Friday, 30 May 2014

Cheese and Wine tasting at St Martin's Tea and Coffee, Leicester

We stopped by at the ever lovely St Martin's Tea and Coffee Merchants last week for their cheese and wine tasting evening. It was the right thing to do. At just £9 a ticket it seemed like a good value evening out and we ended up with a group of 6 of us, so it was lots of fun. Me and The Boy have of course been to a number of tastings before. One of my friends was with us at the fun but not great Home Wine Tasting Debacle a few weeks back and the others were relatively new to the whole tasting set up, so there was a nice mixture of expectation and experience.

St Martin's is a great little coffee house that has been expanding its reportoire over the last few years to include a number of different tastings, live music, life drawing classes, sewing evenings (which I particularly fancy) and a burlesque night, amongst other things. It's very much a part of the burgeoning independent scene in Leicester at the moment, with its mismatched furniture and vintage decor. I'm starting to wonder why people ever complain that there's nothing to do here, because I'm starting to find it hard to decide because there is so much choice of quality and interesting events and places to pop along to.

So we were in amiable, pleasant surroundings. The table was set with cute vintage plates, a range of glasses, water, and bread and crackers for the table. There was a large table at the front where the cheeses and wines were presented, ready for our host to give us a little walk through of what we were trying and to answer any questions. The two staff who were running the night were really friendly, putting everyone at their ease and helping to create a really fun, relaxed atmosphere - no wine snobbery here!

On the down side, for me at least, there was relatively little information here too - I think that perhaps a tiny bit more information about the wines should have been available on the chalk board. After all, if you wanted to come back to buy some more of a wine you enjoyed, you're not going to get very far if all you know is that it was a 'merlot' or a 'prosecco'! But maybe that's just me and my now compulsive addiction to scribbling tasting notes about wines in my little book.

The evening kicked off with a warm welcome, a little talk about tasting wine and then on to the sampling. I thought it was a little odd that the red wine came before the sparkling and the white, but I would imagine that the running order was decided by the relative strength of the cheeses. 

The first tasting pair was a merlot with Westcombe cheddar.

Bordeaux 2013, £8.00 a bottle

This merlot was light on the nose, with a savoury, light on fruit sort of bouquet, suggesting a light bodied wine. The rather deep, purple almost cherry coloured wine was surprisingly creamy on the palette. It was very smooth with vanilla and a lightly sweet blackberry taste, with just a slight background lemon hit. It was very drying on the palette and when you added it to the creamy Westcombe cheddar with its caramel tang it really brought out a spicy element in the wine - which was great - but sadly completely overtook the delicious vanilla note - which was a shame. But such is the joy of pairing wine with food, you get a whole new experience. This was a really drinkable wine and I am keen to try more of its ilk as it is so young, but still has a lot of complexity. Lovely.

About £10 a bottle

Fruity and floral ont he nose, but with heavy, ill disciplined bubbles in the mouth, there was a light, sweet elderflower flavour cut with lemon which was uninhibited and simple. It was super, super sweet. I think the cava has ruined me. This was matched with Bath soft cheese - a British take on a brie which just about had the mushroom and lemon character boasted on the packet. It was very light and smooth, with a slight earthy sourness but not as deep and complex as a brie, with a very soft rind - less aged perhaps? Anyway, the wine took the edge of the cheese but also makes the prosecco even more tooth achingly sweet and really lemony with that quite strange mushroom/earthy backnote from the cheese still lingering in your mouth. Essentially, I thought they brought out the worst in each other. But there's no accounting for taste. Certainly I wouldn't go out of my way for either again.

JC Barbe
Dessert wine
2009, about £20 a bottle

A pretty standard price for a dessert wine, but I think it was the surprise of the evening as we were all expecting a white, not a dessert wine! Rounded taste with a soft baked apple nose that is super sweet and creamy on the palette with a hint of sea salt and nectarine traces. It is, as you would expect, thick on the mouth and long on the finish. It's complex smell and flavour was not really to my taste, but then they paired it with the classic Stinking Bishop, which was worth it just to see and hear the dramatic reaction that the cheese brought to the uninitiated! The retching, the laughter, the general doubling over as if in pain, followed by the desperate snatch for the pear slices that were brought round as a palette cleanser was an evening highlight that will stay with me for quite sometime!

For myself, I quite enjoyed the pungency of the cheese, which took the syrupy edge off the wine and brought out an unusual moss flavour and a very much more pronounced hint of pear, which I really liked. In terms of excellent matching, this was the combination I found the most interesting.

