Monday, 29 February 2016

Learning more about wine making: Dosage

My wine-making education continued this month with an invitation to the tasting of Rothley Wine's latest rose sparkling vintage for dosage. Dosaaaaaaage (you can't say it in a Northern accent, that's wrong) is the process of adding sweetener to a sparkling wine in between disgorging (removing the yeast lees from the wine after the first ferment) and final corking. The aim is to balance out the acidity in the wine. Brut nature vintages will not have any dosage added - see quality cava from Catalonia where the aim is to get the bone driest wine possible. But for a sparkling rose, you can take a little extra sweetening to get the balance right.

Science, sparkling wine and cake - is there a better afternoon?
The process is relatively simple - just one of trial and error. Taste the wine, check for balance and trial different percentages of dosage. However, the difficult part comes with getting accurate measurements using tiny increments. We were looking in the 1.25 - 2% region, so you can see that it is a surprisingly exact science where a small change really does make a big difference to the character of the wine. We ended up compromising at the lower end, 1.4%, where we all agreed the fruit flavours had a good chance to show their complexity, without it being sickly sweet.

Weigh that wine!
Of course, once the wine is finally bottled with the dosage, it will still continue to develop in flavour over time, so knowing the correct amount to add is also dependent on experience in understanding how the acidity of the wine will soften in the bottle. Of course, this is experience that I don't yet have. I have observed the rounding off of Rothley Wine's Spirit of Freedom - the existing rose sparkling - over the last year though, so I felt I could give it at least a little bit of an educated guess. Time will tell!

Compare and contrast
The wine will be called 'Noble Purpose' and already has great flavour and beautiful colour, even though it is still young and by no means finished. The wine is being made for Rothley Wines at Halfpenny Green Vineyard. They make a lot of the sparkling wine in the region because it is just too time consuming and costly for the smaller, family operated vineyards to do for themselves. Halfpenny Green very generously threw some samples my way on the day too - you can read all about their Rondo here and there are more posts to come on their wines.

Another great learning experience for me and the anticipation of another great English sparkling wine to come.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Contemporary curry at the Chutney Ivy

After our adventures in India earlier this month, it was a little bit of poetic beauty to be invited to a very special private dining experience at Leicester's Chutney Ivy this week to experience the fine dining rendition of Indian cuisine here in the UK. We were greeted by the welcoming staff, an immaculately laid table and a refreshing mango drink. The restaurant was busy as always, but we had a specially curtained off area which gave great privacy, but no loss of atmosphere from the thriving venue.

The Chutney Ivy offers a great range of options to suit all occasions beyond a regular meal out. Private dining, a cosy yet spacious soundproof basement bar, wedding venue and business meeting provision are all available - just contact them to discuss your needs.

Our merry band was welcomed by our hosts, General Manager Shaf Islam and Kevin Urquhart of FU Media. They gave us a bit of background to the restaurant and the ethos behind the food stylings - high quality Indian dining, taking the best from all the regions of India, blended with some modern takes on popular flavour combinations. There was a nice mixture of media types and bloggers in attendance - some old friends and some new, so the conversation was flowing and the atmosphere was jovial as the starters were brought out.

While we were picking on poppadums and a selection of chutneys, a kaleidoscope of starters were brought out. The service throughout the night was attentive and considerate - from napkins being ceremoniously unfurled and gently placed on our laps to drinks being never left lacking.

All. The. Starters

The starters were a really interesting mix. Naturally we were all desperate to try a little bit of everything, which made it really difficult when we came to the main courses as we were all pretty full. Piggy piggy. Anyway, the star of the show was generally agreed to be the Jingha Rowshne - absolutely inconceivably massive prawns marinated in chilli and garlic butter, and cooked off in a sauce of cream, spring onions and coriander. They were the spiciest of all the starter dishes with a great kick, mellowed out by their accompanying sauce. The sweetness of the prawns was accentuated by the creamy butteriness of the sauce. An absolute triumph.

We were also treated to Maachi Amritsari, a delicately spiced but flavourful fried fish. The Aloo Palaak ki Tikki, were spiced potato cakes served with spinach that were light and creamy. The Crispy Duck Samosa is one of Manager Shaf's fusion creations, with a light savoury pastry (note, most assuredly not filo!) encasing a delicate duck filling. This was a little dry for my tastes, I would have preferred a more moist shredded duck, but overall they were still luscious (I'm struggling for constructive criticism on this one, can you tell?)

