Les 5 du Vin

5 journalistes parlent du vin

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May be those were the days … rail travel in style

Flying Scotsman

Menu card for The Flying Scotsman 8th November 1957


The Talisman 

It is always fascinating to come across old menus and, in particular, old wine lists. Here are a couple of examples from a time when rail travel could be glamorous. Here are two examples from November 1957 from two of the named express trains running from London Kings Cross station to Edinburgh.

The Flying Scotsman still runs but now only one way leaving Edinburgh at 5.40 am and arriving in London four hours later. The Talisman, however, has long gone.

Back in 1957 you could settle down to a proper meal, although relatively expensive, with an intriguing selection of wines:



Four course lunch for 9/6 (240 pennies to the £ or 20 shillings to £)

Menu (below) 


wine list

The wine list

wine list-det

Once again an old wine list demonstrates how prices 50 years ago were much closer together now than they were. This is most starkly demonstrated by the decidedly tempting 1949 Château Pichon-Longueville-Lalande for 17/6 (82.5p in today’s money) – the same price as an anonymous Beaune and 2/6 more than an anonymous Sauternes – 15/-.

Interesting to see that Champagne is markedly more expensive than any other wine type – a 1945 Louis Roederer for 47/6 (£2.35 in current decimal money) and even the NV Champagne – St Marceaux for 37/6. Curiously there are no German wines listed, although there is an Alsatian Sylvaner at 16/-.

Also interesting to see the two Spanish wines: Graves Type and Burgundy Type. Once the UK joined the EU we had to respect appellation contrôlée rules etc. Equally South African Pearl Amber Hock and Australian Emu Burgundy would now be a no-no!

All aboard!




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The Loire comes to Newtonmore

Mountain view

Newtonmore is a village in the Highlands of Scotland – up in the Cairngorms overlooked by mountains. Whether people living in the Alps would call them mountains is another matter as few are over 4000 feet. They should not be treated lightly, however, especially in winter as they are a good 1000 miles north of the Alps. The weather can change with frightening rapidity going from a bright clear day to a white-out in just a few minutes.  Just as in the Alps there are a number fatalities on these mountains every year.

Newtonmore, which is is about 45 miles south of Inverness – the capital of the Highlands –  used to be on the main road (A9) from Edinburgh to the north of Scotland. Now the new trunk road version of the A9 bypasses all the villages and towns on its  way to Inverness, so compared to London the roads are relatively quiet here.

The village still has a railway station and surprisingly, although it is just a single platform and is unmanned it is possible to catch the sleeper to and from London.  This is where I will be, at least until early April.

All in all this is a rather long intro to explain that despite being confined to the Scottish Highlands I am still able to taste some Loire wines, which producers have kindly sent to me here so I can continue to work.

2017 Coteaux du Giennois, Clément and Florian Berthier

2017 Coteaux du Giennois, Florian and Clément Berthier


This 2017 Coteaux du Giennois from Clément and Florian Berthier is simply delicious – not complex but lovely, very clean citric aromas and flavours including grapefruit notes. Vignobles Berthier is based in Sainte Gemme en Sancerrois. The domaine was founded by Jean-Marie Berthier in 1983 and now has nearly 25 hectares making Sancerre, Menetou-Salon, Pouilly-Fumé and Coteaux du Giennois.

This wine is represented by

Chris Hardy & Charles Sydney
Charles Sydney Wines Ltd
Petite Maison
11 Quai Danton, 37500 Chinon
Tél :  (France) 02 47 81 44 03
They arrange sales to the UK wine trade.  


2015 Domaine René Couly, Chinon, Couly-Dutheil

Domaine René Couly is another fine 2015 red from Couly-Dutheil. These vines are planted on clay and flint and from parcels selected by René Couly, the grandfather of the company’s current MD – Arnaud Couly.

The deep coloured 2015 Domaine René Couly is considerably more concentrated than Wednesday’s featured wine – 2015 Les Gravières. Although drinking well now, the René Couly has considerably potential to improve and age over several decades. 