2008, about £20 a bottle

And to finish the evening we had a delicious port matched with the alway delicious Blacksticks Blue, a real treat. It was great to try (or re-try) so many lovely British cheeses. This good red cheese with just a hint of blue flavour added sweetness and a toasted nutty flavour to the port - like woodsmoke perhaps? This was a good compliment to the flavour before the cheese, which was bursting with deep, wood and full fruit with a dash of vanilla icecream or perhaps marzipan along with full, ripe black cherry. A fantastic way to end the evening.

A great evening was have. Tasting measures were generously poured, samples of cheese were so hefty that a slight cheese-drunk haze descended upon our group! An evening full of giggles and new experiences. I would heartily recommend you head over to the St Martin's Facebook page and keep up to date with their many and varied events and activities. This place is a real Leicester gem.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

REVIEW: Porcus, Calella

Those of you that have been paying attention will know that I absolutely love a good deli. I am almost fanatical about little shops that sell excellent charcuterie, bang on wines and delicious cheeses. Imagine my delight when, amongst all the other goodies that we experienced in Spain earlier this month, we stumbled across Porcus, in Calella, Costa Brava.

It is quite a small, long shop just on one of the main shopping streets in this small coastal town. It has a distinctly contemporary feel to the signage and orientation, quite different from the more traditional Spanish delicatessen. It is a veritable gold mine. There are rows of cured hams hanging up and a vast array of other cured and fresh meats available for purchase. They also
have a good range of interesting (and very reasonably priced) wines and a couple of more unusual beers amongst other products.

Super friendly staff!
The thing I liked the best is that it is also a little tasting room - a great place to stop off for a quick drink and a bite of tapas. They have large barrel tables but no toilets, so if you go, remember to go first. The cheery staff will shave you off a thin slice of absolutely top notch and serve it to you on fresh, crusty bread with a drizzle of olive oil matched with a glass of either a local cava of the region or a local red wine. It was as close to mind-blowing as you can get for a foodie experience for EUR 2.50 (about £2.03).

This is a really, really cheap - but really, really nice Catalonian red. It is deep and dark on the nose with an almost savoury, slightly meaty smell - you know it's going to go well with the ham. It is quite high on the tannings, but I do love a robust wine so this was perfect for me.

There is no fruit in the mouth, only savoury flavours. It is the saltiness of the Iberico ham that is what brings these two elements together so nicely. The salt of the ham brings out an almost creamy taste in the wine, perhaps a very light vanilla note that you would not detect if you were drinking the wine alone. 

I really liked this wine. If you get some, bring me a bottle back?

Porcus in S**t

Monday, 26 May 2014

REVIEW: Club Quarters, Trafalgar, London

Sue Perkins presiding at the Awards
I went to London for the Museum and Heritage Awards last week. Sadly, we didn't win, but I did get to stay at the Club Quarters in Trafalgar. It was such a fabulous hotel that I thought a review was in order, so you can consider staying there yourself. It is luxurious and offers fabulous service.

The hotel is situated at 8 Northumberland Avenue, about 2 minutes walk from Charing Cross station. So essentially, you couldn't hope for a more centrally located spot. Looking up the road, Nelson's Column and Trafalgar Square is plainly visible. And although it's in such a thriving, busy area, the hotel itself is peaceful and tranquil. Club Quarters has 17 locations worldwide, all of them in absolutely stonking prime locations.

I was greeted on arrival by Bilge, the receptionist. She was smartly dressed, friendly and efficient and really couldn't do enough for me to make sure I had everything I needed. Sadly all of the standard rooms with a view of Big Ben had gone by the time I arrived, but she still put me in a room with an excellent view out over London. I also discovered that (as I am an idiot) I had forgotten my hairbrush, and she immediately found me a comb from the hotel stocks, which she gave to me for free. Checking in and out is really simple as they have fast machines which save a lot of hassle. The keycards are neat and work well, although I stupidly put mine next to my ipod with its magnetic fastener which meant I wiped the data and had to return it to reception to get it reprogrammed (I went to reception a lot it seems).

My room was a decent size, beautifully furnished and spotlessly clean. The bed was comfortable and the facilities in the room were awesome - free wifi throughout the hotel, plenty of charge points (including wall fitted USB chargers), good sized TV, a comfortable workstation, nice quality tea and coffee making facilities and even a selection of books, some about exploring London and some general fiction, which I thought was a lovely touch.

