Monday, 23 December 2013

Happy Christmas from Vinspire!

May your Christmas be merry for all the right reasons. We'll be back posting again on 6th January, but right now we're too busy drinking the following...

Sam: During the year I tend to look for good value ways to enjoy the wines I like, but at Christmas I just want to splash out on something special. We're looking forward to starting the Big Day with a bottle of Bollinger Special Cuvee, which is £45 per bottle at Majestic but currently on offer at £30 each when you buy six - that's saving a third! Some friends and I bought six between us - festive fizz for all!

Frances: Domaine Faively Volnay (1er Cru Santenots) 2005 - Good value for Volnay, a richer Burgundy which stands up to everything Christmas dinner throws at it, burnt bits and all. It's £40.71 from The Drink Shop.

Hugo: Whilst gorging into the evening on pate, cheese and game pie I'll be popping open the Penfolds Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz 2010. I had this two months ago with the same sort of fare and it went down an absolute treat. The Kalimna Bin 28 is available from Berry Bros for £22.50.

Jo: I'll be popping a few bottles of the gorgeous Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz (available for £12.95 at The Wine Society) over the festive period. Sparkling red wine? Feeling dubious? I assure you, it works! Served well chilled it's a fabulous aperitif and will be a complete surprise and revelation to your guests. Rich, powerful and concentrated with dark berry flavour with sharp bubbles, it also stands up to a serious chocolate cake (or festive chocolate yule log!). If anything it'll serve as a topic of conversation and get you drunk - Merry Christmas!

Freddy: This christmas I will definitely be drinking some English fizz and surprise, surprise, it will be from Nyetimber (I love Nyetimber a little bit). More specifically, I am going for Nyetimber's Blanc de Blancs 2007, which is a really stunning fizz and is very much of the Champagne style, so perfect for celebrating with at Christmas time but because it's English, it's patriotic too! It ticks all the boxes for me, so that is why it will be my Christmas-day drink of choice! You can pick up a bottle of Nyetimber Blanc de blancs 2007 from Berry Brothers for £35.95.

Laura: Wine aside (and there will be plenty of it!) I'm going to be sipping lots of Aldi's sub-£5 amaretto (woohoo!) but I also can't wait to crack open my bottle of Warner Edwards' Sloe Gin (£27, It wouldn't be Christmas without sloe gin, and while I sip a very big glass I'm going to be looking forward to all the fun we'll have on Vinspire in 2014...

Happy Christmas from everyone at Vinspire! See you next year! xxx

Friday, 20 December 2013

Friday Christmas Cocktail: The Stocking Filler

Christmas is a time of indulgence, and they don't come much more indulgent than this cocktail.

I love the traditional side of Christmas: I'm just as likely to be listening to Bing Crosby as Mariah Carey at this time of year, I love Elf but I'm more of a fan of The Bishop's Wife, and I love a stocking full of presents, but it wouldn't be the same without the classics: chocolate coins, satsumas, nuts and candy canes.

So I've put together a creamy, tasty, festive cocktail that focuses on all of those yummy things. I warn you, it's sweet - this is more of a dessert cocktail than something to knock back during the day, but it's going to be delicious to sip on Christmas night when we're watching the amazing specials on TV or playing yet another game of Monopoly with my crazy family.

The Stocking Filler Christmas Cocktail recipe (serves one)


  • 60ml Chocolate liqueur
  • 15ml Triple Sec
  • 15ml Hazelnut syrup
  • 1 tbsp Nutella
  • A candy cane (preferably a vanilla or fruit one rather than a mint!) to garnish

Shake it!

1. Warm the nutella in the microwave for around 10-20 seconds, or until it's softened a little.
2. Put the softened nutella on a spoon and swirl it around the inside of a martini glass, creating a ripple/spiral effect so there's enough coating the glass to impart the lovely nutella flavours.
3. Put the chocolate liqueur, orange liqueur and hazelnut syrup in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake it like Santa's belly when he laughs.
4. Strain into the glass (if you're lucky, you'll still be able to see the spiral of nutella around the edge of the glass, but if not don't worry - it's more for flavour than decoration.)
5. Garnish with the candy cane.

Best Supermarket Spirit Offers

So, Christmas is just next week and it's time for everyone to drive themselves into a complete gift deprived, uninspired, gift searching mania. Spirits are great gift ideas and the supermarkets are all too ready to please at this time of year with their offers. Take a look at our picks below for some of the best Christmas spirit savings

Laphroaig Quarter Cask
At Waitrose they have reduced this wonderful Islay malt by 20%. This Laphroaig a step up from their 10yr is now at £27 down from £36 and is an absolute steal for a quality Christmas smoke bomb.

Glenmorangie 10yr
An option for the slightly less adventurous and those that aren't sure of their lucky giftees preferences is the ever reliable Glenmorangie 10yr. This wonderful Highland offering is on offer at Asda for just £25!

Chase Vodka
For a true British Christmas look no further than Chase vodka offered by Sainsbury's at £28 down from £35. This true british spirit made with homegrown potatoes will be a welcome sight to any boozy nationalist.

