Sunday, 12 February 2017

Fine wine and a little bit of rugby

Majestic Leicester hosted another of their great wine tastings earlier this month. This event was a Fine Tasting event with tickets being £20 although this is refunded in the form of a credit against your next purchase.

To avoid peak hour train prices we; Hubby, myself and our Bar Manager son, took an early train into Leicester and enjoyed a pre-event drink at the Mecure Hotel followed by dinner at The Last Plantagenet.

We have attended many Majestic events; general tastings, wine courses and Fine Wine tastings. They are always very relaxed occasions with great wine, food pairings and superb knowledge about the wines which have certainly helped Hubby and I learn more and more. At this event we had bubbly, three whites and four reds - a great variety.

On arrival we were greeted with a glass of Balfour 1503 rose, an English sparkling wine from Kent. Although a rose this wine was so pale it could be mistaken for a white. A very refreshing glass of bubbly made from the three traditional champagne grapes; chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.

To my delight our first fine white was Sancerre, my favourite white wine.

As with any wine there can be huge variants depending on location, soil, wine process to name but three.

Sancerre Chambrates from Domaine Vacheron this 2013 was had citrus notes with a hint of minerality, a satisfying smoothness with a medium finish.

My favourite of the evening, and we were only on the first white.

I recognised our second white wine almost immediately, not that particular wine but being a chablis.

Les Vaucopins is a great example of a Premier Cru full of peaches and green apples with the hint of citrus.

Our final white was a fiano which our son recognised - we're getting good at this wine tasting!

Planeta Cometa 2015 was a creamier wine than the first two. It had fruit notes, tangerine, peaches and a delicate herbiness.

It's made from 100% fiano grapes, comes from Sicily and is an intense heavy white.

With all three whites we had cheese pairings; goats cheese, soft french cheese, guyere; as well as pate which was a surprisingly good with our final white.

Moving onto reds we tasted four quite different wines: 

Four reds at our Fine Wine tasting 
Saintsbury Pinot Noir - a USA wine with plenty of cherries, subtle spice and a nose of tobacco leaves. Pinot noir is not a grape we drink very often however this was lovely, especially when paired with the pate. 

Promis 2013 Gaja - this Tuscan red was a merlot, sangiovese, syrah blend with plenty of cassis and dark fruit. It has a soft spice which matched it's soft tannins - all in all a very nice glass of red.

Emilio Moro 2014 - a tempranilo wine which was not to my liking but enjoyed by Hubby. Aged 50% in French and 50% American oak for 12 months it had plenty of blackberries, smokiness and vanilla.

Two Hands Shiraz 2014 - a lovely full-bodied Australian shiraz, my favourite of our four reds. Black cherries, full of darkness and spice this shiraz was lovely on it's own and would be amazing with food, especially a good steak. 

Thank you Majestic for another great evening where I enjoyed new experiences and certainly discovered more in the vast world of wine. 

And so to the rugby - two games in two weeks. It is heightened rugby season now as the RBS 6 Nations competition is under way. This does give a new dimension to club rugby as many of the top teams have players away in International camps. 

This was the situation for our first rugby game - Wasps v Ospreys

Wasps Rugby
As Wasps have relocated to the Ricoh stadium they are now our nearest team and with Hubby working for one of their main sponsors, Landrover, we often get ticket offers. They have some great players: Joe Launchbury (who makes me look small), Elliot Daly, James Haskell, Nathan Hughes, Tommy Taylor who are currently in the English squad. But even with these strong players not available Wasps is a forbidable team not having lost at home for over 12 months.

Opsreys Rugby
Opsreys are in a similar position with Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Alun Wyn Jones (Welsh Captain), Sam Davies to name but four currently away playing for Wales. Ospreys are my favourite Welsh team so when the fixture to play Wasps came up in the Anglo-Welsh competition tickets were a must. 

It's a far way from Swansea so understandably there were very few Welsh supporters but we did our bit.  
Supporting Ospreys at the Ricoh.

It was a great game - lots of new players to watch and in the final few moments a superb try from Hanno Dirksen saw Ospreys take the win 31 to Wasps 22. Unfortunately although equal on points to Exeter Chiefs they did not qualify for the next round on try difference, however they beat Wasps at home and have now won 12 consecutive games. 