There was also a Chandi Malai Tikka - another lightly spiced and creamy marinaded dish where the chicken was not overly hot, but full of flavour with a lovely char edge from the tandoor. So, we had eaten pretty much a full meal at this point but still it was on to the mains.

There were two big hitters here for me - the contemporary creation from the Head Chef - Babhorchi Lamb Shank Nihari, which was achingly tender lamb shank in a beautifully complementary tomato based sauce and the more tradition Makhni Daal which had all of the slow cooked, vibrant flavour I was hoping for.

Love a daal me.
We were also treated to Pumpkin Bhuna, a variety of other chicken and lamb dishes and some interesting Bengal style sea bass. I must confess that I am not a massive fish curry fan and I found the Salmon Tikka Massala a little strong in fishy goodness for my tastes, but the sauce was delicious and it would certainly be a favourite for those who like their Goan style curries but with a bit of a new flavour profile. These were accompanied by soft, light naans, decadent buttery paratha and a lovely nutty pilau made with brown rice, which I particularly enjoyed.

Full to busting, naturally it was time for pudding, which none of us had space for but we all attacked valiantly nonetheless. It was a mixed platter of classic Indian sweet - sticky Gulab Jamun in syrup, a soft pistachio kulfi, mixed fruit and a delicious, thick mango syrup.

Thanks to Chutney Ivy and FU Media for inviting me to such an exclusive night with such a fantastic feed. The Boy was particularly impressed with the goodie bag I brought home which contained all the key ingredients needed to replicate some of the dishes we had tried - our spice cupboard is one of the biggest areas of the kitchen and with good reason. Plus there was a cheeky bottle of Cobra in there, which tops it all off nicely.

The Chutney Ivy has a well deserved reputation for great food, attentive service and some surprising special events, including a firmly established place on the Leicester Comedy Festival rotation. If you haven't tried it, you probably should. You need to try the prawns. Get the prawns. Do it now.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Leicester Riders

Pre-game huddle
We went along to the new Leicester Community Sports Arena last night as guests of Everards to see the Leicester Riders play Glasgow Rocks. 

The arena is on Charter Street and only opened within the last month - a partnership between Leicester Riders, Leicester College and Leicester City Council (with additional funding being provided by Sports England and the LLEP).

It's a great not for profit resource for the city and great to see a permanent home for the Riders, the UK's oldest professional basketball club, who have been playing their games out of Loughborough in recent times.

We settled in to the VIP area and enjoyed a sandwich and a pint of Everard's Tiger before the game, enjoying watching the fans assemble through the large panoramic windows at the front of the building. The VIP facilities and pre-game bar haven't quite been organised yet since the building is multi-purpose and so new, but I'm sure that'll be organised soon. We got everything we needed though, except for perhaps a chair to sit on!

Once we had taken our seats in the arena, the pre-match build up was on with entertainment from a sort of mobile brass band who were very engaging. We were treated to a high drama video and then out came the teams, first the Rocks and then the Riders, running out to the celebration of the fans.

And the game was on. A trap game - a league game running in between two big knock out championship games - this match came on the back of a long series of victories so the Riders fans were excited to welcome their team to the court.

And so the game went on. Fast paced action had everyone gripped, with the interest being held through time outs via the gymnastic efforts of the Riders dance team, who kept everything moving on while the teams talked tactics and substitutions were made. In halftime we were also treated to the vocal stylings of young Kieran Alleyne.

My personal favourites were the little lads whose job it was to run on to the court whenever a particularly strenuous conflict had taken place near a particular hoop to clean up all the sweat on the floor! We fondly called them the sweat minions and they were ever so sweet, looking up at the referee to make sure they had done the job properly and beaming with pride as they walked off the court each time. They really made me smile.

And so we were wooping and hollering and cheering, but sadly to no avail. Glasgow Rocks took a small but early lead, and although the Riders kept close at their heels, they were unable to make up the distance and in the fourth quarter the Rocks were able to extend their lead yet further. They finished the game victorious with 77 points over the 57.

However, no matter, the season marches on and you can go see the Leicester Riders at the Community Arena from £11 for adults at the men's games and £6 for children. And disappointing as it was to see them lose this time round, they will be taking on the Newcastle Eagles in Glasgow in the BBL Trophy Cup Final and let's hope the Riders Return!


