Friday, 15 February 2019

A few days in Wales

We've just returned from a super few days in Cardiff, a city we now know quite well as our daughter has lived there for the last four years. We always visit at this time of year to celebrate her birthday; it's a quieter time but still so much to see and do. 

Cardiff Bay - view from the boat
We decided to take the river boat from Cardiff Bay into Cardiff itself, something we've done in the summer when the Bay is full of tourists. It was quite sad to be the only people on board, the service has to run even if there are no passengers. It's about a 20 minute trip up the River Taff past the new modern apartment blocks, the Principality Stadium and arriving in Bute Park.

Our visit this time coincided with a new display at the Cardiff National Museum. This year, to mark the 500th anniversary of his death, the Royal Collection are displaying 44 of Leonardo da Vinci's greatest drawings in 12 exhibitions across the UK and Cardiff is one of the venues.

The detail in his drawings is amazing, so much information, such very fine work. I didn't realise how much work he did, I knew about the well known paintings and a very impressive helix staircase in Chambord Chateau but not his drawings.

I have always wanted to stay at the Celtic Manor, an impressive hotel standing high above Newport. It's a complete resort complex known for it's golf course. We enjoyed staying the night before Valentine's Day, it was lovely to celebrate at breakfast and then again at home for dinner. It was a great stay, we both enjoyed some time in the pool, the room was huge and so much choice at breakfast. 

Celtic Manor 
The foyer from above
The huge atrium 
It would not be Wales without a dragon
Our super room 
Another lovely time in Wales; special times with our daughter, exploring on our own and celebrating Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Down Under Wine Tasting

To start the new year I decided to focus on the sunnier side of our world for the wine tasting with our Scout Leaders. Our winter has not, as yet, been harsh but we all feel a little dull when the nights are long and the rain keeps falling. Australia and New Zealand are in the height of their summer enjoying, or maybe not, some very warm sun so I chose all the wines for this tasting from 'Down Under'.

No-one knew the theme of the tasting beforehand, the only clue was to bring something to do with the summer. Sun glasses, sun hats, even a bikini top (not worn),  Hubby's Australia hat and my sun parasol all helped us think about warmer days.
Places set for our trip Down Under
The wines I chose were from supermarkets and main wine stores; all priced between £5 and £9 which suits our price range. I remember when I first started these tasting how everyone only knew the lower priced popular brands. Although over time their wine choice has changed they are not WSET students or looking at working with wine as a career and as such the wines at our tasting are always ones we'd pick off the shelves to enjoy with our friends ..... the wine purchasers that keep the industry going !

Yellow Tails Bubbles
It's always good to start with bubbles and we did with a well known brand .... Yellow Tails Bubbles. Made from mainly Chardonnay in large stainless steel vats and being carbonated this bottle of fizz was enjoyed by most. It was full of sparkle, a lovely foam on the pour, a great colour in the glass and plenty of flavour.

For me a little sweet as I prefer dry bubbles but for the price of £5.99 from B&M Bargains this 11.5% bottle of fizz is a great buy, certainly one to get a BBQ going when it is our summertime.

We changed the plan slightly this time, instead of tasting the whites, pausing for our buffet and then tasting the red wines, we tasted all the wines before eating. Some wines were tasted on their own, others in pairs, not to compare but to see the difference.

I did pair some of the wines with nibbles, our first little snack being Burton's Fish and Chips, tasty biscuits snacks that did pair with our bottle of bubbles, nothing matches a fish supper better than a bottle of fizz!

The Ned Rosé
Our rosé wine was The Ned Rosé, £8.99 from Majestic Wine; this was our first New Zealand wine. Made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris this was a slightly dry wine, some enjoyed it whilst others found it lacking in fruit and flavour.

As our third wine was also from Marlborough, New Zealand we tasted it alongside the rosé. Exquisite Collection Sauvignon Blanc available from Aldi, priced at £6.99 this was a superb example of a New World wine. A lovely aromatic nose, plenty of flavour with a good finish it was one of my favourites of the evening.

Lidl provided our next white wine; Winemaker's Choice Riesling, £6.99. We have tasted Australian Rieslings before but most found them a little too petrolly. This however was enjoyed by everyone, especially with mini spring rolls and onion bhajis. It's a very clean wine, plenty of flavour without any overpowering, certainly a good wine to pair with Asian food.

