Monday, 16 December 2013

Beer of the week and Recipe of the week! Nøgne Ø Special Holiday Ale

It's Summer 2013 and a beautiful Sunday of cricket at Lords is cut short by a rampant Stuart Broad demolishing New Zealand's second innings. It's difficult to complain about a shortened days play when your team win so convincingly. It's also difficult to complain when you fill the rest of your day in a beer garden, on a table in the sun, by the Grand Union canal.

The Union Tavern is a fancy but fun pub in Westbourne Grove with an excellent selection of beers and a menu full of smoked barbecued meats and traditional pub favourites.

Along with the ever changing cask and keg range they also have fridges full of bottles from the UK and abroad. And so today, on a warm day in May, I was tempted to try the most wintery beer on the menu. Partly because I like to be contrary and partly because the Nøgne Ø Special Holiday Ale was reduced to clear at a bargain price. Having tasted it I'm not surprised that they were having trouble selling it in May.

It's a collaboration between the famed Norwegian brewery and two American breweries, Stone and Jolly Pumpkin. It's brewed with chestnuts, sage and juniper and having read that I should have guessed that this wouldn't be suitable for the occasion.

It smells of how I imagine a Norwegian Christmas feels, all sweet spices, pine needles and alcohol.
It almost gloops into the glass like syrupy medicine and the flavour matches the smell and look.
Sweet pumpkin molasses, if there is such a thing, is complemented with spices and thick heavy chestnut malt. The juniper comes through in the smell but doesn't quite battle its way through the sweetness.    

It's a very different beer. A bit too sweet for me and almost cloying but there is some bitterness. I think this would age well. So of course I bought two more bottles to take away. Let's see what it tastes like in a couple of years. But in the mean time...

It's about time we had another beery recipe and because now it's bloody cold it's got to be a stew. This beer, with sage, juniper and chestnuts would suit game, perhaps pheasant or venison. But for today I've picked up some beef and to go with that some chestnuts and squash. Normally for a slow cooked beef and beer recipe I would add something sweet, prunes perhaps or even a dollop of marmalade. This beer will have enough sweetness especially if a splash is added to the gravy at the end. When cooking with beer keeping back a little this last addition makes all the difference.

Enough for 4

2 medium onions, sliced
1kg stewing steak cut into large chunks
1 small squash, peeled and cut into large chunks
15 or so cooked chestnuts
Squeeze of tomato puree
2 Bay leaves
2 or 3 sage leaves
4 dried Juniper berries
A bottle of Nøgne Ø Special Holiday Ale (or other strong Christmassy beer)
1 pint of beef stock
2 Tablespoons of vinegar (sherry, balsamic or home made porter vinegar)
a tablespoon of flour
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 160C
Heat some oil over a medium heat in a suitably sized casserole. Fry the onions very slowly with a pinch of salt until they have turned dark brown and mushy. If you do this properly it should take about thirty minutes.   Add the tomato puree and cook it out, stirring for a minute. Meanwhile, in a hot frying pan, sear the chunks of steak in batches. Add the browned steak, chopped squash and chestnuts to the cooked onions with the herbs and juniper berries. Sprinkle over the flour. Deglaze the frying pan with 3/4 of the beer and pour it over the beef. Just cover with beef stock, add the vinegar, season and bring to a very gentle simmer. Cover the casserole and pop it into the oven for an hour. Check that the beef is cooked and tender then scoop out the beef and squash with a slotted spoon. The chestnuts will have disintegrated a little by now thickening the sauce slightly. Reduce the sauce by a third on the hob and add in the leftover beer. Put the beef back in and bring back to a simmer. Now it's ready to eat!

Serve with new potatoes or mash.

A final note: when I drank some of this bottle whilst cooking the stew the sweetness had mellowed slightly. I think another year in bottle will turn this into something very special.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Beer of the week : Shepherd Neame Christmas Ale

It's that time of year when breweries bring out their Christmassy wintery offerings. These can be stronger, darker, spiced, and often more malt led in their flavour profiles. But here's something a little different from Sheps and in their typical Kentish ways it draws on hops to celebrate the season.

Their spicy hops come through on the nose but with a little background caramel. And the hops dominate the flavour too with a powerful bitterness. Unlike some other Christmas beers this is not too sweet but this is not a typical Christmas beer. It's almost refreshing but at 7% the alcohol is definitely there.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Beer of the week: Tilquin Quetsche

The Moeder Lambic bars are a must for any beer lover visiting Brussels. The draught list alone is a who's who of Belgian brewing but it's the bottle list filled with rare Gueuze and other bottles that pulls us back every time. They specialise in serving these sour, spontaneously fermented beers of Belgium whose popularity has boomed of late. Each of the Gueuze producers of Belgium reminds me of a member of an eccentric family, each with their distinct character, strengths and foibles. If Cantillon is solid father figure and Drie Fontainen the cool uncle, the young Tilquin is the precocious teenager. Founded in 2009, by Pierre Tilquin, the newest member of the family is currently a blender rather than a brewer of Lambics. But after stints at the aforementioned Cantillon and Drie Fontainen he certainly deserves his place on the family tree.

