There’s a WHOLE bunch of grapes – wine info, sorry! – that’s just waiting to be explored, and who better to advise us in All Things Wine than our magnificent Wine Experts?!
First things first, let me introduce you to our Senior Wine Experts: Chris, Mel and Tom!
With a contagious passion and limitless enthusiasm, our trio of wine-and-food-lovers-extraordinaire have willingly agreed to share with you their hints, tips, and impressive magnitude of knowledge to bring the world of wine alive …
Therefore read on, wine-lovers, wine-novices, (and even the sneaky whisky whisperers if you wish) for mouth-watering articles, recipes and facts that are sure to get your taste-buds tingling…
7th May 2013
MEL’S AUSSIE ADVENTURE Part 2: BAROSSA
A Tour with Andrew Wigan of Peter Lehmann wines
by Senior Wine Expert, Mel
As promised, I’m back to share some more highlights of my recent wine trip to Australia. Let me start with a personal favourite, when I had the pleasure of meeting Andrew Wigan, chief Winemaker for Peter Lehmann wines. I was keen to meet the person responsible for crafting a wine very close to my heart – Peter Lehmann Black Queen Sparkling Shiraz.
Let’s be honest, a sparkling Shiraz (in theory) does sound a bit strange…red wine…bubbles…chilled? Basically, everything you don’t associate with a red wine! Made using the traditional method, it is a dry, spicy red with a black fruit profile – a vinous “Vimto” as I heard it described…yet that doesn’t do it justice!
Following a Barossa regional tasting, we had the pleasure of splitting into small groups of four to spend time with individual winemakers. I opted to join Andrew for a drive around the Barossa region taking in some key vineyard sites. Over two hours, I was introduced to the parish of Light Pass where we inspected some Semillon plantings dating back to 1936. We climbed considerably as we moved into Northern Barossa, as Andrew explained that Cabernet Sauvignon likes this gradient in contrast to the hills, gullies and richer soils to the south.
The parish of Ebenezer, in Northern Barossa, is renowned for its reds. It is hotter, drier – hence Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache all thrive. It is also tougher country, even the gum trees struggle more!
Here we stepped out into the 1885 Vineyard with plantings of Grenache over 125 years old. The trunks of the vines were gnarled and split – yet the vines are still productive.
I confided my love for the Black Queen to Andrew who (strangely I thought) asked me if I’d like some wine with breakfast the next morning…hosted at Peter Lehmann Wines. I have to say Andrew was right – I can’t now think of anything else I’d rather enjoy with Barossa bacon!
Check out photos of my visit to the Peter Lehmann vineyard here or tell me about your Barossa wine trips on Twitter! #mybarossa
23rd April 2013
MEL’S AUSSIE ADVENTURE
by Senior Wine Expert, Mel
I’ve now been back in London a week after spending the last fortnight in sunny Australia on an industry visit courtesy of Wine Australia!
The trip was hugely educational, with a packed schedule of winery visits, tastings and masterclasses. A special mention must go to Gabby, our group leader from Wine Australia, who spent months planning each detail. No surprise, given our schedule, that there was very little time to soak up the (unseasonally) hot sun!
One of my goals for the visit was to use the learning to bring my WSET class material alive; I’m running a brand new WSET Level 2 course here at Vinopolis every Tuesday evening for the next eight weeks and I can’t wait to share some key impressions with the students…
For now, let me share some initial impressions of my visit…
- How vast Australia is & the huge geographical distances – the UK would fit into Australia 32 times over!
- The wide skies, seemingly endless horizons and totally enchanting night skies full of stars…
- The spirit of mutual support between winemakers in each region – hosting ‘joint’ tastings to show their wine ranges, with commonality due to the region or grape varieties and a common purpose – there didn’t seem to be any mistrust due to perceived (or real) competition.
- The brilliant range of artisan beers and craft ales produced in Australia.
- A warm welcome, genuine interest and engagement everywhere I went
I’m looking forward to telling you about our the first leg of our trip – Adelaide Hills – in my next piece…
Follow me on Twitter to see see some of my live-tweeted highlights and check out my pictures here! #aussiewines
23rd April 2013
A SNIFTER FOR ST GEORGE
by Senior Wine Expert, Tom
How do you celebrate the life of a Turkish born dragon slayer in his adopted home of England? This is a hard question for a Scot to answer. I mean, it’s not even a bank holiday and the Irish seem to have cornered the market in celebrating Saint’s days.
Well, you could start with a glass of English Sparkling wine. My favourite at the moment comes from the Nyetimber Vineyards in Sussex. Their 2007 Blanc de Blancs (£36.99, Laithwaites @ Vinopolis) is made only from Chardonnay grapes, this gives a green apple and blossom note to the honey on toast flavours that come from prolonged contact with the lees as the wine matures in the bottle. A crisp refreshing sparkling wine that allows an Englishman to stand proud and shout’ Here’s one in your eye!’ across the channel.
