Friday, 28 May 2010

Parliamentary pin-ups: a coalition cocktail

Has it occurred to you that we now have a veritable “boy band” of a government in Cameron, Clegg and perhaps soon to be one of the Milliband family as leader of the opposition? Watching this contest (“The Fraternicide?”, or “Cain and Abel?”), will be the next big spectator sport with brothers David and Ed battling it out for the thrill and patronage of the voting public. The erstwhile hugely popular X Factor will now likely be rendered passé and no longer relevant with such an intriguing gladiatorial contest on the world stage.

Coalition cocktails
Try Belt-tightening Bellini, using “champagne” Cameron –economise with sparkling wine instead of the real thing and mix with a peachy future.

Young’s Old Nick Barley Wine – a very English taste, add a dash of vodka to make it international, befitting Nick Clegg’s aspirations and roots.

Our ministerial leaders are all in their early forties, and…..probably the best looking bunch of politicos ever. What a coup and a proving ground for this media-led, celebrity obsessed country. But actually, who’s complaining? England has always been innovative and a world leader in pop culture and we do have in this line up a remarkably potent and persuasive force. Our prediction is that all things new wave English will become the fashionable trend in lifestyle impacting on our everyday living.

With events conspiring to keep us in England what with the rubber band ash cloud and the threat of strikes affecting foreign travel, we will all be gardening, growing our own and visiting our lovely coast, countryside and magnificent monuments. We think this strong community feeling will embrace support of local and personal enterprises such as one we visited last week, Taurus Wines near Bramley.

Rupert Pritchett outdid himself with this, his 9th Summer Wine Festival, held inside the delightful wood-beamed Gate Street Barn at Wintershall . It was a jolly band of tasters who crowded into sample the wide range of wines, beers, spirits and ciders on display and quite the party atmosphere developed with very little use being made of the spittoons.

Our English favourite was Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs Brut 2001, just announced as having gained a Gold Medal in this year’s International Wine Challenge, “the Oscars of the wine world”. This West Sussex ringer for a classy Blanc de Blancs Champagne is £24.99 – Champagne prices too. Staying with the sparklers but on a mission to try a recommendation of some youthful tipplers we sampled Alasia Brachetto d’Acqui 2009 - £7.99 . This is a sweetish sparkling red with the perfume of roses, violets and a distinct weightiness of raisin in the taste. It has a young and exuberant taste and contrary to expectations we both liked it and thought that as an aperitif or even lightweight pudding wine it would be fun and “different”. We have to say that Rupert himself is less than enthusiastic and describes it as “red lemonade”: he is obviously feeling old!

The wine that we were really enthusiastic about was Te Muna Pinot Noir 2008 - £19.99, smooth, delicate and subtly perfumed from Craggy Range in New Zealand. This company claims to have the best vineyards in kiwi-land and wines to compete with the best in the world. We like this bold, confident new world attitude. A “must do” tasting is Vina Errazuriz’ Chilean wines; they never disappoint and Wild Ferment Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - £10.99, lets you smell the sea beyond the herbal meadows , delicious.

According to Rupert he likes to provide with his wine fair the means and encouragement for local residents to experiment with something other than what he refers to as “Surrey water”, which, to the un-initiated is Pinot Grigio!

Talking of local events, Bramley Village Fete is on Sunday 30th May, 1pm until 4.30pm. This bank holiday celebration really kicks off the start of the summer season. This year, in addition to the traditional stalls and amusements, there will be a brilliant sheepdog display, music from the soon to be signed band “Satellite Cities” and curry lunches from the famous Champan restaurant. All the more usual village staples such as barbequed sausages, teas, sandwiches and cakes galore will be there and our recommendation for food and wine matching for the day is to visit the Pimm’s stall and the Beer tent with local ale, always a popular choice. Entry is free, so see you there.

Wine on tap is not a new idea, and could tie in nicely with your British cultural visits this summer. Inspired by a painting of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, a royal summit meeting held in France in Tudor times, an ornate fourteen foot wine fountain replica has now been built in Hampton Court. The working replica will dispense wine which visitors will be able to buy for £3.50 a glass. In the days of Henry VIII wine from the fountain was free of charge.

