Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Book review: Where Bartenders Drink





What’s the first thing you do when you’re going to a new city? If you’re anything like me, it will be to scour the internet for the best bars and cocktails.

Sometimes, I’ll get lucky and hit upon a few gems, but more often than not, every available link is TripAdvisor, and the highest rated bar is a party Irish bar that’s just fabulous for hen and stag dos. Not really my thing.

That’s where ‘Where Bartenders Drink’ comes in. It’s a reference book of bars from around the world, selected by around 225 of the world’s top bartenders.

It’s been compiled by Adrienne Stillman, the co-founder and editor-in-chief at Dipsology, an online community for cocktail enthusiasts in NYC. When she’s not busy with that, she works in wine, spirits and hospitality marketing, as well as being a certified sommelier.

The book features 700 bars, covering everything from the fanciest cocktail bars, to the dingiest, charming dive bars, and hidden neighbourhood pubs. 



I am one of those people that goes to a new city armed with a list of bars I want to go to, rather than a list of sights I want to see. I’m afraid this book has made my boozy wanderlust just a little bit worse. Not only has it opened my eyes to a lot more places with great bar scenes, but the numbers of great bars in those places, too.

The bar reviews are insightful – these people really know their drinks, naturally – there are specially commissioned maps to help you find your way around, and introductory essays to different regions around the world.

I live in London, and the suggestions are a list of my favourite bars across the city – including Nightjar, Happiness Forgets, Callooh Callay, Blind Pig, and 69 Colebrooke Row – and the rest are on my must-visit list, with the likes of Dandelyan (I know, how have I not been yet?), The American Bar at The Savoy, and Artesian. So I’ve got plenty to tick off at home before I start dreaming of more cocktails further afield.



So if you’ve got a friend who’s constantly telling you where and what to drink, you know what to get them for their next present. I can guarantee they’ll find somewhere new., and you can feel nice and smug about it.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Paradigms and Pervenus @ Theatre of Wine



Those of you who have followed my wine adventures for a little while will know that every so often (and not nearly often enough, may I say…) I organise a wine tasting session for the somewhat grandly titled Camden Symphony Orchestra Wine Society. I say "grandly titled", as the name is a deliberate subterfuge designed to give an element of credibility and refinement to a rag-tag bunch of wastrels who agree with Primal Scream that “we just wanna get loaded; and we wanna have a good time”. 

Once more for this tasting we found ourselves at my favourite wine shop, Theatre of Wine in Tufnell Park. We were fortunate to be reunited with Jason for this tasting as he knows how to deal with situations such as one member of the group turning up with a bottle of Jameson, which he was sipping on in between wine flights – not something you’d see recommended in the WSET handbook for optimal wine tasting. In his defence, it was St Patrick’s Day on the day of the tasting, I’m sure he doesn’t always drink whiskey in between his glasses of wine... 


The brief for the evening I had set for Jason was to do a tasting that contrasted Old World traditions versus New World upstarts; which he delivered in the imaginatively titled tasting session: “Paradigms and Parvenus”. Whilst we reacquainted ourselves with the surroundings (and I dealt with the fact that I had completely cocked up the number of people who were attending…) we started with a 2015 Paolini Lance Grillo (Italy). On the nose this was a pleasant wine, if a little one-dimensional; it featured notes of lemon and had a slightly waxy-characteristic. On tasting it had bright flavours of lemon, tinged with side notes of green apple, pink grapefruit and a smattering of pineapple on the mid-palate. A decent wine (7.0/10.0) and a bargain at £10.90/bottle. 

From then on we were tasting wines in pairs, matching up the Old World wine against the New World wine. In this way we were able to compare and contrast the wines against each other and look for the variation between them.
 

Chardonnays


Our New World Chardonnay came from Chile and was a 2014 Clos des Fous "Locura I" (Alto Cachapoal, Chile). It featured no oak on it at all and came from a vineyard with particularly high altitude. On the nose it had a rather unpleasant (for me) eggy, sulphuric note to it with little fruit evident. However, on the mouth it was surprisingly bright and fresh with a light pear flavour that was very enjoyable. Once you got past the nose, it was an enjoyable wine (7.0/10.0); £14.50/bottle. 