Friday, 19 February 2016

Halfpenny Green Vineyard: Rondo

Well, this blog was all about the beer in January so it's only fair that I level it up in February with plenty of wine, no?

This week I've been hanging out with Halfpenny Green Vineyards and managed to catch them just after a tasting, so I've bagged myself a few open samples to have a go at and share with your good selves. Today, I'm reflecting on the experience of their 2014 Rondo.

2014 was a particularly good year for English wine growers, and it was no exception for Halfpenny Green. This has led to an excellent Rondo with plenty of body and structure. At 15% ABV, this wine is exactly what you'd expect - full of flavour and tannic structure. You can tell by the deep, intense colour straight away that you can hope for something big from this wine, but that said it is still young, fresh looking. I've no doubt it will age well if you can bear to put a bottle away for a few years.

On the nose, there is a hint of the tannins to come, with brooding dark fruit rising up from the glass. In the mouth it has a black cherry flavour which comes through the initial tannin punch - which then quickly, and gently, rounds off in the mouth because of the excellent balance of the wine. The tannins give that familiar slight drying in the mouth, which helps to accentuate the light spice note within the wine as well as complementing the fuller body really nicely.

This is a tasty wine and would pair well with all the tasty foods - in particular the bold and rich flavours of game meats and no doubt spicy, grilled meats as well. I think smoked duck in particular would be a winner here. A solid 8 out of 10 from me, and I was debating whether to give a 9. As we've seen time and time before, big hitting reds are a particular favourite of both myself and The Boy, so this one settles down very nicely with us. Bravo.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

English Wine Tasting Event

Sold out! Look out for more Leicester wine tasting events coming soon.

It's coming! The first English Wine Tasting evening from Extreme Housewifery will be brought to you at the fabulous Real Ale Classroom on Allandale Road, this Monday 22nd February at 7pm.

For just £20 a ticket you will be treated to an evening of tastebud titillation, palate-based pleasure and artisanal experimentation. All in a relaxed, informal atmosphere. No prior wine experience or knowledge is necessary, just a desire to try some high quality, locally produced wine and find out what it's all about.

Image taken at Rothley Wines by Zig Zag Photography, Leicester

As well as trying the wines with a guided tasting from a local vineyard hand and freelance wine taster, Laura Hadland (yes, that's me and yes, 'freelance' just means I try a lot of wine to write about in this blog!) your ticket will include a very special welcome wine cocktail, whose key ingredient is made not 10 miles away from the Real Ale Classroom. We will also be playing around with food matching and flavour combinations with some special English cheeses and a few other little surprises! 

Sparkling wine will come from Rothley Wines, white from Halfpenny Green Vineyard of Staffordshire. The red wine is from Lincolnshire's own Somerby and as a final special treat, we'll be tasting a delicious dessert wine from Eglantine Vineyard from just up the road in Costock. You never know, I might even throw in a couple more others to keep you going.

Your host, during English Wine Harvest 2015
These wines and vineyards are award winners and some of the best that is on offer in the country. I hope the evening will give you a chance to try new grape varieties, flavours and aromas that you've never experienced before as well as give you a bit of a giggle.

Monday 22nd February 2016
The Real Ale Classroom
Allandale Road, Leicester

Contact The Real Ale Classroom on 0116 319 6998 to book tickets
Email for more information

Ticket includes welcome local wine cocktail, guided tasting of 4 (or possibly more) English wines and food matching with English cheeses.

EDIT: I have been asked if the wine is vegan. So far the welcome drink and 2 of the wines have been confirmed vegan by their winemakers. One has been assumed vegan by these same makers, colleagues of the actual winemaker and one I am waiting to hear back from. I will confirm when I have full details. If you are vegan and would like to attend, please let me or The Real Ale Classroom know so that I can provide vegan snacks for the food pairing element of the evening as English cheese was the mainstay that I was planning - thank you!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Indian Wine: Grover Chenin Blanc

So, we've just got back from a couple of weeks in India on a work research visit and of course I was keen to check out the wine while I was out there. I had a chat with a few of my illustrious wine guru on Twitter and received the unanimous response that they knew very little about Indian wine and what they did know was that it wasn't really worth bothering with.

Yep. They let me paint an elephant.
Therefore, in the true spirit of Extreme Housewifery I was determined to ignore conventional wisdom and try as much Indian wine as I could find - no mean feat when half of my trip was due to take place in Gujarat, a dry state. But I managed to find representations from three wineries, so here is the first of three posts I will be putting up about Indian wine.

