Monday, 22 February 2021

Chinese Year Of The Ox Wines

     

Many will agree that since the arrival of the pandemic there has been precious little to celebrate during the last 12 months. However, life moves on around us, and this month saw the Chinese New Year ushering in the year of the Ox. As the second animal of the Chinese zodiac, the ox is said to represent hard work, diligence and honesty. 

As New Year is the major holiday event in the Chinese calendar, and an important time for gift giving, companies with an eye to a ready-made marketing opportunity have always been keen to capitalise on this, releasing special Chinese zodiac collections. 

Certainly, when it come to wine and other alcoholic beverages there are endless options available, even if for us it means simply enjoying a tipple or two with a take-away. 

This year, wines that celebrate and pay tribute to the bull or the ox have been in demand. 

For anyone wanting to push the boat out, Johnnie Walker Blue Label, £210 (40%abv.) has produced a limited-edition bottling to celebrate the Year of the Ox, featuring artwork from award-winning artist Shirley Gong, with the ox symbolising prosperity, growth and good fortune. Given the Chinese penchant for premium whisky the price tag is hardly surprising.  

The famous Italian red wine, Desiderio from produced Avignonesi, 2016, £42.57 (14%abv.), will fit the bill for anyone keen to make the link when tucking into their chow mein, fried rice and spring rolls. This vegan wine, made from a blend of 92% merlot, 8% cabernet sauvignon, is from Italy’s biggest biodynamic winery in Tuscany’s Montepulciano, and honours the region’s majestic white bull of the same name, which means ‘desire’ in Italian. The bull, the largest in Tuscany at the time, and one of the oldest breeds of cattle in existence, reportedly lived on Avignonesi’s Capezzine farm more than one hundred years ago and helped to define the cattle specific to the famed Bistecca Fiorentina. 

The wine is a pale ruby red, with delicate berry aromas on the nose, and a subtle hint of coffee beans. The flavour is well-rounded, smooth and fruit-driven, with a delicious savoury finish. 

I have always been a Champagne fan and was delighted to discover that to celebrate the 2021 Chinese New Year, Champagne Billecart-Salmon, £70, (12.5%abv.) has created an exclusive Limited Edition design for its Brut Rosé, its iconic house cuvée, with a Chinese Gongbi painting ‘Rui Niu Wang Chun’ which means ‘an auspicious ox looking forward to spring’ in Chinese., by Chinese artist Lin Ke. 

At the other end of the price scale, and first produced in 1954, Sangre de Toro, £7.50 (13.5%abv.) was the first bottled release from Spanish wine giant Torres. The wine, which is vegan, was created by Miguel Torres Carbó who searched Catalonia to find the best grapes for this popular everyday wine. This Garnacha/Carignan blend creates a fruit forward and very approachable red. Each bottle design features a red bull or ‘Toro’ in Spanish, which honours its home country, Spain, known for its bull fighting, and is of course topical for Chinese Year of Ox. 

Those of us of a certain age will well remember Hungarian Bull’s Blood. Bolyki Egri Bikavér 'Bull's Blood' 2016 £14.49 (13%abv.) This unfiltered vegan wine made from a blend of native grapes, is an attractive, deep ruby colour with a spicy black pepper nose of dark stewed fruit with a hint of chocolate and vanilla. Its bright acidity, tight tannic structure, and long finish makes this wine one that is worth ageing.  

Lastly, Asda Extra Special Selection Toro Tempranillo, £8, (14.5%abv.), is a splendid easy drinking Spanish red with loads of rich cherry, black raspberry and spice flavours, with a silky warm, lingering finish.  

 

I have recently become rather keen on Haiku poems, so here is my offering, its composition aided by this super little site – https://www.poem-generator.org.uk/haiku/ 

 

Cosy eventide, 

A meal, thirsty wine drinking 

Saved by the ox 

 

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

EATING OUR WAY OUT OF LOCKDOWN – ENQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW

Unlike many people, I have embraced lockdown wholeheartedly.

I am fortunate in that I am not encumbered by family or serious financial worries, love my own company and do not much care for the big outdoors. It has also given me time for reflection and the opportunity to consider what the future might hold.

For those of us born in the 50s and beyond, I think of the last twelve months as being our WW2, a time when the freedoms we have for so long taken for granted have been severely restricted, causing us to lead our lives in a way we could not have foreseen. The inability to move around and mix with each other freely has caused significant distress and a feeling of isolation for many of us, but I believe we will all come out of this better people; less selfish perhaps, and more conscious of the impact our behaviour has on others.

Putting our current inability to travel aside, we all still need to eat.

After procreation, for without that the human race would not survive, food must surely be the most important thing in our lives. In our relatively affluent Western world, we have an abundance of food on our doorsteps, despite our insistence on choosing to consume produce grown thousands of miles away, with little thought to our impact on the environment.

How, when, where and what we eat, and who we choose to share meals with, has never been more important.

I try to eat seasonally, and local, largely because it means that that I can support independent businesses that are struggling, and also because things just taste better the closer they are from farm to fork. Whilst I am no stranger to junk food (Fray Bentos Steak & Kidney pie is a weakness, as is vesta Chow Mein) I do care passionately about what goes into my mouth, even if it means a conscious decision at times to eat badly. 

My dietary habits have never been the best, and having been housebound for almost a year now, with little opportunity for eating out, my body clock has gone completely haywire; hence chicken noodle soup and hot cross buns at 2am, and calves’ liver for breakfast.

I have a thing about fish on the bone (it HAS to be) and spanking fresh eggs, with shiny pert golden yolks, but I have never enjoyed ‘veg’, except for slender spears of asparagus smothered in hollandaise, and whatever happened to those fabulous kidney-shaped, yellow, waxy, Jersey Royals?

I resist ordering online, not trusting anyone else to ‘pick’ my produce, and have felt forced to shop in supermarkets; a dismal experience all round. I just do not want to buy a whole pack of (out of season) tomatoes, a cucumber, a head of broccoli or a bag of lettuce. Six salad leaves is just about my limit.

The thing I have missed most of all since lockdown is eating out. I love cooking but would never dream of cooking an entire meal just for myself. When I eat out, which I usually do around five times a week, I very rarely order a main course, much preferring several small portions. In my current state of nutritional melancholy, I long for a menu of delicious, tempting, low calorie morsels, waiting to seduce my tastebuds, whilst keeping my waistline in check. Linda, get over yourself; remember there are millions who are dying for want of anything at all to put in their distended bellies.

Of course, reading about food (now on my 164th book) has not helped my plight at all.