Pinky Botanical Vodka
So, you've got that sister and you know nothing about makeup and know that she already has all the Bridget Jones films. Pick up a bottle of the suitably girly Pinky Botanical Vodka for £16.50 at Waitrose (Warning: ignore if sister not of drinking age!)

It's Christmas and so what better time other than the birth of Jesus (or Saturnalia if you're a purist) to release the Kraken! People love pirates and what conjures images of three wise men and shepherds than sugary, spiced, tropical rum? Grab a bottle from Waitrose for £19.50.

Mount Gay
Another one of our favourite rums at Vinspire is Mount Gay. This wonderful rum from Barbados is a great entry level bottle and perfect for parties. This is reduced from £18.40 to £14.72 at Tesco.


Adnams Copper House Gin
This lovely refreshing gin is made using 6 beautiful botanicals in the heart of Southwold. It is a great option and not one of the names you see every day. Adnams is on offer at Waitrose for £23.

Bobmbay Sapphire
A classic in the Fountain household, here comes another offer from Waitrose looking to keep you stocked up and full of Christmas cheer for the holidays. Get a whole litre of Bombay Sapphire for just £21!

This is just a quick roundup of some of the spirits offers available at the moment. There are countless others, but we fancied just giving you a snapshot of some of the best offers.

Happy Christmas!

Drunk History: Christmas

So if you didn't see the brilliant Drunk History video from Funny or Die that i posted a few weeks back, you missed out. You missed out baaaaaaaad! BUT all is not lost, it is Christmas after all and miracles happen sometimes, especially when everyone is drunk.

Funny or Die have an amazing Christmas Drunk History video that is well worth watching for some festive lolzzz.

Although you should OBVIOUSLY drink responsibly, you should also give this a go on Christmas day, when you are trollied - you will certainly look like Ryan Gosling or Eva Mendes when you do it too. The drunker you get, the better you will be and the more your family will love you. Trust me...


Thursday, 19 December 2013

Four Bargain Christmas Clarets

By Darren Smith

Christmas means crisis: all that expectation, the build-up of depressive winter frustrations, the family strife, the moral demand, after another year of slaving for The Man without any real justification, to indulge yourself to the point of prolapse, all this means that we turn to the richest food and drink, the real luxury stuff that would give gentlemen and gentlewomen a crippling case of gout in days of yore.

For food, we want great, glistening slabs of foie gras, butter-basted birds, luscious chocolatey confections and the like; when it comes to the wines, we want the finest available to humanity, we want them here and we want them now – as exhorted in Bruce Robinson's fine instructional documentary Withnail & I.

This basically means claret. Except we don’t all have Uncle Monty’s millions. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you can’t even remember the last time you looked at your bank balance, so unwilling are you to confront the horror of its meagre digits.

But I digress. The point is, how do we bring into harmony the discordant themes of masochistic indulgence and extreme penury? With the help of my buying guide of top Bargain Christmas Clarets – that’s how. From the £10-£20 range I’ve sifted out the bilge and left you with four Christmas crackers with which to thoroughly soak yourself this Jesus’s birthday.

NB: Most of these wines would benefit from a bit of aeration before drinking – ideally decanting it an hour or so before you taste it; and remember: keep it warmish – just under room temperature. It’ll be rubbish if it’s too cold.

Cin cin – and bring on the gout stool!

Château St Paul Haut Medoc Cru Bourgeois 2010 (Marks & Spencer, £14.99)

Almost 50/50 cab sauv and merlot. On the lighter side for a claret but lacking none of the deep fruity punch. Beautifully ripe fruit, perfect tannin grip, slight resinousness (unconvincing word, that) and a hint of spice from the small quantity of petit verdot in the blend; silky texture, and an unusually crisp finish for a Bordeaux – no bad thing in this case.

Château Bonnin Pichon Lussac St Émilion Grand Reserve 2007 (, £12.25)

St Émilion means right-bank of the Gironde river, which means a merlot-dominated blend (as opposed to the traditional cab sauv-dominated blend of left-bank Bordeaux). Very harmonious: subtle smoke, smooth oak, silky tannins. Light liquorice and dark cherry acidity. Velvety but not cloying texture. A superb-value reserve claret. Get on that.

Château du Seuil Graves 2009 (Virgin Wines, £14.99)

A classic Graves: 50% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot, 10% cabernet franc. Strong smokiness and tobacco aromas come from the mix of new and old oak barrels. Good grippy tannins and rich texture. Graphite minerality, forest-floor aromas with a prickle of black pepper. Fruit is blackberry/black cherry becoming currants. One you could lay down for up to 10 years or guzzle down in 10 minutes.

Château Sénéjac Haut Medoc Cru Bourgeois 2009 (Co-op, £13.99 until January 3, 2014; usually £16.99)

A traditional-style Haut-Medoc from the winemakers behind the renowned Cru Classé Château Pontet-Canet. Mainly cabernet sauvignon with a smaller amount of merlot and a smaller amount still of cabernet franc. Smooth-textured with rich blackberry fruit and forest-floor aromas, and a touch of liquorice – all you want from a cosy Christmas claret. Unusually for Bordeaux, Sénéjac has embraced biodynamic methods – so presumably there’s been no manipulation of the juice that nature intended for this vintage. Especially good value, given the Christmas discount – nice job, Co-op!

