Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Mint Junip: Wild Island gin cocktail recipe with Juliettes Interiors

Got a space in your lounge, or dining room, or maybe even your designated bar room that’s just crying out for a new drinks trolley?

But you don’t just want any drinks trolley… it has to be special. Fit all your gin. Be luxurious.

Well, let me introduce this beauty – Juniper – by Juliettes Interiors. I mean, just look at it. It’s got a built-in ventilated cabinet and mini fridge, a walnut garnish board, and polished stainless steel drip tray for starters. I think I am in love and I'm going to buy several Lottery tickets for this weekend.

To celebrate Juniper, the lovely people at Juliettes were looking for a gin cocktail recipe, made with either Wild Island, or Pickering’s 1947 gin, that is worthy of being served at their events over summer, including Salon Privé.

I got busy in my lab (tiny kitchen), and after several recipes, tweaks, start-overs and more, I’m happy with this, the Mint Junip. I was immediately drawn to the Wild Island gin (probably due to the packaging, doesn’t it look great?). I haven’t tried it before, and I like the story behind it. It’s distilled on the Isle of Colonsay, which is one of Scotland’s Southern Hebridean Islands.

The copper still is infused with six native hand-foraged botanicals growing wild on the island: lemon balm, wild water mint, meadowsweet, sea buckthorn, heather flowers, and bog myrtle. And ten further botanicals are used as the base. While there’s quite a lot going on with it, in terms of a floral, citrus character, it can also stand up to complementary flavours, which is why I think it works in my cocktail.

It makes a cracking G+T though, too, with a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint for a garnish.

Mint Junip
Wild Island gin 50ml
St Germain elderflower liqueur 15ml
Cucumber and mint presse 40ml
Apple green tea syrup 15ml
Mint leaves x4

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
Add the gin, St Germain, presse, green tea syrup, and mint leaves.
Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a mint leaf.

To make the apple green tea syrup… Boil 150ml of water on the hob. Take the hob off the boil. Add your green teabag. Once infused (five minutes), put the water back on the heat and add 150g sugar. Stir until dissolved and allow to cool.

Vinspire is involved in this competition with Juliettes Interiors, who sent us a bottle of Wild Island and Pickering’s gin in order to come up with a recipe, and asked us to include several links within the post, to the Juniper trolley, the gin, and the interiors homepage. All opinions are still Vinspire’s.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Learning about Cava with Juvé & Camps

I was lucky enough to attend a press trip last week to visit Juvé & Camps, one of Cavas premier producers. This proved to be an absolutely fascinating trip and confirmed my suspicions that well made Cava represents one of the best value wines, particularly in relation to the world of sparkling wine.

The family and the vineyard

One of the nice things about Cava is that most of the businesses are owned and run by families with a tie to the region. Juvé & Camps is no exception with the current joint CEOs being Meritxell Juvé Vaello (see photo left) and Laia Rosal Juvé who are the fourth generation from the Juvé family having recently taken over from the inimitable Joan Juvé Santacana who ran the business for many years. We were fortunate enough to meet and spend time with both Meritxell and Joan during our trip and I was struck by both their passion for their wines and the esteem that the family are held in by the people who work with them. I must also say that given the slightly fusty and patriarchal feel that wine can sometimes have, it is very refreshing to see young, female CEOs leading a prestige wine brand.

One of the other features about a family run business is that they are even more aware of the need to create a sustainable business and one that they will be able to hand-on in good health to their own progeny. Nowhere was this more apparent than when Meritxell spoke about the effects of climate change on their business; one generation ago they tended to pick most of their Chardonnay grapes at the end of August, whereas now they tend to pick them at the beginning of August. Meritxell is aware of the challenges that the vineyard will face and is looking to see what she can do to counteract this, for instance, since 2015 the vineyards have been certified organic.

The family have 400 hectares of land in the Penedès area, of which about 280 are currently planted with vines. They produce the traditional Cava grapes of Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada as well as other grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Muscat, Gewürztraminer, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 85% of their production is focussed on the production of their Cavas, with the remaining 15% being for an interesting selection of still wines that they make.

The vineyards themselves are set in the beautiful rolling hills of the Penedès region (as illustrated by the photo above, taken from a viewing platform within their vineyard), which is only 30 - 40 minutes drive outside of Barcelona. I was struck by how immaculately all of the vineyards were kept as we drove around them, they all look to be extremely tidily maintained and are harvested by hand in order to ensure that only the best grapes make the selection.

As well as visiting the vineyards, we also visited their premises in the small village of Sant Sadurní d'Anoia which was absolutely fascinating. They possess two buildings in the village across the road from each other which on the surface look aesthetically pleasing, but there is no hint of the treasures that they contain within...! Each building has six floors underground which are used for storing the 10 million or so bottles that are being aged in these caves (in fact the word cava itself comes from the Catalan word which means cave or cellar.) The underground floors connect between the two buildings to produce a labyrinth of racks of bottles as evidenced by the photo on the left.

