Christmas shenanigans


Christmas…from the beginning of December, is a constant, increasingly powerful rise of excitement for the anniversary of the day a mysterious dude was born (if you’re Christian) although for a lot of us it is really the night when a beardy fat man sponsored by Coca-Cola® comes down the chimney and delivers boxes full of wine…sorry, beers…I mean presents. Well, at least that’s what capitalism and consumerism is trying to make us feel like as soon as Halloween’s gone.

From our end it was more about finishing off reports and projects at work and sorting out the newly and badly re-plastered bedroom and the deep cleaning and dusting that ensues so that mum could sleep uncomfortably on our Ikea sofa bed. We eventually achieved all that but we ended up wrapping up Christmas shopping at the Trafford Centre on the 24th until closure time. Rather stressful and not much time to even think about getting excited about all the food and the wine to enjoy and the pressies to open.

And unfortunately not much time to blog about what was actually a busy month for foodies and winos alike. So I hope you’re comfortably seated and you like reading about food and wine because there is quite a bit to catch up with. At the end of November, the 3rd opus of the #7wordwinereview dinner was held at the usual Market Restaurant which was the last one our bloggy brother (brogger ?) @EveryManWines hosted. He indeed decided it was time to pass on the baton and transferred his duties to Charlie aka @The_Lady_Sybil‘s more than capable, although already quite full, hands to carry on organising this recent but admirable tradition.

Amongst others we met the lovely @McrFoodies. Now these guys are really keen on their food and they actually organised a rather challenging food quiz at the Gas Lamp on Bridge Street a couple of weeks later. With Charlie we formed what ended up being the winning team and it was difficult to share our tasty rewards. In passing, it was out first time at the Gas Lamp and looking at their beer selection and the quaint underground little vibe it won’t be the last.

That very weekend, on the day you ate your first advent calendar choccie, the MOSI was invaded by the Three Wine Men and a cohort of the North West’s most enthusiastic winos. I took this opportunity to introduce two good friends to this exciting event and was thrilled to see their desire to challenge their palate and their conception of wine rewarded with an increased willingness to explore and discover this world further. I am glad I did find the time to relay to you our Dessert and Wine experience at And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon happening on the following week. On the 19th the Didsbury Wine Club was again guilty of putting on quite the show on a school night at the Grosvenor Casino for their 2nd Christmas Party where we all enjoyed a fair share of wine-matched Christmas dishes and some free casino tuition.

So when the time finally came to be off work, with all the Christmas actions actioned, and mum landed in Manchester, there was only time to pop and crack open bottles of all sorts and get busy in the kitchen. Not much time to write about all these joyful events however and give them the credit they deserve. These are regular features on our calendar though and better than read about it, you should simply join in the fun next time 😉

Christmas this year stayed at home, in North West England near Manchester. My mum came to visit us for a few days to see our newly acquired Victorian home and was thrilled to see that work was under way to make this crumbling old shack our homely little haven.  I consider myself lucky in that I always had a mum who not only raised me the best she could with infinite love and care, and that’s not even touching the sides of the whole truth, but in the context of what we’re talking about here, she fed me fantastic food for 30 years which shaped in no small way the person I’ve become today. No matter how simple, her meals were always varied, mostly healthy (I wouldn’t say Fondue Savoyarde is healthy but it sure is dead good), balanced and most importantly tasty. She doesn’t visit as often as she would like but after 8 years living abroad and learning my own way in the kitchen in a foreign country, I was going to make sure she had all the reasons to be proud and safe in the knowledge I could look after myself as well as she did for 22 years. So the aim was to give her a taste of the type of cuisine she would not come across everyday, if at all. And of course I would do my best to pair it with the best wines available.

ProseccoOn arrival, I suggested we open a bottle of Ca’ Salina Prosecco Valdobbiadene DOCG, a bottle which was kindly offered by an unlikely duo of Northerners  but this will be a story of its own in a future post. Now when it comes to French people, know that, for reasons which I will not delve in today, they do not know much about wines made in other countries. It was the first time my mum ever had Prosecco or even heard of it. For now, just know that this was a very enjoyable drink with fresh apples and lemon but also balanced yeasty flavours like salty biscuits sparkled with fine but vigorous bubbles; the only reason the bottle was not emptied in a flash is because my mum is a slow drinker….or is it because we just talk too much? hmmm….

Aperitif over, it was time for Miss Mash and I to roll-up our sleeves, put the aprons on and get stuck in our small kitchen to cook a typical, as authentic as we can make it, Indian supper, heavily inspired, and admittedly plagiarised, from The Spice Club and Monica’s Spice Diary blog. On the menu donc: Urad Dahl Masala, Saag Aloo and Roasted Chicken Masala. Note to self: get a 6-hob cooker when we change the kitchen. Miss Mash made the chicken curry and I put a spanner in the works with the saag aloo and the dahl as my timings are always skewed. But overall it’s fair to say we made ourselves a little feast and there were no hungry tummies.

Dahl saag aloo and chicken curryGruner Vetliner

We washed all this down with another bottle from the Naked Wines lot who are starting to score quite a few points: Leicht & Fruchtig Grüner Vetliner 2011 from Herbert Zillinger. A wine with some complexity; quite mineral and slightly flinty at first, lemony flavours along with the fresh citrussy acidity and subtle spritz, and a finish of pear and apples. It really did make a superb match with a meal full of spice and aromatics. At the time I was also thinking that an even better match could be an aromatic and spicy fish dish from South East Asia with spring onions, lime ginger and chilli. I’m pretty sure that would be a cracker. But it is definitely a food wine and I don’t think it would drink as easily on its own. Initially priced at £11.50, as an “Angel” I paid £8.50 and at this price I am quite pleased with it and will probably get some more, or more likely try something similar.

