Saturday, 24 August 2013

Majestic's Wine Course

Wednesday seems to be becoming the evening of the week designated for enjoying wine. There's lots about #winewednesday on Twitter. It so happens that my last two Wednesday evenings have been filled by wine tasting events. This week, my wife and I attended the 'Wine Course' hosted by Majestic wines in Sale. I stumbled across it while browsing their website and finding the events calendar for the Sale store. After this, I also noticed that Majestics advertise such events on Twitter too. I'm now Twitter-mates with the staff at Sale too! A swift phone call was all that was required to book our spots, and to pay the £5 deposit. Part of the lure for this tasting event was that they are all FREE! The deposit is refunded at the end of the course.

5pm saw us get the tram from town out to Sale. Incidentally, it took far longer than the timetable had suggested! The Sale store is only a 10 minutes walk from the tram stop, but we arrived a little hot and bothered due to the muggy weather. This was alleviated with haste , for as soon as we stepped through the door, we were presented with a nice, cold glass of bubbly. I'm can't remember what it was, but I do recall it was not champagne, maybe Cava.

The tasting table was already laid out on the shop floor. This was actually quite a good setting, surrounded by lovely bottles of wine. Each persons place was already set with 6 glasses of wine. Three whites and three reds had been placed atop of a sheet of A4, with fake condensation rings (stains) printed on it to denote positions that were also numbered 1 to 7. Confusing for now, but all will be explained. Laid next to these were little booklets to accompany the course. Inside these was information about tasting, wines of different kinds, different grapes, world regions and much more. There was also space for ones tasting notes, using the provided pen.

The evening started quickly. We all sat down around the table with Flick, the shop manager (presumably short for Felicity!?). She introduced herself, and then asked us to introduce ourselves, with our names and something about our wine preferences, or why we were at the event. This, combined with a glass of fizz, was a great way to relax people and break the ice. She explained a little bit about what sort of course the evening would be. It's interesting that the Wine Course is designed less as a showcase for certain wines and more as a general learning experience - as an introduction to wine tasting. It is much more about how to taste wines, rather than the about the wines themselves.

We proceeded to the white wines, numbered 1 to 3. Flick asked us to pick up the first glass, and took us through the process of tasting a  wine. As a brief example; firstly, look at the wine. Hold it up against a white background to asses it's colour and clarity. Second, smell the wine's 'bouquet' or 'nose'. Here one tries to identify the aromas that can be found from such volatile liquids. Swirling the glass releases the magic. Thirdly, taste the wine. Here one takes a little mouthful, swills it around in the mouth and perhaps draws some air through the liquid behind the teeth. This helps to release the flavours (actually by releasing them from the liquid so they can travel to the nose again!).

We practiced these techniques with the white wines. We were asked to attempt to identify what the wines were, their flavours and what had given the wines those flavours. This was, of course, all guided by Flick. She knows a great deal about wine and was quite adept at conveying her knowledge. It's not really important what the exact wines were. They had been well chosen to illustrate the points being taught. There was a bone-dry, crisp, acidic, but fruity Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre), a slightly less dry, mineral-textured, really mildly oaky Chablis, and another, more oaked and less dry, Chardonnay that smelled like honey and peaches, from Chili. From these is was easy to pick out the aromas, flavours and textures of each, then link them to the grape varieties, how they might have been made and the climate they came from. Comparison between the wines made this process a great deal easier than with a single wine.

What a great start! By now the tasters were all conversing and discussing what they thought of the wines and the tasting techniques they had now mastered. Here's where the numbering system was made clear. Wine number 4, which was missing from our place-mat, was a champagne. This meant that the 3 reds became 5, 6 and 7, and were identified accordingly on our sheets. The champagne was brought out by Flick's assistant. He's an assistant manager at the shop, I think he was called either Dan or Tim!? I'm not really good with names.