The wines

We were taken through a tasting of the wines of Juvé & Camps by their chief oenologist Antonio Cantos (proudly clutching one of his bottles on the right), who actually came back from his holiday early just to lead this tasting - what service!

We tasted a number of different wines, focussing on their collection of Cavas. I will pick out five that I particularly enjoyed:

NV Brut Rosé (100% Pinot Noir), which had a very intriguing nose of light strawberry notes. On the mouth this was surprisingly complex with a nice red cherry profile add some refreshing freshness from the acidity. It was remarked by our group that often rosado cavas are not particularly refined, but this one was and at a great price level too.

2012 Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot Noir), this wine is a Reserva level having had an average of 25 months of bottle ageing before release. The nose was very classy with ripe cherry notes coming through, along with that pleasingly warm brioche profile that you tend to get from wines that have been aged in the so-called Methode Champenoise. On tasting the wine was bright and zingy, with plenty of acidity and juicy strawberry notes. This wine once again showed how refined for their price-point a good Cava can be; you would have to pay a lot more in Champagne for this kind of elegance.

Now we start to move on to some of the really big hitters...!

NV Reserva de la Familia (55% Xarel-lo, 35% Macabeo, 10% Parellada). This is one of Juvé & Camps' premier wines and is one of their most famous labels. We tried a limited edition bottle, which had a slightly sweet nose featuring honey notes and some light, warm citrus fruits. On the mouth it was once more class personified, with a nice level of complexity, but overall it just represented an extremely enjoyable drinking experience.

2012 Juvé & Camps Gran Reserva (40% Xarel-lo, 25% Macabeo, 25% Chardonnay and 10% Parellada). The nose here was even more exotic than the previous wine, a lot richer and more toasty; I even detected a bit of a peppery note on it (although I'm not sure I picked that right!) On the palate it oozed class and elegance, with a rich, broad profile that developed nicely. What was also noticeable was was a really nice mouth-feel to the wine, with fine and delicate bubbles. A beautiful wine.

They saved the best for last with their exceptional 2006 Juvé & Camps La Capella (100% Xarel-lo). This wine is made from grapes all from a single vineyard where the team from Juvé & Camps noticed that they continually harvested their best grapes from. Apparently this area of Cava is going to be awarded its own sub-appellation called a Cava de Paraje Calificado in the very near future as the Spanish wine authorities have noted its exceptional characteristics. The wine itself is aged for about 108 (!) months on average, hence we were drinking the '06. The nose was phenomenal, it had so much going on; honeysuckle, lychee, as well as warm brioche. The taste was just as good with a huge flavour profile, that evolved and developed over the three minutes or so that it lingered on the palate. There was also an interesting slight waxiness to the wine which is quite typical of Xarel-lo. Apparently they only produced 3,000 bottles of this wine so we were very lucky to try it!

If you want to find Juvé & Camps' wines in the UK, their official distributor is Ehrmanns and you can find out what wines they possess by following this LINK.

A lunch to remember to finish it all off

After this phenomenal tasting, we were treated to a beautiful lunch in one of the family's gorgeous properties on their estate. We started with a selection of appetisers, including (of course) some rich and decadent jamon served with some aged parmesan (see left), some earthy yet classy blood sausage, some fresh and delicious seafood (prawns and salmon); all served with some of those delicious Cavas as well as a selection of their still wines.

The highlight of the lunch, however, was the grand unveiling of a magnificent wild sea bass that had been salt-baked. The chef broke into the casing with great precision and great theatre and revealed its treasured contents. The result was a fish that was delicate, succulent, fresh and delicious. It was served with those glorious Spanish tomatoes that you get and a fluffy potato. The lunch was also a great opportunity for our group to get to know the family a little better and we continued to be taken by their pride, passion and sense of purpose for the future.


Below is a photo of our intrepid group along with our very generous hosts. This is after the lunch so we were all in very good spirits at this point...!

Thanks (Gracias)....

