Tag Archives: drink

Streets of Spain coming to London

24 Apr

Streets of Spain La Boqueria Chef

As the weather here in London finally gets warmer, more and more of us will likely be frolicking out in the sunshine, stocking up on our vitamin D supplies after such a long winter.

And for the upcoming May bank holiday weekend, Londoners will be able to enjoy a few days off and indulge in a dose of Spain, without shunting to airports and listening to Ryanair advertisements for the plane ride.

Instead, to get some Spanish fever, I’ve found out you can head to South Bank from the 3 to 6 May and take in La Boqueria. The famous Barcelona food market will be sending its stallholders from Las Ramblas for the Streets of Spain festival in conjunction with Campo Viejo. I’m already drooling at the pleasurable prospect of tender tapas and flowing red wine.

Masterclasses will be held with Campo Viejo wine, who will also be running a pop-up restaurant with Michelin-starred Spanish chef, Angel Pascual.

I had a chance to speak to festival general manager Oscar Ubide to get some more details about the festival.

Here’s what he said:

Streets of Spain Oscar Uribe Director of La Boqueria 2Why have you decided now is the right time to bring the Spanish spirit to London by partnering with Streets of Spain?

 The UK is heading into spring and hopefully we can bring some Spanish sunshine with us. We are also really excited as this is the first time we are coming over to London on this scale. Some of the stall owners have made trips to the UK before and the visits have always been very successful. Now that times are quite difficult back at home, it is a great opportunity to see the appetite for Spanish produce outside of our country.

What are you most looking forward to about this festival?

We hope that the festival will be an explosion of feelings, food, wine and colours to represent true Spanish culture. I’m looking forward to passing our passion for good food and quality produce to Londoners.

Why is London a good place to host an event such as this?

For the last few years the knowledge of Spanish food and our market has been constantly growing across the UK. British people currently sit at third on the list of visitors to our website. We think that there’s a nice rapport between the UK and Barcelona but also Boqueria. We are very grateful to Campo Viejo for giving us the opportunity to make our dream of bringing the market over on this scale real.

Why should Londoners come to the event?

When I visit London I always go to the Borough Market to buy the best Black pudding and Haggis from my friend Peter from Sillfield Farm, as I can’t buy those products in my city. We want to do the same for Londoners by bringing our best goods to their city, hopefully making them a little happier.

What are some of the most interesting products people can look to try and sample at the event?

Without giving too much away, we’re bringing black leg ham, the best jamon of the world, Shepherd cheeses, dried fruits, Catalan cooked dishes, excellent olives and oil and Catalan chocolates. This is only a snapshot of why Londoners should visit the festival and we still have plenty of secrets to surprise visitors with.

For more information on the festival, events, masterclasses and the pop-up restaurant, visit: http://www.streetsofspain.com

Brancott Estate: Kiwi Finest

24 Mar

Brancott Estate Chosen Rows

When I first started drinking wine around the age of 19, I remember falling for those outside of the “norm” (ie: the old world) and heading straight to “New World wines”.

The first country to interest me was Australia and I recall a fine Shiraz Grenache that I drank on many an evening, which was appealing for both its richness from the Shiraz and the sweeter notes the Grenache grape provided.

Years later (and after a move to the UK from Canada) my palate has changed and so has my exposure to wine. Living over here I tend to now drink a lot of French and Italian wine, simply because of its availability in UK supermarkets (and due to trips to the continent from which the boy and I return with copious amounts of vino to stock our cupboards with).

But one wine-producing country I am still not that familiar with is New Zealand. I’m confident I’ve had a few bottles from there over the years but none has stood out enough to impress. Still, it has been a country I’ve been interested in for a while not least because a very close friend of the boy and I moved out there about 18 months ago and her comments on the country and all its goodness raise our jealousy levels constantly.

So, it was with a pre-built-in interest that I recently attended a wine lunch with Brancott Estate – a Marlborough based winery that has been in existence since the late 1970s. Up until recently, it was called Montana Wines, which may be more recognisable for those of you who are already familiar with Kiwi wines. The company decided to re-brand after it upped its exports to the US because it didn’t want people thinking that Montana Wine came from the state of Montana. The company is now called Brancott after the first estate that was planted by the Croatian family who started the vineyard nearly four decades ago.

Brancott Estate 3

At the lunch at airy and beautiful Clerkenwell restaurant The Modern Pantry, I joined other food writers and chief winemaker Patrick Materman, who has been with the company for 23 years. Materman studied horticulture and was originally intending to grow flowers but realised it would be more interesting to grow grapes and make wine instead. Logical, indeed, I thought.

