Port in a nutshell

When I think of Port, I think of Christmas. I think of cigars and smoking jackets, burning log fires, perhaps accompanied by a delicious cheeseboard or chocolates. But Port isn’t just plain Port. There are LOADS of styles, varying in quality and tastiness.

photo (29)All Ports have the following in common;

– They are from vinyeards in the Douro region in Portugal. Maturation usually is carried out in Porto or Nova de Gaia, towards the mouth of the Douro.

– They are fortified with Brandy, to about 19-22% ABV to stop fermentation of the wine. The wine therefore retains its sweetness.

–  Many producers still practice foot treading the grapes in the traditional ‘lagares’

– Red Ports are all made from indigenous Portuguese grape varieties: Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca.

– Vines must be at least 5 years old and yield is limited to 55 hl/ha.


The most common styles in a nutshell and a nice table to demonstrate the differences:

Styles Ruby Tawny
Characteristics Full and rich, deep red in colour (developing to a tawnier colour with age in the vintage ports). Quality increases through Ruby – LBV – Vintage. Rich Nuttier and lighter in style and colour.
Maturation Aged in bottle. Aged in oak ‘pipes’. Increased oxidation and bottled when ready to drink
Vintage/ NV Wine from a single vintage Non-vintage – Wine from a blend of vintages (with the exception of Colheita)
 Types Ruby – Made to drink young after 2-3 years aging in bulk (steel, cement or wood). Powerful and fruity. (Reserve is better quality)

Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) – 4-6 years aged in oak, then can age further in bottle. Good quality, depth and body.

Vintage – 2-3 years aged in oak, then aged in bottle for 10-50+ years.  Accounts for 1% of Port and is only made in ‘declared’ years of exceptional quality, with grapes harvested from that single year. This century, only 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2011 have been declared as vintage years.

Tannins soften with age, flavours develop to ripe fruit, chocolate and colour loses its ruby red to a browner colour.

Single Quinta Vintage – as above but not necessarily from a declared vintage. All grapes from a single wine estate (quinta).

Tawny – 2 years oak. Drink young.Aged Tawny (10 to 40 years)

Wines are a blend from different years, the age being an average length of time that the wines spent in oak.

Colheita – min 7 years in oak (Tawny from a single year)

Flavours of dried fruit, fig and prunes, spice, vanilla.

Not too much detail, based on my WSET Diploma revision notes, but enough to help understand the difference I hope? There are also other styles, such as Crusted, White and Rosé, but my nutshell didn’t extend to those this time.

My favourite? A nice Tawny 10 with some Comté, in front of the fire of course, will do just nicely 🙂

Harvest at an English Vineyard

Whereas I just left the sunny Languedoc in full swing, with the majority of their harvest safely in tanks, things are only just starting to get going in the UK on the grape harvest for the 2015 wine vintage.

Grapes need a whole lot of sunshine hours to ripen, and although the UK days are long, as you’ll know, the sunshine can be a little minimal. In the hot and dry regions of the world, grapes have no problem ripening, but in cooler climates like the UK, we’re reliant on a long growing season to maximise the grape ripeness to develop the sugars and flavours in the grape to produce enough alcohol. A long, warm September like we’re experiencing definitely helps to ripen off the grapes and vineyards around the South East of England are now beginning to plan their 2015 harvest.

If fancy getting involved with harvesting at a vineyard, look no further to many of the vineyards here in the UK who are on the look out for volunteers or others selling tickets for those less green fingered amongst you who fancy more of an ‘experience’. Of the 400+ vineyards in the UK, there’s loads of harvesting opportunity to be had, but here are a handful of the ones that I’m familiar with in the South East, all producing excellent wine and guaranteed to show you a great day out however hard you fancy working;

Photo of TIm singlehandedly brining in the 2014 harevest (stolen blatantly from Chafor's Facebook.com/chaforwine page)
Tim singlehandedly bringing in the 2014 harvest (Photo credit: Guy Adams from Chafor’s Facebook.com/chaforwine page)

Chafor Wine Estate,  Gawcott, Buckinghamshire, MK18 4HT

Be part of the CHAFOR Grand Harvest 2015 on 17th and/ or 18th October. Tim Chafor heads up this family owned vineyard set in the midst of the Buckinghamshire countryside, not far from Oxford and Milton Keynes. Their first release of still wines was their 2013 vintage, featuring award winning Bacchus, Chardonnay and Rosé, their sparkling wine is yet to be released.