As we went through the tasting protocol, Flick took us through the extra steps required in the making of a champagne. This is know as the m├ęthode champenoise, or traditional method. A secondary, in-bottle- fermentation is what gives the wines it's bubbles. Flick's knowledge was tested by questions, and not once did it fail us. The champagne was a lovely example, chosen because of it's great nose. This one was really yeasty, and had lovely (slightly burnt) toast notes. The mousse was also very classy. The 'mousse', by the way, is the texture of the fizzing wine in the mouth. Less fizzy, with smaller bubbles, means a smoother mousse, and usually better quality, I think.

So, by now, a touch tipsy. I speak for myself here, others were perhaps drinking a little less of each wine, and others were spitting. Spitting, incidentally, is something I need to learn to do. Not just because when tasting lots of wine its very easy to drink a bit too much, but also because it seems to be a bit of an art form. I think it's actually quite hard to do, without it going everywhere and leaving you looking like a dribbling mess!

The red wines were a similar affair to the whites, in that we made our way through them individually, assessing each one as we went, comparing them to each other in terms of aromas, flavours and textures. Guesses were made as to what each were and where they were from. I was quite please with my own guessing. My only downfall here was being fooled by a left-bank Bordeaux, into thinking it was a right-bank. Left-bank wines are traditionally made with a greater percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in their blend, which gives them a more ripe, blackcurrant nature. Right bank wines contain more Merlot, and so tend to be more rich and plummy, maybe like jammy cherries. These are of course generalisations, however, the lack of cassis in the Bordeaux we had made me think right-bank. I'm going to go out on a limb now and say that it was the... how do I put it... 'less than optimal' 2007 vintage that was to blame for my reasoning.

The red wines were, again, a great selection to exemplify what was being taught. The Pinot Noir from New Zealand was lighter, less tannic and a bit peppery. The Bordeaux was classically tannic and showed elements derived from oak aging (cedar wood and tobacco). Finally the Barossa Valley Shiraz was full bodied but richly flavoured with light ripe fruit, with a hint of spice in a long finish. These wines were great examples of their breeds and perfectly chosen for this occasion.

Having been through quite a lot of wine, and almost consumed our fill of information, the evening finished with a bit of food play, and wine number 8. This was, I thought, a great addition to the course. Several different foods were brought out, including tomatoes, spicy crisps, pate on toast and some cheese. In addition to these was a little bit of chocolate brownie, to go with a sweet dessert wine (No. 8). I have to admit that I can't remember what this wine was, sorry. I think it may have been a Tokaji from Hungary. The foods were tasted with the wines. This was to demonstrate that some foods don't go with some wines. The best example was the tomato, which went really badly with the Sancerre, because there was just too much acidity. It did, however, go really well with the Chilean Chardonnay and the Bordeaux. The pate went well with the Sancerre, as the acidity of the wine  'cut through' (as they say) the richness of the pate. The brownie and dessert wine were a great match to finish the evening.

The only thing that was left to do at this point was to finish the remnants of ones favourite wine and chat about what we'd learnt. I must stress again that Flick was a wonderful host. She's very knowledgeable about wines, but also a very relaxed and accomplished instructor. I think the aftermath seen below clearly demonstrates what a fun event this was. There was not much left in the glasses and everyone went away, not only happy, but with a slightly larger brain.

The Majestic's Wine Course is exactly that. It is a course, for learning. They have packed a lot of very basic, but essential, information in to it. Information that anyone with a slight interest in wine would love to know. There was also a great deal of advanced knowledge in there too, probably thanks to Flick's question answering. Information that even a seasoned pro might not know, or realise. There was a mix of people at the event. There was a couple of lads, who knew they liked red wine, but wanted to learn a bit more so they could make more informed choices from restaurant wine menus. There was a pair of young ladies that knew quite a lot about wine, but thus far had played safe and drank what they knew. They wanted to experience something different and broaden their wine horizons. Then there was someone like myself. I like to think I know a fair amount about wine. I'm not an expert, just and enthusiastic novice, but I know how to taste it, I know different varietals and regional variations. This said, I learned a fair amount at from this event. It was also a great chance to practice my tasting skills and confirm knowledge I'd obtained through reading, in a practical setting.