Each floor has a purified water dispenser, with bottles to allow you to take it away with you as you explore the city. At these areas there are also cupboards which have additional resources that you might need - extra supplies of tea and coffee, ironing boards and the like. You can also ask to borrow an ipad, if you don't want the hassle of bringing your own laptop and they offer complimentary sleep kits, fitness room access and you can even have yoga kit delivered to your room!

The bathroom had a spacious shower and meticulously clean fittings. There was a wide range of high quality toiletries which meant I had a very relaxing shower! I think you can tell a lot about a hotel by the quality of these products, and the vast selection that I was given left me spoiled for choice.

Drinks and snacks in the Living Room
My favourite aspect of the hotel was the Club Members Living Room, which is a really cosy space stuffed full of books and comfy chairs. It is a great place to relax or to work.They offer drinks and snacks throughout the way and my top tip is to head there for your coffee as the machine is brilliant and makes a fab latte. They have proper mugs as well as takeaway cups with lids available. I found this really handy for grabbing a cup of tea to take out with me in the morning, and the cereal bars that had been laid out in the morning were a great snack.

The Living Room also has a television, powerpoints and chairs with laptop stands for comfortable working. If you haven't brought a computer, there are also freely available workstations if you want to jump online to check your email or boast to your friends what a lovely hotel you are staying in!

Living Room
I think that the hotel is sort of separate, although still associated with, the rest of 8 Northumberland Avenue. Their ballroom was where our awards were held and I think it's just worth mentioning the delicious food we were served during the event, which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially the guinea fowl main. All served in truly opulent surroundings, I was very impressed with the whole thing. There is also a brasserie on site, in case you fancy a meal or alcoholic drink while you were there. The deco of this is classic London brasserie - understated, but classic.
Souffle starter
Guinea fowl main
Trio of desserts
Naturally, Club Quarters is really made for its member organisations, and these guests receive additional services and facilities. However, that said I did not feel like a received a second class service as an individual guest. You can book rooms on the Club Quarters website from around £190 per night for a standard room. Happily, we got a reduced rate as I was attending the awards, but either way it is still excellent value for such a high quality of accommodation in Central London. I looked all around for an alternative (cheaper) hotel in the same area and simply couldn't find anything that would beat the rate and mean that I didn't have to travel across London on my own in the middle of the night!

I would give Club Quarters Trafalgar 10 Extreme Points out of 10, because I simply couldn't find an area to criticise! The facilities, the service, the ambience and the decor meant that this was an excellent stay in a prime location. Faultless!

Cavas Recaredo winery, Sant Sadurni D'Anoia, Spain

During our recent visit to Spain, Recaredo kindly invited us to tour their winery. We popped over following our visit to Cal Feru and were shown around by the friendly and knowledgeable Jasmine. I was particularly interested to visit Recaredo as they are the first cava winery to be certified as biodynamic, although there is only a rose cava which is young enough to have the certification so far. But more will follow, as the certification was only awarded in 2010. These organic, land-conscious and artisanal processes reminded me of the conversation we'd had with Randall Grahm in 2012 about his own biodynamic practices at Bonny Doon, so I was interested to see how this transferred to the making of cava.

Their certificate of conformity for organic growing has been valid since 2003 and proudly tells us that they create exclusively vintage brut nature cava:
  • 100% own vineyards in the Alt Penedes region
  • 100% organic, biodynamic vine-growing
  • 100% hand-harvested
  • 100% complete in-house vinification
  • 100% aged with natural cork stopper
  • 100% aged for at least 30 months
  • 100% riddling by hand on racks
  • 100% disgorged by hand without freezing

This suggests a high quality product! And on the tour it was a pleasure to see many of these processed in action. To start with, we were introduced to the Recaredo vineyards and their focus on growing practices without herbicides and pesticides, which are in harmony with local nature. They use medicinal plants such as chamomile and horsetail, grown along with the vines to prevent fungus by way of a cold maceration sprayed on the plants and allow the spontaneous growth of 'weeds' amongst the vines to preserve the ecosystem of the vineyard as well as to protect and fix nitrogen in the soil.

It was a real pleasure to have the opportunity of meeting two of the Recaredo family during our visit, who are definitely very much hands-on in their approach to their wine. The original founder, Josep Mata Capellades founded Cavas Recaredo in 1924, hand hewing the cellars, some of which is still preserved to this day. The Mata Casanovas brothers continue this spirit of endeavour by being actively engaged in the processes. One of them was disgorging the bottles while we were there, taking out the cork stopper by hand to allow the yeast to pop out of the top of the bottle - allowing the opportunity for each bottle to be sniffed for quality, something not possible with the usual metal cap/freezing method of disgorgement. This also has the benefit of stopping oxidisation and making use of a natural product, taken from sustainable sources. Of course, they also recycle the first cork of the two that is used for each bottle - it's then up to you to recycle the second!

