Dinner à la Downton

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

Remember how I planned to throw a fabulous dinner party? Because Lady Carnarvon is hosting a special contest during the month of February that involves throwing fabulous dinner parties inspired by Downton Abbey and winning a trip to dine at Highclere Castle[1]. Well, it turns out that throwing fabulous dinner parties are a lot harder when you have to Lawyer all day AND have a little baby laying around[2].

So, Husband and I gathered a small group of friends, teamed up with a local chef and asked HIM to throw us a fabulous dinner party. All the fun without the work[3]. We picked several recipes from Lady Carnarvon’s book, At Home At Highclere, and had Chef Steve use them as inspiration: Venison, John Dory Fish, Cauliflower and Caviar, Gooseberry Fool for dessert, and of course, some good English Stilton.

When we reached out to Chef Steve at Cavey’s[4] and threw this idea at him, we gave him ample notice. A full 36 hours. So the John Dory fish course had to be scrapped, since apparently John Dory fish tend to be found on the coasts of Africa, South East Asia, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and Europe. But not America. Turns out that flying in John Dory fish on less than 24 hours’ notice is not realistic[5].

Dine at Downton
Chilled English Bubbles

To start the festivities, we broke out a bottle of English Bubbly that I’d smuggled back from our last trip.[6] This particular bottle of Brut was produced for Marks & Spencer[7] by Chapel Down winery, which I just read likely supplied the wine at Kate and Wills’ nuptials[8], and are rumored to be doing the same for little bro Harry and his lady love, Ms. Markle. This one was lovely; hints of green apple surrounded the bready, crisp bubbles. A perfect apéritif to begin the evening.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

The Dinner

Thick, rich and creamy cauliflower purée, surrounded by tiny cauliflower florets, is the only way I want to start dinner parties going forward. This first course was truly divine. And did I mention it was topped with a dollop of caviar for good measure[9]? Just divine.

Dine at Downton

To complement the cauliflower and caviar, George[10], our server for the evening, expertly chose for us a bottle of 2008 Chablis Gran Cru Les Preuses by Vignoble Dampt, a Burgundian winery with about 96 acres of vineyard in Tonnerre and Chablis[11]. This Chardonnay was exquisite, a slight hint of lemongrass with a lovely, subdued minerality. Smooth and sleek, it made the cauliflower and caviar pop.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

George selected another bottle of Burgundy for the main course, a 2009 Savigny-lès-Beaune 1ER Cru Rouge Les Vergelesses by Domaine Françoise André. One hundred percent pinot noir grapes hand-harvested from 40-year-old vines, this was an excellent vintage. Some blackberry jam on the nose, followed by an almost vanilla finish. Soft and juicy, this was truly gorgeous. And what we paired it with was just as stunning. Chef Steve’s Venison à la Forestière[12] was a culinary masterpiece; so juicy and tender you could almost cut it with a fork. The venison medallions were expertly seared with a blend of sea salt and spices; the perfectly red centers were a mouth-watering feat.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

Next came the cheese. And not just any cheese, but good old fashioned English Stilton, accompanied by an orange marmalade and delicate toast points. With a 1997 bottle of Warre’s Vintage Port. Holy taste bud overload. A big, complex bouquet of figs, plums and even a hint of vanilla.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

And last, but certainly not least, was the Gooseberry Fool. Fruit fools are traditional English desserts made with stewed fruits and sweet custards. Gooseberries are in the same family as blackcurrants and are a touch on the tart side. Chef Steve used English cream and Greek yogurt in this Fool, and with the sweet vanilla biscuits that accompanied it, our sweet cravings were more than satisfied. A few of our party rounded out the evening with a snifter of Remy Martin XO Cognac. I stuck to a foamy cappuccino.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

I must say, I felt very much like Lady Mary drinking such fine wines and dining in such style in our own private dining room. Even without the John Dory fish, our Downton Dinner Party was incredible. Chef Steve nailed the Downton-inspired dishes LIKE A BOSS. And the foot of snow that fell while we were eating didn’t stop us from retiring to the Library for a few Highclere Castle Cigars. Naturally.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

Until the next glass, or fabulous dinner party, Cheers!

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle

Lawyer Footnotes

[1] The REAL Downton Abbey.

[2] There’s a whole lot of laying going on over here. In between eating, pooping, crying, diaper changing, playing, tummy time, and sitting. And then we start it all over again. #busybaby

[3] #winning

[4] Cavey’s Restaurant has been a local staple since 1933 when they opened as a sandwich and ice cream shop. They’ve since transformed into one of the area’s classic fine-dining options and Chef Steve Cavagnaro is the third generation to continue the tradition.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle
Our Private Dining Room at Cavey’s

[5] Can’t imagine why. #FedEx

[6] If you haven’t had English bubbly yet, you’ve got to try and get a bottle. Because they’re producing so little, it’s difficult to find as they’re drinking most of what they make in England. Just another reason why I should be living Across the Pond.

