Monday, 30 September 2013

How D'ya Like Them Apples? Orchard Pig Reveller Cider

Well it seems this rather lovely weather is staying with us for a little while longer. Only this morning was I preparing to break out the winter warmers and the good whisky, when I peered out my bedroom window to a sunny day. It was around that time that I was struck with a rather complicated dilemma. Not only do I not have any summery booze in the house, but I've spent all of my money on my winter stocks. Oh, what is a booze hound to do?!

All of a sudden it hit me like a champagne cork to the gentleman's area! While perusing my local Majestic, I stumbled across a rather gorgeous little craft cider that's perfect for days like these.

In the depths of Somerset lies a farm by the name of Orchard Pig. Started in 2004 by two friends, Orchard Pig produces a range of ciders and other apple-centric beverages from the fruit of their own farm.

The juicy miracle I speak of today is Orchard Pig Reveller. Golden in colour, it has aromas of freshly baked apple pies with hints of cinnamon. Judging from the nose alone I suspected this to be a rich and hefty number. Imagine my surprise when I lifted the glass to my mouth to discover a delicately spritzy texture with lashings of bitter-sweet apples and a little citrus twist to round it all off. Elegant, juicy and full of finesse, serve this porky gem chilled, but not overly chilled, to really appreciate it's depth of flavour.

Now here's the twist in the tail (wahey!), a case of 12 bottles is currently on offer at Majestic
for the unbelievable sum of just £12! I know right?!? That's only £1 a bottle. And they're not namby-pamby little bottles, but big beasty half litres!

So there you have it folks, the perfect solution to this unexpected weather at a wallet-friendly price.

Oink Oink!

The Legless Pirate Waiters Friend

Let's face it, there is nothing cooler than being able to bite down on a cork and just rip it out with ones teeth in true pirate grog drinking style. But this is the 21st century, and not only do we want to protect our gorgeous nashers that we work so hard to maintain, we also have technological advances that pretty much do all the hard work for us. What's even better, is when said technology comes in a novelty fashion.

Who here doesn't like pirates? Not the nasty ones patrolling the coast of East Africa, but the sea shanty singing swashbucklers sailing around and digging up buried treasure. Now what if they opened your wine?

The Legless Pirate waiters friend has everything you need to open pretty much any bottle of booze you may have. Not only is it a nice novelty complete with a beard, bandanna, ear ring and a sneaky parrot hidden in the ensemble, there's everything you need in one little gadget including, corkscrew, cap lifter, lever arm and a serrated knife for cutting foil/buccaneers.

The Legless Pirate Corkscrew is available from Find Me A Gift for £9.99.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Friday Cocktail: The Caipirinha

Earlier this year, my best friend ABANDONED ME for six whole weeks to go travelling around South America. She didn't even smuggle me there in her suitcase or anything.

Still, she did send me hundreds of beautiful photos, and brought back something well worth waiting for: the recipe for Brazil's national cocktail, the Caipirinha!

It's a pretty simple recipe but its key feature is the heavenly Brazilian booze, Cachaça, a sugar cane spirit not dissimilar to rum. You can buy a bottle of Cachaça at The Whisky Exchange for £17.95, and it's well worth it, because this is the sort of drink you'll want to make a pitcher of.

Cocktail Recipe: The Caipirinha (serves one)

Ingredients:

1 large lime, cut into quarters and then in half again (so eight small pieces)
1-2 tbsp golden caster sugar
2-3 shots cachaça
Crushed ice

Shake it!

1. Pop the lime wedges in an old-fashioned glass, and top with the sugar.
2. Muddle them together with a wooden spoon (or a decent muddler if you have one) for about 20 seconds. This releases all the flavours and blends the sugar with the lime juice.
3. Top with crushed ice, and if you want to dilute the drink a bit then lightly muddle the mixture again.
4. Add the cachaça, and stir well to ensure all the sugar dissolves. Alternatively, you can do all of this in a cocktail shaker, then give it a good shake and pour into the glass.

Tip: Traditionally, this really is a sweet drink, so don't be scared to use more sugar than you would normally think decent! You can use 'sweetener' alternatives if you're worried about calories, but that does sort of spoil the fun (and the flavour.)

Image taken from Porto Bay Trade's photostream under the Creative Commons License

German Riesling Rap (Must be Seduktion)

I'd just like to thank the folks over at The Drinks Business for bringing this video to my attention.

The German Riesling Rap (Must be Seduktion) by the folks at Comagine, although is a spoof video, is still utter brilliance.

Maybe go for a glass of Riesling tonight and hum this to yourself, while your friends look on. They may be looking at you like you are an idiot but they will secretly be thinking that you look awesome... trust me.

Feel free to share this with any Riesling-fans you know - selling wine through the medium of rap is surely the future for all self-respecting vinifiers.

Have a good Friday night folks!



Thursday, 26 September 2013

Oh I say Mr Grey! Fifty Shades of Grey Wine Has Us Hot Under the Collar...

Any wine lover who has read 50 Shades of Grey will no doubt have recognised the subtle references to wines throughout the book - of course, that's exactly what I was looking for when I picked it up to read!

Who could forget Ana's first night at Escala with Christian where they enjoyed Pouilly Fumé with cheeses, grapes and French baguette?  Or the Bollinger Grande Année Rosé 1999 that Ana and Christian drank from teacups to celebrate graduation?

Former TV executive turned provocative adult romance author, E L James reveals that “Wine plays an important role in Fifty Shades of Grey, adding to the sensuality that pervades a number of scenes”. The second of the trilogy Fifty Shades Darker introduces a Barossa Valley Shiraz at an important dinner and quite specific wine references throughout the charity event;

Alban Estate Roussanne 2006
Served with: Salmon Tartare with Crème Fraiche
and Cucumber on Toasted Brioche

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vielles Vignes 2006
Domaine de la Janasse
Served with: Roasted Muscovy Duck Breast
Creamy Jerusalem Artichoke Puree, Thyme-roasted Bing Cherries, Foie Gras

Vin de Constance 2004 Klein Constantia
Served with: Sugar-crusted Walnut Chiffon Candied Figs, Sabayon, Maple Ice Cream

Alban Estate Grenache 2006
Served with: Selection of Local Cheeses and Breads

To the untrained eye, these might seem like a pompous attempt to show off one's wine knowledge, but as a fellow wino (E L James confesses, "I’ve always had a penchant for good wine") the girl's done good! I particularly like reference to the Klein Constantia - a simply brilliant dessert wine, high on my wish list. It's also rumoured that it was the mention of this wine in the book which sparked an unprecedented interest in this South African sweetie. It's clear to see that the role of wine within her stories is of importance to this insta-celeb, as she's listed the wine lists for each book on her website.

