Monday, December 21, 2009

Preparing for Christmas 2009

This past week has been getting ready for Christmas. Up into the loft to bring down the tree, the decorations (the gold collection and the red and green collection) and the Christmas tea pot.

Christmas teapot

Yesterday we went down to Farnham to visit the Ageds for a cuppa, drop off a bag of presents and collect one in return. Then off to Heathrow to collect May, the MIL, and bring her back to stay with us for a couple of weeks.

The tree has already been assembled; tonight we put up the decorations and lights.

Christmas tree 09

Jeeves, mull me some wine!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bill Bailey at the O2

Mary Galashan wrote "when a friend of a friend of a friend invites to you at the last minute to see Bill Bailey in a hospitality box at the O2, don't even think about it, say YES!!! It was great fun and so clever."

Peter Blake guitar
Peter Blake guitar at The O2

An old friend of my brother rang me up last Friday lunch time and asked if I was free that evening to go see Bill Bailey at the O2. He had done someone a favour and they reciprocated by giving him the exclusive use of a corporate box on that very day. So he spent the entire day frantically phoning round to find short-notice guests. Mary and I were available so off we went for what turned out to be a most excellent evening.

We saw Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide To The Orchestra which was hugely entertaining. I had not realised that he was a musician before he was a comic and was pleasantly surprised when he sat down at the piano to rattle off a few classical numbers. Google for more reviews.

There was catering, as much drink as we wanted all for free, plus the entertainment. Afterwards, as it was still early, we went down to the VIP lounge bar and had a glass of champagne to round off the evening.

Bill Bailey at The O2. Slumming it in the corporate hospitality box. Free booze. Free food. Peter Blake original on the wall. Party on dudes!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sassicaia and Ornellaia Wine Tasting Dinner

Thursday was our works' Christmas party. Since we are the directors and work force combined we, as in previous years, splashed out the company's money in accordance with the taxman's tax free allowance for staff entertaining [1]. Namely we went out for a very nice meal. And they do not get much better than a Sassicaia and Ornellaia Wine Tasting Dinner at Enoteca Turi.

We sampled parallel vintages of 2003. 2001 and 1999 presented by Tim Atkin MW It was a rare opportunity not afforded to many to taste such Super Tuscans in such a combination.

Tuscan Tastes:
Chicken liver crostini, polenta cheese gnocchi, salame toscano
Cauliflower and olive bruschetta
Ravioli di fagiano e verza, salsa al tartufo nero
Ravioli filled with pheasant and Savoy cabbage, black truffle sauce
Sassicaia DOC 2003 Tenuta San Guido
Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore 2003 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia
Carre d'agnello, con carciofi e patate, spinaci alla fiorentina
Roast rack of lamb with sauteed artichoke and potato,
spinach fiorentina, thyme sauce
Sassicaia DOC 2001 Tenuta San Guido
Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore 2001 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia
Formaggi Toscani
Selection of cheeses from Tuscany
Sassicaia DOC 1999 Tenuta San Guido
Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore 1999 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia
Vin Santo con cantuccini
Vin Santo with cantuccini biscuits
Vin Santo Bianco del Empolese DOC 2004 Leonardo

For more about the wines see:

[1] page 10
The following expenses payments and benefits are not normally taxable under the provisions described in this booklet.
Annual parties or similar functions
Sections 264 and 266(3)
Annual parties at Christmas or alternative functions of a similar nature, such as an annual dinner dance, which are open to staff generally and which cost no more than £150 per head to provide. Where there is more than one annual function and their total cost per head exceeds £150, only the functions that total £150 or less will not be taxed.


The producer of Sassicaia today, the Incisa della Rocchetta family, was a key player in the Medieval and Renaissance history of northern Italy. The family descend from Aleramo, one of the largest landowners of the Holy Roman Empire, with 250 square kilometers of estate.

Leopoldo Incisa, a high-ranking official of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1840, retired due to a severe illness, and went back to the ancestral home of Rocchetta Tanaro, in Piedmont. Here he published two catalogues of precious Italian and foreign grape varieties that he had collected, which today are a bibliographic rarity and a point of reference to anybody involved in viticulture.

Almost a century later, his great-grand child, Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, as a young student in agriculture, was inspired by those books to plant cabernet vines first in Rocchetta, and then in Bolgheri, the estate he inherited by marriage. As a student in Pisa during the 1920's, the Marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta dreamed of creating a "noble" wine. Like most of Italian aristocracy at the time, his taste in wine ran strongly to fine Bordeaux.