Cherries and raspberries are the fruits traditionally fermented with lambics to create kriek and framboise. But any fruit can be added at the secondary fermentation stage, Cantillon creating the most celebrated of these with apricot Fou' Foune and rhubarb Zwanze.

Moeder Lambic had sold out of these rarities when we visited after the Brussels Beer festival this year but they did have another treat available. Tilquin's Quetsche is fermented with plums and, in my opinion, it's a triumph.

It's an attractive hazy rusty plum colour with small foamy head. Poured from 75ml bottle from the traditional basket, it has a sherbety, red fruit aroma with a touch of plum and it pours with a languid viscous quality.

It's a gorgeously smooth and balanced lambic, the plums giving an illusion of sweetness which tricks you into balancing the sourness but without any sugar. There isn't a lot of bitterness which compared to other lambic but you can almost taste the skin and flesh of the plum. This is a very different type of fruit lambic, clever, silky and infinitely drinkable.

You can buy Tilquin Quetsche from beer merchants when it's available for £9.99 for a 37.5cl bottle. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Bandol wine tours - a late summer escape

Richard and his Bandolaise wife have been living in Toulon for 2 years and started up Bandol Wine Tours in early 2013. They offer day long and half day tours at reasonable prices; day long tours including what looked to be an amazing lunch in a wonderful setting. As we were only in Toulon for a short time we opted for the half day tour, which lasts around 3.5 hours, taking in visits and tastings at two domaines.

Richard skillfully manipulated his 8-seater minibus up the very narrow lane where we were staying, and after a friendly greeting we set off, and he began to give us an introduction to the Bandol region and its wines.

The Bandol region produces wines mainly of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault blends, the warm coastal climate being ideal for the late-ripening Mourvèdre grapes. The good climate also means the quality of wine is consistent from year to year. Bandol's red and rosé wines contain a high proportion of Mourvèdre (minimum of 50%, but often higher). Syrah and Carignan can also be used in blends, but in much smaller proportions. In the last ten years they have started to grow grapes for white wines too. Due to the slopes and terraces in the vineyards the grapes have to be hand-picked rather than mechanically harvested.

Domaine Bunan
Bandol is one of the smallest wine regions in Provence with only 2700 hectares - only 1500 of these are used for used for Bandol wine, the rest being used for Vin de Pays. Regulations state the Bandol wine must spend eighteen months in cask, and they usually spend another two years in bottle after that.


Our first stop was at Domaine Bunan, one of largest Bandol producers. Domaine Bunan was started by two brothers Paul and Pierre Bunan who had to evacuate Algeria as the "pieds noir" when Algeria was given independence. At the tender age of 15 they arrived in Bandol and started up the vineyards producing Chateau de la Rouviere and Moulin des Costes (one for each brother) - quite an achievement. They have around 5000 vines per hectare, producing one bottle of wine per vine.



After a look around the winery (and a taste of some of the delicious freshly pressed grape juice) we got to the tasting. Bunan's wines are all organic and have won dozens of medals and awards. We tasted the red, white and rosé from both vineyard sites, the Chateau de la Rouviere just edging it for us in terms of our preferred style and flavour.



Chateau de la Rouviere
  • White (2012) - floral, fruity, and delicate, predominantly Clairette.
  • Rosé (2012) - pale salmon pink, a blend of Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Grenache, delicate in colour but not in flavour, with powerful fruity and floral notes.
  • Red (2006) - mostly Mourvèdre, which is obvious in the flavour, it's a tannic, powerful and delicious drop.


Moulin des Costes
  • White (2012) - Sauvignon Blanc, Clairette, Ugni Blanc and Bourboulenc (a new grape variety for us), fresh and delicately flavoured.
  • Rosé (2012) - salmon pink, floral, fruity and fresh. A very good example showing why Provence rosé is so highly regarded.
  • Red (2009) - late harvest grapes, including syrah in the blend. Powerful red fruit flavours, tannic, yet with a velvety mouthfeel.
  • Charriage Rouge (2009) - a big powerful red, that smacks you round the face with full on fruit and depth of flavour. If anything it was a little too punchy for us. This is made with more mature vines for a more powerful flavour/finish, highly tannic, spicy and intense.


If you wanted to sample some Bunan wine yourself, they do also sell to Marks and Spencer in the UK.

Our second visit of the afternoon was to Domaine de Terrebrune which is located at the east-most point of the Bandol appellation. Similarly to Bunan they age their wines for eighteen months in oak barrels, and they then spend a minimum of two years in bottle. Owner Reynald Delille also keeps his own hoard of wine in the cellar - and it really is a huge stash, with wall upon wall of bottles dating back to the 1970's.


When you look at the vineyards you can see see that the older Bandol vines are not in straight lines - this is due to the movement of the vines over the years in which they have been planted. At Terrebrune the old vines have been there for over fifty years. They have 30 hectares, with limestone and clay soil.

6000 litre barrels
The Terrebrune rosé was recently labelled the best in the world by La Revue du Vin de France, a 55% Mourvèdre and Cinsault Grenache blend. Sadly there was none of the world's best rosé on offer for tasting, but we did manage to snaffle a bottle to bring home with us - keep an eye out for a review when we decide to take the plunge and open it!