There's not much more to say now. Majestic Wines is a good shop, in fact, lots of shops. They have a good selection of wines over a wide price range (check out my other posts). The Wine Course is just one of a few they host at many of their branches, details of all of these can be found on their website. Whatever level you're at (or think you're at) if you want to learn more about wine, then I'd really recommend going along to one of these events. For me, a great evening was topped-off by, not only getting our deposits back, but also a £10-off voucher to use on a future purchase! Bonus ;-)

Friday, 23 August 2013

Ryedale vineyard rose fizz

Quick post here. I feel I need to express how much I like Ryedale vineyard....

A few nights ago we had their 'Yorkshire Sunset' rose, it was fruity and tart and went really well with a creamy, salmon pasta dish my wife made. It was good for English wine, and set the standard of expectation for this producer.

This evening was the start of a long, bank holiday weekend, and as such deserved to be kicked-off in good fashion. It's been a tough week at work and a bit of fizz was a grand way to clear the bad mood and make way for a few relaxing days off. Ryedale vineyard's 'A Taste of Paradise', an English sparkling rose wine, was the choice i made. I chose this over a cheap champagne also in the rack, for whatever reason. As it turned out, it was a great choice.

Today has been warm and humid and cycling home from work had left me gasping. The rose fizz was just the ticket. This wine is a little fruity to begin with, but a subdued nose is dominated with good toasty notes. A less-fizzy palate results in a light mousse that is really elegant. The palate has real fruity flavours. Light red fruits including strawberry mingle with a slight yeasty texture. The balance is perfect with just enough acidity to be really refreshing.

This is a really classy sparkling rose. Until i poured it, I hadn't realised it was a rose, but i needn't have been worried. Although missing the more forward toast and yeasty flavours of Champagne, i would argue that this style of wine is equally good, given the right situation. For a warm summers evening, it hit the spot perfectly.

That'll do for now. Apart from to point my readers to a previous post about Ryedale vineyard. I would recommend trying their wines, I shall definitely be purchasing more of the rose fizz!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Volunteering at Holmfirth Vineyard

I've written about Holmfirth Vineyard before. I like it there. It's an up-and-coming venture with a lot of potential. About 2 months ago, I asked the owners (Ian and Bec) if I could come along and help them out, in order to learn a bit about how a vineyard is run. I get the impression that the work at a vineyard is never done, and so help is always appreciated. This was evidenced by Bec's enthusiasm with my offer to help.

I've done 2 days at the vineyard now, the last 2 Saturdays. They haven't quite been full days as I've had things to do in the afternoons/evenings. This said, I'd estimate I've done about 9 hours in total, I think.

I'll recap, quickly, what I have written previously about the vineyard. It has been set up by a young couple, Ian and Bec, who wanted a change in lifestyle. They quit there high-flying jobs and moved to the country. When pondering what to do with their new land, other than sheep farming, they came up with the idea of growing grapes and making wine. They've been going for about 5 years now and the vines are maturing nicely. They have 7000 vines, spread over 7 acres. These are neatly compartmentalised by lovely, old dry-stone walls. They have 4 grape varieties, 2 reds and 2 whites. From these, they hope to produce an average of 10000 bottle each year, although that is currently optimistic as the vineyard is still young. They have their own winery, in which they make and bottle their wines, and those of other vineyards who may not have such facilities.

When I am there, I am mainly overlooked by Luke. He is the 'cellar master', for want of a better description. He has been at the vineyard for a number of years, potentially from the start, but I haven't specifically asked him that. He, along with Al, his vineyard assistant (as he put it), look after all things vine and wine.

On day one, I was first invited to tag-along with the tour. This is run twice a day and costs £7. A group of paying guests get taken through the vineyard, and the tour guide (this varies as to who is free, Luke took the one I went on) tells them about it's history and what is going on there. Information about vines; including varieties, planting, growing, pruning, harvesting grapes, etc... is all included. There's actually a lot to take in. Then it's back to the winery for a quick introduction in to how the wines are made, going through de-stemming, crushing, fermenting, filtering, aging and bottling. Again, lots of info. Finally there was a chance to taste a few of the wines. Aromas and flavours are discussed first, and then prices!

