Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Natterjacks on the Leicester Tapas Trail

 We've been getting out and about and enjoying the Leicester Tapas Trail, have you? I've realised that some people think you have to book, or register online, or have a special voucher to enjoy the Trail. 

None of these things are true. Just head to the Tapas Trail page on this blog to find out which venues are taking part, and then go visit them during their service times and you will get to enjoy a dish AND a drink for just £3. No sign up, no catch, just go and enjoy great food and great drinks at a pretty sweet price as often as you like. But remember, it's only on until Sunday 18th October!

Someone's enjoying their homemade bread....
This is a group of friends enjoying the Tapas Trail at Taps, on Guildhall Lane. You can read all about their Oktoberfest themed £3 offering on another post I wrote here. I am eating a ridiculous amount of tapas this month. There may have to be a short period of fasting when all of this is over.

Anyway, today's spotlight is all about Natterjacks Bar and Kitchen, on Braunstone Gate. They have put together a very special menu for you to enjoy. They have matched a third pint of Brewdog's very finest Punk IPA with a cute platter of freshly made falafel, served with salad, pitta and homemade tzatziki.

A wonderful dish that is perfect for vegetarians, but will of course be heartily enjoyed by even the most committed carnivore - it's a great balance. And you can swap out the beer for a soft drink if you prefer. I've heard on the grapevine that you can also swap out the tzatziki for a sweet chilli sauce if you are of the vegan persuasion.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Top four winter events in Leicester

We've had some glorious sunshine over the past few days, but the nights are drawing in at a pace now. We all know what's coming, and it isn't great. Icicles on the nose, jacket blown off in the gale, and drenched from head to toe, yes, it's the Great British Summertime. No, wait, winter, that's the next one isn't it?

Well, there's no need to stay abed moping! I've found some great things happening this chilly season so you can look forward to the next few months instead of dreading them. Don't pin all your hopes and dreams on the big day in December, do some fun stuff in the meantime. You're welcome!

Friday 30th October
Alex's Wish Mad Hatter's Tea Party
St Martin's House

Support a fabulous local charity and get yourself a lovely excuse to have a champagne afternoon tea, all in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland. Tickets are just £20 and you can buy them online. 100% of all proceeds goes to continuing the search for new treatments or even a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a serious life-limiting muscle wasting condition.

As well as the afternoon tea, there will be a charity raffle with some great local prizes and also a Mad Hatter competition with prizes for the best hat. What's not to like about that?

Sunday 1st November - Light switch on
Wednesday 11th November - Diwali Day
Cossington Street and Belgrave ROad

As the mantra goes, Diwali in Leicester is the biggest outside of India. It's the biggest event in the city's calendar and it's all freeeeee! Watch fantastic fireworks, a stage of live entertainment, the light display on Belgrave Road and this year an even bigger programme of arts and cultural events that are taking place all over the city.

Saturday 21st November
Cocktail Xchange presents Reyka Vodka
The Parcel Yard

A very special evening of cocktails and entertainment is available, currently with earlybird prices at £20 per ticket. You'll get to enjoy three specially crafted Reyka vodka cocktails as well as a vodka tasting and bar snacks. There will also be entertainment on the night, including music and interesting talks... about vodka! A great night out with your mates and tickets are limited to just 50 available, so don't miss out!

STOP PRESS: Earlybird tickets have had an extra special reduction, now only £15!

Saturday 5th December
Bossa's 23rd Birthday Party
Bossa Cafe Bar

It's Bossa's 23rd birthday and to celebrate they're having a party! Head down to celebrate with them and you can enjoy prices straight from the 1990s. Brilliant.(Said in the style of the Fast Show, obviously.)

And if you can't wait that long, don't forget the Tapas Trail is running until Sunday 18th October. Drop in to any of the participating venues, whenever you feel like it, to enjoy a drink and a dish for £3. We've been enjoying the excellent street food menu at Roxy's Kitchen in Bossa Bar, a real treat! No sign up, no vouchers, no messing - just pop in and ask for their Tapas Trail dish.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Leicester Tapas Trail: American special at Firebug

We joined some friends on the Leicester Tapas Trail this weekend and popped in to a couple of venues to sample their £3 dish and drink deliciousness. Firebug have upped the ante on their offer now, giving you the choice of a mini beef or chicken burger along with a spirit and mixer - a choice of JD, Bacardi or an Absolute of your own flavour preference. 

