Come and Dine at Downton

wine and Highclere Castle

As you may know from previous posts, Husband has partnered on a number of projects with Lord and Lady Carnarvon[1], owners of Highclere Castle, aka the Real Downton Abbey. This means that we periodically get to visit our friends across the Pond and enjoy time in their wonderful home. The stunning Castle is like a step back in time. Walking in for the first time, I was astounded to realize how well I knew the interior of their home – it’s because virtually all Downton did was remove their personal photos. All the furniture is theirs!

Lady Carnarvon is now opening her home to the public and wants YOU to come and dine at Downton too! She’s running a contest for the month of February in order to raise money for PBS. All you have to do is throw a FABULOUS dinner party, inspired by Highclere and Downton Abbey, raise some funds to donate and enter to win. The winners will be flown to the UK, courtesy of Viking River Cruises, stay the night at Highclere[2], and enjoy a FABULOUS dinner party with Lord and Lady Carnarvon[3].

Highclere Castle
Highclere Castle lit up for a dinner party!

Husband and I are planning our soirée now[4] using recipes from Lady Carnarvon’s latest book, At Home At Highclere. We made her famous chocolate pots for Thanksgiving and they were a huge hit! There’s recipe ideas on her blog as well. Let me know if you’re going to enter and we can chat about party planning!

Chocolate Pots
Lady Carnarvon’s Chocolate Pots

Now on to arranging a menu and wine pairing! Until the next glass!

wine and Highclere Castle
I needed some vino inspiration!

Lawyer Footnotes

[1] Highclere Castle Cigars, which are now available throughout the US, Highclere Castle Gin, which is getting ready for production, and a Highclere Castle Distillery, which is in the works!

[2] Perhaps in Lady Mary’s room where poor Mr. Pamuk died from utter bliss?!

[3] Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m pretty sure that Wine Esquire should be on the guest list for this event. #ToDoList

[4] Fascinators will be required. Obviously.

Highclere Castle
Dressed up for dinner at Highclere Castle

Lovely, Bubbly London

Wine London Clos Maggiore

I daresay, a good adventure or two is always in order. Husband and I seem to manage a few each year, and our most recent little jaunt to London was the perfect way to start off 2018. Our first trip away from Baby got off to a fantastic start; I passed my terrible head cold to Little Man, resulting in his first multi-day fever, complete with cough, runny nose and extremely unusual[1] lack of sleep. As we passed him off to Grandma, my heartstrings were strung quite taut. But alas, the show must go on, eh?[2]

The plane ride across the Pond was virtually empty, enabling me to stretch out over an entire row and promptly conk out[3]. The overnight flight to Europe is really the best way to go, and we arrived in London in the morning, somewhat bright eyed and ready to start our day. The sideways rain that greeted us, however, made it impossible to enjoy our 24 hours outside. Lucky for us, we were staying at The Goring, London’s last family-owned boutique hotel, beloved by the Queen, the Middleton’s[4], and now, Wine Esquire. It is nothing but elegance and class. The doormen donning smart bowler hats created a canopy of umbrellas from our Uber to the front door, and the red liveried footmen whisked away our bags lickety split[5].

The Goring, London
The Goring, London

The cozy bar and lounge proved the perfect place to nurse my sniffles with a glass (or three) of the Ayala Brut Majeur, the Goring’s private Cuvée[6], and the extensive Scotch selection kept Husband entertained for a few hours. Filled with overstuffed couches, low leather chairs and a massive fireplace, the Lounge feels like your dear old friend’s living room[7], making it ideal for pre-lunch bubbly, post-dinner Scotch, sweet nightcaps, and of course, a final cuppa tea.

The Goring
Bubbles in the Lounge at the Goring

We did eventually venture out in the rain to eat and drink[8], and our first stop was the famed Gordon’s Wine Bar near Covent Garden. This underground bar has been serving glasses of wine to Londoners for more than 100 years, and is London’s oldest wine bar. Yellowed newspaper clippings about the Queen’s Coronation, her and Phillip’s 25th wedding anniversary, and the official Christening portraits of Prince William and Prince George adorn the cavernous walls[9]. The half bottle of Côtes du Rhône was lovely paired with our gorgeous selection of bread and cheese[10]. Inconveniently, I left my perfectly lovely wide brimmed hat behind, and when I went back to try and retrieve it, I was disappointed to find it had already departed. Ah, woe is me[11].

Wine at Gordon's Wine Bar, London
Half Bottle at Gordon’s

On our way to dinner we made a quick stop to Trafalgar Square[12], one of our favorite locations in London, if not the world. Lord Nelson standing atop his column, overlooking the city, Parliament, Big Ben and the River, with all of England’s treasures in the National Gallery right behind him is a truly awe-inspiring site[13].

