Wednesday, 13 July 2016

What direction should New Zealand winemaking take for the future?

(L-R) Peter McCombie MW, Patrick McGrath MW, Rebecca Gibb MW, Joe Wadsack, Sir George Fitonich

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is the wine of now. If you’re out for dinner with friends, and ordering white wine, it's likely that the group will either go for that, or a Pinot Grigio.

Currently, 87% of New Zealand’s wine exports are Sauvignon Blanc, but what does the country’s wine future hold: embracing the regions and expanding beyond Malborough; new and exciting grape varieties; or focusing on the premium? 

At a debate sponsored by Villa Maria, and arranged through its UK agent, Hatch Mansfield, New Zealand master of wine Peter McCombie, UK master of wine Rebecca Gibb, and the ever-knowledgeable Joe Wadsack, came together to battle it out. 

Peter McCombie championed the regions 

McCombie argued that Sauvignon Blanc is often seen by critics as a bit tarty and too fruity, but it does delivers drinking pleasure. It has a brand status, and people feel comfortable buying it. 

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is indeed the fashionable choice of now, but this is the country’s chance to build its regional identities, and diversify. However, McCombie said that he’s not sure New Zealand winemakers have properly got to grips with terroir yet. 

There’s currently an emphasis on the grape, but this could be a way to make regions more prominent. As the industry grows, the country will find success from making better wines, and the best is yet to come. “New Zealand’s future lies in regions,” McCombie said. 

Rebecca Gibb countered, “I don’t think we should talk sub-regions. ‘Marlborough’ is enough. Regional is enough, and you can’t expect to push people through the regional door. And Joe Wadsack quipped, “Regions only exist because people want to know where the most expensive one is.” 

The wines

Region: Nelson
Admiralty Bay Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (£10.99, launching in August 2016)
Fresh and vibrant, with plenty of guava, gooseberry and a nice minerality.

Region: Gisborne
Villa Maria Private Bin Gisborne Chardonnay 2015 (£10.30, available from Tesco, New Zealand House of Wine)
“The chardonnay to convince people who don’t like chardonnay,” McCombie said. It’s fruity and accessible, with a creamy texture and a suggestion of oak.

Region: Hawkes Bay
Villa Maria Reserve Merlot 2013 (£22.70, available from Dylans Wine merchants, Village Wines, The Seriously Good Wine Company, New Zealand House of Wine)
This is deep and full, rich on the palate, with plum and chocolate notes. 

Region: Ihumatao
Villa Maria single Vineyard Ihumatao Verdelho 2014 (£19.40, only available in New Zealand, sorry!)
A bit spicy and citrusy at the start, with a fresh acidity on the finish.

Rebecca Gibb championed grape varieties

While 87% of New Zealand’s wine exports are Sauvignon Blanc, by 2062, will people be out of love with it? 

Gibb said that New Zealand is now offering good Chardonnay, and some good blends. With grapes and blends, people know what they’re buying. 

“There’s so much diversity in New Zealand. It’s a long country, and there’s a lot of opportunity for different grape varieties to flourish,” Gibb said. 

Lots of Italian grapes were planted in Australia and they’re now succeeding, so why can’t this happen in New Zealand? 

Grapes have diverse flavours, and textures, and they’re easier to understand. “Grapes are great,” Gibb stated. Is a country and a grape not enough? 

Richard Hemming, MW said, “Sauvignon Blanc became the norm. If New Zealand can create more varieties as distinct styles, there’s a strong argument going down the variety path.”

The wines

Left Field Albarino 2015 (£14.05, available from Bargain Booze, Taurus Wines, Vino Wines, Cambridge Wine Merchants, New Zealand House of Wine)
Plenty of apples and pears and spice. Only the second albarino I’ve tried that wasn’t out of Spain or Portugal.

Left Field Malbec 2014 (£17.30, available from Bargain Booze, Famous Wines, Barrica Wines, Campbell Moore, Vino Wines, New Zealand House of Wine)
A lovely, big wine with dark chocolate and blackberry.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Gris 2015 (£14.95, available from The Co-op, Famous Wines, The Pip Stop)
A dry and refreshing wine with some interesting minerality. 

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Arneis 2014 (£14.05, available from New Zealand House of Wine
Lots of citrus, with a tangy acidity and dry finish.

Joe Wadsack championed premium wines

“It’s been a Sauvalanche,” Wadsack announced. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc started inexpensive, got better, and created the premium fine wine image. 

As the first white wine a country produced, it is much better than where others started. Take Blue Nun or Mateus for example, Wadsack said.