The grapes are handpicked and left with the stems on. Recaredo only use 55% of the first juice to stop oxidisation and prevent the stems from being squeezed, so again this is another triumph for quality over mass production. I didn't think to ask what happens to the rest of the juice, kicking myself a bit now. I'll let you know if I find out!

So after a very pleasant wander through the windy and cool cellars and see the wine being made, we were taken to a very smart tasting room so that we could see what all the fuss was about.

Intens Rosat Brut Natur 2010

This had a very deep colour compared to the rose cavas we had seen previously. It is light on the nose, with soft fruit aromas which are quite complex (again to what I would normally associate with a rose cava). On the palette it is full-bodied, strong and totally dry. This total absence of sweetness was again a bit of a surprise, but completely inkeeping with the Recaredo commitment to great Brut Natur wines and the local Sant Sadurni taste for bone dry cavas.

Jasmine told us that this wine pairs excellently with food and specifically recommended trying it with squid ink rice, which made my mouth water at the very thought. The flavour was so deep and developed the more you tasted. I felt that there was almost a watermelon note in it, which was deliciously refreshing. An absolutely lovely wine which you can get in the UK for just under £15 a bottle. Worth every penny.

Brut Natur Gran Reserva 2008

Amazingly priced at a similar point to the Rosat, this cava is 59 months aged and has a pleasing light straw colour.  It is very lively in the mouth, more than the rose and has a fascinating mix of tobacco and a toasted, nutty smell which comes from the aging process in the barrel for the first age. It has a smooth finish, and doesn't coat the mouth - it fades in a really lovely way, I guess that's what you call a long, rounded ending! It is a lovely crisp taste, with the trademark dryness that is perfectly balanced - not surprising at all, just a comforting taste of quality. Absolutely delicious and certainly a cava that I would be happy to come back to.

A fascinating vist at Recaredo then. I realised that besides the wines, one of the things I love about visiting wineries is the amazing architecture and decor. They are all so beautiful and Recaredo is no exception. Their foyer is full of contemporary, sleek lines but with a hint of the traditional around the edges. It is a gorgeous place to spend time. And if you are cynical about cava, I cannot recommend enough that you try these delicious wines. You'll never touch Prosecco again.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

REVIEW: LMFLMF Fashion Boutique

I was given the opportunity to buy some bits and bobs from Love My Figure, Love My Fashion at a discount recently, in exchange for a blog review. It's actually a really clever little concept. You can input your measurements on the homepage and they tell you your body shape. This has more options than the usual apple, pear and hourglass. And if you don't have a tape measure, don't worry! They'll send you one for free! I ordered one in the spirit of curiousity and expected a paper tape, but it's actually a really good quality tape.

I've always wondered about dressing for my shape. I'm not the most confident when it comes to buying clothes anyway. I usually just get things that are colourful or patchwork and damn the way they hang. LMFLMF let me know that my body shape was the rectangle...

Their website tells me:
Lucky you! Many women would love to have your shape - you're quite straight up and down, 
but this means that you don't have a particular area that you need to minimise 
- so you have more choice when it comes to what to wear! 

However, because of your fairly straight shape, your best look is one that creates the illusion of more curve.
  Think of yourself as an hourglass, but without the killer waist. 
Your bust and waist measurements are similar and if you gain any weight, 
it tends to distribute itself evenly throughout your frame.

So there we have it! Nothing to complain about there! Straight up and down, no curves but no real issues along with that! Seems fair and explains why I've always thought I have the figure of an 8 year old boy. Right now, the website brings up 51 items for my shape - including some nice jewellery to match with the clothes along with the dresses, tops and other items. On each item, they list how and why each piece suits or 'assists' each body type, so you can learn a little bit about what to look out for in other garments.

I decided to treat myself to two items.The website is really simple to navigate with a clean and simple layout. You can have a nosey at the items for other body shapes while you're there - there are some crossovers, and also you'll come across some really unique little items.

I picked the Fever London Cuba Flare dress. It has quite a retro feel, so suits my style, and the fluted skirt is designed to help accentuate my waist and curves (or non-curves I guess!). I was really pleased with it when it arrived. The quality of fabric and construction is great and the colours are lovely. The only complaint I would have is that I found it to be un-ironable! 

