EAT - DRINK - BE MERRY
This is where you'll be able to find my writing in both blog and article form.
Rosé Roundup It's a Mug's Game
What are you looking for in your perfect rosé? I'm guessing a pretty looking bottle with condensation running invitingly down the side, a lovely light pink, refreshing and easy -a wine to enjoy with friends on a hot summer's day, yes? Possibly not something serious and complex, deep and intriguing to be considered and mulled over. So we're after a cheerful pink, probably quite dry with a bit of red berry character and above all, cheap.
In short wine makers and wine buyers don't take rosé seriously and so why should we? Just about a year ago I went to a big supermarket tasting where they had no fewer than 28 rosés to try, and what did I learn? Not a great deal, the main difference between them all was a matter of sweetness, there were some lovely dry light wines, pale and beautiful from Provence and there were some sweeter, but equally acceptable wines, pink and confected from Portugal but all in all they were much of a muchness, the only real difference was in price. There's some very fine rosé out there but who in their right mind would spend upwards of £15 a bottle. In my opinion, if you're paying more than £9 for pink you're a mug.
Here is my list of great value rosés for this summer, please don't take them too seriously, chill them well and enjoy with friends outdoors...
Amalthée Provence Rosé £9.00
Super sexy looking Provence style bottle, dry, crisp, hint of raspberry
Bellmente Pinot Grigio Blush £4.50
Amazing wine at the price, fresh cranberry and blossom, bargain
Syrah Grenach Rosé £4.99
Red berry and zippy acidity, simple and easy
Vinha do Rosario Rosado £4.99
Nice touch of sweetness - toward medium, fruity and pleasing, confected
Exquisite Collection Cotes de Provence Rosé £5.99 - £12.99 magnum
Light fresh, great looking bottle, smashing price, magnum is a showstopper
Exquisite Collection Pinot Noir Rosé £6.99
Lovely zippy Kiwi pink, good red berry notes, easy drinking
La Cerisa Rosa Pinot Grigio Rosé £7.99
Very pink looking pink, lots of fruit on the nose, dry, classy
Ten Mile Bridge, Portugal £6.99
Workaday rosé, as it should be, nice fruit/acidity balance, well priced
Extra Special Sangiovese Rosé £8.98
Lovely pale pink, good cherry palate, red berry character, smashing
Fillipo Pinot Grigio Rosé £5.00
Dry and summery, good raspberry and strawberry palate, value
Marks and Spencer
House Rosé £5.00
Party wine, bubble-gum and a hint of white pepper, good price
Reserve du Boulas Cotes du Rhone Rosé £9.00
Classy looking bottle, fresh red berries, creamy finish
Majestic Loves Rosé £5.99
Very pink looking, forward cherry nose, rosé that tastes of something!
Cuvee de Richard Rosé Pays d'Herault £6.49
Subtle wine, strawberry with a dash of fresh grape, interesting
Taste the Difference Bordeaux Rosé £6.25
Cranberry and blueberry dominate, lovely fresh drop
Sainsbury's Fairtrade Rosé £6.00
Lovely summer berry palate, great winemaker (Bosman), well priced
Tesco Rosé Vin de Pays de Loire £7.00
Uncomplicated, raspberry palate, fresh acidity, good
Tesco Finest Provence Rosé £8.00
Pale pink, fresh redcurrant, racy acidity, BBQ friendly
Coeur de Cardeline Rosé £8.99
Classy, delicate nectarine palate, elegant, refreshing
Fairtrade Rosé Moscato £3.99
Lovely sweet pink fizz, low alcohol (5.5%) generous fruity sweetness
2016 Party Time Drinks
With the onset of party season it’s time to stock up with a few well chosen drinks, a good variety of liquor to serve to intruders, hangers-on and scroungers or to give them their proper names, friends, family and carol singers this Christmas. Drinks for the run up to Christmas need to be bought in bulk, you’ll be entertaining a lot, and if not you’ll need a good drop of something to warm the cockles and see you through the interminable Eau de Toilette ads. So if buying a decent amount of booze it must firstly be affordable and secondly it must be interesting enough to make it look like you’ve thought about it.
