Monday, 5 February 2018

Exploring Waipara

This is the second of my posts focussing on my wine experiences when I spent a month Down Under in December / January (you can catch up with my first post about the Hunter Valley HERE).

Towards the end of our trip we spent a few days in Waipara, which is a wine region about an hour's drive north of Christchurch. We had spent the last couple of weeks touring around New Zealand's South Island and had earmarked having a couple of relaxing days at the end of the trip to do a bit of relaxing and a lot of wine sampling! Now the South Island (and, indeed, New Zealand wine in general) is mostly known for the wine region of Marlborough and its ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc; I will state straight away that I am not a particular fan of these wines and hence we avoided the area altogether. I selected visiting Waipara because I wanted to go somewhere a little more interesting and also it fitted our itinerary a little better as we were looping back to Christchurch.

The Waipara wine region is a cool climate wine producing area, hence its main grapes are Rieslings, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blancs, Gewürztraminers and Chardonnays - what's not to like about that?! The topography of the region gives it a number of different reliefs with the south-facing hill-side faces being the premium sites. The soil types that you tend to find are limestone and clays with some gravel soils too.

Dunnolly's Wine Cottage 

What better way to get to know the wine making region then to stay in a cottage on a vineyard itself? We found accommodation at Dunnolly's Wine Cottage which is situated with view over the Dunnolly's own vineyard - Dunnolly Estate. The cottage was extremely beautiful with a lovely, spacious kitchen / diner / living area that had views across the vineyard.

As you would expect you can also try their wines whilst you are there and get to speak to members of the Parish family (who run the vineyard) themselves about the wine-making experience in the area. The head wine-maker for Dunnolly is Nicky Parish who has spent time working in wine all around the world and can be very pleased with the work that she is doing at Dunnolly. 

I tried their 2016 Pinot Gris which had a warm and lively nose featuring crisp pear and juicy red apple notes, augmented by warm honey aromas. On the mouth there was bags of acidity on this well-balanced wine, with lemon-lime flavours coming through accompanied by ripe pear. This was a nice wine that we sipped as we sat in the sun in our garden looking over the vineyard - bliss! 

We took a bottle home of their 2016 Reserve Chardonnay, which I opened recently in order to give us a little reminder of our holiday. This was a beautifully expressive wine with all sorts of buttery, briochey aromas on the nose, off-set with ripe pear and a little bit of lemon rind. The tasting notes were full of juicy, fresh flavours, crisp red apple with baked pie-crust. This was a very poised and pleasing wine to drink. It went fantastically with the fish pie that we had for dinner!

I'd heartily recommend staying in Dunnolly's Wine Cottage - you can find them on and other websites.


Waipara Wine Trail

One of the other attractions of visiting the Waipara region is that you can do a walking tour of the vineyards, which is very handy as it means the debate about who should be the designated driver are not required! 

When our trip started the weather was a little overcast, but as we made our way through the vineyards the grey skies gave way to glorious sunshine, meaning that towards the end of the trip we were turning up to vineyards somewhat hot and sweaty as the walk did require schlepping up and down a few hills.

Waipara Springs

We set off from our cottage and headed first of all to the nearby Waipara Springs winery which had a charming little Cellar Door on site for us to do a tasting. We tried our way through their 2016 range, sampling their Riesling, Sauvingnon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. As with a number of the vineyards they also have their premium range of wines which features wines from their best sites; they do this under their "Premo" label. I particularly enjoyed their Rieslings and Pinot Gris, which featured ripe, tropical fruit notes. Their Premo Chardonnay was probably their best wine; it had spent some time in oak, giving it a very pleasing breadth and presence. Their entry level Chardonnay was also a pleasant wine at a very reasonable price. 

Muddy Water / Greystone  

Next up on our trail was the adjoining vineyards of Greystone and Muddy Water, which have a number of very different soil types across their holdings with a similarly large numbers of perspectives and reliefs for the wines, giving them a tremendous amount to choose from when selecting where and what they should be planting. The soils of Muddy Water in general tend to be more clay-based, whereas the soils of Greystone are more limestone-based.