The following day, I decided to make my life easy and use the slow cooker with a recipe I had made two weeks ago from BBC Good Food: chicken bacon and potato stew. Miss Mash and I absolutely loved it the first time round and my mum had never heard of a slow cooker so it was the best opportunity. Chicken thighs, streaky bacon, baby shallots, white wine, stock, thyme and tarragon…in the cooker, enjoy your afternoon and deguste whenever you are back. Although on this day the heavens were clearly not too happy with the north of Europe, we still managed to get our bums out and go to Hale to visit Muriel Lismonde’s shop in Hale: Le Vin, La Table. I don’t need to present Muriel and her wines anymore as by now you should all have a few bottles in your cellar. Worth noting that as of the 22nd of December, there were only 30 bottles left of the 2011 Grand Vin red which is a 100% Malbec. After I left the shop, there were only 24 :-).

Initially we just thought we would bob in to say hello and have a wander around the village but, bad weather helping, we ended up spending 3 hours tasting their wines (again) and having a right good time with the crew there. The concept, whilst uncommon at least outside London, is quite simple: it’s a wine shop, so far so good, but it’s also a school. A school for your taste buds. Learn about wine, how it’s made and how it tastes but also learn about food and cooking and how it all comes together. Jason Palin is an insomniac of a chef who is as eccentric as he is passionate about the food he makes. Inspired by his countless trips around the word and all his encounters, if he is not designing some recipe, executing it or working out his next big project, he is simply telling you all about it making your mouth water and your mind travel. Between the drops we did see that Hale is a pretty place and we know for sure there is at least one good reason to go back soon.

Tour de Belfort

Back home in the evening, the smells of the chicken stew were irresistible and whilst a white wine like a balanced Burgundy Chardonnay would have been a more obvious choice, we all wanted to have a red so to continue on the theme, we had a Tour-de-Belfort red 2010 which is simply beautiful.

It’s on the light side with beautiful black and red fruits, it’s clean and straight with soft tannins. This is definitely a wine that I could drink quite a few bottles of before, during and after the meal…and the best of it? It is really just fermented grape juice, no crap stuff added and very little sulphur which means no hangover in the morning.

On the Sunday we went for a really good Sunday roast at The Wharf in Castlefield. The Sunday roast is an English tradition that we do not have in France. We do have big Sunday meals but it doesn’t have to be a roast. The Wharf is a recent addition to the Castlefield scene and is rather good at what it is trying to achieved.

There is a wide range of classic ales, a large selection of wines and an extensive menu of well made classic pub grub. The roast was really good and boy you don’t come out hungry. I picked an entry level bottle of Shiraz (Witt’s End 2009) for £20 which was ok. Black fruit forward and a bit of pepper spice although slightly oxydative acidity, but it went ok with the meal.

Crement de LoireWith a starter, full on roast and dessert, we were full to the brim so in the evening we only had a few mince pies rinsed with a Crément de Loire Brut from Joost de Villebois, again from Naked Wines. Appellation Crément de Loire Contrôlée is a regional appellation from the Loire valley and in that respect is not that distinctive to a specific village or area but provides a strict enough set of rules as to what grapes can be used, from where and in what quantity and how it should be made. In this case the method is Méthode Champenoise or Traditinelle which means the second fermentation, which gives the initial still white wine the extra alcohol and the “fizz”, takes place in the bottle rather than in an air tight tank or vat. It’s a very good bubbly with fine bubbles, brioche and lemon flavours, very crisp, a slightly saline finish and a bit more lemon pith on the after taste. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I sure liked it and although it may not have been the perfect match, it went rather well with the mince pies. It’s £13.50 full price but again, as an Angel I paid £10 which is a pretty good for a good sparkling.

Finally, on Christmas eve, after work, dropping mother at the airport and going through mental shoppingness at the Trafford Centre we indulged some more. For the aperitif I had a Tap Room from the Taste the Difference range at Sainsbury’s. It’s an American style IPA from Brewing Co. It’s not mind blowing and I have seen some nasty reviews from beer geeks on tinternet BUT, let’s put things back in their place, the very fact that Sainsbury’s is now selling a beer like that means there is a demand for it and it shows how much progress has been made on the beer drinker’s palate. It’s a refreshing citrussy beer but has caramel notes and malty flavours with a good hop finish. Seriously, it’s the best beer I have had from Sainsbury’s. For tea I decided to keep it simple considering how much rich food was involved in the past few days so on the menu was: smoked salmon with crème fraiche and lemon juice toasts, rib-eye steak and home-made oven chips with peppercorn sauce (ready-made from M&S…come on, it’s Christmas Eve, time is better spent enjoying it with Miss Mash).


I had some cheese planned afterwards but as it happened we were pretty full. My cellar is not quite as fanciful as the big guys but I dug out a Médoc 2007 from Chateau Les Grands Chenes, supervised by Bernard Magrez (never heard of him I must admit) and it was a fine example of Brodeaux wine. Beautiful blackcurrant fruit, herbaceous, soft tannins and a toasty backbone. A bit of research shows that it is 55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. I would have thought Cabernet Sauvignon was dominating on the flavour front but the Merlot did provide soft fruits and the Cabernet Franc brought that little edge for good measure.

All in all, a fair few bottles were opened and we certainly fed ourselves quite well so the run up to Christmas was a success by all accounts.

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