We contrasted this against a 2009 Guillaume Collection (Franche-Comte, France). This wine had certainly seen oak and was a fair bit older; on the nose it was rich and exotic with beautiful butterscotch notes. On tasting it was full of buttery deliciousness that reminded me of brioche, which was followed by mango fruit later on. I thoroughly enjoyed this wine (8.0/10.0); £29.00/bottle. This was as much, however, of a reminder a how variable and flexible the Chardonnay grape is, as much as it was a contrast between Old and New World wines.
 

Roses 


For the roses, Jason played with the brief a little. Rather than going Old World vs New World, he focussed on showing the difference between winemakers who make rose in a “white wine” style, as opposed to those who make it in a “red wine” style (as you can see from the photograph to the right ->). For the white wine style of rose, we were presented with a 2015 Rimauresq (Provence, France) which was light and delicate on the nose (ie: didn’t smell of anything in particular) and when tasted had grapefruit notes, which I found a trifle dull (6.5/10.0); £12.80/bottle. 

On the red wine style we had a 2014 Oikonomoy Liatiko (Crete, Greece) which had a bizarre nose which was well described by one of the group as having “the funk of an old red wine that had gone bad”. On tasting, however, I really enjoyed this; it had more tannic presence and, as a result, had more structure. The dominant flavours that came through were redcurrant and red cherries. I also felt that there was almost a sherry-like oxidative profile to the wine – probably due to the unfiltered nature of the wine. I certainly preferred this wine to the previous, although I think you will be able to have guessed that! (7.5/10.0); £17.90/bottle. 

Rhone-style blends 


For the first of our two reds we started off by looking at Rhone-style blends. Our first in this duo was a wine from one of my favourite producers, a 2014 Liberator “The Francophile” (Stellenbosch, South Africa). On the nose this had very pleasing aromas of blueberry, blackcurrant and a sprig of hawthorn. On tasting it had a lovely blackcurrant juiciness to it, with just a wisp of smokiness too. This was a fantastically enjoyable wine (7.5/10.0) and a steal at the price, £9.80/bottle.  

To contrast we had a 2015 Betton Espiegle (Crozes-Hermitage, Rhone; France), which had a somewhat quiet nose featuring classy notes of red cherry and a bit of plum. On tasting it featured noticeably more body than the previous wine, whilst still having considerable acidity to balance it all out. There was an extra complexity to this wine of a slightly gamey taste (reminded me a little bit of smokey bacon). This was a good wine (8.0/10.0), but more expensive at £16.90/bottle – making the parvenu a much better value wine in my book. 

Aromatic reds 


The last of our pairs focussed on the holy grail of wine making, those light, ethereal, almost spiritual, aromatic red wines. We started with an offering from another of my favourite producers, a 2013 Au Bon Climat Santa Maria Pinot Noir (Sonoma County, USA). Interestingly this wine has been made specifically to recreate the Burgundian-style of Pinot – hence the name. The nose had characteristic sour cherry presence, with touches of eucalyptus and truffle underlining its elegance. The taste was delightful and sensuous, light and energetic, with bags of red fruit flavours, predominantly strawberry. A lovely wine (8.5/10.0); I think good value at £25.90/bottle.

This was contrasted with a 2015 Brezza Langhe Nebbiolo (Piedmont, Italy). Jason described this as being typically Italian in that it represented a “slightly sterner approach to wine”. On the nose it was a little quieter, but the taste was something very interesting – the presence of tannins was very noticeable, it also featured some very powerful black cherry notes. This, like a lot of Italian wines, is really a food wine and needs something to match against it. A classical wine, if not as enjoyable as the last wine from a hedonistic perspective (8.0/10.0); £19.90/bottle. 

Conclusion


As ever with the Theatre of Wine, this was an interesting and thought-provoking tasting. I feel that we all learnt something about the breadth and complexity of the wine world, and (hopefully) found some new passions as well as rekindling some old flames.

Thanks to Jason and the team for hosting us. We will be back soon!

Note: all prices quoted above are based on list prices from Theatre of Wine.   

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The best gin related summer events in 2017

Copper Rivet gin distillery guest post

It looks like 2017 is another great year for gin lovers. With a wide range of fantastic gin events and festivals on, you are spoilt for choice. The gin connoisseurs at Copper Rivet have pulled out what they think to be the best gin events of the summer, so get your diaries out and be sure to give them a try.




