Monday, 18 June 2018


Northern France is a superb holiday destination, not always one that comes to mind when thinking of French sun, sea and sand but it has it all .... and more.

This year we travelled Newhaven to Dieppe on DFDS, a four hour sailing that both directions began in fog. I don't think I have been on a ship where you can just see the wake and hear the ship's fog horn sounding, quite a nervy trip if you think too much!

The fog did not prevent me enjoying a glass of Sancerre, it is such an unbelievable price on this crossing, or enjoying a fish and chip supper. I say supper as it was late evening when we arrived in Dieppe, an experience to find our hotel and then room for sure!

Travelling north we had all day to discover the north east coast of Normandy and we were delighted to discover a funicular railway when we arrived in Le Treport. Built in 1907 and restored in 2006 the railway is 'self-service' as in a lift, you press the button once inside the car. It's an amazing journey with spectacular views over the town, across the estuary to Mers-les-Bains and further to Picardie's white cliffs.

Funicular at le Treport
The view from the top overlooking Mers-les-Bains
Arriving in Saint-Valery-sur -Somme later that afternoon we were met by Monsieur Guetre and shown around the apartment we had booked for the week via Home and Away. A very modern well maintained complex with security doors, glass paneling, a lift, carpeted corridors and pir lighting (which I had great fun playing with). The apartment itself was immaculate, a great living area with a balcony overlooking the grounds making it very peaceful and the perfect place for a glass of wine. Monsieur very kindly gave us a cake as a welcome gift, a speciality of the region and as we had picked up a few bottles of wine when we did the supermarket shop on the way - the balcony called ......

Getting the holiday off to a good start 
We had visited Saint-Valery-sur-Somme before a few years earlier on a day trip on the wonderful steam train and then the following year for a day trip with our daughter when we were staying a little further north in Etaples. It's a super little place full of history, cobbled streets, the tourist steam/diesel train that runs to Le Crotoy and the harbour full of yachts.

Sails galore
Steam Train just leaving for Le Crotoy
The Diesel returning from it's trip 
We sat rail/harbourside enjoying a beer seeing the last steam train depart and then an hour later the last diesel return. There is a turntable at Saint Valery where the steam train uncouples, turns, moves down the track, reverses and hooks back up, and at one at Le Crotoy so the steam engines are always pulling the train. However the diesel pushes or pulls the carriages, and sometimes it pulls backwards. It was such fun to sit and watch, right next to the rails, no barriers as we would have here, the trains ran right into the town, crossing footpaths and roads (with barriers and lights) - such a great sight four or five times a day. We could hear the train from our balcony, always good to catch a toot !

Waiting for the trains :-)
And here they are 
Saint Valery has plenty of history too; William the Conqueror launched his invasion of Britain from here, Joan of Arc was kept here before being taken to Rouen and the Somme was a major battlefield in World War I. The Cité Medieval's buildings are beautiful, as are some of the older houses in the town. From the old city walls you can see right across the Baie to Le Crotoy showing just how vast it is. 

Cité Medieval
Joan of Arc traveled through here
Joan of Arc prisoner of the English, from Crotoy to Rouen
she crossed this town gate on 20th December 1430
The Medieval church
Beautiful old houses in Saint-Valery-sur-Somme 
To our surprise when we descended back down from the old cité to the estaury/harbour across the water was a shepherd with his two dogs and a huge flock of sheep. Judging by the noise they were certainly enjoying their dip in the water. They were not the only animals we saw on the beach this holiday, one of our trips our was to Le Hourdel which is on the very tip of the estuary. At low tide the Baie has many sandbanks which a colony of seals has made its home for many years. Although across the water you are very close to them; it was super watching them play in the sea and wobble around on land. Further out to sea on the bigger banks were dark patches, more groups of seals, there must have been hundreds all told. It is only low tide you can see these amazing animals as the sea covers the banks completely at high tide, in fact the Baie is quite a dangerous place with many warnings about being stranded as the sea comes in around you.

