Sunday, 21 June 2015

Butcher, Baker and Winemaker with Yalumba

There are times when thank you does not quite say what you mean and this is one of those occasions; huge gratitude and 'thanks' to Yalumba, Negociants, Joseph Benjamin and Tesco Wines for an amazing evening.

As a member of Tesco Wine Community  I have tasted and reviewed many wines and our recent challenge was to review two Yalumba wines; Y Series Shiraz Voignier and Old Bush Vine Grenache. Both lovely red wines, you can read my reviews on my previous blog King Richard III and Yalumba.

From my review we were invited to a pop up dinner 'Butcher, Baker, and Winemaker' at Joseph Benjamin in Chester with Yalumba Wines' winemaker Louisa Rose. Chester is about 100 miles away so we took the opportunity to stay over but more about that at the end of my blog. 

Joseph Benjamin is a restaurant run by brothers Ben & Joe. Front of house is expertly managed by Ben with a warm welcome and knowledgeable wine conversation, whilst Joe's kitchen produces amazing locally sourced seasonable food. 

The restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere which still provides an intimate feel, even when full of 35 enthusiasts all sharing wine tips and recommendations. The acoustics and decoration provide just the right level of noise so although sitting in a 'hum' you can easily chat to your table companions. 

We were greeted by Ben and a chilled glass of Yalumba Y Series Riesling 2014. Its lovely light bouquet matched the light golden yellow of this non oily Riesling. A fresh palate of pears and slight citrus with a smooth finish made this a beautiful wine to sip whilst meeting fellow TWC members  and other guests.

The very efficient, polite and professional waitresses mingled amongst us offering delicious canapes from Joe's kitchen: homemade pitta breads with feta & pistachio and hummus, just perfect with the chilled Riesling. 

Our window table for two was great, with other diners close by without invading our space. The pop up dinner highlighted Yalumba wines with the experienced and much acclaimed Chief Winemaker Louisa Rose being in the UK to share her knowledge of their wines. It was a pleasure to meet Louisa and chat about wine, Australia and her visit to England. Throughout our meal she shared much information about the individual wines; Yalumba as a company and its vision; all of which left me with an even stronger desire to visit Barossa Valley. 

Our first course was Jamon Iberico and cured beef Cecina with celeriac remoulade, guindilla chilli and nasturtium flower; superb food which was superbly matched with two wines, Yalumba Eden Valley Rousanne and Yalumba Barossa Old Bush Vine Grenache. 

Eden Valley Rousanne is a young wine made from vines originating in the Rhone Valley, France. It has a slightly oily nose with vanilla highlights. It is a syrupy wine without being sweet and has a palate full of fresh fruit with just a hint of vanilla. 

Old Bush Vine Grenache was already one of my favourite Yalumba wines being one of the wines reviewed. These vines are some of the oldest in Australia and it certainly has mature characteristics. A medium red wine full of fruit with cherries being the highlight both in nose and palate. Its light tannins and complex flavours leave a warming finish and a deep appreciative sigh. 

Our fish course was scallop, baba ghanoush, mango salsa, pickled cockles and agretti. So many elements new to me, I was amazed at the complexity of flavours on my plate all of which complimented each other perfectly. Yalumba Eden Valley Voignier was the match for this dish and Louisa's favourite wine being the grape she has focused on over her 20 years with Yalumba.  

Again these vines originate in France with Viognier being little used a sole variety. In fact until a few years ago my only knowledge of this grape was from a vineyard in La Clape, France, where a vintner had added it to his 1996 chardonnay to lift the wine. 

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier was full of ginger, peaches, apricots with a light biscuity finish, a great wine with our scallop.

Two red wines accompanied our main course of lamb rump, crushed Cheshire new potatoes, peas and asparagrus a la Francaise, bacon, chargrilled gem lettuce and pea shoot. Yalumba Patchwork Shiraz was a deep crimson red fruity wine with a spiced, woody nose. A sharp zesty palate full of fruit finished with spice but without tannin. This Barossa Shiraz had a subtle hint of chocolate which enhanced its cherriness  and was beautiful with the lamb. 