Ploughing my way through my latest volume, a series of essays (some not very well written) about food and life, I came across a chapter in which the author considers the foods eaten by some of our most recognisable writers while they labour under the tension of finding the perfect word for their latest award-winning manuscript.  

This got me thinking. The vast majority of the people I choose to socialise with are ‘into’ food and wine. Under normal circumstances we would get together regularly but in the absence of being able to do so, apart from the odd virtual wine tasting, I decided to carry out a little experiment, posing the question, on Mon. 15th Feb., ‘What did you have for your dinner this evening?’ What was astonishing was the extraordinary level of immediate responses. Those I received, from this diverse selection of people from across the world, came in thick and fast, and were socially very enlightening. Some decided to wax lyrical, obviously wanting to ‘let it all out’, complete with apologies and a certain amount of embarrassment as to their lack of imagination when it came to the choices they had made when no-one was looking.

Others were brief and to the point, with very little detail being given, bringing to the surface a range of unanswered questions. Some were in relationships or living with family members. Did they eat together? If not, why not? Where did they eat? At a table, in the kitchen, watching TV? Did they use the ‘just throw it all in’ approach to ad hoc cooking, well-tried recipes, ready meals, cheat’s tricks or all prepared fresh from scratch?

I was also struck by the high level of abstinence, and the extent to which people appear to be eating healthily.

We ARE what we eat in more ways than one. It is the decisions we make when faced with hunger, necessity, or merely boredom perhaps, that determine who we are, and what is important in our lives.

 

LdH

Homemade (not by me) toasted small round loaf of rustic sourdough bread - made with whole wheat, rye, and white flour (2 slices). Canned lentil soup (1 cup).

One slice of toasted bread, then the soup, then a second slice of toasted bread

Water drunk throughout the meal and after

It was easy; I bought the bread on Saturday at a roadside bakery stand in Grand Isle so I needed to eat it sooner rather than later as there were no preservatives. The soup was heated on the stove.

Clearly using up the bread, but what about her husband? Did they eat together, eat the same thing? Was the toast buttered, or not? Water seems rather puritan, to me at least.   

 

DB

I had Parmesan chicken. Cooked chicken chunks ‘til brown, then added Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, mushrooms, rice, stock and cooked for 15 minutes until cooked. Then added cream and Parmesan cheese - a very yummy dish. With two glasses of Chilean Merlot. 

This person obviously felt the need to give details as to how the meal was prepared. Why chicken ‘chunks’? Did she de-bone thighs or chop up a breast? What kind of mushrooms were used, how were they used, whole or sliced? What kind of rice? What stock was used? What type of cream? Was the Parmesan freshly grated or from a packet? What size glasses of wine? So many questions….

 

KW-C

We had pasta with mushrooms - mushrooms fried with garlic and then crème fraîche and Parmesan and pasta water added and some parsley. All stirred together. (Jamie Oliver cook 5 but with added parsley). We had a lot of mushrooms in the fridge.

Ate early as N has a PC meeting. I have supped 2 G&Ts since.

When he has finished, we will have some left over smoked salmon and left over white Bordeaux - which I will go easy on!

This is not a normal evening.... PC ones are always different.

This person was feeling obliged to explain the thinking behind the meal and the fact that it was based around mushroom that needed to be used up. What type of mushrooms and what type of pasta was used? Is a G&T the usual tipple? What type of G&T is preferred?

FB

Prawn risotto with tomato sauce, with garlic. Small brandy.

Homemade? If so, where was it purchased? What else was in the risotto? How was it cooked? Why the brandy?

 

CP

Beef brisket roasted with homemade Yorkshires and carrots and leeks in blue cheese sauce. Red merlot and beer and gin.

Short and succinct. What happened to any brisket left over? What blue cheese was used on the leeks? Was the wine a conscious choice or an opened bottle to use up? What type of beer and gin, with the meal or before/after?

 

VH

A rather basic pasta meal. Cooked a few chopped slices of bacon with diced onion then added some cooked pasta shells and peas and bound everything together with a homemade cheese sauce (cheddar). Simple but tasty. With it I drank diet lemonade.

Almost apologetic. What kind of bacon was used, smoked/unsmoked, back or streaky? Were the peas fresh or frozen? What was the reason for the diet lemonade?

 

LT

Okay, so it’s perhaps a shame I am answering this today as we had a simple tea! We had M&S southern fried breaded chicken pieces with salad and wraps, however I am not so keen, so I had a haddock fish cake with some M&S layered peas, sweet corn, broccoli and carrots (in a pot which you microwave) and some Dauphinoise potatoes. I drank a glass of Dr Pepper Zero. It’s a fairly regular Monday night meal, first day back at work for the week and I want something easy to cook. 

A family with different tastes and eating habits, well served by ready meals for an easy life. Quick and easy to prepare. Dauphinoise potatoes, served with a fish cake, made with potato? Note the use of ‘tea’ rather than dinner. I wonder what time they ate?

 

VM

lobster bisque with cream, reheated in microwave

baguette with butter and carrot spread

skate, reheated in oven

potatoes, reheated in oven

steak, reheated in oven

french fries, reheated in oven

salad

chocolates with whipped cream

lemon bar

I strongly suspect this was a ‘gourmet’ meal delivered by a very posh, and very expensive restaurant nearby which pre-cooks everything for diners to heat up and serve. Designer ready meal. I wonder how well the food re-heated, and what cut of steak was used, served with what sauce? Carrot spread on a baguette? Skinny fries or chunky ones?

 

RG

Oxtail and red wine stew with mashed potato and steamed broccoli. 

Short and to the point from one of my oldest ‘foodie’ friends. But, was the oxtail re-heated (always better the day after). What potatoes were used for the mash (I suspect home grown) and was butter and/or cream added to the mash? Nothing to drink? Surely not!

LJ

I made a Chinese stir fry with bean sprouts, shredded cabbage, peppers, noodles and king prawns. The sauce was “curry style” and I added soy sauce to taste. 

Overall, it did not taste great and was not even what I wanted to eat. It was easy to make and filling, so it was selected mostly due to practicality.

Although it will pain you to read this, the chosen beverage was water (some of us insist on torturing ourselves...)

What I really wanted tonight was fish and chips. Alas, due to general overindulgence during the Christmas and lockdown periods, I am having to resort to culinary austerity. For an unadventurous chef like myself, this is no challenge.

This sounds like someone who is not easily pleased and rather fed up with life at the moment. Were the ingredients for the stir fry from a ready mixed packet? What would have been the difference in price from having fish and chips?

