zondag 10 januari 2010

Wine Tasting in Den Haag

On Friday I was kindly invited for a wine tasting session with a friend that has helped educate me in the field of wines. I gladly accepted, not only do I have a thirst for good wines but also for knowledge.
While I enjoy a glass of wine, I always drink in moderation because unfortunately wine isn't very kind to me.
I used to only drink white wines until it became impossible to enjoy, knowing fully well what the implications would be: a day long hangover. The hangovers were bad and each time I vowed never to touch another drop- but each time I would give in to temptation....
I'm not even talking binge drinking here but sometimes as little as 2-3 glasses are enough to leave me feeling poorly. Since I have a tendency to suffer from cystitis I am especially careful not to dehydrate my body. I drink water in between and always avoid drinking on an empty stomach.
Sometime ago I decided to switch to red wines. Interestingly enough, most people react worse with red wines but I found them much kinder. Now I only drink white wine with (certain) food, rosé on a warm terrace and red on all other occasions.

The wine tasting was held at a modern and very colourful wine shop called Porte Reffe Wijn en Zo Javastraat 90, Den Haag.* It's decor is simple but beautiful and the bottles of wine are displayed very nicely. Porte Reffe specialises in European wines.
You may just pop in for a bottle of wine but if you become a 'Club member' (cost 120euro) you not only receive a complimentary bottle of wine but other benefits like 10% shop discount, free tasting every month, and furthermore you may bring an introducee to the tastings. It was a honour to be the introducee on this evening.
The tasting took place in a small group, in a very relaxed atmosphere with a distinct international feel. Ambiance is important but quality wines are what we were there for- we were not disappointed.
Marthijn welcomed us in to his shop and his enthusiasm and passion for wines was present as he talked about each and every wine giving us some interesting information. We were provided with a sheet of paper with the wine details, year, prices and an order list. I used my paper to jot down my thoughts on each wine. In a three hour period people wandered in and out, they were welcomed like old friends. You were free to sample and enjoy the different wines at your own leisure in whichever order you desired. There was no strict rules over sniffing the wines or spitting them out, although I guess you could if you wanted...

This time we were focusing on Italian wines, 5 whites, 4 reds and 3 dessert. The prices ranged between 8euro and 32euro.
White wines:

Casale Marchese
Frascati Superiore 2008 doc

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 'Classico Superiore '2007 doc

Fiao di Avellino 2008 docg

Falanghina 2008 IGT

Feudo Antico
Tullum 2008 doc

Red wines:

Negroamaro del Salento 2008 IGT

Primitivo del Salento IGT

Valpolicella Superiore- metodo Ripasso- 2005 doc

Amarone della Valpolicella 2006 doc

Dessert wines:

San Giovanni
Offida Passerina Passito 2002 doc

Cantina Lavorata
Greco di Bianco 2007

Anèr, Vino Passito Rosso

To accompany the wine Marthijn put together two old friends 'wine and cheese' and provided us with an interesting selection of cheeses. Types ranging from goats to soft 'brie style' cheese, and hard 'gran padano style'. Not just Italian cheeses but also from Texel, Holland and France. The cheeses paired well and complimented the wines beautifully and was served with fresh bread.

I just closed my eyes and for a moment I was back in Bella Italia. My personal favourite wines were Casale Marchese Frascati Superiore 2008 at 10euro a bottle and Fontenera Primitivo del Salento at 8euro a bottle.
I guess I still have a lot to learn since I favoured the cheaper wine, but I could also appreciate the more expensive Montezovo Amarone della Valpolicella 2006.
If it is good wines with personal service you are looking for then I would certainly suggest you call in to Porte Reffe. Marthijn is ready and willing to share his knowledge and advise you on a perfect choice.
I would also recommend becoming a Club Member, it seems like a pretty good deal to me. A good and accommodating wine supplier. A monthly evening out sampling fine wines with good conversation. Especially if you are new to the Netherlands it is a great way of meeting new people.
I'm certainly considering becoming a regular, who knows maybe I will see you there?
*2011: Porte Reffe has now moved from the Javastraat to new premises. The address is Vlierboomstraat 582 - 584
2564 JN Den Haag
Please contact Marthijn via his website for actual information on becoming a club member, the prices/conditions may have changed.

