Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Edge Brewing, Barcelona

As well as tasting some epic wines during our recent visit to Catalonia, we also got the opportunity tto visit the nice folks down at Edge Brewing in Barcelona. They are a relatively new brewery, established in 2013 by two Americans who wanted to bring American craft beer to Europe. One has 20 years of commercial experience installing breweries and the other was a keen homebrewer gone native. Their vision is to bring quality ingredients together to make craft beer in the American style here in Europe so it is fresher than you would get from imports.


When we arrived, they were just working on their latest collaborative brew with Leeds-based cheeky chappies, Northern Monk Brew Company. This meant it was pretty busy in the brewery as work was just finishing up for the day but we still got a good opportunity to have a look around and find out more about what Edge Brewing is all about. And they have been making quite an impression. Stocked locally in around 10-20 bottle shops and bars, around three quarters of their stock is exported around Europe (but not so far it isn't fresh anymore!) and they were proud to be one of Rate Beer's Top 100 new beers in the world in 2014. Quite an achievement after only a year!


So in the stark, but stll slightly hip warehouse, protected from the worst of the day's heat, we took to their bar and sampled the wares. They are not 100% set up for regular visitors yet, so it was a bit of an exclusive preview for us. Be warned of clicking the links for the beers below, it takes you to the same 'Our Beers' page which has loads of great information but is formatted altogether in a rather cumbersome PDF file... Don't say I didn't warn you!

First we tried their Saison, the 7.4% Powerplant (I know, start how you mean to go on right?) This was the first beer they brewed, before they had been able to bring over a lot of the equipment they needed. The good saison flavour comes from the strong, bitter German hops. t has a long lasting tang which was a little powerful for my palate but it's enjoyable style will be a hit with fans of full-on taste experiences.

Then it was on to the Soy Rodriguez, their rye pale ale which had a tight head, great clarity but deep colour. It was a complex beer, with toasted flavour from the roasted rye, a tighter finish than the Powerplant and a slight spiciness which made it easy drinking and interesting. That flavour profile means that it would match up well with spicy foods too, in whatever region of the world you prefer. Its the last time you'll make the terrible decision of mixing curry with cheap, watery lager!

Our next test was my favourite of the bunch - the Padrino Choc and Vanilla Porter. This was a pretty special beer made with cocoa nibs and Madagascan vanilla and boy does it come through. The cocoa nibs lend a rich, deep and bitter flavour which is balanced out by the vanilla which comes through midway through. The beer had by far the nicest mouthfeel of them all and was incredibly enticing and aromatic. A real flavour experience, this would match well with an equally hefty food - perhaps a little smoked duck, or something fresh off the BBQ?

The Flor de la Vida American pale ale weighs in at a mellow 4.7% and is light but with a slight cloud. It had a good hopped flavour with a very faint floral tang - not as much as I'd hope for from a really great West Coast IPA, but still extremely pleasant and the perfect brew to enjoy in the Spanish sunshine. Definitely one to enjoy on its own, although it would complement your more traditional bar snacks very well. Who doesn't love a well flavoured beer with a salty snack?

Next up was their biggest award winner to date, the Hoptimista IPA. A tad stronger than the Flor de la Vida at 6.6%, this had a slight ruby colour, low aroma on the nose but a great bitterness, slight whispers of pine and gentle caress in the mouth.

Finally I went in for the Taronja HoRYEzon -something I was eager to try because of my obsession with Tangerine Wheat at 99 Bottles in California. Rather than a wheat beer, this is an orange rye IPA. Featuring the true taste of Spain, the Valencia orange, both zest and juice, this was not overwhelmingly fruity, but the flavour was subtle and stayed throughout the taste experience. This made for a light and fresh beer with a bit of a kick from the rye which is balanced artfully with the dash of honey that is also part of the recipe. I could definitely knock back a few of these. A responsible amount of course.

Many thanks to our gracious hosts at Edge Brewery for a great afternoon of fascinating sampling. I look forward to seeing more from these guys in the future and hope that Barcelona locals will pop down on a Saturday afternoon for their Edge-ucation sessions where you can get the chance to try the beers and find more about how they are made for yourself. Check their calendar for more details.


