8 July 2017

A tale of Albarino

I've recently fallen a bit in love with a glass of Albarino and feel the need to spread the word.

Traditionally, this grape is grown in the warm and wet region of Galicia in Spain. With the finest Albarino wines coming from Rias Baixas DOC of Spain.

It is light, crisp, citrusy and perfect as an aperitif or with shellfish. So if you like a White Rioja, why not try a different Spanish Style give this grape a glug?

We went on holiday to Spain recently and I was really hoping to try lots of this style of wine. Maybe we were in the wrong area or perhaps the wrong type of resort, but I didn't see a single Albarino in a supermarket. An absolute travesty! 

So back here in the UK, here's a few I've recently enjoyed.

Definition Albarino 2016

I'm a big fan of the Majestic Definition range. It's their own label wine and most of the range that I've tried has been pretty good quality for the price. 

This Albarino is really light, fresh and has a lovely citrus bite. Pretty pure and not overly complex, this wine is dangerously drinkable and a confident crowd pleaser. At £11.99 a bottle, it's the most expensive I've tried but I would say worth the extra pennies.

Tres Mares Albarino

Available from Waitrose at £9.99, this wine has a bit more depth than the definition one. Slightly more golden in the glass, this Rias Baixas Albarino has an apple bite of acidity. 

Some Albarino wines can be unapproachably aromatic, but this one is definitely lighter and more easy drinking.

Medusa Albarino 2016

Priced at £9.99 from Majestic, this wine has easily the most attractive bottle design out of all the ones I've tried. It is also the most complex with more aromatic and peach notes and definitely more of a honey colour in the glass.

For me, this fresh, fruity wine is best served cold and will probably be your glass of wine if you like something off dry with ripe fruit flavours.

Carlos Rodrigues Albarino

This lip smacking Albarino is available from Naked Wines for £9.99. I first tried this at the Naked Wines Tasting tour in 2016 and I definitely went back to Carlos' table for more than one taste! 

It's crisp, fresh and full of apple and pear flavours. Again, serve ice cold and this clear, light coloured wine will definitely not disappoint. I can practically smell the salty air of the sea as I drink this. Definitely zesty, definitely refreshing and one to try. (apologies for the photo, my phone is broken, normal service will resume shortly).

So, if you haven't given this grape a go, I'd really urge you to. Grab yourself a glass, close your eyes and imagine you're on a breezy terrace in Sunny Spain with a plate of salty squid in front of you. And, if there are any you think I should try, then just let me know and I'll add to my list. Cheers!

30 June 2017

A day of wine tasting near Vias

We recently went to Vias in the Languedoc region of France to visit my parents who own a place there. And my Dad took us for a morning of wine tasting. 
Me tasting some wines
at Domaine Saint

Dad had been to a wine tasting fayre in Agde the month before called "Vinocap" and had met several wine producers at the event and wanted us to see what we thought.

So we set off in the car and with the help of google maps, found our first Vineyard. The lovely thing about driving around this part of France is that, even when you're lost, the journey is an absolute delight. Beautiful green scenery, unspoiled coastlines and villages that are a snapshot of history.

The first stop was Domaine Saint Hilaire which is near Pezenas and Beziers.
Even though we hadn't made an appointment, we couldn't have been made
One of my fave wines
more welcome. Izabela took the time to go through all of the wines in the range and even tasted everything with us which made it seem such a more convivial experience.

We ended up buying several cases because everything was so delicious. Particular delights for me were there Voignier Vermentino which was very crisp and dry and perfectly suited to the amazingly hot day and would be great with spaghetti Vongole. We also bought several bottles of their Cabernet/Merlot blend which was called Silk - packed with soft tannins and cherry ripe fruit (I think this has been renamed to Le Baron now). And, of course, they had a fabulous Picpoul de Pinet since the vineyard is
technically within the designated appellation. 

Certainly not the cheapest end of the scale but this place is absolutely spectacular and the wines are top notch. As we were leaving, a group of very wealthy looking Americans arrived for lunch and I literally felt like we were on a movie set! 

I've noticed on their website that they also do tastings with Tapas and other similar packages so worth perhaps booking in advance as these have great reviews on Trip Advisor.

The next vineyard we stopped off at was closed. I guess that's the risk you run from arriving without booking. But, that was all of the fun from our perspective!
Outside beautiful
Saint Hilaire

So then we drove onto Domaine du Bosc. We didn't get quite such a warm welcome, but I think we might have interrupted their lunch (and the French love their lunch!). But the sign did say they were open all day and the lady warmed up as the tasting went on.

