Cracklin’ Rosie Make Me Smile

I was so pleased to discover the other day that the subject of one of my favourite karaoke songs was not in fact a song about a woman,  but concerned a man’s love for a drink.

Not content with penning Red Red Wine, Neil Diamond’s Cracklin’ Rose was about rosé wine. Just like Bad Manners wrote Special Brew about the weapons-grade strength lager…and Silver Machine was about a bicycle.

I’ve not really been drinking so much wine recently (Or at least I’ve not been writing about it- which is probably not quite the same thing) but was spurred back into action by a bottle of La Grille Rosé, a nice-mid price range bottle from Majestic composed of Pinot Noir grapes.

I probably fall into that camp of people who are ever-so-slightly mistrustful of all wines “pink”.  They carry with them something of a reputation and has made me slightly reluctant to pick it.

Of course this opinion is thoroughly outdated – and hugely unfair as it goes. This wine was the perfect bridge between a light and summer-suited white and the character of a red.

It was smooth and silky, but with a dry edge to it. The best part though was the lingering creamy aftertaste.

Cracklin’ Rose indeed…

All About Beer

Although this blog is generally about wine – every so often I think it’s fair enough to go “off piste” (an unintentional pun – but I’m leaving it in).

So this post is all about beer.

I was raised on real ale – there is a picture of me somewhere as a two-year-old trying to neck the dregs of my Dad’s pint jug outside the Bird In Hand.

Growing up near Henley-on-Thames, everything on tap was generally Brakspear’s – brewed in the town centre. Going to college there, I learned to love the smell of hops wafting across the town when coming out of lectures.  The brewery was bought up by a big drinks co and brewing moved to Manchester and while the pubs continued to serve it, the new improved version had a slight tang of eggs (it never travelled well) and despite attempts, for me, they never really got that old pint back.

I reminisce about this as I’d moved away from this somewhat – and probably more likely to have a glass of wine in hand than a pint and it was a welcome surprise to go to an impromptu beer tasting at a friend’s house.

The majority of the beers were from the Eden Brewery near St Andrews – based at the former paper mill and only on site for about five months or so.

It featured their St Andrews Ale, a light fizzy beer with a grapefruity aftertaste; a special Christmas beer – that had shades of cinnamon and tasted like a Christmas pudding; and a dark and rich porter.

The highlight for me though was the three different Edradour beers which were made in whisky barrels – a limited edition because once they’re used once, the barrels will never produce the same beer again.  There were three varieties, one with a Sauterne finish, a sherry cask and my personal favourite – Claret.Beer line up

This 6.9 per cent alcohol beer had been stored for 50 days in Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux barrels, which had held Ballechin whisky for seven years. It had such a distinct flavour – the smoke and peat of a good whisky and a finish of a good Bordelais wine.

In Scotland and now further afield, one of the big movers in microbreweries has been Brewdog. The company originating in Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire has made a lot of noise with its range of strong, well-marketed and colourfully labelled beers – it promises the drinker something different from the “yellow fizzy lagers” – but also sets itself apart from the Campaign for Real Ale and its image of fuddy-duddy old men with beards.

I’ve found the image a bit of a turn-off to be honest, but more than that, never really liked the beers I’d tried. But with one of the last two offerings in the tasting I had to eat my words.

Both from their Abstract range and a whopping 12 per cent alcohol, special editions sent out to people who’ve taken up the offer to buy shares, the first had a delicious rich port taste

A fine addition to a lean January

Forgive me for possibly repeating myself but I’m still quite wary about Pinot Noir.IMG-20130120-00291

BUT… seeing as some of the finest wines in the world are made from that grape it’s probably something I’m going to have to learn to deal with.

The reason I’m still nervous about it is because I know if I pick up my usual mid-priced bottle, it could be total crap – and the evening is ruined as the inside of my mouth puckers up like a prune and I develop an urge to neck pints of water.

However, every so often I get the chance to have a drink when somebody else is doing the choosing and I can see for myself what sort of finer qualities I should be looking for.

This was a 2001 Burgundy, from  a Gevrey -Chambertin Premier Cru from the Fonteny vineyard.

(An interesting aside – in my day job I have been writing this week about the scandal of traces of horse DNA turning up in frozen horse burgers – raising the question “do we really know where our food comes from”, yet with wine the amount of specifics on a bottle of wine can often trace it down to the row of grapes it was picked from)

The colour of the wine was a deep rich, well, Burgundy actually. It had a subtle and sophisticated flavour with a savoury but not bitter finish.

