It's been a while since I posted about a specific wine from Rothley Wine Estate. As some of you will know, I have been volunteering there for some time - helping with every element of caring for the vines and making the wines. In fact, it was recently my three year anniversary at Rothley Wine! I went there originally to write a blog post - this one in fact - and as anyone who has done one of my wine tastings will know, I basically haven't left since.
Now I've volunteered for 3 years I get to drive the tractor (lawnmower). No one else lets me drive *anything*
What better way to understand the mechanics of wine than to volunteer at a vineyard? One of the real privileges has been hosting the wine tasting element of the Rothley Wine public tour and tastings for just over a year now. I get to meet some absolutely fantastic people. Some are hyperlocal - Rothley residents. Some have travelled great distances to come and find out more about Liz's wines. All have proved to be singularly fascinated by the vineyard and what Liz does there and it is my great pleasure to introduce them to wine tasting and to her wines.
So why this post, and why now? Well, at last month's tastings we introduced the 2017 vintage for the first time. King Richard, the white composed of Siegerrebe and Solaris has been the best selling wine for at least three years now. However, it really struck me what a rousing reception the 2017 rosé, Battle Royal received at our tastings. It literally outsold the other wines 4 to 1.
Now I spend a lot of time telling people about vintage variation at this little boutique vineyard. That is to say that every year we make wines using the same grapes in roughly the same proportion, yet they come out tasting incredibly different. Don't get me wrong, the 2015 Battle Royal has been popular. I've called it the "non-rosé drinkers rosé" or "the grown up rosé" because of its dry, savoury character, and the interesting complexity that has arisen as it has aged in the bottle (I know, that should be wrong, but I have a feeling that English whites and rosés, well the good ones anyway, may gain interesting character when they age and lose their initial fresh fruitiness. But that's probably a future blog post).
Spot the phone. This is me taking a selfie! No, really! But before my fat ass started going swimming.
And everyone gets it, and loves the idea that their little local vineyard is producing exciting, interesting and varied wines each year. But people are really going mad for Battle Royal 2017. And of course, there isn't a lot of it. So I'm taking the time to write about it while I have it in front of me. My biggest regret is not blogging about all of Liz's wines methodically, every year. I could make notes now, from memory, because the broad brush strokes are still not quite dry in my mind. But I didn't write in detail when they were new, and revisit those notes later on. I know Spirit of Freedom 2013 isn't the same as when I first tasted it, and I know it's better now, but it can be quite difficult to articulate why.
So perhaps this post is more an aide memoire than anything. And so you're all welcome to move along. But if you read it quick enough, it might give you enough time to grab a bottle of this lovely little wine before it's too late.
Rothley Wine - Battle Royal 2017Siegerrebe - Solaris - Frühburgunder A clear, deep pink wine. Crystal clarity and bouncing colour.
A light, to medium light aroma with intriguing hints of red fruit, not quite ready to reveal it's true character, balanced against a subtle leafy note. The lightness of the aroma makes it quite difficult to put your finger on what you are smelling, but there is a subtle background note of red stone fruit - cherry perhaps - with a noticeable absence of sweetness that makes you want to explore further.
This is an off dry to medium wine with a medium plus to high acidity and medium alcohol. It has a moderate body, for a rosé and a pronounced flavour profile. What makes it really interesting for me is this fruity punchiness - this fresh vibrancy. What I also love is that it hits your palate with fruit characters that I don't often identify in wines (which could well be my own failing) - cranberry, pomegranate, and there's that cherry again. A hint of strawberry, a hint of the strawberry patch itself. All of this is wrapped up in a refined package where the fruit is the star. I'm inclined to say a dash of white pepper comes through on the finish.
For me, the balance of sweetness and acidity is not quite there yet - there is something on the finish that gives a hint of immaturity and knowing Liz's previous wines deeply I know will mellow.I think the sweetness is too much, too young at the moment and I am confident that 6 months more is all it will need to make the finish as pleasant as the wine is in the mouth. But that is barely a criticism, merely an observation of how this small batch boutique wine will progress in the bottle. We Leicestershire folk sure are lucky to have this on our doorstep.
As I've been spending more time around Sawley, I've been desperate to try the tapas restaurant Esquina, but am usually in the area around weekday lunchtimes where they are closed. So when I found myself practically tripping over the venue on a Saturday early evening I could not resist calling in to give their Spanish menu a spin.
We entered the surprisingly empty restaurant and received a friendly welcome from the bartender who served our drinks and seated us efficiently. The drinks selection is not particularly inspiring, but all the usuals are there, so you're bound to have an old favourite to fall back on.