Junipalooza, London (Tobacco Dock) – World Gin Day 2017

Junipalooza is one of the biggest gin festivals in the UK. This year will be the festival’s fourth year, and many consider it to be the best way to spend World Gin Day. Junipalooza is essentially a celebration of gin – providing guests with the opportunity to sample fine quality gins from distilleries based all around the world. The festival will host 55 gin makers and 155 different gins, from 12 different countries. You can truly explore the world of gin at this unique and memorable event. The amazing Tobacco Docks venue is an added bonus, too.

Date: 11-12 June (Saturday – Sunday)
Location: Tobacco Dock, London, E1W 2SF
Ticket price: £30

For more information about the Junipalooza event, click here.



Frosts’ Chilli, Chocolate & Gin Festival, Woburn Sands, Milton Keynes (Frosts Garden Centres)

Are you a fan of chilli, chocolate and gin? Then you will love Frosts’ annual food festival. Boasting an excellent selection of the most unique chilli products, the best chocolatiers, and the finest gin producers in the UK, the Frosts day festival is a superb day out for foodies. While sampling local produce from a huge variety of UK producers, you can whet the palate with a selection of best gins. And help tame the heat. Whether you’re a lover of gin, chocolate or chilli, you’re guaranteed to pick up a few gems here.

Date: 26 August (August Bank Holiday)
Location: Woburn Sands, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, MK 8UE
Ticket price: £3

For more information about Frosts’ Chilli, Chocolate & Gin Festival, please click here.



Juniper Festival – Edinburgh (Summerhall)

The Juniper Festival is another fan favourite among gin lovers. The Edinburgh-based festival offers an excellent line up of gin and tonic makers, expert talks, and unique tasting experiences for everyone to enjoy. You’ll be able to try before you buy on a wide selection of gins, food products, handmade fashions and crafts. The Juniper Festival really is a celebration of all things gin, showcasing a wonderful array of styles and tastes, including of course, traditional Scottish gin. Guests can also explore the various food stalls and dabble in some of the finest street food around. Cocktail enthusiasts will be in their element too, with a fantastic choice of mixed drinks available.

Date: 2-4 June (Friday – Sunday)
Location: Summerhall, Edinburgh
Ticket price: £21.50

For more information about the Juniper Festival, please click here.



Gin Festival – London (Tobacco Dock) 

The Gin Festival is the UK’s biggest and oldest gin festival, and probably the most popular event in gin lovers’ calendars. This year’s festival will be hosted in 18 different cities throughout the UK, giving gin-thusiasts all over the country the opportunity to experience some of the best and most exclusive gin products on the market. London’s edition will, like Junipalooza, use the historic Tobacco Dock as its venue. With more than 100 different grains to try, this event is a gin lover’s paradise. There will also be gin masterclasses (with the opportunity to meet professional gin distillers), a gin cocktail bar, live music, and plenty of food to line your stomach with.

If you fancy carrying on the party, why not check out the incredibly popular London Gin Club, or take a stroll down to the classy 214 Bermondsey, where you can sample some the best gin and cocktails London has to offer.

Date: 25-27 August
Location: Tobacco Dock, Wapping, London, E1W 2DA
Ticket price: £15.21

For more information about the London Gin Festival, please click here.

So there you have it. If you don't have time to get to a gin festival this year, there are plenty of gin distilleries that offer tours these days. If you’re ever in the Kent or London area, take a gin tour at Copper Rivet, a brand new craft gin distillery in Kent.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Best UK wedding venues for booze lovers



Choosing the perfect wedding venue can be tough, but I'm a firm believer in picking a place that means a lot to both of you, to give your special day that extra wow-factor.

If you're as much of a booze fan as I am (of course you are, you're reading this), then there are plenty of amazing places to tie the knot in the UK that will give you tingles of joy. Here are some of my favourites:

For wine fans

A vineyard. Of course a vineyard. But you don't have to go oversees to find one with the a real presence. As well as some smaller vineyards that you can use as a setting for your wedding (such as Chilford Hall in Cambridgeshire and Highdown Vineyard in Sussex), there are some seriously special vineyard wedding venues, such as English Oak Vineyard in Dorset and Chapel Down in Kent.

Denbies weddings is a spectacular, award-winning vineyard in Surrey, where not only can you get wed among the vines, but you can have your reception in the romantically-lit cellars. They have various wedding packages on offer, and you can contact them for more information through the link above.

