The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club – The Book – by Helen McGinn

kmcimageAs I chat to my friends and wine tasting event clients, I hear time and again that people are keen to know just that bit more about how to choose wine.   Nothing too high-brow or time-consuming, but useful tips and suggestions for making sense of the wall of wines on offer in supermarkets and on the restaurant wine list would be very welcome.

My holiday reading whilst in the Auvergne last week was ‘The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club’ by Helen McGinn (who also writes a blog by the same name and this book ticks all the above boxes.

I first came across Helen’s blog a year or so ago when I spotted her tweeting @knackeredmutha.  A former wine buyer for Tesco, she started her own wine business after having children and would regularly email her wine-bemused friends who sought her advice while struggling with the myriad of choices the wine world presents to us.  She subsequently developed these emails into a regular weekly blog post where she suggested one white wine – “fridge-door whites” and one red – “in-the-rack reds”.

The book was published earlier this month.  It provides a comprehensive and very-easy-to-follow guide to stepping out of the comfort zone of Pinot Grigio and Shiraz, with well-reasoned and helpful suggestions for all manner of situations that require a glass of wine.  There are useful tables to explain how a wine from particular grape variety tastes, which region does it best and which foods match well with it.  Some of the recommended wines to try perhaps wouldn’t be my choice but tastes are different and what Helen does provide is good advice for moving on from those wines you might have become too familiar with and drink all the time.

There is no wine snobbery in this book and no previous knowledge of wine is required by the reader.  It is down-to-earth and very funny.  If you are a knackered mother yourself, you will relate to Helen’s frantic life and you will soon be looking forward to sitting down of an evening, children tucked up in bed, to a glass of something delicious at the end of a tiring day.  After all, as Helen points out, “Life’s too short to drink bad wine”.

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Swiss cheeses to French fromages: make a fabulous fondue

With the recent cold snap and our pending trip to the Auvergne mountains, what better time to enjoy a week or two of hearty, cheese-based suppers here at Food Wine Central?

Cheese fondue

Cheese fondue

The Cheese
Tartiflette made its annual appearance; a baked dish originating from the Haute Savoie region of the French Alps. This simple but delicious meal has just 4 ingredients: potatoes, lardons, cream and Reblochon cheese (see recipe here).  And when you think of warming cheese dishes, there has to be a fondue somewhere on the menu; that iconic dish of Switzerland that I first encountered in a mountain restaurant in the Vaud canton during the late 1980s (remember when the table-top fondue set was a ‘must-have’ in every trendy household).

The traditional Swiss fondue was made with cheese leftovers melted in a pot that hung over the open fire, then hunks of bread would be dipped into the deliciously warm Swiss dish. Later versions added white wine and sometimes kirsch to give it an extra kick!  To make life easier for the busy Swiss, they can now buy packs of ready-grated fondue cheese with not an open fire in sight!

Gruyère cheese is the ‘single malt’ choice in the Vaud but elsewhere in Switzerland they blend Gruyère with Emmental and other cantons combine Vacherin & Appenzeller to give a fusion of flavour.

Wine Choice
As an accompaniment, the local white Chasselas wine is an ideal match for all these cheese combinations.

The French Fromage
In the French Alps, fondue savoyarde, is a classic well known dish; but what does it take to make the authentic version?  Like their Swiss counterpart, the Savoie cook will often use Gruyère & Emmental, but it is the addition of Beaufort that will give it that extra Alpine smoothness. This mountain cheese is made from the milk of the Abondance and Tarine cows that graze in the Alpine meadows during the summer. The tranquillity of these lush pastures is transformed into the highly popular and exciting ski runs of the Savoie during the winter ski season!

In the Jura département of France, the local Comté cheese is used for their fondue Jurassienne (this cheese is also occasionally added to the fondue savoyarde).  My favourite mélange is Comté, Gruyère and Emmental in equal proportions with assorted sizes of bread chunks for dipping.

Wine Choice
The ideal accompaniment is a glass of crisp, white Savoie wine that complements it perfectly. My preferred choice from Yapp Brothers of Mere in Wiltshire can be found here – Savoie l’Orangerie.

The Italian Job
Across the border you can enjoy the Italian version called fonduta; made in the Aosta Valley using the local Fontina cheese. Eggs, milk, butter, wine and kirsch are added to the French and Swiss recipes, giving it a far denser consistency.