Sunday, 5 July 2015

RECIPE: BBQ Belly Pork

We had quite an American inspired, surprisingly light and summery dinner last night which really made the most of our barbecue for a wallet-pleasing price. As ever, we didn't bother with measuring quantities, but since it's BBQ, who cares?

We got our pork belly reduced to £1.50 in the supermarket, so this was really really cheap, but pork belly is still a relatively inexpensive cut anyway.


BBQ Pork Belly
Serves 4

Ingredients
4 strips of pork belly

Marinade
Small cup of ale
Tsp mustard powder
Tsp paprika
Tsp cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic minced
Handful of oregano, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

To serve
Mushrooms, chopped and skewered
Mashed potatoes
Lettuce, dressed with olive oil, late harvest grape vinegar, salt and pepper.

Method

  • Not much too it! Rub the spices well into the pork then add to the beer and leave to marinade, overnight if you can.
  • Light the BBQ while the potatoes are prepared then when the coals are ready add the pork, fat side down to the grill.
  • It only needs a few minutes on each side. It's really fatty so it will char and caramelise. Use a heatproof brush to keep basting the meat with the left over marinade while it cooks.
  • About 5 minutes later add the mushrooms to the grill. I rubbed them with a little of the salad dressing by hand to stop them drying. Keep them to one side of the main heat so they don't cook too quickly.
  • When everything is ready, dress the salad leaves, serve up the mash and then take the pork belly and mushroom from the BBQ and put it on to the plate.


Ta da!

We used the late harvest grape vinegar that we got from Nadal for our salad dressing which made it extra specially delicious! Fruity and tart.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Wonderfully friendly wine at Bodegas Pinord, Vilafranca del Penedes

As part of our epic Couch Surfing adventure in Catalonia recently we had the stunning good fortune to be introduced to the wonderful Mireia from Bodegas Pinord - part of a wine making family with a pedigree over 150 years. 

Not only did she very kindly immediately get on the phone and organise for us to have a tour of the winery the very next day, but we were also in a restaurant that served Pinord's fabulous wine, which is called 'Mireia' in her honour! Of course it would have been rude not to try and bottle, and to get her to pose for a photo with it and our fabulous couch surfing host.




DO Penedes 2014

This mix of Muscat and Gewurztraminer truly is a delicious wine. Light, floral and fruity on the nose, it has a rounded and aromatic flavour in the mouth with a perfectly soft texture. The fruit is apple, but not quite the syrupy cooked apple that you might expect from, say, a West Coast blend of these varietals - it is much more subtle and slightly acid at the end which comes from a tiny proportion of Sauvignon Blanc which is added, only about 5%, just to take the edge of. It is a perfectly balanced wine which would go really well with salmon, fish and seafood dishes. I scored it a 9, but was truly in a quandry as to whether I should give it a 10. Perfectly easy drinking, just gorgeous.

Happily you can buy this in the UK for a relatively reasonable price, but nowhere near the 7.50 Euros or so that you can expect to pay in Catalonia! (Worth making the trip on so many levels!) I found it available online through Wine Poole, in Warwickshire for the 2013 vintage at £10.65 per bottle and £8.50 delivery to the UK mainland for a case.

After a delightful evening we duly turned up at the Pinord winery the next morning for our appointment. The bodegas extends over a couple of blocks in the wine making district of Vilafranca, it is by no means a small enterprise! We were greeted by Xavier, who it turned out was such a wonderfully friendly guy that he is certainly rivalling Xavi Roig from Cal Feru for the title of Nicest Guy in Wine. He was entertaining, incredibly knowledgeable and clearly deeply committed to making quality wine.


Xavier's in wine - always great dudes!
Another winery tour led to a whole new series of experiences for myself and The Boy. As Pinord is such a large enterprise, they have an amazing diversity of products on offer, covering different DO regions, different types of wines, a huge selection of varietals - truly something for everyone. Xavier took us to see everything, from the tasting room to the cellars. He explained their different equipment for receiving and preparing the grapes for red, white and rose grapes.

We were started off with a delicious, light rose cava to enjoy as we started the tour. Then as we followed the journey that red and white wines make, he also gave us the opportunity to try the free wine poured straight from the vat, which was something I had never had the chance to do before! It was delicious, although you could tell that it still had some way to go before it would hit the table, it was fascinating to taste such a young wine and to understand a lot more about the processes that refine the wine during its life. Still totally drinkable though!