We perused the menu and were a little surprised by some of the options! The restaurant has been open for nearly a year, having been converted from a British traditional restaurant. This influence still shows through with items like pulled pork sliders on the menu, and 'meatballs' instead of the more familiar 'albondigas' that you would associate with a typical Spanish restaurant. I have no doubt that having been in business for over 2 decades, the owner has his reasons for keeping a more English take on the Spanish classics!
We were warned that they were fully booked for the evening so could only have our table for 2 hours, but this was no problem for us as we weren't planning on a lingering meal, but I appreciated them letting us know that in advance.
We placed our order and waited. And waited a bit more. And waited a bit more. This was a bit confusing as we had not ordered a huge amount of food, and were one of just a handful of occupied tables in the place. Fortunately, we were sat near to the window looking into the kitchen, and could see that the kitchen team were significantly more occupied drinking what looked like tasty mojitos rather than cooking, which explained the delay.
Must be break time
After all while though, our food began to arrive. Each dish is brought out as it is cooked which is a nice assurance that the food is made fresh to order. We had the serrano ham and manchego croquettes which were formed into two large balls. I think I would have preferred a larger number of the more traditional long croquettes as the texture balance was a little bit off. I do love a crispy coating. However, the filling was flavourful and I really liked the powerful salty meat hit from the ham.
Next up were pork and thyme meatballs with tomato and garlic. Albondigas is our go to dish when in Spain, so we were looking forward to this one, however I have to say we were bitterly disappointed. The meatballs were just that - formed balls of pork mince - with no discernible seasoning, or indeed the benefit of caramelisation from the cooking. They were splashed with an unremarkable tomato sauce, which was not the rich, velvety slow cooked delight we were hoping for, but tasted rather more like chopped tomatoes that had been warmed up. Sadly, this meant that the sauce was a little raw and one dimensional. We would have asked to swap this dish out we were so disappointed with it, but as we received no checkback and there were no members of staff watching the floor this wasn't possible.
Anyway, on to better things and the octopus dish we had was more enjoyable. It was served with some tiny cubes of chorizo, which was surprisingly bland, along with tomatoes and potatoes. The menu billed chilli oil as well, but again I did not get the punchy Spanish flavours I was expecting - perhaps another effect of the Anglicization of the menu? Despite that, I found the octopus to be well handled - retaining a little bite, but generally tender and plentiful in the dish. A relative highlight.
Finally we had opted for chicken pinchos, which had the surprising addition of green pesto. Despite reading this on the menu, we had chosen to go for it because we love pesto, even though it's probably one of the least Spanish things I can imagine!
Again, the billed 'spicing' of the chicken skewers turned out to be rather hyperbolic, with the pesto sauce being the only real element of seasoning for my money. However, the chicken had been carefully handled and was still moist on the skewers.
So a mixed bag here. The chronic lack of flavour was something of a let down for me, and all the more surprising as the more difficult elements to get right (i.e. the octopus) were nicely done. The meatballs were a total waste of time - although to the credit of our waitress when we bemoaned this (and the absence of a checkback) at the end of the meal she immediately went and took it off the bill. This was a nice touch on her part, but does make me wonder whether that is a common occurrence...
Pricewise, dishes were around £4 to £8, with most of what we ordered falling to the top end of this. They recommend 3 dishes per person, but I would suggest that four would be required for a decent meal, particularly given the absence of complimentary bread (which always gets my goat in this country). So slightly more expensive than a chain tapas restaurant, but with the same middling quality of ingredients and execution. I shan't be rushing back, but it wasn't terrible.
Esquina did not know I was going to write up my visit and we paid for our meal in full.
Except for the meatballs, which were taken off the bill.
It's always nice to have a little browse around the emporium that is David North's in Rothley. It is a long established deli, with the added bonus of the beautiful patisserie of David's son, Dominic. They also have an excellent, and interesting, wine selection. I popped in recently off the cuff and decided to treat myself to a little something as a treat for passing my WSET Level 2 with distinction.
Along with, naturally, a good range of Rothley Wines, which are grown just a couple of hundred metres up the road from North's, there are some interesting wines from various parts of the globe. Their French selection is strong, but do take your time to find the more exciting bottles.
I was enticed to buy by a bottle of Verdicchio. A traditional grape of the Marche region of Italy, the name reflects the Italian word for green, verde, because of the yellow-green hue that the grapes and the wines take.
What is Verdicchio?
