30 June 2015

Tasting wines at Chateau Teyssier with Tom Harrow

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to an 40th birthday party staying at Chateau Rigaud near Saint Emilion in the Bordeaux region of France. 

Me tasting Le Dome 2009 at Chateau Tessier
One of the fabulous excursions that was organised (as well as a helicopter ride over Saint Emilion!!) was a wine tasting trip to a nearby Chateau, Chateau Teyssier. This was hosted by wine expert Tom Harrow from Honest Grapes who had also done a vertical wine tasting for us at our Chateau the previous night.

Although we were in the heart of Bordeaux, we had been drinking Tuscan reds for most of the week, thanks to the birthday boy's love of Italian wines. So it was organised that the wine tasting should be a comparison of a couple Italian 2009 reds vs a couple of the Grand Crus produced in 2009 by JCP Maltus wines.

The Chateau itself is hugely opulent, modern and immaculate. We were fortunate enough to be greeted by Lyn Maltus, one of the owners and a pair of gorgeous Gordon Setter dogs. After a brief tour of the production, we were led through to the tasting area, which was cool despite it being a 30 degree day in France, which overlooked a beautiful swimming pool with relaxed outside eating areas. Overall, it had a very decadent feel.

The wines we tasted at Chateau Teyssier
Now, anyone who reads my blog knows that I love wine. But I really wouldn't class myself as an expert. I suspect like a lot of wine fans, I drink a lot of it and I know what I like, but that is about it. One day, I hope to take my WSET and become more of an expert, but for now I am content being a happy novice. 

So, some of the talk about terroirs and South Bank and Left Bank wines went a bit over my head. But I have to admit, all of the wines we tasted were absolutely delicious and the whole atmosphere was amazing. And it was good to compare wines with similar grape composites from different countries from the same year.

Outside Chateau Teyssier
Having got married in Tuscany in 2013, I obviously absolutely love Italian wines. But probably my favourite wine of the day was Le Dome 2009. Apparently JCP Maltus only produced around 1,000 cases of this so it weighs in at a hefty £131 a bottle. But when you taste it, you can see why it has such a glamorous price tag. It is smooth, fruity and velvety and was given 99 points by Robert Parker who said the Dome was Johnathon Maltus' finest wine to date.

My next favourite was probably Le Macchiole Paleo 2009 from Tuscany. This has a more affordable price point of £45. Made with 100% Cabernet Franc, it smells of plums and cherries and tastes of spice and tobacco.

We also tried the Vieux Chateau Mazerat 2009 vs the Castello di Ama L'apparita 2009. Both of which were great, but the Bordeaux probably had the edge with its Cranberry and white chocolate flavours.

I've done lots of wine tastings around the world. But even in Sonoma in California, I've never been somewhere as elegant as Chateau Teyssier or tried such fine wines. An absolute once in a lifetime experience and thanks to everyone who made it happen.

29 June 2015

Bring on the Barons

If you've been to Salisbury recently, you might have spied some multi-coloured statues littered around the town centre. 

I hadn't heard these little hunched over men were arriving. But they suddenly popped up all over the the place, with a team of stealth volunteers putting them up in the dead of night. And apparently it's the biggest mass participation public event ever to be held in Salisbury. 

The statues are Barons as part of the Magna Carta 800th celebrations and there are 25 of them all over Salisbury town centre. Why Barons? Well apparently there were 25 Barons that originally formed a committee to oppose evil King John and to help ensure he complied with the terms of the Magna Carta. 

They are all designed by different artists so I've had fun trying to collect photos of all of them. And, my Instagram and Facebook are littered with people taking selfies with them. 

You can pick up a map of the Baron Trail at the tourist information office in Salisbury or you can download one online, but where is the fun in that? To date, I've managed to stumble across 19 of them and I have until September to find the remaining 6. 

As well as being a fun way to see different parts of Salisbury, the Baron Trail also supports the Trussell Trust, the UK's leading poverty charity. If you enjoy the trail, you can text TBCS15 £5 to 70070 to donate £5 to the charity. Plus they are all being auctioned off in October to trial even more money for the Trussell Trust. 

19 June 2015

What happens when you miss your Monarch flight

On 2nd June 2015, we missed our Monarch flight from Gatwick to Tenerife. We've never missed flights anywhere before and, with Monarch, it turns out to be a massively stressful and expensive thing to do. Here is what happened to us and why we were so cross about the situation.

How we missed the flight

OK. So we were late to the airport. Everything that could have gone wrong on the journey there did go wrong. Roadworks on the M3, a breakdown in our feeder lane on the motorway and a nightmare finding a space at the long stay car park.

But we got there in time and we managed to check onto the flight. We were flying with our 8 month old baby so we had quite a lot to check in including his buggy, car seat, his travel cot as well as all of our suitcases. We breathed a sigh of relief when we checked in as we thought, "we've made it". 

We then went through the airport as quickly as you can when carrying a baby. But I obviously couldn't run and we had bottles and food for the baby, all of which had to be checked and tested. We didn't stop to change the baby, we didn't get a drink or any food, we didn't even go to the toilet. We couldn't have gone any quicker than we did. 

Yet, when we got to the gate, we found that they'd closed the flight and taken our luggage off the flight. Our travel cot, car seat, buggy and suitcases were all sat on the Tarmac in the rain.

We were all pretty tired
when we finally caught
our Monarch flight
And, for the next 15 minutes we had to sit there and watch the plane not moving. We had to go back through immigration and then back to check in and only the stewardesses could take us through. It was 15 minutes until the plane even moved so we just had to sit there and look at it. But once your bags are off the flight, that is it apparently. 

