Often described as a temple to Californian wine, The Vineyard at Stockcross certainly has an impressive wine list but it’s not limited to Californian ones. Indeed, it has one of the largest international wine cellars in the UK.

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The hotel belongs to the Michael family, and is very much a showcase for Sir Peter Michael’s loves of wine and art.

Both combine in the form of a one-off mural called “After The Upset”, painted this year by artist Gary Myatt as a representation of the story of “The Judgement of Paris”. Back in 1976, Steven Spurrier, an Englishman, owned and ran a successful wine shop in Paris, and had recently founded the first private wine school in the country. Understandably, this became a centre point for American vintners and wine writers visiting France, and through them, Spurrier became exposed to Californian wines. He decided to hold a tasting to compare the best of Californian and French wines, to which he invited the top wine experts of the day. His blind tasting format removed the possibility of prejudice colouring the results and indeed, there was considerable uproar when Californian wines were revealed to be the best red and the best white wines of the event. One of the participants, writer George Taber, wrote an article for Time magazine, which he provocatively titled “The Judgement of Paris”. This really rocked the French wine industry, which had, until then, been considered the undisputed king of the wine making world.

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This story was engagingly narrated by head sommelier Yohann Jousselin, who also showed us around the impressive glass ceilinged cellar in the hotel lobby, the main upstairs cellar, and later, talked us through the wines chosen to accompany our meal that evening.

Sir Peter Michael is an entrepreneur with a technological bent and was the driving force behind a number of high tech companies. He also founded Classic FM, the UK’s first national commercial radio station. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1989. Now, his focus is on wine (at his family vineyard in Sonoma County, California), hospitality (at the Vineyard and sister hotel Donnington Valley) and the work of two charitable foundations, one in the US and one in the UK, which fund research on the identification, treatment and management of prostrate cancer.

Although Sir Michael wasn’t present at the original 1976 tasting, he has been included in the mural and was present at some of the subsequent tastings in the following decades.

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A site within the M4 corridor, not far from Newbury, may not sound like the ideal location for a getaway break, but The Vineyard is in a quiet rural spot next door to a golf course. The modern building was recently extended, to add extra bedrooms and conference space and now has 49 bedrooms, each named after a famous wine. The hotel also has a spa, which we didn’t see on this visit.

Our focus was to check out the food and wine offering.

Head chef Daniel Galmiche created a menu to showcase the restaurant’s style, and Yohann matched wines to each course, explaining his choices as they were served.

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To my delight, Yohann didn’t bat an eyelid when I asked, as we sat down to the meal, if he could serve me dessert wines instead, whilst the rest of the table enjoyed his original selections. It was a pleasure to be given a different wine for each course, and see how their characteristics affected the flavours of the food and were affected in return. As someone who doesn’t drink regular wines, and usually misses out on matching drinks, this was a rare treat.

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Confit of duck foie gras, quince and braeburn apple

A large block of foie gras was simply served with apple and quince jellies and an apple chutney. The foie gras itself was excellent in flavour and texture. I appreciated the generous portion and enjoyed the seasonal fruit condiments.

For the regular wine drinkers, Yohann chose Eroica 2010 from Chateau Ste Michelle, Washington. This wine is the result of collaboration between Chateau Ste Michelle and Dr Ernst Loosen of Mosel in Germany. Pete found it a very good match for the foie gras, and described it as full of sharp green fruit, mainly unripe apples.

For me, Yohann served a delicious Eldorado Gold 2007 from Ferraro Carano, Sonoma California. This is a late harvest dessert wine and reminded me of the wines of Sauternes, which I love and are a classic partner to foie gras.

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Diver caught Orkney scallops, cauliflower, walnut

These might just be some of the best scallops I’ve tasted. Not only were they perfectly cooked, with beautiful brown caramelised crusts and yieldingly soft flesh, they had more flavour and natural sweetness than most I’ve had. Served alongside were tiny florets of pickled cauliflower, dollops of cauliflower puree and tiny rounds of sweet apple. No walnut that I could see. This was a simple dish but beautifully executed and one I could eat every day.

The regular wine choice was Quinta do Gaivosa Reserva Pessoal 2004 from Domingos Alves de Sousa in Douro, Portugal. Oddly, Pete detected banana and singed oak on the nose. It was “unsweet without being too dry”, and he muttered about “musty mushroom but in a good way”.

My wine was Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh 2009 from the Producteurs de Plaimont Cuvee Saint-Albert in Plaimont, South West France. A revival of an 18th century wine style, this is another late harvest dessert wine with rich, intense flavours of fruits and molasses.

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Balmoral Estate venison, butternut squash, pearl barley, hazelnut

Rubbed with Chef Galmiche’s own coffee, the venison was, once again, some of the best I’ve had. Not at all gamey, it was virtually indistinguishable from a very tender and well flavoured piece of beef. As well as squash and pearl barley, it was accompanied by delicious turnip leaves and a teeny tiny baby carrot! A beautiful dish indeed.