Top image taken from jayneandd's photostream under the Creative Commons License.

Best Beer Applications

Are you a beer lover?
Have you been struggling to find somewhere to get your beer fix?
Wanting to go somewhere new with friends, family or work colleagues over Christmas?
Well look no further! Because I am providing you with a guide to my favorite Beer Apps!

Four Pure Brewery
Brew Pal

This is one for those of you out there who, like me, consider ourselves professional brewers. The ultimate companion for those wanting to develop their ideal beer and store all the information easily on their phones.
One for the perfectionist, it will control and calculate all of your recipe details and its slick, easy to use interface means minimal stress on your way to becoming a brew-master. And at only £1.49 from itunes, it is a must buy.

Beer Cloud (for iPhone and Android)

 A brilliant, all round app that provides a number of fun, interactive and informative services, my favorite of which is the ability to scan the barcode of a beer using your phone's camera, and instantly receiving full information and tasting notes for that beer. The app also provides you with an interactive map, listing out and giving directions to all good watering holes around you. And if that isn't enough, there is an extensive beer and food matcher, helping you to pair your favorite foods with the best beers. Oh yeah, and one other thing........ It's free on iPhone and Android!

Ibeers Pro

This is for the really adventurous beer drinkers out there. A who's who of beer, listing thousands of beers from throughout the world, giving information on the brewers, the types of beer, tasting notes and bottle sizes. Simply, an almanac of beer, the Wisden of beer with a host of user-submitted reviews helping you track down your favorite beer. Available in Lite formate as well.

The Old Red Cow
Craft Beer London

Discovered recently whilst out for drinks with a friend from indieales, this is the absolute ultimate app for craft beer lovers in London. Even though I am a lover of craft beer, finding the right pubs throughout London let alone selecting the right beer is always a struggle! With this however, you get hundreds of pubs to choose from, perfect directions and full run-downs of each pub and the beers they do, making your choices easier.

The interactive interface also lets you 'check in' to a pub when you're there, provide ratings and win medals for drinking certain beers. Like checking into pubs 10 times before midday and drinking 10 American beers. Great fun and very informative! £1.99 from the App store.

I really recommend trying out some of these suggestions - Craft Beer London alone provided a whole day of amazing beer tasting and some awesome pubs. It can really open your eyes to the amount of amazing, local craft brewers are out there! Get going!

Sweet Treats: Jo's Fave Dessert Wines for Christmas

Champagne? Check. Classic White Burgundy? Check. Fruity Pinot Noir? Check. Dessert wine? No? Not yet? Well, you're in luck.Complete the Christmas wine set with a luscious lovely - you've still got time people! - to pair with your Chrissie pudding, mince pies, chocolate yule log and the ultimate cheeseboard. Often overlooked in favour of fashionable crisp, dry whites and bubbles, sweet wines can be a surprising delight when served in the right moment - and Christmas is definitely the right moment.

Earlier this week, Laura gave us three brilliant (and cheap!) dessert wines to go with your Christmas pud. To follow on I've picked out a few of my tried and tested favourite sweeties which should make a cameo appearance this Christmas. Given that one of them is the Samos Anthemis from The Wine Society, which featured in Laura's post, I won't hash over old news but I agree that it is sublime and very, very good value for money!

Moscato d'Asti Elio Perrone, £7.50 from The Wine Society
Sweet and effervescent, what's not to like about this? A long-time favourite of mine, this is like heaven in a glass. Light in the glass, it makes a perfect aperitif with it's sweet, crushed apple flavour and tiny, moussy bubbles. It's just 5.0% abv so works well as either a party starter with canapes like creamy pate, or a lighter finish to a meal, served with a simple fruit dessert.

d'Arenberg The Noble Prankster, 37.5cl bottle, £10.95 from Wine Direct
From South Aussie producer d'Arenberg comes this cheeky little sweetie from Chardonnay and Semillon grapes (a step away from the usual Sauvignon-Semillon sticky blend). Bursting with mixed peel aromas and full of exotic, tropical flavours like peach, melon, grapefruit and mango. Not technically Christmassy, it's divine with a sticky toffee pudding, but also makes for a good match to fruity cheeses, like an apricot Wensleydale or a vintage Cheddar with a sticky quince paste.

Tesco Finest* Dessert Semillon 37.5cl bottle, £6.79 from Tesco
From famed Aussie producer De Bortoli, perhaps best known for their award-winning The Noble One, comes this beauty made for Tesco's own finest* range. Elegant and honeyed, this is bursting with peach and apricot flavours and a sweet, lingering finish. A match made in heaven for a salty blue cheese or for a little decadence try with foie gras - oooh, I say!

Campbell's Rutherglen Muscat, Waitrose, 37.5cl bottle, £11.99 from Waitrose
Technically a fortifed wine as opposed to a traditional dessert wine, I've popped this one in as you'd serve it in a similar way to these other sweeties. Once you've taken in the intense raisiny aroma, this amber gold beaut is powerful, luscious and mouthfilling with raisined fruit and a subtle oak character. From the Rutherglen region in Victoria, Australia, this has an incredible finish and will be best paired with plum pudding or a strong, crumbly cheddar but works just as well served with coffee or well-chilled as an aperitif. Versatility = we like very much!