My first job at the vineyard was removing leaves from the vines. There has been a few weeks of hot, sunny weather recently, this has encouraged the vines to put on extra growth (unwanted in some places). This means that the small clusters of potential grapes get covered by a thick mat of leaves. The idea is to remove leaves from around the young grapes to allow light on to them and to allow better airflow over them. The light is required for grape development and ripening, and the airflow helps to avoid the grapes staying moist, should it rain, which in turn helps to prevent mildew. The grapes are also kept cool should it get that warm, which it rarely does up on the hillside! The trick is to remove enough to satisfy the above criteria, while leaving enough to protect the grapes and allow the vine to photosynthesise sufficiently. Leaving leaves above the grapes, means they are protected from heavier rains and hail (the scourge of vineyards worldwide!).

I made my way through about 6 rows of vines in a couple of hours on the first day. On my second day, I continued this job to start. With my leaf-picking skills now honed, I got through about 12-13 rows of vines in about 3 hours. At this point I ran in to a slight problem. I realised my back was quite sore. I'm fairly tall and the vines are trellised quite low down. This is done due to the high winds they get on the exposed hillside above Holmfirth. As a result of this, I needed a break and therefore sought-out my supervisor and requested a different job.

The next job on the to-do list was to sure-up as many of the wooden trellising posts, as was needed. They become loose and wobbly because of the weight of the vines and, again, the high winds. I was given a large, blue and quite heavy tool to use. I don't know what it's called, but I've seen and used one before, and I'll call it a 'post knocker-in-er'. It's a metal tube with one end closed off by a flat metal plate and it has large handles on either side. The idea is that it slots over a post and guides itself as the user lifts it up and drops it down on top of the post, with force. So I set about this task. Walking up and down the rows, giving the posts a bit of a nudge and seeing if they need a whack on top! The main culprits were the row-end posts. These have a diagonal support post in line with the row, but because they only have trellis on one side they wobble more at 90 degrees to the row, and work themselves loose. The job of suring-up posts is pretty tiring. the knocker-in-er is heavy and the posts are tall. So I was quietly relieved when the black clouds rolled over and it started to rain! I'm not paid to slog away in inclement condition, so it was time for home.

I really enjoyed my time at the vineyard so far. It's a very lovely place and most peaceful. The views down in to the valley, and up the other side, are just spectacular. On a dry, less breezy day, it's great working there. I'm starting to think that I wouldn't mind the bad weather either. One of the things I like about vine/grape-growing, there seems to always be a job that needs doing, no matter what else is going on. Nature strides forward as best it can, and the viticulturist has to try and keep up!

I'll try to continue these little stories about my time at the vineyard. I don't have a permanent agreement to work a certain amount, so as and when they let me go and help, I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Desserts and wine tasting evening

One of my favourite little wine merchants, Reserve Wines in west Didsbury, quite often holds tasting evenings and events. I usually miss out on most of these, as the tickets sell-out in a matter of hours, before I can check the diary and ask permission from the boss! (For the unmarried readers, I mean my wife). I get the newsletter email (newsmail?) from Reserve Wines, which lets me know what's going on. A couple of weeks ago, they sent out information about a wine tasting evening that I knew, straight away, would be worth going to. This was advertised as a dessert and wine matching evening, organised jointly, by Reserve Wines and a small cake shop (for want of a better term, maybe patisserie?) called The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon (also in west Didsury, let us call them 'DRAWS' for ease!?). In a nutshell, I like wine and my wife likes cake. Therefore, this had to be a match made in heaven. I managed to get tickets via DRAWS, having first been told that Reserve had sold their allocation in an hour and I was too late!

The Wednesday evening of the tasting came round quite quickly, and I was excited all through the day. We went for dinner in west Didsbury beforehand, enjoying some light bites at The Violet Hour. Incidentally, their ribs and crab cakes were great, and they had a cocktail called a 'Butcher's Martini' that was amazing! Bacon-infused vodka, mixed with vermouth and maple syrup. I really enjoyed dipping the rasher of crispy bacon, served on the side, too. This is a manly cocktail, if ever there was one, and well worth a punt!