The lunch was put on to launch the company’s latest special release: a 2010 Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc that has been made using hand-harvested grapes, wild fermentation and large format oak vats (from four to ten thousand litres) which Materman said creates “a savoury complexity rather than more toasted oak flavours; it is perhaps a bit more thought-provoking.”

As background, Materman told us the company’s founders planted the first Sauvignon Blanc grapes in New Zealand, which are now a part of the 33 thousand hectares of vineyards in the country. The grape is the company’s main focus with Pinot Noir coming in second.

Brancott Estate 2Before we tried the newest release, there was a sample of a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc Brut to come first. I enjoyed this as it was bursting with sharply acidic tropical fruit (pineapple, lemon, lime, clementime) with a slight soda dryness right at end that kept it from being overwhelmingly fruity. It was refreshing and sprightly.

Next up was the new release, which is available on a limited edition basis for around £35. This turned out to be my favourite of the day, but at the price tag won’t be one I’ll be purchasing regularly. Still, if you see it about and fancy trying a lovely example of a New Zealand wine, I highly recommend it. It had a lovely contrast between the flavours throughout the sip, starting with sweeter citrus notes (I thought of pink grapefruit with sugar sprinkled on top) and moving to an earthier heavy mouthfeel filled with grassy and mushroom notes, and finishing on a note of red apple peel. It had weight, intrigue and richness – all things I enjoy in a wine.

The project that saw the development of the wine was, said Materman, “less about commercial viability and more about what we’ve learned from this project.”

The lunch continued with a gorgeous, crunchy bit of sea bass on candied beetroot with pink peppercorns that paired wonderfully with the company’s Letter B series wine – also a Sauvignon Blanc. This was followed by a meaty bit of pork belly, with roasted potatoes and a delectable fig and red onion relish that I enjoyed thoroughly with the delicate blackcurrent back-boned Pinot Noir Terraces ‘T’ wine (my second favourite of the day).

What I found most interesting was the fact that Materman admitted New Zealand wines will never be massive in their reach (simply because the country is running out of spaces to grow grapes on) but that it means many producers can be slightly more creative and pay more attention to their vines. The entirety of New Zealand’s wine region is around the same size as Champagne and putting it in that perspective made me realise why I may not have tried the offerings so often.

But, tasting the complex, intriguing and thoroughly delicious wines (especially the Chosen Rows and Pinor Noir bottles) made me want to search for the pleasure of this wine region again in the near future. Or, travel to New Zealand to taste it in the flesh, something that is also now even more firmly on the ‘to-do’ list!

A tipple of apple

12 Dec
Domaine du Coquerel

Domaine du Coquerel

Before I discovered Calvados, I thought the main way to have apples alcoholised was in cider.

I enjoy cider a lot, having family in Herefordshire – one of the main cider producing regions of the UK. I can even remember taking illicit sips from a cup of the sweet staple Strongbow as a kid. My taste buds have moved on from the very sugary brand onto drier, more farmhouse style ciders, like those from Gwatkin.

But during a recent trip to France with the boy, I discovered I quite like what happens when apples get much more alcoholised and turn into calvados.

Luckily, the boy’s family live in Normandy – the region where calvados has been produced for centuries. We headed off to award-winning Domaine du Coquerel, a small independent producer in France. It was started in 1937 by Rene Gilbert and was, at one stage, owned by the Guinness group, before Jean Francois Martin, the owner, gave up his job working at Diageo to buy out the company in 1996.

Casks with aging calvados.

Casks with aging calvados.

Everything is done on-site at Domaine du Coquerel as we discovered during a walk around the premises, which features a huge, stone chateau and large sweeping grounds looking out to the countryside of Normandy. Each year, between 5,000-6,000 tonnes of 55 different varieties of apples are brought to the distillery, all collected within 15km, making it truly a local business.

The apples are then fermented (pips and all) in vats for at least one month, after which it can be called cider. Afterwords, that fermented juice is distilled in copper column stills, allowing for a much more alcoholic spirit. The spirit is reduced to 40-42% before it is put into white oak ex-Cognac casks for aging which are managed by the distillery’s cellar master who has worked for the company for 30 years.

Jean Francois Martin, the owner.

Jean Francois Martin, the owner.

Like Cognac, Calvados is bottled at varying ages with different ‘age statements’. In its case, the ‘Fine’ label indicates it’s two years at least, the ‘Vieux’ is a minimum of three years, while the ‘VSOP’ label equates to four years of aging and the ‘XO’ to eight years (although it will include a blend of 8, 10 and 15 year old Calvados).

A tipple of apple.

A tipple of apple.