Following a tour of the winery and a look at Reynald's  private stash we got to the tasting. The reds were some great examples of how good wine from Bandol can be, and the three vintages we tried gave us a good demonstration of how age can affect the taste of these wines. The 2009 (the youngest we tried) was very fruity with cherries on the nose (and to taste). Whilst delicious it was obviously still very young, needing more time in bottle. I'd imagine this would age really well, and if we'd had the luggage space we'd have taken some to keep and see how it developed over time.

The 2008 was completely different on the nose and to taste, with slight vegetal notes on the nose, and very easy drinking. We wondered if perhaps this wasn't their best vintage, as we found the flavour disappointing when compared to the 2009, despite it having the advantage of an extra year in bottle. The 2006 was a smokey, red fruit driven wine, very mellow and easily quaffable, but with a deep full flavour with it, and was definitely our pick of the bunch.

We can highly recommend Bandol wine tours, Richard is a entertaining and knowledgeable host who knows the best places to go in Bandol.  

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Summer Cocktails - Gabriel Boudier Crème de Pêche

Crème de Pêche is probably one of least known of the fruit liquers in the UK, but has been one of my favourites ever since we were offered a Kir Pêche over a leisurely lunch in Lyon a few years ago. We were instantly smitten, and spent the rest of the afternoon locating a wine shop which sold it so we could take some home with us.

Gabriel Boudier have recently launched a range of miniatures from their range, which consists of peach, blackberry, blackcurrant, strawberry and raspberry varieties, and which inspired me to try some summery cocktails for the Bank Holiday weekend. For cocktail recipes try the Gabriel Boudier website, as well as which has a very impressive array (in French).

A fruity, refreshing version of a gin and tonic with added pineapple juice and Crème de Pêche. The peach liquer brings a freshness and slight sweetness to the cocktail. It's sweet with sherbet characteristics, perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth, summery and zingy.

A delicious deviation from a Sex on the Beach, a vibrant peach in colour. Made with the Crème de Pêche, vodka, cranberry and orange juices. This is a dryer, less sweet cocktail but still with peachy back notes, and a tropical taste. You get a boozy vodka coming through in the background, which means it tastes fruity and almost spicy somehow. This tastes like summer, and is really refreshing.

Kir Pêche


The best use of Crème de Pêche is with champagne in a classic Kir Pêche. Just a teaspoon in the bottom of the glass and topped up with fizz, the exotic hint of peach lightens the champagne to create this delicious and refreshing summer cocktail.

Bonus Cocktail - Bramble 

I love a Bramble, so had to include this even though I associate it more as an evening drink than a summery cocktail. A simple gin cocktail, the Crème de Mure and lemon juice both lift and sweeten the gin, make this a thoroughly drinkable tipple. 

So what will you be drinking this Bank Holiday weekend?

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Great British Beer Festival - Our Festival Picks

The Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) is often described as the world's largest pub, and with 55,000 people sampling over 800 beers, ciders and perries it's easy to see why. There's a real buzz about the hall, great atmosphere, and most importantly some amazing drinks to whet your appetite.

Thwaites traditional horse and trap making its way to GBBF

Here are our picks of this year's festival (although please bear in mind that we didn't get anywhere near trying all 800 on offer!).

Brains Atlantic White, 6.0%

From the Brains Craft Brewery, a blend of a traditional Belgian Wit with a hoppy American IPA. Slightly cloudy, pale amber in colour, funky and wheaty to taste with a refreshing zing from the US hops. Normally I don't love hoppy US IPAs but in this context I felt it works really well, the wheat taking the bitter edge off the hops and mellowing out the harsh citrus. A very refreshing tipple, spicy with coriander, and doesn't taste like it's on the high side at 6.0%. Brains recommend serving this with shellfish, and I think this would work fantastically well with a big steaming bowl of mussels. This was our beer of the festival.

Brains Brewery Bar

Girardin Oud Lambic, 5%

Golden amber in colour, and smells/tastes exactly as you'd expect from a quality gueuze, a huge sour hit, farmyardy, with a bitter edge to it. You can taste the oak from the barrel aging, it's lightly sparkling, and overwhelmingly sour. A must for all lambic fans, especially after the disappointment of finding out the Cantillon Fou' Foune wasn't available that day.

Offbeat Raspberry Way Out Wheat, 4.5%

Billed as a slightly sweet wheat beer brewed with raspberries I was intrigued to taste this one. It's a really good, well balanced wheat beer, but there's a disappointing lack of raspberries on the taste. Having said that, it is a really tasty and refreshing brew, with a sweet fruitiness and wheaty, with a rich creamy mouthfeel, and over time the fruit/raspberry flavours grow as you drink. Hoppier than I'd have expected, but nicely balanced.

Oliver's Cider, 6%
Oliver's Perry, 6%

Oliver's cider was brought to our attention via The Beertalkers' cider vs beer debate. Both the cider and perry we tasted were very good, authentic, flat, traditional in flavour, and dry. The perry is very refreshing, and surprisingly non alcoholic in taste. We both felt the cider stood out the most, being more farmyardy and oaky almost.Both are delicious, and I look forward to trying more!