To match it I went for the Dolly Bow Bow Peace and Harmony necklace. I must confess when it arrived the little tag said 'Believe' on it, which was a little too cutesy for me and so I removed it! But I adore the peace symbol and so couldn't resist this little beaut. It's quite a lightweight piece, but the clasp is decent and it is overall a very sweet item of jewellery.

I decided to road test my dress at this year's Museum and Heritage Awards, at which our exhibition was sadly not a winner! But that was OK. The dress was super comfy and a great length, so I felt really confident, not too much on show and a lovely swoosh in the skirt as you walk. I was wondering whether it could be flared a bit more with an underskirt. Something to ponder for next time I think!

And I also got to show off my dress to the super duper awards host, Sue Perkins off the telly box, who I went a bit fangirl on as I was so excited to have the opportunity to meet her! Many thanks to her for being so patient and gracious, even asking me about our shortlisted exhibition. Made my month that did! Everyone's a winner. Apart from Sue Perkins, obviously. I imagine it was a little wearisome for her.

But anyway, I've gotten distracted again. I can heartily recommend LMFLMF. It's a really useful tool and they stock some lovely pieces that I don't think you are likely to see on other sites. And the team that runs it are super lovely. Support a new start up, go and have a browse and find out more about how to dress your wonderful shape, whatever shape you are.

Monday, 12 May 2014

REVIEW and COMPETITION: Jack Daniels BBQ Sauces

Do you like Jack Daniels? Do you love BBQ? Then this is going to be exciting...

I was sent some super new, super exciting limited edition Jack Daniels sauces to try. I have been saving them until after our Spanish birthday holiday (of which you can read more here) to crack open. The idea was to have a little BBQ when we got home, so that I could celebrate my birthday (again) with my friends, and offer up some tasty treats at the same time. Typically though, when the day came yesterday, it was blowing a gale and occasionally chucking it down. This is not weather
conducive to BBQ and trust me, even a slightest hint of a possibility of charred meat will send the Boy out. He has barbequed in the rain before.

So, I had to go to plan B. What's a good way for people to taste BBQ sauce? Well, with chips of course!*

*We had got back off holiday 12 hours earlier, there were some chips in the freezer. What are you going to do?

We were sent two varieties of the sauce, both containing Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey. The Full Flavour Smokey has just a hint of woodchips added to a full, smooth barbeque taste. It is sweet without being sickly and that slight smooth flavour from the JD is just a hint in the background. For a BBQ sauce, it's actually surprising complex in flavour!

The Extra Hot Habanero sauce is a Limited Edition, and The Boy loves it. It is very, very spicey - too spicey for me for definite. But I suck at too much chilli. Having come to love habaneros in Mexico though, the Boy assures me that this has all the flavour you would expect, and the kick, but definitely still the flavour of a good quality barbeque - it's not just a hot sauce that only adds the chilli heat. The Boy did say in this one it's harder to identify the JD flavour through all of the layers of taste, but that the aftertaste is kind of smooth, so I guess that it shares the characteristics you would expect!

And the sauces went down well. I put a whole array of sauces out to go with the chips and didn't say that I was reviewing them. It was a sort of blind taste test. There was mayo, ketchup, brown sauce - all the classics and our two Jack Daniels sauces. And 75% of people, with free choice, tried the sauces. And went back for more. The smokey sauce went down well, with some surprised 'mmm's', but as you can see from the photo, the Extra Hot Habanero was definitely the winner. I must give you the direct quote:

'This sauce is the bollocks.'

I'm not sure I can improve on that.

Since then, we have used the Full Flavour Smokey sauce to make some smokey beans to accompany a Mexican style hash, full of spicey sausage, avocado and the like. And it was fabulous. For me, these sauces are really made to act as spices in a recipe, a really quick way to make delicious food. And happily, the nice people at Jack Daniels have already created a vast library of recipes to give you some ideas.

The Boy has also just confessed that he had some of the Extra Hot Habanero on a fried egg butty this morning. Versatile!