This was a really wonderful trip as I'm sure you can tell from the effusiveness of my write up. As I stated in the beginning, I already considered myself a fan of Cava, but I felt like I still had something to learn of its heart and soul. I now feel that I understand it a little better and I owe that to the generosity and kindness of the people from Juvé & Camps. I must also extend my thanks to Bryony Wright for doing so much hard work in organising this trip.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Darnley’s Gin refresh and move to Fife

After a rebrand earlier this year, Darnley’s gin has made the jump from London to Scotland.
Edinburgh-based company Wemyss Malts has spent the past year renovating a farm cottage on the grounds of its whisky distillery in the East Neuk of Fife, to be the new home of Darnley’s.
Scott Gowans, the company’s new gin distiller, will oversee all aspects of production and recipe development, using copper stills imported from Italy.
Darnley’s recently changed its name from Darnley’s View, to Darnley’s, and re-emerged with some beautiful new packaging, with hand-drawn botanicals by UK illustrator, Martin Hargreaves, on the bottle.
The range consists of an Original (40%, £28.33 Master of Malt) – inspired by elderflower growing wild in the grounds of the Wemyss family castle in Fife; Spiced (42.7%, £30.34 Master of Malt) – which includes ten botanicals such as cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and grains of paradise; and Spiced Navy Strength (57.1%, £33.51 Master of Malt) gins. The navy strength expression is inspired by the career of Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, an ancestor of the family who commanded ships across the globe in the early 20th century.
In some cases, spiced gin can be a bit much, but Darnley's isn’t overwhelmingly potent, and makes a mean Negroni.
Distillery tours have just started at Darnley’s. offering visitors the chance to see all the behind-the-scenes production. So if you happen to be in the area... do pop in!

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Le Tour de France drinking game

"Sod it. To the pub..."
Since everyone loves drinking until they think they are good at sports, here is a drinking game for the Tour de France which starts today (don't attempt to cycle after playing...).

You will need:

  • Beer (copious amounts): Beer and cycling go hand in hand.
  • Shots of Vodka: Wiggo's favourite drink (when served with soda).

The rules are simple... you must of course be watching the cycling.

This game can be played in two forms; either when you are watching the hour-long highlights programme on an evening, or, if you are a serious trooper, you can play while watching the five or so hours of live coverage throughout the day. If you take the second option I respect you highly. I don't necessarily like you, but I do respect you...

As soon as the race starts, here's what you need to do:

When a cyclist creates a breakaway, you take a shot of vodka.

When the commentators come out with an extremely dull fact (e.g. the date that a bridge/church was built), take a sip of beer.

Every time a cyclist throws their water bottle away, shot of vodka.

When a fan runs up the road alongside the cyclists, you drink your beer until they stop running.

When a cyclist takes a tumble, you finish your beer.

When the peloton catches up with a breakaway, you take two shots of vodka.

When there is a sprint, you drink from the moment the first rider starts sprinting, until the sprint/race finishes.

The last person standing at the end of the game, wins the yellow jersey...

Have fun folks and drink responsibly!*

Image taken from Numerius' photostream, under the creative commons license.

*As ever, Vinspire drinking games are tongue-in-cheek suggestions, and can be ignored, adapted or embraced wholeheartedly depending on your own personal preference.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Gin & Tonic can chicken recipe

The perfect Roast Chicken is a tough thing to master. My old man always cooks a chicken upside down, which kept the breasts and rest of the meat nice and moist compared to a bird traditionally roasted on its back with legs akinder, but this was at the expense of crispy chicken skin. Mmmmmmmm…. Crispy Chicken Skin. Bear with me, this piece is going to be full of innuendo…

I love Beer Can Chicken; a fun-yet-unorthodox way of roasting a bird stood up with a can of beer shoved up its bum. It’s great to watch in the oven too, and I can’t help but giggle uncontrolably. I always imagine it doing an imaginary chicken dance.

Today I’m going to try something different. I went to a BBQ at the weekend, and someone had bought those ‘Gin & Tonic’-in-a-can things. Basically lazy G&Ts for those who don’t know their ratios of gin to tonic. It was surprisingly good, and all I needed to add was loads of ice and a slice of lime. Perfect.

This got me thinking, with the sweet bitterness of the tonic, and the citrus from the lime, what would happen if we shoved a can of gin and tonic up a bird's bum. Would I enjoy it…?

The result was spectacular; crispy, perfectly salty skin all the way around, evenly cooked, and damn clucking tasty. The sweetness from the tonic and the elderflower came through, and my bird was moist throughout. Excellent!

So, here’s my recipe for a G&T Can Chicken:

2 x cans of G&T. I used the one Gordon’s do with a hint of elderflower.
1 x medium chicken. Always choose free range.
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper
1 x teaspoon smoked paprika

Untie your bird so it’s free of restraints and unfold its legs. Rub your bird with a tablespoon of olive oil, then with some cracked black pepper, sea salt and smoked paprika.

Spread the legs and insert the can into the cavity. It should slip in fairly easily. Stand the bird up on the can and position the two legs to stabilise it.

Pop it in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 80minutes, or until juices run clear and the skin is crispy.

I served mine with some lightly-dressed watercress, homemade wedges, and a bucket of G&T cans.

