Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Great Gifts for Wine Lovers

Most people I know enjoy a glass of wine.  Some like a glass now and then, some share a bottle every night, some know what they're talking about, some think they do and others are so sure they do they'll bore you to tears.

It doesn't change the fact that finding gifts for wine lovers is easy; finding gifts they'll actually enjoy and use is not so.  So you need to know who you're dealing with - from the afficionado to the simple wine enjoyer.

This is a selection of gifts - from Le Creuset's simple to use and beautifully made waiter's friend to Coravin's super sophisticated wine system that allows you to open the bottle without really opening it.

You really can't go wrong with the Le Creuset waiter's friend.  It looks nice and does the job it's intended for perfectly.  If you know someone who would prefer something that requires much less effort, consider giving them the Joseph Joseph winding handle corkscrew which is incredibly easy to use.

Finally there's Vinology's Deluxe Electric Corkscrew which comes with a built in foil cutter and is charged and ready to open the first 50 bottles.  Perfect for a party?  I would think so.

Of course there are thousands of corkscrews on the market, however these are three from classic to innovative, not over priced and all of which will open your bottles with ease.

 Most wine lovers have at least one decanter, probably several, so you need to be a bit careful when you add to their collection.  My favourite, although it's quite tricky to clean is Riedel's Amadeo Decanter - a talking point at any table and beautiful when you're using it and when you're not.

Then there's the simple Riedel decanter which is excellent for ''entry level' wine decanter collectors and drinkers.  Just a perfect every day option.  Closely followed by the attractive contemporary wide base wine decanter which comes with an oak stopper.

 When it comes to wine gadgets again there are plenty, but here are three you might like to consider.

Coravin's unique needle system lets you leave the cork in place and allows your bottle of wine to remain 'intact' for a long time.  So for those who want to have a special glass from the cellar - Petrus anyone? - without needing to drink the whole bottle this would be a very good, if pricey, gift.

Then there's the wine aerator, which I know for a fact works very well.  Le Creuset's wine aerator, pourer and stopper helps to open up the flavours in your bottle of wine as you pour.  Every wine lover should have at least one of these.

Finally a gift that I was given a couple of days ago and seriously like - there are many wine bottle foil cutters out there, but this one is well made, weighty and makes the task of removing the foil on the top of your wine bottle the work of a second.  Brilliant.

Last but not least there's Hugh Johnson's pocket wine book - indispensable to all wine lovers - an excellent stocking filler and a book that I buy every year.  Then there's the World Atlas of Wine - updated edition, written by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson and which every wine lover should own - just make sure they don't already before you splash out.

For any wine lover a subscription to Decanter makes a great gift.  Again make sure whoever you're thinking of giving it to isn't already signed up.  You have the option of giving the magazine or the digital edition or both and you can now sign up for six months or a year.  For anyone who likes reading up to date articles on wine and accessing Decanter's wine scores, this is an excellent choice.

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Sunday, 27 October 2019

Three Places to Eat Out in Vienna - From a famous Coffee House to one of the World's Best Restaurants

Having just spent ten days in Vienna, mainly for music - and wine - and food I came away having heard the most marvellous performances, drunk some incredible wines I had never come across before, and eaten some great meals.  I have to say I like simple(ish) food, predominantly seafood, and so I found most Austrian cuisine was not quite up my street, particularly Wiener schnitzel and goulash, both of which I know that many adore.

Firstly No visit to Vienna is complete without a visit to the famous Vienna coffee house Schwarzenberg.

'The history of Viennese coffee house culture goes back to the year 1683, when Turkish spoils of war in the form of bags of green beans came into the possession of a spy and coffee became the favourite drink of the Viennese. Gradually, establishments under the name of Viennese coffee house were opened up and became a popular meeting place.'

At historic cafe Schwarzenberg you can go for just a coffee, for hot chocolate, for lunch and/or for dinner.  It is always full.  If you're clever you'll reserve one of the window tables.  If you're not you'll end up queuing outside.  Originally built in 1861 - read the full history here - Cafe Schwarzenberg is the best known of all of the coffee houses.  It's close to everything cultural from the Staatsoper to the Musikverein and also very close to all the famous hotels and the shopping district.  Pay a visit.  have a coffee and reserve your table to lunch the next day.

