Christmas is upon us once again and we find ourselves at home in Newcastle upon Tyne for the Festive Season. We have had a terrific year exploring, travelling and meeting some very nice people along the way and of course, we have collected lots of fabulous wine, some of which, will no doubt, go down very well over Christmas and into the New Year (if we we have enough left by then!). So how to end our 2013 adventures but by doing things with a bit of a difference. Instead of plying our trade promoting the enjoyments of wine, we put on a different hat for this final occasion, that of real ale!
We both enjoy a good beer or two and living in the North East are blessed with several small breweries that make excellent beers. A particular favourite of ours is Wylam Brewery, situated in the picturesque Northumberland village of Heddon-on-the-Wall, just outside the village of Wylam.
Wylam is the village where George Stephenson chose to settle after he was endorsed as one of the countries most successful and pioneering railwaymen of the age. Some of the beers that Wylam produce recognise this important man with names such as The Rocket and Loco No1. Their Puffing Billy ale celebrates another north-eastern pioneer, William Hedley. The brewery even holds a monthly event in the very workshops that Stephenson and his son built their world famous locomotives, namely The Boilershop Steamer, another event that we are proud to have been a part of when earlier this year we provided cover for the pop-up wine bar.
So, here we were for our final gig of the year, covering Wylam’s stand at the Newcastle Christmas Market for two of the five days. The folk of Newcastle were in good spirits, helped along by an array of local musician’s and choirs, giving the market place a real festive buzz.
It was an extremely busy Friday and Saturday and by our last day, we had managed to sell every bit of stock that we had and with an hour still spare to go prior to the market closing for the day!
It was a great two days selling to the public helped along by a feast of festive activities and a special guest appearance from the man himself, none other than Santa!
Our final adventure for 2013 bring us close to the big day itself and amongst the sipping of a selection of rather tasty wines there shall be the occasional quaffing of fine local ale (with a drop or two left out for Santa!).
Over this period we shall be taking a small break from our blog adventures but will return with more in 2014.
With that note, Ruth and Kel at Guest Wines would like to wish all our followers a very Merry Christmas and prosperous New Year.
The North East Wine Tasting Society, otherwise known as The NEWTS, has been in existence for some 30 years or more with regular meetings held in Newcastle. With a limit on numbers and with most of its core members still active within the society, we felt honoured when a couple of places became available and we were invited to join just a year ago.
Since then, we have tried to attend as many of the monthly meetings as we could (though our schedule this year has been somewhat busy to say the least). However, the ones that we have managed to attend have always been a great learning experience alongside tasting some fabulous wines.
These tastings are either hosted by an outside organisation, such as a local wine merchant, or are undertaken internally, with each of us given the task of presenting. The only restriction is that we have to stick within budget, the session lasts no more that 2 hours and it must be interesting! We have our presentation pencilled in for next summer – so we’d better get planning!
The society also offers a bi-annual dinner. This gives an opportunity for members to get together and bring along with them some interesting wines for anyone to try. This event is currently held at Newcastle College – The Lifestyle Academy and sees us served a dinner by those training to work professionally in the hospitality industry.
Again, the Academy did us proud, the food and service was good, all washed down with some great wines!
Mid-November saw us return to the International Wine Challenge in London for the first stage of the 2014 competition that has now been split into two parts, with the first ‘Tranche’ being mostly dedicated to Southern Hemisphere producers. This time we found ourselves working at a different location than that of the April 2013 event, the Barbican, where we arrived on a cold, wet Monday morning to begin what would be an intensive fortnight. However, the thought of this was eased by the welcome sight of familiar faces amongst a few newcomers to the crew. It’s strange to think in only April this year we were the newcomers, yet now the new members of the team are coming to us for advice on how to do things and it was nice to know that we could give adequate answers.
The event has been slightly more relaxed than envisaged due to its present size in comparison to the April event, which made for smooth running.
Panel judges at work, alongside Co-Chairs Peter McCombie, Martin Moran, Oz Clarke, Charles Metcalfe, Sam Harrop, Jamie Goode, Richard Bampfield
This year, we were both given positions that had more of a key role to them, which was very exciting as well as a little scary as neither of us wanted any major, or minor, hiccups along the way. Ruth was given the task of ‘Floor Pit Boss’ to ensure the smooth running of the tasting tables, whilst Kel had the position of ‘Dispatch Pit Boss’ whose role it is to oversee the correct dispatch of tasting flights to the tasting tables. Jokes about husband and wife communications swiftly arose as our roles needed to ensure that we made ourselves clearly understood to ensure that the wines arrived at the tables on time. All went well reflecting that this husband and wife team are a perfect match!
