Whether it`s Thai, Chinese, Indian, Fish and Chips, or Traditional Sunday Roast, the takeaways on offer locally are a real treat, replacing, somewhat, dining out at restaurants. And it occurs to me the best of it is we get to drink our own wine, and what an opportunity this is. Whatever we spend on a bottle of wine in a restaurant, generally half it, or third it, to drink at home. Or better, spend what you would at a restaurant, and get twice or three times the wine! You get my gist. £15-20 in our shop will buy you a decent burgundy, Whispering Angel Provence Rosé, or a first class ten-year old Rioja. In a restaurant it will buy you diddly-squat. Now this does not in any way imply that our restaurants do not offer value. Dining out is still one of our favourite pass times, and we are happy to pay a premium for the joy it gives us. Indeed, most of us are missing the hospitality sector desperately, and we long for its return. But we are where we are, and I am suggesting we all make the most of it. Our Gt Horkesley shop is open six days a week, Monday to Saturday, 10am-6.30pm, so, with plenty of parking, decent wine is pretty much available on tap. Just let us know what`s on the menu, and we will recommend the best possible match. Matching the right wine with your takeout can add considerably to your overall pleasure. Here`s one to tittle your taste buds: China Chef, Colchester Menu C, £19.80: Sesame Prawns on Toast – Crispy Aromatic Duck with Pancakes – King Prawns in Chilli Sauce Beef with Ginger and Spring Onion – Sweet and Sour Chicken Cantonese Style – Stir-fried Mixed Vegetables – Egg-fried Rice. Matching wine: Kloster Eberbach Estate Riesling Trocken, Rheingau, Germany 2018, £17.99. An aromatic white wine with fine balance, stone fruit, a little spice, and ripe pear. The palate is fresh with a delicious thread of lime, thirst-quenching and palate-cleansing.
Those of us bitten by the wine bug will be inclined to a higher spend on wine, just as one is prepared to invest in a hobby, such as golf. Only in this way will the wine hobbyist scratch beneath the surface of wine`s obvious appeal, to its inner depths. A spend of, say, £15 to £20 per bottle, will generally do it, for most of us, much of the time. This is a category which gives consistently good value, typicity, and depth of flavour, without breaking the bank. Happily, it also represents the sweet spot in our shop, giving many of us a great deal of pleasure and vino diversity. This column, for the next few months, will be dedicated to award-winning wines in this category. Today we start with two recent additions to our portfolio, from Spain and Australia, respectively:
Protos `Roble`, Ribera del Duero, Spain 2018, £16.99. We enjoyed this beauty enormously with Hungarian Beef Goulash a few weeks ago, but it is also delicious with lamb, as well as tomato-based dishes such as Puttanesca. It is a stylish, full-bodied red wine from the Tempranillo grape, grown in Spain`s high-altitude Ribera del Duero region. The wine is pure of fruit with balanced red berry aromas and a touch of sweet oak spice from six months maturation in American barrels. 100% Tempranillo.
Thorn-Clarke “Shotfire Quartage”, Barossa, Australia 2017, £19.99. This is a Bordeaux blend, textured and warming, generous and layered. Inky blackcurrant and plum fruits are complemented by spices and the most scrummy prune and smoky bacon aroma. The palate is teeming with complex notes of blackcurrants, mulberries, chocolate, anis, clove, and ever more chocolate. 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 12% Petit Verdot.
Incidentally, being a sucker for a story behind every label, I rather like this one: `Shotfire` is reference to the Clarke family and their Barossa Valley gold mining history, specifically, the shotfirer`s hazardous work of setting and lighting the charges in the mines. So now you know. Cheers everyone!
