A Thames-side Treat

I love competitions, and resolutely stick to my Mum’s motto that the more you enter, the more likely you are to win.

Unfortunately that hasn’t resulted in any Caribbean holidays yet, but I was lucky enough to win a meal at Zorita’s Kitchen in London, courtesy of Majestic Wine, which I enjoyed with the family last week.

Zorita3 Zorita’s is in a lovely location on the banks of the Thames, opposite the Globe Theatre, with views of the river and Shard. Pretty impressive!

But then the food and wine were pretty impressive, too.  We enjoyed a lovely selection of tapas, which seemed to just keep coming.

Zorita8The real highlight for me was the wine. Having got there early with my boyfriend Tim, we opted to enjoy a glass of white while waiting for the others. This crisp, tasty and fresh wine was perfect enjoyed with some olives and gossip!  I hadn’t tried Verdejo before, and am pretty uneducated in the Spanish-wine department overall, but this was a great introduction.

 

The lovely chaps at Majestic had also arranged for us to enjoy two bottles of Spanish red with our meal

The first, a Crianza Rioja went brilliantly with the first plate of bread, cured ham and cheese that we enjoyed, and I was really impressed with the flavours.  This one, on the left, can be enjoyed in Zorita’s for £18.49 a bottle – a good price for a very nice wine.

Zorita4Zorita5But the undeniable highlight was the Marques de la Concordia Hacienda de Susar (bottle on the right). Retailing in the restaurant at nearly £50 a bottle, this was  really special experience. It was one of the smoothest reds I have ever had. It was predominantly the Tempranillo grape (as is traditional with Rioja), but also has Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the blend. Aged in barrels for a number of years before being bottled, the wine had really developed and had a lovely blend of flavours.  Decanted and left to breathe while we polished off the other bottle only improved the experience.

The bottle we enjoyed was one of the last 2007s that Zorita’s Kitchen had, but when they get the 2010 vintage in I’ll be one of the first through the doors!

Zorita6     Zorita7

Mistletoe and Wine (The Reds)

As you can see here, I had a lovely Christmas enjoying some very nice wine. Here are the reds that I was lucky enough to kick back and enjoy by the fire.

This 2013 Wine Society Cotes du Rhone was opened on Christmas Day evening, but to be honest I wasn’t that impressed. It seemed a bit flat and unflavoursome. But after being decanted the next day and left to breathe, it really improved and those big, bold flavours that I was expecting were much more prevalent. I’d still probably pick something different next time, but it was an easy-drinking red (in the end). For a hopefully more reliable option, this bottle from Sainsbury’s would be a good option.

 

 

In contrast, big, full-bodied flavours practically punched you in the face from this really special Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Naked Wines. It was bold, tasty with big tannins and lovely smoky flavours. 2010 was a particularly good vintage – this bottle would easily have kept for another 5+ years and matured nicely, but the temptation to enjoy it was just too much! It worked brilliantly with a lovely baked ham with cloves, and the 15.5% alcohol content speaks for itself. High street offerings include this bottle from Ocado, or this from Majestic.

 

And finally a really special wine, courtesy of my Dad. This 1962 Pauillac was bought for the significance of the year it was made (ahem, same age as Dad). Now it was a touch-and-go experience. The cork had disintegrated quite a lot, and the amount of sediment in the bottle was unbelievable. But after being strained, decanted, strained again and left to breathe, this 52-year-old wine was ready. And boy was it worth the wait. The colour had transformed to a really pale red, and it was one of the smoothest red wines I have ever drunk. The flavour was very different to anything I would normally drink, but the balance between oak and fruit flavours was perfect. No high street equivalent I’m afraid, but hey, you could always choose a good quality, full-bodied red from a supermarket and lay it down for 50 years yourself!

Mistletoe and Wine (The Whites)

Christmas – unapologetically one of my favourite times of the year. The presents, the food, and of course the wine. I had the great pleasure of not working on Christmas Day this year (unlike last year), so was determined to really enjoy the lovely wine that was on offer over the festive period. Here are the highlights (and no, I promise I didn’t drink them all myself!).

 We enjoyed this Chilean Sauvignon Blanc courtesy of my Uncle who is a member of The Wine Society. It was a great light, lunchtime drink which went very well with our smoked salmon, freshly baked bread and general eating up of leftovers. I’m not usually a big one for South American wines, but this was very good. For similar options try this Sauvignon from Waitrose, or this Taste the Difference bottle from Sainsbury’s.