The competition week went well and passed by quickly. It was great to meet up with many of the judges again and to witness their expertise at first hand – many red lips and teeth by the end of the competition.
The week was nicely rounded off with a curry dinner all washed down with a nice glass of wine … or two.
The results from this event shall be released on December 4th, so remember to look out for those medals and snap up the wines whilst you can… just in time for Christmas!
Tranche 2 is to be held at The Oval in London, April 2014.
The first Friday and Saturday of November saw us returning to The Boiler Shop Steamer to cover the pop-up wine bar for the second time this year.
The event got off to a good start on the Friday evening with Simon Taylor & The Sundowners, followed by Monkey Junk, Blank Maps, Hot Bullets of Shotgun and bringing the evening to a climax was the headlining band The Din.
The venue soon filled up with a mix of people finishing work and folk coming out in their various Halloween guises.
Again, there was a good, varied selection of street food available, of which we sampled the Fat Friars ‘Veggie Shite’ wrap (their name not ours, honestly), Heavenly Manna Jamaican mixed veg with rice and peas and the best cappuccino ever from James at Ouseburn Coffee Co. All very tasty indeed! Amazing rainbow cake courtesy of Teasy Does it, wow!
Folk could also choose from local ales courtesy of Wylam Brewery as well as going for The Cumberland Arms cocktails, coffee martinis at Ouseburn Coffee Co. and of course a fine selection of wines from yours truly.
Unfortunately, the rain came on the Saturday but it didn’t discourage those determined to have a good time. The beginning of the afternoon was more family orientated with children enjoying a dance to the music of Nev Clay, Cath & Phil Tyler and The Amazing Ray Stubbs.
Whilst DJ Lee Baby Sims kept the tunes going from his fine selection of vinyl in between the live acts.
If that wasn’t enough, local magician Chris-Cross entertained the growing crowd with one or two ice-breaking card tricks. He certainly helped warm up the chilly November afternoon air.
And for those fancying a shave or haircut, Dave and Bob from George Scott’s Gentlemen’s Hairdresser were on hand with their very own pop-up Barber Shop to give the full treatment … for free!
The evening soon became more up tempo as Saturday night revellers arrived and was kickstarted into action with Ojay‘s ‘basse-space funk’.
Later on, Big Ray and The Hipthrusters really got the crowd steaming with their foot stomping rhythm and blues.
Here’s to another successful Boiler Shop Steamer and we hope to see you at the Funk and Soul Christmas Special on Friday 20 December where you can catch Craig Charles headlining.
Keep an eye out for us at future events …
My Last Day in Roussillon
It’s dark at 6am and then still dark at 7am but I managed to drag myself out of bed to set off with Georgia to collect grape samples again. Typical though it rained whilst out, so the grapes were a bit wet which could skew the results. Nevertheless we took them back for analysis.
After a couple of hours work, by 9am, my tummy was ready for breakfast, so I popped along to the Boulangerie for a pain au chocolat and picked up some fresh, juicy strawberries from the local market that had a floral sweet touch. Yummy yum!
So here’s a brief guide to sample analysis:
- Squish the grapes in the bag to get the juice flowing, every single berry must be squished
- Pour the juice, preferably without bits, into a glass
- Use a pipette to drop juice from each wine in turn on the Refractometer and look through the lens to read the alcohol level, clever stuff.
- Wipe the instrument clean and do the next juice.
- Check the pH level using the new nifty pH meter, stick it in the juice and wait.
- Check the TA, titratable acidity, for the acid level, by filling 10ml juice in a glass and adding 5 drops of indicator, which will react with the reagent that is added to the juice turning it blue/green, once the colour changes read the reagent level and divide by 1.9 to give the acid level. Simples!
At that moment in early September, the alcohol levels were not quite right for picking and the skins still a bit too tough. The conclusion was that we would need to wait.
My afternoon was then spent doing something quite different from sample analysis. I joined Jonathon at the local Intermarché supermarket for the ‘Foire aux Vins’, a promotional wine event that is common at this time of year, known as ‘la rentrée’ when schools go back and the long summer break is officially over. Jonathon had a stall and was trying to entice the French public for a taste of his wines.
The stalls were outside, creating a French market feel where people could wander around, taste the wines and chat to producers. As well as tasting the wines, which were then to be on offer in the store, customers could try some meats and hot food from a pop up kitchen. However, the rain kept falling and eventually everyone was forced inside.
