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.
So as I mentioned recently, I’ve been in Orlando for a few days with my friend Laura, experiencing the fabulous food (plus the odd ride, parade, and other lovely things) available throughout Walt Disney World.
One of the highlights of Walt Disney World for me is Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I adore the showbiz theming – it feels like a real movie set, with all the main areas seamlessly blending into each other.
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.
I don’t know about you, but I’m SO glad to see the back of January and February – all that rain, wind and general misery has left me longing for bright spring mornings, sunshine and a few bright colours. Of course, February wasn’t without its perks, and a few things made February bearable, including:
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!
So I promised you more wine from our fabulous Celebrity Cruise, and one of our favourite sessions was the wine and cheese pairing workshop with Oz Clarke and Tom Forrest from Vinopolis.
Basically, as part of the immersive wine cruise there are all sorts of different talks, sessions and workshops you can join – all in quite small groups so you get to ask questions and have a chat with the fellas about the wines. You also get to visit vineyards with Tom and Oz which is an amazing experience and not to be missed.
As my Disreputable Dad and his wife Alf are into their wine and cheese, I decided to try and attempt a wine and cheese pairing evening with my new-found knowledge acquired on the cruise (and a bit of help from the lovely Tom Forrest!).
We started with a dry Harvey’s Fino, served chilled with salted nuts and olives. A perfect combination.
The original pairings on the cruise were:
1. A young goat’s cheese with a Sauvignon Blanc.
Basically the acidity in the Wild Rock ‘The Infamous Goose’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand went immensely well with the acidity in the Crotin de Chavignol cheese. The wine has loads of green notes (green apple, gooseberry) which are classic indicators of acidity, mirrored within the fresh-tasting cheese.
I loved this pairing as I adore goat’s cheese, but we missed this one out as Mr English isn’t a goats cheese fan, and swapped in the Manchego instead (see below).
2. Soft cheese with a Chardonnay
Tom explained that the Brebiou soft sheep’s cheese we tried has a lovely creamy mouth feel and the ripe fruits and oaky notes of the Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay (Walker Bay 2010) echoed this perfectly. On tasting, the wine actually felt thicker textured in the mouth and was a lovely, soft match to the creamy soft cheese. My notes just say ‘yum’ which sums it up really!
We tried: Camembert with Asda Extra Special Chardonnay which worked really well. The buttery textured Camembert matched the equally buttery Chardonnay perfectly.
3. Hard Sheep’s Cheese with Fleurie
Tom and Oz both agreed that the actual wine we tried (Joseph Drouhin, Fleurie, Beaujolais) was a bit too ‘serious’ and was an okay match for the nutty tasting Ossau-Iraty hard sheep’s cheese from the French Pyrenees, but not fabulous.
We tried: Ossau-Iraty with a Chateau Bellevue Gazin Côtes de Blaye 2009, a Bordeaux wine from our lovely Harrods hamper. We thought that the smooth claret was a lovely match for the nutty, mild cheese and thought that maybe there was a touch of earthy flavour in both the wine and the cheese.
4. Montgomery cheddar with Grenache
This was a fabulous combination – salty, savoury cheddar mixed with the bold, ripe sweetness of the D’Arenberg ‘The Custodian’ McLaren Vale 2009 Grenache. A brilliant marriage of sweet and salty.
We tried: Pilgrim’s Choice Mature Lighter cheddar with a Paul Mas Grenache-Syrah 2012 from Waitrose. The rich, cherry notes in the wine were the perfect sweet accompaniment to the strong cheddar (which is a lower fat one, but you’d never tell).
Manchego cheese and Pedro Ximenez sherry
I also wanted to slot my favourite Christmassy drink, Pedro Ximenez sherry somewhere into our tasting evening. I was originally going to pair it with the Roquefort, but Tom thought it might be too sweet and recommended pairing it with Manchego. Of course he was spot on and the dry, savoury Manchego went perfectly with the rich, raisiny Pedro Ximenez (Triana – Majestic Wines).
5. Stilton and Port
A classic combo, on the cruise Tom paired a Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port (10 year old Douro) with the salty, tangy Stilton. The smooth, sweet port was a perfect balance to the salty cheese.
