Thursday, 9 November 2017

Xeco Fino sherry review: a new way to drink granny’s favourite tipple

I hate stereotypes. I do. But one I keep hammering home on, is that sherry is not just something your gran drinks at Christmas.

It’s so much more than the sickly-sweet Harvey’s Bristol Cream, and it’s still massively underrated.

Sherry is getting there in London – places like Bar Pepito, Barrafina, Capote y Toros, Jose, Copita, and Rosita & the Sherry Bar all offer great sherry selections, and great Spanish food to munch on the side. But even in the capital, where these places exist, I don’t have many friends that would be totally happy if I suggested going out for a Fino and some padron peppers (I’m trying!).

Exports of sherry have fallen to less than a fifth of what they were in 1979, so clearly sherry needs a bit of help. Enter Xeco Wines, coming in to change all our opinions on sherry in one bottle. Doesn’t it look awesome? I’ve had it in the fridge at home and my housemate was immediately intrigued.

If you’re wondering who that is on the label, you’ve got the likes of Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, Shakespeare and Cervantes (historic figures from the UK and Spain), with a splash of neon graffiti art. A bit different from your usual sherry label right?

The company was set up by three female Fino fiends – Beanie, Alexa and Polly, and was funded via an Indiegogo campaign.

Their first sherry, a Fino, is made with Palomino grapes from Jerez (like all sherries other than Pedro Ximenez – see our beginner’s guide to sherry), and aged biologically in American oak casks for a minimum of four years. This all happens at Diez Merito, a Bodega that’s been around since 1876.

So how do you drink it, and what does it taste like?

The Xeco fino is really crisp, refreshing and elegantly dry. It’s light, fresh, citrusy, and has a touch of nuttiness to it, along with a nice savoury note.

The easiest and simplest way to drink it is straight out of the fridge, but there are a few other ways to serve it. It’s great with lemonade, in cocktails, or with tonic.

If you’re considering replacing your G+T with an F+T, try 45ml sherry, with 100ml good tonic water (Fever Tree or Fentimans), a dash of orange bitters, and garnish with lemon peel.

I will say it’s not cheap at £15.95 (Master of Malt), and you may baulk at that price if you’re planning to mix it with lemonade, but it’s an unintimidating and exciting way into sherry that makes a very old drink that bit more modern.

And the Fino friends have got an Amontillado out now too, available for £18.95 from Master of Malt. One to go with the Christmas cheese plates?

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Everything you need to know about Franciacorta – Italy’s champagne

Chances are, you probably drink prosecco on a regular basis right? Maybe even champagne if you’re feeling a bit flush, or possibly cava on occasion?

But how about Franciacorta? Most people I’ve spoken to haven’t heard of it, let alone tried it.

Franciacorta is a sparkling wine from Italy’s Franciacorta region in the heart of the Lombardy region, just south of Lake Iseo. The word Franciacorta defines a territory, production method, and the wine.

It’s likely both the Italians and the French will be annoyed about this comparison, but Franciacorta is Italy’s equivalent of champagne, in terms of quality, and the production method. The two can’t be compared in size however – the Champagne region makes around 300m bottles a year, compared to Franciacorta’s 17.5m. And that figure can’t increase by much, due to strict rules on the geographic area.

Franciacorta has been a bit of a well-kept secret, with the region only exporting 15% of its annual production, but it wants to up this to 30-40% over the coming years. Japan, Switzerland, and the USA are the top three export markets, with the UK market growing all the time (albeit from a very small base), so hopefully we’ll be seeing more Franciacorta coming our way soon.

Don’t go expecting prosecco prices though – this fizz is high quality and you’re definitely looking at champagne costs. That's if you're drinking it in the UK... in Italy, you can get it for around 25euros in a restaurant, and 15euros in a shop.

What is Franciacorta and how is it made?

There are quite a few rules surrounding Franciacorta production – established by the Franciacorta Consortium which was founded by 29 producers in 1990. There are 117 wine cellars associated with the Consortium today.