So on to the wine and cake! DRAWS is a small venue for an event, but cosy and quaint all the same. 20-or-so people attended, being accommodated on tables of 4 or 6. This proved to be a lovely atmosphere in which to meet new people and have a good natter about wine and cake!

The set-up was to have 5 cakes, matched to 5 dessert wines. The wines were served by one of the Reserve employees, I have forgotten his name, but he is most recognisable by his shaky pouring hands! The cakes were served by 2 lasses from DRAWS. Everything was well organised and ran smoothly. We were provided with a lot of detail about both the wines and cakes, and a tasting sheet, with which to jot down our scrawly notes. I have to admit here, that I am more about the wines than I am about the cakes, therefore details have been lost with regards to the culinary side of the evening.

Up first was a gingerbread cake with a lemon and cream cheese frosting. This was paired with a mixture of Primo Prosecco and a Rhubarb Liqueur from Edmond Briottet. Both of these drinks were tasty on their own, but together were something different altogether. The mix was about 2:1 prosecco:liqueur. It had a sweet, candied nose akin to pear-drops. The mouth expressed sweeter, citric notes and the feel was not to syrupy, down to the prosecco. The ginger cake went delightfully with the citric, fruity liqueur, although I think the blend of fizz and sweet could be a bit more 50:50.

Second, along came a teeny-tiny strawberry tart, with an orange and mascarpone filling. For me, this was a little bit too small, resulting in an over-proportioned amount of pastry. This was matched with a Moscato D'Asti (2012, from G. D. Vajra). This wine was a bit syrupy, but also had a slight spritz. It had a floral, elderflower nose, and a sweet and spicy palate and a fair amount of volatility. The mascarpone melded well with the sweetness of the wine, and the strawberry complimented it's floral side.

Next was an orange and almond cake, with a cinnamon drizzle (fancy!). Accompanying this delight was a 2010 Moscatel from Senorio de Sarria. This wine was very interesting and a definite divider of opinions. It had a very volatile nose that was quite chemically. I swear it smelt of acetone (nail polish remover). This did have notes of lemon and orange underneath it, but they were hard to find. On the palate, there was more citrus fruits, combinded with sweeter, more textured stone fruit, definitely peaches. It had a lovely long, lingering finish, that I liked, but other did not. The food-wine match here wasn't that obvious, which didn't help

A Pistachio and Rose cake next. Although assured they were real petals, it more appeared to be sprinkled with pink... erm... stuff! To go with it, the Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat (NV). A good black muscat actually, and not your usual dessert wine. This one was the most different from the others. less about the sugary sweetness, and more about the depth of flavour. This had lovely rich aromas and flavours, containing dates, prunes and figs. It was quite volatile, and seemed a bit tawny and more fortified. There was slight spice to it that lingered a long time in the finish. This wine was one of the more popular. The levels of cake (lets face it, sugar) was building by this point, and half of this cake got left. In isolation, I think this cake would be delicious, maybe with a cuppa too!

Last up, a peach and almond tart. After a few 'proper' cakes, it was nice to finish on something slightly different. Especially as many people were now a bit caked-out! This was served with the, apparently, most special wine of the evening (and most expensive). The 2010 Donnafugata Ben Rye was delicious. An orange and lime nose, which was also slightly nutty, was followed by a beautifully balanced palate that showed spiced stone fruit and deep toasted caramel flavours. The tart was good, although pastry-heavy again. I personally think this desert wine would have gone with just about anything. It was quite drinkable.

This was a really fun evening and the hosts ran it very smoothly. The selection of cakes and wines was well thought out, and provided a good, representative cross-section of the dessert wine styles. The only issue expressed by a few punters, was that the whole thing was a bit sweet and sickly. I know it was an evening of cake and dessert wine, but there is only so much one can take. I am a fan of sugar, and battled my way through. Others could only manage half their slices of cake and a couple of sips of each wine. I think this sort of event is best suited to certified pudding monsters!

