Tag Archives: wine

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

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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!

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!

38 Wines? 2 Hours? Why not!

20 Dec

I’m always a fan of trying to set new personal records. Some people run marathons or do the Iron Man competitions. Some people scale mountains or collect the largest number of Dalek figurines in the world. And while I am impressed with them all – okay, maybe not the Dalek collectors; sorry if you’re one – I tend to think it’s much more pleasurable to focus on personal records involving food and drink.

So, what has been my latest record?

Well, it’s got to be trying 38 wines in under two hours. The reason? Virgin Wines was having a press tasting and I was short on time. But, not one to skip on research opportunities, I decided I would work my way through their offerings, one small sip at a time, to bring you, the reader, my balanced opinion on a selection of wines the company is offering up just now for consumers.

Now, I’m sure there are skeptics out there saying, “But surely you wouldn’t have valued each wine individually if your taste buds had been influenced by such a quick onslaught of so many flavours.” To them, I say, you’re possibly a wee bit correct. But I did ensure to rinse out my mouth with lots of aqua and drink a fair amount of it as well, to ensure my brain was still working properly!

I agree with this slogan (possibly too wholeheartedly)

As such, here are my top picks (ie: those that received two ticks from me in my highly scientific rating system) from the Virgin Wines Winter Press Tasting:

  • Star & Vine Lodi Shiraz 2010: A full bodied, Californian wine that hinted at flavours of poached pears, cream and vanilla. I wrote “lovely” beside it in my book. It retails at £9.99 a bottle.
  • The Big Mo’ Barossa Valley Shiraz 2009: A rich, blackcurrent and dark chocolate offering from this Australian company bursts on the palate. Hints of olives and earthiness keep the sweeter flavours from the berries at bay. Lush. And well worth the cost of £12.99 a bottle.
  • Mas Oller Blau 2009: Tagged in the “Stars of Tomorrow” category at the tasting, this soft but fully flavoured Syrah, Garnacha and Cab Sauv Spanish blend really took my fancy. It was fresh and bold, and had a nice earthy minerality which packed a subtle but lovely punch. Retails at £10.99 a bottle.
  • The First Chapter Shiraz Viognier by Nico Vermeulen 2010: Vermeulen is one of the top wine makers in South Africa and this bottling is another fantastic achievement. The combination of Shiraz and Viognier really works (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t normally like Viognier). It was sweet but had rich mineral notes to contrast that; notes of mushroom and earthy flavours finish it nicely. Costs: £9.99 a bottle.
  • Oroura Station Single Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010: This was a Sauvignon Blanc with a difference: sweet but sharp; slightly smoky with hints of melon; it was really full without being too rich or sickly sweet, which I sometimes find with this grape. A lovely balanced, single vineyard Kiwi wine. Costs: £10.99.

The Big Mo' had a big effect on my taste buds

There were many others that I enjoyed as well, but these were the top of the top for me. And – it seems, now that I have looked each up on the site – that many consumers rate these ones highly as well (at least 4 out of 5 for them all), so my taste buds couldn’t have been that out of sync.

Andrew Baker, a wines buyer with the company, told me these ratings play highly into Virgin’s decisions about purchasing. “The site gets 1200 comments a week and everything is informed by that.”

So, if you end up trying any of these wines and loving (or hating) them, do make sure to add your thoughts to the site – it could effect the future of what Virgin Wines stocks (and what I might end up trying if they have another event).

And now, I have to find a next personal record to try and achieve. Given it’s Christmas, this shouldn’t be too hard…

Virgin Wines offers wines by the case on its site and free delivery on any orders. If you want to order wine in time for Christmas dinner, you can do so up until 2pm on Thursday, 22 December through the website.

A “new world” winter wine evening

5 Dec

A few years ago I traded in my allegiances and stopped drinking new world wine. I said adios to Chile and goodbye to Oz, in favour of good Cotes du Rhone or Chianti.

“Why?” you ask…

Because of the simple fact that wine from Italy, France or Spain is so much less expensive in England than it ever was in Canada. I was like a kid in a candy store when I moved here – a grape-drenched sweet store, that is.

When I was in the “new world” I drank Australian, Kiwi and South African wines all the time, so it was a nice change to switch over to European varieties when I shifted country codes.

As such, when I headed to a tasting with Jacob’s Creek at the beautiful boutique hotel, The Hempel, it was one of the first times in recent years that I was going to have a night solely on Australian vino.

The Hempel Hotel near Hyde Park

The company has recently launched its new range of wines from three specific Australian regions: the Barossa, Coonawarra and Adelaide Hills.

Now, I will be honest here – I wasn’t expecting much. I have – when I was back in Canada – drunk many a bottle of Jacob’s Creek and always found it to be palatable, rich and tasty, but nothing spectacular. So, I was curious to see if these new wines were going to be a step up. I was also interested to see what the Hempel’s head chef was going to match with the wines.