So, January has not exactly been a dry month. More a case of doing more with less.

Here’s to good tasting wine (and good wine tasting)

Going to the tip is not normally an emotional experience. A hassle? Maybe, a relief to get rid of heaps of clutter? Almost definitely.

However this weekend, car laden up with Christmas tree, heaps of cardboard and the other remains of the last few weeks, it served as a final full stop on the festivities and a return to normal. With it went all the bottles that had accompanied our first home-cooked Christmas and helped it go off with a bang.

The Christmas line-up

The Christmas line up, most of which was consumed on Christmas Day was assembled over the preceding weeks from a variety of shopping trips – the final one being a bottle of Port on Christmas Eve as our guests were on their way. None were break-the-bank expensive – but I was pleased to unearth a couple of real gems.

There were two Macon Villages, good old Chardonnay from Burgundy, both from 2011. The first was a £4.99, Henri de Lorgère – part of the Core range at Aldi. I’d been wanting to try out wines from Aldi for a while because despite the supermarket’s bargain basement image, it has the reputation of having some half-decent booze.

The wine was clean and light – and pleasant enough – although I found it had a slightly sour, lingering aftertaste.

What followed was twice the price, but tasted it, a Louis Jadot, Les Roches Blanches from Majestic (£7.99) a perfect accompaniement for the hot smoked salmon.

There were three reds on Christmas day and the first was really knock-your-trousers-off fantastic.
A Wirra Wirra Church Block, from Australia’s McLaren Vale, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot (£12.49 Majestic) was picked to go with a beef fillet and it was quite simply gorgeous. Smooth, creamy, and full of dark fruits.

I’d have to say that the biggest mistake I made on Christmas Day was not realising that actually there was something left in the bottle before I moved onto the next wine. The second mistake was that when I realised the first mistake, I didn’t gulp it down and enjoy the ill gotten final glass – I gave it to my Dad instead.

There was also a second McLaren Vale red, a Kangarilla Road Cabernet Sauvignon from 2010, one of only two wines I’d tried before and it disappoint. Putting it next to the Wirra Wirra is a bit unfair, but it was in a similar vein, smooth, velvety and with blackberry flavours.

A third red was another Aldi number. a Toro Loco Reserva from 2008, a blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauivnon and Garnacha. It was £4.99 and actually I bought it by mistake. I was looking for the other Toro Loco – the non Reserva one, which had been recommended among The Observer’s top wines for Christmas. This wine I liked. It was very drinkable and for a fiver an absolute bargain.

The dessert wine was another star find – bought on a whim from a small independent shop opened up in St Andrews (it was so new that the shop still smelled of paint as we went in.) The Stump Jump from d’Arenberg – another McLaren Vale wine – a blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon and Pinot Gris. It was a perfect dessert wine, sweet and slightly treacly, without being sickly.

Frankly, I’ve no idea how much it was according to this link it can be obtained for £6.45. It was probably more than that, but it was bought alongside an “interesting Chardonnay”, yet another interesting bottle of whisky and a few other items as Christmas wine-buying fever got a little out of hand.

Last but no means least was a Porto Neipoort Ruby Dum – part of an Alice in Wonderland theme down to the twin bottle of Tawny Dum and a label round the top marked “drink me”. Despite the slight twee (sorry) theme, it was a lovely juicy, rich port that went perfectly with the mountain of cheese brought up from London by my sister.

This is a mere taster of things to come, so here’s to even brighter and better wines in 2013. Prost!