Another first for both myself and The Boy was in the cava production area. We saw the cellars where the riddling (remuage to the French) took place, turning the bottles fractionally each day and gradually inverting them to move all of the yeast into the cap. Then, we saw where the necks were frozen and the bottles disgorged to release the yeast. At the time it was a rose cava which was being disgorged and Xavier obligingly grabbed a bottle off the conveyor immediately after it had been disgorged and passed it to us to taste - another first!! This was also interesting, as the second fermentation in the bottle is what is used to distinguish different qualities of cava (reserva, gran reserva etc.) but still gave us a fascinating insight into young cava and how a quality product is still very definitely drinkable even when it is so young.



After we had enjoyed a thorough tour and heard in great detail about all aspects of Pinord's production, we went through to one of their reception rooms, where tastings, pairings and other fun parties and events are held.


Of course, we'd only tried 3 or 4 wines during the course of the tour up to that point, so naturally it was time to actually taste, in a conducive environment to note taking, so now I can actually give you a little more detail about the wines that we tried!!


Chateldon
Reserva 2008

Another stunningly good, deep wine that would pair excellently with meat dishes. Mainly composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, it has a touch of Merlot to balance it out which really comes through in the levels of fruit and the taming of the tannins in this wine.

It has a dark rich colour and a significant halo of aging demonstrated in the glass. It was full bodied and rich with black fruit both on the nose and in the mouth. However, despite its fullness, it was surprisingly light on tannins which made it extremely easy drinking and would allow it to be enjoyed on its own as well as with food. I detected a strong cherry note in there which made me think it would pair rather nicely with duck and have enough texture to cut through the richness, but also not over power the flavour. 

It was reminiscient of the strength of a good Bordeaux, but softer and with slightly more fruit. I have scored it a 9 or so in my notes - I really liked it. Happily this wine is also available from a variety of UK suppliers - have a little Google and see which one fits your price point the best as some appear to have some quite strange delivery terms!


Apparently I forgot to take a picture, so here's a glass.
Natura
Organic White

We were very pleased to be able to continue our exploration of organic wines at Pinord, which, for example we enjoyed at Big Basin Vineyards in California and more recently at Terroir Feely in France. This wine was made with Xarel-lo, one of three Spanish grapes traditionally used to make cava and one which is rapidly becoming one of my favourites.

It was pale and clear, with an inviting floral nose. In the mouth it was rounded and full of fruit, yet somehow still dry and light in the mouth with very slight floral notes. We imagined it would pair well with a variety of foods - rice dishes with fish or meat - a paella for example! It was also delicate enough to be able to match nicely with flavours like oysters.

This one was scored 8.5 in my notes, but only because it was not quite as well balanced as the Mireia. It is still certainly a formidably good wine and another one which maintains my growing confidence in the quality of organically produced wines. Pinord have been making organically certified wines for what is a relatively long time, so I'm hardly surprised. Sadly this one seems a little harder to get hold of in the UK.


Pinord's history is tied with creating early wines 'suitable' for Spanish women
Although we didn't have the opportunity to taste them, it was very exciting to hear that Mireia herself has produced Pinord's her own range of biodynamic wines. You can read more about Pinord's biodynamic farming on their website and we were very excited to see a cow horn on the shelf in the shop - the stuff of legend for anyone who has heard anything about biodynamics! The Lluna Plena Chardonnay (Full Moon in Catalan) and Lluna Nova Xarel-lo (New Moon in Catalan) are now available so do let me know if you've given them a go - I'd love to know how they compared with the other wines we enjoyed from Pinord.

Again I struggled to find a local supplier for these wines, I am not sure they are available in the UK. So you'll just have to go to Catalonia to try them for yourself. The terrible, terrible hardship.


Cow horn on a shelf! Not full of poo, not buried in the vineyard, but still very cool.
So my wholehearted thanks to Pinord for being such generous hosts, to Mireia for ensuring we were so well taken care of and finally to Xavier who was simply the best guide and teacher we could possibly hope for. I was genuinely amazed at the quality of wines we tasted at Pinord and would wholeheartedly recommend you try them out for yourself!