I am English, we do live in England, however for this RBS 6 Nations I am again supporting Wales. A few reasons but mainly because although there are some great Wasps and Leicester Tigers players in the England squad I'm not a fan of Eddie Jones and I certainly do not agree with his choice of Captain (bad behaviour should not be rewarded). 

Of course with our daughter living in Cardiff and working closely with the Welsh squad and Welsh teams my support of Wales is also showing her support. My absolute passion is the game itself - I have favourite players which leads to favourite teams but I don't solely follow any one team be that club or country. Each game I support who I feel more connection with, I just enjoy a good, injury/trouble free game. 

So yesterday at the Prinicpality Stadium in Cardiff with our daughter it was Wales who had my support as you can see from my warm weather outfit. 

At the Principality Stadium 
What a game - I was on my feet many times and shouting along with the 75,000+ others. The atmosphere in the stadium is amazing, never more so than the tribute and minutes silence held for Joost van de Westhuizen. He was a great South African player who sadly passed away on Monday at the age of 45 after battling motor neurone disease for six years. 

Principality Stadium - amazing atmosphere.
A win for England in the final stages of the game (Wales 16 England 21)  - it's a shame Wales didn't win but it's hard to be disappointed too much when you'd just had the privilege of watching a good game in a great place. Another day of memories, another day to treasure. 

I have no idea when our next wine tasting will be and I have no idea when our next rugby game will be, but whenever they are I hope they will be as enjoyable as the occasions we've just enjoyed !

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Scotland, Australia, China ...

.... all without leaving home ! Last week was Burns' Night, Australia Day and Chinese New Year so a busy week in my kitchen.

I love to cook themed meals, for us, for family events or when friends come round for dinner. This week was all for us starting with Burn's Night. Neither Hubby nor I have any known Scottish blood but we do appreciate other's celebrations and in Robert Burns case we certainly have enjoyed his work evey year as he's the author of the meaningful song Auld Lang Syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 

And never brought to mind? 
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And auld lang syne! 

For auld lang syne, my dear, 
For auld lang syne. 
We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, 
For auld lang syne.

It's definitely a Scottish theme for our Burns' Night supper starting with Scottish mussels. I have to hold my hands up and say I didn't prepare them myself but bought a pack complete with sauce from Aldi. They were so meaty, a good quantity with a creamy sauce and from Scotland!

Mussels for our Burns' Night starter
Of course if we're having mussels we have to have Picpoul de Pinet - for me there is no better wine to accompany these gems from the sea. Later this year we are actually visiting Pinet in the South of France and hopefully trying this wine with fresh seafood.

Picpoul de Pinet used to be a french secret but over the last couple of years has become widely available in supermarkets and wine stores. This bottle was from Asda, full of green crisp apples it was perfect.
My favourite wine with seafood
It has to be haggis, there is no other main possible and to me if you don't do haggis it's not Burns' Night. However we have a variation of neeps and tatties and I made a creamy peppercorn sauce.

Burns' Night supper 
Great flavour in our Macsween Haggis 
And so to pud - raspberries in cream served in a bandy snap basket. I cannot vouch for the raspberries coming from Scotland and I certainly didn't make the brandy snap baskets but we did enjoy the pud !

Our special treat on Burns' Night is a Bobby Burns cocktail - I only make it on Burns' Night, it's quite strong but perfect over ice (we have whisky stones so the cocktail doesn't get diluted) when settled on the sofa after our super supper. It's so easy to make:

1 shot of whisky
I shot dry vermouth
1 tablespoon Jagermeister

Our trip to Scotland over the following evening we popped Down Under as it was Australia Day. No kangeroo steaks or bbq thanks to our winter rain but we did have lamb steaks. My way of celebrating Australia Day is with a very good bottle of Australian red, there's lots to chose from but my favourite wine producer is Yalumba. One day I hope we'll do a trip to the other side of the world and when we do Yalumba will be my priority visit.

In 2015 Hubby and I were priviledged to attend Yalumba's evening in Chester where we met Louisa Rose their winemaker, a great evening which you can read about on my previous blog post Butcher, Baker and Winemaker.

In our wine rack we have a bottle of Yalumba Y Series Shiraz Voignier 2013 with it's striking horse artwork label depicting life when horses were used for transport.I really like this wine with it's dark cherries, fine tannins and hint of white pepper.

