FIRST SIX NATIONS WEEKEND (An Englishman's View)
By Simon Halliday
The countdown to the Rugby World Cup is well underway, but none of the Northern Hemisphere Teams are paying the remotest attention to anything other than the here and now, if we are to believe the comments in the media. Well I hope they acknowledge that last weekend's offering was turgid, dull and unambitious and whatever they say it wont do anything for World Cup Aspirations. We will be hoping this was just a typically cagey start and there will be some characters to emerge as the weeks go by.
There is one exception to all this, undoubtedly England after the fine result in Cardiff. I was not that surprised, although for unusual reasons, and I will come to that .
Firstly, why such a downbeat assessment in general? It seems as if the No 10's had one intention, to kick the leather off the ball and it made for grim viewing for spectators, not to mention the wingers who were reduced to frustrated onlookers. I simply did not understand the logic. France was by far the worst offender, and that's with Camille Lopez a very tidy player indeed. They never looked like scoring a try, although some commentators tried to get excited about the tank-like Bastareaud. It was left to Thomas Castaignede, the former visionary French fullback turned pundit, to bemoan the lack of any creativity. He was sad rather than vitriolic, since it has become conventional wisdom now for the French. Enough said, in fact too much already.
As for Scotland, I maintain that they will surprise someone this year and I like Finn Russell, the new standoff. Despite my comment about the fly halves this weekend, he is the first since Craig Chalmers to show some real attitude and attack the gainline hard as well as having a rock solid defence. Definitely one to watch, he may just spark this increasingly impressive Scottish side who with a little more luck could have turned over the French.
Regrettably, Italy has gone backwards - where is the team that could have beaten England twice in Rome in recent years? They made 200 tackles against the Irish, which in itself tells a story. But worryingly I couldn't see the inspiration and skill which normal characterises a Roman line-up. Perhaps Sergio Parisse is at last showing the effect of many years of talismanic performances and there is no clear leader in the backs, who haven't scored a try for many months now. So why ever kick the ball under those circumstances ?
Ireland badly missed Jonny Sexton, as the rest of the back line is workaday and that's a general problem for the team, also when without Healy, O'Brien and Heaslip.They have good continuity and will be very tough to beat for sure with their great ball retention.The England match is so far and away the top clash of this year's Six Nations, and if all their best players are fit, it is the major block for Englands Grand Slam hopes. I also worry about the lack of a world class centre post O’Driscolls retirement.
Talking of which, didn't we see a great cameo performance from Jonathan Joseph in Englands midfield!? Why have we had to wait so long to see this man play 13 for his country? Interestingly, had it not been for injury he may not have been on the field, nor perhaps Ford, although Farrells injuries have become too much to ignore. Joseph was given a 1-1 opportunity by Ford's well timed pass and he took it, showing you don't need to weigh in at 17 stone to play successful International Rugby in the midfield. I hope he will be given much more front foot ball in the coming weeks and England will look a different team.
In a curiously low key game, England sucked the life out of a one-dimensional Wales, depriving them of any meaningful second half possession. Their victory could have been more conclusive if they had opened up further, and I predict future results will be. Brown and Watson are complementing each other, the first England try a neat piece of vision and skill. Up front, Haskell was in my view the man of the match, a simply awesome performance which should guarantee his place, closely followed by Attwood making a mockery of being fourth choice in his position. The England management team must now base their attack play around the Bath philosophy, even if it has been foisted upon them.This means that Eastmond should be right on the heels of Burrell.
I am liking Lancasters good fortune - injuries forced his hand and with our remarkable depth of resource the ensuing combinations he has chosen could well be what England need to lay down a real marker, if they haven’t already.
As for Wales, we were all taken in by memories of the game two years ago rather than their below par performances of last year which were replicated here.There is no variety in their play, Roberts and Davies have been worked out now, and the two big wingers have been closed down and nullified. What they would give for some of the wit displayed by Ford, Watson and Joseph. These three will get better, while Rhys Webb is for me the only improving Welsh jewel at No 9.
I am being careful not to make too many early conclusions after only one round, but I am hoping that we will see a significant and necessary improvement in vision from all teams. If not, then the hopes of Wales and France in particular could unravel very swiftly. Meanwhile, England could well mount a cricket score against the Italians if they continue to invest in their talent, with one eye on the big one in Dublin where an expansive attitude will also be critical. The Italy game may be on Valentine's Day but that will be the extent of any romantic notions.
Finally, I referred to player welfare in my last piece.To see the amateurish medical treatment of a clearly concussed George North filled me with dismay. In full view of the world's cameras, he was allowed to continue at risk to his health, and Wales should be admonished for it by World Rugby. Gatland didn't need to have a degree in medicine to take North off the pitch and keep him there, let alone to defend publicly the decision to allow him to continue. I hope we don't see this again.
