Tag Archives: France

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!

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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

Wine Virgin, No More!

11 Oct

It will come as no surprise to readers that I love wine. From a box, from a bottle, in the park, in a bar and once, even while perched on a crumbling castle wall overlooking the Dalmatian Sea…

But, up until the weekend I was still a wine festival virgin – I’d never been to a whole day dedicated to the gorgeous grape.

A Virgin Wines employee pours out a measure

This, I am happy to say, is no longer the truth after the boy and I ventured all the way down to the Royal Horticultural Halls in Westminter to take in some vinos with 1,500 others this past Saturday for the Virgin Wines Festival – an apt name, I thought, for myself the newbie.

Upon entering, I was astounded – never had I seen more open wine bottles…250 shiny, glass bottles being artfully poured into the awaiting glasses…sigh…

The boy and I could only look at each other, smile and grab our free tasting glasses to get going. No words, just pure and utter bliss.

Over four hours of wandering from table to table, having generous portions glugged into my glass (no special measured pours here) I managed to fit in 37 wines…yes, 37. From France, from Chile, Argentina and Spain, I drank my way through many a country in a happy cloud of tannins and bursting fruit.

In order to remember which we liked, the boy and I devised a scoring system to use in the handy books they provided us, which listed each wine available to taste: 3 ticks = brilliant; 2 = good; 1 = palatable; and an x = no, go.

Looking over that book now, with a much clearer head, I can report a few fantastic bottles, namely:

Still standing!

1) Fromm La Strada Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

2) Zinio Vendimia Seleccionada Rioja 2010

3) Morandina Valpolicella Superiore Pra 2008

4) Shiraz Plays Shiraz Barossa Valley 2009

5) De Martino Single Vineyard Las Cruces 2008

The boy enjoys some wines

The boy had his list too but we believe it may have been left behind at a pub – being British, of course, we went to a pub AFTER a wine event!

The festival also had wine makers there which you could speak with about their vineyards (I do believe this led me to speak Spanish to one grower at one point!) and Virgin Wines MD Jay Wright was on hand to dish out some of his top picks of the year.

All in all, I’d put the festival down as a success – and not only because I left feeling happily wobbly and more educated on what wines I really like, but because it wasn’t a stuffy, cardigan-wearing affair, but a young, vibrant exciting tasting. Perfect for Gwiltypleasures’s first…

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