However, Sauvignon Blanc has to fit with the palate people have for it. Winemakers need to pick the best wines and create an aura around them. 

“In general, regions come second to thinking a wine is amazing,” Wadsack concluded.

The wines

Villa Maria Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay 2014 (£19.40, available from Hailsham Cellars, New Zealand House of Wine)
Peachy, creamy, rich and full.

Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir 2013 (£20.55, available from Hailsham Cellars, Eagle Wines, Edencroft Fine Wines, Islington Wine, New Zealand House of Wine)
Berries and plums with a nice hint of spice, and delicious richness.

Vidal Legacy Syrah 2013 (£41.00, available from Islington Wine, The Halifax Wine Company, New Zealand House of Wine)
A wonderfully balanced syrah with some floral notes and dark spiciness.

Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Merlot/Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (£24.90, available from Islington Wine, Woodwinters, Ellie’s Cellar, North & South Wines, D.Byrne and Co., Hoults Wine Merchants)
Loved this wine. Dark fruit, chocolate, and oaky spice in abundance. 

An extra treat

Sir George Fitonich, owner of Villa Maria also joined the panel, but had lost his voice. He was still kind enough to bring along a couple of bottles of The Gravels Ngakirikiri, Villa Maria's super-premium single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 from Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay. Absolutely divine.

The result!

In a room full of the wine great and good, the jury was out!

For me, as one of the ’99%’ (with a keener interest than some/most), I had to agree with Rebecca that grapes are likely to be the future. While the critics out there might want to delve into the premium wines and the sub-regions, for the vast majority of people, that is likely to be one step too far. 

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, much like Pinot Grigio, is a safe bet. In most restaurants, they’ll both feature on the wine lists, because that’s the choice of the day/year/decade. Wadsack said that he’d like to see sommeliers sell more widely to consumers, but Gibb said that in many cases, sommeliers don’t care, and will continue selling cheap New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, because they know people will drink it.

The status quo isn’t likely to change any time soon, but as New Zealand keeps diversifying, and selling better quality wines from different regions and at different price points, perhaps eventually that 87% of Sauvignon Blanc exports will come down a bit. 

Sunset at a vineyard in the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. Photo by Chris Gin

Friday, 8 July 2016

Brum's Vegan Beer Fest is comin'!!!

Without wanting to give away my ever-increasing age, 'when I were t'lad', Birmingham was built on greasy bacon and sausage sandwiches, gammon and eggs piled high on a plate and, as a light snack for in between meals, a healthy slice of dripping on toast. People would think that 'Vegan' was the latest character to get on Captain Kirk's wrong side in Star Trek and 'Quorn' was just to the north of Leicester.

Oh, how times have changed.

Birmingham is now firmly a hub of all things to satisfy any carnivore or herbivore. Not only have we got the most Michelin star restaurants outside of London, but we also have a new concept in the planning for a street food site, smack bang in the centre of the city. Things are moving on at a hell of a pace, and people are always looking for the next flavour sensation to get their tastebuds singing like Susan Boyle after too many e-numbers.

Step forward my new favourite brewer on the block, Two Towers Brewery, who are part of the brilliantly named 'Mercian Alliance of Brewers' (available to follow at @MercianBrewers).

Taking place on the 15th & 16th of July at Two Tower's Brewery owned pub, The Gunmaker's Arms in the centre of Birmingham, the second 'Brum Vegan Beer Fest' follows on from a awesomely successful inaugural event last year. The whole premise of the event is to showcase that Veganism isn't just about tasteless bits of rubbery soya, and bucket loads of steamed broccoli. Its about well made food and drink, with craftsmanship and flavour from the first mouthful to the last sip.

On show will be generous portions of vegetarian magnificence from Change Kitchen, a top-notch caterer of Vegan and Vegetarian food and also The Vegan Grindhouse, a national award winning Vegan caterer, along with a humongous volume of different beers from local, vegan friendly, under-the-radar brewers from around the Midlands, with a few of them listed below:

Twisted Barrel Ale Brewery (a brewery and tap house based in Coventry.)
Green Duck Beer Co (a small brewery in Stourbridge, with a growing local following.)
Freedom Brewery (established in London, but now in Staffordshire, making big waves in the national craft beer scene.)
Kinver Brewery (hidden gem of a brewery based in Kinver, South Staffordshire.)
Backyard Brewhouse (SIBA award winning brewery from Walsall.)
Craddocks Brewery (Stourbridge-based brewery with 2 wonderfully cosy pubs to boot.)
Fixed Wheel Brewery (tasty beers from this Blackheath based brewery)
Fownes Brewery (mythically branded beers from a stonking brewer in Dudley)

If you haven't dabbled in vegan food, then this is the place to discover it; if you want to expand your beer horizons, this is the place for you; if you want a full stomach and a thirst quenched, get on down there!