 

LL

Dinner last night...

A few tiny pieces left over from a delivered Lou Malnati’s pizza that was ordered for lunch

Water

Horrible

I have never been one to order food deliveries! However, have done it twice recently...

Can’t bear to go out in Chiberia! (Chicago under snow)

So when I ordered I did two meals which really lasts for about six!

Am out of coffee beans today... must figure out how to get them in!

So many people order groceries in. Not me... yet!!

That’s the bipolar way! Extreme extravagance ...then the opposite!

I am a main meal at noon person.

Yes, I love eating in courses… result of spending time in FRANCE.

There then followed details of previous days meals and plans for Lent. This is from someone who is passionate about food, sounding rather fed up and frustrated with life at the moment. Interesting in that there are places in town still open for diners to visit in person.

 

DS

Tito’s Vodka martinis, no garnish

Salad of roasted beets on arugula, dressed with tarragon vinegar and EVOO and crumbled goat cheese.

Osso Buco (recipe from Giada De Laurentiis)

Tiny potatoes, boiled then crisped in butter. 

2105 Winesmith Cabernet Franc, Lake County, California. 

This is someone who is clearly not prepared to cut corners despite the pandemic. Cocktails made with designer vodka, to get them in the mood, simply prepared food and decent wine (around £30 a bottle). When can I come for dinner?

 

JG

Baked Sweet potato,

Grilled chicken, and 

Washed down with tea.   

Simple and healthy. Not a lot more to be said.

 

 

JCW

We had Pad Thai vegetable stir fry made up of: - broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, leeks, mushrooms, red and yellow peppers, cashew nuts, noodles and sesame seeds. All home cooked except for a sachet of sauce.

Washed down with half a bottle of sparkling rose La Folie Mirabeau and half a bottle of Nelson Bay Sauvignon Blanc - leftover from last night's Valentine Supper!

Finished with handmade (not by us) Pink Gin Marshmallows coated in Belgian Chocolate. 

It was the "veggie" night.

Stir fries and noodles or pasta seem to hit the spot for a relatively quick, easy and satisfying weekday meal. I wonder what sachet of sauce was used? Interesting that they had a ‘veggie’ night. How many of us consciously do that?

 

JG

An unusually simple and commercial meal not typical at all:

homemade cauliflower soup with Georgia country smoked ham

panko crusted shrimp (purchased but good) with my incredible VSOP sauce (perhaps the best sauce you've ever had; my invention)

one coconut cookie

Certainly not the menu I expected from the most adventurous gourmet I know. It just goes to show that at times we all want the comfort of familiar ingredients and a level of simplicity. I shall have to get my hands on the sauce recipe.

 

BL

We have our main meal lunchtimes during lockdown as its better for K with diabetes.

We only had 2 courses.

We started with a glass of wine each of Malbec and then had calves liver lightly tossed in flour, gently pan fried with a little onion and olive oil, served with broccoli, spinach and red cabbage (cabbage cooked with some red wine) I already had an onion gravy. Then bacon, 2 rashers for K, 1 rasher for me, microwaved in our new smart microwave oven. We had another top up of wine and moved on to our dessert which was a small serving of homemade plum and apple tart with crumble topping, served with gluten free ice cream.

We then followed this up with a black coffee and a quick doze. However, it has to be noted that we walked 10,000 steps before lunch and 2500 later in the day.

We have both lost weight by eating lunchtime and having a salad snack early evening.

Smug or what?! I knew without looking that this was from a friend who likes to cross the Ts and dot the Is. Maybe I am behind the times, but when did ice cream usually have gluten in it? Technically of course, given the question posed, I should have been sent the details of the ‘salad snack’ eaten in the early evening.

 

SW

I had loin chop and mushrooms, lightly fried in proper butter, with portion of french stick and butter

One of my best friends who no longer lives in the area, which is a pity as we used to eat out together at least once a week.

 

LE-R

lentil soup cooked in an InstantPot, with cassava root chips

Spartan fare. Does cooking in an InstantPot mean it was basically something you add hot water to and stir? Cassava is an interesting choice, presumably healthier than potato chips.

 

BS

Skipped dinner last night

Brief and to the point. Does this mean that they ate or drank absolutely nothing?!

 

HW

Our eating habits were simple yet quite tasty. We cooked the entire meal in a large casserole dish.

Roasted potatoes with cumin, hot paprika salt and pepper and olive oil, then halfway through the potatoes roasting, we added chicken breast on top of it with olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic, lemon juice and brown sugar. 

We added a salad of mixed field greens, sliced fresh mozzarella, black olives, red peppers, dried cranberries and a few peanuts tossed with a balsamic vinegar. 

We are both avid water drinkers, so there was no other beverage. And no dessert … just leftover chocolate from Valentine’s Day.

This from a NY friend who now lives in Florida, and as a man of advancing years, it is heartening to see that he still cooks a proper meal. It is beyond my imagination to know how one could become an ‘avid’ water drinker.

 

MC

I did myself 2 slices of buttered toast and made it into a sandwich with a slice of ham and some Dijon mustard.
To drink I had a glass of water and for dessert I had a plain bifidus yoghurt with a mandarin.
Very exciting. I normally have my main meal lunch time.

It is interesting to note that the ‘older’ generation have taken to eating their main meal at lunchtime. Very sensible, and something I try to do myself. I know that this person is gluten free so am assuming, rightly or wrongly, that they used gluten free bread. As they also live in France, and as I am a ham snob, I am wondering about the quality of the ham used.

 

ClH

Cottage pie with mashed potatoes and shredded cabbage, pancakes with lemon and caster sugar. No wine. We always abstain on Mondays and Tuesdays. Decided not to fast from alcohol this Lent. Bad for mental health, COVID lockdown and the blues!!!

Pancakes seem appropriate, with Shrove Tuesday on the horizon, and of course English people always have sugar and lemon with them. Cottage pie is a staple family meal for us also. Not sure that I could abstain for two days a week, and I wonder how many people have decided not to fast for Lent this year, feeling that they have suffered enough!

 

MW

Not a normal day. We have our main meal at lunchtime but we had the remains of Sunday's steak that I couldn't eat, cut up & done with onion, garlic & falafel. Served it with remains of Sunday's saute potato & garden peas. Pud was pomelo in lime jelly, also left from Sunday. I had a glass of water & Russ had a cup of tea.

However, because we went to Waitrose we ended up having a huge bowl of moules mariniere with garlic bread for dinner last night along with a glass of white wine & nothing to follow.