Or, hop over the county border to Sussex, to Bluebell Vineyard. Their entire range of Hindleap sparkling wines are award-winners, vintage, estate bottled, and really delicious. The winery terrace overlooking the vines is perfect for a drinks reception, or there's the option of a fully-lined marquee or more rustic barn. The whole venue feels really peaceful and calming, with the vines and surrounding woodland making for some gorgeous photo backdrops. The marquee can hold more than 120, and up to 180 guests. There are contact emails and numbers available on their website.




For beer fans

Breweries certainly seem to know how to get down, wedding-style. There are tons of breweries offering wedding venues in the UK (just research your local ones!) but three of the best are:

Shepherd's Neame in Faversham, Kent, where you can get married - among other places - in the brewhouse amongst the coppers and mash tuns, under the light of stained glass windows. Wow.

Bateman's in Lincolnshire. We've featured their beers before, but we also LOVE this sixth generation family-run brewery's attention to detail when it comes to weddings. The venue is lined with the largest bottle beer and poster collection in the country (pictured) and it's wonderful.

The Tap Room at Hilden Brewery, Northern Ireland - a pretty, low-key venue with its own beers on offer for guests, and a gorgeous restaurant providing a mouthwatering wedding menu.

For whisky and gin fans

Arguably the most popular whisky venue for weddings is the Glengoyne distillery, near Glasgow - especially in the winter, which of often a tough time for wedding wannabes. Imagine it - the guests can relax in front of the fire with a dram of amber nectar, and even if it's cold, the windswept beauty of Scotland will shine through in the photographs. If you don't believe me, have a google for wedding photos from the venue - they're magical.

Or then there's the Scottish Whisky Experience in Edinburgh. With wedding packages that include distillery tours and whisky tastings, it's really the perfect thing for whisky-mad couples. We know a few of them...

For gin fans, you could do a lot worse than the Plymouth Gin distillery. It's one of the best-known gin brands in the UK and welcomes wedding enquiries. If your nearest distillery doesn't have details about weddings on their website, get in touch. They're probably more likely to want to cater to bespoke clients, so it's worth asking what they can offer.

Where would you most like to get married, booze fans?

Monday, 20 March 2017

"The Evolution of Sherry" Masterclass @ Wines from Spain


When I received my email invitation to the 2017 Wines of Spain, my first thought was: "I hope that Beltrán Domecq is going to be doing another Sherry masterclass" as his 2016 masterclass on Fine, Rare and Old Sherries was simply sublime (read my post on it last year here). I was delighted to find out that he was, with a tasting this year around "The Evolution of Sherry", so I took myself out of the main tasting hall with plenty of time and found myself at the front of the queue - I wanted to make sure I had a good spot, which I duly did!

As a it of background, Snr. Domecq is the President of the CRDO Jerez-Xérès-Sherryy Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda - essentially he is one of the most important men in the wonderful world of sherry; what he doesn't know about sherry is just not worth knowing... 

As with last year, he started off by giving us a brief, but fascinating, history of the wines from the Jerez area on southern Spain. I won't re-count all of what he said, but some of the more interesting points that I took from his introduction were how the "Solera" system was used by Bodegas who make sherry to age and develop their sherries, but also to produce a consistent, house-style and avoid vintage variation (in completely the opposite way to the world of wine). We also touched on the extraordinary breadth and variety of sherries, from pale, bright Manzanillas and Finos, through nutty Amontillados and Olorosos, to sweet and luxurious Creams and Pedro Ximénezs. 

Last year's tasting focussed on the exciting Very Old Sherries and Very Old and Rare Sherries (both official designations within the sherry system) which featured quite a few to the sweeter end of the spectrum; interestingly this year, Snr. Domecq decided to focus on the drier and lighter end of the spectrum, which was a very interesting idea. Essentially what he was trying to demonstrate was how one grape (Palomino) can be used to make such a variety of wines. 

The Tasting     

The first wine we tried actually wasn't a sherry at all, it was a Castillo de San Diego, Barbadillo, a table wine made from the Palomino grape - at 12% it was nice and light, somewhat clean and fresh on the nose and with a bright acidity to it. Given the extreme heat of the Andulusian south  (it is one of the most southerly wine producing areas in the northern hemisphere), it was impressively crisp. This was also an interesting wine, if a little unremarkable.

Now, on to the sherries! We started with a Fino Inocente (Jerez) from Valdespino/Grupo Estèvez (£13.95/bottle available from Lea and Sandeman). This was instantly more recogniseable as a sherry with that familiar oxidated nose; it also had a touch of salinity and pungency to it. On the palate it was bone-dry, but with a little body and richness to it. Very pleasant.

