Part 3 & 4 - Main courses and after dinner (digestive) champagne

Taittinger Prestige Rose NVMarta served a dish of oven roasted lemon chicken - wow - herbaceous and juicy it was the perfect match for the Taittinger Prestige Rose.  This is very popular rose champagne and rightly so.  After a mouthful of chicken coated with the flavoursome oils, the strawberry flavour leads the charge of red fruit intermingling for a great tasting sensation.  Really delicious.  The fresh acidity clears the palate leaving a space for the next desirable forkful of food! Other guests seemed surprised that champagne would be served with a main course but everyone agreed that it is a pairing that should be indulged more often.  Very pleasurable indeed!

Taittinger Nocturne Secand finally…. we closed off with a bottle of Taittinger Nocturne NV, blue cheese and chocolate truffles.  The Nocturne is aged on its lees for seven years before disgorging and has a very high level of sugar (17g) that dictates its sweet style.  Sweet champagne made with so much class does not get enough
appreciation.  It is a powerful wine with intense ripe fruits including peaches and pear.  The flavour stays in the mouth for a long time and loves squaring up to the cheese.  I was hoping to have this with cheesecake but forgot to buy it in!

These last two champagnes displayed two varied styles very well for two very different situations.  We closed the night with glowing smiles and much talk of the next tasting… so any tips of champagne … please let me know. 

Part 2: 3 Styles of Champagne determined by Grape varietals

Mandois Cuvee Victor - Taittinger Vintage 2004 - Heidsieck Heritage NV

Cuvee Victor 2002 from Mandois - 100% Chardonay

Mandois is a terrific Champagne maker from just outside Epernay in the heart of the Cote des Blancs and the Cuvee Victor is astoundingly good.  Everybody bowed to this wine.  It is beautifully elegant and simply creates a lasting smile on the tasters face.  It has an extremely low dosage of sugar.  Considering a bottle of champagne may have in the region of 10 - 15 g of sugar this has hardly any at all.  It is, however, aged in the bottle to curb that tartiness and round of the edges.  The result is utterly charming with toasty pear and lemon.  I could drink this all day everyday!

Taittinger Vintage 2004

Not to be outdone the 2004 vintage Taittinger came storming in and held its own.  This is also a fabulous wine that can be sipped, tasted and glugged in one sitting but appreciating it with the brillet cheese and enjoying the subtle grapefruit and baked bread aromas made it a joy.  If this was share tipping site I'd write "Strong BUY!"

Heidsieck Heritage Brut NV

Not being a vintage champagne like it's two cousins in this round we automatically felt a little sorry for the Heidsieck.  But why did we bother - this champagne rose to the occasion and boxed happily above its' weight displaying fine form and all the characteristics of a decent bottle of bubbly - no wonder M&S et al are so happy to stock it.  Medium bodied with lots of brioche - not packing the punches of the other two though.

To summarise, these are all good wines but the Mandois really stole the show - maybe even the evening.  I think it was a unanimous top rated performer!  Mandois has recently won a reward for making the best chardonnay in the world - that's not to be sniffed at.  His wines are hard to get in the UK for some reason but if you can lay your hands on them then it is must!

Champagne tasting at the Maison Max et Marta #Part 1

Champagne blind tasting

The Blind tasting:

There are three sparkling wines. Only one is from Champagne and two of the others are made in the “methode traditional”.  One was the Nyetimber Premier Cuvee Blanc de Blancs from West Sussex, the second Cordorniu Extra Cuvee Seleccionada.  The Champagne was Laurent-Perrier NV Brut.

Accompanying the wine we had smoked salmon and Brillat Savarin cheese bought from Jeroboams in Holland park.  The Brillet was absolutely delicious!

Tasters were asked to say which they liked best and which the thought was champagne.  I was surprised that only one person named the Nyetimber as their preferred wine.  I thought it was very tasty with zingy citrus hit followed by very sweet apples and tastiness.  A couple of people opted for the Cava.  Personally I found this a little too thin, lacking body and any flavour intensity.  Interestingly, nearly everybody guessed which was the Champagne, despite it even being slightly corked.  The Laurent-Perrier did still have the most complex taste profile despite the squiffy nose.

