shewhomust: (bibendum)
Friday night's 'masterclass' tasting at Majestic was of malbec - allegedly an immensely popular grape, but it had only tempted in five people (the fact that it's a bank holiday weekend may have had something to do with this). Inevitably, this justified opening fewer bottles than usual, and our wine guru for the evening (Paul? not Mike, who has previously filled that rôle, anyway) whizzed us through the five wines pretty briskly. If these notes are sketchier than usual, put it down to that: some of the new world wines were pretty high in alcohol, we were knocking them back, and we realised that if we just cashed in our vouchers and ran, we could catch the bus before the one we usually get. So one again, I departed without tasting notes, and this is from memory.

The five wines were: one French, one Australian and three from Argentina, in that order.

The French wine was Rigal's L'instant Truffier - not a Cahors, but from a Cahors producer. Pity not to include the thing itself, the original malbec, and although that would have raised the price, I'd have thought the budget could be adjusted elsewhere. I suspect they just don't stock any. Anyway, this was not popular: "Very French!" said someone, and this clearly wasn't praise. T thought it was fine - good tannin, enough fruit, needed to be served with food (various tasting aids were provided, and it went well with the pork scratchings) - but not spectacular.

The Australian was, I think, this First Class Malbec from the Clare Valley: the most complete contrast possible (I suspect the tasting order was 'let's get the randoms out of the way and move on to Argentina'). I could retaliate by saying it's "very Australian". I could nurse a glass through an evening at a poetry reading, say, and enjoy the big, bright, upfront fruit - but I wouldn't serve it with food (I suppose you could set it as a jelly and serve it as dessert). Other people's mileage varied spectacularly.

I could make a stab at reconstructing which three Argentine wines we tasted, but guesswork would be involved, so let's just say that the first one was unmemorable, and the third was a big hit with the other participants, but I thought it didn't justify the additional price (and had a bitterness on the finish which I didn't much like). The one I enjoyed, bought to take home and would buy again, was Parrilla, a classic, well-balance wine.

We also bought to take home what appears to be the joker in the pack: when I searched Majestic's website for French malbec, it didn't tell me about the La Baume Grande Olivette (that's weird: nor does the producer's website, and for a while I wondered if it had come from somewhere else - but no, search for it by name and it appears! Anyway, lovely, juicy, new world style malbec but with good structure, I'd have to taste it alongside the Parrilla to be sure which one I preferred, but that wouldn't be a hardship.

We're unlikely to make the next couple of sessions (chardonnay and sparkling wine, neither of which attracts me enough to make up for the less-than-ideal schedule). But I'd go again if the right topic came up at the right time.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
But first, a sidelight on the subject from the Guardian news section: a recent report on the changes in British holidays over the last 20 years - with thanks to [personal profile] durham_rambler for remembering the magic word which allowed me to track down the article online: the information comes from the ONS (and here's the ONS report itself, which clarifies what is meant by words like 'average'). I read the headline, "Britons shunning two-week holidays in favour of short breaks" and thought it confirmed my suspicion, that these days it's all about the weekend break - but no, although these are now more popular than they were in the 1990s, the real growth is in the ten-day holiday. Which makes our Easter trip to Europe bang on trend - as was our choice of Germany as a destination! Another surprise is that Spain is by far the most popular destination (that may mean, overseas destination - I'm not sure), and has about doubled in popularity in the period we're looking at: I'd have guessed that package sunshine holidays had shifted from Spain to Florida, with the help of Disney resorts, but no - or perhaps that had already happened when the baseline was drawn. Yesterday's travel supplement notes that Barcelona is suffering from tourism overload, and blames AirBnB, cruise ships and the Olympics. So that's all interesting.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, an article about hill forts begins "As a nation, we’re not very good at appreciating our prehistory. We can just about take in Stonehenge, but prefer our history to start with the Romans – more manageable and all written down." Speak for yourself, sir! The article is linked to a new online atlas of hill forts, which is rather fine. If you search the Guardian for 'hill forts', the top result is this rather more sceptical article (but its main reservations seem to be about the terminology.

We could go to West Jutland and see the Vikings.

I probably won't take an island holiday in Croatia, not even for the pleasure of tasting a wine called grk - I'd be more tempted if it didn't rely on cycling (and scooters) to get around.

But we are plotting a few days in France in October, since we have an engagement in London: time to make some decisions about that...
shewhomust: (Default)
The 'out' component of the evening was another wine tasting at Majestic, the third we have been to, and we have yet to encounter any of our fellow tasters twice. This time Mike took us through a 'pinot noir masterclass' which was nothing like as formal as that suggests - I wouldn't have minded a list of what we were tasting and the opportunity to scribble on it. What I learned was pretty much what I already knew, that with pinot noir you get what you pay for, but that things don't really get interesting until I'm way out of my comfort zone. Actually, the first and the cheapest wine we tasted (which may have been Chilean) was thin and fruity, high in acidity (reminded me of the wines we bought in Coiffy, on the edge of Fance's wine-growing regions) and I liked it, though it wasn't generally popular. I've had more approachable pinots at the price. Chapel Down produce pinot noir in England, but they have to blend it with something called rondo to get a saleable wine which isn't very like pinot noir at all - and it's quite expensive. But the two outstanding bottles were both over £20, a Saintsbury from the Napa Valley and a Cloudy Bay (NZ). To be fair, no doubt there's Burgundy as good as either as these - but not within the budget.