Whatever sweetie you choose, be sure to serve chilled and in moderation. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

SodaStream's Christmas Cocktails

When I was little, I always wanted a SodaStream for Christmas. The fact that - when I finally got one yesterday - I managed to flood my kitchen within five minutes (no really, I am THAT stupid) is exactly why my parents never bought me one.

Well I'm almost glad they never did (I did get to play with my neighbour's one instead) because it made finally getting one all the sweeter, especially as now they're back with an all-new, even better design.

The SodaStream Revolution is a foxy beast of a machine, with lots of nifty features, like four different levels of carbonation (from mini-spritz to full-on fizz) and a little monitor that tells you when you need a new gas cylinder.

And it really is ridiculously, one-click-and-you're-there easy to use, despite me messing it up (I didn't read the instructions...), plus I was amazed at how quickly it works! I think it took about five seconds to turn my water into spritzy bubbles. There's a huge range of new flavours too - from pink grapefruit to peach & pear to a blueberry energy drink - so I was pretty chuffed when they kindly sent me a machine and some Christmas cocktail recipes to try! I had a lot of fun test-driving them... and I mean A LOT of fun.

Here are my three favourites - they're really simple, and having a SodaStream makes it really easy to make up pitchers ready for Christmas parties...


1. Pour the wine and Grand Marnier into a large pitcher and add cubed ice.
2. Top with SodaStream Cranberry & Raspberry soda and stir.
3. Garnish with fresh raspberries and stir again before pouring.


1. Add the vodka, lime, syrup and passion fruit juice to a cocktail shaker filled with cubed ice.
2. Shake hard and double strain into a chilled martini glass.
3. Add the SodaStream Ginger Ale soda and stir lightly.
4. Garnish with a passion fruit wedge.

Little Star

1. Mix vodka, rosemary, cucumber and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker.
2. Shake hard and double strain into a chilled glass.
3. Top with SodaStream Elderflower soda and stir.
4. Garnish with a mint sprig and cucumber.

A SodaStream Revolution machine is £149.99 and you are still just in time for Christmas, as delivery is normally 2-3 working days. You can also get it on Amazon for £135.73 plus £6.01 for delivery. The flavours are £4.29 each, but I also like the sample starter pack which gives you 12 varieties to try for £9.99!

Grape Of The Week: Chardonnay

Chardonnay: the marmite of the wine world and SO unjustly so.

If someone has a white wine that they don't like, 9 times out of 10, it is Chardonnay. "Oooh, I'll have a glass of Pinot Grigio because I hate Chardonnay!" or "I hate Chardonnay! I'll have a glass of Chablis please." Sod off.

In my opinion, Chardonnay is one of the most versatile white grapes of all time, in the world, ever.
There are so many variations, depending on where it is grown. A Chardonnay from Australia will taste nothing like a Chardonnay from northern Burgundy (like a Chablis). So just because people have this idea in their head that all Chardonnay is creamy and oaky Australian stuff, they write-off the variety completely. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure that's racist.

So what Chardonnay could change your mind on the subject? WELL, since you bloody well ask...

Here are a couple that I have picked out because they are completely contrasting: if you don't like one, you will like the other. If you don't like either then you are wrong and I don't like you. Just shows how versatile Chardonnay is.

For something that is crisp, dry, unoaked and zesty (great word: *Zestyyy*), have a go with Bourgogne Chardonnay 'Les Chenaudières' 2012 from the very well known Cave de Lugny. This is a cracking, easy drinking white Burgundy that has none of the musty, woody flavours that people assume every Chardonnay has. This is light and very fresh. Nothing much to dislike about this one, especially at the price. A perfect one to convince Aunty Paininthearse at Christmas that not all Chardonnay is like woody milk. Bourgogne Chardonnay 'Les Chenaudières' 2012 Cave de Lugny is available from Majestic, for just £8.99

Right at the other end of the scale, is Heggies Chardonnay 2011 from Eden Valley in Australia. Heggies is a really highly regarded winery that makes nothing but top-notch stuff, so this really shows how amazing an oaked Chardonnay can be. This definitely falls under the 'creamy whites' category as it is a lot more rounded on the palate than the Burgundy. The flavours here are really intense, due to the low yields in the vineyards so there is so much depth of flavour. Although oaked, it isn't too obvious - the Heggies folks aren't idiots. The wine just has a nice toasty hint which goes really well with the fruit flavours. The perfect wine for Grilled or smoked fish dishes. Heggies Chardonnay 2011 is also available from Majestic for the special off
er price of £18.74. 

Majestic have done pretty well by me this week!

Have you had any Chardonnays which you have REALLY loved? We would love to hear about them. Leave a comment below or tell us on our facebook or twitter pages.

Monday, 16 December 2013

3 Brilliant (and Cheap!) Wines to Match Your Christmas Pudding

I love picking out my Christmas dinner wines - it tends to involve lots of experimentation from around August onwards.

