Monday, 21 March 2022

Darnley’s gin launches refillable pouches – plus cocktail recipe

Image: Darnley's Gin

While some alcohol brands are making the strange decision to release NFTs left, right and centre (which we know takes a huge amount of energy), others are taking a more sensible and sustainable route.

Darnley’s gin has recently introduced refillable pouches across its range. The Scottish distiller offers 700ml pouches in its Original, Spiced and Navy Strength gins.

Once decanted into a bottle, or drunk from the pouch, you can return them to the company via Freepost, where they will be recycled.

The pouches weight around 50% less than a standard glass bottle, require less energy to produce, and are made from recycled plastics.

William Wemyss, founder of Darnley’s gin, said, “Our sustainability plans for the brand are one of constant improvement and the launch of our gin pouches is part of this journey. We hope Darnley’s Gin fans will not only enjoy these gins, but also return the pouches so the full environmental benefits of this initiative can be realised”.

Darnley’s might not be the first gin brand to offer refillable pouches, but we’re glad to see it joining the likes of Rock Rose, Twisted Nose, Glaswegin and Bullards.

What does Darnley's gin taste like and a cocktail recipe

Image: Darnley's Gin

Time to grab yourself a gin pouch, put your feet up, and say cheers to the fact that you’re doing your little bit to help the planet. Maybe try mixing up one of these cocktails too?

Darnley’s original is a London Dry style gin, juniper-led (yay!) and made with six botanicals: juniper, elderflower, Spanish lemon peel, angelica root, Moroccan coriander seed and orris root. It’s got a lovely creaminess to it with the elderflower and citrus doing a little Mexican wave dance in your mouth. Once the boogying has died down, it’s got a round and warming finish.

Darnley's Delight

Image: Darnley's gin


50ml Darnley's Original gin
50ml pineapple juice
10ml dry vermouth
Dash of sugar syrup
Dash of Angostura bitters


Pour all the ingredients into a shaker over ice and shake rapidly. Double strain into glass. Garnish with three drops of Angostura bitters. 

Do you think it's a good idea spirits brands are moving towards improving sustainability?

Monday, 7 February 2022

Recipes: Want a non-alcoholic drink with a serious kick? Try Gimber

Non-alcoholic drinks are having a moment. It feels like barely a day goes by without another non-alcoholic 'spirit' being released. 

However, while you might want a change to alcohol, you might not want an imitator.

Alongside the many non-alcoholic spirits, we've also seen a bit of a boom in the world of fancy soft drinks.

Of course there's the usual Cokes and juices, but now we're seeing more shrubs and drinking vinegars and interesting cordials.

Speaking of, we recently tried Gimber. And we are fans.

What is Gimber?

Gimber is basically a really fancy cordial, with a serious kick. The ingredients are ginger, lemons, cane sugar, herbs and spices. One of the key compounds found in ginger is gingerol, which not only activates spice receptors on the tongue but apparently has also been found to have restorative properties. Some of the benefits that have been linked to gingerol include anti-inflammation, relieving muscle soreness, reducing stress, alleviating nausea and boosting the immune system. 

The name comes from a blend of 'ginger' in Dutch, French and English: gember, gingembre and of course, ginger.

It came about when founder Dimitri Oosterlynck was fed up of constantly drinking alcohol, or something boring or sugary. He couldn't find what he was looking for, so created something entirely new. It all started in 2017, and has been growing since then.

How do you drink Gimber?

In any number of ways. The 'perfect serve' is 30ml of Gimber mixed with 200ml of sparkling water. That will get you a seriously refreshing drink with a spicy kick. It's warming and zesty. The overriding flavour is of course ginger (at least 38% of Gimber is made with high-quality organic ginger), but you do pick up other herbs and spices too, as well as a citrussy note. 

You can also swap you G(in) for G(imber) in your G&T. Add 30ml of Gimber to 200ml of tonic and finish off with a sprig of rosemary.

You can use Gimber in your smoothies...

Fancy a blast of ginger energy with your breakfast? Try this Ginger Pear Smoothie. 

3 pears
1 lime
500ml soy milk
30ml Gimber
Optional: Chocolate chips/lime zest to top

Blend everything together
Serve with grated chocolate and lime zest

You can add Gimber to cocktails...

Ok, so it does make a very delicious non-alcoholic drink, but it turns out it tastes great in cocktails as well.

This cocktail recipe is also non-alcoholic, but if you want to turn your mocktail into a cocktail, swap the Everleaf for gin, white rum or tequila blanco.

30ml Everleaf aperitif
15ml Gimber ginger
1tsp honey water
Top with ginger beer
Garnish with orange wheels

You can even use Gimber as an ingredient in your cooking

Turns out this fiesty cordial is pretty versatile and works well in this seasonal butternut squash salad.

Mix together roasted butternut squash, red onion, kale and feta cheese. 

Dress with a mix of 1tsp Gimber, 20ml olive oil, salt and pepper.

Where can you buy Gimber?