Franciacorta is made of Chardonnay (80% of the region’s grapes), Pinot Noir (15%) and Pinot Blanc (5%) grapes – with Pinot Blanc making up a maximum of 50% of the blend. There are a total of 3,150 hectares of vineyards in the region, with 2,800 producing Franciacorta DOCG, and 350 producing Curtefranca DOC still wine.

The grapes must be picked by hand, and the grape harvest must happen after August 10th and before September 10th each year.

Each vineyard’s grapes are processed separately, and pressed gently to get the best quality juice.

Once the grapes are pressed, the juice is used to create the base wines. The following spring (after the grapes have been picked in the autumn), the base wines are combined – sometimes with base wines from different years.

Sugar and yeast is added to the cuvee (mix of base wines) in the bottle, and the wines undergo a second, slow fermentation. This is where the bubbles come from (carbon dioxide), and when the pressure increases, getting to six or seven bars.

The wines undergo the second fermentation for different lengths of time. They’re stored horizontally in the cellars and left to develop with a metal cap on.

What are the different types of Franciacorta?

. Franciacorta non-vintage must be left on the lees (yeast sediment) in the bottle for at least 18 months, and not be released until at least 25 months after harvest.
. Franciacorta Satèn and Franciacorta Rosé Non-Vintage (minimum 25% Pinot Noir) must be aged for at least 24 months on its lees. Satèn is unique to the Franciacorta region. It’s a blanc de blancs (made only with white grapes), and is bottled at a lower pressure to the other wines. The result is a less fizzy wine with a smooth – or satin-like – mouthfeel.
. Franciacorta Vintage, Franciacorta Vintage Satèn and Franciacorta Vintage Rosé – or Millesimato – must be aged for at least 30 months on its lees, and can’t be released until at least 37 months after harvest.
. And Franciacorta Reserve, Franciacorta Reserve Satèn and Franciacorta Reserve Rosé requires at least 60 months on its lees.

So, it’s not a quick process – and there’s more to do after that.

After the time’s up, the bottles are moved to special stands (called pupitres) where they’re rotated one-eighth of a turn every day, and inclined a bit more each day, to move the sediment and the yeast to the neck of the bottle. This takes three-four weeks. While a few of the smaller Franciacorta vineyards still do this the traditional way, turning up to 15,000 bottles a day, most of them now use large metal cages which completely automate the process – and save a lot of time and tired hands.

Then it’s time for disgorgement. The bottles are immersed upside-down in a refrigerant which freezes the top of the bottle, trapping all the yeast that’s left in the bottle.

The metal cap is removed, and the pressure of the liquid in the bottle forces the icy bit out.

A very small amount of wine is lost in the process, but to bring the wine back to the original level, a small amount of wine (for Zero Dosage – no added sugar) Franciacorta, or a liqueur de dosage – base wine and sugar – is added.

The bottles are sealed with the classic mushroom cork and a wire cage, and labelled with the official seal that certifies Franciacorta’s DOCG status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita).


Like champagne, different types of Franciacorta are distinguished by the amount of sugar added to them after disgorging, which gives a different character to the wine.

Pas Dosé – residual sugar naturally contained in the wine up to 3g/l (grams per litre).
Extra Brut – sugar up to 6g/l
Brut – sugar up to 12g/l
Extra Dry – sugar between 12-17g/l
Sec or Dry – sugar between 17-32g/l
Demi-sec – sugar between 33-50g/l

In most cases, there is less sugar in Franciacorta than in Champagne as the grapes have more exposure to the sun, and ripen more fully, so less additional sugar is needed.

Currently, 70% of Franciacorta’s land under vine is certified organic, and the plan is to have the entire region certified organic by 2020.

Other wines in the Franciacorta area

While Franciacorta makes up the majority of wines produced in the area, there are some still wines being made: Curtefranca DOC red and white, and IGT ((Indicazione Geografica Tipica Sebino).