We tasted a number (actually quite a large number!) of wines at this Cellar Door as we really get on with the charming lady who was serving us. Very interestingly, they have been experimenting with some Pinotage and Syrah plantings on some of their sites, which is something that I hadn't come across before. However, it was their more Germanic wines that really interested me ("shock, horror" I hear regular readers exclaiming!). I absolutely adored their 2015 Greystone Gewürztraminer which was quite simply the best NZ Gewürztraminer that I have tried; it is made much more in a Alsatian style then many of the others that I had tried on my trip and really had that those beautiful spicy notes on the nose and those voluptuous fruit notes on the mouth. I was also really taken by their 2013 Basket Star Riesling which is made in a spätlese style, i.e. the grapes are left on the vines to get extra concentration of sugars in them, resulting in a delicious dessert wine full of fruit and honey notes that get the mouth salivating! I liked both of these so much that I bought bottles of them and have taken them home with me.

Black Estate


We finished our trail at one of the most famous vineyards in Waipara - Black Estate Winery. As well being known for producing excellent wine, this vineyard is particularly renowned for having a fantastic restaurant perched on the hilltop amongst its vines giving the visitor the opportunity to eat excellent food and drink their wines, overlooking the vineyards from which the grapes come. We took in a lateish lunch, which I must say really was very good; I had the Organic Lamb served with Spring Greens, Bulgur Wheat and Salsa Verde. 

To go with the food, we opted to take three wines available ex-Coravin, which allowed us to taste some of the estate's premium and somewhat older wines. We tried their 2012 Black Estate Riesling which had that characteristic Riesling whiff of petroleum, alongside notes of warm tropical fruit (lychee and passion fruit), with flavours of tart pear and zingy sherbert; the 2010 Black Estate Home Pinot Noir had a quite quiet nose which was pretty and delicate featuring smatterings of red cherry, strawberries and rose petals and a supple and rounded palate with loads of red fruit flavour, but surprisingly little secondary or tertiary flavours; and their 2010 Black Estate Omihi Series Pinot Noir which had a deeper nose expressing secondary profiles of forest floor and leather alongside the red fruit, and a mouth that was broader and more developed than the Home with dominant strawberry and black cherry notes. 

To finish the meal, we took in pudding and a coffee on a table outside of the main restaurant with a splendid view over the vines. This was the life - I think you can probably understand now how hard it was to come back to the UK in the middle of winter!


Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Getting to know the Hunter Valley

I have just returned from a wonderful month Down Under on a trip around Australia and New Zealand, which as you can imagine was an incredible experience (check out my pictures on Instagram if you want to see what I got up to: WARNING! may cause you to book a holiday to New Zealand!).

As you can imagine, as well as exploring these beautiful countries for their incredible landscapes and wildlife, their delicious food and basking in their summer sun; I took the opportunity to get to know a little bit more about their wine scene. I mean, everyone knows that Australia and New Zealand produce delicious wine, but I wanted to get to know these wines better. I feel that you always understand and appreciate a wine region more when you have stood on their soils, looked at the lay of the land and met some of the people who devote their lives to making these delicious wines that we are fortunate to enjoy.

My first post will focus on a day that I spent touring around the Hunter Valley region of Australia, which lies around 120km north of Sydney. Hunter Valley is one of Australia's premier wine producing areas, known for producing excellent examples of those quintessential Aussie wines: Semillon and Shiraz. It features a number of different soil types, including clay, sandstone, volcanic ash and limestone. We did our tour with a company called Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tours, who collected us from Sydney's Central Business District at the ungodly hour of 7am and ferried us in a comfortable mini-bus to Hunter Valley (via a cafe where we could pick up some breakfast and a coffee, thank goodness). Our tour was led by our amiable and rather amusing tour guide, Bill.

We visited four vineyards or cellar doors on our trip. A word on cellar doors before I move onto the details - on my time Down Under I became rather well acquainted with Cellar Doors, which are essentially the retail offering of a winery or vineyard that offers wine tastings and sells wines to punters as they drive around the wine regions (obviously with spittoons provided for drivers to employ so that they don't run the risk of drink driving). "Cellar Door" has also been noted for how beautiful the phrase sounds when you say it, with none other than J. R. R. Tolkien waxing lyrical about it (read more here if you are interested...)

So, with that said now, on to the wine...!


Our first stop was to visit Lambloch, who were very forthright in their views when presenting their wines; they said that they don't enter their wines into exhibitions and wine award competitions - instead they focus purely on selling wines to those people who come through their doors. Why do they do this? Interestingly, their winemaker feels that some winemakers get caught up in making wines that will impress wine judges, rather than making wines that are enjoyable to drink. After all, what is the point of wine, if not to be drunk by people? 

