Tuesday, 30 April 2013

That's The Spirit! Black Cow Milk Vodka

I'm not a massive vodka drinker, but even I was immediately intrigued by the notion of milk vodka.

Who even does that? Who makes vodka out of milk like some weird bovine Jesus?! Well, a company called Black Cow does, and it's a lot less gimmicky than you might think.

For one thing, they're in this for quality as much as novelty: Dorset farmer uses fresh, award-winning whole milk from his herd of grass-fed cows, which is made into milk beer before being distilled and triple-filtered.

So why milk? That's actually the easiest question of them all: it gives a noticeably more creamy texture to the vodka which makes it easier and more pleasant to drink. When some of the team and I tried it last week, we did so with another bottle of standard, high-quality vodka on hand (as you do) so we could compare and contrast them, and all of us agreed we much preferred sipping Black Cow.

Its creaminess adds an extra dimension to cocktails, padding out the flavour and making vodka a far more attractive prospect for non-vodka fans like me.

They also won silver at the San Francisco Spirit Awards this year, and have been receiving plenty of press from the likes of Vogue, Monocle, and now of course Vinspire. I hear they're really cool.

You can pick up a bottle of Black Cow vodka from various stores, but the cheapest we can find is Master of Malt for £27.72.

Incy Wincy Cider; Crawling Closer to the Cider Season

Cider or Cyder (pron.: SY-dər); a fermented alcoholic beverage made from fruit juice, most commonly and traditionally apple juice, but also the juice of peaches or other fruit.

For a long time cider has been associated with the farmers of the West Country (insert vague memories of Scrumpy Jack in Cornwall!) but this fruity tipple has seemingly revolutionised sunny afternoons spent in pub gardens, and bridged the gap between beer, wine and alcopops. No longer just Strongbow on tap, "regular, draught or sweet?", cider has become a fashion statement for trendy, young drinkers nationwide, and I am pleased to proclaim I am part of this continued craze.

Cider, for me, evokes memories of warm summers days, blue sky, green grass, a slightly wonky picnic table out the back of a pub. A checked blanket sprawled by a river, more food than anyone dares to eat, a British picnic. Covered in mud, soaked through and having a bloody good time at a festival!

Normally a wine drinker, I surprise myself by asking for a cider "over ice please" when out and about as soon as our friend Mother Nature shows any glimmer of hope for a sun filled summer. We are still not quite there, but with two (yay!) bank holidays in May, I am hoping for at least some sunhine. To get into the spirit of things I conducted a very scientific tasting experiment (?!) of five of the most appealing ciders on my local supermarket shelf, and rated them out of 5. At 3 for £5 on selected ciders at Tesco, it would have been rude not to try more than one!

Official results...

Rekorderlig Peach & Apricot 3/5
In all honesty, this tasted like peach iced tea - which I love. As a cider, it was lacking slightly on the fizz front, a little flat and it simply did not taste alcoholic at all. Not necessarily a bad thing, but far too easy to drink of an afternoon. Next time, I will stick to their Strawberry & Lime combo, far more innovative and refreshing.

Bulmers Bold Black Cherry 2.5/5
Incredibly aromatic as soon as it hits the glass. Deep purple colour (most likely artificial!) makes it look like a big glug of Robinson's blackcurrant squash has been added to a glass of cider, but nonetheless, quite enticing. Tastes a little like Halls soothers, very sweet, but no hiding that it's black cherry. More than one and your teeth will be purple (which some people may like.... ?).

Aspall Classic Organic Suffolk Cyder 5/5
Lighter in colour and fuller bodied in style, this really is a classic. Strong, robust, sophisticated and dry, this definitely is more complex than the others I tasted. Perhaps there is no sense in jazzing up something which already works - certainly the case with this one. Delicious and tastes of apples - as it should.

Thatchers Rose Medium Sparkling Apple Cider 4/5
Pretty prink in colour, this looks more like a sparkling rose than a cider, but is somewhat appealing when scanning shelves of dark green and brown glass and overbearing labels. Dry, crisp and refreshing, with a perfect balance of crushed red apple sweetness, this is the summeriest of them all!

Kopparberg with Elderflower & Lime 3/5

The delicate, sweet floral aroma of this was enticing, but for me, the elderflower was far more prominent than lime. As a lime lover, this disappoints me! With a nice fizz, and a tasty finish, this was perfectly drinkable, but I wasn't wowed.