A Shepherd and his sheep in the Baie
They seemed to enjoy the water
Seals at Le Hourdel
It's quite a moving part of the world, there are signs of war all around, both ancient and more recent conflicts. On the beach at Le Hourdel is a huge German Bunker and in all the towns there is evidence of where modern buildings replace ones bombed in the war. There are many military cemeteries in this area with their white gravestones in immaculate grounds standing in lines as if still on parade. As we drove around it was surprising how many fields were full of poppies, quite overwhelming at times. 
The German Bunker - that's me next to it, it was huge 
Fields of poppies - such a moving sight 
For us part of our French holidays is about looking for our favourite and finding new wines. This region of France does not have vineyards but it does have large wine stores in Calais. It was an hour's drive so worth a day out. This holiday we were travelling in my little Citroen C1 so although we could look we were limited on buying. Quite a few have come home, it was surprising how much the C1's boot would hold, and we did enjoy a few on our balcony whilst on holiday.

Cellier des Dauphins is one of our favourite French wines
- a must on any holiday
A new wine that I really enjoyed
French sparkling wine is superb
We had a super time in Saint-Valery-sur Somme, our apartment was perfect and we could have spent the whole week in the town without travelling further as there was so much to do, so many nice bars and restaurants and of course train spotting. One of my favourite moments was re-enacting a photo of our daughter from our visit a few years ago - not quite as good as the original but fun to do ;-)

Thursday, 7 June 2018

The Bolney Estate

A midway rest is much needed when travelling South to catch a ferry to France: The Bolney Estate was the perfect place. Tucked away down a leafy lane with vines growing along side the road this vineyard is a fine example of how English Wine is becoming so popular.

At the end of the lane is the car park, natural and in keeping with the surrounding vines. A large modern style barn stands proud above the rows and rows of various grape varieties with a superb balcony inviting you to stay and enjoy the view.

The vines growing along side the car park
Everything is on the upper floor of this huge barn with the lower level being where all the hard work happens. Bolney's shop welcomes you with its full range of wines displayed in classic modern shelving that makes each bottle look so inviting,

The Bolney Estate has been producing wine for over 40 years and now produces a great collection of red, white and rosé wine as well as an extensive range of sparkling wine made using the Traditional Method as in Champagne.

Bolney reds:   Kew Red, Lychgate Red, Pinot Noir and Ryecroft Red

Bolney whites:   Bacchus, Lychgate White, Kew White and Pinot Gris

Bolney rosés:   Kew Rosè, Recency Rosé and Bolney Rosé 

Bolney sparkling:  Bolney Bubbly,  Eighteen Acre Rosè,  Cuvée Noir, 

Classic Cuvée,  Kew English Sparkling Rosé,  Kew English Sparkling White, 

Blanc de Noirs and Blanc de Blanc

Bolney Estate's superb shop
We initially met The Bolney Estate at Love Wine Guildford; their sparkling wine is superb and at that tasting it was hard to choose a favourite. I did enjoy their Bacchus white too so this time with lunch I decided to try a different wine and selected Lychgate White: plenty of apple and apricot with elderflower highlights, a style of wine I enjoy.

What a selection: Lychgate White was my choice
Lunch was in The Eighten Acre, Bolney's restaurant with its amazing balcony overlooking the vines. We ate inside, opting for a ploughmans and a feta & beetroot salad before moving outside to enjoy coffee in the perfect English setting. The food, the wine snd the setting were perfect and if it wasn't for a booked ferry to France I could have stayed all afternoon.

Coffee? Wine? Perfect setting to enjoy either
At the London Wine Fair in May The Bolney Estate launched a new product: Rosso, English Vermouth...... and I loved it. It is English hedgerow in a bottle, full of sloes and hedge berries with a superb herbiness, absolutely delicious. 

Although travelling on to France I had to buy a bottle which has been safely wrapped and treasured all holiday, apart from one photo shoot, ready to be enjoyed in our own small piece of England when we return home . 