We returned home on the bus for the 'in' part of the evening: a quick supper and a bottle of Gran Volante Spanish red, which Majestic are promoting quite heavily, but which I found memorable mainly for the fact that the winemaker's name is printed on the cork - I don't think I've ever seen that before! And there was time for an episode of I Know Who You Are, a Spanish thriller which we are - not exactly binge-watching, but the closest we come to it. Successful lawyer emerges from the forest, claiming to have amnesia; in his crashed car is the phone belonging to his niece Ana, now missing, and traces of her blood. Does he really have amnesia, and did he kill his niece? He looks pretty guilty, but it's more interesting if he isn't - or at least, that's my take as of 5 episodes. Time for another one...
shewhomust: (ayesha)
[personal profile] durham_rambler discovered from the local paper that timbers from the 'Willington Waggonway' were on show for one day only at the Stephenson Railway Museum, and we took time out yesterday to go and see them. This was part of the same 'Festival of Archaeology' as the presentation we went to last week, about the Lanchester Diploma, though I suspect both events would have happened sooner or later anyway.

We'd never heard of the Stephenson Railway Museum, either - it turns out to be a small but good collection, right next to the Silverlink shopping center. They'd set up a container outside the building, containing a young woman (who turns out to be Dominique Bell, Project Coordinator) and several lengths of untreated timber:

Waggonway timbers

These are mainly the wooden rails of the 'Willington Waggonway', a late 18th century waggonway, built to carry horse-drawn coal carts - which makes it a rare survival of one of the world's first railways. THe timber at the left of the bottom shelf is irregularly shaped because it's just the branch of a tree, used as a sleeper to support the rails.

Ship's timber

This rail has been recycled from the timbers of a ship (if I've got this right, the peg sticking out of it on the left is part of the railway, whereas the peg going across it further right is part of the construction of the ship).

Here's Dominique's blog post about her 'waggonway adventure' - going to York to collect the treated timbers for display. Obviously, they are trying to raise money to treat all the surviving timbers.

Some of the treated timbers were on display inside the museum, and I'm afraid I didn't find them anything like as exciting as the untreated ones outside; but I suppose if we want them to survive, it has to be done. There were plenty of other things to admire in the museum, too, shiny engines and suchlike, and we enjoyed our morning there.

In fact, we were sufficiently in holiday mood that we decided to lunch at the Citron Vert, a new 'French bistro' in High Pittington (formerly the Duke of Wellington) which we had seen reviewed in the Durham Times.

They weren't busy when we arrived, despite which they didn't have a table set, gave us the table hard by the counter and kept us waiting for the menu. That wasn't auspicious, but it picked up from then on. The table rubbing elbows with the staff meant we could chat to la patronne (the staff aren't French, but the enterprise certainly is!) as she opened the champagne and made kir royale for the party in the window, who were celebrating someone's birthday (they were displaying a balloon that said so). We both chose salade niçoise from the short menu (the black olives were the sort you buy ready stoned, which don't taste of much, but the eggs were cooked just right, and the anchovies were excellent, and plentiful), and a glass of Touraine sauvignon. I'd wondered how the Durham Times review had managed to square its ratings for quality and value with the prices they were quoting, but the answer may lie in the prices they weren't quoting: the wine, especially by the glass, was not cheap, and the sauvignon was pleasant but not special. However, when la patronne asked how we were doing, and we said what it a pity it was that they didn't offer rosé by the glass to accompany the salad, she said oh, but they did, it just hadn't made its way onto the menu, and poured me a complimentary half glass of Anciens Temps rosé, which was exactly what I would have chosen - pale, dry, with a faint caramel edge. I see from their online menu that their dinner menu includes a café gourmand, which I would probably have preferred to the chocolate brownie (nice enough, not as squidgy as I like it and the ice cream frozen too hard) I did have.

So if I had to give actual marks (which happily I don't) they would include quite a lot of on the one hand, on the other hand. But I think they are aiming for the right targets, even if they don't always hit them.

Also, our bill was handwritten on a picture postcard, and our card was one of the set issued by Penguin, showing the covers of their books: we got the Puffin edition of Heidi. I'm not that easily seduced, am I?
shewhomust: (Default)
That summer feeling, where doing not very much still fills the day from end to end, with plenty of breaks for reading or poking about the internet. Time slips by, yet nothing seems to have happened - or at least, nothing to write home about. Nonetheless, rounding up a few things -