You can buy it direct online (with a 20% discount for your first order) or from the likes of Daylesford, Selfridges, Whole Foods Market, Planet Organic, Dorchester Collection and Harvey Nichols.

It costs £2.99 for 20ml, £14.95 for 200ml, £24.50 for 500ml, and £27.90 for 700ml.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Crus Bourgeois - Bordeaux’s hidden gems?

The last year has been odd to put it mildly. Many of the things that we previously took for granted - and often under-appreciated - we simply haven’t been able to do. For very good reason, as we have had to keep people safe and this has meant sacrifices across the board. Nonetheless, the absence of many of the things that we used to do will have left a holes in a lot of our lives. 
For me one such thing has been the ability to attend wine industry events. There has been great innovation from the industry through the rapid development of online tastings and at-home sampling sessions, but quite frankly I have missed the ability to walk through a room, meet the people who make all of this amazing wine that we love, talk to them about their wares and, of course, try their wines. One event I have always looked forward to is the yearly Crus Bourgeois Bordeaux tasting. It was always held in such lovely venues, I tended to bump into friends there and also it was a great opportunity to try these exciting wines. 


Steven Spurrier with his Bride Valley wine
I am reflecting on this with a slight melancholy this year as it was at a Crus Bourgeois tasting a few years back that I first met Steven Spurrier (who recently passed away). Of course, he was dressed up in a very dashing suit resplendent with a pocket square, and I was far too star struck to introduce myself to him. Fortunately I put that right at a later event where he was exhibiting his Bride Valley sparkling wine and it was wonderful to meet the great man.
For obvious reasons the usual Crus Bourgeois tasting couldn’t take place in 2020, however I was very lucky that I was sent a few bottles to try out this year by my good friends at Phillips Hill Wine PR (many thanks to Jo, Louise, and the team). A great opportunity to reacquaint myself with these wines and a reminder of why I would recommend that you check them out for yourself. Worth also noting that the 2020 Bordeaux En Primeur offerings will be out shortly - definitely worth checking out as 2020 was a very promising vintage (despite all the Corona challenges). 

What are Cru Bourgeois wines?

Before I tell you about the wines I tasted, a little bit of background and information to set the scene. Crus Bourgeois wines are a classification of wines used in the Medoc, which is on the left bank of the Bordeaux wine region. This region is renowned for its classified growth wines, a system established in 1855 of five classes of wine, representing wines of exceptional quality. The Crus Bourgeois is a very recent addition, which seeks to provide a framework and a promise of quality of wines that sit below the classified growths. This makes them necessarily a lot more wallet-friendly then the wines classified in the 1855 system - more on that below.


Image taken from the Crus Bourgeois association
It is fair to say that the system for establishing the Crus Bourgeois system has not been smooth sailing and there have been a few revisions to the system over the last few years since it was first launched in 2010. However in 2020 an agreement was made on the longer term structure for this system. Wines will be reviewed every five years for quality and consistency, and will be grouped into three levels of increasing quality: Crus Bourgeois, Crus Bourgeois Superieur, Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnel. Encouragingly environmental sustainability is one of the significant factors in the grading. The whole Bordeaux region is making remarkable strides in this field - which is great to see. To achieve the higher accolades there is a significant amount of scientific and sensory testing that takes place, including tasting by an independent jury. It is a pyramid system of quality; in 2020 249 estates were classified: 179 were awarded Crus Bourgeois status, 56 were awarded Crus Bourgeois Superieur and only 14 were awarded Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnel. This is big business if you want to receive the highest levels! The 2020 awards will stay with the estates for five years when all will be re-assessed. 

What wines did I try?

I tried three wines - all of them from the Haut-Medoc region. For each of them I’ll indicate the grading the estate received in the 2020 classification (although noting that these classifications only apply to the 2018 vintage onwards, so the wines below are all technically Crus Bourgeois), the grape varieties used in them, along with the price point and where you can buy them.

First up was a 2016 Chateau D’Aurilhac (2020 categorisation - Crus Bourgeois; 49% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Petit Verdot, 2.5% Cabernet Franc), £18.50 from Lea and Sandeman. Sitting a nice deep ruby in the glass, it was quite light and pretty on the nose with blackcurrant and blueberry notes, accompanied by touches of smokiness. I also thought I detected a slightly floral note to the wine. On the palate, the tannins were soft. I was immediately struck by how well balanced the wine was, which gave rise to an impressively long finish. Primary notes were dark fruits (mainly black cherry), but the savoury notes were there to give the wine its balance.


Next up was a 2015 Chateau de Malleret (2020 categorisation - Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnel; 56% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot), £24.50 from Lea and Sandeman. This was a lot deeper in the glass - a properly dark crimson to it. A little bit spicier and more exotic on the nose, it had the same dark fruit notes - but I felt with added concentration. To taste this was certainly a bigger wine. More tannic structure to it, but accompanied by a more luxurious mouth-feel. I felt that the wine had a much deeper and more savoury after-taste - slightly more ”serious“ than the first wine, but that does not mean that the wine was less enjoyable. The finish was similarly long. This was my pick of the three wines.