Perks include lunch (FYI, Tim has a pizza oven and does jolly fine pizzas!), wine to take home and a VIP invitation to the Grand Harvest Supper.

Book your place now: info@chafor.co.uk or call Tim on: 07973 892427

One of the hottest days this summer in the vineyard back in early July.

Oaken Grove Vineyard, Fawley, Henley-on-Thames, Buckinghamshire (just over the Oxfordshire border).

We helped owner, Phil Rossi, with his bountiful harvest on a beautiful sunny, autumnal day last year, picking his Bacchus grapes. I say we, because it was a family affair and the kids came too and were surprisingly, not too annoying. This year, he hopes that harvesting will start on 17th October for the Bacchus and the following weekend for the Pinot Noir, so drop him a Facebook message or email to get involved. He’ll also be at the Perfect Friday Wine Tasting afternoon in Marlow on 10th October, if you wanted to have a chat before you sign up! [You can buy Oaken Grove Benham Blush here]

Last year, we were fed a well earned hog roast with all the trimmings, tasted newly released wines and got sent home with a bottle. A fabulous day to spend one of those last days of summer around Henley.

Boutique wines at their finest at Dropmore Vineyard, just to the north of Burnham, Bucks.

Dropmore Vineyard, Littleworth Common, Buckinghamshire, SL1 8NF

Perhaps Maidenhead’s closest vineyard, the Dropmore harvest is a real family affair. With just 3 acres of vines, this is as boutique as they come and the delicious Bacchus White and Pinot Blush have both won awards. Owned by John Petersen, drop him a line if you fancy lending a helping hand. Harvest starts on 11th October and will continue throughout October. Word on the street has it that Dropmore offer the best harvest catering going! [You can buy Dropmore Vineyard Bacchus here]

John will also be at the Perfect Friday Wine Tasting afternoon in Marlow on 10th October, so he can check you out before he lets you near the vines!

Pinot Noir grapes in stage of 'veraison' (colour change) earlier in the summer at Bluebell.
Pinot Noir grapes in stage of ‘veraison’ (colour change) earlier in the summer at Bluebell.

Bluebell Vineyard Estates, Furners Green, East Sussex, TN22 3RU

More of an experience than a horticultural work out, Bluebell are hosting a day in the vines on Saturday 17th October, 10-3pm. Spend the morning hand-harvesting grapes followed by a delicious lunch overlooking the vineyard, then a tutored tasting of their fabulous sparkling wines, made onsite, led by wine maker Kevin Sutherland. Also, taste the grape juice, fresh off the press (which, is sooooo tasty and described to me as ‘the nectar’ by one Saint-Chinian vineyard worker). [You can buy Bluebell Vineyard Estates Brut Rosé and Seyval Blanc here]

Call 01825 791561 or email wineinfo@bluebellvineyard.co.uk to book your tickets at £40 per head (well worth it for being wined and dined in such a beautiful setting). Or come and meet Bluebell Vineyard at the Perfect Friday Wine Tasting afternoon in Marlow on 10th October.


Languedoc Wine Hotel, Chateau les Carrasses and Canal du Midi Wine Tasting

Now I’ve set the Saint-Chinian scene and explained a bit about the wines in my previous post, I’ll go on to tell you more about the beautiful and very tranquil region of Saint-Chinian and the fabulous Languedoc wine hotel we were so lucky to stay in.

photo 1
The view from the terrace at Chateau les Carrasses. The perfect base to explore Languedoc.
photo 3
Chateau les Carrasses

Bearing in mind that the school summer holidays were 2 whole months long and I’ve only just started to recover, to say the view from our first night’s accommodation,  the Chateau les Carrasses, brought a smile to my face, is a massive understatement. A little gem of a hotel, hidden away in the Saint-Chinian countryside, only 35km from Beziers Airport, I’m tempted to pop over every weekend. The Chateau les Carrasses is adult and child friendly, has a gorgeous pool with some jawdropping views. There is also an onsite restaurant and terrace and even bikes for all the family to borrow.

