Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Drop the Gin is going well

I must start this post with a HUGE thank you to everyone who has supported our fundraising for Cancer Research and my local hospital's Breast Care Unit. Philippa and I are so grateful and for me personally it gives a focus through some difficult days.

Chemotherapy smiles
It's half way through our Dry January challenge and Philippa and I are doing ok. I have discovered some lovely non-alcoholic gin, tried some no alcohol wine and Philippa is enjoying Elderflower cordial.

Quite refreshing
although it's the same price as real gin !
My non-alcoholic rose wine
I am starting to think about a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc, mainly because I'm feeling better after my first week of chemotherapy. I'll hold out though for our bottle of Champagne Autreau chilling nicely for 1st February. It's a bottle we purchased when we had a superb visit to their domaine in 2018.

The beautiful flowers in my non wine photo are a surprise gift from Jo and everyone at Cellier des Dauphins - I have fond memories of being at their launch evening last November, here's the link to our super evening. My flowers are still looking lovely a week on, thank you Jo.

Today I had another surprise; a rose, some tea and some shortbread from Brittany Ferries. We've travelled on many of their boats; one of our early sailing was in 1992 and last year I woke up on my birthday onboard Normandie with room service breakfast- so lovely as you can see in my 'Our petit tour de France' post.

Thank you so much to the Brittany Ferries team, you made my day.

This week I am feeling more like myself, although I don't seem to have much energy. Next week they say I'll feel good, there's more hospital appointments and a dreaded blood test before my second round of chemotherapy. It's a totally new world to Hubby and I: scary, worrying, confusing but we are hoping to resume our little trips away as the weeks progress.

Thank you again to everyone for your kindness, I really do appreciate it 😍

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

2020 starts with a Challenge

Life for me turned upside down early December when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The weeks up to Christmas were daily visits to either our local hospital or Coventry for numerous scans and tests, hard for anyone but with my severe needle phobia each visit was quite traumatic.

Just after Christmas I had three lymph nodes removed and yesterday I had a titanium clip inserted in the tumour. I now face 6 months of chemotherapy followed by a second operation to remove the lump which should by then be tiny.

Nick has been amazing, it hit us both out of the blue, our holiday to Copenhagen had to be cancelled and some of our Christmas plans altered. It's a blessing we are both retired and can work together through this.

2020 will be a tough year for us, and always up for a challenge Philippa and I have decided to do Dry January. It will give me a purpose and a focus away from treatments and needles.

We have set up a Virgin Money donation page 'Clare and Philippa - Drop the Gin' and will be splitting any monies given between George Eliot Breast Care Unit and Cancer Research.

Starting at midnight with just the New Year toast we plan to stay alcohol free until midnight January 31st .... we have Nosecco ready for today's New Year lunch and plan to try some of the non-alcoholic gins that are now available.

Wishing you a very Happy New Year
 - here's hoping it progresses as planned for us all.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

St Andrew's Day and Dram Fest

I love to match our dinners to special days, not just birthdays, Easter and Christmas but saints days and country celebration days too. It's a great way to try new food and recipes.

November 30th is St Andrew's Day, the Patron Saint of Scotland but as our main Scottish celebration day is Burn's Night early in the year yesterday's meal was a 'nod'.

Our main was steak - Aberdeen Angus steak - from Aldi, we have tried many other supermarkets and butchers but still prefer theirs, great value too.

I found a new recipe for Scottish baking which included a marmalade cake, quite different as it was made using oil not butter. A very moist cake with plenty of orange flavour, next time I might crystallize some orange peel for the topping.

Of course it would not be a Scottish meal without a 'wee dram'. Hubby and I learnt so much about whisky on our trip to Scotland last May, you can read about our adventures in my May posts. I really enjoyed our visit to the Glen Moray Distillery and I especially liked their Chardonnay Cask, my St Andrew's Day toast.

Earlier in November Hubby and I, along with three friends, visited Dram Fest in Leicester, a superb day hosted by 23 Wine and Whiskey. We have done many wine tasting but never a whisky tasting - but we will again !