Encore Couly-Dutheil – 2015 Baronnie Madeleine

2015 Baronnie Madeleine, Chinon from Couly-Dutheil 

 Couly-Dutheil only release the Baronnie Madeleine cuvée in good vintages. 2015 is certainly on of them. Baronnie Madeleine comes from selected parcels on the clay limestone slopes or the plateau above these slopes. The 2015 has attractive concentration and plenty of soft black fruit. Very enjoyable to drink now it lacks, for the moment (?), an extra dimension. On the other hand it is noticeable that the tannin management is greatly improved over the last decade. Gone are the dry, harsh tannins that marred their wines in the first decade following the millennium.  



2015 Château de l’Aulnaye, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Château Thébaud

2015 Château de l’Aulnaye, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine,
Château Thébaud, Famille Lieubeau 

This very fine rich and concentrated Muscadet spends three years on its lees. It is the style of cru communaux, although Château Thébaud has yet to be formally recognised the French government rather to the understandable frustration of those eligible to benefit from the new appellation.

This style of Muscadet is far removed from the fresh citric version that goes so well with shellfish. We drank the 2015 Château de l’Aulnaye with salmon with butter and lemon in a parcel – a fine match. This Muscadet also worked well with some mature Montgomery cheddar. 

The Lieubeaus are important growers in Château Thébaud.  


Chinese cap

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Treats for an invalid from The Wine Society

IMG_4497Marco@Millésime Bio 2015 


Michel@Millésime Bio 2015 


Ko-ed by ruptured quads to my knee 

Unfortunately I am missing the 2018 edition of Millésime Bio because of slipping on black ice on 2nd January. My right leg went forward, while my left leg bent back underneath me. The wrench and my weight ruptured my quads from my left knee. This resulted in an operation and now 12 weeks of recovery. The first six weeks with my leg in a splint to keep the leg straight.

So instead of being in Montpellier tasting organic wines, I’m in Newtonmore in the Scottish Highlands. Naturally we needed some supplies, so a rapid order was placed with The Wine Society  – one of the UK’s largest mail-order companies and based in Stevenage. Delivery was impressively speedy: order placed on Saturday evening with delivery here some 500 miles to the north on Tuesday.

Some details about The Wine Society:

History of the Society

The Society's ListLook back at the List

View our gallery of List covers

‘The Great Exhibitions

The Wine Society owes its existence to the Great Exhibitions of the mid-19th century.

For the last of these, in 1874, various countries sent large quantities of wine in cask to be stored in the cellars of the Royal Albert Hall where, to quote from an early history: ‘it entirely escaped notice from the visitors’. Portuguese growers, who had taken great efforts to present their wines, appealed for help.

At the behest of the British Government of the day, Major-General Henry Scott, one of the architects of the Albert Hall, along with R. Brudenell Carter, a distinguished ophthalmic surgeon (who subsequently sat on the Committee for 44 years and who wrote the early history referred to above) and George Scrivenor, a senior official of the Board of Customs, held a series of lunches to publicise the wines.

Many of their guests expressed an interest in purchasing wine, and General Scott proposed the setting up of ‘a co-operative company’ to buy good quality wines on a regular basis to sell to members.

History of The Society

Authenticity and quality

Thus it was that The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limited came into being.

The founding members’ aim, as now, was to buy wines direct from growers to ensure their authenticity and quality and to offer them to members at fair prices.

The Society grew gradually – whilst it welcomes new members, the aim is not to grow in size purely for its own sake – and by 1965 it was operating out of three separate cellars in London: one under the Palladium, one at Joiner Street under London Bridge and one at Rotherhithe (which flooded at high tide).

In 1965, thanks to the foresight of the then chairman Edmund Penning-Rowsell, The Society moved to more suitable premises in Stevenage, where all The Society’s operations have since been concentrated.’

More details here.


