Tuesday, 9 December 2014

100 Wine Challenge - Grande Finale

I cannot believe we actually achieved this - when I heard my voice say 'I'll do a wine tasting of 100 wines' I did think ...... impossible !

However we did it - 5 events filled with fun, laughter and of course wine. If you missed my previous blogs catch up with the story here:

There are many many companies and individuals that have helped along the way: mentions and links are in my previous blogs and I will be including a few more today, but I have to say a massive thank you to.......

my hubby Nick

as without his support this challenge would not even have been started - thank you Nick.

Grande Finale ready, steady, GO!!
Round 3 was a little light on tasters and so I moved 6 wines to the Grade Finale making it a 26 bottle wine tasting, no-one seemed to mind - and so we started with......

Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne - donated by ourselves but available in most UK
supermarkets. We love this champagne with it's biscuity taste, small fast flowing bubbly and lighter dryness than some bubbly. We've visited Nicolas Feuillatte in Epernay, France.

Symington Family Estates White Port - donated by Kay & Colin Jacks. This was a first tasting for everyone, served well chilled it makes a lovely aperitif.
Being the festive season we continued with bubbles - two bottles both made in the traditional method but for opposite sides of the world.

Yellow Tails Bubbles - Calais Wine - an Australian fizz filled with lively bubbles, tropical fruits, and a slight sweetness.
Freixenet Cordon Negro - donated by Freixenet - a Spanish bubbly filled with lemon,      pear and peach flavour.
Sparkling wine is said to go really well with fish and chips and the bubbles cut through the oil and salt. That being said we had crisps to try with these sparklers; ready salted and salt & vinegar. The salted crisps worked really well, the vinegar ones not so much.
Moving on to try 8 white wines - all ready to be opened after chilling for a few hours in the fridge. The ladies always prefer the whites, the men the reds but over the 100 there have been a few of each that the opposite sexes have enjoyed.
Il Papvero Pinot Grigio   - available from Laithwaites but donated in honour of Ron Mellor who was the stalwart of both groups for over 60 years. He would have loved the 100 celebrations that have happened over the year; especially the wine tasting.
McGuigan Classic Pinot Grigio 2014 -  Tesco - due to being opposite side of the world this wine was produced in 2014 which is our northern hemisphere seems early, our 2014 grapes will not be on the shelves until 2015... confusing?
Hardy's Varietal Range Chardonnay  - Pidou - this Australian wine with its melon and peach flavours and crisp, dry finish was a favourite with the ladies.
 Retsina - Tesco - this wine was one saved from our Europe round. Retsina is an acquired taste and can be superb in the summer heat in Greece, it didn't work quite so well in Nuneaton in November !
Beberana Carta de Plata - donated by Tesco - no longer available this white was a Spanish wine which was light and fruity,
Castillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc  - Pidou - a favourite brand from Chile, the Devil's Cellar produces great wine, this sauvignon blanc being one.
Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc  - Calais Wine - this fine example of New Zealand wine was a favourite with some of the men as well as the ladies. It's nose is full of gooseberries which follow through in taste along with lemons and limes.
Pouilly Fume Sauvignon Blanc - donated by Gill and James Platt - this superb wine from the Loire Valley, France is one of the best in theTesco finest range. As with all sauvignon blancs it has a gooseberry and lemon nose but it's taste is creamy with a smokey edge.

A wonderful variety of white wines from around the world, higher in value and taste than some of our previous rounds, definitely worthy of our Grande Finale, and to finish off the other part of our 100 Challenge it was time for our last 20 cheeses.
Our final  20 selection of cheeses
It's been quite a challenge to source so many different cheeses over the 5 tastings, it certainly helped being able to bring back the French cheeses last time and for this tasting the Christmas fruit varieties were available. I have added a page at the top of my blog of all the 100 cheeses and a separate page for the 100 wines.  After enjoying such a spread it was time to move onto rosé wine.
Yellow Tails Pink Moscato - Pidou - a slight fizz with natural sweetness and strawberry flavours with hints of sherbet, a huge hit with the ladies.
Marques de Carano Granache & Shiraz 2011 - Tesco - a Spanish rosé which was slightly dryer, flavours of grapefruit and cranberry.
As this was a special tasting we included a dessert wine - not something we drink often but is a must in out house at Christmas or when having a special meal. It really does finish a meal off perfectly and none so better than this.
Brown Brother's Orange Flora and Muscat - Co-op - full of orange blossom and tangy fruits, it's like melting marmalade and perfect for desserts. On the recommendation of Olly Smith we tried it with Cadbury's Crunchie - wow it was delicious.  

