The French foires aux vins Saturday, Sep 7 2013 

Despite the name, evocative of the medieval splendour of long forgotten trade fairs, the foires aux vins actually take place yearly in French supermarkets. Again, forget any clichés you may have in mind about French people leisurely doing their weekly shop at a bustling market, for supermarkets are in fact very successful (the term “hypermarket” was even coined in France). They are where the vast majority of French people shop.

French supermarkets are therefore very powerful and demanding with their suppliers, which has caused concern and anger amongst them, especially as the customer is not always the winner. The foires aux vins, however, offer a good occasion to take advantage of the supermarkets’ bargaining power as well as, in this particular year, of the slow down in Asian markets. Plummeting sales to Asia have apparently left a few suppliers with a lot of wine on their hands, which they are keen to discreetly get rid of. But enough talking: ferret has managed to get its paws on the catalogue for the foire aux vins at Carrefour Calais and would like to share a few potential good buys with you. In ferret’s opinion, it is best to focus on Bordeaux wines, as they are usually well represented due to the large quantities produced by even the most famous properties (as opposed to Burgundy).

(Red unless otherwise indicated)198190

Prestige buys

  • Saint Julien Château Gloria 2009 €29.90, £25.57 – not for early drinking though
  • Pessac-Léognan Château Carbonnieux white 2011 €24.90, £21.29 – a good introduction to the brilliant Pessac whites. Drink from 2015 over 10 years.
  • Pessac-Léognan Château Carbonnieux 2011 €23.90, £20.45 – also a good introduction to refined Pessac reds. Drink from 2017.

Value for money

  • Haut-Médoc Citran 2011 €11.50, £9.83. Excellent value for a wine that will drink until the beginning of the next decade.

And plenty of other wines: look out in particular for the 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux vintages.

  • Carrefour Calais
  • Avenue Guynemer
  • 62100 CALAIS

Foire au vins from 11th September to 6th October 2013

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The wines of the Rhône Valley Monday, Aug 26 2013 

rhonevAlthough very small by comparison with, say, California, the Rhône valley, stretching in the South-East quarter of France from the south of Lyon to the south of Avignon, is home to a great variety of wine. For a start, one can distinguish between the northern Rhône valley – Lyon to Valence – and the southern Rhône valley (Montélimar to Avignon). Wines made in the former are more subtle and lower in alcohol than their southern counterparts.

Understanding the hierarchy

Basically there is a three-tier hierarchy of Rhône valley wines.

  • the Côtes du Rhône: the most basic level, with the least stringent rules in terms of location and output. This does not necessarily mean low quality: the red Côtes du Rhône from Emmanuel Reynaud (Château des Tours) and Jamet are among the most enjoyable, best value for money wines that I know.
  • the Côtes du Rhône village: here the rules go up a notch, and in some cases producers are allowed to mention a particular place name, meaning that the wine must come from a designated area. Both Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages are usually from the southern Rhône valley, although there are noticeable exceptions in the north (the Jamet Côtes du Rhône being a prime example).
  • the appellations: supposedly the top level, they have to come from a designated area renowned for its particular climatic and soil conditions (the terroir). Northern Rhône valley: Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Château-Grillet, Saint-Joseph, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Péray, Cornas. Southern Rhône valley: Châteauneuf du Pape, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, Gigondas, Beaumes de Venise, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Tavel.

Some to try

I recommend you try at least one Condrieu, a wonderfully aromatic wine made from the Viognier grape. Grown on very steep slopes south of Lyon, it has unique aromas of tropical fruits with a savoury finish. Sadly they are not cheap ( Waitrose offers 2011 Condrieu from reliable producer Guigal at £32.99 a bottle).

Looking at my favourite retailer’s wine catalogue, I would also recommend trying the 2011 Saint-Péray from Les Vins de Vienne (£14.99 from Waitrose)  or the 2011 Côtes du Rhône Villages La Redonne 2011 from Jean-Luc Colombo (£12.99), which should be a good introduction to northern whites.

Regarding red wines, try getting your hands on some 2010 Crozes-Hermitage for fruit-packed flavours.