So many ciders, so little time! This time around (there will be more experimenting!) the Aspall Classic was by far my favourite and I will definitely be purchasing more.

Cheers everybody, happy bank holidays!

Have you tried a cider you think is worth sharing? Let us know!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Nyetimber to Export to Japan

 Nyetimber are exporting to Japan!

I don't know what you think about English sparkling wine, but I think it's pretty excellent - there is even bubbling opinion amongst some in the industry that the best examples of our home-grown sparkle can rival genuine Champagne.

The arrival of this morning's "Chin Chin" e-newsletter brought with it news of top class English wine producer, Nyetimber's debut export to oriental climes. Japanese wine consumption is on the rise and I was excited to hear that from June 2013, Nyetimber will be brimming from Japanese flutes.

Two reasons that this excited me:

1. I was lucky enough to visit the Nyetimber estate last year, and I absolutely love the people, the brand and love the wine, so I'm thrilled to hear they're doing well.

2. I find the English wine scene rather interesting. Having written an article on this (which got me shortlisted for Young Wine Writer 2012 - not meaning to accolade drop), one thing I had wondered about, but due to a limitating word count hadn't mentioned, was English wine's export potential. With English harvests so uncertain and limited area under vine, if Nyetimber takes off in Japan - how will they cope with the demand?

Admittedly I don't know lots about the Japanese wine industry, your comments and insights are welcome...

Dream Decanter: Unmissable Statement Decanters


Now Freddy's told you all about how to decant wine, and let you know that even a fiver-a-bottle job will benefit from a little more oxygen, I'm sure you've all been desperate to give it a go (right? RIGHT?!)

Anyway, the problem with me is I don't like the shape of the more conventional decanters. I like the ones that will make my nearest and dearest laugh, gasp, or try and steal them home in their handbags.

I've been on the lookout for some statement decanters to add to my collection, and I thought I'd share the joy with you. Get ready to start lusting after some seriously strange tableware.

Let's start on the more subtle side and work our way up. This handmade purple glass decanter is seriously pretty, and it even comes in a huge range of colours. Not one for decanting more serious bottles of course - it would maybe work better for brandy or sherry in the very short term - but it'll do fine for water, or even some everyday wine that needs some air or when you want to hide the cheap-looking bottle from your company (ahem). It's £49.99 from Jasmine Way.

Riedel may be pricey, but they sure know how to make a gorgeous decanter. This black tie bliss decanter has a beautiful heart-shaped hole to use as a handle, and a swirly black and red stripe down the side. Although a little pricey at £175 from House of Fraser you'd get so many boyfriend points for using this when making your beloved dinner that it wouldn't even matter if all you served her was beans on toast. Probably. Don't quote us on that.

The scientists among you might want to geek out entirely and get this chemical flask shaped decanter. The shape actually lends itself quite well to the job in hand (giving the wine a little oxygen, rather than just looking pretty) but you'll still get all your equally geeky chums talking about the lab-like design. It's £47.95 from The Original Home Store, via notonthehighstreet.

A duck! A decanter shaped like a duck! We are in love with this design even if it's about as stylish as those novelty teapots your gran collects. Still, it is quite cute, and cheaper than the others so far at £47.50 from  Table Art.

If things have been a little too twee for you so far, we're pretty sure you'll love the skull and crossbones decanter from Ella James Living (£49). Of course you won't be able to see what you're pouring and it might get a few odd looks from less fun more formal people, but it certainly shows that the benefits of a nice decanted wine can be enjoyed by people of all ages and tastes. And pirates. Even pirates.

Last but by no means least, wow everyone with this astonishing world globe decanter. It's just awesome on ALL OF THE LEVELS. Not only is it very pretty indeed, not only will it impress pretty much everyone, not only does it spin on it's axis ohmygodsomuchfun, but it also isn't a bad shape to use as a serious decanter. AND AND AND as it gets emptier, it will reveal that it has a tiny little galleon sailing inside it.

You won't believe this, but it's a mere £32 from The Brilliant Gift Company, making it the cheapest of the lot. Oh can we get one right now pleasepleaseplease?!

Will any of these grace your table some time soon? Or have you found something better? Let us know in the comments...

Friday, 26 April 2013

The Big Fortified Tasting 2013: Highlights of the Tasting Room

Yesterday we told you about how the BFT masterclasses opened our eyes to how relevant fortified wine is to contemporary drinking habits, but today is all about the best and most brilliant finds on our rounds of the stalls in the main tasting hall.

