Like me, have you ever looked at someone swigging a bottle of the finest plonk and wondered what the fuss is all about?
I’ve drank wine at weddings that have made my eyelids turn inside out and watched in wonder as “connoisseurs” have put on their best French accents to try to sound good choosing their top tipple. To me it’s always seemed like drink snobbery.
But I’ve been known to judge too quick, so when Rockliffe Hall’s resident Orangery sommelier offered to take me on a wine journey, I boarded a flight of five to go with my taster menu in the stunning hotel’s Orangery restaurant.
Originally from Sweden, wine expert Daniel Jonberger has 26 years experience under his taste buds and I’m now one his grape coverts.
I never imagined that drinking wine could be such an experience…..
Me and the wife managed a rare retreat from our two little treasures and made the wisest choice of a spa break at Rockliffe.
Opened in November 2009, Rockliffe Hall is an AA-rated, five-star leisure resort set within 375 acres on the banks of the River Tees just outside the village of Hurworth, County Durham.
We stayed in one of the amazing suites in the old Hall main building of the 61-bed hotel with fantastic amenities and opulence to match - as you would expect of this multiple award-winning establishment.
The hotel boast a championship 18-hole golf course, brasseries, brilliant gym and wellness centre, brasserie and luxurious spa - but for me it’s worth going for a fab food and wine experience that that would grace any family occasion, celebration or date night.
We opted for the five-course taster menu with wine flight to match each tantalising dish. And as I said, Daniel really did take us on a journey.
Chef Richard Allen is now one of the Uk’s most celebrated chefs and it’s easy to see why he has earned his Michelin star..
I opted for the menu with the delecatable amuse bouche and then the smoked fillet of sea trout, duck parfait with chocolate, chamomile and pine nuts, scallops with a crab, sea lettuce and clementine bisque and finally a roast breast chicken dish with saute liver. The whole thing was divine, but for me the wine pairing was to match.
I’ve heard people say that you can pair wines to dishes, but never imagined it could taste, well - just right!.
Daniel was on hand to inform and engage us with his knowledge of the grape - but in a warm and friendly way that made me want to be his new pal.
Now don’t get me wrong, the taster menu was £75 each and it’s £55 per person for the five-wine flight - but it was worth every penny for a truly memorable experience and worth making the journey for even if you aren’t staying at the hotel.
As spa breaks go, Rockliffe does cater for everyone - and families with young kids are welcome, unlike many similar establishments - and that includes the spa which has a kiddie pool next to its 20m pool.
The spa is the perfect place to relax and unwind. You can drift away in the thermal bathing suite with its tepidarium, caldarium, saunas, tropicarium, hydropool and ice fountain, or relax on sound-wave therapy beds. I especially loved the hot and cold foot baths. Or you can indulge in the many treatments on offer.
Many travel to Rockliffe for spa day experiences - where they can pamper themselves and also enjoy lunch and refreshments in the the brasserie which overlooks the grounds - and Middlesbrough FC’s training ground in the distance for the footy fans among you.
The gym is one of the best equipped and staffed I’ve seen in a hotel (for the more energetic) and the 19th (clubhouse) is great for an afternoon pint or cocktail.
But one of the best things about this hotel, which owner Steve Gibson should be especially proud of, is the staff. Nothing is too much trouble, but with a true north-east charm to boot.
Rockliffe, I will be back….
Rating: 9 out of 10
Price: Rates vary - but there is a super offer on that the moment for a ‘Whimsical Winter Break’ which starts at just £155 per room for a one-night break staying in the /Tiplady Lodge which includes breakfast and use of the spa facilities. See www.rockliffehall.com for more details.