It takes me back to our visit to Agugliano, almost exactly a year ago. There seemingly every meal was crowned with either a sparkling or still Verdicchio and after a few days of such unseemly treatment I was a confirmed fan of the crisp, citrusy flavours. Here was a new producer for me, Garofoli, with their Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico. Castelli di Jesi is one of the most well respected and best known DOCs for Verdicchio.
I was intrigued that the bottle I found was a 2014, and my terrible grasp of Italian took on the back label and suggested that it was aged in steel for some time. A little research suggests that it is relatively common for Verdicchio wines to be kept in steel vats until needed for bottling.
The slight hint of age really impacted well on this wine in my opinion. It has a beautiful medium gold colour with a light to medium aroma hinting delicately at citrus fruit - orange and grapefruit - and honey flavours. As expected, this wine has a high acidity, and so would make a great food pairing wine (as is true of pretty much every Italian wine.) It has a touch more body to it than the young Verdicchios I have tasted in the past, giving a rounded mouthfeel. This meant that the fruit flavours of orange, lemon and green apple were moderated by creamy touches which were almost almond-like in flavour and texture. I didn't get a honey note as much in flavour as in the aroma, but still a very good wine which opened up beautifully when the initial fridge chill had passed.
Finally, there's a new Greek in town! We've suffered a dearth of Greek food in Leicester city centre for many years now, sadly. It is one of the few cuisines that we lack and, typically, one of my very favourite.
They don't mess around when you order extra halloumi!
So it was with much anticipation that I paid my first visit to The Olive, newly opened on Belvoir Street in the city centre. It is a simply decorated, medium sized eatery boasting a simple, modestly sized but hugely tempting menu of Greek street food.
I would in fact say that the menu is 'carefully curated' rather than small as it took me an extremely long time to decide what to choose from the menu. It all sounds delicious and I will certainly be returning. However, in the end I decided to plump for the classic Souvlaki - start with the basics and then work from there.
The food is delivered with a smile and relatively quickly - it is clearly cooked to order. My pork souvlaki was served wrapped in a paper, but I think that eating it on the go would be nigh on impossible. This thing is fully loaded. The fluffy white flatbread is topped with a thick smear of creamy homemade tzatziki and sprinkled with a very generous layer of salad. On top of that comes the marinated meat skewer. In my case this was succulent pork, with the added interest of a flavourful marinade, sprinkle of lemon juice and light char on the edges. This in turn is topped with a small handful of fat chips. It's a beautiful combination of flavours and textures - crisp and smooth, creamy and sharp, crunchy and soft.
Like all classics it is the simplicity that makes it so good. You can order the Souvlaki with a range of fillings - as well as pork try lamb, kofta, halloumi, chicken or mushrooms. Prices start at £3.95 for the vegetarian fillings and it is well worth it. This is a filling, satisfying dish.
The Boy opted for the Chicken Gyro - a similar combination to my dish, but with shavings of chicken meat instead. You can also have the shavings of chicken or pork meat in a gyro 'burger' form if you choose. Again, it was the flavourful marinade and the combination of textures that made this good.
Sadly we had no time to sample the baklava, which stared out at me, tempting behind the glass dessert counter. However there are so many reasons that I want to go back and take another shot at The Olive. What does their moussaka taste like? How good is their calamari, their halloumi fries? I'm also a sucker for Spanakopita, the spinach and feta filled filo pastry delight. And as readers of my previous posts will know, I love mezze. So I have about a hundred reasons to go back. There just aren't enough meals in the day, are there?
The Olive did not know I was going to write up my visit and we paid for our meal in full.
It's been a good month for new pub openings in Leicester and Leicestershire. The Castle Inn on Castle Street, Mill Hill Cask & Coffee in Enderby and, the only one that I've managed to get out to so far (twice) - The Two-Tailed Lion on Leicester's Millstone Lane.
Many of you will remember Matt & Alice who ran the St Martin's Square pop-up The Tap in the Square in the run up to Christmas last year. They have now left Brewklopedia and have joined forces with Framework Brewery to bring us the Two-Tailed Lion.
Set over a couple of floors, there are screens featuring current menus (and also showing the World Cup at present) with plenty of room for a quiet drink in private, tasting events and more, which will surely be a prominent feature at the Two-Tailed Lion, given Matt and Alice's certified expertise in beer.
Blimey, that one looks good!
The Great, the Good and Kieran from The Blue Boar came along to The Two-Tailed Lion for both its opening night, and early in the next week (as we'd kindly been invited along to enjoy our first tipple on the house- thanks guys). The new pub has a wide selection of beers on offer - two fridges bulging with various cans and bottles, a good range of keg beers and three cask ales on at any one time. There is also a selection of natural and organic wines on offer as well as a select but high quality range of spirits - I've not had chance to work my way through that little lot yet!
