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Recent Posts

Drinking (and grabbing a bite or two) in El Born, Barcelona.

Oct 18, 14 Drinking (and grabbing a bite or two) in El Born, Barcelona.

Posted by in All, Food and Wine, Spain

I’m currently hanging out in Barcelona and getting to know the city. It’s not only a cheap holiday destination but a gorgeous city to wander around. As a wine blogger, I’m always interested in finding good wine shops. Barcelona has some really great wine bars and shops to explore. Of course, Barcelona has also jumped on the natural wine bandwagon and there are a few bars, especially in the Born neighbourhood that cater to the natural wine enthusiasts. I stumbled across two of them one night, L’anima del Vi and El Soplo. I recognized a fair amount of wines from France and Italy as well as some Spanish wines lining the walls of both venues. L’anima del Vi is bigger then El Soplo, having a good sized seating area with tables for drinking the night away. El Soplo is more of a hole in the wall but very atmospheric. L’Anima del Vi has a small tapas type menus to soak up the vino and El Soplo serves free tapas with all the wines they serve. The prices were average for a natural wine bar but more expensive then your typical tapas and vino bar in Barcelona. Both were within a stone’s throw of the Santa Margarita del Mar church which is located in the middle of the Born and dates from the 14th century. The Born along with the Barrio Gotic forms the oldest part of the city and it’s easy to wander the warren of alleyways, stumbling across cute boutiques, restaurants and wine bars.  The Picasso Museum is also in the Born and just around the corner from Santa Maria del Mar church. Another must visit while in the Born neighbourhood is Vila Viniteca. A good sized wineshop, they specialize in wines from all over the world and have extremely knowledgeable staff (one of the requirements to work there is that you must have sommelier qualifications). Don’t worry if you don’t speak Spanish, the staff there are multi-lingual and are more then happy...

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Pick Your Wine ‘Off the Wall’ at The Almeida

Oct 01, 14 Pick Your Wine ‘Off the Wall’ at The Almeida

Posted by in All, London

The Almeida in Islington has recently been renovated and refreshed. I was invited down for a look-see and to sample the new menu created by head chef, Tommy Boland. Tommy has previously worked under Michelin star chef Eric Chavot so I had a feeling that I was going to be in for a delicious meal. I hadn’t been to the Almeida before so I couldn’t compare it to its previous incarnation but walking in, it was quite soothing, lots of beige and blond wood, and spotlights scattered around the dining room, not too bright that one couldn’t enjoy dinner but bright enough so that my food could be seen. I know everyone likes ‘mood’ lighting but I like to be able to see the food I’m eating ( and take pics too, of course). The big draw for me was the ‘wall of wine’. The restaurant has done away with the wine list and instead now has a literal ‘wall of wine’, each wine having a description and price. The idea is that guests can literally get something ‘off the wall’ to have with their meal. The wines available were not esoteric or outlandish, though. Many were familiar to me but as was noted, the ‘list’ of over 80 bins will be constantly evolving and they even had a few organic wines available. The Almeida also has a tasting table set up by the wine wall where guests are invited to taste the wines before choosing. The staff are allowed to open up their favourites and invite guests to try before they buy. I always like tasting wine before I buy it because no matter how well it’s described to you, you don’t really know if you’re going to like it. The cuisine is light and modern made with fresh seasonal produce. As well as an a la carte menu (mains £16 – £25), the restaurant offers a £45 5-course taster menu. The taster menu,we thought, was very good value for money. It doesn’t...

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Visiting Quinta de Curvos, Portugal’s Vinho Verde region