Last up I tried a 2011 Chateau Lamothe-Bergeron (2020 categorisation - Crus Bourgeois Superieur; 50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon), £14.19 from Co-op. You could tell this wine had more age on it than the other two, it was brick red/brown around the edges, but a faint ruby red in the middle. Lovely ripe berry fruit on the nose, but there were some accompanying savoury notes to add depth to the bouquet. On tasting the tannins had all but gone, but there was some decent acidity to the wine still which gave it some structure. This was a very pleasant wine to drink, not overly showy - but in the perfect spot for drinking now - and also priced very reasonably.


Overall, I was very impressed with these wines. They were all wines of great quality and with them all being priced at under £25/bottle, I feel they represent excellent value. To get into the classified growths you are looking at spending £50/bottle and up (and up and up!). These are well made wines that will go with food wonderfully, but also make for great drinking on their own with friends (now that we can do that kind of thing again…). 

I think it’s interesting that all of the wines were made up of a large amount of Merlot, something that the left bank is not known for. I suspect that is a deliberate ploy to make the wines softer and more approachable. These aren’t wines to be collected and hoarded away for years before you finally open them - they are wines designed to be drunk and give pleasure. I’d definitely recommend checking them out. If you find any good ones let us know in the comments below!




I was sent these wines as a press sample (thank you again Jo and Louise!). The opinions contained within this article are my own. 

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Meet the Winemaker: Brendan and Laura from Unico Zelo


As we reach the end of what has been a fairly traumatic year for people all around the world. In the world of wine there are many challenges that the industry had faced during this ”annus horribilis”: climate change, severe weather events, choppy international trading environments (understatement alert!), bullying and sexism, the impacts of COVID-19, to name but a few. However, it does feel right to look for some positives amidst this gloomy outlook. I’m a born optimist you see…! One of the main ones for me has been the sudden innovation in thinking around how wineries and producers can communicate with the external world. There has been a rush in new thinking in this space and initiatives have kicked off all over the world - from the prevalence of “Instagram-live” events where producers can talk directly to their market (big shout out at this point to Brad @winetimelondon who is doing this par excellence over on Instagram each weekday evening - check him out if you haven't seen it!); to virtual wine tastings and virtual winery visits - where you can have all the fun of experiencing the products of a winery and meeting the producers, experienced from the comfort of your own home. 
Nothing will replace the true joy of standing in a vineyard and directly experiencing the relief of the land, feel the texture of the soils; but as we start to appreciate the impact of international travel on our carbon footprint and the fact that trips abroad can't be accessed by many people, it does feel that these virtual experiences can help bring us closer as consumers to producers and appreciate their product without the time-, and resource-hungry, travelling. 
These themes of innovation and sustainability-focus are all brought together in the latest on our series of Aussie “meet the winemaker” series. I spent a very pleasant couple of hours last weekend with Brendan and Laura Carter of Aussie winery “Unico Zelo”. (You can check out my piece on one of other “meet the winemaker” sessions with Oliver’s Taranga here).  
Unico Zelo is a winery located in south Australia, near Adelaide and is an endeavour that they built from scratch, which is incredibly impressive when you consider what they have achieved. They produce fantastic wines, at accessible price points, in a way that leaves minimal impact on the environment. On the neck of each of their wines, Brendan and Laura emblazen their philosophy - “from the land we belong to” - and this very much speaks to the approach they take with their wine. Brendan explained this to us by saying that he tries to marry the concept of planting grapes that are perfectly suited to the environment that they find themselves in with low-intervention wine-making styles. The two concepts are very much symbiotic, Brendan says, as you can only have minimal intervention wine-making if you select grape varieties that perfectly suit the environment that you are working in. 
It is precisely this point that marks Brendan and Laura out as trailblazers; they acknowledge that there are exceptional sites for production of those grape varieties that did a great deal in putting Australia on the wine-map: Shiraz and Chardonnay. However, and they are extremely passionate throughout our discussion about this, they believe that most of Australia’s wine-growing areas are not sited in places which are suited to production of these varieties. Brendan and Laura looked at the areas around Adelaide Hills and Clare Valley where they source their grapes from and saw that the biggest challenge that they were going to face is that these areas experience drought conditions frequently and that the cost of water had been steadily rising over the recent years. As such, they concluded that they should not be looking to those grape varieties like Shiraz and Chardonnay, who hail from the comparatively wet regions of the Rhône Valley and Burgundy (respectively); instead, they felt that they should be looking at planting grapes that are more suited to their environment - and looked to Italian grape varieties. Their zeal on this point is verging on the fervent - and they are earnest on their mission of passing this message on to winemakers in their surrounding area - with varying levels of success. This is remarkable when you think about it - they are trying to help their competitors see that they need to adapt to survive. Just one of the many remarkable things about Brendan and Laura.

