Friday, 29 November 2013

Fine Wine Friday: Viña Ardanza

What better excuse to open a fine bottle of something than a day that happens just 52 times a year?  Put down the Thursday wine and stick the Wednesday beer back in the fridge. It's Friday!

As part of my wine studies, I've recently been delving deeper into the world of Fine Wine. So far it's been an experience I can only describe as bloody brilliant! Certain things have stood out more than others, but it seems my palate is leaning more and more towards Rioja, and one in particular has caught my attention

Vina Ardanza 2004 Reserva, aged for at least 3 years, at least one in oak, is a staple of Majestic Fine Wine shelves up and down the country. Why? Because it's a damn fine wine!

Rich garnet in colour, the core is spreading nicely, with a rim of brick red that's turning ever so slightly darker. One the nose there are aromas of sweet red fruits followed by spice and the distinct Rioja leather characteristics. On the palate there is a wonderful combination of initial red fruit flavours followed by dark plum and black cherry, all encompassed nicely by sweet spice, tobacco, leather and very well structured tannins.
This wine is drinking perfectly now (though you may want to decant it for an hour to let it properly release it's winey goodness) but will certainly age nicely for at least another five years.

Vina Ardanza is available for £23.50 or £18.50 when you buy two from Majestic. Or if you're feeling a little bit fancy, it also comes in magnums for £37!

What have you been drinking on this Fine Wine Friday? Let us know in the comments. 

The Global Wine Shortage

QUICKLY! To the shops!

Yes, it really is that bad! You may have heard in the news very recently that there is a global shortage of wine; demand is greatly out-doing supply and I'm pretty sure that this is one of the first signs of the apocalypse. Not that I want to scare you too much or anything...

So WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN!? Well, quite simply it is largely due to the shoddy weather in much of wine-producing Europe of late. Bad weather means less wine and less wine means sad Vinspire people (a tin for donations will be going round shortly). It is likely that prices will increase if things don't improve over the next few vintages and I would hazard a guess that quality will drop on a lot of 'lower end' wines, due to increased pressure to for increased volume.

My top-tip? Rush around with your arms flailing in the air, bumping into other people and screaming "DON'T PANIC!!!" down wine isles in supermarkets, knocking wine bottles off shelves and tripping over other people who have been reduced to laying on the floor in a foetal position, quietly crying to themselves because they just cant bare to live another day without an exquisite bottle of Clare Valley Riesling in the wine rack.


Don't worry too much, it probably won't be that bad, just enjoy drinking tons of wine now, just incase...

Whichever option you take is totally your call (the first one sounds more fun in some ways).

Thankfully, the good folks at the BBC have covered this topic, so here is a pretty selection of moving images for your enjoyment and information.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Moulin Touchais 1983 Coteaux Du Layon

Coteaux du Layon is a style of sweet wine from the Loire Valley in France. Made using the Chenin Blanc grape, they have the ability to turn out lusciously sweet, smooth wines that are able to maintain high amounts of acidity and have fabulous ability to age. Use of grapes effected by noble rot is common as well as dried grapes called passerillage. 

Although sweet wines are something of a love of mine, I have never had a chance to try a top quality Coteaux du Layon. Thankfully, it turned out only to be a matter of time. At the Wine Society we have enomatic machines in the showroom and certainly one of the perks of working there is the ability to drop down and try the wines on show. One of them, last week, was the Moulin Touchais 1983. Here is what I thought.

In the glass it is an invitingly bright copper and caramel colour. The legs are thick and cling to the glass magnificently.

The nose is full of toffee apples, tarte tatin, honey and unctuous nutty aromas. Although strong, the flavours aren't over powering. It smells like an inviting pudding, but with the crisp acidity it still smells light and refreshing. It really is a wine I could sniff all day.

On the palate it is smooth and silky with that slightly syrupy texture you would expect from a wine of this sweetness level. It is full and fat in the mouth, coating your gums with flavours of that toffee apple and tarte tatin that is so prevalent on the nose. The flavours are elegant and polite, they almost line up on the tongue as you go from deep toffee, through soft honey to slightly bitter apple peel. They compliment each other and are perfectly happy to stand in line before showing their enriched, flavourful guts.

All of this really would be wasted however if it didn't have acidity. When a wine gets to this sort of age, 30 years, it can start to lose that sharp edge that you get from a young, powerful wine. Having checked this wine on a few sites, many believe it to have stopped drinking in 2010. This really isn't the case. Although this is probably in its last year performing, it is having its last hurrah, its curtain call.

The sharpness has been enveloped with the sweetness, combining to create a beautifully balanced, rich mouthful with unbelievable freshness for a 30 year old with a finish that lasts for an eternity. I managed to get about 1/8 of a bottle home the other day, and enjoyed it over about an hour and a half. Every small sip I would keep in my mouth for about a minute enjoying the comforting flavours and textures before plonking my nose back in the glass for a further 10.

This really is a wine not to be missed. It is available for £30 from The Wine Society and can be bought online at Corks Out for £36. The Wine Society also have a vertical tasting case of this, which I am trying desperately to get my hands on!

Grab your coat....oh du layon.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Grape Of The Week: Pinot Noir

The Prima Donna of wine grapes, Pinot Noir is a variety that has had people head over heels and producers ripping their hair out for years.

PN is like a diva who demands a lot on her rider in order to perform properly: cool temperatures but enough warmth to ripen, just enough sun but not too much that it bakes, not too much water but enough  to avoid drought, a room for it's travelling pool table and a framed picture of Princess Diana.
If you provide everything it needs, though, the wine has the potential to be breathtaking - both delicate and powerful, intricate but simply amazing.

Burgundy in France is without doubt the most famous region in the world for Pinot Noir, probably followed by Martinborough in New Zealand. Both areas, among many others around the world, have just the right climate to grow and produce amazing Pinot Noir.

The grape also plays a big part in the production of wines in Champagne too, as the most grown of the 3 grape varieties used in the region's production. Pinot Noir is what brings structure and length to the blend. It provides the back-bone in some of the finest Champagnes and is the key dominant variety in Krug's Grande Cuvée.

The trick with finding a good Pinot Noir at your budget is knowing where to look. If you are wanting to stick to under £10 per bottle, you will get the best results looking somewhere like the South of France or Chile, where amazing value can be found. £10 isn't exactly cheap for a bottle of wine by any means but you wont get much at all for less than £7 when buying PN.

