Friday, November 25, 2016

Xistos Douro

Soma notes: playing basketball / netball / rugby on a sunny but cold day when you catch the ball and your fingers feel numb but invigorated. It passes through your mouth like the wind across your face. 

Interpretation: Smells full on with a fruity bang and alcohol fumes (its 14%) getting the juices going. Full bodied and punchy on the palate (thanks to the alcohol and tannins), there are some lovely jammy red berries and a short fruit finish but has a lovely caramel oakiness that lingers for a long time. I let this wine warm up to room temperature (I keep my reds at 16'), but it still feels cold, so not a comforting in front of the fire wine, and not complex enough to accompany a juicy steak. Drink on it's own or with beef stew, cottage pie, or cheese.

I feel Portuguese wines are often overlooked, we buy the port so we know they have good vines, and we go on holiday there so we know they get sunshine, so it makes sense they should make good wines. And they do. Most reds are made with the domestic grape Touriga Nacional which is intense with high tannins. This is used for port and reds in Douro and Dao, so although this bottle doesn't say Touriga Nacional it's probably a blend with Tinta Roriz. It's made from very old wines and grapes were pressed using traditional lagares (treading on grapes in open stone tanks).

If you're not keen on reds I urge you to try Portuguese Vinho Verde (this will always stay in my heart because in my WSET exam I thought this was a grape but it's a region!). It's a gorgeous light white wine with citrus flavours but what makes it special is a slight sparkling sensation on your tongue, which is just delightful.

I bought mine from a Portuguese shop called Exquisite in Marlow for £12, sorry but I can't find it in mainstream stores, please let me know if you spot it!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Christmas Wines

In my family we have traditionally opened presents with Champagne, accompanied smoked salmon with Chablis, had a Burgundy pinot noir with the turkey, Sauternes with mince pies, and passed the port with cheese, all traditional, all classics, but when you serve what’s expected it doesn’t always turn heads. This year I want my guests to talk about the wine, so my Christmas wine list is going to be anything but traditional.



Christmas is a special occasion so it deserves some special wine. Instead of Champagne, I have splashed out on Nyetimber Tillington Single Vineyard, which I got when we visited the beautiful Tudor winery in the summer. Made from a blend of 78% Pinot Noir and 22% Chardonnay, Tillington is the first Single Vineyard sparkling wine from England with all grapes specially selected from a single vineyard site. The 2010 vintage is pale gold in colour, with gentle, fine bubbles that fill the nose with aromas of redcurrant, wild raspberry and toast. On the palate, the wine shows elegance and complexity, balancing rich notes of almond and brioche with a fine minerality and a persistent finish. You can read more about this special single vineyard site and the wine it produces HERE but unfortunately I can't find anywhere that sells this, so unless you can arrange a visit to the winery, why not try Nyetimber Blanc de Blanc from The Champagne Company (£34) instead.


To partner smoked salmon with an assortment of toasts and blinis and a dill cream cheese, I will need a wine that will cut through all that creaminess. I love a lemony and peppery Austrian gruner veltliner, such as the Rabl Gruner Veltliner Kamptal (£9 M&S), a wonderfully easy-drinking unoaked white with hints of apples and elderflower.

The red, oh the red, you have to have red at Christmas. Turkey can be paired with a light red anyway, but when served with pigs in blankets, sage and onion stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce, then it definitely should be. The red I will be serving with the turkey this year will be Sicilian Frappato, a lovely alternative to pinot noir, such as Santa Tresa (Ocado £9.99). Often a revelation to wine drinkers, Frappato is elegant and refreshing - surprisingly more delicate than many of the muscular reds of Sicily, yet full of character. Santa Tresa Frappato is smooth and elegant, with wild strawberries and touches of spice. It’s an organic wine and should be served slightly chilled. Visit santatresa.com to explore where this wine is made.

To accompany the mince pies I recommend a sweet Madeira, and for the cheese a Riesling. This may sound the reverse pairings to what you’d expect, a dessert with a fortified wine and cheese with a dessert wine, but trust me these both work. You could even try a little of both with each and see which you prefer. Try Blandys Single Harvest Malmsey with your Christmas pudding (£13.99 from Waitrose 50cl). Amber colour with golden green reflections and a characteristic bouquet of Madeira with dried fruits, tea, toffee and spices. Rich and full bodied with notes of vanilla, honey and chocolate. An added bonus is you can also use the Madeira in a sauce for leftover turkey, use THIS Madeira sauce recipe.

We picked up this Dr Loosen Riesling Eiswein on our trip to the Mosel, but I can't find a Riesling Eiswein being sold in the UK right now that won't break the bank, so instead you could go for Seifried Estate Sweet Agnes Riesling from New Zealand (Laithwaites £16.99 half bottle) to go with your cheese. It has a deep yellow gold colour, with lemon sherbet, orange marmalade, tropical fruits and butterscotch aromas. It is intensely rich, fruity and sweet yet remarkably fresh and vibrant.