We tried: Cockburn’s Fine Ruby Port with Aldi’s Specially Selected Half Moon Stilton. I adore port but I’m not hugely keen on blue cheese, but I do think that this is the best way to eat it – the sweetness of the port takes the edge off the Stilton and brings out the savouriness, somehow.
6. Muscat with Roquefort
This was a revelation. Again, I always thought that I didn’t like Roquefort – it’s really strong, and much tangier with a stronger blue mould taste than the Stilton. The fragrant, honeyed taste of the Klein Constantia Muscat (Vin de Constance 2005) from South Africa, however, made me change my mind – the sweetness seemed to soften the taste of the cheese, bringing out the salty flavour but making the blue taste seem less overpowering somehow.
We tried: Brown Brothers orange Muscat and Flora, 2012 and it definitely worked. The Muscat is served chilled and is deliciously sweet and fragrant, but still fresh.
What a fun evening. I learned so much on the immersive wine cruise and would definitely go on another one to keep expanding my wine knowledge and grasp the opportunity to taste more fabulous wines. It’s s lovely to learn something that you can keep using when you get home. Having experts on hand definitely enhances the whole experience, and we made some wonderful friends too.
And so we’re back: relaxed, revived and probably half pickled by now. On the bright side, we’ll probably never go mouldy as we’re about 99% alcohol. I’m keeping away from open flames for a few days, just in case.
Ah we had a fabulous time. We sailed from Harwich to Le Havre, La Rochelle and Bilbao in utter luxury and feel that we’ve learned so much about wine. The wine tour was hosted by the lovely Oz Clarke (who, I believe, is actually 100% alcohol) and the equally knowledgeable and fabulous Tom Forrest from the famous Vinopolis in London.
Luckily for you, I took notes during all the wine Masterclasses and I have some incredible wines to introduce you to, as well as some wonderful wine and food matches. Tom and Oz have a marvellous rapport (making it bloody impossible to take notes as they frequently finish each others’ sentences) and their wine masterclasses were hilarious, informative and, as you can imagine, a bit boozy. They weren’t at all snooty or snobby and spent a lot of time talking to us about wine, both during the masterclasses and also rather late into the night in the martini bar!
The Celebrity Infinity is a seriously luxurious Millennium Class ship (although it’s somewhat knocking on in cruise world terms, being the grand old age of 12 and a bit), holding over 2000 guests, with several speciality restaurants, including Qsine (where a cover charge of $45 applies), a quite incredible modern dining experience. At Qsine, you order an array of small plates (although they shouldn’t be called plates as the food arrives on everything but plates!) and then dive in and share, chat and scoff away while the waiters bring more and more delicious food to try. Highlights for me were the lobster escargot and an amazing Moroccan banquet served on a kind of culinary ‘block of flats’ type arrrangement – quite incredible. Plus, having two wine experts choosing wine to match your food choices made it all the more special!
People come back year after year for the Immersive Wine Cruises and we met some truly lovely people on board: Carol and David, Sharon and Bill, and new cruisers, Tony and Carla (who I managed to call ‘Sharon’ for a whole evening by mistake, and who was still nice to me). It was great to share experiences with the group as they were from really diverse backgrounds and varied from seasonal cruisers to cruise ‘virgins’. They all had a love of wine in common and it was a real treat to sample incredible wines, visit vineyards and enjoy food-matching dinners together. Lots of people on these cruises strike up friendships and return to meet up again next time.
Our one gripe (if you can call it a gripe) was with the drinks packages which were a bit confusing. The ‘classic’ package, for example, costs about £35 a day (costs vary) and entitles the cruiser to drinks, including coke, juice, tea, coffee, bottled water, beer, etc, up to $5.75. It also entitles you to wine by the glass, cocktails etc up to $9.25.
This can be confusing as, for example, if you fancy a glass of wine that costs $10 you can’t have it unless you pay the whole $10 for it. You can’t just pay the difference and add on £0.75 to your bill. It can be embarrassing if you order something over your package price by mistake (or on purpose if you’re prepared to pay the extra) and have the waiter say ‘I’m sorry, madam, that’s not on your package so you’ll be billed for that’, and it’s a pain to trawl through a wine list finding things you can ‘afford’.