Still in Surrey, Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey and a possible contender for our virtual boy band being an attractive early fortysomething - is aptly now Culture Secretary. We are, however, a little concerned about his cultural credentials as it has come to our attention that he eschews wine in favour of Sake, a potent Japanese fermented rice wine. We applaud his feeling for continuity in that he apparently speaks fluent Japanese, but which came first we wonder, the Sake or the language? Irrelevant if, like us, you can understand neither. We do feel that in order for Jeremy to be fully accepted into our Surrey community he should get a working knowledge of what the locals drink. He is after all hardly going to be popular turning up to dinner parties with a bottle of “eau de paddy fields”. Both Heathers agree that in the spirit of community service (of course), it would be quite fun to help educate him. - awaiting your call.

Finally, those in the happy position to be able to invest in wine are eagerly anticipating the Bordeaux 2009 vintage, rumoured to be absolutely stunning. Older bottle sales have hit the record books and the Liv-Ex 100 Fine Wine Index shows a rise of 166% over the last five years and is now at an all time high. This is mainly due to Asia’s insatiable demand (Jeremy Hunt please note) and shows no signs of abating. This of course just confirms that it is Red White and Rosé for all your liquid assets!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Village enterprises and vinous surprises in Surrey's green and pleasant land

Surrey Hills villages are full of suprises, many of them pleasant, such as a recent event in a village hall in Shalford. Ben Watkins, owner of the rather grand sounding Guildford Wine Company, threw a wine tasting bash for his local clients and fans. Unlike most tastings we have attended this was for real people, the”punters” who actually buy and consume the product, as opposed to wine experts. It was a beautiful sunny day and glasses of wine from all the usual country origins, plus a few less well known areas such as Lebanon, were carried out onto the grass and enjoyed, picnic-style with Paul Cancelliri’s delicious Italian charcuterie and cheeses.

As an independent retailer Ben puts long hours into his business and he is obviously aware that he has to offer something different than the supermarket shelves. He carries a wide range of wines from Mediterranean and new world countries and feels very qualified to offer advice on them as he has “tasted 95% of them”!  Dedication indeed...

Here are two recommendations from our man in Shalford – Domaine Bergon Vermentino Sur Lie, 2008 – Vin de Pays D’Oc, France £7.99. A perfect all round white, crisp and dry with delicate peach and nectarine fruitiness. We love the name of this one, Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir, 2009 – Victoria, Australia £10.99. Great value Pinot Noir from the relatively cool climate of Victoria in Australia. A good example of the style showing vibrant, ripe strawberry fruit in a silky elegant way. Excellent for summertime quaffing.

“We have never had a bad bottle from you” is the statement from his clients that this entrepreneur says makes it all worthwhile.

Further surprises were in store as just along the A281 in Bramley, tucked away in the bluebell woods is The Organic Spirits Company, a family firm who are the purveyors of the FIRST AND ONLY ORGANIC SPIRITS IN THE WORLD, fair-trade and holders of the Royal Warrant to boot!

What makes their products so different, was the question we asked of Christopher Parker, MD and local resident. “One taste is worth a thousand words”, says Chris, and luckily you can prove this for yourselves as his products are sold in Waitrose, The Guildford Wine company (featured above) and various other select outlets. Christopher is rightly proud of his gold, silver and bronze medals awarded not just for his best seller Juniper Green Gin but also for Papagayo organic Rums, Utkins UK5 organic Vodka, Highland Harvest organic Scotch Whisky and Prince Charles’ favourite, Organic Sloe Gin.

Every aspect of Juniper Green Gin’s production is 100% organic which results in a spirit of unparalleled purity. The finest ingredients and biodynamic farming – a sustainable form of agriculture which maintains soil fertility and works in harmony with nature – are key to quality. As a man of much marketing experience Chris knows that in the Hotel, restaurant and bar trade one in ten customers prefer organic products, a number on the increase. This thought can be compared to the fact that just ten years ago very few venues offered vegetarian food. Today no menu is complete without the vegetarian option. When you try these spirits for the first time swirl and sniff and savour in the mouth as you would with wine to appreciate their depth and finesse, then you had better add a bit of water, tonic or soda as appropriate or you will be reeling in seconds flat!