There was an awful lot there - hundreds of ports, sherries, madeiras and more - which can make it quite overwhelming when you're not even sure what you like yet. We tried everything from a one-day old Fino En Rama (that's a dry sherry that's just been bottled without filtering or fining, so it's completely raw - 'en rama' means 'unbound') to a bual (a type of madeira) from the 1950s.

What stood out for us? It was the more unusual finds hidden behind all the people elbowing their way towards the most expensive/oldest samples. Here are the top picks:

Chateau de Chambert Rogomme
This was a fortified wine with a difference: it's 100% Malbec, which is something we've never seen before. It's grown near the southern French town of Cahors (a familiar name to French wine lovers) and is full of fruity, brambly, red grape character. Lovely and soft, and apparently not as new as we thought: they've been making it locally since before the French Revolution!

There's no UK stockist at the moment, but it's being represented by Liberty Wines - you can contact marianne.fillion@libertywines.co.uk if you're interested in seeing the Rogomme sold in this country.

d'Arenberg The Nostalgia Rare, £12.95 at N D John
We've always loved d'Arenberg, so it's not like we went to their stall unbiased, but by this point in the afternoon we'd tried a few disappointing New World fortifieds and were growing ever-tempted to go and get a cider and sit in the sunshine instead.

This was worth sticking around for though: a 17 year old blend of grenache, mourvedre, and muscat aged in a semi-solera setting. It was sticky, rich and far more balanced than many we'd tried that afternoon, and we even asked for cheeky seconds.

De Krans Pink Port, £8.99 at hardtofindwines.co.uk

This may have been our best find of the day. Maybe it was just because our battered palates were weary of all the rich flavours, or maybe this is just an exquisite fortified fine: the De Krans Pink Port was a delicious, cherry bubblegum colour and beautifully light and easy to drink. Think raspberry ripple ice cream, boiled sweets, and juicy red cherry.

See? Fortified wines are cool.

WSET And Me: Freddy and The Wine Academy, York

As someone who isn’t particularly academic, has a terrible attention span and who dropped out of college, I thought I was the obvious person to give an opinion on qualifications...

I couldn’t wait to leave school as soon as I could and get into work; I was never bothered about going to university and any sort of structured learning was of no interest. Looking back, I was probably a total shit.

So when I started working in the wine industry and signed up to take my first Wine and Spirits Education Trust exam, I had no idea what to expect and although I already had a very keen interest in wine, the thought of all the note taking didn't excite me too much.

As Karen is demonstrating, wine experts
sit on the floor before they start drinking.
That way you can't fall over.
Obviously if you are working in the drinks industry it is a good idea to have some recognised qualifications to back you up and even if you have a great knowledge of wine already, it is a good idea to have a piece of paper that says so.

Quite frankly, I had a great time whilst doing my wine and spirits qualifications. Having an interest in the first place is vital in order to do well but I think the most important thing, with the level 1, 2 and 3 courses is who you choose as a teacher.

To say I got lucky on this would be a huge understatement. I was fortunate enough to have chosen Karen Hardwick of The Wine Academy to do my level 2 and level 3 courses with. Karen was probably the most engaging teacher I have ever had, her passion is evident and her knowledge is vast. Karen was crowned ‘2011 International Wine Educator of The Year’ by the WSET. The best in the world. No biggie, whatever... (Bloody hell!)

Laura has been taught this technique
very well.
Due to Karen now holding a position with PLB Group Ltd, the wine academy is run by Laura Young, with Karen doing boss type things - I imagine this involves her wearing pin-stripe suits and smoking big cigars whilst pacing and dictating to someone on a typewriter. Or maybe not.
The courses are still taught to an incredibly high standard by Laura and she has maintained the wine academy’s incredibly impressive exam pass rate.

The thing that makes the WSET exams different from the sort of qualifications done at college/university is the fact that, due to the various levels of courses, even if you don’t work in the industry but simply have an interest in learning about what this juicy stuff that gets you trollied is, you can take a course and thoroughly enjoy it. Taking the exam at the end is completely up to you.
Either way, I think the WSET courses are well worth doing.

There is no denying that having a great understanding of wine and spirits but without the certificate to back it up is a hell of a lot better than the other way round but having both is ideal. So for the sake of a few quid, it’s well worth signing up. You might even enjoy it as much as I did.