Another drink you might choose (and this is a bit of an anathema to me) is English Whisky (I know!). The aptly named St. George’s Distillery in Norfolk has been in operation since November 2006 and (yes, this does hurt) it looks like it is producing some interesting whiskies. I like the peated Chapter 11 version (£43.95, The Whisky Exchange) with its wild smoky notes and hints of creamy cereal, vanilla and ginger snap.
Now that it’s getting a bit warmer, a long drink might come to mind, and there is nothing more English than a Pimm’s (£16.00, widely available). A splash of gin, a slug of Pimm’s, fruit of your choice and mint or borage if you can get it all topped off with tonic water or lemonade. Heaven.
Finally, of course, you can have that most English of alcoholic beverages – Beer! Thanks to the upsurge in micro breweries English brewing hasn’t had it this good for a long time. Our micro-brewery, Brew Wharf, has been operating since 2005 so we like to think that we were ahead of the trend. Look for a nice hoppy ale for a refreshingly bitter drink. Angelo, our brewer, rarely brews the same beer twice and I can recommend them all, but at home I’ll always reach for an old Yorkshire friend, Timothy Taylor’s Landlord (£2.00, widely available). This award-winning pale ale always hits the spot, malty, fruity and bitter with a zesty finish.
Cheers and Happy St George’s Day!
What are you enjoying this St George’s Day? Share your ideas on Twitter and Facebook! #englishdrinks
12th April 2013
COOLE SWAN WHITE CHOCOLATE FUDGE RECIPE
This is a great fudge recipe that we decided to make with delicious, creamy, chocolatey Coole Swan Irish Cream Liqueur, a great treat for a rainy Friday!
500g golden granulated sugar
500ml whipping cream
150g white chocolate
50ml Coole Swan
Butter and line a 22cm x 22cm tin, leaving a small overhang. Put the sugar, cream and Coole Swan in a large pan and, stirring slowly, bring it to a simmer. Make sure the sugar is dissolved, then turn the heat up to a rolling boil.
Adjust the heat until the mixture bubbles without getting too near the top of the pan. Keep bubbling, stirring occasionally, until a small amount of mixture dropped into a glass of cold water will form a soft ball that you can pick up on the end of a teaspoon.
At this stage, the bubbles will have gone from being large and unruly to smaller and more even. Stir in the chocolate and poor the mixture into the tin.
Allow to cool and cut, and there you have it, your Coole Swan fudge!
26th March 2013
ADD A BIT OF SPICE TO YOUR EASTER DELIGHTS
by Senior Wine Expert, Mel
In my last piece, I recommended some light wines for Spring. It only seems appropriate to turn to something warming for Easter, so I’m passing on my personalised spicy Banana loaf recipe with a twist of added warmth.
As this is a sweet recipe, a sweet wine is needed for the pairing to work successfully. The fruity, spicy flavours of the loaf pair excellently with Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port, a smooth, nutty, spicy port with a creamy mouth-feel and caramel finish. (£17.95 The Whisky Exchange)
Spicy Banana Loaf
A moist, flavoursome cake which is lifted by the addition of a little warmth from the cayenne pepper. This recipe is wonderfully versatile – add nuts/seeds of your choice. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds are a lovely addition.
2 tsp white wine vinegar or lemon juice
125ml sunflower oil
80 ml maple syrup
1 egg, beaten
250g self-raising flour (half wholemeal/half white works well)
A pinch of salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
3 small ripe bananas, mashed
Handful walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 tsp linseeds
½ tsp cayenne pepper, for gentle warmth
1 tsp mixed spice
- Preheat the oven to 180°C
- Lightly oil a 1lb loaf tin and line the base with greaseproof paper
- Combine the milk and vinegar/lemon juice in a bowl and set aside
- Lightly whisk the oil and maple syrup, combine with the beaten egg
- Add the milk to the mixture
- Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt. Stir gently to combine
- Add the rest of the ingredients and combine
- Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for approx 1 hour in centre of oven. Test the cake towards the end of the cooking time, it may need a little longer
Whilst you’re tucking into your delicious Easter dinners I will be in Australia on an exciting wine tour of regions including Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills and Rutherglen, so look out for news of my trip on Facebook and follow my adventures on Twitter @VinopolisMel
In the meantime, Happy Baking!
19 March 2013
RED NOSES & GREEN FEATHER BOAS
by Senior Wine Expert, Chris
What a weekend! On Friday night we were honoured to host a blind wine tasting challenge in aid of Red Nose Day. With maverick wine host Vincent at the helm, bedecked in red nose paraphernalia, guests donated over £500 to charity to take part in a quiz based on 6 Wine Relief wines, hand-picked from our neighbour Laithwaite’s flagship store.