How to drink Franciacorta

I mean, on a veranda in Franciacorta watching the sun go down is probably the best place, but if that's out of the question... 

You may have noticed from the pictures above that Franciacorta is not drunk out of a champagne flute.

History and convention has always said this is the best way to drink sparkling wine, but now, more wine producers, critics, and glassware designers are coming around to the fact that slim glassware can dull some sparkling wines – with a larger glass allowing more flavour-enhancing aeration to occur.

Compared with champagne saucers, the Franciacorta glasses taper back in at the top, recapturing the nose.

The Franciacorta glasses were designed by the Franciacorta Consortium, and feature the Franciacorta logo. Helpfully, they’re also larger than champagne glasses, so more fizz for all…

It’s best to store your Franciacorta in a cool, dark place, at 10-15 degrees Celsius, with 70-75% humidity. And it’s best served between 8-10 degrees Celsius.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Best cocktails for Bonfire Night

Fireworks Bonfire Night City

Now that Halloween is over, and the mouse/mildly scary sexy cheerleader zombie/hashtag outfits have been put away for another year, the chance to dress up as the Michelin Man has come around again – it’s nearly Bonfire Night.

Whether you're heading out for the evening, or planning a party, you're going to need something good to drink. So give us your best ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, these are five of the best cocktails and boozy tipples to ensure November 5th goes off with a bang.

Mulled wine – Serves six


It may scream 'CHRISTMAS' to you, but mulled wine is the perfect tipple for Bonfire Night. This recipe isn't too sweet, and you can even pop it in a flask and take it with you to warm your cockles throughout the evening. Just remember to share: this recipe does serve six!

1 bottle red wine
1 orange (unwaxed), peeled and juiced
1/2 lemon peel
75g caster sugar
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
A good glug of ginger wine if you have any

Shake it!
1. Add your orange juice and peel to a large saucepan with the lemon peel, caster sugar and spices.
2. Pour in enough wine to cover the sugar and heat until dissolved.
3. Bring the mixture to the boil and continue heating until you have a thick syrup. This should take around five minutes.
4. Turn down the heat and add the rest of your bottle of wine, along with a good splash of ginger wine if you are using.
5. Serve in mugs or glasses that can take the heat.

Ushuaia – Serves one


Ushuaia cocktail Chandon
If you'd prefer something a little more chilled, but certainly not a cocktail that will leave you cold, then Ushuaia is the one for you. You may not be able to pronounce it, but you can always say 'the orange one that looks like the bright burning embers of a bonfire'. See, it's perfect for the occasion.

40ml Aperol
10ml Aquavit
20ml lemon juice
20ml rhubarb syrup
Pinch of pink salt
Top with Chandon

Shake it!
1. Shake all the ingredients together with ice.
2. Strain into a wine glass, and garnish with a rhubarb stick.




Whitehall Lady – Serves one


If you're making a batch of these for your classy Bonfire Night soiree, don't be disheartened if you don't quite have the garnishing skills of the bartenders at the Corinthia. I'm sure it'll taste just as good! 

Whitehall Lady cocktail Corinthia London
50ml Ciroc vodka
15ml elderflower cordial
10ml fresh lemon juice
Top up with some fizz

Shake it!
1. Shake the vodka, elderflower and lemon juice together with ice and strain into a champagne flute.
2. Top with fizz and garnish with a flamed twist of orange or grapefruit.










Boozy mocha – serves one


This is an all out comfort drink. If you're planning to throw some shapes after your firework action, perhaps stay clear of this. But if you plan to settle down with some Netflix, or sit around by the fire and sing 'Tribute' or 'Wonderwall' or that other one song your mate can play on that battered acoustic guitar, then this boozy mocha is definitely the one for you.

50g dark chocolate
160ml whole milk
25ml Baileys
25ml Kahlua 
Chocolate alcoholic whipped cream (yes it’s a thing).

