Whittle on….wines with curry

My husband and I have always been partial to a weekly curry – either in our local Indian restaurant where he insists we go on a regular basis to maintain our ‘VIP status’ as he calls it or a home-made curry – extra hot with chillies if cooked just for the two of us or a mild one if we are entertaining guests.

This weekend we were entertaining and my husband decided to cook Chicken Bhuna and also a Beef ‘Raj’ Curry (a Rick Stein recipe) with beef stock, coconut and sultanas accompanied by Aloo Gobi (a la slim Hairy Bikers) and a dhal preceded by dozens of poppadoms and dips etc and finishing with a delicious home-made kulfi ice cream.

My job was to do the research and find some wines to match (thank you in part Sarah Rowlands, friend, wine writer and educator) so on Saturday afternoon I headed off to Majestic.

The evening was a great success and this is what I came up with and would highly recommend.

To start and with the chicken curry – one of my favourite white grape varieties which I have personally not tried before with spicy food, the not so well known Gruner Veltliner -Austria’s ‘signature grape’ – this one from the Wachau Valley in Austria.   Weissenkirchen Gruner Veltliner Federspiel 2014.  £9.99 in Majestic.

The wine was easy to drink with a slight citrussy ‘tang’, some hints of mineral and a touch of white pepper on the nose.  Definitely a food and guest friendly wine and a bonus for me in that I was reminded what a great alternative it is to Sauvignon Blanc (Refer to Whittle Wine of the Week 22nd Feb ’16).  It is available in most supermarkets but you have to look carefully as there is usually only one variety on the shelf!

With the beef curry – Sarah recommended a Rioja Reserva – specifically one which had been aged in US oak (as opposed to French oak) such that it would give notes of coconut (as opposed to vanilla).  Tra la….I found two excellent wines and both at a good price.

Lagunilla Gran Reserva 2007 – definitely got dried fruits and maybe cinammon- £11.99 but on offer @ £8.99 for 6.  Majestic.

Vina Pomal Centenario Reserva 2011 -100% tempranillo, aged for only 18 months so still quite ruby in colour and fruity to taste.  £11.99 (£9.99 for 6).  Majestic.

Visit Majestic Wine Warehouse

The Periodic Table of Wine by Sarah Rowlands.  Available on Amazon

If you try these wines, please let me know what you think +

PS  Surely I can’t be the only person who enjoys a G&T with their curry too – my current favourite gin which is everywhere at the moment – Silent Pool – watch this space!


Nordic Walking – does wonders for your bingo wings!

I started Nordic Walking 5 years ago at the same time as I started my own business and started WFH (working from home and sitting on a chair alot). Most weeks, I manage to walk for an hour with a group of like-minded people in the forest I am lucky enough to have on my doorstep.

We generally walk 4 miles at a good pace and for me, it is not just about getting a dose of fresh air and exercise, I enjoy the social aspect.

There is a technique to Nordic walking and before you start out and invest in some poles (proper Nordic walking poles cost around £65.00!), you need to have some lessons.

Once mastered, it is fairly easy and before long, you won’t have to think about your stride all of the time.

As yet, I have not managed to convince a single one of my friends to take up this form of activity – “Catherine, don’t you need snow to go Nordic walking?” and “Why can’t you just go for a normal walk like the rest of us?” however, I have decided to share with you just some of the benefits in my experience:

  • Explore beautiful countryside and experience nature confused by our mixed seasons
  • You can even go Nordic walking on the beach!
  • Strengthens the arm and core muscles as well as the legs
  • Burns calories – anywhere from 300-400 in an hour (20-40% more than normal walking)
  • De-stress – a break from work and/or the highs and lows of working for yourself
  • Great cardiovascular exercise – good for our hearts
  • Relief from stiffness and pain in the legs, hips and back
  • Injury or post operative recovery (one member of our group had her hip replaced after a fall and used Nordic walking as part of her rehabilitation – she was back with us walking normally after only 5 months and the Surgeon put her speedy recovery down to the fact that she was a regular Nordic walker)
  • A healthy glow – believe it or not, in 5 years, I have only got soaked 3 times and I always end up with rosy cheeks
  • A chance to meet new people and socialise – great for anyone who enjoys chatting to people and like me, occasionally needs cheering up

But best of all, NO MORE BINGO WINGS!   Yes – Nordic walking takes care of those (for those of you who are not familiar with ‘bingo wings’, they are your triceps muscles underneath your arms which as we get older, tend to become a bit hanging/flabby shall we say!)

For more information or to find a Nordic walking Group or Instructor near you, visit nordicwalking.co.uk

Hotels which offer Nordic walking breaks include Ockenden Manor in Sussex and Rockliffe Hall Hall in County Durham.