Weirdly, this is my reflection on the final wine I tried in India - at Mumbai airport on the way home. This was in the final third of a nightmare 36 hour journey which involved endless hours of sitting in airports watching the clock and finished in copious vomiting. But that's another story.

The wine in question was from Grover vineyards, who have yards just outside of Bangalore, which was where we visited last time we went to India back in 2009 (before I was properly into wine) and also in Nashik, Maharastra, which I'm guessing is where the wine we tasted came from - the same state as Mumbai.

Sadly the restaurant menu only mentioned 'Grover Chenin Blanc' and it was like getting blood from a stone trying to extricate further information, or a glimpse of the bottle, from the waiter, so we'll all just have to guess which of their offerings it was. 

But it was a very light straw colour, with an aromatic but slightly sour nose. I found it to be fresh on the palatte - slightly sweet, which I have found to be a characteristic of Indian wine, presumably because of the seemingly endless sunshine providing sugar rich grapes, but was still well balanced in the mouth with a fresh taste that had the perfumed elements of fruits like pear and melon.

It was beautifully quaffable and very enjoyable - I would happily give it a solid 7 out of 10. For me, it has a lot in common with what you would expect from a chenin blanc from Australia - fruity and refreshing. Certainly the quality was there overall - not so much as to blow me away, but certainly for a deeply enjoyable drink on what was an otherwise bleak day.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th Edition

I must confess to already being a bit of a Jancis Robinson fan. Her light hearted writing style has already graced my bookshelves for a number of years now and her website has a huge wealth of interesting and useful articles about wine. The first person to achieve Master of Wine outside of the trade, she is a highly respected critic and journalist - considered by many as one of the finest in the world. A wonderful aspirational figure for British women everywhere if you ask me.

Odd to start a review with a picture of another book? Works for me.
A not inconsiderable CV then, for the compiler and editor of the Oxford Companion to Wine, now totally overhauled and updated for its fourth edition, the first to be released since 2006. Every single entry has been scrutinized and checked by Robinson and her team of illustrious contributors. Around 300 new entries have been added, including my favourite, orange wine (see, I keep telling people that's going to be the Next Big Thing).

The cover of this decadently heavy hardback is a rich magenta, it certainly won't get lost on your bookshelves! It weighs in at over 900 pages of definitive wine information and has been described as 'The greatest wine book ever published' by the Washington Post. It is essentially the ultimate wine encyclopedia with every aspect of wine covered in glorious detail, from abboccato (the Italian word for medium sweet) to zymase (the enzymes which help to turn fruit sugars into alcohol in fermentation). 

Key figures of global significance are in there - you really have to have made a significant contribution to warrant an entry. The wine traditions and modern practices of individual countries and appelations are listed, and the major grape varietals all have their own entry as you would expect. There is also a handy appendix which matches appellations to their permitted grape varieties, something that I imagine will become an absolute go-to for me.

The process of growing grapes is of course covered in magnificent detail - from descriptions and handy diagrams of techniques like chip budding, to explanations of popular and traditional trellis systems and pruning methods. Pests, disease and threats are also given due respect - the entry for phylloxera alone takes up nearly three pages.

Of course this is open to the page for modern English wine production!

Both the processes around ripening and harvesting have numerous entries and it is lovely to see that 'harvest traditions' also have their own entry, which gives a supremely interesting glimpse into this key time for vineyards in France, the rest of Europe and in the new world.

On to wine production, techniques, traditions and up to bottling and packaging and naturally through to tasting, brands and a lot more besides it is difficult to describe the wealth of information in this book without ending up writing a great encyclopedia style blog post myself! Suffice it to say that this book is to wine lovers as water is to fish. You really shouldn't try to live without it.

I have no criticism to level at such a labour of love. This book is as perfect and up to date as you can possibly require. Personally I would prefer modern English wine to feature a little more prominently (naturally) but I think that objectively it is given fair weight given the relative size and significance of our production at the moment. And the key grapes that are used in the UK have good sized entries, which is the most important sort of education that needs to be shared to help support the market at the moment. Welcome to the Companion, Pinot Noir Precoce!

This book is pleasing to read, endlessly fascinating, both un-put-downable and awesome for quick reference. I have totally fallen in love with it and it shall be treated as a child, in the same way that the Oxford Classical Dictionary I bought at uni is one of my most treasured possessions. Buy it if you love wine, buy it if you like wine and it will inspire you to love it. Buy it if you just want to gen up on enough information to become a terrible bore at dinner parties. I never get invited to dinner parties, so I think I'm going to be OK.