Interesting to see how many respondents felt that the day in questions was ‘not normal’, which begs the question, what constitutes ‘normal’? Once again, thrifty ways have meant that leftovers are being used judicially, albeit for lunch rather than the dinner requested. ‘posh’ shoppers, they indulged in moules (not mussels!) for their evening meal. I wonder what wine they had? I enjoy a Muscadet.

DC

This is an interesting experiment but easy enough to take part in. I had pasta primavera with spaghetti pasta and oil & garlic dressing. I chose this entree because it is nutritious and filling. I didn't drink anything with it (I was out of wine, lol, and I don't drink other beverages when I'm eating). I had one garlic knot (small bun) too. I would say the bun was just white flour dough infused with garlic powder and baked. I ate some of the pasta first before taking a bite into the bread. The meal was takeout from the Italian restaurant around the corner. I'm sure the veggies (chopped broccoli, sliced carrots, mushrooms, green peas and garlic) were sautéed.

Another person aiming to do the right thing, despite purchasing their meal from a take away. No alcohol, and no pud by the sounds of it. I do speculate on whether or not any of these well-intentioned people get the munchies late at night. Where are the Bridget Jones lookalikes scoffing a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in solitary splendour?  

Monday, 15 February 2021

We need museums now more than ever


“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything.” So said author Michael Crichton, and I agree with him wholeheartedly.

For me, the best way in which to learn about the the places I visit is to go to a museum or two. Not the huge national museums stuffed full of precious artefacts from around the world; I much prefer quirky local museums that focus on a particular local craft or tradition. Somewhere that I can idle away an hour or two, rather than being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of objects on display. Over many years of travelling, I have visited hundreds, including the pre-Columbian art museum in Lima, Peru, the torture museum in Santillana del Mar, Spain, the Musical Museum in London, and one of my all-time favourites, the Derwent Pencil Museum.

Locally, having been initially appointed as the South Somerset District CounciI representative, I was so taken with Chard Museum that I have now been a trustee for many years.

For centuries, museums have played a vital role in preserving the history of our society. Exhibits and events inform us about how our country, our communities and our cultures came to be. Without this, such stories would be forgotten, providing the invidious prospect of re-writing history and airbrushing out undesirable events.

Museums serve our communities in so many ways, whether it is in providing the opportunity for children to see and experience with their own eyes how their ancestors lived, or for those who in their advanced years welcome a trip down memory lane.

Whilst museums can often seem simply places where forgotten objects go to enjoy their final years, at a local level it is crucial that we seek to preserve the history and culture that has shaped who we are and where we are today.

In the uncertain times we have been facing for the last year, museums can act as a reality check in the midst of the storm. There is so much that we can learn from the past, and which can help to shape our future.

Local museums help to bring communities together, to take ownership of their environment.

They are able to provide a sense of community and place, bringing people together through public events, workshops and lectures, even if at present this takes the form of virtual meetings.

Modern technology has completely transformed museums, making them more accessible to everyone. They are no longer just spaces in which to look at and learn from its exhibits. Visitors are now encouraged to interact and participate, and for those unable to attend in person, museums and galleries are increasingly sharing their collections online.

Like many small museums, Chard Museum is entirely run by volunteers and provides excellent opportunities for anyone to offer their skills and talents in ensuring that it remains a vibrant, relevant part of the local community, whether it be stewarding, maintaining our collections, organising events, engaging with schools, updating our website or fund raising; there is always something to be done.

If you are hungry for knowledge, then there is every reason to get involved.

www.chardmuseum.co.uk

 

Friday, 12 February 2021

ARE EXPENSIVE WINES BETTER THAN CHEAPER ONES?

 

I have been interested in wine for as long as I can remember.  

As far back as the 1970s, in my early twenties and newly-wed, we liked to entertain regularly and, eager to impress our friends, would often seek to buy a ‘special’ bottle of wine. At a time when supermarkets as we know them today were still in their infancy, this meant a visit to the off-licence. 

Interestingly, during COVID-19 lockdown, although pubs, restaurants and bars were forced to close, off-licences have been considered to be essential businesses and allowed to stay open to sell alcohol for home consumption. 

The mistake many of us make in wanting to up our game, and impress others, is to spend more without considering whether or not for the price we are paying we are actually getting a ‘better’ bottle of wine.  

All too often when buying wine, the first consideration is price, and much as I hate to say it, how pretty the label looks! 

This is only natural as most of us have a budget, and this year in particular has seen many of us tightening our belts.   

Over 40 years after my first foray into wine consumption, I now find that the majority of my long-standing friends are also wine lovers. When we get together it is fun to encourage them to bring along interesting finds so that we can open several bottles and compare them.  

Comparative tastings are a really good way to explore the various attributes of different wines. As a wine tutor I hold regular wine tastings to give as many people as possible the opportunity to try something out of the norm, often with surprising results. 

The important thing is not to allow the price to sway you towards thinking that it relates to the quality of the wine.  

When it comes to making and selling wine there are many factors that need to be taken into account, including the cost of the land, labour, processing, storing, marketing, shipping and, of course, tax. 

There is a mountain of evidence from blind tastings that consistently disprove the myth that expensive wines are better wines; there is virtually no connection between how much a wine costs and how much people may like it.  

However, if you are a serious collector, then you must consider wine as an investment, which will influence what you are prepared to pay.  

For everyday drinking there is no reason to spend a fortune on a bottle of wine to enjoy it. When it comes to wine competitions, where wine makers are keen to demonstrate how many awards they have won, these are usually organised on the basis of a grape variety and the year of vintage.  

Personally, I get a great deal of pleasure in finding a superb wine at a bargain price and in my years as a judge, I have found that the average person tends to prefer less expensive wines because in general they are more approachable.  

Some of us can subconsciously be influenced in allowing the quality of a wine to be predetermined by the price. “You get what you pay for” is not necessarily true when it comes to wine.  

In a recent blind tasting, wine experts described what was thought to be an expensive wine as ‘excellent,’ ‘full,’ ‘complex,’ and ‘balanced.’ By contrast, the inexpensive wine was found to be ‘flat,’ ‘simple,’ ‘faulty,’ and ‘weak.’ Unknown to them however, both wines were actually the same!  

So, why do we expect more expensive wine to taste better than less expensive wine? It is purely psychological. I have heard of one wine maker who was struggling to sell his wine at £30 a bottle, but by tripling the price, of the same wine, to over £100, it sold out!  