Being surrounded by vineyards, Chateau Les Carrasses also makes its own wine, a refreshingly chilled glass of which was gratefully received on the terrace on our arrival. Although those workers amongst us had a jam-packed itinery filled with wine tastings, visits to tasting rooms and sites touristiques du Saint-Chinian, regular guests who fancy being taken out into wine country beyond the adjacent vines, can get a feel for the locality on a Les Carrasses’ Wine Activity Day.

Wine Tasting on the Canal du Midi

If you prefer to make your own way around, but aren’t sure where to start, there’s the Office du Tourisme du Canal Midi in local village Capestang, a short cycle ride away (although it’s uphill home). The office du tourisme is named after the ancient canal that runs right through the village, stretching to Toulouse in the west, straight across to the Mediterranean near Sete. The tourist office have a summer long schedule running regular wine tastings alongside the Canal du Midi, buddying up with local winemakers who are more than keen to share their wines with willing tasters.

You could also do as we did and grab a hire boat on the Canal du Midi, pick up some wine from the Office du Tourisme, and take a (self-driven) tasting actually ON the Canal itself.  This was undoubtedly the most peaceful wine tasting that I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience – I think I may have actually gone into a trance-like state as we pootled along the canal on a little boat, in the warm evening sun, tasting delicious local wine and produce from the surrounding Saint-Chinian area, to the sound of the breeze in the plane trees.

Saint-Chinian whites as I like them.
Saint-Chinian whites as I like them.

As mesmerised as I was, I did manage to stay awake and took lots of tasting notes before we headed back to the Chateau les Carrasses for dinner. Although most of the best wines in Saint-Chinian are red, the best of the whites can be very tasty indeed. Perhaps the most notable of the wines tasted being this Cuvee Bois Joli from Chateau Coujon, a Grenache Blanc and Rolle (better known as Vermentino) blend which had seen 6-8 months on oak. A crisp and citrussy white with pineapple flavours and a hint of dried coconut went particularly well alongside the tiny local olives known as ‘Lucques’.

After all that hard work, there was only one thing for it, to head back to the Chateau les Carrasses for a slap up dinner in their restaurant and of course, more wine tasting..



Wine Love in Languedoc: Saint-Chinian AOC

The Languedoc-Roussillon wine region in Southern France remains the one that keeps calling me back, most recently, specificially Saint-Chinian AOC,  situated  around 60km east of Carcassone, 35km north of Narbonne. My first visit to the vineyards of Languedoc-Roussillon was  in May 2014, where I spent some time amongst the old Carignan vines of the rolling hills of Minervois with negociant Calmel and Joseph, tasting a comprehensive selection of some of the best Languedoc-Roussillon red wines around. I was back in January 2015, this time to charismatic Montpellier to visit Natural Wine Fest Milleseme Bio and meet some of Languedoc’s most enterprising independent wine producers ‘Les Outsiders‘.

Saint Chinian Map (credit from Saint-Chinian.pro)
Saint Chinian Map (credit from Saint-Chinian.pro)

But, this side of the summer, I was lucky enough to spend a few sunny days visiting many vineyards, meeting even more wine producers and tasting a vast amount of Saint-Chinian AOC wines all accompanied by my very lovely guide from the St Chinian tourist office, Nelly.

Saint-Chinian isn’t just one appellation, but three. The areas around the highly regarded and very picturesque villages of Roquebrun and Berlou, hold their own appellation statuses, Saint-Chinian Roquebrun AOC and Saint-Chinian Berlou AOC. Although the wines aren’t necessarily better than a straight Saint-Chinian AOC (most  is grown in similar ‘terroir’ and tastes just as good), the village named wines are guaranteed to come from high quality grapes grown on the sought after hilly, schisty, less fertile soils north of the river Vernazobre and the village of Saint-Chinian itself.

photo (52)
One of many tasted prior to lunch.

I like a lot about these Saint-Chinian appellation wines. From a practical standpoint, I like that most actually have a back label, often so lacking in French wine, telling you what’s in the bottle.  It should tell you about grape varieties and, something to look out for, likely to mention the ‘schisty’ soil and ‘foothills’ or altitude, important factors distinguishing the AOC wines from the lower-quality, bulk, non-appellation wines of the flatter plains further south.