I found that they certainly had some interesting and very pleasing wines. The wines that stood out for me were their 2015 Sparkling Semillon, which was made in a Charmat method (ie: not the Champange method) and is one of only two sparkling Semillons currently produced in the Hunter Valley, it had a nose of lightly tropical fruit (pineapple) with a nice mouth-feel. It wasn't particularly complex, but was certainly very pleasant and would make for a nice, summer sipping wine. Interestingly, their other wine that grabbed me was their 2016 Moscato Sparkling, which was again made in a Charmat method using Black Moscatel grapes this time. It had a lovely, light peach nose, but on the mouth featured a surprisingly complex and layered taste of rose, strawberry and Turkish Delight. This was an excellent wine and with a low ABV (7% I think), it would make for a great afternoon wine whilst getting the BBQ ready!

Hermitage Wine Cellars

Next stop for us was Hermitage Wine Cellars. This time we weren't visiting a producer per se, but instead we were visiting someone who distributes wine and as such has many different producers' wines on their lists and available to purchase/taste. We tasted six different wines, which were served with matching cheeses (I must say that the cheeses were really very good too, they did a great job matching them!).

My favourite wine that they served was a 2015 Stormy Ridge Shiraz that had a really pervasive red cherry nose, which was followed by a taste that featured similarly red cherry notes, bright and vibrant. It was served with a marinated feta that really worked well against the bold Shiraz. I also enjoyed trying the 2016 (?) Lisa McGuigan Chardonnay which had benefited from a little time in oak giving it beautiful, warm notes of tropical fruit and a smattering of buttery-goodness. This was served with a ripe brie - what could be better??

Leogate Wines

After this we moved on to Leogate Wines, which is set in an absolutely beautiful estate - I could absolutely understand it when they said that they do weddings on their vineyard, it would make a stunning place to get married. Leogate are currently riding high (literally) as their wines have been selected to be served by Qantas airlines on their First and Business Class flights - the competition to win this accolade is intense, so they are justifiably proud.

We tried a number of their wines, my highlights were: the 2015 Brokenback Late Harvest Semillon which had some nice tropical fruit notes (mango and pineapple), the palate featured a really nice splash of acidity that gave the wine a vibrancy and a nice balance to it. I'd been looking forward to tasting a nice Semillon and this one hit the spot. I was pleasantly surprised by their 2017 Rose Shiraz which had a quiet nose, but a thoroughly pleasant strawberry taste, with quite a bit of weight to it. Of the reds, I really liked their 2015 Brokenback Shiraz, a heavy-duty wine that had already developed some interesting secondary notes of leather and a grind of black pepper; on tasting it was rather tannic still, suggesting that it could do with a couple more years to settle, but that this would be a serious wine.

Very much enjoyed the tasting here, the only thing that irked me was that their tasting portions were very small - barely enough for two decent sips, which isn't great as you can't really form an opinion on a wine solely on the first sip (in my opinion).

Mount View Estate

For our last tasting we headed to Mount View Estate, who gave us the opportunity to try 12 of their wines (they certainly weren't stingy!). It was a very interesting tasting as they served the wines in pairs to show us variety between what we were tasting, for example a Semillon in a dry style versus one in a slightly richer style. 

Of the wines that we tried, again a few stood out for me. Firstly, their 2016 Reserve Chardonnay which again featured a bit of time in French Oak casks, giving the nose a nice and open profile with ripe pear coming through as well as some subtle buttery notes. On tasting, I found it to be a really classy wine with plenty of poise. I also very much enjoyed their 2015 Reserve Shiraz (which featured a nice little splash (8%) of Vioginer in it); this was another very elegant wine with the fruit being very well integrated to the tannins at this point in its development and the Viognier just providing a little softness to take the edge off the Shiraz. The last wine that I wanted to write about was a bit of a curve-ball, their NV Flagship Liquer Shiraz (which apparently has spent an average of 28 years in barrel), this is a fortified wine and was frankly delicious: on the nose it has all the Christmassy smells going on, chocolate, sweet spices (cloves, nutmeg), dark black cherries; it coats the mouth nicely and has flavours of dark chocolate and warm spices. An excellent wine! 


