Archive for the ‘wine’ Category

Cured meats, two of our favourite convenience foods: sitting on the left side of our slate roof tile we have saucisson with pimento and mustard seeds and on the right,  prosciutto crudo – home-carved from the boneless joint I scooped at Lidl just before Christmas…

£14 at Sainsbury's March 2009
….add rosé Champagne, one of my favourite things to drink, and we had the raw ingredients for a very Happy Valentine’s Day.  This Taittinger was an unusual tawny-orange, possibly from the extra year’s bottle age and meatier than most, possibly from the Pinot Noir, maybe the terroir: whatever the reason, it stood its ground with the charcuterie.  Sighing with satisfaction I could only hope everyone was having such a lovely, lazy afternoon last Sunday: everything came up roses.

Valentine’s Day luxuries without spending a fortune

  • Saucisson with pimento and mustard seed £3.99 new at Waitrose (paid £1.49 on sell-by date)
  • Prosciutto crudo joint £11.74 at Lidl (about £8 a kilo as far as I recall)
  • Taittinger Prestige Rosé £14-ish on the sale shelf in Sainsbury last Spring – total bargain! – now £36 approx.

btw: it was quite something to see the bunfight at the steak counter in M&S on Saturday – don’t these people have any imagination?

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Sorry for not being in touch lately – been hanging out and about in Nice.  Here’s my photo to prove it!


After a long, hot and frustrating trudge west along the Promenade des Anglais checking out various beachside establishments we descended on the Blue Beach Bar & Restaurant and were more than pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome.  Although our waiter resembled Peter Stringfellow‘s simple cousin he was adequately dressed (thank God) and brought us our reasonably priced, reasonably tasty food and wine in reasonable time: amazing, and in stark contrast to Lido Plage.  For me, the filets de rouget (red mullet) au thym:


et pour lui, les tagliatelles au basilic (do you really need a translation?), toothsome albeit tepid, which was actually ok on such a warm afternoon:


plus, of course, the de rigeur bottle of Côtes de Provence rosé.  All at not-so-shocking-after-all prices, at least for the Côte d’Azur….

… and that old devil Nicolas Sarkozy lurking in the underground area only added to the charm of the afternoon.

sarkozyBlue Beach bar & restaurant, 31 Promenade des Anglais, Nice 06000 – opposite the Negresco



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I love a mix of tradition and innovation at Christmas; mingling fresh with familiar keeps things comfortably interesting (and interestingly comfortable if we’re lucky).   I apply this rule of thumb as strictly to victuals as visitors – and generally have as good a day as Nigella might shake her spatula at, even when suffering from the dreaded URTI currently doing the rounds.

A Christmas morning cocktail is one essential tradition but presents the challenge of tiptoeing that tricky tightrope of merriment over mayhem, and as I didn’t want this year’s first-ever goose to be cooked before getting stuffed, so to speak, I needed a milder-mannered solution than usual.


Christmas CinCinCin

1 part Campari
2 parts fresh clementine juice (in 1-litre cartons from M&S)
2 parts Champagne

It’s a cinch: take your champagne glasses, pour an inch of Campari in the bottom, fill halfway to brim with clementine juice then top up with Champagne:  cin cin! – cin!!!

I’ve hardly re-invented the wheel but no matter; this fluteful of festivity is deliciously more-ish yet allowed me to stay roughly vertical all day.  It’s a seasonal triumvurate of Christmassy C’s;  Campari, Champagne and clementine juice.  Don’t be churlish about the Campari, it couldn’t be a cheerier colour and it needed using up besides.  Champagne speaks for itself but Cava could slip in without disturbing the alliteration.  When we ran out of Campari it turned into a CinCin – at least at my house, from which that vulgar term Buck’s Fizz is forever banned while its alternative Americanism, the Mimosa, is far too fey for us febrile few.  The Cincincin on the other hand, looks festive, sounds festive and tastes festive.  Hardly surprisingly, it makes you feel pretty festive too.  I wouldn’t turn one down on New Year’s Day either, but  in keeping with Plod tradition I daresay I’ll be mixing Bloody Marys again…watch this space.