Unico Zelo’s wines

I tried three of their wines, which I purchased from All About Wines (the prices quoted are from their website) who have a good supply of Unico Zelo’s offering.
I started with their 2019 “Jade and Jasper” Fiano [£15.99] (UZ make several different Fiano) which had a lovely rich, vibrant colour in the glass. On the nose it was Quite rich and aromatic, I found it very expressive. On tasting, it was  bright and crisp with a crunchy green apple kind of vibe going on. I felt the wine was very clean and fresh, with a rather zippy acidity giving the wine a fairly electric profile.


Next up was a 2018 “Cherry Fields” Dolcetto [£15.99] produced in Clare Valley (a little further north than Adelaide Hills and somewhat renowned for Riesling). Interestingly Brendan told us that a very well-known Australian wine producer used to own the site that they get the grapes from but felt that they couldn’t make it work, which gives weight to Brendan’s idea that they were using the wrong grapes. They have opted instead for Dolcetto, a grape renowned for its usage in the wines of Piedmont. On the nose this was a little bit smoky, but was redolent of ripe, bright red fruits - it smelled so inviting! On tasting, it was very balanced, notable levels of acidity, but rich with dark cherry notes. I found this wine to be very approachable, not in a bad way - purely in an “this is a very pleasant wine to drink” kind of way!


My last wine was a 2019 ”Truffle Hound“ Barbera, Nebbiolo blend [£15.99], also produced in Clare Valley. In the glass this felt richer and darker than the Dolcetto, the fruits were move black fruit than red fruit. On the palate it was concentrated and intense, there were some quite deep notes at the outset, but on the mid-palate I felt that you got a nice sweep of acidity that provided some good balance to the wine. 
You’ll notice that all of the wines retail in the UK for the same price. Again this is deliberate from Brendan and Laura - they say that they aim to make approachable wines, at price points that are also approachable. They know and respect those producers who make ”crafted” wines that generate expensive price tags and become collectors’ items, but that’s not what they got into the game for. They got into the game to promote their ethos and to make great wine sustainably in a way that means that people in 50 to 100 years can also make this wine. Sustainability is an absolute cornerstone of the Unico Zelo story. Brendan and Laura are keen to point out that this isn’t with a hippy, tree-hugger, mindset - instead it is with a business hat on. After all, if something isn’t sustainable, then it is unsustainable, and that is not great for a business model.


Brendan in Decanter for his
“Wine for the People” show

Over these last few months, Brendan has become somewhat of an international COVID superstar (indeed, some of you may have seen that Brendan was featured in the January edition of Decanter on this). He started doing a series of live-streamed, wine-related video content. Brendan told us that he started doing this because he felt a need to remain in connection with people when COVID-restrictions meant that they couldn’t do this in the normal ways. In particular, he was keen to find a way to replace the social element of people finishing up their work and heading for a drink with their mates. So how have they gone about doing this? Brendan launched a series called “Wine for the People”, a purposefully social, irreverent take on wine and friendship. This has featured inspired broadcasts on subjects like “shit wine inventions” that you get sent by relatives when they know you’re a wine lover, and looking for wine matches with all the different flavours of Pringles. Seriously. It’s fun, it’s a little silly, it’s what we all needed in 2020.
Many thanks to Brett Jones (@austwinetasting on Twitter) and Ollie Farquharson (@ollieozwineuk) for setting this up, and of course huge thanks to Brendan and Laura for giving up their time to spend a couple of hours with us. It was a thoroughly enjoyable conversation and truly inspiring. With innovative and forward-thinking individuals like them in the wind industry, I have every hope that it will be able to survive the tumultuous events we are currently experiencing. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Wine-influenced gin with Chapel Down’s gin

Two of the great loves in my life are wine and gin. I was really excited then when I recently received as a gift two bottles of gin from a distillery run by giants of the English wine scene - Chapel Down. Chapel Down have been experiment with their product line for a little while now. Their beer “Curious Brew” is really worth looking out for - it features on the drinks list of some pretty great restaurants, particularly a couple of high-end Indian restaurants that I have been to.

So, when I received these two bottles of gin I was intrigued. I was ever more interested when I looked at the bottles and saw that the two bottles had been made by distilling the grape skins of two of the grapes that they use for their wines - Bacchus and Pinot Noir; the idea being that the spirit created would take on some of the characteristics of the grapes that were used in the base spirit. Interesting… my inner wine geek is curious - time to make a taste test!  

Bacchus Gin


I started with the Bacchus. Bacchus is a Germanic grape that many people feel that the climatic conditions in England could lead to this becoming the preeminent grape for still white wines. It tends to display gooseberry and elderflower notes; with a very high, rapier-like, acidity which gives it bite and freshness. In their gin Chapel Down distilled the base spirit with botanicals of coriander, elderflower, lavender and orange peel (amongst others). Neat in the glass, I could tell that this was a very aromatic gin - on the nose I got a little hint of that coriander spice, along with the more expected citrus notes. 


