Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Cocktail time

Last year I was chosen by Aldi to be on their Taste Panel to review their wines; it was a real privilege to be asked to review Chardonnay Pays d'Oc, Prosecco Superiore and two lovely Pinot Noirs.

Chardonay IGP Languedoc
Prosecco Spumante Superiore
Estevez Chilean Pinot Noir
Exquisite New Zealand Pinot Noir
I have applied again to be on Aldi's Taste Panel but in the meantime they asked me to make and review some of their Cocktails. Our son works in the bar trade and cocktails are his speciality so I was very keen to make and try some.

A very large box arrived and to my surprised contained three bottles of spirits; whisky, gin and amaretto.
Oliver Cromwell London Gin
Highland Black Scotch Whisky 
Bellucci Amaretto
Aldi have a lovely range of cocktail recipes - have a look here for some great ideas.

I had a look through and chose three cocktails - one for each spirit.  Although a had a few of the ingredients in our cupboards I had a quick trip to Aldi to buy the fresh ingredients, replacing peaches with nectarines.
The few ingredients I needed to buy 
My cocktail equipment
And so the fun begins (apologies for the yellow photos, electric light is not camera friendly) - the first cocktail I decided to try was The Bellucci Job as this did not need as much preparation as the others. The only change I made was to use a branded vodka as we already had one. I didn't check the freezer and could have done with a little more ice - I made sure it was well stocked for my other two cocktails.
The Bellucci Job ingredients
Muddling the strawberries and sugar
Shake shake shake 
A really easy drink to make, lovely with the sweet strawberries and sharpness from the cranberry. I think this will be a popular summer patio drink in our house. 

Delicious Bellucci Job 
The other two cocktails needed a little pre-preparation; blackberries in sugar syrup and puree nectarines (peaches). I made both of these ready to use the following day for my next two cocktails Grilled Peach Julep and Blackberry Smash 

I'm not a whisky fan but I do like peach which is why I chose the Grilled Peach Julep - and I'm very glad I did. It was delicious with  background kick from the whisky, the fruitiness from the nectarines and the added touch of mint made this a really delicious drink. I did strain it into the glass as I'm not keen on fruit bits. 
Grilled Peach Julep ingredients
Muddling the Highland Black Whisky and mint
Sophisticated Peach Julep with heart ice cubes  
The final cocktail was my favourite and one that I will be making again, and again, and again. It was easy to make the blackberry sugar syrup; it made quite a large quantity so it's in the fridge and will probably be used tonight  to make another Blackberry Smash (I don't think it would keep for more than a few days)
Blackberry Smash ingredients
The fruitiness and sugary syrup were delicious with the citrus kick from the lemon and the subtle mint. Gin was a great spirit to use in this cocktail with it's sharp kick and crispness. 
My favourite cocktail - Blackberry Smash 
Aldi have 15 cocktail recipes which all look easy to make, great for the summer. Thank you Aldi for asking me to try such lovely cocktails - I'll definitely be trying the Cramaretto Pine Sour, Gin Lime & Cucumber Sour, and Mac Daddy - roll on summer.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Cuvée Reserve's Wine Weekend

Cuvée Reserve is the wine forum I host where members share wine discoveries, ideas and tasting notes. Next month sees CR's second anniversary as I started the forum just after meeting with fellow Tesco Wine Community members for the first time in April 2014 (you can read about our antics on this previous post).

For a while the forum ran alongside TWC with members posting on both forums but after Tesco closed its community site Cuvée Reserve became the wine chat home for many.

Cuvée Reserve's Monthly tastings

Every month one of our members chooses a wine under £10 for us all to buy and review; although no-one posts their review until after the 20th to give everyone a chance of an unbiased tasting.

There are so many lovely wines, so many wine outlets and so many different tastes that Cuvée Reserve's collection of reviews is now quite intensive:
338 to date !

It seemed only logical to meet for a weekend to share some of our favourite wines in person; a few members had met before at various events but for some it was the first time - you'd never know as everyone chatted away like long standing friends.

Using the holiday site  Home and Away I booked a lovely house in Stratford-upon-avon for our meet up weekend. It was an ideal location as no-one had too far to travel and Stratford is a lovely town to visit. The house had plenty of bedrooms, all en-suite, kitchen, large lounge and great conservatory dining room with a table big enough to seat us all, perfect for our weekend plans.