St Patrick’s Day celebrations came to Vinopolis a day early as we heralded Saturday with an Irish Whiskey Masterclass hosted by our resident wine & spirit expert, Tom Forrest. Afterwards, Tom was interviewed by a Chinese TV film crew on the subject of Irish Whiskey – a new TV star is born!
As the day progressed the party atmosphere intensified with the Vinopolis Wine Tasting Experience looking more like a catwalk, with a sea of green feather boas and emerald hats. At one stage I had to double-take as a Hen party walked by; the Hen herself walking a fake guinea pig on a lead. Not something you see every day, even at Vinopolis…
The Irish theme extended to free pours of Jameson Irish Whiskey, who had kindly sponsored a tasting of their classic spirit, and Coole Swan Irish Cream, who were on hand to satisfy our sweet toothed liqueur fans, taken by the drink’s vanilla ice creaminess….yum.
The celebrations continued the next day with more Whiskey and liqueurs for our guests plus a limited offer until the end of April – “Champagne Sundays”. Each and every guest was treated to a glass of Canard Duchene Cuvée Léonie – what a great way to end a fantastic week!
12 March 2013
ESSENTIALS FOR YOUR DRINKS CABINET
by Senior Wine Expert, Tom
‘What are you drinking today, Tom?’ is a cry I often hear from my friends. Not when they are standing at the bar, you understand, more likely it is over a mobile phone or written in a text as they struggle to find a drink for themselves and their partners.
So, to save them airtime I have put some thought into the essential drinks to have on your shelf or in the cupboard. There are other drinks I could add but I would definitely need these on my desert island:
As the days get longer and allegedly warmer, a G & T comes to mind as the perfect aperitif or relaxing drink and for me the best gin for a gin and tonic comes not from England (sorry Plymouth, but you are a close second) but from the Spanish island of Menorca. I first came across Gin Xoriguer pronounced Choriger, I think) when on a holiday on the island many years ago. The distillery is situated on the harbour-side and the recipe dates back to the British occupation in the 18th Century (£22.25 from The Whisky Exchange).
Made from distilled wine rather than a grain-based spirit, this gin is herbal and spicy with a big juniper kick. Of course it has to be served with a good tonic. Something saccharin-free like Fever Tree made with natural quinine gives an attractive bite to the gin.
As a passionate Scot there are a number of whiskies in my cabinet but as we approach spring the smoky, peaty Islay malts tend to get pushed to the back. In their place, whilst staying on the island of Islay, Bruichladdich ‘The Laddie’ 10 year old is another great Islay malt, but not as we know it. Very lightly peated, this is a smooth, creamy, yet salty dram (because it matures on the coast) that has notes of gingerbread, honey, sherry and sultanas with a long finish.
Wine-wise, I have a large number of favourites but here is a short list of essential styles.
Well, it has to be English and Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 2007 (£36.99 Laithwaite’s atVinopolis) is not only tasting really good at the moment but also stands up very well to the competition over the Channel. Made only from premium Chardonnay grapes grown in West Sussex, the wine is full of green apple flavours with rich pastry notes and a creamy custard note.
Here I have to admit to a very loose family link. Dr John Forrest’s family come from the same part of Scotland as mine do, so this wine is served as my ‘house white’. The Forrest Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (£9.99 Adnams of Southwold) is everything you want from a New Zealand Sauvignon. Crisp gooseberries, ripe tropical fruits and a really zippy lime finish.
Here I have an old favourite. Made virtually organically (they haven’t bothered to get the vineyards certified) and fermented with natural wild yeasts in French oak casks with 14 months maturation, the Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2011 (£13.99 Laithwaite’s at Vinopolis) is a creamy, tropical fruit flavoured wine with pineapple and mango dominating the lightly spiced finish. Toasty brioche oak notes add an extra level of complexity to the zingy finish of this wine.
A recent addition to my wine store is the 2010 M. Chapoutier Les Meysonnieres Crozes-Hermitage (£16.99 from Sainsburys). Michel Chapoutier has revitalised his family company. He has converted the entire estate to biodynamic production and throws his heart and soul into the wines. This Syrah wine is matured in casks for one year and is drinking well now, but will age well if stored correctly. Raspberry and strawberry flavours dominate with some spicy notes and hints of black fruits. A great food wine or on its own.
Tawny ports are lighter than the ruby or LBV styles and so work well in warmer temperatures, in fact in Portugal these wines would be chilled. An average of 10 years maturation in smallish oak casks adds a savoury, dried fruit note to the sweet flavours of the wine. Graham’s 10 year old Tawny Port (£21.30 Laithwaites @ Vinopolis) is sweet with notes of prunes, dates and figs with a sweet caramel , coffee bean and toffee finish. Try it with ice cream and or chocolate.
