As you may (or may not) have noticed, I did not post last week due to a week's respite. Thanks to the bank holidays and Royal Wedding we made the most of the time off, making a grand journey of 15 miles to the local Hilton, which would be our base for a few days of wine-addled relaxation.
We kicked the week off in style with some Champagne. D and I are trying to work out what our favourite is. We think it's Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV but we need to properly compare that to as many others as we can, just to be sure! It's an expensive search, so we don't tend to do it that often. However, being holiday-week; "When in Rome...".
We saw Piper on sale in the local Co-Operative supermarket for £17 so naturally had to grab one or two. For comparison we bought a bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV (the brand behind the £150-a-bottle Cristal) from Majestic Wine for £28 (on offer from £33).
Both were pale gold with watery-white rims. The Piper was a bit reticent, smell-wise but did display some fruit and biscuity aromas while the Loius Roederer had more honeyed fruit, Chardonnay dominated but again with a biscuity sweetness. Taste is where the Piper comes into its own; Lots of bready/biscuity tastes but absolutely stuffed with fruitiness, from citrus zing to Cidery orchard fruit. A long, delicious finish leaves a great taste in the mouth and a tingle from the popping and fizzing bubbles. Superb 8.5/10. The Louis Roederer had a less aggressive mousse but very fine. The taste was equally toasty/biscuity sweet and again had superb fruit but more citrussy and tropical from the Chardonnay (Piper has more Pinot Noir content). Mouthwatering zing and a long finish similar to a sweet Gala apple. The Louis Roederer exudes class (it even comes in a very smart box) but, finished a close second to the Piper in our books at 8/10.
So, Piper still remains champion but there are a lot of Champagnes we haven't compared it to yet!
Eat until we burst!
On the way to the Hilton we stopped off in the Yorkshire Grey for a leisurely 3-course lunch. This is a great little place if you're in the Worcestershire area; great food, nicely presented but not pretentious or poncey in any way. They do a 2-Course lunch for £10 but we decided to go for pudding as well. I had great garlic mushrooms in creme fraiche on a crostini, beer battered fish and chips and a superbly presented cheesecake to finish. D had stuffed potato skins, a lovely lasagne and the same cheesecake. Highly recommended! I had a lovely grassy Chilean Sauv Blanc (about £4 a glass) and D had a nice oaky Aussie Shiraz (about £5). My belt was complaining about the size of my gut after this, which would unfortunately be something of a recurring theme for the rest of the week!
Settled-in at the Hilton we headed to the pool for a dip before dinner. Having worked off a small fraction of the lunch calories we sat down to dinner with a glass of...have a guess...Yes, Piper Heidsieck Brut NV (a slightly painful £8.05 a glass), delicious as ever. We both started with a very nice tomato and basil soup. D had a honey and mustard glazed gammon steak which was superb and I had a coffee-rubbed Bavette steak (I had to ask what Bavette was...turned out to be a type of cut, popular in France but more commonly known as flank or skirt steak over here!). Anyway, having fresh finely-ground coffee granules in the same mouthful as steak surprisingly worked really well together. We washed these down with a light bodied Emporium Shiraz 2009 from Sicily (13%). At £22 a bottle I fear it was priced at a 300 to 400% markup, but nevertheless enjoyable and easy-drinking. Puddings followed; a superb (and huge) chocolate macaroon for D and a summer fruit roulade for me. We swapped half way through. Again, with belt straining we retired.
A trip into Tewkesbury the following morning resulted in the discovery of a cracking little independent wine shop; "That Wine Place" on the High Street. Having re-learned that Hilton wine prices are obscene, we bought a bottle of Greyrock Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir 2008 (Marked down to £8.99 from £13.99) to consume in our room later that evening (Sshh - I don't think you're allowed to do that...?). The proprietor was even kind enough to give me a free cigar cutter when I bought a cheap cigar. This was a lively, red-fruited wine with silky texture. Decent value and very drinkable 7/10. I'll definitely return to get a bottle of Esk Valley Merlot/Cab/Malbec 2007 that was stocked there.
The Three Choirs Vineyard
Having finally dragged D out of a second hand book shop that had, what seemed like, a million books inside we headed back to change before heading to the Three Choirs Vineyard in Newent (see D's pic below).
You can get a tour of the vineyard and a tasting of 5 (out of a selection of many) wines and also three beers and two ciders for £8. There's also a restaurant and accommodation although we opted for a simple (and free) walk around followed by the tasting (£3.50 each). As I'm not a fan of sweet wines apart from when accompanying a teeth-destroyingly sweet dessert, we opted to sample all of the dry whites, the Rosé, sparkler and of course a beer and still cider. I wasn't expecting a great deal from £8 English wine but was pleasantly surprised by a few; the 2009 Bacchus (£13.10) was bone-dry, herby and had plentiful fruit with whiffs nettles and asparagus. 7/10 We bought some. The Classic Cuveé NV Brut sparkling wine (£11) was pleasant with rich apples, pears and a sweet bread pudding finish. Nice fresh acidity. 7/10 We bought some. The winner for us however, was the 2009 Rosé; which smelled of caramel and rose petals. The taste was generous amounts of sweetish strawberries balanced by a fresh acidity. 7.5/10 and we bought some. I can also recommend the hoppy Cats Whiskers dark beer and the Medium Still Cider was great.
Soaking up the sun on our balcony, we decided on a pub-dinner. We found an awesome riverside pub; the Fleet Inn at Twynning, recently refurbished. Just the two courses tonight and no wine (yet) as I was driving. D had a delicious chicken/bacon salad with balsamic reduction and I had a roasted pepper and tomato soup. Both delicious. As mains, we both chose lamb. Perfectly cooked and with amazing mash and a red wine jus. Great food, well presented and again, not poncey! With dinner polished, we returned to the hotel to drink the Pinot and crash out after a tough few days of eating, drinking and putting our feet up.
Returning home we decided to finish off the week with some more Pinots stocked up from recent purchases. The first was the Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2008 (£15 Majestic Wine). I was afraid that this might have been tainted with smoke from the much-reported forest fires at the time but was happy to note that it was clean. It did however, have the most bonkers alcohol level for a Pinot that I have ever seen. 15.5%! Clearly not one for the faint hearted. Dark purple with a silky sheen this had aromas of dark cherries, raspberries, some Dr. Pepper (or root beer) type spice and alcohol. Way too apparent. The taste was initially tongue-stingingly hot, like a mouth-burning whisky, again, due to the alcohol level, but it was redeemed somewhat by the plentiful raspberry and cherry fruits. Not bad, even perhaps enjoyable overall 7/10 but someone needs to have a word with Bob! Cool it down fella!
A bit more sensible was the ARA Composite Pinot Noir 2008 from Marlborough. £9 from the Co-Op and 13.5%. A translucent ruby red with crimson highlights, this smelled of red berries and cherries with a hint of meatiness and leather. Truly an amazing smelling wine! The texture was silky with very fine tannins and plenty of bright red fruit. The acidity was sharp and it had a complex oaky bitterness on the finish. Not quite as good as it smelled but pretty good 7.5/10.
So that ended our week of enjoyment. Staring down the barrel of impending work now, the only salvation being that we're off to a tasting on Friday at The Oxford Wine Company.
I'll write up my findings next week.
Speak to you soon.