Still, you don’t have to buy a package (my maths isn’t up to whether it’s better value than just buying your drinks as you go along – depends how much you drink, presumably), and we were incredibly lucky on the Immersive Wine Cruise to be treated to all sorts of fabulous wines from all around the globe, and had the added thrill of being guided through the tastings by Oz and Tom.
Being on a cruise brings a whole new meaning to the words ‘all inclusive’ though. Most nights we ate in the Trellis restaurant, where the food was superb. Highlights included a delicious slow-roasted dish of short ribs that just fell apart, a deliciously delicate sea bass, and a surf and turf dish with a steak so enormous that it beat even Mr English. Desserts were another highlight, and we felt it was lovely to dine at the table with proper waiter service. It made the experience seem really special. If you’d rather just eat buffet style, though, there’s the Ocean View Café up on deck ten where we ate breakfast (everything and anything you could possibly imagine, including eggs benedict made to order – yum).
We rather fell in love with a little place called ‘Bistro on 5’ ($5 cover charge) where they did lovely crepes, soups, salads and paninis. we popped in most days and got to know the staff who led us straight to our favourite corner. The decor is gorgeous, with muted gold leather sofas and dark wood. We also spent rather a lot of time at the Martini Bar where the bar is made of real ice and the bar staff make amazing drinks and entertain with all sorts of theatrical shenanigans, including pouring several martinis at once.
Away from the food and drink, there is a beautiful pool area with lots of different pools, whirlpools, etc, plus an indoor thalassotherapy pool which is gorgeously warm, even when the weather’s not up to much. There’s a wonderful AquaSpa, where I had my favourite Elemis tri-enzyme facial, but you can have anything from Keratin hair straightening to teeth whitening and botox if you so desire! Mr English chose to pound the treadmill in the gym a few times. I preferred a gentle walk around the deck or a coffee and a slice of cake in Café Al Bacio. Each to their own, I say!
Next up, then, it’s wine, wine and more wine. Brace yourself!
Join Celebrity Cruises’ (www.celebritycruises.co.uk; 0845 456 0523) Celebrity Infinityon a 12-night France and Iberian Discovery cruise-only from £736 per person (based on two people sharing an interior stateroom).
Price includes a 12-night cruise departing from Harwich (England) and calling at Paris (Le Havre, France), Bordeaux (La Rochelle, France), Bilbao (Spain), Vigo (Spain) and Porto (Leixoes, Portugal) before returning to Harwich; meals and entertainment onboard and all relevant cruise taxes/fees. Price based on 19 September 2014 departure.
For more information or to book call 0845 456 0523 or visitwww.celebritycruises.co.uk
One of the best things about Autumn for me is leaving behind summer’s rosés and going back to a big glass of red by the fire. I adore a shiraz, and if I’m buying reds, I must admit to being a bit boring and focusing on the shiraz (or syrah – New World wines tend to be called Shiraz, but as you’ll see, it’s by no means a rule). I tend to go for new world as the wines are often a bit sweeter and juicier, which I like (not SWEET, sweet, obviously).
First up is a South African wine called Higgovale Heights (Shiraz 2011). It was a last-minute grab in Tesco and went fantastically well with our steaks in pepper sauce. Apparently there’s a violet aroma in there. I just couldn’t get it though.
This next one was recommended to me by my very clever wine-buff brother and I’ve bought it ever since and loved it: Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz will set you back a bit more (about £15 in Majestic, but it’s sometimes on offer) but its deep fruity flavours (again there’s that hint of violet in there that I just can’t get – why won’t my nose work?!) are worth every penny. I know it sounds weird but I do get a hint of something ‘medicinal’ in the background of this that I love. It’s one of the few wines I reckon I could pick out of a blind tasting (maybe). Lush. Also in Waitrose at the moment is another Jim Barry wine, Clare Red Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon – it’s a gorgeous, full bodied fruity spicy hug in a glass – again it’s around the £15 mark but well, well worth it.
A big favourite of mine is Porcupine Ridge Syrah – I go back to it time and time again as it’s a real big, easy drinking red. This one often goes in the trolley if I’m in Waitrose and is currently on offer for £5.99 – bargainous as it’s usually £8. Grab a bottle or two.