Shake it!
1. Gently heat the milk and chocolate in a saucepan until the chocolate has melted.
2. Take the mixture off the heat and add your Baileys and Kahlua.
3. Serve in a big mug and top with your boozy cream, if you've got any left.
4. Settle down in front of the fire/Netflix.

Toffee apple martini – Serves one

 If you loved getting your teeth (literally) stuck into a toffee apple on Bonfire Night as a kid, or if you still do, the lovely Laura has given the humble toffee apple a sexy makeover (glasses off, hair down) and turned it into a martini. What could be a more perfect tipple on Bonfire Night?

Which one takes your fancy? How will you be celebrating this year?

Friday, 27 October 2017

Friday Cocktail: Delicious spooky Halloween cocktails

With Halloween now just a few days away, I'm hoping you have some awesome gruesome party plans. Nothing says party like Halloween on a Tuesday.

Me? I'm hosting a halloween party with a healthy pinch of style. Fancy dress? Obviously. Toffee apples? Hell yes (and toffee apple martinis, too). Brilliant halloween-themed foods? Try and stop me.

But, me being me, the most important aspect of the whole night is the booze. Not just for the sake of getting tipsy with my nearest and dearest, but also the chance to experiment, and concoct something special to toast the night.

I've come up with three spooky Halloween cocktails, tried and tested, and screaming out to be shaken up good and proper. From the tropical-tasting Greener Colada, to the black and powerful Hell's Martini, to my personal favourite, the decadently floral Bloody Cham-pain.

The Greener Colada recipe


50ml Midori melon liqueur
30ml Malibu
25ml Lime cordial
50ml Water
Healthy squeeze lime juice

Shake it!

1. Pour the Midori and Malibu into a cocktail shaker.
2. In a glass, combine the lime cordial and water. Add it to the shaker.
3. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a couple of ice cubes.
4. Shake it like you're watching a horror movie. Strain into a brandy glass, and add some sort of novelty Halloween straw.

Bloody Cham-pain


50ml Pomegranate juice
30ml Elderflower liqueur
2-3 drops Rosewater
50ml dry rosé champagne
10ml Grenadine

Shake it!

1. Combine the pomegranate juice, elderflower liqueur, and rosewater in a cocktail shaker.
2. Shake it like a terrified child.
3. Pour into a flute, and top up with chilled pink champagne or prosecco.
4. Add a large dash of grenadine to enhance the blood-like colour and texture.

Hell's Martini


50ml Vodka
25ml Red vermouth
30ml Creme de Cassis
Squeeze Lemon juice

Shake it!

1. Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
2. Shake it like you've just seen a ghost. Strain into a glass.

Happy Halloween, my pretties! What scary sips and terrifying tipples have you got planned?

Friday, 20 October 2017

Friday Cocktail: Chestnut Royale

Photo: Arun Marsh

When winter strikes, some of our most-loved cocktails just don't seem as fun, with the daquiris, mojitos and coladas reminding us of warmer weather, long days by the pool and evenings sat in the garden.

But sometimes you just need to reinvent a cocktail a bit to make it more winter-friendly - and you often end up with a new favourite to enjoy for years to come.

This week, I've done just that, and my inspiration has been the bellinis/kir royales that are so perfect summer wedding/garden party drinks. But what if you substitute the fruit for an altogether more festive, warming flavour?

Chestnuts might be most popular for roasting over an open fire (or sprinkling over your brussels sprouts) but, as my post on 5 brilliant nut liqueurs proved, chestnut is also a super base for a liqueur. And I've recently realised that chestnut liqueur and Champagne should be best pals.

Now I know most of you probably won't have a bottle of this stuff in the cupboard already, but with Christmas parties a-plenty just around the corner (not to mention the Big Day itself) there is just enough time to grab a bottle of the notoriously tasty Briottet chestnut liqueur from Master of Malt. It's only £16.00, and I pretty much guarantee you'll love it so much it's all gone by January.