Sierra Nevada Ovila Belgium Saison with Mandarins and Peppercorns, 7.5%

Towards the end of the evening, and an unexpected taster as something else I'd been after had run out. This was a lovely refreshing saison, high in alcohol, but it's not obvious when you taste it. It's fruity, tangy, and not too fizzy, with coriander and hops - but not crazy on the hops, nicely balanced and slightly spicy.

So, if you happen to be heading over to GBBF over the next couple of days then enjoy!

Friday, 9 August 2013

Jimmy's Loire - Week 2; Vouvray & Chinon

Yet more vinous delights awaited us at the West London Wine School for the second week of Jimmy's Loire course. As with the previous week we got an opportunity to taste a great selection of wines - some which are unavailable in the UK - and were guided through them by Jimmy, who once again engaged the room with his infectious enthusiasm, expert knowledge and charm.

Domaine Vincent Carême, L'Ancestrale, 2010 (ex cellar)

Served as an aperitif to get us in the mood, this was a lovely sparkling wine with green apple and sherbet notes. Light, not hugely intense on flavour, but very refreshing. This is one which doesn't generally leave France, made mainly for themselves and their friends.

Domaine Huet, Vouvray Petillant Brut, 2007 (£25, Berry Brothers)
Domaine Huet, Vouvray Petillant Brut Reserve, 2002 (£27.50, Fine & Rare)

Petillant wines are lightly sparkling (also known as sprizig in Germany, and frizzante in Italy), the level of fizz being linked to the amount of sugar used in the secondary fermentation. When making a fully sparkling wine, for example champagne, wine makers would add 20-25 grams of sugar, whereas for a petillant they would use only 8-10 grams. The resulting wine is also therefore a little lower in alcohol, and has only a third of the pressure (and therefore carbon dioxide) in the product. It is a difficult wine to get right, and so you only tend to see these being made by the best producers. Petillant wines are generally domestic in Vouvray, so not much makes it to the UK.

Domaine Huet is one of the oldest domaines in the Loire, and one of the largest producers of petillant wines. The 2007 petillant was released a year ago, which seems odd until you consider the maturation time of 4-5 years, which is similar to that of a vintage champagne. The long maturation time means the wine gains complexity, and a good petillant can give champagne a run for its money.

The 2007 has a pale golden hue with fine, light bubbles. On the nose it is quite closed, with grassy, fresh notes, biscuity and creamy, with less green apple than expected. To taste it is clean and elegant, refreshing and very drinkable, with citrus, green apples, and again the biscuity creamy notes which you get on the nose. The flavour is very similar to a Chardonnay dominant champagne.

In comparison the 2002 has a deeper golden colour, and as you'd expect is far more complex on the nose, with sweet apple, savoury, nutty and tropical notes. You can almost smell the age of this wine. To taste it's bone dry, with a more complex and deeper flavour, fuller mouthfeel and pronounced biscuity and nutty characteristics. Very close in flavour to a vintage champagne and would go well with rich nutty cheeses like the Comte we tried. The high acidity means that over time this is likely to develop even more complexity of flavour, and this was one of our two favourites of the night.

Domaine Huet, Le Mont Sec, Vouvray, 2011 (£27.75, Berry Brothers)

The Le Mont comes from a vineyard where there are large fragments of silex (flint) in topsoil, and the last vineyard to be picked so therefore the grapes are riper. The wine is a clear pale lemon, with hints of green apple, grassy, mineral, savoury notes and citrus on the nose. It also has a slightly smokey hint to it. To  taste it's a true terroir wine, the flavour reflecting the silex, with strong mineral and stoney flavours, green apple, citrus, medium to high acidity, and a perfumed aftertaste. The winemaker recommends ageing this wine for up to 10 years, so that it develops into a bigger, deeper flavoured style wine.

Domaine Vincent Carême, Les Grenouilles, Vouvray, 2010 (£10.95, Wine Society)

Vincent Carême and his South African wife Tania inherited 5 hectares of vineyards from Vincent’s father, and then proceeded to buy 15 more. They’re one of the newest producers in Vouvray, starting out in 1999 from scratch, but you’d never guess they were relative newbies based on the high quality of their wines.


Les Grenouilles is a clear pale lemon in colour, and on the nose you get citrus, honey, vanilla, orange blossom, light peach and freshness shining through. To taste it delivers the same flavours as on the nose, but with the addition of sweet apple. It's fresh, clean and punchy, with a nice balance between the acidity and the sweetness, but I found this one almost too fruity, and whilst lovely, for me it's probably only a one glass wine. Having said that we thought it was exceptional value for money, and went surprisingly well with a slice of Brie.

Domaine Vincent Carême, Les Clos, Vouvray, 2008 (£23.25, Berry Brothers)


An off-dry, barrel aged wine, this is still a clear pale lemon in colour, but with tropical fruits, peach, passion fruit and light oak on the nose. The fruit carries through to the taste, with passion fruit, peaches, mango, orange blossom, honey and vanilla, the flavours more complex than the previous wine, and even tastier. There is a good balance of acidity versus sweetness, with a big full mouthfeel, and very easy drinking. Jimmy suggested pairing this with sweet chutneys, fish or nutty cheeses like Comte. This wine would age well and was our other favourite of the evening.