This recipe would work equally well with some of the other ready-made spirit mixers in a can. Why not try:

Jack Daniels & Coke can chicken: Give it a Southern spin and rub it with a simple BBQ rub – Soft brown sugar, paprika, cayenne pepper and salt.

Malibu & Coke can chicken – A taste of the Caribbean. Make a jerk marinade for your bird and serve with rice n peas.

You can pick up the cans from any supermarket and most off-licences!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Drinks in Tube tasting sets review

The last time I had a drink out of a test tube, I was in a dodgy club in Birmingham about nine years ago. I think it was Apple Sourz, and it contained more sugar and E-numbers than alcohol…

Flash forward to 2017, and I’m opening an expensive looking giftbox containing five over-sized 100ml test tubes filled with French wines from The Rhone, Bordeaux, Graves, Provence, and Burgundy.

If you want to try more expensive wines in the comfort of your own home, you’d usually have to fork out for a few bottles. But this is where Drinks in Tube comes in.

Back in 2007, French wine growers came up with the 100ml tube to enable tasting of their wines. The Hampshire-based Drinks in Tube team came across the idea in 2014, and they’ve developed the business from there, selling wines and spirits in handy taster packs.

As well as wines, they’ve expanded to gins, rums, cognacs, vodkas, and spirit-filled Christmas crackers. Most of the sets are around the £30 mark, but some of the spirits sets cost from £20 for three tubes.

If you’re struggling for present ideas for friends or family who want to learn a bit more about wine, they’re a bit different from the usual standard bottle of vino. The packaging looks expensive and high quality, and in each set, you get tasting notes and information on each wine.

My wine box contained: Crozes Hermitage Domaine Habrard; Saint Emilion Grand Cru Chateau Coutet; Sauternes La Perle d’Arche; Cotes de Provence Rose Chateau de Saint-Martin; and Chablis Premier Cru ‘Montmains’ Domaine du Chardonnay.

Both the reds were really full-bodied and rich – absolutely my kind of wines – and I made sure to have them with a proper French cheeseboard. Naturally.

The Chablis Premier Cru was my favourite, and the one I was most disappointed about only having 100ml to try! It’s full and creamy and rich and packed with stone fruit. I also really enjoyed the sticky sweet caramel deliciousness of the Sauternes. But when don’t I enjoy a Sauternes? I was most disappointed in the Rose. For me it just didn’t really have anything to it. It’s described as ‘delicate’, but I felt it just disappeared on the palate. One out of five ain't bad going though!

I think most people would be happy to receive one of these sets as a present for any occasion. They'll certainly change opinions about drinks in test tubes, anyway.

Drinks in Tube sent me a wine set to review, but as ever, my opinions are my own.

Friday, 16 June 2017

The English Sparkling Wine Show

If you're a regular reader of Vinspire, then you will probably be well aware of the excitement that surrounds English Sparkling Wine. The facts have been known about for a while, the soils in the south-east of England that bear the same chalky characteristics that made Champagne famous, the yearly increase in temperatures due to climate change that are making conditions get better and better for growing those hallowed grapes of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. This has resulted in English Sparkling Wine taking a whole heap of awards in wine tastings (some even above Champagnes themselves...) and has seen some Champagne Houses starting to look to acquire vineyards in the UK.

What's in a name?

In fact, probably the only thing that English Sparkling Wine hasn't yet got sorted for itself is a nice, snappy name! If you use the words Champagne, Prosecco or Cava then most people immediately comprehend what you are talking about; not only does it explain a regional location, but it also practically becomes a brand in its own right. Champagne speaks of opulence and celebration, whereas Prosecco speaks of summer drinkies in the sun. "English Sparkling Wine" isn't elegant or pithy as a phrase, indeed there have been some moves for "Sussex Wine" to be granted an official designation under EU regulation (although Brexit may scupper  this...); you can read more about this in this Decanter article. The only problem with this is that not all English Sparkling Wine comes from Sussex, indeed you do get some Sparkling Wine in Wales (and as such you can't even really talk about "English" Sparkling Wine)!

The English Sparkling Wine Show

Still, with all the excitement about English Sparkling Wine, I was delighted to be invited to the first English Sparkling Wine Show at The Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch a couple of weeks ago. This event brought together a selection of some of the premier producers from around the country and put them under one roof. This was a really exciting tasting as it allowed us to spend proper time comparing the different producers and seeing the breadth of styles, but also savour the high quality of these drinks.

Most bottles of English Sparkling Wine retail at between £25 - £35 this puts them in the same price bracket as NV offerings from recognised brands such as Moët or Laurent-Perrier. This tasting confirmed what I have long suspected - a vintage English Sparkling Wine from a good producer represents absolutely better quality and Value for Money than a NV Champagne.