We all took the opportunity to have a JD and sat in the garden enjoying the last of the day's sunshine as night fell. The chicken burger was great and our wedges were perfectly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. 

We had Swiss blogger Patrick from Laptopien along for the ride with us. I hope there couldn't be a better way to try Leicester hospitality and the great food and drink on offer in our city.

Happily, I can also announce that the Turkey Cafe will be joining the Tapas Trail tomorrow. There are rumours that they may be offering their now legendary Garbage Fries - see me ranting about how great they are in my review here.

So now we have 11 city centre venues, all offering a dish and a drink for £3. How much more can we pack in to the remaining three weeks of the Leicester Tapas Trail? Well, I have quite a lot of people to see after work this week, so I reckon we can probably squeeze a few dishes in during that time!

For full details of the Tapas Trail including participating venues, just head along to the main Tapas Trail webpage here. There are no sign ups, no vouchers, no worries - just drop in to any of the venues and ask about their Tapas Trail offer.

Edit: 04/10/15

Firebug have added more options to their Tapas Trail delights! Now as well as the veggie chilli you can also get beef chilli - this has been my personal favourite at Firebug for many a long year now! Only 2 weeks left to enjoy this great offer, so don't delay!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Blackberry wine and pruning the vine

As the season progresses, I continue to spend every spare moment I can volunteering at Rothley Wines, which is sadly nowhere near as much time as I would like! 

This week I was on blackberry picking duty so that we could make some blackberry wine ready for lovely Christmas gifts next year. After about 3 hours picking I had just over 8 kilos of blackberries, so I'm pretty happy with that and vineyard boss, Liz, had nearly the same.

As usual we were accompanied in the vineyard upon our toils by a faithful band of chickens who had to be shoo-ed away from eating the low hanging grapes. This is not the sort of tricksy behaviour I have come to expect from these winery chickens! They must have been feeling in particularly mischievous humour. 

Anyway, I was given an extra special gift by the ladies for popping down - a perfect blue egg, laid that morning just for me. Could it be any more idyllic?

Once we had picked our blackberries, we went into the winery to get the wine started. We blitzed up the fruit, added sugar and boiling water to help the sugar dissolve and then topped up to the correct ratio with cold. 

After that it was just a simple matter of adding the yeast and yeast nutrient, strapping a brew belt around the fermentation buckets to keep the temperature at a good level for fermentation and then left it to do its business - easy peasy! 

After the blackberry wine was on its way, I had a little bit of time left to do a bit of pruning and training of some of the two year old Siegerrebe vines. The Siegerrebe grapes are starting to turn a dusky plum colour and so excitingly it looks like a selective harvest of some of these grapes may well begin at the end of the week. It's a beautiful, aromatic grape and I can already taste the potential for some delicious wines.

Siegerrebe, before the colour change begins
I'm really excited about the forthcoming harvest and wine-making process - the culmination of all the hard work this year in the face of frankly rubbish weather conditions. It's going to be so satisfying to see the process all the way through. I'm getting a dab hand at taming the unruly Siegerrebe vines now and helping to expose the grapes to every last drop of sunshine we can send their way to help develop their sugars.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Oktoberfest Themed Leicester Tapas Trail

In case you missed it, I'm running the Leicester Tapas Trail until 18th October 2015. Put simply, you visit a participating venue, give them £3 and they give you a delicious drink and something to eat. You can't say fairer than that.

Taps, on Guildhall Lane, are one of the latest venues to join the Tapas Trail. I thought I'd share with you a little insight into what they are offering for the princely sum of three pounds... Taps is a super friendly bar, with its USP being beer taps on the tables so you can pour your own when you visit. They also have an excellent selection of bottled and draught beer from around the world, which is what we're taking advantage of on the Tapas Trail.

As part of the Taps Oktoberfest celebration, you can bag yourself either a can of Sly Fox's Oktoberfest, a malty lager brewed with German Vienna malts and German hops, or a bottle of Flying Dog's own special edition, Marzen, brewed with 100% German ingredients giving a full bodied sweetness.