There’s plenty of affordable wine out there, particularly if you can grab one of the supermarkets’ 25% off deals but finding wines that have a bit of character or a story to them takes a bit of doing. For reds I’d start with Lava Aglianico £8.00 from Tesco produced in Campania, arguably the most exciting wine producing region in Italy. This is a big wine with a concentrated stewed fruit palate, the restrained oak gives a smoky vanilla hit and with soft tannin this is an Italian wine to savour with or without food.
For something a touch lighter in style try Morrisons Pinot Noir a bargain at £4.25, yes, £4.25! This is a fruit driven pinot, easy raspberry and red cherry flavours dominate and it’s a lot classier than either the price or the packaging suggests.
There’s an abundance of choice for party white wines the key is finding one with character. Generally pinot grigio is pretty dull stuff, drinkable but neutral, however Comuna No.3 Pinot Grigio (£7.00 Sainsbury’s) has enough peach, pear and apricot notes to make it a cut above, refreshing and very pleasing. Asda too are working miracles at this level, I’d go for virtually anything in their Extra Special range but the E.S. Viognier is a real belter at only £5.00, it’s orange blossom , grass and melon on the nose, fantastic stuff.
If it’s pink you’re after then get to Marks and Spencer, they have a number of interesting and affordable rosés under £10.00 such as Las Felleras from Spain, dry and fresh with red cherry to the fore. For something a little classier at M&S go for Coteaux Varois Provence Rosé £8.50 which has a really elegant looking bottle, a lovely light pink colour and a beautiful peach scented wine.
Beer lovers needn’t miss out either, again it doesn’t have to be all big label, branded dishwater, there are some really interesting beers out there riding on the back of the ‘craft beer’ craze. I’ve selected two very different ales both classics in their own way. Marks and Spencer’s Yorkshire Bitter £2.40, made by the fantastic folk at Wold Top Brewery is rich and rewarding balanced malt and hop bitterness. The M& S Kent IPA is also excellent and is gluten free, although you wouldn’t know it. My next choice is La Goudale Abbaye Beer (Aldi, £2.49, 750ml) it comes in a wine bottle with a champagne style cork and is satisfyingly malty and yeasty on the palate.
Lastly, no party would be complete without a drop of fizz. Prosecco is hugely fashionable at the moment and as such there’s quite a lot of dross out there so why not opt for its more interesting but lesser known Italian cousin Pignoletto? Tesco Finest Pignoletto £8.00, is from near Modena, it’s beautifully made, elegant and floral with just a hint of tannic structure. Again for something a bit out of the ordinary try another Italian sparkler, this time from northern Italy Franciacorta Brut £8.99 from Lidl is fresh and blossom scented, dry and zippy, providing great value for money.
But if it just has to be Champagne then my go-to affordable wine is always Sainsbury’s Blanc de Blanc a bargain at £20, lots of crisp red apple and a good dose of yeasty freshly baked bread. And if you want even better value get down to Aldi and grab their Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut at £10.99 as good a pary fizz as you’ll find and what a price.
Autumn Drinks 2016
As our bit of the world slowly tilts away from the sun the leaves change colour, the mists descend, we lose precious daylight and we begin to retreat indoors in search of warmth and comfort. Autumn, the most sensuous of all the seasons has arrived. For the thoughtful drinker this the most interesting time of the year and it marks the changing of the guard from white wines, cider and rosé to spirits, fuller bodied wines and ales providing warmth and fireside comfort.
I always associate pinot noir with autumn, there’s something about the combination of red berry flavour and forest floor aroma which is evocative of this time of year. Younger pinot tends to err toward bright red fruit, raspberry and red currant, whereas with age the wines can develop wonderfully earthy savoury notes of leather and mushroom. Asda’s Extra Special New Zealand Pinot Noir is the fruity version, at only £7.98 it has a lovely light red cherry nose and enough tannic structure to balance.
