Scary fish and Churchill’s port & wines

Apr 11, 12 Scary fish and Churchill’s port & wines

Posted by in Food and Wine, Portugal, Travel

EEEEKKKKKK! That is one scary looking fish. I bet you’re wondering what exactly it has to do with wine. Well, that is what greeted me after my tour of the cellars of Churchill’s Port’s new visitor centre and lodge in Gaia, Portugal. It’s not some mutant fished out of a polluted river in South East Asia, it was actually our dinner. And a very tasty dinner it was. The salmon (yes, that’s what it is) had been smoked for hours in a old port wine barrel before being plated up and left to scare me upon emerging from the cellars. Despite it’s appearance, it was delicious, having an intensely salmon flavour without the oiliness that so often accompanies smoked salmon. The flesh was flaky and dry but not dried out – served with a mustard dill sauce, it was divine and paired with Churchill’s table rosè wine, a perfect way to end a Friday. Churchill’s Port was my last stop on a 4 day trip to the Douro Valley and Porto, Portugal with Discover the Origin. DTO’s mission is to introduce us to the lesser known but still amazing food and wine regions of Europe, the Douro Valley and port wine being one of the areas on their list. The very charming Johnny Graham, founder of Churchill’s, was our host and happily led us through a tasting of not only Churchill’s port wines but also the line of table wines that they are now producing. Churchill’s is a young port house, founded only 30 years ago after Graham’s was bought out by a big conglomeration. Johnny found that he couldn’t use his surname but he could use his wife’s to found his own port wine house. The new visitor centre and tasting room we were visiting is situated overlooking the Douro River in Gaia and is where Churchill’s currently ages their ports. Speaking to Johnny though, he told us that they are currently in the process of building a new winery in the Douro...

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The Yeatman

Nov 22, 11 The Yeatman

Posted by in Hotels and Spas, Portugal

The very first thing you notice when you walk into the The Yeatman is not the statue of Bacchus that dominates the lobby but rather, it’s what Bacchus faces that takes your breath away. The view that stretches in front of you of the entire hillside of the city of Oporto is amazing any time of day or night. The Yeatman is perched on a hillside on the Gaia side of the river. Oporto is divided into two by the river, with the Gaia side being where all the port lodges are located, the grapes are grown in the Douro Valley but the wine is aged in the long buildings of Gaia. It’s also where one finds The Yeatman overlooking the red tiled roofs of the lodges. The Yeatman came about to fill the need for a luxury hotel in the city of Oporto. During my visit, I had a chance to chat with Adrian Bridges, CEO of the hotel, and he told me he wanted to create a luxury hotel that was worthy of the city of Oporto and the history of port. Adrian was involved in all aspects of the hotel, from the colour of the curtains to the mattress maker. Adrian and his wife personally slept on all 6 potential mattresses for the hotel before finally plumping for the eventual winner. Among the amenities are a luxury spa where you can while away the day amongst vine influenced decor. I loved the staircase which encircled the interior of a giant wooden vat. After my massage, I relaxed on an enclosed sundeck with of course, that panoramic view of Oporto. The hotel’s theme is wine and the Wine Director, Beatriz Machado, is all about wine experiences. She personally chose and tasted all of the wines on the wine list, sourcing what she feels are stellar examples of Portuguese wine making. Although Portugal is famous for it’s Port, the dry wines that are being produced are spectacular. The hotel hosts a wine dinner...

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Chateau Musar – red and white wines of Lebanon