In 1930 Mario married Clarice della Gherardesca, heiress to the Tuscan estate of Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri, on the Tyrrenean Coast, where the young couple moved at the end of the Second World War.

There, just below the castle of Castiglioncello in San Guido (about 400 meters a.s.l.), he found the "terroir" that he was searching for. In 1940, he planted the first vineyard of Sassicaia and then in 1965, he planted two more vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Eventually, all of the wine produced on the estate came to be known by the name of Sassicaia.

The 1968 vintage of Sassicaia was the first to be offered on the open market, and it was as well received as the Premier Crus from Bordeaux. In subsequent years the cellars were moved to temperature-controlled quarters, wood fermentation vats were replaced with stainless steel ones, and French oak barriques were used for the ageing process. The marquis Mario Incisa della Rocchetta passed away in 1983. His son, Marquis Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta, now oversees all estate operations.


Tenuta dell Ornellaia, a 97 hectare estate, was founded in 1981 by Marchese Lodovico Antinori, in the hills near Bolgheri, adjoining Tenuta San Guido, the property of Sassicaia. Lodovico is brother to Piero Antinori of the Antinori Estate, and also nephew to Clarice Gherardesca of Tenuta San Guido.

Having inherited this estate, Ludovico planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot in 1982, with advice from his mentor Andre Tchelistchev, the late Californian wine guru.

The estate's signature wine, Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Superiore, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend, with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, was first released in 1985 after ageing in French oak barriques for 18 months. Other wines produced on the estate include Le Serre Nuove dell'Ornellaia, Masseto and Le Volte. Ornellaia and Masseto comfortably rank amongst the world's greatest wines.

Lodovico Antinori is no longer involved with the winery he founded; after the very successful joint ownership by Marchesi de Frescobaldi and Robert Mondavi in 2002, the property is today owned by Tenuta di Toscana, a company controlled by Marchesi de Frescobaldi, its young and enthusiastic team benefiting from the resources of a large company whilst having autonomy when developing the estate's wines.

Ornellaia is not one of Tuscany's most historic wineries, but it has become one of its most respected with a formidable reputation.

Ornellaia DOC Superiore is the estate's flagship wine; each grape variety and each vineyard is vinified separately, and then assembled to produce wines that reflect the nuances of each vintage. The final blend for each vintage decided 6 months before the completion of its barrel ageing and the wine remains in the bottle for a further 12 months before it is released. Ornellaia 2001 was considered "2001 World's Number 1 Wine" by The Wine Spectator.

One of the great Super-Tuscan estates, Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Winery was founded in 1981 in what has proved to be one of Italy's most interesting and expressive wine-making areas, the maritime hills of Bolgheri within the greater wine region of Maremma. Maremma is an extremely interesting sub region of Tuscany for food and wine lovers to visit. Although for centuries it was considered unfit for vineyards, in the past few decades this coastal area has become one of the most ultra exclusive wine producing regions of Italy. Its success is due both to its staunch commitment to the philosophy of "quality without compromise" and to the unique climate and terrain here. While in some ways similar to Bordeaux's, the estate's terroir is truly something special; ever-changing and composite, it includes marine, alluvial and volcanic soils, allowing each grape variety to be planted in its ideal type of soil. Ornellaia enjoys some famous neighbors such as Sassicaia, one of the most legendary Tuscan estates. Sassicaia is owned (not coincidentally) by Antinori's uncle, who made the first Super Tuscan and began the trend that continues today.

Tenuta dell'Ornellaia actually occupies two separate estates in Tuscany's low, hilly coastal region. The original property, which Antinori inherited, is home to a stylish, clean-lined winery and 30 hectares of vineyards. Nearby is the second estate, Bellaria, with 46 hectares.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Olive harvest 2009

The last visit of the year to Trullo Azzurro to close the place down for the winter and a very productive visit it was too.

Usual routine when we are flying RuinAir: straight from work Thursday evening to the SAS Radisson Stansted. A relaxing meal and an early night for the dawn flight to Brindisi and a sprint down the SS16 to Trullo Azzurro (tafka Hovel-in-the-Hills).

After a quick lunch at Trullo Azzurro we went to the bank to pay some gas bills and reinstate our Internet banking. That evening we went with Chris & John for a meal in Martina Franca.

Harvesting olives 2009 - Mark and John
Harvesting olives 2009 - Mark and John

The next morning C&J came round to help us with our olive harvest and a spot of lunch. Mary insisted on buying rather than borrowing the kit so we are now the proud owners of three crates, four nets (4m x 8m) and four olive rakes.