Last Friday we went to a wine tasting at Majestic wines. We'd dropped in the previous day, in search of rosé, and since the tasting was of rosé, and the price of the ticket was redeemable against buying wine, and we weren't doing anything else, it seemed worth a try. We weren't sure what to expect, but we caught the bus, in the pouring rain, and were welcomed into the shop by Mike who had served us the previous day and was our 'wine guru' for the evening, busy putting out chairs for the six customers. That made it one of the smallest tastings I've ever been to, and definitely one of the least formal (we were not - quite - rowdy, but we may have come close). Mike had put together half a dozen wines from six different countries at a range of prices (and showed us, with evident regret, the Bandol which his budget wouldn't cover). The hit of the evening was a Côtes de Provence in a fancy square bottle, which I thought pretentious and not very interesting, certainly not justifying its price. I was disappointed in the Chapel Down (and I wish I'd been taking notes, because I don't remember why), intrigued by the Muga, which had the flavour of Cava but without the fizz, could have done without the Route 88 White Zinfandel (pink sugar-water) and of the six preferred the Breganze Pinot Grigio, an easy-drinking blush. But I didn't like any of them as well as the La Serrana we had bought the previous day, deep raspberry red with a surprising tannic grip, and how can they possibly sell something drinkable at that price? After which we caught the bus home to a takeaway pizza and a bottle of decent red. A fun evening, good company, I'd do it again.

We've been enjoying Doctor Who. The series began while we were away on holiday, so we've been watching on catch-up, and were following along a week behind transmission. On Saturday we watched the last two episodes back to back in one feature length extravaganza - and I'm glad we did, because I would have found the cliff-hanger irritating and the second part dragged out. As it was, I didn't feel it earned its extra lenth, but that was less obvious since we'd chosen to watch at extra-length anyway. The series as a whole has been very uneven, which I suppose is what you get if you have different authors for different stories. and there have been bits of dialogue (usually when the Doctor has to say something particularly high-minded) when I've just thought 'no!' but I tend to blame the writer rather than the actor. Overall, I've enjoyed Peter Capaldi's Doctor, and I'm sorry we have entered its end-game. Nardole was fun; Bill was fine, though the University setting was one of the more alien worlds the Doctor has visited. Initially I greeted the rehabilitation (or not) of Missy as a pretty threadbare plot device (I still don't buy the idea that the Master is the Doctor's oldest, bestest friend, he just happens to be evil) but it grew on me. She gets all the best lines...

We were at the Lit & Phil last night for the launch of Peter Mortimer's book The Chess Traveller: the proposal was that Pete would start from a randomly selected point and proceed from there by bike to a sequence of other randomly selected points, at each of which he would engage a total stranger in a game of chess. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, of course, and the sections Pete read out were very funny about what did go wrong - as always with Peter Mortimer, I'm half amazed at what he achieves and half baffled how he gets away with it. But looking forward to reading the book.

At the market this morning I bought a red hat. Nothing special, and not expensive, just a floppy sun hat with a wide brim, in a strong deep red, lined with dark green. Only later did I realise that I was already wearing purple (with which it doesn't go). No-one can say they had no warning...
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We are in Aachen, and I am reunited with my keyboard, since our hotel room here has a convenient spot for me to sit and type. So that's good. It's quite a splendid room, with lots of space and a huge window leading onto a balcony. In other respects our arrival in Aachen has been complicated, and I'm not ready to post about that yet. Fortunately, there's plenty to catch up with! So here's how we spent yesterday evening:

Roger had found a tour advertised on the Tourist Office website, offering a combination of tour of the city in a vintage bus, and wine tasting at the winery in the neighbouring village - so that, give or take, is what we did. Let me clear up the 'take' aspect of that first, because all my criticisms are to do with the mismatch between the advance information and what actually happened: the package itself was fine. The vintage coach is a lovely creature (you can smell her coming from several yards away, but that's only to be expected) but a city tour ought to mean more than passing the several impressive landmarks along the route between the Porta Nigra and the winery in Olewig. This was fine by us, as we had by this time visited all the promised sights already, and were more disappointed not to return via the viewpoint on the Petrisberg above the vineyards. Well, it would have been dark anyway... And I wish they had told us that there was a restaurant at the winery, and we would be able to eat there while we tasted the wines (the restaurant actually appears elsewhere on the Tourist Office website, but isn't mentioned in this context). We vhad discussed this, and eaten a late lunch at the museum, rather than risk a wine tasting while fasting, which in hindsight was a wasted opportunity.

Weingut Georg Fritz von Nell

Other than that, though, it was great fun. The winery was founded in 1804, and our guide was the eighth generation to run it and make the wine. He gave a great performance in explaining how he does this, and since we were the only non-Germans in a group of about a dozen, a lot of this was completely lost on me. When he slowed down to explain something to the five year old in the group, I was in with a chance, but most of the time I was lucky to catch one word in three or four, which was exhilarating but bewildering: wait, what was that about the full moon? He took care to check at the end of each stage that we were to some extent following, and I learned some things I hadn't known before (sweet wines are made by stopping the fermentation, and this is done by filtering out the yeast). One thing I loved was that apparently Moselle wines must spend some time in barrels, and when I asked whether he used French oak, or American, he looked very pleased with himself, and said, "Own oak!" One of the advantages of a firm founded in 1804 is that you can source your barrels from your own oak forest.