Bramley Bramble cocktailmix together 50ml Juniper Green Gin, 37.5ml lemon juice, 12.5ml blackberry liqueur. Serve on ice.

Before leaving Bramley and in the name of art we would like to mention two charity events, the first one featuring postman Lawrence Moore who, like his famous namesake, is a sculptor. Lawrence, who in most weathers delivers naked from the knee down, makes striking and unusual objects and pots from various stoneware clays and porcelain. He will be exhibiting together with painter Mary Hainline at “Pentire” Snowdenham Lane, Bramley on Friday 21st May until 9pm on 23rd May in aid of research into Motor Neurone Disease.

Celebrating the Sculpture exhibition at Birtley House on Saturday 15th May, artists of a different hue, yours truly Heather Dougherty and Heather Aitken will be exhibiting their own particular brand of wine lore at a dinner to benefit The Surrey Foundation. Tickets from .

Moving on across the valley, hidden away behind a kitchen furniture supplier in Artington is a quirky wine wholesaler known as Les Caves de Pyrène. Why the unpronounceable name we wondered? The shortest answer (there are several), is that they started out as a specialist importer of wines from Southwest France and wanted to reflect this in the name – hence Pyrène as in Pyrenees. Their range from this fascinating corner of France is still probably the best in the country. Many of their bottles end up on the wine list of top notch restaurants in London, including their own jointly-owned venture, the superb Terroirs. So popular is it with those in the know that it’s unofficial name is the wine trade canteen.

“Les Caves” have now expanded their stock range to include wines from Italy to New Zealand and most places in between. Adrian Scholes - the man with the tattered black book - has been with Les Caves since the beginning. He is a friendly, big daddy-ish but sometimes rather fraught-looking director who logically, sympathetically and diplomatically sorts out wine dilemmas. Heather Aitken (roving reporter?) paid a visit to experience their Mediterranean tasting evening featuring Corsican wine. To set the mood there were serenading Corsican balladeers, who sounded better and better as the evening wore on.

The good news for Surrey residents is that this place is not just for “the trade”, anyone can browse and buy providing it is a minimum purchase of 12 bottles. This is the place to head for if you have a thirst for vinous adventure and are keen to discover what les Caves call “real wines”: many organic and/or biodynamic and always made with individuality and care. If you delight in tongue- twisting names, try Pacherenc du Vic Bilh, (say it, drink it and then try saying it again), from Domaine Berthoumieu from Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng grapes. Like walking through an orchard of almond blossom, this wine is a unique and delicious experience (£10.75 a bottle from les Caves).

“I had rather be first in a village than second at Rome” Julius Caesar

There are an abundance of hidden gems in our neck of the woods and it is a pleasure to discover and highlight them in our wine and lifestyle columns. Do contact us at to let us know your favourite places and people that make Surrey such a “green and pleasant land”.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Readers' wines...and star signs

“Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.” Winston Churchill.

It's but a few hours until the general election and if you are still in a quandary as to the various strengths, weaknesses and intentions of the various parties and their leaders, then read on.

The expression “in vino veritas” will be our guide as we examine the character and values of the party leaders through the medium of – what else? - wine. Imagine, if you wilI, Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg conducting their TV debates with a glass of wine in their hand (and that might have pepped things up a bit), what should it have been?

Gordon Brown – As the PM hails from Scotland, we automatically associate him with scotch whisky. But he doesn't have much of a reputation for drinking of any kind: Chancellora are famously allowed to drink while delivering the budget speech, yet Gordon chose nothing more intoxicating than Scottish mineral water when he was in the role.

Whisky, however, may not be too wide of the mark character-wise as he certainly comes across as a strong, serious dram of a man. Whisky is an essential part of our national heritage, though its uncompromising flavour isn't to everyone's taste - it's a world away from crowd-pleasing, undemanding, sweet and sickly alcopops.