It was a superb day, over 250 whiskies with a chance to chat to the actual distillers, so much to learn, so much to taste. We all had an amazing day as you can see from the photos.- thank you to everyone.

A super day had by all ...

.... and we were 'papped' 

Monday, 18 November 2019

Cellier des Dauphins

Hubby and I have been enjoying Cellier des Dauphins wine for many years. Our must do on holidays in France with my dad when our children were young was dinner at Flunch.

Flunch is a self service restaurant found within supermarket complexes in most large cities and towns. It caters really well for children with their meals including an ice cream and a toy .... we still have a Flunch kite!

However we are not the kind caring parents my above paragraph portrays .... our reason for eating at Flunch was because their wine was Cellier des Dauphins. Hubby, Dad and I looked forward to our Flunch meal and red wine, always a highlight.

Dinner at Flunch 
A number of years later, enjoying Cellier des Dauphins in France and bringing many bottles home in the meantime,  we met Jo Thompson at a wine fair in London. Jo is owner/director of Belleville Marketing who promote this superb French wine here in the UK.

In 2016 as part of our superb holiday in the Cotes du Rhone (Visan to Chateauneuf-du-Pape) Jo kindly arranged a wine tasting for us with Cellier des Dauphins. What a superb tasting it was, having enjoyed their wine for many years we felt very privileged to have a private tasting. You can read about our amazing day on my Cellier des Dauphins dedicated blog page.

Les Dauphins is the UK labelling for Cellier des Dauphins so for a number of years we have been very pleased to be able to buy at home. However the Cellier des Dauphins label will now be the UK branding and last week Hubby and I joined Jo at Noize Restaurant in London to meet Laurent Paré, Cellier des Dauphins new Chief Oenologist.

It was lovely to meet Laurent and talk about
our favourite French wine and our holidays.
Another great evening with Jo
Noize Restaurant was a super venue, their cellar a perfect venue for tasting French wine. Throughout the evening they served amazing canapes; pork, prawns, cheese gougeres and mushroom palmiers.

Based in Tulette Cellier des Dauphins has been a wine co-operative since 1967 with 2,300 winegrowers and 12,500 hectares of vines covering around 20 appellations including many of the Cotes du Rhone named villages.

Our evening's tasting began with Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhone Blanc made with Viognier and Grenache Blanc. A clean white wine with a floral nose and delicious citrus finish.

Les Dauphins Blanc
Cellier des Dauphins Reserve Blanc is also a Viognier Grenache Blanc wine but with Marsanne and Roussane. This wine was very elegant, a lovely rounded wine with flavours of apricots.

Both white wines were superb, great examples of white Cotes du Rhone and both very much enjoyed.

Cellier des Dauphins Reserve Blanc
The first red in our tasting, Les Dauphins Rouge, is made from Grenache Noir and Syrah. It was full of ripe dark fruits with a hint of spice on the finish. This wine is very similar to the wine we used to drink in France, a memory in every sip.
Les Dauphins Rouge
Cellier des Dauphins Reserve Rouge is a full bodied Syrah Grenache wine with soft tannins full of black fruits and a long comforting finish. In the 16th Decanter World Wine Awards this wine scored 97 points and was awarded the Platinum Medal.
Cellier des Dauphins Reserve Rouge
Vinsobres, one of the named villages, is made with Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. This village rises giving altitude to its vineyards. It's a wine full of cherry and black currant flavours with hints of spice and an edge of vanilla.

Cru des Cotes du Rhone Vinsobres 
Puymeras and Plan de Dieu are two of Cellier des Dauphins wines that feature photographs of the wine growers on the label: Puymeras is produced by Laury and Plan de Dieu by Mathieu.

Puymeras village is at the foothills of the southern Alps. This named village wine is full of rich dark fruit, it's made from Grenache with great depth and body and a warming finish.

Plan de Dieu is a wine region on the flat plains and is made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Another deep wine of black fruit and high spice notes with a herby edge.
Puymeras and Plan de Dieu
Every bottle of the Cellier des Dauphins wines was superb, all slightly different but with a background similarity of Cotes du Rhone. As well as the wines mention above we also tasted Cairanne from their Cru des Cotes du Rhone, another superb wine.