Wine Choice
According to Patricia Michelson in her book “The Cheese Room”, fonduta calls for a heavier wine such as a white from the Piedmont e.g. Arneis or even a red could work well here e.g. Gamay, Pinot Noir or perhaps a vin chaud (mulled wine).


Fontina for Fonduta

The French Fast Cheese
If you’re looking for a quick, molten cheese-fix without the cheese-grating and potato-slicing, go for a Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese from the Jura region. It comes in box a bit like camembert: wrap it in foil and bake in the oven on a medium heat for 20 minutes; then open it up, cut a circle in the top and dip some crusty bread into the warm melted oozing deliciousness.

Wine Choice
Matched with a glass of Touraine Sauvignon or Bourgogne Aligoté, you will have a simple yet decadent supper.


Vacherin Mont d’or

We shall be taking our fondue equipment to the Auvergne so we can enjoy a traditional warming French fondue as it was intended – after a day of enjoying the cool crisp fresh mountain air.  In the meantime we’ve tucked into ‘truffade auvergnate’, another cheese, potato and bacon combo, the key ingredient of which is the local Cantal cheese. The recipe is below and my preferred pairing is a glass of Gamay either from the Auvergne or Beaujolais.

Then there’s Aligot, another Auvergne speciality, but that’s probably enough cooked cheese talk for one day….


Truffade Auvergnate

Truffade Auvergnate

Typically this dish is made with young Cantal Laguiole cheese from the Auvergne but if you can’t get Cantal, try using a young Wensleydale cheese instead.

For four people, take 1kg of potatoes and slice them into 5mm rounds. Wash them to remove the starch, drain and dry on kitchen towel. Take a large, heavy frying pan and heat a large knob of butter and 2tbsps olive oil over a medium heat. Add the potato slices to the pan, turning regularly. If the potatoes are sticking to the pan, add a little more butter or oil. When the potatoes are softened and starting to brown, add four crushed garlic cloves and 250g lardons or auvergne sausage. Once the lardons are browned and crispy, spread the slices of cheese on the top of the pan and leave the dish to cook for another 5-10 minutes until the cheese has melted.

In Auvergne they serve this dish straight from the pan with charcuterie, salad and bread to mop up the cheese sauce.

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Seville orange tart and a wine to match

Seville orange tart with a sweet almond pastry

Seville orange tart with a sweet almond pastry

On Sunday I made a sweet tart.  Now this is something I don’t often do, not having much of a sweet tooth but with the fruit shelves of my local supermarket brimming over with Seville oranges and a wine match to work out for an orange tart, I took the plunge.

I have always been distressed by the fact that my husband is better at making pastry than me and having enjoyed using Richard Bertinet’s two bread cookbooks, “Dough” and “Crust”, I asked for his latest book “Pastry” for Christmas.  So there was no excuse really and I made Richard’s sweet almond pastry base which seemed to go mostly according to plan. For the Seville orange curd filling, I consulted the Moro cookbook.

My wine match for the tart

My wine match for the tart

The tart was sweet but fresh and tangy at the same time.  My wine match is an unusual one from Limari in northern Chile.  Vistamar’s late-harvest Moscatel has the same fresh zestiness as the orange tart and it’s bursting with full-on intense tropical fruit.  The grapes are harvested late and left to dry partially on straw mats which gives concentrated flavours in the resulting wine.

You perhaps don’t want more than a slice and a glass of this combination at once but they both keep in the fridge for a few days so it’s been lovely to return a couple of times to make the most of this heady mix.

The wine is available at Majestic in half-bottles, currently for £6.24 or £4.99 if you buy two online.  Majestic also suggest matching this moscatel with sticky toffee pudding, sweet cheesecakes or rich blue cheeses.

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Wines for partying with this Christmas

Less than two weeks to go until the big day and we’ve got plenty of partying to cram in before then.  It can often be more difficult to choose wines for Christmas parties than for the Christmas and New Year meals themselves.  What are you going to drink with all manner of assorted canapés and how can you buy suitably gluggable wines to satisfy the crowd without breaking the bank?

At Food Wine Central, we’ve chosen three versatile favourites for the festive season that will solve both problems. And if you happen to have any spare bottles after all the parties, we’ve some ideas on how to enjoy the leftovers with more substantial seasonal dishes.

