Monday, 12 February 2018

Boozy pancake day: Ricotta pancakes with cherry cassis sauce recipe

Although we're all probably panicking, because somehow we've got to February, and somehow we haven't managed to stick to our resolutions... FEAR NOT. It's Pancake Day tomorrow!

I know we can technically have pancakes any time of year - trust me, they're a staple weekend brunch in my house - but there is just something a little special about having them on Shrove Tuesday. There's a national-insert-your-food-name-here-day practically every day at the moment (who makes these up?), but Pancake day is a tradition that is never ignored. And rightly so. 

We've had rum butter crepes and savoury galettes on Vinspire in previous years - both equally delicious - but this year we're doing something a little more decadent; Ricotta Pancakes with Cherry Cassis Sauce... *drool*

If you've not had them before, you might think that using ricotta would make a heavier pancake, but it's quite the opposite. A step up from the fat American ones, they're light, cheesecake-y, and would work just as well for dessert as they would for breakfast. 

Of course, you could add whatever topping you flippin' well like, but as we love cooking with booze, it had to be something alcoholic didn't it? Juicy cherries cooked in crème de cassis, sweetened with date syrup and given a bit of zing from a squeeze of lemon juice. 

Cassis is such a strong flavoured liqueur, so in order for it to not taste like you've doused your pancakes in Ribena, you really need to jazz it up. Cherries aren't quite enough on their own, so date syrup, which is used a lot in Middle Eastern cookery, adds a wonderful depth. If you don't have it, any sort of syrup will do - maple/honey/agave/golden - it's personal preference.

I'll definitely be whipping up another batch of these tomorrow, so let me know if you're going to join me! Pancake parties all round...

Ricotta Pancakes with Cherry Cassis Sauce(serves 2)

For the pancakes:
  • 250g ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp oil, for frying
For the cherry sauce:
  • 1 punnet of cherries (approx 15), pitted and halved 
  • 75ml crème de cassis 
  • 1 tbsp date syrup
  • Juice of 1/4 lemon
  1. To make the sauce, heat the cassis, syrup and lemon juice in a small pan, then add in the cherries. Cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes, or until the cherries are tender. Put to one side whilst you make the pancakes and reheat just before serving. 
  2. To make the pancakes, beat the ricotta in a large mixing bowl until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, then beat in the flour, sugar, baking powder and vanilla extract to form a batter. 
  3. Heat a frying pan over a medium-high heat, drizzle in a bit of oil, and smear across the pan using a piece of kitchen paper. Drop generous tablespoons of the batter into the pan. 
  4. Cook for a couple of minutes, flip them over and cook for another minute or so, until lightly browned and cooked through. 
  5. Keep the cooked pancakes warm in the oven, and repeat until all the batter is used up. 
  6. Serve hot with the warm cherry cassis sauce poured on top. 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Celebrating 200 years of Calvet wine: a whistle-stop tour of Bordeaux

While the name ‘Grand Chais de France’ may not immediately mean anything to you, if you’ve bought wine from a supermarket before, you’ll probably have picked up a bottle of one of its brands before, which includes Grand Sud, JP Chenet, and Calvet.

The Calvet brand has been part of Grand Chais de France – the world’s biggest exporters of French wine – since 2006. I struggle to wrap my head around the numbers, but its global turnover in 2016 stood at 990m euros, which is pretty staggering.

The UK was Calvet’s first market, and now Calvet is the top French brand in the UK. In 2016, it sold more than 7m bottles (more than 14m worldwide over 110 countries). Although, if you think that figure is big, France produces between 7-8 billion bottles of wine a year.

And the figures just keep on coming. One in three bottles from the Bordeaux region sold in the UK is a bottle of Calvet, and it’s the English market leader for wines from Alsace and the Loire.