Have you done wine and spirits courses? What was your experience like? Let us know by commenting below or on our twitter and facebook pages.

Freddy Bulmer

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Big Fortified Tasting 2013: Making Old-Fashioned Fashionable

Part One: The Masterclasses

For a lot of young people, fortified wine is stuff your Nan drinks, but have a little delve into the drinks industry and you'll see it's surging back into a more mainstream position amongst old and young drinkers alike. We're fast cottoning onto the fact that not only can it be a delicious aperitif and a perfect after-dinner tipple, it's also one of the great, overlooked food-matches, with a fortified to suit everything from canapes to capers to caramel ice cream.

The Big Fortified Tasting that took place yesterday is a great opportunity for young wine-fans like us to go along and learn more about how port, sherry and madeira (and their new-world counterparts) can become a bigger part of our everyday drinking habits.

As well as lots of tasting (we're doing a separate post on that later) we were also lucky enough to be part of the two hottest masterclass sessions of the day. It was fantastic to hear from the genre's leading winemakers, so we thought we'd share their fortified hints and tips for both novices and fans alike.

Session 1: Graham's Tawny Port Masterclass with Johnny and Paul Symington

Being huge fans of the legendary Port producer Graham's, we felt very fortunate to meet the Symingtons, whose family have owned the brand since 1970. Paul and Johnny have clearly inherited the family's passion for making only the finest port and were eager to tell us why tawny port should be more on the UK drinkers' radar: currently it only makes up 3% of the country's port sales, although port sales in this country are steadily on the rise again.

First we tasted their 10, 20, 30 and 40 year old Tawnies - proving there's something for every price-point. It was fascinating to see how they got gradually smoother with more developed almond, honey and fig flavours, and yet crucially they remained fresh and easy-drinking.

We then got to try two ridiculously special single-vintages in the form of 1969 and 1952, both of which were still fresh and balanced with delicious orange-peel and spice flavours, and also gloriously mouth-filling.

The family has invested huge amounts of money into making sure they combine tradition with innovation. For instance, it's worth noting that unlike many producers they have retained the practise of employing their own coopers (that's the guys that make the wooden casks), in fact they have seven of them! However they are still forward-thinking: they've recently taken the decision to use only grapes that have been matured in the Gaia region, as climate change means the Douro is now too humid to keep the fruit fresh.

They have also shifted their emphasis from the tastes of the big competitions to the tastes of the consumers themselves: prize-winning ports tend to have more sweetness that opens up in the glass and makes them stand out in a blind tasting, but not many drinkers would be able to drink more than a glass of something so sickly sugary. Graham's instead make ports with more complexity and an underlying freshness that makes them devilishly easy to drink.

So why choose tawny port? Well, as the Symingtons explained, it really suits our modern drinking habits: you can serve it chilled like a white wine, you don't need to decant it, and because of the extra alcohol and its sweet nature you can keep it in the fridge for ages so you don't have to drink it all at once!

Food Matches: If you've ever drunk it before it would probably be with Christmas pudding, mince pies or nuts, but tawny port is also a brilliant match for fuss-free food: from a bowl of strawberries and greek yoghurt to some ice cream with caramel and chocolate sauce, it's gorgeous. It's also perfect with various caramel-based desserts, bread pudding, blue or hard cheeses, and pâtés.

Session 2: Vintage Port Masterclass with Dirk Niepoort

Dirk Niepoort! Joe and I got childishly excited when we saw him, as to us he's always been a Port legend. And he certainly didn't disappoint: he and Ramos Pinto's fabulous Joao Nicolau d'Almeida put on a cracking show and gave us a massive eighteen Ports to taste.

We started with - get this - the 1924 Ramos Pinto (that's older than my Grandad!) and the 1942 Niepoort - a wartime Port! Both were incredible: full of complexity, with iced berry fruit and sweet spice and an unbelievable freshness considering their age.

We tasted from their up through various vintages in the 70s-90s, and then came the treat of sampling their 2011 vintage. Every year had wonderful individual character, and the younger vintages (2011 particularly) were oozing with pent-up potential.

 The message was clear: vintage port is worth investing in for the longterm, which makes it perfect for younger wine fans who can witness a vintage evolving beyond all expectations from decade to decade. Consider it an introduction to parenthood.