So there you have it, my Drink Cabinet Essentials! With these under your belt, you can’t go wrong and you’ll find that you’ll be ready for anything, from the classic occasion to the unexpected guest turning up at your door!
What would YOU include as part of your Drinks Cabinet Essentials? Tell us on Twitter and Facebook! #drinkscabinet
5 March 2013
CHRIS’S TOP 5 NEW WORLD WINES
by Senior Wine Expert, Chris
For my Top 5 New World Wines I’m recommending 2 whites, 2 reds and one sweet dessert wine that will see you through the most demanding of celebratory meals, or indeed sipped in the spring sunshine on their own. Enjoy!
Parker Favourite Son Chardonnay
This top quality Aussie Chard is made using hand-picked grapes from Coonawarra, an area usually associated with the red grape Cabernet Sauvignon. The region is renowned for its red soils, known as Terra Rossa, and the Parker Coonawarra Estate first planted the vines for their award winning wines on these vineyards in the 1980s. Their Chardonnay is matured in 100% French oak barriques from Burgundy, giving the wine a subtle buttery oak aroma that enhances rather than dominates the complex citrus, apple and herb flavoured palate. A New World wine made with a nod to the Old World’s most famous producers of Chardonnay in Burgundy.
Mount Horrocks Watervale Semillon
Likewise, my second Aussie recommendation uses French oak to impart a toasty, nutty element to a grape normally associated in France with the sweet wines of Sauternes. In Australia they have instead built a reputation for producing dry wines from the Semillon grape, with this fabulous example coming from Clare Valley, two hours north of Adelaide. It is one of those rare white wines that benefits from cellaring, developing complexities over years spent resting in the bottle.
Wente Family Estate Beyer Ranch Zinfandel
On first appearance, Zinfandel, or Zin as it’s affectionately known, would seem to be an all-American grape variety; yet its roots are firmly in the old world, more specifically Puglia in Italy, where it is called Primativo. Although the grape is the same, the different climate and soils of the two wine making countries have a distinct influence on the grape’s flavour profile. In Puglia, the wines can be dark, brooding and inky whereas in California, Zinfandel is full of brighter red fruits like cranberry and cherry with a higher alcohol content which supports rather than masks the juicy, ripe fruits.
Balnaves Coonawarra Cabernet Merlot
The Terra Rossa soils and cool climate of Coonawarra combine to lend elegant yet forthright Cabernet Sauvignon flavours to wines that resemble Bordeaux reds in a warm vintage. Balnaves add another Bordeaux variety, Merlot, to their blend, then age the wines in new and used French oak for 17 months before bottling. Even at 5 years old, this wine still packs a powerful punch on the nose, with its classic varietal blackcurrant fruit joined by Coonawarra’s infamous ‘eucalyptus’ aroma. The extended time in French oak gives the wine hints of pencil lead usually found in top Bordeaux blends.
Torres Nectarina Vendimia Tardía Riesling
Lastly, a dessert wine made from late harvested Riesling grapes, produced by the Spanish winemakers Torres…. in Chile! The Grapes are affected by Botrytis, a benevolent rot called ‘noble rot’ that develops when there is a perfect alignment of warmth and dampness. In Sauternes, this phenomenon affects Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grapes, but in Chile, Torres are using the classic German grape Riesling. Botrytis mould may look unappealing on a grape but the resulting wine is golden hued and sweet with a refreshing natural acidity that balances the flavours of apricot jam, roasted nuts and kumquat.
All these wines are available on the tasting experience! What’s your favourite new world wine? Tell us on Twitter or Facebook! #newworld
27 February 2013
PUT A SPRING IN YOUR STEP
With spring around the corner (we hope!) don’t miss these delicious light floral wines…
by Senior Wine Expert, Mel
It’s (almost) time to emerge from the winter layers (though I’ll be modelling knitwear for a while yet!) and beckon some milder weather with a fresh new choice of wines. Here are some of my current favourites, to welcome my favourite season: Spring. Enjoy them, like me, on a balcony wrapped in layers of fleece watching the daffodils make an appearance!
If you like Pinot Grigio, why not try Duck n’ Pheasant Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011 (Marlborough, New Zealand £9.99). The same grape variety, yet the characteristics differ tremendously, depending on the region and climate. All too often, Pinot Grigio can be a neutral wine-drinking experience, yet Pinot Gris denotes a riper style, in this case full of rounded ripe peach and suggestions of spring blossom. Enjoy paired with a Thai noodle salad!