Most of the customers had driven to the store and seemed to be in a rush plus it was still the middle of a week day. We were also placed next to a rather energetic sausage selling lady near the entrance/exit, which admittedly made trying to attract people’s attention to taste our wine a bit of a challenge.
Customers were also offered the chance to enter a competition to win their weight in wine and were encouraged by the man with a microphone who wouldn’t let them leave until they did so. Strange indeed but an eye opener into French supermarket sales techniques.
It proved to be a long hard day and certainly one of the more challenging wine fairs I have worked at.
Once back at the winery I felt a bit wiped out, the early starts and late evenings were catching up on me a little. However, a glass of Treloar One Block Muscat and La Terre Promise perked me up before dinner.
It was interesting to try the wines that Jonathon had picked up on promo at the ‘Foire aux Vins’ at Intermarché today. A 2009 Bordeaux from Chateau Picardy at 2.86 euros surprisingly wasn’t too nasty for that price and the Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Louis Chavy, 2010, was pretty decent at 8 euros but unfortunately the Mercurey 2010 Pinot Noir was corked.
I thoroughly enjoyed my week at Domaine Treloar and feel I learnt many new things about life running a vineyard and winery. Although participating in the harvest was my original goal, in some ways the delay turned out to my advantage because I was able to do more of a variety of jobs and learn about those all essential jobs in order to prepare the winery before the harvest. Each trip so far this year has provided me with new skills and experience of another aspect of the wine making process, so it is all fitting together nicely like a jigsaw puzzle.
Thank you to Jonathon and Rachel for looking after me.
Day 6 in Roussillon
It was an early start today to tidy the winery ready for a group of American and French journalists who were arriving for a tour and a tasting.
Leaving Jonathon to host them, I went to see the 25th International Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan with Rachel, Georgia and Jill. The photographs are exhibited in various buildings across the city, some of which are not usually open to the public. So it is a fantastic opportunity to see some rarely visited places as well as beautifully shot photography although the images were often shocking and at times disturbing. I must admit the majestic Serengeti lions made up for the dark violence of human behaviour.
A lovely lunch at a nearby cafe gave us a chance to sit and have a break from the intensity of the exhibition after which we were ready for more.
Then on our way home, a caramel ice cream from Olivier Bajard was most welcome, possibly one of the best ice creams I have ever tasted!
picture sourced from http://ecole-olivier-bajard.skyrock.com
Back at the winery, I took a short walk around Troullias before settling down in the evening sun with a glass of Pierre Andre, Les Craies Bourgogne Aligote 2010, which I had bought at Les Caves Maillol and was planning on using as the mystery wine for everyone to taste that night.
The wine had a flinty, smoky nose with some tropical pineapple and passion fruit aromas. Both Jonathon and Georgia were impressed and we all liked it a lot, not bad for something under 10 euros. It matched extremely well with the barbecued duck, rice and salad that we had for dinner.
We were treated to Treloar’s Tahi and Le Secret as well as a taste of the co-fermented Carignan/Syrah that is still in barrel. What a powerful wine, beautiful voluptuous nose of violets, black and red fruits, spice, the gripping tannin is to be expected but should integrate and soften out nicely. I look forward to getting hold of a bottle of this next year!
As yet unnamed Carignan/Syrah
The wine was flowing and everyone was chatting, Jonathon got his guitar out and entertained until bedtime.
Join me for the final episode in my Roussillon experience next week.
Les Caves Byrrh Wine Fair, 7 Sept 2013
Les Vignerons des Aspres Wine Fair held at Les Caves Byrrh in Thuir, was the first of its kind to promote wine producers in the Aspres region of Roussillon. It was organised through the local tourist office in collaboration with Jonathon Hesford of Domaine Treloar and Andre Gil of Domaine de la Perdrix. They were very pleased with the turn out and I was certainly impressed as I wasn’t sure what to expect and underestimated the size of it. Twenty-two local producers set out their wines on tables lining one aisle of the huge Cave, either side immense oak barrels lead down to the piece de resistance, the largest oak barrel in the world, which holds 1 000 200 litres.
Georgia and I were tasked with manning Domaine Treloar’s table alongside Jonathon, providing tastings and explaining the wines to customers. I’m proud to say that this was all done in French too!
Rachel Treloar and Georgia prepare our table and Jonathon describes Treloar wines.
The cellar is a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard and produces a broad range of aperitifs of which Dubonnet and Cinzano are amongst the products made The Cave itself is very impressive, set on 7 hectares and with some 600 barrels is immense. We entered the site through what was once the railway station, designed by the architect Gustav Eiffel, it is extremely ornate giving you the feeling that you have stepped back in time!
picture sourced from http://www.justacote.com
The event was initiated with a procession through the main aisle where giant figures lead the local drummers band and human pyramid to stop in front of the great oak barrel and entertain the crowds.