I titled this post "getting to know the Hunter Valley" and I feel that this tour did a good job of giving me a better understanding of the wines and winemakers in this much-vaunted wine-producing area. I expected to enjoy the Shiraz and the Semillons, but I was surprised (and pleased) to see that there was experimentation and innovation going on too, with the sparkling wines and roses unexpectedly good. Also, the people that we met were evidently proud of their products and their region - as they should be. The tour was well run and enjoyable and it was nice to meet wine enthusiasts from all around the world. Thanks to Bill for being a great host for the day and providing some enjoyable Aussie wit as part of his tour guide patter. I'd highly recommend a trip to Hunter Valley if you make your way to Australia and think that Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Tours do a good job (particularly as they do all the driving so you can focus on the tasting!).   

Friday, 19 January 2018

Perfect Burns Night wines

Photo: Happy Wanderer (CCL)

Burns night is upon us and you know what that means? Another excuse to drink. And of course celebrate the life and poetry of Robert Burns and all that he has done for the great nation of Scotland.

Burns Supper is always associated with that classic of Scottish delicacies, haggis. For those who don't know what haggis is, it's a pudding made with sheep offal minced together with onion, herbs, oats and suet, encased in a sheep's stomach. Don't let the sound of it put you off, it is delightful.

Now we've covered the food, what about the drink? What Scottish drink could you possibly serve with Scottish food on a Scottish night? If you said whisky then five points to Gryffindor! Haggis is traditionally served with a dram, and the toasts are always accompanied by a dram.

But what if you don't want to go diving into the whisky at 7pm and be flat on your face by 9? Or for some obscure, unknown reason, you don't like whisky? Well, I'm going to take you through a few little numbers to wash down the Haggis, or keep you flinging until morning.

Wines to match haggis

Wine and offal are often difficult to match. In this case you ideally you want something fairly robust, but that goes well with gamey flavours. Pinot Noir matches well with the gamey flavours, but will be too light too deal with everything else.

An alternative would be the Barbera grape. Hailing from Northern Italy in the Piedmont region, this thin skinned grape is low in tannin but can produce high acidity wines. When made well and balanced with the right amount of oak ageing, it can produce beautifully fresh wines with high acidity, and a smooth, sweetly spiced finish.

Sainsbury's TTD Barbera D'Asti 2016.
A classic example, this wine has a beautiful berry freshness about it. Typically low in tannin and high in acidity like all good Barbera wines.
£8.50 from Sainsbury's.

Zinfandel from California will also be a good choice. Heavier and more tannic than Barbera, it produces more powerful wines with flavours of cocoa, coffee and herbaceous characters.

Cline Ancient Vine Zinfandel 2014, California.
Bold, juicy and full of earthy notes, this wonderfully ripe Zinfandel will match the haggis perfectly. The nose has fresh red fruit, coffee and vanilla while the palate follows up with a very smooth texture, firm tannic structure and slightly spicy, vanilla heavy finish.
£13.99 mix six offer at Majestic.

If you really don't like red and want to go for a white, make sure to go for something rich and full of flavour. Dry whites like Sauvignon Blanc just won't do the job. Even the oakier Chardonnays will struggle.

Try Pinot Gris from Alsace. While it is the same grape as Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris is harvested much later allowing the sugars within the grape to develop further and produce more exotic flavours. An excellent example of this is:

Tokay-Pinot Gris, Rolly Gassmann 1996, Alsace.
Wonderfully rich and full bodied, it has flavours of lychee, mango and slight citrusy character, this bold wine will stand up more than most other whites.
£34.25 from The Vinorium.

Wines with a Burns Night theme

If you're happy with whisky for dinner, but want something with a little bit of a Scottish twist without being too gimmicky, why not try either of these.

Jim Barry McRae Wood Shiraz 2012, Clare Valley.

There's nothing like an Aussie Shiraz, and this is a prime example of what it's all about. Beautifully perfumed on the nose, the palate is packed with black fruit with rich, powerful and savoury spice. An absolutely stunning wine... and it's got tartan on the label!
£24.99 from Waitrose Cellar.

Bobbie Burns, Rutherglen Durif 2015.

Do you really need an explanation as to why I've chosen this? Aside from being an astounding wine, the name says it all. Durif, otherwise known as Petite Syrah, produces highly concentrated wines with robust characteristics of cassis, blackcurrant, peppery spice and smokiness. An absolute powerhouse.
£14.99 from The Wine Reserve.