To be fair to the stewardesses, they were really nice. And they kept telling us that Monarch are generally really good in situations like ours and let you transfer your ticket over to another flight. Well, that is not what happened. They were not good. We had to buy a new ticket based on the cost of the flight on the day, which was £1,014 single to Tenerife. They were "good" enough to include the cost of our original flight within that, but given we had booked months before, it was a drop in the ocean. 

How Monarch did not help the situation 

Now you could argue the situation was our fault for arriving at the airport late. And, while I take your point, here is what annoyed us:

  1. When we checked in, we weren't told that it'd be really tight for us to get to the gate on time. We weren't even told to rush. I asked how far it was to the gate and I was told that "it was pretty far". But we were not told that we had to really hurry and if we didn't, we wouldn't make the plane.
  2. Given that we were carrying a child, couldn't run and given how long it takes to get bottles etc through security, it would have been impossible for us to have got to the gate any faster. On that basis, we believe it was impossible for us to have made our flight. The Monarch staff should have known this and should either have not checked us into the flight or offered us some sort of assistance or advice for getting through security more quickly.
  3. After we arrived at the gate and were told we would not be allowed to board, it was a good 15 minutes before the plane moved. There would have been plenty of time for them to reload our bags and let us on the plane without delaying the flight. We were told that, once the bags have been been taken off the flight, they could not be reloaded. This seems like a ridiculous rule and one which neither of the air stewardesses could explain the rationale behind.
  4. The cost of the replacement flights was ludicrously expensive. We flew to Australia at Christmas for a similar sum. And, the flight wasn't even nearly full so those seats would have been empty on the flight anyway. It felt like the airline was profiting from our desperate situation.
  5. Our bags were clearly left on the runway for quite some time as they were utterly drenched when they were returned to us. Our son sleeps in a Sleepyhead Grande sleep pod which cost us £150. It was totally soaking and shrunk as a result and is therefore ruined.

View from our seats when we finally
caught our Monarch flight
Overall, it was an incredibly stressful day and one which was not helped by Monarch. We relayed the story (as you can imagine) to quite a few people over the next few days and no one could believe how uncaring Monarch were, especially as we were travelling with a baby.

We finally arrived at our destination at 9pm and we were all exhausted. An experience we hope never to repeat and I urge anyone reading this not to repeat!

17 June 2015

Travelling to La Gomera by ferry

For my Mum's 70th birthday, we booked a villa through our Hotel Property Bond (HPB) scheme on the little known island of La Gomera. If you've never heard about HPB, you can read about it on my blog here

La Gomera is one of the Canary Islands and is located 18 nautical miles just West of TenerifeTo get there, you can either fly to Tenerife and then get a ferry across. Or you can fly to La Gomera's small airport which receives one flight a day and just 32,000 passengers a year. 

We chose to arrive by boat and so flew the Tenerife South Airport and then transferred to Los Cristianos port. From there, we got a small ferry over to San Sebastián port on La Gomera. 

The ferry only takes around 50 minutes, is a very pleasant journey. It's a beautiful way to arrive at the island where the pretty coloured houses on the hillside greet you. The ferry is operated by Fred Olsen, who runs three ferries a day and you can buy tickets online for around €34 return.  

I guess most people get put off by the additional travelling required to get to La Gomera. Which is probably why so few people have heard of the island. But it's very easy and quite a fun journey. The island is remote and beautiful and the Garajonay National Park on the Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site so it is definitely worth the extra travel. 

6 June 2015

Using gNappies on holiday

Since our little one was first born, we have used reusable nappies. We mostly use Charlie Bananas and Bumgenius Freetime, but we also have some Bambino Miosolo nappies. We also use cheeky wipes dipped in water which I think are kinder to his skin than wet wipes.

However, on holiday, we have always had to resort to disposable nappies. Reusables simply take up too much space in the suitcase and it can be difficult to store and wash dirty nappies. When we went to Australia at Christmas, we used disposables and wet wipes and he got ever such a sore bottom.

Drying my gNappies in the
So when we went to La Gomera this June, we were keen to use an alternative to disposables.

Fortuitously, I was gifted some preloved gNappies. These are like a halfway house between reusable and disposable. They are a three part nappy system with a washable fabric outer, a breathable plastic snap in pouch into which you put a disposable insert. The insert is 100% biodegradable and you can put wet nappies in the compost heap and they will degrade in 100 days. The rest gets put in the wash.

We never found that wet nappies leaked through to the fabric, so we could just take out the insert and use the same nappy and snap in pouch. And, even with soiled nappies, although the pouch got dirty, the actual fabric nappy stayed clean. So we just snapped in a new pouch and a new insert and we were off. 

The little changing station I
set up in our room
They are good for travelling because you only need a few of the fabric nappies (we had 3) a few of the snap in pouches that hold the inserts and then a stash of the inserts. I found that a pack of 32 inserts was perfectly sufficient for a week's holiday. We then washed the nappies twice during the week, but if we'd have had more of them, say 7, we probably wouldn't have needed to do a wash at all.

The gNappies themselves cost from £14.95 new, the disposable inserts cost £8.95 for 40 and the pouches cost £12.95 for 6. So, it probably won't save you money compared to disposables. But once you have the gNappies and the pouches, they will last you a while and I guess the inserts are a comparable cost to disposables. Plus, they are obviously much better for the environment.
My little one crawling around
in his gNappy

My son didn't get a sore bottom at all during the week and, although not fully reusable, it felt more natural and gentle than using scratchy, sweaty disposables.  They also looked much cuter when he was crawling around in his birthday suit. 

I've noticed on the gNappies website that they also do cloth inserts so you can use the system and be 100% reusable. They come in packs of 6 and are made from 2 layers of micro fleece and 2 layers of hemp and cotton. I'm off to France at the end of June, so maybe I will give those a try.