Pair this up with a German sausage cassoulet with homemade bread, all perfectly spiced and lovely and warming you are talking about a slice of fried gold for just 300 of your English pennies. If you're vegetarian, not to worry, the cassoulet is also available as a bean only model without the sausage. 

I know I keep carrying on about how great all of the Tapas Trail deals are, but I seriously keep getting blown away when a new venue joins in and offers something truly incredible. You've only got 3 weeks left to enjoy the Trail, so I urge you not to miss out! Taps are offering their deal between 12pm and 9pm Monday to Saturday. Prost!

Friday, 25 September 2015

DIY Food and Wine Pairing

Phew, it's been a busy old year! What with all the tapas trailin', the art, and distilling my own gin I have to confess I've been struggling to fit all of the blog posts in that I wanted to share with you. I'm kicking myself that I haven't talked about the DIY food and wine pairing day that I hosted for my friends on my birthday, way back in May.

The birthday wine selection. I know some of them are the same, but still satisfying nonetheless.
This was the first time I'd hosted a wine and food matching event on my own, and so logically you have to make your nearest and dearest the guinea pigs! I'd been inspired by the wonderful day we had tasting and sampling at Terroir Feely in Saussignac. The biggest challenge for me is that most of my good friends don't actually drink wine and so I had to wait for my birthday to come round, so they HAD TO DO WHAT I WANT TO DO 'COS IT'S MY BIRTHDAY. Not that I'm a birthday diva or anything, it's just a good way to manipulate people to do your bidding, at least for a couple of hours.

Chateau de la Jaubertie 2011
Many of these wines came to us from The Case (many thanks guys, much appreciated). They generously supported my food and wine pairing aspirations by providing me with four incredible bottles of wine for me to share with my friends, complementing the selection I had already collected from France and elsewhere. Sadly I don't have tasting notes for all of them because of course I was busy being the dedicated hostess and it was my birthday, so sometimes you have to throw journalistic accuracy to the four winds.

However, the whole point of this point is to encourage you, nay, beg you, to host your own wine tasting. It's so much fun and you don't have to (necessarily) know anything about wine. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed explaining to my guests a little about the wines I had selected, where they were from and talking through the tasting process, but I think that wine is very much like art - it's all about your opinion. You know what you like and what you don't, so just get some mates together, enjoy some wine and marvel at how different foods affect what you are tasting.

I brought in a bunch of different cheeses, including the Echourgnac cheese that we brought back from Bergerac. This is dressed in an incredible local walnut liqueur which gives an amazingly deep nutty flavour. We also had a sharp goat's cheese, an earthy blue and a mature Welsh rarebit cheddar. I teamed this with smoked salmon and Polish speck from Leicester Market - an attempt to give a food platter with as much variation as the wines I was providing.

I also decided to put out some avocado, because I couldn't really recall anyone ever giving me a good idea of what avocado matches with and I love it so much that I had to do a little bit of experimentation. In the event it turned out that one of my friends, a confirmed Jack Daniels drinker, really enjoyed it with the Chateau de la Jaubertie, Bergerac 2011. This is a big, deep wine with a hefty, full and slightly peppery flavour with big black fruit that opens out later in the mouth. 

The fascinating thing was that he identified that the avocado in combination with the wine created a metallic flavour, which he really loved and I also enjoyed, but I could see would really put a load of other people off. This was the really cool thing, finding those flavour notes and interesting combinations which were respectively enjoyed and hated by various members of the party.

It has given me the idea now that you can essentially use careful balancing of food and wine to create your perfect flavours. Have a wine that's nearly perfect, but a little heavy on the florals? Find a food that takes that note away. There must be a dream combination out there for everyone.

By the way, this is the Alain Marcadet Touraine. It's one of the biggest sellers in the Case restaurant. Super fruity, but dry and crisp, it was one of the true hits of the day. I loved it with the smoked salmon, but that's probably not what you're supposed to like it with!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Leicester Tapas Trail: Anyone for pudding?

Well, we've been enjoying the Leicester Tapas Trail for nearly two weeks now and we're getting some lovely feedback from people enjoying testing it out not just online but also in person in the bars themselves, which has been really lovely.

But of course, up until now, there has been one limitation to the Tapas Trail - it's all savoury. Delicious, but savoury. Hang on to your hats though, we have pudding! Those cheeky chappies at Gelato Village have jumped on board the Trail just today and now you can get yourself a cone or cup of up to three flavours of gelato and a hot drink for just £3, as well as all the other delicious goodies that are available at the other venues.