Sep 27, 14 Visiting Quinta de Curvos, Portugal’s Vinho Verde region

Posted by in All, Portugal

I recently visited the Vinho Verde region of northern Portugal and got to know the wines and some of the producers of the region. One of the most interesting quintas (or estates) we visited was Quinta de Curvos. This quinta is located in Minho which is not far from Barcelos, one of the main cities on the pilgrimage to Campostelo de Santiago. The quinta has been around since the 1500’s but was bought by the Fonseca family in 1974. Since then, they have been producing the indigenous grapes alvarinho, loureiro and trajadura. What I enjoyed most about these wines is how well made they are and yet they are relatively inexpensive. They have plenty of depth of flavour and are perfect with seafood, which is plentiful in Portugal. Over lunch, Miguel Fonseca, one of the sons of the owner of the estate, told us a bit of the history of the estates. He is involved in the running of the estate and spent his childhood running around the forested grounds. I have to say I was even more envious then usual when I visit wine estates because the grounds of the estate had the most remarkable buildings and follies set in a forested parkland. My favourite was the cave set underneath a folly sitting by the pond. It was like having your own private batcave. It must have so much fun to grow up there and Miguel did indeed agree with us! There are also pergolas of vines and vineyards as well that cover one side of the estate.   The Quinta itself was founded in the 1500’s and passed through different owners before being bought by Miguel’s family in the 1970’s. Since then the family have maintained the grounds and built up the wine producing aspect of the estate. Over lunch we tried a few of the estate whites and the rose. We had a loureiro, an avesso and a blended white wine as well as a bright cherry red coloured rose. All...

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An interview with Marcelo Papa, “Chile shouldn’t play the game of making blockbuster wines”

Sep 25, 14 An interview with Marcelo Papa, “Chile shouldn’t play the game of making blockbuster wines”

Posted by in All, Chile

Marcelo Papa, chief winemaker for Chilean brand, Concha y Toro, is a man on a mission to take Chilean wine back to it’s origins. Last night over a wine tasting and dinner, Marcelo told me, and a select group of wine writers, where he thinks the direction that Chilean wine should take into the future. What he told us was both surprising and exciting, not to mention, bound to be a bit controversial. According to Marcelo, Chilean wines have been pushing the maturity of the grapes too far and he thinks it was a mistake to go for over ripe grapes.  During the tasting, Marcelo said, “Just because you can produce grapes that are overripe, doesn’t mean you have to…” These over ripe grapes produce wines that are big and rich but don’t have any sense of place or origin. He thinks that Chilean winemakers should opt out of the game to make ‘blockbuster’ wines and instead focus on highlighting the true characteristics of the grapes. He feels that Chile has been following a fashion for rich and over ripe wines with high alcohol and no true identity. These wines were ‘international’ in style, they could be from anywhere. This realization came to him one day when he realized that although he is a Chilean winemaker, the wines he was drinking at home were not. He had to ask himself, “Why am  I not drinking Chilean wine? Why do I prefer European wines to drink at home?” And that got him to thinking about Chilean wine making in general and how wine was made in Chile in the past, when he did drink it and enjoyed it. Marcelo decided to put his money where is mouth is and is now taking Concha y Toro winemaking in a new direction. So what is he doing? Firstly, he’s picking the grapes earlier. Marcelo said that in the 1970’s they used to pick early to get the best acidity and true fruit characteristics of the grapes. He...

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Dining (literally) Up in the Air

Sep 24, 14 Dining (literally) Up in the Air

Posted by in Food and Wine, Lifestyle, London

Last weekend I was invited to a London in the Sky pop-up dining event at Canary Wharf. The event is part of the global Dinner in the Sky series with events in 43 countries.  The event in London took place over 10 days and featured 5 Michelin starred chefs cooking for guests high up in the sky. I was wondering how they were going to do it all in one hour but the evening that we were there, they pulled it off without a hitch. We had the pleasure of Executive Head Chef Xavier Boyer of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon cooking for us way up in the sky. Chef Xavier and his assistants managed to seamlessly serve up an amazing meal. Dinner started with a champagne aperitif on the ground courtesy of Taittinger. I have to say, I was needed a bit of Dutch courage before daring to let myself be buckled into my seat. The seats are very secure however. They’re like car bucket seats and your strapped in very securely. The open air dining platform has a centre area for the chefs and then ringed around it are 22 seats and NO floor. I was a bit unnerved, especially when we started to ascend but the ride up is so smooth as to be almost unnoticeable, except for the slight swaying of the platform on the way up. Once we arrived at our destination of 100 ft up, Chef Xavier and his team started dishing out our meal. The food was fantastic and the views were amazing. It really has to be one of the most unique dining experiences I’ve ever had. The wine was flowing along with the conversation and in between courses, Chef Xavier and his crew were happy to chat, pose for pics and even take pictures of us! Before we knew it, our hour was up and we were gently sent back to earth. It was a great night and if you get the chance to dine in...