Brum Vegan Beer Fest takes place on 15th & 16th July at The Gunmakers Arms, in Birmingham, from 12pm both days. Its free to get in, so pop along!

Friday, 1 July 2016

Drinking sustainable wine with Château Argentiès

Photo of Château Argentiès taken under CCL from their website
Last month I went to a two day course at the Cambridge Institute of Sustainable Leadership as part of my day-job. The aim of this course was to help us understand the need for the world to change and get us to buy-in to being part of that change. I personally had my mind blown in this seminar and have come away with a deep-rooted personal belief in the need to be part of the solution and to be seen as a force for positive change.

Now that I have gotten down off my soap-box... You can imagine how excited I was when I received an enquiry from a vineyard from the Languedoc-Rouissillon region of Southern-France about whether I would want to try their "eco-friendly and sustainable wines"... Yes, please!

Château Argentiès

The enquiry was from Château Argentiès which is located in Lagrasse, a medieval village close to Carcassonne in Corbières. When you look at their website and their communications it is clear to see that the company puts principles of sustainability at the heart of what they do; they state proudly on their website that an over-riding belief of theirs is that "humans, animals and plants are inherently and profoundly intelligent". This respect for their environment and their produce is what leads to the grapes being hand-picked and vinified on site. As you would expect they eschew any involvement with chemical or mineral interventions in the winemaking process in order to allow the grapes to present the terroir in its purest sense, without human intervention.

The Wines

I was sent three different wines from Château Argentiès to try and was really looking forward to seeing what they had to offer.

The first was their 2015 L'Alaric Rose (41% Grenache, 33% Syrah, 26% Cinsault) which sits a light salmon in the glass, almost opaque in hue. On the nose I got a faint cherry-like aroma with twinges of tart orange. There was also a floral note that reminded me of rose. When I tasted it I found it juicy, bright and fresh with a nice splash of tartness that gave me some lemon and peach notes. This was a very pleasing, if somewhat one-dimensional wine. 6.5/10.0

Next up was their 2014 Cuvee L'Alaric (40% Grenache, 39% Syrah, 21% Carignan) which had a dark and plummy purple colour to it. I got rich, slightly sweet cherry aroma, coupled with juicy blackcurrant notes. There was also a slightly herbaceous side to it with some menthol aromas coming through. On tasting the acidity was noted as medium, with low tannins. The dominant flavour on the wine was of a slightly tart cherry with a clean and bright finish. I tried this slightly chilled and really enjoyed it. 7.0/10.0

Last to try was the 2014 Cuvee Pièce Noble (37% Syrah, 35% Grenache, 28% Carignan) which possessed a deep, ruby red colour in the glass. The nose was surprisingly light with floral notes of violet and juicy red fruit notes of strawberries and red cherries. On tasting the wine once again had medium acidity and quite low presence of tannins with bright red fruit flavours of strawberries being the dominant flavour. A nicely balanced finish. 7.0/10.0

Overall I was impressed with the quality of these wines, particularly given their pricepoint - all three wines are in the 7 - €11 range (in France). These wines are not available in the UK currently, but I know that Château Argentiès are actively looking to find a distribution source so that they can get their wines on the shelves.


I was pleased to find a vineyard and wine-making team who are as passionate as I am about promoting sustainability principles. I really wish them all the best in expanding their business and continuing to make excellent wine.

Disclaimer: I received these wines as a sample and did not pay for them. Notwithstanding this, the opinions contained within this article are my own.      

Friday, 24 June 2016

Right on Q: Qcumber Sparkling Drink

Okay, so the UK has decided to do a pretty crumby thing, but it is Friday and I think we could all do with a drink.

A couple of months back, in the run up to RHS Chelsea Flower Show, I received an email about The Monty Don Mocktail... A) I'm not overly into gardening (I live in a top floor flat), and B) Mocktails? Seriously? Give me booze. Especially now.

Anyway, this one was slightly different. They kicked off with a pun; "vibrant summer flavours to get your taste buds into a blooming frenzy." Then they went all innuendo; "think juicy strawberry coulis swirled into Qcumber water (dubbed the most fun you can have with a cucumber" - you what?! - "a swipe of torn mint leaves, and a sprinkle of Womersley Strawberry and Mint vinegar for zing."

I was sold. Though, whilst I wasn't too bothered about making the mocktail, I was interested in this Qcumber sparkling drink.