One other way in which the advance publicity erred is that we were promised a tasting of four wines, and in the event we tasted six. They were: behind a cut to spare the uninterested )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Sitting in the bar of the Pride of Bruges, on the Humber, typing offline ready to post when I'm ready to claim my half hour of free wifi -

After a mad frenzy of packing and preparation, wrangling last minute client demands, topping up my mobile phone for the first time since I bought it several years ago (which we did at the big out-of-town Tesco, though next time - if we ever reach a next time - will be easier)... Well, yes, after everything else and setting off later than we meant to, a very pleasant and easy drive to Hull.

Roger (whom in another place you may know as durham_rambler, but who has not yet rambled to DreamWidth) had downloaded the Radio2 Folk Awards to his phone, so that we could listen to it through the car audio: I am so impressed at his mastery of the technology, and it worked very smoothly, apart from an interlude when his bluetooth hearing aids hijacked the signal, so I never heard Nick Lowe paying tribute to Ry Cooder, but we got it straightened out in time to hear Ry Cooder explaining how much he owed to Tom Paley, so that was all right.

And we had folk music (within Radio2's understanding thereof, but I enjoyed the interval sampling of the finalists for the Young Folk Award) driving through spring in northern England. The fields are very green, except where the rape is coming into bloom, where they are eye-searing yellow. The hedges are mostly green, though the blackthorn is a tattered lace of white. The verges are studded with yellow which surely can't be cowslips, not in those numbers? There's the odd clump of primroses. Remind me again why we are leaving England right now?

But of course if we were home,we'd be working, not going out enjoying all this. Likewise, in a properly organised world, we'd have taken time to sample the culture which Hull currently offers: instead, we headed straight for the ferry, drove on board with hardly any queueing, and here we are in the bar, I have had a cup of tea and the pianist is playing Name That Tunee' (we've just had Hotel California).

Later: Dinner in 'The Kitchen' buffet restaurant, and a bottle of La Sauvageonne, a Gerard Bertrand rosé, described on the menu as biodynamic and on the label as 'en conversion' (in the process of becoming organic): I have no idea whether these two things are compatible, but it was a pretty pale pink, maybe a touch sweeter than I would choose for drinking alone, but this gave it the weight to stand up to the various random items we selected from the buffet.

As the light faded from the sky, we watched Spurn Head slide away behind us.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Posting has been slightly blocked over the last few days, because we were at a funeral on Friday: a sad occasion, but not one for which you need rush to sympathise, the death of an elderly neighbour, a nice man whom we had known, not well but for a long time. Too big a thing not to mention, but a story that isn't really mine to tell. Afterwards, at the pub, talking with neighbours, and someone I know, socially but even more slightly, started out of the blue to tell about his life - which was fascinating, but again, not something I feel entitled to write about here. So, a bit blocked...

Sunday was a happier occasion, lunch with a friend we don't see often enough. His invitation was couched as a request for help: About ten years ago I went a bit wild at the Wine Society, and now I have rather a lot of claret which needs to be drunk now... We were happy to do our bit - and it was true that these were wines which were more than ready for drinking.

Home on the bus, and with no prospect of doing more than watch television that evening, we finally caught up with To Walk Invisible, Sally Wainwright's drama about the Brontës, which was broadcast over Christmas. Lucy Mangan liked it, and so did I, with reservations. Branwell and indeed Mr Brontë were treated as characters, so that we saw the family as a familly, rather than as three brilliant sisters and some inconvenient furniture; the scenery was gorgeous, if rather highly coloured; the visualisation of their childhood shared narrative in which they are the Genii who rule the toy soldiers come to life was wonderful, but its dialogue indistinct. In fact, my main complaint about the production as a whole was that the background music would not stay in the background: Emily walks on the moors to a soundtrack of one of her poems, but its words are drowned by the music; Charlotte moves restlessly about the house to loud piano music, and I seriously wondered, did they have a piano? Is she wondering who's playing? Eventually, [ profile] durham_rambler located the subtitles, and we got on better thereafter.

I am in the process of renewing my passport, which seems more difficult than it should be. I have acquired the required photographs, in which I don't wear my glasses and don't smile (in fact, the effort of following the instructions in the photobooth and pressing the green button without moving my head from the vertical results in my scowling). I hope I am not recognisable from those photos, but I hope they are acceptable to the Passport Office (yes, I am a little stressed about this). I have filled in the form, which is printed in pale orange on white, and was quite difficult to see. And I know better than to believe the address on the return envelope - it says "Passport Office, Milburngate House" but since Milburngate House is currently being demolished, I shall take it to the new offices on the other side of the river.

According to the Guardian's breakfast supplement, the place to eat breakfast in Kendal is Baba Ganoush. It would have to be pretty good to tempt me away from breakfast of my own making (my own coffee, made the way I like it! my own toast, made from my own bread!) but who knows, I might be in the market for brunch in Kendal, one of these days...
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Friday you already know about: what next?

[ profile] durham_rambler had discovered that there was an exhibition about Topic Records at the Barbican library (this link explains more, and links to a video: 75 years of folk music in ten minutes). GirlBear was familiar with the space, and was able to warn us that it wouldn't be a very large exhibition, but even so, the three of us felt it was worth a visit. We allowed ourselves an hour to look round, and that was plenty, even allowing time for reading documents and reminiscing about the records. I'd have liked more about the field recordings, and less about the stars, but I'm already converted and don't need to be preached to: and I'm sad enough to get a buzz out of things like Davy Graham's first recording contract.