So you want to try them for yourselves now, right?
And here I am, like the magical blogging competition fairy, presenting you with the chance to win a super set of 4 Jack Daniels sauces all for your very own. And with summer just round the corner, that's going to keep you in BBQ for a decent amount of time. One UK-resident winner will receive a bottle each of:
  • Extra Hot Habanero - limited edition 
  • Hot Pepper Steak Sauce - limited edition 
  • Smooth Original
  • Full Flavour Smokey
Just complete the Rafflecopter below. And do follow the instructions properly, I will check and any invalid entry will be disqualified and a new winner picked!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And just so you know, The Jack Daniel’s® Barbecue Sauce range is produced under license by Baxters Food Group. In case you were bothered. I don't know, you might be interested.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

REVIEW: Cal Feru tasting room and wine merchants, Sant Sadurni D'Anoia

We've just got from a lovely week in the Barcelona and boy, do I have a lot of blogging to do as a result! So let's make a start on a real high note - the Cal Feru wine merchants and Californian style tasting room in Sant Sadurni D'Anoia, near Barcelona.

Sant Sadurni is a sleepy little town that is easily reached from central Barcelona on the Route 4 train. It takes less than an hour and leads you out of the city through some lovely countryside, with an increasing amount of vineyards on all sides. Once in town, follow the winding path around the Freixenet winery - I think you can safely ignore that place, there are much better cavas around in this town - about 70 wineries as I understand...

Cal Feru
You'll soon find yourself in the city and you can easily walk around the whole place in short order. On one of the first streets you encounter you will find Cal Feru, a place with a great pedigree but also a really contemporary feel.

We were hosted by Xavier Roig, the latest in the line of Roigs to handle the reins of this successful business. Whilst being extremely proud and respectful of his family's traditions, he was also not afraid to try new things and has taken Cal Feru in a really exciting direction. It turns out that he is also possibly the nicest person in wine, clearly knowlegable and in love with the products he sells and just all round a fun, friendly dude. He really made our visit to Sant Sadurni something that will stay in the memory for a long time.

This is a wine pump. Like what firemen use for water, but for wine.

Since 1934,  Cal Feru has been selecting the best wines for its customers, at first selling them unbottled to customers around the Barcelona. Downstairs is a small museum dedicated to the history of the Roig family and their business, showing how the first generation of the family at first took huge barrels of cava daily by horse and cart into the city. There is a bunch of historic equipment that they have used, showing how methods of filling barrels and delivering wine has changed over the generations.
Transporting the wine
I particularly liked the old Liquores sign that is now in the basement. Xavi told us that because electricity was so expensive, when it was outside of the shop it only used to be lit twice a year - once at Christmas and once during the main fiesta, and even then probably only with one bulb. Now it appears to be fully lit at all times - but in the basement where only a handful of people will see it! I think the most amazing thing about this museum area is that we completely did not expect there to be so many rooms in the cellar! We were told that Sant Sadurni D'Anoia is like a swiss cheese - under the ground numerous rooms and tunnels have been hewn in the rock of the hills - and I can well believe it. Everywhere we visited was like a Cava Tardis.

Once we had been through the museum and heard all about how the business had changed over the years, Xavi took us through some of the other basement rooms. This is where he has really started some exciting things.

There was a cool, contemporary basement room with vivid pink walls which housed a bar and long table. As you would expect, Cal Feru host the usual variety of hosted tastings and nights where the wines are matched with food, all with full explanations - usually from an expert in the field. We were upset that the day we flew in to Barcelona was the day that they had a food and wine matching afternoon on a sailboat, but maybe that will be for another time.

For me, the most interesting events that they run are their evenings pairing music and wine. There was a very clever play on words about 'canciones' (the Spanish word for songs) and something to do with wine which sadly I can no longer remember, even though I tried to make a mental note of it! But they have evening sessions with smooth music for a smooth wine, or matching mellow, bright, vibrant and other flavour notes with the songs that they hear from that evening's artists. I think they run these about once a month so definitely worth checking out if that is available during your visit.

They had the best autograph book you've ever seen because of these evenings - the specially selected wines matched with the corresponding CDs from the respective bands, all signed on the night. And presented in a lovely cabinet - it looked great.

At this point, it would have been rude not to actually taste the wines! The tasting room is on the first floor and has only been open for about a month, so we really had our finger on the pulse. Following a trip to California, Xavier wanted to recreate the laid back tasting rooms that he had experienced (and of course we love visiting). The room itself has a range of comfortable furniture with a tasteful display of wine related products all around. They offer a number of tasting sessions, including an Introduction to Cava, which I would highly recommend if it is not something you are familiar with.

