Oh, the Disney Dream. The delightful, delicious, delovely, delectable Disney Dream. Regular readers will know that I adore all the Disney Cruise Line ships, but there’s something about Disney Dream in particular that makes my heart sing. I think it’s because my first ever Disney Cruise was on board the Disney Dream. I just love everything about it – the restaurants, the fabulous AquaDuck water coaster, the gorgeous restaurants, the gorgeous cocktail bars, the sumptuous spa… So, if you’ve ever wondered what a cruise holiday on board a Disney Cruise Line ship is like, wonder no more. Sam (my oldest son) and I kept a diary during our cruise trip last week, and here’s part one.
Happy Sunday! I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend. We’ve mostly slobbed around, eaten cake, signed the contracts ready to exchange on our house (YAY!), splurged in Majestic Wine (this Stag’s Leap ‘Karia’ Chardonnay was buy two, save £10), stroked our gorgeous little furball family and started prepping for our next painting project: Sam’s bedroom (feature wall dark grey, other walls silvery grey).
I’ve got my first trip coming up very soon, a cruise on the gorgeous Disney Dream – one of my favourite ships, so I thought it would be a good time to stock up on some of the summer stuff that’s inevitably in the sales:
I’m no wine expert, but we’re starting to know what we like and what we don’t. Here are a few things we’ve tried recently, plus a couple of recommendations for the festive season. Cheers!
So next on our wonderful trip to Florida, we hopped back into our amazing Mustang and headed down to Sarasota, to the brand new Mall at University Town Centre (UTC for short). The brand new Macy’s there is utterly fantastic, and very state of the art. We joined store manager Kerry Yelle for a tour of the store. She’s understandably pretty proud of the place and pointed out several really cool features that are unique to this ‘smart store’. The lighting, for example, has been designed to be sustainable and the lamps don’t need replacing, plus the changing rooms have lights that only come on when you enter, to save energy.
We have very weird wine habits in this house. When Mr English is home we really splash out and try a few nice wines, but when I’m at home on my own when he’s working, I tend to have a glass of a supermarket red on the go and I don’t think there’s any shame in that. I often read my friend Helen’s blog: Knackered Mother’s Wine Club for inspiration as she’ll regularly recommend a good bottle or two.
It’s no secret that I love my wine. And although I’m no expert, I’ve got to the stage where I’m interested enough to start recording my thoughts about wine that we’ve tried and liked, and want to know what other people think about wines.
When Mr English is home, one of our favourite things to do is pop to No 2 Pound Street in Wendover. It’s a lovely little place – part wine shop/part deli. They sell an amazing selection of cheese and other lovely bits, and an equally fab selection of wines. They concentrate on the slightly more unusual, organic, small-producer type wines, so you’ll always find something a bit different in there. They usually have four or five different wines on offer by the glass, so we pop in for a glass or two and one of their delicious deli platters:
Birthdays, celebrations, special events, parties, even the ‘C word’ (it’s okay, I didn’t say it)… there are so many occasions to uncork a bottle or two. But before you can begin to pour, you have to choose your poison – an onerous task if you are venturing into unknown territory.
My brother is really into his wine. He’s a serious collector and really knows his stuff. He’s introduced me to some amazing wines and we’re always telling each other about our new wine discoveries.
We decided to get together for a bit of a ‘wine-off’ with Big Bro and his wife picking some wines, then me and Mr English picking some wines, and decided to make it a bit more tricky by agreeing to cover the labels.
We’re big fans of Prezzo and pop in quite regularly for dinner, or occasionally Mr English and I will pop in for a quick lunch and a glass of wine. They’ve just launched some lovely new Summer menu items, and we went along to try a few.
Over Christmas we reviewed tons of wine. One of the selections that really stood out was from Barclays’ new website, Bespoke Offers. It’s a new concept full of all sorts of different offers, discounts and deals, from days out and holidays through to tech and appliances and everything in between. You don’t have to have a Barclaycard and you can also tailor the site to suit yourself, searching by postcode, for example, to find offers near you, or searching by subject, for example, if you’re looking for a spa break, you can look at all of them, or just look at the ones in your region. You can also register your specific interests and get just the offers that suit you sent to you. Bonus.