Newtonmore and its surrounding mountains 

First treat: La Ina

It is always reassuring to come back to a favourite and confirm that it is just as good as you remember. La Ina has long been one of my very favourite Finos – against stiff competition it has to be said. When we placed our recent order with The Wine Society we chose three Sherries – one of them La Ina. This fino has is very clean, precise, very well balanced with a touch of saltiness. Truly a real treat.

 La Ina, Fino, Sherry

A second treat: 3C

From an old favourite to a newby:

 3C Premium Selection – Cariñena from Cariñena

The 3C Premium Selection – Cariñena 2013 is full of soft and delicious black fruits without being cloying with some very gentle tannins. A wine to be enjoyed with food or by itself chatting with friends. A good choice from The Wine Society.

A third treat – Le Perlé

Another of our treats from The Wine Society – 2016 Le Perlé, Esprit de Labastide, Gaillac. Very refreshing, crisp, lemony apéro – a blend of Loin de l’œil (local variety), Mauzac (SW France variety) and Sauvignon Blanc from the well established Cave Co-operative de Labastide. Dangerously easy to drink – although @ 12% relatively low in alcohol.



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Scotland’s larder fills up as does its drinks cabinet

View from the Badachro Inn looking towards Gairloch  

Ever since 2011 we have been spending all or a substantial part of August in Scotland. Mainly in Newtonmore in the Cairngorms but always with a week away on the road every year. This has taken us to the Outer Hebrides, Orkney, John O’Groats and the islands of Skye, Mull and Islay.

The scenery, of course, particularly on the West Coast, is very often spectacularly breathtaking. The weather can either be wonderfully magical lighting up the landscape, in particular long views over ranges of mountains or chains of islands stretching out into the far distance. It can also be spectacularly wild and foul – high winds and long periods of rain. The 60 hours of rain on Islay last year will remain etched on my memory for many years to come.

I have posted on a number of occasions about the renaissance of Scottish food. It is now possible to eat well widely in Scotland with the country’s produce celebrated whether it is from the sea or the land. It is not just at luxury establishments like Fonab Castle, where we were for a couple of nights last week and where you would expect to eat well, but in many other more modest establishments that serve excellent food.

On a day trip to Orkney last Friday we each enjoyed a very tasty bowl of seafood chowder  at the Ferry Inn at Stromness that included a very generous portion of smoked haddock. This chowder was a creamier version Cullen Skink, a traditional hearty Scottish soup, made with smoked haddock and potato. It is almost a meal in itself and certainly ideal for a light lunch.

Lentil soup is another popular and traditional dish and again a good lunchtime option. We stopped for a Sunday lunchtime snack at Balnakeil near Durness, the small town on Scotland’s north west coast and closest to Cape Wrath. Balnakeil was once a military establishment but has now become a craft village. We had an excellent lentil soup at The Whale Tale, a new and very welcoming café that only opened in April of this year. This came with good bread, which is another sign of the change. Increasingly cafés and restaurants either make their own bread or source good locally made bread. Cheese scones, which can be delicious, are also often served with soup.

Fish and chips remains a popular option – either cod or haddock. We have had some delicious examples on our current tour around the north of Scotland following the North 500, the now popular 500 mile round trip around the northern mainland of Scotland that starts and finishes in Inverness. Most visitors go clockwise round the circuit, while we opted to go round anti-clockwise so didn’t have to follow too many camper vans. Examples include a very fresh fish fried while we waited in a friendly chippy in Thurso and very good haddock at the Seaview Hotel at John O’Groats.

Most of our 2017 stay was at in one of the well-equipped cabins at Natural Retreats at John O’Groats. Our friend and frequent commentator, Luc Charlier, will be interested to know that there is good cycling to be had up here on mainly very quiet roads. On Sunday, however, we moved on westwards to Gairloch going along the stunning north and then down the north west coast.

Easan Beag

Here we stayed at Easan Beag, an excellent bed and breakfast run by Louise and George Mackenzie. They were very welcoming, the accommodation very comfortable and reasonably priced. Easan Beag is very certainly recommended if staying at this attractive bay resort.