Cellier des Dauphins Cru des Cotes du Rhone 
Thank you Jo for our Gifted bottles, my 2CV wine holder is now complete with its illuminated Les Dauphins bottle.

Cellier des Dauphins to us is far more than a wine; it's an old friend who brings fond memories and great enjoyment with every glass.

Hubby and I had a wonderful evening, thank you Jo, Laurent and Pauline.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Wines from France

Our latest wine tasting with our Scout Leaders was all about French wine. As Hubby and I were holidaying in the eastern Loire we brought back wines from one of the main French Supermarkets, along with a special wine for our dessert.

Our evening began with a traditional French aperitif, Pastis. Very similar to Ouzo and Pernod this clear liquid is aniseed flavour which is diluted with water to taste. Not everyone liked aniseed but those who did really enjoyed the refreshing drink accompanied with peanut flavour puff snacks.

Our wine tasting began with three white wines, one from the Alsace, one from the Loire and our third from Burgundy. Sylvaner has a distinctive tall thin green bottle as with most Alsace wines. It's not as widely known here in the UK as other wines from this French/German area of France.

Sylvaner is a crisp clean white wine that suits seafood and fresh salads; an elegant flavour of green apples with a subtle hint of minerals leading to a dry crisp finish. It was a new wine to everyone and was one of the evenings favourites.

Touraine Sauvignon Blanc is always enjoyed by everyone so this wine was included not so much as a new discovery but as an enjoyment of an old favourite.

Our third white wine however was new, Bourgogne Aligote is a light wine from Burgundy that is sometimes blended with Chardonnay. This was 100% Aligote and although fruity and fresh, with a soft finish it was a little light in flavour. This of course could have been due to have just enjoyed the weighty full flavoured  Touraine.

I have to thank Heather Dougherty for our choice of rosé wine; on a visit to London Fair in 2018 she recommended Tavel a beautiful wine from the Southern Rhone.

Across the river Rhone from Chateauneuf-du-Pape this Grenache Syrah rose is full of flavour, you can taste the warmth of  southern France.

Lovely red berries and wild strawberries with a slight peppery finish makes this one of the nicest rosé wines I have tasted.

Not all our group are rosé drinkers but they all enjoyed their glass of Tavel.

Our next wines were tasted in pairs starting with a superb wine from the Loire Valley. I have been a fan of Cheverny for many years, dominantly Sauvignon Blanc with a small percentage of Chardonnay this white is one of my must buys when in France. Flavours of grapefruit, apple and  white peaches, it is such an elegant, smooth wine with a long lasting length to its finish.

However I have never tasted Cheverny rouge; made from Gamay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc this wine is full of raspberries and red fruit. Everyone really enjoyed this, it was quite a surprise and is now also on our to buy list.

Our second pair were from Burgundy, both single grape wines. Bourgogne Chardonnay had quite a buttery flavour with an edge of vegetation. It was a creamier wine than I expected and I'm sure would be superb with a chicken dinner.

Borgogne Pinot Noir had all the expected characteristics of cherries and oakiness. Its tannins were soft making it quite an easy drinking wine. I do enjoy Pinot Noir but it isn't my favourite red wine; I'm sure it would pair well with a red meat dinner, a thought agreed with at our tasting.

And so to our red wines, four in total from the southern half of France. Beginning with a wine of two grapes the tasting progressed with slight changes, beginning with a glass of Ventoux.

This appellation is on the south east edge of Cotes du Rhone and north west edge of Provence. Mont Ventoux stands alone high above the vineyards and is a challenge to cyclists and hikers, it is often a stage in the Tour de France.

Ventoux is made from Grenache and Syrah grapes. It has a full red berry fruitiness which comes from the Grenache being the dominant grape, followed by a kick of spice from the Syrah. Its a lovely example of a Cotes du Rhone wine that can be enjoyed on its own or with a meaty meal.

Our second red was from the Languedoc area, a Corbieres wine which we have enjoyed on many holidays on the Mediterranean coast. The same grapes as our first red but as Syrah is the dominant there is more spice. As well as Grenache giving fruit it has a small percentage of Carignan which brings out the blackcurrant and blackberry flavours.