If you would like any advice or recommendations, please let me know.

Who wants to win a spa industry award?

To win an industry award, you obviously need to enter (in some cases be nominated).  To enter, you need to believe that your spa is a good one.  To be good, you need to be confident in your team’s abilities, not only to deliver a 5 star customer service but to effectively promote your spa in a way that you are convincingly maximising your revenue and also the departmental contribution to the hotel.

There are lots of good spas.  But which ones are winning the hotel and spa industry awards in 2016?

Nominated and shortlisted in this year’s Professional Beauty Industry Awards (the winners being announced this Sunday 28th February) include:

Two of my favourite spas, Bedford Lodge Hotel Spa in Newmarket (who I have worked with recently) and Fawsley Hall Spa in Daventry (which I haven’t visited since Hand Picked Hotels took over).

Then, some good ‘destination’ spa hotels – Armathwaite Hall in the Lake District, the Carbis Bay Hotel in Cornwall, both Rockliffe Hall and the Headlam Spa in County Durham. Also featured Hoar Cross Hall in Staffordshire, Life House in Essex and Ribby Hall in the far North West.

I have been a judge for the past 5 years in Caterer and Hotelkeeper Magazine’s Annual Catey Award for ‘Spa Professional of the Year’.  This gives me a fascinating insight into what goes into making a successful spa.   Lucy Mingo who heads up the upcoming Headland Spa in Cornwall was the 2015 winner with the Spa Managers at Dormy House and Blythswood Square coming a close second.  Previous winners include the respected Spa Managers, Kerry Hudson at Chewton Glen and Anna Williams at Stoke Park.

Caterer and Hotelkeeper Magazine are seeking nominations NOW for the 2016 award.

Do you think you are good enough?  Do you need advice on how to win an award?

What is your favourite UK spa?  Who would you like to see win an award?







Whittle wine of the week

Brief notes to the reader about my ‘Wine Journey’

Whereas I am a mere amateur when it comes to wine, you should note that I am an experienced wine taster and drinker having spent 10 years as Sales & Marketing Director at The Vineyard at Stockcross working my way through their cellar consisting of more than 20,000 wines (heavy emphasis on the Californian); then, 5+ years attending monthly wine tastings hosted by a couple of well known wine educators.  I have also studied wine and passed with Merit the WSET Level 2 exam.  Gutted that I missed the distinction by 2% in that I gave the wrong answer to the gin question!  Oh and I also spent a short stint working in a wine shop!

You should know that I am an ‘ABC’ when it comes to white wine (anything but Chardonnay!) and I am very fussy about my Sauvignon Blanc’s so I am always on the look out for alternative white wines and especially enjoy white wines from France, Spain and Italy.

In 2016, most women, like me, will be more conscious about the amount of wine they consume and let’s face it, none of us really like spending more that £10.00 a bottle (£15.00 for a special occasion maybe) so my focus in these blog posts will be about recommending small quantities of delicious wines at value for money prices – the lower the ABV the better.

So onto my ‘Wine of the week’ – this week I am enjoying a bottle of Soave Classico from the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range.  “Crisp with a mineral finish, zesty with both lemon and lime flavours” this will take you forward to the summer months.  I get a slightly bitter after taste reminiscent of the skin of a peach which I am reliably informed is typical of the Garganega grape.

A bargain at only £7.00 a bottle.  12% alcohol and 86 kcal per 125 ml glass (=1/6 of a bottle).

One small glass hits the spot at the end of a hard day…..

Guest post: Totally screwed

Vicki Hamilton from consumer research agency MMR Research Worldwide considers wine enclosures.
You might think there’s a bit of a theme to my recent blogs – and you’d be right. Not only do I like a glass of wine, I also come from a high end hospitality background where fine wine was the DNA of the business. So, as a ‘mainstream’ wine consumer who buys her plonk from the local supermarket, but appreciates fine wines as well, I find myself intrigued by the psychology and technology involved.

Which brings me to my current question. Ask a sommelier or wine enthusiast for their preference and it will likely be cork. Ask a wine producer and they’ll say screwcap. Ask the mass market – and they probably won’t notice until they struggle to remove it or transport it once opened.

There’s been a debate for years over which is the optimum wine enclosure.

Traditional cork varies in porous-ness (as natural products are wont to do), and the chemical process used to treat it can cause an adverse reaction with the wine*. As a result, wine producers have steadily moved over to synthetics and screwcaps in recent years to avoid the ‘unacceptable’** failure rate experienced with cork.

Decanter.com, the wine website, claims that screwcaps are indeed the optimum enclosure in terms of retaining freshness, and the industry eagerly awaits results in 2013 from a study conducted by the University of California which scientifically compares enclosures like for like in terms of impact on colour, flavour and aroma, and which will likely settle the debate once and for all.