Life is difficult, currently. And there are times we are obliged to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and face the day. Other times, we look, quite reasonably, to a little escapism. I like a good book, a movie, a song. But my absolute favourite means of escapism is to enjoy these things with a bottle of wine open beside me. It is a ritual with me. I have my Riedel crystal glass, which I like to re-polish before use, so it sparkles. I often decanter the wine, especially if it`s a red. I smell, reflecting on the wine`s aroma, swish the glass, and smell once more, taking my time about it, mentally noting any developments. During the moments when I am holding the liquid in my mouth, I am taking in its flavours, the weight, the acidity, the feel of it, as it coats my mouth. I suck air through the wine, which further aerates it, intensifying the flavours. Subconsciously, or even consciously, I am appraising it, and having swallowed the wine I am assessing if the aftertaste is short, medium, or long. I may well even emit a small grunt of satisfaction, or, sometimes, a small, critical, nose wrinkle. Occasionally a wine will transport me, to another time, or another place; why just the other evening I opened a bottle of Rustenberg John X Merriman, and immediately I was taken back to South Africa and our visit there a year ago. It compelled me to pick up the photo album which is dedicated to the trip, and my wife and I enjoyed a good fifteen-minute reminisce of pure, happy escapism. Of course, wine has its warming effect as well. A glass or two at the end of a working day gives a welcome reset, from work mode, to chill, taking the edge off the strains of the day. I find red wine especially mellowing. Furthermore, one`s whole evening brightens notably, and somehow it becomes even easier to lose oneself, be it in a book, a movie, or a song. Cheers everyone!
For some time now we have all shown our appreciation for quality and sustainability when it comes to food products, and we have done so by choosing to pay more. Yet when it comes to wine, still too many Brits are fixed on the idea of buying cheap. It`s why the supermarkets and multiple drinks retailers cash in on the discount culture; they know we all like a bargain, so they mark up to mark down. And it`s why the average price we pay for a bottle of wine in our country is still under £6, despite the exorbitant taxes we pay. The reality, that you get what you pay for, has never been more apparent to me. In simple terms, it comes down to the fixed costs: the glass, the label, the transport, tax on wine, and VAT. All in, this comes to an average £4.75 per bottle, currently, so for a £5 bottle just 25p is for the liquid. This is not sustainable. Someone in the chain, usually the producer, is losing money. I covered this subject in a previous article about a year ago, making an appeal on behalf of the word`s wine producers. But my main point today is a different one: The fact is we are doing ourselves no favours buying wine cheap, or rather, buying cheap wine, because it is not good value. Because of the fixed costs, paying even a little more gives you a much bigger return on your investment. You get “more buck for your money!” My recommendation is to pay between £10 and £20 per bottle. At this level it`s a win, win, for everyone, right across the supply line, and to you, the consumer, most of all. If the pockets are not deep, drink less. I bet you will find you sleep better. Those chemical imbued bottles you throw into your trolley are not good for you. Instead, look to a wine`s provenance; buy craft; and I promise you will be rewarded millionfold.
Is it really the best time to go dry, during lockdown, in the middle of Winter, really? Surely, there`s no better time to enjoy a hearty soul-warming red wine with the beef casserole; or a golden, creamy-rich white wine, with the fish pie. It`s a good idea to introduce a degree of abstinence, of course, a day or two at the beginning of the week, maybe. I am told our livers benefit from such breaks. But all of January? Anyway, here is my “Top Five” favourite alcohol-free tipples, to help you get through your dry days:
At number 1, Big Tom. The tomato-based drink with a royal warrant is still going strong, and it`s worth mentioning it is gluten free with no preservatives and is suitable for vegetarians. What I like most about Big Tom is that it has a great spicy kick. Ingredients include twenty-two spices, Worcestershire Sauce, celery, and mustard. Who needs a Bloody Mary when you have Big Tom?
At number 2 is Bundaberg Ginger Beer, another fabulous alcohol-free drink with plenty of welly. Using real ginger from Queensland`s Bundaberg region of Australia, this is proper, traditional, cloudy ginger beer, and I love it. The Real McCoy of ginger beers, which, another time, when you are drinking alcohol, makes for the perfect Moscow Mule.
At number 3, Brooklyn Special Effects. Probably the best alcohol-free beer on the market. Technically there is 0.4% alcohol by volume in this beer [in America a beer under 0.5% is labelled Alcohol-free]. It is a hoppy lager with malt, pine and citrus flavours, and a bitter finish.
At number 4, Scotland`s Braes o Gowrie Elderflower sparkling non-alcoholic drink, by Cairn O Mohr, is an alternative to sparkling wine, super-refreshing and dry. Too many of these types are sweet and sickly. This one regularly wins The Great Taste Awards in its category.