Deliveroo: Premium food delivered in Leicester

This week has been a great time for Leicester. We had the hottest day for 147 years, It was sweaty and brilliant. Friends of this blog, Rothley Wines won a silver and bronze award for their wares at the UK Vineyards Association awards. A football club manager was sacked. To be fair I don't know if that's good or bad. But it definitely happened. But in amongst all of this notoriety and splendour a new era in food delivery was also born in Leicester. And that was by far the greatest thing that happened this week.

London-based company, Deliveroo has been stealthily expanding across the country and they have finally made their way to our green and pleasant city. Forget J**t E@%, forget ringing your local kebab house for a greasy hunk of questionable meat, now you can order restaurant quality food, from the actual restaurant and have it delivered to your door. Or, alternatively, if you aren't at home, you can get it delivered to the pub. Which is what we did.




I've mentioned the King's Head before when we were working our way through the best beer gardens in Leicester. They scored miscellaneous points for allowing you to bring in your own food. And so it was that this was the perfect place for me and a few mates to score an awesome takeaway and to put Deliveroo through their paces.

One friend just did not believe anything I was saying was true. As we looked through the restaurants we could order from, including Peter's Pizza, Carluccio's, Ask, the Queen of Bradgate and of course, the epic win that is Crafty Burger, he kept asking me how we could get food from these places brought to us at the pub. So of course I took the opportunity to film him and his hilarious incredulity. I hope it works. I've had trouble uploading videos here before...


video

We pondered and we discussed. The hardest thing was to decide where to order from as it all sounded so good.Sadly, we were ordering on a Wednesday, so we could not get Crafty burgers,which would have been my first choice. We looked over our favourite pasta dishes at Carluccio's, I enjoyed reading the menu from Kuru Kuru Sushi which sounded awesome and very reasonably priced, but unfortunately was vetoed by the rest of the group (why is sushi so unpopular?). Everyone was very hungry, it was making them sad - they needed food. And soon.


So hungry! No food, only beer. Sad, sad times.

In the end, after much discussion we went for a selection of Moroccan mezze, bringing what turned out to be a bit of a feast to the table. We ordered from Marrakech who promised us our food by 8.36pm - 34 minutes after we had placed the order.

So then of course, we waited.  Happily we were in the pub so waiting was not too onerous. That is the good thing about the King's Head. Great beers, and a lovely open roof terrace which really rocks on a lovely sunny evening like the one we experienced that night. Before we knew it 8.36pm had arrived.

And then gone again. But then, at 8.42pm, I got a phonecall! It was our driver (I believe they call them RooMen) just double checking where exactly in the pub we were. And then there he was, a veritable benevolent deity of effort-free food.

He was lovely and friendly. And boiling to death. Poor dude, Deliveroo might want to consider a branded polo shirt for drivers on hot days as he was clearly convinced that he needed to wear the jacket come what may, even though he was obviously feeling like he was descending into the seventh circle of hell he was so hot in it. It was a very warm day. But look at his lovely bag with the cute Roo logo. Very sweet. And more importantly, very full of food.

And so we received the food about 7 minutes later than promised, which wasn't ideal but didn't really bother us. We laid it all out on our table and dug in. We were immediately the envy of the rest of the pub who also couldn't believe that I had used my Galaxy tab on free wifi while we had been sat there to order this food and then, hey presto, there it was.



The food was a great temperature and all as pristine as you would expect in the restaurant itself. We were very happy with the quality. Our only complaint was that we were only provided with two knives and forks, even though we'd ordered for 5 people and we had no napkins whatsoever which is particularly important when you're messing about with hummus and the like with your fingers. Perhaps in the future Deliveroo will specify number of people an order is for so the restaurant can provide the correct silverware. Well, placcy forks, but you know what I mean.

So, you pay £2.50 for delivery on top of your food order, with a minimum order usually of around£15, depending on where you order from. They deliver between midday and 11pm and have a dedicated helpline in case you run into issues. All orders and payments are made online so your money is protected if anything goes wrong. If you know you've got a special event or something on, you can order your food up to one day in advance so you know it's all sorted and one less thing to worry about. Or, one more thing to look forward to.


And look at them now! Deliveroo made them happy, full of food AND full of mirth! Result!


The delivery area is just over 2.5km, which is purposefully relatively small to ensure you get your food quickly and in the best possible condition. We live outside the Deliveroo area in the city at the moment, but the King's Head is an excellent alternative. Also, I understand that they'll be launching an app soon where you can put a pin on a map and have your takeaway delivered to that location. Which actually sounds like witchcraft. Beautiful, beautiful witchcraft. I will possibly never leave Castle Gardens when I can sit out there with a book in the evening summer soon and get a Crafty Burger delivered right to me.