We've briefly mentioned Qcumber on Vinspire before, way back in 2013 when it first launched, later being named the most innovative new product at one of the country’s largest industry events. Who'd have thunk it? Still, we only previously touched the surface; there's much more to this summertime sip!

Qcumber was born out of one of those rare ‘eureka’ moments (aided by alcohol no less). One evening the makers were out in the garden, enjoying a delicious G&T that was garnished with slices of crisp cucumber... DING! "This could be the next flavour!" So after a lot of hard work, Qcumber - a cucumber flavoured sparkling drink - saw the light of day.

Using only a natural, pure cucumber distillate and zero artificial nasties (no sweeteners, colours, preservatives and flavourings), this is a soft drink that you shouldn't feel ashamed to drink. Simply carbonated spring water, cucumber extract, beet sugar and citric acid, coming in at just 26 calories per 100ml; barely anything in comparison to it's rival products!

The makers of Qcumber gone to extra effort to make sure that the water they use is the best quality too. The source of the spring water lies in the old county of Radnorshire in Mid Wales; "in this unspoilt rural area, the water is able to filter naturally through layers of rock to achieve its exceptional taste and purity." I'm no water connoisseur, but I'll gladly accept that.

Qcumber brands itself as being a versatile drink - great on its own but also perfect as a mixer - so having been sent a sample, I thought I'd test out this versatility.

On it's own, it has a fresh and clean taste. Cucumber-y, obvs, but not too "green", and it has a really lovely citrusy tang, which I wasn't expecting. I think that's where similar drinks go wrong; they always make things overly sweet, and your mouth gets bored of that after a while. But lets get to the good stuff… Cocktails!

Qcumber has a number of cocktail recipes listed on their website (I've included some at the bottom of this post),  but it's always nice to experiment, so I've concocted a couple for you… Firstly, Ps & Qs; Poitin (the infamous Irish moonshine) mixed with a splash of lemon juice, sugar syrup and topped with Qcumber. Poitin is punchy (the Teeling one I used is 61.5%!) but it's an interesting, non-dominating flavour. Whilst still being a strong drink, the cucumber seemed to cool down the spirit, making it a good contender for an aperitif.

Secondly, I went straight down the summer route with gin and elderflower. There was no doubt that this wouldn't be heavenly. Summer Retox: a good measure of Dodd's Gin, with it's honey notes, a slug of floral Chase Elderflower Liqueur, a squeeze of lemon and a pour of Qcumber… All that's missing is the sun.

Be cool as a Qcumber and try these out. You can pick up a bottle from selected Tesco stores!

Ps & Qs 

35ml Poitin
Juice of half a lemon
15ml sugar syrup
Qcumber to top

Fill a tumbler with ice. Add the Poitin, lemon juice and sugar syrup. Stir, then top with Qcumber. 

Summer Retox

50ml Gin
20ml Elderflower Liqueur (or cordial)
Juice of half a lemon
Qcumber to top

Fill a highball glass with ice. Add gin,elderflower and lemon. Stir and top with Qcumber. Preferably drink with a stripy straw!

Qcumber Mojito

1 lime, quartered
2 sprigs fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 slices cucumber 6 cubes ice, or as needed
2 ounces white rum (such as Bacardi)
4 fluid ounces chilled Qcumber

Squeeze the lime quarters into a highball glass, and drop the limes into the glass. Add the mint leaves and sugar. Muddle well with the back of a spoon or with a muddler. Place the cucumber slices into the glass, and fill with ice cubes. Pour in the rum, then top off with Qcumber.


60ml Qcumber Sparkling water
60ml Tanqueray Gin
30ml sake
1/4 cup mint leaves
15ml lime juice

Add mint and lime leaves to a cocktail shaker, and muddle well to release mint flavor. Fill shaker with ice, followed by gin and sake. Shake vigorously. Fill mug with crushed ice. Finely strain liquid from shaker into mug and over the crushed ice. Top with Qcumber Sparking Water.

The Monty Don 

50ml Strawberry Coulis
1 tsp of Womersley Strawberry & mint 
25ml sugar syrup 
6 large mint leaves 
100ml of Qcumber water 

Gently jostle your mint leaves in a tumbler glass then drizzle the strawberry coulis, vinegar and sugar syrup over crushed ice. Stir and serve under a clear blue sky.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Beating the French at their own game? France Vs The Rest of the World

(courtesy of

There is nothing us brash Brits love doing more than taking on our Gallic friends from over the water in whatever contest we can conjure up. We've got Euro 2016 coming up in France, where a cornucopia of nations will be trying to steal the trophy from under the noses of the host nation; we are throwing out the classic 'French' style of cooking and embracing the modern British cuisine pathway in our Michelin starred restaurants. Hell, our doctors are trying to 'out-strike' the very country who seem to strike every other week about something or other.