At number 5 is J. Lohr`s Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon, a gold-medal winning de-alcoholised red wine, all the way from sunny California. Contains less than 0.5% alcohol and is brimming with blackcurrants, cherries, chocolate, and vanilla.
It`s all happening in Great Horkesley
It`s cold, wet, and we are in lockdown. Our General Hospital is feeling the pressure, to levels not seen since March and April. On the face of it there is not much to smile about. But there is good news too. Yes, there`s the vaccine rollout, and the new Astra Zeneca, our greatest hope. That`s naturally brilliant news, giving us a more rapid way out of this unholy mess. But I was thinking closer to home, in the here and now. I was thinking WINE SALE, in our shop. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, though our Gift Room is still temporarily closed, the food and drinks store is open, and we have a central display given to around 100 wines which are discounted from 20 to 40%. Truly amazing prices, while stocks last. A great chance for customers to stock up. All we ask is that customers make up six bottles, any mix, to receive the discounted prices. Furthermore, if that is not reason enough to make the trip to Gt Horkesley, also on sale is Riedel crystal glassware, including our prize decanter Black Tie Bliss now reduced from £225 to £167. For those who don`t know this mouthblown, handmade Austrian wine decanter, it has an off-centre heart which compresses the crystal into a thin pane of solid glass, forcing the wine to pool around the element, while neatly providing a place for the fingers to rest while pouring. A fantastic piece of art, it makes the perfect gift for anyone with a passion for wine. Finally – yes there`s more – this evening is the long- awaited return of The Big Friday Night In. Our chef Dominic Carter and his partner Emma Bennett will be serving up takeaway hot meals once again from our car park, 5.30-7.30pm, kicking off with Dom`s world famous Hungarian Beef Goulash followed by Cherry Pie. Next Friday 15th it is Pork Red Thai Curry followed by Pineapple Upside Down Cake ! Taking pre-bookings now on 07587 196 496. Vegetarian options available. Cheers everyone!
It`s been nine years since I gave up smoking cigars, and, until now, it never occurred to me I could have enjoyed the smoking ritual with food. I would have a beer with a smoke, or a glass of wine, but cigar “matching” or “pairing” never occurred to me; me, someone who has been wine and food taster my whole working life. The age-old alchemy which Aristotle neatly coined “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts”, when applied to the taster matching wine with food, involves choosing a similar, or sometimes a contrasting wine, to show both food and wine in the best possible light. Said taster weighs the balance, or deliberately contrasts. But what I did not know, is that you can choose a cigar to further the experience as well. The Alchemist now has three parts to work with. Yes, smoking, while eating and drinking. Of course, smoking while drinking is more commonplace, but why not draw on a big fat cigar, exhale, sit back, exult in the pleasure of it, then take a mouthful of food, before washing it all down with a delicious wine? Furthermore, it reasons to pick the cigar to fit the moment; I`m told a cigar with similar, not contrasting, characteristics. For example, a strong, powerful cigar with a big, full-bodied red, accompanied by a full-flavoured, meaty dish. A milder smoke with a lighter red, or even a white, with a lighter dish. Even better, since smoke, tobacco leaf and cigar box are characteristics found in some wines, a taster might select one of these. Northern Rhone reds, for example, or a Barolo. Indeed, a great many oak-aged wines, red and white, can develop woodsmoke and spice characteristics, and even a mellow Cohiba-like, creamy palate, so the taster can work with all of that, for the best possible combination. In our shop, ladies, and gentlemen, we have smoked food products, hundreds of oaked wines, as well as cigars, everything you need. If you are a cigar smoker, indulge and enjoy.