Time had finally arrived for the final 11 - all red with plenty of punch. As mentioned before my Dad would have really enjoyed the 100 year celebrations and I know would have been so proud of everyone in the group; all the Leaders, Committee Members, friends and family work so hard - all volunteers giving their time, money and dedication - all very much appreciated by the youngsters judging by the laughter and noise at any meeting night, activity or camp. The first red was again in honour of Dad; this was his favourite red, in fact his favourite wine overall.
Il Papavero - Laithwaites - an Italian full of ripe red fruit with lots of character
Hardy's Varietal Range Cabernet Sauvignon - Pidou - an easy drinking Australian red, full of dark fruit with a slight oakiness. A regular choice of some of our tasters.
Castillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon - Pidou - this Chilean cabernet is smoother with more blackcurrant and cherry flavours. It's finish has hints of coffee and chocolate.
Yellow Tails Shiraz - Pidou - this wine variety is always a favourite with the men with its spicy kick. It's a deeper wine with dark fruits, spice and a hint of liquorice. To go with it's spice I served gingerbread; mixed opinions on the matching but it was fun to try.
McGuigan Classic Shiraz - Majestic - another deep red which we also tried with the gingerbread. As well as the deep fruit, spice, liquorice this shiraz is oaked with slight tannins.
Astrale - Morrison's - this Italian blend was one from the Europe tasting. We have tried this wine before and were very taken with it - quite a smooth red considering it's 14% depth.
Cepa Lebrel Rioja - donated by Derrin Stupmanis - this is available in Lidl and is a good example of this popular Spanish wine. I served it with chorizo again as the spicy sausage brings out the spicy richness in the wine.
Chianti - Lidl - another wine saved from the summer round, this was a good example of Italian chianti, not heavy which some of the ladies surprised themselves and led them to like a red wine.
 Villa Cafaggio Chianti 2010 - donated by John Hook - black cherries and nutmeg were dominant in this Italian red. I had decanted it (along with the rioja and the final two reds) for 24 hours before the tasting which smoothed out the tannins making it a comforting wine perfect with Christmas Cake which I served with the final three.
Tesco finest Chateauneuf-de-Pape - donated by Sarah and Ian Maycock - Tesco finest classic southern Rhone red is full of fruit and spice. It definitely benefitted from being decanted and is most suited to being served with food; perfect with a roast beef dinner.  
Stobi Vranec - donated by Dave and Agnes Cronin - our final wine was a first for everyone as it was a wine from Macadonia. It was by far the deepest wine in colour, inky purple and had a great nose full of cherries with hints of coffee and liquorice. It was full of blackberries in flavour with smooth tannins after being decanted. A favourite with most.  
And so that was it - 100 wines tasted, enjoyed (or not) and remembered for many reasons. It has been great fun to do this challenge, hard work in finding wines for the budgeted price, challenging to write the tasting sheets without tasting the wines, and tricky to present wines when also tasting -  it's not easy to explain about red wines when you've already sampled 12 whites and roses !!

Nick and I were surprised with a presentation of a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a new wine man to add to our collection - quite unexpected and we were very touched by the gesture, thank you.
Next ...... yes there will be more. Everyone has enjoyed it so much the wine tastings will continue, not 100 and hopefully a little higher in budget. Our first tasting in 2015 will be the top 20 from this year - if I can still get them as some of the favourites were donations.
To everyone .....

Friday, 28 November 2014

Majestic Winter Wine Tasting

Another great evening of wine - this time of year it seems there are many wine events on but what could be better on these cold wet winter evenings. Hubby and I took the train - thank you Cross Country, it's great to be able to reserve seats - to Leicester for Majestic's Winter Wine Tasting.

The shop was set up so we could browse along the aisles with tasting stations along the way - all the staff were really friendly and knowledgeable. It was a great atmosphere with many other wine enthusiasts chatting and tasting as we wandered around the room.

Nyetimber Classic Cuvée - our first English sparkling wine, full of bubbles in the glass, not as biscuit as champagne but a good bubbly, although the bubbles did disappear in the glass quite quickly.