That night we ate well at the Badachro Inn, just across the bay from our accommodation but a nine-mile drive around the bay to get to the inn. However, It was worth the journey – yet another example of the plenitude of good places to eat now in Scotland.  

Starter: Loch Fyne smoked mussels 

Starter: duo of salmon – hot smoked and smoked

 Fillets of sea bass

Roasted cod

List of special dishes

Wine list with a selection from around the world 

It is interesting to see that this renaissance of Scottish food not only celebrates the wonderful seafood from around the Scottish coast as well as the fine beef and lamb but traditional dishes such as haggis and black pudding are treated with respect and often given a new treatment. Deep fried Mars Bars, however, remains out in the cold.

As well as its interesting wine list Badachro distills its own artisan gin, which is sold in the inn. This is another facet of the revival of interest food and drink in Scotland with gin and beer leading the charge.  Distilling gin and brewing beer is increasingly common Scotland as it is the rest of the UK. At the Seaview Hotel in John O’Groats CRM took the Rock Rose, which is distilled at Dunnet Bay Distillery  a little further west down the coast. This distillery was commissioned on 21st August 2014. It also distils vodka and for both uses locally sourced botanticals.

Staying at John O’Groats the old fire station has been turned into a brewery – John O’Groats Brewery. I enjoyed a couple of pints of their Duncansby, an attractively hoppy amber beer named after nearby Duncansby Head, the most north-eastern point of mainland Scotland.   

It is no wonder Scotland is attracting many visitors this year – those from mainland Europe benefitting from a very favourable exchange rate due to the idiocies of Brexit.







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Fonab Castle, Pitlochry – a pampered Highland stay

View-TayThe stunning view from the brasserie at Fonab

Entrance + Castle
Entrance to Fonab Castle


The glass fronted bar and brasserie with the castle behind

A glass of Don Fino Sherry from Sandeman in
the Fonab Bar to start the evening

We spent a great weekend at Fonab Castle on the outskirts of Pitlochry as my pre-birthday treat. Saturday night we were in Sandeman Room where we were expertly looked at after by James Payne, the maître d’hôtel at Fonab and responsible for the wine. I first met James back in the 1990s when he was at Pont de la Tour. From time to time sommeliers get a bad press for being arrogant. This certainly does not apply to James: he is a very good one  – very relaxed, very professional and knowledgeable and not at all intimidating. 

James Payne with the Sandeman 1982 Vintage Port 

Dinner in the Sandeman Room is a set menu – we also decided to go for the flight of recommended wines. We learned during dinner that we had the same table as the Scottish legend Tom Cannavan (Wine Pages).  

Tom Cannavan on a barrel throne in Chile 

The amuse bouche which included
some foie gras and roasted apricot


2016 Bone Dry, Van Buhl, Trocken, Pfalz (above and below)
Some grassy Sauvignon Blanc like – notes crisp acidity


Consommé – chicken, truffle and tarragon – being poured over the raivoli

Character Amontillado Sherry, Sandeman
James’ choice with the consommé

Scottish Salmon –
Confit of pink citrus – fennel – cucumber
There is almost always a dish that we forget to
photograph before we are halfway through the dish 

The 2014 Astolabe Chenin Blanc, Wrekin Vineyard, Marlborough (NZ)
was matched with the salmon. When t
asted on its own the Chenin has a delicately
attractive character with interesting floral notes.
Unfortunately the sweetness in the salmon as well as the cucumber overpowered
this Chenin – hiding the fruit while accentuating the acidity

Perthshire Lamb – Provençal vegetables – basil – artichokes  

2009 Ampodium, Côte Rotie, Domaine Rostaing. James kindly added this into our flight
Lovely, sensuous and complex Côte Rotie. Kept under Coravin and first broached
some five weeks ago and still very good. Was a great match with the rare filet of lamb

2014 Vinha Grande, Douro. Still youthful and quite tannic but came into
its own with the slow cooked lamb 

Pre-dessert – this fruit based  pre-dessert was a fine foil for the
2015 Vouvray Moelleux 
from Vigneau Chevreau (below)

Panna Cotta – lavender – textures of strawberry

The Panna Cotta needed something richer and
more powerful than the Vouvray, which the
2015 Kika Noble late harvest Chenin Blanc
from Miles Mossop Wines in Stellenbosch

Birthday chocs

All in all this was an excellent and very enjoyable meal – the high point of a great weekend stay at Fonab Castle, a wonderful place for a pampered few days away.