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Launch of the Perrier Jouet 2005 Belle Epoque Rose Limited Edition at the Gherkin

Sep 22, 14 Launch of the Perrier Jouet 2005 Belle Epoque Rose Limited Edition at the Gherkin

Posted by in Champagne

Earlier this month, Perrier Jouet was in town to launch their 2005 Belle Epoque Rose Limited Edition bottle by Vik Muniz. The launch was at one of my favourite venues in London, The Gherkin. No matter how many times I’ve been to the top, it never fails to impress me. There may be taller buildings in London but the tip top of the Gherkin is just really cool.  Perrier Jouet commissioned Brazilian visual artist Vik Muniz to create a unique label for the 2005 as this vintage is the most extravagent wine of the Belle Epoque collection, according to cellar master Herve Deschamps. According to the Perrier Jouet, the 2005 is… …A generous and voluptuous cuvée, the complexity of the 2005 vintage reflects a year of contrasts crowned by a spectacular Indian summer. Chardonnay, Perrier-Jouët’s nominated grape of choice, is predominant in the blend while the cuvée owes its richness and pure, salmon-pink hue to the Pinot Noir variety. After nine years ageing in the House’s cellars, the result is a perfect balance between the year’s character and Perrier-Jouët’s stylish, floral and diamond-cut house style…… The bottle has the traditional anemones on the front but the back label is where Muniz let his creativity come out to play. The artist created a long gold plated label running from top to bottom with the story of the 2005 etched on it. The surprise though is when you look thru the bottle from the front. There Muniz has etched in a hummingbird which appears to be feeding from the anemones. Beautiful!  After the unveiling of the 2005, we were treated to the Belle Epoque 2006 upstairs, where the space at the very top of the Gherkin had been transformed into a nightclub for the evening. A great night out, how could it not be with Perrier Jouet flowing freely. There were only 2000 bottles produced and only 200 are available in the UK. Look for it in Harvey Nichols or at Searcy’s Champagne Bar. Share this:TwitterFacebookLinkedInPocketRedditGoogleTumblrEmailPrintPinterestLike...

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Discovering Portugal’s Vinho Verde, visiting Soalheiro vineyards

Sep 10, 14 Discovering Portugal’s Vinho Verde, visiting Soalheiro vineyards

Posted by in All, Portugal, Sparkling Wine

The last days of summer are upon us but that doesn’t mean you have to automatically switch to red wine. As they say, it’s ok to drink white after Labor Day (well, that’s what they say in the States).  Earlier this summer I visited the Vinho Verde region in the north east of Portugal where they make great wines, and not just for summer. Vinho Verde can be a bit confusing because it is not only the name of the grape and  one of the styles made, but is also the region. Most consumers think of Vinho Verde as a light easy drinking wine that is meant to be drunk young. As an added bonus, it’s also low alcohol, averaging between (9% – 11% alc).While that is all true, there is a lot more to it then just that. For example, Vinho Verde not only pertains to young white wine but also to rose and red wine. Vinho Verde can also be sparkling or distilled. Our trip focused on the whites of the region. The main grapes used for the white wines are alvarinho, arinto, loureiro, trajadura, azal and avesso. All of these are indigenous varieties of Portugal and produce light wines with acidity but also with body. A very nice combination on the palate. Throughout the trip, we tasted not only the still white wines but also the sparkling wines of the region, which are less well known but equally as good. One of the sparkling wine producers we met was Luiz Cerdeira, son of the founder of Soalheiro. They are located in the northern most part of Portugal, in Melgaço and specialize in alvarinho. They produce both still and sparkling wines. Sitting on the balcony of the winery overlooking the vines with the border with Spain just at the bottom of the hill was a delightful experience. We sipped their Brut Rose as well as the sparkling alvarinho. I think those sparklers could easily compete on an international scale. They had great acidity,...

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The Rockwell Hotel, a bit of quiet in Earls Court

