Friday, 31 May 2013

Friday Cocktail: English Sparkling Wine Cocktails, Three Ways

Now we've spent all week urging you to go out and buy English wine, we're sure our worldwide influence means you've all got cellars brimful of the stuff. Because people listen to us, and act on our recommendations. Right? RIGHT?!

Anyway, obviously you've read Freddy's piece on where to find some of England's best sparkling wines, so when you do invest in some of the finest bubbles the country has to offer, we think you'll love finishing up the bottle (or getting one started!) by using it to make one of these sparkling wine cocktails.

Pink Elder-berry Fizz (Serves Two)
Inspiration taken from The Londoner

You will need:

25ml simple syrup
25ml elderflower cordial or liqueur
A handful of raspberries
2 lemon slices
100-150ml sparkling wine

Shake it!

1. Pour the simple syrup and elderflower cordial/liqueur into the bottom of a highball glass and stir together.
2. Gently muddle the raspberries (half crush with the back of a wooden spoon if you don't have a muddler) to release the juices and pop them in each glass.
3. Top with two or three ice cubes and a slice of lemon each - this acts as a barrier so the colours gently filter upwards.
4. Top the glass up with the sparkling wine.

Queen's Cousin (serves one)
Recipes based on drinksmixer.

You will need:

1 shot vodka
1/2 shot Grand Marnier
1/2 shot lime juice
A couple of dashes angostura bitters
One dash triple sec
3-4 shots sparkling wine

Shake it!

1. Pour everything except the wine into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigourously for ten seconds.
2. Strain into a Champagne saucer and top up with sparkling wine.

Ginger Fizz (Serves 2)
Recipe is a variation based on this one from Martha Stewart.

You will need:

100g caster sugar
100ml water
1 tsp grated ginger
250ml sparkling wine

Shake it!

1. Make a simple syrup, but add the ginger to the saucepan. Allow to cool until fridge temperature.
2. Pour one tablespoon of the ginger syrup into two champagne flutes.
3. Top up with sparkling wine, and gently stir.
Optional upgrade: You could also add a dash of pomegranate juice and orange liqueur in the final stages if you'd like a little more flavour.

Images taken from Dinner Series and Farther Along respectively under the CCL.

Drunk through the ages - England's history of wine.

In an homage to Funny or Die's 'Drunk History' videos, I thought English Wine Week (It's English Wine Week, don't know if you realised, I think we've mentioned it once or twice) would be a good opportunity to write a painfully vague and light-hearted, although occasionally actually factual piece about the history of wine in England.

The true origins of wine production in the UK are still not absolutely clear but what is clear is that England has always had a strong relationship with wine.

Back in the day, when England was attached to the rest of europe and the climate was hotter, grape vines grew naturally throughout the country, although there is no proof that they were cultivated this early on.
As early as 75BC, wine from Italy was being imported into England by the Belgae who had been kind enough to invade and bring some booze with them. Like BYOB at a party but on a massive scale. This is one of the earliest examples of wine drinking in the country.

An ancient Roman Amphorae -
used for transporting wine.
It was most likely the Romans who started making wine in England, however not necessarily using grapes grown here. There is evidence that suggests grapes were imported and it is likely these were used by the Romans to make wine in the UK, it isn't until a few hundred years later that there is proof of grapes being grown and being used for wine. In Anglo-Saxon England, although there was wine production happening by this point, wine was still being imported, but thanks to pesky Pirates who had a habit of rape, pillage, murder and thieving wine from ships, imported wine became scarce and too much of a luxury for most. These problems with the imports meant that more and more vineyards were planted in England, mostly in order to make wine for church (see, religion is good for some things...).

By the 12th and 13th centuries, there were vineyards as far north as South Yorkshire and the wine in the south was becoming quite highly regarded. It is thought that the wines were good quality around this point because from the mid 11th century to the 14th century, there was a mini heat-wave, so everyone whacked out the factor 50 and made wine while the sun shine...d.

When the good weather stopped (it's been shit ever since), a deal was done with the good folks of Bordeaux, meaning it was cheaper to import wines from Gascony through the docks of Bordeaux, than to even buy those made in the UK, so vineyards were ripped up and replaced with other crops.

Then the Black Death happened, which was kind of a bummer for everyone. That put a stop to just about all of the other commercial wine producers that were still hanging on within the UK.

After death got a little less black and went back to normal death, more wine was still being imported from Gascony than anywhere else but more regions wines were becoming available to the UK market. As the amount of different counties and regions that wine was imported from grew, various laws and rules were introduced to protect the consumer, as so often what they were told they were buying, wasn't actually the same as what they were really buying. Although merchants and innkeepers weren't too happy about this as they were making a good living out of ripping people off. Good times.

Skipping a handful of years because sod all else happened, wine production in England is now at it's height and growing rapidly. We have now just about got the climate for quality wine production, as well as the ability to finance it and enough interest from the public in order to sell the stuff.

England has always had a relationship with wine in some form or another - we have clearly always been massive alcoholics - although wine as we now know it will have started off as something very different all those years ago. We have a rich history and hopefully a bright future ahead, and if quality keeps going the way it is, our wines will get the attention of countries all over the world. Maybe even the French.

Images from Marsala Wine and SadighGallery's photostream under the Creative Commons license.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

English Vineyards

Over the last year I've been lucky enough to visit three of England's vineyards. I thought I'd share my experiences with you, in the hope that we've done a inspiring enough job with our fantastic English Wine Week posts and you now all want to stop reading and get out among the grapes.

Three Choirs, Gloucestershire

A beautiful day to visit Three Choirs.

Last September, shortly after I'd had my eyes (or rather palate) opened to the splendor of English wine, I strategically planned a weekend away with my mum, within a short drive's distance of Gloucestershire's Three Choirs Vineyard.

We signed and paid up (£9 each) for the very informal, yet informative tour with a lovely lady, her big smile and wonderful Gloucester accent.  If I remember correctly, we tried 3 still wines and 1 sparkling. One of the most enjoyable things about this tour was that we talked and tasted and walked all at the same time, mobility which kept everyone entertained. We tasted some overlooking the beautiful vineyard and others had with the working winery as a backdrop. After the tour, some people went into the restaurant whilst others followed the nature trail around the vineyard.

The wine that I took home with me was the Three Choir's Medium House Dry. The Medium House Dry is a beautifully fresh wine, with classic English flavours, elder flower and gooseberry and a bit of zest. It's not a million miles away from Sauvignon Blanc in terms of its taste profile, despite the fact that its produced from a blend of lesser well known grapes: Seyval Blanc, Muller Thurgau, Reichensteiner, Orion, Madeleine Angevine and Huxelrebe (sounds like a bunch of very posh siblings to me!). I think the bottle set me back £7.99, which was definitely money well spent.