Ferret Food Monthly (January 2013) Thursday, Jan 31 2013 

A juicy start

We’re all told about how good fruit juice is for us, and how it can count as one of our five a day. Now you can widen the circle of varieties you’ve tried thanks to Neal’s Yard’s latest venture, the Wild Juicery. Offering nutrient-rich smoothies and snacks (for example, the High Energy Trail Mix contains mulberries, cacao nibs, pau d’arco, and Incan berries, to name just a few ingredients) alongside fresh juices, it sounds like a one-stop shop for Londoners’ health, with guidance on foraging, nutrition, and superfoods also available. The juices available are definitely more creative than any you’ll find in your local supermarket, and include Electrified (which contains, among other things, apple, lime, and aloe vera), and various teas and tinctures are also available (such as rosehip, nettle, hawthorn and honey). While not cheap, with juices starting at £3.20, more valuable is arguably the opportunities this presents to get people off on their own juicing journey and eventually a healthier lifestyle overall. Its location at 16a Neal’s Yard (postcode WC2H 9DP) also means I’ll definitely be visiting soon – it’s just a stone’s throw away from the London hotel that I’ll be staying at in both March and April.

All you need is Love Hearts

Swizzels Matlow are already well-known for their impressive and affordable seasonal collections, and they’ve been equally quick to jump on the Valentine’s bandwagon with their Love Hearts packages. The company has produced 100,000 vintage-style collectable tins that are stuffed to the brim with Love Hearts, at a price of £2.49 for 100g. Giant 108g tubes of the classic sweet are also available for £1, with a bumper pack of 30 standard size tubes on sale for £3. This is just the tip of the iceberg – and those purchasing from http://www.lovehearts.com can claim an additional 15% discount by entering the code LOVE15 at the checkout. I already know who I’ll be sending some to…

Provence (2)On the road again

Here at FFW we’re already planning our year’s holidays, and it looks to us like BestWineRoutes’ mobile phone app could really help us in fine-tuning the details. Covering wineries worldwide, it also integrates directly with the iPhone’s mapping system to take you straight to your chosen vineyard. With information about over 20,000 wineries, there’s bound to be something for every wine lover, with reviews, pictures and videos really helping you to decide which one(s) to visit. It’s also easy to share your visit with friends thanks to integration with your favourite social networks, and all of this comes for a mere £2.49 – which seems like a bargain to me.

Sleep, don’t weep

In spite of our enjoyment of (nearly) all things alcoholic here at FFW, we all know that alcohol makes us tired and emotional when consumed in excess, but it appears that it can also affect our sleep. Even if a cheeky nightcap helps you to drift off more quickly, it can disturb your slumber later in the night according to the Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research journal. Alcohol reduces rapid eye movement sleep, which is important for concentration, memory and motor skills. The loss of REM sleep also results in you waking during the second half of the night, meaning you get a poorer night’s sleep overall. However, it’s also worth checking into other aspects of your sleep environment, such as the room temperature, the presence of technology and pets, noise levels, bedding quality, and your regular nightly routine (such as what time you go to bed). Look at these things again, and hopefully those who suffer with trying to sleep could be well on the way to wellbeing.

Would you Adam and Eve it?

Treat your loved one (all year round…not just on Valentine’s Day!) with tea at Fortnum and Mason’s in their Diamond Jubilee Tea room with their latest tea, the Adam and Eve Afternoon Tea. As you’d expect, it’s replete with luxury, from the rosé champagne and black forest fondant to the oysters and goat’s cheese cone. However, it also isn’t cheap at £60 per person: but for the right person, and a very special occasion, who knows?

bcHave a break, have a biscuit (cushion)

We all love biscuits, but we don’t all love the calories involved. A biscuit cushion by FunkyHoney.co.uk could go some way to giving us the best of both worlds thanks to their stuffed replicas of popular favourites, such as Jammy Dodgers and Custard Creams. My fave is the Party Ring for its most realistic likeness to the real thing. Priced at £17 each, they make a great gift for any biscuit lover, and a sweet treat for yourself. I’m also eyeing up the purse shaped like a Bourbon, and other craftier readers may also enjoy the biscuit-shaped tape-measures. Warning: not suitable for dunking purposes.