However it is still on our rack waiting to be enjoyed as we decided to open another Yalumba - The Scribbler 2012. At Chester we had The Signature with our main, and wow what a wine. The Scribbler is it's younger sibling being of the same Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz pedigree.  Matured 12 months in oak The Scribbler is full of dark juicy fruits with the merest hint of soft spice and smooth tannins. For me a perfect way to raise a glass to Australia.

Yalumba - The Scribbler
Our final overseas trip was to China - Chinese New Year ringing in the year of the Rooster. I enjoy cooking chinese food although it can be a mad panic at the end to get all the dishes out together as most chinese food is cooked quick in the wok.

I made sticky bbq pork which is becoming one of my all time favourites, so easy to do and reasonably priced as it uses belly pork. I cut the pork into cubes and boil in stock for two hours, drain and dry thoroughly before frying in oil adding the sauce last minute so all the pork is coated. Prawns with water chestnuts and noodles in sweet chilli sauce was our other dish along with seasame oil stir fry vegetables - quite a feast.

Homemade Chinese feast for New Year celebrations
Extra Special Pinot Grigio (Asda)
To go with our meal we chose a bottle of Extra Special Pinot Grigio 2015, not my usual choice of white wine but it does pair well with Asian food. This bottle was from Asda, a light colour with an equally light nose. It's flavour was full of apples and pears with a touch of minerality. A light wine that did match very well with our meal.

We didn't have pud with our chinese meal but I made up for it Sunday with a real pudding/beer lovers treat - Wells Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale. Wells have been brewing since 1876 and this ale for me is just heaven. The aroma is like the kitchen on baking day, its flavour full of dark sugar, toffee, and caramel. Wells are quite right when they say 'this beer offers full contentment in a glass'.

Liquid pudding - so yummy 
All in all quite a journey around the world, all without the hassle of packing, airports and hotels, although as I said one day we'll hoepfully take a real trip Down Under.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Sous la Manche pour les vins

It's been a while since we did a trip to Calais, and I've missed it. We've never been in January and as I'm not the world's best sailor we decided to travel 'sous la Manche' using Eurotunnel, again something we haven't done for a few years.

Up early Friday morning we had a good journey to London to meet our friends who were joining us for the weekend. Our continued journey south on the M25 to Folkestone passed surprisingly quickly and trouble free, unusual most days never mind a Friday rush hour. In fact everywhere was quiet, we had no delay checking in, we were allocated an earlier crossing and we've never seen the car park/loading lanes so empty.

The weather Friday was actually quite good, cold but dry with little breeze, we could have smoothly sailed across in bright winter sunshine. As it was we had a quick trip on Le Shuttle and arrived just after lunch in sunny Calais.

Our weekend plans were a mix of wine shopping and sightseeing. Our first stop Auchan my favourite supermarket. However it's not good to shop on an empty stomach so our actual first stop was at the local bar for a croque monsieur and coffee, delicious.

Shopping time; my french supermarket list always includes Le Petit Marseillais soap refills, Café du Maison coffee, and Rince Couchon beer. Of course there's our favoruite wines too.

My two favourite sauvignon blanc wines from Auchan 
A great red we shared in the hotel
This square shaped bottle caught my eye.
The square bottled Pure Loire was perfect - not only a lovely crisp citrusy sauvignon blanc but the perfect shape to lie on the outside window sill at the hotel to chill whilst we went out for dinner - a very good reason to have white wine in a square bottle ! 

Dinner was a first for our friends but an old favourite for us - Flunch. It's a self service restaurant - you chose your meat/fish which is cooked to order and then help yourself to a large variety of vegetables, chips, potatoes, rice or pasta. Lovely food, great value and they serve our favourite Cellier des Dauphins wine.  

Saturday morning and we set off north for a little sightseeing. Our first stop was Dunkerque, another port which we have sailed to in the past. It was a very cold day but we did have a short stroll around before a warm up and rest in a small typical french tabac/bar. We ordered coffee and croissants which to our delight arrived piping hot as they had been cooked just for us. 

An old church tower that is now the Tourist
Office - you can climb to the top.
Dunkerque's Town Hall
Dunkerque Harbour - beautiful clear blue skies but so so cold.
Our next stop was a village I'd seen on the map, it caught my eye as it had a star shaped waterway around it. Gravelines is in fact an old fort town and the waterway a defence. In the summer you can hire boats and sail around them, it was a lovely place which I'm sure we'll be visiting again along with Grand and Petit Fort Philippe, the two villages on the banks of the long harbour inlet. 