Wine from the Loire region in particular is on the up. In 2016, Calvet sales were up by 389,000 bottles. Perhaps no surprise is that Rose d’Anjou saw one of the biggest increases, along with Cahors Malbec. I’ve certainly noticed people drinking more Rose and Malbec over the past couple of years…

Calvet’s 200th anniversary

GCF may only have been founded in 1979, but Calvet is celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2018. Along with a programme of events throughout the year, the company has released a new range of wines exclusively for the on-trade market (hotels, bars and restaurants). The wines are in three tiers: C de Calvet – a Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and rose (what else do you hear people order in pub chains and restaurants?); Heritage for AOP wines (Appellation d'Origine Protégée which has replaced the old AOC category); and Cuvée 1818, a Bordeaux ‘icon wine’ to celebrate its anniversary.

Its Cuvée 1818 is a new blend developed by a winemaker who has been with Calvet for 20 years. It’s a relatively new concept to develop Calvet into the on-trade. While French wines have been the number one seller in retail in the UK, there has hardly been any on-trade sales.

On top of a new wine to mark the anniversary, Calvet is planning lots of promotional activities, adding gold ‘200’ medals to its wines in the UK, and creating some special edition labels.

Calvet and Grand Chais

Grand Chais has continued to develop as a company since it was founded by Joseph Helfrich in 1979. It started out as a negociant – very briefly: people who buy wine in various stages (grapes, juice or finished) before bottling it and selling it to market – bottler and distributor, but has started to acquire more estates too, especially in the Bordeaux region.

The Grand Chais portfolio now consists of more than 150 different wines… in the bottling plant we learnt that this means it has more than 14,000 different Stock Keeping Units (SKUs – an ID code for a product), different blends for different markets, different bottles and labels for different markets, and in some cases, the same wines bottled under both screwcap and cork, depending on where they are going. There was so much research into what works in which market. For example, why medals on bottles work in some countries, but other places actively turn away from them.

On a whistle-stop tour, we visited a few of Calvet’s properties in Bordeaux, along with Grand Chais’ bottling plant outside Saint Emillion, and the Cru et Domaines de France vinification centre in Saint Savin.

Grand Chais bottling plant – outside Saint Emillion

Just outside St Emillion in Bordeaux is Grand Chais’ largest bottling plant. The scale is incredible. I used to work in automotive logistics and Grand Chais’ bottling plant was bigger than some car factories I’ve visited.

No vinification takes place here. The wine arrives in trucks from vineyards far and wide, with 90 trucks arriving a week. Each truck holds 20,000-24,000 litres of wine, and the plant can work through up to 700,000 bottles a day, or 150m bottles a year!

But it’s not all on such a huge scale, and the plant can manage smaller blends too, of around 5,000 litres or so. The plant has 50 tanks in total, and the wine is kept in tank for between three and nine months, depending on the quality.

While we were there the whole place smelled like sweets, as they were currently in the process of bottling Tesco’s Bucks Fizz for Christmas.

The facility also has a considerable grand cru storage area, with capacity for one million bottles worth 38m euros… that’s a lot of very, very tasty wine.

Cru et Domaines de France (CDF) vinification centre in Saint Savin

On a slightly smaller scale, but still a large operation, is the CDF vinification centre in Saint Savin. CDF is the Bordeaux specialist for GCF. It’s a New World-style facility that was built in 2000.

Frederick, who is in charge of winemaking at the facility explained that they don’t own any vines, but have a pool of 70 grape growers working over 700 hectares who they buy from. And because of what they pay the growers, they don’t have too many competitors.

Being fussy in the UK, Frederick said the UK market now demands traceability all the way back to the vineyard, and considers tradition to be really important. The market also dictates what wines are going to sell. CDF wanted to sell Bordeaux Blanc in the UK, but changed it to Sauvignon Blanc because of the huge demand. The wine they created is a mix of the Loire and New Zealand style, and comes with a screw cap. They made their first bottle of it in 2000, and it now sells more than 1m bottles a year…

Frederick says that due to changes in consumer taste, politics, the environment, and economics, it’s impossible to carry on winemaking in the same way. Usually, growers pick grapes around 15 days before the classic harvesting date, but for the same maturity of grape, the date changes by around 15 days +/- every year.

For the 2017 harvest, the final grape maturity was 10-12 days early, and without the frost – where they lost 60% of grapes in the Cotes de Blaye area – it could have been a great year. However, in total, the facility still processed 4000 tonnes of grapes in 2017.