Yes, we all like to get 'one up' on the French once in a while.

This pursuit of victory has quite recently been glorified in the English press, when Matthew Jukes, wine critic extraordinaire, organised a one-off tasting of English sparkling wines pitted against French Champagnes. When major tasters in the Paris restaurant and bar scene say that our fizz beats the beret off of the best sparkles that their country has to offer, you have to take it seriously.

You may think that I am on a serious 'anti-French' stomp (and if you take a look at my last article, I would say that maybe, subconsciously, I do), but its quite startling to see how quickly the so-called 'New World', with (in some cases, but not all) a relatively young wine industry, are catching up the 'old guard' of France. So I thought I'd take this as a great opportunity to not only dig out a few lost gems in my wine rack of French origin, but also dig deep into my pockets and buy a few pretenders to the styles which France have pioneered in centuries gone by. I knew when I thought of this idea it would be much more of a relay race than a lone sprint, so I enrolled the help of partner in drink, The Lass, in my efforts.

The first cork to be popped was Chateau Caronne St Gemme 2007, Haut Medoc (available in half bottles at Rosin Fine Wines, priced at £137 for 24). Your atypical Claret with a really gamey and slightly mulled fruit nose, but really hitting you with a developed fruitcake taste, mixed with smoke and leather. Not bad at all, from a relatively shaky vintage. To compare, I saw fit to buy a bottle of Capaia 2008 (priced at £13.99 a bottle from Majestic Wines), made by a guy called Count Stephan von Niepperg. He may sound like a Batman-style bad guy, but he owns 2 massively expensive properties in St Emillion, that make critically applauded wines, so he knows what he's doing when it comes to grapes. This is a completely evolved amalgamation of French know-how and New World sheen. Brilliantly brick coloured and with scents of wet leaves, smoke and baked black fruits, the texture of the wine is awesome. Soft and full, the nose matches the taste, but the experience is much more long lasting, as the length is longer than an EU Referendum campaign. I can't recommend this wine highly enough. 1-0 to the Others.

In the next round, Burgundy stepped up to the plate (or glass, as it should be), where I pulled out a bottle I'd been keeping for a bit, a St Aubin 1er Cru 'Chamois' 2012 from Olivier Leflaive (available for £23.99 a bottle at Majestic Wine). Lean, but creamy nose with a bit of floralness and peachiness to boot. On the palate, I did expect it to be a bit fuller bodied than it actually was, but it still ticked all the boxes for Puligny Montrachet's smaller neighbour. Citrus, mineral and a bit of nuttiness, this is what Chardonnay should be. Classy. For comparison, we had a Wolf Blass 'Presidents Selection' Chardonnay (available from Drinks Direct for £13.79 a bottle). Made by one of the biggest and well-known wine producers in the world, Wolf Blass' Presidents Selection is a step above their normal Yellow Label range and it does take a step away from the over-sweetened Australian Chardonnay of the olden days. Much fruitier and intense than the St Aubin, it has a real tropical fruit and even banana flavour to it. A bit buttery on the taste, shows that it has been beaten with a fair bit of oak and no mistake. No where near as much finesse as the French number, but a decent drop none-the-less. Regardless of that, France has pulled this back to 1-1.

For the deciding round, I've pulled out the big guns. You know a wine geek means business when he de-corks a fine red Burgundy, like Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru 'Les Damodes' 2005, Bouchard Pere et Fils (n/a in the UK). I'd manage to keep my eye of this for a long old while, having first bought it back in 2009, but the need to sacrifice something like this for VinspireUK is greater than my need to keep looking at it and saying "Not yet, young man, not yet..." It has a really light cherry colour, with a distinct tawny rim. However, its the perfume of this which gets you from the outset. Wild strawberry, meat juices, wet wood and farmyard, this is this the wine equivalent of algebra; unbelievably complex, but unbelievably satisfying come the end. To stand toe-to-toe with this giant of a wine is the Primarius Pinot Noir 2011 (available in Tesco for £9 a bottle). Plucked from 'The New Burgundy' of Oregan in the US, I was intrigued to see what it was like for such a reasonable price when compared with other Pinots from across the pond. Much zippier in terms of acidity in comparison to the behemoth of the Burgundy, with real fresh cranberry and raspberry fruit. Slightly tart for my liking, but a good summer slurper, none-the-less. Still, no match for the King of Pinot Noir though.