After lunch, GirlBear had an assignation with the Society of Recorder Players, and [ profile] durham_rambler and I visited the Museum of London. Where there are many splendid things, and I took many pictures. )

We dined that evening with [ profile] helenraven - or perhaps I should say with [ profile] kelpercomehome, since she lured us south of the river with promises of wines she had discovered on her travels. The journey was more exciting than it should have been, since the nearest tube station was closed (though we didn't find this out till the doors of the train were closing) and we had forgotten the number of her flat - which wouldn't have mattered if it weren't for the security gates fitted since our last visit. So we coulsn't simply proceed along the walkway until we recognised a friendly door. But we worked it out, we arrived, the wine was excellent and the company even better - and that was Saturday.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Exactly a week ago we were still in London - back at King's Cross, but this time waiting for our train. One week on and - well, I won't say that it's all over, because I'm a firm believer in the twelve days of Christmas, a period of not exactly twelve days that starts on Christmas Eve and ends on the debatable territory of Twelfth Night, traditionally defined by the fesrival of ghost stories that is Phantoms at the Phil.

Nonetheless, we have had a busy time since that train brought us north (which is why I have not yet posted about the rest of our stay in London). Since the activities listed in my last post, we ate a celebratory Birthday Eve lunch with a friend whose birthday is Christmas Day; we watched Saving Mr Banks, which was, as Victoria Coren Mitchell led me to expect, entertaining and interesting, but very obviously a one-sided account of a disagreement (pretty, though).

And then it was Christmas morning, and time to visit S., first for the Christmas morning party she has held for maybe twenty years, with a shifting personnel as people drop out because the children are no longer compliant babies, then in again as the children grow up - and accompany their parents. No grandchildren this year, but planty of good conversation, and the odd surprise (the person who said, "Actually, I voted 'leave'" and had her reasons). We stayed on after the party, and chatted to Gail who had returned unexpectedly from Whitby, while S. cooked her goose and did all the hard work. The goose was excellent, and I had chosen a Uruguayan tannat to accompany it, which worked very well.

So it's definitely not over, but a milestone has been passed. Now for a quieter couple od days - but first, the Doctor!
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
  • The morning after our return from London, with no food in the house and D. arriving that evening, we went to Tesco's. I didn't mean to buy any wine: this was supposed to be an in and out, quick and efficient, kind of shopping. But the French wines are right at the end of the aisle, I wondered what they had from the south-west, and there on the top shelf was a display of Terreforts de Madiran 2003 at £3.25 a bottle. (That's $4.70 at today's rate, and the article I've linked to quotes a price of £11.99 last November.) Madiran ages well, but 2003 is a fair age: perhaps it was past its best? We bought a single bottle, and opened it that evening. At first I thought: agreeable, distinctive Madiran tannins, but fading, worth that ridiculously low price but not as intense as it should be. But as we emptied the bottle it began to fill out, and the last drop of the last glassful was a delight. The next day we went back and bought all they had left, which was only six bottles. We opened another one on Sunday, a bit earlier this time, to let it breathe, and it was wonderful, all liquorice, leather and black fruits, bramble and plum. I wonder if it will last long enough to try on [ profile] helenraven alongside those Uruguayan tannats?

  • We are approaching completion of this stage of the building and decorating: unfortunately we are approaching it as Achilles approaches the tortoise. The spare bedroom is painted and almost papered, but the paper ran out with one tiny strip (maybe three inches wide, between the wardrobe and the corner) still to do, so we have been waiting for more paper to arrive. Due tomorrow morning (and the carpet is due tomorrow afternoon, so I hope there'll be no delay). When the decorator arrives, we're assuming he will also put a second coat of paint in the kitchen, and bring a long brush to paint behind the radiator. We had a nasty moment when the fridge was pulled out of its corner and revealed an unpleasant damp patch, but that has now been sealed and replastered. The new paint is very red. I thought I was choosing the shade closest to the existing terra cotta, and was puzzled that it was called 'Red Barn', but oh, yes, very red. I am rethinking which pictures go where.

  • Ushaw College is a former Catholic seminary, now busy reinventing itself as a welcoming events venue. This is disconcerting. But it has some fabulous architecture, and if it wants to fill that space with folk music, that's fine by me. We couldn't make all of the folk festival last weekend, but we were there on Saturday evening for Alistair Anderson's new band, Northlands. So new that their only web presence is on Alistair Anderson's news page: for the record, then, singer and flute player Sarah Hayes, Sophy Ball on fiddle and Ian Stephenson on guitar. Great fun, a mixture of solo spots and ensemble pieces, maybe not entirely settled in as a band but giving every sign of enjoying playing together. Long may they do so. The concert was in the Exhibition Hall, a chapel letting its hair down observed by bishops and other clergy in the roof beams:


  • Quotation of the week - but which week? We were watching the extended version of Have I Got News for You on the iPlayer. Paul Merton, intervening before Gyles Brandreth could lure Ian Hislop into a grammatical debate, announced "The gerund is a three-wheeled vehicle which was very popular before the invention of the horse."