The intriguing waterways on the map
The steep sides of the fort with the moat below
One of the gateways into Gravelines
Beautiful but cold day
 After a lovely picnic looking out to see and watching the DFDS ferry pass by we were ready for our serious wine shopping ..... don't worry it was a picnic in the car, far too cold to picnic outside.

Our first stop was at Calais Wine - a wine store we have been visiting for many many years, in it's original shop in Coquelles when it was known as Oddbins. They now have a lovely new tasting room with three machine servicing measured samples of red, white and rose wines. Unfortunately the heating was not working so the store was as cold inside as out and all the wines were served chilled.

We were not bulk buying this trip - partly because of space with being four in a car plus luggage already but also because for us it was as much about being back in Calais as bringing many items home - saying that we did fill the boot between us.

Four great whites from Calais Wines
Two Spanish reds from Calais Wines
Our second wine store was Majestic, we are big fans of this wine merchant visiting their Leicester store quite often and having enjoyed many wine courses/tasting with them. It was lovely to wander around looking at familiar labels at a lower price than home. We mainly brought home our favourites with a couple of new ones to try.

Majestic reds including Cote Mas, a new one to try.
Majestic whites - interesting Vinho Verde bottle
We did also pop into Lidl, as with here at home Lidl and Aldi offer a cheaper range and we did find a few bargains in store including a Jean-Claude Mas Viognier.

Lidl reds
Lidl white - Graves and Viognier
Saturday night was a french treat - mussels in Roquefort sauce, pure delight. We had a great night out at The Black Bull Pub in the Cite de Europe centre. A supposedly English pub serving great french food and beer - you could get English beer too. If on holiday a dessert is a must but which one? In the end we had a Cafe Gourmand which comprises of three or four mini puddings and a small espresso coffee. We decided the caramel set custard with caramel crumb topping was definitely a 'naughty' pudding.

Our stay at the Ibis Tunnel sous la Manche was perfect; clean rooms, comfy bed and great location for dining out. It was so nice to be able to enjoy Calais and it's surrounding area again. Unfortunately Sunday morning we had to travel home, another quick crossing on Le Shuttle soon had us back in misty England.

It really was a good weekend trip away, one we'll be repeating for sure and one we can remember each time we uncork one of our holiday wines - cheers !

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Aimetu's review of 2016

As always it was a busy year for us - we do like to travel, we do like socialising and we do enjoy wine so it's no surprise we are always doing something.

The highlight of my 2016 was completing Clare's Challenge 50 in London with my fabulous Hubby, lovely son and darling daughter, as well as friends. It was the final leg of 8 trips to London to complete the route of the marathon. An amazing time which you can read about here - Clare's Challenge 50 
My fantastic family with me on the final stage.
It was my birthday so extra special and our daughter surprised me with messages from the Welsh rugby players and Leicester Tigers players. I do enjoy watching rugby and over the last year have been very lucky to go to quite a few games including Wales v France at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
Principality Stadium - Cardiff 
Another highlight of the year was our holiday touring France. We booked everything independently and spent 18 days traveling around visiting gorges, chateau, cities and vineyards. We had a lovely visit to Domaine Jaume and a privileged wine tasting with Les Dauphins - all in my Visan to Chateauneuf-du-Pape post.

As I mentioned before we enjoy wine, learning all about the many varieties and producers. Here at home we enjoy visiting Majestic Wine in Leicester, especially their wine tasting evenings. One such evening was a Fine Wine Tasting - what a great night.

And what an honour to be asked by Aldi to make and review some cocktails. It was very good of them to send all the spirits and I had great fun following the recipes and making the cocktails - if you fancy making some the recipe links are here - Cocktail Time

Bellucci Job
One of our weekends away was just so good it's being repeated next year - Cuvée Reserve is a wine forum I host where we chat about ...... wine !! Last March we had a weekend away renting a house in Stratford Upon Avon - such a great time.

Fantastic weekend away
I'm hope 2017 is as good as 2016, although it's not off to a great start as Hubby and I both have colds with aching limbs and shivers - unfortunately this means we'll be home tonight (probably in bed early too) instead of being with friends and partying.