In the latest 50 Shades news, E L James has released two wines under the 50 Shades of Grey name, and has named the blends Red Satin, and White Silk. On the wine's website homepage she introduces the reason why this was the next best step for her and the 50 Shades brand;

"Wine plays an important role in Fifty Shades of Grey, reflecting the sensuality that pervades every encounter between Anastasia and Christian. I've always had a penchant for good wine, so helping to create the blends Red Satin and White Silk felt like a natural extension of the Fifty Shades Trilogy. I hope all of you curl up with a glass to savor the romance and the passion."

The wines carry a simple black label framed by a metallic diamond-shaped pattern and run with the tagline: “You. Are. Mine.”

The 2009 Fifty Shades of Grey Red Satin, is described to be 'a decadent blend has flavors of black cherry, cocoa powder, creamy caramel and vanilla, leather and clove spice'. A blend of Petit Syrah and Syrah grapes from California, it's aged in a combination of new and old french oak barrels.

The 2012 Fifty Shades of Grey White Silk is a blend of Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc and is cool fermented to preserve its delicate and rich character. It's said to boast floral aromatics of lychee, honey and pear, tempered by flavors of crisp grapefruit, mineral and lush pear and a faint hint of butterscotch.

Currently they wines only appear to be available in the US, via the wesbite, but no doubt word will get round and they'll soon be available in the UK. In the meantime, we'll have to revisit the trilogy in paperback form - if we must...

Blended Scotch Savings: Monkey Shoulder


I have not spoken too much about bkended whisky, mostly due to the fact I don't drink as much of it as I used to. However, I have been really intrigued by Monkey Shoulder due to it being made of three top quality single malts from Balvenie, Kininvie and Glenfiddich. Best of all though it is currently on special at Tesco for £21.

Monkey Shoulder is named for an injury sustained by those that turned the malt in ditilleries and is referenced by the three monkeys on the bottle's shoulder. This points to Monkey Shoulder being the first three malt blend with malt and barley blends being far more common. Bearing this in mind, this should be far more reminiscent of a single malt than most blends, but may be a bit middle of the road.

On the nose there's sweet spice, orange peel, florality along with some caramel and toffee. This is a pretty sweet nose and is somewhat reminiscent to me of the Glenmorangie 10yr, it's very nice and friendly, very inviting.

On the palate the spice hits first again, it's quite toasty with some dried fruit and berries coming through. Whilst not hot at the back of the throat there was a slight burn on the tongue, but this is a very nice and creamy blend and is good for the price. This is a nice whisky, very easy drinking nice and sweet with spice chucked in the mix. There's not too much complexity, but it is still a very tasty dram.

Monkey shoulder is one of those that does come on offer from time to time and I think it would make a great Christmas present (yes I have started looking that far ahead). If you can't get this lovely blend on special then perhaps look to buy the special edition in the cage presentation box which is really, really awesome. I cannot express how much I love this presentation case other than to say that I bought it despite the whisky being on offer.

Monkey Shoulder is available at Tesco for £21 currently and in it's presentation box is available at Master of Malt for £26.87 (less than most supermarkets for the bottle alone).

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Blossom Hill - The UK's #1 Wine Producer!

That's right, the American Giant Blossom Hill is the UK's favorite wine producer. And to be honest, after trying it for the first time last week during a U.S.A WSET Advanced tasting, I have absolutely no idea why. Having been at University, it seems to be the wine of choice amongst students, particularly those of the female variety. You tend to hear phrases like 'Oh, 'cos it is so cheap!' or 'because it can get me drunk!' but in reality, as I am sure we are all aware, there is much better stuff out there for the same price. So why do we still drink vast quantities of it?

The standard price for Blossom Hill's range in our supermarkets today varies from £5.99 to £6.99. This is not cheap for a product such as this. The Blossom Hill White Zinfandel (£6.99 per bottle at Tesco Wine) I tried the other week for example is thin, flabby and tastes artificial. Not exactly qualities I look for in a wine of that price. But to me, the really offensive part is that it is only 9.5% ABV. So not only is it pretty expensive and tastes awful, it barely gets you drunk (which seems to
be what its main aim for most Brits is).

So what are they doing right? Hats do have to come off to Blossom Hill for the sheer quantity they flock over the pond and their ability to keep their wines in every super market under the English Sun. By doing this it has become like a British product, everyone recognises it and those who don't care too much about what they throw down themselves and then throw up on the pavement later, will continue to buy it. And lets face it, they do well out of it. Very well. So well done.

Well Blossom Hill have done their part, now it is time for me to give some alternatives that are a) better value for money, b) taste of wine and c) are just as easy to get hold of.

So lets start with the main culprit, Rose.

Casillero Del Diablo, Shiraz Rose- £7.99
At only £1 more we are getting a wine that is well made, deeper in colour and flavour AND 12.5%. It is rounder, fuller on the palate with lovely fresh blackberry/raspberry flavour, not like some liquidised chewitt. It even has an added dash of spice from the Shiraz grape. A bit of a no brainer, and just as easy to get hold of.

Asda Extra Special Chardonnay- £6.98
To compete with the Blossom Hill Californian White. Rather than being clear, watery with little flavour, this delightfully oaked, fresh nutty Chardonnay is a real winner. For those who like to have a bit of body (or any at all) and those delicious, creamy oaky flavours, this is a fantastic alternative. If you prefer a crisper, lighter unoaked alternative then go for the Cave de Lugny White Burgundy, also from Asda. Brilliant, classy wines at only a fraction of the price.