An excellent example at an affordable price is from Luis Felipe Edwards in Chile. Their 2012 Pinot Noir Reserva is a good example of what an affordable Pinot has to offer, with plenty of up-front red fruit flavours and refreshing acidity. This is not the most intricate of wines by any means but it is certainly pleasant and perfect if you like something not too full bodied and powerful. This particular wine is currently available from Majestic for £7.99

Going to totally the other end of the scale, and to the home of the grape variety, prices soar. Something like Chapelle-Chambertin Grand Cru 2006 from Louis Jadot, which is available from The Wine Society for the bargain price of £90 per bottle (cough, cough) really shows how breathtaking these wines can be.

Made from grapes grown on vines that were planted 70 years ago, the flavour concentration here is immense and the complexity is unimaginable. It is so hard to describe a wine at that sort of price, but when you taste it, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. If you are feeling generous this Christmas, you can should definitely pick up a case to give to the milkman - he has been working hard all year, and it can't be easy having all those affairs...

Since I banged on about it before, I couldn't miss out on suggesting a bottle of Champagne too. Probably the most famous Pinot Noir dominated Champagne would have to be Bollinger, the favourite of James Bond.

Bollinger is firm, robust and full bodied - it doesn't mess around, and I love it for that. The Bollinger NV Special Cuvée can be picked up from a few places and most supermarkets, but Fraziers Wine Merchants are listing it at £28.95 so you should definitely grab a bottle or 12 because the snow is on it's way and you need booze. Or something like that. Just shut up and buy Champagne...

So, if you haven't been slipped a bit of Pinot before, then you should try it. As they say, once you go Noir, you don't go back.

(Sorry, that was awful...)

Header image taken from wine_scribbler's photostream, under the creative commons license.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Gifts for Champagne Lovers

...Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all. Frank Sinatra was obviously crazy! It's very nearly the festive season, and what better way to kick it off than with a bottle of bubbly, a glass of fizz or...a bar of retro Champagne soap?!

For friends and family of fizz lovers we've gathered a handful of gift ideas where Champagne reigns supreme and there will be no doubt you know their guilty little sparkling secret. Whether it's because Champagne brings dedadence to any occasion with it's shiny gold foil or the mere giddyness it brings after just a few sips, Champagne is the classic, good time drink. Even when we're not with glass in hand, we're easily reminded of fizzing good times with little luxuries like this Retro Champagne Soap, just £6.50 from Monty's Vintage Shop at - a perfect stocking filler for girly friends who like a giggle. 

If you have a friend, like me, who is a sucker for both Champagne and chocolate (could one go without the other?!), you simply cannot go wrong with this Best of British Box of Champagne Truffles, £9.95, from Hope and Greenwood, also at A gorgeous little box of deliciousness with a selection of Champagne truffles, pink Champagne, dusted white Champagne, Buck's Fizz and milk Champagne it's a chocolate/Champagne lover' s dream.

As keen writers here at Vinspire, we're aware of the power or words, especially when their printed, framed an hung on the wall. On visual, Champagne loving friends, the words 'But first, Champagne' on this gorgeous simplistic print by Chloe Vaux, available at Etsy for £10.00, will not be lost! Granted I don't have the budget for it, but this is definitely a motto I can live by....Stressful day? Fall out with a friend? Dumped by a boyfriend? Everything will be clearer after Champagne ;-)

If this one is a tad obvious and perhaps you're buying for family (Aunt, Uncle, Grandad, Nan), this gorgeous 'Love tea, Worhsip Gin, Adore Champagne' might be more fitting. At £22.00 from Loveday Designs at, it can be personalised in size and layout, and you can add a message such as 'Happy Christmas Mum!'. Sensible enough to remind us that as Brits we also love a cuppa (perhaps the morning after?), but it's really the Champagne and the gin who are the stars of this print.

My ultimate words of wisdom gift for Champagne lovers comes from Leonora Hammona at notonthehighstreet, with her Champagne quote wall sticker (£35.00) with this glorious quote from Madame Bollinger - one of the 'grande dames' of French Champagne. This is one for a girlfriend who wouldn't drink anything less than the real deal ('Cava? Never heard of it')!
"I drink it when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes, I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it if I am; Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."
As I am sure any Champagne lover will agree, it's impossible to to enjoy a drop of the sparkly stuff without the essential flute. If I ever, ever, see anyone drinking Champagne from a tumbler, let alone a plastic cup, they will be ignored! I'll settle for nothing less than a glass designed to keep my bubbles bubbly and the temperature well chilled. If I'm lucky, I'll be getting a set of these Silver Plated Champagne Flutes by The Orchard at (yes, this is a hint!). At £45 for a set of six, these elegant flutes are adorned with a silver plating on the base and running up the stem.

Given that I've complied a 'Champagne gifts for friends and family' list, but I really had myself in mind, I'll also mention I love flamingoes....why? These super cute Falmingo Champagne Flutes are just £20 for a set of two from Toasted Glass - they're hand painted so definitely worth it. Also available in peacock and angel wing designs, they are just gorgeous.

We have found many, many gifts for Champagne freaks like us, and whilst they go some way to filling the flute size hole in our day to day lives, there is simply no better gift for a Champagne lover, than Champagne. Yes, this time of year Veuve Clicout, Moet & Chandon and Bolly are everywhere,  so why not treat your Champagne lover to something special and a producer synonymous with exceptional quality. It was only a couple of months ago Laura was sipping Champagne Billecart-Salmon's NV Rose in the midst of an extra bubbly bubble bath, and posted it as our Payday Treat.

This time, I was lucky enough to be sent this Billecart-Salmon Tantalising Tasting Duo from Champagne Direct. Priced at £105 it contains a bottle of the Billecart-Salmon NV Brut Reserve and a bottle of the Billecart-Salmon NV Blanc de Blancs presented in an engraved black case. Save this one for someone special - these bubbles are devine and should be enjoyed only with the closest of friends  - we don't want to give away this secret!

The Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve, NV is light and elegant in the glass with fine moussy bubbles, a white peach and pear aroma and a hint of white blossom flower. The delicate fizz on the tongue and the ever so slightly toasty meringue sweetness is to die for and lingers long after first sip. We enjoyed a glass on its own, then tucked into flaky cheese twists - a match made in heaven! Be sure to serve well chill and in your prettiest glasses to give it the attention it deserves. No, a plastic cup at your New Year's get together will not suffice...ever.

The Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, NV offers a little more complexity - starting with its colour, which is more golden than the Brut Reserve. Even as you bring the glass up to take a sip you can smell dried fruits, nuts and buttery toast and you know something special is about to follow! The bubbles are delicate and a fleshy fruit flavour is accompanied by with one of buttery shortbread and a nutty almond and hazlenut finish. We enjoyed this on its own but next time it'll be with pan-fried scallops - rich and silky, just like this Blanc de Blancs. The folk at Champagne Direct suggest it also goes well with roasted langoustine, grilled seafood or the ultimate indulgence, caviar. Now, who is going to buy it for me for Christmas??

Here's hoping this gives you some fizz-piration for surprising your Champagne loving friends and family this Christmas. Either that, or you know what to put on your wish list for them to buy you!

Christmas (too early?!) cheers!

Monday, 25 November 2013

Boozy Days Out: The Wine Car Boot Sale

 By Tim Milford

The London food and wine scene is a great place to be right now. Barely a weekend seems to pass where there isn’t at least one street-food festival, pop-up evening or craft beer/wine tasting. This is caused by a real up-surge in talented and enthusiastic gourmands who are able to find considerable success through their self-promotion on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Last Saturday I attended the second Wine Car Boot event, a perfect example of this trend. They invited wine stores from London to create a stand in a London car park near London Bridge station and bring along some wine. Tickets were a very reasonable £10 and you could try any wine you wanted in exchange for a £1 coupon.

The tagline for the event was “taste your way out of the supermarket”; trying to get wine buyers out of the supermarkets and into their local wine shops. To this end, the wine shops were looking to exhibit wines at the more affordable end of the scale. After all, it’s very easy to offer samples of wines that cost £80/bottle and say “don’t these taste lovely?”, but it's quite another matter to exhibit wines that display craft, finesse, style, weight, complexity, etc at the £10 - £20 end of the spectrum. The most expensive wine on display was a bottle of Premier Cru Champagne at £23.40/bottle; although it is worth noting that this was one of only two wines over the £20 mark.

My first thought on entry was that I remembered being in this particular car park previously for a Drum’n’Bass night in my slightly more exuberant youth. The event had stalls from D Vine Cellars, Bottle Apostle, Roberson Wine, Market Row Wines, The Good Wine Shop, Vinoteca, Borough Wines, Last Drop, Planet of the Grapes and the Sampler. Ten stalls, each exhibiting five wines. That makes fifty wines in all (although I’m sure you’d already worked that out). I won’t reference all of the wines here, largely because I didn’t get around to trying them all; instead I will focus on some of the wines that I particularly enjoyed.

The Good Wine Shop

They had a couple of superb offerings, both priced at an austerity-busting £10/bottle. First up a NV Botter Prosecco Frizzante from Veneto – vibrant, fresh and crisp with a hint of green apple on the palate. This was an excellent bottle of fizz; so excellent, in fact, that I bought a bottle, which I gave to my sister as she was going to a party that evening. Well at £10/bottle, I can afford to buy a couple more…

Next was another Venetian wine, the 2012 Scuola Grande Rosso Veronese. This was a blended wine, 40% Corvina, 30% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvingon; had a quite pronounced truffle/mushroom bouquet, but was light and refreshing on the palate with a soft background of tannins.


The star here for me was their 2006 Marsanne from Chateau Tahbilk, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria. Given that this wine was seven years old it was amazingly fresh, with a distinct acidity running through it. For £15/bottle, this was a very pleasant and elegant wine that should continue to age well.

They also had a very interesting 2012 “Young Wine” from the Thymiopoulos family winery  in the upcoming winemaking regoion of Naoussa in Greece: made from the Xinomavro grape; this was dry, fruity and approachable. It’s always nice to try different grapes, from different wine producing areas of the world and this was a perfectly decent wine, priced at £12/bottle.

Last Drop

Another couple of snappy gems here. Firstly their 2012 Fiano from Rootstock, Sicily; possessed a herbaceous nose, and a pleasingly mineral-driven taste. At £8/bottle, it represented fantastic value.

The second was their 2012 “Lekanyane” Cape Hunting White from Painted Wolf, South Africa (£11/bottle). This was a 60% Chenin Blanc / 40% Viognier blend, which seemed to give it a very interesting floral and vegetal character.

Bottle Apostle

If anyone read my wine about Wine Tasting on the Costa Brava, you’ll know that I have become a big fan of Mourvèdre/Monastrell wines and, in particular, their sweet wines; so I was pleased to find a 2010 Natural Sweet Mourvèdre from Adoro in the Western Cape (SA) (£13/bottle). This tasted nicely of tangy fruit and sour cherries, was not overly sweet and very drinkable.

The Sampler

Californian Zinfandel’s have been a recent revelation for me so I was delighted to find the 2009 Heavyweight Old Vines Zinfandel from Lodi in California (£11.25/bottle). Whilst not the most complex or finessed wine in the world, this was certainly big, bold and fruity with a decent whack of tannins; it would go well as a food match with a hearty stew or a roast dinner.

I also couldn’t resist trying the aforementioned NV Clos de La Chapelle 1er Cru Champagne, which was a Pinot Meunier driven Champagne – fruity and not overly toasty. Not really a “special occasion” champagne, as such; more a decadent, “I feel like some bubbles for the hell of it” Champagne.

As you can hopefully see from the above, there was a varied and interesting selection of well-made wines, at very approachable prices on show. There was also a very convivial atmosphere, with great food stalls to help soak up all the alcohol. All-in-all this was a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon and, to cap it all, I came away with a rucksack of excellent wines without having to spend a huge amount of money. When Wine Car Boot 3 is on, I will be first in line for a ticket!

Friday, 22 November 2013

50 Years! Doctor Who Cocktail: The Fifty Fez Fizz

So, tomorrow is kind of a big day for me. It's the day I FINALLY get to see the amazing, fantastic, OMGI'MGOINGTOSPONTANEOUSLYCOMBUSTI'MSOEXCITED 50th Anniversary episode of my favourite programme of all time: Doctor Who.

There'll be Matt Smith AND David Tennant (be still my heart) AND John Hurt (HIS VOICE!) and Clara and Rose (ROSE!) and daleks and fezes and it's going to be THE BEST THING OF ALL TIME. OF ALL TIME.

So I've put together a silly-but-fun cocktail to celebrate. And, after seeing the snippet on Children in Need last Friday, one thing I do know about Saturday's episode is there's going to be some more of that legendary fez involved, worn by BOTH the 10th and 11th Doctor. So what better way to celebrate Doctor Who's 50th anniversary than a fez cocktail? A fizzy fez cocktail. With a straw tassel.