I like the blends. The whites are dry and tend to have a bit of body, some tropical fruitiness and some minerality. Tending to contain Viognier (the oakier ones are the best in my mind), Vermentino (or Rolle, as it is known locally), Rousanne and Marsanne, the main player is Grenache Blanc, which has to be at least 30% of the blend.

Like most AOC Languedoc wines, nine out of ten Saint-Chinian AOC wines are however red wines, blended from Carignan (often old vine, low yield – of which I am particularly partial to), Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, and must contain 70% of the latter three. More Mourvedre makes for a heavier wine, Syrah brings spice, Grenache; juiciness. More Carignan tends to produce, a very palatable, more medium bodied, lower tannin, versatile wine which works well without food (just like the Calmel and Joseph Saint-Chinian).

But just as importantly, I like the personality and charm of these wines and that the vast majority of the wine producers, whether they are negociants, co-ops or independent, really seem to care about the wines. They care about the vines in the vineyard and the fact that the grapes take on flavour characteristics of the ‘garrigue’ of lavender, bay, thyme, rosemary situated amongst the vines. Many wines are ‘organic’, even if they are not formally labelled that way with many winemakers choosing not to bother with the cost or faff of registration, concentrating of the actual wine rather than paperwork.  Most care about how and when the grapes are harvested, the way the wine is fermented, blended and aged. This is pure and precise wine making without pretension but from a passion and love of wine, very much in harmony with the beautiful region that they are made in.

Not only are these producers making some of the best wine from Languedoc-Roussillon, whilst Saint-Chinian remains relatively unknown, these wines are relatively inexpensive compared to some of their better known French relatives therefore offer real value, although that that may not remain the case for long!

Feel the love!

Le Caroux protects Saint-Chinian from northerly winds and resembles a lady lying down, cast in stone.
Le Caroux protects Saint-Chinian from northerly winds and resembles a lady lying down, cast in stone.

* An appellation is the French term for a designated wine producing area whose wine meets a certain number of criterior e.g. yield, grape varieties, blend. AOC stands for ‘Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée’ or Controlled name of Origin.

Food and Wine Pairing: Crumbed Pork and Catalonian Carignan

Crumbed Pork Medallions and Catalonian Cariñena (Carignan from Montsant DO).

Of course, food and wine matching isn’t the be all and end all of culinary enjoyment (a non-red wine drinking friend of mine takes her steak with Sauvignon Blanc, and why not!),  I know how my readers like a good food and wine pairing, so, rather than me suggest vague food to go with the Perfect Friday Wines, I thought I’d spin it around a bit and match my wines to go with some proper recipes.

Although my Spaghetti Bolognese recipe obviously rocks the house, I thought you might like something a bit more exciting than that – plus, the next post, where I make the leftovers into a lasagne, might become a bit samey. Then, I felt a bit mainstream using one of my trusty Jamie Oliver recipes and a bit boring sharing something that I’ve picked up on BBCGoodFood.com, so I thought I’d ask someone who knows what they’re doing to help out.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve met and got to know many interesting local business folk around and about the Maidenhead area – who’d have thought we’d have so many of them! One of the most relevant to my line of work, being THE official food blogger for the Maidenhead Advertiser, Cookham based, Lara Cory (a celebrity!!). Lara also writes her own blog at Feeding Time Blog, and I thought we’d make the perfect pairing, Lara’s summed up both of our passion for eating, drinking and sharing, very well:

We love food and we love wine and we’re going to help you enjoy the best of both.” 


Lara not only accepted my challenge for a seasonal produce recipe that I could perhaps tie in with English Wine Week, but much to my delight, I shortly got a call from Lara somewhere deep in the Berkshire countryside, sourcing some local free range pork from a nearby Farm Shop (Ferny Grove Farm, which I must visit myself!) – the girl means business!

The next thing I know, quicker than I can prepare a cheese board, Lara’s been in the kitchen and come up with this very delicious recipe for Sage Crumbed Pork Medallions.

Now, originally, I’d had that pork lined up for an English Bacchus,  but the mere suggestion of sage, herbaciousness and ‘spring-like’, 11196221_435271559967974_5154378016674714301_nlead me to mentally open and pour myself a glass of the Cellar El Masroig Sola Fred Tinto, in the time it takes me to unwrap a slab of Manchego.