I made this into a gin and tonic with an 100ml serving of Schweppes Signature Collection tonic water and added a garnish of lemon peel. This made for a very fresh and clean GnT, which really picked out those lemon / citrus notes. I also thought that I got a bit of those elderflower notes that I was expecting from the Bacchus influence and the botanicals. 


To experiment a bit further, I made a Gin Martini with the Bacchus gin - which is probably my all time favourite cocktail. I love it because it is both simple (only two ingredients) and complex (because you can play with it so much and I am quite particular as to how I like it!). Here is the recipe that I followed:


70ml Chapel Down Bacchus Gin

20ml vermouth (I used Sacred English Dry Vermouth)

Stirred not shaken*

Garnish - twist of lemon


I am not one of those people who only puts a hint of vermouth in their martinis, or who just uses it “to coat the ice”; I like to taste the influence of the vermouth in the martini - and when you have an award-winning, highly-crafted product from someone who know what they are doing, why wouldn’t you want to taste it?! This was an excellent Gin Martini, I really think that the aromatic flavours from the gin came through nicely and complemented the twist of lemon. 

because James Bond is an idiot and doesn’t know how to make cocktails.

Pinot Noir Gin


I probably don’t need to introduce Pinot Noir too much, but worth noting that it is one of the four grapes that goes into Chapel Down’s Sparkling Brut - in fact it currently makes up 42% of the blend (some of you may be thinking “four grapes? What’s the fourth grape?” Good question - there is 5% Pinot Blanc in the Brut). The gin is infused with botanicals of coriander, dried red berries, Angelica root, citrus fruits, rosehip and rosebuds. The first thing that you notice about the gin is that it does have a slightly rose colour to it in the bottle. On smelling it you really do notice a different flavour profile - this is more floral, it as a kind of prettiness that reminded me of a rose blooming away happily in June. I thought I detected some red fruit notes of strawberries and red cherries, but I wondered if I was looking for that because I knew of the PN influence and the botanicals. 


I made this into a Gin and Tonic using the same measure of tonic as in the Bacchus, but I added a different garnish, this time frozen strawberrries, in order to bring out those aromatics. This drink really gives you a lovely, lush and fruity GnT - but those floral notes are still there too. I really enjoyed this. Whereas the Bacchus was a classic, summery GnT; this felt a little more autumnal - which is quite appropriate right about now!


To play with this gin, I went in a different direction and to my other gin-cocktail-favourite: the Negroni! I figured that the red berry notes would make for a good accompaniment to those bitter Campari flavours. Negronis are really simple to make, I used the following:


30ml Chapel Down Pinot Noir Gin

30ml Campari

30ml Asterley Brothers Dispense Amaro 


This made for a really rather excellent negroni, I was very pleased with my hunch that this would go well.


So there you have it, two really excellent and interesting gins that would make the perfect gift for the wine lover in your life, or a nice addition to your own selection. Both bottles can be bought from the Chapel Down shop for £35/bottle, but they are doing an offer on two as a pack for £60.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

A forward-thinking whisky: Nc'nean

For those of you who've been following this blog for a while, you may remember reading a post that I wrote last year about the launch of a new distillery in Scotland called Nc'nean (I wrote about this experience and where their unusual name came from, so I won't cover that again in this piece). They launched with the release of a set of unique "botanical spirits", which were designed to act as a precursor the whisky that they were hoping to release this year (you can still buy a bottle of their botanical spirit on Master of Malt for £24.95). Well, fast-forward a year (and the less said about that year the better...) and it is time for Nc'nean to unveil their whisky to the world. It seemed somehow appropriate that whereas the botanical spirit was launched at a glitzy event in 2019 at a private members' club, the whisky was launched in 2020 in a virtual tasting over Zoom!

It says a lot about Nc'nean and their CEO, Annabel Thomas, that despite all of the difficulties that 2020 has thrown at them - they have been able to achieve so much. They opted to sell the first 10 bottles of their whisky through an auction to raise money for charities - knowing that first bottles are often valued highly amongst collectors. They weren't wrong. The 10 bottles raised a record £92,000 for charity, with the first bottle going for an incredible £40,000 (you can read more about this story here)!

If that were not impressive enough, Nc'Nean has continued its voyage of sustainability - which is a concept at the very centre of its brand. Annabel told us with great pride that they had been successful in working with a supplier to bottle their whisky in 100% recycled, clear glass which requires no virgin sand in its production and reduces its carbon footprint by 40%. Furthermore, Annabel said that Nc'nean are considering a programme whereby people can return their used bottles to the distillery for refilling. Very impressive stuff! In addition, Nc'nean have made great progress on their aims for zero waste to landfill (in 2019 they achieved 99.9% waste being recycled) and efforts to solely power their distillery from sustainable energy sources. You can read more about their sustainability initiatives here.  

The Whisky!

I'm sure some of you are thinking, "this is all well and good, but what about the whisky? What was that like?!". 