Exported to France!
Thank you Bolney for the perfect rest on our travels south; we will be sure to visit when passing by and look forward to seeing you at future wine events.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Majestic, The Ned and The King's Series

The last Friday in May we took the train again .... to Leicester, to be precise to Majestic Wine Leicester for their 'Showcase' evening.

And what a showcase it was beginning with Heidsieck Gold Top Vintage Champagne with its brioche and toasty flavours. I could certainly enjoy a glass of this at breakfast!

AUX Rose Magnum certainly stood out, not just because of it's larger size but the vibrant pink colour of the wine in the bottle with it's striking bold label.

A balanced French rosé wine with plenty of fruit and a lovely dry crispness. This would be great with a light lunch on the patio on a hot summer's day, with friends of course for this size bottle!

Majestic had 5 more wines in their Showcase, I did not take photos on this visit so these label images have been used from Majestic's online shop.

Passimento Bianco was the first white I tried, very light and fresh. We enjoy the Prosecco from this producer and if I was looking for a fresh garden white this would be great.

The second white in Majestic's tasting was Winemaker Series Chardonnay  from Southern France. This had more velocity and was a deeper colour in the glass. I would need a plate of cheese with this or maybe a chicken dish as I found it needing food.

Moving onto reds with Natale Verga Primivito - my go to Puglia wine. It's a great easy drinking medium bodied Primivito that doesn't need food as it's weighty enough to stand alone but not so overpowering you need the sofa!

Full of fruit, light tannins and a smooth finish - I really do enjoy this Italian red.

Pierre Usseglio Cotes Du Rhone is a label I haven't seen before from this region. A great colour in the glass and full of the expected flavours. Not surprisingly it had notes of a Chateauneuf de Pape: it is produced very close to the famous village.

Torresilo 2015 Collar was our final red from Majestic's choice and although I am not a huge fan of Spanish red wine I really do enjoy this one. It was a wine we've previously enjoyed at a Spanish Wine Tasting at Majestic Wine in Witney.

As well as Majestic's showcase wines Marisco Vineyards were also presenting wines Marlborough, New Zealand; the two ranges were The Ned and The King's series.

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2016/2017 - superb nose, very full on with gooseberries, good depth of flavour too

The Ned Pinot Grigio 2016/2017 - a lighter white than the Sauvignon Blanc but full of flavour

The Ned Rose 2017 - definitely a summer wine

The Ned Pinot Noir 2016 - I didn't try this but our friends who came with us enjoyed it

The Ned Noble 2015 - the star of the show for me, full of honey and marmalade it was absolutely superb

The King's Favour Sauvignon Blanc 2016 - a softer Sauvignon Blanc than The Ned, closer in style to Old World wines, quite an elegant wine.

The King's Thorn Pinot Gris 2015 - I preferred this Pinot to The Ned, it certainly had a longer finish.

The King's Legacy Chardonnay 2014 - another good wine, but I still preferred the Sauvignon Blancs

Sticky End 2015/2016 - a great dessert wine with plenty of sweetness and orange peel but did not quite meet up to the superb Noble.

Thank you Majestic and Marisco for a great evening with good company and superb wines.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

London Wine Fair - familiar faces

It was our first visit to London Wine Fair but it will certainly not be our last - a superb event in the beautiful Victorian Olympia building with its intricate ironwork structure, a perfect setting that complimented the many characteristics of wine.

The size of this wine event should not be underestimated and visiting for just one day was a mere dip in a very large sea of labels, logos and glass bottles filled with delights.

Connoisseur Estates, with their extensive selection from around the world was the first stand we visited. It's always a pleasure to meet friends and meeting Jo Thompson again was a perfect start to our day, and a chance to say thank you in person for our amazing Cellier des Dauphins tasting in 2016.

Could there be a better start to a wine tasting than champagne .... for me no but before my glass of Champagne Autréau Nick discovered tempranillo wine from Bogegas y Viñedos García Figuero.