Chestnut Royale cocktail recipe (serves 4)


Shake it!

1. Pour 25ml (or one shot) of chestnut liqueur each into four champagne flutes.
2. Top up with sparkling wine
3. Grate a light sprinkling of nutmeg onto the top and then gently stir the drink (if you do this too quickly or roughly it will bubble up like mad!)

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

"Gin, Glorious Gin!" at the Catford Gin Festival

Gin has had quite a journey over the last ten years or so; from old person's drink, to trendy and exciting, to main-stay of the drinks scene. I am still amazed at the number of new companies and brands that are jumping up all over the place and breathing continued life into the gin revolution. This was reinforced for me last week when I went to the Catford Gin Festival, an exciting new collaboration between the Forest Hill Gin Club and Team Catford. The festival was held as a "pop-up" in an empty store in Catford Shopping Centre, which is a great idea as it allows an empty space to be used and generates some revenue and much needed kudos for the local area. We were there for the afternoon session and it was pleasingly full of people (lively with plenty of people milling around, but not so full that you couldn't navigate your way around...!). Props to the organisers for putting on such an excellent event.    

Below are a few of my favourites from the festival, which I would heartily recommend that you check out too!

Colonsay Gin  

This was a particularly impressive spirit for its cleanliness and freshness. It was served with a couple of small slices of chilli in it and this was really interesting as it enhanced a natural pepperiness in the spirit and gave it a gently-warming profile without being too insistent. A really refreshing drink with a lot of clarity and precision. A nice aperitif gin, methinks. Available for £36.47/bottle on Master of Malt.


Pothecary Gin

It was my wife who was drawn to this stand, she freely admitted that this was because she liked the look of their bottles. Proof that a good bottle design can go a long way in drawing in an audience! Fortunately the gin from Pothecary followed through with its visual promise and delivered a lovely gin. They use five botanicals to flavour their gin: Lavender from Provence; Juniper from Bulgaria; Mulberries from Turkey; Lemons from Sicily, the best lemons in the world; and Tilia, a type of flower, from Poland. A well-travelled gin indeed! The dominant flavours for me on this were the Lavender which gives an initial floral bloom to the taste, before the citrus of the lemons takes over to provide some freshness. Available for £39.95 for a 500ml bottle on Master of Malt.

Pothecary also had a nice limited edition "Sicilian Blend" premium gin that focussed more on the Sicilian lemons and put them more front and centre. This was another spectacular gin that would make for some great cocktails.

Turncoat Gin   

Turncoat Gin from Liverpool presented a really interesting selection of spirits with their London Dry Gin giving a pure and distinctive drink with a slightly nutty profile. I particularly enjoyed, however, their Cascade Gin which incorporates Cascade Hops into the distilling process which is a doff of the cap to the fact that their Head Distiller comes from a Craft Beer background. This gives the gin a really interesting and complex aroma and taste profile, that is part-fruity, part-spicy, part-perfumed and all very smooth. They also had some rather excellent bitters that you can dash into your GnTs to give them a slightly different flavour profile; I particularly liked their Orange Bitters.

Skully Gins  

From the Netherlands, Skully Gin presented probably the most different gin that I have ever tried - a Wasabi Gin, with botanicals of: Ginger, Mint, Juniper, Coriander, Licorice, Vanilla, Orris Root, Cardamom, Sweet Orange and... oh yes... Wasabi! As you'd expect the gin packs a bit of a punch, but is also remarkably smooth. They suggest that you have this with a Ginger Ale or a Ginger Beer, which makes for a rather lovely drink. Could this be an excellent gin match for sushi?? You can buy Skully Gins' other gins on Master of Malt for £44/bottle, but they don't seem to currently have the Wasabi one, shame..

There were other good gins on display too, but these were the ones that particularly stuck in the memory (also the ones that I bought!)