What was lovely about this place was all the artwork and the amazing gardens. The whole vineyard is on Volcanic soil which was previously under the water and apparently this gives the wines a unique flavour. But everywhere around the tasting room and gardens
are fossil relics and other beautiful, unique pieces of artwork.

We particularly enjoyed both of the rose wines we tried. But we especially enjoyed the Petit Verdot 2015 Le Rosé du Cap which was very fresh, crisp and would be perfect as an aperitif. We also tried some lovely reds and a really nice desert style wine which was like Christmas Pudding in a glass called Grande Réserve 2004 Le Bosc.

All in all, it was a great way to spend the morning, especially if you are staying
The Courtyard at Le Bosc
in Vias as both wineries were only within 20 minutes drive of Vias Plage. But while we were driving, we went past dozens of signs for tasting rooms and we tried lots of delicious wines while in the area so you really are spoilt for choice.

Thanks for organising it Dad! Time to start planning the next one!

Last time we stayed in the area, we visited Domaine de Virgile Joly in Saint Saturnin which you can read about here and The O'Connells near to Carcasonne which you can read about here.

19 May 2017

Staying at the HPB Bena Vista property on the Costa del Sol

If you regularly follow my blog, you'll know that I'm a member of the HPB scheme which entitles me access to a property portfolio across Europe. And you'll also know I'm a massive fan. You can read more about the scheme here.

In my endeavours to stay at all the properties in the portfolio, I recently stayed at the HPB Bena Vista property which is in Estepona on the Costa Del Sol.
The view from the clubhouse

I chose this property simply because we were travelling in April and it promised to have the warmest weather out of all the properties in the scheme at that time of year. Plus, the flights to Malaga Airport were short and cheap and the transfer to the property from the airport was under an hour. And, since we were travelling with our two year old son, this was essential. 

The property we selected was a two bed, ground floor apartment with a private garden. And, as always, the place was absolutely immaculate. They'd set up a lovely, little cot in the second bedroom and both bedrooms had a private en suite. The garden was south facing and completely self enclosed so ideal for our son to play in. We even had a little coal BBQ- all perfect for a small family get away.

The entrance to the complex
We also loved the position of Bena Vista because it was situated close to bars and restaurants. Some of the properties we've stayed in have been fairly remote and required a drive to get to amenities. Whereas this place had bars, restaurants and supermarkets on its doorstep. 

In fact, right next door, there's a lovely bar called Restaurant Los Arcos which we ended up going to most days! The bar has a lovely enclosed outside area complete with children's play park, enabling us to sit having a drink, a meal and relax while our son played in a safe, enclosed area with both Spanish and English children. We ate there once and the food was pretty good too.

The playpark at Los Arcos
Bena Vista does have a beach which is literally 5 minutes walk away. But, to be honest, it's more of a stony crop on the edge of a building site! Considering the beautiful beaches on the Costa Del Sol, this is not somewhere you'd choose to hang out (unless you had an interest in watching Spanish builders at work!). However, there were numerous beaches within 10 minutes drive in Espepona, Puerta Benus and Marbella. I've written about my favourite beaches here.

The resort also had two swimming pools but they're not heated. So, in April, even with a wetsuit on, our son could not be coaxed in! 

All great, so what's the catch? Well, we had a lovely holiday and we were really lucky with the weather considering it was April. But there are a couple of things that might put you off.

Our lovely enclosed garden
Firstly, the road. Randomly, the whole Bena Vista resort is built on the edge of a pretty main road. And, when I say a main road, it's like the A3 or A34 in England. Busy day and night and only passable via the numerous footbridges dotted along it. Our apartment was several rows back from the road, but you could still hear it, even with the doors closed.

Secondly, I can't even talk about how many keys we had to grapple with in order to navigate around the complex. Now, I understand the need for security, but surely there has to be a solution that doesn't require a key for the front door, two keys for the back door, two keys for the other back door, a key for the side gate, one for the swimming pool, one for the laundry room, one for the Club House...the list goes on. In fact, because we were outside the main HPB complex, we couldn't even get into the main area because we didn't have the key. The whole system needs a complete overhaul.
Gorgeous swimming pool

Look, if you're looking for a remote, isolated and picturesque resort, I'll be honest, this place isn't going to be for you. Although the grounds of the complex are beautifully maintained like all the HPB properties, it is on the edge of a really main road. I'd recommend HPB La Gomera or HPB Almeria if you want peace, tranquillity and unspoiled views. 

However, if you want to be near amenities, to be able to walk to bars and restaurants and if you're travelling with children and need to be able to entertain them, this place is ideal. Although I loved HPB Lanzarote with it's nearby bars and restaurants, the property we had here was much nicer and the enclosed garden was ideal for a toddler. However, you didn't need to hire a car in Lanzarote.