For those of you heading outside for bonfires you could do a lot worse than this spicy, smoky number from Waitrose, Anda Tempranillo/Syrah £7.99. Spanish wine is providing some great quality and value right now and this medium bodied Andalucian lovely is rich with ripe damson and has just the right amount of warming alcohol and oak.
White wine lovers aren’t forgotten at this time of year, but trends show that folk really go for the fuller bodied styles which are richer and more generous. One such white that meets this brief is Aldi’s Exquisite Collection Limoux Chardonnay £6.99. The full body comes from barrel fermentation, the oak giving a lovely buttery edge to a fresh apple peel and lime chardonnay.
I was in two minds about recommending Waitrose Duchy Organic Old Ruby Ale (4 for £6 until 08/11/16) as I’m not all that keen to put money into Prince Charles’ wallet, but I was reassured by the lovely Waitrose staff that the profits all go to his charities. But my word he does make a good beer (it’s actually made by Wychwood Brewery), a perfect old fashioned ruby ale malt and hops in balance with a big fruity palate.
At this time of year the hops have been harvested for beer and the apples picked for cider so what could be more redolent of the season than a hopped cider - no I’d never heard of such a thing either. Pure Hopped Cider (Tesco £1.99 330ml can) is a collaboration between Purity brewery and Westons Cider and has a really interesting combination of herbaceous hop and solid apple cider, not too sweet, naturally hazy in appearance and simply delicious.
Lastly and reluctantly as autumn matures we look forward to Christmas and what could be better to celebrate the oncoming festive season than a grown up advent calendar? Why let the kids have all the fun when you can buy a dram of whisky, gin, rum, tequila, vodka or bourbon for each day of advent all packaged into a neat calendar? Master of Malt (www.masterofmalt.com <http://www.masterofmalt.com>) sells these inventive treats from only £99.95, or if you really want to push the boat out how about their Very Old and Rare Whisky Advent Calendar for only £9999.95?
La Vie en Rosé (14/06/16)
So the summer’s officially here and with it comes the annual changing of the guard for drinkers. Out go the heavier reds and dark spirits and in comes cider, gin and of course rosé. Sainsbury’s have just released a wonderfully revealing report called Rosé Uncorked which outlines some national trends when it comes to drinking pink. Sales of rosé increased by over 12% from 2104 to 2015 and there’s no reason to think this trend will slow any time soon, as a nation we drink well over 800 million bottles of the stuff each year. The report also states that 18 to 24 year olds are twice as likely to opt for rosé than those aged 45 plus, men are buying more and there is a growing preference for the lighter, pale salmon coloured pinks rather than the deeper cherry shaded wines. It may be that the darker rosés are perceived as being slightly sweeter and there is a definite trend toward the dry, also the paler pinks just look classier.
Here are my selections from the big retailers for this season, Sainsbury’s show exceptionally well but also look out for a surprising frizzante from M&S.
Exquisite Collection Provence Rosé (Aldi £5.99)
I’d buy this beautiful wine simply for the classic Provence style bottle. It’s light, peachy fresh and salmon pink in colour. Very stylish and a touch under six quid.
Chateau de Berne Rosé 2015 (Majestic £9.99 to £13.99 depending on offers)
This is a very classy wine, with another great looking bottle, this one is square, apparently designed so it won’t roll around the deck of your yacht! Another light pink with a honeysuckle and tropical fruit lift.
Luis Felipe Edwards Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Rosé (Waitrose £6.99)
A darker pink from Chile with hint of onion skin in the colour. Using two classic Bordeaux grapes it has a pleasing tannic structure, the arome is all redcurrant and raspberry. Very good at the price.