Next up was a Fino Tradición (Jerez) from Bodegas Tradición (£32.93/bottle available from Amazon). This was a darker wine, more amber in the glass and was much more complex on the nose with the first hints at a more nutty aroma. I also thought that I detected a little waxy, brie-like aroma. On the palate it was still dry, but there was a little smattering of bacon-style smokiness. A more complex wine, also considerably-more expensive - worth it though...

The third sherry was a Amontillado Vina AB (Jerez) from González Byass (£13.75/bottle available from Oddbins). This was a golden, amber wine in the glass and had a more pronounced nuttiness to its bouquet, reminiscent of an aged, hard cheese. On the palate, this wine had more presence and structure to it - I described it as more formidable, however this wine lacked a little in terms of finesse and class compared to the last wine. It was also a couple of points higher in terms of alcohol content (16.5%).


Continuing the Amontillado selection, sampling next the Amontillado Collection 12 años from Williams and Humbert (£8.99 - no stockist information). This was a real step up in terms of alcohol content at 19%, but you wouldn't know it from the nose - all floral and honeyed notes. On tasting, it was more angular and sharper. I didn't enjoy this sherry as much as the previous few.

Now we moved on to the first of our VORSs, a Amontillado VORS 30yo Napoleon (Sanlucar) from Bodegas Hidalgo-La Gitana (£44 - available from Exel Wines). This was a tawny-brown in the glass and was the complete opposite to the previous wine - it was more rounded and balanced, full of class and elegance. It had a quiet refinement and presence to it, that made you take notice of it without feeling the need to shout in your face...! 

Our penultimate sample was a Amontillado VORS 30yo Fino Imperial from Diez Mérito (no price details or stockist info). This wine was darker than all of the previous wines. On the nose it was considerably more powerful than the previous wine. On the mouth it was very salty and powerful, a very thought-provoking wine, but one that probably needed a little tapas to bring it to life.

Last up was our only trip to something that was relatively sweet, a Palo Cortado VORS 30yo from Harveys (£23.49/bottle - available from Waitrose). There was just a touch of PX added to this wine, which brings it into the "Medium" classification of sherries. On the nose, there was a touch of butterscotch to the wine, plus a sprinkling of sweet spices. On the mouth it was very welcoming and approachable, perhaps not the most elegant of wines, but it was certainly a pleasing experience in drinking it.

There you have it. Once more, a fascinating tour through the marvellous and ever-so-slightly mysterious world of sherries. I must thank Snr. Domecq again for being such an excellent guide through these wines - his passion and enthusiasm for sherry is really something to behold. 

I am already looking forward (hopefully) to his 2018 masterclass...! 
         

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Liberty Fields Porter's Perfection vodka – review and cocktail recipes



All the way back in the ancient times of 2015, Laura came across a new discovery… Liberty Field’s Apple Aperitif. Needless to say, she was pretty smitten.

Fast forward to the Christmas of 2016 (I know, that was bloody ages ago), and a bottle arrives for me from my sister in-law. It didn’t last past Christmas, and it looks like I’m about as smitten as Laura. It’s really delicious.

Liberty Fields were recently in touch to say that they’ve launched a vodka, too. It’s also made – of course – with their lovely apples. Specifically, Porter’s Perfection red apples.

It’s hand-made in small batches on Liberty Farm – an organic dairy farm in West Dorset – and was developed with the help of Lloyd Brown, the head mixologist at the Venner Bar in Bridport, if you’re ever in the area.


How does it taste?

Annoyingly, I think Liberty Fields have the description pretty much nailed. It really is like the first bite of an apple. 

I'm not usually a neat vodka drinker, but this could change my mind. On the nose it's a bit fruity and peppery, but overall it's just very clean. Taste wise it's crisp, with a very faint hint of apple freshness, and finishing with a mild pepperiness. 

If you're in Dorset, and within 15 miles of Stalbridge, you can get free delivery from Dike & Son, but if you're a bit further afield, you can buy it from Master of Malt for £31.95.

If you can't quite handle it neat, it made a very tasty martini, or there's a bit of cocktail inspiration below.


Cocktails and perfect serves

Vodka Porter’s & Tonic
50ml Porter’s Perfection
Slice of apple that has been soaked in lemon juice
Plenty of ice, and top with Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic.