The second red, Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, was also a dark crimson in the glass. The Signature is a significant wine full of rich fruit, woody notes and full tannins. A special 2010 wine that I would like to try again in a few years once the flavours have intensified even more. 

Louisa spoke about the harmony between the land, the vines and the wine. Yalumba work towards a natural balance between the birds, pastures, animals; the balance of nature is a very important aspect of this Australian winemaker. Joe and Ben also believe in the balance of nature which is shown in their excellent dishes, the vegetables for which were supplied by The Natural Veg Men. Matt, a co-founder, spoke about the importance of growing and eating seasonal vegetables, how what we eat matters and how we need to work in harmony with the land: the same ethos as Yalumba, Joseph Benjamin and John Bourne, cheesemaker. 

Cheese making has been in John's family for over 90 years with the pastures on his land being undisturbed. His cows graze in pastures, again in harmony with the land and his cheese is traditionally made using methods passed down through generations. John reiterated the evening's overall message ' butcher, baker and winemaker', all working hand in hand with the land, be it in the northern or southern hemisphere. 

Before trying John's cheese came dessert; lemon, polenta, pistachio and olive oil cake with strawberry sorbet. This unusual sounding cake was delicious, so moist with a lemon, nutty flavour, perfectly accompanied by the sorbet and our final Yalumba wine: FSW8b Botrytis Viognier. This sweet wine, produced by allowing Noble Rot, has all the characteristics of the voignier but with a clean syrupy finish, full of honey flavours.

Honey featured in our final dish, Bourne's blue Cheshire cheese with caramelised walnuts and Joe and Ben's own honey. A perfect end to an amazing night - well almost, just as we were leaving Alex from Negociants surprised me with a beautiful Yalumba apron. The waitresses had worn them all evening, much to my admiration and I had questioned if they were available via Twitter - sucj a surprise and seriously appreciated. 

The entire evening was amazing; Joe and Ben's restaurant, Yalumba's wine with Louisa's expert knowledge, Matt's vegetables and John's cheese -
as I said before 'thank you' does not say enough. 

Staying over in Chester was also a joy, we booked in at The Pied Bull a few doors away from Joseph Benjamin. A pub that dates from 1155 with a staircase that was quite a challenge with it's uneven treads and depth, but not surprisingly so as it dates back to 1533. Our standard room was lovely, with an amazing en-suite shower room. The pub also has a four-poster room, deluxe rooms and a penthouse. Our light lunch and breakfast we delicious, as was their beer - the Pied Bull is also a microbrewery. 

A place we will be staying at again as Chester is a beautiful city, the accommodation lovely and we intend to visit Joseph Benjamin to enjoy Ben's hospitality and Joe's amazing food. .  
Joseph Benjamin through Chester's Northgate
The Pied Bull

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Fantastic holiday in Brittany

Hubby and I are mainly independent travellers - I love the finding and planning side of a holiday and those who follow me on Twitter will know how excited I get as our trips get nearer (we've another one on Thursday!).

We decided this year to have a return trip to Southern Brittany, however staying in a new area, Guidel-Plage. Although we usually book a gite or house this seafront apartment on Home & Away caught our eye with it's spectacular view.

Getting to France is part of our holiday fun and a Portsmouth to Caen crossing seemed to be the best option. We have used this route before, first in 1992 with my Dad and our 20 month old son, and again in 2000 with my Dad and our two children, then 10 and 6. It was lovely to retrace our steps.

Amazingly when we checked old photos back home we had actually sailed on the same boat - Normandie - in 1992 it was a new vessel.
My Dad's photo from 1992
Sunny but a breezy day as we left Portsmouth
Brittany Ferries offer a great service for this crossing with quite a few options including overnight - we chose Friday afternoon and booked a cabin for the 5 3/4 hour journey. The journey to Portsmouth was so much easier than trying to get round London on the M25, we even had time for a pub lunch before checking in.

