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Recent Posts

Nicolas Feuillatte, biggest co-op in Champagne

Jan 30, 15 Nicolas Feuillatte, biggest co-op in Champagne

Posted by in All, Champagne

Everyone likes to talk about the grand marquees of Champagne, your Vueves and your Taittingers but the big houses are not the only players in Champagne. Like other regions, Champagne also has co-ops and one of the biggest in France is Nicolas Feuillatte. It is the largest co-op in Champagne with over 5,000 growers supplying grapes for their champagnes. They produce 20 million bottles a year and export to over 80 countries world wide. The original co-op was created in the early 1970’s and was called The Centre Vinicole de la Champagne. However, it was not until Nicolas Feuillatte the man himself became involved with the co-op that the co-op’s name was officially changed in 1986 when Feuillatte agreed to let the co-op re-brand as Nicolas Feuillatte. Since then, they’ve become known for their modern style of champagnes. I tasted through their range with their cellar master, David Henault and was very pleasantly surprised at the quality and lightness of the champagnes. Although the champagnes all have around 10 grams per litre of sugar, David says that although wine journalists like bone dry champagnes, it’s his experience that tells him that consumers like champagne with a bit of sugar. His champagnes are not sweet by any stretch of the imagination, they are fresh and fruity and nicely balanced. Feuillatte are known for their non-vintage champagnes which account for more than 90% of their production. That said, however, they do produce prestige cuvees and the 2006 brut Chardonnay was David’s first vintage at Feuillatte. David doesn’t believe in fining his champagnes and this one was very fresh with brioche toasty notes and a nice long nutty finish. I found it to be very enjoyable and it is also now available at Waitrose in the UK, retailing for £34.99. At that price, this is a very good value champagne. As their non-vintage is the most widely produced and distributed, I had to try it. The verdict, it was very good, fruity with surprisingly soft bubbles and...

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“Extreme” Inniskillin or winter in Canada

Jan 21, 15 “Extreme” Inniskillin or winter in Canada

Posted by in All, Food and Wine

Earlier this month I jetted off to Ontario, Canada to check out their Ice Wine Festival and while I was there, we visited one of the legendary wineries of Canada, Inniskillin. The winery was founded in Niagara-on-theLake over 35 years ago by Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser. Their goal being to produce premium wine from the Niagara Peninsula. This they did but not without a few bumps along the way.  In 1983, they attempted their first harvest of ice wine made from the Vidal grape. It was a great year for ice wine but unfortunately the birds thought so too and ate all the berries from the vines before they could be harvested. Lesson learned, the next year the winery put nets up around the vines so that the birds would not be able to eat 1984’s harvest and thus was Inniskillin’s first ice wine harvest. In 1991, Inniskillin was awarded the Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo for their 1989 Ice wine. Since then, Inniskillin has been world renowned for their ice wine which they make from Vidal, Riesling and Cabernet Franc. They also produce still table wines from Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir and Merlot. As we were in Canada in the middle of winter, we were just in time to participate in a little bit of ice wine harvesting. Inniskillin offers a myriad of wine tastings, wine and food matching sessions and events at the winery. Check out their website for more info. Anyway, back to harvesting. Most harvesting is done at night so that the berries are still frozen solid. This is done because if the grapes warm up and get mushy, it will affect the concentration and flavour of the wine. One of the main criteria for ice wine harvest is that the temperature must be below -8C for at least 3 or 4 days in a row before picking can commence. Although we arrived mid-day, they still let us pick a few grapes from the vines and believe me, at...

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Good ol’ BBQ in Marylebone

Jan 15, 15 Good ol’ BBQ in Marylebone

Posted by in London

There are some things in  London that are hard to come by. One of those things is good ol’ American BBQ. Now, I’m not from any of the Southern states of the US but I do like a good BBQ so I was interested to see how a new BBQ place in Marylebone, of all places, would play out. Turns out, it’s pretty darn good. The Joint actually started out in much less posher surroundings down in Brixton Village before making the move north of the river. It was one of the first to offer American style BBQ on the pop-up scene. Founders Dan Fiteni and Warren Dean use only quality ingredients that are locally sourced. And they believe in slow cooking everything in their own marinades. You can definitely see the 16 hours of  slow cooking in the meat that falls off the ribs and the chicken wings that are to die for, crispy crunchy on the outside, covered in sticky BBQ sauce but at the same time so moist and tender. They have to be some of the best chicken wings I’ve had in awhile. I wish they did them Buffalo-style. The rest of the menu is pretty simple,sticking to pulled pork on homemade buns or in a wrap. The sides are great, big and crunchy onion rings, corn on the cob ( though I wish they offered butter with the corn) and crunchy slaw that isn’t drowning in mayo – the only thing that’s missing are country baked beans but in this country, you lot have them for breakfast! They also offered french fries as a side but I had another order of wings instead (yes, they are THAT good). The drinks menu is short but sweet and not too expensive. £6.50 for a strong and substantial cocktail in Marylebone – sign me up! I tried the Figgy Ol’Fashioned, it was a bit on the sweet side but still good and the Thyme Collins certainly did wash down the BBQ sauce....