So, the result has come to pass, and I have discovered that even though these young pretenders are running a strong bend when it comes to the race towards wine perfection, the old masters still win by a nose at the end of the day.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

A trip to the cellars at Sandemans

Last year I was fortunate enough to get an invite to the 225th birthday of Sandeman Port house in the cellar of 'The Sign of the Don' restaurant in London which used to be where they stored their barrels of ports and sherries up until the 20th century. It proved to be an extremely entertaining evening with some memorable wines - in particular trying their special edition 2000 vintage port from magnum (you can read more about this event by following this link).

You can imagine then that when I travelled to Porto last weekend (whose name lends itself to the famous Port wine) for a trip with some friends of mine who are very keen on their wine, that I was very keen for us to visit Sandeman's legendary Visitors' Centre. We were determined to use the opportunity to learn more about this wonderful wine and, of course, try a glass or two!

The Tour

The Visitors' Centre is perched resplendently on the banks of the river Douro and features a picturesque terrace area on the river front where you can sample their finest wares along side some delicious food (something we would do later). We were greeted by our host for the evening, the extremely amiable Inês, who would take us on our tour through the museum. The museum is situated in the building that the original George Sandeman bought in 1811 in order to allow him to store and age barrels of Port wine that had come down from his winery in the Duoro Valley and needed a waterfront location so that they could be easily loaded, once ready, to be shipped off to Sandeman's customers; at first England, later, the world. Nowadays the building does not have sufficient size to hold all of Sandeman's barrels of port and a lot are stored in a location in the hinterland (where presumably land prices are a lot cheaper!)

As we walked around the museum the knowledgeable Inês gave us a fascinating potted history of the Sandeman Port house. For instance, the legendary "Don" bedecked in his black hat and cloak, who is still used today to advertise their products, was the very first registered trademark. One of our group was even able to try to emulate the Don's legendary look - I'm not sure he looked quite so mysterious, however!

Sandeman produces quite a range of different Ports, something that may be a surprise to the uninitiated; their "classic range" features white ports, tawny ports and ruby ports; they produce two "reserve" ports, their Founders' Reserve and their Imperial Reserve; they have a number of aged Tawny ports (ranging from 10 years' ageing upto 40 years'; and, in the very best of years, the holy grail of Port - the Vintage Ports. It really was interesting to learn about the history of this world famous brand stood in its cellars surrounded by barrels of their products.

The Tasting

You can probably imagine that after all the talking about these delicious wines we were very keen to get into trying them out!

We started with a glass of Mateus Rosé (which is owned by the Portuguese Sogrape wine company, who also own Sandemans). A touch of bubbles sat beside the river was just what we were after. The wine featured light strawberry notes and a subtle pétillance. It is not really the most complex of wines, but was a welcome aperitif.

Next up we tried a glass of 2015 "Planalto" from Casa Ferreirinha (Douro, Portugal), which is another wine from the Sogrape portfolio. The wine features a blend of local grapes such as Malvasia, Viosinho and Codega and had a nicely aromatic nose on it that reminded me of apricot and elderflower. We had this with some local mackerel - which went down a treat.

Time for some Port now, but not how you would expect it! We tried a cocktail of theirs which featured their Founders' Reserve port and lemonade, a drink that I'd actually tried before at the aforementioned birthday party. This was like a slightly deeper and richer Sangria, but light enough that it could be sipped in the sun by a river - which was fortunate because that was exactly what we did!

For our last drink we went to the good stuff, trying a glass of Sandeman's Twenty Years Old Tawny Port. This wine was more complex with a pleasing sweetness to it and notably more tackiness in the mouth from the fortification. A lovey way to finish our tour and tasting.


As I hope you can tell from the write up, this was another lovely wine tasting and learning experience. I must say that it was really helped by Inês who was incredibly amiable and made sure that we had a great time. Thank you to her and her team for all their hospitality!

If you find yourself in Porto, I would heartily recommend arranging a tour with Sandeman - they offer a range starting from 6 Euros, depending on the quality of the wines that you want to try. Details can be found by following this link.

Disclaimer: I did not pay for this tour and visited as a guest of Sogrape. Nonetheless the opinions contained within this article are my own.


Thursday, 2 June 2016

Meaty martini madness with Mr Trotter's

How do you like your martini? Shaken, stirred, with a sausalami on the side?

The martini is arguably the most famous of all cocktails, an emblem of sophistication and style, the tipple of choice for James Bond, a classy drinker’s drink. It is also one of the most fiercely debated… Vodka or gin (…gin), ratios of gin to vermouth, variations on ingredients, and of course, garnishes.

For me it’s usually a twist of lemon peel, but I have been known to dabble with an olive or two. One garnish I’d never considered before however, is a pork scratching salt rim and a sausalami on the side.