Five wines to try

Over our two day trip, we tried 49 different wines, ranging from everyday mass-market crowd-pleasers, to some top quality tipples. From across the range, here are five of my favourites.

Calvet Réserve du Ciron Sauternes 2016
80% Semillon, 10% Sauvignon, 10% Muscadelle
£14.99 Taste & Choose vintage

I’m a sucker for a Sauternes anyway, but this is delicious. It’s got a sweet citrusy nose, with honeysuckle, tropical fruit and red apples. In the mouth it’s full bodied with a medium plus acidity, and those fruits coming back in. And it’s got a long morish finish.

Chateau Laroque 2010, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe
90% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon
£32.00, Berry Bros & Rudd, Waitrose

This might have been my favourite wine of the whole trip. The nose is big and deep with black fruit and a touch of minerality. It opens up in the mouth to silky soft tannins, and a subtle fruitiness which doesn’t overpower. While I enjoyed it now, it’s going to keep getting better over the next two decades. 

Calvet Alsace Pinot Blanc
100% Pinot Blanc
£7.97 Asda

Bursts of freshness on the nose, with white fruit and citrus blossoms. In the mouth it’s got a lovely softness and freshness. Nicely balanced.

Château la Fortune, Cru Bourgeois, Margaux
74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot
£32.99 Jean Juvinere, Oxford Wine co.

I enjoyed this wine with duck confit and it was fabulous. It’s very fruity and complex on the nose, balanced with dark fruit jam in the mouth, and has a really long finish. 

Calvet Cuvee 1818
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc

This is Calvet’s 200th anniversary wine. It’s got bags of red berry fruit on the nose, with a bit of cinnamon and caramel. In the mouth it’s full-bodied, but with smooth tannins, and a spicy, gingery note, with a long finish.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Exploring Waipara

This is the second of my posts focussing on my wine experiences when I spent a month Down Under in December / January (you can catch up with my first post about the Hunter Valley HERE).

Towards the end of our trip we spent a few days in Waipara, which is a wine region about an hour's drive north of Christchurch. We had spent the last couple of weeks touring around New Zealand's South Island and had earmarked having a couple of relaxing days at the end of the trip to do a bit of relaxing and a lot of wine sampling! Now the South Island (and, indeed, New Zealand wine in general) is mostly known for the wine region of Marlborough and its ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc; I will state straight away that I am not a particular fan of these wines and hence we avoided the area altogether. I selected visiting Waipara because I wanted to go somewhere a little more interesting and also it fitted our itinerary a little better as we were looping back to Christchurch.

The Waipara wine region is a cool climate wine producing area, hence its main grapes are Rieslings, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blancs, Gewürztraminers and Chardonnays - what's not to like about that?! The topography of the region gives it a number of different reliefs with the south-facing hill-side faces being the premium sites. The soil types that you tend to find are limestone and clays with some gravel soils too.

Dunnolly's Wine Cottage 

What better way to get to know the wine making region then to stay in a cottage on a vineyard itself? We found accommodation at Dunnolly's Wine Cottage which is situated with view over the Dunnolly's own vineyard - Dunnolly Estate. The cottage was extremely beautiful with a lovely, spacious kitchen / diner / living area that had views across the vineyard.

As you would expect you can also try their wines whilst you are there and get to speak to members of the Parish family (who run the vineyard) themselves about the wine-making experience in the area. The head wine-maker for Dunnolly is Nicky Parish who has spent time working in wine all around the world and can be very pleased with the work that she is doing at Dunnolly. 

I tried their 2016 Pinot Gris which had a warm and lively nose featuring crisp pear and juicy red apple notes, augmented by warm honey aromas. On the mouth there was bags of acidity on this well-balanced wine, with lemon-lime flavours coming through accompanied by ripe pear. This was a nice wine that we sipped as we sat in the sun in our garden looking over the vineyard - bliss! 

We took a bottle home of their 2016 Reserve Chardonnay, which I opened recently in order to give us a little reminder of our holiday. This was a beautifully expressive wine with all sorts of buttery, briochey aromas on the nose, off-set with ripe pear and a little bit of lemon rind. The tasting notes were full of juicy, fresh flavours, crisp red apple with baked pie-crust. This was a very poised and pleasing wine to drink. It went fantastically with the fish pie that we had for dinner!