Domaine Vincent Carême, Le Peu Morier, Vouvray, 2008 (2010 vintage available at £18.00, Wine Society)

Clear, pale lemon, moving towards a light gold in colour, this wine isn't as powerful on the nose as the previous two wines, and less complex, with honey, apples and peach. A demi-sec, it's syrupy and sweet with medium to high acidity, and similar flavours to that on the nose. It's a more grown up version of the previous wine, richer and more powerful, but less impressive for me seeming a little bland in comparison.

Clos de la Meslerie, Vouvray, 2010 (ex cellar)

Clos de la Meslerie is a new start-up by American Peter Hahn who in 2002 bought and renovated the estate. When renovating he cleared an out-house and discovered an old basket press which he now uses, and locally he is known as 'the crazy American and his old press'. His wine is currently organic but he is moving towards biodynamic production, and with only 4 hectares of vines, he describes it as an organic micro-winery.

This wine uses only natural yeasts, and is barrel aged for a year to a year and a half, stirring the lees regularly. Clear, pale light golden in colour, on the nose there are notes of grassiness, peaches, minerality, honey, cinnamon and slightly earthy, with cider-like farmyardy notes in the background. It's demi-sec, but tastes off-dry, with cooked apples, honey, peach, sweet spices and cinnamon, with light mineral notes.

Domaine de la Noblaie, Pierre du Tuf, Chinon, 2010 (£17.99, The Sampler)

Domaine de la Noblaie's Pierre du Tuf has an interesting production method, being macerated in a porous open vat carved from tufa (a type of limestone). This rock barrel was carved out for this purpose over 600 years ago. The tartrate deposit build up in the vat means the wine doesn't leak out through the porous limestone. This traditional method of production means that there is a low yield of product, usually around only 20 barrels per year.

This was the only red of the night, and a really interesting wine. 90% of the wines produced in Chinon are red and like this example are usually 100% Cabernet Franc. Some Chinon can be found with a 10% blend of Sauvignon. The wine is a deep ruby in colour with a purple tint. We weren't sure what to expect with this wine having never tasted a Chinon before. The nose was surprisingly complex, with deep earthy, leafy notes, ripe cherries, plums, black pepper and spices, but wasn't as powerful as expected. The taste reflects what we detected on the nose, with chalky minerality, cherries, red fruit and pronounced peppery notes. This wine would age well, and reminded me of a pinot noir but with a peppery edge. I loved this wine, but Sam was less impressed with it.

Domaine Huet, Le Mont Moelleux, Vouvray, 2011 (£28.99, Fine & Rare)

A sweet wine, the grapes coming from the same area of vineyards as the first Domaine Huet wine we tried, but the grapes have been affected by botrytis, or by using very ripe/over-ripe fruit. It's a clear golden, leaning towards amber in colour, with a strong scent of sweet apricots, peaches and honey, with a slight flintiness about it. The taste matches the nose, although is less sweet than expected, with high acidity balancing the sugar out well, and a very refreshing (not cloying) fresh fruit and mineral flavours. This was served with a very sweet tarte tatin, which oddly I thought may have been a little too sweet for the wine!

All in all we felt this was a great two-week course, very good value for money, and a great showcase for some fantastic examples of Loire wines, including some surprises along the way. Keep an eye out for the Loire trip Jimmy mentioned - it'd be well worth trying, and rather picturesque too judging by some of Jimmy's photos (although you don't get to take Jeff with you).

Photo courtesy of Jimmy Smith, 2013

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Jimmy's Loire - Week 1; Muscadet, Anjou & Saumur

Sam and I are huge fans of Loire wines (particularly whites), so when we saw this tutored tasting advertised we booked tickets immediately. I’ve written about the West London Wine School before so won’t repeat what’s previously been said, but some of the wine we tasted was so good we wanted to document them on here with some brief tasting notes. Some of these wines are not available from the UK, so if you ever get a chance to head out there and visit any of these wineries mentioned I’d strongly urge that you do – and Jimmy mentioned the exciting prospect of the WLWS putting together a trip in spring 2014 which will give you the opportunity to do just that.

Jimmy, Jeff & Matthew; courtesy of Jimmy Smith, 2013

So onto the wines, which were all brought back from a (very cold) spring road trip, in Jeff, Jimmy’s rather charming and very orange VW campervan. The samples we tasted were predominantly white, due to the fact that approximately 75% of the production in the Loire is of white wines, red wines being less prevalent, tending to be domestic and therefore more difficult to get hold of in the UK.

Louis Metaireau ‘Grand Mouton’, Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur-Lie, 2011  (£14.50, Halifax Wine Company)


2011 was a great year for Muscadet with a well ripened large crop. 2012 was a more difficult year in terms of growing conditions and therefore less was produced. This particular Muscadet comes from vines of up to 75 years of age, and is their flagship wine, aged for 8 months on the lies rather than the usual 4-6 months. Jimmy described Muscadet as “Baby Chablis” given its flavour profile. The wine is clear, pale lemon in colour, with a slight greenish tinge. On the nose we got less fruit than expected, with the usual green apple and citrus, delicate savoury notes and minerality. To taste it was very similar to the nose, with green apple and citrus, the acidity high, and the flavour much punchier than expected. A great wine to pair with seafood.