La Chasse Merlot Pays D'oc
At only £5 ( nearly £2 cheaper than the Blossom Hill equivalent) I was really impressed with this ripe, medium bodied Merlot. Available in all Tesco's, La Chasse produce so great quality wines. This in particular has a mouth watering red fruit palate, soft, fine tannis, medium+ acidity with a long, smooth finish. Far more impressive than the rather feebly, overtly ripe Blossom Hill.

Some of you may think I'm giving Blossom Hill a bit of a hard time. I must say I commend them for their marketing ability to sell vast quantities of their product. But all I want is for people who buy wine to try it, look at the price tag and think 'is this really the best I can get for what I have just spent?' Because about 90% of the time, with these huge producers (Gallo included), you probably aren't. Don't cheat yourself, save yourself some money and drink proper, well made, interesting wines. They are out there, the few given above is just a TINY selection!
DO IT!

Wine prices picture from Mary Hutchison's photostream on flickr under the Creative Commons license.





Customer Service Is Key


Good customer service is something that I'm always an absolute sucker for. If I'm stuck between quotes from two companies for example, it is the quality of customer service that will swing it for me every time.

Customer service is something that is incredibly important in the wine industry because, for me, wine is all about relationships.

Having been both a worker in the wine industry and a consumer (often consuming waaay too much) I have experienced all levels of customer service and although the majority of it has been good, there has also been plenty of shoddy service that I have come across and really, there's no excuse. Even if I AM naked in your shop (That didn't happen...)

Having been on the receiving end of the phone, speaking to a particularly ignorant customer (theoretically) who wants merloT and sAviGnon (for example) for under £4 a bottle (ok FINE it has happened), I know how frustrating it can be but it is still inexcusable to be rude, even to the most irritating of people.

Although wine can be as geeky as you make it, generally no mater what positions you hold within the industry, you work in some form of customer services because you are selling the public a product for their enjoyment. Nobody buys wine because they have to, so if they aren't getting satisfactory service, there are plenty of other place they can go!

So remember, fellow winos, whether you are working in a restaurant or in a wine shop, customer service is key! You never know where it might get you...

Have you ever encountered some shocking service? We would LOVE to hear about it so comment below or on our twitter or facebook page.

Header image taken from Atiyyah18's photostream, under the creative commons license

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Wine Events for Autumn; Tasting Time with Three Men & Tesco

Sadly the Indian summer we had all hoped and prayed for hasn't come yet, and instead, we're trying to slow down time so that it doesn't get dark at 7pm and we don't have to wear a coat on the way to work.

It's officially autumn and time to abandon the BBQ and the picnic basket and head indoors. But indoors doesn't mean boring - it means checking out all manner of fabulous events around the UK. Whether you're a foodie, a wino, a spirits fiend or a bit of both, there is bound to be an event - somewhere in England - to suit you.

As we're all in the industry here at Vinspire, we're no strangers to wine fairs and tastings - a great way to try wines you might not otherwise get to taste ("too expensive""they don't sell it at my local") and for minimal cost (the price of a ticket vs the number of wines on show = great value for money!). I guarantee you will not be disappointed and will find at least one wine, if not more, which comes as a complete shock and will become your new number one.

It's likely you'll start the day with a responsible attitude - "After every wine we'll drink some water" - and perhaps even mark in your showguide which wines you'll taste first. Half an hour in, following a lengthy discussion about the sustainability of a biodynamic vineyard and having tasted every wine on the first stand, the attitude starts to change..."Oooh a vintage Champagne at HOW much a bottle? We have to try it". It's about experimenting, having fun, trying new things - especially those which you can't normally afford!

Coming up over the next few months you've got the chance to get involved at any number of wine events around the UK, but for variation, range and good fun, here's where we'll be headed in the next few weeks...


The Three Wine Men - Olly Smith, Oz Clarke and Tim Atkin - want to get everyone in the country tasting, experiencing and enjoying new wines as well as discovering different foods. These guys all love wine, they all love talking about win, and they love sharing their knowledge.

With four events still on their calendar, take the chance to snap up a couple of tickets for you and some friends. There's a host of masterclasses throughout the day, from an introduction to wine through to cheese and wine matching. You can pick up tickets on the Three Wine Men website for any of their last four events of the year;

28th & 29th September - The International Centre in Harrogate
5th & 6th October - The Parc Hotel in Cardiff
23rd & 24th November - Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester
7th & 8th December - Church House in Westminster, London

Celebrating their 10th Anniversary this year, the Tesco Wine Fairs are a fun day out – whatever your level of wine knowledge. You can taste from over 250 wines, from over 14 different countries, all under one roof. With successes in Manchester and Birmingham already under their belt this year, the team still have three fairs on their calendar;

5th & 6th October - Westminster, London
12th & 13th October - Bristol
26th & 27th October - Edinburgh

With tickets ranging from £6-12 the Tesco Wine Fair website, and 4-5 hours to taste wine, value for money couldn't be better. With Tesco wine team staff on hand to help out as well as representatives from well-known brands, wine personality Joe Wadsack leading the popular 'Wine Walks', along with workshops by wine team members, it's the place to go if you want to learn a little more about the wine on the supermarket shelves.  Great fun with a group of friends, check out the W Factor stand for your chance to be the face of the Tesco Wine Fair - trust me, it seems like a good idea as the day draws to a close!

Suddenly the idea of spending a weekend indoors doesn't lack appeal, but then again, does it ever when wine is involved?

Hope to see you there folks!

Any wine events near you that you've pencilled into the calendar? Let us know via our Facebook or Twitter pages - we'd love to check them out!




Monday, 23 September 2013

Payday Treat: Champagne Billecart-Salmon's NV Rosé

It's time for some Autumn Survival Techniques. Otherwise I'm hibernating.

It's too cold, I haven't got enough cosy knits yet, and I'm having to start leaving earlier in the mornings to factor in stupid things like 'my car is frozen into a solid block of ice' or 'it was raining so hard I got lost on the way to work'.

At the end of the day, I get home, put a one-pot recipe in the oven, and run myself a nice long bath. With fragrant bubbles, a soothing face mask, and a great big candle. But that's not enough. To ease me into winter, I need a real treat. Something truly decadent. A post-payday, 'I deserve this' moment of luxury.

So I've decided once a month I'm going to buy some brilliantly special bubbly to sip in the bath.