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Ice, Ice (Wine) Baby – Niagara’s Ice Wine Festival

Jan 14, 15 Ice, Ice (Wine) Baby – Niagara’s Ice Wine Festival

Posted by in All, N. America

This past weekend I visited Ontario, Canada to learn a bit more about the delicious ice wines that they produce at their annual Niagara Ice Wine Festival as well as getting a great introduction to the region. The Niagara Ice Wine Festival has been going on since the 1990’s and is your chance to sample all that gorgeous golden (and ruby red) nectar. For those of your unfamiliar with ice wine, it is most famously made from the riesling grape in Germany and Austria – where it get’s cold enough for the berries to freeze in winter. Although it’s debatable as to who made the first ice wines in Ontario, most attribute it to the Inniskillen winery which was one of the wineries we visited while we were there. The most popular grape used in Ontario is the vidal grape which is a hybrid of ugni blanc and Rayon d’Or (I’d never heard of Rayon d’Or either). It was originally produced to be used in Cognac but somehow found its way to Canada where it has a happy home. Ice wine can’t be produced until the temperature stays at -8C for at least a few days. This is to ensure that the grapes picked are frozen through. There can be some thawing during the day but they must be literally hard as a rock to be picked. For this reason, most harvesting is done at night, when the temperature drops. Ice wine is also made from the cabernet franc grape.We had the opportunity to try cab franc ice wines while we were there and I have to say that despite my trepidation, cab franc makes a fabulous ice wine. At Inniskillen we had their cab franc ice wine paired with S’mores (a marshmallow, dark chocolate and graham cracker concoction – if you grew up going to camp as a kid in N. America, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about). It’s quite easy to make S’mores with all the wood burning camp fires set up at the wineries....

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Part 2 of my visit to Vilarnau – Amphoras, chestnut barrels and tasting the cavas

Dec 11, 14 Part 2 of my visit to Vilarnau – Amphoras, chestnut barrels and tasting the cavas

Posted by in All, Spain, Sparkling Wine

Yesterday I visited cava producer Vilarnau in Penedes, Spain (post here).   After my tour of the grounds and winery, it was time for a tasting of their cavas. As we were walking through the cellar to the tasting room, we passed by a collection of clay vases that were sitting under a set of spotlights. Curious, I asked my guide, Vilarnau winemaker Eva Plazas Torné, if they were some sort of archeology display. With a laugh, she explained that they were actually an experiment that they was currently conducting with the xarello grape. Eva explained to me that she was experimenting with fermentation in amphora made from the various soils of Penedes. I asked her if it she had gotten the idea from the Georgians but she told me that she had gotten the idea from a local potter that she knew, she liked his work and asked him if he could make amphora for her. Her idea is to make amphora from the  different soils of Penedes and ferment the xarello in a distinct amphora to see how the fermentation goes. Already, Eva says that one of the xarello’s (the one in the amphora mostly composed of clay) has almost finished malo while the others have changed to different degrees but not gone through malo. Eva hopes to find the best soil for the amphora and ferment the xarello in it. If things go to plan, she’s hopes to use 300 litre amphora next year. The experimental amphora this year are only 15 litres.  After fermentation in the amphora, she would than do the second ferment in bottle. It will be interesting to see how/if this experiment is successful. As for Eva, she admitted that she’s just as curious as me to see how it will turn out. Almost directly in front of the amphora was another experiment of Vilarnau, chestnut barrels. Eva explained that in the region a hundred years ago,they used to use chestnut instead of oak for barrel aging when...