Big Bro also recommends Italian Amarone wines if you’re into this sort of big red. Next on my list for tasting (when I’ve got a few quid – or I thought I might splash out for Christmas) is Amarone Ca Rose Le Arche 2008/9 recommended to me on Twitter by Oddbins. It’s another pricey one at £22 (Oddbins) but the description of it being like ‘liquid fruitcake’ has me intrigued!
I also still have my stash of Tesco Finest Cabernet Carmenere. I can’t help it. I bloody love this wine. My love is deepened by the fact that my lovely mate, Helen, she of the Knackered Mother’s Wine Club and now ALAN TITCHMARSH’S NEW WINE EXPERT!!! loves a good Carmenere too. And she should know, right?
On the downside, I tried a Sainsbury’s Winemakers’ Selection Carignan Syrah. An initial sip left me tasting blackberries – not unpleasant, but then I was left with a weirdly dry, furry mouth. On having a chat with Helen, it would seem that the furry ‘hangover mouth’ I got from it can be somewhat typical of Carignan. Better with dinner, I think.
I had a group of friends around for a little wine tasting and curry night. Here’s what we thought of some of the other big reds around this autumn:
Morrisons have been busy on the wine front recently. Following the launch of their online wine site morrisonscellar.com at the end of last year, they’re now reinventing their own brand wines. If you want to spend a bit more on a really fantastic bottle of wine, their Piccini Sasso Al Poggio £12.99 is a peppery Tuscan red that really packs a punch. We loved it.
I found the fabulous Jacktone Ranch Petite Sirah at Tesco on special offer at £5.99. Sadly now can’t find it on the shelves OR online there. It’s a big Californian red, deliciously dark and fruity and it got a unanimous YUM vote. I’ll be looking out for it from now on.
Other highlights included Asda’s Extra Special Valpolicella Ripasso £9.00 – a warm, full-bodied, fruity glassful of dark red fruity yumminess (technical term, that). If you’re looking for a bargain, also at Asda are a lovely ripe fruity The Wine Selection Corbieres £4.50 and the Busby Estate Shiraz £4.00 – both rich, fruity and blackberry-infused. And lastly, Asda’s Extra Special Barbera d’Asti, a bit more expensive at £8.00 – is full-bodied but also oaky. Yum.
Many thanks to my loyal tasting crew who powered through a significant amount of red wine without even flinching. That’s devotion to the cause that is.
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!)
If you’re a food lover, eating and drinking are naturally a huge part of deciding where to go on holiday. I, myself was persuaded into staying in a massive half board hotel in Gran Canaria (something I wouldn’t normally do) by my Dad’s stories of epic Torres wine and amazing seafood restaurants along the coast in Maspalomas. I wasn’t disappointed.
On a Royal Caribbean holiday, the food is all-inclusive, meaning that you can eat in quite a few restaurants, including the VERY posh main dining rooms, without forking out (see what I did there?) any extra cash. Obviously if you’re going to order wine you have to pay for it, but RCI provide various wine packages, so you can pre-order wines that are then delivered to you at your table. If you don’t drink all the wines you can have them corked and saved, (which means that you can have a white and a red open at the same time) or take them back to your cabin.
I was really impressed by the wines on board. At various parts of our journey, we tried the following (excuse some of the pics – it can be dark in restaurants):
There are also several different dining options should you wish to pay a tiny bit extra. The lovely burger joint, Johnny Rockets where the waiters danced and sang, is definitely worth a trip – order the chocolate malt and burgers as big as your head! There’s no booking, so you might have a wait in the queue, but it’s only an extra $3.95 to eat here and it’s well worth it.
The Italian themed Portofino was our favourite restaurant by far. In fact, we loved it so much we went back again on the last night. The waiter was great fun and a real wine buff (although some of his recommendations were slightly out of our league!). We joked that we ate so much beef we were going to walk off the ship mooing, but it was just soooo good. The filet mignon was out of this world tender, and we also had massive fish skewers with salmon, prawns, lobster and scallops. Delicious ($20 extra charge per person).
Chops Grille is another high end restaurant where you pay $25 per head to dine. The surroundings again are really sumptuous – on a par with a really nice London restaurant, and the food again was excellent. We went for the beef again (I know, I know), but there were all sorts of other options too, honestly. This is where we had the amazing Belle Glos (two bottles in fact) and where I couldn’t remember that I’d had a dessert until, thumbing through my pictures from the night before, I came across a flaming crème brûlée!