Friday night we had a buffet, everyone brought something to add to the meal as well as a bottle of wine or two. We tasted a number of wines as we munched away - a few whites but the evening was predominantly Spanish riojas; not my favourite but such fun trying !!

Our Friday Night buffet with wine !!        (Steph's photo) 
Bubbly - the perfect way to start an evening
Lots of Spanish wine including a magnum of Carinena 
Picpoul Sauvignon and Morgon were two of my favourites
I've added a page to the top of my blog which lists the wines we tasted - thanks to Darren for compiling the list. Here's the link.
Homemade Elderflower

I really enjoyed the Club de Sommeliers Morgon which is 100% Gamay and the Chateau Hervé Laroque, both reds; whilst my favourite whites of the evening were the Symboise La Grande Olivette Picpoul Sauvignon and the Alvi's Drift Chenin Blanc.

I had made a chocolate Guinness cake and to accompany it I took along a bottle of my homemade Elderflower wine, its sweet and syrupiness was a perfect match to the chocolaty dessert.

Saturday dawned, not too early, breakfast followed by a stroll into the town centre. Our first stop was a visit to Holy Trinity Church, Shakespeare's burial place. Although Hubby and I have been to Stratford many times it was the first time we'd visited his grave.

Holy Trinity Church
William Shakespeare's Grave
A 'miss the puddles' walk along the River Avon past the RSC theatre brought us into the shopping area of the town. Lots of window shopping, coffee stop and a look at Shakespeare's Birthplace filled our morning before we popped along to Majestic - yes for wine!!

We were greeted with a lovely glass of bubbly and the tasting table had some lovely wines to try. It was good to browse the shop together to talk about all the wines saying which we'd tried and spotting good buys. You can buy single bottles at Majestic but there's a huge discount if you buy six or more so we all bought one or two to make up the six - as if we really needed more !

Saturday afternoon was chill and relax time before popping open a bottle of Louis Delauney champagne to start the evening off in style. I cooked dinner Saturday night as not knowing a town makes it difficult to ensure a good takeaway. I had prepared most of the food at home so really it was just the cooking to do.

Saturday night bubbly 
We enjoyed more white wine this evening; Karl Pfaffmann Weissburgunder, Karl Pfaffmann Riesling and Randersackerer Ewig Leben all brought over from Germany;   Luis Felipe Edwards Gran Reserva Chardonnay to go with our chicken and a lovely crisp Calvet Reserve Pinot Blanc.

Wine from Germany
A few of our whites ... 
.... and a few more 
The reds flowed too; decanted heavy reds Mayu Syrah Reserva and Ermita de San Lorenzo; Southern France Laurent Miguel L'Artisan Faugéres and my overall favourite red of the weekend Stobi Petit Verdot Barrique. 

Our Saturday night reds
Dessert for Saturday was a ginger biscuit pud - so easy so delicious - and a walnut lemon pavlova. Many of the white wines suited the puddings as although creamy neither were particularly sweet.

Good food and good wine enjoyed with great friends     (Darren's photo)

Before the weekend I asked everyone to buy a wine within the budget of £4.50 - £6.50. Each bottle needed a label on saying who from and where bought and was wrapped up like a gift so the bottle could not be identified. Using raffle tickets we all chose a bottle not knowing who each one was from.

It was like a mini Christmas as everyone opened their 'gift' which was taken home to be tried later and reviewed on Cuvée Reserve.

Hubby received a white Catarratto Terre Siciliane from Steve and my bottle was a Gran Montana Malbec from Dave.
Our mystery bottles unwrapped
The evening extended on into the early hours with music, cheese, biscuits, coffee, wine and laughter - an absolutely amazing evening.

CHEERS !!    (photo - Dave)
Sunday involved packing up, a quick clean round and the difficult game of 'quietly placing a significant number of empties in the recycling bin' !

Cuvée Reserve is a members only forum but membership is open to all - if you'd like to join please follow this link, you'll need a Yuku account first but it is free and please make sure you include an email address in your membership request.

It's an important rugby Saturday for me so it will be Guinness not wine, although there's always Sunday - maybe a good time to review my Malbec prize !

Thank you - what a super weekend - so lovely to spend time together. 
Cuvée Reserve tasting weekend will certainly not be a one off event - keep watching the calendar, I'm sure there have been thoughts of  'next time' wine already !!