Our next white is from a well known producer to our group, everyone enjoys McGuigan's wine when doing the tastings, however this was a new label to us. Asda stock their Classic range which was my initial choice but when in store we spotted McGuigan Black Label Pinot Grigio, £6.50. Tropical aromas and flavours with an elegant lengthy finish, this wine was the overall favourite white. Pinot Grigot is not a grape our group usually buy but everyone was taken with this wine.

The final two white wines were tasted together, only because they are both creamier whites and would pair well with our tasting of mature cheddar cheese. Yalumba is one of my top wine producers from Australia, Hubby and I had the privileged of meeting Louisa Rose, their Winemaker, at a tasting evening back in 2015. I still remember our Butcher, Baker and Winemaker evening at Joseph Benjamin with Louisa and Negociants with fond memories, memories that make me smile everytime I taste Yalumba wine, especially the Y Series Viognier.

Purchased from Majestic Wine  recently whilst on offer at £5.49 the Y Series Viognier was again a newish grape to our group. Quite a mineral wine with a hint of floral on the nose I really enjoy this wine, it is one of my top choice Viogniers and pairs well with cheese, although for me I prefer it with a chicken dinner.

Our final white wine was again from Majestic Wine, it's my go to Chardonnay at just £5.99 The Astronomer by De Bortoli is full of peaches and vanilla with a super creamy edge. Good on its own its finish was enhanced by the mature cheese, it was a perfect finish to our white wine selection.

Our New Zealand and Australian whites
And so to our red selection ..... everyone agreed it was better to try all the wines before pausing for food especially as the ladies prefer the whites and the chaps prefer the reds it gives everyone the chance to enjoy their preference with our buffet.

That said, to my, and a few others surprise, our first red was a hit with the ladies. McGuigan Black Label Merlot from Asda priced at £6.50 was such a smooth fruity red. It was full of rich dark berries with soft vanilla from its subtle oak but without any tannins, which is probably the reason everyone enjoyed it. 

Pinot Noir is a grape I rarely drink, I have yet to discover one with enough weight for me. Many people recommend this grape with steak (my choice is a good Argentinian Malbec) so as a pairing for our next wine, Lidl Winemaker's Choice Pinot Noir from New Zealand priced at £6.79, we all enjoyed some Walker's Max Flame Grill Steak crisps. A medium bodied wine it was full of cherries and red berries and a perfect match for our beefy snack.

Two wines together next with a shared tasting of chorizo slices. Exquisite Collection Shiraz from Aldi at £5.79 had all the expected characteristics; dark fruit, liquoirce, spice, it was a lovely glass of deep red wine. Enjoyed by everyone Shiraz is a grape most of our group buy quite often.

Our second wine of the two was another favourite of mine and the favourite of the evening, The Y Series Cabernet Sauvignon by Yalumba. This was on offer at £6.99 at Majestic Wine and in hindsight I should have bought some for ourselves. It is such a good wine, it makes everyone sink and relax into it. A silence fell over the room as we all enjoyed the cherries, blackcurrants and mocha finish; a sure sign of a good wine.

Staying with Majestic Wine our next red was also from De Bortoli but a grape new to many. 1628 Durif is a weighty red, full of very dark fruit, chocolate, vanilla with a hint of spice. To accompany this we tried very bitter dark chocolate which gave mixed reviews, some enjoyed the wine more with the chocolate, some prefered it without.

Our final red is available in most of the main supermarkets but I purchased it from B&M Bargains, £8.49, as it is quite a bit cheaper. We discovered the 19 Crimes brand at our previous tasting - Christmas Ideas - the history behind each label is fascinating. Our final red was 19 Crimes The Uprising which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Grenache. A rich deep red in the glass with jammy fruit flavours and a smokey finish, another red enjoyed by most.

Our New Zealand and Australian reds
After enjoying our buffet we had one final wine, a sweet wine to accompany dessert; there could be no other dessert to match our Down Under theme than a Pineapple Upside Down cake. And to match our cake  ....  De Bortoli DB Reserve from Asda at £7.00. Plenty of sweetness with apricot flavours with a smooth finish, this dessert wine was a great way to finish our evening of wines from the other side of the world.
Dessert wine 

I always enjoy our wine tasting evenings, it's great fun to choose a theme, source the wines and write the tasting notes. The evenings themselves are always entertaining, discovering wines with friends is for me what wine is all about .... now where shall we go next!

A superb evening - here's to the next one !!

Sunday, 27 January 2019

January getaway

January is not the best month for UK holidays but with our son recovering from a broken arm/wrist and myself watching the Postie for a hospital letter a change of scene was needed by us all.