Of course it would be rude of me not to pop in today and have a little try, just for research purposes you understand. I adore the pistachio gelato, as I've mentioned before so of course I had that, but I also tried the bonet (dark chocolate with amaretto and a touch of rum) which was mentally delicious and you could probably bathe in it and then eat the bath, and the classic strachiatella with its shards of dark chocolate. A taste sensation and followed by a delicious St Martin's Coffee home-roasted bean cappuccino. It made me a very happy bunny.

If you would like to find out more about the Leicester Tapas Trail, just click the tab at the top of this blog or jump over using this link. There are details of all the venues and their service times and remember, it's a simple concept, one dish, one drink, three pounds.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Leicester Tapas Trail: Turning Japanese with The Rutland & Derby

The Leicester Tapas Trail continues. If you want to get a dish and a drink for just three quid around a variety of Leicester's best independent bars. It's a great way to try somewhere new without breaking the bank. Of course you can try a couple of places - it is a trail after all! Click this link to find out the full list of venues and availability and keep your eye out for new venues coming soon!

One of the venues that I've been getting some fantastic feedback about is the Rutland and Derby. They are offering an Asian themed tapas trail menu. For £3 you can get yourself a bottle of Asahi, the Japanese rice lager style beer (which normally retails for £3.90 a bottle!) and a salmon steamed bun. It's absolutely delicious - fresh, moist salmon and a soft bun, perfectly dressed with tsatsiki. A lovely fresh piece of cucumber and a complementary dressing around the side finishes off the dish, certainly enough for a lunch for me! It's a great combination and an absolute bargain for £3.

I took my food writer friends to the Rutland and Derby last week when we were trying out the trail so I also got the chance to see the alternative options that are available. These are also actually fabulous! First off, if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage you can try the R&D's own homemade lemonade. Now this is something I had no idea that they did but oh my! It is truly wonderful! Fresh and zingy and absolutely packed full of mint. And a massive glass of it too. Just awesome. Something I will definitely have in the future.

Accompanying that was also the vegetarian trail option - the Romana Chippies! How cute does that sound? And they are awesome, crispy chips with fluffy centres, served with a garnish of cheese and truffle oil. Rich, deep,flavourful and very naughty - but completely worth it. In fact, having tried some last week, I couldn't resist the opportunity to stop by after work and get a portion for myself. It's so huge I couldn't even finish it! All in the name of research though you understand. I'm going to be so fat by the time this finishes on the 18th October!

So there we have it! Check out my other posts to see the Tapas Trail menus at Bar 33 Cank Street, Exchange and Bossa Cafe Bar and keep an eye out for more posts covering the other venues coming soon!

The Great British Bake Fail: Godiva Chocolate Challenge for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

I decided to have a go at entering Godiva's annual Chocolate Challenge. I certainly don't think I am the country's best amateur patissier, but I thought it would prove an interesting challenge to give me an enjoyable afternoon's cooking and also it is being launched to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month on behalf of Breast Cancer Now, and what could be better than helping out with that in my own small way, and getting to eat some delicious Godiva chocolate?

I think they wanted me to produce something beautiful like this, as they sent me this lovely picture.

So I did a lot of research and gathered my ingredients together, trying to find something that would fit the brief and be completely unique. We had to make something which involved Godiva chocolate (and I was sent some by the lovely people at Luxx PR to this end - thank you!), something which featured meringue and something with a touch of pink, for breast cancer awareness.

Godiva choc drops. Delicious.

Artist's Impression
I settled on beetroot as my cunning way to add a touch of pink, and began to develop a recipe for an extra special, delicate treat. I must emphasise it was completely experimental, but with so many delicious ingredients I knew it couldn't fail.

My recipe was for a moist, yet delicate beetroot and Godiva dark chocolate cake, topped with luscious cherry jam and a crisp, indulgent meringue with a light hint of cherry liqueur. Made into a beautiful circular tower, this was to be an elegant but flavourful bite size pudding.