Visit Three Choirs if:

  • You want an informal and personable vineyard experience.
  • You're living in or visiting the midlands.
  • You want to experience beautiful countryside and some lovely fresh everyday drinking wines.

Denbies Wine Estate, Surrey

The selection of wines to be tasted in Denbie's cellar.

This bank holiday weekend just gone I went away to a youth hostel near Dorking for a country break with my boyfriend. Once again, I'd been strategic picking my location, knowing that the cosy little hostel, Tanner's was in an forty five minute's walking distance of Denbie's Wine estate.

Denbie's is the largest wine estate in England and the estate which Alan Sugar chose to send his apprentice's to, featured on the episode of The Apprentice which focused on English wine some time last year.

Unfortunately, it was absolutely chucking it down. Fortunately, Denbies have both an outdoor and an indoor option for visitors. Had it not have been raining so hard, Craig and I might have taken the train around the vast vineyard and got up close and personal with the vines, but we were already soaking when we arrived and thought we'd be better off in the shelter of the winery tour.

Me trudging up to Denbie's in the rain.

I hadn't been expecting an 4D cinema experience and a train ride into the cellar, but that's exactly what the wine experience at Denbie's has to offer! The video was very informative but the 360 degree screen made me a bit dizzy and the lack of a real person meant that we couldn't ask questions or engage in any banter. I found it hard to concentrate on the audio commentary as we descended into the cellar on the train, but the host who greeted us at the other end was very nice and knowledgeable.

Denbie's give you three tasting tour options: 1) three classic wines, 2). three sparkling wines 3) three wines + food to accompany, but being the cheeky chick that I am, I managed to negotiate a deal, "because I am a blogger" whereby Craig and I tried both the still and the sparkling wines.

The wine I most enjoyed was their sparkling Greenfields Cuvee 2006. Employing the classic Champagne combination of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, this award winner tasted like a sparkling Fino Manzanilla, with its marzipan and nutty notes - absolutely lovely.

Visit Denbies if:

  • You live in London and want an alternate way to spend your Saturday. Trains go from London Victoria and you can be at Boxhill & Westhumble train station in under an hour, or Dorking, which is also a beautiful town well worth a visit.
  • You want an activity that you can enjoy with your grandparents (there were lots of grey hairs and heads with no hair at all during our visit, but it could be because we visited on a weekday) - they will love the train ride and 4D cinema.
  • You want to experience staggeringly beautiful countryside walks - I think someone told me that there are 7 miles of public footpath that pass through the vineyards.

Nyetimber, Sussex

Last October, I was lucky enough to visit the Nyetimber estate with some of my then colleagues from Majestic. The reason I say "lucky" is because Nyetimber is not open to the public. However, I wanted to tell you a little bit about my visit non-the-less.

In terms of "Englishness",the Nyetimber estate is rich in heritage, once owned by Henry VIII and even recorded in the domesday book. We saw the beautiful estate property, in which the famous English king once would have stood, and walked through the vineyards accompanied by one of the vineyard managers who told us about the extent to which Nyetimber go to uphold quality. Unlike many other English vineyards, Nyetimber do not buy grapes from other private sources as they want to remain completely in control of quality.

All this effort really does pay off, with Nyetimber producing some of our country's most exceptional wine offerings. We got to try about eight different wines, all of which I loved, but was most impressive had to be their peachy, peary and slightly floral Demi-Sec, with a pleasant fresh "lift" to compliment the sweetness, and the Blanc de blanc 1996, which was in a league of its own, with amazing mushroom, brioche and citrus notes. 

Visit Nyetimber if:
  • You ever receive an invite!

God for Harry! England and Saint George! - English Whisky Co. Chapter 9

I'm sure we've made it clear that it's English Wine Week, but guessing that the others would take care of the grapes, I decided to take my own patriotic tact with an English whisky. In choosing my whisky there was not a great deal of choice in producers unfortunately: there's The English Whisky Co., Hicks and Healey and that's... well, that's pretty much it. Deciding that I didn't want to spend £175 on a bottle of whisky my eyes fell on the St.George distillery.

The St. George distillery - which first began producing in 2006 - was started by the Nelstrop family who have a heritage of farming grain for over 600 years. The production of whisky was actually the idea of the founder's father who had dreamed of setting up a distillery, yet following his death James Nelstrop decided that it would have to be a project for him and his son Andrew. They are now churning out 150,000 bottles a year with Chapter 9 being one in a now extensive range.

The nose is really big, busty and quite intriguing  it is peaty and smokey with an almost medicinal alcohol kick to it. There's also some fruit and other sweetness in there in the background with the medicinal note almost forming itself into a more salty, coastal aroma. The nose is fascinating, different to most others I've tried, but it really puts me in the mood for some of the other peatier whiskies... watch this space.

On the palate the Chapter 9 is sweet with a creamy, sugary flavour with vanilla in there. There is the smoke coming through from the peat along with a nice amount of spice. This isn't as soft and mellow as some other drams with some lovely warming heat, this appears to be made for those Norfolk winters.

This is a nice whisky, not the best one I've ever tried, but I have to say it's really very good considering it has only been aged for 3 years, I'm really looking forward to what might be coming out in the next 5 years or so.

English whisky still has a long way to go, however as the popularity of whisky continues to grow I can definitely see more English distilleries opening.

I think a major stumbling issue is that there is a certain period required for whisky to age, therefore costing more to start up when compared with gin or vodka for example. I imagine that in the coming years investor confidence in whisky distilleries will grow with The English Whisky Co. looking to be a massive success just a few years on from it's founding.

Pick up a bottle of Chapter 9 from the English Whisky Co's page for £39.99* or from Master of Malt at £42.45*.

*We updated these prices to their current rate in May 2015. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

English Heart: Elmtree Beer

I thought I'd use our rather patriotic coverage during English Wine Week to tell you about a lovely English gent called Allan who makes beer with real passion, and then goes around the country visiting food and drink festivals to tell everyone how brilliant they are.

Ok, so we've done a fair bit on English beer and cider producers. So far we've mentioned Piddle and Brothers to name a couple. But one English beer producer really has caught my attention: Elmtree. I didn't think I needed another reason to love Norfolk, but lo and behold, I've found one! Operating in the tiny settlement of Snetterton in the gorgeous countryside, Elmtree produce fine stouts, bitters and summer beers. 

They say their range is small, like them. But 6 different brews from a tiny operation isn't bad going at all. I've had the pleasure of tasting a couple when we met Allan at the East England Food and Drink Festival a few Sundays ago.