The following producers were featured at the show:
  1. Bolney Estate (Haywards Heath, West Sussex)
  2. Hindleap (Furner's Green, East Sussex) - our own Rachael was lucky enough to visit this vineyard recently, which you can read about here
  3. Digby's
  4. Langham (Dorchester, Dorset)
  5. Smith and Evans (Langport, Somerset)
  6. Hoffmann and Rathbone (Mountfield, East Sussex)
  7. A'Beckett's (Devizes, Wiltshire)
  8. Herbert Hall (Marden, Kent)
  9. Black Dog Hill (Ditchling, East Sussex)
  10. Danebury (Stockbridge, Hampshire)
  11. Blackdown Ridge Estate (West Sussex)
  12. Henners (Herstmonceux, West Sussex)
Each of the producers had something interesting on show, but I had a couple of favourites that I particularly enjoyed:

2014 "Primordia", Blackdown Ridge Estate: a blend of 51% Pinot Noir, 39% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier, which has a refreshingly elegant profile of those warm, toasty notes coupled with some lively stone fruit. On tasting, I found it to have a nice balance to the wine, refreshingly acidic, but with some generous green apple bite. This was a properly refined wine.

2013 Black Dog Hill Classic Cuvee: Still has a slight hint of that biscuity element, but this is a more fruit-driven wine with plenty of crunch on it, flavours of lemon and gooseberry gave it a brilliance. On the mouth, what I found particularly pleasing was the long and balanced finish; a nice aperitif wine.

Herbet Hall: I enjoyed both their Brut (their premium wine) and their rosé; in particular the rosé (with its higher proportion of Pinot Noir) had a lovely tart delicateness to it with flavours of cranberries and redcurrants.       
If you are yet to discover the joys of English Sparkling Wine then I heartily recommend that you try them out. Most of the major supermarkets now stock labels such as Chapel Down and Hush Heath, whilst names like Nyetimber are going from strength to strength. However, there are many small up and coming vineyards such as those that were featured at this tasting, plus they're all situated in beautiful parts of the world - why not pay them a visit?

Thank you to Fabio at Mousseux Anglais and Su-Lin for the invite to the event and for organising.

Also thanks to Luca, some of whose photos are used above, with permission.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Wine for Beginners: Born to do it - is a good palate in your genes?

What is so difficult about tasting wine? You pour it, slurp it, give it the thumbs up or thumbs down and either cast it into wine oblivion, never to be bought again or put it on the 'must get again' list. 

Not brain surgery, you would say.

Well, it seems that the power of wine critics in the world and the fact that the overlord of all critics, Robert Parker, has insured his taste buds for a cool $1 million means that having a pinpoint sense of taste and sensory skill can make you a lot of money in a world obsessed with immediate gratification.

With such power (quite literally) at the tip of their tongue, it makes you wonder how they got such talented tonsils in the first place. Was this something that they achieved through serious commitment to their chosen profession, slurping and spitting delectable vino on a daily basis? Or were chromosomes that made them up just geared towards having a Superman-esque palate?

Firstly, you have to know what the word 'palate' actually means.

There is no muscle, bone or ligament that is called the palate, it really is a combination of all the senses that a human being possesses to evaluate food or drink (smell & taste in tandem), and also the ability to actually verbalise the tastes you are getting.

The creation of the Wine Aroma Wheel back in the 80's (remember them?) helped people who probably had a fantastic palate, but who had no idea how to actually describe the flavours, into the demi-gods of wine tasting with a simple turn of a paper wheel.

So, lets have a look at the biology aspect of it.

You pick up many different aspects of a wine from the sensors within your laughing tackle. The sides of your mouth and tongue pick up the acidity of the wine (the more your mouth waters after drinking it, the more acidity the wine has), the tannins (or the structure/grip) of a wine is picked up on the gums (if they go furry or dry, the higher the tannins in the wine), the alcohol level you feel on the back of the throat (and the pounding in your head the morning after), but most importantly the sweetness of a wine is felt on the tip of the tongue (where the majority of your taste sensors are).

These amount of these 'sensors' (called Papillae) apparent on a tasters tongue is directly representative to how good the taster is. A study was conducted back in 2003 showed that 25% of the people tested were considered 'non-tasters' (or had very few papillae on the tip of their tongue), 50% were average tasters and the other 25% classed as bona-fide 'super-tasters'.

The same can be said of the nasal receptors (nostrils to you and me). The more 'sensors' you have there, the more you will be able to pick up and therefore the better your overall palate will be.

But what of us mere mortals, who are lacking in the papillae department and have nostrils the size of a petit pois? Well, as the old adage goes, its not the size that matters, its what you damn well do with it...