Restaurant Steirereck.  No 10 in the list of The World's top 50 Restaurants, holder of two Michelin Stars, you can expect to part with a lot of money here but come away happy.  The service, as you'd expect, is superb, the food out-of-this-world delicious and the wines outstanding.  Start with a glass of their in house Blanc de Blancs unless you want serious bubbles, then try a delicious Pichler Gruner Veltliner and go from there.  This is one of the best restaurants I've ever been to and well worth a visit.

Finally a restaurant that I visited once on this trip but if I went to Vienna again I would definitely go more than one time.  Restaurant Paul, at  Johannesgasse 16, 1010 Wien, is a restaurant I can definitely recommend.  The food is excellent as is the service and you can drink superb Austrian wines that won't break the bank.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

60,000 Bottles of Wine, 6 Wine Cellars - A Visit to Palais Coburg Vienna

Yesterday I was lucky enough to have a private tour of the Palais Coburg wine cellars, which house 60,000 bottles (give or take) of wines from a double magnum of Romanee-Conti 2004 to 1845 Tokaji to 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild to Sassicaia, Sine Qua Non and beyond.  I'm sure there are more reasonably priced and more every-day bottles in this incredible series of wine rooms which serve the luxury all-suite hotel that the Palais Coburg has become, but I have to confess I passed them by.

'The Palais Coburg was originally owned by the Kohary branch of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.  Designed in 1839 by architect Karl Schleps in Neoclassical style, and built from 1840 to 1845 by Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha atop the Braunbastei (Brown Bastion), a part of the Vienna city defences dating to 1555. It is nicknamed the Spargelburg ("castle of asparagus") for its central portico with many freestanding columns.' 

The palatial hotel has 33 suites and it was the venue for the historic Iran nuclear deal reached on 14 July 2015.

Inside you can see a map of the original walled city on the floor near the entrance, plus some of the original walls, down near the cellars.  Click here to read the full history of the Palais Coburg.  Down in the wine cellars there are different cellars for French Wines, New World Wines, Old World Wines, Chateau d'Yquem, Rare Wines, and Champagne.  Inevitably after one tour of all of these wonders you really need a lie down or a strong drink - there is so much to take in.




Highlights for me were the superb bottles of Chateau d'Yquem, the Chateau Mouton Rothschild, particularly the 1945 and 1982, the collection of venerable Austrian wines and surprisingly some very rare (and very expensive) bottles of Sine Qua Non from California.

Having visited several of the excellent wine stores in Vienna, where you can actually buy the wine and take it away with you, as opposed to drinking these legendary wines in one of the two restaurants at the Palais Coburg or at one of their events I saw many excellent wines, some expensive, some very reasonably priced, from Spain, Italy, France and Austria (and managed to taste quite a few, coming up next).

However I have never seen a collection such as this one and if you're a wine lover and you visit Vienna you should try and see this legendary collections of the greatest wines in the world.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Three of the Best Wine Stores in Los Angeles

Searching out the best wine stores has become a particular favourite pastime as I travel to places in Europe and the US.  Some are wonderful, some are ok and some you won't find out about from me.

Recently in LA I discovered three superb wine stores.  I'm know there are more and on my next visit I'll be there, but for the moment these are my favourites:

K & L Wines at 1400 Vine Street, Hollywood Los Angeles, where you definitely do need signposts. The selection is superb, and there's plenty of helpful, friendly and knowlegable staff on hand when you get lost as you undoubtedly will. 

From a bottle (or several) of Dom Perignon #champagne at $169 to a case of 2018 Rombauer Carneros #Chardonnay (my daughter's favourite) at the best price going you can find absolutely everything here. I felt a little bit like Alice in Wonderland and need to go back as soon as possible.