Well, the geniuses/crazy cats over at Mr Trotter’s (Matthew Fort, Tom Parker Bowles and Rupert Ponsonby), have considered it for us, and planted one (three) in the hand of every guest attending the launch of Mr Trotter's new sausalamis – a fancy, better tasting, better quality, Peperami – in original, cracked black pepper, and jalapeno chilli.

Amidst the breathable cloud of gin at Bompass & Parr's Alcoholic Architecture, Trottatinis were going down fast.

This definitely isn’t one for the vegetarians/martini purists:

Trottatini recipe

50ml gin
13ml vermouth
Mr Trotter's salt (save a few scratchings from a bag of Mr Trotter's pork scratchings and crush/use the salt from the bottom of the bag)
1/3 Mr Trotter's sausalami (your flavour of choice)

Shake it
1. Wet the rim of a martini glass with gin, and dip into the salt spread out on a small plate
2. Add the gin and vermouth to a cocktail shaker filled with plenty of ice
3. Stir
4. Strain into your martini glass
5. Chop your sausalami into three and delicately place a third on the side

The delightful Rupert Ponsonby, sausalami extraordinaire

Friday, 27 May 2016

#VinspirePOTW: Our Fave Boozy Pictures #8

Sound your horns; we've made it to the bank holiday weekend!

I'm not going to beat around the bush this week, neither you nor me have time for waffling. Here it is; our eighth #VinspirePOTW

Let's start with how I'm currently feeling after finishing work… YEAAAH. @theappleciderboat is the perfect place to grab drinks this weekend, if you're in Bristol that is. Cider on a barge in the city centre just screams summer, right? Pray for sunshine. 

It has been London Wine Week this week, which I've been oh-so-desperate to go to after my jaunt last year. Alas, no time to squeeze it in. Still, I've been enjoying (said through gritted teeth) the Instagram snaps that have been filtering through. @forgedinlondon shared these cheeky rosés for #WineWednesday to encourage people to go out and embrace all the amazing wine flights you can get involved in. It's on until the 29th if you're about - see @drinkupldn

Speaking of wine, @auctionagainsthunger happened at @streetfeastldn's Hawker House last night, raising a whopping £218k! All the food and drink Instagrammers were there, and @robersonwine were dishing out Californian Jackhammer wines on tap. Very cool. I do love a beautiful bottle, but taps and wine boxes are the way forward. What do you think?

@antidotewinebar, just off Regent Street in London, were drinking this Austrian Meinklang beer earlier this week. Meinklang are usually known for their wines, but here we have (possibly) the first biodynamic beer! Made from ancient grains, you could say it's better for you... If you buy into all that stuff. Either way, it looks pretty swish.

Islay's Feis Ile 2016 has been in full swing - check out my 2014 roundup of all the whisky festivities I took part in here. Whisky blogger/reviewer @steveprentice captured those dramatic Scottish skies perfectly, as well as the stack of Bruichladdich barrels. I'd go back in an instant... *swoon*

If you fancy something non boozy and, intollerance friendly, dairy free, @fondantfox informed us of @rebel_kitchen's Mylk Chai. I've only ever heard good things about these moo-less milks, and this just sounds like a spiced coconut dream. 

In keeping with the accidental "health" theme I seem to have clutched on to this week (biodynamic ancient grains, dairy free...), @hotbarchick shared @thegermangym's edible orchards and matcha cocktail. I'm guessing it ties in with the Chelsea Flower Show, but floral beauts garnishing a drink? YES PLEASE.

How do we feel about cloudy white wine from Italy? I'm not sure either, but I'm certainly intrigued to try it! Get it at @ducksoupsoho

I've been getting properly into my sherries recently, and I've heard many things about En Rama. En Rama signifies a Sherry that has been bottled almost directly from the barrel, without undergoing the usual processes to prepare a wine for bottling such as filtering or fining. The idea is to taste the Sherry almost as if you had visited the Bodega in Spain and dipped your glass in the barrel! So thank you @sherryfest for reminding me that I need to hunt some down!

Last but not least, we have our Friday Cocktail! This time from @stylistmagazine; a cocktail inspired by a popular perfume. @spitalfieldsbar created this one - A Lilac Day
Mix 50g lilac flowers, 1 sliced green apple, 15ml of cider vinegar, 300ml water and 150g sugar in a pan // bring to the boil and simmer for 20 mins // strain into a jug, then mix 15ml of this with 50ml apple juice and 50ml bourbon // stir over ice and top with 15ml soda. 