Experience seems to be key when it comes to developing a palate that would make a wine merchant swoon in longing. The more liquid that passes your lips, the more your senses pick up on what they like and what they don't, thus meaning you can start to pick up what the hallmarks of a bad/good wine are.

Palates evolve. What you taste first time round, may not be what you taste second time round, 2 months later, 6 months later, 1 year later, etc, etc... By trying different wines from different climates, countries, altitudes, your senses tune themselves to spot oddities and nuances that were not apparent in other wines you may have tried from other spots in the world.

The bite at the end of the tail and the story that will make all of us budding wine maniacs live in hope of our day in the spotlight is that it doesn't matter how much of an 'expert' someone proclaims to be, there is a massive slip up just around the corner. Back in 2002, a researcher from Bordeaux invited 54 eminent tasters to a 'grand' tasting of some Bordeaux wines. However, he used this opportunity to conduct a few cheeky cons on them and prove the saying of 'do not judge a book its cover'.

In one of them, he poured some wine in the glasses of the judges and labelled it a prestige, grand cru, top dollar wine. Reactions such as 'woody', 'refined' and 'complex' were spouted. Cue the same wine being poured into the glasses, but labelled as a cheap, run-of-the-mill, plonk. Reactions here were 'weak', 'flat' and 'had a sting'.

The statement trying to be made here? You taste what you think you should be tasting. If you think you are tasting the pinnacle of winemaking, you will go overboard in your praise. However, if you think you are tasting an ordinary drop, you'll not exactly explode in your enjoyment.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that its easy to get caught up in the thinking that someone has that 'thing' in them for high class tasting. Its in their bones, its in their DNA.

However, if you kick a football against a wall all your life, you'll end up being good at football; if you sing into the mirror every morning, you'll be able to hold a tune; and if you enjoy a glass or two every know and again, not only will you get tipsy, you may just become a dab hand in this game we call wine.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Bluebell Vineyard tour and tasting – Hindleap English sparkling wine

‘Are you in France?’ my friend asked after I posted a photo of Bluebell Vineyard Estates. Close, I guess, but no, I’m a bit closer to home in the stunning Sussex countryside.

Stepping out of the car at Bluebell, I genuinely felt myself instantly relax. It’s a bit different to London life… The four gorgeously lazy Labradors that live at Bluebell ambled over to say hello, as I looked over the vines soaking up the afternoon sun.  

Bluebell Vineyard Estates used to be the site of a former pig farm, home to Large Whites, Landrace, and Blue Cross Pigs. Things have certainly changed since then, and it’s now home to the award-winning Hindleap wines. After the first vine plantings in 2005, the vineyard has more than doubled in size.

I was surprised by the size of the operation for the impressive amount of wine produced, with four full-time staff doing most of the work, and grape pickers coming in for a few weeks a year. Currently, the vineyard produces 40,000 bottles a year, but is hoping to increase this to 100,000 over the coming years.

In 2015, there were 502 vineyards in the UK, with 133 wineries. Annual production stood at 5.06m bottles, with suggestions this will increase to 12m by 2020. The top three grape varieties planted in the UK are Chardonnay (23% of total vine plantings), Pinot Noir (22%), and Bacchus (8%). 

Bluebell Vineyard has more than 100,000 vines growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Seyval Blanc grapes. The lovely Collette O'Leary, winemaker at Bluebell took us on a tour of the vineyard. After serving time in PR in London, she decided she wanted a change, enrolled on a winemaking degree at Plumpton College, and hasn’t looked back since.

Collette explained the vines are spread out across the 70 acres of beautiful Sussex countryside, according to site and soil conditions, and to maximise the chances of having all the varieties growing every year, in case of any frost or disease. I knew that frost could be devastating for vines, but I had no idea the methods or lengths some vineyards go to mitigate the problem, including lighting hundreds of candles among the vines in the middle of the night to keep the air moving, or even using sprinklers to freeze the vines. As the water changes to ice on the surface of the vine, it releases a small amount of latent heat that protects the vine from damage.

The grapes are harvested by hand around the first week of October, and are whole-bunch pressed, before being fermented in stainless steel tanks over four weeks, at a cool 12-13 degrees Celsius. The base wines (not yet sparkling, and they don’t taste anything like the finished product which makes it even harder for the winemakers), are kept over winter on their gross yeast lees (which is unusual, and quite a lot longer than other winemakers would leave them). Collette said it helps to enhance mouthfeel and structure, and improve the stability of the wines, but if any ‘off’ aromas start to make themselves known, the wines will be racked immediately.

Come spring, Kevin Sutherland, head winemaker, finalises the blends for each style. The wines are then bottled for a secondary fermentation and aged for 17-60 months on yeast lees, so every wine is vintage, and varies a lot from year to year.