It's always nice to see our daughter who lives in Cardiff but we are there next month so we looked at the English side of the Bristol Channel (close enough for her to visit us) ....... and we discovered Portishead. It's an area I remember as being very industrial but this coastal fishing town has had much redevelopment including a superb marina.

Marina from our balcony patio
A first for us but not a last, our Airbnb apartment was amazing: two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a spacious lounge diner kitchen and an amazing outdoor balcony patio.

Only an hour from Cardiff meant we had a superb family day including a great Sunday lunch at The Windmill with views of the Severn Crossing, if a little misty. Sunday afternoon was spent enjoying coffee and cake on the patio wrapped in blankets - January holiday at it's best.

Our lovely daughter with her boyfriend
On Monday, after dropping our son at Avonmouth station for the Bristol train to meet a friend for the day, Hubby and I decided to drive round the countryside.

Within 10 minutes we spotted the distinctive oak leaf brown sign for a National Trust property. As most properties are closed over the winter we were surprised and delighted to discover Tyntesfield was open.

This gothic style mansion house built in the 1800s was stunning. The old farm buildings are now the National Trust shop, toilets and restaurant; the tables located in the old stables.

Coffee in the stables
Great use of the old stable block
A short walk up and down a fairly steep hill revealed this beautiful house. The main house, as with most properties, was closed for cleaning but National Trust were piloting a new idea, tours of the upper parts of the house usually unseen. We climbed narrow staircases and discovered upper corridors with servant quarters, day and night nurseries, and the nurse maids bedroom. A very different tour to the usual grand house. I'm sure we'll revisit to see the grand side of the house.

Tyntesfield - a stunning house

Great gothic style
Tuesday was the day we explored Portishead. The marina area with its lock allowing boats out to sea is a modern development filled with some very nice yatchs. A stroll up and along the headland past large houses with views across to Wales brought us to the Esplanade. Very cold and breezy on a January day but the Lido and stretch of sand would be very inviting in July or August.

Leaving the sea behind we wandered into town with its small collection of shops, many still independent. The walk home just happened to pass Majestic Wine, it would have been rude not to call in. I'm very glad we did as Hubby picked up some more bordeaux and I discovered Tarquin's Cornish Pastis - oh my goodness it is amazing.

Absolutely superb
Our short break away was just what we all needed. Portishead is a lovely place, the amazing views adding to its appeal. Our apartment was perfect, especially for our Sancerre/cheese evening. A holiday destination we will certainly be visiting again!
Sancerre with cheese - perfect supper
The Second Severn crossing 

With my two favourite chaps - thank you for a superb mini break !

Friday, 11 January 2019

Aldi 19th Tasting Panel

I have been very lucky to have been chosen to review wine for Aldi in the past and again just before Christmas. These are my previous tastings and review:

The 19th tasting panel had three tastings; This Italian Sangiovese Loves ..: Organic Prosecco; and Freeman's Bay Pinot Gris
This Sangiovese loves ... 

I really enjoy Sangiovese wine, a grape variety I think is always best with food, but not necessarily a full dinner. As we had eaten out at lunch we enjoyed this red wine with savoury snacks: nuts, crisps and mini cheddar biscuits. 

It had a very inviting glistening red colour when poured and a great fruity nose. I found it full of flavour, namely cherries and dark fruits with a medium body and good finish that had just a hint of tannins. 

Although branded as a wine with food .... pizza or pasta ... I really enjoyed this with our few snacks. 

Organic Prosecco
I usually find Prosecco has large bubbles, probably due to the carbon dioxide being added in a similar way to fizzy pop, but this glass of bubbles was light and very elegant. 

We didn't have the opportunity to open it over Christmas or New Year but did enjoy it in early January with a pasta bake.

It was superb, as I mention lovely soft small bubbles a plenty filled the glass. A nose and flavour of ripe pears and light citrus, it was very clean in the mouth with a long smooth finish, very soft. 

Hubby and I enjoy many sparkling wines; my preference is French  and a dry wine rather than overly citrus. This Extra Dry Italian Organic Prosecco is definitely one I'd buy again, especially as the winery is eco-friendly using renewable energy where possible. 

Freeman's Bay Pinot Gris
The final wine of this tasting was Freeman's Bay Pinot Gris, another Italian grape I enjoy. This wine I drank chilled and on its own. 

A great pear colour in the glass with a distinctive floral nose of honeysuckle, a little sweet in its aroma which did have me wonder if I would enjoy it. 

And on tasting I did ... a flavour of pear and white fruit. It was a light wine with a short finish and I was pleased I had not paired this with an food as i feel it may have been overpowered. 