Saying I get excited I did tweet Brittany Ferries as part of my holiday countdown (am I really turning 50 soon??) - to our surprise at check in we were given an envelope with this very thoughtful gesture inside - thank you :)
Such a kind gesture from the
Brittany Ferries Twitter Team
And so after finding our spacious 4 berth ensuite cabin and leaving our bags, we stood out on a breezy deck to sail out of Portsmouth. It was great to see everything from the water, we had a mini break here in December, and once at sea we started our holiday in style :)
Long Island Tea Cocktails - thank you Twitter Team
Arriving in Ouistreham brought back many memories but we didn't have time to stop as we were booked into Ibis Herouville Savary for an overnight stop. The next morning, after a quick trip to the supermarket, we set off for Guidel Plage, what a great drive through France.
We love driving through France 
Mont St Michel in the distance 
Marianne and Germain met us with such warmth. We were delighted to find we had an underground garage with secure access, and even the 4 flights of stairs did not curtail our excitement although we were grateful to have 4 pairs of hands to carry our luggage. The apartment was stunning - amazing views, good facilities, very clean. It didn't take us long to settle in.

Our panoramic view  
View from inside the apartment
The harbour 
The bars below us
The terrasse was just perfect for sitting and watching the tide go in and out, the boats navigate the inlet, surfers, jet skiers, fishermen, walkers and families enjoying the beach. We could have quite easily stayed in Guidel Plage all week but we did travel around a little.

Les Roches des Diablo (Devil's Rock) was a beautiful ravine, quite a story and amazing rocks balancing on each other. Quimperlé was previously the harbour for our river inlet, it's hard to imagine how the boats got all the way inland.

Les Roches des Diablo
Beautiful scenery

King of the rocks 
Bridge at Quimperlé
Pont Aven was another beautiful little town, touristy shops but a great harbour, and river running through. There was evidence of many water mills in the past and one ancient relic (still in use) made us smile !!
Pont Aven old water mill courses
Quirky bridge
Pont Aven harbour
Need to 'spend a penny?' - Original WC 
Another of our reminiscing trips was to Concarneau, a place we last visited in 2000. It hadn't changed much but we may have. Dad was with us last time and our children, now in their 20s, were much younger.
The four of us in 2000
Concarneau in 2015
Concarneau archway 
Our final re-visit was to Carnac Plage, this was where we had actually holidayed in 2000. Things had changed in the town but we did recognise a few places. We did however remember the menhirs (standing stones), they are amazing!

The Giant (the stone not me!!)
Rows of menhirs

Amazing stones


The Tor in 2015
On top of the Tor in 2000
Brittany is not an area known for wine but cider. We did enjoy a glass or two and I especially liked Kir Breton which is cider with blackcurrant cordial. The food was lovely, as it always is in France. Some of the dishes we had wouldn't have been out of place on Masterchef, but served as an ordinary lunchtime dish. It was great to cook at the apartment too, dining with a view. We had a few cheeky visitors too - they even cheeped at the patio doorway for more food !!

Cheeky bird
Keeping watch
Calvados and beer
Lunch on the terasse
Oysters and prawns
And so to the end of an amazing week - but not quite. Marianne and Germain waved us off and we had another great drive up to Ouistreham for another overnight stop, this time on the dock side at Ibis Styles. It was our first time staying in a Styles although we do stay with Ibis on many occasions and we will be staying again, it was a great hotel.

After a final french meal out we sat outside with a glass of wine to watch the International Space Station fly over and suddenly fireworks went off directly opposite our hotel. It was Fete de La Nautisme (festival of the sea) over the weekend hence the fireworks.

Sunday morning arrived and so did the Normandie to take us back to Portsmouth. Such a great holiday with many people and businesses playing a part but as always y biggest thanks goes to my lovely Hubby Nick :)

Now we have more memories of Brittany, it was great to share some and look at the old photos with Michael and Philippa once we returned home, bit a little sad we can't tell my Dad.

My Dad and a very young Michael
A final glass of Calvados
Fantastic holiday - thank you Nick x x