There are a few companies I must just say thank you to as without them our 2016 would not have been as special - see you all in 2017

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year 

Monday, 26 December 2016

Christmas Wine

Last summer Nick and I enjoyed a visit to the famous village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and enjoyed a tasting at Cellier des Princes. Our visit is in my previous post Visan to Chteauneif-du-Pape.

We brought three bottles home and decided to open one yesterday with our Christmas dinner - it was lovely.

We opened the 2010, a lovely inviting red colour with scarlet highlights. Such a good wine filled with small dark fruit and a subtle spice - a real treat, rich and full bodied.

Our other Christmas dinner wine was a Philippe de Mery 2012 Nuits-Saint-Georges Chablis, a beautiful white burgundy. 

A lovely pale yellow wine with a apply nose. A lovely flavour of apples, melon and light citrus with a creamy finish - a great accompaniment to our smoked salmon and prawns

My other wine for the day was a Luberon - one of my favourite french wines. Such a fresh crisp white wine from the warmer sunnier south, perfect with cheese after our Christmas dinner.

Our Christmas day wine was all from France, thoroughly enjoyed, however we have wine from other countries to enjoy ... I best go and pop another then !!

Friday, 23 December 2016

A Night in Towcester

Wednesday was my lovely Hubby's birthday and I surprised him with a day of treats and a night away. I had great fun planning it all and he had great fun on the day.

His first treat was breakfast at The Miller's Hotel near Sibson. We have been here for a meal a few times, it's an Old English Inn. Our breakfast was lovely, cooked to order which is always good. It's always good service there and our waitress was no exception, a great start to Hubby's day.

Our breakfast stop 
Our next visit was quite a few miles south on the A5 to a small village we both visited on school trips many many years ago, not the same schools or years though. On our recent journeys to London we have commented on the canal and mentioned we should visit Stoke Bruerne again ... so we did.

The village has a major transport route running right through the middle, not a motorway but the Grand Union Canal. Because the canal rises there is a set of 7 locks at Stoke Bruerne.  In the height of barges being used for transporting goods this canal was so busy the locks were doubled (two locks side by side so boats could be moved up and down with less delay). The double locks are still there but no longer contain water, just one lock at each level with 7 locks in total.

Stoke Bruerne Locks
Grand Union Canal
We were hoping to visit the Canal Museum but although stated open on Wednesdays in the winter on their website (and on the opening times posters at the museum) it was closed. We did however walk along the towpath to Blisworth Tunnel - one of the longest canal tunnels in the UK being 3076 yards and wide enough for two narrow boats to pass.

Hubby at Blisworth Tunnel
Travelling again, but by road we drove to Towcester and our overnight hotel. Another Old English Inn, the Saracen's Head, one of the oldest in the town having had Charles Dickins stay there. In his novel The Pickwick Papers in Chapter Fifty One Mr Pickwick and his friends arrive at the Saracen's Head Inn on a very wet day and Sam suggests stopping for the night

'There's beds here sir, good little dinner ... everything clean and comfortable. 
You'd better stop where you are sir, if I might recommend' 

I totally agree - the bed was comfy, the room clean and dinner was very very good, a nice steak with a good bottle of Malbec wine.

The Saracen's Head 
Modern reception in keeping with it's age

Our cosy room
Beautiful room laid for a Christmas Party
We had a stroll around Towcester before our dinner, and a visit to Towcester Museum. It was very interesting to find out about the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, the plague, a fire and the two World Wars. Such a lot for a small town, mainly due to it's location on one of the UK's ancient roads - the Watling Street.

I surprised my Hubby with an evening out, not a carol service although there was one being held in the church but a brewery tour at Towcester Mill Brewery. It was a great evening, the Tap Room at the brewery is a very popular place - we both had a half pint to start the evening off. I had a Christmas beer and Hubby had Mill Race (their signature beer). We have done many brewery tours before, this was a first to take your drink round with you, great idea.

Where it all starts
Ray - our great host

It won't work without it 
He's not tasting it - but gauge reading
'Which one do we take home?'
After the tour we returned to the Tap Room and had a tapas of beer - three glasses, a third of a pint each set in a wooden pallet - a great way to try the different beers - my favourite was Black Fire as I do like a dark beer.

Towcester Mill Brewery
Great beers
As I said I really enjoyed planning and booking Hubby's birthday - thank you to Old English Inns particularly The Miller's Hotel and Saracen's Head, Towcester Museum and especially Towcester Mill Brewery. Hubby and I really enjoyed our visit and will be back again.