Ah, back to my old favourite and all-time best bottle of white wine (in my humble opinion!). This New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is produced by Bill and Claudia Small for Naked Wines, and is quite simply gorgeous. You can see me harping on about why I love NZ Sauvignon here, but this one – to me at least – is the best example I’ve drunk. Worked brilliantly with traditional turkey.

Now I didn’t get to try more than a few sips of this Marsanne Viognier, as I was driving home after lunch. But from what I did have, it was a very nice, if different white. A more rounded and fruity offering than a traditional French Viognier, the Marsanne grape has a pear-like flavour and is richer and darker than other more commonly drunk whites. Give examples like this one from Majestic Wines a go with pork or turkey.

And of course Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without some fizz … although maybe more unusually this one was of the English variety. I’m not going to lie, I’m not the biggest fan of English wine. Usually I find it doesn’t live up to expectations, leaving me wishing I’d stuck to a French / Australian / Californian etc. But, to my pleasant surprise, this bottle from a Kent vineyard was brill. Much more comparable to Champagne than Prosecco or Cava, it was very tasty and made a great pre-Christmas lunch celebration. Interestingly, some vineyards in Kent are only 90 miles or so from the Champagne region in France, and have fairly similar, chalky soil. The smooth flavours of vanilla and buttery toast combined with the ‘pop’ of those lovely bubbles really was very enjoyable. And it might just have been enough to persuade me to try some more English wines with an open mind.

Go-To, Fail Safe, Always a Winner

20141115_195040_2You’re out of inspiration, in need of a bottle for yourself or a friend, and there seems to be just too much choice. So what do you pick? Here is my guide to your fail safe, go-to wines …

Reds

St-Emilion. Merlot is the dominant grape, with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon in there too. Beautiful deep colour, fruity, woody and with some flavour of spices. Always a popular choice! Also look out for the St-Emilion “satellites” such as Lussac-St-Emilion – nearby vineyards using the same grapes, offering great value.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape. High alcohol content, fruity and hearty red. The name carries a bit of a premium though, so expect to pay around £15 a bottle. But it is a sure one to impress if that is your aim!

Shiraz Viognier. A nice mix of grapes. I like this one from Naked Wines, with the hearty Shiraz being nicely balanced by the lighter flavours from the Viognier grape.

A Cabernet Sauvignon, such as the Wolf Blass yellow label. Goes well with most food or on its own, and is usually easy to locate in most supermarkets.

Pinot Noir, preferably from Burgandy in France, or from New Zealand. A lighter red, that is best served slightly colder than other reds. Goes brilliantly with goats cheese or lamb, or meaty fish like swordfish.

Pomerol. A real winner from the Bordeaux region of France. Similar mix of grapes to St-Emilion, with Merlot being the dominant one in the mix. Deep flavours, dark colours – think red fruit mixed with faint tobacco and liquorice. Ages well, try to decant before drinking. Worth the bigger price tag.

Whites

NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Always a favourite! See my post on Oyster Bay to find out why.

Sancerre. A classic white from the Loire Valley in France. Sauvignon Blanc grape, full of flavour and a nice balance between fruity and sharp, crisp citrus flavours which tend to dominate in the New Zealand Sauvignons.

Petit Chablis. Dry white, a better value option than Chablis, but with most of the flavours and enjoyment! A really nice Chardonnay.

Viognier. Usually from France, but I recently tried a very nice Californian variety, and Hardy’s do a reliable bottle from Australia. Viognier is a superb white wine, pale yellow / amber in colour, with a nice mix of floral and fruity flavours. Fresh, tasty and a nice change from Sauvignon.

 

What are your fail safe wines? Tweet us @WineBlag or comment below.

The Best Exotic Indian Wine?

Have we tapped into a new trend? Peter Tomlinson explores the world of Indian wine in WineBlag’s first guest post.

When you think of countries making wine you may think of the ‘greats’ such as France or the more recent arrivals such as Chile … but India? Well, on a recent business trip to Bangalore I’d spent two weeks avoiding drinking the water, unless it had been fermented with hops and yeast and turned into beer. However, on night 12 of a 13 night trip I saw a bottle of wine in the hotel and asked to take a look thinking it would be imported, but no, it was a local wine from India.

