Thursday, 23 April 2015

Calais Encore !!

Last weekend saw us and two other couples pop over to Calais for the weekend. Obviously wine and beer purchase were top of our list but we were also there to enjoy being in France and having a mini break.

Our drive round London on the M25 was amazingly uneventful, even crossing the beautiful Queen Elizabeth II bridge (although it's a bit pricey now and you have to pay online before you cross). It's an amazing structure with great views westward towards Canary Wharf and eastward on the Thames Estuary.

Queen Elizabeth II Bridge
After meeting at Medway Services and driving on to Dover we were very lucky to be allocated an earlier crossing. A fairly smooth P & O sailing on the Pride of Canterbury soon had us arriving on French soil, with a quick hop along the motorway to Pidou Supermarket - well there's no point in delaying our shopping.

Pidou has a vast array of wine, mainly well known brands sold in the UK supermarket; Echo Falls, Blossom Hill, Hardy's VR, as well as spirits, bottled beer and matching beer glasses. Our favourite easy drinking Cotes du Rhone is Celliers des Dauphins and is best priced at Pidou.

Our favourite Cotes du Rhone
Next stop Majestic, probably our favourite shop and checking our receipts now we're home most of our purchases were made here. It's great to see a shop full of all the wines we see at home but at a much more appealing price. The exchange rate at the moment is fantastic making the prices even better. I'm not going to include tasting notes this time - plenty of blogs to follow as we enjoy our buys.

Leon Perdigal (another Cotes du Rhone) was a must, as was a bottle of our favourite champagne Nicolas Feuillatte. Majestic have a great selection of Luis Felipe Edwards, Oxford Landing, Yalumba and Brancott Estate wines; it's a hard choice to decide which to bring home but they do have a tasting station for the obligatory sampling. Duc de Belmont was a red recommended by our friends, it's always good to try new wines.
Majestic Calais - tasting station
And so onto the third of our shopping trio (they are all next to each other) Calais Wine. This shop is amazing, so many offers and so many great wines. I love Otra Vida Viognier and at 3 bottles for £6 it could not stay in France. A new wine to me but recommended by one of our friends was Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc; I'm looking forward to trying this well chilled on a sunny evening.

Calais Wine - an amazing place
One of my favourite wines
Shopping done we drove in convoy to our hotel - Ibis Calais Tunnel Sous la Manche. It's in a great position, easy to access from the autoroutes and is next to Cite Europe for all the bars and restaurants. Our Friday night meal was at 3 Brasseurs, a micro brewery that has chains in Northern France, Belgium and Canada. I had a pallet de degustation which is four small glasses of their four main beers; the others had a beer cocktail, red wine and a little something to share !!

3 litres to share - fabulous idea
My set of four - the darkest was my favourite
The food there is always good, I had their version of a pizza, Flammekueches. For dessert we had Cafe Gourmands which are a great idea. There is a selection of mini desserts, usually about 4 or five and an espresso coffee or cup of tea. It's always hard to choose which dessert is the nicest. We had one Saturday night too when we had another great meal at one of the others restaurants in Cite Europe.
Friday night's Cafe Gourmand - all delicious
Saturday Night Cafe Gourmand with an additional glass of wine
Saturday morning we all squeezed into our 7 seater and set off south, not far, just 30 minutes to Montreuil-sur-Mer. This medieval town was the inspiration for Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. and unknown to us held their markets on a Saturday! After squeezing round the tiny streets we managed to park and take a walk along the town's ramparts. The views stretch far and wide, almost to the sea. It's very evident that the town had a moat as some of the ramparts are steep walls with banks on opposite sides.

Montreuil is where The Wine Society has it's french shop and being as we're members we called by. Unfortunately the wines they stocked were not the ones we or our friends were hoping to buy but we did find Duo des Deux Mers which is one of our favourites. It's a good place to call by if you are in the area.
Montreuil's Ramparts
The Wine Society Shop in Montreuil
Duo des Deux Mers
Moving on from Montreuil we travelled towards the sea and stopped for lunch in Etaples. Nick and I have had three holidays in this harbour town with fishing it's main trade. The weather was beautiful if a little windy but warm enough to have a small picnic on the harbourside watching a few boats sail back in and some small planes taking off from the airport opposite.

On returning to Calais we did our final shopping at Auchan, one of the large supermarkets. Although wine was on my list I do buy many other things in France and this trip had a must - a new Raclette cooker. Our previous one was in much need of being replaced and we found just the one in the electrical department. A new t-shirt, hand wash (refills), shower gel, smoked garlic, cheese, olives, pate, vanilla sugar, coffee and cordials were all happily added to our trolley before we had just a quick look in the wines. We do also bring beer home, namely Belgium beer and this time the brands included Rince Cochon and Kwak. Our best find in Auchan was a Sauvignon from the Ardeche which I had enjoyed last holiday and a great Cremant de Loire which is one of our favourite sparkling wine.