As Caixas Godello Martin Codaz - another first, this wine's nose was full of melon and lemon, it's palette was lighter than I expected with a lovely lemon finish.

The King's Favour Sauvignon Blanc - my favourite grape and this New World wine was just lovely, a light gooseberry, elderflower nose with a good depth on the palette.

We also tasted Vigne Il Giardino Pinot Grigio and Chablis 1er Cru Fourchame Séguinot-Bordet, both were good wines as were Beefsteak Club Malbec and Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso La Casetta.

I surprised myself as I really liked these two riojas;

Vina Eguia Rioja Reserva with a beautiful deep fruit nose and a smooth slightly oaked dark fruit palette

Marques de Riscal Rioja with a deeper nose, fuller palette with a hint of vanilla

As well as wine the Majestic team had a beautiful tawny port.

Warre's Otima 10-year-old Tawny Port - such a beautiful colour, honeyed palette, with a nutty finish that just lasts and lasts - it was an endless after taste that gave more and more.

Warner Edwards were at the tasting with their superb gin. They take their 'farm's pure, natural spring water, grain spirit, hone-grown elderflower, plus ten other botanicals' to make a very good smooth gin.

And Purity Brewing Co. were presenting their wonderful range of beer - they are a Warwickshire brewery near Stratford-on-Avon who started in 2005 and produce 'high quality beers in a natural and sustainable way'.

Pure Gold has a light bitter taste with a beautiful golden colour, Mad Goose is a pale ale with citrus notes, and UBU a darker beer with a slightly sweeter taste, but my favourite was Saddle Back, a lovely dark beer with chocolate and coffee notes, just perfect.

It was a really good evening, thanks to everyone at Majestic and the representatives from Warner Edwards & Purity Brewing Co.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Bosworth Wine Tasting

Back in February 2011 Hubby and I had an amazing weekend at Bosworth Hall Hotel with Thirty Fifty hosting a wine tasting. This weekend we travelled the vast distance of 10 miles for another such mini-break, this time joined by friends making us a lively party of 9.

Bosworth Hall Hotel is a Grade II listed building that once belonged to the Dixie family and is located just outside Market Bosworth, which is not far from Bosworth Battlefield (1485) - its a beautiful building now a hotel with 192 en-suite rooms.

Bosworth Hall Hotel
Gardens at the far rear of the hotel
Beautiful architecture
Back of the hotel with Bosworth church
The weekend was all inclusive style - all meals were included with the wine tasting all day Saturday. The meals were mainly carvery style buffets, limited choice but adequate. Our room was huge with furniture to match the style of the Hall.

Saturday was wine tasting day with Thirty Fifty - Robert & Rob did a great job of entertaining us for 6 hours as well as sharing their knowledge of wine, all accompanied by a variety of wine - tasting total at the end of the day ..... 17 !!

A great start - 13% chardonnay packed with
honey and lemon
A second chardonnay but this time a
New World wine - lots of vanilla
The first red - slightly spiced,
damson fruited chianti
A light white from Spain that went
well with our lunch
Marmalade and ginger sweet wine
 - perfect with dessert
Rich red fruited Malbec from Argentina
A light example of sauvignon blanc
A syrupy vanilla filled chardonnay

A great opportunity to try a variety of wines, Old World and New World. The Gewurztraminer white in the blind tasting was superb, as was the Viognier. A really fun day filled with new ideas and wine facts.
And so to next weekend when Hubby and I present the Grande Finale in our 100 Wine Challenge - cheers !!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A very exciting time

I am so excited - 29th November is our Grande Finale for the #100 Wine Challenge for our scout group Nuneaton North's 100th birthday. I cannot believe it's been a year since I heard the words pop out of my mouth saying I'd host a 100 wine tastings !!

It did seem an impossible task to begin with, especially with a bottle budget of just £4.50 - even more of a task when 100 cheeses were added to the challenge.