We reviewed a Christmas Treats mixed case of wine from Virgin Wines which contained some outstanding bottles. Our favourite reds were the Chilean Tierra del Corazon Casablanca Pinot Noir Reserva 2013 – a gorgeously fruit-filled Pinot Noir and the Star & Vine Lodi Shiraz 2012 - I love a Shiraz anyway and this one didn’t disappoint, with berry, cherry flavours and perfectly festive spicy notes coming through. Yum.
The whites didn’t disappoint, with a lovely crisp South African Hope Springs Bush Vine Chenin Blanc 2013 and the outrageously good Florentyne Reserve Margaret River Riesling 2012 which was just off dry and beautifully aromatic and fresh, topping our list of favourites, but honestly, there wasn’t a bad bottle in there.
If you want to have a look at the food and wine offers on the Barclay’s Bespoke Offers website, just click here. I think we’ll be returning for another look very soon.
I love the time after Christmas when we have a few lazy days before everyone goes back to school and work. We had a quiet New Year with Gary Barlow (not literally, I’m not THAT lucky). Sam’s girlfriend has American parents and had us popping a piece of fruit into our mouths on every bong on the countdown to midnight – I think it’s a Spanish tradition, but it’s hilarious and by the last bong everyone’s cheeks were bulging and we were all drooling and laughing.
We’ve opened some really lovely wine over the festive period. At midnight, we toasted 2014 a delicious Wolf Blass Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir (on spesh at Asda at £5.75 at the moment I notice – SNAP IT UP!). We also opened the front door to let the old year out and the new year in – think that one’s Irish. My own favourite wine of the season was the Cune Crianza Rioja 2010 – an absolute beaut with that hint of vanilla that I seem really drawn to. Again, on spesh at the moment I think.
Mr English is very keen on Pinot Noir. His favourite of the season was the Californian Clos du Bois Pinot Noir (Majestic, £9.99 if you buy two American wines). There’s something herbal about it (which doesn’t sound nice, but is) but it’s still full of really ripe fruit. Yum.
The Big Bro recommended a splash-out Amarone, perfect for Christmas. I’ve got this one on my wish list from Majestic: Amarone Classico ‘Vigneti di Roccolo’ 2010 Cantina Negrar. It’s a pricey one at £23 but comes down to £18 if you buy two fine wines. One for when the coffers have been replenished.
Baking-wise, I’m loving Nigel Slater’s wonderful lazy loaf. It’s a soda bread, but because it’s baked in a cast iron casserole, it develops a wonderful chewy crust. Delicious, and barely 30 minutes to make – with no kneading. I also used up the last of the Christmas clementines with a clementine drizzle cake. Exactly the same as lemon drizzle cake:
Clementine Drizzle Cake
Same weight (about 175g) of caster sugar, butter and self raising flour
Juice and zest of a couple of clementines.
So just weigh the eggs in their shells, then weigh out the rest of the ingredients to the same weight.
Beat the butter until soft, then add in the sugar and beat until light coloured and creamy. Add the zest and juice of the clementines to the eggs and give them a quick whisk with a fork. Add them a dribble at a time to the butter/sugar mix.
Stir in the flour, then dollop the mixture into a buttered cake tin and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 30 minutes until springy to the touch or until a knife point comes out clean.
Mix the juice of a final clementine with a couple of teaspoons of sugar and drizzle over the warm cake. Delicious.
In pupster news, she’s settling in really well, has made a best friend at puppy classes (a cute and ridiculously soft Vizsla called Ellie) and thinks having everyone at home over Christmas is wonderful!
You know me, I love a glass of wine. Or two. So when Asda offered to send me a selection of their favourite wines for the summer, well, I jumped at the chance.
As a fledgling wine-taster I’ve done my best to describe them for you (none of that ‘burnt rubber and cut grass’ stuff I promise) mostly without referring to any tasting notes, but this stuff’s all a bit subjective so you might not agree. Do go and seek them out, though, they’re a delicious bunch:
From left to right:
The Wine Selection Pinot Grigio 2012
I always think that I don’t like Pinot Grigio, but we really enjoyed this Italian white from Verona. Bright and crisp with less mouth-puckering acidity than I remember from last time, although still fresh and zesty. Bit of a snip at four quid a bottle.
