Cheese and Wine tasting at St Martin’s Tea and Coffee, Leicester

We stopped by at the ever lovely St Martin’s Tea and Coffee Merchants last week for their cheese and wine tasting evening. It was the right thing to do. At just £9 a ticket it seemed like a good value evening out and we ended up with a group of 6 of us, so it was lots of fun. Me and The Boy have of course been to a number of tastings before. One of my friends was with us at the fun but not great Home Wine Tasting Debacle a few weeks back and the others were relatively new to the whole tasting set up, so there was a nice mixture of expectation and experience.

St Martin’s is a great little coffee house that has been expanding its reportoire over the last few years to include a number of different tastings, live music, life drawing classes, sewing evenings (which I particularly fancy) and a burlesque night, amongst other things. It’s very much a part of the burgeoning independent scene in Leicester at the moment, with its mismatched furniture and vintage decor. I’m starting to wonder why people ever complain that there’s nothing to do here, because I’m starting to find it hard to decide because there is so much choice of quality and interesting events and places to pop along to.

So we were in amiable, pleasant surroundings. The table was set with cute vintage plates, a range of glasses, water, and bread and crackers for the table. There was a large table at the front where the cheeses and wines were presented, ready for our host to give us a little walk through of what we were trying and to answer any questions. The two staff who were running the night were really friendly, putting everyone at their ease and helping to create a really fun, relaxed atmosphere – no wine snobbery here!

On the down side, for me at least, there was relatively little information here too – I think that perhaps a tiny bit more information about the wines should have been available on the chalk board. After all, if you wanted to come back to buy some more of a wine you enjoyed, you’re not going to get very far if all you know is that it was a ‘merlot’ or a ‘prosecco’! But maybe that’s just me and my now compulsive addiction to scribbling tasting notes about wines in my little book.

The evening kicked off with a warm welcome, a little talk about tasting wine and then on to the sampling. I thought it was a little odd that the red wine came before the sparkling and the white, but I would imagine that the running order was decided by the relative strength of the cheeses. 

The first tasting pair was a merlot with Westcombe cheddar.

Bordeaux 2013, £8.00 a bottle

This merlot was light on the nose, with a savoury, light on fruit sort of bouquet, suggesting a light bodied wine. The rather deep, purple almost cherry coloured wine was surprisingly creamy on the palette. It was very smooth with vanilla and a lightly sweet blackberry taste, with just a slight background lemon hit. It was very drying on the palette and when you added it to the creamy Westcombe cheddar with its caramel tang it really brought out a spicy element in the wine – which was great – but sadly completely overtook the delicious vanilla note – which was a shame. But such is the joy of pairing wine with food, you get a whole new experience. This was a really drinkable wine and I am keen to try more of its ilk as it is so young, but still has a lot of complexity. Lovely.

About £10 a bottle

Fruity and floral ont he nose, but with heavy, ill disciplined bubbles in the mouth, there was a light, sweet elderflower flavour cut with lemon which was uninhibited and simple. It was super, super sweet. I think the cava has ruined me. This was matched with Bath soft cheese – a British take on a brie which just about had the mushroom and lemon character boasted on the packet. It was very light and smooth, with a slight earthy sourness but not as deep and complex as a brie, with a very soft rind – less aged perhaps? Anyway, the wine took the edge of the cheese but also makes the prosecco even more tooth achingly sweet and really lemony with that quite strange mushroom/earthy backnote from the cheese still lingering in your mouth. Essentially, I thought they brought out the worst in each other. But there’s no accounting for taste. Certainly I wouldn’t go out of my way for either again.

JC Barbe
Dessert wine
2009, about £20 a bottle

A pretty standard price for a dessert wine, but I think it was the surprise of the evening as we were all expecting a white, not a dessert wine! Rounded taste with a soft baked apple nose that is super sweet and creamy on the palette with a hint of sea salt and nectarine traces. It is, as you would expect, thick on the mouth and long on the finish. It’s complex smell and flavour was not really to my taste, but then they paired it with the classic Stinking Bishop, which was worth it just to see and hear the dramatic reaction that the cheese brought to the uninitiated! The retching, the laughter, the general doubling over as if in pain, followed by the desperate snatch for the pear slices that were brought round as a palette cleanser was an evening highlight that will stay with me for quite sometime!

For myself, I quite enjoyed the pungency of the cheese, which took the syrupy edge off the wine and brought out an unusual moss flavour and a very much more pronounced hint of pear, which I really liked. In terms of excellent matching, this was the combination I found the most interesting.

2008, about £20 a bottle

And to finish the evening we had a delicious port matched with the alway delicious Blacksticks Blue, a real treat. It was great to try (or re-try) so many lovely British cheeses. This good red cheese with just a hint of blue flavour added sweetness and a toasted nutty flavour to the port – like woodsmoke perhaps? This was a good compliment to the flavour before the cheese, which was bursting with deep, wood and full fruit with a dash of vanilla icecream or perhaps marzipan along with full, ripe black cherry. A fantastic way to end the evening.

A great evening was have. Tasting measures were generously poured, samples of cheese were so hefty that a slight cheese-drunk haze descended upon our group! An evening full of giggles and new experiences. I would heartily recommend you head over to the St Martin’s Facebook page and keep up to date with their many and varied events and activities. This place is a real Leicester gem.


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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