One of the best known wine stores in California—K&L Wine Merchants—also happens to be one of the best known stores in the United States. Actually there are three K & L Merchants in the Golden State, (Redwood City, San Francisco and Hollywood) though the store’s reach has a lot to do with its website—as well as its famously knowledgeable staff' If you want to look up anything about pretty much any wine, this is the place to come, to

Imagine a wall of wines, and then imagine several - I didn't count, but Wally's wine store, gourmet food store and restaurant in Beverly Hills (and there's another in Santa Monica) offers a feast in every sense. The sheer volume of wines on offer is superb and there's uber knowledgeable help everywhere.

Wally’s Beverly Hills is a hybrid retail, restaurant, and wine bar space that marries the store’s retail roots with the luxury sensibilities of co owners the Marcianos, whose Guess brand had established itself, nearly 40 years earlier, as one of the great progenitors of bling couture, and original longtime president Vincent Navarro.

The walls are lined floor to ceiling with wine displays, some back-lit to give the impression of a temple or shrine, especially at night. Sumptuous displays of specialty foods, including caviar and, truffles (when available), are prominently featured.

There are 120 wines available by the glass at Wally’s locations at any given time. The selection exemplifies Navarro’s desire to mix the upscale with the casual, with BTG prices running from $14 (for a Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc) to $599 (for a 2008 Grands-Échézeaux by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti). Guests can order a glass of Prosecco—or a glass of Krug (at the relative bargain price of $39). There are also a number of somewhat rare wines on the BTG list, such as Kumeu River’s Estate Chardonnay from New Zealand ($19) and the red Ao Yun from China’s Yunnan province ($91), alongside icons like Gaja ($69), Opus One ($89), Château Cheval Blanc ($170), and Grange ($225).'

On a walk around Beverly Hills I came across one of the most elegant wine stores - The Wine Merchant @winemerchantbh on Beverly Drive. The Wine Merchant specialises in Californian, French and Italian Wines so if you're after a bottle of New World red don't come here, but if you're looking for #tignanello #petrus or #harlanestate then this is your place. There are far more reasonably priced wines on offer, but a call to the bank manager just in case might not come amiss. .

The Wine Merchant was established in 1969 and is the grand dame of LA wine stores. Slide to see more photos and some of the wines on offer.

Dennis Overstreet, proprietor of the Wine Merchant Beverly Hills accepted his “Five Star – The Best Retailer” in the United States Award for 2006. Overstreet is well known for his strong relationships with Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles residents, as well as his strong affiliations with international clientele and steadfast ties with wine industry moguls throughout Europe and America.

In the mid 70’s Overstreet pioneered the concept of public refrigerated wine storage. His 20,000 square foot facility in West Los Angeles, The Wine Cellar, is the flagship for the wine storage business.

So the next time you're planning a trip to LA you might just like to pop in to one (or all) of these excellent wine destinations. May I suggest breakfast at Wally's, a walk to the Wine Merchant then a trip out (cab or Uber) to Hollywood for K & L Wines.  Then buy a great bottle, go back to your room, relax and take it all in with a glass of something wonderful.  Sounds like a great day out to me.
Next Stop:  The Best Wine Stores in London
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Friday, 30 August 2019

3 of the Best Restaurants in Santa Barbara California from an Italian Feast to Paella Paradise

When you look up the restaurants in Santa Barbara you can pick and choose from any number of highly rated and expensive restaurants.  Look a little deeper to find those you might not have heard of and you'll be in for a feast.  Dining out in Santa Barbara is casual everywhere (at least where I went) so leave the heels behind.

Angel Oak

This restaurant is part of the Ritz Carlton Bacara hotel and is beautifully situated right on the ocean.  Well worth booking in advance after a long day's travel to Santa Barbara - choose a local wine (of which there are many, of course - see next post), some abalone pasta, and enjoy the view and the excellent service.  This is, by the way, the most expensive of the three I'm writing about today because after a long days travel, and just a few steps away from my room, it was paradise.....

Angel Oak Restaurant at the Ritz Carlton Bacara
8301 Hollister Avenue, Santa Barbara, CA 93117
805 571 4220
Book via Open Table.

Toma Italian Restaurant Santa Barbara

One of the most popular restaurants in Santa Barbara don't try to get in to Toma without a reservation.  Serving excellent Italian cuisine such as black spaghetti with shellfish (my favourite) polenta with Puttanesca sauce and on occasion tomato gazpacho with crab and avocado this is a must visit, highly rated, great food, excellent service, you really couldn't ask for much more.  Just book, as I say......