Louis Metaireau ‘One’, Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur-Lie, 2010 (£18.50, Corks Out)

Similarly to the previous wine, this is a clear, pale lemon in colour. On the nose there is less citrus, and it’s more complex, with much more creaminess and minerality. The ‘One’ is made exclusively from the oldest vines on the estate, and spends a longer time (9-10 months) on the lies. This gives it a creamier, toastier flavour with a fuller mouthfeel, and is more balanced on the acidity. It has a bigger flavour with stone fruit, and big perfumey florals. We both agreed that this was markedly better than the first Muscadet we tried, and it went surprisingly well with goats cheese, bringing out the funky farmyardy notes of the cheese.

Muscadet is usually our go-to wine if we want something relatively inexpensive, yet tasty and refreshing – and is perfect for the warm weather we've been having recently. These two were great examples of how good Muscadet can taste at the premium end of the market.

Chateau de Breze ‘Clos David’, Saumur Blanc, 2010 (ex cellar)

Until 2009 most of the grapes from Chateau de Breze went into local cooperative wines, but in recent years they've started producing their own. This wine was a slightly deeper hue of lemon, but still pale, with vanilla, light stone fruit, honey and floral notes on the nose. You still get the scent of citrus and green apple, but not to such a great extent as the previous two wines. To taste there was peach, honey, sweet spices, light citrus and floral notes. It was very dry with high acidity, which balanced the sweet notes and to quote my tasting notes from the night was ‘mouthwateringly good’. The winemaker suggested this one could be aged for another 5-10 years, losing some acidity over time. This was my wine of the night.

Domaine du Closel ‘Le Clos du Papillon’, Savennieres, 2006 (£25.99, Fine & Rare)
Domaine du Closel ‘Le Clos du Papillon’, Savennieres, 2007 (ex cellar)

‘Le Clos du Papillon’ is Domaine du Closel’s top level wine, and Savennieres is a wine Sam & I have only tried in the last year or so - and now it tends to be one of our first choices whenever we see it on a restaurant wine list. The wines tend to be full-bodied and relatively high in acidity, so are one of the few white wines which benefit from ageing. These two were very good examples, both gold moving towards amber in colour, getting darker as the wine ages. On the nose of both are honey, savoury and toasty notes, the 2006 more powerful, the 2007 more fruity with aromas of stone fruit. To taste we loved both with their stone fruit, almost tropical in taste, honey, floral, and mineral notes. The oak ageing was apparent in the flavours, which were very powerful, and Sam noticed slight gueuze-like character in the 2006. These are great food wines which could easily stand up to rich fish dishes, cheeses, cream-based sauces and white meat.

Interestingly both wines had been decanted well in advance of the evening, yet the 2007 was struggling to open up, tasting better after returning to it a bit later. When Jimmy visited the winery the wine they tasted had been open for 2 weeks, and tasted amazing. 

Pierres-Jacques Druet, Bourgueil Rosé, 2010 (ex cellar)

This was an interesting one to try as rosé wine only makes up 2% of wine production in this region, so you generally don't get any over here in the UK. It is made using the guillage method - a way of clarifying the wine using a low slow fermentation (over four months rather than a few weeks), the solids being pushed out via the bunghole. The wine is a very pale salmon pink in colour, and you get strawberry, gooseberry, rhubarb, floral and mineral notes on the nose. To taste the flavour is far more intense than expected, with a full deep flavour, and more savoury and leafy notes. Surprisingly for a rosé the winemaker recommends ageing for up to 5 years.

Pierres-Jacques Druet 'Grand Mont', Bourgueil, 2006 (ex cellar)

From a single plot of old vines this is a traditional style Cabernet Franc. These traditional style Loire reds are very earth-driven in flavour and don't get exported much as they are somewhat of an acquired taste. Despite this, I think this was my favourite of the three reds, a slightly hazy, deep ruby in colour, with earthy, smokey, vegetal, menthol-type notes on the nose and also to taste. It's relatively light, with red fruits, slightly tannic, light bodied and with a really interesting flavour profile. 

Domaine de Saint Just 'Montée des Roches', Saumur-Champigny Rouge, 2010 (ex cellar)
Domaine de Saint Just 'Clos Moleton', Saumur-Champigny Rouge, 2010 (ex cellar)

The next two reds we tasted were modern style Cabernet Francs, and you can see why the style has changed, with both of these wines made to suit the tastes of the mainstream market. Domaine de Saint Just make their wines from grapes in the vineyards at Chateau de Breze. Both wines are a brighter red than the previous wine, bright ruby with slightly purple tinges.

The 'Montée des Roches' is far better on the nose than the previous wine with more red fruit, raspberries and cherries, but still with that earthy vegetal aroma. To taste, it's similar to the nose, with some leafy notes, but stronger on the ripe red fruit, again cherries and raspberries.

