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.

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!

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

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!

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!

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. 


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!

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.

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


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 

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

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 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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