Toma Restaurant and Bar
324 West Cabrillo Blvd.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Book via Google/Open Table

Loquita Santa Barbara

Loquita is another of the most popular restaurants in town - don't come to this marvellous Spanish restaurant if you don't like to share - from the delicious tapas to the excellent paella everything is for sharing.  If you like your sprouts please try one of their tapas starters - Brusela which is brussel sprouts with peanut romesco, chorizo, honey dates and gremolata - it is out of this world.  The paella too is superb with the tenderest chicken and incredibly flavoursome rice, chorizo and gigante beans.

Loquita Restaurant - book ahead

202 State Street
Santa Barbara CA 93101
(805) 880 3380
Book via Google/Open Table

With most of the restaurants in Santa Barbara you can eat outside or inside so make sure you know which you prefer and ask in advance.  And as I've said, casual is the order of the day whether daytime dining or evening.

The temperature in Santa Barbara, being so near to the ocean, is usually warm but not boiling in daytime and can cool down quite rapidly in the evening so make sure you take a jacket or wrap with you.  

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

10 Ways to Make a Long Haul Flight Bearable

This is for those who, like me, travel in economy and travel often.  Some of this will still apply to those who turn left when they enter the plane, but for those who are regularly forced to walk right through Business Class when about to take off for a night flight this is for you.  As a regular long haul passenger I’ve worked out how to make it easier and much more comfortable. 
Airline loyalty card
1.  Make sure you’ve joined your chosen airline’s loyalty program – it surprises me that so many don’t bother.  If you fly often you can quickly tot up award miles, and even on the lowest level that can get you, along with extra air miles, priority check-in, priority boarding and the ability to book a premium seat before anyone else.  Go one step up and you get the above plus a free premium seat – on some airlines - an extra bag and entry to the Business Class lounge for international flights. 

Join one airline’s loyalty program then look at the other airlines affiliated to it.  American Airlines for example is affiliated to British Airways and Iberia amongst others.  Always just use one loyalty number whichever airline within the group (such as One World) you’re booking, to ensure you rise through the ranks as quickly as possible.

Antler 4 wheel cabin bag

2.  Have a four wheel lightweight cabin bag plus a tote that sits on top via a 'smart' sleeve or strap.  This just makes getting around the airport and to your seat much easier.  I prefer a cabin bag with a laptop compartment in the front which means you don’t have to open your bag to go through security.  By the way this probably won’t work for some of the budget airlines, but you can get packing for a full weekend away on a mainstream airline in one of these if you get it right.

Liphault Tote Duffle Bag

3.   A lightweight tote with a sleeve that slips on top of the handles of your cabin bag works in so many ways and not just for travel.  My favourite is by Liphault – Selfridges have the best range online.  These not only look good, hold far more than you think they will, and stay attached to your cabin bag but I sit my normal smaller tote/handbag inside plus my shoes once we’ve taken off, slip it under the seat in front and use it as a foot rest particularly at night.

You may get strange looks when you leave the plane with an extra bag (which you’ve removed from your Liphault tote just before landing) but frankly who cares? 

4.  Invest in a good pair of noise cancelling headphones – my headphones of choice for travel are by Bose.  Nothing cancels out the sound of that yelling baby completely but you’ll almost get there.  Make sure you carry a spare battery with you at all times.  I usually also have pair of every-day in ear headphones with me in the case as well to start off and land with so I can be all packed up and ready and yes that probably makes me obsessive but where travel is concerned I like to be totally organised.

You may think ‘ouch those are so expensive’ but if you’re travelling a lot they’re definitely worth the money and a great pair of headphones will  never let you down.  You can use these wireless with bluetooth, or wired if you want to plug into a sound or video system.


5.  The essential portable charger.  I am never to be found without one of these (most likely two).  On some long haul flights all you’ll need is the cable to charge your smartphone/tablet, on other planes, in economy, there’s no power source other than what you bring so don’t take the risk.  This one by Belkin packs 6700 mAh which is enough for a couple of smartphone charges and one iPad charge.  Make sure you’ve charged up your power bank first and don’t forget the cable…………..