So why the Sola Fred? Well, not only is it one of my favourite sub-£10 wines at the moment (I am LOVING Spanish wines at the mo), but it is savoury and fresh and fruity (think red cherries), with some bright acidity – spot on with pork. Generally where Pork is concerned, I really like an appley, structured white (Pouilly Fume is my ultimate pork white) or a tasty red that’s not too heavy, so a Pinot Noir or a Carignan are perfect. It was the herbs though that lead me to the Sola Fred, pulling me towards a red wine over white and something more savoury than the Casa Silva Pinot Noir or the Calmel and Joseph Vieux Carignan. There’s also the fact that of course, the spaniards are pork mad, so this softly tannic Carignan (Cariñena or Mazuelo in Spanish) with a splash of juicy Garnacha from Catalonia’s Montsant is bang on. If you haven’t tried it yet and you’re a wine drinker looking for a good deal, I urge you to try (or order as part of a pre-selected mixed case). Montsant is bang smack next to, infact it surrounds, Priorat, famous for producing some of Spain’s best and most illustrious wines. Although the soil is a tad different in Montsant (Priorat has this unique slatey soil called Llicorella) and the climate is evers0-marginally cooler, the yields are still low and the quality of the wines, made from the same grape varieties, remains high, with the added benefit of being a little easier to drink young.

We hope you have a slap up feast between these two! For more food and wine pairings from us Maidenhead duo, you can follow Lara on Twitter @feedingtimeblog (and me, @perfectfriwine) or sign up to receive notifications of either blog. Are there any of your favourite recipes that you’d like wine matched? Or perhaps Lara can recommend a recipe for one of your favourite wines? Just, let us know, we love a challenge!




A turn for the better…Organic Wine in 2015

The 2015 UK Solar Eclipse, as viewed from Maidenhead, Berks (thanks to Dan Barker for the photo)
The 2015 UK Solar Eclipse, as viewed from Maidenhead, Berks (thanks to Dan Barker for the photo)

I started writing this post during the solar eclipse back in March. I’m one of those people that gets a bit excited by natural phenonomens like this. I think that the weirdness that the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon, yet 400 times further away (of something like that) and therefore the moon is the exact right size to cover up the sun is pretty special. However, it was irrelevant as it of course, it was cloudy here in Maidenhead.

I had visions of biodynamic viticulturists literally hopping about filling those cow horns with whatever they put in them to be buried right on the cusp of the solar eclipse but from my very mild research, it appears, for obvious reasons that in fact a solar eclipse is a big boo boo for all things agricultural if you’re cosmic like that.

Copyright: Gilles LEFRANCQ Photographie
Copyright: Gilles LEFRANCQ Photographie

I’ll fill you in a bit more on biodynamic wines when I have time to explain the nitty gritty but essentially, Biodynamic wine making considers the charts of the moon and its influence on the vines, amongst other peculiar activities. Organic or Natural wines are a bit different in that they don’t worry about that sort of stuff, but have been made with ecological considerations in mind from vine to bottle, using organic grapes grown without (or with limited) pesticides and fungicides as well as using organic wine making practices in the winery.  Confusingly, what constitutes a Certified Organic Wine differ from country to country. For instance, the US restricts the addition of sulphur dioxide to 100mg/l (non-organic 200mg/l) whereas in the EU, sulfite limits differ according to red (100mg/l organic to 150mg/l non-organic) and white wines (150mg/l organic compared to 200mg/l** non-organic).*

More on sulfites* below, but the thing is, wine need sulfites to a certain degree to protect the grapes from prematurely oxidising and without additional sulfites (which occur naturally in wine anyway), can result in a pretty funky tasting wine. I’d go as far as saying that a few years ago, I would’ve struggled to find many natural wines that were lacking that ‘funk’. However, as wine production methods are constantly developing and as producers get cleverer, for instance, picking grapes in the cool of night, the need to add nasties to preserve freshness is reduced and I would say, from my latest experience pertaining to natural wine, the taste of these wines, which is what we all (I) really care about, is actually pretty good.