Harvesting olives 2009 - Nets, crates and haul
Harvesting olives 2009 - Nets, crates and haul

A couple of hours was enough to denude all our trees of their olives. We took them round to C&J's neighbours to add in to their harvest for pressing. Hopefully next spring we will get back a couple of litres of extra-virgin olive oil.

New patio paving
New patio paving

The other main reason for the visit was to admire, and pay for, our new patio (see "Trullo Azzurro works"). After lunch Donato came round to tell us about what he had done and receive his well deserved money. He has done a fine job and we are very happy with the enlarged sun-bathing area :-)

The rest of the time was bagging up all the linens into vacu-sacs, plugging in the dehumidifier and preparing the place for over-wintering. Job done it was home on Sunday. I travelled light: hand luggage only and that was a Waitrose bag-for-life!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Molly the Morris Minor leaves with her new owner

As previously written we put Molly up for sale after owning her for 14 years (1963 Morris Minor 1000 2 Door Saloon For Sale). Interest was sporadic and we were sad to see her go but I am happy to report we have found her a good home :-)

Molly the Morris Minor leaves with her new owner
Molly the Morris Minor leaves with her new owner

We had spent a load of money having her refurbished (Molly Goes to Bristol, Molly returns from Bristol) so we may have sold her at a loss but we have helped preserve a bit of motoring heritage.

As the new owner said, it may only be a lump of metal and glass but you do get very attached to them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

South Africa 2009: Wendy House

In South Africa sheds are known as Wendy houses and we decided we needed one on our terrace.

We have a couple of lovely shell-back chairs that have needed re-varnishing every visit and a barbeque which had rusted in the salty air. So a storage box to contain these and the sun loungers (and possible future bicycles) over winter seemed like a good idea.

We consulted the beach club regulations which prohibit extending your property without permission but did a free standing Wendy house really constitute a structure under the meaning of the rules? Anyway, it's not a Wendy house it's a "storage box", honest.

Wendy House on the terrace - 1

We decided to apply the adage "it is better to ask forgiveness that seek permission" and went ahead and ordered one from Tops Timbers at Bot River.

Wendy House on the terrace - 2

Being on the third floor presented some challenges. The floor and roof panels were too large to go up the stairs so had to go up the outside of the building! Then all the wall and door panels had to be carried up the stair well - no lifts.

Wendy House on the terrace - 3

We had specified a low roof to keep the sight-line close to that of the parapet wall but the Hennie of Tops Timbers had kindly made it taller so we would not have to bend as much to get the chairs in. When the thing was installed it was huge and at least a foot (30 cm) taller than we intended.

Wendy House on the terrace - 4

When we explained to Hennie he was the epitome of excellent customer service. He arranged for the lads to come the next afternoon, dismantle and remove the offending side panels. They took them back to the workshop, chopped them down and returned the day after to reassemble the now shorter Wendy house (sorry storage box).

Wendy House on the terrace - 5

It still looks massive but at least it is, mostly, out of sight.

And of course like my previous shed, Jabba [1], and current sheds, Arthur and Jackson [2], this too should have a name. And what better name than Wendy :-)


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

South Africa 2009: Paarl

On this trip to South Africa we flew out on our wedding anniversary. Normally we go away for the weekend to celebrate, and so this trip we decided to do the same. Instead of going straight to the apartment in Hermanus we went to Paarl for the weekend, a winegrowing district that we had not previously been to.

Cascade Manor Hotel
Cascade Manor Hotel

The price of very ordinary B&Bs in Paarl itself decided us, or I should say Mary as my personal travel organiser, to go out-of-town and for the same price, have a much more luxurious accommodation. The Cascade Manor hotel was a delight. Parts of the building are over 200 years old, and it has recently been renovated and refurbished. It looks more like an Italian villa than anything else.

Mary wine tasting at Laborie
Mary wine tasting at Laborie

As soon as we had checked in the first thing we did was get out and go for a wine tasting; we drove into Paarl for a tasting at Laborie.

Goat tower at Fairview
Goat tower at Fairview

On the Sunday we did a wine tour with André of Four Seasons Travel (, email:, Tel: +27 837 607 408) for a few more tastings:Vergelegen wine estate
Vergelegen wine estate

Monday it was a leisurely drive down to Hermanus taking in a couple more tastings and lunch at Vergelegen.We went via Tops Timbers to arrange for a man to visit to quote for a shed then on to Hermanus. We arrived in time to buy some electricity and supper for a quiet evening in. And so the holiday began :-)

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Weekend in Lacanau, France

Our friends John and Andrea have had a holiday home in Bordeaux for nine years. We had a standing invitation to go and visit them. And of course, we never did until they sold the place and we had one last chance to visit, which we did this weekend. Our friends Bob and Lynn took the overnight ferry from Portsmouth and drove down, picking us up from the airport en route.