This month, the lovely people at Champagne Billecart-Salmon sent me a bottle of their signature wine, the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV. At £62.99 from Corks Out, it's not cheap, but if you want a payday treat it's the absolute height of luxury. I've never looked forward to a bath more.

Even the colour of this wine oozes romance and decadence. It's pale pink tones have plenty of glints and sparkles, and the bubbles are just begging to be sipped.

It smells divine too, packed full of red fruits and citrus, with a gentle hint of creamy vanilla. The taste certainly lives up to the aromas, and the texture of this Champagne is so smooth and silky its heavenly. Light, elegant, and delicately fruity, it's dangerously easy to sip.

Very much the sort of bottle you would want to take into the bathroom with you for frequent top-ups, I managed to resist and shared the remainder with my very lucky household. Personally, I wouldn't muddy this wine with food as it's really perfect on its own, but I imagine it would work well with salmon, scallops, or a light chicken or turkey dish.

Good news! If you want it a little cheaper, go to Champagnes Direct - you can get two bottles of NV Rosé Billecart-Salmon for just under £100! One for you and one to share...

What would your payday treat be? Tell us in the comments!

Digital Drinking: 5 Brilliant & Free Cocktail Apps

Last week, I showed you the coolest iPhone game ever, Cocktail Crazy, and one of its best features was it gave you the recipes for all the cocktails your virtual bartender-self created.

The recipes are pretty, but there's not an extensive list, so I went on the hunt for some better cocktail recipes that might prove more useful (albeit with less fun sound effects) in a variety of situations.

In no particular order:

The Be At One App (both iPhone and Google Play)

Popular London cocktail bar chain Be At One have long been known in the capital for their colourful menu, amusing staff and fun, jukebox atmosphere. Now they're branching out to other areas of the UK (their latest store opening was in Reading!), their App is more and more useful.

One of its best features is the cleverly named Appi Hour - ask a barman for a code, and you can kickstart an hour-long countdown, during which time you can get two drinks for £9.50.

But if you're looking for more home inspiration, the app also lists a range of Be At One's cocktail recipes, with amazing video mixology tutorials that really make things simple. One of the best free video cocktail lessons we've found.

Cocktail Flow (also available on Google Play)

Okay, this one might be my favourite. The list of cocktails doesn't run into the thousands (in fact it probably comes to about 100 at best) but it's the quality and searchability of this app that makes me jumpy-roundy with excitement.

Firstly, the look and feel of this app is fantastic. As well as a search function and an alphabetical list, you can browse cocktails by base drink, by type (classical, topical, shooter, creamy etc) or even by colour (pink themed cocktail night, anyone? YES.)

Here's where it gets really exciting though: the 'bar stock' section lets you input what you've got in your cupboards and it will tell you what you can make. BUT BUT BUT it gets better: it also has a 'shopping' section which tells you which one or two ingredients more you need to make a whole string of other cocktails. For instance, you might not realise that you're just one bottle of Galliano away from a Harvey Wallbanger, or just some cola away from a Long Island Iced Tea.

You can pimp the app even more by purchasing 69p packs of themed cocktails, like Christmas and Valentine's Day.

Absolut Drinkspiration (also on Google Play)

With a database of thousands (including frankly stupid entries like 'a glass of water') it's unlikely you'll struggle to find something for you in this app.

The positives? 
It really is a huge selection, plus there's a brilliant browse function where you input your tastes and the app finds lots of similar suggestions.

The other huge plus point is that you can learn as you go along: there's various lessons ranging from beginner to expert, and relevant tips (such as how to muddle fruit ingredients, and how to tell the difference between a dash and a splash) appear below each cocktail recipe too. There's video guides as well as written info, and you can tick off your progress as you go along.

The 'collections' of recipes are fantastic too - from 'romance' to 'classic', from 'summer' to 'non-alcoholic', they've covered a lot of bases.

The negatives? The ingredient search function isn't as cool as Cocktail Flow's, and because it's made by Absolut there are a LOT of Absolut products in your face, all the time. It's still an app that's well worth having, though.

Drink Pro Lite

The free version of Drink Pro, this app is actually pretty all-encompassing. As well as a huge list of cocktails (we're talking thousands) there's pretty good search functionality (like the others, you can browse by ingredient, A-Z, and category), but it's all the little extras that make this worthwhile:

1. The Unit Converter - so you'll never be confused by how many ml in a cup again
2. The Bartending Tips - from how to stock your bar, to a list of bar equipment with pictures and helpful descriptions, you'll never wonder what a jigger is again.
3. The Bar Locator - okay, so it doesn't list every bar ever, but it can list bars by an impressive list of UK towns and cities PLUS it can find the nearest bar to your current location (I live in a pretty small town, and it found dozens near me.)

InTheSpirit 

Another handy database, with the added function to search by difficulty level (always a plus if you're not sure if you'll cope/have had one too many already) and style - so you can shake up a cocktail based on whatever whim or craving you currently have - something creamy? Something minty? Something herby? You get my point.

What are the drinking apps you can't live without? Tell us in the comments!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Friday Cocktail: Che Bello! Limoncello, Raspberry & Basil Martini

Some Fridays, you just need a huge hard dollop of booze to ease you into the weekend. If you've had a hectic, catastrophic, or otherwise horrible week, you need to schedule in a little bit of 'you' time with a cocktail that's so flavoursome it's basically going to be my dessert. My dessert to lunch, because it's been THAT kind of Friday.

Limoncello is popping up in a lot of cocktails at the moment, and I really think it's a must for your drinks cupboard. There's a reason basically everyone on the Amalfi coast drinks the stuff - it's super good and a highly refreshing little liqueur with a decent hit of sauce.

Lemon and raspberry are also made for each other, and the basil just makes it that much more complex, flavoursome, and... well, pretty wonderful actually.

The 'Che Bello!' or Limoncello, Raspberry and Basil Martini recipe (serves one)

Ingredients:

  • About 8-10 raspberries
  • 2 dashes vanilla syrup or basil-infused simple syrup if you have time to make it
  • 40ml limoncello
  • 60ml vodka (or 40ml vodka and 20ml citrus vodka if you have it)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 basil leaves, plus another two to garnish

Shake it!

