Sunday 4 February 2024

January Wine Tasting

Last month was the first wine tasting of 2024, I can't believe we have now been doing these tastings for ten years. I know for certain everyone's' tastes have changed, so has their wine buying. 

I began hosting wine tastings when our scout group celebrated its 100th birthday and during 2014 Hubby and I presented 100 wines for the adults in our Group to enjoy. It has been an amazing success. This is the link to my final post summing up our year of tasting - Grande Finale - you'll find links to all the 100 tastings there too.

Our tasting set up in our Scout HQ
So back to now and our January 2024 tasting which was a mixture of new discoveries and a little bit of comparing. We had two sparkling wines, one to begin and one to finish, with five whites and five reds in between. Our selection was mainly from Morrison's with a couple of wines from Tesco and Aldi.

Our sparkling white wine was Radacini Blanc de Noir  Morrison's £6.00. I certainly haven't tried a Blanc de Noir made from Cabernet Sauvignon before and it was my first sparkling wine from Moldova.

Moldova has a large production of wine which was previously been supplied to the former USSR. With markets changing these wines are now becoming seen in many European countries. Radacini is made using the charmat method, also called cuvé close or the tank method. The grape juice is mixed in stainless steel pressurised tanks with sugar and yeast so the fermentation occurs in a closed system. As the carbon dioxide cannot escape it is dissolved into the wine producing the bubbles.

Everyone enjoyed this wine with its cherry and apple aromas which were also in its flavour along with melon and a hint of white pepper. With slight acidity this was a very enjoyable glass of bubbly. 

Our white selection began with a Sauvignon Blanc following through to comparing two Chardonnay wines. There was quite a mixed opinion on a few of the selections. 

McGuigan Gold Label Sauvignon Blanc - Morrison's £7.50 
Having previously included McGuigan red wines I thought it would be good to try a white, especially a Sauvignon Blanc which is my favourite grape. With over 100 years, and three generations, of winemaking this Hunter Valley wine promised gooseberries and citrus but I couldn't find any. In fact myself and a few other tasters thought that in a blind tasting this could be thought to be a Chardonnay. 

Alzar (Concha y Toro) Sauvignon Blanc, Pedro Jimenez - Morrison's £7.00
This wine is from South America from one of the biggest wine producers which includes Cono Sur, Trivento and Casillero del Diablo. It was a new for all of us having only previously had Pedro Jimenez sherry from Spain, which is where this grape originates. It is used in Chile to make a clear spirit called pisco - something to look out for as I have not heard or seen this before. I really enjoyed this wine, it had the soft characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc with a slight sweetness on the finish, I think this would match a cheese platter very well especially if Manchengo cheese was included. 

Verdeca - Morrison's Best £6.50
A white grape with greenness which you could see in the glass this wine also included some Sauvignon Blanc and Malvasia Bianco (a grape found in the Canary Islands, Maderia and Balearic Islands). From Puglia, the heel of Italy, this Verdeca had been oaked for three months which gave is a light vanilla flavour along with figs and lemon citrus. It was a new wine to most and the general thoughts were although nice it was more of a summer white enjoyed in warmer weather, which matches exactly to its origin.
Grand Conseiller Bouchard Aine et Fils Chardoinnay - Tesco £8.50
The first of our comparison Chardonnay wines was from Burgundy in France, a Beaune appellation that was granted in 2009. The wine house itself was started in the mid 1800s , already 5th generation winemakers they went on to found a winemaking school. Et Fils in the name refers to the continuing generations (sons) of winemakers. I'm unsure as to whether this was oaked as there was a very slight vanilla flavour but it was predominantly full of honey, candies fruits with floral notes. 

Trapiche Reserve Chardonnay - Tesco £7.25
Our second comparison, and final white wine, was from Argentina and had been aged in French and American oak. Grown at high altitude on the foot hills of the Andes mountains this wine had plenty of rich flavours. Full of brioche, pear and lemon it was a delicious Chardonnay and my preferred one of the two although they were very similar despite being grown and produce in very different climates. 