Here's hoping that the Catford Gin Festival becomes a regular fixture in the diary. It was a lot of fun and it was great to see the event so busy with happy punters and interesting exhibitors.    

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Ashdown Park hotel review: a classic country escape

It’s that time of year where Christmas still feels a bit too far away to get excited about, but you feel in need of a bit of a break. I always find this time the perfect time to escape to the country for a weekend away, and if it’s one that can involve good wine, even better.

I recently stayed at Ashdown Park hotel in Sussex after visiting Bluebell Vineyard down the road, right in the heart of Winnie the Pooh country.

Where is Ashdown Park hotel?

It’s in Hundred Acre Wood! Well, it’s in the heart of Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, which was the inspiration for A.A.Milne’s Winnie the Pooh spot. Ashdown Forest isn’t really a forest, more of a heathland, but there are some woods around so you won’t be disappointed. It’s around 40 miles outside of London – driving is easiest, but if you do want to train it there, East Grinstead station is a 15 minute taxi ride away from the hotel.

What’s Ashdown Park like?

Well, it’s definitely got the wow factor. The 19th century hotel is an impressive neo-gothic pile, set in 186 acres of landscaped parkland, with an interesting history. It’s been a hospital for injured Belgian soldiers, a convent, owned by an American university, and more recently, a training centre for Barclays Bank managers. It was sounding romantic until that point...

It’s also big. There are 105 rooms and suites squirreled down meandering corridors off the main house, at the centre of which is a majestic hallway complete with huge fireplace and baby grand piano which tinkles away 24/7 (sans pianist).

It’s quite easy to get lost, with staircases and doors all over the place, and it was a bit nippy down some of the corridors – although we later found out the heating had broken in our part of the hotel, so that may explain that – but it’s fun to explore, and you almost feel like you’ve got the whole place to yourself.

What are the rooms like?

Apparently none of the 105 rooms at Ashdown Park are the same, but naturally, I only saw one. My suite was huge, with a super comfy king sized bed, wood panelling, and dramatic stained-glass windows. There’s nothing particularly modern about the rooms – Nespresso machine, TV, bathroom, and Molten Brown toiletries aside – but I loved the classic, luxuriously plush furnishings. My kind of décor, and my kind of hotel: past grandeur with contemporary indulgence.

I was so blissfully happy lounging on the sofa in front of the window, looking out at the grounds, with my complimentary paper after a great night’s sleep and breakfast. The only reason I was happy to leave was to get out and explore.

Prices range from £199 for a deluxe room B&B, to £444 for a master suite B&B, and the hotel does have various offers on throughout the year.

What is there to do?

That depends on how active you’re feeling. Catching up on sleep, gazing lazily out of windows, or indulging in food and local sparkling wine is a good start.

I headed straight to the spa for a relaxing swim in the dimly lit, barn-like space, and a good soak in the hot tub. Golfers can make the most of the 18-hole par 3 course, or for enthusiastic amateurs, there’s a putting green nearer the main house – and the obligatory country house croquet lawn.

Mapped walks are available at reception if you want to explore the extensive grounds. Leaving the hotel, you walk through a stone arch and the grounds are just laid out in front of you. There’s a large chapel which can be booked for weddings, so much green, two fountains in the lake at the bottle of the hill, and paths off in all directions with different length walks.

Nearby, you can do a tour and tasting at Bluebell Vineyard, ride the Bluebell steam train, visit the llamas at the llama park, take off on one of the many nearby walking routes (Pooh Sticks bridge is ten minutes away!), or visit Royal Tunbridge Wells.

Always important, what’s the food and drink like?

Breakfast is excellent, with loads to choose from on the cold buffet (including some yummy local yogurt), and a great hot buffet with not one dodgy pink sausage in sight. A good English breakfast is a must at a hotel like this.