The regular wine choice was a Freemark Abbey 2010 merlot from Napa Valley, California. Pete loved the big fruit, blackcurrant nose and enjoyed what he likened to deep Burgundy tannins. This was a magnificent and a perfect match to the venison.

For me, Yohann chose a cabernet rose fruit juice by Alain Millat. Made from grapes grown in Gaillac, in France, this is a sweet, light and intense juice drink that is perfect for non drinkers seeking a choice that echoes the flavours in red wine.

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Griottine cherry and cranberry terrine, pistachio parfait

I was less impressed with this dessert than most of the table, as I found it far too sweet. This coming from me, sitting and drinking my dessert wines all evening! I liked the alcohol and fruit bomb griottine the most. I think the terrine had white chocolate mixed into it, certainly that was what I picked up. Neither the cranberry nor the cherries came through clearly in anything other than appearance. Likewise the pistachio terrine didn’t have much of a pistachio kick. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate this, but it was definitely the weak point of the menu for me.

Yohann served one wine for all of us, to go with this dish – Roussilliere from Yves Cuilleron in France’s Rhône Valley. Another late harvest dessert wine, made from noble rot syrah, this was enjoyed by most of the table, but I actually found the acidity a little strong for my tastes. For Pete, what came through most were deep fruity aromas of raisins and plums. It was “port-like” in the mouth and not too sweet.

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Seasonal farmhouse cheese platter, quince, fig cake, fennel bread

Tovey, Gruyere and St Nectaire were all tasty cheeses, though I prefer St Nectaire that’s older and harder than the young, soft slice we had here and likewise, for the Gruyere. Tovey was new to me and I liked it; made by Thornby Moor in Wigton, Cumbria it’s a semi-soft goat’s milk cheese with a smooth texture and robust flavour. The crisp breads – which looked to me like Peters Yard, though the waiter I asked never came back with an answer – were excellent. The fig cake was lovely with the Gruyere and the sweet dark grapes best with the Tovey.

Again, a shared wine choice with the cheese. This time Yohann chose a Noble Late Harvest Chenin Blanc 2005 from Eikendal in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Syrupy sweet with lovely dried fruit flavours, this was a classic dessert wine and I really liked it; a great match for the cheese. Pete mentioned a sweet musty nose, like a cheese cave, and found the wine full of red berry fruit, particularly strawberries, and sweet but with an acid edge on the finish.

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Petits fours were served with tea and coffee, in the nearby lounge area.

After dinner, we spent the night in a comfortable Atrium Suite room, in the newest part of the hotel.

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As we left early the next morning, we didn’t make much use of the generous seating in the split level lounge area but we did love the bathroom with large separate shower and an absolutely enormous bathtub! The bed was comfortable and we had a great night’s sleep. My only preference would have been for a larger TV, as I like to watch from the bed on occasion.

Room rates start at just under £200 for a standard “luxury” double and range to over £500 for a Grand Suite. Dinner, bed and breakfast starts at £420. Prices are higher on weekends. It’s worth keeping an eye out for special offers, as a friend told me about one such offer she took advantage of last year which included full use of the spa and an overnight stay for little more than £100.

A five course meal, like the one we were served, is priced at £75 per person, or you can order individual dishes from the a la carte menu. Alternatively, you might enjoy the 7 course Judgement of Paris menu in which each course is matched with two wines, one French and one Californian. With wines, it’s £185 or £99 without.

 

Kavey Eats was a guest of The Vineyard.

 

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Read my guest post at Pete Drinks, about tasting Vietnamese rice wine liqueurs at Pho restaurant.

 

Boef Bourgignon aka Boeuf à la Bourguignonne is a classic French dish originating, as its name indicates, from the Burgundy region, as do a number of other dishes incorporating red wine, such as coq au vin and oeufs en Meurette. I’ve been meaning to try the latter ever since our last trip; I’ll try and blog that one soon.

So back to the beef: this hearty stew is characterised by a slow braise of beef in red wine, which renders the meat tender and succulent, and the addition of bacon, pearl onions and button mushrooms. Most recipes use stewing steak and combine beef stock with red wine for the braising liquid.

I decided to use beef cheeks (also known as ox cheeks), as I love the way these break down with slow cooking. I used shallots instead of pearl onions. And I substituted some dark ale for the beef stock, just because. These variations on the traditional version turned out extremely well!

This is a very easy dish, though you’ll need some time at the start, to prep all the ingredients and separately brown the beef pieces, mushrooms and shallots.

The amounts are flexible, to make it easier to do your shopping. These minor variations really won’t make a difference to the final result! Even if you’re cooking for one or two, I recommend making this recipe in the quantities below and freezing the extra portions for another time.