Our red selection also included a comparison which we began with, two Merlot wines. 

Apothic Merlot - Tesco £8.50
A few of our tasters really enjoy Californian wines especially Merlot so this was a perfect wine to include, they loved it. Merlot grape is a midnight blue in colour which the winemakers mirrored in their labelling. The name Apothic derives from Apothica, a 13th century European winemakers sanctuary for blending wines. This New World Merlot was full of  dark fruits, especially blackberries and vanilla. A new label to all our tasters but one I know they will be seeking out. 

Luis Felipe Edwards Merlot - Tesco £8.50
Our second Merlot was still New World in the Americas but more southerly. This winemaking family began in 1976 and with over 1850 hectares of estates produces Chilean wine for the world market that had a boost in 1990. This red was quite similar to the first Merlot but had added flavours of plums and cherries, enhanced by plenty of vanilla on its lengthy finish. It's hard to say which Merlot was preferred as both were very much enjoyed by everyone. 

Pata Negra Rioja Tempranillo - Morrison's £7.50
Not a wine for me but loved by my Hubby this Tempranillo Rioja was packed with dark red fruits, cloves and vanilla. Rioja, in Spain, has three main areas; alta, alavesa and oriental, influenced by the climates of the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Oriental (inland) respectively. This wine was produced on the alavesa area benefiting very hot and extreme cold climate. It had been oaked for 18 months in French and American barrels. 

Campo Viejo Rioja Garnacha - Morrison's £7.50
It isn't Rioja wine I can't take to it is the Tempanillo grape so finding this Rioja made from Granacha was perfect for me. Made by Spain's leading producer and part of the Pernod Richard group this wine is available everywhere, it's very vibrant labelling certainly stands out in the wine aisles. I much preferred this wine, plenty of strawberries, raspberries and cherries with a soft violet floral high note. If only all Rioja were made of this grape ... for me anyway. 

Colpasso Appassimento Nero d'Avola - Morrison's £8.00
Our final red was from Italy, with a beautiful tiled label tributed to Greek mythology, specifically Dionysus the God of winemaking, grape harvest and dance. The best grapes for this wine are picked mid September and dried for 3-4 weeks, after which they are fermented. The remaining grapes are left on the vines until well ripened when they are picked and also fermented. The two fermented wines are then blended together to make this Colpasso Appassimento. Of all the reds we tasted this had the most spice and pepperiness, it wasn't overpowering and added depth to the rich cherry flavours. 

Our final red was a Sparkling Shiraz, saved until last as a totally new wine to everyone, including myself and Hubby. We discovered this wine in Aldi £6.99 .... and to be brutally honest it can stay there. It isn't often I am lost to find something positive in a glass of wine but this left me shaking my head and was so disappointing. 

It was difficult to discover any details about this wine which, in hindsight, should have been a warning. Although black cherries, redcurrants and liqueur chocolate was mentioned as flavours all that came through was such a chemical flavour, no-one liked it at all. 

We certainly had another fun evening discovering more about wine and our preferred tastes. I know there will be some wines purchased and some left on the shelf but that's the fun of our tastings ... roll on the next one when I have a few surprises in mind!

Thursday 18 January 2024

Tredegar House

Newport, South Wales, is where you'll find Tredegar House, a National Trust property that sits in parkland just off the M4 motorway.

Walking through the beautiful stables and outer buildings it's the striking intricate gates that greet you adding to the grand impression of the 17th century red brick house.

It was Sir William Morgan in 1670 who developed this manor house into an extensive mansion and the next generations of the Morgan family extended the estate to include many of the South Wales mines. The mines were leased making vast sums of money over subsequent decades but by the mus 1800s Sir Charles Morgan MP was accused of mistreating his tennants including the miners.

Godfrey Morgan inherited Tredegar House in the 1870s, he was known for giving away mych of the land and reducing rent for his tennants. His great nephew was the last Morgan to own the house. As a result in his extravagant lifestyle and mounting debts the house was sold after his death in 1949.