We arrived for dinner at Clos Maggiore, which professes to be the world’s most romantic restaurant. It turns out it takes about a year to get a reservation in the Conservatory Room, and though our hotel concierge tried, we were relegated to the small dining area outside the famed flowery chamber[14]

Even without the exquisite ambience of the Conservatory, the restaurant was beautiful. Small, intimate and quite cozy. The menu was tantalizing, with several tasting menu options as well as à la carte dining. We started with the pumpkin soup, topped with toasted pine nuts. Holy Soup! The frothy texture had us licking our lips, and the flavors were out of this world. The chicken leg stuffed with foie gras and truffle was too good for Husband to pass up, and I relished a bit of goat cheese baked in homemade angel hair[15].

wine London
Fine dining with a bottle of Burgundy

The 100+ page wine list featuring more than 2,500 wines was a bit daunting, but Clos Maggiore’s sommelier team is made up of Burgundy lovers, and they conveniently had a list highlighting some of their more affordable options[16]. I chose the 2014 Domaine Lucien Boillot Gevrey Chambertin, and our Sommelier confirmed it would pair well with both of our meals. Light, cherry, lots of leather and beautiful soft tannins. The wine glasses were exquisite in their own right, and it was a truly lovely bottle for my first real red Burgundy.

Wine London Clos Maggiore
Burgundy in London

In an unlikely turn of events, we said no to dessert and headed back out into the London air. The rain continued to hold off and we found ourselves walking along the River Thames[17], admiring the London Eye, and bemoaning the construction that will leave Big Ben hidden under scaffolding for the next few years. We made our way back to The Goring and relaxed in the Lounge for a bit before finally retiring for the night.

London Eye
The London Eye

We breakfasted the next morning in the hotel’s Michelin-starred dining room on a feast of croissants, fruit, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, Lincolnshire ham and of course, English Breakfast Tea. After a quick walk ‘round Buckingham, which is just steps from the hotel, we were off on our way to a weekend at Highclere Castle with our friends Lord and Lady Carnarvon[18]. Fabulous parties ensued.

Highclere Castle Downton Abbey

Until the next glass!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] Knock on wood, Little Man has been such a great sleeper from day one. Of course, the day we leave, he ends his months long sleep-through-the-night streak, just in time to properly wear Grandma out!
[2] Seriously though Grandma, we owe you one!
[3] Who needs first class when you’ve got coach to yourself? Mmmmm, I do. British Airways take note: I’m ready for my upgrade on the next leg of the journey!!
[4] They booked the entire hotel for three days before The Wedding, and it’s where Kate spent her last night as a Commoner.
[5] According to David Morgan-Hewitt, the Goring’s legendary managing director, “Everyone has butlers – but people with real style have footmen.” #truth
[6] Served out of a magnum from a large, well-stocked, silver champagne bucket which permanently sits atop the bar.
[7] You know that friend of yours with the lovely London town house with antique furnishings passed down from their great Grandmama? Don’t have one of those? Oh, right, sorry.
[8] Obviously, because #priorities.
[9] Cleary, this is my kind of wine bar. #royal
[10] St. Nectaire, Manchego and Stilton, served on a wooden board with mayonnaise, jelly and pickled onions. Of course. #WineAndCheeseIsLife
[11] I think what this really means is that I need to buy a new hat.
[12] The rain had thankfully stopped, though perhaps this is why I didn’t notice I’d left my hat at Gordon’s. ☹
[13] #InsertPictureHere. But did I take one? No. #amateur
[14] In fact, I chose not to go in to take a look so as not to ruin the beautiful memory we had. We’ll just have to book it out in advance for next time, for we certainly will be back.
[15] The goat cheese was my attempt at eating light given my continued head cold. #fitfam
[16] Alas, we regretfully decided to forego the £23,100 bottle of Romanée-Conti. Maybe next time.
[17] Pronounced “Temz”, not “Thames” like the river at home in Connecticut.
[18] Have you red her blog yet? It’s a lovely insight into daily life at the Castle and such a fun read!

Making A Simple Dinner Fancy

 

Because that’s how Wine Esquire rolls.

It’s winter. It’s cold. Are you bored yet? I’m getting there. It was Saturday morning and we were preparing for our first proper blizzard by throwing a soup together in the crockpot. We took our Inaugural Blizzard Walk[1] with the neighbors and so we decided to throw an impromptu dinner party.

Split Pea Soup is a favorite of ours. Not only is it classic, but it’s cheap. For less than $10, we had a gourmet soup ready to go. For your convenience, here are the detailed instructions:

Husband’s Not So Secret Blizzard Split Pea Soup Recipe

(serves 4 with one leftover portion for lunch)

1 pound split peas
Handful of baby carrots
½ yellow onion
3 garlic cloves
2 stalks celery
1 bay leaf
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
2 cups water
1 ham steak

Rinse the peas, chop the veggies and throw everything together in the bottom of a crock pot. Sear the ham steak in a cast iron skillet and throw it on top. Add the bay leaf, then salt and pepper to taste. Set the Crock on low for 8 hours and let it simmer. Voila! Fancy dinner!