Are you celebrating Burns Night? Let us know what you plan on drinking!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The Smoothie Craze: Ten epic but easy smoothie recipes

As Vinspire's chief 'pinner' (and proud!), I find myself gleefully adding lots of tasty treats to our Vinspire Pinterest page.

I pin everything from cocktails to boozy bakes, incredible bars and amazing wine travel destinations, but the amount of smoothie recipe pins I've seen just keeps on growing. This healthy and filling breakfast trend has taken over on both sides of the pond.

Naturally, I started a Smoothies board, and I've become increasingly excited about the recipes I've found.

Of course, Pinterest being Pinterest, not all of the recipes are focussed on being healthy  some are decadent in the extreme, replacing fruit with ingredients like peanut butter, chocolate and whipped cream  so there really is something for everyone.

Here are ten of the best (but easiest) smoothie recipes I've found, all using easy to find ingredients:

1. Avocado chocolate peanut butter smoothie

YES. You heard right. All the world's best things (aside from booze, obviously) in a glass. This recipe is from the wonderful A Cookie Named Desire blog: she cleverly blends naughty ingredients like peanut butter and cocoa powder with filling, healthy things like banana, avocado and almond milk. Winner.

2. Skinny strawberry shortcake smoothie

A brilliant, three-ingredient smoothie that is thick and creamy but doesn't contain anything unhealthy. MAGIC. This recipe is from Amy's Healthy Baking Blog. The post is worth reading to see how excited she gets as she'd just made an appearance on a big American daytime TV show.

3. Gingerbread Smoothie

I think this one definitely wins on cuteness. There are a few more ingredients to the gingerbread smoothie recipe (which comes from the fabulous Peanut Butter and Peppers blog) but they're all readily available and you probably have most of them in your cupboards already.

4. Thin mint smoothie

This brilliant and simple PopSugar recipe is based on the popular US Girl Scout cookies (like the ones Monica got addicted to on Friends...) and is a suuuuper refreshing way to start the day. It's got some sneaky spinach in as well.

5. Pina colada oat breakfast smoothie

All the fun without the booze. Plus you get two of your five-a-day and plenty of energy-boosting yoghurt and oats. This recipe is from the Cooking Classy blog. Jaclyn (the blog's owner) is pretty good at smoothie recipes so it's worth browsing the rest of her collection...

6. Carrot cake smoothie

Another one of those smoothies where you're surprised to already have all the ingredients handy. This recipe sounds a bit naughty but actually has carrot, banana AND almond milk in it - POW! From Gimme Some Oven.

7. Raspberry and coconut smoothie

Another three-ingredient triumph of a recipe from the A Beautiful Mess blog. What a lovely combination of flavours.

8. Banana and almond smoothie

From British-based My Recipe Book, this super-satisfying four-ingredient recipe is perfect for busy, on-the-go types.

9. Healthy red velvet smoothie

Another cake-inspired smoothie recipe, this is surprisingly chocka with fruit and veg: beetroot, strawberries, banana AND dates. That may sound an odd combination, but it so works. From the Chocolate and Carrots blog.

 10. Espresso banana smoothie

If, like me, you can't quite let go of your morning coffee, this is the smoothie recipe for you. It also has a little dash of sneaky maple syrup. From Move Nourish Believe.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

How to make your own cocktail bitters

Once a Victorian apothecary remedy, Bitters are enjoying a fantastic revival as a bartenders go-to magic potion. Just a couple of drops of the magical elixir transforms hum-drum drinks into something with incredible depth and flavour, turning your drinks up to 11.

If, like me, you've dreamt of becoming some sort of botanical Walter White, here's your chance to not break the law and not get dead. You may, however, call yourself a drinks kingpin, and possibly grow a moustache and look menacing while dropping some of your magical potion into people's drinks.

There are loads of small, boutique bitters producers popping up all over the place, with the likes of Bittermans, Bitter Bastards and The Bitter Truth all producing top-notch bitters for all styles of cocktails and mixes. My personal favourite is Bittermans Hopped Grapefruit Bitters to totally transform a Gin & Tonic, or Bitter Bastards' Sweet Orange Bitters in my Gingerbread Manhattan. Yes, I certainly am growing quite a collection of these bad boys. The problem is, like everything amazing, they're expensive.

