Archive for the ‘Wine’ Category

European expeditions of late

Would you Adam and Eve it? I almost forgot about this, but recently I have been rather jet-set and embarked on a touch of European traveling (what, what.) In a treacherous move, I only wrote blogs about two of these visits on my company’s blog (which you really ought to check out, as I edit the thing), but I thought that maybe you’d like to read these official versions. To that end, click the links and you can read about my work trip to sample the wines of Piedmont and my holiday to Jerez, where the sole aim was to drink copious amounts of Sherry and eat top-notch tapas. Finally, for your pleasure only, here is a picture of me, full of delicious food, happy and a bit defeated after my sixth or seventh 4-course meal in a row in Italy. A pasta course as well as a meat course? What do you mean it’s rude to say no?


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Danyl Johnson drives me to drink*

So continues my pathetic effort to have at least one day without wine.  Until 8.45 pm I was well on course.  It has been a fairly indulgent weekend of wine, food and Christmas shopping in charming Norfolk villages so it didn’t seem like a hardship to forgo my usual Sunday night glass of wine.  Hell, there was even talk of me not drinking until I go out for dinner on Thursday night, but then something happened, and it happened in the most unusual way…

Now, unlike some people, I am not ashamed to admit that I have been following the X-Factor (though I guess I should be) and my housemate and neighbours are actually ‘fans’, so I have been roped in and forced to watch this godwaful tosh.  Who am I kidding?  I have grown to quite like critiquing Cheryl’s dresses, Danni’s eyebrows and everything about Louis, but tonight was different.  After the afore-mentioned long weekend, I came home an hour before X-Factor kick-off and just wanted a bath and bed.  It was then that I was informed by the fans of Chatham Place (as they will henceforth be known) that we were going to the Penta Hotel opposite to watch the results in the ‘Penta Lounge’ (see what they did there?)  I protested for a few seconds, then merrily hopped in the bath, summoning the energy to go out (with a well-meaning cherry-flavoured herbal tea) and vowing a night of abstinence.  Oh, I tell you, it was going so well.  There was even free coca cola – what more could a want-to-be teetotal require from a night out?!  Well, 45 mins into the show disaster struck.  Danyl Johnson was voted in.  Now, to some of you out there this might be disaster enough (it was to us), but there is more to come.  You see, Danny-boy is a Reading lad and, after an incredibly scary standing ovation (I’m not really sure why we were so surprised), the loving crowd (which mst have included many of his nearest and dearest) decided to show their support of the local chap by cracking open some free bubbly.  Now, I hope you’ll sympathise with me here, free fizz is surely too much for most people to pass on?  Well, I was going to do it, honsetly, but then I remembered my duties and realised that I has to accept a glass (of what turned out to be Prosecco) so I could pose for a photo for you to see.  Here it is, I hope you appreciate what I sacrificed for you:

*for Jedward’s sake please don’t sue me

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The Vineyard at Stockcross

Well, well, I hoped that working in the wine industry would be fun, but I certainly didn’t expect to be taken out to a Michelin starred restaurant before my first week was through.  However, this is precisely what happened.  No, correction, I was taken to a restaurant with two Michelin stars.  Brilliant.

OK, so I guess this place doesn’t really need people to write rave blog reviews about it, but it was really, really good.  It is the kind of place where the waiters explain all the dishes to you before you begin – the kind of place where the poached pollock comes with ‘smoked e’spuma’ (foam, basically).  It is the kind of place where the Internet Marketing Manager stands next to Andrew Lloyd Webber at the urinal (but not before I had spoken ill of this bizarre man.  This was a coincidence – I obviously didn’t think he’d be sat in the blinkin’ restaurant).

Anyway, it’s probably not somewhere you’d go for a hearty Sunday lunch, the portions aren’t massive, but if you’re craving elegant course after elegant course, home made chocolates, delicate jellies with exquisite cheeses, fresh mint teas and impeccable service, then this is the place for you.  I’m sure it’s not cheap but I hear the wine list is exceptional (we brought our own wines along, darling), so if you feel like splashing out then I reckon this place is a sure-fire hit.  Unless you’re afraid of a bit of posh, then just stick to Pizza Hut, I hear the all-you-can-eat buffet is something to behold.


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The Forefather Malbec Shiraz

Oh my God – this wine has compelled me to re-unite my affair with wine blogging for all the right reasons as it is probably one of the most delicious red wines I’ve tasted in the last year!  Admittedly, though, I do love Malbec so I am biased.Here’s why: Not only does it have the right, visually enticing qualities of a full bodied red wine (deep purple/red, thick and vibrant) but just the smell of it transports you to an open fireplace, where you can imagine a cosy winter scene.  Aromas (!) of chocolate and red berries automatically comfort you and the hint of tobacco-y goodness just adds to its temptation.  Finally, and this is the best bit, it tastes like pure, smooth, chocolate and fruit heaven.  My sister once made a drunken damson chocolate pudding (syrupy, tart fruit, dowsed in rum, which makes the chocolate cakey base go all delicious and gooey*) and that is exactly what this wine would be, if it could be summed up in a food sense.  It has an exceptionally smooth, long finish which is the perfect mixture of sweet and spicy with a medium tangy tannin undertone.  Buy this wine!

*I tried to get this recipe online but failed.  However, it is from the best cookbook I own – ‘Unwrapped: Green and Black’s Chocolate Recipes’ – you could do a lot worse than invest in this  

UPDATE:  half an hour and two glasses later, I have decided that this is my Josh Hartnett of red wines; the ideal prototype

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Matra Springs Hunagrian wine

Right, I know it’s 7.45pm on Christmas eve and I am blogging, but as I prepare for the evening’s festivities with a glass of wine (naturally), I felt compelled to write a short entry about the Hungarian white I am currently sampling.