zaterdag 9 januari 2010

These are a few of my favorite things

Welcome to 2010.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with plenty of laughter, cheer and good food.
For Christmas dinner I cooked a traditional 'Sunday roast beef'.
Starter: Creamy leek, potato and celery soup with a topping of smoked mackerel.
Two roasts with balsamic and red wine sauce/gravy.
Roast fennel/ parsnips/ carrots/butternut squash and red onion.
Brussel sprouts with walnut and cranberries and thyme.
Yorkshire puddings.
Roast potatoes.
Sausages wrapped in bacon.
Dessert: Christmas pudding with steamed pears and cream.
We quickly had to pack in because we were leaving early the next morning for England.
I was looking forward to seeing family but also to visiting the local supermarkets!
When I came to Holland I missed many English foods that were just not available here. Times have changed and now practically everything is obtainable, at the local supermarket, online or in the English shop in Leiden. I have also, to some degree adapted and have found similar Dutch products that equally meet my needs.
Initially the selection in the Dutch supermarkets were very limited. I remember there being two flavour crisps available ready salted and paprika! I have noticed the Dutch have become more open to foreign foods (other than Suriname or Indonesian) and now the shelves are full with many package foods (the Dutch love their packaged foods) tempting us to try new dishes. (I did notice in the English supermarkets the availability of many fresh ready for the oven meals. Especially suitable for people living alone. It couldn't be easier!)
Almost every Dutch supermarket now offers a selection of English and American foods and there are almost as many pasta shapes and colours available as in Italy.
But put me in an English supermarket and I still feel like a child in a candy shop. I still bring a wide range of products with me from England.
This time it was Tea (no matter how many Dutch teas claim to be English ONLY the tea purchased (albeit without strings) in England hits the spot.
Real pickled onions!
Mince pies, malt loaf and biscuits.
Marmite- the large jar beats those silly mini jars available here.
English chocolate- forget Belgium chocolate- I like the rich creaminess of English chocolate. Quality Street, Roses, Maltesers, Dime, Double Decker (my childhood favourite candy bar), Crunchie and a box of chocolate Terry's All Gold (milk chocolate).
Oxo and Bisto- for the best gravy ever.
Condensed milk.
Salt and vinegar crisps, and Twiglets (with yeast extract-similar to Marmite)
Stuffing mix- yes you can make your own but handy to have.
Birds custard powder- I just like it better.
Harltley's Jelly- for vodka jelly shots, or English trifle or just a fancy for childhood treat.
Clotted cream- in a jar for a special occasion.
Patak garlic pickle- a most wonderful pickle for spicing up a sandwich, pizza or curry. This sporadically available here in the Toko's and I have found the only supermarket to stock it in England- Waitrose (the posh supermarket!). I usually empty the shelves. This time it was just three!
Alka-Seltzer- for those occasions when you have over indulged on food or drink!
Colman's Mustard powder- the strong stuff for clearing your sinuses.
Dr Oeter almond and vanilla natural extracts- (unlike the artificial ones available here)
Angostura bitters- after much searching I found this on the shelf at Sainsbury's. Great for use in (alcoholic) cocktails but also for soups, salads, puddings.
Monin pure sugar cane- for making your very own Mojito (white rum) cocktails. Unfortunately Monin Grenadine Syrup (the real Grenadine for cocktail and dessert making) was out of stock.
Cheeses, sausages and joints of meat.

And last but not least, my prize catch this time were two bottles of oils. A pity that I couldn't visit any famers markets but I discovered on the shelf at Tesco's:
Organic Rapeseed Oil £2.85 1 litre. I became fascinated by this product after my many visits to England, watching with fascination the fields of brightly yellow flowers for as far as the eye could see. Nigella is also very taken with it and I was determined to find some too. Interestingly enough it is linked with both positive as negative health properties. It can reduce cholesterol levels, but possibly can have adverse effects on asthma and hay-fever sufferers.
Here you can read a little more about rapeseed oil from a fellow blogger.
My oil is slightly cloudy and not overly yellow, similar to the Arachis (peanut) oil I sometimes use. I find the taste very light and subtle. I think it will be equally as good for use in cooking as a substitute for mild olive oil that I generally use.
Grapeseed Oil- £3.10 1 litre. We are used to consuming grapes in the form of wine but did you know about the by-product of wine making? A green edible vegetable oil that is extracted from the grapeseed. And what is more, after developing seedless varieties of grapes to appease difficult consumers, researchers are now discovering that many of the health properties of grapes may actually come from the seeds themselves! They have many beneficial health properties (and possibly anti-disease properties) and are especially high in antioxidants.
Grapeseed oil can be used in dressings as well as cooking (being very heat stable). It has a pleasant but delicate taste, that won't overpower delicate foods like extra virgin oil sometimes can, I think it would be great for making mayonaise.
I also bought back Strongbow cider and Guinness beer. Luckily cider has recently become available here, but I saw cider on offer at a price I couldn't refuse!
I normally bring other goodies back such as Branston Pickle, mint sauce and even disinfectant but I still had a supply. I am very happy with my purchases and can't wait until my next trip.
If you ask me what the one thing is that I can't do without then it has to be salt and vinegar crisps, every now and then I get an overpowering urge for this flavour crisps. Yes you can buy Pringles in AH but they just don't compare to the real McCoy, or Walkers.
I always get a kick of visiting foreign supermarkets and with a bit of luck, I will very shortly be browsing the supermarkets of Natal, Brazil!