The 'Clos Moleton' is bigger on both the nose and to taste, with big, deep oaky notes. After the first sniff I'd have guessed it was Californian, with vanilla, coconut, black fruits, and new oak. You don't get many of the Cabernet Franc characteristics on the nose, but this may come out on ageing. To taste it's better than expected, acidic, with concentrated black fruit flavours, and the vanilla, oak and spices coming through. It'd be a great food wine, and would probably benefit from a couple of years ageing to mellow out some of the bold punchy flavours.

Up next week; Vouvray & Chinon - we can't wait!

Friday, 26 July 2013

Cherry, goat cheese and pistachio salad with vincotto dressing

When life (your Mother in Law) gives you a big tub of ruby red cherries what do you do? Well you make a cherry and goats cheese salad of course! Now you may not think that cherries go on a salad like this but the sweet cherry juice with the goats cheese works a treat. In fact it's traditional in parts of the Pyrenees to eat goat cheese with a cherry preserve. Topped with the crunchy pistachios this salad was a delight.

The salad is based on this recipe from the New York Times but with a few changes. Instead of balsamic in the vinaigrette I used a tablespoon of lemon flavoured vincotto which we picked up in the market in Copenhagen. Vincotto is an Italian condiment made by reducing wine down till it's sticky, sweet and a little bit sour. It can easily be replaced with good balsamic in this recipe.The rocket was replaced with some romaine leaves and instead of sherry vinegar I used some of my home-made (and quite sherry-like) porter vinegar. Beer vinegars are very easy to make so do have a go and let us know how you get on

The recipe is so simple that it's barely worth writing down but here is it anyway.

  • Some torn romaine lettuce leaves
  • A big handful of ripe cherries, halved and pitted 
  • A handful of toasted and chopped pistachios. You can toast these in a non stick frying pan 
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar. I used my deeply tasty porter vinegar. 
  • 1.5 teaspoons of vincotto 
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper 
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
  • As much soft and crumbly goats cheese as you think you need

1. Combine the torn lettuce, cherries and half the nuts in a large bowl.

2. Whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients, salt and pepper and olive oil. Toss with the salad. Arrange on a the plates, sprinkle the goat cheese and remaining pistachios over the top, and serve.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Croydon Food Heroes - Clarence and Fredericks Brewery

Poor old Croydon gets a bad rap from Londoners. The riots in 2011 certainly didn't help and I have to say that the driving can be pretty suspect at times. We think it's time to highlight the positives in Croydon by writing about some of the dedicated people providing quality food and drink experiences for hungry and thirsty Croydoners.

Clarence and Fredericks Brewery

When we discovered that a new Croydon brewery had started up barely ten minutes walk from our house we had to find out more. Family brewery Clarence and Fredericks was launched in late 2012 by Duncan Woodhead and his partner Vicky, with the aim of producing quality real ale with modern and characterful recipes. Duncan has used his professional brewing experience to scale up his homebrew recipes to their commercial kit and he's done a great job. The beers have deceptively simple names which belie the complexity of the flavours. When you buy the beers at the brewery it's reassuring to see Duncan pay close attention to the condition of the beers before he lets you take them out the door. And when you taste them it's obvious that a lot of thought and craftsmanship have gone into producing them.

All the Clarence and Fredericks beer is brewed here in their Croydon brewery.

The brewery shop sells beer on Saturdays and whenever they are brewing, it seems. It's best to follow them on twitter to find out when they are open.

It's a given that breweries make a pale, a bitter and a dark but within these categories there is so much space to be creative with flavour. The following beers show that it's possible to be creative with delicious cask ale.

Golden Pale

It's great when a cask golden ale gets heavy with American hops. These give the beer a fresh tropical fruit aroma and a healthy bitterness. It's sharp, refreshing and is the perfect beer for a summer afternoon in a beer garden with a burger.

Strong Mild

The Clarence and Fredericks Mild is a real treat, though perhaps not what you might be looking for at this time of year. It's very dark and has got a rich mocha aroma and taste with a little caramel and some cocoa nib nuttiness.


The American Pale on the other hand is exactly right for these sweltering days. A multitude of US hops give their citrus pith bitterness, and it has a crisp dryness that cuts to the heart of your thirst.

 Best Bitter

This great beer was one of the few highlights of the doomed London's Brewing event. Duncan has taken the sometimes stodgy and predictable best bitter and given it an overhaul. It has a deep inviting caramel colour and a sweet nutty aroma. By taking out the crystal malt and replacing with small amounts of brown, black and aromatic malts he has avoided the cloying character that some bitters have. These malts have also given the beer great nuttiness and body. There is an impressive level of bitterness and a fruity Sussex tang from the British hops. I wish this was the standard bitter in my local - I would drink a lot of it.

At the moment their beer is available from pubs across London and the South East and direct from cask at the brewery. Duncan tells me that it will be in bottles soon so expect to find it further afield in the near future.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Beer of the Week: Noir de Dottignies

Dark and rick in colour, with caramel, malt, coffee and sticky herbal hops on the nose.