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What’s the difference between cava and champagne? I found out during a visit to Vilarnau Cavas

Dec 10, 14 What’s the difference between cava and champagne? I found out during a visit to Vilarnau Cavas

Posted by in All, Spain

The world of sparkling wine is many and varied and although I have largely confined myself to the pleasures of champagne, sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone. So I was game to visit the cava producer Vilarnau whilst I am spending time here in Barcelona. Cava has recently overtaken both champagne and prosecco in the UK marketplace so they must be doing something right. And so, Vilarnau was my first stop in discovering the world of cava. The Vilarnau winery is situated in the heart of Penedes, right outside the town of Sant Sadurni, a short 40 minute train ride from central Barcelona. The winery sits on rolling hills with the mountains of Montserrat as a backdrop to the vines. The day I visited it was a blustery day so we had a clear view of the mountains. Vilarnau was bought by Gonzalez Byass in 1982 and with the considerable resources that GB has, they have completely modernized Vilarnau. The new winery was inaugurated in 2005 and with the help of automation and a robotic ‘helper’ by the name of Manuelito (more on him later) they are able to produce 1.2 million bottles of cava a year with only a staff of 13 and they are considered a medium sized producer. Pretty impressive. One of the two enologists of the winery, Eva Plazas Torné was my guide for the afternoon. Eva first started by telling me about the differences and similarities between cava and champagen. I was keen to know as cava is made in  the traditional methode. Firstly, there are 3 main varieties in cava – xarello, macabeo and parellada. However, they are also allowed to use subirat parent (an old variety that was used in the past and similar to malvasia) chardonnay and pinot noir and for the rosés, they can use indigenous grapes – trapat, monestrell and garnatxa as well as pinot noir. Like champagne,the wine goes through 2 fermentations, the first usually in tank, the second in the...

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New cocktail menu and beef nibbles at Gaucho

Dec 03, 14 New cocktail menu and beef nibbles at Gaucho

Posted by in All

Last night I was invited to try out the new cocktail menu at Gaucho in Piccadilly. The Gaucho group has launched a new Autumn/Winter cocktail menu along with a ‘Beef in the Bar’ canape plate. I caught up with Ian O’Reilly, Head of Bar and Beverages at Gaucho, over a couple of cocktails to find out a bit more about the new seasonal menu. According to Ian, the idea behind launching the ‘Beef in the Bar’ was to highlight what Gaucho originally made the restaurant successful – beef! They want to get back to their roots and remind people that Gaucho is not a high maintenance or pretentious place, rather their main mission is to serve the best Argentine beef and red wine with a side of chips. The beef nibbles in the bar are all a part of that idea. At the moment, they are serving Aberdeen Angus Air Cured Bresola, Beef & Chilli Salami and Chimmichurri Cured Salt Beef and in the future they’ll be curing the meats in their own malbec, Vina Patricia. I thought the beef nibbles were a nice little accompaniment to the cocktails. The new cocktail menu is divided into 3 sections, aperitifs, signature cocktails and Buenos Aires classics. Ian described the signature cockatils as having something for everyone, he’s taken, in his opinion, some of the best of Argentine culture and artisanal products to create unique drinks. Gaucho stocks 4 or 5 artisanal products such as Herpedina, which is an orange liqueur only made in Argentina, which they use for one of their Buenos Aires classics cocktails. As the evenings are now long, dark and chilly, I went for the whiskey based cocktails on the list. I tried the signature cocktail Smoked Ginger made with Bullit rye, the Buenos Aires Classic The Re-Fashioned made with Woodfood Reserve bourbon with a touch of espresso and their Club Negroni made with Haig Club. Manhattans are my default cocktail but these bourbon/whisky based drinks at Gaucho could make me forget my manhattans,...

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A Piper-Heidsieck Rare Experience in the VIP room of Whisky Mist