As with all consumer goods, what really dictates the price of a wine is simply supply and demand. The extent to which celebrities endorse a wine, in addition to press coverage and advertising, can all have a significant influence. In this respect social media has had a huge impact on our buying decisions. 

To avoid falling victim to the myth that expensive wines are better wines, do your research, learn what you like and identify your favourite grape varieties, regions, and wine style. 

Finding a wine that you enjoy at a great price is the way to achieve a memorable wine experience. 

Monday, 25 January 2021

Champagne Celebration

 



Panic is setting in as Champagne sales have plummeted this year, with an anticipated 100 million
bottles going unsold, and the future of producers looking very uncertain. Records show that turnover
has been reduced by as much as one-third, worse even than that experienced during the Great Depression of 1929, and despite having survived two world wars.

Within the industry there is little cause for celebration as we see in the new year, and our exit from the European Union. Welcomed by some, but certainly not all. 

However, here in the UK, the news of Champagne’s impending demise may herald good news for us Champagne lovers, as the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) predicts that in the UK, more of us will be turning to Champagne as we begin yet another difficult year. Hooray! After all, we
have not had much else to celebrate so far this year.

It is thought that the impact of the pandemic on the Champagne industry could last for years, and amid Boris Johnson’s claim that the UK will be “the best friend and ally the European Union could have”, I
feel that the least we can do is to drink more Champagne. 

We, despite our diminutive size, along with the USA, remain the top export market for Champagne.

France’s Champagne Committee (the CIVC), representing 16,000 winemakers, is launching unprecedented damage-limitation measures as they lose sales. It has imposed a cap on production so tight that record quantities of grapes are to be destroyed or sold to distilleries at discounted prices.
Smaller producers are especially vulnerable, and what is particularly galling is that Champagne’s famous grapes could be destined to produce alcohol for hand sanitiser as has already happened in other wineproducing regions such as Alsace.

Until now, Champagne’s marketing has focused on it being a celebratory drink for parties and weddings. Time for re-evaluation? With few gatherings and festivities being permitted focus will now be on highlighting the wine’s status as a naturally produced quality drink from a historic French region.
Hear, hear! For over 30 years now I have made it my habit (the fluctuating availability of funds permitting) to drink a glass of Champagne every day; it lifts any day from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

When seeking those bargain buys, I have already noticed a number of good deals available, especially for those “premier” brands which normally go for around £40+. Hence, I have just ordered myself six of the best from Majestic, Laurent Perrier La Cuvée NV at £26.99, a saving of well over £100.
Morrisons Champagne deals also get the thumbs up, with no minimum purchase, so look out for Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label (£35), Lanson Black Label NV (£25) and Bollinger (£35).

For online shoppers, Amazon has Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV down to £33.75, while Waitrose has a wide selection available, with the majority of the premium brands on offer at 25 per cent off. By comparison, both Tesco and Sainsbury’s appear to be missing the boat at this time of year; their current
offerings are less plentiful and with lower levels of discount. 

As we reflect on the events of the past year, it is important to look forward, and to do what we can as individuals to make our lives, and those of our loved ones and neighbours, a little more comfortable in the coming months. Champagne does it for me every time. Here’s to a better 2021 for us all.

Monday, 18 January 2021

I'm a Wine Lover Get Me Out of Here!

                                     

DAY ONE - The deluge that greeted my arrival at Marseilles airport was not quite what I’d hoped for on my first visit to the South of France.

Only one solution, alcohol. And lots of it! 

Perhaps not the most discriminating attitude one would hope for from a WSET recommended tutor.

Having arrived the night before the trip was due to begin, I stayed locally in a motel just a stone’s throw from the airport terminal. Cheap enough, and clearly popular as a stopover judging by the number of people there, almost all men; of the sleazy sales rep. type.

The trip very soon began to take on a slightly surreal element. I was due to meet the organiser, PR, at the airport, in time to collect the only other two participants. Marika and Don, from New York.

I had downloaded details of where we were to stay, including a picture of our host so that |I might recognise him at the airport – middle aged, short grey hair, not much of it, and wire rimmed spectacles. I eventually got lucky with the 3rd rather surprised and unsuspecting looking man I approached. Were I not a short, slightly overweight, middle-aged, bitter, menopausal wine tutor I might well have been mistaken for a hooker. Women have been burnt at the stake for less. In my defence there were a lot of middle-aged grey haired slightly balding men wearing wire rimmed spectacles cruising the arrivals hall at the time.  

Marika was something else. It has been a long time since I left the dubious joys of living the high life in the big apple – and here she was, ready for action on a rather muddy trip to a few vineyards – Louis Vuitton luggage, black lace tights, a tight little black Chanel suit, dark red nails, chipped I noticed (bitch), an armful of gold jewellery. And black stilettos. Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention the huge bottle of pills that spewed forth as her companion, Don, ever the hand maiden, opened her luggage to a retrieve a slightly less vertiginous, but only just, pair of shoes, together with an umbrella, price tag still attached. As we left the airport it was however Don who seemed most concerned about the effect of the downpour on his neatly coiffed hair.

The journey in PR’s Mercedes ‘bus’ got off to an interesting start with us not being able to make a sleek exit from the airport car park. Following the maxim that the best way to get to know someone is to ask loads of questions (a bit like the Spanish inquisition when I’m in full flow), on the basis that everyone likes to talk about themselves. I soon discovered that Marika was a journalist who lived on Columbus Circle and knew many of my old NY cohorts in the food and wine business.

I tried to be charitable, really I did, but I just couldn’t tear my eyes away from Marika’s severely stretched face where barely a muscle moved when she spoke. My eyed were glued to the wrinkles on her neck, and the lipstick line drawn well over the circumference of her thin upper lip.

The next 4 days could be something of an endurance test.

Don, who is from Iran, did not endear himself to me either when PR asked if one of us would like to sit up front. I completely forgot I was in France and went round the wrong side of the bus to get in, only to find Don had already hopped in the other side… and promptly fell asleep, suffering from jet lag. What a waste!. It’s the one thing I hate about organised trips with strangers. I always like to try and snaffle the front seat.

Our first port of call, on our way back to our host’s property, was Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Marika just happened to let slip that she didn’t eat meat.

‘Are you a vegetarian then?’

‘No, I do eat some fish.’

PR was by now showing distinct signs of panic and I don’t suppose my bemused grin helped one bit. Bloody vegetarians. I hate them. Well nearly all of them, except my friend Laure, who is a bit odd anyway as she meditates too.