To taste it's well rounded, rich and velvety smooth with light carbonation. It's less sweet than expected, with a malty burnt toast character, chocolate, coffee, and very bitter hops.

9% ABV, bottle conditioned.

Available from

Monday, 24 June 2013

Pilsner Urquell launches Tank Beer at the White Horse, Parsons Green

For the first time, Pilsner Urquell have brought over their fresh Tank Beer (tankové pivo) to the UK. The beer is brewed at the Pilsner Urquell in Pilsen, Czech Republic and transported over whilst fresh, unpasteurised and dispensed in the pub via the large traditional Czech tanks.

Pilsner Urquell brewer Vaclav Berka (right) and White Horse landlord (left) at the launch of Tank Beer

The concept behind Tank Beer is great - the beer being very fresh retains the characteristics of the beer which you just don't get in the bottle. The flavour is fuller, very refreshing and balanced, but with a growing hoppy aftertaste which means it gets better the more you drink. It has a slight savory note on the nose and the aftertaste.

We also got a chance to try Milka - a foam beer drink, popular in the Czech Republic - made by manipulating the tap so that all that comes out is the head. The resulting foam tastes sweeter, although you do have to drink it quickly before the foam disappears - maybe that's the attraction!


For now Tank Beer is only available from the White Horse, but we've been reassured it will be a permanent fixture. Hopefully the popularity of Tank Beer will mean that this starts to appear in more pubs across the UK.

Seeing the glistening copper tanks (or pigs), and tasting the refreshing brew reminded us of many happy days spent with friends in Prague, where our local host showed us a fantastic time taking us to the few bars in central Prague which served the fresh tank beer, and accompanied by lots of pork and dumplings.

Na zdraví!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Wine of the week: Goosecross Orange Muscat 2010

Our trip to Napa in 2011 was an exciting exploration of Californian wines and it was the wineries experimenting with varieties outside of the staple Cabernet and Chardonnay which gave us the most pleasure. One of the most exploratory of these was the wonderful Goosecross Cellars who, in addition to the typical Napa styles, produce Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc and even Tempranillo.

They also produce this delicious sweet Orange Muscat, one of eight bottles we managed to smuggle back with us in our suitcase.

It's almost colourless in the glass and as soon as you pour it you can smell the delicious, grapey intensity of the muscat grapes with a delicate floral perfume.

It tastes like fresh peaches and ripe mangos, the sweetness tempered by a brisk acidity and something of a hop like bitterness. The wine leaves your mouth coated with flavour, the tropical fruit salad lingering for an age.

It really is delicious and I heartily agree with the Goosecross recommendation instead of serving this wine with a dessert, drink it as a dessert in its own right. But it would be great with fruit or even blue cheese.

I debated whether or not to post a review of this wine, it's gonna be difficult to get hold of here in the UK, but it reminded us of our wonderful time in Napa so here it is.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Meantime Friesian Pilsener

Meantime started brewing in 2000 making them one of the oldest of the ‘new wave’ of London breweries. Meantime are also the second largest independent London brewery (after Fullers). I remember quite well their appearance on the drinking scene as it roughly coincided with our move to the London Bridge area, and we've always enjoyed their beers. We were pleased to have been invited to the launch of a limited edition Friesian Pilsner with brewer Rod Jones.

Rod is very knowledgeable and passionate about beer, and stressed that the emphasis of Meantime is on the flavour of the beer, and they focus on high quality raw ingredients, maturation, and do not pasteurise their beers. He obviously feels very strongly about the opinion (of some) that Meantime have ‘sold out’ – he pointed out that just because production has increased it doesn't mean that the quality of the beer will decrease, and that the key to keeping the quality of the beer consistent is that it is still the brewers running Meantime (not the accountants). They are fussy about their beer and the brewing process and therefore the quality of the beer hasn’t suffered. I tend to agree, and this event was a refreshing reminder of some of the beers they do best.

Meantime have 9 beers in their standard range and then brew a limited edition seasonal special every two months. They also have a microbrewery where they get to experiment with some of their wackier recipes. It is very interesting to hear that Meantime buy some of their hops three years in advance to ensure they get some of the more popular varieties they need.

So onto the beer. The limited edition Friesian Pilsener is brewed in a North German style – these tending to be lighter in colour, hoppier and more bitter then the Southern German pilsners. It’s been made with 100% pilsner malt, and they use Perle hops at the start (for bitterness) then Tettnang in the boil and at the end, using German brewing techniques. The maturation (or lagering) of this beer is 5 to 6 weeks.

This beer really delivers on flavour, which creeps up on you before you realise. At first it is refreshing, but hoppier than you’d normally expect from a pilsner, with a crisp bitterness and a complex finish. Rod describes it as a session beer, balanced, dry and drinkable – simple, but that’s what makes it such a popular style of beer. The hops grow as you get further down the glass, starting subtle and then get more intense the more you drink. It paired well with most of the food we tasted, and especially well with the cheese which was a surprise. 

It was very interesting to experience this classic style of lager with Rod, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of brewing and its history. Just don't talk to him about hip hop.

This seasonal brew will be on sale at the Greenwich Union and The Old Brewery for a limited period.