I'm pretty chuffed about this because it also tastes bloomin' delicious. It's always good to combine flavours like cranberry and raspberry and orange, but the sparkling wine adds a little decadent celebratory feeling and the port adds a whoomf (totally a word) of warmth and extra fruity flavour. They all combine to make a beautiful red colour, no grenadine required.

You can use whatever type of sparkling wine you like, but if you're as much a fan of the 10th Doctor years as I am, then it has to be a Rose (see what I did there?! Fangirling, wahhh). I used a sparking pink moscato. And only add the vodka if you like your cocktails with a bigger kick - I do, and it made it all the more fun, but without it this vibrant red drink still packs a punch. So, without further ado, allons-y and GERONIMO! Here's how to make my Doctor Who cocktail of dreams:

The Fifty Fez Fizz recipe (serves one)


120ml cranberry and raspberry juice
40ml ruby port
200ml sparkling rosé wine
25ml vodka (raspberry vodka works as well as regular - I - ahem - tried them both.)
Dash triple sec

Shake it!

1. Add all the ingredients except the sparkling wine to a cocktail shaker.
2. Shake it like the TARDIS in a time vortex.
3. Add the sparkling rosé and swirl gently to combine.
4. Pour into an old-fashioned glass.
5. Snip the ends of a straw so they flare out like a tassel, and bend so it will sit on top and drape over the side of the glass. Add to the glass. (Obviously, do not drink from this straw. It will get messy).

What are you doing to celebrate 50 years of The Doctor? Tell us in the comments, or on our Twitter and Facebook pages!

Wine Bottle Christmas Tree Decorations!

Am I allowed to talk about Christmas yet? Oh, sod it, I'm going to anyway. I'm the sort of person that creates a Christmas playlist on 1st October (oh, alright, September) and it NEVER GETS OLD.

So, if I can find ways to combine my festive spirit with my other great love (which I'm hoping you've guessed is wine after all these months yakking on about it) then I am a very happy bunny indeed.

The Contemporary Home have allowed me to do just that by creating wine bottle Christmas tree decorations! Yes, actual glittery, festive little bottles of 'merlot' and 'chardonnay' (and they're the 1995 and 1998 vintages too, so they must be pretty special - these guys ain't messing around) that you can use to festoon your festive fir tree. Happy face = me.

Okay, they're not the classiest decoration -  they're not going to be seen in any of the department store Christmas displays, that's for sure - but come on: they are seriously good fun.

You can choose from red or white, and the decorations are £5 each. I guess that means a case of these glorious wine decorations is £60... I'm not sure I'll stretch that far, but I'll definitely put one of these fellas on my tree and raise a glass to it on Christmas day. Probably not a 1995 Chardonnay, though.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Best of British Christmas Beers- Part Two

Seasons Greetings to you! It is I, Lord of Tinsel Town to bring you Part Two of our Best of British Beer review! As Sam rightly said in his fabulous post on Tuesday, he couldn't be trusted with all 6 of the Christmas Grog provided so kindly by the Merry Elves at Best of British Beer. So it was up to be to slurp, slug and slump my way through the remainders..........! Tough job, but someone had to do it (just not Sam).

I opened up proceedings with The Hop Studio's 'There is Noel in Christmas'. Brewed using a combination of Maris Otter, Crystal & Chocolate Malts we are greeted with a nose of hops, spice and Christmas cheer. A suprisingly light and quaffable beer that is perfect to get a night under way. Floral, fruity with underlying bitterness means this beer will be matched brilliantly with food such as cheese, curry and of course, Christmas Turkey.

Secondly, there was Ding Dong from Monty's Brewery. A golden, dry ale designed for Christmas drinking. Despite this, I think this would work brilliantly as an all weather beer. Brewed with champagne yeast you really get a taste of that slightly bready, dry champagne style, topped with elegant floral and slightly tropical fruit. Really top quality, interesting beer that leaves the palate fresh and clean, and it comes in Magnums too!

Now onto the serious stuff. Winter Ale from Mulled Over is a self described 'Thought Provoking Beer.' As an ex-Philosophy Student, this sounded right up my street. Dark in colour and flavour, you are getting rich nutmeg, cinnamon and all those lovely Christmas time flavours you expect from not only a quality, dark Christmas beer but also from your Xmas day pud. Although I didn't have Schopenhauer or Nietzsche running through my head, it did set my sights on December 25th.

Now usually on Christmas Day, children all over the world think to themselves 'Have I been naughty or nice this year?' With this next beer, the roles are reversed, and we certainly know the answer to that answer when it comes to Big Santy. Bad Santa by Backyard Brewery is a beefy 6.8% bruiser packed with toffee, malt and liquorice balanced beautifully with deep dark fruit character. Beer with a good old St. Kick......... Boom.

For a beer called 'Snowman's Revenge', this next beer from Wentworth's Brewery is surprisingly light and delicate. A good balance between malt character, whitbread hops and bitterness, this chestnut ale has a buttery taste with plenty of zesty sweet grapefruit and lemon kick. A lot going on, but on the whole, a balanced, refreshing seasonal ale.

Last on the register was Festive Totty by Cheddar Ales. A dark porter enriched with ruby port delivers a smooth and rich beer with lip smacking sweetness. Packed with dark fruits and chocolate it is full and deep on the palate. For a lover of dark beers especially porter, this really was a treat and one I would highly recommend. My only qualm is that there is a lot of boozy, alcoholic aroma and flavour but it is only 4.7%. If you're going to make a porter with ruby port in, I want it to be a crotch-rummaging 6-8%.

A really exciting mix of Christmas themed beers that have really gotten me in the mood for the Season of cheer. I highly recommend diving into the riches on offer at the Best of British Beer for your Yule Tide Yarg and by all means, send us some more. And next time, they're not for sharing!

Merry Christmas everyone.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Why are Demijohn's 'The Bloody Pirate' Liqueurs the Perfect Gift? Because They Arrrr

Time is marching ever onward, high streets are festooned with christmas lights and the battle of the Christmas ads has commenced. One shop that has caught our eye already this year despite lacking a multi-million marketing budget is Demijohn, an Edinburgh based "liquid deli".

Demijohn is a retailer of liquid goodies and gifts, liqueurs, wine, whisky, spirits, vinegars and oils that come all wrapped up in pharmacist-come-alchemist styled bottles.

This is the place to get a really unique, alcoholic gift for Christmas: you can not only pick and mix a selection from their wonderful range of booze, but Demijohn have also put together special pre-made gift packages, and you can even have custom gift messages written onto the bottles.