Figuero 4 Roble is the youngest of the 4 wines being in oak barrels for just 4 months; the concept continues with Figuero 12 Crianza and Figuero 15 Reserva being oaked (American and French) for 12 and 15 months respecitively. The final wine in this range is Figuero Tinus which is in oak barrels for 24 months.

Tasting notes for all the wines in this, and my following London Wine Fair posts will be from memory - true wine reviews will follow if/when we enjoy again one of the many wines we sampled. However there is so much to share as there is more to a wine than tasting notes - the history, the label, the vineyard.

Champagne Autréau's display of champagne was wonderful - from Brut NV to Cuvée 1670 Grand Cru Réserve Millesime the labels and champagne so inviting. My tastings were 1er Cru Rosé NV, Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru NV and Grand Cru Réserve Millisime - all superb, full of fine bubbles, toastiness and elegance.

We are visiting the champagne region in the summer so maybe we can include a visit to Champagne Autréau with the opportunity to try more of their delicious champange, it's always a joy to discover more about the location of a wine.

Moving on from Connoisseur Estates a visit to Rhone Wines stand was a must as Cotes du Rhone is my favourite red wine region of France and an area we have fond memories of.

Earlier this year Nick and I met Heather Dougherty at Love Wine Guildford. It was lovely to have the chance to talk with her a little more about Cote du Rhone wine, it is a superb region.

We enjoyed all the tastings from Rhone Wines: Vinsobres and Cairanne from Southern Rhone, Cote Rotie from Northern Rhone and a few more whose names I unfortunately cannot remember. The Rhone Valley, especially Northern Rhone is an area that has so much more for us to discover.

Love Wine Birmingham is at The Burlington Hotel on November 10th, we are both looking forward to this event and a chance to meet Heather again.

It was at Love Wine Guildford that we met Chris from Bolney Estates, they are an English wine producing estate on the Sussex South Downs with quite an extensive range of English wine; 4 red, 4 white and 3 rose along with four sparkling wines of which Classic Cuvée is my favourite.

But the real treat was their new vermouth Rosso - launched on the first day of the London Wine Fair it was very popular. Rosso can be drunk neat, this was Nick's tasting, perfect for after dinner with our without ice.

It can also be mixed - Fever-tree tonic, Fever-tree elderflower tonic or Fever-tree aromatic tonic all blend perfectly with Rosso. My tasting was with tonic - very very different to my expectation of vermouth with a deeper intensity, hedgerow fruits accompanied by an aromatic herbiness.

The Eighteen Acre at Bolney Estates offers a selection of food and drinks so will be a perfect stop on our way to Newhaven next week as we travel to France - without hesitation I can say a bottle (or two) of Rosso will be joining us on our travels.

I feel privileged to be amongst the first to discover this amazing drink, there were many new discoveries for me at the show but Rosso was by far top of my list.

As I mentioned before London Wine Fair had a significant number of producers and suppliers of wine and if I included them all in this post it would be a very long read - therefore I have also written

Our day ended with a return visit to Jo and Connoisseur Estates with an opportunity to re-visit St Peyre wine from Cave de Permerols from Meze, an area of France we visited last year.

Picpoul de Pinet is a wine I have been enjoying in France for many many years, being now available in the UK it is a popular wine to accompany mussels or fish. Such a clean crisp refreshing wine from grapes grown close to the Etang du Thau it certainly matches up perfectly to produce of the sea.

Our final tastings of the day were Tohu wines from New Zealand; Marlborough and Nelson. Throughout the day we had not tasted New World wine so this was a superb end to our amazing day.

Sauvignon Blanc is my absolute favourite grape and Tohu Mugwi Reserve Sauvignon Blanc was amazing, a great full nose as expected from a New Zealand wine but then a crisp elegant wine more associated with French Sauvignon Blanc - this was my favourite wine of the show.