Extra Special Fiano 2012
This Sicilian beauty was one of my favourites. Fresh and fruity, bright with tangy citrus and – what? – green apple? Wish I had an expert on hand. £7.00.
The Original Malbec 2011
I adore an Argentinian Malbec and though this French Rigal Malbec was a beauty: spicy, smooth and full of fruit with a touch of sweetness – seriously easy drinking. £7.25 but currently on offer at £5.50 so snap it up.
Extra Special Gavi 2012
A really special wine (reflected in the price, I’ll admit). This Italian Gavi was delicious: fresh and crisp but also with a flowery scent that was really appealing (there goes my wine vocabulary letting me down again). Loved it, and did a special online order to buy more as there’s no Asda near us. £8.00.
This wine is from a small area just inland from Lake Garda. The grapes used are Trebbiano – not something I’ve come across before. I was lost for the words to describe what I was tasting, but it’s almost metallic – not unpleasantly so – I’m sure there’s a proper winey word for it – also fresh and lemony. £8.50 but currently on offer at £7.00.
Garganega Pinot Grigio Pouch
Almost back to the wine boxes of our youth, we were initially, I’ll admit, a bit snobby about the whole ‘wine in a bag’ idea, then laughed as both of us were caught sneaking back to the fridge for another top up. This wine is an 84% Garganega/16% Pinot Grigio mix from Verona and you get a stonking 1.5L for your £9.50. A bit of a bargain and well worth keeping in the fridge for unexpected guests (if it lasts that long). It stays fresh for a good few weeks during use and is surprisingly eco-friendly too. I referred to tasting notes for this one and could definitely taste the pear that was mentioned. Delicious, crisp, fresh and dead handy too.
The verdict? Not a single wet blanket amongst them, but the Malbec was my favourite. Could have done with a couple of rosés in the mix too.
Thanks to Asda for supplying the wine. Excellent fun. Next! (Please note the prices may well have changed slightly since I last asked – they often do!)
I love a bit of fizz. I also love a nerdy fact. I realised recently that I’d nearly got enough for a top ten, so I ferreted around for a couple more and came up with this lot: a big top ten of useless, but diverting, facts about Champagne.
No need to thank me…
- My lovely friend, Helen McGinn, wino extraordinaire, reckons that champers is the perfect accompaniment to fish and chips. A fact that I regularly check, to make sure it’s still true.
- Everybody moans about Chardonnay, but most people don’t realise that it’s one of the main grapes used in Champagne production (Blanc de Blancs are made solely of Chardonnay grapes).
- Champagne contains less than 100 calories a glass (about the same calories as a banana) and, in fact, Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut has just 65 per glass), making it quite a ‘skinny’ option, alcohol wise.
- 1996 and 2002 were both excellent years for Champagne.
- Champers is the perfect accompaniment to anything salty… but clashes with anything sweet.
- The cork from a shaken bottle of champagne can reach 100mph. DUCK!
- Although certain people (I’m looking at you, America) insist on calling it ‘French Champagne’, this is pointless as there is no other sort. To be called Champagne is must be produced in the Champagne region of France, and only there.
- It’s very bad manners to put an empty Champagne bottle back upside down into an ice bucket.
- You should also never swirl Champagne in the glass as it bursts the bubbles and will show you to be an ‘amateur’!
- Champers doesn’t have to be posh to be good. Champagne from Tesco, including their very popular Finest Premier Cru, regularly win awards and come up in ‘best of’ listings.
I’ve known Helen McGinn for donkey’s years. And if you’re a regular reader, you’ll have seen her appearing several times right here on this very blog, recommending wines for Christmas, wines for Easter, food and wine combos… all sorts of stuff. Helen is my ‘go to’ person when it comes to wine. I’m really interested in wine, but I’m often not sure what I’m doing, and am not confident tasting wine either. She’s always very patient when I bombard her with stupid questions and the recommendations on her fabulous blog, Knackered Mother’s Wine Club, go straight onto my shopping list every week. She’s never let me down.