My next suggestion will appeal to fans of Sauvignon Blanc – you will enjoy Pech de Calade Vermentino 2010 (Carcassone, Pays d’Oc £8.29). A white grape variety found in North West Italy’s Ligurian coast and the island of Corsica, it thrives in the Mediterranean sun and here in the Languedoc it produces a super-zesty wine, with notes of apple blossom and fresh lemons. Perfect with grilled white fish.
If you’ve never tried Argentinean white wine, a lovely introduction would be the aromatic Ascencion Torrontes 2012 (Salta, Argentina £8.99) Torrontes is Argentina’s signature white grape variety, producing dry whites with a perfumed, aromatic character and rounded texture. Grown in some of the highest vineyards in the world, it is full of expressive white peach, pear and jasmine aromas. Try with chicken lemongrass stir-fry.
All wines are available from Laithwaite’s.
I’d love to hear about what you’re enjoying at the moment, send us your comments on Twitter and Facebook!
19 February 2013
LOVE IS IN THE AIR
by Senior Wine Expert, Tom Forrest
Love was in the air at Vinopolis this weekend, not for me you understand, I have a terrible cold (the curse of all wine tasters) and everyone is giving me a wide berth. Never mind.
Our guests, on the other hand, looked very much in love and were enjoying celebrating that fact with some great Champagnes and English sparkling wines. On St. Valentine’s Day we hosted a special sparkling wine and Champagne master class with six top class wines, but as far as I am aware there were no proposals on the night. Shame, although I did get to meet again a couple who had not only got engaged at Vinopolis, but also got married here.
As you might expect the guests sat in pairs and, once settled, were treated to an informative session explaining the process used to make top quality sparkling wines with tutored tastings.
One of the wines that stood out for them was the Nyetimber English Sparkling Rosé 2008 (£44.99 at Laithwaites @ Vinopolis) with its fresh aromas and flavours of strawberries, pastry and hedgerow fruits. Made from a blend of 60% Chardonnay with the balance made up of Pinot Noir, some of which is made as a red wine to add the colour. This is the second release of this wine style from Nyetimber following on from the 2007, it really is a summers day in a glass.
Fittingly, the Champagne that most appealed owed its origins to a love story. In 1860 Vincent Canard married Léonie Duchêne and in 1868 they founded their own Champagne business.
Today a bottle Canard-Duchêne Champagne is opened every 15 seconds in France, but don’t panic, there is still enough left for us. The Non Vintage Cuvée Léonie (£24.99 at Laithwaites @ Vinopolis), named after the founder, is a blend of 50% Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot Meunier and 25% Chardonnay and spends 36 months in the cellars in the Montagne de Reims. This gives notes of tropical fruits and dried flowers to the wine with a refreshing lemon and green apple zing on the finish.
Guys and Gals, don’t wait until next February to treat the love of your life, surprise them throughout the year with great fizz like these.
13 February 2013
WHICH WINE FOR WHICH OSCARS?
by Senior Wine Expert, Tom Forrest
When the nominations for this year’s Oscars were announced, one question bounced around Vinopolis towers. What wine would you drink when marooned on a life boat with a Bengal tiger as in ‘Life of Pi‘?
My mind went straight to California where maverick winemaker Randall Grahm makes Ca’ del Solo ‘Bloody Good White’. This Malvasia based wine is quite aromatic and, with the picture of a sated tiger on the label, would keep ‘Richard Parker’ calm whilst matching the flavour of the flying fish which land in the boat.
The conversation in the office soon spread to include other Oscar hopefuls…
Let’s consider ‘Argo‘:
Set in Iran, this film might not seem to have a wine link. But since the hostages disguised themselves as Canadians, I recommend a Pellar Estates Ice Cuvée. This sparkling wine is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes using the same method as that for Champagne. The Canadian ‘twist’ is to use a slug of Vidal Ice wine to top up the bottle after the sediment has been expelled. The result is a sweet sparkling wine with a rich kick.
What about ‘Skyfall‘?
The latest James Bond adventure might only be nominated for Adele’s evocative title track but it started a lot of arguments here. One wag (you know who you are) voted for Heineken lager! As a Bond purest, I couldn’t allow that. Bollinger Champagne was put forward and is a good idea, but I wouldn’t mind someone spending a few thousand pounds on a bottle of The Macallan 1962 Fine and Rare Single Malt Scotch whisky for me – although I would savour it rather than drink it as a shot, and I might not share it with Mr. Bond.
No argument here, we all decided that a Mint Julep made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon and drunk on a veranda, watching the Kentucky Derby, was the only drink here. Of course, you might instead have one at the circular bar of the Willard Hotel in Washington DC where the drink was said to have been introduced to the Northern states by Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky. Since this is where Abraham Lincoln lived in the weeks before his inauguration in March 1861, you can also celebrate Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg’s towering performance and direction in ‘Lincoln‘.