Bcozzy Neck Pillow

6.   Get a good, supportive neck pillow.  This one above, the BCozzy chin supporting travel neck pillow is quite simply the best I have every come across and it’s worth every penny so ditch the U shaped ones – which don’t do the job anyway, and invest in one of these. 

Having also spilt coffee all over mine on one flight recently I can tell you it washes and dries to perfection in a machine (dry it on a low heat though).  For night flights and when you want to take a nap you need something that’ll keep you stable no matter how close the person sitting beside you is.  This one is brilliant.  You’ll find my full review here.

7.   Buy some travel socks.  I always put my feet up on my bag – see above – and move around the plane a few times and I don’t find I have a problem putting my shoes back on, however, I would never suggest wearing footwear that is high or restricting.  Sneakers are my footwear of choice.  So when I sit down I take them off, slip them into my tote and my feet into some travel socks.  So much more comfortable for a long flight.  I’ll confess I haven’t yet tried compression socks.  I probably will in the near future.

Travel Eye Mask

8.   Pack an Eye Mask
To keep out the light while you’re taking a nap.  It makes such a difference.  I keep mine in my headphone case.

Mountain Warehouse Fleece Blanket

9.  Take your own travel blanket.  This may sound like overkill but I assure you it isn’t.  Those economy airline blankets are dreadfully thin and will not keep you warm.  If you’re anywhere in the US look out for XpresSpa and buy (or order) one of their fleece travel blankets  – they’re divinely soft and will keep you snug.  Alternatively buy a fleece blanket from Mountain Warehouse – expand your carryon if necessary.  You definitely won’t feel the plane chill and frankly if you’re on a long flight that’s the worst.

10.   If you don’t want to get off the plane looking as if you’ve just got off a plane then treat yourself to a new makeup pouch - unless you already have one and are not one of those who just lets everything sit at the bottom of their tote.

Fill it with the following:  Powder foundation, blush, small retractable brush, eyebrow pencil, eyeliner pencil, lipstick, mini face wipes, travel tooth brush and toothpaste.  The last three you'll find at the airport.  I never go anywhere without these. 

A tip for those who do a lot of long haul travelling is to keep all of this together when you’re at home, preferably ready to go in your wheelie so that all you need to do is get up and go.  This really is long haul travel made so much easier, and you can even arrive looking as fresh as a daisy…..well, hopfully.

Updated 6th August 2019

Friday, 12 July 2019

Five Restaurants in Sussex Worth Making the Journey For

When I originally wrote a post on where to eat in Sussex I only included three restaurants.  They’re all here, plus two more that have been thoroughly tried and tested both for lunch and for dinner.  If you’re planning a stay in Sussex, hiking on the downs, visiting Glyndebourne these are the five I can recommend. 

Gravetye Manor 5

No visit to Sussex is complete without a visit to magical Gravetye Manor, set in exquisite gardens, with lovely rooms and a wonderful new restaurant - you have to visit here.  It doesn’t matter if you’re staying, walking on one of the public footpaths that skirt the grounds or eating in the restaurant this really is a beautiful place.

Gravetye Manor 3Gravetye Manor 4Gravetye Manor 2

The new Michelin Star restaurant makes you feel as if you’re sitting  right in the garden.  I confess, having enjoyed the previous restaurant on many occasions I was worried that the new one wouldn’t be as good, or as atmospheric, but this is so much better. 

As I said in my previous post this is quite a formal restaurant and not one for boisterous children.  It can also be expensive, although they have retained their Daily Menu which is exceptionally good value at £50 for 3 courses at dinner and £35 for 2 courses at lunch.  Almost everything-vegetable wise comes from the hotel’s kitchen garden, it’s very pretty food as you can see, but everything tastes exceptionally good.
Gravetye Manor 1Gravetye Manor 6Gravetye Manor 7

To visit Gravetye (restaurant or hotel) make sure you book well in advance.
Gravetye Manor, Vowels Ln, West Hoathly RH19 4LJ  Phone: 01342 810567
Parking – easy

Jeremys Restaurant 5

Next on my list is Jeremy’s Restaurant in Borde Hill Gardens just outside Haywards Heath.  This too is a marvellous restaurant set in beautiful gardens.  The terrace is the place to be if it’s warm and they have outdoor heaters if it gets a little chilly.