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2016 Vignes, Vins Randos + 53 YO Viña Sol

It is that time of year again – Vignes, Vins, Randos 2016 is on this coming weekend Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th September. Full details here

Unfortunately I have never been in the Loire recently in time for Vignes, Vins, Randos, which is a pity as I have friends who speak highly of these events. Instead I tend to come to the Loire a week or so later for the harvest.  


This year’s Randos from West to East:
Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu
Muscadet Sèvre et Maine La Haye-Fouassière
Coteaux d’Ancenis
Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru/Coteaux du Layon 1er Cru Chaume
Anjou Villages Brissac
Coteaux de l’Aubance
Saumur Brut Fines Bulles
Saumur Champigny
Touraine Azay-le-Rideaux
Jasnières/Coteaux du Loir 


53 Year Old – Viña Sol

IMG_2105Loch Garry, Scotland

When it is not raining the Scottish Highlands are magnificent. We have spent all of August in Newtonmore, apart from a Noah’s ark expedition to saturated Islay. There is, however, one drawback here – a limited selection of wine available in the local villages with the Co-op supermarket being the nearest source.


This isn’t entirely a drawback as it is an opportunity to try wines that we don’t often drink. The 2015 Viña Sol from Torres is a prime example. We have enjoyed several bottles of this Torres classic that was launched in 1962, so the 2015 is the 53rd vintage. Made from a blend of Parallada and Granacha Blanca, the 15 is an attractive combination of ripe fruit with clean fresh finish at 11.5% Very well made the Viña Sol is particularly good value at its current co-op price of £4.99 – £2 off the listed price.


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Eating well in Scotland: Islay & Highlands

 The Harbour Inn, Bowmore

I have posted in previous summers on how eating out in Scotland has improved enormously over the past 20 years or so. The quality of Scottish ingredients is now celebrated whether is fish and shellfish, meat or game. Little wonder that the Highlands of Scotland are now attracting discerning visitors from many European countries.

Here are reports of four meals we have enjoyed while in Scotland over the past few weeks: two on Islay – The Harbour Inn and The Bridgend Hotel – and two in Newtonmore – The Letterbox and The Evening Flower.

The Harbour Inn, Bowmore, Islay 

One of the views from the restaurant 

On a Sunday evening we had a very enjoyable meal in The Harbour Inn, Bowmore. We ate in the section that looks out over the harbour and the bay. CRM and I shared a tasty slate of antipasto and there was plenty there for two as a starter. CRM and her mum then chose the pan fried hake – a generous filet that was perfectly cooked. You could tell without tasting that the fish was just right as the milky flakes glistened.

I went for the chargrilled squid and rabbit confit paella, which was a flavoursome and interesting variation on a traditional paella.

Without studying the wine list in detail we went for a 2015 Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Vieilles Vignes sur lie from Château du Poyet in La Chapelle Heulin and which belongs to the Bonneau family. It had some attractive weight from the 2015 vintage but good refreshing acidity without being sharp. Drinking well now it would be no problem keeping this for another five years or more.

Happy to recommend The Harbour Inn – we would certainly go back.        

Antipasto – cooked and cru ham, salami, chicken, Kalamata olives and celeriac  

2015 Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine,
Vieilles Vignes, Château du Poyet 

Pan fried hake with mash potato, wilted spinach etc.