And finally, ‘Les Misérables‘…
They should have some Canard-Duchêne Charles VII Blanc de Noirs Champagne to become less miserable and stop Russell Crowe from singing! This prestigious Champagne is made purely from the black Pinot Noir (70%) and Pinot Meunier (30%) grapes sourced in the Montagne de Reims. It spends longer in the cellar than their normal wines and this adds a savoury richness to the wine. The wine has noticeable summer fruit flavours and aromas, and a hint of spice on the yeasty palate.
These are our thoughts. Do you have any other matches that you would like to share? Tell us on Twitter or Facebook!
16 January 2013
CELEBRATING JANUARY’S SLIM PICKINGS
by Senior Wine Expert, Chris
Anyone settling down to a guilt-free post-Christmas/New Year relax on the sofa is in for a big let down – as usual every other advert on the box is for a slimming product or gym membership. It should have you running for cover, but of course that’s impossible after the over-indulgence of the festive season; so what do you do?
Yes, that’s the spirit – turn off the TV and have a nice walk. Keep walking until you find an off licence down the high street – virtually impossible these days, I know; where have they all gone??
Well, there’s your exercise done; it was probably a very long walk I’m guessing, and you probably gave up and went to the supermarket didn’t you? That’s fine, as long as they have a decent selection of champagne.
Now, scan the aisles and look for a champagne with the words ‘zero dosage’, ‘brut nature’ or ‘ultra brut’ on the label. If you can find one then let out a hearty laugh and get it chilled down as soon as possible, happy in the knowledge you are ‘on a diet’. Probably best to pay for it first though.
Amazingly, a glass of ‘zero dosage’ champagne has around 65 calories, almost half the calorific content of a small glass of still wine. The secret to this low-cal tipple is its reduced ‘dosage’, meaning that no sugar is added to top up and balance the acidity of the champagne prior to bottling. Vintage wines are also a good choice as the longer maturation in the bottle means that a lower dosage is needed to mellow the flavours.
However, at around 90 calories a glass, even ‘normal’ champagne will get you on the right track this January. My advice? Keep celebrating in style, crack open the bubbly and start your diet today – cheaper than the gym for sure.
08 January 2013
WHO TEACHES THE WINE INDUSTRY?
by Senior Wine Expert, Tom
A question I am often asked is how did I become a wine expert? The simple answer is, by accident. Like most of the best jobs in the world I didn’t plan anything, it just happened, and boy am I glad it did.
But that is not the whole story, not by a long chalk. Yes, my interest started with my first bottle of wine, a Nuits St-Georges since you ask, but it was developed through first my work in the catering industry as a food and beverage manager and then through my career as a food and beverage lecturer at Grimsby College.
There I was surprised to find they offered wine qualifications to the general public and that after a few months I would be expected to run these courses. The obvious first step was to do the courses myself so that I knew what they were all about. In those dark, distant days the courses were at Intermediate and Advanced levels, today they are simply known as the Level Two and Three Awards in Wines and Spirits.
I had no idea there was so much to know about wine, or how interesting and fun learning about and tasting different wines could be, to discover that French wine is all about ‘place’ like Bordeaux whilst Australian wine was all about grape variety and ‘taste’ – it was all a revelation to me then.
Learning how to taste wine, rather than drink it, was a new skill I picked up easily as well. The main thing is to realise that wine tasting is a social activity. It stimulates discussion and debate. “What do you mean, blackcurrants? This wine tastes of black cherry!, “Do you find that earthy note attractive?” and so on…
And who organised these courses? A charity based in London, who else! The Wine and Spirit Education Trust was set up in 1969 with the express desire to provide high quality training and education in wine and spirits, and has now grown into the world’s foremost international wine education body with courses delivered in all countries of the world and in many languages.
Today we offer these courses at Vinopolis, run by myself and the Senior Wine Team. So, if you want a formal qualification in wine and spirits or simply have a desire to expand your knowledge of the diverse wines and spirits produced around the world, don’t hesitate to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more!
11 December 2012
SENSIBLE WINE GIFTS FOR THE SILLY SEASON
My 5 Top Tips this Christmas
by Senior Wine Expert, Chris
Forget wine gadgets this year – they are equivalent of novelty Santa socks; great for one day of the year, but consigned to the back of the drawer for the rest. When choosing gifts this festive season (or just buying a treat for yourself), think classy; think stylish yet practical. Think, “What would Bond get for Christmas?”
1. Get a decent glass
Coloured glass may look ‘funky’, but you can’t see the colour of the wine. That’s one of your senses dulled for a start. Wrong shape and size and you’ll end up losing the fabulous aromas and flavours of the wine.