We were lucky enough to try a wide range of cavas with Xavi, it was lovely that he really got into the tasting with us, instead of simply acting as a guide - you could tell how much he loves his work! Later in the tasting he brought us a selection of tapas, including the most delicious charcuterie that is also made in the local area. Sadly we were unable to find any in the shops around the town so were not able to bring any home with us. That worked in amazing complement with the cavas, which actually quite surprised me, but here in the Capital of Cava it is apparently quite usual to take your cava with food as you would with any non-sparkling wine. With so many wineries around I am not surprised in the slightest. Anyway, more on that later - bring on the Caves!
The wider glass is for the Gran Reserva - learn something new every day
Reserva 2010
Although Cava is a protected name, sadly it is not geographically delineated in the way that a rioja is. The protected appelation was created in 1991 and it seems a shame that the region isn't protected given that 75% of cava is made in the area, but all cava makers in Spain are covered by the protection. However, you do get some assurance of quality from the associated labelling. A reserva has a green label on the top and will have been aged in the bottle for a minumum of 15 months. A gran reserva has a black label and has been aged for at least 30 months.
  At EUR6.50 per bottle, this stuff is easy on the pocket and surprisingly palatable. Light on the nose, it smells both floral and young (as indeed it is). It is a Brut (dry) natura and you can really taste this - this is clearly a matter of great pride in Sant Sadurni. A semi-brut will have more sugar added after the first fermentation. This is totally dry. This has a pleasant light fizz in the mouth and a citrus taste, once I went back to it I thought I was getting just a hint of a melon like taste, but the aftertaste is not so great - almost sour - this is the young nature of the cava coming through.
  This cava is made from typical grapes - Macabeau, Xarel-lo and Parellada. It is aged for 20-30 months.

I was interested in that every bottle of cava pours differently, so don't bother taking note of how the bubbles look in the glass, it's just the mouthfeel that matters.

Gran Reserva 2009
From a great, reputable winery, this has a noticeably deeper, more complex flavour than the reserva. It is almost creamy in the mouth, but without this detracting at all from the dryness. The Xarel-lo and Macabeau grape combination really suits the longer aging of the gran reserva and this shows itself in a better mouthfeel and much smoother, more pleasant aftertaste. This is an all round super cava and sells for EUR14.65 at Cal Feru.

The grapes are mainly produced locally too, with the region being surrounded by mountains and the hot temperatures being balanced out by an afternoon breeze from the sea which helps to cool the vines. The hot temperatures also mean good red grapes are produced there, which serves to create excellent rose cava using the Priorat grape.

SEGURA VIUDAS 5 viudas # Brut
Reserva 2010
Made from a heady mix of Macabeu, Parellada, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this 'Widow' cava sells for EUR 7.25 a bottle, and this extra few cents makes all the difference. It has much more fruit than the Alsina Sarda and therefore reflects a more modern style of cava making. It has less bubbles on the tongue and so is less satisfying in that respect, but more acidity, with light citrus notes. A nice spot for the price, but a less traditional cava taste than you would expect.

At this point we went on to the rose cava, and this one had a deep colour in the bottle which poured almost to a look of strawberries in the glass. This was appropriate, as it had a strong amount of juicy soft fruit on the nose, but was not overly sweet or heavy on the palette - again the local preference for a dry, Brut taste being preferred. It had no real floral notes, but was as you would expect more fruity than the white cavas. There was less of a feel of bubbles on the tongue than all the previous offerings, it definitely felt less fizzy. This is made solely from Pinot Noir which I think explains the flavour.

RECAREDO Brut de Brut Brut Nature
Gran Reserva 2005
Definitely the best of the bunch for me and at EUR26.85 per bottle, surprisingly affordable for something of such high quality. Featuring Xarel-lo, which is first barrel conditioned and Macabeu, there is very little on the nose, perhaps just the merest hint of yeast or citrus, but not much at all. There is  definite deep complex flavour, which the flavour of that first barrel conditioning really penetrates. It also has a delicate fizz which is pleasant on the tongue and it is so dry (the Brut of the Brut, as the name indicates!) that it almost takes on a savoury characteristic. Barely any fruit is present and for this reason it was a truly heavenly match with the salty charcuterie and soft, crumbly olive and tomato biscuit/cakes that we were offered.

Rosat Brut Nature
This is a young, fruity rose with a raspberry sweet. It still has a touch of the dry, giving an apple like crispness - however the bottle we had had been open for a week and it had really lost a lot of its edge - you win some, you lose some...

So an absolutely wonderful couple of hours were had at Cal Feru. I'd recommend you go along just to meet Xavi - we felt like we were old friends almost immediately, he truly puts you at your ease and he knows his stuff. Get down there.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

RECIPE: Brooding Balsamic truffle torte with hazelnut oil

The Maille Culinary Challenge has been a reet fun experience for me. They offered to send bloggers two products from a list of their lovely stock for us to create an original recipe. Now me, being me, interpreted this to mean that you would use both of the ingredients in the one recipe. Having seen others entries subsequently, I now realise that I was an idiot.