If you stay between April and September, you can order a picnic to enjoy on the grounds (traditional summer picnic £22.50, luxury hamper £29.50 per person, or a picnic version of the hotel’s afternoon tea for £24.50 per person/£45 per couple) (

Afternoon tea is a popular one at Ashdown, and even includes a Winnie the Pooh afternoon tea for children with hunny sandwiches and Kanga cakes. They should definitely do an adult version!

Dinner is quite a grand affair in the main dining room, with another ghost piano accompanying you throughout. The food was good overall – the highlight being my succulent and perfectly cooked lamb main course – but a little style over substance in places, including some soggy Rice Krispies making an appearance in the amuse bouche.

Service was friendly but could do with a bit of work. There was a struggle with understanding which wine we wanted, two separate waiters who had to disappear to ask the chef what specific things on the (short) menu were, and one who neglected to tell us the dessert we had both wanted had sold out until after we’d ordered it.

Also, our Hindleap wine from nearby Bluebell Vineyard (the restaurant has a decent selection of English sparkling wines on its list) was kept away from the table, but then not topped up. I don’t mind if the staff are attentive, but there were two occasions my partner had to get up and hunt down our wine. And no, before you ask, we weren’t drinking it especially quickly!

So overall...?

Oh I could already do with another weekend there. If you're looking for a classic country escape in beautiful surroundings, with plenty to see and do, and plenty of delicious local wine to drink, you will not be disappointed with Ashdown Park.

I stayed at Ashdown Park after visiting Bluebell Vineyard for a tour and tasting. Although the stay was complimentary, all my opinions are my own and not in any way influenced by delicious English sparkling wine.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Book review: Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker – One woman's journey from enthusiastic wine amateur to oenophile

'After blood, wine is the most complex matrix there is.'

As you may know, I love wine, but there’s still so much more to learn, and often I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.

So I was thrilled to recently get a copy of Bianca Bosker’s debut book, ‘Cork Dork’ – a term given to obsessive oenophiles.

Bianca is an absolutely badass woman who quit her job as the executive technology editor at the Huffington Post in New York, in a quest to become a sommelier, in just 18 months.

I don’t want to sound gushy, but I feel like Bianca has basically lived my dream, and documented the whole thing with humour, passion, and enthusiasm, but also critically, with no time for bullshit.

The book offers a totally refreshing look at wine, the wine industry, and teaches readers so much along the way. It doesn’t matter whether you know nothing more about wine than Blue Nun and Echo Falls (well…), or whether you’re the most knowledgeable Master Sommelier, everybody will get different things from the book.

‘Cork Dork’ covers everything from the baffling secrets of mass-market wines, to the insane and crazy world of master sommeliers and big bottle hunters, via a smattering of science, lessons in what makes a wine objectively good, and whether you can train yourself to taste and smell better.

For people who really don’t know their wine, ‘Cork Dork’ offers a totally unpretentious and humorous look at wine education, and for those that do already know their stuff, it might make them take a step back and look at their industry in a different light.

I feel like I studied ‘Cork Dork’. I’ve highlighted so many bits: facts I didn’t know, interesting people to look up, bars to visit next time I’m in New York, other books to imbibe, and exciting bottles of wine I will probably never get the chance to drink.

And I’ve already taken lessons from the book on board. I’ve found myself smelling everything around me, driving with the window down (unless it’s really, really raining), trying to work out specific scents in restaurants, and confused my housemate when she caught me working my way through sniffing the spice cabinet.

Genuinely, ‘Cork Dork’ has made me excited for the next step in my own wine education, and given me a bit of a push in the right direction. I’ve already convinced several people they NEED to read this book: one for the science; one for the crazy stories (I really want to go to a wine orgy…); one for the look at New York’s restaurant scene; and another for Bianca’s inspirational personal journey.

There’s so much in ‘Cork Dork’ to uncover, whether you want to know how to go about gaining more knowledge about wine and becoming a sommelier yourself, or whether you just want to look at wine in a slightly different way.