Sep 09, 14 The Rockwell Hotel, a bit of quiet in Earls Court

Posted by in All

I know a place just a few minutes walk from Earls Court tube station that is a quiet haven in this traffic chocked, pedestrian clogged part of London.  It doesn’t seem to matter what time of day or even what day, but there always seems to be masses of people in and around Earls Court. Which is why it was such a surprise as soon as I walked in the lobby of The Rockwell Hotel. Although it’s right around the corner from Earls Court and located on busy Cromwell Rd, the interior of this refurbished Victorian townhouse is comfortingly quiet. I was greatly relieved to escape all the hustle and bustle so I can only imagine what jet lagged and exhausted tourists must feel like when the front door of the Rockwell closes behind them as they enter the lobby. The decor is comfortable and modern with high ceilings and plenty of windows to let in the light. As it’s a converted townhouse, there is a wide staircase that leads to the rooms but don’t worry, there’s also an elevator. If you can, request one of the rooms in the basement as they are large and comfy with small terraces set with a garden table and chairs which are a cozy little place to relax. If you don’t get a room with a terrace, the hotel also has a lovely back garden on the ground floor where you can also relax with a drink or two. The garden is behind the restaurant of the hotel, which serves modern British cuisine. The menu is uncomplicated but has a nice variety of dishes. We both started with salads, I had the summer salad of goats cheese and apple which was quite substantial. My friend ordered the Rockwell Chicken Salad, a house signature dish, a tasty combo of avocado, greens,chicken and blue cheese dressing, delicious. For the mains, I ordered the traditional Fish and Chips with mushy peas which was not only nicely crunchy and flakey at...

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Madeira Wine Is For More Than Just Cooking

Aug 22, 14 Madeira Wine Is For More Than Just Cooking

Posted by in Food and Wine, Portugal

Recently I had lunch with Humberto Jardim, the managing director of Henriques & Henriques, one of the oldest producers of Madeira, the house being founded in 1850. Madeira has a long and distinguished history but nowadays consumers only consider it when they are cooking which is a shame as there is so much more to Madeira. Over lunch at Maze, Humberto told me a bit about the history of Madeira and where he thinks it should be heading in the future. Madeira can be found in writings from around 1425 and is even mentioned in Shakespear’s plays Falstaff and Richard III. It was used to toast the signing of the American Declaration of Independence and is still used today to toast any who are given the Freedom of the City of London. Although Madeira has been around for centuries and is delicious, it is a complicated wine to navigate. Humberto freely acknowledges this and believes that Madeira has to do a better job of educating the consumer.  There are so many styles, variations and ages of the wine that it can be difficult to choose just the right one. DOC Madeira is by definition always going to be sweet due to the DOC regulations. Even ‘dry’ Madeira can have up to 115 grams of sugar per litre. The key to Madeira is the balance between the sugar, acidity and alcohol. I should mention that Madeira is a fortified and ‘cooked’ wine, by that I mean it is left to age in heated rooms, often in barrel but also in tank. They are aged this way to duplicate the long sea voyages through tropical climes in cask that first gave us Madeira. One thing you can say about Madeira is that it is virtually indestructible. Even if a bottle has been open for months or years, it will still taste as fresh as the day it was opened. Humberto opines that they should market Madeira according to styles of production. He thinks that Malvasia which...

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Lidl launching premium wines this Autumn

Jul 22, 14 Lidl launching premium wines this Autumn

Posted by in All

When one thinks of premium Bordeaux, the discount supermarket Lidl does not spring to mind. But Lidl is working hard to change that perception with the launch this Autumn of their ‘premium’ range of wines. The range will not only include Bordeaux wines but also wines from other prestigious French wine regions. Lidl are looking to go upmarket and have opened up a number of shops in such middle class markets as Maidenhead and Dorking. If this roll out is successful, they are planning on opening even more shops in and around London. Although Lidl is known for their more downmarket shopper profile, the hope is that with this new range, they’ll be shedding that image. The wines start at £4.99 but the Bordeaux will range in price from £5.99 for a Bordeaux AOC up to £25.99 for a 2008 Sociando Mallet. It’s all very exciting and based on the tastings we had in Bordeaux I think they are offering some great wines. I was invited down to Bordeaux to not only taste some of the range but also to take a tour of a few of the chateau they will be featuring and to meet the wine makers. Chateau Siaurac was our first stop and we had a lovely lunch on the lawn of the chateau with owner, Paul Goldschmidt. Paul was very proud of the wine that they will be offering through Lidl, the 2007 AOC Lalande de Pomerol Ch. Siaurac. Lalande de Pomerol is not as well known as it’s more famous neighbour, Pomerol, but the wines were of excellent quality and priced at £13.99 very reasonable. Paul noted that in dealing with Lidl they never asked him to bargain on quality. Lidl’s philosophy is to get the best they can at a fair price while still giving their customers great value. Another producer we visited was Vignobles Rollet. A family owned vineyard in Saint Emilion, the family makes wines that are meant to be drunk now rather then later. Based...

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