We'll start off on a lighter note. Elmtree Golden Pale Ale is a true homage to GPA (Golden Pale Ale, Didn't really want to type the whole thing over again. So what? Sue me!). With it's beautiful malts and hints of orange peel, followed by a touch of bitter, it's a real sunny day beer. 

The highlight for me though, is their Dark Horse stout. Now, I've never really been a stout fan until now. I admit, I was a heathen who only drank Guiness on St Patricks day while wearing a funny hat; but this gorgeous brew has given me a whole new thing to think about. It initially has dark, chocolate and coffee notes on the nose followed up by amazing fruitiness and a smooth, satisfying finish. Absolute cracker of a brew! 

Elmtree beers are available for around £3 per bottle online from My Brewery Tap or if you're in the North Norfolk area, I would strongly recommend a visit to The Real Ale Shop. You can even go and visit Elmtree themselves and take part in one of their brewing days

English Sparkling Wine - 3 Homegrown Favourites

Denbies vineyard, England.
Photo: Craig Denford
Being English and a big fan of sparkling wine, it's no surprise that I am a BIG supporter of English sparkling wine. Although there are a handful of really great still wines from the greatest country on earth (no not that one, I mean England) - Laura has already told us about a handful of brilliant reds - for the time-being, it is in fizz production that we have the potential to stand out alongside all the other top wine producing countries in the world.

It is said that the climate in the south of the UK is getting similar to that of Champagne, thanks to our friend global warming. Although this is bad news for life on earth as we know it, it's good news for quality wine production in the UK! Whoopie! Until it eventually gets so hot that we all go up in a ball of flames, but we'll worry about that a few years from now...

As with any country, there are a few producers who really are ahead of the game, who manage to tick all the boxes with regards to presentation, marketing and of-course quality!

I have picked out 3 wines that I think are well worth trying as they really represent the best of English sparklers, with the quality and the all-round package to rival the wines of Champagne.

Nyetimber's Demi Sec is something a little different and as a style is a first for England. Nyetimber is arguably the top-dog for elegance and quality, their Classic Cuvée is a benchmark for others and their rosé, although not cheap, is stunning. Not to mention that all of their wines have won bags of awards. So when Nyetimber started to produce Demi Sec from 100% Chardonnay, it wasn't really going to be anything other than brilliant. It is a really fresh and lively wine that has lots of flavour, including honey, citrus and tangerine. Being a Demi Sec, it is slightly sweeter than you normally expect from 'Champagne style' wines, this makes it a lot more attractive to people who don't tend to like the bone dry 'Brut' wines. The only problem is that not enough people know this wine is available yet so it's well worth picking up a bottle now so you can brag about knowing it back when it was all cool and underground. I have chosen this over Champagne more than once and have never known anyone be disappointed having tried it. Nyetimber Demi Sec is currently on offer from Yorkshire Vintners for the very reasonable price of £29.50 - not exactly dirt cheap but this is a seriously good wine and a bargain compared to the RRP.

Next up is Ridgeview's Bloomsbury; a blend of the three Champagne varieties although predominantly Chardonnay. This is the classic Brut style of sparkler, bone dry, crisp and refreshing. Having won many awards such as IWSC Gold, this is a great fizz that you can't really go wrong with. 'Ridgeview' may ring a bell because in 2010 they won the Decanter international trophy for sparkling wine over £10, beating hundreds of others, including Champagnes almost three times the price! TAKE THAT FRENCHIES! Relatively light in style, this makes a delicious and easy drinking aperitif. You can pick up a bottle of Ridgeview Bloomsbury for just £21 from The Wine Society.

If Rosé is your thing, you should have a go on Chapel Down's Brut Rosé which is 100% Pinot Noir and is, in their own words 'A classic grape variety in a modern style'. It is a really nicely balanced sparkler with a mouth-watering, crisp acidity and lots of nice red fruit flavours. This is a perfect wine for a BBQ so when the sun comes out, grab a bottle quick before it rains again. Chapel Down is possibly the easiest of these three English Fizzes to find as it is stocked in Marks and Spencer (although slightly confusingly with a different label) for £22 a bottle.

If you have never tried an English sparkling wine before, with it being English Wine Week, what better time to right your wrongs than now?

What's your favourite English sparkling wine? Tell us by commenting below or on our facebook and twitter pages

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

English Red Wine: Glass Half Full?

Search for English wine in most mainstream retailers and - if you find any at all - it will be sparkling, white, and rose in abundance. It's just what we're known for - the press is always telling us about some English fizz that's won yet another award, or talking about how our terroir and climate is becoming more and more like that of Champagne (thanks, global warming.)

But what of reds? A lot of even stalwart English wine fans turn their noses up at the very thought: it's too cool to grow good reds, we don't do well-known red grape varieties well enough, or they've tried some plonk from their local 'vineyard' that's made them want to do a bit of a cry.

Well turn that frown upside down, English wine fan (or, indeed, English wine sceptic) because they DO exist! In fact, they're winning regular bronze and silver medals at the IWC and Decanter wine awards if you'd care to look, and we've had the opportunity of trying some of the winners recently...

Gusbourne Estates Pinot Noir, 2010, RRP £15.99

Gusbourne already make gold-medal Champagne-style sparkling wine, and they found a batch of Champagne pinot grape clones that seemed perfect for a Burgundian style red. They've been making it for a few years now, and the latest result from the 2010 vintage is seriously promising: so light it's almost a rose, with a delicate perfume and lots of strawberry and raspberry flavour. It's not so light that it lacks character, but the vines are still pretty young so I can't wait to see how this shapes up over the next five to ten years. Still, it's a red that is absolutely worth trying. Field and Fawcett sell a bottle of Gusbourne Pinot Noir for £15.50, or you can get a bottle from The Secret Cellar for £17.

Halfpenny Green Vineyards Rondo

Halfpenny's Rondo was in the news last year as it was produced at a record 15% abv, and it obviously worked: it's just scooped silver at the 2013 Decanter Awards. Obviously the alcohol level means this is a chunky, full-bodied wine that smacks you around the chops, but is greatly tamed by a plate full of stew, or a roast pigeon, or a honk of your stinkiest hard cheese.

It's had such a surge in popularity it's sold out on the official Halfpenny website, but you can pick up a bottle at £19.95 from Nickolls and Perks.

Bolney Estate Pinot Noir

Another Pinot that's won awards and trophies all over the shop, this is darker and fuller-bodied than the Gusbourne but has spent a little time in oak to give it toasty complexity. It's also got typical cherry pinot character, and shows cold-climate pinot noir has its place in the world, and indeed in England.

If you'd like to grab a bottle, head to Yorkshire Vintners where it's £16.74 per bottle.