Glass producers like Riedel and Schott Zwiezel have a huge range of glasses designed specifically to enhance the experience of drinking wine. It’s worth investing in a couple of different types and experimenting with the same wine. As the shape of the glass determines where the wine is directed in your mouth, it is incredible the effect it has on your taste perception.
2. Get a decent cork screw
Yes, many wines are available in screw cap these days and that is a good thing. However, when opening that prized Burgundy or Barolo you want something that removes the cork carefully and with minimal fuss. Do not be swayed by the outlandish gun-shaped contraptions that are housed in a velvet lined box – leave those to wannabe Mafiosos. Get yourself a proper sommelier corkscrew – more hands-on and infinitely cooler.
3. Get a decent decanter
Like a decent glass, these have the power to lift your wines to new heights of tasting pleasure. Don’t be tempted to get a wine aerator as a shortcut. This may make your wine taste smoother quicker, but it can also have the effect of stripping away the unique flavours, creating a wine that lacks character and that all-important ‘sense of place’ that the French call “terroir”. Wine is about taking your time – If you are too busy to decant, employ a butler to open the wine in advance – your guests will be most impressed.
4. Get on a plane with an inflatable
Yes, but not for the hotel swimming pool; the Vinni Bag inflates to protect your recently purchased holiday wine from the ravages of airline baggage handlers. It’s a must for the international jetsetter with a taste for the fine things in life.
5. Get yourself an Enomatic machine!
Actually, this is slightly impractical for home use and at £5,000 – £10,000 a pop, a tad expensive, but… you can dispense clean, perfectly stored premium wines at the ideal temperature. Probably best to buy a ‘Vinopolis In A Box’ gift box so that your family and friends can enjoy over 100 wines in perfect condition at our refurbished, brand spanking new Wine Experience!
4 December 2012
TASTING LIKE HANK MARVIN
The highs and lows of 2012
by Senior Wine Expert, Tom
Wine tasting on a cruise…holiday or work? ‘Holiday!’ I hear you say! Well for me it was predominantly work, but work that I LOVE and I couldn’t be happier to be sent off to host a 10-day wine tasting cruise on board Celebrity Constellation accompanied by TV’s very own Oz Clarke.
Cruising along the western coast of Europe, we stopped off at the great vineyards of Médoc during harvest time, Rioja, Galicia and even the Port lodges of Via Nova di Gaia. Tasting great wines and eating fine food as we went: wine heaven for the lucky guests!
The idea was that we would visit the vineyards during the harvest in order to feel, smell and touch the 2012 vintage. Unfortunately, Europe has had a similar summer to the UK. This made for interesting learning and the Médoc harvest was a great example, where we were able to show the group the effect of the gravel ‘croupes’ or hillocks where the best vineyards are located. Despite the 2012 harvest, we certainly did taste some great 2007 wines here!
To describe 2012, the winemakers we spoke to kept using the word ‘challenging’, with one unhappy chappie stating simply that he wanted the whole harvest to be over so he could think about 2013. His Merlot harvest normally takes about a week; this year it took over three weeks, as the rain caused them to continuously stop and start.
These bunches of grapes sum up the year for me. On the left you can see small green berries that have not begun to swell and ripen, evidence of a cold start to the year. The bunch on the centre are covered in mould showing the wet and humid finish to the harvest. All of these grapes will be thrown away or left on the vine by the pickers.
The result will be that 2011 wines will become more sought after so the price will soon begin to rise. So if you are looking to buy some claret, my advice would be to do it sooner rather than later!
One of the best finds from the trip was the Château Lynch-Bages 2007, a Médoc beauty! This wine was quite mature for its age and had aromas of tobacco, cedar and blackcurrant with some earthy notes lingering around. The palate was cassis and spicy oak with gentle but obvious tannins and I would definitely recommend it with local lamb, should you be able to find a good Bordeaux field with a good Bordeaux flock!
And Hank Marvin?
Well, the bad weather continued into the Bay of Biscay as we headed south to Bilbao and as Oz and I were hosting the wine master classes on board, the ‘motion of the ocean’ made us take one step forward, one to the left, one back and one to the right….wait, or was that the wine?
Thank you, Celebrity Cruises, for a great opportunity! If you’re interested in taking a wine cruise (and I would highly recommend it), check out the range of options here.
20 November 2012
WE GIVE THANKS FOR GUAVA!
Exotic Thanksgiving Dessert Recipe: Guava and Elderflower Fool
by Senior Wine Expert, Mel (@VinopolisMel)
I recently discovered guava fruit for the first time – (where had I been?) Yes, I’d heard of it…but never tasted it until a friend picked some up at the local market. What a revelation!