We also had a chance to meet Executive Chef Garry Thomas and visit the ship’s galley (a rather insignificant term for the cavernous kitchen!). Garry and his chefs serve more than 18000 meals a day and we got the impression that Garry literally runs a tight ship. We loved that occasionally in the main dining room, the chefs were introduced by a Master of Ceremonies and came out into the dining room to rapturous applause. Well deserved, in my opinion.
I’ve also heard rumour that Royal Caribbean do wine cruises. That’ll be me next, then..
For a similar cruise aboard Liberty of the Seas (sailing out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA) prices start from £288 per person for a 4-night Western Caribbean cruise, calling at Cozumel, Mexico before returning to Fort Lauderdale. Departs 12 December 2013 and includes meals and entertainment on board and all relevant cruise taxes/fees. Obviously this doesn’t include flights. We flew British Airways to Miami.
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’.
As usual Montezuma’s, my favourite chocolate brand, have brought all sorts of deliciousness out for Christmas this year. I’m particularly taken by these milk chocolate Christmas tree baubles (so pretty, with gorgeous ribbons attached) and their fantastic advent calendars – nothing worse than hideous ‘plastic’ chocolate in your calendar – they look fabulous and festive too. I’ll also be putting their chunky chocolate snowmen and chocolate snowballs on my list too.
halfwine.com specialises in half bottles of quality wines. The bottles are 37.5cl which is about one large glass each. A lovely idea for a gift, and also handy if you’re matching your wines with each course and want to prevent wastage. the Wirra Wirra Church Block 2010 shown in the picture was absolutely delicious – soft, rich and fruity. It comes part of their winter collection which, at a cost of £35.65 for four bottles: the red, a decent sparkling white, a St Emilion and a good Chardonnay is cracking value.
Joe & Seph’s
Gourmet popcorn makers Joe & Seph’s have bought out two amazing flavours in time for the festive season: the new mince pie flavour has pieces actually coated with mincemeat and contains brandy infused fruit, caramel and almonds. The brandy butter flavour is coated in a rich butter and Spanish brandy – it is quite alcoholic tasting though, so one for the adults! Both flavours are available in lovely gift jars as well as 70g packs. Really scrummy.
The Kraken is a fabulous black spiced rum (RRP: £22.99) from the States that is now available in some UK supermarkets (I’ve seen it in Waitrose already and, frankly, makes Morgan’s Spiced look like a bit of a sissy girl. Try it in this fab cocktail called ‘The Perfect Storm’: 50ml Kraken Black Spiced Rum + 25ml freshly squeezed lime juice + 5ml sugar syrup + 2 dashes Angostura Bitters. Top up with ginger beer. Serve with ice in a tall glass and garnish with two squeezed lime wedges. It comes in a lovely flagon bottle too. Yummers.
Godminster has joined up with famous wine merchants Yapp Brothers to produce this lovely ‘Classic Red’ gift box, containing a 200g Godminster Organic Cheddar, 200g Godminster Smoked Organic Cheddar, a lovely jar of Godminster Beetroot and Apple Chutney, and a bottle of Yapp Brothers’ Cotes du Ventoux Rouge: Chateau Valcombe 2008, which is a delicious soft red. Scrummy. The Classic Red Gift Box is available from www.godminster.com for £40.00 inc postage and packing.
Bakerdays.com send delicious little ‘letterbox cakes’ just three or four portion sized that, as the name suggests, fit through the letterbox. The cakes come in gorgeous little tins, with all sorts of personalisation, and I can definitely recommend the double chocolate chip cake which is dark, moist and deliciously chocolatey.
Soreen’s Cinnamon and Raisin Loaf
We’re massive malt loaf fans already, but this one is utterly delicious. It’s very moist, as usual, but with extra ‘Christmas Puddingness’ thrown in! Gorgeous toasted with a splodge of butter too. Nom. Available from Asda, Tesco and Morrisons nationwide, retailing at RSP £1.29.
I am loving Asda’s Extra Special range again this year. Last year, if you remember, I travelled to Leith’s to see (and taste) a little of the Extra Special Christmas range they’d developed in association with Asda, and this year, they sent me a few of their wines to try. I don’t have an Asda near me, sadly, but I’ll be having a drive to stock up. Here are my top picks:
Chardonnay La Maison Elyse £7.17 – don’t be put off because it says Chardonnay – hey, it’s what makes Champagne, remember? This isn’t oaky AT ALL and is deliciously creamy. I ate it with salmon and pasta so I reckon it would be a winner with your smoked salmon starter.