Sometimes you have a budget for something special, and sometimes you resign yourself to the fact that you may be pretty tipsy by the time you get to the Christmas pudding, so blowing all your budget on the dessert wine might not be the best move. 

It's still important to find a tasty, rich match for dessert that will round off the meal nicely, though, so I would like to sincerely recommend the following sub-£7 bottles for the big pud:

1. Torres Floralis Moscatel, £6.49 per 50cl from Morrisons

I hadn't really considered Spain when it comes to sweet wines, but this moscatel is pretty much perfect: orangey, sticky and raisin-heavy, it will be delicious to sip alongside your classic Christmas pudding.

2. Crois Milhas Rivesaltes Ambres, £4.99 per hald at Tesco

Lighter than the Moscatel, but gingery, with hints of cinnamon, and almost plummy. It's also been aged in oak for added round complexity -  mouthwatering, and luscious, it will be delightful with all Christmas pudding's festive spices.

3. Samos Anthemis, £6.95 per half from The Wine Society

This has to be my star buy. The co-op on the Greek island of Samos has been acing their sweet wine production for decades, and this is the best of its range. Rich, honeyed, and slightly spicy, this is just as good with Christmas pudding as it is with your stilton afterwards. One half might not quite be enough.

What are you drinking around your Christmas table this year? Tell us in the comments!

Gifts for Wine Geeks

Any regular readers of this blog (that'll be my Mum, then - hi Mum) will know I like seeking out pretty wine geek gifts, so there's already plenty of stuff for you to choose from.

Have you looked at the pretty wine glasses I've found? There are loads, from colourful ones to painted ones to classy ones from crazy cheap to something special.

And how about the wine racks? There are so many pretty wine racks, especially the ones from The Metal House.

Or decanters. Oh, I've had fun finding decanters this year.

But if none of these (or our other wine gifts) take your fancy, I've had a scout for you for some other special items.

I've talked about wine candles before (oh, yes, I want all of those) but I also badly want this pretty mulled wine candle. It's £6.50 from Ellie Ellie.

Have we mentioned Toasted Glass before? Oh, only about 2,000 times, and yet I've discovered yet another marvel for wine fans: the 'Shh! There's Wine In Here' mugs. These cheeky beauties are £7.50 each.

Wine tasting notebooks sound a bit pretentious, but throughout the year I've tried so many special bottles that I'd quite like somewhere to note down my favourites to buy again, or peruse over in years to come. Those of you that know my other half's name might see why this personalised wine notebook may have caught my eye. It's £10 by De Long on Not On The High Street.

I seriously want this brilliantly clever 'Carpe Vinum - Seize the Wine!' shopper bag. It's made in London, and it's only £9.85 from the talented Miss Harry on Etsy.

Equally pretty is the typographic wine print from I Love Design. It's £19.

Lastly, look! Reindeer and penguin wine racks! I just love, love, love them. Both festive and silly. They're £23 by Array on Not On The High Street.

Or, you know, you could just buy wine. We've recommended a few of those too...

Friday, 13 December 2013

Friday Cocktail: The Dean Martini

At this time of year, we're all about family, spending time with loved ones, and getting on the sauce. But it's also a good time of year to remember the wonderful people that can't be with us and raise a glass to them.

Dean Martin's vast array of Christmas classics is always, always playing in my household during December - Christmas wouldn't be the same without his joyously smooth voice singing laid-back, smooth festive tunes - but it wasn't until recently I discovered he passed away on Christmas Day.

I know he and his fellow Rat Pack members were partial to a martini, and I also know Dean loved an orangey variation on it called the Flame of Love, so I decided to create a simple but tasty (and ever so slightly festive) take on a martini to sip on Christmas Day in Dino's honour. It's classy, effortlessly smooth and makes me very happy indeed - just like the King of Cool himself.

'The Dean Martini' recipe (serves one)


30ml Vodka or Gin (let's not start that martini debate now - just use whichever you prefer)
45ml Aperol
15ml Vermouth
Tiny dash Orange blossom water
Orange zest, to garnish

Shake it!

1. Make sure your martini glasses are chilled - I tend to pop mine in the freezer for half an hour or so.
2. Pour all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker or pitcher filled with ice.
3. Stir or swirl together (there's no need to shake, this cocktail is too cool for that.)
4. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a twirl of the zest (you can twirl it around a skewer to get the shape), but not before you've squeezed the zest over the glass to impart a little of the orange oil.

Photo from waferboard under the CCL

Awesommelier's Top Three Classy Budget Bubbles for Christmas

I'm sorry everyone, at some point someone was going to actually read one of my posts and realise that essentially I've written a load of nonsense for this website. I've been caught, had my knuckles firmly wrapped and been told that I have to post something of use or I'll be in deep trouble.

Being in trouble is something that happens to me all too frequently, so to minimise my stress levels I'm doing a serious post.

1. Cremant d'Alsace

Many people seem to believe that wineries in Alsace are actually just fronts for the laundering of Foie Gras and that the real genius behind the wines is Sussex, producing 60% of Alsatian wines on the market. NOT SO! It's a certified WINE FACT. Wine nerds love Alsatian wines, and if you turn up at a party with a bottle of this stuff people will be super impressed that you knew Alsace even bothered to make wine.