I started off with the Tiny Rebel Milkshake IPA and you can see from the photo why it has that name! It settled into a lovely and refreshing pint in this beautiful hot weather. The combination of creamy and tropical perhaps doesn't sound that appealing (unless you like pina coladas and dancing in the rain) but actually it was fresh and refreshing. It wasn't just us who enjoyed this cheeky pint - this was the first cask to be finished in the new venue!
On my second visit, I opted for a 2/3 of the Mad Hatter Easy Imbiber East Coast Pale on keg. This was bursting with fruit and delicious hoppiness from the Cascade dry hopping. As you would expect, all the beers were served in immaculate condition.
There are always lots of Framework Brewery options to choose from too for those with local tastes, as the pub is part of their ever expanding empire. I'm looking forward to seeing how this beautiful building and delightful team grow and mature in their new venture. Cheers!
One of the things that Leicester can pretty much not be beaten for is the variety of restaurants available within a very short distance. Forget your boring chain restaurants with their microwaved food and disinterested staff, join the independent revolution and try something a bit more interesting!
Turkish food, the work of students in training, steakhouses, fantastic British cooking - I've been enjoying all of these in recent months. But one thing that I do not often get to experience is African food. So it's safe to say that I'm no judge of authenticity, but I hope I can offer something in regard to flavour!
We stopped by Alino African Bar & Restaurant at the top of Narborough Road recently. I've never visited them before, and I don't recall having eaten any African cuisine since visiting an Ethopian restaurant in Reading about 10 years ago. It's not the most salubrious environment, I'll be honest, but the staff were extremely welcoming - perhaps their enthusiasm is partly the only way to be heard over the deafening music that is pumped out none stop in the restaurant!
We kicked off with a selection of African beers from the menu, not realising that Star is the official Nigerian beer of Man City! You learn something new every day. Essentially the options were all large bottles of strong lager, served well chilled they were crisp and refreshing. But lager nonetheless.
After a short wait, our food was brought out. The Boy enjoyed a curried goat, which was slow cooked and strongly spiced. I tasted a little and it would have been a little too spicy for me had I had the whole thing, but he got stuck right in and enjoyed every mouthful of powerful sauce and melt-in-the-mouth meat. You can order from a range of sides to accompany your main, and he went for a simple rice, which I didn't bother to photograph. Because rice.
I had had some trouble ordering from the menu as there were so many new things that I hadn't heard of before which I wanted to try! Nigerian ogbono soup made with ogbono seeds, egussi (melon seed) dishes served with your choice of meat, jellof rice made with tomatoes, onions and spices - all of these are things I have never heard of before and have no idea what they will taste like! In the end I settled for ordering a chicken maffe - a peanut stew. This was absolutely to my taste, with a rich, creamy peanut sauced which was fragrant and more delicately spiced than the in your face flavour of the goat dish.
I had this with pounded yam, a traditional Nigerian side dish. This was bloomin' delicious. A dense 'sausage' of yam was simply presented on the plate. It's thick, relatively bland texture made a superb vehicle for mopping up the delicious maffe sauce and made for a hugely filling meal. It was kind of like a really, really dense mashed potato. But better.
Uncomplicated, home cooked food then, but certainly somewhere I will be happy to return to. What new food have you tried recently?
Alino did not know that I was visiting to review and we paid for our meal in full.
There's a new festival in town this summer and it's being held at the Market Harborough Showground. Hot on the heels of Download, Leicestershire is continuing to keep it real this festival season with Texfest.
There's some big names playing including Example, Tinchy Stryder and The Fratellis. Yet weekend tickets are only £75.60 for adults, with reduced prices available for students, teens and free places for children under 12. This makes it one of the best value festivals around! Camping tickets must be purchased on top of this though, and of course VIP upgrades are available. VIP access also includes front row viewing area and a chillout garden space, which sounds pretty awesome to me!
There's a lot more than 3 days of live music and DJ sets on offer. Texfest has paired up with LCFC, the Leicester Riders and the Northampton Saints who will all be putting on activities and challenges to keep you occupied. There will of course be plenty of street food available in the arena too.
It's been a tough year for festivals, with a number of much loved events being cancelled in 2018. Smaller festivals like Grillstock have disappeared as the organisers 'ran out of time', whilst Portsmouth's Mutiny Festival was cancelled as a precautionary measure after the terrible news of the drug-related deaths of two people occuring on the first day. It's clearly a difficult time to run a sustainable festival so I wish the Texfest organisers all the very best with their inaugural event!!