Well, to launch their whisky, Annabel was joined on the call by Dave Broom - a noted whisky expert who writes at The Whisky Manual, and took us through the tasting. We started off by sampling the whisky - which sits a pretty gold in the glass - neat. On the nose it is quite heady with some spicy notes at first that are gradually replaced with softer fruity notes. There are some slightly sweet vanilla flavours there too. On the palate the first thing I wrote down was "beautiful!"; it was really open and warm, with slightly sweet and fruity with stone fruit notes (peach and apricot) which is then subsumed with a bit of warmth and spice. The really impressive thing with this whisky was just how complex and developed it was for a whisky only three years old.

You can buy Nc'nean's whisky from £47.95 (without the option of buying a cardboard container - which they offer to reduce packaging) from their website. Their first batches sold out very quickly, but they are currently taking orders for their October bottling - I'm certainly going to be placing an order!  

The "Whisky Six"

Whisky Six Nc'nean

Photo taken from the Nc'nean website
After this Dave took us through an alternative way of enjoying the whisky - a "Whisky Six", which is a highball serve that is used for single malt whiskies. According to Dave this was a very popular way of enjoying whisky as a long drink from the nineteenth century that has latterly fallen out of fashion, but is a method that Dave very much enjoys. The recipe that Dave and Nc'nean suggest is as follows:
  • Two parts Nc'nean whisky (50ml)
  • Four parts soda water (100ml)
  • Chunks of ice
  • Garnish of mint  

The result is a nice and refreshing drink, which is complemented by the mint. The aim of the drink isn't to mask or hide the whisky, but to enhance it. Annabel spoke about wanting to showcase her whisky in this way in order to make sure that a wide and diverse group can appreciate the drink. This is another area that is at the heart of the Nc'nean project, embracing gender diversity - Annabel leads a team of 10, seven of whom are female; something which is not typical of your average whisky distillery!

I would like to thank Annabel and the team at Full Fat for inviting me to attend this virtual launch - it was a great experience! I shall be following carefully Nc'nean's development over the next few years. To my mind anything that promotes a more sustainable and more inclusive world can only be a good thing - if that thing is also a whisky then even better! 

Disclaimer: I was sent the whisky as a sample. The opinions contained in this article are nevertheless my own.  

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Discovering Oliver’s Taranga

One of the unexpected developments during 2020 has been the wide-spread adoption of video conferencing across the world. This has given rise to all kinds of innovation and creativity within the wine trade. I have experienced this in the form of virtual wine tastings and wine seminars that have helped to fill some of the void of those events and wine travels that we would normally go to, but are unable to due to the “current climate” (no more needs to be said here!).  

I have been lucky to have been included in an awesome initiative that has been started by Aussie wine legend Brett Jones who is a big deal on social media under the handle @AustWineTasting and UK-based wine merchant Oliver (Ollie) Farquharson, who specialises in distributing Aussie wines from his business Helver Wines. Brett and Ollie hit on the genius idea of promoting the wine of people who they know and respect through hosting Zoom calls with these producers and a group of UK-based wine lovers, myself included. The aim of these sessions is to allow us to get to know the people behind these wines, to ask them questions and to chat generally about matters ranging from the impacts of COVID-19 on the wine trade to our collective hatred of the “clean wine” movement. We all buy at least a bottle of the producers’ wines, from a local indie wine merchant - also doing our bit to keep the wine trade going. Over the last few months we have had memorable sessions with Dowie Doole (who do an amazing sparkling Shiraz) and Santolin (whose Chardonnay is next level good!). However, for our last session with Corrina Wright from McLaren Vale’s Oliver’s Taranga, I hit on the idea to gather a few of us on the call together to hold a socially-distanced wine tasting session for the call. That way we could taste a greater selection of the wines. It was with great joy that I welcomed Lee, James, Peter and Carrie to my house and we got set up for the call (plus Serena who joined us from Cyprus as you do!).


Before, I talk about the wines - a bit of information about Oliver’s Taranga. The vineyard was planted in the nineteenth century and gets its name from “Oliver” which is Corrina Wright’s (the boss) family name (they were originally from Scotland but emigrated in the nineteenth century) and “Taranga” which is the aboriginal name for the site and means “crossing point”. Until the 1980s the vineyard grew grapes which it sold to neighbouring wineries - these weren’t just any wineries though, they included Penfold’s and D’Arenberg - so you can tell that they knew what they were doing. Corrina then persuaded her father to let her start selling wines under her own label and this is where Oliver’s Taranga wines came from. When you look at their selection, whilst there are familiar grapes on their range (Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.), what is immediately notable is the inclusion of lesser known grape varietals for the Maclaren Vale region such as Fiano, Tempranillo and Sagrantino. Corrina explained that this was a mix of wanting to do something different and looking to future-proof the vineyard against climate change. In particular, she was looking to Italy and Spain to find grapes that flourish in drier/drought conditions, something that is an increasing issue in the region.

So, onto the wines - what did we try…?

