Two delicious whites – a Pinot Gris and White Rioja

I popped into Vagabond this week and tried a couple of delicious whites – the Bodegas Ontanon Vetiver white Rioja and the Awatere River Pinot Gris from New Zealand.


The Rioja region in Spain is of course better known for its reds. Indeed the production of whites is pretty minimal in comparison. The grape variety is Viura (known as Macabeo elsewhere in Spain) and the traditional style of white Riojas would often be extremely heavily oaked with an almost oxidised aroma to it. The Bodegas Ontanon Vetiver has none of this; it is relatively restrained and paired back for a Rioja allowing its fresh fruit characteristics to shine through. The nose is lovely and creamy due to the 6 months spent in American oak; a very well-balanced wine. The suggested food match would be a crab lasagne or paella.

tasting notes

The Rioja was good but the Awatere River Pinot Gris was fantastic. Hailing from Marlborough in New Zealand it had a luscious, apricot nose with a hint of spice. The body was full, off dry with a wonderful intensity of flavour and a very good length. It also came with the most brilliant food match suggestion – pork fillet stuffed with apricot and spinach – which I have to say, sounds like it would go perfectly. So much so that I bought a bottle (not cheap at £13.95 but worth the money I thought) and will have to imagine up said dish some time soon.

Vagabond – I’ll let you know how it goes!!

Hake and the Wimbledon Final

I’ve been meaning to attempt this dish for quite a long time now and was really pleased by how well it turned out. This was inspired by one of the many delicious things we ate at The Shed a few months ago so I hope they won’t mind me pinching their idea. I actually used dry flageolet beans when I cooked this as that’s all I had but have put canned here as the dried ones took an AGE to cook.

I’m writing this 3 sets into the Wimbledon final so please forgive any spelling mistakes!

  • hake – 2 good sized fillet slices
  • 1 can of flageolet beans
  • a couple of spicy Italian sausages or just good quality normal ones
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • double cream
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • curly kale

Begin by cooking the crispy kale. Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Toss the kale in some olive oil and lay out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and bake it in the oven until crispy and just beginning to brown at the edges. This will only take 5-8mins.

SausagemeatCrush the fennel seeds using a pestle and mortar. Next take the sausage meat out of the skins. Heat a heavy based saucepan over a medium-high heat and add a bit of olive oil; fry the sausage meat, breaking the meat down all the time with the back of a wooden spoon. As it begins to brown add the fennel seeds and stir in well. Continue to cook until the fat has rendered and the meat is like a coarse mince and has a lovely golden colour. Set aside.

Strain the flageolet beans in a sieve, empty into a saucepan and heat gently for a couple of minutes. Add enough double cream just to give it a bit of a sauce and then add a tbsp of capers and the lemon juice. Season to taste.

For the fish season well on each side of the fillet. Heat a generous knob of butter in a frying pan over a relatively high heat – I did this in the same pan I had just cooked the sausages in. Cook the hake skin side down, holding it down firmly for the first few seconds, for about 4 mins until the skin is golden brown and the fish starting to cook through. Turn it over and cook the other side – it will only need another minute or 2 on this side. Remove from the heat to rest for a minute.

To serve add the sausage meat to the beans and spoon onto warm plates. Place the fish on top and then arrange the kale around the outside.

My hake

I’m not normally one for surf and turf but this works brilliantly. There is a wonderful richness to this dish and the sausage meat and fennel seeds adds a bit of warmth and spice. As such you would need a wine with body and a bit of spice that can support these flavours. I would recommend an oaked Chardonnay for this. A decent Burgundy would be delicious but a southern French Chardonnay would do the job admirably well. If you go for a New World Chardonnay try to make sure there’s not too much tropical fruit on the palate as this will override the subtleness of the fish.


Roses – June Wine Club

Summer hasn’t really happened yet. We optimistically decided at Wine Club last month that by mid June we would be sitting outside on someone’s terrace and so Rosé seemed the most appropriate theme. The terrace part didn’t really happen but we soldiered on with the Rosés nonetheless.

Rosé sales in the UK have been steadily on the rise over the last several years. Despite its popularity I am always amazed by the poor selection generally on offer in supermarkets. The options usually consist of the deeply pink (and often deeply unpleasant) brands – Echo Falls, Blossom Hill etc – and the Pinot Grigio Rosés. Unfortunately since everyone finds dark Rosés so off putting it drives up the price on the much paler Pinot Grigio Blush which means you end up paying a lot more than you should for what is essentially a very mediocre wine. I’m happy to pay £6.50 for a Pinot Grigio Rosé but £8.50, which seems to have become the norm now, is a bit of a joke.