Is Deliveroo genius? 
Quite possibly.

#BeerGardenLeicester: The Best Beer Gardens in Leicester and Leicestershire

So, it's the moment I know you've all been waiting for (scroll down for the top 10!). Way back on the 1st April I let you all know that we would selflessly be working our way around Leicester and Leicestershire, awarding points to pubs for the quality of their beer gardens according to my own criteria.

Do click the link in the paragraph above and read the criteria for yourself, but in short we were looking at:

  • Size and exclusivity
  • Early Doors (sunshine)
  • Smarts
  • Wifi
  • British-Summer-Proof
  • Furniture
  • Miscellaneous
  • Pub Dogs


And now it is time to announce the winners! 
It was a much more closely fought contest than I imagined and I have decided that it is only fair to compare like with like and so here is the Top 10 of Leicester Beer Gardens, followed by the Top 5 Leicestershire Beer Gardens. Congratulations to all of the winners, and particular to our shock joint number 1's in the city who will each be receiving a token of my esteem in due course. Click the link on each pub to revisit my review.

Leicester's Top 10 Beer Gardens

1st place - Black Horse, Aylestone - 52 points
Joint 1st - Queen of Bradgate - 52 points
3rd place - 33 Cank Street - 44 points
4th place - Rutland and Derby - 43 points
Joint 4th - Cosy Club - 43 points
Joint 4th - The Western - 43 points
7th place - Orange Tree - 42 points
8th place - North Bar - 40 points
Joint 8th - Parcel Yard - 40 points
10th place - The Soar Point - 36 points

Leicestershire's Top 5 Beer Gardens

1st place - The Bell Inn, East Langton - 49 points
2nd place - Old Hare and Hounds, Anstey - 46 points
3rd place - The Langton Arms, Church Langton - 43 points
4th place - Grange Farm, Oadby, 41 points
5th place - The Forge, Glenfield, 37 points

I hope this provides a useful guide for you all now the lovely summer weather is upon us! Just to clarify, I made up the criteria and marked each pub against my own system as fairly as I was able. They didn't invite me, I visited pubs I could walk/cycle/bus/blag a lift to to that were recommended by people on Twitter, Facebook and face to face. We bought our own drinks in every single pub - not one person tried to bribe me! Honestly!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Tastos i maridatges at Nadal, Sant Sadurni D'Anoia, Spain

We went back to Sant Sadurni D'Anoia the other week during our visit to Catalonia where we had the pleasure once again of hanging out with Xavier Roig of Cal Feru(remember him? He's the nicest guy in wine). Xavier had pulled a couple of strings and got me on the guest list for a very special day of tastos i maridatges (tastings and pairings) for industry professionals at the fabulous home of Cavas Nadal, out in Torrelavit. We took The Boy along too, for his world class 'looking slightly awkward at posh events, but not so awkward that anyone ever questions his presence' skills.


Xavi checking out the cava while fabulous treats await behind

It was a wonderful day, with the beautiful winery gardens filled with a variety of stalls showcasing local, regional and national delicacies for guests to try. There were a plethora of delights, including cold meats, an array of Catalan and Spanish cheeses, the local sweet biscuit delicacy which was surprisingly delicious when served with a tomato and pork fat pate and cheese, fresh artisanal breads, sardines and much much more. There was even a local potato crisp which had excellent crunch and salty flavour!


These delicious foods were combined with a delightful selection of Nadal's wines. This wasn't really the event to stand around scribbling down tasting notes, but I can let you know that all of the wines we tried were delicious, but the real highlights for me were the Nadal Brut Reserva and the X Nadal Vermell, a delicate dry white with a faint hue to the colour which had incredible flavour and depth for such a light refreshing wine. It definitely earns the title of a Noble White. If you want to try for yourself you can use the Nadal online shop, or perhaps try the folks at Vi Vino or Berry Brothers and Rudd for a UK stockist.



After we had been tasting and pairing like a fury (with the Nadal rose cava being a surprisingly competent match to the delicious freshly sliced Iberico ham) we were taken on a tour of the cellars and the winery to see for ourselves where the magic happens.



