how to make this sufficiently clear on labels in order to provide consumers with accurate information and enable them to identify the origin and quality level of the wine. Also, consideration is required on how to avoid misleading or confusing consumers by listing extra ingredients whilst not portraying the wine yeast additions as detrimental or unfavorable in the consumer’s mind. It is thanks to the wine yeast companies (such as Lallemand, Oenobrands) and their ongoing investment that the risk of stuck ferments, the formation of undesired characteristics or a high level of bacterial biogenic amines have been eliminated, and that better more consistent wines can be created.

In addition to this labeling issue, the discussion gets even more complicated as wild yeasts can and are commercially developed in order to produce the authentic effect of spontaneous ferment yet in a control way. There are some producers worldwide that select their own indigenous yeasts and reproduce the same species for the following vintage ensuring a reliable start and finish of the ferment and retaining the individuality of the place. Quinta de Azevedo in Minho, Portugal developed a yeast culture from their vineyards called QA23 which has been successful for starting and controlling fermentation. Vasse Felix in Margaret River, Australia has developed their own yeast culture for the combination of individuality and reliability and in order to create consistent aromas.

In conclusion, there is no single answer as to whether yeasts and bacteria that have been commercially selected should be considered as additives or whether they should remain to be officially classified as processing aids. There are two controversial camps of producers who present valid arguments. In addition, a new method of capturing the benefits of authenticity and control is starting to be explored thanks to new developments in viticulture and a better understanding of the microorganisms responsible for alcoholic and malolactic ferment. However, the combination of using wild microorganisms and reproducing them muddies the waters between what is a natural element and what is an additive/ingredient. Consumers may not be aware of the implications of these production methods but if labelling reflects the difference there it is likely that despite being more specific, labels will become more confusing and possibly misleading about the quality of wine. After all, regardless of the method used, both are instrumental in meeting global demand for high quality wines.

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Posted by on April 2, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Essence of Champagne

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 20.40.20Champagne is one of the most aspirational and pleasurable drinks worldwide. It not only tickles our palates with its effervescent bubbles but its true essence lies in the way it makes us feel; it symbolises the good life. It is a delicious fizzy alcoholic beverage. It is a luxury. It is a brand. It is a unique terroir and region. It is about craftsmanship. But above all, just as Rolex stands for heroic achievement or Tiffany for love and beauty, Champagne is a symbol of celebration.

It has become indispensable in developed societies and has managed to become intertwined in our lives especially at key social moments. Whether you are toasting on New Year’s Eve, sharing a glass on holiday or christening baby or ship, Champagne is a crucial requirement. In fact, it is so popular that its demand is accompanying more diverse events, perhaps an end-of-the-week treat or a cheeky glass with your dear friends.

Magnums and other large Champagne formats have never been so popular. Their presence and image provide real a sense of theatre to an occasion. The appeal of the larger format is so strong that consumers are willing to overlook the ambitious margins in order to throw a memorable party.

The distinctive pop was once only exclusive to royalty and an affluent elite with high status but now it is a luxury that anyone can afford, although possibly not to the notable excess of Jay-Z or Winston Churchill. However, it can now be consumed anywhere and anytime. It is possibly the only alcoholic drink that can be drunk in the morning without anyone batting an eyelid. But that does not mean that it has lost its sense of luxury and exclusivity.

Thanks to its successful marketing, Champagne retains its power to make us feel special. It is a smart product that delivers emotional benefits to consumers who affiliate themselves to different brands according to the perceived value, status and what each signifies. Great brands establish their essence and emotional value in the consumer’s mind. Above all they inspire us with their mystique and history. So that when we buy a bottle of Champagne, we are being influenced subconsciously by its desirable pedigree and mastery.

The essence of Champagne cannot be captured in one glass, it is an emotional and sensual experience with exceptional story that many wish to be part of. It is one red carpet that you do not need to be a celebrity to be able to walk on.

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Posted by on March 4, 2015 in France


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