1. Muddle the raspberries and basil leaves together in a bowl with one of the dashes of syrup. If you're a bit inexperienced, that basically means smooshing it all with the back of a spoon to release the juices and flavours.
2. Extract the basil leaves, and push the raspberries through a sieve (so you get all the juice and none of the seeds.
3. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, mix together the vodka, limoncello and lemon juice, and the second dash of syrup. Shake it like a polaroid picture for about 10 seconds, then strain into a martini glass or champagne saucer.
4. Pour the raspberry puree on top, and stir gently (or leave it if you prefer the 'oh look! There's blobs of pink stuff in my drink!' thing).
5. Garnish with a couple of basil leaves (to intensify the aromas) and a swirl of lemon zest.

What's On: Prohibition London - The Verdict

Some time ago, Sam let us in on a little secret in his What's On; Prohibition piece - regular 'underground' parties in London by Prohibition which give modern twenty and thirty somethings the opportunity to revive the hedonistic antics of the 1920's, complete with bootlegged alcohol, gambling, live bands, dancing and silent cinema.  An evening of social and (secret) drinking pleasure.

We simply couldn't resist the chance to step back in time, to the era of Fedora hats, chorus lines and spats. To a world of illegal gambling, the sound of a rattling Tommy gun and the raucous noise of the Speakeasy, as Sam so enthusiastically introduced.

Considered by many as a failed social and political experiment, the Prohibition era changed the way many Americans view alcoholic beverages. Prohibition was originally intended to reduce beer consumption in particular, but ended up increasing the consumption of hard liquor: cocktails became particularly popluar as the taste of inferior, cheaply-made illegal alcohol could be disguised with other flavours. Soon this meant fashionable drinks, and with fashionable drinks, meant fashionable parties.

Donned in sequins and feathers, suspenders and waistcoats, we headed last weekend to Art Deco venue Bloomsbury Ballroom in London. Greeted by an expanse of ballroom, trimmed by long velvet curtains and seductive low lighting, to the sound of trumpeting jazz, it really did feel like stepping back into another era. Our first port of call was the bar - "Oh I do say, I fancy a cocktail!" - where even the bartenders looked the part. While the boys opted for a beer, the ladies perused the cocktail list - stuck in the front of an old book for authenticity.

With my official Vinspire taster hat on (ok, headband!), I made it the evening's mission to try each one - research darling, research! Short and sweet with just five options, the cocktail list covered gin, vodka, rum and fizz - the essentials of all great parties.

It's International Grenache Day!


Yeah, I hadn't heard of it either but hey... Let's celebrate the fact that it's World Grenache Day today! Party hats at the ready!

So what better way to celebrate than by drinking some cracking Merlot?

WHEY got you. We are drinking Grenache, allll of the Grenache.

So what the hell is Grenache anyway?

Grenache is an increasingly popular grape variety that was once found mainly throughout Spain and Southern France. Known as Garnacha in Spain, it is thought that the variety originated in northern Spain and then spread over the Pyrenees into France and now can be found all over the world.

It is now arguably most famous for it's use in the blended wines of the Rhone region in France and Rioja in Spain, although it is most extensively planted in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. It's also now a popular blend in the New World, particularly with Syrah.
Grenache is responsible for juicy fruit flavours and spice in a wine.

If Grenache was a person, it would be that lazy Brit on holiday that wants to do nothing but sit in the sun. This is a grape variety that loves the heat, it takes a lot to ripen fully so will happily sit out all day in boiling temperatures, sipping on a cocktail by the pool.

Grenache isn't only a red wine grape but there is also Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris, which are again most commonly found in the Languedoc region of France, producing some stunning white wines.

So where can you find some great examples of this under-appreciated variety?

Look no further!

La Vieille Capitelle 2011 Languedoc is a classic example of a blended red wine from the south of France, where Grenache is the predominant variety.

This medium-bodied red is made by former French rugby legend Gerard Bertrand, with the characteristic spice that you would expect from a Grenache dominated blend. It also has some delicious herbal notes and a lovely hint of oak.

A prime example of how delicious a Grenache dominated blend can be, La Vieille Capitelle 2011 Languedoc is available from Majestic for £7.99 per bottle.


Domaine Jones 2011 Cotes Catalanes is a stunning example of white Grenache, or Grenache Gris. These grapes that go into the "Jones Blanc" were planted almost 80 years ago on the black schist soils under the Queribus castle near the village of Maury in Roussillon.

It has an intensely aromatic quality with rich fruit aromas of melon and pear, as well as herb and spice notes. The palate is textured and broad with rich melon and herb flavours. Delicious. In fact it's so good that the neighbours of Domaine Jones decided to ensure there would be no vintage to follow this, as Laura wrote about back in April in her "A Friend In Need" post.

Domaine Jones 2011 Cotes Catalanes is available from The Wine Society for £13.95 per bottle.



El Escoces Garnacha DO Calatayud Dos Deos de Frente is a special find (despite the long name). This is 100% Grenache, known locally as Garnacha, from Spain. It has upfront aromas of intense black fruit, with delicious toasted oak aromas followed by hints of violet.

It is a more full bodied wine with some robust tannins but it has really well balanced acidity making it a beautifully structured wine. It has hints of vanilla which follow on from raspberry and herb flavours.


So that should give you plenty of inspiration to enjoy International Grenache Day to its fullest tonight!

Header image taken from Domaine des Crès Ricards's under the creative commons license.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

An Introduction to Whisky Tasting

This photo taken from Neil Wilkie (bugmonkey)
Many people find tasting whisky, much like wine, to be a daunting task that can be intimidating and complex.

I've been there when I was first starting out tasting wine - people were swirling and snorting at their wine, and in my imitation I ended up inhaling wine and collapsing into a coughing, spluttering mess.

Luckily tasting whisky doesn't have the swirling aspect, but tit can be a minefield that I should hopefully be able to clear, at least partially.

Choosing a whisky

The first thing you are going to need for your tasting is of course... a whisky. I recommend something of quality, but that doesn't have any crazy, overbearing flavours. This rules out anything peaty from Islay really, but I would also say to give any odd wood finishes a miss too when starting out. The Balvenie 12yr Doublewood is a great starting point, being nicely accessible with good complexity as well.