We'll talk about other highlights later on - we were particularly excited about some South African and Australian fortified wines!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Single Malt Savings: The Glenlivet 15yr French Oak Reserve

Last Saturday I was perusing the drinks aisle at my local Waitrose (yes, I am that fancy) when I spotted that Glenlivet was on a special offer. Assuming it to be the 12yr old, I moved on without thinking much about it, and continued my quest for some alcoholic fodder for this week’s piece.

Devoid of inspiration I returned to the whiskies and took a closer look: it was actually the Glenlivet 15yr old, down from £39 to £31.99! The bottle was in my basket as quick as an unfathomably fast thing (pretty swift eh?).

It is here that I need to make a brutal, embarrassing and harrowing confession; that I, a whisky drinker, have never had a Glenlivet. I felt that this was a fundamental part of my whisky education that had been left untouched, malnourished and in need of rectification and prayed I wasn’t wrong.

Getting the bottle home I waited with baited breath for the evening when I could get into that foil. The Glenlivet smells hugely floral, with sweeter spices in the nutmeg/ cinnamon vein and something that almost reminds me of peardrops, strangely enough. It’s a really wonderful nose, not as complex perhaps as some of the others I’ve reviewed, but still scrumptious.

This whisky has presence and body as you drink it - really big and beefy. It has a woody spiciness, with all the florality and then fruity notes coming in towards the end before the final spice attack. You get a nice coating on your tongue and it has a decent length, which is fantastic. 

The French oak really imparts some different scents and flavours, some sweeter fruit than I've had before (in my experience, sweeter notes are normally more like caramel, fudge or toffee). This new dimension is really fascinating and led to me having to try several glasses of this one (naturally).

I think this is a great whisky and great value at the moment, however although I’ve seen it said that this would be a great scotch for "the ladies" to try, I feel that there would be others better suited such as Dalwhinnie or Balvennie.

For me this sits at the manlier end of the floral spectrum -  I just couldn’t drink this everyday. I think I'll keep this for special occasions when I want to set the lighter whiskies aside and have something with that extra body behind it. Powerful stuff indeed.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Springtime, Cederberg Chenin Blanc and Sushi

Last Sunday's glorious springtime evening provoked me to crack open a neglected bottle of Chenin Blanc I'd received as a gift many weeks ago. Since then, it'd been peeking out of my house wine rack and gathering dust - a complete oversight fuelled by my lack of Chenin appreciation it turns out.

Whilst I'd been aware that Chenin Blanc is South Africa's celebrated white grape variety, I'd tried very little of the stuff, and what I had was less than inspiring. As a result of my under-exposure and failure to be impressed by Chenin, it had not really been on my white wine radar.

In honourary attendance at my housemate Amie's monthly dinner party gathering with her good friends, I was perhaps permitted entry because I volunteered to bring the wine. First everyone enjoyed a fabulous Green Tea Martini (we gave you the recipe last week), and then because my housemate had probably bigged me up beyond the level of my expertise, I was expected to give an insightful intro to the carefully chosen wine that I'd shown up with. All I could say was, "Erm, it's Chenin Blanc and it's won an award".

Perhaps I should have done more research and had more confidence in presenting Cederberg's award-winning Chenin Blanc 2012. Cederberg is a fantastic producer, one that keeps appearing in South Africa's various wine charts and acquiring glowing reviews across their range. Their Chenin is certainly worthy of its gold medal recognition.

I hadn't been expecting such a lovely, crisp and delicate wine. Nothing in the least about it was offensive, as I'd secretly suspected. Its slight florality (is that a word?), melon and pear juiciness made it a pleasant springtime eve's tipple, and its hint of creaminess and stony finish worked a dream with the clean and yet creamy character of our sushi.

And now onto that, the sushi... I'd like to pay tribute to Olivia (one of the hosts), for hand-preparing the most delectable selection of sushi - an aesthetic and edible treat.

If the longest winter in the history of humanity has really come to an end, then all readers should give Cederberg's Chenin Blanc 2012 a try - and what better context than a sushi night? You can get hold of a bottle (or more) from Stone Vine & Sun, Concept Fine Wines and SA Wines Online (who'll give you £10 off your first order over £50).

And don't forget to try out the Green Tea Martini!

Please let me know what your experiences of Chenin Blanc are.

Perk Up Monday Morning: Beanies Flavoured Coffee

If you're slumping at your desk this morning (or still recovering from last night) you might find yourself drinking a cup of bitter, filthy instant coffee and wishing you were back in bed. That's no way to start your week.