P1010592Perle de Vigne Crémant de Bourgogne NV Louis Bouillot
This well-priced alternative to Champagne with an easy-drinking yet fresh style is a perfect party fizz.  It will stand up to smoked fish, cheese-based canapés and even spicy thai nibbles.  Take care – your friends will lap it up.  It slips down very easily.  If there is any left, enjoy it with a cold fish starter on Christmas Day. Majestic £11.99 or £9.99 when you buy two bottles.

FalP1010589anghina Beneventano IGT 2011
Fancy a change from the good old Pinot Grigio?  Then why not try this crisp Italian white from near Naples.  Lots of ripe pear fruit and a slight nuttiness make it great with spicy fish or chicken bites, olives and salted almonds.  Afterwards, you could pair it with smoked salmon or turkey leftovers.  Superb value.  Marks & Spencer £5.99

SaumP1010602ur Rouge Les Nivières 2011
A light-medium bodied, juicy red from the Loire which is ideal for Christmas parties as it works with a whole host of canapés particularly those involving soft cheese, mushrooms or charcuterie.  Sausage rolls have met their match with this one.  It will benefit from being served ever-so-slightly chilled just like your guests will be by the end of the evening!  After the party, try this very versatile red with the Boxing Day ham, pâté or even roast pheasant. Waitrose £7.99

Cheers and let us know how you get on!

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Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival – in pictures

Just back from an amble round Dorset’s Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival which once again has been blessed with superb weather.  The festival is on again tomorrow, Sunday 9th September, and here are a few pics from our favourite bits.

Cheeses from Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Company whose ‘Sparkenhoe’ Red Leicester is made from an old recipe using unpasteurised milk. We particularly like the Vintage Sparkenhoe which is aged for 18 months.

From the New Forest, Lyburn’s Stoney Cross which is a bit like a Tomme de Savoie and the stronger Old Winchester, which they compare with an Old Amsterdam.

With some 30 real ales on offer, the beer tent was popular. We sampled two bitters – Hopback’s Summer Lightning and Hobden Wessex Brewery’s Merrie Mink.

A delicious selection of goat and cow cheeses from Dorset-based Woolsery Cheese.

We always make a beeline for Somerset’s Westcombe Dairy to try their mature cheddar and Duckett’s Caerphilly.

We all tucked into samples of From Dorset With Love’s chutneys and jams and we were pleased to secure the last jar of Chilli Jam.

Goat’s cheeses made in Devon by Norsworthy. The soft, creamy cheese of the same name was our favourite.

So, tonight’s cheeseboard features Sparkenhoe Vintage, Woolsery’s Snowdrop soft goat’s cheese. We picked The Dorset Blue Cheese Company’s spicy tomato chutney to accompany the cheese selection and their Dorset Blue Vinny cheese shouldn’t be missed.

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Ketchup Challenge

Ketchup Challenge

My husband and 9-year-old son are mad for tomato ketchup.  Now the 9-year-old won’t be persuaded that anything other than Heinz should be his ketchup of choice but my husband is considerably more adventurous in his tastes.  As is often the case, the suggestion that I might make one of his favourite foods (pork pies and scotch eggs have recently been attempted) was met with keen anticipation.  There was one stipulation though – tomato ketchup must have spice and lots of it.

Adding the spices and other ingredients

Ever one to rise to any challenge set by the husband (naturally), I got to work with researching recipes in my small collection of preserve cookbooks and trawled through an assortment of ideas on the internet.  The recipe I came up with is below and the husband is pretty pleased with the resulting sauce.  A perfect barbecue accompaniment, it will definitely feature with tomorrow’s delicious salmon and chorizo burgers, weather permitting, and no doubt bacon sarnies will get a good dollop of it at the weekend.

I should point out that as this ketchup responds directly to the husband’s brief, it is quite spicy so do cut down on the chillis if you prefer a milder style.

The bottled product

Recipe for Spicy Tomato Ketchup

2 kilos ripe tomatoes (I used a mix of locally grown cherry tomatoes & some bigger ones)
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 bay leaves & 2 blades of mace
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp celery salt
10ml Worcestershire Sauce
250ml red wine vinegar
2 large red chillis, roughly chopped with seeds
100g dark muscovado sugar
1 tsp salt & black pepper to taste

Place all the ingredients, with the exception of the sugar, in a large pan or preserving pan.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes on a low to medium heat.