Completely besotted as we were with the selection available Demijohn were kind enough to send us a sample of the Bloody Pirate, a 2 bottle gift set comprising Raspberry Vodka and Spiced Rum liqueurs that can be drunk separately or mixed 1:1 over ice to make a lovely sweet cocktail. Besides, it's a pirate-themed gift - YAY, PIRATES!

On the nose, the aromas mingle beautifully; it is very reminiscent of Pineau de Charente or a dark sweet wine such as Samos. There are lovely Christmas Pudding-like notes with stewed raisins, berries and honeyed fruit mixed with sweet spice and caramel. Perfect for this time of year, and a real winter warmer.

On the palate it is very sweet, but not at all cloying thanks to the ice. Again, the flavours are quite in the vein of a sweet wine with stewed honeyed fruits, raspberry, and also a slight flutter of Speyside malt mixed with a nice golden rum punch. It is a wonderful flavour, it doesn't really develop but it is so pleasing it didn't really need to. The Bloody Pirate is ridiculously easy to drink - it goes down like a dream and the separate components are great on their own too... it's a veritable 3 for 1.

This is a guaranteed pleaser of a gift, and let's face it, it's also perfect for those of us that fancy trying something a little different this festive season, and are looking to treat ourselves. Pickup the Bloody Pirate for £29.30 from Demijohn: it's available online as well as in their shops in Edinburgh, Glasgow, York and Oxford.

Drac Magic

Thanks to a certain lovely someone who plonked a bottle of Spanish red "Drac Magic" on my desk the other day, I have a really nice wine to brag to you about, in the hope that you might buy some to enjoy for yourself.

Drac Magic (Catalan for Magic Dragon) is a delicious red from Catalunya, a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Syrah, made by Tomas Cusiné.

Tomas Cusiné makes some truly weird and wonderful wines. The effortlessly cool but unreservedly bizarre wine-equivalents to underground indy bands in the music world, Tomas Cusiné's wines definitely give your taste-buds something to think about.

Apart from looking straight-up awesome, Drac Magic is absolutely delicious. It is very fruit driven but has a delicious touch of cedar wood on the nose.

This is medium-bodied with firm tannins but plenty of acidity. The level of acidity makes the wine seem much more approachable than it would be without it because it is very fresh and juicy. The fruit flavours are delicious, with cherry, blackcurrant and even a hint of blueberry on the palate. Sweet and fresh. Über awesome. The flavour evolves beautifully and on the finish there is a nice savoury touch, even a hint of parma violet just to top things off.

This is a pretty mental drop, perhaps an acquired taste, especially if you like more 'traditional' reds, but it really is interesting and wild.

Drac Magic is a perfect mix for meaty dishes with a little bit of spice: it's amazing with chorizo and even better with a bit of chili con carne, but it's also worth sipping on its own.

Quite frankly, if you don't get a bottle, you're missing out. At only £7.95 from The Wine Society, you are getting a hell of a lot of booze for your buck and provided you have an open mind, you will not be disappointed by this one at all.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Best of British Christmas Beers - Part One

Well, I've been trying to fight it for long enough, but a combination of department store adverts and realising that I work in retail have forced me to admit it: the festive season is upon us. Now is the time for giving and receiving, doing everything to excess, and good will to all men (and women), including those who are inexplicably rude to you at the till when you've run out of £5 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

With the cold winter nights, however, come a very good excuse for warming alcoholic delights of a Christmas-sy theme. So in the spirit of giving, the absolutely marvellous people over at Best of British Beer provided Vinspire HQ with some Christmas-themed delights to get our festive preparations well under way in a slightly wobbly way.

These beers aren't available individually on the website at the moment (do contact them to enquire, though, as they may well be able to sell them individually, and some have only just been bottled) but most are available as part of their excellent Christmas Beers case, which is £35.99 for 12. I couldn't be trusted with the whole case, so Matt will be reviewing the rest on Thursday...

So walk with me now down Beer Lane, blanketed in snow with Christmas trees in every window and a drunken bloke slurring The Pogues whilst dressed as a questionable Father Christmas.

First up we have Ho Ho Ho Golden Ale by Blakemere Brewery. The nose is full of tropical fruit with hints of mango and pineapple. It's a much lighter style which doesn't particularly lend itself to a winter brew with zesty citrus notes and a long bitter finish, what this beer is however, is a lively, jolly and friendly beer which certainly lives up to it's namesake.

Secondly, also from Blakemere, is Santa's Slide Golden Best Bitter. The nose of this brew is packed with juicy orange aromas floral blossom notes. On the palate, it's initial flavours of fresh malts give way to a slightly herbaceous and bitter finish. The finish is slightly short, but it leaves a fresh taste in your mouth.

Next up from the west side of the River Severn is Hoppy Christmas Golden Ale from Bragdy Conwy Brewery. I'll be the first to admit, Welsh beer has never been particularly prominent on my radar. This brew, however, makes me want to explore those valleys! The nose is a tactical assault of fresh squeezed lemon juice and roasted malt. The toasty malt flavours slide gracefully aside to juicy citrus flavours of mandarin, lemon and lime. A very fruity beer that leaves a long, satisfying finish.

Fourthly is the Yule Love It Amber Ale by Thwaites. It has a rich colour and a nose with a lightly hopped citrus aroma. The palate is alive with biscuit notes and nutty flavours a plenty. It's gentle yeastiness gives way to a classic bitter citrus finish. A well rounded, nicely balanced brew to keep the cockles warm this winter.

By this point things start getting a little silly. But I shall soldier on in as professional manner as I can muster! We move on from the lighter styles to something a bit more gutsy. The Winter Warmth Ruby Ale by Great Newsome Brewery (also available individually at £2.50 from Yorkshire Ales). First thing I notice is fire on the label so already I'm feeling manly. It has a sweet nose of chocolate and caramel, followed up by a surprisingly savoury flavour giving way to caramelised spices and burnt sugar. The long, bitter finish is characterised by a waxy citrus flavour.

Last but by absolutely no means least, is the Wit Christmas Wheat Beer by Stonehouse Brewery in collaboration with Best of British Beers. A traditional Belgian wheat beer, the initial aromas of clove and ginger leap out of the glass followed by oranges and lemons. The palate explodes with effervescent sweetness with a deep complexity of flavour involving citrus, cardamom, cedar and cigar box. All these flavours work in perfect harmony to produce an unbelievable beer with a long lasting finish.

I'm certainly no grinch, but Christmas does have a tendency to wear thin, especially in my profession. But when an amazing company such as Best of British Beer come through with Yuletide themed brews of this quality, it makes me feel like an excited child on Christmas eve. I cannot wait until the December nights close in and lay on the sofa with one of these delights in front of some good old fashioned Christmas TV.

