Friday Evening with Cocoa Runners

Yep it was another tough one. My Friday evening was spent with the amazing Cocoa Runners who introduced the West London Wine School team to an amazing range of artisan chocolates.

I love chocolate, and I thought I was onto some good blocks which regularly include Green and Blacks and Lindt. Little did I know that I had been missing out on some delights that knock these better known brands right out of the park.

What makes the Cocoa Runners range different to your average bar of chocolate, are quite a few things. Firstly, they source many of their bars directly from small producers who are solely focused on quality. These producers invest a lot of time and also money on production, to enhance the flavours and aromas from their quality cocoa beans. Some even have cameras in the jungle where their beans are growing, so they can provide guidance to the local workers throughout the production.

Climate, harvest times, bean selection, fermentation temperature, drying methods, roasting temperature, conching and grinding (love that phrase), and tempering all influence how the chocolate will feel, smell and taste. Who knew that chocolates had vintage variation? I was skeptical at first about just how different chocolates could actually be. But after sampling some that we fudgy, others more vegetal and herbal, smokey (through burning fires to dry out the beans) or floral, I am a complete convert.

After munching our way through copious amounts of chocolate I was buzzing! And hopping in an Uber for a speedy drive through the streets of London wasn’t the most pleasant experience. But I am still buzzed by this delicious chocolate world and how it has so many similarities with wine in terms of production, taste and variety.

Check out Cocoa Runners selection and story here: You can even take up a monthly subscription and get quality chocolate delivered to your door.

And keep your eyes peeled for our chocolate and wine pairing masterclasses at West London Wine School which will be live in the early Autumn.

Click on the pics below for more details.

Chateau de Beaucastel

Chateau de Beaucastel can be found in the north-east of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, where their 100 hectares of goblet trained vines stand in the sun-baked, galet covered soils. Evidence of the chateau dates back to 1549 and to this day has been family owned and operated.

Beaucastel farm organically, and have for many years, with a push towards biodynamics. They have never taken the easy option in terms of vine management, or winemaking processes. And their experience, strong values and hard work all shine through in the quality and beauty of their wines.

As we were taken through the winery, it was incredible to see the precision of processes, cleanliness of environment, and beauty of the space. If I was a grape, I would love for my conversion to juice and wine to take place there.

If you were thinking of visiting Beaucastel, you may be out of luck. They unfortunately aren’t open to the public and only take in a few pre-arranged visits each year. Basically they are too busy producing great wine. However you can experience their wines, which are available in the UK, at Berry Brothers or Seckford Wines. If quality smooth, sumptuous reds or textured and layered whites are your tipple, then sampling Beaucastel is essential.

Please click on the pictures below for more details:

Exploring Italy – Corvina

For week two of our discover Italy course we were off to the north-east of this wonderous country, mainly focusing our attentions on and around the region of Veneto.

Corvina is a red grape variety that makes up the majority of the blend in wines from Valpolicella and Bardolino. However the styles of wines it produces are vast and delicious. From light, crisp and refreshing reds, to dense, rich and deep styles, Corvina offers something for everyone.

Food pairings:

Bardolino and Valpolicella – as these wines have high acidity and are refreshingly light, they pair well with high acid dishes. So basically anything tomato based – how convenient for Italian wine!

  • Charcuterie
  • Pizza
  • Spaghetti alla puttanesca

Amarone – with its rich texture, soft acidity and dried fruit flavours, Amarone is super with strong cheeses, bitter chocolate dishes, or mains that echo the wines’ dried fruit flavours.

  • Stilton and vintage cheddar
  • Chocolate torte or fondant
  • Lamb shank tajine

On the white wine front, the north of Italy has a delicious range to get stuck into that doesn’t include Pinot Grigio.

Please click on the pictures below for tasting notes and stockists.

M&S Spring Wine Range

What I admire about M&S is that they don’t always play it safe. They have introduced some slightly more off-piste wines into their range this Spring, giving their customers the chance to try something new.

For Prosecco fans there’s a Brazilian Glera alternative – the Vinicola Salton ‘Riosecco’ for £9. Also from Brazil, if you like perfumed and floral wines, check out the Miolo ‘Araucaria’ Riesling-Pinot Grigio for £9.

The English wine range is strong and rather broad, with some delicious rose’s, perfect for summer sipping. As well as a superb Pinot Blanc by Stopham Estate and a classy light red from Maud Heath.

The USA range is fun and worth checking out, with some interesting blends at very fair prices from New York State.

Please click on the pics below for further information.

Exploring Italy – Dolcetto

Over the next four weeks we’ll be exploring Italy at work, so I thought I would let you in on some Italian wine treats that I recommend wine lovers get stuck into.

First up is Dolcetto. A beautiful red grape from the Monferrato Hills of north-west Italy.

Dolcetto is best suited to those that like red wines with reasonable acidity, a darker and savoury fruit profile and moderate tannins. This is not a rich, full, smooth wine. There’s noticeable crunchy fruit and savoury spice here, which lifts the wine.

Food pairings:

  • Aubergine bake with a herby tomato sauce
  • Spaghetti bolognese (obvious but has to be said)
  • Roast lamb with lots of wild herbs

Where you can find the G.D Vajra Dolcetto d’Alba:



Back in Blighty

It now seems like ages ago that I was stomping my way around a winery in Marlborough. They say the best way to fight the jet lag is to keep moving and busy. So with that in mind I hopped right back into work and presented at the West London Wine School Syrah grape debate last Tuesday evening. Hence the purple glow around my gums. Such an attractive look people, you must try it.

#NZV16 the finale

It’s with a slightly sad heart that I post my final blog for the #NZV16 series. The last two months have been incredible and I can’t express how lucky I feel to have been a part of such a wonderful team.

Thanks to all of you readers out there who have joined me for the highs, as well as the odd low. It’s been a huge learning experience and I’m pleased I put myself up for it and put my life onto a temporary alternative path. It’s back to London on Sunday and straight back into wine teaching. I will be sure to post some London wine video adventures for you all.

Will I do another vintage? Absolutely. Burgundy watch out! I will be coming your way…just need to brush up on the French first.

A huge thanks to everyone who has made the journey so memorable. Below are a few picks from our vintage bash as well as the last couple of days. Please feel free to click on them for more details.