Friday night was a meal in; some wine was drunk. Saturday the weather forecast was pleasantly inaccurate and it was sunnier than predicted in the morning.

Lacanau, France - Walking round Lacanau
Walking round Lacanau
Saturday morning, we went for a walk en famille.

Lacanau, France - View of Lac du Lacanau
View of Lac du Lacanau
It was a lovely morning walking through pine woods, with views of the lake.

Lacanau, France - Fly Agaric
Fly Agaric
It being autumn and both warm and damp, the mushrooms were in full sprout. This one was simply missing the gnome.

Lacanau, France - Charlotte posing
Charlotte posing
Mary, Andrea and the children went home and then shopping while John, Bob, Lynn and I did a nine kilometre walk to Lacanau-Ocean. We all met up at the coast for a lunch of crepe. Charlotte was posing the camera.

After lunch we drove the route du vin from Margaux to Loudon-Medoc going "Ooh, aah!" at the picture-book chateaux and bought some wine to go with the evening meal. Another meal in and even more wine was drunk, and possibly the guests as well - hic!

Lacanau, France - Mary buying Sauterne Jelly
Mary buying Sauterne Jelly
Sunday we went to the market at Castlenau where Mary bought some Sauterne Jelly. Excellent with fois gras and brie (French of course) so the stall holder informed us.

Lacanau,, France - Chateau Petrus - a bargain at € 2650!
Chateau Petrus - a bargain at € 2650 a bottle (USD 2518)!
Later we went to check out one of the local wine stores to peruse their shelves and marvel at some of the prices. Then lunch, back to the airport, back to the UK and home for a very early night.

More pictures at:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Zealand wine makers dinner with CJ Pask

Steam Bar, the latest addition to the Wandsworth restaurant scene, is excelling itself. We had a superb wine tasting meal there last night. Arrived 7:30pm and left 11:00pm - the proper way to spend a relaxed evening meal.

Kate did a fine job of presenting the wines and giving us some background to the winery. North island, East coast; middle tier family owned estate (not giant corporate, not garagiste), disused river bed with mix of gravel and alluvium giving a variety of terroir.

The wines were fine but the chef surpassed himself and got a well deserved round of applause.

New Zealand wine makers dinner with CJ Pask

Gimblett Road Hawkes Bay New Zealand

Tuesday 20th October 2009 7.30pm

Steam Wandsworth is hosting a wine makers dinner with the award winning CJ Pask winery in Hawke's Bay. guest and wine maker Kate Radburnd will be hosting a dinner featuring her wines. Kate's wines will be matched to a fantastic four course dinner, created by head chef William Leigh.

Salsify & Parmesan rolls
CJ Pask Sauvignon 2008

Crab & apple remoulade with Melba toast
CJ Pask Unoaked Chardonnay 2007

Sauteed chicken livers, artichoke & rocket salad
CJ Pask Syrah 2005

Pot roast Scottish partridge, lentils, black cabbage & squash
Declaration Merlot 2005

Walnut souflee cake with crab apple jelly
CJ Pask Cab Sauv/Merlot/Malbec

Can't be arsed bothered to type up my notes. If you want to know about the wines I suggest you go to Steam Bar and drink them yourself - Cheers!

Monday, October 12, 2009

George III Mahogany dining table

with drop leaves on cabriole legs with pad feet.

As previously blogged the house has been rearranged ("A Weekend with World-Class Wines") leaving us with no dining table.

We looked at fine George III Mahogany dining table in Peter Jones where we bought the TV. A bargain at GBP 2,700 - not!! Instead we put in a bid at the local auction house (Criterion Riverside) for a table answering to exactly the same description. Maybe not in quite as superb condition but still a solid mahogany antique.

We put in a absentee bid for Monday's auction and won the item. And the price tag - a whopping GBP 420, including buyers premium. So 2,700 or 420? Hmmm, <strokes chin> let me think now...

George III Mahogany dining table

Well pleased with that. So we christened it on Sunday with a fine Sunday evening meal of roast pheasant and a bottle of 1999 Baron de Boutisse Saint-Emilion Grande Cru.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

T.Rextasy at Epsom Playhouse Monday 05 October 2009

Monday night I went down to visit my long-time friend Ros in Epsom for a meal at the local Cafe Rouge followed by a concert at the Epsom Playhouse: T.Rextasy The Electric Boogie Tour! And a fine concert it was too; Danielz had them dancing in the aisles.