It’s a light, dry wine from Northern Hungary and, despite an extensive two minute Google search, I cannot determine the grape variety. On the bottle it states that it is “made from the typical Hungarian grape varieties originating from the sunny slopes Felso-Magyarorszag”. Unfortunately, searching for that only brings up Hungarian sites, so if you are a native speaker or have more patience than me, let me know!

Right, back to the wine. It is light in every way, especially in colour and scent, however it has a surprisingly mouth-watering finish, which is pleasantly addictive. On the whole it is a ‘nice’, ‘inoffensive’ wine, but it’s juicy green apple tang definitely makes it worth the while.

Even better, I have a feeling that this is a great value wine. I have no idea where it is from (a dinner party offering) but I believe that Waitrose stock the range for a mere £3.79!

I’d definitely try this wine – it is delicate enough to have alone (or ‘elegant’, as the label describes), but it was perfectly capable of holding up against my gourmet boiled potatoes, cheese and meats!

More about the Matra Mountains

Waitrose Wine online

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Local dessert wine

So, after excitedly telling my colleagues that I was going to write wine reviews on my blog, I was kindly given a bottle of local dessert wine to try by someone who’d received it as a gift, but was not a fan of the dessert wine genre.  I must confess, I used to feel the same way but I think the trick is to see dessert wine as an entirely different drink altogether, then suddenly its merits come out.

Anyway, this one is from a local vineyard in Cane End, Berkshire and is called Autumn Glory. I haven’t really tried many English wines so this was going to be interesting, especially as I had no idea what grape variety it was (I still don’t) or what method they used to make it sweet (eg. late harvesting, stopping fermentation, drying the grapes etc.)   However, I can tell you that it is delicious.  It smells like apple pie or stewed fruit – it has the characteristic honey aroma but there’s a tangy, pear-droppy undertone that is very tempting. This is also reflected in the taste.  Whereas many dessert wines are like drinking nectar (I imagine!), this one has a juicy tang, which my friend described as a ‘ping’.   I think this is spot on.  It’s still a sweet, delicious desert wine but it’s just a little more interesting.  In fact, just remembering it makes my mouth water in the same way rhubarb crumble does.  ‘Autumn Glory’ is the perfect name – it sums up the whole experience in one go.  Definitely worth a try.

Cane End Estates: Autumn Glory, 1991. 0118 972 2114. Shop open all year, 12pm -5pm.  More info

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Wine blog – the beginning

I have decided to write about the odd wine or two that I find tasty, horrible or just worth talking about. I am not a snob.

My first tale begins at the Tesco wine festival, regular haunt of many a bargain-hunting part-time wine appreciator (for I cannot claim to be anything other than an appreciator – connoisseur will come with time, I’m sure). The aisles were half-stocked and the evening was pushing on, so snap decisions had to be made. We chose two.

The first (chosen by my sister for the very lovely silver-heart label, and for the fact that it rather intriguingly asked to be served chilled) was Casa Dolce’s Syrah Dolcetto, a watery-looking, yet quite bright red wine from South Eastern Australia. We sniffed with some trepidation- what would the chilled red wine be like? “It smells like my socks” was the less-than flattering conclusion from my brother-in-law (- to be. Potentially). OK, we weren’t off to a good start. Admittedly, it did lack a certain excitement in the scent department but we managed to ascertain that strawberries were also prominent ‘on the nose’. So now for the moment of truth, we sipped, we swirled, we swallowed. Unexpected is the only word I can use to describe all of our reactions – it was sweet, yet really quite tannic with a slight fizz and berry taste. Two out of the three of us thought it was brilliant, but this has since been knocked down to two out of five, after my parents tried it. It was certainly a drinkable wine, probably best suited to aperitifs, as it does not have the structure or complexity to remain tasty with food, but is somehow not sweet enough to be enjoyed as a desert wine. I think it’s a great alternative to white wine, which can be too acidic for some moods, and to rose, which is generally too cloying if this sweet. All in all I’d recommend you try this wine if you fancy something a bit different – it would be a great talking point to start a late-summer BBQ or even a winter get-together, but is probably best appreciated for its novelty factor and I imagine it won’t compare entirely favourably to other sweet, light bodied reds, which are served chilled (such as one I have had from Slovenia recently, but don’t remember the name of).

Casa Dolce Syrah Dolcetto. Around £6 (£4.50 in the sale) from Tesco

The second, and I’ll try to make this quick, was also chosen for the label (and the fact it was quite heavily reduced!). mad bay Shiraz, this time from Western Australia, is an entirely different wine altogether. Interesting if you think that it is made from the same primary grape as Casa Dolce‘s earlier offering (syrah / shiraz). This wine was very dark – we did the ‘finger test’ to see if our digits were visible through the liquid, which confirmed our conclusions. Conversely to the last wine, the aromas from this were strong and varied – smoke, tobacco, coffee, juicy fruit (not the chewing gum) and spice – lots of it. To taste, it was almost too overpowering, the smokey spice fills your head and throat and the tannins coat your teeth. It is probably best enjoyed with food, although the stuffed yellow peppers we ate were probably not the ideal companion (but they were very tasty – thank you Lynne!) None of us being too keen to continue, we left for the pub and decided to try again the next day. I think the wine improved on being open for a day – the smell was much less smokey and had developed pleasant medicinal undertones, with a warming – rather than fiery – base. It was much the same story with the taste – all the layers were still there but seemed to have mellowed out and had a delicious, subtle vanilla aftertaste. However, I don’t really think this wine is good value for money. We paid around £6, which makes it a reasonable buy, but at the original price of around £9 it may leave a bitter taste in your mouth (which, I forgot to add, it did).

mad bay Shiraz, 2005. Around £9 (£6 in the sale) from Tesco

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