Weymouth Seabreeze
50ml Porter’s Perfection
200ml cranberry juice
50ml grapefruit juice

Shake together and garnish with a slice of grapefruit.


Porter’s Pommes
25ml Porter’s Perfection
50ml Liberty Fields Apple Aperitif
75ml Fever-Tree Sicilian Lemonade

Serve over ice in a long glass with mint, cucumber and strawberries.


I'm going to have to get my hands on another bottle of the Apertif now... fortunately also available from Master of Malt for £10.40.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Avuá Cachaça: Caipirinha, Old Fashioned and Negroni recipes

There are a lot of great women doing great things in the booze world these days, and as it’s International Women’s Day, this seems like as good a time as any to highlight one.

Katia Espírito Santo is the distiller of Avuá Cachaça. She’s one of Brazil’s only female distillers (there’s more than 4,000 distillers in total), using a family recipe honed over three generations.

Cachaça is still a relatively new thing here in the UK. The World Cup and Olympics helped get people drinking Caipirinhas, but it’s still nowhere near as popular as other spirits. If you want to know more, we’ve written about the history of it here.

Avuá Cachaça launched in 2013, but has recently become available to buy off-trade, too. It consists of two single-estate, limited-production spirits: an unaged one (Prata), and one aged in Brazilian wood (Amburana).



Avuá Cachaça Prata, £30.95, The Whisky Exchange Silver cachaça rested in steel tanks for six months before bottling. It’s very crisp, with some subtle floral notes. As you’d expect, it’s great in a Caipirinha, but I also had a go making it into a cachaça Negroni.

Avuá Cachaça Amburana, £43.25, The Whisky Exchange
This cachaça has been matured for up to two years in Amburana wood casks. This maturation process gives the cachaça a warm, spicy, herby quality to it. It’s lovely to sip, as you would a brandy, but also works in cocktails you’d traditionally use whisky for.

I thought I'd have a go at some cocktails with it, from  the obvious classic, to a cachaça twist on a couple of other classics.

Cocktail recipes

Caipirinha (serves one)
Ingredients:

1 large lime, cut into quarters and then in half again (so eight small pieces)
1-2 tbsp golden caster sugar
2-3 shots Avuá Cachaça Prata
Crushed ice

Shake it!

1. Pop the lime wedges in a tumbler, and top with the sugar.
2. Muddle them together with a wooden spoon (or a decent muddler if you have one) for about 20 seconds. This releases all the flavours and blends the sugar with the lime juice.
3. Top with crushed ice, and if you want to dilute the drink a bit, then lightly muddle the mixture again.
4. Add the cachaça, and stir well to ensure all the sugar dissolves. Alternatively, you can do all of this in a cocktail shaker, then give it a good shake and pour into the glass.

Cachaça Negroni (serves one)
Ingredients:
30ml Avuá Cachaça Prata
30ml Campari
30ml sweet vermouth

Shake it!

Combine all the ingredients over ice in a tumbler and stir until combined. Squeeze a bit of orange peel over the drink and serve.






Cachaça Old Fashioned (serves one)

Ingredients: 

50ml Avuá Cachaça Amburana
A few drops of Angostura bitters
15ml simple sugar syrup
Ice

Shake it!

In an old fashioned glass, combine your sugar syrup and bitters. Fill your glass with ice. Slowly add in the cachaça, stirring all the time. Garnish with a slice of orange.

Monday, 20 February 2017

"Open That Bottle Night" 2017 - #OTBN

Photo taken from The New England Scholar under CCL

It's that most wonderful time of year again... No, not FA Cup 5th round weekend; not the qualifying rounds for the Eurovision Song Contest. But, Open That Bottle Night! 

Every year on the last Saturday in February, wine lovers from around the world gather their friends and families around them and celebrate that fact that you don't need a "special occasion" as an excuse for opening that particular bottle you've been holding, instead the opening of that bottle makes the occasion special - and it is always better to enjoy that wine with great company.

What are the origins of "Open That Bottle Night"?

A fair few years ago two journalists who worked for the Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, were reflecting on an issue that they and others that they had spoken to had when it came to wine. They found that many people possess "special" bottles of wine: they could be from an auspicious year, perhaps one from a year that has some significance, or from a favourite producer or region. The bottle(s) sit proudly on the wine rack and await their moment of glory. The trouble is that the wine lover wants to celebrate a truly special occasion with this wine and nothing quite seems to hit the mark. The wine waits and waits, as the time passes the requirement for just how special the event is to merit opening the wine becomes greater and greater, and consequently the chances of the wine being opened get lesser and lesser. By the time the wine is eventually opened, it is invariably too late and the wine has spoiled, or else the poor wine lover finds that the wine was corked anyway... 