Photo by Mike Bitzenhofer

Glassware

Glassware is important for tasting whisky: plastic cups are a no-no and, although swigging from the bottle is fun in a Johhny Depp, buccaneering sort of way, it doesn't allow you to experience all the finer nuances of a whisky.

 Glencairns are the generally accepted tasting vessel - they're wide at the bottom, allowing lots of air contact with the whisky, but they have a tighter neck concentrating the aromas.




Water?

The subject of water is a very divisive one and while people may not erupt into gang war there can be minor hissy fits.

Some say that adding water allows the whisky to open up and for the more scents and flavours to be released, others contend that this dilutes the whisky, that it doesn't represent the distillery's work, and so on.

I firmly believe in trying both. Not only do you drink more beautiful whisky (YES!), but you get to experience the differences between the two. You need to decide how you prefer yours somehow.

Personally, I've found that some drams benefit from added water, but it really takes away from others.

Breathing Time

Contact with air as with wine develops the whisky isn't as dramatic as with decantng wine, but can be a fun thing to look at. Breathing time is not really essential to tasting whisky, however it adds another dimension to a whisky that you think you know already.


Now those issues are sorted we need to look at the process of actual tasting:


Appearance

By Dr John Bullas
When tasting it can be helpful to take in the colour of the whisky.

Whiskies cover a huge range of browns, ambers, golds and also much paler hay to almost transparent hues.

 Be sure however not to let the colour influence you too much - these days, distilleries love adding caramel colouring to make a whisky look more appealing. Many of the uninformed believe that a darker colour equals quality, but we won't be fooled will we?

Nosing

This for me is one of the most important and also enjoyable parts of tasting whisky (bizzare that, eh?). You'll want to give only a slight swirl, (don't give it the mad whirling dervish treatment you might with one of those austere Bordeauxs) and have a little smell. One thing to be wary of is the alcohol content of the whisky - those up in the 46% and above can numb your sense of smell, so tread lightly. Other than this there's not much to be said, sniff it and see what you smell.

                                                      Tasting

When tasting I find it most useful to take small mouthfuls and simply hold them still without any of the gurgling malarkey, perhaps stirring every few seconds or so before swallowing.

Think about the flavours on the tip of your tongue, what you can taste and feel towards the back of your mouth, and then seeing what develops over time.

Once swallowed, consider what flavours develop on the finish, the whisky's length, and if it's smooth and silky or a harsh, gasp-inducing ethanol bomb.

Lastly there's the mouthfeel: if the whisky feels thick and oily or thinner and watery, this can give some indication of manufacture techniques used in the distillery (we don't need to worry too much at this stage) but the difference can be most striking between different whiskies.

That's pretty much all that can be said about tasting whisky from my perspective other than to say to try tasting around others: the imparting of different ideas is always fun, and will always make you see something you might have missed or not have considered.

Most importantly, have fun and don't feel under pressure or stupid. If you taste rubber then damn well say so and don't let anyone come along and say that you're drinking your whisky wrong. We are all different and people's palates, preferences, memories and experiences vary, and all of these impact on tasting. There really is no right or wrong answer, despite what the snobs might say.

Happy drinking!

The Battle of Bath! Bath Ales


In and around Bath, there is a constant battle between two local breweries. On the one hand there is Bath Ales, and on the other, Butcombe Brewery. A rivalry spanning back a few years, many a keen Butcombe drinker has challenged a Bath Aleite to a fight to the death, or vice versa. Really, it is quite intense. Farmers, pitchforks, alcohol. Nasty.

Approximately 4 years ago, to stage one last assault on the Butcombe battleship, Bath Ales made one of the greatest business decisions in history,they hired me! Yes that is correct! I was appointed as a rear gunner for 'The Loyal Hare Force!' (Named so due to the Bath Ales symbol being a Hare, good eh?).

Right, enough of the history lesson, what makes Bath Ales so damn good?!?

Well of course, it is the local beer. They have a brilliant ensemble of varieties, styles and tastes including a number of seasonal sprigs such as Festivity- the Christmas beer and The Ginger Hare- a light, spicy root ginger infused summer scorcher! Here are some other highlights that, in my opinion, make them the winning side:

Gem- Their best bitter and unsurprisingly, their number 1 seller. Made from a beautiful combination of floor malted Maris Otter barley and Goldings hops this ale has a perfect partnership of bitterness and sweetness, leaving a long, hoppy finish that is perfect after a long walk or a day in the fields.

 Goes fabulously with pies and other traditional English pub foods this beer is widely available in the South West, and is a regular guest ale around the country. A great taste of the South West and a Bath institution. Also, check out BeerGogglesReviews' take on Bath Ales' Gem! I could watch him for hours!


Barnsey- (Formally Barnstormer) Their signature dark ale, a mix of Maris Otter, Chocolate and Crystal Matls gives this ale a dark chocolate, fig and caramel taste on the palate.

On the low side with weight of bitterness, this slightly sweeter dark ale keeps it smooth, complex and incredibly satisfying. My regular drop whenever in a Bath Ales pub. And again, BeerGoggles!

Dark Side- Bath Ales' own signature stout, it kicks any other, especially Guinness, right out of the playground. The first time I tried it, I knew I would be hooked.

 In the glass it is exceptionally dark, with a smooth almost cedar coloured head. It has aromas or rich coffee and chocolate and despite only being 4%, sends off a head spinning aroma.

On the palate it is bold with intense roasted malt flavours with a refreshing coffee and roasted nut undertone. The stout has a light spritz leaving the flavours buzz around your mouth to create a long lasting finish. If, like me, you're a fan of dark ales and stouts, this really is a winner, especially as it is getting closer to Winter!

All these beers are readily available from the Bath Ales Website, but can be bought at retailers across the country including a mixed case of Bath Ales at Majestic. Their range is extensive and has quality across the board, so I strongly urge you to jump on the ol' tractor and give them a go!

All of their pubs also serve up mouth watering pub food, and have recently opened a stunning new Chop House in Bath! Check it out!