Vignale Pinot Grigio Blush (Waitrose £5.99)
Pinot Grigio Blush is a very fashionable wine, it’s not widely known that the grape variety isn’t white at all but has a natural hint of pink about it so can make lovely easy drinking rosés. This has all the fruit and refreshing acidity you’ll need to make it a great BBQ wine.
Taste The Difference Bordeaux Rosé (Sainsbury’s £8.00)
A lovely aromatic wine with a good white blossom nose. Again it’s dry with a good dollop of red fruit to balance a zippy acidity.
Winemaker’s Selection Californian Zinfandel Rosé (Sainsbury’s £5.00)
This is for you if you like a hint of sweetness in your rosé. This has oodles of ripe red strawberry and raspberry flavour. Generous and light, just the kind of thing to sip on a sunny day sitting in the shade under a tree.
Pinot Grigio Blush Frizzante (Marks and Spencer £7.00)
This is a frizzante, not the full on fizz of spumante, but light and fresh with a less aggressive froth. Again it has a little hint of sweetness but it’s still zippy and light with good acidity. A real fun wine, great for a party.
Las Falleras Rosado (Marks and Spencer £5.00)
The best BBQ wine I tasted this season. Simple but wonderfully light, a good hit of raspberry and peach blossom. What a bargain.
Craft Beer 07/10/14
So, craft beer is it? Hmmm. The biggest problem with craft beer is that there is no real definition, it can be all things to everyone but there are a few pointers to pin it down. First and foremost we are not talking about real ale, this is not a living breathing product like the good stuff. Second, it is usually produced in modest amounts, and this has to be a good thing - although many of the bigger brewers are now jumping on the craft bandwagon and are producing beer that they label up as craft. Lastly, craft brewers like to make beer in interesting styles, there are an awful lot of American IPAs, porters and fruit beers in this new breed, so the variety is great.
But, and this is a very big but, draft craft beer is on the whole pasturised and pressurised and I feel that these processes knock all the character out of a beer. Carbonation of any drink makes it less easy to taste, the bubbles simply get in the way, which is why the process so readily suits big brand, bland lagers and ciders. I would go as far as saying I have yet to taste a decent draft craft beer.
I've had some very good bottled craft beers, and these aren't usually bottle conditioned, but good beer has always suited bottles and it suits my taste as there is less aggressive carbonation. My search for good craft beer continues, in fact the main picture on the homepage of my website shows me with four craft style beers brewed by Jacobsen House in Copenhagen, recently I visited Germany, Scotland and the USA and came across many similar beers, all of which failed to impress. It might be me, but I am really not seeing much good in these beers.
Evidently I am in the minority as these beers are incredibly popular at the moment, you can't move in London for men in trendy bars, with trendy beards, tattoos and piercings falling over themselves for this stuff. I am hoping that as with the ‘Magners effect’ this fashion will lead drinkers to seek out the real stuff and there will be an upsurge in real ale drinkers in the coming years. In the meantime I will try to get to like the craft, but it is a bit of a graft.
As the Scottish independence referendum approaches I fear that January 25th might be the last Burns' Night I'll be able to celebrate before the Jocks impose prohibitive taxes on haggis, whisky and sporrans. Being an Englishman I always feel a bit of an intruder on Burns' Night and I am about to make myself even more unpopular by stating that Scotch should never accompany any meal, and least of all haggis. Whisky has far too much alcohol and is way too strong a flavour to be of benefit to food and should instead be replaced by juicy, full on reds or better still, beer.
Ideal reds to plump for, bearing in mind it’s still January and we’re all skint from Christmas include:
Aldi, Exquisite Collection Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon £6.99, soft ripe black fruit gives this winter warmer a lovely warm finish.
Majestic, Casa d’Aragona, Salice Salentino £6.99 (when buying 2 or more), lovely spice notes will match the peppery haggis.
ASDA, Extra Special Primitivo £5.00, lovely rich leathery palate at a great price
Sainsbury’s House Tempranillo £4.50, simple, uncomplicated wine, forward fruit and brilliant value.