Just one of the halls at Millesime Bio 2015 Copyright: Gilles LEFRANCQ Photographie

In January, I was fortunate enough to attend the world’s largest natural wine trade fair, Millesime Bio, in Montpellier, bang smack in the middle of my favourite French wine region, Languedoc-Roussillon. If the size of the event or the enthusiasm around following ethical and more ecological methods to produce wine, were anything to go by, I can only imagine that we’re going to see more and more natural wine being made, particularly in those regions where a nice hot and dry climate keeps mini-beasts and rot to the minimum. Moreover, I think we’re going to start seeing more and more organic wines cropping up in our day to day wine offerings, particularly from those regions like Languedoc-Roussillon where winemaking is innovative and forward thinking, not because it’s specifically organic but because it tastes so good – the vast majority of the wines I tasted, tasted like ‘normal’ wines – not a hint of organic funk.

Emilio Valerio wine available from Berkshire’s Perfect Friday Wine

I’m not one to choose a wine just because it has a certain tick in a box, so, so far, I’m yet to stock any Certified Organic wines, but I  don’t think it’ll be far away judging by those fabulous wines I came across in Montpellier. I have however recently chosen a new wine that has, incidentally, been made using biodynamic methods, chosen purely because it tastes so flippin’ good, the Laderas de Montejurra Emilio Valerio 2012. A spanish blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha, made with grapes grown in the cool foothills of Navarra’s Montejurra, about half way between Rioja’s Logrono and Pamplona, famed for its Running of the Bulls Fiesta. This is a powerful but elegant wine aged in old oak for 13 months, so expect some chewy tannins well weighted against lots of ripe blackberrys and eucalyptus. I love it, and at £12.25 (price correct Apr 2015), it represents marvellous value, biodynamic, organic or not.

*I get asked about Sulfites a lot. If you are concerned about sulfite levels in wine, stick to the red as less SO2 is needed due to the naturally high occurring anti-oxidants in the red fruit (beware other food types that have high sulphur levels too such as some fruit juices and dried fruit).  In order to be classed as ‘sulfite free’, a wine must contain 10mg/l or less SO2, anymore than that, the label must state that it contains sulfites. Even a wine with no added sulfites will likely contain some naturally occurring S02. Although organic wines are likely to contain lower levels (and certainly fewer of the other additives), this isn’t always the case as not only can Sulphur be sprayed on the vines to combat mildew, interestingly, the EU organic limits of sulfites are not so restrictive when put into context. e.g. The white non-organic Rioja on the PFW list at the moment, Las Orcas Decenio Blanco, contains 120mg/l of SO2, significantly less than the EU organic limit of 150mg/l. Even Australia’s cheap as chips Yellow Tail claims on its website that its white wines contain around 140mg/l of SO2 which is still less than the EU Organic limit (its red wines are around 70mg/l).

** Some sources state 200mg/l others 210mg/l.

Further Info and references:

Fifty Shades of Wine

image courtesy of catchmyparty.com

I am always amused at the hype around The Fifty Shades trilogy. Yes, they’re not the best written books ever, but at face value, it’s just a chick-lit story about a screwed up billionaire who just hasn’t met the right girl to fix him. In steps Little Miss Innocent Steel to teach him about how normal people have fun and in return, he teaches her about ‘life’ beyond university, working in a hardware store and, I notice, how to get drunk on more sophisticated booze.

Call me old fashioned, but I think there are easier ways to move on from cheap Aussie Chardonnay-Semillon or Jager-bombs rather than being stalked and whipped, no matter how many helicopter rides and bottles of vintage Bolly are involved. Mr Grey, you might be very eligible on paper, but I’m sure that Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) in Pretty Woman would be much more gallant in helping to improve a girl’s palate.

Screenshot 2015-03-10 at 22.47.46
image courtesy of youtube

So what, beyond the Red Room, was Christian seducing Anastasia with wine-wise? Now, I would’ve had C.G down as a Burgundy or Northern Rhone kinda guy or why not those excellent wines from his home state of Washington? But it appears that his drinking habits may have been based on those very tastes of the author herself, EL James. Yes, Pouilly Fume is a fabulous place to start for the Sauvignon Blanc fan of any discerning wine taste, but Pinot Grigio? Really? Prosecco? I am surprised. Chablis? Well I suppose so, but surely that a fancy-pants like Christian would be more likely to go for a nice Cotes du Beaune, if not Meursault, perhaps a tasty little Puligny-Montrachet to tickle Ana’s fancy – after all, I doubt the guy is ordering from the Seattle’s version of Bargain Booze. Also, so little red – but I suppose it’s easier to get white wine out of the sheets.