For the sake of education we started with the original wine brand and hero of the 1980’s Mateus Rosé. I was quite surprised by how easy this was to find – £4.99 in Tesco – which presumably means it’s still relatively popular. Not quite my scene – deep pink, a very unsubtle spritz, off-dry and fruity – but a good starting point. Apart from giving us nostalgic flashbacks of Albufeira 2007 where we drank an unseemly amount of it over the course of a week in Portugal, it didn’t really do much for us. Next up was the Pinot Grigio Rosé which went down much better. Still for me not terribly exciting but extremely easy drinking and as such ticks a significant box.

We blew past what I thought was quite a good White Zinfandel Rose by Fetzer – I have to admit that no one else seemed to agree with me though. White Zinfandel tends to hail from California and is always medium-dry and again quite a deep pink – it’s this sweetness which put everyone off although as a style it’s really quite popular. I thought this was a good quality example of what it was, although I have to admit not what I would necessarily choose to drink myself on a day-to-day basis. The famous Chateau de Sours Rose took us back to the drier styles again; I’ve never really quite ‘got’ this wine. It was always a firm favourite with the slightly older generation when I was working in wine shops but to me was a bit overpriced.

Provence has it all for me when it comes to Rosé.  That perfect salmon-pink colour and a light, fresh palate of strawberries and cream with a bit of orange peel. Although subtle, these tend to be wines that actually taste, unlike the Pinot Grigio Rosé which I challenge anyone to differentiate from a white Pinot Grigio if drinking it with their eyes shut! We tried the M de Minuty Rosé and this delivered on every level. Granted, they’re not always cheap, normally around £10, but for the elegance and flavour you get it’s totally worth it.

The final wine of the evening was actually a bit of a disappointment for me – the Château Romassan Rosé by Domaines Ott. I’ve wanted to try this wine since forever. Also from Provence it has everything you’d expect for a good quality wine and it looks beautiful but coming in around the £25 mark it’s a lot of money and in my opinion just isn’t worth it.

I don’t think Rosé is something that can take itself too seriously. It can be delicious and refreshing but rarely has much depth or complexity; but then again that’s half the charm of it. Sometimes it’s nice to drink something without feeling like you have to think too hard about it, something that can just be drunk for the sheer pleasure of drinking it. And as soon as the sun comes out again I’ll be drinking  a lot more Provence Rosé this summer.

Sweet sweet sweetbreads

Offal has never been my thing. No matter how much I like the taste or wish I could get on board I just can’t cope with the texture. It’s something I think I was expecting to grow into – a bit like olives and anchovies – and as such I end up tentatively trying something ‘offaly’ about once a year. Last year’s attempt was at the brilliant Soif on Battersea Rise where I had some rather impressive looking calf’s liver with beetroot. The combination worked well and I really really wanted to like it more than I did – it’s a real, “it’s not you, it’s me” situation when it comes to things like this and I wish it wasn’t the case.

That was until I tried sweetbreads a few weeks ago and they turned out to be a total game-changer. I’d never really been sure what sweetbreads are – for some reason I think I always thought they were testicles (??!!) – and so it’s no surprise I’ve always given them a wide berth. When my Dad brought them home the other day my brothers and sisters and I started a quiet grumble of “I don’t think I really like sweetbreads” before prodding them suspiciously in the pan in front of us. And then – “oooh these are really quite good. In fact, these are absolutely delicious”!! The texture is nothing like other offal I’ve tried in the past – much less dense and instead really quite tender with a lovely subtle, delicate flavour.

And it turns out they’re not testicles (or at least not most of the time) and are glands – I’d rather not know which glands but that’s what they are. So when we went to Vinoteca with friends a couple of weeks ago I jumped at them when I saw them on the menu, and they were just as good the second time round. Our friends were equally as skeptical as I had been but I think were pleasantly surprised when forced to try them.

I think the sweetbreads would have gone with either red or white wine but the one we were recommended that evening was a Bobal from Valencia in Spain. Bobal isn’t a grape variety I’ve ever come across before but it was a red wine that was smooth and velvety with a medium body and dark fruit characteristics. Vinoteca was complete heaven for me with a wine list of over 300 wines and I really can’t think why it’s taken me so long to go. We started the evening with a fantastic Vouvray Sec; the waiters were extremely patient with my wine questions and everything we ate and drank was phenomenal.