The sparkling stuff is interesting, instead of only using the traditional Champagne grapes other sparkling wine producers use (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), these dudes use their own grapes too, like Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Auxerrois Blanc. These grapes have been certified 'interesting' by wine bloggers, but everyone knows that wine bloggers have very low standards...

It tends to be a bit lighter that champagne, but half the fun is the fact they can lob in all these different grapes and the variety between them is pretty interesting. The Wine Society have a great one from Dopff, but My favourite is the Albert Mann example, which uses Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois and has power, structure but brilliant fresh fruit. NICE. Unfortunately it's not currently available in the UK (booo!) but you can get the delicious, round Dopff Cremant d'Alsace from The Wine Society for a savvy £11.95.

2. Quartet - A Bit Like Champagne, But Not.

I feel bad sharing this, but this has been my personal favourite non-Champagne sparkling for years. Quartet is the site owned by Louis Roederer in Northern California from the same grapes and in the same way as champagne is. 

Several years ago, I bullied a made friends with a shop owner who let me buy Quartet for less than a decent bottle of Prosecco costs now. These halcyon days will haunt me until I'm in that nursing home at 45, all glazed eyed and housecoated, remembering that time when I managed to have at least a glass of Quartet a day for about 6 months. I love the stuff, and despite what many people think about Californian bubbles, it has real class, style and complexity.

Majestic sell Quartet for £21.99 but if you buy two bottles it's only £19.99 each - you should all go and buy a case because if you don't I will and if there's anything I don't need to do it's buy more Quartet.


Everyone wants to know what the best alternative to Champagne is. Guess what, geniuses, there's plenty of awesome value champagne out there for you to try. Champagne is in a league of it's own for a reason, the time, effort and the quality of the product is excellent. Yes, there are great sparkling wines out there, but they shouldn't be compared to Champagne as they are excellent wines in their own right. Let them be, and if you actually want to drink Champagne, don't worry about an alternative and treat yourself.

You don't even have to spend much to get something good: while there are a great many 'budget' Champagnes on the market at this time of year, most falling in the £10-18 bracket, the Vinspire team has yet to try anything in this price range as good as Tesco's Finest Premier Cru Champagne. It's currently on offer at £16.99 down from 20 quid, and is delicate, lemony and has a fair whack of that creaminess you'd expect from much more expensive Champers. 

What if you're not bothered about the price, but want to find brilliant bubbles to suit your taste? There's so much variation in them! If you like your wines light and fresh and very dry, go for Lanson (there's no malolactic fermentation on Lanson, so it's fresher and crisper by comparison). Like things fuller and rounder? Go for Bollinger! Like to show off and think you're a bit special? Go for Krug. You like rose? You're in luck, they make loads of it. There's sweet wines in the Demi-Secs, there's really dry Ultra Bruts, there's aged wines and prestige wines and everything your sweet little heart could desire.

Drink a lot of it, find your favourite, and then go back and make doubly sure.

Lastly, a word on Prosecco

I was praying these bubbles
Could quell all my troubles
Sadly though, this Prosecco
Is just sparkling muck-o.

I'm happier sinking
A litre of Buckie
Than bulk produced urine
From Valdobbiadene.
Women never make passes
At introduced gasses.

Frances wrote this whilst drinking Laurent-Perrier Non Vintage. Tasting really well, long and complex and really good with a bowl of cornflakes.

Magnums for Christmas Boozing

...Because two bottles are OBVIOUSLY better than one. So why not get a magnum of wine for Christmas? Or maybe two magnums because that is obviously better than one... or maybe a jeroboam... or two...
This could go on.

Just for now we are going to stick with Magnums though.

If you have a lot of people over, such as a big family christmas lunch or a christmas party, and you are going to be opening a few bottles of wine, why not get a magnum instead? It's just as much booze as two normal bottles and looks bloody brilliant - besides, the flavours of wine from magnums is supposedly better as larger volumes of wine age with more grace.

You could get something like this amazing Rioja Reserva 2004 from Viña Ardanza. Medium to full bodied, this is a silky smooth red with a nice bit of bottle age. The fruit flavours are still there but there is a delicious hint of oak, with earthy notes and warming spice. Perfect for wintry drinking and the perfect size to last one person through the whole of Christmas day...
Rioja Reserva 2004 Viña Ardanza is available by the magnum from Majestic, for £37 - the equivalent of £18.50 per bottle.

If you like something a little lighter in body but still with some serious layers of flavour, you could go for a magnum of Domaine Guy Dufouleur 2002 Nuits-Saint-Georges. This is an epic Red Burgundy that would be an amazing wine with your Christmas lunch. It has delicious red fruit flavours but with a hint of pepper and a touch of coffee. If you fancy something really special, you can pick up a magnum of this Nuits-Saint-Georges from Waitrose for £70 in a really nice gift-box too. So thats the equivalent to £35 a bottle.