I set about with my creation. I love a baking shortcut wherever I can and so I decided that the cake would work as an 'all in one' job in the food processor. Nobody wants the faff of cutting up beetroot, cooking it and then adding it to a cake batter, so I decided to go for raw beetroot to see how it turned out. I blitzed it with the Godiva dark chocolate to create a very fine mix, with some larger chunks of chocolate for a special gooey treat. In the final cake this gave a very definite pink tinge overall, but still with the beetroot adding moistness without an overly earthy flavour.

This method messes your kitchen up less
Once these elements were blitzed up, I simply added the rest of the ingredients and mixed. This led me to a surprisingly thick mixture and so I added 150ml of buttermilk to thin it down, which worked, to a degree, although the batter was still very thick. More on that later.

At this stage I wasn't sure whether cutting cake discs from a slice would be better than making small round cakes so I tried baking some in a loaf tin and some in ramekins so that I could try both options. It was still a very thick batter so I knew I'd have to trim the cakes down whatever happened. After around 35 minutes in a 180'C oven the skewer came out clean and I left them to cool.

I made it look like the cookie monster. I feel proud.
While the cakes were cooking I made my meringue. I knew I only needed a little for each pudding and so I only used one egg white. This was a relief as I realised that the food mixer bowl is currently being used to hold our early stage blackberry and elderberry wine, so I could have done it in the machine even if I wanted to.

Separate the egg and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
I whisked up the egg white briskly. Then I swapped hands and whisked it some more. After that, I spent a little bit of time wondering how meringue was invented before the electric whisk. Then swapped hands another time and swore a little bit.

After much swapping of hands and heavy sighing, the egg whites finally reached the stiff peaks stage. I started to add the golden cane sugar a small fistful at a time, only adding three lots for the quantity. Cue a significant amount more whisking and swearing. I was waiting for it to go glossy and shiny, but in actuality it started to look a little grainy and I held little hope that it would ever come together.

I perservered and after about 20 minutes of flustered mixing I basically gave up. I added some beautiful Italian cherry liqueur to bring the colours and flavours together. As soon as I did that the mixture started making weird noses and I worried that I probably should have done more research about whether meringue mixture works when you add alcohol to it. Turns out I was right to worry, but little did I know that was not the key issue at hand.

Anyhow, having taken the cakes out of the oven and turned it down to 140'C, I whacked the meringues in a dish to gently bake, holding out little hope that I had done it right, despite my 20 odd minutes of frantic whisking. They didn't look very glossy or the right texture at all, so I gave up on my plan of neat little cones and just went for whatever splodges I could get out onto the tray. I had a rather heavy heart at this stage.

Viewers of a nervous disposition should look away now.

Fifteen minutes later I went to check on the meringues in the hope that miraculously they would have worked, just through the power of positive thinking. Turns out this wasn't enough.

Disaster strikes! These are not meringues.
Yep, something had gone badly wrong. I put the pan in the sink to soak and thought, well at least I can treat myself to a delicious slice of beetroot and chocolate cake to ease the pain while I think of a plan B.

It is a great colour.
The cake was surprisingly good, although also really lacked in sweetness. As I chewed, I noticed it had a very bizarre grainy texture also and even something which felt like a hint of saltiness. I started to retrace my steps and try to figure out how I could have got everything so badly wrong, and eventually the Boy and I pieced together that instead of golden caster sugar, I had been using semolina. Yep, the stuff that you use to make your roast potatoes crispy. What a plonker.

So, the batter was 'surprisingly thick', I didn't need to use the buttermilk at all, I just needed to actually add sugar and not the coarse, purified wheat middlings of durum wheat. The meringue was 'surprisingly difficult' to whisk to the correct texture. The whole thing was 'surprisingly disastrous'.

If you want to actually make the recipe I was planning on making - which I have every confidence will actually be really nice - here it is.

1 small beetroot (mine was around 125g when peeled)
75g Godiva dark chocolate
225g self raising flour
Tsp baking powder
25g fairtrade, organic cocoa
110g golden caster sugar. SUGAR.
75g butter
2 eggs
Splash of Italian cherry liqueur
Cherry jam for topping

1 egg white
3 tbsp golden caster sugar. SUGAR
Pinch of salt
Reserve a touch of juice from the blitzed beetroot to colour your meringues, rather than risking cherry liqueur destroying them.