Babycham-bles? Definitely not!

To celebrate the 60th anniversay, the Diamond Jubilee, of iconic good-time drink Babycham, I thought it about time I tried it. To a crowd of you now hanging your heads in shame and shaking your head (though don't lie, you've probably tried it), I beg you to hear me out...

With trademark 'baby bottles', a prancing fawn on the label and in a pretty turquoise colour (think 'Tiffany blue')  it's perhaps the quintessential party girl's drink - light, fruity, bubbly, small enough to stash in your handbag and acceptable to drink through a straw!

Launched nationally in the UK in 1953 as a glorified perry (from perry pears) by West country cider brewer Francis Showering, Babycham has an avid following from youngsters who like it because it's retro, to those who, well, are retro - and were the ones drinking it when it first hit the shelves!

In post-war Britain, this light Champagnesque tipple - designed with women in mind - allowed housewives and singletons alike to indulge in aspirations of a glamourous lifestyle and escape their routine lives. With the tag-line 'genuine Champagne perry' it added a little luxury to an otherwise normal family life. As its success grew, it was the first alcoholic drinks brand to be advertised on commercial television in the UK...

Fresh, exciting and stylish, Babycham quickly became the party girl's drink of choice and a string of successfull television commericals followed with catchphrases including; "Got sparkle, Got life", "I'd love a Babycham!" and "The happiest drink in the world".

Light and effervescent, with flavours of crushed pears, it's best served chilled and is sweet and refreshing. At just 6% abv it's far too easy to drink, but I can see the attraction in a time when there weren't so many options available to women, and the drinks industry was marketed at men - ales, stout and hard liquor.

By no means is Babycham as complex as a wine, as unique as a single malt or as decorative as a cocktail, it was never designed to be...but it is fun and it's definitely a girly-girl drink. Think of how it suits the hours before you go out, whilst the girls are round and you're getting ready for a night on the town. A few cheese straws and you've got yourself a 70's flashback (picture left = my Friday night in!).

You can pick up a four pack of the baby bottles in Tesco for just £3.99, and with a current promotion of 2 for £5, you'll have change from a tenner to also pick up a couple of the 75cl Popping Cork bottles, priced at just £3.49 and designed for parties! As the millenium approached, this special edition popping cork style bottle was launched in 1999 with new year celebrations in mind. It's no Moet or Veuve, but again, I stress the point that it is meant to be a bit of fun and should never, ever be used as a substitue for good quality fizz!

If you're not content enough sipping a Babycham at home with the girls, why not head to Maggie's in SW10 - an 80's themed boutique members nightclub named after Maggie Thatcher - prime-minister turned 80s icon. Think waitresses in neon leggings, permed wigs, rubix cube tables and 80s tunes. Baby bottles of Babycham appear proudly on the drinks menu for just £4 along with 80's themed cocktails like Heman vs Skeletor, Smack Daddy, Pac-Man-Tini and Goose and Maverick's Martini.

My conclusion? If Babycham appears on the drinks menu of a member's nightclub in Chelsea, then it's cool. Babycham is back on trend and the millenials are paving the comeback path for this retro cutie.

Babycham commerical from YouTube; Babycham 1960's commercial

Monday, 18 November 2013

Oddka Vodka: The Odder The Better?

If you've been paying attention to the booze aisle in your local supermarket (and if you are, I'm both impressed and concerned for you) then you may have noticed a few intriguing bottles appearing over the last few weeks.

Oddka Vodka is definitely marketing itself in the 'something different' category, and it's not surprising they're being stocked by Revolution Bars: they're trying very hard to offer something completely new to explore. The premise is that Wit Oddoski, an eccentric with a vodka-related dream, created the range because he wanted to bring the world more unusual flavours. So how well do they succeed?

They sent me a selection of their unique vodka liqueurs to try, so some of my best girls and I sat down with empty glasses and piqued interests.

Twisted Melon flavour was our first choice, and has a pleasing pale coral colour, but was the one we were least excited about. Oh, how we underestimated it! It smells and tastes quite literally like fresh, summery, juicy slices of watermelon which have been blended with a healthy slug of good vodka. It's 20% abv, so dangerously sippable, and smooth enough to drink on its own over ice or as part of a multitude of summery cocktails. Oddka recommend combining 2 shots of vodka with 4 shots of cranberry juice and a squeeze of lime, and I like the sound of this very much indeed.

Salted Caramel Popcorn flavour smells quite simply divine. It's sweet, biscuity and inviting, but the palate just falls short of the mark in living up to the intensity of the gorgeous aromas. It is very tasty indeed, but it's subtler than we imagined, so I think it will shine in cocktails and boozy bakes. For a perfect cocktail idea, see below...

And then there's Electricity flavour. Yes, you read it right: the aim with this stronger Oddka (it's 30%) is to create a shot with a bit of bite. It smells like fruity confectionary (in a good way, rather than an alcopop way) and tastes like it too, but WOW THE TINGLES! It's way better than popping candy - it really feels like mini currents are zinging through your mouth - and it leaves you with a gorgeous warmth throughout your mouth and throat. It's one of the most pleasant shots I've attempted (and I'm not a shots fan by any means.)

The Oddka guys helpfully provided me with a few cocktail ideas, too, the most exciting of which is the Directors Cut cocktail, perfect for long evenings in front of a film or two. You can leave out the egg white if you're nervous, but I think it makes it:

Other flavours include 'freshly cut grass' and 'peach bellini', so there's something on the 'odd' scale for most palates out there. The grassy variety is fresh and crying out for summer days, and peach bellini is perfect for a celebratory shot with a bit of style

Oddka vodkas are available from Asda for £8.00 per 50cl bottle, as well as Sainsbury's for slightly more, and various other UK retailers.

Gifts for Beer Geeks

We all know a beer geek, whether it's a serious real ale lass to the fella you love who tries as many new beers as possible. Or just your mate who drinks too much of the stuff at the weekend.

So here's a selection of the best gifts for beer fans, especially for those that you're too scared to buy actual beer for their gift recipient of choice, but still wants to buy something suitably beery (that isn't, you know, a bottle-opener keyring, or one of those glasses engraved with a shit joke.)

Okay, well, I'll admit it, I'm starting with beer. But it's beer in its most awesome form ever: a beer advent calendar. This is the genius creation of Best of British Beers, and oh boy have they done it well: a beer a day from 1st December until Christmas, and it includes a case of three Christmassy beers for the big day itself. It's £73.90 - that's markedly cheaper than the ginvent calendar, and pretty good value for 27 bottles of exquisite craft beers.