Nov 19, 14 A Piper-Heidsieck Rare Experience in the VIP room of Whisky Mist

Posted by in Champagne

Last week I made it back to London in time to attend the launch of the Piper-Heidsieck Rare Experience in the VIP room of the Mayfair nightclub, Whisky Mist. The champagne houses have started to concentrate their efforts on nightclubs but Piper-Heidsieck has to be one of the first to have a dedicated VIP room in a Central London nightclub. It’s called the Cuveé Room and is a separate VIP room in Whiskey Mist. Piper-Heidsieck commissioned the Giles Miller Studio to create a room based on the intricate design of their Rare Cuveé. The room’s centrepiece is an installation that runs the length of the ceiling and features “…hundreds of metallic components of varying depths, applied by hand to a ceiling structure…” the design was inspired by …”the original vine design produced by the Parisian jeweler Arthus-Bertrand.” The result is impressive but elegant, bling but not too much bling, if you know what I mean. The VIP room will feature The Rare 1998 in magnum and the Rare 2002. The Rare is their prestige cuvees and  is always a vintage champagne. I’ve only recently been introduced to the Rare collection but in my opinion, they are very well done champagnes. For those who might want a younger wine, the 2006 vintage is available along with the non-vingage Rosé  Sauvage. One of my favourite things about the bar was the special menu on display for the champagnes. A dedicated Rare electronic menu, it’s like an elongated iPad menu, very cool and it certainly does add to the Rare Experience. It’s not cheap to drink but vintage and prestige champagne’s never are and the VIP room at Whisky Mist is a beautiful spot for a bottle of Rare bubbly or two.   Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInPocketRedditGoogleTumblrEmailPrintPinterestLike this:Like...

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Assignan, an ‘exploded hotel’ in St. Chinian

Nov 12, 14 Assignan, an ‘exploded hotel’ in St. Chinian

Posted by in All, France

One of the stops we made while on my trip to St. Chinian was to the small village of Assignan. Like many provincial villages in France, Assignan had become almost a ghost town with just a few villagers left to keep the village going. That is, until Flemish couple Marc and Tine Verstraete stepped in and literally bought the village out to transform it into, in their words, an ‘exploded hotel’. At first I was a bit sceptical but after hearing the concept explained to me, I don’t know why more deserted provincial village don’t do this. The basic concept is to take a dying village and convert it into ‘hotel’ village.  The idea is you arrive, park your car and then live in the village. All the basics and more are provided for you. Marc and Tine have bought most of the deserted houses and buildings in the village and are busily converting them into gites, shops and restaurants. There also have plans to add swimming pools and other amenities so that there is no need to leave the village, unless you want to visit the local vineyards or Chateau Castigno. However, even that is covered with partnerships with local vintners as well as the Verstraaete’s own chateau, Chateau Castigno. During our visit to the newly opened wine bar and adjacent tapas bolthole, Le Petit Table, we met a few local winemakers and sampled the locally produced wines. The wine bar is tiny and rustic but there is a large square in front of it with very cute gigantic umbrellas to shade you from the Languedoc sun. The tapas bar is run by Tine’s son, Fons  de Muynck. Fon’s is also in charge of ‘Nomad Cooking’. Nomad Cooking takes place at the vineyards of Ch. Castigno and after our tour of the village, we headed to the chateau for lunch cooked by Fons. During lunch we tasted the wines of Chateau Castigno which included a delightful sparkling brut nature rose, although it’s not...

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Getting to know the region of Saint Chinian, France

Oct 29, 14 Getting to know the region of Saint Chinian, France

Posted by in All, Food and Wine, France

I was recently invited to St. Chinian by their growers association to not only learn a bit more about the wines but also to discover the wine tourism that they have going on there. If you thought it was all vineyards and wine tastings only, there’s a lot more to explore.Saint Chinian is in the Languedoc region of southern France and has plenty of activities for families, couples or groups of friends. We arrived on a warm sunny day in Capestang and immediately checked into Les Carrasses, an old chateau that has been renovated into a shabby chic hotel. The hotel is one of a new wave of tourism that is coming to the Languedoc. It’s set overlooking vineyards and offers not only excursions but also first rate food and wine dinners in it’s relaxing restaurant or on a terrace overlooking the chateau pool. You can stay in the renovated chateau or in the converted stables, winery or barn that now house villas that  have plenty of room for families or groups of friends. An added advantage of the villas is that they have their own kitchens and many of them also come with their own private swimming pool. Les Carrasses is a good base from which to enjoy the region. As well as vineyards vists, the region has loads of outdoor activities. St. Chinian has the Canal du Midi that runs through it which means you can float leisurely down the canal and alongside the vineyards, stopping along the way to visit one of the many small towns that dot the canalside. The canal towpaths are also great for bicycling or strolling, providing shade from the southern French sun. While we were there we had plenty of opportunities to sample the local wines. We stopped in the town of Roquebrun and had a lovely lunch at Le Petit Nice, a cute little restaurant serving traditional French cuisine. I had escargot and and some very garlicky frogs leg for lunch. All of this overlooking...

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