[7] A fine purveyor of spirits, clothes, groceries and home furnishings. I don’t think we have anything like it in the US.


[9] Because, YOLO.

[10] Pronounced Jôrj, with an accent, because George is from Champagne.

[11] Chablis is actually a location and NOT a varietal, as I may or may not have known before writing this blog post.

[12] Meaning “of the forest,” it often refers to poultry or game served with potatoes and wild mushrooms.

Dine at Downton Highclere Castle
Not too shabby

A Proper Wine Blog

I would like to thank Little Man, not only for taking two[1] great naps yesterday, but for having an excellent independent play session this morning which allowed me to drink some wine and write this blog.

It seems like its been awhile since I actually blogged about wine. I’m not gonna lie, wine consumption is WAY down since Little Man joined us. It’s difficult to stay awake past 9 pm, let alone have a glass of wine at night after he goes to sleep. And my palate really is different. Flavors aren’t jumping out at me like they did before, and I’m much more comfortable drinking low-key, smooth wines rather than big, complex and tannic ones[2].

And surprisingly, I’ve been much more into beer. During my pregnancy I didn’t crave much in terms of food, but I DID crave beer. All I wanted was a big frothy Guinness. Not a glass of wine, not a bottle of Champagne, but Guinness. So random, I know. I’ve indulged in that a few times, but you can really only drink so many pints of Guinness before it’s a bit overwhelming[3].

So slowly[4] but surely, I’m getting back in the swing of things. And I decided to do a proper wine blog about a lovely bottle of Riesling I’ve been saving.

2012 Gustave Lorentz Lieu-Dit Burg Riesling
2012 Gustave Lorentz Lieu-Dit Burg Riesling

To:                  Alleged Blog Readers
From:              Wine Esquire
Date:               February 10-11, 2018
Wine:              2012 Gustave Lorentz Lieu-Dit Burg Riesling[5]

Beautiful nose, it smells thick and juicy, full of flavor. Great mouthfeel too, medium bodied, it refreshingly coats your mouth. I’m getting pineapple like crazy, but not too sweet, a hint of green apple too. A dash of minerality rounds this out for a perfect finish. The color is gorgeous; like thick, golden honey. Not much in the way of legs, it almost coats the glass then disappears like condensation without any tears left behind.

I could seriously do with some cheese on apple slices to pair with this, but Little Man is napping and I only have so much time 😉

This Riesling from Alsace, France by producer Gustave Lorentz, specifically their 2012 Lieu-Dit[6] Burg Riesling. The Maison Gustave Lorentz has been making wine since 1836, beginning with a 33 hectare[7] vineyard in Bergheim, in the heart of Alsace, just half an hour from the German border. Now, six generations later, the same family continues their winemaking tradition. The wines of Gustave Lorentz are certified organic by Ecocert[8] and have been since 2012. The estate grown Riesling, Pinot-Gris, Gewurztraminer, Muscat and Pinot Noir are all harvested and vinified separately, allowing each grape to express the unique terroir from which it hails.

This bottle came to me as a sample[9] from Quintessential Wines, a Napa-based importer with a  focus on multi-generational, family owned-and-operated wineries, and their portfolio is pretty impressive.

Feels like spring!

This particular vintage seems particularly difficult to get your hands on at the moment, but other offerings from this winemaker are widely available online and throughout the US.

Until the next glass, Cheers!

Lawyer Footnote

[1] Yes, TWO both for over an hour and a half! This is from the boy who went the previous 48 hours with only sporadic 30-minute naps. (Except at night when he sleeps 10 hours at a clip. I know, I know, I’m so lucky)

[2] I’ve also not had much time to sit down and explore flavors. Can’t imagine why.

[3] And filling! I can see why they call it a “meal in a glass!”

[4] Very slowly.

[5] This particular vintage earned a 91 score from Wine Enthusiast.

[6] Lieu Dit translates to “said location” and is a wine term used for identifying very small and particular geographical locations. Not to be confused with the California winery Lieu Dit. (Confession: I was confused. As a trademark attorney, I may have pushed the California guys toward another name. #lawyerlife)

[7] 1 hectare is equal to approximately 2.47105 acres; so 33 hectares is approximately 81.5448 acres.

[8] When you see this little green label flag on European wines, you’ll know its certified organic by Ecocert.

ecocert organic wine
Ecocert Organic

[9] Opinions contained herein are my own. If I didn’t like it, I would have poured it down the drain and saved you the trouble of reading this.

wine blog
Welcome to my office

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!