P.s. I feel I should say, despite having working for Bath Ales and taking their side in the 'Battle of Bath', Butcombe still do fabulous beers! They even have one with my name on it, LITERALLY! So check them out too!!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Cure for the Common Cold - The Hot Toddy

With the mercury dropping faster than we can say “what-the-hell-happened-to-summer”, the lurgy is dead set ready to catch us all one-by-one. Luckily for us 21st century inhabitants, to every problem there is a centuries-old resolution, and its now common knowledge that the only sensible way to fight the common cold is to dull your senses with hot toddies.

In truth, medicinally speaking, there is nothing soothing at all about whisky-based cocktails other than that if you drink enough of them, all knowledge of any physical discomfort will be obliterated. Nevertheless, with my first sore throat of Winter ‘13/’14 I’m game for trying a little home brewed cure.


Traditionally-speaking, the recipe for a hot toddy in its most basic and true form is this: whisky, hot water, sugar or honey. I believe the quantities are 'to taste' - some of us have more whisky than others...

But now, as we’re all sophisticated and trendy these days and not sitting around a cauldron in the weather-beaten Scottish Highlands, we can start adding all sorts of fancy extra accoutrements to make the cure for reduced olfactory sensibilities just a little more enjoyable.


Suggestions for exciting additions to the standard hot toddy that I have found during my extensive research include: cloves, lemon rind, cinnamon, stem ginger, root ginger, ginger ale, black tea, lemon and ginger tea, apple juice, black pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, a slice of apple, swapping the whisky for rum, gin or even tequila.

Essentially, it seems as though you can virtually concoct anything you like and still call it a hot toddy, just as long as its thoroughly cockle-warming.

Real Hot-Toddy geeks go one step further and get all intertwined in the delicacy of mixing your whisky flavours with your seasonings: no point putting an elegant, smoky, salty island whisky with ginger ale and black pepper as all the flavours clash and swamp one another. Similarly, a rich American bourbon will totally override a delicate sliver of apple. But I'll stop there as it is all getting a little geeky and this sore throat will hold out no longer.


My Hot Toddy Recipe

For me today I will be opting for a simple equation:

A measure (or two) of whisky, a teaspoon of honey, and dash of lemon juice in a small mug or brandy glass, topped up with boiling water and all swizzled with a stick of cinnamon.

Mmmm, I'm feeling better already. Roll on the next cold, I'm pretty keen to try the tequila version...

Any Hot-Toddy recipes to recommend? We'd love to hear your tried and tested recipes.

Images taken from tienvijftien, trophy geek and Timothy Krause's photostreams under the Creative Commons License.

Perfect Wines To Drink With Casserole


The Summer is officially over....  NOW!

Okay, so maybe I'm a few days late, but I just wanted to wait until the weather turned properly miserable and give everyone some time to start feeling all wintery and in need of comfort food.

It's that time when the white and rosé wine goes into hibernation and the red comes out in force.

Personally, I LOVE winter. I love the snow and crisp cold mornings and wearing 16 jumpers to bed because it costs too much to have the heating on. Most importantly though, I love wintery food; rice pudding, sausage 'n' mash, and casserole. Lots and lots of casserole.

Naturally, when its cold, we need booze. You know, for warmth... but some wines are better for drinking a nice wintry casserole than others.




Sausage Casserole

A classic and a favourite of many red-nosed, shivering, snow-covered folks nationwide. An excellent with something red, not too heavy but with a little bit of spice. This calls for Cotes du Rhone.
E. Guigal is one of the most respected producers in Rhone and although their Cotes du Rhone certainly isn's the cheapest on the market, it is still fantastic value for what you get. This wine is packed full of lovely, juicy dark fruit flavours with a warming hint of spicy white pepper, which is just what a good sausage casserole needs.
Cotes du Rhone 2010 E. Guigal is available from Majestic for £9.99 if you buy two bottles, otherwise its £11.99.



Pheasant Casserole

I bloody love pheasant casserole, to me it is the perfect winter food. Due to the more intense flavour of pheasant, compared to sausage, you need a slightly fuller flavoured wine. Something Spanish is often a good call here, so Rioja would be perfect. Marqués de Riscal, one of the most famous Rioja producers, is on a fab offer in Majestic at the moment. The delicious Rioja Reserva is robust and bold, full of nicely developed fruit with flavours of vanilla and toasted oak.
While it is normally £14.99, Marqués de Riscal 2008 Reserva Rioja is currently on offer at £13.74 HOWEVER, if you buy 2 spanish wines on your order, it knocks it down to £10.99 a bottle - a whole £4 off! Make the most of it...



Chicken Casserole

The staple of a lot of people's winter diet. On this one I am going for a white wine, but something fuller-bodied that still has the nice cosy quality that's essential when you are sat by a log fire.
Too many Chenin Blancs are very light and citrusy but Ken Forrester's 2011 Reserve Chenin Blanc is right at the other end of the scale. This is a fuller-bodied, rich white which has been aged for a year in oak barrels, providing a lovely texture and depth of flavour. At £12.50 a bottle from Winetrust100.co.uk this Ken Forrester 2011 Reserve Chenin Blanc is well worth buying (great new merchant too, check them out!).

So if you aren't as much of a fan of winter as I am, don't worry, make it your goal to try all three of these combos and that should put a smile on your frost-bitten, dry, weather-worn, knackered looking face.

What are your favourite winter wines? We would love to know! Tell us either by commenting below or on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

title image taken from Very Lazy's photostream, under the creative commons license

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice! Spiced Cocktails to Warm the Cockles

Cocktails, simple and rigid, or a chance to show creativity and flair?

For nearly 200 years, the imagination and experimentation of countless bartenders has driven the art of cocktail making to new heights - so much so that the term 'mixologist' is has been coined to draw the line between a lowly bartender who can serve 20 pints with same amount of head, and one who creates innovative cocktails, learning from cocktail historians, and adding their own twist and personality.

As a self confessed cocktail lover, and equally enthusiastic foodie, I see no reason not to let the two cross paths. A spice fiend, I have no greather pleasure than jazzing up a simple recipe with a concotion of spices - cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, chilli, to name a few. It's finding flavours which complement each other and enhance, without losing natural loveliness.

There's a popular trend for mixologists (and bartenders!) to borrow from the kitchen and use herbs and spices in cocktails and to combine their tastes and flavors to perfection.

Without realising it, you've probably already experienced this spice sensation - ginger, vanilla, basil, cinnamon and black pepper are already on the ingredients list for many cocktails and drinks.