See method above, but omit semolina. Beetroot and choc in the food processor, everything else bunged in afterwards, stick in a greased tray and bake on 180'C until skewer comes clean. Whisk egg white and salt, mix in sugar gradually after you've reached stiff peaks, then whisk until glossy and cook for half an hour or so on 140'C and leave to cool in the oven with the door open.

Cut the cake into delicate circles. Add a generous layer of cherry jam and use this to stick your meringue cones to the top of the cake. Finish with an artsy drizzle of melted Godiva dark chocolate and a pink edible flower - the Mallow 'Zebrina' would look stunning here. I envisage that the quantities above would make 8 nicely sized desserts.

There you have it. Please let something good out of my trauma and treat yourself to Godiva's Mousse Meringue collection as 10% of future sales in the UK are being donated to Breast Cancer Now. Or you could enter the Godiva Chocolate Challenge for yourself! I think it may be possible to beat my entry relatively easily on this occasion.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Leicester Tapas Trail: Authentic Spanish delights

The Leicester Tapas Trail continues to grow in popularity this week. We've been featured in the Leicester Mercury and on BBC Radio Leicester. In fact, Radio Leicester liked the idea so much when they spoke to me last week that this week they invited me to come back to speak to Tony Wadsworth about it in the studio. 

I love that so many people are on board with it, as it's such a simple idea - many venues, offering a drink and a dish for just £3. Have you tried it yet? If not you can find all the info on participating venues here.

I took a group of local foodie writers out on the Tapas Trail this week as well. We went to five venues, and all agreed that it was a fabulous evening out - particularly as it would have cost us just £15 each for a good few hours of lovely socialising, eating and imbibing. You can read about Mercury food writer, Tim Burke's experience on his blog, Riponia.

Sadly Tim was only able to join us for the first venue, having already reached capacity at a lunch review earlier in the day (it must be a hard life being a food writer, no?) but the rest of us took in the full trail, starting with Roxy's Kitchen at Bossa Bar, then heading on to the Rutland and Derby, Firebug, The Exchange and finally, our newest venue on the Tapas Trail, 33 Cank Street.

Never has a tiny chilli caused so much joy. Spirits and American nibbles at Firebug Bar.

I am in love with the offering that 33 Cank Street have produced. The thing I love about the Tapas Trail is that it is such a variety of well made, proper food from all over the world - none of your mass produced nonsense. However, 33 Cank Street have really taken the theme to heart and produced a truly authentic Spanish tapas experience which showcases what they are all about.

The full menu available at 33 Cank Street, a bar known for their high quality cocktails and super friendly service, is quite a sight to behold:

Drinks options:

  • Rubijito; Tio Pepe spritz with lemonade, fresh lime & mint
  • Tinto de verano; Red or Rose wine spritz with lemon or orange soda & fresh lemon
  • Calimocho/Rioja Libre;  Red wine spritz with coke & Lime twist

Food options:
  • Pan tumaca (veggie) (optional extra Jamon Serano or Manchego - 50p)
  • Tortilla (veggie)
  • Agave & seasalt popcorn (vegan)
  • Olives (vegan)
As you can see, they've really pushed the boat out to provide you something very special for your £3.  I can confidently declare that the tortilla was the most authentic and delicious that I have ever had outside of Spain - and that is not a statement I make likely.

I loved the Calimocho as well. I've never seen it in the UK before, and of course 33 Cank Street's house red wine (which I presume is what they used - maybe it's not, maybe they've used rioja...) is a delicious South African Pinotage and with basic ingredients of that quality it's always going to taste good!

So what are you waiting for? There are just four beautiful weeks left to try the Leicester Tapas Trail, and you don't have to just go the once you know. I've said it a million times but I'll say it again - one dish, one drink, just £3. You really can't beat it. Keep an eye on this blog for more posts about the dishes on offer at the different venues and hopefully I'll be able to announce some more new venues soon before we run out of time!

Friday, 18 September 2015

Vinoa: Mail Order Wine Tasting

I'm always happy to post about wine tasting, particularly when it's me doing the tasting. So the rise of Vinoa is perfect for me. I have something of a mixed record when wine tasting at home. When I organise it, it's great, when other people do it... well, not so much. Vinoa are a new company that send you out a box of wine a month and then you can follow their guided tastings online. It's a great little concept so I was chuffed that they were prepared to send me a box to trial for free.