Tasting time: the wines

In just five years, the Hindleap range of sparkling wines have won more than 60 national and international awards. After our very informative tour, we sat down in the tasting room to try the range, as well as giving our verdict on the base wines for a future wine, which was something I’d never done before. It gave a really interesting insight into how these wines taste a couple of years before anyone else gets to try them, and just how different they are at this stage too.

2014 Blanc de Blanc, 100% Chardonnay, £27
This is Bluebell Vineyard’s signature wine. It’s light in colour, with fine bubbles and loads of green fruit on the nose. There’s a pleasant sharpness on the palate with pink grapefruit notes, and a long, creamy finish. Collette says it’s enjoyable mow, but will also continue to gain complexity over the coming years.

2013 barrel aged Blanc de Blanc – 100% Chardonnay, £32
This was my absolute favourite. The wine was fermented in stainless steel before spending six months in French oak barrels, and spent a minimum of 30 months on lees. Oh I loved it. There’s vanilla and a sweetness on the nose, with a moreish biscuity flavour. It’s delicious and creamy and rich, with a long finish.

2013 Rose – 77% Pinot Noir, 23% Pinot Meunier, £26
This is a really lovely, delicate wine that would be perfect to enjoy over the summer. Kick start your barbecue with a glass of this. It’s elegant and well-balanced, with plenty of strawberry on the palate.

2013 Seyval Blanc – 100% Seyval Blanc, £22
This was my first taste of Seyval Blanc, and I would definitely go back for more. The grape is apparently very well suited to the English climate, and the result is a fresh, light and zesty wine. There’s bags of green apple on the palate, with a floral and herbaceous nose.

2014 Classic Cuvee – 61% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier, £25
This is a fragrant, floral wine, with a delicious richness, which leads to citrus and pear on the palate, and a lingering finish.

If you’re in the area, the vineyard is open to the public for tours and tastings.

Tours run on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays (£16 per person, book in advance). Or the Tasting Room is open 10am-4pm Monday to Saturday throughout the year, so you can pop in and try a flight of four sparkling wines for £5 per person.

You can buy the Hindleap wines online, from the vineyard, or the Blanc de Blanc from M&S, and the Rose from Waitrose

Monday, 29 May 2017

The best drink subscription boxes

Over the past few years, subscription boxes have sprung up out of nowhere. You can pretty much get anything delivered to your door on a regular basis now, from bacon to mysteries, and moss of the month to cheese toasties.

So it probably comes as no surprise that there are plenty of drinks subscription services out there now too. But which one to choose? Here's our pick of the best.

Drop Secret drinks club – the best of all worlds

If you’re indecisive like me, independent wine merchants The Secret Cellar, based in Tunbridge Wells, have come up with a pretty novel idea for a boozy subscription box… Drop Secret.

They’re combining all the boozy clubs. For £40 (with free delivery), you get either bottles of small production wine, an artisan spirit, craft beers, or anything else that goes. And it remains top secret until it arrives at your door.

You can choose whether you want deliveries to be monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly, and start, stop and pause deliveries whenever you choose.

They kindly sent me over the first month’s delivery to see how it all worked. It came with three bottles of wine.

The Flower and the Bee, Treixadura 2015, Galicia, NW Spain This Treixadura was a first for me. It’s very bright yellow, almost gold, and is a great, full-flavoured white wine. It packs a punch, with a fruity intensity, herbs, and a bit of spice. It’s certainly not heavy though, just really, really fresh.

Sibiliano, Nero d’Avola 2015, Sicily, Italy This is a lovely deeply-coloured, medium bodied red. There’s plenty of cherry on the nose, and forest fruits and muted spice flavours. A bit savoury on the finish.

Alto de la Ballena, Tannat/Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2009, Maldonado, Uruguay This is a very successful blend of 40% Merlot, 30% Tannat and 30% Cabernet Franc from Uruguay, so a bit different from the usual Argentina/Chile wines you may be used to. The Tannat is aged in the barrel for nine months to soften the tannins, before being blended. It’s really delicious: big, dark and fruity, and relatively limited too, as only 12,000 bottles have been produced.

Of course, you won’t be getting those if you sign up, that will be kept a mystery, but it’s hopefully given you a taster of the quality of products you’ll be receiving.

£40 a month
Sign me up

True Tea Club

If the thought of constant booze through the post makes you want to detox, then perhaps True Tea Club is the one for you?

They’re based up in York and specialise in seven loose leaf teas.

In each box you get four different loose leaf teas which change every month, and four empty tea bags, along with a welcome card, business card, and tailor card.

There are three different levels of subscription: Standard gives you 40 teas for £10 per month; Premium will make you 60 cups for £15 per month; or Deluxe makes 80 teas for £20 per month.

