Do you remember how a hangover feels? That split second when you open your eyes in the morning and think oh what a lovely day… and then you lift your head off the pillow and the little man inside your heat starts pounding on your skull with a sledgehammer. And then you open the curtains and as the light streams in the little goblins on your eyebrows start stabbing at your bloodshot eyes with their little swords. And then you speak those immortal and often-repeated words: "Alcohol shall never pass these lips again!" and do the only sensible thing – which is to take to your bed for the rest of the day with a glass of flat Coca-cola and some Paracetamol.
Or, if you're really lucky, you will wake up with all the abovementioned symptoms, to the sound of a glass falling and shattering on your kitchen floor as some of last night's unexpected houseguests go in search of a drink of water. Ans then you will rememebr what it is you have to do today: take a train out into the English countryside and attend a wine tasting. )
Remember my dear friend Andrew's last #ARSE event back in the summer? He had kept us all guessing until the last minute as to where we were going – and with #ARSE2, it was no different. We kept getting mysterious e-mails and Tweets about things we had to pack: sturdy walking shoes, maybe a picnic blanket, maybe an umbrella. We were intrigued and slightly nervous, to say the least. And then some of us managed to schedule our summer braai (BBQ) for the preceding day and some friends who shall remain nameless decided that this was the day to dish out Jaegerbombs and Springboks and party like it was 1999 ) It is a testimony to how much I like Andrew that we even got as far as Marylebone station on the day of #ARSE2, and it looked as if we might just make the train. But as we sprinted to the platform that Andrew had indicated, we could not hep but notice the distinct lack of trains there. Which is because the train we needed was in fact 2 platforms away. Ah well. It meant Nick, Denise, her friend Giordana and I had an hour to sip flat coke, wait for the next train and wait for Niamh who not only missed the train but had gone to entirely the wrong station
But after our trials and tribulations, we did all eventually end up in the countryside near Wendover, on top of Coombe Hill with a splendid view of the surrounding countryside, a table full of wine, and a table groaning with food. Our fellow #ARSEs were Denise, Niamh, Ailbhe, Andy, Juel, Liz, Mark, Tara, various spouses, partners, friends and of course our host Andrew himself.
Wasting no time, Andrew immediately got us to work tasting wine. The wines were all supplied by Bordeaux Undiscovered and were tasted blind. Andrew had arranged them in pairs according to colour, so first up were a pair of sparklers. Champagne Barnaut Secondé-Collard Blanc de noirs Brut NV (£17.49) had a very fine mousse and a fresh, lemony palate; while the Adam Crémant d'Alsace Chardonnay Extra Brut NV (£12.99) had an amazing yeasty nose and an almost savoury, toasted brioche-like taste - proving once again what good value for money non-Champagne sparkling wines can offer.
For the whites, we started with the 2006 Chateau Laures Bordeaux Blanc (£7.25). This showed a lot of promise on the nose, smelling almost hopsy and beer-like, but on the palate it was a little flabby and lacking in structure. I preferred the Fleur de Luze Bordeaux 2007 (£6.15) made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc which had a lovely litchi nose, low acid with a slightly green-grass flavour and a lovely long finish. Definitely my favourite white of the day.
Next up were the rosé wines, kicking off with the Chateau Ballan-Larquette Bordeaux Clairet 2008 (£6.38). This had a delightful rose petal colour and a heady Turkish delight nose, but its constituent parts (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc) showed it to be far more serious on the palated than it looked and smelled in the glass. A man's kind of serious rosé. The second of the two rosés was the Chateau Roques Mauriac Rosé 2005 (£6.84) and could not have been more different, from the onionskin colour to the almost fino sherry-like palate with hardly a hint of fruit. As with fino though, it would make a great partner to canapés like prosciutto or olives.
And then it was into the home stretch with the reds. First up was the Chateau Bel Air, Bordeaux Superieur 2007 (£7.10), showing its hint of bottle age with a garnet colour in the glass. I was not too keen on the palate as I found it a bit stemmy, lacking in fruit, and with a short finish. Far more to my taste was the Chateau Peynaud Bordeaux Superieur, 2006 (£7.56), a great big purple-coloured glass of berries – plump, ripe blackberries on the nose and the palate, but with their sweetness balanced out by a good tannic structure. Yum.
And then it was on to the serious business of eating! Andrew and co. had assembled quite a feast of cheeses, wraps, salads, pies and other picnic gooodies and we tucked in enthusiastically. One of his friends had also outdone herself baking cakes for dessert – I remember a chocolate cake, a citrus cake, a bundt cake and a passion fruit cake! To wash this down, Andrew also provided some wines purchased at Oddbins and Waitrose. My personal favourite was the Henschke Henry's Seven 2006 - an Australian blend of Shiraz, Grenache, Viognier and Mourvedre that knocked my socks off.
From there, people wandered off, either to chat under the trees, to admire the views over the Chilterns and the Aylesbury Vale, or to sit in the all-too-brief patch of sun and finish their wine.
A big thank you once again to Bordeaux Undiscovered for their lovely selection of wines, and to Andrew for organising, and for commandeering his lovely friends' weekend to help out with the logistics or #ARSE2. As Andrew has been saying… "I kiss you on both cheeks!" Roll on #ARSE3!
And in other news…
The May 2011 Plate to Page hands-on food writing and photography workshop presented by me, Meeta, Jamie and Ilva is now sold out - but register now if you are interested in Plate to Page II in Italy in Autumn 2011!