I'd fully recommend attending any event run by either of these two parties, I'm sure many at the event would agree. I believe DRAWS are planning a cocktails and cake event planned for the near future. Both establishments are on the high street in west Didsbury (Burton Road), so do pop in and say hello, they're very nice folk. Both also have websites which can be googled, along with Facebook and Twitter  pages.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Ryedale Vineyard - Yorkshire day tour

Yes! - Sunday morning - Very excited - Things to do first...

I woke up early on Sunday, and those thoughts went through my mind. I was really looking forward to the arranged visit to the Yorkshire vineyard, but before that, the dogs had to be walked. Having sorted the pooches, we were on the road for 11.30, Google had suggested it would take one hour and fifty minutes to get to Ryedale Vineyard, just a short way north-east of York, towards Scarborough.

I've been looking into English vineyards for a while now, and having been to a few, including the very approachable Sharpham's vineyard in Devon, thought I should investigate a little closer to home. I've already reported my visit to Holmfirth vineyard in the Pennines. I found several vineyards in the north of England simply by searching Google. I think I chose the one that was either, at the top of the page, or the one who's website looked the more impressive. I'm not sure, maybe it was Stuart Smith's smile on the homepage, but I decided that Ryedale vineyards would be a suitable place to visit. It is also in my home county of Yorkshire.

Ryedale Vineyard is owned and run by Stuart and Elizabeth Smith (I heard someone call her Liz, so I'll stick with that to save characters!). They have settle in Yorkshire after over 30 years in the business of vine importing. Stuart is and expert in viticulture and all things vine-related. They used to (and I think still do) provide climate-suitable vines to start-up vineyards, while also acting as consultants for such endeavours. The couple are friendly and charming, proven when we (the wife and I) arrived 45 minutes early for the tour. Stuart was kind enough to direct us to a local pub where could get a hearty lunch, in the form of a generous roast beef sandwich with roast potatoes on the side! (I refrained from an accompanying pint of Timothy Taylor's Landlord).

When we returned, the tour party was almost fully assembled. We set off around the vineyard, lead by Liz, expecting the late-comers to trot along shortly after. This is when the information stream began. As an individual trying to consume as much wine-related knowledge as possible, this was great. Liz first took us through the root-stock and grafting of the various vine varieties (varietals). The grafting process is employed to avoid a repercussion of the Phylloxera infestation (an aphid-like insect) that decimated European vineyards in the 18th and 19th century. The hardy root-stock now used, originates from a native-american vine species which is resistant to Phylloxera. Many English vineyards also use root-stocks developed to be frost resistant too. The different varieties are grafted onto the root-stock as a young vine, and can be just about anything it seems.

Moving through the south-facing (and, she admitted, slightly east-facing) slopes, Liz spent about an hour walking around the vineyard, taking us through the many varieties they grow and explaining why. For example, they grow a few varieties that are better suited to the English climate, such as Ortega and Madeleine Engevine, for white wine, and Rondo, for red wine. The Rondo is apparently great, because, although it is a bit unruly and requires attention, the grapes have a short season and ripen early. This is perfect for shorter English summers. In addition to these, they grow the 3 varieties required for sparkling wines, according to Champagne. These are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Ryedale make sparkling wines using the traditional method, employing a secondary, in-bottle, fermentation. There are other varieties grown there that contribute to other blended wines also. I get the felling that Stuart likes experimenting with the vines, to see which grow best under certain circumstances. He's still learning, or is it playing!? Overall they have over 5000 vines spread over 10 acres.

I took a few snaps of the vineyard. It was explained by the Smiths that the work on the vineyard is never done. they assured us that there is always something to do. Despite this, the aisles of vines all looked immaculate to me. The two pictures below are very representative of the whole vineyard, and the high standards kept there.

I took a few snaps, closer to the action, so to speak. Below, from left to right; a Rondo cluster, already doing well. A Madeleine cluster, on it's way. Apparently the flower 'caps' sometimes get stuck, if it rains at the wrong time, and prevent the berries developing. In which case, these need removing by hand! On the right, a Pinot Meunier leaf, notable by it's 'downy' hairs along the veins (I hope they can be made out. In french, Meunier means Miller, i.e. dusted with flour).