We had gin soap, and now we have beer soap! It comes from Village Green Soaps, and it's creamy and smells lovely. It's only £4 too.

A pint of beer sweets! And they're on offer at Prezzybox for £10.95.

I love this beer paddle tasting set. You don't get any beers (surely the ale lover in your life has a stash ready to try?) but you get various types of tasting glasses on a gorgeous wooden plinth. It's £28.99 from iWoot.

The Beeroness blog is one of my favourite things ever. I think I visit it every day. Cooking with beer is something everyone should do, probably daily. It should be law. The Beeroness book is £7.31 from Amazon and is filled with goodness.

These public servant bottle openers made me laugh and laugh. Crack open a bottle of the cold stuff with the nether regions of Boris Johnson, David Cameron, or George Osborne. Yes. They're £8.50 each from The Original Metal Box Company.

We've chatted about brewing your own before, but this Brooklyn Brew Shop Beer Making Kits are something else. The beers you brew are just delicious, such as the Chestnut Brown Ale and Chocolate Maple Porter. The sets are £38.99 from Firebox.

A beer vinyl decal! It's clever enough without becoming too tacky (right?!) and I can think of a lot of fridges that would be markedly improved by this. It's £10.83, with the same amount for shipping from the States from Off The Wall Expression on Etsy.

I couldn't include this list without finding a few fabulous beer glasses. And look! Pac Man Beer Glass! (£15.99, Amazon) Pretty Lolita Pub Crawl glass (£20, John Lewis). And how about the Pi Pint Glass for the geek in your life? (£11.50, Cafe Press). And that pop-up beer glass (£6.99, iWoot) is the perfect stocking filler.

Actually iWoot are also good for this Ctrl+O beer bottle opener. It's £7.49, and what a cracking beer geek combination.

If you're looking for an actually decent selection of beers for a massive beer fan, then some brilliant examples include the beer and curry case from John Lewis (£15), Firebox's Discworld Ales gift set £19.99, and The Wine Society's Winter Beers case (£29).

Lastly, this beer print from Luckies may seem pricy at £24.95 but it covers six square feet! It lists 89 types of beer, with 200 examples in total. We could all learn something from this.

EDIT: Check out our 2014 Beer Gift Guide too!

Do you have anything to add to this list of wondrous beery bonanzas? Let us know in the comments!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Friday Cocktail: The Adonis

Remember last week I told you about Rev JW Simpson's Spirited Sermons cocktail masterclasses? Well, the next one is just around the corner, and it's on sherry and spiced wine!

This double-Christmas-whammy of a tasting is on Wednesday 11th December (tickets are £26.25 and can be purchased on edible experiences) and is a breath of fresh air for me: as I may have hinted in my Sherry for Beginners guide earlier this year, I'm rather passionate about the fortified stuff and relieved to see it making a well-deserved comeback.

Sherry is so much more than trifle-fodder - the range of styles and flavours available make it perfect for so many foods and occasions - so obviously, it's great in a cocktail too.

There have been many a tipsy sherry cocktail made chez Vickers, but The Adonis (recipe kindly provided by Rev JW Simpson) is just the perfect place to start: you don't have to buy any of the more expensive sherries (good fino is available for as little as £5.95 - such as The Society's Fino from The Wine Society) and everyone has a bottle of vermouth in the cupboard, right?!

The Adonis sherry cocktail recipe (serves one)

  • 35ml Sweet Vermouth 
  • 35ml Fino Sherry
  • 2 dashes orange bitters 
  • The oils from some lemon (or orange) peel
Shake it!

1. Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake.
2. Strain into a sherry or brandy glass.

N.B. This is a classic cocktail that dates back to 1884 and was named after the most popular play of its time. The simplicity of the ingredients means that the quality of the Sherry and the Vermouth are crucial to the result. Each choice can have dramatic effects on the final outcome and balance, which also allows for finding one's own personal favourite.

Six of My Best Uses for Gin

Ah, the old blue ruin, the old needle and pin, the old strip-me-naked, the old… I’ll stop that now. Gin, I mean. I mean gin.

So often associated with tears and early death, gin surely deserves a reassessment, doesn’t it? Gin bars are all the rage in that London, and no one has hallucinated 6ft ants from drinking it for decades now. So this is what I, armed with a big bottle of Beefeater’s, (which they kindly sent me to help with this experiement) a bit of time and an agile, inquiring mind, set myself the task to find out.

I present the results to you now. They were mixed, in more ways than one…

1. Gin martinis, for example (I prefer the Kingsley Amis recipe: ice-cold glass and gin, 12-15 parts gin to one of dry vermouth, small cocktail onions). Drinking this cocktail will, for a time, make you feel like a king wearing a new and particularly fetching crown, but drink more than two and the moment you switch to any other alcoholic drink you will in effect have signed your soul over to the devil, who will make you do awful things in his name. More than two martinis will also have an antithetical effect on literary skill, another keen insight offered by Mr Amis.

2. The same or very similar can be said for pink gin (gin mixed with as many drops of Angostura bitters as suits your palate, served ice-cold in a martini glass). You may as well be running a multi billion-dollar ad agency and flying business-class out to Detroit to pitch the big one to Chevy while drinking this drink. But get too cocky with it and you’re just some drunk watching endless repeats of Mad Men on your own.

3. Gin is a very creditable marinade base for most raw fish. You might have come across gin-cured salmon (as in gravad lax), you might not, but it’s out there and it’s very nice indeed, particularly if there’s a sweet, earthy red beetroot and some horseradish cream involved – something about that mix with the botanicals of the spirit. There’s also ceviche. You might also try this recipe and surprise, possibly even arouse, your dinner guests (serves four as a starter): a few washed scallops sliced in half; 50ml of gin, juice of one tangerine, juice of half a lime, pinch of salt, finely diced red chilli, chopped coriander; serve with a tiny pile of rice noodles and a soy reduction: a big glug dark soy sauce and half a tablespoon of sugar, reduce to a thin syrup, then let cool (remember it will thicken as it cools).

4. Gin can be used to ward off vampires. One of the distillate’s lesser known qualities, though only evident at large doses. It’s not that heady juniper vapour rising from your unconscious body that makes them vanish back into the night, it’s the tortured flapping and screaming you are doing in your tortured gin-sleep.