Monday, 7 March 2016

Cymru rugby

Friday 26th was an amazing day - a day to remember for a long time. It's always been a dream of mine to watch Wales play rugby at the Millennium Stadium (now known as the Principality Stadium). I'm an English Rose but have always had a soft spot for the Welsh Dragons.

Our daughter now works in Cardiff for the Welsh Rugby Players Association and made my dream come true with tickets to see Wales play against France in the RBS 6 Nations.

Although a Friday afternoon our journey to Cardiff was trouble free and I managed to contain my excitement; both in seeing our daughter and for the game.

Cardiff is a beautiful city: the centre, the bay, the surrounding countryside; it was lovely to see a glimpse of the stadium from the train on our short hop into the centre.
Nearly there - excitement rising!
The game kicked off at 8 so we had plenty of time to have dinner at our favourite restaurant Miller & Carter The Hayes. We were late booking and game days are so busy but they had reserved a table for us which made a perfect start to our evening - thank you !

Fruit beer
Classic burger with Stilton cheese and chips 
Beautiful glass of Argentinean Malbec
I was actually quite calm, managing to keep all emotions inside although I felt like shouting and singing in excitement. Off to the stadium along with 74,000 others, I was ready for the game ....

Ready .....
.... now I'm ready !!! 
The stadium took my breathe away, so huge, full of French and Welsh supporters sitting alongside each other enjoying the amazing atmosphere. The Welsh boys were warming up right in front of us, perfect ;-)

The Welsh Guards, along with their mascot were an impressive sight marching into the stadium followed by two male voice choirs. Their playing and singing was even more impressive as the sound filled the air mingling with the enthusiastic singing of the crowd.... of course that included me !!

There was no way you could miss the entrance of the teams, especially the Welsh Dragons - the cheering, the fires, it was as if the stadium itself was cheering.

An emotional moment was taken to remember those in Fiji, the national anthems were sung with gusto and the dignitary handshakes were made before the game kicked off, a game full of scrums, rucks, penalties, turn overs, two trys  resulting in a Welsh win 19 - 10 :)

The Welsh boys warming up 
Amazing atmosphere 
Kick off 
I absolutely loved it, an amazing evening - thank you Philly. 

The 'must have' evidence photo
After the game Cardiff streets were packed - 74,000 fans enjoying a chilly but dry evening in the many bars and restaurants, filling the streets with merriment. Our post game watering hole was Cellar Bar, lively place with a live saxophonist and a clock that seems to be on extra time - how did it get to 2.30am !!

Saturday dawned bright and sunny but still cold. We popped out to Majestic Cardiff Bay - no we've not changed allegiance although Leicester have put us a fight for us on Twitter

We popped by as last weekend was the first Cuveé Reserve wine tasting weekend and we needed our favourite wines to take and share - the weekend was fab,'read all about it' in my next post.

We decided to walk into Penarth town, up the hairpin path from the Marina up the cliff - the path is fairly easy, just lots of walking back and forth but it's better than straight up steps as the cliff is very steep. Penarth has a small high street with cafes, charity shops, bakers, butchers, flower shops, mainly independents which makes a change from big retailers.

We wandered along to the station, not to catch the train but to visit The Bottle Shop - yes more wine. We'd seen it online and as with the high street shops its always good to visit and independent. Plenty of choice, wines from around the world, some new to us some old favourites. We decided to treat ourselves, I chose a Sauvignon Blanc from the south of France.

My favourite grape
Sunday morning dawned with blue skies but a bitingly cold wine. Too nice to stay in we strolled along to Compass Cafe for breakfast, their coffee is one of the best coffees I have had and my waffles with bacon and syrup were delicious.

My favourite coffee
Waffles with bacon and syrup 
 It was such a beautiful morning we continued our stroll around the marina, beautiful yachts and stunning views of the Barrage and across to Bay to Cardiff - a lovely part of the world.

Penarth Marina 
Challenge Wales
Across Cardiff Bay 
The Barrage
Footbridge swing bridge raised for the yachts to pass under

All too soon it was time to go home via the Second Severn Crossing with views of the Severn Bridge.
Second Severn Crossing
The original Severn Bridge through Second Severn Bridge railings
Thank you Philly for an amazing weekend - so exciting to go to the game and so lovely to spend time together in Wales.