All in all, we had a lovely stay there and we would definitely return. Another great property from HPB.

30 April 2017

Best family friendly beaches in Marbella and Estepona

We recently took a trip to Estepona staying in the HPB property there called HPB Bena Vista. Although there was a beach near to the property, it was more of a building site really, so we looked further afield to Marbella, Estepona and Puerta Benus for nice beaches.

These are the nicest family (and parent) friendly beaches we found on our travels:

El Cristo Beach in Estepona

This was the nicest beach we found and the one we kept going back to. Just past the marina in Estepona, El Cristo Beach is a small cove which means the water is more sheltered and laps gently over the shallow shore. 

Directly on the beach there is a small, shaded play park which my son loved playing on. There's a little beach bar called Havana Beach Bar Chiringuito which sells beers (yes!), wine (yes), ice-creams and restaurant food. So once you get there, you don't even have to leave.

Plus, the beach and water is super clean. We got down there are 9am one day (yes, we are keen) and there was a tractor down there ploughing and flattening the beach. Which my son especially loved! The beach was never busy, but perhaps that's because we were down there so early everyday!

Playa de Levante in Puerto Benus

You may not think that Puerto Benus would be an ideal place for children. But, actually, Playa de Levante or Playa Puerto Benus is really family friendly.

Another sheltered cove, this water is calm and shallow (so slightly warmer than some other beaches) and the sand is fine and not too rocky.

There are lots of bars and Chiringuitos along the beach, but we struggled to find one that wasn't overpriced and over styled. In fact we had one of our worst and most expensive meals at the Levante Beach Restaurant. Much better to bring a picnic lunch down and chill out under one of the umbrellas.

El Faro Beach in Marbella

OK, so this isn't exactly the most picturesque beach in the area and, because it's just off the centre of Marbella, the clientele can be a bit, well, suspect. However, if you're looking for a beach that's perfect for Mummy and for toddler, then El Faro Beach would take some beating.

The beach has a large play park planted in the centre of it which is completely in sight of all the bars and restaurants. Meaning Mummy can have a little drinky while Daddy plays with toddler on the slides (and sometimes steps in to help). 

You're spoilt for choice for family friendly beaches in Marbella and Estepona, but these are the ones we especially enjoyed. Spain does this so well by combining adult playtime with family playtime. Wish we had a bit more of this sort of thing here in the UK!

29 April 2017

What we'll be drinking at my son's baptism

So, perhaps it's not the first thing on all parent's minds for their child's baptism. But, it will be a huge celebration of our son's life and so, for us, what we drink with our friends will be a huge part of it.

We decided to go to our local Majestic in order to try a couple of options. And, to be honest, they couldn't have been more helpful. I think people know that Majestic provides this sort of service for weddings, but perhaps people don't know how helpful they are for other events, such as Christenings.

I'd emailed them beforehand to let them know that I wanted sparkling wine and what my price point was. I also said what style of sparkling wine I prefer, so something clean, crisp and without too much biscuit/toasty notes. And, Chris came back with some options which he said he'd put on ice and we booked in an evening to pop down to have a taste!

Eventually, we chose the following:
  • Le Berceau Piquepoul-Chardonnay Brut Frisante. This was the one that Chris actually recommended and I was intrigued as I love a Picpoul (it was the first wine I ever got drunk on). It was very clean and crisp with super fine bubbles.
  • La Marca Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. We've had this one before at other parties and know it to be a crowd-pleasing all-rounder. Plus, we got married in Italy so a prosecco seemed appropriate.
  • Southcott Pewsey Hill Classic Cuvee Brut 2011. We didn't actually get to try this one, but we wanted a couple of English sparkling wines for the "important people". My first ever job was in Pewsey and this is where this vineyard is located (sorry, I couldn't find this wine on the Majestic website). 
I really hope all our guests are pleased with our selections. We've probably bought far too many bottles, but thankfully, Majestic has a use and return policy, which means we can take back any unused bottles.

Added to the sparkling wines, we are planning to have a keg of beer from our local Hopback Brewery. Perhaps some of their delicious Summer Lightening. However, this was my husband's ONLY job for the baptism and he has utterly failed to sort it. However, two weeks to go, so fingers crossed!

I'll report back on how the event goes and what all of our guests thought! Thanks again to Chris and the team at Majestic Salisbury.

23 April 2017

Perfect toddler friendly pub in the New Forest

I don't often dedicate a whole blog post to one pub. However, as a toddler mum, one of the things I constantly search for is a pub where I can go for Sunday lunch where my child will be happy (and so will my furry puppy child). And, judging by the numerous Mummy posts on Facebook groups about this topic, I'm not alone.
I stole this from their website
hope they don't mind!