I arrived at the white pillared hotel and was greeted with a lovely glass of champagne and a roomful of fellow bloggers, all eager to get the evening going.

After sitting down, Adrian Atkinson – a wine development director with Pernod Ricard, which owns the wine company – talked us through what bottles we would be trying and explained a key part of the new releases is in focusing on how regionality makes a big difference in the final product.

“The industry as a whole is talking about regions,” he said.

The first region on our list was the Barossa, from which the Jacob’s Creek Reserve Riesling comes. It was paired with a smoked black pudding, red onion jam and roaster diver Isle of Mull scallops.

The incredible delights offered up on a plate at The Hempel

I’m not a massive fan of Riesling and Adrian admitted it can be a difficult variety to sell to Britain, which often links the grape with the very sweet varieties that come out of Germany.

“We put “dry riesling” on the label to try and overcome that,” he added.

This Riesling was very nice – it wasn’t sickly sweet, but instead had a rich butter and honey nose, and a slight hazelnut and lime taste that countered the salty flavours of the black pudding and scallops wonderfully.

The next region was Adelaide Hills with a 2010 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc matched with a Staffordshire Innes goat cheese, hazelnut and beetroot salad.

I found the wine to be light, with grassy, citrusy notes on the nose, and a fresh but slightly bitter flavour on the palate – it paired perfectly with the beetroot and gooey goat cheese.

We continued on our culinary journey, working through a beautifully rich, brown sugar, vanilla and oak flavoured 2010 Chardonnay to go with sea bass, and a 2009 Pinot Noir that was earthy and very rich, with a slight hint of rhubarb, that was matched with a stunning mushroom consumme – by far my favourite pairing of the night.

Adrian spoke of how “certain winemakers, if they get bitten by the “Pinot bug” become obsessed” – this led to a conversation about that same obsession discussed by Miles in Sideways and Adrian explaining that there are few regions in the world where growers can really get the most from these delicate vines, namely: Sonoma, Oregon and Adelaide Hills, where this one originates.

Adrian Atkinson and the Hempel's head chef speak to bloggers on the night

The evening finished off with an organic Rhug Estate flat iron steak (to go with a delicious blackberry and smoky Shiraz) and a selection of locally sourced cheeses, which was paired with a vanilla and oak, floral Cabernet Sauvignon.

The stars of the evening, for me, were the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. But the real treat was not only in discovering the incredible skills of the chefs at the Hempel but also in rediscovering some absolutely wonderful new world wines.

Adrian added the culture of taking a longer time learning about and focusing on regions is a key element in the quality of wines being released from Australia.

“Ten years ago, winemakers in Australia thought grapes grew in the back of trucks. Now they spend lots of time in the vineyard tasting and learning,” he said.

Jacob’s Creek have done a really good job with these releases, and I have a feeling they are going to go down a treat – for lovers of the brand and new converts alike.

Jacob’s Creek’s new reserve releases are available at Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Tesco Wine and Ocado, and are all priced at £9.99.

Bubbly Goodness!

16 Nov

The other day I had a rather interesting delivery arrive at my door.

Once I’d signed my life over to the small man in my hallway, I scrambled back to my room to unveil what it was.

It was most certainly unusual. Inside its brown box packaging was a bottle covered in green tissue with the following sign:

Hmmm...curiosity you say?

I quickly pulled off the tag and paper, excited by this declaration of curiosity, only to find this:

My favourite wine? That could be a long list...

This was suddenly getting interesting. An alcoholic version of Russian dolls! But what came next??

How exciting!

The bottle of Brancott Estate bubbly was well hidden and after all that effort I was eager to pop it open and give it a go.

So what was the sparkling stuff like?

The Kiwi company bills it as: “New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but not as you know it.”

On first taste, it was most certainly Sauvignon Blanc. It was crisp and refreshing, with sweet pineapple, kiwi and grapefruit notes. But, it was the kick of the slight dryness from the bubbles which was the real treat. This helped tone down the sweetness without taking it away. It wasn’t quite a Brut but near to it, and you could imagine summer picnics with this as a feature to go along with a white fish done on the BBQ and served in a pineapple salsa.

The only thing I thought was: will people who love bubbly, love this? It definitely adds a nice sparkle for a special occasion or gathering of friends, but it may not be for everyone, especially those who love a really dry Champagne.

If you like a good Sauvignon Blanc, however, this might just be right up your street on those days when you want a bit more pizazz on your tongue.

I’m definitely glad Brancott Estate hooked onto the curiosity factor and asked: just what would happen if we added bubbles to our regular offering? It’s definitely tasty and a Gwilty indulgence all around!

The Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc Brut NV is now available at Morrisons, Tesco Wine, and Majestic, retailing at £12.99.

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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