Gaiter and Brecher felt that rather than looking for a special occasion to open the special bottle of wine, the opening of the special bottle of wine should be an occasion in its own right. After all, what could be better for any wine lover then gathering around friends and family and enjoying that wine that we love so much? To aid this they decided that every year the last Saturday of February should be set aside as the date that wine lovers all around the world come together and open that bottle (or bottles) that they've been saving and spend an evening enjoying them. What a truly wonderful idea.

What am I opening for #OTBN 2017?

Once more I am fortunate in that I am able to celebrate OTBN with my brother and my sister-in-law as they are coming to visit for the weekend. On the Saturday, we have a lovely lunch planned at one of my favourite restaurants, Pollen Street Social; later on in the evening we will head back to my flat and I am planning for us to have a nice, rich Tuscan stew designed to showcase the prodigious wine for the evening, a 2012 Tignanello (Tuscany, Italy). I bought a bottle of Tignanello, one of the famed Super Tuscans, when I was visiting Tuscany last October. In truth, I'd love to hang on to this bottle of wine for a few more years to let it develop a bit further, but conditions in my flat are not perfect for ageing wines so I'd rather drink it now and avoid any chances of it spoiling.

What are you going to open for #OTBN 2017?

I hope that some of you will take this opportunity to open something special for OTBN. Please let us know what you are doing, tag us in photos on Twitter (@vinspireuk), tag me on instagram (@tjmilford) or tag us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/VinspireUK/). It will be great to see how everyone is celebrating...! 
  
  

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Alcoholic tips to make Valentine's Day run smoothly

Yuck.
It's Valentine's Day on Tuesday, did you know?

If you have a partner, it's probably pretty awkward at the moment because one of you is trying to keep your plans a secret, and the other one is thinking, "What a dick, they've not even got anything sorted for Tuesday." Classic predicament.

Because I'm pretty much Cupid, just worse to look at and crap with a bow and arrow, I thought my wisdom might come in handy to those of you who are perhaps taking someone out for your first Valentine's evening together. It can be nerve-racking, but if you have ever read any of my other "advice" (I use the term loosely) pieces, you will already know that I speak utter shite good sense.

You've obviously sorted flowers and bowls with floating candles and covering the entire dining room with rose-petals, that's a given. Hell, you probably have the food sorted too right? Something romantic like Oysters, Caviar or a Pot Noodle, but the question still remains: what do you drink?

Laura has already written a great guide of actual, real life, good wines to drink for Valentine's, with names like Passion Has Red Lips, Sexy Beast Cabernet and Love Pole Semillon (I made up Love Pole Semillon, but the others exist), so now she has covered the good ideas, I thought I would quickly go over the not so good ideas.

1. Avoid serving Ron Jeremy's Rum, at all costs. It might give the wrong impression, or the intended impression, which is still the WRONG impression. You don't want to give your partner anything with a long finish that tickles the back of the throat just yet. Come on people, behave.
Hugo wrote about Ron Jeremy's Rum a while back, and it's worth reading.

2. Probably don't drink too much in order to calm your nerves. It's maybe a good idea to knock back a quick shot of whisky, but no more than a shot! Slurring your words and not being able to walk in a straight line is not a good thing. Plus, saying to your date "'ere youuu know what...? I bloody love yooou, I do," could potentially ruin everything for everyone.

3. Sabrage is a no-no at an intimate meal for two. You won't look funny or clever whipping your sword out at the dinner-table. It might come across as a little 'forward', and if the bottle is a little shaken up, you risk soaking your date. NO, that's not good. Stop it.

You see, they do exist...
4. Please don't serve any wines from the Playboy Wine Club range. Giving the impression you wished your lady-date looked more like the girl off the bottle of Zinfandel is a bad thing, and it won't go down well. And yes, there is a range of Playboy wines... Hugh Helfensteiner is up to his old tricks again (if you click the link you will realise that is an outstanding wine joke, feedback on postcards please).

5. Carlsberg do not do Valentine's dates so don't bother drinking Carlsberg until you can't feel the pain of being single on Tuesday 14th, because it won't help. If they did do Valentine's dates though, they would be amazing. Drink craft lager instead if you are on your own, it's tasty.