Alternatively, buy a Tokaji which will pair excellently with any sticky dessert as well as with cheese. Don't know what Tokaji is? Read my blog HERE

I have chosen unconventional wines to partner traditional dishes, but if you would like suggestions for other food pairings this Christmas, please comment below. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What is Tokaji?

Tokaji is a wine region in Hungary, which produces some wonderful dry wines, but you really should look out for their sweet wines. They can be pricey, but definitely worth it for accompanying a sticky toffee pudding. It was Tokaji that opened me up to dessert wines, before thinking there was not much point to them.

I pronounce Tokaji as “To-Kai” with “To” as in Top and “Kai” as in Kite. Although I’m not sure this is exactly right it gets me passed the sommelier!

Tokaji is made from grapes that have been infected by a fungus called botrytis. This mould grows on grapes in areas that have damp mornings and warm sunny afternoons. This process of rotting and drying causes the grapes to shrivel up and lose water, causing the juice inside to become concentrated. Additional flavour compounds often develop in botrytis berries, such as apricot and ginger. The grapes that are affected by botrytis in Hungary are called Aszu berries, which are carefully selected at harvest to be made into the Tokaji dessert wine I love.

When you order a Tokaji sweet wine you will notice that it has a number of puttonyos. This is a very interesting part of Hungarian winemaking… Once the Aszu berries are picked, they were traditionally collected in baskets called Puttony. The number of baskets of sweet Aszu grapes that are added to the non-botrytis grape juice (also known as must) were counted and labelled on the wine. The system uses 3-6 puttonyos for Tokaji sweet wine, and these days actual sugar content is measured. The number of puttonyos is regarded as a level of quality and in 2014 the labelling changed to just “Tokaji Aszu” and only 5- and 6-puttonyos wines can be made under this label. However, I still find it cute to see the puttonyos on the label as it provokes evocative mental imagery of aged Hungarian men and women carrying large baskets of shrivelled up grapes. Wine that is made entirely from Aszu grapes is called Eszencia. Tokaji Eszencia is a syrupy wine that is so sweet it is typically served in a tablespoon, and because of its high sugar content can age for over 200yrs.

You may have already tried the sweet wines of the Sauternes and Mosel Riesling which aim to copy the nectar properties of Tokaji dessert wines. Some producers in Alsace France and Friuli Italy use “Tokay” or “Tokai” to attract attention, so don’t get tricked, you really should try the traditional Hungarian Tokaji Aszu wine.


If you’re not keen on dessert wines, then I would also recommend seeking out Tokaji dry wines, such as the dry white wine single-varietal Furmint. These wines are typically off-dry with high acidity, and although they are often aged in Hungarian oak you wouldn’t know it to taste it. A good alternative to a NZ Sauvignon Blanc and can certainly generate discussion around the dinner table.

To read about my review of a Furmint wine go to http://princessandthepinot.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/firmint-royal-tokaji-2010.html

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Harvest with Harrow & Hope

I was lucky to be invited by Kaye Laithwaite to join the harvest of Pinot Noir grapes on the Harrow & Hope vineyard this morning. I have to say it is back-breaking work and I am amazed at the seasoned pickers who work from 7am-7pm, but I left with a sense of achievement that comes from hard work and a full stomach thanks to the gorgeous Barbara Laithwaite who served a delicious lunch. 




H&H hand pick their grapes allowing selection of prime grapes with minimal damage, which is important for this small vineyard. Hand-picking grapes is also important for regions with steep aspects, such as Mosel, Duoro, and Northern Rhône. Mechanical picking can't be used for wines that require whole-bunch grapes, such as Champagne and Beaujolais. As you would expect, machine harvesting is cheaper and easier, but can also be valuable for night-picking which is required for Sauvignon Blanc grapes which over-ripen very quickly once picked.


The juice that was pressed this morning by Henry Laithwaite was like no grape juice I've ever tasted, it was intense, refined, and like nectar. I can't wait to try the Harrow & Hope English sparkling wine that my grapes make!

If you would like to find out more about the story of Harrow & Hope and the wines they make, take a look at their website www.harrowandhope.com

If you would like to learn how to grow vines or make wine, you can take courses at Plumpton College in Sussex www.plumpton.ac.uk

If you want to work in vineyards in the UK, or need help setting up your own vineyard, get in touch with Vine Works www.vine-works.com

Monday, July 18, 2016

Lay of the land

I've been drinking three Lay of the Land wines and I'm finding them very interesting and very drinkable. The NZ Pinot noir is full of strawberry and delicious, the Sauvignon blanc has the characteristics of a NZ Sav b but with the full roundness of an unoaked Chardonnay (not quite sure how they did that, need to look into it), and the Nahe Pinot Gris well bloody hell a German wine that has the NZ/ Aussie / UK requirements of "I just want to enjoy drinking it", thank you LotL I'm thoroughly enjoying your wines... But not sure who you are!