But we are nearly there and it has been great fun, both in sourcing the wines, preparing the evenings and of course the tastings. If you've missed any of my blogs here's the link to each round so far :

And so to our final round - Sparklers and the rest - over the year we have been very lucky to have received some lovely donations from various people - trade, friends and families.
I have put aside any special donations for our final tasting and managed to buy a few extra nice ones whilst in France. We'll also be having champagne and fizz as it's nearly Christmas. I am nearly ready, I just need to decide the tasting order and I think I need four more to make the 100 total !!
I have added thanks on each blog but I'd like to do a roll call so far as I really am grateful for all the support we've had - THANK YOU !!
Julie & Paul Sibson
Sarah & Ian Maycock
Jan & Keith Cornford
Beverley & Alan Mycock
Gill & James Platt
I could not have kept to my budget without the above donations, nor without our amazing superstores. We are very lucky here in the UK to have so much choice and I have been browsing the shelves and grabbing the bargains. Thanks goes to our favourite French superstores too.
From all members of Nuneaton North Scout Group we'd like to say a BIG THANK YOU - raise a glass with us on November 29th !!

Nuneaton North Scout Group 1914 - 2014
100th Birthday Photo

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Icmeler - the place to relax

Hubby and I are not really hotel/package holiday people. In fact our last such holiday was in 1989 - our honeymoon!!

However we decided to try an all inclusive week as the final celebration in our 25th anniversary year - our destination .... Seastar Hotel in Icmeler, Turkey.

My lovely hotel slippers
Seastar is a new hotel this year and the reviews on Trip Advisor were amazing ... until a month before we went when its rating began to slide. We were quite concerned and began our journey with a few worries.

Heaven knows why because Seastar is amazing - we now know some unscrupulous people were posting poor reviews, some having never even visited; Trip Advisor needs a few safeguards adding to protect businesses.

Our journey began at Birmingham airport very early for a 8am flight. Thomas Cook airlines were very efficient and although I am no love of flying both journeys were 'ok'. The transfer from Dalaman Airport took a little longer than we expected as our mini-coach did not like going up steep hills and our driver seemed to have forgotten where the hotel was !!

The hotel is stunning, so modern, so clean, such friendly staff. Our room was huge, a kingsize bed with two armchairs and table, balcony with two chairs and a fabulous bathroom with walkin rainhead shower.

Seastar Hotel from the sea
View from our balcony
(looking along the hotel)
Looking back at the hotel
from the poolside
Our favourite chairs between the
hotel and the sea
The food was amazing - so much to choose from. Every meal had three cold counters full of delicious fresh food and a hot side with 7 or 8 heated tureens. We ate three, three course meals a day !! but not so we were over full, just bits of everything as it was so nice. There was also a snack bar with pizzas, burgers and chips open all afternoon.

Drinks were available all day, hot or cold, alcoholic or soft. The waiting staff were brilliant, water and wine with lunch and dinner and continuous drink service by the pool or on the beach. Our room had a mini bar that was permanently socked as well as tea/coffee facilities. We were truly pampered - it was so relaxing not worrying about whether we had enough cash to buy a drink, I think that was a big plus for us, not about actual cost but the no need for money freedom.

Wine and olives
Cold Buffet
Sweet Buffet
Hot Tureens
We spent most of our time sitting on the rattan sofas pool side but facing the promenade and sea. We did lie on the sun loungers a few times but sun bathing is not really our 'thing'. We were expecting weather of 23-26 degrees but actually had 28-33 degrees. A little hot for us but sitting on the sofas reading and watching the world go by was extremely relaxing.
We did take the ferry boat into Marmaris one day - a fantastic 20 minute trip for just £3.30. Marmaris has a huge marina, the German cruise ship Aida was in port when we went. It also has a castle and a covered bazaar with over 300 shops in. Although the shopkeepers encourage you to look and buy there was no pressure, we just said 'no thank you' and walked by.
Marmaris Harbour
Turkish alley
Tall ships with Icmeler in the background
View from Marmaris Castle
Marmaris Castle

Although we said hotel/package holidays were not for us we had an amazing time - we are definitely not beach/pool sunbathers but loved the all inclusive pampering, weather and Turkish people. The hotel staff were amazing - they even sent us a bottle of wine and fruit bowl to our room as an anniversary treat. I think these photos show how much we enjoyed ourselves:
Marmaris Castle
On the ferry boat

Seastar Hotel
In the Seastar lounge
Huge thank you to Melis and all the SeaStar staff - we'll see you all next year as yes, we've booked again!!!!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Etaples and Lille

(lots of photos)

Our holiday this year was a little later than normal as I am no longer restricted to school holidays. Hubby and I decided to return for the third year to Etaples and the beautiful Fisherman's Cottage, it really is like a Tardis inside.