Don’t forget, though, that much of Gordon's perceived dourness comes from his Scots antecedents rather than from his personality. He does have a taste for all things financial; is bossy, but works hard, particularly for the under-dog. If you give any credence to that kind of thing, Mr Brown's astrological sign is Pisces: a romantic, emotional water sign, which is a bit of a surprise, based on what we know – still waters run deep perhaps?

Taking all these factors into account, the PM should be attracted to the profound flavours of a red wine that appears light and straightforward, but has undercurrents and hidden complexities, with a long finish. Wines made from pinot noir encapsulate these qualities perfectly, so Gordon should get on fine with Roaring Meg Pinot Noir, from the Mount Difficulty winery (a neat reminder of the mountain to climb perhaps?) in New Zealand. Majestic have it for £14.99 if you buy 2 bottles (£17.49 normally). Despite the name, drinking this perfumed, silky wine would be a pleasure, not a LABOUR of love.

David Cameron – Middle England, dimple-cheeked pin-up, the sort of chap that Sloane Rangers (remember them?) would choose as the RIGHT chap to have on one's arm at a black tie dinner and to take home to meet Daddy. His is the perfect profile for the diplomatic service: suave, compliant, over substance? He is a typical Libran in that he encapsulates all this along with a desire for a balanced lifestyle. This is perhaps why his policies never seem to stay quite still. He would like everyone to have the perfect life – it is how to achieve this that could be a problem. As an air sign his preferences for wine would be reflected in something light and bubbly but, we must hope, with some intellectual backbone. Dave got himself into hot water being caught on camera quaffing Champagne on the eve of George Osborn's austerity speech last year, so he should stick with the popular budget choice of Prosecco. Marca Oro Prosecco at Sainsbury's for £6.99 should strike a suitably happy-go-lucky note, with enough zing and verve to enliven even a CONSERVATIVE party!

Nick Clegg – He started out as the Third Man, practically the Invisible Man, of the election campaign, but his apparent triumph in the first TV debate has brought him to the forefront of our minds. Yet what do we really know about the man who holds an increasingly important and pivotal position politically as the possibility of a coalition government looms? He has a very interesting and cosmopolitan background, his father half Russian, his mother Dutch and his wife Spanish. But of course what we all know about him is his boast (or confession?) that he had had “no more than thirty” lovers before marrying. It's always the quiet ones isn't it?

His persona and appearance are completely at odds with the beards and anoraks image of the party he leads. He is besuited and business orientated rather than otherworldly or bookish: an expression of his Capricornian star sign, the down to earth but upwardly mobile grafters of the zodiac, perhaps? Or is it just that, with his, ahem, romantic history, he is also a bit of an old goat? With such a mixed heritage and lifestyle his wine character, like his politics, could go anywhere. However, taking into account his earthy influences, his ambition and his predilections the thought of a “hung” parliament could definitely work in his favour...

A sensuous, earthy but sophisticated, red with Euro credentials such as Domaine Font de Michelle Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007, £24.99 from Waitrose is a reassuringly exspensive choice. A fabulous wine with a hint of wild spice that should be quaffed LIBERALly and DEMOCRATically.

“Don’t believe a word, for words are only spoken. Your heart is like that promise, made to be broken”. Thin Lizzy, 1976

Now that everything is as clear as “must” - the mud of the wine world - we hope that the choices in wine will help to clarify and cut to the chase through all the waffle and political posturing. Judge a man by what he drinks, how he drinks and who he drinks with, is our axiom and thought for the day.

“Politics” is made up of two words “poli” which is Greek for “many, and “tics” which are blood-sucking insects”. Gore Vidal

Wine and Sculpture at Birtley House, Bramley.
Heather Dougherty and Heather Aitken will be entertaining and educating guests into the wonderful world of wine at a charity event and dinner in aid of the Surrey Community Foundation on Saturday 15th May at Birtley House, Bramley. We would love to meet you there, come and join the fun.

Tickets priced £35 available from 01483 892055 or email;