I will never tire of touring wineries, hearing about the specifics of their own wine-making practices in each cellar we visit and always learning something new. Sadly, my Spanish was not quite up to understanding the answer to the question posed by the guide as to whether a regular sized bottle or a magnum is better for cava, so if anyone does know the answer do let me know in the comments below as I'm keen to find out!



And so the day drew to a close. We were delighted with our very special gift of a bottle of late harvest vinegar, which we managed to get home safely and is an absolutely incredible addition to any salad dressing! 
Quite a view!

 

Many thanks to Nadal for being such wonderful hosts and giving us the opportunity to become so immersed in Catalonian food and wine culture. 

 

It was a magical experience that will certainly stay with me for a long time and will be influencing my purchasing decisions on future trips to Catalonia! (Future trips which I now can't resist making...) 

 

And of course the biggest moltes gracies must go to Xavi for his generosity in devoting so much of his precious time to us that day.


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

#beergardenleicester: The Black Horse, Aylestone

Well, I had closed my #beergardenleicester testing, but I've not had a minute to go and buy a trophy for the winner, and so I'm sorry to have left you all hanging on waiting for the results! In the meantime, I'm sneaking in a last minute entry from The Black Horse in Aylestone. We went there for the fabulous #beerclublive event with +Everards Brewery  and @beerforthat and I couldn't resist taking some notes and a couple of snaps of their garden to share with you.


Size and exclusivity 
This is a great sized garden - there's both a large grassed area and a large tarmaced space with a great deal of furniture, decorative borders and plants on offer - more than enough to accommodate even the largest crowd on a summer's day.

Early Doors
Fabulous after work sun potential here - the garden is very open and so you can definitely find yourself a bright spot to let the cares of the world drift away.

Smarts
The terraced area isn't so beautiful on its own, but the rest of the garden more than makes up for it - lovely raised beds with edible plants, herbs on the tables, nicely established borders - it's an incredibly pleasant place to wile away some time! Extra points for the 'bike art' hung on the fence too!

Wifi
Good wifi coverage in the garden, although I'll admit I didn't go right to the back as it was a bit rainy!

British-Summer-Proof
Not good if more than 3 people want shelter from the storm, but there is a little wooden shed, I mean shelter, by the back door. Keep you dry and you can cosy up with the regulars!


Furniture
A mixture of picnic tables and cafeteria tables and chairs, all in good nick and well maintained - who could ask for more!

Extra points also awarded for the bike racks which have been built into the garden, which appear to be surprisingly rare at our nation's pubs!

Miscellaneous
Bonus points for having an outdoor bar thingy-bob-doody and also all of the lovely edible plants all around including the excellent 'aromatic corner' of the garden. So many delightful touches that I feel I may sense the touch of a female licensee?

Pub Dogs
Well, here we are. Pub dog? Yes, there was a lovely spaniel who had been playing in the canal and was a bit pongy but incredibly lovely. But that's not where the real points are. 

*** PUB CAT ALERT ***

Yes, I didn't think we'd get one, but right at the last minute a local kitty came ambling up to us for headbutts and purring. I was totally smitten and thus the holiest points of all were awarded to The Black Horse.

Edit: 04/07/15 - I've decided to add physical accessibility notes to each of the #beergardenleicester reviews. The Black Horse's garden is accessible throughout except for one small step up to the grassed area.

Monday, 22 June 2015

English Wine at Rothley Wine, #Leicestershire


Edit 04/07/15 - Many congratulations to Rothley Wines for winning a silver medal for their Richard III white and bronze for Spirit of Freedom at the UK Vineyard Awards 2015. Richly deserved!

(Apologies for the line spacing in this post - Blogger is leading me a merry dance for some reason.)

In a week where one of the world's top wine experts, Decanter World Wine Awards vice-chair Gerard Basset MW MS OBE declared that English wine has the potential to become one of the top wine-producing nations in the world, what better place to visit than Rothley Wines, who are making delicious vintages not 3 miles from my own house.