Also worthy of note: Chapel Down's Pinot Noir won silver at the 2013 International Wine Challenge, and has been so hotly-sought since then it's sold out everywhere we've looked - not surprising, seeing as not only is it an award winner, it's average price is a Burgundy-beating £14.99.

Have you ever given an English red a go? Let us know in the comments, or on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Image from UGod's photostream under the CCL.

English Wine Week Celebrates: Camel Valley - Cornwall's Finest Fizz

Whilst many producers in England have been making wine for a number of years, it appears now that the palates of us English folk are finally suited to, or seeking, the crisp, cool varieties which suit our ever changing, unpredictable, cool climate. This means good business for many English winemakers, and indeed there has been a particular rise in the popularity of English sparkling wine. English Sparkling Wine is the new Champagne – so say many of today’s wine writers, journalists and wine professionals.

Whether its the increased patriotism of a nation following a few incredibly British years - the Royal Wedding, Queen’s Jubilee and Olympics - or that awkward episode of The Apprentice last year which has increased our interest in English wine, it’s fantastic news for an otherwise underdog of the wine world. One producer which has revelled in this success is Camel Valley.

Last Autumn, I spent a couple of gloriously sunny days in Cornwall and dropped in to the Camel Valley vineyards tucked away in the gorgeous rolling hills of the Cornish countryside. Thanks to the perks of working in the wine industry, I was fortunate to catch a sneaky half an hour with winemaker Sam Lindo (who was named UK winemaker of the year in 2007, 2010 and 2011) for a quick chat about Camel Valley, their wines, and their recent successes.

Sam and Bob (Sam's father) Lindo have won many trophies and gold medals in international competitions, including 3 International Wine Challenge trophies and 5 gold medals, and 2 Decanter golds. They have won 4 trophies in the coveted Bollicini Del Mondo World sparkling Wine Championships and were crowned sparkling rose World Champions in 2010 and 2011.

My pick of the range is the 2011 Camel Valley ‘Cornwall’ Pinot Noir Rose Brut reported by Jane MacQuitty in The Times as ‘My favourite English rosé – and everyone else’s it seems… Gorgeous’. The 2010 vintage won a Decanter World Wine Award gold medal, the UKVA Trophy for the best Sparkling Rose in England and was awarded first place in the MWs tasting of 90 English Sparkling wines in 2012. Judges included Jancis Robinson, Stephen Spurrier, Stephen Skelton, Susie Barry, Waitrose and M&S.

Pale, salmon-pink in colour with a strawberry and raspberry nose, extending to a fruity, yet delicate palate whilst being effervescent but not aggressive. Serve chilled as an aperitif or with pork or chicken dishes.

For a classic style fizz, try the 2011 Camel Valley 'Cornwall' Brut - at £24.95 (direct from the Camel Valley site) this vintage sparkler will rival many Champagnes. Served in Rick Stein's world-famous Seafood Restaurant and Nathan Outlaw's two Michelin Star Restaurants, this is fresh, zippy, well balanced and incredibly good value for money. Perfect, I imagine, with the Falmouth Bay Native Oysters from Rick's menu!

Whilst Camel Valley consistently produce fantastic sparkling wines, their range also includes 2011 Camel Valley Bacchus, 2010 Camel Valley Atlantic Dry, a rose and a sparkling red. With a beautiful spot in Cornwall, sun drenched slopes by the Camel River, soil and climate suited to the grape varieties – Bacchus, Reichensteiner, Chardonnay, Rondo to name a few - and simple, modern winemaking techniques (no oak, only sleek, incredibly shiny, stainless steel), Camel Valley has a simple balance which works.

The perk of UK producers? You can buy direct from them, cutting out the middle man of supermarkets and off licences. This is a real bonus for me as I feel I am directly supporting our local wine heroes. The 'Cornwall' Pinot Noir Rose Brut is reasonably priced at £26.95 but if you order 6 or more bottles you save 5% and if you order 12 or more bottles you save 10%. The minimum order is any 6 bottles and UK delivery £8.50 per order.


Friday, 24 May 2013

Cocktail Friday: White Chocolate Mochatini

On Tuesday, we took our weary heads to Be At One at King's Cross after a long day of tasting wine. It's one of my favourite cocktail chains in London, and we just happened to arrive during happy hour, so obviously we all ordered about four cocktails. The perfect way to finish the day.

My awesome friend Allan and I both decided we fancied something deliciously naughty, and decided upon a white chocolate mochatini. It arrived, and we very much liked what we tasted.

Their recipe includes white chocolate liqueur, coffee liqueur and espresso, but I thought it was a bit too much coffee and not enough creamy white chocolate for my liking (just a personal thing - it really was gorgeous).

I've devised my own recipe which is not only more creamy but also has extra sauce in it - a perfect way to end a dinner or start a party.

White Chocolate Mochatini (serves one)

You will need:

50ml white chocolate liqueur (we used Mozart)
50ml coffee liqueur (we used Tia Maria)
25ml Baileys
One small square of chocolate, to garnish

Shake it!

1. Pour all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice, and shake it like you mean it for around ten seconds.
2. Pour into a martini glass or champagne saucer, and grate the chocolate of your choice on top (I chose hazelnut chocolate, because NOM NOM NOM.)

Wine for Beginners: 5 Tips for Reading a Restaurant Wine List

Photo: Tobias Toft

The Michelin Starred Black Swan at Oldstead -
a brilliant restaurant with a stunning wine list.
So you are heading out to eat somewhere nice. All is going well, the pink stretch hummer that you
hired for the occasion turned up on time (you're so stylish and sophisticated) and the restaurant is über smart. You sit at the table and feeling a bit cocky, you ask to see the wine list.
You take a second to appreciate the nice leather cover before opening the list and proceed to crap your pants. What do you pick!? An easy G&T starts to sound very appealing...

Really knowing what to look for on an extensive wine list can only come with time and experience but you don’t have to be a Master of Wine to look like you know what you are talking about in front of company.

If you are in a restaurant that has pride in what they sell, all the wines on the list should be great, it’s just about picking a style that you fancy, the only problem is, if you aren't an experienced wine drinker, knowing what style to go for isn't easy.
So lets make this super simple using part of the wine list from the michelin starred Black Swan at Oldstead in North Yorkshire as an example, as this is exactly the sort of place you would take someone you are trying to impress (its really nice).

1. Eliminate most of the list straight away in one simple step. If you aren’t a confident wino (not a technical term), it's so much easier if you make as many decisions as you can before even opening the list. Ask whoever you are with what they fancy drinking; Red, White, Rosé, Fizz etc? 
Purely for ease of explanation, we're going with white (although this whole process applies to red and rosé too). 

