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Archive for the ‘Experiences’ Category

I came back to my flat yesterday to find my certificate for my WSET Advanced level certification- whoop! Not sure how that happened but they can’t take it back now! Very pleased. Off to a Sunday long lunch with friends to celebrate!

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I arrived back from Paris last night to a heat wave in London. Even though it was 11PM, I was sweating in my brown leather jacket and sundress. This morning, I woke up to the sun shining through my window, made coffee, ran a few errands and made my way into the office. Ridiculously warm – thermostat says 25, feels like 32. I absolutely love this city in the sun. Everyone (I mean everyone) is happier and a bit more jolly. It feels like people just blossom a bit when the sun comes out.

I’m heading to dinner this evening with a group of friends, my former classmates from WSET. We are going to 28-50 Wine Workshop & Kitchen in Farringdon. I am so very much looking forward to seeing them again – fun group of people. I am a little nervous though…I haven’t heard my results yet from the exam (not supposed to hear for another two weeks) and I am scared that perhaps I will discover that others have already heard their results and I am the only one who hasn’t and thus…(heavy sights)….I have failed! Deep breaths…..

I will let you know what glorious tipples we try out – usually there is some kind of a competition between “old world” – our French contingent – and “new world” our American (i.e. me)/Scottish/Aussie-loving contingent. Pick a bottle between a certain price point and whichever team picks the ‘best’ bottle wins. What do they win you ask? Respect.

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I arrive in Paris this morning (gotta love the Eurostar…two hours and you are golden) and after an extended wait to store my oversized luggage in the left luggage area on Gare du Nord (apparently I’m not very unique and wanted to do the same thing as everyone else today) I was on the Metro and walking around the Louvre. My first stop however was for lunch…it was ridiculously yummy. Why you ask? Because I had an unexpected night out with a great friend of mine last night in London. And it was a pretty big night out – complete with dance club in Shoreditch until 2AM. So, after missing my alarm but magically waiting up at 7:45AM in time to get myself out the door and on the train, trekking out to St. Pancras and getting onto the overcrowded train, I was in desperate need for some comfort. This took the form of a classic french-twisted cheeseburger (omg…it was so good. I ordered it medium rare and have never tasted a burger so gooey without being hard to eat) and a glass of Medoc (which whey of course serve in gorgeous little glasses so that you aren’t overwhelmed – good call given what I was doing 12 hours previous). It was a beautiful day in Paris so I was able to sit at a cafe outside and enjoy the..erm – cars driving by.

I am down in Paris for the week for a program that my company has sponsored me for in partnership with INSEAD business school. I’ll be trying gorgeous wines and wonderful food all week so expect to hear more from me soon.. I will end with this: Having men stop you on the street or in a cafe just to tell you that you are beautiful….yeah it feels pretty good and reminds you that there is just something wonderful about the French…

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I’m just returning from 6 lovely days on the beautiful island of Santorini. For those of you that have been before, we stayed in Pyrgos which is away from the major tourist areas of Fira and Ia. Major bonus was that, without planning it, we ended up right in the middle of fields of vines! Not hard to do given just how much of the island is covered with these little bush trained vines.

We stayed at a gorgeous place with only 10 or so rooms (more like villas really) called Carpe Diem. We had our own private terrace overlooking the island and the vineyards.  I had found it through the travel site VoyagePrive.com which offers discounts at luxury travel sites (likeliving social for travel) and thus got a few things thrown in for free like a bottle of wine in our room. Every morning we had a ridiculously amazing breakfast brought to our room. Seriously – it was hard to beat. Greek yogurt & honey, Greek pie (my favorite new dish – feta cheese, egg & milk baked in a filo dough bottom crust. Yes, we did ask for the recipe…and yes I am turning into my mother), fresh Greek cheeses, fresh fruit, croissants & fresh bread, eggs, bacon, etc. Just thinking about it is making me gain more weight…

Positives:
-Breakfast as I have already belabored above
-Topless sunbathing is fantastic and having seclusion is even better
-Views of the island from your terrace with the ocean on both sides is just brilliant – you feel so small and peaceful
-Free room service rocks. You still have to pay for what they bring you but the service itself was free. Brilliant.