5. Gin makes grapefruit interesting. Take half a chilled grapefruit, preferably a pink one; slice around the edge of the flesh, without piercing the skin; carefully cut out as much of the central bit of pith as you can, which will create a sort of well; pour ice-cold gin into well; sip; repeat until juice has gone; go to work. Some attribution needed here. This is a recipe used by Bill Murray’s version of Hunter S Thompson in the excellent film Where The Buffalo Roam. I think he used vodka, but the benefits with gin are confirmed.

6. Gin is an essential ingredient in what is destined to be the cocktail of Christmas 2013: The Ladyboy. You know the one: pint of lager (any type) with chasers of a small Baileys (25ml) and a gin and tonic. This is of course the cocktail du choix of North Norfolk’s best-mix DJ Alan Gordon Partridge. You may like to note that, around the Christmas holiday, Alan likes to swap the Baileys for eggnog and that, if he’s feeling very naughty, he’ll use both.

Images taken from Stuart Webster, Mr ThinkTank and Muffet's photostreams respectively under the Creative Commons License

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Single Malt Savings- Talisker 10yr

Photo by Konstantin Ponomarenko
We are beginning to head into the Christmas shopping season, and this means but one thing for booze fans: all the supermarkets are vying for your hard earned pounds. One of the great benefits of this is the fantastic deals that are going to be coming over the next month and a half or so. The first to catch my attention so far this month is that from Tesco, who are offering Talisker 10yr down from £33 to £25 until 3rd December, a stonkingly good price and well worth getting in on.

Talisker is distilled on the Isle of Skye, the only single malt to be made there. This is a major selling point for Talisker who play up on the location aspect with pictures of crashing waves on the box and even the longitude and latitude of the distillery being featured on the bottle. This whisky's packaging is very classic though, all blue script with maps of Skye and so on.

As well as all this, another great selling point is that the 10yr is bottled at 45.8%, the extra strength of which should help retain some of the concentration of flavour and improve the quality.

On the nose the first thing to come through is a salty, phrenolic quality. This is most certainly a peaty whisky, but it doesn't play up the smoke as much as many of the Islay whiskies. There are further notes of sea spray, seaweed, throat sweets, honey and fruit coming through too.

On the palate this is a surprisingly sweet whisky that turns spicy and dry fairly quickly. Pepper dominates the palate to begin with, with smoke and wood playing a major part. Dried fruits come through as well, and after adding water this huge explosion of a whisky calms down a little, allowing some lighter fruit and honey notes to get in on the party as well.

Talisker have made big of the fact that this whisky is "made by the sea" and thankfully they do come through on this promise. The whisky gives everything you would hope for and more, with the 10yr being huge on the palate, and a true winter warmer. Amazing at the price.

Pick yourself/friend/family member up a bottle of this classic malt from Tesco for £25 until 3rd December - perfect for earlybird Christmas shoppers.

Morrisons Wine: Better Than You Think?

It’s got a bit of a sketchy rep, has Morrison’s. Always the theta supermarket to Waitrose’s alpha and Tesco’s beta, always finishing last in the food supplements’ product comparisons; on top of which it insists on hiring bafflingly cack ‘celebrities’ to promote its brand: Richard Hammond, Alan Hansen – it’s as if they want to fail.

Then there’s the stores themselves. Sometimes you’ll find a nice one. The one in Letchworth is pretty ship-shape, in fact it’s verging on posh, but my local one in Stamford Hill, north London, on certain days could be mistaken for a medieval cattle auction.

In spite of all of this, I like Morrisons. It’s relatively cheap, and when I moved to where I live now I would regularly buy wine there. It was, occasionally, quite good – I liked the mid-range pinot noir particularly – but more often than not what you would expect: tedious, middle-of-the-road, Richard Hammond sort of wine.

Now, along with every other British supermarket, Morrisons - and the new Morrison's wine cellar - has realised it has to up its game. It’s recognised that the average wine drinker is becoming more savvy, more demanding. Even the casual guzzler of Saturday night plonk in front of the telly has grown weary of that flabby fruit-bomb Jacob’s Creek. She wants something new, intriguing, pizzazzy.

So when the invitation to the tasting for the Morrisons wine range relaunch dropped in my inbox, rather than guffaw loudly and expedite it to my trash folder, I replied saying I’d be happy to attend and duly paid a visit.

The verdict? Well, the wine bods at Waitrose are hardly going to be soiling themselves, but there are definitely decent everyday-drinking bottles to be found among the 148-bottle range (three-quarters of which are totally new).

What’s also good is that they’ve made it super-easy for uninitiated wine drinkers to work out what they like – by introducing fool-proof labelling, QR codes and a very simple three-question Taste Test to help define which wine they might prefer (at the moment you can use it online at, but it should be in selected stores in the near future). I tried the Taste Test and it was pretty accurate, actually. And anything that helps people refine what makes them tick is okay by me.

So, if you’re going to Morrisons, my guidance, based on an heroic tasting of most of the 148 bottles in the range, is as follows:

1) Avoid the entry-level stuff, the bottles for less than a fiver: yes, it’s inoffensive but there really is nothing to it. Buy it if you need a bottle to cook with.

2) Avoid the champagne. It tastes overwhelmingly of rhubarb and is guaranteed to dampen the celebration you bought it for.

3) Similarly, if Rioja or Pouilly Fumé are to your taste, you’ll find far, far better ones elsewhere. (I’ve had just about as much nauseatingly oaky corner shop-quality rioja as I can drink.)

With those negatives out of the way, here are my top five highlights of the Morrison’s Signature wine range (the level up from basic): all under a tenner, and won’t let you down when the big M is your best booze option. Of the following highlights, only two are currently in stock, but Vinspire has been promised the others will be available in the coming weeks:

1: Morrisons Signature Saint Véran (£8.99)
100% Burgundian chardonnay aged on the lees. Clean, citrusy, with a hint of richness. Will make any white fish and buttery sauce combo literally sing. Well, literally as in not really...   

It’s nice to check in with a cool, sharp Chablis every now and again, and this perfectly palatable one will save you a couple of quid. Go Morrisons!

3: Morrisons Signature Barbera d'Asti (£7.99)
100% barbera – perfect for those vegetative nights in with a pizza, a jazz woodbine and crap TV.

4: Morrisons Signature AOC Pic St Loup (£8.99)
A mildly spicy syrah/grenache blend from one of the Languedoc’s top AOCs. I’m biased towards the Languedoc, but for value this is my pick of the bunch.

A wild yeast-fermented wine in Morrisons. How about that? Full of warm, dark-fruit  flavour to get you through a pointlessly cold and dark winter’s eve.