‘Cork Dork’ is now available in the UK, for £8.99.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

What to drink, see and do at London Cocktail Week 2017

This may be bad timing for those of you trying to go Sober for October, but you’re going to have to delay it a while, as it’s London Cocktail Week next week (2-8 October), and there is so much to drink, see, and do.

This is the seventh year of the boozy week, and of course it’s even bigger and better this year. There are now more than 250 bars taking part, loads of events going on, as well as pop-ups, tastings, and masterclasses.

You’re going to need to get yourself a digital pass for £10, which will get you £6 cocktails all over the city. From there, London is your booze-covered oyster (I think I saw that they’re doing those somewhere?). Or there are various places offering money passes off i.e. Time Out have them for £5.

As ever, Old Spitalfields Market will be the hub for #LCW17, but this year you will have to buy a ticket to get in (£5 in advance, a few for £10 on the door). In there you'll find a host of vendors offering signature £6 cocktails, with loads of food stalls too.

Apart from that, and the more than 250 bars offering a £6 cocktail, there are bar takeovers, masterclasses, distillery tours, food and drink pairing sessions, and plenty of other exciting stuff.

We managed to bag tickets to a special Gin Journey hosted by the Gin Boss himself, Leon Dalloway. We'll let you know how that is next week as tickets sold out pretty swiftly...

However, that does mean we're missing out on Jillian Vose of NYC's Dead Rabbit bar heading to The Sun Tavern in Bethnal Green. Get there on Wednesday October 4, especially if you like Slane Irish whiskey.

Or how about: blend your own whisky with Chivas Regallearn the art of bottling bubbles with Schweppes; a Japanese whisky tasting with legend Dave Broom; learn the history of gin cocktails with Fords, a pop-up of #LCW17 waste cocktails by Trash Tiki; subterranean games and cocktails with Ableforth's; or finish the whole week off with an entire Tequila and Mezcal festival.

It is going to be a fabulous week!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Demijohn cordials – a tasty alternative to alcohol

It looks like quite a few people are going Sober for October this year. As a drinks blog, you may think that might be a tricky one for us to work around, but no…!

Demijohn, the liquid deli based in Edinburgh (it's a bit like Vom Fass if you've seen those around) has six handmade cordials that might make Sober October – or any night you’re not on the booze – a bit more tasty.

You’ve got a choice of Nettle, Elderflower, Raspberry, Lemon and Mint, Rhubarb and Ginger, and Lime and Chilli. Yum.

I’ve been working my way through the Lime and Chilli. It’s a nice combination of sweet and sour, with a bit of lingering chilli heat. My only problem is that I’m a bit of a cordial/squash addict, so I’m getting through it a bit quicker than I'd like to.

Demijohn suggests using 25ml of cordial with 250ml of still or sparkling water, or tonic. Add ice and slices of fruit and you've got yourself a mocktail of sorts.

The cordials are all made by Charlotte Grant, a micro producer in Suffolk. She’s been making her cordials from hedgerow ingredients found around her home. Because the ingredients are British grown or foraged, most of the cordials are seasonal – be quick if you want that elderflower one; it’s only around for a few weeks in June.

The cordials are priced at £6.45 for 100ml (so you'll get around four servings out of that), £9.95 for 375ml and £12.75 for 500ml, and are available in the Demijohn shop in Edinburgh’s old town – if you’re up that way – and via their website.

They’re not the cheapest, but if you don’t down it by the pint like a Summer Fruits supermarket squash, you’ll be able to make it last.

The cordials come in cute sealed glass bottles, and you can add handwritten messages, so they’ll also make very nice stocking fillers (Christmas is closer than you think!!). Just be careful you don’t get a bit lost in a buying spree on the Demijohn website… they’ve got everything from liqueurs, to oils and vinegars, and sauces.

Disclaimer: I was sent a 100ml bottle of the Lime and Chilli cordial for review. All opinions are my own, and not influenced by slightly spicy cordial.