If you prefer a white wine, you should try a magnum of Coffele Soave 2011 Ca'Visco, which is available from The Wine Society. This is a really stunning example of Soave and one that would make for some excellent festive drinking. made up of 80% Garganega and 20% trebbiano di Soave, it certainly is a very typical Italian white; Crisp, dry and with a deliciously clean and mineral quality. You can pick up a Magnum for £25.00 from The Wine Society - thats an equivalent of just £12.50 per bottle.

Christmas obviously wouldn't be complete without Champagne. That is a fact. There is no magnum more impressive than a magnum of Champagne. My personal favourite has got to be Perrier Jouet. PJ is famed for it's elegance and finesse in it's Champagnes and it would make the perfect wine for celebrating Christmas.
To be quite honest, if the look of the bottle alone doesn't sway you, then you are dead to me. You can pick up a magnum of this epic Perrier Jouet Brut NV for £61.50 from The Champagne Company - thats £30.75 per bottle so pretty reasonable for such a good wine and the attention that it will get!

So there you have it; four very good reasons why you should buy magnums for Christmas. If the pictures don't look amazing enough, imagine having them all on the table at home.

Go on, you know you want to!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Christmas Boozy Food Gift: Whisky Fudge

 Everyone loves sweets and fudge is amongst the best of them. I'm sure people always tell you to give homemade gifts, they really do show that you care and additionally there can't be any of that awkwardness with the gift receipts. Now there are a ton of different fudge recipes out there, but being who we are we want to add booze to everything! Pasta? Add booze! Bread? Add booze! Fudge? Add Booze! I'm sure that soon we'll do a virgin cocktail recipe suggesting the addition of alcohol.

If you fancy trying your hand at some lovely whisky fudge, all you need are the ingredients below, to follow the simple directions, some time, effort and an additional pinch of drink-induced Christmas cheer.

Whisky fudge recipe

You will need:
  • 275g Caster Sugar
  • 225g Clotted Cream
  • 100g Golden Syrup
  • 2.5 Tbsp Whisky (use cheap stuff here, no need to crack out the Signet or a 25yr malt)

The 6 Steps to Boozy Gluttony

1) Line a small, 8in square tin with baking parchment.

2) Put all of the ingredients apart from the whisky in a heavy based-pan and start to heat gently whilst stirring until the sugar is dissolved.

3) Bring the mixture to the boil and heat until it reaches 115C using a sugar thermometer or until it reaches soft-ball stage. To know that it's ready drop some of the hot fudge into cold water, it should form a soft ball.

4) Pour in the whisky, remove the pan from the hob, plunge the base into cold water in a partially filled sink and begin to beat like mad.

5) Stir the fudge until it starts to turn grainy, the fudge should go lighter in colour and also turn matte from it's previous glossy self.

6) Pour into the pan and allow to cooll before turning out and cutting into bite-size chunks.

That's all there is to it, it should take less than half an hour and you will have a truly wonderous boozy gift/ indulgent treat.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Excellent Christmassy Uses for Corks

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure I open more bottles of wine in December than I do at any other time of year (and that's saying something), so what do you do with all these extra corks you've got lying around the kitchen/cluttering up the draw where you keep the corkscrew?


There are already dozens of wine cork craft bloggers out there who have been busy getting creative over a bottle of red, and I'd like to share some of the best ideas I've found so far, just in time for the proper festivities to start.

Cork Reindeers

My lovely friend Emma sent me a link to the amazing Make the Best of Things blog last month because she'd found a post about creating the most beautiful wine cork reindeers. The lady behind this blog is an inspiration, continuing to craft even when she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and these reindeers are a testament to the way she makes crafting easy and fun and daft all at the same time. Have a look at her amazing how-to guide (it's so easy to make the reindeer!), and like her on Facebook.

Wine Cork Wreaths

There are about a billion wine cork wreath 'how-to's on t'internet, but two in particular are both pretty and achievable.

The bloody brilliant Wine Folly website posted this gorgeous red wine cork wreath last year. I love how they use the fact that cork from most red wines have a stained purply-red bum and incorporate it into the design - it's lovely. Besides, Wine Folly is one of my favourite sites in the world.

If you're more of a white wine drinker (or like painting stuff) you'd probably prefer the blue and glittery wine cork wreath from DIY Real. The instructions are so easy that you really can't go wrong.

Wine Cork Christmas Tree

This might be my favourite thing to do with corks, to be honest. It's just SO PRETTY! Wooden Bee is a blog run by a husband and wife team from Florida who have a real talent for wine cork crafting. They even sell their beautiful designs on their Etsy store (HOW many people do I know who I could buy presents for there?!) but they're generous enough to share the secrets of some of their designs with the world, including the wine cork Christmas tree.

Of all the designs, I was most tempted by this one - how could you resist having one of these on your windowsill?

Wine Cork Christmas Bauble

There are many a Christmas tree cork ornament idea to be found in the ether of the Christmas bloggers, but none are more stunning than this cork bauble. The amazing idea can be found on the wonderfully crafty Changing my Destiny blog - she is very clever and makes everything look way too easy.
Okay, this one is probably the trickiest to do (you know yours is going to look ROUGH in comparison to the picture) but sooo worth a try, no? Especially if you've open a bottle especially (and are half way through it...)?