So, well done Laurent-Perrier for holding the quality line(!), and not so well done Nyetimber (though possibly my choice for this selection). The Cava vote was unusual as a couple of tasters voted for it as their favourite for the reasons I disliked it - they felt they could drink it all night without fear of hangover - the lack of body maybe giving a false sense of security.  

Part 2 on the way...

Shin Of Beef Stew With Montagne St-Emilion

Chateau Negrit 2008 Montagne Saint-EmilionWhen I opened this bottle of Chateau Negrit I was not sure whether it was corked.  The aroma was not pleasant at all.  However, as I left languishing on the side whilst preparing my stew, it improved itself considerably.

Once confirmed that the wine was good, I poured about a third of the bottle into the stew and simultaneously took care of my own glass.  The nose was typical black currants with the sweetness of the merlot.  Full-bodied but easy drinking.  

Chateau Negrit is the perfect wine to add to a stew as a flavour enhancer.  The taste was deliciously rich and satisfying.  With a healthy glass standing by the dish, it's a match made in heaven.

Chateau Negrit, Montagne Saint-Emilion 2008 £12.99

Champagne Tasting To Get In The Festive Spirit

Champagne TastingA thick tussle and thrust down Oxford Street over the weekend has poignantly made me aware that Christmas is not far away.  As yet I have not given it a moments thought… well until now anyway.  In a flash of inspiration and email circulating we have decided to hold a champagne tasting with a few friends tomorrow evening.  Below is the prescribed menu that we all hope will turn on our inner Christmas lights and create laughter where there was formerly chapped grimaces.

Okay... to start with we'll have a blind tasting.  There'll be one champagne and two non-champagne (sparkling obviously).  We'll see if people can guess which is which (served with water biscuits and small amount of smoked salmon these cheeses: Brillat savarin, Langres, chaource).  Here we'll be serving Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut Non-Vintage, a bottle of ******** and **********.  It will be interesting to see what people choose as their preferred sparkler as opposed to what they think they've chosen.

We will then compare a pure chardonnay champagne (Blancs de blanc) with a blended chardonnay & pinot noir (blanc de noir).  These will be the all chardonnay Mandois Cuvee Victor 2002 (a terrific smaller Champagne House) and the blended Taittinger Brut 2004.

Accompanying the rose champagne we'll have a lemon chicken dish with baby new potatoes in butter and parsley with green beans.  I'm hoping this will demonstrate how this champagne is able to stand up to and cut through the fat in the butter and textures of the meat.  This champagne is the Taittinger Prestige Rose NV (Another guest has been asked to bring a rose champagne so I do not know as yet what they'll choose).

For dessert we need something rich and sweet to match the sweet champagne (Sec).  I am thinking Cheese cake and white chocolate truffles.  Some creamy blue cheese as a side option will also be sensational.  We have a bottle of Taittinger Nocturne Sec.

The tasting takes place tomorrow evening so I'll be posting the results on what people thought.  Any other suggestions for pairings are welcome!

Post Script:  Two wines have been blocked out so that attendees of tomorrow eve do not know what is in the blind tasting.

Friday Cotes du Rhone And Ragstone Goats Cheese

Arc du Rhone, Cotes du Rhone Village 2010Arc du Rhone, Cotes du Rhone Village, 2010

Here's a quick tip from Waitrose - this very young 2010 Arc du Rhone  from Cotes du Rhone Village is delicious and only £5.99 on offer.

It is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignon Noir; a traditional blend from central southern France, with bags of fruit, spice and fast pace easy drinking personality.  It's really good with this Ragstone Goats cheese from Neal's Yard Creamery.  The wine clears the palate beautifully leaving the lingering creaminess intermingled with dark fruits, cherry in particular and warm spices.

£5.99 whilst on offer at Waitrose

Climate and Grape Variety

Cool climate hot chardonnayWhen you're strolling the isles of the wine shop and looking at different varieties from different places, make a mental note as to how that will affect what's in the bottle.  For example, it is easy to think that chardonnay is chardonnay and I either fancy it or I don't.  In reality, chardonnay is a grape variety grown in different parts of the world where it expresses itself very differently in each place.

A cool climate chardonnay such as from Chablis will taste a world apart from a chardonnay from Australia, South Africa or California, to name a few.  When you look at the place of origin on the label, picture the grapes in the vineyard and whether they've been grown in extreme heat or cooler, maybe coastal air.  If they appear to be from a cooler place then expect a more zingy citrus flavour as opposed to the pineapple, mango and other tropical fruits of hotter climate chardonnay.