There is no better way to finish a wine tasting or a meal than with a dessert wine. Tohu Noble Riesling was smooth, syrupy, full of honey and fig and was perfect finale to or first visit to London Wine Fair.

Our first visit to London Wine Fair was a superb day, lovely to meet Jo, Heather and Chris again and of course discover so many new wines.

London Wine Fair - French wine, English beer, amazing art and much much more

There was just so much to see, and so many people to chat with at London Wine Fair; it really demands more than one day to appreciate all on offer.

My previous posts - Familiar Faces and West to Eastern Europe have covered many of our tastings however there were a few others beginning with Sud de France Top 100.

This stand could easily have taken a day in itself to discover all the wines on offer - I didn't have the chance really to appreciate it all. The stand had 31 white wines with Les Vignobles Montagnac being at number one; Cave de l'Ormarine Preambule placed first in the 10 rose wines; and Chateau les Bugadelles Bergerie top in the 58 red wines.

A panel of judges chaired by Tim Atkin MW reviewed and placed theses wines in this Landmark Competition focusing on wines from Occitanie. It was a delight to see some of our favourite Southern French wines in the lists, namely Paul Mas Estate Marsanne and Domaine les Yeuses Syrah les Epices.

Staying in France stand D22 was Castelnau Wine Agencies presenting some beautiful champagne from Reims. Centrally located in the capital city of Champagne Castelnau produces champagne from its 900 hectares across the region.

All of the champagnes were superb, fine bubbles, elegant flavours with fine finishes that lingered long, something I wish I could have done. Castelnau offered five bottles of fizz; Brut, Reserve, Rose, Blanc de Blanc and Millesime; could I choose a favourite? They were all so lovely but if I had to choose it would be the Reserve.

I am very much hoping Castelnau will be one of the houses we visit later this year as part of our Champagne holiday.

Our holiday is initially in Epernay where Champagne Esterlin is located on the famous Avenue de Champagne, the most expensive road in the world with its treasures in the caves beneath. Esterlin's Brut Eclat was a lovely glass of bubbles made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier; I would have loved to have tried their Blanc de Blanc Eclat but unfortunately social media held more attention for Monsieur, maybe we'll get chance this summer in Epernay.

Louis Jadot and Joseph Mellot also both had great wines on offer, I am particularly found of Joseph Mellot's Sancerre. With Sud de France Top 100, Castelnau, Esterlin, Louis Jadot and Joseph Mellot I could have happily spent all day in my favourite country - France.

However home calls - English beer from Robinson's Brewery who are based in Stockport. Nick and I both enjoy a glass of beer and have toured many of the UK's breweries, however we have not ventured north so Robinson's beer was a new discovery for us both.

Light Brigade is a golden hoppy beer, quite refreshing; 5p from each bottle is donated to Help the Heroes. This beer was crafted by Iron Maiden's vocalist and Robinson's head brewer.

The other three beers we tried were all 'Tom's' - Blonde Tom, a sweet and fruity blonde beer; Old Tom Ginger, a dark oak beer with ginger and peppery notes; and Old Tom full of rich dark chocolate. My favourite was definitely Old Tom, i really enjoy a dark beer and the more chocolate the better; Nick like a more hoppy beer so preferred Light Brigade from our tastings.

The whole day was pure enjoyment for us - a superb chance to meet old friends including two members of the Majestic Guildford team, and a great opportunity to meet new producers and make new discoveries. It was a day full to the brim with wine as these photos show.

One stand at London Wine Fair just took our breathe away, it was amazing. Not a wine, not a label, not location or producer but an artist; an artist who paints using wine!

Edgar Lizarazu Shiosaky was born in Bolivia but moved to Japan in 2001 to develop his painting. Painting with wine as a medium that needs extra care and the canvases have to be treated with a UV fixative.   Edgar's work is so intricate and once finished needs keeping away from sunlight which could bleach his work. It was amazing to watch him at work, a very different aspect of wine.