I received the indigenous varietals box to sample. Each month you get four 50ml tasting bottles. This one took me pretty much all the way around the world - to Greece, Italy, France and California. When you open your box you'll find not only your wines, but a small booklet explaining them and lovely, lovely money off vouchers allowing you to purchase full bottles of the wines from the Vinoa website. The founders of Vinoa want to share with you their wonderful experiences in travelling the world, tasting wines and now believe they have perfected the rebottling process to allow you just that experience in your own home.

The actual box itself is small enough to fit through your letterbox (although my postie wimped out and we had to go and collect it from the post office - it totally would have fit). I was very impressed with the packaging, you do feel like you have received a very special gift. I couldn't wait to get started, but sadly life got in the way and it was a little while until I had the spare time to sit around drinking wine and watching the additional online content.

The videos are perfectly informative, with cute if slightly naive presentation and narrative. For each wine you'll hear a very personal account of why the wine has been chosen to fit the theme of the month as well as more information being available about where the wine comes from, the way it is made and the specific varietal or winery involved. It's a great introduction to new wines that you would not ordinarily see on the shelves of your local supermarket and reassuring that if you like one you can actually purchase the full bottle from Vinoa.

After you hear the context of the wine you are guided through the tasting (if you're short on time, there is an express version of the tasting available). First we examine the look of the wine, then on to the smell, where you have an interactive section to pick your choice of the main characteristics first in wide view (floral, fruity, woody, mineral etc.) and then down to the finer detail of what the elements of that smell are.

After that you finally taste the wine and use slider bars to characterise your thoughts on various parameters, like the acidity, sweetness, tannins and body. Each time the programme then shows you how Vinoa scored the wine and their thoughts on the wine's characteristics. It's a little bit of fun and a little bit of sensory pleasure and definitely a voyage of discovery for someone new to wine as much as more seasoned hands who wish to find something a bit different.

I don't want to take away from the magic of it all, but you can't get the indigenous grapes box anymore, so there's no harm my posting my thoughts. One of my favourite things about the website is that it stores your score out of 10 and any notes you'd like to make to help you remember the wine, so don't scrimp on the note taking!

Greece 2014

This pale wine with a slight greenish tinge is made from the moschofilero and roditis grapes - both totally new to me. I don't have the best opinion of Greek wine from prior experience, but there must be some good ones out there. This was a quite floral wine on the nose, with some elements of lemon and stone fruit. In the mouth it was relatively dry, with a medium fullness and sharp acidity that developed quite nicely in the mouth giving real flavours of white grape and green apple crispness. It had a really clean taste and a short finish which I would agree with Vinoa would match well with seafood and lemon, but wasn't really to my tastes - a little too far on the acidic side.

Bertani, Bertarose
Italy 2014

A beautifully pale rose which sadly had lost its slight 'frizzante' by the time I tried it - perhaps an element of the re-bottling process which is yet to be refined, or just because I had it for a while. Made predominantly of molinara, another new grape for me, with 20% merlot, this was very light on the nose but followed through with a very fruity, medium sweet wine with a fraction of a tannin hit and a good acid bite in the side of your cheeks across the finish. Very refreshing and I think would have been more so with the slight sparkle!

Jean Pascal et Fils, Auxey-Duresses
Burgundy 2013

For me the quality took a massive jump up at this point. This medium gold chardonnay had a rich smell which for me was ripe with vanilla and earthy notes, counter balanced by just a dash of light florality. Which is ironic as Vinoa's notes said floral, fruity and spicy on the nose. Just goes to show that wine is completely subjective. I'll have to agree to disagree on that one.

In the mouth it was pure vanilla, initially being almost like ice cream with its slight chardonnay creaminess in comparison to the previous taste. It was fruity, but light on sweetness, full of intensity and balanced with a light acid which became more prevalent in the drinking. A great summery wine which holds the attention throughout.

Bogle Vineyards
California 2013

Another great wine, I had high hopes for this having sampled some of Bogle's work when we visited California in the past. A petit syrah with a beautiful deep ruby colour this wine has great structure with all of the black fruit full flavour and slight peppery quality you would expect. The balance was perfect, with just enough jammy sweetness to ofset the full body and big tannins, with just a slight sourness on the finish preventing it from being truly awesome. Excellent with chargrilled meats of all varieties, a lovely find.

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