A funky jazz band then played for the rest of the evening whilst the crowds enjoyed the wines on offer.
I managed to try a few wines from other producers, three of which really impressed me. Domaine Sol-Payre offered three reds with variations of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre, all well made and striking wines. Chateau Planeres‘s Blanc Brut de Brut made from 100% Tourbat, also known as Malvoisie du Roussillon, was quite delicious and approachable. Domaine Trilles Incantation Blanc made an interesting white blend of Vermentino, Grenache Blanc and Maccabeu plus the Incantation Rouge from Syrah, Carignan, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre was fruity with good structure, one for early drinking.
On the other hand, Clos Saint Georges, run by an older French couple, were quite rude and seemed not all that interested in explaining their wines giving the impression that they spoke for themselves, which to me they did as I wasn’t very impressed. I think the owner walking off in the middle of my asking him a question was the rudest experience I’ve had for a while.
Jonathan certainly received plenty of compliments on his wines with several people returning to tell us that his selection was one of the best at the event.
Things started winding down about 10pm when we were able to pack up, although there were a couple of keen tasters reluctant to leave.
It was a buzzing evening and brought my French wine lingo swiftly up to speed, thankfully people were friendly and complimentary of my explanations.
Over 700 people attended the event and 670 tastings were purchased that only cost the customer a mere 5 euros to taste each producer’s wine. For the first fair of its kind in the Aspres region, I was really impressed by the organisation and amount of people there. I would certainly call it a success!
The annual EAT Festival in Newcastle and Gateshead came a little later this year, though this did not deter the crowds from the many events that have taken place over the last 16 days.
Earlier last month, we were involved in the Sideways Speakeasy film and wine show, in collaboration with Carruthers & Kent, and now on the final day of this event, Kel found himself helping out at The Newcastle Wine School Wine Fair at the Assembly Rooms in Newcastle City Centre.
Newcastle Wine School is part of the Wine School Franchise . This was the first of such and is the brainchild of Chris Powell, who since the turn of the Century has ran this venture. However, he recently handed over this responsibility to David Harker, so that he can concentrate solely on the growing Wine School franchise. There are presently 14 wine schools across the UK with more due on stream shortly. Coming soon are international wine schools , so watch this space!
These schools are a great way in which to get to know and appreciate wine. They also provide professional industry level training via the WSET programme from Level 1 to Advanced. All wine school facilitators are WSET Diploma and/or equivalent qualification or above. Check their website for some fabulous tastings and events.
This years wine fair saw a mix of local independent merchants such as Carruthers & Kent, Michael Jobling, Tyne Wines and Spanish Select displaying their wares alongside Majestic, Fenwick Stores and Marks & Spencer. Newcomers this year were Italyabroad.com and Heathcote Wines, whose Tim Hossack presented a Masterclass on their range of wines that was well received by all those in attendance. The WSET also had their own stand for those interested in undertaking some formal study either directly with them or via Newcastle Wine School or Carruthers & Kent/Taste Train with Helen Savage.
We look forward to many more Wine School events in the coming year.
The annual Newcastle/Gateshead EAT! Festival is now underway with various events taking place at a number of locations between these two cities over the next two weeks.
This year, we are privileged to be involved in two events. The first is with one of Newcastle’s leading wine merchants Carruthers & Kent, whilst the other is with the ever expanding Local Wine School, whose Newcastle franchise shall be hosting their annual wine fair on the final day of the festival. Alongside other local merchants, Carruthers & Kent will be showing a great selection of wines for you to try.
Carruthers & Kent’s leading ladies Mo & Claire, were on hand to deliver some fine wines at The Speakeasy “Sideways” film show, which was held in a makeshift bar and cinema at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle City Centre. The carefully selected wines* were handed out to the audience at the right moment to coincide with wines in the movie, which the audience thoroughly enjoyed and so did we!
The evening continued with live music and the chance to re-try the film’s wine stars.
* These wines will appear in our tasting notes “Wine Lab” section (in development).
This week saw us hosting our first private tasting event. We decided to focus the tasting theme around our wine adventures and had brought along one or two wines we hoped would be something a little different for the group to try.
It was great that our tales of our adventures and the wines we had selected provoked much discussion and to see that everything had been drunk up by the end.
For us, it was a satisfying achievement after much planning and pre-event nerves. Post event, happy but tired, a celebratory glass of English fizz brought the curtains down on an eventful day.