However, you all know that already. I did spend an inordinate amount of time trying to select two products with which I could create a truly new and inspiring dish. And you know what? I think I nailed it. I researched and I read, I pondered and I planned and I came up with this little beauty. Credit must go to the whole internet for giving me a good few hours of inspiring reading, great recipe ideas and not least to Delia, to whom sole credit for the whole 'layer of crushed amaretto biscuits' must go.

And so, here it is, my recipe combining Maille's Aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Maille's Hazelnut Oil, in (typically Extreme Housewife fashion) a dessert. Drumroll please..

Brooding Balsamic Truffle Torte, dressed with hazelnut oil and cream

  •  120g amaretti biscuits
  • 100g 55% cocoa solids dark chocolate
  • 100g 80% cocoa solids chocolate drops
(You could just use 200g of nice dark chocolate, 
but the essential depth of flavour, bitterness and underlying spicy tones 
of these particular excellent quality chocolates 
complement the balsamic vinegar something chronic in this recipe 
and escalate it to the level of something truly wonderful.)
  •  40ml sugar syrup made with equal quantities of dark brown sugar and water boiled lightly together until a syrupy consistency is achieved
  • A knob of butter
  •  190ml double cream, lightly whipped until slightly thickened
  • 2 tbsp Maille's Aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
  • Maille's Hazelnut Oil to serve
  • Cocoa to dust
  • Take out any pent up aggression on the amaretti biscuits, by way of a plastic bag and a rolling pin. Make little crumbs. Then line a loaf tin (you could use a small flan tin, my layer of biscuits is too thick and a round end result would look as nice as a rectangular one.) 
  • In the absence of clingfilm I used a cut open sandwich bag to line the tin to ensure easy turning out, but I reckon you could probably do without lining the tin and just slide a knife around to turn it out.
  • Next melt the chocolate in a bowl above a saucepan of boiling water and add the sugar syrup. Once the chocolate is melted, set it aside for a moment to cool slightly.
  • Oops, and don't forget to add that knob of butter - I nearly did!
  • Whip up the cream until slightly thickened. You'll find that it increases in volume. Then add it to the chocolate and fold it in. Add a little at first to slacken the mix, then fold in the rest gently. I've heard you don't want to overwork chocolate. There's a possibility the Universe might end.
  • Now for the fun part - add your balsamic vinegar. I took mine about 3/4 tablespoon at a time, folded it in then checked the taste (it's a hard life). You'll find it adds a wonderful depth to the deep, rich, spiceness of the dark chocolate. It adds yet more earthiness and subtly intensifies the flavour, adding just a slight sourness on the aftertaste. It is wonderful. You'll have to trust me on this, but it's ace.
  • Once the vinegar is in and you're happy with the flavour balance, add it in to your tin. I found a central dolloping method necessary to keep my makeshift sandwich bag liner in place. 
  • The biscuit crumbs make it a little difficult to get everything in neatly, but stick with it. A little care and it is all possible.
  • Now, give it a couple of good hard taps on the work surface to help the chocolate settle flush against the crumbs. Stick it in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight, to set.
  • Once set, turn it out on a serving plate (easy!), remove your lining wrap and dust with cocoa.
  •  I found the this was easiest to cut with a knife warmed in hot water, after it had been out of the fridge for a little while to soften up. Do keep it in the fridge when you are not eating it though, to keep its shape.
  •  Serve with a drizzle of Maille Hazelnut Oil, for an additional subtle nutty addition. Et voila!
I don't mind telling you, I think this is the greatest recipe I have ever created. The deep, earthy spiciness of the chocolate matches perfectly with the balsamic and ends with a subtle hint of sourness which is just delicious. It cuts through the bitter-sweetness of the chocolate really well. The crushed amaretto adds an awesome crunch and that in combination with the hazelnut oil adds another layer of flavour which also complements the almost fruity tones of the chocolate and balsamic.

I think this recipe would be nowhere near as awesome if you used a lower quality of chocolate or balsamic, so don't skimp on your ingredients! I think if you wanted a softer texture you would definitely get away with adding another 50ml or even slightly more cream to the mixture. It is also delicious when served with additional cream.

I handed a few pieces out to friends to try and they were all extremely complementary, and so all in all, I am totally chuffed with this recipe creation! Truffle in a cake!
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