Monday, 21 May 2018

The Enthusiastic Amateur: WSET Level 1

As some of you may know, I enjoy a drop of wine. And I like talking about wine. And I like writing about wine. I do as much volunteering at the vineyard as I can, helping care for the vines, harvest and make the wine. I do the odd wine tasting session, or host wine and food pairing evenings (always available for bookings!)

Recaredo - you are now entering Cava country...

It actually took me a long time to build up the confidence to start writing anything about wine at all. I can remember being deeply intimidated at tastings by the knowledge and expertise of the people I met at wineries and events. But then I suddenly realised that it's like art - sure you can spend a lifetime learning about it, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion and can take whatever they like from the experience.

The food and wine tasting with Caro Feely in Saussignac left an indelible mark on me

So then I got on it, writing more and more (and then recently, as time is tight, less and less) about wine, as well as making sure I took as many opportunities to get involved in the wine world as I could. Here's an early post from 2012 when I visited the magnificent Ceja Vineyards in Carneros, CA.

It's only Randall Grahm! The old Santa Cruz Bonny Doon tasting room

Now, several years down the line, I've decided that it is time to put my money where my mouth is and actually get accredited. The Wine & Spirits Education Trust are globally the leading wine educators and their courses are widely respected in the industry, so this seemed like a good place to start. I always describe myself as an enthusiastic amateur when I run wine tastings, and I don't think that will ever change. There's so much to know, but also so much to love. I'd hate to make wine into a chore, or even worse, a competition!

If you remember Argentina, you weren't there.

So last month I was delighted to take my WSET Level 1 at the Hanwell Wine Estate in Nottinghamshire. It was a lot of fun to visit a new vineyard and taste some new English wines as well as taking the course.

Beautiful Barolo

I'll be honest, level 1 is not the hardest thing to pass - but I was still a bit terrified that I might fall at the first hurdle! It's a 30 question multiple choice exam and basically if you learn all the stuff in the course book then you can easily pass - there are no trick questions. You learn about the main styles and types of wine, wine producing regions, how to store and serve wine, get an introduction to food and wine pairing and learn to describe wine using the Level 1 systematic approach. It's all very interesting.

And you know what, I got 100%! Couldn't believe it! So now I have my little WSET Level 1 badge and a little boost of confidence... Which is great because my WSET Level 2 course starts tomorrow!! And it is nowhere near the cakewalk level 1 is... So I'd best stop blogging and get back to cramming in preparation. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

New menu at Boneyard

We were invited to the new menu launch at Boneyard recently and were delighted to accept. Boneyard has been open in the city for a year and a half now, although it feels like it's been around for much longer as it's such an established part of Leicester's food scene. Their Asian American fast food menu is a pretty unique offering in the city and with their new gin & fizz bar they are only adding to a dining experience that is live and loud!

We were treated to a cocktail masterclass when we arrived - a new part of their offering which can be wrapped up with private hire and party nights. Whether there are two of you, all the way up to 40, their bar area can accommodate you for a fun masterclass. We really enjoyed the energy and bouncy attitude of the masterclass leader. Once our Gin Coolers were muddled and shaken and mangled, we took our seats to check out some of the new menu items.

We were seated in the bustling restaurant, with fast paced service and bangin' choons. I opted for the lamb burger, which was massive like pretty much everything on their menu! All of their meat comes from local butchers and the veg is from Leicester market, so I give two thumbs up to this independent being so vocally in support of their local producer network!

Sadly, I found the burger a little dry, which seemed a shame for their signature dish - but there was plenty of slaw and sauces on it to make up for this, and I particularly enjoyed the addition of baby spinach. The skin on fries served alongside it were absolutely spot on, really liked those.

The Boy opted for a couple of dishes from the street food menu - chicken wings (as usual) and paneer. The Boneyard Paneer is served in a lightly spiced tomato sauce, and for my money is by far the best thing on the menu (I've had a few conversations with other people who have visited recently since we went along and they agree!)

So, I think it's safe to say I'd happily recommend a trip to the Boneyard. They are a larger than life independent with a unique food offering and a combination of flavours that you won't find elsewhere. The addition of a bar area means that they can accommodate a much wider range of celebration events and trust me, you will not go home hungry!

Thanks to Boneyard for their hospitality!

Friday, 27 April 2018

Club 1967: Hospitality at Leicester Riders basketball games

We were invited along to test out the Club 1967 offer at Leicester Riders this week. Luckily for us this was during the game where the Riders lifted the BBL trophy for the third successive season.