Posted on February 12, 2015
Posted on February 10, 2015Happy February to All at Charlie The Wine. We hope that you have enjoyed a great start to 2015, Rugby World Cup Year, and if you submitted yourself to a Dry January then hopefully you are embracing February with a renewed thirst for wine drinking.Lots of reasons to look forward to a Fun Feb and some quality wine drinking!Firstly Hot News Fresh From The Wine Press...The harvest in South Africa is well underway. Chris Mariner and I were out there to taste the 2015 Pinotage with Schalk Burger, only 14 days fermenting and it tastes high quality already. Could be another award winning year. And it helps form the basis of Hat Trick and Cricket Pitch, universally admired - the Hat Trick won the plaudits from none other than Jimmy Anderson and Danny Cipriani on the Clare Balding Show, as well as a cynical Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain! We feel that the Welbedacht and Meerkat brands are all set for a powerful 2015 .The word from their home in Wellington Valley is that Schalk Burger Junior is already flexing his Rugby World Cup muscles as the tournament moves into view.Another piece of news - Schalk’s magnificent red blend, the PATRIOT, has just arrived in the UK. What better name to be drinking through the Six Nations campaign with? There will be no shortage of nationalistic pride so this is the one to drink, whatever shirt you support! You need to make contact with Chris or myself for this one. It’s very special and there’s not much of it around!In the Hemel-en-Aarden Valley, or the Happy Valley as they call it in Hermanus, the grapes are waiting to be picked, due to the windier, cooler climate, which also differentiates the wine. Attending a Global Pinot Noir festival may have been bad for the liver, but great for the palate! We were guests of Simon and Holly Turner, who own the lovely Sumaridge Estate. Their Pinot Noir stands scrutiny to the world's best, as acknowledged universally. You have to get involved here.We also tasted their wonderful Wayfarer Sparkling Rose. Even if you’re not looking for a chill to offset the African heat, it’s surely a classic for upcoming Valentine’s Day on the 14th. To encourage you, how about 15% off a case or any part thereof, normally priced at £14… that will impress a loved one!But don't forget the 14th is the same day England play Italy in the Six Nations - we won't be looking for too much romance on the rugby field but off it, you can indulge yourself. Searching through our extensive Italian Selection we like the look of Gavi de Gavi Bianco (intense and simultaneously delicate) at £15.49 or the Prosecco Spumante (wild apple and honey) at £12.99. But to any buyers, subtract 15% and its yours, mixed cases or no. Italy’s best may not defeat England, but the wine and Prosecco are a Roman delight.Other 15% Discounts for February 14th and beyond are the award winning Sumaridge Merlot Rose' (normally £12.99) or the Mon Rene Brut MCC (normally £13.99) a stunning sparkling bubbly from Schalk ,it's named after his daughter Rene.This should get you through Valentine’s Day and set you up for a fun Feb, washing away the Winter Blues!FINALLYWe would like you to sign up to our newsletter, and here’s why. To those that do, there will be offers galore to suit the month, the Sporting Calendar and anything else interesting in the World of Wine.Those who Subscribe and Buy Wine with us will have access to everything from Rugby Tickets to Signed Shirts, Sporting Memorabilia and the opportunity to meet Rugby and other Sports Stars.I shall also, in the future be publishing my Rugby 'Blog' on this website which, as the Six Nations, European Cups and Rugby World Cup approach will, I hope, be interesting to you.We also plan a holiday related initiative - now that has to get people interested!You will be automatically linked to the Rugby Business Network, which supports closer links between Rugby Players and Business which is so important in a professional world. We have struck a deal with them whereby we donate a percentage of wine profits to their Life After Rugby programme. It's a great cause and we hope you will support it.
Thats enough for now - but as ever, we would love to hear from you!
Posted on February 9, 2015
WOW! What a weekend, while most of us here at Charlie The Wine were glued to our television sets watching the first weekend of this year's 6 Nations, everyone's favourite wine man dragged himself away and set about Educating Essex...
So off I went, to the lovely home of Julian and Laura Blake atop Woodbury Hill near Loughton in Essex, for a tasting to the members of the Wasters Wine Society. Formed over 20 years ago, this enthusiastic group of knowledgeable wine drinkers meet 6 times a year to taste wines from all the top wine growing regions in the world They are some 60 in number and have a Master of Wine in their midst, so no pressure then!
We tasted 8 wines, mostly from our very own Welbedacht Estate in the Western Cape of South Africa.
Starting with a glass of MON RENE, we moved through the gears before finishing with a glass of our award winning MARABINO MOSCATO.
I was really put to the test by this knowledgeable, but friendly bunch. What a great evening!
Posted on February 5, 2015
It's always worth making the Journey.
Armed with a spade, rug and hot soup our Intrepid Wine-Man set off for the North East.