If you like pears, lemon sorbet, and passion fruit, they all seem to be combined in this delightful fruit. It does resemble a yellow pear – simply rinse under the tap, and munch your way through! It has no core, only some (crunchy) seeds in the centre – persevere, they add texture. After eating two straight off, I was inspired to create today’s recipe. It is simple, and lighter than it sounds. I actually managed to evoke summer skies when I sat, spoon in hand, at my table in mid-November!
4 ripe Guava fruit
1 tbsp runny honey
500 ml whipping cream
1 shot St Germain Elderflower liqueur (or elderflower cordial)
Lightly stew the Guava fruit for 10 minutes with a teaspoon of water and a teaspoon of honey.
In the meantime, lightly whip the cream until just forming peaks (do not over-whip)
Gently combine the stewed fruit, cream and Elderflower liqueur.
Spoon into cocktail glasses for added pzazz. Drizzle with extra Elderflower liqueur for a boozy finale.
Mel’s Wine Match! Try this delicious dessert with my recommended wine:
Hugel “Jubilee” Gewürztraminer (Alsace, France)
A wonderful parallel of flavours to try with Thanksgiving pud!Intensely aromatic off-dry white, rich and rounded, with floral, tropical fruit flavours.
Available soon at Laithwaite’s, The Arch, Vinopolis.
13 November 2012
‘LA TACHE’: MAN OR WINE?
by Senior Wine Expert, Chris
As with any stag do, it was a ragtag collection of the groom-to-be’s mates from over the years, many meeting for the first time – in a foreign country. In short, it was the usual recipe for potential logistical disaster.
However, with the promise of copious steins of German lager on the horizon it is strange how man goes back to his primal instincts, averting danger at every turn. As the second wave of the stag party, including the stag himself, were on the next flight, we, the newly acquainted, congratulated ourselves when we made it through customs, hailed taxis to the hotel and stumbled out into the night as the first wave of troops. After a phone call with The Stag from the airport, it soon became clear that we had been wrong – we were not the first wave at all – there was already a ‘maverick’ out in the field who had arrived the previous day. Our first mission was to find him.
All we had was a name (“La Tache”) and a description (“he has a moustache”). This wasn’t whittling things down too much. We were in central Europe after all.
‘It’s Ok, he is close – you’ll know when you see him’, slurred The Stag like a drunken Yoda teaching Luke Skywalker about The Force. His additional comment, ‘…he has a magnificent moustache’, was perhaps the sign that we were not in a Star Wars movie.
He was right of course. Within five minutes a man sporting a Hawaiian shirt and a phenomenal moustache appeared like a vision. The enigmatic La Tache moved slowly forward – his words were direct, evocative, emotive like a fine wine; “Awight, let’s do this”.
Perhaps more famous, but just as mysterious, is the French wine known as La Tâche produced by one of the most prestigious domaines in Burgundy, Romanée-Conti. It is the only estate in Burgundy that is allowed to be named after a specific vineyard, and their La Tâche and Romanée-Conti blocks of vines are known as monopoles because the land that is controlled by a single estate. The wines are rare and highly collectible as you’d imagine – a bottle of 1962 La Tâche will set you back nearly £6,000, but even recent exceptional vintages go for £2,500. Gulp.
With that in mind, I think I’ll have to stick to stag do’s in Berlin with my new friend La Tache for the time being…
5 November 2012
HEARTY WINTER WARMER FOR BONFIRE NIGHT WEEK!
Roasted Spiced Pumpkin Soup + Wine Match
by Senior Wine Expert, Mel (@VinopolisMel)
What to do with all that left-over pumpkin? As a change from the more usual bangers ‘n’ mash recommendation, here’s a recipe for a hearty Roast Pumpkin soup, complete with a top-notch wine recommendation to match!
Guaranteed to make your firework display go with a bang…
500g pumpkin, cubed
Olive oil for roasting
1 onion, chopped
½ tsp ground cinnamon, ½ tsp all-spice and black pepper to season
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock (cube is fine)
2 tbsp crème fraîche
Lay the pumpkin in a shallow roasting dish and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven for 30 mins, Gas 5/375F/190C.
In the meantime, gently fry the onion in a covered pan until soft and caramelised. Add the spices to the onion pan and fry for a further minute. Add the roasted pumpkin to the onion and spice mixture, together with the hot stock.
Simmer for 20 minutes, then puree in a food processor until smooth. Stir in the Crème Fraîche, season with black pepper and serve.
Mel’s Wine Match! Try this delicious soup with my recommended wine:
Gran Valle de Niebla Reserve Riesling 2011 (Bio Bio Valley, Chile)
A lively, aromatic off-dry white, full of bright citrus fruit with a floral hint. The touch of sweetness complements the pumpkin perfectly and the zesty acidity sits cleanly with the addition of the Crème Fraîche to the recipe.