Tredegar House became a Catholic girls school and was then purchased by Newport Council in the 1970s who since the early 2010s have leased the house to the National Trust whilst keeping the parkland open to the public.

As you wander through the house you pass through various eras and can see evidence of each generations changes. The rooms are magnificent, in particular the ornate wooden panels and high ceilings.

Leaving the opulent upstairs of the house the servants corridor holds a great insight into the past. High on the walls along the length of the corridor are a selection of bells, each with a slightly different sound, each relating to one of the upstsirs room and rung when a servant is required.

The most popular room in the house is not upstairs but downstairs, it's the Housekeepers room. It gives a definite impression of who was in charge abd had a few luxuries.

The final part of the house was quite a surprise, a tudor dining room with beautiful windows looking over the courtyard. This is the oldest part of Tredegar House being part of the original Tudor House.

Saturday 16 December 2023

Dram Fest 2023

A few weeks ago we travelled to Leicester with a group of friends to indulge in an evening of whisky. Dram Fest, hosted by Cask 23, returned after a few years break ... and what a fest it was.

With two rooms of whisky brands it was difficult to decide where to begin but a favourite drew us in. We all enjoy Old Pulteney and have fond memories of enjoying a dram or two on holiday in Scotland.

Tomatin is another favourite, it was great to try their 18 year old sherry cask. It was full of dried fruit flavours, quite a treat as it's slightly higher priced than our usual buys.

At a slightly higher price was Benromach 21 year old, not quite my style but very smooth. It was interesting to compare two Benromach whiskies, the same spirit but one was casked in an air dried barrel, the other in a kiln dried barrel. The difference was quite surprising with a split liking in our group. It clearly evidenced the importance and influence of the choice of barrelling.

I was very interested to discover about Filey Bay whisky, an English whisky from Yorkshire. All the ingredients are grown on their farm or sourced locally. With grain prices going down a number of years ago they began brewing beer, very successfully. From there they decided to distill whisky, it was lovely and a place on my to visit list next time we're in Yorkshire.

As well as whisky there was also bourbon and rum, I only tried the Elijah Craig which began in 1789. I did however taste my way through the three Tequilas - straight from distilling, aged between 3 months and a year, and aged over a year. The latter was one of only nine bottles in the UK and it was absolutely amazing.

It was a great evening, a little disappointing that my favourite Dalmore were not exhibiting. Everyone's favourite was from Glenmore. There three Whisky Row's had something for everyone's taste: rich and spicy, smooth and sweet or smoke and peaty.

But their Rare Finds Glenallachie 14 year old was the absolute star of the show, even if we struggled to pronounce it, and that was before  wee dram.

A super way to spend a Saturday: a dram (or more) of whisky shared with friends ... Slàinte Mhath


Saturday 2 December 2023

Laithwaites latest selection

Making the most of the Black Friday deal we ordered a case of wine from Laithwaites  - I do think their packaging is impressive ... I wonder who it's modelled on.

We ordered a mixed dozen which then included two free glasses and an extra bottle of Malbec. I never miss the chance to order a bottle of PS, it was my Dad's favourite. 

Our six reds included:

El Bombero from the Spanish region of Carinena, made from Garnacha

The Black Stump  from Australia, a Durif Shiraz blend

Cabalie from France, a Grenache blend

Vinha Do Fava from Portugal, made from Touriga Nacional

Pillastro from Puglia in Italy, made from Primivito

These are all superb red wines that we always enjoy, sometimes revisiting a favourite is a good as discovering something new. I particularly enjoy a glass of Cabalié and Black Stump, especially for a cosy winter night in.

Our white wines were:

La Belle Saison from southern France, made from Sauvignon Blanc 

Queen Bee is a South African Viognier 

Hole in the Clouds from Marlborough New Zealand, another Sauvignon Blanc 

Atakarma from Chile, a Sauvignon Blanc 

The Gooseberry Bush is a South African Colombard

I do enjoy Sauvignon Blanc wine, my preference is French from the Loire Valley so it will be interesting to try these three varieties from different places.