A three hour jouney turned into five hour one but luckily upon my arrival I was warmly greeted by the Lowdon Family in the beautiful village of Coatbridge, 14 miles east of Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Luckily Graeme & Wendy’s 12 year old daughter Abby came to my rescue and became my PA for the evening, producing tasting sheets in minutes much to my relief!
The 16 guests sniffed and sipped their way through 8 wines before universally deciding that The Argentian Torrontes and The Amalia Tempranillo hit the high notes, even if they didn't identify them correctly. Amongst the guests was Multi Championship Medalist Athlete Steve Cram, representing COCO, the international children’s charity that we were supporting. Recently returned from Kenya where the wine was best left alone, he enjoyed all the wines on offer but picked out the Gauchezco Malbec as his fave.
Fabulous friendly people, good food, great wine and a snow free journey made for a complete evening!
Bubbles for the Ladies of Liverpool
Saturday night was Bubbles Night for the ladies and their mates in the posh Liverpool suburb of Aigburth.
Graham and Jenny Bonner used their Wine Tasting as a birthday present for their daughter Emily, 25 and her 15 friends . I challenged them with three very different styles of Sparkling Wine to see if they could guess which wine was which .The ladies tasted the Pinot Noir Gauzecho, the Prosecco Nero Brut and the Champagne Autreau Non Vintage, the jury was out as each wine was assessed for quality and value for money...
The Prosecco came out on top as Number 1 choice on the night although the Sparkling Pinot and the Champers were much enjoyed. It was only when the labels and prices were revealed that the challenge became apparent: we tend to drink on labels and price points rather than trust our judgement.
We also tasted 2 Sauvignon Blancs from different continents and 2 roses. A great learning curve and a real lesson to us all that the we need to get tasting more wines to find our favourite tipple… so keep sampling!
Back to London!
To London again, 14 hungry young execs from the fast moving world of sports sponsorship, a gift from their boss. Straight from work, this thirsty lot made real headway whilst asking lots of pertinent questions, they knew a lot more about wine than they were letting on!
The quiz was won by Miranda (pictured with me) with a very respectable score of 9 out of 16.
Everybody enjoyed the fact that they went away knowing just a little more than they did when they started, just the way we like it at Charlie the Wine!
Posted on November 24, 2014Hi Everyone!CHARLIE THE WINE IS BACK! (and with a Cracking Christmas Offer for you!)We hope you haven't missed us too much, we had to take down the websitefor a while in order to upgrade the portfolio and make sure that we werethe best that we could be. So now we're back, better than ever and readyto go! Just as well with Christmas around the corner...Now sit back, relax and let us tell you a little more about Charlie theWine and our culture...So the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that there is avery sporty feel to Charlie The Wine, not least of all because of our uniqueportfolio of South African Vintages centred around the Welbedacht andSumaridge Estates. It may not have escaped your notice that theSpringboks got the better of England at Twickenham recently with Schalk Burger asman of the match! Schalk's family are responsible for the Meerkat andWelbedacht range of vintages and they're based in idyllic Wellington, 40minutes North of Cape Town. This region is increasingly being recognised(not just by us - we promise!) as the place to make wine, even more sothan the more traditional Stellenbosch and Franschoek Vine Yards.Among some scintillating and differentiated offerings,they produce awonderful couple of Red Blends, known to their friends as the Hat Trickand Cricket Pitch, in recognition of the fact that these grapes aresituated right next door to Schalk's cricket Oval, said to be of TestMatch standard although I am yet to play there! What are of Test Matchstandard however are the wines, decided only recently by none other thanJimmy Anderson, England's best cricketer, on National Television.A little further South-East, you find Hermanus, of whale watching fameand home to Bob Skinstad, the legendary former Springbok No 8 and to theSumaridge Estate. The Maritimus and Epitome Vintages produced here areparticularly fantastic, but there are many more besides. We are trulyfortunate.So the other big news at Charlie the Wine HQ is that we are linking upwith The Rugby Business Network and will be supplying wine to theirmembers. This organisation brings together Rugby and Business People toexplore ways in which they can work together both mid and post career -this is a much needed initiative and we are passionate in our support!Now (just to keep you in the loop) Bob runs their South African operationsso that's how that happened and it all links in rather nicely.But just in case you think this is all about the Rainbow Nation, let meput your mind at ease, we also control a global portfolio of selectedbrands, many of course from Rugby Playing Nations. We have even found acouple of lovely English Sparkling Wines , which are all the rage. As anoptimistic Ex-England Rugby International, I need to have some patrioticblends in the mix!I DONT NEED TO TELL YOU ALL THAT WITH THE RUGBY WORLD CUP ONLY ROUND THE CORNER, WE ARE FEELING VERY EXCITED .STAND BY FOR SOME CHRISTMAS OFFERS JUST TO GET YOU GOING. LETS HAVE SOME FUN AT CHARLIE THE WINE !Best Wishes!CTW
Posted on November 13, 2014
Down to leafy Surrey to hold a wine tasting for Alan and Alison Wilson, with 12 good friends all hand chosen for their ability to drink the stuff but not knowing much about it. A perfect combination!