Tesco, Beringer Classics Zinfandel £8.99, good smoky tobacco nose, real seasonal touch.
The oat content of the haggis will match really well with beer and the Scots are really flying when it comes to ale. Innis and Gunn who’ve just celebrated their 10th year of production make really interesting oak matured beers, I’d go for the Toasted Oak IPA (£1.79 ASDA and Tesco) which is pale, hoppy and refreshing.
Harviestoun’s Bitter and Twisted (£1.99 generally available) has not taken a backward step since winning the Supreme Champion Beer of Britain back in 2003, it is as spicy and aromatic as it ever was. As for pudding the Harviestoun brewers recommend their Old Engine Oil Porter as an ice cream float, will definitely try this out.
Lastly you can’t talk about Scottish beer at the moment without mentioning Brewdog, this Aberdeenshire brewery has been banging out interesting craft beers since 2007 and now has distribution in all the main supermarkets, try their Punk IPA, a really hoppy take on a classic, beer with attitude.
And failing that a few cans of Tennent's Super will liven up any evening.
Whisky is essential to Burns' Night so by all means enjoy a dram before or after the meal, I highly recommend Highland Park a real high quality single malt that does the business, once named ‘best spirit in the world’ and is generally available in the £28 to £33 bracket, it’s all smoke, wood, heather and honey, proper Scotch, but for good drinking stick to beer or wine, your stomach, head and chef will thank me.
I have had a bottle of good Champagne in my fridge for the last eight or ten years, it's important to have a bottle at the ready, if you don't you should, you never know when you'll need it, celebrations come more often when you're looking for them, so let's tempt fate for the better. But my standard line about the Champagne is that 'you never know when She'll die'. Well, last Monday She did die and I have to say that bottle remains in my fridge unopened.
Now I am a proper old fashioned leftie, hard left, I joined the Labour Party when Blair became leader, not because I liked him but because I didn't want him pissing about with my party (fat lot of good that did, but that's another story). So when I heard the news on Monday I was expecting to feel a bit triumphant, elated even, but I didn't, I honestly felt overwhelming sadness. Not for her, obviously, but for what she did to Britain, our communities, families, schools and hospitals, for the needless pain she inflicted, and indeed is still inflicting. I didn't open it in part because she's still very much with us.
Here's a little list off he top of my head of some of the things that she did or was associated with that made the UK a worse place: Section 28, apologist for Apartheid, Hillsborough, school playing fields, the poll tax, Greenham Common, selling council houses without building new ones, mass unemployment, two recessions and a depression, selling off everything, the mines, the steelworks, the shipyards, Pinochet, milk. I've not put a lot of thought into that list and I'm sure you've got your favourites that you could add. But in reality I don't think that these things are why I got sad, I think it's much more to do with the 'sod you' attitude that she left the nation with. This kind of 'if you're poor, out of work, disabled, disconnected, or in need of any kind, well, it's your own fault, so sod you' attitude. And if anything it's still with us today and Cameron is making it worse by virtually criminalising anyone on benefits.
So she's gone and left us with this shitty legacy, and not only that she's left us with her delightful offspring. There's Carol, the casual racist and Mark, just one step away from being an arms dealer and closely linked with stirring up a coup in Equatorial Guinea, lovely people both. That said what chance did they stand with a megalomaniac mother who clearly displayed signs of autism such as: referring to herself in the third person, unusual tone in speech, talking at people and having an inability to understand humour. It's obvious now that she was autistic, so far be it for me to have a dig, we'll let the Tories slag off the disadvantaged.
It's clear that however much she tried to disunite us, "There's no such thing as society, there are individual men and women and there are families", there is still some good in us all together, the opening ceremony of the Olympics was in fact he opposite of Thatcher and that's why it hit home so well.