Staying with these grapes for our third wine our Cotes du Rhone had, as expected, Grenache as its main grape with Syrah and Carignan. Additionally this rich dark red has Merlot and Cinsault giving it more stone fruit flavours such as plums and damsons. it was interesting to see how these wines changed with the change of dominant grape and the addition of others.

Our final red was from Bordeaux, Cotes de Bourg has Cabernet Sauvignon as its main grape combined with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Of the four red wines this has the deepest red fruits and the most depth of flavour. Everyone enjoyed our journey through these reds but the favourite was the Cotes du Rhone.

Our final wine was a real treat. You may have read my previous post about our visit to Monmousseau where we discovered the most delicious sparkling red wine we have ever tasted.  Made from Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Carignan it was full of cherries, blackberries and blackcurrants with such an abundance of fine bubbles.

On our visit we had been recommended to pair this with chocolate so I made chocolate profiteroles - the combination was heaven, the perfect way to end our evening of French wine.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019


Hubby and I have enjoyed many holidays in the Loire Valley and although there are many places we have yet to visit we couldn't pass through without revisiting Monmousseau

Just outside Montricard, near Chenonceaux Chateau this domaine makes superb sparkling wine in the traditional method using Chenin Blanc. Monmousseau also produce still wines under the Touraine, Vouvray and Chenonceaux appellations using Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Gamay grapes.

Monmousseau stands high above the valley of the River Cher, known as the King's Valley, with amazing views over the hillsides and inland waterways. 

Monmousseau grapes
This region is famous for its tuffeau stone, quarried for building the beautiful Loire chateaux. Alcide Monmousseau, in 1886, transformed the old quarry tunnels into wine making cellars. The site has 15km of underground caves at a constant temperature of 12 degrees, perfect for the production of traditionally made sparkling wine.

These caves, still being used today for production, are fascinating to tour. Our visit began outside taking in the stunning scenery before using a key code to enter the caves. It was a self guided tour, armed with an information sheet but no hard hat or other safety equipment, we ventured forth ....

The entrance to the caves
The quarried out stone cave stretched before us
Thousands of score Mark's from the quarrying
Its amazing to think these tunnels were dug by hand, the old photos show how dangerous the work was.

The extensive cave network is now, as well as being a wine cave, an art exhibition. Painting are projected onto the walls in an amazing 3D effect. Natalie Dahon and ReNo Menat are the two artists responsible for this beautiful work. Inspired by this rocky universe, my photos do not do their work justice, it was superb. You'll need to look carefully to see the tunnels, some art is in the enclosed alcoves of the caves.

After the amazing artwork we moved into the wine making part of the tour. It was quite surreal to have to move aside as the forklift truck and driver carried out their daily work, a tour that makes you feel part of the wine production.

Having visited many canvas in the Champagne region Hubby and I have seen many displays of rotating cages and wine making equipment but we are always taken aback by the storage quantities. Monmousseau was no exception, thousands of bottles stacked in bays, a practice going back many years.

An old photograph showing the wine in storage 
Today's bottles 
One exploded bottle, but the rest stay safe
After the tour in the caves we returned to the main shop/reception area - this used to be part of the main production as you can see in this old photo and the photo we took on our visit.


The room now, you can see the same arch above the doorway on the left
Cremant de Loire is a superb sparkling wine of which Hubby and I have enjoyed many, however it is difficult to buy Monmousseau in French supermarkets or in the UK. We enjoyed a super tasting trying four of the range on offer. The wines range from being very dry to a sweet red sparkling wine, quite a surprise to us. 

I cannot honestly say which was my favourite, some I enjoyed more than others but given a larger pocket and much larger boot I would have brought many more bottles home.

Monmousseau tasting
Our four sparkling wine tastings 
The three that made it home including the superb sparkling red 
Two fabulous still wines also produced by Monmousseau
It was another fantastic visit, the caves with their artwork were amazing. We will be enjoying Monmousseau at home with fond memories and will certainly be visiting again if we visit or pass by the Loire on one of our many trips to France.