I'd heartily recommend staying in Dunnolly's Wine Cottage - you can find them on and other websites.


Waipara Wine Trail

One of the other attractions of visiting the Waipara region is that you can do a walking tour of the vineyards, which is very handy as it means the debate about who should be the designated driver are not required! 

When our trip started the weather was a little overcast, but as we made our way through the vineyards the grey skies gave way to glorious sunshine, meaning that towards the end of the trip we were turning up to vineyards somewhat hot and sweaty as the walk did require schlepping up and down a few hills.

Waipara Springs

We set off from our cottage and headed first of all to the nearby Waipara Springs winery which had a charming little Cellar Door on site for us to do a tasting. We tried our way through their 2016 range, sampling their Riesling, Sauvingnon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. As with a number of the vineyards they also have their premium range of wines which features wines from their best sites; they do this under their "Premo" label. I particularly enjoyed their Rieslings and Pinot Gris, which featured ripe, tropical fruit notes. Their Premo Chardonnay was probably their best wine; it had spent some time in oak, giving it a very pleasing breadth and presence. Their entry level Chardonnay was also a pleasant wine at a very reasonable price. 

Muddy Water / Greystone  

Next up on our trail was the adjoining vineyards of Greystone and Muddy Water, which have a number of very different soil types across their holdings with a similarly large numbers of perspectives and reliefs for the wines, giving them a tremendous amount to choose from when selecting where and what they should be planting. The soils of Muddy Water in general tend to be more clay-based, whereas the soils of Greystone are more limestone-based.

We tasted a number (actually quite a large number!) of wines at this Cellar Door as we really get on with the charming lady who was serving us. Very interestingly, they have been experimenting with some Pinotage and Syrah plantings on some of their sites, which is something that I hadn't come across before. However, it was their more Germanic wines that really interested me ("shock, horror" I hear regular readers exclaiming!). I absolutely adored their 2015 Greystone Gewürztraminer which was quite simply the best NZ Gewürztraminer that I have tried; it is made much more in a Alsatian style then many of the others that I had tried on my trip and really had that those beautiful spicy notes on the nose and those voluptuous fruit notes on the mouth. I was also really taken by their 2013 Basket Star Riesling which is made in a spätlese style, i.e. the grapes are left on the vines to get extra concentration of sugars in them, resulting in a delicious dessert wine full of fruit and honey notes that get the mouth salivating! I liked both of these so much that I bought bottles of them and have taken them home with me.

Black Estate


We finished our trail at one of the most famous vineyards in Waipara - Black Estate Winery. As well being known for producing excellent wine, this vineyard is particularly renowned for having a fantastic restaurant perched on the hilltop amongst its vines giving the visitor the opportunity to eat excellent food and drink their wines, overlooking the vineyards from which the grapes come. We took in a lateish lunch, which I must say really was very good; I had the Organic Lamb served with Spring Greens, Bulgur Wheat and Salsa Verde. 

To go with the food, we opted to take three wines available ex-Coravin, which allowed us to taste some of the estate's premium and somewhat older wines. We tried their 2012 Black Estate Riesling which had that characteristic Riesling whiff of petroleum, alongside notes of warm tropical fruit (lychee and passion fruit), with flavours of tart pear and zingy sherbert; the 2010 Black Estate Home Pinot Noir had a quite quiet nose which was pretty and delicate featuring smatterings of red cherry, strawberries and rose petals and a supple and rounded palate with loads of red fruit flavour, but surprisingly little secondary or tertiary flavours; and their 2010 Black Estate Omihi Series Pinot Noir which had a deeper nose expressing secondary profiles of forest floor and leather alongside the red fruit, and a mouth that was broader and more developed than the Home with dominant strawberry and black cherry notes. 

To finish the meal, we took in pudding and a coffee on a table outside of the main restaurant with a splendid view over the vines. This was the life - I think you can probably understand now how hard it was to come back to the UK in the middle of winter!