We’d ventured out earlier in the day[2] and picked up some Portuguese raisin rolls in our travels. Husband grilled them up in the cast iron skillet and we served them with some super simple fancy homemade butter.

Super Simple Fancy Homemade Butter

(serves four – no leftovers, we practically licked the bowl clean)

½ stick butter
½ tsp honey
Pinch or 2 of sea salt (Fleur De Sel[3] if you have it)

Soften the butter in the microwave then add honey and salt and mix it up. The butter shouldn’t be pure liquid, but it should be easy to mix up. Scoop it all up, spoon it into a fancy dish[4] and chill in the freezer for 15 minutes prior to serving.

It’s a shame pea soup just doesn’t photograph well. It was delicious.

We broke out the wedding china, some nice crystal glasses and had ourselves a fancy dinner party. It’s absolutely true that food tastes better when it’s served on beautiful dishes, especially when your soup tureen is sitting on a silver platter. After all, what’s a little hand-washing among friends?[5]

Silver Platter’s Make Everything Better

Now, for the important part. We paired our winter feast with a bottle of The Sum by the Seventy Five Wine Company. A great red blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petite Syrah, 10% Syrah. Definitely fruity; the raspberry jam is out in full force. A great smooth mouthfeel, a touch on the lighter side with a nice dry finish. A great wine to warm you up on a cold winter’s eve with a bowl of good soup and a hunk of good bread.

Vino Vino Vino

The Seventy Five Wine Company was founded in, you guessed it, 1975. The back label recites all the epic and noteworthy events from that year. It was the year Bill Gates founded Microsoft, Saturday Night Live aired their first episode, Charlie Chaplin was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, and of course, the Beckstoffer family set up shop in Napa Valley.

Vino Vino Vino

The 2013 was a touch young; it could certainly be laid down for a while to let it mature and develop, but it’s a great drinker now too. The label is fun, and the bottle itself is a heavy clunker that makes you feel like you’re about to be drinking a rich, deep wine. You can grab a bottle for between $20-$25 throughout the US, so give it whirl and let me know what you think!

Until the next glass!
Cheers!

Lawyer Footnotes

[1] The Inaugural Blizzard Walk started several winters ago when Husband had the ingenious idea to walk around during a blizzard when everyone else is sanely snuggled up in front of their fireplace. It’s quite fun actually, seeing everything peaceful, quiet and white. It’s even better when you bring a flask with you. Just sayin’.
[2] Yes, in the blizzard. I really needed some yarn. What can I say? Me and the two old ladies at Hobby Lobby weren’t afraid of a little snow.
[3] Translated to “Flower of Salt”, this sodium variety comes from the hand-harvested salt crystals which float on the surface of salt water as it evaporates. Used as a garnish instead of as an ingredient, it is the most difficult salt to harvest, and therefore the most expensive. Fancy, huh? We recently acquired a jar at the Weekend Kitchen, a whimsical little kitchen shop in Essex, the cutest little town in America.
[4] You know, to make it fancy.
[5] Full disclosure, I’m so Type A I won’t let anyone else wash my china. Just in case. #RetiredPattern

What to Drink: Thanksgiving Edition

There’s a few important things coming up on the calendar:

  1. T-Minus TEN days until Turkey Day[1]
  2. T-Minus ELEVEN days until Black Friday[2]
  3. T-Minus FOURTEEN days until Cyber Monday[3]
Because Bubbly is always a good idea! (c) Vinley Market
Because Bubbly is always a good idea! (c) Vinley Market

There’s a lot to do to prepare in the coming days, arguably the most important of which is deciding which wines you’ll be pairing with your Thanksgiving Feast[4]. I’ve teamed up with Vinley Market to discuss what wines go best with turkey, Grandma’s Stuffing and Aunt Mary’s Sweet Potato Casserole. I’m thinking that Zinfandel, Rosé and Riesling should all be making appearances. And if you’re not hosting, you should probably bring a bottle of bubbly![5]

Check out my Thanksgiving Wine Pairings and let me know what you’ll be drinking this Turkey Day.

And while you’re at it, get 10% off your wine order at Vinley Market with coupon code WINEESQUIRE10.

Until the next glass, Cheers!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] That means its T-MINUS TEN days and a few hours until 24/7 Christmas Music! YAY
[2] Also, another day off work. #score
[3] Is your Amazon Wish List ready? Mine is. #alwaysready
[4] Or Friendsgiving Feast, as the case may be.
[5] Obviously.

Place Setting Goals (c) Vinly Market
Place Setting Goals (c) Vinley Market