Until recently, I was just like you. But then I discovered Beanie's Flavoured Coffee Company.

I was initially just looking for something to bring into work and put on the communal 'let's see who can really conspicuously donate the flashiest hot drink to prove we're superior' area. Up until now it was a fight to the death between Freda from Accounts' green-chai-chamomile-roobois tea, which mostly tastes like armpit - and Derek the Caretaker's seventeen year old jar of Nescafe he'd found at the back of his cupboard and was claiming to be 'vintage'.

Well, I spent most of last week not working at all, choosing instead to draw lots of pictures of the stupid looks on their faces when I brought in some of the finest-tasting, uber-tempting wholebean coffee flavours. The wholebean varieties all start at £4.35 for a 250g bag, but go up to a whole bloody kilo for £12.75.

Now on cold days we can drink cinnamon and hazelnut flavour coffee. If we're feeling frisky (no, don't think about Freda and Derek. Don't. DON'T.) we can sip chocolate cherry coffee . When we're all wearing paper crowns after the obligatory Christmas 'eating cardboard-textured turkey and sprout-mulch and pretending we've not got wind' party we can recover with Christmas pudding coffee.

When I'm trying not to passively-aggressively reply to yet another email from the boss asking us all not to forget to empty the shredder when it's full as it becomes a health and safety risk, I'll enjoy tiramisu flavour, swiss chocolate almond flavour, or French vanilla coffee.

And when it just isn't Friday yet, we can get on the sauce without becoming violent at work by drinking rum ba ba coffee (that's rum and toffee and the best name in the world), amaretto coffee, or malt whisky. If we're having a really bad day, we might even go for double-trouble with chocolate brandy coffee.

If you're not stuck between Freda and Derek's endless, disturbing-sexual-tension-undercurrent one-upmanship, you might choose to save some pennies (or hoard the good stuff away for yourself) and buy some of their very reasonably priced flavoured instant coffee. They don't have as many flavours, but they do still do the amaretto one (Hint: BUY ME AMARETTO COFFEE) and it's only £2.75 for a 50g jar.

They even do decaffeinated wholebean stuff - is there anything these guys don't do?! Well, they don't stop creepy office politics, that's for sure. But now I have nice coffee, I don't care.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Friday Cocktail: Lime and Green Tea Martini

Earlier today, we all went gaga over lime vodka. It's a cocktail dream. There's the obvious - like mojitos, cuba libres, and even cosmopolitans. But what if you want something with a bit of bite? Something that makes you feel chilled as well as making you go warm and fuzzy all over, something that fills your entire mouth with tons of flavours and a bit of heat. Something that even - if you squint a bit and loosen all your morals - could be seen as slightly healthy.

Well don't worry, we've found the perfect use for Tipsy's wonderful lime vodka masterpiece: a green tea martini! (See? Healthy...ish.) We've based it on a recipe from Belvedere's site, but we've made it much easier and less scary-looking because let's face it: it's Friday. We don't want anything too tricky.

Lime and Green Tea Martini (serves one)


  • 60ml Tipsy lime vodka
  • 25ml green tea
  • 35ml simple syrup
  • 1 healthy squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 pinch sea salt flakes
  • 1 tiny pinch of grated fresh ginger

Shake it!

  • Put all the ingredients in a shaker over ice.
  • Shake it like the rent is due tomorrow.
  • Strain over a sieve into a martini glass.
  • Garnish with your fancy green thing of choice - a wedge of cucumber, a basil leaf or two, or even some coriander leaves.

Image from Daniel Cruz Valle's photostream under the Creative Commons License

Spring Drinks: Tipsy Lime Vodka

On Sunday, we visited the East of England Food Festival in the glorious grounds of Knebworth House. It was a brilliant sunny day, but unfortunately that was because the sky had used up all its rain the day before, so we enjoyed wading knee-deep through mud in our shorts.

Anyway, we'll be telling you all about our delicious finds over the next week, but one of the highlights of the day was the Tipsy Fruit Gin Company. They live in the pretty town of Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire, where they basically source local fruit and turn it into delicious fruity booze.

Apparently it was started as a retirement project, but is now such a big job they employ their daughter to run the operation full-time. In fact, there are four generations getting involved in keeping this family business as fun and fresh as it is.