So my bottle remains in the fridge, of course it's not the same bottle that's sat there all along, there have been engagements and weddings, new jobs, driving tests, Luton won the Johnstones Paint Trophy and babies have been born along the way, and there have been bereavements. That bottle has been opened too many times in the last few years to raise a glass to the dearest, warmest, sweetest people who are no longer with us. And so it will remain, that bottle is for love, not for bitterness, division and the acrid selfishness of Thatcher.
Deep breath. So where do I start? I was lucky enough to be invited to The Belgium House during the 2012 Olympics for a tasting of Belgian wines led by 'star Walloon sommelier Eric Boschman'. Eric is genial and highly regarded Belgian, voted the World's best sommelier in 2010. He's great company but I could sense that even he was struggling to convince himself of the quality of the wine on offer.
There are two clear reasons why Belgian wine is not quite right. First, plain and simple is climate, they simply don't get enough quality sun to ripen even the more northerly suited grape varieties such as muller thurgau, sylvaner and auxerois. The second is history. There is a bit of wine history on Belgium, but it's one of inconsistency and poor product.
The history is slowly being re-written and now Belgium is where British wines were 25 years ago. Gradually the expertise is building and the vine's roots are digging deeper and some good wine is being produced. But you can wish for global warming all you like, at the moment there's not enough consistent sun so the wines will always be variable.
Just like here in the UK with our cooler climate the better wines I tasted were the sparklers, we had Cuvee Lord Ruffus rosé made with the three Champagne grapes and Chateau de Bioul, again a rosé, mainly chardonnay with a small amount of pinot noir. Both are traditional method wines and both are perfectly drinkable but if I was being picky they lacked depth and body.
The whites were also unbalanced and over-acidic, but drinkable and keenly priced at under 10 Euros. The reds were a pretty dire bunch, overwhelmingly earthy and undercooked. And lastly there was a sweet rhubarb and quince wine. Yes, I know.
On the plus side the Belgians are clearly a warm and hearty bunch and they produce great beer, in fact the Belgians are much more akin to the British than you'd imagine with our love of good beer and healthy disdain for the French.
BA flight 113 Heathrow to New York
OK, so not the best environment for a wine tasting, so, in fact, probably the best place to do one, what with this being real life rather than some airless tasting room, or worse still the LIWF in the massive hangar that is Excel.
So what delights have BA on offer for us and how will they hold up at36,000 feet? In front of me I have the three whites on offer in what they call World Traveler, but what we all know as Economy, two of which come in at 12%, the other at 12.5% so I'm expecting light and fresh.
First up, Viala pinot grigio from Venezie, northern Italy. Not a very convincing name, Viala, sounds like a medicine for men of a certain age. But on the nose it has a pleasing degree of innocent peachiness and with a good deal of refreshing acidity is not too bad at all. It has good body (can someone find out if the viscosity of wine changes at altitude?) And it holds it's end up rather well.
Next on the list is Mac Andrews Australian Chardonnay, which the stewardess (can you still say 'stewardess'?) tells me "even at this altitude you wouldn't get me drinking that". So let's see. It has a really nice red apple aroma although it flattens out in the mouth with not enough zippy acidity. So not a good wine, but a drinkable one.
Last of all is Felicité by Newton and Johnson Family of the Western Cape in South Africa. As I try this someone is using a Wet Wipe or some kind of hand cream which doesn't help the old nostrils. So here goes. It's green unripe elderflower on the nose, which is not at all bad, there's also some fresh lime and mango. Again it dies a little on the palate but there is enough dry unripe apple zing for this wine to satisfy. It does the trick.
In fairness, tasting wine that's not quite cold enough out of a plastic glass in a pressurised cabin after butter chicken is probably not a level playing field. Although it could be that these wines, as inoffensive as they are, actually benefit from the environment, and the fact that I'm on my way to spend four fantastic days in New York with a very saucy lass helps a lot too.
My very accommodating stewardess, who furnished me with all this booze did say as we disembarked "In honesty, I am more of a quantity bird", and I think on a flight to my holiday, so am I.
Lastly can anyone tell me why they don't give you peanuts with your drinks on a flight anymore?