  • Last night our dear friend F. celebrated a dignificant birthday by inviting a group of friends to an Elizabethan banquet at Lumley Castle. Don't be misled by the description, this is not about authentic re-enactment and historic recipes, this is the banquet as pantomime. It was extremely well done, and we even managed a certain amount of conversation in between the entertainment.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
When I wrote about our day in Pau, I said that the next morning was another story: and that story is all about the shopping. Sometines this is a good thing.

Pau's organic market is held on two mornings a week, Wednesday and Saturday, and by a lucky chance, this was a Wednesday. The market is held in the scruffier part of town, in a cavernous old market hall where the stalls looked rather lost: but we walked round, buying good things for our picnic lunch and making hard choices, and it didn't look so sparse after all.

If I were a braver photographer, I'd have taken a photograph of one of our fellow-shoppers, a gentleman wearing a light purple pullover, clutching a deep orange potimarron (one of these), and a small bouquet of bright green herbs. Since I almost never photograph people, here are some carrots:

Organic carrots

We lingered by a stall selling organic wine long enough to pick up a leaflet, with a map. "Don't buy here if you can go to the domain," said the vendor, "You can taste the wines there."

We drove out of town past a mural, a picture of a man wearing a beret and holding an umbrella: "le dernier manufacture de parapluies artisanales de Béarn" - I hadn't previously thought of umbrellas as a craft product, but why not? This might be the business it was advertising.

Our route now took us into the hills and vineyards of the Jurançon. We made a not very satisfying stop at the Cave in Gan (easily identified by the giant bottle outside): they were perfectly pleasant, and let us try whatever we wanted, but since we didn't know what we wanted, that wasn't as much help as it might have been. Instead we headed for Domaine Tinou: down the road, and then up a smaller road, and on until the vines appear on the slope above you to the right: then turn into the farm drive, ring the bell and eventually the dog's barking brings M. Hondet (he was already producing wine here in 1964, when he converted to organic, so he can be forgiven for being a bit deaf). When we told him we'd piucked up his leaflet at the Marché Bio in Pau, he said, "Ah, you've met my son!" and ushered us into the barn where we tasted some delicious wines, from the lean dry white to the luscious golden sweet wine, not forgetting a light and refreshing rosé. We couldn't bring them all home with us, but we did our best.

I would have liked to spend longer exploring the area, but it began to rain, and back on the road we found ourselves nearing Oloron Sainte-Marie before we knew what had happened. Another time we will spend longer getting to know the Jurançon - and the Madiran - but right now we located our B&B, which was on the Place Saint Pierre:

Place Saint-Pierre

a sandy oval bordered with plane trees, a quiet place to picnic in the shade - except that it is also adjacent to the primary school, and serves as a handy playground for the children who are waiting for afternoon school to begin. Perhaps the bench we had chosen marked the goal of their football game? But being well brought up French children, one of them paused, retrieving the ball, to wish us "Bon appétit!"
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I thought I had written about the food fair in Bishop Auckland, but maybe not. Ah, well. Anyway, one of the things I bought there was some stewing veal, and yesterday I took it out of the freezer and made a blanquette de veau. It's a dish I haven't made in a long time (I don't manage to buy veal very often) and I was pleased with how it came out, the sauce all lemony and buttery, the meat sweet and tender. Since it's classic old fashioned French cuisine, I wanted a classic French wine to drink with it, and chose a bottle that we had bought at the Maison des Vins in Gaillac: the Domaine Philémon Perlé (information about the producer in English, and I wish I'd known about their Jurançon Noir, I don't remember seeing that). My only hesitation was that it might be too light, and I'm glad I didn't check the website which recommends serving it as an aperitif or with fish, or I might have been dissuaded from serving it with the veal. It was light and fresh, and the almost-fizz indicated by the name 'Perlé' accentuated that, but it had enough flavour, a good balance of fruit and acidity, to go well with the veal and its sauce.

Sometimes I wish I had asked the internet before deciding which wine to serve with what. D. brought us a bottle of Brana's Harri Gorri, which was particularly welcome as we had not been very successful in buying Irouléguy when we were there (short version: the domain we wanted to buy from was harvesting on the day we called, and too busy to sell; the local supermarket doesn't sell local wine and the Cave Co-op's wines are unimpressive. We bought some, but grudgingly). Harri Gorri (can't say that name too often) is much more elegant than we are accustomed to in an Irouléguy (I don't know how it manages that when it's 50% tannat, but it does), and would have been much happier with the following night's lamb stew, as the Wine Society's website suggests, than with whatever I served it with (don't remember). Then again, the Brana website says serve with game or grilled meat, which suggests something chunkier. It also uses the word "empyreumatique" which was new to me, and I had to look it up (show-off winespeak for the toasty flavours associated with oak, it says here).