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Kavey’s Beef Cheeks Bourguignon

Serves 6

Ingredients
1-1.2 kilos beef cheeks (also known as ox cheeks), trimmed and cut into 2-3 inch pieces
2-3 tablespoons seasoned flour
Vegetable oil for cooking
200 grams bacon in cubes or short strips
200-300 grams button mushrooms, cut in half if large
300-400 grams shallots
2 medium-large onions, diced
1 bottle full-bodied red wine
250 ml dark ale
1 sprig fresh thyme or teaspoon dried
2-3 bay leaves

Method

  • Dredge each piece of beef in seasoned flour.
  • In a large lidded casserole dish – big enough for all the meat, onions, mushrooms, wine and liquid – heat a little cooking oil and fry the floured beef pieces until the surfaces are crusty and brown with caramelisation. Do this in batches so the meat doesn’t steam. Set aside the browned beef.
  • Add more cooking oil if necessary to brown the mushrooms in the same pan, then set aside.
  • Now do the same for the shallots, and set them aside with the mushrooms.
  • Again, add more oil to the empty pan, if necessary, and fry the bacon and onions until the onions soften and the bacon takes on a little colour.
  • To the bacon and onions, add back the beef pieces plus the bay leaves, thyme, red wine and dark ale.
  • Leave to simmer for 3 hours, with the lid on.
  • Add the mushrooms and shallots back to the dish and cook for another 30-45 minutes, uncovered, on a gentle simmer. The time depends on the size of your shallots, as you want to ensure they are cooked through and soft. Leaving the lid off will also allow the sauce to reduce a little further.

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    Serve with buttery mash potatoes, or plain steamed potatoes if you want to be more traditional.

 

 

New cook books are great. New cookbooks I won by following the author on twitter are even better, especially as I hadn’t even realised there was a competition running!

I’m a real fan of a good stew.  Hearty and comforting, full of warmth and good flavours and often made from inexpensive ingredients. What’s not to like?

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Genevieve Taylor feels the same way and shares a wide range of recipes in her book Stew! released earlier this year.

Particularly appealing to those wanting inspiring yet frugal recipes, it didn’t take me long to decide which recipe to try first, though I have a feeling we’ll be trying quite a few through the cold winter months to come.

The recipe for lamb shanks with red wine and balsamic vinegar was very straightforward and the results were absolutely delicious. And it was just as frugal as promised, making use of a small pair of lamb shanks from Donald Russell, an inexpensive but perfectly drinkable red wine from Aldi, and an inexpensive bottle of balsamic vinegar from Waitrose.

This is definitely a recipe we’ll make again!

Enter my competition, below, to win your own copy of Stew!

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Lamb Shanks with Red Wine and Balsamic Vinegar

Ingredients
2 tablespoons plain flour
4-6 lamb shanks (or 1 kilo ox cheeks, see note below recipe)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
4 red onions, cut into wedges through the root
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
375 ml red wine
150 ml balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Note: We had 2 lamb shanks, so halved all amounts in the recipe above.
Note: We used regular vegetable oil in place of olive oil.

Method

  • Season the flour with salt and freshly ground black pepper. On a large plate dust the lamb shanks with the seasoned flour and toss to coat all over.

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  • Heat the cooking oil in a heavy-based pan, with a lid, and brown the lamb shanks on all sides. This will take a good few minutes so don’t rush it as the flavour will be greatly improved if the shanks are well browned. Remove to a plate and set aside.

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  • Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary, add the onions and allow to soften and colour a little at the edges. Then add the garlic and rosemary and cook for just a minute.

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  • Return the lamb shanks to the pan and pour over the red wine and balsamic vinegar.

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  • Bring up to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook very slowly for 2 – 2.5 hours. You want the lamb to be so soft it is coming away from the bone. Turn the shanks every now and then to baste them in the juices.

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  • Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Serve with herby mash potatoes.

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Delicious…

Edit: The following week, I made this recipe again substituting a ox cheeks for the lamb shanks and it worked beautifully. I used a kilo of ox cheeks and the full amounts of everything else. I also allowed an extra hour for cooking, covered and then an additional half an hour uncovered to reduce the sauce a little further at the end. It was absolutely fantastic, just like the lamb shanks.

Win!

If that lovely recipe whet your appetite, why not enter my competition to win a copy of this marvellous book for yourself?

 

How to enter

You can enter the competition in 4 ways.
Please leave a separate comment on this post for entries 1 – 3. A separate comment is not needed for entry 4.

Entry 1 – Answer the question
Leave a comment below, answering the following question:
Which vinegar gives its distinctive flavour to the lamb shank stew I cooked from Genevieve’s book?

Entry 2 – Become a Facebook fan of Kavey Eats
Go to the Kavey Eats Facebook page and click on the Like button. Leave a comment below once you’ve done so. If you’re already a Facebook fan, just say so in your comment. Please include your Facebook name.

Entry 3 – Follow Kavey on Twitter
Click through and follow @KaveyF on Twitter and leave a comment below once you’ve done so. If you already follow me, just say so in your comment. Please include your Twitter name.

Entry 4 – Tweet
Tweet the (exact) sentence below:
I’d love to win a copy of Stew! by Genevieve Taylor from www.kaveyeats.com #KaveyEatsStew

Rules & Details

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Saturday 26 November 2011.
  • One entry per method per person.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • The prize includes delivery, and can be delivered to UK mainland addresses only.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for cash.
  • The prize is offered and will be delivered directly by Absolute Press.
  • The winner will be notified by email or twitter asked to provide a delivery address. If no response is received by the end of November 2011, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

*If you don’t have a secondary email address already and are nervous about sharing your main email address on the internet, why not set up a new free email account on hotmail, gmail or yahoo, that you can use to enter competitions like this?