Time to restock

Spanish and Tuscan wines from Majestic

Spanish and Tuscan wines from Majestic

The wine supply at Casa FNWT has been rather depleted of late. So friends coming to stay was a perfect opportunity to restock.
A trip to Majestic Wines beckoned and a relaxed browsing through lots of exciting names and regions.
Looking through the neatly organised stacks of bottles reminds me of when I was a teenager and would pop into HMV or Our Price and browse the music shelves – looking at what’s new, what’s recommended – and resisting the overdraft-straining urge of a ‘Supermarket Sweep’ run of the aisles.
Two of them were picked with dinner in mind – a rich chicken and chorizo casserole.
The first, a Dogajolo, from Tuscany 2011 – 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, was well-rounded and rich without being overpowering. It was lovely and most likely would have complemented the main course. Sadly of course it never got close to coinciding with dinner – but proved to be a good aperitif for the just drinking and chatting part.
The second, thankfully did make it to dinner.
A Vina Eguia, 2006 Rioja. A bargain at £5.99 and one that seems to be being pushed by Majestic as one of their wines for the winter.
It was earthier than the first. A nice wine to eat with food.
The third of the batch was also opened later on – a Chardonnay from the Fairleigh Estate in New Zealand. Great classic New World toasty aroma. The taste was a disappointment – a bit too sharp and acidy – although this may be more down to the point of the evening it had come out – maybe it would have been better with a creamy dish early on.
Christmas is coming soon and with a full house, there’s going to be an even bigger restock planned. Such a shame.

Friday Night Wine Time – One Year On

It is now a year since the creation of this collection of assorted ramblings to my wine drinking that I like to call a blog. Some of them have even included pictures. Some (although rarely) have even included accurate descriptions of how the wines taste.

But I’ll admit it’s been quiet of late.  Sometimes it’s because the wine that I just loved in a restaurant and even asked the waiter to bring the bottle back so I can take a picture, has faded into general obscurity the minute I’ve set outside. Sometimes I’ve realised in horror that the wine that we’ve brought out to drink has already been mentioned before. And sometimes I’ve just been plain sloppy.

No matter. The real reason this blog was first started was to try to teach myself a bit more about wines so that when I order something I don’t just simply order the second cheapest bottle or the one I can remember the name of.

Anyway – this weekend was something of a return to form. A weekend at the in-laws meant that there was the chance of some lovely wines to flow.

So here are three highlights that were put on offer.

A Tabali Chilean Chardonnay 2008, from the Limari Valley. I’ve really come to like Chardonnay and this was bursting with that familiar toasty smell as soon as I put nose to glass.

A Parallele 45  Paul Jaboulet Cote du Rhone. Named after the 45th Parallel which runs just a short distance away from the Maison Paul Jaboulet cellars it was a blend of Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Viognier and Bourboulenc.
A fresh, fine wine, citrussy – but not overpoweringly so.

The third was a surprise served at the end of the night with cheese on toast. A delicious fruity wine from Argentina. The wine had a jammy, red fruit quality and was very, very drinkable.

So, we’re a year on from my Friday Night Wine Time experiment, what have I learned. This is from Argentina – I’ve had Argentinian wine before, this must be a Malbec maybe, or a Cabernet Sauvignon, not problem.

Actually no – yet another confusion to add to my wine education. It was a  Bonarda – a 2009 Colonia Las Liebres from the Mendoza Region. Originally from Piedmont in Italy, it was brought to the South American country by Italian immigrants.

What have I learned then? A year on. There is still much more to learn.

A Classy Surprise

I quite like surprises.
So when a friend of mine came back from a trip to Croatia brandishing a bottle of wine and demanding a blog post, I was only too willing to oblige.

Croatia is a big wine producer, but the majority of its fare doesn’t find its way across the border. Just like nearby Italy, the country is teeming with a myriad of different grape varieties, some of which won’t be found anywhere else.

Its status as a hidden gem may be about to change over the next few years and so what I’ve been drinking this week may be more commonly available in the UK in the future than it is now.
My friend MC – who just so happens to be the same person that roped me in to a certain dancing event – came back raving about the great wine she and her girlfriend enjoyed while they were away. So much so, she said, it was worth a post all to itself.

My appetite was well and truly whetted.

The particular wine which found its way back was one of their favourites during their stay. Pošip is a white wine grape from the Dalmatia coast and the first thing to note about it was before the wine was even poured. The bottle was fantastic – really heavy dark green glass.

I know nothing of Pošip. I can’t even blag this by reading what was on the label – my Croatian is not really up to par I’m afraid.
I think I was probably expecting something drinkable but perhaps a bit sharp. Or maybe something fragrant and more lightweight like a Pinot Grigio.
But this wine was a classy number. On the nose it seemed very reminiscent of a Viognier, with a hint of fruit – peaches and apricots rather than citrus.
The taste was similarly fruity. Very smooth and a lingering silky aftertaste.

It’s actually been a while since my last bottle of wine, and certainly a while since the last one worth writing about. This was a welcome return to form. Croatia could well have found its way onto my list of places to seek out.