Nov 06, 11 Chateau Musar – red and white wines of Lebanon

Posted by in Lebanon

Imagine a winemaker who’s wine has to age for a minimum of 7 years before it’s released to the public. Madness you might think in this day and age where to hold even a year’s vintage  would be considered economic suicide – unless of course, one was a Port or Champagne producer. That is however, exactly what Chateau Musar does. They age all of their wines both red and white for a minimum of 7 years and sometimes even longer. If they could, they’d hold them even longer but as Ralph Hochar, son of one of the owners explained during a recent winetasting in London, they just don’t have the room in the cellar to hold anymore. The UK is the biggest market for Chateau Musar because it was where they first started exporting their wines back in the 1970’s. They started by importing their wines to the UK and are still their own importers, which is one reason why their wines are very competitively priced. They are unique in the wine business as they have no public relations machinery, having developed their market through a grassroots campaign which meant plenty of wine dinners, tastings and lots of one to one schmoozing. Chateau Musar was founded in the Bakaa Valley, Lebanon in 1930 by Gaston Hochar and has always been a family run business. Ralph is part of the current generation although his Bordeaux trained uncle Serge is head of the house and head winemaker. Serge has been the winemaker since 1959 and over the past 50 years he has trialed various vineyard and winemaking aspects but has always remained true to the wine, striving to make the best wines from the land and remaining true to his ‘natural’ winemaking philosophy. I found myself at the recently renovated Grosvenor Hotel in Victoria for the tasting. On show, we were able to try various vintages from the most recent 2003 Ch. Musar red back to the 1991 Chateau Musar white. Chateau Musar produce Bordeaux like...

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Seafood and wine workshops at the Andaz Hotel

Oct 10, 11 Seafood and wine workshops at the Andaz Hotel

Posted by in Food and Wine, Hotels and Spas

7am on a Saturday morning is not the usual start time for events I attend, 7pm is more like it, but since Billingsgate market is only open early mornings, I had no choice but to be up at the crack of dawn to get down to the market for the new series the “Andaz Liverpool Street Seafood Workshops” in conjunction with Head Chef Martin Scholz of Catch Restaurant (part of the Andaz Hotel) is launching during the London Restaurant Festival. Catch’s Head Chef, Martin Scholz met us at the Billingsgate market and gave us a tour round, meeting suppliers, showing us the different species of fish the market sells and showing us how to select seafood as well as shop sustainably. The market was winding down but the time we got there (8am) but Saturday the market is open to regular punters and there was still plenty of people around and fish to buy. I’d never been to such a big fish market and it was eye-opening to see fish as something other than fillets. Frankly, they are not the cuddliest animals around. After our tour we headed back to the Andaz Hotel for our seafood cookery class in the Andaz Studio, a private dining room/workspace where we would be helping out Chef Martin and his assistant chef, Gavin. The space is great as it has an open plan kitchen at one end where guests can either watch the chefs at work or roll up their sleeves and pitch in. We got to slicing and dicing the ingredients for our lunch. Chef Martin was great, funny and friendly but a consummate professional at the same time. Cooking with the chef was not only fun but also educational as Martin had lots of little hints and tips. It took a few hours to get lunch ready but it was well worth the wait. A light and delectable bouillabaise to start, arctic cod with chorizo risotto and olive tapenade stuffed squid for the main followed by...

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Chene Bleu, wines from Vaucluse

Sep 01, 11 Chene Bleu, wines from Vaucluse

Posted by in France

The old saw goes, “How do you make a small fortune? Start with a big one and buy a vineyard.” Which is basically what Nicole Rolet and her husband, Xavier did in the late 90’s when they bought a derelict vineyard along the southern border of Gigondas in the region of Vaucluse in Provence. After having the land assessed by soil experts Claude and Lydia Bourguignon and being told they had soil with incredible potential to grow excellent vines, Xavier went back to work in the City and Nicole set to studying wine. Nicole and Xavier settled on the name Chene Bleu because of an ancient “blue” oak tree that dominates the vineyard and symbolizes to them, the “…beauty and uniqueness of the vineyard.”  Joined by Xavier’s sister Benedicte Galluci, a viticulturist and her husband, Jean-Louis, winemaker, they are now producing small quantities of biodynamic, hand picked, hand made wine. No expense is spared in the production of the wine and they follow biodynamic principles down to bottling on “flower days” or “fruit days” to ensure the wine shows at it’s best. The soil that was so praised by the experts is indeed excellent for producing wines with a streak of minerality, the schist and clay soils showing off in the wines. They grow syrah, grenache, viognier, roussane and marsanne and use bespoke wine making techniques which are adapted to each particular parcel of their vines.Using those bespoke techniques gives them the opportunity to produce their wines to their exact specifications but it also leaves them producing only Vin de Pays wine instead of AOC wines as they often go out of the AOC guidelines in order to produce the wines to their exact specifications. I, for one, am not that bothered if a wine is a VdP or  AOC as long as it’s well made and I enjoy drinking it. Nicole brought the entire range to The Boundary Restaurant in Shoreditch to taste and here are my brief notes on each: 2009 Rose...

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