Are we feeling optimistic about 2021? It`s seriously got to be a whole lot better than 2020, hasn’t it? What a disaster that turned out to be! The people`s “annus horribilis”. But let`s be positive looking forward. Have we all got our English sparkling wine ready to toast the New Year in? I am proposing a distinctly British celebration this New Year`s Eve. As a country we are entering a new era, after all, with the expiry of the post-Brexit transition period. Whether you voted to leave the EU political union or not, this is a huge moment in our country. We are taking a whole new direction. Surely our glasses should be charged with English sparkling instead of Champagne on this night. England`s Giffords Hall, Nyetimber or Hattingley …. Instead of France`s Veuve Cliquot, Ruinart or Moet. I`m not suggesting for a minute that we should end our love affair with France, and Europe more generally; not at all, we will always be part of Europe. But patriotism is not jingoism, and we shouldn`t conflate the two. Anyway, the decision is made. And we`ve left the EU already. The divisions created between “Leave” and “Remain”, these past four years and more, have resulted in far too many people tearing pieces out of each other. I know I`ve made the point before, but I feel strongly about it. Can we please draw a line in the ground now, everyone? I say, let`s get out the flags and give this moment in time the shout it deserves. Of course, it really does not have to be English sparkling wine. There`s not much more British than beer, and a curry! And cider, of course. Nowt wrong with cider. We also have an excellent alcohol-free sparkling elderflower drink from Scotland. Indeed, we should all try to get creative about how we celebrate this 2020 New Year in. Whatever we decide to do, we can be sure the coronavirus will do its best to spoil it. Good luck with that. And happy new year everyone!
The dulcet tones of Nat King Cole greeted me in the shop this morning, as did the smell of my wife`s mince pies. Time of writing, Tuesday 15th. All seemed well with the world. Indeed, I half expected a robin to appear in the window to wish me a good day. Instead, the phone rang. A customer to say thank you. A parcel destined for his 94-year old mother in Glasgow was found to be broken on arrival. We had dispatched a new hamper immediately and he had just called to say it had arrived intact and how pleased she was. My day just got better. Then a customer walked through the door. He had a big smile on his covered face; you could tell by the glint in his eyes and the pinched crows of his eyes. He had come to buy a mixed case. We chatted about wine while he dropped bottles into his box, and when I carried it out to his car, a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds and fell on me. I could feel the warmth of it on my face. I thought: Today is a good day! Indeed, the feeling of wellbeing continued throughout the day. I always enjoy the company of my colleagues, but today they seemed to me especially motivated and in good spirits, and despite the small queue building outside, and the need for social distancing, our customers were chatting contentedly with each other, smiles all round, and the vibe in the shop was festive and fun. I asked my wife that evening: “Was it me, or was everyone especially happy today?” She said, “It`s Christmas, darling, there`s magic in the air”. Despite the coronavirus, the restrictions, and the terrible weather we have endured for most of the last month, I sense the best of people emerging. The spirit of Christmas is as strong as ever. All we need now is a White Christmas, and a robin in the window. Happy Christmas everyone!
“Everyone feeling Christmasy?” As a question this seems entirely inoffensive to me. But lately I have become more aware of the bubble I live in. I am not sure what the bubble is called, exactly. A middle-class bubble, possibly. But at any rate the life I live gives me a perspective, a world view, which won`t be the same as everybody`s. Someone who is having a terrible time of things out there might well read those words and think me boorishly insensitive: “No, actually, things may be tickety-boo for you, pal, but I`ve lost my job, my granny has just come down with Covid 19, and I`ve just spilled coffee down my front…“ What made me think about the different world view was something a customer said. He asked me to recommend a wine for him to take to someone, as a gift. “A really nice red”, were his exact words. I suggested the Darling Old Bush Vine Cinsaut which is a favourite of mine, £16.99 per bottle. He looked embarrassed, and then he asked if we had anything nice for around £6. You see, in my bubble “really nice gift” = £16.99. But, of course, that`s nonsense. It`s whatever the person can afford, and the thought that counts. Next time I will be sure to ask what price the person has in mind! Anyway, I reflected, and it occurred to me how for years, in this paper`s column, I have extolled the virtues of many rather pricey bottles. I have done so because I am genuinely passionate about wine, and I want to share my love of it. I can`t apologize for that. But I also acknowledge that for those who can`t afford said bottles I have been spectacularly unfair. I have been Tempter! Trying to seduce you into my world, my bubble, to spend your hard-earned money. And for you, this Christmas, I`d like to share my new wine of the week, the Ravovita Pinot Grigio, £6.99. Pleasantly aromatic, crisp and refreshing, this blossomy, lemon-tinged white wine will do your turkey proud. Cheers!