This is the third time I have seen T.Rextasy. The first was back in 1997 at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, 30th September 1997 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Mark's death. The second was Marc Bolan a Celebration at the shepherds Bush Empire to commemorate the 30th anniversary.

This was the most enjoyable of the three for me. I think this is because of The London Bop 2009 where I realised that a tribute band is not simply trying to slavishly recreate the sound but give it their own interpretation as well. A fine evening, thank you Danielz.

T.Rextasy - The Electric Boogie Tour!
Play list:
Raw Ramp
Boogie on
Metal Guru
One Inch Rock
Solid Gold Easy Action
Life's a Gas
Buick MacKane
Ride a White Swan
Token of My Love
Born to Boogie
Summertime Blues
= Interval =
Baby Boomerang
20th Century Boy
Sensation Boulevard
Lean Woman Blues
New York City
Baby Strange
Children of the Revolution
Telegram Sam
Just about
Get it on
= Encore =
Hot Love

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Weekend with World-Class Wines

Sometimes I feel like Alice with the Red Queen running faster and faster merely to stand still. I normally quip on a Monday that I go to work to recover from the weekend unfortunately work is very busy too at the moment.

This weekend was another hectic weekend. It started on Friday with meeting Mary straight from work at her hairdressers for a pre-theatre meal at Sofra followed by Bounce performing Insane in the Brain. A hip-hop dance performance based on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Saturday was spent rearranging the house. Mary decided to turn the dining room into a cosy sitting room. It started with moving the sofa bed from the front room into the new sitting-room. That meant moving the bicycles from the dining room into the hall and the dining table into the study. That meant moving the computer desks into the back guest bedroom. It will take a few days for everything to be restored to order.

Saturday evening, to relax, we went round the dinner to our friends Bron and Maggie. Bron, like Mary, is a wine aficionado and very generously produced some extremely fine wines from his cellar, two of which rated 100 out of 100 by Robert Parker.
  • Gisselbrecht Vendage Tardive Reisling 2001
  • Chateau Montrose 1990 St Estephe
  • Leoville Las Cases 1990 Saint Julien
  • Banyuls 1983 Castell des Hospices
A rare treat and a very enjoyable evening.

A beneficial side effect of the room rearrangement was that we had to go shopping for a second TV which meant a trip on Sunday to Peter Jones. We now have 37 inch LCD screen (Philips 37PFL5604H) which will be excellent for watching DVD's while Mary is watching rubbish on the other TV. We gave it a trial run Sunday evening with Moulin Rouge and very fine the new setup is especially with the sound played through Mary's hi-fi.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Barolo and Barbaresco Wine Tasting Dinner

Another fine wine dinner at Enoteca Turi. This time it was more like raiding Giuseppe's private cellar. These were some serious wines and not available in the shops. The prices quoted are for current vintages. Goodness know what these vintages would cost even if you could find them. So it was a privilege to get to taste these. As usual Giuseppe talked about the region and the food plus Tom Harrow from The Wine Guy as guest speaker gave us more insight into the wines and the growers.

It will spare you my detailed tasting notes as these wines are out of my palate's league. What I will say is:

  • of the first pair of Barbarescos, the second was twice as good as the first as reflected in the price
  • the pairing of the first Barolo with the ravioli was a match made in heaven. all around the table agreed.
  • of the two wines with the veal, I prefered the Barbaresco and Mary preferred the Barolo
  • I very much enjoyed the Langhe

Assaggi Piemontesi
Piedmontese antipasti
Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOC Col Vetoraz
Millefoglie di funghi porcini con fonduta di robiola
Layers of porcini mushroom with filo pastry, robiola cheese sauce
Barbaresco Rabaja Riserva DOCG 2001 Produttori del Barbaresco (current vintage GBP 39)
Barbaresco Asili DOCG 2001 Bruno Giacosa (current vintage GBP 98.00)

Agnolotti del plin
Traditional roasted meat and spinach ravioli with butter and sage
Barolo Gran Bussia Riserva DOCG 1996 Aldo Conterno (current vintage GBP 127)
Filetto di vitello con gnocchetti piemontese, spinaci e salsa al tartufo
Fillet of veal with potato gnocchi, spinach and truffle sauce
Barbaresco Starderi DOCG 1996 La Spinetta (current vintage GBP 85)
Baralo Cascina Francia DOCG 1996 Giacomo Conterno (current vintage GBP 105)

Formaggi regionali
Regional cheeses: castelmagno, brunette and tom a piemontese
Gaja Sperss 1998 Langhe DOC (current vintage GBP 131)
Caffe con torta Gianduia
Tea or Coffee with Piedmont hazelnut and chocolate tart

Excellent food, wine and company as always.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Seven Flavours from Spain

Another fine tasting from the Charteris Wine Society. This time the presenter was Andrew Bird, a brand manager from M&S, and the wines he was presenting were all from their own label Spanish range. Not only did we learn about their wines but also got a fascinating insight into both the wine trade and Marks & Spencer's own culture.