As the guests sniffed and slurped, Hardy the family Great Dane did his best to get in on the act .Not content to sit in his basket, he tried to join in. He's a big lad our Hardy with a penchant for a glass of Rose as it turned out.
The winner with a score of nine was Richard De Leyser with a score of 9 out of 16....not bad but then he did listen to my pearls of wisdom. The favourite wine of the evening turned out to be the Cotes du Ventoux from the Rhone Valley and the Argentinian Torrontes white If only Hardy could speak, I'm sure he would have gone for the Sumaridge Rose...........well there's nothing like a Dane or so they say!
Posted on November 13, 2014
It's been nearly 5 years since I did a tasting at the swanky RBS offices in Manchester's Spinningfields, but Dave Meredith the,host for the night,remembered me from the from those heady days before the crash. 40 folk, a good mixture of staff and guests mixed and mingled whilst trying to unravel the mysteries of a blind tasting.they all seemed to be of one accord that we all make our buying decisions based on price and what the label looks like.
That is the Fun of a blind wine Tasting, not only does it get you thinking but it challenges our perception of what is a good bottle and what is not!
Well all the wines passed the acid test. The Sidewood shiraz and the Argentinian Torrontes (again) were the most popular.
I left them with a drop of The Marabino Moscato, our Decanter award winning wine, at £23 a bottle it is a serious wine, but they all loved it, in fact one fellow bought a case on the night! It all goes to show that you have to taste the stuff and have the confidence to trust your judgement when buying wine ............. with a bit of a nudge from an expert!
They seemed to like me enough to invite me back next week...so the times they are a changing!
Posted on October 28, 2014
Ciaran Devane, retiring chief executive of Mc Millan Nurses, not only won a wine tasting at a friends Ball, but then re-sold the tickets and invited his friends to be entertained and educated over several glasses of wine!
With spectacular views over the Thames from the Albert embankment, a small group sniffed and slurped 8 very different wines from around the world.
They all tried to trip me up with leading questions, but wily old wine fox that I am, I simply helped them on the wonderful journey of finding some thing you like that you are unfamiliar with.
The Wine of the night was the Journee de Mistral Ventoux Grenache from the Rhone Valley, A lovely deep ruby colour, smelling of autumn fruits and a hint of spice on the nose, lovely stuff!
The Sumaridge Merlot Rose caught some of the guests out but was chosen by the winner Sue Pollard as her prize for being the best taster of the evening. We all learnt a lot whilst having great fun.
Posted on October 15, 2014
Jimmy Anderson, England's most success full fast bowler has been spending his non playing hours sniffing and slurping away to find the perfect wine to put his illustrious name to.
Well, tonight he will meet his match.The National Treasure that is Clare Balding, will be offering him 6 wines to try, all with sporting themes, along with fellow guests Danny Cipriani, the Sale Sharks fly half and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal.
Wines from Spain endorsed by Iniesta of Barcelona, and Australia from the stable of Sir Ian Botham and Bob Willis will be up against our very own Welbedacht Hattrick and Cricket Pitch made by our good friend Schalk Burger in the Western Cape of South Africa.
If you can't get to see the programme live why not follow the link to the Website and put a case or 2 in your cart. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed!
Yet again Charlie the Wine is right up there on the Telly!
Posted on March 4, 2014Well, well, well who would have thought it? Three score years! To celebrate with friends and colleagues I have decided like some ancient Eastern Potentate to make a magnificent gesture on my birthday!
Book NOW for the few remaining places at the Curry Lunch on March 21st and I will enter you into a prize draw, the winner of which will be able to sniff, slurp, supp, and savour their way through a lovely mixed case of our fabulous wines from South Africa, exclusive to Charlie The Wine, valued at over £100!!
And yes, I know I don’t look a day over 90!
Have a fabulous day. I know I will!
And let's be hearing from you!!
Charlie The Wine
Dewi Morris Curry Club Lunch
The Dewi Morris Curry Club Lunch offers a great choice of curries and an interesting selection of guest speakers. On Friday 21st March we will be joined by Kevin Connelly and Carl Schofield.
Kevin Connelly is an impressionist, comedian, and after dinner speaker who is probably best known for his role on the popular BBC radio and television programme Dead Ringers.
Carl Schofield, a first class Comedian with his own style and plenty of clean, very funny material.
Click here to book your place at the Dewi Morris Curry Lunch. Prices are £50 + VAT per person.
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