This is just 1 page of the 9
page Wine List at the Black Swan
2. Mentally set a budget before you look at the list.  If you are taking someone out for a meal, be willing to spend as much as you can afford. Buying wine in a restaurant is always going to be more expensive than buying wine from a shop but this is because supposedly you are paying for the pleasure of nice surroundings and good service. A maximum of £30 should get you a good bottle of wine and provide enough choice in the majority of restaurants. Okay, £30 isn't what we'd normally call a budget bottle, but if you are on a date or taking someone out for their birthday, for example, you don't want to look like a tight old git.

Set your price before you look at the list, otherwise you may end up panicking and spending much more than you can afford, or just going for the cheapest option; missing out on a great wine and not making the most of the list.

So at this stage, you know you want a white wine at a maximum of £30 - going well so far, have a shot of vodka as a well done to yourself.

3. Decide what style of wine you want, rather than what type.
Now is when you want to use all the help a list gives you - the headings and notes.
Just about every restaurant with a hefty wine list will have it split into sections (if they don't they're massive tools, and even experienced wine lovers will struggle), whether that's by region, style, or price, they'll all help.

The Black Swan organises its wines by style - ideal for people who don't have a lot of wine knowledge. More often than not, if a list is not arranged by different styles, it will have tasting notes for each of the wines. Either way, at this point, decide what sort of style you would like.

Something crisp, zesty and dry is always a good idea if you want to play it safe. Currently, the most popular white wines on the market are of this style; Pinot Grigio and Chilean Sauvignon Blanc to name just a couple – wines that you definitely will have tried before, even if you don’t know it! If you aren’t sure about the different flavour characteristics of wine and aren’t feeling too adventurous, stick with this style because there isn’t much to dislike. Obviously, this advice applies to any style of wine that you fancy though, whether it be fuller, oaked whites, aromatic whites, or whatever.

Using the paragraphs under the headings on this list (or individual tasting notes in other lists), you will see you want to be looking at the 'Young Burgundy-Style Wines' section. Remembering your budget that you settled on at the start, this narrows it down to: Grillo Lamura 2011, Pecorino Cantina Tollo 2011 and the St Veran Vers Le Mont Roger Luquet 2010 - all under the £30 mark. Just like that, you have narrowed down your choices from a hell of a lot, to just 3. Not bad eh? – Another shot of vodka, you deserve it.

4. Make your final choice with as much help as you need.
Because you clearly want to impress, you aren't going to go for the cheapest wine are you? Unless it looks totally awesome. So that leaves the Pecorino and the St Veran. What I would recommend now (unless you are particularly drawn to one of the two) is to ask the waiter which they would recommend. That will make you look like a total boss.

Or, it should do: we all know waiters/sommeliers can be another little minefield. They may try and up-sell, they may look down their nose at you, or they may be as clueless as you are. Either way, remember to trust your own instincts overall - you don't have to take the advice you're given if it doesn't appeal to you. And if they're condescending about your choice? Mate, you work here, so you should be proud of every bottle on your list. If it's not good enough for them, it's not good enough for their restaurant.

5. Don't worry too much about food matches. 
As far as food and wine matching is concerned, unless you are feeling super confident, don't worry about this just yet, that is something to think about once you have a good enough understanding of the different styles of wine. And anyway, unless you're both/all ordering pretty much the same thing, it won't really be possible to match one wine with half the bloody menu. The main thing is you choose a wine that you enjoy drinking and feel confident doing it.

Choosing wine from a mega list can be a very daunting experience but using these very simple steps and making most of your decisions before even opening the list is your best bet. Don't ever feel like you can't ask the waiter what they recommend, they are there to help and should really appreciate that you are asking their advice. It's a good idea to try and make a mental note of what you are drinking too, that way you can remember it and make an even quicker decision next time.

And if all else fails, you're apparently three shots of vodka down, so you should probably order the tequila anyway.

How do you feel about choosing wine in a restaurant? Tell us your top tips in the comments section below or on our twitter and facebook pages.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

A Gay Old Time: Mount Gay Eclipse

So in my neverending quest to bring you the best deals on those spirited bottles, I feel I should highlight Mount Gay Rum. Asda is currently offering this wonderful rum at £13, a banging 26% reduction!

Mount Gay is the oldest existing rum brand in the world having been around since at least 1703. You do not last that long making a shoddy product and Mount Gay has a long tradition of making fantastic rums with diverse and distinct flavours. If you don't feel you can just trust in my opinion then consider this; in Casino Royale the first drink the man Daniel Craig ordered was a Mount Gay and soda. That's right, 007 himself forgoing martini for this rum-bunctious number.  

On the nose there is a really nice floral quality along with hints of vanilla, some fruit, toasted oak and the slightest touch of honey-ness.

On the palate there is vanilla and oak again with smoke and spice. The alcohol isn't too aggressive in my opinion, but I wouldn't class this as a sipper, not really surprising for a rum of this price. For me this is one of the best opening level rums available, it makes fantastic Mai Tais, rum punches and is also great with ginger beer.

We all like to have a little bit of the tropical in our lives, at least I know I do and this for me delivers in buckets and spades (a little beach reference there). However, for me I think one of the best things about this rum is that it transports me back to the first I tried it on an open hilltop bar looking over the Barbadian forest. Our taxi driver having asked us if we enjoyed the rum explained that he was drinking now and had been all morning. It was a great day and with memories like that I'm not really sure why I don't drink this every day, well,
apart from the incident...

Pick up a bottle at the irresistible reduced price while it lasts.

The London International Wine Fair 2013 - A Disappointing Vintage?

On Tuesday morning, nearly every member of the Vinspire team rocked up at Excel to sample this year's LIWF. We say 'rocked up' like it was all casual, but have you ever tried to get to Excel during the rush hour? A train, a tube journey, and two DLR trains later and we arrived so exhausted we almost mauled the nice ladies in berets giving out free croissants in the name of French wine.

It's been widely reported that many exhibitors failed to pay the higher prices to exhibit this year, and many others refused to go because the venue is such a ballache to get to. Although it was noticeably less busy, there was still a huge number of stalls, but it was quality rather than quantity that disappointed us on the whole.

We must have sampled around 200 wines and spirits throughout the day, from at least a dozen countries, and in every possible colour and alcohol content that you could desire. But we left seven hours later slightly disheartened that we had only found a handful of exciting wines and spirits to tell you about.

Highlights of the day include trying a range of Brazilian sparkling wine that was different to most other sparkling wine we've ever tried, tasting some of Chris William's delicious The Foundry wines (available at The Wine Society), and also discovering potential in China, particularly Chateau Hansen.

The English Wine popup was timely, given English Wine Week is next week, but some of the brands mentioned were underrepresented and the area given to the popup very much lacking in size! After elbowing a few other tasters out the way a dozen times or so, we came away very pleased with Chapel Down's sparkling rose and delicious summer beer, and impressed by the quality of Gusbourne's Pinot Noir as well as their fizz.