And Mums, I may have found the mecca of all establishments (for the summer at least).

The Rising Sun pub in Bashley is about 40 minutes drive from Salisbury towards Milford on Sea. It is ideal because, in the garden there is the huge, wooden play park. It's just fantastic because you can sit and have a drink and meal in the sunshine while your toddler plays happily on the slides and climbing structures. You just take it in turns in your group to go and stand with the kids.

It's also lovely because, being in the middle of the New Forest, the wild ponies constantly wander past. And, if you have your doggy with you, there are plenty of places to walk before and after the meal. (although we carried onto Milford of Sea which is just great for doggies.) They even give you a little water bowl for your pooch.

The food is general sort of pub fare. But pretty reasonably priced and comes with a smile and, even though it was Easter Weekend when we went, the service was extremely prompt and efficient.

Previously, we have always gone to the Red Shoot pub in the Forest. It's closer to Salisbury and has lovely walks on the doorstep through. But the last time we went, the service was appalling and we waited nearly two hours for our meal without any apology. 

We will definitely plan a trip there in the near future. Thanks to my Mum and Dad for telling us about this place!

4 February 2017

Selecting a new rosé wine for Naked Wines

Me tasting the good stuff
As an Archangel for Naked Wines, I was recently lucky enough to be asked to to help them choose a new Provencal Rosé wine for their website.

It was pretty exciting stuff as it was the first time I'd visited the Naked Wines offices and met a lot of the people I've been chatting to online since 2012. Plus, I hadn't drank for 33 days previously. What a way to break dry January with a rosé tasting with Naked Wines?
Outside the Naked Wines
offices with Archangels
Simon and Darren

When I arrived at the offices, I did not feel let down by the Naked experience. The funky reception was dominated by a huge slide that transported staff between floors. Everything was quirky and open plan with meeting rooms named after principle Naked wine makers and wine vending machines for staff to sample latest vintages. What a fab place to work.

Archangel, Phil, 
shooting down the slide
And then the rosé wine arrived. Bottle after bottle after bottle of delicious looking wine. Some more delicate and blushy and some more red and fruity in colour. Turned out there were 37 of the stuff. It was like some sort of fantasy come true!

But when MD (and super fox) Eamon Fitzgerald kicked off the tasting, it became apparent that this was no jolly for Naked Wines. 

Wine Guru, Toby, had literally spent months talking to rosé producers in Provence to secure a selection of wines that would be, not only delicious, but exclusive to Naked. Plus, most of the wine makers were fairly small, artisan producers. And, if they were to secure distribution through Naked Wines, Eamon told us, it could be life changing.
Just a few roses to choose
from then....

On the train to Norwich, Archangels Simon and Darren had told me about a wine they selected at a previous day like this one. And, apparently the wine the Archangels chose was really unpopular with the Naked Angels. It literally "bombed". I did not want to be responsible for choosing a wine that the Angels don't like and I didn't want to let Eamon and the team down! 

We were instructed to use the spittoons and make the right decision. No pressure then.

I really hope that we made the right decision. Because the task was much more difficult than I'd anticipated!
Gorgeous Eamon laying down
the law. This was serious
business (I promise)

For starters, never before had I tried so many wines in such quick succession. Now, I'm a drinker and I've done a lot of tasting! But, we had to whittle 37 wines down to one which would go on sale on the website that evening! 

Our group initially had 12 wines to taste, then we tasted the 6 shortlisted rosés from all the groups and finally we selected one. I felt like I was literally tasting one wine after another after another! (I know, it's a hard life!)

Look how serious we were
Archangels Darren & Sarah
In addition, we had to keep in mind that we were helping to select a wine that would be popular with Naked Wines Angels. So, we had to consider the cost of the wine as well as whether it would be something that Naked customers would want to buy and would expect from a Provencal Rosé.

However, a few of the wines really stood out. And I was really pleased with the wine we chose. 

The Chateau Saint Hilaire Provence Rosé by Bruno Lapierre was mouth wateringly zingy with fresh strawberry fruit flavours, pale and blushy-pink in the glass and would be dangerously drinkable on a summer's day in the garden. 

My Archangel friend Ray
We finally met for the first
time that day!
In fact, 3,600 bottles went on sale that evening as a marketplace deal and nearly all of them had gone in just a few days, which hopefully showed we made a good choice.

I had such a great day and it was definitely worth the train fare and the total of 8 hours of travel to get there. I've also learned loads more about rosé wine (who'd have thought that a third of the wine drank in France was pink? They definitely have good taste). Thanks Naked Wines for an absolutely amazing afternoon (an AA afternoon).