Our extra bottle was Opi Malbec from Mendoza in Argentina. I prefer to drink this grape with food, usually steak, it will be interesting to try as it's new to us.

Our special bottle of PS Péttilant Rosé from France. My Dad used to buy from the Sunday Times Wine Club and this was his favourite sparkling wine. It's his birth date soon when we always have scampi and chips with a glass of rosé wine in his honour. He would have been 97 this year and our bottle of PS will be a very fitting toast.

Our Black Friday deal included some favourites, some new to tries and a special bubbly, not bad for less than £85 - thank you Laithwaites!

Saturday 25 November 2023

Children in Need dinner

Last week it was the annual BBC Childre in Need so my beloved Pudsey was released from the attic for one night only ... he's looking ok for nearly 30!

Our friends were here for dinner so I had a bit of fun with our menu starting with a 'face' plate each to accompany our dips.

Children always love chicken nuggets and mash potato. My grown up version was made using crushed BBQ crisps for the chicken coating and the pots of mash had bacon bits and cheese included.

Our dessert was chocolate cornflake cake with green peppermint custard. It's the perfect combo and one often served at my school when I was young. We all loved the cornflake cake and wondered why we don't make it now our children are grown up.

I have a very special condiment set that was my parents and I remember it at Christmas when I was very young before my parents divorced. I don't use it very often but as a nod to my childhood it had pride of place on our table. 

It was a super night, great fun to prepare, I do love a themed dinner. I didn't take photos of our wines but the following evening I did enjoy a sparkling Cava with a dash of Chambord ... cheers!

Friday 24 November 2023

Coughton Court

Another Tudor House, also belonging to the National Trust, we have visited is Coughton Court in Warwickshire. Since 1409 the Throckmorton family have lived in the house. John de Throckmorton acquired the house through his marriage to Eleanor de Spiney, at the time he was Under Treasurer of England in the reign of Henry VI.

The Throckmorton family still live in the house, some 600 years on, although the National Trust have owned the house since 1946.

As with most National Trust properties the gardens were beautiful. Beautifully laid in keeping with the house with traditional planting including a very fragrant lavender garden.

We visited just before the scaffolding was put up around the house as the roof is in need of urgent repair. The cost will be over £3 million and will take two years to complete. 

Coughton Court played an important part in the Gunpowder Plot, a plan to blow up Parliament on 6th November 1605. The ringleader of the Roman Catholic plot was Robert Catesby, he was the son of Sir William Catesby and Anne Throckmorton.

The Midland part of the plot was planned by Sir Everard Digby, he chose Coughton Court as his base and moved in with his wife and two sons. The main plan was to kidnap Princess Elizabeth the eight year old daughter of King James I.

Guy Fawkes' was discovered before he could ignite the 36 barrels of gunpowder hidden below the House of Lords, he was tortured and revealed the other plotters. Word was sent north to Coughton Court where Lady Digby was waiting with Father Garnet, Father Tesimind, Nicholas Owen (famous for designing priest holes) and the Vaux sisters who lived at Baddesley Clinton (a nearby property now also belonging to the National Trust). 

The men fled before the plotters arrived but on the 8th November the Sheriff raided the house killing four of the men and capturing the others whi were tired in 1606 and subsequently hung, drawn and quartered. 

As work is being done the treasures with in the house have been moved to keep them safe, when we visited the paintings were all being stored in racking in one of the rooms. 

However some of the treasures were still display included an impressive silver collection. Safely behind glass is a stunning piece of work, Cope is said to be worked on by Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife. It's design includes the Virgin and Child and many saints, made in the early 16th Century when England was a Roman Catholic country.

Also preserved behind glass is the chemise said to have belondpged to Mary Queen of Scots. It is thought to be the chemise she wore at her execution at Fortheringhay Castle. The borders are inscribed in red and dated Feb 11 1587. 

Although the house was not fully open it was a super visit, we will certainly return once the restorations have been completed.