Asda Extra Special Falanghina 2011 £5.00 – I cannot believe this wine is only a fiver… peachy, fruity and rich but still crisp, I LOVED it. I’ve never had Falanghina before but will be seeking it out. We had it with halloumi, rocket and pancetta wraps, but I it would be a delightful party wine, to be sipped with friends and nibbles. Yum scrum.
Asda Extra Special Pinot Grigio 2011 £5.00 – I don’t usually buy Pinot, but we both thought this was delicious, so I’m kind of changing my mind now – light, crisp and appley, but not so acidic that you can’t drink it on its own. Which I did. All of it.
Asda Extra Special Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 £5.00 – gorgeously fruity, full of ripe berries and – I’m not very good at this, but – chocolate? Raspberries? Whatever, it’s delicious and if you come across it, stuff your trolley. You’ll thank me.
Wine Selection Cava Rosado £3.78 – A beautifully soft, crisp and fruity rosé sparkler that’s bursting with lovely strawberry flavours – perfect for all festive celebrations and SUCH a bargain! I’ll be drinking this on Christmas morning and I’m not even sorry.
Thank you to the lovely team at Asda for sending me the wines. I love you all xx
This beautiful hatbox is, admittedly, an expensive option, but it’s packed with loads of luxe goodies and would be a perfect present to receive from, say, your best friend or your husband. There’s a romantic, heart theme running through the contents, including little shortbread hearts and chocolates, and a little gold heart on a ribbon too. The toiletries are fabulously scented and really good quality and the candle, although quite small, packs a powerful punch and smells delicious. There are also two bottles of rosé in the hatbox: an Italian frizzante and a very nice French from Daylesford’s own vineyards. £150 plus delivery at www.harrods.com. Of course if you want non alcoholic food hampers, there are plenty of those too.
Verdict: luxe, but pricey
Yankee Candles have brought out this gorgeous woven basket wrapped in a lovely red ribbon, and filled with one of their scrummy jar candles, three of the small ‘Samplers’ votives and a glass hurricane votive holder, all in delicious, spicy Sparkling Cinnamon scent. £27.99 from www.yankeecandle.co.uk or call 0845 050 2623 for your local stockist.
Verdict: gorgeous, and Yankee Candles just mean Christmas to me.
Bouton stacker rings. Designed by Adrian Buckley – these beauties are £65 each and meant to be worn stacked (but obviously depending on budget, they’re beautiful on their own too). On the website you can click on different ring designs to see how they looked stacked together too. Clever.
Verdict: perfect Christmas sparkle, and collectible too.
The Seagate External Drive is a fab gift for the techy girl in your life. I’m not techy at all, but I can’t live without mine now. It’s a little box about the size of a mobile phone (well, maybe a tiny bit bigger, but I can’t think of anything the right size), and you just plug it in to one of your USB ports with a wire and it basically becomes another drive on your computer. Click control panel > system and security<backup and restore (Windows) and you can pick exactly what you want backed up, and even how often. I’m impressed. And now I can sleep easy at night knowing I won’t lose those precious photos, or all my stuff for my tax return either. They do a Mac version and difference sizes too. It’s priced at £54.20 and comes in a choice of colour – the pinky red is lovely.
Verdict: perfect for music, photos and other precious stuff you don’t want to lose.
Gifts for Europe do these lovely gift boxes that you can personalise with different wine choices. This is a great site if you have friends in different places as you can order from anywhere in the world for delivery anywhere in Europe. We tried the white wine and snack collection with a rather fabulous bottle of Bordeaux (you can choose other wines as well), lots of lovely little crispy snacks, cheesy biscuits and delicious macaroons too.
Verdict: scrummy and perfect for ex-pats or those with loved ones abroad
Arran Aromatics have the most delectable selection of Christmassy candles and reed diffusers. My favourite candle by far is the absolutely gorgeous Mandarin and Petitgrain which leaves the whole house smelling delicious and lasts for hours.
Verdict: A gorgeous gift for someone special
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