Our first tasting at Les Bernardins at M-d-B-V was a hit, although I couldn’t see much point in standing on the edge of a barren vineyard in the cold and damp. Just let me get to the wines. Please. I did not enjoy the first two wines, but thereafter I was on a roll to liquid heaven in the form of ‘Hommage’. By the time we got to our lodgings I was gasping for a much needed cup of tea, I am English after all, and a rest. This was sadly not to be as there was too much noise. My personal requirements for a snooze are total darkness, silence and being able to lie in a horizontal position. Not much to ask.

Even so, the property was posh, smart, and expensive. 

For dinner that night Don, prima donna that he is, arrived thirty minutes after everyone else. Aperitifs were accompanied by PR’s homemade tapenade – lovely but on the salty side.

The soup we were served with first was a spicy mixture of something – tomato/carrot/ginger (?), and pasta elbows.

After the first course Marika disappeared for a full five minutes. It did cross my mind, that not having tried any of the pre-dinner nibbles, unlike me, who wolfed down the lot like the pig I am, could she possibly be bulimic? I think so.

Our next course was sliced tomatoes accompanied by lentils and duck, of good quality although perhaps not quite warm enough. The wines however, the reds at least, were delightful, especially at the price – no matter that the trip cost the equivalent of £200 a night.

Cheese – Roquefort (underripe); goat’s cheese; comté (fruity and firm); saint felicien (fabulously runny) ; thank God for clothes with expanding waistlines.

Marika has now been to the toilet twice during the meal and at dinner is still in the same little black sleeveless dress she’s been travelling in all day. I can’t help but notice the wrinkles on her upper arms – it just goes to show that getting a facelift won’t completely hide the ravages of time on other bits of your body.

Dinner ended, much to my surprise, at 11.35pm – and 7 wines sampled. Not bad going.

The food was all homemade – apple crumble (cold) and sorbet for pud, after the very decent cheese.

DAY TWO - I had the usual restless night but still ended up being late for breakfast the following morning, as I was lying awake listening for the noises in this vast barn of a building that might indicate others were up and about.

B’fast – good croissants, meusli, juice and yoghurt. Where was the fry up?!

Down to PR’s atelier for a very well put together presentation on the area, although sadly it seems that on this trip we’ll only be visiting vineyards in the south so I feel a bit cheated. I also feel that my fellow guests were quite rude, bloody rude actually, with Don constantly on his mobile phone.

The weather at least has perked up considerably.

Lighting in the tasting room was, I felt, quite subdued, although this is something that I have noticed a great deal in the tasting rooms/cellars of many vineyards – funny when we set such store by being able to really look at the hue of a wine.

Lunch – horror of horrors, was vegetarian. Am I really going to be subjected to the culinary whims of a neurotic pill-popping New Yorker? Putting on my best AA inspection hat I tried to remain objective. The chickpea and courgette filo pie was really delicious, but I probably wouldn’t have served it with petit epaulet (?) grain and polenta cake – as it was quite heavy overall and high on the carbs. My partner, had he been here, would probably not have enjoyed it, being a meat and two veg. kind of person, or rather an egg, chips and beans man. Our poor time keeping did not aid JR (who despite my comments does cook rather well) in her reckonings. I did however have the satisfaction of being able to gobble up Marika’s left over pastry – she was clearly not into it, unlike me.

PR, as I may have mentioned earlier, is not renowned for his timekeeping either, so it was 6..30pm by the time we returned from our afternoon’s outing to both Gigondas and Vacqueyras.

We then had a quick turn around, and a half hour drive back to Gigondas, for dinner at a very elegant restaurant called L’Oustalet, set in the middle of the village square. Seating 24 inside, there were an equal number of tables for outside dining – on this occasion firmly tied together with string. In finer summer weather the temp. here can reach around 40’, which would be far too hot for me.

Apparently, the restaurant is owned by one Gabriel Meffre, a big wig negociant from Gigondas, and whose brother has also been the mayor for many a year – sounds local the local Mafia to me!

First impressions - a meal worth having, and a menu worth perusing – with copies provided in English for our non-French speaking contingent. I have to admit that as my French is not too bad, I get by. I have started to take every opportunity to converse with anyone I can in French, just to piss them off – bad girl Linda.

Coarse grey linen tablecloths, white chairs and a sloping beamed ceiling set the scene.

Marika’s eating habits are becoming increasingly tiresome – e.g. can I have the turbot without its accompaniments and just a side salad, and no dessert for me – I had quite forgotten what it had been like living in New York. Where is Gordon Ramsay when you want him to tell someone to f*** off out of the restaurant and go eat rabbit food. I really am a cow……moo!

On the positive side it has however been fun discussing the NY food and wine scene.

Marika, I have also discovered, wires herself up to all kinds of machines (where did she find the room in her luggage?) each morning to ‘jump rope’ – I think she means skipping, for all of 5 minutes and takes a plate of cheese to bed with her every night. Why can’t she just eat at the table with the rest of us like a normal person? – bulimic I tell you.

I digress. The meal.

We began with an amuse bouche, as one would expect in a posh restaurant, of smoked salmon rolled around a mix of crème fraiche and onions – nice presentation (big on presentation here but lacking in substance), but not memorable, smoked salmon was not the best quality.

Home made bread on offer was a selection of grapefruit and apricot; wheat; cereal – of which, being a little piggy, I tried the lot only to find them all dull and leaden – a fine example of where it is all very well making the effort but if you can’t bake bread buy it in! Where’s that AA restaurant inspector when you need her? – old habits die hard.

My first course was a croque monsieur of foie gras de canard with quince – an imaginative attempt but again poorly executed.

The Gigondas we had to drink with this – Domaine La Bouissière 2005 was fresh and fruity, lighter than expected.

My main course – animal based again, less I feel deprived in present company, was pigeon. Again, very well presented, (are we thinking Emperor’s new clothes here?) and beautifully cooked but slightly marred by a hint of bitterness where it had not been adequately cleaned of its yucky bits. Served with purple cauliflower (why?), polenta AND risotto, which was stodgy. We were all served the same veg. to go with – which given that Marika had ordered the turbot, was not a good move. A common error with a lot of restaurants – some veg. just do not go well with some dishes.

The cheese course perked me up a bit, not least because of the handsome and lithe looking waiter that offered a huge selection from the ubiquitous cart – lovely.

This being a ‘posh’ restaurant we were then given granita as a palate cleanser. This was icy (of course!), dull, lacking in flavour or complexity – disappointing.

For pud I had to have the 4 seasons olive confit dessert, if for no other reason than the novelty value. Again, the presentation was v.g. but the whole dish was lacking in textural variation – almost all the items – ice cream, parfait, mousse and a mini Yorkshire pud, being very similar – nice concept, but again a failure to fully think the dish through.