Negatives:
-Crying babies have no place in a small boutique hotel. I know I am being incredibly lame but seriously – why would you bring a very small baby to a hotel catered completely to adults? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear my sister telling me to be fair and that people with babies need to go on holiday too but really, at least pick a hotel that is set up to accommodate
-People peering onto your terrace being nosy deserve the eyeful they get – particularly if they don’t want it
-As we were away from the main areas and there are very few sidewalks on the roads, we had to get cabs everywhere which added an unexpected cost. Luckily the prices are standard on the island (even though they are sky high) so there wasn’t any negotiation.

Now on to the WINES!
While we were on the island, we wandered around the major areas and hit up two wineries: Hatzidakis and Sigalas. In general, the white wine and much of the red on the island is extremely high in acid. If not careful, this can completely overpower the fruit. We tasted some crackers where the winemakers were able to make refreshingly acidic, fruity and balanced wines.

The Hatzidakis winery was a trip – a truly authentic experience of a winemaker, passionate about his wine and not about presentation. We walked from our hotel in search of this winery, only to find a run down trailer sitting on a small field of vines with what looked like a lot of old, disused farm equipment. Upon closer inspection we discovered the grape press and knew that this was indeed a winery. After milling around for a while trying to knock on doors in the obviously abandoned trailer, a car pulled up. We were greeted by a man who spoke little English (and we embarrassingly knew nothing in Greek so muddled through a series of hand gestures to indicate we wanted to try his wines). After a bit of confusion he obliged by handing us two stained glasses and escorting us through the farm door, down a dank dark cellar and through another door into the storage room. The pictures show the story better than my words – but at this stage I was pretty excited. We were able to try three of his wines straight from the barrels. The main grape on the island is Assyrtiko so I was not surprised that this was his main production. However, he did have an awesome 100% Aidani (generally used for blending with Assyrtiko) that I’ve given notes on below – by far the best wine I tried on the island. We walked away carrying bottles of his wine with big smiles on our faces.

                             

The most elegant, more-ish wine I tried:
Aidani 2011, Hatzidakis Winery in Pyrgos, €14 at cellar door
Generous stone fruit of peaches with nicely blended lemon, medium body and impressive finish. Acidity is ridiculously high but this was a rare example of a wine balancing strong fruit with the acid so that is wasn’t completely overpowered. Aged in stainless steel vats down in the dank musty cellar of this vineyard – that didn’t really feel like a safe place for two young women to walk into – but boy was it worth it!!

The second winery was Sigalas, a more established and albeit more elegantly presented winery. It was set up for the tourists and catered to the bus-style crowd. That said, we arrived when there were no other tasters around (yes, it was first thing in the morning – just before noon – and yes, we are ‘early risers’ when it comes to wine) and got a prime seat outside in the Santorini sun overlooking the vines and the sea view. The vineyard was just outside of IA, the main tourist area, on a gently sloping field benefiting from the sea air and much gentler winds than the vineyards in Pyrgos. The wines here were charged by the taste but we came on the lucky Sunday (yes, Sunday) where the tastes were free and all bottles 20% off. While I enjoyed the wines, it was a different experience and I ended up only taking home a bottle of the Vin Santo – a wine famous and exclusive to Santorini made of sun-dried white grapes. Overall another fun experience.

Also, I wanted to share one red wine I bought at the supermarket and drank at our hotel on the terrace. It was a yummy example of a nicely finished wine. Many of the reds were a bit off – though we found that when you just ordered the “house wine” by the litre (yes. I know.) it was often very nice and served lightly chilled. Given the heat, this was a welcome thing.