One of the main highlights was our tasting with Etienne Hugel of the legendary Hugel wines in Alsace. Not only were the wines all utterly sublime, Etienne was an absolute gentleman and kept us highly entertained with his wit and impressed by his constant passion for his wines.

We also enjoyed The Liberator, Cono Sur's selection, and a range of Australian Shiraz by GATT wines (that won gold at this year's IWC) simply blew our minds in terms of complexity, finesse, and a fruity attack of flavour.

Some of the new flavoured liqueurs were interesting (we'll tell you more about them later), but on the whole the spirits section was hugely lacking in variety.

There were also some utterly bizarre exhibits, most notably Tresvin: a bizarrely overpriced 'wine' being sold in cans alongside a range of 'Tres Spritzy', which is basically sparkling water, peach juice and more 'wine'. The packaging was fancy but on tasting we found the contents were questionable. The whole concept was bizarre: in the age of screwcaps, why do we need portable cans of shoddy-quality wine for picnics? Although ten out of ten to whoever designed their little brochure with it's "so chic, so French" and "light, bright, and absolutely dynamite" slogans. They do not currently have a UK merchant (or a website) except for Amazon, where you can buy a case of twelve tiny cans for just under £25.

We were also disappointed by the layout: we're not sure why they insist on scattering different countries around the event, but at times it felt like being on Crystal Maze. When tasting wine, we generally tend to approach events of this magnitude by country to get some context, but in several instances (South Africa in particular) stalls seemed to be randomly dotted around the enormous venue. According to the map, there was also supposed to be a Dutch stall (which we were very interested in) but on arrival it turned out to be Argentinian, and we couldn't find the Dutch wine anywhere. It's already way too big to try everything, so at least help us save time by organising the layout a bit better, LIWF!

All in all, it was - as ever - worth attending LIWF, but we look forward to next year's fair at Olympia when we are sure they'll be back on top form.

Look out for more posts over the coming weeks featuring some of the best booze we found!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

What We Made of RAW fair 2013

On Sunday and Monday, the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane once again opened its doors for RAW: the Natural Wine Fair that seems to be the marmite of the wine world.

Hundreds of producers come from around the world to showcase natural, organic, biodynamic or downright strange wines, with incredibly varying results. Freddy and I wandered along on Monday, not quite sure what to expect.

There are also several masterclasses - from winemaking with clay to sake tastings to matching cheese with wine  - but the afternoon we were there we didn't see any that took our eye. It seems all the good ones happened on Sunday (the trade-only day, whereas monday was trade and public) - however last year I did go to the Paul A Young Chocolate and Wine Workshop which was amazing.

This year, Freddy and I made do with meandering along the row upon row of eager producers, and trying our darnedest to sample as much of what was on offer as possible.
Some of the branding was on the wacky side

Let's say from the offset - neither Freddy nor I are avid fans of many of the 'natural' wine practises. Many seem underdeveloped and some appear to hinder more than help the quest to make good, exciting wine. That said, Vinspire is all about the quest for new, intriguing booze, so we went with open minds and empty glasses, and we were pleased with much of what we found.

Firstly, it's important to say that nothing we tasted was awful. There were, probably in slight majority, several wines that were just overpriced, overhyped, or just plain uninteresting, but it was worth going for the dozen or so that really jumped out and showed us what natural wine can do.

Freddy has already told you about one of our favourites (the red Vinho Verde, which was sublime and a must-try) but here are some other highlights:

1. Cobaw Ridge Lagrein

You may not have even heard of the Lagrein grape, but it's big news in North East Italy. It's rarely been grown commercially outside Italy let alone in Australia, but fifteen years ago the winemakers at Cobaw Ridge discovered the climate in North East Italy was similar to where they're based in Victoria, Australia. The 2008 Lagrein we tried is mouth-filling, warm, and dark, with silky damson, coffee and spice, proving their experiments have paid off. They don't currently have a UK stockist, but we're confident they'll find one soon.

2. Lunatique rouge

Domaine Rouge-Bleu are organic and biodynamic (not yet certified), and use 80-100 year old vines for their Lunatique red. They also ferment it in more old-fashioned concrete tanks (which are making a huge comeback at the moment) and don't destem the grapes for added colour and texture. The Lunatique would probably retail for around £40, but it was amazingly smooth and herby, with red fruit, sweet pepper spice and a lovely long finish.

3.  BAM! Champagne

Champagne house Tarlant always seem to be a hit among natural wine lovers, and their BAM! Champagne was one of the best sparkling wines we tried on the day. Unlike many others there, this actually smells Champagne-y, with nice apple, biscuit and citrus character.
The reason for the name? It's threefold: both 'Benoit and Melanie' after the winemakers, pinot Blanc - Arbanne - petite Meslier for the grapes, or the effect on the palate.

4. Blablablanc and Pet'Nat

Isabelle Jolly was one of the best things about the entire day: a dynamic, funny, and warm-hearted lady full of va-va-voom, who actually only took up winemaking seven years ago after a brilliant career as a choreographer.

Her wines were equally full of character:
The amusingly-named Blablablanc was grenache gris (an often underestimated grape) with 10% macabeo to give a long, smooth finish. It had a gloriously smoky popcorn element to the palate but was also rich with fruit, making it ideal for fish and cheese dishes.
The Pet'Nat was wildly different: 100% Muscat, it had that typical muscat-grapey nose with a rustic, peppery, salty character that gave a hint of cured meat flavour. I'd love to try this with a plate of charcuterie.

5. Csobánci Bormanufaktúra, Hungary

The soils in the organic vineyards here are volcanic, giving a nice mineral edge to the wine.
 We particularly like their pinot noir was perfumed and understated with good acidity, and recognisably pinot-like.

6. Principiano Ferdinando, Piemonte, Italy

One of our Italian highlights of the day, we particularly enjoyed their Barolo Boscaretto from 50 year old low-yielding vines. Full of complexity as well as full-bodied, with tangy, cherry flavours and a lovely colour. You can pick up a bottle for just over £55 at Silly Point Wines.
Of course, we were also in love with Laura. Well, I was. Less complex but a lovely, big flavour packed with berries and spice. It's not available in the UK, but we took a picture and are begging someone to stock it:

7. Brut and the Beast, Piemonte, Italy

Another Piemonte highlight was this wonderful Cortese with a slight fizz. Only just bottled last week, but it had a fragrant, floral nose with sweet apricot character. It's actually a dry wine, but the fruit and rose petal character make it very easy to drink. It's also sulphite-free. A bottle is £11 from London shop Aubert and Mascoli.