Each month’s box is released on the 20th of the month, but the boxes are sent out throughout the month. Delivery is free, and you can get international delivery for £3.75, if you want your tea fix from further afield.

In the box I was sent, I had Vanilla Cupcake rooibos, Earl Grey Rebel black tea, the wonderfully-named Rainbow Chaser herbal blend, and Mighty Mango green tea to try.

Mighty Mango was my absolute favourite. Despite instructions saying to only brew it for 10-20secs, the smell and flavour was quite intense and really delicious. But I am a sucker for a fruit tea. I also really enjoyed the Earl Grey Rebel and Rainbow Chaser, which was as brightly coloured and flavoured as the name would suggest. Vanilla Cupcake was a bit sweet for my liking, but the flavour was of real vanilla, rather than the synthetic taste you often get from vanilla flavoured things.

£10/£15/£20 a month,
Sign me up, and get 50% off your first subscription box using code 'LOVE' on checkout.

Craft Gin Club

Every month you get a small-batch gin, sometimes a rare and exclusive bottling not available anywhere else, and it’s sent out with complementary foodie treats and a copy of the Ginned! magazine. I know several people that have signed up to this one and it always looks like a really exciting bit of post to receive.

£40 a month, including postage (you can also do bi-monthly and quarterly, and you get £10 off your first box)
Sign me up

Your Sommelier

If you want to learn more about French wine in particular, or if you just love French wine (and who doesn’t?), then Your Sommelier will be your subscription box of choice.

Every month you’ll receive three bottles of French wine in the post. Each box comes with tasting cards for each of the wines, which includes plenty of info about the wine, food pairing suggestions, and facts about the region and appellation. You’ll also get a binder with the first month’s box, so you can keep all your cards neatly together.

If you’re taken with any of the wines in your box, you can order them again with a 20% discount.

You can choose between an Amateur box (£36 a month), and an Expert box (£60 a month). The Amateur box gets you three wines from independent domains, and the Expert box contains upmarket appellations and cuvées.

I was sent an Amateur box, with three wines from Bordeaux.

Château Lamartine 2011, Castillon Côtes de BordeauxCastillon Côtes de Bordeaux is on the right bank, close to Saint Emilion (which is where you find a lot of easy-drinking Bordeaux). This is similar in character: it’s light, fresh and fruity. I paired it with a Thai rare beef salad.

Château Dubois Gramont 2015, AOC Bordeaux Blanc This is a blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc, and 30% Semillon, so you get the fruity minerality from the Sauvignon, and an interesting aroma from the Semillon. Super fresh, and best enjoyed in the sunshine.

Château du Relai de la Poste 2012, Bordeaux Côtes de Bourg This is a classic Bordeaux Blend from the Cotes de Bourg appellation. It’s 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 40% Merlot. The Cab Sauv brings structure to the wine, and you get fruit and softness from the Merlot. It’s a good wine to bring out alongside your roast on a Sunday. 

£36/£60 a month
Sign me up

Tipple Box: cocktails in the post

Small-batch spirits and exclusive ingredients sent through the post every month, so you can make your own cocktails at home. You get two recipes, four 50ml spirits, and other exclusive ingredients.

£24 a month, including postage
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My Vitibox: Wine

With My Vitibox, you get one or two bottles of wine, a magazine with tasting cards (and a welcome gift with your first box). The ‘colours and flavours’ package is £20 a month, with the ‘red passion’ box featuring two wines chosen by Alain Gousse (former sommelier at starred restaurant La Tour D'Argent) for £30 a month.

£20/£30 a month
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Beer 52

If hops are more your thing, then perhaps Beer 52 is for you? Each month you get eight beers, a magazine, and bonus snacks for £24. All the beers are delivered to you within four-six weeks of being brewed, and you can order more if you run out. You can also send a one off gift box.

£24 a month, including postage
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Beer Merchants

Or there’s Beer Merchants. They offer ten seasonal beers a month for £30 (or £28 if you sign up for a year), and mixed cases focusing on countries, breweries and styles. On top of that there’s discounts across the site, and invites to beer events.

£28/£30 a month, including postage.
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Orchard Box

Every month you get sent eight craft ciders, two snacks, and various other goodies (you can specify vegan and gluten free too). All the ciders chosen are made with real juice, not from concentrate, and they promise you’ll never find anything in their boxes that you could find in a supermarket.

£28.99, including postage
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Crafty Nectar

Depending on whether you fancy six or 12 bottles of craft cider a month, Crafty Nectar has got you covered. All their ciders are handpicked from around the UK, and again, you won't be finding any of these in supermarkets. The subscription is flexible so you can skip a month, or cancel anytime.

6 bottles, £28.50, including postage / 12 bottles, £41.50, including postage.
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