Blend the ingredients with a hand blender, or in a food processor, until smooth.

Pour the tomato liquid into a sieve and push it through into a bowl with a wooden spoon.

Clean out your original pan and pour the sieved mixture back into it.  Add the sugar.

Bring the pan to a rolling boil and continue to heat until the mixture thickens.

Check for seasoning and allow to cool.

Pour the ketchup into sterilised sauce bottles and cool completely before refrigerating.

The ketchup will keep for up to 3 months in a cool, dark place but should be refrigerated and used within two weeks once the bottle is opened.  The above ingredients will make about six small ketchup-sized bottles like those in the photo.

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Printemps de Monthélie

Printemps de MonthelieThe village of Monthélie sits on the Côte de Beaune between Auxey-Duresses to the west and Volnay, a bigger name with a much bigger reputation, to the east.  Down the hill and across the D973 is Meursault, a village acclaimed and famous for its buttery whites with a definite oak influence.  Production in Monthélie, is around 95% red (Pinot Noir) and the best are sometimes referred to as “lesser Volnays”.  The lower purchase price is correspondingly more interesting.

The Printemps de Monthélie wine tasting event happens over two days every Easter weekend.  We arrived yesterday morning as the sun was bursting through and had a most entertaining and revealing trip round several caves.  Everyone in the village had thrown themselves into the event and the atmosphere was relaxed and congenial.  At the Salle des Fêtes, a very reasonable menu with the usual local fayre had been laid on including escargots, boeuf bourguignon and jambon persillé.  The reason behind this, as vigneron Paul Garaudet told us, was to emphasise the fact that the village’s wines are for drinking with food and that “a meal with water is no good”.  The tasting wines from all the caves were on sale here to try with lunch and we learned from Paul that the rare white Monthélie is best served with grilled fish and the bigger, finer Meursault and Puligny Montrachet whites would take you into fish with creamy sauce territory.

From the Salle des Fêtes looking out over Monthélie vines

In his cellar, the first that we visited, Paul also explained that there is no point in putting out red wines that aren’t ready for drinking at such tastings for “particuliers” (the public) so, unlike many of his fellow winemakers who were showing their 2009 and 2010 reds, he had three 2007s which were more approachable. Having said that, at Domaine Sébastien Deschamps, we enjoyed the 2008 Monthélie 1er Cru Champs Fulliot.  This “climat”, one of fifteen Premier Crus vineyards in Monthélie, is on the Volnay side of the village and can produce some of the better and more sought-after wines.  It seemed heavier and had more depth of fruit than those we tasted from climats on the Auxey Duresses side of the village.  We will lay the wine down in the cellar here for a few years together with the delicious 2009 Domaine Doreau from the same climat.  Red Burgundy comes into its own after four to five years and ten years or more is the optimum drinking time, depending on the vintage.

At Domaine Sébastien Deschamps there was a pop-up bakery.  Three chaps from further north near Dijon had turned up to bake brioche, pain au comté, pain au lard and gougères in the domaine’s old bread oven.  We were delighted to be invited in to chat to the breadmakers and look at the oven.  A fascinating few minutes ensued and the children were completely taken in by it all, so we came back an hour later when the pain au lard had been cooked and spent nearly as much on bread as on wine!  The freshly baked, still warm bread had our mouths watering in the car on the way home and yesterday’s picnic, at a favourite spot by the Canal de Bourgogne, was therefore one to remember.

Pain au lard and pain au comté ready for the oven

Other domaines well worth a visit in Monthélie include Denis Boussey whose Bourgogne Blanc 2010 and minerally Monthélie Blanc 2010 we rated highly and  Domaine de Suremain, in the grounds of the Château de Monthélie, where the 2001 red Monthélie was superb, confirming the fact that laying down our 2008s and 2009s really is the sensible thing to do.  My husband voiced his concern that our cellar might be too humid but Madame at the Château de Monthélie reassured him by saying that humidity may be bad for the labels but is ideal for the wine.

So if you’re in Burgundy and keen to try the big names, think for a moment about places like Monthélie, Saint Aubin and Saint Romain.  Go off the beaten track and you are sure to find passionate winemakers offering well-priced and distinctive wines.

A hungry 9-year-old eyes up the brioche on sale at the pop-up bakery in the grounds of Domaine Sébastien Deschamps

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