A small vineyard of around 900 vines sits on a sheltered, south facing slope in a beautiful part of the Leicester countryside. They have loamy, sandy soil underpinned by Charnwood's rich geological foundation which gives a unique and often faint minerality to their wines. We met the resident winemakers, Liz and Matthew for a tour and a tasting on an overcast June morning. First we were introduced to the resident pest control experts, Ginger and Ebony, who decided to join us on our stroll around the vines. They took an immediate liking to The Boy, and clearly deemed him worthy of their time, following him around like he had pockets filled with juicy slugs. I can neither confirm nor deny whether he did have said treats secreted about his person.



Liz toured us through the vines, explaining in detail about their growing methods, the characters of the grapes themselves and her wine-making journey. Her love of the vines she grows and the wines she produces was clearly in evidence - as ever it was a real privilege to meet someone with such great passion and commitment to fantastic local produce. Although not an organic winery, Rothley Wines does aim to use chemicals at the minimum level. They use no insecticides at all and fungicides only when there is a clear need.


Siegerrebe
It was fascinating for me to learn more about the grape varieties that grow strongly in the UK. It is still a relatively new industry here, or perhaps developing industry would be more apt, but wine makers are making all the same decisions about varietals that cope well with our climate and soil. This allowed me to be introduced to a whole range of varieties that I was previously unfamiliar with at Rothley Wines.

On the right here you can see the new spurs growing on the Siegerrebe vines. They have a delightful pale, almost frosty look on their new growth. This is a German grape developed from Madeleine Angevine and Gewurtztraminer producing an aromatic grape with plum coloured fruit. It's an incredibly pretty vine.

We also met Orion, Liz's "venerable old grandfather" vine which come right for them year in, year out, come what may. There was a whole new world of other varietals for us to meet as well, the parent of Siegerrebe - Madeleine Angevine, Solaris and also the newer side of the venture, the red grape rows, which included Rondo, Regent and one I was very interested in, the Pinot Precoce. This grape was developed from Pinot Noir and the grapes develop earlier, hence the name. This early ripening makes it perfect for colder countries and it seems that now people are sitting up and take notice of it as a real viable plant for our climate, with the ability to produce some high quality, highly drinkable wines, although some people are still arguing as to whether it is just a naturally occuring variant of Pinot Noir that has been encouraged to flourish.


Roses growing next to the 'toddlers'

I loved seeing the old Orion that was growing around the house as well, it is such a romantic vision and totally suited to the English country garden paradise that has turned to wine. Another of the lovely elements that made it such a familiar vineyard but still incredibly tied to its sense of place were the roses at the end of the rows. This is a very old French tradition that we have seen followed in many parts of the world, planted to act as the canaries - theoretically the early warning system for diseases, since roses are often attacked by the same fungal diseases. Of course the roses at Rothley Wines are all English varieties. They also have some fruit bushes planted around the vines although they would do it differently were they to start again - we saw one blueberry bush that had fallen victim to a hungry and lazy badger!


Old Orion


It was also nice to see the vines in a variety of stages of development where various rootstock issues or other problems had meant that some vines needed replacing. Although it must be difficult to lose vines, it was very gratifying to get to meet what Liz affectionately referred to as the 'toddlers' and very much put me in mind of my own three tiny vines that are trying to burst forth in my own garden.



Next we went round the winery, where the magic happens - a converted stable block that has had new life and new purpose breathed in to it by its owners. A compact affair, it had all the usual trappings of modern wine production but on an easily perceptible scale showing that this is truly a family business.

They have everything in place from start to finish. Freshly collected and de-stemmed elderflowers were merrily beginning their fermentation in vats on the side. The bottling machine was finishing its cycle of sterilisation ready for the bottling of blackberry wine later that day, when we'd stopped poking round the place asking daft questions.

The corking machine, the capsule put-on-the-topperer and the temperamental labelling machine were all there, in this one compact space. It was well organised and deeply satisfying to see. I'll never tire of seeing wineries and smaller ones are always my favourites. 


Our delightful host, Liz
After the stroll it was time to take a seat in the small summer house in the garden. Although the terrace was beautiful, the rain had just started to take hold and so we were pleased to have the shelter. Happily it was a warm day, just a bit moist, and so it was still an intensely joyful experience, as it always is to try the wines looking over the place where they were grown.

Sparkling Orion

2012

Rothley Wine's sparkling offerings are sent out to be made at Halfpenny Green Vineyard, as they do not yet have the equipment (or indeed the manpower) to create sparkling wines in house at Rothley. I can't say I blame them, it's a big commitment all the turning and the tipping and the disgorging! But of course the Orion grapes are all their own.