Many thanks to OUP for sending me a review copy, you have changed my life for the better.

Don't miss Jancis Robinson in conversation at Jewish Book Week on 21st February 2016. She will be 'Drawing the Genie from the Bottle' with her husband Nicholas Lander and it's only £10.50 a ticket!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Mexican marvels at Mission Burrito

We were invited down to Leicester's Highcross this week to do a little write up of Mission Burrito, which has been open for about 6 months now. It's in the same lot that was occupied by Chilacas, another much loved Mexican place which sadly closed down and they offer much the same menu, except, I have to say, they are much more generous with their fillings... 

The decor is also much cleaner and more contemporary than under the other store. Mission Burrito keep their menu simple, their lines clean and they have moved the counter to the back of the store so you don't have to queue out the door when it's busy. And it does get busy, it's clearly both a popular choice for lunch and after-work bites.

So, simple fast food, made fresh while you wait. It's very easy. Pick your poison - a burrito, small burrito, rice or salad box or soft tacos (corn or wheat), Next you decide on your filling - spiced chicken, carnitas (pork), Ancho chile beef or the veggie (lots of sauteed peppers and onions).

I am an avowed carnitas fan, so this time I decided to go for the chilli beef, just to mix things up. And it looked delicious - a really deep colour that showed the slow cooking and the spice. Once you've made these big decisions, you just keep working your way down the line, picking your additional ingredients. 

Although a massive black bean fan, I always end up turning them down because I can't resist pinto beans with bacon. They need to start doing black beans with bacon in, that are more a paste than beans anymore. Like what Mexico do. Mmmm... Beans.

Then it's on to your salsa, your sour cream, your jalapenos, caramelised onions, lettuce and the like. Next you decide what species of sauce you would like - the Salsa Verde or wuss green sauce version, which of course is my choice, Then you can have normal levels of spice, with the chipotle, or the blow-your-head-off habanero. Well, I don't know if it's that hot, but it's certainly got a kick to it by all accounts. If you're not sure which one you want, they have a fresh basket of tortilla chips out for you to have a little taste.

Sauced up you can add your extras - cheese and guacamole at a small extra cost. And to be honest, why wouldn't you. Then it all gets wrapped up (or not if you've ordered tacos) and put in a basket and away you go to pick your drink. Or you add some tortilla chips and dip and then get your drink. They have a nice selection of Mexican beers which exactly replicates the options that you'll get in any self-respecting Californian taqueria. I opted for the Pacifico, a light Mexican lager. Mainly because it reminds me of Californian taquerias, as I previously mentioned. You can also try one of their excellent range of Mexican sodas. Mmm.

There I was, sat with a burrito that was essentially the size of my forearm. It was gooey and delicious, with all the flavours melding perfectly. My only tiny weeny complaint was that some of the avocado in the guacamole was a little unripe, so it contained hard slices instead of the soft, slightly textured dip-like stuff I'm used to. But it is January, so I guess it's par for the course.


It's messy and it's far too big to get your mouth round, so all things considered it's a deeply pleasurable experience. The Boy opted for the four soft corn tacos, which were even more crumbly than my burrito and he was complaining that they didn't have any forks, so he made more of a mess of himself than I. There were forks, he just didn't use his eyes. Fear not folks, Mission Burrito have forks. Well, more like wooden sporks really, but they are there. My burrito was so massive that I couldn't finish roughly the last quarter - just a small burrito for me next time. But naturally the Boy was happy to help me out, so nothing went to waste!

Mexican approved 'real tacos'

All in all, a very fun lunchtime was had by all. I posted a picture of the Boy's tacos to Swarm (it used to be Foursquare, it's great for remembering all the good food places you've been - get it, let's be friends) and one of our friends who lives in Mexico City commented on it saying "Wow, looks like real tacos!" And you can't get much better recommendation than that now, can you. 

I can heartily recommend you pop in. Or if you can't be bothered, but you still want to eat it, then you can hit them up via Deliveroo. This is obviously a popular lunch option as two drivers stopped by to pick up orders in the short time we were there. No frills, no fuss, just yummy. Thanks again to Mission Burrito for inviting us along and shouting us dinner, much obliged y'all.
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