8. Rebula, Kmetija Štekar, Slovenia

Our first orange wine of the day! The Rebula Prilo 2007 undergoes skin maceration for 20 days, giving it a delightful orange colour. It had a vegetal, raisiny, mince pie character that was really quite moreish. Not an everyday wine, but a type of wine we should experiment with more. No current UK representatives, I'm afraid.

9. Angel 2007, Slovenia

This red wine is a Bordeaux blend grown in Slovenia's further western point. It has the nose of a lighter, less cedary Bordeaux, and we really enjoyed its fruit, spice, and coffee flavours. At around £30-35 it's not a house wine, but it's got good complexity for that price. It's imported to the UK by Pacta Connect - contact them for stockists.

10. Cueva Selection de Finca, Spain

Cueva's red was made from 90% Bobal, an eastern Spanish variety, and 10% Tempranillo. It's organic and nearly biodynamic, and the sun and moon packaging was really bewitching. The wine itself isn't half bad either - fragrant, with light spice and red fruit, plus elements of licorice. Rich, mature, with soft tannins and a big flavour, it would be lovely with equally rich food. We were surprised to learn something of this quality would only cost around £14 a bottle in the UK - this was a wine crying out for a stockist.

Other wines took our eye so much that we're going to write about them individually, so look out for more natural wine posts in the near future. In the mean time, did you go to RAW? What do you think of natural wine? 

A Red 'Green Wine'!? - Tinto Bom Vinho Verde

Having spent two days doing relentless wine tasting at RAW Fair and the London International Wine Fair, which is a really tough job but someone's got to do it (you're welcome world), you get to a point when everything you have tried all blends into one. It's a good sign if at the end of the day you can remember a small selection of the wines you have tasted because that way you know they really must have been good ones.

RAW, the fair for organic, biodynamic, natural, orgasmic and fantastic wines was an especially interesting event (I made the last two up). There were loads of crap wines that were clearly just using the whole natural thing as a selling point because the wine isn't good enough to speak for it's self, a bit like parents constantly making excuses for their shitty kids, but there were some really interesting wines at RAW and quite a lot that were new to me, one of these being a red called 'Tinto Bom' from the Vinho Verde region of Portugal.

Vinho Verde which is usually a white wine is something that I am familiar with and have really enjoyed in the past but the red was something I hadn't come across, so I was keen to taste. The nice thing about it was that it still had a very Vinho Verde-ish-ness to it (shut up, that so is a word), it was light and very crisp, with the almost spritzy/fizzy feel that you expect from the white. The difference is that it was packed full of red fruit flavours and had nice, grippy tannin that wasn't too strong but actually worked nicely with the refreshing Vinho verde style, while helping to bring a nice structure to the wine. It is made from 100% Tinta Nacional, a grape variety that is native to Portugal and the wine is aged in steel vats, which helps to boost the very fresh, clean style. Plus, it's organic, but who actually cares?

It's always nice to find something new in the wine-world and this sort of thing is exactly what the RAW Fair is all about - giving some exposure to the people who are doing something a bit different.

If you are looking for something new, that you probably won't have seen before, you can get a bottle of 2010 Tinto Bom from Portuguese Story for £10.50 - even if it's not a style you would usually go for, I would really recommend getting a bottle because it's a wine that will broaden anyone's horizons.

Have you tried anything a little different lately? We want to know about it so get in touch either by commenting below or or our twitter and facebook pages.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Utterly irresistible receptacles: LSA Champagne Saucers

I've been meaning to write a little post for a while now about a delightful gift I received for my birthday.

Knowing that I'm rather into wine, my wonderful friend invested in something just a little bit special for me - Champagne Saucers!

Just look at them, aren't they beautiful??

LSA International are an astoundingly wonderful glassware company and this lovely pair belong to the Amelie collection.

Supposedly, the reason one normally drinks sparkling wine from a flute and not a regular wine glass is because the narrow opening at the top of a flute prevents the bubbles escaping too rapidly. In virtue of this, the budding scientists among you will realise that Champagne saucers might not be the best option when it comes to longevity of fizz.

But should we let practicality out-weight beauty? I think not. Don't worry I've preempted two simple solutions: 1) pour little Champagne and often, or, 2) drink it up quickly!

There really is something magical and a tad sophisticated about drinking from these saucers. Maybe it's just me, but drinking anything out of slightly unusual containers brings me satisfaction. I've enjoyed cocktails out of tin cans at the top of Liverpool Street's Heron Tower, and, out of tea cups at Fitzrovia's slightly hidden Bourne & Hollingsworth. Two venues to be checked out for more than just their quirky choices of drinking vessels by the way.

Apart from sipping Champers from my saucers, I fully intend to use my pretty cups to serve up pudding perfections. Oh, the possibilities...

If you're itching to get hold of you own LSA saucers (and who wouldn't be?) you can purchase them online, or at John Lewis.

What's the most inspiring container you've enjoyed at beverage out of?

Monday, 20 May 2013

Pinot Gris; A Foodie's Friend

Last week I touched on how fantastic it is to find a great food and wine match, so following that theme, I thought I would introduce you to the incredibly versatile Pinot Gris - my go to food wine. Also know as Pinot Grigio (usually when grown in Italy), this grape normally has a greyish-blue fruit, hence its name (gris meaning "grey" in French) but the wines produced from this vary in colour from a deep golden yellow to copper and even a light shade of pink.

An aromatic white, it usually has a touch of sweetness, making it pair with an entirely different range of foods from Pinot Grigio. Born in Alsace where it’s often matched with pâté and creamy sauces, its new world versions from New Zealand and Australia pair particularly well with smoked and spicy foods such as Thai Green Curry, Spicy Indian Dal, Thai fishcakes, Indonesian satay dishes or smoky seared scallops.

Beware though that as a noble grape it's made with varying levels of sweetness - such in the way that Riesling is - meaning that not every bottle will display the same characteristics. As a general rule though, the hotter and spicier the food, the sweeter the wine needs to be to balance the heat. Here are four favourites I have purchased on more than one foodie occassion and simply cannot get enough of! Hope you enjoy :-)

£14.99 per bottle, £89.94 per case of 6
This Pinot Gris is a full, heady, rich and lush wine with a great depth which is balanced by a crisp acidity that gives structure and longevity. The Trimbach style of wine is one of finesse, elegance, and amazing concentration, all packed into the trademark Alsace flute bottle. Though techincally dry, the long finish exudes a sweetness making it excellent with all fish but especially salmon - try roasted salmon with honey-glazed fennel.