It would appear that all their wines are own label and, unlike some supermarket chains who simply buy wines from the producers and relabel them, M&S employ their own winemakers to work with the producers on the assemblage. As a result what you are tasting is a wine unique to M&S.

It would appear that M&S (or their customers) are very Euro centric with the countries most heavily represented being France and Italy with Spain coming number three. Whereas most supermarkets tend to lead on the USA.

Charteris Wine Society

1. Vintage Rosado Cava, Pinot Noir, 2006. GBP 9.99
Dark pink with a fresh fruity nose with elements of green strawberry and red currants, brut on the palate. We then got an interesting history of Cava and its reliance on indigenous grape varieties.

Also interesting to note that the more conservative M&S customers drink proportionally less than do the customers of other supermarket chains. And in France overall they drink a far greater proportion of rosé than do the UK public.

2. Val do Salnes Albarino, Rias Baixas, 2007. GBP 9.99
Pale lemon colour and a green straw or grass, knows with a hint of grapes and melon. On the nose it seemed quite round and unctuous and sweet but I found it tad flabby.

3. Campo Aldea Rioja Riserva, Graciano, 2005. GBP 9.99
Cherry red with a dark wood, blackberry nose. Very soft and fruity. In my view one of the better Riojas, with a good length.

4. Marques de Grinon, Calzia, Syrah / Petit Verdot, 2006. GBP 8.99
Dark cherry colour with their distinct Murillo Cherry nose. palette blackberry jam with a hint of tang. We were regaled with tales of vine smuggling when the producer introduced French vines into Spain in contravention of their laws.

5. Bellmunt Priorat 2006. GBP 12.99
An inky red colour with a nose both floral and cheesy at the same time. The tannins were much more marked than in previous wine and not merely as jammy a flavour. A mongrel blend of grape varieties: cabernet sauvignon merlot, garnacha negra, syrah and carignan. I learned that the garnacha is the world's most planted grape.

6 Pena del Infierno, Ribera del Duro 2006. GBP 19.00
Very inky with a hint of brown and definitely not as clear as the other wines. Jammy and alcoholic at 14.5 ABV with plenty of tannins. I have to say not for me I preferred number five there was something of the farmyard and metallic about it.

7. Lustau Palo Cortado Sherry. GBP 9.99
Light caramel in colour and on the palate also with a velvety toffee flavour. But drier to taste than the nose might have led one to believe.

An excellent and educational tasting.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Birthday Weekend 2009

My birthday was on Sunday but we spent the whole weekend eating and drinking to celebrate.

We started off on Friday evening when Mary took me to a local South African restaurant in Putney. We had seen it from the bus before and promised ourselves a meal there to remind us of our trips to SA. We even booked one time then completely forgot - I hate having been a 'no show'. This time we made it and had an excellent meal. I had very tasty ostrich and springbok for main course. Chakalaka, Putney

Saturday it was the turn of our old haunt Ringwood. We went down early to drop the car off for its MOT. Then round to Bob and Lynn for lunch before an afternoon wine tasting.

New Forest Wine tasting 19 September 2009 - Bob and Mary tasting wine
Bob and Mary tasting wine

Ringwood has a newish independant wine merchant who has done a number of tutored tastings in the shop. This was his first large scale walk around tasting in a church hall with his suppliers presenting their wares.

New Forest Wine tasting 19 September 2009 - Graham (New Forest Wines) and Nigel (Supplier)
Graham (New Forest Wines) and Nigel (Supplier)

After the tasting it was time for a short siesta before going out for a meal at another recent addition to the Ringwood gastro-scape, Seven Fish.

Sunday it was back, via mum and dad's for a cup of tea, to start preparing for meal number 3, the periodic sibling and partners' dinner party. Mary slaved for hours producing a multiple dish Thai meal which went down very well; Mary excelled herself. Sarah seems think it is some sort of competition but it is simply that Mary loves cooking.

And so to bed.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The London Bop 2009

Wednesday was the annual gathering of Marc Bolan fans in Golders Green. This was the, I think, fourth one of these I have been to and one of the more enjoyable. Part of that I attribute to live music from Tyrannosaurus Jed and Remco.