Interestingly, EL James has gone to the trouble of letting us know the precise, albeit a little vague, wines that were drunk throughout the books, which I salute. I note, with fondness, that by the second book, she seems to have done a little bit more homework with the delights of more red wines in the form of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape and a Barossa Shiraz coming in to play (or perhaps they were eating more red meat), but by the third book, it appears that she’d gone to sleep. I imagine by this point, she was a little distracted perhaps putting together the official ‘Fifty Shades Wine‘ online store, selling a couple of  Californian bottles of red and white, which I’d love to know if they are any good or not, proving that EL James really is, quite rightly, making hay while the sun shines might be interested in wine.

Love them or hate the trilogy, if you’re still intrigued and want to woo your new girlfriend/ be seduced in the style of Christian Grey, I don’t sell Bollinger, or Pinot Grigio, or cable ties for that matter, but if I was to put a Mr Grey tasting box together, it would look a little like the following rather marvellous selection of wines (which you can order here quoting ‘Mr Grey’), all for less than £90 and a whole lot less disappointing and plenty more lingering on the finish than the first book/film:

2x Domaine Chauveau Pouilly Fume – a very classic and delicious PF. Perfect to impress the girl and a great match with ‘Chorizo and Scallops’.
2x Chateau Vitallis Macon Fuisse – “It’s been nice knowing you” or if belly button is off the menu, also works with Chicken Caesar Salad.
1x Bluebell Vineyard Estates Brut Rosé – Scrap the first edition Hardy’s, send in the Riedel, tea cups simply won’t do.
1x Alvaro Castro Dao Tinto – not too heavy for the white wine preferrer but hard enough for Beef Wellington.

I never liked Cosmopolitans anyway. 🙂

Dao wines of Alvaro Castro

Castro Wines

When I’m looking out for new wines for my customers, there are a few things I keep in mind;

1) Most importantly, do I like it and do I think you will too?

2) Does it taste as good or better than it costs?

3) Why might it be of interest to you?

It might be that it’s from a lesser known region, difficult to otherwise find or the sort of bottle that might otherwise be overlooked. It might be a brilliant example of an easily available type of wine or type of wine that I’ve fallen in love with on my travels, but the good ones are hidden amongst the mass of mediocrity. Sometimes the interest might be as simple as I get a little bit of a crush on the winemaker…find me someone who doesn’t love a good story about a great wine, told in the lilting accent by the person that made it!

In the case of the wines of Portugal’s Alvaro Castro (of Quinta da Pellada/ Quinta de Saes), all 3 of my requirements have been well and truly ticked. I will admit that I have never been to Portugal or that I had even heard of some of the indigenous grape varieties that are used to make the wines, especially the white grapes. I know very little about Portuguese cuisine and the little knowledge I have with regards to Portuguese wine, up until now, has been based upon the more famous fortified wines of the Douro, so these from Dao intrigued me greatly. What I did find out immediately however, was that these wines TASTED exceptionally delicious and I was blown away by the elegance of the wines. I was also quick and a little bit chuffed to learn that here I’ve found some wines made by one of Portugal’s most reknowned (and Dao’s best) wine maker Alvaro Castro and his daughter, Maria.

When I met winemaker Maria, who has also worked closely with Port’s famous Dirk van de Niepoort, she was presenting a whole array of Castro’s wines and her passion for each and every wine was infectious. For the red, I was expecting a very Douro typical big blockbusting wine, yet these from the Dao are not.  I found the red Alvaro Castro Dao Tinto 2011, a blend of Touriga-Nacional, Tinto Roriz and Alfrocheiro, to be much lighter in style than I was expecting; bright, fresh and fabulous with appetising blackberry fruitiness, finesse and savoury structure; more along the lines of a Pinot Noir than a Douro red. The white Alvaro Castro Dao Branco 2013 is blended from yet more indigenous varieties, Encruzado, Cerceal and Bical, which create a delightful fresh and floral wine with crisp citrus and mineral notes. Both of these wines (don’t get me on to the fabulous flagship Quinta da Pellada wines, which are just out of this world) have a certain exuberance , just like their makers. If you’ve not tried Portuguese or Dao wines before, or you like a lighter and elegant style of wine, I urge you to give these a go and what an incredible couple of bottles to start with!