On a stiflingly hot day, we came to the Morningside Arena and were seated at our table in the first floor suite. The space is a flexible one with many daytime and night time uses and the red carpet was out for honoured guests and sponsors, with table carefully set for dinner.

The main issue we experienced was that there were very low staffing levels in the suite which meant that service was extremely slow if you wanted a drink or had a question. However the staff that were available were all very personable and helpful and were doing their best despite the heat! It was a convivial, family friendly atmosphere pre-game with everyone enjoying a drink and a chat in anticipation of the game ahead.

We were treated to a two course buffet along with an introduction to the game that we were about to see. The food was a hot meal, presented self service. That evening there were a selection of pies, which made excellent sporting event fare, but perhaps a little on the heavy side given the weather. There were a good selection of vegetables to accompany the beef or chicken pie, along with vegetarian and vegan options and healthy dollops of mash or freshly made wedges to go with your dish. I found the chicken pie to be very flavourful and moist and the pastry topping was nice and  crisp despite its time under the heat lamp staying warm.

It would be rude not to partake in a pint of Everards Tiger too, since they are one of the Riders' key sponsors. After a choice of fresh berry cheesecake or crumble, the guests dispersed - making their way down to their seats in the arena in anticipation of the tip off.

It was another four quarters of fast paced basketball action as the Leicester Riders took on the London Lions. Sadly captain Tyler Bernadini was not able to lead his team to victory on this occasion, with the Riders losing 81-95 to their strong opposition, in a game that was filled with thrills and the odd bit of over-exuberance from the Lions (imho!)

It mattered little though as at the end of the game we had the honour of watching the team lift the BBL league trophy for their third successive league win. As ever, the Riders fans were in strong spirits and strong voice, making a trip to watch the Riders play a really entertaining evening out for all ages, but being particularly special on this occasion, watching each member of the team getting the recognition they so richly deserved.

After the game, it was back upstairs for cheese & biscuits, a spot of post match analysis from the Captain, and the chance to see the trophy, proudly brought in by ace coach Rob Patenostro. All in all, a trip to the 1967 Club is a great night out and very family friendly, but even if you don't fancy splashing out on being wined and dined but just want to get stuck in with watching the game I would highly suggest heading on down to the Morningside Arena. It's the last home game of the season tomorrow against the Surrey Scorchers. I will be there and am very much hoping to see the Riders take victory - and I'll see you all down there for the 2018-19 season from September!!

A very happy coach and Chairman!

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Fancy a pint?

Beer lovers have been delighted to welcome The Head of Steam to Leicester this month. They kindly invited me along to their press launch so I could see for myself what it's all about.

The Head of Steam chain started in 1995 and was bought out by Cameron's Brewery in 2013. This year is seeing a meteoric expansion in the Midlands, with a Nottingham venue opening shortly before the new Leicester venue and a Head of Steam in Birmingham set to open in the next month. 

They pride themselves on their beer offering and it's not hard to see why. They have an enviable selection of cask, keg, bottle and canned beers - you really will be spoiled for choice. This includes local breweries, big name favourites like Cloudwater as well as an impressive number of world beers which are detailed in a hefty menu. Everything I sampled was well kept and in good condition, although I think there will be a bit of a lag while the staff get up to speed with everything on offer and how to serve it correctly. Teething troubles though and nothing more I would think. 

The venue itself, on Market Street nearby the new Distillery, has always been impressive but the redecoration that has taken place really shows it to its best. Of course the beer bottle chandeliers in the high ceiling will be the focal point for most and speak of the million+ price tag that I heard being bandied around in relation to the retrofit. Given this, I found the generous use of oversized vinyl graphics stuck to floors and ceilings a little incongruous. Often blurry and pixellated they didn't add to the ambience for me, but rather looked like an homage to 90s TV show Knightmare... I think the areas of simple wood and metal decor are far more effective and suit the feel of the pub more.

As well as beer there is plenty more going on. A well stocked back bar gives punters the opportunity to try a range of cocktails (some made with beer of course) and there is also a generously sized menu. All of this choice along with the decor makes me a little confused about what the Head of Steam is trying to be - pub, bar, restaurant, or something else? It does sadden me a little that more of these chains are opening up which have less individual character and could certainly not be described as traditional pubs. While the range on offer is certainly impressive, I still feel that 9 times out of 10 I will still be choosing our smaller local pubs and micropubs which are independent, with an admittedly smaller selection of beer but with more character and a more traditional feel. Maybe I'm old fashioned about my pubs.