Origin and climate is certainly a primary indicator of what a wine may taste like but there are others that we'll look at in future tips… stay tuned!

Wine Temperatures: Why Do We Bother?

wine temperatureI was at a friends party recently and there were other guests warming bottles of Rioja by the fire.  Their reason being that there is nothing better than warm red wine.  Maybe a warm glass of tinto with a vague hint of oak and alcohol is more desirable than I would give credit for but when it comes to desiring a glass of red wine at this time of the year, my mind thinks along the lines of spice and dark fruit with a hint of vanilla.  There are many flavour profiles that tasters pick out which only exist within a certain temperature range.  As soon as the wine starts cruising over 17C those flavours, aromas and expressions of the whole wine making process start to vanish.  That is when we're left with just bland tasting alcohol.  

With white wines, the problem is reversed.  A white wine that is served too warm loses it crispness and structure.  In wine speak, it can be described as "flabby".  But the fear of serving warm white wine can often send us into the depths of our freezers in search of colder temperatures.  White wine at around 10-13C will likely show it's best fruits and flavours if it has them to show.  By over chilling the wine we add a layer of masking that blocks out just about any individuality and tantalising fruitiness the wine might possess. If the wine is awful and you have no alternative then chill the hell out of it, otherwise, let it drift up towards room temperature before imbibing.

Tip for the day: Don't overheat red wines and don't over chill the whites. If you order a bottle of red in a restaurant and it is too warm then say so and get a chiller. You'll be far happier when it opens up and reveals it's true self!

Capabunga: Dude It's a Capsule!

I received one of these to try and can confirm it most certainly is a capsule... it is also very good at keeping wine fresh that little while longer between daily glasses!

Visit the web site

Wine #2 Maior de Mendoza, Alborino, 2008, Rias Baixas, Spain.

Alborino 2008This is certainly worth a mention from the same wine merchant, Laymont & Shaw.  Alborino is a great wine for quality and value that sits very comfortably next to a huge range of seafood dishes.  What drew me in here was that Layton & Shaw are advertising this on their outside board at £4.99 a bottle; overt endorsement is a good sign that it may not be too shabby!  Indeed it is not.  It has an attractive tropical nose with hints of lemon.  In the mouth it is fruity with a crisp acidity. The acidity is a positive characteristic that gives a sensation of the mouth watering on the insides of the cheeks.  It helps preserve and balance the wine and is good for clearing fatty food residue off the palate between mouthfuls.

At this price it is a steal.  We enjoyed it with a Chinese takeaway and I have to say it reached all the right high spots for a chilled Saturday evening.  

A few notes on the Rias Baixas:  This albino producing part of Galicia in NW Spain on the border of Portugal is very beautiful and has an ancient feel to it.  The "Rias" are huge river valleys that run down to the Atlantic from the mountains and make up a beautifully dramatic landscape.  The area is famous for seafood, wine, surfing, troubadours, Santiago de Compostella, green peppers known as "Padron" peppers and probably a whole lot more.  Fly to Coruna from Heathrow and see for yourself!

£4.99 Maior de Mendoza, Alborino, 2008, Rias Baixas from Laymont & Shaw, Truro

Wine #1 Sensia 2009, Ribera del Duero

Sensia Ribera del Duero 2009I was in Truro, the capital of Cornwall, over the weekend and strolled into wine merchant Laymont & Shaw after a busy day in the town.  After a quick browse I noticed a very well priced young red tempranillo (the national red grape of Spain) bottle from my favourite Spanish region of Ribera del Duero.  The wines here still seem to me to be pretty much unsung and yet deserve so much more attention.

This young beauty had a full ruby colour with tints of purple about the edges showing its youth and a dark red fruit seeping out and up the nose.  It really is a "just-one-more-glass" kind of wine giving us cherry and blackcurrant with a bite of tannin demonstrating it's compatibility with meaty dishes.  A charcuterie would be very apt.

So, if you live in travelling distance of Laymont & Shaw in Truro then definitely try the Sensia 2009 (01872 270545).  Otherwise, ask your local wine merchant what they have from the Ribera del Duero and start the journey there!