The techy bit: Dao wines have suffered from a poor reputation in the past, but as Portuguese legislation has lifted and winemaking techniques and expertise are improved, the region is now producing some very fine wines, being given its DOC in 1990. As with Portuguese wines generally, grape varieties are indigenous, Encruzado being the major white grape (see it blended here with neighbouring region,Bairrada’s, grape variety Bical) and a mixture of port grape Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Jaen and Alfrocheiro dominate the red grapes. Dao, named after the river that runs through it, lies on a granite plateau and is protected from the damp of the Atlantic and the heat of the inland, by mountain ranges running to the west and south east.  The cooler climate (to the Douro), and winemaking skill of Maria and Alvaro make for fresher, finer and elegant wines than you’d traditionally expect of a Portuguese table wine.

Sources and links:
http://www.wineanorak.com/dao1_overview.htm Jamie Goode
World Atlas of Wine (7th Edition) Johnson and Robinson

February Wine Tasting Dinner, Marlow


Four Course Dinner and Wine Tasting
Thursday 12th February @8pm £40
The Assembly Room, 1 Market Square, Marlow, SL7 3HH

The first Perfect Friday Wine tasting of 2015 takes us to Marlow’s historic ‘The Assembly Room’ for an evening of tasty food, excellent wine and fun with friends (or your Valentine of course!).


While you dine on four glorious courses of fine and sumptuous food prepared by the talented folk at Feast Events, I will be serving and introducing a selection of wines matched perfectly to each and every plate.

Tickets for the evening are £40 and bookings are being taken directly by The Assembly Room, so book now on 01628474718 or email info@theassemblyroom.co.uk

Any questions, email me jo@perfectfridaywine.com. I look forward to seeing you there!




Burns Night Wine

eathaggisIt’s still January. There are still 2 more Fridays in this long and dreary month !! So I therefore pat my Scottish friends on the back – what a jolly good idea to have a big party for Burns Night at the end of January, to not only celebrate the big man’s birthday, but, from a non-Scot’s point of view, to mark the end of the worst of the winter with a big feast washed down with plenty of booze (albeit Whisky). I may be ENGLISH and not have a Scottish bone in my body, but this is a celebration that I may adopt, after all, I have Scottish friends, I’ve been to Scotland (where may I add, I tasted some of the best food I’ve ever had), oh, and I like haggis (I feel the wrath of all my Scottish friends reading this 🙂 ).

I don’t however, like Whisky (nor Whiskey (for you Irish), nor Bourbon (for you Americans)). So what will I drink alongside my Burn’s Night Supper, English style? You’ve got it…wine (wrath all over again…)….

The times that I’ve been treated to a Burn’s Night Supper, the meal has kicked off with Cullen Skink a.k.a a very delicious and rich fishy stew not unlike a Chowder, just a bit smokier due to the smoked haddock. I’ll therefore be drinking a white wine with a hint of smoke and oak, cue Casa Silva’s Viognier Reserva £10.50 (10% of which has spent some time in oak) or Raphael Sallet’s Macon Uchizy ‘Clos du Ravieres’ £16.50, for you Burgundy and Chardonnay fans (it is my aim to drink more Chardonnay in 2015).

Next, comes the Haggis, Neeps and Tatties, translated as a sheep’s stomach packed full of seasoned offal, oats and suet, mashed turnips/ swede and mashed potatoes. Sounds less than appetising but no different to eating sausages in my book, and it’s a scrumptious combination of savoury herbs and gamey flavours that needs a wine to match. The aforementioned whites would work well with the haggis, or even an oxidatively aged Sherry, such as an Oloroso or Palo Cortado, but a savoury red wine with a spicy or smokey kick to it will work equally as well. I’m think dry and spicy old faithful Calmel and Joseph’s St Chinian,  or perhaps if you like things a little heavier, the classic Domaine Pasquiers Cote du Rhone Villages Sablet would go down a treat.

Thanks to my customer Jon Miller for the inspiration on this one! I myself will be toasting the Haggis on Friday night as Sunday night, Burns Night, takes me to Montpellier as I seek more knowledge and tastings from Languedoc-Roussillon!