Aug 012011
 

Some weeks ago we were invited to review M&S Wine Direct.

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Rather than having their marketing representative place the order, we suggested that it would be a far better review if we navigated the website ourselves, placed a direct order as a regular customer and assessed the entire process as well as the wine.

A value was agreed (and payment transferred to us directly) and we were left to our own devices to make our choice and order.

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We decided to take the opportunity to buy a smaller number of more expensive bottles, hoping for something better than the bottles we most commonly buy for around a tenner.

We chose a case of 6 Classic Claret wines priced at £130.97, working out to £21.83 per bottle.

Delivery went without a hitch and the bottles arrived in good condition.

Wanting more input on our assessments, we shared the bottles with friends and family. Unfortunately, everyone was in agreement.

Five of the six bottles were deemed “alright” but not as good as expected for the price. Independently, the same refrain was repeated – that the feedback would be more positive were the bottles priced between £10 and £12 but that they simply didn’t justify £20+. And one of the six bottles would have been disappointing even at £10.

Based on our experience, we’re not sure we’d rush to order wine from M&S Wine Direct again.

We’re curious now about whether their less expensive wines are a better deal.

Perhaps, if a specific wine we already knew and liked (not just region but vineyard, style and year) were particularly well priced, we’d consider buying from M&S. But the chances of this seem remote.

And possibly if we needed to send a wine gift via the post, we might order it through M&S. However, if we’d been sent this case as a gift, I’d have guessed the value to be half of what we actually paid for it. When we spend money on a gift, we want our budget to go as far as possible and want to coddle our recipient, not underwhelm them!

Have you ordered wine from M&S Wine Direct?

What did you think? Was the wine you received good value at the price you paid?

Do please let us know, in the comments.

Using The Website

MnS wine 1 homepage

From the home page, select an initial category to view such as Mixed Cases or cases/ bottles of Champagne, Red Wine, White Wine, Rosé Wine, Single Bottle Gifts and so on.

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Here, Mixed Cases has been selected. Current special offers are listed first, then the rest of the cases are sorted in order of popularity with customers. A dropdown at the top allows you to sort by price or user rating or to show new products first.

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Filters don’t work well.

For example, viewing all Mixed Cases (above) shows 3 cases of 12 red bottles. But clicking on the filters at the left to narrow down to red wine and to cases of 12 bottles results in only 2 cases being displayed.

Likewise, viewing all Mixed Cases reveals a case of 6 called Sparkling Celebration. But clicking on the filter for Mixed Sparkling, only two options are listed, and Sparkling Celebration isn’t one of them.

This issue is prevalent throughout the site; more care needs to be taken by M&S to correctly categorise and flag all products loaded to the site.

In the mean time, we’d suggest you plough through all the products within each category rather than relying on the filters at all.

MnS wine 7 beer is navigated food and wine then wine and then beer

Beers are listed within Wine Direct. Perhaps it’s just us but if we were looking for beers on the Marks & Spencer website, it wouldn’t occur to us to select Wine from the Food & Wine main menu (to bring up Wine Direct) and then search down the left to find beers.

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Detailed information and guidance is provided about each product.

Mixed Cases show an image of the collection of bottles together and list them separately in the product details below.

Also provided are individual images of the bottle labels for all bottles in the collection; you can zoom into these sufficiently to read them clearly.

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Some products also provide an informational videos such as the Classic Claret case and the Charles Freminet Brut Champagne.

MnS wine 14 delivery and returns information

Standard delivery (within 5 days) costs £3.50. We opted to pay £4.95 in order to be able to nominate a specific delivery date.

Delivery is free on orders over £150.

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Adding items to our basket was easy.

The check out process necessitated registering an account for the website, but this didn’t take too long and the name and address information fed back through to the relevant delivery fields.

MnS wine 20 delivery date

We didn’t have any problem selecting a delivery date. All upcoming Mondays to Saturdays were available.

From there we simply entered credit card information, confirmed the order, were shown an order confirmation page and sent a confirmation email.

Kavey Eats tried M&S Wine Direct courtesy of M&S.

 

Olly Smith is well known as a wine writer and presenter, respected for helping the nation to find and appreciate good wine.

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But he’s also a keen food lover and has written his own cookery book Eat and Drink full of his favourite recipes, with an emphasis on food that great to drink with. The collection is wide-ranging and includes recipes handed down in the family as well as his own creations and adaptations. The writing style is very much like his energetic speaking style and very down to earth. And there’s an endearing ode to Roger Moore than runs throughout the book.

I confess that I do like photographs in cookery books and those are missing here. But it’s an easy read with many appealing recipes including a tangy orange and squidgy almond cake, north sea chicken in a hijack sauce, lavender-studded roasted lamb rump, orange blossom rum babas, great granny Lennard’s crunchie pie and sticky bourbon beef. Do those not sound wonderful?