£8.99 Laymont & Shaw

Villa Maria Private Bin Gewurztraminer 2010

gewurtztraminer villa maria 2010There is something about gewurztraminer that always strikes me as tarty or phallic; very likely the bold extrovert characteristics that elicit so many varied responses from different people.  This one made by Villa Maria is particularly interesting being from New Zealand.  Most commonly you'll find these wines labeled as being from Alsace, Germany or Austria.  I recall being in the northern Italian town of Castel Franco and being overwhelmed by the seductiveness of the young inexpensive gewurztraminer varieties on sale.  Absolutely delicious.

For flavours the most obvious are litchi, light spice, Turkish delight and fruit cocktail.  It's different, maybe in fineness than that of the Alsace wines but I am still enjoying it a lot.  It's worth a buy for sure.  It goes very well with an extensive and unusual range of foods.  I've had it tonight with a lamb and vegetable stew and it has been swell but you could easily put this wine with more spicy Asian cuisine or even a big plate of smoked salmon!

It's outlandishness also seems to chime well with socialising in the run up to Christmas so definitely give it a go!

£9.99  Majestic,  Waitrose,, Wine Rack

Le Grand Chai Castillon Cotes De Bordeaux 2009 (14% abv )

Le Grand Chai 2009This offering from Laithwaites is worth writing about.  2009 is a real corker of a vintage for Bordeaux and this outlying area of Cotes de Castillon is no exception.  Judging by the bulky back label, Tony Laithewaite is also pretty impressed by this wine.  

Hold the glass up to the light and notice the purple edges (meniscus) where the wine touches the glass.  This sign of youth is a precursor to bright redcurrant and a compote of fruit on the nose and a powerful mouthful of pleasure.   

A good balance of acidity drives the bright fruity flavours home with rounded tannins that have kept Ch and I sipping in continuous motion (an empty bottle will break the spell!).

A definite buy for all those laitwaites / Sunday times drinkers out there.  Pile it in.

From £9.99

Champagne Baron de Rothschild NV

rothschild champagneWhen a big name like Rothschild sticks itself on anything, it is hard not to look twice.  In China, I understand, a mere mention of the name will sell the associated product to the limits.  However, on Bond Street this evening at an event sponsored by many parties including Decanter, I stumbled upon Champagne Baron de Rothschild in Tiffany's.  To be straight talking, I am not a regular shopper at Tiffany's and as a matter of fact my debit card has never passed through their mits (I mean "midst"). Though, again, straight talking insists I mention the Paloma Picasso specialities were particularly beautiful!

Anyways, back to point in hand.  The Non-vintage Rothschild Champagne is a collaboration between the much vaunted claret houses of Mouton and Lafite. Yet myself and a punter I was talking to, both agreed it was pretty substandard hostile territory.  Gacky and sweet weird finish made it a no-no pour moi.  

Tip here is:  Avoid in preference for something more authentic in its efforts than its brand.  

Post script:  I haven't tried the vintage so don't want to darken that image - interested to hear views if anyone has them.

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Winemaker and owner Nicola D’Auria greeted us at the entrance of this fascinating cantina. The winery and cellars have been designed by Rocco valentini in the shape of a vertical barrel in order to immerse the tasters senses in wine.


East from Roma to Abruzzo

From Rome we headed east to Abruzzo, a region of Italy that rises up like a burly landlord to greet the traveller. The Apennine mountains at their tops are stark and beautiful, lonely, yet fulsome. Rustic doesn’t quite do this landscape justice. It’s a place for pilgrims, peace lovers and, of course, we followers of Bacchic and gastronomic pleasure.


After days of picking grapes in one of the world’s most famous wine regions, the pickers get together to drink, chat and enjoy the drinks they are meticulously involved in the making of. 

Also check out local winemaker, Nico’s, top tip for a white Burgundy from Saint Aubin that you don’t have to travel to Burgundy to get!


What started in El Quatre Gats tapas bar in Barcelona, soon became an adventure in the Marche region of Italy, that lies along the east coast facing Albania across the Adriatic Sea. El Quatre Gats is famously where Picasso had his first solo exhibition as a young edgy artists in the Catalan capital and I was there dining with Dr Pia Casarini Wadhams, Director of Italy’s only Polar Institute, Il Polo.


The Palazzo is located in the centre of Fermo, a small Roman hilltop town with a rich history dating back to antiquity. Flying from abroad, Ancona is the closest airport, 67km north (about an hours drive) along the coast of the Adriatic sea.