Oh bum – it’s just been pointed out to me that Sam and Eddie Hart of Quo Vadis, Barrafina et al make something very similar with their not-quite-so-catchily-called Campari and Cava cocktail.  Do go ahead and follow their recipe if you like a complicated life…but if you just want a great Yuletide drinkypoo, stick with mine.

btw – if you too succumb to the nasty throat attack, try lying on your stomach with a hot water bottle between the shoulder blades: best achieved in bed with a comfy blanket and spouse at beck and call.  Couldn’t have done it without Mr T-for-Terrific so it’s a good thing I got him a cashmere cardie for Christmas: definitely an investment piece…

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if it’s yellow let it mellow

Limoncello – what’s not to like?  For me it conjures up memories of a certain bijou hotel bar just off the Spanish Steps in Rome, we nuzzling and snuggling into the velvet sofa to the sound of our multi-talented and heavily-accented Italian crooner twiddling his Moog synthesizer while giving us his vocal stylings of Captain of her Heart, or fond reminiscence of a sweltering afternoon in Vieux Nice when the heavy-set fortune-telling proprietor of Chez Palmyre refilled our espresso cups with a dose of home brewed, brought up in a metal jug dripping cool from his cellar next door…

…so why oh why does my own homemade effort look like piss and taste worse?  I’m hoping for limpid and cloudy – lots of mouthfeel thank you very much – but instead it’s a screechy dose of acridity, more of a morning after than a night before and no matter how long I keep the damn stuff it just doesn’t get any better.

Considering I went to the trouble of heaving back a couple of kilos of organic lemons from Menton on the Côte d’Azur, scrubbed them well and used organic sugar I think I might be forgiven for expecting a better result.

My big mistake might have been using alcool pour fruits rather than voddy but seriously, do they use vodka in Sorrento?  I imagined this would make it all the more authentic but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

If anyone has managed to produce a classic pale yellow, opaque digestif from lemons, alcohol and sugar I sure would love to know how you did it.

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one fine day

With hot sunny weather forecast for Saturday all other plans went on hold so we could seize the chance to soak up every available ray of sunshine on the deck of our new penthouse apartment.  Thanks to the frankly not great British summer it was our first opportunity to bask under an open blue sky since moving in at the beginning of August, so in holiday mood I hauled out the deep fryer from deep storage and tossed in a shoal of whitebait for a nautical treat.

Resurrecting my darling porcelain fish platter was sheer delight, and as it received the rustling cascade of tiny crisp fishes I think I may even have seen it crack a smile: or was it the combination of French rosé and UV rays going to my head?  I think not.

Deep-fried Whitebait

454g frozen whitebait
200ml milk
4 TBS plain flour
1 tsp paprika pimentón
4 litres oil for deep frying

Defrost the whitebait in a bowl, with the milk poured over, overnight in the fridge. Drain well and discard the milk.   Heat the oil to 190C.  Mix together the flour and pimentón in a large bowl and toss in the whitebait. Shake the bowl about to coat the fish then transfer them to a colander and gently shake off excess flour. 

Tip the whitebait into the fryer basket, lower carefully into the oil and fry for two to three minutes.  They’re done when they float so keep a close eye and don’t cook them any longer than necessary.  Served with lemon quarters and green tabasco: briny heaven on a fish plate.


This bottle of Domaine Grand Milord organic rosé was a perfect accompaniment, made from 10% Syrah and 90% Caladoc.  It’s not every day I come across a grape variety I’d never heard of: a quick google reveals that Caladoc is a disease-resistant hybrid of Grenache and Cot, both respectable southern French varieties, and being deep coloured and with ageing potential a tasty choice for making into rosé: and organic to boot: cin cin!

Domaine Grand Milord organic rosé

Marks and Spencer  £5.99

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… we walk into a Menorcan distillery: undaunted by our desultory lunch at Cafe Baixamar we stuck to our plan and headed west for the Xoriguer Gin distillery tasting showroom, not much further along the Mahon waterfront.  T had the purchase of a bottle of G in mind and I tagged along: gin gives me shivers and not in a good way, but to my surprise we found a veritable kaleidoscope of balearic liqueurs set out for sampling.