One more bottle of Basque wine, this one from the other side of the Pyrenees, On the last day of our holiday we had made the most of our last chance to stock up at a Spanish supermarket. Choosing a last few bottles of wine with no better guidance than whether I liked the label, I picked an elegant little bottle of Beldui txacoli. All the text on the label was in Basque, so there were no clues about how to serve it. Eventually I opened the bottle and tasted it. At cellar temperature it was a little flat, almost musty, and I opened a bottle of red to drink with the chicken. But served chilled to accompany cheese and grapes for dessert, the txacoli's dullness was transformed into a subtle oxidation, an almost sherry-like edge. So that was all right. And oh, look, you can visit the vineyard...
shewhomust: (bibendum)
As I was saying, the next stage of our French holiday took us through a series of extraordinarily pretty old villages. Here, for example, is Montcuq:

Into the old town

In the Lot valley, at some length )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I've been posting about last summer's holiday in France all out of order, as it suited me. Time to pick up the threads, and progress a little. Where were we?

We spent two very happy days in Bordeaux, Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday we set off to our rendezvous with Helen, and ran into the transhumance in Saint Justin en route. Wednesday was the day we spent as guests of the Producteurs de Plaimont, learning about the wines of southwest France.

Thursday morning was fresh, bright and clear, and we could see the Pyrenees in the distance as we set off from the Relais du Bastidou. We weren't going that way, yet. Our schedule had brought us further south faster than we would otherwise have travelled; now we wanted to double back, to visit the wines of the Côtes de Brulhois, and maybe of Cahors, too. But first, we wanted to shop for some of the wines we had tasted the previous day. The Cave de Plaisance didn't stock Moonseng, but they did have, newly arrived, partly fermented grape juice from the current harvest ('bourrel?', say my notes, but I can't verify that name), pale and slightly cloudy, sweet but not cloying.

We drove along a ridge road between two green valleys, seeing no vines - but as we rose higher, so did the distant mountains. A signpost pointed to Bassoues reminded us that we had passed this way several times the previous day, so we detoured up to the hilltop village and admired its timber market hall, its quince trees, its 'donjon':


At the time it was a delightful morning's break, one last pleasure offered by a region we were about to leave. In retrospect, it was only the first of a series of beautiful old villages, any one of which would have been an extraordinary survival.

After the previous day's excesses, I wasn't expecting to want much for lunch, but the Routard guide recommended a restaurant, Le Florida in Verduzan, which was pretty much on our way. That recommendation alone was worth the price of the guide book.

Lunch break )

And onwards, through the sunflower aftermath, the single plants self-seeded after the harvest, multiple flowers branching exuberant from the stalk, unconstrained by whatever limits the main crop to a single flat disk per tall stem. A brief stop at the Cave de Donzac, and on to La Borde Grande for the night.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
By rights, the next holiday post ought to be about our second day in Bordeaux. But we drank a bottle of Gaillac the other night, and enjoyed it, and wanted to make a note of it, so here's a brief post about Gaillac instead.

It was the briefest of visits: [ profile] durham_rambler has good memories of a walking holiday in the region, and when he saw how close we would pass on our way from A to B (Figeac to Pau, in fact, but that's another story) he demanded a detour to buy some wine. Gaillac has a Maison des Vins, an organisation whose function is to promote the wine produced locally. You'd think this would be usual in a wine-producing area, but no, and it can be quite difficult to get a general idea of what is available: Irouléguy, I am looking at you. In Gaillac you head for the former Abbey of Saint Michel: it's very central, by the river, which is just as well, because the roads into town were busy, and some streets were closed - I was distracted by the site of a tanker parked outside one wine shop, blazoned with the description 'liquide alimentaire' - but we found the abbey (it's quite a landmark) and parking right across the way. Inside, we mooched around and looked at bottles and tried to guess from the labels what we would like - and there were some wines on offer for tasting, too.

I don't think we tasted the Mas de Grouze (it was this one, in fact, although ours was the 2012). So it must have been just luck. I'd have been attracted by the presence of local grapes (braucol and duras) alongside the usual suspects (syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon), and the price (5€) made it worth a try - though by this stage I was more concerned about where we would pack all these bottles!

[ profile] durham_rambler didn't think this would be a problem, so I left him to sort it out, and dived into the secondhand bookshop which was having a clearance sale: everything was 60% off, but as soon as you started to look the staff rushed up and warned you not to move anything. This was unnerving, but I still bought several very large and very cheap picture books. And there was enough of our two hours parking left for a quick stroll around town (which was mainly closed, because it was Monday.

Pink umbrellas, red brick

Gaillac was the first place we had seen these pink umbrellas (a regional promotion about screening for breast cancer) and they looked particularly well against the red brick of which the old town is built. We could have stayed a lot longer, but we had to move on. Just one more photo:

shewhomust: (bibendum)
I had thought of Bordeaux as a chilly, elegant city: the wide river lined with gems of classical architecture, the houses - and chais - of affluent wine merchants. For all I know, parts of it are like that, but not the parts we saw. With the help of [ profile] karinmollberg we booked ourselves into the Victoria Garden, which presents itself as a very flash, business-oriented set-up, but - and this may not be true of the rest of the chain - is actually a very comfortable hotel with friendly and helpful staff. It's possible that the rooms which front onto the Cours de la Somme are newer and smarter, but we were at the far end of the courtyard: affordable parking in central Bordeaux, a tree outside our window, no street noise. This placed us in the Quartier Saint Michel, and we didn't stray far from it for the duration of our stay.