Lead image: Heath Cajandig under the CCL

Friday Cocktail: A Berry Mexican Muddle

Photo by Asha Yoganandan

What do you do when you suddenly find yourself with 13 bottles of tequila? I know, a very common situation you’ve all found yourselves in many times before...

While the suggestions for bathing in it (complete with salt – of the bath variety – and lime – flavoured bubbles), or seeing how far I could get past ‘one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor’ were a little bit tempting (they weren’t), I thought I would use the opportunity to get jiggery with it, and mix up some tequila cocktails.

We've got the long nights, it's a bit warmer, and flash flooding aside, summer is here! So to toast those summer nights, this cocktail is a little sweet, tangy, and refreshing (and apologies, but it’s really easy to drink). 

A Berry Mexican Muddle recipe (serves one)

50ml tequila blanco (I used Herradura)
25ml lime juice
10ml agave syrup (which you can find in the sugar area of big supermarkets)
4 blackberries
3 raspberries
8 sage leaves
1 small sprig of thyme

Shake it!
1. Muddle the blackberries, raspberries, sage leaves and time in a cocktail shaker.
2. Add a generous handful of ice cubes to the shaker.
3. Pour the tequila, lime juice and agave syrup in.
4. Shake, shake, shake... shake, shake, shake... shake that shaker (and booty if you so wish).
5. Strain into a tumbler filled with crushed ice, and garnish with a blackberry and thyme sprig.

Friday, 20 May 2016

#VinspirePOTW: Our Fave Boozy Pictures #7

Whilst I'm currently snuggled up in bed with a hideous cold that appeared as if by magic late last night, I can't even begin to think about all the weekend antics I should be having. Even if I did treat myself to a nice cold glass of something, I'm 100% sure I wouldn't be able to taste a thing... What a bore.

Still, I can't leave you guys in the lurch. Here's another #VinspirePOTW to get your Friday night going!

It's been a relatively average week in terms of all things booze; I guess everyone is holding out for next week, where the countdown for the bank holiday is ON. It's perhaps a little wine heavy in our top 10 this week - though we are VINspire after all - and I've shamelessly thrown one of my own Instagram snaps in the mix too. Soz.

Let's start with a Friday funny courtesy of @onceuponawine_. Here's the Facebook emoticons matched with the various quantities of a glass of wine. Pretty accurate don't you think?

I'm not sure how I stumbled across this photo from @misskatywick, but it's brilliant! The Ivy Chelsea Garden celebrated their 1st birthday in style... With just a small bottle of wine. 

We featured them back in 2014 (here), but @popspoparazzi have just produced three new boozy popsicles for Fortnum & Mason this summer. Choose between the Blanc de Blancs Champagne, Kir Royale and the Gin & Sherry Summer Cup flavours. Or maybe just buy all three.

@mylittlehongkongkitchen gave us this splash of ice cold vodka, fresh lime and soda. A very cool photo, but don't waste the booze! 

Another pre-English Wine Week post, but this time from Somerset's @dunleavyvineyards. Makers of Pinot Noir rosé wine, they have an open day on Sunday 29th May. It's free, but you'll need to email to book a place.  

On Sunday I (@luciennesimpson) skipped along to the new Deya Brewery and taproom in Cheltenham. "Our beers are designed to be awesome" they say, and from the taste of their American Pale Ale, Steady Rolling Man 5.2%, I'd have to agree. I'm looking forward to seeing more from these guys. 

Anyone needing some wedding or party inspo, here's a snazzy idea for you from @weddinghelperuk. Stripy paper straws and sparkles are totally my jam, and they're a must have for any celebration! 

@peroniuk have opened their House of Peroni residency at Proud East, Haggerston; eat and drink everything Italian in a gorgeous surrounding. The colour of this pistachio cake matches the green of the Peroni bottle perfectly!

London's first urban winery - @ldncru - were showing off their Cabernet Sauvignon grapes earlier this week. It was an alternative #WineWednesday post, yet still managed to make me crave a glass of vino. 

Our Friday Cocktail is slightly different this time. @thefeedfeed.cocktails informed us of a lemongrass and lemon peel infused vodka recipe from Nerds with Knives. Make it your weekend project, and in a couple of weeks you can make this tasty Lemongrass Collins.

  • 1½ oz. Lemongrass infused vodka // ¾ oz. Vanilla liqueur // ½ oz. Lemon juice // 1-2 tbsps Simple syrup (optional, to taste) // 4 oz. Ginger beer (or more, to taste). 
  • Shake lemongrass-infused vodka, vanilla liqueur, lemon juice and simple syrup with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a Collins or highball glass full of crushed ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with lemon slices and a stick of lemongrass.