And yet, like the fabled Marie Celeste, the echoing hall seemed recently abandoned, for beside each tasting barrel sat sinksful of cast-off tasting thimbles and at two in the afternoon our minds boggled at how long they might have been lying there.

So, summoning the bravado of Goldilocks and accompanied by a piped medley of classic rock tunes we set about our solitary tasting of the colourful concoctions:

Phew, well someone had to do it: there were rose, peppermint, coffee, chocolate, chamomile, herb, orange and some kind of butterscotch flavours; plus gin of course.  In memory – as in throat – they coalesce into a sickly sweet melange; my glee was short-lived and after downing a couple all I really wanted to do was brush my teeth, but we soldiered on, doggedly determined to do justice to the full, bewildering range.

Our verdict? I wouldn’t like to say, but we left without buying any and drank an awful lot of water afterwards.   Yet with free entry and air conditioning, I can think of worse ways to idle an odd hour in Mahon, tummy lining and teeth notwithstanding.  Needless to say, gin still makes me queasy.

Gin Xoriguer distillery
Moll de Ponent 93
971 36 21 97
entry free; open most shop hours

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Oh how I miss those apéritif adverts of the 1970s  …anytime anyplace anywhere, there’s a wonderful drink you can share, it’s the bright one, the right one, thaaat’s Martiniii…  I’ve been yearning for the fabulous life ever since.

But it turns out Leonard Rossiter was an arrogant egotist – he referred to Joan Collins as the Prop!  Such unforgivable rudeness earned Cinzano no place on my drinks trolley, yet despite its unspeakably common Luton airport advert, Campari is captivating, its bitter orange tang irresistible at the end of a hot day.

Campari soda

Half fill a tall glass with ice, pour over 50ml Campari and top up with 50ml or less soda.

Swizzle, garnish with a slice of fresh orange and enjoy the glow.

The Martini life could get you dashed up on the rocks so I’ll cling to Campari: cin cin!

The big mystery is Campari’s lack of popularity in the UK

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Chardonnay & chipsSo Oz Clarke declares Bridget Jones responsible for the nation’s flight from chardonnay.  Well hardly, mate: Australian chardonnay put us off chardonnay!  Surely it’s no surprise to find the large glass in the hand of a latterday drunkorexic now filled with the oily allurements of Italian Pinot Grigio; the mouthfeel of all that oaky Australian machismo is just too gaggingly throaty to go down, man.  No wonder the guzzling nation’s going all ABC (anything but chardonnay, mes innocents) and sliding over to the easy sipping seductions of a bland European.  And it’s so much more sophisticated, no?  Who wouldn’t favour the oeno-equivalent of Andrea Bocelli over the testosterone-fuelled bellowings of Australia’s own UN-ambassador  Sir Les Patterson – most memorably on the timeless classic Chardonnay, that raucous tribute to his favourite beverage?

But I don’t consider personality-free pinot grigio much of an improvement over heavy-set chardonnay; if they were my only wine options I be on the amber nectar.  Perish that thought (quickly!), but this state of affairs set me wondering: do Aussie white wine makers feel an overbearing need to prove their manhood by getting wood, so to speak?  Could be: the boombastic swaggerings of Shiraz and kicking-sand-in-your-face Cabernet from Down-Under can be overwhelming – intimidating even – but I do wish producers of the white stuff, instead of overcompensating for their inadequacies – real or imagined – would take a look at the Italian male and realise a bit of finesse, style and subtlety – and even, dare I say it, dandiness – can really pay off when it comes to attracting girls.  Obviously you can take that too far, yet like a dismal date who’s swallowed a viagra, an “affordable” Australian white can be offensively oaky.  Spit or swallow?  I’ll have just a glass of water and an early night, thanks all the same. 