Domaine du Coquerel is considered a small, independent producer, but still makes around one million bottles a year, 50% of which is exported. It has recently been given a gold medal at the World Spirit Awards for both its ‘Fine’ and ‘XO’ bottlings.

We tried a variety after our tour and during our discussion with Jean. My favourite was the youngest one, the Fine. While the others were very tasty, they verged too much into whisky territory, with loads of vanilla and oak influence. I preferred the slightly more acidic, heavy apple end of the younger style. The boy agreed, and we ended up with a bottle for our drinks shelf. And a realisation that highly alcoholised apples are rather pleasurable to sip on!

On the hunt for standout wines: Virgin Wine Fest 2012

26 Oct

It’s amazing how quickly a year can fly by. This year, in particular, I’ve felt has been sped up by some time-controlling madman.

And so it was with surprise that I found myself consulting my diary recently only to find the Virgin Wine Festival had come around again.

Last year, the boy and I headed there with zealous joy – a whole day of wine tasting at the Royal Horticultural Halls seemed too good to miss. And at £15 a ticket, a few hundred other people seemed to wholeheartedly agree.

This year, Virgin had decided to up its pedigree and move events to the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Aldwych for its eighth annual festival. As a change, the event was held on two days – a shorter evening slot on the Friday, followed by a five hour session on the Saturday. As we couldn’t attend the longer one, we showed up Friday evening (at 6pm on the dot, just as the doors opened) to try out what was on offer.

The evening event had fewer wines and was held in a smaller section of the hotel’s Palm Court room. Regardless, with 97 wines on the list, there was more than enough to satisfy the taste buds for three hours.

Using our (highly technical) check-mark system (with an X meaning the wine is a no go through to three ticks, symbolising a stand out wine) we proceeded to fill our glasses repeatedly to really get a feel for the online wine company’s offerings.

This year, I found a greater proportion of highly rated wines than last. Maybe it was just good luck, but a vast majority of the wines received two ticks rather than an X.

Of those I tried, my favourite five were the following:

  • Finca Manzanos Seleccion de la Familia Rioja: Of the five wines on offer from Finca Manzanos, this one stood out for me. It smelled of autumn: brambles, wet leaves and crisp air. But there was also an exuding warmth from this – no don’t borne from the beautiful setting on which it’s grown: a plateau overlooking the confluence of the Ega and Ebro rivers in northern Spain. It wasn’t overly heavy, and could be considered a good wine for sipping on a cool, autumn late afternoon. It retails at £9.99.
  • De Martino 347 Carmenere Reserva 2010: I’ve recently become a growing fan of Carmenere, which is a big change since I used to rule out any wines from Chile after having many an unpleasant one from that country. One of my friends, however, is a big advocate after spending time in Chile and she introduced me to this grape varietal. This wine from De Martino is highly drinkable and comes from the highest vineyards in that country. It was bold without being too harsh on the palate, coming across with flavours of plump fruit and vanilla. A great wine to have with friends during an evening meal. It costs £9.99.
  • Reina Mora Special Selection Malbec Bonarda 2011: Like Chilean wines, Malbec is one I quickly avoid if I see it coming near my glass. I’ve had many that overwhelm my mouth with a distinct bitter, smokiness that I just don’t enjoy. But, never one to give up on a drink entirely, I gave this wine from Argentina a go. And I was surprised. It was far fruitier than any Malbec I’d tried in the past and softer on the taste buds as well. It was bold and fruity, but it wasn’t at all pungent. The boy gave it the thumbs up as well. It will set you back £8.99.
  • Laurent Espinasse La Cote Sauvage 2010: This is produced by small winery, which has been nurtured by Gavin Crisfield, a Englishman who fled from his job as a sommelier at top hotels here to become a winemaker in the Languedoc. I enjoyed many of his range, whose grapes come from various small producers in the region, but this was my favourite of the bunch. Grown at 500 metres above sea level, this was a perfectly balanced, black current, berry and bramble wine with heart. It’s one to sit back with and sip with a loved one after a long day. It costs £11.99.
  • Finca Las Moras 3 Valleys Gran Shiraz 2006: Continuing a theme of loving South American red wines that evening, this was one of the stand outs for me of all the ones I tried. Made in Argentina from a combination of grapes from three Shiraz growing valleys (the Pedernal, Zonda and Tulum Valleys) this was a belter of a wine – really bold and brash, and definitely crying out to be paired with a rare steak. It was slightly smoky with great fruity overtones. I loved it. I think it will be on my Christmas dinner list though, as it’s more of a ‘special occasion’ wine at the cost of £19.99 a bottle.