What drew me to the recipe below is that it starts a lot like my slow cooker chicken, where I cook the whole bird for several hours; the cooking liquid is alternatively water with white wine, or water on its own and I’ll usually throw in onions, carrot and leek peelings, if I have them, and a bay leaf or two. This recipe starts off somewhat similarly but then mixes the wine-poached chicken into a sauce made from the reduced cooking liquid and green grapes.

Jolly Olly’s Chicken Veronique

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
1 kg organic or free range chicken
50 grams butter
1 onions, roughly chopped
100 grams button mushrooms, sliced thinly
500 ml fruity white wine
500 ml chicken stock
300 ml or 1/2 pint double cream
200 grams white grapes, halved
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Note: We discovered as we were about to start cooking, that our mushrooms had gone off, so we omitted them from the recipe. I adore mushrooms, so will make sure I include them next time.

  • Preheat the oven 180 C / 350 F/ Gas 4 and season the chicken with salt and pepper.
  • Heat an ovenproof casserole dish, big enough to fit the chicken snugly, until medium hot. Add the butter and heat until foaming and then add the chicken and seal on each side for 1-1.5 minutes until golden brown. Remove the chicken and set aside.
  • Add the onion to the dish and cook for 5 minutes until softened, then turn the heat up, add the mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Place the chicken back into the pan on top of the vegetables and pour in the white wine. Bring to the boil, then add the chicken stock and return to the boil.
  • Season with salt and pepper, cover and place in the oven for an hour until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Remove the chicken and set aside to cool.
  • Return the dish to the hob and bring to the boil. Add the cream and cook until the whole mixture has reduced by a third. Check the seasoning, add the grapes and then set aside.
  • Strip the chicken of all the meat and shred into 5cm strips (the carcass can be used to make stock). Add the chicken to the sauce and mix well.
  • Place back on the heat until bubbling, check the seasoning once more, then serve with some basmati rice.

No photos, I’m afraid because a) I forgot to take any during the earlier stages and b) the finished dish is definitely not photogenic!

I adapted the recipe to use my slow cooker for the first part, so didn’t pre-soften the onions, nor seal the chicken; since one strips away the skin when taking all the meat off the carcass, I couldn’t see the point in sealing and the onions softened completely during the long period in the slow cooker.

I did use stock, as per Olly’s ingredients, but don’t think that was necessary – I didn’t find the cooking liquid any deeper in flavour than what I’ve always achieved using wine and water only.

Rather than put the cooked bird aside, make the sauce and put it aside, then strip the bird and add back to the sauce and reheat I re-ordered the steps and set the chicken aside only while I transferred the cooking liquid sauce on the heat. I stripped the chicken meat while the sauce was reducing and then, once it was reduced, put the meat straight into it, so the meat quickly reheated in the hot sauce.

We had it with potatoes, which were put on to boil while the sauce was reducing.

Because I switched to using the slow cooker, we probably had a larger volume of liquid to reduce than had we used Olly’s recipe as it’s written so it took a fair old time!

The finished result was delicious!


Olly Smith’s Eat and Drink is currently available from Amazon for £8.84 (RRP £14.99).

 

I’m not a huge wine drinker; the only kind of wines I usually drink and enjoy are syrupy sweet dessert wines such as Sauternes, Muscats and the like.

Most regular wines I find too dry, even those most wine drinkers describe as medium or even medium sweet.

My taste buds pick up the fruit, yes, but are overwhelmed by a vinegary sourness that is in perfect balance for most but can be eye-watering for me.

It’s a shame because I adore the aroma of wine and always take great pleasure from inhaling deeply to ‘drink’ in the complex fruity and grassy scent notes of the mostly old world red wines my husband enjoys. I can pick out and describe many smells in each one, from particular fruits (apricots, plums, red or black berries) to all manner of other aromas from hay to leather to tobacco to liquorice. But as soon as the wine hits my tongue, those subtleties are lost as my jaw tightens up in an involuntary reaction to the sourness. It’s so frustrating!

Wine buffs have advised me to try again, tasting lighter wines alongside food rather than on their own. A well-paired wine and food combination will change the characteristics of both the drink and the food, they tell me, and might balance that sour aspect that puts me off. Sipping the right wine with the right dish might just give me a way to appreciate regular drinking wines.

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Luckily, just as I was pondering this, I received an invitation to an evening with Turning Leaf, a Californian wine brand within the Gallo range, to a wine and food matching evening.

Turning Leaf have collaborated with chef Esther Röling to create a series of recipes specifically designed to match with their wines and a group of bloggers and writers were invited to try the wines alongside their chosen dishes.