The choc. finger that someone else had lacked oomph, and the pumpkin dessert Marika barely tasted was a good effort at seasonality but again lacking any textural contrast.

Tiny madeleines and brandy snaps to finish – which I took home for my hosts. All in all, not a bad meal, despite my criticism, but I would love to get my hands on this place and steer their efforts in the right direction – the chef can clearly cook and is a whiz at presentation but when all is said and done it is the taste that counts.

DAY THREE - Another poor night’s sleep on account of several factors, including what seemed to be the hounds of the Baskervilles outside my window ripping some poor captive to shreds judging by the sound (I later found out this was just the local pack of hunting dogs being fed). Then I heard the breakfast table being laid, despite PR’s best effort to be quiet. The minimalist style of the building does mean the sound reverberates somewhat. Madam upstairs started ‘jumping rope’ at the crack of dawn, no doubt attached to her usual retinue of monitors, just to check she still has a pulse after all that surgery. I suppose I should be grateful that she and her Iranian lap dog, Donnie (said in a squeaky drawn-out way), do not appear to be getting on like a house on fire, hence I can confirm no nocturnal activity from my fellow guests, I would had heard every squeak of delight and listening to that would have been beyond the pale.

Last night at dinner Marika declared she did not eat bread. So, you can imagine my fury when having rooted through this morning’s breadbasket to pluck out the last remaining piece of French bread from its hiding place, beneath the fat laden almond croissants, which I don’t eat anyway, before I could stake my claim – only for her to leave most of it on the side of her plate. I could have rammed it down her tight-lipped mouth into her wrinkled gullet – I may have found God, but clearly I’ve got a long was to go when the lack of sleep still has the ability to generate such uncharitable and violent murderous thoughts.

I’m going to have to be very careful today in case my mouth gets me into trouble. I’ve been v.g. so far but lack of sleep and my renowned lack of patience may get the better of me yet! Suffice it to say I am not thinking Godly thoughts towards my fellow travellers.

I have on my lap, as I write, a very skinny ginger tabby cat called Pumpkin, recently adopted by the family’s adorable daughter. It purrs for England, or should that be France? Fully stretched out, top to the end of very long tail, I reckon about 3ft. long.

After a bright day yesterday, it is very overcast today, rain threatening.

Our first stop was C-d-P and a trip in a camion with the vineyard’s owner, up to the famed vineyards of La Crau – where Marika was put very firmly in her place. The wine maker said quite sharply on observing her ‘Your shoes are not suitable’. Marika’s face was a picture as she had to clamber into the truly filthy farmyard truck we went in up the very bumpy track to La Crau. She also insisted on getting into the front.

Now at our next vineyard, La Solitude, I think I will kill her (Marika) if she asks one more silly question or yawns one more time. This, combined with Don’s constant use of his mobile, is just SO rude. Everywhere we go Marika goes to great lengths to say she is a journalist but never seems to be able to say what publications she writes for. I think all she does is get freebie trips whilst trying to tout her stories around.

Someone is wearing very strong deodorant or perfume, which is pissing me off - big time! I have a bad enough time with the nose at the best of times but how the hell can the smell of the wine compete with this? Our winemaker and host, in the meantime, is young and handsome, despite the grubby effort at a beard – he could be the man of my dreams. As passionate about food as wine, you should hear him speak. And now I am embarrassed to admit I wrote – it makes my heart sing – how pathetic is that?! Get a grip woman.

Le Verger des Papes is our chosen stop for lunch. A restaurant set on top of the hill overlooking C-d-P.

Note to self whilst picture-taking outside –

Marika – ‘Donnie, can you stand under that arch so I can take a picture of you?’ and then in an aside to PR she continued….

‘You don’t think the arch will fall on him do you?’

My thoughts – after several hundred fxxking years I don’t think so…. I do deserve a medal for this.

I am however under great stress, holding my tongue for all it’s worth, if not my private thoughts. Well done Linda.

The restaurant is a typical tourist joint but pleasant enough. The gougère (cold) were nice as a nibble before our meal.

During lunch, despite eating only half her starter (so far) Marika gets out a zip loc bag full of pills and proceeds to take out a selection – and I confess I did sneak a photo of this.

She is, as I am writing this, recounting a very long scenario of a film she can’t remember the name of about Meg Ryan meeting someone who wins a vineyard in a card game. The woman is mad. I only hope it’s not catching.

My lunch at Le Verger clearly lacked the finesse of last night’s dinner but by contrast was far more enjoyable. What I would describe as ‘honest food’. The quail (get your meat quota in while you can) on my salad starter was beautifully cooked. The balance of the ingredients, and the rustic preparation, of the rump of lamb I had for my main course was on the button – good use of fresh herbs and seasoning too. Very satisfying.

PR, bless his heart, seems to have developed a nervous tick – this may be because Marika has just stated that having consumed most of the bottle of red wine we ordered between us (I drinking white, and Philip abstaining from more than a glass due to being the duty driver) has now announced, after the main course, that she and Donnie NEED to have another bottle (yes, she did use the word need) of wine between them to go with the cheese. PR is clearly starting to panic and I can barely contain my amusement! For Pete’s sake do these two uncouth, unsophisticated, but filthy rich Americans not possess any social etiquette?

May be a business opportunity for me there?!

I may not have been paying much attention (quite likely at this stage) but Marika appears to have emptied the contents of her ‘horse pill size’ capsules onto the table mat – what she is planning to do with it I’m not sure but it looks like cocaine – not that I’d know. In my haste I may have forgotten to mention that the vegetarian food I was practically forced to eat yesterday lunchtime has caused me to fart in the most horrible smelly way – good!

DAY FOUR - Time to leave. Where has the time gone? Both of our hosts were delightful  and they had certainly gone to great lengths to make the property stylish, albeit on a budget. I did in the end, after 3 days of not washing (I only do baths), finally succumb to the splendid walk-in shower, à la Savoy, but I would have preferred a long soak in a deep bath. I had also tired of Marika in her scuffed Chanel shoes and lacy tights, and the fact she kept spraying herself with perfume which did not aid my less than perfect tasting skills. Everything for her and Don was a saga and they had both been so rude and self-obsessed I was quite cross. I was relieved to join PR in bidding them and their LV luggage farewell at Marseille, before trying to change my ticket, which was not to be, so I found myself stuck in Marseille for a couple of days.   