We dined early and the food was fine. Our starters of calamari and chorizo were perfectly well cooked and the chorizo particularly was full of flavour and a good portion size. I think the four mammoth calamari rings were slightly bizarre, but would certainly act as a decent snack along with a pint. The menu also offers pairing advice for choosing beer to match your dish which is a nice touch.

The beef bourguignon I ordered for a main was homely and satisfying, but sadly The Boy's steak was more in the medium-well department than rare as ordered. Again, I think that this is probably just a beginner's error. As with the beer menu, I felt that everything was OK, but that the price tag was just a fraction high on everything with regards to the quality - a hint of the products all being overvalued by the chain, which is perhaps understandable given the considerable investment that has been poured into the bar.

However, all that said, it's a great addition to the city. A fantastic selection of beers that will hopefully entice some new people to get involved with beer. A dog friendly and comfortable venue with friendly staff and lots of space. Plenty of choice of things to eat, and plenty of alternatives if beer's not your thing. I'd definitely recommend everyone try it once and see what you think. I don't suppose I will find myself in there particularly regularly, but I will certainly be an occasional visitor to see what's new on the bar for me to try.

Thanks to the Head of Steam for inviting us along to the press night - I'm very grateful for the invitation and your generosity in keeping us fed and watered.

The Framework Brewery doggo getting settled in

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Leicester Folk: Tyler Bernadini

I pottered across to the newly christened Morningside Arena a couple of weeks ago to catch up with Leicester Rider's captain Tyler Bernadini. He was fresh from a victory over the Rider's key rivals, the Newcastle Eagles, that day in what has now turned out to be another winning season for the basketball team. This is the third year that the Riders have won the BBL League and hopes are still high that they might achieve the treble again.

Old season pic!

Tell me a little about your background?

I grew up in Southern California. I went to high school in San Diego and then went to business school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philedelphia. I played basketball there at Division 1 level, the top level in College Basketball in America. I had a nice career there, had a lot of fun and won a lot of games. It really helped developed my skill and my passion for what I wanted to do.

Then I went to play professionally in Italy. After that I took a little bit of time off, started some businesses in San Diego. I ran a property leasing business for a private school to help monetise their facilites outside of school hours, and I also ran a basketball academy where we did skill development, strengthening and conditioning, leadership skills and all of those kind of things that encompass what it means to be an athlete at the next level. Then I got the call to come back to professional sport - not only play here at the Riders, but also to get my Master's degree at Loughborough University in International Management.

Since finishing my Master's I have continued my playing career and also I work in the front office here and oversee the sales for the club. This is my fourth season here. I guess I have quite a comprehensive occupation here at the Riders now! It's different from everybody else, but it's a lot more fun. A lot more busy as well though, it definitely keeps me occupied.

When was your original interest in basketball sparked?

I really can't remember life without sports in general. From a young age I played American Football, basketball, I swam, played water polo - I did everything! As I got older, I grew and my athleticism fit with basketball being a sport that I thought I could really excel at. Swimming was probably the thing I was best at, but I got a bit bored of it and so basketball fit and I haven't looked back since.

I'm interested to hear that you got your Masters through the Riders, can you tell me more?

Some of the guys are full time pro, s they play full time. Some of the guys decide that they want to further their academic career and they have that opportunity because of the relationship between the Riders and Loughborough University. It's an incredible opportunity for us players and it's one of the key relationships for the club to offer for not only athletes but aspiring individuals generally the opportunity to further their education - it adds a lot of value.

Another oldie I took!
It was really important for me that I found the right place to come and because of the relationship between the Riders and Loughborough this was the right place for me. I think that other clubs are starting to see how successful it's been for us and now this kind of relationship is being replicated by some other UK clubs. Where basketball is in the UK the wage bill is not what it is for football or rugby. So to attract players who might be able to earn more at other places, this offer differentiates the compensation package. The opportunity to study for a Master's degree is a really attractive offer and has really suited the club well for our development.

The other thing too is that it helps us to get the players who are the right fit. When you have guys that study for a Masters, those guys aren't going to be knuckleheads. They aren't going to be doing things they shouldn't be doing on Friday and Saturday nights. When you get a guy that you know is serious about basketball, he's generally going to be serious about other things. If he's keen to put in the time on a Masters you know this is a guy that's going to work hard. You say to yourself there's a certain amount of work ethic here, this might be the right guy for us.

You are  involved with charitable work too?

I work with Hope Against Cancer and I work with Alex's Wish, which is a local charity fighting against Deuchennes Disease. I am really excited to be able to provide increased awareness for them and to shine a light on the incredible work that both of those charities are doing.