The restaurant itself is beautifully designed and a pleasure to eat in when it’s not warm enough (or dry enough outside) and the tables aren’t too close together.  Jeremy’s is always booked up so reserve a table well in advance and have a date or two to suggest – they also cater for weddings and parties.

Jeremys Restaurant 4

The food here is superb.  Alongside the a la Carte menu they have an extremely well priced set menu at £29 for three courses – this is a real steal and one of the reasons why the restaurant is so popular.  The dishes are fresh, tasty and prettily prepared.  Make sure this is one of your stops if you’re going to Sussex.
Jeremys Restaurant 1Jeremys Restaurant 2Jeremys Restaurant 6
Jeremy’s Borde Hill Gardens - 01444 441102
Borde Hill, Borde Hill Gardens, Haywards Heath, West Sussex. RH16 1XP
Parking – easy

Dorset Arms 4

The Dorset Arms, Withyham
is my next Sussex restaurant, although it’s really a gastropub.  To me there are gastropubs and gastropubs, some which stand out via great food and excellent service and others which just don’t make the grade.  Having had several excellent lunches at The Dorset Arms (before a long walk through the Buckhurst Estate) I visited it for dinner.

Dorset Arms 1Dorset Arms 2Dorset Arms 3

This is simple really well prepared food, very fresh, and the service is excellent and very friendly.  Try the chicken and avocado salad for lunch, it’s delicious.  Or the sea bass with salsa verde, the menu includes some pub classics but mainly modern European fare and there’s definitely something for everyone.

There are some pretty and reasonable rooms next door to The Dorset Arms and for any of this, as usual you need to book. 
The Dorset Arms, Buckhurst Park, Withyham, Hartfield TN7 4BD.  Phone: 01892 770278.  Parking – mostly easy.

The Cat Inn West Hoathly 4

On to The Cat Inn, West Hoathly
another pub/gastropub/restaurant that has become a real favourite both for lunch and for dinner and again a great place to start a hike on the Downs. 
The Cat Inn West Hoathly 2The Cat Inn West HoathlyThe Cat Inn West Hoathly 3

There’s a wide choice of delicious sounding dishes on the menu plus the daily specials.  If they have it try the calamari and crayfish salad, totally delish and don’t miss the ice cream for dessert.   Be prepared for The Cat to be very busy, book ahead and expect to be surrounded by a lot of noise.  If you can put up with that then this may well be your place.

The Cat Inn also has some pretty country style rooms with bathrooms.

The Cat Inn - North Ln, West Hoathly RH19 4PP.  Phone: 01342 810369
Parking –
can be tricky if it’s a popular time so try and go early or late

Griffin Inn 3

Any trip to this area needs to include a visit to The Griffin Inn in Fletching.  It has to be the most popular and well known of the gastropubs, with a large garden for pub food, a restaurant terrace, the restaurant itself and a large bar area. 

Griffin Inn 2

Come on a sunny weekend lunchtime and you’ll be competing for a table in the garden – they have a superb barbeque right through the summer and you can choose from tuna, sea bass, sardines and various meat options to which are added salads and potatoes. 
Griffin Inn 1Griffin in 4The Griffin Inn
The food here is very good, I would say there is just one menu which appears to be more aimed at lunch (lots of salads) than dinner.  But it is all excellent.  The Griffin also has some lovely bedrooms so if you stay there you won’t have to go far after dinner….

The Griffin Inn, High St. Fletching, TN22 3SS.  01825 722890
Parking -
can be tricky if it’s a popular time so try and go early or late particularly at lunchtime and at weekends.

Note:  I have never had a meal at any of these restaurants that has been anything other than delicious, they were all excellent and I’ll be going back.  I would say that at very busy times you may have to wait a little longer for service.  I would also note that at the gastropubs if you order fish such as sole or plaice you’ll be filleting it yourself – just so you know.