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Esther preparing Pan Fried Mackerel, Fennel And Green Apple Salad With Lime Oil, Stephanie alongside

The wines were introduced by Aussie-chick-gone-Californian, Stephanie Edge, who was full of enthusiasm and encouragement about her wines. Stephanie grew up in Australia, the child of German immigrant parents, so she always had an interest in travelling abroad. Aged 18, she set off on what turned out to be a fantastic 6 years of backpacking around 6 continents of the world. Of course, during her travels, she was exposed to so many varied cuisines and cultures. In particular, she developed a genuine interest in wine, and returned home to complete a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Science Oenology from the University of Adelaide. That was followed by experience in Australia’s vineyards and cellars. And finally, an exchange programme took her to California, where she now leads the winemaking team for Turning Leaf.

The food was introduced by Esther Röling. At just 21 years of age, Esther opened up her own cafe in Amsterdam but was then drawn into fashion and finance. However, food called her back again and she travelled to Thailand to take cooking classes there, before ending up in London at Le Cordon Bleu, where she got her Grand Diplome. From there she trained with Paul A Young, worked in some top restaurants and then finally set up her own catering company, Sugar & Salt.

On arrival, we had the Pan Fried Mackerel, Fennel And Green Apple Salad With Lime Oil, in canapé format, paired with the pinot grigio. Then we took our seats and worked through the rest of the wines one by one. Esther demonstrated making a couple of the recipes in front of us, and we were able to watch, ask questions and then taste the freshly cooked dishes with the partner wines.

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Sadly, there wasn’t time during the event for Esther to cook all 5 dishes, so we were only able to try the pairings for the Pinot Grigio (above), Chardonnay (see below) and the Cabernet Sauvignon (Pommery Crusted Beef Carpaccio, Oven Roasted Cherry Tomato, Parmesan Mayonnaise, Rye Bread Crumb And Red Vein Sorrel).

I would have loved to also taste how the red Zinfandel matched the Braised Veal Cheeks, Puree Of Butternut Squash And Sweet Potato And Girolles Mushrooms and the Pinot Noir matched the Pan Fried Quail Breasts, Oven Roasted Beetroots, Seeds And Beetroot Dressing.

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While I didn’t learn to love red wine (baby steps!) I was surprised to find that I quite enjoyed the Chardonnay wine, once I tried it with the suggested dish, Red Mullet And Moroccan Spiced Couscous.

The paprika spiciness and umami meatiness of the chorizo together with Ras-el-hanout spice mix really mellowed the sharper side of the wine (though it was a light wine to begin with, and not tongue-curlingly dry like some I’ve had). The soft couscous, red mullet and yellow courgettes didn’t, on their own, do much to affect the taste of the wine, for me, but worked very well together. As a whole, drinking the wine with this dish was definitely more enjoyable for me than drinking it on its own.

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If you’d like to try the recipe yourself, with a Turning Leaf or other Chardonnay, do give it a go and let me know what you think about how it changes the mouthfeel and taste of the wine, when tasted together.

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Red Mullet and Moroccan Spiced Couscous With Chorizo

Serves 4.

For the chorizo crumb
100g diced chorizo
Parchment paper

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C
  • Place a sheet of parchment paper on an oven tray and spread the chorizo. Cover the chorizo with another sheet of paper and place a baking tray on top and bake for 15 minutes or until the chorizo is crisp.
  • Allow it to cool and then break into crumbs. Set the chorizo aside until needed.

For the rouille
3 cloves of garlic
100 ml boiling water
20 saffron threads
25 g breadcrumbs
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A pinch of paprika powder
2 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
50 ml olive oil
50 ml grape seed oil

  • Keeping the skin on the garlic, wrap the cloves in tin foil and roast in the oven for 20 minutes at 160°C. Set aside to cool then push the flesh of the garlic out of the skin.
  • Using a medium sized bowl, pour boiling water over the saffron threads and add the breadcrumbs.
  • Boil the eggs and once boiled drop them into iced water to stop the cooking process. Peel the eggs and separate the egg yolk, discarding the egg whites.
  • In a food processer add the egg yolks, garlic, breadcrumb mix, a pinch of cayenne pepper and paprika powder and salt and blend to a creamy consistency. Gradually add the oils until you get a smooth emulsion.

For the couscous
4 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced in rings
150g couscous
240ml boiling water
1 tsp Ras el Hanout
20 parsley leaves, finely chopped
20 mint leaves, finely chopped
Salt to taste
Olive oil

  • 75 g good quality Alejandro chorizo, cut into small dices
  • Heat the olive oil in a heavy based frying pan and add the onion rings. Cover the pan allowing the onion to sweat over a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden. Add a teaspoon of salt and remove from the heat.
  • Put the couscous in a bowl and pour over 240ml boiling water. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave for 5 minutes to allow the couscous to absorb the water. Remove the cling film and with a fork, loosen the couscous. To make the couscous burst with flavour, add the cooked onions, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a teaspoon of Ras el Hanout, parsley, mint and a pinch of salt.
  • Over a medium heat add a splash of olive oil to a frying pan. Add the chorizo and stir until the oil runs out of the chorizo. Add the chorizo and oil to your couscous to give it a golden yellow colour.

For the courgette
1 yellow or green courgette
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

  • Using a small melon baller, scoop out a small ball of courgette, if you don’t have a melon baller use a peeler to slice the courgette length-ways. Place a frying pan over a medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. Sauté the courgette for 1 minute. Cover to keep warm until needed.