No stranger to a scotch bonnet, a jalapeno or a bird's eye, I'm keen to try a fiery chilli potion. I've dug out this recipe from Mallika Basu, queen of spice and author of Miss Masala: Real Indian Cooking for Busy Living, for My Mother's Vodka Chilli Cocktail;

4 fresh green finger chillies
½ tsp kala namak (black rock salt)
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 single shots of vodka
4-6 ice cubes
1 x 350ml can of lemonade
2 slices of lime, to serve
2 Martini glasses


1. Make a 2cm (¾in) slit along the thickest part of each chilli, taking care not to cut right through. In a small cup, mix together the salt and pepper. With
the tip of your knife, stuff the chilli slits with the salt and pepper mix.

2. Now measure a shot of vodka into each Martini glass and place two chillies in each. Leave to soak for at least 10 minutes, while you crush the ice. Then add a handful of crushed ice to each glass, top with lemonade and a sprinkle of any remaining salt and pepper. Decorate with a slice of lime to serve.

Next on my list to try is a Spiced Buttered Rum from The Incredible Spice Men - Tony Singh and Cyrus Todiwala - and their Incredible Spice Men book. As the summer seems to have rapidly faded, I'm already in autumn mode and looking for something to warm me up! With cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, vanilla and cloves, this is a nice change from mulled wine and can be made to warm not just your own heart, but 8-10 of your friends!

80g (3 oz) demera sugar
570ml (1 pint) dark rum
10 cinnamon sticks, for stirring the drinks

For the spiced butter
150g (5oz) unsalted butter, softened
80g (3 oz) demerera sugar
1/2 tsp ground cardamom (about 12 cardamom pods, seeds finely ground)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 vanilla pod, use scraped seeds only

Tiny pinch of ground cloves (optional)

1. To make the spiced butter, place all ingredients into a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy. Transfer the butter mix into a serving bowl and place somewhere coo but not in the fridge.
2. When you're ready to serve the drinks, boil 570ml (1 pint) of water and stir in the sugar to dissolve. Warm the rum in a pan; do not let it get too hot unless you want to lower the alcohol content. Do take care as if the rum gets too hot, there is a risk of it catching fire!
3. Pour the boiled water and sugar mix into the hot rum, then pour into glasses or mugs and pop a cinnamon stick in each one. Let guests add their own spiced butter and stir into the rum with the cinnamon sticks.

As the rain pours down, yet again, and the days seem to be getting shorter ever so quickly, the spicy deepness of this hot buttered rum is calling my name, so on that note, I must dash to my kitchen...!

 Cinnamon stick image from S.Diddy's photostream and cocktail image from gentleman joolz's photostream on flickr under the Creative Commons license.



Back to Uni: Tips for Finding Good Value Wine on a Student Loan

- A guest post by Angus Hunter

Summer is over, Autumn is here, and with it comes the return to reality for students travelling to universities all over the country. Whether returning or starting afresh every student faces the same dilemma: the farewell to the well-stocked fridge.

Whether you’re returning to Oxford Brookes and are losing Mum’s New Zealand Sauv Blanc or are off to Exeter and will be missing your Dad's taste in Claret, the same thought is on everyone’s mind…how can I get as much decent quality, drinkable alcohol with my student loan as possible?

After spending the last year in the wine trade I’m convinced that it is possible to drink really great wine that doesn’t break the bank. But how, Angus, you ask? How do I go about finding these rare gems? Well, let me answer that with some tips on trying to keep the cost down:

1) Avoid the fancier ‘Appellations’ 

Names like Bordeaux, Chablis and Sancerre tend to carry a higher price as they come with a believed quality (although this quality isn’t always apparent in all supermarket examples, even if they do tend to set you back over a tenner a bottle). There's no shame in looking for wines with Vin de Pays on the bottle these will be a certain grape variety from an area within France and will often give you more bang for your buck. You could also try looking for smaller appellations like Cotes du Roussillon, wines from slightly lesser-known regions like Navarra, or less recognisable grapes like barbera and garganega.

Try Domaine Muret, an unoaked Chardonnay from the South of France: at only £8.95 it’s a steal compared to the white Burgundies you'd get at that price, and would definitely pass inspection if you’ve got to impress.


2. Avoid the Supermarkets' offer trickery

Sure everyone says it, “support your local high street”…but really you should. If you’ve only got £5.99 for a bottle of wine you’re guaranteed to get a better bottle from your local wine shop than from Tesco. If you don’t know where your nearest independent shop is then Jamie Goode has a cunning tool to help you find it.



3. Avoid the Second Cheapest Bottle

Not really a tip on keeping the price down but an important one to note. Supermarkets can do horrible things to make you spend your hard-earned student loan, and one of them is tricking you into thinking you’re getting the right thing. With wine, when they’ve got to shift a whole load of excess stock they don’t mark it down as the cheapest, they often mark it down as the second cheapest. This is in the hope that you’ll want to impress and grab that slightly more expensive bottle instead.

Consistently one of the cheapest wines on Waitrose’s shelf is their Good Ordinary Claret, a French Red Wine in layman’s terms. At just £4.99, it's spot on for when you try and imitate Mum’s roast to show off to your new flatmates.


4. Bigger Is Better

Get your mates involved too and get 12 bottles together - you know you’ll drink them all! This way you may be able to get a discount on the case: for instance, until this Sunday at midnight Ocado currently have a deal on where wine lovers get 20% off when you buy just four bottles!

Tesco Wine end-of-season mixed cases are also a good bet, as they often want to shift some wines that need drinking in the next 6 months or so (pah! As if you'd need that long). Their Exceptional Entertaining Dozen is currently half price at £75 (£6.25 a bottle - and it includes a nice Cava, plus Rioja and Chianti) and their Finest Four Star Mixed Whites are £33 (£5.50 per bottle) - the same goes for their Finest Reds case. The Tesco Finest range is more often than not excellent quality and value, so paying just over a fiver a bottle means you can drink in style and have a few quid left for a night out or two.

This was a guest post by Angus Hunter. If you've got something to say about your favourite tipple, get in touch!

Image of wine rack taken from Andy Mangold's photostream under the Creative Commons License