And so now I am back in London. Sun-smacked and with a few extra pounds (feta really does instantly attach itself to your body – proven). I am now officially on a detox, walking to work every day and eating healthy whole grain foods with no bread or cheese… at least until I head to Paris on Sunday…

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Its time for spring holidays! An absolutely wonderful excuse to leave the office and the city for a few days of sun, sand and cocktails. Luckily, my chosen destination of Santorini Greece has it all: Sun (26 – 27 C for the entire time I’ll be there), Sand (yes, though we’ll be on a cliff so potentially I won’t see much of the stuff – that’s OK though as it always gets stuck in the most uncomfortable places), Cocktails (yep! and no, I am no longer 23 but I will likely still be trying out the local Ouzo…) and to top it all off – they have wineries! Read a bit more about Santorini wines here.

If you have suggestions on what to try while I’m there, let me know! Otherwise, hang tight for an update from me when I get back next week. Bring on the sun!

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Its been a while…

So, I know its been a while since I updated this. But don’t worry – I have been drinking wine and testing them for you (as I know you can’t be bothered to do it yourself…jesting of course) – and thus I have a few very tasty morsels for you to take advantage of. But first, where the hell have I been?

I’ve had my heart broken. Its been a rough few months. Its amazing how your standards in wine drop when you just want something to cry over with your girlfriends!

I finished my Advanced WSET course – and am now awaiting my results. It’s a 50/50 chance that I passed – it was ridiculously hard. If you have taken it and disagree, please don’t tell me. I have decided to take a break and “absorb” my learnings before considering going on to do my diploma. Plus, I have to actually pass first. The best part of that course really has to be that I have developed a network of fun, interesting people in London who love wine and we already have our next date in the diary to meet up.

I kicked off a wine tasting club in my office. My office is pretty cool for a lot of stuff – but when you can convince the executive chef to let you use his budget to buy a bunch of yummy wine and serve it up to our employees just for fun – its pretty awesome. Next tasting is in June…

I have started to realise just how much I want to live in wine country. Seriously. I mean – it might sound like a no brainer but I never feel more at home than when I am in the country, near fields of vines. I want a house with a bouncy castle in the back yard (for adults of course) and a few big dogs running around. A milkman who delivers my eggs and dairy a few times a week and a host of wineries down the road that provide local tipples for BBQs and evenings by the fire.

On to the wines! These are a few of the true gems that I tried over the last few months. Plenty more that I have left off and will revisit in the near future!

LOVE: Bierzo. Dominio De Tares, Cepas Viejas 2005: I love Bierzo, yummy fruit, proper oaking and ridiculously fancy.
£19 per bottle (bought at a teensy shop up in Lancashire)

Domaine Henri Gouges, Nuits St Georges AC, 2007: This was a bottle I picked up in Paris in January. It was an excellent Pinot Noir but to be honest? I like a bit more meat on the bones of a Pinot. This was good – but it wasn’t my version of fantastic.
€30 per bottle (bought at Auges in Paris)

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I had a work event in Cardiff last week. What a great city! The sun was shining, atmosphere buzzing and the cab drivers were giving impromptu tours of the landmarks. Our event was at the Coal Exchange near the water. Lots of pretty old style buildings and plenty of happy, welcoming people. After the event was concluded we went to a great little restaurant with our team and the event staff called The Potted Pig. Their speciality? Yep, potted pig. And its ridiculously good.

I however decided to be the true American and ordered brown crab for my meal…

Paired with a gorgeous Petit Chablis, it was an absolutely stunning meal. I did however manage to spray lemon juice, fling crab meat and shells across the table and into my unsuspecting colleagues faces, plates. etc. After a while they just stopped to watch me battle with the big guy. I became extremely focused and somewhat skillful at finding and extracting the crab meat. In the end I only managed the claws and a few of the legs. I have to say however that is was a great way to not overeat. My major drawback? They didn’t supply any bibs!!

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