I took the bus from the airport and checked myself into the first hotel I came across on leaving the station – Beaulieu Maris. Not the most salubrious place but then at only 35 euros a night I could not complain too much. Mind you, trekking up three flights of stairs was not much fun (I do not do exercise). Neither was finding my room only recently de-occupied, with the unmade bed still in place and stinking of fag ends. I think it will also have to a ‘piss in the sink’ job as I’ll be buggered if I’m going down two flights of stairs in the middle of the night to have a wee!

I walked down to the old port for lunch. Big mistake, and I should have known better. After deciding that, as part of my economy drive, I couldn’t justify a 50 euro lunch I settled for one of the many tourist places on the harbour front and at 20 euros the meal was pretty dreadful. The fish soup in particular was like dishwater and the waiters friendly in that supercilious ‘let’s rip off the tourists’ kind of way, with poor service to boot.

I returned to my lodgings via the metro. Although we were due to leave Europe I do wish we had taken note of some of their better practices. Like the metro police prowling around, Doberman or German Shepherd being the escort of choice. This and the mob-handed bomber jacket wearing ticket inspectors – five at a time boarding just one carriage and blocking all the exits – I liked it. A lot. There was also a fair smattering of old ladies wearing pink socks, and, darling this, a tropical fish tank installed on the platform. Presumably it has a calming effect on potential muggers, although what it does for the fish I can’t bear to think. In the UK we would have the animal protection police up in arms.

Marseille really is graffiti city. Quite an art form, and it really serves to cheer up the very dilapidated buildings, elegant in their day but now looking more like Victorian tenements. I discovered accidentally during my wandering the Cours Julien area. Very interesting restaurants, bars and funky shops. I happily ensconced myself in a charming Haitian/Quebecoise restaurant called Chez Janet. And there I ran out of paper ……………     

Friday, 15 January 2021

FISH - FOOD FOR THE MIND

 

It is well recorded that fish is good for the brain, and that omega-3 fatty acids, found especially in oily fish, are particularly beneficial for improving memory. A recent study has also found that children who ate fish at least once a week scored 4.8 points higher in IQ tests than those who seldom ate fish.  

Despite being a committed carnivore, in recent years I have found that I have been eating more and more fish, especially as we have a local fishmonger that arrives once a week with spanking fresh fish from Brixham. I am afraid that supermarket offerings just do not do it for me. I load up on all of my favourite things, and for the following few days my diet consists almost entirely of fish; undyed smoked haddock, kippers, plaice, skate, crab, smoked salmon, and saltwater shrimp. As a rule, I prefer my fish to have the bone in; no fillets for me. 

Being shielded at home, and going through books at a rate of knots, it seemed natural to turn my attention to some of my favourite fish and the stories behind them. 

I have read somewhere that repetitively thinking about, and imagining, eating certain foods will reduce your appetite for them. In my case this proves not to be true. 

The Last Hunters: The Crab Fishermen of Cromer, Candy Whittome 

I have always preferred crab to lobster, and for my money you would be hard pressed to beat those from Cromer in North Norfolk. This book pays a fitting tribute to the crab fishermen of Cromer. Whilst the stunning photographs and descriptions of those interviewed are filled with warmth and affection, what makes this book special are the tales of triumph and catastrophe; long days spent on rough seas, tragic accidents, and celebratory homecomings with a full catch. This compelling portrait of one of the last surviving fishing communities in Britain tells the stories of these fishermen and their families in their own words, and a way of life that is in tune with the environment, reliant on skill, resilience, and sheer willpower.   

It was Better than Working - Memoirs of a Morecambe Bay Fisherman, Jack Manning 

One of passions is good old-fashioned potted shrimp, made with the tiny, tiny, little grey shrimp from Morecombe Bay. Nowadays, I am much too lazy to peel them myself, preferring to buy them ready shelled to make my own potted shrimp. They are so full of flavour, unlike the whopping great king-sized prawns, usually brought in from the far East, seem to be so popular. This is a comprehensive thought-provoking record of hard graft in an unhospitable environment, written by a fourth generation Morecambe Bay fisherman. 

It is a highly readable anecdotal account of family and friendship in a tight knit community, bringing to life a bygone era. The book is packed with beautiful photographs and illustrations of Cumbria and includes sections on different types of fishing, shrimping, and cockling, and local brass bands. 

Consider the Oyster, M F K Fisher 

Adored by many of our foodie celebrities, Fisher is also one of my favourite foodie authors. It took me a long time to learn to love oysters, and even now I tend to prefer them cooked.  Here, Fisher pays tribute to the hidden mysteries of the oyster, and of the pearls sometimes found therein. Given their association with luxury, it is hard to believe that oysters were once poor man’s food. She describes them in all their glory; in stews and soups, roasted, baked, fried, prepared à la Rockefeller, or au naturel.  

Delving into the 'dreadful but exciting' life of the oyster, as she describes each dish, we live through Fisher’s initiation into the 'strange cold succulence' of raw oysters as a young woman in Marseille and Dijon, exploring their aphrodisiac properties, and other less desirable effects. 

Herring: A History of the Silver Darlings, Mike Smylie 

Given my love of kippers, it is natural that I should turn my attention to herring. Inexplicably linked to the history of commercial fishing, herring have been commercially caught in our waters for centuries. Its key role in the lives of our coastal populations, where at one time tens of thousands were employed in their catching, processing and sale, cannot be underestimated. From Stornoway to Penzance, the author considers the unique lives of the communities who lived for these ‘silver darlings’, which enabled many coastal towns to prosper.   

With a wealth of illustrations, this captivating book reveals the little-known history of the herring, along with giving a number of mouth-watering recipes to try. 

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Paul Torday 

I just loved this tale of fly-fishing and political spin that was made into a film starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt. It is the story of a fisheries scientist who finds himself unwittingly involved in a project to bring salmon fishing to Yemen. It is a light-hearted feel-good story of political intrigue about the transforming power of faith and love. 

Desert Island Dishes, The Maldon Salt Company 

Just a little diversion here, as of course sea salt does come from….. the sea. If it is good enough for HM the Queen, then it is good enough for me. This company, which is coming up to its 140th anniversary, asked some of the world’s top chefs, to share their favourite recipe; their ‘Desert Island’ dish. From simple suppers to complex dinner party crowd pleasers, the resulting book includes recipes from more than 60 chefs, including Gary Rhodes, Albert Roux, Rick Stein and Paul Heathcote. Each recipe highlights Britain’s exceptional cooking talent in celebration of one of our best-loved and finest ingredients, Maldon sea salt.