We started with their 2020 Fiano (we of course remarked on how this vintage will be viewed in a few years’ time, consensus was that it will be infamous). On the nose it had nice green apple and slight stone fruit (peach / nectarine) notes. James noted that he thought it had the slightest hint of white pepper, reminiscent of a Grüner Veltliner. On the mouth this was delicious and fresh with a really vibrant acidity that gave it a zippiness. It was though, really nicely balanced, in that it doesn’t have an ascerbic / tart after taste that burns the mouth, instead the juiciness is what lingers. A really pleasing wine - good with food, but equally good to drink on its own on a summer’s afternoon. Available for £16/bottle.      


Next up we had the 2017 Tempranillo (better known as the grape that is used to make Rioja). This was a really pleasing wine, with lots of quite pretty flowery notes to it, to match. There are some fruity flavours in this wine, more on the dark side, but there is also quite a nice savoury element to this making it a decent wine to have with some food. Obviously given the Spanish connection, I’m thinking some nice tapas (chorizo and padron peppers - yum!!). Available for £18.99/bottle (2018 vintage now)


After this we had a couple of Shirazes, young and old which allowed us to do some comparisons. 


First was the 2017 Shiraz, which we all remarked was an immensely impressive wine. We hadn’t decanted it, but it already had a presence and a maturity that belied its relative youth. Its tannins had already softened and we were really bowled over by the depth of the wine. The dark fruits that you would expect were there: blueberries, plums and blackcurrants come to mind, but there was already an impressive breadth to the wine, we were getting those deeper notes of coffee and dark chocolate. A big hitter, indeed! Available for £17.50/bottle.


We compared this against a 2004 Shiraz (which was under cork), which we did decant. As expected with a wine of increased years on it, this had got some tertiary development on the wine with more smoky, savoury, meaty flavours coming through. That’s not to say that all the fruit was gone however, with those characteristic dark fruits (black cherries, blackberries) coming through. The 2004 is ridiculous value for a wine of this quality, but we were also really impressed with the 2017. I think I may be purchasing a few more of these in order to see how it develops over the next couple of years. Available for £23/bottle.


The last wine we tried was a new grape for me, their 2014 Sagrantino. Sagrantino, as you can probably tell, is an Italian grape that is known for being the most tannic grape varieties in the world. I hadn’t tried it before from Italy but was looking forward to trying this example. The wine had a tremendous power to it, with a lovely brooding nature. It had all the dark aromas that you would want - dark fruit and a chocolate / cocoa profile to the wine, but I also thought it had a nice floral note to it too. On tasting, yes the tannins were there, but they had already softened nicely to my taste. It left the wine with quite a rich and opulent mouth-feel. Definitely a good wine to have with some as expensive a cut of sirloin that you can get. Available for £24.99/bottle.


All wine prices are quoted from Wanderlust wines who stock Oliver’s Taranga wines in the UK. 


I’d like to say a huge thank you to Corrina for taking the time to talk to us, and to Brett and Ollie for putting all of this together and organising this rag-tag bunch. Wine folk really are the best people!

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Master of Malt launch new whisky subscription boxes: Pour & Sip


Being in and around the booze industry, we know sometimes it can be pretty inaccessible unless you’re ‘in the know’. 

Just the other day my friend was telling me how she nearly got barred from Scotland for daring to ask for a Rye whiskey in Edinburgh. She didn’t know it wasn’t from Scotland, or that it wasn’t the ‘right’ thing to ask for, and a gentle bit of education would have worked wonders.

Speaking of education, Pour & Sip has just launched. It’s a new whisky subscription service from Master of Malt, focused on community, accessibility and inclusion. 

So far so good. We like all those things.

Each month, customers get five different 30ml measures in the post, picked out by expert buyers and writers at Pour & Sip.

If you’re a new customer, you also get two tasting glasses, a ‘how to taste whisky’ card and detailed tasting notes, along with your whisky. 

The team will hold twice-monthly online tastings, giving people the chance to explore the whiskies, ask questions, and get involved. On top of that, customers will get bespoke blog content and access to exclusive discounts on full-price bottles on Master of Malt. 

The boxes are monthly, but you can pause and resume at any point. Each one will cost £29.95.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s first World Series of Whiskies: a taste of five, from Wales to India

Although we haven’t been able to go to our favourite bars for much of this year, we have still been able to get hold of lots of delicious booze to enjoy at home.

It’s certainly been a weird year in many ways, so we’d expect nothing less from That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC), to shake things up a bit. While the independent bottlers would usually release bottles throughout the year (they did more than 300 last year, blimey), as and when it’s available, they’ve now made the switch to releasing at set times. 

After the success of the World Whisky Summit hosted by TBWC, the new plan is to give smaller craft distilleries a platform to reach the whisky community globally, which they might struggle with otherwise.

So say hello to the first ever TBWC World Series Collection line-up, woo, yehhhhh. This is a really fun list of whiskies, with some really interesting new world stuff. 

We’ve had our hands on five from the collection: here’s what we thought. 