First signs were encouraging, recognisable grape varieties of Cabernet and Shiraz. But, could a wine from India really be anything other than well, disappointing?

India1 India2You’ll see there is a Decanter Commendation label – usually a good sign on any bottle of wine in India or elsewhere. The main soil in India is a deep red colour, and there’s no doubt that this does makes its way, even slightly into the wine. For red wine that’s actually alright, adding to the slightly earthy notes and not at all distracting; for white wine (yes, they make white wine as well) it could be more of a problem. All the usual typical Cabernet and Shiraz tastes were there, the blackberries, peppery etc. which when combined with the earthy undertones made for quite a nice drop of red wine.

Intrigued I tried to find out a little more and discovered the Grover winery is only 25km from the impressive Bangalore (now Bengaluru) airport where I happened to be working, so in easy reach for a future trip. Curiously the grapes in India are harvested in February/ March after the monsoon rains of late autumn and a period of ripening in the drier winter months, with some slightly cooler evenings. In Europe the harvest is usually in late August or September which allows for the maximum ripening in the weaker northern climate. Further investigation revealed a Wine Society of India, with an office in Bangalore and even a Bangalore Wine Village event every two years. Travel really does broaden the mind!

Having now returned home I look back and wonder if the wine really was that good or if the two weeks of wine depravation had somehow skewed my senses and dulled my taste buds. I don’t think so, and there’s only one way to find out…..luckily I have another business trip to Bangalore in a couple of months’ time. Maybe I’ll try another bottle, just to be sure, and even a Chardonnay as well, purely for the purposes of research you understand.

Have you tried an unusual wine? Tweet us @WineBlag or comment below.

A Vivacious Viognier

Having very nearly cracked and opened a gorgeous (and yes, rather expensive) bottle of Pomerol on Friday night, I came to my senses just in time and decided that actually a Californian Viognier was much more appropriate for the evening.

 

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I love Viognier – have first tried it on a family holiday a couple of years ago in France, it always reminds me of long, warm and lazy evenings by the Canal du Midi

ViognierBut it is worthy of praise in its own right, wistful memories of holiday aside, This particular bottle came from Naked Wines (more about them in another post), and is from a vineyard in California. Think smooth, fruity and tasty white. Different from a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, more fruity than a French Chardonnay.

I was being treated to a home-cooked dinner of pork loin steaks with mash and veg, and this was the perfect match. It almost has an apple  flavour – a great match for the pork.

Whereas a New Zealand Sauvignon might taste quite sharp, and even make your mouth tingle and water, this is much more rounded and smooth.

A good equivalent in the shops at the moment is this bottle from Ocado – a steal at £5.99, half-price. Give it a try with pork or chicken, and savour the tasty flavours and golden colour.

A Study in Simplicity

As luck would have it, I had the good fortune of winning a gift card from Pizza Express the other week (thank you!)

This provided the perfect opportunity to go and check out their wine menu (as well as their food menu too, of course).

20141115_184651_1Pizza Express is obviously a large chain, which buys its wine in as a company, rather than for individual restaurants. This means a fairly standard selection, but a decent one.

There isn’t much choice, making it much easier than some wine lists which can feel like you are studying a novel.

It’s not always a bad idea to go for the cheapest wine. Especially in certain restaurants, actually the house wine or cheaper bottles can be really good value. But here, none of the four cheapest (all Italian) whites really floated my boat. Cheap Chardonnay can be a really nasty choice (I can’t comment on this one, maybe another time) and the same goes for Pinot Grigio.

Fancying a crisp, tasty white to cut through all that awesome tomato and cheese on our food, the New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was an obvious choice. As I wrote before, this is usually a safe bet in a restaurant.

20141115_185405_1This one, Storm Crossing, was fairly decent. I still balk at paying nearly £21 for a bottle which, in a shop, I would say is probably worth more like £7, but hey, that’s part of what you sign up for when you are eating out. And it did go really nicely with our food.

Incidentally, if I’d been going for red I probably would have plumped for the Italian Ripasso as a full-bodied red that would compliment some of the spicier options on the menu.
Next time I’ll have to try one of the cheaper bottles. Have you had a good wine in a restaurant recently? Do let me know on Twitter: @WineBlag, or comment below.