Beautiful lounge through to the kitchen
through to the dining room
Having spent a lovely weekend in London (Saints Bar & London post) we only had the London to Dover drive which was so much easier than from here at home. Early Sunday we drove to Euston and meet our daughter Philippa who was spending the first few days with us in France.

Arriving early at the docks P & O kindly allocated us an earlier crossing which to my relief was lovely and smooth, arriving in France mid afternoon.

Etaples is just a short drive from Calais so we were soon settled, Philippa loved the cottage and thought it was huge inside. Sunday evening we enjoyed a meal at Buffalo Grill followed, on Monday, by a trip to Saint Valery sur Somme. We drove first to Le Hourdel which is a lighthouse at the southern point of the Somme Estuary.

Philippa, Me and Hubby (taking photos)
Le Hourdel
Huge expanse of beach - in the far, far, far distance
 lay a small group of seals sunbathing
Saint Valery sur Somme
ancient town
Philippa - beautiful French scene
Tuesday is market day in Etaples which is always great fun; such lovely fruit and veg, bread, cheese and meat stalls. Our favourite bar/café is Au Vieux Port and a coffee outside on market day is a must, as was a last night (for Philippa) meal later that day.

We squeezed in a quick trip to Montrueil-sur-mer Tuesday afternoon. It's a beautiful place, the setting/inspiration for Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, and was once the port for La Canche but as the river has silted over time the harbour is now at Etaples and Montrueil has very little 'mer'.
Ramparts at Montreuil-sur-Mer
Montreuil's cobbled streets
Philippa returned home by Eurostar, so Wednesday was a trip to Calais. Hubby and I used the day to do a little wine checking for our later purchases for ourselves and Round 4 of the Wine Challenge.

Thursday was quite emotional. Hubby and I walked to the Etaples Military Cemetery about 1.5 miles out of town. I have been doing some work at Nuneaton Library documenting World War 1 stories and Etaples played a major role. It had the largest Military Hospital and was a resting camp between Boulogne and the front line. Although this was our third visit to Etaples it was our first to the cemetery, I had seen the name on some of the paperwork I have researched and so now felt I had a small connection and better understanding.

It was an incredible place to be - so still - even with a hive of generators and workers re-engraving the headstones with mini drills, the railway running by and traffic on the main road.
Etaples Military Cemetery
A metal box set in the wall containing
a visitors book & books of all grave details
 in alphabetical order
 10,816 lie here - 35 unidentified
So peaceful even with engravers (right) at work
My grandfather was in this regiment
- I wonder if they served together?
Their names liveth forevermore
Saturday we went to the museum in Etaples as they had an additional exhibition about the British Hospital. The maps were fascinating showing the resting camps, hospital camp and the cemetery across the main road. The railway (so important during the war) was clearly dominant with some of the roads still the same.

 All in all quite a moving, interesting and thoughtful visit to both the cemetery and museum.

On our last night we returned to Au Vieux Port for dinner - there is so much choice on the menu but I couldn't resist Mussels au Bleu. They were delicious and so many it took me 50 minutes to eat. Hubby enjoyed a lovely duck dish, we both had café gourmand for dessert, with bubbly - Blanquette de Bourgogne - perfect.

Mussels with blue cheese sauce
Duck breast
Café Gourmand
Our week in Etaples passed by so quickly, it's a lovely town which is beginning to feel like a old friend. We had some rest days as well as trips out and enjoyed many evenings on 'our bench' harbourside although being later in the season the airport & harbour were quieter with the nights drawing in.
Sitting on our bench
We didn't return straight home from Etaples but travelled north to Lille, a town we've wanted to visit and loved the old part. The streets are all cobbled, the buildings are beautiful old Flemish style and the atmosphere city like without being overbearingly busy. The roads were very confusing - they sort of merge with the paved pedestrian areas so when you're walking it's confusing to suddenly be 'crossing a road'.

Lille centre
Church courtyard

Beautiful buildings
Garden at Porte de Paris
Stunning floor, windows and statutes
Porte de Paris - still has it's drawbridge through
original gateway
Loved this windmill on the outskirts of Lille
3 Brasseurs
Welsh and chips (scoop shaped)
Another wonderful holiday in my favourite country France - and Monday we're off to Turkey. I'm not very good at flying, in fact after our honeymoon 25 years ago I've only flown 3 times. We have not done hotel package holidays since our honeymoon so a whole new experience going all inclusive to Turkey - a great way to end our Silver Anniversary celebrations :)