On the other hand, there are plenty of delicous whites around for those who share my aversion to the bland, the oily and the over-oaked.  You could do a lot worse than check out Victoria Moore’s recommendations in today’s Guardian – for us hicks-in-the-sticks easily obtainable high street buys are a godsend – otherwise, I’m no expert but if you’re bored of the foregoing yet desire a bit of  Jackson Pollock in your whites I’d suggest keeping an eye out for the following genres:catspee

  • viognier
  • Alsace anything
  • most from southwest France
  • sauvignon blanc/sémillon blends from Bordeaux (not trendy thus good value)
  • Picpoul de Pinet
  • all Italians – as long as they’re neither chardonnay nor pinot grigio they’re probably interesting
  • Iberians (so long as they’re not Viura!)
  • sauvignon blanc: a vexed question, for  “cats pee-on-a-gooseberry-bush” is an apt description coined by Oz Clarke (who else?) & also the not-so-ironic offering from Coopers Creek vineyard of New Zealand (available for purchase here) – on the whole I steer clear unless it’s Sancerre, or the label mentions passion fruit and I’m feeling optimistic.  Can be wonderful; should be blended with sémillon more often than it is.

Can’t think of anything else to add right now, although there are many, many more, but one thing I want to say is that for reasons practical and political I do recommend adopting the habit of drinking like a wide-ranging locavore with a wandering eye…

Oh, and wouldn’t you know – now I’ve said my two cents’ worth I see Jancis Robinson too has something to say on the topic of ABC in today’s Financial Times.  Things are looking up!

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Steak frites
Wine stocks were getting perilously low and with no trip to Nice on the horizon and a brief interlude between French workers’ strikes, time was ripe for a quick jaunt to Calais. A choppy crossing each way rendered walking about a poor idea, so on the return leg, for just under £20 I enjoyed a proper dinner with good wine, starched napery, professional waiter service and sea views in a sanctuary from the staggering hordes.  With perfect timing too: we docked at Dover just as I washed down an espresso with the last of the San Pellegrino.

Being insufficiently hungry for the £15 2-course deal I opted for the £11 pièce du boucher (unidentified steak) with 3-peppercorn sauce and chips.  It came quickly, was cooked as requested, reasonably tender and tasty;  pretty good in the circumstances.  Even better was the half bottle of Chapoutier Côtes du Rhone at £6.  All in all it made the 90 minute ferry ride sheer pleasure for once: well done, SeaFrance.

A motley assortment of Good Things to buy in (northern) France

  • Dijon mustard
  • Marseille soap
  • fruit tarts (pack carefully)
  • Guérande salt
  • an enamelled cast iron pot
  • boudin blanc
  • Belgian endive
  • tomatoes (Summer only)
  • garlic plaits
  • espadrilles (Summer only)
  • cheese
  • frozen flageolet beans
  • crates of oysters (Winter only)
  • interesting non-alcoholic apéritifs
  • pastis
  • wine, wine, wine and more wine (French only, please)

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A fine lunch en route to the Royal Academy exhibition; we tried a wine flight each and loved the experience.  I had read about such things but this was my first time – really enjoyable. Each flight comes as a carousel of 3 different wines, themed by style/grape/provenance, with a view to savouring their similarities and contrasts.

wine flight, bread
Now that’s my kind of edification – check out the March and June menus for an idea of the options.

The quality of the wines and the food was exemplary; everything was delicious and served both graciously and at optimum temperature: Mr T chose oysters and an Alsace flight, taking great glee in the unbidden yet generous bread and butter; I enjoyed a generous helping of potted shrimp with my selection of rosés.

As the wine worked its magic we sank back to enjoy the subtly beautiful decor by David Collins Studio: hand-blown glass pendants in the form of illuminated cocoons, walls wood-panelled horizontally to resemble the interior of a wine case, mosaic-tiled floor and the stunning backdrop to the square bar, an air-conditioned, glass-walled cube lined with wine bottles and LED light strips – a space-age virtual wine cellar.

Tableware too, was a delight.  I was especially taken with my water glass (possibly from the Riedel “O” range – so light! so ergonomic!) and liked the olive-wood bread board, our wine glasses, cutlery.  I suspect there was even some slate underpinning.

Service was comme il faut, even down to the slightest chill and I’d rather have that than some pup calling me “dear” any day…

Fortnum & Mason 1707 Wine Bar
181 Piccadilly London, W1A 1ER
+44 (0)20 7734 8040
nearest tube station: Piccadilly Circus, Green Park

1707 Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

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