With a combination of Laura's what to drink piece and these five things to remember, you should be on target for the best Valentine's Day ever. Whether you are an avid fan of the soppiest day of the year, or you just think it's the soppiest day of the year, do something fun.

We would like invitations to the weddings please. Best Man speeches are available upon request...

What have you got planned for Valentine's Day? Let us know by commenting below, or on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Images taken from JanviSharma, Vinspire & Dracula&stuff's photostreams respectively, under the creative commons license.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Liquor of Love - Is wine truly a Valentine's Day aphrodisiac?



Liebe. L'Amour. Kjaerlighet.

All words to describe the indescribable feeling of love in different languages (even though the last one in Norwegian sounds a bit like the first word I utter when I'm woken up in the morning...).

Yes, the day that either sends people running to the nearest '3 courses for a tenner' restaurant clutching a garage forecourt-bought bunch of pansies, or battening down the hatches and hunkering down until all the loved-up madness passes by for another year. Valentine's Day has crash landed once again and whether you are a lover or a fighter of it, many glasses and bottles of beer and wine will be consumed over the 24 hours that covers the 14th February.

However, just before you get out the corkscrew and get ready for the hedonistic delights of your favourite bottle of Rouge or Blanc, have you ever thought why wine is considered such an integral part of the courting ritual? Does having a sip of something stronger than strawberry milkshake stir up the passion in the loins? Or could you achieve the pinnacle of romance without sipping the 'Devil's Brew'?

Wine has always been used as the lubricant that oils the pistons of love, ever since the Romans used to fill their amphorae to the brims and ring the bells on their day long 'sexy parties'. The Ancient Greeks had their tipsy God of Wine Dionysus, who was characterised as not only as an over-the-top type of God, but also a charming, playful and (some would say) very erotic kinda guy. Then you also have the famous wine quote 'In Vino Veritas' (or 'In Wine, there's Truth') by the guy who really needed Deed Poll to change his name, way back in 'Before Christ' Greece. Pliny the Elder. It was used then as an explanation as to the spirituality and enlightenment that wine brings, where as we'd interpret it to be be declaring that you fancy the pants off him/her after 2 glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon.


But enough now about 'the good old days', lets crack on with the science behind the statement. Back in 2009, a group of Italian researchers conducted a spot of research into the consumption of red wine and women's sexual libido. and found out that women who consumed on average 2 glasses of red wine a day had a higher sex drive than those who consumed less than 1 glass a day and those who didn't drink at all. What also startled them was that the average age of the women who did drink 2 glasses a day were older than the other 2 groups, when it is commonly assumed that the older a woman gets, the lower her sex drive becomes.

Now, there is no actual nailed on, carved in stone, definitive reason why this was the case, but many experts have pointed to the fact that alcohol stimulates a part of your brain called the horrendously unpronounceable Hypothalamus, which controls the most basic of human functions, such as hunger, body temperature, hormone levels and your sex drive. Other explanations focus more on the fact that red wine contains loads of a compound called Resveratrol (see this article for the benefits of Resveratrol), which help to widen the blood vessels leading to both men's and women's naughty bits, which in turn could lead to a bit of Midnight Athletics.

However, remember the fact that moderation is key. If two glasses of beautiful wine can get you in the mood for a bit of 'slap and tickle', three glasses could lead to you being passed out, snoring by 9pm. Beware!

Looking at different cultures, alcohol has been heralded for many a century as a instigator of passion. In countries such as China and the Korean countries, the mysticism behind potions classed under the label of 'wine' has lead some to be complete devotees of the art, regardless of the murky way they are produced. In the media recently, two Chinese nationals were stopped from taking an 'aphrodisiac wine' through customs, so decided to chug it at the gate before they went through. This 'Tiger Bone Wine', supposedly made from ground up tiger bone gives the imbiber sexual powers. China banned the the sale of any tiger-based products many years ago, but unfortunately its still big business and many people in the Far East still believe in its properties. Adding to this, there is also such things as Snake Wine, where venomous snakes are steeped in rice wine and left to 'mature' for a few months and consumed in shot-type glasses. It is believed to be brilliant for the health and virility, but I don't think we'll be seeing this prescribed on the NHS, thankfully.

Whatever you are doing to celebrate/commiserate this most passionate of days, I truly hope whatever you put in your mouth, makes you happy...

Stop the sniggering at the back there...