Fabulous food in February

Foodies should be looking to hot-foot it to Westfield (London and Stratford City branches) this February to celebrate Food Explorer Month, where lucky shoppers will be treated to demonstrations, competitions, food safaris and special offers. Upload a photo of you enjoying a meal at one of the centres to Instagram, tagging it #FoodExplorer followed by either #WestfieldLondon or #WestfieldStratfordCity. You could win a complimentary meal for two for your next visit. Wahaca is also running an even bigger competition: all visitors to Thomasina Miers’ restaurant could win a culinary trip for two to Mexico! There’s also Kids In The Kitchen workshops for families, and Gennaro Contaldo will be holding demonstrations at Jamie’s Italian at Westfield London. Cocktail masterclasses will be taking place every Wednesday evening at 6.30pm too, proving that there’s really something for everyone. I’d be there if I could 🙂

Sherry Saturday, Jul 9 2011 

Intrigued by recent articles on Jancis Robinson’s excellent website, I decided to try Spanish sherries. I also thought they would be a good match for summery food, especially a pork pie recipe I had my eye on.

Here is the pork pie, which was rather time-consuming but fun to make, and also very good to eat.

Below the pie is a Piedra Luenga organic fino from Bodegas Robles (about 10 euros for 50cl at Lavinia). Although not technically a Sherry (it is made in a similar fashion and also in Andalucia), it provided an excellent match for the pie, as well as for paella and Ossau-Iraty cheese.

More recently, we also had the pleasure to sample this excellent dry amontillado sherry from Waitrose (about £9), smuggled by Ferret. It was really similar in taste to the Piedra Luenga (nutty aromas, savoury finish) and provided a good match for mushroom risotto and even sardines. We also tried it with cheddar, but the pairing was not as successful as others we have tried.

Maybe a Rivesaltes would have been a better match, like this 21 year old Rivesaltes from Domaine de Rancy, shown here in excellent company.

On the whole, I often find these little-known “fortified” wines provide excellent value for money, offering lingering, complex flavours.

Food and Wine Match: Sauternes & Cheddar Sunday, Mar 20 2011 

Cheddar is possibly the UK’s most favourite cheese. Issuing from the hearts and gorges of the West Country, the cheese, with its varying strengths of its distinctive flavour, has captured the minds and tastebuds of cheeselovers not just in Britain but in many other countries too.

In France it is often suggested on the side of crumpet packets as a reasonable accompaniment, and while I’m sure that the Cheddar-crumpet marriage would be a successful one, it’s not something I’m ever sure I’ve seen a British person do. Cheddar, when not eaten on its own, has its sharp and tangy flavour exploited in conjunction with crackers, as part of a Ploughman’s, or in sandwiches.

The hard yellow cheese is not only popular, accounting for 51% of the UK’s annual cheese market, but also historic, dating back to the 12th century. Its flavour can be so strong that you’d think that what was needed would be a red wine to punch it in the guts. However, it’s not always true: we have recently found that a sweet Bordeaux wine, Sauternes, makes an equally agreeable bedfellow. This not being my area of expertise though, it’s over to our hitherto silent Keeper, a.k.a. him indoors, a.k.a. the resident wine expert (being French, it’s more or less expected of him).
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There seems to be no consensus on cheddar and wine matching. I have found red (Australian shiraz), white (Sancerre) and sweet/fortified (Port) recommended by wine experts and the general public with cheddar.

We established that cheddar is indeed quite versatile, although some wines seem to perform better. Below is an attempt, in ascending order, to rank some of the wines we paired with cheddar.

Domaine Gauby, Les Calcinaires white, 2005

We start with a Roussillon wine from star producer Gérard Gauby. It is a dry white wine that provides an acceptable match with cheddar. I would say this tends to bring out herbal flavours.

(€17 from the Caves de Marly, http://www.domainegauby.fr/)

Joseph Voillot, Pommard 2007

Next is this superb Pommard, whose strength is a good match for a mature cheddar.

(http://www.joseph-voillot.com/)

Yering Station, Cabernet Shiraz 2005

The runner up is this Australian Cabernet Shiraz (such a combination of Bordeaux and Rhône grape varieties would not be allowed under any AOC in France). This successful combination brings out red fruit flavours.

(9 euros from Lavinia, http://www.yering.com/)

Sigalas Rabaud 2002

However, the clear winner is this Sauternes: expect nice candied fruit flavours when matching it with some nice Cheddar.

(http://www.chateau-sigalas-rabaud.fr/)