Cremant de Loire
As mentioned we dined in Cite Europe Saturday night, there are plenty of restaurants and bars and although inside it actually feels like you are outside. After two nights at the Ibis and a great two days in and around Calais it was time to travel home. The Pride of Kent cruised us back to Dover over an almost still Channel.

A brilliant weekend with great friends - one I'm sure will be repeated. If you'd like more details about visiting Calais there is a separate page at the top of my blog - definitely worth a trip.

And if you like to chat about wine why not join my online forum Cuveé Reserve, where members share tasting notes, upcoming events and other wine related tips. Please mention you found the forum through my blog and I'll authorise your membership - Cuveé Reserve.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Wine Society

I've been looking at The Wine Society website for a little while, wondering about their vast variety of wines and contemplating joining. I was delighted at Christmas when our grown up children bought us membership and my drooling, contemplating and pondering could at last have the final stage of ordering and most importantly tasting.

The Wine Society first began at the Great Exhibitions in 1874 when a co-operative company began to buy good quality wines and sell them to members. Over 1500 wines are sourced by nine buyers and sold to members; the Society is non-profit making with surplus monies being used to enhance service and supplies.

Membership is a one-off fee of £40 giving you a unique share number. Our membership came with a £20 voucher off our first order which was an added bonus.

And so to choosing wine - what a task ! We decided to choose a random selection as opposed to a mixed case, although we were tempted by Top Society Sellers - a case of the top selling Society wines, 6 red and 6 white. 

Our 'name-the-day' delivery arrived as arranged and we opened our box in eager anticipation. All the wines looked tempting however we dutifully laid them in our rack ready for selection as required, and as we have now tried a few I thought it time to blog our findings (all photos are from The Wine Society page) - tasting notes are always subjective but here's what we discovered.

Duo Des Deux Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin De France 2014
Duo des Deux Mers - France 2013 I was very intrigued with this wine, and I loved it.

It's from the south of France but as the name suggests from two regions. The duo refers to the two grapes in this white, sauvignon from Gascony and viognier from the Languedoc; Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean being the two seas. 

A lovely pale yellow colour with a nose full of gooseberries and pineapples, with a background of crisp green apple. It had a slightly syrupy palette with a smooth finish. A pure dry tasting wine full of  kiwi and gooseberry flavours - but without being sharp or acidic.

The Stop Gap Chardonnay, Vin de France 2013The Stop Gap Chardonnay - France 2013  Another wine that interested me because of its origins, fruit from the Languedoc and Beaujolais, and another I loved.

This white burgundy had a deep yellow colour which matched its creamy vanillaness. It was full of pears, peaches with a spicy tingle to its finish. A lovely unoaked wine with a nose of red apples and just a hint of vanilla.

The Society's RuppertsbergThe Society's Ruppertsberger - Germany 2013  Not our usual choice of grape but this German Riesling caught our eye; it's blended with silvaner which is a new name to us.

Very sparkly in the glass, its straw yellow having striking highlights. We were expecting an oily nose but this Riesling was full of green grass and apples, quite refreshing. It's palette was smooth and cream, with some vanilla; a little like a chardonnay but with a crisp sauvignon finish - not at all as we expected but very much enjoyed.

Half bottle of The Society's Côtes-du-Rhône
The Society's Cotes du Rhone - France 2103 A favourite red grape and a part of France we love so we were keen to try this wine.

A beautiful deep red colour with scarlet highlights led to a nose full of damsons and cherries. Our mouths were filled with the same damsons, sour cherries but joined with a smokey dryness that had a smooth finish. An really enjoyable soft Cotes du Rhone that was without oak and full of fruit.

This will be on our favourites list - a lovely example of a smooth french wine.

Malabarista Tempranillo-Granache - Spain 2012  This wine again is not our usual choice, we are not keen on Rioja but this is from the neighbouring region of Navarra.

It's nose was full of dark fruit but yet quite light, unlike it's colour which was a deep, almost claret-like red. Quite acidic high notes were immediately evident on tasting followed by damsons, plums and a slight aniseed/liquorice note. It was certainly full flavoured with slight tannin and long finish.

We have enjoyed our first few wines from The Wine Society, not only tasting but discovering more about them and adding notes to our tasting book. It's great to have the catalogue to mark wines we've tried - a book that will be travelling with us next weekend as we're visiting France and will have the opportunity to call in at Montreuil-sur-Mer and the Wine Society's french shop.