There were, of course, many other great wines but these five really caught my eye. The boy was slightly more lax in his tick system, preferring to focus on refilling his glass than on rating the wines – which makes perfect sense, since that’s what we were there to do. I look forward to discovering more from Virgin wines. It’s ever so pleasurable!

Thank you to Virgin Wines for inviting the boy and I along to try some fantastic wines. For more information on Virgin Wines and its suppliers, visit: http://www.virginwines.co.uk

Finding the perfect match

1 Oct

The new gin from Heston.

Pairing food and drink is becoming a particular interest of mine. I love playing around with how a food tastes when paired with one wine or another or, even more so, with one whisky or another. And it’s something I’m seeing more and more companies and restaurants taking on board. We’ve suddenly moved past simple wine and cheese matching, into whisky and food, and beer and food combinations.

Recently, I was invited to try out some of the new collection of beers and spirits being released by Waitrose. And while it was rather delightful to have access to a room full of whatever alcohols I fancied trying (including the new earl grey tea and lemon gin being released by Heston Blumenthal) I was mostly keen to check out its food and alcohol matching class.

On hand to take a group us through the various matches were Alex Buchanan, marketing manager of Thonbridge Brewery, along with Jamie Baxter and Alex (the new distiller) from Chase Vodka, along with chefs from the Waitrose cookery school.

We started out with a damson vodka infused wild salmon gravalax with a fennel salad paired with the Sipsmith damson vodka. The vodka was served icy cold and the fruitier flavours were meant to bring out the fishy and acidic flavours in the dish. While I enjoyed it, I found the damson vodka too sticky and jammy for my taste buds, but I bet a lot of people who enjoy densely sweet drinks would like this match.

We then moved onto Thornbridge’s Wild Swan ale matched with dressed crab. This, for me, was a glorious coming together of flavours. The ale is crisp and wheaty, with hints of lemon and grapefruit, which really brought out the fishy goodness of the crab. I recommend!

The next two dishes – a rich meat stew and a sausage stew – were paired with a few beers. The former matched, for me, best with the Fuller’s ESB because, while the ale is malty and rich, it has fruitier flavours which helped to cut through the intensity of the beef. The latter, meanwhile, paired perfectly with the Beglian Tripel Karmeliet (one of my favourite beers) due to the yeasty sweet flavours in the beer, which helped accentuate the slightly sweet flavours in the dish.

The event was finished off with a pairing of one of the most gorgeous trifles I’ve ever tasted (concocted from roasted panettone soaked in gin, with jelly, gin-soaked figs and spices) and Janneau Armagnac. This was, quite simply, gorgeous. And while I don’t normally opt for puddings when out, if this were in a restaurant I would happily snap it up.

Matchings such as these are taught at the Waitrose Cookery School’s cocktail and canape class, which the company says is about “showing customers how versatile spirits can be.” But it also does classes on more traditional matchings, such as a wine and gourmet food class coming up on 10 October, which is being put on in conjunction with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

After trying all the lovely foods and innovative drinks coming from British distillers and brewers, I felt thrilled to learn of new things I could try at home. And I recommend all of you to give it a shot (or, if all else fails, have a shot) – whether in a class or at home. It’s a great way to learn about flavours and how your personal palate responds to different groups of foods and drinks. Plus, you’ll probably have a rather pleasurable time doing it!

Gin, jazz and teacups – The Langham’s Palace

24 Sep

A London gin palace of the 19th century.

In the early 19th century, gin palaces were all the rage. They sprouted up like mushrooms around London, pulling lovers of ‘mother’s ruin’ easily into their web and fascinating people with their use of gas lights both inside and outside of their buildings. They were known for being overly inviting, with riche interiors, and were – along with the huge numbers of beer houses – responsible for helping many on their way to drunkenness.

Fast forward nearly 200 years and one of London’s most luxurious hotels – The Langham – has resurrected that 1820s style by installing a Sipsmith ‘gin palace’ in the hotel’s Palm Court, an opulent ground-level tea room normally known for serving up teas and cakes.

The Langham’s version of a gin palace.

Now, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, patrons will be able to eschew petit fours and tea for hot jazz and G&Ts, concocted by Sipsmith’s master distiller, Jared Brown, and The Langham’s head mixologist Alex
Kratena.

The boy and I headed there on opening night to find out what it was all about.

Outside, throngs of teenage girls lined the pavement (an odd sight, indeed, until we realised a certain Canadian teen idol was stalking the floors). Once we’d realised they weren’t there to welcome us in, we headed into the grand, marble lobby and up into Palm Court. We could already hear the gentle reverberation of jazz as it drifted out the doorway and, once inside, we swiftly found a comfy chaired corner and coddled glasses of champagne to get the night going.