So, already armed with fairly compelling evidence that screwcaps are better, why use cork at all?

Environmentalists have recently entered the debate in a big way – cork production is more environmentally friendly than synthetic, and many US producers are keen to differentiate themselves on green credentials.  That’s a decent, and for some, on-brand reason.

However, those in the industry admit that the screwcap is better, and yet seem to favour cork as part of the whole wine experience – and this is key.

Desk research indicates that newer enclosures simply don’t have any emotional connection with drinkers. While descriptors such as ‘romance’ and ‘mystique’ could be found in the cork debate, all talk of synthetics and screwcaps was strictly functional. Moreover, their adoption by new world wineries and cheaper bottles generates inferior conceptualizations for traditionalists.

Commercially, this may seem a moot point – as mentioned earlier, the mass market appear indifferent – but what if the enclosure was the last 5% that rounded off the total product and brand experience? It certainly is for connoisseurs, hence their loud voices in the debate.

So much of the romance and mystique surrounding cork is connected to the serve experience, where skilful removal of the cork with corkscrew and considered assessment of colour and aroma are part of the performance.

So, it appears in my opinion, that an opportunity exists for manufacturers of screwcap enclosures to work with winemakers and sommeliers on a screw enclosure that retains some element of this performance or creates a unique new experience – thus satisfying winemakers, sommeliers and drinkers.

* TCA or trichloroamisole – better known as ‘corking’ [FYI, this is not where you get a bit of cork in your drink]
**various sources suggest it’s around 1% of all bottles produced

What is trending in spa and wellness in 2016?

According to the annual Spafinder Wellness US Trends Report recently out – what is trending in spa and wellness in 2016? Roughly speaking…..

1. Surfing – super-fitness with more young girls and women turning to the waves and to boards in their gyms.

Wine, women and wellness 2016 – Surfing: a great way to stay super-fit

2. From ‘sex therapy’ to ‘sensual fitness’ – retreats for couples offering breathing, acupuncture and Emotional Freedom Therapy and the increasing popularity of sports such as pole dancing.

3. The Temazcal – from Mexico, meaning ‘A House of Steam’. A somewhat primitive, brick hut which acts as a sauna where you can enjoy rituals which cleanse the body, mind and spirit.

4. Spa and wellness for kids – healthy eating, exercise and digital detoxing to help children stave off stress and anxiety, to combat obesity and the effects of screen addiction. Spas are now offering holidays for families (‘spa-milies’) including meditation, yoga, beach dancing, nature walks and snorkelling for youngsters.

5. The adrenaline and zen cocktail – For those who get a kick out of participating in extreme sports such as cliff climbing, freefalling, zip-lining or swinging on a circus trapeze providing that huge adrenalin rush and subsequent release of the stress hormone cortisol. Let the body and mind recover with a massage and steam.

6. Well-Fests – a beauty therapist friend of mine has been selling massages at Weyfest Music Festival for the past 5 years – this somewhat hippie trend is definitely catching on. Rave Yoga and Laughter Yoga – Juice Bars and Salad Bars – bring it on! Instead of coming home after a 3-day festival exhausted, why not come back rejuvenated?

7. On Demand – using your Smartphone App to order a treatment at your home or office at a time to suit you. Personal trainers, home gyms, 24 hour gyms – there really is no excuse look after yourself at your own convenience!

8. Seoul-ful Skin Care – Apparently, there has been a beauty explosion in Korea with the arrival of a mass of skin care products and cosmetics, made for both men and women at very affordable prices. Using natural ingredients – some a little bizarre such as snails and bee venom – and special fermentation methods which claim to convert fruit sugars into more skin friendly enzymes and amino acids.

9. Healthy Cruising – 2016 sees the launch of a new breed of cruise ships which have everything a spa aficionado could wish for – imagine an infinity pool, treatments on your own private deck, hot, wet and cold water experiences and nail bars cum juice bars. Still big buffets but no booze or kit-kats in the mini-bars!

10. Workplace Wellness – this has taken off more in the US than in the UK, however, it is reported that the current approach to attracting and retaining employees is still not working. Different generations want different things – younger workers have higher expectations as to what a company should offer them by way of working hours, the availability of exercise facilities and meals at work (x 3 a day). Some US companies are even offering private cars to take employees to work so that they can avoid a stressful commute – maybe catch up on some sleep too….

A wellness retreat is definitely on my radar for 2016 – perhaps a bit of ‘wine and wellness’ at the brand new Six Senses Spa in the Douro Valley in Portugal or I might head off to Mexico for a bit of sunshine, some surf lessons and laughter yoga on the beach……

To download the full report visit –www.spafinder.com