Monday, 21 May 2012

The North West Spring Wine Festival - Manchester

Some readers may be a little confused by the steady drip of drinks related posts on the blog of late (awful pun most definitely intended); well sorry to say, this post is another homage to the hard stuff – but this time it’s a little more civilised than the usual whiskey and beer guzzling fests I usually attend. How can drinking be a lot more civilised? Well this post is about wine - and plenty of it too - at the recent North West Spring Wine Festival.

By accident I took a photo with a man in it who actually looks like he belongs at a wine festival

Held in the newly renovated St Peter’s Church in the Northern Quarter, the North West Spring Wine Festival was a collection of independent suppliers and boutique wines. The premise was thus; buy an entrance ticket and get given a glass, you then mill round the various exhibitors tasting wine and (they hope) buy some to take home with you. As well as the main exhibiting area, there were smaller masterclasses running - we chose to pay £5 extra each to attend the Aumbry wine and food matching class, bringing the price for each of us up to £15. For the amount of wine we put away, that was an exceptionally good deal. And yes, we did drink the wine – if someone’s pouring you a (rather generous) taster from a £20+ bottle, you’re not going to pop it in the spittoon are you?

The North West Spring Wine Festival was filled with about 12 different booze peddlers – from Manchester bar Epernay, to small wine producers, indie shops and some big brand names. In amongst this was a smattering of food producers, touting some very good local produce; much needed for soaking up everything we consumed. Not many exhibitors you may say, but enough for us and probably wise seeing that we didn’t see anyone else using the spittoons either – well accept to dump water in when they washed their glasses out so they could taste something else!

Spittoons - not used much

The Aumbry masterclass was hosted by the lovely Mary-Ellen (acclaimed chef-patron) and Siobhan, the brains behind the front of house. We taste three tasty morals from the Aumbry menu, each paired with two wines. Great idea; you saw how each wine changed each dish and in turn how each dish changed the wine. Stand outs were the amazing Clai from Croatia, which is full of heavy orange flavours and is naturally produced in small runs of 5,000 bottles; and a Brouilly served slightly chilled to inhibit the tannins.

Aumbry wine matching class with Mary-Ellen and Siobhan

Mary-Ellen and Siobhan were entertaining and passionate; it was great to see the thought process Aumbry puts into constructing dishes and how their wine choices influence their menu. I can’t say any of the food stood out because it was all bloody brilliant – a silky hare terrine, a smokey mackerel/sharp rhubarb nibble and a tarte tatin poached in liquid nitrogen (well there had to be some Aumbry kitchen wizardry, we'd have been disappointed if everything had been cooked conventionally!).

We had a great chat with Epernay who, contrary to every other table, were tasting spirits only – we tried the unfiltered Belvedere, quite raw and smoky, but an amazing vodka. This was followed by a locally produced, craft gin called Brockman’s. Distilled in Warrington it’s infused with berries, so perfect for drinking straight – must get me some.

Interesting drinks at the Epernay table

Some of the best tables at the show were the Spirited Wines chaps (used to be Nicolas’ on Deansgate) with bags of good wines and friendly, informed chat. We also hugely enjoyed chatting with Tour De Belfort who are based in the NW but own a small vineyard in France, producing some (almost) natural wine with very low sulfites (no headaches!); light and easy to drink, it would be a killer on a summer’s afternoon.

Lovely people of Tour de Belfort - search them out!

We did try and get to the Bakerie and the Hanging Ditch tables; two of our favourite places in Manchester, however they were totally mobbed so we hung out with the Co-op chaps and had a good chat about organics, fair trade and sustainability (well, that’s what I think we were talking about…).

Top of the food producers were the Cheshire Cheese Company; their range of cheese were going down a treat with the punters (t’boy didn’t think so, but he doesn’t like cheese). The poor staff had to cope with me eating all their cheese (for research, obviously) and blabbering on, but they were dears, even if I don’t really like their sweet cheeses – their four year old, Cheshire and Blue are another thing coming though (and yes I’m promising a future post about these guys, you heard it here).

Cheshire Cheese Company staff wishing I'd stop eating all their cheese

I couldn’t really round this post off without mentioning the lovely Ginger’s Comfort ice cream who created a special flavour of chocolate and spiced wine (double yum) for the day – poor lass was stuck outside in the cold and didn’t sell much due to the weather, however she was in good spirits and as always her ice cream was silky, soft and super moreish.

All in all it was a great day out for a very reasonable price. The whole affair was pretty civilised, professionally done and attended well. Some warm weather would have been nice, but by the end of the day I was pretty warm, all wrapped up in my tramp blanket.

"Ooh look at all this wine.."

Sad you’ve missed it? Don’t fear, there’s a summer festival on the way, so check out the Manchester Food and Drinks Festival website or follow them on Twitter.

Ps I was given my entrance ticket for free, though we paid for t’boy’s and the additional master class; however I was under no obligation to write nice things, I just enjoyed myself and thought the day was a bargain.

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