As for the sweetbreads, if you’re brave enough to try them, I would recommend them the way my Dad cooked them. Buy them from your butcher and make sure they’ve been prepared (they need to be soaked for quite a while and removed of any sinew) before pan frying them in butter in a heavy based frying pan with some dried breadcrumbs. They will only need a couple of minutes each side.

A trip to the Loire Valley

I have been shamefully neglectful of The Kitchen Winery of late. Being in the middle of trying to buy our first flat is my principal excuse at the moment – good Lord it’s stressful. I always looked at people complaining about the horrors of house-buying with complete impatience and mild disgust – oh poor you, going through the dreadful experience of BUYING YOUR OWN HOME must be simply dreadful for you – but I have to admit the joy and romance of the whole business wore off in about 30secs leaving me feeling a little naive and really quite cross with everything house-related 99% of the time.

But the guilt has been eating away at me and everyone I see asks me “what’s happened to your blog?” (actually ‘everyone’ is obviously a massive exaggeration but you know, the odd one or two people). So a trip to the Loire Valley last week left me officially run out of excuses and so here I am, back again, and I will endeavour to pick up more of less where I left off, although perhaps with a little less frequency.

La Fesles
Chateaux La Fesles

The Loire Valley, I discovered, is really very beautiful. It refers to the area surrounding the river Loire which starts in the Massif Central and ends in Nantes where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. It includes different climates and terroirs along the way and it is along La Loire that you find appellations such as Muscadet, Vouvray, Chinon, Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre. Though famous for its Sauvignon Blancs, this grape shockingly only accounts for 10% of the overall plantings of the region. Though Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre may be the most well known styles they are in no way the most plentiful which of course contributes to their higher price points. For a wine in a similar style to Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume but a bit more affordable opt for a Sauvignon Blanc from the Touraine region which will show many similar characteristics.

We tried so many wines while we were there but the main grape variety I’d like to focus on is Chenin Blanc. There are some stunning dry Chenin Blancs from the likes of Vouvray and Anjou but Chenin can be used to make some really beautiful sweet wines as well. One of the highlights of the trip for me was visiting Chateau La Fesles where they make several styles of wine but most notably they produce Bonnezeaux. This may not be something you’ve come across before, and indeed there’s not a huge amount around, but Bonnezeaux is a fantastic sweet wine appellation within the Loire Valley. There are only around 30 Bonnezeaux producers in the Loire and Chateau La Fesles have 30ha out of approximately 100ha altogether so are by far the biggest producer, but still pretty small by general standards.

Weed management in the vineyard
Weed management in the vineyard

The grape variety is, as I’ve said, Chenin Blanc – the grapes are left on the vine until they are really really ripe and beginning to dry; they are therefore picked late in the year when the sugars in the grapes are very concentrated. A small proportion of the grapes will inevitably have been affected by the same noble rot as is found in the Sauternes region, botrytis cinerea, but interestingly, whereas this is encouraged as much as possible in Sauternes, it is not really desired in Bonnezeaux. Rather than attempting to copy Sauternes they are trying to stay in keeping with the classic style of the Loire and to produce a wine that is fresher, more aromatic and much lighter.

We were lucky enough to try a range of vintages of Chateau La Fesles Bonnezeaux – 2007, 2010, 2000 and 1993 in that order – and you could really see the differences between them. The 2007 was very classic Bonnezeaux with flavours of marmalade and honey; the 2010 was an outstanding vintage and was fuller with much more intensity of flavour; 2000 had had a much higher proportion of botrytis affected grapes and you could see why they didn’t desire it in the vineyard – for me the wine lacked freshness and tasted a little clumsy; finally 1993 which was fascinating – still intensely sweet but with savoury flavour characteristics and a salty/nutty flavour reminiscent of sherry.

The Wines

There were countless other wines we tried in the 3 days we were there and if you ever get the chance to go I couldn’t recommend it enough. And if you do get a chance to try Bonnezeaux one day, or see one on a wine list in a restaurant, then go for it as they really are wonderful wines.

This is us in front of La Loire whilst visiting Bouvet-Ladubay in Saumur
This is us in front of La Loire whilst visiting Bouvet-Ladubay in Saumur