It has a lovely pale colour, with a very slight tinge to it that is almost green and very suggestive of the crisp flavour that the wine has. This crispness and hint of very slight acid tones also creeps through on the nose. It has a medium density of bubbles - smoother than a Prosecco and giving an excellent indulgent texture. It has a sharp, green apple tang which is almost reminiscient of a sugar coated sweet - perhaps a pear drop, but it is not oppressive, only pleasurable - like the flavour of our colder climate has been captured in the bottle. It fades away to a light sweetness and also perhaps a little taste of the Charnwood minerality I mentioned earlier. The bubbles are excellent and keep their strength throughout the glass.

I happily awarded an 8 out of 10 in my own scoring system, just because I wanted to leave myself somewhere to go in case something better came along really!


Spirit of Freedom
Cuvee Brut 2013

A fabulous sparkling rose blended from Orion, Siegerreber, Regent and Pinot Precose. Understandably commended in the International Wine Competition, this wine has an absolutely stunning and delicate colour which is a mixture of peach and rose, much reminiscient of some of the established English roses we had seen in the vineyards. It has more depth of aroma than the Sparkling Orion and I felt this promise of great flavour was definitely seen through in the mouth.

It is indeed full of beautiful taste and perfume, packing a huge helping of fruit into each delicious mouthful. The bubbles are soft and mousse-like in the mouth, more delicate and perhaps more refined than the Orion. I was getting tastes of strawberry and peach but as you would expect with a Brut, none of the sweetness - just a very light hint of residual sugar sits in the mouth as it fades away with a medium finish.

This is still a young wine and I will be excited to see how it develops as its acidity balances the slight sweetness even more over time. A wine with much promise and one I was glad to call a 9 out of 10. An excellent celebration toast, but equally I think it would pair quite well with light starters - canapes, seafood, and perhaps be able to take some amount of creaminess in the food and still work nicely - it'd be fun to experiment!

King Richard 
2014

This fuller bodied dry white has an extremely pale, delicate colour with good strong legs. It is composed of two thirds Solaris and one third Siegerrebe. A wonderful smelling wine, I got little wafts of gooseberry, maybe melon and we were debating over an element that could perhaps be dragonfruit, but I haven't had one recently enough to be sure (have to pop to Leicester market and pick some up) as well as lychee. 

As you can imagine, something that complex on the nose is a really satisfying experience in the mouth! It has great body - it is really rounded and what verges on a slight creamy richness in the texture. It delivers white grapes, green fruit as well as tones of the more perfumed fruits that we glimpsed in the bouquet. It's extremely drinkable, with a slight acidity that makes it more complex than your more run of the mill vin de table from larger producers. Deeply satisfying, we discussed the way it would match perfectly with smoked salmon and cream cheese and also toyed with the idea of if this slightly lower alcohol wine would match well with spicier foods like the Mexican food pairings we had tried out at Ceja Vineyards in Carneros. Again, this would definitely be something worth experimenting with and at a tenner a bottle it wouldn't be breaking the bank!

An 8.5 out of 10 for me here, you can tell that I was torn as to whether this or the Spirit of Freedom was my favourite!

Battle Royal
2014

A medium dry rose with a slightly deeper colour than we had seen in the Spirit of Freedom. It is made from a mix of Regent and Solaris which gives a gentle aroma with slight acetone and perhaps a hint of watermelon, and pear. 

This perfumed characteristic maintains in the mouth, with all of my notes emphasising the aroma, perfume, the florals - it is an English country garden of a wine with a relaxed English summer written all over it. The pear flavours dominate in this wine, which finishes once again with that very slight mineral character on the finish giving the sense of place, perhaps the spirit of Leicestershire's wine. This was a 7.5 for me - I liked it, but I had been spoiled by the others I think!

And there you have it. Natterjacks on Braunstone Gate have a limited stock of Rothley Wines and The Offie on Clarendon Park sells it to, so city centre types should pop down and grab a glass or a bottle while you can. You can also buy the wines at North's in Rothley, Scott's of Quorn, Oakham Wines, George Hill in Loughborough and  enjoy a glass with dinner at Ragdale Hall or Time and Plaice Restaurant in Rothey. So, no excuses, pick some up and #lovelocal!






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