After the tour of the vines, Stuart took over and showed the group around the winery. This was a very quaint, converted, old cow barn, adjacent to their house. Just two large(-ish) rooms house the cold store and the rest of the equipment. The larger equipment includes; many-hundred-litre steel tanks, 'food-grade' plastic barrels, a de-stemmer, a bladder press, and a single french barrique. These are accompanied by many hoses, filters, metal racks, and cellared bottles of last years vintage, maturing nicely. Stuart took us through the processes, from harvested grapes, through to finished wines. This was followed by a little bit about the selection and blending processes. Interestingly, they also make cider at the vineyard, from apple trees that surround the vines. These provide vital shelter for the vines, from high winds, and also an extra, maybe more reliable, additional income. I'm always surprised by how simple the basic process of winemaking is. It seems to be the subtle differences, such as care, attention to detail and timings, that make great wines!

Next, around the back of the main house, a tasting was conducted. On a lovely lawn stood traditional wooden  tables and benches, pub-style. Here we were served a selection of cheeses to go with the wines. As this was the weekend following Yorkshire day, the theme was Yorkshire. The cheeses included Wensleydale, Yorkshire blue and a local brie. The wines we tasted were also a selection of Yorkshire wines, not just from Ryedale vineyard. I thought this was a great idea. Not only because I got to try a few different wines, but also because it gave a representation of what the region can produce.

There were 5 wines in all. A pink fizz, two whites, a rose and a red. I'm sorry to say that I cannot remember where they all came form. However, I'll do my best here. I think the fizz was from Leventhorpe vineyard near Leeds, and was great. I recall a good dry palate with rich fruit aromas. One of the whites was from Ryedale, their 'Yorkshire Lass'. This was mellow, but aromatic. It had a mineral palate with soft fruits, slight acidity and a good finish. The rose was Ryedale's Yorkshire Sunset. This was one of the best, i thought. Lots of light red fruit (strawberry) and refreshing acidity. The red wine was a Rondo from a small place near Doncaster, called Summerhouse Vineyard. This is a property that the Smith's have adopted the management of, having been asked to do so by the owners. The owners apparently feel they have, let's say, aged beyond a level they feel is able to run a vineyard! The Rondo had a surprising body to it. The aromas were fruity with a hint of spice, but the palate stood out, with lots of character. I pressed Stuart to compare it to continental varieties, which he politely declined, preferring to describe it, simply, as English. I'd say it was a nice mix between Syrah and Pinot Noir. Like something from the southern Rhone maybe.


Before we left, we were given the opportunity to buy some wines. Of course, we did. We bought a bottle each of the Rondo, the Yorkshire Sunset, Ryedale's 'Taste of Paradise' sparkling rose (which we didn't get to try for some reason), and a bottle of their cider, 'Tyson's Tipple'. I'm looking forward to trying these in due course. The sales process was conducted in the Smith's entrance hall. Their cute collie dog was complaining about being banished to the stairs, with high-pitched whimpers. At this point I noticed all the certificates and awards adorning the walls. A couple of which were from the notable Plumpton College in Sussex. These compound just how passionately serious the Smiths are about their vinous venture. As we were leaving, Stuart also invited us back to help with this years harvest later in the summer. I think I may take him up on that! As we drove home, my wife and I chatted freely, going back over what we'd learnt in the short 2 hours at the vineyard. It was a little like when you come out from the cinema and recreate the best parts of a movie you really enjoyed! This goes to show just how enjoyable the experience was, for both of us, and it is one I hope to repeat in the future.

More information can be found on the vineyard's website,, and can also be found on Google. I can thoroughly recommend visiting the vineyard. The Stuart and Liz also run a B&B, which looks very inviting.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Majestic's cheap and very cheerful.

This weekend has involved a lot of wine-related activities. It started on friday evening, when my wife and I realised the 'everyday' wine rack was running low. Very dangerous indeed!

So we hot-footed it down to Majestic wines, as we'd not bought from them in a while. I'd heard on the grape vine (sorry) that they had The Ned back in stock. I'd never tried it before, but everything I've read has been very positive. With an open mind I thought I should "get me some o' that", as they say.