For the red mullet
4 fillets of red mullet – around 150g each
2 tablespoons of olive oil
20g butter
Salt
Pepper

  • Season the fillets on both sides with salt and pepper. Place a large non-stick pan over a medium heat and add a splash of olive oil when hot. Place the fillets skin down into the frying plan for about 2 minutes. Add the butter then carefully turn the fillets to fry on the other side for another 2 minutes.

Turning Leaf Chardonnay is available at several UK retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Co-op, Londis, Budgen’s and Spar. RRP £7.49.

Kavey Eats attended this event as a guest of Turning Leaf, Esther Röling and W Communications.

 

I have a sweet tooth.

Drinks of choice remain sugary concoctions such as Midori, Pimms & lemonade, Amarula, Dr Pepper, Coca Cola.

Yes, really. No, I’m not fifteen.

More accepted in adult circles is my deep and abiding love for dessert wines including honeyed French seducers Monbazillac, Coteaux du Layon and the various Muscats, aromatic American Black Muscat, forceful Iberian Muscatels, refreshing German Beernauslese Rieslings and don’t even get me started on the heavenly Spanish treat that is Pedro Ximénez! (I’m yet to try Tokaji but it’s on my wish list.)

It will therefore come as no surprise to you that I’m rather an avid fan of Sauternes.

Usually, I am very content to drive Pete around the vineyards of France or South Africa, on holiday, encouraging him to try and buy as I happily look on. But I have fond memories of the role reversal in Sauternes, France and our visits to a number of local producers, including the charming elderly lady who decided Pete was the spitting image of her grandson-in-law and that this merited an extra warm welcome and prolonged tasting session!

But I’d never tried a Château d’Yquem.

(Not least because a bottle of the precious liquid usually retails for hundreds of pounds!)

Let alone enjoyed a side-by-side comparison of four Château d’Yquem vintages at once!

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So when my friend Leonid at Bob Bob Ricard proposed such a tasting, I was very quick indeed to sign up. Alongside the 2002, 2001, 1996 and 1983 Yquems we would also be treated to some suggested food pairings including blue cheese, fresh peaches and lobster linguine.

The £125 price tag may sound steep but when you take into account the normal cost of each bottle, not to mention the accompanying meal, it reveals itself as a bit of a bargain.

  • Château d’Yquem 2002 sells for £119 a bottle at Bob Bob Ricard (and £310 a bottle at Alain Ducasse).
  • Château d’Yquem 2001 sells for £266 a bottle at Bob Bob Ricard (and £750 a bottle at Apsleys).
  • Château d’Yquem 1996 sells for £145 a bottle at Bob Bob Ricard (and £750 a bottle at Gordon Ramsay, Claridges).
  • Château d’Yquem 1983 sells for £246 a bottle at Bob Bob Ricard (and £495 a bottle at Helene Darroze).

So it made a lot of sense to share the costs between 8 of us (Leonid and fellow BBR owner Richard, Patrick Carpenter, who lead the tutored tasting and 5 guests).

So what did I learn about the wine?

Sauternes is located in the Graves area of the Southern Bordeaux vineyards. Its distinctive dessert wine is made from the Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle grape varieties and the grapes have been affected by botrytis cinerea. In a suitable climate (humidity followed by dry heat), this fungus (also known as noble rot) attacks the grapes. Although it feeds on the sugar, it also breaks the skins of the grapes, causing evaporation of the water within them and thereby concentrating the sugar content significantly.

Château d’Yquem, considered to be the finest of the Sauternais wines, is the only one to merit the Premier Cru Supérieur classification.

What makes Château d’Yquem different?

Firstly, the site makes the grapes very susceptible to the essential noble rot fungus. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it’s height means that the morning mists leave Yquem before they clear from any other Sauternes vineyard, giving the Yquem grapes precious extra time in the sun and causing the grapes to ripen and shrivel further.

Why such high prices?

Producing Sauternes is an intensive process. Firstly, just in terms of volume, a single vine produces far less volume of wine than one used to make regular red or white drinking wine. Château d’Yquem vines produce even less volume of wine per vine than their Sauternes neighbours. Secondly, the picking must be done manually over a 6-8 week period during which individual grapes are picked from each bunch as and when they are considered ready. That’s a lot of labour! The exception (for Château d’Yquem) was 1983 when, very unusually, all the grapes shrivelled together, which allowed for one single picking!

How did it taste?