Mackmyra 5 year old single malt, Sweden, 50.7% ABV 

This particular expression is a blend of 5YO whiskies from several fresh bourbon casks. Mackmyra try to be as eco-friendly as possible. All their barley is Swedish and they have a specially designed distillery which operates using gravity. Barley is loaded in on floor seven and spirit flows all the way down to the new spirit store on floor one to be filled into cask.

My tasting notes...

Nose: Gone off bananas, sour fruit, caramelised banana.

Palate: Strong alcohol! Burnt caramel, spiced, heat, mild soapiness? Cherry on the top.

Bit of water adds a starchiness, salt n shake crisps without the salt, vegetable crisps.

Finish: Dark chocolate on the finish. 100% cocoa chocolate, minus the grittiness.

Langatun 5 year old single malt, Switzerland, 51.2% ABV

This whisky is made from birchwood smoked barley. An unusual beginning you might say but, to up the mystery quota, it has been aged in a Chateauneuf du Pape cask, adding layers of red fruit notes and a deep colour. Langatun have a very long history of brewing and distillation going back to the 1850s. Hans Baumberger, great grandson of the founder, Jakob, decided to restart whisky distillation in 2007. The current owners, Christian Lauper and Dr Dolf Stockhausen have invested to meet increasing demand.

My tasting notes...

Nose: Grassy, rhum agricole, tinned fruit salad, sage, coriander root.

Palate: Liquorice, peppermint, eucalyptus, aloe vera, herbal. Water tones down the herbs and gives you more honey.

Finish: Shortish finish. Alcohol burn at the end.

Penderyn 6 year old single malt, Wales, 50.0% ABV 

TBWC's Penderyn bottling has been matured in an ex-Moscatel cask. The sweet dessert wine is produced in a similar way to PX sherry but, uses a high proportion of Moscatel de Alejandria grapes. Located in the village of Penderyn, on the southern tip of the Brecon Beacons, this distillery marked the first commercially available whisky in Wales since the 19th century.

My tasting notes...

Nose: Febreze (not in a bad way!), toffee, Werther's Original

Palate: Sweet, floral, orange, caramel, vanilla, warm cherry bakewell, glazed desserts

Finish: Candied almond

Nantou 4 year old single malt, Taiwan, 49.0% ABV

Modelled after the scotch production techniques of the 80s, with the twist of influence from a tropical environment results in classic Scotch vibes with a fruity, tropical twist. Set in the beautiful Nantou region of Taiwan, the climate is humid & subtropical, meaning (you guessed it!) a high angel’s share of 6%+!

My tasting notes...

Nose: Christmas! Almonds! Sweet candied nuts and fruits! Pretzels

Palate: Fruityyyy, white chocolate, more nutty with water.

Finish: Dry biscuit on the finish. Digestives.

Paul John, 6 year old single malt, India, 52.9% ABV 

An Indian single malt whisky distillery, located in tropical Goa, distilling with Indian 6 row barley. Packed full of tropical fruit, with a big, oily palette. This has been matured in a great bourbon barrel, interweaving delicious nutty & spicy wood notes. The tropical climate for maturation means a high angel’s share, 8-10%, as opposed to Scotland’s 2-3%…

My tasting notes...

Nose: Spicy, caramel, peshwari naan, dessicated coconut

Palate: Ashiness, wood fire that's just gone out. Rubberyness, smoky pencil eraser, sweet spice. 
Cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, warm spices, grainy toastiness, rice? Savoury sweetness, like shortbread. Burnt butter.

Finish: Long, smoky finish

Which are you most excited to try?

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

The tomato juice that made me love a Bloody Mary: Tongue in Peat

It’s happened. It’s finally happened. It took 30 bloody years… but, I enjoyed a Bloody Mary. 

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried. Oh no. I’ve tried hungover, I’ve tried sober, I’ve tried in the morning, middle of the day and the evening. I’ve gone spicy, sweeter, elaborate, simple, but nothing could make me enjoy a Bloody Mary.

Until now. 

And all it took was some peat smoke and 12 people up in Scotland. 

Tongue in Peat tomato juice has recently launched. It’s infused with peat smoke from Islay, which gives it the most delicious rich, deep, smokiness. 

How do they make it taste so good? Well, the farmer selects fresh tomatoes, which are hand chopped by chef, ensuring maximum surface area is exposed to peat fires. The smoker then uses a traditional smokehouse to infuse the tomatoes for 12 hours. The blender purees the tomatoes with spices at a small batch bottling facility, and the bottlers fill less than 5,000 bottles per batch. The labeller then checks each bottle and ships them off around the world.

It was the first time I’d ever tried a smoked tomato juice, let alone a peat smoked tomato juice. Apparently it’s the only one in existence. 

Being relatively new to the world of Bloody Marys, I thought I’d keep it simple. Using 50ml of Holy Grass Vodka, I just added salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, and garnished it with a stick of celery. Very simple and uncomplicated, but it was definitely enough. That peat packs some punch.

Next time I think I’ll be a little braver and get creative... Apparently a bit of pickle juice in there works wonders. 

What’s your go-to Bloody Mary recipe?