Currently £12.49 per bottle, or £9.99 (save 20% on two or more New Zealand wines)
This off-dry example treads the fine line between the Alsatian and Italian style, nicely balanced and perfumed with honeysuckle and peach. Lifted by acidity and a hint of natural spritz, this beauty from Marlborough wine legend Brent Marris of the Marisco Vineyards winery is delicious on its own but a brilliantly versatile food wine to boot. Try with grilled prawns, white meats or creamy cheeses. Brent's food match is roast chicken wrapped in pancetta with a peach, couscous and pinenut stuffing served with crispy garlic potatoes. (Majestic's Grape to Glass, Summer 2013) There is a minimum 6 bottle purchase, but delivery for online purchases is free is you spend over £40!

Pinot Gris Tradition, Hugel, 2010, The Wine Society
£12.50 per bottle, £150.00 per case of 12

Made by Hugel et Fils (now run by the marvellous characters Etienne and Marc), one of the longest established Alsace houses as well as being the most famous, this is an exemplary dry and rich pinot gris that combines body with elegance. Fruit-driven and refreshingly scented with white peach and almond blossom, this soft, dry wine has a succulent richness, and a very long, ripe fruit finish. Try with crayfish or lobster with a spicy sauce, lamb curry, game terrine or duck foie gras. Another great classic from Alsace, again, all packed into the trademark flute bottle. You do need to be a member to order from The Wine Society, but at just £40 for a lifetime membership and £10 credit as a new member, it's well worth it!

The Wine Society also stock one of my all time favourites BUT are currently out of stock. Keep your eyes peeled on the website for new stocks - I guarantee it will be worth the wait...

Kumeu River Pinot Gris, 2010, Auckland, The Wine Society
£12.95 per bottle, £155.00 per case of 12

Made by the highly regarded Kumeu River Estate near Auckland, this Pinot Gris is floral and smooth textured, like good Alsace examples, but with the vibrant fruit typical of New Zealand. On the palate the wine is rich and complex with an oily texture that coats the tongue and lingers on the palate, with a lovely length of flavour. Pinot Gris is a variety that goes particularly well with food, including quite intensely flavoured dishes. It is also one of the few wine styles that can handle the spiciness of chilli, so together with the sweet succulence of prawns, a nicely chilled bottle of Kumeu River Pinot Gris makes up a spectacular combination. (Kumeu River)

Have you tried any other Pinot Gris you think is worthy of a mention? Let us know - we're always willing to try something new!

A Grand Day Out at The Wine Society

Yesterday, over five hundred members of the 149-year old cooperative The Wine Society turned up at its doors for their biggest and most ambitious tasting yet: The Grand Day Out. No, neither Wallace or Gromit made an appearance.

Taking advantage of the LIWF taking place today and tomorrow, they were able not only to showcase wines from nearly every country they stock (including Romania, Turkey, Greece and Lebanon), but also had growers on hand to chat to members and give unique insights into their wines.

There were an overwhelming 96 wines to try in all. I made an effort to try as many as I could, but here were the highlights:

Blind Spot range, Mac Forbes, £7.50-8.50

Every year in Australia it is possible to find stunning parcels of grapes - that is, if you know the right places to look. Mac Forbes - a dynamic and innovative young producer - acts as The Society's eyes and ears down under, and he sends several samples for the Australian buyer, Pierre Mansour, to taste. Pierre then selects the best ones, and these become the Blind Spot range: benchmark examples of Australia's best varieties, bought in bulk so pricing is ridiculously competitive. If you like Aussie wines, this range is a dream come true It changes every year, but their Clare Valley Riesling, Yarra Valley Pinot Gris, and Grenache-Shiraz-Mataro in particular are unmissable.

Riesling SGN Cuvee Ernest Domaines Schlumberger 2009, £59

It was a rare treat to taste such a beautifully-made Riesling so young in its drinking life. This was incredibly pure, with sweetness balancing well with the acidity already, but it will continue to age and mellow until 2032. A real treat for any Riesling fan - not available online but can be purchased via reference code AL9921 on the phone at 01438 740222.

Tabali Late Harvest Pink Muscat Limari Valley 2010, £4.95 per half

From one extreme to the other, price-wise, but this was equally notable as a sweetie. Okay, it won't live up to the Riesling in terms of quality or ageing potential, but it's a delicious dessert wine for under a fiver! I don't think I've ever seen one of those before.
The reason it's so cheap? Not because it's poor in quality by any means. The muscat grapes that go into making it are actually the ones normally sold cheaply to produce Pisco, a hugely popular liqueur in Peru and Chile. Tabali discovered these grapes had huge potential, so they offered to pay more for them so they could produce a sweet wine.
It's light, with fresh acidity and delicious fruit flavours, making it perfect for summer pudding, pavlova, and fruit salads. For under a fiver a half (which is all you need for a dinner party really as most people only have a small amount of dessert wine) how could you not?

Semeli Mountain Sun Rose 2012, £8.95 per bottle

This Greek rose is a perfect (and frankly rare) example of a great, good value summer rose - equally tasty for garden quaffing as it would be with lamb with mediterranean vegetables, or flavourful salads. Anything you can get for this price in a supermarket simply won't live up to this.

Romania's Prince Stirbey wines, presented by Jakob and Ileana Kribb, £9.50-13

This couple and their wines were one of my personal highlights. They are doing great things for Romanian wines: they've picked out the best indigenous grape varieties, and they then make wines with the sole aim of showcasing exactly what these grapes can do. They use minimal oak or intervention to make sure you can taste the best of the grape, and they were utterly delightful wines. The Tamaioasa Romaneasca Sec 2012 (£9.50) was a white wine with a stunning amount of juicy, mouth-watering flavour - perfect as an aperitif but also crying out for aromatic salads. They also do a red wine (Novac - next vintage available around June) which was packed with red and dark fruits, and a nice amount of spice and tannin that will make it perfect for mid-weight meat dishes.

 Jane Hunter, Hunter's wines (from £7.50)

It was a delight to meet Jane, a phenomenal woman who has done truly great things and helped put women winemakers on the map as far back as the 80s. The family winery remains fiercely independent to this day, and you've not had true Marlborough Sauvignon until you've had a Hunter wine. Their Stoneburn Sauvignon Blanc (£7.50) is a fabulous, refreshing everyday sauvignon high above many others at this price, whereas the Society's Exhibition Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (£13.95, also made by Hunter) is a benchmark of the region, with real finesse and balance.

I was also lucky enough to attend the first of the day's Masterclass events: a tasting of Louis Roederer wines with the charming Mark Bingley MW. I'll blog more about that later this week.

Not a member of the Society? Then you won't be able to order wines from them, I'm afraid. But as it's a co-operative, all you have to do is buy one share (£40) and that will make you a member for life.There's no obligation to buy a certain amount per year, but you even get a tenner towards your first order.