Fear not friends, all you need to make your own is some clean grain spirit or good quality Vodka, and let your imagination run wild!

There are some basic principles to follow, but soon, like me, you'll have jars and cups all round the house half-full of liquid like you're preparing for the alien invasion in Signs.

Enough babbling, onto the good stuff. Here's my handy guide of how to make your own bitters:

What You'll Need
200ml high proof alcohol (good vodka will do)
1 tablespoon sugar, dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water
5 tablespoons main aromatic
2 tablespoons bittering agent (choose 2 or 3)
2-3 tablespoons supporting aromatics (choose 3 or 4)

Main Aromatics
Your main aromatic will be your stand-out flavour and character of your Bitters, so choose wisely. Here are some ideas: Fennel Seeds, Coriander, Ginger, Juniper, Star Anise, Peppercorns, Celery, Dried Cherries, Orange Peel, Cinnamon, Lemongrass, Lavender, Nutmeg, Flowers.

Supporting Aromatics
Same as above, but secondary, supporting flavours which add depth.

Bittering Agents
Bitters wouldn't be bitters without bitter roots, barks, flowers, leaves etc. Your bitter agent will make up around 50% of the final flavour profile. Here's a few ideas: Liquorice Root, Gentian Root, Angelica Root, Orris Root, Cassia Bark, Hops, Cardamom, Wormwood, Dandelions or other Flowers.


Place your selected aromatics in a jar with the high proof alcohol and the bittering agent. Mix in the sugar water, pop the lid on and shake well. Store for 2-3 weeks, shaking and smelling regularly. The bitters will develop over time, so be patient. To test if it is ready, drop a few drops on your palm, rub your hands together and smell your creation.

Strain your potion through some muslin cloth and pop it in some medicine bottles with pipettes (about £1.40 on Ebay). These are great for getting the desired amount of Bitters into your drink, and will secure you as the Heisenberg of mixology!

Here's a couple of recipes from my medicine cabinet:

Celery: Perfect for spicing up those Bloody Marys!
Celery Seeds, Lemongrass, Tea, Orange Peel & Peppercorns.

Dandelion: Really good with Rum. Mojito time!
Dandelions, Lemon Peel, Liquorice Root & Cloves.

Vanilla: Great mulling bitters, add to Mulled Cider!
Vanilla Pods, Wormwood, Cinnamon & Orange Peel.

So friends, go forth, experiment and convince yourself your new hobby is purely for medicinal purposes...

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Weird and wonderful wine racks

Wine racks tend to be at best boring, and at worst unsightly. If you're going to go to the trouble to lay your favourite bottles on display, just begging to be picked up and their corks popped, you might at least go to the effort of finding a wine rack with a bit of character.

We've searched high and low for some of the best, prettiest, and downright brilliant wine racks around:

This makes perfect sense... a wine barrel to hold your wine. This Christow wooden barrel wine rack holds eight bottles, comes pre-assembled (woo!), and costs £41 from Amazon.

There's nothing particularly weird about this one, but it holds 32 bottles, has a handy glass top, and looks pretty smart. It will cost you £65.99 from Amazon.

Okay, so it only holds one bottle, but I love the Wine for Your Life bottle holder so much. You can pick it up from Amazon for £19.99.

I'm trying really hard to be reasonable and not include this because the shipping it so expensive, but OH MY GOD IT'S A WINEOSAUR BOTTLE HOLDER! It's made from gorgeous birch wood and stained with either walnut or a mixture of beeswax and orange oil. I love it so much I'd happily pay £30.32 for it, but as it's from the States the shipping is an extra £25.48. May just move to the States so I can buy all of The Backpack Shoppe's stuff.

Another silly design which is actually available in the UK is this genius cactus wine rack. Not one for those that like their furnishings subtle, it is still pretty cool in my books. It's available from £131.38 on Amazon.

Red Thumb Print on Not On The High Street do some seriously sexy wooden furnishings, but they don't come cheap. Still, I do adore this whopping 150cm tall oak wine rack for its simple, understated style. It holds an impressive 16 bottles, however it is £160... They do a 6 bottle one that starts at £85.

I love the simplicity of this honeycomb wine rack from Habitat. It's on trend in a gold finish, and simple enough not to offend anyone. Practical and classy, what more could you want? Also, it's £35.