The room was dimly lit, with gold flecked walls picking up the sparkling lights from the oversized chandeliers. All around us, the well-heeled circulated the room with glasses of gin cocktails, while perfectly turned out waiters carried heavy looking, glass orbs filled with a bright orange liqueur that was being poured into tea cups. It seemed to be a cross between Victoriana and Alice in Wonderland.

After the first jazz set, we took a ‘turn about the room’ picking up some saucy, spicy ginger and lily cocktails on our way. Served in a leggy cocktail glass, this drink was sharp but satisfying, heating the taste buds with the gin and ginger combination, before ending with a wee sweet hint garnered from the lily cordial. It was delicious and if they had made cocktails like this in the early 19th century, I think there would have been even more turning towards the dark side of gin consumption.

With one cocktail down, we decided to have a rest in another lounging chair and opt for the teacup cocktail. Gin in a teacup – how could I resist?

This drink – called the Ginervistic – is made from a Dutch gin-style liqueur called Loyaal Zeer Oude, along with Sipsmith gin, lime and lemon juice, Champagne and The Langham syrup. It was mouth-puckeringly sharp – a bit too much for my taste. But, as the waves of sulty jazz rolled over us, and as I asked for a refill of my teacup, my taste buds became more accustomed to the bite of the drink.

When finally we decided to leave the cushy surroundings and head back into the chilling autumn air, it was with a sigh. The Langham does luxury like few others (maybe that’s why the Beibermeister – who the boy and I just missed apparently on our way to the loo – decides to rest his pop-fuelled self there). And the hotel’s gin palace is just as divine. Cocktails are of the higher-end London varietal (£15) but if you can spare the change, I recommend taking in the surroundings over just one cocktail and allowing yourself to be transported back to a bygone age. After all, it’s not everyday you’ll drink gin from Wedgwood china.

For more information on The Langham’s Gin Palace at Palm Court, visit: http://www.palm-court.co.uk/#/gin-palace/

Innis & Gunn get fruity

10 Sep

Fruit beer is one of those things that I’m just never sure about.

The first time I tried one of the better known brands – Früli – a few years ago, it was after continuous recommendations from some work colleagues that it was the best thing since our office had decided to let us drink at our desks after 3:30pm on a Friday (this is Europe after all!). But when I tried it at Dutch pub De Hems, I found its sweetness to be too overwhelming. I promptly purchased my favourite, heavier-duty Trappistes Rochefort 8 and continued on my merry drinking way.

So when I recently learned that craft brewery and bastions of cask-aged beer Innis & Gunn had decided to release its own fruit beer under the brand name Melville’s Craft Lager, I was intrigued though slightly skeptical.

Melville’s Raspberry Craft Lager

The lager is made from a standard base (British malt, hops, yeast and water) that is infused with cold pressed berry juice from juice producer Ella Drinks. The company has released a strawberry and raspberry flavour, both of which I have sampled, and both of which will now be permanently available in Tesco and in Scottish Sainsbury’s branches for around the £1.70 mark.

My preferred choice was the raspberry version. It’s a heady, thickly sweet drink but with elements of an almost treacle-like flavour and an instant rush of sharp raspberry to counter the sugary side. It’s quite a punchy drink for a fruit beer – it’s not watered down or too sickly, though it is definitely going to be too much for those that like their lagers drier. The flavour of Swedish Berries (a North American candy) was also present. I wanted to be sat on a lawn chair in the sun drinking this one.

Stawberry delight anyone?

The strawberry version took the sugar level further and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who would choose a starter over a sweet at dinner – those with a greater love of their savoury taste buds might revolt. It saves itself, however, from falling into the sugar syrup, tweenie drinks (WKD anyone?) by having a lovely, bitter twang right at the end which balances things out a bit better. Strawberry foams from pick n mix, or Haribo strawberry sours dominate.

Both are quality craft lagers, which one can tell have been flavoured with real fruit and not any sugar additives. While they’re sweet, they’re enjoyable.

It’s an interesting move for Innis & Gunn – with its following by lager aficionados (especially in Canada where it seems to be immensely popular) it seems somewhat strange to move into this other market. Equally, it will give the company a wider remit by targeting a very different demographic. And, as the bottle does not say ‘Innis & Gunn’ anywhere on the label many may not even realise the tie-in.

And although I won’t reach for them as a staple beer, I enjoyed the raspberry enough to keep a bottle or two around for when I’m looking for something a bit sweeter than my normal bitters and ales. Which, given my normal dislike of fruit beer, says a lot.

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