2002
I was gratified, on blurting out “tree” as I first sipped the 2002 vintage, to learn that the wine is aged and fermented in 100% new oak, in small 225 litre barrels which allows the wine to take on flavours from the wood. The other predominant smell and flavour that came through for several of us was toast. I couldn’t detect the iodine/ sea smell that Patrick picked up. I enjoyed the wine greatly, it had a delightful sweetness with lovely scent and flavour. 8/10

2001
Although the smell had much in common with the 2002 vintage, the 2001 was far more honeyed, like a rich syrup. It’s additional sweetness and wonderful fruit flavours were delightful and I particularly loved it with the blue cheese. 10/10

1996
Our third vintage had a much deeper amber colour than the rest. “Too orangey for crows”, I thought. Patrick immediately gave the perfect description of it’s predominant flavour – the “twang of marmalade aftertaste, like the pith, bitter”. For me, what also came through most strongly in this vintage was the “musty, dusty paper” aroma of the botrytis cinerea. Other comments that tickled my fancy were Richard’s “lion wee in the sun” and someone else’s “old man in a cardi”! Of the four, this was the most complex in terms of smells and flavours. 7/10

1983
A much more subtle smell than the others – not a tired nose though, I did a direct comparison to the previous three, of which I still had some remaining. I didn’t love the taste either, I found this one too acidic. 4/10

It was only afterwards that Patrick explained to us about the varying sugar contents, with 2001 unsurprisingly the highest by a significant margin, followed by 2002 and 1996 at similar levels. Whilst he didn’t have a residual sugar level for the 1983, my tastebuds tell me it was quite a bit less than the others.

Isn’t it just typical of me that my favourite turns out to be the most expensive?

I didn’t know the prices or expert opinions on any of the vintages in advance but it comes as no surprise to read, in the Bob Bob Ricard wine menu, that “with 100 points from both Robert Parker and The Wine Spectator, the ‘perfect’ 2001 hardly needs an introduction.”

Some photos of the evening:

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Patrick, on the right

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Leonid, on the left

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Richard, at the far right

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Me, on the left

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My first three Yquems

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Lobster linguine

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Dessert of fresh strawberries and basil in cointreau syrup with an almond cream

 

Having read great comments from bloggers who attended last year’s Bibendum Times wine tasting event, I knew the event is a hugely popular one with wine drinkers. But as I don’t drink wine, other than syrupy sweet dessert wine, I wasn’t sure it was worth my attending.

However, the Bibendum team assured me there were a number of dessert wines included and, for good measure, kindly allowed me to bring along my husband who particularly enjoys full-bodied reds.

I’m Sweet!

The Palate Test confirmed what I already knew: that “I’m sweet”. And I was given a little sticker badge to proclaim my preferences (or maybe my sunny nature ;) !

I already knew I’d enjoy the Sauternes. And I did. I have fond memories of a trip down to the Bordeaux region a few years ago. To Pete’s delight, as I don’t drink regular wines, I am happy to be the designated driver and he can deguster to his heart’s desire as we meander through the beautiful wine-producing regions! But our roles were reversed for the day we spent in Sauternes and I happily tasted (and chatted) my way around a number of local producers. And came home with quite a number of bottles…


Tasting dessert wines at Bibendum Times

The one I tasted at the event was a very nice Waitrose Sauternes Chateau Suduiraut 2005.

New discoveries for me during the palate test: Chateau Pierre-Bise, Close de la Soucherie, Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu 2005 and Dr Loosen Bernkasteler Riesling Beernauslese 2006. The first was not disimilar in style to a Sauternes and, unsurprisingly, I rather liked it. The second was far crisper but without any unpleasant astringency and was a great find for me as it’s a very different style to what I’ve tried before.

Another wine I tried elsewhere at the show was a Suavia Veneto Reciotto di Soave Acinatum 2006. It had a rich, dried fruit flavour which I liked though I don’t know that I’d seek it out as I would those included in the palate test.

Indian Wines!

When we saw the Grover Vineyards stand showcasing Indian wines I was quite intrigued. My parents are from India and it’s certainly not a country known for it’s wine! Pete tried a couple of their reds and reckoned their La Reserva 2006, a cabernet sauvignon and syrah blend, was very drinkable. It was a dark browny-red in colour, had a good tannin kick and he found it pleasant.

Mr Amber Vaidya, VP of Sales and Marketing in the UK was kind enough to tell us a little about the producer and wines. The vineyard was created in the foothills of the Nandi Hills in Karnataka, Southern India by Kanwal Grover, a businessman who developed a love of fine wines during numerous business trips to France. The beautiful labels are designed by a range of talented and well-known Indian artists. Very appealing.


Mr Amber Vaidya

I don’t know that we’d seek these wines out over reds from elsewhere in the world but… I’ll see if I can get hold of a bottle for my dad. I think he’d be impressed!

Brazilian Winner

For Pete, the winner of those he tasted was a Brazilian red wine from Fortaleza do Seival. Whilst he liked their Alisios do Seival Tempranillo/ Touriga Campanha 2009 it was the Fortaleza do Seival Tannat 2007 which really impressed. It had an intense, deeply fruity smell and a tannic, full-bodied flavour. The tannat grape is one used commonly in Uruguay and the producer is tucked into the extreme South of Brazil not far from the Uruguayan border. The climate produces a fresh, acidic wine which still has lots of great fruit flavour and is not too high in alcohol. Pete agreed with the producer’s assessment that it would be very good with red meat.

Thanks to Bibendum for inviting us to attend this event and giving us the opportunity to try wines we’d not come across before.

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