It would be a perfect, chilled, on a warm spring day in the garden with the freshness of spring and the light blossoms.

Thank you Aldi for choosing me again to review your lovely wines.

Monday, 31 December 2018

An amazing 2018

It has been an amazing 2018, the highlight being my super Hubby retiring at the end of January allowing us to enjoy the year together.

When we bought this house in 1986, when we struggled to afford furniture, when we saved every penny for our wedding, when money was tight bringing up our two fabulous children, when I was diagnosed with MS, when I suffered a major injury to my left ankle in 2017, when all of these events happened I ... we ... never imagined we would both be retired in our 50s enjoying weekends away and many holidays. There's been a lot of pinching in 2018!

We have certainly enjoyed wine, food and travel - I've chosen my favourite photos (with the link to my actual blog post in the caption) - it's hard to pick my favourite but here are my highlights of 2018!

Hubby's retirement  - Time's they are a changing
Love Wine Guildford - a superb weekend in March 
It was tough but I climbed up Glastonbury Tor
Glastonbury and Wells
Cuvée Reserve is my online wine forum;  we have great fun sharing tasting notes, recommendations and new discoveries. Each spring we have a weekend away and this year six of us enjoyed a holiday in Burnham on Sea where we discovered a fantastic English Vineyard and enjoyed a private wine tasting in Weston Super Mare.

A top highlight - discovering Oatley Vineyard
Private wine tasting at Majestic Wine 
After missing a visit in 2017 due to my accident it was a delight to spend a week in Turkey at our favourite hotel.

Icmeler Sea Star and Turkish Wine
In May Hubby and I visited The London Wine Fair as a blog writer I am classed as Press, something I find quite surreal. I was taken away with how big the event was, if we visit again it will be over a couple of days.

London Wine Fair - familliar faces  - French wine - west to east European  
A superb week in France in June
Saint Vallery sur Somme
In June we celebrated our wedding anniversary with a few days in Birmingham enjoying the atmosphere of being in a pub for World Cup football game, an afternoon wine tasting and an amazing Zimmer v Williams concert.

Anniversary celebrations in Birmingham
As well as holidays abroad we also had some great England visits including discovering new vineyard, a favourite vineyard and many National Trust Houses. There is so much to discover here at home as well as new places overseas.

Dedham Vale Vineyard
The Bolney Estate
Shugborough Hall and Baddesley Clinton
In August we had an amazing week touring the Champagne region of France with our friends.
Champagne - Les Grandes Maisons - Les Autres Maisons
Our champagne tasting selfies
September saw us on a very special holiday, the first time in ten years that our son and daughter came on holiday with us - a holiday for four! We decided to go to Portugal as it was a country new to us all. Our villa was superb with it's private pool and so much space we nearly lost each other.

Portuguese Food and Wine 
It was definitely a pinch me moment when I was asked to be a Round 1 judge at The People's Choice Wine Awards; I had to pinch myself even harder when I was chosen as a Supertaster to be a judge in Round 2!
People's Choice Wine Awards 
October was all change as our booked Danube River cruise was cancelled due to low water levels - we rebooked for a Yuletide Cruise but decided to still go away .... a week in a caravan in Dorset..... it was fabulous, we visited so many National Trust Houses, discovered a new beer and visited one of the best English sparkling wine producers.

Cerne Abbas Brewery 
Langham English Sparkling Wine 
National Trust Houses 
Our year got busier and busier with November being a month of wine tasting events, all very different ending with a wine tasting hosted by myself and Hubby.

Love Wine Birmingham - a great day with great friends 
A bag of goodies from Waitrose Wine Festival 
Our wine tasting Scout Leaders - Wine Tasting Christmas Ideas
Although not planned it being an alternative booking, our final holiday could not have been more perfect. Our first, and certainly not now our last, river cruise from Budapest to Vienna with Rivieria Travel was superb.

Crusing the Danube at Christmas 
Hubby's first year of retirement has been amazing, not just our trips and visits but time together at home enjoying our garden. Weekends are no longer rushed and 'here we go again' is no longer a phrase in our house

I wonder what 2019 will bring; initially a few difficult weeks for our son who had a slight accident on his motorbike just before Christmas. He suffered a badly broken right wrist/arm and needed an operation to straighten and plate it and will be off work for quite a few weeks. I am waiting another operation on my ankle, this time to remove the metal plate and pins as they are causing restriction and irritation on my tendons.

Whatever the year brings I'm sure we will still be enjoying holidays, trips away, good food and superb wine ....
..... wishing everyone a Happy New Year !