Marc Bolan London Bop 2009 - 1
Tyrannosaurus Jed

Also the venue has changed. In previous years it was held in Klub Xtreme a somewhat pokey basement underneath The Rectory pub. This year it relocated to the White Swan in the main pub area. A great improvement as you could both see better what was going on and also hear yourself think which made talking to other Bolanites easier - which is part of the whole reason for going.

Marc Bolan London Bop 2009 - 2
Tyrannosaurus Jed

I hardly needed a disco as the songs are already grooved into my brain so it was very refreshing to hear alternative live interpretations especially from Tyrannosaurus Jed who played songs from the earlier era before Tyrannosaurus Rex became T.Rex.

Marc Bolan London Bop 2009 - 3
Remco - from Holland

For just one man with a guitar Remco produced an amazingly good sound. What you can't see in this photo is the huge crowd behind me. Standing immediately in front of me was a lady with a Marc Bolan tattoo on her shoulder done in some fine detail.

Marc Bolan London Bop 2009 - 5
Marc Bolan Shoulder Tattoo

I met up with a number of people I had met through Facebook and it was good to put faces to the names.

It is appropriate that I post this on my birthday as it was on this very day in 1977 that I first learnt of Marc's death - several days after the event. I was on holiday in Greece and out of touch with dear old Blighty. As it was my birthday I treated myself to a several-days-old Times and there was the small paragraph announcing his death in a road traffic accident.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fourth Annual Drink the Cellar BBQ

Saturday was our fourth annual "help us drink our excess wine cellar"; wine that is ready for drinking and we would hate for it to go over the hill. As usual our friends rallied round.

The BBQ went well. 41 peeps and 36 bottles. As expected we over catered so it is lamb burgers for a month for us. And while clearing up we discovered 24 lost sweetcorn under the sink. Succotash anyone?

Starters included Italian meats we brought back from Italy last weekend:
  • capocollo
  • bresaola
  • salami piccante
  • lonzino
And Mary's excellent Smoked Mackerel Pate with Cucumber Relish

Mains were lamb burgers, some spicy Mexican sausages and chicken thighs marinaded in Japanese soy sauce, ginger and honey. The magic ingredient was employing my nephew Tom as burger flipper. He did an excellent job which meant that Mary and I could mingle with our guests without worrying about carbonised food.

Desserts I spent the evenings of the week before preparing - giving the ice cream maker a severe hammering. All made from a base of proper cream and egg yolk hand-made custard with fresh fruit:
  • raspberry
  • blueberry ripple
  • pineapple and stem ginger
  • honey & hazelnut
  • strawberry sorbet
Previous attempts to clear the cellar:
Not sure what happened to 2008 but I suspect overshadowed by posts about the London to Paris Bike Ride training

PS. 15-Sep-09.
This is what the cellar looked like 2½ years ago and, in fact, it is much fuller now because we brought a load of wine back from the wine merchants and had to put in a more racks to accomodate them:

wine cellar

Smoked Mackerel Pate with Cucumber Relish

This recipe Mary acquired at a Saturday cookery school some years ago. It never fails to be a crowd pleaser and so easy-peasy to prepare. Certainly there was none left after Saturday's BBQ.


8 oz smoked mackerel fillets
pinch ground mace or nutmeg
1 oz butter (melted)
8 oz curd cheese
pepper to taste
few drops lemon juice
Tabasco or little cayenne pepper

Remove skin and bones from fish, pound to a smooth paste with the mace, work in remaining ingredients


1 cucumber (sliced)
2 tbsp wine vinegar
1 tsp dry mustard
6 tbsp salad oil
3 dsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp chopped fresh mixed herbs (parsley, chives, mint)
salt and black pepper

Combine dressing ingredients, spoon over cucumber, chill well before serving

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Yet another holiday in Puglia

This time we had a slightly different vacation, we took a holiday within a holiday: we took a couple of days out to go up to the Gargano, a national park at the top end of Puglia.

We flew EasyJet. British Airways were too expensive and we don't like RyanAir. Normally we would fly Alitalia but this time we thought we would give EasyJet try. The flights were fine but it was the four-hour stopover at Rome airport that was a bit of a drag. Next time it will be back to Alitalia.

Sunday we went to meet up with our neighbours Chris and John for live opera in Cisternino piazza then round to their place for lunch. Afterwards we were joined by Donato the builder to discuss paving our back patio.

Monday we spent down the beach, we tried out a new stretch of the coast at Torre Gauceto. Lovely sandy beaches unlike the rocky coast directly down the hill from us.

Tuesday morning we drove up the coast to meet up with Chris and John for lunch at Mattinato. In the afternoon we drove up to Vieste and back across the mountains over some of the twistiest hairpin bends I have the dubious pleasure of driving.