What will YOU be doing with your corks this Christmas? Tell us tell us tell us!

Grape Of The Week: Pinot Gris

It's grape of the week time again! And this time its a white grape that is a must-have for Christmas.

Normally when I do these Grape of the Week posts, I give an example of a few wines, which show the grape in various styles, from all over the world, but not today.

I've been tasting Hugel's Pinot Gris, from Alsace, and it's getting all my attention because it's f***ing amazing*.

Everyone has heard of Pinot Grigio. If you haven't, please leave now. No wait, come back, I didn't mean it. Sit down, learn something. Pinot Gris is sort of like Pinot Grigio's educated cousin. They are related, but Pinot Grigio grew up on a dodgy estate, has an awful accent and never achieved much other than how to look like it's up for a shag. Pinot Gris, on the other hand, grew up on a countryside estate somewhere and now is a doctor, who does charity work in Africa and writes novels on the side. They see each other at occasional family weddings but find each other's company pretty much intolerable.

So... this post is about Pinot Gris.

Everyone has their benchmark wines, for example a specific wine that springs to mind when they think of an a-typical Aussy Shiraz, Chablis or Californian Zinfandel etc. For me, The Hugel Tradition Pinot Gris just is Pinot Gris.

As white wines go, it's pretty rich, weighty and beautifully rounded. There is lots in the way of substance and it is overflowing with so many layers of flavour. You get lots of fruit flavours; pear, lychee, grapefruit but you also get an amazing flinty quality on the finish. It is a bit spicy, clean and so so elegant.

This is an amazing white wine for Christmas as it is very food-friendly. Due to the weight and power of the wine, it would go nicely with full-flavoured foods, like gammon, duck pate, smoked trout, or even your Christmas Turkey if you would prefer a white over a red (just ease up on the cranberry sauce...).

So where the hell can you buy this stuff then? WELL, Hugel et fils are a very well established producer, so you may well have spotted their wines out and about. Pinot Gris "Tradition" 2011 Hugel is available from the old faithful Wine Society for £12.50 a bottle, and it's due in stock shortly, but until then you can get it from The Drink Shop for £13.92.
So hurry to get some before Christmas as it couldn't be more of a perfect white for the festivities.

*technical term

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Perfect for Winter and Summer Alike: Cornish Beers

Photo by Xerones used under CCL
Every year, around November my family and I head down to Cornwall. This concept is quite weird to most people, with Cornwall really renowned as a summer holiday destination. The reason for this bizarre tradition is that we like being together for our birthdays ( we have 3 in just over 2 weeks) and more importantly, we enjoy huddling round the fire in a cosy cottage, eating and drinking ourselves into immobility whilst getting some good reading in.

Cornwall is home to great food (fishy of course) but it also produces some great wines and beers - we have already featured Camel Valley at Vinspire, which I visited this month and met owner Bob Lindo (who was absolutely lovely in every respect), but that's another story. My first love of Cornish alcohol took on a hoppyer form, and it is a love that's spreading.

Three of the largest Cornish breweries are St Austell, Sharps and Skinners, they all produce great beers and ones that are really popular and growing in prestige.

Photo by Oliver Truckle


Sharps is based in Rock, a classic tourist destination, a foodie's paradise. Their best selling beer is Doom Bar (a bitter), this is available all over the UK and is the UKs fastest growing beer in term of sales. It's flavour is dominated by spicy hops, it is quite delicate and light, perhaps a little thin, but a great beer and one that can be drunk all night long.

Doom Bar is available at Majestic, Sainsburys, Asda, Waitrose and the Sharps website. The best price is 4 for £5 at Asda.

St Austell
Photo by Ian Chilton

St Austell is based unsurprisingly in St Austell, on the southern coast of Cornwall east of Truro. Tribute is the flagship beer for St Austell and is another Cornish export growing ever more mainstream in pubs in the greater UK. Tribute is a bitter, but is quite fruity and sweet for that with notes of orange zest and tropical fruit among biscuit and nut notes with some sweet spices thrown in.This is a light and easy drinking beer and one that keeps you coming back for more.

Tribute is available to buy in Sainsburys, Asda, Waitrose and on the St Austell website, the best price seems to be 4 for £5 at Asda

Photo by Wonker

The Skinners brewery is located in Cornwall's capital Truro, it is a lovely producer making quirky named and labelled beers, even making beer for FXU, the student union of the shared campus between Exeter Uni and Falmouth College. Betty Stogs is probably the figurehead ale for Skinners having won a Gold Champion ribbon in the Champion Beer of Britain awards.

Betty is a flowery lass on the nose, but on tasting malt and yeast dominate with citrus zest perking up every now and again.This is a really nice session ale, really nice, not too complex but a lovely beer all the same.

Skinners beers are harder to get hold of outside cornwall but is available from the Skinners website at £21.85 for 12 or from Ocado for £1.97 per bottle.

So, having taken a look at the three largest Cornish breweries and their flasghip beers, it becomes clear that the Corns love their session ales and like beers that can be drunk into the small hours. All those above are light and easy and pleasing in regards to taste as well. They are really wonderful beers, perfect for days at the seaside or evenings tucked in by the fire.