If you're planning to spend a bit more, but still like things relatively simple, then how about this handmade copper wine rack from Proper Copper Design? It's not the cheapest at £240, but it's really rather lovely. 

We have some other epic bottle storage design companies coming your way over the next few weeks, so I'd start saving now.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Best boozy films for Christmas viewing

I don't know about you, but as I've grown older, Christmas Day with my family is now mainly spent semi-comatose in front of a few films to while away the evening. Usually with a large G&T or some Single Malt. This is perfectly fine with me, combining potentially my two favorite things in the world, excessive amounts of alcohol and films... Oh... and family.

So I thought I would set you all up for your Christmas Movie Night with a couple of alcohol-related flicks that will help you to battle the bird you've consumed earlier that day. 

Taken from Matthew939 on behalf
of the Creative Commons License
The American Boozy Big-Screen Goliath following two men (Paul Giamatti & Thomas Haden Church) on a week long booze drive through Santa Barbara County, U.S.A. Based on the Book (of the same name) by Rex Pickett, Paul Giamatti pulls out a stellar performance as Miles Raymond; a depressed, failed writer/professional alcoholic who plans a week of wine tasting and relaxing with long time friend Haden Church; an excitable, loud and rather randy drinking buddy. 

What starts out as a relaxing vineyard/golf trip soon turns into raucous train of events including women, adultery and intense hangovers.

Although packed with laughs, Sideways still provides ample interesting wine facts and some stunning scenery of one of California's most famous wine regions. 

A must-watch for any lover of film and/or wine

A very recent viewing of mine, but instantly one of my favourite films. It features Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier, a British Ex-Pat running a wine shop/Academy in Paris in 1976. Trying to save his business, he starts looking to New World wines. Stunned by the quality coming out of California, he decides to stage a blind tasting, California vs France. A true story which came to be known as 'The Judgement of Paris', and made Chateau Montelena one of the most famous wineries on the planet. 

Bottle Shock is a brilliant insight into not only the rise of Californian wine made in the French style, but also of the huge stigma shown towards Californian wineries from those in the Old World. 

A film that, although I think is better than Sideways, sadly didn't get the same plaudits. Another must-watch and currently available on Netflix.

For all you beer heads out there! Simon Pegg & Nick Frost's film about a legendary pub crawl that defeated a group of friends back in their teens. Still haunted by the memory, Simon Pegg, a man living in the past, gets his old pals back together (who are now all hard-working men), to take on the crawl to get to 'The Worlds End' pub, one last time.
Taken from George Olson on behalf
of the Creative Commons License

Filled with laughs and beery banter, this is the perfect film for an alcoholic night in. Some friends and I from work even went to Letchworth (where it is filmed), watched the film and completed the pub crawl afterwards. All the pubs had changed their names to how they were in the film, it was epic. 

The beer mentioned in the film - Crowning Glory - is also available for sale from its brewer: Tring Brewery.

A simple yet hilarious comedy about a group of American College Graduates who take part in a famous drinking game tournament and take on the Germans, the legends of Beerfest. 

Packed with laughs and drink-along options, my friends and I at University used to love settling down with a few crates of the frosty stuff to drink and sing along with Beerfest. 

It did not win any Oscars. Not for the film connoisseur. 

Others well worth a look: Cocktail, The Hangover (I'm sure everyone has seen that) and The Angels' Share

Merry Christmas everyone and happy viewing. 

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Buttered Booze: Two easy hot cocktails for Christmas

It's Christmassssss, nearly. If you're not feeling festive, it's time to hit the hot cocktails to help you along the way.

I'll set the scene; PJs on, lights turned down low, all snuggled up on the sofa watching your favourite seasonal film, with the Christmas lights seductively twinkling at you from the tree... What's missing? Booze! A hot boozy drink makes the whole scenario just perfect.

We've featured lots of hot cocktails on Vinspire over the years:

I think we can squeeze in a couple more, don't you think? 

Butter-topped booze is a great way to add richness and indulgence without the need for using anything milky or creamy, and unless you love being the cat that's got the cream, too many eggnogs sure make you feel lactose-comatosed. 

I've concocted two super easy cocktails for you here; one with bourbon and Chase Marmalade Vodka (Cointreau would work just as well too), and the other with gin and perry cider. Using browned butter adds an interesting nuttiness, as opposed to your standard stuff (find out how to do it here), and it creates little buttery baubles on the top of your drink. Very apt. 