Muchos excitement was in the air, then, when she told me she was writing a book. Happily it’s written exactly like Helen’s blog – with a hearty dash of humour, a ‘we’re all in this together’ chumminess, and an utter disregard for any kind of wine-based pomposity (is that a word? That’s a word, right?). Oh and I’m quoted on page 45, don’t you know?
This isn’t really a review because I haven’t read it yet (I’m saving it for a long flight I’m taking in February), but I can tell you that it’s full of Helen’s tips for choosing, tasting and food-matching wine – from lovely reds to sip by the fire, to fabulous treats for Christmas and New Year, and will go a long way towards making wine less mystifying for all of us. This is a book for every one of us who says ‘I really like that wine’, but don’t really know why. This is a book that will get us trying new wines, finding out what we really like and stop buying stuff that we don’t. Because, as Helen says, life’s just too short to drink bad wine: “people were always telling me how overwhelming they found the supermarket wall of wine (or the wine list) terrifying. This book is about giving you the confidence to navigate that wall of wine and break out of your wine comfort zone. Think of it as loading up your internal wine sat nav. There’s also loads of useful stuff too – tasting wine, food & wine matching, myths explained – I like to think of it as everything you really need to know about wine.”
I quite like the idea that you can treat this book as a bit of a wine course: you can work through it, discovering more about wine and, next time you’re at a dinner party, can flummox your fellow guests with your new-found winey knowledge.
So what are you waiting for? BUY THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW (well, when it’s released on 14th February)
In the words of Helen: ‘peace out, winos’.
I’m so lucky to have fabulous friends. I know, I know, lots of people have friends, but not too many people have friends who are wine experts. I know, right? Still, it comes with its downsides – she makes me spend hundreds on wine y’know.
It’s been a busy year for the gorgeous Helen, who was not only voted Blogger of the Year at the International Wine & Spirit Competition, but HAS A BOOK OUT THIS YEAR! The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club: Everything you ever needed to know about wine – and much, much more. And if that’s not enough she also won Red Magazine’s Hot Women Award in the blogger category. PHEW!
Luckily for me, she is vey vey lovely, and has decided that she’s still not too famous to write her lovely annual Christmas wine guide for English Mum.
Over the last few years, I’ve written about the ideal wines to go with traditional Christmas feasts for my mate, the very fabulous English Mum. We’ve done the classic route – Champagne, Chablis, Claret and Port. And we’ve done the not-so-classic route – Prosecco, Maconnais, New Zealand Pinot Noir and Sauternes. Then last year, we did more of a food-and-wine-matching thing. All useful stuff, hopefully. But what we haven’t done is How Wine Can Save Your Life. In other words, what wines you can buy as perfect last-minute presents that make you look like a) you know what you are talking about and b) show you really care…
So, you could go for classic Bordeaux, but this in fact gives the game away. You’ve thrown money at it in the hope that you’ll blind him with expensive wine. There’s a better way: Rhone red. Something from the Rhone, made with the Syrah grape, delivers power and knowledge and love in a glass. Now that’s a present. Go for Hermitage (about £20), or for a slightly cheaper option, Crozes-Hermitage (about £10).
This is where a bottle of Bailey’s isn’t going to cut it. (Quick fact: I know the man whose dad invented Bailey’s. Imagine that! What a legacy). No, Bailey’s will betray the fact that you really didn’t know what else to buy them. What you need here is sparkles, possibly pink. So, either a bottle of Rose Champagne or – more fun but similar in price, about £20 – a bottle of Prosecco and a bottle of Campari. Then you can bond over Dirty Prosecco (just add a splash of Campari to a glass of Prosecco and marvel at the colour and taste).
The Favourite Auntie
My sister – known to my children as Auntie Alex, obviously – is, according to them, the funniest person they know. And she’ll be even funnier after a few lugs on what is quite possibly the most delicious sloe gin I’ve tasted this year: Sipsmith’s Sloe Gin (£23, Waitrose). Not only does it taste quite delicious, it is also beautifully packaged. Says I love you like no other gin can.
So, hope that helps and here’s wishing you all a very merry Christmas.