Sunday )

And that was our first day in Bordeaux.

ETA 14.08.16: The Guardian travel supplement suggests the Puces Saint Michel as one of the places you might break your journey across France. They are not like us, the people in the travel supplement: I share their desire to break a long motorway journey, but I don't want to break it so thoroughly I can't put it back together again. However: it seems that when you have thoroughly enjoyed the street market, the place to lunch would be Le Passage Saint Michel, and I note this for future reference.

ETA II, 4.06.17: And once again, it's the Guardian travel supplement, this time on Bordeaux's top 10 wine bars. Some of its suggestions are so trendy theyu make my teeth ache, but bar at the Bordeaux Wine Council sounds like a good place to start. And les Carmes de Haut-Brion has as fancy a new cellar as any of those Spanish wineries - not cheap to visit, though as a way to try something outside our usual range, not impossible.
shewhomust: (watchmen)
After skipping a year, we returned to Kendal for the third Lakes Comic Art Festival. We rented the Marketplace Hideaway: hidden away indeed, to the extent that, when we arrived yesterday evening, after road closures leaving Barnard Castle, after a scenic drive through scenic Cumbria, with sun and clouds (mostly clouds) making patterns on the hillsides, after twice round Kendal's one way system, and braving signs saying "No Entry Except Deliveries", because we were delivering ourselves and our belongings, weren't we? - when, after all this, we identified our landmarks between which we would allegedly find our path, we still couldn't see it. Closer still, though, and all was as described, and we have a choice of bedrooms, a small but perfectly adequate kitchen, a bathroom and a downstairs lounge. (TripAdvisor has some photos.) There was no wifi - which is to say that if you stood outside in the garden, Kendal Wifi was intermittent, and [ profile] durham_rambler connected with the Cloud, probably via Caffe Nero next door. So I wrote this a bit at a time over the weekend, and am uploading it now with (I hope) a minimum of editing - I'd rather put my time into adding pictures and links than fretting about tenses.

It's all about the crabs )

Revolution in the Council Chamber )

Lunch at the Castle Dairy )

Vinyl is not dead. )

It's all about the yards )

From the pub to here - via the Sydney Opera House )

Why we didn't make the McKean treble )

Coda in Elephant Yard. )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We spent a wonderful day last week in the company of of our friend, wine-writer Helen Savage, as guests of the Producteurs de Plaimont wine co-operative.

Cut for length, wine neepery and the odd picture. )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I would have been happy to linger longer in the Marais Poitevin: we were very comfortable at the Hotel du Marais, and enjoyed an after breakfast stroll through Coulon and along the river Sèvre. But we had made other plans, so we set off, at first following the river, which allowed us this glimpse of everyday life and appliance removal in la Venise verte:

La Venise Verte

then onto the more major roads. Fans of French roundabouts will be pleased to hear that someone in the department of Charente Maritime has been commissioning sculptures depicting relevant things on a very large scale: a set of beach umbrellas, deckchairs and a beachball for a seaside (Gironde estuary, in fact, but let's not be picky) location, and three giant pinecones in the woods backing the beach; a pair of giant hands opening an oyster in the fenlands where ostreiculture is practised, and my favourite, a giant hand holding a quill pen. I think it was near the town of Surgères, but if Surgères produced any writer famous enough to justify this tribute, Wikipedia doesn't know about it.

We stopped for lunch at Talmont, a walled town founded by Edward I on a promontory in the estuary. [ profile] durham_rambler and I first visited there long ago (though we disagree about how long) when it was just beginning to emerge from dereliction and decay. Now it is a pretty tourist resort, full of restaurants,and shops offering artisan soaps, shell jewellery and hand-made pottery. It's still full of charm, though, and reminded me of the nearby Ile de Ré:

A street in Talmont

We have a client whose website we have managed since 2008 without ever meeting, who has recently moved to this region,so that was our next stop: a lovely drive through gentle vine-covered hills to the back of beyond, and afternoon tea in the garden under the olive tree. Next stop, the Domaine des Graves d'Ardonneau, as recommended by Helen Savage, because now we are in the Bordelaise and must be serious about wine. Mentioning Helen's name saw us ushered upstairs to taste two white wines (with and without oak; unsurprisingly, we both preferred it without) and three reds. We had arrived towards the end of the day, and the lady who served us had family visiting, but when she started opening the more expensive reds, she called them to join us: "Come upstairs, have a glass of the Grand Vin!" They obeyed, though the men declined to drink red wine as an aperitif and insisted on returning to the white. Conversation became general, but we tried to focus on the wine: we had already tasted a bottle of the Cuvée Tradition which Helen had given us (and that's what we bought a case of, to take home); the Grand Vin was aged in new oak, and had a lovely edge and complexity; the Cuvée Prestige was in theory between the two, but I thought too assertively oaked.

Nothing for it but to trust our satnav to bring us through the complexities of Bordeaux to our hotel, which she did with only a few tantrums on either side. [ profile] durham_rambler has fallen asleep over his book, and [ profile] karinmollberg will be calling for us first thing in the morning: time for bed.

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