Oyster Bay

Oyster Bay

Wine: Oyster Bay New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2014

From: Sainsbury’s
Price: £8.25, RRP £11.19

Oyster Bay is a great choice for a reliable, tasty white wine. It is a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and comes from the famous Marlborough region. If I’m stuck for what to choose in a supermarket or on a wine list, I always look for a NZ Marlborough.

Oyster Bay have just released their 2014 vintage, and usually you would want to pick a Sauvignon Blanc that is no older than a year (possibly two). It is a wine to drink young, and won’t get better with age.

It is crisp, citrusy and zingy. Chill it down, although always let white wine warm up slightly from fridge temperature to really enjoy the flavours. Works perfectly with fish, seafood, or on its own with a good book!

If you are looking for a bottle to take to a friends, which you know will look impressive without breaking the bank, this is a solid choice. Equally a good one to choose to treat yourself!

An unexpected find

It’s always lovely when you find something without meaning to, isn’t it?

On Tuesday I was being treated to a (3-month late) birthday dinner by my Uncle and his partner. Having had a nightmare of a situation last time me and my boyfriend met them for dinner courtesy of a punctured tyre, tube delays and awful weather, we decided to set off ridiculously early for this dinner.

Courtesy of http://www.greatwinesbytheglass.com/kensington/
Courtesy of http://www.greatwinesbytheglass.com/kensington/

But it was totally worth it when we happened to walk past The Kensington Wine Rooms.  Having spotted the word ‘wine’, and then seeing all the lovely bottles inside, of course I couldn’t resist.

So we stopped off for a quick glass of wine, and boy what a gem. I’ll have to pop back soon and do a proper review, with photos for you lovely lot to see how unusual it was inside. But for now, just picture a lovely up-market bar, with horizontal wine fridges around the room.

You could either order by the glass from a menu, or Vinopolis style, put money on a card and choose which wine you wanted from the machine which then dispensed a pre-set amount straight from the bottle. Pretty cool.

But what did we drink? I went for the Bourgogne Vezelay, Domaine La Croiz Montjoi. Burgundy 2012. Sound like a load of gobbledygook? Don’t panic. The menu had great descriptions, which is always helpful. French chardonnay can be a dodgy choice, but in a place like this it is a pretty safe bet they are going to serve good wine.

Burgundy is one of the most well-renowned wine regions in France, so again if you are scanning a menu keep an eye out for this marker. The wine that we enjoyed was crisp, and instead of being citrusy or sharp like you might expect from a Sauvignon Blanc for example, it was more creamy. It didn’t really hit the back of your throat, but instead made for very easy, enjoyable drinking.

Watch this space for a proper review soon, although I really don’t need an excuse to visit again!

The start of a journey

Courtesy of http://tweedlandthegentlemansclub.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/berry-bros-rudd-london.html
Courtesy of http://tweedlandthegentlemansclub.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/berry-bros-rudd-london.html

I never used to get the idea of wine tasting. Although I’d been brought up by parents who appreciate wine, I essentially just thought that red was red, white was white, and rose somewhere in between. I assumed these people who stood around swilling the wine in the glass, making a show of sniffing it, drinking it noisily and then declaring it to “have flavours of gooseberry and vanilla but with some toasty undertones” were, to be honest, pretentious gits who had no idea what they were talking about.

That was until I was lucky enough to go to a wine-tasting evening at Berry Bros & Rudd in London. My Dad had been invited to a corporate evening of wine-tasting, and decided it was high time I stopped teasing him for thinking there was a difference in the wines he drunk.

Berry Bros opened in 1698, and the tasting was held in the impressive cellars, which just ooze history.

Courtesy of http://globalfinancialrooms.com/venue/the-berry-bros-napoeleon-cellars/
Courtesy of http://globalfinancialrooms.com/venue/the-berry-bros-napoeleon-cellars/

The wines to taste were set out on different tables according to whether they were ‘New World’ or ‘Old World’ (separate post on this to follow). Then, with the help of the professionals, you tasted comparable wines but from different places, to understand how they differed. And boy, did they differ.

For the first time I realised that actually, saying one red wine is like another is pretty much like saying every car is the same, regardless of whether it is a Mini, a Skoda or a Ferrari.

There is a whole world of wine out there, and believe me, it is well-worth taking a bit of time to explore how wines differ from each other, and which ones you like.