Both are so damn tasty, you'll definitely want more than just the one. So line up the films, you're here for the long haul... Merry Christmas!

Buttered Bourbon & Marmalade (serves 1)

  • 25ml Bourbon
  • 50ml Chase Marmalade Vodka
  • 15ml Sugar Syrup
  • 25ml Lemon Juice
  • 150ml Hot Water
  • 1tsp Browned Butter
  • Cinnamon Stick

In a glass, add the spirits, lemon juice and sugar syrup.

Pour in the hot water, and top with the browned butter. Stir to melt the butter and garnish with a cinnamon stick. 

Buttered G & P (serves 2)

  • 1 x 330ml Bottle of Perry
  • 2 x 40ml Gin 
  • 2 x 1tsp Browned Butter

Heat up the perry in a small saucepan, making sure not to let it boil, and get two glasses out.

Add a shot of gin and a teaspoon of browned butter in each glass. 

When the perry is steaming, divide between the glasses, stir and enjoy! (If it's not sweet enough to your taste, add a bit of sugar syrup)

Lead image credit: Geoff Stearns under CCL

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Great affordable wines for Christmas

Christmas is the perfect time for opening that special bottle you’ve been saving, but it’s likely you’ll need a bit more than that to get you through the festive season. Not everyone wants to spending hundreds of pounds on wine over Christmas, so you’ll be pleased to know there are lots of good value wines under £10 a bottle available from supermarkets (and Majestic’s), perfect for all the dinner parties, family gatherings, last minute guests, and well, just enjoying yourself when you get a quiet minute between brussels sprouts and Cluedo (ha).

Festive fizz

Seems people still can't get enough of it, so it's likely you'll be tucking into the prosecco this Christmas. Sainsbury’s Conegliano Prosecco, Taste the Difference is currently yours for £7.50. It’s definitely one of the tastier supermarket proseccos out there.

Or, if you fancy your fizz a little different this year, how about Sainsbury’s Cremant de Loire, Taste the Difference. It’s currently on offer for £9.00. Cremant is an affordable alternative to champagne, and it’s still made in the same way using the traditional method.

This one is from a different area of France, but still a Cremant: Tesco Finest Cremant de Limoux Rose, £11.00 a bottle. It’s got quite a gentle fizz to it, and is really creamy in the mouth, with bags of strawberry and raspberry flavours. 

Rose wine

If you’re off to a dinner party or a party and know someone who is always on the Rose, and likes it a little sweet and very fruity, this Calvet Rose d'Anjou will be perfect. The only downside is that it might have you dreaming of summer. It’s only £5.75 a bottle, available from Tesco and Ocado

Prefer a dry rose? This light and refreshing Mirabeau Cotes de Provence Rose is £9.99 from Waitrose.

White wine

Surely you’ll be able to justify buying at least six bottles of wine for Christmas... If yes, this will set you back £8.99 for a mixed case of six, or £10.99 otherwise. The Les Jamelles Pinot Gris is an interesting one, with a great aromatic nose, a good whack of lychee and some lovely minerality.

Step away from the usual Sauvignon Blanc this Christmas and try this lovely Italian Gavi, from Tesco Finest for £8.00 a bottle. It’s light, refreshing and bright, and will be lovely alongside the turkey on Christmas Day.

Red wine

This is a wine I go back to again and again: Wirra Wirra Church Block. It’s good value, and really delicious. Ripe berries, oak, soft tannins, great length. You can currently buy it in Tesco for £11 a bottle (if you’re buying a case).

I’m also a fan of this Bouchard Pere et Fils, Fleurie, currently on offer at Waitrose for £9.36 a bottle. It’s a wine that will go well alongside your roast, or your cheese if you don’t fancy port. Really drinkable, and well-rounded.

Dessert wine

You want something that can stand up to the intensity of a Christmas pudding? Well, here it is! Elysium Black Muscat has got your back. It’s £9.99 (mix six), or £11.99 on its own from Majestic’s.

How about this award-winning bargain Berton Vineyards Botrytis Semillon from Aldi? It’s only £5.99 a bottle, and will be perfect alongside your cheeseboard. Have a sniff and get lost in honey and flowers. A fabulous distraction to Christmas Day chaos.