Paella of chargrilled squid and rabbit confit 


The Bridgend Hotel, Bridgend, Islay

The Bridgend Hotel, Bridgend, Islay

The weather on Islay is truly execrable. Fortunately, there are some good places to eat. On a Wednesday evening we tried the Bridgend Hotel and were very favourably impressed starting with the warm welcome. We were settled in Strath Lounge for pre-dinner drinks and a look at the menu featuring locally sourced ingredients 

The dining room is attractively airy and the public areas of the hotel are well appointed as are doubtless the bedrooms. 

We were very happy with our menu choices. Only the wine list could do with improvement – no vintages, a rather limited choice and it would be good to see some more interesting wines included. The list plays safe. It would be nice to see more ambition to match the quality of the food. In contrast they have a comprehensive list of local whiskies.


 Langoustine salad with garlic mayonnaise 

Warm langoustine tails with herb butter

2014 38 Parcelles, Ventoux, Famile Quiot
Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Syrah
– attractive soft, spicy fruit, quite light colour

Grilled lemon sole with asparagus and fennel

Lamb cutlet and loin with pea mash, new potatoes 

Medallions of venison with beetroot,
parsnip crisps, potato croquettes
– the venison was nicely pink just as I had ordered 

Sliced pear, almond tart with honey ice cream 

Chocolate crème brulée with roasted marshmallows

The Letterbox, Newtonmore

The Letterbox, Main Street, Newtonmore 

Last week we had a very good return visit to The Letterbox Restaurant in Newtonmore. The restaurant opened in 2010.  

It was encouraging to see that it was busy. We started with a glass of South African Chenin Blanc while we considered our choices. Three of us opted for the two course evening menu – starter and main course – for £16.95.  

First courses: 

I chose the tasty mackerel paté, while the others went for the chicken mousse – also tasty, well made and generous portions.       

Mackerel paté with a salad and oak cakes 

Apricot, asparagus and chicken mousse 

Main courses: 

Our three choices of main courses 



 Plaice fillets in a cream sauce with samphire,
carrots and new potatoes
– off the a la carte specials menu

A rich and very good venison stew with haggis dumplings

Meat balls with tagliatelle: another rich and copious dish

 2014 Fleurie, Cru du Beaujolais, Patrick Chodot,
Fleurie from a good vintage
which partnered even the rich dishes well

Profiteroles with a cream filling

Créme Brulée with apricot and vanilla

We have had several meals at The Letterbox and have always been impressed, so am happy to recommend this restaurant. I do wonder, however, at the wide range of dishes offered in a restaurant that has space for a maximum of just over 30 covers. On the set dinner menu there are five choices of starter and main course. The à la carte menu has a big choice and then there is a specials board with five starters and five mains. It is difficult to see how this makes economic sense. 

The Evening Flower


On Saturday evening we celebrated the eve of my birthday at The Evening Flower – the café in Newtonmore that is The Wild Flour during the day. The Evening Flower runs on Friday and Saturday and is really excellent with the great advantage that you can bring your own wine, beer etc.

We were a party of 16 – family and friends. Our wine choices were not fancy but instead assured value. Freixenet Cordon Negro Cava as the celebratory apéro.    


First courses: 

Excellent seared Orkney king scallops,
asparagus, garlic butter & capers 

Seared wood pigeon breast, Stornaway black pudding,
raspberry & balsamic dressing, pine nuts

Goats’ cheese, toasted walnuts, red onion marmalade

   2014 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie,
Domaine de la Tourmaline, Gadais Père et fils


Lamb cutlets, creamy rosemary mash, mint & balsamic sauce

Sage, apricot & garlic pork chop,
apple & fennel seed sauce, new potatoes

Ribeye steak, roast tomato, flat mushroom, new potaoes

pea shoots, red wine & caramelised onion gravy

2015 Combe aux Jacques, Beaujolais Villages

Louis Jadot – delicious and enough concentration
and structure for the beef



Chocolate and walnut torte

Vanilla crème brulée with strawberries 

Celebratory chocolate brownie with candles
and a scoop of chocolate ice cream 

Not sure that he asked permission but was happy to share my birthday with Usain Bolt…..