Most of their range is gin - from delicious damson to brambly blackberry, and from the obvious sloe gin to a rather less obvious dry seville orange flavour that was utterly divine. Oddly (and possibly for the first time ever) it wasn't gin that got me excited.

The item that made me immediately chuck all my money at them was in fact their lime vodka. It was an incredible find: lip-smackingly citrussy without being too tart, equally ideal for mixing into cocktails or drinking over ice in a tall glass. If served cold, I don't think there's anything more refreshing on a sunny day.

The family don't have an online shop, but there's various places you can pick up a bottle or two on the web: Heart of England Fine Foods sell the 250ml bottle for £10.99, and Ludlow Food Centre do the big 500ml bottle for £19.99.

Alternatively, Tipsy's website lists stockists far and wide, and they're also appearing at a food fair near you some time soon.

Their website also lists some delicious recipes you can use their products for, such as pigeon breasts with cherry gin and raspberry gin in summer pudding, but we can't wait to use the vodka to make a green tea and cucumber martini. In fact, we're putting a recipe up later today!

Wine for Beginners: Why Decanting Wine Is Worth The Wait

A decanter like this is ideal for the sort
of person with an inferiority complex.
Decanting your bottle of wine and allowing it to breath before drinking it seems to be something that’s well in decline. Maybe the reason behind this is people just thinking "why the hell would I do that?" and the idea of making more washing up isn't too appealing either. In actual fact, decanting a wine and allowing it to open up can be very beneficial.

There are various reasons why you might decant a bottle of wine. One being if you are drinking a bottle of an aged and unfiltered red it is likely to contain sediment. So while decanting you have the opportunity to remove the wine from the bottle, leaving the sediment behind.
Mainly though, you would decant a wine in order to let it to open up, bringing out all the nice flavours and aromas that may otherwise not develop to their full potential. Sometimes an older wine might develop a bit of a stink while it sits in bottle for years and decanting it can help bring out the more attractive notes. Also, if you are drinking a really young, full bodied red, decanting can just help soften it up a bit and tone down the harsh tannins.

The point of a decanter is that the surface area of the wine is increased, meaning more contact with oxygen is possible, speeding up the process of allowing the wine to 'open up'. Opening a bottle of wine and thinking “I’ll just leave it 10 minutes and let it breath in the bottle” will do bugger all because only the surface of the wine in the bottle neck is in contact with air, so don’t bother, you're just wasting your time; letting yourself down and letting down your family too. You don't want that hanging over you do you? Thought not.

If you are a cynical shit who wont believe a word of it without hard evidence, you can test this for yourself. Get a glass of wine (you can tell this is a tough experiment already), take a sniff and a swig straight away and then leave it. After 10 to 15 minutes take another sniff and swig and you should notice all sorts of flavours you didn't pick up on first time around. This is exactly what is achieved by decanting, just on a smaller scale.

You don’t need to spend a pile of cash on an expensive crystal decanter in order for your wine to breath nicely, you could pour it into a saucepan and have basically the same effect, it just wouldn't look so good when you have the queen round for dinner on curry Friday.

Decanters come in all different shapes and at a wide range of prices. There are plenty to choose from at House of Fraser, and they don't all cost the earth, starting from £14. 
Alternatively, if you are feeling like you want to either set fire to your money because you just have too darn much of it, or throw it at something that looks pretty because you can, this Riedel decanter from John Lewis should float your boat at £180.00. There’s no denying it does look bloody nice though.

It is important to remember though that decanting a cheap and basic bottle of wine won’t suddenly make it taste great. Decanting your wine is well worth doing if you are having something a bit more special and ensures you really make the most of what you are drinking but doing it with a bottle of something cheap and nasty wont magically make it taste muchos delicioso (I'm pretty sure that isn't a real language but hey, screw you).

Likewise, if your 'something special' is particularly old and precious (such as a 1997 Bordeaux) then beware decanting it too long! 15 minutes may be more than enough before the oxygen starts to play havoc with such a delicate, fussy wine. If you have a particular bottle in mind, ask your friendly local wine merchant/know-it-all.

I would recommend anyone who is a regular drinker of Malbec, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and anything else along those lines should invest in a decanter because, at a lower to medium price point, these wines will benefit from decanting more so than most. Give it a go; it might transform a wine you thought you knew very well.

Let us know if you think decanting is worth it by commenting below or on our twitter and facebook. Have you tried it yet?

Freddy Bulmer.
Photo taken from VinoFamily's photostream under the creative commons license