We spent a good 45 minutes to an hour in the shop, perusing the shelves and actually tasting a small selection available for sampling. I say we, what I mean is, I studied bottles for ages and my wife waited patiently, having chosen some wines she wanted to try in about 5 minutes. She's very patient with me.

For everyday wines, I like getting a selection from various countries, regions and grape varieties. When doing this, I try to by at an average of less than £10 per bottle, which this time, we managed comfortably, yay bank balance! This means that if I fancy a couple of £6 bottles (quality much harder to find these days, at this price level), then I can also pick up a couple of £14 bottle to balance the scales. (I'm good at maths! Apparently, there are three types of people in this world. There are those who can count, and those who can't! sorry again).

We bought a bunch of stuff, including a couple I can't wait to try, and a couple we have tried this weekend and wish to tell the reader(s?) about now. The two in particular that won't be in the rack much more than this next week are;

The Chateau l'Abbaye de Sainte-Ferme, 2005 Bordeaux Superieur. This was praised by the staff for being great value (£8). It promises to be a well made, mature Bordeaux from a great vintage. I'm looking forward to it.

A 2000 C. H. Berres late harvested Mosel Riesling. I've been wanting to have a go at a mature Mosel Riesling for a bit, and although not expensive at £10, this was worth a punt. I hope it's as complex as the German on the label!

And so, we move on to the main events. I'd like to bestow the virtues of another two great value wines from Majestics. The first is The 2013 Ned Waihopai River, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The hype seems to be right, for a change, and this Ned is great. A white wine that is most refreshing, and went beautifully with a creamy pasta dish I made tonight. It is reasonably pale in the glass, only a hint of greenish yellow. Not surprisingly, a young, fresh wine like this is virtually straight off the vines. It has a lovely, vibrant citric nose, with elements of gooseberries, and green-grass aromas. The palate is smooth, and again citric flavours fill the mouth. There is a lovely, slightly tart edge to those, again, the gooseberries. The finish is pretty long and textured. The acidity of the wine is just about right, and not overpowering. It cut through the rich creamy sauce of our dinner perfectly. At £8 per bottle, this is another good find. A lovely wine for matching with richer foods. It may be too much for more delicate fishes, but I wouldn't be against trying it.

Next, we move back in time to yesterday evening. I was cooked a tomato and basil mince-beef 'thing' that my wife made up. It was really delicious, even if it doesn't have a name. To go with it, I tried the Rioja Crianza, 2009, Gran Vendema. I have had this before, and remember it being very quaff-able. This time around, with food, it was simple stunning. It doesn't have massive fruit concentration or complexity, it's not a big wine with a point to prove. It is though, a well made example of a Rioja. It is lovely and smooth and really easy-drinking. It went especially well with dinner also. On the nose, it was fairly 'classic Rioja'. It had notes of  lighter red fruit, strawberries and maybe a little raspberry. It also had a fairly good lump of oaky vanilla (I'd wager American, but only a quid), combined with a bit of spice. On the palate, it had a good level of fruit sweetness, again ripe red fruits, with a little cherry. It was medium bodied with very clean, easy-going tannins, resulting in a lightly chewy mouthfeel, and good acidity. The finish was great, with good length and the renowned pepperiness one expects from a Rioja. The Gran Vendema is simply amazing value at £6.50. It isn't anything posh, but I don't think it's trying to be. The oak and bottle aging required for the crianza label, imparts enough complexity to create an interesting wine. Although not pushing the envelope in any department, it is well balanced and well structured. I'm glad I bought two!

Having reported the cheaper selection of wines bought in this case, extolling their virtues, or potential virtues, I really cannot wait to try the more expensive bottles i also purchased. If you, as the reader, visit Majestic Wines in the near future, I hope I've provided some sort of a starting point for you, and maybe one or two wines to try.

Writing this post has put a thought in my head. It poses a question; Why did I buy more expensive wines, when I'm very pleased with the cheaper ones!? Well, at the time, I didn't know how good the wines would be. We'll have to wait and see what the more expensive additions have to say for themselves in response...