Alex and Emma [at Alex's Wish] are incredible. What they are able to do with that charity, the profile that they have given the small size - just the two people running it all - is amazing. As an athlete, you have a short period of time where there is a platform, where people care about what you have to say, they want to listen to you or they want to interact with you. When you have that it's important to use it I think for the right kinds of things. People aren't all on the same level, whether that's because of health, mental or physical, whatever difference it might be. And it's important when there are opportunities to improve other people's lives that you do what you can to help. And so if that's sending tweets out, if it's getting people down and raising money, whatever it is that I can do, I keenly try to do the little part that I get to play to help.

What prior knowledge did you have of BBL (the British Basketball League) before you came to Leicester?

Nothing! Before coming here I didn't know really much at all about it. One of my College Assistant Coaches played in the BBL in the early 90s, but other than that I didn't know about it. Since being here, the standard of basketball has proved higher than I would have expected as an external person looking in. 

British basketball has a reputation, maybe because of the international level, but when you come and play in this league the standard is high. We've gone and played teams in Sweden and Belgium which are leagues that have more global recognition and we've gone and beat some of the best teams in those leagues. So the standard that we're playing at here in Leicester is really high.

So about last night... You played the Newcastle Eagles and were trailing until you slayed it in the fourth quarter...

We did! I thought it was a great, great night of sport. We've shared the league titles with them now for seven years I think. It's two teams with rich histories, neither want to lose - and it was a battle of will. We're both down guys, they have guys away in the Commonwealth and people that are hurt and we have people away at the Commonwealth as well so neither of us were playing at full strength. It was really about who wants to win that game that night - and they were really good! There were loads of opportunities for them to have won that game, but fortunately it worked out for us but a lot of credit has to go to them and their effort and their skill level last night to make it such a good game.

The Riders continue to ride high* then?

Yeah, it's been one of those years where we've had different guys step up a lot throughout the game, we haven't had one consistent person leading scoring every time... We've had loads of guys injured and be down bodies and so we've had to find ways just to get it done and win. That's what this team's all about - finding a way to win and whatever it takes we've just gotta get it done. We've been able to do that night in and night out and I'm just so proud of this group. I'm proud to be a part of it and be team mates with these guys who are just really really good people and it's fun that we get to celebrate and share in the success.

Finally, I'm interested in your thoughts on Leicester!

I really really love Leicester. Since we moved here in 2014, my wife and I have really felt at home. We came here with our dog from America - it's an Old English Sheepdog crossed with a poodle so maybe it was a sign that we were always going to end up here!

We're always out in the woods. The Outwoods, Beacon Hill, Bradgate Park, Swithland Woods. We're all over the place doing the country parks and we love it. From that standpoint the pubs and the culture here in Leicester have been great for us. It's a family atmosphere. We go to the cinema, pubs and we have all of our friends in the different villages. Everywhere we go everyone's just so friendly and nice and we really enjoy our time here in Leicester.

cringe - yes I did say that to Tyler Bernadini

Sunday, 1 April 2018

A Leicestershire Treasure

We've been treated to something very special this weekend. Anstey Ale have moved their brewery to new premises on Albion Street in Anstey, and during the move they have also added a lovely taphouse space.

This weekend has seen the inaugural pop-up pub event at the Mash & Press and I don't mind telling you it's a little bit special. 

A true Leicestershire treasure, it's filled with delicious treats that are all made on site or within just a few miles of the brewery.

On the bar you can enjoy Anstey Ales own range of beers. When I visited yesterday, Darkroom Oatmeal Stout was on the pumps, along with Show Stopper (the special developed for this year's Leicester Beer Festival) and Daydreamer, their bitter. There was also a tantalising pump for Nook IPA which will be up next, but sadly not during my visit.

Rob of Charnwood Cider

Along with these tasty brews, you can enjoy a full selection of Charnwood Cider. Rob grows the apples in Ulverscroft and presses them in Cropston and you can sample pretty much the full range at the pop up. Dry to sweet, there's something to suit everyone's taste.

Liz of Rothley Wine

This is all complemented by a choice of wines from Rothley Wine Estate, again just up the road (although with the current flooding it takes a bit longer to get from one place to the other!) Their award winning range of still wines are on offer, all grown and made at the Kingfisher's Pool Vineyard on Westfield Lane.

It's comfortable, cosy, and has amazing furniture. And it's dog friendly. Say hello to the official Charnwood Cider CEO, Marley, or bring your own pooch along. 

It's all about Marley

Whatever you do, don't hang around. It's the last day of the pop-up today and they are open from 12pm-9pm. Will the pop-up make a triumphant return in the weeks to come? I hope so.

Happy Patrons

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