That evening we stayed in Monte San Angelo and went out for a meal in one of the two Michelin Guide recommended restaurants. The next day was more driving over the hills to Vico through the forest with a short forest walk in the middle.

These are ancient beech forests and just magical to walk through.

Wednesday evening was a repeat of Tuesday evening at the other recommended restaurant.

Thursday we drove over to San Giovanni to see the church built to accommodate the Pope's visit following the beatification of local boy makes saint (Padre Pio).

Friday was a quiet day at home pottering about and a second visit from Donato to discuss the exact line of the paving slabs. We were joined by a very friendly cat, so friendly it fell over in its enthusiasm to rub against my feet. We were afraid it might be another stray but it turned out to belong to a farmer who takes his cat to work with him unlike most of the other farmers who take a dog!

That evening we went back into Cisternino for a pizza followed by an evening of free jazz in the same piazza:

Then Saturday it was home via a shopping opportunity in Rome airport arriving home eventually after midnight.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Middlesex Sevens and U2 at Wembley

Another hectic Saturday starting off with the Middlesex Sevens with Bob and Lynn (like last year 2008 and 2005 and 2004).

Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham Sat 15-August-2009 1

Then a cross-London dash from one stadium to another for the U2 360 tour at Wembley stadium. A spectacular show, sound a bit iffy (according to where you sat I suspect) but an enthusiastic crowd and ambiance. The Independant seemed a bit underwhelmed by it though [review].

U2 at Wembley Sat 15-August-2009 1

U2 at Wembley Sat 15-August-2009 2

U2 at Wembley Sat 15-August-2009 3

U2 at Wembley Sat 15-August-2009 4

U2 at Wembley Sat 15-August-2009 5

U2 at Wembley Sat 15-August-2009 6

Fans' reviews and comments on the official U2 site

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bircher muesli with summer berries

This recipe we first came across as part of our preparation for the London to Paris bike ride. Like pasta before a marathon it is slow release carbs. However it is so tasty we now make it simply to the pleasure of it.

A breakfast treat that's good for you and a fantastic summer alternative for porridge lovers.

Serves: 2
Preparation time: 15 minutes plus overnight soaking

  • 100g whole rolled jumbo oats
  • 100ml skimmed milk
  • 50ml cloudy apple juice
  • 1 tbsp sultanas
  • 1 tbsp chopped dried apricot
  • 100g mixed summer berries
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1 tsp pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tsp sunflower seeds
  • 2 tsp chopped mixed nuts
  • 1/4 apple, cut into lcm approx pieces
  • 4 tbsp natural yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp honey

  1. Put the oats in a bowl and pour over the milk and apple juice. Stir in the sultanas and apricot pieces. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight.
  2. Put the berries in a saucepan, add the sugar and heat through the mixture until the berries have begun to break down, Pour the compote into a bowl and allow to cool. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight.
  3. The following morning, stir through the seeds, nuts, apple, yoghurt and honey.
  4. Divide the muesli between two bowls, add a dollop of the compote and serve.

bircher meusli
Cook's Tip
If you prefer, simply sprinkle the berries on top of the muesli instead of making the compote. Alternatively, serve with the fruit of your choice - mango is delicious. This muesli still tastes great the day after, if you have any left.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cleaning the Wandle August 2009

My poor bones are aching, but in a good way, from five hours cleaning the Wandle on Sunday under the auspices of The Wandle Trust. It was a beautiful day for getting on the waders and doing some serious shopping trolley retrieval.

Cleaning the Wandle August 2009 1
Essential rubber wear ;-)
I got some strange looks from my colleagues today when I said I spent Sunday wearing shorts, a t-shirt and rubber.

Cleaning the Wandle August 2009 2
The team in the water
A good turn out and some excellent team work. Some in the river and some on the bank and some land-side acting in relay to ferry the haul from the river to the bank to the rubbish assembly area.

Cleaning the Wandle August 2009 3
A very heavy old old boiler
Right at the eleventh hour the stragglers unearthed this monster. Initially full of water and sludge it got lighter with patience as it drained. Even so it took four of us lifting plus half a dozen hauling on the grapple rope to get it up the bank and over the railings.

Cleaning the Wandle August 2009 4
Part of our collection of ten shopping trolleys
Plus all manner of junk, debris, rubbish, scrap and general detritus. It is appalling what people will simply chuck in the river! Many thanks to Wandsworth Borough Council for providing a truck to cart away all the rubbish.

A full set of pictures on Flickr:
Apologies for the quality but they were taken with my iPhone not a proper camera.